Posted in adult fiction, Book Reviews

#BookReview: The Azrael Initiative—K. Hanson @khansonbooks

 

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Title: The Azrael Initiative (Kayla Falk series #1)

Author: K. Hanson          

Publisher:  self published

Date Published: March 3, 2017

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From Goodreads:
Best friends Kayla Falk, an engineering student, and Olivia Bellamy, who is studying nursing, are nearing the end of their college career when terrorists attack their university. Through a combination of cleverness, bravery, and luck, the two manage to foil the deadly plot. A mysterious man from the United States government, Mr. Hightower, sees their potential and attempts to recruit Kayla and Olivia for a program to take on ISIS. They initially refuse, but another terrorist attack that strikes close to home pushes them to change their minds and join the Azrael Initiative.

After several months of hard training, the two women are dropped into Al-Raqqah, the capital of ISIS, in Syria. Once there, they must blend in with the locals as they strike from the shadows to kill ISIS leaders, destroy their facilities, and free captives. As Americans deep within enemy territory, they know that they will be killed if discovered. As women, they also know that they would suffer before death. Walking the line between vengeance and justice strains their relationship. As they work to resolve their differences, the symphony of brutality around them ultimately pushes them closer together and forges them into the warriors that they were meant to become.
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My thoughts:
As a thriller, The Azrael Initiative delivered, with non-stop adventure and plenty of action as two best friends join the fight against ISIS. The dynamic between Kayla and Olivia was fierce, turning tragedy into triumph. Kayla, an engineering student, and Olivia, a nursing student, stopped a terrorist attack on their university becoming famous in the process. The fame brought the attention of the government who tried to recruit them. The two refuse until tragedy strikes again. Combat and language training prepare them for a mission.

It was at this point that the plot started to unravel in my mind. If this book had been young adult, I might have understood a bit more, but the ease with which the girls blend into Syria seemed somewhat impossible. While there was violence and death, it was ridiculously easy for them to get in and out of situations. The writing was somewhat clunky and lacked a sense of reality. While I found, the girls plight interesting and the premise intriguing, the flaws were definitely distracting.

Note: I received a copy of the book in exchange for an honest review
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About the Author:
K Hanson is a new author and is currently working on launching his debut novel, The Azrael Initiative, which features two young women being thrown into the fight against ISIS. He is also working on Storm Raven, the first book in a new fantasy series.
K lives in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, where he works as a software developer. In his spare time, when he isn’t writing, he enjoys reading, working out, playing video games, and spending time with his wonderful girlfriend, Bobbi.
Some of his favorite authors are Tom Clancy, George R. R. Martin, and Sarah Maas.
Currently Reading: Siege and Storm by Leigh Bardugo
Contact K Hanson at KHansonAuthor@gmail.com

Posted in adult fiction, Book Reviews

#BookReview: The Summer the Melted Everything—Tiffany McDaniel #BeatTheBacklist

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Title: The Summer the Melted Everything      

Author: Tiffany McDaniel          

Publisher: St. Martin’s Press

Date Published: July 26, 2016

ISBN: 1250078067

Genre: fiction

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From Goodreads:

Fielding Bliss has never forgotten the summer of 1984: the year a heat wave scorched Breathed, Ohio. The year he became friends with the devil.

Sal seems to appear out of nowhere – a bruised and tattered thirteen-year-old boy claiming to be the devil himself answering an invitation. Fielding Bliss, the son of a local prosecutor, brings him home where he’s welcomed into the Bliss family, assuming he’s a runaway from a nearby farm town.

When word spreads that the devil has come to Breathed, not everyone is happy to welcome this self-proclaimed fallen angel. Murmurs follow him and tensions rise, along with the temperature as an unbearable heat wave rolls into town right along with him. As strange accidents start to occur, riled by the feverish heat, some in the town start to believe that Sal is exactly who he claims to be. While the Bliss family wrestle with their own personal demons, a fanatic drives the town to the brink of a catastrophe that will change this sleepy Ohio backwater forever.

