Books · Christian Books · featured · Fourth Friday Book Review

FOURTH FRIDAY BOOK REVIEW

Every fourth or final Friday of a month I will post a book review.  Sometimes it will be a book I read years ago, other times I will have just turned the last page of the novel and feel like writing a review about it. 

I chose My Heart Remembers for this month’s book review because it was the pick of my Goodreads Christian Fiction Devourers Book Club’s Buddy Read for March.  I’m so glad I’m part of this book club, as being a member is a great way to discover new authors and new books.

My March 2018 Review 

Who knew a phrase as simple as “Take care o’ the wee ones” would cause a lump in my throat and the need to fight back tears every time I read it?  Each of the 16 times I read it!  According to my Kindle search, that’s how often “wee ones” is used in reference to this directive given by a father to his 8-year-old daughter in Kim Vogel Sawyer’s Christian historical novel, My Heart Remembers.   If a phrase repeated that often seems like overkill, just wait until you read this book – “wee ones” will make you get all verklempt too!

It’s not only that phrase that will do you in, as there are multiple scenes throughout this novel that are sad or touching.  Kim Vogel Sawyer is a master at both dialogue and description that will grip your heart.

“Just as she had Molly, Maelle kissed her brother’s cheeks and forehead.  She whispered, ‘I’ll always be loving ya’, Mattie Gallagher.'”

Oh boy!  That second sentence is one that got to me the most.  Once you read the scenario regarding it – you might need a tissue.

My Heart Remembers is a story about three Irish immigrant children living in New York City in 1886 who, after their parents die in a tenement fire, are then sent on an orphan train to Missouri.  Maelle at age 8 is the oldest sibling; her brother Matthew “Mattie” is a few years younger; and then Molly is a baby.  Each child winds up being taken-in by a different caregiver at the beginning of the book, and Maelle promises her brother Mattie that when she gets older she will find him and their sister Molly and they’ll all be together once again.  The rest of the novel covers about 20 years of Maelle trying to search for her siblings.

The story is told by the point of view of all three siblings, with chapters going forward in time, and switching from one POV to the other within chapter changes.  I usually like the use of only one POV, but in this novel it worked really well to show the lives of all three children growing up.

Each sibling walked very different paths on how they were raised.  Maelle was a traveling photographer’s assistant and lived in box wagon, and once the photographer died, Maelle took pictures mostly of homeless children who were being over-worked and under-paid.  Later in the book she meets up with a man who will try basically to make laws against child labor.  Maelle’s photography skills come into play helping this man with that goal, and she once again feels the pull to take care of those “wee ones.”

Mattie does live with a nice family for a couple of years, but the majority of his young life is spent working as an unpaid ranch hand for an abusive cattle rancher named Jenks.  Mattie is later able to escape this mean man and find a job on a ranch tending sheep, but Jenks comes back into the picture at the end of the novel.

Molly lives a comfortable life growing up under the care of a wealthy family, but when she’s 17, those parents die, leaving behind Molly and her older brother.  Turns out though the older brother was always jealous of Molly, and he finds out about her biological parents, and he disowns Molly and pretty much throws her out on the street.  Molly then has to figure out how to survive on her own.

Maelle, Mattie, and Molly all came to know God in different ways because of their dissimilar home environments, but all three of them did eventually love Him and come to rely on God and trust Him in their darkest moments of need.

I loved learning new things from this historical book, such as I had never even heard of orphan trains.  I also didn’t know about child labor being abused too much in the late 1880s / early 1900s.  It was also pretty cool to read about the old-time cameras and photography equipment.

I had not read any of Kim Vogel Sawyer’s books before, but I enjoyed My Heart Remembers, and I look forward to reading the sequel, In Every Heartbeat.

Authors · Books · featured · Fourth Friday Book Review

FOURTH FRIDAY BOOK REVIEW

Every Fourth or Final Friday of a month I will post a book review.  Sometimes it will be a book I read years ago, other times I will have just turned the last page of the novel and feel like writing a review about it. 

