Thursday, January 7, 2016

2016 Reads and Reviews

Whew a bit of a slow start to this year's reading because of everything happening around here.  But here we go, looking forward to a great year of reading.  With a good challenge chosen, we are under way.

1.  My Name is Mahtob by Mahtob Mahmoody

Completed:  January 9, 2016

Rating:  9.5/10

Review: I'm sure most of us, at least those in my generation remember either the book by Betty Mahmoody or the movie starring Sally Field entitled "Not without My Daughter". I remember being deeply affected by the story after reading it, and in fact, it is one of the only trade paperbacks that I kept after my big bookshelf purge a few years back. I remember watching Betty Mahmoody, Mahtob's mom, talking of their experiences on shows like "The 700 Club" and other morning news programs. I remember her telling her story matter of factly and how the laws were not on their side when it all happened and how she was now advocating for parents left behind in international parental abduction cases.

 "My Name is Mahtob" is the story told in Mahtob's (the now grown up daughter) perspective of what occurred and how her life was once they made their harrowing escape back to America. Growing up with the 18 month ordeal in Iran, and then coming back to America, having to change her name, battling trauma and nightmares, she lived with the fear of her father returning for her hanging over her life well into her university days. Having turned her life over to Christ at a young age it is also the story of how her faith has sustained and kept her through it all and through her diagnosis and living with lupus. Even though these women's experiences of abuse are hard to read, I loved this follow up to the whole story. I was captivated to read what a well rounded individual Mahtob has turned out to be, how she pursued her dreams in the midst of a chaotic life and most of all how she kept and developed her faith in such difficult circumstances even as a child. Reading how her faith and relationship with God developed over the years and got stronger as she grew older is a testimony of the grace of God and is an inspiration. I also really liked reading of her and her mom's relationship through the years and how her mom helped her to not grow up bitter and hard. It was an amazing read and I'm really glad I came across it. Highly recommend it if you have read or seen or heard about "Not Without My Daughter" but it is also a great read if you haven't.

2.  Anne of Avonlea by L. M. Montgomery

Completed:  January 22, 2016

Rating:  8/10

Review: So last year when I was shopping at Costco, low and behold they had the whole set of Anne books (all 8 of them) for a fairly decent price and seeing as I loved Anne of Green Gables so much after finally reading it instead of just watching the movie I took the plunge and bought the set. Which totally set me up to join in with Carrie at Reading to Know and her Lucy Maud Montgomery reading challenge. The challenge is to read as many titles as you can by this author in the month of January and I did all of one. But it did get me finally cracking open this set.

 This book sets up Anne as a young 17 year old who has finished school and is now the school teacher in Avonlea. It continues her adventures finding "kindred spirits" in the continuation of her friendship with Dianna and in her new fledgling friendship with the eccentric Miss Lavender. Anne's personality as usual was all bubbly, fresh, and still doing things without thinking them through though not quite as often as when she was younger. I must admit I did miss the precocious young Anne next to the more mature Anne. It was nice to read of her and Diana's friendship blossoming and being strong. The eccentric characters of Mr. Harrison and Miss Lavender were fun and added a quirkiness to the story. I especially loved reading of how her and Marilla's relationship deepened and moved to an "adult" relationship, reminding me of how my own relationship had changed with my mom when I moved out of the teen years. I missed the character of Gilbert a bit as he was barely mentioned, but there was a good set up for him for the next stories.

 There were a few things, though, that I didn't enjoy so much about this second installment in the series. The first was a chapter in the story that had the school children writing letters to Anne about anything they pleased. After perusing letter after letter and Anne's reaction I grew quite bored and basically skipped most of that chapter. Have I mentioned I really dislike letter writing as a form of story telling? I also found some of the conversations of elementary age children, namely Paul Irving and Davy, so involved and long that it got me questioning whether little boys that age actually converse in looooong complicated paragraphs that way. Some of those were scanned by me too. And last but not least I really disliked how it was mentioned several times throughout the novel that of two siblings in their care, Anne and Marilla loved one well above the other. It wasn't "they liked the personality" of one more, it was they "loved" one more than the other. They had conversations about it. That really irked the mother and child care provider in me immensely. I kept asking the book aloud whether they had never read or heard the story of Joseph.

 As a whole, I enjoyed reading Anne of Avonlea. I don't know what has taken me so long because I love the movies starring Megan Follows, so thanks to Carrie for giving me the nudge to get reading.

3.  Bathsheba - Reluctant Beauty by Angela Hunt   (Book 2:  A Dangerous Beauty Novel)

Completed:  January 31, 2016

Rating:  8.5/10

Review:   This is book #2 in the A Dangerous Beauty Series by this author. It focuses on 3 different women from the bible who's supreme beauty didn't necessarily benefit them but, if fact, betrayed them or put them in danger. I reviewed the 1st book, Esther: Royal Beauty here (#13).

When King David looks out from his rooftop and sees the beautiful Bathsheba bathing in her courtyard, he sends for her and forces himself upon her in spite of the fact that she is married and married to one of his most loyal soldiers at that. To see this side of David who worshipped God with such great abandon, was a shock to Bathsheba and it threw her young life into great turmoil. She loved her husband, Uriah, and hoped she would have a lifetime of loving him and bearing his children. But when Uriah left for war, young Bathsheba still had not conceived a child. Now with King David forcing himself upon her she finds herself pregnant. With this news, David furthers his sin, by bringing Uriah home from the seige of a city and trying to get him to go be with his wife, but in his loyalty Uriah refuses so David has him killed. He then takes Bathsheba into his palace as his wife.

 The story of David and Bathsheba is not a happy, fluffy romance. The consequences of David's sin reverberated throughout his life and caused much sorrow not just for him but for Bathsheba as well. Modern movies and stories have always involved Bathsheba as a quite willing partner in the whole affair but this author has taken a different viewpoint. Bathsheba lost her sense of self, her husband, her child, her home and everything she knew of her life. And probably at a very young age in a very short space of time. From the author's notes in the back, which are well worth taking the time to read, she once again states that she took great care to not purposely contradict anything in the bible. The viewpoint of Bathsheba not being a willing participant in the affair and that her whole life was ruined and changed against her will was one I never thought of before and it took her story in another path with emotions for me. The whole tale, even straight up from the bible is so sad. I love how this story explored the feelings of devastation Bathsheba would have been going through and how she had to learn to forgive and not turn bitter. For the most part, I really enjoyed this look into Bathsheba's life and emotions and thoughts from this perspective. And I appreciated how the author conveyed that through it all God remained faithful and the story is filled with Bathsheba trying to raise her sons to honor the Lord. I also really liked the the exploration of how David's other wives would have reacted to Bathsheba and everything she had to overcome in trying to make friendships within the palace so that she didn't lead a totally isolated and lonely life. The story is told in alternating chapters in Bathsheba's words and in Nathan, the prophet's words. In all honesty, there were just a handful of paragraphs or sentences that made me uncomfortable from the perspective of this being Christian fiction, but it was not anything near what you would find in secular novel and can easily be skipped if you are sensitive to that. I also was a tad uncomfortable with a storyline concerning Nathan's feelings for Bathsheba which I don't think added anything to make the story better.

 Reading this really made me pause and reflect on the story of David and Bathsheba and all there is to be learned from their lives.

4.  Mermaid Moon by Colleen Coble

Completed:  February 6, 2016

Rating:  8.5/10

Review:  This is the 2nd installment of the Sunset Cove series by Colleen Coble. (The first one, "The Inn at Ocean's Edge" reviewed here).  Like all her contemporary books that I have read it is a suspense romance. The mystery starts almost immediately with Mallory receiving a phone call from her father that has a confusing message for her. But as she listens to him talk Mallory thinks her father is having a heart attack. Her first instinct is to call Kevin, a game warden, who lives in her father's area and with whom Mallory had a relationship before she left 15 years before. Now with her father's death Mallory must take her 14 year daughter back to Folly Shoal's and take care of her father's affairs. It's the last thing she wants to do. But when it's looking like her father didn't have a heart attack but was murdered she is determined to stay and find out what was going on in spite of the fact that she feels everyone is upset that she is back.

 A "Mermaid Moon" refers to a pink moon that Mallory's mother, who died when she was young, used to tell her gave a mermaid the power to overcome her troubles and make a new start. It becomes significant to the story as Mallory's story deals with guilt and shame from her past that paralyzes her future. The story explores what happens when we can't forgive ourselves for something we've done and how it affects all our decisions. And what do we do when that past catches up with us? Mallory has a hard time moving forward past her mistakes and living a happy life. The mystery was good and I never guessed the surprise twist at all. Mallory's relationship with her teenaged daughter was totally relatable and the romantic tension between her and her ex, Kevin, was just enough without being overdone. I enjoyed going back to the area in Maine where this story is set after the author introduced it in the first book to the series. Her descriptions are lovely and makes me want to visit there. One of the only criticisms I would have is that there was quite the cast of characters in this story and near the end I was getting a little mixed up as to who was who. This was a fast paced, enjoyable "escape" read.

