Book Review: The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho

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The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho

Paulo Coelho’s novel, The Alchemist, is a story with the ability to reach across generations and touch the hearts of all who ponder its lessons. We are transported hundreds of years ago and join Santiago, a shepherd boy, as he takes his journey from the pastures of Spain to the pyramids of Egypt in search of his “Personal Legend.” The story begins as we learn of the boy’s desire to travel to Andalusia to sell a merchant some wool, although impressing the merchant’s beautiful daughter is his ultimate goal. On his way, he meets a gypsy and asks her to interpret his recurring dream about treasure buried near the Egyptian pyramids. This is what gets the boy started on his journey to Egypt and fulfilling his “Personal Legend.” Along the way, we are introduced to many significant characters: a wise King named Melchizedek, a generous crystal merchant, an Englishman on a quest of his own, a helpful camel driver, a beautiful girl of the desert, and most importantly, the alchemist. Each plays a crucial role in Santiago’s life, as they teach him about himself and the mysteries of the world.

When you want something, all the universe conspires in helping you to achieve it.

Throughout his journey, the shepherd boy learns how to listen to his heart and realizes that his life has come full circle. There are numerous unforgettable quotes and lessons throughout the book, and each character has something wonderful and relevant to teach. The Alchemist invites the reader to look into their heart as they follow Santiago’s journey to listen to his.

I greatly enjoyed this inspiring book! It is no surprise it’s considered one of the ten best books of the twentieth century. The simple prose helps the reader understand complex issues in an engaging, uplifting way. This is a keeper that begs to be read more than once. In the Foreword, Coelho puts it beautifully when he states, “The story of one person is the story of everyone, and one man’s quest is the quest of all humanity, which is why I believe The Alchemist continues all these years later to resonate with people from different cultures all around the world, touching them emotionally and spiritually, equally, without prejudice.” Santiago’s journey, although on the surface very different than ours, is about following your dreams and listening to your heart, and that is something we can all connect with.

by Kathy Pyles, Inter-Library Loan Supervisor

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Book Review: The Lost Vintage by Ann Mah

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The Lost Vintage by Ann Mah (ebook and physical book)

I enjoy reading about France–but France as the setting for a contemporary mystery? This immediately piqued my interest. I will admit I had a hard time putting this book down. The storyline had me completely hooked! Ann Mah describes the French countryside in such a way that you are able to experience the natural beauty of the vineyards. Kate, the main character, is from San Francisco and is a sommelier. Her life is consumed with prepping for the prestigious Master of Wine test. On the verge of failing, she has one last chance to pass the test, and Kate decides to spend some time working at her family’s ancestral vineyard in France, where she is reunited with Jean-Luc, her long lost first love.

Mah could have easily written a very compelling and enjoyable romance, but The Lost Vintage evolves into so much more. While cleaning out the cellar, Kate discovers a secret room hidden behind an armoire, which contains a trunk that holds a journal belonging to her Great Aunt. While exploring the secret room, Kate also finds a collection of rare wine with six of the bottles missing and sets out to discover why they are gone.

The Lost Vintage plays out in two different storylines–one set in the present-day featuring Kate and another set in World War II during the German occupation. Typically, storylines that bounce back and forth from the past to the present tend to lose me as a reader. Mah avoids any confusion by using a journal to allow the story to tell stories of the family’s past. The Lost Vintage easily moves from the past to the present seamlessly and the storyline makes perfect sense.

I found the World War II plot most intriguing. The story of Kate’s ancestors living through the occupation was so vivid. Mah describes the horrible atrocities that her family suffered during the war with an unvarnished reality. The characters’ suffering and strength to survive made the characters more real to me. However, some readers may feel that the descriptions of the horrors suffered by the French, especially by women, are too graphic.

Mah intertwines a romantic storyline with a tragic, historical plot that kept me interested in these characters. I feel as though she found the perfect balance. This is a story of family secrets, lost loves, and reconnecting with your family’s history. I read this book in two nights. If you love history, mystery, love stories, and wine, you will enjoy this book.

By Angela Wilson

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Book Review: Before We Were Yours by Lisa Wingate

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Before We Were Yours by Lisa Wingate

It’s 1939, and twelve-year-old Rill Foss loves her life on the river. She and her family live on a shanty boat on the Mississippi River until late one night when her father has to rush her mother to the opposite shore during difficult childbirth. Rill is left alone to watch over her siblings, but their lives take a turn for the worse when the authorities board their boat and confiscate the children. They are taken to an orphanage in Memphis. Thus begins their journey not only to stay together but to survive.

Jump to present day, and thirty-year-old Avery Stafford loves her life as a successful lawyer and daughter of a U.S. Senator. While attending an event with her father at a nursing home, she has an encounter with one of the residents (May Crandall) who “accidentally” removes Avery’s bracelet which is a family heirloom. The next day, when Avery returns to retrieve the bracelet, she sees a photograph in May’s room that looks very similar to her grandmother. Thus begins her journey to uncover the family history of her grandmother, Judy Stafford.

This historical fiction story will tug on your heartstrings as you discover how horrible the conditions were for orphans at the Tennessee Children’s Home Society in the 1930s and 1940s.

I’m glad the author used a dual timeline, alternating chapters with Rill’s character and Avery’s character; otherwise, it would have been hard to continue reading this true-life story based on this particular orphanage. Rill never gives up hope that her family will be reunited and will live on the river once again.

Lisa Wingate is one of my favorite authors, and I expected she would weave these two characters’ lives together in a wonderful way. She also added plenty of suspense and a dab of romance. If you enjoy Orphan Train by Christina Kline, you’ll probably enjoy this book also.

by Nancy Rose

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Book Review: Love from A to Z by S.K. Ali

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Love from A to Z by S.K. Ali

Zayneb Malik, the only Muslim in her class is angry. And for good reason, Zayneb’s teacher won’t stop reminding her how “bad” Muslims are. After confronting her teacher, eighteen-year-old proudly Muslim teen, Zayneb faces suspension. Her parents send her off to Doha to rest and hopefully push away what remains of her anger and frustration. On her flight to Doha, Zayneb meets Adam. Adam notices her bright blue hijab as well as her love for the marvels and oddities of the world like him. Both hiding away their secrets in a journal of Marvels and Oddities where they piece together the world through pages of their unfiltered feelings. As they lock away their real thoughts in their journals, Zayneb trying to take grasp of her anger and passion. While Adam struggles to hide the truth of his diagnosis, multiple sclerosis – the same disease that took his mother’s life and is grappling with the reluctance to tell his grieving father and sister.

Like fate their paths cross time and time again. Adam is the calm to Zayneb’s storm and as soon as they meet another marvel and oddity begins to occur. Zayneb is drawn to Adam and as they grow closer, she begins to see the pain he struggles to hide and helps him to uncover the truth. Adam sees passion in Zayneb unlike any other person as she storms through and fights other’s racism, Islamophobia, and cultural appropriation.

Love from A to Z is a young-adult contemporary romance that is powerfully moving and provides you with insight into the harsh reality of a Muslim teen. For fans of Sandhya Menon’s When Dimple Met Rishi and Nadine Jolie Courtney’s All-American Muslim Girl. This book is unapologetically Muslim as S.K. Ali offers a voice for those who need one.

 

by Sydney Brown

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