I chose Odd Mom Out for this month’s book review because Jane Porter is one of my favorite authors.  I also chose this novel because books for Romance Writers of America’s (RWA) 2018 RITA contest are currently being judged, and I just discovered this book was a 2008 RITA Award Finalist, in the category of Novel with Strong Romantic Elements.  RWA describes the RITA as “the most prominent award given throughout the genre of romance novel and some other romantic fiction.”  https://www.goodreads.com/award/show/767-rita-award-by-romance-writers-of-america 

I read this novel over six years ago, and I rarely read books twice, but I will read this one again sometime, I know it, which means I have placed this book in my “keeper” pile, and not my “donation” pile.

You see, for the past couple of weeks, I’ve been looking at my physical bookshelves every now and then, thinking about early Spring Cleaning, starting in my office.  Why?

One, I want to continue to try to get rid of all this clutter in my house (although most of that clutter has been accumulated not by me, but by my husband and two kids).

Two, I was thinking how it might be nice for people to have access to free books, and be able to choose from a wide variety of genres, when they are temporarily staying at a host location, such as females at a women’s shelter or women and / or men at homeless shelters, or people dealing with say natural disasters who lodge for some time at Red Cross shelters.

Starting this weekend then, I’m going forward with that early Spring Cleaning plan, beginning with the “billion” of physical books on my shelves.  I’m going to try cut my physical collection in half, narrowing down the space it occupies from 20 bookshelves to 10.  Yup, I seriously have that many bookshelves.  That’s why I am sooo grateful for my 32GB Kindle Fire – who knows how many more physical bookshelves I would have to put in my house if not for my tablet being able to store like 3,000 ebooks! 

 

My January Review

In Jane Porter’s novel “Odd Mom Out,” the author did a terrific job of succinctly illustrating two main points: the struggle working moms have as they try to balance a satisfying career and a happy family life, and the fierce desire many women have to remain uniquely individual instead of turning into a cookie-cutter version of the stereotypical PTA mom.

One of the main reasons I enjoyed “Odd Mom Out” so much was due to the “I can relate” factor.  There were so many issues in this book that either I have experienced on one level or another, or I’ve had friends or family who’ve also struggled with the same challenges characters Marta and her daughter Eva faced.

Some of the issues Marta dealt with were: balancing a successful career and a happy home life; struggling to do everything herself as a single mom; questioning how much, if any, of her unique personality and style to give up in order to not hurt or embarrass her 9-year-old daughter; fearing romantic involvement with any man again because she’d been hurt so bad in the past; and watching her dad’s spirits decline as her mother’s mental health deteriorated with the progression of Alzheimer’s disease.

Some of the issues Eva coped with: adjusting to regional lifestyle and personality differences after moving from the East Coast to the West Coast; trying to make new friends; struggling to become a part of the “popular” girl crowd; not having as much money as the other kids who lived in her neighborhood; convincing her mom to act and dress more like a “normal” mom; not having a dad around; not looking as pretty as the other girls; and needing her mom to stop giving so much time and attention to her job and instead give it to Eva.

Another main reason I liked this book was because I think the author really has a gift for description.  Some examples I highlighted in my book were:

  1. Her funny descriptions, such as:

“Outside, the late morning sun shines on the … luxury cars parked on the side of the half-circle driveway – Lexus, Lexus, Mercedes, BMW … and then there’s my car. My restored 1957 Ford truck.  Okay.  So it’s a little like Sesame Street’s ‘one of these things doesn’t go with the others.’”

  1. Her poetic descriptions, such as:

“Eva can be so serious, and then when she smiles it’s like the full moon at midnight.  So big, and wide, glowing with light.”

  1. Her spot-on descriptions of how a lot of women feel, such as:

“I believe women fall in love and begin relationships with great hope and expectations, but then we somehow go wrong. Women end up giving too much, yielding and bending and compromising until we’re worn out, worn down.”

Although most of my favorite novels contain a sort-of “long-winded” sentence structure, I admit the consistent 10-or-less-words-per-sentence writing style in Odd Mom Out was pretty refreshing.  I thought it particularly fitting to convey the way a woman like Marta (and hottie manly-man Luke) would talk.  (The author didn’t use this style just in dialogue, but throughout the whole book.)

