Tuesday, January 23, 2024

2024 Reads and Reviews

1.  A Silken Thread by Kim Vogel Sawyer 

Completed:  January 16, 2024

Rating:  9.5/10

Review:  Laurel Millard is the youngest sibling in her family. Her father passed away when she was three and her Mom had never remarried. All her siblings are married with families of their own but Laurel still lives with her Mom (who is in her forties). Unbeknownst to their mother the siblings issue Laurel an ultimatum that as the youngest without a family of her own she must forgo her dream of one day marrying and having that family in order to take care of their Mother. In shock that they would expect that of her, Laurel holds out hope that she can actually find a good man who would not only love her but would also take her Mother under his household also. When the Atlanta Cotton Exposition of 1885 comes to town, Laurel's mother encourages her to apply to work there in the hopes that maybe she can meet a suitor. Laurel does meet a very wealthy Langdon Rochester who is heir apparent to his father's steam engine business. He is charming and wealthy and sets his sights on Laurel in order to appease his own mother who is pushing him to get married. Laurel also meets a young security guard named Willie who may not have two cents to rub together but has a good and kind heart. In becoming friends with Willie and his black friend Quincey who is a groundskeeper at the exposition, Laurel starts to see first hand the the division of class and education and racism that is prevalent in her city. As the exposition contends with some disasters the two young men Laurel has gotten to know are pitted against one another.

 I really enjoyed this Christian fiction from a favorite author. Under the historical setting of the exposition the author explores themes of racism and bigotry, the have vs the have nots, friendship and integrity, the desire in all humans to be loved and to belong, injustice and standing up for what is right. The characters were interesting and though sometimes Laurel might have seemed a tad naive and therefore frustrating, it would come from her sheltered life as a younger sibling in those times. Willie and Quincey's friendship was beautifully written, I thought, and the struggle, misunderstandings and turmoil that the situation they found themselves in really brought out what it might have been like back in that time. The love to hate character did his job well, I loved to hate the character. And though the ending was not a surprise the journey to get there was moving and thoroughly kept my attention.






2.  On the Cliffs of Foxglove Manor by Jaime Jo Wright (audiobook)

Completed:  January 23, 2024

Rating:  7.5/10

Review:








3.  The Last Exchange by Charles Martin

Completed:  February 10, 2024

Rating:  9/10

Review:








4.  Becoming Free Indeed by Jinger Dugger Vuolo (audiobook)

Completed:  February 15, 2024

Rating:  9/10

Review:  


Wednesday, January 3, 2024

2024 Reading Challenge and Goals

New Year, time for a new reading challenge.  How did 2023 go in the reading department you ask?  Not too bad. I missed my Good Reads goal of 40 books by two, but I did get a lot of the other goals accomplished. So onto a new year.  In looking back over what I did read last year, even though I did manage 15 of the books off my own shelves a lot of those were books that I got a Free Little Libraries or I found at library sales for a couple of bucks.  I only read 5 of the books I actually purchased either full price or discounted price at BookOutlet.  This kind of really surprised me.  That's why I kind of like setting goals because then I can see what's happening with the books I actually shell out hard earned cash for.  Though one look at my overflowing new purchase book bag should have been a major clue!!



And believe it or not, I actually forgot two books that were sitting in my non-fiction stacks.  These books have all been purchased over the last 4 - 5 years.  So this is going to be my goal for this year.  There are 26 books total and my goal is to read them to zero.  Meaning reading this stack is going to be first priority before I put any more books on library hold or reach for ones that are second hand that I've gotten for free.  I'll put a goal of at least 2 per month from this pile before I can get a library book or another from my free books pile.  That way it will still let me get to some of those throughout  the year.  I may surprise myself and chug right through this stack without looking elsewhere.  We'll see how it plays out.  Now the bigger trick is going to be not purchasing anymore this year.  Yikes.  






Thursday, January 5, 2023

2023 Reads and Reviews

 

1.  The Lindbergh Nanny by Mariah Fredericks

Completed:  January 3, 2023

Rating:  9/10

Review:  Charles Lindbergh has risen to hero status in the eyes of the American public due to his much revered flight across the Atlantic. His wife, Anne Morrow Lindbergh, and he are building a home in a secluded area of the New Jersey countryside in efforts to keep their privacy. When Ann gets pregnant they hire a nurse (nanny) originally from England to help in the day to day care of their son, Charles Jr. Betty Gouw, finds herself buiding a strong bond with the child but at times questions Charles Lindbergh's child rearing methods and Anne's willingness to go along with them. But she does her best to abide by the rules. When in 1932, Charles Jr is kidnapped from his bedroom while he was sleeping, Betty becomes suspect of aiding the kidnapper. Her whole life is thrown into the spotlight and she is all of a sudden the questionable one. Betty takes it upon herself to try to find the truth about that night and who really might be the co-conspirator so that Charles Jr. can be safely found. But when the baby turns up dead, Betty just wants to find justice for the little one she loved. 

 This story is a look at the internationally known kidnapping of Charles Lindbergh Jr as seen through the eyes of the person who spent the most time with him, and loved him as her own, his live in nurse (nanny), Betty Gouw. The author weaves the historical facts of the case with fiction filling in the missing spaces. Betty Gouw really was the child's nanny and her whole life was turned upside down with the crime, being accused of helping the kidnapping and then testifying in court against the man finally charged. She went from obscurity to sudden fame and noteriety all while trying to deal with the kidnapping and death of an innocent child she loved. While the whole story itself is captivating I found the beginning of the novel to be quite choppy and the introduction of new characters a bit confusing and therefore didn't pay a whole lot of attention to them as they seemed so secondary. Turns out I should have payed more attention. The pacing didn't get it's feet under itself, so to speak, until the baby gets kidnapped and that is when the book actually took off for me. Once it does happen it is suspenseful and gripping. My heart really is taken with Betty who was just trying to get over a failed love affair and try and make her way in a new country. The author's notes helped to discern between what was actual fact about Betty, the Lindbergh's, the kidnapping, the investigation and the subsequent court case. It turned into an interesting and emotional read though I was frustrated at the end not remembering exactly who some characters were that were introduced in the beginning.



2.  The Woman With Two Shadows by Sarah James

Completed:  January 19, 2023

Rating:  9.5/10

Review:  Though totally opposite personalities, Lillian Kaufmann and her identical twin sister Eleanor were very close. Lillian is very studious and is studying to be a physicist while Eleanor is a carefree actress. When Lillian gets word that she is to be accepted into Harvard she is thrilled until she learns that Eleanor has landed a part in play that also must take her to Chicago. There is now the dilemma of who will care for their mother if both girls are gone. Lillian was counting on Eleanor and a battle of who will get their dreams realized starts to come between their sisterly bond. When Eleanor unexpectedly takes a mysterious job at an army base in Tennessee, Lillian is dumbfounded that her sister would go to those lengths to get away from her. But when Lillian gets an odd phone call from Eleanor's boyfriend telling her Eleanor is missing, Lillian heads to Oak Ridge to clear up the matter and talk Eleanor into coming home. What she finds there is a mysterious, fenced town of thousands that officially does not exist where she must assume Eleanor's identity in order to even get inside the perimeter. As Eleanor digs into the days before her sister allegedly went missing, she finds others reporting missing friends and a town that holds dangerous secrets of one of the biggest scientific projects of all time. Who can she trust is telling the truth in this town her sister became a part of? 

