Saturday, April 1, 2017

March 2017 Bookshelf

The Tales of Beedle the Bard (Hogwarts Library)
by J.K. Rowling, Emma Nicholson (Afterword), Hermoine Granger (Translator), Albus Dumbledore (Commentary)
111 pages

The muggles have their fairy tales and the world of magic has theirs. These tales, first recorded by Beedle the Bard, give insight into the lives of the magical world. Hermoine re-wrote them in an updated translation and Professor Dumbledore's personal notes about each tale were found among his things after his demise. This edition is the result of Hermoine's updated translation and Dumbledore's commentary.
Each story in the book contains a lesson to be learned - not just for the witches and wizards but for the muggles as well.
A fun, short book that is a great accompaniment to the wonderful wizarding world of Harry Potter.

Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, Parts 1 & 2
by John Tiffany (Adaptation), Jack Thorne (Adaptation), J.K. Rowling
309 pages

Because the world, including myself, can't get enough of Harry Potter. The curiosity of Harry as a father, a husband, and working a "normal" job. Is he still special or now that Voldemort is dead is he just like everyone else? This is not a novel, it's a short story that Rowling wrote and has been adapted into a stage production.
We meet Harry and Ginny and their three children as the two boys, Jack and Albus, are boarding the Hogswart Express for the new school year. It's Albus' first year, along with his cousin Rose Granger-Weasley. As Albus and Rose try to find a compartment to spend the train ride to school in, they meet Scorpius. Scorpius Malfoy. Rose refuses to stay but Albus does and he and Scorpius become fast friends. A Potter and a Malfoy - friends? It seems impossible but yet it is true. And as the years progress they remain best mates. As the years progress Albus also comes to resent Harry more and more - hating the fact that his Dad is famous, it carries a weight for Albus himself. In order to prove himself, Albus coerces Scorpius into a great adventure that is dangerous as well.
This was a super easy and quick read because it was written as a play script. It wasn't quite as satisfying as I had hoped it would be. I think it's hard to create such well-loved characters into adults. Most of them were fairly believable but Draco Malfoy I didn't buy as who Rowling created him to be as an adult. In order to believe his adult character I would need to have the history of his transformation since Voldemort's death. It wasn't as tightly written as books 1-7. Although this was, or is, the play adaptation. I haven't read the short story Rowling wrote - has anyone? Is it on Rowling's blog at some point in the past? I would be curious to read it and see what kind of depth it might, or hopefully, have that the play adaptation is lacking in.

The Christian Wallet: Spending, Giving, and Living with a Conscience
by Mike Slaughter, Karen Perry Smith
Kindle Edition

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

I started reading this book February 5. Sickness derailed me and then I just couldn't get through it. Not because it is bad. It's actually quite good. But I just couldn't get engaged with it for any length of time so it took me f-o-r-e-v-e-r to read, much longer than it should have.
Slaughter leads the reader through several main thoughts about money, stewardship, and generosity. The only chapter that I really couldn't engage with at all was the chapter about investments. My eyes glazed over! That's a lot of numbers talk for someone who doesn't do numbers.
My thoughts/review of the title is less than adequate because it took me so long to read it. I think it is a very well written book with great living examples of each main point. I may try to pick it up again at some point and see if I can wrap my head around it a little more.

Carry On, Warrior: The Power of Embracing Your Messy, Beautiful Life by Glennon Doyle Melton
320 pages

G's first published book is a series of short essays, so to speak, about life - her stories of her story, motherhood, marriage, and other relationships. Her determination to keep it real and to be real comes through in her writing. G and I are similar in that we are introverts and prefer it that way. We get stressed by hostressing, er hostessing, other people in our homes, and we struggle with depression. I can relate to G on many levels. Throughout the book I highlighted several passages that I want to make sure I remember, insights that G shares that ring true. One that I think is very important is, "People who need help sometimes look a lot like people who don't need help." Another, based off the child's game Chutes & Ladders is the idea that sometimes what feels like a chute might actually be a ladder. As G says, it depends on what perspecticles you are wearing. I loved her thoughts on carpe diem and the two times that exist - chronos and kairos, I'm really thinking through that. Insights about quitting and wading in the faith pool. All of it very good, especially at this time of my life, to read and think about. Melton is an engaging and smart author and what she has to share is stuff we all need to hear. Next up? Her book titled Love Warrior. Carry on.

