Friday, May 26, 2017

THE ONE TRUE LOVE OF ALICE-ANN by Eva Marie Everson

Lately the World War II historical fiction books I've read have not focused on the front lines, but on the people at home affected by the war. Some of those novels covered the European homefronts, while others have told stories of young Americans whose lives were interrupted and put on hold while brothers, fiances, and neighbors went off to war.  My interest in how those left behind coped and helped the war effort grew even more when I started watching the PBS series HOME FIRES. (On a side note, that series just ended after two seasons without a true ending.  I just learned that the producers are publishing three books to take the story to a suitable ending.  Check Amazon or Barnes and Noble for release dates.  Sorry for digressing.)

When I recently read a release for Eva Marie Everson's THE ONE TRUE LOVE OF ALICE ANN, it sparked my interest right away.  Another home front story, this one features a farm family in Georgia (very near the area which would be obtained by the government for Fort Stewart), especially the 16 year old daughter Alice-Ann who quickly grows up when her brother's best friend Mack enlists.
Alice-Ann's brother, 20 and already married and involved in the family farm, receives an agricultural deferment. That bit of information added another stronger layer of interest to my reading purpose. My father, who died two years ago at age 96, had an ag deferment, also, here in Wisconsin.  At first he was an employee of a farm, then he and my mother married, and he took over my grandfather's farm, a place that is still in our family.  I never truly understood how keeping all the farms at top production was contributing to our country's ability to wage war, but after reading about food shortages and ruined crops and such in Europe, plus thinking aboutthe enormous task of feeding the millions of soldiers, I now have a clearer view of the need for able-bodied men  and women to continue working our farms.

But I digress again.  Back to the book.  My copy, which I obtained through inter-library loan, bears a tiny genre sticker reading  "Gentle Reads," and that summarizes the book to a T.  This is a gentle, quiet romance about Alice-Ann growing from the wide-eyed teenager with a dreamy crush on her brother's handsome best buddy to a maturer woman who makes the right decision about who to marry. At sixteen, Alice-Ann believes Mack will come to his senses and recognize that she is growing up and that she's the one for him.  But the war intervenes and Alice-Ann keeps her dream alive by writing to Mack, finishing school, finding a job at the bank, and working very hard on the farm.  Hers is a story that could be found in almost every rural town across the nation.  Soon the reality of war comes to their Georgia town, as news of a local boy killed in action reaches them.  Then another local boy, Carlton, returns home badly wounded, and Alice-Ann begins to spend time with this friend of her brother's who just happens to be the older brother of her own best friend.  Can someone you've known all your life and whom you've considered just to be a family friend be more?

Gentle, quiet, yet realistic and worth telling -- that is the story of Alice-Ann.  Strength and courage were not only found on the front lines. You will be entertained by this book, but it serves a greater purpose. If you know someone of the Greatest generation, talk to them, learn their story before it is too late.  And don't think you need to seek out just the soldiers; everyone of that generation, and even the kids who were too young to serve, have something to share.  Let's acknowledge and treasure their experiences

Friday, May 19, 2017

HOME by Ginny L. Yttrup

HomeMost of us identify the word home with a place - a building or a community.  We may spout the words, "Home is where the heart is" or profess that we would follow a loved one anywhere, making where he/she is our home.  Ginny Yttrup's new book HOME shows us that "home" is also that place/state of mind where we are comfortable with ourselves, true to ourselves and to God.

Next door neighbors, good friends, and work partners, Melanie Vander and Jill Rodriquez both seem to have captured the American dream.  Both have loving spouses, Melanie has a growing career as an author, and Jill can continue her career as an editor from home, while raising twin boys and her daughter.  But despite the daily cups of coffee and personal thoughts shared, neither Melanie nor Jill realizes the emotional baggage the other hides. 

Melanie and her husband are facing financial ruin as a result of the continuing recession, causing her husband to work longer hours, and also fueling the writer's block Melanie currently experiences as a huge deadline looms closer.  When she escapes the pressures of home and travels to the lakeside retreat of a new friend, Craig feels his wife's absence is more than just physical.  But could the time there and the new novel which seems to be leading Melanie, instead of the other way around, bring a whole new understanding of home to Melanie and eventually Craig?  Meanwhile, Jill finds that the obsessive thoughts and actions that have darkened her life ever since the birth of her daughter must be faced.  The growing anxiety is crippling her and threatens all she loves.

