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Book Review: To Be Where You Are – The Latest Book in the Mitford Series

To Be Where You Are

By Jan Karon

DISCLOSURE OF MATERIAL CONNECTION: I have a material connection because I received a review copy for free from Netgalley and Penguin First to Read in exchange for a fair and honest review.

Mitford is a small town tucked into the Blue Ridge Mountains. The locals know everyone and everything that goes on in the town. Information spreads faster than the cool mountain breeze of autumn when something good or bad happens to any of the inhabitants.

Like any small town, there are interesting stories of citizens that have been there for generations. They are kind to the new residents, whom they welcome with open arms. Karon shares many of them with her readers.

To Be Where You Are chronicles the lives of several of the families and individuals living in Mitford. One of them is an adorable little girl named Grace Murphy. She is writing and illustrating a book. Not an easy thing for a little girl who is six, but almost seven.

The local vet, Dooley Kavanagh and his wife Lace are up to their eyeballs in happiness and troubles. Like most young couples they are devoted to each other and have less money and time to relax than older couples often do. But they are happy, especially now that they are parents. Lace cannot have children of her own, but they are adopting a four year old boy who needs parents more than anything. Jack will be the son they have prayed for and Dooley and Lace are happier than they ever imagined with him in their lives.

There is a grumpy old man, Avis, who owns the local store. He is gruff on the outside but does everything that he can to help the local farmers. He does this quietly and gracefully, most people not knowing of his good deeds.

Karon writes spiritual books, To Be Where You Are does not deviate from the writing path she has chosen. She also writes books about real people, in real situations that most of us can identify with. That is one of the charming aspects of this series. There are no less than three priests in this book. One is retired, one is currently serving the parish and one has just felt the calling from God to become a man of the cloth. My favorite was the retired one, he seemed to do more work than the other two combined. His on the spot marriage counseling was spot on.

There is more than a smattering of animals that play a big part in the cast of characters. How can you not love a huge bull named Choo Choo? Several dogs and a few cats were additional bright spots I enjoyed.

This was an interesting book. It jumps from character to character, so the first few chapters were a bit confusing for me. Just as I was getting to know a character and situation, they would not show up for several chapters. The names were difficult to remember because the character list is so long. While by the end I had them figured out, the middle was muddled because I had to go back to see who was who.

I loved the ending. It wrapped up all of the story lines with satisfying endings. I anticipated the big surprise (which I will not reveal here – you will have to read the book!) it was not unexpected, but made me happy nonetheless.

I recommend this book to anyone that likes spiritual fiction as well as books that have a large cast of characters. It is heartwarming and charming.

Karon is a best-selling author of many books, including the Mitford Series. This is the fourteenth book in series, highlighting the third generation of Kavanaghs. It is the first one I have read, but I didn’t feel as there were any backstories that I didn’t know. It worked well as a standalone book.

 

Copyright © 2017 Laura Hartman

 

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Book Review: The Best Kind of People – Add to your list now!!

The Best Kind of People

By Zoe Whittall

DISCLOSURE OF MATERIAL CONNECTION: I have a material connection because I received a review copy for free from Netgalley and the publisher in exchange for a fair and honest review.

Sadie, a senior in high school, is on the fast track to the college of her choice and has a boyfriend that she adores. Her life has not been perfect, but the trauma of a childhood event that could have ended in her life is now a memory, like a bad dream. But it really happened, and her father became the hero, saving her life and undoubtedly many others in the process.

She has a great family. Her mom, Joan, is an ER nurse. Her dad, George, is a beloved teacher at the school she attends. Her brother, Andrew, is older, has moved away from their hometown and is in the process of finding happiness away from the ghosts of his past. Unfortunately, the entire family’s almost perfect life is about to come unraveled at the seams.

George and Joan Woodbury have a nice home in a gated community. Unfortunately, the fences are not high enough to keep the lions from the gates once George is arrested. He tells his wife there is a group of girls lying about him. They say he sexually assaulted them on a field trip. When the police unexpectedly arrive at their doorstep, handcuff George and execute a search warrant on their home, his family is devastated. He assures them it is only a formality and he will be home as soon as his lawyer clears up this misunderstanding. Unfortunately for George, he is seen as a flight risk due to his family’s money and bail is denied.

