(Review) Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis by J.D. Vance

 

32075798Publisher and Publication Date: Harper Paperbacks. May 1, 2018.
Genre: Nonfiction. Memoir.
Pages: 288.
Source: Self-purchase.
Rating: Very Good.

Amazon

Summary:
J.D. Vance has written a memoir of his life as a 2nd generation removed from eastern Kentucky. He and his parents were born and raised in Ohio. His grandparents moved from Kentucky to Ohio post World War II in hopes of having a better life. The new life was made in the steel town of Middletown, Ohio. They brought with them the same culture and standards of the Appalachian people. It was Vance’s grandparents who raised him, primarily his Mamaw. She was a rough talking woman, strong-willed and determined, but she was the support system for Vance. Vance later joined the Marines. He graduated from Yale Law School. His memoir has been written in hopes of shedding light on the people of Kentucky’s Appalachian region.
The Afterword chapter is a summation of Vance’s final thoughts which include political ideas and hopes.

My Thoughts:
When I read a story about a person who wants to shed light on a particular people group- I keep an open mind. The author is showing what he believes to be true. And, this is the story of the life he has lived.
I’ve lived in Texas all my life. I was born and raised in Houston. I grew up middle class. Dad had a great job at an oil company. We lived in the same house all my growing up years. Mother was a homemaker. We attended the same neighborhood church all my life. I’m the youngest of 5 children. The next sibling in age to me is 10 years older. From the little bit of information I’ve given you, you’ve probably placed me in a particular box with a label. You may or may not be correct. I wanted to state my short bio to prove a point against Vance’s more revealing bio. His life does not represent all people who have the same type of background of people group he came from. And, no person knows what really goes on in a house except the people who live there. People reveal what they want us to know, even those people who are our best buds.

Back to the book review.

What I liked about the book:
1. The introduction is one of the best I’ve read. It is transparent and humble. Vance is straight forward about his family and reason for writing the book.
2. Appalachian stories are a favorite for me. This is a people group who I have a personal interest in. The post Civil War years is when my ancestors left the Appalachian states and moved to Texas. Another reason is I love their independent, prideful nature.
3. I felt a strong investment from the first page in Vance’s life. His early life through to adulthood, I enjoyed reading about the progress of education, life experiences, and career. I enjoyed reading his perspective of family, including the family left behind in Kentucky.
4. He had a special relationship with his grandparents. Despite their rough exterior they loved their grandchildren. This was endearing to me.
5. The author makes valid teaching points. For example: “…social class in America isn’t just about money.” Page 63.
6. Some of the things he was taught, I was taught by my parents too. “I don’t know those people. You never talk about family to some stranger.” Page 41. When I was a child my dad often said, “Annette, don’t be telling people our business.” I wanted to remark, “what people and what business?” I kept my mouth shut out of fear of getting my ears boxed.
7. Vance gave brief explanations of Appalachian terms. For example: a hollow is a valley or basin.
8. In the end chapters, Vance has reached the point in life where he is trying to make peace with life. He does not want to blame anyone. He wants to have sympathy for them and process his past with wisdom.

What I did not like about the book:
1. I found more parallels in his Protestant hillbilly family and my Catholic 2nd generation Eastern European in-law’s. I make this statement, because his upbringing is not just a hillbilly thing. This type of lifestyle is in every social class, religion, and people group. I’ve known people who are educated with high paying careers who live in a violent abusive family or they are the abuser. And addictions like drugs and alcohol plague many families. I do believe education, especially higher education, helps people move beyond poverty and to independence. But education does not eradicate abusive homes and addictions. And further, sometimes people who make 6 figures cannot manage their money. They are still poor.
2. The Marines gave Vance a different perspective. He left that world he was living in and moved to a different atmosphere. He met different people. He had new life experiences. Vance didn’t show this experience in detail as I wanted him to.
3. The book has been earmarked as a political statement. I’ve read reviews on the book, and not all reviewers agree it made the big statement some believe it did. Readers read what they want to, and a big part of reading a book is what we bring to the table, our own life experiences and memories. Books are personal, and Hillbilly Elegy is a personal story. For me, I latched on to the family saga. The good and sad memories of Vance. His grandparents and parents.

I work as a tutor for elementary age children. I help them learn to read. The school is in a low income neighborhood. I have learned so much in working with these kids. The biggest thing I’ve learned is the transparency of the kids. They are brutally honest about their home lives. Most of them live in single parent homes. They live with their mothers. They have grandparents who are active in their lives.
Some examples of stories I hear:
“My mom won’t go to bed and turn off the television so I can sleep.”
“People are coming and going out of my house all day and night.”
“My mom was fighting with her boyfriend. She has a new friend now.”
“I’ve never heard of a library.”
“We left Alabama, because there were people trying to kill my brother.”
“I don’t have any socks.”
“I’m late to school everyday, because my mom oversleeps.”
“I vomited at school yesterday, but my mom wouldn’t come get me.”
“We don’t have a home.”
“My mom said she hates my dad and wishes he were dead.”

