Review: An Amish Gathering by Beth Wiseman

An Amish Gathering
Title: An Amish Gathering
Author:
 Beth Wiseman
Publication Date: December 22, 2009
Genre: Christian Fiction, Amish
Rating:4 Stars


Join three Amish couples as they experience love amidst life’s seasons. As Rebecca mourns her twin sister, Ben seeks to break through her grief. Leah would rather write than be a good fraa, but her spirit captures Aaron’s heart. And when Josiah falls for Amanda, he learns about letting go of the past.

 


Review_I mentioned in my review of An Amish Cradle that I had already started listening to another collection spearheaded by Beth Wiseman – here it is!

These books are just so stinkin’ fun to listen to! Just like the last collection, all of the stories revolved around Amish couples. This time, instead of babies, there were gatherings of one type or another – usually a ‘singing’ which is a get together for Amish young adults after church. The gathering was the turning point in the relationship of the two main characters.

I absolutely adored these stories. In the last book there were four short stories, and the first two were my favorite by far. This time, they were all amazing! I connected to all of the main characters and they all had backstories that were really well fleshed out given the short length of the stories. Maybe having three stories instead of four gave the plots more room to breathe. I do have to confess, Beth Wiseman’s story (the first) was my favorite again. I really enjoy her writing style and I’d like to pick up some of her solo work eventually.

I did notice when I was searching for another to listen to – none were immediately available through my library, boo! – that there were some repeat stories in other compilations. It’s no big deal since I can just skip over what I’ve already heard, but still a bummer since I want more!

4 Stars

Review: Bingo Love by Tee Franklin

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Title: Bingo Love
Author:
 Tee Franklin
Publication Date: December 2017
Genre: Young Adult, Contemporary
Rating: 2 Stars


Bingo Love is a story of a same-sex romance that spans over 60 years. A chance meeting at church bingo in 1963 brings Hazel Johnson and Mari McCray together. Through their formative years, these two women develop feelings for each other and finally profess their love for one another.

Forced apart by their families and society, Hazel and Mari both married young men and had families. Decades later, now in their mid 60’s, Hazel and Mari are reunited again at a bingo hall. Realizing their love for each other is still alive, what these grandmothers do next takes absolute strength and courage.


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*Since this book is so short, it’s impossible not to include spoilers!*

Before I get into the review I have to confess…. I don’t really read graphic novels. I read a couple of The Walking Dead graphic novels a few years ago because I’m a massive fan of the show, but that’s the extent of my comic book/graphic novel knowledge. This was 100% a book blog hype read for me.

I really, really enjoyed the artwork in Bingo Love. I don’t have a whole lot to compare it to, but it was bright and clear and clean. It complemented the story really well and kept my eyes from wandering.

The story itself was a little contradictory to me. I absolutely LOVE the concept of the story – falling in love at the bingo parlor, being separated, finding each other in the same place – it’s all so romantic and angsty. But Hazel…. she was something else. After Mari left she married to a man she said was ‘great’ and that she loved, but then a few pages later she refuses to sleep with him and says that she could count on her hand the number of times they’d been intimate. She’s the one turning him down in the situation, by the way, claiming that each time they’d been intimate she’d had a kid and she didn’t want any more.

Fast forward, and Hazel and Mari see each other in the bingo hall and instantly share a kiss, right there in front of Hazel’s daughter who has no idea about her mother’s prior relationship with Mari. She’d just seen her mom cheat on her dad so she was understandably upset, but Hazel gets mad that her daughter is mad! Then later, when it’s more convenient for her, she claims that her husband was the one who never wanted to sleep with her… even though we’d seen her turn him down. Huh?

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Her husband finds out about the kiss and gets mad because, like, his wife had just cheated on him but she refuses to talk about it with him until he’s calm. She calls him an idiot twice for yelling at her… but then…. she yells at him? And it’s okay? The way it’s written it’s like she’s trying to flip the narrative and make herself the victim in all of this when she definitely isn’t. The inconsistencies in the story line really got under my skin. First yelling makes you an idiot, but then she does it and it’s justified. She doesn’t want to be intimate and refuses to be with her husband, but then later it’s his fault because he was only interested it if would produce a baby. Then, to make the husband seem just as responsible for the marriage falling apart, we find out out of nowhere that 50 years ago he cheated on Hazel and fell in love with another woman who’s his true love, the way Mari is Hazel’s. Instead of delving into that and really using that to show how, maybe, Hazel and her husband weren’t actually in love, there’s a panel saying that’s a separate story and we can check it out if we want. It made the pacing feel even more disjointed than it already did and left me wondering why I have to go hunt down another book just to get the full Bingo Love story. I went to find it and…. the story never got made. So now we just don’t get to find out what was going on?

