Sunday, 8 December 2013

Travelers Rest by Ann Tatlock

christian fiction, military fiction, woman's fictionHave you ever bought/received a book and decided it is not the right time to read it?  You can pick it up with intentions to read it, but you end up putting it down because it didn't feel right?  When you finally do feel like it's time to read it, it resonates with you.  It speaks to you at the particular moment in your life.  There was a reason why you waited.

This is one of those books.

I received this book right before I stopped blogging last year due to my pregnancy.  I wanted to read this book.  I have read one other Ann Tatlock novel, All the Way Home.  I LOVED that book.  Why I haven't picked up more of Tatlock's works is a mystery.  Travelers Rest is proof that I need to.

The novel starts out with Jane Morrow entering the VA (Vertran's Administration) hospital in Ashville, NC.  Her fiance, Seth Ballantine, is a patient there after being shot in Iraq.  His injury left him a quadriplegic and giving up on life.  Jane is there trying to move forward with the plans for their lives.  Seth is looking at his future as if there isn't one.

At first I cringed at the fact that this storyline involved the military.  I assumed, wrongly, that perhaps Ms. Tatlock was using this military/Iraq war to gain readers.  And honestly, I don't want to read military-related stories.  (If anyone ho-hums about this, I am prior-service military.  I'm not military bashing.  I plainly do not want to read about the military!)  So it took me awhile to get through the first few chapters.  I'd read a half a page to a page before setting it back down.  But I'm so happy that I stormed through like a good trooper.  I was rewarded with a lovely story of hope and carrying on--all of which I needed to hear at the time of reading.  This book spoke to me, not only with the story being told, but in such a way that it gave me a new perspective on what was going on in my life.

Tatlock also uses the story the remind us that people are placed in our lives for a reason.  Jane is befriended by a retired doctor, Truman.  He is someone who helps guide Jane through the life-changing injury for both Seth and herself.  As much as he helps Jane, Jane helps Truman receive forgiveness in a decades-old event that resulted in life-long consequences for him.

The story is one that helps us understand that there is a reason we go through what we do, and there is significance in everyone we meet and share experiences with.  Ann Tatlock seems to do this effortlessly with fully developed characters, making me fall in love with them all.  I cannot recommend this book enough.

From the publisher:
A YOUNG WOMAN determined to honor her commitment...
AN INJURED SOLDIER convinced life is no longer worth living...
A RETIRED DOCTOR certain it's too late to be forgiven...
Jane Morrow has a dilemma, and love alone may not solve it. Her faith has never been strong, yet somehow she hopes God will answer her prayers and tell her what to do. The answer she finds may not be at all what she expected...
*****

Author: Ann Tatlock
Publication Year: 2012
Publisher: Bethany House
ISBN: 9780764208102
Pages: 342
Rating: 4.5/5
Source: Received from Publisher

Thursday, 28 November 2013

One Thousand White Women by Jim Fergus

From the publisher:
historical fiction, 1875, American West
One Thousand White Women is the story of May Dodd and a colorful assembly of pioneer women who, under the auspices of the U.S. government, travel to the western prairies in 1875 to intermarry among the Cheyenne Indians. The covert and controversial "Brides for Indians" program, launched by the administration of Ulysses S. Grant, is intended to help assimilate the Indians into the white man's world. Toward that end May and her friends embark upon the adventure of their lifetime. Jim Fergus has so vividly depicted the American West that it is as if these diaries are a capsule in time.

I'm not sure what I expected when I picked up this book.  What I read, quite frankly, exceeded my expectations for the book.  Plainly, I loved it!  Even when I wanted to dislike it, I couldn't.

The synopsis caught my attention as I found the storyline quite unique.  Fergus uses this intriguing storyline to take us into the world of the rugged American west during its formation.  He gives us a glimpse of life for Americans who were settling and the native people who lived on the land for generations.  He gives us a view of the struggles, and the attitude of both peoples, bringing me to a deeper understanding to the men and women moving west and the people, their lives and cultures, they were displacing.

It is apparent to me that Fergus did extensive research on the time period and on the Cheyenne tribe, their language as well as the expansion of white settlers and their attitudes.  It left me quite sad, feeling a bit like May, being caught up in two worlds.  It left me with a greater understanding that although we all have differences between our cultures, we're actually more alike than we realize.  And that those that we perceive as intolerant may indeed exceed our tolerance levels and actually have more understanding that we apprehend.

