Wednesday, January 8, 2014

2014 Reads and Reviews

              1 .  "A Promise Kept" by Robin Lee Hatcher

               Completed:  January 7, 2014

               Rating:  9/10

               Review:  Allison has moved to the mountain of Idaho to start life over.  After her marriage ended in divorce, she moved into the rustic log cabin that her great Aunt Emma had left her.  Bringing huge disappointment and guilt along with her, Allison hopes to start the process of healing.  But first she needs to get past the confusion of why God didn't step in and fix her marriage.  She thought she'd heard from God and was obedient to what believed God had said.  But nothing had turned out the way she thought it would.  When she finds an old wedding dress in the cabin she wonders who's it could be.  Her aunt had been a single woman.  One who was confident and adventurous but definitely single.  When she comes across journals her aunt had kept since a teenager, Allison savors reading through them and is surprised to learn that her aunt had secrets that no one in the family knew and that she had more in common with her beloved aunt than she ever thought.

Robin Lee Hatcher is one of my favorite authors in the Christian genre so I was excited to see something new in the contemporary style from her.  For this story she draws from her experience of divorce and alcoholism to tell us the story of the main character, Allison.  As Allison tries to put her life back together, she questions whether she really heard from God when she was so sure God would save her marriage.   Her character is very relatable.  The disappointment that things didn't turn out as she thought and hoped, the confusion in whether she had heard from God and the obviously opposite outcome, the insecurity and unsureness of where her life was now headed are all things any of us struggle with in life. I loved the added dimension of the story of her great Aunt Emma's life which, unbeknownst to her, in many ways paralleled her own.  Some might say the ending wrapped up too neatly and nicely but I found the struggle to get to where the characters went and the time frame it took them fit very nicely.  I found the story anencouragment to seek and totally lay one's life down to the Lord and to trust in His wisdom and ways.  The one thing that I didn't like about the book was that Emma's journal entries were put into a font that was quite a bit smaller than the regular type.  For my eyes that presented a touch of difficulty while reading.  But I did enjoy the story and the realness of the struggle of the characters. 

2.  "Fallen Women" by Sandra Dallas

Completed:  January 18, 2014

Rating:  8/10


3.  "Butterfly Palace" by Colleen Coble

Completed:  January 30, 2014

Rating:  8.5/10

Review:  Four years ago, Lily Donaldson lost her father in a questionable barn fire that also took the life of her fiance's father and the grief and guilt of which drove her fiance away.  Now still not over those losses, Lily is grieving the death of her mother and moves to the city to take on work as a house maid in a grand house working for a senator hopeful.  While it seems like a wonderful job she is creeped out by the the owner's love and collection of butterflies that she must be exposed to on a regular basis.  She is quickly promoted to lady's maid to the owner's very spoiled and beautiful niece who has her eyes set on a handsome young man.  One whom Lily discovers much to her shock and anger, is none other than her former fiance.  But he's changed his name and his past and has begged Lily not to reveal him.  Just as she determines to find out what is going on another servant girl from the city is attacked.  And Lily is there when it happens.  Now she must find out what is this mystery with her ex and figure out how can she trust him ever again even while the terror of the mysterious killer threatens to overwhelm the household.

This was only my second ever Colleen Coble novel and I have to say I did enjoy it. It fit the bill for the type of read I was wanting at the time: easy reading, historical setting, bit of a romance, bit of mystery. While it probably would be labeled historical fiction because of the time period it was in and involved the class distinctions of the rich and the servants it did feel like it had a bit of a contemporary flavor to it. The mystery was the best part for me. The author was able to put together 3 different puzzles and weave them with twists and turns that left me guessing right till the end whether one had anything to do with the other and who or who all was behind it. While there was a violent aspect to part of the mystery I never felt it was gratuitous or overly described or written so as to strike "stay up at night" fear in me. There were lots of characters but it was never confusing and their personalities were definitely distinct. Three of the main characters had definite growth happen by the end and I really like how that played out in the story. In the end, it was a story that kept me turning the pages.

 The one thing that irked me, that I just have to get off my chest, which I have mentioned with other novels before, is the fact that the book cover does not match the description within the story. While absolutely lovely artwork, it is nothing like the house described on page 7 as such: "The automobile stopped in front of a grand stone mansion" and "...dark brick that made it look stern and unwelcoming", and "willed herself to admire the 4 story mansion". It might be a small thing but it is a pet peeve with me and I don't understand why publishers do that. As I read the story my mind's eye pictures the home on the front of the cover and soon forgets the author's actual description and the character's initial feelings when laying eyes on it. But that is my pet peeve and one that didn't actually take away from this particular story.

4.  "Forever After" by Deborah Raney (Hanover Falls #2)

Completed:  January 7 2014

Rating:  8.0/10

Review:   This is the second in the Hanover Falls series from Deborah Raney.  This story picks up the lives of two of the characters that were introduced in the first book. Luke Vermontez not only lost his father, the captain, in the tragic blaze of the homeless shelter from the last book, but he was seriously injured and almost lost his own life. After a year of multiple surgeries and intense and painful rehab, Luke is still holding onto the dream of getting back to his job as a firefighter. But with progress not going as fast as he would hope he has fought frustration and depression over the last year as he feels useless and lost in his life.

 Jenna Morgan's husband was one of the firefighters who died in the blaze a year ago. In the last book she had pulled herself away from her friend Brynne, who's mistake started the fire. But as the year passes Jenna faces mounting debt and a realization that she has been living a lie in more ways than one. All her secrets are making getting her life on track nearly impossible and she finds herself moving in with her very wealthy in-laws. When her and Luke's lives intersect and Luke starts to make clear that he wants more than a friendship Jenna must come to terms with everything she has so carefully tried to keep hidden.

