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Wednesday, October 14

Leave Your Worries Behind....Fall Into a Book!

As usual, I'm going to kick this off with my favorite three books from the whole lot....in order.  It's my post...I can be biased!  Leave a comment and let me know which is your favorite...  Looking for more fresh new books to read?  Check out Summer Reads, Mom's Beach Reads, and Autumn Reads!

Adult Fiction

The Seakeeper's Daughters (Lisa Wingate)

From modern-day Roanoke Island to the sweeping backdrop of North Carolina’s Blue Ridge Mountains and Roosevelt’s WPA folklore writers, past and present intertwine to create an unexpected destiny.  Restaurant owner Whitney Monroe is desperate to save her business from a hostile takeover. The inheritance of a decaying Gilded Age hotel on North Carolina’s Outer Banks may provide just the ray of hope she needs. But things at the Excelsior are more complicated than they seem. Whitney’s estranged stepfather is entrenched on the third floor, and the downstairs tenants are determined to save the historic building. Searching through years of stored family heirlooms may be Whitney’s only hope of quick cash, but will the discovery of an old necklace and a Depression-era love story change everything?

Could there be anything better than combining your two favorite locales in one book?  I think not.  The Seakeeper's Daughters combines history, intrigue, and culture with the beautiful backdrop of the North Carolina mountains and coast.  There are multiple plotlines neatly interwoven, and you're never quite sure what's going to happen next.  While the ending is hinted at from several angles, it is still unpredictable.  You'll want to read through the night to finish this one!

The Children's Train (Jana Zinser)
In November 1938 on The Night of the Broken Glass, the Jewish people of Germany are terrified as Hitler s men shatter their store windows, steal and destroy their belongings, and arrest many Jewish fathers and brothers. Parents fear for their own lives but their focus is on protecting their children. When England arranges to take the children out of Germany by train, the Kindertransport is organized and parents scramble to get places on the trains for their young family members, worried about what the future will hold. Soon, trains filled with Jewish children escaping the Nazis chug over the border into Holland, where they are ferried across the English Channel to England and to freedom.  But for Peter, the shy violin player, his sister Becca, and his friends Stephen and Hans, life in England holds challenges as well. Peter s friend Eva, who did not get a seat on the Kindertransport, is left to the evil plans of Hitler. Peter, working his musician s hands raw at a farm in Coventry, wonders if they should have stayed and fought back instead of escaping.  When the Coventry farm is bombed and the Nazis have reached England, Peter feels that he has nothing left. He decides it s time to stand and fight Hitler. Peter returns to Germany to join the Jewish underground resistance, search for the mother and baby sister he left behind in Berlin, and rescue his childhood friend Eva.

This is a great introductory-level novel to the Holocaust.  As someone that has had a lifelong interest in WWII and Holocaust studies, I like that  this novel gives a variety of viewpoints and experiences...Jewish, German, Nazi, Resistance, British...they're all included in a realistic account.  It is thoroughly engaging from start to finish. After reading, you have a better picture of the many devastating situations endured by Holocaust victims and survivors, as well as a clearer understanding of people’s positions and actions.  But it's still all at an introductory level.  
The novel is a little heavy for young readers, but I’d certainly recommend it for high school through adults. It's written without over-dramatizing or trying to be graphically-shocking, but the very nature of the events, even through the author’s delicate handling, could be overwhelming.

Sand in My Sandwich (Sarah Perry)

You know that thing when you're in Walmart at noon before you discover you haven't brushed your teeth? Sarah Parshall Perry gets that. She also gets weird things showing up in her bed, her daughter requesting war paint, and her son crawling into a giant blue sock on Christmas morning. Sometimes, she gets that conflicted feeling of finding her kids hanging out in the dog's cage and realizing that, yes, dog cages are not for people, but . . . they have stopped getting into trouble.  According to Perry, "The hardest stuff is the quickest way to God." And if the systematic destruction of her carefully planned life is any indication, she's on the fast track to sainthood! A mother of three children, two of whom are on the autism spectrum, she has experienced plenty of ups and downs. But from the chaos of her "ordinary" life, she pulls truth packed with humor, poignancy, and a naked honesty that will make you realize you are not alone in this delightfully messy thing called motherhood.  So sit back, relax awhile, and get ready to laugh.

