January 2012 Bookshelf

The Opposite of Me by Sarah Pekkanen
Sarah Pekkanen's debut novel knocked one out of the ballpark! What a great read.  My reading of the book spanned "2 years" as I started it the last day of 2011 and finished it the first day of 2012. :)
Lindsey is a highly successful 29 year old.  But her success has come at a great price.  Her days, nights, and all the in-betweens aren't hers but belong to her job and the pursuit of her definition of success.  Driven by a competition she feels with her fraternal twin sister Lindsey lives no holds barred to succeed in her career and to prove her value/worth to her parents. 
As one may expect Lindsey's lifestyle catches up with her and through a lapse in judgement she finds herself living back home with her parents and wondering who she is.  In the process of her discovery she will learn who her sister is and who they are as siblings. 
This is an impressive work for a debut novel. She writes with warmth, realism, and appropriately for her characters.  Her character development is good and her story lines engaging. Pekkanen definitely earns a spot on my "must read every book this author has written" list.

The Witch Doctor's Wife by Tamar Myers
I picked this book up on a whim when I recently stopped by the Library.  The title, back cover description, and cover all captured my interest. 
The back cover description is a bit misleading.  It states that the book is mostly about Amanda, a white American missionary, who has come to the Congo to do cushy "missionary" work.  But really the book is not about Amanda hardly at all.  It is, actually, about the witch doctor's wife.  So the title tells more than the back cover description.  Amanda certainly shows up in the story but Myers gave a lot more time and attention and detail to a host of other characters.  If she had wanted Amanda to be the central character of the book she did not succeed.  Amanda is, at best, a background character.  She wasn't developed near as much as the witch doctor or his wives.  (Yes he has two.) Perhaps in an effort to make the book about Amanda, as the back cover promises, Myers thrusts her character into the spotlight of the book in the last 10-15 pages. 
This wasn't a bad book, far from it, but neither was it a great book.  It hovers in the middle between okay and good.  Myers writes well, and this book contains much of her own personal experiences of the Congo as she was born and raised there.  But she lacked character development for the character the book claims to be about.  And even though I think I know what happened in some of the story I'm still not sure because she never resolved in a way that reader was certain they knew exactly what happened.  There were some holes in her plot and storyline that lend a bit of confusion for the reader. 
All this being said I'm intrigued enough by Myers and her writing to check into the other books she has authored, mostly mysteries.

No One You Know by Michelle Richmond
This is the first book of Michelle Richmond's I have read and it was good. Richmond writes an intriguing story. Based on a character who was murdered and was math genius she did her research on mathematics and incorporated that into the story. Exit my ability to follow the story very well. Anyone starts talking about numbers, theories of numbers, equations, etc and I blank out. For that reason I could only give the book 3 stars (out of 5). I'm not sure that the actual discussions of mathematics added to the story and for me they detracted a bit since I wasn't able to follow very well. Richmond could have achieved the same story and outcome without the paragraphs here and there about equations, etc. That being said, she does a fine job of developing her characters and composing an engaging story.
Ellie, 20 years after her sister Lila is found dead, is still searching out the truth of her sister's mysterious death. She's managed to somewhat move on with her life but the lack of answers surrounding Lila's death has held her captive to fully living life. Her search is renewed after she has a chance encounter with the man that was suspected of murdering Lila. Will Ellie finally discover the truth of what happened to Lila all those years ago? Richmond weaves a tale, that despite the mathematics :), kept me reading and savoring until the very last word.

Brokenness: The Heart God Revives by Nancy Leigh DeMoss
DeMoss does a masterful job of unpacking the way to go up is be broken down.  Want to succeed in any relationship?  Be broken.  Want to succeed in your work life?  Be broken.  Humility, hard to live out, is the most effective character trait one can have to succeed in this life.  But brokenness is so hard, DeMoss isn't naive to that fact. 
In her honest look at brokenness DeMoss shares personal stories of the healing and freedom that comes when a person can walk in life with humility and without entitlements, pride, etc. 
This is a powerful read that covers a vital component of a believer's life.  It should be read, absorbed, and then put into practice.  It would change the dynamic of so many relationships if more people walked in humility. 

