Saturday, January 8, 2022

2022 Reads and Reviews

1. the Lincoln Highway by Amor Towles 

Completed:  January 8, 2022

Rating:  7/10

Review:  Emmett Watson is heading home to the family farm in Nebraska after a 15 month stint at a juvenile work farm which he earned after being found guilty of involuntary manslaughter. His mother left the family when he was just little and with his father's recent death and the farm being foreclosed on by the bank, Emmett just wants to pick up his car and his 8 year old brother and head to California where he plans to start over with a house renovating and flipping business. But Billy has found some postcards among their father's possessions that their mother had sent from various stops along the Lincoln Highway just after she left them. Billy is adamant about going to California via the Lincoln Highway and stopping in the towns depicted on the postcards in the hopes that it will somehow reunite them with their mother. Begrudgingly agreeing, Emmett's plans are further dismantled when he finds two friends from the work farm had hidden in the warden's car trunk which dropped Emmett off and now they want Emmett to take them to New York which thrills Billy because the Lincoln Highway starts in New York. Duchess is a fast talker and soon has convinced Emmett it will just be a quick little detour and then they can all head to California in time to make Emmett's deadline of July 4. But little does Emmett realize the chaos that will become his life when he agrees to the plan. 

 This story is told over a 10 day span and from lots of viewpoints. The majority are from the main characters of Emmett, Billy, Wooly and Duchess but then you get several secondary character viewpoints thrown in as well throughout the book. Little of the story actually has to do with the Lincoln Highway. The Greek myth about Ulysses factors into the story as well and there is lots of conversations and telling about that legend throughout as well as other heroes that Billy refers to from his book that he reads and there is Christian/religious thoughts thrown in throughout as well. I liked this story in some parts but didn't love it as a whole. It's hard to describe why. I liked the idea of the story and the gist of it. But certain parts I really didn't like at all including the ending. I loved certain characters, was indifferent to others, wondered why some were even in there, and totally disliked others. I thought parts of the telling were way too wordy with too many bunny trails and it could have been shortened up a bit though other reviews loved the telling of it. I couldn't help but sigh when there was two pages spent on describing in detail a clown's act when he was a minute mention in one chapter. I felt the story started to get somewhat muddled with all the antics and chaos that Duchess brought. It kind of got old after awhile for me. The author chose to use no quotation marks in the conversations instead using a dash whenever someone spoke or started dialogue. It took a long time for me to fall into that style and so the first part of the book was choppy for me but once I got used to it it flowed more smoothly. One part where the author really lost me was when he chose a couple of vulgar swear words and paired it with Jesus' name. That soooo offends me and I don't understand why an author has to stoop to that and bring an offense like that to a section of his readership. I pressed on in the hope it wasn't used again or I would put the book down and fortunately it wasn't. The rating I would have given dropped because of this. I loved Gentleman in Moscow and had high hopes for this one but it was just alright for me. 






2.  While My Sister Sleeps by Barbara Delinsky

Completed:  January 13, 2022

Rating:  8.5/10

Review:  Molly Snow is the younger sister of Robin Snow. Though they are close as sisters they couldn't be more opposite and do have their issues just as any sisters do. Robin is a career long distance runner with her sights on the next Olympics while Molly is a horticulturalist who loves to work with the plants at her Mother's green house business. Though they have a deep bond, Molly occasionally fights a bit of resentment with all the support and encouragement and time that Robin gets from their Mom. Because of Robin's Olympic dreams Molly is expected to be there for her sister at every turn even to the detriment of her own plans and dreams. But she does it because in the end she loves her sister. When Robin suffers a heart attack on one of her training runs, Molly is overcome with guilt as she wasn't there when it happened choosing instead to finish something at home. Now with Robin's doctors not holding out for a good prognosis and her Mother refusing to accept that, deep seated tensions surface and the complex relationships within the family are tested as Molly is forced to make decisions she doesn't want to make nor should she have to make. When a hidden journal is found in Robin's closet it brings to light some family secrets that force the members of the Snow family to face what they truly believe, feel and think. 