When going through tough times or stressful situations, we often think nobody else understands. Nobody else could possibly be going through something similar. Parents struggling to understand their own special needs child will see shadows of themselves, and will feel sweet validation and relief when they read her words.  
Ms. Perry’s conversational tone is fun and inviting and pulls the reader in—like having a cup of coffee with a friend, talking about the weird and wonderful things filling our days.   She has written the perfect gift for any mother. It’s an easy, fun, emotional read that sweeps away dust bunnies of defeat and replaces them with joy and gratefulness.

The New World (Andrew Motion)

Washed ashore after escaping Treasure Island, young Jim Hawkins and his companion Natty find themselves stranded on the Gulf Coast of Texas. Their ship, the Nightingale, has been destroyed, and besides one other crew member, they are the only survivors.  Before they can even grasp the full scope of their predicament, they realize they are not alone on the beach. When a band of Native Americans approaches the shore in a threatening fury, they brutally kill Jim and Natty’s last shipmate, rob their dead crew, and take the two desperate survivors hostage.  Suddenly, Jim and Natty are thrust into an adventure that takes them all across the unruly American South. Starting with a desperate escape from a violent chief who obsessively keeps close on their trail, they join up with a troupe of entertainers who take them to a thriving and dangerous New Orleans, and seek the closest port so they can set sail for home once again.
Although this story can easily be read alone, I realize now that it is a sequel to Motion's "Silver", which is itself a sequel to "Treasure Island." In that first book, Jim Hawkins, the same-named son of Stevenson's hero, goes back with Long John Silver's mulatto daughter Natty to recover the pirates' silver treasure, which apparently they manage to do. However, their ship, the Nightingale, is caught in a hurricane and wrecked on the coast of Texas. This volume opens with Jim and Natty cast ashore as the sole survivors, and almost immediately being captured by a tribe of Indians...the year is 1802.
Despite the theme of high adventure, I found that the novel dragged. There was something wrong with the pacing and I couldn't really connect with the characters.  Some descriptions are ingenious and beautiful, yet the poetic nature of some of the text made the story seem less straight-forward and robbed it of it's excitement. One repetitive technique the author uses is to describe things or events with a long string of adjectives in one sentence. Using this technique once in a while would be fine, but it happened so frequently, that it was distracting and annoying to me, and I began skipping over those sentences, thinking, "...here we go again."  The attempt to continue the Treasure Island story and to mimic the writing style put the author at a distance from characters and kept them from ringing true. It felt like the experience I have had reading novelization of movies...just not quite right.

Streams of Mercy (Lauraine Snelling)
Anji Baard Moen, a recent widow, returns from Norway with her children.
She quickly settles back into life in Blessing, teaching Norwegian history in the high school and writing articles for the Blessing Gazette. When tragedy strikes, Anji steps in to run the newspaper and soon finds a kindred spirit in the widower who owns the printing press. As they spend time together, Anji wonders if there's something more than friendship growing between them.  But Anji has also caught the eye of a recent arrival to Blessing. He has put his carpentry skills to good use on the town's building projects, including Anji's house. But Anji is torn between her feelings of loyalty to someone who needs her and the chance to build a new life with this intriguing newcomer.  Where will her choice take her?

I would recommend this book to anyone who enjoys historical fiction. There is romance, heartache, suspense, and joy all mixed in.  Although it's the third book in a series, this can be read as a stand-alone book.  It's full of twists and turns, with the author surprising her readers when they least expect it!  At times, however, I found the book confusing. There were too many characters to meet all at once; some in one household, and others as extended family. It was difficult for me to get into and follow the story line, as many elements appeared to have happened in the first two novels.  However, it was enjoyable, and I fully intend to go back and read the first two books in the Song of Blessings series, and can’t wait to read the next book, too.

