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Mar 20, 2018

Before We Were Yours by Lisa Wingate

Tuesday, March 20, 2018
Before We Were Yours by Lisa Wingate
Hardcover, 342 pages
Published June 6th 2017 by Ballantine Books
borrowed from local library

Two families, generations apart, are forever changed by a heartbreaking injustice in this poignant novel, inspired by a true story, for readers of Orphan Train and The Nightingale.

Memphis, 1939. Twelve-year-old Rill Foss and her four younger siblings live a magical life aboard their family’s Mississippi River shantyboat. But when their father must rush their mother to the hospital one stormy night, Rill is left in charge—until strangers arrive in force. Wrenched from all that is familiar and thrown into a Tennessee Children’s Home Society orphanage, the Foss children are assured that they will soon be returned to their parents—but they quickly realize that the truth is much darker. At the mercy of the facility’s cruel director, Rill fights to keep her sisters and brother together—in a world of danger and uncertainty.

Aiken, South Carolina, present day. Born into wealth and privilege, Avery Stafford seems to have it all: a successful career as a federal prosecutor, a handsome fiancĂ©, and a lavish wedding on the horizon. But when Avery returns home to help her father weather a health crisis, a chance encounter leaves her with uncomfortable questions—and compels her to take a journey through her family's long-hidden history, on a path that will ultimately lead either to devastation or redemption.

Based on one of America’s most notorious real-life scandals—in which Georgia Tann, director of a Memphis-based adoption organization, kidnapped and sold poor children to wealthy families all over the country—Wingate’s riveting, wrenching, and ultimately uplifting tale reminds us how, even though the paths we take can lead to many places, the heart never forgets where we belong.

I had seen this novel mentioned pretty much everywhere I looked and so I put it on my wish-list. The local book club then chose this as their group read so I put it on hold and waited patiently for the person who was keeping the book past the due date to actually return it. I then read it in a single day and returned it the next day so that others could enjoy the story.

The story is not one that will get you all happy warm/giddy as it actually is based on true events that ruined lives in the thirties and forties. We may never know the true ramifications of all that occurred with child trafficking. The summary above is long and accurate and I do not want to repeat it but I will say that I am ashamed how politics and big money used children as poorly as they have. The main characters in Wingate's telling may have been fictional but the overall theme of knowing that Georgia Tann actually did exist and did not have to do any time in prison is appalling to say the least.

The Before We Were Yours story is woven with the present day story-line of a young woman following in the political footsteps of her father, and then the story of five young siblings stolen from their home and then are left to the fate of the evil Georgia Tann who sold kids under the guise of the orphanage Tennessee Children's Home Society. In real life we can only estimate the number of kidnap victims there were but there is today a memorial for the at least nineteen children known to have died in her care. It has been said that Georgia plucked children from poor families and gave them to the rich, such as Joan Crawford who paid $5,000 for one of her several adopted children. Blonde hair and blue eyes were the favored traits of the day.

The life of living on river, a shanty-town family is vividly re-imagined in the novel and the main narrative of Rill Foss is so evocative and horrifically mesmerizing that I had to forsake all other duties so that I could read her story in full as I prayed for a happy ending after all she'd gone through.

The redemption is finally (fictionally) found as the author brings about healing through the remaining family members years after their 'adoptions'. I was unsure of the connecting threads so it did keep me guessing as to who was who in their later years and how they related to the present day narrative. I absolutely love dual time-frame stories and this one is next on my favorites reads list.

Definitely understand why this book was chosen as a 2017 Goodreads Choice for Historical Fiction as well as it being a bestseller, etc.

