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review 2017-10-21 14:46
Last Words
Last Words: A Diary of Survival - Shari J Ryan Emma's grandmother, Amelia is the rock of her family. That is, until the day Amelia suffers a stroke. At this point, Emma's life is forced to come into focus. Amelia suddenly wants Emma to find her old diary, one she wrote during the Holocaust, and a man named Charlie. Oh, and Amelia has also conned her cardiologist, Jackson into taking Emma on a date. When Emma finds her grandmother's diary, she is launched into a world of secrets from Amelia's life and horrors that she could not believe. In addition, Emma also reads about love found within the concentration camp. Amelia and Nazi Soldier, Charlie Crane find one another during the worst of times. Charlie, though a Nazi, has simply been forced to serve since a youth. In reading Amelia's story of survival and love, Emma comes to realize what she has been missing and dives into her new relationship with Jackson. However, she is now in a race against time to find the Charlie from her grandmother's past as Amelia's health worsens. I have always loved historical fiction and I'm so glad Shari took on such a heavy topic. Inspired by her own grandmother, Shari has weaved together a story of past and present, survival and loss and heartbreak and love. I was pulled into Amelia's story with her strength and tenacity throughout the pain, hardship, loss and desperation of being separated from her family and watching those around her continuously die while she lived with help and hope from Charlie. With alternating viewpoints of Amelia's diary and Emma's blossoming love life, I was given a reprieve from the Holocaust and given a taste of Shari's specialty with Emma and Jackson, a sweet and sultry romance. Through reading Amelia's diary together, Emma and Jackson are brought together quickly, realizing that love is something that you should hold on to. With just enough hints of spice, their relationship heats up quickly. I was also engrossed by the mystery of Charlie; was he alive, had he moved on, would Emma find him on time? I was glad for Amelia's happily ever after, although it came seventy-four years late. Most of all this story this story is about remembering those who fought to survive and the power of love when we have lost all else. This is also a way to remember those who have survived this hateful time in history and to make sure we have all of their last words recorded so that we will never forget. This book was received for free in return for an honest review
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review 2017-10-02 21:24
The Shores of Our Souls
The Shores of Our Souls - Kathryn Brown Ramsperger

​Dianna is looking for something new and exciting to get her out of her slump.  In 1980's New York City, Dianna works for the Metropolitan Museum of Art, however she is stuck typing out little green cards all day.  Dianna longs to travel and help people, do something useful.  Dianna meets Qasim and sparks fly.  Qasim is older and well traveled.  He is an Arab-Muslim U.N. official from Beirut, Lebanon.  Qasim has known war in his home country for most of his life, and the present is no different.  Qasim longs for peace and is trying his best to help through his position.  As Dianna and Qasim spend more time together, they find out that love may not be enough to span the distance of race, religion, cultural differences and two histories filled with different pains.

I was drawn to the unique setting and issues that were covered in this story.  I was very young when the war in Beirut was raging and I was glad to learn more about it from Qasim's point of view.  With everything negative that we are inundated with from the Middle East, I enjoyed reading about the beauty of the land, the customs and Qasim's schooling.  Dianna and Qasim's romance kept me in suspense.  Moving very quickly at first and then getting derailed at several cultural, religious and social differences along the way.  I was torn between Dianna and Qasim- feeling frustrated for Dianna, who was trying so hard to understand Qasim's culture and background and me mindful of their differences, however, she was never really filled in by Qasim except for being told it was too dangerous for her and for Qasim's need to separate himself from the negativity and weight of war and his strong ties to his homeland.  I do wish that both Dianna and Qasim's pasts were delved into a little more, as I felt there would have been even more understanding uncovered there.  Overall, a poetic and moving love story that uncovers much more than a romance. Although set thirty years ago, The Shores of Our Souls echos with themes that we are still struggling with today.  

This book was received for free in return for an honest review.

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review 2017-09-28 16:08
The Winner: A Ballroom Dance Novel
The Winner: A Ballroom Dance Novel - Erin Bomboy

This was supposed to be Nina Fortunova's year to win. Instead, she is divorced, without a partner on and off the dance floor. Nina takes to training a young couple, Carly and Sam. Soon, teacher and student become competitors as Nina finds a new partner in Jorge, a Latin Dancer who wants to transition to smooth and Carly gets picked up by Trey, a three time National champion. Both ladies will do whatever it takes to win, but will they take it too far?

