Thursday, May 4, 2017

LISTEN LOVE REPEAT BY KAREN EHMAN

Image Credit: goodreads.com
Rating: 5 of 5 stars

People who know me can usually tell I am a Christian by faith. As such, some of the book reviews I post here are based on Bible studies in which I've participated. One of my favorite ministries is the Proverbs 31 Ministry. This group conducts several five-week studies throughout the year. The latest, and the fourth for me, is Listen Love Repeat: Other-Centered Living in a Self-Centered World by the very empathetic and hospitable Karen Ehman. (The Proverbs 31 Ministry is based on Proverbs chapter 31 in the Bible. As such, much of the educational and spiritual material is targeted towards women.)

Not to take anything away from this book, but Listen Love Repeat isn't rocket science. It's core message is about taking the focus off of your own issues and loving God by loving His people. It's really a simple three-step approach: 1. Love God. 2. Love People. 3. Then, do it again and again. But what seems so simple is principle is often difficult to put into practice. In this book, Ehman makes the theory practical, tangible, and attainable. She shows us how easy it can be to care for the hurting, care for our families, and even care for people who at first glance don't seem very lovable. The author's practical approach, based in God's Word (aka The Holy Bible) is thought-provoking. For me, it convicted me in many areas of my life stretching me to grow, go, and give more of myself.

I truly believe Ehman is a strong woman of God who has a passion for not only caring for people but helping women grow into more developed, mature Christians.

Recommendation: If you're feeling like your life doesn't have as much purpose as it should, I think this book will help show you how the little things you are doing (or can do) help you help others. And in today's cantankerous climate, I think we can agree that we can all use a little more love.

Until next time ... Read on!

Saturday, April 29, 2017

THE TRESPASSER BY TANA FRENCH

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Rating: 4 of 5 stars

If you've read previous posts on my blog, you know that I am a fan of Tana French. Her mystery books feature fictional detective characters from Dublin's Murder Squad that are completely engrossing. I've reviewed the last two (of the currently six-part series) on this blog. The Secret Place and Broken Harbor were both good. I found The Trespasser to be excellent. It's one of my favorites of the series. The special thing about these books is that they do not necessarily have to be read in order.

In this sixth book, we again meet partners and detectives Antoinette Conway and Stephan Moran. Both of these detectives were featured in The Secret Place. The difference is that Moran's character narrated the former while Conway gives voice to this latest novel. We learn Conway has a bit of a chip on her shoulder having suffered a considerable amount of harassment and hazing as the only female detective on the squad. Additionally, because she and Moran are the new kids on the block they tend to get the lesser profile cases. So, when they are given what seems like an open and shut domestic abuse turned murder case, it doesn't surprise them. However, Moran, who tends to be more emotionally aware and creative in exploring all options before giving up on a case pushes Conway out of her black-and-white, matter-of-fact comfort zone. While this dynamic makes them good complementary partners, it causes a bit of a rift between the two because throughout the book Conway becomes more paranoid about her place on the squad. The two also have to contend with two fellow detectives who don't appear to be on the up-and-up, and who certainly aren't trying to help them with the case. These factors push Conway and Moran to evaluate the case more closely and take the reader on a roller coaster ride of a murder mystery.

I don't want to give too much away because the building suspense is what makes this story so compelling and what makes French such a great writer in this genre. All of her books in this series, delve right into the case. Along the way you learn about the featured detective and how his (or her!) relationships shape their respective lives. Just like real people, the characters are flawed but have redeeming personality traits. The mystery keeps you, the reader, invested, but the character development is what really rounds out the story.

Recommendation: I would definitely recommend this book as well as all of the books in the series. All of them are available at my local library, so stop by yours and pick up one today. It doesn't have to be the first one. I bet you won't be disappointed. And don't forget to come back and share your thoughts here!

Until next time ... Read on!

