Friday, January 6, 2017

2017 Reads and Reviews

1.  The Ringmaster's Wife by Kristy Cambron

Completed:  January 5, 2017

Rating:  8.5/10

Review: This is the story of two women who's lives were changed by the Ringling Brothers Circus of the 1920's. Both had to find the courage to take a step of faith to make their dreams come to life. Mabel was a young woman who left the comfort and familiarity of the farm she was raised on to head to the big city. Taking a cigar box filled with clippings of her dreams she is working towards those when a stranger comes into the restaurant she is working at and talks her boss into allowing her to escort him around the Chicago World's Fair. Mabel at first has no idea who he is but later learns he was none other than John Ringling. Meeting again in another city they eventually marry. Mable is popular amongst the circus crew and performers for her quiet kindness and strength. Rosamund Easling is a young lady who is raised in the wealthy parlors of her English Earl father. He beloved brother lost his life in WWI and Rosamund misses him dearly. She finds solace in barebacking riding with the precious horse her brother had given her. But when her parents are forcing her into a marriage to another wealthy man and selling the horse to a man who is buying it for the Ringling circus in America, Rose is heartbroken. When Colin sees her riding Ingenue he sees her potential as a performer and invites her to America with the horse. Rosamund agrees and sneaks off with Colin on a boat to America leaving her parents a note. Intending on returning eventually, Rose's life is changed when she encounters not only the fame and bright lights of the circus world but also the life of a type of nomad during show season and the harsh competitive nature of it. I enjoyed this historical fiction novel that highlights the early life of the circus.

 The story is told from the viewpoints of the two women and goes back and forth between them. Though of both women's stories are centered in the 1920's Mable's starts of a bit earlier on the timeline. There was a small issue for me in that a couple of times as the two women's stories started to intertwine that the timeline jumps got a little confusing and I did have to backtrack to the the beginnings of chapters to find out what year I was in.

 Mable was the real life wife of John Ringling. She was known for her wisdom and kindness and her John built an amazing estate in Florida where they wintered in the off season but also had amazing parties whose invitations were coveted by both performers and the public. Rosamund and Colin are fictional characters added to the real life story of Mable and it makes for a good read. It was interesting how Mable came from humble farming beginnings and rose up to be wealthy and Roseamund started very wealthy and chose to leave it and start from the bottom in the circus. I thought the author did a wonderful job of conveying what the circus culture of the time would have been like. How hard they all worked together and were like family and yet there was a competitive dynamic in some of the relationships. A good clean read

2.  Black Ice by Linda Hall

Completed:  January 17, 2017

Rating:  7.5/10

Review:  Lenore Featherjohn is the owner of a local bread and breakfast in the town of Fog Point.  It's the middle of winter and the town is experiencing a phenomenon that hasn't happened in a long, long time where the water is so frozen that it is breaking and forming statues.  As such, she is busy in her B&B what with all the news people here to report on the event.  Then one day she finds a young teenager whom no knows dead by her back door.  The very back door that leads downstairs where her grown sons live.  As she has done all their lives,  in an effort to protect them from being accused, Lenore moves the body to a snowbank on the side of the driveway and put the hands in a prayer position.  But now the "Snow Angel" is causing a whole slew of other problems as people come to pray and hope that the spot will heal them of their ills.  May and Jake, the town's private detectives, get involved when May's name and phone number turn up in the dead girl's pocket.  As tensions rise clues seem to point to the local minister's daughter knowing more than she is letting on.

I picked this up in a used book store not realizing it was part of a series, even though it said series right on the cover.  Oh well.  But I recognized the name of the author and thought I had read some of her books before at some time.  I thought I'd read it now because we were in the midst of our own winter, icy time.  It is a mystery that is filled with lots of suspense which is what kept the pages turning for me but not quite to the point where I was staying up late because I just couldn't put it down.  There was a few story lines happening and sometimes it was just difficult to sort out and remember who everybody was. (I think maybe if I'd read the 1st book first that would have helped?)   I found the aspect of people flooding to the spot the girl had died to get healed a little too far of a stretch for me.  But the actual mystery  and how it tied into the epilogue was very interesting. She also delved into the topic of loss of faith through the character of Amy.  Amy grew up in a good Christian home, went to Christian schools and university, married a minister, did all the right things but somewhere along the way she had a loss of faith, or maybe she never really did have any but now in the midst of everything happening with her daughter, husband and the mystery girl she is coming face to face with her own crisis.  Maybe because this is a series and will further be dealt with in another book, I thought this story line didn't wrap up for me.  I'll have to check out the others in the series.  I really thought the author did a wonderful job in exploring how some behaviors in people actually are hiding a deep hurt that they themselves don't even know how to define.   An interesting detail is that some of the story is set in a little town here in central Alberta called Barrhead.  I don't think I've come across a book that  had an Albertan town as a setting.  Bonus for that!  All said it was an enjoyable read but not one that blew me away.All said it was an enjoyable read but not one that blew me away.     

3.  Because You're Mine by Colleen Coble

Completed:  January 20, 2017

Rating:  8/10

Review:  Alanna is at a great place in life. Having had a tough childhood, she is now married to the love of her life and they are expecting their first child. Her Celtic band, of whom she is the lead and her husband is the drummer, is taking off and tours are selling out all over the United States. But then tragedy strikes when her husband is killed in a car explosion and his best friend is severely injured who cause turns out to be a bomb. As she deals with that and tries to get her life back together a new threat comes in that her father in law threatens to take away the baby if Alanna does not live the life he dictates. Her manager gives her an escape by offering her a marriage of convenience to save the child from the father in law. It all seems too good to be true but when she moves into the historical home of her new husband things start to happen that are endangering both Alanna and the unborn baby. Are they accidents or is someone trying to harm her too?

This story had a bit of everything. It's a contemporary mystery thriller. It isn't my absolute fave from this author but I still enjoyed the book and it still held enough for me to keep the pages turning and was a solid tension filled read. It was a bit of a darker and creepier story than most of her mysteries and there were things about it that I loved but there were a few things that left me with a few questions. The basic story was really interesting to me as we walked through the heartache of what Alanna deals with in the aftermath of the accident and then finding out it was a bomb that killed her husband. Her and her husband's love was sweetly written and it was nice to see marriage positively portrayed even amongst the music industry. The story touches upon struggling with one's faith and anger towards God after a tragedy though I would not really call this an overtly Christian novel and I would have liked to have seen that explored a bit more. I loved the Irish theme woven into it through the main characters. It is mostly set in Charleston, South Carolina but does go back to Ireland a bit. I enjoyed the Irish brogue because it wasn't overly done and didn't leave me googling definitions of words or phrases as other books have done when they use another language. As Alanna's background is unfolded reading of the "travellers" or Irish gypsies was interesting too. I did think some of the story parts were a little rushed and left me with questions and would have like to have seen those fleshed out a bit better and though I guessed parts of the story about 3/4 of the way there was more to the story that kept me going right until the end.

4.  Delilah - Treacherous Beauty by Angela Hunt

Completed:  January 28, 2017

Rating:  9.0/10

We all know the basic story Samson and Delilah. But the bible itself gives a very little background to the infamous woman who brought Samson, the judge and strongman of Israel, down. In this retelling, Angela Hunt has written the story of a young girl who's mother marries a Philistine business man and takes them from their home in Egypt to his home in Gaza. Though her stepfather is loving and kind to her mother and herself, Delilah's stepbrother is another story. Cruel and vindicitive, he takes every opportunity to make Delilah feel unwelcome. When her stepfather dies suddenly only a few months later, Delilah's life changes for the worst as her stepbrother sells her mother as a slave and turns her into his prisoner, severely abusing her. But Delilah is determined to make an escape and find her mother and buy her back so they can make their way back to their homeland. Easier said than done, but an opportunity presents itself and Delilah grabs her chance. But she must go without her mother as she has nothing. When some Jewish traders take pity upon her and offer her help she goes with them vowing to someday return for her mother. In her travels she comes across the legendary Samson, in the years to come knows she must turn to him to help her with her plans. But she doesn't count on actually falling in love with the strongman and it all comes to a head when she must make a choice between love and ambition and revenge.

 I really liked this story of Delilah. Who has not wondered what was her story was and how she could do such a thing? Not much historical or biblical fact is found about Delilah other than her betrayal of the mighty Samson. But what in her past would bring her to a point that would make her go down in history as one of the greatest betrayers of all time? Angela Hunt has imagined a young foreign girl viciously hurt by the circumstances of her life and trying desperately to put her life back together so when she sees opportunity she takes it. She has taken the premise that "human nature demands that we rationalize our actions" (author's notes: pg 341) and woven both the motivations of Delilah and Samson through that. The time of the judges of Israel and Samson's background was interestingly woven into the story and I learned a few things about that time and how women were treated. The story is told in alternating chapters both from Delilah and from Samson's points of views. And the same as with the building of the other biblical character's in this series, the author stuck close to the biblical story and to human nature and worked out from there. Again it is to the reader's advantage to read the author's notes at the back that explain how the story was built.

