Book Review: Lost Roses

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I read Lost Roses by Martha Hall Kelly to discuss at my local Barnes & Noble’s book club last night. Kelly continues her historical fiction series focused on a member in an earlier generation of the real family also depicted in her debut Lilac Girls. The story brings Russia circa 100 years ago to life with its depictions of the luxurious places and wealth. A fellow book clubber who visited many of the same sights affirmed the descriptions did them justice. However, we all agreed we couldn’t relate to the characters’ wealth what with their handful of houses spread across countries (in response to a discussion guide question we ultimately reworded to generate better responses). The story covers several places and people, an aspect that at times hurt the story. Though a plot driven novel, switching between three main perspectives made some of the build up fall short, sometimes leaving the reader mentally catching up instead of moving forward still engrossed in the story. As a generally character driven fan, the overall setup made it feel less deep than I anticipated and desired. However, that lighter feel made the Bolshevik revolution and some of the horrors witnessed less heavy, and I appreciated not dwelling on depictions of the unfortunate deaths. I learned a little more about Russian history without getting bogged down with details or war weight. The story focuses on females who show strength in their survival despite terrible circumstances. Yet we could have learned so much more if they had fought to thrive.

Regarding Kelly’s approach to this series, I like how she takes the stories backward in time for historical periods rather than forward. Covering the Bolshevik revolution and next the Civil War era gets us to times not depicted as often as World War II (like Lilac Girls).

 

SOKY Book Fest 2019

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Bowling Green, Kentucky hosted SOKY Book Fest on Western Kentucky University’s campus the last weekend of April.

Angie Thomas presented as one of the keynote speakers, demonstrating her activism through the spoken and written word. She urged the audience to use their own voices to make a difference as well. I noted that these opportunities present themselves more often than we realize because they seem so small or ordinary. Thomas’s readers laughed repeatedly with her pop culture references, particularly when she shared that she couldn’t relate to Twilight during its popularity reign (I found that to be a positive sign). A message we all needed to heed, Thomas spoke poignantly, intelligently and engagingly about the importance of using our voice rather than remaining silent.

Ann Gabhart returned again, this time coinciding with the release of her latest historical fiction novel The Refuge. She even remembered speaking to me last year, so we had a nice chat about her books and the disruption social media makes on the reading life. A Kentucky resident herself, Gabhart shared her historical influences on her books during a panel discussion I attended.

This festival brings so many authors and readers together and gives numerous opportunities to learn about the writing process through author panel discussions and even writers workshops. The authors engage with the readers as they mingle, and the whole experience brings so much insight. I have enjoyed each of my visits immensely. 

Two Movies and a Book: Rock On

This theme’s suggested grouping takes us back to rock scene of California (and the rest of the country) during the 1970s and 1980s as we read Daisy Jones & The Six by Taylor Jenkins Reid and watch Almost Famous and Rock of Ages. From behind the scenes as an insider and an observer perspective, we find that the rock n roll lifestyle makes it difficult to maintain stability, particularly in relationships. Young William, a teen writing for Rolling Stone magazine, witnesses an up and coming band called Stillwater grapple with success as they tour together in Almost Famous. Around the same time period, Daisy Jones & The Six forms and finds fame as they clash over how to make their records. Talented musicians, they succumb to the expected trials of rock n roll. Yet a key character serves as a moral grounding to keep the band’s lead from going over the edge. Rock of Ages gets into the period after the breakup of Daisy Jones & The Six and shows the emergence of a solo artist from a highly successful band as well as the breakout of a couple other stars. The rock star lifestyle has more than the rough edges audiences or listeners may see, and the artists use their experiences to fuel their music.

Book Review: The Ladies of Ivy Cottage

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I received a copy of Julie Klassen’s The Ladies of Ivy Cottage from Bethany House Publishers in exchange for a review.

