Wednesday, November 30, 2016

November 2016 Bookshelf

Thoughtful Christianity: Faith and Action in the Way of Jesus by Ben Daniel
Kindle Edition - 216 pages

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

I'm not sure I can review this book and do it justice. It was so perfect for the season I find myself in, really for the season the American church has found themselves in due to the recent Presidential election. Ben Daniel, with wisdom and grace, discusses with the reader the way of Jesus in our faith. He corrects some misunderstandings about the history of the church, he discusses the need for learning and becoming educated about issues and faith traditions, and he champions the necessity for operating in a thoughtful way when it comes to being a Christ follower. I honestly can't say more than that because there is too much to say about this title, it is one that - to understand its importance - needs to be read for oneself. This will not be the only time I read the book, it is excellent and I personally will need several readings of it to really glean the wisdom Daniel's shares.

Anne of Green Gables (Anne of Green Gables #1) by L.M. Montgomery
Audio Book - Narrated by Barbara Caruso

I've tried reading this series a couple of times and never could get into it even though I KNEW I would love it. So it occurred to me, 'why not try listereading it?!' It was a good idea. *wink*
I saw the movies years ago, loved it more than I can ever express. Anne Shirley is one of the best characters ever created. She is so lovely, so sincere, so innocent, so...wonderful. We meet Anne Shirley, eleven years old, when she arrives at a train station to be picked up by Matthew Cuthbert. But she was supposed to be a he. Yet Anne wins her way into the hearts of Matthew and his sister, Marilla and eventually into the hearts of the people of Avonlea. She settles into the east gable room at Green Gables, the Cuthbert's farm, and introduces love and light into the lives of those she lives with, goes to school with, etc. Anne's life as an orphan has given her interesting experiences and insights and didn't discourage her from hope - there's an important lesson in her attitude for all of us. There's not much more I can say about the book without ruining the joy of it. It has to be experienced in order to really appreciate the wonderfulness of Anne Shirley and the other characters Montgomery created.

Where Are You Now? by Mary Higgins Clark
Audio Book - Narrated by Alan Nebelthau and Jackie Chung

I miss MHC. I'm not sure who is writing her books these days, surely it can't be her. I feel it has to be a ghostwriter. I listened to this book so I got a double whammy. The narrators chosen to read this book were AWFUL, especially Alan Nebelthau. Oh my word, so bad. They both read stilted and with an odd cadence. Setting aside the awful narration of the audio book the story itself lacked the elements that MHC used to write - strong characters, strong storyline, engaging dialogue. It felt so...elementary in its writing. Unnecessary detail led to what felt like a very rushed explanation and ending to the story. I ended up being annoyed by the final chapters of the book. This was not good and I'm so sad because MHC has been a beloved author of mine for so long. Seriously - was this a ghostwriter?

The Passenger by Lisa Lutz
Kindle Edition - 320 pages

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

I've not read Lisa Lutz before but I will read her again. Apparently she is the author of a great series about a family of detectives. I'm guessing, however, that this title is very different from those books. This book was great, I really enjoyed it.
The main character of the book, Tanya, is on the run. But she isn't on the run for the first time - her most recent stop as Tanya was just an 8 year layover. She's been on the run for a decade. We learn her story backward while she is going forward trying to outrun her past and her present. Along the way she meets another person on the run, they recognize the looks in each other's eyes. Helping each other, or so Tanya hopes, they each continue on their way trying to find a life as someone else. But the lives are catching up with Tanya, what will happen when there aren't any other identities to assume? Can she go home and face who she really is and the life she ran from?
While parts of Lutz's story are unbelievable, and perhaps impossible, it was still a great read with lots of action and engagement. Lutz does a good job of creating a character that the reader is rooting for.

Try Not to Breathe by Holly Seddon
Kindle Edition -  369 pages

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

Wow! Great story. And it is the author's debut novel. Fantastic introduction.
Amy has been asleep for 15 years. She has hovered between wakefulness and coma after being found beaten in the park. Any inquiries the police did into the crime and possible suspects have gone cold and Amy is mostly forgotten. That is until Alex, a freelance journalist, accidently stumbles across the story. Unable to let it go for reasons she can't understand Alex starts investigating Amy's life and the day she disappeared. As people from Amy's life 15 years ago start to surface Alex begins to put pieces of Amy's puzzle together. But Alex is falling apart - she's a functioning alcoholic and her health is starting to fail. But the closer she gets to Amy's truth the more she sees the necessity of getting clean. And it's Amy giving her the strength to do it.
As I said above, a fantastic story. Seddon has two strong main characters in Amy and Alex. Yes, even though Amy is asleep we get to know her and her voice in this story. And Alex, the functioning alcoholic, is a character the reader feels for, roots for, wants to see succeed both in championing for Amy and in getting rid of the alcohol that her organs are being pickled by. This was a strong debut - I'm looking forward to her next novel.

