Christina Baker Kline’s Orphan Train reminds us that a family is a wonderful thing to have.
Molly is a sullen, lonely teen, angry with the misfortunes that have befallen her. She makes bad choices, perhaps to gain attention. She desperately wants acceptance but builds a wall to keep people out.
Vivian is an elderly woman who has accepted the misfortunes life has given her and the decisions she has made. She’s from a very different generation than Molly, but longs for a familial connection.
The two meet when Molly must complete community service and her not-quite-boyfriend convinces his mom to let Molly help Vivian sort through the boxes in the attic. The mementos and memories in the boxes demonstrate the similarities in their lives and through shared stories, Molly becomes the catalyst to change Vivian’s world even at the age of 91.
The book alternates between the life story of Vivian and current day reality for Molly.
Vivian’s dysfunctional family immigrated to America from Ireland. When a fire took the lives of her parents, brothers and sister, Niamh (later named Vivian) was placed on an orphan train and sent to Minnesota to be placed with a family there.
Money was scarce to provide for them and those who ran the Aid organization were employees, not loving relatives. The horrors and abuses to the children as described in the book are probably based on true stories from children who actually rode the trains. Ms. Kline’s writing of the atrocities is gripping.
The homes and families throughout Molly’s life prove that today’s foster parents can still be motivated by greed and free labor more than a concern for the child.
We can view the events that happen in our lives as coincidence or providence, a coming together for a reason. Novels demonstrate these instances more clearly than real life. If Molly had not stolen the book from the library, she would never have known Vivian and her story. Vivian, living an isolated life, would not have known a teen with tenacity who searched the internet to find information of the ones that Vivian knew and loved.
The novel is well-written and kept my attention. At times I wanted to keep reading Vivian’s story and not be interrupted by Molly and her teenage angst. With the exception of Vivian and Molly, I didn’t like the women in this story. Several of the men were weak, milquetoast characters.
What are your overall thoughts about the book? We will discuss particular aspects later, but how did you feel about the alternating voices? Do you feel this book should have been classified as a young adult/teen novel?
Reading this book reminded me the freedoms that I enjoy every day are not available to everyone around the world.
The Vine Basket by Josanne La Valley tells the compelling story of fourteen-year-old Mehrigul, a Uyghar (Turkic ethnic group) who lives in a remote region in northwest China.
Mehrigul cares for her younger sister and must do her older brother’s chores as well as her own since her brother had to leave after protesting against the Communist government. She fears being forced to work in a Chinese factory in a far-away city.
An opportunity comes to weave baskets for an American woman. Mehrigul faces many challenges to making the baskets and falls short of her goal. She feels all hope is gone and she will be sent away from her family.
Mehrigul is a well-developed character in the story who cares for her aging grandfather and her young sister with compassion. She wins the hearts of readers quickly. The story is suspenseful as Mehrigul must weave her baskets in three weeks while obstacle after obstacle prevents her from working.
Written for middle-grade readers, this novel is appropriate for anyone over the age of 10. Knowing what people under political oppression must face will enlighten all of us.
Buy the novel today while it is selling for only $1.99.
The Crossing Places ($9.99 Audiobook $3.99) by Elly Griffiths: This the lone mystery to make my list this year, but this book has it all: Setting (Norfolk, England), superbly drawn and realistically flawed characters with interesting jobs (the main, Ruth Galloway, is an archeologist) and not only a new mystery, but an ancient one as well. Some good plot twists and an excellent atmosphere, this is book one of a well-respected and enjoyable series.
Demon Hunter and Baby ($4.49) by Anna Elliot: IGNORE the ugly cover. Beneath it lies a diamond of a read. It’s a fast-paced, fun urban fantasy in a London setting. When you’re a mom and a demon hunter, just where do you find the time? Still, a girl’s got to make a living even if she’s running from her past and her most marketable skill involves dispatching demons! This is book one in what I hope becomes a series.
Clean Sweep ($4.99) by Ilona Andrews: The writing team known as Ilona Andrews has gone indie! This is their first full urban fantasy novel published on their own–and it’s every bit as good as their other works. Some very fun characters including a witch (my favorite) and shifters. As with all Ilona Andrew books, the world building is very imaginative and ranges from the very weird to the unique–to the mundane! This is book one in what I hope becomes a series, but it stands alone well.
