Thursday, November 22, 2018

Before We Were Yours - Lisa Wingate

I have read a whole bunch of really good books this year.  Before We Were Yours, by Lisa Wingate, is definitely one of them:

Memphis, 1939.  Twelve-year old Rill Foss and her four younger siblings live a magical life aboard their family's Mississippi River shantyboat.  But when their father must rush their mother to the hospital one stormy night, Rill is left in charge - until strangers arrive in force.  Wrenched from all that is familiar and thrown into a Tennessee Children's Home Society orphanage, the Foss children are assured that they will soon be returned to their parents - but they quickly realize the dark truth.  At the mercy of the facility's cruel director, Rill fights to keep her sisters and brother together in a world of danger and uncertainty.
Aiken, South Carolina, present day.  Born into wealth and privilege, Avery Stafford seems to have it all:  a successful career as a federal prosecutor, a handsome fiance, and a lavish wedding on the horizon. But when Avery returns home to help her father weather a health crisis, a chance encounter leaves her with uncomfortable questions and compels her to take a journey through her family's long-hidden history, on a path that will ultimately lead either to devastation or to redemption.

So here's the deal.  This is based on a true story.  There really was an adoption agency that kidnapped kids and then sold them to families around the country.  It reminds me a little bit of Kline's The Orphan Train.  Except, in that case, many of the kids were actually given up by their parents.  In this story, it was always involuntary.  Can you even imagine?  There is something about historical fiction that just grabs me. I have read dozens of books that were not historical fiction that I absolutely loved.  But there is a different feeling when you know that what is described actually happened.  And it's even magnified when you know that children are the victims.

But aside from the historical significance, Before We Were Yours is just a really good, well-written book.  I love the juxtapositon of 1939 and present day (the book was published last year).  You just know that characters from 1939 are going to be present in 2017.  And you keep waiting to find out about those connections.  It actually created a ton of suspense throughout the book.  If you go to Goodreads and check out the different genres people credited to BWWY, you won't find Mystery among them.  But it sure did feel that way to me.  Bravo to Lisa for creating that feeling.

Is the writing good?  Uh, yeah.  Look at how she describes what happens to the memories of an older person:  "It's as if her memory book has fallen open, a persistent wind tearing out the most recent pages first. The older the memories are, the more likely they are to remain intact." Or how about this one:  "The story she tells is heartbreaking but mesmerizing."  I think we can all relate to this, can't we?  

Before We Were Yours is just flat-out a really good book.  You get to learn something and also become attached to characters of all ages. What more can you ask for?

Saturday, November 17, 2018

The Dream Daughter - Diane Chamberlain

I know that I gave a 1-line review of The Dream Daughter in my 11/5 post.  But this is another book that deserves its own review.  So, let's start with the blurb:

When Carly Sears, a young woman widowed by the Vietnam War, receives the news that her unborn baby girl has a heart defect, she is devastated.  It is 1970, and she is told that nothing can be done to help her child.  But her brother-in-law, a physicist with a mysterious past, tells her that perhaps there is a way to save her baby.  What he suggests is something that will shatter every preconceived notion Carly has. Something that will require a kind of strength and courage she never knew existed.  Something that will require an unimaginable leap of faith on Carly's part.
And all for the love of her unborn child.

Although it's not evident in the synopsis, I will give you one small spoiler alert:  This book is about time travel.  Now, I have to tell you that I have very good precedents for reading and enjoying this kind of book. Stephen King's 11/22/63 is one of my top 12 books all-time.  And Dean Koontz's Lightning is my favorite Koontz.  Time travel is just so darn interesting, when it's done right.  The Dream Daughter is different because it's really about saving a baby (By the way, have you ever heard the Save My Baby joke?  If you haven't, ask me to tell it to you when I see you next.  It is a crack-up.).

At one point, Carly gets sent to 2013 instead of 2001.  We get a good, and understandable, explanation of how that could happen.  Just like King and Koontz, Chamberlain does a great job of making time travel seem plausible.    I'm pretty sure that's not an easy thing to do.