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Praise:

“(…) a lyrical and powerful novel about good, evil, and the devil himself.  (…)  McDaniel’s writing is beautiful. Never before have I highlighted so many quotes in a novel. (…) I can say with certainty that it is one of my favorite literary novels that I’ve read. The setting is vivid, the characters step off of the page, and the writing is simply perfect. This book is as sticky as skin in the Ohio heat of 1984, and I’m still pulling pieces of this story off of me. It’s a novel I’m unlikely to forget.”—The Bandar Blog

“Tiffany McDaniel’s The Summer That Melted Everything is a wonderfully original, profoundly unsettling, deeply moving novel that delivers both the shock of a fully realized reality and the deep resonance of parable. This is a remarkable debut by a splendid young writer.”—Robert Butler, Pulitzer Prize winning author of A Good Scent from a Strange Mountain

“A fantastic Jackson-esque debut about rumors, fears, and beliefs.”—BOOKRIOT

“Literary gold, the sentences and writing was often strange but beautiful. The story itself is unusual and I felt a little of what the town experienced with Sal’s presence. Heartbreaking, horrible, loving, such a strange sad mixture of emotions evoked by a book with a strange title. The title makes sense at the end! I am going to recommend this novel like crazy.”—Bookstalker

“This book is literary fiction with a touch of magical realism and some horror elements thrown in for good measure and it is like nothing I have read before!  (…)  In less talented hands, this could have just been a mess of too much going on but the way that McDaniel weaves everything together creates a story that is truly unique and so powerful.”—A Bookish Affair

2016 Not-the-Booker-Prize

2016 Goodreads Choice Award Nominee for Fiction

2016 Goodreads Choice Award Nominee for Debut Author

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My thoughts:

“A snake that could harm you, you don’t have much choice to kill. You wouldn’t be able to leave a cobra in your sock drawer. But a snake that is no threat will greatly define the man who decides to kill it anyways.”

In the summer of 1984 in Breathed, Ohio, Autopsy Bliss puts an ad in the paper inviting the devil to town. When Sal arrives, claiming he is the devil no one believes him, but Sal’s arrival coincides with the arrival of overwhelming heat and as bad things start happening around town people begin to blame thirteen-year-old Sal. While Sal is young, he is, also, African American and prejudice in the 1980’s underlined much of life. Mob mentality hits the town after tragedy befalls an expectant mother and a college bound runner, Sal becomes the target of hate and even the Bliss family can’t keep the hate at bay.

 “Being the devil made him important. Made him visible. And isn’t that the biggest tragedy of all? When a boy has to be the devil in order to be significant?”

The heat is almost its own character, oppressive in its weight and stifling in the way it draws the life and hope out of the air, allowing intolerance in. Heroes become villains as the people who can’t survive the heat are destroyed by the summer. Through it all you see that everyone is striving towards the same goal of being loved and belonging. Some have to hide their longing to find love, some have to search for it, and some seek vengeance or penance for its loss.

“You can imagine anything you want in the dark. You can imagine your father loves you, you can imagine your mother is not disappointed, you can imagine that you are…significant. That you mean somethin’ to someone. That’s all I ever wanted, Fielding. To matter. That is all I’ve ever wanted.”

All of the characters are complex and beautifully written with flaws that ring true. Autopsy is a lawyer whose belief in the law has been tested in recent cases. He seeks out the devil to assuage his guilt over recent rulings. Fielding Bliss undergoes a coming of age story interwoven with the thoughts of his eighty-year-old self. The young Fielding is innocent and excited about life, but the elder Fielding is wretched and miserable; watching him undergo this change is remarkable. The book centers around Fielding’s family including Sal, his best friend and foster brother. Sal is tragedy exemplified. He is ignored as a boy, but destroyed as the devil. While Sal is Fielding’s best friend the friendship is strained when Stella, Fielding’s agoraphobic mother, welcomes and cares for him. Once Dresden, the neighbor girl, also, chooses Sal over Fielding, his emotional wellbeing spirals out of control. Combined with his newly tense relationship with Grand, his brother he had up on a pedestal before his secrets leaked out, and Fielding is on a collision course for his despondent future self. Add to this a town full of angry neighbors led by Elohim, the bitter leader of the rabble, who preaches that someone else is always to blame for the misfortunes stacked upon the people and common sense will dissert everyone, as hate begets hate.

