Baby, It’s Cold Outside, So Snuggle Up With A Good Book!

By Gini Rainey

“The Orphan Train” By Christina Baker Kline“The Orphan Train” By Christina Baker Kline

This is one of those books I didn’t want to end. Rich in themes centered on families and parenting, “Orphan Train” is a short and very readable novel. Kline narrates the story of a practice meant to be kind that was often cruel. Due to the waves of immigration, epidemics of illnesses and the difficulty of living in poverty, many children were left as orphans. Many families had multiple children who were set adrift when their parents died or disappeared. Organizations sprang up to help with the problem and the orphan trains were created. Large numbers of children from the big Eastern cities were shipped to the Midwest where couples looking for children could adopt them.

The book has two orphaned women as heroines, 17 year old Molly and 91 year old Vivian. Molly’s father, a Native American, was killed when she was a young child and her mother, who could not cope, retreated to a life of drug abuse. Molly has been placed in a foster home with people who do not respect her intelligence or belief system. Vivian came to New York City from Ireland with her parents as a child. After most of her family was killed in a tenement fire, Vivian was placed on an orphan train going west with the hope of finding an adoptive family. Her first two placements in the state of Minnesota were disastrous, but she eventually found a stable home that helped launch her life as a productive adult.

Now, fate has once again intervened in the lives of both women as, at age 91, Vivian meets Molly, who has to complete a community service assignment. Molly begins to assist Vivian in cleaning out her attic, slowly sorting through the mementos that represent the pieces of Vivian’s life she has kept hidden for all these years. As they discover the unexpected correlation in their life experiences, Molly and Vivian develop a true affection for each other.

As the story moves back and forth in time between the late 1920’s and present day Maine, author Christina Baker Kline’s novel explores the subjects of love, adversity, resilience, providence, the workings of the child welfare system, deep and hidden secrets, and how the choices we make can resonate through generations.

As you discover more and more about these characters and their lives, you may certainly question some of their behavior and the decisions they made. While you may not agree with, nor understand their actions, they remain endearing folks who stick to your heart like glue so that find yourself accepting their flaws and wishing them well.

This is a very well-written historical fiction. It moves between 1920 and present day revealing more of the characters backgrounds with each chapter. It is very easy to fall in love with this book and the characters. I highly recommend it to anyone who likes more modern historical fiction as well as those who like stories about overcoming the odds.

Rating: 5 of 5

Copyright 2013 – William Morrow

“Where Have You Been” By Cynthia Boone“Where Have You Been?” By Cynthia Boone

One of the great things about reviewing books is that sooner or later you begin to have people contact you to review their books! I love this part of the job, because when I receive these books, I’m always eager to dig in and start reading. I love a good read and was hoping that “Where Have You Been?” would prove to be one, and I was left with very mixed feelings about this book.

The storyline focuses on Carly and Beau, a couple of star-crossed lovers that have one heck of a time trying to get together. Because of time and distance, their budding romance, which began in high school, didn’t stand much of a chance of survival. It took me a while to get into the heart of this book because I almost needed a magic slate to try to keep up with the characters and the different plots that Ms. Boone was presenting. The short chapters (some only a page and a half long) made for a choppy read and I found myself wondering what terrible misfortune would happen to them with the next turn of the page.

I was left with the feeling that Ms. Boone tried much too hard to give the histories for all of the characters in order to tie the story line into a neat package. This resulted in my suffering from “plot whiplash” due to all the territory she attempted to cover. Although that in itself isn’t necessarily a bad thing, the constant introduction of subplots left me with a feeling that the development of her main characters was lacking.

In my opinion, her writing is very good and the story lines are intriguing, but by jumping around as much as she did, parts of the book suffered from too little fleshing out. I’m wondering if perhaps she might have done her characters (and plots) a favor by presenting them in a multiple book format, thus allowing for more in depth details to have been devoted to some of the key issues.

That being said, I do have to admit that I had trouble putting down “Where Have You Been?” once I got into the thick of the plot. Cynthia’s characters are very likable and what’s not to like about a book that is set on a ranch in central Texas? If you would like to read a fast-paced, intriguing book filled with angst, drama and misfortunes, then “Where Have You Been?” is the one for you.

Rating: 3 of 5

Copyright 2014 – BookBaby

“Three Moons Over Sedona” By Sherry Hatzler“Three Moons Over Sedona” By Sherry Hatzler

Sherry Hatzler, a gifted mainstream women’s fiction novelist, brings us this tale of a middle-aged woman whose husband dies under embarrassing circumstances and leaves her to question her own life. One day she gets in the car and just drives, all the way to a new town called Sedona. It’s here that she starts her life over, basically from scratch, with the help of two younger very different women that she learns to call her friends.

