Book Review: Hark — A Christmas Collection by Justin Bog

I love Christmas themed books. There is something about them, that draws me. The cheery spirits, the happiness, the general feeling of everything being in place. Of course, nothing can be better than reading a Christmas book during the Christmas season. So when Sage asked me if I wanted to review Justin Bog’s book, I was all for it.

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Having said that, Hark — A Christmas Collection, is a different sort of Christmas book. It is a beautifully written set of 6 stories, each of them exploring the various emotions that form part of the holiday season. Emotions aren’t normally part of traditional Christmas stories. Loneliness, sadness, hope, forgiveness, despair feelings that we rather tend to try to forget during the festive season. It is a season for happiness, and yet, so often it is sad time for many, for a many a reason.

Each of the stories are different, strongly emotional, Christmas being the common thread, running through all the stories. Beautiful stories, from the injured police officer’s reminiscences of how one Christmas changed his life forever, another story about a woman who has misplaced a present she bought for her sister, who seems to have very little interest in her lonely sister. My favourite was the one with Mr and Mrs Claus, both beautiful and heart-wrenching, brave at the same time.

A very different and yet very ‘Christmassy’ set of stories, not the usual saccharine sweet stories but one that will stay with you, haunting you, as you watch the merry festivities around you. Having said that, it is a book that you could read anytime of the year, and feel just as moved. A 3.5/5 read for me.

About the Author

Justin Bog lives in the Pacific Northwest on Fidalgo Island. Justin Bog was Pop Culture Correspondent and Editor for In Classic Style. He is an experimental cook, a lawn mower who colors outside the lines, and treat master to two long coat German shepherds, Zippy and Kipling, and two barn cats, Ajax The Gray and Eartha Kitt’n.

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Book Review: The Dance of the Spirits by Catherine Aerie

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Another book tour by Sage. I have to be honest, this book took a little time before it could capture my interest at all. There was a point where I was wondering if I should email Sage and let her know that I wouldn’t be able to review it. Thankfully, the story did pick up and I did get through the book.

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Jasmine Young is a Chinese woman, part of the Korean War, one of the few to have volunteered into it, unlike most others. Born into a rich and privileged family, Jasmine had the best of education and had not known the lack of anything until her mother died and changed everything for her and her family.

Personal circumstances weren’t the only things that changed for Jasmine. Soon the political climate changed too and circumstances landed her right into the war. Jasmine had just completed her medical training and her first opportunity to work as a doctor is in the war. The book is the touching story of Jasmine as she lives through the horrible war, when people lose love, belongings, and most of all dignity and liberty.

The book is interesting in parts, but in some sections I found it hard to keep reading. Especially the descriptions of war. I suppose it must just be me. All the descriptions of bloodshed and wounded people was a bit too much for me. However given that the book revolves around a medic in a war, it makes sense. I did feel that the author tends to be over descriptive. I love descriptions normally, of the sort that transport you into the places which they talk about, in this book however, it was a struggle. I struggled to read them through.

The snippets of history that the author provides gives a nice context to what is happening in the book. Given that I was completely ignorant about the political situation surrounding the war, it made sense. The class hierarchy and the huge class divide in China that helped in welcoming a Communist wave is brought out very well. I also enjoyed Jasmine’s childhood and the account of her life before the war. It gave us an insight into Jasmine as a person.

Some books are not for you, unfortunately. This was one of those. A book that might well appeal to others, but a book that I struggled to read. A 2.5/5 for me.

I got this book in exchange for a fair and unbiased review.

About the Author

Catherine Aerie, a graduate from the University of California, Irvine with a master degree in finance. She was inspired to write ‘The Dance of Spirits’ while researching a family member’s role in the Korean War, deciding to revive an often overlooked setting in fiction and heighten the universality go love and liberty. Her debut novel was completed after about two years of research.

This book is available from Amazon.

Book Review: Our Orbit by Anesa Miller

image I get to be the host at Sage’s Blog Tours again. This time with Anesa Miller’s book, Our Orbit. Sage sent me this book in exchange of a honest and fair review. image image Nine year old Miriam Winslow has had enough trouble to last a lifetime. If losing her mother wasn’t enough, within months of her mother’s death, her father, Levi, gets thrown into prison for being a tax protester. Miriam and her siblings get separated as each of them have had different arrangements put in place by the authorities. Mirium, the youngest get Rick and Deanne Fletcher as her foster parents. Rick and Deanne wholeheartedly welcome Miriam into their family. Miriam is different from them though. She had been brought up in a different way, no new clothes, no luxuries, extremely ostentatious ways of showing remorse in church. Her father believed in all this, and her mother had gone along with it. Her older brother Issac lived with his wife, away and wasn’t all that affected but her other brother Josh was as fanatic as her father. Rachelle her sister, rebelled and went the other way, landed in juvenile prison.

