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

Review:









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:  7/10

Review:









13.  " My Life with George" by Judith Summers

Completed:  April 12, 2014

Rating:  9/10

Review:














Tuesday, January 8, 2013

2013 Reads & Reviews

New Year.  New list of books.  This year I really want to make a dent in my book basket which is overflowing onto the floor of my closet.  And under my bed.  And on my coffee table.  So I'm going to really try and focus on not getting so much out of the library and used book for sale section.  Though it pains me I will skip the 2 big library sales this year and try get my pile down to a manageable one contained withIN the basket.  Maybe only one library book per visit rather than four?  We'll see.  Hard to pass up those books just calling my name off the shelves.  And even harder is not looking in the bookstores.  But try I shall. Looking forward to a great year of great reading!



1.  "The Bridge" by Karen Kingsbury

Completed:  January 6, 2013

Rating:  7/10

Review:   Charlie and Donna Barton  own the Bridge, a popular new and used book store where the people of Franklin come not only for books but for coffee and good company.  Charlie considers it not only a vocation but a ministry and the couple have never made much money as Charlie literally gives away books for a fraction of the cost to those who can't afford the full price. When the 100 year flood sweeps through town and literally wipes out the store, Charlie hangs on with everything he's got to get the store going again.  But with the insurance company giving him very little and the building owner pulling the lease and only giving him a week to purchase the store, Charlie feels likes he's failed everyone.  Filled with anxiety and worry, he doesn't know what to do.   When a horrible accident occurs, it looks like all hope is gone.

 In this quaint and loving store, Molly Allen and Ryan Kelly come to study during their college years.  Building a deep friendship which turns to love they are both devastated when life & percieved reality pulls them in different directions.  With broken hearts and neither really understanding how the breakup could have occurred they try to move on with their lives.  When Ryan learns of what happened to the bookstore and the tragedy that has come upon the Barton's he rallies the former customers of the Bridge bringing Molly back into his life if only for a short time.

This is a sweet story of second chances.  Centered around a bookstore.  What could be better than that?  Seriously though, it was a lovely story reiterating the fact of how our deeply our lives can touch others even when we don't realize it.  A Hallmark movie kind of story.  The story tugs on the heart strings with the two different story lines.  It was nice "escape" read to start off the year that doesn't make you think too much.   I will say though, that considering it is a very short story, the price paid was way too much.  In Canada the hard cover was around the 20 dollar mark. It's a smaller sized book and double spaced so it was a mite deceptive in length for the price.


2.  "Borders of the Heart" by Chris Fabry

Completed:  January 12, 2013

Rating:  9/10

Review:  J.D. Jessup has left his former life to move to Tuscon area and volunteer on an organic farm hoping to learn everything he can about organic farming.   His tough boss has an unbreakable rule, that if J.D. finds an "Illegal" he is to immediately call Border Patrol.  But when out early one morning, he comes across a young Mexican woman near death, J.D. is moved to get her some help rather than call the border.  This one decision changes his life forever as the dangerous world of drug trafficking causes a chain of deadly events that threaten to take over his life.  As he and the woman run for their lives, J.D.'s own secrets start to surface and he must also come to terms with them.

This is the second book from this author that I've read and I would say he's two for two.  I loved this book.  Suspense mixed with danger, mixed with a bit of a romance, mixed with characters dealing with very real things in their hearts.  The romance took a back seat to the suspense and action, which I really liked.  The characters developed over the course of the story and so their flaws really surfaced as they tried to deal with keeping themselves alive and safe.  A little bit more "preachy" than his other book that I read, but those parts were blended well into the story instead of sticking out and seeming misplaced.  The majority of the book only spans a period of four days and it is divided accordingly which really helped to keep the timeline in focus in the midst of everything happening.  It kept me on the edge of my seat and it was a story that was hard to put down.


3.  "the Midwife of Hope River" by Patricia Harmon

Completed:  January 27, 2013

Rating:  9/10

Review:  Patience Murphy is a midwife helping women through the births of their children in Depression era Appalachian mountains.  Her clients are the poorest of the poor and cannot always pay Patience.  But her heart cannot turn anyone away and she attends all who call on her.  When Bitsy, a young black girl with no where to go,  comes to live with her in her small cabin up on the mountainside, Patience, in spite of her hesitance, doesn't realize what a good friend Bitsy will become.  She starts to take Bitsy along on her deliveries and is soon training her to be her assistant.  But when tensions start to rise in the town due to mines closing down and men out work, both women start to feel the backlash against their friendship.  And in the midst of it all, Patience is trying to hold it together while she hides deep regrets and a deep buried secret from her past.

I have to say I have never read a novel quite like this.  The setting is at the beginning of the Depression and the tensions and difficulties both to the poor mine workers and the well to do mine owners, the rural residents and the city dwellers is told in such a way as you really get an idea of what it was like, yet the author is able to do so without getting too wordy.  The whole character of Patience was so interesting to me as I had never really thought about what it was like for women of that era to have babies, with hospitals only available to those who could afford them and for those who could bring themselves to trust the hospitals methods of the time.  As Patience attends her deliveries, she keeps a written account of all the births.  The author takes you through all the births with vivid descriptions without sounding like a medical textbook.  I'll have to admit, there might be some who would not enjoy all the descriptions, but I found it a fascinatting.  The work, the pain, the joy and sometimes the heartache of bringing life into the world was told so richly.  The author herself was a professional midwife so her writing rings very true and is able to capture all the emotions and thoughts of the participants so well.  I love the developing story of Patience and Bitsy's unexpected friendship in a time when it was taboo and how Patience showed courage in the midst of very tense and scary situations within the story.

This was a great read with many aspects to the story.  But the beauty of bringing life into the world and service to others was at the forefront making a very emotional story.


4.  "Stardust" by Carla Stewart

Completed:  February 10, 2012

Rating:  8.5/10

Review:  After a life time spent wondering why her mother and father would abandon her at the age of 5, Georgia Peyton feels as if her past is coming back to haunt her.  She is yet again abandoned, this time by her unfaithful husband.  When he turns up mysteriously dead, Georgia is left to put the pieces of her life back together again and to build a future for her two young girls.  Wondering what to do, she notices the old sign of the abandoned Stardust motel in the distance.  Belonging to a distant relative, the Stardust is where Georgia last remembers being with her mom and dad.  When it turns up that the relative has passed away and left the Stardust to Georgia on the condition that she cannot sell it for five years, she takes a risk and agrees to the terms.  Gathering hope and confidence, Georgia sets to cleaning and renovating the old motel with the vision of sheltering those who need it and having families enjoy a getaway.  Soon a handful of characters are involved in her life and in the Stardust and she finds herself coming face to face with her past, her future, family secrets, her husband's choices and the forgiveness it will take to move on.

I love the way Carla Stewart tells a story.   Set in the '50's, this book is a step back in time.  It's rich descriptions of East Texas, the attitudes and outlooks of the era are told in wonderful detail.  A good part of the story tells of the polio outbreak of the time and it helped me to have a better understanding of the panic and fear that must have surrounded the people that it came near.  My heart went out to Georgia as she deals, with as much grace as possible, the horrible circumstances facing her.  The choices she makes had me applauding her courage and for walking in graciousness, forgiveness and recognizing and meeting others needs.  I wondered if I could do the same had the circumstances been mine.  It's an inspirational story of second chances, finding what you were meant to do,  love and forgiveness.



5.  "Book of Dreams" by Davis Bunn

Completed:  February 28, 2013

Rating:  8/10

Review:  Dr. Elena Burroughs is at a crossroads in her life.  It's been 5 years since her beloved husband died.  They were only married for 5 years and she is having a hard time moving on in spite of having a successful counselling career.  She specializes in dreams and has become world renowned on the subject after having written a book on the topic.  Patients from all over the world seek her help.  Right around the anniversary of the death of her husband a new patient seeks her out, a patient who must remain private at all costs and comes with bodyguards.  This patient along with an ancient book that her dear friend passes on to her, change the course of Elena's life forever.  It will take a great step of faith and stepping out of her comfort zone to realize God's gifting and call, especially when that call and the new patient bring an element of danger.

Elena and the other main characters in this story were each required to let go of something and step into new territory for each of them.  It required faith on each of their parts to fulfill what they felt God was calling them to do.  God's lead took each of them in very different directions than what each had planned out for their lives.  What they went through seemed to be the biggest disappointment of their lives and yet it was the catalyst for what became their biggest triumph.  The story was an encouragement to fully let and let God.

The part of the story that was more difficult for me was that it dealt with the banking world and global finances, a topic which I will readily admit I have no knowledge whatsoever.  So that side of the story was a touch over my head.  But what I found very interesting was how the author brought the spiritual influences on the actions of men into the story.  The fight of good against evil was clearly defined and Elena's gift of interpreting the dreams of the main characters and of discerning the motivations of the major players being manipulated by evil forces made for a very interesting read.


6.  "The Mountain Between Us" by Charles Martin

Completed:  March 8, 2013

Rating:  10+/10

Review:   Dr. Ben Payne is in Salt Lake City for a doctor's conference and is eager to get back home as he has lots of surgeries in his schedule the next day.  While waiting in the airport he meets another passenger eager to get home too.  Ashley Knox is on her way east to be married that weekend.  Both are finishing up things related to work while they wait to board their plane and strike up a conversation.  But when  flights are cancelled to a storm coming in and a broken plane deicer, Ben seeks out a charter flight to get him to Denver so he can catch a connecting flight.  Finding a pilot willing and able to take him, he asks if the plane could fit one more.  Thinking of Ashley and her wedding, Ben offers to share the charter and Ashley accepts.  When the storm blows in the little plane gets blown about a hundred miles off course, but the aging 72 year old pilot is confident in his abilities as a pilot to get them safely where they are headed.  That is until he suffers a heart attack in the air.  Though he manages to crash the plane as safely as possible, saving the lives of Ben and Ashley, he passes away.  Now Ben and Ashley and the pilot's dog are in a fight for their lives, in dire circumstances with absolutely no one knowing where they are and being stranded in one of the remotest and most unforgiving areas of the U.S., the High Uintas Wilderness.  No one will be coming to rescue them and now it falls to Ben to get himself and Ashley, who has suffered a bad leg fracture back to civilization alive.   Through this experience, Ben keeps himself very private, even while recording his thoughts and feelings into a hand held recorder for his wife.  In the recording, we are given a look into him and his wife's love story even while it is revealed that they are separated.  As Ashley struggles to try to feel useful she sees in Ben and his love for his wife that her own relationship is lacking and that she might be settling just to be married. And she wonders how a couple with such a deep love could be separated.   But as their lives hang in the balance on a moment to moment basis, and the days turn to weeks, they both need to dig deep to survive.

