Category: book review

All That We Carried Book Review

Erin Bartels draws from her own personal experiences hiking backcountry trails with her sister to bring you a story about the complexities of grief, faith, and sisterhood.

About All That We Carried

Ten years ago, sisters Olivia and Melanie Greene were on a backcountry hiking trip when their parents were in a fatal car accident. Over the years, they grew apart, each coping with the loss in their own way. Olivia plunged herself into law school, work, and a materialist view of the world, what you see is what you get, and that is all you get. Melanie dropped out of college and developed an online life-coaching business around her cafeteria-style spirituality–a little of this, a little of that, and whatever makes you happy.

Now, at Melanie’s insistence (and against Olivia’s better judgment), they are embarking on a hike in the Porcupine Mountains of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. In this remote wilderness they will face their deepest fears, question their beliefs, and begin to see that perhaps the best way to move forward is the one way that they had never considered.

My Thoughts

“What is done is done and cannot be undone” – All That We Carried

We all deal with grief in different ways and no one way is correct but some can lead to lasting pain instead of healing. Olivia and Melanie (sisters) lost their parents in a fatal car accident, caused by a close family friend. The sisters relationship fell apart after the death of their parents and the path that they were both originally on becomes skewed as they both struggle to find healing, forgiveness and move forward without their parents.

Melanie, who seems to be full of life and carefree, is determined for the sisters to speak about their past and try to mend their relationship in the remote wilderness of Michigan. Olivia wants to ignore the past and keep moving forward. You can tell from the start the two are not getting off to the right start, they continuously fall into their old patterns, they bicker and continue to judge instead of seeing with their hearts what is truly in front of them. The story that begins to unfold is one of pain, anger, and the hope of healing, forgiveness and the importance of family.

I loved our two characters, they were real and you felt connected to them. Melanie and Olivia are very much like any other normal person dealing with grief. They lash out, they carry grudges and find it hard to admit their wrong. They have a painful history and you want them to find some healing and hope for a positive relationship in the future for the two of them. It is impossible for us to carry the burden for others and this story shows us the importance of letting the baggage we carry go in order to move forward. I loved the lessons we learned on forgiveness, healing and finding the strength to move forward. This was a beautiful, touching novel from start to finish.

You can purchase a copy of this book on Amazon.

Rating: 5/5

About the Author

Erin Bartels is the award-winning author of We Hope for Better Things, a 2020 Michigan Notable Book and a finalist for the 2019 Christy Award and the 2020 Star Award from the Women’s Fiction Writers Association (WFWA), and The Words between Us, a finalist for the 2015 Rising Star Award from WFWA. Her short story, “This Elegant Ruin,” was a finalist in the Saturday Evening Post Great American Fiction Contest in 2014, and her poetry has been published by The Lyric. A publishing professional for 18 years, she is the director of WFWA’s annual writers retreat in Albuquerque, New Mexico. She lives in Lansing, Michigan, with her husband, Zachary, and their son. Find her online at www.erinbartels.com.

Disclosure: I received a copy of this book in order to facilitate this review. All opinions expressed are my own.

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A Dance in Donegal

In A Dance in Donegal, Moira decides to fulfill her mother’s wish that she become the teacher in Ballymann, her home village in Donegal, Ireland.

About A Dance in Donegal

All of her life, Irish-American Moira Doherty has relished her mother’s descriptions of Ireland. When her mother dies unexpectedly in the summer of 1920, Moira decides to fulfill her mother’s wish that she become the teacher in Ballymann, her home village in Donegal, Ireland.

After an arduous voyage, Moira arrives to a new home and a new job in an ancient country. Though a few locals offer a warm welcome, others are distanced by superstition and suspicion. Rumors about Moira’s mother are unspoken in her presence but threaten to derail everything she’s journeyed to Ballymann to do. Moira must rely on the kindness of a handful of friends–and the strength of Sean, an unsettlingly handsome thatcher who keeps popping up unannounced–as she seeks to navigate a life she’d never dreamed of but perhaps was meant to live.