 While not as intense as the first book in the series, this was still a good read. I especially liked the arc of Luke's story. A very dedicated rookie firefighter, his dream was to walk in his dad's footsteps. I was drawn into his emotions and struggles as he not only had to deal with his dad's death, but his own guilty feelings concerning surviving the fire and his painful recovery and loss of purpose. Then as he became closer to Jenna he was also fighting feelings of guilt as Jenna's deceased husband was his best buddy at the firehall. I loved how the author really brought forth all the emotional and psychological mountains that an injured first responder might face. Jenna's story was at times frustrating due to her attitudes and the secrets she was keeping driving a lot of her decisions. I wanted to root for her but also wanted to shake her at times. But her story also was interesting as she did show some growth. I found this story well written and one that engaged my emotions.

5.  "Sweet Dreams" by Carla Stewart

Completed:  February 24, 2014

Rating:  8.0/10

Review:  Dusty Fairchild has grown up in Texas with her self made oil millionaire father and a loving housekeeper.  Her mother passed away when she was very little and from her funeral gravesite Dusty pocketed some rocks that she found appealing.  Fast forward to her graduation party and Dusty still has a passion for rocks and her dream is to go to college and study geology.  But it is 1962 and her father feels she will be better off attending a finishing school.  It is the last thing she wants to do but her father insists and in trying to bargain going to college afterwards, she agrees to go to the finishing school.  And besides, in trying to sway her in that direction her father paid for her cousin Paisley to attend with her.  Paisley is the same age as Dusty but couldn't have lived a life more different than her.  While Dusty has been sheltered and brought up quite strict Paisley has traveled all over the U.S. with her hippie mom and already has had a life time of adventures.  The cousins are close friends and this is making the year of finishing school tolerable for Dusty.  Paisley on the other hand is thrilled to have the chance to attend finishing school and embraces it wholeheartedly.  She's had enough of the vagabond lifestyle that her mother so embraces.  She wants stability and some roots.  But there are secrets swirling around the two of them that threatens to destroy their bond, secrets concerning Paisley's mom and the deep dislike Dusty's dad has towards her.  And then there is the little matter of Paisley falling in love with a young man she has met on the first day of finishing school.  A young man whom she later finds out is non other than Dusty's boyfriend from back home.    But when a life threatening accident happens back on the ranch, it brings out what really matters to each girl's heart.

This was a nice read from Carla Stewart.  While it didn't grab me in quite the same way as the others I have read from her did, it still was a wonderful read that drew me into the story and the characters.  There is a bit of mystery with family secrets and issues along several fronts and a theme of  following one's dreams and talents and of learning to forgive.   I love how the author develops her stories and characters, like a slow simmer, and it really keeps the pages turning for me7.  Her characters are so relatable and I get really attached to them as the story progresses.  I loved the setting for the book, the early '60's and the finishing school.  I can't say I have read a whole lot of books with that setting.  Class systems, bullying, abuse,trying to fit in and societal expectations are all explored through the story of these two cousins.  I have so far not been disappointed in any of this author's novels.  She's one I keep on my watch list for new stories coming.

6.  "The Astronaut Wives Club - A true story" by Lily Koppel

Completed:  March 2, 2014

Rating:  9/10

Review:  I've always been mildly obsessed been very interested in the missions to land a man on the moon of the 1960's.  But all the books I've read have always focused on the astronauts or on a specific mission.  Finally a book takes a look into the lives of the astronaut's wives and how their husband's very public, very dangerous jobs affected their family lives.

From the beginning of their young married lives as wives of test pilots, wondering and worrying daily if their husbands would come home alive each day from their jobs, to being thrown in a very public life once the goal of "a man on the moon before the end of the decade" became the focus of the country,  theirs was not necessarily an easy life.  They were the ones at home budgeting their meager military income as test pilot families and then handling all of a sudden having all sorts of perks handed to them from companies then just as quickly it seemed  having to split those perks with more and more astronaut families.  They went  from basically quiet, private lives to the sudden popularity and worries of other women now throwing themselves at their husbands.  They had to handle and navigate the stresses of watching their husbands be in a very competitive organization  and had to learn to be open to the constant demand for interviews and a very public fishbowl existence that was now required of them. They were expected to hold it together at home so that their husbands would be able to concentrate on the task at hand in their work.  In the process some handled it better than others.  The women formed a tight unit with the original 7 wives and Marge Slayton attempted to continue it on by starting the Astronaut Wives Club to provide support.   It was very interesting how they survived the "rock star" status of their husbands, with the constant demands that the public and NASA placed upon their husbands, marriages and families.  It is also interesting to note that a very small percentage were able to hold their marriages together through the stress but that they had to put on a good "show" to the public.  I thought this was a great read that finally gave some credit to the women who stayed on the home front during a time when the hope of a nation was placed in the history that the space program was writing and the eyes of all were on the heroes that their husbands had become.

7.  "David and Goliath - Underdogs, Misfits and the Art of Battling Giants" by Malcolm Gladwell

Completed:  March 5, 2014

Rating:  7.5/10

Review:  This book turned out to be something different than what I was thinking it was going to be.  For some reason I thought it was going to be a indepth study of the biblical story of  David and Goliath but that was my error for not reading the description closely enough.  While the author has started off with the story of David and Goliath he uses that as the diving board to explore many other aspects and more current stories of what the world would call underdogs rising above their circumstances and stations in life to accomplish the seemingly impossible. 

While the description on the cover of the book states it he begins with the "real" story of what happened between the giant and the shepherd boy, David, I found that I could not quite agree that it was the "real" story.  I felt it was more supposition on the author's part.  He breaks it down into a pretty much intellectual breakdown of what might have happened and what might have accounted for David's victory over the Philistine giant.  In my mind, while all that "might" have been true, there is no evidence for it, the story of David and Goliath is so much more than what is seen with the eye.  It is a story of great spiritual significance, of a young boy's deep faith in the greatness and faithfulness of God and his audacity to take God at His word.  It is a story of God's plan and fulfillment of that plan, of David fulfilling what God had called him to in order to change history. 

