The Rules of Magic

The Rules of Magic: A Novel (The Practical Magic Series)
By Alice Hoffman
Published: 2017, Simon & Schuster
Genre: Historical, Literary

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Once upon a time, before the whole world changed, it was possible to run away from home, disguise who you were, and fit into polite society. The children’s mother had done exactly that.

This book was a little bit different then I was expecting. Perhaps I’ve read Harry Potter one too many times, but I was expecting a more whimsical, light-hearted book with a lot more magic within its pages. The book was good, it just was not what I had thought I would be reading.

As we weave in and out of the Owens siblings lives, we get to see how the choices of our parents can shape the way of our own future; how the decisions we make for our own children can change what may become of their own lives. The book spans quite a few years of their lives so we get to see how all those choices molded and shaped their future, all the way into the latter part of their lives.

There are a few things in the book that I found that did not line up with my beliefs and I chose to skip some of those sections; skipping those sections did not, however, take away from the essence of the story line.

Overall, it was a decent book; the writing was well done. It just was not one that I really enjoyed because of some of the content.

The Rules of Magic: A Novel (The Practical Magic Series)

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The Alice Network

 The Alice Network: A Novel
By Kate Quinn
Published: 2017, William Morrow – Harper Collins
Genre: Historical Fiction, Mystery, Thriller & Suspense

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1947. In the chaotic aftermath of World War II, American college girl Charlie St. Claire is pregnant, unmarried, and on the verge of being thrown out of her very proper family.

1915. A year into the Great War, Eve Gardiner burns to join the fight against the Germans and unexpectedly gets her chance when she’s recruited to work as a spy.

Thirty years, haunted by the betrayal that ultimately tore apart the Alice Network, Eve spends her days drunk and secluded in her crumbling London house. That is until a young American barges in uttering a name Eve hasn’t heard in decades, and launches them both on a mission to find the truth….no matter where it leads.

This novel is phenomenal. I cannot say enough good things about this book.
Kate Quinn does a wonderful job weaving the stories of 2 strong women in and out of the past and the present. The author has created a book hugely based upon real characters and events while creating fictional characters and events to expand the story and still staying true to the actual history on record.
I loved how Kate Quinn interlaced the French and German languages within the novel; it gives the reader a rich, authenticity to the history and era of the story-line.

Lili already was extraordinary, Eve thought. Not like me. The thought held no envy–it was what made them both good at what they did now. Lili’s job was to be anyone, to shift with a few tricks of posture or grammar from one persona to another, whether seamstress or laundress or cheese seller. And if Lili’s job was to be anyone, Eve’s was to be no one, to be unobserved and unnoticed at all times.

I knew of spies, women spies, within the Great War, but I had no previous knowledge of The Alice Network. It was interesting to read about the courage and bravery that these women had. They wanted to be able to make a difference in the war and fight for their own country, but were not allowed to because they were not men. Instead, they helped create a network of women spies in an effort to do their part to fight against the Germans. It is an incredible peek into a sliver of historical events and heroes that often went unnoticed and unappreciated.

I would love to give you more details of the book, but I don’t want to ruin this unique work of historical fiction. You just need to purchase it and read it for yourself. Trust me.

NOTE* There is some language in the book but it leads to the authenticity of the characters and the time era of the story. There is also some adult content as well as a couple of scenes that can be a bit gruesome if you are sensitive to those things. 

The Alice Network is a work of art with words. I highly recommend this extraordinary piece of literature to everyone, especially to those that love historical fiction.

The Alice Network is up for voting as Best Historical Fiction Book of 2017. You can vote for it here.

The Alice Network: A Novel

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The Road to Paradise

The Road to Paradise: A Vintage National Parks Novel
By Karen Barnett
Published: 2017, WaterBrook
Genre: Historical Fiction, Christian Fiction, Romance

The Road to Paradise was the book that won the most votes for my monthly book club; and it did even come down to a tie breaker. It was not my vote and I was not very interested in reading it, but I am glad to be a part of a book club that helps introduce me to books I probably would have never read otherwise.

The promised view of the mountain peak waited, cloaked in mist like a tissue-wrapped gift not ready to be unveiled. Margie Lane drew a small, leather-bound journal from her pocket and braced it against her knee to jot down the words flooding her mind. The lush treetops to the valley below inspired her.

The Road to Paradise is not in a genre I usually particularly care for but it did have a lot of positive elements within its pages. It was a wonderful light book to read after some of the more deeper novels I have read lately.

The writing in the novel was beautiful. The descriptions the author created of the scenery and outdoor environments surrounding Mt. Rainier were breathtaking and gave you a feeling of being right there in the shadow of the mountain. Karen Barnett  weaves her obvious love of God’s nature throughout the story, giving a rich depth to her novel.

The romance aspects in the book were somewhat predictable and cheesy, as most romance novels are (which is why I don’t usually particularly chose this genre).
I did enjoy watching the unfolding of one of the main characters and their faith journey.

