Sunday, January 11, 2015

2015 Reads and Reviews

The start to a new year.  I'm excited about all the reading I might get to do this year.  I saw an interesting reading challenge on Pinterest here that I thought I'd try.  Last year I was disappointed at the actual number of books I finished, down from the years before.  I think it might have had something to do with the spring and fall reading challenges that are no more that Callapider  Days used to put on coupled with the fact that there were a few books that I made an effort at but set aside about 50 pages in.  I also really want to focus on getting a lot of the 70 some odd books that I have stuffed into my closet and in a box under the bed.  So hopefully a lot of those will fit into the list of the first challenge.  So happy reading year!

1.  "Girl Runner" by Carrie Snyder

Completed:  January 2, 2015

Rating:  7.5/10

Review: Fiction story inspired by the 1928 Summer Olympics in which women were first allowed to compete.  Wasn't quite what I thought it would be.

Reading Challenge Goal Met:   Book by an author you've never read;  A book by a female author

2.  "The Book of Negroes" by Lawrence Hill

Completed:  January 14, 2015

Rating:  9/10

Review:  Inspired by the actual Book of Negroes penned in Manhattan in which names were listed of former and current slaves who had helped the British during the Revolutionary war and who were qualified to board ship to travel to a new life in Nova Scotia, Canada.

Aminata Diallo was only 12 years old when she was abducted by slave traders from her home in West Africa. Forced to walk for 3 months in chains until they reached the sea, she is then shipped to America where she is sold in South Carolina to an indigo plantation. Having the skills of a midwife passed onto to her from her mother she uses those skills to survive and help other slaves by "catching" their babies. Knowing she must learn all she can to survive she secretly is taught to read by the black women who takes her under her wing at the plantation and when she is sold to a Jewish indigo inspector, she is more than willing to learn to work with numbers and ledgers when he wants her to. Befriended by his wife, Aminata continues to expand her knowledge of the white man's world and ways and when opportunity arises for her to make her escape she ends up in Manhattan living in a colony of other ex-slaves. Her reading and writing skills come to the attention of the British military who then "hire" her with the promise of her own name being added to write the "Book of Negroes" a historic British military ledger that allowed Black loyalists passage on ships to Nova Scotia where there were promised land and freedom. With the desire in her heart to someday return to her beloved African village of Bayo, Aminata agrees, seeing it as one step towards that dream. But her losses keep adding up. When the opportunity finally arrives to return, and with no more family ties in North America, she takes her chance and arrives in Freetown, Sierra Leone, a British colony created for returning slaves. Will her losses and disappointments finally end now that she is back in her homeland? Now all of a sudden unsure, Aminata risks her life to travel back to her village not knowing if she will even see it still standing or if anyone will remember her.

 It was hard to put this book down once I started. Epic in it's scope the story starts with an aged Aminata in Britain then travels back to about 40 years earlier to Africa to America to Canada, back to Africa and finally settles itself in Britain. I was amazed that the author, a male, had written such a strong female character, and that, in a first person point of view. I really liked all his research into the historical aspects of the British military and abolitionists role in the actual Book of Negroes and returning slaves to Africa. The Book of Negroes is the largest single document about black people in North America until the end of the 18th century according to the author's research. 3000 names of men, women and children were recorded, those who had served the British in some capacity during the revolutionary war and then promised a new life, so to speak, in Nova Scotia. It was interesting to read his chapter at the end entitled "A word on history" and should not be skipped as it gels the story together.

 The hardships Aminata endured from her capture right until her move to Britain were horrendous and yet her drive for survival and keeping her character never left. There were times in the story, though, when I thought her strength and backbone would have landed her in way more trouble than the story unfolded and she seemed to walk away from a lot of horrible consequences other slaves might not have and lived a proportionately better life than was the status quo of her peers. But totally free of horrors she was not. Physical, mental and emotional abuse followed her throughout her life. It was heart-rending to read of all her losses throughout her life, yet refreshing to also read of her overcoming them and never losing her character or the will to survive within her. Mentioned in the beginning was the fact that her father was a Muslim and taught her to pray but it is not delved into much further within the story. A reunion of a loved one in the end seemed to happen a little too conveniently for it to be quite believable and was unnecessary to the story but didn't detract from the power of the story. It was a brave life that she had the courage to step beyond her pain, losses and disappointments, beyond letting hatred consume her and allow herself to work with the white British abolitionists for the removal of slavery even after being disillusioned with them also. If nothing else the Book of Negroes and the story of Aminata should speak to us of hanging onto our hope and courage in the hardest of times

Worthy to mention is the fact that there is some sexual content.  Too descriptive for my liking it had me skipping a few paragraphs but it is  fairly moderate in today's adult book standards but deserves the mention that there is some in the context of the story.

Alternate title and cover used in U.S.

Reading Challenge Goal Met:   Book with more than 500 pages (slight cheat coming in at 474);  Book that made me cry;  Book by an author you've never read;  A book you own but have never read;  A Book based on or turned into a tv show.

3.  "Hansi - The Girl Who Loved the Swastika" by Maria Anne Hirschmann

Completed:  January 25, 2015

Rating:  8/10

Review: This is the true story of Maria Anne who as a young Chechoslovakian teenager in 1940 won a scholarship to a Nazi school in Prague. Maria Anne's mother died when she was very young and her father gave her away to another family to raise but would never give them permission to adopt her yet had nothing to do with her. This made her foster father never quite accept her as one of his own, though her foster mother loved her deeply and treated her with love and taught her how to pray and love God. However, Maria Anne always felt the deep rejection of her foster father and her real father and therefore when the chance to get away from the home life and poverty she knew through the scholarship she jumped at the chance. She was thrilled that she could have an education for free and was honored to have passed the tests and been chosen out of all the participants. At fourteen, as her train pulled away, her tearful foster mother's words "Don't ever forget Jesus" went with her. But once at the school Maria Anne went on a years long journey of learning atheism and blind devotion to Hitler and the Nazi system. Through years of war and hardship she vehemently stuck up for what she thought was a better Germany coming. When she finally came to have her eyes opened to what Hitler and his regime had actually done and the cowardice of Hitler's suicide, totally disillusioned, she made a frightening escape across the Communist border into West Germany and into a renewal with her relationship with Jesus. After being treated kindly by the American soldiers after her escape, Maria Anne always had a desire to move to America . Eventually the opportunity presented itself and she and her family moved to NewYork. But things were not as they had imagined it to be at first and they were overwhelmed with their own poverty trying to establish themselves and with their observance of careless affluence of others in America. But as they worked to find their footing in this new land with all it's new customs and ways the one thing they took to heart was the freedom they had to make of themselves what they dreamed and the freedom to talk about and teach their deepest Christian convictions. 

 This was an old book from the '70's that I picked up some years ago. I thought it sounded like an interesting story and I wondered at the author's perception of being right inside the Nazi youth. Her life makes quite the story in everything she saw and experienced as she was immersed and deceived into the culture of the Nazi's reign. What really spoke to me in the story was how this family has taken their freedom here in America and truly appreciate it and revel in it. The wonder that they have in being able to share their faith is fresh and inspirational. Coming from freedom my whole life sometimes I feel I slip into an almost apathetic place in truly realizing what I have. But this book really made me more aware of that. It was also very interesting reading someone's story who had been right smack in the middle of Europe during World War II getting caught up in Hitler's Germany. It was a great testament to God's forgiving power and ability to totally change a life. 

Reading Challenge Goal Met:  A Book by a female author;  non-fiction;  a book set in another country;  a book based on a true story;  a memoir; a book at the bottom of your to read list  

4.  "Miracle on Voodoo Mountain" by Megan Boudreaux

Completed:  January 30, 2015

Rating:  10/10

Review:  To say this memoir is inspirational is an understatement. To say that it was totally convicting to my own life and that it was perfect timing is not an exaggeration. I don't believe it was a co-incidence that this true story came across my radar. From the first paragraphs Megan's story grabbed my heart and didn't let up. The book is a very easy read and almost reads like a novel. From her dreams of a lone tamarind tree on a mountain in Haiti, to packing up her whole American life and moving to Haiti with no plan just a deep conviction that that is what God wanted her to do, to finding out the mountain that was in her dreams was actually a place of voodoo worship and sacrifice, to God opening her eyes to the horrendous situation of child slavery that so many children of Haiti live under, to confronting voodoo priests and sham orphanages, it was all a new experience for 24 year old Megan Boudreaux. And she takes you along on that crazy adventure of faith and obedience with her book. That she went with no real plans and not knowing anyone there or the language boggles my mind. Everyone thought she was crazy, but she knew she had to be obedient to the call of God. What she has accomplished with the Lord guiding her in three short years is truly a miracle. Starting with a Saturday feeding program because she noticed so many of the children were literally starving she wondered why so many children were dressed in rags and hauling water instead of being in school. As she came to realize the ugly truth of Haiti's child slave culture she set out to bring change by helping to get some of these children to a school they could attend for free. It evolved into a two room school which they quickly outgrew. Establishing the non-profit organization Respire Haiti with literally no knowledge of how to do it or how to run it, Megan now has bought land on the mountain which in the past has been the biggest area where voodoo priests have performed their rituals and has built a school which currently has 500 students, a medical center, and a feeding program and a community center, library and church are in the works. Yet, when Megan has someone say to her "I could never do what you do", her response is "Don't we serve the same God? And doesn't He give us all the courage, strength, and boldness we need to do His work?" For anyone, young and old alike, highly educated or not, this book serves as a great encouragement to exactly that, taking the step to be obedient to what God has showed each individual and then watching Him work the miracle. Respire (which means to breathe in and out; to breathe easily again, as after a period of exertion or trouble) Haiti's mission statement is "to encourage, educate, and empower restaveks (child slaves), orpahns and vulnerable children."

Reading Challenge Goal Met:  a memoir, a book published this year, a book written by someone under 30, a book by a female author, a book set in a different country, a non-fiction, a book based on a true story,

5.  "The Hundred Foot Journey" by Richard C. Morais

Completed:  February 7, 2015

Rating:  7/10

Review:  Young Hassan Haji grew up learning about the love of food and cooking from his mother.  Surrounded by spicy Indian foods cooked in their restaurant and the food markets of Mumbai his mother passed on her love of trying new foods and gourmet outing on to her son.  But when tragedy strikes the family, their father takes the family on a journey out of India, all across Europe and finally settles in England.  But when again circumstances dictate a move the family ends up in a small picturesque village in France called Lumiere.  When purchasing the mansion across the street from a very high class inn and restaurant, the family opens up their own Indian quisine restaurant, Madame Mallory, the Michelin award winning chef of that restaurant must face her own issues of fear, mistrust and entitlement.  As they wage culinary wars against each other, young Hassan is still drawn to the French way of cooking and Madame Mallory realizes that he is a truly gifted chef.  When yet another tragedy strikes, Madame Mallory at last gives in to what she knows she must do, and that is to train Hassan in the art of French cuisine knowing he will make his mark in the world with his gift.  Hassan leaves his family and crosses the hundred feet across the road to become a student of Miss Mallory leaving his Indian way of life and cooking behind.

First off, I must qualify that I saw and fell in love with this movie before I read the book.  The movie, to me was wonderful, with incredible scenery and food photography.  It gave you a real sense of the love and beauty of "real" food and the wonder of preparing it, both French and Indian.  I loved the love story line, the friendship story line, the story of overcoming prejudice and fear.  I loved how Hassan, his father and Madame Mallory changed and grew in the movie.

