Tuesday, September 18, 2018

TTT: FALLing for Autumn Reads

It's been some time since I've participated in Top Ten Tuesday, my favorite weekly meme, but I couldn't resist this week's topic.  The seasonal TBR posts are the ones I look forward to most, so I couldn't miss out.  You shouldn't either.  Join in the fun by heading over to That Artsy Reader Girl to read a few guidelines then making and sharing a list of your own.  After that, all you have to do is hop around the book blogosphere and load up your TBR list with even more great recommendations.  It's a good time, I promise!

Here we go with the Top Ten Books on My Fall TBR List:

1.  A Spark of Light by Jodi Picoult (available October 2)—I'm a big Picoult fan and I'm excited to read her newest, even though it deals with a subject on which I have strong opinions: abortion.  The novel begins when a shooter walks through the doors of a women's reproductive health services clinic and goes from there.  Should be a compelling read that will no doubt be interesting and discussion-worthy.

2.  The Winters by Lisa Gabriele (available October 16)—This haunting thriller about a recently married woman whose posh new lifestyle is not all it appears to be sounds intriguing.

3.  Leave No Trace by Mindy Mejia (available now)—This novel, about a boy who's been raised in the Minnesota wilderness and the therapist who's trying to help him, sounds intriguing.

4.  Love Unscripted by Tiffany Odekirk (available now)—On the lighter side, this is the sophomore novel by a delightful author whom I've had the privilege to meet.  I enjoyed her debut, so I'm excited to see what Odekirk does with this romance about a woman who meets a Hollywood heartthrob in need of her help.

5.  Squint by Chad Morris and Shelly Brown (available October 2)—I loved Mustaches for Maddie, so I'm excited to read the duo's newest, Squint.  The middle grade book is about a young comic book artist who's frantically trying to finish a piece he wants to enter in a big competition before he completely loses his eyesight due to a damaged cornea.  He's bullied at school, but one girl reaches inside of herself to find the courage to get to know him ...

6.  The Winter Soldier by Daniel Mason (available now)—This historical novel, about a young medical student who enlists in WWI and finds himself trying to make a difference at a frozen, forgotten makeshift hospital in the Carpathian Mountains, sounds intriguing.

7.  The Tattooist of Auschwitz by Heather Morris (available now)—Another historical, this one is based on the true story of a captured Jew who is put to work tattooing numbers on the arms of his fellow prisoners. A love story and a survival story, it sounds excellent.

8.  Nine Perfect Strangers by Liane Moriarty (available November 6)—After loving several of Moriarty's novels, I found her last one to be a big flop.  I'm hoping Nine Perfect Strangers, a novel about a group of women stuck together at a resort that may be more damaging than healing, is as entertaining as some of her earlier books.

9.  Go To My Grave by Catriona McPherson (available October 23)—I love a mystery/thriller featuring an old house hiding juicy secrets.  This one, about a group that gathers at a bed and breakfast where something horrible happened years before, sounds like a perfect Fall read!

10.  The Glass Ocean by Beatriz WilliamsLauren Willig, and Karen White (available now)—This dual-timeline novel features a dramatic story set on the doomed ocean liner RMS Lusitania.  I'm in.

There you have it, ten of my most anticipated reads for Fall.  Do we have any in common?  What are you looking forward to reading in the months ahead?  I'd love to know.  Please leave a comment on this post and I will gladly return the favor.

Happy TTT!

Monday, September 17, 2018

Easy Copycat Recipes Bring Favorite Restaurant Dishes Home

(Image from Barnes & Noble)

I've long been a fan of Six Sisters' Stuff, a website that features family-friendly recipes, crafts, product reviews, and more.  Maintained by—you guessed it!—six sisters, the site offers a lot of great, free content.  Because I love SSS so much, I get especially excited every time they come out with a new cookbook.  I own most of these glossy, colorful treasure troves, and have enjoyed everything I've made from them.  No lie.  I've never made a SSS recipe that didn't turn out well.