5.  The Forgotten Garden by Kate Morton

Completed:  February 9, 2017

Rating:  10/10

Review:  In 1913, a 4 year old girl is found all alone on a dock in Australia by the Hugh, the dockmaster. All she had was a little white suitcase with some clothes and a book of fairy tales. When they couldn't find her family, Hugh and his wife Lil, take her in, name her Nellie as loved and raised her as their own daughter, never telling her about her past. Now she's all grown up, engaged to be married and about to celebrate her 21st birthday. Lil has passed away, and against Lil's wishes Hugh feels he must tell Nellie the truth. As her world and her knowledge of who she is is set spinning, Nell breaks her engagement and sets herself on a quest to find who she really is. With nothing to go on except the book of fairy tales, she heads off to England in pursuit of who the author is. She never finishes her quest to find answers as her life takes another turn when she has to care for her teenage granddaughter. But after Nell passes away, her granddaughter, Cassandra, is surprised to learn Nell has left her a cottage located on the Cornish Coast. Not knowing anything about this from Nell before hand, Cassandra heads to England to deal with the cottage but finds she too is taken up with the mystery that surrounds her grandmother. 

 I loved this story. Though it is a hefty book at 548 pages, I found I couldn't put it down and finished it quite quickly. A family saga that spans 3 generations the story is told in the narrative of 3 people from the 3 generations: Eliza, Nell and Cassandra. It's a maze of a story, kinda like the maze in the garden mentioned in the title, but is worth it to reach the end. At first nothing seems to do with anything else, but the author brings it all together in lovely detail. It's a complicated story but I found the author just drew me in with her descriptions and her ability to really make me feel for the main characters. I mostly had a heart for Eliza whose story was heartbreaking and had me near tears quite a few times. The mystery of who Nell really is grows as the story progresses and though I had a small inkling of who she was I never would have guessed the circumstances surrounding her beginning years. Themes of identity, family history, friendship, family, entitlement, grief, loss, love and decisions affecting generations are all woven into the story beautifully. Though usually as a reader I tend to skip date/location notes at beginning of chapters for some reason, I would definitely suggest to make sure you take note of these as you read the story. It really helps to move the story along and keep the timeline straight in one's thoughts as you read. I gave this story a 10/10 because of the author's ability to draw me right in to all three women's stories and the involvement of my feelings the author was able to bring out.   

6.  The Promise of Jesse Woods by Chris Fabry

Completed:  February 22, 2017

Rating:  8/10

7.  Secrets of a Charmed Life by Susan Meissner

Completed:  March 3, 2017

Rating:  10/10

Review:  Kendra Kendra Van Zant arrives at an old English cottage in Cotswald, England to interview famous watercolor painter Isabel McFarland who is actually celebrating her 93rd birthday. Isabel is a survivor of the London Blitz but up until now has never talked about it so it was a bit of a surprise that Kendra's professor was able to secure an interview for her. As a visiting student at Oxford studying history, Kendra is writing a paper for the 70th anniversary of VE day with a chance for it to be published. Kendra firmly believes that information is only half the story of an event and personal experience of people involved is the other half. She's done her research and has her questions all lined up but before she can even ask any of them Isabel drops the bombshell that she is not even who everyone thinks she is. And so starts the story of 2 young sisters who lived in London at the time of rumors of war in the 1940's.

 Emmy Downtree is only 15 but has her dreams all planned out. She has been drawing brides and bridal dresses and wants to design them. When she has a chance to work in a bridal shop she takes the job even though her mother is very opposed as she needs to help look after her much younger sister Julia while her mother does whatever she does when she is gone from them. But Emmy's ambitions and dreams come to a halt as London orders the evacuation of all children to foster families in the country side to keep them safe from the threat of bombs. Though she tries to fight it, Emmy is shipped off by train with her sister. But she is determined to make her once in lifetime opportunity a reality and sees only that she has no other choice and steals away in the middle of the night to make her appointment with a designer in the city. But this determination will have ramifications not only for her but for others in her life as well.

 I loved this book. It grabbed me right from the beginning. As the story of the two sisters starts to build it was very easy to lose myself into the story. A portion of the story towards the back is told in letter and diary entry form and though this is a format that I usually really do not like in books it worked for me in this story. The author was really able to convey the terror and emotions of two young girls going through the Blitz as well as the adult characters and what they were going through. The long term ramifications of trauma were really presented in a believable and realistic sense. I really don't know a lot about the war as it affected England so I really learned a lot. I didn't even have any idea that children were evacuated out of London. As I was reading and the Blitz was happening I wondered what on earth the title had to do with the actual story, they seemed on opposite ends of a very large spectrum. But under the reader's guide author Q & A she poses the question "if there really are secrets to living a life that has happily ever after written all over it...and to being able to have everything you've always wanted". In the beginning both Emmy and Kendra seemed to have their p's and q's all lined up for that life. But as the story shows some things you just cannot control and it's the very choices during those times that may be the ones determining where your life goes. Beautiful writing, realistic emotions, wonderful characters.

8.  Keep Quiet by Lisa Scottoline

Completed:  March 11, 2017

Rating:  8/10

On the surface the Buckman's seem to be the perfect little family. Jake is a financial planner who's fairly new business is doing well. After having had a shocking lay off when he was an accountant he is finally back on his feet and moving forward career-wise. His wife, Pam, is also on a great career path. She is a appelate judge who loves her job and has just been offered a huge career opportunity. Their only child, Ryan is in high school and is on track to earning a basketball scholarship with his talent and good grades. The one thing marring everything is Jake's relationship with his son. When he started the financial planning business, he devoted all his time to making it successful and his marriage and relationship with his son suffered. Now after counselling his marriage is doing well but he needs to work out the relationship with Ryan. At Pam's suggestion he picks Ryan up from the movies so he can have some alone time with him and against his better judgement he allows Ryan to talk him into letting him drive the car. At 16, Ryan is quite capable but his partial license has time restrictions on it. But Jake wanting to keep the bonding open, thinks that the road they are on is deserted and therefore safe so after much pleading on Ryan's part he allows Ryan to take the wheel. Then the unthinkable happens and Jake makes the split second decisions to protect Ryan's future at all costs and convinces Ryan to keep quiet. But the life altering secret is eating away at both of them and it's events are threatening to blow it all up. One lie leads to another and before Jake knows it the plan to keep Ryan protected might be the very thing that will destroy them all.

This was a very fast paced story. The timeline is less than a week but so much happens within that timeline. There was much to like about this book. I liked the exploration of the father's role as provider and what happens when that is shattered. I also liked the exploration of father/son relationships and the idea of how far would a parent go to protect their child. I also liked the raw portrayal of guilt and shame and panic that Ryan is forced to live with and not reveal. The story never let up. That said, though, other than Ryan, I did not like the characters at all. Pam's character was what some call a helicopter mom, which in my circles is called a smother mother. She micromanaged Ryan so much that it was driving me nuts and I had to periodically stop and remind myself that Ryan was actually 16 in the story and not 8. She was also hypocritical. I wanted to shake Jake at times as he dug them in further and further and just wouldn't stop even though he could see the weight of the secret was eating Ryan up. I did like how this author though didn't hold back on the consequences of dishonesty. Sometimes you see characters rewarded and not really paying consequences for their moral failures but this story did not hold back on that aspect...and I liked that. For a reading group there would be much discussion opportunity on the various things brought out in this story.

9.  The Memory Palace by Mira Bartok

Completed:  March 20, 2017

Rating:  9/10

Review:  From the Reading Group Guide Introduction (back of book): "When piano progidy Norma Herr was well, she was the most vibrant personality in the room. But as her schizophrenic episodes became more frequent and more dangerous, she withdrew into a world that neither of her daughters could make any sense of. After being violently attacked for demanding that Norma seek help, Mira Bartok and her sister changed their names and cut off all contact in order to keep themselves safe. For the next seventeen years Mira's only contact with her mother was through infrequent letters exchanged through post office boxes, often not even in the same city where she was living. At the age of forty, artist Mira suffered a debilitating head injury that leaves her memories foggy and her ability to make sense of the world around her forever changed. Hoping to reconnect with her past, Mira reached out to the homeless shelter where her mother was living. When she received word that her mother is dying in a hospital, Mira and her sister traveled to their mother's deathbed to reconcile one last time. Norma gave them a key to the storage unit in which she has kept hundreds od diaries, photographs and momentos fro the past that Mira never imagined she would see again. These artifacts trigger a flood of memories and give Mira access to the past that she believed had been lost forever."
This book has been on my radar for quite awhile now and I finally got around to reading it. With the recent releasing of a schizophrenic man here in Canada who committed a horrible, unimaginable crime on a greyhound bus a few years back that shocked our nation, changed the lives of all those on the bus and was the direct cause of one of the first responders taking their own lives, I really felt the need to read this. I can pretty much say people here are totally dumbfounded and angry as he was given total freedom without conditions and let back into society because it was deemed the crime was committed during an episode and he's now "likely to stay on medication". This made me dig into my TBR pile and pull this book out hoping maybe it would bring some kind of understanding into the life of a person suffering from schizophrenia and how it affects those around them and to somehow justify or explain in my mind the reasoning behind the release of this man here in Canada.

