Book Review: Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi

book cover
Homegoing, a Novel by Yaa Gyasi, ©2016, Vintage Books.

My local bookstore recommended this book because I like novels about family legacies. I admit, this book flung me out of my comfort zone. I did not read this book because of what happened to George Floyd and the resulting riots. I had started it long before. It’s a difficult read, especially the chapters on the slave experience, so I read it slowly. It turned out to be a very timely read as it takes readers into the lives of several families and their hardships. For some the struggle was slavery, but for others it was something else. Some struggled against the elements as they eked out a livelihood from the land. Others try to overcome mental issues and the resulting shunning by their community. Some suffer physical abuse. The characters lead tough lives as they cope with the memories of their ancestors. We follow the descendants as some come to America and then struggle because of the color of their skin. This book was published in 2016. What it describes is certainly not new.

“The news made it sound like the fault lay with the blacks of Harlem. The violent, the crazy, the monstrous black people who had the gull to demand that their children not be gunned down in the streets. Sonny clutched his mother’s money tight as he walked back that day, hoping he wouldn’t run into any white people looking to prove a point, because he knew in his body, even if he hadn’t yet put it together in his mind, that in America the worst thing you could be was a black man. Worse than dead, you were a dead man walking.”

p. 260

It’s an emotional story that made me uncomfortable, but taught me a lot about the African-American experience.

Warning: there are some sex scenes and f-bombs. They are brief, but if you’re sensitive to that you should be aware.

The best part of this book, I think, is the ending. All the stories come together as two descendants meet and go together to Ghana. One has been before visiting her grandmother. The other has not. But both feel a connection as they face an inherent fear (one is afraid of water and the other afraid of fire, and by the end you understand why.) The characters express the idea that so much has been overcome by those who came before them that now they can be set free.

I think so much of what we know about history has been written by the white man. It’s refreshing to read another point of view, and certainly educational. If that interests you, read this book and be prepared to be changed.

“How many hours could he spend marching? How many bruises could he collect from the police? How many letters to the mayor, governor, president could he send? How many more days would it take to get something to change? And when it changed, would it change? Would America be any different, or would it be mostly the same?”

p.244

Cindy Thomson

Book Review: If I Were You by Lynn Austin

Publisher: Tyndale Fiction (June 2020)
416 pages

War changes people. We may be more aware of that today than in the past when many people tried to act as though it didn’t. WWII was one of the times when Americans returned home and vowed to leave it all in the past. However, as Lynn Austin says in her author’s note, that was not so easy for those living in England after WWII where war and devastation had landed on their doorstep. Reminders remained for years due to so many bombed areas.

This story is about the lives of two women who met as girls and became friends. It was a friendship that could not be in those days because they came from very different social classes. Eve Dawson’s mother was a lady’s maid and Audrey Clarkson was that lady’s daughter. But WWII changed British society, not to mention individual lives. Eve and Audrey became friends again during the war through the various ways they served their country and the losses and hardships they endured. No one was spared no matter how wealthy they might have been. In the process they learned just how strong they were. And then after the war events altered their lives once again and threatened to destroy their newfound faith in God.

I really liked how this novel was structured. It opens in 1950 with Audrey discovering Eve had impersonated her and taken over her life with the family of her deceased American husband. The mystery of how that could have happened and what they will do about it now that they are together again drives the story because going back in time we see Eve and Audrey as very tight friends.

I also loved the historical background and events, which is something you can always count on Lynn Austin to provide. If you liked the television series Land Girls, you will love this book. And I will say the book is better because it’s inspirational. We get to follow each girl on her spiritual journey during a time when no doubt everyone involved had his/her faith tested. Eve and Audrey are flawed characters, as we all are. They make mistakes, huge ones that affect not only themselves but many others. We can see how a web of lies can entrap someone, and what’s more compelling, when it seems as though the scenario cannot end well we learn with the character that there is always a new beginning for those who repent.

Historical novels that slip back and forth in time can be tricky to read. I’ve struggled with several. Sometimes the cast of characters is difficult to keep track of. Sometimes the motivations are confusing. Sometimes how the character changes because of the challenges he/she faces in each time period becomes disjointed due to flipping back and forth. Not so in this novel. It flowed so well and kept me turning pages.

I highly recommend this novel to those who enjoy historical fiction, and that’s everyone who reads Novel PASTimes.

I received an advanced copy free of charge from the publisher with no requirements for a review. All opinions are mine alone.

Known for the inspirational Celtic theme employed in most of her books, Cindy Thomson is the author of six novels and four non-fiction books, including her newest, Finding Your Irish Roots. A genealogy enthusiast, she writes from her home in Ohio where she lives with her husband Tom near their three grown sons and their families. Visit her online at CindysWriting.com, on Facebook: Facebook.com/Cindyswriting, Twitter: @cindyswriting, Pinterest: @cindyswriting and Book Bub: @cindyswriting.


