Tuesday, January 21, 2020

2020 Book Reads and Reviews

1.  Us Against You by Fredrik Backman

Completed:  January 17, 2020

Rating:  8/10

Us Against You continues the story of the Beartown hockey after the tragic events that occurred to split the team and the town in two. As Peter, the general manager, struggles to rebuild a team who's major players have all left to play for the neighboring town's team instead, forces are working against him. That is until a slick politician comes along with some investors who want to rebuild what the town has lost. But there is a price to pay. And is Peter willing to sacrifice all to stay in Beartown and keep his job. Peter will have to find new players not only willing to play but good enough to stand up to the former players of Beartown team now playing for the rival Hed team. As the big game approaches, the two teams and towns stir up the rivalry with not only verbal assaults but pranks that start to ramp up and take dangerous turns and what started as rivalry turns to hatred. When a major player's deepest secret is exposed, it's like another bomb has gone off in the midst of the team. By the time the big game is played someone will be dead, and residents and players of both towns will have to look deep to what they have allowed hockey to become.

 Once again Fredrik Backman brings a story that goes way beyond the surface. He has a great talent at going into hearts and attitudes and human nature and exposing both the ugly and the beautiful. He writes characters that have both good and bad, and makes them relateable. In this sequel he again takes something that should be simple and enjoyable, a sport, and totally exposes underlying and complex attitudes and feelings that we as a society have allowed into the role that sports and competition in general plays in our lives and brings it to the surface through the characters. It is an emotional ride through story telling going way beyond the sport that he uses as a base for everything else. For the most part I enjoyed it, it made me think, it took my emotions all over the board and drew me in to the characters. This author has amazing character development even though the book does deal with lots of different characters. The story has moved along from the last book and some storylines wrapped up and new ones were introduced through new characters and because there is a book 3 to this whole thing a few storylines were kinda left with the reader wondering what could happened to certain characters. There is some delving into politcal and moral issues worked into this story. Backman's style is a bit different and his way of using leading sentences to hold the reader captive and wondering is for the most part ingenious but I have to admit that toward the end of the book I felt he was way over using it. The story is shocking in it's progression of violence both in the portrayal and in the sense that it totally shows how we don't believe how we as individuals could ever play a part in that or get to that point yet here we are as a society. I was glad that the proliferation of f-bombs and swearing that I found hard in the first book were very much toned down in this one. If you read and enjoyed Beartown, which is a must read to be able to understand these storylines, this will take you farther into the exploration of human nature through a town totally invested in it's hockey team.

2.  The Curse of Misty Wayfair by Jaime Jo Wright

Completed:  January 30, 2020

Rating:  9.5/10

In 1908 Thea Reid finds herself in Pleasant Valley, Wisconson taking Memento Mori photographs, photos of the deceased. But what really brought her to Pleasant Valley was a search for her mother who gave her to an orphanage when she was small. She'd fallen into her odd career when a traveling photographer and his wife needed a helper and took her in. But now they were both deceased, and taking over the photography business was a means to an end. But settling in Pleasant Valley is proving very strange. The town is weird, divided down the middle supposedly for religious reasons, but rumor hath it it's more of a family fued involving murder with the victim haunting the streets. When the clues to her mom lead her to the local asylum Thea uses her photographic talent to gain access to the asylum. But there is more happening there that she bargained for and the secrets kept within may just be her undoing. A century later, Heidi Lane is also headed to Pleasant Valley after receiving a very odd, obscure letter from her mother. Her mom is in a home facing dementia so getting the letter asking her to come is strange especially when Heidi has been estranged from the family, including her sister, for many years. But as usual trouble seems to follow her and when strange things start occuring her urge to run as usual wants to take over especially when she starts see a ghostly woman rumored to be someone called Misty Wayfair. Will her urge to run or her deep desire to find out what her Mom's letter meant win out?

 I am not a fan of ghost stories so I was really reluctant to read this book but it seemed to get such great reviews I thought I'd give it try. And I'm glad I did. It was well written and really grabbed my attention with it's gothic and modern day settings. The two women's quests to seek their identities was compelling and the stories of both kept me turning the pages. The setting of the asylum and the curse of Misty Wayfair lent a creepiness to the story and kept me turning the pages to find out the truth and how the two stories were connected. I loved how the author was able to weave into the story how asylums used to be and how those with mental illness, depression and sometimes even medical things such as seizures were treated and experimented on. This is the second book I've read by this author and I've enjoyed both.

3.  Everything We Keep by Kerry Lonsdale

Completed:  February 14, 2020

Rating:  5.5/10

Aimee Tierney seems to have everything going her way. She's a chef at her parent's restaurant which she loves and she's about to marry her childhood sweetheart. Everything is going her way up until a couple of months before her wedding day. On a business trip to Mexico, one which she tried to talk him out of, James Donato, her fiance, falls off a fishing boat and goes missing. Now two months later, James body has been found and instead of walking down the aisle at her wedding she is burying James on her wedding day. When a stranger approaches her in the parking lot afterwards the things that are said to her rock her world even more but can they be true? Aimee struggles to move on but what the stranger told her eats at her. And even as she rebuilds not only her career but her emotional life, she is drawn to search out answers into James accident and disappearance. And the secrets she finds will make her question everything about her life with James.

 The premise of this book sounded so interesting but, for me, it fell down in areas of the execution. The exploration of grief and loss from a tragic event was good and you felt for Aimee as she tried to work through not only the tragic loss of her fiance but also all of her dreams as every area of her world comes crashing down. There was however, so much that didn't work for me with the story. Reactions, and in some cases, almost non-reactions to major events, simplistic solving of situations, answers that were a little too convenient made it feel forced and rushed. There is a book 2 and 3 and the second deals with the perspective of another of the major characters to the major secrets so maybe when read together the story would come together better. But as it read in just this first book, for me, it just didn't quite gel.

4.  The Victory Club by Robin Lee Hatcher

Completed:  February 21, 2020

Rating:  9/10

As WWII takes the men away to fight the battle overseas, this is the story of 4 women fighting the battle on the homefront. They all work Dottie, Margo, Lucy and Penelope are work at the same factory at Gowen Field in Boise, Idaho. Their interactions at lunch has inspired some of them to start a "Victory Club" to help people out during these trying times. It was Lucy's idea and she wants a relevant way to put into practice her Christian faith. But as the war continues and each woman tries to cope with what they have been handed in life, trials and the choices they make will threaten to derail their faith.

 This is very definitely under the category of Christian fiction. I really liked it. This is one of my favorite Christian authors because she really has the ability to present the Christian faith walked out in the trials and testings of everyday life. Robin Lee Hatcher was able to have insight into the very real situations, temptations and feelings that might have presented themselves to women of that era that were left to hold down the fort at home while the men were fighting in WWII. I liked how she didn't sugar coat trials but made them very relatable. This book was an example of why I love solid well written Christian fiction that shows our faith being walked out in everyday situations and circumstances. Just like real life doesn't always have the perfect ending, not every situation in the story was wrapped up with a pretty bow and I appreciated that in this story as it left me to think out what I might have done and how I would have reacted. This was a great read to remind us that the Christian faith is walked out one step at a time with the choices that we make when faced with the circumstances life brings us.