The Potter's Lady  (Judith Miller)

When Rose McKay convinces her brother, Ewan, to invest in a pottery business, she's determined to assist him in making the venture a success. Having just graduated from the Philadelphia School of Design for Women, she believes she can design pieces that will sell well. In her efforts to help the pottery flourish, Rose reconnects with Joshua Harkness, who oversees his own family's pottery works in a nearby town.  Rylan Campbell has never liked change, but the new owners of the pottery seem to be the decent sort. He just wishes Rose wouldn't insist on cleaning and moving everything. But when McKay Pottery starts losing business to the Harkness company, Rylan realizes Joshua might be taking advantage of Rose.  Then Franklin Hotels announces a design contest. Winning the Franklin contract would be exactly the boost McKay Pottery needs, so Rose and Rylan work closely together to create something magnificent. With Joshua's company as their main competition, can Rylan convince Rose her trust in Joshua may be misplaced?

I thought this was an interesting story, with different characters, unusual setting, and the rich historical detail included. I didn't know much about the pottery industry, and the provides something of a "How It's Made" feel at times.  However, I was a little disappointed that the actual love story happened behind-the-scenes, almost as an afterthought to the entire story.  The ending wrapped everything up, however, and reinforced some valuable lessons - namely, that greed will never end up fulfilling a person's soul.

  
Autumn Brides (three novellas)

A September Bride by Kathryn Springer
When Annie moves to Red Leaf, she’s ready to call the little town home, but Deputy Jesse Kent can’t believe his mother has handed the keys to her bookshop over to a woman she met on the internet. Jesse has seen his mother taken advantage of before, and he decides to keep a close eye on this Annie Price. But when a close eye turns into a historical wedding reenactment with Jesse and Annie as the couple, make-believe nuptials quickly give way to real-life emotions.
An October Bride by Katie Ganshert
No one but Jake and Emma know the true reason they’re getting married—so Emma’s dying father can walk her down the aisle. While Jake and Emma plan an autumn wedding together, it becomes clear that their agreement has a few complications—the biggest being their true feelings for each other.
A November Bride by Beth K. Vogt
Having celebrated the big 3–0 by ending a relationship, Sadie is tired of romantic relationships-by-text. The only man she knows willing to put down his iPhone and have face-to-face conversations with her is Erik. It’s time to put a 21st-century twist on the Sadie Hawkins’ tradition of a woman going after her man. But when he realizes he’s fallen for her, can Erik convince Sadie his just-for-fun dates were the prelude to “’til death do us part”?

This was one of the best collection of novellas that I've read. I was familiar with only one of the authors, but will be checking out works from the other two now.  The stories were short and simple, the women weren't pathetic, and the men were down-to-earth.  In each of the stories, the bride has a guy that is a friend, but nothing more...or so they think...but friends make the best husbands, as each woman will learn.  Each story was sweet, romantic, and had family and faith neatly woven into the story.  I love novellas because I can read an entire story at bedtime, and not have to burn the midnight oil when I get into a good story!!

Kids' Fiction Books (Young Adult)

Submarines, Secrets & A Daring Rescue (Robert Skead)

In this second book in the American Revolutionary War Adventure series, Submarines, Secrets, and a Daring Rescue, twins Ambrose and John Clark find themselves volunteering for another mission to help the newly forming United States. Inspired by their success in delivering a secret message to General George Washington himself, the boys step up to help transport much-needed gunpowder to the patriots and end up in an even more dangerous situation, trying to man one of the first submarines and then, later, attempting a prison break to rescue one of their older brothers.  Follow these brave young patriots as they follow in their father’s footsteps and rely on each other, their considerable courage, and God’s providence for guidance and strength.