Their newest offering, Copycat Cooking, just might be their best.  It contains over 100 recipes for popular dishes from restaurants like Cafe Rio, The Cheesecake Factory, Panera, and Applebee's (even Disneyland) that you can make at home, including many of my personal favorites.  With only a couple exceptions, the recipes require fewer than ten ingredients and don't take a whole lot of time to prepare.  With bright, mouth-watering photos and clear, easy instructions, Copycat Cooking makes it easy to enjoy the restaurant food you love without having to leave your house.

I don't like to review a cookbook without trying a recipe or two.  In this case, I couldn't resist—I picked three!  Actually, my kids chose them since my oldest daughter's favorite appetizer is Panda Express's cream cheese rangoons, my son's #1 fast food meal is orange chicken (also from Panda's) and my youngest can't get enough of the lava cake at Chili's.  Thus, our dinner/dessert menu was born.  Because my 9-year-old just could not wait to bake, we worked on dessert first.  Although the prep was a little messy (probably because said 9yo wanted as little supervision as possible), our lava cakes turned out divine.  My husband said they tasted just like the Chili's version.  I actually think they're better since they're smaller and not quite as rich.  Next, came the rangoons.  My 16-year-old Panda's lover made these herself.  Although the wrapping and frying was a little time-consuming, her rangoons turned out really well.  Again, we thought the copycat recipe better than the original since ours tasted more flavorful.  The orange chicken also took more time than I thought it would, but it came out well.  All of us thought Panda's was better, but we agreed that the SSS version was a fine substitute.  Like I said, I've never had a Six Sisters' Stuff recipe not turn out and these were no exception—even with kid cooks.  There are a bunch more scrumptious-looking dishes in Coycat Cooking I can't wait to try.

I'm not going to lie, most (perhaps all) of the recipes in Copycat Cooking are available for free on the Six Sisters' Stuff website.  However, this is a great cookbook to have in your kitchen or to give away as a gift (believe it or not, Christmas is coming up fast).  It's sturdy, fun to look through, and convenient to have on hand.  At around $20 (it's only $15.50 on Amazon right now), it's totally worth the buy.  I love it already!

(Readalikes:  Other Six Sisters' Stuff cookbooks, including Celebrate Every Season; Dinner Made Easy; A Year with Six Sisters' Stuff; Sweets & Treats; etc.)


If this were a movie, it would be rated:

To the FTC, with love:  I received a finished copy of Copycat Cooking from the generous folks at Shadow Mountain in exchange for an honest review as part of the book's blog tour.  Thank you!


Thursday, September 13, 2018

Engaging, Readable LDS Church History Book Free for All

(Image from Barnes & Noble)

In 1820, a time when religious fervor was sweeping the country, a young farm boy began to wonder.  All the churches in his small New York town claimed to be God's true church, but how could that be?  If they all preached different doctrine, which one was correct?  Directed by a promise in the Bible (see James 1:5), 14-year-old Joseph Smith knelt in a grove of trees and asked his Heavenly Father to help him know which church to join.  The answer changed Joseph's life.  

Young Joseph saw God the Father and Jesus Christ in a vision.  He was instructed by them to join none of the churches.  Instead, he was commanded to translate an ancient record called The Book of Mormon and organize a church based on its teachings, plus the revelations Joseph would continue to receive from God and Jesus.  As overwhelmed and inadequate as this modern-day prophet must have felt, Joseph nonetheless did as he was bid, knowing the Lord would provide a way for Joseph to accomplish everything that had been asked of him.  Despite constant persecution that ranged from name calling to libel to false imprisonment to physical violence and even to his eventual murder, Joseph never wavered in his faith.  To the end of his life, he did everything the Lord asked of him, even sealing his testimony with his own blood.  

Many people across the world were drawn to the infant church, receiving burning testimonies of the Gospel.  Making great personal sacrifices to gather and worship together, the early Saints persevered—through persecution, in-fighting among church leaders, financial crises, forced evacuations, mob violence, controversial revelations, doubt, a tribulation-laden trek to Utah, and much more—to prove their faith and willingness to let God direct their paths.  From those very humble beginnings grew a global church that today has more than 16 million members spread over dozens of different countries.  Like their forebears, modern Church members strive to walk in faith and righteousness, despite continuing persecution and everyday trials.

