Thursday, January 17, 2019

2019 Reads and Reviews

1.  The Clockmaker's Daughter by Kate Morton

Completed:  January 14, 2019

Rating:  7/10

Review:  
  In the summer of 1862 a group of young artists meet at Birchwood Manor, the country home of Edward Radcliffe, who is one of the artists. He has gained much popularity amongst the British art world for his portrayals of a beautiful young woman with flaming red hair. They are there with their models to gain inspiration from the countryside and the river Thames, planning on spending the summer. The house has always held a fascination for Edward, and he has felt since a child that it has called to him. But the summer fun ends abruptly with the death of one of the group and another one missing. Edward's perfect life takes an abrupt turn.

 In present day, Elodie Wilson, comes across a leather satchel with a photo of a beautiful young lady and an artist's sketchbook with a sketch of a lovely house by a river. Working as an archivist she recognizes that this may hold some significance to the past and is determined to find out who the beautiful woman is and where the house is. As she discovers there is way more to this mysterious person and the house than she bargained for.

 I was really looking forward to this new book from this author. She has quickly become a favorite from the other books I have read from her. This story, however, was just ok for me. For me, it suffered from way too many characters, with way too many story lines spanning over a time period of 150 or so years, and sometimes the connecting of them all felt a little forced. I thought the story could have used a bit of editing. After reading the story I was still trying to remember how certain characters were connected to the house. It also had a ghost element which is not my cup of tea in stories and had I have known that I would have passed it by. The premise was interesting but the execution didn't work for me. I did, however,like the descriptions of old London and the glimpses into the seedier side of orphan life of those days. Those were interesting and sad at the same time.  If you like historical fiction melded with the present day and a ghostly element to your stories this still may be something you might enjoy. I have loved several other books from this author so even though this was a miss for me, I will still look forward to other novels from her.



2.  Secrets at Cedar Cabin by Colleen Coble

Completed:  January 21, 2019

Rating:  9/10

Review:  
Bailey Fleming has found out that she wasn't who she thought she was.  Her mother has lied to her her whole life and her marriage was all based on lies.  Now her mom has been murdered and left her a cryptic message to run for her life.  Who can she trust anymore.  Running to the only place she can think of, a remote cabin that her ex gave her to try and buy her silence, she wonders who she can trust anymore as she tries to figure out what or who her mom could possibly have been involved with that would want her dead.  But when she finally finds the cabin, the bodies of some young girls turn up linking them to a human trafficking ring.  An agent on the case, Lance Phoenix, wants very much to solve the case not only for the girls but because he's been searching for his missing sister for years.  With clues leading to this cabin, can he rely on Bailey to help him solve the years old mystery or will her own mysterious past get in the way?

I really enjoyed this wrap up to the Lavender Tides Series. It was fast paced and hard to put down. The story focused on the Bailey, the youngest sister of the three siblings that this series deals with and an FBI agent named Lance who is trying to find his missing sister. The whole series had an interesting premise of 3 siblings separated at a young age through tragedy. It connects them all together in this last installment but this story also dealt with a very real issue and that is the one of human trafficking. At times the story was hard to read because it deals with the tragedy of how young girls are lured away and then taken and what might be happening to them. I thought the author did a very good job of bringing awareness to this very important topic. I liked the character of Bailey and how she struggled to deal with all the lies that made up the foundation of her life and now put her in a position of who to trust going forward. The romance was not heavy handed and I appreciated that though as is usual in stories like this was a bit fast moving. There were a couple parts involving FBI agents that made me wonder if they would actually do that but I can see where it was necessary to keep the story moving and not get bogged down in procedure. All in all I really like this story and the series as a whole.




3.  Every Note Played by Lisa Genova

Completed:  January 28, 2019

Rating:  9/10

Review: 
Richard is a very well known accomplished pianist who has played the starring role with symphonies all over the world. He has spent a lifetime honing his craft to become the best. Music and piano are his life. He spends up to 10 hours a day practicing, to the detriment of his family life. Not that he notices the time. When he's at the piano all time fades away as he is carried away by the music and the perfection of never making a mistake. Karina is also an accomplished pianist from Poland. She and Richard met at a music college in America. In ways she was technically even more better than Richard naturally feeling the music where Richard had to work at the emotion. When he finally asked her out they clicked immediately, their love for classical music being the foundation. But then Karina took a turn in her choice of music pursuits when she fell in love with jazz, something that Richard could never like. He didn't even consider it music. After marriage and a child, Richard moved the family to another city to pursue his career and so the rifts within the marriage started to build to the point they became irreparable, each blaming the other for the breakdown. And now Richard has ALS. As the disease claims him piece by piece, with no one else to do it, Karina becomes Richard's caretaker. Both are filled with the regrets of the past but don't know how to move beyond it. But time is not on their side and both of them must take some hard looks at the role each played to get to where they are today.

Another heartrending story from Lisa Genova of the lives involved and ruined with a horrendous disease. This author has a beautiful gift of being able to give a voice to those suffering from a horrible disease and not only translate what they are going through physically, emotionally and mentally but also those of the family and people around them. The story is touching and maddening, very heavy at times. How can it not be? But I read it to glean the knowledge of what those who face these diseases live with. Lisa Genova is able to really make the reader feel the emotions and struggles. I cried several times throughout this story as I felt for what Richard was going through as the moving paralysis claimed more and more of his body, even as his character was arrogant and unlikeable to me in the beginning. But as is with life things were revealed that made me think a little more why he might have come to be that way. My heart went out to his and Karina's college aged daughter who basically grew up without her dad and now must also face his dying. It's a story that puts a human face to the big ALS "ice bucket" awareness challenge of the last few years. It's a story of loss and regret, suffering, looking for hope in the face of hopelessness, facing one's own roles in the state of relationships and the offering of mercy, service and forgiveness.



