Friday, September 15, 2017

LILAC GIRLS BY MARTHA HALL KELLY

Image Credit: goodreads.com
Rating: 4 of 5 stars

Lilac Girls by Martha Hall Kelly is a historical fiction gem. Kelly takes the reader on an emotional ride of three women's intersecting lives and their respective roles during the Holocaust and World War II. I know what you're thinking, do we really need another book about the Holocaust?

At nearly 500 pages on such a dark topic, you would think the book would be hard to comb through. However, the author did a fabulous job with moving the story by alternating perspectives between the three main characters, often leaving a cliffhanger in one chapter forcing the reader to race through the next two to find out what happens.

The three main women in the story are Kasia, a young Polish teenager who participates in the Resistance and ends up in a concentration camp; Herta, a German doctor at the same concentration camp; and Caroline whose philanthropic efforts to the result of the war are executed from the United States. Adding the U.S. perspective helped give a break from the horrible tortures that were described in the concentration camp. (It almost made this reader forget the injustices that were occurring daily to African Americans during the same time. Almost.) The beautiful ache in this book is that, although these women come from different places and backgrounds, they all experienced loss to a degree - some more than others. I think the message here is we really are more similar than we think, and if we seek the humanity in others, we can avoid deplorable tragedies like this in the future.

The most sobering part of the book is that, in many ways, we are still struggling with some of the same societal challenges in 2017 as we did nearly 80 years ago. We know the difference between right and wrong, but we don't always speak up. We are still turning refugees away, often to their deaths, because we are afraid there isn't enough pie for everyone. We are still failing children. Not only did I enjoy the creativity that Kelly invested in this novel, but I appreciated the moments of introspection and reflection the story offered.

Even though we continue to learn about the past, we also continue to repeat it contributing different variations of the same, sad song. So, I would say, yes, we need another book about the Holocaust, and another one, and another, until we get it.

Recommendation: I really enjoyed this book. It is one of the few World War II-set novels I've read that gave attention to post-war effects. I'm looking forward to Kelly's prequel to this book.

Until next time ... Read on!

Wednesday, August 30, 2017

UNINVITED BY LYSA TERKEURST

Image Credit: goodreads.com
Rating: 4 of 5 stars

If you follow my reading journey, you might know that I am a follower of the Proverbs 31 Ministry, led by Lysa TerKeurst. So, when Auidble.com offered Uninvited: Living Loved When you Feel Less Than, Left Out, and Lonely as part of its BOGO promo a couple of weeks ago, I couldn't resist taking advantage.

As I suspected, this was another book filled with wisdom by Ms. TerKeurst. The feelings she shares along with the personal narratives that will have you crying from empathy and laughter (often one right after the next) really resonated with me. While the Proverbs 31 Ministry is geared toward women, the aspects of shame, vulnerability, anxiety, and rejection are universal without respect to gender.

In her very practical, relatable way the author seems to know just how I am feeling and offers a spiritual perspective on how to cope and overcome those negative feelings. I do believe writing is TerKeurst's God-given talent, and what a blessing it is to be able to use your talent in a way to not only make a living but help others in the process.

Recommendation: I think I would like a traditional copy of this book. The audio recitation was a little fast for me. The author's words and themes deserve deeper thought a reflection than what I could gather from an audiobook.

Other Proverbs 31 Books I've Read (and Reviewed)

  • 5 Habits of a Woman Who Doesn't Quit by Nicki Koziarz
  • Unglued by Lysa  TerKeurst
  • Wait and See: Finding Peace in God's Pauses and Plans by Wendy Pope (review)
  • Listen, Love, Repeat by Karen Ehman (review)

Until next time ... Read on!

Thursday, August 24, 2017

THE GLASS CASTLE BY JEANNETTE WALLS

Image Credit: goodreads.com
Rating: 2 of 5 stars

Everyone has been raving about Jeanette Walls' The Glass Castle and the recent movie of the same title. One of my book club friends invited me to see the movie. Being the true reader that I am, I had to read the book before seeing the movie. Since I only had six days, I opted for the audiobook format that exponentially increases my reading time because it allows me to "read" while driving.

