Tuesday, January 31, 2017

January 2017 Bookshelf

In November 2016 I participated in a book exchange of sorts. It went like this: Buy your favorite book and send it to a stranger (I’ll send you a name and address.) You will only be sending one book to one person. The number of books you will receive depends on how many participants there are. The books that will show up on your door are the other people’s much loved stories.
The strangers sending me books were friends of my friends that wanted to participate also. So I don't know who sent me the books but they are favorites of some people out there. I decided to take this month to read those books. Let's see which ones became some of my favorites also. 

Tuesdays with Morrie by Mitch Albom
224 pages

This is a re-read for me but worth it. And because it is such a quick read it probably is a book - because of the lessons Morrie shares with us through Mitch - that should be read every couple of years. We humans have short memories. To be reminded of some of these big picture, this is what really matters in life, lessons is never a bad idea.
There's one line in the book that kind of sums up the whole of the book for me. "....my visits with Morrie felt like a cleansing rinse of human kindness." (pg. 55) Morrie embodied human love and kindness and right up until his last breath and last moment on earth he was a generous teacher of that love and kindness to everyone who came into his presence. And because he and Mitch decided to record their conversations he continues to generously teach that love and kindness all these years later. They are lessons that we need over and over again. They are lessons that never get dull or outdated or used up. This was a good book to kick off a new calendar year with.

432 pages

I like this series by Nappa, his PI's Trudi and Samuel are a fun couple, or ex-couple I suppose. I question the plausibility of the events in real life but they are enjoyable to read about.
In this title Trudi and Samuel are working cases that meet up, so why not work together right? There's some rumor floating around Atlanta about an operation called Nevermore and a guy name Raven is involved. Is Edgar Allan Poe back? Well of course he isn't but someone is using his work to get something sinister done. Samuel and Trudi are on a clock they aren't quite aware of to stop this plan from happening. With the help of Raven and some other peripheral characters it all comes down to the very last second.
I'm finding Mike Nappa's Coffey & Hill series really enjoyable to read. He creates interesting crimes to solve and his characters are engaging. As new books are released I'll be reading them. Much thanks to the anonymous person who sent this to me and introduced me to this author and the series.

The Tenth Justice by Brad Meltzer
483 pages

This had me thinking. When I wasn't reading it I kept thinking through how it could be happening and who the possible suspects might be. I haven't read a John Grisham in years but I suspect Meltzer is tough competition for him with his titles.
Ben is just starting a year long gig clerking for a Supreme Court Justice. It's a coveted job that comes with a lot of benefits for a lawyer's career. His co-clerk, Lisa, is on a similar path. The life of a Supreme Court Justice clerk is busy - actually busy doesn't describe it. It is nights, days, weekends, holidays, whatever it takes to get the job done for the Justice. Being a clerk for one of the Justice's puts you in a lifelong club of sorts. Past clerks call in to check up with new clerks etc. Within Ben's first days in the court, and with Judge Hollis out of the country on vacation, a urgent appeal hits the court and Lisa and Ben start scrambling to write the opinion for Hollis and prove he didn't make a bad choice in hiring them. A former clerk, Rick, calls at just that time and is able to provide them with some help. And when Ben meets up with Rick for lunch a month or so later they talk about the ins and outs of clerking for Judge Hollis. Aware of the cases on the court's plate Rick asks Ben about different ones. Ben casually shares info he knows even though he's not supposed to. But Rick is a former clerk, he knows the code of silence. Right? What if Rick were not a former clerk? What if Rick wasn't even Rick? What if days after Ben told Rick about one decision the company involved did something it wasn't going to do unless the outcome of the decision was in their favor? What then? Ben, and the people in his life, are about to find out.
I am fascinated by all things law and such. I don't have the brain to ever tackle it but I am so intrigued by it. Number one thing I always wonder and can't settle is - how realistic is this stuff? I have to think it isn't. I have to think stuff like this couldn't actually go on, could it? But outside of that - this was a well-written story. Meltzer's characters were great and prompted the exact responses I'm guessing he hoped for with his readers. All the law included wasn't dry but very interesting. The story read fast and never slowed down. I'm going to have to check out more titles from Meltzer, this was a great intro to him.

Dandelion Wine (Green Town #1) by Ray Bradbury
239 pages

I've only read one other Bradbury title, perhaps the most "popular" one - Farenheit 451. So I was definitely curious to read this one given me because it clearly is very different than the one title of his I have read - both in story and genre.
The book, as Bradbury explains in a preface, came about through his memories of years of summers in his grandparents hometown, He collected those memories like dandelions and made wine from them. He preserved a bit of summer for the long winters and years ahead. And so out of his memories he crafted a story of a 12 year old, Douglas, who spends one summer growing up just a little bit. And he inserted many true things about his own childhood summers into this story.
In the summer of 1928 Douglas Spaulding has many adventures and moments of realization about life. He shares those things with his brother, Tom, and we get to go along for the ride. Weaved into all these adventures are lessons about life that Douglas picks up on and at one point he despairs of. A 12 year old despairing! But I, as the reader, can understand. Some personalities understand things as they are far earlier in their lives than should be allowed. Douglas is one of those. But he comes out of his despair with new eyes and new perspective on some things and determines to pay his new found knowledge about life forward.
Bradbury's story is simple, straightforward, and holds a magic that is rare in most books these days. Through a very simple, very simple, story he conveys a treasure trove of memories that also hold some nuggets of life wisdom.

