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Snowflakes Over the Starfish Café–a lost dog brings hope
Snowflakes Over the Starfish Café
by Jessica Redland
In the first part of Snowflakes Over the Starfish Café, the reader really gets to know the characters in this book and the story behind each one of them. Hollie and Jake are the main characters; both of them have pasts immersed in tragedies. Those two tell the story in their points of view. The timeframe bounces around between the present and various times in their pasts slowly revealing the details of the personal disasters that they don’t seem to be able to overcome. The changes in timeframes and narrators are clearly delineated and never confusing. There are a lot of supportive friends and a few you would like to kick to the curb. “Mr. Pickles” is a tiny homeless shih tzu who plays a huge role in this romance, but will he be big enough to bring Hollie and Jake together and help overcome their issues?
All of the action occurs in or near Whitsborough Bay on the North Yorkshire coast. The book is filled with Britishisms that I enjoyed immensely such as references to wearing their “waterproofs” or shops displaying bags of “candyfloss.” I also learned a lot about the Royal National Lifeboat Institution (RNLI) with its amazing volunteers.
As frequently occurs in romance novels, Jake and Hollie inch towards resolution and a happily ever after. Then suddenly there is a twist that neither Jake, Hollie, nor the reader could have predicted. It seems they may be forced to retreat into isolation abandoning what they had together.
I received a complimentary copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. Opinions expressed in this review are completely my own.
Category: General Fiction, Romance
Publication: August 31, 2021—Boldwood Books
Angry waves snatched at the deserted beach, spitting spray over the railings, while ominous grey clouds threatened rain.
“People can still be in love but not like each other very much and sometimes they can like each other but not be in love.”
“Then he’s not right for you, but one day you’ll meet someone who is. Someone who makes you laugh every day, hugs you simply because it’s Tuesday, holds you when you cry, and dances in the rain with you.”
The Silent Sisters–extracting spies from Russia
The Silent Sisters
by Robert Dugoni
Spy thrillers are not my go-to genre, but I read The Last Agent, the second book in the Charles Jenkins Series, thinking it was a standalone. I was hooked. I returned to read the third in the series, The Silent Sisters, when it was published recently. Both were page turners.
Charles Jenkins, the protagonist, is a semi-retired spy with quite the reputation in Russia where The Silent Sisters takes place. It is Putin’s Russia so the book brings together some of recent Russian history with current events. Moscow is covered with cameras as Jenkins goes in to rescue the two remaining deep undercover plants known as the Seven Sisters. Before he begins his mission, he works with specialists in disguise techniques at Langley because, as a large Black man on Russia’s top 10 kill list, he is easy to spot, especially given their expertise in facial recognition technology. His perhaps fatal error is trying to help an abused stranger in a seedy bar on his first night there. His principled act begins a manhunt by the police, the Russian spy agencies, and the mafia.
At home in Washington state, he has left a wife who formerly worked for the CIA, two children, and a retirement he hasn’t really gotten to enjoy yet. Thoughts of his family keep him going when things get brutal.
Descriptions of the physical settings and the atmosphere of suspense and tension are achieved with excellence. The reader is immersed in each setting from the Trans-Siberian train making its way to freedom to the offices where directors of intelligence agencies compete for power and for their lives. Each setting has its own gripping tenor.
Author Robert Dugoni is a master at keeping all the balls in the air until it is time to draw things to a conclusion. Then he works the circumstances to arrive at a satisfactory ending that is hopeful, but realistic.
I believe this set of books was originally conceived as a trilogy. The author hints in the Acknowledgments that his upcoming trip to Egypt could be the impetus for more adventures featuring Charles Jenkins. I hope so!
I would like to extend my thanks to NetGalley and to Thomas & Mercer for giving me the opportunity to read this book in exchange for an honest review.
Category: General Fiction (Adult), Mystery & Thriller
Notes: 1. #3 in the Charles Jenkins Series, but could be read as a standalone.
2. There is some Russian included for atmosphere, but unless the meaning is obvious, it is seamlessly translated for the reader in the text.
3. There is a small amount of swearing, including one word in Russian.
4. It is a spy novel involving Russian agents and the Russian mafia so you can expect some torture, but the descriptions are not detailed or extensive.
Publication: February 22, 2022—Thomas & Mercer
The pain shattered his skin like splinters of broken glass passing through his body.
She’d learned long ago, when her father had died, that vengeance did not bring satisfaction. It didn’t even temper the pain of death. It would not temper the pain of Eldar’s death. It only let others know that killings would come at a heavy cost. Retribution. An eye for an eye.
When you can have everything, you appreciate nothing.
When We Were Young and Brave–kindness in the midst of despair
When We Were Young and Brave
by Hazel Gaynor
During our current tumultuous times, When We Were Young and Brave was somewhat of a difficult read for me, but I’m glad it is now a part of my personal reading journey. Hazel Gaynor’s latest book relates a fictional version of the events following Japan’s bombing of Pearl Harbor as they play out for the students and teachers at the China Inland Mission School in Chefoo, China. With Japan’s invasion of China, the Japanese seize and occupy the school, later interning the residents in the much larger prison camp known as the Weihsien Civilian Assembly Center where sanitation facilities are disgusting and meals are meager, nutritionally inadequate for growing children, and almost inedible. Despite the harsh conditions, the teachers protect the children as best they can while rallying them with insistence on routines, cleanliness, and a hearty “chin up” attitude. Of particular note is the role of their Girl Guide troop and standards that help the students in maintaining a positive outlook.
