Wednesday, January 26, 2011

2011 Completed Books and Reviews

Another new year.  And lots of great books on my want to read lists.  Last year was awesome on the reading front.  My goal was 32 and I finished 42.  I seemed to have some really great reads that just kept me rolling.  Found some new authors that I love, too.  And I even completed quite a few non-fictions which is a real accomplishment for me.  So this year, I'm going to try to push past that achievement yet a bit more.  I'm going to set my goal at 45 for the year.  Hopefully, I'll surpass it again this year.

1.  "Under the Overpass" by Mike Yankoski

Completed:  January 6, 2011

Rating:  10/10

ReviewWhile in college, living a very comfortable upper middle class life, the author feels in his heart to go and experience what it is like to live amongst the homeless, not as a mission worker but as a homeless person. Giving up everything for 5 months, he and another friend embark on a life of having no home, not knowing where their next meal will come from, facing the fear and challenge of survival of living on the streets of 5 cities in America.

The book is definitely one of those true stories that will change your life and mind set, that is, if you let it.  I was drawn in from the first chapter to the last and really liked the epilogue where the author goes over more of what he has learned after being away from the experience for five years.   To read this book and not be challenged in your Christian walk, in the way you think about and view the homeless, and how you respond both as an individual and as God's church, is next to impossible.  I was very challenged from the very beginning even as I read how a young college student, living very comfortably, felt the call of God to go live amongst the homeless and become homeless himself giving everything up for 5 months.  Would I be obedient to such a call?  As I read how he encountered the reactions both good and bad  of the very place where hurting people are supposed to find love, I felt myself searching my own mind and heart to my reactions and thinking when it comes to the homeless of my own city.  As I read the people's stories whom the pair encountered, I was challenged to account for my own assumptions.  

I highly recommend a read of this book at least once, whether you are a professing Christian or not. A deep look into a life and culture that most of us will never experience first hand but should be able to somehow in some way touch will give us a bit of knowledge and understanding and thereby remove some of the fear and anxiety of coming across the homeless. Be prepared to be challenged and to think and search your own mindset and attitude especially if you are a Christian. 

2.  "A Time to Surrender"  by Sally John & Gary Smalley

Completed: January 24, 2011

Rating:  9/10

Review:  Book 3 in the Safe Harbour series, A Time to Surrender delves further into the life of older sister Jenna.  Jenna is struggling with life as her husband, a marine, has been sent overseas to serve in a volatile area of the world.  To add to her fear and lonliness she is bitter over the fact that he enlisted without discussing it with her first.  When she meets a fellow teacher in the school who's husband is also overseas they start to form a tentative friendship, one Jenna doesn't really want.  But things change when while attending a funeral of a soldier, protesters plant an small bomb at the church and Jenna and her friend are injured.  And while her lonliness and bitterness build, her boss, the "Ice Man" principle, steps in to try to encourage her but lines start to become blurred.

Also introduced is a new character, Skylar, whom the Grandmother hires to cook at the family's retreat centre.  But Skylar comes with mystery, and just when Danny, the suspicious brother begins to warm up to her it looks like she may know more about the explosion at the church than she lets on.

I really enjoyed this read.  I was really drawn into Jenna's story and it's look at fear, resentment, failure, true surrender and forgivenss.  Watching her come to faith in a good God was believeable and well written for her circumstances.  I liked that the author did not sugar coat her failures or made her a "perfect" character but one with lots of flaws and attitudes.  There have been negative reviews concerning the limited amount of background on the characters but I think that if a reader wants to know the total backgrounds of characters they need to read the whole series.  It is impossible to give thorough information like that in a series such as this that has lots of charcters, focusing on a couple of them and their story lines in each addition to the series. Some characters must take a back seat and their stories given a skeleton review in order to build the new ones.   I read the first two books so I had no problem sorting out background info.  I found it built nicely upon the foundations already made.   All in all I'm really enjoying this series and hope this is not the last of it.

Book 1 in the Safe Harbor Series, "A Time to Mend" is reviewed here. Scroll to #17.

Book 2 "A Time to Gather" is reviewed here.  Scroll to #21.

3.  Lady in Waiting by Susan Meissner

Completed:  February 8, 2011

Rating:  9.5/10

Review: Lady Jane Grey is a young girl of 11 when Lucy Day becomes her dressmaker. Not living at home, she is basically a political & religious pawn as her parents negotiate her engagement and marriage. Receiving a ring from the one she truly loves, she must hide it as she is not to follow her heart. When the manipulations of those around her start to fall apart, she finally has the opportunity to decide her own fate. Four hundred years later Jane Lindsay, an antique shop owner, receives a shipment of boxes bought at an English jumble sale by her London contact. Inside a locked box is a centuries old Protestant prayer book and within it's fragile binding Jane finds an old ring with a latin inscription and the name Jane. As her own life is unraveling she begins a pursuit to find the original Jane of the ring. Soon the two Jane's stories pick up some similarities even though they lived centuries apart and the contemporary Jane must also take a look at her own life and choose her own fate. 

 Susan Meissner again writes the kind of story I could not put down. I was quickly caught up in both trails of the story and I thought she wove the two together seamlessly connecting the ring in both women's worlds. I was never confused between the two and never forgot details of one while the other was being told. I thought it was a wonderful read that would appeal to both the historical fiction fans and the contemporary fiction fans. 

4.  "Her Daughter's Dream" by Francine Rivers

Completed:  February 17, 2011

Rating:  9.5/10

A story of reconcilliation.   It spans the time between the 1950's to present day and covers essentially the lives of 3 women. It really delves into the hopes and dreams of three mothers for their daughters but it also looks at how we communicate or not communicate that love and the effects it has on the next generation.   It is emotional and I found myself crying at times for the different characters and what they were going through and anger at the reactions and attitudes that appeared in certain characters.  I must admit there was a character that I just wanted to shake at times.  LOL.  And that is a good thing because it means the author was able to really draw me into the story.  Because of the extent and hugeness of the story at some points it seemed to moved rather quickly and jumped with just passing mentions over the years but I think it was necessary to do it that way otherwise the book would have been even longer.  Focus and time was spent on those parts of the women's stories that really affected their lives while smaller details were kept with passing mentions.

A very standout part really spoke to me.  The reaction of the church to Carolyn when she returns home really spoke to my heart about how we as a church treat those "prodigal children".  The discussion guide at the end of the story asked very thought provoking questions.    This series was well worth the read!

5.  "A Billion Reasons Why" by Kristin Bellerbeck

Completed:  February 27, 2011

Rating:  5/10

Review: go here

6.  "New Mercies" by Sandra Dallas

Completed:  March 11, 2011

Rating:  7/10


7.  "Feed Your Pet Right - the authoritative Guide to Feeding you Dog and Cat" by Marion Nestle and Malden C. Nesheim

Completed:  March 21, 2011 (Spring Reading Thing)

Rating:  8/10

Review:  This is a very comprehensive look at pet food and what to feed your pet.  It starts with the history of pets, what we've fed them in the past, delves into the pet food industry, and who regulates what, and takes a look at ethical questions regarding research and the marketing of pet foods to consumers.  Considering the topic and complicated nature of the industry, this book was fairly easy to read, definitely written for the average pet owner.  Some of the chapters on the government agencies were harder to plug through just because of the fact that how interesting can that topic be?   But I picked up the book because my husband and I think differently about how to feed our puppy and with the pet food scares of the last few years, I thought this would help. There is tons of information in this book and sometimes it is hard to remember and sort it all but at the end of the day it did make me feel better about our decision to feed our pet a mix of commercial and home cooked meals.  I especially liked the last chapter which sort of condensed the whole book with what the authors felt summed up their findings and the recommendations they had for the governing agencies, pet food producers, vets, and pet owners.