In the Blood (Genealogical Crime Mystery #1) by Steve Robinson
392 pages

I think tracing genealogy is fascinating. I'm not the only one - there are websites and now even TV shows dedicated to tracing people's lines backwards to who their ancestors are - or could be. And that's the foundation of this title.
JT is a professional genealogist and his current case has him at a dead end...well kind of. He needs to go to England to finish the research - the internet has taken him as far as he can go - but getting to England is the problem. He is afraid of flying. But his client could care less and demands he wrap up this case in one week so JT boards a plane bound for England. He survives the flight but surviving England proves to be the more terrifying experience. It seems JT (Tayte) isn't the only one looking for the same family line he is. And what's more it seems the family line has some secrets he never anticipated stumbling across. Now those secrets have drawn JT into the case and he's in so deep he can't quit until he uncovers the whole truth. His problem is someone doesn't want him uncovering the whole truth so they are doing all they can to keep him from it. There's got to be a winner and a loser - which one will JT end up being?
Because genealogy fascinates me I stuck with this book but at times it lagged in its storyline, action, and even characters. It wasn't hard for me to put down in favor of watching TV or doing something else and usually that is a pretty clear sign, in my world at least, that the book is okay but not drawing me into the story and keeping me in it. It was okay but I'm not anxious to look for or pick up book 2.

The Taker (The Taker Trilogy #1) by Alma Katsu
464 pages

This is not a book I would have picked up on my own. The cover art put me off, apparently I do judge books by their covers! It took me probably a good 100 pages or so to begin to be interested in the story. To be fair, by the end of the book I was engaged in the story. This is a tale of immortality. Would you want to live forever?
Through a series of strange events Lanore, Lanny, finds herself immortal. She is unable to die - it is literally impossible. She was born in the early 1800's and when we meet her it is "present day." To say she's lived a lot of life would be an understatement. We meet her as she is brought in to Luke's ER. He's the doctor on shift. Lanny is beguiling and Luke finds himself helping her escape from the law. Along the journey to freedom Luke learns Lanny's odd and unthinkable story of immorality and the price she pays because of it.
I'm not sure what I think about this book. It wasn't horrible but it kind of dragged for me. There's a fine line between too little detail and too much. Katsu crossed over the line, in my opinion, to including too much detail in parts of the book. Like with Jonathan and his good looks. I wanted to say at just a few chapters in, "Okay, enough already. We get it - Jonathan is beautiful." However, kudos to Katsu for imagining this story and bringing it to life - I admire the fanciful creativity it takes to write fiction, I got done with the book and considered reading the other two in the series but after reading a brief excerpt from book 2 and reading reviews about both books 2 & 3 I have decided I don't need to read anymore of the series, I'm not *that* interested in it.

Chop Wood Carry Water: How to Fall In Love With the Process of Becoming Great by Joshua Medcalf
105 pages

I never would have run across this book, I don't think, if someone had not sent it to me. And I'm so glad they did. It's a great parable of perseverance, dedication, and endurance.
John flew one-way to an ancient city in Japan to train to be a master samurai archer, it had been a dream of he and his brother, Jordan, for a long time. But now John was living the dream for both of them, in a sense. Jordan physically cannot do it. As John begins his training he is excited by all the hours he can spend shooting arrows and perfecting his goal. What he finds, however, in training is something very different. His sensei, Akira, knows the foundation and path to mastery and it is his job to show John the path. John goes through years of frustration and impatience during his travel along the road of mastery. But with Akira's mentorship and patience John finally becomes Jonathan and understands that the foundation of mastering anything is to "chop wood carry water."
I love learning from parables. This book held a lot of nuggets of wisdom that I've actually been struggling with recently so it's a timely read for me. This is a great book to read several times in a row in order to really take in its principles and to read with others for discussion purposes.

God's Smuggler by Brother Andrew
241 pages

When you grow up in the Church you kind of just know about all the modern-day "heroes" of the faith. I would consider Brother Andrew in that category, I've heard his name for years - I knew on the surface what he was a hero for, but I had not ever learned about him or read his book which is a classic among the shelves of Christian non-fiction. This was sent to me as someone's favorite book, I had not read it yet so I was excited.
Brother Andrew gives us a before and after picture of his spiritual life. Before he truly knew Christ and then after. The two men could not be more different! In his after meeting Christ life he began to get curious about the Iron Curtain countries. What was the faith of believers like in those places? Was there faith or just state mandated religion? Did they have bibles? If so were they allowed to be seen in public, were they even allowed to be in the country? So Brother Andrew began to pray, seek God on his role in God's mission, and explore the Iron Curtain that surrounded his homeland, The Netherlands. After a period of time he heard God say to him, "Strengthen those who remain" and so he began a bold ministry of smuggling bibles into closed countries and preaching to believers he could find in the underground churches and the state run institutions. He did it on his own for a number of years until he found one partner and from there the smuggling operations grew until he prayed for even more partners to do the work with passion and love for the people of the Iron Curtain. In one story the book shares, language is the topic of conversation. One of the partners is being questioned about what language he speaks and his only answer is "agape." Upon seeing that curious person later that same day they said they couldn't find where that language came from and the smuggler said, "It's the language of Love and I speak it all the time." Brother Andrew, his family, and his partners all have a faith I can only hope to have but know deep down I never really will. They embody the absolute trust in God that it takes to get through this life and they aren't afraid to be corrected - if need be - or learn a new way etc.
I really liked this book, it has given me a lot to think about, to consider. The one line that is playing on repeat in my head is "strengthen those who remain." Where I'm at I wonder how can I do that for the people that remain? Thanks ot the faith example of Brother Andrew, I believe God will supply the answer.

