Book reviews

Book Review: The Discovery by Dan Walsh

Last week I posted a photo of some books from my to-read stack. Today I’m going to share my review of one of those books, The Discovery by Dan Walsh.

The DiscoveryI’ve read two of Walsh’s previous novels, The Unfinished Gift and The Homecoming. They were both set in the World War II era, so The Discovery is a bit different from those because it’s set in modern times. But – Walsh still shares his love of WWII tales with us because The Discovery actually is a story within a story.

Here’s part of the back cover blurb:

When aspiring writer Michael Warner inherits his grandfather’s venerable Charleston estate, he settles in to write his first novel. But within the confines of the stately home, he discovers an unpublished manuscript that his grandfather, a literary giant whose novels sold in the millions, had kept hidden from everyone – but which he clearly intended Michael to find. As he delves deep into the exciting tale about spies and sabotage, Michael discovers something that has the power to change not only his future but his past as well.

So … an aspiring novelist, a story set in Charleston, and some spies and sabotage. The combination hooked me from the get-go.

DSC00893 (1)

The top of the St. Augustine, Fla., lighthouse. I learned a lot about World War II spies when we visited a few years ago. Some of those same things were in The Discovery.

You’re about 60 pages into the book before Michael comes across his grandfather’s hidden manuscript. From there, The Discovery alternates between Michael’s present-day life and the story within the old manuscript – which you read along with Michael in its entirety. I felt like the “hidden” story dragged a bit in a few places, but it wasn’t so bad that I wanted to stop reading. I think it was partly because I anticipated some things and was ready for them to happen. But at least I didn’t jump to the ending to make sure things worked out like I wanted.

Basic fiction tools like flashbacks and back story can be tricky to work into a story, and what Walsh attempted here was much bigger than that. But he managed to pull it off and reward his readers with not one enjoyable story, but two. If you’re looking for a novel about young love during World War II that stays more “light” than “grim,” The Discovery could be worth checking out.

Your turn: What good World War II novels have you read? Do you have a favorite author who writes about that time frame?

And … I had the chance to interview Dan Walsh on the Novel Pastimes blog when his debut novel, The Unfinished Gift, was released. You can read Day 1 of the interview here and Day 2 here.

Categories: Book reviews, Christian fiction, historical fiction, Historical Monday | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Review: The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah

I read a lot of books, but don’t always take the time to tell people about them. I’m hoping to change that this year by getting back in the habit of posting reviews of stories I really enjoy. Who knows? You might find a new author to check out. 🙂

I’m beginning my 2016 reviews with The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah.

 

The NightingaleAbout the book:
France 1939 — In the quiet village of Carriveau, Vianne Mauriac says goodbye to her husband as he heads for the Front. She doesn’t believe that the Nazis will invade France…but invade they do, in droves of marching soldiers, in caravans of trucks and tanks, in planes that fill the skies and drop bombs upon the innocent. When a German captain requisitions Vianne’s home, she and her daughter must live with the enemy or lose everything. Without food or money or hope, as danger escalates all around them, she is forced to make one impossible choice after another to keep her family alive.

Vianne’s sister, Isabelle, is a rebellious 18-year-old girl, searching for purpose with all the reckless passion of youth. While thousands of Parisians march into the unknown terrors of war, she meets Gaetan, a partisan who believes the French can fight the Nazis from within France, and she falls in love as only the young can…completely. But when he betrays her, Isabelle joins the Resistance and never looks back, risking her life time and again to save others.

The Nightingale tells the stories of two sisters, separated by years and experience, by ideals, passion and circumstance, each embarking on her own dangerous path toward survival, love, and freedom in German-occupied, war-torn France — a heartbreakingly beautiful novel that celebrates the resilience of the human spirit and the durability of women.

 

My review:
I think many of us who enjoy historical fiction have read our share of World War II novels, but The Nightingale took me to a place I’ve not been: deep into the war through the eyes of women trying to survive at home under Nazi occupation.

Vianne and Isabelle are sisters, but have very little in common beyond their parents. Life was good until their mother died and their father didn’t know how to handle raising two girls in the midst of his grief. He took them to a convent school, which Vianne soon escaped through marriage. Isabelle was too young to have a choice and spent years being moved from one boarding school or convent to another, rarely seeing Vianne or their father.