Usually my busy lifestyle wins out over a little down-time enjoying reading a good book, but I read this 408-page book in a week because I liked it so much!  I look forward to reading more of Jane Porter’s books, and I was surprised to learn that her novel “Flirting With Forty” was made into a movie I enjoyed a while back starring Heather Locklear.

I definitely will recommend this author to my family and friends.

Authors · Books · Fourth Friday Book Review

MONTHLY BOOK REVIEW

Every Fourth Friday of a month I will post a book review.  Sometimes it will be a book I read years ago, other times I will have just turned the last page of the novel and feel like writing a review about it.  Today’s review – is not on the Fourth Friday, or on a Friday period! I didn’t get a chance to post a review last month, and the end of this month will be Thanksgiving, so I thought I’d get a jump on things and post my November book review early.

My Review of My Hope Next Door by Tammy L. Gray

My Hope Next Door earned author Gray the prestigious Romance Writers of America 2017 RITA Award in the Romance with Religious and Spiritual Elements category – and for good reason!

Gray’s writing of both dialogue and “inner thoughts” throughout this book is palpable.  Many times while reading this novel I could physically feel the disappointment, anger, regret, and sadness of not just the heroine Katie and hero Asher, but several minor characters as well.

My tagline is “Christian contemporary fiction you can relate to” and I think one of the reasons I enjoyed Gray’s novel so much is she writes a lot like me, in that so many people will be able to relate to her characters and their circumstances.  “Christians are real people too!” as I like to say.

Lots of Christians have not-so-great pasts; lots feel hurt and rejected and search for love from others and from God; lots struggle daily with bad habits and attitudes they want to break; lots have a hard time forgiving others or forgiving themselves; lots fight to let others in emotionally, even if they’re other Christians or people who want to offer help.  The author portrayed all these individuals, feelings, and situations in My Hope Next Door with great depth and skill.

Gray’s website describes that she is “often lauded for her unique writing style within the inspirational genre, preferring to use analogies versus heavy-handed spiritual content.”  This rang true in My Hope Next Door, and I believe this writing style does a great job at welcoming readers with all types of religious and spiritual backgrounds and reading tastes to come on in, and enjoy this book, and learn some about God – without it turning anyone off by going overboard with “preachy” or “pushy” religious talk.

In this novel, Katie is a reformed bad girl trying to make amends for her past actions that happened in the small Georgia town where she grew up.  She left town four years ago and wasn’t ever going to come back, until her dad pleaded with her to come home once her mom gets ill.

While Katie was gone, she was saved, and as luck would have it, when she comes back home, her neighbor is none other than the local preacher’s son Asher—who for last year has stopped going to church because of the pain several members of the congregation caused him regarding his breakup with a fellow church parishioner.  These two people with very different backgrounds become friends, and their differences actually help them grow very close by the end of the book.

I encourage you to read this book – I’m sure you won’t be disappointed!

Authors · Books · Fourth Friday Book Review

FOURTH FRIDAY BOOK REVIEW

Every Fourth Friday of a month I will post a book review.  Sometimes it will be a book I read years ago, other times I will have just turned the last page of the novel and feel like writing a review about it.

Today’s novel popped into my head because of Hurricane Harvey.  I live about three hours from the coast, so ol’ Harvey and all the rain this hurricane will dump this weekend in my part of town is being talked about non-stop.  In Canyon Lake, our concern is mostly flash flooding.  We get a lot of that around here, so we also have several people who are driving home from work, they come to a low-water crossing, and suddenly it floods over and that person is surrounded by water and stranded in their vehicle.  This image is why I thought of Wreckage.  The main characters were in a plane crash, and they were stranded and surrounded by water – because they are on a deserted island.

I gave Wreckage 5 stars on Goodreads, which means “It was amazing.”  I look forward to reading When I’m Gone, Bleeker’s second novel that was published in March 2016.  I have a Kindle copy of it, and it’s been on my TBR list forever, but now I will truly try to make it one of my next five reads after remembering how much I enjoyed reading Bleeker’s first book. 

