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.