I loved this story.  It drew me in right from the beginning with their hard struggle to survive.  But if that wasn't enough to keep you in the story, there was such an emotional element to it.  Ben's "notes" to his wife and his privacy about talking about her to Ashley created an air of mystery, his strong commitment and instinct to get Ashley out of there alive and his having to face things that occurred throughout his life were all things in the story that just grabbed at my heart.  Both Ben and Ashley's character development was so captivating to me, I found it hard to put the book down.  I felt like I was really getting to know them both.  You knew they would never get out unchanged, that is if they ever did make it out.  And whether they would both make it out alive was something that you wondered right to the end.  Some have said it was quite convenient that Ben just happened to be an orthopedic surgeon and a hiker, but I personally didn't let that affect what I took from the story.  Yes it is a story of survival but it is just as much a story of love, regret, of giving and receiving forgiveness, of letting go and of hope. Just when I had it settled inside me how the story will end, there is a twist that I totally did not see coming.  Heartbreaking and yet beautiful.  It's been days since I finished the book but it is still in my mind and heart and I haven't been able to pick up my next read.

Just as an extra note, the author's acknowledgements and note to readers at the end were really something that also touched me knowing that he had some letting go of his own to do.




7.  "The Covenant Child" by Terri Blackstock

Completed:  March 11, 2013

Rating:  9/10

Review:  Young twins, Lizzie and Kara, only 3 when their father is killed in a plane crash,  have grown up in dire poverty with their maternal grandparents, their mother having been tragically killed when they were only weeks old. Through abuse and neglect they have only grown closer and have learned how to survive and stick together. As they grow up their grandparents have made reference continuously to the fact that they are indeed heirs to a billionaire's fortune which belonged to their paternal grandparent's, who also died in the same plane crash as their father. But they also tell the story of how their stepmother, Amanda, killed their father and stole their inheritance. They tell great stories of how the girls can sue Amanda when they turn 18 and rightfully take back what belongs to them. And of course, share a huge portion with them seeing how hard they have sacrificed to raise the girls. The girls look forward all their lives for that day when they can be rich and leave their life of squalor behind. As they grow up, Amanda shows up in their lives at different times bearing gifts and telling them she loves them and that when they turn 18 they can come and live with her and everything she has will be theirs. She won't just sign over the fortune to them, but they would go with her and learn the family business and eventually take it over. Everything she has is theirs. It goes against everything the girls have ever been told about Amanda or the inheritance. Lizzie likes Amanda and believes she is to be trusted but Kara is suspicious and wants nothing to do with Amanda's offer sticking with the plan she has heard all her life, to sue Amanda for the inheritance. She refuses Amanda's gifts and offer again and again. She wants the inheritance all right, but on her terms and not Amanda's. As Lizzie's life turns for good when she goes with Amanda, Kara's goes equally in the opposite direction and gets worse. When things are at their most rock bottom and her life is on the line, Kara wonders if she hasn't insulted Amanda one too many times to ask for her help.

 This was a very emotional, touching story. It was hard to read of the abuse and neglect the twins suffered at the hands of their grandparents and my heart was broken many times. But it was also a very beautiful, uplifting story of true love and grace and mercy, not unlike God has for us. The story paralleled the prodigal son story of the bible in many ways.  It showed how God reaches out over and over again to individuals and  how some accept God's blessings openly and easily while others have struggles leaving the old life behind, believing the lies, and not being able to let go of doing things their own way.




8.  "Strengthen Yourself in the Lord" by Bill Johnson

Completed:  March 14, 2013

Rating:  8/10

Review:  Too many people think that when they become Christians there is some kind of magic formula where they will never go through another hardship or trial.  But the bible never promises that.  It does promise that the Lord will be our strength, peace, comfort and high tower through the trial.  It is so important to know how to strengthen ourselves in the Lord so that when trials and temptations come we won't be found floundering and panicking.  Bill Johnson takes us step by step to being able to count it all joy even though there is turmoil swirling around us.  I found this book very encouraging and helpful in establishing a lifestyle of biblical habits that will help me get through the tough times and allow me to have that confidence that God is in control.




9.  "Beneath the Night Tree" by Nicole Baart

Completed:  March 19, 2013

Rating:  9.5/10

Review:  This is the last in the series of Julia DeSmit, a young girl who has had a very tough childhood.  With her mother abandoning her when young and her father dying of cancer she was raised by her grandmother.  In this part of her life Julia is a young 24 year old with the responsibilities of someone much older, living with her grandmother raising her 5 year old son and her 10 year old half-brother whom her mother also abandoned.  Her life is finally seems back on track.  She has a job that she loves, is going back to school and has been in a solid, loving relationship for 5 years.  But there are still struggles.  Michael, her boyfriend, is attending medical school in a city 6 hours away so their relationship is long distance.  Julia longs to be married to Michael but he instead of a marriage proposal he asks her to move to the city, abandoning her life, not for marriage but just to be closer to him so they can see if they should move toward something more permanent.  Her brother is constantly struggling with feeling loved and accepted and she feels a deep instinct to care for him but feels helpless at times.  Her grandmother is getting older before her eyes.  Then she gets the email that will once again change her life forever.  She has never had contact with her son's father since he left her in a college parking lot after she refused to get an abortion.  Now he is contacting her apologizing and asking if he has a child.  She struggles whether she should even reply but decides that both her son and his father need to know about each other.  As she deals with the fallout of the decision and the implications of what it will do to her relationship with Michael and her life, her world seems to spiral out of control and she grasps for hope and faith that it will turn out for good.

I loved this series by Nicole Baart.  Her writing grips my emotions and draws me right in from beginning to end.  I really felt for Julia as she deals with what life has given her and tries to do the right thing.  Her relationship with her grandmother is beautiful and I love how the character of her grandmother has been a strong, quiet guide pointing her to faith without preaching constantly at her.  This was such a wonderful wrap up to the story of Julia as she struggles to find love, acceptance and faith.

Part 1 - After the Leaves Fall reviewed here

Part 2 - Summer Snow reviewed here.  Scroll to number 37.



10.  "Iscariot" by Tosca Lee

Completed:  March 23, 2013

Rating:  8/10

Review:  










11.  "Shades of Morning" by Marlo Schalesky

Completed:  April 5, 2013

Rating:  7/10

Review:  Marnie Whittier finally has what she's worked so hard for.  Her very own coffee shop book store.  And she couldn't be happier.  Or could she?  After leaving her old life behind 15 years before, she still struggles with regrets and guilt over her past as is evidenced by the box of "regrets" she keeps locked away but keeps adding to.  Bits of paper, napkins, momentos all with secret meanings only she knows.  Reminders to help her never to make the same mistakes.   Those who know her think she is compassionate and kind, helping others  but they would be shocked to know her secrets.

Then with no warning her past comes crashing into her present when the sister whom she's had no contact with for those 15 years dies tragically and in a weird twist of fate had given custody of her 15 year old son to Marnie.  A son whom Marnie didn't even know her sister had.  And what's worse is the lawyer trying to contact her about it all is the very person she ran from so many years ago.  When the boy arrives, Marnie is shocked to see the he has Down's Syndrome.  How can she handle the chaos all of this is bringing into her life.  But something about the boy draws her to him, even while he is causing her distress, especially when he will not leave her box alone.  No matter where she hides it he finds it, and in the most inopportune times he places yet another item from it in front of her, forcing her to relive her memories and regrets.

I had mixed feelings about this one.   The overall story line and plot were really good but the writing style was one that I found hard to run with.   The story goes back and forth from past to present throughout usually without any warning. It took me many chapters before I could get into it and then it rose and fell for me throughout until the end.  Some parts of the story I could hardly put down, others I found myself skimming to get through.  A great variety of things are touched on through out the story but the theme of regrets for sins, wrong decisions and not being good enough or doing enough is the main stay throughout.  But the story isn't left there.  Forgiveness, renewal and a transformed life, God's unending love and caring are strongly presented.   By trying to hide her past, Marnie was blinded to the fact that all the regrets and guilt she carried were affecting not only the people from her past but all her relationships in the present and even her own spiritual growth.  But it took God's answer to prayer, in a form she didn't recognize at first, to see that  God wanted to not just bury her past like she was trying to do but that He wanted to transform her.  The beginning confused me a bit but my "huh?" moments were answered in the end and especially when I reread the Prologue after I finished the story.  The Author's notes and Reader's Guide questions added to the story.



12.  "The Invitation" by Anne Cherian

Completed:  April 11, 2013

Rating:  8/10

Review: Vikram, Jay, Francis and Lali all meet as students at UCLA and become friends because of their Indian heritage. Coming from vastly different backgrounds from different parts of India, each came to America to try to become successful and live the American dream and live up to the expectations of those back home. But after graduation, their lives once again go in different directions and they lose touch. That is why when Vikram sends them an invitation to his son's graduation from the prestigious MIT it throws the other 3 into a mini crisis of feeling obligated to go yet curious to see how the rest have fared in life.

 Vikram was the nerdy, studious one of the group and went on to found his own successful computer company and is all about showing off his success. Lali left university still single much to the dismay of her mother back home but has since married a very successful American doctor. But she feels at a crossroads in her life because her husband has become very involved with studying Judaism and she feels left out. And now, when appearances are everything, her son wants to take a year off of Harvard and her and her husband are not in agreement about it. Jay and Francis were the golden couple of the group who were expected to be nothing but successful. But when Francis quite her schooling after marrying Jay and starting a family she never did go back. And Jay has been stuck in middle management jobs because he was short of actually getting his degree because of one lousy assignment he didn't hand in and never got around to getting done. Add to that a teenager failing high school and the desire to attend the party is minimalized.  All are nervous to attend because of the different things in their lives they have kept secret and consider failures but little do they know that the really "successful" one of them, Vikram, is also watching his dreams fall apart around his very feet.

