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. Recommended.

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.

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

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

2014 Reads and Reviews

              1 .  "A Promise Kept" by Robin Lee Hatcher

               Completed:  January 7, 2014

               Rating:  9/10

               Review:  Allison has moved to the mountain of Idaho to start life over.  After her marriage ended in divorce, she moved into the rustic log cabin that her great Aunt Emma had left her.  Bringing huge disappointment and guilt along with her, Allison hopes to start the process of healing.  But first she needs to get past the confusion of why God didn't step in and fix her marriage.  She thought she'd heard from God and was obedient to what believed God had said.  But nothing had turned out the way she thought it would.  When she finds an old wedding dress in the cabin she wonders who's it could be.  Her aunt had been a single woman.  One who was confident and adventurous but definitely single.  When she comes across journals her aunt had kept since a teenager, Allison savors reading through them and is surprised to learn that her aunt had secrets that no one in the family knew and that she had more in common with her beloved aunt than she ever thought.

Robin Lee Hatcher is one of my favorite authors in the Christian genre so I was excited to see something new in the contemporary style from her.  For this story she draws from her experience of divorce and alcoholism to tell us the story of the main character, Allison.  As Allison tries to put her life back together, she questions whether she really heard from God when she was so sure God would save her marriage.   Her character is very relatable.  The disappointment that things didn't turn out as she thought and hoped, the confusion in whether she had heard from God and the obviously opposite outcome, the insecurity and unsureness of where her life was now headed are all things any of us struggle with in life. I loved the added dimension of the story of her great Aunt Emma's life which, unbeknownst to her, in many ways paralleled her own.  Some might say the ending wrapped up too neatly and nicely but I found the struggle to get to where the characters went and the time frame it took them fit very nicely.  I found the story anencouragment to seek and totally lay one's life down to the Lord and to trust in His wisdom and ways.  The one thing that I didn't like about the book was that Emma's journal entries were put into a font that was quite a bit smaller than the regular type.  For my eyes that presented a touch of difficulty while reading.  But I did enjoy the story and the realness of the struggle of the characters. 

2.  "Fallen Women" by Sandra Dallas

Completed:  January 18, 2014

Rating:  8/10


3.  "Butterfly Palace" by Colleen Coble

Completed:  January 30, 2014

Rating:  8.5/10

Review:  Four years ago, Lily Donaldson lost her father in a questionable barn fire that also took the life of her fiance's father and the grief and guilt of which drove her fiance away.  Now still not over those losses, Lily is grieving the death of her mother and moves to the city to take on work as a house maid in a grand house working for a senator hopeful.  While it seems like a wonderful job she is creeped out by the the owner's love and collection of butterflies that she must be exposed to on a regular basis.  She is quickly promoted to lady's maid to the owner's very spoiled and beautiful niece who has her eyes set on a handsome young man.  One whom Lily discovers much to her shock and anger, is none other than her former fiance.  But he's changed his name and his past and has begged Lily not to reveal him.  Just as she determines to find out what is going on another servant girl from the city is attacked.  And Lily is there when it happens.  Now she must find out what is this mystery with her ex and figure out how can she trust him ever again even while the terror of the mysterious killer threatens to overwhelm the household.

This was only my second ever Colleen Coble novel and I have to say I did enjoy it. It fit the bill for the type of read I was wanting at the time: easy reading, historical setting, bit of a romance, bit of mystery. While it probably would be labeled historical fiction because of the time period it was in and involved the class distinctions of the rich and the servants it did feel like it had a bit of a contemporary flavor to it. The mystery was the best part for me. The author was able to put together 3 different puzzles and weave them with twists and turns that left me guessing right till the end whether one had anything to do with the other and who or who all was behind it. While there was a violent aspect to part of the mystery I never felt it was gratuitous or overly described or written so as to strike "stay up at night" fear in me. There were lots of characters but it was never confusing and their personalities were definitely distinct. Three of the main characters had definite growth happen by the end and I really like how that played out in the story. In the end, it was a story that kept me turning the pages.

 The one thing that irked me, that I just have to get off my chest, which I have mentioned with other novels before, is the fact that the book cover does not match the description within the story. While absolutely lovely artwork, it is nothing like the house described on page 7 as such: "The automobile stopped in front of a grand stone mansion" and "...dark brick that made it look stern and unwelcoming", and "willed herself to admire the 4 story mansion". It might be a small thing but it is a pet peeve with me and I don't understand why publishers do that. As I read the story my mind's eye pictures the home on the front of the cover and soon forgets the author's actual description and the character's initial feelings when laying eyes on it. But that is my pet peeve and one that didn't actually take away from this particular story.

4.  "Forever After" by Deborah Raney (Hanover Falls #2)

Completed:  January 7 2014

Rating:  8.0/10

Review:   This is the second in the Hanover Falls series from Deborah Raney.  This story picks up the lives of two of the characters that were introduced in the first book. Luke Vermontez not only lost his father, the captain, in the tragic blaze of the homeless shelter from the last book, but he was seriously injured and almost lost his own life. After a year of multiple surgeries and intense and painful rehab, Luke is still holding onto the dream of getting back to his job as a firefighter. But with progress not going as fast as he would hope he has fought frustration and depression over the last year as he feels useless and lost in his life.

 Jenna Morgan's husband was one of the firefighters who died in the blaze a year ago. In the last book she had pulled herself away from her friend Brynne, who's mistake started the fire. But as the year passes Jenna faces mounting debt and a realization that she has been living a lie in more ways than one. All her secrets are making getting her life on track nearly impossible and she finds herself moving in with her very wealthy in-laws. When her and Luke's lives intersect and Luke starts to make clear that he wants more than a friendship Jenna must come to terms with everything she has so carefully tried to keep hidden.

