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Archive for the ‘coming of age’ Category

Baling

By Carol Hanrahan

Buy Link: http://www.amazon.com/Baling-Carol-Hanrahan/dp/1442168374

It was a snowy weekend in my little corner of the world, and I couldn’t have asked for a better way to spend it than reading a story about long, lazy summer days in the country. “Baling” by Carol Hanrahan is a delightful coming of age story that chronicles one magical summer in the lives of two teenaged boys.

When Nick and his younger brother, John, find out they have to spend the summer at their Aunt Jess’ farm, helping out with the baling, they are not exactly overjoyed at the prospect. Especially Nick, the older of the two, who’d planned to spend his vacation watching movies, visiting Six Flags Theme Parks, and mostly, attending driving classes in the hope of obtaining his license. Nevertheless, they have little choice except to go along with the plan. From the day they arrive on the farm, life becomes one adventure after another, and they discover that a summer in the country may not be as dull as they’d first imagined. When the boys come across an old Civil War jacket and a packet of letters hidden away in their Aunt’s attic, they team up with Lainey Wallace, the beautiful neighbor girl, and go in search of hidden treasure. In the process, they encounter danger and uncover a family secret, and seventeen-year-old Nick discovers the magic of falling in love.

I really enjoyed this story. The author has a lovely talent for describing the joy of country living. Indeed, the writing was so vivid I could almost smell Aunt Jess’ chocolate cake baking in the oven, see the beauty of the starry night sky, and feel the soft whisper of the summer breeze. The story was very well paced, with a nice balance of action-packed scenes to keep the pages turning, and plenty of quiet moments where I could pause to savor the beauty of the landscape. The story is strong on family values, and is a refreshing reminder of life’s simple pleasures.

The storytelling was lovely, the plot, interesting, and the characters, likeable (if a bit underdeveloped.) All of this added up to a wonderful reading experience. I recommend “Baling” to anyone who enjoys heartwarming stories of life in the country.

–Honeybee

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Becoming: A Chronicle of Metamorphosis

By Mark Lichterman

Metropolis Ink (June 15, 2008)  

Amazon Buy Link: http://www.amazon.com/Becoming-Mark-Lichterman/dp/0646492160

“Do you remember your radio and “Captain Midnight,” “The Lone Ranger,” “Junior Miss” and “Let’s Pretend”? The first time you inhaled a cigarette? Your first swallow of hard liquor? The thrill of the first exploration of the body of your boyfriend, girlfriend, husband, wife… your own body? Your first orgasm? Remember when as a people we loved America, and showed it? Then you might be ready for a nostalgic, funny, romantic, sexually frustrating novel. A novel that may remind many of us of ourselves, “way back then,” when God’s most mysterious creation was the opposite sex. A novel about life and the often funny, sometimes sad, day-to-day things that stir the memories of our lives…”

The above is a quote from the blurb for Mark Lichterman’s Becoming and I put it there because it so aptly describes the novel. When I decided to review this book, I was worried because number one, I rarely have time to sit down and read a book as long as this one and two, because I stupidly felt I’d never be able to connect with anything in it. I’m female, Christian, grew up in the country, and the time period was before my time. I was wrong, wrong, wrong! The subject matter is timeless, the characters so genuine they jump from the pages and into your heart, and being the mother of boys—I could even relate to the male point of view.

The story begins in 1939 on Chicago’s eastside and follows five-year-old Mitchie for the next seventeen years of his life. A true coming of age story told in graphic detail. And the humor—did I mention the humor? I found myself laughing out loud many times. I especially loved when the humor came at a time when it was totally unexpected, the way it is in ‘real life’. I can’t say all I’d like to say about the book because it needs to be experienced first hand and I don’t want to spoil that experience for the reader by saying too much.

Mr. Lichterman is a talented storyteller with a beautifully unique writing style and strong voice. His characters are delightfully flawed, giving them an unsurpassed charm and authentic quality. Becoming transcends all gender, ethnic, and geographical backgrounds, so no matter where you’re coming from, if you love truly great coming of age stories, give this one a try.