By Bread Alone by Sarah-Kate Lynch
This is my second Sarah-Kate Lynch book.  As with "Blessed are the Cheesemakers" she weaves a wonderful story around a food item. Certain foods don't take just skill and knowledge to make but they take passion, love, care.  It truly makes a difference.  I bake and I will only do so when I feel "the love" otherwise my baking turns out slightly off, tasting not quite so good, lacking depth.  You might think I'm just saying that but I assure you it is true. 
By Bread Alone is about the art of breadmaking, about passion infusing life.  Esme bakes an amazing sourdough from a starter she received years ago.  When she bakes bread her family knows all is well.  It's when she stops baking bread that they know life is topsy-turvy.  The book begins with Esme not having touched dough for 33 days.  Her husband is starting to feel panic, she's out of sorts and in a panic herself and isn't sure how or when she can bake again.  Her world has been thrown off-kilter but we, as the reader, aren't sure by what. Lynch takes us on a past and present journey of Esme and her passion for bread and perhaps life.  While in the present we are caught up to speed on what happened in her past to define her.  With some colorful characters walking alongside of her in this journey we discover, along with Esme, that what we have in our present is what we've really wanted and what we really love. 
While I loved this book it seemed to be a slow read for me.  Parts of it seemed to drag out a bit and I'm not sure if that was due to my life circumstances or the story was a wee bit slow.  Even though it took my longer than usual to get through it I enjoyed it immensely and have discovered with this second book of Lynch's that I really like her writing. 

Dismantled by Jennifer McMahon
Jennifer McMahon writes books that will freak you out.  Her works are unbelievable - believable.  If any of them were ever made into movies I couldn't watch because I already visualize enough just reading them!  
This is my second McMahon book and it was way freakier than the first one of hers I read.  She does an amazing job of unsettling the reader and convincing them, along with her characters, that what seems to be 100% impossible is actually possible and happening! *Shivers*
In Dismantled a group of college aged adults, calling themselves The Compassionate Dismantlers, spends the summer after graduation in a lake house cabin performing acts of petty crime in the name of "art".  Suz, the ringleader, is an angry self-righteous woman who thinks way too much of herself and convinces the others that she's the best thing that has ever happened to them and to this earth.  By the time I was halfway into the book I wanted to punch Suz as hard as I possibly could.  She was a piece of work, the most dangerous kind of person because she was so self-righteous that she was ridiculous.  Tragedy strikes the group during that summer on the cabin which creates a massive secret and the group splits up.  Fast forward 10 years to Henry and Tess, two of the group members who are now married to each other and have a girl named Emma.  Emma has some strange "habits" that begin to control the thoughts and actions of her and all indications lead to Suz as the culprit!  But how could that be?  Suz is dead. Or is she? 
As the reader you read the book and are convinced it has to be a trick of some sort but then McMahon weaves into the story something that only Suz would know or do and you begin to doubt.  By the time the last sentence comes around you have been on the roller coaster of belief and disbelief and aren't sure what to think!  Just as in the other book of McMahon's that I read, right up until the very last word I was still not sure if the truth of the matter finally been exposed or not.  Jennifer McMahon does an excellent job of writing a story that keeps you guessing.  But boy does she write freaky storylines! 

Surrender: The Heart God Controls by Nancy Leigh DeMoss
DeMoss' book on Surrender is challenging, encouraging and compels the reader to take action.  Like the "first" book in this trilogy of sorts, Brokenness, Surrender is a must read for the believer in Christ who really wants to walk in the will of God. 
Surrender will highlight the places in your heart and life that don't really want to walk in God's way and then you will have a choice to make.  In one particular chapetr DeMoss uses an explanation a missionary gave of "surrender" versus "committment".  That entire section is now highlighted in my book and I am positive I will be referring back to it.  The western Church has effectively done away with surrender and has pushed committment instead.  They are vastly different and one follows in the will of God and the other merely thinks about it and considers it as long as it isn't too inconvenient.  OUCH.  That was a part of the book I will be chewing on for sure. 
While Surrender, like Brokenness, can be read as a stand alone book I think it is more effective reading it as part of the trilogy - Brokenness, Surrender and now I'm moving on to Holiness.  One leads to the next and DeMoss does a wonderful job of navigating the way for us.