Joan is trying hard to hold things together. The press won’t leave them alone and almost all of her friends have abandoned her. Her sister is there to support her and her son Andrew is coming back on weekends to do what he can. But sometimes you need someone you are not related to in order to share what you are thinking and how you really feel. So even before the trial, she decides she needs to go to a support group for families of people who commit crimes like those George has been accused of.

Sadie can’t go to school because of the comments, stares and numbness inside of her. All of the sudden her life is no longer what she ever imagined and honestly is having trouble coping. Is her father guilty? Are the girls lying or telling the truth? Either way, will her family survive intact?

This novel is so real it is frightening. Sometimes monsters are ordinary people living ordinary lives. Lies are told, crimes are committed and they could be the next door neighbor that you invite over for a BBQ – until their secrets are exposed. Whittall’s characters come alive on the pages through little things that made them seem like people you work with, live by or live with. Conversations subtly demonstrated the growth and pain of each, drawing the reader into their thoughts and confusion.

This is the first novel I have read my Zoe .53Whittall; it will not be my last. She is the author of Bottle Rocket Hearts and Holding Still for as Long as Possible. It is no surprise that Ms. Whittall is a national bestselling author in Canada or that The Best Kind of People was a finalist for the 2016 Giller Prize. If you are a fan of Jodi Picoult – you will love The Best Kind of People.

Copyright © 2017 Laura Hartman

 

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Book Review: Two Nights – Page Turning Gem


Two Nights

By Kathy Reichs

DISCLOSURE OF MATERIAL CONNECTION: I have a material connection because I received a review copy for free from Netgalley and the publisher.

Sunday Night just wants to be left alone. Recluse by choice, she prefers Bob the squirrel to most humans she encounters. So when she is asked to find a missing girl who is most likely dead, she is hesitant to say the least. It takes some convincing, but something about Stella, the missing teen seems to be calling her.

Night intuitively believes Stella is still alive. She worries that the kidnappers are going to kill her or do irreparable damage if someone doesn’t find her soon. Unfortunately, that would mean she would have to take the case. Stella’s grandmother is willing to pay her a boatload of cash to find the kidnappers. Grandma isn’t the snuggly type. She is the rich, entitled crusty old woman who wants revenge for her daughter and grandson’s murders that happened when Stella was abducted. It is assumed they are the same people holding the teen.

Against her better judgement, Night takes the case, in part due to a dark time in her past. Once she is on the hunt, she will stop at nothing until she finds the girl. The fact the abductors will pull out all stops to keep Night from stopping them doesn’t sway her from her mission. Working outside of the law she is in a race against time to find the group of people that have Stella and may be planning something much bigger. If they have their way hundreds, possibly thousands of people will die.

Reichs pulls the reader into the story immediately. Done in first person, the reader knows everything that Sunday Night is thinking. Her stream of thoughts gives you the feel of who she is immediately. Not always a likeable person, Night really tries to respond how she should when someone annoys her, not how she wants to. While this novel is not a comedy, I smiled and chuckled more than once over Night’s unfiltered thoughts.

In addition to unforgettable characters, the places they travel to and visit are described so vividly you are right there with the characters. I especially loved it when they were in Chicago. I recognized exactly where Night was because I have been there many times. Reichs paints the landscape with her words, such as “…hatted heads like dots in a Seurat landscape” and “…a barrier of scraggly crepe myrtles doing their best”. The reader immediately has the scene the characters moving through in their minds.

Kathy Reichs is an amazing story teller. It is no surprise that she has been winning awards for her books since the first one she penned in 1997.  Two Nights is a stand-alone novel but I selfishly want to read more books with Sunday Night as the main character. I hope Ms. Night is still whispering in Ms. Reichs’ ear so another novel featuring her will be coming soon.  I read this book in just over 24 hours because I could not put it down.

 

Copyright © 2017 Laura Hartman

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Book Review: Armstrong & Charlie – Great Middle Grade Novel

Armstrong & Charlie

By Steven B. Frank

DISCLOSURE OF MATERIAL CONNECTION: I have a material connection because I received a review copy for free from Netgalley and the publisher.

Armstrong and Charlie are sixth graders this year. Both of them have reservations about the coming school year for very different reasons.