 While not as intense as the first book in the series, this was still a good read. I especially liked the arc of Luke's story. A very dedicated rookie firefighter, his dream was to walk in his dad's footsteps. I was drawn into his emotions and struggles as he not only had to deal with his dad's death, but his own guilty feelings concerning surviving the fire and his painful recovery and loss of purpose. Then as he became closer to Jenna he was also fighting feelings of guilt as Jenna's deceased husband was his best buddy at the firehall. I loved how the author really brought forth all the emotional and psychological mountains that an injured first responder might face. Jenna's story was at times frustrating due to her attitudes and the secrets she was keeping driving a lot of her decisions. I wanted to root for her but also wanted to shake her at times. But her story also was interesting as she did show some growth. I found this story well written and one that engaged my emotions.

5.  "Sweet Dreams" by Carla Stewart

Completed:  February 24, 2014

Rating:  8.0/10

Review:  Dusty Fairchild has grown up in Texas with her self made oil millionaire father and a loving housekeeper.  Her mother passed away when she was very little and from her funeral gravesite Dusty pocketed some rocks that she found appealing.  Fast forward to her graduation party and Dusty still has a passion for rocks and her dream is to go to college and study geology.  But it is 1962 and her father feels she will be better off attending a finishing school.  It is the last thing she wants to do but her father insists and in trying to bargain going to college afterwards, she agrees to go to the finishing school.  And besides, in trying to sway her in that direction her father paid for her cousin Paisley to attend with her.  Paisley is the same age as Dusty but couldn't have lived a life more different than her.  While Dusty has been sheltered and brought up quite strict Paisley has traveled all over the U.S. with her hippie mom and already has had a life time of adventures.  The cousins are close friends and this is making the year of finishing school tolerable for Dusty.  Paisley on the other hand is thrilled to have the chance to attend finishing school and embraces it wholeheartedly.  She's had enough of the vagabond lifestyle that her mother so embraces.  She wants stability and some roots.  But there are secrets swirling around the two of them that threatens to destroy their bond, secrets concerning Paisley's mom and the deep dislike Dusty's dad has towards her.  And then there is the little matter of Paisley falling in love with a young man she has met on the first day of finishing school.  A young man whom she later finds out is non other than Dusty's boyfriend from back home.    But when a life threatening accident happens back on the ranch, it brings out what really matters to each girl's heart.

This was a nice read from Carla Stewart.  While it didn't grab me in quite the same way as the others I have read from her did, it still was a wonderful read that drew me into the story and the characters.  There is a bit of mystery with family secrets and issues along several fronts and a theme of  following one's dreams and talents and of learning to forgive.   I love how the author develops her stories and characters, like a slow simmer, and it really keeps the pages turning for me7.  Her characters are so relatable and I get really attached to them as the story progresses.  I loved the setting for the book, the early '60's and the finishing school.  I can't say I have read a whole lot of books with that setting.  Class systems, bullying, abuse,trying to fit in and societal expectations are all explored through the story of these two cousins.  I have so far not been disappointed in any of this author's novels.  She's one I keep on my watch list for new stories coming.

6.  "The Astronaut Wives Club - A true story" by Lily Koppel

Completed:  March 2, 2014

Rating:  9/10

Review:  I've always been mildly obsessed been very interested in the missions to land a man on the moon of the 1960's.  But all the books I've read have always focused on the astronauts or on a specific mission.  Finally a book takes a look into the lives of the astronaut's wives and how their husband's very public, very dangerous jobs affected their family lives.

From the beginning of their young married lives as wives of test pilots, wondering and worrying daily if their husbands would come home alive each day from their jobs, to being thrown in a very public life once the goal of "a man on the moon before the end of the decade" became the focus of the country,  theirs was not necessarily an easy life.  They were the ones at home budgeting their meager military income as test pilot families and then handling all of a sudden having all sorts of perks handed to them from companies then just as quickly it seemed  having to split those perks with more and more astronaut families.  They went  from basically quiet, private lives to the sudden popularity and worries of other women now throwing themselves at their husbands.  They had to handle and navigate the stresses of watching their husbands be in a very competitive organization  and had to learn to be open to the constant demand for interviews and a very public fishbowl existence that was now required of them. They were expected to hold it together at home so that their husbands would be able to concentrate on the task at hand in their work.  In the process some handled it better than others.  The women formed a tight unit with the original 7 wives and Marge Slayton attempted to continue it on by starting the Astronaut Wives Club to provide support.   It was very interesting how they survived the "rock star" status of their husbands, with the constant demands that the public and NASA placed upon their husbands, marriages and families.  It is also interesting to note that a very small percentage were able to hold their marriages together through the stress but that they had to put on a good "show" to the public.  I thought this was a great read that finally gave some credit to the women who stayed on the home front during a time when the hope of a nation was placed in the history that the space program was writing and the eyes of all were on the heroes that their husbands had become.

7.  "David and Goliath - Underdogs, Misfits and the Art of Battling Giants" by Malcolm Gladwell

Completed:  March 5, 2014

Rating:  7.5/10

Review:  This book turned out to be something different than what I was thinking it was going to be.  For some reason I thought it was going to be a indepth study of the biblical story of  David and Goliath but that was my error for not reading the description closely enough.  While the author has started off with the story of David and Goliath he uses that as the diving board to explore many other aspects and more current stories of what the world would call underdogs rising above their circumstances and stations in life to accomplish the seemingly impossible. 

While the description on the cover of the book states it he begins with the "real" story of what happened between the giant and the shepherd boy, David, I found that I could not quite agree that it was the "real" story.  I felt it was more supposition on the author's part.  He breaks it down into a pretty much intellectual breakdown of what might have happened and what might have accounted for David's victory over the Philistine giant.  In my mind, while all that "might" have been true, there is no evidence for it, the story of David and Goliath is so much more than what is seen with the eye.  It is a story of great spiritual significance, of a young boy's deep faith in the greatness and faithfulness of God and his audacity to take God at His word.  It is a story of God's plan and fulfillment of that plan, of David fulfilling what God had called him to in order to change history. 