8.  "Unlocked" by Karen Kingsbury

Completed:  March 25, 2011 (Spring Reading Thing)

Rating:  9.5/10

Review:  Unlocked is one powerful love story.  But not the kind of mushy gushy love story you first think of.  It's an exploration into autism, a story about bullying, a story about true friendship,  a story about courage, a story about the faith & hope of a mother for her child and it's a story of seeing past how people appear on the outside to find who that person is on the inside.  A story about realizing we are all locked up in some way and so are really no different from one another.

Holden Harris was a beautiful, energetic little boy of three when after a huge series of immunizations he started to change.  Within days he started to withdraw and play alone lining up his cars all by himself, much to the bewilderment of his childhood playmate Ella.  As Ella's family started to pull away from Holden's family and eventually move away, Holden's Mom finds herself facing Holden's diagnosis pretty much by herself.  Out of guilt and not knowing how to handle losing the son he once had, Holden's father takes a job as an Alaskan fisherman in order to make money to finance all of Holden's therapies.

Once in high school, the kids don't get Holden and all his quirky behaviors.  That is until he runs into Ella.  His Ella from childhood.  Noticing that Holden loves the music from the school's drama practices, Ella convinces her teacher to start allowing Holden to sit in on them.  Little did she know that soon she would figure out that this was her childhood best friend and nothing will stop her from helping Holden to experience a miracle.

This story had me enthralled from the beginning as Karen Kingsbury puts a voice to an autistic character.  Having worked with autistic children it was of great interest to me how she would treat it.  Little did I know she would also tread on the high school world of bullying and cliques.  I found she treated Holden's character with sensitivity and let us in to her interpretation of what might be going on in the mind of one child with autism.  While I loved the story, I thought at first it might be wrapped up too nicely but then I read in her letter to readers at the end of the story how this book was actually based on a real person and how music and acceptance helped to unlock his world of autism.  While the author fully acknowledges that some autistic persons are locked away their whole lives, this is a story based on one who wasn't.  It is beautiful and definitely a box of tissues is needed right beside the reader.

If I had one criticism of the book, it would be that I wished when she was talking in Holden's voice within himself the letter's would have been italicized.  Toward the end of the book, sometimes to me, it was unclear whether Holden was actually voicing the words out loud or whether they were still within him.  I had to go back and read the paragraphs again just to settle it with myself in which voice he was speaking.  But that is more of an editorial thing than an author thing or it could have just been me.  And that is the only reason why I gave this book a 9.5 instead of a 10 out of 10.

9.  "Undressing the Moon by t. greenwood

Completed:  April 3, 2011 (Spring Reading Thing)

Rating:  8/10

Review:  Thirty year old Piper Kincaid has cancer and is dying.  All alone except for her childhood best friend, who happened to move back to town just when she needed her, Piper is adrift in memories from her past. Specifically the year she turned 14.  The year that changed her life forever.

This story is beautifully written.  Descriptive and detailed it paints the story of  hurt that runs deep and the consequences of choices that came from trying to bury the deep pain.  I won't lie, I found the story extremely sad, with only sporadic moments of lightening up.  My heart hurt for the main character throughout most of the story as she takes loss after loss in her young life and for what she was going through in her present life.  Even her moments of relief are shadowed with sadness as you, the reader, knows it cannot turn out good.  The moments of inappropiateness between teacher and student were hard to read as they broke my heart and angered me and I found myself really angry for all those characters throughout the story that had a part in heaping such hard burdens upon a young girl's life. The selfishness of the adults blew me away in spite of the fact that they were also hurting.   Because of the fact that I am a Christian and therefore view things through the Christian world view, I was grieved for the unredemptive nature of the story.  If not for the beautiful friendship between Piper and her friend Becca and the brother and sister bond she has with her brother Quinn, it would have been a story that I probably couldn't have finished.  What it did do though, was again bring to mind that there are people doing things in their lives, trying what they can, grasping at what seems good,  to cover deep, deep hurts and just try to make it through the days, and that they could use real love and real friendship.  So because of that reminder, and because of the style of the writing,  I am glad that I read this book and gave it the higher rating I did.

10. " Lazarus Awakening" by Joanna Weaver

Completed:  April 3, 2011 (Spring Reading Thing)

Rating:  9/10

Review:    For many of us, moving the truth of God's love from our heads to our hearts is a lifelong process. As we consider our inadequacies or grieve our shattered dreams, we find it difficult to believe that God cares for us personally. 

Now, in the final installment of her renowned Bethany trilogy, best-selling author Joanna Weaver shows you how to embrace the truth that Jesus loves you apart from anything you accomplish, apart from anything you bring. Just as He called Lazarus forth to new life, Jesus wants to free you to live fully in the light of His love, unbound from the graveclothes of fear, regret, and self-condemnation.

This was my first book to read by this author and I will definitely be reading the other two books in this series (the Bethany Trilogy).  Joanna Weaver takes the story of Lazarus and does an indept study on the idea that Jesus loves us apart from anything we bring to the table, in this book focusing on Lazarus.   From the time Jesus receives the message Lazarus is gravely ill and could He please come, to Jesus tarrying to finally arriving and giving Lazarus the gift of resurrection and life again, the author takes us through lessons that show us that even in the hardest times, God has a plan, and truly loves us and that He can move us from those things that entomb us and keep us in grave clothes to true freedom and living in truth.
Though an indepth study, I found this book easy to read and took many, many notes.  I especially liked the 10 week study in the back that can be used with small groups and the appendixes that teach "who we are in Christ",  "Identifying Strongholds", and "Hints for Unwinding Grave clothes".  If I had one criticism of the book if would be the small sections within each chapter that were intermittently stuck in in a grey blocked area.  While the thoughts and info in them were great to read I find them distracting to the body of the text.  I either had to stop reading the main body or remember to go back and read them.  But that is just a personal preference and I definitely would recommend this to anyone struggling to know God's love for them or for anyone wanting to help those who struggle.

11.  "God's Guest List - Welcoming Those Who Influence Our Lives" by Debbie Macomber

Completed:  April 5, 2011 (Spring Reading Thing)

Rating:  8.5/10

Review:  In this non-fiction book, Debbie Macomber encourages us to become aware of "guests" that God sends into our lives and what blessings they bring.  She suggests keeping record and making a list so that we become more aware, become more committed to discovering those He sends, so that we move through life with our eyes open and we appreciate people in a whole new way.  She writes that "each guest that God brings into our lives leaves us with a unique gift.  Once I fully understood this truth, I began to intentionally look for and recognize these gifts."  pg.8

Using stories from her own life and those she knows she takes us through many examples of those God has brought into her life and what gift they bought.  She then gives suggestions that have you "R.S.V.P.", pass on those gifts to others.

This was an easy and enjoyable read.  I finished it in one day.  I love this concept.  I love how she went from making a list of people she wanted to meet, and consequently being disappointed with a lot of those meetings, to starting to notice those that actually cross paths with her in her life and the gifts they have that they leave with her to bless her life.  I really liked how the book didn't just focus on how we can take notice of others blessing ourselves, but also showed how we can bless and influence the lives of others, teaching us to anticipate and seize moments to touch others.  Great lessons and a great read.

12.  "How to Raise the Perfect Dog - Through Puppyhood and Beyond" by Cesar Millan

Completed:  April 8, 2011 (Spring Reading Thing)

Rating:  9/10

Review:  If you watch Dog Whisperer on TV, then this is Cesar's book using the same principles, to raise a puppy.  Choosing and raising 5 different breeds, Cesar puts the principles and techniques that he used to raise these puppies into a simple, interesting to read format for the person wanting a puppy.  Starting right from the beginning on how to choose a breed and dog that's right for your family and energy, he tells the reader the techniques he used for everything from feeding to housebreaking to what to expect from the adolescent dog.  Using his "Exercise, Discipline, Affection" format he lays out guidelines for the reader to use to accomplish the end goal of a happy, balanced, calm dog.