 This story was a great family drama played out against the backdrop of a tragedy that occurs. The author takes the reader on an emotional journey of facing our deepest feelings and secrets even while having to let a loved one go. So many things come to the surface that no one talked about but they are now forced to face because of the health crisis of Robin. The characters were well written and ran the gamut of strengths and weaknesses but I have to say the character of the Mother really grated on me at times as she was so overbearing and brutish. As things were revealed, though, I was able to see how the family history worked into each of their characters and why the family dynamics were the way they were. In the first half of the book the story stalled a bit for me as the Mother dug in her heels no matter who said what to her and the way she treated Molly was getting my back up. She was so unlikeable. Then secrets came to the surface and the story really picked up and I found my attention grabbed once more and it became hard to put down. It turned out to be thought provoking and emotional by the time I turned the last page.


3.  Echoes Among the Stones by Jaime Jo Wright

Completed:  January 26, 2022

Rating:  9.5/10

Review:  In 1946, Imogene Grayson comes across her sister's murdered body in her bedroom of their family's farmhouse. In her heartbreaking grief, Imogene swears to her sister she will not stop until she finds the murderer. Imogene becomes obsessed with trying to find clues to piece together her sister's last moments, much to the dismay and frustration of her police chief brother. But all her searching does is churn up more mysteries. But letting go is so hard. And she promised her sister she'd never give up. In present day, Aggie finds herself lost after the passing away of her beloved Mom and the loss of her job. So when her Grandmother (Mumsie), whom she has not had contact with for eight years, contacts her out of blue asking her for help as she recovers from a broken hip, Aggie heads back to the town of Mill Creek, Wisconsin, the place & person she had determined to avoid. Her eccentric grandmother had always had quirks and a sharp tongue but Aggie was not prepared for how much worse it had gotten. When she arrives and finds the broken hip was not the real reason Mumsie wanted her in Mill Creek, Aggie is not impressed, but having just taken a job as Cemetery Secretary to help restore a historical flooded out section of the town cemetery, Aggie decides she will stay. But the cemetery and her grandmother are both holding onto secrets that slowly are coming to the surface revealing a decades old murder. 

 Another great dual timeline book by this author. Both timeline stories were great on their own but this author really knows how to weave the two together so well. She builds both storylines until they come together usually with me not guessing the mystery until it's revealed. I loved the historical timeline take on a war munitions factory and how it affected the town. I've never read that in a story before. The reveal was a bit sudden but didn't take away at all from the way the story built. I highly recommend this author if you like dual timeline mysteries sprinkled with a touch of a love story that is not in your face with a faith element that is never preachy but woven into the story naturally.




4.  Dangerous Depths by Colleen Coble

Completed:  February 8, 2022

Rating:  6.5/10

Review:  Leia is living a quiet life on a small Hawaiian island practicing naturopathic medicine after leaving her medical career studies. She also left her fiance at the same time. He's never understood why she broke up with him and now is work finds him on the same island and seeing Leia. Bane is determined to find out why Leia left him and to try to win her back. But Leia is as close lipped as ever about her reasons. Banes work being a diver in a treasure hunt off the coast of the island keeps him busy but when their good friend gets murdered in an act of sabotage it pulls Bane and Leia into having to work together. As they dive looking for the wreckage that holds the treasures, an underground volcano starts to wreak havoc in their work area. As dangerous as the waters that they dive is the things they start to find out are even more so to their lives.

 This book is number three in the Aloha Reef series, an older series by this author. It was an ok read for me. I usually really like this author and I was intrigued by the beautiful setting of Hawaii. But this one in the series I had trouble getting into. I think the use of lots of Hawaiian words, it seemed more so in this one than the first two, really threw me and I found myself skimming a lot. I don't enjoy when I have to turn to the back of a book on a continual basis to find out meanings and soundings of words, it breaks the flow for me. I couldn't seem to connect with the characters at all. I found Leia's insistence on keeping the reasons for her leaving Bane to be tiresome by the end. Just tell the guy already and be done with it. But the suspense was good and I did find the cave diving and under ocean volcano aspect of it very interesting as I did the Hawaiian heritage treasures. I really liked that the dolphin who was trained to understand words from the first two books made a reappearance in this one also. All in all I liked it ok but didn't love this one.




