Sunday, July 23, 2017

A NAME UNKNOWN by Roseanna M. White



What do political intrigue, a pending war, identity fraud, and  the need for family and a sense of
belonging have to do with each other?  In Roseanna M. White's finely crafted novel A NAME UNKNOWN all these elements blend into a delightful story.  Rosie has been part of a band of pick pockets and thieves (think David Copperfield) since she was left without parents at a young age.  Now a grown woman, her "jobs" are more sophisticated, bordering on espionage.  The start of WWI threatens and the British are questioning everyone's loyalty. Even the king is considering changing his German-rooted surname to a more English sounding one.  Likewise Peter Holstein is seeking a way to squelch the rumors about his ties to Germany.  Can he prove his British loyalty despite having a German paternal grandfather and a German mother?  Hindered by his constant stutter, Holstein hopes that proof of allegiance lies in the family's huge, but vastly disorganized library.  What he really needs is someone to help him sort out the immense mess.

Rosie, although an accomplished thief, will charm you from the first pages.  Maybe it will be the way she cares for the younger members of the "family" or perhaps it will be the humorous challenges she exchanges with her brother.  For me, it was the description of the skirt she so carefully created, copying the latest fashion magazine, ending up with an outfit that rivaled the work of London's best tailors. Then there is the way she tackles a new assignment, even learning another language and spending hours of study in libraries and museums.  All the subterfuge and assumed identities may have you remembering classic art theft/spy movies.   And we know that those movies relied on a spark of romance, and A NAME UNKNOWN will not disappoint in that category.  I received a copy of this novel from the publisher and Celebrate Lit.  All review opinions are mine.

If you are interested in other people's reviews of this novel, check out the following bloggers and their take.  Special note, my blog date was changed to today because of a conflict.


Image may contain: 1 person, text




July 20: Genesis 5020*
July 21: Pause for Tales
July 22: Bigreadersite*
July 23: Vicky Sluiter
July 26: God1meover*
July 26: Carpe Diem*
July 27: cherylbbookblog
July 31: Cafinated Reads


A bit more about the book
 
SYNOPSIS:
She’s Out to Steal His Name.

Will He Steal Her Heart Instead?

Rosemary Gresham has no family beyond the band of former urchins that helped her survive as a girl in the mean streets of London. Grown now, they are no longer pickpockets—now they focus on high value items and have learned how to blend into upper-class society. Rosemary’s challenge of a lifetime comes when she’s assigned to determine whether a certain wealthy gentleman is loyal to Britain or to Germany. How does one steal a family’s history, their very name?

As Europe moved closer to World War I, rumors swirl around Peter Holstein. Awkward and solitary, but with access to the king, many fear his influence. But Peter can’t help his German last name and wants to prove his loyalty to the Crown—so he can go back to anonymously writing a series of popular adventure novels. When Rosemary arrives on his doorstop pretending to be a well- credentialed historian, Peter believes she’s the right person to help him dig through his family’s past.
When danger and suspicion continue to mount, though, and both realize they’re in a race against time to discover the truth—about Peter’s past and about the undeniable attraction kindling between them.

Saturday, July 22, 2017

DEATH ON THE PRAIRIE by Kathleen Ernst

Kathleen Ernst, Death on the Prairie book   Kathleen Ernst first came on my radar when I became our school district's librarian.   After teaching secondary students for 15 years, I had to quickly catch up on children's literature, which I had not studied much since college.  Of course, I had kept up with my own kids' taste in kid lit.  In those first months as librarian, I really immersed myself in all the levels and genres. With fourth graders expanding their reading to include more genres - mysteries, historical fiction, Wisconsin history, fantasy,  I soon found that they also liked series books.  Among the popular series for this age group (for girls at least) were the American Girl books that accompanied the dolls. Kathleen Ernst, a Wisconsinite, wrote some of those novels and also some of their special history-mystery books. Like I still do, back then, I always gave special attention to Wisconsin authors, so more than a few times I booked talked Ernst's history mystery titles.  A few years ago, I stumbled upon her adult/young adult mystery series featuring Chloe Ellefson.  DEATH ON THE PRAIRIE, her 33rd book and sixth in the Ellefson series,
all revolves around a trip Chloe and her sister take to see the sites which preserve the legacy of Laura Ingalls Wilder.

