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


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


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


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


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

Review:  Stacey and her husband both had medical military careers but when he applied to be an astronaut they really didn't think he'd be considered. Then when they got the shocking word that he had made the cut, their family embarked on a journey they couldn't imagine. It wasn't always easy; all the training, the stress and excitement of watching your husband blast off on a rocket and being left alone to raise your three kids for nine months was a lot. It was not only her husband that faced unique challenges, fears and opportunities. This is Stacey's story of hanging on at home while her husband orbited the earth in the Space Station, of embracing the adventures life brings you and of choosing hope and trusting God in the face of lonliness and uncertainty. I listened to this on audiobook and oh my, I loved this book. Stacey is a great story teller as she lets the listener (reader) in on what it is like to live the astronaut family life. She narrates it herself and the way she tells her stories had me captivated. The space program and those daring enough to be astronauts has always interested me as has the stories of the loved ones left behind. You learn lots about the workings of the space program, though it's never boring or heavy and through her vulnerability you also learn what it's like for the one's left on earth as their spouse gets blasted off into space for extended periods. The ups and downs, the highs and lows. Through it all the author encourages us to make the most of what God brings you in life and with faith and trust in Him embrace the adventure in all it's fullness. I will listen to this again.

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

Review:  I first saw Mandisa when she was a contestant on the fifth season of American Idol. After several televised insults about her weight said behind her back by Simon Cowell, Mandisa came back to forgive Simon saying " I figure that if Jesus could die so that all of my wrongs could be forgiven, I can certainly extend that same grace to you." She then went on to sing her heart out and in a shocking elimination came in 9th place. After American Idol Mandisa went on to launch her career as a Gospel and contemporary Christian recording artist garnering several Grammy and Dove nominations and awards. She went on to write a book about her American Idol experience called "Idol Eyes: My New Perspective on Faith, Fat and Fame" (reviewed by me here). But in spite of great success Mandisa still struggled and experienced pain and darkness in her journey and in spite of working hard to be healthy found herself again struggling with food addiction. Out of the Dark continues her story to finding the joy only God can give. 

 I really enjoyed this audiobook. It is not read by Mandisa, and though the narrator is very good, I wished it would have been in her own voice. Mandisa's story is one everyone can relate to on some level as all of us experience in some form or fashion pain throughout this life's journey and places in life where we fall. As she shared her stories of grief and loss, coping with depression and eating disorder, the shame of failure, and how faith in Jesus brought her hope and healing I was drawn right in. Her honesty made her story so relatable at it's core, I found myself crying several times. It would be an encouragement to anyone struggling with depression, ongoing struggles, grief or loss, a crisis in their faith, or anyone just needing some encouragement in their Christian journey.

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

Completed: June 13, 2022

Rating:  7.5/10

Review:  Popular Christian podcaster and public speaker, Allie Beth Stuckey, takes a look at the prevalent mindset of today's culture in which almost every self-help guru, mommy blogger and public speaker/motivator preaches a message of self-love and if we would just love ourselves enough everything would work out and be a-ok in our lives. She challenges the concepts that have even cropped up in today's politics and churches, that tell us if we loved ourselves enough that we would be successful, complete and secure pointing out that in putting so much focus and emphasis on ourselves is in fact causing us to hit dead ends and to struggle with inadequacy and insecurity as we can never reach that ultimate goal. She argues that we are not enough, and that that is ok and that constantly trying to become enough has led us to become a culture of self-obsessed people. This book points to God being the One who is enough and that in releasing the constant chasing of perfection to Him we can embrace the not being enough and rest in His purpose and calling.