This is the second in a series, so there were parts of the first story included in this book.  The book focuses on the Turtle – a submarine built for the purpose of attempting to sabotage British ships during the war.  At the back of the book are a glossary, a set of questions, historical letters, and a list of historical leaders.  The historical note at the end says that the Turtle was never successful in attaching a bomb, but it did attempt it. There are a couple spiritual references, and a large focus on conscience. General Washington encourages the boys to listen to that quiet voice inside them that is guiding them, helping them figure out right from wrong.  I know it was written to be very realistic of war but some of the situations in the book were just a little to rough for me. One of the situations was a prisoner of war getting beaten. There were young men with knives being held to their throat, and men getting shot and dying.  While the book is for ages 8-12, I will not have my younger son read this until he is older.   My son's thoughts :  The book was very detailed, which made it a little dry to read.  Also, the ending was a cliffhanger that left me wanting to know _right now_ what happened!!

Evie Brooks is Marooned in Manhattan (Sheila Agnew)

New York City. Evie Brooks has seen it on the TV, but she never imagined herself living there. But when her mother dies, Evie finds herself leaving her home in Dublin and moving to Manhattan to visit with her American uncle for the summer. Never having owned a pet more substantial than a goldfish, twelve-year-old Evie is intrigued by Uncle Scott’s veterinary practice, and before long is working as an assistant in the clinic. Soon she finds herself immersed in dogs galore, parrots, reptiles, and an assortment of other creatures and their eccentric owners. And she loves it. Manhattan would be just about perfect if it weren’t for Uncle Scott’s lawyer girlfriend, who has plans for him that do not involve Evie. Before the summer is over, Evie has an important decision to make: stay in New York and confront the problem of Scott’s girlfriend or return to Ireland to live with her godmother.

This was a cute read. I was initially a little disappointed to find out after a few pages that the book revolves around a twelve year old, but thankfully the author didn't write the character to be a whiny, immature kid. Evie Brooks, orphaned after a lone parent dies, sets out to New York to stay with her Uncle Scott for the summer. We follow Evie's adventures in the city - helping out Scott at his Vet practice, making new friends and an enemy in his girlfriend Leela who wants Evie gone back to Ireland by the end of summer. How Evie tackles this problem, as well as being dragged down by guilt of using up Scott's money, is the perfect ending to this book. All the characters were interesting and well written. Moving, but not overly sentimental, this story is fast-paced and packed with action. It is told with real feeling, humour and wonderful characters. Evie shines as she faces her new reality with trepidation, yet determination. Relationships and situations are carefully and realistically crafted within the context of the story, yet never gets overburdened with unnecessary detail. And there is a real cliff-hanger at the very end. Fortunately, the next Evie Brooks book is out in September! A really enjoyable summer read!

Choosing Courage (Peter Collier)
What turns an ordinary person into a hero? What happens in the blink of an eye on a battlefield (or in any dangerous situation) to bring out true courage? The men and women who have been recognized by the Congressional Medal of Honor Foundation know the answers to these questions deep in their hearts. We learn of Jack Lucas, a thirteen-year-old who kept his real age a secret so he could fight in World War II—where he deliberately fell on a grenade to save his buddies during the Iwo Jima invasion—and Clint Romesha, who almost single-handedly prevented a remote U.S. Army outpost in Afghanistan from being taken over by the Taliban. Also included are civilians who have been honored by the Foundation for outstanding acts of bravery in crisis situations: for example, Jencie Fagan, a gym teacher who put herself in danger to disarm a troubled eighth grader before he could turn a gun on his classmates. Adding depth and context are illuminating sidebars throughout and essays on the combat experience and its aftermath: topics such as overcoming fear; a mother mourning her son; and “surviving hell” as a prisoner of war. Back matter includes a glossary and an index.