What is the answer?
These children are our future.

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(Review) True Feelings: God’s Gracious and Glorious Purpose for Our Emotions by Carolyn Mahaney and Nicole Whitacre

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Publisher and Publication Date: Crossway. October 31, 2017.
Genre: Christian Nonfiction.
Pages: 160.
Source: Self-purchase.
Rating: Okay.

Amazon

I have read the reviews at Amazon about this book. Words like “relevant,” “practical,” and “read this book in one day,” are given.
Usually if a book is okay, I may or may not finish the book. I bought True Feelings, and felt that the financial investment on my part pushed me to finish it.
It’s not that it is a bad book, it just didn’t come close to an in-depth study that I wanted to read. It skimmed the issue. The book felt more like an essay.
From the back cover, “Emotions can be confusing. One moment we’re happy, content, and hopeful, and the next we’re anxious, hurt, and overwhelmed.”
Reasons why I like this book:
1. A good point is made on page 19: Facebook and social media has given us a “distorted view of life.” We only see the best posted. “Many of us bury our unhappy emotions, keep a tight lid on them, stuff them deep down inside. Others of us explode and vent.” We either stuff or explode.
I wonder why we stuff our feelings? Is it pride that keeps us from revealing our true feelings? Is it the feeling of vulnerability?
2. Several times in the book I’m reminded that feelings are not bad. They serve a good purpose. They must be taken in context with other features like Scripture. Scripture does not address all, “unpleasant emotions,” it does show, “that God has a purpose for our feelings-the good and the bad.” This teaching is expounded on several times in the book just using different wording. For example: “Just as our minds enable us to think and our wills enable us to choose, so our emotions enable us to respond…emotions themselves are not bad.” Pages 32, 36.
3.  Practical help. In chapter five, this is for “resisting emotional temptation.” Chapter six is big help. Two questions to ask ourselves: “Do My Beliefs Line Up with God’s Word?” and “Do My Values Line Up with God’s Word?” Chapter seven talks about making “good habits.”
What I did not like about the book:
1. Chapter seven talks about “venting.” This needs to be clarified. The definition of vent, from the Merriam Webster’s Dictionary, online version. “Vent” means to give emotional expression to. Mahaney and Whitacre use an example of “venting” by people who post online. “Women often vent to online friends and find comfort and solace in each other’s “likes” and reassuring comments. And while it is true that God encourages us to share our burdens, including our emotional burdens, with other Christians, this is not a license to sinfully vent.” Page 104.
On page 103, “Venting is foolish; it dishonors God and often hurts those we love the most.”
What is sinful about “venting?” When the venting is “gossip, slander, or complaining.” Page 104.
Women who don’t have other women to talk to are bankrupt of friends. God is the first source of pouring our hearts out and seeking help. But, people need other people for support, encouragement, and in being lifted up. People should not be prevented and held back in sharing what is on their hearts and minds. Some people release private information on social media. This is not something I think is appropriate. On the other hand, I believe the book should give more clarity. Venting is not sin. Just like emotions is not sin. How we handle the two can become sin.
In a Christian group, when people share prayer requests, is this gossiping? I guess it could be. Gossip means to stir up “sensational facts,” or rumors that may not be true. If I share that my husband is having an affair, this is sensational stuff, but I don’t want to feel I cannot reach out and ask friends to pray for me.
Christians who read this book should not feel they cannot share from their heart with other Christian friends. And this is a real problem: people who do not reach out to other Christians out of fear of rejection and judgment.
2. The book could have been shorter as some of the ideas circulate repeatedly.
True Feelings is an example of some books that just don’t work for me.

 

(Review) Pearl Harbor: From Infamy to Greatness by Craig Nelson

 

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Publisher and Publication Date: Scribner. September 20, 2016.
Genre: Nonfiction, history, World War II, Pearl Harbor attack.
Pages: 544.
Source: Library.
Rating: Excellent.

Summary:
On Sunday, December 7, 1941, the Imperial Japanese Navy attacked Pearl Harbor, Oahu, Hawaii. Their primary focus was at Pearl Harbor; however, they attacked other airfields on the island, and they even attacked civilians who were in their path. There were two attack waves of planes. The attack lasted about two hours. The planes caring torpedoes inflicted heavy damage to the ships. Several ships were tied to each other and at dry dock. The Japanese had wanted to attack and destroy the aircraft carriers, but they were out at sea. There were 96 ships at Pearl Harbor during the attack. This is a list of the ships and what happened to them: List of United States Navy present at Pearl Harbor. Another valuable source is a fact sheet from the government: Pearl Harbor Fact Sheet.
Pearl Harbor is a detailed history of the attack, Imperial Japan, the building up of the Great Pacific War/World War II, America’s response before and after the attack, and eyewitness stories.