That being said I did find the exploration of the underdog very interesting.  By going into other true to life stories the author takes a look at what we as a society define as handicaps, disabilities and disadvantages and how certain groups and individuals have taken that and turned it around into a victory.  Because non-fiction is always more challenging to me it took me a little longer to make it through to the end but I'm glad I was persistent with it.  Some of the statistics in the book did bog me down but the book is not over done with them.  The questions and arguments the author stated did challenge my thinking and made for some good conversations.

The book being mostly a historical and psycological study, I found it didn't touch on the spiritual at all except to quote a scripture at the beginning of each chapter.  It is interesting to note that in writing this book it kicked off a journey for the author into turning back to his family's Christian faith.  He also on the B& B media blog when discussing this book quoted: 

“Believing that the power within us – the Spirit of God – can overcome the powers against us means that we are not the underdog,” explains Gladwell. “We are not as weak as we think we are. Neither is the giant as strong as he seems. This is an important lesson for us to learn in our battles with opponents of all kinds.”

And in essence I think that that is the point that Mr. Gladwell has learned and now speaks about in interviews.  I wish a bit more of that point was made more clear within the book itself.  After all is said and done, I found the book interesting, very readable to even a non-fiction reader such as myself, and challenging to examine my own way of thinking.

8.  "The Book of Matt - Hidden Truths about the Murder of Matthew Shepard" by Stephen Jimenez

Completed:  March 9, 2014

Rating:  9/10

Review:  After researching the murder and trial of  Matthew Sheppard's killers, Stephen Jimenz, gay himself, has come to the conclusion that there was way more to the story than media's report and the prosecution's case of this being a gay hate crime.  Very well researched, research which took him over 10 years, Jimenez has done a lot of work and spoke to a great many who had contact with those involved,  to bring to light the truth of this very sad ending to a young man's life.

9.  "Sweet Salt Air" by Barbara Delinsky

Completed:  March 17, 2014

Rating:  7/10

Review:  Liked the story line though I guessed a lot of of the stuff going on before it was revealed.  The plot was good though there was lots of pre-marital sexual encounters and descriptions thereof, which I know the general population thinks nothing about anymore, but it meant lots of skipping parts of the book for me.   I especially liked the addition of the food blogger story line.  The MS storyline and experimental therapies was very interesting.   Ending was a bit predictable.

10.  "After All" by Deborah Raney

Completed:  March 20, 2014

Rating:  9.5/10

Review:    Book 3 of the Hanover Falls series, finds Susan Marlowe finally starting to heal after the tragic fire that took the life of her firefighter husband.  What made it even worse was that the fire was at the homeless shelter which she started and devoted her life to.  Now after a lot of work the shelter is back up and running in a different location but now she has much opposition from certain people in town and they are spreading their opinions so much that giving has been way down.  And in the midst of that pressure she makes a startling discovery about a secret her husband tried to hide.  The fire investigator from the Grove Street shelter also hides a secret.  Her firefighter  friend also died in the shelter fire. She had such hopes that the friendship would become more but now that will never be.  And she must grieve in private only because because her friend was also a married man.  Firechief Peter Brennan is still recovering emotionally from that horrendous fire.  He lost so many of his men that night and is still in the process of rebuilding the department.   But when the two women enter his life he has a whole new set of problems he must contend with.

After All is the third and final installment in the series and picks up on the story of the Shelter founder and director Susan Marlowe's life 18 months after the shelter fire.  It is a story that deals with betrayal, forgiveness and hope of moving on.  There is a bit of mystery woven into the story that really kept the pages turning for me.  A bit of love triangle provides tension throughout and my heart went out to Susan's young adult son who was introduced in this book.  At 22, he has moved back into Susan's home and is still struggling to come to terms with his father's death and the secret that he knew his father was keeping.    A twist in the story surprised me in the end, which is something I like.   Once again Deborah Raney has written a story that totally drew me in and made me care about the characters.

Set aside

-could not get into the writing style.  Gave up after 40 pages.

Set aside

-could not get into writing style or story

11.  "Unquenchable - Growing a Wildfire Faith that Will Endure Anything" by Carol Kent

Completed:  March 26, 2014

Rating:  8.5/10

Review:   Sometimes this life is just plain hard and there are times when things turn out very disappointingly different than what we would plan.  How do we not just not lose faith in but actually grow our faith in these times?  This book endeavours to show us how.  There are plenty of stories of women who have gone through hard, hard things.  But the main theme of going through your own personal fiery trials and not just scraping by but actually growing a wildfire faith that spreads to others is brought out loud and clear.   Life is not always easy peasy for believers and we all will face hardships and disappointments in this life.  The author, through the stories of  some courageous women who have gone through some extremely difficult and horrendous things and have come out with hope and faith, encourages us and teaches us to find God in the firestorms of life and to grow our faith to wildfire proportions through these difficult times. ( I do have to admit though that one of the stories I just could not wrap my head around.) Each chapter ends with questions you can journal the answers to or if doing as a group you can use them to start discussions.  She then gives a practical "Fire Building Challenge" to help you to do something practical and meaningful that relates to that chapter's lesson.

12.  "Girls with Swords" by Lisa Bever (book and workbook)

Completed:  April 7, 2014

Rating:  6.5/10


13.  " My Life with George" by Judith Summers

Completed:  April 12, 2014

Rating:  9.5/10

Review:  "What I Learned about Joy from One Neurotic (and Very Expensive) Dog"

When Judith Summers lost her beloved husband to cancer, her and her young son were understandably at a loss.  In an effort to help with their profound grief, Judith gave in and said yes to a dog.  After some research, she decided that a Cavalier King Charles Spaniel would fit the bill.  Enter George into their lives.  Charming, adorable, loving and fun.  George also turned out to be high maintenance, naughty, and accident prone.  Things happened to George.  A lot.  This is Judith's story of how a small bundle of fur can take over one's life in hilarious and moving ways.  It's a story full of laughter and tears as George just takes completely over.  I loved her tales of his naughtiness, laughing much because as a dog owner I could totally relate to a lot of it.  I also cried along with her as her and her son dealt with the loss of husband, father, best friend, provider and the huge hole that was left in their lives.  Judith writes in a very engaging way and you are drawn right into their lives and the chaos that is George.  Loved this story.