 Mira Bartok was told at her mother's funeral that "people have abandoned their loved ones for much less than you've been through". And even though for their own safety, Mira and her sister had no contact with their mother for many, many years and in fact, changed their names so she couldn't find them, Mira wrote a touching, heartbreaking account of their lives growing up with their mother. The book really let the reader into a glimpse of the harrowing struggle for both the schizophrenic sufferer and their families. And it also brought out how the loved ones can feel hostage to the illness and, in Mira's mother's case anyway, the system that was incapable of bringing help to their family in crisis. In order to protect themselves, they literally had to let their mother become homeless and living on the streets and in shelters. No family should have to make that choice. Mira's story also pointed out to me how memory can be affected by different things and even the one remembering as her and her sister sometimes had different recollections of the same event. There were also beautiful moments throughout the book where Mira makes the mother/daughter connections while caring for her mom. The moment when she was helping her mom in the hospital to walk from the bathroom back to bed and as they stood, her holding her mom up as her mom rested a moment leaning against her and the nurse came and asked if she was okay, and Mira realized she hadn't hugged her mom in 17 years was especially touching. Though at times the writing style bogged me down just a little bit as I tried to make connections in the points the author was trying to convey, this memoir was well worth the read just to gain some understanding of the struggles of those suffering severe mental health issues, to develop some compassion for them and their families and for those who are homeless, and an understanding of how the "system" works and lacks in actually being helpful and beneficial for those in this situation. And most especially to read about that mother/daughter connection in spite of the illness.

10.  Some Small Magic by Billy Coffey

Completed:  April 1, 2017

Rating:  6/10

 Abel is a young boy who has got a tough go of it.  Him and his single mom live in run down trailer while his mom works hard at a diner to make ends meet.  There never seems to be enough money to be able to breath a bit.  Abel has a disease where his bones break easily and it makes him look and walk differently and he endures bullying at school because of it.  In an act of retaliation, Abel sets into motion events that will change his life forever. 
Have you ever read a book where you just didn't know how you felt about it or what to say about it? Well, turns out this is one of those reads for me. The description sounded interesting, a bit out of the genres I usually tend to gravitate towards. Anything in the "magical" genre usually doesn't grab my attention, but I picked it up anyway because of the other aspects to the story. After reading it, I would have to say I don't know if I would list this as Christian fiction, and by the barcode of the book neither is it listed as such but just as fiction. Has a smidge of faith element to it but I would definitely not call it a biblical based story. If I had approached it this way, rather than expecting more of a faith based read because of who published it, I think I might have enjoyed it a touch better. But I kept waiting for more of a biblical foundation to come through.

 I found there were parts that captured me, where I couldn't put it down and then other parts that tended to the tedious side and I found myself skimming the pages. The friendship struck between Abel who was a young boy born to poverty, raised by a single parent and living each day with a disease that caused his bones to break very easily and the young adult who was mentally disabled was beautiful. How they supported each other was heartwarming and inspiring as goals of friendship. I had to really push past the name given to this character however, as I found it offensive to this day and age and my own sensibilities. The character was a simple-minded man because of events that occurred when he was small and he was called Dumb Willie by those who knew him. For the setting, I understood this and got that the attitude towards him was being established, but then to keep on referring to him as such through the whole story, even by his best friend, was really hard for me to get past, especially with my own experience working with mentally impaired children. The portrayal of brokenness and the different ways brokenness manifests in people's lives was also really well written. But the comparisons, or maybe the right word is references, of faith, miracles and magic just didn't sit quite right with me. This made the telling of the story just a bit too long for me but that could be because with this type of story, rather than relaxing and enjoying it I feel like I always have my discerning feelers up and working.   Not what I was expecting and not my cup of tea.

11. The Shack by Wm. Paul Young

Completed:  April 7, 2017

Rating:  8/10

12.  The Imposter Bride by Nancy Richler

Completed:  April 17, 2017

Rating:  8.5/10

Review:  A young woman named Lily Azerov is coming to Canada from a war torn Europe.  Her finance, a man whom she has only communicated with through letters, is to pick her up at the Montreal train station.  But when Sol lays eyes on Lily, he turns and leaves.  His brother Nathan, sees Lily and has compassion on her and decides right then to marry her.  As they try to build a life together, Sol starts to regret letting her go.  But Lily has some secrets she has brought with her and she finds fitting into the family difficult.  Even after she has a baby, she can't quite shake the depression and guilt that has hounded her so she decides to leave without telling anyone.

As Lily and Nathan's daughter, Ruth,  grows she has many questions about the mother she doesn't remember.  The only clues she has are a diary and an uncut diamond.  But no one seems to have any answers, not even her Dad who has never spoken a negative word against Lily.  But as she starts to dig and connect some dots she finds that life intertwines families in more ways than can be seen just from the surface.

This book was not what I expected but it was still a really good read.  It was written by a Canadian author, which I didn't know when I picked it up.  It was most enjoyable to me because of all the mentions of Canadian cities and places.  It even mentioned the river that runs through my city.  I also enjoyed the references to the cutting of diamonds and the subtle comparisons of that to life.  It's a tale of survival, of starting anew, of how hidden secrets change the direction of  lives other than that of the secret keeper, of the desire and need to know one's roots, of the ties of family.  The mystery of Lily is embedded in World War II and moves itself into the Jewish community of Montreal, Canada.  It offers the reader the hope that out of devastation, one can still have love and family.  It is not a fast paced read but more of a study of character and the events that shape us into who we are.

13.  The Memory of You by Catherine West

Completed:  April 28, 2017

Rating:  10/10

Review:  When Natalie Mitchell was 13 she was involved in a tragic accident that took the life of her beloved twin sister.  Since then she has been trying to get past it and move on with her life.  Now working for her father, a very brusque and successful businessman, she has spent her life since the accident trying to please him and seemingly always coming up short.  When her grandfather has a heart attack, her father sends her, against her will, back to the family owned vineyard with the purpose of shutting it down.  As Natalie has to face her fears of returning to the place that forever changed her life, she also can't bring herself to say no.

I loved this story. It captured me right from the first pages and totally had my emotions invested into the characters all throughout the book. The setting is beautiful, the Sonoma wine valley, and the author's descriptions made me picture it clearly in my mind's eye. The two main characters are both dealing with tragic circumstances that have changed who they are and their struggles came across as authentic and well written. Right from the get-go I felt for Natalie's pain and vulnerability as the life-long struggle with the death of her sister so many years before comes back full force after a negative event in her adult life. As her life starts to spiral her father decides she should go back to the very place her pain began, her grandfather's home and winery, with the mandate to shut it down. Because her grandmother bequeathed her the majority of shares in the winery, Natalie hopes to see if she could improve on it and not close it's doors. But she must go against her father to that. And after spending her growing up years and her adult life trying to please her father, Natalie doesn't know if she has the strength to go against him. As she comes face to face with a combative, defensive and angry vintner, who just happens to be a crush from her childhood and who believes she is about to put him out of a job, you can't help but hope she can hold it together. I must admit I struggled a bit to like Tanner at first until his story started to unfold and you saw the place of pain he was operating from. The secondary characters were all nicely developed too. As the story peals back it's many layers it deals with loss, guilt, secrets, family dynamics, depression, facing the past and moving forward, forgiveness, faith and love. I found it multi-layered and rich with a satisfying ending.

14.  The Little Old Lady Who Broke All the Rules by Catharina Ingelman-Sundberg 

Completed:  May 14, 2017

Rating:  9/10


  Martha Andersson is 79 years old and living at a seniors home in Stockholm. In her mind, things are just going downhill there. The food is getting worse, they are being rationed and are basically locked in...all cost cutting measures the owner feels he needs to establish. With the help of the main nurse who is trying to gain a partnership and a husband, they have gone too far in Martha's estimation. To her, the seniors are being treated as children. So she decides to enlist her four friends from the home to start rebelling against the establishment. Naming themselves the League of Pensioners, they start an uproar by not going to bed when they are supposed to, breaking into the staff kitchen after hours to make themselves better tasting meals, etc. All pretty harmless until they start to devise a plan to fund what they think will be a better retirement plan than living at that home. Even a year or so in prison would be better than their current situation, or so they figure.

 I really enjoyed this hilarious crime caper involving senior citizens. It is translated from a Swedish author and has made the International Bestseller's list. I didn't find anything getting lost in the translation It's a humorous, silly, quirky and yet has a strong underlying message on how we as society view and treat our elderly. Throughout the book I kept imagining my 84 year old mom with her cane and walker attempting the biggest heist of the century and getting away with it. Martha and her gang have never done anything like this in their entire lives, but when they plan stealing rich peoples personal items at a fancy hotel they figure they have it planned down to the minutest detail. What could possibly go wrong? When they don't get quite what they thought they figure they will "kidnap" some priceless paintings from the art gallery and hold them for ransom. Stumping the best of the country's detectives, could things actually turn out as they hope?

 The story is written is such a light, engaging way that you are immediately drawn right into the lives of these seniors.  The main characters are written well and their individual personalities are all developed well even though their are actually about 8 main characters within the story.   I, as the reader,  was drawn to take a liking to every senior character. Even the must have "grumpy old man". And yet within the chaos and crime, there is a real underlying message of the worth and ability of even the most elderly and just because one is aging does not mean they want to be hidden away watching tv all day long. It also causes one to think of the mandates of senior residences and what each owner or foundation sees as important. The bottom line or care of the people who pay to live there. I realize each country runs things differently for it's senior citizens but it really does make one think about our attitudes and views. I found it a real fun read, perfect for summer. I noticed there is a second book continuing the story so I will be getting that for sure.  I gave this a good, solid 9/10.  I thought it could have wrapped up just a little bit sooner but still thoroughly enjoyed it.

