Completed: January 5, 2017
Review: This is the story of two women who's lives were changed by the Ringling Brothers Circus of the 1920's. Both had to find the courage to take a step of faith to make their dreams come to life. Mabel was a young woman who left the comfort and familiarity of the farm she was raised on to head to the big city. Taking a cigar box filled with clippings of her dreams she is working towards those when a stranger comes into the restaurant she is working at and talks her boss into allowing her to escort him around the Chicago World's Fair. Mabel at first has no idea who he is but later learns he was none other than John Ringling. Meeting again in another city they eventually marry. Mable is popular amongst the circus crew and performers for her quiet kindness and strength. Rosamund Easling is a young lady who is raised in the wealthy parlors of her English Earl father. He beloved brother lost his life in WWI and Rosamund misses him dearly. She finds solace in barebacking riding with the precious horse her brother had given her. But when her parents are forcing her into a marriage to another wealthy man and selling the horse to a man who is buying it for the Ringling circus in America, Rose is heartbroken. When Colin sees her riding Ingenue he sees her potential as a performer and invites her to America with the horse. Rosamund agrees and sneaks off with Colin on a boat to America leaving her parents a note. Intending on returning eventually, Rose's life is changed when she encounters not only the fame and bright lights of the circus world but also the life of a type of nomad during show season and the harsh competitive nature of it. I enjoyed this historical fiction novel that highlights the early life of the circus.
The story is told from the viewpoints of the two women and goes back and forth between them. Though of both women's stories are centered in the 1920's Mable's starts of a bit earlier on the timeline. There was a small issue for me in that a couple of times as the two women's stories started to intertwine that the timeline jumps got a little confusing and I did have to backtrack to the the beginnings of chapters to find out what year I was in.
Mable was the real life wife of John Ringling. She was known for her wisdom and kindness and her John built an amazing estate in Florida where they wintered in the off season but also had amazing parties whose invitations were coveted by both performers and the public. Rosamund and Colin are fictional characters added to the real life story of Mable and it makes for a good read. It was interesting how Mable came from humble farming beginnings and rose up to be wealthy and Roseamund started very wealthy and chose to leave it and start from the bottom in the circus. I thought the author did a wonderful job of conveying what the circus culture of the time would have been like. How hard they all worked together and were like family and yet there was a competitive dynamic in some of the relationships. A good clean read
2. Black Ice by Linda Hall
Completed: January 17, 2017
Review: Lenore Featherjohn is the owner of a local bread and breakfast in the town of Fog Point. It's the middle of winter and the town is experiencing a phenomenon that hasn't happened in a long, long time where the water is so frozen that it is breaking and forming statues. As such, she is busy in her B&B what with all the news people here to report on the event. Then one day she finds a young teenager whom no knows dead by her back door. The very back door that leads downstairs where her grown sons live. As she has done all their lives, in an effort to protect them from being accused, Lenore moves the body to a snowbank on the side of the driveway and put the hands in a prayer position. But now the "Snow Angel" is causing a whole slew of other problems as people come to pray and hope that the spot will heal them of their ills. May and Jake, the town's private detectives, get involved when May's name and phone number turn up in the dead girl's pocket. As tensions rise clues seem to point to the local minister's daughter knowing more than she is letting on.
I picked this up in a used book store not realizing it was part of a series, even though it said series right on the cover. Oh well. But I recognized the name of the author and thought I had read some of her books before at some time. I thought I'd read it now because we were in the midst of our own winter, icy time. It is a mystery that is filled with lots of suspense which is what kept the pages turning for me but not quite to the point where I was staying up late because I just couldn't put it down. There was a few story lines happening and sometimes it was just difficult to sort out and remember who everybody was. (I think maybe if I'd read the 1st book first that would have helped?) I found the aspect of people flooding to the spot the girl had died to get healed a little too far of a stretch for me. But the actual mystery and how it tied into the epilogue was very interesting. She also delved into the topic of loss of faith through the character of Amy. Amy grew up in a good Christian home, went to Christian schools and university, married a minister, did all the right things but somewhere along the way she had a loss of faith, or maybe she never really did have any but now in the midst of everything happening with her daughter, husband and the mystery girl she is coming face to face with her own crisis. Maybe because this is a series and will further be dealt with in another book, I thought this story line didn't wrap up for me. I'll have to check out the others in the series. I really thought the author did a wonderful job in exploring how some behaviors in people actually are hiding a deep hurt that they themselves don't even know how to define. An interesting detail is that some of the story is set in a little town here in central Alberta called Barrhead. I don't think I've come across a book that had an Albertan town as a setting. Bonus for that! All said it was an enjoyable read but not one that blew me away.All said it was an enjoyable read but not one that blew me away.
3. Because You're Mine by Colleen Coble
Completed: January 20, 2017
Review: Alanna is at a great place in life. Having had a tough childhood, she is now married to the love of her life and they are expecting their first child. Her Celtic band, of whom she is the lead and her husband is the drummer, is taking off and tours are selling out all over the United States. But then tragedy strikes when her husband is killed in a car explosion and his best friend is severely injured who cause turns out to be a bomb. As she deals with that and tries to get her life back together a new threat comes in that her father in law threatens to take away the baby if Alanna does not live the life he dictates. Her manager gives her an escape by offering her a marriage of convenience to save the child from the father in law. It all seems too good to be true but when she moves into the historical home of her new husband things start to happen that are endangering both Alanna and the unborn baby. Are they accidents or is someone trying to harm her too?
This story had a bit of everything. It's a contemporary mystery thriller. It isn't my absolute fave from this author but I still enjoyed the book and it still held enough for me to keep the pages turning and was a solid tension filled read. It was a bit of a darker and creepier story than most of her mysteries and there were things about it that I loved but there were a few things that left me with a few questions. The basic story was really interesting to me as we walked through the heartache of what Alanna deals with in the aftermath of the accident and then finding out it was a bomb that killed her husband. Her and her husband's love was sweetly written and it was nice to see marriage positively portrayed even amongst the music industry. The story touches upon struggling with one's faith and anger towards God after a tragedy though I would not really call this an overtly Christian novel and I would have liked to have seen that explored a bit more. I loved the Irish theme woven into it through the main characters. It is mostly set in Charleston, South Carolina but does go back to Ireland a bit. I enjoyed the Irish brogue because it wasn't overly done and didn't leave me googling definitions of words or phrases as other books have done when they use another language. As Alanna's background is unfolded reading of the "travellers" or Irish gypsies was interesting too. I did think some of the story parts were a little rushed and left me with questions and would have like to have seen those fleshed out a bit better and though I guessed parts of the story about 3/4 of the way there was more to the story that kept me going right until the end.