I would like to preface this review by saying I am definitely not discounting the trauma that Ms. Walls' endured growing up nor am I not acknowledging the fact that she (and her siblings), indeed, picked herself up by the bootstraps and made something of herself after growing up in a less than ideal home(s).

However, I don't get enjoy the same excitement as everyone else. The book, told in a journalistic style, seems to be more of a regurgitation of facts. This is not surprising, knowing the author's career began in journalism. I really didn't find much creativity in her writing style. It was more 'this happened' then 'that happened' in chronological order, whereas when I listened to Trevor Noah's Born a Crime, I stayed engaged because his stories were more thematic rather than a basic re-telling of the facts.  There wasn't a lot of "why," and maybe because she doesn't know. There also wasn't a lot of imagery.

I felt like the book was more a window into her family's dysfunctional lives. And really, no judgement here. It is my belief that all families experience some level of dysfunction. The Walls maybe a little more than others. But why would she want to share such things? It was almost like reading (or listening to) a celebrity reality TV show. Now knowing that Walls used to be a celebrity gossip columnist, this makes sense.

I know much of society enjoys peeking into other's lives and watching the dysfunction of celebrity's (and regular ole Joe's) families. I've never been a fan of reality television. This book seems to play into that with the author sharing all the negative details of her, her family's, and her community's daily lives. There wasn't much light in this book, and perhaps that's because there wasn't much light in Ms. Wall's life. But what I don't understand is why she thought it would be helpful to memorialize her very sad and pitiful childhood in this way.

My other issue with the book is the veracity of, not her stories I believe these things happened to her, but of how she was able to restate what happened in such great detail including dialogue. It just seems difficult to believe that in 2006 (when the book was published), she remembered what she said at 10 years old and then how her father or her schoolmate responded. I can remember verbatim what I said to my mom yesterday much less 20 or 30 years ago. I think she could have told and illustrated her stories without the conversation filler that was probably remembered more by how she felt during the conversation and less by the word-by-word dialogue.

Recommendation: Walls had a story to tell, and she shared it with the world. It's garnered rave reviews and popularity. I know I am in the minority, but I just didn't enjoy it as much as others.

Until next time ... Read on!

Thursday, August 17, 2017

MY (NOT SO) PERFECT LIFE BY SOPHIE KINSELLA

Image Credit: goodreads.com
Rating: 4 of 5 stars

I must admit Sophie Kinsella is one of my favorite chick lit authors. I got turned on to her, not for her Shopaholic series, but with Can You Keep a Secret? She always makes me laugh and her endings always make me happy. I would say her books offer a ray of sunshine if you need a break from darker, heavier content.

In My (not so) Perfect Life, we meet Cat (aka Katie) Brenner who is trying to give it a go as a successful advertising associate at a large firm in London. She is trying desperately to fit in and not be such a small fish in a very large pond. Unfortunately, because of the economy she gets fired and is forced to go back home and help her family with their start-up glamping business. In this comedy of errors, of course, her former boss shows up with her family to partake of this glamping experience. Katie sees this as a prime opportunity to get revenge. But, as with most things fiction and real, people are not what they seem. And once you really get to know them beyond their surface, you find there is more than meets the eye.

Kinsella definitely did not disappoint in the area of humor in this book. There is also the typical love element (girl wants to get a gorgeous guy). All standard chick lit stuff, am I right? The surprise is that the author delved more into what motivates someone in their career. She also tackles the importance of relationship development, not just romantic ones but familial and professional as well. And most importantly she broaches the very timely topic of how we all present ourselves on social media. It all looks glitz and glamor, but is it really that way for anyone? We're all a little raw once the masks (and make-up) come off. I appreciated that little nugget.

Recommendation: If you're a Kinsella fan, this book will strike you because it is a bit more serious in tone. However, she still offers up her unique humor in a style that keeps the reader intrigued till the end. Great read for a long summer weekend!

Until next time ... Read on!

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

KNIGHT ON THE TEXAS PLAINS BY LINDA BRODAY

  Genre: Western / Historical / Romance
Date of Publication: August 1, 2017
Pages: 352
Synopsis:
Duel McClain buries his wife and infant son, climbs in the saddle, and rides off. Locked in grief, he drifts from one Texas town to another as the months pass. He rides into a border town and gets in a card game in the saloon. On the last hand, the opponent across from him runs out of money. The man reaches down for a baby and plunks her in the center of the table. Whoever wins the pot, gets her too. After Duel wins with the Deadman’s Hand, he tries to give the baby back. But when the man tells him he’ll sell her, Duel keeps his prize.

