Wednesday, 17 July 2019

Book review: Today We Go Home by Kelli Estes

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Today We Go Home, by Kelli Estes, tells the powerful story of two women separated by two hundred years but connected by their experiences. Emily Wilson lives during the time of the American Civil War. After losing her father and eldest brother to the Confederate guns, she and her younger brother enlist in the same regiment. But Emily must hide her womanhood in order to serve her country and follow in her father's footsteps. In the present time, Larkin Bennet has returned home from her second deployment in Afghanistan, bruised in both mind and body. After losing her best friend to a suicide bomber, Larkin must find something to live for. She finds it in Emily’s diary. The two women discover their strength and purpose as they wade their way through war, loss, trauma, and life in a man’s world.

I knew I was going to love this novel when very quickly tears were brought to my eyes. Estes’ writing is powerful, moving, and incredibly real. While I don’t have PTSD, Larkin’s struggles were written so well I forgot for the majority of the novel she wasn’t a real person. But of course, she is real, in a sense. She, and Emily, are representatives of all the women who have served their country. I thought the description of Emily’s trauma was well done and suited the time period. As Larkin discovers, PTSD was not diagnosed as such back then and there was little support for it. But in both cases, the women are able to find a purpose to focus on and get the help they needed.

The flip between the 1800s and present time was flawless. I loved the way Larkin would read a diary entry, and the following chapter would typically be Emily’s point of view version of the entry or just leading up to it. I have read some novels where the flip is quite clunky, but am happy to say this is not one of those novels.

Overall, I must say I’ve read few novels as powerful as Today We Go Home. I don’t think it’s too “feminist” for anyone to enjoy, as I worry some may think the theme is pandering to recent events. Regardless of whether Larkin is a man or woman, or if we focus on Emily or Jesse, the story is about two soldiers who find their strength in an extremely volatile time and place. I applaud Estes’ research and her way of making sure that no one woman’s story was left unsaid through her encouragement to the reader. With flawless writing, relatable characters, and an important message, Today We Go Home is a must read.

And I feel it necessary to thank those who serve their country, both men and women. But especially those who often get overlooked. As Estes says in her parting words: “See her. Hear her. Thank her.”

Wednesday, 5 June 2019

Book review: Million Dollar Question by Ellie Campbell

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Million Dollar Question by Ellie Campbell brings us on the journey of Rosie and Olivia, two very different people from very different backgrounds, yet somehow their lives continue to cross paths during a very crucial time. Olivia has just fallen prey to a very large financial scheme and lost everything she owned. On the other hand, Rosie, a single mom, has just won a million pounds. As they both learn to live within their new realities, they end up learning far more about themselves than they thought possible.

This novel is definitely a chick lit, but not as chick-litty as others I’ve read. Hopefully that makes sense. Honestly, the novel was just okay. It was a nice piece of fluff, but I found it a touch drawn out for my liking. And I really didn’t care for the writing style, either. The cuts and breakaways made it seems as though when Campbell was writing, she pictured it as a TV show or movie and how they do the dramatic scene cuts to show pivotal plot points. Some people may enjoy that style. I did not.

The characters weren’t too endearing, either. In fact, I may have liked Charlie the most and he was supposed to be the no-good cheating husband. He was the only one who seemed to think and act logically, or like an ordinary person at all. The novel tried to get into deep and thought-provoking ideas with the character of Marcus and his documentary, but it didn’t really work to bring depth to the novel unfortunately. That being said, the twist that connects the two characters was interesting, if not a bit contrived. We often forget, or don’t realize at all, how our lives can connect to so many other people but we just miss each other by mere moments.

Overall, if you want to read a fluff piece, Million Dollar Question is your next novel.

Wednesday, 29 May 2019

Book review: The Things We Cannot Say by Kelly Rimmer

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The Things We Cannot Say by Kelly Rimmer tells the story of two women. Alina lives in occupied Poland. Newly engaged, her family shelters her from the horrors of the war for as long as they can. But when it comes down to it, does she have the strength it will take to keep herself and her friend alive? Alice lives in present day America. Her Polish grandmother has had a stroke and so cannot communicate properly. But she gets out a message for Alice. Go to Poland. Tomasz. On her journey, Alice discovers the amazing lengths Alina went to in order to survive, simply based on all the things she couldn’t say.