The death count was 2,403. Most of the deaths were aboard the Arizona.
The names of 669 deaths are unknown to this day, and this is an estimate.

My Thoughts:
I have many thoughts, and most of them are emotions without adequate words.
I love this book, and several reasons are listed below.
To begin with, there are two strong points about this book.
1. Craig Nelson lets the history and eyewitness stories support the book.
2. It is a strong testament to the courageous American military men.
Pearl Harbor gives a close-up examination of Imperial Japan. Their mindset, aggressive actions against other countries, and preparations for the Pearl Harbor attack. The rape and murderous rampage in China is shocking to me. They were swept up in a frenzy of evil. One of the Japanese men remarked, “It was almost like being addicted to murder.”
How Americans perceived the Japanese, as well as how the Japanese perceived Americans are shared.
The island of Oahu, Hawaii. It was a peaceful, relaxed type atmosphere. On the day of the attack, it was a beautiful day. It was believed to be a safe paradise.
The process of the attacks on the island are carefully and chronologically shown. Beginning at Wheeler Field, Schofield Barracks, and followed by Naval Air Station Kaneohe, Bellows Field, Ewa Field, Hickam Air Force Base, Ford Island, and the Pearl Harbor U.S. Naval Base.
Pearl Harbor is filled with eyewitness stories from men and women (military and civilian), including those who were children during the attack, both Americans and Japanese.
A nurse remarked she was at the new Hickam Field Hospital. It had been open three weeks. There were six nurses. They did not have all the mattresses yet to cover the beds. They gave the wounded morphine, not much else could be done in many cases.
Craig Nelson organizes the ships according to the events of their attack, damage, loss of life, and those that were wounded.
How President Roosevelt handled hearing the news. His words and behavior are given.
After the attack, the Doolittle Raid; and in brief, the Pacific War and the Japanese surrender.
The book ends with the historical figures involved. What happened to these men during and after the war.
When I finished the book it was the day after Memorial Day. Books like Pearl Harbor are a vivid reminder of the true meaning of Memorial Day. I’ve read quotes on Facebook pertaining to the holiday-to remember why we have this special day. Pearl Harbor is a testament of the men (and women) who gave courageously and sacrificed for America.
Amazon

Additional links on the Pearl Harbor attack:
Pearl Harbor Warbirds
Britannica
History

 

World War II is a favorite genre for me, because my dad was in the army during World War II. Today is the anniversary of D-Day, Normandy, France. My dad was one of the soldiers who landed on Omaha Beach, June 6, 1944. The photograph below is my dad receiving the Bronze Star.
dad getting Bronze Star

(Review) The Masterpiece by Francine Rivers

It has been several years since I’ve read a book by Francine Rivers. I am not a big reader of Christian fiction. Every once in a while a title or book cover will entice me. I’ve read a few reviews on The Masterpiece, and placed the book on my to be read list. I have mixed feelings about the book. On one hand it has an interesting synopsis. On the other hand it did not capture me as I’d wanted.

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Publisher and Publication Date: Large print edition published by Thorndike Press, a part of Gale, a Cengage Company. Tyndale House Publishers holds the publishing rights. February 6, 2018.
Genre: Christian Fiction.
Pages: 512.
Source: Library.
Rating: Good.

Amazon

This is the first large print edition I’ve read. It is hardcover. It is 16 point. The type-font style is plantin. It is unabridged. It is a just the “story” kind of book. No extra fluff.

Summary:
Grace Moore is a single mom living in Burbank, California. She and her baby son live with Selah and Ruben and their children. At one time, Grace had considered letting them adopt her baby. Grace has not signed the adoption papers, but continues to live with them. They have been supportive of her and have provided a place to live until she can become independent. Grace begins working for an artist as his personal assistant. The job is at his large home in Topanga Canyon, California.
Roman Velasco is an artist. He hires Grace, because she is detail oriented and honest. He has no interest in the domestic side of life.
Both Grace and Roman are hiding painful pasts. Their stories are shared going back and forth in time.