 I did this book in a study with a friend. It is a short, easy read and led to some really good discussion. It is definitely a book that goes counter to popular culture. The book is broken into 5 myths of today's culture: You are Enough, You Determine Your Truth, You're Perfect the Way You Are, You're Entitled to Your Dreams, and You Can't Love Others Until You Love Yourself. Each chapter takes a look at these myths, how they affect us today and how they stack up to the Word (the bible). She argues her case in each chapter by relating her own story and mixing in stories of others along with some scripture references. I enjoyed parts of this book and a few parts not so much. While it does make it hard to review this book, it did lead to really good discussion with my friend which was a good thing. It had a lot of story telling and I found while some of it was relevant to her point, some of it just became rambling. I even skimmed some of the stories. The author was honest on how she came to her conclusions that a lot of what is presented as a solution to woman today actually compounds stress for women and takes on some tough issues with a black and white boldness. I did find that a few times the black and white courage came from her political viewpoints and crossed over into sounding very unsympathetic or harsh towards certain issues.    In attempting to answer the question "Is your quest to love yourself more actually making you miserable?" I think that she at times veered into commentaries that in the end were her strong opinions and not necessarily bible study material. It seems to be a book either one hates or loves according to ratings on amazon. Those that complained it's too religious and constantly points to God apparently didn't read the publisher's description because it does not hide in the least what it is about and that is pointing to leaning on God to make us enough.

20.  The Book of Lost Names by Kristin Harmel

Completed:  June 24, 2022

Rating:  10/10

Review:  Working at a library in Florida, Eva Traube Abrams comes across a photo of an old French religious book in a newspaper article saying that a man in Germany is looking for the owner of the book. It is a book that was rescued from the Germans in WWII and he is working to reunite those kinds of books with their original owners from before the war. Eva is stunned as she has not seen that book in over 50 years. It is a French religious book but it means so much more than that. In 1942, Eva was a young French Jewish girl when the war came to France. When her home was raided and her father taken away, Eva and her mother fled to a town up in the mountains in the Free Zone hoping to make it to Switzerland as her father desired. Eva was very talented at art and she used those talents to forge her and her mother's passports. When they finally made it to the town, the local priest came upon her and learned of her talents and talked her into using those talents to forge false identities and documents for the Jewish children they were helping to escape into Switzerland. Eva reluctantly agreed to do it for a short time until she could get her and her mother out. But her mother was angry with her and wanted to stay in France thinking her husband would come looking for them. As Eva worked on the forged documents, she and Remy, a Resistance fighter also forging documents, came up with a plan to help remember the children's Jewish names so that they would not lose their real identities. They took an old religious tome in the library of the church and used a code to keep record of each and every child so there would be record of their true identities. As her temporary time helping drags on into a more permanent situation Eva works hard to save as many children as she can. But then her Germans find out about what is happening in the small parish and they are betrayed. As she runs for her life, Eva leaves a coded message in the book in the hopes that Remy is still alive and will one day come across it. And now she sees the book in the newspaper and knows what she must do. Eva books a flight to Germany, a place she never thought she'd ever set foot in. 

 I loved this story. Resistance fighters who forged documents and passports is an aspect of the war I'd never read about. I loved that Eva's character grew and became a strong and courageous young woman throughout the story. The book seemed well researched and really brought out the how bravery was sometimes learned and nurtured in the war and not necessarily something one was just born with. These forgers were really putting their lives on the line for the children and the author created a real page turning story that had a lot of heart and emotion woven through out it as she highlighted how the Jewish people who might have survived the war physically really lost their whole identities, including their names, in trying to stay alive. This book had it all: historical fiction that taught me something I didn't know, a love story, betrayal, tense page turning, redemption. Highly recommend!!

21.  The Words Between Us by Erin Bartels

Completed:  July 9, 2022

Rating:  7.5/10

Review:  Robin Windsor is the owner of a quaint little used bookstore in River City, Michigan. She spends her days quietly working in her store with her one employee. She bought the bookstore in an attempt to escape the noteriety of her parents. Her dad, a former senator, was convicted of murder and treason and her mom was also sent to prison for her part in protecting him.  She has not seen them since they were convicted, some 18 years ago, and has no desire to.  Trying to start over hasn't been easy but she loves her little bookstore. Books had always helped her to escape, but now she finds herself having to make the hard decision about whether to close the store due to lack of business. When a friend concocts an insane idea to enter an art contest to win the prize money to save the store, Robin reluctantly goes along with it. But at the same time the day of her father's execution draws near and a reporter figures out who she really is and her quiet life is yet again turned upside. In the midst of the chaos Robin starts to receives packages in the mail containing one book at a time from her past and she knows exactly who is sending them. But why is her past coming back to haunt her now? 

