EpicFehlReader
Review
3 Stars
The Saddle Maker's Son (Amish Of Bee County #3) by Kelly Irvin
The Saddle Maker's Son - Kelly Irvin

Rebekah Lantz feels imprisoned by circumstances she didn’t create. Tobias Byler is haunted by regret. Can two young runaways from half a world away teach them the healing power of true family? Rebekah isn’t like her sister who left the Amish faith, but the watchful gaze of her family and small, close-knit Amish community makes her feel as if she’s been judged and found lacking. The men avoid her and the women whisper behind her back. She simply longs for the same chance to be a wife and mother that her friends have. Tobias Byler only wants to escape feelings for a woman he knows he should never have allowed to get close to him. Moving with his family to isolated Bee County, Texas, seemed the best way to leave his mistakes behind. But even a move across the country can’t erase the past that accompanies his every thought. A surprise encounter with two half-starved runaway children forces Rebekah and Tobias to turn to each other to help a sister and brother who have traveled thousands of miles in search of lives of unfettered peace and joy. In doing so, Rebekah and Tobias discover the key to forgetting the past is the one that will open the door to love and the future they both seek.

Amazon.com

 

 

 

Teaching Assistant  Rebekah Lantz feels her Amish community is harshly (and wrongly) judging her for the actions of her sister, who chose to leave the Amish faith. The women gossip, the men hesitate to court her. 

 

Meanwhile, Tobias Byler is trying to work off the shame of a failed relationship with an Englisch (non-Amish) woman. He was tempted to drift away from all he knew to be with her but soon realized he didn't want to (could not, even) abandon his Amish roots. Heavy with the guilt of leading his lady love on only to have to break things off, Tobias comes to Bee County to begin anew. 

 

The paths of Tobias and Rebekah connect when both are brought together to help two lost children who stumble into the community of the Bee County Amish. At first glance, these two children seem to have the look of runaways, but the truth quickly comes out. Tobias and Rebekah don't have the smoothest introduction right off. In fact, in pretty much no time flat Rebekah is already fighting feelings of guilt for bringing Tobias into a situation where she has to ask him to lie for her, before they hardly know each other at all. 

 

Spanish turns out to be the native tongue of the lost children. Neither child seems to know more than a word or two of English, but luckily Rebekah knows enough conversational Spanish to gather that the older child, a girl of 12, is named Lupe while her brother is Diego. They say they were sent by their grandmother, on their own, from El Salvador (Central America) to Texas to try to locate their missing father. Lupe and her brother show signs of being a bit malnourished and seem to be wary around grown men -- any adult men, always fearing they might be "the bad men" -- and jumpy at the sound of guns. 

 

The Amish of Bee County -- the children especially -- seem to take to Lupe & Diego quite quickly. Likewise, Lupe & Diego are fascinated with the culture and find they pick up English quickly here. The whole situation also gives Rebekah a break in that the town gossips let up off her a bit, instead showing their support and encouragement for her interest in the children. Many community members agree that any relatives of the children should try to be located, though some fear what it might mean for Bee County legally should word get out that they might be harboring undocumented immigrants. Rebekah herself of course wants to locate any of Lupe and Diego's relatives, but also worries that if none can be found, that these children might fall victim to being shuffled around and lost in the States' foster care system after they've already been through so much. There are also those who air their suspicions that the children might have ties to terrorist plots.

 

Rebekah, to ensure that the children have the best chance possible at a good life, enlists the help of none other than her sister Leila....the same sister who left the faith and put so much strain on Rebekah's own life. But Leila's husband just happens to work with non-profits that provide assistance to newly immigrated families, work that has him interacting with immigrants and the immigration office pretty much on a daily basis! Rebekah figures if there is anyone who knows their stuff, it'd be him! 

 

Okay, so first off I have to vent and say that I was not impressed with the spoilers author Kelly Irvin left in her Note To Readers at the beginning of the book, regarding the other books in this series. I've seen quite a few reviews where readers have mentioned picking this book up without having read the previous (as I did) but way to kill some of the surprise if and when they might choose to go back to the earlier stories! Not cool! 

 

Alright, that out of my system... on to this book and my thoughts.  I do like the themes Irvin works with here. Not only does she illustrate the pain of being shunned (either literally or figuratively) by the people you most love for things you cannot control, but also uses her characters to show that one can work through the forgetting or forgiving of mistakes through the process of helping others worse off. Perfect reminder any time of year but especially nice to read during this holiday season. :-)

 

Rebekah herself is an admirable character, strong in her sense of self, comfortable with sharing her thoughts and opinions... a trait that gets her the label of "firecracker". Been there, girl. I can relate! {You say firecracker like it's a bad thing, ammirite ;-)} I also enjoyed experiencing the warm and caring sisterhood between Rebekah and Leila. I only have a brother myself, but this is what I imagine having a sister must feel like -- when you're on good terms with them that is! 

 

As far as the slow burning romance between Rebekah and Tobias, it was molasses slow for me! I can appreciate a decent slow burn but with these two I just kept wanting to hit the FF button already. Nope, just too lukewarm and dragged out IMO. I even laughed when at around 200 pages, after pages of started-cute-now-tedious bickering, Rebekah says "maybe we should start over..." What? aww no girl, there's only like 155 pages til final curtain so let's just wrap this forced mess up already, 'kay? Susan and Levi had a better story on that front (at least for me).... and the closing of David and Bobbie's story was pretty touching.

 

My interest was primarily held simply on the story of the bundle package of cuteness known as Lupe and Diego. I found their journey to the States very much relevant to the times now, given the uncertainty many US citizens have over our newly elected president's statements / stand on immigration issues. This is just one story that illustrates that yes, borders have to be protected, but at the same time there are lives of children, CHILDREN, at stake... a reality that should not be taken lightly or approached with an all or nothing point of view. It's not and won't be a clear cut, black and white issue... there will be plenty of layers of gray for some time to come and at the very least we have to acknowledge that with an empathetic heart.  

 

_________________ 

 

 

Note To Readers: This is the third book in Irvin's Amish of Bee County series. As I mentioned previously, I have not read the first two. While there were some minor points in the story where I felt something was being referenced that I did not quite catch the importance of, feeling like it must have been a nod to the earlier books, I still had no trouble reading this as a standalone piece. You can also find some of Irvin's short stories (set in this community, I believe) in the Amish themed anthologies An Amish Market and An Amish Christmas Gift.

 

 

BONUS: Irvin throws in a little something extra for her readers at the back of this book. In a nod to the Salvadoran heritage of her characters Lupe & Diego, Irvin offers a few Salvadoran recipes for you to try out!

____________________

 

FTC Disclaimer: TNZ Fiction Guild kindly provided me with a complimentary copy of this book with a request that I might check it out and share my thoughts. The opinions above are entirely my own. 

Review
3 Stars
Mercy at Midnight by Sylvia Bambola
Mercy at Midnight - Sylvia Bambola

Cynthia Wells, an undercover reporter with a dark secret and in search of a story, finds more than she bargains for, including a love she never expected. Jonathan Holms, pastor of affluent Christ Church, is stunned when God directs him to a mission where he must come to grips with a killer and his own difficult past. Stubby White was never anything and he was sure he'd never be anything, not with all the bad breaks he's had. But at the Beacon Mission, when he finds the promise of a new life, he must decide whether to dwell in the past or break from it. All three are thrown together by converging circumstances involving danger and a mysterious killer who seems bent on destroying them all.

~from back cover

 

 

 

Cynthia Wells is an undercover newspaper reporter, her journalistic pieces typically focusing on scams and scandals within business and politics. A series of suspiciously close together deaths within town -- two homeless men and one church pastor -- has her itching to look into the matter even though most around her are telling her there's probably no meat in that story. Wells, recently plagued by the most disturbing of nightmares, stubbornly pushes through those who would block the truth of the matter. The more details Cynthia uncovers, the more she begins to see just how much is at stake should she tell what she knows, and how much danger she actually stands to face.

 

Meanwhile, Pastor Jonathan Holms feels compelled by God to leave his thriving congregation for a new venture not immediately known. That is, until he finds himself driven to spend a night in a local homeless shelter. His experience inspires him to start up his own shelter, though where the funds for that (keeping the shelter up and running long-term, that is) will come from is anyone's guess. But as they say, where there's a will, there's a way. One of the first visitors to Jonathan's new shelter is a homeless man by the name of Stubby White. Stubby quickly finds the shelter to be a place of solace, somewhere he can hide from those who killed his friends -- and seem to find him a threat as well -- and a place he can escape from his drug-fueled mistakes of the past. Cynthia, acting undercover as a homeless woman who prefers to remain silent about her past, is also soon taken in at the shelter. Cynthia, Stubby and Jonathan, along with the elderly cook Miss Emily and the daycare attendant Effie, all form a makeshift family. And like most any family you know, there's a secret or three between all these people threatening to come to light. One especially potent one surprisingly links Cynthia to Stubby. But what helps this family of sorts pull through is the realization that all of them have found a level of caring and acceptance among each other that they've never felt anywhere else before. 

 

I've become quite the fan of Bambola's novels since first discovering her a couple years ago, but I have to say this was not one of my favorites. Don't get me wrong though, there's still a decent, heartfelt story here... it just happened to not move me quite as deeply as some of her other works. The plot felt like it had a slower pace than her previous books. There are still moments of action but they are much more spaced out and there was a lot of jumping around between scenes here that I found a bit jarring to read. The characters, while good and life-like... there was just something there that felt underdeveloped to me... couldn't quite pinpoint what it was exactly, these characters just didn't linger in my memory the way some of her past characters have.

 

I think I most liked the sweet, grateful spirit of Effie and the warmth and wisdom of Miss Emily. I also liked that the humor of Jonathan's Aunt Adel gave a balance of lightness to some of the heavier themes in the novel. You gotta love a character who refuses to accept defeat, only answering with that knowing, smirky, "We shall see what we shall see..." I wasn't sure what to make of Stubby in the beginning but he came to really grow on me with his gentle ways and child-like spirit. Perhaps one of the toughest characters for me to pin down was the cop, Steve, Cynthia's "friends with benefits" fella. Some moments he was a huge, testosterone pumped douche wagon around her... other times he seemed like he genuinely wanted to do right by her. Just left me confused as to what to think about him. 

 

Bambola tries to write in a little almost-romance between Cynthia and Jonathan, but it doesn't necessarily play a pivotal role in the storyline. The bond between them also struck me as a little lukewarm when compared to how Bambola has written her couples in the past. To see what I mean, I'd recommend checking out her historical fiction pieces, The Salt Covenants or The Daughters of Jim Farrell

 

I can't say if it was intentional or not, as Bambola doesn't say anything about this in her afterword, but I did notice some similarities between the backstory of Pastor Jonathan and that of St. Francis of Assisi. Like St. Francis, Jonathan comes from a wealthy family, but driven by a spiritual calling that refuses to be silenced, chooses to leave a respectable position in the community to take up work with the homeless. Not everyone understands or approves of his chosen path. At one point, Jonathan is even told flat out that one can pity the swine without getting in the pen and becoming one of them... something very similar to what St. Francis' father told him when St Francis continually gave up earthly possessions to humble himself. 