I was a bit sceptical about Mr. Fergus, a man, telling the story from a woman's point of view. I have to say that I was quite impressed (or maybe astonished) that he understood how to tell a story well from a woman's perspective.  Even though I felt that May was way too calm under her circumstances, that although she records her emotions, she was a little too "calm, cool, and collected" for me.  But that didn't matter.  I felt connected to her.

One other tidbit that I usually find annoying in novels is when a character has an accent, the author feels the need to write the words in the manner in which the character spoke.  For example, a southern accent + darling = dahrlin'.  This has a habit of annoying me as a reader.  But not in this book.  In fact, I quite enjoyed the emphasis on the accents, especially the Irish twins, Meggie and Susie.  I loved it.  I could hear them speak so clearly in my head.  It made the novel so much better.

Reading the novel, I could see it be made into a wonderful movie, if done correctly--and not by Hollywood.  Doing a quick search online, it seems that others felt the same. IMDb indicates that it's "in development," which means nothing, but the idea is out there.

The history is rich in this novel.  As a reader, I appreciate that.  As someone who loves history, I enjoying learning through fiction.  I like that the author respects the reader enough to research.  I like the fact that the author respects the Cheyenne people enough to try to get it right.

I can't say enough positive things about this book.  In browsing reviews, I find that people either really love this one or hate it.  I encourage you to give it a go as I thought it was a wonderful, historic, educational, thoughtful, and entertaining read.

Author: Jim Fergus
Publication Year: 1998
ISBN: 9780312199432
Pages: 434
Rating: 4.5/5
Recommend?: Yes.

Sunday, 16 June 2013

Review: The Fiddler by Beverly Lewis

From the publisher:

Come home to Hickory Hollow, Pennsylvania--the beloved setting where Beverly Lewis'
Christian fiction, Amish fiction
celebrated Amish novels began--with new characters and new stories of drama, romance, and the ties that draw people together.
A wrong turn in a rainstorm leads Englisher Amelia Devries to Michael Hostetler--and the young Amishman's charming Old Order community of Hickory Hollow. Despite their very different backgrounds, Amelia and Michael both feel hemmed in by the expectations of others and struggle with how to find room for their own hopes. And what first seems to be a chance encounter might just change their lives forever.

Michael, Amish, has desires for himself outside of the life that was built for him.  Doing so would create a plethora of consequences that he is not ready to face.  Ameila is a concert violinist who secretly moonlights as Amy Lee, The Fiddler.  It was not the sort of thing that is expected from a concert violinist.  Both Michael and Ameila are caught between living the life that is expected by others and living the life that they truly desire.

When Amelia has a flat tire on a stormy night, she ends up at the front door at Michael's place of escape--a cabin hidden away in the woods in rural Pennsylvania.  After getting to know each other, Michael invites Amelia to visit Hickory Hollow, his community.  This begins their journey of finding themselves and each other.

Trying to understand the draw of Amish fiction again, I decided to give veteran Amish storyteller Beverly Lewis a chance.  I have never read her work, but the contemporary setting left me a bit intrigued.  While it didn't answer my question of, "What's the big deal about Amish fiction?" it was an enjoyable read with the characters having a story that almost all of us can relate to in one fashion or another.  Most of us understand the expectations that others have--even expect--of us. Whether it was our parents, friends, or society, we can relate to the internal struggle of doing what is expected of us versus what we desire for ourselves.  Witnessing the struggles of Michael and Amelia helped me to connect and relate to them.  It made a story that I would not normally relate to into a story where I could embrace the characters and storyline.   I ended up thinking that no matter where we come from, we all have similar struggles.  And that helps the reader make a connection with the characters.

A good read overall, I suspect fans of Amish fiction would devour this one.  The book has almost convinced me to give Amish fiction chance instead of dismissing the genre entirely.



***

An interesting show I watched pertaining to Amish who have left their communities is called Amish: Out of Order, which aired on National Geographic Channel.  This is an intriguing look at why people leave their Amish families and communities and the struggles they have while they try to assimilate into English society.  I don't watch much tv, but tried to catch this one when it was on.  A:OoO is not to be confused with TLC's Breaking Amish, which is fabricated.  While the cast may have been Mennonite and Amish at some point in their past, there is evidence that proves they have been ex-Amish for some time prior to the show being filmed.