 “I learned at that moment that the devil, the true one, is people…”

The writing was beautiful, evocative of a hot summer’s day, lyrical and poetic. The imagery is sure to transport you to the 1980’s straight to Ohio, where the dialogue is honest and the stories are true. Combining multiple storylines, this intricate and engaging novel tells a story that is bleak and painful. A truly thought provoking masterpiece, highly recommended.

“I shot all the bad, but damn it all, I shot all the good as well. That’s something you never quite come back from. That’s something that’s a fresh pain every day.”   

Note: I received a copy of this in exchange for an honest review

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About the Author:

An Ohio native, Tiffany McDaniel’s writing is inspired by the rolling hills and buckeye woods of the land she knows.  She is also a poet, playwright, screenwriter, and artist.  She is the winner of the Not-the-Booker Prize for her debut novel, The Summer that Melted Everything, which was a Goodreads Choice Award double nominee.

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Posted in Book Reviews, young adult

#BookReview: Shadows Gray—@MelyssaWilliams #BeatTheBacklist

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Title: Shadows Gray 

Author: Melyssa Williams

Publisher: author

Date Published: March 24, 2012

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From Goodreads:

Sonnet Gray has problems, and not just those of a typical 18 year old. Her family is one of the Lost; time travelers who have no power over their journeys. Hopelessly old fashioned and yet more modern than most girls, Sonnet speaks several languages and takes care of her motley crew back home by working in a coffee shop and playing guitar. Over time, the Lost leave behind those they love and pick up new characters along the way. In twenty-first century America, Sonnet meets Emme, a Lost young woman with a questionable line of work, Luke, a mysterious photographer, and Israel, a young doctor . But no one can take the place of Sonnet’s sister, Rose, who was left behind as a baby in the fifteenth century. The ghost of her beckons from each time and place; but what’s real and what isn’t? Is Rose Gray trying to contact her before it’s too late?

A ghost story with a sci-fi, Gothic romance twist, Shadows Gray will keep you up at night, wondering: is the redemptive power of love enough to change history?

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My thoughts:

Shadows Gray is the first book in the Shadows trilogy. Shadows Falling and Shadows Lost have both been published and are also available. This time travelling trilogy has a unique premise with some intriguing plot twists. I read the first book and I am planning on picking up the next two books to read.

Sonnet Gray lives in contemporary America, but is incredibly old-fashioned. She and her family are part of the Lost, time travelers who cannot control their time travelling journeys. Sonnet lost a sister, Rose, on one such journey and has deeply regretted it ever since. Now she is being haunted by her sister, while trying to deal with all of the other Lost that she keeps encountering. Lost people are naturally drawn to one another because who else can understand what life is like when you are thrown through time with no choice on where you are going. This means that Sonnet is always surrounded by a diverse bunch of characters who often speak different languages. Williams does an excellent job of creating characters that play off of each other well. The backstories are full and complex, making each of the characters an integral part of the storyline.

The pace of the story really took off by the last third of the book to the point where it almost felt like all of the action had been crammed into the end. I did have some questions about the time travelling in the book, it was pretty different than time travelling I have read in other books and it relied on them sleeping at the same time to travel together. This seemed somewhat far-fetched because how likely is it that kids will sleep the same amount of time as adults and what if there are any light sleepers? I could go on here, but suffice it to say that my inner nerd would have liked to know some more details about how the time travel worked. There is an element of YA romance with the inevitable love triangle, I hate love triangles, but that is a personal thing. By the end, the suspense is wonderful and worth the ride.

 

Note: I received a copy of the ebook from Red Team Ink in exchange for an honest review

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About the Author:

Melyssa Williams is a mom, sister, daughter, wife, friend, ballet teacher, ex-contemporary dancer, writer, and blogger, who resides in Southern Oregon. She was home schooled back in the day when it was slightly odd and eccentric, which came in handy when she decided to be a writer. She drinks coffee too often and reads fiction at inopportune times. She has parented inner city teens and wants to sky dive, but that’s the extent of her excitement. Other than that, she finds baking bread and sipping wine to be the most thrilling parts of life. Indeed.

