Thursday, April 19, 2018

A Refuge Assured by Jocelyn Green

 Cover Art

Vivienne Rivard has never known the life of the privileged French court.  But the French Revolution has not followed the path of its American counterpart, and the country now lives in daily violence, and now she, her aunt, and other artisans that have sold their crafts to the court are in mortal danger.  When an offer of refuge in America comes, the young lacemaker takes it, not really knowing who is extending it.  Although Vivienne struggles to find a way to support herself in the new American states, she makes a place for herself.  As the months pass, she finds that other French refuges are not so eager to put the bloody revolution behind them.  Some side with the the revolutionaries, still eager to dispense with anyone who had any ties with the palace.  Others wish for the young prince's survival, ready to believe every rumor that he still lives.  When Vivienne finds herself guardian for a shy, ill-nourished little boy after his mother dies, she must consider the outlandish possibility that he could be the prince Louis.  Helping the beautiful lacemaker find her way in America is Liam Delaney, who had served honorably with General Washington and Alexander Hamilton during America's fight for freedom.  As the young republic fights to find its footing, Liam finds himself torn between diverging viewpoints and wonders when one should stand up and fight again.

Jocelyn Green has taken two different events - America's Whiskey Rebellion and France's bloody revolution and shown how they were intertwined I remember the mention of the Whiskey Rebellion in US History courses, but it was just recently that I learned that farmers relied on sales of whiskey because it was more economical to transport than the actual crops.  They saw the tax as a penalty against their ability to earn a living.  Green aptly portrays the disputes over the fairness of these new laws, all the while telling a great story of strength, moral choices, and love.  I received a copy of this title from Netgalley.  I was not required to post a positive review and all opinions are mine.

Tuesday, April 17, 2018

Recent reads

 Front Cover

Been amiss at writing book reviews lately - not because I am not reading, but because I have been spending most of my non-reading time in the sewing room.  Despite the flying needles and thread, I have finished two books recently.  The latest read was a troubling one. HILLBILLY ELEGY: A memoir of a family and culture in crisis, written by J.D. Vance, tells of his upbringing in Middletown, Ohio and his family's multi-generational attachment to their Kentucky Appalachia/Scots-Irish roots.
I believe mention of his Scots-Irish roots is what first brought this book to my attention.  My mother's ancestors are also Scots-Irish and came directly to the Whitewater/Lima Center area of Wisconsin from Ireland right after the Civil War.  There they founded the church I was raised in, and most of those original members have descendants who still live in the area.  But it was only pages into the book that I realized that the Scots-Irish culture that Vance was going to write about was nothing like the culture I was raised in. Despite that, I found J. D.'s tale one that was both fascinating and disturbing.  He told of a dysfunctional upbringing that he felt could be tied to his grandparents never completely severing the Appalachian mindset that they could not move ahead in the world.  Despite finding work at a steel mill and earning a decent living, his grandparents kept the social mores of the mountains -- alcohol and tempers shadowed his mother's upbringing and perhaps led to her own addiction.  His grandparents finally provided the only stability that he and his sister would ever know and led directly to his decisions to join the military, then college and finally Yale Law school.  The broad conclusions that Vance draws about being trapped in poverty, in many ways, duplicate what has been documented about the Black Migration to Chicago and Detroit.   HILLBILLY ELEGY is a thoughtful book but it was not the research-centered look at the mountain culture that I had expected. Still J. D. Vance's observations leaves one worried that we will continue to be a broken country until we can assure that each and every child has one adult that will champion his/her abilities and needs.

THE ROAD TO BITTERSWEET, a Southern fiction title by Donna Everhart, was a more entertaining read.  Kensington Press and Mary Jane Farms magazine have created a Facebook bookclub moderated by one of my favorite authors, Marie Bostwick.  So far, I have not taken part in any of the discussions and I have had a hard time finding most of the books within my library system, but THE ROAD TO BITTERSWEET was the exception.  Set in the 1940's Carolina mountains, THE ROAD TO BITTERSWEET tells the coming of age story of fourteen year old Wallis Ann, who, in many ways, is the glue that holds her family together after a devastating flood. It is also a touching story of sibling love and jealousy as Wallis Ann works through her feelings for her older, mute sister. I enjoyed Everhart's tender story so much I plan to read her first novel THE EDUCATION OF DIXIE DUPREE.