4.  The Real Enemy by Kathy Herman

Completed:  February 5, 2019

Rating:  10/10

Review:  
Brill Jessup is the new Police Chief in the town of Sophie Trace, Tennesse. Not only is she the new chief she is the first female chief the town has had, so she feels she has a lot to prove. Her family made the move from Memphis where she was on the police force for 18 years. She had an excellent career there and was known for finding clues others missed. But the family moved when her personal life took a bad turn in an attempt to be where Brill would be less busy solving major crimes and would have more time to devote to their daughter. She and her husband, Kurt, are trying to make a decent home life for their 12 year daughter still at home . Trouble is Brill can barely tolerate being in the same room as her husband. Kurt, her husband, is trying everything in his power to make things right with Brill after his huge failure, but no matter how kind and loving he tries to be it just makes Brill more bitter and angry. In trying to hold it together for their daughter, they are butting their heads against stone walls with each other. And their daughter is noticing the tenseness of her mother towards her father. Now Brill has to deal with a rash of town people who seem to have disappeared off the face of the earth . The locals seem to want to blame an old Cherokee legend that has the spirits of former Cherokee who were driven off the land coming to get their revenge. But Brill knows there has to be a logical explanation. But with seemingly no clues left behind it's an race against time to find the missing people. And now she has a gang trying to raise it's head in the local school. As Brill works around the clock, she must confront the real enemy behind what is going on both in the case and at home.

 I loved this story. Kathy Herman is one of my favorite Christian suspense mystery writers. She is able to write a great page turning mystery while also placing in tough moral dilemmas for the characters to wrestle with. The story was interesting, fast paced and Brill's feelings were very raw and relatable. It drew lots of emotions and made me think. I had read books two & three in this trilogy years ago and really liked them. They were sent to me for review so I was always wanting to get to the first book to find out how the story all started. It's been on my library list for years. So this year I was determined to get to it to knock it off for my reading challenge and it didn't disappoint.



Set Aside after 2 chapters.  Didn't interest me.














5.  Life After by Katie Hanshert

Completed:  February 23, 2019

Rating:  10+/10

Review:  
Autumn Manning was simply living her life, coming home from work one day when a terrorist's bomb rips her train apart. Twenty two people died, and Autumn lived. Now one year later, the anniversary of the explosion is drawing close and Autumn doesn't want to go. Since being found alive, she has wrestled with guilt, not only at being the only survivor, but also because she was misidentified at first, and another family thought they had hope and she feels she ripped it away from them. As Autumn tries to piece her life back together, she struggles with leaving the house, with being obsessed with the people who died in the attack and with all the unanswered questions.

 Meanwhile Paul Elliott, is also trying to move on. His wife died in the attack on the train. But a glimmer of hope was offered to them when it was thought she was the only survivor, only to be taken from them again when it was discovered there had been a mix up in the identification. Now he just wants to get past this anniversary and move his family on. But his 12 year old daughter wants to keep remembering and Paul is terrified she will discover what he has been trying so hard to bury. And now circumstances have brought the very woman who was mistaken for his wife back into their lives.

 I loved this novel. It is hard to review this story due to it's depth of storytelling. I don't want to give anything away. It is such a deep story full of complex layers. It deals with survivor's guilt, truth and lies, forgiveness, grief, and purpose of life just to name a few. The character's are so rich and well written. My heart was torn for them all throughout the story and the author was able to really delve into the emotions and struggles from several angles of those who have survived something like this or to be a family dealing with with the loss of a loved one due to terrorism (or really any tragedy that claims lives due to another's actions). I was really affected by this story and the author's insight and ability to really make me feel invested in the characters and what they were going through. It was one of those where I couldn't pick up another book for a few days because I couldn't stop thinking of this one.




7.  The House of Foster Hill by Jaime Jo Wright

Completed:  March 25, 2019

Rating:  9/10

Review:   
Two years after Kaine Prescott's husband died in a car accident she is still trying to get them to investigate the crash further. Her deep belief that his death was suspicious yet again fails to convince anyone. And now she is being stalked by someone leaving daffodils for her but trying to convince the police is a huge undertaking and they are starting to look at her as a trouble maker. On a whim, to give herself a fresh start, Kaine purchases a house in her grandfather's hometown from an online site without actually going to see it first. But when she arrives to move in she finds way more than she bargained for. It is totally rundown and abandoned, and as she starts to learn about the house's dark history she wonders what she has got herself into. The when the flower has found her yet again, Ivy wonders if isn't her lot in life isn't to have death follow her.

 Ivy Thorpe's father is the coroner in the same town a hundred years before. Ivy is her father's right hand person and death does not bother her. In fact, she is driven to honor the dead and record their stories. The townspeople think she is strange. When a young woman is found murdered on the property of the house, Ivy's search for her identity leads her into dangerous territory that she doesn't understand. This is the author's first book and she has done a wonderful job in building her story. I was caught up right from the beginning and the more you read the more you want to know what on earth is going on with this house. The contemporary part of the story was interesting and moved along at a good pace and the historical part of the story had a real gothic flavor to it. I loved how the author tied the two together and had me guessing to the end. I found a few parts of the romance sections of the story typical but because the other parts of the story had me so engrossed it was easy to gloss over those. A great first novel for this author.








8. The Offering by Angela Hunt

Completed:  April 18, 2019

Rating:  7.5/10

Review: 
Amanda Lisandra and her soldier husband want a big family. They have one young daughter but have decided to wait to have more children until Gideon retires from the military. Serving on a special forces unit that comes and goes randomly as needed around the world, they want to have Gideon home and safe permanently before growing their family. Meanwhile, Amanda works in Gideon's family's Cuban grocery store. When Amanda runs into another military wife who is pregnant it sets off a plan to help her raise funds so that they can purchase a home of their own more quickly. But first she must sell the plan to her husband, and then to his conservative family.