 

Bambola is much more heavy-handed with the religious aspects in this novel than in some of her past works. This could either turn off more secular readers or, if said reader is finding themselves increasingly curious about theology, this novel might be instead a beginning bit of food for thought. Either way, it proves to be a nicely balanced piece of social commentary on love, acceptance, and empathy (particularly with the less fortunate in mind) blended with a decent murder mystery / crime fiction. I personally may be more drawn to Bambola's historical fiction pieces but I'll certainly never turn down a chance to check out her modern fiction as well! 

 

FTC Disclaimer:BookCrash.com & Heritage Publishing House kindly provided me with a complimentary copy of this book with a request that I might check it out and share my thoughts. The opinions above are entirely my own. 

 

Review
3.5 Stars
The Lost Diaries of Elizabeth Cady Stanton by Sarah Bates
THE LOST DIARIES OF ELIZABETH CADY STANTON - Sarah Bates

 

 

From award winning author, Sarah Bates, Johnstown, New York, 1823: It is a time when a wife’s dowry, even children, automatically becomes her husband’s property. Slavery is an economic advantage entrenched in America but rumblings of abolition abound. For Elizabeth Cady to confront this culture is unheard of, yet that is exactly what she does. Before she can become a leader of the women's rights movement and prominent abolitionist, she faces challenges fraught with disappointment. Her father admires her intellect but says a woman cannot aspire to the goals of men. Her sister’s husband becomes her champion–but secretly wants more. Religious fervor threatens to consume her. As she faces depression and despair, she records these struggles and other dark confidences in diaries. When she learns the journals might fall into the wrong hands and discredit her, she panics and rips out pages of entries that might destroy her hard-fought reputation. Relieved, she believes they are lost to history forever. But are they? Travel with Elizabeth into American history and discover a young woman truly ahead of her time.

~from back cover

 

 

When I mentioned to my mother that I was reading this book, her response was, "Elizabeth Cady Stanton... that name sounds familiar for some reason..." Many of you might be having a similar response to the title of this book. That might be because you might mostly know Stanton for being a bestie of suffragette bigwig Susan B. Anthony. Together, these two ladies (along with many, many others let's not forget) were a powerhouse team for getting the vote for women, though Stanton sadly did not live to see her work actually become law (Stanton played a pivotal part in the development of the 19th Amendment of the US Constitution, which gives women the right to vote, but it wasn't made law until after her death).... because this kind of stuff takes FOREVER to make happen sometimes! But like many historical notables, the woman Elizabeth gets pushed aside for the legend that's grown to near-mythic proportions. 

 

What author Sarah Bates tries to do with The Lost Diaries is cut through all that and bring Elizabeth's story back down to earth. What might this person have been like as a everyday, living, breathing woman? To do that, Bates starts with illustrating the young and curious Elizabeth's earliest calls toward activism, which first budded with the realization that she would be denied opportunities granted to her brother, father, male cousins, etc. On top of that, it didn't take long for Elizabeth to join her father in his passionate pursuit of abolition. As Elizabeth writes in one of the fictional diary entries: "People with closed minds infuriate me."

 

Though her father encourages Elizabeth to pursue her reading interests, she soon discovers his reasoning behind it is much different from hers. While she hopes her educational pursuits will show her father she has just as much intellectual potential as her deceased brother (lost to illness, devastating Mr. & Mrs. Cady), she finds that her father's intent is actually to make Elizabeth that much more well rounded and appealing for an advantageous marriage. However, he does not want her SO well versed in what, in that time, was considered the topics of men, that she would be off-putting to potential suitors. While Elizabeth looks forward to one day having a mate that cherishes her mind as well as her social position and connections, her real drive lies in changing the laws that prohibit women and African Americans from having the same rights and privileges as white men.

 

Though she comes up against one roadblock after another, she will not be deterred. Elizabeth pushes and pushes until she convinces her father to allow her to not only complete high school but also attend a women's college. She fights to win his approval for her to marry a fellow abolitionist, even though Mr. Cady fears it will threaten his aspirations for political office. She refuses to allow anyone to send her out of a room where important topics are being discussed where her fragile, womanly ears and mind won't be able to comprehend. And through it all, she wins her way and grudgingly earns respect from her naysayers. 

 

The Lost Diaries, through the route of historical fiction, chronicles this brave and brassy woman's life. Bates even goes so far to illustrate that Elizabeth sometimes even had to go up against her own husband, who would privately be all for her work but publicly would ask her to pull back! In this novel, we see young Elizabeth cross paths with other recognizable faces in history such as Frederick Douglass, Emerson, Thoreau, Nathaniel Hawthorne, Harriet Beecher (before she got the Stowe tacked on there) and, of course, Susan B. Anthony. 

 

While this novel primarily covers Elizabeth Stanton's life during her teens - early to late 20s, it opens and closes with a sixty year old Stanton preparing for a suffrage speech, looking over pivotal moments of her life up to that point. Everything is chronicled in a diary (though this is not an epistolary novel) but in the earliest pages of the story the reader witnesses elderly Elizabeth removing and burning the most damning pages of her chronicled life, not wanting those bits of truth to tarnish the version of her life she prefers to preserve. So in the process we are let in on what this fictional version of Stanton may have been reluctant to have known... such as the temptation of romantic attentions from her sister's husband, her drive for serious education which made it difficult for her to develop friendships with more frivolously natured women, or her lifelong struggle with bouts of deep depression and self-doubt.

 

I found Bates' writing to have a similar sort of banter to that found in one of Jane Austen's novels as well as the coziness of Louisa May Alcott's Little Women. I also liked that parts of the novel featured a more realistic view of rail and waterway travel, which is commonly romanticized. Elizabeth writes in her diary of the stench of passengers, the crowded cars in nearly any part of a train or boat, the sheer loudness of everything from the people to the machines themselves. I also found much I could relate to in this version of Stanton -- such as her insistence that the word "obey" be removed from her marriage vows, which is something I did with my own vows :-)

 

My small disappointments with a couple of things. For one, the plot was a little slower than I typically enjoy. Not terribly so, but enough to where I noticed myself mentally wishing it would "pick up already". Secondly, considering the title, I was disappointed to see the diary not play a more important role in the story. The passages were incredibly brief, nearly always at the end of a chapter and pretty much only recapped what I had just read in that chapter. The rest of the book is straight up historical fiction novelization. 

 

My minor disappointments aside, this was still a great bit of historical fiction that did have me pondering what a young Elizabeth Cady Stanton might have been like versus the older figure we are commonly taught about in today's history classes. In her own words, author Sarah Bates reveals her inspiration for this work as stemming from this thought: "The lost diaries may have existed in some form because according to Griffith (Stanton biographer Elisabeth Griffith), Mrs. Stanton did not like the way her first memoir portrayed her life so she destroyed it and replaced it with Eighty Years and More. Regardless of fact or fiction, the intent of this novel is to honor Elizabeth Cady Stanton and reveal how the efforts of one woman changed history through the way she lived: not a mythical heroine, but a real live girl."

 

FTC Disclaimer: VirtualAuthorBookTours.com kindly provided me with a complimentary copy of this book with a request that I might check it out and share my thoughts. The opinions above are entirely my own. 

 

 

 

above: author Sarah Bates

 

 

 

 My thanks to Virtual Blog Tours for inviting me to be a part of this novel’s

blog tour program! 

 

 

 

BONUS MATERIAL:

 

Additionally, if you have a young reader you would like to introduce to the life story of Elizabeth Cady Stanton, be sure to check out the graphic novel, Elizabeth Cady Stanton: Women's Rights Pioneer by Connie Colwell Miller, illustrated by Cynthia Martin & Keith Tucker. 

Review
2.5 Stars
Three Quarters Dead by Richard Peck
Three Quarters Dead - Richard Peck

Being the new girl at school is rough. But when the popular girls choose Kerry as the newest member of their ultra-exclusive clique, she thinks her troubles are finally finished. When her three new friends are killed in a horrifying car crash, her life seems over as well. But then the texts begin. . . . Richard Peck returns to his contemporary teen- and ghost-story roots in this suspenseful page-turner with a subtle commentary on peer pressure that fans of television dramas such as Pretty Little Liars and Vampire Diaries will devour.

Amazon.com

 

 

Kerry Williamson, high school sophomore, admires Natalie, Tanya and Mackenzie, the three most popular girls in school, from afar, dreaming but never really expecting that one day she may be invited into the super-tight clique. But so it happens! Tanya approaches Kerry at her locker asking if she'd like to be friends. Pretty quickly it becomes evident that Kerry is low man (so to speak) on the totem pole, but she's just happy to be in the group at all. She has what so many teen girls dream of after all: popularity, an instant invite to all the coolest parties, someone to go prom dress shopping with.. she just has to decide how far she's willing to take things to maintain her place at the cool kids' table. 

 

At first I thought they might be mean -- Mean Girls. Not to each other. They were like sisters to each other, but better. But the Mean Girls of seventh grade had sat that close, texting each other from across the table, their thumbs flying. They could give you the finger with their thumbs, and all their smiles were sneers. I'd spent middle school keeping out of their way. 

 

Everything is going great until Halloween night, when Kerry is asked to pull a small prank on unpopular fellow student Alyssa Stark (same high school but not same grade). Tanya hears rumor of a procedure Alyssa had done. Tanya doesn't approve, so this prank is meant to bring shame on Alyssa... only Tanya it seems doesn't have the guts to do it herself so she enlists Kerry to do her dirty work. Wouldn't you know, the plan goes to pot and the Little Miss Populars drop Kerry like a hot potato, leaving her to fend for herself. 

 

Fast forward a few months into the year and the reader is informed that Tanya, Natalie and Mackenzie have all been killed in a car wreck en route to a mall to go prom dress shopping... without Kerry... sort of. Kerry wasn't in the car, but she was on the phone with Tanya while Tanya was driving so Kerry does get a heavy dose of survivor's guilt, telling others that she feels "three quarters dead" without her friends around. No worries though... as it turns out, your friends didn't entirely shuffle off this mortal coil.... 

 

I'm not all that familiar with Richard Peck's previous work but was curious about this one because  1) paranormal -- a favorite genre of mine and 2) says right on the cover that Peck is apparently an Edgar Award winner, so I was curious to see what his award winning style was like. My verdict: FLAT. Flat writing. That's what I walked away from. I mean, I did finish the book, as it's less than 200 pages, but yeah ... almost no creep factor in this one!

