Wednesday, December 31, 2014

December 2014 Bookshelf

The Dress Shop of Dreams: A Novel by Menna van Praag
Kindle Edition 336 pages

Thank you to NetGalley and Ballantine Books for this advanced copy.  In an exchange for a pre-publish copy I am giving an honest review. 

This is my first read of this author, she's rather new to the scene.  I really enjoyed this book and the comparison to Addison Allen, Hoffman, and others is an accurate comparison.  Van Praag does what Addison Allen does, insert just a wee bit of magic into reality.  This wee bit always makes sense and convinces me that perhaps a bit of magic is indeed part of our realities.
Etta owns a dress shop. Not just any dress shop but a speciality one. It senses the woman walking through the door and plays music to match her fate. The perfect dress finds the woman rather than she finding it and then Etta completes the magic by making a few quick alterations.  Lives have changed because of Etta's magical dress shop.  Lives that don't include her granddaughter, Cora, however.  Cora is busy trying to fulfill her dead parents legacy and quest to find scientific ways to grow food in any kind of condition for impoverished nations. Joining Etta and Cora is Walt, who owns the bookstore down the street and nurses a secret love for Cora.  Desperate for Cora to see Walt with her heart and to begin to feel life instead of isolate herself from it, Etta does her magic alterations on something Cora wears and opens up a floodgate of emotions Cora doesn't remember ever feeling before.  With this floodgate of emotions comes a desire to research the mysterious fire that killed her parents 20 years prior. Cora embarks on a search for the truth, meanwhile Etta is entertaining breaking a 50 year old promise and Walt is trying to find someone different to love since loving Cora isn't exactly working out.  Interestingly enough there is a central character to each of their stories and as loose ends get tied up the character assists in bringing resolution.  Is there any way that Etta's dress shop might finally work its magic on Cora?

Well written and engaging, Van Praag weaves love, mystery, and friendship together in this title. I really loved how she introduced the story lines and brought them together.  The story kept moving forward and didn't feel slow at any point.  I actually loved Etta's story and almost wish there was a bit more of that but there really wasn't a need.  The ending may have been a bit predictable but it was enjoyable and one that kinda made me feel like cheering.  

God and the Gay Christian: The Biblical Case in Support of Same-Sex Relationships by Matthew Vines
224 pages

Last month I read another book of the same topic but with a differing view.  I couldn't get both books read in one month so I continued the exploration of this controversial topic this month.  For my thoughts on last month's read of this same topic click here.

While Vines doesn't make any claims that his book is a thoughtful approach to same-sex relationships, it is.  He presents his views without vitriol, with respect, and with a sincere desire to live within the truth of God's word.  Vines is part of a group of Christians who truly and honestly love God and are also gay.  He is committed to God's design of sex for marriage so until he marries he remains celibate.  You may have winced when you read that statement just now, the one about him marrying.  That wince is one of the many reasons Vines wrote this book studying the Bible's take on same-sex relationships.
What is very clear to me after the book I read last month and now this one is that when people are behaving kindly and with level heads, this is definitely an issue of perspective and how scripture is interpreted.  As the Church has seen with other topics of debate, people hold different perspectives and interpretations of God's word.
Here's the thing I want to say first. There is zero doubt in my mind that Matthew Vines loves God deeply and is most interested in following the words of God.  So he and I get along, so to speak, because those are also my inclinations.
Matthew dives into the history of sex, both opposite and same, in the ancient times.  He then applies that history to the biblical texts that Christians who are against same-sex relationships use for their argument. He also studies, as did the book I read last month, the basis of biblical marriage.  His study of marriage differed in very significant ways than the definition offered by the authors of last month's book.  I'm inclined to lean more into Vines more complete definition rather than the rather limited one offered in Same-Sex Marriage.
Vines makes compelling arguments, using the Bible as his foundation for those arguments. I became especially thoughtful while reading chapter 3, The Gift of Celibacy.  His research on when certain scripture passages started to be translated as sexual orientation rather than sexual behavior was very interesting as well.  As with the other book, lest you take anything I say in this review out of context I would encourage you to read the book for yourself.  It is disheartening that the Church at large has treated people who have same-sex preferences as less than human. As Vines states early on in his book, "This debate is not simply about beliefs and rights; it's about people who are created in God's image." Unfortunately the Church as a whole seems to have forgotten that or have redefined the "qualifications" for who is in the image of God. The image of God is not defined in gender or sexual orientation terms but in characteristics and qualities. Therefore, all humans carry the image of God in them, regardless of sexual orientation.
This is such a complicated and hurtful topic that has been debated and misunderstood.  Deep wounds now exist in many people because of the thoughtless actions and words of people who think they need to take up defending God and his word.  Newsflash: God doesn't need our help, he can take of himself just fine, better than any of us ever could.  Both the authors of last month's book and Vines prove that we can have a thoughtful, respectful, God-honoring conversation about topics of debate - we just have to be willing to be thoughtful, respectful, and God-honoring.
I highly recommend this book, Vines does an excellent job of researching and communicating his interpretation of scripture in regards to same-sex relationships.