My one complaint is I felt the book ended too soon. Yes, even at 736 pages, I was sad when reading that last page and know these characters will be with me for a long time.

–Willow

       

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Accordin- to-JaneAccording to Jane

By Marilyn Brant

Kensington, September 29, 2009

Genre: Light Contemporary Women’s Fiction

Author Website: http://www.marilynbrant.com

Pre-order buy link: http://www.amazon.com/According-Jane-Marilyn-Brant/dp/0758234619/

Bookworm Ellie Barnett is sitting in Sophomore English class with her newly assigned copy of Pride and Prejudice when sexy Sam Blain makes his move. Sam had been tormenting Ellie since kindergarten, but this was the first time he’d actually touched her skin and spouted blatant sexual innuendo. Although Ellie feels a strong physical attraction for Sam, he can annoy her more than anyone she knows. She feels she’s much too smart to allow a little thing like lust to override her good sense, especially with a boy as dangerous as Sam.

Ellie isn’t the only one who thinks Sam is the kind to stay far away from. Somewhere inside her mind Ellie hears another voice declaring Sam to be Ellie’s Mr. Wickham. Hearing the ghost of Jane Austen inside her head, Ellie decides she’s either crazy or suffering some terrible head injury. Jane convinces her she’s neither and that her ghost is there to guide her in the ways of life and romance, and that they both have lessons to learn from each other. Over the next twenty years Jane advises Ellie on all aspects of life, love, and romance, supporting her through many disastrous relationships. Ellie ignores most of Jane’s sage wisdom, preferring to tread her own path while searching for her Mr. Darcy.

When I first got this book for review, I knew it would be great fun and I was right.  According to Jane is an intriguing, appealing story full of warmth and wit. Although I consider myself more of a Bronte’ girl than Austen, I adore both Pride and Prejudice and Sense and Sensibility. So the plot for Ms. Brant’s novel greatly peaked my interest.

The author’s inspiration of having Jane Austen’s ghost living inside the heroine’s head was almost too delightful for words. But our heroine didn’t always find it so very delightful. Although she credits Jane with helping her get through high school and felt she was her best friend—the one person who was always there for her, she learned early on to block Jane’s presence when she needed to. And she especially needed to during the more intimately, sensual moments of her life.

Ms. Brant cleverly entangles the two women’s emotions and opinions, as Ellie seeks true love and Jane offers her, sometimes not appreciated, judgment of the men Ellie chooses to date. According to Jane is a fast read, perfect for the busy woman and the author has a definite gift for keeping you turning those pages. This is a book you don’t want to miss if you’re a fan of Austen, romance, coming of age, women’s fiction, or if you’re just looking for a highly entertaining story from an author with superb style and fresh voice.

–Willow

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sentence-of-marriageSentence of Marriage

By Shayne Parkinson

Genre: Historical Fiction

Original Publication Date: 2006

Book I in the three-volume saga, Promises to Keep

Buy Link: http://www.lulu.com/content/472164

I’m a very lucky girl in regards to the books I’ve been getting for review. They just keep getting better and better. Sentence of Marriage by Shayne Parkinson is no exception. It’s book one in a three-volume set titled Promises to Keep and one of the best historical novels I’ve had the pleasure to read in years.

New Zealand farm life in the 1880’s is hard and twelve-year-old Amy dreams of a life beyond the boundaries of her small community. Although snug in the warmth of her family’s love, Amy wants to be a teacher and experience the excitement of living in a city far from the isolated valley she calls home.

When losing her mother shortly after her birth, Amy and her older brothers are raised by an adoring father and strict, but loving Granny. Six months after Granny’s death, Amy is adjusting well to managing their home alone. When her father returns from a business trip with a new wife in tow, Amy and her brothers are shocked, but determined to make the best of it. Unfortunately Susannah finds farm life less than appealing and generally makes life miserable for all, especially Amy. Two and a half years later, Susannah’s younger brother comes to stay for the summer and Amy makes a choice that will change her life forever.