That being said I did find the exploration of the underdog very interesting.  By going into other true to life stories the author takes a look at what we as a society define as handicaps, disabilities and disadvantages and how certain groups and individuals have taken that and turned it around into a victory.  Because non-fiction is always more challenging to me it took me a little longer to make it through to the end but I'm glad I was persistent with it.  Some of the statistics in the book did bog me down but the book is not over done with them.  The questions and arguments the author stated did challenge my thinking and made for some good conversations.

The book being mostly a historical and psycological study, I found it didn't touch on the spiritual at all except to quote a scripture at the beginning of each chapter.  It is interesting to note that in writing this book it kicked off a journey for the author into turning back to his family's Christian faith.  He also on the B& B media blog when discussing this book quoted: 

“Believing that the power within us – the Spirit of God – can overcome the powers against us means that we are not the underdog,” explains Gladwell. “We are not as weak as we think we are. Neither is the giant as strong as he seems. This is an important lesson for us to learn in our battles with opponents of all kinds.”

And in essence I think that that is the point that Mr. Gladwell has learned and now speaks about in interviews.  I wish a bit more of that point was made more clear within the book itself.  After all is said and done, I found the book interesting, very readable to even a non-fiction reader such as myself, and challenging to examine my own way of thinking.

8.  "The Book of Matt - Hidden Truths about the Murder of Matthew Shepard" by Stephen Jimenez

Completed:  March 9, 2014

Rating:  9/10

Review:  After researching the murder and trial of  Matthew Sheppard's killers, Stephen Jimenz, gay himself, has come to the conclusion that there was way more to the story than media's report and the prosecution's case of this being a gay hate crime.  Very well researched, research which took him over 10 years, Jimenez has done a lot of work and spoke to a great many who had contact with those involved,  to bring to light the truth of this very sad ending to a young man's life.

9.  "Sweet Salt Air" by Barbara Delinsky

Completed:  March 17, 2014

Rating:  7/10

Review:  Liked the story line though I guessed a lot of of the stuff going on before it was revealed.  The plot was good though there was lots of pre-marital sexual encounters and descriptions thereof, which I know the general population thinks nothing about anymore, but it meant lots of skipping parts of the book for me.   I especially liked the addition of the food blogger story line.  The MS storyline and experimental therapies was very interesting.   Ending was a bit predictable.

10.  "After All" by Deborah Raney

Completed:  March 20, 2014

Rating:  9.5/10

Review:    Book 3 of the Hanover Falls series, finds Susan Marlowe finally starting to heal after the tragic fire that took the life of her firefighter husband.  What made it even worse was that the fire was at the homeless shelter which she started and devoted her life to.  Now after a lot of work the shelter is back up and running in a different location but now she has much opposition from certain people in town and they are spreading their opinions so much that giving has been way down.  And in the midst of that pressure she makes a startling discovery about a secret her husband tried to hide.  The fire investigator from the Grove Street shelter also hides a secret.  Her firefighter  friend also died in the shelter fire. She had such hopes that the friendship would become more but now that will never be.  And she must grieve in private only because because her friend was also a married man.  Firechief Peter Brennan is still recovering emotionally from that horrendous fire.  He lost so many of his men that night and is still in the process of rebuilding the department.   But when the two women enter his life he has a whole new set of problems he must contend with.

After All is the third and final installment in the series and picks up on the story of the Shelter founder and director Susan Marlowe's life 18 months after the shelter fire.  It is a story that deals with betrayal, forgiveness and hope of moving on.  There is a bit of mystery woven into the story that really kept the pages turning for me.  A bit of love triangle provides tension throughout and my heart went out to Susan's young adult son who was introduced in this book.  At 22, he has moved back into Susan's home and is still struggling to come to terms with his father's death and the secret that he knew his father was keeping.    A twist in the story surprised me in the end, which is something I like.   Once again Deborah Raney has written a story that totally drew me in and made me care about the characters.

Set aside

-could not get into the writing style.  Gave up after 40 pages.

Set aside

-could not get into writing style or story

11.  "Unquenchable - Growing a Wildfire Faith that Will Endure Anything" by Carol Kent

Completed:  March 26, 2014

Rating:  8.5/10

Review:   Sometimes this life is just plain hard and there are times when things turn out very disappointingly different than what we would plan.  How do we not just not lose faith in but actually grow our faith in these times?  This book endeavours to show us how.  There are plenty of stories of women who have gone through hard, hard things.  But the main theme of going through your own personal fiery trials and not just scraping by but actually growing a wildfire faith that spreads to others is brought out loud and clear.   Life is not always easy peasy for believers and we all will face hardships and disappointments in this life.  The author, through the stories of  some courageous women who have gone through some extremely difficult and horrendous things and have come out with hope and faith, encourages us and teaches us to find God in the firestorms of life and to grow our faith to wildfire proportions through these difficult times. ( I do have to admit though that one of the stories I just could not wrap my head around.) Each chapter ends with questions you can journal the answers to or if doing as a group you can use them to start discussions.  She then gives a practical "Fire Building Challenge" to help you to do something practical and meaningful that relates to that chapter's lesson.

12.  "Girls with Swords" by Lisa Bever (book and workbook)

Completed:  April 7, 2014

Rating:  6.5/10


13.  " My Life with George" by Judith Summers

Completed:  April 12, 2014

Rating:  9.5/10

Review:  "What I Learned about Joy from One Neurotic (and Very Expensive) Dog"

When Judith Summers lost her beloved husband to cancer, her and her young son were understandably at a loss.  In an effort to help with their profound grief, Judith gave in and said yes to a dog.  After some research, she decided that a Cavalier King Charles Spaniel would fit the bill.  Enter George into their lives.  Charming, adorable, loving and fun.  George also turned out to be high maintenance, naughty, and accident prone.  Things happened to George.  A lot.  This is Judith's story of how a small bundle of fur can take over one's life in hilarious and moving ways.  It's a story full of laughter and tears as George just takes completely over.  I loved her tales of his naughtiness, laughing much because as a dog owner I could totally relate to a lot of it.  I also cried along with her as her and her son dealt with the loss of husband, father, best friend, provider and the huge hole that was left in their lives.  Judith writes in a very engaging way and you are drawn right into their lives and the chaos that is George.  Loved this story.

