Saturday, January 8, 2022

2022 Reads and Reviews

1. the Lincoln Highway by Amor Towles 

Completed:  January 8, 2022

Rating:  7/10

Review:  Emmett Watson is heading home to the family farm in Nebraska after a 15 month stint at a juvenile work farm which he earned after being found guilty of involuntary manslaughter. His mother left the family when he was just little and with his father's recent death and the farm being foreclosed on by the bank, Emmett just wants to pick up his car and his 8 year old brother and head to California where he plans to start over with a house renovating and flipping business. But Billy has found some postcards among their father's possessions that their mother had sent from various stops along the Lincoln Highway just after she left them. Billy is adamant about going to California via the Lincoln Highway and stopping in the towns depicted on the postcards in the hopes that it will somehow reunite them with their mother. Begrudgingly agreeing, Emmett's plans are further dismantled when he finds two friends from the work farm had hidden in the warden's car trunk which dropped Emmett off and now they want Emmett to take them to New York which thrills Billy because the Lincoln Highway starts in New York. Duchess is a fast talker and soon has convinced Emmett it will just be a quick little detour and then they can all head to California in time to make Emmett's deadline of July 4. But little does Emmett realize the chaos that will become his life when he agrees to the plan. 

 This story is told over a 10 day span and from lots of viewpoints. The majority are from the main characters of Emmett, Billy, Wooly and Duchess but then you get several secondary character viewpoints thrown in as well throughout the book. Little of the story actually has to do with the Lincoln Highway. The Greek myth about Ulysses factors into the story as well and there is lots of conversations and telling about that legend throughout as well as other heroes that Billy refers to from his book that he reads and there is Christian/religious thoughts thrown in throughout as well. I liked this story in some parts but didn't love it as a whole. It's hard to describe why. I liked the idea of the story and the gist of it. But certain parts I really didn't like at all including the ending. I loved certain characters, was indifferent to others, wondered why some were even in there, and totally disliked others. I thought parts of the telling were way too wordy with too many bunny trails and it could have been shortened up a bit though other reviews loved the telling of it. I couldn't help but sigh when there was two pages spent on describing in detail a clown's act when he was a minute mention in one chapter. I felt the story started to get somewhat muddled with all the antics and chaos that Duchess brought. It kind of got old after awhile for me. The author chose to use no quotation marks in the conversations instead using a dash whenever someone spoke or started dialogue. It took a long time for me to fall into that style and so the first part of the book was choppy for me but once I got used to it it flowed more smoothly. One part where the author really lost me was when he chose a couple of vulgar swear words and paired it with Jesus' name. That soooo offends me and I don't understand why an author has to stoop to that and bring an offense like that to a section of his readership. I pressed on in the hope it wasn't used again or I would put the book down and fortunately it wasn't. The rating I would have given dropped because of this. I loved Gentleman in Moscow and had high hopes for this one but it was just alright for me. 

2.  While My Sister Sleeps by Barbara Delinsky

Completed:  January 13, 2022

Rating:  8.5/10

Review:  Molly Snow is the younger sister of Robin Snow. Though they are close as sisters they couldn't be more opposite and do have their issues just as any sisters do. Robin is a career long distance runner with her sights on the next Olympics while Molly is a horticulturalist who loves to work with the plants at her Mother's green house business. Though they have a deep bond, Molly occasionally fights a bit of resentment with all the support and encouragement and time that Robin gets from their Mom. Because of Robin's Olympic dreams Molly is expected to be there for her sister at every turn even to the detriment of her own plans and dreams. But she does it because in the end she loves her sister. When Robin suffers a heart attack on one of her training runs, Molly is overcome with guilt as she wasn't there when it happened choosing instead to finish something at home. Now with Robin's doctors not holding out for a good prognosis and her Mother refusing to accept that, deep seated tensions surface and the complex relationships within the family are tested as Molly is forced to make decisions she doesn't want to make nor should she have to make. When a hidden journal is found in Robin's closet it brings to light some family secrets that force the members of the Snow family to face what they truly believe, feel and think. 

 This story was a great family drama played out against the backdrop of a tragedy that occurs. The author takes the reader on an emotional journey of facing our deepest feelings and secrets even while having to let a loved one go. So many things come to the surface that no one talked about but they are now forced to face because of the health crisis of Robin. The characters were well written and ran the gamut of strengths and weaknesses but I have to say the character of the Mother really grated on me at times as she was so overbearing and brutish. As things were revealed, though, I was able to see how the family history worked into each of their characters and why the family dynamics were the way they were. In the first half of the book the story stalled a bit for me as the Mother dug in her heels no matter who said what to her and the way she treated Molly was getting my back up. She was so unlikeable. Then secrets came to the surface and the story really picked up and I found my attention grabbed once more and it became hard to put down. It turned out to be thought provoking and emotional by the time I turned the last page.

3.  Echoes Among the Stones by Jaime Jo Wright

Completed:  January 26, 2022

Rating:  9.5/10

Review:  In 1946, Imogene Grayson comes across her sister's murdered body in her bedroom of their family's farmhouse. In her heartbreaking grief, Imogene swears to her sister she will not stop until she finds the murderer. Imogene becomes obsessed with trying to find clues to piece together her sister's last moments, much to the dismay and frustration of her police chief brother. But all her searching does is churn up more mysteries. But letting go is so hard. And she promised her sister she'd never give up. In present day, Aggie finds herself lost after the passing away of her beloved Mom and the loss of her job. So when her Grandmother (Mumsie), whom she has not had contact with for eight years, contacts her out of blue asking her for help as she recovers from a broken hip, Aggie heads back to the town of Mill Creek, Wisconsin, the place & person she had determined to avoid. Her eccentric grandmother had always had quirks and a sharp tongue but Aggie was not prepared for how much worse it had gotten. When she arrives and finds the broken hip was not the real reason Mumsie wanted her in Mill Creek, Aggie is not impressed, but having just taken a job as Cemetery Secretary to help restore a historical flooded out section of the town cemetery, Aggie decides she will stay. But the cemetery and her grandmother are both holding onto secrets that slowly are coming to the surface revealing a decades old murder. 

 Another great dual timeline book by this author. Both timeline stories were great on their own but this author really knows how to weave the two together so well. She builds both storylines until they come together usually with me not guessing the mystery until it's revealed. I loved the historical timeline take on a war munitions factory and how it affected the town. I've never read that in a story before. The reveal was a bit sudden but didn't take away at all from the way the story built. I highly recommend this author if you like dual timeline mysteries sprinkled with a touch of a love story that is not in your face with a faith element that is never preachy but woven into the story naturally.

4.  Dangerous Depths by Colleen Coble

Completed:  February 8, 2022

Rating:  6.5/10

Review:  Leia is living a quiet life on a small Hawaiian island practicing naturopathic medicine after leaving her medical career studies. She also left her fiance at the same time. He's never understood why she broke up with him and now is work finds him on the same island and seeing Leia. Bane is determined to find out why Leia left him and to try to win her back. But Leia is as close lipped as ever about her reasons. Banes work being a diver in a treasure hunt off the coast of the island keeps him busy but when their good friend gets murdered in an act of sabotage it pulls Bane and Leia into having to work together. As they dive looking for the wreckage that holds the treasures, an underground volcano starts to wreak havoc in their work area. As dangerous as the waters that they dive is the things they start to find out are even more so to their lives.

 This book is number three in the Aloha Reef series, an older series by this author. It was an ok read for me. I usually really like this author and I was intrigued by the beautiful setting of Hawaii. But this one in the series I had trouble getting into. I think the use of lots of Hawaiian words, it seemed more so in this one than the first two, really threw me and I found myself skimming a lot. I don't enjoy when I have to turn to the back of a book on a continual basis to find out meanings and soundings of words, it breaks the flow for me. I couldn't seem to connect with the characters at all. I found Leia's insistence on keeping the reasons for her leaving Bane to be tiresome by the end. Just tell the guy already and be done with it. But the suspense was good and I did find the cave diving and under ocean volcano aspect of it very interesting as I did the Hawaiian heritage treasures. I really liked that the dolphin who was trained to understand words from the first two books made a reappearance in this one also. All in all I liked it ok but didn't love this one.

5.  Scarred: The True Story of How I Escaped NXIVM The Cult That Bound My Life by Sarah Edmondson

Completed:  February 10, 2022

Rating:  9/10

Review:  Sarah Edmondson is a Canadian actress who became involved with NXIVM, a personal and professional development company. She was just starting out in her career as an actress and wanted purpose in her life. When she was invited to a 3 day course in NXIVM, one where she would learn the tools to gain her potential, Sarah was at first skeptical of some of the stuff they were teaching. But by the end of the 3 days she was hooked. This was the start of her 12 year involvement with the company. Sarah went on to become one of NXIVM's best recruiters, enrolling more than 2000 people, and starting a branch in her city of Vancouver, Canada. But Sarah didn't realize the dark under workings of the company until she was invited to join a secret sisterhood circle of women called DOS, one that would train them to become their very best as a group of women dedicated to each other and to change world. As she tried to justify the red flags with what she had been trained to do for 12 years, her eyes were opened when she was talked into being "tatooed" by her best friend, which turned out to be a painful branding with no anesthetic, and in a moment of realization weeks later she saw she had been branded with not a symbol celebrating nature as she had been told, but by the initials of the company founder, Keith Raniere. He had been using an inner circle of women to recruit other women into a secret master/slave sisterhood while he made it seem this special group had nothing to do with him. That was the start of her journey escaping and blowing the whistle on a company that was quickly gaining traction world wide and which eventually saw the founder, Keith Raniere, going to prison for 120 years for sex trafficking. 

 This book was so good I read it in two days. I first heard of NXIVM when the news hit of Alison Mack, an actress in the series Smallville, being charged and tried for her part in a sex cult. It stunned me as she seemed so sweet and it sent me down a rabbit hole of looking up what this thing was. Though in places this book can be a little dry as Sarah describes a lot of NXIVM's teachings it is important to the story to understand how all these intelligent, smart, professional people were being sucked into the crazy. Sarah starts the story with the actual event of the branding and then goes back to her start with the company. Her and her husband, who was also a member, have now dedicated their lives to teaching people the signs to look out for and helping those coming out of cults. Very eye opening and interesting story.

6.  Once Upon a Wardrobe by Patti Callahan (audiobook)

Completed:  February 13, 2022

Rating:  9.5/10

Review:  Meg Devonshire is a young woman attending Oxford University studying Mathematics and Physics. Logic and truth and order are how her mind thinks. When her beloved 8 year old brother, who is very ill and bedridden, starts reading C.S. Lewis novel "The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe" he becomes enthralled with the story and very curious as to where Narnia comes from. She declares it's just a children's story, and certainly not true. But as George keeps urging her to find out for him it sets Meg out on a quest to meet and ask the author who happens to be a professor at the University. But instead of direct answers, C.S. Lewis and his brother take Meg on a journey of stories from their own childhoods that gave him the inspiration for his story and lets her come to her own conclusions. After each session, Meg brings home the stories to her ailing brother opening up the stories in his imagination even more. Though at times frustrated at the indirect answers to her question Meg continues to meet with the professor in order to give this gift to her brother as his health continues to fail. But Meg never imagines that it will also turn out that she receives a gift also from the time spent listening to the brother's stories, a gift of hope that just a short time ago her logical mind would not have imagined. 

 I listened to this book on audio and it was a lovely story to listen to. The narrator did a wonderful job. While I have to say I have never read the Narnia series, I did watch the movies and always wondered where the characters came from in the mind of Lewis as some of them seemed steeped in folklore and mythology rather than anything Christian. In this fictional imagining, the story explains a lot of that and was very interesting as the author wove it in. It's a heartwarming story within a story and the power of imagination, about family and love and loss. I enjoyed every minute of listening to it.

