Blue stained wood with crimson carnations

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Book Review: Whispers in the Reading Room

Hello Dear Readers! Today I am reviewing a fabulous looking new book from author Shelley Grey, Whispers in the Reading Room! I love the cover of this book, it drew me in right away and made me want to know what mystery I was going to uncover inside!
Our heroine is Lydia Bancroft, the librarian for a small reading room in Chicago after the World’s Fair. Lydia loves her little domain of books, helping others love reading, and reading about the faraway places and adventures that she will never experience in person. Having fallen drastically in fortune after her father’s death her mother is doing all in her power to make an advantageous society match for Lydia and restore their fortune and social standing, though willing to help her mother the only way she knows how Lydia would really love to be left to the solace of her books!
When the quiet and mysterious library patron Sebastian Marks comes to Lydia’s rescue one day the two of them begin a whirlwind friendship that knocks Lydia off her feet with his attentions and kindness- and finds her wishing that there might be more than friendship between them. When Lydia finds out that Sebastian is the owner of a notorious underground gambling saloon in the worst part of town she must decide who he really is, who she can trust, and how any relationship between them can survive.
From the first moments of opening this book I was sure I was going to love it- and I did! Whispers in the Reading Room is a zippy read with a smart and resourceful heroine in Lydia. She is someone who has curiosity about the world around her and dreams about what it would be like to be the heroine in one of the books she reads. She is someone who is both a compassionate dutiful daughter and someone who knows her own value. Sebastian is an interesting and different hero who comes from a rough-and-tumble background and has raised himself to prosperity and sophistication through his love of reading.
I found the word play between the two book lovers a delicious treat for a fellow bibliophile and I liked the language banter between them. I even found myself laughing out loud at their discussion of Austen’s Emma as I too would agree with Sebastian’s opinion! J  I really loved the author’s writing style too and I as a read through I found myself delighted as I haven’t enjoyed a turn of phrase so much in ages!  Shelley Grey is a new author to me and this is the first of her books that I have read but I can’t wait to go and pick up the other two books she’s written under the “A Chicago World’s Fair Mystery” banner!

Overall, this book is a fast paced fun read. Sometimes the relationship between Lydia and Sebastian moves quickly in this novel but I didn’t find it out of place, it just reflected the fast pace of the swinging city. I didn’t find any big red flags in this content wise, many of the scenes take place in Sebastian’s world, which is far from propriety, but nothing was overdone or gratuitous. Whispers reminded me of any number of old black and white films. In fact, though the settings are a bit different, this book really reminded me of the Judy Garland movie The Harvey Girls! Whispers in the Reading Room will be a great weekend read for anyone! In fact, I dare you to try and put it down! 

Final Rating: 4.5 

I have been given a copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review and opinion of the product.

Book Review: The Girl From the Train

Well dear readers, I have to admit that it took a little getting into to begin this book but now that I dedicated some time to beginning afresh I have to tell you that I wizzed through this book in a day’s time! I simply couldn’t put it down!

The Girl From the Train by Irma Joubert is a book with a bit of an unusual history. Originally published in South Africa, and then the Netherlands, it became a best seller in both countries! Now it has again been translated, into English this time, and is being published through Thomas Nelson.
Beginning in Poland during the height of the Second World War we meet little six year old German-Jewish Gertl Schmidt and are drawn along into her life story. Gertl is orphaned, family-less, homeless, and hopeless- until she comes into the life of Jakob Kowalski who fights for Poland with the Home Army and against all forces- German or Russian- that want to destroy his beloved homeland. Gertl and Jakob form a strong bond- the kind that can only be forged in the intensity of bombs, and blood, and the pain of relentless nightmares.

In time Jakob and his family can no longer safely care for Gertl in the politically turbulent Poland so he is forced to send her where she can be better cared for, and eventually have a chance at a new life as an adopted war orphan in South Africa.

I was really kind of blown away by this book! Through reading it I realized even on a subject I thought I had thoroughly covered there is still so much about WWII that I do not know and so much I need to learn. Many times historical fiction that is written on this era is told from the point of view of an American or a Brit, having this story told from the eyes of a person who is in the very center of the conflict packs a huge emotional punch. For example, there is a moment early on in the book where knowledge and book hungry Gertl has been studying an atlas and is trying to identify nearby markers and towns but the thing she searched for, Auschwitz, wasn’t on the map. I have to tell you that one small line, one small detail, was like being doused in cold water.

