Monday, February 20, 2017

A Memory of Violets: A Novel of London's Flower Sellers

A Memory of Violets: A Novel of London's Flower Sellers
by Hazel Gaynor

Genre: Historical Fiction

Synopsis:  In 1912, twenty-year-old Tilly Harper leaves the peace and beauty of her native Lake District for London, to become assistant housemother at Mr. Shaw’s Home for Watercress and Flower Girls. For years, the home has cared for London’s flower girls—orphaned and crippled children living on the grimy streets and selling posies of violets and watercress to survive.

Soon after she arrives, Tilly discovers a diary written by an orphan named Florrie—a young Irish flower girl who died of a broken heart after she and her sister, Rosie, were separated. Moved by Florrie’s pain and all she endured in her brief life, Tilly sets out to discover what happened to Rosie. But the search will not be easy. Full of twists and surprises, it leads the caring and determined young woman into unexpected places, including the depths of her own heart.
 
from GoodReads

Review:  The haunting and desperate chapters and letters written by Florrie grabbed me into this book and kept me listening.  My heart broke for these two little girls, Flora and Rosie, who had to survive on the street all on their own by selling flowers.  At first I wanted to know more about them and less about Tilly but then Tilly's interactions with the orphans and the flower girls captivated me as well.  Tilly eventually found a journal written by Florrie and then both of their stories were intertwined.  Since I was listening to the book on my way to and from work, there were times where I felt things were repeating but I couldn't go back and check.  I discovered later that Tilly's dreams often repeated themselves.  The narrator in the audio version had a wonderful voice and presence but I did not like her voice for Mrs. Ingram.  She didn't sound French to me.  Other than those 2 small details, I very much enjoyed the story and would read another book by this author.

Rating: 4 stars

Saturday, February 18, 2017

Find Me Unafraid: Love, Loss, and Hope in an African Slum

Find Me Unafraid: Love, Loss, and Hope in an African Slum
by Kennedy Odede and Jessica Posner

Genre: Non-fiction

Synopsis:  Kennedy Odede found his first grey hair at six.  Named after John F. Kennedy, he grew up as the eldest of eight children in Kibera, a teeming Kenyan slum without sewage systems, roads, running water, or access to basic needs, like health care and education.  At ten, he was along on the streets.  Homeless and in despair at sixteen, Kennedy was given a book of Martin Luther King's speeches.  Inspired, he bought a twenty-cent soccer ball and started a youth group, determined to bring the hope he'd found into the lives of his fellow citizens.  He called it Shining Hope for Communities (SHOFCO).

Several years later, Jessica Posner, an irrepressible Wesleyan student, went abroad to work with SHOFCO and, despite Kennedy's incredulous objections, moved into his tiny house.  They fell in love.  When Kennedy was threatened by political violence, Jessica helped him win a full scholarship to Wesleyan and brought him to America.  Torn between his community, Kennedy, with Jessica at his side, decided to start a school for Kibera's most vulnerable population: girls.

The alchemy of their remarkable union and the small, joyful world their brilliant collaboration has made in Kibera have drawn the support of community members and celebrities alike.  With this support, Jessica and Kennedy have been able to provide water, heath care, and entrepreneurial programs, which now serve more than seventy-six thousand people, and have replicated this model in Mathare, another Kenyan slum.  Because of their efforts, hundreds of young girls have the potential to become Kenya's future leaders, and tens of thousands of people living in poverty have access to clean water, health care, and economic empowerment programs.  Their girls attend school every day in crisp blue uniforms and red sweaters.  Filled with hope and ambition for the future, they adhere to a rigorous curriculum and out-performing students from the most expensive schools in Kenya.  By elevating these girls, Jessica and Kennedy have started a subtle yet powerful revolution in each community, and have dedicated themselves to bringing the same resolve and enthusiasm to urban slums beyond Kibera and Mathare.

Jessica and Kennedy's story is many things: a tender love story, a tale of how true leaders are made, and an account of the successful melding of the best in two cultures.  Few have fought as tenaciously and ingeniously against poverty and hopelessness as these two young people.  Their story vividly illustrates the power of young, hopeful people to have an impact on the world, and stands as a testament to the transformations made possible by true loves.
to the book jacket

Review:  The authors of this book are truly amazing people who persevered and never lost hope that they could better their community.  Kennedy overcame so much in his life from abuse, poverty, homelessness, crime, drugs, lack of education, and more to become a leader in his community who works tirelessly to make everyone's situations better.  Jessica is an innocent student from the United States who has no idea to poverty-stricken area that she is walking into but she dedicates herself to helping others and eventually is accepted as part of the community.  I'm amazed by how quickly the two of them were able to build infrastructure once they were able to procure funds.    This book does not sugarcoat events that happened at Kibera and the atrocities that occur to women and girls.  There are parts that are not easy to read and broke my heart to learn about how other people are living.  This book is truly eye opening.  This book makes me think about my life and what I can do to try to help others.