15.  Chasing Fireflies by Charles Martin

Completed:  May 27, 2017

Rating:  9/10

Review:  I am having a hard time doing a small recap on what this story is about. There was so much depth to this story that it is hard being brief and not giving things away. As all of this author's stories, it has many layers. It is about searching for the truth and where one belongs, it's about secrets and lies and truth rising to the surface, abuse, compassion on the lost and hurting no matter where they've been, it's about brokenness, forgiveness and redemption, it's about life and death and loss and finding one's self, it's about what you do with the life and circumstances you've been dealt and ultimately it is a story of placing value on people no matter where they've been.

The main characters lives are interwoven through the contemporary story line and through a previous history story line of one of the characters. Chase Walker is a reporter who grew up never knowing his family but raised in a loving foster home where he was eventually adopted. But the drive to know who his father was and the truth about his abandonment has driven him his whole life, even to the choosing of his profession which he figured give him access to information to help him find answers. Willie, or "Unc", as he's referred to by Chase, is a man who is compassionate towards children who have had a hard life. He too has had a hard past with loss and betrayal but it has only made him more of a loving person, even as the town and members of his own family look down on him. The other main character is a small boy who has suffered horrific abuse. He is unable to talk but can draw with great skill in order to communicate. They nickname him Sketch no one, not even the boy himself seems to know his real name. As Chase and Willie try to unravel the mystery that Sketch is and where he has come from and to whom he belongs, they must both confront their own issues of brokenness, abandonment and pain.

I'll not lie, the prologue and some parts of the story that involved the young boy were absolutely heartbreaking and not easy to read. Nor was the story line of a secondary female character who is a longtime friend of Chase and niece of Willie. Her story line is also a painful one. But the story is one of redemption and of love standing strong in the face of the worst of what life throws at some people. All the characters are well written and relatable but Willie especially was wonderful. His southern sayings bought a levity to the story that brought smiles even in the midst of their truth. As always Charles Martin's words and story telling ability drew me right in. His phrasing and pacing were right on target and every emotion was drawn out of me, the reader. This story was sad yet beautiful and filled with hope. 

16.  Scent of Lilacs by Ann H. Gabhart
 (Book 1 - the Heart of Hollyhill)

Completed:  June 15, 2017

Rating:  9/10


In the quiet town of Hollyhill, Kentucky Jocie Brook is set to enjoy her hot lazy summer before she starts high school.  She has one prayer and that is that she gets to see her sister whom she hasn't seen since she was five.   Jocie has grown up without her since her mother up and left with her sister without saying a word to anyone.  Her loving father is an interim pastor of Mt. Pleasant Church praying to get the permanent pastorship and the vote for that is coming up.   But he has some obstacles in his way and he's just believing God will work it all out.  He has poured his love and God's love into Jocie and she has grown up being raised by him and her strict aunt.  Jocie knows she should just take her father's word for the past but there has always been that wish to know why her Mom and sister took off and left her and nobody seems to know or is willing to tell her.  Her two biggest prayers are for a dog and for her to see them again.  Both would take a miracle.   As she starts digging into her past, she stirs up things she might not want to know and that could affect not only her but her Dad's vote for the pastorship. 

This was such a perfect summer read.  It is lovely story building and meandering through the lives of this family during the summer of 1964.  I love stories set in this time period and I thought the author captured small town living and attitudes of the time wonderfully.  Jocie is a fun, inquisitive, spiritual young girl who draws you into her world and her hopes.  All the characters are wonderful from Jocie to her Father with his strong faith in spite of all that has happened to her scripture quoting aunt to her father's quirky friend and co-worker Wes.  The secrets they all are hiding are woven together into a story of faith, love and family that I really enjoyed.  Looking forward to the second book continuing the story.

17.  Before I Go To Sleep by S. J. Watson

Completed:  June 18, 2017

Rating:  9/10

Christine is a woman who wakes up each morning in a panic not knowing who the man next to her in the bed is. And she doesn't recognize the middle aged woman staring back at her in the bathroom mirror. And each morning the man patiently explains that he is Ben, her husband of over 20 years, and that she had a horrific accident 20 years ago that wipes her memory everytime she goes to sleep. Each day she also gets a phone call from a man who tells her he is a Dr. Nash who is working with her without her husband's knowledge to try to bring some memory back. Each day she writes in a journal what happened that day and hides it in her closet and each day Dr. Nash tells her where to look for it. As the entries start to add up, and as she rereads them each, Christine starts to have some questions and some things are not lining up and making sense. But who does she trust and believe? Her husband? Dr. Nash? herself? She can't even remember yesterday!

 This was one tense, page turning, can't put it down psychological thriller. Christine is totally dependent upon her husband, Ben, each and every day to fill in the facts of her existence. But as she journals her days something in her tells her not to let her husband in on what she is doing just yet. And the more she journals and rereads her days, while answering some questions it also raises so many more. The tension in this book runs through each page and doesn't let up. The pacing is really good and keeps you riveted and turning the pages to find out what is going on. Your emotions are really engaged with the main character as it is so hard to imagine this happening to anyone and the utter confusion they would live under on a daily basis yet the book is inspired in part by the lives of several amnesiac patients whom the author mentions in the author's note at the back of the book. You really are rooting for Christine to get her memory back or at least to get the questions answered.

18.  The Face of the Earth by Deborah Raney

Completed:  July 3, 2017

Rating:  8.5/10


Mitch and Jill Brannon have a wonderful marriage.  Both have careers they love, Mitch is a principal at a school and Jill is a grade 3 teacher at another school.  Their kids are both grown, their son in university and their daughter soon to join him there.  Jill is struggling a bit with the thought of their daughter leaving at the end of summer for school, so Mitch encourages her to attend a teacher conference with her colleagues so she can unwind and get her mind off it.  Now conference is over and Mitch is excited to see her and hear all about it.  Just having heard that she is on her way home, he's planning a quiet steak dinner at home with her. 

But Jill doesn't come home.  Hours tick away and still no Jill and with no calls from her Mitch is beside himself.   Shelley, Jill's best friend and the Brannon's next door neighbor, immediately comes over to be with Mitch as he calls police.  Days later police still have not a clue what has happened to her.  As the days turn into weeks and then months, Mitch is frustrated with what he feels is not enough proactive action on the part of the police and he starts to take matters into his own hands.  Bringing Shelley along to help in the search they spend days and miles together looking for Jills's car in ditches and trying to unearth even the smallest of clues that would help to find her.   With the common goal of Jill's well being and finding her driving them, Mitch and Shelley's friendship deepens to the point where Shelley's deep buried attraction to Mitch is starting to surface and becoming harder and harder to hide. 

I  enjoyed the concept of the story.  It explored life going on after tragedy that has not had closure and when, if any,  time should be the right time to move on.  It delved into marriage vows, and explored the depth of them as Mitch's loyalty to the vows he made Jill where thrown into confusion and temptation when it was becoming more and more apparent that Jill had literally disappeared off the face of the earth. With the police believing she disappeared of her own accord, how long could and should he hold onto his vows to her?  I appreciated the author's portrayal of a character who took his vows seriously and treated them as sacred and important while still being very human.  Mitch's character was so well written and you could feel his struggle and confusion as he was torn between putting all his focus into finding any clues to Jill's whereabouts and facing maybe having to finally just give up and move on with life for the sake of family.  The characters of Mitch and Shelley had much to struggle with as the search for Jill kept coming up empty and Shelley was finding it harder and harder to squash her feelings for Mitch.  At times I really, really disliked her character as she seemed very self serving at points in the story and was very quick in justifying her words and actions in pushing Mitch to move on way too early, in my humble opinion, and  giving him the space and time he needed to grieve in his own way and time.  I liked how the author portrayed real people struggling with real temptations and justifications in hard situations, how she portrayed how selfish motivations can cause us to, while sounding like a good thing,  do wrong things and justify them,  but I also love how she portrays that good marriages and holding onto to vows don't always come easily and must be fought for.   A good read that makes one think what "till death do us part" really means.

19.  Stars Over Sunset Bouldevard by Susan Meissner 

July 11, 2017

Rating:  10/10

In 1938 Violet and Audrey meet in Hollywood working in the secretarial pool for the making of the movie Gone With the Wind. Violet is from a small town and looking to start life over in a new place. Her deepest desire is to become a wife and mother and have a happy home. Audrey is a bit older and more experienced. Having gotten a big break a few years back in a silent film that fell to the introduction of talking movies, she is looking to get re-noticed and be made into the star she knows she can be. When she finds out Violet is looking for a place to live, she offers a room in her home and the two, though so different, become extraordinary life long friends. But the things each woman does to hide the fears from their pasts and to achieve their deepest desires could come to a head and put their very friendship at risk and change the course of their lives.

 Meanwhile in present day, Christine McAllistar comes across the find of a life time when a hat from the movie Gone With the Wind mistakenly surfaces in a box of donated clothing to her vintage clothing boutique. As she returns it to the owner at their request the mystery of how it ended up there intrigues her.