 I really enjoyed this historical novel set around the most closely guarded secret of WWII and the biggest scientific discovery of it's time. The tension between the sisters that causes Eleanor to abandon her dreams and take the job at the army base is told in flashbacks as Lillian is at the base posing as Eleanor to gain information. There was lots of mystery, cover ups and layers as Lillian tries to pose as her sister to figure it all out, not knowing who can be trusted, and not knowing exactly what is going on at this facility. Lots of twists and turns keep the story moving to it's conclusion and the revealing of the project. In the end it's a story that questions how some of the smartest scientists of the time could have justified the end results of a project in order to rise to the challenge of the project itself. I thought this was a great debut novel.



3.  A Promise to Remember by Kathryn Cushman

Completed:  January 28, 2023

Rating:  7.5/10

Review:  Andie and Melanie couldn't live more different lives. But they do have something in common and that is that their beloved sons were killed in the same car crash. Both are devastated from their loss. In Andie's well to do world of Santa Barbara, she is having trouble dealing with her grief and tries to continue her charity work as she thinks her son would want her to do. Melanie, being a single mother, has no choice but to get back to work, working long hours to pay her bills and provide for her remaining child. Both Mom's will make decisions in their quest to have their son's remembered that will set into motion their opposite world's colliding head on. 

 This story is about love, loss, grief and forgiveness. The author takes a very emotional subject and writes their grief journey realistically and with sensitivity. Their struggles and feelings seemed very real and the consequences of decisions made and the influence of their backgrounds on these decisions was an interesting angle to their stories. Faith definitely played a part in the story but wasn't done in a preachy manner but instead, to me, contrasted the difference between a living faith and a "Sunday" faith. Though heavy in topic I did find the read worthwhile and enlightening not only in the journey that the main characters take but also in how those around them chose to show them support in their grief. It definitely gave food for thought.





4.  It's Not Supposed to Be This Way by Lysa TerKeurst

Completed:  February 2, 2023

Rating:  9.5/10

Review:  Has life turned out way different than what you ever thought or hoped it would be? Have your dreams and prayers been crushed? Have you ever wondered where God was in all of it? Then this book is for you. Lysa wrote this book in the midst of crisis in her own life. She is very transparent and honest about what she went through, her disappointments and fears. So she comes from a place of understanding. But she doesn't just leave us there. She shows us how to find the path back having our disappointments and disillusionments become opportunities to encounter the work of God in our lives. She leads us in how to better process these times in our life and how to train ourselves to stay strong and persevere and not panic. She points us to the truths of scripture that help us to change our mindset about God in these life circumstances. I found this book to be super encouraging and uplifting. Even though not going through any of her exact pain or circumstances I found she was able to directly speak into my own trials of the moment. It's very relatable as she was able to be transparent and honest about her raw feelings in the midst of her trials even while pointing us to biblical truth and insight. It's great just for reading through, each chapter ends with an easy reflection section, and then when the reader is ready to get right in and study all scriptures used are listed by chapter in the back along with a chapter titled "9 scriptures for surviving the times when God seems silent" that records lies we let our minds tell ourselves in turbulent, uncertain times and the scriptural truths to counteract those lies. My book is underlined on every single page with lots of dog ears ( I never dog ear but I did with this book!) The only part that didn't speak to me was a journal entry she shared in the back but others might get a lot out of it. Highly recommend if you are feeling in any way swamped by disappointment and trials you never thought you'd be going through or if you are wondering where God is in it all.






5.  The Extraordinary Deaths of Mrs. Kip by Sara Brunsvold

Completed:  February 19, 2023

Rating:  10/10

Review:  Aiden Kelley is a cub reporter for the Kansas City Star. Having spent a year in this position Aiden is debating whether to go over her supervising editor's head and send an email to the main editor of the paper asking for a feature story. When her friend sends the email for her it earns Aiden a huge reprimand and relegates her to writing an obituary for a woman who just entered hospice care. Aiden can't believe she has to stoop so low but in order to save face, and her job, off to the facility she goes where she meets one Clara Kip. Clara is a live wire on the cusp of turning 80 who is not wanting to be in hospice care. While loving life she does figure she has lived a very unextraordinary life. So when "Miss Kelley" is sent to her to do her obituary, she asks Aiden to invent some extraordinary deaths for her. The catch is for every extraordinary death that Aiden invents she will be allowed to ask Clara three questions. Clara can see Aiden is struggling, not just with being there interviewing her, but with her place in life. At once Clara knows God has placed this ambitious young lady into her path.   

 This is the debut novel of this author and what a debut it is. I had heard nothing but good reviews about this book and couldn't wait to read it and it definitely lived up to the hype. It is a Christian fiction novel and this, in my opinion, is what Christian fiction should be. Interesting characters, a relatable story that in the end makes the reader reflect and think. The story also delves into the Laotian refugee resettlement crisis of the '70's when the Vietnam war ended and how Kansas City was involved in that world history. It was a story I have never read about in fiction. This was a lovely account of a senior at the end of their life connecting with a young person just beginning theirs. It is, in essence, uplifting with grace, love and mercy even while it breaks the reader's heart. Recommend having tissues on hand.



6.  Taste:  My Life Through Food by Stanley Tucci (audiobook)

DNF'd

Review:  I was looking forward to reading this food memoir of Stanley Tucci. I borrowed it off Libby (audiobook format) from the library because it was read in the author's own voice so I thought that would add to it. Unfortunately, I ended up dnf'ing (did not finish) the book, turning it off about half way through. But before I go into why I Did Not Finish the book, what I did like it was the joy of the connection of the author's family to their Italian roots and food. That was so interesting. And the author shares some of his family's Italian recipes that are talked about in the book. I enjoyed hearing about their celebrations and everyday meals and the foods that made them memorable. I enjoyed reading about how the author's love of food developed through this life. But, to me, some of his narration fell flat in the audio version. For example: in relating conversations the author was reading in a flat voice "My mother: "what she said". My grandmother: "response" My mother: "what she said" My grandmother: "response". You get what I'm saying? While that may work in the written version, in the audio it had me rolling my eyes back in my head as it went on for some time as the author relayed the whole conversation between the participants in this manner. These kinds of conversation reenactments happened several times and he lost me with them. The other reason that finally caused me to turn the book off halfway through was the more and more frequent use of the f-bomb which is something I do not enjoy in my reading, much less so in audio. While the use of it wasn't in the beginning of the book at all, it started to show up very occasionally and then it's use continued to snowball significantly as the audiobook went on. When the author literally screamed it at me while talking about Carbonara, I was done. I think maybe in this instance the physical copy version might have served me better as in some cases I am able to more easily skip over the swearing and being f-bombed audibly on a regular basis definitely affected my enjoyment of the book. I may pick up the physical copy at some point but for now it has put a distaste in my mouth for the book, which makes me kind of sad. And it made me sad to give it a two star rating on goodreads because of this. According to goodreads one star means "I didn't like it". I gave it a 2 star which means "it was ok" because I was enjoying the stories centered around food. Quite a conundrum for me because in my mind if I DNF'd it it should really not have a star rating but that option is not available on goodreads. It's for this reason I really do hate to give a rating to a memoir. For those who don't think twice about being f-bombed in their reading, the book has been getting lots of great reviews.