It was quite refreshing that the lead character, Margie, had such a deep love for God and that she was not willing to waver on that, even for the love of a man. I relished that the antagonist received consequences for his behaviors in the story rather than just having it brushed aside.

The ending was a wee bit foretold, however it was pleasant to see that the story turned out how it should have.

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This next section was added after my book club met and includes some thoughts and opinions of others on the book and how the discussion may have changed my perspective of the book. 

Many of the ladies in my book club agreed that the book was beautifully written and that it was refreshing to read a book with a minimal story line. It delightful to read a book that had descriptions about places that the majority of us had visited at some point in our lives. Yes, some of the romance was cheesy and some of the story was a little bit predictable, but we enjoyed reading a book that wasn’t deep and did not require a whole lot of brain function. 🙂

The majority consensus was that the book was a decent read that most of us enjoyed.

The Road to Paradise: A Vintage National Parks Novel

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Child of the River

Child of the River
By Irma Joubert


Child of the River was the book club read chosen for this month. It is described as “A compelling coming of age story with an unlikely and utterly memorable heroine, Child of the River is a timeless tale of heartbreak and triumph set in South Africa at the dawn of apartheid.”

If, like me, you do not know what apartheid means, here is the definition for you.

apartheid
racial segregation; specifically :a former policy of segregation and political and economic discrimination against non-European groups in the Republic of South Africa

I have to admit, I had a hard time with this book. There is quite a bit of political pieces throughout the book that did not interest me. I usually enjoy historical fiction a great deal, but a lot of the political parts of the story line were difficult for me to follow; perhaps because it is of a time and culture that I do not know a lot about?
I am not sure if it was the language from the translation or if it was just not a topic that I found particularly interesting.

I enjoyed the story of Persomi and following her throughout her life. Child of the River is a story of how an individual can overcome the life they have been born into and choose to follow a different path in order to find something better for themselves. Persomi shows us that your path in life can be a choice you make rather then just letting life happen to you.

I did struggle with understanding how this book fit into the Christian fiction category. The author touched on tiny bits and pieces of the Word and God, but there was certainly not an overall Christian theme within the book.
I continually expected to read how God was going to work in Persomi’s life (a theme that is typically found within Christian Fiction) and unfortunately I felt that was never portrayed well within the story.

Overall, it was a good book, but it is not one that I would have chosen to read on my own.

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This next section was added after my book club met and includes some thoughts and opinions of others on the book and how the discussion may have changed my perspective of the book. 

The discussion during book club was quite good. Many ladies brought up a lot of points that I had not thought about on my own. There were also quite a few questions that we had as a group for the author that seem to go unanswered that may have helped me connect to the story just a little bit more than I did. I wish I could share those thoughts and questions with you, but I feel it would take away from your own personal reading of the story.

After the discussion, I did like the book a little more and I think seeing it in a different perspective gave the book new merit for me. It is definitely a book worth reading.

Child of the River

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The Lightkeeper’s Daughters

The Lightkeeper’s Daughters: A Novel
By Jean E. Pendziwol

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I had seen many people on Instagram saying they were reading this and that it was fabulous, so I was intrigued and willing to give it a read.

“In her mesmerizing adult debut set on the shores of the Great Lakes, critically acclaimed children’s author Jean E. Pendziwol delivers an affecting story of family, identity, and art involving a decades-old mystery.”

So lovely was the loneliness
Of a wild lake, with black rock bound,
And the tall pines that towered around

The Lake
Edgar Allan Poe (1809-1849)

I really enjoyed this book. It was not exciting and adventurous, but it had a wonderful story line that evolved and intertwined with all of the well developed characters. The story was set in a part of the world that I have never been to and it was nice getting to experience it through the author’s words and the characters’ stories. Jean Pendziwol did a wonderful job with the descriptions of the setting that you could picture it clearly and feel like you were right there with Elizabeth.

I loved how the book explores the ideas of knowing your past, where you come from and learning how that can shape who you become. There are also some undertones of the argument nature versus nurture. I think the author does a fantastic job of getting you to think about which one is the underlying reason of who you turn out to be.

The novel is full of family secrets and choices that change the course of things, lost loves, bullying, acceptance, unconditional love despite your circumstances and the journey of a young girl desperate to find her roots and a sense of belonging.

As I said above, the book is not chalk full of adventure, but it contains its own kind of mystery that keeps you intrigued all the way up until the end of the story. It was a great read that was not too in depth or made me think too much but had just enough to keep me hooked. I would definitely recommend it to anyone who is looking for a quick, “lighter” book to read.

 

*Note* There is a little bit of adult language in the book. However, I think it lends to some authenticity of the character and the story.

The Lightkeeper’s Daughters: A Novel

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In the Unlikely Event

In the Unlikely Event
By Judy Blume

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How many of you women have fond memories as a tween girl, giggling with your friends at the latest slumber party, holding a dog-eared copy of the much loved Judy Blume novel, Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret.
I know that I do. A novel, treasured and coveted, that taught many life lessons within its pages.

Thank goodness for us, she now writes adult novels as well.