 I loved this book. It's a story of deep friendship and what the definition of that is. It explores what one does and justifies to oneself as one seeks after their dreams and desires. What secrets would we hide, what we would expose? It explores the concept of love and fear sometimes feeling like the same thing and how we hang onto things thinking we love them but in reality we are afraid to let go and that is exactly what love would have us to do. Both women made choices in their lives motivated by the wrong reasons and were broken characters that ultimately just wanted to be happy. I thought the characters were well written, though that doesn't necessarily mean that I always liked them, in fact at times they were infuriating, but that is part of the draw for me. Characters who are flawed and can draw out emotions in me. I thought the author brought the set and making of Gone With the Wind and old Hollywood to life and also touched on how World War II affected Hollywood and the making of films.

 I love this author's ability to tie a historical story into a present day story. I enjoyed the concept of this story thoroughly and how it played out in the character's lives. It made me think about some of my own choices in life and the motivations behind them long after I closed the book.

20.  Beneath Copper Falls by Colleen Coble

Completed:  July 19, 2017

Rating:  8/10

This book is revisits the Rock Harbor series, a popular series by Colleen Coble,  which was written a few years back, something that I didn't realize when I requested it for review.  I hadn't read the prior series but I feel this book can be a stand alone and you don't have to read any of the others before you dive into this one.  There were only a couple instances when descriptions of minor characters to this story confused me a bit and I felt those descriptions of who was related to who didn't really need to be in there to make the story flow or come together. 

That being said Beneath Copper Falls was a fast paced, edge of your seat murder mystery mixed with romance.  But it is not a fluffy read at all.  Along with the aspects of abuse, stalking and serial killers in the mystery, it also looks at deep heart issues like focusing on outward appearances and how they can be in direct contradiction to what the heart of a person really is.  How do we deal with things we don't like in ourselves especially when life seems to constantly be throwing us curve balls and how do we face what has shaped us and how to go on from there? 

I really like the character of Dana as she tries to get her life back together while on the run from an abusive fiance.  To get away from him she heads back to where she feels she'll have some safety and support living with her adoptive brother and in the town where she grew up and has some friends.  But it seems trouble follows her no matter where she heads and just when she doesn't need it the past starts to rear it's ugly head.  I'll not lie, I found some of abusive parts very difficult to read as well as the actual deaths involved in the story and it may be a trigger for some who have been through situations like that.  I can usually handle that and just take it as part of the story but this one touched something in me and it was hard.  But Dana's story drew me in as she tried to deal with the feelings that came as everything was happening.    I liked the exploration into how we face things or bury them and how either way it shapes who we are and how we handle things.  I also liked the look into the work lives of 911 dispatchers and the training of search and rescue dogs.  Both careers that I didn't know much about.   The ending wrapped up a bit abruptly for me but still enjoyed this page turner. 

21.  Secrets She Left Behind by Dianne Chamberlain 

Completed:  July 26, 2017

Rating:  6/10

8 year old Maggie Lockwood has just been released from prison for her actions which led to a fire at a church that claimed a life and horrified the small town she is from. Going elsewhere is not an option so she must learn to live in a town of people who's feelings toward her range from anger to horror to hate. But no one hates her more than Keith Weston who's last year has been one filled with pain and suffering due to the fire. Keith and Maggie grew up together and used to be friends but the fire burned him horribly and with the pain of the last year, he must now face life badly disfigured. The only person who helps him to get through his days is his mom Sara. But Sara left the house to go somewhere, no one seems to know where, and has not come home. As hours turn into days and days turn into weeks, Keith must deal with her not returning and all the questions and feelings that raise. Maggie's parents have offered to let Keith stay at their home but there is no way he's going to do and be so near to the person he hates. Then Keith meets a girl who looks beyond the disfigurement to who he really is and he starts to think he just might be able to get through this.

 The premise of this story sounded so good. How the author explored how a young person who makes a horrible decision must face the ongoing consequences of that decision and what follows was really good. Also how the people most affected by what happened and everything they also were feeling and struggling with as Maggie was released and back in town was really good. And the mystery involving the disappearance of Sara drew me in. Where the story derailed for me was the constant gravitation toward teenage sexual encounters. I understood the need to develop Keith's relationship with the girl, and being a secular story, I didn't expect it to line up with Christian moral guidelines, but the constant encounters I thought really distracted from the more important elements of what this story was about. I thought it could have risen above that so much better. There also was a huge element of the story involving sin in church leadership that was sad and disheartening that the blurb on the back totally didn't let the possible reader in on so the story ended up being about more than just what was happening with Maggie and the fire and it's consequences.

I struggled with the rating on the book but finally gave it a 6/10  

22.  Love Anthony by Lisa Genova

Completed:  July 31, 2017

Rating:  9/10

Olivia is on Nantucket by herself. No husband and no son with her. She is there trying to make some sense of her son Anthony's short 8 years. Anthony had been diagnosed with Autism at the age of 3. It had been a hard 5 years, ones in which Anthony didn't speak to her, he didn't look at her and he hated being touched by her. And it was hard on her marriage. So hard that she and her husband were not together anymore. But there was also happiness in the midst of the hard, but now Anthony was gone, her husband was gone and life didn't make sense.

 While in Nantucket Olivia meets Beth who is going through her own life issues. Beth is writing a book and what she writes will reopen Olivia's hurting and grieving heart.

 This was a wonderful story by Lisa Genova. The author of "Sill Alice" uses her knowledge as a nueroscientist to once again bring us into a story that brings compassion and understanding into a hard to understand area. I was trained in working with disabled individuals and used to work in the school district with autistic children and this book brought me into places of knowledge, perception and sympathy that I didn't know I was lacking, not only for the autistic individual for their families. The only reason I gave this a 9 out 10 instead of a 10 was the story line of Beth. I felt distracted from Olivia and Anthony's story with Beth's issues of an unfaithful husband and was bouncing back and forth in my emotions between the two. I wanted to concentrate on more on Olivia's story but Beth's life kept yanking on my emotions too. Both story lines were intense emotionally and I felt a bit torn between the two. I wanted my focus to be more on Olivia and Anthony's story as I thought the book was more about that. Don't know if that makes sense but it's how I felt during the story. That being said, I would highly recommend this book to anyone who wants to learn more about autism and it's effects on the individual and the family.

23.  The Truth Teller by Angela Hunt

Completed:  August 15, 2017

Rating:  9.5/10

Lara Godfrey's beloved husband died unexpectedly from a horrible bone cancer not long after they were married. They had very much wanted children so they took steps when he became ill to make sure that that could happen in case all the cancer treatments interfered with their ability to conceive. But now Michael is dead and Lara, after thinking long and hard and praying about it decides to go ahead with the procedure that would allow her to get pregnant by Michael's child. She wants nothing more than to have his baby and have a part of him still with her. And as it turns out Lara works as a physician assistant at a woman's clinic and the husband of the doctor she works for and is friends with is a genetic scientist. So Lara asks him to check if Michael's cancer genes would be passed on to any offspring. Assuring her that he eradicated those genes, the doctor goes ahead with the procedure and Lara finds herself pregnant. When a local celebrity millionaire in her area, a proclaimed bachelor, announces that he is expecting his first child through a surrogate, he is the talk of the coffee room at Lara's clinic. But when he starts showing up at the clinic, some start to get a little suspicious and suspect Lara to be that surrogate. When Lara starts to notice some odd discrepancies in her files, she starts to dig further and makes discoveries that put her and her unborn baby's life in danger. As she deals with the fact she has been deceived by someone she trusted but she is being used as the surrogate for some experimental child that has consequences not only for her and the baby but possibly for the human race. At first repulsed, now Lara will do anything to protect the child from the evil that waits to befall him. Living in hiding, and growing and flourishing under his loving mother's fierce protection, the boy starts to show an unusual gift of sensing when other's are not telling the truth. Now they are again on the run from those who would silence that gift.

 This book was very unique. It was edge of your seat, fascinating, thought provoking and suspenseful. It explores very important issues of genetic manipulation, medical ethics and morals and their clash with science and research, the love of a mother, the value of life and children no matter their parentage and how far a mother would go to protect her children. The book was first published in 1999 and it's messages are still important today, in fact, so much so that the publisher reintroduced in 2006. What I loved about this story was that though it was based in scientific stuff it never bogged down, and kept it's pace from beginning to end. It made me more aware about topics I never thought too much about before but it sure got me thinking now. And of course, with Angela Hunt you get lots of twists and turns keeping you up way past one's bedtime to see what happens. There is some good discussion questions for reading groups in the back.

24.  Before We Were Yours by Lisa Wingate

Completed:  August 22, 2017

Rating:  9.5/10

In Tennesse in 1939 Rill Foss is the oldest of 5 siblings living aboard a shanty boat on the river with her parents. Theirs is happy family life albiet a poor life. When her mom, whom they all call Queenie, goes into labor and comes up against major complications, the midwife insists her father, Briny, take her to the hospital. But the hospital is across the river. A family friend, another river dweller in the chaos and panic, offers to take them but Rill, who is only 12, is left behind and given the responsibility to care for the younger ones until Briny can come back. While her parents are gone, strangers come who identify themselves as police and under duress remove the kids, telling them they have to stay in an orphanage until they can be returned to their parents. Having a deep sense that they must stay together, Rill goes along with it, knowing she can't fight the adults anyway.

 In present day South Carolina, Avery Stafford is being groomed to possibly take her Dad's political position. When she returns home to help him out during a health scare, she comes across a lady in a senior's home who mistakes her for someone else. But the encounter compels Avery to start a search into her family's history but what she finds can ruin her well off, upstanding political Southern family.