 This story is a duel timeline going back and forth between Robin's present day and her past when she was a young girl. The author wove it really well giving just enough out of each era to move the story along and reveal how Robin got to the place she where she is experiencing her present day perfect storm . The books being sent to her were a main part of both timelines and tied the two together. Being a reader not drawn to classics or poetry I found I was starting to skim through those parts where the quotes were written. It was a bit of a struggle back and forth on my part because it is such a part of the story that connects Robin to her love of books, her past, and her relationship with Peter who was important to her school years. Because of that the story just didn't grab me as it would have otherwise. Yet it is what made the story unique. And there was one part of the story about her "speech" in her after high school years that I just could not buy into. It was a book I liked but wasn't swept away by.

22. Don't Overthink It by Anne Bogel (audiobook)

Completed:  July 9, 2022

Rating:  8/10

Review:  Hello, my name is Susanne and I am a chronic over-thinker and experience "analysis paralysis" on a regular basis! That is why I got this book. Anne Bogel takes us through what overthinking is and what it isn't, giving us signs of the over thinker to start helping us to see that devoting overly large parts of our mental energy to relatively insignificant things is a drain. How we choose to spend our limited resource of mental energy matters. She then takes us through chapter by chapter into habits that will help us to get off the overthinking train and make those decisions. Each chapter ends with "next steps", questions or short exercises to help you to determine where you are at in that step and how to get to that place of being free from overthinking. 

 I, at first, had a hard time focusing to get into the book so when I saw it offered as an audiobook I went that direction. I really enjoyed listening to it, the narrator was easy to listen to. There are many takeaways and nuggets but I will at some point reread the physical copy as doing those "Next Steps" portions at the end of each chapter was difficult unless I was sitting with pen and paper (which I wasn't because I listen to audiobooks in the car while driving) and all the helps and nuggets beg for a good underlining pen to remember them all. That being said there was also a lot of overthinking stories and some of them were unrelatable but if the reader could remember to take the principle and not the example then that helped.  One of the biggest takeaways for me was when the author talked about determining what is of value to you in life. Once this is determined hold the decisions you have to make up to the light of these values that matter the most to you. Such common sense but such a truth for me to grab ahold of and practice. Don't Overthink It gives you a framework from which you can come to make decisions you are comfortable with freeing you up focus on other things.

Lessons in Chemistry by Bonnie Garmus

DNF at pg 65

23.  The Pact by Jodi Picoult

Completed:  July 26, 2022

Rating:  4/10

Rating:  I finally got the goal of reading a Jodi Picoult book off my reading goal's list. And I'm so late putting up a review because it's been a hard review to write. While some of the story was heartbreakingly good some of it was so unnecessary. I pushed through to the end because the premise was good and I wanted to find out what really happened that tragic night but the execution was not my cup of tea and because I had waited so long to read this author I wanted to give it a fair shot. The story revolves around 2 families, the Golds and the Hartes who are the best of friends. They have been neighbors for 18 years and spend a lot of enjoyable time together. When one family has a son and the other a daughter those two children also grow up the best of friends. But as they grow older there is always an undertone and hope with the parents, their friends and even themselves that it will become something more and as they go into high school it does just that. But it ends tragically one night when Emily, who showed no signs of being unhappy, commits suicide with a gun taken from Chris' father's cabinet. When Chris gets arrested for it, he reveals that the couple had a suicide pact that went wrong. But the detective in charge doubts Chris' story and soon charges him with murder. Denied bail, Chris is sent to prison to await his trial. As disbelief, shock and anger sets in it drives a wedge into strong friendship between the families as the Emily's mother becomes hard and angry with grief and Chris' mother stands by her son's innocence no matter what.

 With all the anticipation I had for finally getting to this author I felt disappointed in the end. The story starts right off the bat with the shocking suicide and then winds its way into the the two family's history together and what led to that point with the teens even as it starts to move forward with the arrest and with Chris in prison preparing for his trial. While the story in and of itself was a great premise and delved into so much concerning teen suicide and the pressures they face and the confusion and great grief surrounding the families left behind that totally held my interest along with the courtroom drama, it took a huge downturn for me because of all the s*x involved throughout the story. The descriptions of intimate acts between the two teens, the parents and even the lawyer were just over the top for me and totally took from the story. Really can an author not give me the idea without the detail? Can the feelings, emotions and thoughts of the teens about the intimacy they were involved in not be told to me with describing the act? Was it really necessary to the story to describe the parent's intimate scenes to me? And the whole character of the womanizing lawyer who brought women home to spend the night with his 13 year old son in the house knowing what was going on and their discussions about it was just too much and had me saying "Really?". I spent so much time being angry at this man's bad parenting. Again, was it really necessary to the story to give me details of the lawyer's time in the bedroom with his women? Can you not just give me the idea that he is a womanizer for character development without going into the bedroom detail? To me if felt like the author felt sex scenes were necessary to sell the book so inserted them periodically. In the end the story was so heavy for me with everything going on with not much to give some breathing space. Now that I have finally read a book by this author and though she is very popular and deals with some major issues of society in her stories, I don't know if she is the author for my reading tastes.