I really enjoy Cesar's show so when we got the new puppy I was interested to read this book.  I made mega notations and really like the easy to read format.  I liked how he laid out what to expect, how he discussed the morality and pros and cons of neutering, how to discipline correctly without harshness or anger and how to give boundaries and how to "read" your dog.  I find he makes a lot of sense.  Thoroughly enjoyed the book.

Take note that this is not a book if you already have a problem dog.  He's got other books out for that.  This is about how to choose a dog that is right for your family and how to raise them from day one to avoid problems.

13.  "The Kitchen Boy - A Novel of the Last Tsar" by Robert Alexander

Completed:  April 14, 2011
(Spring Reading Thing)

Rating:  9.5/10

Review:  Mikhail Semyonov (Misha) is 94 year old year old Russian immigrant.  With his wife passing away recently he is leaving a "letter" to his granddaughter, Katya, in the form of a video cassette.In it he tells Katya that what she has known of her grandfather has been a lie and he wants to tell her who he really is.  So starts the story of Leonka (Misha) as a 14 year old kitchen boy who served the Romanovs while they were in captivity in Siberia, Russia before their murders.  Taking us through the tumultuous revolution and the final days of the Romanovs, Leonka tells the story of the Romanovs and the kind of people they were in private, of their faith and their love for one another, of  their hope for rescue and eventually his part in the passing of secret letters.  And sadly he details the last day and then what he saw of their firing squad execution and the events afterwards.  But Katya cannot even talk about it all with her grandfather as he passes away and that is when the cassette makes it's way to her.  But with the cassette comes instructions to return priceless artifacts back to Russia.  What is the link between these artifacts and a simple kitchen boy and why was it left to her to  accomplish this task?

This was historical fiction at it's best.  In the past there has been much mystery surrounding the death of the Romanov family and I must admit I have been fascinated before by their story.  The author has done much research and it shows throughout the story even though it is fiction.  When researching, the author was struck by a couple of lines in one of the surviving letters that the Tsarista wrote questioning what had happened to the kitchen boy that the family had become close to.  Basing his fictional account on that mysterious line, he built a very believable story about the final captivity and death of the Romanov's and the disappearance of two of the family member's bodies.  It was an excellent read.  Gripping me from the very first page where it set up a mystery to the final pages of twists and turns, it is a heartbreaking and tragic story of a whole family's demise. For the author's video on the book go here but be prepared to be captivated and want to read the book yourself.

14.  "The Midwife of St. Petersburg" by Linda Lee Chaikin

Completed: April 30, 2011 (Spring Reading Thing)

Rating:  9.5/10 for the story but bumped down to 8.5/10 because of the unresolved story lines with no follow up books

Review:   Karena Peshkova is a young Russian landowner's daughter who dreams of following in her mother's footsteps and becoming a midwife and nurse.  Unfortunately, her admittance to medical school is being hindered by the fact that her family has Jewish roots.  

While visiting her cousin who moves in high society Russia, Karena meets a Colonel in the Russian army, who it is said might be her cousin's fiance in the near future.  But sparks fly, good and bad, between Karena and the Aleksnadr Kronstadt.  Leaving Kazan, Karena thinks she will never see the Colonel again, but as Russia moves into turbulent times, her family comes under investigation when her brother becomes involved with the Bolshevik uprising and Karena and her mother must flee the family farm.  As Alex faces his feelings for Karena he must risk his own military career in order to keep her safe and hopefully have a future with her.

This book started off a bit slow for me but really started to pick up once past the first chapter or so.  It was interesting that I picked this up soon after I read "The Kitchen Boy" (review #11) as it is written about the same time period.  This book was also rich in historical detail and while the Kitchen Boy dealt mostly with the Romanov families last days, this story filled in a few details of the uprising and turbulent time that brought the Tsar down.  

The fictional story was very interesting and the growing attraction between the main characters was sweet.  The tension from the events surrounding the uprising and how the family was dragged into it really kept this book a page turner for me.  However, there was many loose ends left at the end of the story.  It's like it was written with a part 2 in mind but no part 2 is there that I can find.  It's unfortunate, because I would have loved to have found out what happened to each character.  The author wrote the characters so well and I really became invested in them as the story went on.  In the end, I felt like I was left hanging with so many things left unresolved.  Still I really enjoyed the story though to me it was not a stand alone story left as it was.

15.  "Experiencing the Resurrection" by Henry and Mel Blackaby

Completed:  May 5, 2011 (Spring Reading Thing)

Rating:  8/10

Review:  From the back:  The resurrection is the foundation of your total freedom and complete victory in Christ.  And so it is an event-an experience-that's worthy of your daily celebration.  In this book the authors offer you a deeper understanding of the glorious, joyous dimensions of the resurrection, with the goal of revealing the living Lord at work in your daily life.

I wanted to read this book as a heart preparation for the Easter season.    The resurrection is the foundation of my faith and I wanted to take the time to study what it means for my life today.  What a powerful little book this proved to be.  It is not heavy in theological terms that most don't understand, but lays out in everyday language all that God has done for us in raising his Son, Jesus, from the dead.  It's a book that invites you to live day by day, moment by moment with the living Christ through the peace, joy, power, authority, confidence and hope He has provided through the resurrection.  Chock full of scripture it's easy enough to use as a devotional, per say, or to guide you into a more in-depth study.  "Experiencing the Cross", antoher book in the sereis.  is definitely on my list to read sometime in the next year.

 16.  "To Be Perfectly Honest - One Man's Year of (Almost) Living Honestly Could Change Your Life.  No Lie" by Phil Callaway

Completed: May 18, 2011

Rating:  8.5/10

Review:  Phil Callaway is a humorist who was challenged by his publisher to not lie for a year and then write a book about it.  Though not thrilled at first, he accepted the daunting challenge.   This is the written culmination of his year, the good, the bad and the ugly.  Sometimes funny, sometimes eye opening, and at times daunting, Phil writes the book in the form of a daily journal.  Catching himself in little white lies, experiencing successes at full truth, then at times struggling to be totally honest and fielding questions from all sorts of people out of his past that want to know the truth about past situations, we are taken on the author's  journey of always telling the truth.  Each chapter ends with an "honest confession" by the author where he gets really real with himself and his readers. 

Not only is this book laugh out loud funny, but I also found myself being challenged to take a look at my own ways of telling "untruths",  even to myself.  I really liked how he wrote an honest, vulnerable summary at the end of each chapter and how easy the format of the book was to read.  The last couple of chapers really touched my heart as they dealt with the death of his mother and we just went through a similar situation and could really relate to it.  A fun read with a serious element that will have the reader laughing out loud even while asking themselves if they could take on such a challenge and how one's life would be changed if total honesty were the only option.

17.  "Secrets" by Robin Jones Gunn

Completed:  May 24, 2011 (Spring Reading Thing)

Rating:  7.5/10

Review:  Jessica Morgan arrives in Glenbrooke, a small town to start her life over as a teacher in the high school.  But not only does she want to start fresh but she wants to run away from her old life and forget about it. Changing her identity had seemed like such a good idea but things start to catch up with her as she has to cover her tracks.  It seemed so simple when she didn't know the people of Glenbrooke, but as she gets to know them, she finds it harder and harder to be decietful especially when she catches the eye of the local paramedic who has secrets of his own.

This is my first book by this author and in most respects I really enjoyed it.  It was an easy read romance that was clean and heart warming.  The "secrets" intrigued me but when revealed weren't as huge as it was built up to be.  This was the author's first adult novel as she usually writes for a teen audience and in a few details I could sort of tell that, especially in the last sentence that ended the story.  The character of the new principle really mystified me as I felt  her negative reactions to the main character, a new teacher in her school, very over the top and vicious.  I couldn't quite believe a new principle would be that unprofessional as laid out in the story and would direct vendettas  to a member of their staff almost immediately upon meeting them when in my experience principles try very hard to build unity in their staff.  I thought her actions quite immature and unworthy of her position.  Some of the reactions of the main character also surprised me considering her age was 25 in the story.  That said it was a good story line and a sweet romance.

