1. Relentless: Unleashing a Life of Purpose, Grit and Faith by John Tesh
Completed: January 9, 2021
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
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: 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
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
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
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