 This was such an interesting story of 3 immigrant Indian families trying to resolve their Indian heritage while living the American dream. All the drama of high expectation versus reality played out so interestingly. I found it fascinating reading of Indian regional differences. All the angst of a high school reunion was present in the story even though it was 25 years after their university graduation as they each tried to hide their secrets from each other. I found the exploration of the pressures of image and expectation of a culture very absorbing. However, the story ended way too abruptly and unsatisfyingly for me with story lines unresolved and many unanswered questions. It was almost as if the author had to end it. right. now. Or as if it was left as a cliff-hanger to a book that is in the future. But I didn't see any reference to another part 2 coming. So I felt left hanging. If not for the ending I would have rated it a 9 or 9.5. Other than that, I really enjoyed this story and want to read her other book: "A Good Indian Wife".




13.  "False Pretenses" by Kathy Herman

Completed:  April 25, 2013

Rating:  9.5/10

Review:  Zoe Broussard is living the life of her dreams.  Married to a wonderful Cajun man who deeply loves her, she lives in an apartment above the successful Cajun restaurant they own together in an idyllic Louisiana town.  Her life is perfect.  That is until she starts receiving threatening notes from an anonymous person that is threatening to expose her secret past.  A secret that could ruin everything.  Her marriage, her business, her life that she has worked so hard to build.  So in an effort to thwart this person who is trying to expose her she takes a trip back to confront her past and hopefully fix things before it all blows up.  But the murder of a friend shakes her to the core and she wonders if she can handle it all.

I have to admit I love a Kathy Herman mystery.  I have read lots of her books over the years and have enjoyed every one of them.  I was nicely surprised to see that characters from her last series are interwoven in this series too along with new main characters and a new setting.  "False Pretenses" deals with lies and secrets.  Zoe in trying to bury her old life and her shame, committed wrongful acts and wove such a story of deception that she could not even see her own sin even though she professed to be a believer.  It was so easy to justify it all to herself.   I, as the reader, was drawn in emotionally as you felt for what she was trying to hide but at the same time you wanted to shake her for trying to keep the pretense going and for not seeing that the lying is what got her into trouble in the first place.  This story explores how we lie to ourselves when we justify those sins or  pretend they don't exist.   But as Zoe founds out, when it all comes knocking on our doors, as it eventually will,  it just takes more lies and more deception to keep the pretense going to the point that you worry how you'll ever keep all the lies straight and eventually the shame she was trying to cover is added to with even more shame.  Zoe finds out that even though hard at the time, the truth is always better, that lying and running will not set her free but binds her in even more ways than she thought possible.    Woven into Zoe's struggle is a murder that shakes the town to it's core and threatens to stir up the racial tensions that they thought were long buried.  The police department is stretched to the max trying to keep up with solving the murder of one of the town's favorite citizens while keeping a handle on the tension and violence starting to occur.  I really like this author's ability to keep the mystery tension going throughout the story even while a character is dealing with some really difficult heart issues.  I found it a great read that kept me interested all the way through and also presented me with some great things to think about as I dwelled on how "everything is uncovered and laid bare before the eyes of Him to whom we must give account"  (Hebrews 4:13).




14.  "Joni and Ken - An Untold Love Story" by Ken and Joni Eareckson Tada with Larry Libby

Completed:  April 29, 2013

Rating:  8/10

Review:  Joni Eareckson was only a teenager when her life was totally changed after a shallow diving accident left her completely paralyzed from the neck down.  In her thirties with a growing international ministry to the disabled, she never imagined that she would ever find a man who would love her and accept everything that came with being a quadriplegic never mind that she would be married.  But enter Ken Tada, also in his thirties.  They met at church and within a couple of years were married.  This book is their love and marriage story.

Ken was a gentle high school teacher and coach.  He fully thought he was prepared to handle the day to day and struggles of living with quadriplegia.  Joni worried that Ken held her on a pedestal.  Neither were expecting what was to come in their marriage journey.  Not only the day to day grind of everything that comes with living with her disability but sudden onset of chronic, devastating pain and then cancer for Joni and depression for Ken.  But what they found was that God's immeasurable grace was enough.  Once they let themselves go and totally gave themselves to Him and allowed His grace to carry them and give them strength they discovered a bond that has seen them through the worst and bought them closer than ever.  They share their story so that other's may be inspired to draw on God's grace through the worst of times for their marriages.

I remember when I first became a Christian in the '80's and attending Joni's movie.  It deeply afffected and inspired me.  She and Ken were married around the same time my husband and I so I was excited to read their love story because let's face it,  30 years married to the same person is becoming more and more rare these days for an average couple such as my husband and I never mind a couple with such obstacles from the get go.  The story is written in the third person through another author, one Joni has worked with before. It starts with the day she finds the lump in her breast and the devastating diagnosis of breast cancer and then it backs itself up to when they first met in church.  With bits and pieces of their growing up years thrown in and then tragic accident of Joni's retold, we are given a glimpse into what formed them into their 30ish year old selves when they came together.

It was a privilege to be let into their private lives as they shared the joy of finding each other and deciding that yes, they could make a marriage work and the very private feelings of frustrations that both experienced with different aspects of married life, disability, and a major international ministry.  One of the most profound sections of the book for me was when Joni was offended with Ken after she had just excitedly shared something she read that day and Ken was "polite" but not engaged.  She retreated into silence, which to her not being able to storm out of the room, was the way to handle her offense.  As Ken coaxed her into telling what was wrong she admitted how disappointed she was that her expectations of his also being excited were not met.  It led to a discussion between the two on expectations and Ken finally looked at her and said,

"Joni, If I met all your expectations, you wouldn't need God"  pg. 103

And I think that this is the message the couple are trying to get through to the reader of their story.  That we are all just human, no matter who the couple is that is in the marriage.  It is God that will see each couple through the hard, seemingly impossible times. 

There is on comment comment written through the author on Joni's thoughts that I was not sure about.  They were at a speaking engagement and Joni was telling her story of

 her "black heart", her need of a Savior, and how Jesus Christ won the right to be her substitute on the cross."  pg 172

I'm not sure what was trying to be conveyed by that thought as it was not a competition to see who would "win" going to the cross for my sins.  The bible is clear that Jesus the Son of God came to earth as a man to do the will of His Father and that He chose to do the will of the Father even unto death and taking upon Himself the sins of every individual that ever was and ever will be on the face of the earth.  I'm not sure what she means by "winning the right".  Anyhow.  

I loved the story but must admit almost exactly in the center of the book, right after the photo album that is in the middle, the writing started to jump around timelines a little too much for my liking.  I think if the beginning half of the book had started that way it wouldn't have been such a jarring change to me in the story telling.  But when the book started with the cancer and then went back in time and built year upon year working back to the cancer that is the pattern I expected to continue through the rest of the book.  That was not the case and it took a bit to get my mindset into going back and forth.  

All in all, I'm glad I was able to read this encouraging and beautiful story of what true love is, a love relying on the grace of God,  in a world of mixed messages and hollywoodized versions of milked down, lust logged, so called love.



15.  "Dangerous Mercy" by Kathy Herman

Completed:  May 7, 2013

Rating:  8/10

Review:  Book 2 in the Secrets of Roux River Bayou finds Adele Woodmoore moving to Les Barbes to be closer to Zoe and Pierce Broussard and their now 2 year old daughter Grace.  Adele is like the mother/grandmother figure in Zoe's life and because of Adele's grace and forgiveness towards her, Zoe is able to move on in her life and see her hopes coming to fruition.  Adele is a people person and when she needs help around her home, the 86 year old doesn't hesitate to hire a couple of handy men from a halfway house for the homeless in town thinking to show some mercy and give them the break in life that they are looking for.  Murray comes recommended as the hardest worker in the house and Noah is already working as a grounds keeper for friends of Zoe's at their bed and breakfast so Adele is quite comfortable in her decision.  But when some shocking murders start to happen in the town Pierce is very concerned that maybe Adele is being naive in not being more cautious about befriending these men.  Adele is adamant that these men are good men and just need someone to show them mercy and grace and give them a break.  But when Noah becomes a person of interest in one of murders and her house keeper quits because of Adele's insistence of continuiing to allow the men into her home, Adele starts to question her wisdom.

Again I enjoyed Kathy Herman's mystery as in this installment to the series she delved into the subject of showing God's mercy and grace to those whom most of society would turn their back on.   In trying to obey God, Adele put herself at what most of those close to her considered great risk.  She and the Langleys, the young couple with the bed and breakfast, had to ask themselves how well they knew Noah and where their trust with him lay.  Where was the line on being cautious and using wisdom and knowing in your gut that what others are saying cannot be true.  How far does one go with showing mercy when everyone is telling you to do otherwise?  What do you do when you question your own wisdom?  All these questions were woven into the mystery of some prominent citizens being murdered.  With a lot of the town suffering from some big layoffs and home foreclosures that had occured in the past years, the connection with the murdered  bank executive, sugar factory CEO, and computer company president was easy to connect but how does the murder of the mother of 2 and the homeless man tie in?  The pressure is on Police chief Jude and his staff  to find the pieces to the puzzle.  The mystery held my attention until it was finally revealed.  I found I had guessed who it was but that didn't bother me so much because it was how it all tied together that gripped my attention. I really like how the author kept the story going even after the reveal of the mystery and finished up the loose ends of the characters.

There was one minor detail that drove me nuts in the story.  And seeing it doesn't reveal anything, I'll mention it.  It was the fact that the murders were constantly being hashed over, questioned and discussed in the presence of the two year old child.  Even by the parent.  It was a pet peeve in the story for me, and I kept wanting to shout at them to cut it out.  But anyway, it didn't detract from the story itself.  It was a good mystery with some moral questions to chew on.



16.  "Jesus - The Greatest Life of All" by Charles R. Swindoll

Completed:  May 11, 2013

Rating:  10/10

Review:  Jesus Christ was and is the most influential person in history.  In this  ninth and final book in the Great Lives from God's Word Series, Charles Swindoll takes an indepth look into who exactly Jesus was.  He looks at the whole life of Jesus here on earth from His prophesied birth, to His coming into His ministry, to His teachings and displays of power, His claim of Divinity and then His brutal death and astonishing resurrection.  He delves into what most of Jesus  followers at the time of His life really thought of Him and why they had to come to terms with their preconceived ideas of who and what the Messiah would be.  The author then takes these lessons and gives practical applications we can use towards our lives today.