The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah
440 pages

Wow. What a story. I feel a little speechless about it. Set in France at the start of and through World War II, Hannah gives us a story about two sisters who approach the war in very different ways.
Vianne and Isabelle lost both their mother and father after World War I. They lost mother to illness and father - still living - they lost to whatever he experienced in the war, grief over losing his wife, and drink. He gave them away to be raised by someone else so he didn't have to face them. Now rumors of another war are circulating in France and this time it's Vianne's husband, Antoine, called to serve. Both girls have very different reactions to Germany taking over France and both will be tested. As the war drags on and things become more dangerous certain choices are forced upon both Vianne and Isabelle that will be woven into the threads of their lives. To survive during those days took a courage that very few realized they had until they were faced with it. To talk about those days to future generations took a special kind of courage as well and one of the sisters isn't sure if she can do it.
World War II was such a defining moment in the history of our world. It was both the best and worst of humanity. And there were so many choices to be made by all people, no matter what nation they came from. Titles like this one from Hannah, and Anthony Doerr's All The Light We Cannot See, I especially like because they give us a glimpse into some of the people of Germany who weren't on board with world domination and Hitler as their leader. Hannah's characters in this novel are deep and rich and executed perfectly. The story, while fiction, is accurate historically and that makes me appreciate the work Hannah put into this book even more. Taking time to weave fiction into the history of our world is not for the faint of heart. The courage it took normal people to resist the evil that had risen up out of Hitler and his followers is inspiring and motivating, reminding all of us that all that is required is to be available - every act of resistance against injustice and evil makes a difference even when we might not be able to see it.

The Pilgrim's Progress by John Bunyan
224 pages

You aren't a real believer if you haven't read this book.
Okay, that's not true but some people act as if it is. This title of Bunyan's, written while he was in prison, has served as foundational "curriculum" for the church since it's publication. However, in recent years it has lost its shine for the church and has gone from being one of the most read books within the church - the Bible taking first place - to one of the least read. In the introduction to this edition of the title the editor can't imagine why it has waned. Really? It's written in language older or just as old as the King James and it's themes contain all the fire and brimstone of a disciplinary God and none of the grace. Gee, I can't imagine why it isn't well-read any longer.
John Bunyan did write an extraordinary story of a believer's journey. I'm not dismissing his creativity and thoughtfulness in bringing to life the spiritual journey we all take. However, his story is crafted around the belief that God is stringent and unbending, lacks grace and patience, and ignores any of his creation that don't seek him in exactly the right way. What way is that? The way that Bunyan had been taught by the preachers of the time. But whose to say they had gotten it correct? Many had crafted God into a fiery deity that displayed more anger than anything else. The transformation that my faith has taken the past decade, the understandings I have come into about the true character of God make me read this story with indifference. It makes me think of the legalistic, unloving people I know and see standing on street corners today screaming at people to repent - as if that draws anyone to God. In all honesty reading this story frustrated me and filled my heart with dread for its themes are legalistic and not at representative of the God I have known my whole life. This opinion of my mine is equal to blasphemy in the church today but I'm okay taking that chance. I only need to answer to God after all.

Outside of the above books that were sent to me I also read or listeread to the following:

Ashes (Seeds of America #3) by Laurie Halse Anderson

AHHHHH! I have been waiting for this third book *forever.* I read the first two books before I started doing reviews but the series did land on a blog post of mine about series a couple of years back. Read my reviews on book 1, Chains, by clicking here and book 2, Forge, by clicking here.
Ashes was worth the wait (I didn't really have a choice after all). Anderson kept true to her thorough research about the role of African Americans in the American Revolution and it is a sobering role they played in the freedom of this nation from Britain. Sobering because they fought for a freedom they were told they would receive and once the war was over and won they were forced back into slavery for another 100 or so years. My anger towards our nation threatens to move from simmering to boiling. But back to the book.
Curzon and Isabel are on the move. At the end of Forge Isabel pleaded with him to help her find Ruth, her sister. Reluctantly Curzon agreed. He would rather join up with the Patriots and fight against the British. Their travels lead them straight to Yorktown in the months leading up to the famous battle of. All Isabel can see are the burning things in life, the ashes they become. Her friendship with Curzon, her relationship with Ruth, the battle between two countries who care not for people of her skin color. It's a lot to absorb in the few years she has walked the earth. As the battle of Yorktown draws closer Isabel is forced to choose a side, finally seeing that she cannot stay neutral. So she chooses a side and sees it through to the end. And in the end she finds some redemption in ashes, it's not all loss she supposes.
And so ends Anderson's Seeds of America trilogy. This story was a perfect final book although because it is such a well-written story I do not want it to end! I want to know more about Isabel and Curzon and life post-Revolutionary war. But Anderson leaves it to our imaginations, which is most likely for the best. This is honestly one of the best books, series, I have ever had the privilege to read. And it will not be my first read of the series, this is a series to repeat again and again.

Hamilton by Lin-Manuel Miranda, Jeremy McCarter, Jeffrey Seller
Audio Book

I love the behind-the-scenes of shows - movies, TV, theater. I love to hear about how a story came to be and what it took to bring it to life. And Lin-Manuel Miranda's Hamilton is a story on stage that is full of life.
For 6 years Miranda wrote and re-wrote, changed a line, expelled a character or birthed one, worked tirelessly to honor the story of Alexander Hamilton and his contributions to the United States of America.
On vacation Miranda chose to read Ron Chernow's biography of Alexander Hamilton and an idea was sparked. A music project about the life of Hamilton. He started getting the word out and even performed some of the early songs at the White House in 2009. Click here to see that performance, it's great! This book about the inception of Hamilton was so fascinating. Now remember, I'm a geek about stuff like this. But really it's so interesting to hear about the process - Miranda's writing, the moment it was realized that this wasn't a music project but a musical project destined for the stage, finding the right people to put moves into the show - dress the cast in clothing that would compliment the story - bring big life to the characters Miranda was including, the early previews, the re-working, the stories behind the story, the personal connection each person involved in the project felt to the show, and more. And clearly Hamilton resonates. It's run on Broadway is full steam ahead, there's no slowing down. It opens in London next year (2018) and will send out company tours so that it can reach all the masses. The themes of the show resonate with people and inspire some to dream once again.
Lin-Manuel Miranda is a freaking genius.