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As much as I love the art style, I really think this story needed to be fleshed out. Hazel’s responses and decisions didn’t make sense half of the time and the affair the husband had comes out of nowhere and isn’t ever mentioned again. We find out how Hazel’s family adapts to Hazel and Mari getting together, but Mari’s children and husband are never mentioned. The story slowed down for moments we didn’t need and sped past moments we did for characterization and for understanding why characters were acting the way that they were. Like, in one instance, Hazel’s daughter went from furious with Mari for ruining her family completely accepting on the same page? I wanted to like this so bad because the plot itself was so unique but it just didn’t work for me.

2 Stars

Review: Thirteen Reasons Why by Jay Asher

Thirteen Reasons Why
Title: Thirteen Reasons Why
Author:
 Jay Asher
Publication Date: October 18, 2007
Genre: Young Adult, Contemporary
Rating: 3 Stars


You can’t stop the future.
You can’t rewind the past.
The only way to learn the secret . . . is to press play.

Clay Jensen returns home from school to find a strange package with his name on it lying on his porch. Inside he discovers several cassette tapes recorded by Hannah Baker–his classmate and crush–who committed suicide two weeks earlier. Hannah’s voice tells him that there are thirteen reasons why she decided to end her life. Clay is one of them. If he listens, he’ll find out why.

Clay spends the night crisscrossing his town with Hannah as his guide. He becomes a firsthand witness to Hannah’s pain, and as he follows Hannah’s recorded words throughout his town, what he discovers changes his life forever.


Review_Thirteen Reasons Why by Jay Asher has been getting TONS of attention lately thanks to the Netflix adaptation. As a matter of fact, that’s why I decided to pick this book up. I got about 6 episodes in to the Netflix show before I decided to stop and read the book (that was a year ago – oops). The show and book together garnered a lot of negative hype about glorifying mental illness and suicide, so I broke one of my cardinal rules and read some reviews before I started reading. As if watching part of the adaptation and reading reviews weren’t odd enough, I actually listened to this as an audiobook! My first audiobook ever!

I’m not here to comment on whether this book handled mental illness correctly or not – frankly, I’m not qualified and wouldn’t have an informed opinion. Personally, I thought Asher did a great job of conveying the snowball effect in a relatable way. The tiniest thing can take on a life of it’s own and grow and grow and grow, spawning other organic experiences that come together to slowly eat a person alive. That’s what happened to Hannah Baker, and I think it was made all the more powerful by the fact that Hannah was an average teen. She didn’t start her school year depressed, she hadn’t actually done any of the things that people claimed, etc. but by the time the weight of all of the tiny incidents had settled it was too much for her to handle and she was ready for a permanent way out.

The tapes she left each focused on a person, and the person we follow through the story is Clay Jensen. He was far and away my least favorite part of this story. I totally get why he was there and I know he was meant to show the other side of suicide – the people who are left to deal with what happened, and wonder if they could have stopped it – but I found his commentary disruptive. It was a 50/50 shot as to whether or not the reason he was pausing the tapes was valid, or the things he was saying offered any insight into what Hannah was telling him. I really just wanted to hear what had happened to Hannah, colored only occasionally by Clay’s reactions to new information, but it seemed like he broke in every few seconds which made it a lot harder to immerse myself in Hannah’s monologue.

I also found his interactions with his mom and Tony a little strange, but that could be influenced by the fact I’ve watched part of the show. If I remember right I don’t remember his mom being very present, and Tony had a MUCH bigger part in the show than in the book.

This was a really polarizing read for a lot of people, but I ended up falling right in the middle. It wasn’t my favorite thing, and I probably won’t watch the Netflix show, but I’m glad I picked it up.

3 Stars

Review: The Last Olympian by Rick Riordan

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Title: The Last Olympian
Author:
 Rick Riordan
Publication Date: May 5, 2009
Genre: Fantasy
Rating: 5 Stars


All year the half-bloods have been preparing for battle against the Titans, knowing the odds of victory are grim. Kronos’s army is stronger than ever, and with every god and half-blood he recruits, the evil Titan’s power only grows. While the Olympians struggle to contain the rampaging monster Typhon, Kronos begins his advance on New York City, where Mount Olympus stands virtually unguarded. Now it’s up to Percy Jackson and an army of young demigods to stop the Lord of Time.

