Book Review: To Dream of Shadows

Title: To Dream of Shadows
Author: Steve N. Lee
Genre: Historical Fiction; War Story; Romance
Year Published: April 16, 2023

Date Started: April 10, 2023
Date finished: April 14, 2023

This is a story about bravery, compassion, and love. Two people, an SS soldier and a Jewish woman transferred to his camp, are put in a tough place and the soldier must make decisions that could put him and everyone he cares about in danger.

This story was wonderfully written. It hooked me from the get-go. I’ve read many holocaust and labor camp stories and this one was right up there with my favorites. The difficulties the Jewish people dealt with during this period was horrendous and the German soldiers were truly cruel. However, I believe that in everything that is evil, or made to appear extremely evil, there is some good hidden within, and this story showcases just that. This was a powerful, heart-wrenching read that tore at my soul.

I also really enjoyed learning that the story was based on researched facts. The extent the author went to find as much as he could about the two main characters and the setting is amazing. Well done.

Who should read this book: If you’re looking for a book to really tear at your heart and soul, this one will do it.

Book Review: When All Else Fails

Title: When All Else Fails
Author: Mark Lages
Genre: Nonfiction; Memoir; Autobiography
Year Published: March 24, 2023

Date Started: April 3, 2023
Date finished: April 9, 2023

This is a memoir of sort about the author, Mark Lages. There’s a bit of autobiography and researched information throughout the story as well. However, overall, I’d say it leans more toward memoir but without the familiar fiction structure.

Lages had a normal life growing up in the west coast. His younger years were very typical of an American household with his mother the main caretake of him and his siblings. He was very intelligent and was able to attend university and become an architect. Throughout his life journey, he picked up other skills/talents and also experimented with smoking and alcohol and took a liking to both. The alcohol led him into a downward spiral leading to a life he regretted at times. He was able to pick himself up and continued to build his career and family life. Through it all, he shares his thoughts, feelings, and what he’s learned about all his experiences.

I’ve been a fan of Lages’s writing style and this one didn’t disappoint. Like his other books, there’s humor and a few jokes that got me to smile, and unlike his other books, this one was nonfiction. Lages focused quite a lot on religion in a way that a young child would be curious about it. It got me thinking and I realized that a lot of nonbelievers see religion this same way. I’ve come across a lot of people who blame God for so many things and it’s funny because I’d like the opportunity to explain the whys but there’s just never the opportunity. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve blamed God for a whole lot of things myself, but I always come to terms. If anything, I would say, believe in it in an adult way, not the symbolic way that young children are taught. Of course, that’s harder said than done. Having said that, this was a very interesting insight. Lages also talks a lot about politics and alcoholism. I’m not political myself but I also don’t have any addictions to anything. I’ve read a couple of books this year on addiction (drugs and cannabis) and I’m still fascinated as to how people become addicted to things. I’m aware that there are multiple types of addiction genes out there and I’m wondering why that is and what the purpose of that gene was/is for.

I enjoyed this memoir. I learned a lot about Lages and how we all have certain things we can relate to. For instance, just like Lages, I’ve had multiple dreams where I can’t find my way back home (or back to where I started from) or I’m still in college and I’m taking a math exam, but I don’t remember how to do the math, etc. I’m reading these parts and going, “Same here!” I love it when I can relate to a person in this strange way. It just means as humans, we go through very similar thoughts and mind experiences even if our life outside of our head is very different. I also enjoyed the informative sections on the flies, human mind, paper clips, etc. These little pieces of knowledge were insightful.

Who should read this book: This is one of those books you want to take with you on a long vacation or if you have ample time to read. There are books you can rush through and then there are books like this where you want to read every word.

Book Review: Light to the Hills

Title: Light to the Hills
Author: Bonnie Blaylock
Genre: Historical Fiction, Women’s Fiction
Year Published: December 1, 2022 (physical book)

Date Started: November 20, 2022
Date finished: November 23, 2022

This is a book about the women during the Great Depression when jobs were scarce, and the men were already struggling to care for their families. The main character is named Amanda and she found a job delivering books to families that lived in the countryside. Her story is about bravery and perseverance during a time of hardship.

The writing was beautiful especially the description of the countryside. It was a very calm story about situations that were harsh so at first, I wasn’t sure what to think of this story. As the story progressed, the tension began to build up, but it didn’t seem to go anywhere. For the most part it was due to poor character development and conflict. None of the characters stood out.

I did like that the story took place during the depression and that there were traveling libraries. That was a really cool thing FDR offered and something I don’t remember learning about.

Who should read this book: If you enjoy books about the Great Depression, you might like this one.

Book Review: Educated

Title: Educated
Author: Tara Westover
Genre: Nonfiction; Memoir
Year Published: February 20, 2018

Date Started: December 1, 2022
Date finished: December 12, 2022

This is a story about author Tara Westover. She takes us through her younger years and into adulthood. We learn about her upbringing, her education, and life as a Mormon in rural Idaho.