5.  Unveiled (Lineage of Grace Series) by Francine Rivers

Rating:  9.5/10
Tamar did not want to get married at 14, especially to Judah's oldest son Er, whom she had heard was a very cruel man. But because of the traditions of the day, Tamar has no choice in the matter. Her father has made what he considers a good match and her mother won't back her up but insists she not shame the family. As she very quickly finds out the rumors of Er being cruel are all true and she starts to bear the brunt of his meanness. And on top of it her in-laws give in to Er, not ever giving him consequences for his behavior. Her father-in-law, Judah, is spineless around him, and her mother-in-law dotes on him and is bitter towards Tamar. Tamar is for all intents and purposes alone. Even as she hides her fear of Er, she does her best to be obedient and a good wife, hoping she produces the heir they want. When Er unexpectedly dies, according to tradition his brother must take her for a wife and produce the heir that Er had not. But Onan is also cruel, though in a different way, and Tamar is left with no hope of redeeming herself by giving Judah descendants. When Onan also dies, she is banished back home much to the shame of her family and to her own disgrace. But Tamar holds out hope of being redeemed and concocts a plan to get justice for herself.

 I had forgotten to write a review of this first book in the Lineage of Grace series by Francine Rivers. The series are five novellas of five unlikely women that changed eternity. The author dedicated this story of Tamar to all those who have been abused and used and yearn for justice. Tamar's character, in spite of the horrid times for women, managed to have dignity and hope in the midst of all the cruelty and injustice. The one thing I did feel a lot reading this story was anger. Anger at the way women were treated in that day, anger at Judah for being so spineless, anger at Tamar's family, and anger that history was just so demeaning to women in general. It is just a story of the bible that is hard to put into perspective because of the content and the times. But Tamar's character in the midst of it all is what stood out for me. She was strong in her own way and managed to be faithful, dedicated and the author managed to give her dignity and convey her story as one of hope. The novella starts with a section called "Setting the Scene" (as does all the books in this series) that gives the historical perspective of the times and what was going on and finishes with an epilogue that tells what happened to the characters later in the biblical story and how the main character came to be in the lineage of Jesus. There is then a Seek and Find section that has questions to apply the story to one's life today.

6.  If I Run by Terri Blackstock

Completed:  March 2, 2020

Rating:  9.5/10

7.  If I'm Found by Terri Blackstock

Completed:  March 7, 2020

Rating:  9.5/10

8.  If I Live by Terri Blackstock

Completed:  March 12, 2020

  Rating:  10/10   


If I Run series is a trilogy composed of "If I Run", "If I'm Found" and "If I Live". When Casey Cox comes across a friend's murder scene, everything in her says to run. Going to police isn't an option as they have failed her in the past. In her mind, she must run and hide until she can find the truth. But her DNA is all over the murder scene so local police are on the hunt for her. Meanwhile her deceased friend's parents have brought in a retired war veteran to find Casey while local police work the murder case at home. Dylan Roberts worked to solve murder cases for the military and he is good at what he does but PTSD has marred his life. Everything in him wants to prove he is still good at what he does and make it onto a police force so finding Casey is imperative. But there are many contradictions to this young woman that do not make sense. Nothing about her and the trail she leaves points to a killer. But if she's not the killer why is she running? But for Casey hiding is something harder than she ever thought possible as her very nature that cannot turn away from helping others reveals her and she must flee yet again. Everyone has a stake in finding Casey including the mayor's reputation but can Dylan make it past Casey's survival smarts and all the other obstacles thrown his way?

This was an edge of your seat suspense/cat and mouse thriller. I reviewed the three together because you have to read them all as the stories are one continuation of the whole revealing more about the truth as you go. And can we just stop and acknowledge the awesome covers of these books? Each is a really great cover on it's own but when put together they make one picture as a whole. Even the spines do that. Kudos to the creator of the covers. The author wove each of the books together well while building upon each book to the conclusion. I read them back to back as I couldn't put it down and didn't want the story interrupted. The story grabs the reader right from the beginning and keeps the pages turning as Casey is in hiding while trying to find evidence to exonerate herself and reveal the real killer and Dylan is trying to find Casey. All the characters are well developed even the minor ones and I really started to care what happens to Casey and Dylan as the story unfolds. They are relatable as each tries to deal with what has happened in their pasts while trying to live through the next day. The author stated in the back that she wanted to write a story based on a female fugitive modeled after "The Fugitive" tv series back in the day. I thought she did a great job in creating a character who must prove her innocence even as she has to keep uprooting and recreating herself in the various communities she has tried to melt into.  

9.  Shanghai Girls by Lisa See

Completed:  April 7, 2020

Rating:  8/10

It is 1937 and Pearl and her sister May are teenagers growing up in Shanghai. Their family was well off but Pearl has been noticing a few things that are a bit unusual such as things missing from the home and certain servants no longer around. But Pearl and her sister have little time to really think deeply about such things. They are modern girls who are also models, beautiful girls, for the Chinese calendars so they are living a carefree, independent, party filled life. That is until the day they come home to find their father has "given" them in marriage to the sons of a Chinese American business man in order to pay off his gambling debts. As they plot a way to get out of what their father has done and make their escape, the Japanese attack Shanghai and they make the life altering decision to go to America after all, but always with plans to escape their new father in law once they are there. Once on American soil however, it is easier said than done. Being the older sister Pearl has always felt a deep need to protect May yet their deep seated rivalries and jealousies follow them to America in spite of them having to cling to one another in order to survive. Life will mean sacrifices and tough choices but can they look past their own inner turmoils to help each other?

 Using Shanghai and California as a backdrop to the story, this book takes you on an immigration journey of two sisters. It was fascinating to read of the Chinese experience as they came to America and the struggles they faced and the prejudice they encountered in trying to fit in and make a life. Many of my assumptions were confronted about this group of immigrants and their journeys. Though I found the first part of the book a little slower in reading, there is lots of description of their privileged life ,which for me was a bit tedious, but it becomes fundamental to the story in order for the reader to understand how hard their new life would be for them to acclimate to and how they had to change and adapt. The book, for me, really picked up once the war began. Though it is a quick read, it is not an easy read. With the start of the war, comes some very horrific things taking place and happening to them individually and there is lots of attitudes and terms that would be considered politically incorrect in this day and age but is historically correct to the times. Though the story deals with very hard events throughout the girl's lives it is at it's core a story of sisterly love and commitment to each other no matter what. I would not call this a happy, fluffy read. The girls do not live an easy life in America and their own relationship is very complicated. But I learned a lot about another culture's experience with trying to fulfill their American Dream while staying true to their roots and coming to an understanding of what family is. The book ended abruptly for me with loose ends but then I found out there is a second book continuing the story so I will read that to find out what happens.