There are so many reasons for me to like Ernst's gentle mystery series.  First of all, Chloe Ellefson works as a museum curator/archivist for Old World Wisconsin in Eagle, WI, a living history museum which features re-enactments and a whole preserved village.  One of those buildings - a town hall, I believe, is the actual building where my mother and her students would hold their Christmas program.  Eagle itself is about 35 minutes from the community where I grew up, and my father's family settled in Eagle in the late 1800's. And then Chloe's choice of job is similar to what my daughter does, although my daughter's work as an archivist is for the Catholic church, not for a public museum.  I also love that this series is set in 1980's so there are no cell phones or internet to mess up the mystery.  I found it refreshing, especially in this book about Laura Ingalls Wilder fans, to remember the 80's and the first wave of Little House on the Prairie television viewers.  If you read Ernst's biography, you will find out that she actually worked at
Old World Wisconsin in the the 1980's, so her take on that historical site and Chloe's job is based on
experience, not speculation. 

This particular story features an inherited quilt (could it really have been made by Laura), a road trip between adult sisters (everyone knows that families create their own drama), and some mysterious ominous happenings.  Meanwhile back in Eagle, Chloe's boyfriend, police officer Roelke is trying to decide whether to make a career move or buy his grandfather's farm to preserve that heritage.  By the time I had finished the novel, not only had a series of mysterious happenings been cleared up, but I had vicariously visited the Laura historic sites (in real life, I have only visited Pepin's cabin in the woods) and had learned many interesting true facts about her, her daughter and the Little House books.    If you like history and the world of museums, give Kathleen Ernst's writing a chance.
Check out her http://www.kathleenernst.com/index.php to learn more about her life and the books.
I obtained my Chloe Ellefson mystery book through the Winnefox Library System.
 

Monday, July 17, 2017

HIGH AS THE HEAVENS by Kate Breslin

Image result for high as the heavens breslinKate Breslin is again taking readers back to WWI and the ordinary people affected by the War to End All Wars.  For this novel, Breslin patterns her main character Evelyn Marche on three real Belgian heroines, one who was a Red Cross nurse like fictional Evelyn.  The real women, Gabrielle Petit, Edith Cavell, and Marthe McKenna worked as spies after the Germans invaded and took over neutral Belgium.  Two of the three women eventually faced firing squads.  In the novel, HIGH AS THE HEAVENS, Evelyn leaves Britain after learning that her husband's plane has been shot down and travels to Belgium to be with her mother and siblings there.  When the Germans invade, Evelyn must fight to survive, and three years later, although she has been accepted by the Germans as a neutral Red Cross nurse, she bears many internal scars and guilt from her actions when the Germans first invaded. Now in Brussels and separated from her siblings, Evelyn and her mother play an important role in the Belgian underground.  As the book opens, Evelyn travels by bike to meet a Brit parachuting in.  But something goes wrong and the plane crashes.  Evelyn finds only one survivor -- her husband.

This novel alternates in both time and viewpoint, but all pieces fit together in a cohesive, compelling story of love, resistance, survival, and faith.  HIGH AS THE HEAVENS joins a number of well
written historical fiction books about civilians who lives are forever changed by war that I've read in recent years.  Each one adds a bit more to my historical knowledge but also to my understanding of how civilians suffered and survived.  One of the lasting images I will take away from this book is the necessity to live among the enemy that those people in occupied territories had to accept. I received a copy of this book from Bethany House.  All opinions are mine.

Thursday, July 13, 2017

Cover Art

 A few months ago, I  read and reviewed Kate Breslin's World War II novel FOR SUCH A TIME and back in 2015 I read her World War I title NOT BY SIGHT.  When given the opportunity to read an early copy of her second World War I novel HIGH AS THE HEAVENS, I was delighted to accept.  I wish I could say that I devoured the book the moment it arrived, but like many of my reading obligations, it had to take its place in a stack of other books.  Well, it was worth the wait.  Breslin creates characters with not only depth, but with moral character.  Her details about the war and civilian life broaden my understanding.  Knowing that the book is worth the wait, I am setting up a bit of a teaser. Fellow historical fiction lovers,  read the publicity below about Breslin's latest title.  Then in a couple days I will post my personal review.  I am hoping two postings about her latest works will send you right to the library or the book store.






A British nurse in WWI German-occupied Brussels, Evelyn Marche spends her days at the hospital and her nights working at a caf├ę . . . or so it seems. Eve's most carefully guarded secret is that she also spends her nights carrying out dangerous missions as a spy for a Belgian resistance group.