Book Review: Into the Free by Julie Cantrell

There has never been a better time to go back and read novels that were released a few years ago. I recently did this by listening to the audiobook from the library of Into the Free by Julie Cantrell.

I’ve never read a book by this author before. I’ve been missing out. These characters will stay with me for a long time. Millie is a young girl at the beginning of the story so in that sense it’s a coming of age novel, but it’s so much more.

Set during the Depression and the pre-WWII years in Mississippi, Millie grows up with a father who beats her mother. She wants to help her mother and even once tries to stand up to her father, but it’s obvious there is nothing she can do. There are secrets Millie’s mother kept that are slowly revealed. Details about farms, horses, and rodeos bring the story to life. I have to add that narrator of this audiobook did a fabulous job. I can still hear her voice in my head!

Life doesn’t get easier for Millie, not even later when after tragedy hits her family and she goes to live with another family that seems like an answer to prayer. I love plots that are not predictable and that do not suggest the existence of a trouble-free life. There is always hope and this novel delivers hope so skillfully. The struggle to believe in God, characters who are shown to be false believers, and the sense of being supernaturally cared for that Millie experiences in many different ways throughout the story give this novel great spiritual depth along with some great lessons. I can see this as a great book club novel, and what’s wrong with going back to something older?

I recommend this novel if you haven’t already read it. I gave it 5 stars!

Known for the inspirational Celtic theme employed in most of her books, Cindy Thomson is the author of six novels and four non-fiction books, including her newest, Finding Your Irish Roots. A genealogy enthusiast, she writes from her home in Ohio where she lives with her husband Tom near their three grown sons and their families. Visit her online at CindysWriting.com, on Facebook: Facebook.com/Cindyswriting, Twitter: @cindyswriting, Pinterest: @cindyswriting and Book Bub: @cindyswriting.

Book Review: Sara’s Surprise by Susan G. Mathis

About Sara’s Surprise:

Sara O’Neill, works as an assistant pastry chef at the magnificent Thousand Islands Crossmon Hotel where she meets precocious, lovable, seven-year-old Madison and her charming father and hotel manager, Sean Graham. But Jacque LaFleur, the pastry chef Sara works under, makes her dream job a nightmare.Sean Graham has trouble keeping his mind off Sara and Madison out of mischief. Though he finds Sara captivating, he despises LaFleur and misreads Sara’s desire to learn from the pastry chef as affection. Can Sean learn to trust Sara and can she trust herself to be an instant mother?

My Review

A Sweet Holiday Romance Novella

Sara’s Surprise is a sweet romance which will capture readers with its lovable characters. Tenacious and kind, Sara O’Neill desires to become an independent and a successful pastry chef. She doesn’t expect the obstacles set in her way by her demanding and sought after boss, but new friends support her in her endeavors. Feisty little Madison Graham, who needs a mother, charms Sara. And Madison’s dad, Sean Graham, is the kind of man who is worthy of her regard. Their story, set during America’s Gilded Age in the Thousand Islands, will warm your heart this winter. A fun Christmas-time read, so snuggle down in a chair by the fireplace, sip a cup of hot cocoa, and enjoy!

 

Book Review: Forever, Lately by Linore Rose Burkard

About Forever, Lately::

1816, England
Julian St. John needs a wife. An oath to a deceased guardian must be kept. Miss Clarissa Andrews, a vexatious beauty, has dangled after him all season but he has no intention of choosing such a she-devil.

Maine, Present Day
Author Claire Channing is desperate to write a bestseller to save her failing career. She moves into her grandmotherʼs abandoned cottage to write the book, but a local resort baron wants to raze the place. Without the deed, the clock is ticking on how long she can stay. She thinks she’s writing St. Johnʼs story. But when she discovers an old prayer shawl and finds herself in his Regency world, she falls in love with him, a man she thought she invented! Miss Andrews, however, is also real—and she’d rather see Julian dead than in another womanʼs arms!  Claire must beat the clock to prevent a deadly tragedy, but can love beat the limits of time itself?

My Review:

A wonderful romp through the world of the Regency England through the eyes of a modern-day woman. Truly fun time travel by supernatural means rather than a time machine. The romance is poignant and sweet with both the hero and the heroine having to make tough choices. Julian St. John and Claire Channing seem to be meant for each other. The only thing that separates them is time! Author Linore Rose Burchard adds clever plot twists and dialog. It’s the kind of book worth reading a second time. I truly enjoyed it. Highly recommend!