Angels Burning by Tawni O'Dell
Kindle Edition - 288 pages

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

A new-to-me author that I enjoyed, creating a strong female character that was a great blend of badass and nurturing.
Dove is the Chief of Police in her Pennsylvania town and the reader meets her early one morning when a teenaged body is found in a burning sinkhole outside of town. Dove grew up in the town she now polices and has a past that people hold her up against. But instead of letting the past define her she has chosen to define it, as has her sister. Helping with the investigation of this teenage homicide leads Dove to face her own family's past and reconcile the loose ends that were always hanging around. In the meantime another well-known family in town seems to have some loose ends of their own and Dove is determined to find out how they tie into the murder of a young woman.

A Girl's Guide to Moving On by Debbie Macomber
Kindle Edition - 352 pages

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

This was an enjoyable read. It wasn't especially deep or thought provoking but enjoyable nonetheless.
Nichole and Leanne are starting over...together. They both left their husbands after adultery was exposed. They moved into the same apartment building across the hall from one another so they would have each other and so Leanne could watch Owen, her grandson and Nichole's son, while Nichole worked. Nichole was married to Leanne's son, Jake, who unfortunately had his father's roving eyes and hands. This is the story of Nichole and Leanne making choices to move forward in life post-marriage to adulterous men. They created a simple guide to help them move on and have been sticking to its points when they both meet men who may or may not fit in to the whole moving on idea. And then there's the moving on, what will it look like for each woman and what will she need to do in order to find life and love again?
Macomber is a popular and prolific author, she writes easy to read stories about relationships that leave the reader feeling warm and fuzzy.

The Widow by Fiona Barton
Kindle Edition - 336 pages

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

How much does the spouse of a criminal really know? Do they know it all? Do they know nothing? Do they know something but can't put their finger on it? How does a spouse excuse odd behavior and requests to lie for their spouses whereabouts should they be questioned? What does the innocent spouse have to tell themselves in order to keep living with the suspect? These are the kinds of questions Barton attempts to answer, fictionally, in this title.
Jean's husband Glen has died in a very sudden way but that's not why the newspapers and television reporters are stalking her house. A couple of years before Glen's death he was suspected of kidnapping, and most likely murdering, a little girl. But he wasn't convicted because no solid evidence could ever be found. Jean stood by Glen. She stood by him as they uncovered Glen's extreme porn addiction that included child porn. She stood by him as they searched their home and belongings with a fine tooth comb. She stood by him as his behavior became more and more suspicious. She stood by him as he lied to her about their life. But now Glen is gone, one stumbling step and a bus took his life. Now reporters and police want Jean to quit standing by Glen and tell them the truth about the little girl. How much does Jean know? Has she always known? How much does she tell now? These are the questions Jean is reviewing the answers to in her mind and the reader is privy to her side of the story. The reader also gets the story from the POV of a reporter and a police officer (copper) and Glen's POV pops in for a chapter or two even. This much is clear no matter whose side of the story you are listening to - pornography leads people - and their friends/family - down very dark and dangerous roads.
Overall this was a good read. There were a few parts where it dragged a bit or felt "forced" but Barton manages to pull it all together for a decent story. I wasn't super surprised by the outcome but that didn't take away from the story.

Missing Pieces by Heather Gudenkauf
Kindle Edition - 288 pages

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

Heather Gudenkauf's books have been on my to-read list for a long time and after finally reading one, Missing Pieces, I'll be making sure I read her other titles. I really enjoyed this story.
Sarah has accompanied her husband of twenty years, Jack, back to his hometown when news of a family emergency comes early one morning. Jack has avoided his hometown since he left it and Sarah hasn't ever met any of his family. Arriving in Penny Gate, Iowa Sarah watches her husband transform from the man she's been married to for all these years into one she barely recognizes. Mystery surrounds his childhood in Penny Gate and his return. Everyone in the family is on edge and Sarah discovers she doesn't know anything about her husband and his life prior to meeting and marrying him 20 years ago. But the longer they are there and the more the family emergency reveals the more missing pieces of Jack's life Sarah figures out. But not everyone wants Sarah to find all the missing pieces to the mystery of Jack's family and Sarah finds herself in danger.
One of the reasons Gudenkauf has caught my attention is because she seems to write stories that explore the dynamics - healthy and otherwise - of relationships with a little mystery thrown in. I confess - I'm a sucker for those kind of stories even if they are slightly unrealistic. I know there's no way that real life holds the kind of deception and mystery authors like Gudenkauf write about but it sure makes for a good read.

The Things We Keep by Sally Hepworth
Kindle Edition - 352 pages

Thank you to NetGalley and St. Martin's Press for this free readers edition. In exchange I am providing an honest review.

One of the most devastating illnesses, in my opinion, is Alzheimer's. And when it happens to people who haven't lived a full life yet it seems even more cruel.
Anna is a thirty-nine year old who has Alzheimer's. It's progressed fast and she can't live with her twin brother and his family any longer, she needs to be somewhere where she can be watched 24/7. So Anna becomes one of two under 50 year old residents in a residential facility. The other resident is Luke, a 42 year old who has a different kind of dementia that affects his language. The rest of the residents are in their 80's and just living at the residence due to their old age. They become family to each other. Enter Eve, the new cook who has her own traumatic past she's trying to recover from, and the story of Anna and Eve holds lessons for everyone around them. In both healing and letting go there are things to keep.
I really liked this book and the story. I love how Hepworth made sure her characters reminded the reader of the life they still possessed even if they were older or had no memories left. I love how she built a relationship between the residents and employees of the residence. It was a heartwarming story of new life, second chances, and familial love.