When a plane crashes as she's en route to a rendezvous, Eve is the first to reach the downed plane and is shocked to recognize the badly injured pilot as British RFC Captain Simon Forrester. She risks her life to conceal him from the Germans, but as the secrets between them grow and the danger mounts, can they still hope to make it out of Belgium alive?

". . . Breslin creates a tale difficult to put down until its touching, soul-satisfying ending."--RT Book Reviews on Not by Sight


The Author

  1. Kate Breslin
    ©Samantha Panzera Photography

    Kate Breslin

    A Florida girl who migrated to the Pacific Northwest, Kate Breslin was a bookseller for many years. She is the author of For Such a Time and lives with her husband in Seattle, Washington. Find her online at www.katebreslin.com.
    Continue reading about Kate Breslin

Reviews

"Breslin's latest has non-stop action and intrigue set in the fascinating time period of World War I. The characters are detailed and realistic, reflecting emotions that speak to a broad audience in any era. The storyline is intricately plotted and filled with incredible detail that will keep readers engaged and desperate to know what will happen. The romance is tender and the historical events are captivating, making this a book that is not to be missed."
RT Book Reviews Top Pick

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

A FAMILY SHAPED BY GRACE by Gary Morland

A Family Shaped by Grace: How to Get Along with the People Who Matter MostA FAMILY SHAPED BY GRACE by Gary Morland is subtitled "How to Get Along with the People Who Matter Most," an apt description of the book's major theme.  As the author details, those people who we love the most often are the most difficult for us to deal with.  Whether it is "old baggage" or simply the fact that we save our best manners and behaviors for work, we often are less than our best at home.  For Morland, family dynamics were also influenced by an alcoholic, distant father and then his own alcoholism.  He credits his acceptance of Jesus as the turning point.  Using a flowing river as a visual device, Morland has written a how-to book about avoiding the rocks of disharmony and discord.  The main message that seemed to resonate with me was the call to be caring and patient and giving.  As he shows, we have been extended grace, and we are called to offer grace. He also made clear that we should each and every day be considering what role model we are being.  Without realizing it, we daily influence other people's lives.  Now a grandparent, Morland sees what an influence he can be for his grandchildren, and that really calls to me, too.  Our 6 grandchildren are growing up so rapidly and what place we have in their lives is also changing. What we do with our time and money, how we express our faith, the way we treat others or talk about them -- these are aspects of me that I want them to see in a positive way.

I received a copy of A FAMILY SHAPED BY GRACE by Revell Reads.  All opinions are mine.

Thursday, July 6, 2017

Squeezing in time to read

Whew, this may be the busiest summer we've ever had, and here we are supposed to be retired with no responsibilities.  We always take four of our grandchildren, two at a time, to our little cabin in the northwoods, and with the kids' schedule of Bible school, summer school, summer ball, church camp, family trips, band camp, football practice, etc, we have not found any suitable dates.  It would be terrible to give up those precious days with them, so I am still hoping we can manage some days in late August.

Over the next three weeks, Russ and I will take a short trip to our cabin by ourselves, mainly to retrieve stuff we need for our Canada trip later in July, then we head to my class reunion (a multi-day event).  Hope to see some relatives while we are back in my hometown for the reunion.  Then our daughter and her little girl will visit us; we plan to camp for two of those days.  Right after they leave, it will be time to clean and repack the camper for our trip to Canada with our oldest son's family.  In there, we need to keep the garden weeded, lawn mowed, meals cooked.  You all know the drill.  And I thought I would have time to quilt this summer -- funny!!  If it was not for sleepless nights, I am not sure I would get my reading done!!  Blogging long reviews just is not going to happen, unless it is an obligation to a blog tour.

That said, I am going to do a quick review of three books I recently read.  All of them are ones that either were e-book special sales or ones I saw recommended somewhere.  Before I buy, I always check the library system.  When none of these were owned by any libraries in my Winnefox Library System, I decided to check the Wisconsin State interlibrary loan system before I parted with my money.  I could get all three books -- libraries are so great.

I chose these three books because the subjects are so diverse and stand out from the typical Christian contemporary series.