Girl in the Blue Coat by Monica Hesse
Kindle Edition 320 pages

Thank you to NetGalley and Little, Brown Books for Young Readers for this free readers edition. In exchange I am providing an honest review.

"....I wanted to tell a story of small betrayals in the middle of a big war. I wanted to illustrate the split-second decisions we make of moral courage and cowardice, and how we are all heroes and villains." (Monica Hesse)
Hanneke Bakker lives in Amsterdam and it is the early 1940's. World War II is in full swing and the Germans have occupied the Netherlands. Hanneke has fallen into supporting her family through the black market with ration cards. They are the lucky ones. They have the right last name and the right looks so their lives aren't in danger. On a delivery one day Hanneke is asked to find something that ration cards can't procure. Despite her best efforts to not get involved, Hanneke can't stop herself. The pull of her humanity wins out over her fears. This sets Hanneke on a search for a girl in a blue coat and it sets her on a path she didn't intend to walk.
Hesse writes a story that highlights the tragedies of World War II and the courage it required and called forth in people. She also crafted a story that showed life still moving forward despite the Nazi chaos all around them. People were still going to school, getting married, preferring a certain brand of cigarettes, fighting with their parents, seeing the dentist for a toothache. It was a well-written book that showed yet another side to the war that changed the world forever.

The Versions of Us by Laura Barnett
Kindle Edition 416 pages

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

What an interesting book. In some ways it felt like Barnett couldn't decide which version of Jim and Eva to write about so she decided to write about all three. Even if that is the case it works, or rather Barnett made it work.
Jim and Eva meet three times in 1958, but in the same moment. And each moment takes the story of them on a different path that lasts the rest of their lives. We read their stories as versions - and some details are the same in all three versions, while some details are very different. The idea that they know each other in a way they can't explain runs through all three versions, whether they know each other or not. This reveals itself in Jim's painting titled "The Versions of Us" that is created in version 2 of Jim and Eva's story. To say much more gives away the intricacies of this story.
My only real complaint about the book is keeping straight who was what, etc in each version. When a new chapter started I had to really think for a moment what was going on in that storyline. Otherwise it was an engaging story that explores the "what if" we all have of meeting someone in our younger days and thinking of them later in life. It explores the idea that life doesn't have one clear way, there can be several paths to chose - the choice is ours.

The Legends of King Arthur and His Knights by Sir James Knowles
Kindle Edition - 217 pages

I just recently made my way through the Merlin TV series so when this book was chosen for a book club I am in, I thought it was perfect timing! I think I liked the TV series better. It took me way too long to get through this rather short book of stories about King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table. When all was said and done it was a book of the same story over and over again with different knights inserted and a few details changed. Basically a knight goes out and fights, or knights fight each other in tournaments, or the knight goes on a quest and fights. The book is about 98% fighting, 2% other descriptive words and names to try and make it a story. No wonder all adaptations of King Arthur and the Knights since this book have been embellished and expanded on. It's amazing to me that someone read this book of stories and thought it should be made into a visual for people to watch - in the case of these stories I am definitely in favor of stepping away from the original story and enhancing it "a bit." Honestly it took me so long to get through the book because I kept falling asleep while reading it! Even now, just writing this review I am yawning widely thinking about the book. Well, I can check it off my list but from now on if I want stories about King Arthur and his Knights I'll be rewatching Merlin or finding other - better and more engaging - stories to watch or read.

Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them: The Original Screenplay by J.K. Rowling
293 pages

