Book Review: Letters to Eloise by Emily Williams

33977478Goodreads Description:

Receiving a hand written letter is something that always puts a smile on my face, no matter who the sender is.’ Flora Tierney.

When post-graduate student Flora falls unexpectedly pregnant during her final year studies she hits a huge predicament; continue a recent affair with her handsome but mysterious lecturer who dazzles her with love letters taken from the ancient tale of ‘Abelard and Heloise’, or chase after the past with her estranged first love?
But will either man be there to support her during the turmoil ahead?

‘Banish me, therefore, for ever from your heart’, Abelard to Heloise.

Letters to Eloise is the heart wrenching debut epistolary novel by Emily Williams; a love story of misunderstandings, loss, and betrayal but ultimately the incredible bond between mother and child.

Letters to Eloise is, hands-down, one of the best books I’ve read all year. Before rereading the Goodreads description I quoted above, I was thinking of how to describe the book and “heart-wrenching” was the first thing that came to mind. It was an intensely emotional read for me, I think because I have the great blessing of being a mother. In addition to the emotion, there are a few things that really struck me about the book:

  1. Flora (notwithstanding her out-of-wedlock pregnancy) reminds me a great deal of St. Gianna Beretta Molla in her selfless giving on behalf of her child. The story is a true testament to the value and humanity of the unborn and the power of the bond a mother develops with the child growing in her womb. I don’t think Flora and I would have been friends, and that usually makes it hard for me to love a heroine, but in this case my ability to identify with Flora in her journey as a mother overshadowed everything else.
  2. The story is expertly set in the mid-1990s. So many aspects of the story just wouldn’t work in today’s world of instant communication. No cell phones, no text messaging, limited Internet usage – even reliance on the actual brick-and-mortar campus library! I marvel at the skill Williams demonstrates in having chosen the timing and format for the book and then in weaving the story together so believably. Truly brilliant!
  3. In contrast to some other reviewers, I was not surprised by the ending. HOWEVER – that did not in any way detract from my enjoyment of the book, and I don’t think the story was “predictable” in the ordinary sense of the word. Instead, I think it was truly human. Because we read from Flora’s point of view, her faults are not glossed over; she is aware of her mistakes and forgiving of others’, and we have the opportunity to watch her grow as a person.

All in all, this book was amazing. I highly recommend this one AND Emily’s next book, Rafferty Lincoln Loves…, which I had the great privilege to proofread for her. Check her out at http://emilywilliamsauthor.blogspot.com/.

Five stars!

*Many thanks to author Emily Williams for providing a free copy of the book in exchange for an honest review.

Book Reviews: “The Birdwoman” and “Evocation”

I don’t usually read short stories, though not really for any particular reason, but the two collections I’m reviewing here today make me wonder whether I should more actively seek them out. When I was brand new to Twitter a few short months ago I went on a book-accumulating spree (translation: I followed lots of authors, and every time an author advertised a book as free to download from Amazon I clicked the link and downloaded the book), and these are two of the books I happened to “buy for free,” as Amazon puts it. In any case, they are both worth actually buying.

The Birdwoman: . . . and other short stories

The Birdwoman and Other Short Stories by A.R. Geiger

This collection of stories is phenomenal. I was captivated from the very beginning, commenting on my Kindle after the first story, Stowaway, “I want more!” The stories are truly short–several pages, on average–but they pack in a lot of action and emotion. I found myself stopping to make comments on my Kindle like, “raw, reflective and thoughtful;” “beautiful and painful;” and “powerful imagery.” Geiger doesn’t shy away from heavy topics, exploring issues such as mental illness and slavery, from many different viewpoints. Her characters include: a twelve-year-old orphan boy; a hospitalized mentally-ill woman; an African boat captain fighting the slavers kidnapping his people; a young child; and a widowed mother, among others.

Geiger’s ability to write convincingly from many varied viewpoints is a true testament to her talent for storytelling. I recently read a review of a short story collection over at Bibliobeth where the reviewer describes short story collections as typically having peaks and troughs, with some stories better than others – not in this case: Geiger’s work is all peaks.

Five stars!

Evocation: The First AI Stories Collection

Evocation: The First AI Stories Collection by Sergio Flores

So not only do I not usually read short stories, but I also don’t often read science fiction. That said, I’m glad I picked this up. As the title suggests, this is a collection of short stories centered on artificial intelligence. The stories are interesting and thought-provoking, opening my eyes to the importance of the issue. I feel like since reading the book I’ve been seeing references to AI all over the place–there’s even a new show on Nickelodeon about a teenager who’s actually an android which I watched while babysitting a friend’s kids–and I’ve started to pay a little more attention.

In reading the stories I was impressed by the author’s ability to write so that someone like me–technologically-challenged–could understand them. I liked how some of the stories share similar settings and seem to follow on from one another as if they are all part of a larger story. What I gained from the book is an overall sense of the power and danger of AI if not properly managed…or, even scarier, that perhaps it can’t be managed at all. If you like books that make you think (like I do), then it’s definitely worth a read, even if it’s not your normal thing!

4 stars!

Reading to kids – it’s also about values

So I’ve talked before about the importance of kids’ books for teaching language to children, but there’s also a lot to be said for using literature to transmit values. I believe we need to be intentional about what we read to our children. By this I am referring both to what we choose to read and what we choose not to read. I could rail against all the garbage being written for kids these days (and always, it’s not all new), but in the interest of keeping things positive I’m going to just mention one valuable story we read in my house recently.

Frog and Toad All Year (Frog and Toad, #3)

We love Frog and Toad (you know that already, though, because I mentioned them in my last post, too) and recently got Frog and Toad All Year from the library. My absolute favorite story in the book, and the inspiration for this post, is The Surprise, in which Frog and Toad each secretly rake each other’s leaves. They each independently come up with the idea and do the good deed in secret. Then the wind blows all the leaves out of the piles, undoing their hard work; when each returns home, he finds his own yard a mess and never knows what the other did for him. The best part of the story is that Frog and Toad each go to sleep that night happy to have helped a friend, never finding the need to take credit for it. Each of them is happy just to have done a good deed, without needing or seeking credit.

This is love in its truest sense  – seeking the good of another just for the other’s sake. I’m not sure if my kids understand the message of the story, but it has certainly served as a reminder for me to check myself every time I want to say to someone, “oh, hey – did you see this nice thing I just did for you?” I know that books teach us (there’s a reason I called this blog “The Edifying Word”), but reading The Surprise was, for me, a reminder of the power of stories teach values and not just facts.

I’ve generally been pretty good at screening out the “bad” from what my kids read (at home, anyway – I can’t control that my daughter’s teacher reads Junie B. Jones with all her sass aloud to the class). My goal going forward is to remember the power of teaching positive values rather than just avoiding the things I don’t approve of, and using that as a guide for choosing what we read. We learn by repetition, and if I repeatedly and intentionally expose my children to the values I want to instill in them, they will absorb the message; literature is one of many tools I have as a parent to do so.

What do you think? Any suggestions of other positive, edifying books for kids?