Brown River Queen ($4.54) This is book seven in Frank Tuttle’s fabulous Markhat series. Markhat has ever greater challenges, but he’s beefed up his sidekicks throughout, and we get a great set of characters, a perplexing mystery and definitely magic. Markhat is still droll and in need of his wits (both the brains and humor) in this installment. These are characters you love to see again and again and one of the few series I’ve stayed with over the long haul. If you haven’t read a Markhat book, give Dead Man’s Rain ($2.66) or The Cadaver Client ($2.66) a read. Either one can serve as book one of this wonderfully imaginative urban fantasy series.
Maria is an avid reader of almost any genre. She still believes in magic, mysteries and pursuing dreams. Her latest novel is Soul of the Desert ($4.99).
The Broken Bell ($5.00) by Frank Tuttle: Markhat is a Finder which would be something like a private investigator here in our world. However, he ends up working with, for and against ghosts, trolls, vampires and just plain bad guys. He’s a wisecracking detective who can definitely make the reader smile and he ends up in the stickiest situations because of his clients. The sixth in a series, all well worth reading; the first is called The Mister Trophy ($2.10).
Greywalker ($5.99 Audiobook $3.99) by Kat Richardson: The main here has a near-death experience and ends up being able to navigate through The Grey, the place between our world and death. She can communicate with ghosts and ends up working for them in her guise as a private investigator. This is the first of a long-running series much in the vein of Jim Butcher’s Dresden files.
Cry Baby Hollow (99 cents) by Aimee Love: This urban fantasy is set in rural Tennessee. One of the more interesting werewolf stories I’ve read. This one is a quick and easy read with lots of laughs. A good book for newcomers to urban fantasy as the fantasy part doesn’t really come into effect until the final third of the book.
Death’s Rival ($5.99 Audiobook $3.99) by Faith Hunter: An urban fantasy with a main character who just so happens to be a shapeshifter and ends up working for the vampires she used to hunt. Book #5 of an ongoing series; the first book is Skinwalker ($5.99).
Keep Me Ghosted ($3.99 Audiobook $1.99) by Karen Cantwell: A very cute and funny paranormal mystery romance. Sophie, the main character has a spirit companion, the ghost of a British gentleman named Marmaduke Dodsworth.
April is an avid reader. In an alternate reality she is a young dragon just learning to fly. You can find her on Goodreads here.
I came across The Tell-Tale Con by Aimee Gilchrist while sampling possible books for my book club/buddy read. Before I’d even finished sampling Con, I hit “one-click buy.”
The main character, Talia, was already so much fun and in enough trouble, I had to find out what happened next! The book didn’t disappoint either. It’s billed as young adult, but it’s written without the usual triple love interests and angst over school cliques.
Talia has more important things on her mind–earning enough money to keep her mother out of jail, solving a murder mystery and staying alive. Highly recommended for those looking for humorous, fun mysteries, young adult or not. Buy the book today for only 99 cents.
Reviewer: Maria Schneider is an avid reader, reviewer and the author of Catch an Honest Thief.
2013 was a great year for Christian fiction. Here are the top stories from those I read this year.
Larkspur Cove is the first in Lisa Wingate’s series set in Moses Lake, Texas. Single mom Andrea Henderson is taking refuge in her parents’ lake house to rebuild her life. Her 14-year-old son gets in trouble on the lake. Let’s just say a Texas game warden makes for a charming hero, with a touching story about the town recluse addeded in for fun. All this for just $3.99.
The Shadow on the Quilt is actually the second in this quilt-themed series set in historic Nebraska. Juliana Suttons’s story captivated me as she came to terms with the loss of her husband – who died in a fire at a brothel. It’s selling for $9.98 right now.
Amanda Cabot is a profilic writer who either has great novels or rather dull ones. Summer of Promise is definitely a hit, set at Fort Laramie. I picked it up when it was free. It is now priced at $1.99 - still a great price.
Texas Boardinghouse Brides: Three great books for only $2.99! We featured this trilogy awhile back and several of you picked it up. This is a fun twist on the mail-order bride story, with several women responding to one advertisement, so a contest is held. The first two (The Anonymous Bride and Second Chance Brides) are excellent. Book Three (Finally A Bride) is all right.