My notes are filled with all kinds of reactions to TDD:

"emotional connection"
"Oh, no - 9/11?"
"Oh no no no no no - wrong year"
"What the heck?"
"so much tension"

Although this is not a mystery, I sure still spent a lot of time wondering what was going to happen next.  For that I am grateful to Ms. Chamberlain.  And my final word on The Dream Daughter is that I absolutely loved the last sentence.  Even though I didn't make note of it, I have a strong suspicion that there could have been a tear or two when the book wrapped up.

Tuesday, November 13, 2018

FFTNFR (Fiction for the Non-Fiction Reader) - XI

It's been 17 months since I posted my last Fiction for the Non-Fiction Reader.  The time has come again.  This is edition #XI (that's 11 for you Roman numeral-phobes).  Let me point out a few features of this list. First of all, every author is female.  There are quite a few titles that come under the genre literary or women's fiction (8).  There are 3 that are historical fiction.  And there is 1 that is #3 of a trilogy.  The final one is culinary fiction (is there such a genre?).  All of them are either 3.75 or 4.0 - except for 1.  it's actually a 4.0+!  You may have a tough time figuring out which one that is.  And let me, once again, give a shout-out to Melissa Amster, who has fed me most of these books. I think 11 of the 13 were recommended by her!  And there are a bunch not on this list that I still really liked (3.25s or 3.5s).  I would like to point out that I (among others) recommended The Alice Network to Melissa.  She liked it a whole lot.  In fact, I have not spoken to one person who hasn't loved TAN.  Read it, if you haven't already.

1.    The Life Intended - Kristin Harmel.  This is the 1st of 3 Harmels that I have read and placed on the list.  It's the story of a woman who lost her husband 10 years earlier, has found love with another man, and, due to some dreams, among other things, is questioning her decision.

2.    The Love Goddess' Cooking School - Melissa Senate.  You get cooking classes, recipes, and some great interactions.  It's not easy to combine all of these elements.  But Melissa does a great job of doing just that.

3.    The Secrets of Midwives - Sally Hepworth.  Of the 4 books that Sally has written (she has a 5th coming out in late Spring!), 3 have made my list.  And the 4th, The Family Next Door, just missed the cut.  It was a 3.625/4.  I know, I know.  Pretty nitpicky.  Secrets tells the story of 3 generations of midwives.  I learned a lot without the author presenting the info in historical fiction form.

4.    The Things We Keep - Sally Hepworth.  In this powerful novel, Anna, a 38-year old woman, is placed in a residential home by her family because she is in the beginning stages of Alzheimers.  While there, she falls in love with another resident, Luke, who is of a similar age.  Then there's Elizabeth, the single mother who works there in a culinary capacity and who becomes involved in the relationship between Anna and Luke.

5.    Close enough to Touch - Colleen Oakley.  Jubilee has a rare disease where she can't be touched.  Eric is a single father whose daughter won't talk to him.  They come together at the library where Jubilee works.  A very interesting concept done extremely well.

6.    The Alice Network - Kate Quinn.  TAN slides between WWI and 1947.  It's the true story of a female spy network in Germany-occupied France that steals secrets from under the noses of the Germans and gets that info to Alice, who sends it on to her handlers.  Great historical fiction that integrates a young girl looking for her cousin after WWII with a spy from WWI (and WWII).  Super interesting.

7.    The Room on Rue Amelie - Kristin Harmel.  Here's another historical fiction about something that I absolutely knew nothing about.  This one concerns a channel of safe houses in France during WWII that help downed British flyers get back home.  This is way different than Kristin's other books.

8.    +The Sweetness of Forgetting+ - Kristin Harmel.  (Notice the asterisks?) This is some book.  All I will tell you is that while reading the synopsis in order to give you a hint of what it's about, I got chills.  Just read it please.

9.    Still Me - Jojo Moyes.  This is book 3 of the trilogy that started with Me Before You.  I loved #1, liked #2 (After You), and loved #3.  You may not remember, but her short story collection, Paris for One and Other Stories, is in FFTNFR, Volume X.