In this momentous final book in the New York Times best-selling Percy Jackson and the Olympians series, the long-awaited prophecy surrounding Percy’s sixteenth birthday unfolds. And as the battle for Western civilization rages on the streets of Manhattan, Percy faces a terrifying suspicion that he may be fighting against his own fate.


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I made it. I got to the end of the Percy Jackson series.

I always get a tiny bit nervous when I pick up the last book in a series because sometimes they go off the rails (*ahem* Breaking Dawn), but this books wrapped up the series so well. All of the major and minor plot points were wrapped up, all of the characters from the previous four books were accounted for, and there was action galore.

This book went by the fastest out of the five, probably because there was a lot more action and a lot less ‘we need to figure out what’s going on here because we don’t actually know yet.’ Between the pacing and knowing that I was getting closer and closer to the final resolution I couldn’t put this book down. But….

There were two things I didn’t like. I didn’t particularly care for the minor cliffhanger at the end. It wasn’t the worst and it definitely served it’s purpose – I’m now a lot more interested in reading the next Riordan series than I was – but my type A heart loves for book series to end in a neat and tidy fashion. The other thing was the characters ages. I’ve been griping about this from the beginning. As Percy’s leading the 40 odd campers in battle against actual Titans and ridiculous monsters, it’s reallllllly hard to believe he’s 15. Like before, even though I knew the prophecy was supposed to come true on his 16th birthday, I had one of those OMG moments at the end of the book when Percy talks about starting his sophomore year of high school.

I’m really looking forward to reading some of the other series Riordan’s come out with. I have it on good authority that the Egyptian series is ahhhhhmazing.

5 Stars

 

Review: Thy Son Liveth by Grace Duffie Boylan

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Title:
 Thy Son Liveth
Author:
 Grace D. Boylan
Publication Date: 1918
Genre: Non-fiction
Rating: 3 Stars


Grace Duffie Boylan’s first edition of Thy Son Liveth was written anonymously for fear that she would be ridiculed by her peers. This book is very different from her other works. It is non-fiction…about her son who had just been killed in Flanders fighting in World War I. Furthermore, it is an exact transcription of their conversations via Morse code on a telegraph machine…after he died.

Review_A few days ago I went to see the documentary “They Shall Not Grow Old” in theaters. If you aren’t familiar with it, it’s WWI footage that’s essentially been remastered, colorized, and dubbed so that the 100 year old film appears and sounds much as it would today. When I came out of the theater I was dying to pick up a book about WWI, so I rummaged through everything I owned and realized pickings were slim. I had about 3 non-fiction books and 2 historical fictions to pick from. This was the smallest, so I grabbed it first.

I didn’t quite know what I was getting into with Thy Son Liveth. I thought it was fiction, a collection of letters that an author had penned and tacked together to offer some hope or comfort to the grieving mothers, wives, and children of WWI and beyond, but in fact, it claims to be an entirely true account of communication from the afterlife. Given the nature of this book and the polarizing subject matter, this’ll probably read less a review and more a discussion. Boylan was widowed and raised her son largely by herself. He was fascinated with wireless communication and became an aficionado, eventually piecing together an antenna and other necessary equipment and fixing it to the roof. So he could practice his craft, he urged his mom to learn Morse code. She did, and would often receive and send messages with him. Before long, WWI began and Bob (the son) was shipped to France where he was promptly gunned down and killed by the Germans – although, according to his communications, he wasn’t dead in the traditional way of thinking. 

I only want to start this whole propaganda of comfort on the one sure thing: there is no death.

Immediately after being killed, and a month before the notice that he’s “dead” comes through the mail, Bob sends his mother a message via Morse code. Within a few messages, they realize that with some concentration Bob can talk to his mother directly through her mind and she begins using automatic writing to take down his messages. He describes the afterlife to her as best he can, but his main focus is in stressing the fact he’s as alive as ever, just on a different plane of existence. He wants his mother to spread the word to her friends and encourage them to try to communicate with their dead sons because tears and grief trouble them in the plane they’re at. Plus, it’s unnecessary since lines of communication could be opened if everyone suspended their disbelief. 

We look as we did in the flesh. It seems almost as though we had only slipped out of our skins, as the snakes do.

 

Review: When Will This Cruel War Be Over? by Barry Denenberg

When Will This Cruel War Be Over
Title:
 When Will This Cruel War Be Over?
Author:
 Barry Denenberg
Publication Date: November 1, 2003
Genre: Historical Fiction
Rating:4 Stars


The peaceful, traditional Southern life that Emma Simpson and her family know is shattered when the Civil War reaches their soil. Soon, Emma’s father and brother are called to battle, but her family is confident the South will quickly win the War between the States.