18.  "Standing in the Rainbow" by Fannie Flagg

Completed:  June 3, 2011 (Spring Reading Thing)

Rating:  8.5/10

Review:  Standing in the Rainbow is a story of the life stories of the folks in a small town in Missouri.  It starts in the 1940's and wraps up in the '90's.  The characters are richly written and varied.  From Dorothy who broadcasts a radio show from her own livingroom that touches people all the way into other states, to the gospel singing Oatman family, to Hamm Sparks the tractor salesman turned Governor to his wife Betty Raye who was an Oatman and just wanted a quiet settled life, to Tot, the hairdresser who turned people's hair purple and just couldn't get a break in life.

It's a very heartwarming read with moments touching every emotion.  You are drawn right into the members of this little town and become invested with their lives.  You rejoice with them, are sad for them, get angry with some of their circumstances and want to have a good chat with them when they make bad decisions.  

In spite of all the varied lives and the details thereof, I never felt the book bogged down or got confusing, it moved at a really good pace, slowed down when needed and clipping right along when it had to.  Though there were parts in the story of certain characters that were decidedly not in keeping my own values, they were a part of the story and happens all the time in "real" life and the author did not gratuitously spend time getting into the physical details of it but rather the emotional aspect of it.  All in all, I loved the story and will read another Fannie Flagg book soon.

19.  "The Bride's House" by Sandra Dallas

Completed:  June 10, 2011

Rating:  8/10

Review:  "The Bride's House" follows the lives of 3 women within the family.  Neallie moves to Georgetown as a teenager in order to get away from her abusive father.  While working at a boardinghouse, she meets two men who will profoundly affect her life.  Charlie Dumas, a miner,  loves her and wants to court and marry her but when she meets Will Spaulding, a mining executive, her heart goes to him.  When her and Will come across a house being built, that they affectionately nickname the Bride's House, Neallie has dreams of it one day becoming hers.  When Will abruptly leaves Georgetown and doesn't return Neallie's life is turned into upheaval but the the ever faithful Charlie is still there wanting to marry her.  As a surprise wedding gift, Charlie gives her the Bride's house as her home but Neallie sometimes has a hard time separating the house from her first love.

Pearl is Neallie's daughter who grows up in the Bride's House who dreams of being married there but as her father, Charlie, tightens his grip on her life it seems that dream will never come true as she is way past the marrying age.

Susan, Pearl's daughter also has dreams of being married in the Bride's House but bad life choices may make that dream disappear.

I was excited for Sandra Dallas's new novel to hit the library and in fact, had a hold on it before they even catalogued it.  And it didn't disappoint.  As with some of her other novels (Prayers for Sale, Whiter than Snow) she transported me, the reader, to a little mining town in the Colorado Mountains.  As I was drawn into Neallie's young life, I hoped for her and cried with her story, and then her daughter and granddaughter's life also brought out an array of emotions for me.  I groaned as they made some of the same mistakes and hoped with them as they hung onto some of the same dreams.  As with the other novels, Sandra takes on a wonderful journey of storytelling through women's lives and takes us on some twists and turns.  Loved the story.

20.  "When Sparrows Fall" by Meg Moseley

Completed:  June 19, 2011

Rating:  7.5/10

Review:  Miranda Hanford is a young widow, trying to raise her 6 small children quietly in the home her husband provided for them.  But when her dominant, controlling pastor announces that he is moving to another state and that the whole church must move with him, Miranda knows she will not go.  Already labeled a trouble maker and "pariah" by the pastor, Miranda wonders how she will make a stand without having the pastor use "secrets" that were revealed to him in counselling years back against her to make her move.    As Miranda tries to seek God and what He would have her do, she has an accident that lands her in the hospital.  Having just named her brother-in-law, whom she had only met once, as legal guardian over her children, he receives a call from her son asking for him to come until Miranda is well.  No one is more surprised than Jack Hanford as he had no relationship with his brother at all.  Leaving immediately to help the family, he is confronted by the extreme sheltering of the children and the controlling religious views that his brother had.  As Miranda is recovering,  she not only has to still try to figure out what to do with the move, but now she also has Jack challenging how she has raised her family to contend with. 

This is the debut novel for this author and it is a good debut.  The story of Miranda finding herself after years of being told what to do and having no choices really drew me in.  My heart ached for her predicament of wanting to seek God's will and yet trying to reconcile it with the harshness and controlling factor of her husband's and church's beliefs and her feeling of having her hands tied because she was afraid of the consequences. It was easy to cheer her on as she tried to find freedom for her and her children, yet to stay within the parameters of what she felt was God's will.   I really enjoyed the relationship that Jack built with the children as the story went on.  Though I felt he overstepped his bounds on many an occasion in regards to his interference, given his frustration with the hard control of the pastor over his congregation, his suspicions with the motives behind the congregational move, and his desire to see the children with some freedom,  that interference was understandable.     I thought the story flowed along well and I finished it within a few days.  The characters where well written and the conversations seemed real given their motivations and brokeness.   A good story that makes you think about the lines between the freedom we have in Christ and blind and complete obedience to another person.

Completed:   July 5, 2011

Rating:  8/10

Review:  Charlotte Vance is the daughter of a Kentucky Senator and has big plans for her life.  Raised in privilege, she is used to having black slaves on their estate to do the family's bidding and do the work of the estate.  After her mother passed away, Charlotte became her father's helper in planning the parties his job required and in essence became the lady of the house.  So her heart was really with the estate and it's continuation and growth.  Her plans were to marry her childhood friend who had the property next to theirs so that the estates could be combined, but those came abruptly to an end when several circumstances, including meeting a handsome artist who stole her heart and the unscrupulous machinations of her father's new wife,  combined to derail all her well laid plans.  In a desperate attempt to free her personal slave who was like a sister to her, Charlotte ran away to join the Shaker community. Thinking her involvement with the Shakers was a quick and temporary fix to her problems, those plans also got thrown into a tailspin when the Civil war hit and moved right through their community.  Now Charlotte must stay with the Shakers much longer than planned and while there she starts to realize who really is in control of her life and whose plans are the best.

I really enjoyed this story.  It is rich in character development and historical detail.  I never knew anything about the Shakers before I read this and the author did a wonderful job in weaving details of their beliefs into the story while not making it sound like a text book lesson.  I could totally relate to the main character and her  being a planner and committed to making those plans work and then having to face the fact that we, actually are not in control.  This was a great summer read and I'm going to look for the other titles by the same author.

22.  "Save Me" by Lisa Scottoline

Completed:  July 14, 2011

Rating:  9.5/10

Review:  Rose McKenna is on her first shift as a volunteer lunchroom mom at her daughter Melly's new elementary school.  After having just moved here because of bullying in Melly's other school, Rose is dismayed to see her daughter running to a washroom to avoid the teasing of another child.  Making her way over she determines to talk to the girls about bullying but in the middle of their conversation an explosion occurs in the kitchen.  When Rose comes to, chaos abounds as fire is tearing through the building.  Now she must make a split second emergency decision.  Take the girls she was talking to to safety or go look for her daughter who is hiding.  An impossible choice in the middle of a nightmare.  Making the decision, she acts upon it but it very quickly comes back to haunt her and her family as accusations and mob mentality take over the community.  Acting against the advice of her husband, a lawyer, and her attorneys, Rose takes matters into her own hands putting herself in danger as she starts to uncover what really happened with the explosion.