 Once Gideon is okay with the idea of Mandy becoming a gestational carrier for a childless couple, Mandy quickly sets the ball in motion. She chooses a couple from France who are well to do and who desire a child to be heir to their generational vineyards. Mandy's pregnancy with the couple's child is pretty routine and normal other than a day or so of spotting which she also had with her own daughter. Happy and dreaming of the soon to be new life her own family can start, Mandy is happy and feels fulfilled to be able to help another couple have a child. She has no problem with attachment issues to the baby and fully thinks she has a handle on understanding that this is not her child and that the pregnancy is her "job".

 Then tragedy strikes and Mandy dreams are devastated. In shock, Mandy has no time to grieve. When the baby makes it's appearance early, she surrenders the him to his parents as quickly as possible and tries to get past what seems to be continuous loss and on with her life. But the depression and continuous nightmares won't let go. Two years later when she finally gets a card from the French family with a photograph Mandy is overcome with feelings that she may have given away her own biological child fathered by her late husband. She sets herself on the path to find the truth and if her instincts are correct, retrieve her child no matter the cost.

 This story really made me think. I told no spoilers in the description as that is all on the back of the book description also. It delves into all the issues of being a gestational carrier, the emotions, the legalities and what happens if there might be a mistake made in spite of all the contingencies put in place that that wouldn't happen. It's a story of untold grief, a mother's instincts, a person's past affecting their future, and doing what's right and best for another person. Though the story at times ran a little slow for me during Mandy's pregnancy, I would say it definitely was a page turner because of the anticipation of what you kinda of knew was coming. I had to find out what happened and if Mandy's instinct was correct and what would happen either way. I love Angela Hunt's contemporary stories. They deal with real issues and she writes the emotions that would be involved so well. She does her research into the topic and I as the reader always learn something.



9.  I Was Anastasia by Ariel Lawhon

Completed:  May  4, 2019

Rating:  10/10

Review: 
In 1918, after surrendering his throne, Tsar Nicholas and his family are under house arrest in their palace.   Then they are forced to travel many miles by train to a house in Ekaterinburg where they are kept in even stricter conditions for another year.  When they Bolshevik's take over the gov't the imperial family, which included 4 daughters and 1 son, along with a couple of their caretakers, are taken into a basement where they are met with a firing squad.  No one survived the massacre.  That is what all the executioners say and want everyone to believe.

In 1920 a young woman with horrific scars on her body is pulled from a canal in Berlin.  People watched her jump over the railing but she refuses to say who she is or why she jumped.  Suicide being illegal at the time, she is questioned by the police and sent to a mental institution.  Finally she reveals that she is Russian Grand Duchess Anastasia.  But now she calls herself Anna Anderson and she sets herself on a course to prove in the courts that she is the Grand Duchess so she can finally lay claim to the inheritance that her father, Tsar Nicholas, set up in a bank in England before the revolution in Russia.

I found this book so interesting.  I've always been interested in this time of Russian history and the fall of the aristocracy in Russia.  Most people know of Tsar Nicholas and though they may not know everything that happened around the revolution they do know the whole family was massacred in Northern Russia by firing squad at the hands of the Bolsheviks.  Because the body of Anastasia Romanov was not recovered immediately, the survival of Anastasia was always a question and mystery of the time.  Anna Anderson spent years trying to prove she was Anastasia.  This book takes their stories and weaves them together in a clever way.  Young Anastasia's story is told in first person and moves in a forward timeline.  It is heartbreaking.   Anna's story is told in third person and moves backwards.  The backwards telling is done in a unique way, giving a date and then moving back in jumps of hours or days or weeks, sometimes several in one chapter.  It was a bit confusing at first but once I got the hang of the style, and making sure I read the time post at the tops of the chapters, it was most interesting to me and kept me turning the pages.  I was fascinated as this was a piece of the Romanov history I hadn't yet read about.  I've read lots of books on the Imperial family but never any about Anna Anderson.   I loved the way the author told this piece of history.  Even if one knows the outcome of this side of the story, I still found myself turning the pages to see how it all unraveled.  I love how she presented the family, letting you in on how they might have felt during their captivity, putting a human face to their tragic story that the non-fiction books struggle to do.  Anna Anderson, was a very interesting part of this story and an enigma that puzzled police, lawyers and doctors for years.  I love how this author presented her story and kept you guessing even though I already knew the answer.   

 I found this story riveting and unique.








10.  Unshakeable Hope by Max Lucado

Completed:  May 7, 2019

Rating:  9/10

Review:
In this shaky and shifting world it's easy to lose hope. So much bad going on seems to outweigh any good. Is there any hope to be had in this day and age? Because life on this earth can be hard and filled with problems, God's Word is filled with promises. In this book, Max Lucado helps us to regain our focus and place it squarely back on those promises giving us the tools to overcome difficult circumstances we might face. He teaches us to trust God with His promises because of His character and in doing so receive the security and peace we crave even in the midst of the storms. He shows how our hope can be unshakeable.

 We did this book as a study with my ladies group. It is perfectly set up for this. It's written in this author's easy going, conversational style with only about 8 pages per chapter so it's easy reading even for those who dislike to read. Each chapter covers a promise that specifically will help us to build our foundation of hope built on the Word to help overcome shaky times. At the back is questions for reflection for each chapter. They were perfect for fostering good discussion and to turn us to the word of God. I found it great for both those ladies who have been Christians for years and for those who were newer to the faith. There are other helps available to go with this book for bible study groups such as a teaching dvd and leader's guide but we just used the book.





11.  What She Knew by Gilly MacMillan

Completed:  May 12, 2019

Rating:  8.5/10

Review:  
Every parents nightmare.