4. Delilah - Treacherous Beauty by Angela Hunt
Completed: January 28, 2017
We all know the basic story Samson and Delilah. But the bible itself gives a very little background to the infamous woman who brought Samson, the judge and strongman of Israel, down. In this retelling, Angela Hunt has written the story of a young girl who's mother marries a Philistine business man and takes them from their home in Egypt to his home in Gaza. Though her stepfather is loving and kind to her mother and herself, Delilah's stepbrother is another story. Cruel and vindicitive, he takes every opportunity to make Delilah feel unwelcome. When her stepfather dies suddenly only a few months later, Delilah's life changes for the worst as her stepbrother sells her mother as a slave and turns her into his prisoner, severely abusing her. But Delilah is determined to make an escape and find her mother and buy her back so they can make their way back to their homeland. Easier said than done, but an opportunity presents itself and Delilah grabs her chance. But she must go without her mother as she has nothing. When some Jewish traders take pity upon her and offer her help she goes with them vowing to someday return for her mother. In her travels she comes across the legendary Samson, in the years to come knows she must turn to him to help her with her plans. But she doesn't count on actually falling in love with the strongman and it all comes to a head when she must make a choice between love and ambition and revenge.
I really liked this story of Delilah. Who has not wondered what was her story was and how she could do such a thing? Not much historical or biblical fact is found about Delilah other than her betrayal of the mighty Samson. But what in her past would bring her to a point that would make her go down in history as one of the greatest betrayers of all time? Angela Hunt has imagined a young foreign girl viciously hurt by the circumstances of her life and trying desperately to put her life back together so when she sees opportunity she takes it. She has taken the premise that "human nature demands that we rationalize our actions" (author's notes: pg 341) and woven both the motivations of Delilah and Samson through that. The time of the judges of Israel and Samson's background was interestingly woven into the story and I learned a few things about that time and how women were treated. The story is told in alternating chapters both from Delilah and from Samson's points of views. And the same as with the building of the other biblical character's in this series, the author stuck close to the biblical story and to human nature and worked out from there. Again it is to the reader's advantage to read the author's notes at the back that explain how the story was built.
5. The Forgotten Garden by Kate Morton
Completed: February 9, 2017
Review: In 1913, a 4 year old girl is found all alone on a dock in Australia by the Hugh, the dockmaster. All she had was a little white suitcase with some clothes and a book of fairy tales. When they couldn't find her family, Hugh and his wife Lil, take her in, name her Nellie as loved and raised her as their own daughter, never telling her about her past. Now she's all grown up, engaged to be married and about to celebrate her 21st birthday. Lil has passed away, and against Lil's wishes Hugh feels he must tell Nellie the truth. As her world and her knowledge of who she is is set spinning, Nell breaks her engagement and sets herself on a quest to find who she really is. With nothing to go on except the book of fairy tales, she heads off to England in pursuit of who the author is. She never finishes her quest to find answers as her life takes another turn when she has to care for her teenage granddaughter. But after Nell passes away, her granddaughter, Cassandra, is surprised to learn Nell has left her a cottage located on the Cornish Coast. Not knowing anything about this from Nell before hand, Cassandra heads to England to deal with the cottage but finds she too is taken up with the mystery that surrounds her grandmother.
I loved this story. Though it is a hefty book at 548 pages, I found I couldn't put it down and finished it quite quickly. A family saga that spans 3 generations the story is told in the narrative of 3 people from the 3 generations: Eliza, Nell and Cassandra. It's a maze of a story, kinda like the maze in the garden mentioned in the title, but is worth it to reach the end. At first nothing seems to do with anything else, but the author brings it all together in lovely detail. It's a complicated story but I found the author just drew me in with her descriptions and her ability to really make me feel for the main characters. I mostly had a heart for Eliza whose story was heartbreaking and had me near tears quite a few times. The mystery of who Nell really is grows as the story progresses and though I had a small inkling of who she was I never would have guessed the circumstances surrounding her beginning years. Themes of identity, family history, friendship, family, entitlement, grief, loss, love and decisions affecting generations are all woven into the story beautifully. Though usually as a reader I tend to skip date/location notes at beginning of chapters for some reason, I would definitely suggest to make sure you take note of these as you read the story. It really helps to move the story along and keep the timeline straight in one's thoughts as you read. I gave this story a 10/10 because of the author's ability to draw me right in to all three women's stories and the involvement of my feelings the author was able to bring out.
6. The Promise of Jesse Woods by Chris Fabry
Completed: February 22, 2017
7. Secrets of a Charmed Life by Susan Meissner
Completed: March 3, 2017
Review: Kendra Kendra Van Zant arrives at an old English cottage in Cotswald, England to interview famous watercolor painter Isabel McFarland who is actually celebrating her 93rd birthday. Isabel is a survivor of the London Blitz but up until now has never talked about it so it was a bit of a surprise that Kendra's professor was able to secure an interview for her. As a visiting student at Oxford studying history, Kendra is writing a paper for the 70th anniversary of VE day with a chance for it to be published. Kendra firmly believes that information is only half the story of an event and personal experience of people involved is the other half. She's done her research and has her questions all lined up but before she can even ask any of them Isabel drops the bombshell that she is not even who everyone thinks she is. And so starts the story of 2 young sisters who lived in London at the time of rumors of war in the 1940's.
Emmy Downtree is only 15 but has her dreams all planned out. She has been drawing brides and bridal dresses and wants to design them. When she has a chance to work in a bridal shop she takes the job even though her mother is very opposed as she needs to help look after her much younger sister Julia while her mother does whatever she does when she is gone from them. But Emmy's ambitions and dreams come to a halt as London orders the evacuation of all children to foster families in the country side to keep them safe from the threat of bombs. Though she tries to fight it, Emmy is shipped off by train with her sister. But she is determined to make her once in lifetime opportunity a reality and sees only that she has no other choice and steals away in the middle of the night to make her appointment with a designer in the city. But this determination will have ramifications not only for her but for others in her life as well.