I’ve said this before with war books. This is a book that needed to be written. I love that Rimmer used her family’s experience as a starting point for Alina’s story. But it wasn’t just a war story. Alice’s struggles are of a different sort, but still an important one to tell. With her son on the artistic spectrum, Alice has her own way of living that has no flexibility, but she learns what the human mind is able to do when given the opportunity. That’s a huge understatement and of course in no way meant to lessen the challenges that diagnosis can bring. But I think Alice handles it with grace.

At first I was a bit annoyed with Alina’s character. She seemed weak, and complained all the time about being treated as a child. But of course, there was so much strength in her. I think, after all, it was important to show her as a normal girl and not an extraordinary one. The war affected everyone, and the thing is that not everyone became a hero or had a heroic arc. Alina did, but in a much different way.

The description of how they wouldn’t talk about the war afterwards, not even speaking Polish at home is very much the story of my own grandparents. And I think the story in general. I understand why, but there are so many stories lost to time because of it. These are stories the younger generations need to hear. I hope there are enough. This is one of them, at least.

Overal, this is a wonderful story of survival, love, and familial sacrifice. It’s well worth the read, keeping in mind things may not be as it seems. And please remember to keep telling these stories. And keep reading them.

Wednesday, 22 May 2019

Book review: Sanctuary by Kris Kramer

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Sanctuary by Kris Kramer tells the story of Daniel, an Anglo living in early Medieval England (Wessex) who lived as a priest. He had run away from his learning in Rome, having questions the other priests couldn’t answer or didn’t want to hear. But when a raid destroyed his village, he found some of those answers in the man named Arkael. Or so he thought. Following this man of God, Daniel travelled across the different kingdoms to find God’s calling for his life. It would all come down to the war Arkael warned him of, the one between the angels and demons. And it would be up to Daniel to find God’s path for him in the war and where he could find his own sanctuary.

I’m often quite critical of historical fiction. I like to make sure the authors have done their research, and I have to say I was pleasantly surprised with Sanctuary. I didn’t fact-check everything, but honestly that’s the best praise I could give. Kramer completely immersed me into the story that I didn’t feel the need to check city names, or the other fine details I usually get caught up in with historical fiction. Despite having a Medieval Studies degree, I found myself enjoying the story for what it was which honestly surprised me. It was a nice reminder back to my university days learning about the Early Medieval period, although I am glad to be done with Old English.

What I found to be flaws at the beginning, ended up aiding in Daniel’s character development so they weren’t truly flaws at all. He was lost, empty, and perhaps a bit naive but after watching the destruction of his village, that only made sense. His determination to follow Arkael only further showed his faith in God and His plan for his life. Arkael had been sent as a sign, and Daniel had to find out what it all meant.

I’m glad that Daniel was able to find what he was looking for, and I think even though I wouldn’t necessarily consider this Christian fiction (but perhaps it is! It’s all in your definition) it has a very strong theme of faith. It’s Daniel’s quest to discover who he is, and how he fits into the world that is so very relatable to both believers and non-believers.

Although I found it a tiny bit slow to get into, I honestly really enjoyed reading Sanctuary and it was a nice change of pace from other historical fiction novels I’ve read. There aren’t many written in this time period, and although there was of course fighting and death, it wasn’t the main plot of the story which goes against much of what people think of this time period (the so-called “Dark Ages” as I shudder to type). I highly recommend this novel to anyone with an interest in the early Medieval period, the early church in Briton, or are simply on their own quest like Daniel. We are all a piece to the same puzzle, and in the end, like Daniel, it’s our hope we can discover where we fit and maybe in that moment we find our own peace, our sanctuary.

Wednesday, 15 May 2019

Book review: Her Sister's Shoes by Ashley Farley

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Her Sister’s Shoes by Ashley Farley tells the story of three very different sisters. Their only similarities are their workplace: their family seafood market, and their birthdays all land in the same week but in different years. Each live completely different lives, each envying the lives of the other two. It’s not until they each learn to walk in her sister’s shoes are they able to fully appreciate the bond of sisterhood and their own inner strength.

Farley has written quite a lovely story that will appeal to a very wide audience. Each one of the sisters has a different struggle (or struggles) that someone can find at least something relateable. And on top of their own personal issues, they must deal with their mother who begins to show signs of Alzheimer’s. It’s not one of those novels where the plot is apparent and really, that’s okay. It was nice to just read the story of these sisters and see where it ended up without wondering the point of the little things.