Now the book.  In a very rare case for me, I did not like the book as much as the movie.  This is the second time this has happened to me in a story that featured cooking and food, the first being Julie and Julia reviewed here #27.  While I guess this story was an ok read, it covered a much longer time period in Hassan's life than did the movie, which is only natural.  But the thing that I found so different, and it took me a long time of thinking about it and pin-pointing it, was that the book was missing the sweetness and the charm that the movie had.  The movie story veered off the book in a lot of places and I found that I liked the changes and liberties that Steven Knight, the movie screenplay writer, had taken.  While the movie brought out the beauty of food, I found the book actually grossed me out in a lot places.  The father was written as a man of less than charming characteristics who didn't seem to change a whole lot like he did in the movie.  There was descriptions of some things about him that really were useless to the story, in my opinion, but left a yuck image to me, the reader.  Madame Mallory was a much more unlikeable character than even the movie portrayed and I found I mistrusted her true motives at the end even though she did take young Hassan under her wing.  The book got into some of France's ins and outs of owning restaurants that may or may not have interested me so much.  And I didn't like the character of Hassan in the book as much as I liked him in the movie, he didn't have that air of innocence that the movie gave him.  So in this case, I hate to say but I know I will rewatch the movie over and over but I will take a pass at reading the book again, though I guess it was good to read it to find out the original way the author intended the story to be.

Reading Challenge Goal Met:  A book set somewhere you've always wanted to visit, a book by an author you've never read before, a book that became a movie, a book with a number in the title, a book set in a different country,

6.  "You Are Here - Around the World in 92 Minutes" by Chris Hadfield

Completed: February 8, 2015

Rating:  10/10

Review:  Chris Hadfield is a Canadian astronaut and icon. During his last space mission on the International Space Station from December 2012 to May 2013, he inspired generations of children and adults as he tweeted from space, sang and played guitar in space and had  classroom conferences with school children in live time from space.  He lit a fire for science and exploration that I'm sure we'll still see the results of as this generation of children grow and turn into adults and choose their careers.  As he orbited the earth every 92 minutes and as the earth also was rotating he took about 45,000 photographs.  These are his favourites.  Grouped into countries, it's a visual wonder looking at his photographs and reading his short descriptions.  It's a view of our planet and landmarks from a whole other perspective.  Not wanting the photos to just look like a satellite image, he took them with an human element and point of view in mind.  They are amazing.  How different parts of a map look like a whole other 3D thing as it's seen whizzing by, the differences in continents and actual recognition of divisions of countries, the beauty of cities and the incredible actions of nature are described by Hadfield in sometimes a very witty way.  Totally enjoyed this book.  A treat visually and descriptively.

Reading Challenge Goal Met:  A book you can finish in a day, a non-fiction

7. " Laura Ingalls Wilder Country - the people and places behind Laura Ingalls Wilder's Life and books" by William Anderson

Completed:  February 10, 2015

Rating:  10/10

Review:  I picked this book up for Stray Thoughts Laura Ingalls Wilder Reading Challenge.  I really enjoyed this "real life" peak and tour into Laura's life.  Filled with historical photos and drawings of Laura and her family, family artifacts and pictures of the prairies and homes or replicas thereof where they lived and an engaging commentary.  You saw the creek, the farms and landscapes of Laura's life.  There were lots of little tidbits that I had never known before that made for a very interesting read.  I also found the U.S. map co-ordinated with the different locations of major events of Laura and her families lives very interesting.  It really opened my eyes to how much she really did move over her lifetime.  Perfect for anyone who has read Laura's books or even watched the tv series to see a real life perspective in photos.

Reading Challenge Goal Met:  partipated in Laura Ingalls Wilder reading challenge, non-fiction

8.  Seagrass Pier by Colleen Coble - Hope Beach Novel Book 3

Completed:  February 19, 2015

Rating:  8.5/10

Review:  Elin Summerall has had a lot on her plate in the last while.  After catching a virus that ruined her heart she was lucky to have received a heart transplant and a second chance at life.  A young widow and mother she was also caring for her mom who was dealing with early dementia in her 50's.   But ever since Elin received her new heart she has been having dreams of being strangled that wake her up in a cold sweat.  Knowing that her heart donor had been murdered these dreams are leaving her very unsettled and with unwanted attention from the press and from the donor's murderer. With the police skeptical of any connection between her dreams and her donors murderer, she moves her family to a quiet remote location in Seagrass Pier she hopes the dreams will stop, her family can be safe and she can finish healing physically in peace.  But the dreams and the strange occurrences follow her.  And now she must work with Marc Everton, an FBI agent and man from her past whom she had never wanted to run into again.

I really enjoyed this story though am finding it hard to write a review because there was a lot going on it.  There were sub-plots  running that connected back to other stories and characters as this was the 3rd in a series.  I had read the second one, Rosemary Cottage, and really enjoyed it but it was a while ago and I didn't quite remember the characters.  But this book was great as a stand alone read without having to know the details from the first stories.

The cell memory aspect of the story, where Elin has memories of the donor's murder was interesting.  It certainly would be totally unsettling and weird.  Though that was the main plot, there were also several story lines revealed throughout the story.  A historical connection with the former owner of the house brings it's own mystery and adds to Elin's troubles.  It made for many twists and turns in the plot and caused it to be a real page turner.  You just never knew what was going to be revealed next and I never guessed  the ending.    The love story was clean and sweet which is always a plus in my books.  I did find a bit of how Elin insists and throws herself into the investigation by the FBI agent a little bit unrealistic.  I can understand working with him, but him allowing her into some of the dangerous situations rang a little untrue for me, even if he was off-duty and not acting in an official capacity.   Without wanting to give away anything in the story, I won't go into more detail than that.   Everything was tied together well in the end without anything that left me scratching my head.  I really enjoy Colleen Coble's books and this one didn't disappoint in the suspense/romance genre.

Reading Goals Met:  A book by a female author; a mystery or thriller

*set aside*

Too many f-bombs started to be dropped, could not get engaged in the story

9.  Gathering Shadows by Nancy Mehl - Finding Sanctuary Book 1

Completed:  February 24, 2015

Rating:  8.5/10

Review:  Wynter Evans is a reporter with her eye on the anchor seat at a St. Louis television station.  But when she sees a picture of a Mennonite teenager she thinks she has spotted her brother who had been abducted at the age of 7, eleven years earlier.   At twelve, Wynter felt the deep ache of loss of her brother and was well aware of how it affected her family.  The subsequent divorce of her parents devasted her teenage years and it seemed the pain would never go away.  But she always felt deep inside that her brother was alive somewhere so when she sees the picture of the Mennonite boy she heads to where the picture was taken, the small town of Santuary.  Convincing her station boss to do a story of the interesting things in small towns in Missouri, she is able to arrive in town under the guise of putting together a story.  The mayor though is a bit skeptical and very protective of the people in his town.  But he agrees to help line up some people Wynter can talk to.  But when Wynter and her camera man start to dig too deep and start unearthing secrets, someone wants them either scared off or dead.  As they get closer to finding the Mennonite young man, Wynter's estranged father all of a sudden comes into town and the truth may just change everything she thought she knew of her family.

This is my first book by this author and I thought it was a great suspense story.  It is full of intrigue and layers of secrets.  Sanctuary is an interesting town and being a place as it's name implies, it is part Mennonite town and part a place where people go who are looking for a place of sanctuary.  That made for some interesting characters involved in the story.  Being under the romance suspense genre, the story was light on the romance which I thought that was in line with the main gist of the story.  Wynter was there on a mission of finding her brother, nothing was more important and I thought the whole thing was woven together nicely with the romance not being foremost and taking over the story.

Reading Challenge Goals Met:    book by a female author;  mystery or thriller, new to me author

10.  Little House in the Big Woods by Laura Ingalls Wilder

Completed:  February 25, 2015

Rating:  9/10

Review:  Little House in the Big Woods is the first in this classic children's literature series of homesteading and early prairie life by Laura Ingalls Wilder.  I have not read this book since I was a kid.  None of my own children had interest in the series, much to my disappointment,  so I thought I would jump on board with Barbara at Stray Thoughts and her Laura Ingalls Wilder Reading Challenge which happens in February.

It was fun to revisit the story, but one thing I was struck by rereading as an adult was how "elementary" the writing was.  Of course, I didn't remember something like that from reading it as a child.  Laura's story in this book scans about a year of her life from the age of 4.  There were a few things that stood out to me reading it this time around.  Even though I watched the Little House on the Prairie series, again as a young person, and had a somewhat accurate visual,  I was still struck by how difficult and filled with hard work the pioneer life really was.  Just a few of the things from the book that jumped out was how disciplined the children for the most in the story were and how hard they actually helped out with different aspects around the house that was really hard work at such a young age.  I think of kids nowadays at that age and how easy their lives for the most are now in North America.  I really enjoyed the descriptions of how they had to prepare foods for the winter.  We take so much for granted with grocery stores having all our foods readily available without the hard work.  The simpleness of their existence in terms of things they had was also something that really stood out.  We have so much stuff nowadays that we think are so essential to our survival, when it's really for our comfort.  The sheer isolation of life on the prairies back then boggled my mind.  That's something I never really thought about before.  Being a bit more of a extrovert than introvert I wonder how I would take to something like that.  All I can say about the homesteading life of that time is that I'm sure glad that God knew what he was doing and put me into this time as I don't know how I would have survived all that the prairie life required.

Reading Challenge Goals Met:   A book from my childhood, a popular author's first book, a book based on or turned into a tv show

11.  Lethal Beauty by Lis Whiel

Completed:  March 3, 2015

Rating:  9/10

Review:  Lethal Beauty is the third installment of the Mia Quinn Mystery series by this author.  In this story Mia is prosecuting what would seem to be an open and shut murder case of a young Chinese girl.  But she watches in frustration as a key witness goes missing and one member of the jury she helped choose becomes disengaged during the trial.   And now another young Chinese person is found murdered.  But are they all connected?  The more she and  homicide detective dig into things the more shocking of a story they unearth. And now can they ever get any new evidence to get the proof they need to convince Mia's boss to take the young girl's case back to trial?  With all this on her plate and trying to  juggle  her family after her husband's sudden death, Mia has her hands full.  How do you intermingle a high profile job and a young family as a single parent and not have them interfere with each other? Tough decisions need to be made.  Gabe, her teenage son, is struggling trying to take on helping his Mom in roles that really should belong to his Dad and with his role at school.   When the opportunity to "improve" himself and become more manly comes along, he makes a decision that could change his life forever.  But was it the right one?  He seems to think so according to his own research until things start happening that he never could have imagined.

This was another fast paced murder mystery by this author.  Though third in the series, it can easily be a stand alone read.  I enjoyed it as it kept me engaged without slowing down and I read through in a few days, always being kept on my toes and turning the pages to find out what happens.  The author has taken on some interesting issues as the base of the story.  The main issue is that of human trafficking and modern day slavery in America.  That was an eye opener for me.  I have read and thought about human trafficking but never connected it to a modern day slavery in America.  It was, in my mind, a horrible thing that was going on elsewhere in the world.  It is something that is hard to grasp as happening in this day and age in North American society.  And the second is of drugs marketed to teens to help them with normal everyday issues.  Both lines of the story were well written and informative, making me think, while being woven into the lives of the characters and the consequences they were having.  Of particular note, is the Reading Group Guide which asked great questions to really make you think.