5.  Scarred: The True Story of How I Escaped NXIVM The Cult That Bound My Life by Sarah Edmondson

Completed:  February 10, 2022

Rating:  9/10

Review:  Sarah Edmondson is a Canadian actress who became involved with NXIVM, a personal and professional development company. She was just starting out in her career as an actress and wanted purpose in her life. When she was invited to a 3 day course in NXIVM, one where she would learn the tools to gain her potential, Sarah was at first skeptical of some of the stuff they were teaching. But by the end of the 3 days she was hooked. This was the start of her 12 year involvement with the company. Sarah went on to become one of NXIVM's best recruiters, enrolling more than 2000 people, and starting a branch in her city of Vancouver, Canada. But Sarah didn't realize the dark under workings of the company until she was invited to join a secret sisterhood circle of women called DOS, one that would train them to become their very best as a group of women dedicated to each other and to change world. As she tried to justify the red flags with what she had been trained to do for 12 years, her eyes were opened when she was talked into being "tatooed" by her best friend, which turned out to be a painful branding with no anesthetic, and in a moment of realization weeks later she saw she had been branded with not a symbol celebrating nature as she had been told, but by the initials of the company founder, Keith Raniere. He had been using an inner circle of women to recruit other women into a secret master/slave sisterhood while he made it seem this special group had nothing to do with him. That was the start of her journey escaping and blowing the whistle on a company that was quickly gaining traction world wide and which eventually saw the founder, Keith Raniere, going to prison for 120 years for sex trafficking. 

 This book was so good I read it in two days. I first heard of NXIVM when the news hit of Alison Mack, an actress in the series Smallville, being charged and tried for her part in a sex cult. It stunned me as she seemed so sweet and it sent me down a rabbit hole of looking up what this thing was. Though in places this book can be a little dry as Sarah describes a lot of NXIVM's teachings it is important to the story to understand how all these intelligent, smart, professional people were being sucked into the crazy. Sarah starts the story with the actual event of the branding and then goes back to her start with the company. Her and her husband, who was also a member, have now dedicated their lives to teaching people the signs to look out for and helping those coming out of cults. Very eye opening and interesting story.






6.  Once Upon a Wardrobe by Patti Callahan (audiobook)

Completed:  February 13, 2022

Rating:  9.5/10

Review:  Meg Devonshire is a young woman attending Oxford University studying Mathematics and Physics. Logic and truth and order are how her mind thinks. When her beloved 8 year old brother, who is very ill and bedridden, starts reading C.S. Lewis novel "The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe" he becomes enthralled with the story and very curious as to where Narnia comes from. She declares it's just a children's story, and certainly not true. But as George keeps urging her to find out for him it sets Meg out on a quest to meet and ask the author who happens to be a professor at the University. But instead of direct answers, C.S. Lewis and his brother take Meg on a journey of stories from their own childhoods that gave him the inspiration for his story and lets her come to her own conclusions. After each session, Meg brings home the stories to her ailing brother opening up the stories in his imagination even more. Though at times frustrated at the indirect answers to her question Meg continues to meet with the professor in order to give this gift to her brother as his health continues to fail. But Meg never imagines that it will also turn out that she receives a gift also from the time spent listening to the brother's stories, a gift of hope that just a short time ago her logical mind would not have imagined. 

 I listened to this book on audio and it was a lovely story to listen to. The narrator did a wonderful job. While I have to say I have never read the Narnia series, I did watch the movies and always wondered where the characters came from in the mind of Lewis as some of them seemed steeped in folklore and mythology rather than anything Christian. In this fictional imagining, the story explains a lot of that and was very interesting as the author wove it in. It's a heartwarming story within a story and the power of imagination, about family and love and loss. I enjoyed every minute of listening to it.



7.  Embrace Me by Lisa Samson

Completed:  February 18, 2022

Rating:  8/10

Review:  

Book Description from the back of the book: "When a "lizard woman", a self-mutilating preacher, a tattooed monk and a sleazy lobbyist find themselves in the same North Carolina town one winter, their lives are edging precariously close to disaster...and improbably close to grace." 