7.  Embrace Me by Lisa Samson

Completed:  February 18, 2022

Rating:  8/10


Book Description from the back of the book: "When a "lizard woman", a self-mutilating preacher, a tattooed monk and a sleazy lobbyist find themselves in the same North Carolina town one winter, their lives are edging precariously close to disaster...and improbably close to grace." 

 From this description on the back of the book it seems to me that the publisher had as hard a time writing a short description of the story without giving spoilers as I did. Nothing about that description is something that would make me pick up this book. But I had bought it years ago for my daughter thinking she would like the "circus" aspect of the story (which is what I assumed from the cover picture). Turns out it was not about a circus but about a travelling "freak" show who is now wintering and taking their break in a small town. Lisa has written some very deep characters with hard issues to face. The book is all at once sad and hopeful. It basically is a story about power and pride gone wrong and the devastation it brings to others, the struggle of wrestling with what life has dealt you, the results of wrong choices, making things right and love and forgiveness. This is not a typical Christian fiction book. The characters are flawed and hurt and trying to deal with it in different ways. Their feelings and reactions are quite real and there are some trigger warnings to this book. They are definitely not cliche characters. 

 I found the book hard to get into at first and must say it didn't really grab me at the get go. But the author did a great job in developing her characters as the story unfolded and peeling back the layers of how they ended up with this travelling side show. Sometimes I found the conversations a bit confusing, not knowing exactly who was speaking and the fast forwards and flashbacks sometimes had me rereading spots but the story and the characters tugged at my heart and made me think and ultimately that is what I want from a good story. This one might warrant a reread because I'm sure I will get more out of it the second time.

8.  As the Light Fades by Catherine West

Completed:  March 8, 2022

Rating:  9.5/10


Liz Carlisle heads back to her family home in Nantucket after escaping an abusive relationship in New York. Trying to sort through to how her life ended up back there, Liz has to face the fact that not only is her relationship gone but so is her high powered job as attorney because she worked for the company where her ex was the owner. Now she has decisions to make, but the family home is in the midst of the chaos of renovations turning into a bed and breakfast. Craving peace and quiet Liz rents a little home on the property of Matthew Stone and takes a job at the local art gallery. But chaos follows her in the form of Mia, Matthew's niece who lives with him, and now also works at the gallery to put in community service time. Liz is not great with teenagers but can understand Mia a bit and a wary friendship forms but Matthew has his own family drama he is trying to deal with. When Liz's ex shows up in town looking for her, Liz knows her escape is over and the secrets she'd hoped would stay buried are threatening to surface. Telling the truth would set her free but is she willing to pay the price? 

 I really enjoy Catherine West's contemporary women's fiction and her writing style. Her character's are real and flawed making them relatable, her stories realistic. This story was no exception and I was drawn into all involved. There is lots of family drama, sometimes gritty, but done in a way that is real and offers glimpses into what those who face those situations might encounter and go through and still the story manages to offer hope. There might be some trigger warnings as the story deals with drugs, abuse of power and relationship, physical abuse, as well as aging and loss of memory, misunderstanding and finding hope and healing. The situations were realistic, the reactions sometimes raw and really tugged at my heart at times. My heart really went out to Mia as she struggled with the life she had been dealt and with Drake who was forced to move to a supportive living home and was struggling with memory loss and coping day to day (really made me understand my mom a bit better). The quote that really stuck out to me was: 

 "Sometimes we're placed the the strangest of circumstances for the most important reasons"

 pg. 70 

 and then I saw it was also a quote used on the back of the book by the publisher for the attention grabbing line. 

 The author moved away from using a publishing company and this book was self published and the only criticism I have is that there were a few editing errors. Otherwise another wonderful contemporary story I really enjoyed.

9. Indian in the Cabinet:  Speaking Truth to Power by Jody Wilson-Raybould

Completed:  March 21, 2022

Rating:  9/10


This is the memoir of Jody Wilson-Raybould's journey from humble beginnings in her home community of We Wai Kai in British Columbia to becoming Canada's first Indigenous Justice Minister and Attorney General in Justin Trudeau's newly elected government. The author was raised by strong parents and grandparents to value Indigenous ways of governing and to take on leadership roles that would help her community and people. After being sought after and recruited by Justin Trudeau, the leader of the Liberal Party, to run in the next election, the author agreed with the hopes she could further reconciliation efforts by being involved in mainstream politics. She came in with high hopes due to the election promises of a different government doing things differently. What she found was a government and Prime Minister who behind his smile and hugs held a main objective of doing whatever he had to to stay in power no matter who got in the way or what promises were delayed or broken, what laws were stretched or ignored and the demand to toe the party line (partisanship) even if it meant going against personal convictions and values. When she stuck to her personal and professional integrity and wouldn't yield to pressure from the Prime Minister's office and when she chose to speak truth to power it resulted in her resignation from her ministry positions and Trudeau ultimately kicking her out of his caucus to no longer be a Liberal Member of Parliment but an Independent back bencher. 

 While I am not really into political memoirs, I really wanted to read Wilson-Raybould's story. It made huge headlines and I wanted to read her side of the story in detail. Our current Prime Minister has gone from scandal to scandal and somehow is still standing and I wanted to read how this strong woman found it within herself to endure the humiliation and stress that he and his Prime Minister's office put her through. It was an interesting read. While I don't agree with all her politics and some of the laws that were put in place during her time as Minister of Justice and Attorney General, her strength of character and sticking to her values and the very definition of her portfolios and job under immense pressure is admirable and deserves credit and the telling of her story. How this Prime Minister got re-elected after all this (and has continued on his same path) is beyond me. While at times the story dragged a bit, it is political after all and was a bit repetitious in spots, I found her childhood and the way her family raised her with such strong ethics and values of leadership interesting as was the juxtaposition of the way of Indigenous politics versus federal Canadian politics. I learned a lot about why we are in the place we are in Canada and what and whys of recent confrontations between Indigenous Peoples and Canadian government. It's an eye opening book as to how politics in Canada are really done compared to the ideals of how it should be done that we were taught in school.

10. Another Gospel? by Alisa Childers (audiobook)

Completed:  March 27, 2022

Rating:  9.5/10

Review:  Alisa Childers first became known as a member of the Christian music group ZOEgirl. She grew up in the Christian faith and her father is Chuck Girard, another popular Christian music artist. She watched her Dad and Mom walk out their faith all of her life. When Alisa was a young adult she attended a class that her pastor was running at the church. When she got there her pastor described himself as a "hopeful agnostic" and proceeded to pick apart the foundational beliefs that Christians have held for years presenting a "Progressive Christianity" world view to his class. Alisa's faith was thrown into a tailspin but as she seriously cried out to God for truth, God led her back to the bible and historical Christianity and learning how to stand for biblical faith in a world that is trying to discount historical faith and cause believers to deconstruct their faith into a free for all way of thinking until there is nothing biblical left about it. 

 This is one of the best books I've "read" about defending historical Christianity. Alisa has a wonderful way of interweaving her story, revealing lies and mistruths and proving biblical foundational truths without the book being heavy or un-understandable. I first heard of her when I starting watching her podcasts on Youtube when I started my own search after hearing of so many young Christians "deconstructing" their faith. Alisa helps us define clearly what foundational truths Christians need to believe and why and where we can differ and have grace with one another. Highly, highly recommend this book. While I loved listening to this in Alisa's own voice I will be purchasing a physical copy of this book so that I can underline and annotate.

11.  The Life List by Lori Nelson

Completed:  April 3, 2022

Rating:  7.5/10

Review:  Brett is a woman in her mid 30's who's life seems to be right on track. A prestigious job making good money in her Mother's cosmetics company, great clothes, a wonderful apartment she shares with her handsome and up and coming lawyer boyfriend. She and her beloved Mom have a very close relationship, so when her Mom passes away Brett is overcome with grief. But when her Mom's will reveals Brett with not inherit the CEO position in the company and that instead to receive any inheritance at all she must complete a list of tasks within one year, Brett is left stunned. Even more distressing is that the list of tasks comes from a life list she wrote out when she was 14 years old. How can a list from when she was a young teen have any kind of significance to her 34 year old self. And some of the things on the list seem impossible and downright silly. But at the urging of her boyfriend who does not want her lose the inheritance she reluctantly embarks on the mission to complete the tasks all under the watchful eye of a new lawyer her mother hired. As she completes each task there is a "fulfillment envelope" from her Mother the lawyer gives her. What was her Mother thinking in making her do these ridiculous adolescent dreams at this point in her life? 

 I started this book with great anticipation thinking it would be a really interesting premise. And it was. But as the story went on it started to really require me as the reader to suspend common sense and belief that this could actually happen and be pulled off. I loved the close relationship depicted between Mom and daughter but the fact that in the letters the Mom seemed to actually be able to predict how her daughter would react to each task and how she would accomplish it seemed very far fetched no matter how well you knew your adult child. I did like though that as a gift to her daughter through the accomplishing of childhood dreams, the Mother recognized and was trying to get her daughter to see how she had settled for a lot of things in her life. The story has a lot of heartwarming and touching parts that were lovely to read and will cause the reader to think of what their life list is and whether it is being met in their own lives. But the reality of a Mother reaching out from the grave demanding that her daughter "fall in love" and "have a baby or two" before the year is out to receive any kind of inheritance from her just seemed so unrealistic when all is said and done.  I liked it enough and it had enough merit to it, however, to rate an 8/10 from me.

12. Radical by David Platt

Completed:  April 12, 2022

Rating:  9/10

13.  The Lighthouse Keeper's Daughter by Hazel Gaynor

Completed:  April 18, 2022

Rating:  10/10


In 1838, 22 year old Grace Darling is the daughter of the lighthouse keeper on the shores of Northumberland, England. The lighthouse she helps her father attend to is Longstone Lighthouse on the Farne Islands. While her siblings have left the island, Grace loves the lighthouse life and helping her aging father. During a horrible storm when Grace is on shift attending the lights, a shipwreck happens. Finding courage beyond her years she convinces her father to go out with her in the unprecedented storm to find survivors. This decision changes Grace's life forever. As word spreads of what she did, her fame starts to take over the solitary, quiet life her and her parents knew at the lighthouse. One hundred years later, In 1938, Matilda Emmerson is the daughter of a politician seeking re-election. But when Matilda becomes pregnant by a soldier whom she doesn't even know, her domineering Mother sends her to live with a relative in America. What they tell friends is that she is vacationing but the plan is to have the baby and give it up for adoption in America and return to her family's good graces in England after that and pick up her life where she left off, none the wiser. The relative she is staying with is Harriet, an unfriendly lighthouse keepers assistant who has secrets of her own. But when Matilda finds a half finished portrait of a young woman it sends her in a search for her family history. 

 I loved this story. It is based on a true historical character, Grace Darling, who's act of courage and strength made her a celebrity in England. I found the life of lighthouse keepers both in England and in America depicted in a way that kept my attention. You'd think it would be boring reading about their quiet lives but the author was able to make me keep turning the pages. The storms were well written and I could really picture the rage of the weather in my mind as I read. Courage, loss and duty are themes explored in the book. I like the growth of the character Matilida, who started out as a bit of a spoiled, selfish girl and developed into a strong young woman with character. The story also made me go down a bunny trail on the internet for information about the real Grace Darling. I loved how the author brought the two timelines and stories together in the end.