 Great historical fiction but with some trigger warnings to harsh attitudes towards women, and abuses perpetrated through war if you are sensitive to that.

10. Heidi by Johanna Spryi

Completed:  April 16, 2020

Rating:  10/10

As a young child, Heidi was orphaned. Her paternal grandfather lives in the mountains of the Swiss Alps all by himself. Being a loner is his choice as he has become angry at life. The villagers know to leave him well enough alone. But the endearing Heidi soon works her way into his heart as she adopts his beloved mountain with as much fervor as he himself does. But when her aunt, who dropped her off in the first place, comes to collect her to live with a rich family in the city to be a companion to their handicapped daughter, both Heidi and Grandfather want nothing to do with it. But Grandfather gets convinced he is being selfish keeping Heidi on a mountain and finally lets her go. Though Heidi befriends Klara, her heart is still on the mountain with her Grandfather and her health starts to suffer due to homesickness. Upon Klara's Doctor's recommendations Heidi is finally allowed to go home to her beloved Grandfather and mountain. When Klara comes to visit, the mountain works it's magic with her also.

 I have always loved the story of Heidi though have not read the book since a little kid. I've watched all the tv adaptations through the years and loved them all. So when I saw this in a Little Library I nabbed it. I enjoyed the story just as much as an adult as I did when a kid. It was written in 1959, with this Scholastic edition releasing in 1974. Because it was written in the '50's there is some things in there that are out of step with how we treat children or do things in this era but the story of the charming orphan Heidi and how by just being her loving self she touches and changes the lives around her is just as sweet and endearing now as back in the day.

11.  Unashamed by Francine Rivers

Completed:  April ?, 2020

Rating:  8/10

This is a retelling of the biblical story of Rahab. If you don't know Rahab's story, she was a prostitute who lived in the walls of the city of Jericho. All of Jericho had heard of the Israelites and their conquering God, so when they heard that they were headed towards Jericho, the people were very afraid. But there was something in Rahab that wants to know the Israelite's God and to seek redemption, and she would do what she had to do to save her family, knowing that they would have surrender in order to be saved. So when the Israelite spies entered Jericho, Rahab hid them in exchange for their promise to keep her and her family safe when the attack came.

 I liked this retelling of the story. Francine Rivers was able to give thoughts and feelings to the main characters of the story that made me see it in a new light and made me think of things that never occured to me. The author gave a base for the love story between Rahab the prostitute and Salmon, the Israelite and showed the difficulty of how that relationship would be accepted and yet God made it happen and Rahab went on to be in the lineage of Christ. I loved the redemption aspect of the story and how determined Rahab was to become a part of what she saw God doing. I thought the author did a great job describing the historical part of the story which really drew me into the era and times. At the end is a really indepth bible study that not only takes you further into the biblical account but also how it applies to one's life today.

 Unashamed is one novella in a series called the Lineage of Grace about 5 unlikely women who changed eternity. It can be found as a stand alone or bound with the other 4 novellas as one book. The dedication reads: Unashamed is dedicated to women who think a past of mistakes ruins any chance of a joy-filled future. Turn to Jesus and experience the wonders He has waiting for you.

12.  The Pilot's Wife by Anita Shreve

Completed:  April 18, 2020

Rating:  7.0/10 

Kathryn lives with her pilot husband and their 15 year old daughter in her dream home in New England. She is living the life she wanted: a loving husband, a job she likes teaching in a high school, a home by ocean, a daughter they both adore. While her life may not be super exciting, it is definitely satisfying. The hard parts are the loneliness when her husband is away flying one of his routes. Then one night when her husband is gone, she is awakened to banging on the door and she gets the visit no pilot's wife ever wants to get, that her husband's plane has crashed off the coast of Ireland and there are no survivors. As she tries to walk through the grief and anguish and help her daughter through it, the endless scrutiny of what led to the crash and her husband's part in it start to take their toll. When rumors start to swell that this may have been no accident and that her husband had a secret life Kathryn is determined to find the truth while still protecting their daughter. But as even as she digs for answers does she really want to know the truth?

 I vaguely knew what the story was about having watched the movie many, many years ago but couldn't quite remember what went on but did sort of remember the twist. I forgot about one large aspect of it, something in stories that I don't like to read about, but remembered liking the "mystery" aspect of it. The story dragged at times and seemed slow moving, there is a lot of grief for Kathryn to deal with, but there was enough to what was happening that it did make me want to find out what was going on. But all in all it was a book I did not really enjoy because of some of the subject matter and the whole thing was just sad and infuriating to me. Because of that I struggled with a rating.  I didn't want to lower a rating because of personal preference to a story line but it definitely did color the enjoyment of the story for me.

13.  Murder at the Courthouse by A.H. Gabhart

Completed:  April 25, 2020

Rating:  7.5/10

When Michael Keane took on the job of deputy sheriff in small town Hidden Springs, Kentucky he thought he had left the stress of big city policing behind. He was looking forward the much more slow paced life of getting to know everyone in his hometown again and having small time tickets be his biggest policing. But when a stranger to town is found shot on the courthouse steps, Michael is confronted once again with big crime. As he tries to solve the case which has put the whole town on edge, he must deal with all sorts of townsfolk who think they know the answer. When the sheriff is laid up in hospital, he comes up with his own crazy theory and insists Michael look into it. Against his better judgement Michael complies and what he discovers will make him wonder if he ever really knew his hometown at all.

 I love Ann H. Gabhart's historical fiction, so when I saw she'd written a cozy mystery series, I thought I'd give it a try for some lighter reading time. Her characters were simple yet complex, quirky yet infuriating at times, the kind you expect to find in a small town cozy mystery. Michael himself is trying to sort out his life and things that have happened so there is some good back story. Though I didn't guess the what, where, when and why, and was there for that ride, I did unfortunately guess the who fairly early on. An easy summer type of read that you can escape with.  There are 2 more in the "Hidden Springs Mystery" series, so I'm sure Michael will be developed even more along with some of the other characters in this town.

14.  A Proper Pursuit by Lynn Austin

Completed:  May 9, 2020

Rating:  8/10

Set in 1893, Violet Hayes is a young 20 year old woman still living with her father. She was told her mother became ill when she was very young, and though she doesn't remember a lot of her she does hold some sweet memories. So when her father announces his intention to marry a widower with two children, Violet is shocked and upset as it also reveals that her mother wasn't ill but had actually left and divorced her father. Add to it the fact that her father is trying to get her to marry a young man from town whom Violet finds dull and has nothing in common. She longs to spread her wings and talks her father into letting her stay the summer with her grandmother and three aunts in Chicago convincing him that her socialite aunt may have better prospects for her. But her true plan is to try to find her mother and to see the Chicago World's Fair but she can't tell her father that. Reluctantly, her father gives in worrying that the aunts won't be the best influence on his young daughter. But what Violet finds in Chicago is an grandmother dedicated to serving the Lord amongst the poor, an aunt who wants to show her off to high society, another who wants to introduce her to the suffragete movement, and another who thinks her precious husband is still off fighting a war that ended long ago and who believes in true love. Each of these ladies wants Violet to join their world and brings exposure to life as Violet has never known and suitors aplenty, each very different from the other, so that now Violet will have to make some choices. And in the midst of all this is the mystery who her mother was and nobody is willing to talk about that. Violet's sheltered eyes are opened wide and with her father's ultimatum she must make her choice or let him make it for her.