Kristin Hannah

Author Kristin Hannah

Then war comes to their front door. Living with rations and restrictions is one thing, but learning to live with Nazis overtaking every corner of your town is another. Vianne and Isabelle shift from being ordinary French women to patriots who will do whatever they must to survive and help their families – even when it means doing thing they never dared imagine.

Vianne and Isabelle are so richly drawn that once I got into the book I felt like I was living the events with them instead of just reading. It was a roller coaster of emotions — joy, horror, love, anxiety, terror, tenderness, pain, surprise, reconciliation. But every emotion was realistic, every storyline based on situations people really faced during that time. Fortunately, Hannah manages to balance the horrors of war with little glimpses of hope and just enough intrigue so you don’t put the book down because you’re too depressed to keep reading.

But that doesn’t make The Nightingale any less powerful. In fact, I think the contrasts are part of what make it such a strong book. No matter what your past might be or what kind of person you believe you are, you never truly know how you’ll handle the worst situations imaginable until you’re in them. You can only hope that you’ll still be able to find some positive things to hold onto along the way.

This was the first book I’ve read by Kristin Hannah, and it was thanks to my sister’s recommendation. I’m glad she let me borrow her copy, because it’s one of the most eye-opening novels I’ve ever read. The Nightingale will stay with me for a long time.

For more about Kristin Hannah and her books, here’s where you can find her online:

 

Your turn: Does this sound like a book you might like to read? Or, have you ever read any of Kristin Hannah’s other books? What World War II novel is your favorite?

 

Categories: Book reviews, Monday Musings | Tags: , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

New stories for the historical fiction lover in you

 

New Year’s Day 2016 was wonderful.

Partly because I got to sleep later, partly because I spent the whole day at home with my family, partly because my husband made the cornbread so I didn’t even have to cook. 🙂

And partly because I spent a large chunk of the day in my jammies curled up with a book — guilt free!

Those days don’t happen very often for me, so when they do they’re a special treat. And although I read a lot of different things, I always find myself leaning back toward historical fiction. Maybe it’s because I’ve always loved history and think so many things about days-gone-by are fascinating. Maybe it’s because there’s usually some romance — and what girl doesn’t love some romance? (My daughter certainly does, especially now that she’s discovered Hallmark movies — but that’s a story for another day!)

lassoed by marriageIf you’re like me and love a good historical novel, here are some releasing this month that you might want to check out. Titles in this first section are from authors affiliated with American Christian Fiction Writers:

  • A Reluctant Melody by Sandra Ardoin — When a blackmailer threatens to reveal Joanna’s long-held secret, will she risk losing everything she owns to Kit … including her heart? (Lighthouse Publishing of the Carolinas)
  • The Lassoed by Marriage Romance Collection by Angela Bell, Angela Breidenbach, Lisa Carter, Mary Connealy, Rebecca Jepson, Amy Lillard, Gina Welborn, Kathleen Y’Barbo, and Rose Ross Zediker — Come along on a romantic journey jam-packed with all the angst of marriages founded upon practical choices as well as coercion. Meet nine couples who barely know each other before they find themselves suddenly married to please family, to stem the tide of gossip, to save the land and joined for life. But can love grow when duty comes before romance? (Barbour Publishing)
  • Calico Spy by Margaret Brownley — Someone is killing off the Harvey Girls and undercover Pinkerton detective Katie Madison hopes to find the killer before the killer finds her-or before she burns down the restaurant trying. (Barbour Publishing)
  • With This Ring? by Mary Connealy, Melissa Jagears, Regina Jennings, and Karen Witemeyer — Four top historical romance novelists team up in this new collection of stories with love, romance, and a twist of humor: “The Husband Maneuver,” “Her Dearly Unintended,” “Runaway Bride” and “Engaging the Competition.” (Bethany House [Baker] Publishing)
  • Austen in Austin, Volume 1 by Susanne Dietze, Anita Mae Draper, Debra E. Marvin, and Gina Welborn — Discover four heroines in historical Austin, TX, as they find love – Jane Austen style. Volume 1 includes: “If I Loved You Less” based on Emma, “Romantic Refinements” based on Sense and Sensibility, “One Word from You” based on Pride and Prejudice, and “Alarmingly Charming” based on Northanger Abbey. (Whitefire Publishing)
  • All That Glitters by Lisa J. Flickinger — Leaving behind her family and a dying father, Ginny Connor follows the cunning Logan Harris up North to strike it rich. Her sister Vivian follows to “rescue” her, and they are both led into the chaos of the Klondike Gold Rush. Meanwhile, Ben McCormack leaves his farm to retrieve his intended bride from a rowdy tent town on the Alaskan coastline. Ben’s path inadvertently entwines with Vivian’s and he finds his heart tugging him in a different direction. (Ambassador International)
  • A Worthy HeartA Worthy Heart by Susan Anne Mason — Irish lass Maggie Montgomery visits her brother in America secretly hoping to find her fortune and love. While visiting Irish Meadows, she meets an intriguing man whom she thinks is a stable hand. Her brother demands she stay away from Adam O’Leary, who he says was recently released from prison. Nonetheless, Maggie can’t seem to make her heart listen. Adam plans to make amends and earn back his family’s trust. Falling in love with Maggie Montgomery, however, was never in his plans. (Bethany House [Baker] Publishing)