Although some of the plot is predictable in Sentence of Marriage, this in no way diminished the impact the story had on me because of the fresh way it was presented. The characters come alive on the page and with the breathtaking imagery drawn by Parkinson, the cinematic effect is undeniable. I felt as though I were watching the events unfold on a large movie screen. The author has a special gift for using specific words and phrases to bring the period and location into reality without it being overdone. The fact that I sat up reading until three-thirty in the morning, knowing I had to get up before six, speaks for how riveting the story is. I found it impossible to put down.

Not many people are totally good or totally evil and the author offers a superb mix of both good and evil characters with both good and bad traits existing in both. I was fascinated by Amy’s father, Jack, and enjoyed watching as different facets of his personality emerge. But one of the best characterizations I’ve ever seen is in Ms. Parkinson’s portrayal of Susannah—a selfish, conniving, self absorbed woman who seems, at times, to be on the verge of madness. Yet the author wisely gives the reader small glimpses of Susannah’s humanity, making her even more frighteningly real.

Negatives?? I screamed when I realized I’d read the last page. I wanted more, more, more, and I wanted it very badly. That’ s not a true negative though, is it? I have a feeling the story is about to take a decidedly even darker path, but I’m not worried about that. Sentence of Marriage has a darker storyline, but the warmth, humor, love and affection emanating from the characters make it both appealing and captivating. I’ll be buying a download of Book II in the Promises to Keep saga later this week and I heartily recommend this series to anyone who enjoys historical fiction and even those who don’t usually.

–Willow

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the-last-sin-eaterThe Last Sin Eater

By Francine Rivers

Paperback, 1999

Tyndale House

ISBN-10: 0 8423 3571 4

Buy Link: http://www.amazon.com/Last-Sin-Eater-Francine-Rivers/dp/0842335714

Allegory, Appalachia and Advocates: I’ll use these three words to describe this unique novel. I bought this book a year ago after reading other books by Francine Rivers. I had no idea what the book was about and to be honest, it’s not the type of title that normally appeals to me, but since her other books were so good, I bought it. I guess I must have read the first chapter or two because I found a bookmark placed between pages 20 and 21. I can’t remember why I set it aside originally, but I’m glad I decided to give it another try this week. The book starts off kind of slow and it took me a couple of chapters to get used to the mountain dialect, but it quickly grew on me and the book became enjoyable to read. The premise of the story fascinated me and I feel I got to know the characters right away. I was easily drawn into their lives. The author keeps interest high by hinting of things to come and leaving questions unanswered for a time then returning to them in later chapters.  Events and ideas are masterfully woven together and as an added bonus – – – I loved the ending!!!

Set in the mountains in the 1800’s Cadi Forbes narrates the story of her ancestors and an ancient burial practice involving a sin eater. According to the author’s note “The sin eater was a person who was paid a fee or given food to take upon himself the moral trespasses of the deceased and their consequences in the afterlife. Sin eaters were common in the early nineteenth century in England, the Lowlands of Scotland, and the Welsh border district. This custom was carried over by immigrants to the Americas and practiced in remote areas of the Appalachian Mountains.” Chosen by lot the sin eater in this story became an outcast who lived apart from all others high in a mountain cave and only entered the community at the time of death. Children and adults were cautioned never to speak of him and never, ever dare peek at him during a burial service, for doing so, it was feared, would bring curses down on them. This fictional account tells the story of the last sin eater to be appointed deep in the Appalachian Mountains. Strong, stubborn, Cadi Forbes has done something she thinks only the sin eater can help her with. She has lost a sister and her mother’s love, and after the passing of her dear granny she just can’t rest until she finds this man. Her journey is one of discovery, intrigue, and redemption, as she seeks the truth that turns her isolated community inside out.

Although normally only summoned in times of death, Cadi is determined to seek the sin eater out in life to beg him to take away the guilt for what she has done. Who is this sin eater? Does he help the dead? Can he help the living?