24.  Gentle & Lowly: The Heart of Christ for Sinners and Sufferers by Dane C. Ortlund (audiobook)

Completed:  August 3, 2022

Rating:  9./10

25.  When the Day Comes by Gabrielle Meyer

Completed:  August 7, 2022

Rating:  10/10

Review:  Nineteen year old Libby is a time crosser. She lives two lives simultaneously, one in 1774 Williamsburg, Virginia, as Libby, daughter of a Mom who also was a time crosser. Her other life is in 1914 New York as Elizabeth, daughter of a mother bent on marrying her off to an English marquess so that their social standing can advance. She falls asleep in one life to wake up in the other with no time passing in either while away from it and with full memory of the other life. She must not search for answers for either path or for any reason try to change either path with any foreknowledge she might obtain in either life. Deep inside she is the same person but the two lives could not be more different. On her 21st birthday she will have the choice to forfeit one path and stay in the other forever. 

 In 1774, Libby's father has recently passed away and she and her Mom are trying to keep her father's print shop going. Women in business aren't exactly supported in this time period but they manage to land a contract with the House of Burgesses and the Royal Governor thanks to her friendship with a young member. But when the Patriots ask them to do some printing for them it could just put all they've worked for into jeopardy. Libby has purpose in this path as she supports the suffragette movement and the Patriots. In 1914 as Elizabeth she has a loving relationship with her father but her Mother has one focus and one focus only and that is to marry her to English aristocracy so that her family's social standing might advance. No matter the cost and no matter how Elizabeth feels about it. As her 21st birthday approaches in both time paths there is no question in Libby/Elizabeth's mind which path she wants to choose though it breaks her heart to know some of her relationships will have to be left and there will be heartbreak at her death in that path. There is uncertainty in both paths but when the day comes can she trust that God has a plan for her? 

 I loved this story. It is such a unique approach to dual time lines, time travel, historical fiction. The story was engaging right from the beginning as Libby's two different lives were laid out. Interestingly everything Libby was fighting for and working towards in 1774 was exactly what her mother in 1914 was trying to force upon her. Libby faced different wars in both of her timelines and I was totally invested in both of her story lines. Amazingly the last third of the book was exactly what I needed at this time in my own life. It is a Christian fiction story but I don't feel it was preachy but a major encouragement to trust in the sovereignty of God through uncertainty and grief and with one's purpose and life. Such a good story. Can't wait for book 2 coming next year.

26.  An Appalachian Summer by Ann H. Gabhart

Completed August 20, 2022

Rating:  7.5/10

Review:  It's 1933 and many have lost their fortunes in the stock market crash. Piper Danson's parents, however, managed to make it through and Piper's mother is bent on keeping things just as they were before the crash including having Piper's debut party, albeit a couple of years later than the norm. Piper's father has chosen Braxton Crandall to escort her in the hopes that Braxton would court his daughter. Braxton's family is railroad money and so in her parent's eyes Braxton can give her the kind of life she's used to and even better. But Piper's heart belongs to her childhood friend, Jamie, who's family unfortunately did not weather the crash so well and whom she hasn't heard from in a while. When Mary Breckinridge comes to town and Piper attends the tea held in her honor, she is taken with Mary's stories and pleas for workers for her horseback Frontier Nursing program helping pregnant women and children in the Appalachian mountains. In an effort to stall the courtship and marriage plans her parents have for her, Piper convinces them to let her have one last summer and go and help Mary Breckinridge. Once there Piper finds the work hard but rewarding and she soon loves the people of the mountains and the job she is doing. Then against all odds, who shows up to write a newspaper story about the Frontier Nurses but Jamie himself. As does Braxton. 