 This book started off a bit slow but then built into a good story of a young girl from that era and the choices she faced. The grandmother and aunts were a fun mix of very different personalities and lifestyles that really added to the story by giving historical context to everything going on at the time. Though Violet and her lack of worldliness and wisdom, and complete naive and immature attitude for her age of 20 had me at times rolling my eyes, I suppose it was not unusual for that era. I love how the author was able to transport me into the world of the Chicago World's Fair, both the fun and wonder and the seedier side, and to all the things that were going on in a big city of the time. This is a great read for fans of historical fiction with a little romance, coming of age and mystery thrown in.

15.  The Dream Daughter by Diane Chamberlain

Completed May 18, 2020

Rating:  10+/10

It is 1970 and Carly Sears has just received the news that her unborn baby has a fatal heart defect. Unfortunately the news comes on top of the news that her soldier husband was killed in the Vietnam War. Devastated and alone, she cannot bring herself to do what the doctors are suggesting she do. The baby was a dream of her and husband and she was not even able to give him the news of being pregnant before he was killed. When her brother-in-law, Hunter, says he might have a solution she is faced with the biggest decision of her life, one that seems improbable and that will require great courage and faith in the impossible. While she has a great relationship with Hunter there are things that no one knows about him. She must decide whether she can trust him with not only her unborn baby's life but with her own as well.

 I absolutely loved this story. It is a split time novel taking place in the 70's and in the 2000's. It's a contemporary story with a sci-fi twist. A story of family bonds, of the strength and faith of a mother's love and a story that challenges ethics and what one would do to save a loved one. I couldn't put it down. It is well written, was never confusing as some of these types of stories can be, and tore my heart. Carly's struggle was heart wrenching and real and I felt every moment of her mother's heart. Sometimes I was frustrated with her decision making process but that's because I was looking at it from the vantage point of my couch but it was totally real and understandable given her situations. The consequences of the choices her and Hunter make sucked me right in because they were believable and emotional. The twists were realistic and unexpected. While sci-fi and especially this type of sci-fi is not usually what I choose for my reading, I went into this story blind not wanting to know what it was really about. I was surprised that it took that turn but the author was able to weave the two together so well and made it such a rich story that I'm pretty sure this is going to be one of my favorites of the year. It was pretty clean considering it's a secular novel which I really appreciated. I loved the ending and closed it with a very happy sigh. I know this review is a bit vague about what the story is actually about but it is hard give a synopsis without revealing what it is about. If you like contemporary stories that involve family, love, moral dilemmas, or sci fi I recommend this one. I think this would make an awesome movie.

16.  The Water Keeper by Charles Martin

Completed June 28, 2020

Rating:  8/10


Murphy Shepard was a dedicated and courageous part of a team that used to rescue girls who had been taken and were bound for the sex trade operating out of Florida. But now he is holed up on an island caretaking a church that nobody attends while he grieves the loss of two key people in his life. When a young woman named Angel shows up at the church Murphy realizes she is headed for very kind of fate that he has dedicated his life to saving girls just like her from. A runaway who has met the wrong people, she is part of a "party boat" floating through Florida's waterways not knowing she is about to become part of  modern day slavery. As Murphy heads down to the south of Florida to grieve and to lay his friend and mentor to rest he finds a beautiful former durg addict and dancer that needs his help finding her missing daughter, a young stowaway looking to understand her past, an ex-con who just wants to go home and live out his last days and a faithful Labrador he finds swimming in the ocean. Together they form an unlikely team to find the woman's missing daughter even as Murphy's secret past is catching up with him. 

 Charles Martin is one of my favorite authors because of the depth and multi layers he puts into his stories and the way he weaves his words to create his images to convey the setting, characters and emotions. Every character is so rich and not wasted, very real in their emotions and reactions to what life has thrown at them. The settings almost become a character in and of themselves. His stories are always about redemption, hope and healing from very deep hurt. They are always a journey that he takes the reader on that leaves their own emotions bare. This story though it did have all those elements for me, did leave me a bit confused at times. There is much description of the Florida Intercoastal Waterways which at times left me lost because I don't know the area in the least so I found myself starting to skim over some of that. And I was confused at the ending until I went back and re-read the 1st chapter and then it made total sense. I have just found out that this is actually the first in a trilogy so that explains too, the questions I had when it was all over. Though at times frustrated with the character of Summer (the mom of the missing girl), I loved the character of Clay and am looking forward to seeing where he will go in coming installments. Though far from knocking off the pedestal my three favorites of his (Water From My Heart, When Crickets Cry and Wrapped in Rain) this is a good read that sheds a light on the dark world of modern day slavery within the sex trade in America.

17.  Unshaken (Ruth- Lineage of Grace Series) by Francine Rivers

Completed:  July 10, 2020

Rating:  10/10

Unshaken is the biblical story of Ruth.  Ruth is a young Moabitess, who when her husband died, chose to follow and care for her mother in law Ruth as they made their way from the country of Moab to Bethlehem.   Though Naomi tries to get Ruth to turn back like her sister in law Orpah did, Ruth is adamant in her loyalty to Naomi.  She leaves behind her family that was fairly well-to-do for the unknown, as Naomi does not even know if any of her relatives would be alive.  It is not an easy task taking care of an older woman who, as the journey progresses, starts to turn from hopeful to more complaining and bitter.  But Ruth perseveres as she wants to follow the one true God of her Mother in law and learn of His ways.  When they arrive in Bethlehem, things do not go as easily as imagined and they find themselves, especially Ruth as a foreigner, shunned by the villagers and gossiped about.  Living in a cave with nothing, Naomi instructs Ruth to glean in the corners of fields as the poor and foreigners are allowed to according to God's law.  But even in those corners Ruth is made to not feel welcome and she ends up in a field quite aways from town.  As she tries to work hard and do her best for Naomi, she is noticed by the owner of this particular field, who when he finds it is Naomi's daughter in law instructs his workers to leave extra for her and to make sure she is safe.  When Naomi finds out it is Boaz's field and see the generosity of Boaz she realizes that as a relative Boaz can be a husband redeemer.  Naomi concocts a plan to bring Ruth and Boaz together.  But it would require both of their cooperation and the removal of another family member that stands in the way.