14.  The Maid by Nita Prose

Completed:  April 29, 2022

Rating:  7.5/10

Review:  Twenty-five year old Molly Gray struggles with social cues. She does well with routine, repetition and rules. She takes things pretty much at face value and misunderstands hidden, vague or complex meanings others might direct her way. Without her beloved grandmother to help her navigate through the social hurdles, Molly sometimes finds herself at a loss. Others that also work at the fancy hotel where she is a maid, often smirk and laugh at her behind her back. However, she is not the idiot some of her co-workers at the hotel take her for. She is actually quite smart. But she hides herself in her work, taking pride in following all the rules her employer lays out and doing her job to the best of her ability. When attending to the suites of one of the regular wealthy patrons to finish up her work , Molly finds not the clean orderly suite she left a few hours ago. It is in total disarray and the body of Mr. Black is dead in his bed. Molly soon finds herself in the cross hairs of the detective in charge. But soon friends she didn't know she had come to her aid to help her prove her innocence, but can she trust any of them to help her find the real killer? 

 This was a fun and quirky read that kept me turning the pages and kept me pretty much engaged through the story. Molly is quite the character and I found her charming in her language, using words and phrases continually through the story to "talk" to herself in the old fashioned way that her beloved deceased grandmother would have talked to her. After her grandmother passed away Molly really found herself struggling to make sense of things and loneliness was her companion as she now lived alone in the tiny apartment she had shared with her. While Molly's personality and issues really sucked in my emotions and made me really feel for her some parts of the story were a bit on the unbelievable side to me. Molly misses and misreads the simplest of social cues and situations yet can think through and discern other's motivations. The two somehow didn't jive together for me. The story was enjoyable right up to the very end where the plot twist didn't make sense to me considering the personality of Molly that had been established.  For the most part it was an enjoyable and fun read. 

15.  The Astronaut's Wife: how launching my husband into outerspace changed the way I live on earth by Stacey Morgan

Completed:  May 9, 2022

Rating:  10/10

16.  The Master Craftsman by Kelli Stuart

Completed:  May 22, 2022

Rating:  10/10

Review:  It is 1917 and in St. Petersburg, Russia the tensions are running high. The revolution is about to begin. Master jeweler to the Romanovs, Karl Faberge, is getting ready to flee. His associations with the house of Romanov has put him and his family in peril as anger at the Tsar continues to fuel the people. Placing his trust in one of his craftsman, Alma Pihl, Karl gives her a treasured Faberge egg to hide, one that no one has ever seen, one that could bring doom upon them all. He created it in secret in an effort to bring out in his artistry his torn allegiance and heart to both Romanov family and in what the people of Russia were going through under the leadership of this Tsar. Knowing the danger it would bring, Alma hides the treasure even from her husband as they continue to try and escape Russia to her family home in Finland. In present day, Ava a history major who has had to settle to working in a coffee shop, enjoys a close relationship with her Mom. But her relationship with her father is non-existent. So when her aunt contacts her mom to let them know her father is dying it puts Ava into turmoil. Does she, at this point, want to go see the Dad who left them when she was little? But the need to know why he left them is stronger than the anger and her and her mom head off to go see the man she knows nothing about. Nick Laine has spent his whole life hunting treasure. It has been the driving force behind all his decisions including the one to leave his family. But now as he lays dying, he entrusts the details of his latest hunt to the daughter he has not known in the hopes she will pick up the hunt. Ava in an attempt to reconcile with and get to know her Dad before he passes away agrees to take on the crazy assignment of going to Russia and finding clues to missing Faberge egg. But little does she know the peril she is about to embark upon that will make her question if it is worth her life to get to know her Dad. 

 I loved this story. Anything to do with the Romanov time period is a buzzword for me in stories, so I jumped on this one, especially since I have never read a story that had to do with Faberge. I must admit every time a certain egg was mentioned it sent me on a fun bunny trail looking it up to see what it actually looked like and also the history of Faberge and Alma Pihl. The story was really well written, well researched and the intrigue captured me right from the start. There were a few little things that were minor annoyances: a few too many mentions of how good looking a certain character was accompanied with the mandatory "shiver down the spine". And I don't know if the disguises employed on the hunt were necessary or believable but hey, what do I know about treasure hunting? It was easy to look past that in the fun, intrigue and danger of the present day hunt told alongside the historical story of this missing egg. Is this egg an actual thing? I don't know but it made for a great page turning read.

17.  Into the Free by Julie Cantrell

Completed:  June 4, 2022

Rating:  7.5/10

Review:  Nine year old Millie Reynolds has a hard life. She lives with her Mom and Jack in Mississippi and the depression has hit the area hard. Jack is her Dad but she refuses to acknowledge him as such because he hasn't deserved that title. Jack is a cowboy with the rodeo and is gone a lot and Millie's Mom tends towards long periods of deep depression leaving Millie to care for the both of them at her young age. When Jack is home Millie and her mom live in fear of his drunken rages. But still her Mom stays. There is nothing Millie wants more than to escape. So when she meets one of the young boys that travels with the gypsy caravan that comes through the area every spring, Millie is drawn to the traveler's seemingly care free lifestyle and longs to go with them. As she turns into a young teen Millie looks forward to the spring when the gypsy's return. With promises from River the young gypsy boy to come back to get her, Millie has some hope to hang onto. But when the old woman from the caravan who has befriended her, gives her a key that she says will unlock some of Millie's family secrets, Millie will find a confrontation with her mother looming. Before she can convince her Mother to share all the secrets and right before River is due to arrive back and take her away, tragedy strikes and Millie finds herself homeless. Befriended by a nurse in the hospital, she is taken home to live with them in a lavish home. Yet Millie cannot let go of the hope of River coming back for her. 

 Depression era, dust bowl, 1930's stories usually are a draw for me so that is why I picked up this Christian fiction. This story has received lots of top reviews, but honestly, though it was well written, I didn't enjoy it so much, mainly due to the significant heavy content. In all fairness I read it at a time when I probably should be reading something light and fluffy due to stressors in my own life right now. I feel I must give trigger warnings as the story is based on so much of the following: domestic abuse, addiction, rape, depression, child neglect and religious legalism . Some parts were very difficult to read because of the nature of the violent or disturbing act. It is labelled as Christian fiction so it did uphold to not crossing certain lines of description but were vivid enough to let the reader know the trauma. It's a coming of age story set in very hard times and circumstances for young Millie and follows her into her late teens. I, personally, found there wasn't a lot of open spaces to breathe from all the sadness. I liked the character of Millie and my heart went out to her young character. Her devotion to her mother was beautiful but some of the decisions she made as events unfolded seemed out of character to how she had been portrayed up until the point of decision. There were glimmers of hope woven into the story that were refreshing and there is a trail of faith blended in though not in an obvious in your face way. I really was rooting for Millie and even though I wanted it to end good for her I found the ending wrapped up too easily, so much so it was almost jarring for me. For all the trauma there was just too big of a quick leap to a nice ending for me with no solid path to all of a sudden be at that point. It was a hopeful ending however and there is a second book so maybe there will be more explanation in that one.

18.  Out of the Dark: My Journey Through the Shadows to Find God's Joy by Mandisa Lynn Hundley

Completed:  June 13, 2022

Rating:  9.5/10

19.  you're not enough (and that's ok) by Allie Beth Stuckey

Completed:  June 13, 2022

Rating:  7.5/10

20.  The Book of Lost Names by Kristin Harmel

Completed:  June 24, 2022

Rating:  10/10

Tuesday, January 4, 2022

2022 Reading Challenge

 A fresh new year, fresh new books and fresh new challenges.  Or are they?  My challenges last year I would say for the most part were fun and I really enjoyed doing them. How did I do?  Well I didn't meet my Goodreads goal of 50.  I have had that goal forever and am always shy of it so this year I am adjusting it 45 and see if that helps me push to get there.  I have done that many before but not in recent years.  I would say the Read Your Shelf challenge with it's different prompts was a rounding success for me last year.  I loved that I could still do a prompt based challenge while still having choices within that challenge.  I completed books every single month and got them read and out of my closet and enjoyed every minute of that.  In fact I read 18 books that fit into that challenge.  Some crossed over with my read a book each month out of my 2019 - 2021 purchases so that helped out too.    I'll be doing that one again this year.  If you're interested here is a link to that:  Read Your BookShelf Challenge 2022.    I got some great reads knocked off my library want to read shelves too.  

So this year my challenges will not be fresh and new per se as I am going to do those very same ones.  My biggest goal is to get the books I already own read without bringing in too many more.  I loved the Read Your Shelf challenge because rather than being a quarterly challenge with a long list of specific books it let me pick a pile of books each month and still gave me mood reading posssibilities and it was only a month before I could change things up.  Sometimes with the quarterly challenge, I was finding myself not wanting my choices anymore and wanting to read something else by the time that 3rd month rolled around.  I'll also continue both the Read One a Month from my Current Purchases (2020-2022) and Read One a Month From the Library Shelf.  I'm also adding at least 3 non-fictions (I'm so bad at finishing non-fiction yet own so many) and at least 3 Audiobooks.  So there you have it.  2022 Reading is looking good!


January - A book with any kind of "quiet" word in the title

February - A book with "love" in the title

March - a book that has something to do with growth

April - A book that has your initial in the title

May - A New to You Author

June - A book with a book on the cover

July - A book you've been avoiding but actually want to read

August - A book that has a body part in the title

September - Read a collection

October - A book with the word "secret" in the title

November - a book that makes you feel cozy or nostalgic

December - a book that has a mostly white cover

Tuesday, January 12, 2021

2021 Reads and Reviews

1.  Relentless:  Unleashing a Life of Purpose, Grit and Faith by John Tesh

Completed:  January 9, 2021

Rating:  8.5/10

Review:  Publisher Description:  John Tesh has achieved more in life than he ever dreamed possible. But the road to success has been anything but easy—and those challenges have become the secret to his success. Through his story, we can learn how to be relentless, how to achieve what we didn’t think was possible, and how to handle our inevitable discouragements.

My Thoughts:  I was excited to read this book because years ago John Tesh's "Worship at Red Rocks" was a major part of my life.  I would listen to and watch that DVD over and over.  This is John's memoir recounting the stories of what he has faced in life and what he has had to do and the miracles he encountered to get to where he is today.  He has had quite the journey, everything from being kicked out of college and his family's home to homelessness to dizzying success with his NBA basketball theme song success, providing live commentary for two Olympic games, 10 years as co-host of Entertainment Tonight,  producing a nationally syndicated radio program -Intelligence for Your Life-, to taking a huge step of faith to launch his music career through PBS.  All that he faced in life caused him to learn how to persevere, take the lessons learned through hard times and how to have the courage to apply his faith.  And he needed those to faces his biggest battle in his '60's when he was diagnosed with stage 3 cancer.  When it returned John and his wife Connie made the decision to stand on God's Word and apply that perseverance, settling in belief that what God says is true.  

I was looking forward to reading this book when it came out and about John's journey with faith.  At first I found the book more about perseverance and grit than anything to do with faith.  But eventually John does get around to that too.  His and  his wife's journey of faith in God comes to play a major role in dealing with his cancer diagnosis and especially with the cancer's return.  At times I found the way the story is laid out to be a bit confusing as to where it is in the time line as it jumps around a bit.  And I found myself skimming a bit when it came to details of his career.  But what I got most out John's memoir is seeing a pattern of how God moves in a person's life, how the more difficult things are training grounds for things to come and how being courageous enough to step through open doors as God presents them leads to good things.  It also showed me how that hard work is not separate from God's will for your life.  His deep love for his wife, family and God are apparent in his story.  There are scripture references throughout though the part I wished he would have delved into with much more detail was how they came to settle within themselves to believe what God says about healing. It was so simply laid out and  I'm sure it was more of a wrestling within and I would have liked to have read more on that.    At the same time though there is lots of "sound bite" takeaways and thoughts on healing that made me think.  

A favorite quote from the book:

"The Power derived from the Holy Spirit is available to us all. 

 The wiring is done.  Flipping the switch is our choice.  I hope I can help you flip yours.  