 

Not only that but Kerry drove me bananas. SUCH a doormat! Why was she so desperate to be around these girls at any cost when they said such horrible things to her all the time?! If I had a friend making nasty comments about my mom's divorce, I would pretty quickly inform them they were out of line and could kindly STFU about it but Kerry just lets these things happen. Girl, why?! And she supposedly lives in NYC and I'm supposed to believe she knows absolutely nothing about coffee, coffee shops or the difference between debit and credit... a teen girl in NYC.....yeah, I don't buy that. And what teen girl un-ironically refers to her breasts as "my bosoms" LOL. 

 

"The best thing about you, Kerry, is that nothing ever happened to you before you met us," Tanya said. "You don't have to be retrained.... You have something to decide, Kerry. When we pull up the drawbridge, which side of the moat do you want to be on?"

 

I was hoping for a super fun ghost story, as I heard this book described as a cross between The Craft (one of my favorite movies) and Pretty Little Liars. Ended up just finding the plot super weak and laughable as far as paranormal elements but as just a fluff teen read, it did have its entertaining moments. 

Review
3.5 Stars
When Death Draws Near (Gwen Marcey #3) by Carrie Stuart Parks
When Death Draws Near (A Gwen Marcey Novel) - Carrie Stuart Parks

Gwen Marcey takes death in stride. Until she’s faced with her own mortality.

Forensic artist Gwen Marcey is between jobs when she accepts temporary work in Pikeville, Kentucky—a small town facing big-city crime. But before Gwen can finish her first drawing of the serial rapist who is on the loose, the latest witness vanishes. Just like all the others. Gwen suspects a connection between the rapist and the “accidental” deaths that are happening around town, but the local sheriff has little interest in her theories. When her digitally-obsessed teenage daughter joins her, Gwen turns her attention to a second assignment: going undercover in a serpent-handling church. She could get a handsome reward for uncovering illegal activity—a reward she desperately needs, as it seems her breast cancer has returned. But snakes aren’t the only ones ready to kill. Can Gwen uncover the truth—and convince anyone to believe her—before she becomes a victim herself? In a thrilling race against time, When Death Draws Near plunges us into cold-case murders, shady politics, and a den of venomous suspects.

Amazon.com

 

 

 

 

Forensic artist Gwen Marcey returns once again, this time in Pineville, Kentucky, to work on a case involving a serial rapist. Yet unidentified, the perp has only been dubbed "the Hillbilly Rapist" by the media. Women are kidnapped, raped and tortured for days on end and then left for dead. Survivors and their families quietly leave town, leaving virtually no trace of ever being a resident of Pineville. When bodies start cropping up around town, the investigation starts to point back to a group of Pentecostal snake worshippers. Gwen Marcey is called in to look over one of the much-mutilated corpses but is surprised to find she's getting quite the cold shoulder (as far as assistance) from the police department claiming to need her skills. Marcey suspects her presence on the case may only be as a token figure to make the police department look good, as in covering all the bases, to the media. The officers come to the conclusion that someone needs to infiltrate the serpent handling congregation to gather information, but are concerned about the risk. Marcey, baited with the promise of a large sum of money -- that she desperately needs --  if she agrees to the assignment, is asked to go undercover to investigate. What she uncovers has her questioning who the real threat in this case may be... the people being pointed out... or the people pointing the finger?

 

I've been really enjoying this series to date, so when I found that the new Gwen Marcey novel was set in Appalachian country (my "neck of the woods" as far as general area of the country, though I don't currently live in KY), I was that much more excited to dig into this one and see where her investigations take her. A bit to my dismay, I ended up not quite loving this one as much as the previous adventures -- if you could call them that, given what she gets into lol. While I've heard some reviewers say they were a little turned off by the subject of serpent handlers, that part didn't bother me so much as the way some of the characters themselves were crafted here.

 

The KY police officers struck me as somewhat cartoonish in the way they were written, and I'm sorry but their mountain sayings as far as those "busier than __" and what not, the ones written here were just BAD. I even read them to my husband who grew up near the hollers and he shook his head, laughed and said, "Yeah, I don't know anyone who would use that one." Granted though, some of his favorites lean more towards the dirty, profane or risque ... so maybe given that Parks is published through a Christian Fic publisher, she might have had to keep 'em clean. :-P 

 

There was also a part near the end that bothered me a bit where Marcey makes a comment where she's basically spitting out a medical diagnosis of one of the characters. Yes, given her work, she likely does have a grasp on some medical knowledge in general, but not being an actual doctor character, I felt the character should have started the statement with "I SUSPECT this person has ____" instead of saying it as fact. 

 

Oh, and if you've read all the Marcey books up to this point, Robert, the ex-husband makes another appearance ... and he's still a toolbag ;-)

 

The overall plot in this Gwen Marcey novel seemed to have a much slower burn / build-up than the previous novels in the series, a little more predictable in the way things unfold, and in the end I felt this one lacked some of the fine intricacies of the previous investigations. I was expecting something a little more with the ending as well. That being said, I still thought this one quite interesting and fun in subject matter and still very much love reading about the work of Gwen Marcey. Think I possibly spotted a hint in this book that a future book might take place in Maine, maybe? :-) I look forward to reading of her future cases (if there are to be any). I especially love when she gets into how she picks apart people's "tells", through speech or body language, that alert her to liars. I look forward to reading about her sassy self once again... and hopefully something more of Blake! 

 

FTC Disclaimer: BookLookBloggers.com kindly provided me with a complimentary copy of this book with a request that I might check it out and share my thoughts. The opinions above are entirely my own. 

 

_____________

 

My reviews for the previous books in the series:

 

A Cry From The Dust (Gwen Marcey #1)

 

The Bones Will Speak (Gwen Marcey #2)

 

and although not directly related to this series, the Gwen Marcey character also makes a brief appearance in Colleen Coble's novel, Mermaid Moon

 

 

Review
5 Stars
A Servant Like Jesus (Sea Kids #4) by Lee Ann Mancini
A Servant Like Jesus (Softcover) - Lee Ann Mancini

Charlie is a shy kid who hides behind the cleanup sink at school. However, after his teacher asks him to be her helper, he springs into action when the fire coral stings his friend Bernie. Charlie goes to bed a little bit early because he wants to make sure he gets a goodnight's sleep. He wants to be a good helper for Miss Stella. He had decided that it was way more fun to be a helper than to hide behind a sink! Before he falls asleep, Charlie prays, "Dear Jesus, thank you for my great first day of school, and thank you for my mommy and daddy, all my new friends and for Miss Stella. Help me to always help others. Amen." Charlie learns he can overcome his shyness and be a servant like Jesus.

Amazon.com

 

 

Continuing on with my review of this series as the books are released. Today I am looking at A Servant Like Jesus, Book 4 of Mancini's award winning Adventures Of The Sea Kids series. If you're just now discovering these empowering and vividly illustrated books for young readers, I will try to remember to link my reviews for the earlier books down below. 

 

In this installment, Charlie the Crab is experiencing his first day of school and his nerves and shyness are getting the best of him. While the other sea kids play and learn, Charlie prefers to hide behind the classroom clean up sink. Charlie's teacher, Stella Starfish, hoping to coax Charlie out of hiding, asks him if he'd be willing to be her classroom helper. Charlie is ecstatic!

 

Charlie's eyes grew huge. He wiped his tears and said, "I can see all around with my crab eyes. I have great claws for carrying things, and though I only have six legs instead of eight, I can move really fast! Crabs can move sideways too. I help my mommy all the time! I'd love to be your helper, Miss Stella."

 

Charlie's unique abilities and honest desire to be helpful come in quite handy during a class field trip to a local coral reef bed. One of Charlie's classmates gets stung by a branch of fire coral but thanks to Charlie's quick actions, his fellow student is rushed to first aid in time to alleviate the pain pretty quickly without too much serious injury to the limb. Charlie immediately gives up a prayer of thanks that he was able to push through his shyness and get his friend medical attention in time! 

 

What makes this series so warm and lovely to read to or with a child are all the wonderful, spirit-strengthening messages and morals Mancini infuses into these simple stories. Just with this story alone, Mancini encourages her young readers to embrace their unique gifts and abilities, teaching them to see that each person plays a valuable role in making this world as a whole a better place. Charlie the Crab learns to have confidence in himself and his abilities and he loves the sense of joy he finds in embracing a life of serving / helping others. A message that never tarnishes!

 

Below is just a sampling of this installment's gorgeous illustrations! :

 

 

 

FTC Disclaimer: BookCrash.com & GLM Publishing kindly provided me with a complimentary copy of this book with a request that I might check it out and share my thoughts. The opinions above are entirely my own. 

 

__________

 

My reviews for the previous books in this series:

 

Fast Freddy (Sea Kids #1)

 

What A Bragger! (Sea Kids #2)

 

I'm Not Afraid (Sea Kids #3)

 

 

And if you liked all these, there's a fifth in the series, God's Gift, that was just recently released. I haven't had a chance to read / review it yet but hope to have a review for you soon! 

Review
4 Stars
Review | The Road by Cormac McCarthy
THE ROAD - CORMAC MCCARTHY

The searing, postapocalyptic novel destined to become Cormac McCarthy's masterpiece.
A father and his son walk alone through burned America. Nothing moves in the ravaged landscape save the ash on the wind. It is cold enough to crack stones, and when the snow falls it is gray. The sky is dark. Their destination is the coast, although they don't know what, if anything, awaits them there. They have nothing; just a pistol to defend themselves against the lawless bands that stalk the road, the clothes they are wearing, a cart of scavenged food—and each other. The Road is the profoundly moving story of a journey. It boldly imagines a future in which no hope remains, but in which the father and his son, "each the other's world entire," are sustained by love. Awesome in the totality of its vision, it is an unflinching meditation on the worst and the best that we are capable of: ultimate destructiveness, desperate tenacity, and the tenderness that keeps two people alive in the face of total devastation.

Amazon.com

 

 

 

 

The story opens on a post-apocalyptic scene of a father and son traveling through cold, desolate country. What caused these conditions is never fully revealed, but readers may be surprised to find that the why or how of the disaster itself doesn't play a huge importance in the storyline. All we get are descriptions of "cold", "gray", "ash covered" with periodic spottings of other humans, usually of a threatening nature. People have become so desperate for food to the point of sometimes resorting to cannibalism.

 

The blackness he woke to on those nights was sightless and impenetrable. A blackness to hurt your ears with listening.

 

 

The main focus of the novel is on the relationship between the never-named man and his young son. The father knows they can't survive forever in the kind of cold climate they've been fighting against, so he's pushing his son to move south, hoping to find warmer temps and coastline. The trip has to be made on foot as there seems to be no cars, gas or the kindness of others to help them along. Even food, clothing & tool replenishments must be made of whatever they can scrape together or pilfer from abandoned sites along the way. That's essentially it, one long road trip on foot and what they encounter along the way. Might not sound like much initially but it's the way McCarthy writes that makes this story hit home so well! He also helps keep the pages turning by throwing in bursts of action in between all the conversations and inner monologues. 