Dark Prayer by Natasha Mostert
Kindle Edition -  265 pages

Thank you to NetGalley and Portable Magic Ltd for this free copy.  In an exchange for this copy I am giving an honest review. 

What an interesting book.  I'm torn on how much I liked it. It wasn't bad at all, just perhaps a tad lacking in details which might be feeding my uncertainty. Mostert proposes and executes a strange premise about memory.
Jennilee is missing. For two years she's been on the run and refusing to come out of hiding. Her guardian, Daniel, keeps trying to convince her but she doesn't trust him.  First of all, he's using the wrong name. Who is Jennilee? Her name is Eloise.  Dark Prayer is a story of a young woman who entered a fugue state two years ago and has zero recall about her life as Jennilee.  In the past two years she has made up her name of Eliose, what her parents did, and why she hears voices and recites a series of numbers constantly. Daniel, her guardian, wants to retrieve her and get her fugue state to end so she can become Jennilee again but so far she isn't cooperating.  Jack, an American rich boy, keeps getting into trouble so to keep tabs on him and as a form of punishment his dad, Leon, sends him to England to assist Daniel in retrieving Eloise.  Jack befriends Eloise through her new hobby of parkour. As he builds trust with her the reader is also privvy to her dead mother's diary as part of a scientific memory group from years before. The more Jack, and the reader learn, the more he realizes Eloise's voices and numbers are a threat to those in the group still alive and interested in memory research. Why do they need Eloise? Well, she's the test subject.
I think part of my uncertainty about the book was Mostert's equal use of parkour and memory research.  Eloise and her parkour hobby are an odd, in my opinion, escape from her former life of which she doesn't remember except in visions that are increasing.  I said earlier that it seemed to be lacking in details, the story as a whole, but Mostert does include plenty of detail.  I suppose a more accurate statement would be that, in my opinion, it lacked the details necessary to give the story more credibility.  It was all just a little me to buy into 100%.  The memory research is fascinating but it was given in such a fictional use that it felt contrived. The diary entries from Jennilee/Eloise's mom felt hurried and stilted.  They were entirely too vague to contribute to the reader's understanding of that part of the story. The story did, however, keep me engaged and interested until the end.  I'm curious to give other titles Mostert has authored a try.

If Only: Letting Go of Regret by Michelle Van Loon
Kindle Edition - 139 pages

Thank you to NetGalley and Nazarene Publishing House for this free copy.  In an exchange for this copy I am giving an honest review. 

Regret is something every person encounters in their life.  I am not aware of one person who doesn't have regret in their life. The tough thing about regret is letting it go. So when I saw the title and premise of this book I was definitely curious about what Van Loon would have to share.
The "problem" with having been birthed straight into the church nursery is I pretty have heard it all, very rarely do I hear or read new ideas that haven't been circulated throughout evangelical circles.  Van Loon's book fell into that category for me but it wouldn't for everyone.  I did appreciate and like how she connected shalom with letting go of regret. I don't believe the church has given shalom enough attention and application so I liked that Van Loon brought it into the discussion. Not only does the author discuss letting go of regret but she talks about regrets being redeemed.  Redemption is vital to complete healing and transformation.
It's an important topic but because so much of it was familiar I became restless reading it and was ready to be done with the book.  For newer believers this book would be especially good as they transition from a life of flesh living to that of spirit living.

Growing Up Ugly by Donetta Garman
128 pages

A memoir from Garman about her growing up years. Ugly years. Ugly in physical appearance, ugly in dysfunction as a result of mental illness and addiction.
I appreciate Garman's recollections and places of healing she has discovered. That being said I'm not sure this is a book that has huge impact for anyone outside of Garman's circles.  It felt more like a book for just her family than for the "masses." It was a diary of sorts and one that is more interesting to her family and friends than perhaps strangers. Anne Lamott says we need to write our stories and I agree. But sometimes those stories aren't for the public.  In order to touch the public and be compelling they have to have a purpose, a lesson, a meaning and Garman's stories have those but not for a public audience. Memoirs are always fascinating to me and I believe Garman's held a lot more potential for fascination but she held back on details and the delivery of what she did share was a little too elementary for me.