An emotional, page turning story, I could not put this book down!  My heart broke for Melly and the teasing she had to endure, and Rose's dilemma of when to step in, and then the consequences of her decision to confront the bullies, and her decisions in the midst of the emergency.  I had to cheer her on in her one track mindedness to get to the bottom of things and her determination to stick to what she believed was the right thing to do even though others with more experience were advising her differently.  There is twists and turns in the story as she pursues her decisions that the reader doesn't see coming which kept it edge of your seat.  The chapters are short and quick paced throughout the book and it makes you not want to put it down so you can see what happens next.  This story really makes you explore as a Mom, "What would I do if that happened to me?", "How would I react if I was the other parents, or school staff, or a member of this community".  It also made me think about the role media plays in our lives and our "right to know at all cost" mentalities.   

23.   The Redemption by M.L.  Tyndall 

Completed:  July 21, 2011

Rating:  7.5/10

Review: Lady Charlisse Bristol sets sail on a ship for two reasons.  To get away from her abusive uncle and to find the father she has never met.  On route she finds herself shipwrecked, the lone survior, washed up on an unknown island.  After weeks by herself, other humans finally show up on the island but her joy is short lived as they prove to be a band of pirates.  The captain, Emund Merrick, is a strange pirate, being a believer he has a moral code he lives by.  Charlisse accepts his help to find her father but when Edmund finds out who he is torn as the man turns out to be the meanest pirate sailing the Caribbean.  And Edmund has been on a search for him for years.  As Edmund battles his conscience and conviction he also finds himself falling in love with Charlisse.

This is not my usual reading fare, but I thought it would be a fun series for a summer read.  Think the adventure and swashbuckling of the first Pirates of the Caribbean movie crossed with a clear Christian theme crossed with a love story and you've got the premise of this book.  I liked how the author brings Edmund Merrick's moral struggles into the picture.  It added a depth to the story.  A fun, easy beach read for sure.

24.  "The Daughter's Walk" by Jane Kirkpatrick

Completed:  August 2, 2011

Rating:  7/10

Review:  In 1896, Helga Estby and her daughter, Clara, embark on a journey that would change the course of their lives and alter their family dynamics forever.   In order to save the family farm, Helga takes on a challenge by a team of sponsors to earn $10,000 by walking from Spokane, Washington to New York City within 7 months and with the condition they are to earn their own way,  wearing the new "Reform Dresses".  Being the mother of several children, the youngest younger than two, her Norwegian husband strongly disagrees with the venture, but Helga is determined, seeing it as a way out of foreclosure for her family.  Forcing her 18 year old daughter, Clara,  to quit her job and accompany her, she strikes out on an amazing journey that brings many hardships and dangers but also many joys.  Receiving shocking news on several fronts, the two return home after having been gone a year, having accomplished the walk, but also failing to collect the money when the sponsors don't pay up, facing criticism from both family and a community that is scandalized by what they did.  Criticism so harsh that it causes a rift within the family.  Forbidden to speak of the journey, Helga's spirit is crushed and she retreats into her everyday life, while Clara leaves her family to make her own way starting a rift that would last 20 years.

Based on the true story of these two women's lives, Jane Kirkpatrick writes a story filled with historical fact and weaves fictional story into it to fill in the unknown pieces.  I found the writing of the actual walk fascinating as was the suffragette movement, it's involvement in the women's walk and the reactions of the day to what many considered a shocking endeavor.  It was also fascinating to me to be drawn into the relationship between mother and daughter, their reactions to one another, and their understanding of one another as the journey progressed.   I was kept mesmerized throughout that part of the story.  The story did start to slow down for me in the middle, however, during all the explanations of the fur industry of the time, not something I'm particularly interested in.  However, the compelling emotional aspects of the characters and wondering if the rift would be healed kept me reading and I'm glad I did.  A must read at the end is the Author's Notes and Acknowledgements.  It fills in all the details of the historical facts and what parts were fiction.  It made the story come to life.  I'd recommend this story just for the study of what drives people, what makes us decide to do the things we do and for the fascinating true story of two women who went against the society norm in the hopes of bettering life for their family.

25.  "Tombstones and Banana Trees" by Medad Birungi with Craig Borlase

Completed:  August 13, 2011

Rating:  9.5/10

Review:  My story changed beyond all recognition.  Everything that was made ugly by pain and anger was turned to beauty by one simple, revolutionary thing—forgiveness.”  Medad Birungi was once a boy who begged to die by the side of the road, a teenager angry enough to kill, a man broken and searching, yet today he is a testimony to God’s transforming power.  In his life story, Tombstones and Banana Trees: A True Story of Revolutionary Forgiveness, Birungi charts his outrageous journey through suffering, abuse, despair and revenge to unexpected forgiveness and healing. 

Birungi grew up with a violent father in the war-torn country of Uganda in the 1960’s.  His childhood was scarred by extreme poverty, cruel suffering and unbearable sorrow that few of us can even imagine.  Yet from that trauma came the lessons that we can all appreciate: the impoverishment of life without Christ, the redemption of the cross and the revolutionary power of forgiveness.  His story deals in nothing less than pure, God-given transformation.  Tombstones and Banana Trees has the dual quality of being both uniquely individual yet universally relevant, holding together the grandest of themes and the most intimate of testimonies.  Birungi’s life is so comprehensively renewed that any reader sharing in his journey will feel the impact.  Trough his story of healing, Birungi calls readers to find healing for their own emotional scars.

To describe this book in one word, the word would be "Powerful".  If we could all take to heart, the message of revolutionary forgiveness that the author is relating through his own personal story, it would change the world.  I won't lie, the parts of his childhood that were filled with emotional and physical abuse are at times hard to read but the author continually weaves a theme through it that offers hope.  He doesn't offer a "pat" solution saying it is easy and instantaneous, he shows how hard forgiveness is, and how it is a daily, moment by moment choice.  But he also shows that if we continuously make that choice and move into revolutionary forgiveness, it can allow God to move in the most horrid and unimaginable of situations and bring beauty and change and celebration.  I highly recommend this read. 

26.  "The Reliance"  - Book 2:  Legacy of the King's Pirates" by M. L. Tyndall

Completed:  August 17, 2011

Rating:  8/10

Review:  The story continues with Charlise and Edmund married and expecting their first child.  Edmund is still patrolling the waters feeling called to rid the Caribbean of the worst of pirates.   When the town they are in is attacked by a notorious pirate and the church Charlise is in trying to protect children blows up, Edmund's world is shattered as he believes she is dead.  Throwing him into a downward spiral of drink and loss of his faith, he turns towards revenge and finding the pirate whom he believes is responsible.  Meanwhile, Charlise finds herself kidnapped aboard another pirate ship, her death staged as a revenge against her husband.  Not knowing of his struggles, she feels abandoned as they are driven farther and farther apart.  Yet she hangs onto her faith and trusts God knows her plight.

Another edition full of adventure and piracy, revenge and misunderstanding, love and faith.  I find this series very intriguing as the author weaves a story of faith in amongst a story of pirates.   In my mind that is hard to wrap around but I feel the author has done it successfully.   There were some very emotional moments in this edition of the series and lots of drama.   Your heart was drawn to both the main characters in their struggles through their situations.  While at times, the story seemed to be a stretch to be believable, taken for what it is, it was a good adventure/romance/fictional faith read and a great summer read if you enjoy the genre.  It had enough in it to make me want to read the last installment to find out how the story shakes out.

Completed:  August 20, 2011

Rating:  9.5/10

Review:  Lillie Bauer is a 32 year old single woman with what seems a full life.  She owns a wedding co-ordinating business planning "extreme" weddings for those who want something different, has a wonderful relationship with her episcopallion priest father and mother, and has loving and caring friends and business partners.  But she is struggling.  Struggling with her weight and self image, struggling to get over the disappearance of the love of her life 15 years before, and struggling trying to navigate the dating scene seemingly ending up with one disaster after another.    Desiring the type of marriage her parents have, she also struggles with watching her sister's troubled marriage get worse.  When circumstances build in both business and personal life, Lillie must dig deep and  find the strength and fortitude to do the courageous, something she is not sure she can. 

