Book Review: Before We Were Yours

Title: Before We Were Yours

Author: Lisa Wingate

Format: Hardcover

Published: 2017

 

A co-worker lent me this book and I am so glad she did!  This is not a book I would pick up on my own if a trusted colleague told me this was a good read, I am taking their word for it…and this book drew out a few tears from me!

The basic synopsis of the story is based off a true life scandal which is absolutely heart wrenching.  Five siblings are living on the river with their parents.  Their mother is pregnant and goes to the hospital with their father and while they are gone, people come and take the kids, saying their parents sent for them.  They take the children into a home and place them for adoption with wealthy families.

Yes, these people stole children, ended up finding the parents and having them sign over their rights, and then sold the children to make a profit.  Disgusting.  We follow their lives through the adoption agency (where they aren’t treated nicely) and when they get adopted out (and what eventually happens to the agency).

The book is told from 2 perspectives; 12 year old Rill going through the process of being stolen and adopted in the late 1930s/early 1940s and present day Avery Stafford, a born into wealth and privilege woman with a budding career in politics.  Avery starts to suspect something may be off with her grandmother and starts to do some investigative work.  I don’t want to say much more because that will ruin the surprise of the story.

I will add there is the perfect touch of romance in this story.

This is a 4 star read for me.   It is a gut punching, sad, true life read that you can’t help but end up smiling at the end.  Despite the horrible events that happen surrounding children, it still makes you feel good with the present day ending.  Some family secrets are scandalous, and this certainly is one, but, in the end it is one of pure happiness.  You won’t regret picking this book up for yourself!

 

Book Review: Winter In Paradise

Title: Winter In Paradise

Author: Elin Hilderbrand

Format: Hardcover

Published: 2018

 

I received this book from a colleague, she’s addicted to buying the latest hardcover reads from Amazon.  I reap the benefits.  I was so excited to read another Elin Hilderbrand book and this novel did not disappoint.  Well, it did, but, I will get into that at the end.

This book hooked me in from the beginning.  First, we read about a family in middle America who seemingly has it all for a low end high class family.  A marriage that is solid, beautiful children, and money to spend without worrying at night.  Then, we read about some friends on the beautiful island of St. John.  Her husband happens to die, mysteriously, in St. John, and his wife had no idea he was even there.

Hilderbrand intertwines the lives of these two groups of people beautifully.  I don’t want to give too much away, it will spoil it for you.  The characters have time to grow and everything feels so real.  I felt like I was driving around the island with how well Hilderbrand described everything.  The details are impeccable, no stone was left unturned.  She leaves you with just enough to develop your own theories on what is happening; some things you will get answers to and others you will not.

I could not put this book down.  Then, it happened.  The end.  I looked around.  I am stunned.  I am still stunned.  This is the first book in her latest winter trilogy series and she makes sure you will stick around for the next installment.  If you can’t read a book and be left with a cliffhanger, knowing an answer is coming in a year, then wait until all 3 books are out in a few years.  Warning, once you start reading you can’t stop so I am sure it will be a binge read.  My only question is can I ore-order book 2 now?

I am giving this book 5 stars.  I was enthralled and finished this book quickly, as I had to find out what was happening.  She leaves us with almost everyone missing a very important phone call except one person.  We find out who was calling since one character answered, and this just opens up a whole new can of worms and new theories I have about what is going on.  I will be impatiently waiting for the 2nd book to come out, Hilderbrand really knows how to keep you hanging on.  I won’t leave you hanging on though, tune in next week for my review of Christmas Glitter by Ann B. Harrison!

Book Review: Everything I Never Told You

Title: Everything I Never Told You

Author: Celeste Ng

Format: Paperback

Published: 2014

 

I came across this book thanks to eBay.  Living in Las Vegas I miss out on Mom & Pop bookstores and nothing beats browsing a good used book store, so I resort to doing this digitally.  Although after I purchased this book I noticed a new, used store opened up a few miles away from me, so I will have to check them out!

This book starts off with saying Lydia is dead, but they don’t know it yet.  Ok, I’m in.  The teenage daughter in this family of 5 goes missing and is eventually found after a few days, dead.  This book goes into secrets within a family that they have never told each other.  The secrets have been keeping the family together (unhappily) and then tear them apart when they start to become told.

This book also tackles the subject of mixed relationships in a time where they were looked down upon.  The wife is a white woman and the husband is Chinese. They have three children; Nathan, Lydia, and Hannah.  The amount of secrets and feelings this family hides from each other is unreal.  I just want to take everyone and put them in therapy so they talk to each other!