13.  "When Crickets Cry" by Charles Martin

Completed:  April 26, 2014

Rating:  9/10


14.  "Snapshot" by Lis Wiehl

Completed:  May 22, 2014

Rating:  9/10

Review:   Waldren is a very busy, very successful federal prosecutor and has just finished wrapping up a very important case when she is contacted by her father.  A former FBI man he is insistent she take a look at a case of a black man on death row who is there for killing a civil rights leader.  A man her father believes is innocent.  But Lisa is reluctant to take a look at the case.  First because the marches in the South that happened so long ago seem so far removed from her life in Boston now and second, because her relationship with her father is so strained and distant that taking it on is just another stress.  But when her father reveals that Lisa was actually at the march where Benjamin Gray was murdered and shows Lisa a picture he took of her and another little African American girl, Lisa's curiosity is peaked.  As the search begins to identify the little girl and women in the snapshot, Lisa starts to see why her father may have been so distant as she grew up. 

I really enjoyed this murder mystery.  The photograph on the cover of the book is an actual photo of the author herself when she was three. That she built the story around that photograph and based it on real events and her father's own G-man career and his involvement in the investigation of Kennedy's murder and her own knowledge and background as a former federal prosecutor made the book seem very appealing when I read and purchased it.  She wove in some history from the civil rights movement in the South and built a page turning story that is also thought provoking and touching.

 The main story centers around proving the African American man who is on death row , a man who has spent the majority of his life in prison for murder, is actually innocent of the crime.  Then the author weaves in father-daughter relational issues, racial prejudice, secrets,  forgiveness, and justice into an exciting story.  I really enjoyed the mystery within a mystery that the author put in with presidential cabinet that holds a clue.  The path that the author took me on from a photograph in the '60's and using modern techniques and available tools such as the internet to find connections was really interesting.  There were actually two father daughter story lines, which I thought was really worthy of note in their comparisons.   Her exploration of the two father-daughter relationships was a touching and thought provoking aspect to the fast paced mystery part of the story and, I thought, well done.   I also liked how the antagonist and his family history was also developed. It really added to the story.   I know it seems like there were many story lines within the book but the author wove it together so well and everything fit and didn't seem unnecessary to the story.  Just a small note, because it is a murder mystery there are a couple of grisly descriptions, so if you are squeamish about that, those parts can easily be skimmed over.  This was a very interesting page turning read. It was my first book by this author and I'm glad I picked it up.

15.  "Little Girl Blue - The Life of Karen Carpenter" by Randy L. Schmidt

Completed:  June 2014

Rating:  8.5/10

Review:  The biography of Karen Carpenter's life and death.  From the beginning's of her life and growing up years to her passion for drums and her rise to fame as the lead singing half of the duo from the '70's "the Carpenter's".  Karen seemed to have it all, yet behind the scenes and in her private times another story unfolded.  At a time when very little was understood about anorexia, Karen struggled privately to gain some control over her own life.  This book wrote of a domineering mother who's main goal was to promote her brother Richard.  Karen was secondary and decisions were always made in the context of how it would benefit Richard's music career.  The family was close and yet no one saw what was happening to Karen until she was well into the anorexia.  As a team Richard and Karen were very hard workers, always working on their music and even though surrounded by people Karen found herself quite lonely.  She dreamed of being married and having children.   What started out as a diet to help her slim down soon spiraled out of control with food becoming the one thing in her life she felt she was in control of.  

It was an interesting read, fascinating and sad.  As with all biographies, especially when the subject has passed away and can't speak for themselves, I read with a grain of salt.  But if everything in this version is true, there was a sadness to this young woman's life and a lesson to be learned of the sometimes heavy burden of pain that famous people might carry that no one knows about.  Karen kept her weight loss very well hidden and though at times some noticed and commented she vehemently would deny it and wouldn't even admit it to herself.   When she finally did seek help it was with the thought that she would attend counselling for a very set period of time and then she figured she was fine.  Not much was known of the causes and triggers of anorexia at the time, so her story ends with the tragic death of one of music's talented artists at a very early age.

16.  " A Deadly Business" by Lis Wiehl

Completed:  June 22, 2014

Rating:  8/10

Review:   I like a mystery once in awhile so when this book came up for review I ordered it in spite of the fact that it is actually the 2nd in a series, the first of which I hadn't read. But I thought I'd give it a go because I really enjoyed the last book I read from this author.   As described above Mia Quinn is a Seattle prosecutor who is was widowed seven months before and is doing her best trying to raise a teen and a younger child on her own while still dealing with grief.  Her work takes a lot of time and on top of just being attacked in court by a defendant she was handed a very tough assignment of deciding whether a couple of teens should be prosecuted as adults or juvenilles in a very polarizing violent crime.  So when her friend, a detective, comes to tell her he thinks that the accident that took her husband isn't an accident Mia feels totally overwhelmed.  But as they start to look into it, questions start to arise as to what her husband was really up to in the last months of his life.  Things become more complex and dangerous the more they dig and Mia is not sure she wants to know the truth.

The story hit the floor running and didn't stop until the end.  Lots of fast paced action made it a page turner.  The main characters were very likable and I didn't feel like I was lost from not having read the first book of the series.  I felt for Mia in her struggles with juggling a very demanding job, being there for her children and helping them deal with their new normal without their dad while also still dealing with her own grief.  But when clues start to point towards the possibility of her husband not being the person she believed before he died, and Mia wrestling with the knowledge that she had suspicions but didn't confront him when he was still alive, the reading got a bit emotionally difficult for me.  It was hard getting through that.  But when things really started coming to head, it was a book that was hard to put down. 