 This historical Christian fiction romance features the historical Frontier Nursing program as it's base, something I've never read about before. It was an enjoyable though predictable story. I found it a nice clean summer read that allowed me to just get lost in the story without a lot of thinking. There is elements of hope and faith and a young girl standing up for herself and the life she feels she should be leading as opposed to what her family insists upon for her. And of course, there is the clean romance in it as well. There seems to be a lot of stories out right now about the Appalachian mountain people and different aspects of horseback "helps" given to them, but the Frontier nursing program in this story is unique in that sense. It was interesting looking up Mary Breckinridge and her program. Though a nice easy going story that I liked, I wished for more of the grittiness that I'm sure went along with this nursing program.

27.  Help, I'm Drowning:  Weathering the Storms of Life with Grace and Hope by Sally Clarkson

Completed:  August 25, 2022

Rating:  10/10

Review:  I borrowed this audio book when I saw it come thru my library's hoopla app. The title totally grabbed me, especially the sub title as the last couple of years has totally felt like a huge storm of life and I don't think I've been weathering the last 8 months well. I'm telling you, I feel like God brought this audiobook around right when I needed it. It is so calming, encouraging and uplifting in a time of being overwhelmed and stressed. The author takes us through lessons in trusting God even when we question "Why", when we feel lost and alone, when we feel God is silent and when life gets plain overwhelming. She reminds us to trust in God's character when we don't understand what is going on. I love how it pointed us continuously to God's word and how it can be trusted because He is faithful to it and to trust in God's goodness in spite of how we feel. I believe the author read it herself and her voice was very easy to listen to. Her example and stories from her own life are relatable, down to earth and honest. I think I will purchase this book as I'm a visual learner and get a lot more out of a book when I can make notes and underline and annotate. It is a super timely book for anyone feeling overwhelmed with life.

28.  The Unhoneymooners by Christina Lauren

DNF'd at page 193

Rating: 4/10

Review:  Olive's twin sister Ami has planned her fancy wedding down to the last detail winning almost everything towards it. When everyone who was at the wedding comes down with food poisoning from the seafood buffet except for Olive and her new brother-in-law, Ethan, Ami insists that her look alike twin sister takes the honeymoon trip to Maui she won in a contest so it doesn't go to waste as it must be forfeited if they don't go. Unbeknownst to Olive, Ami's brand new husband has offered the trip to his brother. There is only one problem, Olive and Ethan can't stand each other. But Ami insists Olive go, so the big hoax to fool the hotel starts. But can these two pull off looking like they are madly in love just so they can have a free vacation?

 Unpopular opinion coming. 

 Concept seemed fun for a summer read but it ended up playing out in ways that are not my cup of tea in reading material. I pushed it to page 198 hoping it got better but it didn't. Constant sexual tension and private thoughts about the other character got old as did the trope of wrong assumptions and preconceived ideas about motives. The final straw was the language. Basically no story except the hate to love amidst all the sexual angst. Granted some funny moments and humorous situations but the constant snarking at each other back and forth got old too. When I found myself thinking I had better pick it up just to get done so I could count it towards my total books read this year it was a wake up call to set it aside. I wasn't enjoying the read. Unfortunate because I was really looking forward this one from all the rave reviews.

29.  Monsoon Summer by Julia Gregson

Completed:  September 8, 2022

Rating:  9.5/10

Review:  Kit Smallwood is a nurse who took care of soldiers during World War II. But suffering from the exhaustion of it all and the mental turmoil of a secret she carries from the war, she goes to a family friend's farm in Oxfordshire to rest and recuperate. Her friend is busy setting up a charity which would send midwives to South India to train Indian midwives in more modern methods and she encourages Kit to consider going. Kit's mother has a painful Indian past and when Kit becomes involved with an Indian man training to become a doctor who stays at the farm for a short while her mom is beside herself. Kit and Anto fall deeply in love very quickly and and not really thinking through the cultural differences in their backgrounds the two wed filled with hope for the future but without her mother's blessing. But when they move to India where Anto wants to practice and Kit decides to work for the midwife training school, the pair are met with conflict wherever they turn. Even as she became estranged from her mother because of her marriage, Kit also is met with suspicion and disapproval from Anton's family, especially Anto's mother who is very traditional. To top it off, India has just won independence from Britain and her British presence isn't too welcome in the community especially in the context of teaching their women British ways. Thrown into the midst of having to learn traditional Indian culture and walking delicately within the family and facing a job that is very tense, Kit soon finds trouble plaguing her from every direction. 