I absolutely loved the story of Ruth and Boaz.  Francine Rivers stayed true to the biblical account while fleshing out the characters in the story and the history of the times.  Through the story I really got the sense of everything Ruth was leaving behind for the uncertainty of going with Naomi and how loving, faithful, loyal and hard working she really was.   Her strong character & moral fiber throughout the story was remarkable to me even as she did what her mother in law instructed. I felt Naomi's frustrations as things didn't quite go as originally planned though at times I felt like shaking her for whining attitude (which is recorded in the bible).  Through the author's story telling I was able to get a better understanding of the Jewish laws of harvest and husband redeemers, and how foreigners were perceived in Jewish minds of the time.  I loved how in this story of Ruth the author chose to use the townspeople's gossip as a way to show attitudes and thoughts, so relatable.  In all I loved this retelling.  The study and questions at the end was excellent and thought provoking making the story of Ruth and Boaz relatable to today's personal life.   The author dedicated the book to her own mother in law who she admires  and adores.

18.  The Secret Wife by Gill Paul

Completed:  July 22, 2020

Rating:  8/10

Review:  In 1914, Grand Duchess Tatiana is just on the verge of leaving her teenage years behind when she meets calvary officer Dmitri Malama. Soon the two find love and have plans to marry with her parents, the Tsar and Tsaritsa of Russia, approval. But fate comes crashing in on them as their beloved Russia as they know it faces collapse and revolution takes over. As the family is removed from their palace home and taken away Dmitri desperately tries everything to try and save Tatiana. When they get separated things take a tragic turn and Dmitri is left with more questions than answers as he tries to figure out what happened and where they could have moved Tatiana. Forced to leave the country, he finds himself in limbo grasping onto any hope he can find. When he meets Rosa he must decide whether to keep grasping at straws or to receive the second chance at love she is offering him. In 2016, Kitty Fisher leaves London with a broken heart and marriage and comes to America to check out the cabin her great grandfather's estate left to her upon his death. Back in the remote area of Lake Akanabee in New York State, Kitty hopes to rebuild her heart even as she rebuilds the rundown, ramshackle cabin. When she discovers a jeweled pendant under the front steps it leads her on a quest to find the origins and discovers an astonishing family secret. 

 I read this author's more recent story of another member of the Russian royal family, The Lost Daughter, last year and loved it so was eager to read this earlier one as well. The split timeline goes back and forth between the historical story and the current timeline as the author builds in the connections between the women of two different eras. In the end I had very mixed feelings about this story because of my reading preferences in topics that I do not enjoy. I loved it and then disliked it. At first I was drawn into the story as the author built the relationship between the young Russian couple. You really cheered on their fledgling relationship as it develops into love. Her groundwork in the Russian history was so interesting and her weaving fictional with historical detail is excellent. Though right from the beginning, the current timeline part of the story dealt with a topic that I do not like in my reading content, I pressed on because it was more of how the character was dealing with it and what her future would hold. At first both stories were captivating but as it progressed, the theme/topic I do not like became prevalent and choices were made and the events that eventually unfolded left me disappointed with the outcome of the story. My rating reflects my enjoyment, not that the author wrote poorly. The theme and choices made within that theme clashed with my world view and just ended up not being enjoyable for me.

19.  Liturgy of the Ordinary: Sacred Practices in Everyday Life by Tish Harrison Warren - Audiobook

Completed:  July 24, 2020

Rating:  9/10

 Many of us go through the day feeling like we don't have time for God. But God can become present to us in surprising ways through our everyday routines. Framed around one ordinary day, this book explores daily life through the lens of liturgy, small practices and habits that form us. Each chapter looks at something making the bed, brushing her teeth, losing her keys that the author does in the day. Drawing from the diversity of her life as a campus minister, Anglican priest, friend, wife, and mother, Tish Harrison Warren opens up a practical theology of the everyday. Each activity is related to a spiritual practice as well as an aspect of our Sunday worship. Come and discover the holiness of your every day." 

I listened to this as an audiobook while I was cleaning and disinfecting at the end of the work day.  It seemed quite appropriate as I was not happy with this added extra work at the end of long work days.  This book really opened up something I already knew in my head but that sunk it a bit more into my heart and that is how to take our everyday chores and seemingly mundane acts of ordinary days and turn them into habits of worship.  The author's calming voice and everyday examples got me through those first days of developing this new habit of work and I really enjoyed this book.  I will probably at some point listen to it again.  

20.  Distant Echoes (Aloha Reef Series) by Colleen Coble

Completed:  July 7, 2020

Rating:  9/10

Kaia Oana is a mammal intelligence researcher based in Hawaii. Her dolphins are her life. Her relationship with her rescued and trained dolphin, Nani takes the majority of her days and she is close to a break thru in the area of communications with dolphins. But someone new has taken over the research facility and wants to turn it into a dolphin tourist attraction and Kaia is running out of time to prove her research. When a tourist catamaran explodes off the coast close to an army weapons testing site, Kaia and Nani aid in the search and rescue efforts. Exhausted from not giving up to find survivors, Kaia is pulled from the water by Lieutenant Jesse Matthews. Lieutenant Matthews feels that missile research might have had something to do with the explosion but his thoughts fall on deaf ears with his superior. Recruiting Kaia and Nani, Lt. Matthews starts his own rogue investigation to get to the truth placing them all in danger. 

 This is one of the author's older series, the Aloha Reef Series, that I've had sitting around forever and finally made it a goal to read all four. I read this book in the summer, so am very late getting to the review. Life happened! But from my memory I did really enjoy this story. It is consistent with this author's works: a little mystery, a lot of suspense, a little romance and was a great summer read. I enjoyed the author's efforts into dolphin communications research and it was an interesting part of the story. There is a bit of setting up characters as there are lots in this one, but the suspense was good. This story also gets into some family drama which is an element I do like in stories.

Outside the Lines by Amy Hatvany

DNF'd October 8, 2020

21.  Never Change by Elizabeth Berg

Completed:  August 19, 2020

Rating:  9.5/10

Myra Lipinsky is a 51 year old visiting or home health care nurse. She has never married and spends her days serving her patients and spending enjoyable time with her beloved dog. She feels she's built a pretty good life all things considered. That is until she is assigned a patient with an incurable illness. It's not the illness that gets to Myra but the fact that the patient, Chip Reardon, just happens to be Myra's old high school crush. Chip was the "golden boy" of high school. Good looking, popular and on the football team, his crowd was everything Myra wasn't. And now here he is back in her life, dying. Not quite the second chance she would have dreamt of. Chip has returned from Manhatten to his childhood home to live at his parents. Though his Mom is pushing him to do whatever it takes, including invasive treatments, Chip has resolved himself to the fact that he wants to live his last days in peace without being poked and prodded with no guarantees. As Myra cares for Chip, trying to balance his wishes with pressure from his Mom to convince Chip to undergo the treatments, Myra starts to find her role as caregiver coming closer and closer to the line she must never cross, finding her feelings for Chip grow from patient to friend and beyond. As their relationship grows and becomes more complicated, Chip's old girlfriend from Manhattan inserts herself back into the picture. Myra is left to deal with all sorts of emotions, questioning how she has lived her life and how she will continue to live her life when Chip is no longer there to care for. 