On the way back to his home, he runs across a woman covered in blood. She only says her name is Jessie and the blood isn’t hers. The deep fear in her eyes touches Duel and he has to do something. He strikes a bargain—he’ll take her anywhere she wants to go in return for helping with the child.

Jessie sees honor, respect, and kindness in his eyes. And the moment she holds the baby in her arms, her heart melts. Once they reach Duel’s home, she confesses she killed her husband and tells him the law will come. Desperate to save her, he offers marriage and she accepts.

They settle in and love develops. But each day grows more tense. Lawmen are coming and they can’t stop them. Soon, she’ll face the hangman’s rope.

“Broday (the Men of Legend series) has a knack for capturing the hesitations of both Duel and Jessie and unfurling a twisting plot without resorting to melodrama. Through carefully deployed flashbacks, she slowly exposes the horrors of Jessie’s marriage, culminating in a truly grisly image of depravity without overwhelming the tender love story. Fans of historical romances will be pleased.”  ~~Publisher’s Weekly

"The instant a sweet baby girl, an abused woman, a stray dog, and a reluctant hero meet, readers are drawn into a tender and tough love story that touches many emotions and will have them believing in the healing power of love.”  ~~Romantic Times 4 ½ Stars Top Pick!

“Broday’s latest is a tender romance to touch the heart.”  ~~Bookpage

“This story is simply endearing, packed with powerful message of humanity and the true healing power of family and love!!” ~~Addicted to Romance  
Throughout the well-paced story, there was suspense, tears, fear, revulsion, and no shortage of laughter and joy. I didn't want the story to end.” ~~Teresa on Goodreads

About the Author:

Linda Broday is a New York Times and USA Today bestselling author of 8 full length historical western romance novels, with another set to release 2017 as well as 10 short stories. 

"Watching TV westerns during my youth fed my love of cowboys and the old West and they still do. I reside in the Texas Panhandle on land the American Indian and Comancheros once roamed. At times, I can feel their ghosts lurking around every corner. Texas’ rich history is one reason I set all my stories here. I love research and looking for little known tidbits to add realism to my stories. When I’m not writing, I collect old coins and I confess to being a rock hound. I’ve been accused (and quite unfairly I might add) of making a nuisance of myself at museums, libraries, and historical places. I’m also a movie buff and love sitting in a dark theater, watching the magic on the screen. As long as I’m confessing…chocolate is my best friend. It just soothes my soul."

Connect with the Author:
WEBSITE   FACEBOOK     PINTEREST    TWITTER    GOODREADS


THREE SIGNED COPIES!
(US ONLY)

  August 15-24, 2017 
8/15/17
Guest Post
8/16/17
Review
8/17/17
Character Interview
8/18/17
Review
8/19/17
Notable Quotable
8/20/17
Author Interview
8/21/17
Review
8/22/17
Scrapbook Page
8/23/17
Review
8/24/17
Excerpt


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Sunday, July 23, 2017

WE'RE ALL DAMAGED BY MATTHEW NORMAN

Credit: goodreads.com
Rating: 3 of 5 stars

I received a free copy of We're All Damaged by Matthew Norman from Amazon.com's Kindle First benefit for Prime members in May of 2016.

In this adult fiction book the main character, Andy Carter has moved to New York and is recovering from an unexpected and recent divorce when he is called back to his hometown in Omaha to be with his dying grandfather.

Going back home proves challenging as Andy's self-esteem has taken a hit because his ex-wife divorced him for a paramedic who lived down the street from their marital home. Andy returns home to find that the once-lover is now married to his ex-wife and living in the house she and Andy once owned together. On top of that, his father is possibly having an affair. And his mother is completely wrapped up in furthering her career as a conservative, right-wing talk show, which is causing turmoil in their new posh neighborhood.

While in Omaha, Andy meets the mysterious Daisy who seems to have a personal relationship with his grandfather. She becomes a pivotal character in the development of the story and also Andy's healing process.