 Rachel is a divorced parent of a sweet 8 year old boy whom she loves dearly. Though she has had a hard time with the crumbling of her marriage due to an affair on her husband's part she has tried hard to make the best life for her son that she can as she shares him with her ex and his new wife. She loves him fiercely and would protect him at all costs. So when they are at a park one Sunday and he asks to run ahead to the swing which is around a bend in a tree'd area, she hesitates but then gives in. He is eight after all and knows where the swing is. There is nothing to worry about. Except when she gets there a minute later he is nowhere to be seen and the swing is swaying and empty. When she can't find him police are called in and the search begins. But hours pass and then days and still no sign of Ben. So when the police ask her to make a scripted plea for Ben's return she agrees. But when the time actually comes to make the live presentation Rachel totally goes off script and sets up a whole slew of problems for the investigators. Now the media and public opinion is turned against her from that of sympathy to suspicion. And everything is suspect. And Ben still isn't found. As the investigator works his hardest to try to find Ben so many things just don't add up.

 This was a pretty good mystery that kept me guessing until the end. Many factors come into play and I didn't guess until the end. The story goes back and forth between Rachel's point of view and that of the investigating detective. Rachel's is first person and some of the detective's story comes out written by a counsellor he is forced to see after the fact because he is having a tough time dealing with the case and it's outcome and his role in it. I enjoyed the story for the most part though the written record of the counsellor appointments wasn't my favorite method of storytelling and I found this part was a bit dragging for me but that is my preference and no reflection on how well it was or wasn't done. The one thing I found frustrating was this is a British author, I believe, so all the police officers were referred to as they would be in England. But the author abbreviated those titles without really defining them so I had to google what they stood for which was maddening. But once I had them down the story moved at a good pace and kept me interested and engaged the whole time. Because it was a missing child all the reader's emotions get involved. It gave us a small glimpse into the many emotions of all those involved in a missing child case. It also explores the many many assumptions we make when we look at situations through our own emotional pain. I'd read another from this author.





12.  The Readers of Broken Wheel Recommend

Completed:  June 3, 2019

Rating:  8/10

Review:  
Sara is a Swedish young woman who is 28 and still living at home working at a bookstore in Sweden. Her life is very generic and seemingly going nowhere when she strikes up a pen pal relationship with an elderly woman named Amy from a small town in Iowa named Broken Wheel. As their penpal relationship progresses, on a whim Sara sends Amy a book and thus begins a friendship of sharing books, letters and stories across the continents. Amy invites Sara to come and visit her, and in a bold step Sara accepts but when she arrives in Broken Wheel she finds Amy has just passed away. Now here she is in a strange land in the midst of a quirky strange dying town with a bunch of quirky strangers living in a strange house. What is she to do? Her mother wants her to come home right away but Sara hesitates to throw away her long awaited getaway. Sara feels like a burden staying in Amy's home when Amy is not there and relying on town's people to get her places. She wants to pay rent to someone or fees for all the things she is using but in this strange town no one seems to pay for anything and the townspeople treat her the same way. Sara is driven to do something for them but what can she offer them? All she is really good at is reading and knowing about books. So Sara cooks up a plan to open a bookstore with all of Amy's books in a storefront that Amy actually owned in an effort to pay the townspeople back and bring a little life to the town through the joy of reading. But can the townspeople handle such a thing and will they accept it and therefore her?

 This is a quirky little story from a Swedish author that became an international best seller. It is definitely character driven and does tend to chug along at a slower pace but the look into the different characters that make up a sleepy, dying town that is stuck in their ways is kind of interesting. Sara is a bit odd herself, being a introverted book nerd but as she and the town start to realize their appreciation of each other it's fun to watch them all open up. A lot of characters make up the story with quite a few minor story lines interweaving with the main one so sometimes it was a bit hard to keep everyone straight. There are some statements on marriage within the story that I totally do not agree with but it is within a discussion between two characters and does not make up the bulk of the book. There is also a few unwritten statements about the life of faith that didn't sit with me. While most of it was an engaging look into small town American life and the quirky characters who make the town go round and a look at an introverted young lady coming out of her shell to use her passionate love of books to find her place in life and bring some joy to a town sometimes some of the story went from sweet and sort of funny to a bit silly. It is meant to be a charming and uplifting story and for that it deserves it's credit. The translator did a great job, I thought, and it was an easy spring read.





13.  The Girl Who Came Home by Hazel Gaynor

Completed:  July 4, 2019

Rating:  10/10

Review:  
It is 1912 and seventeen year old Maggie Murphy has just lost her mother due to an illness and is devasted and alone as her father is also passed away. When her mother's sister, who had been helping care for her mother, makes the executive decision to move Maggie back to her home in America with her, Maggie is heartbroken. Though America sounds exciting and a great opportunity, she is must bid goodbye to the love of her life, Seamus, not knowing if she will ever see him again. She asked Seamus to join them, but he feels he must stay as his Dad also is not doing well. Boarding the Titanic with a pocketful of letters from Seamus, she is both filled with anticipation and yet grieving. Onboard, her take charge aunt soon is sheparding Maggie and the group of girls in their cabin. When a young steward befriends the group of girls they get to experience parts of the Titanic they never thought they could being steerage passengers. Maggie makes sure to keep a journal so that she could tell Seamus all about the great trip. But then unthinkable happens.

 Meanwhile in 1982, Grace Butler is struggling to make life decisions. Just as she was offered the journalistic internship everyone covets her father suddenly passes away. Her reaction to his death is to shut herself off from college life, her internship and her boyfriend and go home to take care of her mom who is not only suffering from grief but an illness of her own. Now after two years her mom is doing well and Grace is feeling adrift. When her grandmother pulls her aside and reveals to her that she was a survivor of the the Titanic and gives her journal to Grace, Grace is shocked that her grandmother wants to now talk about it and to her, no less. No one was to ever mention the Titanic around her and she had never spoken about it to anyone. But now her grandmother wants her story told and wants Grace to do it.