As the months drag on, though, the harsh realities of war set in. Death and hardship are all around Emma, and food, medicine, firewood, and ink for her to write in her diary become increasingly scarce as troops from the North march deeper into the South. Finally, even her home is commandeered by the Yankees.

Still, with a brave spirit and the knowledge of what is most important, Emma never loses hope that the war will end.


Review_

The Dear America books never fail to impress me! They were my favorite as a child and still are now, as I slowly read (and in most cases, reread) them as an adult.

The story opens the day before Christmas as Emma Simpson’s brother is deposited at her home in a coffin, his death the product of a wound and disease. That singular event sets the tone for the rest of the book as Emma struggles with profound loss after loss, the supposed sanctity of the south, and gradually realizing that life will never be the same. She feels the first stirrings of love, but wrestles with the concept of something pure and happy when so many lives – including her own – are in turmoil. Most of all, she rocks back and forth between melancholy and hope.

The Civil War is such an intricate topic, with so many different facets that Dear America could have featured 20 diaries from 20 girls with different vantage points to the war, but somehow this book surmised most of them. Emma is from the south, but in under two hundred pages we meet Southerners that are abusive and determined to keep slavery alive and others that are fighting for their homeland out of a sense of honor and responsibility. There are Yankees that loot and burn and terrorize, and others that help feed the people who have nothing left. Slaves that steal and rebel, and slaves that maintain the work they were doing before the war. Basically, I think this book was incredibly well balanced given the breadth of the topic. A lot of Dear America books act more like a snapshot and, let’s be real, deal with much less controversial topics. This one nailed it!

4 Stars

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Review: A Woman of War by Mandy Robotham

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Title: A Woman of War
Author:
 Mandy Robotham
Publication Date: December 7, 2018
Genre: Historical Fiction
Rating:4.5 Stars


Germany, 1944. Taken from the camps to serve the Führer himself, Anke Hoff is assigned as midwife to one of Hitler’s inner circle. If she refuses, her family will die.

Torn between her duty as a caregiver and her hatred for the Nazi regime, Anke is swept into a life unlike anything she’s ever known – and she discovers that many of those at the Berghof are just as trapped as she is. And soon, she’s falling for a man who will make her world more complicated still…

Before long, the couple is faced with an impossible choice – and the consequences could be deadly. Can their forbidden love survive the horrors of war? And, more importantly, will they?


Review_

*MINOR SPOILER AHEAD!*

A Woman of War is part historical fiction, part alternate history centered around a fascinating concept: what if Eva Braun had conceived a child with Hitler? Enter our main female character, Anke, a renowned midwife who was arrested for caring more about the children she was bringing into the world than the Nazi regime. She’s tasked with the impossible – bringing the child of the man who’s caused her and her beloved country so much heartache. 

As I read this book several things stuck out to me. First of all, I ADORE historical fiction and alternate history (although the alternate history I read is usually less nuanced, less delicate), especially when it’s set around WWII. There’s been a huge influx of WWII fiction lately – most of which centers around a strong female character – and while I’m not complaining, it is a bit easy for the stories to blend together in my head. A Woman of War made a mark because it tackled Anke’s life after the concentration camp rather than focusing on the horrors she faced while inside. The reader gets to see her pick up the pieces, strengthen herself, and move on. 

Second of all, the alternate history aspect of this was fantastic. The few alternate histories I’ve managed to read are far less subtle than this one. They involve magical elements or complete changes to regimes, countries, etc. A Woman of War focused on one simple thing. One tiny detail that, for all we know, could have happened! Mandy Robotham found a small ‘what if’ and wove a tale so believable that I found myself sinking into the story and forgetting that Eva Braun, as far as the world knows, never had a baby.

The last major thing that stuck out was the completely unashamed, accurate descriptions of childbirth. Mandy Robotham is a practicing midwife and paragraphs dedicated to bringing life into the world didn’t shy away or sugarcoat the act – think call the midwife, but a bit more graphic. That aspect of the book alone made it fascinating to read and, more importantly, contributed to the feeling that Hitler’s baby had actually come into the world. 

Anke was an intensely likable character and without giving anything away, I found her love interest a perfect match. The chemistry was a little rocky to me at first, but after they’d met a few times I was totally won over by the two of them. The supporting cast was all very well written in my opinion and I was thrilled to see that the SS officers weren’t over the top. It’s easy to turn a Nazi into a caricature, but that didn’t happen here.

I’ll be first in line to read anything else Mandy Robotham writes! 

4.5 Stars

ARC provided in exchange for an honest review