Sunday, April 23, 2017

Wednesday, April 5, 2017

THE ODDS OF LOVING GROVER CLEVELAND BY REBEKAH CRANE

goodreads.com
Rating: 4 of 5 stars

After consuming several books with heavy topics, The Odds of Loving Grover Cleveland was a nice departure from the norm. I think Rebekah Crane capture the voice of adolescents very well.

The story is about a group of troubled teens who are sent to a summer camp to help find their respective selves. The main character, Zander, is dealing with a family issue that she is reluctant to share. Other campers have issues with eating/body image, compulsive lying, mental illness, and simply wanting to fit in. From day one, Grover Cleveland takes a liking to Zander.

The story is quite predictable in what happens - unlikely friendships are formed, relationships blossom, obstacles are overcome, and it all kind of ends in a happily every after way. The author took on some serious topics in a very superficial way, but I think it worked well for this genre.

Recommendation: I received a free electronic copy of this book via Amazon's "First" Book benefit from my Amazon Prime membership. I don't think I would have picked this book up on my own or paid for a copy. It's a light, fun read that you might consider borrowing from your local library.

Until next time ... Read on!

Saturday, March 25, 2017

ALL DIFFERENT KINDS OF FREE BY JESSICA MCCANN

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Rating: 2 of 5 stars

Although All Different Kinds of Free was published a mere 6 years ago in 2011, it was next to impossible to find a hard copy readily available for purchase in the Dallas/Fort Worth metropolitan area. That probably should have given me an indication of its quality. However, I purchased and dug into the story as it was a book club selection.

The author, Jessica McCann, made an attempt at producing a creative historical fiction novel based on an actual U.S. Supreme Court case (Prigg v. Pennsylvania). There was great opportunity with the U.S. on the cusp of the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850 and the Civil War, shortly thereafter. I don't think McCann was successful in advancing a well-rounded story. There were gaps in her story, typos in her copy, and characters that were not fully developed. After plowing through the 267 pages (that felt more like 672 pages), the ending seemed rushed, like McCann was being forced to get her book to publication, resulting in a conclusion that wasn't particularly satisfying nor complete.

The story is set in the 1830s, during a time when the country was becoming more divided on the morality of the institution of slavery. The main character, Margaret Morgan, was living as a free woman with her family in Pennsylvania. Because there is some ambiguity about her freedom status, her former owner takes advantage of this to produce financial gains for herself. Her former owner hires a bounty hunter to kidnap her and her children (one, who was undeniably born free). The Morgans are forced into slavery to help alleviate debts of Margaret's owner.

Meanwhile, McCann offers up the nitty gritty details of the Supreme Court case regurgitating what is probably the court proceeding's transcript, verbatim. I found this section to be informative, but it slowed down the pace of the story a great deal.

I didn't find any redeeming value in this book. Margaret's former owner clearly has a change of heart, but it's too little too late. Margaret's husband sacrifices a great deal trying to get his family back. The lawyer that argued the Supreme Court case to help prove that the kidnapping was illegal wasn't successful and becomes depressed. Margaret's hometown in Pennsylvania experiences violence and riots as a result of the Supreme Court ruling. I think McCann tried to give the reader some hope at the end of the story through Jim Green. However, after so many defeats it's difficult to see that as a true win, especially since the story wasn't developed beyond Jim's heroic actions and the story ended so abruptly.

I understand that slavery is often a central topic in historical fiction. However, this was not the best execution. She would have been better served writing this as a research paper or a literary journalism article, perhaps.

Recommendation: I purchased this ebook because it was not available at my local library nor was it available in hard copy at any bookstores in my area. I wish I could get my money back. Clearly, I am not extending a recommendation to read this book. There is a plethora of stories about slavery. Choose another one to read.

Until next time ... Read on!

Sunday, March 5, 2017

THE GARDEN OF SMALL BEGINNINGS BY ABBI WAXMAN

Image: Courtesy of Goodreads.com
Rating: 3 of 5 stars

I received an advance copy of The Garden of Small Beginnings by Abbi Waxman from Net Galley. I have not been compensated for this review.

