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. 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.

15.  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.

16.  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.

17.  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.  


18.  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.  

19.  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.

20.  Don't Give Up by Kyle Idleman

Completed: June 19, 2021

Rating:  9/10

21.  A Hundred Flowers by Gail Tsukiyama

Completed:  July 19, 2021

Rating:  8/10

22. The Scent Keeper by Erica Bauermeister

Completed:  August 2, 2021

Rating:  9/10

Tuesday, January 5, 2021

2021 Reading Challenge

 This year, 2021, I am changing up my reading challenge a bit.  Because confession time:  I am a book hoarder!  I cannot seem to stop myself.  

 Please don't judge.  I haven't necessarily bought all these books, though some I have.  The dawn of the Little Library in my community has certainly added to the height of these piles.   I'm notorious for taking books I no longer want to Little Libraries but in turn I also kept finding books I wanted to read so my piles never actually went down, they increased.  Yikes!   BookOutlet has certainly added to my addiction as their books are so super inexpensive I just can't help treating myself at times.  Some of these are gifts or gift card purchases.   I'm also notorious for still going to the library on top of having all these books to read.  I can't help it, it's a de-stress thing for me but invariably I always find something to bring home to read.  So in the end I am bringing in way more than I actually read at any one time. 

So I've joined a challenge I found on a Youtube channel, Chantel at An Intentional Life.    It's called the "Read Your Bookshelf Challenge".  Each month there is a prompt and you pick a book that fits the prompt from your own shelves.  I have decided that I am going to take on the challenge by not just finding one book within the prompt but I'm going to pull all my books that fit that particular prompt and call it my possibility pile for the month and read as many as I can from it.  That way instead of being stuck with having to read a book I picked earlier but now am not feeling it, I'll have freedom to "mood read" within the challenge.  Sounds fun to me.  Here is Chantel's prompts for the year:

January ~ A book with a "home-ish" word in the title such as "house", "home", "room", "mirror", "kitchen", "garden" etc.  Feel free to interpret this one how you like

February ~ A book with red on the cover or spine

March ~ A book recommended by a friend

April ~ A book with 5+ words in the title

May ~ A book you should have read in high school

June ~ A book with an animal on the cover

July ~ Title that starts with the 1st letter of your first name

August ~ Book in a series

September ~ A translated book

October ~ A book set in a different country than where you live

November ~ A book with a night scene on the cover

December ~ A book with a winter element on the cover

I am going to really focus on getting this embarrassing pile down.   Hopefully I'll get some of these books read and out of my closet and house.  I am going to try and avoid the Little Libraries for awhile to try and not bring anymore books in. And I'm going to try and not use the library for awhile which is easy at the moment because it's curbside only.  Though I do have a couple of previously put on hold titles I will have to add when they come in. 

I also like the idea with this challenge that it is monthly.  The other challenges I've done have been kind of seasonal so I was picking books for 3 months worth of reading.  But last year I found this got overwhelming and I didn't always feel like reading some of my original choices as it got towards the end of the time frame.  And I ended up changing some of titles midway thru the season because other more interesting things came up or library books I'd put on hold came in.  So I think this monthly time frame will give me more freedom.  I also think by having a possibility pile instead of a for certain pile it will be more fun and I won't feel bad if the named titles don't get read.  It's a shift in mind set for me.  

Sunday, November 8, 2020

October - December 2020 Reading List

 Well, this quarter there will be some carry over's from the last quarter, such as all the library books that got put on back burner due to closures from COVID.  It's also Non-fiction November (NF) which I like to participate in because it helps knock off my non-fiction books and I enjoy doing it.  And then there is Christmas and there are some Christmas themed books I want to get out of my piles too.  And all these added into my goals that I set at the beginning of the year.  So who knows where this will go.  But here are my probable choices:

GOAL:  One book a month from my longest owned and unread books:

          -The Invention of Wings by Sue Monk Kidd (carried over from last quarter)
          -The Scroll by Grant R. Jeffrey & Alton L. Gansky
           -Here's The Story by Maureen McCormick (NF)

GOAL:  2 Books per month from my own more recent unread piles:

          -Dangerous Depths (#3 Aloha Reef Series) by Colleen Coble
          -Midnight Sea (#4 Aloha Reef Series) by Colleen Coble
          -The Christmas Train by David Baldacci
          -Keeping My Sister's Secrets by Beezy Marsh (NF)
          -All My Mother's Secrets by Beezy Marsh (NF)
          -The Complicated Heart by Sarah Mae (NF)
          -Hillbilly Elegy by J.D. Vance (NF)
          -EXTRAS: -What Happens At Christmas by Victoria Alexander
                              -Christmas Camp by Karen Schaler
                              -All I Have to Give by Melody Carlson

GOAL:  1 Book per month from my Library TBR

          -The Engineer's Wife by Tracey Enerson Wood
          -The Woman in Cabin 10 by Ruth Ware (carried over) DNF'd
          -The Two Lives of Lydia Bird by Josie Silver

GOAL:  Finish 1 audiobook
          -Risen by Angela Hunt

GOAL:  1 Novella from Lineage of Grace Series  (personal study)
          -Unspoken (Bathsheba) by Francine Rivers


Sunday, July 12, 2020

Quarter 2 Wrap UP and July - September Reading List

Well Quarter 2 didn't go quite as planned for reading for me.  I just think too much stress during isolation and then the stress of everything to relearn and do for reopening the dayhome just made it so that I did a lot more playing of computer games than I did reading.  Out of 16 books I had chosen (a couple of which rolled over from the 1st quarter), I only read 8.  I DNF'd one.  I just couldn't get into the writing style.  Out of 4 from the library I only read one.  It was ok and I just didn't feel like finishing the series.  Out of the ones I did read most were good, with one a disappointment and 2 were excellent surprises.  My favorites of the quarter were "The Dream Daughter" by Diann Chamberlain and "Unshaken" by Francine Rivers.

Hopefully, this 3rd quarter will bring more reading motivation!  You can find my April - June Reading List here.  I have highlighted the ones I finished.  And all reviews are here.  

So for my July - September Reading List things have changed a bit as review books are no longer available t me.  A fact that breaks my heart!  But it's not like I don't have other choices!  I have chosen the following: 

GOAL:  1 book a month from my box of longest owned and unread books :

          -Never Change by Elizabeth Berg (carried over)
          -The Scroll by Grant R Jeffrey and Alton L. Gansky
           -Outside the Lines by Amy Hatvany   DNF'D
          -The Invention of Wings by Sue Monk Kidd          

GOAL:  2 books per month from my own more recent piles:

           -The Secret Wife by Gil Paul (carried over)
           -The Shape of Family by Shilpi Somaya Gowda (carried over)
          -Distant Echoes (Aloha Reef Series) by Colleen Coble
          -Black Sands (Aloha Reef Series) by Colleen Coble
          -Dangerous Depths (Aloha Reef Series) by Colleen Coble
          -Midnight Sea (Aloha Reef Series) by Colleen Coble

GOAL:  1 book per month from library TBR:

          -A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles
          -Day After Night  by Anita Diamont
          -The Woman in Cabin 10 by Ruth Ware

GOAL:  1 novella each month from Lineage of Grace series for personal devotion:

          -Unspoken (Bathsheba) by Francine Rivers (carried over)
          -Unafraid (Mary) by Francine Rivers (carried over)

GOAL:  finish 1 audiobook
          - Liturgy of the Ordinary-Sacred Practices in Everyday Life by Tish Harrison Warren 

      Bonus:  Also finished Unglued by Lisa TerKeurst

Fingers crossed I can whip thru these this summer!