Sunday, April 10, 2016

The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah

"You girls will be part of the generation that goes on, that remembers," he said. "The memories of what happened will be...hard to forget. You will need to stay together."

It is 1939 in France. Isabelle is 19 and desperately seeking a sense of belonging. Rejected from school after school, Isabelle is finally sent off to stay with her sister in the country. She is barely on the road when the bombs begin to drop. Headstrong Isabelle refuses to stand by quietly as the Nazis swiftly flex their presence in France. She begins by slowly, distributing papers for the French resistance. She moves quickly through the ranks and soon becomes the Nightingale.

The Nightingale crosses the Pyrenees mountains between France and Spain cloaked in darkness, with downed airmen following the intricate path the underground movement has constructed for them. She is risking her life, but then again, how could one stand by and watch all of Europe crumble. She heeds no warning given to her. She treks back and forth on a vicious path to prove her own worth. She can't stop or slow down; a dangerous mission in a dangerous time and place. Under a false identity, she travels to and from Paris, deceiving those after her at every turn. Her lie is that of the good kind.

Vianne, Isabelle's older sister, stands by quietly as the Nazis take her town. She hopes that this will all be over soon and her husband Antoine will be home. But soon she realizes that these hopes are merely day dreams. They will be no such reality anytime soon. After her friend is "rounded up" in the raids, Dianne finds herself with another child in her home and soon she too is telling the good lie. Together with the local orphanage, she begins to hide children in plain sight.

These women face great challenges in their lives during the war. Isabelle pushes defiantly against the Nazis, tempting fate at every turn, while Vianne quietly forges her own battle from her home.

Both sisters seek survival in the most trying of times. Their lies rescue so many.

This is not an easy read; it is heartbreaking at every turn. But is important. Hannah does not sugarcoat the events and actions of this war. She boldly tackles the questions of right and wrong. She reminds us that war changes everything and everyone.

Sunday, February 7, 2016

Firefly Lane by Kristin Hannah

One day Tully Hart walks down Firefly Lane and into young Kate's life and nothing will ever be the same.

Tully and Kate become fast-friends, Tully quickly becoming a part of Kate's loving, stable family. Tully herself has struggled with a far-out mother, Cloud, who could never be the parent Tully so desperately wanted. Kate's family provides the love and support Tully has longed for her whole life.

Kate and Tully conquer their teenage years together in the Pacific Northwest, and head on to college together at U of Washington. As their lives continue to unfold, Tully clings to the need to be adored, and Kate provides the stability, friendship, and family Tully long for. Tully pushes Kate out of her comfort zone, helps her to grow into her own person, and always treats her as a sister.

But sometimes those who so desperately crave and need to be the center of attention can suck the life out of those around them. While Tully's public persona grows, her personal life remains stagnant. She still craves the affection and attention of the mother she never had. While she tries to be a friend to Kate, being a girl with no real family makes it hard to watch her best growing hers. For Kate, Tully is the focal point, the beautiful center of attention that Kate could never quite capture; she falls into her shadow at every passing by. Tully showers Kate and her family with gifts and tries to maintain her place in their lives, but slowly Kate begins to pull away. Are the years of friendship draining her? Or is there something more going on in Kate's life? Can a friendship really stretch through all of eternity,?

Several life-changing, heartbreaking events will pepper the last pages of this story and leave the reader left with the heart wrenching realization of what a life of friendship truly means.

Along the Infinite Sea by Beatriz Williams

Nineteen-year-old Annabelle comes across a fallen man on her walk along the cliffs of her seaside home one night. It only takes the next ten days to begin the epic love story of a first love set amidst the backdrop of 1930's Europe.

Stefan is a rich Jewish man from Germany hiding out in Monte Carlo; a dangerous thing to be in 1930. Struck by love, he returns to Germany to settle some affairs and swears he will return for Annabelle. But in his absence, Annabelle learns a devastating secret about him.

Heartbroken, she returns to Paris.

There to pick up the pieces is widowed high-ranking German soldier Johann.

The lines between right and wrong are quickly blurring before her eyes.

Soon she discovers that neither are quite what they seem, and she will be faced with making the most difficult of choices.

Annabelle's story will intensify over the next several years, intertwined with the story of her later life in the 1960's in Cocoa Beach, Florida. She'll be torn between these two men and the choices they'll make. But one important part is missing: though we hear reference to her husband and hints along the way, there is not clear picture of the man she ends up with until the very, very end.

This story renews hope that it's never too late to make the right choice, and that some are bound to their fate no matter how they fight against it.

Saturday, January 9, 2016

The Pioneer Woman: Black Heels to Tractor Wheels by Ree Drummond

Before the days of the Food Network and Pioneer Woman Cooks, there was a college grad on a pit-stop to her hometown in Oklahoma who met a handsome cowboy. And the rest is an entertaining, lighthearted account of how love hits you smack-dab in the face when you least expect it.

Ree Drummond returns home from USC to temporarily get her life together before she departs for Chicago. Leaving behind her California-cool boyfriend, she's ready to start her life fresh closer to her midwestern home.

Then one night, from across the bar, she spots him. While they have a brief conversation that night in the smoky bar, his smile lingers on her mind long past that night. For months she thinks about him, and then one night the phone rings and on the other end is the deep voice of Marlboro Man.

