Before We Were Yours by Lisa Wingate

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Title: Before We Were Yours

Author: Lisa Wingate

Published By: Ballantine Books (2017)

Synopsis:

Two families, generations apart, are forever changed by a heartbreaking injustice in this poignant novel, inspired by a true story, for readers of Orphan Train and The Nightingale.

Memphis, 1939. Twelve-year-old Rill Foss and her four younger siblings live a magical life aboard their family’s Mississippi River shantyboat. But when their father must rush their mother to the hospital one stormy night, Rill is left in charge—until strangers arrive in force. Wrenched from all that is familiar and thrown into a Tennessee Children’s Home Society orphanage, the Foss children are assured that they will soon be returned to their parents—but they quickly realize that the truth is much darker. At the mercy of the facility’s cruel director, Rill fights to keep her sisters and brother together—in a world of danger and uncertainty.

Aiken, South Carolina, present day. Born into wealth and privilege, Avery Stafford seems to have it all: a successful career as a federal prosecutor, a handsome fiancé, and a lavish wedding on the horizon. But when Avery returns home to help her father weather a health crisis, a chance encounter leaves her with uncomfortable questions—and compels her to take a journey through her family’s long-hidden history, on a path that will ultimately lead either to devastation or redemption.

Based on one of America’s most notorious real-life scandals—in which Georgia Tann, director of a Memphis-based adoption organization, kidnapped and sold poor children to wealthy families all over the country—Wingate’s riveting, wrenching, and ultimately uplifting tale reminds us how, even though the paths we take can lead to many places, the heart never forgets where we belong. (Taken from Goodreads)

Review:

Wow, this was not the kind of book I was expecting! From the title I thought it might be some sweet adoption story. Not so. Instead, this book dives headfirst into child abuse and illegal “adoptions” that were going on in the early 1910s. This was something I didn’t really know anything about, and it held my attention from page one. 

This book did not skirt around anything that might be considered too hard or difficult to write about, as some writers do when dealing with tough issues, but instead addressed it head-on with gentleness. I did figure out most of the “mystery” pretty fast (well, not all the nitty-gritty, because that was so complicated I doubt anybody could, but I did figure out who was who pretty quick), but it was still enjoyable to read and watch the characters figure it out. The story never felt dragged out and all came together very skillfully. The author is a master at her art and I was very impressed by the her ability to tell this complicated, yet important, tale. Both main characters—Avery and Rill—were unique and their stories were intertwined beautifully.

Negative Content/Notes:

Rill, one of our main characters, and her siblings are stuck in an orphange-type place where they are badly mistreated. Though it never goes into gory detail, it does not skirt around anything either.

Overall: I was very impressed.

Rating: 5.0 / 5.0

Recommended to: Ages 14+.

No One Ever Asked by Katie Ganshert

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Title: No One Ever Asked

Author: Katie Ganshert

Published By: WaterBrook (2018)

Synopsis:

Challenging perceptions of discrimination and prejudice, this emotionally resonant drama for readers of Lisa Wingate and Jodi Picoult explores three different women navigating challenges in a changing school district–and in their lives.

When an impoverished school district loses its accreditation and the affluent community of Crystal Ridge has no choice but to open their school doors, the lives of three very different women converge: Camille Gray–the wife of an executive, mother of three, long-standing PTA chairwoman and champion fundraiser–faced with a shocking discovery that threatens to tear her picture-perfect world apart at the seams. Jen Covington, the career nurse whose long, painful journey to motherhood finally resulted in adoption but she is struggling with a happily-ever-after so much harder than she anticipated. Twenty-two-year-old Anaya Jones–the first woman in her family to graduate college and a brand new teacher at Crystal Ridge’s top elementary school, unprepared for the powder-keg situation she’s stepped into. Tensions rise within and without, culminating in an unforeseen event that impacts them all. This story explores the implicit biases impacting American society, and asks the ultimate question: What does it mean to be human? Why are we so quick to put labels on each other and categorize people as “this” or “that”, when such complexity exists in each person? (Taken from Goodreads)

Review:

Oh my goodness! It’s been a long time since I read a book this powerful and thought-provoking.

