January 2013 Bookshelf

Mudhouse Sabbath by Lauren Winner

Lauren Winner is a rabbinic Jew converted to Christianity and writes about her experiences and how her Jewish roots have influenced her Christian faith. This is the first book of hers I have read and in this one she specifically discusses some of the practices of the Jewish faith that as she says, "....about Christian practices that would be enriched, that would be thicker and more vibrant, if we took a few lessons from Judaism. It is ultimately about places where Christians have some things to learn." (introduction ix)
Overall I really liked this incredibly short but impactful read. I was curious how Winner would connect the practices of Judaism that Christianity could benefit from. She makes great connections but I was disappointed that she didn't maintain the foundational truths of God's commands when it came to Sabbath and eating kosher. She didn't carry those truths over from Judaism into Christianity but instead seems to have bought into the misunderstandings that Christianity has taught throughout the ages. There is such potential with Winner converting to Christianity to begin to teach the Church the foundational truths that they are just *this* close to but have missed. But outside of that disappointment I really liked the book and I think I will read it again just to make sure I got everything I wanted to and needed to! And I'm also going to make sure I get around to her other books as well.

A Friend of the Family by Lauren Grodstein

Grodstein did an amazing job at character and plot development in this story of a father's love gone a bit extreme. 
Pete and Elaine tried for years to have a child and finally Alec, their son, arrived.  He is the light of their lives.  Fast forward to Alec being a young adult.  He's reintroduced to an old family friend, Laura, who has been gone for several years due to a murder she committed as well as mental illness. Alec becomes interested in Laura while Pete begins obsessing over this new relationship.  His obsession with his son causes him to become distracted in all other areas of his life, personal and professional.  The results of Pete's obsession and distraction can end up costing him everything.  
Grodstein did something amazing.  She was a 31 year old unmarried writer who managed to write in the voice of a middle aged man.  And she did it so convincingly that the reader can't tell the difference.  What's unfortunate about this book by Grodstein is she did such a thorough job of character and plot development that it dragged on and on and it kind of got to the point where I was like, "Alright already let's get on with it."  There were details that I think the book would still be successful without. There were other components of the story that also were frustrating and unrealistic.  That combined with the dragging out of the story line only earned this book 3 stars.  

The Lost Years by Mary Higgins Clark

What?! Only 2 stars for this newest title from MHC?  Yes and I'm so disappointed.  MHC's most recent title was lackluster in its story line and even in character development, which she usually shines in.  It felt devoid of enthusiasm from the author for the story.  
Mariah's father has been murdered over a letter he found that is supposed to be a letter written by Jesus Christ.  The most obvious suspect, although really I felt her to be the most unobvious, is Mariah's mother who is in advanced stages of Alzheimer's.  Mariah goes on a quest to clear her mother's name and find the real killer.  
Honestly this book read like a "wanna be" book.  Like there was an author who was trying to be just like MHC but couldn't quite pull it off.  I've heard of authors having ghost writers before and I really have to wonder if that isn't what happened with this book. I had a really hard time getting interested in it and then staying interested.  For that to happen with one of MHC's books is very unusual. It was very elementary in its writing and didn't have the same depth that a normal MHC book has.  What happened?!?  That is a mystery in and of itself. 

Spring Fever by Mary Kay Andrews

I really liked this book from Andrews!  It's my first read from this author and I will definitely give her other books a shot.  She doesn't write anything that makes you think super deep or examine yourself but she writes a good, easy story that is fun to read.  
The topic of this title is a familiar one.  Boy and girl were in love and aren't anymore...or are they?  Add in that boy's family alternates between liking and hating girl and you've got a story.  Like I said, a familiar story line that Andrews adds her own specific details to flesh it out.  What Andrews adds in is a bit of a mystery that never full develops but it turns out is enough for the reader since the book isn't a mystery.  Andrews also adds in enough of her own details that you feel like you are reading a familiar story but it doesn't bore you.  She changes some things up and makes it engaging.  
I'm kind of a sucker, it turns out, for books set in small towns where everybody knows everybody.  And this book is set in Passcoe, North Carolina - proud home to Quixie Cherry Soda.  Mason and his family own Quixie and Annajane works there.  Mason and Annajane have also been divorced for 5 years as the story begins at his wedding to another woman, Celia.  But as the wedding is halted both Mason and Annajane recognize that maybe this is the second chance they both need.  Problem is there are some obstacles to their second chance, namely Celia.  Like I said, a familiar story line but with enough specific and unique details from Andrews that it doesn't bore. 
It was a good, and quick for me!, read. 

