Friday, May 27, 2016

Kick Kennedy : The Charmed Life and Tragic Death of the Favorite Kennedy Daughter - Book Review

Kick Kennedy was her father's favorite. Vivacious and funny, she had already dazzled her brothers' friends in America, when she moved with her father on his assignment as ambassador in England. Unlike any girl they had met, Kick soon wowed the London set of "The Cousinhood" and found herself quickly included in all their fun and romances.

Enchanting and ambitious, Kick led a life of luxury and wealth but was after influence and power. Following her life from her love affair with England and its men, through the war and finally her tragic death, Kick Kennedy by Barbara Leaming was a quick and enjoyable read.

I haven't read biographies on the Kennedy clan in the past. My sole information has come from People Magazine that I occasionally read in my mother-in-law's bathroom. (Seriously, it's a choice between People and the Ensign and I get the Ensign at home.) Anyway, the biography on Kick sounded intriguing and I wasn't terribly disappointed.

The book doesn't share much about the Kennedy family. It starts telling Kick's story at about the time she is spreading her wings and looking for her own identity (unless she needs her father's help and then she's totally willing to go running to him). More than Kick's personal story, I enjoyed reading about those years leading up to World War II and the influences the politics and war had on the young gentry classes.

Leaming is a good writer. Her prose flows easily and and before I knew it, I'd read a hundred pages. After reading it, I'm not any more interested in the Kennedy's but I found her Kick's story very entertaining.

Kick Kennedy : The Charmed Life and Tragic Death of the Favorite Kennedy Daughter by Barbara Leaming was published by Thomas Dunne Books and released in April 2016.

**I received a complimentary copy of the book. All opinions are my own. No compensation was received.**

Thursday, May 26, 2016

The Railwayman's Wife - Book Review

The Railwayman's Wife
By Ashely Hay

From the cover :

In 1948, in the strange, silent aftermath of war, in a town overlooking the vast, blue ocean, Anikka Lachlan has all she ever wanted—until a random act transforms her into another postwar widow, destined to raise her daughter on her own. Awash in grief, she looks for answers in the pages of her favorite books and tries to learn the most difficult lesson of all: how to go on living.

A local poet, Roy McKinnon, experiences a different type of loss. How could his most powerful work come out of the brutal chaos of war, and why is he now struggling to regain his words and his purpose in peacetime? His childhood friend Dr. Frank Draper also seeks to reclaim his pre-war life but is haunted by his failure to help those who needed him most—the survivors of the Nazi concentration camps.

Then one day, on the mantle of her sitting room, Ani finds a poem. She knows neither where it came from, nor who its author is. But she has her suspicions. An unexpected and poignant love triangle emerges, between Ani, the poem, and the poet—whoever he may be.

My thoughts :

Sometimes I have the hardest time writing a reviews when I really really love a book. I can't think of the write words lovely enough to describe it. Here's the simple list--beautiful, melancholy, haunting--to describe The Railwayman's Wife by Ashley Hay. Focusing on the inner turmoil of the characters who are trying to get back to living post-World War II, the novel is more introspective than plot driven. I found the language lovely and heartbreaking. 

I was touched particularly by Anikka's struggle to heal following the accidental death of her husband. As well meaning people approach her to share her loss and emotion, they tell her stories of her husband and she is shocked to find that she didn't know every little bit of his life. The idea of two people sharing their lives together and yet still maintaining their individuality was thought-provoking.

The Railwayman's Wife by Ashley Hay is a thoughtful novel concentrated on the characters and their process of grieving and healing. It is poignant and rich with emotion and sentiment.

The Railwayman's Wife by Ashley Hay is published by Atria Books and released in April 2016.

**I received a complimentary copy of The Railwayman's Wife. All opinions are my own. No compensation was received.**

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

The Christ-Centered Home - Book Review

Early in our marriage, Rand and I lived in New Hampshire. We made our home in a humble little townhouse with dated wallpaper and filled with hand-me-down furniture and the beginnings of our book collection. In just the first few months that we lived there, several people--from the TV repairman to the Kirby salesperson to our next-door neighbor--commented on the special spirit in our home. We were surprised and the two of us regularly discussed what it was that people were feeling when they came into our home. We hoped that we had successfully created a mostly Christ-Centered Home and it became our goal for our future home.

Add five children with their own fiery personalities and demands and a busier schedule and sometimes it seems that regular family home evenings, scripture study and prayer are not enough to keep our home constantly centered on Jesus Christ.

In her new book Emily Belle Freeman The Christ-Centered Home, she has divided it into reasonable monthly plans with a lesson focused on the scriptures and the life and teachings of Jesus Christ. She includes ideas for devotionals and discussions to have with your family. With chapters on everything from gratitude to service, Freeman focuses on the principles we know but helps make them approachable and accomplishable.

I like that while using lessons from the life of our Savior, Freeman makes a proactive book that asks the reader to search their own life and turn their focus to creating a home they would feel comfortable inviting Jesus Christ to enter. I especially appreciate that this book involves the entire family in the process. There are even included recipes to keep your family at the table long enough for a meaningful conversation.