While at times, it seemed odd having two such diverse stories happening at once, I quickly settled into this pattern, accepting it as another layer of realism.  Certainly, suburban neighborhoods are filled with friends facing unique life-shaping events at the same time.  Being there for someone else while your own life is breaking into a shambles is NOT fiction.  It happens every day, and God calls us to be there for others.  It may be what he provides as a path for our own healing. My heart ached for Jill as she found her way and also when Melanie and Craig finally admit what began her emotional exit from their marriage.  Jill seeks professional help in the novel, and there is also another counselor who is a minor, but significant, character.  The inclusion of these give Yttrup an avenue for
presenting important, well-grounded information about the stages of grief, OCD, and PTSD.
While I find that many Christian contemporary novels lack the depth for book club discussions, the themes of pain, loss, anxiety, coping mechanisms, being present in your own life, and more will give
readers plenty to think about and discuss.  Read this book and you will be left pondering Yttrup's message that "Home is the memory we've yet to live."

I received a complimentary copy of this book from Barbour Publishing and was under no obligation to post a review.

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

LILLIAN BOXFIRSH TAKES A WALK by Kathleen Rooney

Image result for lillian boxfishKathleen Rooney was inspired by the personal papers and published poems of Margaret Fishback, the poet and advertising copywriter for Macy's who in the 1930's  was the highest paid female advertising copywriter in the world.  Using Fishback as the model for her fictional character Lillian Boxfish, Rooney has written an unforgettable narrative with place (a ten mile section of New York City) being as important of a character as Boxfish herself. 

It is New Year's Eve 1984 and Lillian Boxfish, now 84 (or is it 85? A woman never tells) prepares to
walk to a nearby Italian restaurant for her early New Year's dinner, a ritual that she has followed for decades.  As she dons her signature orange-red lipstick (a popular color in the 1950's), full-length mink coat, and knee high rubber boots, Lillian begins to reminisce about her life in New York City.
Soon readers will realize that they are in for a treat as they follow Lillian walk to the restaurant.  This "old bird" of a lady is one of a kind, and she views New York City as the same.  One of the first indications that she is not a typical senior citizen trying to safely exist in a changing city is her reaction to a car passing by with the deafening beat of a rap song sounding over the souped up engine.  Rather than grumble to herself about the decline in music and youth, Lillian admits liking the demanding beat and the inventive use of words, and wishes she could hear more.

What starts out as a short walk to dinner, ends up being a 10 mile hike around New York City ending as the New Year strikes. Quite a jaunt for a 84 year old!  Although we never end up at Times Square and the dropping ball, we are given a priceless view of the changing Big Apple and the role it played in Lillian's work, marriage, parenting, and present life.  The choice of New Year's Eve, 1984, for the setting is a superb one, for it is the time of the New York Subway vigilante, the first scary days of the AIDS epidemic, and a backdrop fear that the city is failing.  Those who love New York City will love this book.  So will those who have seldom visited or only visited via television, movies, and books.  This is the type of literary fiction that book clubs should grab and spend hours discussing.  I was just skimming over a dozen or so reviews on Goodreads.  While most give this novel positive ratings, a few readers reacted differently.  Some mention that there have been too many other books depicting elderly taking walks of remembering; for me, this is my first such book, so I find the plot refreshing, although I was a bit tired of the walk about 3/4's of the way through.  Goodness knows, I would be totally exhausted if I really walked 7.5 miles at night in December!!  

I also learned on Goodreads that this book is available in audio version.  I love a good audio book, and this book's first personal continual narrative is perfect for that format.  Whether you grab the audio version, an ebook, or the print hardcover, take time to consider the cover.  The real Margaret Fishback's quirky ads and light verse were always accompanied by illustrations done by a friend and co-worker.  The same is true of the book's Boxfish.  The orange-red sketch of Boxfish chosen for the cover pays homage to those illustrations.

Friday, May 12, 2017

TOO DEEP FOR WORDS by Andrea Boeshaar

Too Deep for Words: A Civil War Novel  -     By: Andrea Boeshaar
TOO DEEP FOR WORDS continues The Shenandoah Valley Saga that Andrea Boeshaar began in A THOUSAND SHALL FALL. Sisters Carrie Ann and Margaret Jean Bell are reunited when Carrie Ann's new husband (an Union officer) rescues Margaret from her indentured servant position at the Wayfarers Inn.  But the two sisters have little time to settle back into a companionable relationship when word comes that another skirmish is happening between Union and Confederates along the Maryland-Virginia border, and within a day, Carrie Ann learns that her husband is missing and presumed dead. 