Because I was half way through I am counting it as read toward my goodreads goal.




7.  The Librarian of Boone's Hollow by Kim Vogel Sawyer

Completed:  February 27, 2023

Rating:  8/10

Review:  Addie Cowherd is in her 3rd year at University of Kentucky during the depression years hoping to accomplish her dreams of becoming a writer when the rug is pulled out from underneath her. After losing his job her father is no longer able to pay for her school bills or her lodging and Addie must leave the university. Not finding a job in the city, she is recommended by her former library employer for a job delivering books by horseback to poor families in the hills of Kentucky. When she arrives she finds a town and people very wary of outsiders. With this already against her, Addie struggles to make friends and be accepted only to have things become even harder when generations old superstitions against the Nanny Fay, the woman she finds lodging with, causes her to be swept up in the fear and grudges against the old woman. When Emmet Tharp returns home from the same university degree in hand but unable to find a job in the city due to the economy, he is faced with having to get a job at the same coal mine his father works at. While this pleases his father, it is not what Emmet had in mind. When an opportunity arises to take charge of the packhorse librarian program in his community, he wonders if the chasm between him and his father will ever be repaired. Will Addie and Emmett ever realize the hope of having the books they deliver actually change the people and bring compassion and understanding to the community instead of the division that has existed? 

 Kim Vogel Sawyer is a Christian author and has brought the element of faith, love and forgiveness into a packhorse librarian story. It is definitely a character driven story that deals with a lot of issues including family violence, prejudice, assumptions, forgiveness and perserverance. The story is told in mulitple perspectives so you do get a well rounded look into the life of not only packhorse librarians but also the the people of the community who live very hard lives. In spite of everything it deals with it is easy to read as it flowed so well. While it did seem to not wrap up fully I have found out that there is a sequel: "Return to Boone's Hollow". While it was not a page turning, can't put it down type of read it was absolutely a story I enjoyed.



8.  Facing Fear by Nik Wallenda

Completed:  March 7, 2023

Rating:  10/10

Rating:  Nik Wallenda's family has been living the circus life for 7 generations. As high wire walkers, his family has learned how to face fear. They have learned to how to face it, compartmentalize it and trust their training and their skills. But one day during a practice of their 8 person pyramid things went horrible wrong. The pyramid collapsed severely injuring many of his team including his sister and aunt. In the months that followed Nik did what he knew to do and what he'd been trained to do. He kept on. But during practices someone was shaking the wire. Nik was surprised and stunned to figure out that it was himself that was trembling on the wire. Soon the fear was creeping into all parts of his life and work and he started to doubt what he had always believed: that walking the wire was his God-given purpose in this life. Facing Fear is Nik's story of overcoming the fear and insecurity the fall produced, of getting the negative thinking under God's control and getting back up after a fall, both literally and figuratively. 

 I loved this book. I have always been amazed at Nik's life and how he glorifies God during his walks. His personal story of tragedy and how he overcame the debilitating fear and guilt that literally would change life as he knew it if he succumbed to it was both interesting and very practical. Nik is a man of faith in God and he doesn't back down from that, as that is his story, but the book is written in a very approachable manner to any reader, whether they are a Christian or not. It's like sitting down with him and having a conversation with him where he tells you his story and how he overcame but also understands that you might not be at that place.





9.  No Place For A Lady by Gil Paul

Completed:  March 8, 2023

Rating:  9/10

Review:  When Lucy met Captain Charlie Harvington at the young age of 18, he swept her off her feet. Only knowing each other a very short time, Charlie proposes and Lucy accepts much to the dismay of her older sister, Dorothea. Dorothea is 10 years older than Lucy and has taken care of her younger sibling since their mother passed away when Lucy was just a young teen. Knowing that Charlie will be heading to the war in Crimea, and as his wife, wants Lucy to go with him Dorothea is doing everything she can to persuade Lucy to stay behind. But with no support from their father who has dementia, Dorothea is fighting a losing battle and Lucy marries and leaves resenting Dorothea's control and interference. While Lucy is off at war supporting her husband, Dorothea works at a hospital at home in London. When the opportunity comes up to apply to work with the famed Florence Nightingale in the Crimean hospitals, Dorothea sees it as an opportunity not only to work and learn from Florence Nightingale but as a chance to try and find Lucy hoping she is still alive. When she arrives there she is thrown into the hard work of nursing the injured soldiers and unbeknownst to Dorothea is closer to Lucy than she imagines. But Lucy has lived her own hardships and has chosen to hide even from those who know her in the area. 

 This was a story that really drew me in. I have not read a historical fiction yet centered on the Crimean war which was a heartbreaking and horrendous war fraught with many errors leading to the deaths of many. The author seems to have researched it well and I was surprised to learn that officers were allowed to take their wives and many women did just that, leaving families and children behind and following their husbands, taking care of them in the worst conditions imaginable. The author did a great job with the roles that women played in the war including not only the officer's wives but that of Florence Nightingale setting up hospitals and Mary Seacole, a British Jamaican nurse who opened a hotel behind the lines and fed people. It's a heartbreaking read, and yet hopeful. There are a couple of descriptive intimate scenes between a couple but it is easy to skim over if that is not a thing you like in your reading. 

 An interesting find in the story was a Captain that had the same last name as that of my city. That is the first time ever I have come across that in my reading.






10.  Live Your Life: My Story of Loving and Losing Nick Cordero by Amada Kloots (audiobook)

Completed:  March 20, 2023

Rating:  9.5/10

Review:  In the beginning of the Covid 19 pandemic, Nick Cordero, a star on Broadway and a Tony award nominee, was hospitalized with what they thought to be pneumonia. Eventually Nick was diagnosed with Covid 19 and had to be put on a ventilator. This was shocking news as Nick was healthy and young. In an attempt to cope and being a Christian, his wife Amanda took to her social media accounts asking for prayers for Nick. She made updates to the account and asked those who knew Nick to sing and dance to a song Nick had written called "Live Your Life" at a particular time of day in a effort to show him when he was better the support he had. News media picked up on her efforts and soon millions were joining in from around the world when everyone was reeling from the hospitalizations, death and uncertainty at the beginning of the lockdowns. After a harrowing 95 days where Nick went back and forth getting better and then digressing, when confusion reigned supreme and doctors could not agree, where Amanda had to fight the hospital to see Nick when they were changing the rules daily and where she had to make horrendous medical decisions for Nick without his input (such as amputating his leg), Nick finally succumbed and passed away. 