Whatever your opinion of Joseph Smith and The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, theirs is an incredible story.  Saints: The Standard of Truth is the first installment in a planned four-volume series about the Church's rich, intriguing history.  Purposely written in an easy-to-read narrative style, the series is geared toward readers of all ages, all backgrounds, and all degrees of familiarity with Church history/doctrine.  Despite its simple style, the book has been painstakingly researched to ensure accuracy.  As evidenced in this first installment, the series explores its subject with a forthright and refreshing honesty that has been somewhat lacking in previous histories.  In fact, The Standard of Truth discusses some of Mormonism's most troubling historical issues—polygamy, pride and power-mongering among Church leaders, Joseph Smith's treasure-hunting, criticism of the prophet, spiritual crises, etc.  Sharing personal, intimate stories of many of the Church's early leaders and followers, the book makes it clear that although the Saints were faithful people doing their best to obey God's will, they were filled with the same human frailties and weaknesses as are we all.  

Although the paperback version of The Standard of Truth weighs in at a hefty 586 pages, it's actually a fast, easy read.  It moves quickly and offers plenty of compelling stories, some of which will be very familiar to members of the Church, others of which will not (even to "lifers" like myself).  The book is available for free online (read it here or download it from Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Deseret Book, etc.).  The print version is chunky and a bit unwieldly, but it can be purchased for less than $8 at store.lds.org, BYU Bookstore, Deseret Book, and other retailers.  Whether you're a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints or not, now is the perfect time to learn more about its history.  You won't be disappointed in this very readable and informative volume.

For additional stories and information from Church history, check out https://history.lds.org/saints as well as the Saints podcast, which you can find here:

(Readalikes:  The Church has published other histories in the past, but I haven't read any of them.)


If this were a movie, it would be rated:

for brief, mild language and violence (including mention of rape)

To the FTC, with love:  I received a finished paperback copy of Saints: The Standard of Truth from the generous folks at The Church Historian's Press.  Thank you!

Tuesday, September 04, 2018

O.U.R. Founder Offers Hope, Action Against Human Trafficking Plague

(Image from Barnes & Noble)

Although slavery was officially abolished in the U.S. more than 150 years ago, human beings are still bought and sold here every day.  Thousands of these are children, trafficked to satisfy the perverted sexual proclivities of our fellow Americans.  Globally, around 20-30 million people (about 6 million of whom are kids) are enslaved, most forced into the commercial sex trade, a 150 billion dollar enterprise (34).  The numbers are astounding.  Against such a tsunami of evil, what can possibly be done?  How can I, a single person dog paddling against the overwhelming tide, help stop this ever-growing plague?

Timothy Ballard is one person who is making a difference.  A former special agent for the CIA and Department of Homeland Security, he founded Operation Underground Railroad (O.U.R.) in 2013.  Made up of other former operatives from government agencies and the military, the group's mission is to rescue and rehabilitate victims of human trafficking and bring the perpetrators of such crimes to justice.  O.U.R., Ballard assures, is not a vigilante group.  It works within the laws of the countries in which it operates and in cooperation with foreign governments to stop the plague of human trafficking.  With a number of successful rescue operation under its belt, O.U.R. is proving to be an unstoppable force in the fight against human trafficking.

In his new book, Slave Stealers, Ballard discusses the inspiration behind O.U.R. and how his organization uses lessons from the past to guide its day-to-day operations.  Although he talks about some of O.U.R.'s rescue missions, his focus remains mostly on the original Underground Railroad.  He discusses historical leaders and heroes, some of whom are well-known (Abraham Lincoln, Harriet Tubman, Frederick Douglass, etc.) and many whom are not (Harriet Jacobs, Levi Coffin, Robert Smalls, Cornelia Willis, etc.).  Despite the disturbing, overwhelming nature of his subject, Ballard emphasizes hope.  He insists that if good, ordinary citizens of all creeds, colors, and backgrounds can unite against the evil that is human trafficking, the plague can be eradicated.  Just like the battles of the past, this fight will require courage, cunning, compassion, and bold, well-planned action.  As has happened before, this war can be won.  