Reclaiming Lily by Patti Lacy is a story of two families and the daughter/sister they share.  Lily, aka Joy, was adopted from a Chinese orphanage by a Texas couple when she was about 6.  Now ten years later, she feels like she does not belong anywhere and rebels against the god of her preacher father. With no one who looks like her at school, Joy feels friendless and useless.  Little does she know that she still has a Chinese family, and her older sister, now a doctor in Boston has spent years searching for her.  When the sister learns that Joy may suffer from a debilitating kidney disease, she ramps up her search and finally finds the teen.  Patti Lacy shares at the end of the book the research about Chinese adoption and also kidney disease she put into this book.  I enjoyed this story of mixed cultures, shared love, and a teen who finds a second chance.

As I have Loved You by Nikki Arana is an unusual love story.  Leigh, an overprotective single mother, of a college aged son, does not approve of his recent girl friend.  When he puts aside his pledge to wait until marriage and decides to move in with the girl friend, Leigh is heart broken.  Tensions build among the trio, and readers will likely agree that Jessica is bad news.  Bounced checks, late rent payments, Jessica's absences from work, failing grades -- Jeff tries to hide it all from his mother.  But he remains by Jessica's side because he sees that she needs a human example of Christ's never faltering love.  In Jessica, we can see the mess that abuse and failed foster care breed. While it is easy to turn away from those who seem to be failing at life, we can learn much from Jeff's attitude.

Of Stillness and Storm by Michelle Phoenix tackles a topic that I never thought would be book material, but I am so glad I read this book.  Sam and Lauren worked for ten years preparing for their mission to Nepal.  Only a young boy when the plan began to take shape, their son never wanted to travel away from his home.  Now a teenager, Ryan has not settled into their new life, except for the hours he plays soccer.  His father, who travels into the remote mountains for three weeks out of every month, is basically absent from his life.  When Sam is home, he cannot see what Lauren sees -- that Ryan is slipping away behind a facade of teen rebellion.  When an old friend connects when Lauren on social media and another friend offers the money for a sabbatical home, but Sam refuses; Lauren takes a painful look at her family and what they have become.  Michelle Phoenix, herself a child of missionaries, works with those children who are often caught between cultures and their parents' dreams.  This was an eye-opening book to read.  We would like to think that all missionaries are guided by God's hand, but clearly as Lauren discovers, one's version of God's plan can go awry.


Friday, June 30, 2017

A Piece of the World by Christina Baker Kline

A Piece of the WorldChristina Baker Kline scored great success with her novel ORPHAN TRAIN, and I eagerly tackled that title when our book club chose it for a monthly discussion.  Without being to articulate exactly why, I felt slightly disappointed in the story. Perhaps I had hoped for a broader scoped novel, one which delved more into the organizations and people behind the orphan trains.  But while I might have felt let down with the plot, I recognized Baker-Kline's writing style flowed and drew readers in, so when I read a review for A PIECE OF THE WORLD, I was ready to tackle another of her stories.
In this title, she has found, not only a worthy subject, but she also captured the character's voice to perfection.  Anna Christina Olson spent her entire life on a Maine farm that had been in her mother's family for generations, and she is middle-aged, living a solitary life with her brother, when young artist Andrew Wyeth meets the pair.  Over several years, Andrew paints their farm and the reclusive pair, but the painting that is most well known is of Anna alone.  Entitled Christina's World, Wyeth shows a younger Christina on a golden grassy field with the family house a distance away.  Only careful observation reveals a dogged determination across the woman's far, the tense grip of her hands, and the odd angle of her super thin legs.  Then comes the realization that Christina is crippled (language of the time) and dragging herself across the field is her mode of transportation.
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A PIECE OF THE WORLD takes us in to Christina's world, one dominated by her parents and her undiagnosed, untreated illness.  As I have already said, Kline gives Christina a scrappy voice that will make readers both sympathetic and frustrated with the central character.  Year by year, event by event, her body becomes more fragile, making her more separated from all life beyond the farm, until the decaying house, her dwindling family, and the shabby farm are indeed CHRISTINA'S WORLD.  I can't wait for the next morsel of history that Baker-Kline can find and then with her diligent research and talented pen brings to life.

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

With You Always by Jody Hedlund: Orphan Train Book One

Jody Hedlund begins the story of Elise and her two sisters, young German immigrants in 1857 New York City, in the novella An Awakened Heart and then continues the story in WITH YOU ALWAYS, book one of the Orphan Train series. Technically this book isn't about the orphan children  you normally associate with the term "orphan train." Instead the two stories concentrate on the poor working women of New York City who suffer when an economic downturn puts many of those working in the garment industry  (tenement-centered sweat shops) out of work.  Elise and her sisters are among those who find themselves out of work and out of a shelter.  Even when they find help at a struggling mission, their future is unsettled and bleak.  Elise is encouraged to travel west on a train taking women to Illinois for jobs in newly formed communities. 