13.  "When Crickets Cry" by Charles Martin

Completed:  April 26, 2014

Rating:  9/10


14.  "Snapshot" by Lis Wiehl

Completed:  May 22, 2014

Rating:  9/10

Review:   Waldren is a very busy, very successful federal prosecutor and has just finished wrapping up a very important case when she is contacted by her father.  A former FBI man he is insistent she take a look at a case of a black man on death row who is there for killing a civil rights leader.  A man her father believes is innocent.  But Lisa is reluctant to take a look at the case.  First because the marches in the South that happened so long ago seem so far removed from her life in Boston now and second, because her relationship with her father is so strained and distant that taking it on is just another stress.  But when her father reveals that Lisa was actually at the march where Benjamin Gray was murdered and shows Lisa a picture he took of her and another little African American girl, Lisa's curiosity is peaked.  As the search begins to identify the little girl and women in the snapshot, Lisa starts to see why her father may have been so distant as she grew up. 

I really enjoyed this murder mystery.  The photograph on the cover of the book is an actual photo of the author herself when she was three. That she built the story around that photograph and based it on real events and her father's own G-man career and his involvement in the investigation of Kennedy's murder and her own knowledge and background as a former federal prosecutor made the book seem very appealing when I read and purchased it.  She wove in some history from the civil rights movement in the South and built a page turning story that is also thought provoking and touching.

 The main story centers around proving the African American man who is on death row , a man who has spent the majority of his life in prison for murder, is actually innocent of the crime.  Then the author weaves in father-daughter relational issues, racial prejudice, secrets,  forgiveness, and justice into an exciting story.  I really enjoyed the mystery within a mystery that the author put in with presidential cabinet that holds a clue.  The path that the author took me on from a photograph in the '60's and using modern techniques and available tools such as the internet to find connections was really interesting.  There were actually two father daughter story lines, which I thought was really worthy of note in their comparisons.   Her exploration of the two father-daughter relationships was a touching and thought provoking aspect to the fast paced mystery part of the story and, I thought, well done.   I also liked how the antagonist and his family history was also developed. It really added to the story.   I know it seems like there were many story lines within the book but the author wove it together so well and everything fit and didn't seem unnecessary to the story.  Just a small note, because it is a murder mystery there are a couple of grisly descriptions, so if you are squeamish about that, those parts can easily be skimmed over.  This was a very interesting page turning read. It was my first book by this author and I'm glad I picked it up.

15.  "Little Girl Blue - The Life of Karen Carpenter" by Randy L. Schmidt

Completed:  June 2014

Rating:  8.5/10

Review:  The biography of Karen Carpenter's life and death.  From the beginning's of her life and growing up years to her passion for drums and her rise to fame as the lead singing half of the duo from the '70's "the Carpenter's".  Karen seemed to have it all, yet behind the scenes and in her private times another story unfolded.  At a time when very little was understood about anorexia, Karen struggled privately to gain some control over her own life.  This book wrote of a domineering mother who's main goal was to promote her brother Richard.  Karen was secondary and decisions were always made in the context of how it would benefit Richard's music career.  The family was close and yet no one saw what was happening to Karen until she was well into the anorexia.  As a team Richard and Karen were very hard workers, always working on their music and even though surrounded by people Karen found herself quite lonely.  She dreamed of being married and having children.   What started out as a diet to help her slim down soon spiraled out of control with food becoming the one thing in her life she felt she was in control of.  

It was an interesting read, fascinating and sad.  As with all biographies, especially when the subject has passed away and can't speak for themselves, I read with a grain of salt.  But if everything in this version is true, there was a sadness to this young woman's life and a lesson to be learned of the sometimes heavy burden of pain that famous people might carry that no one knows about.  Karen kept her weight loss very well hidden and though at times some noticed and commented she vehemently would deny it and wouldn't even admit it to herself.   When she finally did seek help it was with the thought that she would attend counselling for a very set period of time and then she figured she was fine.  Not much was known of the causes and triggers of anorexia at the time, so her story ends with the tragic death of one of music's talented artists at a very early age.

16.  " A Deadly Business" by Lis Wiehl

Completed:  June 22, 2014

Rating:  8/10

Review:   I like a mystery once in awhile so when this book came up for review I ordered it in spite of the fact that it is actually the 2nd in a series, the first of which I hadn't read. But I thought I'd give it a go because I really enjoyed the last book I read from this author.   As described above Mia Quinn is a Seattle prosecutor who is was widowed seven months before and is doing her best trying to raise a teen and a younger child on her own while still dealing with grief.  Her work takes a lot of time and on top of just being attacked in court by a defendant she was handed a very tough assignment of deciding whether a couple of teens should be prosecuted as adults or juvenilles in a very polarizing violent crime.  So when her friend, a detective, comes to tell her he thinks that the accident that took her husband isn't an accident Mia feels totally overwhelmed.  But as they start to look into it, questions start to arise as to what her husband was really up to in the last months of his life.  Things become more complex and dangerous the more they dig and Mia is not sure she wants to know the truth.

The story hit the floor running and didn't stop until the end.  Lots of fast paced action made it a page turner.  The main characters were very likable and I didn't feel like I was lost from not having read the first book of the series.  I felt for Mia in her struggles with juggling a very demanding job, being there for her children and helping them deal with their new normal without their dad while also still dealing with her own grief.  But when clues start to point towards the possibility of her husband not being the person she believed before he died, and Mia wrestling with the knowledge that she had suspicions but didn't confront him when he was still alive, the reading got a bit emotionally difficult for me.  It was hard getting through that.  But when things really started coming to head, it was a book that was hard to put down. 

