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Monthly Archives: June 2016

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Leaving Independence–Western Romance

Leaving Independence leaving independence

by Leanne Wood Smith

Having just read and reviewed an emotionally difficult nonfiction book, I was ready for something lighter, but engaging.  I found just what I was looking for in Leaving Independence by Leanne Wood Smith.  Independence is the name of the town the Baldwyn family, composed of Abigail and her four children, travels to as the departure point for a wagon train going west.  In an odd turn of events, the father of the family had been reported dead during the early days of the Civil War, but the war is now over and she receives word that he is serving at Fort Hall in the Idaho territory. Abigail is confused that he did not contact her personally, and the family is low on funds with the bank threatening repossession of their home.  A woman of action, she takes her family in search of her missing husband.

There are background stories related to the social and political events surrounding the Civil War and Reconstruction.  Abigail’s friend and former slave, Mimi, is unable to accompany the family on the trip.  The author tells the story with third person narrative and through pieces of letters that Mimi and Abigail exchange during the trip.  She creates an interesting tale with a combination of history, mystery, and romance.  I found the dialogue to be reflective of the characters and the time except for one anachronism.  As the family makes preparations to leave Independence, the teenage daughter, Corrine, is not happy about the trip.  Her mother tells her “you’ll have a much better trip if you decide now to embrace this experience.” “Embrace this experience” strikes me as a modern phrase and not one that is typical of 1866.  The use of this one expression does not ruin the novel for me, and I do recommend it to do what books do best–help you escape into a different time and place.

I would like to thank netgalley.com and Waterfall Press for the opportunity to read this book in exchange for an unbiased review.

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Saving Graces–Review AND Reflections

Saving GracesSaving Graces

by Elizabeth Edwards

Elizabeth Edwards was the wife of John Edwards, a Democratic senator, an unsuccessful presidential primary candidate in 2004 and 2008, and running mate for John Kerry in the 2004 presidential election.  Elizabeth was a popular and sympathetic public figure because of the death of her son at age sixteen in a car accident, her courageous battle with breast cancer, and revelations of her husband’s ongoing affair during her health struggles.

Elizabeth Edwards published the book Saving Graces in 2006, two years after she was diagnosed with cancer and the same year her husband began his infamous affair with Rielle Hunter, which he did not publicly admit to until August of 2008.  I am laying out the dates carefully because I found it a bit confusing as Edwards begins telling her story at the same place in her life that she ends this book.  Also, because she was such a family-oriented person, I had to wonder at what point in her painful saga was she unknowingly being betrayed by her husband. There is no foreshadowing of the affair.

No spoiler alert is needed on this review.  Edwards in this memoir is sharing very personal insights into the events of her life up through the close of her treatment for the cancer that was discovered in November of 2004.  The facts along with all the rumors of the time are readily available on the Internet.

I must warn potential readers that the first half of this book is a very difficult read.  Most of it deals with the very raw grief which Edwards and her family experienced upon the sudden and unexpected death of her sixteen year old son Wade in a car accident.  Although the distance of time helps, when she wrote the book she was still experiencing  deep sorrow over his absence.  Although Elizabeth Edwards worked as a lawyer, author and speaker, the job that was most important to her was that of mother.  She loved the presence of her children and their friends filling her home.  She loved interacting with them.  When Wade died she seemed to lose a part of herself, of her reason for living.  I hope the writing of this book proved cathartic for her.  Her grief is so real and so painful that I had to put it aside for a few days.

Upon returning to Saving Graces I was relieved to find a turn of focus away from the pain of Wade’s death and toward the future as Elizabeth and John Edwards decide to extend their family and continue to be deeply involved in political races. Even reading about her first battle with cancer was not as painful as the discussion of the aftermath of her son’s death.  Though fearful of losing to breast cancer, Edwards knew it was something she could fight. Speaking of the diagnosis she said “…it wasn’t, by a sad and huge distance, the worst news we had ever heard.  Wade’s death had spared us that…”

As the United States is currently pushing toward presidential elections, I found glimpsing the campaigns from behind the scenes to be an interesting endeavor.  It made me like Elizabeth Edwards better and most of the rest of the political players and the process even less.  That outcome was certainly not Edwards’ intention or attitude in writing, but I am too jaded to view the political process through her rose-colored glasses of “John (Edwards) just wants to help people”  (not a direct quote, but a phrase that certainly reflects her thoughts). In my opinion, based on later evidence available after this book was written, John Edwards had one goal–to enrich himself. His desires were for money, power, sex, and the flattery of younger women. During the last half of the book, I kept wanting to yell across the pages to Elizabeth that she was living in a house of cards about to collapse on her.  I wanted to warn her that her wonderful family man was going to cheat on her, destroying the family she adored so much.  I wanted to shout out a danger signal–this man you thought you could count on is going to pay you the ultimate disrespect while you are on the campaign trail telling others how wonderful he is.

Saving Graces has a very appropriate subtitle: Finding Solace and Strength from Friends and Strangers.  In the first half of the book, the solace and strength come from others who have lost children. In the second part, she shares the outpouring of love and concern she received when she publicly announced her battle with cancer.

Elizabeth Edwards wrote another book, Resilience: Reflections on the Burdens and Gifts of Facing Life’s Adversities, which continues her story including the return of cancer and the Hunter affair.  Although Edwards is a good writer and I sympathize with the tremendous pain she endured physically, mentally, and emotionally,  I just don’t know if I will choose to read her detailing of it in Resilience.  It seems bad enough that she had to live it.