The Quilter's Legacy by Jennifer Chiaverini
Jennifer Chiaverini's Elm Creek Quilts series are pleasant reads.  They aren't spectacular but they are pleasant. 
In this particular one Sylvia, the owner of Elm Creek Quilts, goes on a journey to discover her mother through the quilts she made.  Her mother passed when Sylvia was only 10 so she feels a huge part of her history is missing.  Her estranged sister had sold off her mother's quilts years ago and Sylvia, devastated by the loss of this piece of her family history, begins to search out the missing ones.  Her search uncovers all sorts of history about her mother for the reader but I'm not sure for Sylvia.  ??  As the reader we get the full back story but I don't see how Sylvia ever did.  Regardless, at the end of her search she seems satisfied and feels as if she knows her mother better. 

The Quilter's Homecoming by Jennifer Chiaverini
I'm on a kick to finish some of the Elm Creek Quilter books that I haven't yet read.  Because they are such easy reads, they are also pleasant ones.
The interesting thing about Chiaverini's series is that they don't go in a chronological order.  They flit between centuries and various family members and yet you manage to track and understand how the stories all come together in the books written in present day. 
The series appeals to me because of the art and stories (history) that is weaved into a good quilt. 
In this book Elizabeth and Henry strike out from Pennsylvania and family to make their own way in California.  But upon their arrival they find that what they thought they were coming to doesn't even exist...for them.  They are both tested and tried in this tale of finding out where home really is.

The Sugar Camp Quilt by Jennifer Chiaverini
In this Elm Creek Quilts novel Dorthea and her family find themselves becoming an underground railroad station for runaway slaves escaping to better, hopefully, lives. 
Dorthea is asked by her Uncle to quilt a rather odd design which at the time she doesn't realize is a map for the runaways to memorize to get them to the next station.  What I loved about this book is the rich history and historical accuracy of the story.  I have heard of many underground stations doing creative things like quilting a map, etc in order to aid the runaways to freedom.  It's a time of history that has always captured my interest and heart. 

The Aloha Quilt by Jennifer Chiaverini
We are back to present day in this Elm Creek Quilts novel that takes us from the hills of Pennsylvania to the Hawaii island of Maui.
Bonnie is going through a rough season, the closing of her quilt shop and the end of her marriage.  An offer to consult on and start up a quilt camp in Maui provides her the perfect respite from her current situations. 
In this novel Chiaverini provides the reader with important Hawaii history both about the islands themselves and about the quilting method they use there.  It was fascinating to read about how their methods for quilting vary and what kind of story they attempt to tell through every quilt made.  Obviously not for warmth, Hawaii quilts instead are meant to tell a story and impart wisdom to it's recipient. 
I found it very interesting and, as always, Chiaverini weaves a great story into the novel as well.

Design on a Crime by Ginny Aiken
I'm guessing this was the author's first novel and I applaud her courageous attempt.  It wasn't horrible, it was a pretty decent read, but it wasn't spectacular either.  It was what I would expect from a first time author getting her first book published (boy am I going to be "embarrassed" if I find out she's published before this!). 
Ginny Aiken has a good idea for a series and I'm curious to know if the books in the series get better as she grows as an author. 
Aiken tries too hard to be "relatable" to the reader through the things that Haley, the main character, thinks, says, and does.  Nobody uses cliches as much as the main character does in this book.  It really started to grate on my nerves and in the end took away from the storyline. The murder part of the book itself was a decent twist that wasn't clearly evident until near the end. 
Aiken's inclusion of the main character's struggles with God and faith were accurately represented I think.  It is the reality of the life of faith in God, we struggle when certain things happen to us and we have to figure out if God is to "blame" or not.  It's a "Job" struggle, this life of faith, and the main character has to work through particular events that have caused deep pain - it was interesting how Aiken chose to weave that into the storyline of the murder that occurred. 
All in all it was a decent read, and while I'm curious how the other books in the series are written and their story lines, I'm not running out anytime soon to continue on with the series.  If I run across one I'll probably read it but I have so many other books I know I for sure want to read and as the saying goes, "So many books and so little time."  :)


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