I loved this book. It grabbed me right from the beginning. As the story of the two sisters starts to build it was very easy to lose myself into the story. A portion of the story towards the back is told in letter and diary entry form and though this is a format that I usually really do not like in books it worked for me in this story. The author was really able to convey the terror and emotions of two young girls going through the Blitz as well as the adult characters and what they were going through. The long term ramifications of trauma were really presented in a believable and realistic sense. I really don't know a lot about the war as it affected England so I really learned a lot. I didn't even have any idea that children were evacuated out of London. As I was reading and the Blitz was happening I wondered what on earth the title had to do with the actual story, they seemed on opposite ends of a very large spectrum. But under the reader's guide author Q & A she poses the question "if there really are secrets to living a life that has happily ever after written all over it...and to being able to have everything you've always wanted". In the beginning both Emmy and Kendra seemed to have their p's and q's all lined up for that life. But as the story shows some things you just cannot control and it's the very choices during those times that may be the ones determining where your life goes. Beautiful writing, realistic emotions, wonderful characters.
8. Keep Quiet by Lisa Scottoline
Completed: March 11, 2017
On the surface the Buckman's seem to be the perfect little family. Jake is a financial planner who's fairly new business is doing well. After having had a shocking lay off when he was an accountant he is finally back on his feet and moving forward career-wise. His wife, Pam, is also on a great career path. She is a appelate judge who loves her job and has just been offered a huge career opportunity. Their only child, Ryan is in high school and is on track to earning a basketball scholarship with his talent and good grades. The one thing marring everything is Jake's relationship with his son. When he started the financial planning business, he devoted all his time to making it successful and his marriage and relationship with his son suffered. Now after counselling his marriage is doing well but he needs to work out the relationship with Ryan. At Pam's suggestion he picks Ryan up from the movies so he can have some alone time with him and against his better judgement he allows Ryan to talk him into letting him drive the car. At 16, Ryan is quite capable but his partial license has time restrictions on it. But Jake wanting to keep the bonding open, thinks that the road they are on is deserted and therefore safe so after much pleading on Ryan's part he allows Ryan to take the wheel. Then the unthinkable happens and Jake makes the split second decisions to protect Ryan's future at all costs and convinces Ryan to keep quiet. But the life altering secret is eating away at both of them and it's events are threatening to blow it all up. One lie leads to another and before Jake knows it the plan to keep Ryan protected might be the very thing that will destroy them all.
This was a very fast paced story. The timeline is less than a week but so much happens within that timeline. There was much to like about this book. I liked the exploration of the father's role as provider and what happens when that is shattered. I also liked the exploration of father/son relationships and the idea of how far would a parent go to protect their child. I also liked the raw portrayal of guilt and shame and panic that Ryan is forced to live with and not reveal. The story never let up. That said, though, other than Ryan, I did not like the characters at all. Pam's character was what some call a helicopter mom, which in my circles is called a smother mother. She micromanaged Ryan so much that it was driving me nuts and I had to periodically stop and remind myself that Ryan was actually 16 in the story and not 8. She was also hypocritical. I wanted to shake Jake at times as he dug them in further and further and just wouldn't stop even though he could see the weight of the secret was eating Ryan up. I did like how this author though didn't hold back on the consequences of dishonesty. Sometimes you see characters rewarded and not really paying consequences for their moral failures but this story did not hold back on that aspect...and I liked that. For a reading group there would be much discussion opportunity on the various things brought out in this story.
9. The Memory Palace by Mira Bartok
Completed: March 20, 2017
Review: From the Reading Group Guide Introduction (back of book): "When piano progidy Norma Herr was well, she was the most vibrant personality in the room. But as her schizophrenic episodes became more frequent and more dangerous, she withdrew into a world that neither of her daughters could make any sense of. After being violently attacked for demanding that Norma seek help, Mira Bartok and her sister changed their names and cut off all contact in order to keep themselves safe. For the next seventeen years Mira's only contact with her mother was through infrequent letters exchanged through post office boxes, often not even in the same city where she was living. At the age of forty, artist Mira suffered a debilitating head injury that leaves her memories foggy and her ability to make sense of the world around her forever changed. Hoping to reconnect with her past, Mira reached out to the homeless shelter where her mother was living. When she received word that her mother is dying in a hospital, Mira and her sister traveled to their mother's deathbed to reconcile one last time. Norma gave them a key to the storage unit in which she has kept hundreds od diaries, photographs and momentos fro the past that Mira never imagined she would see again. These artifacts trigger a flood of memories and give Mira access to the past that she believed had been lost forever."
This book has been on my radar for quite awhile now and I finally got around to reading it. With the recent releasing of a schizophrenic man here in Canada who committed a horrible, unimaginable crime on a greyhound bus a few years back that shocked our nation, changed the lives of all those on the bus and was the direct cause of one of the first responders taking their own lives, I really felt the need to read this. I can pretty much say people here are totally dumbfounded and angry as he was given total freedom without conditions and let back into society because it was deemed the crime was committed during an episode and he's now "likely to stay on medication". This made me dig into my TBR pile and pull this book out hoping maybe it would bring some kind of understanding into the life of a person suffering from schizophrenia and how it affects those around them and to somehow justify or explain in my mind the reasoning behind the release of this man here in Canada.