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A historical fiction novel, In the Unlikely Event visits the unusual and chaotic events of 3 separate plane crashes occurring in the town of Elizabeth, New Jersey in the 1950’s.

Judy Blume is able to lend some authentication within the pages of this novel because she happened to be a teenager living in Elizabeth when the events took place. The characters and their stories in the book are fiction, however Judy was able to lend authenticity to the emotions and repercussions of the accidents because she was there during that time.

I cannot even begin to imagine the fear that would run through a small town after not 1 or 2, but THREE airplane crashes; especially since aircraft was still a fairly new phenomenon.

Children had nightmares, families moved, women and men vowed to never fly on an airplane again and lives were changed forever after they witnessed the crashes along with the aftermath.

As we follow Miri, her family and friends through the impact these crashes had on their lives, we learn about first love, old love, anger, growing up, unexplained tragedy, mental illness, family and how secrets can affect not only your own life but those around you. We learn what it is like being a single mother, being an only child without a father, what it is like to be wealthy and what it is like to barely be able to pay the bills.
We learn that life does not always turn out how we imagine it or how we would like it to.

In true Judy Blume fashion, there is some adult content in the book; not a lot but enough that you need to be aware that it is in there.

Historical fiction is one of my favorite genres to read. I enjoy learning about historical events but still being able to lose myself in the fiction story of a novel. Judy Blume did a good job penning a work of fiction that you can get invested in all while intertwining the historical events during the early 1950’s. The book is not a work of amazing literature, but it would make a wonderful summer beach read.

“No,” Rusty said. “Enough is enough. She’s too young to understand. None of us can make sense of it–how can you expect a young girl to?”
“Not by sweeping it under the rug and pretending it didn’t happen,” Henry said.

In the Unlikely Event

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A Cup of Dust

A Cup of Dust: A Novel of the Dust Bowl
By Susie Finkbeiner

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I am part of a Christian Ladies book club. We get together once a month to discuss the book we had voted on at the previous meeting the month before. This month’s book selection was A Cup of Dust by Susie Finkbeiner.

The book takes place in the 1930’s, during the depression era in the state of Oklahoma. Before reading A Cup of Dust, I had no previous knowledge of The Dust Bowl. It is not something I recall ever reading about in my history books, which to me is sad because of the huge impact it had on the mid-western states in the 1930’s.

The Dust Bowl was the name given to the Great Plains region devastated by drought in 1930s depression-ridden America. The 150,000-square-mile area, encompassing the Oklahoma and Texas panhandles and neighboring sections of Kansas, Colorado, and New Mexico, has little rainfall, light soil, and high winds, a potentially destructive combination. When drought struck from 1934 to 1937, the soil lacked the stronger root system of grass as an anchor, so the winds easily picked up the loose topsoil and swirled it into dense dust clouds, called “black blizzards.” Recurrent dust storms wreaked havoc, choking cattle and pasture lands and driving 60 percent of the population from the region. Most of these “exodusters” went to agricultural areas first and then to cities, especially in the Far West.

*source here*

A Cup of Dust was able to shed light on a major historical event that does not get discussed a lot as being a part of The Great Depression era. Learning about The Dust Bowl and how it affected cities, homes, families and people was quite interesting, from a historical perspective.

Overall, I thought the book was average. Besides the history within the book, I felt like there was not a lot of other meat to the book that pulled me in.

I thought there was a lot of stretching within the book in order to have enough words included to constitute a novel. The plot took quite a long time to develop and once it did finally unravel, it was quite predictable.

I would recommend this book to anyone who is looking for light historical fiction around The Great Depression Era.

“Last, and only on clear days, I could see straight out to the sharecroppers’ cabins. The folks that lived in those little shacks had to pay the rent with the crop they harvested. Seeing as nobody had a crop to speak of for years, most of them had been forced out by the banks.  A few had managed to hold on, though nobody could figure out how.”

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This section was added after my book club met and includes some thoughts and opinions of others on the book and how the discussion may have changed my perspective of the book. 

There were a couple of reader discussion questions we talked about that did give me an enlightening perspective on the book. We had some great dialogue about the racism towards African Americans and Native Americans. We had a great conversation about sin and how churches of the past used the sin of the community to explain away and condemn things like the Dust Bowl; about how the pastor of a community can set the tone for the church.

We also had some great conversation about what it means to love when you come from a family upbringing where that seems to be lacking; how do you overcome your own past?

Where you come from isn’t who you are.

Many of the ladies in my book club enjoyed this book and found it quite an emotional read. Another factor we discussed is that most of the other ladies read the book in 2-3 days while I read the book in 2-3 weeks in small chunks; perhaps I was not able to fully immerse myself into the emotional aspects of the book.
After discussion, I did see that there was some merit to this book and it is definitely worth giving it a chance. It is not a book that I would read again nor will I read the second book in the series, A Trail of Crumbs: A Novel of the Great Depression, however it is a good read for anyone looking for a historical fiction book to read.

 

 A Cup of Dust: A Novel of the Dust Bowl

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