It's difficult not to feel bolstered by Ballard's optimism, especially considering the evil, heart-wrenching crimes he's seen with his own eyes.  His faith, his courage, and his positivity shine through everything he writes in this book.  While Slave Stealers is not overly graphic, its subject matter is as disturbing as it gets.  In spite of this, Ballard's tone is upbeat, making this volume an inspiring call-to-action that offers undeniable proof that when humans combine their individual sparks they can ignite a righteous bonfire that can spread light into even the darkest of corners.  As Ballard says to the children he seeks daily:  Your long night is coming to an end.  Hold on.  We are on our way.

(Readalikes:  Reminds me of other books about slavery and the Underground Railroad, although no titles come readily to mind.  You?)


If this were a movie, it would be rated:

for brief, mild language (no F-bombs), violence, disturbing subject matter, and references (not overly graphic) to rape, kidnapping, child abuse/neglect/abandonment, etc.

To the FTC, with love:  I received an ARC of Slave Stealers from the generous folks at Shadow Mountain in exchange for an honest review.  Thank you! 

Friday, August 24, 2018

Second Upstairs/Downstairs Mystery As Delightful As the First

(Image from Barnes & Noble)

Note:  While this review will not contain spoilers for Scandal Above Stairs, it may inadvertently reveal plot surprises from its predecessor, Death Below Stairs.  As always, I recommend reading books in a series in order.

Kat Holloway has earned herself a reputation as the best cook in London, but that's hardly her only claim to fame.  She's also become quite adept at sleuthing.  It's natural, then, for Lady Cynthia—an unconventional member of Kat's employers' household—to ask for help with a puzzling mystery.  Priceless paintings have gone missing from a baronet's home and his wife, Clementia Godfrey, stands accused of the theft.  Although Clemmie's desperate for money to pay off her gambling debts, Lady Cynthia knows her friend wouldn't stoop this low.  She begs Kat to help prove Clemmie's innocence.  

Artwork, Kat soon discovers, isn't the only thing being stolen in Mayfair.  To keep an eye on recent antiquity thefts, the always-enigmatic Daniel McAdams has stationed himself in a nearby pawnshop.  When a man is killed on the premises, Kat becomes concerned for her friend's safety.  She also needs his help, once again, because she's sure all the robberies are connected somehow.  With the help of Daniel's Greek friend, Mr. Thanos, Kat is positive they can discover the truth and clear Clemmie's name.  Even with her own neck on the line, London's best cook will not rest until she solves the case.  

It may not be the most original string of British detective stories, but nevertheless, Jennifer Ashley's Kat Holloway series is entertaining and fun.  I enjoyed the second installment, Scandal Above Stairs, just as much as the first.  With natural upstairs/downstairs tension, plus a lively mystery afoot, it tells an engaging story.  No-nonsense Kat is an understated, but alluring character, with a supporting cast that is no less intriguing.  Although the mystery at the heart of the novel isn't anything I haven't seen done a million times, I still didn't manage to guess whodunit.  All in all, then, I found Scandal Above Stairs to be a delightful, engrossing tale with plenty to keep me coming back for more.  I've thoroughly enjoyed this series so far and can't wait to see what comes next for the indomitable Kat Holloway.  


If this were a movie, it would be rated:

for brief, mild language (no F-bombs), violence, and vague references to sex and prostitution

To the FTC, with love:  I received an ARC of Scandal Above Stairs from the generous folks at Berkley (an imprint of Penguin Random House).  Thank you!

Wednesday, August 22, 2018

YA Zombie Western Satisfies On Every Level

(Image from Barnes & Noble)

Dusty and desolate, the mostly abandoned town of Glory, Texas, is little more than a pile of dirt in a vast, unforgiving desert.  It's a miracle anything survives in the rough, ugly settlement.  With "shakers"—mindless, cannibalistic zombies—haunting Glory's perimeter and greedy, heartless men-monsters ruling its interior, no one escapes Glory unscathed.  