The Christ-Centered Home : Inviting Jesus In by Emily Belle Freeman is published by Shadow Mountain and released in April 2016. 

**I received a complimentary copy of The Christ-Centered Home. All opinions are my own. No compensation was received.**

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Enchanted Islands - Book Review

Frances Conway and her husband Ainslie move to the desert island of the Galapagos during the 1940s. They gave up their relatively comfortable life in San Francisco to live in a ramshackle hut and grow their own sustenance. In Enchanted Islands by Allison Amend tells the story of Frances Conway beginning with her childhood in Duluth, Minnesota as Frances Frankowski at the turn of the century. The novel follows her adventures that eventually lead to her drastic move with her husband to the famous islands. Though Frances and her husband were real people and they did live on the islands, Amend tells a fictionalized version of the events.

Though I expected the novel to spend more time with the Conways on the Galapagos Islands--they didn't actually arrive there until page 154--I actually really enjoyed the early part of Frances's history. Amend crafts a beautiful story of friendship, betrayal and a desire for acceptance and love. The writing flows so smoothly, that I was able to easily get lost within the story and the characters. Frances was a vulnerable character with the odds against her, yet she continuously shows her grit and self-preservation.

Enchanted Islands is an unusual tale of intrigue, love and relationships. Secondary to that, is Frances and Ainslie's time on the island. The islands are fascinating and the idea of living a quiet existence bent mostly toward daily subsistence is at times appealing. By moving to the islands, Frances is denying herself certain comforts and luxuries but found a peace and amount of joy there to fully sustain her. Similarly, Frances's personal relationships mirror the lessons of the islands.

Enchanted Islands by Allison Amend was quickly devoured as I enjoyed reading more about the Frances. As formed by Amend, she was an engaging and inspiring character.

Enchanted Islands by Allison Amend is published by Nan A. Talese and released on May 24, 2016.

**I received a complimentary copy of Enchanted Islands. All opinions are my own. No compensation was received.**

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

The Yoga of Max's Discontent - Book Review


Max has a great job in New York City. A job that he has worked hard to get. Crawling his way out of the projects and into an Ivy League School. But following the death of his mother, Max can't get rid of this feeling inside that he is missing the meaning of life. Leaving his job and home, he heads to India to find a guru who will help him find peace and fulfillment.

Max's initial story is captivating and I was immediately intrigued by his struggle to find meaning in his existence and curious about where this path would lead. Bajaj writes well and brings the readers along in Max's journey in The Yoga of Max's Discontent. Max's experiences in India are interesting. I liked reading more about the landscape and the people. Then, Max started doing yoga and starving and then I got bored. I'm not going to discount the spiritual fulfillment some get from yoga and solitude and torturing their bodies in caves in the Himalayas. Go ahead. Knock yourself out. I don't get it. 

There is some foul language and some random and unnecessary sex scenes.

The Yoga of Max's Discontent by Karan Bajaj is published by Riverbed Books and released on May 3, 2016.

**I received a complimentary copy of The Yoga of Max's Discontent. All opinions are my own. No compensation was received.**

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Carving Out Some Reading Time

Over the last few weeks I've been in an interesting reading place. I haven't had much time to read as I've been running to different events in my roles as mom, wife Primary leader, PTA mom, photographer and friend. In the midst of all the crazy, I was lucky enough to take some time for myself and go to BYU Women's Conference with some good friends. It was relaxing and wonderful, inspiring and brilliant but didn't allow me much time to read.

I've been reading Valiant Ambition : George Washington, Benedict Arnold and the Fate of the American Revolution by Nathaniel Philbrick. It's absolutely fascinating and as usual Philbrick writes well but I can only read a few chapters before I fall completely asleep and it doesn't lend itself well to being read in quick snippets while I wait in the car to pick up Neal after tennis or in dentist appointments. I tried and I found myself reading the same page over and over after I was repeatedly interrupted. I needed something enjoyable to read that I could squeeze into those short available moments.

I first picked up Black Rabbit Hall by Eve Chase. Compared with Daphne du Maurier, I was anxious to get my hands on this gothic, psychological thriller. Black Rabbit Hall has been a magical getaway for Amber and her family for years. Their estate is weathered but filled with love. Tragedy strikes when Amber's mother is suddenly killed in an accident. Her father isn't the same and Black Rabbit Hall becomes a place of grief and suffering for the young family struggling.

Years later, Lorna is drawn to Black Rabbit Hall. She has brief glimpses of spending times there with her mother when she was a child. Now that Lorna is engaged, she'd like to have her wedding there. As she explores the dilapidated estate she uncovers it's secrets and mysteries.

With solid writing that captures that strong emotions of both Amber and Lorna, Black Rabbit Hall kept me entertained and entranced. It had that dark, eerie feeling without being scary. Though the setting is important to the novel, the characters and their relationships with each other are central to the developing story. I appreciated that and the exploration of their mourning and grief for the loss of loved ones and how they interacted with those still alive.

Black Rabbit Hall was thrilling and absolutely readable. I didn't want to put it down.

Black Rabbit Hall by Eve Chase was published by Putnam and released in February 2016. 