Who says grief can't be funny? In this novel, we meet 34-year old Lilian Girvan (Lili), widowed mother of two daughters - Annabel and Clare, sister to her polar opposite Rachel, and daughter to her brutally honest mother.

Her husband's untimely death, right in front of her on their neighborhood street, understandably emotionally wrecked her life. The book opens after Lilian has a stint in a mental health facility and is back at work as an illustrator for a small publishing company. In an effort to save the business, she's tasked by her boss to attend a six-week gardening class for a related book the company hopes to publish.

Throughout the course of the book, we learn that even though it's been several years since her husband's death Lilian is still grieving. Much of this grieving is self-focused, setting the stage for opportunities of re-evaluation and reconciliation with her family. All the while, she's attending this gardening class where she makes unlikely friends.

I really enjoyed the self-exploration part of this book. I liked how the author developed the main character through the secondary characters. Most of all, I like that the focus was on healing and friendships and not so much about getting a guy to make your life complete. However, there are some romantic elements, but they are not over done. Additionally, there are various "excerpts" about gardening throughout the book, which made it a fun read for this gardening hobbyist. I would have enjoyed the book more if there was a spiritual element to the healing process, but to each his (or her) own!

Recommendation: There are tidbits of goodness in this book with an overall realistic perspective on grief and and healing; however, I felt like some parts were contrived in an effort to create more humor than was necessary. At times the Lilian character was inconsistent and the happily ever after ending tied the story up a little too perfectly for my taste.

Until next time ... Read on!

Monday, February 27, 2017

HOMEGOING BY YAA GYASI

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Rating: 5 of 5 stars

This is what I call a solid debut! Yaa Gyasi's Homegoing was a wonderful read that spoke to my soul. Not because it was a story about slavery, necessarily, but rather one about family.

Secondary to the familial theme was the author's documentation of the African and black American cultures. Her work is proof that knowledge and maturity do not necessarily correspond with age. If this work is indicative of her budding career, I would bet she will have a long and successful one as a writer.

Homegoing is about two half-sisters born in Ghana and later separated from their homeland as a result of circumstances beyond each one's control. From the 1700s to present-day, we learn about each sister's fate and their lineage. Effia marries a British slaver while Esi becomes a slave shipped off to the U.S. From there, each chapter focuses on one person from the next generation, alternating between Effia's and Esi's respective families.

My only complaint about this novel is, because of the structure, the family tree that is printed in the front of the book is required for understanding. This might make it a little more difficult for those who choose the audio book and do not have the ability to refer back to the family tree.

The descriptive writing, the careful detail, and the honor to the culture are all factors in my rating. I thoroughly enjoyed the book. I do believe we write what we know, and that is typically what resonates with us as readers too. Gyasi has done a fine job, and I look forward to reading more of her work.

Recommendation: Even though this book tackles difficult topics, it does it in a way that makes it an easy read. I highly recommend it for those seeking to read about the African slave trade from a different perspective.

Until next time ... Read on!

Friday, February 17, 2017

THE SUN IS ALSO A STAR BY NICOLA YOON

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Rating: 4 of 5 stars

The Sun is Also a Star is a young adult novel by Nicola Yoon in which the bulk of the story takes place over the course of one day. Jamaican-born, straight-laced, facts-and-figures Natasha, her parents, and brother are on the verge of deportation from the United States. On her last day in New York, she meets Korean-American, dreamer, and poet, Daniel.

Whether fate, chance, or something more, the two high schoolers who were once strangers end up spending the day together learning more about themselves, each other, and the (sometimes, harsh) realities that result from their interactions.

This was a quick read that garnered a varied emotional response from me. Each chapter is told from a different character's perspective. Intermixed with the narratives are some well-researched topics about Jamaican, Korean, and North American cultures. The author did a splendid job of taking a fairly deep topic and making it easily digestable for the intended audience. For most people, the teen years are often wrought with emotions and uncertainties of who we are and who we will become. I think Yoon did an excellent job of illustrating those feelings in her book.

