Book Review: The Invincible Summer of Juniper Jones by Daven McQueen

Today is Juneteenth. What is Juneteenth, you ask? Good question. I’m a 38 year old Caucasian women of Dutch descent and just heard about Juneteenth on social media this week. 38. Years. Old. and I knew nothing about a holiday that reflects on an important aspect of Black history, when Union Soldiers arrived in Texas with the news that the war had ended and that the enslaved were now free. I probably can’t do justice in explaining all the details of significance, so I’m going to tell you to Google (or, click here) and then ponder what it would be like to find out you were emancipated 2 1/2 years before you were told. Two. and. a. half. years. I’ll never clearly be able to understand or relate. Lord knows, we’ve come a long way since then, but in all honesty, I don’t think we’ve come nearly far enough. There’s still a lot of hate and inequality in this world and that needs to change. We need to do better. We need love. We need hope. We need people to speak up and speak out and stand up for their friends and neighbours.

One of the most heartrendingly beautiful books I’ve ever read

This post isn’t actually a history lesson, or a conversation on civil rights, but a book review. Seriously. I requested “The Invincible Summer of Juniper Jones” more than three months ago. I downloaded the ARC in February. A few days ago, I decided Young Adult fiction might be the right tonic to get out of a reading slump as *sometimes* (but not always) YA fiction can be a little lighter or less complex. As this title was released this week, I thought I’d give it a go. I was mistaken in thinking it might be light (although there were shimmers of brightness throughout) or less complex. I’ll be purchasing the book for re-reads this weekend.

The novel throws you back to 1955, where you’ll land in small-town Alabama. The narrator is Ethan Harper, a biracial child who’s had some trouble at school and is sent to live with his white Aunt and Uncle in a community that is anything but tolerant. He’s befriended by the strange and lovable oddball title-character, Juniper Jones. Juniper has decided that the summer of ’55 will be the most epic ever, and doesn’t really give her new accomplice a choice but to join her, and their adventures are recounted in beautiful, immersive writing.

There is a lightness and hope that is weaved throughout their summer, but also a heaviness and complexity that comes with the illumination of racial tensions and the wrong-mindedness of the era. You cannot help but to fall in love with Juniper and feel a tenderhearted affection towards her. On the other hand, your heart will break for Ethan over and over again – you’ll want to draw him into a protective bubble and shelter him from the hatred he encounters while wanting to bash some sense into his adversaries. This book will swallow you whole, chew you up, spit you out, and leave you with big emotions to process, but it also brings to light some very unfortunate aspects of history, while balancing the strength and value of true friendship.

The author weaves some unexpected moments in and you’ll be gasping for air as you bawl your eyes out more than once. It’s one of the most heartrendingly beautiful books I’ve ever read. It’s recommended for 12 & up (grades 7 – 9) and the author, Daven McQueen, acknowledges that difficult subjects are broached and offensive terminology is used. While I would recommend it unabashedly, if you have a particularly sensitive tween/teen, you may want to read it first, and then use it as a platform for conversation afterwards. For myself, it was a 5 star read for sure and most definitely one of, if not my most, favourite books of 2020.

My thanks to the author and publisher for the complimentary title via NetGalley. All opinions expressed are my own.

Published by: Wattpad Books
Publication Date: June 16, 2020

Book Review: Tasting Grace by Melissa D’Arabian

My routine is looking a little different these days and while I’m not sleeping the day away, I may be sitting in my pajamas. Connection is all being done digitally (because I still don’t like the phone) and sometimes we go for a drive just to get out of the house. Streets are very quiet, many stores are closed, and life just feels uncertain.

One thing that remains is food. My boys seem to be constantly snacking and a trip to the grocery store is something I’m avoiding for health reasons. My husband has been the primary, list in hand shopper, but many times the needed items aren’t in stock yet because people still don’t understand that our food supply chain hasn’t shut down. Regardless, we’re spending time in the kitchen, cooking out of creativity, eating out of boredom, grazing a million times a day because food is there.