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Mar 17, 2018

The Forgotten Garden by Kate Morton

Saturday, March 17, 2018

The Forgotten Garden by Kate Morton
Published February 16th 2010 by Washington Square Press (first published 2008)
personal library purchase
Review of The Lake House by Kate Morton can be found here
A tiny girl is abandoned on a ship headed for Australia in 1913. She arrives completely alone with nothing but a small suitcase containing a few clothes and a single book; a beautiful volume of fairy tales. She is taken in by the dockmaster and his wife and raised as their own. On her twenty-first birthday, they tell her the truth, and with her sense of self shattered and very little to go on, "Nell" sets out to trace her real identity. Her quest leads her to Blackhurst Manor on the Cornish coast and the secrets of the doomed Mountrachet family. But it is not until her granddaughter, Cassandra, takes up the search after Nell's death that all the pieces of the puzzle are assembled. A spellbinding tale of mystery and self-discovery, The Forgotten Garden will take hold of your imagination and never let go.

This was a very well written tale that is very hard to put down - I devoured the 552 pages within three days. I don't even know what possessed me to pick it up -- I had stood in my own study and contemplated what to read next and this was the first one I touched. Very lucky to have this spring break to sit and read most of the days away as I am making up for last year's spring break when I was packing my old library up and begging people to take books. I kept most books that I felt I would get around to reading in my lifetime and I am so glad I did.

With a fairly-tale feel this is a novel that twists and turns like an invasive vine sprouting new shoots this way and that way; trying to discover the truth of the little girl's origins who was abandoned on a ship takes us from Australia to England and several generations of secrets and deceptions. The mysterious cottage that holds all the clues to the past is waiting to be unearthed by the present day character Cassandra who is the grand-daughter of the little girl who was once abandoned. The story blends several timelines as we slowly unravel the vines to discover the reasons behind the abandoned girl and where she really came from.

This book is pretty much the perfect type of read for me personally: mystery, history, a small nuance of romance and absolute delightful storytelling.

Read an excerpt here.
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Mar 16, 2018

The Sea Before Us by Sarah Sundin

Friday, March 16, 2018
The Sea Before Us (Sunrise at Normandy book one)by Sarah Sundin
Published by Revell, February 2018
review copy provided by the publisher, thank you!

In 1944, American naval officer Lt. Wyatt Paxton arrives in London to prepare for the Allied invasion of France. He works closely with Dorothy Fairfax, a "Wren" in the Women's Royal Naval Service. Dorothy pieces together reconnaissance photographs with thousands of holiday snapshots of France--including those of her own family's summer home--in order to create accurate maps of Normandy. Maps that Wyatt will turn into naval bombardment plans.

As the two spend concentrated time together in the pressure cooker of war, their deepening friendship threatens to turn to love. Dorothy must resist its pull. Her bereaved father depends on her, and her heart already belongs to another man. Wyatt too has much to lose. The closer he gets to Dorothy, the more he fears his efforts to win the war will destroy everything she has ever loved.

The tense days leading up to the monumental D-Day landing blaze to life under Sarah Sundin's practiced pen with this powerful new series.

This is the fourth Sarah Sundin title I have read so I knew what to expect going in: a thoroughly descriptive account of World War II maneuvers and the events of the war detailed through the eyes of very likable fictional characters as they eventually form a romantic bond. The author is passionate about her subject matter and it shines through in her characters. This Sunrise at Normandy series focuses on the brothers of the Texan Paxton family who will each have a novel dedicated to their own story as they reach D-Day.

The Sea Before Us introduces us to Wyatt Paxton and the love interest Dorothy Fairfax who portrays a "Wren" as she serves in the Women's Royal Naval Service. Wyatt is struggling with the results of a tragic accident and how he deserted his family to serve in the war efforts. Dorothy is focused on the schoolgirl crush she holds for a local gentleman Lawrence Eaton also serving in the war and she valiantly attempts to become sophisticated in his eyes. Along comes the cute and compassionate Wyatt Paxton and Dorothy only slightly second guesses where her heart should lie. She is starving for attention since her father ignores her at home and she hopes that the dashing and dangerous Lt. Commander Lawrence Eaton can fill the void that she is trying to fill.

This is definitely a Christian Fiction novel, and as such will also be themed with the struggle of understanding and accepting faith as it should apply in one's life. There are biblical quotes and visits to church and then the questioning of faith as a whole. But for those avid christian fiction readers who are strictly against romance and innuendos, this novel may not be a great fit for you. Dorothy finds out some shady things about her family and they were a surprise to me but I felt it was a great twist that I did not see coming. And some of the shallowness of Dorothy could be a little exasperating, but she does come around eventually.

