Thursday, January 5, 2023

2023 Reads and Reviews


1.  The Lindbergh Nanny by Mariah Fredericks

Completed:  January 3, 2023

Rating:  9/10

Review:  Charles Lindbergh has risen to hero status in the eyes of the American public due to his much revered flight across the Atlantic. His wife, Anne Morrow Lindbergh, and he are building a home in a secluded area of the New Jersey countryside in efforts to keep their privacy. When Ann gets pregnant they hire a nurse (nanny) originally from England to help in the day to day care of their son, Charles Jr. Betty Gouw, finds herself buiding a strong bond with the child but at times questions Charles Lindbergh's child rearing methods and Anne's willingness to go along with them. But she does her best to abide by the rules. When in 1932, Charles Jr is kidnapped from his bedroom while he was sleeping, Betty becomes suspect of aiding the kidnapper. Her whole life is thrown into the spotlight and she is all of a sudden the questionable one. Betty takes it upon herself to try to find the truth about that night and who really might be the co-conspirator so that Charles Jr. can be safely found. But when the baby turns up dead, Betty just wants to find justice for the little one she loved. 

 This story is a look at the internationally known kidnapping of Charles Lindbergh Jr as seen through the eyes of the person who spent the most time with him, and loved him as her own, his live in nurse (nanny), Betty Gouw. The author weaves the historical facts of the case with fiction filling in the missing spaces. Betty Gouw really was the child's nanny and her whole life was turned upside down with the crime, being accused of helping the kidnapping and then testifying in court against the man finally charged. She went from obscurity to sudden fame and noteriety all while trying to deal with the kidnapping and death of an innocent child she loved. While the whole story itself is captivating I found the beginning of the novel to be quite choppy and the introduction of new characters a bit confusing and therefore didn't pay a whole lot of attention to them as they seemed so secondary. Turns out I should have payed more attention. The pacing didn't get it's feet under itself, so to speak, until the baby gets kidnapped and that is when the book actually took off for me. Once it does happen it is suspenseful and gripping. My heart really is taken with Betty who was just trying to get over a failed love affair and try and make her way in a new country. The author's notes helped to discern between what was actual fact about Betty, the Lindbergh's, the kidnapping, the investigation and the subsequent court case. It turned into an interesting and emotional read though I was frustrated at the end not remembering exactly who some characters were that were introduced in the beginning.

2.  The Woman With Two Shadows by Sarah James

Completed:  January 19, 2023

Rating:  9.5/10

Review:  Though totally opposite personalities, Lillian Kaufmann and her identical twin sister Eleanor were very close. Lillian is very studious and is studying to be a physicist while Eleanor is a carefree actress. When Lillian gets word that she is to be accepted into Harvard she is thrilled until she learns that Eleanor has landed a part in play that also must take her to Chicago. There is now the dilemma of who will care for their mother if both girls are gone. Lillian was counting on Eleanor and a battle of who will get their dreams realized starts to come between their sisterly bond. When Eleanor unexpectedly takes a mysterious job at an army base in Tennessee, Lillian is dumbfounded that her sister would go to those lengths to get away from her. But when Lillian gets an odd phone call from Eleanor's boyfriend telling her Eleanor is missing, Lillian heads to Oak Ridge to clear up the matter and talk Eleanor into coming home. What she finds there is a mysterious, fenced town of thousands that officially does not exist where she must assume Eleanor's identity in order to even get inside the perimeter. As Eleanor digs into the days before her sister allegedly went missing, she finds others reporting missing friends and a town that holds dangerous secrets of one of the biggest scientific projects of all time. Who can she trust is telling the truth in this town her sister became a part of? 

 I really enjoyed this historical novel set around the most closely guarded secret of WWII and the biggest scientific discovery of it's time. The tension between the sisters that causes Eleanor to abandon her dreams and take the job at the army base is told in flashbacks as Lillian is at the base posing as Eleanor to gain information. There was lots of mystery, cover ups and layers as Lillian tries to pose as her sister to figure it all out, not knowing who can be trusted, and not knowing exactly what is going on at this facility. Lots of twists and turns keep the story moving to it's conclusion and the revealing of the project. In the end it's a story that questions how some of the smartest scientists of the time could have justified the end results of a project in order to rise to the challenge of the project itself. I thought this was a great debut novel.

3.  A Promise to Remember by Kathryn Cushman

Completed:  January 28, 2023

Rating:  7.5/10

Review:  Andie and Melanie couldn't live more different lives. But they do have something in common and that is that their beloved sons were killed in the same car crash. Both are devastated from their loss. In Andie's well to do world of Santa Barbara, she is having trouble dealing with her grief and tries to continue her charity work as she thinks her son would want her to do. Melanie, being a single mother, has no choice but to get back to work, working long hours to pay her bills and provide for her remaining child. Both Mom's will make decisions in their quest to have their son's remembered that will set into motion their opposite world's colliding head on. 