The beauty of this book is in the small details. The storytelling style reminded me (from what I remember) of the Little House series. The style is not elaborate or embellished but is simply related in honestly told truths. In Gertl’s younger years many of her personal observations come off as stark or abrupt but it is simply the nature of a child who has seen and experienced things beyond her years. In time this matures into a special kind of warmth and magnetism as Gertl, now Afrikkans Grietjie Neethling, becomes a young woman.

I am known for loving books that have well drawn detailed descriptions- for a girl who grew up on George MacDonald it’s no wonder really. It’s the quality of those descriptions and what they end up conveying however that are the important part. So often writing can go from in-depth to long-winded in the space of a few words, but that is not the case here. In The Girl From the Train so much is said in so few words- and the effect is very powerfully touching. 

On the ‘warnings’ side of things readers should be aware that there maybe a few instances of objectionable material depending on their comfort level with wartime violence or romantic scenes. There is two times that profanity occurs and while I don’t condone that it’s not gratuitous or out of place for the context of the setting. This book also explores the two faiths of Catholicism and Protestantism and does a good job of relating why those faiths are different even while respecting the sincerely held beliefs of both. One little nitpick was that I very much wished the publisher had included some type of glossary at the end for help in pronouncing some of the eastern-European and Afrikkans names and places. I confess I felt rather stupid bumbling through them and wished I could say them properly!

I would highly recommend this book as being the next thing you should read! I was taken in from cover to cover and feel as if I read something worthwhile for my time. It is a book that I know will be driving me to dive back into world history- and left me very satisfied with Grietjie’s new beginnings in the end.

Final Rating: 5

I have been given a copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review and opinion of the product.

Thursday, March 17, 2016

Book Review: Reservations for Two

Being the restaurant chef person that I am I was really eager to get a hold of this book and review it. I thought the premise of Reservation for Two by Hillary Manton Lodge to be a nice and refreshing one. Amongst all the bonnet novels- Amish and otherwise- and the other historicals on the market I was ready for a contemporary novel set in the food world!

I requested and began this book not realizing it was book two of a series, something I avoid like the plague as I find it difficult to come into a cast of pre-established characters and backstory and not feel lost and uncomfortable but I decided to just give it a go.

From the first the reader is dropped, literally into the middle, of a conversation that feels as if it’s been directly carried over and picked up right where it was left in the first book. It was off putting, frankly, and I struggled to figure out what was going on and what I had missed from the first book. It is clear in the first few chapters that the main character, Juliette, has been undertaking a great adventure as she searches for clues to her grandmother’s past but it was hard to figure out what was going on and who all the people were beyond that. Without the back of the book I would not have been able to figure out anything.

Another reason I struggled with this book is that I found the writing style to be a rather odd one. I consider myself a person who has read widely and enjoys a variety of literary styles but this I did not enjoy. This I found unreadably choppy and really missing a lot of the trimmings that makes a text pleasant to read.

In the end I will confess that I did not finish this book. After a certain point I simply began flipping and skimming till the end.  It’s a fact that galls me to admit as I’ve sat through a number of truly horrid novels and forced myself to finish them word by word, but with this every paragraph was a losing battle.   

In the end I won’t recommend this book. Not because I found something terribly wrong with it but because it just wasn’t my style. Perhaps for others it might be. Perhaps if it had been the first volume it would have had a chance. 

Final Review: 1.5 

I have been given a copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review and opinion of the product.

Monday, March 14, 2016

Book Review: Irish Meadows

I have had a terrible time in sitting to review this book.

In all honesty I was finished with it a good six or seven months ago but since then it has sat in my review stack as some horrible pariah that I haven’t been able to purge. And I assure you I have tried! Multiple times I have sat to review this and simply gotten tied up two or so paragraphs in unable to sort out the heart of this story or what to say about it.

At the beginning I thought this was a book that I would very much enjoy. The setting is a horse farm in 1911 Long Island and the background of the family is Irish- and who doesn’t love a good strong Irishwoman on a quest? Brianna’s quest is to attend collage but her father’s vision is to marry her and her sister off and quick to the richest man he can find in order to infuse the farm with badly needed cash. Needless to say their wills clash like the climax of The 1812 Overture.  To complicate matters her childhood best friend Gilbert is at war with himself over pursuing her hand or striking out to make his own name in horse farming.