 Inspired by the group of Irish emigrants who left their homes in the same small, impoverished town in Ireland, this small group represented the greatest proportional loss of life from one region when 11 of their 14 perished when the Titanic sank. Though the town name was changed in the story and each main character represented a combination of people from the group and their names also were changed, this was a beautiful story of this great tragedy. I love Titanic stories but had never yet read a story that dealt with this group of emigrants. The author's good research was evident in the story and it is chock full of rich details of what steerage would have been like and how it compared to affluent decks above them. The character's from this group were endearing and the author was really able to bring out a connection to them. I could not put this story down especially when you knew the time for the collision was coming. I wondered if the author would handle it well and rest assured she did. I felt like I was there with the steerage passengers and what they would have been going through. The author was also able to really portray what it would have been like for those waiting back home for word about their loved ones through the swirl of confusion amid reports about the sinking. I hadn't really heard of that perspective in Titanic stories before. It was heartbreaking. This book brought out every emotion. The author's notes at the back are a must read. Highly recommend. I loved it!



14.  Most Wanted by Lisa Scottoline

Completed:  July 15, 2019

Rating:  7/10

Review:
Christine and Marcus have a great marriage that is only lacking one thing...children. After a long time trying, Christine convinces Marcus that they both should be tested. The results are devastating to Marcus as they find out that it is because of him that they can't get pregnant. Christine convinces Marcus that they should get pregnant by a sperm donor. After applying and seeing the specialist, they choose donor 3319 from the company Homestead. Soon Christine is happily pregnant and all too soon she is on her last day of work as a teacher. During her good bye party she glances at the tv screen as sees a young blonde male being arrested for the murder of several nurses. In a split second Christine's perfect pregnancy comes crashing down as she realizes it looks just like their donor. Marcus is furious at Homestead for not vetting their donors more thoroughly and is bent on suing them. But Christine is against that and sets herself on a course to find out if it donor 3319 and this prisoner are one and the same. Without Marcus knowing she heads down to the prison to get some answers and puts herself right into the middle of his defense as she believes he is innoncent.

 I like reading Lisa Scottoline books in the summer as they are the perfect "beach" read. Easy reading with an interesting premise, they are fast, page turning reads. I have to admit that this one, though, wasn't one of my favorites. The premise was indeed interesting and made one of my favorite types of stories, that of a moral dilemma. But I found myself very frustrated with main character. Her stubborn need to know was not surprising but the lengths to which she went and the fact that it had to be in her timing and in her way became kind of unbelievable to me the reader. That she so easily was able to insert herself into the man's defense team gave me pause and that she would involve herself so thoroughly against the husband's wishes when they were suing the company just kind of didn't ring true for me. Her character made me good and mad a few times in the story as she was so bent on doing things her way that she became totally self-unaware of the consequences her actions could/would have. As she is bent upon proving the innocence of the "father" of her baby her marriage starts to crack as the flaws start to override the strength. The wrapping up of that part of the story seemed one sided to me. I did like that it was the author's usual fast pace and each chapter built the story and made it more tense as it went along. I also like that I didn't figure out the ending, in fact I was quite wrong in my guess at how it would conclude and I think this book would make a great book club pick because of the discussions that could be had from the plot. I liked this story but didn't love it.




15.  Bay of Secrets by Rosanna Ley

Completed:  July 24, 2019

Rating:  9/10

Review:
Spain of 1939 just came out of a civil war which saw a military dictator take over power from a democratically elected government. The country is treading in fear as anyone who sympathizes with the Republicans are under suspicion and could be arrested. Julia and her family live in poverty and fear. In order to survive and to keep the three girls safe, plans are made. Julia is to be given to a convent in Barcelona to become a nun and one of her sisters is to marry a much older man who can take care of her. Julia is devastated but obediently goes along with her father's wishes. Once she becomes a nun she takes an assignment to work at a maternity clinic in Barcelona led by Dr. Lopez. As a nun, Sister Julia quietly does what she is told, never outwardly questioning authority, but inside she is grieved at the way things are handled at the clinic. In England in 2011, Ruby Rae is trying to get over the sudden death of her beloved parents. After months of avoiding it, she has finally found the courage to go and deal with their home. With the help of her friend, she starts to pack up her parent's belongings in order to sell the family home. But when she finds a box in her mom's closet, it's contents reveal a secret her parents kept that will change Ruby's life forever.

 I found this book at a Little Library in town and it looked very interesting. It was described on the cover as "a must-have summer read" and a "gorgeous dream of a holiday read". So I grabbed it and I'm really glad I did. The story follows three women: Sister Julia, Ruby and Vivien (Ruby's Mom) and also a young artist named Andres. At first glance, it would seem that it would be way too many stories to follow and I admit it was a little bit hard to get into but once it hooked me I couldn't put it down. It is evident the author has done her research well into historical facts and built a lovely though heartbreaking story around them. Each timeline is an interesting story in itself and the author wove them together so well. Her descriptions of Spain, the Spanish Canary Islands and England are beautiful. The characters are so well written, I empathized with them all as they worked through their situations and all the emotions it involved. It's a story of love, courage, forgiveness and finding one's self. I found writing this review hard as this is one story where you cannot give too much away, even naming the historical event, would give spoilers. This book is why I love well written historical fiction. It taught me about a piece of history I knew absolutely nothing about going in and made it interesting enough that I had to look it up after I finished the story.  Small warning of some language by one of the characters.