5.  The Lake House by Kate Morton

Completed:  February 28, 2016

Rating:  9.5/10

Review:  The Edevane family is a wealthy family from the 1930's who seem to have it all. Eleanor and Anthony have a love that others hope for, a family of 3 lovely daughters and now the long desired son, a gorgeous home on well hidden lake with extensive gardens. They live a charmed life. That is until tragedy strikes. As they are hosting their yearly Midsummer party they're precious baby boy disappears seemingly into thin air. After months of searching, with no real clues to go upon, it turns into a unsolved mystery.

 Seventy years later, Sadie Sparrow, a detective with the Met police is taking a leave of absence from work and visiting her father in Cornwall. An upsetting missing persons case of her own has yielded unsatisfactory results and though the police have closed the case there is something about it that keeps eating at her. While out on a run, she stumbles upon the old Edevane estate, now abandoned and overgrown, and the unsolved mystery of the missing Theo naturally intrigues and draws her. She can't help but look into it further. Finding out that one of the daughters of the Edevanes is none other than the very famous mystery writer, Alice Edevane, and that she is still alive Sadie tries to make contact with her. But Alice Edevane is not inclined to respond to the letters. She has her own secrets to hide about that night and the last thing she wants is a detective poking around.

 This was my first Kate Morton book and I have to say I really enjoyed it. The way this author develops and builds plot is amazing and it made this a really enjoyable page turning read. Her descriptions of the estate and gardens and the time period which the family lives through were rich and detailed. I really felt like I could see it in my mind's eye. The story takes place over two time lines and two different missing persons stories are involved but it is never confusing. As the author builds the plot and reveals clues I never guessed the reveal of the mystery. Though on that note, the reveal where they put the clues together seemed rushed to me and the reactions of the characters seemed very subdued, somehow, considering the situation. Without giving away the story, there is one theme in the book that I wasn't nuts about because it's not a favourite thing for me to read about with my Christian perspective but I thought it was handled well and,after all, this is not a "Christian" story and therefore has no obligation to live up to my sensibilities and convictions. Consequences of the character's actions were not brushed under the rug or glamorized and I appreciated that in the story. I am looking forward to reading more of this author's novels.

6.  The School of Essential Ingredients by Erica Bauermeister

Completed:  March 10, 2016

Rating:  10/10

Review:  Lillian was a young girl of 8 when she took over the cooking in their home. After her father left them, her mother also disappeared. Not in the physical sense, but she checked herself out emotionally and lost herself in books. Lillian first started cooking to have something to eat but then as her skills improved and she was mentored by a couple of loving ladies she started to see the power of food to heal. She determined to "cook her mother out" and set herself on a course to perfect her cooking until she saw that happen. Now an adult, Lillian owns a very popular restaurant and still has a special relationship with food and it's emotional power to heal. And she passes that on with a once a month cooking class. Here her students come to learn not only her recipes, but her art of cooking and they leave with not only skills transformed but sometimes also lives transformed.

 The first thing that drew me to this book was the cover. Is that not an absolutely lovely cover? And I found the story just as lovely. The descriptions of food are almost poetic and the author's prose is wonderful. I found myself savouring some of the descriptions and sentences and how food and cooking were related to life. I reread many of the sentences and paragraphs because they were so nice. The main character was a likeable woman who had great insight not only into food but also into her students as well and used her creativity to help them define what they were seeking beyond learning to cook. The book's chapters are devoted to the different students and their personal stories and how they found themselves at the cooking school. They were each interesting and real and heartbreaking. Each had something that needed mending deep within their hearts and souls. The one criticism I had of this book had to do with one of the stories and the baking of an apple cake. I found it very distasteful and gross and not at all endearing or sweet. In fact, I had to reread it a couple of times to make sure that is actually what it was saying. It was one sentence but just took over the whole emotion of what I should have been feeling at that part of the story and focused me on the thing with the cake. Some may not agree with me, but that is what I felt and thought.

 I do want to do a reread of this book. It's not a long or a hard read, but because I'm so busy right now, I feel like my head wasn't always totally there, but on my never ending to-do list of all things wedding. And it is a book I'd like to read again if only for the lovely writing.

7.  The Titanic Enigma by Tom West

Completed:  March 27, 2016

Rating:  5/10

Review:  375 miles off the coast of Newfoundland a ship comes across a strange phenomenon and right before their eyes a dead whale surfaces. Of course, one of the sailors captures the whole thing with his phone camera and soon the whole thing is viral. With the Titanic wreck lying immediately below, Captain Jerry Durham of the U.S. Navy is put in charge of the investigation. He immediately get marine archeologists Lou Bates and Kate Wetherall on board to help the investigation as they are specialists in deep sea diving and scientific study of ship wrecks. With other countries screaming to get in on the action what they find at the bottom of the ocean puts all their lives in danger.

 I was really excited to read this book but it was just alright. It thought it would be a page turning, edge of your seat mystery involving one of my favourite topics: the Titanic. It didn't turn out to be quite what I was expecting. It goes back and forth between the present day story of the investigation and the secret that was taken aboard the Titanic so many years ago and lay hidden until now. It was not really page turning at all and really dragged in a lot of places. The trouble was I loved the Titanic part of the story a lot but majorly disliked the present day part of the story. I loved the main characters of Dr. Egbert Fortescue and Billy and really was drawn into their part of the story aboard the Titanic. I didn't like any of the characters in the present day part of the story, wasn't drawn into their lives at all. I didn't like all the long descriptions and technical jargon of U.S. army submarine stuff and descriptions of the wreck under the sea. I found it hard to translate it into an actual picture in my head, probably because I was so bored with it. I hated the f-bombs in this part of the story and most of all hated the Lord's name taken in vain a few times. I didn't like the very graphic descriptions of the murders in the present day part of the story that took place. Too descriptive for my tastes. A bit of a surprise ending wrapped up the Titanic part nicely but not enough to save the book for me to give it a higher score. I gave it a 5/10 because I liked 50% of it.

8.  The All-Girl Filling Station's Last Reunion by Fannie Flagg

Completed:  April 5, 2016

Rating:  9.5/10

Review:  Sookie Poole finally has a moment to herself after planning four weddings for 3 daughters in under 2 years. She is exhausted and weddinged out. Having nothing to do except take something out for supper is making her very happy indeed. Married to a successful dentist, she dreams of maybe travelling with her husband. But she has Lenore, her mother, to consider. Lenore is well known in their hometown of Point Clear, Alabama by everyone, and being on or president of several committees she is adored and looked up to by most people but having her for a mother Sookie has other thoughts. She has found her quite overbearing and bossy and has spent her life trying to please Lenore and feeling like she can never live up to the expectations put upon her by Lenore. Now with Lenore in her 80's, Sookie must deal with all the details of taking care of her mom though Lenore bucks her every step of the way. One day while handling her mom's mail, Sookie makes a shocking discovery that puts her in a tailspin and makes her wonder who she really is. Sookie finds herself compelled to seek answers but will she like what finds. Her search takes her back to the Midwest and to Texas to a free-spirited lady named Fritzi, who was a wing walker and flew planes for the U.S. and ran an all-girl's filling station while the men were away at war. As Sookie learns Fritzi's story she finds inspiration for her own life.

 I found this book quite enjoyable. The story of Fritzi and Sookie are intertwined until it reaches a very satisfying ending. The author is a wonderful story teller and I was drawn in from the beginning. I especially liked all the history of the women flyers from the second world war who flew planes for the U.S. but who's story has not really been told. In Fritzi's story we also read between the lines of the stories and the challenges of countless women who had to pick up the pieces and take on jobs they never imagined as more and more of the men were shipped overseas. It was a very interesting look into American life during the war. The characters are real and honest, even Lenore, whom I sometimes wanted to shake. I was also drawn to Sookie as her whole world is turned upside down with just one letter and everything she knows about herself is now called into question. I gave this story a 9.5/10

9.  Remember Mia by Alexandra Burt

Completed:  April 15, 2016

Rating:  7/10

Review:    Baby Mia, aged 7 months, has gone missing from her parent's home without a trace. Gone are all her clothes, bottles, diapers, everything. But what makes it even stranger is mom, Estelle Paradise, was home at the time and all the doors were heavily locked. Then Estelle turns up miles from home in her car at the bottom of a ravine with life threatening injuries. And amnesia. She at first doesn't even remember that Mia is missing. But time is of the essence for her to regain her memory. Is it just convenient that she has lost her memory or is something else going on? Some of her injuries are questionable as are most of her actions as the story is revealed. What on earth is happening and where is Mia? When Estelle is checked into a hospital and under the care of a psychiatric doctor, she must dig deep and find courage to face some things so that she can remember. Did she hurt Mia and do something with her? As time is ticking and is of the essence, Estelle feels the pressure to remember and find answers not only to locate Mia but to vindicate herself as both police and the media put her under scrutiny and find her story severely lacking in believability.