I’ll admit that the first reason I selected this title was the cover. The colours stood out and it piqued my interest. Reading more about the content intrigued me even more. Last night, after a meal that was less meal and more snack, I thought I’d dive in, not entirely sure what I’d be reading.

I’ll admit that the author’s name meant nothing to me, although in hindsight I’ve probably seen her one of the random times we’ve binged the Food Network. I wasn’t sure I wanted to read non-fiction but I just kept coming back to this title.

Wow. That’s all I can say (which is obviously untrue as I’m going to say a lot more below.) I read this in one sitting and will be buying a copy to read again, to highlight, to make notes in. I’ll be recommending it to a ton of friends and family members who are about food or passionate about people. That’s how much it spoke to me. My hope is that the tagline reads as true for them by book’s end as it did for me: Discovering the Power of Food to Connect Us to God, One Another, and Ourselves

I’m not entirely sure I interpreted each chapter in the spirit it was given and there were a few statements that made me pause – not in a bad way, but more of a I need to think about this a bit longer. Each chapter includes an invitation at the end, drawing the reader into a real-life application of this refreshed viewpoint on food. I thought of them as little morsels of food for thought – and in all honesty – much of the book itself was food for thought.

Part autobiographical, part motivational inspiration, D’Arabian tackles subjects of acceptance, grief, success, value, identity, connection, and so much more. For such an easy-to-read book, it’s chock full of anecdotes and reflection on a variety of topics relevant to our relationship with food, society, and more. It’s not a follow this diet tome at all, but a gentle encouragement to reshape your connection with food and others.

Throughout, I found myself copying statements that aren’t new, but that hit me with their transparency and how I could relate to them. I felt as if I was having a kitchen conversation with a good natured, down to earth friend.

Overall, Tasting Grace provided a unique perspective into food and spirituality. It’s a gentle call to authenticity and connection, written in a captivating tone as it invites conversation, introspection, and most importantly, a call to accepting grace. I’ll be contemplating this further while I attempt the author’s Potato Bacon Torte.

My thanks to WaterBrook & Multnomah for the complimentary copy via NetGalley. All opinions expressed are my own.

This title is available through your favourite bookseller now. It published in September 2019. Go pick up a copy for yourself and let’s compare notes.

Book Review: Code Name Lise by Larry Loftis

I am not a big fan of non-fiction. It can be so dreary and difficult to read. Give me fairy tales and love stories and make-believe any day. This is a review on a work very relevant to today. It is most definitely not fiction.

But Lindsey, if you don’t enjoy non-fiction why would you request such a title?

I asked myself the same question many times over the last few months. In fact, I downloaded the advanced copy of this book on April 12th. It was published May 9th. I reluctantly dug in this weekend.

The answer to the question above? Sheer curiosity. I am so glad I indulged this whim.Code Name: Lise” highlights the remarkable life of Odette Sansom, Britain’s most highly decorated WWII spy. A true story loaded with facts regarding an incredible woman. There was no drudgery involved in the reading.

While based on first-hand accounts, the author did a remarkable job of bringing factual information into a beautiful and exciting tale that will leave you in awe of the mission and the exploits and the incredible courage and humanity of a very normal woman. Perhaps not normal – Odette was almost unbelievably amazing – but normal, in that she was a wife and mother who just wanted to contribute something bigger than herself. Loftis presented her story richly and with colour, weaving a beautiful narrative through a terrible time in our history.

With Remembrance Day observed here in Canada today, I’m particularly glad I dove into this one. The timely reflection on the absolute sacrifice and suffering of people serving their country for a greater purpose at absolute cost to themselves was significant. The book was easy to read, yet painful, and evoked great emotion.

I would highly recommend this for anyone who has an interest in general WWII history and for those who enjoy fiction along these lines with romance and bravery (i.e. fans of The Nightingale.) Once you get into it, Code Name: Lise reads like fiction while being entirely based on fact. Incredible.

My thanks to NetGalley and the publisher for providing a complimentary digital copy of this title for review. All opinions are my own. (Seriously. Go pick up a copy of this book!)