First of all, I loved the creativity of the story—how the author based it on real—but unfamiliar—events, and then took it and made it her own. I loved the characters and how real they were; Ganshert does such a magnificent job perfectly encompassing a realisitic mindset for characters in their positions and so many times I found myself relating to a character even though I have never been in any of their situations. 

There were many characters, and sometimes it was hard to keep track of all of them and who belonged to which story, but the important characters were distinct and easy to remember. They were so many different personalites and so much going on. It was definitely a book I had to read slowly, to make sure I caught everything, but it was soooooo worth it.

It covered some mature topics, but in a gentle and beautiful way. Each character was delicately woven, real and tangible, and distinct in their own unique ways, and through these characters we clearly see the heart behind each differing opinion in the story, making us stop and really consider everything being presented. I was blown away by the author’s ability to show so many differing mindsets and not condemn any one of them but instead offer evidence and leave it up to the reader to make the connection of what is right.

Negative Content/Notes:

I don’t recall any negative content. Some minor violence occurs toward the end, but nothing is glorified or presented in the wrong way. 

Rating: 5.0 / 5.0

Recommended to: Ages 14+

 

Wings by Olivia Faye Scott

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Title: Wings

Author: Olivia Faye Scott

Published By: CreateSpace (2015)

Synopsis:

As if being a teenage girl wasn’t hard enough already, Isabelle Parke has a significant other burden on her shoulders. Ever since a car crash killed both of Isabelle’s parents and sister, she has been struggling with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, ‘friends’ who don’t stop talking about the fateful Accident, plummeting grades, a (stupid) therapist and a cranky adoptive aunt. So when Isabelle finds a guardian angel sitting in her bedroom, she just assumes he’s another one of the side effects from the Accident. The angel introduces himself as Jophiel, assigned by God to help Isabelle accept and get over what happened to her. Again, totally PTSD. However, Jophiel begins doing things that no figment of imagination can: picking out tasteful outfits, bantering with Isabelle, and actually helping her when others cannot. Isabelle comes to realize that whether Jophiel is actually her guardian angel or she really is crazy, her life will never be the same. (Taken from Amazon)

Review:

I really liked Wings–like a lot! It was hysterical, creative, and fun, and I enjoyed my time reading thoroughly. There were a few things I disliked, but overall I found it a fun read.

I found the premise unique and fun, and Jophiel was absolutely hysterical. I’m not sure I agreed with all the theology behind the story, but it is a fictional book, and it did not demean or disregard any part of Christianity–didn’t even come close–so I didn’t find a problem with it. Like I’ve said, I just really liked Jophiel and thought his connection with the story was clever and well written. The author has a definite talent and it shows in the pages of this novel.

What I didn’t like: I didn’t like Isabelle. She felt very one-dimensional to me and just a little too plastic. I felt like someone in her situation would have a lot harder time “overcoming it”, and that it wouldn’t just be a few days’ magical transformation. I really liked the plot aspect of the growth—and I also liked how it was handled in a lighthearded way, so maybe I’m just missing something here. It just seemed to lack a little in delivery.

Negative Content/Notes:

None

Overall:

Overall, though, I found it a clean, funny, lighthearded read sure to make you laugh and brighten your day.

Rating: 4.0 / 5.0

Recommended to: Readers 10 & up.

 

**I received a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.**

Like Dandelion Dust by Karen Kingsbury

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Title: Like Dandelion Dust

Author: Karen Kingsbury

Published By: Center Street (2006)

Synopsis:

Jack and Molly Campbell are right where they want to be, enjoying an idyllic life with their four-year-old son Joey, and the close family and friends who live in their small hometown just outside Atlanta. Then the phone call comes from the social worker the Campbells never expected to hear from again. Three states away in Ohio, Joey’s biological father has just been released from prison. He is ready to start life over, but not without his son.
A judge’s quick decision deals a devastating blow to the Campbell family: Joey must be returned to his biological parents. The day after the ruling, in the silent haze of grief and utter disbelief, they watch their son pick a dandelion and blow the feathery seeds into the wind.
In the days that follow the ruling, Jack Campbell has a desperate and dangerous thought. What if they can devise a way out? Then they could take Joey and simply disappear . . . LIKE DANDELION DUST
(Taken from Goodreads)

Review:

I really liked the concept of the story and found it a very intriguing premise (an adopted boy getting claimed by his birthparents by a technicality), but unfortunately, I didn’t like it much at all.