In the midst of the wondering and worrying about the sin eater Cadi becomes soul mates with Fagan the son of the feared and self-proclaimed community leader, Brogan Kai.  To truly help Cadi, Fagan must come to terms with family secrets in a community where questions are unwelcome but truth finds a way to push up to the surface. It’s never easy to confront your own family or to hear of their hand in tragic events. Will Fagan stand for truth even if it means going against his kin? This is a book filled with suspense and a book filled with hope. Readers are reminded that freedom can stand stronger than oppression, fear, and guilt. Readers soon realize that Fagan has his own secrets and his own reasons for seeking the sin eater. The two children work together with the help of an elderly neighbor and a local outcast to try and find answers. As they are seeking this sin eater, they learn that a “Man of God” has come to the area? Just as they have their own reasons for meeting the sin eater they are both curious to find out what this man of God has to say. Does he speak the truth? Will what he says be accepted by the people and what will happen if they won’t listen? Will a child lead the way? And . . . if tradition is broken what will become of the man they call the sin eater? I won’t answer these questions nor tell too much more of the plot because it unfolds as it goes and I’d hate to spoil it for anyone.

If you like a book full of rich descriptions and wonderful characters this is a book for you. These characters have depth and personality. You will grieve with them, pity them, fear for them, and rejoice with them. There are many characters to like in this book. There are plenty to dislike as well. Even the unlikeable characters are well portrayed and well defined by the author.  Themes in this book include mistakes and forgiveness, standing up for what’s right and going against the establishment, folklore and truth. The story is compelling and will make some readers stop and think about truth, traditions and why we do what we do when we do it. I was pleased to see that Rivers addresses the Appalachian culture with honesty and care. She does a great job presenting the tribal character of a mountain culture and easily moves the reader from feeling pity for these people to really relating to the emotions and frustrations they face due to tradition, isolation and a lack of options. Although the notion of the sin eater was new to me, the ultimate redemption presented is a familiar truth. I enjoyed my time with Cadi and Fagan and found myself cheering them on in more than one chapter.

This is a Christian novel that can also be classified as historical fiction. The biblical references are accurate and well placed. The historical aspect was well researched and respectfully presented. The biblical references are so entwined in the story that they don’t come off as preachy or forced. I believe even readers who don’t normally read Christian literature would enjoy this compelling story. The book contains adventure, danger and coming of age of the two younger characters. The characters are presented in a realistic way and placed in a captivating setting that fits the time period and honestly portrays the traditions of the mountain people.

I enjoyed the author’s descriptions of the mountain flowers, herbs and plants. It was interesting to be exposed to some of the truths, traditions, fears and beliefs of the mountain people. Although this book doesn’t take long to read, it is suspenseful, heartwarming, and well written. I recommend it for all readers. It would be a good choice for a family read aloud or a book club selection.

–Pearl

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what-we-keepWhat We Keep

By: Elizabeth Berg

Ballantine Publishing, May 25, 1999

Buy Link: http://www.amazon.com/What-We-Keep-Ballantine-Readers/dp/0345423291/

I acquire books in many ways: A few are given to me as gifts, some I buy brand new, others I swap for at the used book store, occasionally I trade books with friends and many times I pick them up at yard sales. I am always on the lookout for a good read. I don’t know how I came across What We Keep by Elizabeth Berg nor do I remember how long I’ve had it sitting on my shelf. Inside the front cover is an address label for Helen B. Sawyer from the state of Vermont. I don’t know Helen and wonder when she put her label in the book. Did she take it on vacation and mistakenly leave it behind? Did she loan the book to a friend in hopes of getting it back? I will never know, but I set aside my twinge of guilt for reading her book realizing that if she thought it was worthy of a return label I should give it a try. I’m glad I did. I had never read any Elizabeth Berg books before this one, but I know I will be looking for her next time I visit a yard sale or book store.