The realities of New York are harsh - despicable working conditions, meager pay, crowded tenements, forced prostitution, orphaned and abandoned children, but life in Illinois is no piece of cake. Pay is low and Elise fears she will never be able to pay her living expenses, pay back her train fare west, and send money back east to help her siblings.  Elise encounters Thornton Quincy, a wealthy Easterner who has been challenged by his father to set up a new town in Illinois to prove his ability to take over the family business.  While Elise does not know his true identity and status, she and Thornton ignite sparks that cannot be ignored.  When she does learn more about the man, she challenges him to better understand the world of those he employs. 

I've always enjoyed Jody Hedlund's historical works, and these two are a great start to a new series.  I recommend readers take the time to read the novella.  I scored a copy from Barnes and Noble at a super price.  Miss Pendleton, the wealthy woman who gives up her own fortune to help the down-trodden women of NYC, is the main character of the novella, and I think she mirrors historical women of the late 19th Century who took stands to better the lives of immigrants and poor.
I obtained a copy  of WITH YOU ALWAYS from our library system http://www.winnefox.org/
I am so lucky that many of the Christian authors I want to read are available through the library system.  

Friday, June 16, 2017

CONFESSIONS OF A DOMESTIC FAILURE by Bunmi Laditan



Image result for confessions of a domestic failure 

Why a grandmother of 6 felt drawn to reading Bunmi Laditan’s CONFESSIONS OF A DOMESTIC FAILURE, a chick lit novel clearly written for the under 40 mommy set, is beyond me, but let it suffice to say it was a brilliant decision!  Ashley Keller is a new stay-at-home mom who is, as the cover describes, a “hot mess.”  She dearly loves her 8 month old daughter and her husband, but the 24/7 routine of sleep-deprived nights, lack of social interaction, endless laundry and housework, along with the guilt of being a non-nursing mom and a stubborn body that won’t bounce back to its previous hot body, have conspired to make Ashley believe she is the worst mother ever.  When her husband spends more and more time at his struggling new start business, Ashley sinks even further into despair.  Clearly this book should read like a tragedy, but instead it was a complete hoot.  Author Laditan presents with sharp wit and humor, the absolute absurdity of how mothers continue to judge themselves and others.  For Ashley, that means judging herself against her own sister, who seems to make motherhood and domesticity a smooth ride, evidenced by her sister’s frequent social media posts.  Add in the oodles of pinterest postings by anonymous super-moms that Ashley peruses from the couch while baby Aubrey plays, and Ashley’s fatigued, caffeine-fueled state seems even more hopeless.  But the biggest guilt producer is the television and internet sensation Emily Walker.  Emily, the queen of a domesticity kingdom that rivals Martha Stewart, Oprah, and the most pulled-together actress  rolled  into one,  feeds her adoring public daily bits of mothering wisdom via her television show, books, and social media presence.  When she announces a boot-camp for mothers wanting to up their game, Ashley applies and is chosen.  What follows makes for a delightfully humorous, while still touching, read.  I chuckled over the absolute absurdity of Emily’s hints – Here’s January 30th’s hint:
        Always incorporate your children into your exercise routine.  It’s important to model healthy living.  My five love to join me on my 5 a.m. walks.  The baby  fits snugly in my wrap and I pull my middle two in a wagon.  More weight means a better workout.

Or this comment about her personal trainer/masseuse 

When I met Sven I was most of you: unhappy and overweight.  I couldn’t shake the last six ounces of baby weight.  Within three weeks, he whipped my body into the best shape of my life.  My high school cheerleading uniform is too big for me now.  

Meanwhile, sleep-deprived Ashley is trying her darnest to meet each of Emily Walker’s weekly challenges, only to have each one blossom into some type of  “Ashley” disaster that will leave readers chuckling and probably remembering some of their own mothering moments. For me, that was reminiscing about our neighborhood coffee clutch.  With a husband who worked a third shift and three kids who needed to be kept reasonably quiet in mornings while he slept, the opportunity to leave home and spend time with other moms and their kids was a sanity saver.  But like Ashley, the dark shadows of guilt always lurked as I thought about the undone laundry, unweeded garden, and numerous projects that should be tackled.  Thankfully, I did not have Pinterest and Facebook to double that guilt, but there was WOMEN'S DAY and FAMILY CIRCLE!!  LOL.