Book Review: Waltz With Destiny by Catherine Ulrich Brakefield

51teoT5RTyLAs Hitler and his Nazis march across Europe…

The splendors of Detroit’s ballrooms spin Esther (McConnell) Meir around like a princess in a fairy tale Here she meets junior engineer Eric Erhardt. But will Eric abandon his playboy ways for Esther?

When war comes to America’s shores, Esther questions whether she has the grit to carry on the McConnell legacy. Meanwhile, Eric comes face to face with death when he’s drafted into the Army and shipped to fight in Italy.

Once again, war separates a McConnell woman from the man she loves as the Destiny saga reaches a page-turning conclusion.

Award-winning historical fiction author Catherine Ulrich Brakefield weaves fiction with real-life events to create this inspirational fourth book of the Destiny series.

My Review:

Catherine Ulrich Brakefield’s Waltz with Destiny is the crown jewel of the Destiny series!
Brakefield brings 1940s Detroit to life, along with the WWII battlefields of Italy.

Esther Meier, daughter of Ruby (McConnell) Meier, has a legacy of faith to live up to and an unsure future with war looming and her annoying attraction to a man who seems to flirt with every girl who glances sideways at him.

Eric Erhardt is studying to be an engineer but also wants to win his father’s approval. Handsome and talented, he can’t see it in himself. When he meets Esther at the Vanity Ballroom, he finds there’s something different about her with her faith and the way she conducts herself. She captures his heart like no other girl. Though love grows between them, both are afraid to admit it and commit themselves to the relationship, especially with the war in full swing.

Brakefield has outdone herself in bringing to life battles of WWII as seen through Eric’s eyes: the angst, fear, deprivation, bravery, death, and injury that surrounded the men of the United States Army. It’s a good read to remind us of the sacrifices of those that have gone before us that have maintained our freedom at sobering cost, along with God’s grace and answered prayer.

Yet Esther is never far from Eric’s thoughts while he is away. And while she is faithful to write encouraging words to him she wonders … should she wait for him? It’s worth reading to find out! You won’t want to put this one down!

Review: Becoming Mrs. Lewis by Patti Callahan

Historical fiction based on real historical people can be a tricky genre to pull off. I admire Callahan for taking on C. S. Lewis’s wife, Joy Davidman. I knew little about her, and I expect that is the case for many fans of C. S. Lewis. She brought Joy to life while exploring her complicated relationships and her chronic health issues. I loved the way Lewis is shown as well, the way he depended on Joy emotionally and enjoyed their philosophical and theological discussions. From what I can tell, Callahan treated these historical people fairly. In the author’s note she explains how she did her research.

That alone is enough to give this book a high rating, but the writing is seller, captivating, and caused me to read this book quickly. I love a novel that pulls me in like that. If this was made into a movie, I think it would be better than the new one on Tolkien.

Highly recommended.

Review: The Last Year of the War by Susan Meissner

The Last Year of the War

By Susan Meissner

Berkley, 3/19/19

The story begins in 2010 as Elise, a woman who is aware that Alzheimer’s is stealing her away, flies alone to find her childhood friend whom she just located thanks to a new iPad with internet. Elise and Mariko became friends during WWII at an internment camp, but this story is unlike any WWII novel I’ve read. As I was taken back to 1943, I learned a lot about these camps I never knew, including the fact that they housed German Americans along with Japanese (and even some Italians.) While the camps accommodated families and allowed the residents to continue observing their cultural heritage through foods, activities, and language classes, they were still terribly unfair, especially to the children like Elise and Mariko who were born Americans and knew very little about Japan and Germany.

The way Susan Meissner presented the older Elise and her determination despite the terrible disease she struggled with was expertly done. The mystery of why Mariko and Elise were separated and unable to connect before kept me turning pages. Elise is a character you root for as she had to endure so many relocations to unfamiliar places—and unsafe places her family returns to Germany in the last year of the war—and the questions she inevitably had about who she was and where she belonged. And you will still root for the older Elise as well who married in order to find that sense of belonging and ultimately discovered she had to establish it for herself.

I love historical novels that teach you history, and this one certainly does that. But in my opinion, this is one of the best Meissner novels yet. Highly recommended.

I received an advanced reader copy from the author and publisher for the purpose of review. I have given my honest opinions.

Susan Meissner is a USA Today bestselling author of historical fiction with more than half a million books in print in fifteen languages. She is an author, speaker and writing workshop leader with a background in community journalism. Her novels include As Bright as Heaven, starred review in Library Journal; Secrets of  Charmed Life, a Goodreads finalist for Best Historical Fiction 2015; and A Fall of Marigolds, named to Booklist’s Top Ten Women’s Fiction titles for 2014. A California native, she attended Point Loma Nazarene University and is also a writing workshop volunteer for Words Alive, a San Diego non-profit dedicated to helping at-risk youth foster a love for reading and writing.