What We Keep is a book about mothers and daughters, sisters and friends. It portrays evolving family dynamics, choices and changes. The book is mostly about a mother and her daughters, but my favorite relationship in the book is the one between the two sisters, Ginny and Sharla. Maybe it’s because I grew up sandwiched between sisters, but I always enjoy reading sister stories. In this case the relationship between the sisters comes across as very realistic. The story had some funny parts and in some sections I smiled to myself because I could see my sisters and I doing some of the very activities described by the author. The book is also sad and thought provoking. In this book the girls are having a carefree preteen summer until events align and the lazy days of a summer are interrupted by adult decisions that affect children in a life changing way. As the story unfolded I was captivated by the girl’s devotion to each other. Sure, they had their share of sibling rivalry and jealousy, but underneath it all they were fiercely devoted to each other. I love that relationship. On the surface it seems the Young’s have an ideal family but when free spirited Jasmine moves in next door, mother’s feelings of dullness and depression come to the surface.

The story flips back and forth between two perspectives. We hear from twelve year old Ginny who experiences the abandonment of her mother alternated with 47 year old Ginny who has been coaxed into flying to visit her mother, whom she hasn’t seen in 35 years. Ginny and Sharla were abandoned and betrayed together. Ginny and Sharla together travel the road to understanding and forgiveness. Both girls had given up on a relationship with their mother (Marion) years ago, but are making the trip nonetheless. It was Sharla’s idea to reconcile and Ginny only agrees to go because she suspects her sister might have cancer. Devoted as she is, she can’t let Sharla face mother alone after all these years. As Ginny’s flight wings its way west, she spends her time remembering her childhood: the time of happiness before things fell apart, the events that led to mother leaving and even her part in the prolonged estrangement. Most of the novel is told in flashbacks to childhood during the plane ride.

While reading the book I found myself sympathizing with Ginny and Sharla. I felt terribly sad that they went through their teen years without their mother. I really wanted them to reconcile with their mother early on. They desperately wanted her back at first, but she was off finding herself. As time passed they settled into a new routine and grew angry and distant. When mother felt ready to try again it was a case of not wanting the same things at the same time. I understood Marion’s plight but not her decision. I was angry with her choice but still felt compassion for her in her sorrow for her loneliness. She walked out and left her family and by the time she came back the circle had been closed and her efforts to regain a position in the family were not accepted. Of course the girls didn’t know the whole story and we eventually learn that what they thought to be true was tainted with a childlike perspective and purposeful omission of facts. In an effort to leave them one stable parent, mother took the blame for the breakup of the family. By not adding sordid details or mentioning their father’s actions the girls saw her as the sole villain. Father’s silence and her omission led the girls to place 100% of the blame at her feet. The truth comes out at the end of the story and looking back with a fresh perspective isn’t easy for the girls. Sometimes one has to look back to move ahead. The story reminds us that there are always two sides to every story and it is never too late to reconcile with a loved one.

I felt most of the characters were well developed and enjoyed getting to know them. For me the only drawback in character development in this book was father. Throughout most of the book he was just kind of there and pretty passive. We never really get a sense of his feelings, his struggles or his decisions. We learn things about him toward the end of the book ,but we don’t really know him. Since I didn’t know him or what he was thinking I could only be disappointed that he never admitted to his part in the breakup. It would have been nice to learn what he was thinking, as he sat in silence all these years. It seems cowardly of him to go to his grave content for his daughters to be alienated from their mother due to a partial truth. I may be taking it too far, but the revelation of his actions is something his adult daughters will now have to reconcile without the chance to talk to him: The hero dad they grew up with vs. the dad that played a real part in the destruction of the family. Nothing happens by itself and I think dad’s character could have been written a bit stronger and perhaps more insight given into his relationship with his wife and daughters.

Jasmine is a colorful character who adds a lot to the story. I enjoyed the addition of the teenaged character of Wayne to the story line and what it brought to the girl’s relationship. I was slightly disappointed that he didn’t reenter the story, as I was hoping we would at least get to see how his life turned out. I became sad when reading how dad tried to carry both roles after mother left. His attempts at cooking, shopping and listening were hard for the girls to accept because they so desperately wanted their mother for these duties. It was easy to understand how Ginny felt when her mom wasn’t there to go school shopping or to confide in the day she got her first period. The author drew the reader in by dealing sensitively with these emotions, which I believe are felt by all daughters who lose a mother.