I thought the characters were too perfect. Honestly, I didn’t like Molly at all, and I found Beth and Bill to be too perfectly Christian. And then there’s Rip, who was an extremely confusing and inconsistent character. I could not figure out if he was good or bad, and in this case, it wasn’t a good thing. Joey was a very unrealistic child, too. I thought the way he found God was sweet to an extent, but also very implausible for a child his age. Wendy was by far the most intriguing character, but even she fell flat, and her plot arc ultimately meant nothing to the story in the end. She served her purpose and then disappeared without any sort of closure, which I didn’t like at all. Generally, I really appreciated the messages the author was trying to send, but I just wasn’t impressed by the delivery.

SPOILER BELOW

One minute Wendy’s determined to get her son back, which is causing the conflict of the story, but then when we come back to her after weeks pass, she suddenly has realized she wants what’s best for him, which basically ends the entire story. We get very little explanation on how this change came about, considering how crucial it is, and the explanation we do get didn’t feel real. I was really upset that there were no consequences for Molly and Jack’s actions, and that all their problems just disappear and they go back to their perfect little life without any lasting effects, good or bad, or any repercussions.

SPOILER ABOVE

Overall, I found the story very predictable and cheesy. I did finish it, so I guess that counts for something, but it was mostly because I had nothing else to read. I thought the ending was anticlimactic and unsatisfying. There was no closure; there were no repercussions or lasting effects. I also didn’t like how unnecessarily preachy the story got.

Negative Content/Notes:

None.

Overall:

When I first finished reading I thought I liked it okay, but now that I’ve written out a review, I’ve realized that I really didn’t like it that much at all. There were definitely good points about the book, but honestly, compared to other Christian fiction I’ve been reading, this just doesn’t measure up.

Rating: 2.5 / 5.0

Land of Silence by Tessa Afshar

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Title: Land of Silence

Author: Tessa Afshar

Published By: Tyndale House Publishers (2016)

Synopsis: Before Christ called her daughter . . .

Before she stole healing by touching the hem of his garment . . .

Elianna is a young girl crushed by guilt. After her only brother is killed while in her care, Elianna tries to earn forgiveness by working for her father’s textile trade and caring for her family. When another tragedy places Elianna in sole charge of the business, her talent for design brings enormous success, but never the absolution she longs for. As her world unravels, she breaks off her betrothal to the only man she will ever love. Then illness strikes, isolating Elianna from everyone, stripping everything she has left.

No physician can cure her. No end is in sight. Until she hears whispers of a man whose mere touch can heal. After so many years of suffering and disappointment, is it possible that one man could redeem the wounds of body . . . and soul? (Taken from Goodreads)

Review:

Okay, so, I LOVE Biblical fiction. So grudgingly, by default, I liked at least some of this book. It stayed with me for a while after I finished—but then again, it’s Biblical fiction, which fascinates me, so that alone pretty much guarantees it’ll stick with me for a while. However, on a practical level, I didn’t like this book at all.

The book felt weak. I really like the concept of taking a small story in the Bible like this one and turning it into a novel, but with so little details, it’s hard to make it really flow together, and Land of Silence felt stilted and unnatural. I didn’t really like any of the characters except for Ethan, and it seriously bugged me when Elianna turned him down time and time again for virtually no reason. Sure, there were reasons given in the book, but none felt real or natural. She loves him, but she doesn’t want to marry him? But she really loves him and wants nothing more than to marry him? But she won’t? I’m just not buying it.

To me, it seemed like a lot wasn’t true to the setting, either—the names felt too modern and I don’t think people in Biblical times were telling others to “Shut up.” That’s a modern phrase. It felt more like a modern story altered to fit a Biblical setting. 

Decimus was too perfectly evil, not real at all, and too predictable. There was too much skimmed over in the book; weeks and months pass, important events happen, and there’s no details. I get that the author has to hurry the story along to the part where Elianna has been bleeding for 12 years, but if you can’t write anything about those twelve years at all, maybe you should just start the story after the twelve years. Also, to just skim those 12 years and all the important happenings isn’t really that interesting to read; on the flip side, it feels anticlimactic and disappointing. We finally got sorta attached to these characters, and if you’re gonna make us miss 12 years of important events with them, it’s gotta be done right—and in the case of Land of Silence it just wasn’t done right at all. 