The secondary story of the teens being charged with a violent crime was at times heart wrenching and I liked how the author explored the consequences and politics of what would happen if these teens were charged either way and what factors might have contributed to the decisions they made.   It made an interesting part of the story that made me think on a topic that I don't normally come to face. 

If you're looking for a heavy Christian element from the story, it isn't there but for a murder mystery I found it a good, tense page turner. 

17.  "Bridge to Haven" by Francine Rivers

Completed:  July 9, 2014

Rating:  9/10

Review: Lena Scott is a rising star in Hollywood during the 1950's.  With an ambitious agent she is on her way up.  Everything should be perfect for her.  But Lena is weary.  Not just physically but in her heart.  She's tired of playing a part even in her off screen life.  Though her real name is Abra Freeman, no one knows her as such, even her husband/agent refuses to call her anything but Lena and she must play the part of the starlet 24/7.  No one knows of her humble background as a young girl raised in a small town with Christian roots.  Found under a bridge as an infant by the local pastor and taken home she was nurtured by a loving family.  Until tragedy struck and she found herself given to another family who adopted her and tried to love her.  But now Abra had deep scars of rejection to deal with and that built over the years to the point where she couldn't see the love that was right in front of her.  Bitter and disenchanted, bored with what she perceives is her dull life , she easily falls prey to the attentions of  the dashing and older young man who rides into town with a fast car and slick words.  Knowing Abra is vulnerable he charms her with promises of a more exciting life.  But the life he leads her to causes her to leave everything behind and too late she realizes the price she has had to pay for the attention and love she feels she must have.  She's left her past behind but now all she wants is to go home with no way to get there.  Too late she realizes the life she shunned.

Pastor Ezekiel has never given up hope for Abra and prays for her continuously.  His son Joshua has loved Abra since childhood but being drafted to war has separated them in more than distance.  When he comes home from war, amidst having to deal with his own heart wounds,  he finds an Abra who is closed off and rebellious and he finds he has no influence to what Abra thinks she wants.  After she leaves he has tried to find Abra but all the looking he has done has led him nowhere.  In frustration he finally does what his father advises him to do and that is to let Abra go and to let God in His time work on her.  But his heart is having a hard time letting her go.  No one is more shocked than he when he hears she is a movie star in Hollywood.  Now what does he do?

I finished this book quite a while ago but it's sat waiting for me to review.  Notes from the author in the back tells us that the story is based on the scripture from Ezekiel 16 *"where God speaks of His chosen people as an unwanted newborn whom He cared for, watched over and eventually chose as His bride despite their rejection of Him".  She relates it to her own life of going her own way and the consequences and regrets until finally being brought to her knees and surrendering back to the Lord.  It is worth the read of the Author notes to know how she felt about the main characters in her book. 

The author brought the lifestyle of the 1950's small town and Hollywood to life in her descriptions.  I found the story very heartbreaking and I could see myself a lot in the character of Abra, not necessarily in the circumstances but in the heart attitude.  I think the story in that sense if very relatable to all.  Although it is a story that is long in length I could not put it down.   Some have criticized  some of the actions of the pastor in the book in that he didn't discuss things with the 5 year old Abra when she overhears him and his wife talking about the hardship on the wife's health that the taking in of Abra was.  They feel that didn't jive.  And then again when the pastor gives Abra to another family.  It was criticized that the church family would have rallied around and helped him.  But to me it rang true to the decade setting of the book.  It was the 1950's after all, not 2014.  Children were seen and not heard and were treated as children not as little adults.  The actions and decisions of adults were not discussed with children.  They were made and the children's opinions were not sought out.  Anyway, that was a little point I found odd in other critiques.  When reading a novel we should keep in mind the culture and mindset of the time and not hold it up to how things are done today. 

Anyway, the reason I found it so hard to review this story was not because of the story itself, that was wonderful, but because of some instances of graphic content.  It is not going to be every Christian's cup of tea even though it is in the Christian fiction genre.  Some of the imtimate scenes were much more described than one usually finds in this genre.  In the context of the story I can see what the author was trying to show, however.  That said, I do feel I have to make mention of it to my book review readers as I feel some would want to be aware of that within the story.

All said I did find it a great prodigal son type of read, a story of hurt and stubborness, of mercy, grace and unconditional love.  I've always loved this author for the emotions she is able to draw out of me throughout the story, how she involves my heart and draws me right in from the beginning and how she is able to parallel a biblical story to a more modern time.

*quote from Notes from the Author, pg 481, Bridge to Haven.

18.  "Porch Lights" by Dorothea Benton Frank

Completed:  July 18, 2014

Rating:  7/10

Review:  Jimmy McCullen and his wife Jackie both have careers where they take their life in their hands.  Jimmy is a firefighter with the FDNY and Jackie is an army nurse who has finished 3 seven month tours of Afghanistan.    Jimmy plays the role of father and mother to their son, Charlie,  while Jackie is gone and they are a close knit family.  When Jimmy is killed in a horrendous fire both Jackie and Charlie are understandably devastated.  Finding it hard to move on and watching her happy, active and outgoing boy turn quiet and inward, Jackie decides to spend the summer on Sullivan's Island with her mother.  Hoping it will bring some healing time for her son, Jackie wonders how she herself will get along with her mom.   They are incredibly different people and Jackie feels her mom has never understood her or her choice of career.  

