Book Review: Everyone Brave is Forgiven

Cleave wields words like a miner wields a pickax: he strikes hard and sharp. His descriptions leave you feeling as if you experienced the setting not from the comfort of your living room sofa, but in all the grit and passion of place itself.

Everyone Brave is Forgiven by Chris Cleave

As I wrote in this post and this post, I never tire of WWII stories. Everyone Brave is Forgiven tells the story from the perspective of those who stayed in London and experienced the war on their own front porches.

Back Cover Description

“The day war is declared, Mary North leaves finishing school unfinished, goes straight to the War Office, and signs up. Tom Shaw decides to ignore the war—until he learns his roommate Alistair Heath has unexpectedly enlisted. Then the conflict can no longer be avoided. Young, bright, and brave, Mary is certain she’d be a marvelous spy. When she is—bewilderingly—made a teacher, she finds herself defying prejudice to protect the children her country would rather forget. Tom, meanwhile, finds that he will do anything for Mary.

And when Mary and Alistair meet, it is love, as well as war, that will test them in ways they could not have imagined, entangling three lives in violence and passion, friendship and deception, inexorably shaping their hopes and dreams.”

Characters

Mary North is a delightfully rebellious socialite who has more backbone than many soldiers. Her relationship with her disenfranchised students—African Londoners and children with disabilities—shines a light on the period. Even Nazi bombs couldn’t destroy prejudice. It’s no wonder Tom Shaw, a soft-hearted sloth of a man, falls for her. She loves him too, until Alistair’s quick wit sticks to her heart and forms a love-triangle that crosses oceans.

Mary’s high society rebellion, Tom’s “why’s everyone so upset about all this” attitude, and Alistair’s stark irony each give a striking perspective on the war. Cleave’s characters are well-rounded and realistic.

Plot

The plot reminds me of digging in the rocky soil of my landscaping. Every page reveals a stone, a new ugly truth about the war. From prejudice, to war crimes, to overblown bureaucracy, Cleave leaves no room to romanticize war. This book made me think.

As a romantic myself, I wanted things to work out better for Tom, Mary, and Alistair. Like all well-written characters, they became my imaginary friends, and I wanted a fairy tale ending for them. Don’t misinterpret this to mean that I didn’t like the ending. It was a satisfying ending, but like the rest of the plot, reflected the difficulties of life at war.

Writing Style

Cleave’s writing has a no-nonsense feel to it that differs from the female authors that I typically read. He is particularly gifted at Alistair’s wit, which reminds me of my older brother. His writing style reflects the overall tone of the novel. With little in the way of flowery fluff, Cleave wields words like a miner wields a pickax: he strikes hard and sharp. His descriptions leave you feeling as if you experienced the setting not from the comfort of your living room sofa, but in all the grit and passion of place itself.

Other

I like the cover image, though I wish it showed London in its damaged state. That was one of the more striking parts of the book, experiencing the bombings of London.

Conclusion

My grandmother loaned me this book, but it would be worth buying a used copy, unless you’re one of those people who can’t resist that new-book smell. If you’re stingy like me, this could be a library read, though I wouldn’t have regretting purchasing it.


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Similar Books I Enjoyed

(still working on writing the reviews)

Click HERE for my review for this book about the making of Winston Churchill


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Book Review: The Language of Sycamores

Like the book, hate the cover. Karen is a middle-aged career-focused woman who burned out of a high-stress job in the tech industry. The cover image makes her look like an over-zealous millennial about to snap an Instagram photo of her avocado toast. I could forgive that, but the depiction of Dell is a crime.

The Language of Sycamores by Lisa Wingate

Another one from the library of Grandma 🙂

Cover Description

“Karen Sommerfield has been hiding from the big questions of her life—the emotional distance in her marriage, her inability to have children, and her bout with cancer. Getting lost in her high-powered career provides the sense of purpose she yearns for. Until the day she’s downsized out of her job and the doctor tells her the cancer may be back. It’s a double blow that would send anyone reeling.

It sends Karen to Grandma Rose’s old farm, where her sister has made a seemingly perfect life. Opening herself to the unexpected, Karen finds a lonely child in need of nurturing and insights into her family’s past. In the quiet of the Missouri Ozarks, where the sycamore leaves whisper their soft, secret language, she discovers answers—and a joy to make her life complete.”