Daisy "Willie" Wilcox lost her mother to the shaker disease last year, but the 17-year-old is determined not to let any harm come to her three younger siblings.  They might be penniless, but she's doing everything in her power to keep them sheltered and safe.  When a pair of violent shaker hunters accuses Willie's no-good, never-around father of stealing from them, Willie knows she has to take their threats against her family seriously.  She doesn't have $3 to give the men, let alone $300, but with a little help, she thinks she can track down her drunken dad.  After tricking a pair of more benign shaker hunters into accompanying her, she sets off on a desperate, perilous journey across the cruel, callous desert.  Willie will do anything, risk everything, to protect her siblings.  Even if it kills her—and it probably will—she'll fight to the death to save her family. 

As a desert dweller who's enjoyed a number of YA westerns in the past little while, I found everything about Devils Unto Dust—a debut novel by Emma Berquist—appealing.  From its gritty cover to its enthralling premise to its action-packed plot to its endearing characters, this is one of those books that just satisfies on every level.  True, it's not the most original zombie tale out there, but what it lacks in creativity it makes up for in solid writing, relatable characters, and an engrossing storyline.  Besides a little blood and gore, it's also a clean novel that has a lot of crossover appeal.  I thoroughly enjoyed Devils Unto Dust and can't wait until Berquist's new book (not a sequel) comes out next year.

(Readalikes:  Dread Nation by Justina Ireland)


If this were a movie, it would be rated:

for brief, mild language (no F-bombs), violence, blood/gore, and scenes of peril

To the FTC, with love:  I bought a copy of Devils Unto Dust from Amazon with a portion of the millions I make from my lucrative career as a book blogger. Ha ha.

Wednesday, August 15, 2018

Debut Novel Offers Poignant, Heart-Wrenching Look at 1800s Native American Assimilation

(Image from Barnes & Noble)

With her successful lawyer husband and posh Philadelphia home, Alma Mitchell appears to be just another sheltered, well-to-do society woman.  No one would guess she spent her childhood in the wilds of Wisconsin, mingling with the "savages" her father was attempting to tame at The Stover School for Indians.  As the only white child at the boarding school, Alma watched with fascination—and growing horror—as her brown-skinned classmates were stripped of their birth names, their native language, and their unique culture.  Forever changed by her experience in Wisconsin, Alma has buried the scars and secrets of her past in an effort to assimilate into a society that no longer feels like her own.  

Fifteen years after fleeing Wisconsin, Alma reads a shocking newspaper article that propels her right back into the past she's been trying so hard to forget.  An old friend from the Stover School, Asku "Harry" Muskrat, is being charged with the murder of a federal agent.  The smart, sweet boy Alma knew would never commit such an act.  Determined to right a past wrong, she begs her husband to represent Asku.  When the two confront the angry Native American, Alma is shocked by what she sees.  The boy could never have harmed anyone, but what about the man?  With Asku's life on the line, Alma will find the truth and free her old friend, even if it means reopening the wounds and heartaches of her past. 

Between Earth and Sky, a debut novel by Amanda Skenandore, offers a sharp, heart-wrenching look at the U.S. government's troubling efforts to assimilate Native Americans into "polite" society after the Indian Wars of the 1800s.  It's a fascinating subject, made even more intriguing through Senandore's use of lyrical prose, sympathetic characters, and a compelling (if a little slow) plot.  Although the novel is depressing, it's also affecting and eye-opening without being sentimental or preachy.  Overall, I enjoyed this thought-provoking book. 

(Readalikes:  Hm, I can't think of anything.  Can you?)


If this were a movie, it would be rated:

for brief, mild language; violence; and mild sexual content

To the FTC, with love:  Another library fine find

Thursday, August 09, 2018

New Bell Elkins Mystery Hits Me Right in the Feels

(Image from Barnes & Noble)

Note:  While this review will not contain spoilers for Bone on Bone, it may inadvertently reveal plot surprises from previous Bell Elkins mysteries.  As always, I recommend reading books in a series in order.

