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review 2017-09-14 05:47
The Soldier's Wife by Margaret Leroy
The Soldier's Wife - Margaret Leroy

As World War II draws closer and closer to Guernsey, Vivienne de la Mare knows that there will be sacrifices to be made. Not just for herself, but for her two young daughters and for her mother-in-law, for whom she cares while her husband is away fighting. What she does not expect is that she will fall in love with one of the enigmatic German soldiers who take up residence in the house next door to her home. As their relationship intensifies, so do the pressures on Vivienne. Food and resources grow scant, and the restrictions placed upon the residents of the island grow with each passing week. Though Vivienne knows the perils of her love affair with Gunther, she believes that she can keep their relationship--and her family--safe. But when she becomes aware of the full brutality of the Occupation, she must decide if she is willing to risk her personal happiness for the life of a stranger.





This bit of WW2 fiction opens during the summer of 1940 on the island of Guernsey (Britian's Channel Islands). Vivienne is a mother of 2 girls: one still in her single digit years, one a teen. While Vivienne awaits the return of her soldier husband, she works through each day's hours holding down the homefront --- taking care of her girls, looking after her mother-in-law who seems to be showing early signs of approaching dementia, and squeezing in social visits with her neighbor, Angie. 


The reader learns that Vivienne's marriage is not the romantic image one might initially craft of the patient military wife. Though dutiful in her responsibilities, Vivienne's thoughts give the reader the impression that her marriage might have been one of convenience more than anything else. She admits to feeling little to no passion around her mister and may even have caught him in a moment of infidelity prior to his going off to war. 


Vivienne also reveals that she had opportunity to escape the island prior to the German occupation, but made the choice to ride the situation out, whatever may come. Though her choice doesn't put her in immediate danger, it definitely has its challenges. While it's not all bad -- the Germans bring chocolates and medical care readily available for everyone on the island via Dr. Max Richter, who comes in with the army -- pretty quickly there are new rules. The German army immediate sets up curfews for the Guernsey residents, a rule that proves to be quite a headache for Vivienne one night when one of her daughters goes missing.


Naturally our concerned momma bear shuns the curfew rule for the sake of her child's safety. Vivienne suffers a mild reprimand for her actions, but the whole incident leads to an introduction between her and Captain Gunther Lehmann of the German Army, a meeting which, over time, leads to a relationship (illicit though it may be) that offers Vivienne the kind of affectionate bond she deeply craves. 


Margaret Leroy's writing style itself is quite rich and beautiful here, it's just the plot itself I found a little on the bland side. There were certainly moments that had a strong pull on me -- particularly one moment near the end that's full of tension & sadness -- I just didn't experience that pull all the way through. Though I did finish the novel, I was hoping for some stronger intensity between some of the characters.  The major strength of The Soldier's Wife is its unique perspective on the challenges people of the era might have had to work around. The kitchen descriptions especially stuck with me: having to make meal after meal out of little more than parsnips (because, at times, that may be all that was available) or trying to brew coffee with a brass can oil lamp!


Another important takeaway that can resonate with today's readers is the transformation with the maturity level of some of the characters. The early chapters introduce us to certain British citizens soured by bad experiences involving a few German soldiers, which leads to a "one bad German = all Germans are bad" mindset already brewing at story's start. But time proves to these characters that such thinking is, in fact, toxic and that the poor choices of one should not unfairly condemn a race / nationality as a whole. 



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review 2016-10-02 05:07
The House at the Edge of Night: A Novel - Catherine Banner
The House at the Edge of Night
Catherine Banner
Hardcover, 419 pages
Published July 12th 2016 by Random House


0812998790 (ISBN13: 9780812998795


An enjoyable, relaxing read. I enjoyed how Catherine Banner brought the island alive as it's own character. Small town antics, small town rumors, and 4 generations of a family and its dreams. Not all the characters were as well developed as I liked, but Catherine Banner did make her female characters strong and motivated. Banner, also, used the occasional Italian word throughout the book. Overall, a good weekend or vacation read. I did get a good feel of small town/island life, which is what I think I liked the best-the feel of being there.



*****I received this Advance Reader's Copy from a Goodreads giveaway sponsored by Random House.*****

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review 2016-09-03 06:27
The Things We Knew by Catherine West
The Things We Knew - Catherine West

After her mother’s death twelve years ago, Lynette Carlisle watched her close-knit family unravel. One by one, her four older siblings left their Nantucket home and never returned. All seem to blame their father for their mother’s death, but nobody will talk about that tragic day. And Lynette’s memory only speaks through nightmares. Then Nicholas Cooper returns to Nantucket, bringing the past with him. Once Lynette’s adolescent crush, Nick knows more about her mother’s death than he lets on. The truth could tear apart his own family—and destroy his fragile friendship with Lynette, the woman he no longer thinks of as a kid sister. As their father’s failing health and financial concerns bring the Carlisle siblings home, secrets surface that will either restore their shattered relationships or separate the siblings forever. But pulling up anchor on the past propels them into the perfect storm, powerful enough to make them question their faith, their willingness to forgive, and the very truth of all the things they thought they knew.