My Thoughts

Moira is a bright young American woman who has grown up with the stories and dreams her Mother told her of Donegal, Ireland. When she loses her Mother, she decides to fulfill her Mother’s wish to become a teacher in her home village. She is excited to embark on this journey of discovery, learning about where her Mother came from, and experiencing first hand all of the stories she has been told (like so many of us whose parents have immigrated, we can’t wait to see the place our parents called home). I don’t think anything could have prepared her for what would be ahead of her.

Ireland is everything she could have imagined and more, as a reader the country comes alive in the story. We feel as though we are there with Moira experiencing each new moment, and seeing the country for the first time (how it made me wish we could travel right now). The village is very typical of many small villages, everyone knows everyone, gossiping happens and grudges can last through several generations. Moira gets the sense that people are hiding something from her about her Mother but she just can’t quite put her finger on it. Someone is determined to make her life quite miserable by leaving subtle hints that she is not welcome (I loved learning about their superstitions). Combine this with the culture shock, can Moira handle all of these changes both mentally and emotionally?

Moira’s faith and personal values are put to the test and while she struggled with decisions it is her compassion and faith that comes through strong in her actions and this is despite how she has been treated. She teaches us about compassion, forgiveness and understanding. Sometimes it is incredibly hard to forgive and to treat others with kindness, especially when they have hurt us, but to act out in retaliation (or to not act) only hurts us.

A Dance in Donegal is a beautiful story of finding love, compassion, forgiveness and hope for the future in the beautiful backdrop of Ireland. We are taken on a journey that is well written, and full of impact (I know I stopped and reflected on my own past and how I can change my own mindset). Historical fans will love this well written story.

You can purchase a copy of this book on Amazon.

Rating: 4.5/5

About the Author

Jennifer Deibel is a middle school teacher whose work has appeared on (in)courage, on The Better Mom, in Missions Mosaic magazine, and others. With firsthand immersive experience abroad, Jennifer writes stories that help redefine home through the lens of culture, history, and family. After nearly a decade of living in Ireland and Austria, she now lives in Arizona with her husband and their three children. 

Disclosure: I received a copy of this book in order to facilitate this review. All opinions expressed are my own.

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When Twilight Breaks Book Review

This electric standalone novel, When Twilight Breaks, puts you right at the intersection of pulse-pounding suspense and heart-stopping romance.

About When Twilight Breaks

Evelyn Brand is an American foreign correspondent determined to prove her worth in a male-dominated profession and to expose the growing tyranny in Nazi Germany. To do so, she must walk a thin line. If she offends the government, she could be expelled from the country–or worse. If she does not report truthfully, she’ll betray the oppressed and fail to wake up the folks back home.

Peter Lang is an American graduate student working on his PhD in German. Disillusioned with the chaos in the world due to the Great Depression, he is impressed with the prosperity and order of German society. But when the brutality of the regime hits close, he discovers a far better way to use his contacts within the Nazi party–to feed information to the shrewd reporter he can’t get off his mind.

As the world marches relentlessly toward war, Evelyn and Peter are on a collision course with destiny.

My Thoughts

When Twilight Breaks is a novel that I could not put down, the fast paced and exciting plot made it impossible to stop reading. I had to know what was going to happen next in this action packed story.

Evelyn, an American living in Germany, is a brave young woman in a male dominated profession. She is very clearly unwanted by some of her male colleagues and constantly has to prove herself to be better than her male counterparts. Evelyn is determined to show the world the truth of what is happening in Germany during the lead up to WWII. She is shocked at the way Jewish people are being treated by the Nazi party and wants the world to know. The only problem? Her editor keeps changing her stories to show the Nazi party in a positive light. On one of her assignments, she interviews Peter Lang, a fellow American completing his Ph.D. on the German language. While she begins to fall for him, she keeps him at arms length as he too cannot see the fine line that the Nazi party is crossing with their treatment of the Jewish people. She is constantly walking a fine line on reporting the truth and offending the Nazi party. Will she go to far in her fight to tell the truth and risk more than just her career – her life? Will Peter be able to let go of the past he holds on to and see what is really happening in front of him?