Annie is thrilled to have Jackie and Charlie coming home and fully prepares the house including turning the porch lights on until they make the long trip from New York.   Her quirky friend Deb helps her but Annie was not expecting the help of her estranged husband who walked out of her life 11 years ago.  While not together, they have not divorced and it stirs up her aggravation at him all over again when he comes back into their lives.  Add in Jackie's blaming  of her mother for the separation and it makes for awkward family relationships.  But for the sake of her grandson, who desperately needs the loving influence of his grandfather, Annie gives in to his presence in their lives.  Add in a good looking, single doctor who lives next door who Annie and Deb tease each other about and it becomes quite the summer.

It took me a long time to get into the book.   The story is told from the viewpoint of Jackie and Annie alternating  between chapters.    Once I got past the first few chapters and got used to the "voice" that was telling the story it became better reading for me.  Each chapter has a verse that starts it off from Edgar Allan Poe's story "The Gold Bug" which is also worked into the main storyline.  In all honesty, not a thing that appeals to me as a reader and I found myself skipping that beginning verse.    I did, however, like how who Edgar Allan Poe was and what he had to do with the island and how that  was worked into the storyline.  Very interesting.   Another thing that I couldn't really get into in the story was the constant mention of alcohol and it's consumption.  They forever seemed to be purchasing booze for the bar, setting up the bar, deciding what drink to have and this part of the story, to me,  got to be unnecessary.  What I did like about the story was the lovely descriptions of the South and island life, the occasional humor that made me laugh out loud and the underlying love beneath the family issues that caused one woman to hang onto the hope of eventually seeing her family back together.   

19.  The Cuckoo's Child by Margaret Thompson

Completed:  August 3, 2014

Rating:  9.5/10

Review:  Livvy Alvarsson has not had an easy go of the adult life.  In her forties, she has faced the devastating and debilitating disappearance of her 4 year old son eleven years earlier.  There was never any clues and the police finally had to call off the search with Daniel never being found.  Eleven years later Livvy still feels the profound loss.  And now she's facing another loss.  That of her beloved younger brother to cancer.  Hoping she can be his bone marrow donor she is shaken to the core to find out that there is no way that she can.  Now she no longer even knows who she is and with only a clue of a gas mask with a partial name and a life changing secret revealed she sets off from her community in British Columbia, Canada to a search in England. 

I don't know what originally drew me to this book, the cover, the title, the description or the fact that the author is Canadian.  Maybe all of the above.  But I really was captured by this story.  It's a story of profound loss and grief, but also one of love and family, restoration and acceptance.  It gripped me from the very beginning as Livvy starts her story in the form of "conversation" with her beloved brother, holding his hand as he lays unconscious dying from cancer.  As she talks to him and unburdens her heart,  her story starts to unfold and it is absorbing in the way she speaks and the way she puts it together.  The writing is beautiful.  You go through her life with her, the joys and excitements and then the deep despair of trying to find the lost child.  Livvy bears the full brunt of feeling guilty as Daniel was with her and you go with her through the difficulties and the search and then the effects on her marriage and trying to move on with life.  When the horrific secret that is revealed when her brother becomes ill you wonder how she will hold up under the news.  Her search for family history brings into her life a handful of interesting characters, some that bring some lightness to the story so even though the story was very sad in parts it was lifted by these moments of wonderful characters, but also a character that makes you determined never to become like that.   It shows the devastating effects of unforgiveness and hard heartedness and religion gone to merciless extremes.     The story and the style and the prose was so engaging I could not put it down.  Amidst the heaviness, the author beautifully weaves in through Livvy's voice the joys of life and family, the strength of a committed marriage, and finding hope to go on until the story comes full circle. 

20.  Quaker Summer by Lisa Samson

Completed:  August 19, 2014

Rating:  8/10

Review:  Heather has it all.  A privileged lifestyle provided by her heart surgeon husband.  She is a stay at home mom with a teen age son, lives in a huge house on a lake, drives a big vehicle and wants for nothing.  But she's not happy.  She is constantly spending more and more money.  And convincing herself it's all for good reason.  The tennis court is so her son's friends can hang out, the new pool furniture to replace the furniture that's only a couple years old is so that she can give the older one to someone who needs furniture.  And on and on it goes to the point where her husband is being worked into the ground in order to keep up with it.  And his dream of missions is permanently on hold.  But Heather can't seem to stop herself.  She must keep up with the Jones and surpass them all and keep up appearances all in the name of being a giving person.   But this summer all is about to change.   As she is starting to be convicted of her attitudes and spending habits, her world turns upside down when circumstances cause her to meet a pair of Quaker sisters who reach out to her and a nun who runs the homeless shelter.  Can she put aside all her excuses and learn what God is trying to show her?  What needs to happen before she can let go?

I really did enjoy this story.  I found it quite relatable in the sense that we all make excuses, even good sounding ones, for our attitudes and lifestyles and actions.  But when God starts to convict us on some of this stuff we tend to run the other direction unfortunately and it takes time for Him to get through to us.   Though the author chose the vehicle of a privileged lifestyle to get the story across, Heather's journey could have been mine in any number of areas.   About 3/4 of the way through the book I was thinking "Get the point already, Heather", I thought to myself that sometimes I too am stubborn and clueless and don't want to admit or learn what God would be trying to show me.   We tend to hang onto what we know and what is our comfort zones.  This story made me laugh, and cringe, and my heart went out to the character as she struggled to let go and get out of what was comfortable.  

Set aside:  Could not get into the characters or story

21.  The Edge of the World by Phil Callaway

Completed:  September 15, 2014

Rating:  8/10

Review:  Terry Anderson is a 10 (or is it 8?  I can't remember) year old growing up in the small town of Grace.  As small towns go back in the day, the citizens are grouped by each other into distinct categories of either church goers or not.  Terry's family definitely is so his growing up years are steeped in Christian school and church activities.  And being extremely poor shapes everything he does.   Terry thrives on the outdoor rink each winter, skating until he's frozen.  The indoor rink where it would definitely be warmer is off limits to the church going kids.  So suffer it out he must.  Nothing keeps him away.  And it is during one of those times when he is the last to leave that Terry makes a discovery that could change his life forever.  But he must keep it a secret or risk losing it all.  But with the secrets come the lies.  And with the telling of the lies comes keeping all those lies straight.  And then there is the moral dilemma of it all.  How is a young kid to cope?  But the lure of keeping the secret and making his life easier is too big to pass up and Terry starts to question what he really believes.  Does he have the faith of his parents?  With a godly older brother to look up to and whom he doesn't want to disappoint, Terry struggles with telling anyone his secret.  He knows he should but the doors it is opening to his impoverished life is just too tempting.  Maybe he'll wait just one more day.