Reading Challenge Goals Met:  A book with a love triangle, a book published this year, a mystery or thriller,

12.  "Betrayed" by Lisa Scottoline

Completed:  March 9, 2015

Rating:  7.5/10

Review:  This book is part of the Rosato and DiNunzio series.  It focuses on Judy Carrier who is an associate at the all woman firm.  After being handed a damages case where she would have to defend the company Judy is not too happy with her boss.  The case will take an enormous amount of her time and energy.  And right at the same time, she receives news that her beloved Aunt has breast cancer, has had chemo and now needs surgery.  Taking the weekend she immediately goes to see her aunt before her surgery.  When she arrives, however, she discovers her mother already there.  Already on tense footing with her, the stress of the situation amplifies when her mother makes it clear that her Aunt Barb's Mexican friend Iris is not someone her mom approves of.  When Iris turns up dead in her vehicle, Barb cannot come to grips with it being the heart attack that the police are saying it was.  Suspecting foul play and out of compassion for her distraught aunt, Judy starts to poke around and discovers huge amounts of money in Iris's gardening tote at her aunt's home.  As she starts to try to figure out how that kind of money could come to an illegal immigrant, Judy starts to uncover all manner of mystery about the woman's life and death.  And to top it all off, things aren't going so well back at work or in her relationship with her live in boyfriend.

I love mysteries by Lisa Scottoline but I have to say this wasn't a favourite. It had it's highs and it's lows for me. For starters, I don't know if I was sold on the main character of Judy. There was just some things that didn't mesh for me. Just for a few examples without giving away story: She was desiring to eventually want to make partner in the firm yet was trying everything she could to get out of the work her boss was putting on her to do. She seemed to not know about some things in the storyline that I thought was odd, for example, for an educated woman she didn't know what surgical drains were, for a lawyer she seemed to have no clue what ICE was which is Immigration and Customs Enforcement. I thought that was odd. She may not have specialized in that but as a lawyer you'd think she would know the term. She put herself in not just extremely dangerous situations, but to me, foolishly dangerous situations... again for an educated woman? Anyway that could have just been the way I viewed things. Maybe because it involved her precious aunt she lost sight of what was totally and foolishly unsafe in lieu of finding the answers. There was also the issue of too much. Between family illness, family relational breakdowns, love relational issues, work issues, and now a big old mystery on her hands, there just seemed to be too much going on in this girl's life all at the same time. I wondered how on earth she got herself up and going with everything happening to her. I did, however, enjoy the actual mystery. It was a page turner and I couldn't put it down. I had to see what was going to happen and how it all played out. I also liked how through the characters of Iris and her immigrant friends, I learned a bit about the difficulties of illegal immigrants in the U.S. That was interesting for me.

 So in all, this particular one was an average read for me, didn't hate it but I didn't love it either. But it won't stop me from reading other books from this author.

Reading Challenge Goals Met:  A book with a one word title; a mystery,  a book from an author you love but haven't read yet;

13.  Esther -  Royal Beauty by Angela Hunt

Completed:  March 20, 2015

Rating:  9.5/10

Review:  Based on the biblical story of Esther.  As a young Jewess living in Persia, young Haddasah finds herself a bit torn.  She is drawn to the "romantic" notions of being royalty after she has an encounter with Queen Vashti.  Her and her young Persian best friend daydream of belonging to the courts and possibly being queen.  But it is in direct conflict with the teachings she received from her cousin Mordecai, who raised her.  But when Vashti is stripped of her crown and the King of Persia issues a call for the collection of beautiful young women to become part of his harem, Haddasah is forcibly taken and she finds herself thrown into the courts she dreamed of when younger. But it is not as she and her friend have imagined.  Changing her name to Esther to protect her heritage, she undergoes months of preparation in the hopes that the king might call upon her.  Call her he does, and becomes so smitten with her he makes her queen.  But as years pass, the king's attention is taken up with an evil man who's ambitions are second only to his hatred of the Jewish people.  When his plans to kill the Jewish people are granted by the king, Esther must gather all her courage and violate a Persian law that could see her dead before she has a chance to put her request to save her people before the king.

I've always loved a good biblical historical novel.  And yes, I know that not everything that most authors write in these stories is true and some are indeed quite liberal with their embellishments but it helps me to envision what it would have been like to go through what they did.  Angela Hunt has taken the biblical story of Esther and give a wonderful fresh perspective while taking great care in remaining true to historical and biblical fact.  According to her author's notes, nearly every event in the novel comes from historical record.  The biblical account is loyal and then it is completed with writing from a Greek chronicler named Herodotus to fill in Persian history.

The story is written from two viewpoints:  that of Haddasah (Esther) and that of Harbonah, the king's eunich chamberlain.  The use of these two viewpoints brought a really wonderful context to the story.  Seeing what Harbonah would see from being so close to the king and serving him on a daily basis for many years was a great addition and made for an interesting way of bringing in many aspects of historical fact of the life of King Xerxes and the Persian courts of that time, including the decrowning of Vashti. I loved Hunt's take on Haddasah not being a perfect girl, but with everyday desires and insecurities that didn't necessarily line up with what Mordecai was trying to teach her.  That she was torn between her Jewish roots and traditions and yet finding herself being drawn to what life in the palace would be like sounds so much like what a teenager would go through.  That Haddasah would have been a teenager when taken had not really sunk into me until I read this story and so the whole relationship between her and the approximately 40 year old king kinda made me squirm.  But I loved how she went from being naive to infatuated to love and finally looking beyond her selfish self even if it meant going against her worldly love; going from immature young teenager to a brave, wise still young woman fulfilling the call of God on her life.  The way the author put feelings and flesh to the characters of the story of Esther and yet remained true to the biblical and historical account made this book one that I just could not put down and will probably read again!  It was so interesting.  Can't wait for the next two in this "Dangerous Beauty Series".

Reading Challenge Goals Met:  Book from an author I love but haven't read yet; book by a female author; A book set in a different country; A book based on a true story;

14.  The Song by Chris Fabry (based on the movie by Richard L. Ramsey)

Completed:  April 1, 2015

Rating:  8/10

Review:   "When even the wisest of men is a fool for love, can true love persevere?"

  Jed King is a young singer songwriter who feels called to write music that points people to God. But he is living under the shadow of his famous father, David King who also was a singer songwriter who had made it big in the music world. Though his Dad seemed to have everything this world has to offer, fame, money, and prestige, he also had made huge mistakes and Jed still lives with the consequences of those in his own life. Not getting past a certain point in his career, his manager wants him to forget the God stuff in his songs, but Jed holds his ground. In a career slump, Jed agrees to sing at a wine festival that a vineyard hosts. There he meets Rose, the vineyard owners daughter and finds an instant connection with her. Smitten and inspired by her he sings an off the cuff song, made up while on the stage at the microphone. The song has an emotional impact with the crowd and and gets his career on the path to stardom he has been working for. But more than the fame he wants Rose and he must pass the approval of her strict Christian father. Rose feels she's found the man of her dreams and she is fully supportive of Jed's career when she marries him. But her highly held standards of family priority start to clash with the touring of Jed's band that is required especially when Rose conceives soon after being married. When Jed's manager pairs him up with an opening band who has a very worldy and beautiful lead singer, the same temptation and sins that caused his father to stumble and fall starts to visit the son. As "The Song" takes Jed to Europe both Rose and Jed will come face to face with failure, loss, deep pain and hurt and Rose must take a stand she never imagined she would have to take. But will the built up hurts and past be too much to overcome on both their parts or will love be enough to conquer it all?

 Chris Fabry is one of my favourite authors so when I saw this new book come out I snapped it up right away not realizing that it was a novelization of a movie. "The Song" was written by Kyle Idleman (author of "Not a Fan" and a pastor) and his team. They wanted to bring a modern adaptation of Solomon's life and story through Song of Songs and Ecclesiates to a wider audience. It started as the movie and church resources and now, has been made into a novel by Chris Fabry. I have to make the disclosure that I have not seen the movie so my review will be totally on what I read in the novel without any comparisons.

 While I'm not a huge fan of novelizations, this was a pretty good read. Not quite in the flavour that I am used to with a novel from this author, I thought Chris Fabry did a fine job in keeping the novel flowing and moving without any moments of confusion on the part of me, the reader. I find that sometimes novelizations have gaping holes that unless you watched the movie, the reader is left scratching their head wondering how it jumped to that. I did not find that with this book. I thought he did a good job of bringing out the feelings and issues the characters were facing and feeling. The present day setting of the story was interesting and not stale. The very relatable temptations and failures made this a story for the every person throughout the ages. You don't have to have a music career to run into the temptations that Jed faced, you can have any job, career, or position. The writer of the movie wanted this novel "to provide wisdom on issues of committed love, true beauty and finding satisfaction in relationships" (from the foreword). The underlying message is one of being aware, of overcoming, hope, not giving up and giving God the broken pieces.

 I loved the little nuanced references and parallels to David and Solomon in the bible such as the father's name being David King (King David) and Jedediah being the son of the father's 2nd wife with whom he'd had the affair in parallel with the David of the bible. The fact that David King was a musican and singer as was King David in the bible, the name of the girl in the opening act at Jed's concerts was Shelby Bales, making reference to the "baals" or idols that some of Solomon allowed some of his wives to keep. There were more that the reader can pick up if they know the story from the bible but it is not imperative to know these to make the story understood.

 Though sometime's Rose and Jed's story was hard to read, I think I'd probably read this again at some point just to pick up more of the subtlties that this story contains.

Reading Challenge Goals Met:  A book by an author I love but haven't read yet; a book that became a move twisted  (a movie that became a book  :)

15.  The Inn at Ocean's Edge by Colleen Coble (Sunset Cove series #1)

Completed:  April 12, 2015

Rating:  9.5/10

Suspense, twists and turns, a bit of romance, family lies, deception, murder. These are the ingredients that make up this newest novel from Colleen Coble. When Claire shows up at the Hotel Tourmaline unannounced to help her father with a company merger, she has a confusing panic attack right in the hotel lobby. This sets off a whole series of events that has her witnessing a murder nobody believes happened, memories surfacing from her childhood and a mult-layered mystery that involves not only her family but that of Luke Rocco, whose mother went missing from the same area when he was just a small child. As Claire starts having flashbacks that confuse her someone is trying to keep her permanently quiet. Together her and Luke work on putting the pieces together and in the process find an attraction to each other. Add to the mix a young woman named Kate who is bent on meeting up with her father who disengaged from her life when she was just a child. Though her mom begs her to leave things be because it would change their lives she is determined to find and confront the man who blatantly walked away from her and left her life in confusion. All things conspire to bring these individuals together in a mystery that threatens to overtake them all unless Claire and Luke manage to unscramble her past.

 I really enjoyed this book. It grabbed me from the beginning pages where a young girl witnesses a man in confrontation with a woman and runs to hide and then through the rest of the story as the many layers of lies are revealed. I never really guessed until the very end what the full story was. Just when I thought maybe I had an idea another twist or revealed lie would surface. The story is complex with two families lives being laid out, both involving mysteries of missing persons but it was never confusing, mysterious yes, but not confusing. In the author's notes, she explains she wanted to explore family, both blood ties and other connections that make someone feel like family. The trials and how they reacted to them shaped the people in this book, some for the better and some for the worse, and that is explored through the story. The only thing that stood out to me as a negative in the story was the familiarity of the usage of the term "Honey" that Luke would call Claire very early on in their relationship, even while they were yet just acquaintances. It just struck me as odd and pretentious and every time he said it it annoyed me. Other than that small detail, I really enjoyed this page turner and am looking forward the next in the series.

16.  Traces of Mercy by Michael Landon, Jr. and Cindy Kelley

Completed:  April 18, 2015

Rating:  10/10

Review:  After waking up in a doctor's office as the civil war ends, a young woman grapples with the fact that she has no memory of her past or who she is, nor how she was injured or how she came to be at the doctor's office.  With no clues to go by, the doctor takes her to live with a group of nuns in the hopes that eventually her memory will return, at least enough to get her home.  But as time passes and still no return of any of her memory, the nuns name the young woman Mercy because of a mercy medallion that was around her neck.   Mercy lives her days longing for her memory to return so that she can know who she is.  But after meeting a handsome young Yankee bachelor from a prominent family who wants to have a future with her she puts her reservations and hope of knowing her past life aside and instead agrees to marry him.  Her life becomes a whirlwind of learning the proper etiquette and behavior, none of which she naturally remembers, and of planning her wedding.  There is so much to look forward to until a stranger she meets at her engagement party threatens to destroy everything.  He knows something of her past and gives her an ultimatum of telling her fiance by a certain date or he will.  Though Mercy remembers none of what he tells her she did, she is thrown into a panic of what it will do to the life she is now trying to build and decides to take matters into her own hands.  But her choices can take her down an even more devastating path.

