1. My Name is Mahtob by Mahtob Mahmoody
Completed: January 9, 2016
Review: I'm sure most of us, at least those in my generation remember either the book or the movie starring Sally Field entitled "Not without My Daughter". I remember being deeply affected by the story after reading it, and in fact, it is one of the only trade paperbacks that I kept after my big bookshelf purge a few years back. I remember watching Betty Mahmoody, Mahtob's mom, talking of their experiences on shows like "The 700 Club" and other morning news programs. I remember her telling her story matter of factly and how the laws were not on their side when it all happened and how she was now advocating for parents left behind when their children abducted of country by their spouses when it came to international parental kidnappings.
"My Name is Mahtob" is the story told in Mahtob's (the now grown up daughter) perspective of what occurred and how her life was once they made their harrowing escape back to America. Growing up with the 18 month ordeal in Iran, and then coming back to America, having to change her name, battling trauma and nightmares, she lived with the fear of her father returning for her hanging over her life well into her university days. Having turned her life over to Christ at a young age it is also the story of how her faith has sustained and kept her through it all and through her diagnosis and living with lupus. Even though these women's experiences of abuse are hard to read, I loved this follow up to the whole story. I was captivated to read what a well rounded individual Mahtob has turned out to be, how she pursued her dreams in the midst of a chaotic life and most of all how she kept and developed her faith in such difficult circumstances even as a child. Reading how her faith and relationship with God developed over the years and got stronger as she grew older is a testimony of the grace of God and is an inspiration. I also really liked reading of her and her mom's relationship through the years and how her mom helped her to not grow up bitter and hard but to forgive. It was an amazing read and I'm really glad I came across it. Highly recommend it if you have read or seen or heard about "Not Without My Daughter" but it is also a great read if you haven't.
2. Anne of Avonlea by L. M. Montgomery
Completed: January 22, 2016
Review: So last year when I was shopping at Costco, low and behold they had the whole set of Anne books (all 8 of them) for a fairly decent price and seeing as I loved Anne of Green Gables so much after finally reading it instead of just watching the movie I took the plunge and bought the set. Which totally set me up to join in with Carrie at Reading to Know and her Lucy Maud Montgomery reading challenge. The challenge is to read as many titles as you can by this author in the month of January and I did all of one. But it did get me finally cracking open this set.
This book sets up Anne as a young 17 year old who has finished school and is now the school teacher in Avonlea. It continues her adventures finding "kindred spirits" in the continuation of her friendship with Dianna and in her new fledgling friendship with the eccentric Miss Lavender. Anne's personality as usual was all bubbly, fresh, and still doing things without thinking them through though not quite as often as when she was younger. I must admit I did miss the precocious young Anne next to the more mature Anne. It was nice to read of her and Diana's friendship blossoming and being strong. The eccentric characters of Mr. Harrison and Miss Lavender were fun and added a quirkiness to the story. I especially loved reading of how her and Marilla's relationship deepened and moved to an "adult" relationship, reminding me of how my own relationship had changed with my mom when I moved out of the teen years. I missed the character of Gilbert a bit as he was barely mentioned, but there was a good set up for him for the next stories.
There were a few things, though, that I didn't enjoy so much about this second installment in the series. The first was a chapter in the story that had the school children writing letters to Anne about anything they pleased. After perusing letter after letter and Anne's reaction I grew quite bored and basically skipped most of that chapter. Have I mentioned I really dislike letter writing as a form of story telling? I also found some of the conversations of elementary age children, namely Paul Irving and Davy, so involved and long that it got me questioning whether little boys that age actually converse in looooong complicated paragraphs that way. Some of those were scanned by me too. And last but not least I really disliked how it was mentioned several times throughout the novel that of two siblings in their care, Anne and Marilla loved one well above the other. It wasn't "they liked the personality" of one more, it was they "loved" one more than the other. They had conversations about it. That really irked the mother and child care provider in me immensely. I kept asking the book aloud whether they had never read or heard the story of Joseph.
As a whole, I enjoyed reading Anne of Avonlea. I don't know what has taken me so long because I love the movies starring Megan Follows, so thanks to Carrie for giving me the nudge to get reading.