For as the Spirit tugs at our hearts, enlivens our spirits, and fills our minds with possibility, where ever it pulls us, we should go!"

John Tesh, Relentless pg 210

As always I base a memoir's rating not on the story told but how the story was told.

2.  Winter Garden by Kristen Hannah

Completed:  January 16, 2021

Rating:  9.5/10

Review:  Merideth and Nina are as different as two sisters could be.  Merideth the older, super responsible sister, married with two young adult children, has stayed around home and is now running her father's apple orchard.  She goes by the rules and her life is very ordered.  Nina , the younger is the risk taker, the adventurer.  She has no home base and is very content in her life as an award winning photographer traveling around the world and inserting herself into world wars to get to the toll on the human element.  She holds her camera and ideals close and her relationship with her boyfriend at a distance.  The two sisters rarely see each other anymore and hold resentment against each other for various things from their childhood.  Their childhood was not easy, made difficult by a very cold and distant mother who's only touch of love came from telling them Russian fairy tales but even that was held at arms length.  It was tempered with a very loving and encouraging father who always tried to build a bridge between the sisters and mother right up to his death.  On his deathbed, the father encouraged Nina to get the Mom to finish the fairy tale for them and then they would understand.  Merideth didn't want anything to do with it as she resented the fairy tales with a fury, but Nina grabbed ahold of it and pursued her Mother for the details and the end.  It was a decision that would change all three women's lives.

I ended up loving this story.  The  first part of the book was a bit drawn out in building the main characters and foundation of the family dysfunction, they were definitely the kind of characters you want to give a good shaking up to.  Everyone except the father seemed to be utterly self absorbed, though I wanted to shake him up at times too.  There were some majorly repetitive use of several ideas in the beginning parts of the story that caused me to want to roll my eyes, just small things but that were repeated several times sometimes within a page or two, like the author was trying to make sure I got the idea.  But I stuck with it because I had heard it was so good.  And I'm so glad I did, it definitely didn't disappoint.  It ended being a time split novel telling the story of the "Great Purge" of 1930's Russia and then the "Seige of Lenningrad" in the WWII.  At that point I could not put the novel down.  It was utterly heartbreaking and you could tell the author researched the part of women during this time and the hardship and heartache that they experienced.  Once the story really got rolling between the two time lines the author wove it back and forth pretty seamlessly and the use of the fairy tale to move the story, I thought, was brilliant.  The ending was unexpected and the story really brought out a lot of emotion, I cried through several parts.  

3.  A Painted House by John Grisham

Completed:  January 27, 2021

Rating:  7.5/10

Rating:  In A Painted House, author John Grisham takes us away from the legal dramas he is famous for and give us a historical fiction story set in 1950's Arkansas inspired by his own childhood. Seven year old Luke and his family are generational cotton farmers who rent 80 acres, which puts them in the impoverished folk category. There is never much money left over for anything. But young Luke's dream of playing for the St. Louis Cardinals one day and having a painted house keep him going. Only people who do well have painted houses. When the cotton is ripe it's all hands on deck for the picking including Luke. The Chandlers hire migrant workers from Mexico and also "hill people" who come down for work during the cotton picking season. It's hot, exhausting work fraught with worry for the adults as they keep their eyes on the weather hoping that this year could be a good crop. For Luke and his family during harvest season, baseball sustains them throughout the spring and summer being their only diversion from the hard work and drudgery of the fields. Saturdays are the day of reprieve for all, as everyone including the Mexicans and the hill people heads into town in the afternoon to shop for supplies, enjoy the meeting of friends and for the kids a matinee movie. But one Saturday Luke and his friend are witness to an event that will kick off a summer of secrets for Luke that a 7 year old should never have to carry.

 This was an interesting story. I'd never read historical fiction set in a cotton farm in this time period before. The narrator of the story is seven year old Luke and so the days and events are seen through his eyes and his experience. It is a summer where he grows up very quickly as his natural, rambunctious 7 year old self ends up witnessing things which then force him to carry secrets he feels he must keep and the burden of that comes to a breaking point. It's funny after just reading "Hillbilly Elegy" and the description of violence as attitude and a way of life in that book that I would then come across a fictional story that also describes some of that same experience. The story is not a fast paced story like the author's legal thrillers but more of a slower meandering slice of life of the farming poor of the area and time and their struggle just to survive another harvest, their hopes and their dreams. Baseball and cotton are main characters in the story and while the cotton farming was interesting to me the baseball part I did end up skimming simply because I'm not a baseball fan but my doing that didn't detract from the story in the least. Fans of baseball would enjoy the descriptions. I think this has been turned into a movie so am going to try to find it to watch.

4.  A Desperate Hope by Elizabeth Camden

Completed:  February 2, 2020

Rating:  9/10


Eloise Drake's childhood was a lonely existence. Living in a large home sitting above the town of Duval Springs, she led a very separated, strict life living with her guardian. She didn't have any of the usual joys of childhood such as school and friendships and being involved in community. All these she only observed through her telescope. So when she met Alex Duval in her late teens it was easy to fall for his charm. But when they are caught together, both of them bear consequences that will affect their whole lives. Now a grown woman, Eloise is an accountant working for the State of New York's water department. New York city is literally shutting down towns from her childhood area in order to flood the valley and build a reservoir and aqueducts to carry water needed for the growing city of New York. When Eloise's boss assigns her to the demolition team that will shut down her home town Eloise wants nothing to do with it. But her mathematical genius and her knowledge of the town makes her the right person to go and estimate what each citizen's homes and businesses are worth. Eloise goes thinking she can stand on her professionalism to get the job done but once there she is reminded that these are not just citizens of a town about to be destroyed but that they are the very people she used to long to be with as she watched them as a child. And that includes the young man whom she gave herself to so many years ago. Alex Duval is now the mayor of Duval Springs and is doing everything in his power to stop the project and the wiping out of his town. Alex is stunned to learn Eloise is on the team come to shut them down and he, in typical Alex fashion, risks everything to stop them. But his idea will need Eloise's help. He needs to convince her to go against her team and her boss, but can he also convince her that he never stopped loving her? 

 This is a third installment in the Empire State series. I didn't know that when I bought the book but when inquiring in a facebook group I'm a part of the author insured me it could be read as a stand alone. I really enjoyed this story based on historical fact. Duval Springs is a fictional town but was based on the collective experience of the towns that were dismantled to create the Ashokan Reservoir. I really enjoyed this story that pitted accountant Eloise against mayor Alex even as they tried to work through their past and the hurt and betrayal that brought with it. Both Eloise and Alex were likable though flawed characters and I was easily drawn into their stories. Both characters overcame hardships from their pasts that made them into the adults they became but it also presented difficulty when life threw them together again. Both had to work past the love and betrayal they had shared together. I loved the charming small town people that played secondary roles in the novel and the author was really able to highlight the small town closeness and loyalty through them. She wove historical facts together with the emotions of the characters so well to create a story of love, loss, a bit of mystery and second chances. Really enjoyed my first read from this author.

5.  The Line Between by Tosca Lee

Completed:  February 13, 2021

Rating:  7/10


When Wynter Roth was a child her mother took her and her older sister to a live with a group called New Earth in order to escape their abusive father. But little did they realize that their Mother unknowingly was trading one form of abuse for another. New Earth in reality is a doomsday cult and, keeps its members in line through harsh, manipulative disciplines while preaching apocolyptic end of the world messages setting themselves up as the place of salvation. Wynter has never really fit in and has received discipline throughout the years for being rebellious. When she exhibits the ultimate rebellion the result is banishment out of New Earth. With her "salvation" gone, Wynter tries to adjust to life outside living at her Mother's old friends house, a strange outbreak of dementia characterized by violence is turning up in America . Could Magnus have been right after all? Now Wynter is living in the very apocolyptic world that was driven into her for 15 years. When her sister shows up at the door carrying a mysterious package that she wants Wynter to give to their friend who is an epidemiologist, Wynter is thrown into a role she never wanted. But in order to save her sister and her niece she must dig deep for courage. As life in America becomes chaos, Wynter along with a former military man she meets, work their way across the country to get the package of samples to a lab in Colorado in the hopes this pandemic can be stopped even while those who do not want the package to be delivered and discovered are hot on their trail. 

 This story had a lot going on! Cultish elements, prion pandemic, cyberattacks, bioterrorism, survival, love story. It didn't stop for a moment. Though the beginning was a touch slower than the second half as the author built Wynter's world of life within a cult it was still a story that was gripping and thought provoking especially during this time we live in. I really was drawn in when Wynter tried to make sense of what was happening in the world compared to what was drilled into her for many years within the cult. The psychological and spiritual tension and conflict going on within her was well done. I found it interesting that the author also chose cyberattacks during this pandemic in the story as America lay vulnerable which is kind of a nerve wracking reality. It did have a few flaws for me, also, though. Some parts seem quite shortened up and moved on quickly. Because of this a couple of the characters, to me, could have been fleshed a bit better but I understand that is hard to do with a novel that covers this much. All in all it meshed into an interesting story of survival in more ways than one that kept the pages turning. There is a second book that continues with Wynter's journey. Funny note about this book is that it had a character by the name of Enzo. Not a common name by any means. And yet the last book I read, A Desperate Hope by Elizabeth Camden, also had a character named Enzo. I had to pause a few times to sort their two different characters out in my mind.

6.  My Name is Eva by Suzanne Goldring

Completed:  February 21, 2021

Rating:  9/10


Evelyn Taylor-Clarke, or Mrs T-C or Hilda, as she is known at the senior home where she resides, is gentle old lady with dementia well liked by staff. At her age, Evelyn has slowed down in body and in mind, or so Evelyn would like them all to think. But she is a woman who still has her wits about her and remembers everything. And that includes the promise she made to her deceased husband to find the truth about what lead to his death and to hold the man responsible for it to account. She remembers her time as Eve in post war Germany when wanting to do her part she first worked for the British Secret Services in an interrogation camp, fittingly named the Forbidden Village and all that transpired there and then in a resettlement camp for displaced persons. She remembers all the horrors that were tucked away from there never to be mentioned except in letters to her beloved departed husband. Most of all she remembers the horrific things she herself has done in order to keep the promise to her husband. No one at the senior home would ever believe the heart of revenge she has carried throughout all these years. But when her niece, who has taken over her affairs which includes the selling of her precious home, comes across a suitcase filled with questionable items and an old cookie tin with a picture of a child, Eva must not let on that she knows anything about them. The secrets must stay only within her remembrance never to be revealed to anyone. But that doesn't mean she can't enjoy the game of keeping those around her guessing. 

 This was a really interesting take on a WWII story. It takes place after the war and looks at the role of the interrogation camps where Germans were questioned and also the work that took place trying to place victims of the war who had been displaced. The author's research into these two aspects of the war was very apparent. The story is told in several ways: it's a time split novel that goes back and forth from 2016 and 1945. But some of the chapters are also told thru short letters that Eva is writing to her husband both before and after his death. To the care center, Evelyn is a pleasant old woman, but Evelyn has different sides to her personality and life only she knows. Her love for her husband drives her decisions through out the story and her quest to find the truth about his death and hold the man responsible no matter the cost to herself is woven really well through the 3 different viewpoints. I've never read a WWII story that actually took place immediately after the war and that was a really interesting aspect that kept me really engaged in the story. The ending I did not see coming at all. The only part of the story I didn't really care for was the fact of Evelyn's character pretending to have some dementia in order to fulfill her whole plan of revenge. I was uncomfortable with that aspect of the story as I really feel for those who struggle with that in real life.