I listened to the audio and found the beginning a bit slow but when it picked up it got a little more interesting. The life Tara lead was pretty sad but even though she wasn’t exposed to much, I found it unbelievable that she was able to attend BYU. Most students with little education would normally attend a community college and go from there. If she was able to go directly to a university without a GPA, transcript, test scores, etc., she was very lucky. Most of us had to do all the work, and even then, sometimes we didn’t make it into a university.

As for her family life, I think because of her choices she put herself in danger. If the fear was real between her crazy brother and herself, she’d find a way to stay in Utah and never return. He literally tried to kill her. It wasn’t just threats. I just couldn’t imagine why she kept returning home and kept putting herself around him. I mean, once, twice, maybe, but it was way too often. And, home life wasn’t even great. Aside from a dad who was just so strange and a mother who was submissive, they refused to believe her when she confronted them and made it seem like she was the problem. I think the author tried hard to make us feel sorry for her, but in the end, I just felt confused and that there had to be more to it. Real life is a little more raw and this felt very fiction.

Overall, it’s not a bad read. The writing style feels a bit like a younger person writing it and not so much an adult (and one with an education) revisiting her life.

Who should read this book: If you’re into memoir, you might enjoy this.

Book Review: Tides of Blue

Title: Tides of Blue
Author: Sharon Brukaker
Genre: Fiction; Literary, Women’s Fiction
Year Published: October 20, 2020

Date Started: March 9, 2023
Date finished: March 12, 2023

This story is about two women, Anna Grace and Beth, who are in abusive marriages and learn to find their way out. The two stories take place in two different time periods, one in the 1800’s and one in the present. The two stories are intertwined through the sea glass which plays an important backdrop in both women’s lives.

I really enjoyed this story. I like how it began with Anna Grace’s story and how she ended up marrying an abusive man. She didn’t know it at the time that he was abusive and by the time she realized he wasn’t who she thought he’d be, it was too late. As for Beth, she too didn’t realize her husband’s abusive ways until he became extremely violent. Luckily, for both these two women, they each found a man who was caring and supportive.

The tension buildup was excellent. I was on edge when Beth’s husband pretty much went crazy. I felt it was well done and really got me rooting for Beth and the other man who cared about her. This is a well written story of suffering and love. The added history behind the sea glass was a plus. I loved learning about them.

Who should read this book: Anyone into overcoming violence and learning to move on from it. The information about the sea glass is also very fascinating and worth learning in this book.

Book Review: The Circle Around the Wall: A Fictional Biography Inspired by Carl Jung (The Mind the Heart the Spirit)

Title: The Circle Around the Wall: A Fictional Biography Inspired by Carl Jung (The Mind the Heart the Spirit)
Author: Suzanne Steinberg
Genre: Fiction, Alternate History, Women’s Literary Fiction
Year Published: January 28, 2023

Date Started: February 21, 2023
Date finished: February 26, 2023

This story is a twist on the famous psychologist, Carl Jung. Instead of Carl, the main character is a female named Carla Jung. The story is a combination of biography and third person limited following Carla through her youngers years to old age. Carla’s life is immersed in education (the biography side), but we also become acquainted with her personal life (the limited third person point-of-view). There are also characters thrown in with short clips of their stories and thoughts through the third point-of-view.

I really enjoyed this story. I liked the combination of the psychology world and Carla’s personal life. I thought the twist with Carl Jung being Carla Jung was a good take. It fit the women literary fiction style perfectly. There were a lot of characters, but it was done well. It started with just a few and then near the middle and end, more characters were thrown in. The pacing is on the fast side. There were lots of information thrown in as well as time jumps. Could be a little confusing if you prefer a slower storyline. I didn’t mind it because it was necessary to get Carla’s story and the people she loved stories across.

There were lots of really interesting and debatable/thought-provoking thoughts and theories in this story. I’m a fan of diving into the psych and learning/understanding the human mind and this book does it. On top of that, you get a woman’s story about her personal struggles through love and lost. If you’re looking for a book to keep you intrigued in humanity, the psychology of the human mind, and women’s lives, this book will do it.

Who should read this book: Anyone interested in the mind and relationships between women.

Book Review: Heaven on Earth: A Simple Reminder of the Everyday Miracles that Happen Around Us

Title: Heaven on Earth: A Simple Reminder of the Everyday Miracles that Happen Around Us
Author: Julia McCoy and Rachel Keagy
Genre: Self-help; Christian Inspiration; Memoir
Year Published: February 10, 2023

Date Started: February 14, 2023
Date finished: February 17, 2023

This book is a collection of the author’s real life experiences and how she overcame the struggles within these parts of her life through the help of prayer. Each story is meaningful and also relatable. They’re struggles that each of us have either gone through or know someone close to us who’ve gone through, and even if not, they could possibly be insights into future experiences that might be similar and thus provide some guidance for your future. Knowing about prayer and how to overcome struggles will make things easier. In this book, the author talks about how prayer can lead to miracles, to situations where a better outcome overcomes what could end up being disastrous.