Monday, April 9, 2018

CAROLINE, Little House Revisited by Sarah Miller


The Little House books are fictional accounts of Laura Ingalls Wilder's childhood, each book covering a different place in America's growing frontier where the family lived.  Like in many real families,  Mother Caroline may be overlooked in these stories.  She is always there, doing what mothers always do.  Her work, inner strength, and self-less love hold the family together, but her sacrifices and actions are not something that Wilder remembers as significant or unusual in the books.  Sarah Miller has sought to change that oversight.  Writing with a sensitivity to what a woman would be feeling when she left behind loved ones (mother and adult siblings) and what it would be like to travel by wagon when pregnant and caring for two little girls, Miller gives Caroline front stage attention in the book CAROLINE: Little House Revisited.  Any modern "mother" reading this title will certainly compare her young mothering days to what Caroline endured.  Just months after leaving behind their tiny home and extended family in Wisconsin and making an arduous wagon trip west, Caroline gives birth in a hastily constructed Kansas cabin with a neighbor she had never met attending the birth.  Often left alone with the three girls while Charles hunts or travels for supplies, Caroline deals with the boredom of isolation, limited food staples, and her fear of the Osage Indians.  I want to make it clear that this is not a sad or depressing book, nor is it one that bashes Charles Ingalls.  Sarah Miller shows that Caroline's love for her husband and his charming ways override any apprehensions she has about following his plans, despite sometimes questioning his timing and actions. We also see the small and large joys that fill her life, ones that sadly we too often overlook in today's world.

I approached this book in a divided way.  I listened to the first half of the book, narrated by Elizabeth Marvel, and then I read the last half of the story.  I rather wish I had listened to the entire book as the narrator did a marvelous job (word play??) of making the entire trip and new Kansas life come alive.  I was especially attracted to this title because we visited the Pepin, WI replica of the Little House in the Big Woods and the LIWilder Museum in Pepin on our Wisconsin Mississippi River trip two falls ago. However,  like other reviewers have noted, this book is NOT just for Wilder/Little House fans.  Caroline's story stands alone as a testament to all the women who held families together as they settled into new territories across our country, often moving multiple times to pursue dreams of a better crop, a better life, or even wide-open spaces.  I obtained both the audio version and the e-book version of CAROLINE through the Wisconsin Public Library Consortium (WPLC/Overdrive) using my library card.  Always have to make a plug for the library.

Thursday, April 5, 2018

A MOST NOBLE HEIR by Susan Anne Mason

 A Most Noble Heir

Susan Anne Mason's Courage to Dream series were three Irish immigrant survival stories that mixed romance, intrigue, and the determination to succeed in the new world.  Adding a sound dollop of faith made each one: IRISH MEADOWS, A WORTHY HEART, and LOVE'S FAITHFUL PROMISE a delight to read.  Mason's newest title A MOST NOBLE HEIR delivers a bit of the same, but not quite.  First, the setting is not America and its immigrant challenges, but instead, Great Britain and its rigid class system.  Stable hand Nolan Price, through diligence and hard work, has managed to save enough money to buy a small plot of land, hoping to begin life as a farmer, beholding to no lord or manor.  With the promise of his own land, Nolan intends to marry Hannah Burnham, a kitchen maid.
But all that changes when his mother (really his aunt) makes a death bed confession to Nolan and the Earl Stainsby that Nolan is really the son of her sister, who was the bride of the Earl's youthful marriage.  What appears to be a stroke of pure luck bringing both title and wealth brings along rigid expectations and a forbidding of any marriage to Hannah. 

The story that Mason has chosen to tell seems to me to be one that has been told in historical romance many times before.  Although I found the book an enjoyable and fast read (I read it in basically one afternoon and evening), I was not surprised at any of the happenings.  Hannah's Aunt Iris is one character that adds spunk and spine to this oft-told tale of romance gone awry. Also standing out are the genuine lessons found within the story; this time, amidst the ups and downs of romance and crushed marriage hopes, we see Hannah learn to accept that if she is worthy of God's love, she is worthy to love and accept herself.  And the entire book is a lesson to the curmudgeon Lord Stainsby that one would should really "choose kind" over everything else.

I was given a copy of this book by the publisher and Litfuse.  I was not required to write a review and all opinions are my own.   I recommend this title to all those who enjoy a fast read with sweet romance and a bit of English countryside.

Tuesday, March 27, 2018

Promise by Minrose Gwin

 Promise: A Novel


I need to get better organized!  Often when I read about or hear about a book that intrigues me, I immediately search our library system catalog and create a hold for that book.  If the book has just been published or if it has already popular, I will be on the "waiting list" for a long time, sometimes more than six months.  Then suddenly a book appears at the library almost like an unexpected Christmas gift.  Of course, I am delighted, but too often I leave the library scratching my head and thinking, "Where did I hear about this book?  Why did I want to read it?"  That is what happened with the book PROMISE by Minrose Gwin.  I think it must have been recommended in the publication BOOKPAGES but I am not sure.  I might have seen it on Amazon list and when I learned it was by the author of THE QUEEN OF PALMYRA, I decided to order it.  Whatever the reason, PROMISE was worth the wait.  The novel brings to life the 1936 Palm Sunday tornado in Tupelo, MS which still stands as the country's fourth deadliest tornado.  When the author learned that the records and statistics are largely inaccurate because no one bothered to record the deaths and injuries of the blacks who lived on the ridge of the town, the idea for PROMISE was born. 