I have loved almost every Ilona Andrews book that I’ve read. I was pretty happy to hear she had started thinking about self-publishing. Self-publishing can often yield…lower prices!!! Clean Sweep ($4.99) is a wonderful novel with great characters, fun action, adventure and that unique Ilona Andrews world building. Even as I was reading, I was thinking, “Where did THAT come from?” This novel presents a unique take on vampires, shifters and creatures in general. The witch in this story isn’t your typical witch who is struggling to learn and find her place either. Dina has mysteries to solve and knows her limits, the nature of her powers and when and how to use them. Okay, it’s true that I’m partial to witches. I like the science of witchery and the boundaries. Ilona Andrews mixes her fantasy quite liberally with science fiction in Clean Sweep, creating a startling world with surprises at every turn. What makes the book work for me? Not only is the story good, but the characters are well-drawn, interesting and strong.
As with some of Ilona Andrews’ other work, there is the bonus of an over-arching mystery in the background. It’s already tugging at the reader, demanding to be solved even though in book one we really only learn about the existence of this large challenge. There aren’t a lot of clues yet, but I’m completely captured by this new world and greatly looking forward to book two.
It’s hard to find a best selling author with a book under five dollars, especially a new book, but if you like witches, shifters, action, a great plot and great pacing, give this a try! Highly recommended for urban fantasy fans!
Reviewer: Maria Schneider is an avid reader, reviewer and the author of the Moon Shadow Series.
The Persian Pickle Club ($2.99) by Sandra Dallas is a quick read with down-home folkiness, humor and mystery.
Living the hardscrabble life in 1930s Dust Bowl in Kansas, a group of rural women meet weekly to quilt and visit. A few had money, but many eked out an existence as best they could. They all knew sorrow, heartache, and disappointment.
Long before the proliferation of self-help books, radio and television talk shows hosted by psychiatrists, and toll-free numbers to call in an emergency, these women had formed a support group that met their physical and emotional needs.
A young lady from the city marries a local farm boy and hard times force them to return to the family farm. Rita becomes a member of the Persian Pickle Club, but she has much to learn about the culture of the group. In her desire to solve a local murder and earn a job writing for the Topeka newspaper, Rita learns that nothing is stronger than the bond these women have formed.
Sandra Dallas uses folksy expressions rich with meaning to anyone who has lived in the rural Midwest. I felt a personal connection with the Persian Pickle Club women. I grew up in a rural area where the farm women gathered regularly for club meetings. Each woman in the book could be identified with real life women who were our neighbors and friends.
Buy the Kindle version for $2.99 and then purchase the audiobook for $3.99.
Cry Baby Hollow by Aimee Love is a wonderful 5 star story. I’m fairly picky these days, but I had no problems falling in love with the story. There’s romance–but it’s the real kind where it starts slow and might actually be based on personalities and common interests. There is one scene in particular that I found very touching because in real life saying “I care” often has less to do with physical attraction and more to do with little things one person does for the other.
There’s also more than one mystery going on and the actual paranormal element doesn’t really rear its head until the end of the book. The book takes place in an unusual literature setting–rural Tennessee. It’s full of interesting twists and turns. There’s cozy parts, thriller parts and weird parts. The beginning starts off on a bit of a jarring note that left me wondering if the story would be too harsh for me, but these necessary scenes are handled deftly and blend well with the also realistic brighter times.
There’s some great humor between many of the characters and very good secondary character development. In the end, it all comes back to a compelling story, and this book, despite any small flaws, not only held my attention, but made me smile and left me wanting to read another book in the series.
At $2.99 it’s a great bargain and is easily going to make favorite reads of the year. Highly recommended for urban fantasy readers or mystery readers who don’t mind a paranormal element.
Guest Review by: Maria Schnieder. She loves a to read – fantasies and mysteries are her favorites.
Miss Prim by Jane Myers Perrine is a delightful read with a sweet romance that is appropriate for all ages.
The hero and heroine embark on an adventure not of their choosing as they protect a spy’s baby daughter from infidels who want to kidnap her. Lady Louisa, who has conformed to society’s expectations, realizes two things: she isn’t happy denying her own adventuresome spirit and that William, Viscount Woodstone is still the man to capture her heart.
The book moves at a fast clip with the couple racing to stay ahead of their pursuers or evading the traps set for them. Lady Louisa creatively rescues William and suffers through mud and more as they travel through the countryside. The ending comes quickly, but it is satisfying.
The book has suspense, humor, and romance. I recommend Miss Prim for a quick weekend read and for anyone who enjoys an historical romance without the pomp. Today it is selling for 99 cents.