 I picked up this audiobook because I had heard of Amanda's requests for prayer and remembered reading of Nick's passing. But not on instagram or twitter myself, I didn't know the full story. Amanda has written an emotional, truthful account of what they, as a family unit, went through during this horrendous time. Because she narrates it herself the listener is really drawn into their story and all the emotions that went with it every step of the way. But it is not just a story of how Covid 19 changed their lives and stole from them. Amanda weaves their love story into it throughout. So it's not just an account of tragedy but a love story, a picture of courage and faith in the most trying of times, of confusion and trust, of what community means in good times and in bad, of the meaning of family and loss. I laughed with her and wept with her throughout the book.





11.  Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng

Completed:  March 23, 2023

Rating:  7.5/10

Review:  Shaker Heights is an upper middle class suburb of Cleveland where the Richardson family live. Elena is the Mom of the family, a journalist, who is very involved in the lives of her children. She thrives in her rule driven world and wears her self righteousness with pride. The only thing seemingly out of control thing in her perfect world is her youngest daughter, Izzy. When Mia Warren, a spontaneous artist, enters the picture with her daughter, Pearl, and rents an apartment from Elena, the sense of order and planning is upended. All four of Elena's teenage kids are drawn to either Mia or Pearl for various reasons. Izzy especially is taken with Mia's artistry and free spirit, everything her mother isn't and her son develops a crush on14 year old Pearl. When Elena's good friend wants to adopt a Chinese/American baby that was left at a fire station, Mia puts herself into the middle of it in defense of a co-worker and throws chaos into the ordered community where people feel they must take sides. Thinking Mia has ulterior motives, Elena uses her journalist background, contacts and skills to start digging into Mia's past. But in doing so, she stirs up a whole lot of unexpected results. The more Elena tries to control her world, the more out of control it becomes and she starts to heap justification upon justification for her actions. But in trying to expose someone else's secrets the secrets of her own family start to come to light. I found parts of this book gripping and emotional yet in other parts the writing style was slow and seemed to wander. There is much description and at times I would catch myself thinking "Let's just get back to the actual story". I was hooked from the first scene of a fire burning down the Richardson's home with the supposition that Izzy started it by setting little fires throughout the house. She is rebellious, after all, and is nowhere to be found. It then goes back in time to see what led to fire. It's a story that leans a bit toward stereotypes to make it's points, but ultimately is a story of motherhood and family relationships, friendships, and the perceived notion of the perfect life. It also examines how our actions and decisions, even though done in the best of intentions, can set in motion things we ultimately do not want. I was really drawn into the moral dilemma of the adoption that started to split the family and the neighborhood into camps of for and against. Trigger warnings for teen s*x and abortion.






12.  The Persian Pickle Club by Sandra Dallas

Completed:  April 1, 2023

Rating:  6.5/10

Review:  Queenie Bean is a young wife living on the plains of Harveyville, Kansas with her farmer husband, Grover during the 1930's. Times are tough. They haven't seen rain in a long time, the crops are burning up, there are no jobs in the area but Queenie and Grover are doing better than most. But their dreams are dashed when Queenie miscarries and it affects her ability to bear children. Queenie takes solace in the deep friendships she has formed in the quilting group she meets with weekly. Though usually very wary of strangers, especially during these times with many transients show up looking for work and handouts, Queenie reaches out to a new member of their community. Rita is from the big city but married a local boy and must now adjust to this small town living. But Rita's journalist past clashes with the loyalty of the members of the small town, especially when a body turns up in a ditch and threatens to dig up long buried secrets. 

 This was a backlist novel from Sandra Dallas that I hadn't read yet. I've enjoyed many of her novels so was looking forward to this one also. I found it an ok read dealing with the friendships and secrets of a group of small town women. When Rita shows up with a penchant for digging up secrets, it causes the loyalty of the women to become even tighter but is something that just might blow them up. Queenie struggles in her loyalty to long standing friendships set against welcoming an exciting new comer with different ideas. While I did find the exploration of small town friendships in the setting of the hardship of the '30's interesting and while I did like the ending, I did find parts of the story really dragged for me. The author did do a great job of describing small town and farm living during this time as she did the difficulty for women at this time. But the sheer number of characters made it so that I was never really connected with any of them and was at times confused. I was glad I did read it as the Dirty 30's is a draw for me in books as is friendships amongst women in hardship and I do like this author but in the end it was just an average read for me personally.





13. The Nurse's Secret by Amanda Skenandore

Completed:  April 16, 2023

Rating:  9.5/10

Review:  t's 1880's New York city, a time when either you were part of the rich elite or part of the poorest of the poor in the slums. Una Kelley has grown up in the slums, being mentored by a con-woman in charge of a ring of female grifters. She has survived by following a set of rules she has made for herself that she always follows. Una has learned her "job" well over the years, but when an opportunity presents itself to make a little extra cash selling a pair of cufflinks to another "fence" (someone who purchases stolen goods to resell) she decides to take the risk. But when her fence turns up dead at their meeting spot and her fellow thief pins her for the murder, Una is forced to be on the run. Contemplating where to run to, Una comes across an ad for a program to train nurses at the Bellevue Hospital and decides that would be the perfect place to hide in plain sight and maybe after training it will get her into the homes of the rich where she can continue her grifting under cover. But in order to get past the application process Una is going have to pass herself off as someone she is nowhere near being. Unexpectedly she makes it through and is accepted as a nurse trainee in the first nurse's school of it's kind in the country modeled after Florence Nightingale's practices and school in London. At first Una finds it hard to fit in, balking at being ordered around by the doctors and performing menial tasks. When her talkative roommate befriends her and helps her to study, Una starts to find herself actually starting to fit in. But then a person from her past shows up as a patient and Una is terrified of being exposed. When the woman turns up dead Una must choose between protecting herself or trying to find and expose the killer who just might be linked to the murder she is wanted for. Can her rules from the streets protect her here? 