 This was an emotional, twist filled psychological thriller that explored the depths of depression and guilt that post partum depression can bring. As Estelle delves more into her past few days we start to see a picture of a young mom who was facing severe depression and had no support. Though I never struggled with PPD the profound feelings of guilt she carried for not being a good mom were very emotional but there were also times of boredom in the reading too as descriptions of her mental state got a bit repetitive at times. In her state of not being able to rationally deal with things I found I grew frustrated at some of her lack of communication skills when it came to trying to tell various police officers what she knew and sometimes at her lack of inaction or seeming lack of concern. The book has lots of flashbacks as Estelle's story comes to light piece by piece which kept you guessing at to what could have really happened and changing your mind as to what you thought happened. I found interesting that smells played a part in Estelle remembering some things as scent is a big trigger for me too. There was one section that dealt with small town police that had me wondering if they really would be that negligent to thoroughly check something out. A few f-bombs scattered throughout seems to be the thing with this genre. It was a page turning read in that I just had to find out what happened but slogged along at points to get there.

10.  Sister Dear by Laura McNeill

Completed:  April 24, 2016

Rating:  9.5/10


This is a fast paced book that has you cheering for the main character. Though at first I thought maybe the back cover blurb (up above) may be giving too much away, it really didn't. From it you know the sister does know something but the story turned out to take a totally different path than I thought it would. Allie's situation is sad and I really wanted her to succeed and move past the small town prejudices. She had been in a great time of her life, engaged to the love of her life who accepted and loved her daughter, accepted into medical school, she seemed to have everything going for her. But when the local sheriff came upon her bent over the bloody body of the beloved high school coach, she was arrested. That she had written an editorial for the paper accusing the coach of some pretty serious things did not help her cause and she was convicted for his murder and sent to prison. But she set her mind to survive because she had her beloved 5 year old daughter to think of. Always maintaining her innocence, she now returns to town, paroled 6 years early, to try to take back her life. But it is so much more difficult that she could have imagined. And when her now teenage daughter is bristling about meeting her and is confused, demanding of her mom to prove that she is innocent, Allie has no choice but to do just that so that her daughter will once again trust her.

 I really liked so many things about the story. How it delved into the difficulty of a person just out of prison trying to start over, what things a teenager might go through with a parent just paroled and also another area of concern that I don't know how to mention without giving away some of the story. But it was interesting and caused me to keep the pages turning. I was much more engaged in this mystery/psychological thriller than I was the last one.

 Of note, though Thomas Nelson (a Christian publishing company) did publish this book, I would not categorize it as a "Christian" fiction. I would just plain plunk into the contemporary suspense thriller genre. I think anyone enjoying a good mystery filled with twists that isn't overly violently graphic in nature or dropping swears continuously would enjoy this taut, page turning read.

  11.  Passenger by Alexandra Bracken

Completed:  May 7, 2016

Rating:  7/10

Review:   Etta has been preparing for her violin debut what seems like her whole life. At 17, she has given up what most girls her age enjoy for the sake of putting in more time practicing. But on what is supposed to be the night of her life, she is witness to a murder and then is shockingly transported back in time to 1776 onto a ship on the ocean being boarded by "legal" pirates. Just wanting to get back to her debut she is now stuck in a world of confusion and must work with the young pirate captain, Nicholas, piecing together clues that another traveler has left behind, to find an ancient relic that could change the future. 

I really stepped out of my comfort zone reading this novel. Young adult and time travel are both way, way not on my radar for books I just gotta read. But I gotta be honest, the cover really drew me in on this. For the most part, I enjoyed the story. Etta was a strong, persistent young woman. I liked how the story collided the cultures and time periods and it seemed very realistic to the various time periods that the couple traveled through even in respects to how they treated each other. I liked how the author was able to the points of view of both the main characters though they were from very different time periods. I like how the story stayed true to it's original definition of "passage" which was:

 Passage, n. 
i. A brief section of music composed of a series of notes and flourishes. 
ii. A journey by water; a voyage. 
iii. The transition from one place to another, across space and time. 

I thought it was creative and adventurous and each time period researched for detail well down to dress , though at times it was a little too flowery in description. It was a "swash buckling" kind of adventure which was lots of fun as I really used my imagination while reading this story. I have read time travel books before and always detested the confusion of time travelling worlds and rules. This one wasn't too bad and for the most part I didn't have to re-read those excerpts to understand what was going on. There was a gradual building of that aspect into the story so that the reader isn't overwhelmed with pages of it all at once. 

What I didn't like about the story was the very things that "aged" the book and made it young. Some passages induced major eye rolling on my part, which I suppose was actually a "young" reaction on my part, HA. I thought the romance was just too much of "insta-love" attraction and I did not like the premarital teenage sexual incident at all, though there was only one occurrence.

 I rated this an 7/10 because it was a fun adventure that smoothly dealt with and exposed cultural clashes. There is a second in the series coming out but time will tell if I'll get to it though it would be fun to see how some situations play out as the book was left on a cliff hanger.

12.  Fearless - Imagine Your Life Without Fear by Max Lucado

Completed:  May 8, 2016

Rating:  9/10

Review:  This world can be a pretty darn fearful place. The news programs are full of things to fear. A constant bombardment of financial fallouts, oil patch downturns, terrorists, global warming, natural and unnatural disasters, war, teens and people gone bad. Fear is a ruthless taskmaster in our lives and can cause us to be imprisoned. In this book and study Max Lucado ventures to teach us to make faith and not fear our default reaction. By developing a better understanding of God in our lives he challenges us to ask if we can live more without taking on those fears and live life the way God intended.

 I ordered this book and small group discussion guide for our ladies study. All of us had some kind of overwhelming fear in our lives, some very much under the controlling power of fear, and I thought this would be a great way to learn to address those fears.

 I loved this study and the way it was set up. Max Lucado writes in his typical story-telling style. If you've read Max Lucado you'll know what I mean. Each chapter in the book addresses a different fear. I did find that some of the chapters were more involved than others and I did find a couple of them a bit rushed. Now doing this as a group, I encouraged ladies not to skip the chapters they didn't feel pertained to them because you never know if that fear would one day come a'knocking or that they might end up encouraging someone else who was facing that fear. Anyway, at the end of each chapter there is a discussion guide at the back that takes you into a deeper, more personal searching of the heart. The format can be used both for personal study or group study. It is set up under the following headers which I though were a really great way to approach this topic.

 1. " Examining the Fear" in which questions were asked to make you search your heart and/or to pinpoint that particular fear in your own life. Or your lack of that particular fear. And how it might have taken root.

 2. "Exposing the Fear" in which specific scriptures were studied and exposed that fear against the truth of the Word of God.

 3. "Battling Fear" where you were given specific tasks to do to help you make this study very pertinent and real and applicable to your personal life and fears. 

I loved the set up. Sometimes these kinds of studies can get bogged down in just discussing a whole lot about the subject but never takes the steps to aggressively help you deal with the subject. This did. The questions in the Examing Fear part brought out some really good discussion on the part of the group as some of them were quite indepth. But the part I liked best was then it hit you with scriptures and questions to make you think what the Word says about that fear. It's one thing to talk about fears and dissect them but a whole other thing to bring the Word of God which gives truth to those fears. It didn't just mention the scriptures, it asked deep questions to help you get that Word into you and give you a perspective on what God thinks. Knowing what the Bible says about that particular fear is the first step in dealing with it. The scriptures given also taught on how to deal with the fear using the Word of God. And the Battling Fear part helped you to take those steps to not just learn about it but to do it. It was easy to lead this study with the format this discussion guide had.

 I also ordered the Small Group Discussion Guide to help me as the leader with this study. This I found not quite as helpful as just the guide in the back of the actual book. I thought it would be a chapter by chapter helps book but in actuality it only had 6 lessons as compared to the 15 chapters of the book. It made huge jumps between chapters, giving lessons on some but not others. The way we chose to do the study was to study one chapter at a time because of the time involvement of answering the questions so this guide really didn't help but to maybe give an extra thought provoking question or two. Others doing the study in a different way might find this more helpful. There is also a dvd that can be purchased but I can't comment on that because we didn't use it. I'm thinking the small group guide fits in more so if using this dvd in your study.

 All in all, this was a great study. We all face fear at some point in our lives. And this proactively taught you how to realize that God is so much bigger than the fears we have. But like any other study it takes effort from the person. Those ladies that were serious and didn't just read or skim the chapters but actually took the time to reflect and answer the questions and search their hearts and study the scriptures before the study each week got the most out of the study. I think I, persoanlly, will be rereading this book or portions of it. I highly recommend this study for individual or group use.

13.  The Last Midwife by Sandra Dallas

Completed:  May 17, 2016

Rating 8.5/10

Review:  Gracy Brookens is a midwife in Swandyke, a mining town in Colorado in 1880.  She has been delivering babies since she was 10 years old.  The women of Swandyke trust her and she is the one they call on having their babies.  Gracy loves the whole process and loves both the mothers and the babies and does her best for each and every one.  But along with the joyous giving of life there is also the hard deaths of both babes and mothers.  Gracy grieves with each one.  So when she is accused of murdering a baby whom she did not help deliver, Gracy declares her innocence and must clear her name.  But things aren't so simple to prove.  The baby belonged to the town's chief employer, the owner of the mine.  And he had recently fired her husband.  So some have taken to not trusting her word anymore.  As the trial comes closer, Gracy must decide whether she is willing to divulge some of the secrets she knows in order to save herself.