This fiction story is written by one of my favorite funny authors.  It's his first fictional story and I think it was an engaging and sweet read.  It is written in the voice of young Terry and you really get a young boy's view on everything from church, to school, to a young boy's first crush on the pretty girl at school, to the fun characters in the town that make up his small world.  It takes a look at some pretty deep issues of faith and poverty, seemingly good circumstances and moral dilemmas and looks at them through the innocence of a young boy.  The author made the mid century Canadian town come to life through Terry's telling and it was nostalgic and fun, sad and sweet all at the same time.  There were many laugh out loud moments as the young Terry describes what he sees in truth and honesty without all the covering up that adults tend to do to keep up appearances.  I thought it was a great read.

22. Operation Christmas Child - the Story of Simple Gifts by Franklin Graham and Donna Lee Toney

Completed:  September 27, 2014

Rating:  10/10

Review:  I finished this book weeks ago but you know, life just sorta got hectic and I just haven't put my brain together to write a review.  What can I say about this book?  My heart has been connected with this ministry from the first time I saw Franklin Graham talk about sending shoeboxes to Bosnia in the 1990's.   Our family has been sending shoeboxes since then and I've been the co-ordinator at my church for years.  It is very near and dear to my heart.  So when this book came out to celebrate 100 million shoeboxes packed and given to needy children I had to read it.

This is the beautiful history of this ministry, from the inception of the idea, to the excitement, the joy and sometimes danger of delivering the boxes, to the incredible stories of the perfect box miraculously being placed in the hands of just the right child and how it spoke to them of God's love and let them know that somebody somewhere cared about what they were going through.  The story is told, fittingly, in the voice of Franklin Graham, Billy Graham's son, who heads the world wide emergency relief organization Samaritan's Purse under which Operation Christmas Child operates.  This book is touching and I recommend a big ol' box of kleenex to be handy when you delve into the pages.  You'll cry as you read the plight and conditions of the children the boxes are for, how God has led and blessed the delivery of the boxes, how everyday people have caught the vision and excitement and sought God on what to pack and how certain boxes have made it to children who needed or asked God to show His love by having a certain item within a box.  In other words, you'll do a fair bit of crying.  It is truly a miraculous story and one cannot fail to be touched by what goes on in this organization.  I highly recommend reading this is you've ever wondered about Operation Christmas Child or Samaritan's Purse, ever been curious what happens to the boxes, ever packed a box and thought about the children or if you love an encouraging story of a simple idea touching kids around the world.

23.  A Life Intercepted by Charles Martin

Completed:  October 20, 2014

Rating:  9.5/10

Review:   Matthew Rising was on his way to a great life. Nicknamed "the Rocket" he was the hometown hero.  A high school and college quarterback star, his winning record was unmatched and he was the number 1 NFL draft pick.  Not only was he the best at football, it seemed he was also the best at life.  His high moral standards for himself caused him to be a kind and passionate young man.  With his high school sweetheart, now loving and supportive wife, by his side, Matthew is about to sign his professional contract.  Audrey was his biggest cheerleader and knew the game as well as he did.  She was his rock and he knew he wouldn't be where he was without her continual support.  But in one instant,  it all came crashing down.  Matthew was falsely accused of a crime that totally went against his character and then with supposedly unrefutable evidence, convicted.  Now he faced a 12 year prison sentence.   With his career devastated, his freedom gone, his reputation smeared,  the thing that buries him most while in prison is the loss of his beloved wife.  Audrey has disappeared and the last memory he has of her is her deep crying as he was led in chains from the courtroom.

Twelve years later Matthew is freed but must register as sex offender and wear a ankle bracelet.  Determined to find Audrey he heads back to the very place where he is most unwelcome, his home town.  Audrey has hidden herself well from everyone including the unrelenting media in a quiet Catholic school where she has taken a young orphan boy under her wing all these years.  Honing his talents and using her knowledge of football and Matthew's old game tapes she feels she has a young man on her hands who can be even better than Matthew had once been.  But he plays under a coach who has ulterior motives to further his own son in his football career.   Knowing Matthew can take him all the way she convinces him to coach the boy even though it violates his parole and could put him back in jail for life.  In the midst of media speculation if he will try to return to the game, Matthew takes on the challenge in secret in the hopes of winning back Audrey.

My favorite author strikes again writing a wonderful story.  Drawn in right from the beginning, he captured my attention with the devastated Audrey as he slowly revealed the story.  I love the character development the author takes.  He reveals the nature of the characters layer by layer as the story progresses.  One thing I always love about this author is the way he is able to create a main male character who has strong moral qualities yet are very human and relatable with their struggles and mistakes.  As usual his prose and way of putting sentences together totally captivates me and keeps me turning the pages staying up way too late to finish the story.  The story goes back and forth between real time and the past nicely laying out Matthew and Audrey's life together.   There was never any confusion to me, the reader, and I followed it easily.  Audrey's character was a complicated one and I understood her pain as she tried to reconcile the Matthew she knew with the Matthew that was convicted.  Her confusion, anger and betrayal were plain to see throughout the story even though I found it hard to believe she wouldn't stand by him a little more.  Another thing I always love about this author is how he weaves elements and tenants of faith and real life together in a story without it being labeled a Christian novel, if you know what I mean.  And with a little twist in the story revealed at the end, this novel leaves you thinking and savoring the implications of living a life of true love.  Again the author's notes at the end are well worth the read as they reveal where the story came in his own life. 