Although the story is set in the hours and days after that fateful tornado, the story is really a character study in survival.  On one hand, we have Dovey, a tiny black woman who is the local laundress.  Blown into a pond and with an injured foot, Dovey sets out to find her husband, granddaughter and great grandson, who is only a baby.  Her journey takes her right into the damaged home of the McNabbs, a family who are her laundry customers.  But their connection to Dovey, her granddaughter and that baby boy is much darker and more complicated than years of weekly laundry.  Inside the McNabb home, Dovey will find thirteen year old  Jo McNabb who is trying to care for her in-shock mother and also is trying to find her infant brother, claiming that the boy flew out of her mother's arms hours before.   As both Dovey and Jo struggle with their own injuries and seek lost loved ones, we learn the story of the tornado and their intertwined lives. You will love the pluckiness and courage that both women demonstrate.  Minrose Gwin tells a masterful story of the south and she tells it with a honest, yet compassionate eye.  I recommend PROMISE to those who have read THE HELP, THE QUEEN OF PALMYRA, SECRET LIFE OF BEES and other southern titles.   Sure am glad that I found this title, even if I can't remember where I found the recommendation.  It would make a good book club choice.

Monday, March 26, 2018

If I Live by Terri Blackstock


Readers of the IF I RUN series by Terri Blackstock have been waiting patiently for the third and concluding novel IF I LIVE.  Both the first novel IF I RUN and the second novel IF I'M FOUND ended on cliffhangers.  Imagine reading at a breathtaking pace, tensions mounting with a conclusion in sight, or nearly so, only to have a resolution that is only partial, leaving the reader with both unanswered questions and genuine angst over Casey Cox's safety. And to top that off, most readers had to wait months and months before the next installment came out.  I was among those anxiously waiting for the conclusion.  In the first novel, Casey was accused of killing her friend, a reporter. Casey suspects he was killed by a rogue cop who knew the reporter and Casey were poking into possible criminal activities orchestrated by someone within the force.  Somewhat like Dr. Richard Kimble in the tv show THE FUGITIVE, Casey keeps taking on new identities as protection from being found, but then her actions of helping others somehow alerts others and she must run again.  Dylan Roberts, first hired to find Casey and bring her in, soon figures out the truth of her innocence and through the three novels, he becomes the one person she will trust.

Now that all three books are published, this is a series that I can highly recommend for those who enjoy Christian thrillers.  Blackstock's writing has long standing as being entertaining, fast paced drama with a message.  I believe this series is her best.  As I began this third and final novel, I quickly got caught up in yet another Casey assumed identity and its dangerous story line.  But throughout all the twists and turns (and there are many) of this novel, I was able to read with the assurance that this novel would end the fugitive's months long flight.  I was provided an e-galley from Netgalley and the publisher.  I was not required to write a review and all opinions are mine.

Saturday, March 24, 2018

Saturday Night Supper Club by Carla Laureano

 The Saturday Night Supper Club     -     By: Carla Laureano

SATURDAY NIGHT SUPPER CLUB is a fresh contemporary novel which will appeal to young adult readers and foodies.  To an older reader from Wisconsin like myself, the title was a bit misleading.  For decades here, the term "supper club" conjures up the image of eating establishments where the locals gather on Friday evenings for fish fries and on Saturdays for steak or prime rib.  Relish trays (you might only understand that if you are from Wisconsin), a cocktail or two (for many, it is a brandy old-fashioned, but I'm not one of that group), and good friends make the night complete.  Supper club decor was eclectic -- possibly candle lit romance, but most likely log cabin rustic.  One of the most famous supper clubs, named the Gobbler, was completely in the round.  But I digress.  In this Denver-based novel "supper club" really refers to a pop-up exclusive dinner club located at writer Alex Kanin's penthouse apartment.  Alex has committed to serving as host as a way to make amends to chef Rachel Bishop when a column he wrote cost Rachel her job.  Will the exclusive dinners be enough to salvage Rachel's career?

Younger readers will tune right into the text-laden interchanges between Rachel and her BFFs Ana and Melody.  Foodies will get caught up in Rachel's new focus on transforming local foods into her own special cuisine.  And of course, everyone will notice the budding relationship between Alex and Rachel.  Alex's younger sister adds a side story which I expect will develop into another book.  SATURDAY NIGHT SUPPER CLUB was a fun, easy read.  I received a copy of this title from Tyndale House Publishers.  I was not required to write a review and all opinions are mine.