Like the first book in the series, the plot concentrates not so much on the battles of war, but on the lives of those who have connections on both the South and the North. Eli Kent, a Confederate soldier, who once served in the US Army with Carrie Ann's husband, is one. When he learns that he is the executor over his former friend's estate, he takes secret actions to protect not only his Southern family, but also Carrie Ann who refuses to accept her husband's death. 

I read the A THOUSAND SHALL FALL almost 18 months ago and it took me several chapters of TOO DEEP FOR WORDS to piece together the past actions of Carrie Ann, Margaret, Peyton, and Eli.  Current readers should not have that problem because they can move quickly from book one to the next. However, I did feel the ending left lots of room for a third book which would take the readers into a post-war Virginia, a book which is slated for 2018 publication. In this installment, the author has woven in scenes which include historical figures, including General Sheridan and President Lincoln, adding authenticity to the dates of action. 

TOO DEEP FOR WORDS and A THOUSAND SHALL FALL offer stories of promises held, dangerous choices, committed love, and discovered faith against the ever-changing background of a nation at war. I received a copy for review purposes from Kregel publications, and all opinions are mine.

Monday, May 8, 2017

The Silver Suitcase by Terrie Todd

Click here to buy my books.THE SILVER SUITCASE, Terrie Todd's first novel, was a finalist in the 2011 and 2012 Christian Writers Guild’s Operation First Novel contest.  Many of us may have read shorter pieces by this Canadian author, as she has written several pieces for THE CHICKEN SOUP FOR THE SOUL books.  I love it when I discover a new author that I am going want to return to, and Terrie Todd certainly fills the bill.

The book opens with a prologue that captured my "grandmotherly" heart.  "1981 - Benita Gladstone's best friend would soon turn sixty years old. Which might not be remarkable if Benita weren't ten."  Who could this be, except Benita's Gram, the lady whose has shared her home with Benita and her mother.  Now that the pair finally have a place of their own, Gram's house is still where Benita feels safest and most loved.  As I said, that granddaughter-grandmother bond was enough to draw me into the story.  For the rest of the book, twin stories alternate.  In Manitoba, late winter 2006, Benita, now married and a mother herself, is trying to cope with a rough patch of life.
Her husband has lost his job and the bills are mounting as the family tries to survive on her part time job.  When her grandmother Cornelia dies, Benita, crushed by grief and anxiety, finds solace in the silver suitcase her grandmother has left her.  Inside she finds diaries dating from the 1930's when Cornie was a young teen, reeling with grief from her own mother's death.  Touched by Gram's stories of growing up on an isolated farm during the Depression, Benita reads on, only to discover a secret that her Grandmother kept all the way to the grave.  

The truth of that secret leads the way for Benita to find healing in her own life.  Modern readers may question that Cornelia would keep this particular secret even into her senior years, that she never demanded or sought what her heart would have loved to have.  But I believe her story probably happened more than we can know.  It was a pain that she kept to herself and instead sought a life that served others.  The epilogue depicts several strangers finding scattered pages of the diaries, reading the contents which just happen to deliver a poignant message for each reader.  I've read review criticizing this ending, but I think it offers a symbolic lesson for all of us.  None of us really knows the impact that our words and actions can have on others.  Those of us who believe that God has a plan for our lives, we hope that something we say or do will be as powerful as Cornelia's effect on Benita and on those random strangers. Little may we realize that words or actions long forgotten or discarded may be the moments God has chosen to make memorable and significant to others.  I enjoyed the Canadian setting of this novel, the spiritual transformation of the wounded and bitter Cornelia, and the touch of small miracles that ended the book.  Despite my lengthy to-read list and the growing pile of books on my reading table, I will be searching for a copy of Todd's second book MAGGIE'S WAR.