 This was a story of family, community, of making hard decisions.  As a midwife, Gracy becomes privy to some of the more harsh realities of living in a mining town in the 1880's.   There is much joy and much heartbreak in her job.  This book was fascinating in it's descriptions of the harshness of the day and the occupation and the hardened people it produced, was beautifully descriptive in dealing with the love of the mothers and children and the hard life that was set before them.  There was much discussion throughout the book as Gracy would reflect through her career and sort out her feelings when due to the harshness of life sometimes midwives of that time were asked to help terminate a pregnancy.  These were done with as much grace as possible, I thought, and were not leaning to either side of that debate, but told in rather a factual manner of what was happening with women at the time.  Because Gracy loved and cared about the mothers as much as the joy and love of birthing babies, it showed the struggle midwives might have had.    It also dealt with the reality of midwives not being trusted by schooled doctors.  I really liked the strong and compassionate character of Gracy throughout the book though I found that maybe she was just a bit too perfect.  And the ending of the story left me scratching my head wondering at Gracy's reaction to the secret she finally reveals.

14.  Go Big or Go Home by Scotty McCreery with Travis Thrasher

Completed:  May 22, 2016

Rating:  9/10

I really enjoyed reading Scotty's story. It's written in a very conversational tone, almost like having him sitting with you talking and telling his story. I loved reading about the faith in his family and how it has passed onto him and his deep love for his hometown in North Carolina. His story really starts with how he grew up with a love for Elvis and old time country music. His audition on Idol was not because he came up with the idea but because his mother solidly believed that God gives everyone giftings and it was the job of a parent to recognize them and do everything in their power to nuture those gifts and set the child onto the road of using them. I love how throughout the book he is very humble about his whole journey considering the great success he has already had at the ripe old age of 22. His realization that it is a blessing and that it could end at any time, and how thankful he is for what he's received is prevalent throughout his story. And his love for Jesus shines through without being preachy. The only thing I would like to see changed is the little "add-ins" that they have placed randomly throughout each chapter. Little framed quotes from friends, fans, and people Scotty has worked with. While interesting, I found where they were placed a distraction because I would have to stop mid paragraph or page to read it and then find my place in his story again. Would have much preferred those at the beginning and/or end of the chapters.

15.  Every Last One by Anna Quindlen

Completed:  May 31, 2016

Rating:  7.5/10

The front cover of the book described this as " unforgettable portrait of a mother, a father, a family, and the explosive, violent consequences of what seem like inconsequential actions." I think because of this I had certain expectations going into the story.

 Mary Beth Latham is happily married, has a thriving landscaping business and is mother to a daughter and twin sons. The daughter is a popular high schooler who has been dating the same boy for years and one twin is a star athlete while the other is more to himself and into music. When one son develops depression Mary Beth naturally starts to put more focus onto him. Then tragedy strikes and she faces the biggest challenge of all navigating through grief and the unthinkable to find hope and courage to go on.

Because of the front cover description, I approached this story constantly waiting for this violent event to occur. I think because of this it skewed the story a bit for me and I almost put it down. I could not get engaged with the narrative in the first half of the book. Every page turn kept me looking for this event, and I found myself getting quite bored with the ordinary life of a family with teenagers. The fact that the story building was a bit choppy or disjointed didn't help to draw me in either. I also found it difficult to really like any of the characters and so they didn't grab me. So this was almost a DNF for me had it not been for someone encouraging me to keep plugging away. After the horrific "event", of course, the story does pick up. This was where I finally started to if not like, at least sympathize, for the characters. It was heartbreaking and I found myself really hurting for Mary Beth and cheering her on as she tries to get their lives back on track to some semblance of normal. As the story moves on things are revealed that are just sad and maddening and the exploration of how seemingly small choices later turn into big consequences starts to take place. I, as the reader, was left thinking what could have been done differently to have avoided the whole thing, as I'm sure the character of Mary Beth lived with. How many things do we do or say unthinkingly, or stupidly, or with an "I don't care" attitude, or not realizing that it will later affect the course of our lives and the lives of others? How often are we so caught up in the obvious that we miss things elsewhere? I found the exploration of this eye opening and while it drew sympathy out of me and made me think, it honestly did not make me like the characters any better. That said, I couldn't help but root for Mary Beth to find the courage to face that and find some kind of hope to move on with what life now was for her family. I thought how the author handled the aftermath was well done. I must say, though, that because of the nature of the story, it is a tough and heavy read in the second half tackling a tough subject and it definitely left me needing something light and airy to read next.

 I give it a 7.5/10 because the author took on a very hard subject and I do like how she handled the second half of the story and the challenges the characters had to face in just making it through their days.

Man Alive! by Mary Kay Zuravleff

DNF due to language

The Red Tent by Anita Diamont

DNF due to vulgar situations and too much of a departure from the biblical account

16.  The Sign Painter by Davis Bunn

Completed:  June 14, 2016

Rating:  7.5/10

Amy Dowell lost her beloved husband to cancer and if that was not enough stress and grief now she has lost her home to debt and she finds herself and her 5 year old daughter homeless, living out of their old camper and truck. Struggling to find work and having to be constantly on the move, Amy fears losing her most precious thing in the world, her daughter. On one of her stops at a church that offers breakfast and daycare, Amy tries to "sneak" through the line unnoticed but the center director finds her. Thinking she will be kicked out Amy instead finds a compassionate heart in Lucy who discerns her desperation and offers her an apartment and childcare so she can find a job. When she lands a job with a car dealership who's owner goes to the church Amy thinks she has finally had a chance to turn things around, but then she comes upon a discovery at her job that will find her having to deal with the very people she was trying to avoid, the police.

 This was inspired by a true story. It's an easy read but yet brings out the plight of the homeless we sometimes don't think about. We so easily associate homelessness with those who are substance abusers or certain groups of people but don't always realize or think about the homeless who are in that situation simply because of hard circumstances that have hit and are struggling to get back to some sense of normalcy. It is a vicious cycle of sorts and this book really brings that to light. It's got a bit of mystery, a bit of romanace. You really realize Amy's plight and desperation as she is yet again faced with decisions through no fault of her own that could very well land her in a worse off place than she was before. A takeaway thought or quote from the book that I really liked was found on page 127:

"...Paul knew the real mark of courage did not come in being unafraid but in not allowing fear to dominate"
This was spoken in regards to his job as a police officer and live action in that job, but it can very well be related to anything in life in general, I think.

17.  Above All Things by Tanis Rideout

Completed:  June 26, 2016

Rating:  10/10

Review:   Loved. this. book!
  Over the years mountaineering and especially the climbs to summit Everest and K2 have fascinated me. Not in the sense that I want to do it,  far from it.  But the logistics and especially the mind set & obsession of these climbers fascinates me.  I've read several books about different mountain climbing exhibitions over the years and have watched all sorts of documentaries and films.   In the '90's my family, including my kids, were compelled to watch over and over again the documentary about the horrible '96 Everest storms that took the lives of so many people that year and the miracle return of one man left for dead.  The kids called him "Nose Nose" because his nose had totally frozen off and he had reconstructive surgery to grow a new nose on his forehead and then it was flipped over to be set where it belonged.  They were totally mesmerized by the whole thing.  And then last year in theatres low and behold the movie "Everest" which was based on this '90's expedition was out in movie theatres and it totally stirred up the amazement of the drive of these climbers once again.  To top off all this renewed interest,  this spring, a local realtor took on Everest to raise money for the YWCA and awareness against domestic violence.  So when I saw this book I was all in.

  This is a historical fiction account of the ill-fated attempt to summit Everest of George Mallory and his climbing partner Andrew  "Sandy" Irvine.  Both perished on the mountain in 1924 and only recently has the body of George Mallory been found.  Sandy Irvine has never been located but the hunt is continuous for him as he may hold the proof in the camera he was carrying of whether George had actually summited or not.  An important thing in history and the world of mountaineering as that would possibly make Sir Edmund Hillary the second man to summit, not the first.  The book is an adventure story, a romance, and a study into obsession, sacrifice, and glory.

  The narration of the story goes back and forth between George Mallory and his wife Ruth with the occasional addition of the voice of Sandy Irvine into George's narration.  While George's story is mostly told in real time making this 3rd attempt at conquering and mapping Everest, Ruth's is told in the real time of one day awaiting news of George and in flashbacks of her and George's lives together as she attempts daily living while being left behind for the mountain yet again.   While this all sounds like it would be awfully confusing, the author really made it work.  I could imagine Ruth as she was trying to live her life while waiting to see if her husband had made it or not.  I could almost palpably feel her tension as news in those times took forever, not like the internet instant reporting of today.   I loved how their love story was written in the book through the flashbacks, and though it was hinted at that George had had a brief one night stand, the focus in the book was what made their love strong enough to get through the constant separations and fame that George's attempts brought upon them.  I was really interested in the mindset of George to prove himself, both to himself and to others, and it was in the conquering of the mountain that he was finding that fulfillment.  And I like the interspersion of the viewpoint of the inexperienced Andrew "Sandy" Irvine.  While one hears lots of George Mallory, I so far, have not come across what this young man might have been thinking or going through on his final day.  