After insisting on serving a jail sentence for killing her abusive father, Belfa "Bell" Elkins has paid her debt to society but lost her job.  Although she's been fired and disbarred, Bell retains her loyalty to her "small, poor, done-in county" (34).  When a local banker is murdered, she can't help looking into the case.  With Rhonda Lovejoy—Bell's long-time friend and successor—and Jake Oakes—a former deputy sheriff who's reluctantly adjusting to life as a paraplegic—by her side, she's determined to figure out who killed Brett Topping.  As the usual suspects fall by the wayside, however, Bell will have to look uncomfortably close to home to find the murderer.  

While Bone On Bone (available August 21, 2018), the seventh installment in the Bell Elkins series by Julia Keller, isn't as unique as some of its predecessors, it's still a poignant, compelling novel full of everything I love about this series.  Keller excels at bringing Acker's Gap, a worn-out Appalachian town, to life in all its problems and pleasures.  While some of the Bell Elkins books rely more heavily on plot, Bone On Bone is definitely about the characters.  I always love our understated hero and it was fun to get to know her and her compadres even deeper.  Although the killer becomes fairly obvious in this one, the book's finale still caught me by surprise—and hit me right in the feels.  Now, I really can't wait to see where this series goes next!

(Readalikes:  Other books in the Bell Elkins series, including A Killing in the Hills; Bitter River; Summer of the Dead; A Haunting of the Bones [novella]; The Devil's Stepdaughter [novella]; Ghost Roll [novella]; Last Ragged Breath; Evening Street [novella]; Sorrow Road; and Fast Falls the Night)


If this were a movie, it would be rated:

for language, violence, depictions of illegal drug use, and disturbing subject matter

To the FTC, with love:  I received an ARC of Bone On Bone from the generous folks at Minotaur (a division of St. Martin's Press/Macmillan).  Thank you!

Tuesday, August 07, 2018

Fascinating New HERstory Book Brings Women's Civil War Contributions to Light

(Image from Barnes & Noble)

If you were asked to name women who made important contributions to the Civil War—on either side of the conflict—who would you list?  Clara Barton is the one who comes quickest to my mind, followed by Harriet Tubman.  After that ... um ... I got nothing.  Of all the thousands of women who served, sacrificed, and risked their lives to help with the war effort, it's natural that many of their names and deeds have been lost to time.  It's astounding, though, that certain women—all of whom performed unique, impressive, and courageous actions—are not household names.  

Perhaps that will change with the publication of Marianne Monson's newest book, Women of the Blue & Gray.  A follow-up to her Frontier Grit (2016), this volume features a wide cross-section of females who aided the war effort as spies, soldiers, scouts, nurses, doctors, abolitionists, cooks, political activists, reformers, revolutionaries, and more.  The women were wealthy, destitute, educated, illiterate, married, single, widows, mothers, childless, white, black, Native American, and so on.  What they have in common is incredible stories, most of which I hadn't heard before.  If you, like me, are not familiar with the many contributions made by women during the war, I urge you to pick up this book.  It makes for fascinating reading.

Although I found all of Women of the Blue & Gray engrossing, some sections interested me more than others.  I love that Monson includes "Further Reading" lists with every chapter.  That way, I can delve on my own into the subjects that interested me most (women disguising themselves as men to serve beside their husbands, brothers, and fathers for instance).  The book's concluding chapter, "Pathways to Peace" is an especially touching finale, discussing efforts made after the war
to promote forgiveness and looking forward instead of backward. 

As you can tell, I thoroughly enjoyed Women of the Blue & Gray.  It's interesting, engaging, touching, and inspiring.  I'm passing it on to my 16-year-old feminist daughter, who I know will be just as awed as I was by the incredible stories within its pages.

(Readalikes:  The chapters on women disguising themselves as men in order to fight in the Civil War remind me of I Shall Be Near to You by Erin Lindsay McCabe. I'm sure They Fought Like Demons: Women Soldiers in the Civil War by DeAnne Blanton and Lauren M. Cook is also similar, although I haven't read it yet.)


