(Review) Alligators And Me: My Life In Alabama 1968 by Molly Milner

 

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Publisher and Publication Date: Shoe Button Press. March 23, 2018.
Genre: Nonfiction. Memoir.
Pages: 272.
Source: I received a complimentary copy, but was not required to leave a positive review. The review copy is paperback and was provided by Molly Milner. The review is in cooperation with Book Marketing Expert.
Rating: Excellent.

Amazon

I was born in 1964. I don’t remember the turbulent 1960s (expressed in this book) except through the news that came on in the afternoon at supper time, and the music and culture lived out in my older siblings. My eldest sister, born in 1949, remembers seeing water fountains that stated “for white” or “for colored.” As a little girl, she questioned this in her mind.  I grew up in a completely different culture. Mixed dating was frowned on, but I went to school with and played with people of all races. My children have grown up in a culture different than mine. And in future generations, I hope people no matter the color of their skin will live in acceptance and harmony.
The time period for this book is 1966-1969.
Molly Milner in her memoir, Alligators And Me, is the story of a Midwest newlywed couple who accepted the call to move south and pastor a church in Mobile, Alabama. Neither knew what the future held. Both had dreams and ideas about what they hoped to accomplish. Their hopes were a mix of naivete, courage, and determination.
The first theme is racism and segregation in the south. Alabama was a different place from Midwest thinking in regards to segregation of blacks. The book gave me a strong view of what it was like to live in a community of like-minded people who did not believe in equality. I want to clarify, there were white people who believed in the civil rights movement, but their group was small and docile in comparison to a larger group who were vigilant about the status quo of the South.
A secondary theme is the changing culture in regards to women. The idea of having a career outside the home is new in the 1960s. Women who married, and especially after having children, were expected to be homemakers and mothers. Most women did not work after having children. Married mothers who worked outside the home were looked at as suspicious. And don’t get me started on what people thought about divorced women, they were gossiped about and often ostracized.
The 1960s was a decade of radical change in culture and history: President John F. Kennedy was assassinated, Senator Robert Kennedy was assassinated, Martin Luther King was assassinated, the Vietnam War, the civil rights movement, the Peace Corp program started, a building distrust of government, and the women’s liberation movement.
A third theme in the book is Ed and Molly Milner make a commitment to be apart of the change in how people think and respond to African Americans in society. They wanted to be apart of the growing movement to bring about freedom and equality.
Milner is transparent about her thoughts, feelings, and behavior when her husband tells her they are moving. She was not in agreement. I wondered how on board she was about being a pastor’s wife? She had no idea about this new role, nor the big move. She had been wrapped up in love and in “I do.”
Ned had a commitment to liberal social causes. He’s drawn to helping and persevering for the civil rights movement, but less so with women’ rights. I add this later part, because he was not always understanding about Molly’s feelings. He was headstrong in wanting to help in social causes-the civil rights movement, and this was the key focus in his thinking.
The strength of Alligators and Me is Molly’s ability to take me to this time period. This is an important feature, because of the history involved, as a reader I have to “feel” the time and events.
I saw a transformation in Ned and Molly. What they experienced, and not always together, brought maturity. It is one thing to speak a commitment, it is quite another to follow through with the commitment.
A beautiful added storyline is their sweet dog, Tallulah. No matter what is going on in their lives, they had a beloved dog who loved and accepted them.
I recommend this book for anyone interested in the 1960s and the civil rights movement.

 

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(Review) Secrets Of The Island by Linda Hughes

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Publisher and Publication Date: Deeds. May 15, 2018.
Genre: Fiction.
Pages: 268.
Source: I received a complimentary copy, but was not required to leave a positive review. The review copy is paperback and provided from Linda Hughes. This review is apart of the Historical Fiction Virtual Book Tour.
Rating: Good.

Book Tour Landing Page

About the Author:
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As a native Michigander, award-winning author Linda Hughes has been visiting Mackinac Island since she was a kid. She’s spent countless hours riding a bike around the shoreline, and perusing the library and church records to learn about island history. She’s built many a cairn, witnessed the Northern Lights on several occasions, and eaten more than her fair share of chocolate fudge. She’s a world traveler, having worked in thirteen countries and visited a couple dozen more, but Mackinac Island remains one of her favorite places.
Her writing honors come from the National Writers Association, Writer’s Digest, the American Screenwriters Association, Ippy (Independent Publishers), and Indie Book of the Day.
For more information, please visit Linda Hughes’ website. You can also find her on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Pinterest.

Summary: Provided.
Do you think you know your heritage? Think again. Dark secrets lurk below the surface of every family tree, as the Sullivan clan discovers in this story about living in the aftermath of generations of deceit.
When Red Cross nurse Harriet escapes the trauma of World War II and sequesters herself in her grandfather’s cottage on Mackinac Island, she has no inkling about her heritage. But as one shocking clue after another surface – disclosing lies, corruption, madness, and murder – she realizes her family isn’t what, or who, it seems. She’s not the first to hold unspeakable secrets in her soul.
Can she conquer her trials and tribulations, like some of them did? Or will she be defeated by life, like others?
Secrets of the Island, the second book in the Secrets trilogy, is a tale of romantic suspense that begs the question: what secrets are buried within your family tree?

My Thoughts:
Overall I liked this story. One problem early in the book did not feel right, it was too put together for the benefit of a storyline. A brother and sister and husband just happen to be placed together during World War II. It’s a dangerous and tragic encounter. But without this storyline another element of the story wouldn’t happen. However, it just didn’t feel real, but pasted. I kept reading past this event and enjoyed reading the rest of the book.
Harriet is a main character. She was a Red Cross nurse during World War II. I like her personality, courage, determination, independence, fearlessness, and strength.
Harriet’s twin is Harry. He is in the army. The two are close.
Bill Beaumont is Harriet’s husband who is also in the army. They are newlyweds.
Back at home in Michigan. Harriet uncovers the real story of her parents and ancestry. I loved reading about her work to reveal the truth of her family. This plot is a favorite of mine in the book.

 

 

(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.

(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) Warlight by Michael Ondaatje

 

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Publisher and Publication Date: Alfred A. Knopf. May 8, 2018.
Genre: Fiction.
Pages: 304.
Source: Self-purchase.
Rating: Excellent.

Amazon

A bio of Michael Ondaatje from Goodreads

An excellent review from Jenny Shank, The Dallas Morning News.

Summary:
Nathaniel, age 14, and his sister, Rachel, age 16, are left in the guardianship of a man known as The Moth. Their parents are going overseas. They will be gone for at least a year. The two young people will continue living in their home, but will have a new type of family. They live in London, England. Their parents both worked during the war doing something for the government. The time period of the story is 1945 through the late 1950s. The Moth has other people visit the home, they are known to him, but a mystery to Nathaniel and Rachel. Nathaniel and Rachel believe these people are possibly criminals.

My First Impressions:

1.The opening line was a clincher for me.

In 1945 our parents went away and left us in the care of two men who may have been criminals. Page 5.

2. The first part of the story moves along at a slow thoughtful pace.
3. The narrator, Nathaniel, is telling the story of his life when he was a young adult. He blends both his thoughts then, and a bit of his current mature thinking. Not enough to reveal anything, at least not in part one.
4. The story has a sad cloud hovering over it, and the cloud doesn’t leave.
5. Warlight is a thinking book. It is a particular type of story where the reader must understand this is not going to be a cheerful book. And, the author is trying to tell us something important. The characters have too much to hide about their lives. And many of those hidden things will never be revealed, no matter how many rocks are explored and turned over.
6. Warlight shows things are not always what they seem in regards to people. People we think are scary are in fact not. And people who are supposed to love and care for us are incapable of doing so. Nevertheless, what people do with what has happened to them is the bigger story.

Final Thoughts:

1. I read Warlight in two days! The first part moved at such a slow pace, and at times I wondered when is “it” going to pick up and show me something? I hung on, and I am so glad I did. The second half of the book is a treasure.
2. Several lines in the story are beautiful, meaningful, and memorable. For example:

The lost sequence in a life, they say, is the thing we always search out. Page 129.

If you grow up with uncertainty you deal with people only on a daily basis, to be even safer on a hourly basis. You do not concern yourself with what you must or should remember about them. You are on your own. So it took me a long time to rely on the past, and reconstruct how to interpret it. Page 169.

We never know more than the surface of any relationship after a certain stage, just as those layers of chalk, built from the efforts of infinitesimal creatures, work in almost limitless time. Page 256.

If a wound is great you cannot turn it into something that is spoken, it can barely be written. Page 275. This is my favorite line in the book!

We order our lives with barely held stories. Page 284.

I read The English Patient a few years ago. Warlight reminds me a little of The English Patient in that both books are showing people and life are not what they seem to be. There are hidden things people keep locked in their hearts. But, this does not mean they don’t love. Both books are tragic in a way. However, life is tragic, it has happy moments, but many sad moments. Nevertheless, it is all in how we react to those tragic places.

Warlight is a memorable book for me. I will not forget this story. I believe Michael Ondaatje has written a masterpiece. Thank you!