Thursday, April 27, 2017

Mini-reviews: Girl in Disguise and By Any Name

Kate Warne is a unique woman, so she seeks a unique career. She is not content to be a governess or seamstress; instead, she applies to be a Pinkerton detective. Her boss is initially hesitant, but he decides to give her a try. Once she shows what she can do, she becomes a vital part of the Pinkerton team as she can go places and hear things that her male colleagues cannot. Based on the cases of the first female Pinkerton detective, Girl in Disguise follow Kate as she runs right into danger discovering thieves, working as a spy, and maybe even saving the president.

It's great fun to follow Kate from case to case and witness her defy the expectations of her co-workers. Unfortunately, you never quite feel like you know Kate the person. I don't think this is Mcallister's fault though; she writes in the notes that none of Kate's personal records survived. It must be difficult to bring a character to life based on some brief case notes that other people wrote. Even if our protagonist never quite comes off the page, I would still recommend this one as a way to learn a little about an incredible woman who was the first in her field.

Girl in Disguise
By Greer Macallister
Sourcebooks Landmark March 2017
308 pages
Read via Netgalley


Rida's daughters have spent a lifetime trying to understand their strong and enigmatic mother. She met their father Spencer at a dance for officers during WWII, where she was spotted wearing four engagement rings. But Rida leaves all of those men to marry Spencer and spend a lifetime defying the conventions of Spencer's wealthy and ordered family. Rida's daughters know that their time with their elderly mother is short, and they are comparing notes about what they know of their mom.

Like many young people in the 1990s, I loved reading Cynthia Voight's Homecoming series. She excels at writing about the bonds of family and the ways that people both encourage and disappoint their loved ones. So I was excited to see that she had written a novel for adults. This isn't my favorite of her books, but it is a clear-eyed look at the bravery and cost of being an independent woman during the 20th century. Rida is a woman who approaches her marriage or her children with her own rules and expectations and she certainly doesn't let societal norms of the day keep her from becoming a successful landlord before it was acceptable for women to do so.  By Any Name is a great read for anyone who has loved her books before and a perfect introduction to her writing for the reader who is encountering her for the first time.

By Any Name
By Cynthia Voight
Diversion Publishing April 2017
270 pages
Read via Netgalley

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Review: We Were the Lucky Ones

Sol and Nechuma Kurc are proud of their family. Their five children are beginning to marry and start families of their own. But the Kurcs live in Poland in 1939 and their lives are about to change in ways they cannot fathom. Sol and Nechuma keep their heads down in the Polish ghetto while their son Addy tries to escape Europe, their daughter Halina works for the resistance, and their daughter Mila desperately tries to protect her young child. We Were the Lucky Ones is a story that crosses continents and generations to provide a unique and heartbreaking story of the cruelty and devastation of World War II.

I read a lot of books set in this time period. This kind of historical fiction has to do something extra special to draw me in. This time, I read rave reviews all around and as it turns out, they were right. Hunter does an excellent job of showing the very different experiences that Jews had during that time. It also covers a greater span of time than most of these stories, since it begins in March of 1939 and goes through the spring of 1947 as people emerge from the literal rubble of Europe and try to find their family. Each chapter begins with a brief overview of what was happening in the war so the reader understands what is about to happen, even if the characters do not yet.

Some reviewers say that the characters are not fully developed here, but I think the missing component is the opportunity for preference. The characters here have no choice other than survival and there is no place for us as the readers to know someone's favorite food or the thing that drives them crazy because living for another day takes everything these people have. We do get a bit more development from Nechuma, the matriarch and Addy, one of the sons who is in France at the beginning of the war. Nechuma can show us who she was during an entire lifetime and Addy has the security to fall in or out of love and think about the music he wants to compose. Ms. Hunter has not deprived us of robust characters; rather, she reveals just how much focus is required to survive when every choice could be the last one.

As a young woman, Georgia Hunter discovered that her family survived the Holocaust as Jews in Poland. She interviewed her surviving relatives and began to piece together what they done and where they had been. Hunter admits that there were some things she could not find, so this story is part family history and part fictional account. Whether each event is fact or fiction, the vein that runs through this story is just how quickly everything can change; for these characters and for victims of modern wars, there is no such thing as safety in a war zone. If you are a reader who enjoys books set in this era or just enjoys a carefully told story about family, We Were the Lucky Ones is a book you must read. Once you meet a  mother determined to see her son again, a wife who will give everything to break out her husband, and a husband storming a fortress for the safety of his family, you will never forget them.