 I really enjoyed this historical fiction/mystery. It's a new to me author and I found her writing style to engage me right from the beginning. The author did a great job of relaying how hard things were for those who lived in the slums and how some had to resort to means they never really wanted to just to survive. It was interesting reading about the very first nurse's school and how different it was for potential nurses back then. They were bound by the prejudices of the day where doctors did not want women in their field, believed them to be unable to handle the demands of the work and basically treated them as servants who were to obey without question their every order, right or wrong. They were held to very high standards right from the application process to graduating. They had to be well-educated, Christian and unmarried which made Una's character so interesting in how she navigated this foreign-to-her world in order to deceive everyone into thinking she was someone she was not. I loved Una's growth as a character through the story. Though I did find the portrayal of the some of the Christians in the story cringe worthy, I am not naive enough not to realize that back in Victorian days, and even today, those attitudes towards the poor do exist. I found the story to be a good page turner keeping me engaged in a point in time about a subject I have not read about before.






14.  Dewey: The Small Town Library Cat Who Touched the World by Vicky Myron (audiobook)

Completed:  April 27, 2023

Rating:  9/10

Review:  How could I not pick up this audiobook with this charming little cat on the cover? What is not appealing about a real life library cat? Dewey is the story of a small kitten found stuffed into the return slot at the public library of Spencer, Iowa. Cold and frostbitten, Dewey managed to survive and win the hearts of the library staff and patrons. He lived at the library for 19 years and saw his "people" through the joys and heartache of small town living. 

 I really enjoyed this audiobook narrated by the author who was the one who found Dewey. It is a charming narrative of not only this sweet cat but of the town itself and the people who live in it. The author tells her own stories of joy, hardship and loss and how Dewey figures into it, but also tells of the gumption, determination and heart of small town Spencer when they are hit hard during economic troubles and how one small cat helps to bring healing and love to the many patrons of the library.





15.  Wish You Were Here by Jodi Picoult

Completed April 30, 2023

Rating: 9.5/10

Review:  Dianne O'Toole is an associate specialist with Sotheby's auction house specializing in art. She is moving up in her career and if she can land a prestigious sale with a high profile client she is looking at a huge promotion. Her personal life is also looking good. Her boyfriend, Finn, is a surgical resident at a New York city hospital, and they have booked a dream trip to Galapagos Islands. Dianne is pretty sure Finn will propose at some point during the trip. Life couldn't be better. But when a virus that was ripping through other parts of the world appears in New York city days before their departure, Finn is told he has to stay to work and help. He encourages Dianne to go on the trip anyway in order to not waste the non-refundable adventure. Against her better judgement, Dianne relents and goes. When Dianne arrives in Galapagos, she finds the island emptying of people frantically trying to get off the island and get home due to rumors of the spreading virus. Against against her better judgement and going out of character, she decides to stay for the adventure. But then the island literally shuts down and the option to leave is no more and she is stuck not knowing the language, running out of money, and with little to no cell service. Completely isolated, she makes a connection with a troubled teenager and her grandmother. Meanwhile back home, Finn is in a battle he never imagined he would face as a doctor. 

 I picked this book up in a Free Little Library after Faith (from Gold in the Clouds ) encouraged me to try one more book from this author after I really, really disliked the only other one I had previously read. And wow, this one really captured me. Dealing with the Covid pandemic, the author, through myriads of interviews with doctors & nurses, covid survivors, and others that covid touched was able to weave a story that kept me glued from beginning to end. She was able to not only capture the fear and craziness of the pandemic but also the effects of the isolation that it caused for many. I was totally engrossed in Finn's side of the story showing the medical professionals point of view as they battled in the trenches trying to get a handle on what was going on. I thought the author was very successful in bringing out their frustration and exhaustion and how it affected them as professionals in the medical field. And then in exploring the effects of isolation that the world had to endure, the author was able to balance the story with the harmful effects of the severe isolation some felt by stranding the character on an island far from home and loved ones. I found it hard to put the book down as my emotions were so engaged seeing all viewpoints of the pandemic story. I also learned a lot about parts of surviving covid that you didn't hear a lot about then or now. Some interesting details in the story. And a twist that left me stunned. The only parts I didn't engage with was some of the Darwinian theory parts. We are left to ask ourselves how has this experience we have all lived through in one fashion or another changed us, personally and as a society? Has it made us better? The book is filled with numerous quotable insights but I loved this quote from the author's notes:

 "When I try to make sense of the past year, it feels to me like the world pressed pause. When we stopped moving, we noticed that the ways we have chosen to validate ourselves are lists of items or experiences we need to have, goals that are monetary or mercenary. Now, I'm wondering why those were ever even goals. We don't need those things to feel whole. We need to wake up in the morning. We need our bodies to function. We need to enjoy a meal. We need a roof over our head. We need to surround ourselves with people we love. We need to take the wins in a much smaller way." 

pg. 317 

 May we always remember this. This book was written in 2021 and I read it in 2023. So a year out of the pandemic, and human being humans, I'm afraid I'm already seeing generally, a reverting back to our old ways and attitudes in a lot of areas, chasing those same old goals. And that makes me sad. So I ended up loving this story. Will it make me pick up another book by this author? Probably at some point.





16.  All My Knotted Up Life: A Memoir by Beth Moore

Completed May 21, 2023

Rating:  9.5/10

Review:  I am so behind on my book reviews so there's going to be a few in the coming weeks. Don't know how I let myself get so behind but here I am. I understand if it's not your thing, but I still want it reviewed for my own record of what I've read and thought about the books. I think most of us in the Christian circles have at least heard of Beth Moore, if not taken at least one of her many courses or book studies for women on spiritual growth in Christ, or read one of her books or watched her teach on tv. She is an author, speaker and founder of Living Proof Ministries. Many know the public side of her but not many know her history or her private life. In her memoir she vulnerably opens up about her not easy childhood with her father's abuse and her mother's battle with mental illness. She shares about how God led her to ministry and the beginnings of Living Proof Ministries and her very public break with the Southern Baptist Convention in 2018. She with great respect for her husband discusses living with a spouse who suffers from PTSD and bipolar disorder. And through it all she reminds us of the thread of God's faithfulness throughout. 

 I really enjoyed listening to Beth's memoir and I have to say I have greater respect for her knowing that her life has not necessarily been an easy one. But in the hardness she has drawn closer to Christ and it makes her sharing of God's faithfulness and power even more relatable knowing she has been through hard things and God has seen her through. She is honest and raw about the situations and about her own flaws, but also is God honoring offering hope to the reader. I liked that she narrated her own story so you really got her emotions through the telling. The only thing that took slightly away from the audiobook for me was the childhood part was narrated with her childhood Arkansas accent which I found at times hard to understand. But when she switched to her Texas accent which she speaks with now, I found it easier listening.