I read Who Do You Love by Jennifer Weiner in just two days. Though I've heard of Weiner for years and follow her on Twitter, this is the first time I've read one of her novels. It's a delightfully quick and enjoyable read with realistic characters and a fateful plot full of coincidences and chance meetings.

Rachel is just a little girl, recovering from heart surgery when she meets Andy in the hospital emergency room. He's alone and her comforting story helps him get through his fear of being injured and separated from his mother. Rachel can't forget him.

Throughout the years, though their lives take very different paths, Rachel and Andy find each other and their relationship grows. They are soul mates. Meant to be together.

I especially liked the characters in Who Do You Love. Sometimes I rather disliked them. Weiner allows them to grow and explore and become adults. Occasionally, they make mistakes and rather bad choices. In other words, they are pretty realistic people.

Some may say that the coincidences are unbelievable and unrealistic, but if you buy into the idea of soul mates (even just in the context of this novel and don't we regularly suspend our normal beliefs to enjoy stories) than it would make sense that the world would conspire to regularly put them together.

Who Do You Love is not a style of book that I regularly read. It was enlightening to read it and find it rather enjoyable. While it is essentially a romance and has more sex scenes than I'm really comfortable with, Weiner does more than just write a love story. She explores people--what inspires their choices, good and bad.

Who Do You Love by Jennifer Weiner is published by Washington Square Press and the paperback edition released on April 5, 2016. It's also one of the Spring Book Club Selections for SheReads.

I'm so glad I've been able to squeeze in some fun and entertaining books to keep me reading while I continue to work through the history from Philbrick. At some point my life will get less busy and I'll have more time to read, right? Not likely.

**I received complimentary copies of both books. All opinions are my own. No compensation was received.**

Tuesday, May 3, 2016

The Assistants - Book Review

For six years, Tina Fontana has worked as an executive assistant to Robert Barlow, the wealthy head of a media empire. Though she's fabulous at her job and enjoys the perks, she's frustrated that her career hasn't advanced to where she had once envisioned and her massive student loan debt is still weighing on her soul. When an accounting error delivers a check just big enough to pay off her loans, Tina knows it's wrong but can't resist the lure of being debt free. In a moment of weakness, she cashes the check and pays off her loans. The feeling of relief from being free of her debts is quickly overshadowed by the feeling of guilt. Tina plays by the rules. Until now. And someone else knows what she's done. As other assistants in the company approach Tina about help in paying off their loans, Tina gets sucked into a black hole that seems inescapable.

A witty and fun contemporary Robin Hood story, The Assistants by Camille Perri tackles the idea of wealth distribution. She touches on feelings and sentiments shared by many who struggle financially while being surrounded by those who have an overwhelming amount of wealth. While it's a touchy topic and politically divisive, the novel keeps the subject light and humorous and Tina Fontana is a fabulous character--completely torn by the crushing guilt of breaking the law and the desire to help others.

Perri is a great writer. I enjoyed the nutty cast of characters and the inner struggle that Tina faces. There's never a dull moment and the story is completely believable. The Assistants brings up a lot of interesting topics and I can imagine a lively debate at book club.

The Assistants by Camille Perri is published by Putnam and released on May 3, 2016.

**I received a complimentary copy of The Assistants. My opinions are my own. No compensation was received.**

Everyone Brave is Forgiven - Book Review

I enjoyed Little Bee and Gold by Chris Cleave so I was excited to see a new book from his this spring.  Everyone Brave is Forgiven is his newest book and I was immediately enamored with this World War II novel. How can one possibly write something fresh and new about this time period? I've read many novels centered on World War II and I love several. So many different people suffered through the war and everyone had their own story, so I suppose the opportunities are limitless. Cleave writes a new story in Everyone Brave is Forgiven by focusing on an unlikely heroine and the early days of the war in London and on Malta.

Mary North is a young, wealthy idealist ready for adventure on the eve of World War II. As soon as war is declared, she signs up and is assigned to teach at a local school in London. Though she is initially disappointed by the assignment, she discovers a love for the children and for teaching. When the children are all evacuated from the city, Mary is left with a classroom of children who for one reason or another just don't "fit" in the country.

As Mary navigates through love and danger and friendship, she is often foolish and sometimes self-serving. She's naive and regularly makes destructive choices, yet she's a character that gets under the reader's skin and one sincerely hopes for her survival and success. I enjoyed her quick humor and clever wit as she banters with her best friend and with Tom, the administrator of the schools. It is disheartening to watch the dreams of the young shattered by the brutality of war. Cleave wrote a very poignant and beautiful novel that I found meaningful and emotionally stirring.

I found myself reading large sections of this book each night, unwilling to stop. I was compelled to read more of Mary, her friend Hilda, Tom, and his friend Alistair. I was especially interested in learning more about the Siege of Malta. Previously, I was not familiar with this event in World War II. Cleave writes with dignity and power and shows both the brutality and the compassion of man; the desire to at once cease to exist and simultaneously survive.

I've read some great books this year that I really enjoyed but Everyone Brave is Forgiven by Chris Cleave is definitely at the top of my list.

Everyone Brave is Forgiven by Chris Cleave is published by Simon and Schuster and released on May 3, 2016.