Wreckage cover

Guess what I just discovered by browsing updates on Bleeker’s website?  Her second novel is currently FREE (Kindle edition) to Amazon Prime members.  Wahoo – get you a free copy! 

https://emilybleeker.com/2017/08/19/when-im-gone-on-prime-reading/

And … on August 29, her third novel Working Fire will be released … AND on Goodreads there is currently a giveaway going on for a chance to win one out of 100 Kindle copies!  You know I entered that giveaway – and you should too! 

https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/34204804-working-fire?from_search=true

Entered to win Working Fire1

MY REVIEW OF Wreckage by Emily Bleeker

Superb.  You’d never think Wreckage is Emily Bleeker’s debut novel because her writing skills already are on par with some of my favorite seasoned authors, such as Jodi Picoult, Anita Shreve, Elin Hilderbrand, and Jane Porter.

This intriguing book kept me furiously flipping pages because it was just so good that I kept wanting to discover what happened next—and find out in a hurry!

Bleeker excelled at keeping the suspense level high all the way to the end of the novel.  She kept my curiosity piqued about the final decision the main character Lillian would make regarding her husband Jerry and her fellow castaway Dave.  Bleeker really kept me guessing though about the character Paul, and why was he such a big secret, and about the journalist Genevieve, what lie did she know about that she was going to try to force Lillian and Dave to reveal during their TV interviews.

The author’s choice to set up this book in an alternating chapter format really worked well for keeping me interested.  Bleeker switched each chapter between the point of view of Lillian or Dave, and every other chapter also changed from the present-day events to the past time situations that occurred over a span of almost two years being stranded on a deserted island.

I loved the author’s ability to depict the setting so well that I actually felt like I was right on that island, or in that house, or at that hotel room.  What impressed me even more though was Bleeker’s talent at characterization.  She showed both through action and inner dialogue what was “inside the heads” of Lillian and Dave (and husband Jerry), and made me really “feel for” these characters, especially in regards to how the whole situation affected their spouses and children.

Wreckage was a fantastic read I highly recommend you check out, and I certainly will tell all my family and friends to read this book.

Books · Fourth Friday Book Review · Uncategorized

FOURTH FRIDAY BOOK REVIEW

Every Fourth Friday of a month I will post a book review.  Sometimes it will be a book I read years ago, other times I will have just turned the last page of the novel and feel like writing a review about it.

Last month my review was about a novel that involved hiking – this month it will be hiking again, but a nonfiction book.  Why so much hiking?  Because it’s hot, hot, hot where I live right now, and sometimes it was hot, hot, hot in these books on the hiking trips.

I’m also about to go on vacation – driving 19 hours one way – with my mother-in-law Jane.  That made me think about good books to read while driving, and about going on trips, and about my mother-in-law, Jane.  What?  Ha!  I got to thinking about Jane because I recommend this month’s book to her after I first read it five years ago.  She immediately read it—and loved it just as much as I did.  I gave this book 5 stars on Goodreads, which means “It was amazing.”  

WILD by Cheryl Strayed

The memoir WILD by Cheryl Strayed is heartbreaking and inspiring.  The author’s writing is poetic and profound, and at other moments no-holds-barred frank and then even at turns educational, demonstrating Strayed possesses a writer’s voice that is unique, refreshing and outright exquisite.

This story chronicles the author’s hiking excursion—all 1,100 miles of it—along the Pacific Crest Trail, known as the “PCT.”  This is a path that goes from the Mexico/California border all the way up to just past the Canadian border, and the trail crosses through numerous mountain ranges.

At the age of 26, Strayed resolved to hike the PCT without taking along a hiking partner and with a goal of finishing the trip in around 100 days—even though the amount of experience she had with overnight backpacking was … zilch.