The secondary story of the teens being charged with a violent crime was at times heart wrenching and I liked how the author explored the consequences and politics of what would happen if these teens were charged either way and what factors might have contributed to the decisions they made.   It made an interesting part of the story that made me think on a topic that I don't normally come to face. 

If you're looking for a heavy Christian element from the story, it isn't there but for a murder mystery I found it a good, tense page turner. 

17.  "Bridge to Haven" by Francine Rivers

Completed:  July 9, 2014

Rating:  9/10

Review: Lena Scott is a rising star in Hollywood during the 1950's.  With an ambitious agent she is on her way up.  Everything should be perfect for her.  But Lena is weary.  Not just physically but in her heart.  She's tired of playing a part even in her off screen life.  Though her real name is Abra Freeman, no one knows her as such, even her husband/agent refuses to call her anything but Lena and she must play the part of the starlet 24/7.  No one knows of her humble background as a young girl raised in a small town with Christian roots.  Found under a bridge as an infant by the local pastor and taken home she was nurtured by a loving family.  Until tragedy struck and she found herself given to another family who adopted her and tried to love her.  But now Abra had deep scars of rejection to deal with and that built over the years to the point where she couldn't see the love that was right in front of her.  Bitter and disenchanted, bored with what she perceives is her dull life , she easily falls prey to the attentions of  the dashing and older young man who rides into town with a fast car and slick words.  Knowing Abra is vulnerable he charms her with promises of a more exciting life.  But the life he leads her to causes her to leave everything behind and too late she realizes the price she has had to pay for the attention and love she feels she must have.  She's left her past behind but now all she wants is to go home with no way to get there.  Too late she realizes the life she shunned.

Pastor Ezekiel has never given up hope for Abra and prays for her continuously.  His son Joshua has loved Abra since childhood but being drafted to war has separated them in more than distance.  When he comes home from war, amidst having to deal with his own heart wounds,  he finds an Abra who is closed off and rebellious and he finds he has no influence to what Abra thinks she wants.  After she leaves he has tried to find Abra but all the looking he has done has led him nowhere.  In frustration he finally does what his father advises him to do and that is to let Abra go and to let God in His time work on her.  But his heart is having a hard time letting her go.  No one is more shocked than he when he hears she is a movie star in Hollywood.  Now what does he do?

I finished this book quite a while ago but it's sat waiting for me to review.  Notes from the author in the back tells us that the story is based on the scripture from Ezekiel 16 *"where God speaks of His chosen people as an unwanted newborn whom He cared for, watched over and eventually chose as His bride despite their rejection of Him".  She relates it to her own life of going her own way and the consequences and regrets until finally being brought to her knees and surrendering back to the Lord.  It is worth the read of the Author notes to know how she felt about the main characters in her book. 

The author brought the lifestyle of the 1950's small town and Hollywood to life in her descriptions.  I found the story very heartbreaking and I could see myself a lot in the character of Abra, not necessarily in the circumstances but in the heart attitude.  I think the story in that sense if very relatable to all.  Although it is a story that is long in length I could not put it down.   Some have criticized  some of the actions of the pastor in the book in that he didn't discuss things with the 5 year old Abra when she overhears him and his wife talking about the hardship on the wife's health that the taking in of Abra was.  They feel that didn't jive.  And then again when the pastor gives Abra to another family.  It was criticized that the church family would have rallied around and helped him.  But to me it rang true to the decade setting of the book.  It was the 1950's after all, not 2014.  Children were seen and not heard and were treated as children not as little adults.  The actions and decisions of adults were not discussed with children.  They were made and the children's opinions were not sought out.  Anyway, that was a little point I found odd in other critiques.  When reading a novel we should keep in mind the culture and mindset of the time and not hold it up to how things are done today. 

Anyway, the reason I found it so hard to review this story was not because of the story itself, that was wonderful, but because of some instances of graphic content.  It is not going to be every Christian's cup of tea even though it is in the Christian fiction genre.  Some of the imtimate scenes were much more described than one usually finds in this genre.  In the context of the story I can see what the author was trying to show, however.  That said, I do feel I have to make mention of it to my book review readers as I feel some would want to be aware of that within the story.

All said I did find it a great prodigal son type of read, a story of hurt and stubborness, of mercy, grace and unconditional love.  I've always loved this author for the emotions she is able to draw out of me throughout the story, how she involves my heart and draws me right in from the beginning and how she is able to parallel a biblical story to a more modern time.

*quote from Notes from the Author, pg 481, Bridge to Haven.

18.  "Porch Lights" by Dorothea Benton Frank

Completed:  July 18, 2014

Rating:  7/10

Review:  Jimmy McCullen and his wife Jackie both have careers where they take their life in their hands.  Jimmy is a firefighter with the FDNY and Jackie is an army nurse who has finished 3 seven month tours of Afghanistan.    Jimmy plays the role of father and mother to their son, Charlie,  while Jackie is gone and they are a close knit family.  When Jimmy is killed in a horrendous fire both Jackie and Charlie are understandably devastated.  Finding it hard to move on and watching her happy, active and outgoing boy turn quiet and inward, Jackie decides to spend the summer on Sullivan's Island with her mother.  Hoping it will bring some healing time for her son, Jackie wonders how she herself will get along with her mom.   They are incredibly different people and Jackie feels her mom has never understood her or her choice of career.  