 I am always drawn to stories set in India and that is why I picked this book up years ago. It has sat in my stacks until finally this year it made it to the top to meet one of my reading challenge goals. I don't know why I waited so long. While it did start a bit slow it evolved into a story I ended up loving. I thought the author did a great job in growing her characters through the story and in presenting the glaring differences in post war Britain and traditional India. I also thought the tensions that were present in India towards Britain and British citizens as they tried to get on their feet after hard won independence was well told and incorporated into the story. Wrapped in a family saga the author was able to explore the Indian midwife history and how caste plays a part in that, racism, British/Indian tensions, tradition and modern clashes, fitting in, love, betrayal and forgiveness. The up and down relationships that encompasses Kit's life kept me engaged in how real the author wrote them. I thought this a wonderful story that opened my eyes to a lot of things.

30.  The Record Keeper by Charles Martin

Completed:  September 17, 2022

Rating:  9.5/10

Review:  The last installment in the Murphy Shepard series finds Murphy recovering from his last rescue mission which almost killed him. He's questioning his continuing his involvement in helping to rescue girls caught and captured in the slave trade as now he just wants to be with his wife and daughter. But when his mentor and friend, Bones, gets taken by the very person who is organizing these slave trade rings all around the world, Murphy knows he must get back into it. With no clues whatsoever, finding Bones is going to challenge Murphy physically and mentally like he's never been challenged before. But Murphy's life long mantra of "Love always shows up" drives him on and he'll stop at nothing to find his friend. 

 As per usual, Charles Martin writes a story that involves all the reader's emotions. In this dive into Bone's backstory there is lots of action and suspense while Martin delves even more in the slave trade globally. The story pits extreme good and extreme evil against each other even as family ties are tested. Though a heart rending story of leaving the flock to go find the one lost, I do feel the need to give a warning of triggers. There is lots of violence, and of course the series revolves around the slave trade and sexual abuse. Some parts of the story caused me to have to put it down for a time before I resumed they were so heartbreaking and hard to read. It is intense but well told. I must say though, that due to a few parts that were too much of a character narrating his own story that I felt, though imperative to the story, did drag a bit for me, I did give it a 1/2 point down from a 10 rating. But an excellent series that broke my heart while bringing awareness to the horrendous slave trade going on in the world today.

31.  The Last Dress from Paris by Jade Beer

Completed: October 5, 2022

Rating:  7/10

Review:  In 2017 London Lucille has a strong loving relationship with her grandmother so when Granny Sylvie asks her to go to Paris and bring back a priceless Dior dress that belongs to her, Lucille agrees to the task. Thinking she'll only be gone a few days, Lucille goes against the wishes of her overbearing condescending boss to grant her grandmother's wish. But when she gets to Paris she finds there is more to the dress retrieval than her beloved Grandmother has told her and when she finds mysterious initials sewn into the dress and some descriptive cards Lucille finds her time in Paris extended as one couture dress leads to another. 

 In Paris 1952, Alice is the wife of the British ambassador and her days are filled with planning extravagant parties and visiting her designer of choice, Dior, for her clothing needs. In her position she is to be seen and many look to her fashion choices. Her husband is lavish with her clothing budget but not so much with his love and affections. Lucille's takes strength from her lady's maid who has become her trusted friend. But when a new person shows up at one of Dior's shows Alice must make some choices that can change the course of her life. 

 POSSIBLE SPOILER WARNING AHEAD: I have to admit this book was a total cover choice when I saw it at the library. The cover is gorgeous but strangely enough the dress on the cover is not at all in the book. I really dislike when publishers don't match their cover art with the actual story. But anyway, this book was okay. The writing was solid and the premise of the dresses intriguing and it had me googling what each dress mentioned actually looked like, none of which are the red dress on the cover. But unfortunately the story became based on something I don't enjoy in my reading, infidelity, so it was hard to really connect with some of the characters for me in spite of the reasoning and had I have known that I wouldn't have picked it up. I don't know why I didn't clue into that from the description on the back. I did like Lucille's story line and found myself engaged with her part of the story and I liked how her storyline played out. And I did like the strong unbreakable friendship of Alice and Marianne, defying what their stations in life would have dictated.