This homegrown-country boy in his Wrangler jeans and cowboy boots is about to knock her off her straight off of her high-heeled feet.

Thus follows the kind of courtship that all wanna-be cowgirls dream of; long rides in the passenger seat of a pick-up truck, watching old westerns on the couch, working the ranch, and learning the lay of the land side-by-side.

Soon Chicago is out the window and cows are moo-ing in the yard. Ree is swept off her feet and infatuated with this "Marlboro Man." It's a lesson in opposites attract and in love conquering all.

Their whirlwind romance is a bit exaggerated (or is that the cold New Englander in me?), but it is a light and fun romance novel sans Fabio gracing the cover. While the story takes small twists and turns, it is,  at it's core, a hopeful type of romances that warms up a frigid winter day.

The only thing that seems to be missing is how she got famous, or really, how she learned to cook (there's not much evidence of successful meal-making in her courtship). But then again, I am sure that's a story for another time.

Sunday, November 29, 2015

East of the Sun by Julia Gregson

"Look well to this day,
For it is life.
In its brief course lies all the realities of existence.
For yesterday is but a memory and tomorrow is only a vision."

East of the Sun is the story of three British women traveling to India in 1928, a time when unrest with the British had begun to transform the streets of Bombay and the teachings of Ghandi began to take hold.

India boasts different dreams for each of these ladies. Traditionally, the young women traveling to India during this time were known as the "Fishing Fleet." These British women were sent to India in the hopes of landing a British husband in India as an officer, a soldier, or a businessman.

Tradition would hope that during the fall to winter season, these women would attend parties and other social gatherings, and would marry the first eligible bachelor they find. But these three women will take different paths and break tradition.

The journey on the ship is a story in and of itself, but proves to be only the beginning of their adventure.

Rose is betrothed to a British soldier she has met four times at home. Though Tor is determined to finally find herself a husband, as she tags along as Rose's maid of honor, she is constantly reminded by her mother of all the things she does wrong. And Viva is venturing off to recover a precious trunk of belongings on behalf of her deceased parents, with no interest in meeting a husband along the way.

Viva has agreed to chaperone young, troubled Guy. Kicked out of boarding school, trouble follows Guy wherever he goes. Throughout the story he will prove time and time again to be both a connector and a catalyst towards difficult times.

Upon their arrival in Bombay, the girls separate to carry out each of their individual plans.

Young Rose finds herself struggling with the duties of a soldier's wife. She quickly discovers that she may not be Jack's true love, and finds herself doing everything wrong.

Tor falls into the lavish, colorful crowd of Bombay. She is the only one with a ticket home, and her time is limited. Desperate to finally prove her mother wrong, she throws herself at men only to be hurt over and over again. To her, returning to England is accepting failure; accepting that her mother is right about her. She has refused to let this happen.

Viva's story is the most compelling as she struggles to find a life of her own in a world that only wants her to find a husband. She begins to work at a children's home and to write the stories of the orphaned Indian street children she encounters. But Guy continues to haunt any chance of moving that she encounters.

The stories intersect, and collide, as the women live their lives over the course of the winter, joining their lives apart with trips together. This is a story of three women finding their way in the world, combined with the beauty and sorrow of living in a foreign land. Their bond with one another will keep them going through the challenges they encounter, and no one's path will be as expected.

I found this book among the shelves of the library, several copies side-by-side as it was recommended as "book club" read. Drawn in by an unfamiliar story in a new setting, this historical fiction proved to be a fascinating, engrossing read. Stretching across almost 600 pages, it is not a fast read. But it is worth the perseverance, as it is full of adventure, knowledge, and the bond of friendship and love.

Monday, October 26, 2015

My Father's Dragon Trilogy by Ruth Stiles Gannet

My Father's Dragon, Elmer and the Dragon, The Dragons of Blueland

One night a small orange cat appears on Elmer Elevator's doorstep and tells him a fantastic story. Far away on the island of Tangerina, a young dragon is being held captive. The cat is back for help, wanting to rescue the dragon. Elmer packs his bag with bubblegum, clementines, rope, and other trinkets and sets off in the night from his city home.

Elmer journeys in a  burlap sack aboard a ship to his destination, but that is only where the adventure begins. The dragon is is closely guarded, and Elmer will meet an array of characters along his trip. He will creatively defy them with humorous maneuvers as he makes his to the his new friend.

His adventures will span the length of three stories, easily read and enjoyed with illustrations to accompany them. This is by far my favorite series to read aloud. From first grade to adult-hood, these books are magically fun and creative.

In the Unlikely Event by Judy Blume

During the 1950's a small New Jersey town is rocked by a series of tragic events. This book chronicles that heart-wrenching time and those left behind to pick up the pieces. Each time hope claims to rear its little head in this town, another fiery crash occurs. Beyond the crash, the town itself begins to fall apart. How can they stop this? Should the airport be closed? Will moving away erase the trauma?

Not necessarily uplifting, this story describes the a town ravaged by tragedy and the impact on the lives of its inhabitants. Based on true events, Blume stays true to reality and weaves fictional characters into the events. Judy Blume is a talented writer, but steer clear if you already have a fear of flying, this will not help! If you aren't faint of heart, the book is an captivating journey through one random year of tragedy and the perspectives of many.