As the story progressed, I was once again boggled at the bravery, or craziness, as it were depending on what camp you sit in about these kinds of things, of what possesses these people to do this.  And being the 1920's, there was no technology helping them, like there is now.  Even their dress of layers of cotton clothing and simple winter jackets, which basically amounted to tweed coats, compared to nowadays high tech clothing, is mind blowing.  I thought the author did a great job of describing the danger and the logistics of the climb, and the extreme danger that the mountain presented.  And even though, I knew how the story ends, the author still did a fantastic job of grabbing a hold of my attention especially in the later part of the book when you know the two climber will disappear.

I really thought this story was breathtaking and entertaining.

18.  The Romanov Sisters - the lost lives of the daughters of Nicholas and Alexandra

Completed:  July 10, 2016

Rating:  9.5/10

Review:  Born to privilege and royalty, they were the 4 oldest children of the last Tsar and Tsarista of Russia.  They were greatly loved by their parents who raised them with deep religious and family values.  Told from collections of diaries and letters, the story of their short lives is filled with insight into who they were as people, their upbringing by a very religious yet overly protective mother, and their insights and thoughts into what was going on around them.  In their short lives they saw a lot, including WWI, the last days of Imperial Russia and the beginnings of the Russian Revolution which effectively took their lives.  We learn of their childhoods, their care for their brother who was the only heir to the throne and who suffered horribly from hemophilia and how they handled their mother's sickly constitution which brought long separations from her.  We learn of their hopes and dreams, their deep concern and care as nurses and visitors of the wounded soldiers during the war, and their extreme boredom and fear and courage in the face of their captivity and later their murder.  We also learn a bit about their relationship to the controversial Rasputin as their mother relied on him more and more to help young Alexy with his bouts of almost dying from his disease.  It was all a very sad time period in the history of Russia.

I have always been intrigued with this time in Russian history and thoroughly enjoyed this perspective through the eyes of the 4 Grand Duchesses.  It is a sad tale indeed.  Refreshing to read was the great love of each other this family had.  Insights into their daily, very sheltered lives was interesting as was how they handled everything that came upon them because of the political turmoil of the time.  Intelligent yet not worldly, they seemed younger than they were but were so open to people and those around them.  They had great responsibility yet the general public were not so open to them as it was so important that the Tsaritsa produce a male heir.  Yet when he finally did come, he was born with an incurable disease that ran through royalty, and a lot of their childhood was spent hiding that fact and taking care of their very sick brother.  As they got older because they were not exposed to the general public so much, sentiment was against them, and they didn't really know how to behave "royally", if that is such a word.  Their story is at first interesting, and heartwarming and then when Nicholas abdicates in the mistaken belief that it would be best for their family and for Russia, it turns heartbreaking as the Russian Revolution brings the nightmare of their captivity and eventual death.

As is usual with non-fiction books of this sort, I find, there were some long run on sentences.  And I think this read took me longer than usual because I never did get the hang of pronouncing the long Russian names that were throughout the book.  But it was a great read nonetheless.

19.  The Promise by Beth Wiseman

Completed:  July 12, 2016

Rating:  9/10

Review:  As a teenager, Mallory Hammond made a promise to her dying cousin...that if she couldn't help save her life she would save someone else's. Now an adult Mallory feels adrift in life as that promise hangs heavy on her. When she starts working for her friend's fiance who is a doctor, she learns of a young girl who is from Pakistan that desperately needs help. But in order to help her, Mallory needs to get her to the States for treatment and the only way to do that is risk everything and travel to a very dangerous part of the world and do something that will take all her courage. Flying in the face of all reason and with dire warnings from her fiance, her friend and sister along with government warnings about the area, she decides to do it anyway so that she can fulfill her promise but what she finds waiting for her may cost her more than she ever bargained for.

 I ordered this book because I have loved the other two contemporary books by this author that I have read. Although the back description really didn't draw me at first, I went with the good reading experience I had already had. And I'm glad I did. I ended up really liking the book. But to be totally honest the character of Mallory drove me nuts throughout the book. Because of the promise she had made and her deep desire to fulfill it, she was totally blinded to what was common sense and warnings from those she should have trusted. But the story really drew me in and I could feel her fiance's and friends tensions as she determined to make it happen. At the end, what made the book even more interesting and relevant was reading the author's notes on why she wrote the book. Based on a good friend's personal experiences, it made the story that much more real. It brought to light & explained how people motivated by love and sacrifice can be betrayed and how shame or embarrassment keeps them from asking for help until sometimes it may be too late. She explained which parts and experiences in the story her friend had actually lived through and that she wrote the story hoping to make a difference. She also wrote the book hoping it would bring closure to their own situation and in an effort to understand her own friend's actions. It certainly opened my eyes to how a person can get themselves into these kinds of situations beyond their control and moved me from being frustrated with the character to having empathy for the character. The author's notes are a part of this book that shouldn't be left unread.

20.  The Thing We Knew by Catherine West

Completed:  July 19, 2016

Rating:  9/10

I found this a very readable, engaging contemporary story. It is definitely packed with family drama as each sibling faces dysfunctional aspects to their lives because of the death of their mother. All but Lynette have taken off to make lives for themselves but Lynette has never been able to bring herself to leave and now she is faced with an ailing father, the family home falling apart around her and the stress of being the only financial contributor to the upkeep of the huge home. When she goes into the bank to try to get a loan she comes face to face with an old family friend and her teenage crush, Nick. And he doesn't have good news for her. The only option he sees for her is to sell the crumbling family home. As the family gathers in Nantucket to deal with this, a stipulation in their mother's will, they must each have to face these dysfunctions and deal with questions surrounding their mother's death. Lynette especially finds this difficult as she was only 12 when it happened and she can't remember anything and no one will talk about it which frustrates her to no end. And now she is having dreams and nightmares and weird things are coming out in her paintings so she is struggling to comprehend what it all means.

 The story was well written in my viewpoint, it certainly kept me turning the pages. I really felt for Lynette as the youngest of the family, being essentially left behind by the others, and having to deal with her dad's illness and the financial issues on her own. The added stress of her mother's death and her lack of remembrance about it felt very real in the story. I also loved how the author wove the other siblings issues into the story so naturally. On the surface their lives all looked pretty good but each was dealing with huge repercussions with what happened so many years ago to their mother. Nick's character also brings with it an air of mystery. Growing up, he and Lynette's youngest brother were the best of friends and Lynette had a teenage crush on him. But a huge falling out between the two young men and the reason behind it still affects their relationship and throws another layer into the mystery.

  Even though this is Christian fiction, the faith element did not dominate the story so I think anyone who likes contemporary or family drama stories would enjoy this story. Those who are looking for a more heavier faith element might find this light on that aspect but it still makes for a good read.

21.  Ocean Beach by Wendy Wax

Completed:  July 28, 2016

Rating:  4/10

Review:  The premise of this story sounded so wonderful.  Five women who have hit some hard times in their lives come together in Miami to redo a beautiful art deco home owned by a charming ex vaudeville performer who is in his '90's.  Filming the reno, they are hoping to sell it to a lifetime tv network and make it a series making it a do over for their lives.  But when they arrive the network has sent their own crew to film it with a much different vision for the show.  They are wanting a reality show and they want the cameras on them at all times.  Finding a private moment the women swear to not give the filming crew any drama amongst themselves for the channel to film, but can they live up to that promise when there is so much going on in their personal lives and amongst their own interactions and relationship.  Sounded like a great story of female friendships and getting second chances.

What to say about this book?  I started to really enjoy it.  Seemed like a perfect beach kind of read that I took on holidays.   It started off great although there were some parts that I did skim due to sexual content.  I was interested in the dynamics of the group, their back stories and what got them together, what was still affecting their lives.  I found Max, the owner of the home, charming and a fun addition to the story.  It was his personal story that was the real hook for me in the book and is what kept me reading the book to the end when I just wanted to throw it in the nearest garbage can.  In fact, I did put it down for a couple of days and wasn't going to continue but had to find out how his story wrapped up.

I felt cheated by this book.  One of the elements when reading a a secular book for me is being able to judge how deeply into the promiscuous side and the language side the story is going to be headed fairly early into the book.  I'm just not interested in stories that are heavy into either one.  This book started off fairly good.  Had a bit of sexual stuff but nothing I couldn't skim over.  Hard to find a secular book without sex outside of marriage portrayed in some way.  I kind of expect that but draw the line when it is filled with explicit descriptions.  The language was fine.  That is up until 3/4 of the way through.  And then it turned absolutely vulgar with one late introduced character.  And a party scene overly described.  And this is why I felt cheated.  Don't hook me that way and then introduce the filth 3/4 of the way through!   The sex scene at the party was totally unnecessary.  And I get why the character was written that way, but to make me think the book was a fairly clean read only to get hit with it that far into the story just made me mad and I think has ruined me for picking up any more books by this author and has resulted in the low rating I give this book.