7.  The Book Woman of Troublesome Creek by Kim Michele Richardson

Completed: February 28, 2021

Rating:  10/10


Cussy Mary is a young 20 year old woman living in the poverty stricken part of the Appalachian outside of Troublesome Creek.  Nicknamed Bluet by the local doctor after her blue skin, Cussy works as one of the Packhorse Librarians under the Packhorse Library Project started by President Roosevelt.  Cussy is passionate about her job, facing treacherous mountain conditions to get any reading material she can to her patrons up in the hills, even putting together reading scrapbooks from any articles and materials she can find.  It holds a special place in her heart as her mother, who passed away when Cussy was just little, taught her to read and it is her connection to her.  Cussy's father is a poor working minor and his goal is to get Cussy married in case something happens to him.  But all potential suitors are soon turned away after seeing Cussy's blue skin.  On Cussy's route she meets those who can't wait for her to arrive with new reading materials but she also meets those who are opposed or are distrustful to either the Library Project or her blue skin or both.  No different than the townspeople.  She has always faced those who accepted her for who she was and those who viciously teased, bullied her, blamed her for every wrong or showed outright racism including in her workplace.  But she has been able to make some precious friendships through her work and she will do everything to keep it in spite of the obstacles thrown her way.  The doctor in town has always had a keen interest in Cussy, or Bluet as he calls her, because of her blue skin and when he thinks he finds an experimental therapy that can "cure" her blue skin he talks Cussy's father in making her go along with it against Cussy's wishes.  Humiliated by her treatment at the hospital, she nevertheless, keeps going hoping the results will change her life for the better.  But will it actually change her impoverished community's minds about her?

I love, love, loved this story.  The stories that touch my heart in some way, that pull the emotions out of me while at the same time teaching me things I had no idea about are those that stick with me and bring out those 10 out of 10 ratings.  And this one did just that.  Though a few pages in I wondered if I would like it.  It took me a little bit to get used to the rhythm of the way the characters spoke.  But once the story got going I was totally invested.  It's a story about love, hate, prejudice, racism, poverty.  I had no idea about the Packhorse Library Project or the Blue Skinned people of the area.  I learned a lot.  The story also gave me another view of the Appalachian area's history of poverty and community after reading "Hillbilly Elegy" last year.  The author was able to weave historical information so well into a personal story of a young woman facing all those things. It took me on a roller coaster ride of emotions from horror to anger to happy to crying through several parts of Cussy's story and round about again.  It also had me looking into my own heart about prejudices I might carry.  Excellent, powerful and moving story.

8.  God is Able by Priscilla Schirer (audiobook)

Completed:  March 13, 2021

Rating:  10/10


Publisher's Description:   Nothing is impossible with God. Nothing. Not even that thing. Your thing. The one thing that seems to defy all attempts to defeat it, restore it, heal it, change it, overcome it, undo it, or just to get through it. If you've lost even an ounce of confidence in the power and loving attention of God--if experience has told you that faith must simply acquiesce to impossibility--it's time somebody told you different. Bible teacher and best-selling author Priscilla Shirer explores two power-packed verses of Scripture, displacing your doubts and rebuilding your assurance--not in a blind attempt to deny life's adversities and troubles, but to show you that God is always up to great things. Amazing things. He's a God who cares, and a God who CAN!

My Thoughts:  A very encouraging book that points the reader to scriptures and anecdotes to help them believe God for the impossible in their personal life, no matter the situation.  It builds your faith, not by denying that the problem isn't there but by showing how big God is and how much He cares and how capable He is of doing great things for His children.  It came to me right at a time when I needed it and I very much felt my faith uplifted and my sense of gratefulness blooming.  The narrator is very easy to listen to and reminds me a lot of the author.

9.   A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles

Completed:  March 30, 2021

Rating:  10/10

Review:  In 1922 Russia, 30 year old Count Alexander Rostov is brought before a Bolshevik emergency committee for writing a poem that was considered a call to action after a failed revolt. Being found guilty he is put under house arrest permanently at the Metropol, a grand hotel that serves statesmen and actors and the upper class. It is also close to the Kremlin. He is never to set foot outside it's doors. Count Alexander watches in shock as he is taken from his rather lavish room which he had been occupying fit for his position as an aristocrat and taken to the fourth attic floor where he is put into one small claustrophobic room. This is where he must now live out his days. But being a man of culture and knowledge, Count Alexander refuses to let his circumstances get the best of him and instead looks to what he can do to make his life the best it can be. As he fits his usual routine into his new normal, the Count is able to forge friendships with those from all sorts of walks of life and he is able to observe how Russia changes over the decades from his unique vantage point. When a young girl is unexpectedly placed into his care, he must make room not only in his tight living quarters but in his heart. But what is an old count to do with a young child? 

 I loved this story. The count has a unique perspective as he watches Russia's most tumultuous years roll by. He is a learned man and find ways to keep himself learning and engaged with the world around him. The friendships he is able to forge over the years were entertaining and heartwarming and his attitude and personality were engaging. You couldn't help but like the guy. His care and concern over his young charge was fun to read as he was taken from an aristocratic, single man to a foster type dad in the blink of an eye and reading how their relationship developed over the years was wonderful. This story is by no means an action packed, edge of your seat read. It is more of an unfolding of a life, of getting to know a character and how his strong sense of self guides him through what certainly would not have been easy circumstances to find a life still filled with joy and purpose in spite of being contained within a hotel. Wonderful story!

10. Being Mortal by Atul Gawande

Completed:  March 31, 2021

Rating:  9/10

Review:  This book was recommended to me by several people. With my parents both on the cusp of 90, they said it was a great read to help us navigate the medical and senior system. Though written by a U.S. doctor there are plenty of take aways for a Canadian too. The author takes a hard look at aging and what used to happen and what now happens in America in the post modern, indrustrialized society. Our attitudes and focus have definitely taken a shift over the century from all viewpoints: the medical field, the aged themselves and those coming up behind who are to care for their loved ones. The author presents the idea that what medicine created in allowing longer lives has not kept up on the end of serving it's end of life citizens well, whether they are end of life through aging or or through illness. 

 "Medicine has been slow to confront the very changes it has been responsible for - or to apply the knowledge we have about how to make old age better" pg. 16 

 As medicine has allowed for longer lives, for the aged and the infirm, there has become more aged and less doctors who want to care for the aged. The author points out the fact that there is no money to be made working with the aged, no challenge but to hear their regular complaints of bodies no longer working the way they used to. Most medical students are opting for specializations that are exciting, more glamourous and making them money for their efforts. This is not found in the caring for the aged. As he goes through various cases he has dealt with, including his own father who faced a rare and debilitating cancer, he started to ask "What makes life worth living when old and frail or unable to care for ourselves". He explores how medicine in it's concerns with extending life have run opposite to what might make living worthwhile for each individual. Doctors approaches have become an "information dump" onto patients so that they can know their choices not ever pausing to ask what are the patients desires and goals for outcomes. What do they individually want and not want, what is the goal for them. It is as individual as each person. And it is this that is missing in our care of them. The author argues that quality of life for each individual should be the desired goal and doctor/patient decisions should be made upon those expressed ideals. 

 "When to shift from pushing against limits to making the best of them is not often readily apparent. But it is clear that there are times when the cost of pushing exceeds it's value" pg 262 

 This was an eye opening book as the author made his arguments through real life stories and his experiences as a surgeon. His explored the various approaches that different medical disciplines take and how doctors need to take more time to really get to know their patient and what it is they really want. His arguments for "finding the quality of life" and living the best possible day today are laid out in an easy to read language and he encourages us to ask the hard questions of our loved ones before they are not able to communicate what is quality of life to them. What do they want to sacrifice now for time later and what do they not? What do they want out of their last days? What are their fears? We should not assume we know and we will probably be surprised by their answers. He argues that when we ask these hard questions it helps both the individual and those who care for them (professionals and family) to be able to make the confusing, hard decisions when we are faced with them. He advocates for quality hospice care so that a person's last weeks or months may be rich and dignified according to their own goals of end of life.

 "...the role of caring professions and institutions...ought to be aiding people in their struggle with those limits. Whatever we can offer, our interventions, and the risks and sacrifices they entail, are justified only if they serve the larger aims of a person's life." pg 260

 "We've been wrong about what our job is in medicine. We think our job is to ensure health and survival. But really it is larger than that. It is to enable well being". pg ??

 "Our ultimate goal, after all, is not a good death, but a good life to the very end" pg. ??

 (?? I forgot to take note of what page these quotes were on)

11.  Hope Your Heart Needs by Holley Gerth (audiobook)

Completed:  April 2, 2021

Rating:  9/10

Review:  52 devotionals that help us to understand God's character  and what He wants to be for us.  In each devotional we are encouraged to take our experience and find the heart of God towards us in trial, hardship, joy, etc.   His heart is where we can go with everything our day holds.  Through a scripture, personal experience and a prayer inviting God to show us Himself through that characterstic each devotional brings hope to the heart no matter what your day holds and shows us a very personal God who wants us to know Him on a deeper level.

I listened to this as a audiobook as I made the half hour trips to see my mom on the weekends so I was listening to the devotionals back to back.  I felt very encouraged as the author led me to know God better through his characteristics.  I was uplifted and filled with hope and encouragement after each one and I could relate to each devotional just from everyday life.  I would like to purchase the book so that I could underline and reread different points.  The short prayers at the end made each devotion personal inviting God to show us His heart towards us in that area.  The person narrating was easy to listen to.  

12.  Dream When You're Feeling Blue by Elizabeth Berg

Completed:  April 11, 2021

Rating:  6.5/10

Review:  Sisters Kitty and Louise both have waved their boy friends off as they went to fight across the ocean in WWII. Now at home both are doing what they can to help the war effort. Going without, dancing at the dance hall with soldiers and writing to as many as they can are just some of the things that have become part of daily life. While Louise finds writing easy and is never without things to say to her fiance, telling him about her days and romantic things from her heart, Kitty is having difficulty writing a paragraph much less ones with romantic notions. Words just won't come. When she meets a soldier at a dance and starts writing to him the words just flow. Now everything Kitty thought about love and romance is thrown into confusion as she works this through in her heart. 

 I found this book ok. There were a lot of characters to contend with, Kitty and Louise being from a large Irish family. Kitty's constant inward looking grew a bit tiresome to me. It just didn't capture me. I pushed through just to see how it came out in the end. But then I found the ending odd and it left me scratching my head, like there was a big gaping hole in the story. I felt there was not enough explanation of how the conclusion got to the point it did. What I did like was the glimpse of what it was like for ordinary families that were left behind while their husbands, fathers, brothers and boyfriends were off to war. The everyday worries that plagued not only the adults but the children as well, no matter how they tried to keep it from the children. What they had to do with all the rationing, how they got through their days. That was well described.

13. The McAvoy Sisters Book of Secrets

Completed:  April 17, 2021

Rating: 7.5/10

Review:  Lindy and her sister Delia were very close growing up. But seventeen years ago something happened that drove the two sisters apart. Lindy, always considered the more wild of the two sisters, left home and Delia the responsible one gave up her dreams of Europe and school and stayed back to get married, start a family and take over their parent's restaurant/shop. Now, with their mom's health going downhill Lindy is back to see if she can lend a hand. But Lindy's help isn't always well received and the sisters must come to terms with what caused their divide in the first place. With old secrets surfacing is there any chance for them to mend the relationship? 

 In this quick read family drama, we are looking into the lives of a family who have been dealt some blows that has changed the course of their lives. Meredith was never an affectionate mom but when her husband died, she was just never able to cope. She rose up to take over her husbands fishing tour business but never had enough left over for her girls. The dysfunction now seems to be passing onto Delia's family as she struggles to keep control of her teenage daughter even while juggling a baby and the running of the family store/restaurant. She is not living her dream. The business was Lindy's dream. The sisters grew up extremely close and would write together into a shared journal. But some events occured that caused the split and it's been 17 years since Lindy was in town. They are almost like strangers, yet there is that strong underlying foundation of love that got them through their childhood. Can they allow it to surface so that it gets them through once again? The characters were for the most part realistic and the secret that broke the family was teased at throughout the book and finally revealed towards the end. I was able to guess what it might have been but there were twists that I didn't see coming at all. A good summer read if you are a family drama fan.