Here is an interesting article on why Amish fiction is so popular.

Title: The Fiddler
Author: Beverly Lewis
Publication Year: 2012
Publisher: Bethany House
ISBN: 9780764209772
Pages: 323
Rating: 3.75/5
Recommend?: Yes.

Tuesday, 11 June 2013

Arms of Love by Kelly Long

From the publisher:
The year is 1777. America is in turmoil.  And Amish life is far different than today.
Christian fiction, Christian historical fiction, Amish fictionPennsylvania in the late 18th century, once called William Penn’s Woods, was an assortment of different faiths living together for the first time in American history. Included in this tapestry was a small and struggling population called Amish.
Surrounding this peaceful people were unavoidable threats: both Patriots and the British were pillaging land and goods for the sake of the war, young Amishmen were leaving the faith to take up arms and defend freedom. A simple walk in the untamed forests could result in death, if not from bullet or arrow, then from an encounter with a wild
animal.
Amid this time of tumult, Adam Wyse is fighting a personal battle. To possibly join the war efforts and leave his faith, which would mean walking away from the only woman he’s ever loved: Lena Yoder. But for that love he’s made a promise that may keep them apart permanently.
When Adam withdraws from Lena, she’s forced to turn to his brother, Isaac, for support. Must Lena deny her heart’s desire to save Adam’s soul? And will life in this feral and primitive New World be more than this peace-keeping people can withstand?
I took the opportunity to read this book because I wanted to experience why Amish fiction is such a popular sub-genre of Christian fiction.  It has honestly baffled me.  I can understand people wanting life a little simpler or to become more self sufficient.  With those reasons, I can recognize the draw.  Beyond those reasons, I have no clue what the fascination is with these books.  After reading this books, I'm still asking myself, "why?"

Set in the 18th Century America, I as drawn to the novel because of the time period.   Long includes tidbits of history of the Amish during this time.  She did recreate a place where there was the struggle of being Amish in the midst of America's War of Independence, which is something I have never pondered.  The Amish tried to live their lives, but the two worlds occasionally collided.

Generally, I did enjoy the storyline, but it's one of those that the obstacle could be rectified easily if people would only communicate with one another.  The personal struggle that Adam had with being Amish and leaving his community to immerse himself into a culture that was at war--a harsh contrast to his beliefs--are struggles that I assume Amish today also struggle with.

If you've read any of my other reviews, I tend to want my story to go on for a bit longer.   This story, on the other hand, seemed to go on for too long.  Conflict and obstacles were constantly thrown at the characters where I said, "enough already!"  It seemed that the story could have used some editing as there a came a point where I went from moderately enjoying the story to wishing it was over.

Most fans of Amish fiction will love this, I suspect.  If you're not a big fan of Amish fiction, then I think readers will find it lackluster.

Title: Arms of Love
Author: Kelly Long
Publication Year: 2012
Publisher: Thomas Nelson
ISBN: 9781401684969
Pages: 320
Rating: 3/5
Recommend? If you enjoy Amish fiction.
Source: Received from publisher via BookSneeze.

Saturday, 18 May 2013

Birdsong by Sebastian Faulks

From the Publisher:  The bestselling and much-loved classic – Birdsong is an epic tale of love and death during the Great War. Set before and during the great war, Birdsong captures the drama of that era on both a national and a personal scale. It is the story of Stephen, a young Englishman, who arrives in Amiens in 1910. Over the course of the novel he suffers a series of traumatic experiences, from the clandestine love affair that tears apart the family with whom he lives, to the unprecedented experiences of the war itself.

WWI, Historical Fiction, War fiction
Coal miners would take canaries with them in the tunnels.  Sensitive to deadly gases that may build up underground, when the bird stops singing and dies, it's a good idea to get out or you will not carry on to see another day.

Tunnel rats during WWI also used canaries for the same reason.