Mira Bartok was told at her mother's funeral that "people have abandoned their loved ones for much less than you've been through". And even though for their own safety, Mira and her sister had no contact with their mother for many, many years and in fact, changed their names so she couldn't find them, Mira wrote a touching, heartbreaking account of their lives growing up with their mother. The book really let the reader into a glimpse of the harrowing struggle for both the schizophrenic sufferer and their families. And it also brought out how the loved ones can feel hostage to the illness and, in Mira's mother's case anyway, the system that was incapable of bringing help to their family in crisis. In order to protect themselves, they literally had to let their mother become homeless and living on the streets and in shelters. No family should have to make that choice. Mira's story also pointed out to me how memory can be affected by different things and even the one remembering as her and her sister sometimes had different recollections of the same event. There were also beautiful moments throughout the book where Mira makes the mother/daughter connections while caring for her mom. The moment when she was helping her mom in the hospital to walk from the bathroom back to bed and as they stood, her holding her mom up as her mom rested a moment leaning against her and the nurse came and asked if she was okay, and Mira realized she hadn't hugged her mom in 17 years was especially touching. Though at times the writing style bogged me down just a little bit as I tried to make connections in the points the author was trying to convey, this memoir was well worth the read just to gain some understanding of the struggles of those suffering severe mental health issues, to develop some compassion for them and their families and for those who are homeless, and an understanding of how the "system" works and lacks in actually being helpful and beneficial for those in this situation. And most especially to read about that mother/daughter connection in spite of the illness.
10. Some Small Magic by Billy Coffey
Completed: April 1, 2017
Abel is a young boy who has got a tough go of it. Him and his single mom live in run down trailer while his mom works hard at a diner to make ends meet. There never seems to be enough money to be able to breath a bit. Abel has a disease where his bones break easily and it makes him look and walk differently and he endures bullying at school because of it. In an act of retaliation, Abel sets into motion events that will change his life forever.
Have you ever read a book where you just didn't know how you felt about it or what to say about it? Well, turns out this is one of those reads for me. The description sounded interesting, a bit out of the genres I usually tend to gravitate towards. Anything in the "magical" genre usually doesn't grab my attention, but I picked it up anyway because of the other aspects to the story. After reading it, I would have to say I don't know if I would list this as Christian fiction, and by the barcode of the book neither is it listed as such but just as fiction. Has a smidge of faith element to it but I would definitely not call it a biblical based story. If I had approached it this way, rather than expecting more of a faith based read because of who published it, I think I might have enjoyed it a touch better. But I kept waiting for more of a biblical foundation to come through.
I found there were parts that captured me, where I couldn't put it down and then other parts that tended to the tedious side and I found myself skimming the pages. The friendship struck between Abel who was a young boy born to poverty, raised by a single parent and living each day with a disease that caused his bones to break very easily and the young adult who was mentally disabled was beautiful. How they supported each other was heartwarming and inspiring as goals of friendship. I had to really push past the name given to this character however, as I found it offensive to this day and age and my own sensibilities. The character was a simple-minded man because of events that occurred when he was small and he was called Dumb Willie by those who knew him. For the setting, I understood this and got that the attitude towards him was being established, but then to keep on referring to him as such through the whole story, even by his best friend, was really hard for me to get past, especially with my own experience working with mentally impaired children. The portrayal of brokenness and the different ways brokenness manifests in people's lives was also really well written. But the comparisons, or maybe the right word is references, of faith, miracles and magic just didn't sit quite right with me. This made the telling of the story just a bit too long for me but that could be because with this type of story, rather than relaxing and enjoying it I feel like I always have my discerning feelers up and working. Not what I was expecting and not my cup of tea.
11. The Shack by Wm. Paul Young
Completed: April 7, 2017
12. The Imposter Bride by Nancy Richler
Completed: April 17, 2017
Review: A young woman named Lily Azerov is coming to Canada from a war torn Europe. Her finance, a man whom she has only communicated with through letters, is to pick her up at the Montreal train station. But when Sol lays eyes on Lily, he turns and leaves. His brother Nathan, sees Lily and has compassion on her and decides right then to marry her. As they try to build a life together, Sol starts to regret letting her go. But Lily has some secrets she has brought with her and she finds fitting into the family difficult. Even after she has a baby, she can't quite shake the depression and guilt that has hounded her so she decides to leave without telling anyone.
As Lily and Nathan's daughter, Ruth, grows she has many questions about the mother she doesn't remember. The only clues she has are a diary and an uncut diamond. But no one seems to have any answers, not even her Dad who has never spoken a negative word against Lily. But as she starts to dig and connect some dots she finds that life intertwines families in more ways than can be seen just from the surface.
This book was not what I expected but it was still a really good read. It was written by a Canadian author, which I didn't know when I picked it up. It was most enjoyable to me because of all the mentions of Canadian cities and places. It even mentioned the river that runs through my city. I also enjoyed the references to the cutting of diamonds and the subtle comparisons of that to life. It's a tale of survival, of starting anew, of how hidden secrets change the direction of lives other than that of the secret keeper, of the desire and need to know one's roots, of the ties of family. The mystery of Lily is embedded in World War II and moves itself into the Jewish community of Montreal, Canada. It offers the reader the hope that out of devastation, one can still have love and family. It is not a fast paced read but more of a study of character and the events that shape us into who we are.
13. The Memory of You by Catherine West
Completed: April 28, 2017
Review: When Natalie Mitchell was 13 she was involved in a tragic accident that took the life of her beloved twin sister. Since then she has been trying to get past it and move on with her life. Now working for her father, a very brusque and successful businessman, she has spent her life since the accident trying to please him and seemingly always coming up short. When her grandfather has a heart attack, her father sends her, against her will, back to the family owned vineyard with the purpose of shutting it down. As Natalie has to face her fears of returning to the place that forever changed her life, she also can't bring herself to say no.
I loved this story. It captured me right from the first pages and totally had my emotions invested into the characters all throughout the book. The setting is beautiful, the Sonoma wine valley, and the author's descriptions made me picture it clearly in my mind's eye. The two main characters are both dealing with tragic circumstances that have changed who they are and their struggles came across as authentic and well written. Right from the get-go I felt for Natalie's pain and vulnerability as the life-long struggle with the death of her sister so many years before comes back full force after a negative event in her adult life. As her life starts to spiral her father decides she should go back to the very place her pain began, her grandfather's home and winery, with the mandate to shut it down. Because her grandmother bequeathed her the majority of shares in the winery, Natalie hopes to see if she could improve on it and not close it's doors. But she must go against her father to that. And after spending her growing up years and her adult life trying to please her father, Natalie doesn't know if she has the strength to go against him. As she comes face to face with a combative, defensive and angry vintner, who just happens to be a crush from her childhood and who believes she is about to put him out of a job, you can't help but hope she can hold it together. I must admit I struggled a bit to like Tanner at first until his story started to unfold and you saw the place of pain he was operating from. The secondary characters were all nicely developed too. As the story peals back it's many layers it deals with loss, guilt, secrets, family dynamics, depression, facing the past and moving forward, forgiveness, faith and love. I found it multi-layered and rich with a satisfying ending.