If this were a movie, it would be rated:

for violence and blood/gore

To the FTC, with love:  I received a finished copy of Women of the Blue & Gray from the generous folks at Shadow Mountain.  Thank you!

Tuesday, July 31, 2018

Christian Novel Surprisingly Raw, Authentic, and Moving

(Image from Barnes & Noble)

In a time of grief and heartache, an unlikely friendship provides strength and solace.

After leaving her son's grave behind in Montgomery, Alabama, Delilah Evans has little faith that moving to her husband's hometown in Pennsylvania will bring a fresh start.  Enveloped by grief and doubt, the last thing Delilah imagines is becoming friends with her reclusive Amish neighbor, Emma Mullet—yet the secrets that keep Emma isolated from her own community bond her to Delilah in delicate and unexpected ways.

Delilah's eldest daughter, Sparrow, bears the brunt of her mother's pain, never allowed for a moment to forget that she is responsible for her brother's death.  When tensions at home become unbearable for her, she seeks peace at Emma's house and becomes the daughter Emma has always wanted.  Sparrow, however, is hiding secrets of her own—secrets that could devastate them all.

With the white, black, and Amish communities of Sinking Creek at their most divided, there seems to be little hope for reconciliation.  But long-buried hurts have their way of surfacing, and Delilah and Emma find themselves facing their own self-deceptions.  Together they must learn how to face the future through the healing power of forgiveness.

Eminently relevant to the beauty and struggle in America today, The Solace of Water offers a glimpse into the turbulent 1950s and reminds us that friendship rises above religion, race, custom—and has the power to transform a broken heart.*

As you can probably surmise, The Solace of Water by Elizabeth Byler Younts tells a beautiful, touching story about the power of friendship, forgiveness, and faith.  Although technically a Christian novel, it's surprisingly raw.  There's no sap, no preachy-ness, just a gut-wrenching honesty that gives the story a refreshing authenticity you don't usually find in religious novels.  With an Amish background, Younts uses her inside knowledge to create Plain characters that come alive just as much as their non-Amish counterparts.  In fact, all her story people are complex and sympathetic, with struggles that are relatable and real.  Although this is a character-driven novel, Younts doesn't skimp on plot.  There's plenty going on in the story to keep the reader engrossed.  All of this, coupled with the author's vivid, engaging prose, combines to weave a lyrical, memorable tale about grief and grace, suffering and salvation, fear and faith.  I loved The Solace of Water and recommend it highly to anyone who's looking for a novel that's uplifting and hopeful while remaining honest and true. 

(Readalikes:  Hm, nothing is coming to mind.  You?)


If this were a movie, it would be rated:

for violence, blood/gore, and disturbing subject matter

To the FTC, with love:  I received a finished copy of The Solace of Water from the generous folks at Thomas Nelson via those at TLC Book Tours in exchange for an honest review.  Thank you!
*Plot summary from publisher


For more reviews of The Solace of Water, please follow along on the book's blog tour by clicking on the links below:

Monday, July 9th: @hollyslittlebookreviews
Tuesday, July 10th: What is That Book About – author Q&A
Wednesday, July 11th: Write Read Life
Thursday, July 12th: Jenn Blogs Books and @jennblogsbooks
Friday, July 13th: Books & Spoons
Monday, July 16th: @createexploreread
Tuesday, July 17th: The Book Diva’s Reads – author guest post
Wednesday, July 18th: Cheryl’s Book Nook
Thursday, July 19th: All of a Kind Mom
Monday, July 23rd: A Chick Who Reads
Tuesday, July 24th: Bookchickdi
Wednesday, July 25th: Splashes of Joy
Thursday, July 26th: The Christian Fiction Girl 
Friday, July 27th: Time 2 Read
Saturday, July 28th: Fiction Aficionado – author Q&A
Monday, July 30th: Broken Teepee
Tuesday, July 31st@girlandherbooks
Tuesday, July 31stBloggin’ ‘Bout Books
Wednesday, August 1stGirl Who Reads
Thursday, August 2nd@novelmombooks
Thursday, August 9thPatricia’s Wisdom
Friday, August 10thOpenly Bookish

Friday, July 27, 2018

In-Depth Examination of 1888 Tragedy Empathetic, Fascinating

(Image from Barnes & Noble)

"A safe and carefree childhood was a luxury the pioneer prairie could not afford" (269).