The Ghost Writer by Robert Harris
335 pages

I think that ghost writers are fascinating. In this suspense story we witness what happens when a ghost writer uncovers too much.
Called in to replace the original ghost writer who died suddenly, our POV reluctantly takes the job. This isn't just any assignment. It's the memoirs of the former PM, Adam Lang. But from the start there are several weird occurrences that put our ghost writer on alert. First of all, he's replacing someone who died and it isn't clear whether it was an accident or something else. Then there's the PM himself, sequestered on Martha's Vineyard in America. Fine, no problem. Just fly the manuscript to London and ghost writer can work on it from his flat. But no. The manuscript is under lock and key and isn't allowed to leave the one room it currently is in on Martha's Vineyard. So our ghost must travel to PM Lang and his memoirs. Everything is shrouded in secrecy, including Adam Lang himself. Our ghost writer can't put his finger on what the unease is, he just knows it exists. Within a few short days he is pulled into a drama he didn't foresee participating in and suddenly he understands why the first ghost writer died. Uncovering the secrets Lang is keeping ends up putting everyone in a precarious position, who will come out of it unscathed?
I've not read Robert Harris before. This was a good story, I liked it and proof of that was how quickly I read it - really without meaning to. The characters were interesting and the plot plausible. There were some twists and turns and always the question that lingers in the back of my head, "could things like this really happen? do things like this happen?!" Btw, there's a movie but it's not worth it. I watched it - or tried to - directly after finishing the book but it was lackluster. The book is so much better - as they usually are.

Divine Collision: An African Boy, An American Lawyer, and Their Remarkable Battle for Freedom by Jim Gash
320 pages

My husband knows me pretty well. He knows what gets me. He bought me this book and I'm super glad that he did because I hadn't heard about this story and it's worth knowing about.
Jim Gash said something I have said before, "Africa? Nope, no plans on ever going there." Yeah, well - never say ever. *wink* Jim Gash is a lawyer and a professor at Pepperdine in California. Through a series of nudgings he finds himself in Uganda assisting in getting juveniles stuck in the Uganda court systems out. And he meets Henry. Meeting Henry changes everything. Henry has been falsely accused of not just one but two murders - at 15/16 years old! He's stuck in a prison, of sorts, for youth and nobody to speak up on his behalf. Jim and his group of lawyers decide to draw up all the paperwork these kids need in order for a lawyer to present to court and try to get them released or sentences established and reduced. It is an eye-opening and heart-wrenching process for the lawyers. Meanwhile, we hear from Henry as he's in this prison camp of sorts. And while he has his seasons of despair he rises up and works to make life worth it - even in this prison - for the rest of the inmates. He and his brother start teaching the other kids who had never gone to school or had to leave it early. They organize afternoon soccer games to keep physical activity, they have an established kind of government - set up before their time there - that helps keep order, they hold worship services almost nightly. The bond between Henry and Jim grows and deepens as Jim, working from America and with Ugandan lawyers, seeks to get justice for Henry and his brother. But it doesn't stop there. Once justice is realized Jim keeps in Henry's life and makes ways for him to get the education he missed out on and wants to continue in to make a life for himself. It's a really motivating story of what can happen when we focus on just one. One makes a difference.

From Depths We Rise: A Journey of Beauty from Ashes by Sarah Rodriguez
256 pages

Sarah and her husband, Joel, fought through a round of kidney cancer (Joel) and infertility (Sarah) to finally become pregnant after 5 years of wanting. And finally they were about to be a family of three. But right before the birth of their son, Joel's doctor came back with bad news. The cancer was back. Once their son was born he started up treatments again, fighting as hard as he could to be alive and around for his son. But that wasn't the plan and Joel's physical life on this earth came to an end, But there was life after Joel, literally. About 2 years after Joel passed on his daughter was born. She was the fulfillment of Joel's hope before he passed on. Then she became ill. Sarah is wondering - what? what is going on? what is all this supposed to mean? And through prayer and only what can be explained as God's healing supernaturally, baby girl lived. Sarah's recounting of this journey is one filled with faith and doubt and ultimately believing and experiencing God is ever-present in life.
I happened to read this book while my hub was in the hospital - not for cancer, something much less serious than that. But it was good to be reading of Sarah and Joel's story realizing my hub could be in the hospital for something far more serious. A great perspective reminder for me.

Moby Dick - Unabridged - by Herman Melville
Audio Book - 20 CDs

I tried. I started listereading it in December, had to renew it and set it aside to get through something else that couldn't be renewed, and tried to renew it again because the second renewal had timed out. I got to disc 2 track 9. And I know I'm just not going to get to it - maybe ever. I'm not ready yet to say "never." Just not right now. The bit I did listen to reminded me why I struggle so much with the *classics*, why I can't get on board with authors like Melville - too. much. detail. Oh my word, so much detail. And I had not even gotten on the boat yet! But I know what every nook and cranny of the inn where Ishmael lodges looks like.

Honorable Mention:

In 2015 I read Anthony Doerr's All The Light We Cannot See and loved it. It has been one of those books that I think about long after I read the last word. For my FB book club we read it in December as many hadn't had a chance yet. I decided to listeread it and I'm SO glad I did. I didn't finish the audio until January 9 but it was worth the listen just as the read was worth the read. What a beautiful story Doerr crafted. I might have appreciated it even more upon the second time absorbing the characters and the story. Doerr uses beautiful prose and brings the characters to life. I was touched, again, by this story.