A Drop in the Ocean: A Novel by Jenni Ogden
Kindle Edition - 295 pages

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

I like the stories where the coming-of-age happens for either a second time or for the first time later in life. This is a coming-of-age story for a woman who just turned 49 and found out her life's work was no longer being funded.
Anna has been doing research in the field of Huntington's Disease for the last 15 years. Seeing as how a cure is still so far off she is blindsided when her recent grant request is denied and she suddenly finds herself jobless and at loose ends. She's got one friend, prefers seclusion to crowds, and isn't sure what she could do now. Taking a risk, something very unusual for her, Anna agrees to spend a year on a remote island in Australia. She figures she will read and write and figure out by the time she turns 50 what she should do with her life. But life on the island isn't as remote, secluded, or isolated as Anna thought it would be and she finds her days filling up with new experiences and new people. She discovers her heart expanding in ways she thought it could not and when the year is over has choices to make she hadn't anticipated.
Jenni Ogden, like Lisa Genova, had her first career in the study of the brain. And like Lisa Genova, due to her interactions with patients and their families, knew that she could introduce the general public to the sciences of the brain in an informative but easy way to learn about. Enter the fiction story about a very real disease, in this case Huntington's. I like that Ogden comes at Huntington's from the clinical perspective and adds in the human element, because in the end it is the human element that has the most impact on the individual and on the family and friends of that person. She used took Anna's clinical approach to people affected by Huntington's and made her confront the human element through new experiences and relationships. I look forward to what other fictional stories Ogden will create to share very real illnesses and diseases with the general public.

Far From True (Promise Falls Trilogy #2) by Linwood Barclay
Kindle Edition - 464 pages

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

I am very happy to be able to keep up with Barclay's Promise Falls Series. This is book 2 and it seems that book 3 will wrap up all the loose ends. I haven't read any of his other works but I've moved them to my to-read list because I really like his style.
Book 1 characters David Harwood and Detective Duckworth feature in this second installment of the Promise Falls Trilogy but joining them is PI Cal Weaver. Some of the loose end storylines are resolved in this book and others are still unresolved leading into book 3. This title starts with a tragic accident happening at the drive-in theater. The large screen falls into the parking lot, crushing cars and killing 4 people. Detective Duckworth needs to figure out who did this and why and as he investigates the number 23 keeps coming back at him. There were the 23 dead squirrels, the ferris wheel cart #23, and the hoodie with 23 on it from book 1. And the trend, because that is what it seems to be, continues with the fall of the movie screen and other things that happen thereafter. Suddenly Duckworth believes he is dealing with a killer trying to send a very specific message - the problem is he can't figure his way to what 23 is supposed to mean. Meanwhile, David Harwood is dealing with his new boss - the former mayor who wants a second chance and trying to catch the attention of a woman who has caught his. But she's got her own problem - her son's grandparents are threatening her and PI Cal Weaver finds his way into her dilemma quite by accident. But Cal needs the work so he takes the job and the other one that comes his way - a home break-in where nothing seems to be missing but something has most definitely been taken. Promise Falls, for such a "small" town, is busy with crime and intrigue these days.

Multiple Listings by Tracy McMillan
Kindle Edition - 320 pages

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

I've never heard of Tracy McMillan but she's apparently pretty well-known in the TV world as a writer. Her first title was a memoir and while this one draws from some of her life experiences it's a fictional story about a single woman and the life she's trying to ensure for herself and her 16 year old.
Nicki Daniels is 37 years old, self-employed, single mom to Cody, estranged from her parents, and in a relationship with a man 11 years younger than her. Jake, her boyfriend, wants to open a restaurant with her support - and as her best friend says, with her money - and move in together. She's moving forward when in a short amount of time several things happen to shake up her orderly life. Her con-man father shows up at her front door after 17 years of incarceration, her son has 26 absences for the first few months of school, and Jake has suddenly gone off the grid. Nicki can't trust her dad, Ronnie, but wants to - trusts Jake, but thinks she shouldn't - and can't figure out if she's failing Cody as a parent or succeeding. But she takes tiny steps to starting again with Ronnie, standing up to Jake, and parenting her teenaged son. And it's those tiny steps that she finally finds her way forward again.
I really liked the relationship that McMillan ends up building between Nicki and Ronnie - the steps that they have to go through to find their way, the work that Ronnie did while in prison to better himself for when he got out and the purposeful things he does to prove to Nicki he can be there for her and Cody. I like the messages McMillan weaves in about the incarcerated and life outside of the bars, I imagine she may be a voice for reforming the system?  This was a really good read, McMillan weaves a lot of real life into this fictional story and it all works.