This novel is full of adventure, suspense and a budding romance. I love how Evelyn knows herself and never backs down. So many times, she must have felt afraid but she was determined to tell the truth and have the truth told on what was really occurring in Germany. She did this at great expense to her own life, which we saw the threat to her life start to develop halfway through the novel. These events put her and Peter on the run – can they escape the Nazi party, can they expose those involved in horrific crimes, can they make it back to America? Can you tell why I could not put the novel down?! While fast paced, it was well written with just the right amount of information given to us at each part of the story (how can friends turn to enemies so quickly?!). When Twilight Breaks is an excellent and exciting novel that fans of historical romances will love. It is a novel full of determination, strength, love, hope and standing up for what you believe in.

You can purchase a copy of this book on Amazon.

Rating: 5/5

About the Author

Sarah Sundin is the bestselling author of several popular WWII series, including Sunrise at Normandy, Waves of Freedom, Wings of the Nightingale, and Wings of Glory. Her novels have received starred reviews from BooklistLibrary Journal, and Publishers WeeklyThe Sky Above Us received the Carol Award, her bestselling The Sea Before Us received the FHL Reader’s Choice Award, and both Through Waters Deep and When Tides Turn were named on Booklist‘s “101 Best Romance Novels of the Last 10 Years.” Sarah lives in Northern California. Visit www.sarahsundin.com for more information.

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The Moonlight School Book Review

Inspired by the true events of the Moonlight Schools, this standalone novel from bestselling author Suzanne Woods Fisher brings to life the story that shocked the nation into taking adult literacy seriously.

About The Moonlight School

Born in those hills, Cora knows the plague of illiteracy. So does Brother Wyatt, a singing schoolmaster who travels through the hills. Involving Lucy and Wyatt, Cora hatches a plan to open the schoolhouses to adults on moonlit nights. The best way to combat poverty, she believes, is to eliminate illiteracy. But will the people come?

As Lucy emerges from a life in the shadows, she finds purpose; or maybe purpose finds her. With purpose comes answers to her questions, and something else she hadn’t expected: love.

Inspired by the true events of the Moonlight Schools, this standalone novel from bestselling author Suzanne Woods Fisher brings to life the story that shocked the nation into taking adult literacy seriously. You’ll finish the last page of this enthralling story with deep gratitude for the gift of reading.

My Thoughts

The Moonlight School is a powerful tale that I could not put down. I am very passionate about reading and love to share this with others. Reading and education is a gift that can open doors for us. This book highlights the importance of literacy and it came as a shock to me that is was inspired by true events.

Lucy is a young, bright woman who has let her past cast a shadow on her life. She is timid and not really sure of herself, living only in her bubble with her Father and their wealth. When she travels to rural Rowan County to help her cousin, she is not prepared for the task ahead of her but she shows true strength and compassion. Her cousin, Cora, is in charge of the education and operation of many schools in her area that are plagued with poverty and beliefs that many urban dwellers do not understand. But Cora sees how special these people are – their kindness, strength, determination and love for others shines through. When we are exposed to how they have been taken advantage of because of their illiteracy, we understand why Cora is fighting so hard for them.

Following several events in the novel, Cora hatches an idea to help the adult community in their rural town – by providing schooling at nights for them (hence the name Moonlight Schools). While the idea is an excellent one, Cora and Lucy hold many fears for the schools. Will the adults in the community come? Will they have enough teachers? Can they overcome those in power who want to keep them illiterate?

The novel is well written and does the history behind the schools justice. It tells a powerful story of how these schools came to be and the importance. We see compassion, kindness, strength and forgiveness throughout the story. You hold the characters in this story close to your heart, my personal favourite being Lucy. I loved watching her evolve and grow in her personal strength throughout the novel as she was gently guided by Cora and Brother Wyatt. This is an excellent novel selection for all of us who love historical novels – a definite must read.

You can purchase a copy of this book on Amazon.

