Cher Ami and Major Whittlesey by Kathleen Rooney

Major Charles Whittlesey

Dear Fellow Reader,

I have talked before about how impressed I am with the imagination that some writers have. To create stories out of thin air is quite an accomplishment. Especially if the story is very strange. (See my review on Things in Jars by Jess Kidd.) The last two books I have read have been in the interesting  story line category.

I had read Kathleen Rooney’s previous book, Lillian Boxfish takes a Walk, a few years ago. I was also able to see her in person at my local library. I enjoyed the book and was interested in how Ms. Rooney came up with the plot. (The story was based on a real person, Margaret Fishback. Ms. Rooney, through a friend had access to Ms. Fishback’s files.)

Cher Ami and Major Whittlesey is the second book by Kathleen Rooney. I knew nothing about the book when I picked it up. Okay, this book, while interesting has very different main characters. As you may guess from the title, the main characters are Cher Ami and Major Whittlesey. Cher Ami is, at the time of the story, a stuffed homing pigeon that is on display at the Smithsonian. Yes, you read that right. A stuffed pigeon. But she is a famous pigeon. (I bet you didn’t know that there were famous pigeons.) Cher Ami was a homing pigeon during WWI and was used by the American Troops to relay messages between the front and the headquarters. In her role, she was awarded the Croix de Guerre Medal by the French and an Oak Leaf Cluster.

Major Whittlesey was a real Major during WWI. The battalion that he led was the “Lost Battalion” in the Meuse-Argonne Offensive. He was awarded the Unites States Army Medal of Honor.

The book tells the story of Cher Ami and Major Whittlesey’s lives and (apparently) Cher Ami’s post life as a stuffed pigeon in the Smithsonian.

This is Cher Ami – the stuffed version

Okay, the stuffed pigeon part is odd. But an interesting take on the story. Yes, WWI is a main component of the story, but it isn’t your typical historical fiction story. Until I just looked, I didn’t even think of it as being historical fiction. I just thought it was fiction. So, if you are sick of historical fiction, I think that you will find this book to be refreshing. Being partially written by a pigeon is certainly different.

And if you don’t like stories with more than one narrator because it is hard to keep them straight, you won’t need to worry about that with this book.

Overall, I liked the book. I thought it moved a little slowly sometimes and there are a lot of characters in the war scenes. I learned new things about pigeons that I never knew before. The primary thing being that Cher Ami was misnamed. She was mistaken to be a male pigeon when she was a female pigeon. (This will be brought up more that you can imagine in the book.)  There is humor in the book also – it is far from just a book about WWI.

Thanks for reading.

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Maggie Finds Her Muse by Dee Ernst

Dear Fellow Reader:

Happy New Year!  I hope you had a safe and happy holiday season. Hard to believe that it is over already!  And (as Silent Sam sadly pointed out the other day) we have almost six months until our next day off. Now, that is depressing!

For those of you, like me, are facing another grey day outside, it is time for some LIGHT reading. Unfortunately, the book I am reviewing today will not be available until April 20th. Yes, I know, I don’t usually review books before they are out, but I have had this book for a long time and it still has a long time until it comes out. I thought I should review it while it is still fresh in my mind. (And yes, I received a copy of the book in exchange for my honest review.)

Maggie Finds Her Muse is a story about Maggie, who is a writer with a deadline. Her third book is due to the editor in six weeks and she hasn’t had any inspiration to sit down and write. This book is part of the key to her financial independence and she feels that she needs to get going on it. But the words aren’t coming. She is frustrated.

And then we meet her live-in. He only spends part of the year with her – otherwise he is off doing speaking events or closed into his cabin writing. He is with her when he is teaching at the same school where she teaches. She tries to talk with him about how she is stuck in her writing, but he ignores her and tells her what he needs her to do for him. And that was the end. She kicked him out. This is not helping her writing issue. In talking to her agent, she confesses that she has not been writing and that she has kicked out her current man. The agent is horrified. He tells her that he and his partner are leaving for Paris the next week and she should come with them to their apartment so she can write. (under his watchful eyes) At first, she hesitates but then gives in and goes to Paris.

She has a daughter living outside of Paris and it turns out that her ex-husband will be in town at the same time. They are friendly; they agreeably split years before so seeing her ex is not an issue.

She has no thought about re-kindling her love for her ex nor does she expect to fall in love with the man she finds in her bathtub one morning. She just wants to write her book. Love is not part of her equation.