16.  The Things We Keep by Sally Hepworth

Completed:  August 1, 2019

Rating:  8.5/10

Review:
Anna Forster is only 38 years old when she notices signs of forgetfulness occurring way too often in her life. Watching her mom suffer through the same diagnosis she knows what's coming. Soon she quits her beloved career as a paramedic not wanting the forgetfulness to manifest itself in an emergency. But when her sweet nephew is injured as a result of a lapse in her memory, Anna gives in to her brother and allows him to take her to an assisted living facility called Rosiland House. With only a dozen residents, it's more home like than institutional, but at her age it's still hard thinking she will be living with all seniors. But when she gets there she meets another person her own age also with early onset dementia. In an impossible future, the two find friendship and love...much to the dismay of her family. As her brother fights to keep them apart, Anna finds empathy with the new cook and cleaner hired by the home. Eve Bennett has taken the less than ideal job at the Rosiland House putting her chef's career on hold so that she can keep her daughter in the school where she has found friends. Recently widowed and betrayed Eve is moved by the relationship that Luke and Anna share. But she must decide if her job is worth the risk of helping them keep their relationship.

 This story is very different from the well known "Still Alice" by Lisa Genova but in it's own way is also a very insightful and touching look into early onset Alzheimer's. While those of us who have never lived through a loved one diagnosed with this horrible disease and will never really know exactly what the heartbreak is like, this story gave us another layer of it that Still Alice started. It takes a peek into life inside an assisted living facility and explores the emotional bonds that young sufferers might face and how they and their families and caretakers cope. It also explores the implications, pros and cons of decisions made by facilities and family and the loss of control of one's own life. It's a bittersweet love story that is eye-opening and made me think what I would have done in both the family's and the cook's viewpoint.




17.  The Lost Daughter by Gill Paul

Completed:  August 13, 2019

Rating:  10/10

Review:
In 1918,with the Bolshevik's taking control of Russia, the Romanov's are moved to a small house in Ekaterinburg and remain living in captivity. Maria is a friendly 19 year old with a fun personality but has a times felt that she is not loved by her parents as much as the other Romanov children are. As time drags on in the house their days drift back and forth between mind numbing boredom and heart stopping fear. Through it all Maria manages to still be friendly with a couple of the younger guards. Little does she realize in her naivety that her innocent flirtations will reap consequences that will have a profound effect on her life. In 1973 Australia, Val Doyle has struggled all her life in her relationship with her harsh and abusive Russian father. When the nursing home calls her with some strange & disturbing things her father has said, Val breaks her long time estrangement to go see him to try to decipher what he means. But while there he is distraught and repeats to Val what the nurses heard: "I didn't want to kill her". Stunned, Val can only surmise that he is referring to her Asian mother who disappeared without a word when Val was only twelve years old. When her father dies, she tries to solve the mystery of the disappearance of her mom, Val finds there is more to the story than she ever imagined and it all centers on an odd collection of photographs and a Faberge box found in her father's safety deposit box.

 This book is a prime example of why I love historical fiction. It was so well researched and written. I've read quite a bit about the Romanovs, both fiction and non-fiction and still it taught me pieces of Russian history I didn't know a lot about and yet managed to involve my emotions every step of the way. This novel takes historical events and supposes a different outcome. The demise of the Romanov family came with some speculation that some of the children had survived the brutal murderous event. This fictional story supposes that Maria had survived. It follows her life as she tries to survive, remain hidden and get over the horrible, heartbreaking events she witnessed. As she finds love and builds her family Russia is once again in turmoil. The author takes us through Leningrad when Stalin took over and built communism. It takes Maria's family through the heartbreaking siege of Leningrad when Stalin basically abandoned his people to starvation. It was hard to put the book down and had me on the edge of my seat as the author wove the historical and the contemporary stories together. All my emotions were involved. It was fascinating, captivating and I cried my way through several parts of the story. It is a story of survival, courage and love.

 I will put a warning out for domestic abuse within the story and ,of course, the violence of the Romanov murders for those that would be triggered by that.








18.  The One Good Thing by Kevin Alan Milne

Completed:  August 21, 2019

Rating:  10/10

Review:
When Nathan Steen passes away in a freak accident while helping a stranded motorist, his wife and children are devastated. A small semblance of comfort comes from the fact that Nathan lost his life helping somebody else which is what Nathan lived his life for. As long as Halley had known him, Nathan had carried a handful of stones in his pocket to help him to remember to do small acts of kindness each and everyday, moving a stone to the other pocket with every act of kindness in the day until all the stones had changed pockets. The day wasn't complete until all the stones had moved, whether it was a small kindness or a large one. It doesn't take long for someone to start a facebook page with people leaving comments of how Nathan touched their lives. Nathan's legacy were very big shoes to step into and his family is very aware of that. But as they deal with their grief, Halley finds she is angry at the motorist who needed help and at Nathan for helping him. Then one comment on the facebook page by a stranger that states that Nathan saved her life has Halley questioning who this Madeline Zuckerman is and why Nathan had never mentioned her or saving her life. When Halley is given Nathan's computer from work to sort through his personal stuff, Halley discovers years worth of emails to this Madeline and references to their little girl. Halley is devastated and now is not only fighting grief but anger and betrayal that her husband apparently was not who he said he was and had kept such a huge secret from her. But thirteen year old Alice believes in the character of her father, what he stood for and what he tried to teach them and she embarks on a path to find out the truth. But will her faith in her Dad be rewarded or will she find what she doesn't want to face?

 I loved this story. It was so multi-layered and real. The characters and their emotions were so raw and relatable and the story so inspiring and yet heartbreaking at the same time. It dealt with bullying, grief, abuse, lying...all very heavy topics but the story of love, faith, compassion, friendship, and truth that were the foundation made it thought provoking, convicting, challenging and inspiring. It really brought to the forefront that we really only do see the "now" of a person's life and not what led them to where they are, whether they are people we think negatively of or whether we hold them in high esteem. In my humble opinion, this is the kind of book that should be required reading in all schools, rather than some of the other stuff they made us read that had no impact whatsoever on our lives. It would also be an awesome book for a book club as it deals with very real feelings related to all sorts of things people face and would make great discussion. This is a story that should challenge and make great impact on a reader's life as it really looks at the humanness of us all and how we can all individually choose to make a difference for someone in our everyday lives. I know it really challenged me and made me think for day's after I finished it.