 This story is about love, loss, grief and forgiveness. The author takes a very emotional subject and writes their grief journey realistically and with sensitivity. Their struggles and feelings seemed very real and the consequences of decisions made and the influence of their backgrounds on these decisions was an interesting angle to their stories. Faith definitely played a part in the story but wasn't done in a preachy manner but instead, to me, contrasted the difference between a living faith and a "Sunday" faith. Though heavy in topic I did find the read worthwhile and enlightening not only in the journey that the main characters take but also in how those around them chose to show them support in their grief. It definitely gave food for thought.

4.  It's Not Supposed to Be This Way by Lysa TerKeurst

Completed:  February 2, 2023

Rating:  9.5/10

5.  The Extraordinary Deaths of Mrs. Kip by Sara Brunsvold

Completed:  February 19, 2023

Rating:  10/10

Review:  Aiden Kelley is a cub reporter for the Kansas City Star. Having spent a year in this position Aiden is debating whether to go over her supervising editor's head and send an email to the main editor of the paper asking for a feature story. When her friend sends the email for her it earns Aiden a huge reprimand and relegates her to writing an obituary for a woman who just entered hospice care. Aiden can't believe she has to stoop so low but in order to save face, and her job, off to the facility she goes where she meets one Clara Kip. Clara is a live wire on the cusp of turning 80 who is not wanting to be in hospice care. While loving life she does figure she has lived a very unextraordinary life. So when "Miss Kelley" is sent to her to do her obituary, she asks Aiden to invent some extraordinary deaths for her. The catch is for every extraordinary death that Aiden invents she will be allowed to ask Clara three questions. Clara can see Aiden is struggling, not just with being there interviewing her, but with her place in life. At once Clara knows God has placed this ambitious young lady into her path.   

 This is the debut novel of this author and what a debut it is. I had heard nothing but good reviews about this book and couldn't wait to read it and it definitely lived up to the hype. It is a Christian fiction novel and this, in my opinion, is what Christian fiction should be. Interesting characters, a relatable story that in the end makes the reader reflect and think. The story also delves into the Laotian refugee resettlement crisis of the '70's when the Vietnam war ended and how Kansas City was involved in that world history. It was a story I have never read about in fiction. This was a lovely account of a senior at the end of their life connecting with a young person just beginning theirs. It is, in essence, uplifting with grace, love and mercy even while it breaks the reader's heart. Recommend having tissues on hand.

6.  Taste:  My Life Through Food by Stanley Tucci (audiobook)


Review:  I was looking forward to reading this food memoir of Stanley Tucci. I borrowed it off Libby (audiobook format) from the library because it was read in the author's own voice so I thought that would add to it. Unfortunately, I ended up dnf'ing (did not finish) the book, turning it off about half way through. But before I go into why I Did Not Finish the book, what I did like it was the joy of the connection of the author's family to their Italian roots and food. That was so interesting. And the author shares some of his family's Italian recipes that are talked about in the book. I enjoyed hearing about their celebrations and everyday meals and the foods that made them memorable. I enjoyed reading about how the author's love of food developed through this life. But, to me, some of his narration fell flat in the audio version. For example: in relating conversations the author was reading in a flat voice "My mother: "what she said". My grandmother: "response" My mother: "what she said" My grandmother: "response". You get what I'm saying? While that may work in the written version, in the audio it had me rolling my eyes back in my head as it went on for some time as the author relayed the whole conversation between the participants in this manner. These kinds of conversation reenactments happened several times and he lost me with them. The other reason that finally caused me to turn the book off halfway through was the more and more frequent use of the f-bomb which is something I do not enjoy in my reading, much less so in audio. While the use of it wasn't in the beginning of the book at all, it started to show up very occasionally and then it's use continued to snowball significantly as the audiobook went on. When the author literally screamed it at me while talking about Carbonara, I was done. I think maybe in this instance the physical copy version might have served me better as in some cases I am able to more easily skip over the swearing and being f-bombed audibly on a regular basis definitely affected my enjoyment of the book. I may pick up the physical copy at some point but for now it has put a distaste in my mouth for the book, which makes me kind of sad. And it made me sad to give it a two star rating on goodreads because of this. According to goodreads one star means "I didn't like it". I gave it a 2 star which means "it was ok" because I was enjoying the stories centered around food. Quite a conundrum for me because in my mind if I DNF'd it it should really not have a star rating but that option is not available on goodreads. It's for this reason I really do hate to give a rating to a memoir. For those who don't think twice about being f-bombed in their reading, the book has been getting lots of great reviews.

Because I was half way through I am counting it as read toward my goodreads goal.