22.  Balance - A Story of Faith, Family and Life on the Line by                               Nik Wallenda with David Ritz

Completed:  Aug 2, 2016

Rating:  10/10

Review:   Nik Wallenda hails from the lengendary famous high wire walking family, the Wallendas. His family has been performing on the high wire for 7 generations. He, himself, has been on the wire since he was 2 years old, granted only a couple feet off the ground when he was little, but you get the idea. Performing and pushing himself to new heights and challenges is literally in his blood and he has broken many world records.

 I had known of the Wallendas before. Nik's grandfather infamously fell to his death while performing on the high wire as did other members of his family in separate incidents. But Nik carries on his family's heritage believing he is called to not only do daring, thrilling feats on the high wire but to share Christ through his giftings that God has given him. Nik Wallenda came across my radar when I first watched his famous walk across Niagra Falls and he had me hooked. Miked not only to his dad, but into the network's boards, and not knowing his mike was "hot", I watched as he glorified Jesus and was so thankful for the opportunity to do what he was doing and let God know it. It was mesmerizing. Then I watched him do it again across the Grand Canyon and in Chicago between two buildings. So when I saw this book I was super interested to find out how he came to his strong faith and the story of his family.

 This book was really good. Nik is very upfront about his shortcomings. How being in the business for all these years has required that he be very particular and in control, but how not leaving that at the door when he came home almost caused his marriage to fall apart even though he and his wife, also a performer, loved each other dearly. I really appreciated his honesty in how he really had to seek God and still battles it today, with God's help. He tells his story of how his great-grandfather has influenced his life, how his mom and dad instilled faith in the Lord in him from his youngest years and how it all leads his decisions and life today. Just as he uses a balancing pole to keep from falling on the high wire Nik relates God to be his balancing pole in life to keep him from a keep a balance between ego and humbleness, drive and being led, control and faith to keep him from falling in life.

"Yes, I have a job to do.  Yes, I was born to do that job.  And yes, the aim of that job is to thrill people by performing seemingly impossible feats.  But, in realizing those feats, if I fail to reflect the glory of God I have accomplished nothing."
Nik Wallenda
Balance:   A Story of Faith, Family and Life on the Line
pg. 164

A very interesting peek into the life and thoughts of a man who literally puts his life into God's hands in every way yet never expects that God "magically" keeps him falling. If you've watched any of his walks, heard of his family, are interested in what makes daredevil performers tick or just like a good autobiography this is a great read.

23.  The Sisters Weiss by Naomi Ragen

Completed:  August 10, 2016

Rating:  9.5/10

Review:  Rose and her sister Pearl are growing up in a loving, yet super restrictive ultra-Orthodox Jewish family during the 1950's in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, New York. Though they love each other dearly, there is the typical tensions and jealousy between them that sisters have. Rose is approaching the age when the matchmakers of the community start looking for prospective wives for the young men of the community. This is the life they know until Rose has a chance encounter that introduces her to a love of photography and the stories that photographs tell. Not approved by the community or her parents, photography never the less draws her to the point where she is willing to take chances and she starts to live a hidden life. That is until her secret is exposed by the one person she trusted. Wisked away from all her friends and her school and those she loves to her grandmother's community for a year in punishment and hopes she'll repent, Rose nevertheless cannot resist the draw of the freedom that photography gives her and continues to live a secret other life. When the restrictions become so suffocating she makes the hardest decision of her life and pursues freedom at the cost of exile from her community.
Forty years later, Rose's daughter receives a strange letter from someone claiming to be her cousin asking for help to break from Williamsburg. Rivka has been inspired by her aunt Rose's infamy within the community and her world renowned achievements in photography and wants to pursue the freedom that she has built up in her mind that her aunt has. But as she recklessly and thoughtlessly pursues what she perceives is the benefits of not answering to anybody, she throws those newly found family members and those that love her back at home into utter chaos. Both Rose and her sister Pearl must reopen old wounds in order to help Rivka. This book has been on my TBR for a while. It sounded so interesting in the description and it didn't disappoint. It was hard to put it down. It really examines what freedom really is, how we perceive it and the prices that individuals might pay to attain it. It is about love and family relationships, about betrayal and forgiveness and the reverberating consequences of actions that we might not even realize are happening. Both Rose and Rivka make choices within the story that set things into motion in their lives that will have far reaching affects and both must learn that those choices come at a cost. The story also examines the thought process and feelings behind rebellion that might come from such restrictive environments. I found the story super interesting.

 Though I've heard of the Ultra-Orthodox Jews I've never really known what they believe or how they go about their lives. This story was eye opening in that regard. The author is American but has lived in Jerusalem for over forty years and has observed the type of women described in the story both in New York and in Jerusalem. She has friendships both with the religious and secular communities and believes that the stereotypes about both do not do either sides justice. The story made me think about freedoms and what it might mean to individuals. Though Rose chaffed against the restrictions her sister Pearl's character learned accept them and actually find a good life within them. As it also examined perceptions that we may have from both sides of the fence it really made me think. Rivka definitely had a rosy perception of what Rose's life might be like but under the surface there were many life long issues that came with Rose's bid for freedom and pursuing the life she wanted for herself.

 The reason I knocked off a half point for this really good thought provoking story was because in the first 1/3 or so of the book, it is filled with quite a few Jewish sayings. Though there is a glossary of Hebrew and Yiddish words and phrases at the back of the book there was not a way in the story of knowing which term would actually be on the list. I must admit I did get tired of flipping to the back to find meanings and wished it would somehow have been defined within the story itself. But other than that, the story itself was really good. For those who are sensitive to it, there is a scene of promiscuity in the story but can be skimmed over without missing the purpose and consequences of the scene.

24.  Where the River Ends by Charles Martin

Completed:  August 22, 2016

Rating:  9/10

Review:  Doss was raised in a trailer park by the river by his loving mom who encouraged his artistic side to help him cope with his life threatening asthma. Now an adult, and his beloved mom passed away years ago, Doss is a struggling artist and fishing guide on the river. When he meets Abby, the beautiful international model who just happens to be the daughter of a very influential & powerful senator, he is smitten but out of his league. But Abby is not like her parents in that respect and does not care where Doss has come from, only who he is as a person. In spite of their objections, she continues to see him and also uses her connections to help his art to sell. Now married 10 years against the wishes of her parents and still totally in love, Abby faces the fight of her life with an aggressive life threatening illness. With Doss by her side supporting her through all the treatments and experimental programs, Abby fights with everything she has. But as all avenues start be closed, Abby makes a list of ten things she wants to do before the illness ends her life. Involving the trip that Doss promised her at the beginning their marriage, they sneak away to make the 130 mile canoe trip down the St. Mary River. But chasing them down is her very angry father who has all resources to find them at this fingertips and a hurricane barreling down the coastline.

 This story is a heartbreaking look into the devastating and emotional journey on one couple's fight against cancer. The story goes back and forth between Doss and Abby's present and their past giving the reader a backseat ride to the the story of their lives. It is emotional and heartbreaking from beginning to end as the story of their deep love and supportive relationship unfolds, to the stress of Abby's powerful father never really accepting Doss even after 10 years, to the decisions that they are faced with as their cancer journey progresses. It is also an exploration in how a person's life should end when they have a long term, terminal illness.

 As usual I loved the story put out by this author. This is not a new release by him being published in 2008, but I'm working my way through all his older novels. He really knows how to build character and how to get the reader to connect with each of the vieiwpoints of the main characters. His story and character building is bar none. As per his other novels there are varied characters from all sorts of backgrounds, good and bad, and their stories really draw you in. That being said, I did find this particular story to be a bit wordy in respect to his descriptions of the river. I found it a bit over done and it actually distracted me from the journey that Doss and Abby were taking. So even though it was a heartbreaking story I was disconnected more than his other books and finally found myself skimming the parts where I was getting bogged down in river descriptions and metaphors and analogies. But I loved how the story was resolved between a couple of the characters and thought that was worth any frustrations described above. This was also still worth the read for me simply for the fact that it took an issue I thought I had a pretty strong stance on and made me at least consider it from a different angle.

25.  Another Night, Another Day by Sarah Rayner

Completed:  August 31, 2016

Rating:  8/10

Review:  Karen, Abby and Michael all find themselves as inpatients at Moreland's Place, a private clinic. They all come from different backgrounds but they have one thing in common: the debilitating depression that had taken over their lives and effected the way they and their loved ones lived. None of them really wants to be there but they must all get over their personal resistance. Going to their one on ones and participating in group sessions with their therapist, Johnnie, is their ticket home. But as they start to open themselves up to each other, and admit their secrets not just to the group but to themselves personally, a bond starts to form in their little band and a real sense of caring for one another starts to happen. As each comes to the close of their stay and are allowed to go home, will they be able to take the coping skills they've learned in the clinic and make them work outside of their group in "real life"? It isn't too far along that life throws them crisis' and they soon find out if they can make it on "the outside".