Truthfully, this novel was a refreshing read, and I highly recommend it to mothers of all ages.
Humor remains a powerful tonic and healer, and Bunmi Laditan will give you plenty of chances to laugh at the absurdity of our desire to outshine others, our need to judge others, and our own self-criticism.   CONFESSIONS OF A DOMESTIC FAILURE is Bunmi Laditan's first novel; her other works include a Twitter account dubbed THE HONEST TODDLER.  I hope she continues to provide a positive voice for motherhood.

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

THE MEMORY OF YOU by Catherine West

The Memory of YouIt has been 13 years since Natalie Mitchell has spent anytime at her grandfather's California vineyard.
As a child, the vineyard was the summer playground for Natalie and her twin sister Nicole, but all that changed when the two teenagers were involved in an accident which took Nicole's life and left Natalie in a perpetual state of grief, guilt, and emotional upheaval.  Now, Natalie's domineering father
sole purpose in sending Natalie, principal stock holder in the vineyard, west is to force a shut-down of what he believes is a failing business.  Natalie sees beyond her grandfather's health issues and old fashioned ways to see new potential, but her desire to make changes is stymied by her returning panic attacks and her confrontations with Tanner Collins, the present winery manager.  Tanner just happens to be her first teen crush, and the one who Natalie believes chose Nicole over herself.

As the title THE MEMORY OF YOU foreshadows, this is a story of how one's memories of the past affect and often, hinder, the present and the future.  Natalie is not the only one struggling with haunting memories.  Tanner's ability to make any decisions about his family, especially his niece and nephew, who he is currently raising, is shadowed by his own childhood.  And when Natalie's long-absent uncle returns to the winery, he must make amends with not only his father, but with the woman he left at the altar over 30 years earlier. While I thoroughly enjoyed West's earlier book THE THINGS WE KNEW, which also dealt with family members returning, old issues being resolved, and even a teen crush reappearing, I found that this story a bit slow going.  I never truly felt immersed in a wine country setting, despite references to wine tastings and Tanner's daily responsibilities.  And I found the bristly attitude Tanner had toward Natalie was a bit overdone.  Plus there were a few winery workers who appeared in the novel to create a bit of drama and unease, but I would have rather seen more interaction between Natalie and the grandfather she loved so much.  Instead, he was often absent and when present seemed to be a shadow of a person.  I am sure most readers will love this work, as much as I loved and recommended THE THINGS WE KNEW.  Why it did not totally click with me, I am having a difficult time discerning.  I just know that it took me several days to read this book; I often picked it up and only read a few pages before putting it down again.  Most times once I start a novel, I am so drawn into it that I want to put all other projects aside,  and I never felt that way with THE MEMORY OF YOU.  If I had to give the book a ranking, I would give it a 3.5-4.0, not the solid 4.5 I give most novels I enjoyed. I try to keep the 5 rating for truly memorable books.

Monday, June 5, 2017

Life Support by Robert Whitlow

My last two reads have both been legal tales, totally unplanned on my part, but rather the
result of previously placed holds coming through in quick succession.  First, I read John Grisham's GRAY MOUNTAIN, published in 2015 but set in the 2008 recession. Samantha Kofer, a hard-working young lawyer in a huge, cut-throat New York City law firm, is laid-off as the financial down turn spirals.  Told that her spot within the company will be held for several months if she finds a suitable charitable position elsewhere in the meantime,  Samantha seeks and obtains a position at a small legal aid clinic in coal country.  The lonely winding roads and desolate reminders of mountain tops stripped bare are a stark contrast to the bustle of her previous life, but soon Samantha is caught up in the work at the clinic.  No big real estate deals here, but rather cases which try to stop the pain of living in Appalachia --- poor people being ripped off by credit collectors, spousal abuse fueled by cheap drug addiction, and the ever present fights for black lung benefits.  As each week passes, Samantha learns more and more about the divide betwee n those who continue to see the coal companies as the lifeline to the mountains and those who will do anything to stop the new methods of mining which basically decapitates a mountain top and leaves it scalped and prone to rock slides, erosion, and water pollution. 