Book Review: One for the Blackbird, One for the Crow

Lyrical & Haunting

I was privileged to received an advance copy of One for the Blackbird, One for the Crow, a historical novel by Olivia Hawker that was published last week.

Publisher’s Description:

From the bestselling author of The Ragged Edge of Night comes a powerful and poetic novel of survival and sacrifice on the American frontier.

Wyoming, 1876. For as long as they have lived on the frontier, the Bemis and Webber families have relied on each other. With no other settlers for miles, it is a matter of survival. But when Ernest Bemis finds his wife, Cora, in a compromising situation with their neighbor, he doesn’t think of survival. In one impulsive moment, a man is dead, Ernest is off to prison, and the women left behind are divided by rage and remorse.

Losing her husband to Cora’s indiscretion is another hardship for stoic Nettie Mae. But as a brutal Wyoming winter bears down, Cora and Nettie Mae have no choice but to come together as one family—to share the duties of working the land and raising their children. There’s Nettie Mae’s son, Clyde—no longer a boy, but not yet a man—who must navigate the road to adulthood without a father to guide him, and Cora’s daughter, Beulah, who is as wild and untamable as her prairie home.

Bound by the uncommon threads in their lives and the challenges that lie ahead, Cora and Nettie Mae begin to forge an unexpected sisterhood. But when a love blossoms between Clyde and Beulah, bonds are once again tested, and these two resilient women must finally decide whether they can learn to trust each other—or else risk losing everything they hold dear.

My Thoughts:

This novel was lyrical and haunting from the very first line. It’s a story of loss and ruin, family and friendship. It’s strange and melodic and quite possibly the best novel I’ve read this year. I’m not sure I could be nearly as strong as any of the characters and the way they adapted and forged forever ties despite hardships and necessity.

Beulah, one of the central characters, is an odd one, and yet absolutely beautiful in her head-in-the-clouds and oneness with the earth. She “communicates” with the earth, with the harvest, with the animals, with those who have passed – and that sounds so creepy and wrong – but it’s actually done very well. Maybe “aware” is a better word than “communicates” – she’s hyperaware and connected with everything around her.

Overall, I can guarantee this will not be everyone’s cup of tea. The pace of the prose is meandering. The style of writing is unique. The story itself, however, is brimming with feelings and evocative imagery. I absolutely loved it.

My thanks to the publisher for a complimentary copy of this title via NetGalley. All opinions expressed are my own.

Publisher: Lake Union Publishing
Publication Date: October 8, 2019

Book Review: The Book Woman of Troublesome Creek by Kim Michele Richardson

It’s the May long weekend here in our tiny corner of the world. The weather is finally cooperating for outdoor book binges. We had a birthday party yesterday and I have this weird thing about parents judging my housekeeping skills, so we cleaned like mad before the 12 year old boys showed up to make a mess again. Thankfully, clean-up was a breeze so today lent itself to indulgent backyard gazebo time with a rosé lemonade (meh) and a book (amazing!)

I’ve had The Book Woman of Troublesome Creek on my to-read pile for months. I’ve put it off, and put it off, and put it off… until I decided to give it a go last night. I made it to chapter 13 (when I should have been sleeping but we all know I’ll give up sleep for a good book.) The wee hours of the morning finally got to me, so I put it down knowing I’d have the afternoon to while away in 1930’s Kentucky hill country. Oh. My. Word. Why didn’t I read this book sooner?!?

Why didn’t I read this book sooner?!?

From the first paragraphs, this title is evocative and transports you to another time and place. It’s rife with folklore, superstition, and old home remedies – balanced with an honest and colourful depiction of a difficult era and landscape. Inspired by the historical and truly remarkable Kentucky Pack Horse library service and gentle-hearted blue-skinned people of Kentucky, Kim Michele Richardson weaves a poignant and heart-wrenching telling of poverty, misogyny, racial prejudice, and poverty. Through it all, books bind humble souls together – feeding the mind when the land won’t yield food and families are dying of starvation.