The book takes us on a journey where all the secrets are pieced together to understand everyone’s actions and reactions.  Many of the family members assumed family members felt a certain way and that is what led them to do the things they did.  In the end once everyone grasps the fact that Lydia died, they start to turn around.  It unfortunately took a death to turn it that way.

We get an insight on a struggling family who not only is dealing with being “different” from everyone else, but, having the same issues that many American families tend to have.  The secrets have been causing pain to the individual who has kept them, and then once they are told they cause pain to others.

In the beginning of the book I was hooked.  My interest started to wane.  I kept reading because I was invested and was curious to know how she died.  The chapters went on forever (in the 292 pages there are only 12 chapters).  This is not a book you can pick up quickly and read a chapter or two at a time; you need to make sure you have dedicated time to read a chapter.  I felt forced to continue to read this book until the end when my interest picked back up.  You start to see the family come together instead of being lonely and apart and I had been screaming for that the entire time.  I am happy that Ng lets us know exactly how Lydia dies in the end of the book.  There would have been a huge void without it.

Overall, I give this book a 3.  I forgot a lot of the middle part of the book which highlighted the past of the parents which they swore they would never bring up.  Side note: bring them up in your own relationship or you’ll end up like this family in which it had to take a tragedy to truly bring them together. If you have read this book let me know your thoughts, it received high praise from The New York Times, I just did not have the same opinion as them.  Next week I will be reviewing an advance copy of It Ends With Her by Brianna Labuskes thanks to Amazon First Reads!  Catch you next Thursday!

Writer Wednesday – Michael Essington

1. Who are you?  Michael Essington

2. What type of stuff do you write?
My two, published, books are autobiographical. Last One To Die and Life Won’t Wait are stories of growing up in Los Angeles. Going from being a young punk rock kid and later becoming a father. My third book, Under A Broken Street Lamp, is a collection of short fiction stories that I did with an author from the East Coast named David Gurz.

I also write an occasional music review for Deep Red Magazine and Strange Reaction dot com.

3. What do you want to pimp right now?
I am writing the third and final book in the Last One To Die series, called Born Frustrated. Again, the stories are autobiographical.

4. What is your favorite book?
I like authors more than I like a specific piece of work. So, here it goes:
James Frey
Eddie Little
Edward Bunker
And of course, no list would be complete without a Bukowski mention

5. What other hats do you wear besides the writer hat?
I have always been an artist and a bit of a writer. It wasn’t until I hit my forties that I actually made an effort to publish stuff.

6. What link can we find you at?
My Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/michaelessington1 and my Amazon page: http://goo.gl/n9ofGb

The best advice 

In 1994 or 1995, I went through a break-up which lead to a search for new employment and new housing. In other words, things went bad quick.

I slept on a friend’s floor for a couple of days, and then I took the couch at my brother’s place. Slowly, as I got my bearings and confidence, I put the feelers out to everybody and anybody that knew of housing and/or employment.

Finally, one day a girl I worked with in the 1980’s at a record shop called and said that her boyfriend was managing a Kinko’s and they needed somebody to run the computer department during the midnight shift. Perfect! As it was, I couldn’t sleep anyway. Break-up, money, one-year-old daughter, on and on, the brain never turned off.

One morning I’m sitting behind the counter at the computer department working on a press release for Michael Jackson’s parents Katherine and Joe Jackson, when a very dignified African-American man walks up. He asks if he could have a cord to plug his laptop in directly to the printer. I give it to him. He shoots off a couple of pages. Comes back, pays for the prints and hands me the cord.

This went on for a few months, cord, prints, pays and leaves. One day, curiosity gets the best of me, I walk over and ask what he’s working on. He tells me he’s a poet and he’s putting together some pieces about his time in Vietnam.

I told him that I had been writing poetry since the early 1980’s, then asked if he could look it over sometime. He agreed.

My new poet friend came in a week later. He walked up to me and handed me a book he made of 5 or 6 of his poems. Each very different styles, modern, traditional and a sonnet.

I went over and took out a notebook I had of my writings, similar to what I write now, but a bit too heavy on the metaphors. He looked everything over and made comments, like, “This one reads like a song,” and “This is good, but take out the “I,” tell the story without it being first person.” Really cool perspectives. Then he said to go to the local bookshop, find the poetry section and buy the first author I recognized. The point was to find my own voice. Don’t write poetry like I think it should be, don’t imitate Shakespeare.