Sometimes a book finds us at just the right time, and this was an uplifting book that I needed to read. It didn't hurt that I'm a sucker for romance! While this is my first read by this author, it is her second novel. Her first, Everything, Everything, is set to debut on the big screen in May of this year, starring Amandla Stenberg.

Recommendation: If you're looking for a fun read that will make you think, smile, and maybe even cry a little, this is a good selection.

Until next time ... Read on!

Thursday, February 9, 2017

MY GRANDMOTHER ASKED ME TO TELL YOU SHE'S SORRY BY FREDRIK BACKMAN

Image credit: goodreads.com
Rating: 3.5 of 5 stars

My Grandmother Asked Me to Tell You She's Sorry by Fredrik Backman (A Man Called Ove, And Every Morning the Way Home Gets Longer and Longer) is about an almost eight-year-old girl, Elsa, who is coming to terms with several very adult things in her life including her parents' divorce, being bullied at school, and most recently, her grandmother's death and the letters she left for the girl to deliver.

Told through fairytales that her grandmother taught her throughout the years, the author let's us explore the mind of a young child and see her perspective on some pretty weighty issues. Because of this it is sometimes difficult to understand what is going on, what is reality, and what is fantasy. I think the author wrote it this way to simulate how a young child might synthesize issues of this magnitude.

The main reason that Backman is becoming one of my favorite authors is because of his beautifully constructed prose. In this review, I take a slightly different approach as I'd like to share a couple of passages that moved me and why.
Because if you have a granny, your whole life is all-inclusive (p. 45). 
This particular quote spoke to me. If you have a child (or perhaps a niece or nephew) in your life, you probably can relate. Parents give their child life and support, but grandparents give children the world. Watching the relationship between my niece and my mother blossom over the 10 years she's been in the world is pure joy. The relationship that some children are granted with their grandparents is so special, and as Backman states, all-inclusive.
Because nothing scares idiots more than a smart girl (p. 47).  
As a smart girl, myself, I know this all too well. Often times people are intimidated by the girl who is cerebral, thinking beyond what is right in front of her. No matter how far we've come as a society, the cold, hard truth is that women and girls are expected to be pretty then intellectual. When we buck the trend, it's scary. But it's, also, oh so satisfying!
"You must have done something to provoke them." As if that's how oppression works (p. 80). 
How relevant this statement is in the U.S. Many critics of the #BlackLivesMatter movement tend to place blame in the wrong places. The country is currently being led by an administration that thinks it is OK to oppress people based on religious affiliation because they might do something to harm the U.S. That's not how any of this works. I'm hopeful that, as a society, we can rise above these useless, inefficient stereotypes and see people for who they are and not what they look like.
Because all seven-year-olds deserve superheroes (p. 11). 
Absolutely, they do! All children deserve to be children. I'm thankful I was granted a full childhood where I was allowed to be exactly the age I was at any given moment. By gifting this to our own children and/or children upon who we influence, we, too, can be superheroes.

Recommendation: Thanks for indulging me in this departure from how I normally review books I read on this site. While I appreciated the overall theme of Backman's work, this was not one of my favorite books of his. The story is emotion-filled. It will make you laugh, it will make you think, and it just might make you cry. Like a steak, I found the book's topic heavy, and I had to let it rest for a little bit before fully appreciating the story. So, if you take it on, give it a few days to settle upon completion.

Until next time ... Read on!

Monday, January 23, 2017

HAPPY NATIONAL READING DAY!

I hope you are reading something good for National Reading Day! I'm in the middle of My Grandmother Asked Me to Tell You She's Sorry by Fredrik Backman. Reviews soon to come for my first three reads of the year.

Read on!

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Hello! Thanks for visiting my blog. I am an avid reader who enjoys reading fiction. I also read biographies as well as fiction and non-fiction books about the Holocaust and Civil Rights period ... and I've been known to read a blog or two! If you'd like me to review a book, please complete the contact form below my bio. I'll be in touch!

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