My Thoughts:

What I liked:
1. A main theme in the book is two people who have painful pasts. One character who has become a Christian and is trying to live a new life in Christ Jesus. The other character has no interest or at least no idea what this “new life” in Christ is all about nor do they care. The two people are attracted and intrigued by the other. Both have walls they’ve put up but for different reasons. For a Christian fiction book this is a standard type plot. One character is a Christian and the other is not. How do they work this huge problem out? Is it possible to love and have a permanent relationship with someone who does not believe and worship the same? These questions are what real people have to work out in life.
2. Roman is a handsome man, he’s virile. I loved it that he is biracial. I have not read another Christian fiction book where this is the characterization of a person. Bravo. Also, to bring a sensuality into the story is wonderful. Christian fiction stays too sterile, and this is not real life. People are drawn to each other physically.
3. Grace is wrestling with doing the right thing with her baby son. The woman who has been helping her is helping too much. This woman is emotionally attached. Through the book, I was anxious to find out what was going to happen in this situation.

What I did not like about the book:
1. The book is lengthy at 512 pages. Let me clarify. I love long stories. I’ve read several Charles Dickens books. I’ve read Les Misérables. I’ve read War and Peace. I’ve read the Bible several times. If I feel a story can be told in less pages, then it should be less pages. This is a story that could have been less pages. However, the book has sold well so obviously this is not a negative point for the buyers of the book.
2. Grace got on my last nerve at times. In some ways she is strong and direct. However, she is loyal to a fault. She has a high tolerance for bad behavior. I understand these are traits of a person who has been abused. I wondered, what if there was a reverse of these traits in the book? What if Grace was the type of character who Roman is and Roman was the type of character Grace was? Another words they swapped. Is it possible the readership or publisher would approve of such a thing? In culture, we want the men to be aggressive and strong, and women are to be weaker (ouch.)

Overall the book is a good and solid story. It is just not an excellent rating for me.

 

 

(Review) Forsaking All Other by Catherine Meyrick

 

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Publisher and Publication Date: Courante Publishing. April 1, 2018.
Genre: Historical Fiction.
Pages: 306.
Source: I received a complimentary copy, but was not required to leave a positive review. The review copy was a paperback from the author, Catherine Meyrick.
Rating: Excellent.

About The Author:
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Catherine Meyrick is a writer of historical fiction with a particular love of Elizabethan England. Her stories weave fictional characters into the gaps within the historical record – tales of ordinary people who are very much men and women of their time, yet in so many ways not unlike ourselves.
Although she grew up in regional Victoria, Australia, she has lived all her adult life in Melbourne. She has worked as a nurse, a tax assessor and finally a librarian. She has a Master of Arts in history and is also a family history obsessive.
For more information, please visit Catherine Meyrick’s website. You can also find her on Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest.

Blog Tour Page at Historical Fiction Virtual Book Tours

Amazon Kindle is $2.99 on June 5

Summary:
Love is no game for women; the price is far too high.
England 1585.
Bess Stoughton, waiting woman to the well-connected Lady Allingbourne, has discovered that her father is arranging for her to marry an elderly neighbour. Normally obedient Bess rebels and wrests from her father a year’s grace to find a husband more to her liking.
Edmund Wyard, a taciturn and scarred veteran of England’s campaign in Ireland, is attempting to ignore the pressure from his family to find a suitable wife as he prepares to join the Earl of Leicester’s army in the Netherlands.
Although Bess and Edmund are drawn to each other, they are aware that they can have nothing more than friendship. Bess knows that Edmund’s wealth and family connections place him beyond her reach. And Edmund, with his well-honed sense of duty, has never considered that he could follow his own wishes. Until now.
With England on the brink of war and fear of Catholic plots extending even into Lady Allingbourne’s household, time is running out for both of them.
You can read the first chapter here.
The beautiful cover for the novel was designed by Jennifer Quinlan of Historical Fiction Book Covers.

My Thoughts:
I love this story. I love the romantic element. I love the time period. I love the history of this era. I love the main character: Bess Stoughton.
Bess Stoughton is a mature woman. She is a widow. She is one of Lady Allingbourne’s waiting women. Bess is sent home to have a meeting with her father. Her father has arranged for her to marry an older man. This pushes Bess to take matters in to her own hands. I love this aspect of her personality. She is a woman who creates her own life. She has tried to live an obedient life with respect to her father. However, at this point in life, she wants to choose who she will marry. Bess is a wise and savvy woman. She is not innocent and naïve to men’s ploys. I love how she responds with wisdom and tact to suiters. She has self-control, and is ready to respond or remain quiet when threatened.
During this era in England, papists were considered a threat and ill-treated. To be labeled a papist meant probable imprisonment and interrogation. Forsaking All Other does not give a strong history lesson on how Catholics and Protestants were maligned and punished. It is a part of the plot.
The romantic element in Forsaking All Other is beautiful. It is endearing and memorable. The emphasis is a self-sacrificing and deep mature love, rather than a steamy story.
Forsaking All Other is one of the best historical fiction books I’ve read this year!