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. 


Sunday, April 23, 2017

Cousins of the Dove series by Cindy Starns Clark and Leslie Gould

My Brother's Crown (Cousins of the Dove)The Cousins of the Dove is a three book series co-authored by Cindy Starns Clark and Leslie Gould. Book one MY BROTHER'S CROWN tells a dual tale, the first being that of Hugenot Catherine Gillett in 17th century France.  As Henry XIV's ban against non-Catholics becomes more strictly enforced, Catherine and her family struggle to figure out a way to save their printing business and their lives.  The second story is that of Renee Talbot, a descendent of Catherine's, and her cousins.
While the cousins are gathered to celebrate the donation to the Smithsonian of the rare Persecution Pamphlet, they cannot deny still being negatively affected by the gruesome discovery they made years earlier in the Dark Woods on their grandmother's estate. Brett Keller is hired to provide security for the document and he and Renee set out to discover the coded message within the pamphlet and to dig out some answers about the Dark Woods mystery. 
My Sister's Prayer (Cousins of the Dove)
While I enjoyed both of these stories, I was delighted to find that the second book was even stronger than the first.  MY SISTER'S PRAYER begins a few months later as Maddee Talbot (cousin of Renee) takes on the care of her troubled younger sister Nicole, who was injured in a car accident, an accident caused by Nicole's intoxication and drug abuse. While Maddee is sympathetic that Nicole has always been haunted by their night long ago in the Dark Woods, she fears that Nicole will sabotage this current chance to get sober and turn her life around.  As their weeks together progress, the two sisters struggle to build trust, especially when Maddee catches Nicole in some lies and then discovers that someone is watching the house.  Their grandmother gives them the task of reading a bundle of letters written in 1704 by Celeste Talbot, who secretly left England and traveled to America to wed an English soldier.  It is only after she sets sail that she learns that her younger sister has boarded the same ship and is deathly ill.  The stories of the two pairs of sisters have strong parallels and those centuries old letters have lessons for both Maddee and Nicole.  The Dark Woods mystery thread still runs through this novel; readers learn a bit more about what the girls discovered nine years earlier and how it affected them, but the complete mystery is NOT solved.  MY DAUGHTER'S LEGACY, the third and final book, releases this summer and I already have a hold on it through our library system.

Friday, April 14, 2017

If I'm Found by Terri Blackstock

If I’m FoundIn the new novel IF I'M FOUND, Terri Blackstock continues the suspense-filled tale of
Casey Cox who has been wrongly accused of killing a newspaper reporter investigating her father's suicide years earlier.  Book one, IF I RUN has Casey on the run as both a Shreveport police detective and a private investigator, Dylan Roberts rush to find her.  Casey settles into a new identity but her need to help a child in danger blows her cover and the first book ends with Casey on the run again.
But as that book ends, it is clear that Dylan now has doubts about her guilt and he is beginning to look into possible fraud in the police department.

As the second book IF I'M FOUND opens, Casey secures a new identity, but rather than hiding out in a safe location, she begins to search for information that will identify just who is "dirty" in the Shreveport police department.  The book follows a very similar pattern to book one.  Casey cannot focus on just keeping safe; she gets involved in the lives of the new people she meets, and her need to do right by them leads to new danger for herself.  Dylan continues to believe in her innocence and tries to keep a barrier between her and the police department, all the while keeping up the pretense that he is looking to find and capture her.  The story line that Dylan suffers from PTSD continues in this book and adds a layer of realism to a story that at times seems like an entertaining rerun of THE FUGITIVE.  There is a building relationship between Dylan and Casey, but the danger they face takes precedence, something I appreciate. For me, sudden romances between two people thrust together in times of danger often seem too contrived. I've always enjoyed Terri Blackstock's writing and this series is a break from her typical crime fighting series.  A third book will be following soon, and hopefully, Casey will be vindicated and the villains will be caught.  I received a copy from NetGalley and all opinions are mine.

Monday, April 10, 2017

A Trail of Crumbs: A Novel of the Great Depression by Susie Finkbeiner

9780825444463-1Author Susie Finkbeiner has picked up the tale of 10 year old Pearl Spence and her Oklahoma family just months after the death of her Meemaw in her new novel A TRAIL OF CRUMBS.  While the author, through Pearl's recollections, tries to file the readers in on the dangerous events that are resolved at the end of book one A CUP OF DUST, my advice is read that title first and then start A TRAIL OF CRUMBS.  Then you will better understand the spunky, yet fragile Pearl.  Having already experienced more than most adults, Pearl tries to make sense of her abandonment by her birth mother.  Despite the security provided by her loving adoptive parents (especially her father), Pearl's life continues to be affected by the hardships of the Oklahoma dust storms and the crushing depression.  The latest storms have brought the family to its knees as they bury another loved one and hear the doctor's message that Pearl must leave Oklahoma as another bout of dust pneumonia would kill her.