This book touches on many issues affecting women in their relationships with each other. It explores the role of mother, sister, wife and friend. It touches on the hidden woman behind the happy smile, the artist within and the darkness of depression.

I found What We Keep to be an interesting story from start to finish. I enjoyed Berg’s descriptions in the story. I could visualize the town and the time period as she detailed houses, stores, clothing, cars and food of the 1950’s. It is a short book that could easily be read in one or two sittings. When I was about three quarters of the way finished, I thought I knew just how it would end. I was pleased to see that it was not as predictable as I thought. Although not a new release I think this would be an enjoyable summer novel for those who have not yet read it.

–Pearl

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graceGrace

By: Richard Paul Evans

Published by Simon and Schuster 2008

ISBN-13: 978-1-4165-5003-7

Buy Link: http://www.amazon.com/Grace-Novel-Richard-Paul-Evans/dp/1416550038

Every now and then I come across a book so compelling that I set aside my Saturday chores and spend the afternoon curled up reading. January has been especially brutal this year and when icy roads spoiled our weekend plans that is exactly what I did. I knew I wouldn’t go wrong with the latest book by Richard Paul Evans (author of The Christmas Box). The story centers around a runaway girl, a love struck boy, his loyal brother and childhood dreams that clash with adult cruelty. This is a story of first love, first kiss, enduring connections, but no happily ever after. Grace, set in the early 1960’s, opens with Eric and his family forced to relocate from middle class stability to a “dumpy” house in a “crummy” neighborhood due to father’s illness and job loss. Mother is forced to go to work outside the home for the first time leaving the boys to go exploring all summer long. The only good thing Eric and Joel see about the move is the 5 acres of secluded woods at the back of the property. The boys spend their days climbing trees, exploring the woods, playing baseball and building a large clubhouse from odds and ends. Although they do their share of fighting and sneaking around readers will conclude that they are good kids with a strong brotherly bond.

As summer turns to fall the boys head to their new school and Eric gets his first job. It is at work one winter night that Eric meets Grace while she is looking for food in a dumpster. Grace is a teenager on her own running from an abusive situation. After hearing Grace’s woes, Eric invites her to stay in the clubhouse. You will be charmed by the protective efforts of 14 year old Eric, as he sneaks food, provides necessities and offers small gifts to transform the clubhouse into a home for Grace and gives her hope and happiness. His unselfish attempts to bring her comfort will have you rooting for this boy every time he takes a new risk. Even with all his efforts the sad reality is that Grace needs more protection than a love struck boy could ever offer. Themes running through the book are cruelty and protection, betrayal and compassion, love and regret.

When readers realize a teenage girl is hiding away in a back yard club house they naturally wait for her to be discovered. Skeptics might think that Grace would be discovered much earlier in the story however the author’s descriptions of the property, details of family dynamics and a few close calls by those in authority make it believable that she could go undiscovered for as long as she did. As the book draws to a close you will get angry right along with Eric and you will probably need tissues as your hope for a happy resolution clashes with a loss of innocence and a loss of Grace. The story doesn’t end at its saddest point. I found myself cheering Eric on, as he discovered Grace’s diary and tried to come to grips with his purpose in her life. I love books with happy endings where all the loose ends are wrapped up neatly and I can close the cover with a happy feeling in my heart. This is not such a book. Not all stories have perfect endings and readers seeking such an end may be disappointed or even horrified by events near the end of this novel. However, upon thoughtful reflection of the true ending, readers will realize, as Eric did, that when beauty leaves and innocence is lost; Grace remains.

This is a well written, thought provoking story that will grip you and may make you look a little more closely at those around you who need help. I am impressed with Richard Paul Evan’s foundation that is described in the back of the book. Christmas House International is an organization devoted to building shelters and providing services for abused and neglected children. I love it when authors use the power of the pen to give back to society.

Pearl

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