 I saw this book on a Christian book reader's page on facebook and it came very highly recommended. This was a new author for me and it sounded very interesting so I put it on hold right away. Good thing because it had tons of holds. It is based on a true story about Georgia Tann, who from about 1925 - 1950 when they finally shut her down, kidnapped and stole children from poor families and through her Tennessee Children's Home Society sold them to wealthy families, including the notorious actress Joan Crawford, whose adopted daughter from this orphanage wrote "Mommy Dearest", about the abuse she experienced at the hands of her adopted mother. Google Georgia Tann, you will be shocked! The author wrote from the perspective of the children and though the family in it is fictional, all the goings on were from testimonies of survivors of this horrendous fake orphanage and adoption agency. I was stunned that this could actually happen and that so many people, from police to judges to politicians were bought off and allowed this to continue for so long. Some of the siblings that went through these orphanages spent years trying to find and reunite their families when they became adults. The records were so contorted or "lost" that some never did. It is a sad piece of American history that needs to be told so that it brings awareness to child trafficking and how it hides under the radar. I loved the character of Rill. Only 12 years old, but as is the nature of the oldest child, she has a strong sense of responsibility and of family and doing what she has to do to try and keep them all together and she deeply feels the burden of that. She is strong and courageous for her young age and what she is going through and is determined to find a way to get back to her parents and home. And I also loved the character of Avery, who dug and strived to find the truth even though it could have tough consequences for those she loved.

  25.  His Love Endures Forever by Beth Wiseman

Completed:  August 26, 2017

Rating:  9/10

Danielle Kent and Matthew Lapp couldn't be more different. She's a young girl taken in by family friends when her left her. Martha and Arnold have raised Danielle for the last year or so as their own. Having no children of their own, they had no problem taking her under their wing when her alcoholic and abusive mom took off, leaving Danielle behind. Matthew is a young Amish man, from a very devout family. Matthew, though, longs to leave the Amish traditions behind and is making plans to go live with his cousin who has done the same. In Danielle's mind, this was perfect. She wanted nothing to do with God as she felt He wanted nothing to do with her. Matthew was going to leave the order so there would be no pressure on her to conform. But when she finds herself pregnant at 18, her knight in shining armor suddenly develops some rust when he runs away, leaving her to face her pregnancy on her own.

 Levi is Danielle's best friend. Much to Levi's mom's dismay, he and Danielle have a very close friendship and she is always afraid that the "Englisher" will take her son away from God and their way of life. Levi, himself, loves the Amish life and always planned to stay in the area and marry and raise his children in the Amish ways. He's always told his mom they are just friends. But when Danielle finds herself in trouble and feeling all alone, Levi feels God has other plans for them but it would mean giving up everything he's planned for his life.

 This was a sweet, Amish fiction read that had much depth to it from an author I love. Danielle's struggles are ones that a lot of young people find themselves with nowadays. I loved the themes of friendship, trusting God and His plans, having faith to follow God's leading, forgiveness, sacrifice, love and family that ran through this story. Loved the characters and how they worked through their stuff as the story moved on.

26.  Orchard of Hope by Ann H. Gabhart
         (Heart of Hollyhill #2)

Completed:  September 5, 2017

Rating:  10/10

Orchard of Hope is the 2nd book in the Holyhill Series. It picks up and continues the story of young Jocie Brooks (started in Scent of Lilacs reviewed here). Lots is changing in the lives of the Brooke family and in the town of Holyhill. Jocie is starting high school, her sister Tabitha is about to have her baby, her father may just be falling in love with a wonderful lady, Wes has moved into their home while he recuperates from his shattered leg, which Jocie feels totally responsible for. On top of all this a new family has moved into town and bought the farm land from a loving older couple, hoping to turn it into an apple orchard. But trouble starts when people realize the family is not only black but the Mom was heavily involved in protests in the big city they were from and is not about to back down from a civil rights confrontation. In fact, she almost seems to invite it. Not only is the town on pins and needles but so is the church as what is really in the hearts of the people starts to rise to the surface and the close knit town starts to see divides forming.

 I loved this second book in the series. Just like the first book, I loved all the characters. The introduction of the Hearndon family made the story really take a whole other turn, a good one, as the town and it's individuals must face what is in their own hearts. The orchard of hope, as the family calls the farm they are turning into an apple orchard, is their father's fresh start from everything happening in the bigger city where they are from. Jocie's father hires the young boy from the family to help at the newspaper while Wes recovers but as he finds out, not everyone thinks he should have.  While the book takes on racial discrimination it also tackles the subject of guilt and forgiving oneself so that you can move on in life.  Like the first book, this is not a book that jumped from action packed chapter to action packed chapter, though it did have some,  but was beautiful story telling

27. The Space Between Words by Michele Phoenix

Completed:  September 13, 2017

Rating:  9.5/10

When I first got this book for review, it wasn't really a book or author I had heard of before. The description vaguely intrigued me so I ordered it. At first taste I thought maybe I would have a hard time getting into it. There are some french words and places in Paris mentioned. Never having been fond of reading or trying to sound out the French language this made me think I might have chosen something that wasn't quite for me. But boy, once the story got going I could not put this book down. I didn't know a lot about the Paris Bataclan attacks of 2015. For some reason I didn't really pay attention to the news at that time. I think I might not have wanted to know as that was the year my daughter had travelled to Paris and I just didn't want to be consumed with thoughts of "it could have been her had she gone a few months later". I don't know. Anyway, this story really opened my eyes to the horror of what those attacks were.

 I've always shied away from reading about matyrs and Christian persecution as it deposited fear into me. In a way, it was a step of faith for me to read this story. I had never heard of the Huguenots of France before but after reading this I have come to realize that their story and that of any story of persecuted Christian faith is important to tell and when told well it can leave a deposit of encouragement and faith and resilience.

 I found this story hard to put down. By interweaving the ancient story of the Huguenot persecution and the more recent Bataclan attack, this new to me author explored the questions: "Can someone who witnesses unthinkable evil and survives the unbearable, who loses everything, can they not only survive but find happiness in life again?" "Can one live beyond the fear to realize their story is not over and find the courage to continue their story and fight for their ending?" For me, the story of these two women, modern and ancient, and how they answered these questions for themselves was an important one to explore. The story also looks at dealing with grief, PTSD, the importance and blessing of friendship, dealing with guilt, faith and belief in the midst of evil and taking steps forward. Though the pacing of discoveries by Jessica and Grant was quite quick in this story for story telling's sake, I thought the author did a great job in helping us not to forget this history and told a wonderful story of courage, resilience and faith.

28.  The Writing Desk by Rachel Hauck 

Completed:  September 25, 2017

Rating:  8.5/10 

Writing is in Tenley Roth's blood. At least that is what she is hoping. Her great grandfather, grandfather and father were all writers. And Tenley is now a runaway bestseller awarded with the very award that is named after her grandfather. Under pressure from her publisher, Tenley now sits with writer's block. No matter how hard she tries, she can't even begin a second novel. The first was her heart poured out in grief over the death of her father, who raised Tenley alone since she was 5. Who does she think she is trying to follow in his footsteps?

 Then out of the blue, Tenley hears from her estranged mother who wants her to come care for her while she goes through chemo. Tenley can't believe the gall of the woman who abandoned her so many years ago but under pressure from both her writing, or rather lack of it, and her "fiance" to go to Paris, Tenley takes a chance and goes to Florida in the hopes of restoring some kind of relationship with her mother and gaining some sort of inspiration to write. There she finds an old antique desk in her mom's family home that she quickly hopes will become her spark. But when a guy named Jonas Sullivan tries to take it claiming her mother sold it to him, Tenley literally falls all over it.

 A century before a young woman named Birdie also had wrote at the desk. She grew up in the Gilded age and was the daughter of very rich parents and a mother who arranged a marriage for Birdie so that she herself could climb the heirarchy of New York. But Birdie has a dream to be a writer but does she have the courage to make those dreams come true?

 This was my first story by this author. I must admit that it was the cover that totally drew me to this book. It is beautiful. I did enjoy this duel time line historical romance. The stories of both women were engaging and drew me right in, though I must admit the whole nature of the attitudes of the gilded age made me want to throw the book at times(not because the author didn't write it well, she certainly did). How could people have acted like that? Yeesh. But the author did a lovely job in describing the time. You could tell it was well researched and I really felt for Birdie who was a young lady ahead of her time. I also felt for Tenley and the pressure she was feeling and could totally relate to her way of handling it. I kinda really loved the way Tenley and Jonas related to each other, in a bit of a sarcastic tone, and laughed aloud a few times with their dialogue. I did, though have a couple of eye roll moments with some of the attraction thoughts wondering if that is really how young people think nowadays. LOL. But it was a really nice double time line story and I loved how the author connected the two women and their stories.

29. Defending Jacob by Willian Landay

Completed:  October 5, 2017

Rating:  8.5/10

30.  Just Like Family by Tasha Blaine
          "Inside the Lives of Nannies, the Parents They Work For, and the Children they Love"

Completed:   October 15, 2017

Rating:  9.5/10

Just like family follows 3 very different nannies from 3 different areas in the U.S.A. The author got to know these nannies and wrote their stories over 5 years. First there was Claudia who was the inspiration for the book. She was a nanny who came from the Caribbean to New York City, leaving behind an infant son with family, so that she could make a better life for them by sending home money. Supporting herself and a daughter born in the States, she was a calm woman who handled things by not handling them, a nanny who didn't interfere with the decisions of the family she cared for, who knew how to disappear when there was tension or family fighting. Working long hours day after day, she had a secret dream of getting her GED and applying to nursing school.