Characters and Plot

Karen is a typical middle-aged burn-out with family issues. Years of competitions for her father’s approval strained her relationship with her sister, a perfectionist homemaker. These characters were relatable, but my favorite character by far is Dell, the shy little girl who comes alive with music. The author does a phenomenal job of building empathy for Dell, and I found myself routing for her the entire book. I also like how Dell brings out different sides of the other characters, like Karen’s husband, who plays guitar and does Elvis impressions.

I am a sucker for found family stories, so I enjoyed the plot. The perfect story for curling up on the couch with a mug of hot tea.

Writing Style

The writing style of this book was too explanatory for me. The author seemed to think I needed her to explain how Karen was feeling. I would rather she depicted more dramatic scenes and let me experience Karen’s emotions for myself. Also, flashbacks litter the beginning of the book, which made the pace slow to start.

Despite containing a sermon, this book is not preachy. The single sermon helps drive the plot. My only criticism is the ending, where the author gives God credit for everything that happens. It felt forced, as if the author finished the story and thought, “Shoot, I was supposed to make this a Christian book” and slapped three inspirational paragraphs together. I would rather Karen spent more time throughout the book questioning God about her circumstances, or had the final scene in a church or near one. Then her reflections would be more natural.

Other

I liked the book, but I hate the cover. Karen is a middle-aged career-focused woman who burned out of a high-stress job in the tech industry. The cover image makes her look like an over-zealous millennial babysitter about to snap an Instagram photo of her avocado toast. I could forgive that, but the depiction of Dell is a crime.

Dell comes from a low socioeconomic status in an abusive home. We only ever see her uncle’s verbal abuse, but the storyline hints at worse. She also cares for her ill grandmother. The cover image, however, gives no hints of her home life, no dirt or patches on her clothes, no tangles in her hair, no ill-fitting or mismatched clothes.

The worst by far is the girl’s skin. Dell is half African American. The girl on the cover? Paler than I am after hibernating through a nine-month long Montana winter.

Dell is half African American. The girl on the cover? Paler than I am after hibernating through a nine-month long Montana winter.

Dell’s uncle disparages her for having a “n—r father.” His constant verbal abuse affects her confidence, her self-worth, and her ability to trust others. Even the way she moves, silently, and the way she interacts with a group—staying on the edges and covering her face with her hair—reflects her poor self-image. Her skin tone is an integral part of her character, one that affects the way she behaves in the story. Simply put, Dell cannot be white* and still be Dell.

Dell cannot be white and still be Dell.

How many people on the publishing team gave that cover their approval? Don’t get me wrong; it’s a good image. The title is clear; the tone is consistent with the genre; and the image evokes the desired emotion. It’s a good cover, just not for this book.

Our media is whitewashed enough. People shouldn’t have to take a brown sharpie to their surroundings to see themselves depicted, especially not when the character in the book is already described as having “cinnamon-colored skin.” You can’t tell me there were no pictures of adorable brown girls they could have used.

People shouldn’t have to take a brown sharpie to their surroundings to see themselves depicted.

Conclusion

Did I enjoy the book? Yes. The explanations and flashbacks were not disruptive enough to detract from the storyline, which was heartwarming.

I enjoyed the book, but I’d be lying if I said that cover didn’t make me want to rage out of my winter den like a grizzly on the hunt for stupid tourists.


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If you would like to purchase the book from Amazon**, click the link below. I encourage you to purchase this book rather than check it out from the library. That way you can take a brown sharpie to the cover 😉

The Language of Sycamores

You may also like

Same author. I actually liked this one better.

Great book. Stay tuned for my review!


*By “white” here, I mean 100% white like the girl on the cover. Dell already is 50% Caucasian.

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Book Review: Hero of the Empire

Holding a millennial’s attention with a biography is no small feat, but Candice Miller did so effortlessly. She brought Churchill to life with prose both intriguing and informative.