14. The Little Old Lady Who Broke All the Rules by Catharina Ingelman-Sundberg
Completed: May 14, 2017
Martha Andersson is 79 years old and living at a seniors home in Stockholm. In her mind, things are just going downhill there. The food is getting worse, they are being rationed and are basically locked in...all cost cutting measures the owner feels he needs to establish. With the help of the main nurse who is trying to gain a partnership and a husband, they have gone too far in Martha's estimation. To her, the seniors are being treated as children. So she decides to enlist her four friends from the home to start rebelling against the establishment. Naming themselves the League of Pensioners, they start an uproar by not going to bed when they are supposed to, breaking into the staff kitchen after hours to make themselves better tasting meals, etc. All pretty harmless until they start to devise a plan to fund what they think will be a better retirement plan than living at that home. Even a year or so in prison would be better than their current situation, or so they figure.
I really enjoyed this hilarious crime caper involving senior citizens. It is translated from a Swedish author and has made the International Bestseller's list. I didn't find anything getting lost in the translation It's a humorous, silly, quirky and yet has a strong underlying message on how we as society view and treat our elderly. Throughout the book I kept imagining my 84 year old mom with her cane and walker attempting the biggest heist of the century and getting away with it. Martha and her gang have never done anything like this in their entire lives, but when they plan stealing rich peoples personal items at a fancy hotel they figure they have it planned down to the minutest detail. What could possibly go wrong? When they don't get quite what they thought they figure they will "kidnap" some priceless paintings from the art gallery and hold them for ransom. Stumping the best of the country's detectives, could things actually turn out as they hope?
The story is written is such a light, engaging way that you are immediately drawn right into the lives of these seniors. The main characters are written well and their individual personalities are all developed well even though their are actually about 8 main characters within the story. I, as the reader, was drawn to take a liking to every senior character. Even the must have "grumpy old man". And yet within the chaos and crime, there is a real underlying message of the worth and ability of even the most elderly and just because one is aging does not mean they want to be hidden away watching tv all day long. It also causes one to think of the mandates of senior residences and what each owner or foundation sees as important. The bottom line or care of the people who pay to live there. I realize each country runs things differently for it's senior citizens but it really does make one think about our attitudes and views. I found it a real fun read, perfect for summer. I noticed there is a second book continuing the story so I will be getting that for sure. I gave this a good, solid 9/10. I thought it could have wrapped up just a little bit sooner but still thoroughly enjoyed it.
15. Chasing Fireflies by Charles Martin
Completed: May 27, 2017
Review: I am having a hard time doing a small recap on what this story is about. There was so much depth to this story that it is hard being brief and not giving things away. As all of this author's stories, it has many layers. It is about searching for the truth and where one belongs, it's about secrets and lies and truth rising to the surface, abuse, compassion on the lost and hurting no matter where they've been, it's about brokenness, forgiveness and redemption, it's about life and death and loss and finding one's self, it's about what you do with the life and circumstances you've been dealt and ultimately it is a story of placing value on people no matter where they've been.
The main characters lives are interwoven through the contemporary story line and through a previous history story line of one of the characters. Chase Walker is a reporter who grew up never knowing his family but raised in a loving foster home where he was eventually adopted. But the drive to know who his father was and the truth about his abandonment has driven him his whole life, even to the choosing of his profession which he figured give him access to information to help him find answers. Willie, or "Unc", as he's referred to by Chase, is a man who is compassionate towards children who have had a hard life. He too has had a hard past with loss and betrayal but it has only made him more of a loving person, even as the town and members of his own family look down on him. The other main character is a small boy who has suffered horrific abuse. He is unable to talk but can draw with great skill in order to communicate. They nickname him Sketch no one, not even the boy himself seems to know his real name. As Chase and Willie try to unravel the mystery that Sketch is and where he has come from and to whom he belongs, they must both confront their own issues of brokenness, abandonment and pain.
I'll not lie, the prologue and some parts of the story that involved the young boy were absolutely heartbreaking and not easy to read. Nor was the story line of a secondary female character who is a longtime friend of Chase and niece of Willie. Her story line is also a painful one. But the story is one of redemption and of love standing strong in the face of the worst of what life throws at some people. All the characters are well written and relatable but Willie especially was wonderful. His southern sayings bought a levity to the story that brought smiles even in the midst of their truth. As always Charles Martin's words and story telling ability drew me right in. His phrasing and pacing were right on target and every emotion was drawn out of me, the reader. This story was sad yet beautiful and filled with hope.
16. Scent of Lilacs by Ann H. Gabhart
(Book 1 - the Heart of Hollyhill)
Completed: June 15, 2017
In the quiet town of Hollyhill, Kentucky Jocie Brook is set to enjoy her hot lazy summer before she starts high school. She has one prayer and that is that she gets to see her sister whom she hasn't seen since she was five. Jocie has grown up without her since her mother up and left with her sister without saying a word to anyone. Her loving father is an interim pastor of Mt. Pleasant Church praying to get the permanent pastorship and the vote for that is coming up. But he has some obstacles in his way and he's just believing God will work it all out. He has poured his love and God's love into Jocie and she has grown up being raised by him and her strict aunt. Jocie knows she should just take her father's word for the past but there has always been that wish to know why her Mom and sister took off and left her and nobody seems to know or is willing to tell her. Her two biggest prayers are for a dog and for her to see them again. Both would take a miracle. As she starts digging into her past, she stirs up things she might not want to know and that could affect not only her but her Dad's vote for the pastorship.
This was such a perfect summer read. It is lovely story building and meandering through the lives of this family during the summer of 1964. I love stories set in this time period and I thought the author captured small town living and attitudes of the time wonderfully. Jocie is a fun, inquisitive, spiritual young girl who draws you into her world and her hopes. All the characters are wonderful from Jocie to her Father with his strong faith in spite of all that has happened to her scripture quoting aunt to her father's quirky friend and co-worker Wes. The secrets they all are hiding are woven together into a story of faith, love and family that I really enjoyed. Looking forward to the second book continuing the story.