Commentary I read said this is the first time Grisham has had a female as the lead protagonist.  In fact, the whole Virginia mountain legal aid clinic is made up of women, although a male lawyer who
is a vigilante against the coal companies plays a big role in the book.  A reader's guide at the end of the book also points out that Grisham gives faces and names to the "little people" in the book, but the large coal companies are only that -- large companies.  We do not meet any of the coal company employers or owners.  What effect does this have on the book?  Is it easier to take sides when a novel is written like this?  I must say that GRAY MOUNTAIN left me with many questions about modern mining.

Immediately after finishing GRAY MOUNTAIN, I began LIFE SUPPORT by Robert Whitlow.  Publicity for Whitlow always lists him at the Christian fiction version of John Grisham, and I must agree that both are excellent writers of legal fiction.  Once again, the protagonist is a young female lawyer who finds herself suddenly unemployed.  Alexia Lindale has made quite a name for herself as a divorce lawyer who can calmly advocate for her female clients.  That may be why her firm asks her to navigate a dispute between Ezra Richardson, a rich and powerful client of the firms, and his daughter-in-law Rena.  Baxter Richardson, Rena's husband and Ezra's son, is on life support after a fall from a cliff.  Both Ezra and Rena hold documents which should give each power to make medical decisions for Baxter, but the two have differing opinions about what should be done.  Readers will clearly know Rena's motives, but Alexia will not, but soon the interactions between the two women will lead to Alexia being asked to leave her firm.  As she begins to navigate a private law practice, Rena becomes one of her first clients and deception abounds.  Built into this legal thriller is another layer that makes the novel stand apart.  Alexia, a lover of classical music, meets Ted Morgan, a music pastor, at a local church, and she is drawn back again and again to hear him play.  As a relationship just begins to sprout between the two, an even greater relationship opens for Alexia.  Through music, she feels God's presence for the first time --something her grandmother had always wished for.
This thread which focuses on the divine power of music becomes even more important as Ted is allowed to play for the comatose Baxter.

I must admit that LIFE SUPPORT ended disappointingly for me.  I stayed up until 1:00 a.m. to finish the book last night, only to find the book did not really end.  I quickly searched and yes, there is a second book.  After reading comments about the second book, it appears that it ends with a cliffhanger also, but there is no third book.  Right now I am in a bit of a dilemma.  I want to know more, especially about Alexia and Ted, but if the second book ends without resolving Rena's guilt do I really want to continue this tale?

Gray Mountain; Hardcover; Author - John Grisham

Wednesday, May 31, 2017

LIFE AFTER by Katie Ganshert

Image result for life after ganshertLIFE AFTER by Katie Ganshert is a contemporary Christian novel which tells the story of survivor guilt and the healing stages of grief.  Autumn Manning is the sole survivor of a random act of terror on a Chicago commuter train.  While she has no memories of the accident, Autumn has been told that she left work early that day.  Yet it was a later commuter train that she was on when a bomb exploded and killed all passengers except her.  Where had she spent those several hours?  Why was she on that train?  And why did she survive and not someone else?  Those thoughts and more haunt her every waking hour. As the first anniversary of that date approaches, Autumn's family voice their concern over her inability to move beyond that terrible day.  Finally accepting their advice, Autumn sees a counselor.  "Autumn rubbed her knuckles, then found a dry piece of skin near the middle of her left pinkie and began picking.  By the time this appointment was through, she'd need Band-Aids for all ten of her fingers.  She didn't want to worry her family or visit cemeteries at night or wake up at three in the morning in a cold sweat." (p.45)  Soon after the appointment, Reese, the young daughter of a woman who died in the bombing comes to see Autumn and makes the suggestion that someone make a tribute video remember all those who died.  In an attempt to face her survivor's guilt, Autumn takes on that task.  In doing so, she learns about the "ordinary" people who lost their lives that day and the people they left behind.  In doing so, she enters into the lives of Paul, Reese, and Tate -- the family who for a few hours believed their mom and wife had survived, only to learn later that it was Autumn who was unconscious at the hospital. As she gets closer to Paul and his children, Autumn learns that reaching out to others who are suffering may be the only way to heal oneself.

Katie Ganshert herself says she set out to create a story that showed God "weeps with the hurting," and she has succeeded.   A few years ago, I blogged about one of Ganshert's first novels, saying that I loved her writing, but that I hoped she would move beyond simple romance and begin writing novels with depth, especially ones with complicated characters.  She has done that and more!    I was lucky to score a copy of this novel from our library system;  LIFE AFTER was just published and is sure to be a popular read throughout 2017.