Thursday, April 27, 2017

BEFORE WE WERE YOURS by Lisa Wingate

Before We Were Yours  -     By: Lisa Wingate
Georgia Tann and her Memphis Tennessee Children’s Home Society are another one of those dark spots in our country's history.  From the 1920's until 1950, Miss Tann's endeavors were seen as the pinnacle of caring and compassionate orphan care.  What was really happening is beyond comprehension.  Destitute women, still under sedation from giving birth, were tricked into signing away their children.  Whole families of siblings were virtually kidnapped because their parents were poor and powerless.  Lies were told to adoptive families, abuse abounded within the homes that housed the "orphans," nonthriving babies were allowed to die without care.  The cutest kids, the ones with curly blonde hair and blue eyes (think Shirley Temple look-alikes) were sent to powerful political and Hollywood families at a premium price.  When Tann's dark secrets were finally revealed, no formal charges were pursued.  She was only days from a cancer death, and her secrets meant that others who conspired with her (hospitals, police, and politicians) and wealthy clients who simply did not ask questions would also be revealed.  I hope that someone writes a nonfiction expose about Tann and her wicked world (I don't think anyone has yet), but until then I strongly recommend  Lisa Wingate's sensitive fictional novel telling how Rill and her river rat siblings are kidnapped while their parents are absent from the houseboat they call home.  The oldest, Rill, remains determined to flee the "home" they are taken to, but she knows she must stay close to the little ones and protect them the best she can.  Soon she realizes that lies and abuse are rampant at the Tann home, and that she cannot believe anything she is told about her parents.

Rill's story is alternately told alternately with a contemporary story about Avery, a prominent lawyer who is being groomed to someday take her father's seat in the Senate.  During a press opportunity at a nursing home, Avery captures the attention of an elderly woman, May, who mistakes Avery for the woman's sister Fern.  Not content to brush off the woman's distress, Avery visits her again, and that visit begins a quest to learn more about her own grandmother, a woman now  locked away in the dementia's cruel prison. 

BEFORE WE WERE YOURS is a powerful stories of forgotten pasts, fabricated lives, chosen paths, secrets held, and family ties that will not die.  Be prepared to be drawn into this book; once I started I did not want to quit reading.  Last night, with 150 pages left, I put aside all thoughts of sleep until I knew what happened to Rill and why May felt a connection to Avery.  Wingate is a masterful storyteller; she creates a perfect 12 year old Rill, old enough to be apprehensive of what is happening around her, but still childlike enough to have limited understanding of the greed and evil that has taken over her life.  Wingate then chooses to make modern tale story quiet, while revealing.  There is plenty of tension and suspense in the secret story that Avery discovers; I like that Wingate chooses to have this discovery happen in a quiet, steady way -- no car chases, clandestine meetings, or suspicious people following her every move -- just a determined woman's to find some answers. I received an ARC copy from Netgalley.  All opinions are mine.

Monday, April 24, 2017

Coal River by Ellen Marie Wiseman

Product DetailsCOAL RIVER is the second book I've read by Ellen Marie Wiseman, and both times the stories were led by strong, but emotionally scarred young women.  Nineteen year old Emma Malloy never intended to step foot in Coal River, Pennsylvania when she left nine years earlier.  Even mentioning the town brings back memories of her younger brother's drowning.  But when her parents die in a fire, leaving her penniless and homeless, she must accept her aunt's offer to return to the coal mining town.  Upon her arrival, it is clear that she is not being welcomed into the family, but instead expected to work as an unpaid servant for her uncle, an upper official at the mine. She cannot shut off the memories of the "mean boys", now men of the community, who bullied her little brother all those years ago, but soon her attention is drawn to the plight of the "breaker boys"  who spend ten hours or more a day sorting and breaking coal into uniform pieces.  Despite new child labor laws, some of these boys are as young as 6 years old, and often their work ends in damaged or severed limbs, or even death.  She also can't ignore the crushing poverty that almost every mining family faces.  Food and supplies must be bought at the company store, and the weekly pay checks are never enough to cover the inflated prices.  Coal dust covers the walls and windows of the shacks assigned to the families, and every wife fears the death wagon that delivers a deceased body to the doorstep. 

While a few miners band together to plan a peaceful strike, it appears that someone else is ready to invoke violence.  Despite fearing that her uncle will discover her interest in helping the young boys and the starving families, Emma begins to take action of her own. 

I was really drawn into this story at first, but then found some parts confusing and overly dramatic in the middle.  Then the book ended with a unanticipated and disappointing (to me) twist, leaving me with mixed feelings about the book.  The appearance of  Lewis Hine, a famous photographer who helped change the plight of child laborers, including mine workers, seemed a last ditch stab at winding up the story in a successful way.  I am familiar with his photos and have read about his work.
His inclusion in this book was not given the seriousness he deserves.  I've read other reviews of this
book online, and it seems to be earning mixed reviews -- which sums up my personal reaction.   Wondering what other historical fiction books cover coal mining; would like to read another for comparison.