 Then there was Vivian, a young, spirited nanny from Boston taking care of twin boys from birth, who was very driven, take charge and was not shy about telling her parents her opinion and what she felt was best for "her" boys. She was strict but also very loving. The boys were her world. Now they were growing up and she was struggling with her place within the family.

 Kim was a nanny from Texas who found her marriage on the rocks and was now finding work to survive. A live in nanny position was what she needed and being hired by a young couple about to expect seemed the perfect answer. But nothing was right about the job, nothing was turning out as expected or promised and Kim feels stuck having signed a year contract.

 I picked up this book because I was interested in the topic being a child care provider myself. While I am not a nanny looking after the children in just one family in their own home (I can have up to 6 different families at once and care is in my home) there are similarities and I could relate to lots of different parts and experiences of the nannies. I really liked how the author told the stories of 3 very different women in personality from 3 very different backgrounds working for 3 very different families. But the thing they had in common was their love for the children in their care. The book, though non-fiction, is written in a very easy storytelling style which made it so easy to read, not at all like slogging through a non-fiction book full of facts. It was real, relatable and had me tearing up in a few spots for the situations. Really enjoyed this read and would recommend it for anyone who is looking to understand the world of nannies, child care, and the hard to navigate relationships of nannies and the parents.

Quote I totally connected with:

"Like Claudia, Vivian, and Kim, this nanny in the park gave a part of herself that she would never get back. For most nannies, the ability to love is part of the job. And when her time is up with one family, a great nanny takes that love with her. She keeps pictures of her old charges on her refrigerator or continues to tell stories about them to friends or just pauses once in a while and sighs, remembering a moment they shared or a funny thing a child might have said. She puts her love in a box, shores it away, and labels it for that one specific child. Then she opens herself up again for the next child, for the next family. She starts the process of love and loss all over again."

pg. 19

32.  Home All Along by Beth Wiseman

Completed: October 2017

Rating:  9.5/10

Charlotte has been living in the Amish community and has fallen in love with a Amish man.  Just when she is considering converting to the Amish faith, things start to once again fall apart around her and she starts to question things once again.  Daniel loves Charlotte, even to the point of leaving the Amish community if that is what she chooses, but then life takes a turn for him also with a loved one being faces a hard medical diagnosis.  Now they are both faced with choices they never imagined having to make.  The question is will their fledgling love hold strong or will it break under all the pressure.

 This is book 3 in the "An Amish Secrets Novel". I reviewed book 1 here. I didn't read book 2 but I didn't feel lost at all in the 3rd book continuing Charlotte's story. I really like the author's portrayal of real life tough stuff in this series and especially this book. This was not a fluffy Amish romance. Though there was a love story involved, there were some strong story lines of life's crisis' and hard decisions both from an "Englisher" perspective and an Amish perspective wrapped around Charlotte and Daniel's love story. I like that the author took these head on without trying to downplay them or the struggles with faith that they bring. The characters had to really work through the issues and I thought she did this well from both perspectives. Though not an action filled book it really drew me with the characters, their journeys, the honesty of emotions and where God fits into it all. Nice finish to the series. I already bought book 2 and will read that later in the year. I know, out of order but I want to see what the second adds.

32.  Night Song - a story of sacrifice by Tricia Goyer

Completed:  November 2, 2017

Rating:  9.5/10

Young Jakub Hanauer's whole world turned upside down when the German soldiers came and took his father away. His father was a great musician and violin repairer who played in orchestras. His brother was a violin progidy who had a great future. Jakub felt he never could be as good as his father or his brother. Now the Germans are back and the remaining family, his mother and younger brother, are being loaded on trains to be transported away from their home. At the concentration camp of Mauthausen he is thought to be his talented brother and put into the care of a world renowned conductor and forced to play in the camp's orchestra. But can he fool everybody with his music or will his deception be found out?

 Evie and Nick are a young couple who met in the States. He is learning to be a doctor and she is the daughter of a diplomat from Europe. The night Nick was to propose changed their lives forever when Evie's family was ordered back to their homeland. With news of the war ever increasing, Nick receives his draft papers and is now training as a medic. He hopes he can find Evie in Europe and will take great risks to do so. But in an encounter with the resistance,Evie has had circumstances happen that drive her into hiding making the task Nick sets for himself impossible.

 As a young German soldier, Otto longs for the power that he had inadvertantly witnessed at a high ranking German officials private meeting. Not just the everyday human driven power but the spiritual power from another world that he knows can rule over everything else. Nothing will stop him from trying to attain that. But when he in his pride tries to make it happen he is transfered over to help catagorize the ever increasing stash of musical instruments.

 This was my first book by this author and it will not be my last. Inside the horrific details of the death camp, Tricia Goyer has told a beautiful tale of faith, grace, courage and survival. The way she tied the three threads of the story together was really well done and it was hard to put the book down even though some of the details were so hard to read. The historical details were so well researched and woven into the personal stories so well it was like a movie running through my head as I read. My heart was gripped and torn at Jakub, Evie and Nick's stories. I will say though that there was a large cast of characters because of the three story lines and at times I did have to pause and think who different characters were. But this is definitely one of those stories that gave me a "book hangover" where I had to process everything for days afterward. Though this is a stand alone novel there are some others in this World War II Liberators series that I will definitely be reading! 

33.  The Dionnes by Ellie Tesher

Completed:  November 5, 2017

Rating:  8.5/10


If you are Canadian, you no doubt know about the Dionne quintuplets. If not, you will still find their story fascinating. They took their place in Canadian history when they were born in the 1930's to typical French Canadian farmers. The world's only surviving quintuplets at that time. Because of the uniqueness and miracle of their birth the unthinkable started to happen. In order for the to survive, the doctor had the other siblings removed from the house to keep all germs down so the babies would have every chance of survival. The government stepped in and because of news of their miracle birth and survival spreading across the province, then Canada, then worldwide they built a "hospital" for them across the road from their parents home. They staffed it with the doctor and numbers of nurses. Then it got bizarre, as the parents were kept away from them. The nurses (and nuns who eventually schooled them in the compound) were not allowed to show any affection or interfere with the doctor, they were poked and prodded and tested for years by doctors. They formed a unique bond beyond the normal twins or triplets bond because they only had each other for love. The government of Ontario saw a chance for a great money making opportunity in them as they saw the world's fascination with them. The hospital turned into a compound where the sisters were put on display daily for tourists to gawk at. In the act of supposedly protecting them, they were turned into exhibits that the government sanctioned. Wrenching control from the parents they were made guardians of various agencies. Many from the government to their father to advertisers benefitted from these children.   At first their parents tried to fight what was happening, their babies taken from them, a doctor rigidly controlling their visits,  but soon it became apparent that they were losing the fight for the quintuplets and meanwhile their other children were suffering.   But then the father also saw an opportunity to provide for his other children things like quality education in expensive schools that they would not have been able to have otherwise.

 When they were 9 and no longer bringing in the cash flow, the government turned their world upside down yet again and built a huge furnished house for their family, shut down the compound and forced them to go live with the family who were virtually strangers. Living in the fortress-like mansion, the sisters were kept isolated and separated from the world due to the father's fear of kidnapping while their other siblings lived normal lives. Trying to fit in was virtually impossible for everybody.

 When they became young women their whole lives had been so abnormal, that they all came away as adults with many issues. Added to that was that the trust fund that was supposed to take care of them for life was found to be depleted by the very people that were supposed to manage it for them; their father and the trust fund board. From their fund everything the government was saying they were providing, the sisters were actually paying for. It was a strange upbringing brought about by a greedy government that interfered in the lives of a family when they saw potential for big dollars. By taking over, it allowed the exploitation of 5 little children, power struggles between government, the family and appointed care givers. Media manipulated a public who was in the throes of a depression and fed on their need to have something hopeful and happy to grasp onto. After two of the siblings passed away they disappeared from the public eye. This particular book looks at the sister's 1990's step back into the spotlight after years avoiding it to fight with the Ontario government to get what should have been rightfully theirs to begin with.

This book is older, published in 1999, but I was curious about their story.  It is heartbreaking, totally unbelievable in today's thinking.  It's a story of greed gone wrong, prejudices and views of the time, a public looking for something good in life to the point they were willing to overlook what was really happening, and a quest for justice. The author not only gave their childhood background, but also through conversations with the 3 surviving sisters looked at the how their adult lives were anything but a fairy tale as all were living in poverty with many issues.  The author of the book, as a journalist, covered their story of pursuing justice and it helped cause a public outcry to force Ontario's government at the time to pay them what was due them.   Very readable, super interesting and because of it's unbelievable happenings, it was hard to put down.  I finished it in a couple of days.

34. They Left Us Everything by Plum Johnson

Completed:  November 13, 2017

Rating:  8/10

Review:  Plum Johnson cared for her aging and ailing elderly parents for almost 20 years.  When they finally passed away, she thought she would finally have her life back but as she and her siblings turn to the task of sorting and emptying their 23 room family home, Plum can't help but remember her family's quaint history.  Items bring back so many memories of growing up in the huge lake home in the '50's and '60's and Plum finally gains a perspective of those things her parents gave value to.