 I loved this story. It brought out so many emotions and was so well written, with conversations and feelings being very realistic, drawing me in to Myra's seemingly simple world now turned very complicated. I loved her relationship with her patients as she saw them day to day caring for the most grumpy to the most needy. Her tender care and sensitivity with them was so nice to read, even as she fought her low self esteem. Her relationship with Chip was complicated and interesting and there were parts of the story where just a sentence or paragraph had me talking to the book saying: "Don't go there! Don't you go there, I'll be so upset if that is what this story does." I won't tell you what "there" was, or whether the story went there, but I'll just say that I was totally immersed into it. Such a mix of emotions as the story ended.

22.  Black Sands (Aloha Reef Series) by Colleen Coble

Completed:  September 3, 2020

Rating:  7.5/10

Annie Tagama is volcanologist who works alongside her father at the Hawaii Volcanoes National Park. But life has thrown some curves her way and she is losing her passion for the work, even as a long dormant volcano on the island is coming to life. She has been grieving the loss of her brother in the Middle East under mysterious circumstances when she discovers that he might be alive after all and is trying to communicate but to find him she must join forces with the very person she blamed for her brother's death in the first place. As they try to find answers an ancient cult on the island starts gaining traction once more, including it's practice of human sacrifice and it becomes enmeshed with their investigation. 

 I didn't not enjoy this second installment in the series nearly as much as I did the first one. Though the volcano science part was very interesting, and there were plenty of twists and turns and family drama, I found some of the other stuff in the story leaning towards unbelievable. I did like that as in other series by the author, she continues the story with a whole different set of main characters but a lot of favorite characters from the previous story return and are connected. The series are not just about one main character. And her descriptions of Hawaii are beautiful. There are 2 more in this Aloha Reef Series that I am looking forward to getting to.   

23.  The Shape of Family by Shilpi Somaya Gowda

Completed:  September 26, 2020

Rating:  9.5/10


24.  Unglued by Lisa TerKuerst - Audiobook

Completed:  September 30, 2020

Rating:  8.5/10

Publisher's Description: Do you ever feel like your emotions are working against you? Though we may find ourselves stuffing down emotions, exploding with emotions, or reacting somewhere in between, Lysa TerKeurst assures us it’s possible to make our emotions work for us. Lysa admits that she, like most women, has had experiences where others bump into her happy and she comes emotionally unglued. But the good news is, God gave us emotions to experience life, not destroy it. With gut-honest personal examples and biblical teaching, Lysa shows us how to use our emotions for good. 

 Unglued will equip you to: Know with confidence how to resolve conflict in your important relationships 
 Find peace in your most difficult relationships as you learn to be honest but kind when offended 
 Identify what type of reactor you are and how to significantly improve your communication
 Respond with no regrets by managing your tendencies to stuff, explode, or react somewhere in between 
 Gain a deep sense of calm by responding to situations out of your control without acting out of control 

 I listened to this as an audiobook while doing my mandatory sanitizing of my childcare at the end of the day. It was one my first audiobooks ever so it took awhile to get used to and to teach my mind to focus as I listened. Once I got over that hurdle, I for the most part enjoyed the book. The author narrates it herself. It was very relatable and there were many times I kinda wished I had the book to notate and underline. I may purchase the book and reread so that I can do that because I retain more when I write it and see it. Lots of takeaways in this book but the biggest for me was her statement: "Let your mind idle in truth rather than perception." That was a big eye opening statement for me in how I react when things happen. This is a great book club or bible study resource.

25.  The Invention of Wings by Sue Monk Kidd

Completed:  October 25, 2020

Rating:  9/10

It is 1800's Charleston and the Grimke family are an influential, upstanding & wealthy family. The father is jurist and land owner and the family own many slaves to keep the property and their lives in the way of the socially elite of the time. When young 11 year old Sarah is given a slave for a hand maid on her 11th birthday, she is appalled and tries to refuse but her mother who is harsh and all about appearances insists. Not having any friends due to a speaking impediment she developed from trauma when she was 4, Sarah develops as much of a friendship with 10 year old Hetty as the culture allows. In spite of her speech affliction, Sarah has a thirst for knowledge and desires, unlike her brother who feels forced into it, to be a lawyer like their father. But as the times dictate this is no place for a woman and Sarah feels the limitations imposed upon her even as her heart is full of knowing she is called to do something big in this world. As they grow together, they develop a complex relationship, each influencing the other's life and both Sarah and Hetty must learn how to survive in their opposing worlds and both do what they can to break through those limitations that society has imposed upon them. 

 This story follows the parallel lives of Sarah and Hetty as they try to find lives of their own dictated by their heart and not the society they were born into. It is a novel that swept me into the world of the South at a time when owning slaves not only culturally acceptable but even looked upon as the Christian thing to do. It is inspired by the real life Sarah Grimke and her sister Angelina who became the first women to publicly start speaking up for not only the abolitionist movement but also the women's movement. Sarah's story is one of courage in the midst of huge pressure to conform, betrayal and then rejection. For such a historical character that accomplished so much for the not only the abolitionists but also the women's movement it is odd that neither her or her sister's name is one that is well known in history books. This story is well researched and really opens the readers eyes to the attitudes, justifications and culture of the time. I always wondered how the South, which was so entrenched in church and what they called Christianity could justify the inhumane treatment and ownership of other human beings and this story was able to show that in all it's ugliness. I also learned a lot through the characters of Hetty and her mother Charlotte who though born into slavery always had deep within the desire to be free and in control of their own life and strove to express it in whatever way they could even though the consequences would be dire if found out. I thought the aspect of Charlotte, who was a seamstress in the Grimke household, would tell her life story through the stitching of a quilt. Though the gift of reading and writing was kept from her, she still found a way to keep her personal history alive. This was a wonderful read of the stories of two young girls born into opposing stations of life growing into strong women reaching for their own destinies as their lives intertwine. The author did an excellent job of fleshing out historical people and relaying what might have been their experiences, heart and motivations. 

 As a last note I loved how the author ended the "Author's Notes" with this quote by Professor Julius Lester:
 "History is not just facts and events. History is also a pain in the heart and we repeat history until we are able to make another's pain in the heart our own" 
 The Invention of Wings by Sue Monk Kidd pg 369

26.  The Scroll by Grant R. Jeffrey & Alton L. Gansky

Completed:  November 8, 2020

Rating:  6/10

David Chambers is a world renowned biblical archeologist in the top of his field.  With his faith fueling him his passionate work has helped unearth some of the most ancient tunnels under the Holy Land.   But some of life's circumstances have left David's faith in ruins and he has left biblical archeology to pursue other disciplines.  When an old friend and mentor contacts David and talks him into a mysterious dig involving riches that described in the Copper Scroll, against his better judgement David agrees to come to Jerusalem to meet with his friend and fellow scholar.  When he arrives, however,  not only has his former fiance been called and is there but also his former nemesis and none have been told the whole story.  Will the draw of the historical dig be enough for them to put their history behind them and work together or will the danger that eventually stalks them be enough to leave the ancient secrets buried?