 

The Forgotten RoomIf you’re looking for mainstream historicals, you might want to learn more about these or other titles highlighted by the Historical Novel Society:

  • A Taste for Nightshade by Martine Bailey – Suspense, cooking, and revenge in early 19th-century England (St. Martin’s)
  • Midnight in St. Petersburg by Vanora Bennett – One woman’s fight for survival and love in revolutionary Russia (St. Martin’s)
  • Fallen Land by Taylor Brown – A couple flees pursuers during Sherman’s march through Georgia (St. Martin’s)
  • Exposure by Helen Dunmore – Cold War London, 1960: Lily suspects that her husband’s arrest for passing information to the Soviets is part of a cover-up, unaware that he may be guilty of a worse crime (Hutchinson)
  • Gunner Girls and Fighter Boys by Mary Gibson – East End girls become ATS ack-ack gunners and find love and freedom during the London Blitz in WWII (Head of Zeus)
  • Murder Most Malicious by Alyssa Maxwell – A lady’s maid and her 18-year-old mistress cross class lines to solve murders in 1918 England (Kensington)
  • The Forgotten Room by Karen White, Beatriz Williams and Lauren Willig – A multi-period mystery about three generations of women (NAL)

Your turn: So … do any of these sound interesting to you? I’d love to know which one(s) you might let steal you away to another time for a while!

Categories: Book reviews, Christian fiction, New releases | Tags: , , , | Leave a comment

Review: One Year Alone With God

With Christmas only a few weeks away (!), many of us are starting to think about gifts and are making out those wonderful shopping lists. If you know somoene who enjoys devotional books that help them learn in bite-size pieces on busy days, then check out One Year Alone With God: 366 Devotions on the Names of God by Ava Pennington.

book_oneyearalone_edited.jpgPlenty of books and Bible studies look at the different names of God and what they mean. What sets Ava’s book apart is the way she handles it. One Year Alone With God explores 122 names and attributes of God in three different ways over a period of three days. In the first devotional for each name or attribute, the reader “looks up” as Ava says, to see how and why God describes Himself the way He does. On the second day, the reader “looks in” to see how that name or attribute applies to his own life and how it changes his relationship with God. Finally, on the third day, the reader “looks out” to see how that deeper knowledge of God and himself can be shared with others.

I like the way each name is broken into smaller pieces of study; for me, it seems like it’s easy to read a devotional, spend a few minutes thinking about it, and then go on with my day. One Year Alone With God makes me more conscious of how I can put the things I learn into my everyday life, and I like that. I also like that the devotionals are so short they only take a few minutes to read, but you can also read all three for the same name or attribute if you have time.

Ava_Pennington.jpgAva’s publisher sent me a copy of One Year Alone With God to read and review. I’ve used it for personal study time, with my middle/high school girls at church on Wednesday nights, and as a short devotional as part of ladies night dinner at church. I’ve enjoyed learning new things about the names and attributes of God, especially those I didn’t know much about or don’t think about as much.

I would certainly recommend it, but don’t just take my word for it. Right on the front cover of One Year Alone With God is an endorsement from Kay Arthur herself. And it says, “Can you imagine what will happen if you spend a year, day by day, focusing on your God and Father? May Ava’s devotional deive you to His Word.”

With an endorsement like that, you know there’s something good about the book. Visit Ava’s website for more info, or get your copy online or at a local bookstore.

Categories: Book reviews, Christian non-fiction | Tags: , , , | Leave a comment
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