The word 'hero' has been dumbed-down these days, thanks to movies and comic book characters.  But Peter Collier's book “Choosing Courage” helps the reader understand today's hero. Collier takes the stories of Medal of Honor awardees from WW2, Korea, Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan and tries to find a common thread to their stories. At the same time, he intersperses the actions of a few brave civilians and compares them to see if they match those inspiring stories of the combat veterans – and he finds that thread.  
That thread is what Peter Collier's “Choosing Courage” illustrates. Courage comes from within the individual, and in response to a crisis situation.  It's really a simple question, "Which way will you run??" Highly Recommended!!

Sorry, I'm Not Sorry (Nancy Rue)

Written by bestselling author Nancy Rue, each book in the Mean Girl Makeover trilogy focuses on a different character’s point of view: the bully, the victim, and the bystander. The books show solid biblical solutions to the bullying problem set in a story for tween girls.  Sorry I’m Not Sorry tells the story of Kylie Steppe, former queen bee of Gold Country Middle School. After bullying a fellow GCMS student, Kylie has been expelled—and she has to attend mandatory counseling. Without her posse to aid her and other peers to torment, Kylie focuses on the person who stole her GVMS popularity crown: Tori Taylor. As Kylie plots revenge on Tori, she attends therapy sessions, where she reveals a few details that might explain why she finds power in preying on her middle school peers. After a rough year with bullying backfire, will Kylie decide to become more empathetic with her peers?
I liked the idea of this story because bullying is a big issue in our society today. Bullying should never be okay; it is wrong and hurtful.  And sometimes it creates a desperation that leads up to more serious situations. This book was engaging and easy to read, and hits on some key points as far as bullying goes, so the story was very realistic in that aspect.  There's not much backstory since it's part of a series, so you can only guess how much actual bullying went on.  Kylie's parents were a realistic representation, and a place where real change needs to occur.  Wealthy, selfish, and disengaged, they spend more time on their phones than with their daughters, and ignore and excuse Kylie's bullying behavior.  But their behavior doesn't excuse her's.  All of us are capable of being bullies unless we remember the lessons in this story, things like not viewing others as rivals and paying attention to our triggers.  As Kylie's counselor tells her, "What you have done is bad, but you yourself are not." We are all capable of doing bad things and can use the advice offered in this story.  I recommend this book for middle school girls and their parents.
If you are interesting in supplemental information regarding the anti-bullying movement, author Nancy Rue has set up the So Not Okay Anti-Bullying movement which you can check out at nancyrue.com/sonotokay   

Superforecasting (Phillip Tetlock)
Everyone would benefit from seeing further into the future,
whether buying stocks, crafting policy, launching a new product, or simply planning the week’s meals. Unfortunately, people tend to be terrible forecasters. As Wharton professor Philip Tetlock showed in a landmark 2005 study, even experts’ predictions are only slightly better than chance. However, an important and underreported conclusion of that study was that some experts do have real foresight, and Tetlock has spent the past decade trying to figure out why. What makes some people so good? And can this talent be taught?  In this groundbreaking and accessible book, Tetlock and Gardner show us how we can learn from this elite group. Weaving together stories of forecasting successes (the raid on Osama bin Laden’s compound) and failures (the Bay of Pigs) and interviews with a range of high-level decision makers, from David Petraeus to Robert Rubin, they show that good forecasting doesn’t require powerful computers or arcane methods. It involves gathering evidence from a variety of sources, thinking probabilistically, working in teams, keeping score, and being willing to admit error and change course.  Superforecasting offers the first demonstrably effective way to improve our ability to predict the future—whether in business, finance, politics, international affairs, or daily life—and is destined to become a modern classic.

It's a bit of a research-paper-turned-book, and a little dry, but the concepts are fascinating.  The title is misleading, since it makes you believe that you will learn tools to become a great forecaster. You do get some general points in an eight page appendix, but most of the book is statistics and anecdotes.  There are some great trivia lessons in here as well, if you're into random history.  With the researcher's experience, I would have expected a lot of practical advice.

I received these books in exchange for honest reviews...and I'll tell you if I like them or not!
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