This sounded like a great suspenseful premise.  One of the co-writers is Grant R. Jeffrey who is world renowned for his knowledge of bible prophecy, so you know it is going to have all sorts of detail in that area and it did.  I really enjoyed the descriptions of the Middle East especially as it related to biblical prophesy.  I, as the reader, also learned a lot about modern day politics surrounding the Holy City and how biblical treasures and archeology are a minefield and must be protected.  But sometimes the detail in the conversations amongst the characters tended more toward schooling the reader on the subject rather than coming across as a natural conversation between people and that is where it bogged down a bit and kept it from going from a good read to a great read for me.   I also became bored with the tension between the three main characters.  They reminded me more of angsty teenagers than mature professionals high in their field, especially the sulky and irritable main character who was very hard to like.   I did, however, like the exploration the authors made of David Chamber's loss of faith while in a profession that mainly proved the truth of the Bible.  His struggles in that area made the story for me.   Once the danger started in the story is when it really picked up for me and moved it along to it's conclusion.

27.  Here's the Story by Maureen McCormick

Completed:  November 13, 2020

Rating:  6.5/10

In the early '70's Marcia Brady was the ideal teenager, the one all the girls wanted to be and all the boys wanted to date.  But for Maureen McCormick life was anything but ideal.  In spite of playing Marcia on the hit sitcom, the Brady Bunch, and being one of the most recognized tv faces, real life for Maureen was anything but sunny.  In her memoir she honestly reveals what was really going on behind the sunny persona of Marcia Brady.  As she grew and Brady Bunch was cancelled, Maureen struggled with the perfect persona that was cast upon her and her life took a turn in parties and drugs as she tried to live up to the image the character of Marcia laid on her.  

This book really took an honest look at Maureen's life and what she became after the Brady Bunch.  From major family dysfunction, to cocaine addiction, to wild parties, Maureen came to fight a battle she almost lost.  Two things saved her from ultimate descruction:  her new found faith in Jesus and finding her husband who stuck by her even in her ugliest moments even after becoming a Christian.  This book is raw and not pretty, but it is very honest, heartbreaking, emotional and ultimately triumphant as Maureen struggles through her whole life to live up to the perfection of Marcia's character.  While I found some of the earlier tellings of the Brady Bunch years a bit teenage angsty, her struggles and story is one worth the read if only to understand the pressure that is on child stars, some of it their own making and some we, as a star crazed society, put upon them.  

28.  Hillbilly Elegy by JD Vance

Completed:  November 28, 2020

Rating:  6/10


Hillbilly Elegy is the story of the author's growing up white working poor in industrialized Ohio. His family's story starts out after the war when his grandparents moved from the Appalachian region of Kentucky to Ohio at a time when the industry sector was doing well and they saw an opportunity to make a better life. They were able to achieve a middle class lifestyle but it was fraught with problems. Though "upwardly mobile" they never left behind the abuse tendencies, the violence, the addictions. Eventually when the industries that gained them their middle class status started to shut down, they along with others of their culture found themselves once again facing dire poverty. The family struggled within the middle class and without it. The author with the encouragement of his grandmother was able to break the vicious cycle, first by joining the army to gain some discipline in his life and then going on to graduate from Yale Law School but not without still feeling the effects of the trauma of his childhood.

 I first picked up this book because I wanted to watch the movie on Netflix but wanted to read the story without the Hollywood's thumbprint on it. I also wanted to learn about this group of people and their culture because I have no knowledge of them except to know that they are very poor in the Appalachian region. I had also read (in several reviews, comments and blogs) that the book may answer the connection between Trump's election win and this group of people. After reading it, I am in the camp that I just doesn't get the hype around this book. I always find it very hard to review a memoir or autobiography because it is a person's life after all. A stranger cannot make judgement or review a person's life. So I guess I look a how the story was told. This book is not just a memoir in the sense of it being the author's life story (though this author is only in his early '30's), it is also an examination of a culture of Americans, where they came from, what happened and is happening to them as a group, and why they find themselves where they are at within society. While the parts of the book that told the author's story are heartbreaking and horrifying, these are interspersed with the author's thoughts, ponderings, facts, quotes from other sources, and his ruminations about the region and culture. He makes the attempt to delve into the sociological, psychological, community and faith of the culture to see if he can answer just why they are the way they are and why they find themselves in the situation they do. The way it was all interspersed throughout the book made it a very choppy read for me. The language was atrocious, the violence horrible. The things the author experienced within and from his own family boggles the mind. But I was left with mixed feelings as his violent addicted mother seemed to painted in a different light than his violent grandmother and his alcohol addicted grandfather. The thought that no gov't or social agency can fix the problem of the "Hillbilly" or "Redneck" poor, that the answer comes from within seems to be the general theme of his thoughts , but other than the idea of picking yourself up by the bootstraps and getting disciplined and determined to make it out I can't say that the author offered any other idea or thoughts toward that solution. A review on the back of the book also said it was "hysterically funny". I did not find it so even in the remotest sense. As far as how it explained Trump's win, I did not find that either except it did draw some parallels as to why deep rooted working class poverty and deep rooted generational values can figure into the political game. I also wonder if this book might paint with a very broad brushstroke the poor from that region of America. But what do I know, I'm a Canadian. And this is why I find it so hard to review this kind of book. In the end I plodded through because I wanted to learn but can't say that I enjoyed the book at all.

29.  The Engineer's Wife by Tracey Enerson Wood

Completed:  December 12, 2020

Rating:  9/10

Emily Warren was always a strong willed child but now as a young woman she knows what she wants and that's to be involved with the women's suffragette movement. But when she meets Washington Roebling the two fall quickly in love and marry once Washington comes back from the war. Washington is an engineer as is his bridge building father and the two have plans to build an iconic bridge to span the river between Manhattan and Brooklyn. Though Wash has always supported Emily with what she wanted to do, now Emily is talked into using her wealthy mother's connections to give fund raising speeches for the project. She reluctantly agrees as she is terrified of speaking in front of people. It is at one of these meetings where she meets the infamous PT Barnum and an unlikely lifetime friendship and attraction is formed as PT trains her to get over her fear of being in front of people. As the project moves into the building phase it is met with many hazards and roadblocks. When Washington's father becomes gravely injured and eventually dies, Washington is now totally in charge of the project. But his PTSD and his own battles with caisson disease from spending too much time in the shafts causes him to request of Emily to give up her own dreams to further his. As more and more responsibility shifts to Emily and she becomes consumed with building the bridge she must find a courage within her she never knew she had all while facing her own demons from the past and the present. Her marriage, her ideals, her dreams and principles and who she really is are all put on the line. 