Annie is thrilled to have Jackie and Charlie coming home and fully prepares the house including turning the porch lights on until they make the long trip from New York.   Her quirky friend Deb helps her but Annie was not expecting the help of her estranged husband who walked out of her life 11 years ago.  While not together, they have not divorced and it stirs up her aggravation at him all over again when he comes back into their lives.  Add in Jackie's blaming  of her mother for the separation and it makes for awkward family relationships.  But for the sake of her grandson, who desperately needs the loving influence of his grandfather, Annie gives in to his presence in their lives.  Add in a good looking, single doctor who lives next door who Annie and Deb tease each other about and it becomes quite the summer.

It took me a long time to get into the book.   The story is told from the viewpoint of Jackie and Annie alternating  between chapters.    Once I got past the first few chapters and got used to the "voice" that was telling the story it became better reading for me.  Each chapter has a verse that starts it off from Edgar Allan Poe's story "The Gold Bug" which is also worked into the main storyline.  In all honesty, not a thing that appeals to me as a reader and I found myself skipping that beginning verse.    I did, however, like how who Edgar Allan Poe was and what he had to do with the island and how that  was worked into the storyline.  Very interesting.   Another thing that I couldn't really get into in the story was the constant mention of alcohol and it's consumption.  They forever seemed to be purchasing booze for the bar, setting up the bar, deciding what drink to have and this part of the story, to me,  got to be unnecessary.  What I did like about the story was the lovely descriptions of the South and island life, the occasional humor that made me laugh out loud and the underlying love beneath the family issues that caused one woman to hang onto the hope of eventually seeing her family back together.   

19.  The Cuckoo's Child by Margaret Thompson

Completed:  August 3, 2014

Rating:  9.5/10

Review:  Livvy Alvarsson has not had an easy go of the adult life.  In her forties, she has faced the devastating and debilitating disappearance of her 4 year old son eleven years earlier.  There was never any clues and the police finally had to call off the search with Daniel never being found.  Eleven years later Livvy still feels the profound loss.  And now she's facing another loss.  That of her beloved younger brother to cancer.  Hoping she can be his bone marrow donor she is shaken to the core to find out that there is no way that she can.  Now she no longer even knows who she is and with only a clue of a gas mask with a partial name and a life changing secret revealed she sets off from her community in British Columbia, Canada to a search in England. 

I don't know what originally drew me to this book, the cover, the title, the description or the fact that the author is Canadian.  Maybe all of the above.  But I really was captured by this story.  It's a story of profound loss and grief, but also one of love and family, restoration and acceptance.  It gripped me from the very beginning as Livvy starts her story in the form of "conversation" with her beloved brother, holding his hand as he lays unconscious dying from cancer.  As she talks to him and unburdens her heart,  her story starts to unfold and it is absorbing in the way she speaks and the way she puts it together.  The writing is beautiful.  You go through her life with her, the joys and excitements and then the deep despair of trying to find the lost child.  Livvy bears the full brunt of feeling guilty as Daniel was with her and you go with her through the difficulties and the search and then the effects on her marriage and trying to move on with life.  When the horrific secret that is revealed when her brother becomes ill you wonder how she will hold up under the news.  Her search for family history brings into her life a handful of interesting characters, some that bring some lightness to the story so even though the story was very sad in parts it was lifted by these moments of wonderful characters, but also a character that makes you determined never to become like that.   It shows the devastating effects of unforgiveness and hard heartedness and religion gone to merciless extremes.     The story and the style and the prose was so engaging I could not put it down.  Amidst the heaviness, the author beautifully weaves in through Livvy's voice the joys of life and family, the strength of a committed marriage, and finding hope to go on until the story comes full circle. 

20.  Quaker Summer by Lisa Samson

Completed:  August 19, 2014

Rating:  8/10

Review:  Heather has it all.  A privileged lifestyle provided by her heart surgeon husband.  She is a stay at home mom with a teen age son, lives in a huge house on a lake, drives a big vehicle and wants for nothing.  But she's not happy.  She is constantly spending more and more money.  And convincing herself it's all for good reason.  The tennis court is so her son's friends can hang out, the new pool furniture to replace the furniture that's only a couple years old is so that she can give the older one to someone who needs furniture.  And on and on it goes to the point where her husband is being worked into the ground in order to keep up with it.  And his dream of missions is permanently on hold.  But Heather can't seem to stop herself.  She must keep up with the Jones and surpass them all and keep up appearances all in the name of being a giving person.   But this summer all is about to change.   As she is starting to be convicted of her attitudes and spending habits, her world turns upside down when circumstances cause her to meet a pair of Quaker sisters who reach out to her and a nun who runs the homeless shelter.  Can she put aside all her excuses and learn what God is trying to show her?  What needs to happen before she can let go?

I really did enjoy this story.  I found it quite relatable in the sense that we all make excuses, even good sounding ones, for our attitudes and lifestyles and actions.  But when God starts to convict us on some of this stuff we tend to run the other direction unfortunately and it takes time for Him to get through to us.   Though the author chose the vehicle of a privileged lifestyle to get the story across, Heather's journey could have been mine in any number of areas.   About 3/4 of the way through the book I was thinking "Get the point already, Heather", I thought to myself that sometimes I too am stubborn and clueless and don't want to admit or learn what God would be trying to show me.   We tend to hang onto what we know and what is our comfort zones.  This story made me laugh, and cringe, and my heart went out to the character as she struggled to let go and get out of what was comfortable.  

Set aside:  Could not get into the characters or story

21.  The Edge of the World by Phil Callaway

Completed:  September 15, 2014

Rating:  8/10

Review:  Terry Anderson is a 10 (or is it 8?  I can't remember) year old growing up in the small town of Grace.  As small towns go back in the day, the citizens are grouped by each other into distinct categories of either church goers or not.  Terry's family definitely is so his growing up years are steeped in Christian school and church activities.  And being extremely poor shapes everything he does.   Terry thrives on the outdoor rink each winter, skating until he's frozen.  The indoor rink where it would definitely be warmer is off limits to the church going kids.  So suffer it out he must.  Nothing keeps him away.  And it is during one of those times when he is the last to leave that Terry makes a discovery that could change his life forever.  But he must keep it a secret or risk losing it all.  But with the secrets come the lies.  And with the telling of the lies comes keeping all those lies straight.  And then there is the moral dilemma of it all.  How is a young kid to cope?  But the lure of keeping the secret and making his life easier is too big to pass up and Terry starts to question what he really believes.  Does he have the faith of his parents?  With a godly older brother to look up to and whom he doesn't want to disappoint, Terry struggles with telling anyone his secret.  He knows he should but the doors it is opening to his impoverished life is just too tempting.  Maybe he'll wait just one more day.