I loved this book.  I love how the author made the life and teachings of Jesus so "real" and so very relevant for me today.  His style of writing kept my attention through the whole book, from first page to last. Because it is part of a series that I want to collect the whole of, I refrained from underlining or writing in the book, but then so regretted that decision.  It is chock full of wisdom and things I took away for my own self and my life.  I really felt I could understand a bit of the disciples confusion and wonder at who this Teacher was that they were following.  We have history's and the bible's hindsight, but they really did not and the things Jesus told them must have been absolutely mind blowing to them.  They were looking for a Messiah who would physically restore the glory days of King David to Israel.   He was so much more of a Messiah than they could ever imagine.  This will definitely be a reread sometime in the future as it has so much to chew on and think on and learn from.  An excellent read and study for anyone.



17.   "Band of Sisters" by Cathy Gohlke

Completed:  May 22, 2013

Rating:  9/10

Review:  Maureen O'Reilly lives a life of rejection from the small Irish community in which she lives.  The shame that was forced upon her through no fault of her own and continues so that her, her mom and her sister can survive is something that is a huge burden that weighs on her constantly.  With the death of her mom and her sister facing the same future of a landlord forcing himself upon her, Maureen grabs the life line that her aunt gives her.  With money and a promise of a benefactor in New York who promised their father help if he came to America, Maureen and Katie Rose flee the harsh life they have.

But when they arrive at Ellis Island, it seems a harsh life is not to be evaded.  Their hoped-for wealthy benefactor has passed away and the family seems to feel no compulsion to help. In desperation Maureen feels she has to lie and cheat her way into a position at a major department store so that Ellis Island will release Katie Rose and not deport the two of them back to Ireland.  But things are not as they seem at the prestigious department store and Maureen becomes witness to events that puts her life in danger.  Girls are disappearing after being promoted "upstairs" and Maureen becomes frantic when it happens to one of her only friends.  To make matters worse, she suspects the very man who threw her out the door and onto the street when she went to the benefactor's home to introduce herself, as having a huge part in the disappearances.

Meanwhile Olivia Wakefield, daughter of the man Maureen was trying to contact, cannot forget about the red haired Irish immigrant who came knocking on her door one night.  Feeling a great deal of guilt and conviction over her brother in law rudely tossing the woman out onto the streets, Olivia sets things in motion to try and find her.  Finding evidence of a promise her father had made to the Irish girl's father it becomes imperative to Olivia to find the girl and honor that promise that was made.  While her society ladies group debates what their project of the year will be, the mutual reading of the book "In His Steps" by Charles Sheldon  spurs her on with even more motivation and  will change all their lives and the way they approach how to help those less fortunate than themselves.  The test of their faith comes when they are faced with deciding to help women who have been found themselves forced into white slavery.

This was an excellent story that delved into the extreme poverty of the immigrants who arrived at Ellis Island with nothing and the harshness of life after they landed in the country that was supposed to offer them hope and a better life.  The author also delves into the subject of "white slavery", the human trafficking of women and children for the purpose of prostitution.  In introducing the the society ladies of the story to the book "In His Steps" the author presents the argument that only when we all ask ourselves "What would Jesus do?" and then following through with each of our individual answers to that question will any of sociey's problems, whether it is human trafficking today or poverty or homelessness, etc., be truly dealt with.  Which is a position that I heartily agree with.  I found the story challenging to me personally and it has given me the desire to reread "In His Steps" once again.  It is a book written, I believe, approximately a hundred years ago but still has immense significance and relevance for today and is still, not surprisingly, popular and should be a staple read for every Christian.

 I loved the development of the main characters and how each had to face their own beliefs, whether it was facing their shame and believing that God could actually love them, or in facing their fears and going against societal pressures to actually live out what each felt God called them to do to make a difference.  I loved the female characters who were able to be strong in the face of insurmountable danger.  The story keeps you turning the pages.  The author with this story has laid out a great read and a great challenge for the reader.



18.  "Relentless Pursuit" by Kathy Herman

Completed:  May 31, 2013

Rating:  9.5/10

Review:  Book 3 in the Roux River Bayou Series finds Sax Henry, a jazz saxaphone player from New Orleans, showing up on Adele Woodmore's doorstep.  Sax has been in search of his missing sister for 3 years and Adele is his last hope of finding her.  Sax's personal life is a mess and in finding his sister and making amends he hopes to finally find the peace and restoration he has been searching for.  But Adele is not too sure about this stranger and her fierce protective instincts take over.  But Sax is determined and desperate to find Shelby and peace and he'll do anything that will take him one step closer to his goal.  Even if that means staying in a tourist town where a bioterrorist has surfaced.  Little does he know that his sister is really right before his eyes, but she might not have the peace that his is so desperately searching for.

Emily's new friend Chance is hit with the devastating news that both of his parents have just died from cyanide poisoning.  As more people are admitted to the hospital and the news of more deaths hit the news, the police department is working 24/7 to find out what is going on.  Finding that water bottles have been injected with the poison and with no one taking responsibility for the act, they are not succumbing to rumors that it is a terrorist organization wreaking havoc.  They have to dig deep and work around the clock to come up with any links to who might be doing it and with keeping panic in the community down.  Emily meanwhile has her hands full in helping Chance deal with his grief.  But as Chance depends more and more on her instead of on his family Vanessa and Emily's  co-workers start to question the amount of time and work she is investing in helping Chance.

I love this installment in the series.  The author, through the characters of Sax and Shelby (Zoe) explores our search for peace in our lives and where true peace comes from.  She also continues the theme of mercy and grace that she presented in book 2 of the series (reviewed above).   Though Zoe had been shown mercy and grace that changed her life,  she struggled to give it to her brother whom she loved and trusted and was her rock as a child and then felt had abandoned her in the most horrific of circumstances.  It is a struggle that many of us also face when presented with it.  I love how real her character was and how that dilemma was not made easy by the author.  While I felt a little bit like the mystery part of the story was a bit disconnected from this part of the story the author wove the main theme into that as well towards the end.  The character of Emily, though frustrating at times had to make me smile.  She was the typical young adult; stubborn, loyal to a fault with her friends, thought she knew better, refusing to heed to caution but her character really became courageous.   

All in all I really liked this series.  The author was very good at re-introducing and connecting a few characters from her former series, the Sohpie Trace Trilogy and in continuing to develop the personalities first introduced in book one of this series.  She really made me care about the main characters and the tough issues they were facing.  The mystery kept me on the edge of my seat and turning the pages.   And I like how her books are not just mysteries but each carry life changing messages about issues we all face.




19.  "the Other Side of Darkness" by Melody Carlson

Completed:   June 6, 2013

Rating:  7.5/10

Review:  Ruth and her family seem like the ideal family.  She is a stay at home mom to two wonderful girls and her husband, Rick, is a hard working father providing for his family.  They attend church together and Ruth has just removed the girls from public school and registered them into the church's school even though the tuition put a serious dent into their budget.  All seems to be going just right in their lovely family. But Ruth is hiding deep self esteem issues that stem back to her treatment when a child by her mother.  And she knows that she must pray and pray hard to fight off that same evil from destroying her own family.  But when her best friend Colleen starts to have serious doubts about the church they are attending as does her husband, Rick, Ruth pushes back by getting even more serious about fighting the battle in prayer and doing what she has to loosen the grip of worldy things upon her family, even if it means usurping Rick in every decision.  When the pastor is fired amidst rumors of an affair, Ruth takes matters into her own hands and helps him to set up another church.  But the more Ruth battles in prayer against the demons she is starting to find lurking in every corner, the less peace she has.  Will she ever get it right and win this spiritual battle?  

This was not an easy story to read as the author takes us into the mind of a person sliding deeper and deeper into mental health issues.  Ruth does not realize that she is actually battling Obssessive Compulsive Disorder and is the very thing that is making her latch onto what she in her mind feels is destroying her family.  The story begins with Ruth starting with the greatest of intentions in prayer and heartfelt dedication and service to the Lord but it soon spirals into Ruth becoming obsessed with evil and demons to the point where she sees demons lurking everywhere and in everything including inatimate objects. Her whole focus starts to become demons and evil rather than the Lord.   Becoming entangled with a handful of church members who rely on her need to feel wanted and useful and able, they draw her into their circle by giving her responsibilities that build her self esteem.  Not recognizing that she is lured into cultlish and unbiblical practices, she accuses the ones who are trying to point it out to her of being influenced by the very evil she is fighting.  It was hard after awhile to continue on reading of the constant focus on demons that Ruth began to have but it was the nature of her illness.  In the reader's guide at the back the author poses the question, "Were you surprised to discover that OCD sufferers are at greater risk for spiritual deception?  Why or why not?".  In all honesty I had never ever thought of that but after reading Ruth's story I could see how that would be possible.  Even though the reading did start to get difficult, I stuck with the story to find out what would happen to Ruth's girls, who through their mother, were also being drawn into the cult that Ruth was becoming entrenched in.  In her obsession to save her family she actually started to endanger their lives.  I wanted to see how Rick would resolve the scary descent that he saw happening to his family.  Though the end was gut wrenching the actual resolution, I found, was wrapped up quicker than I would have liked.  I wanted to see a bit more of Ruth's actual journey of dealing with letting go ingrained ideas she had battled with.  Though I suppose the book then would have become double the size in it's reading.  A tough book to read but one that was interesting in it's journey into the mind of someone dealing with mental illness and cults and it's repercussions on the loved ones around them. 

Author's notes and an excerpt is found here




20.  "the Blessed" by Ann H. Gabhart

Completed:  June 20, 2013

Rating:  7/10

Review:  Lacey has had a difficult life.  Given away when a young teen to a Reverend's family she worked for her keep by taking care of the ailing wife, Mona.  She found love from Mona who taught her scripture.  Then one day they find a baby left on their doorstep.  Mona takes the child in and raises it as her own though the Reverend won't have anything to do with her.  Lacey especially feels close to the child and the bond they share is unbreakable.  Then Mona passes away, and the church people begin to gossip and judge when Lacey continues to live at the Reverend's home.  When he gives her the choice to marry him or else to leave the house and never see the child again, she does what she has to do to continue to be with the little girl.  But Lacey cannot give herself completely as a wife to the Reverend and when the Shakers come knocking on their door the man eventually gets pulled into doctrines of living where marriage is considered a sin.  Soon Lacey finds herself moved out to Harmony Hill, the Shaker village, and separated from the child anyway.  How could everything she tried to do be brought to this?