Readers follow the family east to Bliss, Michigan, home of Papa Spence's cousin Gus.  While sights of green grass and flowing rivers may be bliss, Pearl fears that all will not be bliss in Michigan, especially when she witnesses that the vacant, tired look in her mother's eyes does not disappear despite their new home.  And despite Pearl's prayers that Bliss offer up just one friend her age, none materialize and it will be the heroines in her library books and Cousin Gus's wife who will be the girl's companions throughout the summer. Soon the family will face a new threat, one more costly and dangerous than any dust storm.

Finkbeiner writing is both gentle and strong at the same time, just as Pearl is.  We see life through her eyes, and as I mentioned before she has endured more than most adults, and those events have left some deep-seated fears and regrets.  Readers of fiction like to have life neatly tied up at the end of each book, but this book does not offer resolution.  The book ends at the end of a year; Pearl has turned eleven and the family is surviving, but for those readers who want to know more, we have to wait for the third book A SONG OF HOPE which publishes in February 2018.  All the time I was reading A TRAIL OF CRUMBS, I was trying to piece together the whole story of the first book which I read almost two years ago.  By the time I finished this book, I had come to love Pearl and admire her father one more time, but I have to admit I am greatly disappointed that I will need to wait a year to finish their story.  I don't fault the author for this time lapse, but I wish publishers would
space series like this one closer together.  This isn't the type of series built around a town or multiple members of a family, or one character who solves one mystery after another.  This is one whole story, broken into three parts, and I really think readers deserve access to the whole story in a short time frame.  My advice, read books one and two together, and keep them close so you can refresh your memory when the final book comes.  Susie Finkbeiner is a talented author, especially gifted in capturing time and place.  I look forward to her future writings.  I received a copy of this title from Kregel Publications; all opinions are mine, and I was not required to write a review.

SPECIAL NOTE:  Here is a link to my review of A CUP OF DUST, the first book in this series.https://thoughtsfrommillstreet.blogspot.com/2015/11/a-cup-of-dust-novel-of-dust-bowl-by.html

Thursday, April 6, 2017

A FRAGILE HOPE BY CYNTHIA RUCHTI

One of my favorite Emily Dickinson poem's is "Hope is the thing with feathers" which compares hope to a tiny bird tossed about during a tumultuous storm, but who never quits singing.  Christian (and Wisconsin) author Cynthia Ruchti tells a similar story in her new book A FRAGILE HOPE.
Josiah Chamberlain has made his life repairing other people's marriages through his writing and his lectures.  Ever observant and perceptive of human behavior, especially in regards to couples, Josiah has completely lost contact with his own marriage.  So when he receives news that his wife Karin has been in a car accident, that the driver of her car was a man and the husband of a friend, and that his wife is now in a coma, Josiah's world begins to spin and his mind begins to question everything.
When he learns that the man has died and that Karin is pregnant with a child that Josiah is certain cannot be his, the storm of his life bashes him like the tiny bird in the Dickinson poem. 

Josiah feels a great betrayal, yet he cannot walk away from that tiny heartbeat the nurses have let him hear and from the wife he still loves.  A tiny hope remains and through the foggy, tumultuous weeks that follow, that hope is fed by the faith of a stranger in the ICU family room, his grieving father-in-law, and an unorthodox new doctor.  Throughout the book wife Karin's thoughts are shared in two ways - one, through the greeting card sentiments, drawn from her SEEDLINGS AND SENTIMENT business, that start each chapter and from her infrequent coma-bound "thoughts" which we are privy to, but are not understood by anyone else. 

As always, Ruchti, a master storyteller, unfolds a story layered with unforgettable characters and meaning that will have readers thinking about our own lives, especially our relationships with our family and our faith.  While most of us have never experienced that awful nightmare of a loved one teetering for weeks and months between life and persistent vegetative state, we have may have walked in  our own foggy darkness over a real or perceived betrayal.  We may have let that betrayal color our lives in permanent gloom, or like, Josiah, we may have let the tiny bird of hope find a resting place.   For Josiah, the knowledge that He (Jesus) was on that night (night of the Last Supper) betrayed and yet remained among those He loved, to do what God had called Him to do, is the truth he cannot reject. Holding on to that kernel of faith, Josiah finds a fragile bit of hope and faces his new life -- no longer the modern world's expert on love and marriage, but merely a husband loving his wife, even when his questions have no answers.

I received an advanced reader's copy of this title.  All opinions are mine.