 Also. When you have two characters that you want to end up together, but one of them is married, it is generally not good literary art to kill off the spouse so that they can be together. It’s very weak writing. Now in certain stories this can be done, but it’s gotta be the right story and you’ve got to do it well. It was not done well in the case of Land of Silence.

I also didn’t like the sudden switch in Biblical cultures to one during Jesus’ time. We had no warning to the change in tone of the story, it just suddenly happened. It was cool to read about to some extent, but it felt out of place compared to the rest of the story. It felt so out of place! The story would have been better off just focusing on her after the 12 years, or just not going there at all. Consequently, Land of Silence felt stilted, chunky, and unnatural.

Negative Content/Notes:

There were some scenes likely meant to be a more “adult” scenes, but it never felt that way, and there nothing inappropriate.

Rating: 3.0 / 5.0

Recommended to: Not recommended.

The Hired Girl by Laura Amy Schlitz

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Title: The Hired Girl

Author: Laura Amy Schlitz

Published By: Candlewick Press (2015)

Synopsis:

Fourteen-year-old Joan Skraggs, just like the heroines in her beloved novels, yearns for real life and true love. But what hope is there for adventure, beauty, or art on a hardscrabble farm in Pennsylvania where the work never ends? Over the summer of 1911, Joan pours her heart out into her diary as she seeks a new, better life for herself—because maybe, just maybe, a hired girl cleaning and cooking for six dollars a week can become what a farm girl could only dream of—a woman with a future.

Inspired by her grandmother’s journal, Newbery Medalist Laura Amy Schlitz brings her sharp wit and keen eye to early twentieth-century America in a comedic tour de force destined to become a modern classic. Joan’s journey from the muck of the chicken coop to the comforts of a society household in Baltimore (Electricity! Carpet sweepers! Sending out the laundry!) takes its reader on an exploration of feminism and housework, religion and literature, love and loyalty, cats, hats, bunions, and burns. (Taken from Goodreads)

Review:

I really liked this book. It’s a very different genre than what I typically read, and I usually can’t read journal-format, but I was surprised by how much I enjoyed reading this.

First off: the setting/time period. This book reminded me why I love historical fiction! It was authentic and true to the time, down to the phrases and words used by the narrator, and I found that refreshing—it’s always nice when an author takes the time to actually make their novel authentic. Even though I usually don’t like journal-format books, Joan was such a fun character that I couldn’t get enough of it. It felt very true to an actual journal, which was nice— usually I find journal type books to be so unrealistic; nobody just sits down and writes out pages of dialogue from memory—and Joan does tell things in great detail, but that’s also just how she is: thorough and excited. Overall I just was very impressed.

Joan was just hysterical! She was such a fantastic and real character and reading about her entertained me so much. There’s not much plot to the book; no strong overarching thematics or story; but it’s simply a sweet and true narration of one spirited girl and her determination, and it was very inspiring. 

I loved what I learned about Jewish/Catholic culture in 1900s as well–I felt like I came away with a lot more knowledge then before. The romance was sooooo sweet, but I also really appreciated how it ended (I won’t share, to save spoilers). I felt it ended a little anticlimatic, but considering I just explained how there wasn’t much plot, I guess I can’t complain.

Negative Content/Notes:

The only thing I can think of to note: Joan falls in love with one of the men at the house, and one night, she runs away from a job in the pouring rain to his house, where she approaches him daringly and tells him she wants to go with him as his wife. When a minute later the mistress and master walk in and see Joan wrapped in blankets (because she was wet) and alone with their son, they think Joan has been sleeping with him—though they don’t declare it in such explicit terms. Rather, it’s just implied in a way that it’s not directly said, but anyone would know what the parents are referring to. (I really appreciate this form of storytelling when it comes to these topics.)

Overall: I thought this a very enjoyable read! It was a little long, but I couldn’t get enough of it. Loved it!

Rating: 4.0 / 5.0

Recommended to: Ages 13+ would probably enjoy it best. Content wise appropriate for ages 12+.