Book Review: The Last Innocent Hour by Margot Abbott.

the-last-innocent-hour-by-margot-abbottNo. of Pages: 599 pages (although in iBooks, it was shown as 1,251 pages)

Publisher, Date: Sand Hill Review Press, June 2017

Author: Margot Abbott

Setting: Berlin, Germany

SynopsisIt is 1946 and Berlin is a ruined city, the Nazis vanquished, but memories of the city in 1934 haunt Sally as she returns to investigate war crimes as an army intelligence officer. Her father was the American ambassador to the new Third Reich and Sally was too naïve to understand the corruption and depravity underneath the shiny surface of banners and marching men. Childhood summers at a Bavarian lake made her believe she knew Germany. 

Her job, which helps expiate her old guilt, is analyzing photographs; she is no longer innocent of the evil done by the Nazis. In the American sector offices, Sally finds friendship with the other members of her unit, especially with Tim Hastings. His easy, relaxed friendship is a balm to her frozen heart. She does fear he will despise her when he learns about her past, especially her marriage to Christian Mayr, an SS officer. 

He was a rising officer under the command of General Reinhard Heydrich, chief of the dreaded secret police. Apparently supporting the young couple, Heydrich’s manipulations instead tore them apart, nearly taking Sally’s life, certainly shredding her soul. She does not know what happened to Christian. 

Sally studies a series of pictures documenting a wartime atrocity, a reprisal by the Nazis after the 1942 assassination of Heydrich. Stunned, Sally believes she can recognize the SS commander as her husband. It is logical that Mayr was sent to revenge his chief. 

But Christian was also Sally’s loyal childhood friend, and then her passionate husband. Sally believed in Christian, in their love and she believed that Berlin and Heydrich could not touch them. Now, in 1946, she understands love does not always triumph, but how could Christian have become the man in the photograph? And is he still alive?

There’s one thing you should know about me.

Make me watch a horror film, I’ll sit as far at the back of the cinema as possible with my eyes closed and my fingers shoved into my ears.

But give me a historical fiction novel on World War 2 and I’ll be glued to the book. I will stop to eat (though sleeping in questionable as I’ve sacrificed sleep before just for the sake of reading) until I’m done. Yup, that’s me. For some unknown reason, I’m able to read and digest the terror and destruction wrought upon mankind by the Nazis or the Japanese, the torture and suffering faced by the prisoners-of-war (POWs). But horror flicks have left me terrifed at night, unable to even use the toilet out of fear that there is something waiting to get me.

So here’s what I have today. The Last Innocent Hour by author Margot Abbott was, by far, the most emotional novel I’ve ever read during the World War 2 timeline. It was painful to read mostly because of Sally Jackson’s (the main female character) involvement with her childhood sweetheart, Christian Mayr. Now that wouldn’t have been a problem if he wasn’t drafted into Hitler’s world as an SS officer. Sally Jackson is the daughter of Lowell Jackson, an American ambassador in Berlin, and falsely believes that her position could protect her from the wily charms of the SS General Reinhard Heydrich, Christian’s boss.

All’s fair in love and war could have been the only tagline in Heydrich’s head. After all, he was the mastermind behind all the gross atrocities towards the Jews and he does have the last say of what Christian Mayr should or shouldn’t be doing. If Sally wanted nothing but love from Christian, then Heydrich would do anything to make sure it happened. Of course, having a German police general as your matchmaker is the last thing you’d want. But Sally just couldn’t stay away from it all, and it was her naivety and gullibility that led to her downfall.

I’ve taken a long break from reading anything to do with World War 2. Only because the books tend to mess with my mind. But I do kind of miss it, really. Like I mentioned above, it is strange how I can tolerate reading so much of this suffering, torture, pain and death surrounding this dreadful period. How dark and depressing it was back then. But I found it hard to put the book down.

One thing did cross my mind about The Last Innocent Hour, though. The total number of pages given in iBooks was 1,251 pages. However, on Goodreads, it was 599 pages. I’m not sure what’s up but 599 pages is nowhere near 1,251 pages. Although reaching page 599 or 600 would just mean I’m halfway through reading the book.