Hero of the Empire: The Boer War, a Daring Escape, and the Making of Winston Churchill

by Candice Millard

At the age of twenty-four, Winston Churchill was utterly convinced it was his destiny to become prime minister of England. He arrived in South Africa in 1899, valet and crates of vintage wine in tow, to cover the brutal colonial war the British were fighting with Boer rebels and jumpstart his political career. But just two weeks later, Churchill was taken prisoner.  Remarkably, he pulled off a daring escape—traversing hundreds of miles of enemy territory, alone, with nothing but a crumpled wad of cash, four slabs of chocolate, and his wits to guide him.
    Bestselling author Candice Millard spins an epic story of bravery, savagery, and chance encounters with a cast of historical characters—including Rudyard Kipling, Lord Kitchener, and Mohandas Gandhi—with whom Churchill would later share the world stage. But Hero of the Empire is more than an extraordinary adventure story, for the lessons Churchill took from the Boer War would profoundly affect twentieth century history.” –Amazon Description

Every time I visit, my grandmother gives me a stack of books, which I return on my next visit. The Library of Grandma is the best because, as a school librarian, she knows good literature. We have similar tastes, by which I mean, we’ll read anything that’s well written.

In fiction or non-fiction, two subjects never fail to fascinate me: World War II, and La Guerra Civil de España (The Spanish Civil War, and subsequent years under El Generalísimo Franco. Click HERE for a great book set in that period).

Hero of the Empire doesn’t touch WWII, but reading it gave me a deeper understanding of Winston Churchill. Not only that, it convinced me that the Boer War is a fascinating tale in its own right, not just a precursor to WWI and WWII.

After finishing, my first thought was “Why isn’t this a movie?” The book read like an action film: bravery (or male stupidity disguised as bravery), political intrigue, culture clashes, class wars, imperialism, explosions, and daring escapes. With so much in a true story, it’s a wonder anyone writes fiction. I came away with two impressions of Winston Churchill: 1) Either Someone was watching over him, or he abounded in sheer dumb luck; 2) pardon my French, but that guy had serious balls.

Churchill threw himself into danger countless times, yet somehow escaped unscathed. He was as arrogant as the aristocrats from whom he descended, and stubborn as a toddler in the candy aisle at the grocery store. In other words, he was exactly what the world needed at that point in history.

Holding a millennial’s attention with a biography is no small feat, but Candice Miller did so effortlessly. She brought Churchill to life with prose both intriguing and informative. I highly recommend this book, and I can’t wait to read her others.


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Hero of the Empire


Other books by this author that my grandmother recommends (I haven’t read them yet)


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Book Review: Between Sisters

I have yet to read a book by Kristin Hannah that I didn’t love. This one is no exception.

Between Sisters by Kristin Hannah

Back Cover Description

“Meghann Dontess is a woman haunted by heartbreak. Twenty-five years ago she was forced to make a terrible choice, one that cost her everything, including the love of her sister, Claire. Now, Meghann is a hotshot divorce attorney who doesn’t believe in intimacy–until she meets the one man who can change her mind.

Claire Cavenaugh has fallen in love for the first time in her life. As her wedding day approaches, she prepares to face her harsh, judgmental older sister and their self-absorbed mother. It is the first time they have been together in more than two decades. Over the course of a hot Pacific Northwest summer, these three women who believe they have nothing in common will try to become what they never were: a family.”

Characters

A former lawyer herself, Kristin Hannah includes lawyer characters in many of her books. Meghann is a believable character who uses the sword of her own bitterness to slice through other people’s marriages. Claire, a single mom, is more practical, until she falls in love at first sight. Her practical nature sides with her sister, but the little princess in her can’t help leaping at her chance for true love.

Kristin Hannah has a gift for creating nuanced characters with thorough backstories. Though the backstories impact they way each character behaves, she doesn’t waste time with endless explanations and flashbacks. The backstories emerge naturally, when relevant.

Plot

The overarching plot is the sisters’ reconciliation, riding on the themes of love and second chances. A disaster in Meghann’s work and Claire’s wedding bring the siblings together, but the forge that fuses them solid is an unrelated medical even that occurs in the latter half of the book. I wish the author had included more foreshadowing for this, but I will admit that it raised the stakes and made the story more interesting.