The last sections of the book, “Liberation” and “Remembrance,” are remarkable in the beauty of the skillful writing that describes the impact of the American liberation on the camp residents. They gain relief from the fears that haunted them daily, but endure the substitution of new anxieties and questions for the future. Where will they go and what will they do? Is anyone waiting for them at home?
The story is told by alternating narrators. Elspeth is a competent, well-organized, and kind teacher who has a special motherly feeling for Nancy, the daughter of missionaries in China. Their relationship is always teacher and student, but as months of internment become years, Elspeth takes on increasingly more of the commitment for safe care that she made to Nancy’s mother as they departed by boat to sail to the school, both as first-timers. We view their ordeals from both Elspeth’s and Nancy’s points of view.
There are a lot of themes in the book including resilience, relationships, releasing the past, and looking to the future. Symbolism is also important in the kingfisher that becomes the emblem of the new Girl Guide patrol and the sunflower which holds a special meaning for teacher and students.
The characters emerge as three dimensional figures as they are well developed. Realism comes into play with descriptions of the harsh conditions; no one’s story is fairytale like or even positive. The setting is well-executed with vivid word pictures. As the Chinese workers slosh through the camp, the odor of the filth of “honey-pot” buckets they pull from the latrines makes an unforgettable olfactory experience. There are also more pleasant descriptions of the beauty outside the camp, but glimpses are rare for those interned. The last two sections make the book a winner for me, but the first sections are also well written and essential to the success of this historical novel.
Category: Historical Fiction
Notes: There is a very informative section at the end of the book that describes the author’s research and thought processes and some historical background. The author has also included a brief history of the Girl Guides as that organization plays an important role in the girls’ lives. Other additions are a list of books and websites for further reading, including original source documents found at weihsien-paintings.org, and some questions for discussion.
Publication: October 6, 2020—Harper Collins
When she was cross, Miss Kent spoke in a way that reminded me of brittle twigs snapping underfoot on autumn walks. I felt my cheeks go red. Without giving me a ticking-off, she’d done exactly that.
I knew the smile she gave us that morning was the sort of “we must be brave” smile adults use when they’re trying to pretend something awful isn’t happening.
But, as I’d come to realize about life during a war, nothing stayed the same for long. Just when you thought you’d adjusted and adapted and found a way to cope, the situation changed.
Storytime: The Not-So-Brave Penguin
Storytime: The Not-So-Brave Penguin
by Steve Smallman
Join Percy penguin and Posy penguin doing what Antarctic penguins do—and bring along some kids for a fun time together. Storytime: The Not-So-Brave Penguin is an adorable picture book written and illustrated by Steve Smallman. It tells the tale of the adventurous daredevil Percy and his timid friend Posy. When Percy’s penchant for rollicking fun takes him over the edge, Posy finds the courage to overcome her biggest fear, the dark, to rescue him.
Children can identify readily with both characters and will enjoy talking about the plot, characters, emotions, and setting. The illustrations are outstanding and such that a non-reader could retell the story. The author follows up with suggestions for discussion and activities to enhance comprehension with charts and art activities.
I would like to extend my thanks to netgalley.com and to Quarto Publishing for giving me the opportunity to read this book in exchange for an honest review.
Category: Children’s Fiction
Notes: Age Range: 4-8 years
Grade Level: Preschool-2
Publication: November 15, 2018—Quarto Publishing
Percy penguin wasn’t scared of anything.
He loved WHIZZING down snowy slopes on his tummy.
Posy penguin was not so brave.
She shuffled down slopes on her bottom instead.
Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption
Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption
by Laura Hillenbrand
How much can the human body, the human spirit, endure? Unbroken is the story of Olympic track contender Louie Zamperini as he is tested past the limits of endurance during World War II. His running career is cut short as he becomes a bombardier. The characteristics that made him a difficult child, always testing the limits, become the foundation of an unrelenting resilience in the face of life challenging circumstances. He endured horrors, but he was miraculously saved from death several times. Did God have a plan for Louie’s life? Could he be saved from his own destructive behaviors and the hatred dwelling in his heart?
Unbroken is a biography and so much more. It reads like a fascinating work of fiction. In fact, if more nonfiction maintained the interest level of Unbroken, there would be a lot more readers of nonfiction. This book is engaging and fast paced. Unbroken was thoroughly researched over seven years using archives and many interviews including seventy-five interviews with Louie himself. Very importantly, author Laura Hillenbrand found few discrepancies among the various reports.
I read and review a lot of books. I mentally gauge my review comparing each book within its genre. A five star cozy mystery is not compared to a five star book of poetry, for example. I must state, however, that Unbroken rises above a star rating system. Although emotionally difficult in places, it is a book that everyone should read.
Category: History, Biography
Notes: Thanks to my brother Don Lyons who insisted I borrow his copy of Unbroken. It was every bit as powerful as you said it would be!
Publication: November 16, 2010—Random House
In a childhood of artful dodging, Louie made more than just mischief. He shaped who he would be in manhood. Confident that he was clever, resourceful, and bold enough to escape any predicament, he was almost incapable of discouragement. When history carried him into war, this resilient optimism would define him.
“The other pilots act as though nothing has happened and speak of sending the other fellow’s clothes home as though it were an everyday occurrence. That’s the way it has to be played because that’s the way it is—it’s an everyday occurrence!”
This self-respect and sense of self-worth, the innermost armament of the soul, lies at the heart of humanness; to be deprived of it is to be dehumanized, to be cleaved from, and cast below, mankind…Without dignity, identity is erased. In its absence, men are defined not by themselves, but by their captors and the circumstances in which they are forced to live.