Though the second in a trilogy, this story is my first Klassen and stands on its own. The ladies form a neat community as they learn to adapt to new situations in Victorian era England. As their friendships blossom, so do their skills at business to care for themselves. Rachel opens a library in the cottage, Mercy runs a girls school, and Jane manages an inn. Their strength comes from within just as much as it does from staying connected to their community. Of course, some love interests find their way into the mix as the ladies navigate their futures. Reading about ladies facing difficult odds with grace by helping each other makes for an encouraging read. I look forward to reading the latest and last in the trilogy (then likely the first).

Spring Reading Recommendations: Resiliency Blooms Anew

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As spring flowers bloom, we remember how they survive the cold, dark season to return and thrive again. We too need a reminder of our resilience. These books feature strong female characters who endure loss of family members, accidents that alter the body’s abilities, trauma, career obstacles, military occupation and more. Taking place during different time periods and in different areas, they offer a variety of people and places. Consider picking up one of these recent novels.

 

Katherine Center’s How to Walk Away introduces Margaret just as she graduates from her MBA program and gets engaged to her longtime boyfriend. Then her dreams literally crash as her new fiancé loses control of the plane and they land in flames. Margaret finds herself in the hospital without the use of her legs, the job she accepted and her fiancé. As heavy as this sounds, the strength she gains as she goes through physical therapy and adjusts her life to meet new goals shows such an admirable resiliency.

Lisa See’s latest novel The Island of Sea Women shares so much historical and cultural research through Young-sook’s life as a haenyeo on the Korean island Jeju. Continuing the tradition of the women in her family, Young-sook learns how to dive to earn a living so she can contribute to her family’s household and later her husband’s and children’s educations. Witnessing the dangers of the sea and the horrors of military occupation, she carries the weight of loss as she cares for her family. Most importantly, her lifelong relationship with her childhood best friend Mi-ja carries the themes of female friendship and forgiveness.

Emily Giffin’s All We Ever Wanted revolves around a privileged community in Nashville community and a couple families whose high school aged children end up at the center of an inappropriate photo scandal. Differences in age, gender and class come into play as each character protects their reputation and values. The mother of the boy who took the photo gives a nuanced look at the long term effects of such situations and serves as a catalyst for progress.

Taylor Jenkins Reid’s runaway spring sensation Daisy Jones & the Six flows as an interview that tells of the formation, fame and fade of a successful band in 1970s Los Angeles. Though it has the usual expected elements of rock n roll, it has an unexpected spine to its antics. Band leader Billy Dunne’s marriage exemplifies a relationship with a solid foundation and staying power. His wife Camilla and Daisy show the spectrum of struggle with maintaining a sense of self, purpose and connection when it comes to career and marriage.

 

Susan Meissner’s historical fiction novel As Bright as Heaven takes place during the Spanish flu epidemic of 1918. The Bright family moves to Philadelphia to join the family business at a funeral home. As war and flu threaten to tear families and communities apart, the three sisters learn how to survive and how to stay connected to each other. The ladies mature faster than normal due to their circumstances, but they still fulfill their dreams. Rich in history and familial themes, this story shows the depth and timelessness of strength.

 

Irene Hannon’s Pelican Point, the fourth installment in the Hope Harbor series, sweeps its characters right off the page in its small ocean town setting. Ben Garrison returns to Pelican Point to inherit a lighthouse that he intends to sell so he can move on with his life. He meets Marci, who wants to save the lighthouse, and tensions arise. As they get to know each other and their neighbors, they see healing happening as issues get brought to light. Ultimately, Marci shares her strength with those around her so they can all progress.

 

AJ Finn’s The Woman in the Window pays homage to Alfred Hitchcok films in his debut mystery/thriller. Anna Fox lives alone, and she doesn’t leave the house. Struggling with illness, her she connects to an online group where she offers support to others. She witnesses a murder at the house next door but no one believes what she saw. Anna’s story demonstrates strength in the face of fear and doubt.