3. Bathsheba - Reluctant Beauty by Angela Hunt (Book 2: A Dangerous Beauty Novel)
Completed: January 31, 2016
Review: This is book #2 in the A Dangerous Beauty Series by this author. It focuses on 3 different women from the bible who's supreme beauty didn't necessarily benefit them but, if fact, betrayed them or put them in danger. I reviewed the 1st book, Esther: Royal Beauty here (#13).
When King David looks out from his rooftop and sees the beautiful Bathsheba bathing in her courtyard, he sends for her and forces himself upon her in spite of the fact that she is married and married to one of his most loyal soldiers at that. To see this side of David who worshipped God with such great abandon, was a shock to Bathsheba and it threw her young life into great turmoil. She loved her husband, Uriah, and hoped she would have a lifetime of loving him and bearing his children. But when Uriah left for war, young Bathsheba still had not conceived a child. Now with King David forcing himself upon her she finds herself pregnant. With this news, David furthers his sin, by bringing Uriah home from the seige of a city and trying to get him to go be with his wife, but in his loyalty Uriah refuses so David has him killed. He then takes Bathsheba into his palace as his wife.
The story of David and Bathsheba is not a happy, fluffy romance. The consequences of David's sin reverberated throughout his life and caused much sorrow not just for him but for Bathsheba as well. Modern movies and stories have always involved Bathsheba as a quite willing partner in the whole affair but this author has taken a different viewpoint. Bathsheba lost her sense of self, her husband, her child, her home and everything she knew of her life. And probably at a very young age in a very short space of time. From the author's notes in the back, which are well worth taking the time to read, she once again states that she took great care to not purposely contradict anything in the bible. The viewpoint of Bathsheba not being a willing participant in the affair and that her whole life was ruined and changed against her will was one I never thought of before and it took her story in another path with emotions for me. The whole tale, even straight up from the bible is so sad. I love how this story explored the feelings of devastation Bathsheba would have been going through and how she had to learn to forgive and not turn bitter. For the most part, I really enjoyed this look into Bathsheba's life and emotions and thoughts from this perspective. And I appreciated how the author conveyed that through it all God remained faithful and the story is filled with Bathsheba trying to raise her sons to honor the Lord. I also really liked the the exploration of how David's other wives would have reacted to Bathsheba and everything she had to overcome in trying to make friendships within the palace so that she didn't lead a totally isolated and lonely life. The story is told in alternating chapters in Bathsheba's words and in Nathan, the prophet's words. In all honesty, there were just a handful of paragraphs or sentences that made me uncomfortable from the perspective of this being Christian fiction, but it was not anything near what you would find in secular novel and can easily be skipped if you are sensitive to that. I also was a tad uncomfortable with a storyline concerning Nathan's feelings for Bathsheba which I don't think added anything to make the story better.
Reading this really made me pause and reflect on the story of David and Bathsheba and all there is to be learned from their lives.
4. Mermaid Moon by Colleen Coble
Completed: February 6, 2016
Review: This is the 2nd installment of the Sunset Cove series by Colleen Coble. (The first one, "The Inn at Ocean's Edge" reviewed here). Like all her contemporary books that I have read it is a suspense romance. The mystery starts almost immediately with Mallory receiving a phone call from her father that has a confusing message for her. But as she listens to him talk Mallory thinks her father is having a heart attack. Her first instinct is to call Kevin, a game warden, who lives in her father's area and with whom Mallory had a relationship before she left 15 years before. Now with her father's death Mallory must take her 14 year daughter back to Folly Shoal's and take care of her father's affairs. It's the last thing she wants to do. But when it's looking like her father didn't have a heart attack but was murdered she is determined to stay and find out what was going on in spite of the fact that she feels everyone is upset that she is back.