Sunday, January 1, 2017

My Top Books of 2016

My top books for the year are few compared to other years. I read A LOT of good, great even, books this year but the following are the ones that at the end of the year still stand out in my mind - the ones that I'm still thinking on every now and then.

So now I look to 2017 which, if the last few months of 2016 indicates, will include a lot more audio books in the mix. What about you? What's in your queue for 2017?

January 2016


June 2016

July & August 2016

October 2016

December 2016

Saturday, December 31, 2016

December 2016 Bookshelf

The Obsession by Nora Roberts
Kindle Edition - 464 pages

Thank you to NetGalley and Berkley for this free readers edition. In exchange I am providing an honest review.

This was a really good story - from the storyline to the characters.
Naomi has had an unusual life. It's been marked by violence and loss. But she has maybe found a place she could settle down into. Staying put in one place is foreign to her and makes her feel ancy but the people of this small town she's landed in won't let her run as easy as she has in the past. But when a young woman goes missing and shows up dead, Naomi sees her past may be catching up with her in this unknown town. The question is why? Someone out there seems to have something to prove but she can't understand what...or why. She's tired of running, she's tired of hiding, she's tired of these sick people interferring in her life. She's done and she's going to make sure whoever is trying to get to her is done too.
Roberts has created some amazing characters - Naomi being one of them. Her brother Mason is another great character that I really think a title could be written with him as the main character - he has a different response and perspective of he and Naomi's life to tell. Serial killers are fascinating studies in psychology but Roberts focuses on the aftermath of people they leave behind - their own family and friends, their victim's family and friends, and innocent bystanders. I'm not sure I can point to one particular thing that made me like the book so much - it was all of it together.

Tell the Wind and Fire by Sarah Rees Brennan
Kindle Edition - 368 pages

Thank you to NetGalley and Clarion Books for this free readers edition. In exchange I am providing an honest review.

This book isn't in my normal stacks. I generally don't read YA, although I have nothing against it, and I generally don't read sci-fi. Due to that I was a wee bit lost in the themes of the story and the traits of the characters. That's either my lack of knowledge in this genre or it's that Brennan didn't give enough backstory to some parts for me to *get it.*
Lucie is a known name in both the Dark and Light cities. She was born in the dark but with light giftings and two years ago escaped into the light city. She, unwillingly, has become a name associated with fighting the injustices dark city residents experience. Her boyfriend, Light city resident, Ethan has been marked for treason but as the details of this possibility unfold some secrets both Ethan and Lucie have been keeping from each other are exposed. Perhaps the dangerous ones aren't residing in the dark city like those living in the light have tried to make people believe. Or perhaps there are some straddling the dark and light, maybe all of us are in some ways.
I never did quite understand how NYC became a split city of light and dark and why, or how, magic was a part of daily life. Either I totally missed Brennan's backstory on that in the book or I didn't catch whatever she did say about it as the backstory. What I did catch, whether the author meant to do highlight this or not, was the themes of privilege and poverty, injustice toward a people group, the remnant group that is always present to bring injustice into the light. Those are universal themes, universal facts that no amount of injustice and privilege can remove.

I Let You Go by Clare Mackintosh
Kindle Edition - 384 pages

Thank you to NetGalley and Berkley for this free readers edition. In exchange I am providing an honest review.

Wow! I loved this book. It was excellent and kept me guessing until the moment it didn't - which was on purpose through Mackintosh's writing. Sparked by a case Mackintosh observed while she was part of the police force before becoming an author and then a personal loss of her own, I let you go was written.
Told in alternating POV's we become immersed in a woman's fear and grief and a police investigation into a fatal hit and run. The two stories are intertwined and are full of questions and hopefully answers. I want to say so much more about the story and the characters but it would spoil the experience for the reader and I hate spoiling good things for people.
Read this book, especially if you like the thriller genre, and you won't be disappointed.

Just Show Up: The Dance of Walking through Suffering Together by Kara Tippetts, Jill Lynn Buteyn
192 pages

Kara Tippetts, author of The Hardest Peace, spent the last few weeks of her life co-writing a book with one of her friends, Jill Lynn Buteyn. The topic was one we all stumble into at some point in our lives - how do we, how should we, how can we, show up in someone's hard without making it all about us or it feels too saccharin. I've had the book on my shelf waiting for me and "forgot" about it until one recent night when I was asking God how to show up for a dear friend. Jill happened to be in the same room as me recently and just seeing her reminded me she and Kara had written a book on the very thing I was inquiring of God. Timing. I read the book that night. So thank you Jill, and Kara, for sharing your experiences of showing up to help give others - like me - a guide.
If *you* don't believe in community, hard edges and soft places, big love then *you* will not like this book. Don't even bother. Kara, while alive, showed us the way of community, hard edges and soft places, and big love and we became believers of that way. So this book is based around those practices. What I found the most helpful was chapter 3, The Gift of Silence. The whole chapter was about the very thing I have been learning myself so it served as affirmation of being on the right track. But Jill also included in the chapter some information she gleaned from an article in the LA Times and it included a simple diagram (I'm visual so I'm all about the diagrams) that really put things in perspective. I really found chapter 6, The Battle of Insecurity, to be a very important and helpful chapter as well. Full of reminders about our place in someone's life - especially in their hard. The constant theme of the book was to keep things realistic - don't make someone's hard about you, don't reach out to them to fulfill your need, truly just be there for them. When we can stay true to that, and when we have people in our life who see that, then we will be taken care of as well. Someone who isn't so close to the hard will check in on us and speak to the ways we are feeling about this hard we have entered into with the other person. Philippians 2:1-5 becomes a reality. But really the most important thing? Just show up. As awkward and as uncomfortable as it may feel or even be just show up. God will work out the details of it so just show up.