This read was quick and light. It gave me a relief from some heavier stuff I had been reading. There was a nice inspirational message for those who have experienced heartbreak. I found many parts of the book to be funny. My only criticism is in the inclusion of the political banter. I don't know that it really added value to the book. It seemed unauthentic and a cheap way to get in some personally-held political viewpoints. Without that, I might have considered giving the book another star.

Recommendation: There's not really a lot to say about this short book. If you're looking for a quick read that will leave you with a smile, I'd recommend picking it up. It would be perfect for weekend or beach reading.

Until next time ... Read on!

Friday, July 21, 2017

BORN A CRIME: STORIES FROM A SOUTH AFRICAN CHILDHOOD BY TREVOR NOAH

Credit: goodreads.com
Rating: 4 of 5 stars

I adore Trevor Noah. I appreciate his comedic style. I find him to be intelligent, quick-witted, funny, and I'm not gonna lie, easy on the eyes. When I heard about his memoir, Born A Crime: Stories From a South African Childhood, I immediately added it to my to-be-read list on goodreads.com.

This year, I've vowed to learn how to really listen and pay attention to audiobooks. In addition to my traditional reading, this has quickly helped me get through more reads. I've found that listening whilst on the treadmill is a way to metaphorically kill two birds with one stone. And as any reader knows, the more you can read; the happier you are. So, I thought this book would be a good one for audio.

Noah opens the autobiography with a story that illustrates the relationship between he, someone who seems to struggle and question faith, and his mother, a lifelong and devout Christian. This theme not only sets the stage for what is to come but permeates the entire book.

When I decided to read this, I thought I might get some laughs. Don't get me wrong, there are some funny parts. But since I have listened to the book, I've heard that Noah intended the book to be a tribute to his mom. Now knowing his intention, I would say he did not fail to accomplish the task. It was nice to get to peek into his life. (Isn't that always fun? That's why we are a reality TV society.) But more importantly, learning of his love for his mother and hearing it through his own voice as he narrated the book truly made her the heroine. The stories he shared were heartfelt, and I could tell through his reading that he was very vulnerable in some of the information he shared.

My critique of the book is that it jumps around in time from telling stories about his toddler years to his parents' illegal relationship before he was born to post-high school.  (During apartheid interracial marriage was illegal, therefore, procreation between two different races was very much a crime.) Sometimes the overall story was a little hard to follow since the vignettes were not told in linear format. However, I think he composed the book thematically - sharing stories about his relationships, race relations and apartheid in South Africa, and his struggles with his identity of not really fitting in anywhere.

Recommendation: I would definitely recommend this book, and I would actually recommend it as an audiobook. There are several parts in the book where Noah speaks in various tongues. He always offers translation. I also think him acting out the characters gave the book more depth. After reading this book, I adore Trevor Noah just a little bit more than before.

Until next time ... Read on!

Monday, July 10, 2017

DEFENDING JACOB BY WILLIAM LANDAY

credit: goodreads.com
Rating: 3 of 5 stars

I picked up a copy of Defending Jacob by William Landay at Half Price Books annual clearance sale for a whopping $0.50. I think I got my money's worth.

Andy Barber, the story's narrator, is an attorney in Newton, Massachusetts. He has assigned himself the lead prosecutor in a high profile murder of one of his son's classmates. Things turn for the worst when his son, Jacob, is accused and put on trial for the murder of Ben Rifkin. Andy is suspended from his job, his wife and Jacob's mother is literally dying from stress, and the whole family becomes outcasts in the community.

From there, Landay takes you on a roller coaster ride of a trial along including betrayal from friends and relatives, conflicts between professional and personal lives, and suspicious characters lurking in dark places. In the end, the author offers up, what I deem two plot twists that leave you jaw ajar. There is a conclusion, but I wouldn't say it's a particularly tidy one.

I enjoyed the legal aspect of this story as well as the moral question - how far will a parent (or parents) go for their child(ren)? There are parts in the book that flash forward to present day, making the reading a little confusing. I gave this book 3 stars because I guessed one of the plot twists, which is really saying something because I'm not that great at solving mysteries. However, the writer's style was thought-provoking and interesting enough to keep me engaged as a reader throughout its 400+ pages.