The Girl From Home by Adam Mitzner
Kindle Edition - 336 pages

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

Eh. This is my second Mitzner title to read and review and it fell flat for me. Mitzner spends too much time on details that are unnecessary and not enough time developing the storyline and characters, in my opinion.
Jonathan is a financial wizard and has a trophy wife. But his pride is greedy and leads him to make some poor decisions that are sure to have a domino effect of dismantling his current life. Traveling home to see his ailing father he decides to attend his 25th High School Reunion where he renews his acquaintance with a few classmates. One of them is Jackie, the girl every boy in high school had a crush on. She didn't give Jonathan the time of day back then but now it's a very different story. As Jackie and Jonathan spend more time together things become a little more complicated than they needed to be. Finally Jonathan must decide if Jackie is worth it or if she's using him for her own reasons.
Much like the other title of Mitzner's that I read, my complaint with this one is its elementary development and writing. I just couldn't buy into the characters and their spontaneous emotions that Mitzner wanted the reader to believe went deeper than sex. Also Jonathan's life in the financial world - the investigation didn't encourage him to transform into a better man, getting caught forced him to. This reader didn't believe in any remorse on his part for the intentional fraud he committed. It was just all so unbelievable when all was said and done.

No One Knows by J.T. Ellison
Kindle Edition - 368 pages

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

Ellison is a new-to-me author that, after reading this title, I have added her other books to my to-read list. Great writing! Her other titles are all in series but this is a stand alone book.
For five years Aubrey has been hoping for her husband, Josh, to return back to her and their life. One night he kissed her and then disappeared, no clues as to his whereabouts or if he was even still alive. Daisy, her MIL, can't stand her and believes Aubrey killed Josh. But there's no way she would have or could have, he was her life - her savior from a very dark and troubled childhood. Daisy succeeds in having Josh declared legally dead after 5 years so she can go after his life insurance. Aubrey could care less, she just wants Josh to return home. But as soon as Josh is declared dead, people and events start pointing at proof of life - Josh's to be exact. As in he is alive. Aubrey can't believe it but too many things start happening that feel to solid to be coincidence so she goes searching for the answers. But as she searches she starts to realize that perhaps she didn't know Josh like she thought she did and maybe he's still alive - but why has he never come back to her?
Ellison writes a story that was engaging and kept this reader on the hook. The character of Aubrey is really interesting to follow throughout the story. I have a lot of admiration for those who can come up with thrillers that twist and turn and keep on doing so right until the very end, Ellison accomplished that with this story.

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, in addition to the above mentioned audio books (which I had not read/listeread before), I squeezed in books 2 and 3 on audio. They were fantastic!