I found this book very insightful. Some of the stories touched me such as the birthing story and the barn on fire story. I liked how the author used prayers to help her through these times and how the prayers came through in the form of miracles. It just goes to show how powerful prayer can be in both possibly making the situation better and also provide peace of mind or a quiet calm. Even if you’re not a believer in miracles, you can learn to use prayer during difficult times of your life and ask for guidance or help. You don’t have to feel like you’re going at it alone, and you don’t have to pray to a higher God. Find a method that you feel comfortable with and use it to bring you a better outcome.

This is an excellent book for inspiration and hope. Again, even if you’re not a believer of faith, you won’t be disappointed in this book. There is something to learn from it.

Who should read this book: Anyone looking for inspiration, hope, and just anything to help pick you up when you’re feeling at your lowest.

Book Review: Dear Edward (Feb. 2020)

Dear Edward by Ann Napolitano is about Edward. He is the youngest of a family of four who survived a plane crash. The story touches on a few of the passengers on the plan who died in the crash. At first it may not seem important but at the end, the relatives and friends of these people come forward to share their stories with him with a few asking for his help.

Edward befriends a neighbor girl and they grow together with the girl helping him through tough times.

This was a happy ending story. Napolitano said it’s based on facts from a real-life situation. I’m glad that the story turned out to be a happy one.

Note: I read this book for the Barnes and Noble Book Club in February 2020, just before COVID hit. I don’t know why I didn’t post it here, but wanted to share it because a T.V. show has been made about this story. It will air on February 3rd on Apple TV+. I don’t have Apple TV+ so I won’t be able to watch it, but it does look like it’d be a good show. Here’s the trailer.

Book Review: Bartholomew

Decided to try something different and make a video of books I unbox and review. Let me know what you think.

Title: Bartholomew
Author: Mark Lages
Genre: Fiction; Literary; Memoir
Year Published: March 17, 2022

Date finished: April 23, 2022

This story is written like a memoir and opens with the main character, Rick Harper, celebrating his 65th birthday. He reflects on his earlier life, remembering his invisible friend as a child, and how that friend visited him again in adulthood.

Rick comes across very nonchalant. He tells us all the mistakes he’s made through his life. He doesn’t really give reasons or excuses as to why he did the things he did. He does, however, show us that he doesn’t understand how he ended up in his life with all the mistakes he’s made. He shows us that he doesn’t understand what happiness is because his life had been both good and bad but not too extreme in either direction. He seems to just exist and thus his confusion with what happiness means.

Bartholomew is Rick’s invisible friend, and he (Bartholomew) is sort of a guiding energy for Rick. He makes Rick think about his purpose and his definition of happiness. Along the way, Rick begins to understand what it really means to live.

I got so much out of this story. My favorite scene was when Rick cheated a co-worker out of a job, and then a few years later, he helped a co-worker earn a spot in the company even when he was on a tight deadline of his own. I totally understood that. It wasn’t because he liked one co-worker over another, but because it was timing. The first situation, he was a young person just out of college and needed to do what he needed to do to gain status. Later, when he was experienced and had gone through a lot in his career and in his personal life, he then sacrificed his time to help another. This speaks so much about humanity. No one is perfect, yet we tend to judge others as though they have to be perfect, forgetting to look at ourselves and see that we too have faults.

This was a wonderful read. I think everyone can learn something from this book, but even if that’s not something you care for, you’d still enjoy the humor.

Who should read this book: I’d totally recommend it to everyone.

Book Review: Planet Q

Title: Planet Q
Author: Peter Quinones
Genre: Literary; Quotes
Year Published: 2022

Date finished: April 15, 2022

This book was an interesting read. At first, I wasn’t sure what to think of it because it’s not your typical book. It’s a bunch of short and long phrases/clips of thoughts that provoke…thoughts. It’s sort of like a comedy show but book-style. Some of the phrases are short and to-the-point while others are longer and requires more dissecting and thinking them out. The variety makes for a very intriguing read.

I found this book to be quite fun to read. You have to take each sentence and phrase lightly. Some of them are truly hilarious and had me laughing, some had me thinking and agreeing, some had me surprised, and some I wasn’t too fond of because they didn’t make sense to me, but I’m pretty sure they’d make sense to others, and that’s what I found likeable about this book. I felt like I could relate to a lot of the situations stated (that I’ve had situation in my life similar to what the author experienced). Also, not all phrases were the author’s personal experiences. Some of them seemed like observations or situations the author heard or was told of. It’s really a collection of human encounters and situations. It’s a bit unusual to describe because it’s very different from what I’ve read.

Who should read this book: If you’re not in the mood to read a full-on story or a genre book and want something a little fun with dark satire and phrases to ponder about, give this book a read. I truly recommend reading with an open mind because some of the stuff mentioned was a bit gross, but not in a bad way. I found myself laughing a lot but agreeing a lot too.