 From this description on the back of the book it seems to me that the publisher had as hard a time writing a short description of the story without giving spoilers as I did. Nothing about that description is something that would make me pick up this book. But I had bought it years ago for my daughter thinking she would like the "circus" aspect of the story (which is what I assumed from the cover picture). Turns out it was not about a circus but about a travelling "freak" show who is now wintering and taking their break in a small town. Lisa has written some very deep characters with hard issues to face. The book is all at once sad and hopeful. It basically is a story about power and pride gone wrong and the devastation it brings to others, the struggle of wrestling with what life has dealt you, the results of wrong choices, making things right and love and forgiveness. This is not a typical Christian fiction book. The characters are flawed and hurt and trying to deal with it in different ways. Their feelings and reactions are quite real and there are some trigger warnings to this book. They are definitely not cliche characters. 

 I found the book hard to get into at first and must say it didn't really grab me at the get go. But the author did a great job in developing her characters as the story unfolded and peeling back the layers of how they ended up with this travelling side show. Sometimes I found the conversations a bit confusing, not knowing exactly who was speaking and the fast forwards and flashbacks sometimes had me rereading spots but the story and the characters tugged at my heart and made me think and ultimately that is what I want from a good story. This one might warrant a reread because I'm sure I will get more out of it the second time.





8.  As the Light Fades by Catherine West

Completed:  March 8, 2022

Rating:  9.5/10

Review:  

Liz Carlisle heads back to her family home in Nantucket after escaping an abusive relationship in New York. Trying to sort through to how her life ended up back there, Liz has to face the fact that not only is her relationship gone but so is her high powered job as attorney because she worked for the company where her ex was the owner. Now she has decisions to make, but the family home is in the midst of the chaos of renovations turning into a bed and breakfast. Craving peace and quiet Liz rents a little home on the property of Matthew Stone and takes a job at the local art gallery. But chaos follows her in the form of Mia, Matthew's niece who lives with him, and now also works at the gallery to put in community service time. Liz is not great with teenagers but can understand Mia a bit and a wary friendship forms but Matthew has his own family drama he is trying to deal with. When Liz's ex shows up in town looking for her, Liz knows her escape is over and the secrets she'd hoped would stay buried are threatening to surface. Telling the truth would set her free but is she willing to pay the price? 

 I really enjoy Catherine West's contemporary women's fiction and her writing style. Her character's are real and flawed making them relatable, her stories realistic. This story was no exception and I was drawn into all involved. There is lots of family drama, sometimes gritty, but done in a way that is real and offers glimpses into what those who face those situations might encounter and go through and still the story manages to offer hope. There might be some trigger warnings as the story deals with drugs, abuse of power and relationship, physical abuse, as well as aging and loss of memory, misunderstanding and finding hope and healing. The situations were realistic, the reactions sometimes raw and really tugged at my heart at times. My heart really went out to Mia as she struggled with the life she had been dealt and with Drake who was forced to move to a supportive living home and was struggling with memory loss and coping day to day (really made me understand my mom a bit better). The quote that really stuck out to me was: 

 "Sometimes we're placed the the strangest of circumstances for the most important reasons"

 pg. 70 

 and then I saw it was also a quote used on the back of the book by the publisher for the attention grabbing line. 

 The author moved away from using a publishing company and this book was self published and the only criticism I have is that there were a few editing errors. Otherwise another wonderful contemporary story I really enjoyed.




9. Indian in the Cabinet:  Speaking Truth to Power by Jody Wilson-Raybould

Completed:  March 21, 2022

Rating:  9/10

Review:

This is the memoir of Jody Wilson-Raybould's journey from humble beginnings in her home community of We Wai Kai in British Columbia to becoming Canada's first Indigenous Justice Minister and Attorney General in Justin Trudeau's newly elected government. The author was raised by strong parents and grandparents to value Indigenous ways of governing and to take on leadership roles that would help her community and people. After being sought after and recruited by Justin Trudeau, the leader of the Liberal Party, to run in the next election, the author agreed with the hopes she could further reconciliation efforts by being involved in mainstream politics. She came in with high hopes due to the election promises of a different government doing things differently. What she found was a government and Prime Minister who behind his smile and hugs held a main objective of doing whatever he had to to stay in power no matter who got in the way or what promises were delayed or broken, what laws were stretched or ignored and the demand to toe the party line (partisanship) even if it meant going against personal convictions and values. When she stuck to her personal and professional integrity and wouldn't yield to pressure from the Prime Minister's office and when she chose to speak truth to power it resulted in her resignation from her ministry positions and Trudeau ultimately kicking her out of his caucus to no longer be a Liberal Member of Parliment but an Independent back bencher. 

