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.

Saturday, 18 May 2013

Birdsong by Sebastian Faulks

WWI, Historical Fiction, War fiction
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.

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.

Thursday, 17 May 2012

Secret Daughter by Shilpi Somaya Gowda

India American adoption story From the publisher: Somer’s life is everything she imagined it would be—she’s newly married and has started her career as a physician in San Francisco—until she makes the devastating discovery she never will be able to have children.
The same year in India, a poor mother makes the heartbreaking choice to save her newborn daughter’s life by giving her away. It is a decision that will haunt Kavita for the rest of her life, and cause a ripple effect that travels across the world and back again.
Asha, adopted out of a Mumbai orphanage, is the child that binds the destinies of these two women. We follow both families, invisibly connected until Asha’s journey of self-discovery leads her back to India.
Compulsively readable and deeply touching, Secret Daughter is a story of the unforeseen ways in which our choices and families affect our lives, and the indelible power of love in all its many forms.
It's no secret that I tend to shy away from "International Bestsellers" or books that the masses adore.  It seems that when I read them, I can't seem to share the love.  When I came across this book in the thrift store, it sounded interesting . . . different, and I felt like I should give it a go.

I'm so glad I did.

This is the story of two families that live in two very different parts of the world.  One family in the US, an expat from India and his American wife.  They are doctors, affluent, pretty . . . but infertile.  The other family is a poor family living in a village in India.  They wanted to start a family, but it has to be the right family.  This means having sons.  When this family has a daughter, a mother is faced with a life changing, heartbreaking decision that effects them all.

Tied in this gut wrenching story, the story weaves in the truths of gendercide and feticide.  That is the killing of a child due to its gender, whether it's after birth or while the baby is still in its mother's womb.

The story sucks you in right from the beginning, tugging on your emotions.  It was especially hard for me as a mom, as a mom of a daughter, and someone who believes that every life is precious ad real, even when unborn.

I found myself really in awe at how the author described the American wife.  When I lived back home in the US, I never really noticed it.  But since living in Canada (while there are MANY similarities, it isn't the same), I have started to notice what the author described.  And since I discovered the tv show, House Hunters International, a real estate show that follows families moving and finding homes overseas, I've really noticed it.  Americans, generally women, seem to be such snobs!  The character of Somer, our America mom in the story, really suck with me.  How she was a snob to her husband's family and the different lifestyle of people in India.  Even the denial that her own daughter, her adopted daughter from India, is not like her.  The desires for her daughter, Asha, to find out who she is and where is she from, unsettles Somer.  More so as a mother than as an American woman.

We witness the truths of being a poor family in India.  We witness the truths of what is like to be a woman, a daughter and a wife in India. 

While we follow the lives of these families for over twenty years, we witness the evolvement of the relationships between husbands ad wives, parents and children, death and birth.  The lives of the men in this story was not developed, and I can see that some readers will have some trouble with this.  However, I believe the author did this one purpose.  This is a story about women.  This is a story about mothers.

This is a book that I would highly recommend to all.  It is a fast read, each chapter coming from different characters' points of view.  If you've thought of picking this one up, please do so soon!

To bring more awareness to gendercide, a documentary indicating that "the three deadliest words in the world . . . 'It's A Girl!'."  As I have only viewed the trailer and not the entire documentary, I do have to agree that this a problem worldwide--even in our western first world nations.  I came across this article about a month ago.  Canadian moms, born in India, see more sons born than daughters.  Such a significant amount that it is being noticed.

Title: Secret Daughter
Author: Shilpi Somaya Gowda
Publication Year: 2010
ISBN: 978-0-06-197430-4
Publisher: William Morrow
Source: Personal copy
Rating: 5/5
Recommend? Yes!

Tuesday, 28 February 2012

Book Review: By the Light of the Silvery Moon by Tricia Goyer

From the publisher: Remember the Titanic 100 years after its doomed voyage with Tricia Goyer’s fictional portrayal of one woman’s journey. To Amelia Gladstone, this ship means promise of seeing family again. To Quentin Walpole, the Titanic represents a new start in America…if he can get onboard. All seems lost until Amelia offers him a ticket, securing his passage—and bringing him face-to-face with his railroad tycoon father and older brother, Damian. As Amelia works to reconcile father and son, she finds herself the object of both brothers’ affection. Can she choose between two brothers? Or will she lose everything to the icy waters of the Atlantic?