17.  Independence by Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni

Completed:  May 22, 2023

Rating:  10/10

Review:   Three sisters: Priya, Deepa and Jamini, live in 1940's Bengal, India. Their father is a well respected doctor who has a clinic in Calcutta and he is known for helping the poor. Sometimes the girl's mother resents the fact that they are not living the well to do life of a doctor who charges normal fees but Nabakumar has a heart for those who are suffering. The sisters are as different as sisters can be. Priya is smart and driven to become a doctor even though in her culture and time it is an uphill climb. It is assumed that she will marry her childhood love, Amit. Deepa just want to be married and have a family. But when she meets and falls in love with a Muslim man her life will take turns she never could have imagined. Can her love of this man be enough for the losses of culture, family, community and way of life that will come if she chooses him? Jamini, is the youngest, has a small handicap, but is dedicated to family and helps her mother make quilts to sell. She longs to be loved but doesn't hold out a lot of hope to be married because of her physical limitations. She holds a secret very close to her heart that she cannot let be known. Life changes for everyone when India experiences violent uprisings as they try to gain independence. The girls once peaceful home is no longer a refuge when the fighting starts to encroach. And they must all make decisions they never thought they would face. When the partition of India happens where India went to the Hindus and Pakistan to the Muslims they become separated, not just in distance but in paths for their lives. 

 I am always drawn into stories set in India and this historical novel didn't disappoint. It captured me from the beginning and was interesting right until the end. Set in the time of India's fight for independence and the resulting dividing of the Hindus and Muslims, the story had me learning of something I knew not a lot about. The sister's relationships was relatable and moving as they had to navigate their changing world which was at points exciting and filled with hope and other times scary and devastating. Their love of family, their courage shown in different ways was wonderful to read but their characters were also very real in their flaws and family drama. The only thing I didn't like had nothing to do with the story and more of a style of punctuation where the author (or editor?) chose not to put commas into lists of things. For example from page 164: "Tonight will bring the moment so many, including her father, had longed for fought for died for." At first I thought it was editing error but it happened numerous times through out the story so I realized it was a chosen style in the book. In spite of that, once I got used to it, the story wasn't hindered by it all.




18.  I Can Only Imagine by Bart Mallard (audiobook)

Completed:  June 5, 2024

Rating:  10/10

Review:  When it came out, I had watched the movie based on this book, but knowing how a movie can never have in it the details a book written in the author's voice has and that to make a movie some things must be added, enhanced or decreased in order to keep a viewing audience interested I wanted to actually read the book. When I saw the library had it on audio through their app, I jumped on it. Bart Millard wrote the song I Can Only Imagine and never could he imagine the song would not only go on to become the bestselling single in the history of Christian music but that it would cross over into secular radio stations and touch millions of more people. It was written out of the deep pain of his life having an abusive, alcoholic father who was transformed when God touched his life. Bart's hard childhood that was made harder when his Mother left the family is told in heartbreaking detail but so is the beautiful story of redemption and restoration of a broken family. We are taken into the pain and uncertainty of his childhood raised by an alcoholic father who trying to drown his own pain, to how he became involved in singing and how the multi platinum selling band Mercy Me was formed and came to success after many fails. It is a gripping story that had me in tears, both happy and sad, in many parts. Glad I read the book as it does give so much more detail than the movie was able to. And because Bart narrated it himself it really brings out the true emotion in the telling of the story.





19.  The Book Woman's Daughter by Kim Michele Richardson

Completed:  June 27, 2023

Rating:  9/10

Review:  In the sequel to The Book Woman of Troublesome Creek Honey Lovett, the daughter of Cussy Mary, the famed blue skinned pack horse librarian of Troublesome Creek, has lived her life in hiding with her mother and father. Because her father was white and her mother blue skinned, their marriage was considered against the law. But when the law catches up with them and her mom and dad are imprisoned for miscegenation, Honey flees to avoid being sent to children's labor camp. Fleeing back to where her mother grew up, Honey gets a library pack horse job herself and delivers books deep into the Appalachian mountains to the poorest of poor. Hoping to prove that she can survive on her own at 16 and look out for herself, she is planning on applying to become emancipated from her beloved family in order to avoid child services and the labor camp. On arriving, Honey is befriended by a young woman who is the first woman to work in the fire towers in the area. But being friends can also mean danger as there are those who resent a woman taking that job from the men of the area. Honey will have to be strong in her determination to make it work.  

I enjoyed this continuation of the story. Honey also has the blue skinned gene from her mother though it is not as obvious as it was with Mary. She can hide it quite well. Even though the library pack horse program has been running for awhile now, Honey still finds resistance to the program. She faces challenge after challenge both in delivering the books that she knows will bring freedom and learning to the poor of the area, but also in her daily survival. Her friendship with Pearl was endearing as they supported one another. A few more layers of different kinds of prejudices that women of the time faced were added in Pearl's character with her fire tower look out job and that of Bonnie who had to take a mining job for her family to survive after her husband died were very interesting. Loved the exploration of what these courageous women all faced in their time.









20.  When I Lay My Isaac Down by Carol Kent (audiobook)  

Completed:  June 29, 2023

Rating:  9.5/10









21.  No Two Persons by Erica Bauermeister

Completed:  July 9/2023

Rating:  10/10

Review:  Alice has always wanted to be a writer from the time she was little. In college her stories, though good, are safe. Her professor and mentor, Professor Roberts, recognizes her talent and encourages her to step out of her comfort zone and write the gripping story he knows she has within her. When a devastating event happens in her life, Alice is finally able to step beyond the safety and comfort of her former writings and writes right out of her heart. But after sending it to lists of publishers and after rejection after rejection, Alice gives it one more shot and sends it to the publisher whom her professor recommends. As her story finds its way into the hands of readers, no one can predict how her words can change the course of the lives of those who read them.

 I loved this book. Though I must admit it took a little to get into, the first chapter was 32 pages long and I'm a short chapter kind of gal, but once it got rolling I couldn't put it down. It starts with the quote:

 "No two persons ever read the same book, or saw the same picture" 

The Writings of Madame Swetchine 1860

 

 The story then goes on to show just how a good story can do that. Each chapter is like a story unto itself about a person who the book makes itself to and how the story affects them and changes the way they look at their lives. I was drawn into each character who were as different from each other as they could be and how Alice's story touched each of them in a totally different way. The book is definitely character driven and the author was able to take nine very different characters and their stories and weave them together into a lovely story that comes full circle and that any book lover would understand and relate to. The premise is original and it totally drew in my emotions. And bonus, parts were set in Canada which as a Canadian reader I loved. 

 "I think each story has it's own life. In the beginning, it lives in the writer's mind, and it grows and changes while it's there. Changes the writer, too, I'd bet....At some point it's written down and that's the book the readers hold in their hands. But the story isn't done, because it goes on to live in the readers' minds, in a way that's particular to each of them. We're all caretakers of the stories, Alice. Writers are just the lucky ones that get to know them first". 

