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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Just Mercy by Bryan Stevenson

Dear Fellow Readers,

I would like to strongly urge you to read the book Just Mercy by Bryan Stevenson. This amazing book is not new but I had not read it until now and I feel like I have been missing out. The book is very powerful.

Bryan Stevenson and Kelly Corrigan

Let me start at the beginning of how I found this book. I have reviewed a couple of Kelly Corrigan’s books – Tell Me More (https://cecooney.com/2018/01/09/tell-me-more-by-kelly-corrigan/) and Glitter and Glue (https://cecooney.com/2014/02/28/glitter-and-glue-a-memoir/) and had enjoyed them. I had seen some reviews of a new interview show on PBS with Kelly Corrigan. Her first interviewee was Bryan Stevenson. I had never heard of Bryan Stevenson. (I apparently live under a rock.) Since I had read great reviews and vaguely followed Kelly Corrigan for years, I thought I would watch the show. You can watch it (and I urge you to watch it) at PBS.org/video/bryan-stevenson-acdjum/.

It is hard to know where to start in telling you about the book. The book reminds me of the book, Janesville: An American Story. Both books are about hard subjects, but they are written about the people involved in the hard subjects. They tell the story of the people who have been affected rather than just talking about the systems that caused the problem. By humanizing the subject, you are pulled into the story and it is easier to see the problem.

Bryan Stevenson is a Harvard educated lawyer. While he was in law school, he found his passion in working with innocent people on death row and with children who have been sent to adult prisons for life. In the book, he writes their stories and what happens to them. Some he could save and some he couldn’t. While telling you the stories, he also fills in how the attitudes and laws of the time affect the justice system and how they have changed over time. Most of the stories take place in the south, particularly Alabama. One story that threads through the book is the story of Walter McMillian. The story is shocking. In overly simple terms, a young white woman was killed in a small town in Alabama. The police had no idea who had killed her but needed to find the killer. They decided to arrest Walter McMillian for the crime. Walter McMillian was on their radar because he had had an affair with a married white woman. The police and prosecutors then bribed several men into testifying against Walter. Even though Walter had many many witnesses to prove that he could not possibly have committed the crime, he was sentenced to be executed. I am giving you the bare bones of the story. It is more twisted than this.

“Walter’s case taught me that fear and anger are a threat to justice; they can infect a community, a state, a nation and make us blind, irrational, and dangerous. I reflected on how mass imprisonment has littered the national landscape with carceral monument of reckless and excessive punishment and ravaged communities with our hopeless willingness to condemn and discard the most vulnerable among us. I told the congregation that Walter’s case had taught me that the death penalty is not about whether people deserve to die for the crimes they commit. The real question of capital punishment in the country is, Do we deserve to kill? “

Bryan Stevenson

In between Walters’ story, we learn about other cases that Mr. Stevenson worked and how the views of the courts have changed over time.

The book itself is easy to read and moves quickly. The subject is incredibly hard but very important. The book humanizes the subject and makes it much clearer.

And yes, if you are much quicker than I am, the book was made into a movie starring Michael B. Jordan and Jamie Foxx. Obviously, I have not seen the movie.

If you have any questions about whether or not you want to read this book, I urge you to watch the Kelly Corrigan interview with Bryan Stevenson. Also, you can watch Kelly Corrigan’s show, Tell Me More with Kelly Corrigan. There are three episodes all available on PBS.org. She also has a new podcast, Kelly Corrigan Wonders.

Thanks for reading!

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Jingle All the Way by Debbie Macomber

Dear Fellow Reader,

Fall is working its colorful magic outside. Yes, it is getting colder, but we are getting nature’s final show for the year before we settle into a world of whites and greys. No, I am not very excited about winter coming. After spending a lot of time at home, the prospect of the time of year where we spend a lot of time at home is not as exciting as it might have been in the past. But decorating the house is more fun for the next few months.

I went back to the well of ARCs. (Advanced Reader Copies) I try to keep myself from going there too often because there is so much that interests me. And in the past, I have taken many more than I can possibly read and write about. And there have been times that I have written about them and forgotten to report back that I did read and write about the book. I try to be much more careful now. Despite my efforts, I have five books. Yikes! I pick up five books (!) and three of them are new Christmas themed books. I think it is a bit early for Christmas books but not for publishers. I have read two and 1/3 of them so far. I regret to say that the one I have not finished is about to go on the “not going to finish pile”. I feel bad not finishing a book but there are so many books to read that I find that I need to just give up on some. (My husband would point to the large pile of books that I have not read yet as proof.)  I will say that sometimes it is the mood that I am in rather than the book itself. As I am sure you know, if you are stressed about something it influences your interpretation of the book.