 

That hurt, didn't it? the boy said.

Yes. It did. 

Are you real brave? 

Just medium.

What's the bravest thing you ever did?

He spat into the road a bloody phlegm. Getting up this morning, he said. 

 

If you're on a warm fuzzy kick with your reading lately, you might want to put this one off a while longer because none of that is to be found here! This one is cold, grim and heartbreaking but has a beauty to its honesty that really touched me. I felt so bad for the young son, with all the hardships he had to endure and the violent scenes he had to witness at his age, what that's done to his innocence and spirit. My heart broke for the father in the moments when he's breaking down, overcome with the feeling that he's letting down his son though he's doing everything in his power to be the best protector and provider. Some may read this story and think the father was hard on the son, but keep in mind the world they are living in. I would think, in those conditions, a little tough love would be necessary to stay on guard and alive!

 

There's no quotation marks used with the dialogue, which normally drives me mad when I'm reading but somehow McCarthy was able to write the back-and-forths so well that it's hard to mistake who is who. This one definitely had me thinking what I might do in this sort of end-of-days situation. I can see now why this book has been recommended to me so often! It has that amazing sparse writing style that, when done well (and it is a talent to do it well), can so effectively shatter me. It's a quick read, definitely check it out! 

 

--------------------

 

Bonus

 

Thoughts after watching the movie adapt. :

 

Man, I thought I liked the book! I see now that the movie offers its share of powerful visuals as well! Can't quite decide which I liked better --- there were some pretty emotional scenes in the novel that still stick in my memory, but they were just as wrenching when portrayed by the brilliant Viggo Mortensen (who plays that unnamed father lead). This is one of those times where I feel like the two together, book and film, make a dynamite package experience. 

 

The film follows the novel's layout pretty closely. I definitely recommend watching the behind-the-scenes bonuses if you happen to be watching this from the DVD (rather than on tv or something, that is). There's a lot of fun trivia offered up in those shorts. When I first saw the trailer for this film I figured it would be largely CGI'd to create that grey, desolate world McCarthy describes... come to find out they actually shot in real-life post-disaster zones (such as New Orleans, where Hurricane Katrina hit).

 

It was also interesting (and a little disturbing) to learn that Mortensen went on a near starvation diet to whittle his physique down to that of a man who would've been struggling to find food sources. Mortensen himself shares stories of being thrown out of various business establishments (when not filming) when people would assume he was a homeless person! 

 

I found the film absolutely gripping -- seriously could not look away! -- but I will warn sensitive viewers that this film does have some pretty graphic scenes: some involving nudity (one of half-mad nude people all tangled up together in a basement), people coughing blood; sinks full of blood; some primitive techniques involving wound care that had me cringing a bit; a scene where Charlize Theron -- who has a small part at the beginning of the film as the wife of Mortensen's character -- is working through a home birth and lets out one hell of a primal scream! There's also one sad, somewhat chilling scene where Mortensen's character is explaining suicide to his son. If you feel you can stomach all that, this is one film I would highly recommend trying out! 

Review
2.5 Stars
The Witnesses by Robert Whitlow
The Witnesses - Robert Whitlow

Young lawyer Parker House is on the rise—until his grandfather’s mysterious past puts both of their lives in danger. Parker House’s secret inheritance is either his greatest blessing . . . or his deadliest curse. The fresh-faced North Carolina attorney shares his German grandfather’s uncanny ability to see future events in his mind’s eye—a gift that has haunted 82-year-old Frank House through decades of trying to erase a murderous wartime past. While Parker navigates the intrigue and politics of small-town courtroom law, Frank is forced to face his darkest regrets. Then, a big career break for Parker collides with a new love he longs to nurture and the nightmares his grandfather can no longer escape. Sudden peril threatens to shatter not only Parker’s legal prospects but also his life and the lives of those dearest to him. Two witnesses, two paths, an uncertain future.

Amazon.com

 

 

 

 

 

Parker House is a North Carolina lawyer whose career seems to be on a steady climb to the top. Living nearby is Parker's German grandfather, 82 year old Frank House, previously Franz Haus.  Frank served as an officer with the German Army during World War 2. During those years, Frank's superiors discover he has quite the talent for having accurate visions of the future. So accurate that he earns the nickname "The Aryan Eagle".  The general Frank answers to keeps him nearby, adjusting the army's battle strategies accordingly. When Frank gets word that his parents and sibling have all been killed in a random bombing in Dresden, he makes the choice to desert his position and flee to Switzerland, spending some months there before making his way to the United States to settle in North Carolina's Outer Banks area. 

 

Decades pass, Frank is married and widowed, watches his children and grandchildren grow up, thinking all these years that maybe just maybe he's managed to live a life of relative peace. But as life sometimes goes, just as he lets a little bit of that guard down, in walks in that blast from the past. A man by the name of Mr. Mueller appears at the office of Parker, looking for a "Hauptmann Haus". Reluctantly, Frank agrees to a meeting with Mueller who comes to tell Frank a story about how "Hauptmann Haus" gave him some advice that ended up saving his life. Pretty early on, it's made clear that Frank struggles with a mountain of guilt regarding his involvement in war crimes. After hearing Mueller's story, Frank gives a terse kind of "well, you're welcome" to try to wrap up the topic and send the guy on his way but the reader will soon see the business between Mueller and Haus / House is far from done.  

 

Along with Frank's struggle with guilt, the reader also gets the sense that he may cling to some sense of comfort or familiarity in that pain, for years choosing to nurse the guilt rather than pursue any sort of forgiveness. Given time though, and with a little helpful nudge from his best friend Lenny, Frank does gradually find his way to a path of emotional peace & salvation. Meanwhile, grandson Parker also has his own experiences with the past revisiting him. As a child, Parker lost both his parents in a car crash when their car was struck by a drunk driver. Now, adult Parker finds himself brought in on two DUI / wrongful death cases that lead him to revisit those buried emotions. To complicate matters, in one case he is asked to defend a woman, a friend of one of the firm's partners, who was charged with a DUI with her 8 year old daughter in the backseat; in another case, Parker finds himself drawn to an attractive blonde woman who turns out to be none other than the daughter of a local bigwig trial lawyer that happens to be super protective of his girl.

 

Frank's portion of the novel is largely made up of pretty grim historical fiction (we're talking about WW2 after all). In his elderly years, when he begins to look into the idea of allowing self-forgiveness, his story turns much more heavily biblically influenced. Parker's portion does have some religious themes as well but to a much lesser degree. 

 

I felt myself most drawn to Frank's parts of the story. While Parker and his lady friend Layla were entertaining enough, Frank's tale kept me the most engaged throughout the novel. Though his part gets a bit heavy, I couldn't help but be pulled into that World War 2 timeframe. As for being a courtroom drama though, I didn't find this novel terribly exciting. If you're hoping to go into this story for high intensity courtroom brawls, I found this one lacking on that front. Most of the "action" is made up of pre-trial interviews and discussions about filing paperwork. I don't work in law but I suspect that in reality much of a day's work is made up of the mundane, but when it comes to fictionalizing it, a reader tends to want the nitty gritty heated courtroom battles.  

 

Also, those two storylines -- the present mixed with the WW2 flashbacks -- for me, until I got to the closing chapters of the novel I felt like the ties between Parker's past and struggles and Frank's were pretty tenuous. I was also a bit confused with the premonition "gift", as it was often referred to... I didn't see it in Parker as much. The back cover synopsis says that Parker seems to have gotten his gift passed down from Frank but with both of them I felt like Whitlow didn't quite go far enough with the idea. Rather than something mystical, magical, etc. ... to me, it really just felt like people working off of a basic gut instinct. Umm, pretty much everyone has that "gift" if they're just even remotely in tune with their mind / body connection. No big mystery, really. So I thought that aspect could've been played up a lot more. 

 

Final verdict -- courtroom / legal drama just so-so for me. What kept me reading was Frank's history as well as the friendship and banter between him and his fishing buddy, Lenny. I thought Lenny seemed like a pretty cool guy. The front cover of this book claims this is great for fans of John Grisham novels. Fair enough. I can back that, but I still find this one secondary to any Grisham I've delved into ... so maybe check it out when you've gone through all of Grisham's catalogue and need something more of the genre. 

 

 

FTC Disclaimer: TNZ Fiction Guild kindly provided me with a complimentary copy of this book with a request that I might check it out and share my thoughts. The opinions above are entirely my own. 

Review
3.5 Stars
Galileo's Daughter by Dava Sobel
Galileo's Daughter: A Historical Memoir of Science, Faith and Love - Dava Sobel

Inspired by a long fascination with Galileo, and by the remarkable surviving letters of his daughter Maria Celeste, a cloistered nun, Dava Sobel has crafted a biography that dramatically recolors the personality and accomplishments of a mythic figure whose early-seventeenth-century clash with Catholic doctrine continues to define the schism between science and religion-the man Albert Einstein called "the father of modern physics-indeed of modern science altogether." It is also a stunning portrait of Galileo's daughter, a person hitherto lost to history, described by her father as "a woman of exquisite mind, singular goodness, and most tenderly attached to me." Moving between Galileo's grand public life and Maria Celeste's sequestered world, Sobel illuminates the Florence of the Medicis and the papal court in Rome during the pivotal era when humanity's perception of its place in the cosmos was about to be overturned. During that same time, while the bubonic plague wreaked its terrible devastation and the Thirty Years' War tipped fortunes across Europe, Galileo sought to reconcile the Heaven he revered as a good Catholic with the heavens he revealed through his telescope. Filled with human drama and scientific adventure, Galileo's Daughter is an unforgettable story.

Amazon.com

 

 

 

Likely you're already pretty familiar with the name Galileo Galilei, but if not, here's a rundown for you. Galileo is now known as being one of the most famous (possibly THE most famous?) astronomers and mathematicians of the 17th century. His work and studies also earned him the titles of physicist, inventor, and professor (teaching courses in mathematics and military architecture at various Italian universities, even teaching some of the Medici children for a time).

 

 

What Galileo might be more well known for now is him being placed under indefinite house arrest after being so bold as to come out and proclaim that the universe might, in fact, NOT revolve around Earth. He goes on to say that not only Earth but all the other planets rotate around the sun! GASP! We can laugh now, having centuries to benefit from being privy to astounding advancements in the field of astronomy, but back in Galileo's day, his statement was considered full on heresy. Funny thing though, he wasn't even the first guy to put forth the idea! In the year 1600, just a year before Galileo's first daughter, Virginia (the daughter referenced in Sobel's title), was born, Friar Giordano Bruno posed the same idea. Know what happened to him? BURNED AT THE STAKE. Church was not having your new fangled scientific theories back then.