I do feel I should put a warning of sexual abuse of a minor for those that is would trigger but does so without the descriptive details.




19.  419 by Will Ferguson

Completed:  September 4, 2019

Rating:  7.5/10

Review:
When Laura Curtis's father dies unexpectedly in a single vehicle car crash the family is devastated. But inconsistencies start showing up in the investigation and the insurance company rules it a suicide and won't pay out. Upon further investigation her father's emails show correspondence with a young man in Nigeria asking for her father's help to transfer funds for a young woman they name as Miss Sandra. What on earth would possess her father to email back to one of these scams?As Laura starts to dig through the emails the anger and helplessness at the ability of the police to do nothing fuels her rage until she decides to try and take matters into her own hands. But what she finds as she tries to avenge her father's death is way more involved than a single young man in a Lagos, Nigeria internet cafe trying to scam a single person and it may cost Laura everything, including her life.

 I picked this book up not really knowing what 419 meant but it refers to those email scams we all used to get...you know the one's that start out with "Dear Sir, I am the daughter of a Nigerian diplomat, and I need your help..." or something similar. Most people hit the delete button as quick as they open them but there were also lots of people taken in by them and were taken for everything they had. The 419 internet scam is named after the Nigerian criminal code that covers fraud. The author has taken great pains in this book to research the 419 scams and how they operate. From young men, educated but unable to find work, to corrupt oil companies ravaging the Nigerian land and it's people leaving them in desperate situations, to crime cartels running these scams, this book is very multi-layered and eye opening not only to the scam but to the sad situation in Nigeria. The story is built around 3 main characters: Laura from Canada, Winston who is trying to run a scam from Nigeria and an unnamed young women trekking across the dessert obviously trying to escape from something. The author weaves their stories back and forth eventually brings these lives together. I was really drawn into Laura's story. From her introverted bookish lifestyle she takes on a whole other persona when the anger at how and why her father died takes over. And though I was drawn to her and her bravado I wonder how realistic her taking on the individual author of the emails and unknowingly the Nigerian crime cartel really would be. But I guess it was a way to show how quickly individuals who started into this scam would quickly be caught up and in way over their heads with no way out. The story was tense and eye opening. It is not a happy or cheerful pick me story but one more to bring awareness, I think. I did find myself skimming some parts, however, when it came to the unnamed young woman. Her part in the story didn't quite come together for me and was a bit of a distraction and sometimes a confusing addition from the rest of what was going on. For me it was worth the read just for the immense amount of research into how these scams operate and gave me a bit of compassion for the everyday people of Nigeria and what went on there and how these underground crime cartels rose up with such ferocity there, though the understanding did not excuse their forays into brutal crime in my mind. Given with a warning for one secondary character's constant F-bombs in his language if you are sensitive to that.








20.  The Love Song of Miss Queenie Hennessy by Rachel Joyce

Set Aside: September 15 at 97 pages 

A follow up to The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry, which I really enjoyed, this book takes a look at the story from Queenie Hennessy's point of view as she lays dying in a hospice care facility.  It starts with the letter she sent to Harold that started his whole pilgrimage walking across England to see her and has her reflecting on her life as a nun at the hospice encourages her to write more to Harold while she types it up so that when he arrives Queenie can tell him her story.  It delves into her feelings of the moment and her memories of knowing Harold Fry.  The story of how Queenie meets and falls in love with Harold, who is a married man, and her unrequited love and pining away just didn't capture me.  I just was having a hard time being engaged with the characters or the story so I set it aside.   It is rated quite high on Goodreads so maybe it is just the wrong timing for me for this read.




21.  You Were Always Mine by Nicole Baart

Completed:  September 23, 2019

Rating:  10/10

Review:

Jessica Chamberlain is just trying to make life work for her and her 2 boys after she and her husband separated. Her oldest is a teenager and Gabe only 7. Both are finding the circumstances difficult with Max acting out and getting in trouble at school but Gabe especially needs delicate hands on support. He doesn't always handle things well and anything with pressure can set him off. As Jessica tries to maneuver through this new world, she receives a phone from a sheriff in another state telling her they believe her husband has been killed in a car accident. Jessica is devastated as she always believed her and Evan would work things out and be back together. What was he doing in another state anyway? As Jessica focuses on getting her family through this tragedy, things start happening that don't add up. And as she tries to figure things out without looking like she is totally losing it, Jessica finds herself discovering all sorts of lies that seem to lead to her adopted son.

 This was a very tense, page turner of a book. I love this author's writing and how she is able to really build her characters make the flawed and very real and relatable. Though sometimes I was very frustrated with Jessica my heart couldn't help but feel for her and everything her family was experiencing. It's a mystery, suspense and family drama that delves into the challenges of having both an adopted and a biological child but also deals with family issues, grief, adoption and lies. The author started each chapter with a female name and description and then some kind of coded letters that the meaning of is slowly revealed as the story progresses. I couldn't stop reading as I had to know what it meant. Though I kinda of guessed what was going on I totally did not see the big twist coming. Very well written and drew me in from beginning to end.
 