In this very touching heartfelt story, the reader learns that all three women are holding on too tightly to past hurts thus making it difficult to move towards love in their future. This book is the story of how the three get to know each other and themselves and let go of the hurts together. Hatzler has created very realistic flawed characters and relationships and the resolutions, for the most part, avoid the typically cliché solutions.

Although initially “Three Moons…” might appear to be chic-lit on the surface, it most definitely changes its appearance by virtue of its smartly written, warm and endearing story line. While perhaps a novel written to appeal to an older reader, the truths and lessons learned by the three women of Sedona are applicable to the lives of old and young alike.

Hartzler’s incredible story-telling skills and imaginative details that surround even the simplest moments help to bring a nearly visual experience to the reader. Her dry sense of humor fills the pages with a warm wit, further bringing the story line even more realistically to life.

This book is a wonderful adult coming of age story about three very complex and interesting women whose challenges bind them together in ways that few young people have the experience to understand. From sharing their own personal tragedies they are all able to grow and blossom in ways they never expected.

For those who choose to read this book, don’t expect a book about Sedona. It’s definitely not a travelogue. The beautiful town of Sedona is simply the setting for most of what takes place in the story and it could just as easily have been any other town about 2,000 miles west of Ohio. It is what it is – a very touching, yet very fun story about the challenges that many of us will face as we mature in life.

Rating: 5 of 5

Copyright 2009 – Rock House Publishing

“Deep Down Dark The Untold Stories of 33 Men Buried in a Chilean Mine, and the Miracle that Set Them Free” By Hector Tobar“Deep Down Dark: The Untold Stories of 33 Men Buried in a Chilean Mine, and the Miracle that Set Them Free” By Hector Tobar

Pulitzer Prize–winning journalist and novelist Tobar (“The Barbarian Nurseries”) presents the riveting story of the 33 men who spent 69 days trapped more than 2,000 feet underground in Chile’s San José Mine in 2010. Noting that the abundance of minerals under the hills of the Atacama desert drew workers from all corners of Chile, Tobar—who was granted exclusive access to the miners and their families—compassionately recounts the miners’ personal histories, experiences during the 17 days they were without outside contact, extended rescue, and the drama above ground with the families living near the mine in their makeshift “Camp Esperanza,” mingling with government ministers, NASA advisors, engineers, mechanics, and drillers.

Particularly moving is the reenactment of the first 17 days when the “33” banded together, drinking dirty water used to cool off the mine’s drilling systems and sharing their meager food supplies.

Feeling as though “they are living inside a Bible parable,” the men keep their hopes up through prayer, and some gravitate toward particular roles: the pastor, the chronicler, the unofficial spokesman.

Tobar vividly narrates the miners’ lives post-rescue as they come to terms with their life-changing experience and the media frenzy surrounding it. Rich in local color, this is a sensitive, suspenseful rendering of a legendary story.

Rating: 5 of 5

Copyright 2014 – Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Thirteen Days in September Carter, Begin, and Sadat at Camp David“Thirteen Days in September: Carter, Begin, and Sadat at Camp David” By Lawrence Wright

Wright (“Going Clear”), Pulitzer Prize winner and staff writer for the “New Yorker,” offers a thorough study of the Camp David Accords of 1978 in this meticulously researched affair, which goes beyond the core events to address a multitude of historical factors. On the surface, this is about U.S. President Jimmy Carter, Egyptian President Anwar Sadat, and Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin and the 13 days the men and their respective staffs spent trying to hammer out a peace treaty. Wright takes the conference day by day, detailing the clashes and compromises that marked the final results. He also delves into Biblical events and the numerous conflicts following Israel’s creation in 1948. As Wright puts it, “This book is an account of how these three flawed men, strengthened but also encumbered by their faiths, managed to forge a partial and incomplete peace, an achievement that nonetheless stands as one of the great diplomatic triumphs of the twentieth century.” Alternating between biographical studies of the people involved, sociopolitical histories of the countries and faiths represented, and an almost nail-bitingly tense unfolding of the conference itself, Wright delivers an authoritative, fascinating, and relatively unbiased exploration of a pivotal period and a complicated subject. This book also, helpfully, includes maps and photos as well.

Rating: 4 of 5

Copyright 2014 – Knopf; First Edition