7.  The Librarian of Boone's Hollow by Kim Vogel Sawyer

Completed:  February 27, 2023

Rating:  8/10

Review:  Addie Cowherd is in her 3rd year at University of Kentucky during the depression years hoping to accomplish her dreams of becoming a writer when the rug is pulled out from underneath her. After losing his job her father is no longer able to pay for her school bills or her lodging and Addie must leave the university. Not finding a job in the city, she is recommended by her former library employer for a job delivering books by horseback to poor families in the hills of Kentucky. When she arrives she finds a town and people very wary of outsiders. With this already against her, Addie struggles to make friends and be accepted only to have things become even harder when generations old superstitions against the Nanny Fay, the woman she finds lodging with, causes her to be swept up in the fear and grudges against the old woman. When Emmet Tharp returns home from the same university degree in hand but unable to find a job in the city due to the economy, he is faced with having to get a job at the same coal mine his father works at. While this pleases his father, it is not what Emmet had in mind. When an opportunity arises to take charge of the packhorse librarian program in his community, he wonders if the chasm between him and his father will ever be repaired. Will Addie and Emmett ever realize the hope of having the books they deliver actually change the people and bring compassion and understanding to the community instead of the division that has existed? 

 Kim Vogel Sawyer is a Christian author and has brought the element of faith, love and forgiveness into a packhorse librarian story. It is definitely a character driven story that deals with a lot of issues including family violence, prejudice, assumptions, forgiveness and perserverance. The story is told in mulitple perspectives so you do get a well rounded look into the life of not only packhorse librarians but also the the people of the community who live very hard lives. In spite of everything it deals with it is easy to read as it flowed so well. While it did seem to not wrap up fully I have found out that there is a sequel: "Return to Boone's Hollow". While it was not a page turning, can't put it down type of read it was absolutely a story I enjoyed.

8.  Facing Fear by Nik Wallenda

Completed:  March 7, 2023

Rating:  10/10

Rating:  Nik Wallenda's family has been living the circus life for 7 generations. As high wire walkers, his family has learned how to face fear. They have learned to how to face it, compartmentalize it and trust their training and their skills. But one day during a practice of their 8 person pyramid things went horrible wrong. The pyramid collapsed severely injuring many of his team including his sister and aunt. In the months that followed Nik did what he knew to do and what he'd been trained to do. He kept on. But during practices someone was shaking the wire. Nik was surprised and stunned to figure out that it was himself that was trembling on the wire. Soon the fear was creeping into all parts of his life and work and he started to doubt what he had always believed: that walking the wire was his God-given purpose in this life. Facing Fear is Nik's story of overcoming the fear and insecurity the fall produced, of getting the negative thinking under God's control and getting back up after a fall, both literally and figuratively. 

 I loved this book. I have always been amazed at Nik's life and how he glorifies God during his walks. His personal story of tragedy and how he overcame the debilitating fear and guilt that literally would change life as he knew it if he succumbed to it was both interesting and very practical. Nik is a man of faith in God and he doesn't back down from that, as that is his story, but the book is written in a very approachable manner to any reader, whether they are a Christian or not. It's like sitting down with him and having a conversation with him where he tells you his story and how he overcame but also understands that you might not be at that place.

9.  No Place For A Lady by Gil Paul

Completed:  March 8, 2023

Rating:  9/10

2023 Reading Challenge Goals

Another fresh reading year to start.  I find it fun to plan out some reading goals for the year.  I am a mood reader for the most part, but I also find it fun to cross off some goals or do challenges that help me get some books read that sometimes languish on the bottom of my To Be Read piles or lists or ones that I've forgotten I want to read.  

Challenge #1  Reading off my own shelves.  This year I'm going to change up the challenge a bit and instead of certain prompts for each month I'm going to do a different color for each month.  So I'll choose a color each month, look through all my books that I own of that color and make a stack to choose from for that month.

Challenge #2  Each month I will also pull one oldest and one newest of my purchased new books (books I actually paid money for).  This will not include any books that I get from Free Little Libraries or next to free Library sales.

Challenge #3  At least one book a month from my library want to read list

Challenge #4  At least 4 hard copy formats of non-fiction books from my own piles.  

Challenge #5  Finish the verse by verse study of Romans that I'm doing with a friend.
 Read a Psalm or Proverb each day.  When done that read from the gospels each day.                       

Challenge #6  Goodreads Reading Goal challenge.   This year I've set my goal at 40 books read by the  end of 2023

This year I've also made a last chance pile.  These are books that I've had for years and they've either been on previous to read lists several times and never got read or I just don't reach for them at all.  This is their last chance.  If I don't read it at some point this year they will go.  I'm not going to hang onto them any longer.  If you've read any of them and have loved them now's your chance to convince me to get to it for sure this year!