22.  Love Bears All Things by Beth Wiseman

Completed:  October 1, 2019

Rating:  9.5/10

Review:
Charlotte Dolinsky is not only trying to get over a break up with her boyfriend but now her finances,or lack of them, is forcing her out of her apartment. Offered a reprieve to come back to Lancaster County from her Amish friends, Charlotte decides to take them up on their offer and go back to Amish country to try to sell her deceased brother's home and get her life back on track. Though her Amish "family" welcomes her with open arms not everyone is happy that she is back. Daniel Byler doesn't trust Charlotte one bit after all the lies she's told but he also is trying to get over a heartbreak. And now things have come to light in his own family and the only way to help them is to work with Charlotte. As they try to get over their pasts, could their partnership actually turn into a friendship that helps them get over their hurt? Charlotte hopes so. And as the forgiveness of her Amish family is poured into her life, can she finally get her life back together enough to choose between the two worlds? Just when she thinks she knows her direction, her past comes knocking and she is thrown right back into uncertainty.

 This is book 2 in the Amish Secrets trilogy. Book 1 is reviewed here and book 3 here. I read them out of order because I somehow missed book two in the review offers. I ordered it because I really liked the other ones. I loved this series by Beth Wiseman. The premise of an "Englisher", and one with a hurtful past, being able to insert themselves into the Amish community was so interesting to me. The love and forgiveness of the Amish family towards her was a refreshing thread especially in light of all the hate and bitterness of today's world. I also really enjoyed this series because Beth Wiseman deals with some pretty hard "Englisher" topics: suicide, drug addiction, child abuse, and mixes them with hard topics that the Amish might face: unwed pregnancy, desires to leave community, betrayal, struggles with faith within their own ranks. I thought she did it so well with this series. It was interesting, funny at times, heartbreaking at others and really portrayed real issues with honest feelings and struggles. Highly recommend if you like Amish stories




23.  Secret Daughter - a novel by Shilpi Somaya Gowda

Completed:  October 24, 2019

Rating:  10/10

Review:  
In a small remote village in India, Kavita gives birth to her second daughter. After her first was taken away from her because the baby was not a son, Kavita begs the old woman helping her not to tell her husband. Deciding to save the baby's life by giving her away to an orphanage in Mumbai, Kavita and her sister set out on foot to the big city. It kills Kavita to hand her beautiful daughter over to the orphanage but she hopes this decision will bring her a good life. But everyday for the rest of her life, Kavita wonders. In America, Somer and her Indian husband, struggle to get pregnant. Both are doctors and have access to the best of care. But now that care has shown that she will never have children. Her husband, Krishnan, talks her into going to Mumbai and adopting an Indian child from an orphanage there. They pack up and go live with his family while they navigate the sometimes insanity of an international adoption from India. Somer struggles with the Indian culture and can't wait to get home. But the baby girl with the incredible eyes has captured their hearts and they feel that their love for her will carry them all through any hard times. But Somer carries a fear with her that starts to control that love and when their daughter wins a scholarship to intern in India her greatest fears just may be realized.

 What to say about this beautiful book. I've had it in my to read pile for 2 years! Two whole years of not realizing the reading treasure sitting there. It was the cover that drew me to it and the fact that it is written by an Canadian/Indian author. At it's core it's a beautiful story of mothers' love that interweaves two totally different cultures. It's emotional and a beautifully written story. Forgiveness, family, adoption, assumptions, perceptions and perspective, and hope are just some of the topics it delves into. It showed the two sides of India, the ultra lavishly wealthy and the incredibly poor and showed how the massively huge slum in Mumbai got it's beginnings. I learned so much about the Indian culture and the theme of "everything is more complicated than it seems" really flowed throughout the story, both from the American character's and the Indian characters. It's writing is captivating with really great character development and gave me all the feels. Loved this story and will definitely be looking for her other books.








24.  The Couple Next Door by Shari Lapena

Completed:  October 29, 2019 

Rating:  6/10

Review:   

Anne and Marco Conti are a seemingly happy couple that live in a duplex in a good neighborhood. They have a beautiful 6 month old baby girl named Cora and Marco's business is doing well. Everything seems to be going well for the young couple. They are friends with their next door neighbors and have been invited for a private, "no kids" dinner party for the husband's birthday. Unfortunately, their babysitter has canceled and now they are in a dilemma. Marco came up with the idea, because they live next to each other in a duplex, that Cora can just stay in her crib asleep while they take the monitor with them to the dinner and then they would take turns every half hour checking on Cora. Anne is not in agreement with this idea but finally gives in to Marco. As the evening progresses, the baby checks seem to be going okay but by midnight Anne has had enough and wants to go home but Marco is having a good time, too good of a time enjoying the attention of their female host. When Anne finally gets him to leave the party, Anne's greatest fear is realized as they discover that Cora is missing. Immediately they are under suspicion, who leaves their baby alone and goes to a dinner party even with a monitor? The whole neighborhood is shocked. But as Detective Rasbach unfolds the layers of what actually happened, it becomes apparent that both parents have been hiding secrets from each other but is that enough to make the jump to commit a horrendous crime? Or has this just been a horrible act against an innocent couple who made one bad decision? And what about all the neighbors who have their own secrets?

 For the most part, I enjoyed this book, however it did have it's ups and downs for me and some were insurmountable. It is definitely filled with twists and turns throughout that keep you turning the pages. Some of the twists I figured out but then another would come along that surprised me. The thing that I found difficult with the read, however, was that there was not one likeable character to root for. As more and more is revealed and the suspicion of everyone deepens, my dislike for them all grew. The writing suffered from a bit of clunkiness in parts and repetition at times that kind of broke up the flow. And there is one character that is prone to dropping f-bombs and in one instance coupled it with the Lord's name at which point I almost quit the book for that reason. I HATE when that is done and in my point of view there is NEVER a reason for it. It's never done with any other historical/religious leader and I am highly offended that this author thought it is ok to do it with Christianity's Son of God. Had it happened again, I would not have continued on no matter how good the story was. The rating from me most definitely reflects my deep offense at that. And I will probably not read another from her if that is the "surprise" I will be getting.  










25.  The Year of Living Biblically by A.J. Jacobs

Completed:  November 13, 2019

Rating: 9/10

R


 














No comments: