Tuesday, September 19, 2017

An Inconvenient Sequel: Truth to Power by Al Gore

Title: An Inconvenient Sequel:  Truth to Power
Author: Al Gore
Read by: Al Gore, Sterling Brown, Danny Burstein, Marin Ireland, Shailene Woodley
Publisher: Simon & Schuster Audio
Length: Approximately 4 hours and 58 minutes
Source: Simon & Schuster Audio Digital Review Copy – Thank-you!

As an environmental engineer and an instructor of an environmental engineering technology program, I should have been the obvious audience for An Inconvenient Truth.  I must admit, I had never seen that movie until just last month.  As an environmental engineer, I have been sickened by the politicization of environmental science.  Facts are facts, but we are now in an age where people can find whatever “facts” they want online and can chose to ignore data.  I’ll admit I was dubious of something that a career politician had put together on the environment.

I was pleasantly surprised by both An Inconvenient Truth the movie and An Inconvenient Sequel that audiobook.  The data presented is accurate data that matches peer reviewed articles on the topics of climate change and is indeed what I teach in my classes when we discuss the topic in class.

The audiobook did a great job of keeping it interesting by switching narrators often for different segments.  I was very happy about this as Al Gore unfortunately has a very boring speaking voice.  The different narrators kept the audiobook engaging to listen too.  I also enjoyed the “deep dive” segments on how climate change has affected different people around the world in different ways as well as biographies on important people who are making changes to help climate change by doing things such as promoting renewable energy.

The goal of An Inconvenient Sequel is to spread the science behind climate change and I fully appreciate that.  I get very aggravated when average Joe tells me that climate change is all made up as they saw a segment on Fox News that said this.  I can tell them about studies and research that was going on even when I was in college at Michigan Tech and what it told them, but they chose not to believe data or someone who works in the field.  The first half of the book gives the background science for what is climate change and why is it a problem.  The second half of the book gives examples of how as a citizen you can do something about it.  This includes registering to vote, voting, finding out who represents you in Congress, contacting your representatives, writing opinion articles, and speaking at public meetings.  These are all good tips and are items I talk to my students about.  I’ve read before that a representative only needs to hear from a few constituents to start looking into a problem.  We discussed these items in great detail when I was in Government class over twenty years ago in high school.  Unfortunately, government classes are being cut across the country and many people are not sure how to have their voices heard.

There is also a PDF that accompanies the audiobook that gives helpful tips and links.  This will be a useful resource in the future for me.

An Inconvenient Sequel: Truth to Power was a very interesting audiobook that engaged readers with great science and absorbing narrators.  It was a great place for those that care about the climate to find more information as well as tips for how to make a change.  It was also a great book to let me know again why not to “judge a book by its cover.”  I went in afraid of the politics, but came out impressed by the science.

Thursday, September 7, 2017

The Other Alcott by Elise Hooper

I have been a Louisa May Alcott fan since I was a girl.  I loved reading Little Women and most of Alcott’s other novels.  I also loved all of the different movie versions of Little Women.  I wanted to be part of the Alcott family believing they were the March family . . . until I started reading biographies of Alcott and discovered that while there were similarities, there were also many differences in which the Alcott family struggled through very difficult circumstances.  I was very intrigued by this new novel about the youngest Alcott sister, May, the basis for Amy in Little Women.

Being the basis of Amy for Little Women effects May in many ways.  Her sister Louisa and she have a difficult relationship, especially as Louisa’s writting pays for the family to live while May’s artistic renderings in Little Women receive scathing reviews.  May wants to leave the shadow of being Amy behind and find out who she is as an artist.  First traveling to Europe with Louisa and then by herself, May pushes herself to accomplish her goals and to find out what makes her happy personally.

I loved May’s travels and learning about the process of becoming an artist.  I thought it was very interesting when she met fellow women artists who were trying to make it in a male dominated field such as Mary Cassatt and the work they did to create their art and move forward. 

I enjoyed the pictures at the end of the book that showed the illustrations that May had created for Little Women.  I liked them and am unsure why they were panned.  I looked up her paintings online after I finished the book and they are quite beautiful.  There is definite growth between her early illustrations and her later paintings after she received further European instruction and traveled the world.

Most of all I loved May’s growth as a woman. Although she was an adult all through this novel, I thought it was a wonderful coming of age novel as May works to be independent, to be a true artist, and to find her happiness.  It was very interesting for her to do this during the Victorian times, which frowned upon independent women.

I’ll admit I was a bit sad by Louisa’s talk in the novel of not being happy about her success being from Little Women and her children’s novels.  I know they weren’t her first choice of material, but they are so much better than her other fiction such as “The Inheritance.”  I have always loved Little Women and An Old Fashioned Girl.  She comes off as a bit cranky in this novel.

Favorite Quotes:

“I’ve seen you digging back into your dog-eared diaries and rewriting old accounts of our lives into rosier, more harmonious versions of the truth.” – May writing about Louisa

“You two are so similar, both so hungry for something more, but at the same time, you couldn’t be more different.” Oldest sister Anna on Louisa and May

“And the sooner you abandon the idea that life is fair, you will be more productive.  This world doesn’t owe us a thing.” – Louisa to May

I enjoyed the extras in the back of this book, especially “A Conversation with Elise Hooper” on the research and background she used to create this novel.  It was very interesting.  I love that she grew up not far from Orchard House.  It’s one of my life goals to visit there one day.

Overall, The Other Alcott is a wonderful tale of an important woman in her own right, artist May Alcott and her struggle for independence and an identity separate from Amy March. 

Book Source:  Review Copy from William Morrow.  Thank-you!

Thirty-Two Going on Spinster by Becky Monson

Amazon and Facebook targeted me with ads for this book and it worked!  I was looking for a light funny read and Thirty-Two Going on Spinster was the perfect fit.

Julia Dorning is thirty-two.  She’s worked ten years at a job she hates, and lives in her parents’ basement with her pet cat.  She knows she’s stuck in a rut, but it’s not until a new man in HR, Jared Moody, starts at her work that she feels the need to leave behind the routine and venture into something new.  With the help of her fashionable younger sister and her best friend Brown, she gets a new look and a new confidence.  She does keep wondering though, what does she really want out of life?  Should she stay in the same dead end job or is it time to do something she really loves?

Thirty-two Going on Spinster reminded me of a Sophia Kinsella, Helen Fielding, and Jenny Colgan book all rolled up into one.  Since I enjoy novels by all three of these ladies this was a good thing.  I really liked the humor.  I also loved the growth in the character and the fact that baking was involved.  The romance was also great and I can’t wait to find out what happens next in this story.

Favorite quotes:

“I seriously should find myself a new doctor, one who sugar-coats everything.  I could use more sugar-coating in my life right now.”

“Who naps at work?  Who?  Idiots like me and George Costanza, that’s who.  Oh, my gosh, I’m totally the female George Costanza right now”

“I want to tell this is just what spinsters do.  They stay at the same job until someone finds their body half-eaten by cats.”

“Okay, so one thing is for sure, when you throw something out to the Universe, it answers quickly.”

“Hurt.  Betrayal.  Loss.  Dove Chocolate.”

I’m laughing again just reading this quotes.  If you are looking for a fun, fast and funny novel, I recommend Thirty-Two Going on Spinster.  I can’t wait to get the next book in the series!

Book Source:  E-book purchased from Amazon.com

Wednesday, September 6, 2017

The Tea Girl of Hummingbird Lane by Lisa See

Title: The Tea Girl of Hummingbird Lane
Author: Lisa See
Read by: Ruthie Ann Miles and Kimiko Glenn
Publisher: Simon & Schuster Audio
Length: Approximately 14 hours and 7 minutes
Source: Simon & Schuster Audio Digital Review Copy – Thank-you!

Ethnic minority, the Akha, farm in remote mountains of China aligning their lives around the seasons, farming of tea, and traditions that have been passed down through millennia.  Li-yan grows up learning the traditions, but times change rapidly after the modern world finds them and wants their tea.  Li-yan faces many struggles including, how to keep the traditions alive while also moving forward in the world.  Her main struggle in life is having an illegitimate baby that she gives up for adoption.  She returns to get her child back from the orphanage only to discover she has been sent to American for adoption.  Will Li-yan ever be reunited with her child?  Will she be able to help out her village in the new and modern world?

I’ll admit, I thought this book was a historical fiction novel at first, and then was stunned to realize that Li-yan is only one year older than myself.  Then I questioned, am I old enough to be in a historical fiction novel at age 39?  I’m still wondering . . .

I learned a lot about China through this novel and it was all very interesting.  I had no idea that China has 55 ethnic minorities.  I also don’t know much about traditions or how modern day business in China works.  I learned a lot of tidbits through the narrative of the story and it left me wanting to learn so much more about China.

I love to learn about cultures around the world, but I must admit I was horrified by the traditions of the Akha people as it related to babies.  Any baby born with a defect, born early, or even as a twin (twins are considered evil and multiple births are something only animals should have) are killed immediately by their father and the parents are kicked out of the village.  Interestingly, Li-yan meets missionaries and is horrified by them and how they talk down to them about their traditions and call them evil.  It’s was an interesting take on what we think it evil and really made me think about this.  Is it more evil to be a missionary and take a woman’s child or give her a surgery unknowingly so she can no longer have any more children?  This book really made me think about how we judge cultures and how we ourselves can be judged.

I love tea so it was very interesting to me learning about tea traditions and how tea was harvested.  This was a major focus of the novel and I loved it.  It was interested how highly valued certain teas are and how Li-yan obtains education in this topic and is able to use it to help her village.  I like how tea is almost like wine with certain flavors, needing to be aged, etc.  I definitely need to learn more about this and try even more than I do now!  I also learned about the heroin trade in this novel sadly, but luckily this was just a side journey.

This book had a very interesting take on adoption as it tells a dual story about Li-yan and her child in America. Constance and Dan Davis adopt baby Haley from China.  She has difficulty adjusting as she doesn’t look like her adoptive parents and also doesn’t look like other Chinese children. Her parents don’t know why, but it’s because she’s from an ethnic minority.  It was interesting look on what is a parent?  Also interesting from the child’s point of view – why was I abandoned by my birth parents?  Why do I look different from my parents?  I really liked the bits of Haley’s life as she grew up, including a group counseling session.  I really liked how each character had a different actor voicing them.

This book was a very powerful story that I admit had me crying at the end.  I wanted the story to continue, but it had a satisfying conclusion that was followed by great music.  This was a very engaging story and I’ll admit to staying in my car a bit longer when I got home or to work to keep listening.  The narrators of the audiobook were outstanding and as I stated above, I really liked that Li-yan and Haley had their own voice, but I especially liked how events like the counseling session were read by a lot of different actors to make it sound like a real session.

Overall, The Tea Girl of Hummingbird Lane of was an extremely engaging and powerful story.  It really tugged on my heart strings and it was an outstanding audiobook.  Besides being very absorbed in the unique narrative, I also learned a lot about China, tea, and adoption.  This was a great book – one of my favorites of this year!

Thursday, August 31, 2017

The Birchbark House by Louise Erdrich

I was reading Pioneer Girl Perspectives this summer and read about The Birchbark House by Louise Erdrich.  It was described as a Native American “Little House on the Prairie.”  I knew I had to read it!

Although the Little House books write the story that the Ingalls family moved onto vacant land, the land was all but vacant.  The Birchbark House tells the story of the people who lived on the land before the whites moved into the territory.  Omakayas is a young Ojibwa girl who lives on the island of the Golden-Breasted Woodpecker in Lake Superior.  This book goes through a year of her life as her family builds a new Birchbark house in the summer, harvest rice in the fall, and moves into a cedar log cabin in the winter.  This year the family faces adversity when voyageurs bring deadly smallpox to the village.  Will the family survive?  What is the secret of Omakayas?  And will her brother, Pinch, ever become less annoying?

I liked that there were several call backs to Little House, in particular descriptions on how chores were done at the time, stories that elders tell, and good pictures.  I really loved the character of Omakayas.  I loved her difficulties with her siblings, but also how she communed with animals and had the gifts of a healer.  I loved her journey throughout the novel.  I especially was fond of her pet crow, Andeg.  What a cool pet!

The illustrations were not as good as the epic Garth Williams’ illustrations of the Little House series.  This book also pales in comparison to Little House in its descriptions.  I thought about it and I think it was because Wilder was explaining things that she had actually experienced, while Erdrich is writing historical fiction about a time period that she did not live through.

What The Birchbark House did do better was to portray life in the pioneer days as it really would have been, not as a fairy tale where no one ever dies as in Wilder’s Little House books.  Omakayas faces real threats and death in this novel and it is hard for her to work through on a personal level. I appreciated that it took her time to process it as a child. This is the typical experience that happened on the frontier and is much more realistic. 

This is a children’s book, but it has a pretty harsh opening with a child being found as the only person alive on her island with everyone else dying from small pox.    I found this haunting and it made me want to read more, but I think it might be much for my six year old if I read it to her.  I would recommend this book for fourth grade and up, but it will vary depending on the sensitivity of the child.

Favorite quotes:

“The only person left alive on the island was a baby girl.” – Opening Line

“’These are my daughters,’ said Deydey, proudly.  ‘Not only did they save the corn today, but they caught and plucked our dinner! They are hunters!’”

“Whenever Grandma prayed, she made the world around her fell protected, safe, and eternal.”

“She spoke so earnestly, with such emotion in her voice that Omakayas was always to remember that moment, the bend in the path where they stood with the medicines, her grandmother’s kind face and the words she spoke.”

“Tenderly, as they walked along, the bird plucked up a strand of hair that had fallen loose from Omakaya’s braid, and then he tucked it behind her ear.”

“Omakayas tucked her hands behind her head, lay back, closed her eyes, and smiled as the song of the white-throated sparrow sank again and again through the air like a shining needle, and sewed up her broken heart.” – Last line

Overall, this is a story that needed to be told, of the people who lived here first and had a full life before being driven from the land.  It’s a perfect story to tell with the pioneering adventures of Little House.

Book Source:  Kewaunee Public Library

Monday, August 28, 2017

The Genius Files: Never Say Genius (#2) by Dan Gutman

Title: The Genius Files:  Never Say Genius (#2)
Author: Dan Gutman
Read by: Michael Goldstrom
Publisher: Blackstone Audio
Length: Approximately 5 hours and 30 minutes (5 CDs)
Source: Kewaunee Public Library – Thank-you!

The McDonalds epic trip across America continues in The Genius Files:  Never Say Genius.  Coke and Pepsi McDonald have been selected to be in a top secret “genius files” program for super smart kids.  As secret (even from their parents) government agents, they will get $1,000,000 as an adult graduating out of the program . . . or so they thought. Discovering that the one million dollars will be split up amongst all members of the genius files, an evil villain, Archie Clone, is eliminating all other kids in the genius files so he can be the sole collector of the million.

The McDonalds trip starts right where book one left off, in Wisconsin, and continues to Washington DC.   We listened to the majority of this audiobook on our family trip to Michigan and back and finished it up while back to school shopping.  My 11 and 9 year old sons had read the first book this past school year as part of the Kewaunee Library youth book club and had enjoyed it.  The kids loved book two, especially my 9 year old son Daniel.  He now has an obsession with visiting places that were highlighted in the first two books, in particular The House on the Rock in Wisconsin.  He liked the humor and the adventure.  A lot of the humor for me at least is when Coke and Pep tell their parents exactly what is going on and then are met with a chuckle from their parents who are sure they are making it all up.  The book ended with a cliff hanger.  We’ll be checking out the audiobook of book #3 for our next family trip!

The narrator was excellent in this audiobook with great voices for all of the characters.  My only annoyance was that he read out the web address each time one was mentioned in the book. I think for the audiobook it would be okay just to say go to Google Maps and type this in.

Overall, Never Say Genius was an entertaining book for the entire family and a great audiobook for a family trip!

Friday, August 25, 2017

Christian Coloring Books Galore!

I love the adult coloring book craze and think it is a wonderful way to relax.  My six-year old daughter Penelope also loves to color with me in my adult coloring books, especially on camping trips.  The following are three fabulous Christian coloring books that I took with me to color this summer.

The Parables of Jesus:  Coloring Book Devotional by Laura James and Katara Washington Patton

The Parables of Jesus is large and beautiful adult coloring book.  It contains the parables of Jesus including the actual Gospel reading, a description and discussion of that reading, and some questions to ask yourself about the passage.  Afterwards follows a detailed picture illustrating the parable for the adult to color.  The pictures are on thick white paper that is easy to color.  The binding is glued.  The pictures were of good detail for me to color with my coloring pencils, but not very fine detailed – which I like.  Some coloring books are so finely detailed, I have a hard time coloring them with my coloring pencils.  What I liked best about this book was that it is an excellent way to relax while you are coloring and also spend devotional time reading and thinking about the parables.  The parables are wonderful parts of the Gospel and I like how this book applies them to everyday life.

A Giving Heart:  A Coloring Book Celebrating Motherhood by Stephanie Corfee

This would make a perfect birthday, Christmas, or Mother’s Day gift for any mother.  Bible verses or inspirational quotes are on one page and then the opposite page is a detailed drawing to color.  You don’t need to worry about bleed through from your coloring page wrecking another coloring page as it’s either blank or has a quote on the other side.  My favorite quote is “Kind words can be short and easy to speak, but their echoes are truly endless” by Mother Theresa.  These pictures are also on thick white paper with glue binding.  The pictures are very detailed so it can take quite some time to color if you are looking for fabulously detailed pictures and something to spend a lot of time working on.

Joyful Inspirations Coloring Book with Illustrated Scripture and Quotes to Cheer Your Soul by Robin Mead

Joyful Inspirations has delightful illustrations that include a lot of flowers, outdoor scenes, cities, churches, children, etc. with inspiration quotes from famous folks and Bibles verses.  My favorite quotes was “find out where joy resides, and give it a voice far beyond singing” by Robert Louis Stevenson.”  I really loved the drawings, they were calming and really were joyful.  The only downfall of this coloring book is that the pages are double sided and medium weight, which can lead to bleed through the page.  Coloring with colored pencils works best for this book.

Book Source:  These three books were given to me by Hachette Books for review.  Thank-you!

Thursday, August 24, 2017

By the Shores of Silver Lake by Laura Ingalls Wilder

I’ve been slowly reading all of the Little House books to my daughter Penelope.  At six in the early stages of reading, I can see that in just a couple of short years Penelope will be reading these books on her own.  We both enjoy the reading time together, but with school books, the reading has been going slower on Little House. We actually finished this book last spring – but I’ve been running a bit behind on reviews!

It was great that we did finish this book last spring as we visited De Smet South Dakota in June.  We not only got to see the actual Surveyor’s house that the Ingalls family spent their first winter in in South Dakota, but we also camped for three nights at the Ingalls family Homestead in De Smet.  Having just read this book, it really made the book and story alive for both Penelope and myself.

In By the Shores of Silver Lake, the Ingalls family decides to move West after years of grasshopper plagues and crop failures in Minnesota.  Aunt Docia arrives and offers Pa a job on the railroad making good money.  Pa heads west and the family joins him taking their very first train ride.  The family adjusts to living in a railroad camp and then stay behind in De Smet to watch the surveyors’ cabin over the winter.  Pa finds a good claim and the family settles there in the spring. 

Penelope is a little sad that Laura is no longer her age and firmly a teenager in On the Shores of Silver Lake.  She was further devastated that after Aunt Docia’s visit, the family decides to pack up except for one member  - their old faithful dog Jack.  He will not be able to make this last journey with them in his old age and he peacefully falls asleep never to awaken again.  This section had me in tears, especially as our old faithful dog Jack is 14 and in his golden age.  This scene was masterfully written.  I was intrigued to find out that it was not actually factually true in my further reading this summer.  Wilder used artistic license, but very expertly as a writer wrote this scene to substitute for the real life loss the Ingalls felt at this time as they drove off and left the grave of little Freddy Ingalls.

I love how free Laura was in the book, especially racing horses with Lena over the prairie.  I also love Wilder’s vivid descriptions of building a railroad and riding on a steam train for the first time.  I was disturbed (as I was as a child) when Laura and Lena meet a woman who talks about her 12-year old daughter’s marriage.  Lena and Laura were still girls and not ready to grow up.  It’s hard to think about a 12 year old girl being married although I do know it happened in the past and probably still happens in other cultures.

As an adult, I’ve really grown to realize even more how great a writer Wilder was.  Her descriptions are beautiful and characters are realistic.  Even though it doesn’t 100% follow the story of the real Ingalls family, it tells a good story of what life was link in that time period and it also preserves the story of her family.

Favorite quotes:

“Laura knew then that she wasn’t a little girl anymore.”

“The sun sank.  A ball of pulsing, liquid light, it sank in clouds of crimson and silver.  Cold purple shadows rose in the east, crept slowly across the prairie, then rose in heights on the heights of darkness from which the stars swung low and bright.”

“I’m thankful the paymaster was sensible.  Better a live dog than a dead lion.”  I love this advice from Ma!

“It was so beautiful that they hardly breathed.  The great round moon hung in the sky and its radiance poured over a silvery world.”

“Lonely and wild and eternal were land and water and sky and the air blowing.”

By the Shores of Silver Lake is even more poignant and beautiful to me as an adult after reading it a dozen times as a child.  If you haven’t picked up this classic since you were a child or have never read it, I highly recommend it!

Book Source:  Set of books purchased from Amazon.com

Pioneer Girl Perspectives: Exploring Laura Ingalls Wilder Edited by Nancy Tystad Koupal

I loved reading Pioneer Girl two years ago and was excited to pick up Perspectives while I was in De Smet this summer.  Pioneer Girl Perspectives is a collection of essays about Wilder’s life and works. It is a fascinating collection and very interesting to me.  I learned a lot and have a lot of favorite quotes – pretty much the entire book!  The essays included how Laura Ingalls Wilder and Rose Wilder Lane worked together to create the Little House series, why the Little House books have a lasting appeal, how Pioneer Girl finally came to print, childhood myths explored, etc.  

Interesting Tidbits from the book:

“Leaning on her daughter’s apprenticeship in yellow journalism, Laura Ingalls Wilder felt free to meld genres, molding fact into fiction in ways that she did not acknowledge even to herself, attending to her novels’ ‘truth’ while providing the succor of a fictitious happy ending.  That was a feature, she said, of ‘all good novels.’ It is a testament to the moral complexity of her art that we are still wrestling, decades after the fact, to separate truth from fiction.”

Laura and Rose had a tenuis working relationship.  Rose’s two most famous books were based on Laura’s autobiography that she helped to work get published.  After it didn’t get published as an adult novel, Rose reworked episodes of it for her adult fiction while Laura wrote her children’s books from the source material.

“She never glamorized anything; yet she saw the loveliness in everything.”  Illustrator Garth Williams on Laura Ingalls.  I was interested to read how his research for illustrating the books helped to solve a lot of the mysteries about place and settings for the books.  For example Walnut Grove Minnesota didn’t know it was the setting for On the Banks of Plum Creek until Williams visited.

I read that an author I enjoy, Louise Erdrich started a series with the Birchbark House to tell the Native American side of the story with a little Native American girl growing up in the big woods of Wisconsin and getting displaced by white settlers.  I’m reading this book now!  It is interesting how the Little House books always describe the land as empty when it was in fact, inhabited by Native American tribes.

“Wilder’s most devoted fans do not simply identify with Laura or want to read about her, they want to be Laura.  They attend conferences based on Wilder’s work.  They research the lives of her friends, family, and acquaintances.  They buy tickets to Wilder museums, pageants, and plays.  They go on literary pilgrimages to the prairie towns and home sites associated with the books.  They throw back their sunbonnets, kick off their shoes, and go wading on the banks of Plum Creek.”  Hmmm... I have done everything in this paragraph except for attending a Little House conference.  It felt strange to be so accurately described.  Am I a Little house superfan?

Overall, Pioneer Girl Perspectives is a riveting collection of essays that delve into the many depths of Laura Ingalls Wilder and her classic series of books.  This is a must read for any fan of the Little House series.

Book Source:  Laura Ingalls Wilder Historic Homes, De Smet, South Dakota

Wednesday, August 23, 2017

Forty Autumns: A Family’s Story of Courage and Survival on Both Sides of the Berlin Wall by Nina Willner (TLC Book Tours)

“Throughout East Germany there were tens of thousands, if not millions of people like my relatives, trying to raise a family, work, preserve their dignity, and live life as best they could under the circumstances they were handed.  This is the story of just one family, but is some ways it is the story of millions.”

A riveting memoir of one family’s struggle of being separated by the Berlin Wall and Communism, Forty Autumns is a powerful book.  Written by Nina Willner, a former U.S. Army intelligence officer who served in Berlin in the Cold War, Willner tells the riveting story of her family.  At the end of WWII, Willner’s mother’s family finds themselves on the wrong side of the line and are now in communist controlled East Germany.  As the rules constrict around the family, Willner’s mother, Hanna escapes to West Germany.  She meets and marries a Holocaust survivor and U.S. Army officer and moves to America to raise six kids, including Willner.  Hanna has a good life with her family, but misses her parents and siblings that she left behind.  What kind of life did they have?  This book details their struggles including being separated from family and living under a harsh communist regime.

This book is a non-fiction memoir, but to me it read like fiction.  I was captivated by the story and literally couldn’t put the book down.  This lead to more than one night of late reading when I should have been sleeping!  Willner does a fabulous job of writing about her family and making me care about the personal struggles of Hanna, Opa, Oma, and Hanna’s sister Heidi.  Willner also gives the history of what was going on with East and West Germany, the politics, the culture, and the standards of living.  I was eleven years old when the Berlin Wall came down in 1989 and remember it vividly.  This book helped me to really fully understand the importance of that event.

I also really enjoyed that besides a center insert with color pictures, the book contained pictures throughout.  The pictures were often referenced in the text as well, which I enjoyed. 

I also really enjoyed learning about Willner’s experiences as an U.S. army intelligence officer in Berlin.  She had some real nail biting experiences.  It was very interesting learning about the day-to-day of being a spy during this time.  I also thought it was great how Willner juxtaposed the journey that her cousin had at the same time as a top East German athlete working only miles away from Willner.

Favorite Quotes:

“The [Berlin] Wall is . . . an offense not only against history but an offense against humanity, separating families, dividing husbands and wives and brothers and sisters, and dividing a people who wish to be joined together.” – President John F. Kennedy

“The day that Dieter disappeared, something in Hanna changed.  She was alarmed the people seemed willing to accept the changes without fighting back.”

“What will become of a country, Oma wondered, when a mother cannot even trust her own children, and they, in turn, cannot trust their own families?”

“We have survived East Germany with our dignity intact.  This life has not always been easy, but it has not made us bend.  It has actually made us stronger.  And we are strong because our souls are free.”

“After a time, they walked back to their little car and got back in.  Reinhard started up the engine.  She looked over at him.  He smiled at her, and they continued on their way, driving onward into the beautiful unknown.”

Overall, Forty Autumns is a fascinating memoir of a family’s struggles living separated by the Berlin Wall and what communism really meant for them.  It’s an important part of our collective history and also good story.  You won’t be able to put this book down!

Book Source:  Review Copy as part of the TLC Book Tour.  Thank-you!  For more stops on the tour check out this link.

About Forty Autumns • Paperback: 416 pages • Publisher: William Morrow Paperbacks; Reprint edition (August 15, 2017) In this illuminating and deeply moving memoir, a former American military intelligence officer goes beyond traditional Cold War espionage tales to tell the true story of her family—of five women separated by the Iron Curtain for more than forty years, and their miraculous reunion after the fall of the Berlin Wall.

Forty Autumns makes visceral the pain and longing of one family forced to live apart in a world divided by two. At twenty, Hanna escaped from East to West Germany. But the price of freedom—leaving behind her parents, eight siblings, and family home—was heartbreaking. Uprooted, Hanna eventually moved to America, where she settled down with her husband and had children of her own.
Growing up near Washington, D.C., Hanna’s daughter, Nina Willner became the first female Army Intelligence Officer to lead sensitive intelligence operations in East Berlin at the height of the Cold War. Though only a few miles separated American Nina and her German relatives—grandmother Oma, Aunt Heidi, and cousin, Cordula, a member of the East German Olympic training team—a bitter political war kept them apart.

 In Forty Autumns, Nina recounts her family’s story—five ordinary lives buffeted by circumstances beyond their control. She takes us deep into the tumultuous and terrifying world of East Germany under Communist rule, revealing both the cruel reality her relatives endured and her own experiences as an intelligence officer, running secret operations behind the Berlin Wall that put her life at risk.

 A personal look at a tenuous era that divided a city and a nation, and continues to haunt us, Forty Autumns is an intimate and beautifully written story of courage, resilience, and love—of five women whose spirits could not be broken, and who fought to preserve what matters most: family.

  Forty Autumns is illustrated with dozens of black-and-white and color photographs.

Purchase Links

HarperCollins | Amazon | Barnes & Noble

About Nina Willner

Nina Willner is a former U.S. Army intelligence officer who served in Berlin during the Cold War. Following a career in intelligence, Nina worked in Moscow, Minsk, and Prague promoting human rights, children’s causes, and the rule of law for the U.S. government, nonprofit organizations, and a variety of charities. She currently lives in Istanbul, Turkey. Forty Autumns is her first book. Find out more about Nina at her website, and connect with her on Facebook and Twitter.

Monday, August 21, 2017

Star Trek Prey: The Hall of Heroes (Book 3) by John Jackson Miller

A sci-fi adventure that includes a tale of vengeance one-hundred years in the making, Star Trek Prey:  The Hall of Heroes is an epic original tale that includes many favorite Star Trek characters and is the conclusion of a three book trilogy.

The Unsung are threatening the Klingon Empire and Chancellor Martok is having a hard time keeping control as the violence continues.  The Federation including Admiral Riker, Captain Picard, Commander Worf, and Tuvok work together to solve the mystery of the Unsung.

I really enjoyed this trilogy.  All three books were action packed with great character build up and interactions.  The Hall of Heroes was a fantastic conclusion with plenty of adventure.  Author John Jackson Miller really knows the classic characters and serves them well in the story while also creating new interesting characters.  I also loved that the humor typical of Star Trek has been kept into place.  It’s nice to have a light moment between action sequences. The ending of the story left it open for more adventures – I would certainly love more myself!

Robert Petkoff was a top notch narrator for this audiobook trilogy.  His voices were perfect for the characters and he did a great job of getting into character for the large cast. This was a great trilogy to listen to via audiobook.  I would love to listen to more audiobooks from this author / narrator combination.

Overall Star Trek Prey:  Hall of Heroes (Book 3) is a perfect and satisfying conclusion to the Star Trek Prey trilogy full of adventure, suspense, humor, and great characters.    Petkoff is a great character voice actor and he narrates this trilogy perfectly.  I highly recommend this audiobook and this entire trilogy!

How are you celebrating 50 years of Star Trek?  Besides listening to this riveting audiobook trilogy, I’ve been watching the Original Series, Next Generation, and Voyager episodes with my family.  We have all been excited about the new Star Trek Discovery series, but were sad to just find out its rated MA so we can’t watch it as a family.

Saturday, August 19, 2017

Darcy in Wonderland by Alexa Adams

Darcy in Wonderland is a delightful tale that combines two of my favorite British stories, Pride & Prejudice and Alice in Wonderland.  Elizabeth Bennet and Fitzwilliam Darcy have married and are raising a family of one son and five daughters.  The youngest daughter, Alice, is prone to fits of fancy that Darcy can’t help but indulge as a father.

As Alice’s oldest sister prepares for her coming out ball and her brother prepares to make his way in the world, Alice remains stuck in the schoolroom.  Behind on her lessons, her father stays behind to catch her up while the rest of the family visits the Bingley family.  While outside, they follow a mysterious white rabbit down a rabbit hole and have a grand adventure in Wonderland.

I found this novel to be very enjoyable with charming illustrations.  One of my favorite scenes was the tea party in Wonderland which was a fantastic comedy of manners with Mr. Darcy trying to maintain good manners, which is increasingly hard to do with the Mad Hatter in attendance.   I thought this novel was a perfect blend of both tales. 

Adams wrote the characters from Pride and Prejudice as I would imagine them in a future life.  Their children were intriguing as well. I wanted to learn more about this Pride and Prejudice continuation and would love to read further tales!  One of my favorite parts of the novel was a perfect conclusion with Bennet, the Darcy’s eldest and only son.  He is already knee deep in the work of running the Pemberley estate, but after Darcy’s adventure in Wonderland with Alice, he realizes that Bennet should have some fun before becoming an adult.  I loved this!

Favorite Quotes:

“As I said, you are too easy on Alice.  If you and my mother do not take her in hand and impose reality upon her, the world will someday do it for you, and it will be a far more difficult lesson to learn.”

“’I suppose one really must laugh at one’s own relations, the private company of one’s fellow sufferers, of course, for how else are they to be born?’ Elizabeth conceded. “

“’When I used to read fairy tales,’ she continued, unfazed, ‘I fancied those kinds of things never happened, and now here we are in the middle of one!’”

“’A Darcy, are you?’ cried the Pigeon. ‘And what in heaven’s name is a Darcy, I ask? You just invented it.’
 'I am a gentleman, madam,’ he assured her, attempting to check his irritation and live up to the title.”

“’But I do hate tampering with the laws of physics.  No good shall come of it.’”

“’Very fine indeed.’ said Darcy, really wanting to question the creature with whom this entire sorry adventure began, but his innate breeding insisted a mundane comment must be addressed in kind”

Overall, Darcy in Wonderland is a whimsical delight that is sure to be enjoyed by most readers.  It’s not to be missed if you are a Pride and Prejudice fan, it is a wonderful continuation of the story.

Book Source:  Review Copy from author Alexa Adams as part of the Blog Tour.  Thank-you!