As I neared the end of the story, I realised how far I’ve come and it has been a turbulent, rollercoaster ride of emotions. It was the most painful story I’ve read in 2018. Dramatic, yes, I know it’s just a story but the author was pretty good! The way the story was written left me reeling. The book made me feel so much for Sally Jackson that after awhile I had to take a break from reading. Imagine sticking your head down into the Pensieve only to have all sorts of nasty things exploding in front of your eyes. I had been so sure that Sally and Christian would rise from their doom. Then I wasn’t so sure anymore.

It took me a little over four days to finish reading this. I found it hard to tear myself away and even if I did, just for awhile, I found myself being dragged back into the plot. Sally and Christian’s relationship was doomed from the start the moment the latter grew up into a fine young man. Sally had been too trusting to notice the cracks forming and even if she did, she couldn’t call it off for the sake of her own sanity. Instead, she got drawn in deeper and deeper into a labyrinth of lies and deception. At first, I thought she was being silly. I did tire of her stupidity and blindness to the SS General’s dirty tricks. But even I had begun to ask the same questions as Sally had in her head. Was Christian for real? Or was he just following the general’s orders? Eventually, I got as confused as Sally. Did he truly love her as he claimed to have?

The book was so enthralling and captivating. It hooked me in right from the start. Margot Abbott is a truly remarkable author. Her writing style made me feel as if I was another character in the book with everyone else. It made me feel the way Sally felt. Long after finishing the book, I coulnd’t determine if I was still in the book or came back to reality. I should have pinched myself.

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Book Review: Miracle at the Higher Grounds Cafe.

miracle-at-the-higher-grounds-cafe_max-lucado-goodreadsNo. of Pages: 192 pages

Publisher, Date: Thomas Nelson, October 2015

Author: Max Lucado

SynopsisWhat if you could ask God anything? What would you ask? And how would He answer?

Chelsea Chambers is on her own. After a public split from her NFL superstar husband, Chelsea takes a bold step out of the sunlight and behind the counter of the Higher Grounds Cafe, an old-fashioned coffee shop in dire need of reinvention. But when her courage, expert planning and out-of-this-world cupcakes fail to pay the bills, this newly single mom finds herself desperate for help.

Better yet, a miracle. Then a curious stranger lands at Chelsea’s door, and with him, an even more curious string of events. Soon, customers are flocking to the Higher Grounds Cafe, and not just for the cupcakes and cappuccino. They’ve come for the internet connection to the divine! Now the cafe has become the go-to place for people in search of answers to life’s biggest questions. When a catastrophe strikes and her ex comes calling, Chelsea begins to wonder if the whole universe is conspiring against her quest to make it on her own. After a shocking discovery opens her eyes to the unseen world around her, Chelsea finds the courage to ask God a question of her own. Heaven answers in a most unexpected way.

My thoughts on the book:

At first glance, the Miracle at the Higher Grounds Cafe by author Max Lucado looked like any ordinary book. With a teal-coloured front and back cover, as well as a picture of a hot, steaming cup of coffee, it’s the perfect epitome of an avid reader’s paradise. A good book and a hot cup of coffee, why not?

The first few chapters seemed like a great start… until I reached the chapter where I read that Chelsea Chambers has a guardian angel by the name of Samuel. At the risk of being crucified (ironic, isn’t it?), I knew that the author is also a minister and a man of God (it says so at the bottom of the back cover; a little piece about him) so it was natural that the book would lean that way. But I didn’t expect the plot to run the course of Christianity.

But wow, Chelsea has a guardian angel?! I think I’d like to have one myself too! One with a nice shining saber to stab bad people with, and maybe a strike or two of lightning. I have a few people in mind that I’d like to “punish”, literally.

Eventually as I delved deeper into the book, I came across many hints of Christianity. It made me wonder if I did the right thing — buying the book off Book Depository because of its beautiful book cover. Angel Gabriel and the Archangel Michael, the Bible, God, the divine intervention via a spiritual and glowing wireless connection, blinding white light, prayers… Not to mention, evil and villainous shadows lurking in the cover of darkness only to be chased away by hymns and songs. Don’t forget about the internet router connecting the God Blog! Seriously? It felt kind of far-fetched that the plot would take such a religious turn. The only thing that was as real as it could get was the coffee, cakes and cupcakes that Chelsea served at the cafe.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not averse to Christianity as a religion, nor am I religious phobic. It’s just that I’m not a big fan of Christian stories. Perhaps not to the extent of reading all 192 pages. That was a lot. It was… a little overwhelming.