Lisa Samson's very real characters always grab me and draw me into their stories and this was no exception.  This was a story told by two sisters, one wishing for marriage and the other struggling through hers.  It's the story of two sisters, each one trying to find themselves within their respective lives.  And it's the story of two sisters, each trying to live out their faith, trying to deepen it within the situations they find themselves in.  Most of the story is told by Lillie but is interspersed with thoughts from Tacy.  As the story unfolds, you are gripped by what is being revealed.   I laughed out loud with some of Lillie's quirkiness and humor, and I found myself crying in other parts, grieving for the characters.  Other parts found me cheering on each sister as they tried to reach for the seemingly impossible, trying to find the courage and strength to do what each must.  The book left me literally breathless at the end and I found myself replaying it in my mind over and over.  It is a story I couldn't put down.  Though some circumstances in the book are extremely emotional and sad, the story has a redemptive theme woven throughout.  I thought it was extremely well told and is now one of my favorites by Lisa Samson.

28.  "Chasing Lilacs" by Carla Stewart

Completed:  August 24, 2011

Rating:  9/10

Review:  It's the summer of 1958 and Sammie Tucker is planning on enjoying her last summer before junior high writing a "newspaper" for her small town with her best friend.  But her life takes a sharp turn when her mother must be admitted to a hospital for her "nerve" problems.  When her mother returns, Sammie hopes she will have a "regular" mother who does "regular" things with her, and her hopes seem to be coming true except for those confusing times when her mother says awkward things or can't seem to remember significant things out of their lives.  Then something happens that totally turns Sammie's world upside down and changes it forever.  Trying to cope, she is unsure who she can turn to in her pain.  

This was an incredible story.  The author caught me from the beginning and the story never slowed down for me.  I wept with the story of this young girl's life as it is turned upside down while she herself is trying to find herself at a vulnerable age, trying to get rid of a stigma of mental health problems put upon her.  I rejoiced with her as she found friendships that would become her rock and I loved how the author wove a story of hope and faith throughout the most difficult of circumstances without if seemingly put on and unreal.  I can't say too much else without giving away story but I thought this debut novel by the author was outstanding.

  29.  "Rasputin's Daughter" by Robert Alexander

Completed:  September 1, 2011

Rating:  6.5/10

Review:  Maria Rasputin is the oldest daughter of the infamous "Mad Monk", the supposed "healer" that all of Russia either loves or hates.  When Maria finds herself being interrogated after the fall of the Romanov's about the final days of her father, she tells a story of secrets, odd happenings and murder.

I was really wanting to read the two other books by this author after reading "The Kitchen Boy" which I loved (#12 in 2011 reviews).   Although good, this didn't quite hit me the same way.  It's a story taken from the viewpoint of Rasputin's oldest daughter, who lives with him and her sister and a housekeeper in the city away from her mother and other siblings.  Maria loves and respects her father and because she is living with him is naturally drawn into the craziness that is his life. She is there to observe the constant demands on her father, mostly women lining up at her father's doorstep from morning until night, she is privy to his some of his strange teachings (including his weird dietary beliefs), knows that he is called upon by the Tsarista at all hours to come to the palace,  but  finds herself genuinely appalled and shocked when she comes upon her father in immoral acts.   As a result she is thrown into confusion trying to justify these acts against the goodness she sees in her father and seeing his (percieved) devotion to God (which is mixed up in the revering and worshipping of icons) and his devotion to helping people.    The actual story of Rasputin, from lack of another word coming to me, is so odd.  Not because of the way the author writes, I think he did a remarkable job of explaining the controversies surrounding the mystic,  but because of the sheer craziness of the beliefs of the time, the willingness of the people to so easily accept occultic thoughts and practices and the weird, twisted truths and outright false teachings that Rasputin, amongst others,  put out there.   There was so much twisting of scripture, absolute sin and debauchery, all hidden behind a veil of spirituality done both by Rasputin and by other secret sects of the time. Rasputin believed that giving in to temptation had to happen in order to experience repentance and salvation and for him it was sex and alcohol abuse.  He would claim to be cleansing the women while committing adulterous acts with them and in their desperation they believed him.  It was actually grieving to me to read how people were deceived into such devotion to an absolutely immoral man.   

Thrown into the historical facts that come with the man Rasputin is the story of Maria and her meeting with a young poet named Sasha whom she falls in love with.  When an attempt on her father's life is made right in front of her and it looks like Sasha may have had a part she feels betrayed, hurt and angry and does not see him again for years.  But then unexpectedly he again turns up in her life claiming innocence yet there are secrets surrounding him.  Can she once again trust him especially as she feels the same drawing towards him as the first time?  As her father starts to predict his demise and Maria's life starts to spin out of control she becomes desperate to gain any information she can about attempts against her father in order to try to protect him, she puts her own life into risky situations.  At times during Maria's story,  the parts between actual historical fact and author license were a bit blurry for me  I couldn't actually tell at times what was real and what was coming from the author's imagination. But that is good writing on the part of the author.  Although the author did have a note at the back telling us the chronological order of the politcal happenings and what happened to the "real" characters from the story, I wished he would have added a bit of detail as to what  events narrated in the story concerning Maria were actually historical facts.  

 The book is a fascinating read of religious deception, desperation of a people as a whole and as a  nation, political revolution, all mixed in with a young girl with a strong love of family coming of age in the midst of it all.  The author has lived in Russia and you can see the research of the history of the time all throughout his books.   If you like this kind of a mix,  I would say read but with a caution.   I feel the need to insert a warning  that there are several parts of the book that, in my opinion, deserve an "R" rating though the story is not over-run with them.  It is definitely an adult read and has the ability to offend.  The story would have been just as good without detailed descriptions of some instances of the sexual immorality.    In all honesty,  reading of the way the people were so deceived, totally makes me want to study my bible more so that I would know truth from falsity and deception.

30.  "Cherished" by Kim Cash Tate

Completed:  September 10, 2011

Rating:  7.5/10

Review:  Growing up in Saint Louis, Kelli London dreamed of becoming a songwriter and glorifying God with her songs of praise.  But after falling into sin, she walks away from her dreams.  Heather Anderson’s life has spun out of control—first an affair with a married man and then a one-night stand with the drummer of a popular Christian band.  Broken and alone, she discovers the only one who can save her.  Brian Howard grew up as a science geek.  But after making the worst mistake of his life after high school, he finds forgiveness in Christ and is being led down a completely different path.  Now he must choose whether to continue pursuing his PhD in biochemistry or to become a full time Christian rapper.

Tate’s characters bring a reflection of our own poor choices.  Readers walk away knowing that despite their worst mistakes, they are cherished by their Creator.  “The enemy will try to make you feel guilty about your past, and he’ll use your own thoughts or he’ll use other people.  But if you know who you are, he won’t succeed,” says Tate.

My Thoughts:  While the book started off a touch slow for me it really started to draw me once the character of Kelli moves back to Saint Louis and all the characters start coming into play in the story.  It really is a story that really points out how God cherishes us and wants to forgive us. It really brings home that no matter what we have done, what wrong choices we have made,  God is ready and waiting to forgive and wants us to repent so that He can start healing our hearts and bring us into the life He wants for us.   I really liked how the author did not just make a pat story where everything goes just fine for everyone once they've repented but that the characters did have some tough stuff to deal with even after they had repented and turned to God as did the characters who had to deal with the fall out of someone else's sins.  It showed how each  had to turn to God for grace to walk through it.  Granted it did seem to all wrap up nicely by the end but in reality the novel would have to be a huge tome if that part of the story is dragged out. 