Though it took me until chapter 2 to really get into the story, once at that point I was hooked.  The first chapter is written in a way where no given names are used so I think that is why I found it a bit difficult to just get on board with the story right away. (And that is all I can say so that I don't reveal the story).  Once chapter two hits, however, all that falls into place and the story really just takes off.  I found the way it was written was really absorbing.  The struggles Mercy faces between wanting to know her past and wanting to choose the wonderful future placed before her really drew me.  I could almost feel her confusion and how she was torn at times.  The innocent and sweet young lady she is is direct contrast to who this stranger claims she is and you feel her pain and panic as she tries to make sense of it all.  The contradictions of her actions had me either cheering for her or going No what are you doing?  It was relatable though in the sense that we all do stupid things when in a panic and threatened with losing what we consider precious that makes us shake our heads later.  I loved this story and couldn't wait to get into the 2nd book of the series.

Reading Challenge Goals Met:  Book I own but have never read; Book by an author I love but have never read

17.  Finding Mercy by Michael Landon Jr. and Cindy Kelley

Completed:  April 25, 2015

Rating:  10/10

Review:  Book Two in this story starts with bounty hunters chasing Mercy as she still tries to figure out her past.  Heading south to where she believes she might have come from she is having to dodge not only the bounty hunters but try to pick up clues as to who she might be.  After running across a portrait of a military man something in her memory is finally sparked and she goes in search of who it might be.  Finally a clue that leads her to a large rice plantation has her meeting her family but still not recognizing them or knowing them.  But even as she tries to fit into her past life more questions arise as to who and what kind of person she really was.  And then there is still the nasty little detail about the bounty hunters that just won't give up.

 As Mercy is thrown back into her life with a party being thrown for her return by her family,  the confusion and mystery continues for her.  The black woman who raised her and whom she was supposedly very close to can barely tolerate being in the same room with her and Mercy doesn't know why.  She is appalled by the treatment and living quarters of the newly freed slaves who are now employees of the plantation.  The attitude of her brother and step Mom towards the black servants saddens her and yet on the flip side they are surprised that she is not harder on the staff.  As the young woman she was slowly comes to light,  Mercy must reconcile the unrecognizable person she was with the person she is now.  Does she want to go back to being that young woman from before the war and reclaim her old life or will she take steps to right the wrongs of the past and embrace who she is now?

Loved the sequel to Traces to Mercy.  What a great story these two books were.  I appreciated how the story wove the story of the north and the south viewpoints into it.  The immediate results of the civil war on both the plantation owners and the freed slaves was something that this book really brought out to me.  I hadn't really paused to think of what those newly freed people would do when on paper they were free but the attitudes were still the same towards them.   I thought that the inner struggles that Mercy was having were very well written and felt myself hoping for the best for her and wishing she would quit making impulsive choices.   I rooted for her through the set of two books and couldn't wait to see how it all played out for her.  This and the first in the series, Traces of Mercy, was an excellent read.  It'll be a keeper on my bookshelf.

Reading Challenge Goals Met:  Book I own but haven't read yet;  Book by an author I love but haven't read yet

18.  Wonders Never Cease by Phil Callaway

Completed:  May 11, 2015

Rating:  7/10

Review:  This is the sequel to The Edge of the World (Chronicles of Grace series) and continues Terry Anderson's story.  Terry is now 18 and in his senior year of high school.  He is struggling with his parent's faith and has pretty much decided to leave it behind though he hasn't told them that.  He can hardly wait to get out of church going small town Grace and start "living".   But as graduation nears his boring life is once again thrown into turmoil.  Just when he's deciding he doesn't believe his atheist friend is starting to ask all sorts of questions about faith which he is compelled to come up with answers to.  His mother's illness from Huntington's disease has caused her to have to take to her bed 24/7 for all intents and purposes stealing her from her family.  His brother Ben has secretly returned and now someone is looking for him.  And now to top it all off it would have to be him that comes across a dead body and once again he is faced with what to keep secret.

Although I did like the first installment of  this series (reviewed in 2014, #21) a bit better I thought this a good read.  Terry is struggling with his faith and is in full fledged rebellion.  But the amusing part of it is that his friend (from the previous book) who's father is the town atheist and has raised him that way, is all of a sudden asking all sorts of questions which is forcing Terry to answer and revisit the faith of his own upbringing.   I found that part of the story quite appealing and realistic as a lot of teenagers face rebellion and questioning and finding their way in making faith their own and not just their parent's.  Secrets are coming to light in the town of Grace and once again Terry is faced with doing the right thing or keep more secrets.  With what happened to him when a youngster you'd think the decision would be automatic but it gets more complicated. And once again, Terry finds himself choosing to keep something that isn't his and seeing his whole life turning upside down for it.  I found Terry's 18 year old character a bit immature in his thinking and actions. I had to remind myself that his character was actually 18 and about to graduate quite a few times throughout the story. I literally wanted to tell him to grow up at times.   I did enjoy the narration of the story through his perspective, though. His mother's story was heartbreaking and you could see the confusion such an illness brings into the family.  It was a good exploration of young faith, legalism, facing illness, and broken trusts and finding grace in unexpected places.

Reading Challenge Goals Met:  A book set in high school (vaguely),

19.  GI Brides - The Wartime Girls Who Crossed te Atlantic for Love by Duncan Barrett and Nuala Calvi

Completed May 21, 2015

Rating:  9/10

Review:  During WWII American GI's were stationed all throughout the UK.  Over 70,000 of these GI's met and fell in love with the British girls, married them and brought them home to America after the war was over.   GI Brides is the true account of 4 of these young British women who met and married American GI's and bravely crossed the ocean leaving everything behind to be with the soldiers they loved.

I found this story quite fascinating.  One of the authors is actually the grand-daughter of one of the women featured and the other three were picked from interviewing about 60 other GI brides.  These stories are not always happy ones.  These four women did not have the fairy tale lives that they thought they would when they left all behind to follow the men that they loved.  I thought the authors did a great job in describing England during the time of war and the fear and oppression they lived under.  The hardships that came during wartime: the hard rationing, the danger, the trauma of being constantly bombed are set against the backdrop of meeting the handsome GI's, falling in love and the lure of a better life in golden America.  It was interesting to read of the women's trip across the ocean and how they were treated on the boats and how they were treated in America.  In Britain the GI's were disliked and resented because they were taking the British girls from the British guys but in America the brides were resented because they had taken the available men.  The language barrier was at times funny.  Even though they spoke English, it was not the English of America and what meant something overseas certainly did not translate across in America bringing embarrassment.  The lives the women dreamed of did not necessarily translate into reality, either.  Three of the four did not end up having happy lives and the other suffered through polio and in-law interference.

The book was written in such a way that each chapter was dedicated to a different woman and rotated and followed the order through out the book.  This at times, especially in the beginning when I was just starting to know the characters, was a bit confusing.  I kept having to refer back to the characters pictures in the middle of the book and sometimes even scanning back into the chapters to remind myself of whose story was whose.  It made each chapter sort of like a mini cliff hanger that you didn't come back to until you finished another chapter of each of the other 3 women's stories.  It definitely made it suspenseful so that I didn't want to put the book down but at the same time I can't help but think I would have slowed the reading a bit and would have been able to be more invested into each of their stories if I could have just read them in order.  But then the suspense wouldn't have been there in quite the same way, I guess.   All in all I love reading people's stories and how they deal with what is dealt them in life and this book didn't disappoint.  I really enjoyed the read.

Reading Challenge Goals Met:  Non-fiction,  author under 30(?), book based on a true story,

20.  Water From My Heart by Charles Martin

Completed June 14, 2015

Rating:  10+

Review:  Charlie Finn has been on his own since he was 16. Without much effort on his part he does well in school and earned himself a scholarship to Harvard. Taking math and business he is then able to insert himself into the fast-paced world of finance. Because of his hard growing up years Charlie has no problem with the indifference to people's hardships his business dealings creates. But when working for a power hungry business executive comes to a unexpected end, Charlie ends up meeting and partnering with a high society drug dealer. Once again his ability to keep his personal and work life separated and his wall of indifference high, he convinces himself he is just offering a service that the elite of society would find someone else to do for them if it wasn't him. And meanwhile he can make himself a very rich man. But when tragedy strikes it causes Charlie to head to an area of Costa Rica and Nicaragua where his former business dealings had left a group of innocent and devastated family coffee farmers. By chance he meets a young woman whom he must rely on to help find his partner's family member. And in the processCharlie comes face to face with who he is and what he has allowed his heart to become and whether he wants to pursue the real riches in life

 Love, love, loved this latest story from Charles Martin. My short description above definitely lacks the amount of details and nuances this wonderful story holds. It was hard to write a description without giving away details but every twist and turn added up to make a story that I thought about for days, even weeks, afterwards. I couldn't pick up another book because this one kept mulling over in my heart. The author takes a bit of a departure from his usual strong, moral male character and instead gives us a main male character who is very flawed. Indifferent and heartless in his business life, the character of Charlie is quite a selfish individual and thinks he can separate his personal life from his business self but will have to come to realize that the two intertwine. It will take a woman and child who survived through horrible pain and loss and yet exude a joy and beauty and love that Charlie has never before experienced. As usual, Charles Martin took my heart on a roller coaster ride of emotions. Several times my husband looked over at me and asked what I was crying about. He takes the high society lives of London and Miami and sets it against the poverty and simplicity of life in Nicaragua. He takes the entitlement, the skewed values of most of North America and shines a light on it comparing it with the riches of what the Nicaraguan mountain people hold dear. Woven into Charles Martin's story is a piece of himself that he experienced when he himself went and met Nicaraguan people who had been devastated when Hurricane Mitch, in 1998, hung over a volcanic lake until it overfilled causing a horrific mudslide that travelled at 100 mph down the mountain cutting a deadly path killing 3000 people. This a beautiful story of fruit in the midst of horror, of true love and redemption that made me take a good hard look at my own indifferences in my own heart. You cannot read this and not be moved. Have I made you curious enough to run out and read it? I hope so. Not to be missed is the author's notes in the end where you are allowed a glimpse of where the story came from.

 Reading Challenge Goals Met: A book that made me cry, A book published this year, A book set in a different country, A book from an author I love but haven't read yet

21.  A Matter of Trust by Lis Wiehl

Completed:  June 27, 2015

Rating:  9/10

Review:  Mia Quinn's husband passed away 3 months before in a car accident and she has been forced to go back to work as a King County prosecutor to provide for her teenage son and preschool daughter. Already trying to juggle everything on her plate that being a new single parent requires, she is totally unprepared for what is coming her way and struggles to find a balance. While on the phone discussing a case with an office colleague and friend, she hears a gunshot on the other end of the phone and her friend goes silent. In the stress and panic of the moment Mia makes a parenting decision that she will regret as it really effects her son. As a result of the murder of her friend, her boss asks her to take on the case which will require top priority and more hours in the day than Mia has but she feels she must put her friend's killer behind bars. Unfortunately, Charlie Carlson is the detective assigned to the case and Mia has not had a good experience working with him. Add to that, her teenage son is giving her attitude and her young daughter is having screaming episodes at night and Mia's world seems to be one big complication.