10.  Limelight - Amy Poeppel.  A family moves from Texas to New York City and, understandably, goes through some adjustments.  In a strange turn of events, Allison (wife and mother) ends up involved in the management of Carter Reid, a teenager who VERY CLOSELY reminds us of Justin Bieber.

11.  The Dream Daughter - Diane Chamberlain.  Diane has written over 20 books.  And I have read my 1st 2 in just the last couple of months. The 1st one, The Stolen Marriage, was a solid 3.5.  This one is a 4.0.  I want to tell you up front that a lot of this book centers on time travel. And you will absolutely believe that it's real (11/22/63 anyone?).

12.  How to Walk Away - Katherine Center.  Margaret is living a storybook life and is about to marry the man of her dreams...until a small plane accident changes everything.  And I do mean everything.  But, mostly, this book shows us what courage is all about.

13.  Before We Were Yours - Linsa Wingate.  This is the story of Rill who, at 12, becomes responsible for her 4 younger siblings as a very unethical adoption agency gets a hold of them.  The year is 1939, and this is an adaptation of a true story set in Memphis, Tennessee.  You will do a lot of head-shaking.

That's it for now.  Stay tuned to FFTNFR, Volume X11...someday.

Saturday, November 10, 2018

Camille Di Maio Scores Again!

It's been about a year since I read my 1st Di Maio.  It was Before the Rain Falls.  And I liked it a whole bunch (Another New Author for Me - and Another Big Hit).  For the last x amount of months, I've had 2 sitting vertically (that's an important distinction from the ones lying down!) on my makeshift bookshelf.  Well, I finally got to 1 of them.  The Way of Beauty is as good as BTRF.  And it won't be long before I hit #3, The Memory of Us.  In the meantime, here is the synopsis of The Way of Beauty:

Vera Keller, the daughter of German immigrants in turn-of-the-century New York City, finds her life upended when the man she loves becomes engaged to another woman.  But Angelo Bellavia has also inadvertently opened up Vera's life to unexpected possibilities.  Angelo's new wife, Pearl, the wealthy daughter of a clothing manufacturer, has defied her family's expectations by devoting herself to the suffrage movement.  In Pearl, Vera finds an unexpected dear friend...and a stirring new cause of her own.  But when Pearl's selfless work pulls her farther from Angelo and their son, the life Vera craved is suddenly within her reach - if her conscience will allow her to take it.
Her choice will define not only her future but also that of her daughter, Alice.
Vera and Alice - a generation and a world apart - are bound by the same passionate drive to fulfill their dreams.  As first mother and then daughter come of age in a city that is changing as rapidly as its skyline, they'll each discover that love is the only constant.

The book starts briefly in 1963, goes back to 1900-1917, and then, 200 pages in, jumps to 1942-1943.  We learn about the suffragette movement and a little bit about WWI and WWII.  But it's not really an historical fiction.  It's just a good piece of literary fiction.  I am a fan, though, of the back and forth in time, and Camille does it beautifully here.  In fact, on page 207 of 368, she moves 25 years forward, where the focus is on the daughter of the main characters in the prior section. And let me just say this:  I was absolutely caught up immediately with the new protagonist.  There was no gradual interest on my part.  It was BOOM, I was there.

I had my share of chills and tears.  But this one wasn't a bawler for me. And that's okay.  I was totally engrossed in the story and the characters all the way through.  I had a shocker on page 327 that I never saw coming (I know, this is no surprise to any of you).  And although this is a bit of a tell, Camille brings up a very important question:  Which love is preferable - one based on passion?  Or one based on comfort and ease? One is climbing the equivalent of Mt. Everest.  And the other is watching climbers on Mt. Everest sitting in matching lounge chairs in the TV room. I don't know the answer.  But it's interesting to consider, don't you think?

Stay tuned for #3.  But if you have liked my recommendations with Harmel and Hepworth, among others, then do yourselves a favor.  Pick up either The Way of Beauty or Before the Rain Falls (or both).  You will be happy you did.