A "Mermaid Moon" refers to a pink moon that Mallory's mother, who died when she was young, used to tell her gave a mermaid the power to overcome her troubles and make a new start. It becomes significant to the story as Mallory's story deals with guilt and shame from her past that paralyzes her future. The story explores what happens when we can't forgive ourselves for something we've done and how it affects all our decisions. And what do we do when that past catches up with us? Mallory has a hard time moving forward past her mistakes and living a happy life. The mystery was good and I never guessed the surprise twist at all. Mallory's relationship with her teenaged daughter was totally relatable and the romantic tension between her and her ex, Kevin, was just enough without being overdone. I enjoyed going back to the area in Maine where this story is set after the author introduced it in the first book to the series. Her descriptions are lovely and makes me want to visit there. One of the only criticisms I would have is that there was quite the cast of characters in this story and near the end I was getting a little mixed up as to who was who. This was a fast paced, enjoyable "escape" read.
5. The Lake House by Kate Morton
Completed: February 28, 2016
Review: The Edevane family is a wealthy family from the 1930's who seem to have it all. Eleanor and Anthony have a love that others hope for, a family of 3 lovely daughters and now the long desired son, a gorgeous home on well hidden lake with extensive gardens. They live a charmed life. That is until tragedy strikes. As they are hosting their yearly Midsummer party they're precious baby boy disappears seemingly into thin air. After months of searching, with no real clues to go upon, it turns into a unsolved mystery.
Seventy years later, Sadie Sparrow, a detective with the Met police is taking a leave of absence from work and visiting her father in Cornwall. An upsetting missing persons case of her own has yielded unsatisfactory results and though the police have closed the case there is something about it that keeps eating at her. While out on a run, she stumbles upon the old Edevane estate, now abandoned and overgrown, and the unsolved mystery of the missing Theo naturally intrigues and draws her. She can't help but look into it further. Finding out that one of the daughters of the Edevanes is none other than the very famous mystery writer, Alice Edevane, and that she is still alive Sadie tries to make contact with her. But Alice Edevane is not inclined to respond to the letters. She has her own secrets to hide about that night and the last thing she wants is a detective poking around.
This was my first Kate Morton book and I have to say I really enjoyed it. The way this author develops and builds plot is amazing and it made this a really enjoyable page turning read. Her descriptions of the estate and gardens and the time period which the family lives through were rich and detailed. I really felt like I could see it in my mind's eye. The story takes place over two time lines and two different missing persons stories are involved but it is never confusing. As the author builds the plot and reveals clues I never guessed the reveal of the mystery. Though on that note, the reveal where they put the clues together seemed rushed to me and the reactions of the characters seemed very subdued, somehow, considering the situation. Without giving away the story, there is one theme in the book that I wasn't nuts about because it's not a favourite thing for me to read about with my Christian perspective but I thought it was handled well and,after all, this is not a "Christian" story and therefore has no obligation to live up to my sensibilities and convictions. Consequences of the character's actions were not brushed under the rug or glamorized and I appreciated that in the story. I am looking forward to reading more of this author's novels.
6. The School of Essential Ingredients by Erica Bauermeister
Completed: March 10, 2016
Review: Lillian was a young girl of 8 when she took over the cooking in their home. After her father left them, her mother also disappeared. Not in the physical sense, but she checked herself out emotionally and lost herself in books. Lillian first started cooking to have something to eat but then as her skills improved and she was mentored by a couple of loving ladies she started to see the power of food to heal. She determined to "cook her mother out" and set herself on a course to perfect her cooking until she saw that happen. Now an adult, Lillian owns a very popular restaurant and still has a special relationship with food and it's emotional power to heal. And she passes that on with a once a month cooking class. Here her students come to learn not only her recipes, but her art of cooking and they leave with not only skills transformed but sometimes also lives transformed.
The first thing that drew me to this book was the cover. Is that not an absolutely lovely cover? And I found the story just as lovely. The descriptions of food are almost poetic and the author's prose is wonderful. I found myself savouring some of the descriptions and sentences and how food and cooking were related to life. I reread many of the sentences and paragraphs because they were so nice. The main character was a likeable woman who had great insight not only into food but also into her students as well and used her creativity to help them define what they were seeking beyond learning to cook. The book's chapters are devoted to the different students and their personal stories and how they found themselves at the cooking school. They were each interesting and real and heartbreaking. Each had something that needed mending deep within their hearts and souls. The one criticism I had of this book had to do with one of the stories and the baking of an apple cake. I found it very distasteful and gross and not at all endearing or sweet. In fact, I had to reread it a couple of times to make sure that is actually what it was saying. It was one sentence but just took over the whole emotion of what I should have been feeling at that part of the story and focused me on the thing with the cake. Some may not agree with me, but that is what I felt and thought.