 

In Galileo's case, he was a deeply devout Catholic, but he was also a firm supporter of the ideas of Copernicus, one example being when Galileo took on Monsignor Francesco Ignoli, Secretary of the Congregation of Propogation Of The Faith (imagine trying to order letterhead for that office!). In a letter addressed to Galileo, Ignoli relentlessly bashed all of Copernicus' major points. At first Galileo chose to not respond. Not wanting to "feed the trolls" as us in the online crowd commonly like to call it, he initially didn't see much point in offering a comeback. But when he started to notice that his silence was being interpreted as acceptance of Ignoli's views, THEN Galileo felt compelled to set the record straight. 

 

from Galileo's response letter to Monsignor Ignoli

 

Galileo sent off his 50 page "Reply to Ignoli" to friends and family in Rome in October of 1624. Curiously, because of lengthy delays caused by changes Prince Cesi and other Roman colleagues wished to insert for prudence's sake, the "Reply to Ignoli" never reached Ignoli himself. A few manuscript copies circulated cautiously around Rome, however, and the pope was treated to at least a partial private reading in December. No explosion erupted from Urban in reaction to the "Reply". Indeed, His Holiness remarked on the aptness of its examples and experiments. And therefore, no apparent obstacle stood in the way of Galileo's expressing the same ideas in a book, which he now envisioned as a playlike discussion among a group of fictional friends, with the working title "Dialogue on the Tides"

~ from Galileo's Daughter by Dava Sobel

 

By June 1630, Dialogue on the Tides was approved for publication, but with stipulations. Galileo was informed that the pope disliked the working title, and the preface and ending must be altered to reflect the pope's philosophy on science which meant that Galileo's text needed to have a more obvious lean toward "the mysterious omnipotence of God", as Sobel phrases it. Didn't matter what Galileo was proving or disproving with scientific fact. The back and forth on the stipulations caused the actual publication of Galileo's book to be delayed until February 1632. Nearly 2 years of haggling! Even with negotiations, being approved for publication, all of that... the Vatican was not pleased with the final product. In fact, they were so upset, by September of 1632 an order was sent out for the book to cease being sold and Galileo got summons from his local Inquisition panel. Galileo's health was extremely frail during this time, his doctors even advising that he not be moved from his home, but the Vatican's response to the news was that either Galileo show his face willingly or prepare to come in in shackles. Seeing no other choice but to submit, Galileo made his travel arrangements but not without first making sure his will was up to date!

 

During his Inquisition interviews, Galileo admitted that he went back and read over the text after publication and found holes in some of his reasonings, areas that lacked sufficient scientific proof. (BTW, Sobel's book here includes a transcript of Galileo's actual testimony during those interviews). Even so, the then 70 year old and sickly Galileo was still charged with heresy and given indefinite house arrest. Interestingly though, even with this verdict, there were three men on the deciding panel who REFUSED to sign their names to the written verdict! It is rumored that Galileo muttered "but it still moves" under his breath after signing his own name to the affidavit, but Sobel argues that Galileo wouldn't have been so stupid as to say such a thing in front of a group of men who held such power over his life at that moment (though I have to admit, if it DID happen, that would've been pretty badass of the guy!).

 

As for the book itself, Dialogue of the Tides (the "working" title stayed put through all this) was placed on the Index of Prohibited Books in 1664 and remained there for nearly 200 years. Still, copies of the work traveled through various black markets across Europe (an English translation was even printed up in 1661). Though under house arrest, Galileo continued to offer tutoring / mentorship services within his home and went on to write more books on theories of motion and mechanics. The Two New Sciences was published in 1638. It was weeks before he was sent his own copy but by then his struggles with cataracts & glaucoma had become too much of a problem for him to be able to read much of anything. It's been speculated by some historians (going by the scientist's surviving correspondence where he describes struggles with constant pain) that in his later years he may also struggled with gout, rheumatoid arthritis, kidney stones, hernia issues, chronic eye infections and insomnia (probably as a result from all the physical pain!) before finally succumbing to death in January 1642.

 

All this on Galileo, why haven't I mentioned the daughter yet? Well, truthfully I have a bit of an issue with this book having the title Galileo's Daughter because in actuality much of what I read was just about the man himself; scenes of the daughter being interjected here and there but not as strongly as one might presume judging from this title. In fact, Sobel barely references the daughter in this title  -- except to mention her birth and taking her convent vows -- until about 100 pages in. We get to know her a bit and then she frequently pops back out of the spotlight except through excerpts of her letters to her father from time to time. But here is what I gathered about this woman largely lost to history (but less so than her siblings!): Galileo's eldest daughter, born Virginia, was the eldest of three illegitimate children Galileo fathered. Because Galileo never married Virginia's mother, Virginia herself was deemed "unmarriageable", so it was decided she would join convent life. Thanks dad!

 

  

 

It's all good though. Virginia actually took quite well to the nunnery, being placed with the Florentine order of the Poor Clares at the age of 13; the Poor Clares being a sisterhood of voluntary extreme poverty. Extreme even by "took an oath of poverty" standards. Not only were their habits made of the roughest material, but their meager pantries were kept to only what was absolutely necessary for survival. It was not uncommon for sisters to be bordering on starvation in order to feel closer to God. In the days of Sister Clare herself, the Vatican actually feared the woman WOULD starve herself to death!

 

Virginia took the name Sister Celeste as a nod to her father's work and general love of stars, which she greatly admired. The strong bond between Galileo and his eldest was largely due to Celeste being the most curious and intelligent (in his opinion) of his children. Another of Galileo's daughters, Livia, also joined the same convent shortly after her sister, taking the wickedly cool name Sister Arcangela, but had much more of a struggle acclimating to the environment. Many of Celeste's letters in this book make brief mention of Livia's somewhat morose attitude most days, one letter plainly stating "Livia is already displaying a morbid tendency to melancholy and withdrawal that would shade her adult personality." Livia's struggles made me feel for her and also made me more curious about her in general but sadly Sobel doesn't go into much detail about this daughter, perhaps just because there's even less about her than Celeste.

 

While I found Celeste's letters interesting, I was surprised at how few were actually included in this book, seeing as how the synopsis references how Sobel "crafts a narrative from 124 surviving letters between father and daughter." Sister Celeste seemed like a woman with a good bit of depth too her but I also felt like she was sometimes WAY too hard on herself, in some letters referring to herself as someone of "meager intelligence" or writing to her father to profusely apologize for things that struck me as insubstantial errors or wrongdoings. Humility is admirable, but not when it starts to border on self abuse. 

 

Overall, for the amount of information Sobel covers in this dual biography of sorts, while I didn't find the writing style itself consistently, 100% engaging, the approach I would say is definitely accessible to the average reader. It's a solidly entertaining and educational read for those interested in Galileo or the time in which he lived. There is also an element to Galileo's life story that can inspire thinkers and dreamers of today's world. Think about it -- the guy was willing to challenge not only his own religious upbringing and beliefs that went against his research, but also fellow scientists who were comfortably stuck in their ways, in order to unlock the mysteries of the natural world. His life's work is proof that the naysaying of "haters" as we label them today is based in fear and discomfort with the unknown. Was he always in the right? No, not always, but at least he was brave enough to branch out and challenge himself and others! 

Review
5 Stars
The Ringmaster's Wife by Kristy Cambron
The Ringmaster's Wife - Kristy Cambron

In turn-of-the-century America, a young girl dreams of a world that stretches beyond the confines of a quiet life on the family farm. With little more than her wit and a cigar box of treasures, Mable steps away from all she knows, seeking the limitless marvels of the Chicago World’s Fair. There, a chance encounter triggers her destiny—a life with a famed showman by the name of John Ringling. A quarter of a century later, Lady Rosamund Easling boards a ship to America as a last adventure before her arranged marriage. There, the twenties are roaring, and the rich and famous gather at opulent, Gatsby-esque parties. The Jazz Age has arrived, and with it, the golden era of the American circus, whose queen is none other than the enigmatic Mable Ringling. When Rosamund’s path crosses with Mable’s and the Ringlings’ glittering world, she makes the life-altering decision to leave behind a comfortable future of estates and propriety, choosing instead the nomadic life of a trick rider in the Ringling Brothers’ circus.

Amazon.com

 

 

 

After meeting a professional pianist while attending a tea party with her mother in Cincinnati, 19th century Ohio farmgirl Armilda Burton has stars in her eyes about the big wide world out there. She finds herself unable to be content with the same quiet life of a farmer's wife her mother chose. Instead, Armilda decides to change her name to Mable and head for the big city of Chicago to try to make her own way. While working as a restaurant hostess on the grounds of the 1893 World's Fair, Mable meets famed circus organizer John Ringling. Though their meeting is brief, there is a definite connection between them. Unfortunately, John has an internal panic over his growing bond with Mable leading him to break off their acquaintance. She doesn't see him again until 1905 (coincidentally at the World's Fair being held in Atlantic City, New Jersey) but the moment they reconnect it's like no time has passed at all. In record time, Mable finds herself with the new title of Mrs. Ringling, though she quickly makes it known that she has no intention of interfering with her husband's business, instead choosing to focus on maintaining their palatial home. 

 

This novel then alternates between the progression of Mable's life in the late 1800s-early 1900s and that of Lady Rosamund Easling in the 1920s. Rosamund is the daughter of an earl but feels too restricted within the social rules and expectations that come with her titled life of privilege. An accomplished equestrian and stunt rider, Rosamund is spotted performing (in secret from her family) at a show by Colin Keary, manager of John Ringling's traveling circus. Colin, through much persuading, convinces Rosamund to travel to America to help acclimate and train her horse which has just been sold to the circus. What he doesn't tell her is that he intends to make her the circus' next stunt performer, if he can convince her to take the position. 

 

Not long after her arrival in America, Colin snags Rosamund an invitation to Ca d'Zan (aka House of John), that dreamy residence of John and Mabel.

 

Fun fact: Some interior shots of Ca d'Zan were actually used

as scenes for Mrs. Havisham's house in the 1990s movie adaptation

of Charles Dickens' Great Expectations

 

Mable is instantly taken with Rosamund, and over time and many meaningful conversations proves to be quite the calming force for Rosamund whenever she starts to doubt what she really wants for her own life. Within this novel, the two develop a touching bond which lasts until Mable's dying day. 

 

"I had dreams. And my rose garden makes me think on them. Often."

 

Rosamund pictured a young Mable Ringling with stars glimmering in her eyes and smiled. The vision suited her.

 

"What were your dreams?"


"Oh, same as yours. Love. Freedom. Something up in lights -- didn't have to be my name. Just something to make the journey sparkle a little." She leaned in, winking on the words. "And if you can look past the exterior of a dream, what's buried deepest is always the most rewarding. My Ca d'Zan has a grand exterior. It's playful -- the way I wanted it. But if you look past the house, you'll find that the rose garden has been tended with far more care. By my own hands, for a much longer time. So you see, it's the journey we're all after -- not the reward."