 This is the first book in the Mia Quinn Mystery series. I must confess I have already read #2 and #3, reviewed here and here. I received those for review and really liked them so when I saw number 1 on clearance at the book store I nabbed it and picked up the beginning of Mia's story. It was a fast paced murder mystery that kept me guessing as it delved into bullying, accepting others for who they are, and appearances not always being what they seem. Having been a stay at home parent, Mia was struggling with her husband's unexpected death just a few months before and was forced back to work quickly because of unknown to her debts that her husband had accumulated. And then one thing after another just continues to pile onto her plate. I really was pulled into her story, sympathizing with her and the family issues she was having to deal with. Single parenthood, debt, and all that comes with returning to work unexpectedly while her and her family were still trying to deal with their grief, the struggle of a young teen pulling away and not knowing how to help him. The character of the teenage son was also well written and I really felt for him in his grief and trying to fit in at school and all of a sudden having to grow up so fast and help around the house so much. His struggles as he deals with death and school were tough. There were two mysteries woven into the story and I thought they played out well and the author was able to interweave them into the story without confusion. A good mystery earning 9/10 from me.

 Reading Challenge Goals Met: A trilogy (bit of a cheat because I'd already read the other 2 but at least I completed a trilogy), book by a female author, A mystery or thriller, A book from an author you love but haven't read yet

22.  Still Alice by Lisa Genova

Completed:  July 1, 2015

Rating:  10/10

Alice Howland is a brilliant professor of cognitive psychology at Harvard and is world renowned for her research into linguistics.  Being a sought after lecturer she has a very busy schedule teaching her classes, lecturing at conferences all over the world and conducting research.  It is a life she loves.  Her husband is also a busy Harvard professor of science conducting cancer research.  Study and learning is very important to them and they have tried to pass that on to their adult children.  Their oldest has become a lawyer, the middle child a doctor but it is their youngest whom Alice locks horns with constantly as she has no interest in academia and has chosen instead to pursue a career in acting.  While her husband is supportive of this she just cannot help constantly questioning her daughter's decisions. As Alice prepares for a new semester at work, small incidences of forgetfulness and disorientation start to show up in her days.  When she becomes lost in a part of town that she knows like the back of her hand it truly frightens her and she makes an appointment at her doctor's thinking she is experiencing a bad case of menopause.  It is then that she is handed the diagnosis of early onset Alzheimers at the age of 49.

This book was very moving and chilling in it's story.  It is taken from the viewpoint of Alice which is an approach that I've never read before.  I've read other stories that deal with this horrendous disease but always from the spouse, caretaker's or family members points of view.  I cried through out the book as Alice's frustration and fear of what was happening was tangible through the words.  Her having to slowly let go of life as she knows it and loves it as the disease quickly progresses is truly heart breaking.   It is so well written in it's attempt to show the reader what a person going through this disease might go through and feel.  It describes the disease, it's consequences and progression so well yet never gets bogged down in super scientific terminology so even someone like myself easy was able to understand what Alice was experiencing.  The author herself has a Ph.D in neuroscience from Harvard and is an online columnist for the National Alzheimer's Association so the story rang very true in it's descriptions.  She also mentions several areas of drug testing within the scope of the story that was interesting.

I don't think I'm giving anything away when I say I especially liked the progression of Alice and Lydia's (the actress daughter) relationship in the story.  It was moving to have privy to the change even though they are fictional characters.  The story ended in a way I was not expecting at all.    

I saw this book mentioned on Faith's website, she highly recommended it, and was also interested when I saw that Julianne Moore had won the academy award for her portrayal of Alice in the film.  I determined to read the book first so that I could get the author's original intents and story rather than Hollywood's version and I'm so glad I did.  It was heart breaking, beautifully written, sensitive, intelligent, compassionate and informative.  I, also,  highly recommend this book to everyone.  It will change how you view and relate to someone going through Alzheimers and/or Dementia.

Reading Challenge Goals Met:  A book a friend recommended, A book that scares me, A book that made me cry, A book by an author I've never read before, A book that became a movie

23.  Refining Fire by Tracie Peterson

Completed:  July 8, 2015

Rating:  6.5/10

Review:   Abrianna Cunningham and Militine Scott both attend the Madison Bridal School in Seattle.  Having met there they have become best friends.  Abrianna was adopted by the 3 single sisters who own the school when her parents died and Militine basically attends the school so that she can hide from her past.   The school is a training ground for young women to prepare them for marriage but Militine has no intention of ever marrying.   Abrianna is very strong in her Christian faith and very purposefully pushes onto what she feels is her calling and will do anything to accomplish that purpose,  There is nothing that will stand in her way of helping the poor including a new pastor whom she doesn't trust.  Militine is very hesitant about God because of her past.  She can't reconcile what has happened to her with a loving God.

Thane Patton also has trouble believing because of his own past but he is drawn to Militine.  Though she attends a bridal school she has no intention of ever marrying.  In spite of her resolve she agrees to court Thane being totally honest with where she stands on the issue.  Thane's heart however is also being drawn by God and his best friend, Wade, is a strong Christian who shares his faith in a real and authentic way with him.

 From the publisher's description on the back, this story was about Militine and Thane.  While Militine and Thane's story did play out in the book I wish there would have been more focus on how they worked through their painful pasts while coming together as a couple and confronting their beliefs. I, as a reader was really rooting for them.   I found that the character of Abrianna who was not even mentioned on the back of the book,  totally usurped the lead role in the story.  She was a very strong personality in the story and I found all others took a back seat to her.  The story, for me, was very conversation driven, again mostly because of Abrianna, and I found I kept wondering when anything was really going to happen.  That being said it was an interesting setting being Seattle 1889 and a time period when strong women were not really tolerated.  The attitudes of the times were written into the story well and I really got a sense of what it might have been like.  Abrianna's total commitment to doing the Lord's work was to be admired and desired though some of her decisions to accomplish the work were not wise at best and again, tended to take override Militine and Thane's story.  There is a bit of a twist concerning Abrianna that played in nicely to the story that I didn't see coming at all.   The Great Seattle Fire was included and that was really interesting and provided the tension the story needed.

24.  The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins

Completed:  July 13, 2015

Rating:  7.5/10

Review:  Rachel commutes on the same train every day at the same time.  The train always makes the same stop at a particular signal close to a a row of houses that back onto the the tracks.  In one of these houses lives her ex husband and his new family.  In another of the houses lives a couple Rachel doesn't know personally but she feels like she totally does know them.  Each day Rachel sees them interact on their back deck and from her perspective on the train, it looks like they have the perfect relationship and the perfect life, certainly very different from her own.  She looks forward to seeing them each day and has even given them her own made up names, Jess and Jason.   She's imagined lives for them which she believes suits them.  Their love is everything she doesn't have.  But in reality all is not perfect in this couple's world and on one of those stops, Rachel witnesses something that she, in her made up world for the couple, sees as not right.  And when news headlines reveal that "her" Jess is missing, Rachel knows she must go tell the police what she saw.   But the trouble is Rachel hasn't been quite honest about things and that, coupled with her drinking has not only the police but her very own self wondering how reliable her memory is.  As the investigation deepens Rachel finds herself obsessively drawn to the situation but her compulsive actions while drunk or not,  only seem to make things worse yet she can't seem to help herself.

This psychological thriller has a lot of hype surrounding it right now.  It is told in the first person narrative of three different women, Rachel, Megan and Anna.  Three perspectives and back stories. Yet none of the narratives is reliable as each woman is hiding something.  The premise of the story seemed so interesting to me, I do love a good thriller with twists and turns but I have to admit I was wondering if I would be setting this book aside.  It started off a bit slow and it is a very dark and depressive kind of story.   Each of the women's stories are sad and their is nothing giving or loving it seems about any of the characters within the story.  They all seem selfish and wrapped up in themselves.  The only bright light amongst the characters, I thought, seems to be the woman that Rachel rents a room from.  The story started with an f-bomb or sexual reference dropped here or there but by the end there was quite a bit of language.  I would normally have set aside a book that does that but this one did it so infrequent in the beginning that I ignored it and kept going as the story started to entangle the perspectives of the three women and started to hook me.  From a Christian world view, I would have to say that it was a bit like a "train wreck" so speak in that you know it's going be bad and you totally won't like what you'll see but you just can't help yourself from keeping on looking.  It deals with alcoholism, self-esteem, lies and deception, divorce, depression, adultery, and murder.  Not a whole lot of anything light.  I was hoping that at some point there would be some kind of redemption for any of the characters so I kept on reading.  From a psychological thriller perspective I would say it did it's job well.  Suspenseful with lots of twists and turns and just enough info given at any point to keep the reader hooked because you just have to know how it all ends up.  It was hard to put down, I totally admit.  So when it was all over and I did set it down, I had totally mixed feelings about it.  Totally addictive to read but on the other side of the coin I said to my daughter and fellow reader that I really felt like I needed a light, sweet and totally cheesy story with a generous dose of hopeful after this one.

Reading Challenge Goals Met:  Book by a female author, A book set somewhere you've always wanted to visit, A book by an author I've never read before, a mystery or thriller, a book set in a different country,

25.  The Sweet By an By by Sarah Evans with Rachel Hauck

Completed:  July 20, 2015

Rating:  7.5/10

Review:   I figured I would like to know the beginning of Jade's story. Jade is marrying into a well to do family. The furthest thing from her background. With a father who abandoned her when she was 8, and then having a hippie mom who constantly remarried and followed whatever fancy took her at the time, the only stable thing in Jade's life was her Christian grandmother. So when after college, Jade moved to a new town and became the owner of a antique and retro type store, she left the past in the past. But now with the fancy wedding her future mother in law is forcing upon her, she is confronted with having to invite her mother to the wedding. Which is the last thing Jade wants. Too much hurt and water has passed under that bridge and she will have too much explaining to do to her new family as she has hidden it all from them including her husband to be, granted them both agreeing to keep the past in the past. But when her mother shows up three weeks early with her own news, Jade has to come face to face with her past and hope when it all shakes out and settles she still has a marriage to look forward to.

 I liked this series and it was finally good to read the beginnings of Jade's story. The story is raw and honest in it's feelings. Jade faces many issues from her past that are now resurfacing after she tried so hard to bury them. As each one rears it's ugly head she is forced to resolve them. But her grandmother's Christian roots which she placed in her as a young girl, also come back to the surface and in doing so Jade must also face the hardest questions of why God would let all those things happen to her. Some of the reactions Jade had seemed a little immature for her age but then when one faced as much hurt as she did and then tried to bury it so deep I guess the emotions would also be immature as they were never dealt with. But it was a good story of pain, and redemption.

Reading Challenge Goals Met:  a trilogy (does finally finishing a trilogy count?), a book by a female author (bonus points for me:  it had 2 female authors!), a book out of the bottom of my TBR list

26.  Her Brother's Keeper by Beth Wiseman

Completed:  July 23, 2015

Rating 9.5/10

Review:  Charlotte Dolinsky has come to the Amish community where her brother died looking for answers and someone to blame.  And she will do what it takes to find them including lying and pretending to be one of them.  And the first people she will try to gain the confidence of is her brother's fiance's.  They have never met her so she feels she can pull the wool over their eyes and get the in close with them.  But as Charlotte digs deeper into the mystery of her brother's death, she must stack lie upon lie and she is confronted with what it really means to have a family.