Monday, October 31, 2016

October 2016 Bookshelf

Kindle Edition - 176 pages

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

It took me over a month to read the book once through. Then I decided I couldn't say I had read it until I read it again, that time it took me one day. Yes, just one day. I determined to get through it, having a first read as a basis for the second read.  
The first read through I just read the book. The second time I read the book as the author intended - using the Bible also. Since it's my review I get to make it as short - or as long - as I want. You can read the review - or not. That's your choice! *wink*
In Bird's introduction and chapter 1 she explains why this book has come into existence. She uses her own background as the reason why she first started wondering if everything she was reading in the Bible was exactly as she was reading it or if perhaps context of cultural etc really might matter. In the introduction she gives the reader two points that I really appreciate, they are perhaps the first of her many "permission granted" points.
1. God gave you your brain, so it has to be okay to use it.
2. If they are worth your devotion, God and the Bible can handle your intellectual pursuits. (My take on this particular point would be - God is not the one threatened by any questions etc we have, it's everyone else who is threatened. He's bigger than that.)
Chapter 1 finds Bird discussing what the Bible is, and what the Bible isn't. She challenges the claims of inerrancy and infallibility - which is going to raise the hackles of some immediately. It may or may not have raised mine a bit. *grin* Her challenges to those claims are based off of motivations, genres, and perspective of author of the book within the Bible. And she goes on, in chapter 1, to unpack those reasonings. Her conclusion on knowing and understanding the true writings can be summed up, in my opinion, with this statement she makes, "Most often when people begin to read with context and writing type in mind, they find the writings more meaningful, not less." I read that sentence as a challenge of sorts for myself. If I read the passages she will be discussing in this book with the context and writing type in mind as she lays them out will I indeed find the Bible more meaningful and not less?
Chapter 2 Bird starts at the beginning, which is the topic of much debate in American culture today (I can't speak for other cultures since I don't live there). She starts with the creation story found in Genesis 1-2. Bird is insistent on honoring the writings of the Bible and her idea of honoring it is explained in this way, "Reading the Bible 'literally' is not necessarily the best way to honor it." That particular statement is sure to raise some hackles. It may or may not have raised mine a bit. *grin* But instead of taking my raised hackles and marching off the other direction I am choosing to push through for the sake of being uncomfortable and having an open mind.
In chapter 2 she has a lot to say about a lot. (I don't want to be a spoiler. Okay fine, hints are: women, men, equality, creation of the earth, creation of humans, myths versus truth.) The one thing that I cannot get around being uncomfortable with is her assertion that biology is more accurate than God. But if God created the biology then can't he do whatever he wants? Perhaps it is our understanding of biology that is flawed, not the other way around?
Chapter 3 is all about the garden but here's what Bird has to say about it, "If you have thought of this story [the garden] as only being about 'original sin' or 'the fall of Man,' you are in for quite a ride. So, hold on to your hat and buckle your seatbelt." Bird's belief is that the story found in Genesis 3 is a myth, meant to give an explanation for the pains of childbirth and why it is so hard to produce food from the ground. I can't help but think, however, that if ancient peoples were looking for a story to explain these things that they might have come up with ones that didn't seem so harsh? But perhaps I misunderstand good storytelling. She also addresses the idea and purpose of Satan. These are interesting thoughts that I can lean toward - no hackles raised at that point. *grin* She closes out chapter 3 talking about the influence of the early church fathers and their opinions about the scriptures becoming the scriptures we actually read and follow today instead of what the original language etc means.
Chapter 4 tackles the topic of sex and sexuality in the Bible. Hackles will be raised in this chapter. Mine may or may not have been. *grin* She addresses the topic of "biblical marriage" and any of my hackles that may have been raised lowered the more I considered her arguments for what a "biblical marriage" actually means according to the Bible. Then she dives into sex - heterosexual and homosexual.
In the Old Testament, specifically, there is a lot of violence. Was it really violence directed by God or was it violence men attributed to God or was it something in between? Bird takes chapter 5 to discuss. She addresses both punishment/discipline and the sacrificial system. It is in discussing the sacrificial system - which leads to the crucifixion of Jesus - that hackles will probably go up again. Mine may or may not have. *grin* She also continues with the controversial topics by talking about the death penalty. She includes in the chapter about violence about the abuse and violent treatment of women throughout the scriptures. This did not raise my hackles but it will raise the hackles of many - and not all of them men, which astounds me. She does have a profound portion within the chapter about enemies and who we should consider, if anyone at all, enemies and why/why not.
Those stories we were told in Sunday School? In chapter 6 the author talks about the real story of those cleaned up stories. She also addresses the famed verse, John 3:16. Yes, hackles will be raised. Mine may or may not have been. *grin*
In the chapters leading up to chapter 7 Bird has been advocating for women and in this chapter she quits 'hinting' around and just devotes the entire chapter to the idea of women and God. She spends quite a bit of time discussing the differences found in the 'genuine Pauline' letters from what is said, about women specifically, in the 'disputed Pauline letters.' Her exegesis makes a lot of sense and provides explanation for the divided mind Paul was thought to have regarding women.
And then in chapter 8 Bird really goes for it. She discusses the conception and birth of Jesus. She discusses the virgin Mary and wonders if she really was a virgin. Yes, hackles will go up in defense of this doctrinal issue. Mine may or may not have. *grin*
Chapter 9 is titled, "Will the real Jesus please stand up?" and Bird starts off the chapter by saying that it may be "startling for people to discover that there is more that one 'version' of Jesus in the Bible and more than one way of understanding salvation." What she means is that the first four books - Matthew, Mark, Luke, John - give different perspectives on Jesus. They each cast him in a different light, so to speak. So which one is he? Could he not be all of them and the books are still pointing to different facets of who he is? This chapter, in particular, really felt like Bird was building a case for the commonality of Jesus rather than the Jesus that came to be a savior. It felt very pointed toward Jesus was just a dude who happened to say and do a lot of good things and some people decided to write about him and oh yeah, they leaned on Old Testament scriptures to make it sound like he was something special and unique. My hackles may or may not have gone up. *grin*
Second in popularity, and controversy, to Jesus is the Apostle Paul. So the author spends chapter 10 on Paul. While she similarly talks about Paul the way she does Jesus, in a diminishing way, she also makes some interesting points about his mission and its differences from the mission of the disciples.
Ah, it's the end of the world as we know it - and we've come the the end of the world countless times yet we are all still here. Bird takes chapter 11 to go through Revelation - the apocalypse, the final days of this world as we know it. This is another chapter in which the potential for raised hackles is pretty high. Mine were not raised but so much of evangelical America has built their faith on the book of Revelation that I know this chapter would raise the hackles of many.
And then where do we go from here? Where do we go with the questioning of the word of God? Does the questioning of the word of God make the writings more meaningful not less? For me? For you? In the final paragraphs of this book the author says this, "My ultimate intention has been to have you look at where you have placed your faith. Is it on the words in the Bible or on the God the Bible points to?" But I take issue with that end goal. She just took the reader through 11 chapters of questioning the Bible that points to God. The Holy Bible is the resource we have been given to get to know the God we say we believe in. If we call it into question then ultimately we are also calling into question the reality of God.
One final comment on the title. In an effort, I presume, to be chatty and down to earth about this questioning of the Bible the author employs the use of "hmmmm" quite a bit. And by quite a bit I mean it appears in frequency the further into the book we get. It really got on my nerves after a while. One or two instances of it are fine, I use it myself from time to time. But it's frequency in the pages detracted not attracted.