Rating: 5 stars

Sunday, February 12, 2017

Fish in a Tree

Fish in a Tree
by Lynda Mullaly Hunt

Genre: Juvenile Fiction

Synopsis:  "Everybody is smart in different ways.  But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its life believing it is stupid."

Ally has been smart enough to fool a lot of smart people.  Every time she lands in a new school, she is able to hide her inability to read by creating clever yet disruptive distractions.  She's tired of being called "slow" and "loser," but she's afraid to ask for help; after all, she thinks, how can you cure dumb?

However, Ally's newest teacher sees the bright, creative kid beneath the troublemaker and helps to shine a light on her gifts.  Meanwhile, Ally gets to know tell-it-like-it-is Keisha and science-and facts-obsessed Albert, who also break the mold.  The three stand together against others who are not so kind.

As the outsiders begin to fit in, surprising things begin to happen in Ally's classroom that show her there's a lot more to her-and everyone-than a label, and that great minds don't always think alike.
from the book jacket

Review:  This book provides a look into a sixth grader who has made it thus far without teachers realizing that she can't read and without realizing that she has a disability.  Ally provides a front of an "I don't care" attitude and causes trouble so that she can distract from her academic struggles.  But the truth is Ally really does want to read and she is very hurt by comments that kids make about her.  Ally feels dumb because she can't read and the author helps us feel her pain.  Ally finally gets help when a maternity leave sub, Mr. Daniels arrives.  This is definitely a good book for the juvenile fiction reading crowd.

I had a couple problems with the book as a teacher however.  It blows my mind that no one in Ally's first 5 years of schooling caught that she couldn't read.  She has moved around a lot but I still think teachers would have noticed and tried to get her help earlier.  That seemed a bit unrealistic to me considering all the testing we do to assess student's levels.  Another problem I had with the book was that the kids seemed wise beyond their years.  Ally, Keisha, Albert, and Suki (another girl in the class) all seemed to always have an adage to help them through a situation.  Mr. Daniels was also an unrealistic maternity leave substitute.  I'm not sure I've ever met a substitute that is that enthusiastic and that willing to put it that much extra work.  Even once they figure out what is wrong with Ally, she does not seem to get support within the school day which is unrealistic as well.  All the problems aside, I rated this book more on what the intended audience would think of the book and not what an adult who is a teacher thinks of the book.

Rating: 4 stars

Thursday, February 9, 2017

America's First Daughter

America's First Daughter
by Stephanie Dray and Laura Kamoie

Genre: Historical Fiction

Synopsis:  From her earliest days, Patsy Jefferson knows that though her father loves his family dearly, his devotion to his country runs deeper still.  As Thomas Jefferson's oldest daughter, she becomes his helpmate, protector, and constant companion in the wake of her mother's death, traveling with him when he comes America's minister to France.

It is in Paris, at the glittering court and among the first tumultuous days of the French Revolution, the fifteen-year-old Patsy learns about her father's troubling liaison with Sally Hemmings, a slave girl her own age.  Meanwhile, Patsy has fallen in love-with her father's protege, William Short, a staunch abolitionist and ambitious diplomat.  Torn between love, principles, and the bonds of family, Patsy questions if she can choose a life as William's wife and still be a devoted daughter.

Her choice will follow her in the years to come-to Virginia farmland, to Monticello, and even to the White House.  And as scandal, tragedy, and poverty threaten her family, Patsy must decide how much she will sacrifice to protect her father's reputation, in the process defining not just Jefferson's political legacy but that of the nation he founded.
from the back of the book

Review: This book started so strongly.  I was caught up in the early life of Patsy at Monticello and then in France when Jefferson was the minister to France and even at first when she returned to Virginia.  But once Patsy married and had children and her father was involved in political drama and her sisters-in-law where caught up in scandal, the book slowed down.  There was so much history and that dragged the story down (and I like historical fiction!)  This book is lengthy-580 pages!  You feel that length in the middle when you just want the story to move along.  I feel like more could have been cut out of this book to make it a faster paced book.  I did enjoy the look into Thomas Jefferson's life from a different perspective and the look into a woman's life at that time.  You get more a behind the scenes look in the start of our government and how a woman was able to influence a man out of the public's eye.  Reading the author's note was definitely insightful to know what was fiction and what was not.

Rating: 3.5 stars

Thursday, February 2, 2017

One Mountain Away

One Mountain Away
by Emilie Richards

Genre: Women's Fiction

Synopsis: With nothing but brains, ambition and sheer nerve, Charlotte Hale built a career as a tough, do-anything-to-succeed real-estate developer. She's at the top of that mountain…but her life is empty. Her friends are as grasping and insincere as she has become. Far worse, she's alienated her family so completely that she's totally lost touch with her only daughter.

One terrifying day, facing her own mortality, she realizes that her ambition has almost destroyed her chance at happiness.

So Charlotte vows to make amends, not simply with her considerable wealth, but by offering a hand instead of a handout. Putting in hours and energy instead of putting in an appearance. Opening her home and heart instead of her wallet.