The story also made me think of the church's reactions (read:  my reactions) to others and forgiveness.   It brought up some interesting aspects and made me really look into my own heart.  Why do we find it hard sometimes to forgive people their sins even when we believe in God's forgiveness and we, ourselves, have been forgiven?  When more than one person is involved in the sin, why do we sometimes receive one person back "into the fold" but still hold it above the other person's head?  Why if we believe that" God throws our sins as far as the east is from the west" do we find it hard to forgive ourselves or others?  And why do we make ourselves and others keep "paying" for it?

All in all, I thought it was a great story that made me think, and when a novel can entertain me and yet cause me to think and search my own heart, that makes it a very worthwhile read. 

31.  "Sifted" by Rick Lawrence

Completed:  September 24, 2011

Rating:  8/10

Review:  Sifted is a book that takes a look at troubles, problems and pain in our lives through the scripture in Luke 22: 31-32 where Jesus tells Peter he will be sifted as wheat. The two sentences within that scripture and broken down and explored in detail in reference to why we go through things today. It is an honest and challenging exploration but one that leaves the reader with encouragement to become who God wants us to be. 

This a tough subject and one I think we have to face our own resistance to and I think the author dealt with it well, exploring the sifting process using scripture throughout and examples from his own life. While some of the thoughts and teaching in the first half are challenging, they are definitely worth exploring and the second half of the book is full of hope and encouragement.  It was a bit of struggle to get into the book in the beginning because of writing style, but I'm glad I persevered because it all started to "click" in the second half.

32.  "The Restitution" by M.L. Tyndall

Completed:  September 26, 2011

Rating:  7.5/10

Review:  This is the last in the "Legacy of the King's Pirates" series.  The story continues with Lady Isabel Ashton who was kidnapped aboard the pirate ship of Captain Kent Carlton in the last book.  Finding herself pregnant with the captain's child when she finally is rescued she finds herself living at the church in Port Royal.  Her fledgling faith is taking faltering steps as she works to learn the Christian faith from the Reverend Thomas.  She struggles to come to terms with the spurning of her family and her loss of position in society, but still hangs onto the hope of returning some day to privilaged society.  Then the unthinkable happens and a pirate who is out for revenge against Carlton kidnaps the baby.  

Meanwhile Kent Carlton's life has been changing as he seeks Isabel in every port to gain her forgiveness and hopefully win her heart.  He has no idea he has fathered a child and is shocked to learn of the baby when Richard Sawkins, with whom he has a not good history, shows up telling him of the kidnapping and where Isabel is.  When her father refuses to help look for his grandson, Isabel turn to Captain Carlton to help find their son, even though she still mistrusts him and his intentions.

I found this a good wrap up to the series.  The story was an adventure and it was fast paced as Isabel and Kent found danger around every bend as they searched to find their son.  I really like how this author wove, in all three installments, the struggles of each characters faith as they were thrown into situations both of their own making and ones thrust upon them by others.  Isabel's coming to terms with her need to marry into title and wealth at the expense of love and happiness was an interesting journey.  As was Kent's journey into faith.  The addition of a deceiving nobleman after Isabel's hand in marriage was storyline that kept me guessing and the twist of his past with Captain Carlton was unexpected.  They're resolving of deep, hurtful issues was also woven seamlessly into the story, it wasn't choppy at all, everything flowed.  While some of the adventures and circumstances made me wonder if something like that would happen, it didn't take away from an adventure story that has a faith story involved.   I really liked the footnotes at the back telling about the real life pirates who were a part of this book.  All in all, it was a great series for a summer read of the historical/romance/faith genre. 

33.  "The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks" by Rebecca Skloot

Completed:  October 1, 2011

Rating:  10/10

Review:   (from the cover): Doctors took her cells without asking.  Those cells never died.  They launched a medical revolution and a multi-million dollar industry.  More than twenty years later her children found out.  Their lives would never be the same.

A few words I would use to describe this book:  Wow, shocking, unbelievable, informative, thought provoking, scary,  moving, sensitive, stuff of science fiction but real life.  This is the story of the first "immortal" human cells grown in culture in a lab.  And they were taken from a black woman who was a poor tobacco farmer in the early '50's without her knowledge or consent. "HeLa"  has since become the most widely used cell line in the world for research, numbering in the trillions and still exists today. It has brought scientific breakthroughs such as the polio vaccine, invitro fertilization and gene mapping.  They have tried to clone them, inject with poisons, develop cures for cancer.  They have shown scientists how viruses work and the effects of the atom bomb.  And yet the family didn't know until twenty years after they took Henrietta's cells.  The author tells such an incredible true story weaving between the scientific viewpoint to the human side to the family's struggles with the news and outcome.  I could not put this book down.  It is definitely not dry and textbook-y.    Yet you learn so much.  It brings up subjects of ethics, racism, human rights, consent, privacy, ownership, reimbursement all while bringing your emotions to the surface in what the family has gone through and the struggles of the daughter who never knew her mother in trying to get answers and some recognition for her mom and her contribution to the world.   As I was reading it, I kept thinking this would make a great movie, and have since found out that Oprah has picked it up for her OWN network.  I highly recommend this read.

34.  "The Wishing Trees" by John Shors

Completed:  October 19, 2011

Rating:  7.5/10

Review:  Ian deeply loved his wife of 15 years, so when she passed away, leaving Ian with a young 8 year old daughter, he was devastated at at the loss and stuck in  how to move on and how to help his daughter, Mattie.  A year after her death, he is still struggling when on his birthday he opens a package that Kate had left for him to open on that day.  Inside he finds canisters containing letters both to himself and to Mattie that they are to open in the various countries that him and Kate had travelled to along with a request from Kate to take Mattie to those places.  Honoring her request they go on a journey to refind and redefine themselves  as a family without a mom and wife.  While journeying, Mattie leaves drawings of the places they have visited and notes and wishes for her mother in old  "wishing" trees (taken from the beliefs of one of the countries they visit) as a way to connect with her mom.  As Kate's letters guide them they search for the healing of their hearts.

I have to say I'm having a hard time reviewing this book.  The story was extremely touching but also so sad at times my heart felt heavy in my chest.  Reading of a husband's and a little girl's trying to make sense and move on from the death of wife and mother was heart wrenching and while the story had bright and lovely moments it was still underscored with that sadness of them trying to find their way.  I did love how the author used the character of Kate's letters to point Ian and Mattie to look beyond themselves into helping others, that was definitely a high point of the story.  Seeing Mattie find joy as she gave to others was uplifting.  This is not a novel from written from a Christian perspective so I was not expecting any theological explorations of a Christian world view about death.  But as the story progressed, the viewpoints on death of the various cultures was outlined.  All it seemed except a Christian worldview, in fact, there was one comment in the book which was a total derogatory comment towards God.  And taken in the context you knew the author was referring to the God of the Bible.  And that is the only time the God of the Bible is mentioned.  And that made me sad and angry, in all honesty.  All views were spoken of with respect, except the God of the Bible.  Coming from a Christian perspective and world view, I felt grieved throughout the whole story as Mattie tried to make sense out where her mother might be and if she would see her again.  I kept wanting to say, "I have without a doubt the answer".    And again I'd remind myself that this is not a story written from a Christian view.  So all in all the story left me sad, even though the author tied it up with a pretty bow.

35. "Sunrise on the Battery" by Beth Webb Hart

Completed:  October 28, 2011

Rating:  9/10

Review:   Jackson and Mary Lynn Scoville are on their way up in Charleston society. They are accomplishing all they set out to do in their family goals and are one step away from the very top. But at what price? Every once in a while the desire for a family dedicated to God surfaces in Mary Lynn's heart and silences the social drive. When she finally asks for prayer at the church she attends occasionally, she is unprepared for the radical change that is about to come upon her family. 