 "Professor Roberts" in No Two Persons by Erica Bauermeister pg 31





22. Things I Wish I Told My Mother by Susan Patterson and Susan Dilallo with James Patterson

Completed:  July 12, 2023

Rating:  9.5/10

Review: Laurie is an advertising executive who has just landed a career changing account when her mother, the very professional, very put together perfectionist Doctor Liz, calls her from the ER saying she has admitted herself. Upon learning that Dr. Liz may have suffered a mild heart attack, Laurie decides to take her mother on a dream vacation to try to mend the rifts between them. Laurie has always felt her mother wasn't there for her and that she could never live up to her mother's expectations but is hopeful that this vacation is what they both need. But right from the get go the same old tensions arise. Laurie wants to take her mother to Norway, the country from which Dr. Liz is from but Laurie has never been to, but Dr. Liz wants Paris. Trouble is Paris is where Laurie and her ex-husband spent their honeymoon and there is too many memories there. So they compromise and the itinerary is set for both countries. Both ladies have memories and secrets from their lives in the perspective countries that they have never shared with each other. It will take a lot to step out and get past their own discomforts and the memories they bring andshare them in order to draw closer as mother and daughter. 

 I thoroughly enjoyed this mother/daughter dysfunctional relationship story. I felt it had heart, some humor, some emotional parts that really drew me in to their relationship and that made it relatable and a twist that I was not expecting at all. It's an easy and quick read and I finished it just over a day, it was hard to put down for me.  There was one relationship in the story that I wondered if it was necessary to move the story along,  but other than that I thought it was a fun summer read with some depth.



23.  The Book Of Summers by Emylia Hall

 Completed:  July 27, 2023

Rating:  8.5/10

Review:  Beth lives with her straight-laced, quiet British father and her adventurous Hungarian mother in England. Her Mom, Marika, has always wanted to return for a visit to her beloved Hungary so when Beth turns 9 they set off on a road trip for a much anticipated vacation. But memories of beautiful Balaton Lake turn sour when her mom and dad separate while there and Beth and her Dad return to England leaving her Mom behind in Hungary. Beth's young life changes drastically without her vivacious mother there to contrast her father's now very somber disposition. When Marika, requests to have Beth visit for the summer it is with much trepidation that her father agrees. So begins the first of 7 summers Beth spends in the idyllic countryside of Hungary with Marika (which is what her mother wants to be called). The year Beth turns 16, when she is pushing her boundaries, something happens that causes an estrangement with her mother and she never again returns to Hungary to visit. Years later, her Dad shows up at her door, nervously bringing a package from Hungary. Though angry that her Dad would even bring it over, Beth eventually succumbs to the curiosity and opens it. Inside she finds a letter that her Marika has passed away and a scrapbook entitled the Book of Summers. As she turns through the pages, in spite of herself, Beth is taken back to her good memories of her childhood summers spent in the rural countryside of Hungary. 

 I've been wanting to read this book for a long time, first because the cover is gorgeous and second, being of Hungarian background, I have never come across a book set in Hungary. The author's lovely descriptions brought back my own memories of lovely Hungary from the one summer I spent there visiting relatives. The lifestyle, foods, scenery and Hungarian personalities described were wonderfully spot on. The story is a coming of age story of a young girl finding herself dealing with not only the break up of her family but also of the tension of being shuffled back and forth between homes set in different countries. It is not a fast paced book by any means and the author takes her time laying out the intricacies of the relationships. The story starts when Beth is grown and receives the visit from her father and then backtracks as she is thrown into the memories of her childhood summers with her mother as she looks through the book culminating in her decision to never return. The characters and their emotions and actions are realistic. The tension was there through the whole story as I wondered what led to the estrangement of mother and daughter. I was drawn into the story though at times it was a tad slow. But worth the push to get past those parts.






24.  June Bug by Chris Fabry

Completed:  August 12, 2023

Rating:  8.5/10









25.  Only the Beautiful by Susan Meissner

Completed:  August 16, 2023

Rating:  10/10

Review:  Sixteen year old Roseanne grew up living on a vineyard in California in the '30's. Her father was the Calvert's vinedresser . When her parents die in an accident, Truman and Celine Calvert reluctantly take her in to be her guardians but Celine puts her to work as the house maid with the thought that it would train her to eventually be able to find work. While Rosie is grateful to have a home, she finds herself very lonely, especially as she also has a secret she promised her mom she would never share. Rosie has an ability to see colors when she hears sounds (synesthesia). But in her grief and inexperience when the Calvert's son befriends her Rosie shares her secret with him. As most secrets do, Rosie's secret eventually comes out and when she finds herself underage, unmarried and pregnant, Celine banishes her and turns her over the the state. Leaving with only a small bag containing her clothes and an amaryllis plant that Truman Calvert's sister, Helen, once gave her to give her hope, Rose finds herself not at a home for unwed mothers but an institution for the mentally insane where her unique ability is not understood or known and she is forced to endure therapy to try and stop the colors. Thinking once she has the baby she can leave and start a new life Rosie is devastated to learn that her baby will be taken from her and adopted out and she will have a procedure done that will prevent her from bringing anymore children into the world with her abnormality. Meanwhile Helen Calvert is experiencing firsthand Hitler's own way of purifying his race as the family she nannies for in Vienna has their disabled daughter ripped away and taken to a special school. After many efforts to try and get the child back, Helen returns to the U.S. heartbroken and guilt ridden. When she discovers that Rosie was sent away under the circumstances she was, she determines that she will find her. Much to her horror, she discovers similar circumstances happening right in America that she experienced while in Europe. 

 First off the cover is absolutely gorgeous. Second this story was so good. It is told in two parts. The first half of the book is Rosie's story and the second half is Helen's and then the author brings the threads together in the end. The book is written in a unique way in each story where it goes back and forth between past and present. The author does it well and I was never confused as to what was happening. Prepare yourself to have your heart broken, I cried in several parts and felt all the emotions throughout. The story is sad as it deals with some very difficult subjects and horrors that happened both in America and WWII and the author very adeptly links the two together drawing parallels to make the reader think. Rosie and Helen's stories are one of loss and sorrow, grief and horror, but also deep love and courage in the midst of the unthinkable. In dealing with some very hard subjects the author was able to get ideas across without going into graphic details which I very much appreciated. She drew me into the lives, thoughts and emotions of her characters and it was hard to put the book down.

Trigger warning for the rape of a minor




26.  In This Moment by Gabrielle Meyer

Completed:  September 17, 2023

Rating:  10/10

Review:










27.  So Help Me God by Mike Pence (audiobook)

Completed:  September 5, 2023

Rating:  9/10

Review:









28.  The Edge of Belonging by Amanda Cox

Completed:  October 10, 2023

Rating:  9/10

Review:









29.  The Love Stories of the Bible Speak by Shannon Bream (audiobook)

Completed:  October 21, 2023

Rating:  10/10

Review:  






30.  Not by Sight by Kathy Herman

Completed:  October 26, 2023

Rating:  8/10

Review:  Five years ago Abby Cummings family was devastated when her father and 2 year old sister went missing. No clue was found as to what happened to them and the family struggles to move on. Each handles it in their own way. Abby, with her grandfather's support, has drawn closer in relationship to the Lord. She holds out in faith that her father and sister are still alive somewhere. This has led to a couple of instances where Abby thinks she has seen a little girl that could be Riley Jo. Neither time proved correct so when she once again sees a young girl she's never seen before in her town that she thinks might look exactly as Riley Jo would look at age 7 she snaps a picture. No one takes her seriously because of the former false alarms except her best friend Jay. When Abby starts asking questions downtown, it worries her mother who through the ordeal has lost her faith, but she relents to Abby's determination to pursue finding out who the girl is if Abby agrees to back to counseling. But when Abby receives some disturbing phone call warnings to let it go from a stranger, she knows she is on the right track pursuing this whether the girl is Riley Jo or not. As Abby and Jay pursue finding out who this man and young girl is some horrible secrets will come to light that they might not be prepared to face.  