I was asked recently if I review books that I don’t like or would not recommend. The answer is no. There are a few reasons for this. The primary reason is that the author has put a lot of work in to writing a book. Even if it is the worst book on earth, there were hours and hours of work put into that book and I am not interested in knocking the work that was put into a book. There are plenty of reviewers who will do that. Also, as mentioned in the last paragraph, your moods can affect your interpretation of a book. Also, your maturity can affect your feeling about a book. When I was younger, I loved the book Pentimento by Lillian Hellman. When I read it a few years ago, I was not as smitten. As a rule, I will not review a book that I didn’t like.

That leads us to today’s review. I was surprised that I was given an advanced copy of this book. Debbie Macomber is a well-established author. I would not have expected them to have a desire to ask for reviews as her books will sell well without any reviews. She is very popular.

Jingle All the Way is Debbie Macomber’s latest Christmas book. If you have never read one of her books before – how? – she writes contemporary woman’s fiction books. They are almost always from the female perspective. In this story, we meet Everly Lancaster. She is a very successful real estate executive who is frustrated with her business partner and his niece, who has been installed as her assistant. The niece has screwed up again and Everly wants her gone. The business partner decides that what Everly really needs is a vacation and tells her to take the month of December off. He practically pushes her out of the door. But he does tell his niece to book Everly on a cruise for the first two weeks of December. A wonderful relaxing cruise with all the perks. Instead, Everly is booked on a nature cruise down the Amazon. The boat is utilitarian. There are no phones or internet. Everly tries to get off the boat but that isn’t possible. Then she gets sick from a bug bite and spends days in bed with a fever. The boat’s naturalist, Asher Adams, takes care of her and spends time talking to her. When she is finally back up on her feet, she has two misadventures on the boat’s excursions. As a result of the trip, Everly finds herself and true love.

Okay, is it a bit formulaic? Yes. Is it a pleasurable read? Yes. This book is a salve to the holiday crazies. And you get to learn some fun facts about the Amazon. If you haven’t read Debbie Macomber before then you are in for a treat. If you have, then you know the pleasurable experience.

This book comes out on October 13. And time for the usual disclaimer – I was given a copy of this book for my unbiased opinion.

Thanks for reading!

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Things in Jars by Jess Kidd

Dear Fellow Reader,

There are times that I admire a book for the imagination of the author. I may not love the story, but I respect that the author could imagine a complicated story full of unbelievable events  and pull me into it. Have you ever read a story like that? A story that you keep reading even though it may be completely weird?

Sometime in the past, I read the book Himself by Jess Kidd. Do I remember the book? Not well but I do remember that it was an odd story. I don’t even know why I read it in the first place. Recently, I noticed that Jess Kidd has a new book out. The new book is Things in Jars. I had to wait a couple of months to be able to get it from the library. I just looked and there are still 70 people on the waitlist for the eBook. So, I am not alone. I don’t think I read a description of the story prior to reserving it. (Why would I do something that would make sense like that?)

This story is imaginative. I truly appreciate the creative talent of Jess Kidd. I am blown away by the plot of the book and the things that go on. Please note that if you are not willing to be open to things not known in this world, this is not the book for you. As our protagonist goes to a church to look at bodies that have been holed up in a cupboard, she attracts a ghost who stays with her for most of the book. He is occasionally helpful. His tattoos seem to have a mind of their own and move according the scene. (Yes, you read that right – his tattoos move around.)

The book takes place in 1863 London and in the countryside around London. The main part of the plot is that a child has been stolen and Bridie Devine has been asked to find the child. But it becomes apparent that the child is a bit odd. The servants are not allowed anywhere near the child and the Baron refuses to bring the police into the matter. He also won’t let Bridie see the child’s rooms. A bit odd? The child has pointed teeth like a pike, attracts snails (and eats them) and if she bites a male, he will die. That’s all. Wait, no, that’s not all. She looks like an angel and as she approaches puberty has an unquenchable desire to get to the sea. She does not talk. A woman is then found dead on the Baron’s property. Who was the woman and why was she there?

Bridie determines quite quickly that the “nanny” and the family doctor have taken the girl and Bridie starts hunting them down. She goes to a showman she knows to see if he has been approached to buy the child as an oddity for his show. He has built a decidedly large tank and was advertising a new attraction. And then Bridie’s 7-foot-tall housemaid and the snake charmer find each other. But don’t be detoured by that.

We learn about Bridie Devine during the story. We learn how she left Ireland for England with a man who sells bodies to doctors and scientists. And then was sold to a doctor who had a very jealous and cruel wife and an amoral son.

The plot has many twists and turns. (What can she think of next?) but it comes to a satisfying conclusion. I would suggest this book if you are willing to go on a ride with the author. Everything does work out but you need to be able to go with a suspension of belief.

Thanks for reading!

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