Wyatt Paxton's character was written so that he seemed like a gift from God himself, and I am not quite sure there are actually men like him around any longer. But since the setting is 1944 I will give the author her license to be creative. His willingness to stick around and see Dorothy through all her hard times is a breath of fresh air, and he is easily a man who could be my next Mr. Darcy.

I really enjoyed the historical plot leading up to D-Day and while some specific war maneuvers and places were completely over my head I feel that Sundin has made a name for herself in the subject area of WWII and perhaps she just can't help herself with coordinates, salvos and SFCPs. I feel that she has found a happy length of a book with this one coming in at 375 pages (the last one I read was a long 465 pages) so there were no slow points in the novel.

If you have any interest in World War II and enjoy Christian Fiction, definitely check out Sarah Sundin's books.

Read my other reviews of Sarah Sundin's titles here.

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Mar 12, 2018

Life After by Katie Ganshert

Monday, March 12, 2018

Life After by Katie Ganshert
WaterBrook & Multnomah April 2017
eGalley provided via NetGalley, thank you!

It could have been me.

Snow whirls around an elevated train platform in Chicago. A distracted woman boards the train, takes her seat, and moments later a fiery explosion rips through the frigid air, tearing the car apart in a horrific attack on the city’s transit system. One life is spared. Twenty-two are lost.
A year later, Autumn Manning can’t remember the day of the bombing and she is tormented by grief—by guilt. Twelve months of the question constantly echoing. Why? Why? Why? Searching for answers, she haunts the lives of the victims, unable to rest.

Paul Elliott lost his wife in the train bombing and wants to let the dead rest in peace, undisturbed and unable to cause more pain for his loved ones. He wants normalcy for his twelve-year-old daughter and young son, to see them move beyond the heartbreak. But when the Elliotts and Autumn are unexpectedly forced together, he fears she’ll bring more wreckage in her wake.

In Life After, Katie Ganshert’s most complex and unforgettable novel yet, the stirring prose and authentic characters pose questions of truth, goodness, and ultimate purpose in this emotionally resonant tale.

I was super stoked to get a chance to review this title on NetGalley after I got over my surprise that it was even still available on the site. It was actually released last year but as I was looking for the next book by Ganshert this is what popped up. So I took a look at the premise of WHY (the everlasting gobstopper of a question that always appears when tragedy strikes and we wonder if there is a God up there watching all this unfold) I could not pass up the opportunity to see if there was an answer to WHY.

It was a fantastic story with themes of sinners, deception, truth, survival, rebirth and of course tragedy. The story focuses on Autumn Manning struggling with survivor's guilt a year after the tragedy and her life becomes entwined with a family whose mother/wife was lost in the event. It's full of awkwardness as Autumn tries to understand her own emotions while struggling to seem normal in front of her family and the sudden acquaintance with Paul Elliott's family who is attempting to move on from losing the mother in their family. It turns out there are quite a few secrets to reveal before anyone can really move on, but relationships can blossom or wilt depending on how hard one wants to work at it.

The book was a could-not-put-down type of read and I am really sorry to let these characters go. The Mannings were a big extended family complete with little mewling kids and then there were co-workers and every single one of those characters just fit so well into their role in the novel that I could just gush on and on. The ones left behind - those who are trying to just live a normal life after losing a loved one- they all bore a strong role in the cathartic way the novel pulls you along as you can't help but to root for Autumn while one setback after another tries to thwart her slow recovery.

I was sad when I finished and I thought I was perturbed that the reason 'why' is never answered as far as who caused the train wreck that touched so many lives. But then I figured maybe that was the point. We never really know why. "Maybe it was time to let go of the why and remember the Who."

Read my other reviews of K. Ganshert titles here.

 I turned off commenting long ago on the blog but I welcome comments at the Facebook page here.