Then there is Brianna’s older sister Colleen, a frivolous scheming incorrigible flirt determined to be the ruin of herself and her family. As punishment for a particularly egregious scheme Colleen is sent to work with orphans in the big city under the watchful care of straight-from-Ireland distant cousin and soon to be priest Rylan. And what’s a reforming bad girl to do but fall in love with a priest?

Readers, if this seems like the beginnings of a complicated plot I assure you that I have only scratched the surface!! This book goes from jam-packed to ridiculously drawn out and twisted with every passing chapter. I began with liking one sister and hating the other and by the end of the book had completely flipped my opinion on them. It was like one grew and matured as the other devolved and regressed into completely absurd childishness! The respective beaus didn’t help matters either and in both cases willingly compromised their beliefs in order to get what they wanted. Any extraneous angst over their decisions was overdone and sadly disingenuous. To top things off the girl’s father never stops bullying whoever is in his reach to do his bidding- no matter who gets hurt. I am frankly sick to death of the overbearing tyrant father trope; there is any number of other ways to put people into pickles then to malign fathers in a culture that does quite enough of that already. 

Overall I couldn’t have been less impressed with a cast of characters than I was with these- and considering I started out loving them for the first third of the book that seems a great feat.  
Throughout this book I found the Spiritual content sadly lacking.  This book comes from a strongly Catholic viewpoint and I found myself wondering why the author felt the need to go that direction when surely there are just as many Irish Protestants as there are Catholic’s? When writing for a Christian publishing house one would have thought the author would have considered this. Beyond that I found the Spiritual counsel that Ryland gives to be doctrinally unsound.

For the above reasons mentioned, and many more that I could list, I cannot recommend this book. I forced myself to read through to the end and finish it to see if the end would be any better than the middle but it wasn’t, and any book that makes you want to fling it across the room out of disgust for the stupidity and childishness of the characters just isn’t worth reading.

And that’s the end of it. 

Final Rating: 1.5

I have been given a copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review and opinion of the product.

Perspectives On Misbegotten Days and Mercy

Note: These thoughts were journaled about a month ago when I was on a two week work-visit at my Gran's. 

I have to admit that I didn’t have my best day the other day. 

The day had begun with hope and great anticipation as I was expecting to get out and see my mom, my niece, and to be able to finally connect to the internet and send some important messages after more than a week being stuck in the time warp of my Gran’s house.

Hope came crashing down around me in the form of eight inches of snow and a canceled doctor’s appointment.

Crushed doesn’t begin to describe my disappointment.

After a bit I decided I really shouldn’t be crying over something that couldn’t be changed and dug into my morning devotional book. The entry for the day was on “Not Why, But How” and encouraged the reader when suffering- be it horrible disappointments or burdensome illness- to just do the next thing and to ask God for joy in doing what you’re doing, big or small. For me, it really bounced off of a previous entry that talked about weaving the straw of our hardships into the gold of fulfilling his purposes for us.

So I set out on my morning with that perspective and prayer of turning a day I deemed rotten from the start- into something good.

And I promptly fell flat on my face.

Have you ever experienced one of those moments where someone smashes down on one of your buttons hard and unexpectedly- and you lose it?

Yeah, me too.

Well I’ll tell you, as I slammed the door behind me and marched out of the house with my shovel to do my worst to the thing that had ruined my morning I knew I had acted wrongly and would have to apologize. Thing was I didn’t know how to do that and not cause a full-scale meltdown. So, long after I had finished my little path down the walkway and to the mailbox I stood there, a frosty sentry to the garage stewing in my own indecision. I prayed as I stood there and whined and murmured at God about how this was not joy, and this was certainly not gold either! 

It’s a good thing God has a sense of humor and that He doesn’t strike us down with the plagues of Revelation when we are floundering.

It’s a good thing He gives us mercy instead.

His mercy to me that morning was a divine appointment that was far better than the doctor’s appointment that was planned.

His mercy pulled right up to the curb of my Gran’s house, pulled out a shovel, introduced themselves as a neighbor, and offered to help me clear the eight inches of dense-pack white stuff in the driveway. An hour later when Jamie and I had finished we tramped into the house for some fortifying coffee and a slice of fresh baked apple cake and got to start getting to know each other.