This is Dee Ernest’s 30th book. Wow! She writes Chick lit and cozy mysteries. The book was the balm I needed when I read it. A light, quick read that is satisfying. I see that Kindle has one of her other books (A Mother’s Day Murder) free on kindle right now. It is the first in a series. I have downloaded it. While not a book to change your world view, it is a comfort book. And come on, there is a pandemic, who doesn’t need a comfortable book?

Thanks for reading!

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Year End

Dear Fellow Reader,

I have a confession to make. I have not been reading as much lately. I started knitting again and took a little break to knit in the evening rather than read. But then I realized that my Goodreads annual goal was coming up and I needed to read.

So, I kinda cheated. Yep, I picked out some books that I knew I could read quickly to get to my goal for the year. Now, I suppose that isn’t really cheating but with so many books surrounding me, to pick up (from the library) books that I could quickly read seemed like cheating.

Are you wondering what I picked up? I went to Carolyn Hart’s Bailey Ray series. They are light and easy to read. (As in – can be read in one evening) While they are fine, I found that reading two in a row was a bit much. There is something about reading the explanation for the premise of the book twice in a row. That didn’t do much for me. But the stories are about what I expected and they were fine.

Sometimes, it isn’t bad to read something that is a bit formulaic. You know what I mean; the situation will be different but in general there will be a problem and then another problem and then it will all work out. At times, it is comforting to read those kinds of stories.

I’ve been thinking about the books that I have read in the last year. I am sure you also find it hard to remember when you read a particular book. Was it this year or last? That is why I do like keeping track of the books I have read on Goodreads. I can see when I read them. And I do like to have a goal – it pushes me to get reading at times that I just don’t feel like it. (Yes, there are those times.)  In looking over the list from this year, I see a few favorites and a few new series that I plowed through. One of my favorite books of the year was City of Girls by Elizabeth Gilbert. Oh, I didn’t want to read that book but then I loved the writing. Luckily, I had picked up a used copy of the book because I didn’t feel bad marking it up and putting notes in it. I also discovered a local author, J.F. Riordan, and even had the pleasure of meeting her. One of my favorites, Elizabeth Berg has two books on my list this year. Near the beginning of the year, I read The Confession Club, which is the third book in the Mason series. And then recently her memoir about her parents, I’ll Be Seeing You, came out. I read Karen White’s Tradd Street series. Her protagonist is annoying at times, but overall the books were good.

But I have piles of books to go. It is amazing that there are always so many. I swore last year that I was going to finish my physical book pile – in contrast to my eBook pile- by the end of the year. Now here is it a year later and there are more books there than there were before and some of the same books are there. I really need to put in a concerted effort in to get that pile down. It is a good thing that Silent Sam can’t see how many eBooks there are to read on my Kindle. I could probably go for a year without going to the library between my physical stack and my eBooks.

The problem is that there are always new books that sound so good. Books that I just have to read. Odd books (Meanwhile There Are Letters: The Correspondence of Eudora Welty and Ross Macdonald), Biographies (Promised Land by Barack Obama), The author’s next book (Cher Ami and Major Whittlesey by Kathleen Rooney), and many more that I will come across in the next year. (And book group books and books recommended by friends, and on and on and on.)

Thank you for joining me on this journey. We have traveled to some far-off places and found our hearts lost to good guys and villains. We have had a chance to have our outlook grow and learn something new. What a great opportunity we have when we read.

Wishing you the best holiday season.

Thanks for reading!

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I’ll Be Seeing You by Elizabeth Berg

 

Dear Fellow Reader,

I don’t know if you know this, but I am a fan of Elizabeth Berg. Yes, I like her books. I also enjoy her Facebook posts. If you have not read her Facebook posts, I urge you to follow her.

Her written voice is so friendly and down to earth that I think we could be friends. I know this sounds weird, but I do. No, I do not stalk her. No, she has no idea who I am. (We have met twice at book signing but she meets lots of women that way and I know she has no idea who I am.) At one of the book signings, there was a woman who had been to like 20 of her book signings. She has a big fan base. And for good reason.

She generally writes fiction. Her latest series (the Mason Books) are wonderful. She has 30 books that are published by traditional publishing houses and then three books of her Facebook posts. I am not kidding about her Facebook posts. You need to read them. She writes about just day to day things and sometimes asks for advice.

There was one book of hers that I did not like as much as the others. She wrote a Biographical Fiction book, The Dream Lover. It was the story about George Sand, the author whose real name was Aurore Dudevant. It was fine but it didn’t give me the warm fuzzies that her fiction pieces give me.