Wednesday, November 7, 2018

Three Days Missing, my 3rd Kimberly Belle - it will NOT be my last

As you know (and I'm sure you all remember!), I have enjoyed the 2 other Kimberly Belle's that I have read - The Marriage Lie and The Last Breath.  Well, Three Days Missing does not take a back seat to those. And this one couldn't be more different from the other 2.  Here is the synopsis:

It's every parent's worst nightmare: the call that comes in the middle of the night.  When Kat Jenkins awakens to the police on her doorstep, her greatest fear is realized.  Her nine-year-old son, Ethan, is missing - vanished from the cabin where he'd been on an overnight class trip. Shocked and distraught, Kat rushes to the campground, but she's too late; the authorities have returned from their search empty-handed after losing Ethan's trail in the mountain forest.
Another mother from the school, Stef Huntington, seems like she has it all: money, prominence in the community, a popular son and a loving husband.  She hardly knows Kat, except for the vicious gossip that swirls around Kat's traumatic past.  But as the police investigation unfolds, Ethan's disappearance has earth-shattering consequences for Stef, as her path crosses with Kat.  As the two mothers race against the clock, their desperate search for answers reveals how the greatest dangers lie behind the everyday smiles of those they trust the most.

I know that this is a tough subject for everybody.  And some won't be able to do it at all.  But this is what makes reading so enjoyable.  Once upon a time I basically just read Child, Baldacci, Silva, Archer, Follett, et al.  But having discovered such good authors like Kimberly has greatly enhanced my reading pleasure.

But enough about me.  This is about Ethan and Sammy and Kat and Stef. Each character grabs a hold of you emotionally.  And I really like the way the chapters go back and forth between the two moms.  But even with that focus, we still get to meet Lucas, a Jack-Reacher like character, Mac, Andrew, and Josh.

You know that I have these "moments" where, perhaps, I might shed a tear or two.  That certainly didn't happen here...did it?  Uh, yep.  We're not talking a few drips.  We're talking about a real downpour.  So, yeah, I guess I did get caught up in these characters.  I think you might, too. And let me tell you about the ending.  Just kidding.  But it is a GREAT ending.

Final note:  Please read A Conversation with Kimberly Belle at the end of the book.  It's very interesting and enlightening.

Monday, November 5, 2018

Some More (very) Mini-Reviews

The best laid plans, etc., etc.  I was hoping I could start doing regular reviews.  But...nope.  So I'm going to use the same format I used 5 weeks ago.  I've got 8 books to rate and sort of review.

Boardwalk Summer - Meredith Jaeger - 3.0 - liked it - and Meredith is coming to the RBC on Sunday afternoon, December 9, at 4:30
Killers of the Flower Moon - David Grann - 3.0 - read it for the Books, Inc. 4th Thursday Night Book Club at The Pruneyard - non-fiction - story of the Osage Indians and oil and the fledgling FBI in the first 3 decades of the 20th century - interesting but dry
The Dream Daughter - Diane Chamberlain - 4.0 - my 1st Chamberlain was a very good 3.5 - this was even better - loved it
Laying Pipe - Kate Allure - 3.0 - this is a VERY sexy romance (get it?) - local author - always fun
Beautiful Exiles - Meg Waite Clayton - 3.0 - the story of Ernest Hemingway and Martha Gelhorn - pretty illuminating and informative
How to Walk Away - Kathleen Center - 3.75 - I obviously liked this a whole lot - a tragic accident followed by self-discovery - maybe there's even some unexpected romance - you'll have to read it to find out
The Masterpiece - Fiona Davis - 3.25 - this is one that I saw had a lot of buzz - it was good - there's nothing wrong with a 3.25
Before We Were Yours - Lisa Wingate - 3.75 - historical fiction about a very unethical adoption agency in Tennessee in the late 30s - very educational and a really strong story of family

My next post will definitely be something other than mini-mini-reviews. I just don't know what it will be yet.  Stay tuned.  We'll find out together!