I do want to do a reread of this book. It's not a long or a hard read, but because I'm so busy right now, I feel like my head wasn't always totally there, but on my never ending to-do list of all things wedding. And it is a book I'd like to read again if only for the lovely writing.
Completed: March 27, 2016
Review: 375 miles off the coast of Newfoundland a ship comes across a strange phenomenon and right before their eyes a dead whale surfaces. Of course, one of the sailors captures the whole thing with his phone camera and soon the whole thing is viral. With the Titanic wreck lying immediately below, Captain Jerry Durham of the U.S. Navy is put in charge of the investigation. He immediately get marine archeologists Lou Bates and Kate Wetherall on board to help the investigation as they are specialists in deep sea diving and scientific study of ship wrecks. With other countries screaming to get in on the action what they find at the bottom of the ocean puts all their lives in danger.
I was really excited to read this book but it was just alright. It thought it would be a page turning, edge of your seat mystery involving one of my favourite topics: the Titanic. It didn't turn out to be quite what I was expecting. It goes back and forth between the present day story of the investigation and the secret that was taken aboard the Titanic so many years ago and lay hidden until now. It was not really page turning at all and really dragged in a lot of places. The trouble was I loved the Titanic part of the story a lot but majorly disliked the present day part of the story. I loved the main characters of Dr. Egbert Fortescue and Billy and really was drawn into their part of the story aboard the Titanic. I didn't like any of the characters in the present day part of the story, wasn't drawn into their lives at all. I didn't like all the long descriptions and technical jargon of U.S. army submarine stuff and descriptions of the wreck under the sea. I found it hard to translate it into an actual picture in my head, probably because I was so bored with it. I hated the f-bombs in this part of the story and most of all hated the Lord's name taken in vain a few times. I didn't like the very graphic descriptions of the murders in the present day part of the story that took place. Too descriptive for my tastes. A bit of a surprise ending wrapped up the Titanic part nicely but not enough to save the book for me to give it a higher score. I gave it a 5/10 because I liked 50% of it.
8. The All-Girl Filling Station's Last Reunion by Fannie Flagg
Completed: April 5, 2016
Review: Sookie Poole finally has a moment to herself after planning four weddings for 3 daughters in under 2 years. She is exhausted and weddinged out. Having nothing to do except take something out for supper is making her very happy indeed. Married to a successful dentist, she dreams of maybe travelling with her husband. But she has Lenore, her mother, to consider. Lenore is well known in their hometown of Point Clear, Alabama by everyone, and being on or president of several committees she is adored and looked up to by most people but having her for a mother Sookie has other thoughts. She has found her quite overbearing and bossy and has spent her life trying to please Lenore and feeling like she can never live up to the expectations put upon her by Lenore. Now with Lenore in her 80's, Sookie must deal with all the details of taking care of her mom though Lenore bucks her every step of the way. One day while handling her mom's mail, Sookie makes a shocking discovery that puts her in a tailspin and makes her wonder who she really is. Sookie finds herself compelled to seek answers but will she like what finds. Her search takes her back to the Midwest and to Texas to a free-spirited lady named Fritzi, who was a wing walker and flew planes for the U.S. and ran an all-girl's filling station while the men were away at war. As Sookie learns Fritzi's story she finds inspiration for her own life.