Visit Susan at her website: http://susanlmeissner.com on Twitter at @SusanMeissner or at www.facebook.com/susan.meissner

Book Review: Destiny of Heart by Catherine Brakefield

Destiny of Heart is the third book of Catherine Ulrich Brakefield’s saga of the McConnell family, the Destiny series. This novel sweeps around the country, covering events in Colorado, Michigan, and Kentucky.

While Collina battles fever and illness at Shushan, Ruby and Stephen must head to the prairies in hopes of bringing him back to health from his battle with a strange lung disease. Collina’s husband has left her and all that remains to fight for is what is left of a dwindling Shushan and her mustard seed of faith. Eventually, Ruby faces her own tragedy and returns to her family in Kentucky. Then Franklin Long, former rough-rider and Collina’s lost sweetheart, unexpectedly runs into their sister, Myra, in Detroit. This sets into effect a chain of events that will test the McConnell family even farther, into the days of the Great Depression.

Brakefield has done her research and goes to great lengths to interweave historic events into the novels she writes and this one is no different. Her characters battle not only the difficulties around them but also wrestle with relatable spiritual issues within that can be understood in today’s culture as much as in the past. Destiny of Heart is also sprinkled with bright spots, past love fulfilled, and hope in God for the future.

For readers left wondering at the end of Destiny’s Whirlwind they will find some satisfaction in this third installment of the McConnell family saga. An enjoyable and hopeful Christian fiction read!

Catherine Ulrich Brakefield is an ardent receiver of Christ’s rejuvenating love, as well as a hopeless romantic and patriot. She skillfully intertwines these elements into her writing as the author of Wilted Dandelions, published by CrossRiver Publishing, an inspirational historical romance, along with her first Christian Romance novel, “The Wind of Destiny“, and her other history books,  Images of America,The Lapeer Area and The Images of America, Eastern Lapeer County. published by Arcadia Publishing.

Her short stories have been published in Guidepost Books; Extraordinary Answers to PrayersUnexpected Answers and Desires of Your Heart; Baker Books, Revell, The Dog Next Door, and The Horse of my Heart; CrossRiver Publishing, The Benefit Package, and Abba’s Promise; and Bethany House, Jesus talked to me Today.

Catherine lives in Addison Township, MI., with her husband Edward of forty-four years, and her beautiful Arabian horses. She enjoys horseback riding, swimming, camping, and traveling the byroads across America. Her children are now grown and married with families of their own. Catherine and Edward are now the blessed recipients of two handsome grandsons and one preciously adorable granddaughter.

Book Review: Everything She Didn’t Say by Jane Kirkpatrick

Everything She Didn’t Say

by Jane Kirkpatrick
Revell, 978-0-8007-2701-7
September 2018

Reviewed by Cindy Thomson
Everything She Didn't Say-Book Cover
Jane Kirkpatrick’s newest novel is based on the diaries of Carrie Strahorn, a woman who during the late nineteenth and early twentieth century accompanied her railroad employee husband as he wrote promotion for westward settlers and later helped him build several new towns when he became an investor. Carrie wrote her own published pieces for magazines along with her account of their adventures in the American West.

It’s hard to imagine how pioneers grappled with establishing settlements in deserts, and the accounts of how they rode on stage coaches in Indian territory very much exposed with little to defend themselves with gave me shivers. Carrie’s longing for a family and how she resolved issues in her marriage made her a character readers will root for, even though modern readers can’t truly relate to the magnitude of her struggles.

Kirkpatrick takes the view that Strahorn probably gave a tidy version of her experiences in her memoir and in letters to her family, so she imagined what life had really been like for her based on historical accounts. There were parts of Carrie’s actual writings that do give the reader the idea that she’s not telling the whole story. These appear at the end of the chapters and are what Kirkpatrick built upon. The author is a master at this kind of storytelling. I’m a Jane Kirkpatrick fan. I love how she brings life to real historical figures, people that I probably never would have learned about if I hadn’t read her novels. The historical notes at the end of the book are not to be missed.

It did take me awhile to get into this story. If that’s the case for you, I recommend you keep reading. For me the pace really picked up in the last third of the book. The problem sometimes with telling the story of a real-life person is that there any many things that occur during a lifetime, and some of those things don’t move the story along at a pace fiction readers expect, and yet they really happened so the author wants to include them. Overall, I enjoyed the story. If you are a historical fiction fan, and it’s likely the readers of this blog are, I think you will enjoy Everything She Didn’t Say.

I was given a review copy by the publisher with no obligation to post a review. I have given my honest opinion.