I am fully immersed, once again, in the wizarding world J.K. Rowling created with Harry Potter. While this story takes place years, about 70 or so, before Harry's it does feature the same beasts that Hagrid loves and Harry and his mates are wary of.
This time the wizards are in America and it's in the golden age of the 1920's. Newt has arrived from England to NYC and is carrying a rather beat up case with him. He's seen whispering to the case from time to time which draws a bit of attention. In one moment Newt's case gets mixed up with someone else's and a little chaos ensues since a creature or two may have escaped. So Newt is off on a race around the city to try and contain the creatures before the muggles, er the no-maj's, figure out that there is magic afoot. Tina, from MACUSA, picks up on the clues that Newt isn't a normal human but one with magic and she tails him to get close to him and these creatures she suspects he has. During this time the no-maj's of NYC are making noise about witchcraft and campaigning for strong legislation against it. So the American community of witches and wizards are taking extra precautions and Newt's escaped creatures put them in danger. Meanwhile, Credence - an orphan boy being raised by an anti-magic shrew of a woman is meeting secretly with someone from MACUSA in an attempt to find a child that has special magic. Credence's adoptive mother has no idea but he has magic and if he can get free of her he is ready to join the magical community and finally be who he is. In Newt's attempts to capture his creatures and Credence's attempts to be who he is the two finally meet up. But their meeting isn't quite what anyone thought it would be and the magical community is at danger of being exposed and a war between them and the no-maj's is imminent, unless Newt can contain Credence and the creatures.
I'm American so I feel like I can say what I'm about to. We Americans lack charm and class. We are rough around the edges, even the ones we say are refined are rough around the edges. We have language that lacks meaning and even context. I'm saying this because this crass American way of ours is clear even in the wizarding community of American. Muggles in England are No-Maj's in America. The Ministry of Magic in England is MACUSA. The American versions lack charm. They lack the, well magic, of the wizarding world. This isn't a criticism as much as it is an observation on Rowling's ability to draw the distinctions between cultures even in the wizarding world. This was a weird read because it was the screenplay for the movie. I eventually got into the flow of reading it but I was wishing there was an actual novel of the story. There's the book of the same name written by Newt but it isn't the story, it's just his notes about the creatures - the book used as a textbook at Hogwart's. I'm interested in more stories about the American wizarding community. After finishing this I read the very short story about Ilvermorny, the American School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, because I'm so curious about how Rowling depicts the differences between the American magical community and the rest of the world. Click here if you are curious about the American school as well. But I'm not sure the American wizarding world would be as charming as the rest of the world.

Love Warrior by Glennon Doyle Melton
272 pages

In Carry On, Warrior G mentions marriage problems. Love Warrior is the memoir of her marriage. The book ends with a statement by G, "I do not know whether we will spend our lives married or loving each other from a distance..." and if follow G on Facebook or Instagram or her blog then you know - spoiler alert - that they have chosen to go their own ways but are still trying to remain a family. This doesn't invalidate the lessons G learns and shares with us in this memoir.
I think memoirs are tricky to review. It's a person's story, it is someone's choice to share a part of their life that feels scary or vulnerable and that takes bravery. Some people and their stories we connect with, others we don't. Some people and their stories bother us because of our own insecurities or ignorance - it is those times that we are quick to pass judgment on that person for how they handle their situations - or don't handle them. We can be quick to pass judgement on people when we don't think their reasons for their story are valid or make sense. Just because it doesn't make sense to us doesn't mean it isn't real for them. G received some criticism for her memoir of marriage. A lot of it centered around how centered G seems to be on herself. And maybe that's true. Maybe she is too self-absorbed. Or maybe she's been too self-absorbed in the wrong ways and is trying to correct course now. Honestly, it's not our place to be judge and jury on how another person handles trauma in their life. I believe there are lessons in everyone's story for us to take away and think through.
And the truth is we are all, hopefully, on a journey moving forward through life. As we move forward we leave parts of ourself behind or we pick up parts of ourselves we haven't seen ever or in a long while. We pick up people and we leave some. Whether you have faith or not Ecclesiastes 3 in the Bible is true about all of us and our journeys through life - there is a time and season for everything. All this being said, I can't pretend that I don't scratch my head at a few of the decisions G has made in the past year and has shared with the public but she's only shared the actual decision, there's a whole process that hopefully was careful and intentional behind the end decision. And as she continues to heal and grow and move forward in her journey, as I hope we all do, may she be led by the One who created her. Namaste.

Gentlemen and Players by Joanne Harris
616 pages (large print)