I found this book quite enjoyable. The story of Fritzi and Sookie are intertwined until it reaches a very satisfying ending. The author is a wonderful story teller and I was drawn in from the beginning. I especially liked all the history of the women flyers from the second world war who flew planes for the U.S. but who's story has not really been told. In Fritzi's story we also read between the lines of the stories and the challenges of countless women who had to pick up the pieces and take on jobs they never imagined as more and more of the men were shipped overseas. It was a very interesting look into American life during the war. The characters are real and honest, even Lenore, whom I sometimes wanted to shake. I was also drawn to Sookie as her whole world is turned upside down with just one letter and everything she knows about herself is now called into question. I gave this story a 9.5/10
9. Remember Mia by Alexandra Burt
Completed: April 15, 2016
Review: Baby Mia, aged 7 months, has gone missing from her parent's home without a trace. Gone are all her clothes, bottles, diapers, everything. But what makes it even stranger is mom, Estelle Paradise, was home at the time and all the doors were heavily locked. Then Estelle turns up miles from home in her car at the bottom of a ravine with life threatening injuries. And amnesia. She at first doesn't even remember that Mia is missing. But time is of the essence for her to regain her memory. Is it just convenient that she has lost her memory or is something else going on? Some of her injuries are questionable as are most of her actions as the story is revealed. What on earth is happening and where is Mia? When Estelle is checked into a hospital and under the care of a psychiatric doctor, she must dig deep and find courage to face some things so that she can remember. Did she hurt Mia and do something with her? As time is ticking and is of the essence, Estelle feels the pressure to remember and find answers not only to locate Mia but to vindicate herself as both police and the media put her under scrutiny and find her story severely lacking in believability.
This was an emotional, twist filled psychological thriller that explored the depths of depression and guilt that post partum depression can bring. As Estelle delves more into her past few days we start to see a picture of a young mom who was facing severe depression and had no support. Though I never struggled with PPD the profound feelings of guilt she carried for not being a good mom were very emotional but there were also times of boredom in the reading too as descriptions of her mental state got a bit repetitive at times. In her state of not being able to rationally deal with things I found I grew frustrated at some of her lack of communication skills when it came to trying to tell various police officers what she knew and sometimes at her lack of inaction or seeming lack of concern. The book has lots of flashbacks as Estelle's story comes to light piece by piece which kept you guessing at to what could have really happened and changing your mind as to what you thought happened. I found interesting that smells played a part in Estelle remembering some things as scent is a big trigger for me too. There was one section that dealt with small town police that had me wondering if they really would be that negligent to thoroughly check something out. A few f-bombs scattered throughout seems to be the thing with this genre. It was a page turning read in that I just had to find out what happened but slogged along at points to get there.
10. Sister Dear by Laura McNeill
Completed: April 24, 2016
This is a fast paced book that has you cheering for the main character. Though at first I thought maybe the back cover blurb (up above) may be giving too much away, it really didn't. From it you know the sister does know something but the story turned out to take a totally different path than I thought it would. Allie's situation is sad and I really wanted her to succeed and move past the small town prejudices. She had been in a great time of her life, engaged to the love of her life who accepted and loved her daughter, accepted into medical school, she seemed to have everything going for her. But when the local sheriff came upon her bent over the bloody body of the beloved high school coach, she was arrested. That she had written an editorial for the paper accusing the coach of some pretty serious things did not help her cause and she was convicted for his murder and sent to prison. But she set her mind to survive because she had her beloved 5 year old daughter to think of. Always maintaining her innocence, she now returns to town, paroled 6 years early, to try to take back her life. But it is so much more difficult that she could have imagined. And when her now teenage daughter is bristling about meeting her and is confused, demanding of her mom to prove that she is innocent, Allie has no choice but to do just that so that her daughter will once again trust her.
I really liked so many things about the story. How it delved into the difficulty of a person just out of prison trying to start over, what things a teenager might go through with a parent just paroled and also another area of concern that I don't know how to mention without giving away some of the story. But it was interesting and caused me to keep the pages turning. I was much more engaged in this mystery/psychological thriller than I was the last one.
Of note, though Thomas Nelson (a Christian publishing company) did publish this book, I would not categorize it as a "Christian" fiction. I would just plain plunk into the contemporary suspense thriller genre. I think anyone enjoying a good mystery filled with twists that isn't overly violently graphic in nature or dropping swears continuously would enjoy this taut, page turning read.