Amelia sets off with her aunt on Titanic's maiden voyage.  Her sister lives in the US and has a marriage prospect with whom Amelia  has been corresponding with.  Her aunt's son, Henry, found himself in some legal trouble and thus missed the voyage.  An extra ticket in hand, they're ready to board the ship when Amelia notices an unkempt man being forcefully removed from the ship.  Having compassion, Amelia offers him the ticket.

Quentin is rather taken aback by Amelia's generosity.  Ever since he spent his inheritance, he's lived a life on the streets in a foreign country.  He has seen how people love you when you have money and do away with you when you don't.

From there, it is easily understood that Goyer is retelling the parable of the Prodigal Son.  We learn that Quentin's father was in England on his never ending quest to find his lost son. His older brother Damian, who stayed by his father's side, has grown bitter over the entire situation.  All of this while romantic interest develops between Quentin and Amelia AND Dominic and Amelia.

Goyer pens a wonderful, heartfelt novel that kept me reading.  I had to know how it ended.  While this is Christian fiction, we know how it will end.  Or do we?  I must say, I was seriously questioning how it all was going to unfold and eventually end.

And to be honest, at first, I didn't like Amelia.  She seemed too . . . perfect.  Then I realised that it wasn't her that I disliked, but parts of myself.  I want to be full of compassion and not turn my eye on someone because they may not appear a certain way or be someone that I deem worthy of help.  Sometimes I succeed; other times I fail.  It wasn't Amelia that I didn't like, but that part of me.  Amelia turned into a character that I cheered on, wanting her to survive and have the one man she truly loved.  (I found reading about the ship sinking, Goyer's portrayal of her characters had my heart going and it really went out to the poor souls who went through that ordeal.)  Ultimately, Amelia is the person that I strive to be.

This was the first Christian fiction book in a long time that kept me reading, turning the pages as fast as I could.  I was sneaking in a few sentences whenever I could because I was eager to see how it all ended.

As I stated, this is Christian fiction, so obviously expect Christian overtones.  However, I think most mainstream reader who enjoy romantic fiction will enjoy this one.

Title: By the Light of the Silvery Moon
Author: Tricia Goyer
Publication Year: 2012
Publisher: Barbour Publishing
Source: Netgalley and Barbour Publishing
Rating: 4.5/5
Recommend?: Yes.

Thursday, 26 January 2012

Book Review: The Pirate Queen by Patricia Hickman

Treasure is found in the most unlikely places.
The envy of all her friends, wife and mother Saphora Warren is the model of southern gentility and accomplishment. She lives in a beautiful Lake Norman home, and has raised three capable adult children. Her husband is a successful plastic surgeon--and a philanderer. It is for that reason that, after hosting a garden party for Southern Living magazine, Saphora packs her bags to escape the trappings of the picturesque-but-vacant life.

Saphora’s departure is interrupted by her husband Bender’s early arrival home, and his words that change her life forever: I’m dying.
Against her desires, Saphora agrees to take care of Bender as he fights his illness. They relocate, at his insistance, to their coastal home in Oriental—the same house she had chosen for her private getaway. When her idyllic retreat is overrun by her grown children, grandchildren, townspeople, relatives, and a precocious neighbor child, Saphora’s escape to paradise is anything but the life she had imagined. As she gropes for evidence of God's presence amid the turmoil, can she discover that the richest treasures come in surprising packages?

Initially, I had a hard time getting into this novel.  At first, I couldn't get past the names of "Saphora" and "Bender."  Really.  Their uptight names mirrored their uptight personalities.  Bender, a successful plastic surgeon was arrogant, flashy with his money and not obliged in keeping his marriage vows.  Saphora, the dutiful wife, kept a smile on her face while keeping up with a wealthy lifestyle.  We meet her during a photo shoot for Southern Living Magazine at her home.  Saphora seemed to trade her dignity for the life of ease.  There comes a time when enough is enough.  After being confronted with smiles and kindness from one of Bender's mistresses, Saphora packed her bags and planned to leave her husband, escaping to their vacation home in coastal North Carolina.  But Bender's uncharacteristic early arrival home thwarts Saphora's escape.  And what he tells her turns her life upside down--he has cancer.

The beginning of the story seemed cold and clinical.  Yet as I kept reading, I started to see warmth emerge.  I'm not sure if it was the author's writing style or that I became so engrossed with the characters that as their hearts softened, I began to warm up to them.