14.  Kingdom Woman by Tony Evans

Completed:  April 2021

Rating:  7.5/10


15. Risen by Angela Hunt (audiobook)

Completed:  April 25, 2021

Rating:  7.5/10


Roman Tribune Clavius is assigned by Pilate to keep the radical followers of the recently executed Yeshua from stealing the body and inciting revolution. When the body goes missing despite his precautions, Clavius must hunt it down. His investigation leads him from the halls of Herod Antipas to the Garden of Gethsemane and brings him in touch with believer and doubter alike. But as the body still remains missing, Clavius commits to a quest for the truth--and answers that will not only shake his life but echo throughout all of history. (Publisher Description)

 I listened to this on audiobook during one of my many road trips to go see my mom. I have watched the movie several times and love it but have not watched it in over a year. The novelization was written by one of my favorite authors. The movie is so interesting seeing Jesus, the crucifiction and ressurection through the eyes of a battle worn, hard hearted Roman centurian. It really made me think what it might have been like. I must admit, though, that with the novelization I was very confused for a good portion of the listening because I could not for the life of me remember the female character in the movie and she is a major part of the book with the chapters rotating back and forth between her voice and Clavius' voice. Turns out, in the author's notes the character was the author's addition. She explains it this way: 

 "As I wrote, I tired my best to properly represent Scripture, history and the Risen film/screenplay. Though the premise - what would the resurrection look like through the eyes of a Roman tribune? - is entirely fictional, I took a few small liberties for the sake of the story."

 "A screenplay is not nearly as long as a novel, so of course I found it necessary to add several additional developments in order to flesh out the story". 

 I sort of wish there had been a note to that in the beginning of the story to avoid the confusion for ones such as myself who have seen and are a fan of the movie. Some of her additions might not sit well with some Christian readers but it was a reflection of what the history and times might have presented and as always with the story of Christ there is redemption woven into the telling. The audiobook was a good listen. I thought the two voice actors did a good job in acting and narrating the voices. Had I not seen the movie several times I probably would have enjoyed this better as I would not have been distracted with trying to remember characters. But because I did, the movie ran in my head during Clavius' chapters, and kind of stalled with the other characters voice. All in all, it was a good listen, but not what I expected.

16.  The Sun Does Shine by Anthony Ray Hinton

Completed:  April 25, 2021

Rating:  10+/10


Full Title: The Sun Does Shine: How I Found Life and Freedom on Death Row In 1985 Anthony Ray Hinton was arrested in Alabama and charged with 2 counts of capital murder. Though he was scared and shocked, Anthony knew he was working that night miles away from from the murders in a sign in, fenced and secured supermarket where he had to regularly check in with supervisors, so he figured all he had to do was tell the truth and it would prevail. That's what his Mama always told him. But another attempted murder victim who picked him out as the perpetrator combined with the fact of his being black and poor worked against him. Because he could not afford his own attorney he was assigned one from the state, one who couldn't be bothered to really dig into his case and defend him properly because the state only pays $1000 for these attorneys. Add a racist prosecutor and judge who wanted a conviction for political purposes and Anthony found himself on Death Row sentenced to death by electrocution even though he passed a polygraph test where the administrator said there was no way he committed the murders. In his time there, he watched 54 men walk past him to their deaths only feet from his cell. This is his story of how he got past the anger, the dread, the hopelessness to find purpose in becoming his best in order to lift others within his block. With the help of Bryan Stevenson, the civil rights lawyer who wrote the book Just Mercy, Hinton was finally released 15 years after Stevenson took on his case. But now with his hard fought for freedom, he had to learn to live in a world that had moved on without him, that was totally different yet unchanged in some ways from when he was first arrested. He had to adjust 30 years of living in a tiny cell to becoming a contributing member of society on the "outside". 

 This book was phenomenal. It was shocking and real and upsetting. Which it should be. Hinton does not hold back from the realness of the horror of being on death row, especially knowing you are innocent, but he also is able to show how choices even in the very most horrific situations can determine what kind of person you become and that there is beauty if you look for it. There were so many quotes I took from this book but it would make the post really long but there are some I must share that really hit home with me. 

 "I was on death row, not by my own choice, but I had made the choice to spend the last three years thinking about killing McGregor (prosecutor) and thinking about killing myself. Despair was a choice. Hatred was a choice. Anger was a choice. I still had choices and that knowledge rocked me. I may not have had as many as Lester (his best friend) had, but I still had some choices. I could choose to give up or hang on. Hope was a choice. Faith was a choice. And more than anything else, love was a choice. Compassion was a choice."

 pg 115    

"I wasn't expecting to have my heart break that night. I wasn't expecting to end 3 years of silence. It was a revelation to realize I wasn't the only man on death row. I was born with the same gift from God we are all born with - the impulse to reach out and lessen the suffering of another human being. It was a gift and we each had a choice whether to use the gift or not. 

pg 117

 "I was afraid every single day on death row. And I also found a way to find joy every single day. I learned that fear and joy are both a choice. And every morning, when I opened my eyes at 3 a.m. and saw the cement and the mesh wire and the sadness and filth of my tiny cell, I had a choice. Would I choose fear, or would I choose love? Would I choose a prison or would I choose a home? It wasn't always easy." 

pg. 186 

 In the Afterword of the book, Hinton lists all the names of people on death row in America as of 2017. He asks you to read each name aloud. Then he asks you to put the word innocent after every tenth name. Then he asks you to pray for each by name. It is a sobering exercise that really brings home the reality of the "justice" system in America. Anthony Ray Hinton's story is amazing and convicting. It is a testament to the fact that we can choose faith, we can choose hope, we can choose forgiveness. This next quote really sums it up. Unfortunately, I did not record what page it is on. I know I really shouldn't quote it because of that but it's too important. 

"Some will read this book and be enraged at the injustice and suffering heaped upon an innocent black man. As we all should be. But to not go beyond and understand that his life story is trying to tell us that we have choices no matter how horrendous our circumstance and to choose well, is missing half his story! Though parts of this book are extremely hard to read as it's an indictment upon us as humans, it resonates with hope and inspiration."

 After reading this I feel this book should be required reading in high school instead of some of the stuff we were assigned to read that had no impact upon us except to rush through and get the assignment done. This book makes you think, makes you examine why you take the stand you do on issues such as racism and the death penalty and opens your eyes to your own choices and excuses and directions you have taken. Highly, highly recommend.

17.  The Brilliant Life of Eudora Honeysett

Completed:  May 7, 2021

Rating:  10/10


Eudora Honeysett is 85. Considering her age, she is in pretty good shape. She still lives on her own and still attends daily swim sessions at the pool. She doesn't need anybody and she is content that way. But she is done. At 85, she wants to be in control of her own passing from this earth. She's lived her life and she doesn't want to wait until she is desperately ill or incapacitated with people having to do everything for her. She wants her end to be on her terms while she is still able to decide. Upon hearing of a clinic in Switzerland who will help her with this, she makes her application and sets about setting things in order. But then Rose Trewidney, a precocious 10 year old filled with a zest for life and happiness and a penchant for twirling and overly bright clothing choices moves into her neighborhood. For some reason Rose has decided to befriend Eudora. Resisting at first, Eudora is put off by Rose's constant interfering and suggestions but slowly the infectious Rose draws her and her other senior neighbor, Stanley into her circle. As the three odd friends grow closer through tea parties, shopping sprees and celebrations, Eudora starts to open up her closed off heart. And as they wait for Rose's baby sister to be born, Eudora starts to remember and reflect upon her own childhood where she lost her beloved father to WW II and the devastating impact it had on her family and in turn her whole life. 

 I loved this story. Though at first glance, it seems to be a story about choosing how and when one gets to leave this earth it turns into so much more. It's a book about love, loss and grief. About friendship and acceptance and the different forms it can come in if we are only open to receive and give it. It's about no matter how difficult one has found life, that if we look there is always good to be found. And it's about hope. With parallels to "A Man Called Ove", this story was definitely driven by it's great cast of characters. It was sweet, engaging and emotional. Eudora's character was at times frustrating but as her story is revealed in flashbacks, just like her heart opens to Rose, the reader's heart is opened to Eudora. In joining Eudora on her bittersweet journey, the reader is reminded to remember that there is so much more to a person's life than what they at first present, and how much in life there really is to live for.

18.  Fragments of Light by Michele Phoenix

Completed:  May 22, 2021

Rating:  9/10

Review:  Ceelie and Nate have been married for 20 when a breast cancer diagnosis sends her reeling.  She doesn't know what she would have done without her husband's support through all the treatments.  On the day her treatment is done, after the bell has been rung, Nate announces he can't do it anymore and he is leaving her.  Ceelie is left reeling.  Her only source of comfort and strength is her friendship with Darleen, a fellow patient.  But when Darleen's diagnosis becomes terminal, she requests the help of her friend Ceelie in finding the father she was abandoned by when she was young.  Growing up and living her adult life with a deep down hatred of her father, Darleen now feels the need to find out why her father abandoned her mother and herself and to try to let it go before she passes away.  As they try to find out about Cal we are taken on a journey of a WWII veteran  who was a paratrooper on D-day who landed where he shouldn't have and the two French sisters who saved him.  

This book was very touching.  Though at first it was a little hard to get into, soon I was turning the pages.  It takes you through every emotion as Ceelie deals with everything that has been thrown at her.  I found myself totally caught up in her struggle.  It's a story of deep pain and hurt, resolving those feelings, forgiveness, guilt, sacrifice and friendship.  The author developed each character very well and it was easy for me the reader to understand their feelings.  It's a slower paced book that takes you through some very hard topics with compassion and some humor through the personality of one of the characters.  It was interesting to read in the author's notes that she herself is a three time breast cancer survivor and she wanted to "explore the unspoken consequences, emotional and physical, of breast cancer" and she wanted the novel to be about the theme "brave".  She also wanted readers to know the sacrifices made by those who were a part of D-day.  I think she did a wonderful job of both.  


19.  The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini

Completed May 31, 2021

Rating:  10/10

Review:  Amir and Hassen grew up together in Afghanistan.  They were as close as could be. Their friendship was unique as Hassen was also a servant to Amir.  Amir was from a wealthy family and Hassen's father was a trusted servant to Amir's family.  Once the "serving" was done, though, they were as close as brothers and played together all the time.  Hassen fiercely and loyally protected Amir when they were out on the streets and the two were inseparable.  But as close as they were jealousy grew a root when Baba, Amir's father, treated Hassen so well.  Amir felt he never measured up to his father's expectations and never quite had his father's whole love.  When the kite fighting competition season came around, Amir felt he just had to win it to gain his father's respect and love.  With Hassen as his kite runner, the one who chases the kite that got cut, he had a great shot at it.  But when things take an ugly turn with some bullies and Hassen needs Amir's help, Amir cannot find the courage within himself to do what he should and the guilt Amir lives with affects their relationship for the rest of their lives.  As an adult living in America with a family of his own, Amir has done well in life but still lives with an underlying guilt of what happened so many years ago and when an old family friend approaches him to help a young boy in Afghanistan, Amir reluctantly agrees.  But going back after so many years will be the hardest thing Amir has done and what he finds out will rock his world.  As long held family secrets come to light Amir must try to reconcile what he always thought he knew of Baba with what unfolds.   Will Amir finally find the courage finally do what he has to  and  lay to rest the guilt he has carried for so long.