Annabel Lee (Coffey & Hill #1) by Mike Nappa
363 pages

I'm not sure if I ever would have run across this author and this book had it not been for an anonymous person sending me book 2 in a book exchange I participated in. When I looked up the book I had been sent, Raven, I saw it was number 2 so of course I needed to read number 1 first if possible. Could it have been read out of order? Probably but that's not how I like to roll. So before reading the book I was sent I read this one. So glad I did! Thank you anonymous person for putting Nappa on my radar and this series.
Trudi Coffey is a PI. Her partner, in life and the business, Samuel Hill is long gone - the pig. Every morning Trudi reads the personals looking for one entry in particular. For three years now, and who knows how long before, one word has shown up in the personal ads, a message to someone somewhere. Safe. She likes to imagine what it might mean. What she doesn't know is that she's going to find out soon. A few hours away we meet Annabel, 11 years old and educated by her Uncle Truck. She's mature for her age and already knows four languages. One day, in a flurry of rushed activity, Uncle Truck escorts Annabel into an underground bunker with instructions to not open the door for anyone unless they use the safe phrase. The next day Trudi notes the word safe is missing from the personal ads and the word "unsafe" has replaced it. She barely has time to wonder what that might mean before Samuel shows up unexpectedly and inquires about something he had given her as a gift years ago. And just like that Trudi and Samuel are brought back together in a recovery mission that will result in Annabel's release - hopefully.
This was a great read. I was pleasantly surprised as I didn't have any idea what to expect. Nappa has made Trudi a strong and formidable character - which as a woman I really appreciate. Annabel is an interesting character with an interesting history. The books reads fast and doesn't slow down - keeping the reader engaged in the storyline and invested in the characters. I'm looking forward to book 2!

The Happiness Project: Or Why I Spent a Year Trying to Sing in the Morning, Clean My Closets, Fight Right, Read Aristotle, and Generally Have More Fun by Gretchen Rubin
301 pages

I put this book on my to-read list in 2012. And then I put it on hold at the library about 3-4 months ago and it finally became available. Reading it in the last month of this calendar year was good timing, it gives me something to think about as 2017 is right around the bend. Honestly I feel like I need to read it again. There were several small nuggets that I didn't jot down but should have. Some were simply reminders and some were new-to-me ways to look at or approach something.
Leaning heavily on Benjamin Franklin and his Virtues Chart found in his book Autobiography and everything written by Samuel Johnson, Rubin - after a rainy day bus ride - decided to spend a year pursuing happiness. She also drew from many other sources. Many. Near the end of the book, instead of the beginning, she also discusses the differences between a goal and a resolution. Very helpful discussion of the difference between the two - especially coming up on a new calendar year when resolutions become commonplace in conversations.
In January, among other topics, Gretchen defines clutter - puts it into categories that make sense. In February she allowed the holiday on the 14th to form her purposes for the month - her marriage. For March Rubin tackled work - asking for help, finding fun in failure, working smarter. April found her focusing on, among other things, other people's feelings and acknowledging the reality of them. In May the focus was getting serious about playing and silliness, which sounds like a paradox and in a way it is. Gretchen took on friendship in June, connecting and reconnecting. July was spent, pun intended, in exploring the relationship between money and happiness. While she vacationed with her family in August, Rubin explored eternity - she discovered she had a spiritual mentor even when she didn't realize it.  As school started back up in September she allowed herself to pursue what impassioned her, rightly pointing out that we don't often give ourselves permission to pursue our passions. The year was winding down and in October Gretchen focused on mindfulness - in her eating, her thinking, etc. November found Rubin exploring the contented heart and what kinds of practices brought contentment. And then December, the last month of her year and her project. She set aside December to intentionally practice all 11 months of focuses she had just worked on for the year. What I love about Rubin's month of December, she called it Boot Camp Perfect, was her ready confession that there was nothing perfect about her days or her implementation of the prior 11 months topics. She gave herself grace - celebrated the successes and moved forward from the lapses - and was pleased with being further along than she had been on January 1 when she started the project. She cut herself some slack which happened to be a focus in one of the previous months.
I like Rubin's approach and how she shared it with others. She doesn't say you must do it this way or that, if you do this it is wrong or right, etc - she acknowledges that everyone will have their own unique happiness project, as it should be since we are all different people. She just wanted to share her journey as inspiration for others. It worked.

The Fairy Tale Girl (#1) by Susan Branch
288 pages

My Mama said I had to read these books - more so because of the format of them. Susan Branch's memoir isn't just words on a page, it's her story surrounded by her whimsical and nostalgic watercolors.
In The Fairy Tale Girl, Branch recounts her 20's and early 30's in which she meets and marries her first love, Cliff. Her story with Cliff, with flashbacks to her childhood, takes place between the first and last chapters in which she is on a plane "running away" as far from her home in California as she can in the wake of betrayal dealt her by Cliff.
This book is the first in a memoir trilogy, the first book written and published was actually what is now the third book. Susan realized after writing the third book, which is an illustrated travel journal of a trip through England, that her story begins with the fairy tale ideas she grew up with. So she backtracked and wrote this title plus book 2 as prequels to the now third book. Drawing from the diaries she had been keeping since she was brand new double digits, Susan shares her story. This title draws a picture of Susan's attempts to have the fairy tale kind of life she always thought she would have. And even though life isn't a fairy tale can she still have a life that is her own personal one? Maybe her fairy tale isn't supposed to be what she had imagined all those years ago.
While Susan's story isn't all that different, in my opinion, than most - the way she tells it with watercolor illustrating it, makes it enjoyable to read and special.