As all this came to fore, Rick and Deanne struggle but continue to do the right thing for their new foster daughter. Miriam has her own struggles too, having come to live in a family that is strongly secular, where children don’t live in fear that their actions could cause harm to the rest of the family, and a house full of nice beautiful things. For Miriam, it’s a life far far different from the one she left, and one she isn’t sure she ought to be living in, any way, given that she has learned that luxuries of this kind are not right, all her life. Josh, her brother’s strong views do not help at all. Neither does her unbelieving sister’s actions.

A touching story of how two families with conflicting ways of life and beliefs are thrown together by tragedy. A well crafted book, with small insightful incidents, showing how each family and each person responded to things.

All the characters were well-rounded, people who you could understand, even if you didn’t agree with their motivations. Relationships between them explored beautifully, be it Miriam’s relationship with her foster parents Rachelle’s with their aunt and cousin, the siblings themselves or Josh and his girlfriend. The flow of writing was perfect. The book progressed at a very good pace, not too slow, not too fast,perfect for the kind of topic it addresses. I liked the way it ended as well, with just enough for the reader to ponder over.

What I liked most about the book is the way it handled and explored the hypocrisy that comes with blind faith. Of how easily wrongs can be justified for, just because it’s part of our faith. The risk that blind faith or blind belief in anything entails. The book also makes you think about the role of poverty in the way people react to religion. The author tackles the subject with sensitivity and compassion, with an understanding of why people behave the way they do in these circumstances, rather than just being judgmental, which I think makes the book a pleasure to read.

A book that I’m so glad I got to read, a 4.5/5 rating from me.

About the Author

Anesa Miller is a Ph.D. in Slavic Languages and has been awarded an Individual Artist Fellowship in Creative Writing from the Ohio Arts Council in 1998. Her poems and prose have been published in The Kenyon Review, The Cream City Review, The California Quarterly, Spoon River Poetry Review, and many others. She now devotes herself to writing full-time. More about her here.

This book is available from Amazon(UK).

Book Review: The First Noble Truth by C. Lynn Murphy

The other day I got an email from Sage asking if I wanted to be part of a blog tour of the book, The First Noble Truth and I agreed, because it sounded interesting. So here I am hosting the blog tour today.

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The First Noble Truth is the author C Lynn Murphy’s first book.
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Machiko is an English teacher in a school in a small remote, yet beautiful village in Japan, where the children wear bells on their school bags, to warn away bears. She has a condition which makes her pull out her hair, pick at her skin. She finds that she can do nothing to stop herself from doing it. She struggled hard to mask the damage what her fingers had done to her appearance, she struggled to look normal. No doctor she has been to, has been able to help her with her condition.

When a mysterious young woman appears in the village, everybody is curious. It’s a small village with no secrets. Machiko ends up checking after her and ends up becoming the only person to interact with this woman, Krista, an American who seems to have secrets of her own, hidden away.

The book alternates with Machiko’s narrative and Krista’s narrative and keeps the pages turning. In Machiko’s and Krista’s stories, is also woven the cultures and faiths that they come from, the way things are different and yet startlingly similar. It questions beliefs around suffering, the links between suffering and faiths, religious beliefs and even the similarities between religions. It makes for an interesting and thought-provoking reading.

It is a tale of misfits, people who don’t find themselves happy where they are, for various reasons, none of it, in their control, really.
I really liked the style of writing. Loved the way the book started. The descriptions were wonderful, they took me to the places where the protagonists were at. The way the author writes about Machiko’s condition is especially heartening, it is a very understanding and accepting narrative. One that brings out the pain she’s going through so very well. All the characters beautifully etched out. I particularly liked the beginning which started with Krista’s story. It was a painful story, but beautifully narrated.

A very interesting book, but not the easiest of reads, especially if you aren’t in the right frame of mind to read it. A heavy read, but a recommended one, if you like books of this sort. I’ve given it a 3.5/5 but that’s mainly go do with the fact that it was a little heavy going for me in places.

About the Author
Lynn Murphy was born in New Hampshire, but has since lived in Scotland, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, England, Nepal, India, and Mongolia. She also spent a year backpacking across the African continent for kicks.
She is a doctoral candidate in Buddhist Studies at the University of California, Santa Barbara, as well as a graduate of St Andrews University (M.A.) and Oxford University (MPhil).
Whilst a resident at a Tibetan Buddhist nunnery in the Himalayas, she wrote her first book, ‘The First Noble Truth.’
She currently lives between Mongolia and the UK, where she is conducting fieldwork on post-Soviet economies of the funeral industry and their impact on contemporary Mongolian cultural and religious identity.
She writes, she knits, she eats mutton.

This book is available from Amazon.