 This historical fiction novel is based on the life of the real Emily Warren Roebling. It explores how one woman took on a man's world to build a project of unimaginable scale, one that would change everything for a city and a country. It is a story of love and self-sacrifice, of challenging the norms of the day in more ways than one. The obstacles she faced seemed insurmountable. She had no education and learned everything as she went. She had a fear of being in front of people and overcame that to speak to crowds. She had to earn the respect of the both the men in power and the ones who were doing all the hard labor in an era when women were scorned and shamed for pursuing anything but social status and were even dictated by men and their laws what she could and couldn't wear. She had to make decisions when her husband could not be reached that she could only pray were the right ones. And when her husband slowly pulls away both from the project itself but also from her she forged ahead to build the dream and the legacy. I liked the story of this strong woman who changed things for the woman of her day. Little is known about her and her contributions to the building of the Brooklyn Bridge and history even though there is actually a plaque on the bridge with her name on it. I found the actual engineering science within the story a bit on the dry side as I do not in the least have a brain geared to the science of physics but I think the author did her best to make it as simply understood as possible. But I must admit a lot of it was lost on me and I had to google things a few times. The story was interesting and emotional. The author's notes at the end are definitely a must read as she tells her inspiration for the story and also what was fact and what fictional parts she took liberties with. I would have rated the book higher had it not been for one of these liberties and that was the relationship Emily had with a main character in the story. It is revealed in the author's notes that because they lived in the same place at the same time the author supposed the relationship between them, that there is actually no historical fact to base the relationship on. It was such an integral part of the story that this came as a shock to me and it kind of left me having to rethink the story without this part. But other than that it was a great story of a woman who built an iconic bridge and who did not get the historical recognition due to her and well worth the read for the historical significance of her life.

30.  The Christmas Train by David Baldacci

Completed:  December 20, 2020

Rating;  7.5\10

Tom Langdon is a hardened & disillusioned journalist. Once at the top of his game as a war reporter travelling all over the world into the most dangerous of places he now writes "fluff" pieces for a magazine after deciding he needed a break. Wanting to get home to girlfriend, Leila for the holidays, Tom is forced to take a train instead of flying because of a slight altercation at an airport that has him banned from flying for the time being. Finding the train the option he must choose he decides to take the route that Mark Twain did in 1872 and record his journey. But once the journey begins there are distractions galore especially when he runs into his past love. Embittered by their parting of ways, Tom must now navigate being thrust into a working relationship with Eleanor after all these years causing this train journey to also be a journey into his own heart. Just when he and Eleanor find their footing and are able to talk about what really happened, a surprise passenger boarding the train at one of the stops along the way throws everything into chaos.

 I've had this book on my radar for quite awhile and finally was able to get to it this Christmas. For some reason I had it very built up in my head. At first it was a bit hard to get into for me but eventually the host of characters started click and it got interesting. There are lots of characters and each seems to have an air of mystery surrounding them so it made it hard at first to connect to them but as the author built some of their characters and back stories I finally was pulled into the story. Tom is a bit of an unlikeable character at first and there is questions regarding his relationship with Eleanor. As the train journeys along their story unfolds. Along the way Tom finds he's forced to look into his own heart to see his part in their breakup. It's a feel good story that has atmosphere, mystery, quirky characters, laugh out loud moments, a touch of romance and a twist at the end. Though it didn't quite measure up to what I had expected it turned out to be an enjoyable, light read for Christmas. There is a tv movie adaptation that I would like to now see.

The Woman in Cabin 10 by Ruth Ware


31.  All I Have to Give by Melody Carlson

Completed:  December 26, 2020

Rating:  6/10

Anna and Michael have been trying unsuccessfully for years to have a child. But Anna is torn when Michael asks to have the nursery remodeled into an office for his new business.  It means Michael is ready to move on and she is not sure she is.  As she begrudgingly agrees, she starts to experience symptoms that are too close to the symptoms her mother had when she a terminal illness and died.   With the thought that this may be their last Christmas, Anna puts off going to the doctor until after Christmas, deciding instead to put all her thoughts and effort into making this the best Christmas ever for Michael.  But Michael is starting to draw away as he puts more and more effort into building his business.  Can this turn out to be the memorable Christmas Anna hopes for before their world comes crashing down?

This was a short, easy Christmas read with themes of love and self-sacrifice.  I found some of the decisions the main characters made annoying and questionable and the story was quite predictable.  I guessed what was going to happen quite early.  The story just didn't have Melody Carlson's usual depth and character development.  Though not horrible it was just an average read for me.   

32.  The Two Lives of Lydia Bird by Josie Silver

Completed:  December 31, 2020

Rating:  9.5/10

Lydia Bird and Freddie Hunter have known each other since they were fourteen years old, more than a decade.  You can't imagine one without the other.  They are as close as a couple can be.  And they are finally going to make it official and are getting married within the year.  But tonight is for celebrating Lydia's 28th birthday and they've got reservations at a fancy restaurant where they can't be late or their reservation will be given away.  So when Freddie calls to say his best friend, Jonah, is having car trouble and he's going to swing by and pick him up, Lydia resigns herself to reminding him to keep an eye on the time and be there on time.  But that time, that moment is going to change Lydia's life forever.  That time is when Freddie dies in a car accident and Jonah survives.  That time is when Lydia is no longer part of a pair and she must learn how to restart her life without Freddie.  But then something happens that she can't explain.  She's given a chance to live her life with with Freddie.  To see him whenever she wants and continue on as if the accident never happened.  At first, Lydia grabs that chance whenever she can.  But being pulled back into the past and yet living in the present, essentially and impossibly living two lives at once.  But how long can one go on bouncing back and forth between the two before one or the other is affected?  How can she make the impossible decision to stay in the past with Freddie or to move on towards the future and new love?

Okay in all honesty, I cheated a bit and put that I finished this book on the last day of the year so I could count it in my 2020 reads.  In all fairness I was almost done and finished it up the first day of the new year. I picked this book up on a whim at the library because the cover drew me in and the description sounded good.  I kept my fingers crossed that though a contemporary romance it would stay clean.  And I was pleasantly surprised to find that for the most part it did.   There was a couple instances of the f-bomb but it wasn't gratuitously used.  The story was wonderfully and charmingly told.  It explores great love and great grief and asks the question "What if one could go back in time to before the defining moment of loss?  Would we still want that?  Would we miss other defining moments, maybe even happy ones?"   The story was sad as Lydia deals with her grief, yet hopeful as a new future starts to unfold before her.  I was gripped with the story and my emotions were all in for Lydia.  The author tells it in back and forth chapters of "Awake" and "Asleep"  the asleep being where she is able to live out her life with Freddie.  Lydia is a character who is easy to root for and I cried for her, laughed with her and hoped with her as she comes to a point of decision between her two lives.    I did take a smidge off the 10 rating because towards the very end I did feel like it was getting a bit drawn out.  But other than that it's a moving story of grief, hope, love, friendship and family.   I can see a movie being made out of it.

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