With scorching temperatures blazing across the world right now, it's hard to believe things will ever cool down.  It's even tougher to imagine that in just a few months people will be flooding social media sites with pictures of towering snow piles, foot-long icicles, and slick, impassable roads.  Just as the news is now reporting deaths due to the fiery heat, soon it will feature stories about people hurt and killed due to freezing winter weather.

The Children's Blizzard (2004) by David Laskin reminds readers of just how unpredictable and nasty winter weather can get.  Both fascinating and heartbreaking, the book revisits the blizzard that whipped across the American prairie in January of 1888, freezing hundreds of people and animals to death, some of them in just minutes.  Because the worst of the storm hit right at the time school released, many of its victims were small children who became lost in a blinding whiteout while trying to find their way home.  

Laskin describes in heart-wrenching detail how the epic blizzard was a "perfect" storm of erratic weather patterns, under-educated forecasters, and unprepared pioneers.  He talks about the settling of the prairie by immigrants lured to the area by fanciful promises that glossed over the harsh realities of living on the unforgiving prairie.  Many pioneers, for instance, froze to death inside their homes simply because of lack of fuel, little food, and structures that weren't equal to the task of keeping the deathly chill at bay. 

Thoroughly researched and well-written, The Children's Blizzard makes for engrossing (albeit horrifying) reading.  It offers an empathetic, in-depth examination of the titular event, which is made even more personal by true stories of the people who lived through the blizzard, suffering the kind of shock, injury, and loss that can never be forgotten.  It's a gripping volume, which I recommend highly to anyone who's interested in reading about wild weather and our shocking vulnerability in the face of its immense, awe-inspiring power.

(Readalikes:  Although I haven't read any other books about The Children's Blizzard, I've heard good things about I Survived the Children's Blizzard, 1888 by Lauren Tarshis.  I'm also reminded of other books about weather-related tragedies, including The Perfect Storm by Sebastian Junger.)


If this were a movie, it would be rated:

for brief, mild language (no F-bombs), blood/gore, and disturbing subject matter 

To the FTC, with love:  Another library fine find

Thursday, July 19, 2018

If You Find Me Haunting, Heartbreaking, and Hopeful

(Image from Barnes & Noble)

Hidden deep in a Tennessee national forest, 14-year-old Carey Blackburn and her younger sister live in a rotting camper with no electricity, no running water, and little supervision.  A bi-polar drug addict, their mother flits in and out of the girls' lives.  Her frequent absences are nothing new, but this time, she's been gone longer than ever before.  With almost no food in the camper, Carey is starting to panic.  How will she keep Nessa fed, let alone safe from all the dangers that surround them in the dense, isolated woods? 

When two strangers show up at the camper, Carey grows even more alarmed.  One of them is her father, but that doesn't mean she can trust him or his social worker companion.  Despite her misgivings, Carey is forced to leave the only home she's ever known.  Thrown into a world full of unfamiliar people and mind-boggling middle-class comforts, she's lonely, confused, and way out of her element.  As she tries to make her way in her strange, new present Carey must also come to grips with some shocking truths about her past.  Including the one she holds deep, deep inside her troubled soul.

As you can tell from the intense jacket art, If You Find Me by Emily Murdoch is not a light read.  Not by a long shot.  In fact, it's a haunting, heartbreaking novel that's achingly raw and emotionally wrenching.  It's also a lyrical, hopeful book about family, fortitude, and forging bravely ahead despite past hurts.  Sharp, but nuanced, If You Find Me tells a powerful story that will stay with the reader long after the book is finished.  

(Readalikes:  Hm, I can't think of anything.  Can you?)


If this were a movie, it would be rated:

for language (a few F-bombs, plus milder expletives), sexual content, violence, depictions of underage drinking/partying, and disturbing subject matter

To the FTC, with love:  Another library fine find
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