 While I am not really into political memoirs, I really wanted to read Wilson-Raybould's story. It made huge headlines and I wanted to read her side of the story in detail. Our current Prime Minister has gone from scandal to scandal and somehow is still standing and I wanted to read how this strong woman found it within herself to endure the humiliation and stress that he and his Prime Minister's office put her through. It was an interesting read. While I don't agree with all her politics and some of the laws that were put in place during her time as Minister of Justice and Attorney General, her strength of character and sticking to her values and the very definition of her portfolios and job under immense pressure is admirable and deserves credit and the telling of her story. How this Prime Minister got re-elected after all this (and has continued on his same path) is beyond me. While at times the story dragged a bit, it is political after all and was a bit repetitious in spots, I found her childhood and the way her family raised her with such strong ethics and values of leadership interesting as was the juxtaposition of the way of Indigenous politics versus federal Canadian politics. I learned a lot about why we are in the place we are in Canada and what and whys of recent confrontations between Indigenous Peoples and Canadian government. It's an eye opening book as to how politics in Canada are really done compared to the ideals of how it should be done that we were taught in school.




10. Another Gospel? by Alisa Childers (audiobook)

Completed:  March 27, 2022

Rating:  9.5/10

Review:  Alisa Childers first became known as a member of the Christian music group ZOEgirl. She grew up in the Christian faith and her father is Chuck Girard, another popular Christian music artist. She watched her Dad and Mom walk out their faith all of her life. When Alisa was a young adult she attended a class that her pastor was running at the church. When she got there her pastor described himself as a "hopeful agnostic" and proceeded to pick apart the foundational beliefs that Christians have held for years presenting a "Progressive Christianity" world view to his class. Alisa's faith was thrown into a tailspin but as she seriously cried out to God for truth, God led her back to the bible and historical Christianity and learning how to stand for biblical faith in a world that is trying to discount historical faith and cause believers to deconstruct their faith into a free for all way of thinking until there is nothing biblical left about it. 

 This is one of the best books I've "read" about defending historical Christianity. Alisa has a wonderful way of interweaving her story, revealing lies and mistruths and proving biblical foundational truths without the book being heavy or un-understandable. I first heard of her when I starting watching her podcasts on Youtube when I started my own search after hearing of so many young Christians "deconstructing" their faith. Alisa helps us define clearly what foundational truths Christians need to believe and why and where we can differ and have grace with one another. Highly, highly recommend this book. While I loved listening to this in Alisa's own voice I will be purchasing a physical copy of this book so that I can underline and annotate.




11.  The Life List by Lori Nelson

Completed:  April 3, 2022

Rating:  7.5/10

Review:  Brett is a woman in her mid 30's who's life seems to be right on track. A prestigious job making good money in her Mother's cosmetics company, great clothes, a wonderful apartment she shares with her handsome and up and coming lawyer boyfriend. She and her beloved Mom have a very close relationship, so when her Mom passes away Brett is overcome with grief. But when her Mom's will reveals Brett with not inherit the CEO position in the company and that instead to receive any inheritance at all she must complete a list of tasks within one year, Brett is left stunned. Even more distressing is that the list of tasks comes from a life list she wrote out when she was 14 years old. How can a list from when she was a young teen have any kind of significance to her 34 year old self. And some of the things on the list seem impossible and downright silly. But at the urging of her boyfriend who does not want her lose the inheritance she reluctantly embarks on the mission to complete the tasks all under the watchful eye of a new lawyer her mother hired. As she completes each task there is a "fulfillment envelope" from her Mother the lawyer gives her. What was her Mother thinking in making her do these ridiculous adolescent dreams at this point in her life? 