24.  Don't Go by Lisa Scottoline

Completed:  October 30, 2014

Rating:  9.5/10

Dr. Mike Scanlon is a doctor serving in Afghanistan.  On his second tour his thoughts are frequently at home with his wife, Chloe, and their new baby.  Chloe was not happy for Mike to be going back on a second tour and so he deals with guilt while in Afgahanistan.  When news comes that Chloe has died at home in a freak home accident Mike is devastated.   Coming home on leave to make funeral arrangements, Mike is hit with the oddness of her death and is blindsided with a secret that she had been keeping.  Now he has a precious baby girl, that doesn't know him at all and is terrified of him, a medical practice that is changing without his input and the knowledge that he still has to go back to Afghanistan.  Leaving his baby girl in the hands of Chloe's sister and husband, Mike goes back to finish his deployment.  But there, too, things start to fall apart.  The medical compound is hit with an attack and 2 doctors lose their lives.  Now with a doctor shortage he is under pressure to stay and serve another year.  But his choice brings life long consequences and he must gather up everything within himself to fight for what is most important.

I really enjoyed this book from one of my favorite authors.  In it she explores what it means to be a father, a man and a hero.  It's a departure from her other books whose main character has always been women.  As Mike faces his world falling apart around him, he must figure out how to deal with what he doesn't want to admit to anyone, let alone himself.  The action goes back and forth from fast paced to very emotional and I was not bored in the story at all.   I was very moved in the descriptions of his very small daughter's reactions to him and how totally lost he was in trying to make it better.  I'm sure that is very true of  some of our service men and women who come home to find their little ones not even knowing who they are.  Virtual strangers trying to love on their children.  It must be quite the patient process to try to get to know one another.  The mystery in the story was revealed slowly and I have to admit I didn't guess it until the reveal.  I was a little surprised at the time line of the story.  Once Mike was back, it seemed to me that it was quite a while as layers of the mystery were revealed and everything was swirling around him but in fact it was only about a week.  That seemed a shock to me as some of the events that unfolded, in my mind, would take longer.  But that said, I love a story that draws out lots of emotions and this one did that for me.

25.  "The Unbreakable Boy by Scott M. LeRette with Susy Flory

Completed:  November 5, 2014

Rating:  9.5/10


In Austin's world a simple hug can break his bones. How does he handle every day life? With great gusto! Add to his medical condition a diagnosis of autism and his parents are kept on their toes minute by minute. You never know what their day will bring. I really enjoyed this true story. Young Austin has many challenges in his day to day life and yet he approaches life with positiveness and with great verve! I really enjoyed reading about his escapades and how he kept his parents on the go though I was exhausted just reading about it and my heart went out to them many times throughout the telling. I especially enjoyed the journey of Austin's father from a selfish young man who fathered a boy with many needs not really in love with his wife to a more mature man, husband and father totally committed to God and family. And I love how he wove in how Austin has taught him all this throughout the years along with his wife Theresa who was a steadfast rock. It was an easy read having a good flow to it. Each event told was significant to the whole of the book and I never felt bogged down in the telling. I finished it a few days. I closed the book with a smile on my face from having read such a wonderful perspective. If I had to describe this book in just a sentence I would say inspirational in many, many ways.   I also really liked the questions at the back for book clubs.  They were thought provoking and are the kind that would make for great discussions.

26.  "The Hatmaker's Heart" by Carla Stewart

Completed:  November 18, 2014

Rating:  8/10

Review:  With this novel, Carla Stewart has taken a step back farther in time than she usually writes about and has created a story set in the Roaring 20's.  The heroine, Nell Marchwold, dreams of designing and making hats.  It is sheer joy to her to have a woman try on a hat she designed and witness that woman see herself as beautiful and poised, whether the woman is outwardly beautiful or not.  For Nell it is not about fame.  As an apprentice hatmaker at Oscar Fields Millinery in New York she works hard for her employer even though he is a hard taskmaster and can be quite belittling.  When she is called upon to design hats for a valued customer and her daughters, Nell's world is changed as she is thrown into the spotlight from the rave reviews on her designs.  Though thrilled with the business it brings, her boss is not too happy to not have the credit himself and is very skeptical when a up and coming fashion designer wants Nell to design the hats to go with his new collection.   With that success opportunity comes knocking to expand the business to England and he quickly has Nell on the ship with two assistants to design hats for a prominent family there who will be attending the wedding of the queen.  Thrilled to be going home, Nell hopes to visit her aging grandmother and her long time friend Quentin but her boss is quite adamant about controlling every moment of her time.   As Nell faces her feelings for Quentin, she has to decide what it is she really wants out of life.

I have enjoyed every Carla Stewart book that I have read and this was no exception.  For me, this author has a real gift at transporting the reader into another era.  The setting was quite different than her usual backgrounds being set in the 1920's rather than the 1960's.  It was interesting reading about the New York lifestyle during that time period.  Nell was an endearing character who drew you into her quiet world with her great attitude and her passion for hat making and seeing the blossoming of women as they wore her creations.  She is a character of high standards in her work and personal life.  I liked the glimpse we got into the life of a woman of that time, one with dreams of entering a field dominated and run by men, and especially a woman with a speech impediment and how she was treated because of it.    As family secrets are revealed and the pressure of the fashion business closes in on her, I really liked how Nell grew throughout the story and came into her own at the end.  

27.  To See The Moon Again by Jamie Langston Turner

Completed:  December 13, 2014

Rating:  7.5/10


28.  The Great Christmas Bowl by Susan May Warren

Completed:  December 17, 2014

Rating:  8.5/10


29.  The Choice by Robert Whitlow

Completed:  December 26, 2014

Rating:  8/10