This fiction story is written by one of my favorite funny authors.  It's his first fictional story and I think it was an engaging and sweet read.  It is written in the voice of young Terry and you really get a young boy's view on everything from church, to school, to a young boy's first crush on the pretty girl at school, to the fun characters in the town that make up his small world.  It takes a look at some pretty deep issues of faith and poverty, seemingly good circumstances and moral dilemmas and looks at them through the innocence of a young boy.  The author made the mid century Canadian town come to life through Terry's telling and it was nostalgic and fun, sad and sweet all at the same time.  There were many laugh out loud moments as the young Terry describes what he sees in truth and honesty without all the covering up that adults tend to do to keep up appearances.  I thought it was a great read.

22. Operation Christmas Child - the Story of Simple Gifts by Franklin Graham and Donna Lee Toney

Completed:  September 27, 2014

Rating:  10/10

Review:  I finished this book weeks ago but you know, life just sorta got hectic and I just haven't put my brain together to write a review.  What can I say about this book?  My heart has been connected with this ministry from the first time I saw Franklin Graham talk about sending shoeboxes to Bosnia in the 1990's.   Our family has been sending shoeboxes since then and I've been the co-ordinator at my church for years.  It is very near and dear to my heart.  So when this book came out to celebrate 100 million shoeboxes packed and given to needy children I had to read it.

This is the beautiful history of this ministry, from the inception of the idea, to the excitement, the joy and sometimes danger of delivering the boxes, to the incredible stories of the perfect box miraculously being placed in the hands of just the right child and how it spoke to them of God's love and let them know that somebody somewhere cared about what they were going through.  The story is told, fittingly, in the voice of Franklin Graham, Billy Graham's son, who heads the world wide emergency relief organization Samaritan's Purse under which Operation Christmas Child operates.  This book is touching and I recommend a big ol' box of kleenex to be handy when you delve into the pages.  You'll cry as you read the plight and conditions of the children the boxes are for, how God has led and blessed the delivery of the boxes, how everyday people have caught the vision and excitement and sought God on what to pack and how certain boxes have made it to children who needed or asked God to show His love by having a certain item within a box.  In other words, you'll do a fair bit of crying.  It is truly a miraculous story and one cannot fail to be touched by what goes on in this organization.  I highly recommend reading this is you've ever wondered about Operation Christmas Child or Samaritan's Purse, ever been curious what happens to the boxes, ever packed a box and thought about the children or if you love an encouraging story of a simple idea touching kids around the world.

23.  A Life Intercepted by Charles Martin

Completed:  October 20, 2014

Rating:  9.5/10

Review:   Matthew Rising was on his way to a great life. Nicknamed "the Rocket" he was the hometown hero.  A high school and college quarterback star, his winning record was unmatched and he was the number 1 NFL draft pick.  Not only was he the best at football, it seemed he was also the best at life.  His high moral standards for himself caused him to be a kind and passionate young man.  With his high school sweetheart, now loving and supportive wife, by his side, Matthew is about to sign his professional contract.  Audrey was his biggest cheerleader and knew the game as well as he did.  She was his rock and he knew he wouldn't be where he was without her continual support.  But in one instant,  it all came crashing down.  Matthew was falsely accused of a crime that totally went against his character and then with supposedly unrefutable evidence, convicted.  Now he faced a 12 year prison sentence.   With his career devastated, his freedom gone, his reputation smeared,  the thing that buries him most while in prison is the loss of his beloved wife.  Audrey has disappeared and the last memory he has of her is her deep crying as he was led in chains from the courtroom.

Twelve years later Matthew is freed but must register as sex offender and wear a ankle bracelet.  Determined to find Audrey he heads back to the very place where he is most unwelcome, his home town.  Audrey has hidden herself well from everyone including the unrelenting media in a quiet Catholic school where she has taken a young orphan boy under her wing all these years.  Honing his talents and using her knowledge of football and Matthew's old game tapes she feels she has a young man on her hands who can be even better than Matthew had once been.  But he plays under a coach who has ulterior motives to further his own son in his football career.   Knowing Matthew can take him all the way she convinces him to coach the boy even though it violates his parole and could put him back in jail for life.  In the midst of media speculation if he will try to return to the game, Matthew takes on the challenge in secret in the hopes of winning back Audrey.

My favorite author strikes again writing a wonderful story.  Drawn in right from the beginning, he captured my attention with the devastated Audrey as he slowly revealed the story.  I love the character development the author takes.  He reveals the nature of the characters layer by layer as the story progresses.  One thing I always love about this author is the way he is able to create a main male character who has strong moral qualities yet are very human and relatable with their struggles and mistakes.  As usual his prose and way of putting sentences together totally captivates me and keeps me turning the pages staying up way too late to finish the story.  The story goes back and forth between real time and the past nicely laying out Matthew and Audrey's life together.   There was never any confusion to me, the reader, and I followed it easily.  Audrey's character was a complicated one and I understood her pain as she tried to reconcile the Matthew she knew with the Matthew that was convicted.  Her confusion, anger and betrayal were plain to see throughout the story even though I found it hard to believe she wouldn't stand by him a little more.  Another thing I always love about this author is how he weaves elements and tenants of faith and real life together in a story without it being labeled a Christian novel, if you know what I mean.  And with a little twist in the story revealed at the end, this novel leaves you thinking and savoring the implications of living a life of true love.  Again the author's notes at the end are well worth the read as they reveal where the story came in his own life. 