So, it was with a little trepidation that I started I’ll Be Seeing You. This is yet another departure for her, this book is a memoir about her parents. I was hoping that I would like it. Guess what? I did. I really liked it.

The book centers on a particular time in her parent’s life. It is her parent’s last years. As the book opens, her father has dementia and the disease is progressing. Her parents need to leave the house they have called home for many years and move to a place where they can have more assistance. This is a terrible time in one’s life both as the parent and the child.

I think part of my trepidation with the book is from my own background. My parents also had to leave the place they had called home for many years and move to a lovely place where they could get more help. They moved to the town where I lived and I had the fortune and mis-fortune to be their primary contact.

One of the things that I really liked was that Elizabeth didn’t gloss over her feeling and reactions. She wasn’t harsh but she expresses the frustration that she was feeling. You can see why she feels that way and how she tries to work with her parents to make things as pleasant as possible. She allows glimpses of her view of the life her parents have led. (And how lovely to have a husband that adores you the way her father adored her mother.) She lets you see that she lost her temper and felt sad and sorry. The reader also learns about the changes in her relationship with her father. While the book is specifically about the last years with her parents, it covers a lifetime of their relationships.

If you have not experienced supporting an elderly parent, then the book might not touch all the feelings that it would if you have had the experience. But it is a lovely memoir even if you haven’t had that in your life. Elizabeth Berg writes in such an accessible way that you feel that you are sitting with her as she tells the story.

I learned that the frustration and anger that come up in these situations goes both ways: you’re frustrated and/or angry with your parents, and they’re frustrated and/or angry with you. I saw how deep the despair can be in understanding that you can no longer properly care for yourself, but I also saw how accepting the love and help that are offered can foster a whole new level of appreciation and understanding between parents and children. I learned that in the middle of what can feel like a gigantic, painful mess, there can suddenly be the saving grace of humor, or the salve of a certain kind of insight.” Elizabeth Berg

In summary, I liked the book. I read the book in one day, which tells you how absorbing it was and that it is a quick read. The book is out today (Happy Publication Day!). I was given a copy of this book in exchange for a fair and unbiased review.

Thanks for reading!

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An Ivy Hill Christmas by Julie Klassen

Dear Fellow Reader,

If you read last week’s review, you know that there is another Christmas book waiting review. Yes, I am finishing off my commitment to write about the ARCs that I have received. And might as well put the disclaimer in now – I was given this book in exchange for my unbiased review.

I will agree that it seems terrible to be reviewing Christmas books before Halloween. But think of it this way. If you want to get the book from the library, you can ask for it now. And I just checked, this book is available from my local library. I am not alone in reading Christmas books already because there are people waiting to read this book. It may be that the author has fans because this is her 15th book.

To give you an idea about the book, the author describes herself in the following way:

“I love all things Jane Eyre”

That will tell you about the time period for the book.

An Ivy Hill Christmas is the story of Richard Brockwell, the younger son of in an English family. He has been living in London staying away from his family in Ivy Hill. His father had allowed him to stay in the house in the city with a skeleton crew, but his father is dead, and his mother and brother want him to return to the house at Ivy Hill. Richard decides that he will come home for Christmas. Richard’s mother wants him to marry and has invited some eligible women to be with the family at Christmas.

When I first started reading the book, I thought about Scrooge. Richard is not very giving. He seems rather caught up with himself. As the book progresses, we see a change or rather an unveiling of his personality and why he has been staying away from Ivy Hill. He has alienated his family to an extent with his standoffishness. But while he is at Ivy Hill, he rekindles relationships in the town, we see him warm up.

I did like that the story did not neatly wrap up immediately. The love interest did not swoon and fall into his arms. She did what she wanted to do and left Ivy Hill. It was a bit of a switch that I didn’t fully expect. Although as a bit of a gripe, why can’t these people ever talk to one another?  Oh, that is just me being crabby.

I did not realize this book was classified as a Christian Historical Fiction book. That probably would not have stopped me from reading it but I do have a comment about that. When I was reading it, for most of the book, I would not have said that it was a typical Christian book. It wasn’t until closer to the end that I noticed the Christian references. But I will say that they came on strong toward the end of the book. I almost felt like the author needed to pack it in at the end because she hadn’t had much reference to it before that. Now, you might not notice this. It is not anything that would stop me from recommending the book but the Christian references seemed a bit more at the end.

It is not a long story, I think it is considered a novella. It is about 224 pages long. A good length for a Christmas book. So, if you like a little romance at Christmas, I think you will like this book.

Thanks for reading.

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