Recommendation: If you are a parent and enjoy mysteries and don't mind graphic murder descriptions, you might find this one worth picking up. At $0.50 investment, you won't lose too much in return.

Until next time ... Read on!

Friday, July 7, 2017

BRITT-MARIE WAS HERE BY FREDRIK BACKMAN

credit: goodreads.com
Rating: 5 of 5 stars

As with most of his books, Fredrik Backman's Britt-Marie Was Here gave me all the feels. A departure from how I normally consume books, I listened to this one. I've read all of Backman's books with the exception of his latest book, Beartown, released this May. You can read my reviews of: A Man Called OveAnd Every Morning the Way Home Gets Longer and Longer, and My Grandmother Asked Me To Tell you She's Sorry - all on this blog.

This story starts out with Britt-Marie in search of a job, and ultimately a new life, after she learned that her husband of more than 40 years had cheated on her. Right after the financial crisis, the only job she is able to land is a temporary caretaker/house cleaner at a soon-to-be demolished recreation center in the pitiful town of Borg. While there, life happens to her. No matter how hard she tires to avoid it, she connects with people. A wheelchair-bound lady, named Somebody, Sven, the local police officer, Bank, a soccer legend with sight limitations, the delinquent - Sami, and a myriad of children who convince Britt-Marie to be their team's soccer coach. In this odd little town, we see that someone in her 60s can still come-of-age.

Similar to the Terry McMillan novel I read earlier this summer, we learn it's never too late to change the direction of your life by choosing ... you!

As I've mentioned before, the reason I enjoy Backman's stories is because of his beautifully-constructed prose. He takes simple themes that we've all read or seen and illustrates them in a very emotional, heart-tugging way. The main characters is most of his books are in their third act of life, but they are full of life and quite relatable. Britt-Marie is all of us, teaching us lessons that we can appreciate in any time in our life. Wanna get filled up and experience a variety of emotions from laughter to anger to sadness to joy? Read this book ... or any of Backman's novels.

Recommendation: This is a solid 5 stars out of 5 for me. I liked it a little more than Ove, and that was my book of 2016. My only caution is that this book has more profanity than the others. Don't let this dissuade you though. You'll find yourself wanting to visit Borg yourself!

Until next time ... Read on!

Thursday, June 29, 2017

THE THINGS WE KEEP BY SALLY HEPWORTH

credit: goodreads.com
Rating: 3 of 5 stars

The Things We Keep by Sally Hepworth is the first book for my newly-formed book club, Richly Read. We will be meeting to discuss in mid-July.

The fictional story centers around Anna who is a thirty-eight year old (former) paramedic suffering the early stages of Alzheimer's disease. When it is no longer feasible for her to live with her twin brother and his family, she takes residence in the Rosalind House where another thirty-something, Luke, who has been diagnosed with a different form of dementia, also lives.

The reason I describe Anna as suffering and Luke as diagnosed to illustrate the point that Anna was having difficulty coming to terms with the disease (that the author insinuates is genetically received from Anna's mother), whereas Luke seemed better equipped to deal with his reality.

Anna and Luke fall in "love." And there is much debate and dialogue in the novel regarding the ability for two people with memory deficiencies to fall (and stay) in love.

The secondary protagonist is Eve. Rashly thrown into the role of a single mother due to a recent tragedy in her life, Eve comes to the Rosalind House as head cook and temporary housekeeper. She's also dealing with her young daughter's grief and trying to manage her difficult school life. When Eve learns of Anna and Luke's guardians' desire to keep them separated, Eve must decide whether she will risk her livelihood to help them.

This book was very easy to read. The medical portions were explained in such a way that anyone could understand. The tempo of the book was good. Each chapter was narrated by either Anna, Eve, and Eve's daughter. Some chapters were told in present time while others worked from the past and flashbacks, which made the read a little cumbersome. I also think Hepworth took on too many heavy topics (dementia, healthcare, scandals, bullying, grief, romance, among many others) to cover in such a short book. It seems like she ran out of time (or energy) and wrapped up the ending a little too tightly for my liking.

Recommendation: I like that this book offered a different perspective to dementia, and I feel like I learned some things. It's worth a quick read on a summer weekend.

Until next time ... Read on!

About Melyssa

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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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