Armstrong is going to be bussed to a new school that is much better than the one in his neighborhood, so he will be leaving all of his friends. Everyone knows that friends are very important, and Armstrong is worried he won’t fit it.

Charlie will be losing some of his friends. Their parents aren’t as excepting as Charlie’s are about integrating his school. He also has a deeper problem. His brother died not too long ago and once he completes sixth grade, Charlie will be older than his brother ever was.

The school year starts out rocky, but soon the boys begin an awkward kind of friendship. It is shaky at best, and they don’t see each other out of school because Armstrong lives so far away.

Charlie’s mom and dad are not the same as before. The death of his brother has changed their family dynamic. Armstrong has a bustling family that includes four sisters and his parents. His mom is a nurse and his father was injured in the military.

The boy’s personal lives do not mingle – until a weekend trip with their class. The question is – will the boys grow closer or will they make choices that will cause their differences to explode?

This is a great book for kids in middle school. It is a time of changes and sometimes they feel like they are the only ones feeling left out or different. Armstrong & Charlie shows them they are like other kids their age.

I really like where this book ended up. At first it seemed a bit cliché with the racial issue of the white family being from the “better” area of town and the black family being from the “worse” side of town. For a few chapters I almost wished it had been flipped, with Charlie being bussed.

But as the story unfolds, the author squashes all of my doubts. It is an interesting plot with enough surprises to keep me turning the pages to see what happens next. The choices the boys make have consequences, both good and bad. The author isn’t afraid to let the reader know what could and does happen as the boys grow up during the school year.

I highly recommend this book.

Copyright © 2017 Laura Hartman

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Book Review: Every Trick in the Rook (A Birds of a Feather Mystery)

every-trick-in-the-rookEvery Trick in the Rook

A Birds of a Feather Mystery

By Marty Wingate

DISCLOSURE OF MATERIAL CONNECTION: I have a material connection because I received a review copy for free from the publisher in connection with NetGalley in return for my review. Copyright © 2017 Laura Hartman

Julia Lanchester is juggling work and her personal life just like many of us do. She is excited to get away from the tourist bureau for a weekend with her boyfriend Michael. Things have been busy for her, planning events in and around the Fotheringill estate, the most popular place to visit in the village.

She and Michael head out and disconnect from everything for a wonderful few days. They spot unusual birds and enjoy each other until the hotel notifies her of an urgent phone call

The news opens the cage on crazy – turning a relaxing weekend into an abrupt return to reality. Julia’s ex-husband has been found murdered. Even worse, he was on the Fotheringill property. Why has he returned to a place he didn’t like from the isolated island he retreated to when they divorced?

The local constable has questions for Michael and Julia, surely they are not suspects! They are questioned and released, but Julia is warned to keep her nose out of the investigation. She has good intentions, but just can’t seem to let the questions about her ex-husband’s arrival and murder go. Will this put her in the crosshairs of the killer?

Wingate spins a great cozy mystery. It has all the elements that keep loyal cozy readers interested and turning pages. This series is exceedingly interesting to nature and bird lovers. One of my favorite characters is avian – a super smart rook named Alfie. He flies in and out of the plot at the most interesting times. The little girl he lives with is also very interesting. Her name, Tennyson, is as complex and fascinating as the child. I hope both of them show up in later books.

This is the third book in The Birds of a Feather Mystery series. It works perfectly well as a stand-alone mystery as I have not read the previous two books in the series. I did read one of Wingate’s Potting Shed Mysteries and thoroughly enjoyed it. If you are a fan of cozy mysteries or mysteries in general, I highly recommend checking out one or both of Marty Wingate’s series. I am willing to bet you will come back for more.

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Book Review: Die For You – Fabulously Complex YA Novel

die-for-youDie For You

By Amy Fellner Dominy

DISCLOSURE OF MATERIAL CONNECTION: I have a material connection because I received a review copy for free from Netgalley and the publisher.

Teenagers fall in and out of love daily. But the love Dillon and Emma have is more than puppy love. They have a real connection, bound together with deep emotion and a short, but encompassing past.