Riveting and captivating, The Winner threw me into the exciting world of competitive ballroom dancing. I did ballroom dancing for a few years in college, which is what initially sparked my interest in the book, so I had no trouble following along with the styles, techniques and feelings evoked by each dance. However, even if you know nothing about dance, you should be able to follow along just fine without feeling overwhelmed. The scenes described in the practice studio and the competition were so vivid that I could smell the sweat and hairspray. I enjoyed reading the contrasting storylines of Nina and Carly. Nina, an older dancer who, determined to win the Nationals after working her way through the ranks and Carly, a new dancer to the scene who wants to win Nationals in a short period of time. Both Carly and Nina are determined and talented, but have very different motivations. The side stories of both Nina and Carly's backgrounds added drama to the story. Nina believes she must accomplish a great feat and be successful for her mother who sacrificed everything to come to America and give her opportunities; whereas Carly's parents are forcing her to be a special education teacher in order to better help people like her brother, Archer, who is autistic. When Carly finds a dream of her own, they are not supportive. What was highlighted most for me however, was the connection you find while dancing, especially with a partner.


"And with connection, all things were possible. One person's limits were halved and his or her prospects doubled when paired with another. Four legs rooted into the earth, allowing two hearts and two heads to reach heavenward."

The ending was very surprising and moved quickly through time seeming a little disjointed with the rest of the book. Overall, an immersive and enthralling read taking you deep into the world of ballroom dancing. 

​This book was received for free in return for an honest review.

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review 2017-09-28 02:49
The Witch and Other Tales Re-Told
The Witch and Other Tales Re-told - Jean Thompson

Another for halloween bingo!  You would think this would be for the witches square, but with only one short story of a witch, I will use this for genre: horror.

 

The Witch and Other Tales Re-Told is a short story collection of reimagined fairy tales in modernized settings with a twist. Many of the stories are barely recognizable until I found a few telling points or a certain phrase came up.  All of the stories were rooted in the real world, but had a creeping darkness around the edge or a sense of something not quite right.  The writing conveyed a sense of knowing many different characters and being able to get into their heads.

One of my favorite was the first story, The Witch, a modern Hansel and Gretel where siblings Kerry and Jo are taken in by the Department of Children and Family Services to a foster home run by Mrs. Kojo.  Outwardly, Mrs. Kojo appears perfect, for the children, however, things are different. Jo quickly picked up on how Mrs. Kojo operated and when there was an opening, she channeled her inner Gretel.

Another favorite was Prince, a very turned upside down Cinderella.  In this version, Ellen has a slight and manageable mental health issue and a very controlling sister.  Ellen finds a stray dog and names him Prince, Prince is very grateful for Ellen's care and he tells her that-in words.  Prince was definitely the most charming story, but true to the fairy tale, the sister does not come out on top. 

 

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review 2017-09-14 20:55
The Smallest Thing
The Smallest Thing - Lisa Manterfield
Emmott Syddall wants nothing more than to leave her small town and move to London.  She does not want to become another dead Syddall buried in the small Eyam cemetery.   Emmott make plans to move to London with her boyfriend, Roland right before her 18th birthday.  However, before she can get out of Eyam, her neighbors begin dying.  At first, it looks like a weird flu, but no one really knows, and then, Eyam is quarantined.  There is no leaving, the exits are surrounded by military patrol.  Relief workers in yellow haz-mat suits flood the town and begin asking questions.  No one wants to go out and about or interact with anyone else.  Except for Emmott, who just wants to escape and her father, who just wants to help his neighbors.  Emmott's mind begins to change about leaving when a suited up relief worker named Aiden begins visiting.
 
The Smallest Thing is a creative re-imagining of the self-imposed quarantine of the village of Eyam in the 1660's due to the plague.  At that point in time, the villagers of Eyam were seen as selfless, heroic- allowing the plague to ravage them, saving countless others.  In modern times, with social media and aggressive TV reporters, the town is a spectacle, the victims are no more than statistics. Emmott is very easy to identify with, restless and burgeoning on adulthood, her story is one of growth and finding her place.  I enjoyed watching her change her opinion of her father from a fearful man who is tying her down, to a hero who allowed her to grow.  The virus also interested me, this was not just a resurgence of the plague, but something unknown, brought about possibly by climate change and increased human movement.  The romance in this felt just right, not rushed, not insta-love, but definitely intensified by the situation. If not for the fact that it was a haz-mat suit, the fact that Emmott saw nothing but Aiden's eyes felt almost exotic  their connection was based on something deeper than physical attraction when Emmott wants nothing more than to connect with someone.  Overall, a heartfelt story of devastation and how a community can pull through. 
 
This book was received for free in return for an honest review. 
 

 

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