Writing Style

As I mentioned earlier, Hannah doesn’t waste time on endless explanations of why the characters act the way they do, she drops natural hints along the way that make her characters feel like real people. Her prose is as polished and pressed as a lawyer’s suit, beautiful in its precision.

Other

The cover is nearly identical to True Colors, and I don’t like the beach. A more appropriate setting would be the woods, as Claire runs a resort near the mountains. The colors are vibrant, but a bit too intense, as if screaming “this book’s for women.”

Conclusion

I have yet to read a book by Kristin Hannah that I didn’t love. This one is no exception. My favorites remain The Great Alone and The Nightingale, but Between Sisters is perfect for a book club, well worth the money to buy and the time to read.


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Between Sisters by Kristin Hannah

Other books by Kristin Hannah I have read and enjoyed

(still working on writing the reviews)

The Nightingale


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Book Review: The Fountains of Silence

When your criticism of a book is wanting more, you know it’s a good one. If you’re looking for a story to make your heart pound with apprehension and burst with love at the same time, look no further.

These Are a Few of My Favorite Books

Disclosure: This post contains Amazon Associate links, meaning that if you purchase this book through the link in this site, I earn a small commission.

The Fountains of Silence by Ruta Sepetys

“Madrid, 1957. Under the fascist dictatorship of General Francisco Franco, Spain is hiding a dark secret. Meanwhile, tourists and foreign businessmen flood into the country under the welcoming guise of sunshine and wine. Among them is eighteen-year-old Daniel Matheson, the son of a Texas oil tycoon, who arrives in Madrid with his parents hoping to connect with the country of his mother’s birth through the lens of his camera. Photography–and fate–introduce him to Ana, whose family’s interweaving obstacles reveal the lingering grasp of the Spanish Civil War–as well as chilling definitions of fortune and fear. Daniel’s photographs leave him with uncomfortable questions amidst shadows of danger. He is backed into a corner of decisions to protect those he loves. Lives and hearts collide, revealing an incredibly dark side to the sunny Spanish city.” – Amazon Description

Me: Nooooooooo!

My Husband: Are you okay?

Me: I finished the book.

I am not a binger. My husband can watch an entire season of a TV show in one day. I’m lucky to get through half an episode. I say this so when I tell you I binge-read this book, you understand the implications.

Two subjects, whether fiction or non-fiction, never fail to cause an abrupt end to my to-do list: World War II, and La Guerra Civil de España (the Spanish Civil War and subsequent years under El Generalísimo Franco). A summer in Madrid was enough to capture my heart, but not enough to satisfy my curiosity. Alas, student loans kept further study abroad experiences beyond my reach, so I learn vicariously through books.

Many readers know of the Spanish Civil War thanks to Ernest Hemingway’s For Whom the Bell Tolls, but life under the dictatorship is often overlooked. This book fits into the gap, telling the stories of young people who inherited the consequences of the previous generation’s war. Their struggles are no less impactful for taking place in “peace time.”

The setting made this book a guaranteed win for me, but the writing itself gave it the addictive quality of heroin. Originally, I was bummed this book wasn’t written in Spanish. Now I’m glad I read the original English. Sepetys’s prose is a work of art, beautifully constructed. Her entrancing narrative voice presides over the storyline, yet each character’s perspective is unique. For example, she uses the phrase “hair as black as crude oil” when writing in the perspective of the young Texan.

I felt part two wrapped things up rather quickly, but I was okay with that because after part one I was dying for a happy ending. If I had to list a criticism, it would be that the dialogue of the younger characters, Rafa and Buttons, was so similar it made it hard to separate them as distinct characters. Both speak with the boundless enthusiasm of energetic youths, but when the story switches to Rafa’s perspective, we meet a thoughtful young man braving to transcend his troubled history. Other characters note the dichotomy between his past and his carefree personality, but they could have been better blended. I would have also liked to see more of Daniel’s mother’s reaction to conditions in her home country.

When your criticism of a book is wanting more, you know it’s a good one. If you’re looking for a story to make your heart pound with apprehension and burst with love at the same time, look no further. I highly recommend The Fountains of Silence, and I can’t wait to read more from this author.

Click below for the Amazon link!

The Fountains of Silence

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