I really enjoyed this story by Beth Wiseman. I love her contemporary stories and this was the first Amish based story I've read by her though she has written quite a few. The story was so much more than the description implies. The whole premise of a worldly "Englisher" trying to pose as an Amish person was interesting. As Charlotte lies her way into the Amish community that her brother chose to adopt and then died in, her determination to find what really happened to him to make him take his own life supercedes sometimes even her common sense. She operates from a standpoint of deep hurt and is looking for someone to blame. Her brother was her only family and now he is gone and she is alone. In her sights first is her brother's fiance. But as Charlotte gets to know her and her family whom she's staying with she sees there is more to the story and as her lies compound she realizes that she has put herself into a precarious position. The love and acceptance the family has given her, though they innocently believe she is someone else, has shown her what real family is about. As her and her brother have never really had a family life, this starts to play on her guilt. And the more she finds out about what happened the more people she realizes are going to be hurt with the truth. Her dilemma becomes not why her brother had to die but when and if she should even really tell the truth. And will they just cast her away like her mother did when she was little.

 There was a bit of mystery to the story but it really was a book about family and faith and what love really is and what forgiveness looks like. I felt for all the characters, which is something I love in a book. The author also tackles the subject of suicide and if the person goes to heaven, which I thought she did with grace. There was moments that made me laugh as Charlotte tries to fit in with the community but her language and lack of domesticity raises eyebrows and questions. This was a perfect summer read for me.

Reading Challenge Goals Met:  A book published this year, A book by a female author, a mystery, a book from an author I love,

27.  The Beautiful Daughters by Nicole Baart

Completed:  July 31, 2015

Rating:  7.5/10

Review:  Is what we remember and believe to be the truth in a tragic occurrence really truth or how we perceived it and want to believe?  

This is a story of 5 college friends, Adri who is a conservative young woman and her brother, Will,  who were raised by their Christian father, Harper who is the wild child of the group, David who is son of very well to do parents who live in a castle-like mansion in town and for whom there is lots of expectations, and Jackson who is rarely mentioned.   Adri has become a nurse and has moved to Africa to work with a charity but is called home after the death of the mansion's matriarch has made her an heir.  We soon find out that Adri had been engaged to David and had actually fled to Africa following the death of her fiance and the story then starts to backtrack through Adri and Harper's viewpoints to the time of their college days where they met until the present where they both come back to the place they both swore they would never return to.  Adri has not seen or talked to Harper since David's death even though they had been the best of friends in college so there is an air of mystery about that and what had actually happened to David.   As the story unfolds there are sad and shocking revelations that play on the reader's emotions as and build up to why Adri and Harper no longer have contact.   As they are forced to face their past they are also forced to face their guilt in the tragedy that caused them to go their separate ways.

 I usually love Nicole Baart's stories. Her writing is really good but I have to say this is definitely not my favourite of her books. I found I was just making myself finish the book because I usually do like this author's writing and I wanted to see what she would do with the characters not because I was loving the story or the characters involved. There were moments my attention was totally grabbed and then it would back off and I'd chug along until the next moment that it grabbed me. I didn't really engage or connect with either of the main characters unfortunately and I can't really state why. I found the ending did not reward me like I thought it would which is what I was hoping for in my determination not to put the book down. All that said, just because this particular story was not my cup of tea, I would still read the next book by this author.

Reading Challenge Goals Met:  A book set somewhere I've always wanted to visit (Georgia), A book published this year, a book by an author I love but haven't read yet, a book by a female author

28. A House Divided by Robert Whitlow 

 Completed:  August 11, 2014 

 Rating: 8/10 

 Review: For the most part I really enjoyed this legal story that also delves into the issue of alcoholism and it's devastating effects on family. Corbin is a crusty old lawyer who's law practice is barely treading water. His relationship with his grown children is tenuous at best and pretty much non-existant at worst. His son is a little more open to him than his daughter, who really resents his un-involvement in their growing up years due the alcohol and has written him out of her life. Living in Atlanta she is pursuing partnership in a huge international high stakes litigation firm. His son, who is also a lawyer, allows Corbin into his life due to the special relationship that Corbin has with his own son, but when Corbin cannot control his drinking even around his grandson, he might lose even that. As Corbin's decisions start to spin out of control, and once again start to devastate all whom he cares about, he is forced to take a hard look at where his love of alcohol has taken him. In the midst of all this he has taken on one of the toughest cases of his career and he needs the help of those he is alienating.

 I found both the legal case and the personal story very interesting in the book. This family must face real problems in their lives brought on by the alcoholism of their father and I thought their reactions and behavior rang quite true. Corbin's journey to facing what his life and decisions had wrought upon his family drew me right in. The influence of the mother, who was a Christian, on the family was also written well into the story. Even though her death was a catalyst in the beginning of the story to set Corbin on his journey, her legacy of faith was woven into the lives of her family beautifully. The only thing I didn't like about this story was the very beginning where there seemed to be quite a bit of lawyer "language". Not being exposed to much legal jargon I found it a bit tedious wading through that, but that slowed down as the story went on and then the book really picked up for me and drew me right in.

 Reading Challenge Goals Met: A book published this year, A book from an author I loved but haven't yet read,

29.  Life of Pi by Yann Martel

Completed:  August 26, 2015

Rating:  7.5/10

Review:  Well, I'm certainly late to get on the "must read" bandwagon for this book. In all honesty it's not a book that ever drew my attention when it first came out in spite of seemingly everyone talking about it and it winning a Canadian award. I couldn't imagine reading a story about a boy in a lifeboat with a tiger that had a time span of 227 days. But when the movie came out I went with hubby because he loves the 3D and went for that reason alone. And while the movie was a visual spectacle, I left scratching my head, totally confused with the story. So jump ahead to today and here I am reading the book for basically 2 reasons...the first being one of the challenges on my Reading List Challenge 2015 is "A book with non-human characters". This category is not my norm for choosing a book so it definitely challenged me to find one that I would actually be interested in reading, but my 2nd reason was to maybe have it make sense of the movie for me.

So "Life of Pi" it was. Now most everyone has by now heard the gist of the storyline. A 16 yr. old boy from Pondicherry, India finds himself the only survivor of a shipwreck somewhere out of Manilla in the Pacific ocean along with a tiger, a zebra, an orangutan, and a hyena. He survives 227 days out at sea trying to survive on a lifeboat while watching as 3 of the animals die "survival of the fittest" deaths until it is only him and the Bengal tiger left. He must learn how to survive not only the elements and the tiger but discouragement and lonliness and lack of hope as time goes on.

The first third of the book tells the background story of Pi (the nickname he adopted because of being relentlessly teased for his full name of Piscine) growing up with his family in India. His father who owned and ran the Pondicherry zoo was an atheist and raised his children to fear and understand the wild nature of the animals in spite of interacting with them on a daily basis. Richard Parker, the bengal tiger, came to the zoo as a young cub so Pi grew up along with the tiger. In spite of his father's beliefs, or non-belief as it were, Pi goes on to openly embrace 3 religions to which he is exposed. In fact, the story opens with a journalist who is being directed to go find Pi because of his incredible story, a story that will make him believe in God. There is much time spent in discussing the overall view of the 3 major religions in this third of the book and how Pi rationalizes the acceptance of all three in his young boyhood. I found myself skimming a lot of this as it just didn't hold my interest and didn't make sense to me. (There was also lots of endlessly run on sentences in this part of the book.) The three religions are so far apart from each other in their belief systems that I found it far-fetched that a person can live by all three. One of these was Christianity which is clear in the fact that "Jesus is the way, the truth and the life. No one comes to God but through Him" (John 14:6). So asking me accept the young Pi justifying and rationalizing living by 3 (Hindu and Islam were the other 2) was hard to compute for me even though it was through the viewpoint of a young boy. I could understand his interest in all three, as I had an interest in religions as a young kid, but I was also very clear that in their differences one can really only choose one to take to heart and live by. Accepting all three even from a kid's viewpoint just was not realistic to me, then or now.

The second part of the book deals with Pi's actual survival on the lifeboat. This is where the story really picked up for me and was hard to put down. The writing seemed to get much more focused and better. Gone were the endless sentences. There are some gruesome detail about the animals and their lack of survival that was hard for me to read, but for the most part the descriptions of Pi's feelings during this part of the story were gripping and real. His beliefs and zoo background come into play to help him and the choices he has to make to survive did make me think. His having to face surviving on a daily basis after hope for rescue dwindled was heartbreaking and his ingenuity had me amazed at times and crying at times as he had to face doing what he had to do in order to survive. I couldn't put this part of the story down.

That is until he comes to the odd floating algae island. Then this took a hard to make sense of it turn in the story for me. I'm not good with allegory, I'm more of a face value story kind of person, so trying to figure out what it all meant was exhausting for me and I slugged along through this part.

Though I think most everyone has heard of the story and knows what happens if you haven't then this last part of the review is cautioned with a SPOILER ALERT and you may want to skip the next paragraph.

 The last half of the book deals with Pi finally, after 227 days at sea with a tiger, reaching land. It's heartbreaking as Pi deals with the loss of the only living, breathing thing that has kept him sane and with some company for seven months. Then he has to deal with two officials from the Japanese shipping offices who come to ask what he knows of the ship's sinking. As he tells them the story they are very disbelieving that all this could happen and since there is no Richard Parker around to confirm it they have a hard time. So he gives them another story, one much more "realistic" though gruesome. They are then asked, as is the reader, which is the better story. We are left to ponder which lens and perspective we view the world through This third of the book found me skimming a lot too, because of the way it is written. It is written as an actual transcript of the discussion between Pi and the officials so to me it came off a bit dry. So this book really had it's highs and it's blah portions for me. I'm glad I read it, the story is always so much better than the movie for the most part for me. The time at sea surely was the best portion, but trying to figure out all the allegory was not my cup of tea nor was trying to figure out Pi's closing statement about God after the officials chose which story they thought to be better. It is definitely a work of story telling. And it leaves one thinking long after the cover is closed on the book. It is more than a fantastical story of survival, it is a story that asks to examine one's faith and the lense through which we view things and whether we are able to believe the amazing things that take faith or whether you look at the world through the absolutes and practicals of what makes sense to your mind. I think this book would make excellent discussions as a reading group choice.

 Reading Challenge 2015 goals met: A book with non-human characters, A book that made me cry, A book that became a movie, A book by an author I've never read before, A book set in a different country

30.  Invisible Ellen by Shari Shattuck

Completed:  September 5, 2015

Rating:  9.5/10

Review:   Ellen has spent her whole life trying to be invisible. Scarred both emotionally and physically since childhood she is now a very overweight, insecure and awkward adult living a very self-secluded life. Though she tries to keep herself from being noticed she is a great observer of people and records what she observes in those around her in journals. Having buried her emotions long ago, her writings involve no feelings, emotion or judgement but are simply a recording of what she has observed. But one day as Ellen catches her usual bus to her night shift job cleaning Costco, Ellen comes across a blind girl named Temerity and her whole life changes. Temerity boards Ellen's bus and due to her exuberant personality, Ellen feels compelled to get off at her stop and follow her. But then she finds herself observing Temerity being mugged and before she realizes what she is doing Ellen steps in to help her, which is totally out of character for Ellen. Temerity and her brother immediately and unconditionally befriend Ellen and step by step Ellen finds herself being swept along in Temerity's whirlwind way of helping others out. Ellen soon discovers herself not quite so invisible anymore and actually having someone she can call her friend for the first time in her life. And through that acceptance Ellen starts to see that she does have some things to offer if she would dare to step out of her invisibility.

 This story turned out to be an enjoyable surprise! One of the components on my Reading Challenge 2015 was to read a book written by an author with the same initials as me. Well, I couldn't think of any off the top of my head and after some extensive searching I found this site that listed a bazillion authors alphabetically. And after scrolling through and clicking on what seemed like a million books written by authors with the initials SS, I found this one that seemed like something I might possibly get into.