 I will confess that this was a total cover buy. I really thought the cover was pretty. It wasn't until well into the book that I put two and two together and realized that this was like a part II to another book which I actually had on my "want to read list". Coincidentally, that book also had teacups. So I actually had a moment of being ticked that I had read a sequel before I read the first book. That being said, not reading the first did not make this book at all confusing or hard to understand. It read like a stand alone. The author did a great job of telling this story without having to have the knowledge of the first.

 I also thought the author did a really good job of exploring mental health and issues of depression. The characters were relatable as were they're situations. I was really drawn into their stories and was cheering them on hoping they would all be ok in the end. Karen is a widower who's husband died at a young age from a heart attack and still in the journey of grief for him now her father also passes away. She always puts others first so her emotional health has been set on the back burner as she tries to also be there for her mom at this time. Abby's seven year old son has autism and he can be emotionally and physically draining. She feels that she has had to do it all when it concerns her son and has been resenting her husband's lack of involvement. They haven't been connected emotionally in a long time and she's watching her marriage fall apart in front of her. Michael has spent a life time building his flower shop business but it hasn't been good for the last few years and he has been juggling his debt owing money to different suppliers. When he loses a major account, it is the last straw and he loses his business. But he has a hard time admitting how bad it is to his wife and family and tries to should the load all by himself and instead has turned to drinking to forget about everything. All this comes to a head in their lives and they find themselves at Moreland's Place.

 I finished this book with what I hope is a better understanding and more compassion for those with anxiety, depression and those suffering from mental health issues. One small thing I had with the story was, for myself, because the book dealt with several story lines, I sometimes got lost with who was who amongst the secondary characters.

26.  Room for Hope by Kim Vogel Sawyer

Completed:  September 11, 2016

Rating:  10/10

Review:  Neva Shilling has the ideal life. A wonderful husband who works hard and provides for his family, 2 children, a lovely home and a thriving business. The only thing that is hard is that her husband is away for month long stretches at a time as he buys and sells for their mercantile, but he always comes home with something wonderful for them; new clothes, furniture, fancy appliances. Yes, they have it pretty good for the standards of the time. And today there is joy in the household because today is the day he comes home. As they await his arrival, a wagon drives up with the news that Warren has died. As Neva tries to digest this piece of news, there is more that brings her whole world crashing down around her as she realizes her whole marriage is built upon lies. The sheriff is not just delivering the bad news of Warren's death, but there are 3 children and household goods in the wagon. Children and goods that apparently belonged to Warren and his wife and now are being delivered to "Aunt Neva" at Warren's last request. As Neva deals with the realization that Warren was leading a double life, she fights feelings of devastation, betrayal, anger and guilt that is was her fault. But she can't wallow in those feelings because she needs to care for her own children, and now must decide whether to take on Warren's other children or send them to an orphanage.

 I really enjoyed how this story unfolded. It had my attention from the first pages and held it until the end. Neva is portrayed as a Christian woman who's world and faith are totally rocked. She wasn't perfect but I loved how the author had her walk out her faith throughout the story. There are many lessons to be learned from the portrayal of this character. And there are many to be gained from the characters of the town and church people as they found out the circumstances of Warren's death and who the children really were. A very honest exploration of hypocrisy. The setting is early 1930's, I believe, or possible late 1920's. Can't quite remember but the the prejudices of the day and heart attitudes are really brought to light in this story. I really cheered for the main character as I tried to put myself into her shoes and receiving the kind of news she did. To become bitter, angry and hard would have been totally viewed as acceptable. I also really loved the exploration of determining what is the right thing, following up on that decision and living with the consequences of that decision. Character development was excellent and there was good growth in several of the characters by the end of the story.  A very good read from start to finish.

27.  The Lifeboat by Charlotte Rogan

Completed:  September 18, 2016

Rating:  9.5/10

Review:  Grace Winter is 22 and on trial for her life. A young newlywed who has just become a widow, Grace never thought she would be in this place in her life. In 1914, a couple years after the sinking of the Titanic, Grace and her new husband are on another beautiful ocean liner headed to America so that Grace can meet Henry's family. But then the unthinkable happens and there is a huge explosion. As the boat sinks Henry is able to get Grace onto one of the lifeboats but in the process he is lost. It soon becomes apparent that the lifeboat is filled to over capacity. Now their survival is dependent upon whom to trust with the hard decisions. As the days drag on and hopes for rescue start to dwindle, starvation starts setting in and clear minded thinking becomes harder, some must lose their lives in order for some to live. But who will it be and who will decide?

 Wow, this is one of those books that left me thinking for days afterward. It is a page turner, for sure, and grabbed me from the very beginning. A psychological horror story it is about the very nature of survival and explores how we would make tough, life altering decisions when all is on the line, who we trust and why, and what we would sacrifice. It is deep and complex and yet I seemed to fly through it. Grace is an interesting character and the story is told in her voice. The story is nerve wracking, suspenseful and challenges the reader to examine their moral standing when their very survival depends upon those decisions. It is at times not an easy story to read though I plowed through because I had to know what happened.  Throughout the story, I couldn't help but think "what would I do?". I could say I would take the moral high road as I sit comfortably on my couch, but if I really placed myself into the lifeboat what would I really do as things become more and more desperate? A very good read and one I'll be reading again as there are so many layers to peel away with this story.

28.  Twilight at Blueberry Barrens

Completed:  September 23, 2016

Rating:  8.5/10

This is Book 3 in the Sunset Cove Novel series. And Colleen Coble has produced another suspense filled page turner. With favorite characters from the other two books plus a few new ones she takes us into the life of Kate Mason to explore what we let define who we are. With Kate's troubled past and life threatening illness which she overcame, she is struggling to see herself as someone who is worth knowing and loving and tends to see herself through her past. With a newly developing relationship with a twin sister she never knew she had until recently, she is finally starting to have a positive influence in her life. I loved how her sister was her biggest cheerleader yet was able to be totally honest with her.

 This story has some of everything making it complex and interesting; tension and suspense, mystery, crime and romance. Though it might be able to be read as a stand alone, it is so much better to have read the first two so that you know the backgrounds of the relationships of the characters. Though references are made to things that happened in the other books they weren't detailed and might raise some questions for the new reader of just this book. I must admit I found the stalker aspect of the story totally creepy but it added to the atmosphere of tension. If you are at all sensitive to that kind of thing you might want to know it is in there. It was a definite page turner and I had it read in a few days. One small thing I found annoying about the book was that it had several instances of product placement which made the sentences they were in sound a bit "unnatural" but that was easy enough to get past. As usual, this author has an absolute wonderful ability to describe the area the story is placed and make you feel like you are right there. It was nice to revisit the area of Folly Shoals and Maine in this story. If you like the contemporary suspense romance genre you can't go wrong with this series.

29.  "The Truth According to Us" by Annie Barrows

Completed:  October 7, 2016

Rating:  8.5/10

Review:  This book is written by Annie Barrows who co-authored The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society which I enjoyed. The story is set in 1938, a time period which has drawn me as of late, and in small town West Virginia.

 Layla Beck is the daughter of a senator who refuses to bend to her father's wishes in choice of marriage partner so her father forces her to take a job that her uncle finds for her. She is given the job of writing the history of small town Macedonia for the Federal Writer's Project, which incidentally was a real government project of the 1930's that employed writers and attempted to preserve the stories of small town America. Room and board is set up for her in one of the prominent families in town, the Romney's, who's father used to own and run the sock factory in town which was a major employer. Jottie Romney is the strong female head of the family and in her 30's and unmarried is considered a spinster in town. Under her charge is Willa, a precocious 12 year old who belongs to Felix, Jottie's divorced brother. Since Felix is almost always out of town on business it falls to Jottie to raise Willa and they enjoy a close relationship with Felix moving in and out of their lives at intervals. But the arrival of Layla, whom Willa doesn't trust or like, throws the family into chaos and both start to uncover some startling secrets that certain members of the family have long tried to hide.

 I enjoyed this story and it's exploration of how personal and historical truths are sometimes changed so that they are more palatable to remember. The Romney family had a strong history in the town and they identified strongly with that history but the history was a bit fluid depending on who told it so was it considered accurate depending on who was doing the telling? As Layla starts to dig into the town's history which is also wrapped up in the history of the family she begins developing a relationship with Felix who is not exactly known for his loyalty. But as the truths start slowly revealing themselves she finds more than she bargained for as Felix will do anything to keep certain things hidden. The mystery of that kept the pages turning for me as did Willa's part in the whole thing. She also is doing some digging of her own. One had to feel for a little girl who's Mother was not around and her father was basically missing in action. There were, however, lots of characters and stories to wrap one's head around and so the story definitely was not fast paced but more of a slow burn to get to the end.

30.  Long Way Gone by Charles Martin

Completed:  October 22, 2016

Rating:  10+/10

Review:  Cooper O'Connor and his dad have a wonderful, close relationship.  When his mom died when he was a young boy, Cooper's father raised him, taking him along on his tent revival tours.  Cooper's father gave him a love of music as he grew up and when he turned 18, Cooper thought his talent was worthy of moving beyond his father's tents.  When he felt his father stood in the way, Cooper took everything from his father and left to make his way in Nashville, but instead of the fame and fortune he was sure was his, he lost it all.   Wanting to return home but feeling he couldn't until he was successful and worthy, he finds a place to hide in the shop and friendship of a man who repairs guitars.  When he meets the girl he wants to marry and his life is finally looking up, Cooper faces a tragedy that could very well be his undoing.

