Blue stained wood with crimson carnations

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.

Monday, August 17, 2015

Book Review: Maggie Bright

"Maggie Bright" by Tracy Groot is a book that is difficult to describe, and to put into words the emotional punch that this one volume contains. I started out picking it because I have a great fondness for the WWII era, and stories of the war of my grandparents generation. It's unusual to see novels written in this era anymore so it went straight on to my list. I was hoping to find a nice little adventure romance contained in it's pages but what I found was so much more!

The book's first character is Claire Childs, an orphaned young woman who has recently mysteriously inherited the small pleasure boat the Maggie Bright. Now making it her home, and hoping to make it her bread and butter by turning it into a floating B&B Claire is full of dreams for her future despite the war whose front lines inch ever closer to England's shores. Into Claire's life come marching a vivid cast of characters all with designs on or connections to her little boat- as she begins to piece together the mystery of why she is a target her whole world is rocked by secrets of what is happening behind enemy lines and she is faced with decisions on just how she can make a stand for what is right.

The secondary story that runs parallel to and eventually intersects with Claire's is one of a bedraggled group of soldiers ordered to evacuate to the seaside town of Dunkirk, France as Hitler's forces push hard at their fleeing heels. Traveling with a mysterious injured captain who spouts nothing but Milton's Paradise Lost these soldiers know not what awaits them there- possible rescue or possible slaughter- but they know that if they delay in any way they will be surrounded, cut of entirely from the British forces and left with no possible hope of rescue.

From its opening pages Maggie Bright will grab hold of your lapels and whisk you away on an adventure. Though readers will find the storytelling style a bit different from the usual paperback romance I found it in no way takes away from the book itself. In fact, from the very beginning I felt like I was reading a war movie straight out of the 1940's! This book quite simply swings. The pacing is fast, the dialogue staccato, and the characters punchy. It's really like Bogart, Bacall, and Bette Davis have come walking off the pages! Groot has done an incredible amount of research into the history and time period into which she sets her story and it shows- it shows in the most striking ways as the reader progresses through the story and I was in turn tickled by it and devastated by it! By the final chapters I was on the edge as I anticipated the conclusion and although I had done some googling and found out historically how what became to be know as The Miracle of Dunkirk concluded I was entirely surprised by where the author takes this patchwork cast of characters and how she sews everything up!

The one caution that I give content wise is to remember this is a war drama. There are sometimes graphic, but not gory, descriptions of the things that are seen in war- in WWII to be specific- and it can sometimes take your breath away. There are also 2-3 usages of British curse words.

I would highly recommend giving "Maggie Bright" a read, I was not one bit disappointed by it and was in fact, looking for when I could expect the sequel so I could catch up with this cast of characters again and find out more about what happens next! The thing I realized though is that it really is meant to end the way it ends. Dunkirk, although an important milestone in the war, does not mark any victorious finale, the war for these men and women will continue on after we have left them and they will continue to do as they have already done- act dutifully, and courageously in the face of great evil, and with the cost of great personal sacrifice. It's like the walkaway in the final scene of "Casablanca"- evil is not vanquished but hope lives on- and that is the beginning of something for the cast of the Maggie Bright that is beautiful.

Final Rating: 5

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

Book Review: A Love Like Ours

It has been a while since I read Becky Wade's debut novel "My Stubborn Heart" so I thought it was time to pick up another one of her books and give a progress report for this author!

This summer Wade's new release is "A Love Like Ours" and follows the story of Lindie James and Jake Porter. Lindie and James were inseparable best friends as kids until a family move separated them and took them down different life paths. Lindie, the little girl with big heart and big spirit spent time helping take care of her disabled sister, caring for thoroughbred horses, and developing her skills to become a children's fairy tale author and illustrator. Jake however, joined the Marines, spent time on the battlefield, and came home the lone man of his team and full of brokenness and regrets. Now the two of them are back in the same place at the same time in the same hometown of their childhood and Lindie is looking for work at the stables Jake manages. As Lindie begins to work out the troubles and fears of a prize stallion she begins to wonder if the same gentleness and attention works on troubled cowboys too?

This story has all the right elements of a book worth loving- family, heart, and cowboys. :) I really enjoy cowboy books and like seeing the contemporary cowboys stories that have been trickling out in recent years as I grew up reading Christian westerns and miss them not being prevalent in the market now! This story paints some very likable and relatable characters within its pages and follows a well laid out storyline that moves at a good pace for both the reader and story. Lindie is a character that is easy to love and who is sweet and unassuming but also weathered by life and determined on the paths that she feels God is leading her on. Jake is everything that is typical of a wayward lost soul but really has plenty of heart worth loving and redeeming.

The one element that I questioned was how Jake's spiritual development within the story doesn't match (or exceed) the pace at which his and Lindie's romantic relationship develops. While both Lindie and Jake come from Christian families it is Lindie that has held strong to her faith, and Jake who has become estranged from God. Every Christian should know that Scripture lovingly commands us to not be unequally yoked with an unbeliever for our own good. On that basis it really raises my hackles to see the romantic relationship progress to a fairly advanced stage (cuddling, deep kissing, allowing him to spend the night in her home on her couch) while Jake is still very much struggling with whether or not he can ever believe in and trust God again. As she comes to a point of having to separate herself from the closeness she has allowed Lindie experiences a great deal of heartache that I felt so sad to see her go through as I feel it could have been avoided with a little more reserve.

Overall I enjoyed this book! Becky Wade's storytelling and pacing skills have definitely continued to improve since her first work while the same heart and humor has remained intrinsic to her style. I liked the story and all of the characters even the side ones like Lindie's mom or her neighbor Amber; or Jake's siblings- especially the feisty Dru! They add plenty of depth and color to this story and make it feel like its about real people that you might meet and not just characters in a book. If you're heading to the beach or away for a weekend getaway with what's left of the summer I recommend you pick up a copy of "A Love Like Ours" and get lost with some cowboys for a while!

Final Rating: 4

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