17. Before I Go To Sleep by S. J. Watson
Completed: June 18, 2017
Christine is a woman who wakes up each morning in a panic not knowing who the man next to her in the bed is. And she doesn't recognize the middle aged woman staring back at her in the bathroom mirror. And each morning the man patiently explains that he is Ben, her husband of over 20 years, and that she had a horrific accident 20 years ago that wipes her memory everytime she goes to sleep. Each day she also gets a phone call from a man who tells her he is a Dr. Nash who is working with her without her husband's knowledge to try to bring some memory back. Each day she writes in a journal what happened that day and hides it in her closet and each day Dr. Nash tells her where to look for it. As the entries start to add up, and as she rereads them each, Christine starts to have some questions and some things are not lining up and making sense. But who does she trust and believe? Her husband? Dr. Nash? herself? She can't even remember yesterday!
This was one tense, page turning, can't put it down psychological thriller. Christine is totally dependent upon her husband, Ben, each and every day to fill in the facts of her existence. But as she journals her days something in her tells her not to let her husband in on what she is doing just yet. And the more she journals and rereads her days, while answering some questions it also raises so many more. The tension in this book runs through each page and doesn't let up. The pacing is really good and keeps you riveted and turning the pages to find out what is going on. Your emotions are really engaged with the main character as it is so hard to imagine this happening to anyone and the utter confusion they would live under on a daily basis yet the book is inspired in part by the lives of several amnesiac patients whom the author mentions in the author's note at the back of the book. You really are rooting for Christine to get her memory back or at least to get the questions answered.
18. The Face of the Earth by Deborah Raney
Completed: July 3, 2017
Mitch and Jill Brannon have a wonderful marriage. Both have careers they love, Mitch is a principal at a school and Jill is a grade 3 teacher at another school. Their kids are both grown, their son in university and their daughter soon to join him there. Jill is struggling a bit with the thought of their daughter leaving at the end of summer for school, so Mitch encourages her to attend a teacher conference with her colleagues so she can unwind and get her mind off it. Now conference is over and Mitch is excited to see her and hear all about it. Just having heard that she is on her way home, he's planning a quiet steak dinner at home with her.
But Jill doesn't come home. Hours tick away and still no Jill and with no calls from her Mitch is beside himself. Shelley, Jill's best friend and the Brannon's next door neighbor, immediately comes over to be with Mitch as he calls police. Days later police still have not a clue what has happened to her. As the days turn into weeks and then months, Mitch is frustrated with what he feels is not enough proactive action on the part of the police and he starts to take matters into his own hands. Bringing Shelley along to help in the search they spend days and miles together looking for Jills's car in ditches and trying to unearth even the smallest of clues that would help to find her. With the common goal of Jill's well being and finding her driving them, Mitch and Shelley's friendship deepens to the point where Shelley's deep buried attraction to Mitch is starting to surface and becoming harder and harder to hide.
I enjoyed the concept of the story. It explored life going on after tragedy that has not had closure and when, if any, time should be the right time to move on. It delved into marriage vows, and explored the depth of them as Mitch's loyalty to the vows he made Jill where thrown into confusion and temptation when it was becoming more and more apparent that Jill had literally disappeared off the face of the earth. With the police believing she disappeared of her own accord, how long could and should he hold onto his vows to her? I appreciated the author's portrayal of a character who took his vows seriously and treated them as sacred and important while still being very human. Mitch's character was so well written and you could feel his struggle and confusion as he was torn between putting all his focus into finding any clues to Jill's whereabouts and facing maybe having to finally just give up and move on with life for the sake of family. The characters of Mitch and Shelley had much to struggle with as the search for Jill kept coming up empty and Shelley was finding it harder and harder to squash her feelings for Mitch. At times I really, really disliked her character as she seemed very self serving at points in the story and was very quick in justifying her words and actions in pushing Mitch to move on way too early, in my humble opinion, and giving him the space and time he needed to grieve in his own way and time. I liked how the author portrayed real people struggling with real temptations and justifications in hard situations, how she portrayed how selfish motivations can cause us to, while sounding like a good thing, do wrong things and justify them, but I also love how she portrays that good marriages and holding onto to vows don't always come easily and must be fought for. A good read that makes one think what "till death do us part" really means.
19. Stars Over Sunset Bouldevard by Susan Meissner
July 11, 2017
In 1938 Violet and Audrey meet in Hollywood working in the secretarial pool for the making of the movie Gone With the Wind. Violet is from a small town and looking to start life over in a new place. Her deepest desire is to become a wife and mother and have a happy home. Audrey is a bit older and more experienced. Having gotten a big break a few years back in a silent film that fell to the introduction of talking movies, she is looking to get re-noticed and be made into the star she knows she can be. When she finds out Violet is looking for a place to live, she offers a room in her home and the two, though so different, become extraordinary life long friends. But the things each woman does to hide the fears from their pasts and to achieve their deepest desires could come to a head and put their very friendship at risk and change the course of their lives.
Meanwhile in present day, Christine McAllistar comes across the find of a life time when a hat from the movie Gone With the Wind mistakenly surfaces in a box of donated clothing to her vintage clothing boutique. As she returns it to the owner at their request the mystery of how it ended up there intrigues her.
I loved this book. It's a story of deep friendship and what the definition of that is. It explores what one does and justifies to oneself as one seeks after their dreams and desires. What secrets would we hide, what we would expose? It explores the concept of love and fear sometimes feeling like the same thing and how we hang onto things thinking we love them but in reality we are afraid to let go and that is exactly what love would have us to do. Both women made choices in their lives motivated by the wrong reasons and were broken characters that ultimately just wanted to be happy. I thought the characters were well written, though that doesn't necessarily mean that I always liked them, in fact at times they were infuriating, but that is part of the draw for me. Characters who are flawed and can draw out emotions in me. I thought the author brought the set and making of Gone With the Wind and old Hollywood to life and also touched on how World War II affected Hollywood and the making of films.