I had read another of the author's books, the Seeker,  that featured the Shakers and really enjoyed it.   In this installment of her Shaker stories, the author really goes into a lot of their beliefs and odd rituals and the demands and rules placed upon the people of their community. The themes of accepting forgiveness, and trying to fix things in our own strength is delved into.   I did find this story got bogged down for me.  The constant oddness with angels got to be too much at times.  There seemed nothing of joy within the Shaker community for Lacey and her inner struggles just seemed to continue to grow with no end in sight.  Though she knew what the Shakers believed didn't line up with what Mona had taught her of the bible, she continued to struggle with staying due to the circumstances.  Her feelings of entrapment made it a heavy read for me.  I just wanted her to get out of there.   So all that to say I wanted to love this one but it just an okay read for me.




21.  Jesus, the One and Only by Beth Moore

Completed:  

Rating:  9.5/10

Review:  Having just wrapped up an intense bible study course by Beth Moore with the ladies at church, I jumped at the chance to read this book.  It didn't disappoint.  Beth Moore takes us chapter by chapter through the book of Luke taking an in-depth look at the life of Jesus and inviting us to get to know Him on a personal level. 

 I loved the style in which it was written, very easily read and like having a discussion on the various scripture passages with the author.  She defines key Greek words so that the reader might have a better understanding of what the scripture is intending and she invites the reader to open their hearts to really get to know Jesus according to what the Word in Luke had to say.  The format was perfect for doing daily devotionals, each chapter easily read, and quickly done even with the portion of scripture given for each particular chapter.  Because I was just done the Breaking Free study, I made good use of this book and read the portions of scripture and looked up every scripture that was referenced in the chapter.  It made for a very meaningful and thoughtful devotional time and was perfect for keeping me going in the Word daily that the church study had started me in.  It will definitely be a re-read for me at my Easter reading time where I like to read a book that focuses solely on Jesus.   




22.  House of Secrets by Tracie Peterson

Completed:  June 29, 2013

Rating:  8/10

Review:  Bailee Cooper is an up and coming editor and she is thrilled when she is offered a permanent position in New York with her publishing company.  But a couple of things make it so that she doesn't grab the opportunity immediately.  First there is the fact that she'd have to move away from her sisters.  Though they are all adults, Bailee has always felt the strong need to take care of them and to be close at hand for them.  Though her sisters are living their own lives she just can't seem to make that break.  And secondly, there is the matter of Mark Delahunt, her boss's son who is heir to the publishing company.  He is attractive and single and he seems to have taken to Bailee.  But Bailee is just not about to get into a relationship.  Her past interferes with that and she has settled the fact that she will never be in a relationship.  

In the midst of trying to make this  life changing decision at work, Bailee's father decides to round everyone up at the old vacation house in Washington so that he can share some news.  With no choice but to go, Bailee puts her career on a short hold and goes to see what is up.  But the memories and secrets from the family's past threatens to undo them all and the truth must come out.  But the truth will also make them all question what they've really believed all these years.

Lately I seem to be choosing books that explore  mental illness within a family.  This is another of those books and it is written with a Christian worldview.  My last book dealt with OCD and this one delves into the world of paranoid schizophrenia and it's devastating effects upon a family.  Though the mother who suffered from the disease died when Bailee was just a child, the legacy of the disease and the effects are seen throughout Bailee's life.  Her whole adulthood and personality is a result of everything she experienced as a child.  Secrets abound in the family, even amonst themselves, that have dictated even how they relate to one another.   But it all comes to a head when their father calls them together to share what should have been happy news.   It's a very emotional book as the family works through the constant feelings and memories that keep cropping up over the weekend.  I felt very drawn towards the characters and could understand where each of them would be coming from, and the hurt and shame and pressure each of them felt.  At times the younger sister's reactions made me mad but then I'd remember that she really was too young to remember and so she was dealing with a whole lot of confusion thrown into the mix.  And in the midst of it all Bailee is confronted with and struggles to figure out what she believes about God and about relationships.  A good read and I finished it quite quickly as I just had to know what would happen.




23.  One Summer by David Baldacci

Completed:  July 4, 2013

Rating:  10/10

Review:  Jack is a 35 year old father of 3 who is on his deathbed.   Diagnosed with a rare, terminal disease and becoming totally helpless was not how he saw his life playing out, especially at this age.  Always healthy, he was strong from first his career in the army and up until recently his construction job.  But now he can only lay on his bed in the den and watch as his family tries to carry on preparing for Christmas,  while they all struggle to say goodbye.  Lizzie the love of his life and his wife is totally supportive and working hard taking care of him and working to support the family and Jack's heart is tearing out at the thought of leaving her.  He's writing her a letter every day in his last week to speak of his love and thoughts. 

 Then the unthinkable happens.   Lizzie is killed in a tragic accident.  Thinking she is doing the best for the kids, Lizzie's mother  individually farms out the children to relatives after Lizzie's funeral,  scattering them across the country and leaves Jack to die by himself in the hospice.  With nothing to do but think of Lizzie and regretting his time away from his family during his army years and then the long hours at work, Jack hopes his end will come quickly.  But miraculously and against all odds, Jack starts to get better.  As it becomes apparent that he is indeed beating the disease he draws on his inner resolve from army days he pushes his body to regain his strength so that he can claim his children back.  Struggling to rebuild the family he takes them to South Carolina for the summer to the beach house that Lizzie grew up in.  Here they face their emotions and pain and learn to become a family again.

If you are a David Baldacci fan and expecting a mystery or thriller, this is not it.  In a step away from his usual fare, the author has written a beautiful and sensitive story of family, love, learning to relive and second chances.  This was my first book by this author and I loved it.   It's very emotional and the character's draw you right in as they try to come to terms with their lives totally turned upside down.  It was really refreshing  to read a story of love and characters facing daunting circumstances without the author needing to fill the pages with swearing and sex scenes.   I loved the secondary characters who enter their lives at the beach house, their support and friendship were lovely to read about, as was the friendship of Jack and his friend , Sammy.  The only thing I would comment  on would be the fact as part of the story, some events happen to which credit is given to Jack's wife, who is actually passed away.  Looking at it from a Christian perspective, that is not a philosophy I can hold to.  And that is all I'll say on that because it will give away major parts of the story.

This was a great, clean  read, just the kind of story I love to kick off my summer reading.  I closed it at the end with a very satisfied sigh. 



24.  "Sherlock Holmes and the Needle's Eye by Len Bailey

Completed:  July

Rating:  8/10

Review:  Sherlock Holmes and Watson travel back in time with the aid of a Moriarty designed time machine to biblical times, both old and new testament, to find clues to help solve some biblical mysteries.

 I have never read a Sherlock Holmes mystery but the premise of this book caught my attention.  I mean, the world's greatest detective, travelling back in time to solve biblical mysteries?   I love searching out little details in the bible and gleaning new insights or thoughts from familiar stories that I may not have noticed before.  A few of the questions and mysteries this book attempts to take on are:


  • Why did Ahithophel hang himself?
  • Why did David pick 5 stones?
  • Why did Jesus delay in going to Lazarus?
  • What did Jesus write in the dirt?


 I have to say this book was a really unique concept.  It can be read as a novel straight through, each chapter being a story of the bible mystery the pair are trying to solve.  Or it can be done as a bible study by going to the back of the book first and finding the corresponding study to the chapter you are starting.  There are specific scriptures that take you through the bible story and mystery and yet stop short of revealing the mystery.  You read the story part of the book for the final reveal.  Then there are also questions about the story to answer and corresponding scripture that make the story clearer, and then questions that connect the theme of the mystery to your own life today and make the scripture applicable to the reader.  

The stories were engaging and fun though not having read the original Sherlock Holmes I cannot make comparison's to how closely the author was able to stick to character's personalities and the flow and intent of the original books.   Some of the mysteries were questions that I have thought of in the back of my mind and the solving of them and the process Sherlock goes through was interesting.     All of the stories were intriguing and some grabbed me more than other ones, but it was interesting being plonked down into the biblical story and seeing it through the eyes of Sherlock, who was an unbeliever and just there to do a job a client had hired him to do and also seeing it through the eyes of Watson, who was a believer and had his faith affected by some of the various mysteries.  I, personally, chose to do the book as a bible study so that I could get the full flavor of the book.  Though I have to say the narrative threw me a little in a couple of chapters as it seemed to change from the original flow,  on the whole, I found the book interesting and engaging and I really enjoyed the study part.



25.  "Unwritten" by Charles Martin

Completed:  July 15, 2013

Rating:  10/10

Review:  Unwritten is the story of two lives.  Two lives which are overtaken with pain.  Katie Quinn is a world famous actress who is revered the world over.  But the fame and the pain are threatening to cause her to want to end it all.  Sunday is a fishing guide when he wants to work and a recluse most all the time.  Keeping to himself has been his way and his choice for many years, so when his trusted and only friend, Father Steady, asks him to help out a friend of his, the famous Katie Quinn, Sunday balks at the suggestion.  When Sunday finally agrees to help the troubled actress out of her troubles, he doesn't realize that it is just the beginning of a long and hard journey that the both of them will walk together.  One that will lead to leaving the comfort zone he has built for himself and confronting painful secrets from both of their pasts before they can move on with hope for their futures. 

This was a very sad story yet infused with hope.  There are only 3 main characters in the story and two of them are so filled with past baggage and pain that it pushes them to the edge.  Father Steady, the priest that is the connection between the two of them, is just what his name suggests;  the steady, trusted friend to the both of them who recognizes they will need each other to confront that pain if they are each to find peace.  A few reviews I read said they didn't like it because it seemed to be about the filthy rich whining about their problems.  Though I did get frustrated with the some of actions, reactions and attitudes of  mostly Katie, to me the story was more than that.  The story showed me that no matter the amount of money you earn, your popularity, your power, your fame or your station in life it does not make you immune to desperate pain.  And the avenues and choices used to mask or bury the pain will always have consequences of their own, sometimes taking on a life of their own.  The story also brought out for me that we need each other and  that using the gifts God has given you is a path to one's own healing, that we need to stay open and realize that we may have something that is within us to give to another.  The story made me think of how I handle my own deep hurts and how I forgive and what I do with the gifts God has given me. 

It's been difficult to start the next book.  As with Martin's other stories I've read,  I tend to really mull them over long after I close the last page.  I don't know if it's because they emotionally put me through the wringer, in a good way.  He has a way of connecting emotionally with his characters and then conveying that emotion to me, the reader.   Or if it's because he just has such a lovely way with words and descriptions that I just keep dwelling on the prose or if it's because the stories are all so involving and I become really invested in the characters.  But I mostly think it's because his characters and stories usually cause me to think of my own life and faith and what I do with them. 