I wandered over to Barnes & Noble. I looked and looked; finally I see a book by Jim Morrison called The Lords and The New Creatures: Poems. I bought it, read it and moments later declared it as the worst piece of shit I ever read.

I rewrote most of my poetry based on my friend’s suggestions. When he popped up a day or so later, I showed him my updated work and told him that Jim Morrison’s poetry was horrendous.

He read through my latest poetry, offered a few more pointers, and then he asked, “Have you read much Bukowski?” I said, “Not really. I saw Barfly in 1987.”

He nodded, and said, “OK, there’s a book you have to buy. I’d give you my copy, but I probably gave it away already. When you get off work, go to the store and buy Bukowski’s Love Is A Dog From Hell. That should point you in the right direction.”

That man was author Clyde A. Wray; he has always been an inspiration and a friend.

Book Review – Operation Saladin by Roger Croft

Title: Operation Saladin
Author: Roger Croft
Format: Paperback
Published: May 2, 2013

In Operation Saladin Michael Vaux is a British expat journalist working in Cairo for a Damascus newspaper.  His lies from the previous novel The Wayward Spy catch up to him after eight years, and he’s warned to flee the country.  A section of MI6 called B3 which Vaux had worked for and abandoned eight years earlier decides to take advantage of his situation and recruit him for a new mission.

If you loved how The Wayward Spy ended, you probably shouldn’t read this book, and if you haven’t read The Wayward Spy, then I can’t image why you would want to read this book.  If you love to read about divorced, alcoholic, middle-aged men living out spy fantasies with (a) significantly younger mistress(es) and aren’t a fan of all that silly action and characterization stuff, then you might like this.

I must admit my knowledge of the Middle East is sketchy, and there’s quite possibly a lot of good research and British spy novel in-jokes that I’m failing to appreciate.  If so, I apologize; I must stick to reviewing things I am familiar with like plot, pacing, and characterization.  To my knowledge, there was nothing wrong with the research other than my deepest hope that the professionals in British intelligence organizations are not actually this stupid.

First the plusses, most of the sentences are coherent, and the formatting is well done.  The profanity is moderate, and the sex is not explicit.  (Personal preferences, but I appreciate the light touch.) There was the occasional droll chuckle, and some characters who might have been interesting if they had been better written.

But frankly this was the most boring novel I’ve ever read.  (The Old Man and the Sea is a novella.)  There are other novels I abandoned that may be worse, but I kept hoping this one would pick up the pace.  Argh, the pace!  To give you an idea, a man is murdered, and then a week later B3 has an emergency meeting about it.  Two weeks later, Vaux starts to think about something doing something he should have done about a minute after the murder occurs…and then he puts off actually doing it for another week or two.

Eighty percent of this book was either meetings or Vaux going from safe house to safe house or meetings about Vaux going to a safe house.  Chapter two seems to mainly be a recap of The Wayward Spy with notes that probably would have been less confusing if I had read The Wayward Spy first, but I suspect chapter two covers most of the plot.  However I doubt it would have seemed less artificial.  The characters kept kicking off paragraphs with phrases like “Do you remember?” for things that obviously they do and should remember and are just saying for the readers’ benefit.  While chapter two is the worst offender, this continues at odd points for much of the novel, and even plot points that are covered in this book and not from the last get restated half-a-dozen times as though the author does not trust the reader’s memory to reach beyond a couple of chapters.

The author is also a former journalist, and I expect the repetition is one of those things that works well in journalism but not so well in a novel.  Most of the action is very short and/or summarized and in only one scene does our protagonist sort of take part…though without really affecting anything.  The little bit of actual espionage work he does is also summarized and rushed, and he has a handler to lead him through every step.

Supposedly there’s an eight year gap between the two books, but it doesn’t feel like anyone’s been doing eight year’s worth of stuff in that time.  Alena and Vaux don’t act like two people who’ve known each other for eight years, B3 seems to have worked no cases in that eight year gap, and everyone in England acts like Vaux has only been away for a few months.

There’s a lot of alcohol consumption.  Nearly every page someone is having a drink or thinking about having a drink.  Most of the time it’s Vaux drinking (but never showing any signs of drunkenness other than a generally dull mind), but it’s also a lot of official folk drinking on the job.  Maybe this was normal in Britain in the year 2000, but personally I hope the Special Forces soldier guarding my safe house isn’t drinking vodka while on duty.

A generous 2/5.

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