This story was so good. Charles Martin has a really unique way of starting a story off and then weaving the past into the present, telling the story in layers that the reader must fold back. This story had me wanting to keep turning the pages a quick as I could read to find out how this telling played out and yet it's the kind of storytelling that I also want to take my time with and savor because of the lovely writing and the depth within it.

 Most of us, especially in Christian circles, knows the story of the prodigal son. This story sets it into modern times and it totally worked and made it fresh and relatable not just for the church goer but for anyone who loves a great story about broken families. I especially enjoyed the many quotable moments about music and it's place in life. The story set in contemporary times brought a real understanding of the prodigal son story and God's love for those gone astray. The depth of feeling, compassion and understanding for both the father and the son that the author was able to bring out in me surprised me and there were many tear filled moments for me throughout. I totally could see myself many times in Cooper's character, and I totally was broken for the father. The part where the son leaves felt like I'd been literally punched. After this story, I think I have a new understanding of the prodigal that wasn't there before and a fresh new understanding of the love God has towards us. Worth reading as always with Charles Martin books is his author's notes. It really lets you into his heart for writing the story. This is a story that I know I will be rereading and I would highly recommend it. I know it's going to be a go to gift this Christmas for the readers on my list.

31.  Taken by Dee Henderson

Completed:  November 2, 2016

Rating:  8/10

Review:  Matthew Dane, a former cop, is now a private investigator. When he attends a conference, he finds a young woman outside his hotel door looking for help. Shannon Bliss has purposely sought out Matthew's aid. Shannon was kidnapped at age 16, and now 11 years later, after carefully planning for years she has found a way to escape the life forced upon her but she needs Matthew's experience. Matthew's daughter was also kidnapped, at age 8 and was found years later, so he knows the ins and outs of helping a victim to ease back into a normal life and to regain a sense of themselves. But Shannon is determined to do it at her own pace and will only release information as she is ready which means her life could once again be in danger. She has enough information that could put away some people for a very long time but the information also requires that they find hidden evidence. Matthew needs to hold back his natural inclinations to solve the kidnapping at a fast a pace as possible and let Shannon feel comfortable in revealing everything that has happened to her. But her re-entry into society is made more complicated because her brother, who has never stopped looking for her, is also running for governor and is only a few months from election. Could her reappearance ruin his chances at his dream? And could all the information that gets revealed also implicate people she thought loved her?

 Dee Henderson is always an author I know I can go to for a very good story with flawed characters who never the less try to walk out their faith even in the midst of the criminal circumstances surrounding them. Taken was a bit different for me. Rather than an edge of your seat crime drama where one wonders whodunit, it more explored the victim trying to bring their life back to normal and all that would involve. But because of the description on the back cover I was expecting the fast paced crime drama where I kept waiting for something big to happen and it never materialized. Instead it was a very honest look at what crimes like this might leave the victim to deal with even when they are "rescued". It didn't make the read bad, just not what I was expecting. I really liked the strength of Shannon's character in hanging on to her faith even in the midst of years of disappearance and how determined she was not to lose that in her life no matter what was happening. There is a very good discussion between her and Matthew in the story concerning evil and free will that felt woven in very well and not at all just stuck in there. It would make a great discussion point if the book was read in a book club.

32.  The Curiousity by Stephen  P. Kiernan

Completed:  November 17, 2016

Rating:  9/10

Review:  The Curiosity tells the story of Dr. Kate Philo, a brilliant scientist who has been hired to the team of a ground breaking project run by Erastus Carthage, a well known scientist in the study of cell reanimation and cryogenics. The team has been successful in bringing small creatures such as shrimp and krill that have been flash frozen back to life for short periods of time and is now in the arctic looking for something larger frozen into "hard ice" within an iceberg. When they come across a larger form which they think might be a seal, they are shocked to discover that it is actually a man, frozen deep inside the iceberg. Never having attempted reanimation on any kind of larger specimen, Carthage nevertheless has the body brought back to the lab in Boston where attempts are made to bring him back to life, some of which Dr. Kate is not comfortable with, and the project is named the Lazarus Project. As the man begins to live longer than anyone would have estimated and starts to regain some memories, Carthage continues to keep him as a specimen in order to push for more funding but Dr. Kate starts to "see" the man not as a specimen of science but as a living human being that has been literally ripped from his fate and woken up a hundred years later into a very different world. Now she must decide whether to side with scientific discovery or with her conscience and her heart.

 When I finished this story, I found it hard to pick up another story for awhile as I contemplated everything this story explored. It was science fiction, mixed with a touch of romance but one that definitely left the reader thinking when it was all done. This story posed so many questions about science and discovery and ethics and humanity and life. The story is told in 4 viewpoints: Dr. Kate Philo, Erastus Carthage, Daniel Dixon: a journalist that Carthage has given exclusive coverage to, and Jeremiah Rice: the frozen man brought back to life. The first 98 pages were sort of ones I slogged through as the ground work for the story's science of reanimation was laid out as the team was searching in the Arctic. Once the frozen man was found the story really picked up as all the ethical questions of cell reanimation and cryogenics started to enfold. The part ego plays amongst the scientific community and academia was also explored as Carthage would stop at nothing to have the accolades. Never viewing the man as a human but as a specimen, all his decisions and actions reflected his belief.. The significant role of media and it's part in reporting what they want you to know or what the powers that are above them want you to know as opposed to whole truth was also delved into as was how sometimes protest groups might actually be used to fuel controversy and keep something before the public eye, something I had never thought of before.

 I especially liked the exploration of what a man who is frozen and presumably dead and brought back 100 years later might feel and think and experience. Jeremiah's confusion in the situation and fear are felt in the fact that he only will talk with Dr. Kate, the one person he senses can be trusted. His reactions to the culture we live in today made for some interesting moments and thoughts. As he starts to regain his memories and what led up to him being frozen in the Arctic, my heart really went out to his character as he struggled with his own decisions and regrets from his former life. Dr. Kate's concern and compassion for him as a person, not just as a discovery and project, was a refreshing juxtaposition against the hard character of Erastus Carthage.

 Even though I did really like the story, there were a few things from the book that were of concern to me and may be to others. It is a secular story written from a secular scientific point of view and that was reflected in various ways. The aspect of Jeremiah remembering anything after "dying" was approached from that viewpoint. There is some swearing and some touches of vulgarity that I had to skip and in my opinion were unnecessary even though the author explains at the end where it came from. The journalist in the story wasn't my favorite character as he couldn't control where his eyes and thoughts wandered. But removing those things this was an incredibly thought provoking story that touched a whole array of emotions and I couldn't put it down. The film rights have been bought so it should be interesting to see if it actually becomes a movie.

33.  Sisters of Heart and Snow by Margaret Dilloway

Completed:  December 19, 2016

Rating:  7/10

Review:  Rachel and Drew Snow are sisters who grew up in a very dysfunctional family.   Their father was an American whose love they had to earn by accomplishing great things in their young lives.  Their mother was Japanese and cowered around their father and pretty much acted as his servant.  Rachel excelled in swimming in her teens and Drew became accomplished in music.  They were fairly close when they were small.  But when Rachel injured herself from over practicing her father withdrew any small amount of affection and acceptance he might have given her beforehand.  Reacting in typical teenage fashion, Rachel started to look for love by partying and becoming promiscuous in her search for love and acceptance.  Resulting in their mother becoming very disengaged and her being kicked out of her home.  This also affected the sisters' relationship and they grew apart.  Rachel went on to marry a good man and was raising two children of her own who were growing into adulthood.  Drew, however, just couldn't get her life together.  Now their mother was in stages of dementia and their father wanted to put her into a home where the girls knew she would not be taken care of.  When Hikari, the mom, gives Rachel power of attorney, enraging their father, and then mentions  an ancient book in her sewing room Rachel must enlist  Drew's help in locating it and deciphering why their mother would want them to read it.  What does the life of an 12 century samurai female have to do with them?

Going back and forth from 12 century Japan to the modern day, this is a story love and loss and of finding the courage to fight.  I loved the Japanese historical aspect of this book.  The reader could tell it was well researched and are based on Japanese historical drawings of a real female Samurai named Tomoe Gozen.  The culture of that time was in such contrast to the modern part of the story yet there were lessons in that life for the modern women.  For the most part the story was good for the sisters era too though I really hated that in one chapter of the story in a tense situation the f-bombs started to really fly.  I understand the tense situation but still felt it had basically come out of nowhere and it kind of ruined it for me.  There also was an intimate occurence that didn't need to be described as it was for the reader to get the intent and that I didn't like either.  To me it was sort of like the author felt she just had to have that added in somewhere.  The story would have be just fine without it.  And for those reasons I had to mark the rating down.  What would have been a great read turned and story turned for me on those two points and dropped the rating to a 7.0.

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