This was a very moving novel that painted a picture of a country and culture I knew nothing about.  It starts by giving the reader a general picture of what life in Afghanistan would have been like before Afghanistan became a household word in the Western world.  The upper class and the servant class life is richly detailed through the lives of Amir and Hassen and their families.  Then the events that throws that life into chaos comes:  the coup, the Soviet invasion, the Taliban takeover and 911 are all woven into the story.  I thought the author did a wonderful job of "educating" me on what it might have been like for the Afghan people of the time.  I'd never really given it much thought.  Though I found the character of Amir frustrating and honestly not too likeable at times, but his story was what moved the descriptions of the times along.  I won't lie, at times the story was brutal to read, and very sad and anger inducing. It will be very triggering or anyone who has suffered abuse as a child or has lived through war.  But I think in my case it really opened my eyes to a lot of preconcieved notions the West has been fed.  But the politics of the times aside,  it's a story of friendship, family, loyalty, lies and betrayal, guilt and redemption.  

20.  The History of Bees by Maja Lunde

Completed:  June 18, 2021

Rating:  8/10

Review:  Spanning 3 time lines, the History of Bees tells the story of 3 families whose life and livelihoods involve bees. William is a biologist in England during the 1850's. William had big dreams but he is fighting depression as his life has not turned out the way he planned. Relegated to a small seed store he is trying to eek out a living for his family. But it's hard to not just curl up in a ball in his bedroom and give up. But with the encouragement of his young daughter William sets out to develop a new hive, one that will help the bees with honey production and bring his family fame and fortune. 

 George is a bee farmer in the U.S. in 2007. He is struggling with bee farming in the day and age as it is. When whole colonies literally start disappearing across the south it throws bee keepers everywhere into a panic. His hope is in his son whom he saved and scrimped to send to college in the hopes he would advance the family business. When his son shows no interest in it, in fact wanting to turn to journalism and writing instead, George is devastated and fears for the livelihood of his family. 

 In China during the year 2098, Tao's world has seen the complete disappearance of bees. Now workers must literally hand paint pollen onto crops in order to produce food. Tao daily climbs fruit trees in the ardous, back breaking task but that is her government assigned job and she has no choice. On a rare day off, Tao, her husband and young son head to the field to have a family picnic. They should be at an event but Tao talked her husband into taking a small amount of time to just do something with their family. When her son has an accident the authorities whisk him away and Tao has to fight to find any information about what happened to him and where they took him. Setting out into cities long abandoned by most people, Tao is on a desperate search and won't go back until she finds out what happened. 

 This was an interesting look into the life of a bee keeper and what can happen when bees disappear off the face of the earth. I found the triple timeline, historical, contemporary and future dystopian, an interesting way to tell the story. Though I did wonder how it was all going to tie together in the end. It seemed like three distinct stories but the author does bring it together. It does get into environmental issues such as climate change at times but wasn't too terribly heavy handed. It is translated from Norwegian and I thought it, for the most part, was done well. This is not an action story by any means. It moves slowly in some parts but I think that sets the tone for some of storytelling. I found I did get frustrated, even offended, at some points in the historical part of the story with the main character and his attitudes and actions but I'm sure it was consistent with the era and location. I found the stories did get me thinking about the environmental impact on bees and farmers so the author did her job in that area. I couldn't help but feel and empathize for George and hold my breath for Tao as she dug deep for the courage to find her son. Though this had kind of mixed reviews I did enjoy it for the most part.

21.  Don't Give Up by Kyle Idleman

Completed: June 19, 2021

Rating:  9/10


A helpful book that gives great perspective when one is facing trials.  It is encouraging and practical as I find a lot Kyle Idleman's teaching to be.  He did use the message version of the bible, which isn't my favorite, but all the more reason to look up the scriptures he referenced in different versions.  

22.  A Hundred Flowers by Gail Tsukiyama

Completed:  July 19, 2021

Rating:  8/10

Review:    Kai Ying's family live in a shared building with several other families in a village in China during 1958. It used to belong just to her father in law, who is a professor, but with Mao Tse-Tung slowly bringing in Communism, owning large homes is no longer allowed and they must be shared with others. Though Mao had the poetic words in his speech of 1956, "Let a hundred flowers bloom, let a hundred schools of thought contend", to encourage intellectuals to suggest how the party could be improved, it was really a rouse to round up anyone they thought would not line up with the party's policies. When Kai Ying's husband is arrested and taken away because he supposedly wrote a letter to the Premier's office, Kai Ying is devastated. She can't figure out why her usually mild mannered husband would put the family in jeopardy like that. When their young son Tao falls from the Kapok tree out front, Kai Ying feels the family is in a free fall themselves. But even in the worst of times, Kai Ying cannot help but reach out to a young pregnant girl she sees in the hospital when visiting Tao. Taking her into their home, Kai Ying cares for her and the new baby even as her father in law wrestles with his own secrets and after finally revealing a devastating one, he disappears one day. How can they all hold it together when everything around them is falling apart? 

 This is a historical fiction that is both lovely in it's writing and cautionary in it's tale. While there is lots to be read of WWII, I have to say I have not read any historical fiction based on Mao's communist take over of China and this story really opened my eyes. Especially in nowadays seemingly push towards socialism in our society. I was really drawn into the story and it's well written characters. Though the ending didn't satisfy me, I would recommend this story for it's lovely story telling and for the historical significance of what can happen when communism starts to take over and the how they lure the young and the intellectuals. Interesting to note, it was the second book I read, back to back, that had a character named Tao and I had to really focus not to mix up their stories. LOL. How often does that happen? Coincidentally, for me, it was the second time this year!

23. The Scent Keeper by Erica Bauermeister

Completed:  August 2, 2021

Rating:  9.5/10

Review:  Emmaline lives on a remote island with her father. He teaches her survival, about the land around her and how to navigate the world through scents. Lining their small cabin are colored jars filled with papers that contain all sort of scents. Each jar evokes different memories. He is, however, very tight lipped about these jars but Emmaline knows there is a machine in the closet that puts the scents onto the paper. At the very top of the rows of jars is a bottle that no one is allowed to touch and which her father will not talk about at all, the same way he won't talk about her mother. While small her world is quite content filled with learning through her senses and the mysterious mermaid who delivers special things to the island just for her, as she grows older more and more questions arise. When tragedy strikes and shakes Emmaline's whole world she must now, as a teenager, learn to navigate a whole new world, the "real" world that she has never been a part of and is totally unprepared for. In the midst of her struggles, Emmaline knows that she must somehow learn more about the mother she never knew. But in learning about her mother will she still feel the same about her father? 

 This was an absolutely unique story. It's a coming of age story that deals family, secrets, mental health, ambition, betrayal, guilt, and love. I was drawn to it because it is a story that had scent as a main theme. Though it took me a while to get into it, I am so glad I stuck with it, though it was not without it's flaws. The characters draw you in and my heart was taken with Emmaline's struggles to fit in and find herself and understand the world in which she in a moment's notice found herself. The writing is lyrical and has lovely imagery but because of that it also contains imagery that is hard to read. I'm never a fan of teenage sexual experiences in stories and this did contain some of that though it wasn't overly detailed. The story is heart warming and heart breaking all at the same time. I liked learning about scent and memories and how scent is used in commercial applications to make people feel a certain way. How Emmaline navigated her world through scent was very well written. Though there were negative comments about the ending, I liked it.

24.  The Hiding Place by Corrie Ten Boom (audiobook)

Completed:  August 14, 2021

Rating:  10/10

25. The Letter Keeper by Charles Martin

Completed:  September 4, 2021

Rating:  9.5/10


In the continuing story of Murphy Shepard, Murphy is still living by his life principle of leaving the 99 to go after the 1. It has been the compass for his whole adult life. After the devastating personal news he received in the previous book "The Water Keeper", how will he ever be able to trust his partner again? But their work must continue so Murphy has to come to some kind of terms with his broken heart. As Murphy and Summer try to keep their personal lives on an even keel the call of the one in trouble still pulls at Murphy and with Summer's support he will still go to find the person in need of rescuing from the sex slave trade. When their compound is infiltrated and Summer and his daughter along with two other teens go missing, the mission has become much more personal and Murphy will stop at nothing to find them. With no clues turning up and Murphy seemingly taking one wrong step after another, everything is stripped from Murphy except his love for his family to drive him on. 

 This is the 2nd installment of the Murphy Shepard series about the human sex trade slavery. It is a page turner for sure with lots of action and mystery. But it also has so many moments of humanity and themes of love and self-sacrifice and healing. The reader goes back and forth between lots of heart pumping action and moments of tenderness and soul searching and heart wrenching times. Not only do we get to know Murphy better but we get to know one of the girls he rescued and the details of the immense work it takes to heal body and soul from being involved in the sex trade. I liked this part 2 much better than the 1st book. It continues Murphy's story and goes more into how he got involved in rescuing those caught in the sex trade and how their ranch for those healing and hiding came to be. Get ready for your emotions to swing from one end to the other. There were lots of characters but each is integral to the story. Occasionally it was quite descriptive of land areas but again it fits the story. I loved the little hidden Easter egg referring to my favorite book from this author "Water From My Heart". Can't wait to see how the story wraps up in the next installment coming in June of 2022

26.  Doing Life With Your Adult Children by Jim Burns

Completed:  September 17, 2021

Rating:  9/10

27.  A Life Long Love by Gary Thomas (audiobook)

Completed:  September 19, 2021

Rating 7/10

28.  Along a Storied Trail by Ann H. Gabhart

Completed:  September 26, 2021

Rating: 8/10


Tansy Calhoun is a young packhorse librarian in the Kentucky mountains. She loves to read and loves to pass that love onto her Appalachian community. Though not are supportive of the Packhorse librarian program or learning to read. But Tansy presses on hoping she can bring that love to anyone she can. The job also helps her struggling family to pay bills. Her father left to find work and they haven't heard from him since they left. Though Tansy is single she dreams of finding her perfect mate there is no one in the mountains whom Tansy is drawn towards. Then her dear friend Caleb moves back home with the intent of letting Tansy know that she has his heart but his plans are foiled when a stranger comes to town. One from the big city who is charming and can easily turn a young lady's head. When Caleb and Tansy help Perdita, an old spinster, out after her home burns to the ground they might be in for more than they bargained for. Perdita has not any friends and most are scared of her and she definitely would rather keep to herself. But now circumstances force her to receive help. As she sits and observes the goings on around her she knows whom Tansy should be choosing but who's going to listen to her? 

 This is the second "packhorse librarian" book I have read this year. While the first took on lots of deep issues with a grit and rawness this story was more of a light hearted read. While it did describe some of the poverty and characteristics of the Appalachian mountain people of the time it didn't go deep. And while the main character is a pack horse librarian I would say that part is on the surface of the story and secondary to help to move the light romance along. The characters are fun to get to know and grumpy old Perdita was a favorite and I loved her growth through the book. This was a good, faith based story if you are wanting an easier read of the time period and region without quite the "heaviness".

29.  Anxious People by Fredrik Backman

Completed:  September 12, 2021

Rating:  9/10


During a real estate open house in an apartment on New Year's Eve Day the lives of various strangers are about to intersect and change. A bank robber enters and takes them hostage. What is a bank robber doing at an open house in the first place? And how do the lives of a retired couple, a real estate agent, a wealthy banker, a young couple about to have a baby and two police officers all connect? Each of them has a past they are trying to hide from and the perfect storm has brought them together to make them face the truth about themselves. They become unlikely allies in a bizarre situation that will change their lives forever. 