 The story grabbed me right away. The concept of a friendship between a person who was emotionally handicapped and trying to hide and a person who was physically handicapped with a exuberant personality and how they connected was fun. I was invested in the main characters and cared what happened to Ellen. My heart broke for her as her story was revealed and cheered her on as she started to break out of the walls and shells she had placed around heart in order to protect herself. I cried and I laughed throughout the book. The way that Temerity seemed to push Ellen out of her comfort zones, always without knowing that that is what she was doing, led to some pretty humorous reactions and situations. There is a natural humor in the story that I really enjoyed. While the situations were a little crazy they lent a craziness and silliness that was refreshing in the midst of the issues that the book was reflecting on. There was a few mentions of marijuana used for recreational purposes as a positive thing but they were for the most part just mentions and not really dwelt upon.

 A couple quotes that really stood out to me:

 "She'd spent her whole life living day to day, hoping for nothing more than to get through each one unnoticed and unscathed. ...It was so much easier to expect nothing and be all right than to expect something and be disappointed." pg 232

 That one really got me thinking how many people I come across who are feeling this way and we tend to just walk right by them not even noticing them or thinking they are unfriendly or unapproachable or we judge them.

 And also:

 "Besides, I always find that focusing on helping other people makes my problems much more insignificant, don't you?" pg. 245

 Sorta sums up the book in a lovely way as Temerity shows Ellen just that.

Reading Challenge 2015 Goals Met: A book by an author with your same initials, A book by a female author, a funny book, a book by an author I've never read before, a book that made me cry

31.  Finding Me by Kathryn Cushman

Completed:  September 9, 2015

Rating:  9/10

Review:  Kelli Huddleston grew up an only child with her father and stepmother. She was very close to her father and so when he and her stepmother died in a car accident she felt the loss deeply. All her growing up years, Kelli's father would never allow her into his home office, it was out of bounds and Kelli knew it. But now that he is gone she has no choice but to go in there and clear it out and wrap up his business files. But what she finds cause her to question who she is and everything she knew about herself but she'll also find she never really knew her beloved father at all. Needing to find the truth about herself and what her dad did and with only a few pictures to go by, she heads back to Tennessee where she'd always been told her mother and 2 siblings had died in a house fire that took everything. What she finds there will further complicate her once seemingly peaceful life and she must make a decision that will affect not only her but the lives of others.

 Well, this was a story that was hard to put down. I, as the reader, got very caught up in what was happening to Kelli. In the midst of opening up a new restaurant with her best friends, her father and stepmother die tragically. While dealing with the grief of that and realizing she is alone in the world, she is trying to wrap up his business and files and discovers that she is not who she thought she was and her whole life has been a lie. In shock and drawn by the deep desire to discover who the persons in the hidden photographs are and ultimately who she is and against the advice of her best friend, she goes in search of the unknown persons. But once she finds them, it is hard not to be drawn into their lives and now she is faced with continuing the lie or telling the truth and devastating more lives.

 This story was so believable and I really felt Kelli's pain and confusion. It was easy to understand her choices and reasoning for her decisions. Her character was very well written. I had a hard time putting the book down because I just had to find out what was going to happen. I felt for her as she struggled not only with the death of her dad but at understanding and forgiving his deception and what he had done. And then her inner struggles as she finds herself being caught up and befriended by those in the photograph and the choice of whether to tell them who she really is. It's an emotional story, for sure, and engaged me right through out. I must admit, the character of Beth drove me nuts. She was soooo pushy and just wouldn't take no for an answer. It was at times hard not to really dislike her even though her intentions were written as good.  I also really like the exploration into the topic of  turning from biblical truth and believing lies because that is what you want to hear.  (2 Timothy 4:3-5).  A really engrossing read.

Reading Challenge Goals Met:  A book I own but haven't read yet, A book published this year, A book by a female author, a book from author I love

32.  The Bookseller by Cynthia Swanson

Completed:  September 17, 2015

Rating:  8.5/10

Review:  It's 1962 and Kitty Miller is settled and happy in her life as a small book shop owner with her best friend, Frieda. Though at 38 she is still single she has for the most part come to terms with that and enjoys the control and freedom she has to do what she wants when she wants. Her and Frieda are close as business partners and best friends and she has a strong relationship with her parents. Life is good. But when she starts dreaming of another life, one where she is Katharyn with a perfect husband and adorable children in a lovely home in suburbia she chalks it up to her old life's desires which she thought she let go of . It is the perfect life she once held out hopes for. The dreams are so real and she enjoys them at first but when they start to happen consistently and start to reveal layers of imperfections and challenges the lines begin to blur for Kitty and she has to figure out what is reality and what is dream.

 This book had a lot of draws for me. I totally picked it up for it's cover and title and then the 1960's setting drew me in as did the alternate life story of what might have been. I really enjoyed it but am having a hard time writing a coherent and articulate review as there is so much to the story and I don't want to give anything away. Both of Kitty's worlds were interesting and I couldn't help but be fascinated with her confusion each time as she entered into the dream world. She had to figure things out on the fly which would be totally disconcerting for her and of course her reactions would be confusing for the dream family. I really liked how the writing never left me confused as to what reality Kitty/Katharyn was in and that allowed me to really get into the story of the lives of the character(s). As Katharyn's story developed there were some aspects to it that involved one of the kids that for me was of great interest because of my education background. That was a development I didn't know was in there and I enjoyed reading that part of the story as it 's history is something I 've always been interested in. (I can't say more without giving things away so I'll just have to leave it at that.)

 The 60's aspect was well written. The descriptions of everything from lifestyle, to the decor, the clothing, the political climate to the attitudes and thoughts towards different things such as women's roles in life was all historically correct. It reminded of why I chose the field I did. The one thing I didn't like about the story was the one explicit scene in it. I groaned inwardly when it came up wondering if the novel would be over run with them and if I would end up laying it aside. To me the explicitness was totally unnecessary and the scene could have been told to give me the idea of the character's feelings at the time without describing the whole act to me. Thankfully that was the one and only occurrence and it ended up being an interesting and unique story,

Reading Challenge Goals Met:  A book set somewhere you've always wanted to visit (Denver, Colorado), a book with bad reviews (this one had some mixed reviews), a book by an author I've never read, a book published this year, a book by a female author, a book chosen entirely for it's cover

33.  Inside the O'Briens by Lisa Genova

Completed:  September 25, 2015

Rating:  9/10

Review:  Joe O'Brien is a career Boston PD Police Officer hailing from the Irish side of town. He loves his wife Rosie and his four grown children and his identity is totally wrapped around being a good police officer and a proud husband and father. In his 40's Joe is working towards his 25th year on the force and eventually the full retirement package in his 50's where he and Rosie can enjoy retirement together. But when he starts to experience bouts of raging temper, dropping items, some involuntary movements and has difficulty writing out his reports at work Rosie talks the doctor avoiding Joe into getting checked by a doctor. He finds himself seeing a neurologist and then being handed the horrible diagnosis of Huntington's disease. As his family grapples with the hereditary significance of the disease Joe also has to face that his mother did not indeed die a drunk in a nursing home as he was told but that she had this horrible disease. And now all those things that scared him about her he will be going through. He also must face losing everything that defines, in his eyes, who he is.

After reading Still Alice (reviewed here) and learning so much about Alzheimer's disease, I was eager to read another of this author's novels. I basically knew nothing about Huntington's disease before reading this book and I knew, again, that I would learn from it because of author's first hand knowledge of neuroscience (she has a degree from Harvard). Huntington's Disease is a horrible hereditary neurological monster. It is passed on through families and if a parent has the disease, the children have a 50/50 chance of getting it. Symptoms usually start in the 30's or 40's and progress over the next 10 -20 years until death. It affects voluntary movements, walking, speech, temper and people not in the know assume the person is drunk. It eventually makes it so that the victim is bedridden, unable to care for themselves and will affect swallowing and eating. In the 90's a blood test was developed that reveals whether you have the gene pattern that will have Huntingtons in your future. If you are tested positive, you will have the disease 100%. There is no treatment and no cure.

 This story really spelled out what the person and family that has Huntington's running in their family line deals with. It is devastating. My heart was torn for the O'Brien family as they each come to grips with it and each sibling must decide whether to have the test and know for sure before they start to develop symptoms. As Joe is stripped of everything that is him...his health, his strength, his badge, his pride and even what him and Rosie have to face to provide for Rosie after his death is shocking and sad. And then he has to deal with the guilt. Guilt that he passed this onto his kids unknowingly, guilt of how treated his own mother even though he was mislead in what he was told was wrong with her. As he fought within himself on how he wanted to deal with the disease and whether he had the courage to live it out before his family, the story really broke my heart. As each adult child wrestled with whether to take the test and know for sure whether they had the disease, I felt myself asking what I would do. Would I be able to dig deep and find the courage to essentially live a life of hope in the midst of an essentially hopeless diagnosis.  The author really drew me into each and every character within the story as she described what they were battling inwardly.

 This author is extremely adept in bringing to light what it is like to be diagnosed and to live with these devastating diseases from both the victim's standpoint and also the family's and to give the reader knowledge and compassion. Both of the books I have read by her have really done that in my heart. I recommend her novels for that very reason. Because they are fiction they teach without the dryness of textbooks and draw out your compassion for what the people with these diseases face in their everyday. They really knock out a lot of my assumptions. That being said I must say that this particular story just about didn't get finished by myself. The proliferation of f-bombs right from the first pages of the book had me wanting to put it aside from about page 5. They are over the top plentiful as are other swears. I usually don't bother with a novel that relies on that amount of swearing. But because I knew I would learn from the story I pressed on. But in reality by the end of the book I was so done with it because of the language. It really did make it hard for me to press through.

 I give this a 9/10 for writing of the devastation and feelings of facing this disease and the knowledge and compassion it brings out of the reader but took a point away for the crazy amount of f-bombs that I had to struggle through.

 Reading Challenge Goals Met: A book set somewhere I've always wanted to visit (Boston); A book that made me cry; A book published this year; A book by a female author; A book a friend recommended; A book that scares me.

34.  52 Little Lessons from A Christmas Carol by Bob Welch


Rating:  10/10

Review:  First off, I just want to say, is that not the lovliest artwork on the cover?  That alone would have made me pick up this book.  I really like that old fashioned type detailed and coloured type of artwork! 

When I saw this come up on BookLook Bloggers for review I could hardly wait to nab it!  I have the book 52 Little Lessons from It's a Wonderful Life and I loved it so I knew this was a no-brainer to order.  And I wasn't disappointed!  Bob Welch again takes values and lessons to be learned from a beloved story and makes a years worth of weekly lessons out of it.  Put into easy readable chapters that can be read in one short sitting, it is chock full of obvious and sometimes not so obvious lessons from Dicken's classic tale.  The author pulls us out of a surface reading or watching of the various movie versions and takes us into Dicken's intentions of waking us out of our stupors of lives devoted to our own selfish pursuits and causes us to take a look at our hearts and how we treat those less fortunate.   Bob Welche's hope by the books end is that "we will know ourselves better" (pg. xvii).  He states in the Author's Notes: 

"But perspective of ourselves is critical.  It's easy for believers to see themselves as Peter during his bold confession of Christ, but not as Peter when he cowardly denies Christ.  Likewise, it will be easier to see ourselves as, say, Bob Cratchit or the kind-hearted nephew, Fred, in A Christmas Carol than as Scrooge.  We like to think the best of ourselves.

But doesn't Scripture suggest we all have a touch of Scrooge in us (Romans 3:23)?  And can't we all benefit from reexamining who we've become in our own life stories?"