24.  Don't Go by Lisa Scottoline

Completed:  October 30, 2014

Rating:  9.5/10

Dr. Mike Scanlon is a doctor serving in Afghanistan.  On his second tour his thoughts are frequently at home with his wife, Chloe, and their new baby.  Chloe was not happy for Mike to be going back on a second tour and so he deals with guilt while in Afgahanistan.  When news comes that Chloe has died at home in a freak home accident Mike is devastated.   Coming home on leave to make funeral arrangements, Mike is hit with the oddness of her death and is blindsided with a secret that she had been keeping.  Now he has a precious baby girl, that doesn't know him at all and is terrified of him, a medical practice that is changing without his input and the knowledge that he still has to go back to Afghanistan.  Leaving his baby girl in the hands of Chloe's sister and husband, Mike goes back to finish his deployment.  But there, too, things start to fall apart.  The medical compound is hit with an attack and 2 doctors lose their lives.  Now with a doctor shortage he is under pressure to stay and serve another year.  But his choice brings life long consequences and he must gather up everything within himself to fight for what is most important.

I really enjoyed this book from one of my favorite authors.  In it she explores what it means to be a father, a man and a hero.  It's a departure from her other books whose main character has always been women.  As Mike faces his world falling apart around him, he must figure out how to deal with what he doesn't want to admit to anyone, let alone himself.  The action goes back and forth from fast paced to very emotional and I was not bored in the story at all.   I was very moved in the descriptions of his very small daughter's reactions to him and how totally lost he was in trying to make it better.  I'm sure that is very true of  some of our service men and women who come home to find their little ones not even knowing who they are.  Virtual strangers trying to love on their children.  It must be quite the patient process to try to get to know one another.  The mystery in the story was revealed slowly and I have to admit I didn't guess it until the reveal.  I was a little surprised at the time line of the story.  Once Mike was back, it seemed to me that it was quite a while as layers of the mystery were revealed and everything was swirling around him but in fact it was only about a week.  That seemed a shock to me as some of the events that unfolded, in my mind, would take longer.  But that said, I love a story that draws out lots of emotions and this one did that for me.

25.  "The Unbreakable Boy by Scott M. LeRette with Susy Flory

Completed:  November 5, 2014

Rating:  9.5/10


In Austin's world a simple hug can break his bones. How does he handle every day life? With great gusto! Add to his medical condition a diagnosis of autism and his parents are kept on their toes minute by minute. You never know what their day will bring. I really enjoyed this true story. Young Austin has many challenges in his day to day life and yet he approaches life with positiveness and with great verve! I really enjoyed reading about his escapades and how he kept his parents on the go though I was exhausted just reading about it and my heart went out to them many times throughout the telling. I especially enjoyed the journey of Austin's father from a selfish young man who fathered a boy with many needs not really in love with his wife to a more mature man, husband and father totally committed to God and family. And I love how he wove in how Austin has taught him all this throughout the years along with his wife Theresa who was a steadfast rock. It was an easy read having a good flow to it. Each event told was significant to the whole of the book and I never felt bogged down in the telling. I finished it a few days. I closed the book with a smile on my face from having read such a wonderful perspective. If I had to describe this book in just a sentence I would say inspirational in many, many ways.   I also really liked the questions at the back for book clubs.  They were thought provoking and are the kind that would make for great discussions.

26.  "The Hatmaker's Heart" by Carla Stewart

Completed:  November 18, 2014

Rating:  8/10

Review:  With this novel, Carla Stewart has taken a step back farther in time than she usually writes about and has created a story set in the Roaring 20's.  The heroine, Nell Marchwold, dreams of designing and making hats.  It is sheer joy to her to have a woman try on a hat she designed and witness that woman see herself as beautiful and poised, whether the woman is outwardly beautiful or not.  For Nell it is not about fame.  As an apprentice hatmaker at Oscar Fields Millinery in New York she works hard for her employer even though he is a hard taskmaster and can be quite belittling.  When she is called upon to design hats for a valued customer and her daughters, Nell's world is changed as she is thrown into the spotlight from the rave reviews on her designs.  Though thrilled with the business it brings, her boss is not too happy to not have the credit himself and is very skeptical when a up and coming fashion designer wants Nell to design the hats to go with his new collection.   With that success opportunity comes knocking to expand the business to England and he quickly has Nell on the ship with two assistants to design hats for a prominent family there who will be attending the wedding of the queen.  Thrilled to be going home, Nell hopes to visit her aging grandmother and her long time friend Quentin but her boss is quite adamant about controlling every moment of her time.   As Nell faces her feelings for Quentin, she has to decide what it is she really wants out of life.

I have enjoyed every Carla Stewart book that I have read and this was no exception.  For me, this author has a real gift at transporting the reader into another era.  The setting was quite different than her usual backgrounds being set in the 1920's rather than the 1960's.  It was interesting reading about the New York lifestyle during that time period.  Nell was an endearing character who drew you into her quiet world with her great attitude and her passion for hat making and seeing the blossoming of women as they wore her creations.  She is a character of high standards in her work and personal life.  I liked the glimpse we got into the life of a woman of that time, one with dreams of entering a field dominated and run by men, and especially a woman with a speech impediment and how she was treated because of it.    As family secrets are revealed and the pressure of the fashion business closes in on her, I really liked how Nell grew throughout the story and came into her own at the end.  

27.  To See The Moon Again by Jamie Langston Turner

Completed:  December 13, 2014

Rating:  7.5/10


28.  The Great Christmas Bowl by Susan May Warren

Completed:  December 17, 2014

Rating:  8.5/10


29.  The Choice by Robert Whitlow

Completed:  December 26, 2014

Rating:  8/10