Lynette Carlisle was just a young girl when she lost her mother under tragic circumstances. Her older siblings blamed their father and one by one were quick to grow up and move out of Wyldewood, the family estate in Nantucket, MA. As for Lynette, roughly 12 years have passed and she still has virtually no recollection of the events of that night, save for one vague memory of hiding in a closet while sirens wailed in the distance. That, and years of nightmares that terrify her but still tell her nothing.


All of Lynette's siblings have moved out and moved on to their own adult lives now, yet Lynette, now an adult herself, has remained in the family home to care for her father whose mental faculties and finances are rapidly dwindling. Wyldewood is a huge house to upkeep, and even with the combination of her father's pension, her income from her daycare assistant job and selling some of her artwork here and there for a bit extra, they're still barely making ends meet. Lynette gradually finds herself having to consider putting the family home up for sale and her father in a assisted living facility. There's a certain sad humor in the fact that while Lynette struggles to remember her past, the past progressively becomes nearly the only thing her father can clearly recall! 


To complicate her emotions even more, Lynette discovers her childhood crush, Nicholas Cooper, has moved back to town. The estranged best friend of Lynette's brother, Gray, Nicholas has returned to Nantucket to help run his father's bank (even though the relationship between them is strained, to say the least). Nicholas was like a surrogate brother to Lynette for much of her childhood, but the last time she saw him was on her 19th birthday, when they shared a kiss ... and then he moved out of town & her life right after. Now working at the local bank, he becomes a financial advisor to her on the matter of Wyldewood but unbeknownst to Lynette, Nicholas knows exactly what happened the night her mother died. The problem is, if he reveals what he knows he risks not only tarnishing the reputation of his own family but also the romantic connection steadily growing between him and Lynette. Lucky for him though, the time for revelations gets delayed thanks to Lynette's focus on getting all her siblings back home to discuss the future of Wyldewood. Bringing everyone together soon reveals the necessity for each person to face the skeletons of their past head-on, if anyone is to have any sort of chance at sustained emotional health & peace. 



This novel had an attractive environment going for it, taking place on the island of Nantucket, but really I thought the whole coastal vibe could've been played up more than it was. I didn't feel much that seemed quintessential Nantucket specifically, just characters wandering the beach or going to a local diner to eat bowls of chowder. Literally could've been ANY coastal town. 


I also found the characters and the plot itself to be pretty flat. Virtually no surprises for me plot wise. The dialogue was very bland and often it felt a little too scripted for my taste. Rather than being immersed in this town, I felt like I was more a distant observer watching a boring play where everyone recited their lines just so and then curtly exited stage left. When there were scenes of drama it was so overblown that it felt like the book equivalent of a soap opera. It has all the classic earmarks of soaps -- drug addiction, marital affairs, babies out of wedlock, even a wealthy businessman trying to pull off a shady real estate deal. Just mentally insert some swelling instrumentals around those scene breaks and you got yourself a heavily moralistic soap suitable for any of the inspirational / religious cable networks. The book even has a ready-to-go soap title! 


It boggled my mind that characters could lose their minds over discovering one character's stint in rehab -- their behavior along the lines of "It's like we don't even KNOW you!" -- yet Lynette is awful quick to excuse a guy confessing he knowingly let a RAPE happen!

(spoiler show)


Note that this is just my personal experience with this book. There's a mountain of 4 and 5 star reviews for this one all over Goodreads & Amazon, so I'd say that if the plot intrigues you then grab a copy and try it for yourself. It just happened to miss the mark with this particular reviewer. 



FTC Disclaimer: TNZ Fiction Guild kindly provided me with a complimentary copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. The opinions above are entirely my own. 

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review 2016-07-07 08:48
Illumination Night by Alice Hoffman
Illumination Night - Alice Hoffman

Beginning on the night of the Grand Illumination, a festival of lanterns held each summer on Martha’s Vineyard, this novel is a modern chronicle of a marriage and a bittersweet exploration of an extraordinary passion. Illumination Night follows the lives of a young blond giant who is as beautiful as he is frightening; an old woman at the end of her life whose last mission is to save her granddaughter’s soul; a family torn apart by a wife’s fears and a husband’s unrealized desiresand the high school girl who comes to Martha’s Vineyard against her will, who steals husbands and cars, and who will bring everyone together in a web of yearning, sin, and ultimate redemption.






Andre, his wife Vonny and their nearly 5 year old son, Simon, are living on Martha's Vineyard in a fixer-upper home. Vonny makes & sells pottery while Andre is focusing on building his antique motorcycle restoration business. They love their community, particularly when Illumination Night comes around. The Festival of Grand Illumination, a festival of lanterns, is held on the island every year. This story focuses on one eventful year that brings a ton of drama and challenges for Andre & Vonny to navigate through.


When she closed her eyes and arched her back, Andre felt his skin grow hot and his chest constrict. He fell in love with the way she closed her eyes long before he fell in love with her. 