Martha's Vineyard, Isle of Dreams (#2) by Susan Branch
386 pages

Susan Branch continues the story of her 30's in this title. With one foot in California and one foot in New England, Branch is trying to figure out what she wants to be when she grows up. She's painting for a friend of Cliff's on commission, baking up savory and sweets for a store on Main Street, and is wondering what she'll look like as a bag lady. While trying to figure all this out she makes some improvements and renovations to her island cottage and begins to figure out what life with four seasons is like. Her friend, Jane, had mentioned she should write/paint a recipe book years ago and slowly Susan begins. After some starts and stops Susan finally decides to go for it and begins looking for a publisher. And that's how we have heard of Susan Branch and her enchanting watercolors, recipes, and home tips. A publishing company, the same one who published Louisa May Alcott!!, picked up Susan's first manuscript. Healing from Cliff's betrayal Susan finds her way forward.

A Fine Romance: Falling in Love with the English Countryside (#3) by Susan Branch
260 pages

To celebrate 25 years of togetherness Susan Branch and her love, Joe, board Queen Mary II and embark on a 2 month journey of England. Still living on Martha's Vineyard Susan has come a long way from her 30's and the mid-1980's in which she was nursing heartache and trying to figure out what she wanted to be when she grew up. Outside of the first few pages of the book, telling briefly the love story between Susan and Joe, this is a travel journal of their two months in England. I liked it, made me want to hop on a ship or a plane myself and go driving through English countryside as they did. Long in love with Beatrix Potter, Susan and Joe make visiting her home a priority. They also visit several other well-known places and Susan's enthusiasm for each place, indeed for England itself, is rather contagious. *Full disclosure: I am a little more in tune to all things British right now as I'm going through the Harry Potter series again and am currently rather addicted to British Crime Drama shows.* Set as the same format, words surrounded by Branch watercolors, the book is easy and quick to read - not to mention enjoyable.

The Best Yes: Making Wise Decisions in the Midst of Endless Demands by Lysa TerKeurst
272 pages

A while back a friend mentioned she needed/wanted to read A Best Yes. I said, let's do it! Reminders and refreshers are never a bad idea, especially the older I get and the more my brain feels stuffed so full things are getting crowded out. The Best Yes addresses not just the people-pleasing mentality the Church has fostered in Christians but the deeper implications of it for each individual. TerKeurst carefully unwinds the tight ball of yarn that makes up the disease of saying yes to everything to show the frayed places and the tangles always saying yes creates. Nobody is going to want to wear a sweater with thin places, broken threads, etc.  And as TerKeurst is careful to point out - this doesn't mean you always say no either. Neither extreme of yes or no is wise, beneficial, right, or good. There's a balance and it's called the best yes. Drawing from both practical and spiritual guidelines Lysa helps the reader see how to make choices that are the best yes. And when we need to say no? She calls it the small no and gives a way for that too, which I appreciate. It's one thing to say, "Just say no" but to give ways and examples of how to go about saying no without damaging relationships, feeling insecure or guilty, etc is a whole other thing and TerKeurst leads the way. In fact her chapter on the small no reminded me I have not yet gotten back to someone who asked me to join something. The answer is a no and the chapter reminded me of how to do it so nobody feels bad. Chapter 18 was unexpectedly a *perfect* chapter for me to read at this time. Titled "When my best yes doesn't yield what I expect" TerKeurst's example for the chapter was based on a older teenage child and a decision they had made that in turn made Lysa feel like a mothering fail. That is exactly the place I am in myself these days with both of my teens. Reading her words, hearing someone affirm how I was feeling about the fail or the perceived fail I should say, was something I needed. (Although I'm still looking for someone willing to take over parenting these two lovelies of mine...anyone? anyone?) It seems like all the best yes choices I have made over the years with my two are failing but TerKeurst reminds me, and other readers, to keep going. Keep making the best yes choices. Don't give up. I would say the overall message/reminder I gleaned from reading the book was that practicing small no's and best yes' leaves sacred space for God and others and it is that sacred space that we each need in our lives.

Chosen?: Reading the Bible Amid the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict by Walter Brueggemann
Kindle Edition - 114 pages

Thank you to NetGalley and Westminster John Knox Press for this free readers edition. In exchange I am providing an honest review.

So really this is more a booklet than a book. In the Kindle edition the 114 pages are really about 70 pages content and the rest is compiled of tips and such for having a healthy discussion about the content of the book. So all this to say I read the book in about 2 minutes. *wink*
Brueggemann concisely speaks about the promises from God to Israel regarding land and being "chosen." And he holds a conversation about what being chosen entails - the responsibilities it carries - and how Israel fails to uphold those. "It would seem that in every claim of chosenness - from Israel, the United States, the church - the chosen must choose beyond their chosenness. This is difficult, for it is against the grain of entitlement and assurance. But unless difficult choices are made, the present violence can only hold out a future of perpetual violence." He logically points out that leaning upon a Biblical promise won't hold water with the world and to try to make claims based on it alone isn't going to get Israel very far. His straightforward and easy to comprehend explanations can't really be argued with at all. He concludes, based on reading the scriptures and dissecting God's interactions with the Israelites that, "the land is given to Israel unconditionally, but it is held by Israel conditionally." They can't keep the land, the promise of God, if they don't adhere to standards of behavior set forth in the Torah. This is called the Deuteronomic If. Brueggemann was able, in this booklet, to explain to me in ways I could understand the conflict surrounding being a chosen of God and why it can be filled with strife. Included in the booklet is a study guide meant to help lead group discussion about this tension filled topic - I would love to have discussions with people about this, he brings up such good points.