There's a reading group guide at the back and interestingly the author also answers the discussion questions after the interview with the author at the back.






26.  "The Light Between Oceans" by M.L. Stedman

Completed:  July 23, 2013

Rating:  9/10

Review:  Tom is an ex-soldier who spent four years on the Western Front. He is a good man with high morals and doesn't hesitate to help others.  After returning to his homeland of Australia, he takes a job as a lighthouse keeper on one of the most isolated of all posts, Janus Rock.  Supply boats only come out once every season or so and the postings are long, usually 2 - 3 years.  Tom is good at his job and is meticulous about all aspects of it including keeping finely detailed records.  Against all odds Tom meets a young girl in town named Isabel and they get married, Isabel understanding that life will be very different for her from that point on.  But she loved Tom.  But as the years go by and she suffers two miscarriages and now a still birth on the island she is having a more difficult time getting over it.  Not long after the stillbirth, Isabel hears a baby's cries.  When Tom goes to investigate, he finds a boat with dead man on it and a baby hidden in the front of the boat.  He wants to radio shore and report it immediately but Isabel in her depressed state feels it is a gift of God to them.  After coming up with excuse after excuse to put off reporting it, she talks Tom into taking the child as theirs.  After all, no one at home knows about the still birth as of yet.  Toms struggles with what is placed before him.  His moral ethics scream that it is wrong and someone will be looking for the baby but Isabel's reasoning and her obvious happiness with the baby wear him down.  It gets to be too late to report anything.  When they return to the mainland for a break a couple of years later, they find out their choices had implications for other people and the couple is thrown into an even deeper moral dilemma than what faced them when they first kept the child without reporting it.

This was a book that really kept me engrossed from beginning to end.  It left me thinking about it for a long time afterwards.  It is not an easy story to read in the sense that it forces you to think through the moral dilemmas each character faces in the story, and it is more than Tom and Isabel who are up against that wall, and makes you ask yourself what would you do. It is in essence an extremely sad story to read.  I felt it was almost forcing me to choose which side of the line I would fall on and then when I made that choice, which I did right at the onset,  the story and characters bring you along with them into their world.  You feel Tom's dilemma and confusion and are heartbroken at Isabel's grief and sadness.  In my empathizing with them, I could almost feel myself being swept up in Isabel's justifications. It brings to light the slippery slope us humans put ourselves on when we start to believe our own justifications for our actions even when convicted of it's wrongness at first.  It is hard to say more without giving away what happens in the story.  It was a book well worth reading, beautifully written but at the same time it totally put my heart through the wringer.








27.  "Rosemary Cottage" by Colleen Coble

Completed:  August 1, 1013

Rating:  8/10

Review:  This was my first read by this author and I really enjoyed it.  I would categorize it into the contemporary suspense/mystery/romance category.  The mystery and the suspense part of the novel drew me right in and the end was a surprise.  I actually didn't figure it out until the author revealed what was going on.  She did a good job in hiding just enough that I wasn't quite sure, I had bits and pieces but didn't put it all together. There was a good build up to the reveal that kept me turning the pages so that I could find out.   I loved the way the author wrote the stories of each main character and their siblings.  Amy was the younger sister who looked up to and worshiped her older brother who in her eyes could do no wrong.  Curtis knew his sister's previous flaws and yet hung onto to what he knew, that she had changed for the better, even in the turmoil of circumstances trying to say otherwise.  The connection of sibling deaths and working together to find the truth was a great storyline. The tension between the two because of what they needed to face concerning their siblings was real and heartfelt.   I really liked how the author had one character having to prove and convince the other that there was something not quite right with the deaths.   What gave me pause was Curtis knowing that Ben, Amy's brother, wasn't the knight in shining armor that Amy held him up to be, yet he still had infinite patience with Amy as she tried to work through those facts, even though it also involved his sister's death and her reputation and accusations from Amy against his sister.  And in the midst of that tension a romance developed between the two.  While sweet, I did wonder if that could happen had the situation been real. There was just so much that Amy had to resolve and Curtis just had to have a lot of patience for. But then that is what great fiction is for, to take us out of the real.   On the other side of the coin, it was nice to read about a romance developing between two individuals without all the steamy, lusty scenes that are par for the course in the secular book market.  The characters and reactions were well written and real.  Overall I did enjoy the story and though it is book 2 in a series, A Hope Beach novel, it was totally wonderful as a stand alone.  I was never confused with circumstances or characters that might have been in the first.   It made for a great vacation read. 




28.  "Wounds" by Alton Gansky

Completed:  August 15, 2013

Rating:  9/10

Review:  When one his students turns up dead in San Diego's botanical garden, Dr. Ellis Poe, a religious professor at a seminary, is shocked when the investigating detective on the case is someone out of his past.  Seeing her has brought back memories of a secret he has been running from since a teen, a secret that has changed his life.  When more murders start to turn up, all with strange wounds on their bodies, Dr. Poe finds himself being reluctantly drawn into the case due to his knowledge of religion. 

Detective Carmen Rainmondi had wanted to be doctor, but when her teenage sister was murdered she became a detective in the hopes that one day she would find her sister's killer.  When a serial killer turns up in San Diego, she and her team must work overtime to solve the strange crimes before another person can fall victim to the killer.  She is good at what she does and is very driven.  But with strange wounds on the bodies and the killer being very smart and not leaving any clues, the team is stumped until Dr. Ellis Poe starts to see an unbelievable pattern and must use his knowledge of the bible to help solve the mystery.   They must pool all their skills to stop the evil. 

Every once in a while I get a hankering to read a good detective/crime/mystery type of novel.  I'd read another of Alton Gansky's novels years ago and remembered liking it so I nabbed this as a spur of the moment purchase from the book store.  It definitely fit the bill for mystery and suspense.  The author did a good job of fleshing out the main characters and their motivations from a devastating event from the past that connected them.   An event that changed their lives forever, making one a guilt ridden almost recluse and the other a determined, toughened detective with an ulterior mission but also choosing being alone. Dr. Poe struggles with what he knows the bible says about God's forgiveness and the events in his own life and the choices he has made.  Detective Rainmondi struggles with letting go of the past.  Their stories is what drove the novel for me, even more so than the fast paced crime and action involved in the solving of the murders.   The author delivers on giving a complex murder mystery while at the same time delving into deep motivations of the main characters without the story getting confused or bogged down at all.  How he connected it all was brilliant.  The story deals with choices, guilt, redemption, forgiveness and, most definitely, evil. 

That said, this book might not be for everyone.  It is intense and the descriptions of the wounds and deaths is graphic, think CSI kind of detail, and for me, very sad.  Each murder is discussed more than once through out the story because the murders all connect even though the methods are very different.  While I found it hard to put the book down due to the mystery, characters and fast pace of the book, I found I had to put it down at different times just to give myself a breather from the gruesomeness.   It was an interesting story with a unique edge.  The very last page, especially the closing line, had me thinking a long time.





29.  "The Chance" by Karen Kinsbury

Completed:  August 20, 2103

Rating:  9.5/10

Review:  Ellie is 15 when her world is turned upside down with the separation of her parents.  As if the circumstances leading to the split are not bad enough,  now her Dad is moving her across the country away, ripping her away from everything she holds dear including her best friend, Nolan and her Mom.  Ellie and Nolan have been best friends since childhood, with Nolan making bold declarations, on a regular basis,  of marrying Ellie.  But now they are being torn apart and the night before Ellie leaves they meet in their usual spot and write letters telling their true feelings for each other which they bury beneath "their" tree and agree that if they don't reconnect in the following years, that in 11 years, on a specific date,  they will both come back to this spot and dig up the letters they wrote each other and read them.  It will be their "last chance" in case life tries to keep them apart.

But life does step in.  Nolan goes on to fulfill his dreams of playing in the NBA and though he has desperately tried to find Ellie, using all means available to him, he can never seem to pick up her trail. Though he has everything anyone can ever want: fame, money, any girl he desires, there is a huge hole in heart and he cannot get Ellie out of his heart and mind.   In spite of this his faith in God remains strong and unchanged.  Ellie's life has changed and not for the best.  In the grief of being torn from her mother and Nolan and the hardship of her new life, Ellie has lost her faith and now she is working just to get by to provide for her small daughter and herself.  She watches Nolan occasionally on TV and dreams of days gone by.  Both are well aware of the 11 year date approaching quickly.  Ellie just wants to get there and dig up her letter and leave before Nolan sees either her, the letter or what her life has become.  Nolan is desperate to get there and reconnect with Ellie who's friendship and love he has not been able to move beyond in all these years.  It's all about hope, forgiveness and second chances for all the main characters involved.

I think this was one of the best Karen Kingsbury novels I have read.  It was multi-layered with more than one character having to deal with the consequences of their's and other's actions and decisions.  I, the reader, was made well aware of how the things a person does really does filter down and affect so many other lives.  It's never just about ourselves.  And on the same token, I, the reader, saw the hope infused into the story through the character of Nolan and his strong faith in God and his belief that he and Ellie were meant to somehow reconnect.   Even though the story had tough circumstances and was in essence sad, there was always an element of hope that ran through it.   I know this author has had her naysayers but it was a refreshing and uplifting read after a summer of reading a couple of really heavy, sad stories, that though really good, didn't have the hope in them that Karen Kingsbury was able to achieve with this story.  There is something to be said for a good cry and an ending that leaves you with a satisfied sigh!




30.  "Not My Daughter" by Barbara Delinsky

Completed:  August 27, 2013

Rating:  6/10

Review:  I first picked up this book because the premise sounded interesting.  Lily Tate, a 17 year old senior, announces to her mom, Susan Tate, that she is pregnant.  Her single mom, the principal of the high school school she attends, is shocked and upset but being a mom who herself was pregnant out of wedlock when she was young, she tries to react as best as she can.  The maddening thing is Lily is not one bit sorry or afraid or confused.  In fact, it comes out that Lily has gotten pregnant on purpose.  To make matters worse, it is revealed that 2 of Lily's best friends are also pregnant.  And on purpose.  It seems the girls thought it would be an awesome thing to all be pregnant together and all raise their kids together and have them be the third generation of friends.  As the news of the "pregnancy pact", hits the very conservative town, Susan finds her job is threatened and the fall out extends way beyond what any of the girls considered in their plan.