I honestly hated the character of Jackie. Yes, she eventually had her own redeeming qualities but even then I still didn’t like her. And that’s fine. We’re not always meant to like all of the characters in a novel. I also wasn’t really a fan of how everyone ended up. Spoilers ahead! It felt like everyone just paired off romantically just to add some romance into the story. I don’t think it added anything, and probably would have been a little stronger without it. But that’s just me. And I love a good romance novel. Spoilers ended!

Overall, Her Sister’s Shoes is a vivid, and realistic story of three sisters who finally learn to see the good in their own lives, and appreciate the struggles they each go through daily.

Wednesday, 8 May 2019

Book review: A Passionate Hope by Jill Eileen Smith

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A Passionate Hope by Jill Eileen Smith tells the engaging story of Hannah, a woman who lived in ancient Israel. A descendant of Levi, Hannah had always loved to sing at the Tabernacle during the feasts and festivals. She loved and adored Adonai, her God, and praised Him in all that she did. When she married the love of her life, Elkanah, she thought she had it all. But they soon discovered she was barren. Questioning Adonai’s plan and purpose for her life, Hannah began to learn what it was to give it all to God.

I’ve been a fan of Smith’s book for quite a while now, so I jumped at the chance to review this novel of hers on Netgalley. She has such a way of bringing these Biblical figures to life without taking away from scripture. Of course, we don’t know exactly what these people thought or said exactly back then, but Smith does an excellent job making it all sound as though this is what happened. This is the type of Biblical fiction I enjoy, as opposed to the novel I previously reviewed ‘Joseph, Rachel’s Son’.

I was not completely aware of Hannah’s story, but I was glad I was able to read it now. The beginning of her story is very similar to my own. My husband and I have struggled for a few years conceiving, and continue to struggle, and even though I know God promised me children I so often falter and question his plan for me. Hannah is an amazing role model in her dedication to God, her attitude and graciousness towards others is still something I’m working on. Even towards her husband’s second wife she shows compassion, although her heart breaks.

But it all comes down to Hannah’s vow to God, that she would give her son to Him. A change was needed in the temple, a change was needed to bring Israel back to God, and she promised her son to Him to use for that purpose. For His purpose. And of course, God fulfilled His promise to Hannah. Her son was Samuel, one of the prophets of Israel, and the man who found David, the King of Israel.

Hannah’s story is a good reminder to trust in God, no matter your circumstances. Smith has done an extraordinary job bringing to life these Biblical figures and showing the love of God, and the promise of Jesus.

Tuesday, 7 May 2019

Book review: The Daughter's Tale by Armando Lucas Correa

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The Daughter’s Tale by Armando Lucas Correa tells the story of a Jewish family during the Second World War. We follow the family as they are forced to leave Germany in their quest to survive the persecution of the Nazis, and their own people.

I’ve read quite a few novels set during this time period and with this similar storyline. Many times, reading the same story over and over can become tedious but this is something different. This topic, this story, can never be told too many times. It can never stop being told.

At times I found the narrative a bit difficult to follow, and it jumps between character points of view within the same paragraph. I’m not typically a fan of that style, but there were points in the novel where I found it worked. I think I would have preferred if the narrative had been a bit more limited, mostly between Amanda and Elise. While some historical points may have been missed, or descriptions of scenes, I feel it would have added to the confusion caused by the chaos. It would have also allowed me to become attached more to those characters, especially Elise. I found her voice got a bit lost, but then again, I think that was her character all along. She was shuffled around, lost, found, her identity completed changed throughout the entire novel.

The descriptions of the people, and how they acted, I found very realistic. I haven’t read too much about the people of France during the Wars, so I was happy to learn a few new things. It was important to add how convinced they were that Germany would never invade, that some people were so detached from it all that they thought the war was fake. It’s also frightening that the mindset is still present in some people today, whether it’s about the holocaust or current wars.

Overall, this novel is a must read. It’s moving, and powerful. If you can get past the character switches, I can tell you that you will enjoy this book. Whether you enjoy historical fiction or not, it’s an important story people need to read. In a way, this isn’t really historical fiction. While Lina Sternberg in name was not a real person, her story represents someone who is, was, very real. So we can remember. So we can say “never again.”


Buy the book on Amazon.