Come Rain or Come Shine–love the book!

Come Rain or Come Shine come rain

by Jan Karon

After somewhat disappointing results in her last book (see my previous post, a review of Somewhere Safe with Somebody Good), Jan Karon has once more hit the mark  in her Mitford tale Come Rain or Come Shine.  Readers are all invited to the wedding of Dooley and Lace and get to participate in the preparations as well.

The novels in the Mitford series are kind and gentle and this one is no exception.  The characters are not without problems, and realistic, unfortunate situations do arise.  Karon effectively uses a technique in this novel of sharing some of Lace’s journaling to show the reader her attitudes and the process she and Dooley had to go through to get to the point of marriage.

A new character, Jack Tyler, is introduced.  It seems he will be important in future books as Karon continues to spin her magic with words as the younger Mitford generation becomes the focus.  If you are not already a Mitford/Father Tim/Jan Karon fan, begin with the first Father Tim novel, At Home in Mitford. I strongly recommend joining the many readers happily anticipating the next events in Mitford.

Somewhere Safe with Somebody Good–love the title

Somewhere Safe with Somebody GoodSomewhere safe

by Jan Karon

Continuing the saga of Father Tim, an Episcopal priest, the book Somewhere Safe with Somebody Good was eagerly awaited by fans of the Mitford series. I have lived out of the U.S. long enough for this book and another in the series both to be published in paperback.  I say this to establish that the intervening time lapse has genuinely caused me to forget many of the details of the various subplots of the series.  Karon tries to draw enthusiasm from people like me as well as perhaps those who pick up this book as their first taste of life in Mitford.  Honestly, I think Karon has created too many characters to be able to update them all effectively.  Perhaps she should have pared down the ones included in this book.  That part of the book only earns two stars; I don’t fault Karon’s writing, just her taking on an impossible task.

When the reader gets past the clumsiness of character updates, Somewhere Safe with Somebody Good becomes the delightful tale that Karon’s readers have come to expect–interesting, but soothing; realistic, but attaining a moral high ground.  I love to see how the characters deal with life; I delight in the carefully crafted words and the beautiful sentiments.  It is a treat, as always, to watch Father Tim deal with people who are not always lovable and to sort out his own problems while supporting the community members who have grown to depend on his Godly wisdom.

As a teacher and book lover, I enjoy the focus on the local bookstore, Happy Endings, and the way people come together in the story to support it.  Readers who love books (especially children’s literature) will be attracted to the many quotes encouraging reading that Mitford’s citizens post in the bookstore.

As the remainder of the book, including the raison d’être of the title, pleased to capacity, I award a full five stars to Somewhere Safe with Somebody Good.

Fixin’ to Die–Good Try, but…

Fixin’ to DieFixin to die

by Tonya Kappes

Fixin’ to Die is a murder mystery set in the small town of Cottonwood, Kentucky.  It is the first novel in Tonya Kappes’ Kenni Lowry Mystery Series. My first impression as I was reading this tale is that I really liked the main character Kenni.  She is the kind of person I could enjoy spending time with.  That sense did not change as this young sheriff goes all out to solve her first murder case and the reader meets the quirky locals she interacts with.

Fixin’ to Die has many elements that aficionados of the cozy mystery genre relish–a strong feminine lead, a few handsome romantic interests, a plot with twists and turns, interesting townspeople, and a surprise ending.  So why am I not a huge fan of this book?  Mainly I attribute my attitude to a literary technique Kappes attempted: she creates the ghost of Kenni’s grandfather, a longtime Cottonwood sheriff himself, as a character who will aid in Kenni in her investigations.  I applaud the effort, but it just didn’t work for me.  Therefore I can not wholeheartedly recommend this book.

I would like to extend my thanks to netgalley.com and Henery Press for the opportunity to read this book in exchange for an unbiased review.

Tangled Lies–Will They Ever be Unraveled?

Tangled Liestangled lies

by Connie Mann

Sasha Petrov is a very likable main character in the book Tangled Lies. She is comfortable in the position of licensed boat captain, whether leading a chartered fishing tour, hauling cargo, or competing in a speed race. In fact, she is more comfortable in that role than in relating to family and potential romantic interests. Orphaned as a girl, her past hampers her current relationships but not her efforts to help those she loves.

Tangled Lies is one of those books you just don’t want to put down.  The “tangled lies” make the reader want to return for more of the extreme adventure, mystery, and romance that would seem unbelievable for a small town setting.  It is, actually, the unhealthy closeness of the denizens of little Safe Harbor, Florida, and its marina that make the playing out of this puzzle believable.  As a reader, I wanted to know the answers to the odd intermingling of hateful attitudes and violent events in what was ostensibly pleasant small town America, but I was afraid to have the motives revealed.

Connie Man is a Christian author which, in this case, means characters who approach real issues in their lives without profanity and with self-imposed limitations on their sexual relationships. It more importantly means that they trust in God as their source of strength during difficult times.  They have personal issues to work through, but they admit their weaknesses and try to do what is right.

Tangled Lies is Ms. Mann’s third novel.  She is a boat captain in Florida herself, lending authenticity to this work.

I would like to extend my thanks to netgalley.com and to the publisher Waterfall Press for the opportunity to read this book in exchange for an unbiased review.

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