This book sounded so interesting.  The author wrote it after the 2008 media coverage of a  high school in Massachusetts where the pregnancy rates rose dramatically.  The principle used the word "pact" when talking to the media and the story went crazy.  It was later determined there was no pact and the principle was fired.  The author explores the what if's of a group of girls who actually would make such a pact and why they would do it.  

While the story seemed like such an interesting premise, it just didn't deliver for me.  It took me a long time to write this review, because I just had to sort through so many things in my head.  In fact, it made me mad on so many levels I can't even list them all here or the post would go on forever.  The most offending for me was not that the fact that the girls were pregnant, or made a pact, though on a personal moral standpoint that crosses over many lines for me,  but I knew that was what the story was about when I went into it.  No, the thing that made me crazy throughout the book was that the girls were presented as very intelligent, top of their class, college bound girls.  And yet not one of their arguments, reasonings or actions even approached or got close to intelligent on any level.   They were selfish children who wanted what they wanted and did what they wanted to get what they wanted without owning up to any of the fallout around them or how it was affecting anybody else's lives.   Everybody was just supposed to happily accept it.  Their behavior was that of entitled, self absorbed brats rather than the intelligent girls they were supposed to be.  The main character mother made me crazy too.  Because she was the principal and because she had fought to bring in a health clinic that passed out cond*ms at the school her job was up for much scrutiny amidst the school board members and the parents of the conservative town.  Yet when her daughter was so casual and naive and uncaring about it, she let it pass.   Everytime.   Some of the conversations between the two just didn't quite ring true, for me.  Then the small detail of her "situation" with Lily's father set me off .  Not being married to Lily's father, she still kept in touch with him and he occasionally came and visited.  He stayed at their house and she continued a physical relationship with the man when he was around.  Now that I am not naive about and I understand it happens.  But when Lily let it be known that she knew that was happening, Susan, the intelligent, wise woman was shocked & embarrassed that her daughter knew.  Seriously?  Does a high school principal not know that teenagers stay up until the wee hours of the morning even if they are in their rooms?  Does she think that high school kids would never figure it out?  She actually thought her daughter would never know?  Seriously?  Not ringing true, once again.  The ending was just too pretty and not true to most baby bearing teenage girl's situations, I would think .  There were other details too but like I said before too numerous to go on.  

With all that being said, there were some good points to the story that bear mentioning.  The young man who was "used" to father Lily's child, though he felt betrayed insisted on wanting to be a part of the pregnancy and the child's life.  Lily did not want him being involved at all.  This baby was hers and her alone, she insisted in all her great intelligence.  In spite of all that, the young man wanted involvement.  When most young men would have been only too happy to be let off the hook and not to have anything to do with the situation,  he showed some real character.    The other aspect of the story that was good was that it definitely spoke of the fact that babies are real from their very conception and not just blobs of flesh as some would have everyone believe.  Lily's fascination with the development of the child and habit of detailing it for her mother at every stage gave witness to how amazing the growth of a baby really is in the womb.  The miracle of a  developing child was celebrated.  For that I commend the author.

So perhaps making me mad, or at least, raising some kind of strong emotion in me was what the author had in mind.  Maybe it was so that the book could be a vehicle for discussion.  All in all though, it just wasn't a great read for me but I will give the author one more try.  I've got another of her books in my reading basket.  Hopefully that one will hit me better.  








31.  "The Return of Cassandra Todd" by Darrel Nelson

Completed:  September 5, 2013

Rating:  7.5/10

Review:











32.  "The Aviator's Wife" by Melanie Benjamin

Completed:  September 17, 2013

Rating:  9/10

Review:  The Aviator's Wife is a fictional account based on historical fact of the story of Anne Morrow Lindbergh, wife of Charles Lindbergh, the famous pilot who made the first flight across the ocean.  Anne Morrow grew up as the second daughter of the U.S. ambassador to Mexico.  Shy in nature, she aspired to be a writer and lived her life in the shadow of her outgoing parents and older sister.  When she met Charles Lindbergh right after his famous flight, she automatically thought that he would be attracted to her sister Elizabeth and was surprised to find that she herself was drawn to his confidence and allure.  When Charles showed interest in her no one was more surprised than shy Anne.  But Charles saw in her the potential for a fellow explorer and soon asked her to marry him.  As a couple they made history together with charting flight routes all around the world.  Anne, herself, became an accomplished pilot in her own right and was the first woman to get her glider pilot's license.  She learned to navigate by the stars and became accomplished at Morse Code.  But with all the fame came life changing consequences.  The public and the press followed them constantly and wanted to be privy to every part of their lives, following them everywhere.  They had to resort to wearing disguises just to go out.  Even with all her accomplishments, Anne once again found herself in the shadow, this time of her controlling husband.  Even though they did all the exploring together, Charles publicly took all the credit for himself.  And when they had their first baby, Charles demanded Anne leave him with nannies while she came with him continuiing his work.  When their first child at 20 months was kidnapped, Charles took over the investigation, his fame over riding even the detectives on the case.  But as days turned to weeks, and weeks into months,  Anne knew she had to give the detectives permission to do what they had to even it was behind Charles back.  Sadly after 3 months the child was found dead.  This was a major turning point in the lives of Charles and Anne.  Charles started to hide Anne, and eventually their other children, away in remote areas and kept them moving.  He started to take on controversial political views.  He started to leave home for longer and longer periods of time, leaving Anne lonely to care for the children on her own in remote houses.  Anne, while disagreeing with alot of things her husband said and did, always gave in to Charles, because he was her hero.  

This was such an interesting read.  It captured me right from the beginning and was hard to put down.  I love a fictional account of someone or something historical and it was evident throughout the book that the author did much research into these very famous and historical figures.  She took a lot of the accounts and events of their lives and put emotion and a real element into the documented facts.  I grieved with them as their child was discovered dead and was angered by the man that Charles became.  If all true, he was no hero to what should have been his most cherished accomplishment of his life, his family.  He was quite despicable, in fact.  I was grieved for Anne as she was not allowed to cry publicly or in his presence at the loss of her son.  I became angry that she wouldn't stand up for herself and say no and allowed Charles to manipulate her into doing things for him even though her heart told her it was not right.  I was saddened for the person she was becoming.  I cheered for her when she started to come out of it and took on the writing she always dreamed she'd do.  Though her affair in midlife made for a very sad part of the story for me, her deep need to actually be loved and appreciated and have her unending lonliness filled with companionship, was understandable.  Tough uncomfortable for me to read that portion of her story, it was a fact of her life, and the author did not go and on and on with it.    I loved the way the author wrote about this very intelligent, accomplished woman and brought her out of the famous shadow and gave her the credit due her as a true courageous explorer in her own right.  




33.  "The Restoration Artist" by Lewis Desoto

Completed:  September 28, 2013

Rating:  5.5/10

Review:









  "The Man Who Quit Money" by Mark Sundeen

Set Aside

Review:  75 pages in I could not continue.  This is the true story of Daniel Suelo who literally walked away from using money in any way, shape or form, to live.  Adopting a philosophy of living only on what others throw away, and only taking what is truly given with no strings or ties or expectations, the man lives in caves in the Moab area, which I believe, is in Utah.  His cave is open to whoever wants to go in and he freely offers the things he has if others want them.  While the premise and idea captured my interest, I mean, really in our culture how does one achieve living without money?, I soon grew bored of the mish mash of religious ideals that seem to motivate the man and the book.   He was raised fundamentalist Christian but seems to have just taken what he wants from that and mixes it together with a bunch of religions thoughts creating what he thinks is right for him, stating that Jesus himself was itinerant and lived off of what others gave Him.   (Do I even need to say that Jesus also said to render unto Caesar what is Caesar's and was trained in carpentry by his father and Paul the apostle even worked making tents so that he could support himself and not live off of others?) 

 While throwing away using money for himself, this man has no problem using someone else's money in the form of taking rides or meals or whatever else.  He is a squatter in national parks, using the thought that they are public property and he has every right.  He refuses to eat at soup kitchens stating that they expect something in return, instead he takes from dumpsters, restaurants and individuals whom he had deemed freely give to him.   He goes to the library and uses their computers to do whatever it is that he does.   Is it only in my mind that money had to pay for the vehicle, insurance and gas, coming out of the pockets of those who offer him a ride?  Do tax dollars not pay for the parks to remain public and for their upkeep?  Do restaurants not pay for the food they order with money in order for them to be able to make meals?  Is the library he is so "freely" using not funded by tax dollars taken from the population after they have worked hard to earn a living?    His teeth were fixed by a dentist who did it for free, but did the dentist not have to pay for the materials he used?  With money?   But as long as it's freely offered with no expectations on him I guess, it's ok with him.  He does work, when he feels like it, volunteering his time at charities, never in exchange for money.  

While there were some good thoughts to think on, especially on the areas of the wastefulness the North  American culture generates in everything from food to pleasure items, the position he takes, is to me an extreme position and a lot of it just made me mad.  Is he really advocating we all quit jobs that pay money and live where ever we feel like at the moment, taking off others?  Soon there would be no excess for him to live off of and then where would he and all of us be?  Or is this a just a handy lifestyle he's taken on so he can do whatever he wants, when he wants and not have any worries or be responsible or accountable to anyone?  It is not money that is evil, but the love of money and the greed and excess it produces.   Being a literate and seemingly intelligent individual, would it not be better for him to be a contributor to society and put his intelligence to use to come up with a way to help those who really are on the fringes and dealing with homelessness and poverty through no fault of their own or circumstances of life that have hit them, rather than choosing to walk away and make some kind of extreme statement, becoming a glorified bum with no responsibilities towards anyone?  Would it not be better to come up with a way to teach and bring awareness to excesses of society, other than just removing one's self from it and living off of others?  The author poses the question to the reader to decide for themselves:    "Is he is a prophet of the times or just a highly amusing bum?"   From the chapters I read, I wouldn't say I was a whole lot amused.

Now in all fairness, just to state again, I could not finish the book, but these were my thoughts on what I pushed myself through to read.