With each wrenching, exhilarating decision, Charlotte finds that climbing a new mountain—one built on friendship, love and forgiveness—will teach her what it truly means to build a legacy.
 
from GoodReads

Review:  As the book started, it was slow going.  Since I was listening to the book, I kept on going and got caught up in the story and in Charlotte's path to redemption.  Charlotte learns that she is sick and faces all the mistakes she made in the past.  Her goal is to try to set things right and make up for what she had done.  Throughout the story we meet an eclectic cast of characters who all worm their way into your heart from Harmony, the vegetarian free spirited woman who Charlotte takes under her wing to Analiese, the minister who counsels Charlotte.  As the book moves along I found myself invested in Charlotte's life and hoping that she would make everything right.  I cried as I listened to the end.  One thing that kept this book from being a 5 star book was the length of it.  Emilie Richards has a way with descriptive words but there were times that I felt the descriptions were intrusive and unnecessary.  I also didn't get the idea of the anonymous goddesses that was brought up at the every end.  I felt like the author added that in at the last minute because she wanted to make this book into a series (which it is-there are 3 more books about 3 of the characters we meet in this story). I think the women in the story deserve their own stories and I would be interested in reading about them but the goddess part could have been left out. 

Rating: 4 stars

Saturday, January 28, 2017

The Wedding Dress

The Wedding Dress
by Rachel Hauck

Genre: Christian Fiction, Romance, Historical Fiction

Synopsis:  Charlotte owns a chic Birmingham bridal boutique.  Dressing brides for their big day is her gift-and her passion.  But with her own wedding day approaching, why can't she find the perfect dress-or feel certain she should marry Tim?

Then Charlotte purchases a vintage dress in a battered trunk at an estate sale.  It looks brand-new, shimmering with pearls and Bit  satin, hand-stitched and timeless in its design.  But where did it come from?  Who wore it?  Who welded the lock shut and tucked the dog tags in that little sachet?  Who left it in the basement for a ten-year-old girl?  And what about the mysterious man in the purple vest who insists the dress had been "redeemed"?

Charlotte's search for the gown's history-and its new bride-begins as a distraction from her sputtering love life. But it takes on a life of its own as she comes to know the women who have worn the dress.  Emily from 1912.  March Grace from 1939.  Hillary from 1968.  Each with her own story of promise, pain, and destiny.  And each with something unique to share.  For woven within the threads of the beautiful hundred-year-old gown is the truth about Charlotte's heritage, the power of courage and faith, and the beauty of finding true love.
from the back of the book

Review:  After reading Rachel Hauck's The Wedding Shop, I knew I wanted to read other books in this series as I enjoyed Hauck's easy writing style that keeps the reader's attention.  This book did not disappoint!  In fact, I liked it more than I liked The Wedding Shop. I really liked Charlotte (whom I met in The Wedding Shop) and Emily, who was from a wealthy family during the early 1900s.  I like how the historical stories of Emily, Mary Grace, and Hillary were intertwined with the modern day story.  The Christian fiction aspects of the book were not heavy handed (I thought it was actually less than what was in The Wedding Shop) and really fit in with the story line.  This book warmed my heart as I read about the love stories between Charlotte and Tim and Emily and her beaus.  Definitely a lighter book but a feel good one!

Rating: 4 stars

To see my review of The Wedding Shop, click here.

Saturday, January 21, 2017

The Other Einstein

The Other Einstein
by Marie Benedict

Genre: Historical Fiction

Synopsis:  What secrets may have lurked in the shadows of Albert Einstein's fame?  In 1986, the extraordinary gifted Mileva "Mitza" Maric is the only woman studying physics at an elite school in Zurich.  For her, math seems like an easier path than marriage, until she falls in love with fellow student Albert Einstein.  Charismatic and brilliant, Albert promises to treat her as an equal in both love and science.  But as Albert's fame grows, is there room for more than one genius in a marriage?

This is the untold story of Albert's first wife, a brilliant scientist in her own right, whose contributions to the special theory of relativity have been hotly debated.
from the book jacket

Review:  This book was a very interesting look into Mileva Maric's, Albert Einstein's first wife, life.  I enjoy reading historical fiction books about women who are little known behind the scenes of a famous man and about how women were strong and forward thinking at a time when women did not have equality.  Although even though the women are ahead of their time, they often are treated as non-equals and do nothing or unable to do anything about it which is a disappointment.  It was hard for me in this book to decipher truth from fiction.  The author says that she did a lot of research into Mileva Maric's life but there is still so much that is so much that is unknown about Maric's assistance with Einstein's theory and her skills as a physicist and mathematician.  I think the author takes many liberties with this story but it is still an interesting hypothesis.  I wouldn't go into this book thinking that you are going to read the absolute truth about Maric.  Make sure to read the author's note at the end of the book and perhaps read it before you read the rest of the story.  Other than that this is a fast paced, easy to read story.

Rating: 4 stars