What I Would Tell You by Liz Tolsma

Split-Timeline Fiction

Book reviews are subjective. I tend to rate books not according to how “perfect” they are, seem to be, or are said to be in general but rather to how perfect they are to me. I received a complimentary copy of this book from Barbour Publishing and was under no obligation to post a review.

3 Stars

Book cover shows a somber woman with downcast eyes in the foreground, and a dark reddish monotone city street in the backgroundWhat I Would Tell You by Liz Tolsma

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Description: 1941—The pounding of Nazi boots on the streets of Salonika, Greece, reverberates in Mathilda Nissim’s ears, shaking her large community of Sephardic Jews to its core. At great risk to herself and those around her, Mathilda uses the small newspaper she publishes to call her people to action. 2019—College student Tessa Payton takes a popular DNA heritage test that reveals she’s a Greek Sephardic Jew. So she empties her savings account and jets off on a journey to Greece to discover where she belongs.

My thoughts: Similar to other readers, I picked up this split-timeline ChristFic novel because I hadn’t read fiction about Sephardic Jews in Greece during WWII before. I became so engrossed in the historical side of the story that I would’ve read the book in one sitting if my schedule would have allowed it.

Now, a number of details, phrases, and characters’ thoughts in this book are redundant, and some portions of the story felt overdone or overmilked to me. I personally like a defter touch, when the characters and the narrative effectively leave certain things unrepeated or unsaid.

Also, unless there’s no direct English translation for particular words, it isn’t my preference when foreign language expressions are mixed into the dialogue of characters who are supposed to be speaking only one language, or when they say something in their own language and then repeat the words in English for the reader’s sake. To me, that draws unneeded attention to the fact that the characters are indeed technically speaking English throughout the book, which pulls me out of the setting somewhat. Even so, I did appreciate the Author’s Note with a bit of information about the Ladino language.

Aside from minor stylistic points, a couple of issues didn’t sit right with me. The first is in regard to one of Mathilda’s papers, where she seeks to move her people to action by reminding them of their ancestors: “We once were a proud nation, marching through Canaan, destroying the evil people” who lived in that land. Yet, the very Nazi regime that Mathilda is writing against—they see themselves that way, as a proud nation marching through and destroying the people who live in the land, people the Nazis see as evil. In one scene, Tessa reads the names of people who died in the Holocaust, “name after name, each one of them a flesh-and-blood person,” but did Mathilda not think of those “destroyed” Canaanites that way, as flesh-and-blood people who each had a name? To me, the example Mathilda uses isn’t the best match for a call to self-defense.

The other issue that left me unsettled is the evangelistic push in the story. I think I understand when I sometimes see Jewish readers express offense or hurt when in fiction about the Holocaust—featuring Jewish main characters—that massive Jewish tragedy and the people who died in it are used as a platform for a Christian evangelism message. I know it’s a complex issue, I in no way mean to discount Christians who are Jewish by heritage, and I can’t speak for Jewish people as they speak for themselves. But I don’t believe all Christian Fiction about the Holocaust takes the evangelistic route that this story does.

As for the novel’s contemporary side, I felt like some details were added in too late, in the final scenes. I would have needed a little more character development earlier in Tessa’s family situation to make their ending more convincing. But on Mathilda’s side of the story, I was stirred by the resolution of her impossibly hard battle with selfishness.

And I’d be remiss not to mention how much I like this novel’s book cover, with its somber but lovely monotone approach. I don’t read many split-timeline novels, but the cover of this one really called to me as a historical fiction devotee.

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Flippin’ the Script by Aisha Ford

Women's Fiction

Book reviews are subjective. I tend to rate books not according to how “perfect” they are, seem to be, or are said to be in general but rather to how perfect they are to me.

4 Stars

Illustrated book cover shows a woman smelling a rose, a man standing close behind her shoulder, and stage lights and film cameras in the backgroundFlippin’ the Script by Aisha Ford

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Description: Sabrina Bradley is the assistant to the assistant producer of one of America’s hottest daytime talk shows. As part of a deal for a future promotion, she agrees to sit on the panel of a series about ordinary people who struggle to keep their New Year’s Resolutions. But to become co-assistant producer of the show in a year, Sabrina must keep all of her own resolutions—including an ill-timed resolution that she will not fall in love!

My thoughts: I discovered this ChristFic author and first read four of her romance novels about twenty years ago. I recently reread ’em, and now I’ve finally gotten to what I think is the only other solo novel of hers, written around that early 2000s time.