Rating: 5/5

About the Author

Suzanne Woods Fisher is an award-winning, bestselling author of more than 30 books, including On a Summer Tide and On a Coastal Breeze, as well as the Nantucket Legacy, Amish Beginnings, The Bishop’s Family, The Deacon’s Family, and The Inn at Eagle Hill series, among other novels. She is also the author of several nonfiction books about the Amish, including Amish Peace and Amish Proverbs. She lives in California. Learn more at www.suzannewoodsfisher.com

Disclosure: I received a copy of this book in order to facilitate this review. All opinions expressed are my own.

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It Happened in Tuscany

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From the multiple-award-winning author of To Tuscany with Love comes a captivating story of the epic tug of war between honor and duty, the irrepressible power of love, and the concept of family.

About It Happened in Tuscany

From the multiple-award-winning author of To Tuscany with Love comes a captivating story of the epic tug of war between honor and duty, the irrepressible power of love, and the concept of family.

In 1945, Will Mills and his fellow soldiers in the 10th Mountain Division scaled Italy’s treacherous Riva Ridge in the frigid night to break through the nearly impenetrable German line of defense. Severely wounded, Will was rescued by Italian partisans and one, a beautiful girl, tended his injuries until he had the strength to rejoin the U.S. troops.

Tormented and haunted by his decisions and actions during wartime, Will knows he has unfinished missions in Italy to complete. The passage of time and years of carrying this unfulfilled need have molded Will into a bitter, angry man.

Seventy-five years later, Will’s spunky thirty-two-year-old neighbor, Sophie Sparke, faces disaster in her life. Everything is going wrong—her job, her love life, even her dog. Part of the problem is that confident and fiercely independent Sophie lets her quick mouth get her into trouble.

Grouchy, mean-spirited Will finagles Sophie into traveling with him to Tuscany to find the partisan who saved his life. Will also secretly hopes to confront the demons his wartime actions created. Sophie and Will comb enchanting Tuscan hill towns on an improbable and unfolding mission with few clues to aid them. Will’s passionate tenacity drives their quest and in the process exposes their darkest secrets. The journey alters the course of their lives, and Will and Sophie find more than they had imagined in the hills of Tuscany.

My Thoughts

A beautiful story from start to finish, It Happened in Tuscany made me laugh and cry and I did not want to put the novel down.

Will fought in Italy during WWII and was rescued by the incredible Francesca. Like so many fellow soldiers, Will carried guilt, regret and many more emotions from the time he spent during the war in Italy. Like so many individuals his age, he guards his secrets well. He lets Sophie in but only a little at a time. After the death of his wife, and likely facing the end of his of his own life, he wants to write the wrongs he did and find the love of his life. He enlists the help of Sophie, although she was reluctant at first. Why would she want to help her angry and grumpy neighbour? But as Sophie begins to get to know Will a bit better, she begins to grow fond of this soft man with a hard shell and all of the secrets he holds close to his heart.

Together the two of them undertake quite the journey – to find his lost love in Italy after seventy five years! What a journey this becomes – a journey that seems almost doomed from the start. But on their way, the pair make friends, make peace with their past and their future, something that Will so desperately needed. We watch the pair struggle, become lost and their despair and frustration. You are on their side cheering them on, hoping and praying that they find the lost Francesca. The rich plot brings to life Italy and their search for love.

It Happened in Tuscany is a beautiful and rich story, full of hope, faith and forgiveness. The characters hold a special place in your heart, their story will bring tears to your eyes and you will not want to put the story down as you have to know what happens. It is a beautiful story of forgiveness, healing, hope and love. This is a definite must read novel!

You can purchase a copy of this book on Amazon, Audible, B&N and Indiebound.

Rating: 5/5

About the Author

Gail Mencini is the acclaimed author of It Happened in Tuscany and To Tuscany with Love, both of which are Denver Post #1 bestsellers and award winners. Gail grew up in DeWitt, Nebraska, graduated from Wartburg College with a BA in Accounting and Economics, and earned a master of taxation degree from the University of Denver. A frequent visitor to Tuscany and a homegrown gourmet cook, Gail has toured Italy by car, train, bus, Vespa, and foot. She lives in Colorado with her husband.

You can connect with her on her website, Twitter and Facebook.

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Disclosure: I received a digital copy of this book, all opinions expressed are my own.

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