 

"I don't know what my dreams are anymore," Rosamund said. "I thought I did, but then I came here and ... everything changed."

 

"Bravo then," Mable countered. "This building up of what we want doesn't have to be a tearing down of who we are. It's the worst kind of extravagance to think we're above adversity. Isn't that what God calls of us, to acknowledge that we are moving with this undercurrent of something that is always at work around us? Something bigger than we could ever be just as one person? Rosamund, we only see what we want to see -- in people, in love, and in life. It's a choice, my dear. That's the point of all this. You choose the face you offer the world. And it's only behind the costumes and the masks that we can be who we truly are."

 

It doesn't take much for me to get invested in a circus story, as long as it has plenty of backstage scenes, because that's where my interest tends to focus. I always want to know more about the backstories and relationships around performers and this novel is no disappointment in that aspect. Not only are we taken backstage as the performers set up their routines but we are also brought in to witness gossipy gabfests and rivalries brewing. We get to know and love the animals that work with their human counterparts and Cambron works magic bringing the scents and ambiance of a good crowd to life. There's also a good bit of fun general history worked into the plot, from Prohibition era struggles to even a blink-and-you'd-miss-it reference to animator Walt Disney! 

 

The relationships are all so well done here. The romantic connections are written with great warmth and respect and I love that all the key male parts were men of strong character who loved and acknowledged the inner strength of the women they loved. I also liked that the storyline wasn't all sap. Cambron mixes in enough grim and tragic elements -- from alcoholism to characters battling TB or diabetes; Sally's story especially broke my heart!  --  to keep the reading emotionally interesting. Highly recommend any lovers of circus stories give this one a go, just to experience the way Mable is written here, if nothing else. Man, by the end I wanted pep talks from Mable!! 

 

 

Note To Readers: Just a heads up, there is a spoiler in this story for Shakespeare's Othello... in case you haven't read it yet. 

 

 

FTC Disclaimer: TNZ Fiction Guild kindly provided me with a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. The opinions above are entirely my own. 

Review
3 Stars
Kit Kat & Lucy: The Country Cats Who Changed A City Girl's World (memoir) by Lonnie Hull DuPont
Kit Kat and Lucy: The Country Cats Who Changed a City Girl's World - Lonnie Hull DuPont

The True Story of How Two Quirky Stray Cats Changed Their Adopted Human Forever. After years of loving the vibrant city life in San Francisco, Lonnie Hull DuPont reluctantly trades her three-room apartment on foggy, lively Telegraph Hill for a farmhouse on a quiet plain in Michigan. She immediately misses the rhythm and the pace of the city, and the isolation country living brings has her longing for something more. Enter Kit Kat and Lucy--stray cats who arrive at the farmhouse a year apart and each ask to move in. The antics and oddities of these two strong personalities wrapped in fur bring a new light to the farmhouse and DuPont's life. Kit Kat, an obsessive-compulsive tortoiseshell, can purr her new human into a happier state of mind. Lucy, the playful, leaping Russian Blue who can nail a bat right out of the air, makes her laugh. From the hysterical process of getting two strange cats to like each other, to the exciting years of watching those cats thrive--and inspire DuPont in the process--this book is an energetic tale of cat and human foibles. Animals enrich our lives, and the heartwarming story of how Kit Kat and Lucy changed one woman's world will leave readers enchanted.

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Author Lonnie Hull Dupont's memoir opens with a rewind back to her days as a poet living in the Telegraph Hill neighborhood of San Francisco, California. She tells of her solidly established and still growing reputation as a neighborhood favorite among the San Fran poetry scene. She loved her apartment, her city... life in general was just good, you know? To top it off, she has herself one of those when-you-least-expect-it movie magic moments of bumping into the man who would become her husband, just blocks from her front door! After years of domestic and career bliss, DuPont is surprised to find herself taken in by a comment made by a coworker one day (DuPont also worked as an editor at a publishing house) about how people have lost touch with the land. In the days following this comment being uttered, as well as being further encouraged by the reality that the cost of maintaining a Telegraph Hill address was steadily increasing, DuPont finds herself compelled to leave city life behind and take up residence in a more rural setting. Soon purchased: one 1835 farmhouse in Michigan. 

 

It isn't long before Lonnie and her husband, Joe, move into their new digs that a little furry something comes knocking at their door. Enter Kit Kat (the name coming from the kitschy cat shaped wall clocks that became all the rage in the 1940s-50s), a tortoiseshell stray kitten the couple are compelled to take in, even though Lonnie's husband is highly allergic. The couple initially care for the cat, though they remain unsure if a pet is really what they need right now. They decide one day to take the cat over to Lonnie's sister nearby, who owns a cattle ranch and would have plenty of space for the cat to happily roam around to her heart's content. While they think they've made the best choice, it doesn't take long for the tortoiseshell to arrive at their door once again. They figure if the cat is that intent to live with them, they have to keep her! Lonnie's husband goes on allergy meds but surprisingly quickly finds that his allergy seems to go away on its own. 

 

Just when things are getting settled with Kit Kat, another feline makes its presence known... a little Russian Blue full of life and wiliness, so they decide to name the girl Lucy, after comedic actress Lucille Ball. Lucy shows up one freezing Thanksgiving night. Though Lonnie and Joe are hesitant to have this new kitten around territorial Kit Kat, they know they can't leave the poor thing out in the freezing cold. Luckily an unused upstairs space of their home proves perfect for giving the little one a place for shelter while Lonnie and Joe figure out how to acclimate the two cats to each other. 

 

Through some trial by fire, a solution is eventually found and over time the cats grow to be pretty much inseparable. Through caring for these two felines, DuPont learns to process unresolved emotions of her own she sometimes doesn't even realize she's sitting on --- feelings surrounding topics such as her being given up for adoption and always wondering about her birth mother; adult Lonnie having to watch her adoptive mother battle cancer; the emotional rollercoaster that came with Kit Kat's FIP diagnosis...and then possible misdiagnosis. DuPont also shares her moments of self doubt as a writer, her struggles with anxiety and periods of derealization, and how animals (not just the cats but throughout her entire life) have helped her combat the darkest periods. 

 

Scattered throughout her tales of the adventures of Kit Kat & Lucy, DuPont also shares stories of childhood pets as well as being the brief guardian of a banty hen named Alberta. Taken as a whole, this collection of memories was cute but altogether I didn't find it a flat-out laugh riot or non-stop insanely, wildly interesting. Reading it, I had a definite "guess you had to be there" feeling in my mind. I still enjoyed the stories and the reading experience as a whole but likened said experience to that little life truth of mothers generally finding their kids way more interesting than anyone else will. Dang, that sounds harsh when I say it like that but still, that's the feeling I got from a lot of this. But let me close that little criticism with a high note and say that I got a kick out of some of DuPont's pun-tastic work... such as naming Chapter 13 "My Catalyst". Thumbs up from me there! 

 

What I did particularly appreciate from DuPont's stories of her feline friends was that their combined tale does reiterate the idea that though animals can sometimes seem neurotic, requiring pet parents to get creative with our problem solving, the attention and love our critters give us make every moment of stress so worth it in the end. :-)

 

While there are some sad scenes near the end of this memoir -- we are covering the span of many, many years here -- DuPont kindly closes on a warm scene, so while you may need a few tissues for a few pages, you can safely save the rest of the box.

 

FTC DISCLAIMER: Revell Publishing kindly provided me with a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. The opinions above are entirely my own. 

Review
3.5 Stars
The Lion Is In by Delia Ephron
The Lion is In - Delia Ephron

Tracee is a runaway bride and kleptomaniac. Lana’s an audacious beauty, a recovering alcoholic. Rita is a holy-roller minister’s wife, desperate to escape her marriage. One warm summer’s night, these three women go on the lam together. Their car breaks down on a rural highway in North Carolina and they’re forced to seek shelter in a seemingly abandoned nightclub. Which is where they meet Marcel. And soon everything changes. Marcel, you see, is a lion.  Written with the deftness, humor, and sparkling wit that mark her books, plays, and movies, Delia Ephron’s The Lion Is In is an unforgettable story of friendship, courage, love—and learning to salsa with the king of the jungle.

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Tracee and Lana are on the run. Lana is a runaway bride still rocking her gown while Tracee is battling kleptomania and alcoholism. On their way to a new life path they're not sure of just yet, they come across Rita on the side of the road. Rita turns out to be a minister's wife desperately trying to escape her husband's stifling ways. Rita helps the ladies with a flat tire so Tracee and Lana offer to give her a lift to the next town, which Rita accepts. Unfortunately, not long after pulling back onto the road the car has engine trouble so the ladies are forced to pull over once again. Miles away from anything but a shuttered up building, the trio decides to investigate, hoping to find shelter for the night. 

 

The closed up building turns out to be a bar called The Lion. Imagine their surprise on taking a walk-through and discovering Marcel, an actual lion! They find some relief in seeing this feline is in a cage but Rita's curiosity leads her to be the first to bond with him. The following morning, the ladies discover that what they thought was an abandoned place is actually still a bar with regular clientele. The owner, Clayton, is not happy to discover he has temporary squatters in his place of business but once he hears their tale of woe he agrees to let the ladies work for him (as waitresses / kitchen help) long enough to get the funds to repair their car. 

 

So starts the first step in these ladies starting their new life paths. Lana gets herself into a bit of a pickle, having a drunken night out with an off-duty cop that leads to a humorous internal debate the next morning about whether to "borrow" his squad car to get herself back home! Rita's bond with the lion Marcel continues to grow. Her discovery that the two of them seem to love the music of Julio Iglesias (particularly the song "Bambelo") gives her an idea of how to bring more business to Clayton's little watering hole. Her gentle ways also begin to attract the interest of Clayton himself.

 

This story gave me a little of a Boys On The Side vibe, with the different stories unfolding between Tracee, Lana and Rita. Tracee and Tim's budding romance was adorable; I loved how Tim had a bit of old world gentleman style to his way about him. When we get introduced to Rita's estranged husband later in the later parts of the story -- ugh, I just found him disgusting and could completely see why Rita had reached her limit with him!

 

 

"Do you know the Theory of One?"

 

"No."

 

The Theory of One, he explains, means that all you need in life is one person to make a difference in your life. "You can have the world's most awful life," says Tim, "but if one person believes in you, you'll be okay....I would like to be your one."

 

"Isn't it too late?"

 

"Hell, no. I'm your one."