Posted in adult fiction, Book Reviews

#ReadDiverse2017 Ponytail: The Love for Revenge—@prajwalit2015 #DiversityBingo2017 #diversereads2017

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Title: Ponytail: The Love for Revenge

Author: Pradip Chauhan          

Publisher: CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform

Date Published: March 14, 2016

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From Goodreads:

Story of a businessman who falls in love of a girl to achieve his goal but after that loses his life goal..

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My thoughts:

Prabuddh is a rich and successful businessman in India with a rags to riches backstory. He is charismatic and quite good looking with long hair that he typically wears in a ponytail. Prabuddh is quite popular with the ladies; three specific ladies. Tapasya, who works for him, Kaumudi, his business partner, and Amita, a flight attendant. He, in somewhat typical fashion, is pretty seriously interested in all of them and they act like jealous cats before almost becoming friendly, which was a bit strange. Much of the beginning of the novel revolves around Prabuddh trying to decide who to marry and his business dealings. There is, also, a pretty big focus on his hair and while that is explained later in the novel, while I was reading it I kept thinking please end the hair nonsense.

 

The characters were well developed and had fascinating personalities. Prabuddh was becoming a more and more dark. Tapasya seemed a bit vapid, sorry sweetie. Kaumudi was strong and almost ruthless. Amita felt like she could be an old-school hippie she was so down to earth and just go with the flow.

 

I definitely felt like I was reading a novel form of a Bollywood movie, which I have to admit was a first for me. I have watched Bollywood films before, but have never read a book like this. Also, most of the Bollywood films I have watched have been of the romantic comedy genre and while this has romance, it is definitely more of a thriller. Once the first twist of the novel occurs, I was ready for a pretty tight thriller. Chauhan is clearly a talented writer and that shows throughout the story, however the revenge aspect of the story really left me less than thrilled. It wasn’t quite as suspenseful as I was hoping, although the ending was shocking, it, also, didn’t really fit into the aspect of revenge. When I read thrillers based on revenge I want lots of twists and turns, multiple suspects and to be kept guessing throughout the story, but the resolution of the first death came way before the ending and didn’t have the emotional impact I was looking for. The book had a lot of potential, the premise was really intriguing, but it didn’t take the premise to the heights it could have gone. Overall, the book was a fun, interesting read and introduced to an aspect of Indian literature that I have never read before.

 

 

 

Note: I received a copy of the book in exchange for an honest review

Posted in adult fiction, Book Reviews

#BookReview: A Brother’s Will — @justinwright29 #BeattheBacklist

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Title: A Brother’s Will

Author: Justin Wright          

Publisher: author

Date Published: March 27, 2014

 

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From Goodreads:

Trust kills just as well as swords…

It’s been three months since the Lord of Cipher departed to the rival lands of Unamia. No word has been sent and his three sons- Andor, Ori and Eryk- have become concerned. Their fears are confirmed when a young girl named Anna arrives riding their father’s war horse. She claims to have found it grazing on her farm, miles away from Unamia.

As acting Lord, Andor decides that Ori- one of the most gifted swordsmen in Kallodhan- must go to Unamia in search of clues. To make haste, Ori’s path runs through the Blackwood, a forest so dark that once within, it is nearly impossible to see. But before he can conquer his childhood fear of the Blackwood Forest, he and his company encounter bizarre circumstances in a nearby town.

After a close brush with death, Eryk grows increasingly paranoid and harbors a secret that makes him wonder if he’s lost his mind. He has become suspicious of his brothers and if the situation in Cipher doesn’t change soon, he may have to take matters into his own hands.

But if the three brothers are to survive the coming storm, they’ll have to put their differences aside and work together. Only then will they be able to repel the growing threat that seeks to engulf all of Kallodhan.