This was a difficult book for me to read.  It took me about a year from beginning to end.  It was emotionally too much. The tagline of this book is "of love and war."  I'm afraid that many people, mostly women, will pick this up thinking this is a love story.  Oh, there is romantic love, and the beginning of the novel is where the affair between Stephen and Isabelle emerges.  However, I don't believe this book is about romantic love.  It is the love of our fellow man, the love of humanity and for each other.  The love of carrying on.

After the affair and Stephen finds love for the first time in his life, we are whisked away to WWI--The Great War.  This is initially where I stopped reading.  Faulks in graphic in his writing.  Not gory--truthful.  He gave us a picture of reality of war and of life in the trenches and tunnels.  He educated us on the realities of war, watching people you know taking a breath one moment and having it expire in the next.  Stephen experienced and saw what no man was ever meant to be a part of.

This is why I stopped reading.  Being pregnant at the time, I didn't want those images in my mind.  While a new being was being knitted in my womb, I was witnessing the destruction of similar beings that were created and formed inside a woman.  A woman went through great pains to bring forth this life.  Most of the men were probably nurtured and loved as babes . . . and now that I have my own babies, it is very difficult to find a reason for us to dehumanize each other in such a way.  This is why it was so hard for me to read.

I had kept my copy about, the childing having access to it.  C. likes to flip through my books, pick a page and exclaim, "I like this page!"  Z. was just a little and it became a teething device.  (And it's okay that they did such damage to this one.  After buying it, I realized that I have a hardcover edition in my store TBR books.)  I found it fitting that my children took such a fascination to his book over all the other books I leave about.

Back to the novel . . .

I found that I needed a little adjustment period every time Faulks switched eras.  As I said, first that was the period before WWI and the romance of Stephen and Isabelle.  Then we just to WWI.  After we trudge through this time period, we're transported to the late 1970s.  From there we jump back and forth between WWI and the 1970s.  At first I found this quite annoying, but I quickly fell back into the groove as the final pieces of the story was put together.

There are parts of this novel when I felt i was obvious a male was writing.  One was the encounters between Stephen and Isabelle.  Another was when a female character was giving birth.  Right before she pushed the baby out, she was worried about bloodying the towels.  Seriously?  With my first I went all natural, my second was induced, but no pain meds, and my third was a c-section.  Right before the baby is about to come into this world, I cared for nothing--even if the entire world was witnessing the event.  Blood on the towels would be the last thing on my mind!

Ultimately, I loved this novel.  It sits with me the way that "Every Man Dies Alone" still does.  It makes you look deep inside yourself and examine ourselves and our world.  It makes you think of the past, the lives it held and the tales that could be told.  And, in all honesty,it makes me a little apprehensive towards the future.

If you haven't read this one already, add this to your TBR pile.  And put it close to the top.

•••

A miniseries of Birdsong was produced in the UK last year and was shown on Masterpiece on PBS.  I did watch maybe a half hour of it, but didn't let myself watch more because I hadn't finished the book.  Here's the trailer:

And it appears that Hollywood is trying to make their own version.  Although Sebastian Faulks is keeping a tight reign on production.  Good for him!  I think that Hollywood tends to butcher pretty much, well, everything.


Title: Birdsong
Publication Year: (First) 1993 / This edition 2012
Publisher: Vintage Books
ISBN: 9780099573098
Pages: 503
Source: Personal copy
Rating: 4.5/5
Recommend?: Yes.

Friday, 19 April 2013

Review: Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein

WWII fiction, YA fiction, did not finish bookFrom the Publisher: Code Name Verity is a compelling, emotionally rich story with universal themes of friendship and loyalty, heroism and bravery.
Two young women from totally different backgrounds are thrown together during World War II: one a working-class girl from Manchester, the other a Scottish aristocrat, one a pilot, the other a wireless operator. Yet whenever their paths cross, they complement each other perfectly and before long become devoted friends. But then a vital mission goes wrong, and one of the friends has to bail out of a faulty plane over France. She is captured by the Gestapo and becomes a prisoner of war. The story begins in "Verity's" own words, as she writes her account for her captors.

When I received an email announcing a chance to read/review this book, I jumped at the chance.  Not usually a YA fan (although I admit to devouring "The Princess Diaries" series in my early 30s), I had heard so many positive words about this WWII novel. I was so happy that this was the first YA that I have come across that isn't dark/paranormal and set in one of my favorite reading eras.  I thought how can this go wrong?