 This was a very different story. As the author starts to lay the story out I must admit I found it a bit confusing but pressed on knowing that he would bring it together somehow. It is translated from a Scandanavian language and set in Sweden. It is a bit of complicated storytelling mostly done through conversation. Some of the story is laid out in the interrogation of the police of these individuals. At times the confusion and the seemingly bumbling cop trope made my eyes roll while at the same time occasionally giving me a laugh but by the last chapters of the book I had tears in my eyes. Backman has a knack for delving into human hearts, fears and actions that is uncanny making his characters relatable. It is ultimately a story of lost and found hope, connection, friendship and forgiveness.

30.  Day After Night by Anita Diamant

Completed:  October 17, 2021

Rating:  7.5/10

Review:  World War II has ended and at Atlit internment camp four young Jewish women are waiting to immigrate to Israel. Atlit is a prison for "illegal" immigrants rund by the British military. Like everyone else at the camp they have survived the Holocaust and each has secrets and a story of survival from the war. And like everyone else they are frustrated that they are being held even after the war is over. Shayndel is a Polish Zionist, Leonie came from Paris, Tedi was a Dutch Jew who was hidden, and Zorah survived a concentration camp. They have nothing in common yet everything in common. In spite of no one wanting to talk of what they had been through they form a bond of friendship that carries them through the long days and eventually through the escape of the camp. 

 This book is based on the true story of the more than 200 Jewish detainees who escaped this internment camp in October of 1945. I had not known anything about this part of WWII history and was taken aback that even after the war Jewish people were still being detained and held against their will and not even by the Nazi's but by the very people who helped "free" them, the British Allies because they didn't have papers. It focuses on the story of four women at the camp, each from very different backgrounds and experiences in the war, yet each one having suffered greatly on their road to survival. Each woman's story was heartbreaking and how they navigated through their challenges surviving the war and their time at the camp was well written. It's not a long book and at times I found it a bit choppy but it was a good read involving a piece of history that I have not heard talked about and have not read about before.

31.  Trace of Doubt by DiAnn Mills (audiobook)

Completed:  October 31, 2021

Rating:  7.5/10

Review:  Shelby Pierce has been in prison for 15 years for the murder of her brother in law.  Now out on parole she is trying to start her life over again in small town Texas.  Trouble is it's a town that is too close to the situation and some are having a hard time giving her the benefit of the doubt.  Tough a lovely woman, Amy-Jo,  gives her opportunity to work in her cafe and to sell her jewellry there, Amy-Jo's brother, a police officer,  is anything but polite and accepting and believes his sister will be conned.  He'll do anything to drive Shelby out of their town.   FBI agent Denton McClure was first assigned Shelby's case when he was a rookie and has always believed she embezzled hundred of thousands of dollars from her brother in law.  Now upon her return he goes undercover to befriend her and hopefully figure out where the money is.  But he is struggling justifying the Shelby of before with the newly returned Shelby who's come back a strong Christian and seemingly a different person.  The more time he spends with her the more he experiences traces of doubt about her guilt and involvement starting to surface in his mind.  And the more Shelby's life is threatened the more he is certain there is more to the story and she might not be the one they are after.

Good faith based mystery/thriller with lots of twists and deception along the way.  Shelby is a good strong character who has had a definite life change and there are many good "faith" moments in the book.  The story was good and though Shelby's character sometimes gave me pause because she seemed to have no fear, I suppose spending 15 years in prison might have had something to do with that.  For some Christian readers the level of violence might be bothersome if they are sensitive to that.  My first by this author, I listened to it on audiobook.  This is where it was hard for me.  I listened on hoopla and found 1.0 speed was too slow and 1.5 was too fast.  No choice in between.  And I also found that sometimes the narrator in switching voices to a male character would become very loud in voice and then when she switched back to a female character it was way softer.  So the discrepancy back and forth was at times uncomfortable on the ear.  

I rated this a 7.5/10

32.  The Golden Son by Shilpi Somaya Gowda

Completed:  November 7, 2021

Rating:  10/10

Review:  Anil Patel is the oldest son in a large Indian family and as such is set to inherit his father's role as arbiter of the clan. But since he was 10 years old, when his father helped a family member to make a decision to seek surgery to help a baby with a cleft lip, his father has had dreams of Patel becoming a doctor to help their community. Leaving his home and close childhood friend, Leena, Anil goes to study for six years. When he lands an opportunity to finish his education at a prestigious hospital in the States his father buys his plane ticket and encourages him to go in spite of his mother disagreeing. Leaving Leena is the most difficult and both of them must now learn to navigate their respective worlds without each other. Now Anil is trying to fit in and survive in a world very different than the one he left behind, one which doesn't always respect or accept where he comes from and whose temptations clash with the way he was raised. And Leena, herself is trying to navigate those cultural expectations, ones that will change her life forever in ways she never imagined. But as life would have it, they eventually meet up again, both changed people from their experiences. 

 I loved this story. It is told well and drew me in right from the beginning. My heart was really drawn into the individual lives and struggles of both Anil and Leena, both from family and cultural expectations and for what they each faced as they navigated their respective worlds and the disappointments and life changing challenges it brought them. When their lives intersected once again my emotions swung from one end to the other as years of family beliefs and misunderstandings and their consequences were slowly revealed. It was interesting to learn about the ancient "panchayat system" in India, a tradition of settling disputes within a community and the pressures that puts upon an individual person. Though I felt the ending wrapped up just a little too quickly with introduction of new characters without explanation of how they came into the story, I still gave this a top rating because of the emotional impact and sensitive story telling that drew me right in beginning to end. If you like emotional stories that deal with family, friendship and other cultures I highly recommend with a trigger warning for an instance of abuse and an instance of violent racism.

33.  The Nature of Fragile Things by Susan Meissner

Completed:  November 12, 2021

Rating:  10/10

Review:  Sophie Whalen is an Irish immigrant living in New York City when she answers an ad in the paper for a mail order bride. Without meeting, she agrees to marry Martin Hocking who lives in California. Sophie knows it's a marriage of convenience and that is just fine with her. Martin is a widower who needs a mother for his 5 year old daughter and Sophie needs somewhere where she can feel warm, safe, be provided for and have a child to love. But once Sophie marries Martin and moves into his home, she finds Martin though wonderfully handsome a strange and secretive man who doesn't seem to care for his own daughter. But Sophie has her own secrets so she lets things be while she finds solace in building a relationship with 5 year old Kat. When a strange woman shows up at the door with questions, it starts an unraveling in Sophie's and the stranger's lives that leads them to yet another piece of the puzzle that is Martin Hocking. With information in hand, Sophie and the stranger confront Martin and events lead to decisions that will intertwine and change their lives forever. Then a catastrophic earthquake hits and actual survival becomes the number one priority. 

 This book was a page turner. I love the way Susan Meissner weaves a story and in this one she uses the April 1906 earthquake and resulting fires that devastated San Francisco as a physical backdrop to her characters complicated lives which are under going a personal shaking and devastation . Once the story got going I found I couldn't put it down because I just had to know what was going to happen and what the secrets were that were all coming to the surface. I loved the characters of the women. It's a story of survival both physical and personal but also of friendship in the midst of the unbelievable and of the resilience of women to move beyond the devastating. Loved this story.

34.  God in the ICU by Dave Walker, M.D. (audiobook)

Completed:  November 22, 2021

Rating:  10/10

Review:  Dr. Dave Walker started his career in South Africa as an Anesthetist with interest in the ICU. After the devastating loss of beloved family members within a short 2 year span where all his medical knowledge could not save them, he found himself struggling with his faith. This is his story of how God led him full circle to offering to pray with and for patients and touching their lives while transforming his practice. His story starts in South Africa during the time that democracy was rising up and then moves to the Middle East. 

 I loved this book! I listened to it as an audiobook and having Dr. Walker read his own story made it seem like I was sitting with him in conversation listening to his stories. I found it brave and encouraging and challenging to my own faith as he walked out what God asked him to do and that was simply to start offering to pray with patients and their families. Though God didn't always answer the prayers in the way that the Doctor thought He should or wanted Him to do, Dr. Walker, and his patients and families, saw miracles worked by God in His way and His timing according His purposes. Though sad at times, I found this book extremely encouraging, uplifting and inspirational pointing us to a God who hears us when we pray and is with us even in our darkest times. His use of scripture was not heavy handed or preachy but flowed with the stories and was perfectly naturally placed with the text. I will listen to this again!

35.  Big Lies in a Small Town by Diane Chamberlain

Completed:  December 4, 2021

Rating:  9.5/10

Review:  Morgan's schooling and career in art have been put on hold while she went to jail for taking the blame in a drunk driving accident. When a stranger and her lawyer come to the jail to offer Morgan a chance at early release in exchange for her restoring an old post office mural Morgan is all over it, anything to get out of jail. But her hope is soon crashing into skepticism. Why would a total stranger choose her, especially when she has no skills or knowledge of restoration work? And when tensions are high between her and the person who hired her she begins to doubt her decision. But as she learns about restoration and starts to work on the piece Morgan finds all sorts of odd and disturbing things the artist has placed in there seeming to collaborate the rumors that the artist descended into madness which pushes Morgan to keep going. Anna Dale had been a young artist from New York in the 1940's when she won a contest put on by the federal government hiring artists to paint small towns post office murals. Her assignment lands her in Edenton, North Carolina where she finds things she didn't expect. Things like anger that she won when there was a local artist who also submitted work into the contest and deep prejudices and secrets that the town is hiding. When she hires a young black teenager with great artistic talent Anna has no idea of the hate that will rise in some people. What small town secrets was Anna Dale trying to tell when she painted the odd office mural, it certainly seems like the madness rumors might be true, and why was Morgan the one chosen to reveal them? 

 This was a great story. Once it got going it was hard to put down. The two timelines flowed smoothly and the author did a great job in revealing just enough at each step to keep me turning to find out what happened. I loved Morgan's growth through the story. The story was both heart breaking and heart warming. It took the whole story to reveal why Morgan was chosen and kudos to the author for being able to hold out to the end the full reveal of the story.

36.  The Orphan's Tale by Pam Jenoff

Completed:  December 12, 2021

Rating:  9/10

Review:  After being thrown out by her father for becoming pregnant by a Nazi soldier, sixteen year old Noa finds herself totally alone dealing with the grief of not only being abandoned by family but also having her baby taken at birth. She now lives above a rail station and spends her days with her head down cleaning the station in order to earn her keep. When one day a rail car rolls into the station Noa has no idea how her life will now change. She discovers one of the cars is filled with Jewish infants with no adult in sight, headed for one of the concentration camps. Grieved at her finding Noa manages to take one of the babies and flees into the forest. Now having to hide not only herself but a Jewish infant, Noa comes upon the home base of a travelling circus whose owner takes pity upon her and puts her into the trapeze act. Noa has never done anything like this and she is terrified to learn. Just as terrifying is the woman, Astrid, the lead aerialist, who has been charged with teaching her. Astrid has her own secrets she is hiding and her resentment at having to teach Noa to become a trapeze artist is such a short time brings a lot of tension into their relationship. But as time goes on they develop a strong friendship that seems to continuosly be tested under the strain of the war and the weight of their secrets. 

 I enjoyed this story that is built around a real European circus hid some Jewish people within it's ranks during WWII. The story goes back and forth between Astrid's and Noa's point of view. At times I did find Noa's reactions and actions frustrating and sometimes I found myself mad at her character until I reminded myself that she was really just a teenager and Astrid was about 20 years her senior. There were harsh moments in the book as the realities of the war and what was happening in Europe brought tears to my eyes. The whole idea of the boxcar full of children which became known as the Unknown Children broke my heart. I did not see the ending coming. This was my first Pam Jenoff book and I will read more of hers.

37.  52 Little Lessons from A Christmas Carol by Bob Welch (reread)

Completed:  December 31, 2021

Rating:  10/10

38.  Under the Tulip Tree by Michelle Shocklee

Completed:  December 30, 2021

Rating:  8/10