********** Warning: Spoiler Alert! **********

The idea of angels descending from Heaven to help a single mother of two keep her cafe business afloat may be hard to digest, but the book was still fun to read. It does seem a little fluffy and fairy-tale-like but it was still an easy book to read, seeing as each chapter is at least three pages or less. At least there was a plot twist or two at the end. Or maybe a few. For one, I never thought that Chelsea Chambers would end up reconciling with her cheating husband. I thought she would ultimately divorce him and go with Bo (since her son, Hancock, was pretty good with him). Also, who would have thought that the person who nicked the heavenly router was young Marcus Johnson, not the dastardly dashing Dennis Darling who insisted on buying over her cafe? Yeah, it was good while it lasted.

Book Review: Balancing Act by Joanna Trollope.

balancing-act_goodreads

No. of pages: 432 pages
Publisher, Date: Black Swan, November 2014

SynopsisFour strong women. All working in a family business. But what happens when they begin to want different things? And what about the men – and the children – in their lives?

Susie Moran has always been the breadwinner in her family. Her husband was the one who was there for their three girls. But now he wants something of his past back – the life he had before Susie’s career took off, before they had children. And those children don’t see their mother’s business the way she has always seen it, thereby threatening the balance she has worked so hard to achieve.

And then, amidst the simmering tensions, someone significant from the past, someone almost forgotten, turns up. The problems of the past, the present, and the future all become challenges to the stability of both family and work. Which relationships – if any – will survive?

My thoughts on the book:

Balancing Act by Joanna Trollope is a classic tale of women in power, women at work, and women in control (almost!). International Women’s Day could have been celebrated with a book like this!

This book came right after my four months of hell at the hands of my current company. It came right at the end after handing in my resignation letter. During those four hellish months, I had neither the will nor interest to read, write, paint or do any of my favourite hobbies. So when I finally picked up the book to read, it felt really good. I went back to reading and it had been months since I’ve last read a book that I’ve totally forgotten what it felt like to read one.

Of course, one with a keen eye would notice that I went from one epic drama to another. For that was what Joanna Trollope’s novel was all about. Family drama. And it is this type of drama that you cannot escape from, unless you want to disown your parents and siblings.

The novel revolved around four women: Susie Moran and her three adult daughters — oldest, Cara, second, Ashley and youngest, Grace — who run and manage the family pottery business branded as Susie Sullivan. Headstrong Cara and her equally headstrong husband Daniel are involved in the sales part of the family business. Ashley seemed to be the guru in the marketing department while Grace had her head filled with designs for the pottery. However, only Daniel is the only in-law involved in the family business. Ashley’s husband has other plans while Grace has yet to find a man of her own. Susie’s husband Jasper never minded his wife’s major involvement in the business until it began to threaten his existence and the delicate balance he once shared with his wife. Of course, until Jasper decided to get back in touch with his musical roots. Susie thought she had everything under control until one day, life came and yanked the rug right from under her feet. Her estranged father had abandoned her as a baby, leaving her in the care of his parents, had turned up at the family pottery warehouse. The very threads holding the Moran family together began to come apart, leaving each family member exposed.

As I continued reading, I realised that it wasn’t all just about the family matters and the dramas that came with it. It was also about finding out who you really are and what you are capable of, as an individual, as a member of your family, and as a contributor in the family business. It was a tad complicated as well, with all the different characters and their vastly different backgrounds coming together.

Although, at some point in the book, I came across Jeff, the lowlife douchebag who says he is in love with Grace Moran but hardly showed any legit reason to back his claims up. I just wanted to pummel him in the head for being such an annoying asshole! But I won’t deny that there is a lot of truth in the book. When I turned the last page, I had learnt that views differed when it came to life itself, when it came to how one’s life is lived and led, and how different people can really be. I also learnt that we shouldn’t let people step all over us or dictate how we live our lives.