The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead
306 pages

I haven't always been impressed or won over by Oprah Book Club picks or books that have a lot of chatter surrounding them. But this title, in my opinion, deserves the pick - the chatter. Whitehead has crafted a read that is relevant for our times now even though it discusses slavery and the Underground Railroad from the 1800's. The fact that many of Whitehead's conversation points could apply to today's atmosphere, especially in America, is sobering. The fact that progress has been made in "race relations" but maybe not as much as we have deluded ourselves to think is frustrating and embarrassing. And in a slight shift from most authors who choose to tackle this part of American history, Whitehead also addresses the injustices and damage the white man has heaped upon the Native American as well.
Cora is the book's main character and the reader follows her journey from life on a plantation as someone's perceived property to escaping through the Underground Railroad to the dream and hope of a life lived in freedom. Whitehead's Underground Railroad is literal in this story. A network of tracks and trains that run deep under the surface of the nation. I loved the idea of a literal railway system being forged deep under the soil of America. As it is the real Underground Railroad and how it operated was amazing - I am fascinated by it. But back to Cora. Cora was born on Randall Plantation and believes she will die there. Why would she entertain any thoughts different than those? But one day another slave, Caesar, plants the idea of escaping into her head. First she dismisses it but then as events at the plantation escalate she revisits the idea - daring to dream of a different life. But the road to freedom is fraught with peril, most especially for a black person in the deep South in the 1800's. As they travel the Underground Railroad and make stops along the way, Cora and Caesar learn what the cost of freedom can be and that not all slavery is visible - sometimes it is disguised as freedom. Does the Railroad ever come to stop? Is there an end? And if so, is true freedom found there? Cora perseveres in hopes to discover the treasure of freedom she dreams of.
Whenever I think about the Underground Railroad I am humbled and awed at the endurance of the human spirit. No matter how viciously and consistently the white man tries to force others into submission, to break the spirit of those they label inferior due to the color of their skin or some such nonsense, people find a way to rebel against injustice and not just survive but thrive. To forge a life worth living. The fortitude that takes prompts a reverential awe within me. Whitehead manages to capture that fortitude in Cora, and in the others she comes across in her journey to freedom. One of the characters, Royal, shares his opinion on justice with Cora, "....for justice may be slow and invisible, but it always renders its true verdict in the end." Cora didn't believe Royal's opinion about justice and its making me wonder if I believe that or not as well. I've always believed in justice having the final say but so much seems unraveled these days that I can't see justice winning the war. I hope I'm wrong. I hope I'm so wrong that I get made fun of for how wrong I will end up being.

Domestic Secrets by Rosalind Noonan
Kindle Edition - 352 pages

Thank you to NetGalley and Kensington for this free readers edition. In exchange I am providing an honest review.

What a...disturbing...story.
Rachel and Ariel met as single moms, stuck with each other through marriages that ended with them as widows, and still walk through life as single moms. They are different as night and day but somehow they have always been friends. Ariel is the local vocal coach for any kid in town, especially the ones in the High School Glee Club. Rachel is the local hair salon owner. They both have seniors in High School, among the other kids, and spring is a busy season for them. The Spring Showcase is coming up as is Prom. Ariel has recently ended a relationship that was unhealthy but is seeing someone new. She won't tell Rachel who though and as time goes on Rachel gets more and more concerned because it seems Ariel might not be in a relationship that is acceptable. But who could it be? As time goes on and Rachel watches Ariel at Spring Showcase rehearsals she begins to wonder things that she shouldn't be wondering about her friend. Trying to dismiss these thoughts she is finally forced to face them when a tragic event happens involving both of their seniors. And as always happens, what was attempting to hide in the dark is eventually exposed by the light.
Noonan's story isn't unrealistic. It combines a lot of actual events into one story. It's still disturbing on a few levels. Ariel is disturbing on many levels. I don't know if I liked the book or not. It was a story I couldn't put down though. Once I started it I had to finish it because it kept me wondering and I knew I wouldn't be able to get anything else done or sleep until my wonderings had been answered. For the readability alone it gets praise from me. Noonan hooked the reader from the beginning and didn't let them go until the end.

Hunting Hope: Dig Through the Darkness to Find the Light by Nika Maples
Kindle Edition

Thank you to NetGalley and Worthy Publishing for this free readers edition. In exchange I am providing an honest review.

Psalm 74:16-17 (VOICE)

16 The day and the night are both Yours—
    You fashioned the sun, moon, and all the lights that pierce the darkness.
17 You have arranged the earth, set all its boundaries;
    You are the Architect of the seasons: summer and winter.

"Winter is not a fluke. Winter is every bit as God-ordained, as blessed and necessary, as are the other three seasons." And so Nika Maples begins her book on finding hope - light - in the darkness of a winter season. Maples has quite a story and has been through many winters of life so she understands the loss of hope and the need to find it. Winter is a reality in life. Hope is a hard topic to unpack. It's a kind of a vague concept to try and grasp. It's nothing tangible so you have to be okay with it being something that dwells within. But you have to find it first. Maples had some great nuggets of wisdom in her title about hope. There was nothing that really stood out to me as transforming but that isn't a bad thing necessarily. Us humans have pretty horrible memories so reminders are never a bad idea.

Honorable Mention:

About three years ago I read the Harry Potter series for the first time (it won't be my last) and have been hearing how good the audio book versions are - a good narrator/reader makes ALL the difference people.
In October I started listening to the series on audio during my commutes. This month, I squeezed in book 4 on audio. And listereading it I was reminded why it is perhaps my most favorite book in the whole series!

I also started listereading to Moby Dick (unabridged version) and All The Light You Cannot See but didn't finish them before the month, or in this case, the year was over. Check in next month to see if I manage to finish Moby Dick or not - the jury is still out on that one!