Unfortunately it did for me.

Oh, I know the praises this novel received.  These praises are for a reason, I suspect, but I made it through about a quarter of this one before I called it quits.  I found it long and tedious.  I thought that the character, who was writing her story as a Nazi prisoner, was far-fetched.  While I don't know the ins and outs of the techniques used by the Nazis to retrieve information from their enemies, the ones I do know of were not pretty.  I couldn't move beyond the idea that it would have taken her AGES to write what she had written.  I doubt the Nazis were that patient.

Maybe it was the fact that I was pregnant that turned me off of this one.  War isn't something that a pregnant woman wants on her mind.  Who wants to read about endless death, dying and brutality whild a new life is being created inside of you?  Now that baby is thriving outside the womb, I still do not see myself taking a second chance on this one.

What do I know?  Only that there are so many reviews singing its praises.  Many loved this one.  If you're a fan of YA and/or WWII era fiction, I'd give it some consideration.  Afterall, it was shortlisted for the Carnegie Medal.  I, however, am moving on and not looking back.

Title: Code Name Verity
Author: Elizabeth Wein 
Publication Year: 2012
Publisher: Doubleday Canada
ISBN: 9780385676540
Pages: 352
Source: Ebook ARC via Netgalley
Rating: Didn't finish
Recommend?  No.

Tuesday, 5 June 2012

MOMumental by Jennifer Grant

From the publisher:

Adventures in the Messy Art of Raising a Family

Christian Non-fiction, Parenting bookOne mom’s humorous and candid memoir shows would-be supermoms how to create a realistically balanced family life without losing their minds.
A longtime former writer for the Chicago Sun-Times and now a columnist for the Chicago Tribune, Jennifer Grant is no stranger to the common reader. MOMumental is a foray into the enormously amusing, creative, and taxing process of raising a family and a starkly honest memoir that mothers everywhere can identify with. With narrative that is chock-full of humorous, poignant stories drawn from her everyday adventures as a mother and wife, Grant presents an entertaining and inspirational book that will give readers uncommon insights about being an intentional parent.

It has been my experience that most parenting books want to tell you that your baby or child must do: A, B, C.  And to do this, as the parent, you must do: X, Y, Z.  If it fails, then you must assume that you are doing something wrong.

I learned during my early days of parenting that these books aren't worth the paper they're printed on.

However, if you're looking for guidance in the parenting department, starting with MOMumental is not a bad idea.  This book is different.  It's a lighthearted, humorous view on parenthood (because, really, there are time we have to laugh to stop us from crying).  And Ms. Grant quickly become an ally in parenting.  This is not another 'mom vs. mom' fire ignite (think Time magazine) or someone spouting off a list of dos and don'ts.  Instead, Grant is a mom who has been there, lived through the early years of parenthood with a handful of kids, and is here to tell us that the feelings and thoughts we have, especially in the early years, are normal.  And we will survive.

Grant does not paint herself as a perfect parent.  Oh, she did have dreams of being a perfect parent, especially as a child.  Her childhood, being raised in a single parent home after her parent divorced and her dad fell out of the picture, led her to have a fantasy about her future life with her future family.  The reality is a much different life than the envisioned future of a young girl living through a family torn apart.  But Grand is quick to remind us that reality does not equate "bad."  Parenthood may not be easy, but it can turn out okay.

I'm usually hesitant about reading "parenting" or "mom" books I'm happy I gave this one a chance.  In a world where moms have to be perfect with perfect children or face the harshness of other moms and society in general, MOMumental is a breath of fresh air.  It is a reminder that no mom or dad is prefect and that we will make mistakes.  Grant also reminds us that we shouldn't feel guilty of these mistakes because most will not have any long term effects upon the children.  Having a fantasy family is just that--a fantasy.  But with hard work, and some stumbles along the way, we can create something wonderful within our family.  And reading Grant's book is like sitting around with your girlfriends over a cup of coffee, sharing your parenting dirt with sympathetic compassion instead of condemnation.

Title: MOMumental
Author: Jennifer Grant
Publication Year: 2012
ISBN: 978-1-61795-074-2
Publisher: Worthy Publishing
Source: Review copy supplied from Handlebar Marketing
Rating: 4/5
Recommend?  Yes, especially if you're a new, first time parent!