 I loved this story.  One can't help but be drawn to the characters, because as a mom, who doesn't want the best for their children and to give their children better than what they had?  I may not go to the extent of wanting the social prestige that the couple in the book did or go to their extremes to get there but their desire is still relatable.  Each character was portrayed so well and you could understand the feelings and reactions of each one, which I find a real accomplishment for a writer.  Jackson's drive to better his and his family's lives by being a driven, self made man who pushes that drive onto his family, Mary Lynn's desire to have the very best that a place in society can give her girls but still desiring her family to be a family that loves God.  The girls reactions to being pushed to always being better and feeling they never measure up.  And then Mary Lynn's shock to a very radical change in her husband she didn't expect when he finally becomes a Christian and her whole world, that they have worked so hard for, is turned upside down.  These were all aspects of the story and characters that no matter what station in life a person is can be related to.  This was, in my opinion a great contemporary read and will make the reader question what such a radical change from what they put their reliance on in this world to a faith that "walks the walk" would do in their own life and family.

36.  "The Orchard" by Jeffrey Stepakoff

Completed:  November 4, 2011

Rating:  9/10

Review:  Grace Lyndon is at the top of game, quickly becoming a rising star in the field of flavors and perfumes.  When she's chosen to take on an a major account developing flavor for a drink company, by all accounts she has arrived.  But issues arise which go against her grain, so when she comes across a type of apple that surpasses any she's ever tried, she is determined to track down where the apple has come from.

Dylan Jackson is a man in grief over the loss of his wife a few years ago.  Unable to move on, he is still has not even cleaned out the closet of her clothes.  Farming the apple orchard that his wife loved, he buries himself in his work to raise the best organic apples while trying his best to raise his 10 year old daughter.  When Grace approaches him to study his apples he immediately declines, but Grace is a determined young woman.  But the apple and the study of it is the very thing that will change both of their lives.

I loved this story.  From the beginning to the end it was a wonderful read.  The author has a real way of drawing you into the world of flavorists and perfumers and makes it so interesting.  I had no idea the two were connected.  The love story is sweet and totally believable.  Totally Hallmark movie written all over it. 

37.  "Hope Underground - The 34 Chilean Miners:  A Story of Faith and Miracles" by Carlos Parra Diaz

Completed:  November 13, 2011

Rating:  9/10

Review:  Who does not remember the Chilean mining disaster from the year 2010?  It was all over the news and who doesn't remember the joy and celebration of when those miner's ascended and came out of the Phoenix capsule, every one of them having their lives spared and everyone of them proclaiming the goodness of God? It was an amazing story.  This is the story written from the unique perspective of the chaplain of "Camp Hope",  one of 15 who ministered to the families and loved ones camped around the mine entrance for 10 weeks while the rescue operation was in progress.  He shares the hopes and prayers of the those waiting in the desert, the efforts of the government and rescue team and how they never gave up and the joy of communications with the miners.  As news came that all the miners were alive and the news of their faith that was holding them together 700 metres below the earth started to trickle upwards through notes being sent back and forth, the world waited with bated breath to see if the miners would actually make it out alive.  And make it out they did, with testimonies of the "34th" miner, of a God who preserved them and who manifested Himself to them in their entrapment.  Chaplain Carlos recounts an amazing story of how people stood together in faith and then watched God work a miracle through those who wouldn't give up.  An excellent read and one that will help you view trials and hardship through a perspective of hope.

38.  "Softly & Tenderly" by Sarah Evans with Rachel Hauck

Completed:  November 20, 2011

Rating:  8.5/10

Review:  Softly and Tenderly is a multi-layered story that just drew me in right from the beginning.  In the words of the main character, she married into a Southern soap opera.  And the book is definitely filled with lots of drama.  But believable drama.  It's the story of a family's life of secrets.  And what happens when one convinces themselves that keeping a secret is for the good but then the secrets start to rise to the surface.  It's a story of loss and reconcilliation and of God providing in ways that we would never have imagined.  It begged me to ask the question would I be willing to find the blessing in the way God chooses to provide rather than in the way I would imagine.  I found it well written and was surprised to find after reading it that it's actually a second in a series.  The book can stand well on it's own and I was never lost or confused.  The characters are all so relatable in their reactions and emotions.  The only thing that was a negative for me and it's just a small oversight in my opinion, was that the character who throughout the whole book who was refered to in the story as June all of a sudden started to be refered to as Mom in the later chapters.  Which sort of threw me and I had to think who they were talking about.   But I definitely enjoyed the story and would love to get ahold of the 1st in the series and look forward to the 3rd coming next year.

39.  "The Encounter"  by Stephen Arterburn

Completed:  November 30, 2011

Rating:  8/10

Review:  A very quick and easy read, "The Encounter" was nevertheless a very moving story of the deep pain within a man's life.  Through Johnathon Rush's story the topics of rejection/abandonment, deep seated pain and rage and their consequences in a life, fear, healing, acceptance and restoration are touched upon as are learning the truth and not making assumptions.  Written by the man who started Women of Faith, the story stems from two real incidents in his own life.  It shows that confronting the pain and allowing forgiveness opens God's doors to healing and freedom.  The story is very relatable in the sense that most of us will face deep pain brought on by rejection at some time in our lives.  We may not face the same circumstance as the characters but the consequences of holding anger and bitterness deeply affect us all.  There are  questions in the back of the book to help the reader take a look at their own lives and start the steps towards allowing God to intervene.

40.  "Angel Sister"  by  Ann H. Gabhart

Completed:  December 13, 2011

Rating:  7.5/10

Review:  Set in Kentucky during the 30's, Angel Sister is the story of a family who have a deep love for each other and yet have struggles within themselves.  Victor, the father, is a veteran from the war who has a very tense relationship with his own controlling, vindicative father.  Things were going seemingly well for a while but then dreams from his past started to take their toll and he drowns his insecurities in the bottle.  His wife Nadine is the love of his life and while she loves him dearly, the drinking starts to take it's toll on her.  Being raised with a preacher for a father, she knows the Lord wants to take her burdens but it is just becoming too much.  Kate is the responsible middle daughter who does everything right.  When she comes upon an abandoned little girl left on her grandfather's church steps she brings her home.  But when the family immediately accepts her as one of their own it sets in motion a turn of events that they never imagined, raising feelings and memories they never wanted.

The reader is caught up in waves of emotions from joy to sorrow as the story unfolds.  The raw emotions of some of the characters are right up front and felt by the reader.   Though selfishness and unforgiveness are the catalyst for some of the awful things that happen the grace of other characters leave the reader with hope for every hard situation.

41.  "Faithful" by Kim Cash Tate

Completed:  December 27, 2011

Rating:  7.5/10

Review:  Faithful is the story of three friends all in different walks in their lives but who are all faced with choices to be faithful to their beliefs and/or spouses.  Cyd is turning 40 and still single.  A committed Christian, her beliefs are put to the test when she meets a man who tries to charm his way into her life, one who professes to be a Christian but obviously has one thing on his mind.   Dana is also a Christian who leads a marriage group at her church along with her husband.  But her world and beliefs come crashing down around her when she finds her husband having an affair with a fellow church member.   Phyllis, also a Christian, has a happy marriage but is married to a man who is very resistant to anything to do with church and Christianity.  As her struggles to juggle her beliefs and her husband's wishes become harder, she starts to lose hope for all the prayers and hope she has had over the years for her husband to embrace Christianity.  When away by herself at a high school reunion, she runs into a former schoolmate who she finds herself becoming attracted to because of his strong Christian beliefs, she must take a good hard look at her own heart.

Faithful takes an honest look at Christian's lives and struggles with purity of heart and mind and what it means to be faithful to God and to your spouse and to yourself in the midst of temtation.  The characters all go through some very difficult situations that any person may face and their struggles to make the right choices and to trust God are written very well.    The characters are likeable and relatable.  Woven into the story are spiritual and practical ways that the reader can take away to help deal with these kinds of situations.