Gone Missing by Linda Castillo

Yay! Another decent murder-mystery author.  I've been looking and saw this sitting on the shelf at the library.  I'm am glad I picked it up.  And I just found out this was book 4 in a series (although it can easily be read as a stand alone) so I'm definitely going to go backwards and read the first 3.  
Kate is a police chief in a small town in Ohio that holds an Amish community.  Kate has ties to the community as she grew up Amish and turned her back on their ways when she was old enough to make a decision.  This gives her a unique perspective when it comes to solving crime and keeping the peace.  In this book Kate is called in to consult as a former Amish member in a crime spree that has resulted in three Amish teen girls missing.  Kate's job is to help find out what happened and where they are.  But it seems the clock is ticking and can she and the team solve the mystery before anyone else goes missing?
Castillo does a great job of weaving an engaging story and a strong plot.  Once I was able to devote attention to the book and the story I flew through it.  She writes well, develops her characters at an appropriate pace and crafts a darn good mystery while she's at it.  I'm super glad I picked up this title. 

The Gilly Salt Sisters by Tiffany Baker

I'm not sure if I actually liked this book or if it was just okay.  The promise and potential was there but I don't feel like it delivered.  In a lot of ways the book had hints of magic like another favorite author of mine does but it didn't capture and enthrall like that other author can do. 
Jo and Claire are known for their salt. And their salt is magic - or so everyone believes.  But they've had a falling out and Claire has tried to poison the town against the salt.  But the salt cannot and will not go away.  Through a series of events Claire is drawn back to the salt and it works its magic on her, Jo, and others that are drawn back in.  
I had a hard time reading this book. I felt like I was wading through salt marshes with crystals not yet formed trying to be interested in the book and stay with it.  It wasn't that it was poorly written but it seemed full of detail and I think perhaps crossed the line from just enough detail over into too much detail.  When there's too much I lose interest.  It just didn't speak to me the way I thought it would.   

When in Doubt, Add Butter by Beth Harbison

This was a decent read. Engaging but chick-lit for sure.  And I don't think the title was the best for the book, it certainly didn't come through much and the couple times I remember Harbison alluded to it the reference felt forced and almost like an afterthought.
Gemma is a private chef who has interesting clients that keep her hopping and too busy for a personal life of her own.  But when her personal life begins to take center stage she must pay attention and figure some things out.  It's predictable in the end, and perhaps even the whole way through, but it was a decent enough read that went quickly for me.

Traveling Mercies: Some Thoughts on Faith by Anne Lamott

I love Anne Lamott's non-fiction.  Traveling Mercies is just about that - mercy through our life travels.  If anyone can speak to this Lamott can.  With her wit and wisdom she weaves stories of her life and everyday occurrences that prompt thought and introspection.  She's unfailingly honest, brutally (at times) outspoken, and extremely liberal.  She rocks the boat of many, I assume, but you cannot deny her story.  You might be scandalized by her story but it is so clearly marked by God that even she eventually had to admit it!  And that's where her humor gets her by.  Nobody was more surprised than Lamott to discover Jesus and his love and embrace it and actually use the term "Christian".  She fought it for quite some time but the wooing of God eventually softened her heart and brought her into relationship with him. But a warning to those who haven't read her works before and assume that once she became a believer of God she started living life all prim and proper.  No, you'll still be scandalized if you think that.  But read it anyway, we all need to be scandalized to keep us in a state of grace. 

Sworn to Silence by Linda Castillo

Ok.  Wow.  I couldn't put the book down until I finished it because otherwise the mystery of who the murderer was would distract me from sleep or anything else.  Oh my gosh.  For a first novel Castillo knocks it out of the park.  I am so impressed.  
Kate Burkholder is the first female Chief of Police in Painters Mill, OH.  She also happens to have a deep connection to the Amish in the town, she was one of them until she chose to not formally join the Order. In this first book of the series Castillo is writing the reader learns of Kate's past while the town is on the hunt for a serial killer.  Past and present collide in a race to keep any more young women from dying. 
Castillo wrote a disturbingly descriptive account of a serial killer's quest and the search to hunt him down.  Her character development is spot on and at a pace the reader feels like they are getting to know the characters without feeling rushed.  Her plots are tight, not giving away much if anything at all.  I only caught on to her serial killer as Kate uncovered clues.  It was a good read.  I read book 4, unknowingly, earlier this month and now that I have read book 1 I can't wait to dig into books 2 and 3!  Really glad I picked up this author on a whim.  


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