Yet another book club pick. I've lost track of how many book clubs I am participating in. :)
The focus of this story is St. Oswald's - a boys school for the elite. And by elite I mean those who have money. The Head Porter of the school (a glorified maintenance man) is John Snyde - a single dad and drunk. The story is told from his child's POV and from the POV of Roy Straitley, the school's Latin teacher. John's kid has become fixated on St. Oswald's, they live right outside the grounds in the gatehouse and the more they think about the school the more their anger and longing to be part of it grows. The story is told in equal parts present day and flashbacks to 15 years ago. Mr. Straitley is one of the POV's for the present day telling. Anyway, a new term - in the present day  is about to start and there are 5 new teachers joining the St. Oswald's staff. Right away things start going badly - there is a whiff of something wrong in the air. Things disappear, students start acting in ways they never have before, suspicion of each other is planted. Straitley isn't sure what is happening but something is and he begins to look more carefully at these 5 new teachers. There were no problems before they came along. He's right to suspect one, because one of them is John Snyde's child - grown up and back for a revenge on the school that they equally hate and love. The weird fixation still exists, and has grown through the years, until it has become a target of revenge for every single thing that has gone wrong in their life in the past 15 or so years. As the backstory is told to bring us up to present day a picture is drawn of a child who has never quite grown up - placing blame on anyone else for choices made, for the lot in life dealt them, for the parents given them, etc. Eventually the day of reckoning comes, who will be victorious?
What an interesting book/story. Harris managed to pull the wool over my eyes in several instances and I appreciated it, I love it. I love being twisted and turned just enough that when the path straightens out everything that didn't quite make sense to me is all of a sudden very clear. She draws, with her words, an accurate portrait of a blame-shifter and it's such an interesting story. It's really, I think, a story of a sociopath and how sneaky those types are.

Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them (Hogwarts Library) by Newt Scamander (Pseudonym), J.K. Rowling
123 pages

If you are a wizarding family then this title is a must - you need to know what you are dealing with if something comes across your path! As a muggle it's less important to have a copy of this book but it might be important to know about the possibilities of what kind of beasts are out there, just in case.
Fortunately Newt Scamander did the work for everyone by scouting out the world and the beasts in it. He put together this useful guide to the beasts of the wizarding world and where to find them - and what to do with them if you do find them! Some of them, like the dragon, have some really important magical qualities - useful for potions and such. Others are just a nuisance. Either way Scamander informs on how and what to do with these creatures and most especially which ones to walk a wide berth around.

Honorable Mention:

Almost four 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 books 6 and 7 on audio. Now that I'm done listening I feel bereft, I either need to read the books again or watch the movies (not near as good but sufficient) as I'm not quite ready to put down Harry Potter for the time being.

Tuesday, February 28, 2017

February 2017 Bookshelf

Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City by Matthew Desmond
Kindle Edition 432 pages

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

Wow. What an excellent look into one of the many issues of poverty in America - and probably in other countries as well. Honestly this isn't a book you read to be uplifted, it's actually very depressing. It's a book you read to become informed, to gain insight and hopefully some understanding, to realize that people are people no matter their circumstances, to force yourself to think in ways differently than you've been taught to think about issues like this. Matthew Desmond didn't just sit down with some people and shadow people for a week - he LIVED there for months, he experienced first hand from both a landlord's pov and a tenant's pov the issues that add to the muddy waters of poverty.
Desmond's look takes place in Milwaukee, Wisconsin - America's fourth poorest city. He features 8 people in his insiders look - two landlords and six families. Sherrena Tarver, one of the landlord's, is a study in contradictions, in my opinion. She wants to help people but she doesn't. A sink is leaking? She refuses to fix it, says the tenant has broken it on purpose. This is a small example of a very large problem. The tenant's, not all of them in the book have Sherrena as their landlord, then refuse to pay rent until the problem has been fixed and around and around it goes until the landlord evicts the tenant. Sherrena came across to me as whiny and unwilling to be a true landlord. She wanted it to be easy and comfortable. She wasted time, in my opinion, evicting people instead of working with them - like fixing the damn sink so it worked. No matter how much insight Desmond gave the reader into Sherrena's thought processes regarding being a landlord I felt zero sympathy for her "plights" and a whole lot of disgust for her and her husband instead. It's true that not all tenant's are going to pay their rent on time when everything is in working order but many more would be compelled to. It's true that not all tenant's will hold a steady job but many more would be able to if they weren't expending so much energy trying to ensure they have a roof for their children and themselves. It's true that not all tenant's have ambition to do more than live off of any government assistance they can qualify for but the majority do have ambition - such as Arleen who had a dream of starting a ministry to help people in need or Vanetta who wanted to be a nurse or Scott who was a nurse and loved it but allowed his drug addiction to interfere and lost his license. Desmond peels back the outer layer of the people featured to expose the person and some of the real reasons why they are in the position they are in - always reminding us that they are humans. At the end of the book Desmond offers possible solutions for this piece of the poverty puzzle while acknowledging that it would take a mindshift of many and cooperation of many to see changes to the system.
Excellent book. Not dry at all but very read worthy and engaging. Again, do not read if you are looking for light and fluffy.