I thought this was a nice look back at the life of one woman's parents and her growing up years and those things that she realized along the way about her parents and their lives and the importance of passing along family history.

35.  My Secret Sister by Helen Edwards and Jenny Lee Smith

Completed:  November 20, 2017

Rating:  8.5/10

This is the memoir of twin sisters who didn't even know the other existed until they were in their 50's. Separated at 6 weeks old in post war England, the two lived lives that couldn't have been more different from each other.

 Jenny, the twin who was given up for adoption, was raised as an only child with parents who loved her and doted on her. Her father, who loved to golf, introduced to the sport when she was three and both parents supported her as she pursued the competitive side of the sport. Even after her father passed away, Jenny's mom made sacrifices to make sure that Jenny was able to go on and become a high ranking championship golfer who competed in the LPGA. Though happy and knowing she was loved, Jenny always felt that something was missing and attributed it to being an only child until she inadvertantly found out she had been adopted.

 Helen, was kept by her mom and grew up with a brother George living close to her grandmother and aunts, uncles and cousins. Though she was surrounded by family, hers was a very lonely childhood as her father was horribly physically abusive towards both her and her mother. He was king of the household and made sure they knew it every chance he got constantly telling Helen everything was her fault. And added to that was her mother's psychological abuse and manipulating that held Helen in it's grips until well after her mother had passed away. Helen grew up with her parents engaged in a daily battle where her mother would taunt and goad her father to violence that most times ended up with her taking the brunt of consequences.

 Though she found out as a teen that she was adopted, Jenny didn't started to look for her birth family until later on in life.  When the two sisters connect and they look for answers to why they were separated they unearth as family legacy of lies and deception.

 So many mixed emotions while reading this book. It was a good story but and oh so hard read. Helen's abuse was horrendous and I had to stop and pause throughout the book as it was so hard to read about. That she turned out to be a loving, caring adult is really a miracle. I was torn reading the story of both girls because the story was laid out in a way that went back and forth between the two as they told of their growing up years. I'll be honest and say reading Jenny's story was almost difficult in the sense that hers was such an easy life compared to Helen's and almost felt like fluff (insert myself with guilt pangs for feeling that way) and I felt I wanted to rush through it to get back to Helen's story. Not that I wanted to read about the abuse but I wanted to read that she made it through, that she was able to get away, that she finally was able to leave it behind her. I did learn a little bit from Helen's story about how someone who is abused and manipulated ends up staying in the situation. But I found myself almost talking out loud in frustration to the grown up Helen as both she and her husband at the time continued to make decisions that let certain things continue happening without standing up for themselves. But Jenny's story too, did have some struggles as she dealt with feeling cast aside and rejected by her mother and what she perceived to be a happy family that got rid of her as she had no idea of the abuse that went on in her sister's family. The last part of the book of course was the best part as Jenny and Helen finally find each other and share their inspirational bond and the strength and faith in God they have to not let bitterness define the rest of their lives.

 Because of the frequent abusive situations within Helen's story, I feel that a warning should go with the review of the book for those who would be triggered and/or sensitive to the material.

36.  Lion by Saroo Brierley

Completed:  November 23, 2017

Rating:  10/10

This is the true story of Saroo Brierley who grew up in a very poor family in India. At the age of 5, he mistakenly boarded a train looking for his older brother and the train left the station. Saroo was now on his own, not knowing where he came from or where was headed. Where he ended up was in Calcutta, across the country from his hometown. Now, at the age of 5 he had to survive on his own. Twenty five years later, Saroo now an Australian upper middle class young man and very thankful for his upbringing, has never forgotten his Indian family and has always maintained a desire to find out where he had come from. This is the story of his determined search and the miracle that the invention of Google Earth played in it.

 This story was so good. I could not put it down even though I had seen the highly nominated and award winning movie this year (or was it last year?). Anyway, the movie was excellent and the book was too. It boggles the mind that not only did this little five year old survive the ordeal of being separated from his family but that he survived on the streets of Calcutta until he was rescued and sent to an orphanage. That he ended up adopted to an Australian couple whom he loves but that he determined even at a young age that he wouldn't forget any little detail he could remember is amazing. How the whole journey of getting lost to the events that helped him to find his family is an absolute miracle. He shares his story to give others hope to never give up. I gave it a 10/10 high rating for readability, engagement level, how the story gripped me, did the story make me feel for the person(s) involved. It checked all the boxes for an amazing true story.  

37.  Making Life Rich Without Any Money by Phil Callaway

Completed:  November 29, 2017

Rating:  9/10

Review:  In this book, humorist Phil Callaway takes us through six characteristics of rich people, and by rich he is not referring to the monetarily wealthy. Instead of a book telling us how to become rich, the author instead takes on a journey of making life rich. The characteristics have nothing to do money in the bank but have everything to do living well. It took a little for me to get into the book, there is a few beginning chapters that go through some statistics which isn't my thing and seeing this book is already almost 20 years old, I sort of just scanned those. But the principles it lays out really are timeless. Nothing earth shatteringly new in them, but in Phil Calloway's trademark humor, you are relating and laughing along and sometimes without even realizing it you've learned both an eternal value and a life changing principle about what really matters and what really brings joy. I love his writing and this book is worth the read for the humor and the reminders of what really does make us rich. And I'll just say that any of his books are great. He takes hard life issues that most of us deal with at some time or another, wraps them in joy and humor and is able to spread a warm message of hope. 

38.  The Mountain Between Us by Charles Martin

Completed:  December 10, 2017

Rating:  10+


39.  One Week in December by Holly Chamberlin

Completed:  December 17, 2017

Rating:  7/10


Becca Rowan is a career minded 32 year old from Boston. She is driven and doesn't have much time for friends or family. This Christmas, however, she will be joining her family at her childhood home in Maine. But it's not because she wants the togetherness that the holidays bring. She has a mission in mind and that is to confront her family on what she considers a huge injustice perpetrated on her when she was a 16 year old in shaky circumstances and to reclaim what was hers. The news will be shocking and will upset the whole family dynamic but she could care less. She is determined to get what she wants. But when she arrives home and meets the neighbor who befriends her she finds herself opening up to someone for the first time in many, many years and her perspective about love and family begin to change. And now she must make a decision that will affect not just her life but her family's.

 I saved this book specifically for a December wintery read. The story was good and delves into many layers of family dynamics, family decisions, the affect of secrets and the revealing of them, and how perspectives can be skewed over years of hurt. I have to say that I did have a hard time connecting with any of the characters, however. I just didn't like them. Could I too have been skewed in my perspective towards them because I was sick and not feeling well when I read the book? Were the complicated family dynamics just too deep for my fever muddled brain? Hmmm, who knows. But at any rate it was a decent winter read but just not one that really grabbed me and I gave it a 7/10.

40.  Same Kind of Different as Me by Ron Hall and Denver Moore
         with Lynn Vincent (special movie edition)

Completed: December 28, 2017

Rating: 9.5/10


I've been wanting to read this book for years and when the movie came out this year I made a point of getting to it. What an incredible true story it is. It challenged my faith, challenged me in how I am obedient to what I think God is trying to say, challenged me in how I view the homeless and even in my attitudes to volunteering. Deborah Hall had a heart for the homeless of Fort Worth, Texas and when she talked her husband into going with her to volunteer at the Mission serving lunch, he never imagined how it would change their lives. Deborah had a dream of a very poor homeless man changing the city and the day he walked into the shelter she knew God had big plans. But the only trouble was the man, Denver, wanted nothing to do with anybody. He was big and he was mean and everybody gave him a wide berth. But God had a plan and Deborah was courageous, persistent and determined. This is their story. The story reads easy and draws you right in causing to take a look at where your own heart is and asks the question "whom is God trying to tell you to show love too and what are you doing about it?". What I really loved about their story was it tore down the preconceived notion that this is a story of how a rich white man changed the life of a poor down and out black man, it is also the story of how that poor black man changed the life of the rich white man. This is also the movie edition so there is an interesting section on the making of the movie.

41.  Malice by Keigo Higashino

Completed:  December 31, 2017

Rating:  7.5/10 

The body of a bestselling Japanese author is found in his locked office at his home.  The wife and his best friend both discover him but their alibis seem pretty tight.  Detective Kyochiro Kaga immediately recognizes the best friend as Osamu Nonoguchi whom he used to teach with at a public school.  Osamu left the school to become a full time writer but unlike his friend he writes children's books and is not a best selling author.  As Kaga begins to investigate he finds threads that lead to him believing that the two authors were not friends at all but now he must unravel why Osamu would have killed the author.

This book is a Japanese translation from a bestselling and popular Japanese whodunit author.  It's a cat and mouse type of mystery story.  I liked the unique approach the author took with the mystery, you know fairly early just who did it but then comes the unraveling of the why.  With layer upon layer, you are drawn into the story because you never really know what is truth and what is made up on the part of the character.  The revealing of the truth is done well as just enough is given to you through the detective's figuring it out that before you know it you are at the end of the story.    It's written in a simple easy going type of style, maybe because of the translation.  Once I got used to the Japanese names and which character was who, the story really picked up it's pace.  And I have to say this was a major cover buy.  Love the cover.