I love this author's ability to tie a historical story into a present day story. I enjoyed the concept of this story thoroughly and how it played out in the character's lives. It made me think about some of my own choices in life and the motivations behind them long after I closed the book.
20. Beneath Copper Falls by Colleen Coble
Completed: July 19, 2017
This book is revisits the Rock Harbor series, a popular series by Colleen Coble, which was written a few years back, something that I didn't realize when I requested it for review. I hadn't read the prior series but I feel this book can be a stand alone and you don't have to read any of the others before you dive into this one. There were only a couple instances when descriptions of minor characters to this story confused me a bit and I felt those descriptions of who was related to who didn't really need to be in there to make the story flow or come together.
That being said Beneath Copper Falls was a fast paced, edge of your seat murder mystery mixed with romance. But it is not a fluffy read at all. Along with the aspects of abuse, stalking and serial killers in the mystery, it also looks at deep heart issues like focusing on outward appearances and how they can be in direct contradiction to what the heart of a person really is. How do we deal with things we don't like in ourselves especially when life seems to constantly be throwing us curve balls and how do we face what has shaped us and how to go on from there?
I really like the character of Dana as she tries to get her life back together while on the run from an abusive fiance. To get away from him she heads back to where she feels she'll have some safety and support living with her adoptive brother and in the town where she grew up and has some friends. But it seems trouble follows her no matter where she heads and just when she doesn't need it the past starts to rear it's ugly head. I'll not lie, I found some of abusive parts very difficult to read as well as the actual deaths involved in the story and it may be a trigger for some who have been through situations like that. I can usually handle that and just take it as part of the story but this one touched something in me and it was hard. But Dana's story drew me in as she tried to deal with the feelings that came as everything was happening. I liked the exploration into how we face things or bury them and how either way it shapes who we are and how we handle things. I also liked the look into the work lives of 911 dispatchers and the training of search and rescue dogs. Both careers that I didn't know much about. The ending wrapped up a bit abruptly for me but still enjoyed this page turner.
30. Secrets She Left Behind by Dianne Chamberlain
Completed: July 26, 2017
8 year old Maggie Lockwood has just been released from prison for her actions which led to a fire at a church that claimed a life and horrified the small town she is from. Going elsewhere is not an option so she must learn to live in a town of people who's feelings toward her range from anger to horror to hate. But no one hates her more than Keith Weston who's last year has been one filled with pain and suffering due to the fire. Keith and Maggie grew up together and used to be friends but the fire burned him horribly and with the pain of the last year, he must now face life badly disfigured. The only person who helps him to get through his days is his mom Sara. But Sara left the house to go somewhere, no one seems to know where, and has not come home. As hours turn into days and days turn into weeks, Keith must deal with her not returning and all the questions and feelings that raise. Maggie's parents have offered to let Keith stay at their home but there is no way he's going to do and be so near to the person he hates. Then Keith meets a girl who looks beyond the disfigurement to who he really is and he starts to think he just might be able to get through this.
The premise of this story sounded so good. How the author explored how a young person who makes a horrible decision must face the ongoing consequences of that decision and what follows was really good. Also how the people most affected by what happened and everything they also were feeling and struggling with as Maggie was released and back in town was really good. And the mystery involving the disappearance of Sara drew me in. Where the story derailed for me was the constant gravitation toward teenage sexual encounters. I understood the need to develop Keith's relationship with the girl, and being a secular story, I didn't expect it to line up with Christian moral guidelines, but the constant encounters I thought really distracted from the more important elements of what this story was about. I thought it could have risen above that so much better. There also was a huge element of the story involving sin in church leadership that was sad and disheartening that the blurb on the back totally didn't let the possible reader in on so the story ended up being about more than just what was happening with Maggie and the fire and it's consequences.
I struggled with the rating on the book but finally gave it a 6/10
31. Love Anthony by Lisa Genova
Completed: July 31, 2017
Olivia is on Nantucket by herself. No husband and no son with her. She is there trying to make some sense of her son Anthony's short 8 years. Anthony had been diagnosed with Autism at the age of 3. It had been a hard 5 years, ones in which Anthony didn't speak to her, he didn't look at her and he hated being touched by her. And it was hard on her marriage. So hard that she and her husband were not together anymore. But there was also happiness in the midst of the hard, but now Anthony was gone, her husband was gone and life didn't make sense.
While in Nantucket Olivia meets Beth who is going through her own life issues. Beth is writing a book and what she writes will reopen Olivia's hurting and grieving heart.
This was a wonderful story by Lisa Genova. The author of "Sill Alice" uses her knowledge as a nueroscientist to once again bring us into a story that brings compassion and understanding into a hard to understand area. I was trained in working with disabled individuals and used to work in the school district with autistic children and this book brought me into places of knowledge, perception and sympathy that I didn't know I was lacking, not only for the autistic individual for their families. The only reason I gave this a 9 out 10 instead of a 10 was the story line of Beth. I felt distracted from Olivia and Anthony's story with Beth's issues of an unfaithful husband and was bouncing back and forth in my emotions between the two. I wanted to concentrate on more on Olivia's story but Beth's life kept yanking on my emotions too. Both story lines were intense emotionally and I felt a bit torn between the two. I wanted my focus to be more on Olivia and Anthony's story as I thought the book was more about that. Don't know if that makes sense but it's how I felt during the story. That being said, I would highly recommend this book to anyone who wants to learn more about autism and it's effects on the individual and the family.