Strayed herself called this an “arguably unreasonable decision.”  It came after a series of emotionally devastating events that caused the author to react with destructive behavior.  The inciting occurrence was four years prior when her mom died at a young age from cancer, which then led to the unraveling relationship between herself and the remaining family members, and the beginning of the end of her marriage.  Strayed’s feelings of deep pain and emptiness drove her to sleep around—with several men and while she was married.  One of the lovers introduced her to shooting heroin and also impregnated her; the outcome of that was an elective abortion.

The author believed trekking solo through “the wild” on the Pacific Crest Trail would be a way to “save” her.

The “pre-PCT” upheavals are introduced at the beginning of the memoir to show the reasoning behind the “why” of the hike, and they are explored further in various chapters via short flashback scenes or sometimes by just one or two sentences.  Memories of these loved ones and incidents would be triggered when the author would come to a particular spot on the trail, either one of surreal serenity and beauty, or a destination that had required an extra-super physical challenge to get there.  Strayed would then endure the heartache, anger and regret from the previous years all over again, but she would also at times arrive at an “Ah-ha!” moment of understanding and acceptance about her life—which in the end did indeed lead to the author’s “saving” as she had hoped.

Some of the passages in WILD that hit home on the author’s discoveries during her hike or that highlight Strayed’s fantastic writer’s voice are:

“He broke her nose.  He broke her dishes. … But he didn’t break her.”

“The loss of my family and home were my own private clear-cut.  What remained was only ugly evidence of a thing that was no more.”

“He hadn’t loved me well in the end, but he’d loved me well when it mattered.”

“Now my backpack had a name: Monster. … I was amazed that what I needed to survive could be carried on my back.  And, most surprising of all, that I could carry it.  That I could bear the unbearable.  These realizations about my physical, material life couldn’t help but spill over into the emotional and spiritual realm.  That my complicated life could be made so simple was astounding.”

“I went to the river and squatted down and splashed my face. … Where was my mother? I wondered.  I’d carried her so long, staggering beneath her weight.  On the other side of the river, I let myself think.  And something inside of me released.”

“Another toenail looked like it was finally going to come off.  I gave it a gentle tug and it was in my hand, my sixth.  I had only four intact toenails left.  The PCT and I weren’t tied anymore.  The score was 4-6, advantage trail.”

Strayed’s memoir WILD is a book I’m definitely wild about and one that I will encourage all my friends and family to read.  Her writing style is truly wonderful, and I eagerly look forward to enjoying her novel TORCH.

Books · Food · Fourth Friday Book Review

FINAL FRIDAY BOOK REVIEW

Every Fourth (or Final) Friday of a month I will post a book review.  Sometimes it will be a book I read years ago, other times I will have just turned the last page of the novel and feel like writing a review about it.

I live in Texas where about 300 days of the year the weather is hot enough to wear shorts and to do “summer-like” activities – such as hiking.  Texas is also a place where tons of good food can be found.

Thinking about hiking and food made me think about Barbara O’Neal’s novel The Secret of Everything, so that is why I chose it for June’s Final Friday Book Review.  I read this book five years ago, but still enjoyed it so much that it popped into my head this week.  I gave it 4 stars on Goodreads, which means “I really liked it,” and I think you will “really like it” too!

The Secret of Everything by Barbara O’Neal

The title of Barbara O’Neal’s novel says it all, as The Secret of Everything includes a little bit of everything for all kinds of readers.

Anyone who loves outdoor adventures, animals, who is a foodie, nature lover, who likes learning about a tad of mysticism, who likes books about the bonds between family members, about relationships that occur between men and women in their 40s … any reader fond of these subjects should check this novel out for an enjoyable read!

The main character Tessa is a woman in her late 30s who was raised by her hippie father Sam, and who at one point in her childhood lived in a commune near the town of Los Ladrones, New Mexico.  Tessa grew up traveling the world, and in her adult life found great satisfaction in leading hiking tours.  The novel opens after a tragic event occurred while Tessa led an excursion in Montana, and she has returned to New Mexico to stay with her father, as she tries to recover from both physical and emotional injuries.