 I started this book with great anticipation thinking it would be a really interesting premise. And it was. But as the story went on it started to really require me as the reader to suspend common sense and belief that this could actually happen and be pulled off. I loved the close relationship depicted between Mom and daughter but the fact that in the letters the Mom seemed to actually be able to predict how her daughter would react to each task and how she would accomplish it seemed very far fetched no matter how well you knew your adult child. I did like though that as a gift to her daughter through the accomplishing of childhood dreams, the Mother recognized and was trying to get her daughter to see how she had settled for a lot of things in her life. The story has a lot of heartwarming and touching parts that were lovely to read and will cause the reader to think of what their life list is and whether it is being met in their own lives. But the reality of a Mother reaching out from the grave demanding that her daughter "fall in love" and "have a baby or two" before the year is out to receive any kind of inheritance from her just seemed so unrealistic when all is said and done.  I liked it enough and it had enough merit to it, however, to rate an 8/10 from me.





12. Radical by David Platt

Completed:  April 12, 2022

Rating:  9/10









13.  The Lighthouse Keeper's Daughter by Hazel Gaynor

Completed:  April 18, 2022

Rating:  10/10

Review:  

In 1838, 22 year old Grace Darling is the daughter of the lighthouse keeper on the shores of Northumberland, England. The lighthouse she helps her father attend to is Longstone Lighthouse on the Farne Islands. While her siblings have left the island, Grace loves the lighthouse life and helping her aging father. During a horrible storm when Grace is on shift attending the lights, a shipwreck happens. Finding courage beyond her years she convinces her father to go out with her in the unprecedented storm to find survivors. This decision changes Grace's life forever. As word spreads of what she did, her fame starts to take over the solitary, quiet life her and her parents knew at the lighthouse. One hundred years later, In 1938, Matilda Emmerson is the daughter of a politician seeking re-election. But when Matilda becomes pregnant by a soldier whom she doesn't even know, her domineering Mother sends her to live with a relative in America. What they tell friends is that she is vacationing but the plan is to have the baby and give it up for adoption in America and return to her family's good graces in England after that and pick up her life where she left off, none the wiser. The relative she is staying with is Harriet, an unfriendly lighthouse keepers assistant who has secrets of her own. But when Matilda finds a half finished portrait of a young woman it sends her in a search for her family history. 

 I loved this story. It is based on a true historical character, Grace Darling, who's act of courage and strength made her a celebrity in England. I found the life of lighthouse keepers both in England and in America depicted in a way that kept my attention. You'd think it would be boring reading about their quiet lives but the author was able to make me keep turning the pages. The storms were well written and I could really picture the rage of the weather in my mind as I read. Courage, loss and duty are themes explored in the book. I like the growth of the character Matilida, who started out as a bit of a spoiled, selfish girl and developed into a strong young woman with character. The story also made me go down a bunny trail on the internet for information about the real Grace Darling. I loved how the author brought the two timelines and stories together in the end.





14.  The Maid by Nita Prose

Completed:  April 29, 2022

Rating:  7.5/10

Review:  Twenty-five year old Molly Gray struggles with social cues. She does well with routine, repetition and rules. She takes things pretty much at face value and misunderstands hidden, vague or complex meanings others might direct her way. Without her beloved grandmother to help her navigate through the social hurdles, Molly sometimes finds herself at a loss. Others that also work at the fancy hotel where she is a maid, often smirk and laugh at her behind her back. However, she is not the idiot some of her co-workers at the hotel take her for. She is actually quite smart. But she hides herself in her work, taking pride in following all the rules her employer lays out and doing her job to the best of her ability. When attending to the suites of one of the regular wealthy patrons to finish up her work , Molly finds not the clean orderly suite she left a few hours ago. It is in total disarray and the body of Mr. Black is dead in his bed. Molly soon finds herself in the cross hairs of the detective in charge. But soon friends she didn't know she had come to her aid to help her prove her innocence, but can she trust any of them to help her find the real killer? 

 This was a fun and quirky read that kept me turning the pages and kept me pretty much engaged through the story. Molly is quite the character and I found her charming in her language, using words and phrases continually through the story to "talk" to herself in the old fashioned way that her beloved deceased grandmother would have talked to her. After her grandmother passed away Molly really found herself struggling to make sense of things and loneliness was her companion as she now lived alone in the tiny apartment she had shared with her. While Molly's personality and issues really sucked in my emotions and made me really feel for her some parts of the story were a bit on the unbelievable side to me. Molly misses and misreads the simplest of social cues and situations yet can think through and discern other's motivations. The two somehow didn't jive together for me. The story was enjoyable right up to the very end where the plot twist didn't make sense to me considering the personality of Molly that had been established.  For the most part it was an enjoyable and fun read. 