Book Review: The Girl Who Chased the Moon

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I read The Girl Who Chased the Moon, my first Sarah Addison Allen novel, and it may have made a sweeter treat than my funfetti cake with pink icing (my birthday fell on a Wednesday). The setting came to life enough to make me wonder if I’d rather move to a small town like Mullaby, North Carolina or back to a big city. I felt summer’s warm air as Emily gazed at the mysterious light in the trees outside her window and longed for some quiet reflection of my own. Then I wanted to go to Julia’s bakery to chat with Mullaby’s finest as each character had their own charm, making me want to belong to a community like that. This enchanting story floated as smoothly as the lights danced across the yard in the middle of the night, and with its fun came some depth in its female leads and their discoveries about their families’ pasts. It certainly only began my love for Allen’s magical stories and neat women.

 

Fun Note: I got this book at a meetup and book swap some of the Modern Mrs. Darcy Book Club members, including our leader Anne Bogel, had in Nashville last summer.

 

Book Review: The Baker Compact Dictionary of Biblical Studies

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I received The Baker Compact Dictionary of Biblical Studies by Tremper Longman III and Mark L. Strauss from BakerBooks in exchange for a review.

This mass market paper sized dictionary makes a useful, non cumbersome addition to a theologian’s or person of faith’s shelf. It includes entries for important people, literary devices, historical periods and more. Easy to understand, each definition gives a starting point for understanding the context of biblical concepts. Sometimes it works like a dictionary giving a definition of a literary devices, and other times it has a longer paragraph moreso resembling an encyclopedia entry. I enjoyed reading through this to glean a little more information and learned a lot about various historical perspectives and movements regarding interpretation of the bible. I recommend it as an accompaniment for studying the bible.

Book Review: She’s Still There

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Chrystal Evans Hurst’s She’s Still There: Rescuing the Girl in You lays groundwork to help you set and reach goals while standing strongly on your faith. If taken slowly and done with the help of a mentor, it can serve as groundwork for making progress on the path to fulfilling your purpose. Hurst honestly shares her own experiences while providing practical advice regarding how to take action toward making desires into reality, make use of a support system with specific types of encouragement, and keep your focus on the right aspects of life. I have soaked in this information and found myself referencing it again. My accompanying workbook still has exercises to do, and I’d like to go back to the book to instill some concepts I’ve flagged there, most importantly the support system. I recommend this for someone looking for some extra encouragement or ideas on how to structure goal setting and support system creation.

Springtime Reading Recommendations

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Springtime makes a perfect setting for growth as the green returns to the land and love and floral scents fill the air. I have compiled a list of books that feature a lot of character growth, particularly within family dynamics. Let these stories inspire us to develop ourselves and to connect with our family on an authentic, deep level.

Lock & Key by Sarah Dessen: Ruby starts in a dysfunctional family situation. After her mother disappears, she finds herself in a more stable home with the sister she hasn’t seen in years. Ruby learns how to adjust to a healthy, structured life as she makes new friends and reconnects with her family. Trust serves as a focal theme.

Wonder by P.J. Palacio: August embarks on his first year at a public school, and he and his family brace for how the other students will respond to his differences. The entire story reminds us of the importance of kindness. August’s parents and sister learn how to support him while he gains some independence, and August learns how to connect with those around him who have genuine relationships with him.

How to Walk Away by Katherine Center: This story mostly revolves around resiliency as Margaret heals from a plane crash. As she adjusts to living her life in a new way and discovers new ways to achieve her goals. Her parents and sister support her physically and emotionally, even as Margaret and her sister reconcile after a prolonged disconnect. Margaret thrives as we see her emotional, mental and physical strength, and she makes it with the help of her family coming together for her.

The Language of Flowers by Vanessa Diffenbaugh: This heartrending novel follows orphan Victoria as she goes through the foster care system her whole life and ultimately ages out. She sees what family means as she seeks familial connections. The characters have to conquer deep insecurities and learn how to trust as they navigate their relationships. The flowers and characters hold deep meaning and growth.

This Must Be the Place by Maggie O’Farrell:  A sweeping family saga, this story follows Daniel as he develops, and sometimes fails, his familial relationships. Covering multiple time periods as well as multiple continents, it shows the long term effects of Daniel’s choices. He grows as a man, father and husband as he faces triumphs and disappointments in life. This shows an authentic look at the struggle and importance of keeping a supportive family together.