Searching for Happiness: How Generosity, Faith, and Other Spiritual Habits Can Lead to a Full Life
by Martin Thielen
Kindle Edition

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

Contented people: know external circumstances don't determine happiness, use trials as growth opportunities, cultivate optimism, focus on the present, practice forgiveness, practice generosity, nurture relationships, express gratitude, care for their bodies, care for their souls. Thielen's short but succinct book about the source of happiness - contentment - is an easy to read book about the work of contentment and where that work occurs. It's an inside job. Thielen takes scripture, science, and experience - personal and otherwise - to make the case for contentment. And it's a compelling case.

Southern Spirits (Southern Ghost Hunter Mysteries #1) by Angie Fox
Kindle Edition 270 pages

I picked this up thanks to an online book club I'm part of. This is what I love about book clubs - you read things you might not even be aware of or wouldn't normally pick up.
When we meet Verity Long she is living in her grandma's empty house having just sold anything she could. She's buying ramen at the dollar store and burning candles so she doesn't have electricity costs. And she stills owes $20,000 to her ex-fiance's family. What? Verity left her cheating fiance at the alter and he turned around and sued her for costs. Not only is she losing everything but the town she grew up in has turned against her. The days are lonely. Then she meets Frankie, an unusual acquaintance as she is the only one who can see him. In an effort to save her grandma's house Verity and Frankie go searching for some treasure. And suddenly Frankie isn't the only spirit Verity can see.
This is a fun, easy, mindless read which everyone needs every so often. It was an enjoyable read.

Wrong Place (D.I Sally Parker #1) by M.A. Comley
Kindle Edition - 181 pages

Young barmaids are showing up dead in the village. As the count rises DI Sally Parker and her team are coming up upon dead end after dead end (no pun intended). Whoever the killer is has taken chances that should be getting them caught but just seem to lead away from him. How many more young girls will have to die before they can catch a break and catch the killer? As if trying to catch a killer wasn't time consuming enough Sally has some trouble in her personal life as well to deal with, And even though she's a copper what is happening in her personal life doesn't make sense. What will break first? The case or a resolution to Sally's personal drama?
There is a lot of potential for character development in this new series by Comley, as well as fine tuning details for plot development and storyline. It was a little elementary in all the major aspects but not so much so that I'm not interested in reading book 2 plus as I said there's a lot of potential and I'm hoping Comley can live up to it in the writing.

Before the Fall by Noah Hawley
Kindle Edition 390 pages

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

A short, easy flight between Martha's Vineyard and New York City turns deadly for its 11 passengers. But it shouldn't have, so what happened?
Meet Scott, floating in water and watching jet fuel burn off, wondering if there is anyone else alive after the plane he was just in crashed into the ocean without warning. Just as he's decided to try for land, surmising there are no other survivors, he hears a faint cry. Turning back toward the wreckage he locates JJ, the four year old boy from the private flight. Now Scott knows he has to make it to land, if nothing else so that JJ can have some kind of life. But the night is dark and shrouded in fog, no moon or stars can be seen to give Scott and JJ direction to land. But they set off for it anyway. How did they even survive the crash? Why did they and not the others? Why was there a crash?
Hawley gives us the story of an airplane crashing - what happened the couple of days leading up to its fatal flight - and the aftermath. Each passenger on the flight has a story that leads them on to the plane and we are led to wonder if this was more than an accident, perhaps it was on purpose. As the investigation digs into personal and professional lives, questions are raised and some are answered. But other questions are going to take longer to discover the answer to. In the meantime, Scott and JJ - the survivors - are left with loss and bewilderment and loose ends.
Overall, I really liked this story. Hawley did such a good job with character development that for one or two of the characters I almost forgot they were fiction and my extreme dislike for them was riling me up! The relationship between Scott and JJ, because of what they survived together, was really heart-warming to witness. I liked the character backstories, it added a lot to the questions of why the plane may have nosedived into the ocean to become a watery tomb for the majority of its passengers. The thing that frustrated me about the story is the thing that frustrates me about our culture today. As Gus, the head of the investigative team, says in the book, "In the absence of facts, we begin to make up stories." Hawley highlighted that bit of truth through a couple of characters and their roles post-crash. And these days it's happening in real life as well. It's so damaging. But Hawley doesn't get points off for that, rather he gains points for writing that so accurately.

Honorable Mention:

Almost four 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 5 on audio. It was a marathon listen! I read the book in 3 days but it took me a full month to listen to the 23 discs since I only listen when I'm driving.

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. " 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.