Jamie is a mid-twenties girl on her own, not much family to speak of, and only a few friends. She is in a point of her life where she is beginning again in many areas and looking for purpose for her life. She was full of questions for Gran about her Scottish background and our family, and it was nice to share that with her and see her excitement of learning something new as she heard stories I’ve heard a hundred times about how my grandparents came to the states.

As our conversation meandered she began to talk about deeper topics like “The Dash” between our birth and death dates and what we use our lives for, about a program she watched about evolution, and about how she believed her mother’s death was helping her help a friend who recently lost their mother.

And there was my mercy. There was my joy. Hiding under half a foot of snow and ice was my gold.

I had the privilege of witnessing to Jamie that morning. I talked to her about how our lives do have purpose and about our loving Creator. She talked to me about her interest in learning about God and about finding a church to go to. When Jamie left that morning she had my info and my favorite tract to share in her hand, she had my promise to help find a good church.

When Jamie left that morning I had received the blessing and the joy in double measure. I had seen the straw turned to gold.

I had started the day off with not my best of anything and had been given the best of His everything.
I stared off the day missing out on one appointment and was given another in its place of far greater significance, one I would never have had if not for eight inches of snow.

One I never would have had if not for His mercy even when I fall flat on my face. 

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Book Review: The Painter's Daughter

Well friends it's been a very long-time-no-see since I've been posting here and I have been missing writing and doing book reviews a great deal! My stack of books for review is topping out at around 18-20 inches tall and growing more daunting every month that a new book arrives in my mailbox so with the beginning of a new year and, well, not a new me but hopefully a better organized me I hope to get back in the swing of posting here regularly- books and recipes and all sorts of the random thoughts that skitter through my brain! :)

The first book I will be reviewing this year is "The Painter's Daughter" by Julie Klassen. I have reviewed several of her books now and have enjoyed them all- I even have a few 'bought for later' titles on by bookshelf waiting for a quiet moment to pick up and enjoy!

In this book we hear the tale of Sophie Dupont who while she is a talented artist in her own right spends her days as her prominent father's assistant, hidden away in the shadows. It's no wonder then that when a dashing charismatic artist comes to study in her sleepy little seaside town that she falls for him quite completely- and then becomes a fallen woman as well. When Wesley runs out on her looking for the next great muse of his heart she has no idea where to turn or what she will do.
Enter Captain Stephen Overtree, sent on a mission to retrieve his older wayward brother and return him to his duties on the family estate. He finds Sophie instead of his brother and learning of the situation he has left her in makes a drastic proposal- a marriage proposal! With little hope of Wesley returning in time to save her from complete ruin she takes her chances with a man she doesn't know and prays all will turn out well!

There is nothing I love more than a good thick book with lots of well written details and phrases, and with plenty of twists and turns- and coming in at a robust 450 plus pages this book  hits the criteria on both counts! After the initial introduction and set up of the plot things quickly deepen and expand and take the reader on a good journey along the way- and through a few hidden passageways as well! I really like both Sophie and Stephen and it was nice to see their relationship develop along the way and even deepen as they are separated as he returns to his military duties. Sophie is kind and gentle and is very content to come and live on the family's estate and find her niche there amongst the family while she anticipates the arrival of her child. Stephen is a scarred war hero who is trying to do his duty to the Lord he loves and the vocation he finds himself in. While he appears thunder and bluster on the outside he is a true and honest man, a devoted and loyal man inside. Together the make a great pair! Their road getting there is not as cut and dry as all that though and as they face bumps, detours, and their own personal demons they both must learn to lean on the Lord for their support.

My one little nit pick in this story is that I felt Sophie had the potential for more growth than she was given. I would have liked to see her not slide quite so easily or naturally into whatever role she was asked to play. At times she seemed too quiet and willing to go along with what anyone asked of her- which I suppose is how she got into the trouble she was in in the first place. It would have been nice to see her growing gradually into the resolve she exhibited in the final chapters.