35.  "Sleeping in Eden" by Nicole Baart

Completed:  October 17, 2013

Rating:  9/10

Review:











"Straight Up" by Lisa Samson

set aside  (couldn't get into it)















36.  "Every Waking Moment" by Chris Fabry

Completed:  November 3, 2013

Rating:  8.5/10

Review:  Every Waking Moment is the story of a young woman with an unusual name and an unusual gift.  Treha works as a janitor at Desert Gardens Retirement Home.  Though she might be considered handicapped, she has an affliction with her eyes that causes them to dart back and cannot express her own emotions, Miriam, the director at the Home hired her because she saw something special in her.   She has a special, undefined something that can draw people out to communicate with her when they haven't communicated for a long time with anyone else.  She  shows great respect for them and they all love her.  Treha has especially built a mutual friendship with a resident, who was a former doctor.  He draws her out of her own shell, and challenges her with puzzles and word games that they both mutally enjoy.   Miriam encourages her relationships with the residents but all that comes to a screeching halt when Miriam is forced into retirement and another director comes in who is all about the bottom line and is seemingly without compassion for the very residents she works for.  She's coming in with an iron fist that will bring changes for all the residents.  When she meets up with Treha she is bent on getting her out of the Home at all costs.  She is suspicious of Treha's past as no seems to know anything about her, not even Treha herself.  Amidst all of the chaos of the shake up at the Home, are a couple of guys filming a documentary with the residents and in the midst of them telling their stories a long buried secret starts to come to light.  But when they notice Treha and the special way she affects the residents their focus starts to turn to her and her abilities with the residents and they also want to tell her story.  But in helping Treha to find out why she is the way she is more secrets start to come to light.  

Chris Fabry has with his last three novels become one of my favorite authors who's next novels to hit shelves I excitedly wait for.  While this book had several main characters all with their own stories going on, he took the main character of Treha, and connected them all seemlessly, slowly drawing you in until the secret is totally revealed.  While I must admit this story did start off slowly for me once it grabbed me I couldn't put it down.  It deals with issues of  finding our pasts, facing aging and the loss of independence, treating the elderly with dignity and compassion, and pursuing our dreams.  I love how the author showed we all have a life story that brought us to where we are and we all need someone to care and to listen to that story.  Though it did start off slowly for me and the wrap up of the story wasn't quite what I was expecting it was a really good read and I would recommend it, for sure!




37.  "Jennifer" by Dee Henderson

Completed November 14, 2013

Rating:  7/10

Review:  A very short prequel to the prequel of the O'Malley series, this story introduces the youngest of the O'Malley clan, Jennifer.  Jennifer is a very compassionate, caring pediatrician working with children who have very serious, sometimes terminal illnesses.  She loves her job and all the children who come into her care.  Which makes it extremely difficult when any her young patients pass away.  Her whole life is about her job and she very deliberately put aside having any relationships to devote her whole heart to her patients.  But when she meets Tom, another doctor, he slowly works his way into her life and her heart.  Jennifer is leary to go beyond just a friendship, especially when it is very apparent that Tom is very seriously devoted to his faith and belief in Jesus.  She is not prepared at all to go down that road.  But she sees qualities in Tom that she knows stems from his deep beliefs and it draws her.  But just when her own faith takes it's first steps she is dealt a medical blow that threatens to shatter it's beginnings.

Jennifer is first introduced in the O'Malley series in the first book, the Negotiator.  This is her back story to that initial introduction.  Written in the same style as the whole O'Malley series which puts faith in the forefront, her story explores faith in God and serious illness.  Each book in the series delves into a different aspect of faith.  What I appreciate about this series is that it is unapologetic that it is Christian and doesn't skirt around topics but takes them head on and presents a very strong biblical world view.  Jennifer was the first in her unusual family to be introduced to faith and this story tells of that experience.  She was also the first in the family to be married even though she is the youngest and the story also tells how she met her future husband.  An enjoyable and quick read.  Makes me want to read the whole O'Malley series as it's one of my favorites.




38.  "The Merciful Scar" by Reecca St. James & Nancy Rue

Completed:  November 20, 2013

Rating:  10/10

Review:  Kirsten is a young woman completing her graduate year to become an architect.  She is in a great relationship with long time boyfriend, Wes, but on the night Kirsten hopes he will propose her entire world comes crashing down when she sees him kissing her best friend.  Devasted, Kirsten copes in the only way she knows, by immediately turning to self injury.  But as she tries to make the cut that will bring the relief she seeks, a panicked Wes causes a string of events that land Kirsten in the psych ward at the hospital.  With not a lot of choices before her, Kirsten takes the suggestion of her pastor and goes to a 30 day program at a working sheep ranch in Montana.  Not knowing what to expect and desiring just to get it over with, she arrives at the ranch not knowing how an ex-nun, a dog, a bunch of sheep and other "odd" characters can have anything to do with helping people such as herself.

I loved this story.  Right from the beginning I was drawn into Kirsten's story.  It tells a very powerful story that stuck with me for days afterward.   Through the assortment of characters, the reader is shown a variety of attempts they use at hiding deep pain within their lives.  The main character is a very likeable young woman with secrets she has tried to hide since her youth.  The only release she finds is through self injury.  She is very careful to keep her secret but when an event occurs that causes her "accident" to be misinterpreted, the self injury is no longer a secret.  Faced with having to do something about it, Kirsten chooses to go to a sheep ranch in Montana at the recommendation of her pastor.  It is here, from the loving and accepting ex-nun, Sister Frankie, and the honest work of a sheep ranch that Kirsten starts to finally face the guilt, pain and anger that have so long been buried inside of her. Though the story is built on her, there are other characters introduced that allow the reader to relate to any one of them in how they, themselves might deal with the painful things in our lives.  Theirs is a long and difficult journey that I felt invested emotionally in as the story continued.  The novel is really well paced and always give just information that kept me glued to the book to find out what all the secrets were and if they would ever find healing and be able to handle life.  And though the characters all had different types anger and hurt and different ways of dealing with it, their path to recovery and healing all pointed to hearing God for themselves.  The foundations of the book are Christian and hearing God for themselves is a main point of recovery the book was never "preachy" to the point of taking over the story.   It was presented "naturally" and, I thought, beautifully to the reader.  The characters and situations are very believeable.  I think the book is directed mostly to young adults but it really is a great read for any age, especially if you have young people in your life.  I'm passing this book onto my girls (ages 18 and 23) to read.



39.  "Bound to a Promise" by Bonnie Floyd

Completed:  December 5, 2013

Rating:  7.5/10

Review:  
Bound to a Promise tells the amazing true story of God’s faithfulness in the face of unimaginable loss. Bonnie Floyd’s father and stepmother had been living a dream life—serving as caretakers of a private tropical island and traveling the world in a sailboat. That life was cut short when three young men boarded their yacht as it was anchored off the coast of Antigua. Determined that there should be no witnesses to their theft and brutality, the assailants shot all four people on board.

In the coming months and years, as God began to reveal what really happened that night in Antigua, Bonnie found not just the assurance that she would see her parents again in heaven, but also the power to forgive.

As I read through this book I was continually amazed.   Bonnie tells her story, weaving into it her journey with Jesus and when the unthinkable happens, she continues  this journey with how Jesus carried her through the pain and the anger to the other side where, because of a willingness to be obedient to God's leadings, she and her husband now have a life they never imagined.  It read like a fictional legal mystery but was an all too real account of her life.  I was amazed at the grace of God carrying her through the incredible grief of having her Dad and stepmom murdered, the subsequent investigation and the trial that lasted longer than they thought.  I was amazed at her and her husband Don's willingness to do what God wanted them to do even when it seemed impossible in their own strength.  It was incredible to read  what God could do through people who were willing to face hard things and extend the love and forgiveness of God, walking out the Christian life to the extreme, to someone who had done something so horrible to them.  It was a great read that was also a convicting and encouraging read.



40.  "Heart Failure" by Richard L. Mabry, M.D.

Completed:  December 17, 2013

Rating:  7/10

Review:   A little suspense, a little mystery, a little romance, a little about faith and medicine is what this book presented to me.  When Dr. Carrie Markham becomes engaged to paralegal Adam Davidson, she has finally come to a place in her life where she can move on from her past.  But at a time when they should be happiest Adam's past has come to haunt them and put her in the cross hairs of someone trying to kill them.  As they work to try to figure out who that person could be, Carrie is also challenged to renew the faith she left behind when her husband died.  The description on the back of the book really piqued my interest but unfortunately it took until past the middle of the book for it to really start to grab my attention.  Not to say that it is a bad story, it's not, but for whatever reason, it just didn't really hold my attention well until that point.  When it finally did, though, I did find it hard to put down until who was threatening them finally was revealed.  Just when I thought I had it figured out there were twists and more suspects thrown into the combination of characters. So a bit of a slow start to this one but I did end up enjoying the second half of the book.



41.  "Almost Forever" by Deborah Raney (Hanover Falls #1)

Completed:  December 31, 2013

Rating:  8.5/10

Review:  Brynne Hennesey volunteers at a local Homeless Shelter. She finds it fulfilling and it fills all the loneliness she feels when her husband is gone with his job as a firefighter.  Because of some events that had happened at the shelter her husband feels she should not be there for her own safety.  But Brynne cannot stop volunteering and does it behind his back while he is on shift.  The the unspeakable happens when Brynne is at the shelter one night.  A huge fire breaks out and burns the shelter to the ground.  Five firefighters lose their lives, including her husband and the husband of the shelter director.  As they try to find the cause of the fire Brynne realizes she cannot remember some of her own actions during that night.  While she tries to cope and move on with her life, she meets Garrett who lost his firefighter wife in the blaze.  The death of his beloved wife has left him staggering with unbearable loss and guilt for not protecting her in some way.   As their friendship develops Brynne comes to some realizations that will in all likelihood end the budding relationship with Garrett and very well may consume her with her own brand of guilty feelings.

I love a story that grabs me right from the beginning, and this was one of those.  The story built with tension right from the beginning even as a bit of background was being laid with the tension filled relationship of Brynne and her firefighter husband. It doesn't let up throughout as fire investigators try to figure out the cause and Brynne's memory lapses interfere with her moving on from that night of the blaze. Garrett and Brynne's relationship is a sweet one as they form a friendship that is first based on shared grief and then quickly becomes stronger.  But when revelations start to come forth from the fire they must both dig deep to forgive the person who caused it.  I love how the author approached forgiveness in the the context of the story.  She really delved into various depths of it and explored against the backdrop of a horrible tragedy.  This was a great read and I'm looking forward to the other two books in the series.