 

I also got a kick out of Delia Ephron's acknowledgement page. Not only does she give a shout-out to my hometown, San Diego (specifically the Wild Animal Park where she observed the lions to get a feel for Marcel's mannerisms) but she also gives nods to not only her late sister, director / screenwriter Nora Ephron (famous for movies like When Harry Met Sally, Sleepless in Seattle and Julie & Julia) but also actress Natasha Lyonne (who appeared in the play Love, Loss and What I Wore, written by the Ephron sisters). Apparently these two women served also served as readers for early drafts of The Lion Is In

 

____________

 

Note on the author: Delia Ephron, along with being a novelist, is also a successful film producer and screenwriter. She wrote the screenplays for movies Sisterhood Of The Traveling Pants, You've Got Mail, and Bewitched (the big screen adaptation of the tv show). She also served as producer on You've Got Mail and her sister's film (both films starring Tom Hanks), Sleepless in Seattle.

Review
3 Stars
Elvis Takes A Backseat by Leanna Ellis
Elvis Takes a Back Seat - Leanna Ellis

Elvis Takes a Back Seat by award-winning novelist Leanna Ellis is the endearing story of Claudia, a young widow determined to fulfill her husband’s last request by hauling a three-foot bust of Elvis Presley in the backseat of a vintage Cadillac from Dallas to Memphis to return it to its rightful owner. The road trip—taken with an eccentric aunt who actually knew the “King of Rock ’n’ Roll,” and a temperamental teen with a suspicious mind of her own—hits some royal roadblocks and detours as these women uncover pieces of their past along with the bust’s mysterious history. What they find along the way changes their lives forever, inspiring readers to also step out in faith.

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Recently widowed Claudia McIntosh, after some internal debating, decides to fulfill her husband's last request to return his 3 ft tall ceramic Elvis bust back to its original owner. She's confused as to what he means by "original owner" because she thought it had always been his. To make things even more fun, he doesn't tell her who this original owner was or is!  Still, she sets out to drive from Dallas, TX to Memphis, TN, hoping that a trip to Graceland will give her some answers. Joining her on this road trip are her aunt Rae (who claims to have hung with the real Elvis) and Ivy, the moody teen daughter of Claudia's longtime friend and boss, Ben.

 

Ivy has been emotionally closed off since her mother walked out on the family years ago. It is Ben's hope that Ivy going on this trip with fun-loving Claudia and Rhea will give Ivy the comfort and confidence to start opening up again. Little does he know that Ivy's interest in this trip has to do with her learning that her birth mother may be living in Tennessee.

 

Readers can expect to find your standard road trip novel where each character involved moves along happy-go-lucky until being thrust into various situations that have them having some sort of A-HA moment. Claudia, feeling bereft of the mothering aspect of her life, finds another way to get her mothering on through watching over Ivy. Watching Ivy work through her conflicted emotions regarding her mother, Claudia finally faces her own emotions surrounding HER mother's abandonment. Rae uses her life stories as lessons on how not to run from pain but through the course of the story has to learn how to actually live by her own message.

 

Some lessons come hard. I watch her face change, petulant one minute, angry, shamed, and sad the next. Why did it seem a rite of passage for young women to be treated poorly by men?

 

Probably no surprise, but each chapter features a title that references an Elvis song that also gives hints to what's ahead in that chapter. Sometimes the Elvis references throughout the story itself feel a bit unnatural, forced into the story just to get the Elvis theme in there enough, but at other times it's as entertaining as EP fans might hope for. The dialogue, at times, seemed like it relied too much on platitude-heavy conversations that just didn't sound like how the average person would converse and the humor, though it had its good moments, also had parts where the joke didn't quite land. The ending was largely predictable but there was one small surprising twist in the story's closing. The ending did turn more preachy than I was expecting. Having religion mentioned is not necessarily out of place in this kind of story, as Elvis Presley himself was a deeply religious man, but even so it got a bit heavy-handed there near the end, I have to say... to the point of making the closing scenes somewhat cringey and laughable. It felt as if Ellis was really reaching to tie in the godly aspect.. but it ended up coming off clunky and unnatural. 

 

All in all, it wasn't a bad little trip to take with these ladies but something about it in general felt a wee bit flat for me. And maybe part of my minor dissatisfaction comes from how tiresome I sometimes found Claudia and Ivy (for different reasons). I appreciated that some tougher topics were addressed along with the light-hearted, comical moments but in the end felt the more serious bits were still played a bit too safe for me.

Review
3 Stars
Running The Rift by Naomi Benaron
Running the Rift - Naomi Benaron

Running the Rift follows the progress of Jean Patrick Nkuba from the day he knows that running will be his life to the moment he must run to save his life. A naturally gifted athlete, he sprints over the thousand hills of Rwanda and dreams of becoming his country’s first Olympic medal winner in track. But Jean Patrick is a Tutsi in a world that has become increasingly restrictive and violent for his people. As tensions mount between the Hutu and Tutsi, he holds fast to his dream that running might deliver him, and his people, from the brutality around them.

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Jean Patrick Nkuba is a Rwandan boy who loves the sensation of running and dreams of one day becoming an Olympic track medalist in the Atlanta Games. Jean's love of running is initiated by his older brother, Roger. While Roger ran as part of his training for the local football team, Jean ran with him; initially for the sake of companionship, but soon it became clear that Jean Patrick had a true gift for speed. 

 

After Jean Patrick's father, a local teacher, is murdered, Jean's mother feels unprotected. There is much to fear, as this Tutsi family tries their best to survive in an increasingly Hutu world. The family (Jean Patrick, his mother and sibilings) move in with Jean Patrick's aunt and uncle, hoping to find safety in numbers. 

 

When an Olympic track runner visits Jean Patrick's school, an inspired Jean redoubles his motivation to make his goal. Soon enough, he's earned a running scholarship to a nearby boarding school, but once there is told he should try out for football as there's little to no real future in pursuing running. Undeterred, Jean Patrick sticks to his dream. As he grows up, there's still threat to his life for being Tutsi -- at one point he even has his foot broken and face badly beaten in a scuffle -- but that dream of those multi-colored rings just never entirely dies out. Not even when brother Roger reveals he's decided to join the Rebels, a sort of "if you can't beat them, join them" mentality behind the decision, inspired by the murder of his fiance and her family.

 

As time passes, it becomes more and more evident to Jean Patrick that regardless of the love he has for his family, he must strive for a bigger and better future than what his hometown has to offer. He feels driven to be a voice of hope and inspiration for his country. Jean's coach offers him an opportunity to attend the National University of Rwanda, but under the guise of being a card carrying Hutu student. Tempted by the opportunity but concerned at what acceptance will mean for his family, Jean Patrick nervously hashes it out with his uncle. Much to Jean's surprise, his uncle is super supportive, telling him that if it opens doors for him down the road he should definitely go for it. 

 

During his college years, Jean meets a young Hutu woman, Bea, who teaches him that even the Hutu people have much to fear, that everyone could use a good hero, a nice heartwarming story in these times. The more time Jean Patrick spends around Bea, the more he seems to draw strength from her quiet, steady support of him and his dreams.

 

With a twinge of guilt, Jean Patrick realized he had not given a thought to his family. His mind was too much taken up by a woman with a pagne of planets and suns and the scent of sweet tea

on her skin.

 

 

As the political climate in Rwanda escalates -- politicians getting caught up in shady deals to protect US oil rights on foreign soil, mostly -- Jean Patrick finally gets the call he's been waiting for but at the price of having to once again make a tough choice. Countries that once offered support to Rwanda are now backing away, stating that unless the country shows more progress in honoring human rights, they will pull their endorsements / financial support. As a sort of damage control to the situation, Jean Patrick is asked to run in the games as a Tutsi, the Rwandan government's way of saying, "See? No hard feelings, right?!"

 

 

Through Jean Patrick's journey, this novel quietly has the reader consider, how far would you be willing to go to achieve your dreams? What would you be willing to risk? Could you stare down death? Risk the respect or even the lives of family? How badly do you want that dream? It also illustrates that on the way to accomplishing those dreams and goals, sometimes the most unlikely candidates will be in your corner to help carry you over the toughest hills. 

 

"I will tell you a secret. Sometimes it is all I can do to go from one footstep to the next, but for each such moment, I make myself remember how it feels to win."

~ track medalist Telesphore Dusabe giving a pep talk

to young Jean Patrick

 

It's a tough but important story to take in. The reader is pulled into Jean's reality of riots, protests, lynchings, murders, and government corruption. In one such instance of corruption I particularly liked the line of one character saying,"You're asking a lion to investigate a calf-killing." The American characters are not portrayed in the best light, which was a tough pill to swallow as the reader, being that I am NOT like the stereotypical loud, uneducated, foot-in-mouth variety worked into this novel, but I do know that kind of American most definitely exists and sadly gets overseas to embarrass the rest of us, so until the day I can get over there and start fixing the misconceptions, I just have to grin and bear it I guess. I still say there are important lessons to be found in Jean Patrick's journey and it was a trip I was happy to take this Olympic season. :-)

Review
3 Stars
Review | Coco Chanel & Igor Stravinsky by Chris Greenhalgh
Coco Chanel & Igor Stravinsky - Chris Greenhalgh

Coco Chanel and Composer Igor Stravinsky.
Their love affair inspired their art.
Their art defined an era.

In 1913, at the premiere of Igor Stravinsky's Rite of Spring, the young couturiere Coco Chanel witnesses the birth of a musical revolution- one that, like her designs, rips down the artifice of the old regime and ushers in something profoundly modern. Seven years later, she invites Stravinsky and his family, now exiled from their Russian homeland, for a summer at her villa, and the powerful charge between them ignites into a deep love affair. As Stravinsky enjoys a new burst of creativity and Chanel brings forth her own revolutionary creation-the perfume Chanel No. 5-their love threatens to overtake work, family and life.

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First off, just have to say I wish the title was something more enticing. Even just shortening it to Coco & Igor would have been cool. Just seems like having nothing but their full names makes it kinda feel like a high school essay. That's just my two cents. Movin' on...

 

Greenhalgh's novel is a fictional take on the relationship between iconic French clothing designer Coco Chanel and the (married) composer Igor Stravinksy. Coco Chanel, in this story, is a young woman who seems to catch the eye of nearly every man in town. Deciding to attend one of Stravinsky's concerts one night, Coco is instantly, deeply moved by his music. She is briefly introduced to him but after that night doesn't see him again for another 7 years. The storyline takes some time to explain what goes on in these lives separately before they are to be reunited. Igor's story mainly focuses on him, along with his wife and children, being driven out of their home in Russia after the assassination of the ruling Romanov family. The Stravinskys retreat to a cramped apartment in Brittany, France and try to set up a new life there, though Igor's missus isn't really feeling the new surroundings. Her discomfort and unhappiness slowly starts to drive a wedge between them. Igor, frustrated with the tense home life, craves finding happiness again... somehow. Home life becomes even more strained when his wife develops a life-threatening illness, throwing her even further into depression. 