We Were the Lucky Ones
By Georgia Hunter
Viking February 2017
416 pages
From the library

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

I'm back!

I had the best intentions, friends. I was going to schedule posts for this week after I told you that I was jetting off to Scotland.


But then I didn't. I left Tuesday evening with my mom and two flights later, it was Wednesday morning in Scotland and we were off to visit my sister. She has been studying at St. Andrew's this semester and we decided we should see her and Scotland before she came home!


We visited beautiful castles, a writer's museum, and ate so much food. We met my sister's friends and saw where she had been living and taking her classes. I still did a good amount of reading; really, it's not that hard when you have a six hour flight. I finally read One Hundred Years of Solitude after it languished on my bookshelves for years (like I bought it at Borders kind of years). I also read Lilli De Jong, Keeping Place: Reflections on the Meaning of Home, and A Bridge Across the Ocean.

Now I am trying to catch up on my life and looking forward to my birthday and the 24 Hour Readathon this weekend!

Thursday, April 13, 2017

Nonfiction mini-reviews: A Hope More Powerful Than the Sea and How to Talk So Little Kids Will Listen

Doaa Al Zamel was a young woman living in Syria with her parents and siblings. It became too dangerous to stay in their home and the family fled to Egypt. They settled for a while, thinking they might just find some peace and happiness. Doaa fell in love with a man named Basseem and they started to think about marriage and starting their own family. Then the regime and climate in Egypt changed and they were harassed, assaulted, and unable to find work. Doaa and Basseem decided to make the perilous journey across the Mediterranean. Their journey does not go at all according to plan and Doaa, Basseem, and the rest of the people on the ship found themselves abandoned in the water. A Hope More Powerful than the Sea is the tale of Doaa's incredible survival.

Author Melissa Fleming is the chief spokesperson for the UN High Commissioner for Refugees and she writes in the afterword of this book about her search for one particular story that would help the general public understand and empathize with the plight of refugees. When she read this one, she thought it was perfect fit. Doaa's story is indeed heartbreaking and compelling, but it feels very distant from the reader. I imagine some of that is due to Doaa and others working through a translator and then other reporters and colleagues contributing pieces to this book. I wish that we felt more like we interacted with Doaa, but her story is a vital one for everyone to understand just what refugees go through in their attempts to reach safety.

A Hope More Powerful than the Sea:
One Refugee's Incredible Story of Love, Loss, and Survival
By Melissa Fleming
Flatiron Books January 2017
From the library


Joanna Faber grew up in her mother's shadow. After all, her mom was one of the authors of How to Talk So Kids Will Listen and Listen So Kids Will Talk. When Joanna found she was still having trouble with her small children, she teamed up with her friend Julie King to write a guide that built on her mother's research but focused on toddlers and preschoolers. These moms draw on their own experiences, an understanding of psychology, and the stories of hundreds of parents to create a book that is indispensable for moms and dads.

How to Talk So Little Kids Will Listen works as both a general guide and instructions for very specific circumstances. The authors provide parents with a set of ideas that they refer to as the parenting toolbox, like acknowledging feelings, making things fun, giving a choice, or problem-solving with your child. These tools are then shown in application at bedtime, when your child lies, and during the madness that is trying to get out the door in the morning. This is a book that I will be referring to often, as I navigate life with my little girl.

How to Talk So Little Kids Will Listen:
A Survival Guide to Life with Children Ages 2-7
By Joanna Faber and Julie King
Scribner January 2017
Read via Netgalley

Monday, April 10, 2017

It's Monday and the crazy continues!

Hi fellow bibliophiles! How are things?

You know what ensures that this time of year is never boring? Working in a church and having a husband who is a pastor. In the weeks leading up to Easter, things get downright hectic around here. Then we throw into the mix a 3rd grader who is off from school, a 3 year old who does normal toddler things (like cut off half of her hair with her brother's scissors), and my prep for a trip after Easter.

After typing all that out, I feel slightly better about the frantic list-making that is going on in my house right now. But that doesn't mean that reading has stopped. As it turns out, the reading has actually been quite plentiful this week! I'm trying to get through a stack of library books before I go away. So I read We Were the Lucky Ones, The Parents' Guide to Boys, The Princess Diarist, and A SeparationI started listening to Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe, because we all need to listen to Lin-Manuel Miranda read a book.