Why Not Me? by Mindy Kaling
Audio Book - read by Mindy Kaling

I have a crush on Mindy Kaling.
And the more I watch her (over and over) on The Office and her show The Mindy Project the more obsessed I become with her. She is real, relateable, and funny as all get out. She flies under the radar because she is not just funny she is freaking smart. She has a strong work ethic and has worked super hard to get to the place she is in.
I opted to read this book of Mindy's by listening to it because Mindy reads it herself and I knew hearing her say the things she wrote would be a great way to pass my time in the car during my commute.
I was 100% right, hearing Mindy read her book was awesome - I laughed and was able to hear her inflection exactly as she intended. And it was a great stress reliever before and after work days - which I really need these days.

Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? (And Other Concerns) by Mindy Kaling
Audio Book - read by Mindy Kaling

In case you hadn't caught it before, I have a crush on Mindy Kaling. A huge crush.
I listened to Why Not Me? first and before I had even finished it got this one checked out so I could immediately begin it once the other ended.
Written before the book I listeread (I'm trying that out as a new word, a mash up of listened and read. Yes? No?) first this title talks a bit more about Mindy's time on The Office.
I'm pretty sure other drivers saw me laughing all by myself in the car and thought I was going crazy. Well if enjoying Mindy Kaling's stories and humor is crazy then call me crazy!

The Witches of Cambridge by Menna van Praag 
Kindle Edition - 320 pages

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

In Cambridge there's a group of witches, they know they are but the rest of the community doesn't and that's the way they like it to be. Otherwise it just causes too many problems. But, it turns out, it causes problems for them also. Sometimes they get ahead of themselves due to their special powers. This is story about a "year in the life" of  Amandine, Noa, Kat, Cosima, George, and Heloise and each of them trying to live with their special powers in a world where they would be considered freaks by most.
I enjoyed this book but I don't know how much because I took a really long time (in my world) to read it and I kept putting it down in favor of other things - although I don't think that was the book's fault. It was an easy to read story although not terribly moving or memorable.

Ahab's Wife, or The Star-Gazer by Sena Jeter Naslund
704 pages

How I found out about this title...
Mom: I just finished reading one of Paul's [my brother] favorite books, Ahab's Wife by Sena Jeter Naslund. Loved it and wonder if you would like to read it?
Me: Yes!

"Captain Ahab was neither my first husband nor my last." And so begins the story of Una. Born in the deep Kentucky woods, transplanted to a remote lighthouse on the east coast, gained sea legs on a ship or two, and landing in Nantucket Una's life is one of adventure, insight, loss, and gain. Una is a fascinating woman for her refusal to follow the whims of a crowd - be in thought or action, for her independent spirit, for her fortitude through some of life's tough moments, and for her deep love for Ahab. To say too much about Una would, I'm afraid, be a spoiler of the story Naslund has created about this woman she has imagined into existence as Captain Ahab's wife. Yes, that Ahab - the one of Moby Dick. While a wife was never mentioned in great detail in Herman Melville's Moby Dick there is a passage or two where one is ever so briefly mentioned. Naslund took those brief mentions and brought to life a woman who could equal, maybe even surpass, Captain Ahab.
Reviews of this title mention the word 'lyrical' and yes, this book is very lyrical - but not annoyingly so. The voice of Una is pleasant and compelling, keeping the reader engaged. Una is not one to shy away from adventure and so we are taken on many with her. During reading the book and now that I have finished I feel richer somehow for having been able to read Una's story. It is filling, not lacking in any part, and was just right in length - not too short and not too long. It's one of those books that will sit revered on a shelf in my mind as some of the best storytelling/writing I've read.

Bossypants by Tina Fey
Audio book - read by Tina Fey

I have decided that with books like this one, funny essays about life in general, the author needs to be the narrator for the audio version. Hearing the author put inflection in where it was meant when written, adding little sidenotes, etc makes all the difference. I am fairly certain that as I drove around my town laughing all by myself in my car people passing by probably thought I had lost my mind. I hadn't. I was just listening to Tina Fey and her hilarious take on a variety of topics. Here's where *you* might think I really am crazy - I don't watch SNL, I've not seen 30 Rock, and I'm not sure I have even seen any movie Fey has been in (I think there's at least one?). But her reputation precedes her and I had heard how good Bossypants was and I need laughs to get me to work these days and then to follow me home from work. So after my Mindy Kaling binge Tina Fey was next up on my audio book queue. And I'm so glad I finally got a dose of Tina Fey. She's hysterical, in part because she is so unassuming that she can be self-deprecating and all of us regular folk can 100% relate. What I love about books like this is in the midst of all the hilarity and the entertainment there are some real nuggets of life truths to be held on to. So thank you Tina Fey for accompanying me to and from work - for easing me into my work days and getting me to laugh afterward. And yes, I've now added 30 Rock to my Netflix queue - I've got to see what all the fuss is about.