I have read several of this author's series in the past and loved them. This is the 1st installment of her latest series, Ozark Mountain Trilogy. It was a good mystery filled with tension and I loved the exploration of what such devastating circumstances can do to a family's faith and how they approach life afterwards. How each family member coped and worked out their grief was very true to life. And because Abby and her mom were on opposite ends of the spectrum in how they coped there was also the tension between the two added to the story. However, I did find some of the conversations throughout the story a bit unrealistic and maybe forced I think is the way I would describe it? The tension and suspense were carried throughout the story and there were some good twists and turns right until the end.




31.  You'll Get Through This by Max Lucado

Completed:  October 27, 2023

Rating:  10/10

Review: 








32.  The Complicated Heart by Sarah Mae

Completed:  November 5, 2023

Rating:  9.5/10

Review:  "People always ask me how I forgave my mother. How do you forgive someone who wounded you so deeply, who carelessly brushed aside your pain, who caused such destruction? And even more specifically, how do you forgive them when your wounds are still open, when they show no remorse, when you are so dang tangled up with them you're not sure how on earth to get untangled?"

                                                         Sarah Mae: The Complicated Heart pg xiii 

 Sarah grew up with a very complicated childhood. Her parents divorced when she was young and she went to live with her father. But when she was 14 she decided she wanted to be with her mother. But her relationship with her mom was very toxic. Her mother was an alcoholic, drinking from sun up to sun down, going from husband to husband, and was verbally and emotionally very abusive. I thought this was more of a non-fiction 'teaching" type of book when I first got it but it actually is more memoir with wisdom inserted throughout. This is Sarah's story of not just sorrow and hardship brought about by not only her mother but also of all her wrong choices made out her desperate attempts at trying find acceptance in any way through her skewed understanding of love even as she worked trying to win her mother's love, but it is also a story of redemption that only God can bring about in a person's life. It is not an easy read and Sarah does give trigger warnings in the beginning for many areas of trauma and cautions the reader to use discernment when reading, listing a few actions to take as you work your way through her book. Her journey was not an easy one, very heartbreaking in every respect, but such a very powerful story of redemption that it needs to be heard. I found the book very insightful not just from her perspective but because she inserts entries from her mother's journal at the end of each chapter, you also hear her mother's voice. You get a glimpse of the mindset of an alcoholic and what got her mother there and the internal struggles she had while Sarah was growing up. The reader gains understanding into so many areas of how addiction works and why grace is so important. This book is for those who feel they and their situation are beyond hope, it extends hope to those buried in their toxic mother/daughter relationships, buried in pain and trauma, buried in the results of wrong decisions made from rejection and addiction. It's for all the hurt daughters who don't think their hearts will ever heal. The last chapters deal with steps the reader can take on their own journey to find light and hope in the deepest darkness. 

 "Dysfunction does not have to be your legacy. You may have been born into it, married into it, or created it yourself, but it does not have to be your destiny or your identity. Victory is always on the table!" 

                                                                                            Sarah Mae: The Complicated Heart pg xv 

 Thank you to Sarah Mae for sending me this book. It opened my heart and mind in so many ways. If you want to check it out her blog it is here. She sent me the book no strings attached a while ago and I think I read it in perfect timing. She did not ask for a review or a link to her sight but I'm doing it because I think her story is important to a hurting women..





33.  Falling by T.J. Newman

Completed:  November 8, 2023

Rating:  8/10

Review:  









34.  No Greater Love by A.W. Tozer

Completed:  November 18, 2023

Rating:  10/10

Review:










35.  Unveiling Grace: The story of how we found our way out of the Mormon Church by Lynn K. Wilder

Completed:  November 30, 2023

Rating: 10/10








36.  Code Name Edelweiss by Stephanie Landsem

Completed:  December 17, 2023

Rating:  9.5/10

Review:  As a single parent, Liesl Weiss is the only financial supporter in her household which includes herself, her 2 children, her mother and her unhelpful brother. When she loses her secretarial job at MGM studios she desperately searches for another. When she sees a job opening for a secretary for a local lawyer, Liesel grabs the info going straight over to Leon Lewis' office. Unfortunately Leon Lewis doesn't want to offer her the secretarial job in his office but instead, going with his instincts, offers Liesel as job to spy on a organization called Friends of New Germany and her own neighborhood of Germantown for his spy network. With her blonde Aryan looks Liesel would fit right in. As a Jewish lawyer, Lewis has watched Adolf Hitler rise to power and now sees an increasing amount of anti-semitism right in his city of Los Angeles. He believes there are plans in the works to take over Hollywood for the use of the Nazi's propoganda in America. Of German descent, Liesel can't quite believe any of the rumors she has heard concerning Germany's new chancellor and especially does not believe what Leon Lewis is suggesting and that this New Friends of Germany would have anything to do with the Nazis. But desperate to provide for her family she takes the job which sets her into the offices of the organization. As Liesl starts to spend her days listening and observing, in horror she starts to realize what Leon Lewis feared most is not a rumor at all but a well executed plan already under way. Now realizing the danger she is in, Liesl must decide whether she is up for being a part of stopping this dangerous group. This was a great read. 

 Based on true events, it is the story of the work of Leon Lewis, a lone Jewish lawyer, and a handful of amateur spies which he set in place that discovered the plans of the Nazi Germany to take over the control of Hollywood and rid Los Angeles of the Jewish community. I've never read this aspect of pre-WWII and it was very interesting. The characters were well written and the book was a page turner as events are rushing towards the de Angriff (the attack). I loved the character development of Liesl, who at the start of the book was a confused and hurt woman just trying to make it through each day, one who was trying to fit into her German neighborhood and do right by her children, who at first took the job because she had to provide for her family but who became a courageous woman of conviction who moved beyond her fears to do what she had to do to stop the hatred she finally saw. In asking herself "If not me, then who? And if not now, when?" she took on a role that she never imagined herself to be in. The story challenges us to do the same, if not in quite the same way as Liesl, but in however we can.



37.  Skipping Christmas by John Grisham

Completed:  December 26, 2023

Rating:  7.5/10

Review:  









38.  Always, in December by Emily Stone

Completed:  December 31, 2023

Rating:  8.5/10