                                                                                          pg.  xvii            Author's Notes
                                                                                          52 Little Lessons from A Christmas Carol

Bob Welch skillfully takes us through the contrasts in the life story of Scrooge and builds on lessons to take into our own lives today and breathes in a fresh perspective showing us that an old classic story can still be relatable to us now.  Though Scrooge is not your typical "hero"  of a story, he has much to teach us both with his selfish life and with his redeemed life.   Chapter titles such as:

     - Context Clarifies a Story,
     -Misery Loves Company,
     -It's About More Than Christmas,
     -You Make The Chains That Shackle You,
     -You Can't Wish Away the Uncomfortable,
     -Death is A Comma Not a Period,
     -Grace Changes Everything,
     -Seeking Forgiveness is a Sign of Strength,
     -Life is Best Lived When You're Awake

...just to name a few, draw the reader right in. 

 "52 Little Lessons from A Christmas Carol is tinted with a fair share of how-not-to-live lessons as well as how-to-live lessons. We learn from both.  Scripture is filled with both.

Dickens understand this, for he wrote a story that reaches us from both perspectives and is leavened with the author's faith."

                                                                                         pg.xiv               Author's Notes
                                                                                         52 Little Lessons from A Christmas Carol

In short, I loved this easy to read but chock full of good stuff book. 

35.  How to Be an American Housewife by Margaret Dilloway

Completed:  October 5, 2015

Rating:  10/10

Review: When Shoko fell in love during the war in Japan, she couldn't tell a soul, and she couldn't bring herself to leave and marry her love. Japanese culture dictated that the person she loved was not in the right caste and it would bring shame upon her family. So when tragedy strikes, Shoko decides to marry an American GI not for love but for a better life , her father picks her future husband from a pile of pictures of American suitors. Leaving Japan, she was able to keep her parents honor and have their blessing but instead she incurred the scorn of her beloved brother. Her now husband, trying to help her to fit in to American life, gives her a book called "How to be an American Housewife". Written in both English and Japanese, in it are supposed gems of wisdom in helping the Japanese wife to navigate the differences in customs and attitudes and help to transition her into the Western Culture. Now fifty years, after raising 2 children in America, Shoko desperately wants to return to Japan and see her family. Not hearing from any of them during her life in America she wants to try to heal the rift with her brother and bring a treasured item home with her. But now health problems prevent her from going and so she turns to her daughter to make the trip for her. The things her grown daughter will learn on this trip will become life changing and will cause her to see her mother in a whole new light. 

 "For the first years of my marriage, it had been my handbook, my guide to doing everything. 
Rules for living, American style. 
Sometimes it was right, and sometimes it was not. Sometimes I liked it and sometimes I didn't. 
But that was just like life. You don't always get what you want, do you?" 

How to be an American Housewife page 139 

 I loved this beautiful story. There was so much to it. The war, Japanese culture and attitudes, trying to assimilate into America, facing horrible prejudice, never fitting in, hiding secrets, love and loss. The story starts in America with an aging Shoko and her husband Charlie, and then seamslessly moves into an account of Shoko's growing up years in Japan, of her young adult self full of beauty and potential, of the hard realities of war, her life in America and then moves into the trip her daughter and granddaughter make in her stead. It is full of rich historical detail but never seams dry. The author has woven it into the story very well. The story starts in the voice of Shoko and then later also picks up the voice of Sue, her grown daughter. 

 In the author's notes it's interesting to find out that parts of the story are really from her own mother's experiences of coming to America and that the "How to be an American Housewife" book actually was inspired by a book found by the author amongst her mother's cookbooks called "The American way of Housekeeping". Her father had given it to her mother thinking it was a book for housewives, but it really was a book for maids. For the writing of the story, the author created her own version "keeping in mind how her own mother might have viewed the world back then, through her cultural lens. (pg. 335 Author's Notes). 

 This ultimately is a lovely mother/daughter story but it is also a story of forgiveness and redemption, of prejudice and survival. It is charming, ultimately uplifting and I loved it. 

 Reading Challenge Goals Met: A book based entirely on it's cover (I thought the cover was lovely)... A book set somewhere you've always wanted to visit (Japan)... A book with a love triangle (kinda)... A book that made me cry... A book by an author I've never read... A book by a female author...A book set in a different country ( half of it)  

36.  The Boston Girl by Anita Diamant

Completed:  October 15, 2015

Rating:  9.0/10

Review:  Addie Metsky is 85 years old when her youngest granddaughter interviews her and asks her how she got to be the woman that she is today.  And there starts the story of a young Addie Baum who is 15 years old and growing up in the North End of Boston.  Living  in a one room walk up with her parents and 2 sisters, she was raised by a very strict and superstitious Jewish mother and her hard working Jewish father.  The family are immigrants trying to make it in a better world but not quite prepared for the progressive America.  Out of the 3 living children, Addie was the only one born in the US.  The mom has never moved on from being forced to leave her Polish home and come to America and blames the father for the loss of their other child who died enroute.  They were poor but not starving, in Addie's words.  With everyone chipping in, they made enough for rent and food.  Addie has a natural curiosity and is very smart so against the wishes of her mother, she joins a library group for girls partly so that she can get out of the house and away from her mom who has never shown her any love or acceptance.  She recalls her days at Rockport Lodge where the girls went for a vacation and the lifelong friendships she formed there that helped to shape her life.  As Addie reminisces, she tells the story of her life and what it was like trying to make her way in the early 20th century as a woman, a Jew and an immigrant and as a young girl chafing against the old ways and trying to embrace the new.  She tells of the influences of her first exposure to "love", the influences of her "delicate" sister and her stronger more worldly sister, of her lifelong desire just to have her mother's acceptance.

For some reason, I always really like a good immigrant story.  Maybe it's because my own parents were immigrants and it helps me to relate to everything they might have faced and went through.  I like to read of their hopes and dreams in leaving everything they know and making a journey full of unknowns in the hope for a better life.  The courage that would take is astounding to me.  I enjoyed this story of family, friendships, immigrants, and trying to find one's place in a world of changing times.  Addie was a wonderful character with so many facets to her personality and I felt myself really drawn into her story.  Each character was really well developed which made it seem like I actually knew them.  The heartbreak of the immigrant story of facing total culture shock was very emotional (as my parents were immigrants too) and the contrasts between the mother who refused to change and accept her new country and in turn the child who was born in America and the father and girls of the family trying to find their place in their new world was very well written.  The narrative moves along at a nice pace and I really felt like it was an actual person telling their story which was really nice to me as 1st person narrative is not my favourite choice of story telling.   The story pulls you through every emotion:  pain, sadness, grief, joy, laughter, love and hopefully leaves the reader with hope.

Reading Challenge Goals Met:  A book set somewhere I always wanted to visit (Boston), a book by an author I've never read before, a book by a famous author,

37.  Wicked Women of the Bible by Ann Spangler


Rating:  10/10

Review:  Ann Spangler has taken the stories of 20 women in the bible, both wicked in thought and deed and wickedly good, and given us an easy to read, enjoyable look into their lives and times with the intention of applying the lessons to be gleaned from them to our contemporary lives and pointing us to a God who redeems. I really liked the format of the book. Each story is a chapter and is divided into 4 components: After the title is a scripture that sort of defines the lesson to be learnt, then the story unfolds in a storytelling format. Next comes a section called "The Times" where the author tells the probable years the story took place and then gives the scriptures where the biblical account can be found. She then describes the historical times that each woman lived in so that we have a better understanding of what each faced in their lives. Lastly comes "The Takeaway" where she asks us to answer some very thought provoking questions that serve to take it from just a story and a lesson to a more deeper application to our own lives.

 The author uses her story telling skills in bringing to life these women's stories. She relays through the story how these women might have been feeling, the setting of the times for their lives and what they were facing as women. The author shows how we can learn from even those women who made history in infamy as well as those who in today's vernacular either were or did something "wicked good" which means great or excellent. In their stories we find a God who redeems. As with any type of historical, biblical storytelling it is best to know first hand what the bible itself actually says about each of these stories and the author provides the places in the bible for the reader to be able to go and look it up themselves. There are many footnotes that provide the sources for pieces of information the author might have included in the story or in describing the time. The questions are good both for personal devotionals and reflection and would be great as discussion prompts in a group study. The chapters can be read in one sitting and a great for personal devotional time.

I was actually blessed to also do an online kind of bible study that had videos with the author so the book really did come alive for me. I loved this study and am going to put it on my list of probable studies for my group next year.

Reading Challenge Goals Met: A book by a female author, A book of short stories (bit of a cheat but each chapter is a different story about a different woman), A non-fiction

38.  A Fall of Marigolds by Susan Meissner

Completed:  November 9, 2015

Rating:  9.5/10

Review:  In 1911, Clara Wood watched as the man she was falling in love with jumped to his death as the flames from the Triangle Shirwaist Factory roared around him. Not being able to face returning to Manhattan to a life she was just starting, she finds a semblance of peace in a nursing job on Ellis island. Here she takes care of the hundreds of immigrants who are kept on the island hospital for health reasons. But when an young immigrant comes in wearing a beautiful woman's scarf with marigolds all over it and in grief for the young bride who succumbed to scarlet fever, Clara feels drawn to help the young man and the colors in the scarf. But in the helping Clara is caught up in a dilemma of whether to tell the truth or not and in turn must confront the feelings of guilt that is itself keeping her prisoner on the island.

 Taryn Michaels has built a life for her and her daughter on Manhattan's Upper West Side. She's working a job she loves researching and finding antique fabrics for her customers and has convinced herself she is finally happy. But September 2011 is coming up, the tenth anniversary of the attack on the World Trade Centers, and she is once again facing that day as a national magazine publishes a formerly unknown picture of her watching in terror and clutching a beautiful scarf with marigolds as the tower collapses and the debris falls around her. Now she must answer her daughter's questions about why she has never said that she was there when the towers fell and the guilt that she has tried to bury comes raging full force as she remembers her husband's death in the towers.

 Susan Meissner has an incredible way of taking two individuals stories years apart and connecting them through a physical object, in this case the scarf and it's journey from one to the other. Living decades apart both women witnessed a horrible life altering tragedy (the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire is a true event). Both of these women's stories were paralleled in that they were both prisoners in a sense to the guilt they felt in what had happened to their loved one, and that both were choosing to live life in an "in between place" of grief and guilt, holding back from really living and loving. Their stories of coping and what led to both tragedies really got me in my heart. I couldn't put the book down. It is beautifully written and causes the reader to think on whether they believe that things happen for a reason. It asks us to wonder if a person can actually fall in love with someone they don't really know, asks us to define what love would be. As an observer one would scoff at Clara's declarations of "loving" someone she didn't even really know, but the feelings she felt for Edward were hers and I as the reader could choose to call it unbelievable or I could choose to believe that this young, innocent girl actually did have deep feelings for the Edward she knew, even though the knowing was more of a budding aquaintanceship (is that a word?). The story asks us if we believe in destiny and that God has a plan for each of our lives. It causes us to think of the choices we make and how that forms where our life will take us. Once again I loved the immigrant experience parts of the story and learning about the hospital on Ellis island.

 There was one thing that prevents me from giving this a 10/10, however, but it is minor. For me there was a bit of confusion at the end on to whom the scarf was passed along to (who is Elinor??) and had me scratching my head and trying to turn back to former pages to see what I had missed. I loved this quote from the end of the story and it sort of summarizes the story for me: "The scarf was given first to a woman named Lily by a mother who loved her. Life sent Lily to a valley of decision, just as it sends all of us there from time to time. She made difficult choices based on despair. If I have learned anything this past year, is that despair is love's fiercest enemy. Do not chose to abandon love because you are afraid that it will crush you. Love is the only true constant in a fragile world." Fall of Marigolds pg. 363 Though in the Christian fiction genre, I think it is a story that anyone would enjoy no matter where they are in faith. I gave this lovely story a 9.5 out 10

Reading Challenge Goals Met:  A book set somewhere you've always wanted to visit (New York); A book by a female author; A book by an author you love

39.  A Man Called Ove by Fredrik Backman

Completed:  November 21, 2012

Rating:  10/10