It all starts with their elderly, nearly blind, next door neighbor Elizabeth Renny taking a serious tumble that requires her to be on crutches for a lengthy time. Elizabeth's teenage granddaughter, Jody, comes to town to stay with Elizabeth as she heals.


Though she had not been to the Grand Illumination for years, Elizabeth Renny remembers that the first time she went she wore a pale pink skirt, a blouse with a wide collar, small gold earrings. Although she was already married, she thinks she may have fallen in love with her husband on Illumination Night. Stars had been plucked out of the sky and set into lanterns. She broke the heel of one of her shoes and walked down Trinity Avenue barefoot. 


Each day, hormonal teen Jody observes good looking Andre going about his business in his garage and quickly begins to develop quite the unhealthy obsession over him. Andre notices Jody's fascination with him and mentally notes that had her fixation started just a few months earlier, he and Vonny would have had a good laugh over it. But Jody's arrival now falls at a tough time in Andre & Vonny's marriage. They're trying to push through a mountain of financial stress as well as just the general mix of stress and fears that come with trying to build a new business. They also have heavy concerns over their son's health issues. With his mind clouded with all this, Andre finds it kind of flattering to be the object of a teenager's fantasy and almost feels tempted to indulge in her whims. So much of the story builds on the "will he or won't he?" question. 


As Jody's obsession with Andre grew, I honestly thought this story was going to go the way of movies like Poison Ivy or The Hand That Rocks The Cradle. But Hoffman actually crafts a much more layered story than that. With this cast of characters, she weaves in a variety of issues, complicated pasts, mental chains, motivations, etc. that I found shifted around my sympathies and judgments. With this story I was reminded that an individual's reasons for being the way they are can run so much deeper than we tend to think of through surface impressions.


Simon wonders what sort of potion he could prepare to make his parents happy. If he thinks about his parents too long he will begin to believe that what happened to them is his fault. His parents act as though they were strangers. When Simon has a tantrum, they don't yell at him, they simply look tired and give in. Is it his fault that his mother cries as she cooks dinner? Is there some mistake he has made that had driven his father away?

* {Five years old and already Andre & Vonny's son

is having these kinds of thoughts!}




The character story I loved the most was that of Eddie aka The Giant because of his gigantism. His story alternately warmed my heart or triggered incredibly empathy for the isolation society forces him into. I closed this book wishing for a continuation book just for his character, wanting to know how he came through that last trial. 


This was the first of Alice Hoffman's works I've picked up so far (it was originally written in 1987) and it took no time at all for me to get sucked into Hoffman's style of storytelling. I found myself pulled to the characters even when there was little to no action, Hoffman just made them that interesting! I have a few more of her works on my shelves and look forward to getting to more of her bibliography in the near future :-)

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review 2016-06-09 06:04
All Things Bright & Beautiful: A Devotional Journal For Nature Lovers by Jennifer Flanders
All Things Bright & Beautiful: A Devotional Journal for Nature Lovers - Jennifer Flanders

"What this book is really about -- encouraging you to observe and explore, to record your thoughts and impressions of all you see in the natural world around you, and also to make connections between the physical and the spiritual... I hope you'll have fun learning about the flora and fauna in your neck of the woods and will enjoy having a pretty place to record what you learn, to review later!"

~from the author's introduction




In this 197 page (journal stops at page 194 though) eco-inspired edition to her journaling series, Flanders offers a place for nature lovers to record their favorite sightings in the natural world. Inspired by watching her children's fascination with the outdoors, as well as her own tomboyish upbringing, Flanders also creates pages for users to write some of their more contemplative musings inspired by their surroundings. 


As she did with her How Do I Love Thee? journal, in this nature edition, Flanders includes a full page print of the poem / hymn "All Things Bright and Beautiful" by Cecil F. Alexander.


I liked that this nature-themed journal included activity pages, such tutorials on how to quickly sketch certain animals, how to identify various paw or hoof impressions, how to identify certain types of leaves, etc. There's even one page that prompts the journal user to craft their own poem about flowers. I also liked that this journal was not limited to one type of natural setting. The woods were definitely represented but Flanders also provides a whole section solely devoted to coastal environments. 


While I do love this series of journals and did still enjoy this one very much, it is not my favorite of the bunch. Flanders is skilled on how to place graphics and inspiring words just so for the perfect combination, and while this journal did still offer a nice selection of adorable vintage illustrations, I did find this collection not as eye-catching, compared to what has been offered in previous journals in this series. In fact, some of the artwork in this journal appeared a little more muddled, less crisp. Also, the selections for the inspirational words used in this collection did not move me quite as much as Flander's previous journals. 


All Things Bright & Beautiful is still very much a solid, lovely edition to this series though! I would still very much recommend it as a gift idea for any of your big religious holidays or events such as Easter, Christmas, or baptism / communion gifts. It would also make a great gift for anyone who just generally loves the outdoors! 


A selection of some of my favorite illustrations / quotes from this journal's pages:











FTC Disclaimer: The author, Jennifer Flanders, kindly provided me with a complimentary copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. The opinions above are entirely my own. 

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