15.  The Astronaut's Wife: how launching my husband into outerspace changed the way I live on earth by Stacey Morgan

Completed:  May 9, 2022

Rating:  10/10









16.  The Master Craftsman by Kelli Stuart

Completed:  May 22, 2022

Rating:  10/10

Review:  It is 1917 and in St. Petersburg, Russia the tensions are running high. The revolution is about to begin. Master jeweler to the Romanovs, Karl Faberge, is getting ready to flee. His associations with the house of Romanov has put him and his family in peril as anger at the Tsar continues to fuel the people. Placing his trust in one of his craftsman, Alma Pihl, Karl gives her a treasured Faberge egg to hide, one that no one has ever seen, one that could bring doom upon them all. He created it in secret in an effort to bring out in his artistry his torn allegiance and heart to both Romanov family and in what the people of Russia were going through under the leadership of this Tsar. Knowing the danger it would bring, Alma hides the treasure even from her husband as they continue to try and escape Russia to her family home in Finland. In present day, Ava a history major who has had to settle to working in a coffee shop, enjoys a close relationship with her Mom. But her relationship with her father is non-existent. So when her aunt contacts her mom to let them know her father is dying it puts Ava into turmoil. Does she, at this point, want to go see the Dad who left them when she was little? But the need to know why he left them is stronger than the anger and her and her mom head off to go see the man she knows nothing about. Nick Laine has spent his whole life hunting treasure. It has been the driving force behind all his decisions including the one to leave his family. But now as he lays dying, he entrusts the details of his latest hunt to the daughter he has not known in the hopes she will pick up the hunt. Ava in an attempt to reconcile with and get to know her Dad before he passes away agrees to take on the crazy assignment of going to Russia and finding clues to missing Faberge egg. But little does she know the peril she is about to embark upon that will make her question if it is worth her life to get to know her Dad. 

 I loved this story. Anything to do with the Romanov time period is a buzzword for me in stories, so I jumped on this one, especially since I have never read a story that had to do with Faberge. I must admit every time a certain egg was mentioned it sent me on a fun bunny trail looking it up to see what it actually looked like and also the history of Faberge and Alma Pihl. The story was really well written, well researched and the intrigue captured me right from the start. There were a few little things that were minor annoyances: a few too many mentions of how good looking a certain character was accompanied with the mandatory "shiver down the spine". And I don't know if the disguises employed on the hunt were necessary or believable but hey, what do I know about treasure hunting? It was easy to look past that in the fun, intrigue and danger of the present day hunt told alongside the historical story of this missing egg. Is this egg an actual thing? I don't know but it made for a great page turning read.






17.  Into the Free by Julie Cantrell

Completed:  June 4, 2022

Rating:  7.5/10

Review:  Nine year old Millie Reynolds has a hard life. She lives with her Mom and Jack in Mississippi and the depression has hit the area hard. Jack is her Dad but she refuses to acknowledge him as such because he hasn't deserved that title. Jack is a cowboy with the rodeo and is gone a lot and Millie's Mom tends towards long periods of deep depression leaving Millie to care for the both of them at her young age. When Jack is home Millie and her mom live in fear of his drunken rages. But still her Mom stays. There is nothing Millie wants more than to escape. So when she meets one of the young boys that travels with the gypsy caravan that comes through the area every spring, Millie is drawn to the traveler's seemingly care free lifestyle and longs to go with them. As she turns into a young teen Millie looks forward to the spring when the gypsy's return. With promises from River the young gypsy boy to come back to get her, Millie has some hope to hang onto. But when the old woman from the caravan who has befriended her, gives her a key that she says will unlock some of Millie's family secrets, Millie will find a confrontation with her mother looming. Before she can convince her Mother to share all the secrets and right before River is due to arrive back and take her away, tragedy strikes and Millie finds herself homeless. Befriended by a nurse in the hospital, she is taken home to live with them in a lavish home. Yet Millie cannot let go of the hope of River coming back for her. 