Jesus, Pope Francis, and a Protestant Walk into a Bar by Paul Rock and Bill Tammeus
Kindle Edition - 96 pages

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

Okay I confess, the title captured my attention first. I mean c'mon it sounds like the beginning of a very funny joke...or something. I was right. It is something. Something fantastic.
A presbyterian pastor hosts a discussion, in a series of seven sermons written by a variety of other pastors, about the convergence of Christianity and Catholicism. The impetus for this conversation was the radical spirit Pope Francis has brought to the papacy since becoming head pope in 2013. He has ruffled some Catholic feathers, stirred some protestant pots, and confounded a whole bunch of people. He has also won over hardened hearts - the hearts wounded by the Church at large, the skeptical hearts, the hearts who swore they would never darken the doorsteps of any kind of 'religious' gathering.
This book is designed to get Protestants and Catholics thinking about how alike they are rather than how different. And once you start looking at it you see so many more similarities than anything else. Beyond that it is also meant to reintroduce, if I may be so bold as to use that word, the mission of Jesus to us. To remind us of what Jesus was actually doing as he traveled the dusty roads of Judea. I can't, and truthfully don't want to, say anymore since I think this book is worth reading. It's easy to read but deep in content. I'll end this review with a quote from the authors, "We hope this small book will help to guide you toward that theological depth and width so that you are free to be who you are and free to let others be who they are, all the while doing justice, loving mercy, and walking humbly with God."

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. So this month I started listening to the series on audio during my commutes. In addition to mentioned audio books above (which I had not read/listeread before) I squeezed in book 1 on audio. It was fantastic! The wait list at the library is very long for the audio series so I've got books 2 and 3 on hold but am quite a ways down on the list so who knows if I'll even get to them before the calendar turns to 2017!

Saturday, October 1, 2016

September 2016 Bookshelf

The Age of Reinvention by Karine Tuil
Kindle Edition - 416 pages

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

This was an interesting story. I'm not sure I totally liked it, but I didn't completely dislike it either. I found it very hard to stay interested in from page 1 to page 416 and I skimmed a few parts in exasperation.
The story is of Sam Tahar, a successful attorney in Manhattan, that has invented himself from nothing roots in France. The problem is he invented himself with someone else's life and they are still alive. Believing that the distance between New York City and Paris is enough to keep Sam's secret safe he has lived his life as a totally fake person personally. In Paris, Samuel and Nina rediscover their old friend Samir Tahar but his story sounds familiar, it sounds just like Samuel's story. So they ask to meet with him in Paris for the purpose of confronting him about lifting Samuel's story as his own. But Samuel also  plans to test Nina. Years ago she had an affair with Samir, will she be tempted to do so again? From the moment the three reunite the invention of Samir into Sam will be tested and the reinvention of Samuel and Nina will begin. Who and what will be affected by the invention and reinvention of these three old friends?
As I stated this was an interesting read. Part of it might have been the format I read it in, the pre-published ebook, as there were these weird footnotes included which I eventually figured out were part of the story and certain characters but they were odd - again that could have been the ebook format. Samir, Sam, is not very likeable. I found him to be rather disgusting and narcissistic. Basically he is a dbag. Samuel and Nina I didn't care for so much either, they were annoying. This is most likely a big reason for me not engaging with the book, I could have cared less about the characters - they annoyed me, I felt no endearment toward them at all. In the end I found myself slightly regretting I hadn't abandoned the book and moved on but there was just enough happening to Sam, Samuel, and Nina that I held on to the end.

The Ghetto Swinger: A Berlin Jazz-Legend Remembers by Coco Schumann
Kindle Edition - 210 pages

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

Coco Schumann, born Heinz Jakob Schumann, spent his early teen years watching his homeland fall under the rule of the Third Reich. About the time Hitler and Goebbels were tightening the noose of Nazism, Schumann heard Swing music at the Berlin Olympics and became entranced. He already had been captured by music but this style spoke to him. But swing was just for show to the world and after the Olympics it was increasingly monitored and eventually banned. But what the Nazis didn't understand, perhaps couldn't understand, is that you cannot snuff out music - it lives on despite its enemies. And so as the Germans increased their presence around Europe Schumann, hiding his Jewish roots, played in clubs and became well known at his guitar playing specifically in Swing style. However, he could not escape the Nazis attempts to exterminate the Jewish population and was transported to Theresienstadt where he became a member of the camp band, The Ghetto Swingers. Eventually Schumann was transported to Auschwitz and somehow managed to live through its hell to be transported to a satellite camp of Dachau where he barely survived but was finally liberated from by the Americans in 1945. After finding his way back to Berlin and discovering that by miracle his father, mother, and brother had survived the war Schumann picked up his guitar and played to forget. He built an impressive career, playing with greats such as Armstrong and Gillespie - not to mention several greats within his homeland of Germany. But nobody who has seen, heard, tasted, experienced, felt what Schumann and thousands of others did in the camps can forget and it wasn't until approximately 40 years after the war that he finally felt like he could, and should, talk about what happened to him and others. "In this book, I tell you how music saved my life. The camps and the fear changed my life, but the music has kept me going, and has made everything good again. I have survived. I am a musician who spent some time in concentration camps, not someone in a concentration camp who also played a little music." Coco Schumann, Preface