The couple decided to spend time together at their vacation home amongst the comings and goings of their children, their grandchildren and a special neighbor boy.  Through this time of Bender's treatment, and removal from their pretentious life, the couple explores their relationship, and as death becomes a reality, regrets are expressed.  We see Saphora become more independent and sure of herself, a long way from the silent, dutiful wife we first met.

This is a Christian fiction novel where the couple is not Christian.  It is not until the reality of death closes around does Bender consider the possibility of an afterlife.  Hickman uses flawed characters expressing that anyone can come to Christ, no matter their past.  This novel is non-preachy and the main focus is not of Christianity, but the characters.  It is a nice step away from formalistic Christian novels and a pleasure to see.  Unless you're completely turned off by anything Christian, I think anyone who enjoys women's fiction will enjoy this one.

Title: The Pirate Queen
Author: Patricia Hickman
Publication Year: 2010
Publisher: WaterBrook Multnomah
Source: Blogging for Books
ISBN: 9781400072002
Rating: 3.75/5
Recommend? Yes

Thursday, 17 November 2011

Book Review: My Brother's Shadow by Monika Schröder

As World War I draws to a close in 1918, German citizens are starving and suffering under a repressive regime. Sixteen-year-old Moritz is torn. His father died in the war and his older brother still risks his life in the trenches, but his mother does not support the patriotic cause and attends subversive socialist meetings. While his mother participates in the revolution to sweep away the monarchy, Moritz falls in love with a Jewish girl who also is a socialist. When Moritz’s brother returns home a bitter, maimed war veteran, ready to blame Germany’s defeat on everything but the old order, Moritz must choose between his allegiance to his dangerously radicalized brother and those who usher in the new democracy.
 I was a bit taken aback when I learned about this novel.  It seems when I come across YA novels these days, they are full of vampires, zombies, witches and romance.  This is not to offend those of you who read this genre of YA.  I personally do not care for these types of books and was actually quite saddened that this seems to be the only books that are offered to young adults.  I live about two hours away from a decent-sized bookstore and it seems every time I go in, the young adult table is full of the expected.  So I was very happy to hear about this book.  I was even happier when I won it off of Goodreads!

The story is of Moritz, a sixteen-year-old German boy/man who is working as a printers apprentice at the Berlin newspaper towards the end of WWI.  He sees the effects of war everyday, but is printing about victories that he believes are true.  For Moritz, he sees no reason not to believe in the Kaiser and the war even after his father is killed and his little sister succumbs to the realities of war: lack of food, lack of heat, lack of medicine, lack of everything.  His older brother, Hans, admired as big brothers are, is off fighting in the trenches.

Moritz's mother and older sister talk negatively about the war and about the Kaiser, and it is bothersome to him.  He tries to persuade them into thinking his way, to no avail.  Still in awe of his older brother, Moritz joins a gang Hans used to belong to.  This gang is able to find provisions that are scarce and they do so in questionable ways.  Moritz also lands a few opportunities to write for the Berlin newspaper.  He covers protests against the war and against the Kaiser.  He is shocked to learn that his mother is not only attending these meetings, but speaking and organizing them.  After awhile, we watch Moritz start to question his beliefs after witnessing his mother and the other socialists crying out for the end of the war, after he sees a young child starving while politicians and the rich grow fat with goods that are scarce, and after he meets a young Jewish girl, also a socialist.

Once Moritz starts to question his beliefs, his brother arrives home gruesomely disfigured, full of bitterness and blame--blame towards the wrong people.  Moritz sees his entire family, his life, unfold in front of him and has to make some choices that may split their war-torn family apart even more.

At 217 pages, this book is a quick read.  And a very intriguing read.  I found the beginning a little slow, but it quickly picked up.  The history is authentic, and I was able the grasp the severity of war for the civilians left behind.  I was able to feel the tension in Germany between the supporters of the war, the Socialists and other political groups.  And at the end, I was able to understand that it wasn't really the end, but only the beginning.

I highly recommend this novel, both to young adults and adults alike.  I think this would be a wonderful asset to any youngsters 12+ who are studying this time period or have an interest in history.

Here is a trailer for the novel:

Courtesy of Retronaut

Before you read this one, you can head over to Retronaut to view pictures of young men, boys really, who were heading off to war for Germany. 

Title: My Brother's Shadow
Author: Monika Schröder
Publication Year: 2011
Publisher: Frances Foster Books
Source: Goodreads Giveaway Winner
ISBN: 9780374351229
Rating: 4/5
Recommend? Yes!