32.  The Secret Between Us by Barbara Delinsky

Completed:  October 16, 2022

Rating:  9/10

Review:  After picking her teenage daughter up from a party one night, Deborah and her daughter Grace are in a discussion as Grace is driving. The rain that had started earlier is now a full onslaught and it is dark and neither Grace or Deborah see the man running on the road until they have hit him. To protect her daughter, Deborah sends Grace home to be with her younger brother whom she left at home while she waits for the police. When the police arrive, Deborah through omission, lets the police believe it was she that was driving taking the blame for hitting the man and justifying to herself that her daughter doesn't need the stress of all the questions and dealing with police and the accident on her driving record. Because she is a doctor and has good standing in the community Deborah thinks it will quickly blow over but when things take a turn and her lies get bigger and deeper and start to involve Grace anyway, Deborah must face that she sees a change in Grace that starts to concern her and starts to eat away at the strong bond they used to have no matter how she tries to brush it off as Grace needing time to process the accident. As Grace pulls further and further away from her, Deborah must face the fact that her "little" white lie had so much bigger consequences than she ever imagined and the compounding lies might just destroy them.

 This was a really good story that explored family dynamics when there is a secret that needs to be kept. The relationship between Grace and Deborah was close but in the seconds it took to make a bad choice for all the right reasons on Deborah's part, both Mother and daughter end up facing consequences they never thought would happen. It looked at the heavy pressure of keeping such a thing secret and the toll it ends up taking on self worth, relationships and family and even on moving forward. This story, though an older one, is still relevant today and would foster great discussions in a book club.

33.  Going Higher with God in Prayer: Cultivating a Lifelong Dialogue by AW Tozer  (audiobook)

Completed:  September 11, 2022

Rating:  10/10

34.  A Rip Through Time by Kelley Armstrong

Completed:  November 5, 2022

Rating:  9/10

35.  Ask It by Andy Stanley (audiobook)

Completed:  November 11, 2022

Rating:  9/10

36.  Home Work by Julie Andrews

Completed:  November 11, 2022

Rating:  7/10

Review:  This is Julie Andres memoir of her Hollywood years from her first foray into films with Mary Poppins and then immediately after Sound of Music through the years to Victor/Victoria. She tells of her work life and her home life during those times. Her marriage to Tony and subsequent divorce because of the constant separations that were a result of their jobs and the lovely daughter that came from that marriage, to her meeting Blake Edwards and their dating years and marriage. The trials that they faced both on a personal level and career level were very much entwined as they made several films together. Again within their marriage there was struggles because of separation brought about by career choices and decisions that weren't made well concerning where they lived and Blake's depression, hypochondriac tendencies, ex-wife issues, blended family life and on/off dependence on prescription medications for pain also strained the couple but they found a way to make their marriage work until Blake's death at the age of 88. Told with honesty Julie dives into a lot of hot button issues and how it affected her life. 

 I really, really wanted to like this memoir, because Julie Andrews and her films Mary Poppins and Sound of Music were such a huge part of my younger years and I still watch those 2 films today, but I found myself just iffy on the book. I thought I would enjoy it way more than I actually did. I found myself skimming huge parts of it as I was finding large sections of it to be boring. Not sure if it's the writing style or all the name dropping, or that I'm just not in a place where I'm interested in reading about the problems of jetting around the world and living in Malibu, Switzerland, New York and LA., or if I just didn't connect with it once it got past the Mary Poppins and Sound of Music parts. I realized that I didn't really like any of the movies much after those two. And though she does get quite a bit into the Pink Panther movies that her husband made, which were favorites of my family when I was growing up, it kind of took the rosy hue off of those too when I read of all the issues with the actor that went on during the filming. The story somehow just seemed a bit dry for me. There was something missing for me in the telling, something that didn't connect me emotionally. I did really like reading about her adopted daughters from Vietnam which I knew nothing of and her trip there to both the Vietnam and Cambodian refugee camps that led to her efforts with Congress in getting more children from orphanages, especially those fathered by American soldiers, to better lives in the U.S. I was hoping to read more of when she had throat surgery and all that entailed and the loss of her singing voice from that but the story never got that far. It ended with her and Blake's effort to take Victor/Victoria to Broadway so I suspect a book 3 is probably in the works. I know other people who loved this memoir so it could be that it just wasn't the right timing for me and this book.