I thought it’d be another contemporary romance, but I’d say this book is romantic contemporary fiction. It includes the perspectives of multiple characters and the different issues they’re dealing with, rather than just being a story about Sabrina and her love interest.

Now, some aspects of the plot I didn’t find the most convincing, including the fact that someone like Sabrina would agree to a workplace deal with unethical strings attached. I also didn’t find it believable that entertainment outlets and numerous fans across the country would have such major interest in Sabrina’s New Year’s goals and the details of her love life when she wasn’t already a celebrity—a music artist or movie star or someone whom wide audiences would already be primed for gossip about.

Yet, I still found the unfolding of it all quite entertaining and not too high on pettiness and “drama,” even considering the villain of the story. I grew to like Sabrina and her love interest more as I got deeper into the read, despite my frustration with some naïveté on his part and my wishing they’d both just say what’s on their minds at some key times. I’ll admit that in the end, I felt just a little shortchanged in the romance department, as the resolution isn’t a swoon-worthy one. But again, this isn’t exactly a romance novel.

I’m not sure how much the book’s salvation subplot was needed, but the whole aspect of it didn’t merely feel pasted in. And a part of it gave me a good and genuine laugh-out-loud moment.

In all, I found this read satisfying, and it seems to have turned out that I saved my favorite novel by this author for last.

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The Enchanted April by Elizabeth von Arnim

Vintage Book

Book reviews are subjective. I tend to rate books not according to how “perfect” they are, seem to be, or are said to be in general but rather to how perfect they are to me.

4 Stars

Illustrated book cover shows a lush and colorful riviera view from up on a balconyThe Enchanted April by Elizabeth von Arnim

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Description: Four very different women respond to an advertisement in the Times appealing to “those who appreciate wisteria and sunshine” to rent a small medieval castle in Italy for a month. The spring climate and the castle eventually start to have an effect on the four women as their perceptions shift and they wake up to the love in their lives.

My thoughts: I plan on watching the film sometime, so I wanted to read the book first.

It’s over a century old now, and yes, I like reading older novels sometimes for the language: when it’s different and clever and I can’t predict how the author will string all the phrases together. I was hoping for a read with characters engaging enough to hold my attention even if the story wouldn’t be in a rush to make “stuff” happen. I certainly got that here, being fully interested in the characters despite my not liking some of them some of the time.

But I didn’t know the novel would be so delightfully funny! The imagery is lovely, as I expected, and the characters evaluate their lives while they’re on their holiday, as I also expected. I expected the human transformations as well, though I couldn’t tell ahead of time what each transformation would be. (Possible that not all of those transformations would really last too far past April, but hey. I’m fine leaving practicality out of it for certain shimmering fiction.)

But the humor! How refreshing. Wonderful wit pointing out the unfortunate, the ridiculous, the curious, and the dear.

A tale a century old, yet holding enchantment.

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A Quilt for Christmas by Melody Carlson

Christmas Book

Book reviews are subjective. I tend to rate books not according to how “perfect” they are, seem to be, or are said to be in general but rather to how perfect they are to me. Revell provided me with a complimentary copy of this book for an honest review.

4 Stars

Book cover shows a white room with a red, white, and green quilt draped over a chair in front of a decorated Christmas treeA Quilt for Christmas by Melody Carlson

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Description: Widowed and recently relocated, Vera Swanson is lonely in her condo-for-one—until little Fiona Albright knocks on her door. With her mother seriously ill and her father out of town, Fiona enlists Vera’s help. When she finds out her new neighbor is a quilter, she has a special request: a Christmas quilt for Mama. So, Vera will have to get a ragtag group of women together in order to fulfill the request.

My thoughts: Having read a few of this author’s other novellas, I expected easy Christmas reading here. After the opening trouble for some of the characters, I admittedly started to think perhaps the rest of the story might be too easy.

Nevertheless, it turns out that a nice amount of substance is packed into this tale, including meaningful backstories for the characters along with the emotional struggles they face. The thread of simple romance woven in isn’t the kind that wows me, but I like how its presence plays into the overall dynamic of the story. I’m not sure all of the dialogue fits the characters’ ages, as I don’t really hear people from my generation and younger using words like “smitten” and “sissy” in serious everyday conversation, but that isn’t the biggest deal.

The various moving parts along the characters’ collective journey come together in such a touching way, I found myself blinking away a couple of tears a couple of times. Quite a fitting read for fans of warm and uplifting holiday tales with faith sprinkled in.

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