I don’t want to share any spoilers so I’ll leave you with this: pick up a copy of this book, book off a chunk of free-time, and dive right in! You’ll find yourself invested – infuriated with the wrongness of so many situations, in tears because of the heartache and loss, and absolutely in love with the Book Lady, Cussy, and the family she builds through the care and gifts for her patrons. Honestly, one of the best books I’ve read in awhile!

This complimentary title was provided by the publisher via NetGalley. All thoughts and opinions are my own.

Publisher: Sourcebooks Landmark
Publication Date: May 7, 2019

Book Review: A Forbidden Love

I feel a little sheepish admitting that I procrastinated in reading this title. It was published earlier this month and I like to post my NetGalley reviews while the books are still fresh. So I ‘forced’ myself to read it… and oh my word, I wish I had cracked it open sooner.

Set during the Spanish civil war, which I admittedly knew very little about, A Forbidden Love by Kerry Postle follows the intertwining lives of a number of individuals in a sleepy little Spanish town. They are rocked by the human tragedy that befalls their village when Nationalists bring conflict to their doorsteps.

Descriptive, colourful prose and well-developed characters experience friendship, love, loss, anger, pain, betrayal, hope and more in this historical love story. While the main female lead is admittedly self-absorbed, brash, and impetuous, you can’t help but feel for her loss of innocence in such a terrible situation. She makes unwise choices, lives with the guilt, but ultimately is not responsible for the horrors of war that befall her family and friends. You see her maturity develop as she faces remarkably challenging situations that no one should ever experience.

The author beautifully presented this historical era with emotion and poignancy. I appreciated how she drew attention to atrocities committed against woman by their own countrymen. She honoured their innocence and memory.

Overall, I was truly engrossed once I was a few chapters deep. It’s a stirring account of oppression, corruption, and survival. It may leave you feeling a little raw and vulnerable by the final chapter, but in awe of the bravery and desire to fight for what is right. A tale extraordinarily told that asks if the enemy can be loved and truly forgiven. Pick up a copy for yourself!

I was provided with a complimentary copy of this title via NetGalley. All opinions expressed are my own.

Publication date: April 2, 2019

Published by: HQ Digital (Harper Collins UK)

Book Review: No One Ever Asked by Katie Ganshert

Do you ever read a book that absolutely captivates you, but you don’t actually like it? That was this book. It was uncomfortable to read, not because the author wrote poorly, but because it was so relevant and so well-written. Katie Ganshert’s No One Ever Asked dived into issues of race and prejudice and social inequity without batting an eye, and she did it well enough that it was troubling to read even in contemporary (Christian) fiction.

… disheartening, infuriating,
and filled with promise.

The worst part of this novel is that it is set in the present day. Ganshert shed light on issues of ongoing racial disparity and discrimination, social justice, poverty, privilege, and inadvertent ideology. In closing, it was a tale of hope, respect, forgiveness, and the remarkable ability to overcome tragedy and injustice.

Our cast of characters (many of whom I did not like at all) came from different backgrounds, with lives intersecting amidst tense socio-economic-political situations – and it was, dishearteningly, based (or stemmed from) recent events in the US. Each character struggled with issues of faith, issues of conscience, and issues in their relationships. Each had a very narrow view of how things should be and the stumbling to accept change or walk in forgiveness or expand perspective – and recognize that everyone is living a flawed and imperfect life despite their backgrounds – was a common thread.

This emotionally charged drama was a very real reminder presented in make-believe that we are so much more than the colour of our skin. It was also, for myself, the reminder that being a white female in today’s society, living a fairly comfortable life, means that I am privileged enough to never, ever truly know the struggles that still exist – today for other races. It was a novel that was at times disheartening, infuriating, and filled with promise.

(Bonus points to the author for including accurate details on how living with Type 1 diabetes is life-altering, but not the end of the world. A small segment, but we could relate to the poking and the bleeding and the counting and the questions…)

Tomorrow, I will share a review of a non-fiction book I just finished that chronicles hope in a very moving way as a counterpoint to the heartwrenching awareness created in this novel.

I received a complimentary copy of this book via NetGalley with thanks to the author and/or publisher. All opinions expressed are my own.

Publisher: WaterBrook & Multnomah
Publication Date: April 3, 2018