The incident in Montana causes Tessa to have flashbacks of a time that her memory had almost completely erased, when she was a little girl who almost drowned in a river while living at the commune.  These bits and pieces of recollections, along with Tessa’s desire to “start living again,” spur Tessa to get permission from her boss to investigate the now “hip” town of Los Ladrones as a possible destination for her to lead tours as a travel guide.

During Tessa’s stay in Los Ladrones, the images of her past become more prevalent, and she crosses paths with people she feels she might have met or been connected to a long time ago.  She forms a relationship with such individuals as restaurant owner Vita, a woman in her 60s with the build of a marathon runner, and with a parolee who works there named Annie, a quiet woman about the same age as Tessa.  At the location of the former commune which now is an organic farm, Tessa meets Cherry and Paula, and these interactions cause her to really question her father for more information about her near-drowning accident as a child—an event he’s tried over the years to disperse as little information as possible about to Tessa.

Single-parent Vince Grasso is a firefighter/rescue worker, who lives with his three young daughters Natalie, Jade and Hannah.  Immediate sparks fly between Vince and Tessa, but she’s not sure what might happen with this family, as she still struggles with the hurts of her past, and how to handle the baggage Vince himself carries.

O’Neal displays her talent for description throughout the entire book, from food, to locations, to people.  I admire an author who has the ability to make an object on the page almost palpable, and who can create a setting with such detail and use of sensory description that I feel as if I’m sitting at that location right along with the characters in the book.

A couple of examples when the author displays her skill in this area occur any time a scene takes place in the market in the plaza or at the 100 Breakfasts Café, or whenever O’Neal describes food, such as this passage:

“She skimmed the thick outer skin from the mango and bit into the buttery flesh, mopping the juice from her chin with a bandana.  The tea was hot and milky, sweet with real sugar, and the bread—while not quite as tangy as San Francisco sourdough—complemented the mango perfectly.”

Speaking of food, one of the unique aspects of O’Neal’s novel is the inclusion of several recipes for the menu items served at 100 Breakfasts Café. (My favorite I’m going to try to make is Breakfast #90 Huevos del Diablo.)  I also discovered the author’s website includes multiple recipes for dishes mentioned in her other novels.  Sweet!

This was the first time I’ve read any of O’Neal’s writing, and since I enjoyed her writing style and this story, I will certainly buy other books by this author.

Books · Fourth Friday Book Review

FOURTH FRIDAY BOOK REVIEW

Every Fourth Friday of a month I will post a book review.  Sometimes it will be a book I read years ago, other times I will have just turned the last page of the novel and feel like writing a review about it.

My 10-year-old daughter checked out a biography from her school library the other day that was the story of an Auschwitz survivor.  That book made me think of Jodi Picoult’s novel The Storyteller, so that is why I chose it for May’s Fourth Friday Book Review.

I read this book four years ago, and it is one of four books I have read by Jodi Picoult.  I gave it “5 Stars” on GoodReads, which they say means, “It’s amazing.”  Yup.  That pretty much sums up what I think about this novel!

My Review of The Storyteller by Jodi Picoult:

Jodi Picoult’s writing in this novel is phenomenal, just like it was in another of my favs she wrote,  My Sister’s Keeper. It is definitely a tie now for my favorite author between Picoult and Anita Shreve!

Reading The Storyteller will give you the same disturbing feeling as seeing the movie Schindler’s List did. You’ll shake your head as you read about the horrific events surrounding the account of character Minka’s time at Auschwitz. Even though I’ve read/seen many things about the Holocaust, the tragedies that occurred during World War II are really brought home due to author Picoult’s extraordinary talent at making a reader intensely feel each emotion of the characters in her novel.

What makes The Storyteller extra exceptional though is the main issue of this book. Minka’s 20-something-year-old granddaughter Sage faces a huge moral dilemma when character Josef walks into the bakery where Sage works making bread and pastries. Josef tells a secret to Sage, and then he asks her for a favor beyond all favors.

Sage wrestles between what she feels is right and wrong all throughout the novel, and which path to take regarding Josef. At end of the book, Sage’s decision might still leave readers questioning if her actions were admirable or appalling.