32. The Truth Teller by Angela Hunt
Completed: August 15, 2017
Lara Godfrey's beloved husband died unexpectedly from a horrible bone cancer not long after they were married. They had very much wanted children so they took steps when he became ill to make sure that that could happen in case all the cancer treatments interfered with their ability to conceive. But now Michael is dead and Lara, after thinking long and hard and praying about it decides to go ahead with the procedure that would allow her to get pregnant by Michael's child. She wants nothing more than to have his baby and have a part of him still with her. And as it turns out Lara works as a physician assistant at a woman's clinic and the husband of the doctor she works for and is friends with is a genetic scientist. So Lara asks him to check if Michael's cancer genes would be passed on to any offspring. Assuring her that he eradicated those genes, the doctor goes ahead with the procedure and Lara finds herself pregnant. When a local celebrity millionaire in her area, a proclaimed bachelor, announces that he is expecting his first child through a surrogate, he is the talk of the coffee room at Lara's clinic. But when he starts showing up at the clinic, some start to get a little suspicious and suspect Lara to be that surrogate. When Lara starts to notice some odd discrepancies in her files, she starts to dig further and makes discoveries that put her and her unborn baby's life in danger. As she deals with the fact she has been deceived by someone she trusted but she is being used as the surrogate for some experimental child that has consequences not only for her and the baby but possibly for the human race. At first repulsed, now Lara will do anything to protect the child from the evil that waits to befall him. Living in hiding, and growing and flourishing under his loving mother's fierce protection, the boy starts to show an unusual gift of sensing when other's are not telling the truth. Now they are again on the run from those who would silence that gift.
This book was very unique. It was edge of your seat, fascinating, thought provoking and suspenseful. It explores very important issues of genetic manipulation, medical ethics and morals and their clash with science and research, the love of a mother, the value of life and children no matter their parentage and how far a mother would go to protect her children. The book was first published in 1999 and it's messages are still important today, in fact, so much so that the publisher reintroduced in 2006. What I loved about this story was that though it was based in scientific stuff it never bogged down, and kept it's pace from beginning to end. It made me more aware about topics I never thought too much about before but it sure got me thinking now. And of course, with Angela Hunt you get lots of twists and turns keeping you up way past one's bedtime to see what happens. There is some good discussion questions for reading groups in the back.
33. Before We Were Yours by Lisa Wingate
Completed: August 22, 2017
In Tennesse in 1939 Rill Foss is the oldest of 5 siblings living aboard a shanty boat on the river with her parents. Theirs is happy family life albiet a poor life. When her mom, whom they all call Queenie, goes into labor and comes up against major complications, the midwife insists her father, Briny, take her to the hospital. But the hospital is across the river. A family friend, another river dweller in the chaos and panic, offers to take them but Rill, who is only 12, is left behind and given the responsibility to care for the younger ones until Briny can come back. While her parents are gone, strangers come who identify themselves as police and under duress remove the kids, telling them they have to stay in an orphanage until they can be returned to their parents. Having a deep sense that they must stay together, Rill goes along with it, knowing she can't fight the adults anyway.
In present day South Carolina, Avery Stafford is being groomed to possibly take her Dad's political position. When she returns home to help him out during a health scare, she comes across a lady in a senior's home who mistakes her for someone else. But the encounter compels Avery to start a search into her family's history but what she finds can ruin her well off, upstanding political Southern family.
34. His Love Endures Forever by Beth Wiseman
Completed: August 26, 2017
Danielle Kent and Matthew Lapp couldn't be more different. She's a young girl taken in by family friends when her left her. Martha and Arnold have raised Danielle for the last year or so as their own. Having no children of their own, they had no problem taking her under their wing when her alcoholic and abusive mom took off, leaving Danielle behind. Matthew is a young Amish man, from a very devout family. Matthew, though, longs to leave the Amish traditions behind and is making plans to go live with his cousin who has done the same. In Danielle's mind, this was perfect. She wanted nothing to do with God as she felt He wanted nothing to do with her. Matthew was going to leave the order so there would be no pressure on her to conform. But when she finds herself pregnant at 18, her knight in shining armor suddenly develops some rust when he runs away, leaving her to face her pregnancy on her own.
Levi is Danielle's best friend. Much to Levi's mom's dismay, he and Danielle have a very close friendship and she is always afraid that the "Englisher" will take her son away from God and their way of life. Levi, himself, loves the Amish life and always planned to stay in the area and marry and raise his children in the Amish ways. He's always told his mom they are just friends. But when Danielle finds herself in trouble and feeling all alone, Levi feels God has other plans for them but it would mean giving up everything he's planned for his life.
This was a sweet, Amish fiction read that had much depth to it from an author I love. Danielle's struggles are ones that a lot of young people find themselves with nowadays. I loved the themes of friendship, trusting God and His plans, having faith to follow God's leading, forgiveness, sacrifice, love and family that ran through this story. Loved the characters and how they worked through their stuff as the story moved on.
35. Orchard of Hope by Ann H. Gabhart
Completed: September 5, 2017
36. The Space Between Words by Michele Phoenix
Completed: September 13, 2017
When I first got this book for review, it wasn't really a book or author I had heard of before. The description vaguely intrigued me so I ordered it. At first taste I thought maybe I would have a hard time getting into it. There are some french words and places in Paris mentioned. Never having been fond of reading or trying to sound out the French language this made me think I might have chosen something that wasn't quite for me. But boy, once the story got going I could not put this book down. I didn't know a lot about the Paris Bataclan attacks of 2015. For some reason I didn't really pay attention to the news at that time. I think I might not have wanted to know as that was the year my daughter had travelled to Paris and I just didn't want to be consumed with thoughts of "it could have been her had she gone a few months later". I don't know. Anyway, this story really opened my eyes to the horror of what those attacks were.
I've always shied away from reading about matyrs and Christian persecution as it deposited fear into me. In a way, it was a step of faith for me to read this story. I had never heard of the Huguenots of France before but after reading this I have come to realize that their story and that of any story of persecuted Christian faith is important to tell and when told well it can leave a deposit of encouragement and faith and resilience.
I found this story hard to put down. By interweaving the ancient story of the Huguenot persecution and the more recent Bataclan attack, this new to me author explored the questions: "Can someone who witnesses unthinkable evil and survives the unbearable, who loses everything, can they not only survive but find happiness in life again?" "Can one live beyond the fear to realize their story is not over and find the courage to continue their story and fight for their ending?" For me, the story of these two women, modern and ancient, and how they answered these questions for themselves was an important one to explore. The story also looks at dealing with grief, PTSD, the importance and blessing of friendship, dealing with guilt, faith and belief in the midst of evil and taking steps forward. Though the pacing of discoveries by Jessica and Grant was quite quick in this story for story telling's sake, I thought the author did a great job in helping us not to forget this history and told a wonderful story of courage, resilience and faith.