 Depression era, dust bowl, 1930's stories usually are a draw for me so that is why I picked up this Christian fiction. This story has received lots of top reviews, but honestly, though it was well written, I didn't enjoy it so much, mainly due to the significant heavy content. In all fairness I read it at a time when I probably should be reading something light and fluffy due to stressors in my own life right now. I feel I must give trigger warnings as the story is based on so much of the following: domestic abuse, addiction, rape, depression, child neglect and religious legalism . Some parts were very difficult to read because of the nature of the violent or disturbing act. It is labelled as Christian fiction so it did uphold to not crossing certain lines of description but were vivid enough to let the reader know the trauma. It's a coming of age story set in very hard times and circumstances for young Millie and follows her into her late teens. I, personally, found there wasn't a lot of open spaces to breathe from all the sadness. I liked the character of Millie and my heart went out to her young character. Her devotion to her mother was beautiful but some of the decisions she made as events unfolded seemed out of character to how she had been portrayed up until the point of decision. There were glimmers of hope woven into the story that were refreshing and there is a trail of faith blended in though not in an obvious in your face way. I really was rooting for Millie and even though I wanted it to end good for her I found the ending wrapped up too easily, so much so it was almost jarring for me. For all the trauma there was just too big of a quick leap to a nice ending for me with no solid path to all of a sudden be at that point. It was a hopeful ending however and there is a second book so maybe there will be more explanation in that one.




18.  Out of the Dark: My Journey Through the Shadows to Find God's Joy by Mandisa Lynn Hundley

Completed:  June 13, 2022

Rating:  9.5/10









19.  you're not enough (and that's ok) by Allie Beth Stuckey

Completed:  June 13, 2022

Rating:  7.5/10










20.  The Book of Lost Names by Kristin Harmel

Completed:  June 24, 2022

Rating:  10/10






Tuesday, January 4, 2022

2022 Reading Challenge

 A fresh new year, fresh new books and fresh new challenges.  Or are they?  My challenges last year I would say for the most part were fun and I really enjoyed doing them. How did I do?  Well I didn't meet my Goodreads goal of 50.  I have had that goal forever and am always shy of it so this year I am adjusting it 45 and see if that helps me push to get there.  I have done that many before but not in recent years.  I would say the Read Your Shelf challenge with it's different prompts was a rounding success for me last year.  I loved that I could still do a prompt based challenge while still having choices within that challenge.  I completed books every single month and got them read and out of my closet and enjoyed every minute of that.  In fact I read 18 books that fit into that challenge.  Some crossed over with my read a book each month out of my 2019 - 2021 purchases so that helped out too.    I'll be doing that one again this year.  If you're interested here is a link to that:  Read Your BookShelf Challenge 2022.    I got some great reads knocked off my library want to read shelves too.  


So this year my challenges will not be fresh and new per se as I am going to do those very same ones.  My biggest goal is to get the books I already own read without bringing in too many more.  I loved the Read Your Shelf challenge because rather than being a quarterly challenge with a long list of specific books it let me pick a pile of books each month and still gave me mood reading posssibilities and it was only a month before I could change things up.  Sometimes with the quarterly challenge, I was finding myself not wanting my choices anymore and wanting to read something else by the time that 3rd month rolled around.  I'll also continue both the Read One a Month from my Current Purchases (2020-2022) and Read One a Month From the Library Shelf.  I'm also adding at least 3 non-fictions (I'm so bad at finishing non-fiction yet own so many) and at least 3 Audiobooks.  So there you have it.  2022 Reading is looking good!

READ YOUR BOOKSHELF CHALLENGE 2022 PROMPTS

January - A book with any kind of "quiet" word in the title

February - A book with "love" in the title

March - a book that has something to do with growth

April - A book that has your initial in the title

May - A New to You Author

June - A book with a book on the cover

July - A book you've been avoiding but actually want to read

August - A book that has a body part in the title

September - Read a collection

October - A book with the word "secret" in the title

November - a book that makes you feel cozy or nostalgic

December - a book that has a mostly white cover