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My thoughts:

A Brother’s Will makes for a fun, fast read. The three brothers of the House Layne, Andor, Ori and Eryk, are left behind to care for their land while their father is gone to bring back Eryk’s bride. Andor and Ori have always been close, but Eryk, the youngest feels rejected and often feels as if he can never measure up to his brothers. His upcoming marriage will unite two houses and bring two shifter families together. Things look dire when, an unknown peasant named Anna arrives on their father’s horse, claiming to have found the horse wandering. From there each brother’s journey through the story takes them to entirely different conclusions. Wright creates a medieval world with ruling families divided by their shifting abilities and peasants.

 

The ending of the story left lots of room for book two. This book is clearly the start of a series, but it felt more like a prequel than book one of the series. I wished it had a little more (any) resolution to some of the problems that it introduced. I felt like there was a lot left hanging, and not really in a cliff hanger type way, but more in the I don’t have an answer to a single one of these problems type way.  As a reader, it was frustrating because while I realize that many issues carry over from book to book in a series, I do expect some things to be resolved in each book. Overall, the idea and writing behind the story was done well.

 

Note: I received a copy of the book in exchange for an honest review

Posted in Book Reviews, middle grade

#BookReview: Shackles from the Deep—@mhcottman @NGKidsBks #ReadDiverse2017 #DiversityBingo2017 #diversereads2017

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Title: Shackles from the Deep: Tracing the Path of a Sunken Slave Ship, a Bitter Past, and a Rich Legacy      

Author: Michael H. Cottman

Publisher: National Geographic Society

Date Published: January 3, 2017

ISBN: 978-142-632663-9

Genre: Nonfiction, ages 10 and up

Where to buy:

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From Goodreads:

A pile of lime-encrusted shackles discovered on the seafloor in the remains of a ship called the Henrietta Marie, lands Michael Cottman, a Washington, D.C.-based journalist and avid scuba diver, in the middle of an amazing journey that stretches across three continents, from foundries and tombs in England, to slave ports on the shores of West Africa, to present-day Caribbean plantations. This is more than just the story of one ship it’s the untold story of millions of people taken as captives to the New World. Told from the author’s perspective, this book introduces young readers to the wonders of diving, detective work, and discovery, while shedding light on the history of slavery.”

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Praise:

Booklist (STARRED REVIEW)

“The idea of identity is at the center of this fascinating narrative nonfiction book”

 

“This truly multidisciplinary volume….engagingly explores a wide scope of topics, including the history of slavery, marine archaeology, and contemporary racial discrimination, culminating in a dive down to the wreck itself. Every bit of this concise, detailed book feels personal, and Cottman’s exploration and investigation of the wreck is rich with intrigue and poignant, thought-provoking questions.”

Kirkus

“Cottman weaves his personal story of discovery with history of the slave trade, helping readers understand why a sunken slave ship from the 1700s still matters. His emotional attachment to the artifacts, including child-sized shackles, deepens the storytelling in this highly readable narrative.”

Publishers Weekly

“Accessible and very personal account”

 

“….(a) chilling exploration of the slave trade”

BCCB

“Cottman’s personal journey, fraught with reminders of the trials and injustice his own enslaved ancestors must have endured, is compelling”

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My thoughts:

“Not all treasure is about glitter,” but about connection, heritage and legacy. A pile of shackles found on the bottom of the ocean led divers to find the Henrietta Marie, a sunken slave vessel from 300 years earlier. The pile of shackles found on the bottom of the ocean spoke of oppression, cruelty, and history. This history drove Michael H. Cottman, an experienced diver and Pulitzer Prize winning African American author, to immerse himself in the legacy of a shipwrecked ship. Spanning three continents, Cottman traced the route of the Henrietta Marie to its final resting place in the Gulf of Mexico, weaving in his own history with emotional stories of the slave trade. Along with archaeologist David Moore, Cottman visited England delving into the business side of the slave trade following the path of the iron shackles. In Jamaica, Cottman came to realize that it didn’t matter whether he was related to anyone on the Henrietta Marie or not because “they were my family.” In Senegal, Cottman visited Goree Island reflecting on the “collective survival of African people” despite the “centuries of European plundering, kidnapping, and ransacking of villages.”