38.  Little Broken Things by Nicole Baart

Completed:  November 29, 2022

Rating:  7.5/10


When Quinn's sister Nora sends her an odd message telling her she has something for her and asking her to meet her but not elaborating what it is she has, Quinn is puzzled yet not overly concerned. They haven't had a lot of contact over the years and she figures it's just Nora being Nora. But when her sister shows up with a little girl in tow begging Quinn to keep her safe and not let anyone know she is there. Before Quinn can even respond Nora takes off in panic leaving Quinn to care for Lucy who won't even talk to her. Quinn tries to honor Nora's wishes thinking there has got to be a reason Nora just dropped the little girl and ran but her husband, while empathizing with Lucy, is not in agreement with what is going on and they both worry Nora has gotten herself into something not good. Added to that is the fact that Quinn and Walker live in the guest house on her mother's property. Liz is all about maintaining her image and position among the lakeside town's rich and elite and this would not go over well. 

 This drama deals with the lies and deep secrets buried within a family that are shoved to the surface by the appearance of little Lucy. There is lots of emotion and tension as the different characters try to deal with their involvement with the mystery that surrounds who Lucy is. While I did find it slow paced in some parts in others it was a page turner as you try to figure out what is going on and layer upon layer of the mystery is revealed.  I must admit I did figure out a couple  of the twists before the ending. The story is told by alternating between the three women's viewpoints revealing pieces to the mystery. The title really could refer to all the females within the story in some way or another.

39.  A Bride Most Begrudging by DeeAnne Gist

Completed:  December 27, 2022

Rating 8.5/10

Review:  Lady Constance Morrow could not help herself.  She just had to say goodbye to her beloved uncle Skelly.  He was arrested and put upon a ship bound for the Virginia colonies and she might never see him again.  But even as he growled at her to get off the ship, the captain laid ahold of her and Constance found herself kidnapped and also heading to America to be sold as a tobacco bride along with many other woman who were English prisoners.  No amount of insisting she was a Lady, daughter of an Earl, changed her fate.  

Drew O'Connor is a tobacco farmer in West Virginia.  He isn't looking for a bride, he just wants someone who can cook and clean and tend to his home and baby sister.  But as circumstances work out he ends up with a bride, non other than one who insists she is not a prisoner of England but one Lady Constance Morrow.  Thinking she can be his servant until Drew can figure out whether she is telling the truth or not, he takes her to his tobacco farm only to find out she has no idea how to cook, hasn't a clue about gardening and horror of horrors, she would rather work on mathematical equations than clean.  She is educated which is not a good thing in Drew's eyes and mixed with her stubborn personality, it can only lead to trouble.  Maybe the best thing to be done is to ship this woman back where she came from.

I picked this book up after trying a couple of other reads for this month's challenge that just turned out to be too heavy for the head space I was in.  I wanted something lighter and easy.  This book turned out to be perfect for that.  It is historical fiction based on the historical facts of many Virginia tobacco farmers purchasing brides from England for 120 pounds of tobacco.  The practice helped the men stay in the colonies, build homes  and start families thereby helping the colonies survive and because the brides came from England it helped ensure England's continued presence in the Virginia colonies.  When not enough brides were found to meet the need, the Crown resorted to sending prisoners and unethical captains would kidnap young women.  The author was also able to weave into the story two major historical battles between Powhatans and the settlers.  I enjoyed this historical story.  The author's character development was good as Constance grew to love the land she had inadvertently been taken to.  Of course there is the romantic tension building between Constance and Drew through out the story as well the mandatory assumptions and miscalculations of feelings that come with a romance story of this kind.  I have to say towards the end though I was getting a bit tired of these assumptions and decisions being made upon them instead of honest communication in the story but I did enjoy the read overall  for what it was and the humor that would surface occasionally throughout the story.  It was the lighter read I was needing.  

40.  A Change of Affection by Becket Cook

Completed:  December 28, 2022

Rating:  10/10