Now I'm reading The F Word. This will be my second foray into the books of Liza Palmer, after I enjoyed her Girl Before a Mirror. 

What are you reading this week?


Thursday, April 6, 2017

Review: A Simple Favor

Stephanie is a widow who is raising her son Miles in the suburbs of Connecticut. She is thrilled when they become good friends with fellow mom Emily and her son Nicky. One day, Emily asks for a simple favor: Stephanie picks Nicky up from school and keeps him at her house until Emily gets home from work. But Emily never comes home. Sean, Emily's husband, returns from a business trip and starts frantically searching for his wife along with Stephanie. The two parents do their best to keep life normal for their children, but Stephanie can't shake the feeling that something is very wrong. Emily is missing, and she is the only one who knows Stephanie's darkest secrets.

I picked this book, at least in part, because it had to do with motherhood and friendship. These are things I look for in books because they are big parts of my life. But it turned out that the characters in this story care little for their relationships and parents who are dedicated to their children are pretty regularly mocked as naive and stupid. I don't necessarily need characters to be kind or good, but I do like them to make sense. In this story, their actions often seem haphazard as they contradict things they just revealed.

In spite of this, A Simple Favor is a story that makes for a quick and compelling page turner. It has been compared to Gone Girl and Girl on a Train. The perspective switches between Emily, Stephanie, and Sean, and you can be sure that none of these people are reliable narrators. If you enjoy thrillers and books about twisted people making bad decisions, this might be the perfect book for you.


A Simple Favor
By Darcey Bell
Harper March 2017
304 pages
Received for review from TLC Book Tours and the publisher


Want to learn more about this book? Visit Harper Collins here
Want to read some more reviews? You can find the rest of the TLC Book Tour reviews here.

Wednesday, April 5, 2017

Audiobook Review: Shadowshaper

Sierra Santiago is ready for the summer, to spend time with her friends and work on the mural she has been commissioned to paint. But strange things are happening in her neighborhood: people are disappearing and a zombie crashes a party. Sierra learns that her grandfather, who has recently suffered a stroke, was a part of a group called the Shadowshapers. They can utilize magic through stories and art and Sierra discovers she also has this ability. With the help of a fellow artist named Robbie, she must find out who is attacking Shadowshapers and save her friends and family.

Many readers loved this story and I agree that Daniel Jose Older has created a fabulous protagonist, a fascinating kind of magic, and a vivid community of characters. But the best part of this book for me was the narration by Anika Noni Rose. She brings Sierra and every character to life with specificity and nuance. She could probably narrate a dictionary and I would listen with rapt attention.

There is so much going on in this story. You feel as if you are walking the streets of Sierra's Brooklyn neighborhood with her and it is clear that Older took care to ensure that each character is unique and well-known to the reader, even among the large group of Sierra's friends. I did occasionally wish we had some more information about the way that the magic of shadowshaping works, but we are learning through Sierra's eyes and so we are just as new to it as she is. There are several points in the story when Sierra isn't sure what she should do next; I'm pretty sure we would be the same if we suddenly discovered we were heirs to a complicated and dangerous kind of magic. I am excited to see what evils will infiltrate Brooklyn next and how Sierra will come into her own as a woman and as a shadowshaper.

Shadowshaper
By Daniel Jose Older
Narrated by Anika Noni Rose
Scholastic Audio 2015
7 hours, 21 minutes
Listened to via the library

Monday, April 3, 2017

It's Monday; thank goodness for Facetime!

Hey friends!

I spent much of the evening in a lovely Facetime session with my sister and brother-in-law in California, so I have just a few minutes to squeeze in this post before heading off to bed.

It's been a pretty good week around here. D lost a tooth, which means he lost two teeth in as many weeks. I had a meeting about some new editing work, so I'm excited to start working with them and grow my little editing business.

I read The Hate U Give, which was just as well-written and thoughtful as everyone says, and A Simple Favor for a TLC Book Tour. I also squeezed in The Magnolia Story, which will make you smile if you love watching Fixer Upper on HGTV.



Right now, I'm reading We Were the Lucky Ones, one of many books in my giant library pile.


What are you reading this week?