The Pecan Man by Cassie Dandridge Selleck
137 pages

This was a really well-written story about the continued racism in America in the late 1970's. You know, when things were "better" and "equal." Except they weren't.
Ora Beckworth has a story to tell, a lie she's held on to for 25 years - since the summer of 1976. The lie she held on to resulted in an innocent man living out his remaining days in prison and ripple effects within the family the lie was meant to protect. Ora learned the hard way how a lie doesn't really protect, it just covers up what must be exposed at some point. In 1976 Ora was a newly widowed white woman who had a black housemaid. Blanche had been her housemaid for years but in 1976 Blanche and her family became Ora's family and Ora was exposed to the racism that still ran deep. It was through painful realizations about herself and observations of others that Ora took chances that weren't popular with the other white residents but she also knew she had no choice but to grow out of the mindset and behaviors that contributed to the racism still so evident. It was also because of the new realization of these toxic mindsets that Ora created and participated in a lie that would be buried for 25 years but would also silently influence life choices of Blanche and her family. Ultimately this story is about Ora, a 58 year old white woman who took a chance and decided to allow her worldview to broaden through her relationships with Blanche, Blanche's family, and the Pee-can Man.
Selleck's only work, to date, is this gem of a story. I loved this book. The characters were developed perfectly, the story was in a perfect setting, the conflict was appropo. It was all together a beautiful and tragic telling of a woman's growth out of racism and a family's struggle with it and how those two collided. Selleck is set to release her second title in Fall of 2016, I'll keep an eye out for it.

The Restaurant Critic's Wife by Elizabeth LaBan
Kindle Edition -  316 pages

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

Lila and Sam live in Philadelphia where Sam is a full time restaurant critic for one of the news publications. Lila was a high-profile crisis management executive for a worldwide hotel chain until they moved to Philly for Sam's job. Now she's stuck in the house with a three year old and a newborn and banned from having friends because of Sam's paranoia about being found out. The story of Lila coping with being Sam's wife and the loneliness she feels because of it is the crux of this book. The story kind of meandered along, Sam comes off - in this reader's opinion - as an insensitive, paranoid husband, completely oblivious to his wife. I didn't find the story to pack a punch in any significant way, it was just a story. I read the entire book but I wasn't drawn to it, it didn't keep pulling me back in because I was caught up in the story. I finished it because I needed to so I could move on to other reads and because it was a pleasant enough story to finish.
LaBan's first title was a YA one and it's possible that is more her niche. The title was by no means bad but it was kind of flat. In the food world it needed some salt and pepper, maybe some other seasonings as well.

The Memory Weaver by Jane Kirkpatrick
Kindle Edition - 352 pages

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

Before the story starts Kirkpatrick provides a list of the cast of characters, 25 of them (2 of them animals). I groaned. That didn't bode well for my engagement in the book. But I started reading. I got almost a quarter of the way through before giving it up. It was slow going, tedious, and I couldn't get into the story Kirkpatrick was trying to build. Apparently it's based on a true story and I don't want to dishonor the important story of someone's heritage but this particular one wasn't for me.

Orange Is the New Black: My Year in a Women's Prison by Piper Kerman
314 pages

It's been on my "to read" list for years. And then Netflix created a show based off of it. And I meant to read the book first, I really did, but I didn't. I gave the show a chance. And while this isn't a review of the show it is hard to separate the two. I love the show. It is not for the faint of heart nor is it for people who can't tolerate language or sex. I can get past all that for the story and the show takes Piper Kerman's year and the writers have developed a story, and stories, that I really love. Back to the book...
Kerman finds herself sentenced to 15 months in a federal prison almost 10 years after a short stint in drug trafficking. She's sent to Danbury, home to the "cush con life." But Danbury isn't cush, it's not the worst but it isn't luxury by any means. And for Kerman it is an eye-opening and soul revealing place. She details her first weeks of learning all the rules - unspoken as well as spoken. There's a rhythm and routine to the days that requires a learning curve and when immersed in it for 24/7 you can get a grasp on it within a month or two. Any pre-conceived thoughts, ideas, perceptions, opinions Kerman had before entering the system are torn down as she interacts with the women, and even the guards. She finds a family in Danbury, one that she didn't expect, and one that she discovers enriches her life. I recently saw someone make a comment about Piper Kerman being a "crybaby" about her experience but I didn't get that at all from her memoir. She owned her small part in the crime committed, she self-surrendered when it was time, she is factual and honest about her experiences but none of it had a "woe is me" feel nor did I feel like she was whining about it, she accepted the consequences for the poor choice she had made years ago. And she took the year she was in prison and allowed it to spur her on toward activism for prison reform and restorative justice. There's nothing crybaby about any of that. Someone who has travelled through the system has a perspective on reform needed that those who haven't been in it will never be able to understand.
The big question - only because Netflix made it into a series - do the show and the book "match?"
Actually yes, they do for all of the important stuff. The show writers have taken some liberties with stereotypes (lesbian relationships is the one that comes to mind) for the sake of television and entertainment - those liberties Kerman never actually experienced in prison. But overall, yes as I was reading the book several little comments or incidents or characters would match up to the show, of which Piper Kerman consults on. I love that the show is keeping true to Kerman's experiences within the justice system and honoring what seems to be the most important part of the memoir, family is everywhere and we are built for relationship.
I'm glad to have finally read the book that sparked the show. I'm super interested in learning more about Kerman's work with prison reform and restorative justice, she has a very level-headed and personal response to contribute.