Overall I really enjoyed this book! It was a very pleasant read over a few days, and late nights, and I was well satisfied with the ending and how all was put right. It's always encouraging to read how God can redeem even our greatest mistakes and regrets and brings us into pleasant places! And if anyone knows where to order me up a Captain Overtree hit the contact button and let me know, I think I have an opening! ;)

Final Rating: 4.5

I have been given a copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review and opinion of the product.

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Book Review: Anne of Green Gables, My Daughter, and Me

Today I'm eager to review the hot off the presses 'literary memoir' "Anne of Green Gables, My Daughter, and Me" by the versatility backgrounded author Lorilee Craker. This is the first such book by Craker in the literary memoir genre and my first time reading such a work. "Literary Memoir" is relatively new genre in the professionally published world but it's what the fangirls of the world have been writing and reading as 'meta' (an introspective essay on the person's feelings and views of a particular fandom or element from that fandom) for years. I can't say that I've read anything like this before in the professional context- as it falls somewhere between fiction and non-fiction- so I don't have anything with which to compare it. I will instead try to relate to you the eyes with which I experienced it firsthand.

Anne was essential to my growing up.

I first attempted to read the books at 7-8 years old but even being the advanced, voracious reader that I was at that point in time I couldn't quite get my teeth around it. A few years later it was an entirely different story. Anne didn't just provide me with interesting settings and characters to dabble in; Anne marked central points in my understanding of life and people and in her I identified with the little girl with the emotions and dreams that were too big for her to contain. Anne was my literary soul-mate and bosom friend, and her life story played a huge role in making me who I am today.

That's one reason why I think that everyone who has read "Anne" has an Anne story. We identify with her and she leaves marks on us- and she certainly has left marks on the author too!

This book takes the reader through a compelling retelling of the Anne story as she herself as a child, and as an adult found those stories paralleling with her own. When Craker experiences loneliness and bullying at school we hear about the infamously mean-spirited Josie Pye and about how Craker's coming upon a bosom friend of her own made her strong enough to overcome the mean-spirited girls at school. These parallels continue throughout the book as the author has run-ins with her own Gilbert Blythe, Mrs. Rachel Lynde, and Matthew Cuthburt as the cast of characters of her life are unfolded. Central to Craker's story is her orphanage and adoption as an infant, her search for her birth parents as an adult, and how that all shapes and effects her. The author also takes us along for the ride as she and her husband themselves adopt a little girl from Korea and how that also weaves back into Anne's, and Lucy Maude's story.

I really enjoyed this book- and in fact read it in a single day- something that has not happened with any book I've picked up in a really long time! The story drew me in however, and I was once again enthralled with reliving Anne's story, and with seeing it through another's eyes. Having in interest in the Korean people and culture myself I was also riveted with the long letter-style descriptions of the week that she and her husband spent in The Land of Morning Calm when they went to bring their daughter home. It was in exciting vignette of sounds and sights and smells that rang true with all that I have learned about that beautiful country in recent years. Though not overly Spiritual in content Craker is consistent in weaving a thread of Spiritual understanding throughout that helps to nicely tie together the overall themes of where we find our identity and security, whose child we are, and surviving- and healing- from all the cracks that find their way into our lives from us being bereft, left behind, and left- each of us orphans in our own circumstances.

One thing that niggles at me as unanswered was about daughter Pheobe's name change. The name she was given at birth was Eun-Jung meaning grace. From my experience many adoptees will keep that birth name as a middle name, honoring their heritage, and little Pheobe has a Korean middle name, Min-Ju. Perhaps no one else would notice this detail or find it worth mentioning but as the author was so thorough in revealing and explaining everything else in her daughter's story I was disappointed when I kept expecting the answer to 'why change that from the original name?' to come and it never did.

When it comes down to it "Anne of Green Gables, My Daughter, and Me" is a beautiful story of love and acceptance and one I would recommend to any who are willing to wade through the tempestuous emotional waters of adoption. For me, the adoption issue may not have played a part in my life thus far, but it is an issue that is near and dear to my heart- and it's one that I hope plays a part in my future. It's one that looking back now that I suppose I could say began with Anne in the first place. So in many ways, just as Anne shaped me as a child she is shaping me as an adult too; in many ways though I have identified with Anne as a child I still identify with her and I am still writing my own Anne inspired story...complete with emotions and dreams that are too big for me to contain.

And I think that's pretty cool.

Final Rating: 5

I received this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review and opinion of the product.