Emma met Dillon when she moved in with her father after her parents split. It was her choice to leave her friends, high school just before senior year and start over in a new place. It was rough for her and meeting Dillon helped fill the emptiness she felt after making one of the hardest choices of her young life.

Emma helped Dillon fight some demons he was struggling with. This made her feel needed and loved. They planned a future together after senior year. Both had been accepted to the same college and were planning to spend the next four years and the rest of their lives together. They knew their young love would withstand the test of time and both of them wanted to be together forever.

But when Emma unexpectedly receives the most unbelievable opportunity for an internship in Rome for the next year, she knew she had to try for it. Her life dream of becoming an archeologist like her father made studying in the ancient city a dream come true. She felt sure that Dillon would support her dream, after all, it was only a year apart and they could phone, skype and text to keep in touch almost as if they were together.

But Dillon had other ideas. At what lengths would he go to make sure Emma stayed with him forever? She was about to find out.

I loved this YA book. It was a love story, a coming of age story that had elements of suspense, mystery and family issues. The complexity of the characters and story evolution made Die For You a great book for YA audiences as well as adults. It was well written, with realistic conversations and situations. Once I started reading it, I could not put it down.

Per her website, Amy Fellner Dominy is “…a former advertising copywriter, MFA playwright and hula-hoop champion.”  You have to love an author with a hula-hoop championship under her belt! She is an award winning YA and youth writer, with a picture book coming out soon. Die For You is her fifth novel, I am looking forward to reading the previous four as well as her picture book.

Copyright © 2016 Laura Hartman

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Book Review: Irena’s Children, Young Readers Edition – True Story of Courage

irenas-childrenIrena’s Children

Young Readers Edition

By Tilar J. Mazzeo

Adapted by Mary Cronk Farrell

DISCLOSURE OF MATERIAL CONNECTION: I have a material connection because I received a review copy for free from Netgalley and the publisher.

Tilar J. Mazzeo tells the true story of Irena Sendler. A woman who risked everything to save Jewish children she didn’t even know from the brutality of the Nazi’s in Poland during WWII. The things she saw happening around her frightened her, but she also became angry. She joined others in secret meetings that grew into a network of brave people that helped save hundreds of infants and children from certain death.

The brutalities and atrocities of the Nazi invasion of Poland have been widely documented. This book takes the reader into the burning buildings, the disease infested ghettos and in the brutal prisons of Poland. Irena and her group of brave, everyday heroes suffered greatly for their acts. Some lost their lives, some were arrested and tortured and others lost everything they had, but all of them worked tirelessly to save just one more child every moment of every day.

Through it all, Irena encouraged, helped and understood when others didn’t have the energy to go on. She kept lists of the children so that one day they could possibly be reunited with their families. If that wasn’t possible at least they would know their names and Jewish heritage and the love and sacrifice of the families that hid them and raised them as their own.

Irena lived through all of the danger, uncertainty and brutality she suffered to be reunited with some of “her children” in the 1980’s. She died peacefully in 2008 at the age of 98. Countless survived because of Irena and the network of others devoted to Irena’s children no matter what the cost.

This book was an amazing story of triumph over one of the worst things that happened in world history. It is told in story form with information from archives, historical sources, Tilar Mazzeo’s personal knowledge, personal interviews, historical photos (many included), maps, books and Mazzeo’s original book.

I absolutely enjoyed this book from the standpoint of history, WWII and the courage of people bringing hope to the youngest members of a nation in situations that seemed hopeless. It is not easy to read about the torture, pain and death of the group of innocent people. But not reading about it doesn’t make it go away. It is a painful part of history that needs never to be forgotten.

This is the young reader edition, based upon Mazzeo’s original book, and has been adapted by Mary Cronk Farrell. There is no way to “tone down” the events discussed in the book. The language may be an easier form for young readers, but it is still about a time a group of people were singled out and methodically murdered, maimed and tortured just because they were Jewish. It was a scary and difficult time for adults and children alike.

If they are interested in history, I would highly recommend Irena’s Children. They may have questions that would require further discussion. Adults should read this also. While it is the story of undeniable horrors, it is the story of hope and the triumph of human spirit that encourages all of us to help one another and to make the world a better place no matter who we are or where we live. Everyone can help in his or her way.

Copyright © 2016 Laura Hartman

 

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