 

A deeply embedded sense of anger ran throughout the emotional narrative; anger for the slaves taken to a “terrifying new world where they were treated with cruelty and hatred” and anger for the racial injustice that allowed African people to be seen as less than human and thus enslaved. The engaging narrative is more than just history; it is a look at the resiliency of people, an understanding of “our collective history”. It was this idea of “collective history” that rang out at the end of the narrative where Cottman spoke about diverse friendships and the memorial placed at the site where the slave ship had sunk. The “weighty history” is touching for all people and should not be forgotten regardless of race. As Cottman dove to the memorial site he reliazed that this was a place where he felt connected to his “past and ancestors” but it was also a place where “lasting friendship can be forged-regardless of racial backgrounds.”

 

 

Note: I received a copy of the book from Media Masters Publicity in exchange for an honest review

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About the Author:

Michael H. Cottman, Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist and author, is a former political reporter for the Washington Post. Cottman has appeared on National Public Radio’s (NPR) “Tell Me More” with Michel Martin and also the Oprah Winfrey Show in 2000 to discuss his (adult) book The Wreck of the Henrietta Marie. Cottman also serves as a special consultant to the National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) for a national multimedia project, “Voyage to Discovery,” an education initiative that focuses on the African-American contribution to the maritime industry spanning 300 years and efforts to teach students of color about careers in marine biology and oceanography.

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About the Publisher:

National Geographic Kids teaches kids about the world and how it works, empowering them to succeed and make it a better place.  National Geographic Kids inspires young adventurers through award-winning magazines, books, apps, games, toys, videos, events and a website, and is the only kids brand with a world-class scientific organization at its core.  You can follow National Geographic Kids on Twitter and Facebook.

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Posted in adult nonfiction, Book Reviews

#BookReview: The Knot of King Gordius — Peter Bundy and Per Anderson

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Title: The Knot of King Gordius

Author: Peter Bundy and Per Andeson

Publisher: Createspace Independent Publishing

Date Published: June 22, 2016

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From Goodreads:

As the war in Europe escalates in 1939, seventeen-year-old Peg Kuhr, along with her sister, travel from Denmark to the United States to live with family until the war is over.

Shortly after arriving, Peg discovers she is pregnant. Peg’s aunt is supportive, but they know Peg’s biological father would be furious and keep the pregnancy a secret.

Peg gives birth to a boy named Richard and harbors the hope that she will one day reunite with the child’s father. But as the war intensifies in 1942, Peg’s boyfriend in Denmark suggests that they move on with their lives.

Devastated, Peg eventually finds love again, but her new fiance is not ready for children. With Richard still a secret, Peg is faced with a irreconcilable dilemma-and makes the heart-wrenching decision to put her two-and-a-half-year-old son up for adoption.

Richard, renamed Peter, grows up with wonderful parents, but an overheard conversation as a boy plants a seed that leaves him uncertain about his true identity. In the vein of “The Lost Child of Philomena Lee” by Martin Sixsmith, “The Knot of King Gordius “is a compelling true tale of love, sacrifice, and family.”

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My thoughts:

The Knot of King Gordius tells the story of Peter Bundy’s search for his roots. Pregnant and unmarried in 1940, Peg Kuhr realized that she had few choices. The world was often unkind to women in her situation. Adoption seemed like the best hope for her son, but it left her bereft. With a closed adoption, Richard, renamed Peter, had little hope of finding information about his birth family, but a determined effort that covered two continents finally led him to the answers he sought.

The book described Peter Bundy’s lengthy and detailed search for his birth family. I am not quite sure what category this book falls into beyond nonfiction. It doesn’t quite have the feel of a memoir as most of the story was a factual retelling of his family history. Without any emotional impact the facts came across somewhat dispassionately, which seemed discordant with the story behind the details. Granted the first two thirds of the story occurred outside of the author’s memory, but I would have liked to see his impression of it. The last third of the book was much more interesting as more of Peter’s emotional investment showed through which made his story more poignant and compelling. Peter was a good writer and his story was both complex and absorbing.

I felt for Peter throughout the story. Adoption is not easy for anyone; the birth family, especially the birth mother, goes through a trauma that never ends and the adopted child feels a loss that will never go away. I am glad that Peter was able to find a happy ending for himself.

Note: I received a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review