 

Igor, being an established composer by this point, is invited to a dinner party in Paris where Miss Chanel just happens to be another guest. The reunion is a little rocky, she initially finds him to be short, balding, with bad teeth and, as she says in the story, "an air of trying too hard to appear bohemian" but later realizes "his dandyism is an act... It masks a deep sense of insecurity and a profound sense of loss. Loss of state and selfhood. The man is clinging on, she thinks." Her curiosity about him reengaged, their friendship grows over the coming months, becoming something of a flirtation even though Coco never really got over the death of her love, Arthur "Boy" Capel. 

 

I found it a little laughable in this story that the character of Coco talks about how she likes Igor but doesn't love that he's still married. Additionally, Coco is plagued by a reputation of men categorizing her as "not being the kind of girl you marry", so is often dissatisfied with having to settle for being side piece. But her friends are pretty much like "ehhh, go for it anyway", their reasoning being that there's a shortage of men after World War I so one should grab what she can get... LOL, great friends there.

 

As far as the romance between Igor & Coco portrayed here, it was just okay for me. Honestly, their banter got on my nerves at times and Igor often struck me as seriously needing to find his backbone in so many of the situations. What kept my interest more was the little side stories of Coco's life, the fictionalized portrayals of bits of Chanel's life that I've read in bios. Her romances with not only Capel but also Etienne Balsan (this novel opens with Chanel as an elderly woman on the last day of her life, looking back on on the most memorable moments of years past). There's also mention of a 5 year affair with Churchill's bestie (one of them anyway), Hugh Grosvenor, Duke of Westminster. 

 

My favorite sections were the descriptions of Chanel in her own little world when she was designing, the moments she was most proud of. She reminisces about designing costumes for Hollywood, notably Tonight or Never with Gloria Swanson and Last Year at Marienbad with Alain Resnais.

 

just one of the looks Chanel created for 

Gloria Swanson in Tonight or Never

 

one of the Chanel designed looks in Last Year At Marienbad (1961)

It's been said that much of the fashion in this film directly

inspired the look of Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis. 

 

 

My favorite part in the story, though it was a very minor portion, was the description of Chanel working up to the design of her iconic scent, Chanel No. 5. I cracked up at the line "better than the stench of resin from an orchestra pit". Well, that does sound like a nice selling point! Slap that on the label! X-D

 

They regard her, these women, with disapproval, without quite knowing why. It's not as if she's more decorative. Quite the opposite. If anything, the cut of her clothes is austere. The simplicity of her gown, its restrained elegance, makes them seem almost gaudy by comparison. And her silhouette is intimidatingly slim. It is this quality of understatement, this nonchalance de luxe, they find disrespectful. The impression she gives is that she's not even trying. It seems so effortless, they feel undermined. 

 

To Coco, conscious of the disdainful glances she's attracting, these others seem ridiculous in their plumes and feathers, their taffeta gowns and heavy velvet dresses. If they want to look like chocolate boxes, that's their affair, she reasons.  As for her, she prefers to look like a woman.

 

So yeah, as a stand-alone historical fiction, IMO it's not bad but not great. I think my attention would be better retained with just sticking with Chanel biographies. If you've read anything about the real woman herself, you can't deny she got a lot of living in while she was on this big blue rock! 

 

I saw the movie adaptation of this some years ago but have forgotten a lot of it. I'll be doing a re-watch shortly and will tag an update on here with some of my thoughts on the film. 

 

*****************

Update after film re-watch: 

 

The movie, released in 2009 and directed by Jan Kounen, is presented in French with English subtitles. Coco Chanel is played by French actress Anna Mouglalis while composer Igor Stravinsky is played by Danish actor Madds Mikkelsen.

 

The adaptation is nicely done, but it does take some patience on the part of the viewer. It opens with what in the book would've been Chanel attending her first Stravinsky concert but while the book leaves pretty much as "attended a concert, had a nice time, we should do it again sometime", the film decided to pull out a weird interpretive dance scene... one that ran over 15 mins with almost no dialogue! 

 

Now, if you can get through that (maybe fast forward through that bit if it's not your thing), the movie gets really good and stays pretty true to the novel for the most part. I didn't love how the director chose to do the ending, but otherwise I thought the film nailed the time period, the feel of Chanel's world, all of that. When you watch this film, you can't deny the Frenchness of it! 

 

I enjoyed how they were also able to incorporate actual World War 1 footage into some of the scenes and would highly recommend viewers watch the behind the scenes documentary offered on the DVD. Very cool info and stories there, and the actor who played Stravinsky, while I was impressed his seriousness to approaching the role of Stravinsky, also had quite the sense of humor!

 

Also worth watching, the short film (under 20 mins):  Once Upon A Time by Karl Lagerfeld, starring Keira Knightly as a young CoCo Chanel. I'm actually not a huge fan of Lagerfeld myself, but I did think this film was beautifully shot. 

Review
4.5 Stars
Counted With The Stars (Out Of Egypt #1) by Connilyn Cossette
Counted With the Stars (Out From Egypt) - Connilyn Cossette

Sold into slavery by her father and forsaken by the man she was supposed to marry, young Egyptian Kiya must serve a mistress who takes pleasure in her humiliation. When terrifying plagues strike Egypt, Kiya is in the middle of it all. To save her older brother and escape the bonds of slavery, Kiya flees with the Hebrews during the Great Exodus. She finds herself utterly dependent on a fearsome God she's only just beginning to learn about, and in love with a man who despises her people. With everything she's ever known swept away, will Kiya turn back toward Egypt or surrender her life and her future to Yahweh?

Amazon.com

 

 

 

 

Many of us are pretty familiar with the biblical stories of plagues that rained down upon the people of Egypt (we're talking BC days) -- locusts, frogs, rivers with water that turned to blood. livestock and crops decimated, Egyptians overcome with boils! Author Connilyn Cossette takes those familiar tales and infuses them with some relatability for her readers. 

 

Our story opens in 1448 BC where we are introduced to Kiya, the privileged daughter of Jofare, a successful ship merchant / trader. At least he was successful for a time. Shortly after the reader meets Kiya, doing some frivolous shopping in the marketplace, she is urgently summoned home. Once there, she enters her father's office to find him with his back turned to her, his business partner, Shefu, also in the room. After some hesitation, the news is broken to Kiya that she has been sold into slavery to Shefu to pay off the debt of a massive loan Shefu gave Jofare. Tragically, five of Jofare's ships were sunk, the loss sinking his business in turn. Selling Kiya to Shefu was the only way to spare Jofare's wife and son. So Kiya is forced to relinquish all aspects of the life she knew and take up the clothes and position of servant to Shefu's cold-hearted wife, Tekurah. 

 

 

Through lowered lashes, I surveyed the room for people I knew -- and there were many. Old business partners, friends, even some distant relatives of my mother and father were in attendance. None looked my way. Either they refused to acknowledge a common slave, or they mercifully ignored my existence as they reveled in the privileges that I was now denied. 

 

I was at Tekurah's mercy because of such decadence -- the food, the dresses, the jewels. My father had always hosted the most extravagant of parties, our villa packed with people arrayed in their finest. And when the time came to repay his debts, he sold my freedom, not his own. Though I'd once delighted in the parties, the wigs, the cosmetics, the gold and silver, now the abundance made me ill. All the vapid people who had once filled my world, seemed to hang on my every word, now refused to meet my eye.... I dug my nails deeper and deeper into my palms. Cowards.

 

The novel spends some chapters giving the reader a feel for what life for a slave in that time might have been like -- being a breath away from all the riches in the world, yet unable to partake except to tidy up the mess the entitled might leave behind. If a slave was lucky, there might be some scraps to partake of, but no promises. Cossette is quite adept at bringing Kiya's new world to life: the sound of sandals down the hall, early mornings gathering water at the river, standing in the shadows of banquets, observing. Insane attention to detail in the early parts of this novel, almost to the point of distraction. I started off enjoying it but then found myself wondering when we'd get to the meat of the story. Stick with it readers! Those early chapters are largely world-building set up. The pay-off comes when Kiya survives all the various plagues.

 

The Egyptians blame the Hebrews, who appear virtually untouched by all that has befallen Egypt, for bringing this blight on their nation. A decree is announced that the firstborn son of every family will be murdered. The Hebrew people, encouraged by their leader Moses, decide to trek across the desert in hopes of reaching a place they can start new lives as "the chosen people". Kiya, who also appears untouched though she's Egyptian, is freed by Shefu when he feels the end is near. After reuniting with her mother and brother, Jumo, Kiya begins her journey across the desert with her new Hebrew friend (and former fellow slave) Shira, along with Shira's family and other members of the Hebrew community. Kiya is not driven by any religious conviction though; she simply wants to save the life of Jumo. Not only is he a first born son, but he is also physically and mentally handicapped. 

 

The journey across the desert is long and arduous. Not only do the Hebrews fear being found and attacked by the Pharoah's men but they must also struggle through various wild animal predators, violent thunderstorms (which often cause raging floods whenever the travelers are around a wadi), food or water shortages. No one knows where they are going exactly, only that they feel compelled to follow a bluish-purple cloudy beam of light that lights the sky day and night. Kiya even calls the beam "blue fire".

 

 

We were imprisoned by our escape route. Pharaoh behind us; the threat of flood all around.

 

 

During the months of travel, Kiya gets more acquainted with two men, specifically -- Eben, Shira's older brother, and Sayaad, a fellow Egyptian who later joins the traveling party. The acquaintance between Kiya and Eben is a strained one at first, as Eben lays the blame for his father's death at the feet of ALL Egyptians. Still, he develops a bond with Jumo and cannot deny his interest in Kiya, much as it confuses him. When he sees her getting close with Sayaad, Eben tries to warn Kiya that Sayaad is not entirely the good guy he seems. Sayaad tries to win Kiya over with his big plans to sneak them back into Egypt but one fateful night reveals his true motive. 

 

Not only does this novel feature stunning world building, but the reader is also taken in by the topsy-turvy way about the characters. Nothing and no one is what they seem! While this can be frustrating at times for a reader, when you feel duped for falling in like with "one of the bad ones", it makes the ride so much more fun! It's impressive how much life Cossette breathes into stories you've likely heard a million times in Sunday school. She also incorporates touching themes -- the idea of loving one's family regardless of the strife they bring to your life; the beauty of children with spirits unaffected by bias or prejudice; learning that the softest hearts can lie under the most stern faces. It was also nice to see Kiya struggle with her ideas of faith and a higher power, her working through those feelings that because she's not getting the answers she wants then it must mean she is unacknowledged and unimportant to that higher being. But then of course she learns the lesson that the right answer is not always one in the same with the wanted answer. 

 

This series is perfect for fans of biblical fiction with epic scope. Even if you don't normally do this genre but like evocative environments, try this one out! 

 

 

FTC Disclaimer: Bethany House Publishers kindly provided me with a complimentary copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. The opinions above are entirely my own. 

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