The Colors of Hope: Becoming People of Mercy, Justice, and Love by Richard Dahlstrom
217 pages

This was a FANTASTIC book to end the month and year with. Richard Dahlstrom paints (pun intended) a beautiful picture of artistry as God's people using the primary colors of mercy, justice, and love to paint pictures of hope in this world. As has happened often I got about 2 pages in, put it down and ordered my own personal copy from Amazon.  (Yay for Prime 2 day shipping!)
Yes, I knew within two pages it was a book I will want to mark up, read again, pass around, discuss.
As I said Dahlstrom draws from the artist pallette for his book about the people of God painting hope on the canvas of this world.  What a perfect metaphor. His thoughts could be summed up in the idea that we color our worlds grey when we are known for what we are against instead of what we are for. When we boldly brush on the canvas of this world what we are for we paint in vibrant and beautiful colors.  As a whole the church has squashed creativity in favor of consumerism and that has led to dull, grey canvas. It's time, past time, to squash consumerism in the Church, which has killed off much more than creativity, and begin to infuse hope into the world once again using mercy, justice, and love.
Fantastic book.  I marked up the majority of chapters. There was so much practical application and so much biblical sense presented.  Dahlstrom also talks about the pastels versus the bold colors of faith. I really resonated with this discussion as I think most anyone who was birthed into the church would. At some point my pastel faith got washed out and when bold colors were introduced it changed my entire world.
Dahlstrom has laid out a gracious and practical plea to be Artisans of Hope.

Sunday, November 30, 2014

November 2014 Bookshelf

Pain, Perplexity, and Promotion: A Prophetic Interpretation of the Book of Job by Bob Sorge
179 pages

In an continuing effort to study as much as I can about the book of Job, in the Holy Bible, and as many different commentaries on it I picked up Bob Sorge's book on the matter.  I actually first heard of Bob Sorge last year when this video from him appeared on my Facebook feed.  I loved this video because it matched up so perfectly with what I had been studying about the book of Job. The Bob in this video, in 2013, seems to have changed his perspective on the purpose of the book of Job from the book he wrote, and I read, published in 1999. I must say I prefer the Bob of 2013.
In Sorge's book he had been living with his injury for 7 seven years and, if we use the book of Job as visuals, I'm not sure Sorge had been sitting long enough in his misery to understand the book of Job the way he seems to present day.  In 1999 Sorge took great liberties and pains to compare the story of Job to the end of the world and the return of Jesus. This comparison really grated on me and set me on edge. I am so sick of the Church focusing so much on the "end times" that they completely miss living as the Church right now, present day.  I'm so fed up and Sorge fueled that fire of mine with his numerous comparisons and Christianese thoughts. The tone in his present day thoughts about Job is very different, thus my preference of him today. But the book still had many good insights and valid points for me to take note of and add to my continuing study of Job. And I continue to admire anyone willing to take on Job, not many pastors or otherwise are willing to do so which is a shame because it is a rich book, full of God's grace.

Finding Rebecca: A Novel of Love and the Holocaust by Eoin Dempsey
Kindle Edition - 428 pages

Thank you to NetGalley and Lake Union Publishing for this advanced copy. In exchange for a pre-publish copy I am giving an honest review.

I am drawn to stories from the World War II era, I can't seem to get away from them. It is especially fascinating when the story involves a person of Jewish heritage and of German descent.  In this novel Dempsey delves into such a relationship.
Christopher and Rebecca live on Jersey, an island near the UK and remote from Christopher's native Germany.  They met in childhood and their growing up years were cushioned from the brewing hate Hilter was planting in Germany toward the Jews. Jersey was a blip island on the screen of world land masses worth thinking about.  It successfully stayed in obscurity until Hilter's greed to dominate the world brought the Germans to occupy even the "blip" islands. Suddenly Christopher was a German and Rebecca was a Jew and they weren't supposed to be together. But they were.  They were together, so many years and memories wrapped up in each other, it did not matter to either one of them the ancestory of each other.  And then the day came that they had tried so hard to avoid and seek shelter from. Rebecca was deported to a concentration camp and Christopher was deported back to Berlin. In an attempt to locate Rebecca, Christopher swallows his disgust with the Germans and Hilter and joins the SS so he can get an in at various concentration camps and find her and help her escape. But it's not as easy as Christopher thinks it is going to be, both finding Rebecca and staying isolated from the evil of the Nazi's. Can he really find Rebecca? What will happen if he does? Will he be able to safeguard his soul from the evil of the Nazi Regime? With little regard for his own safety Christopher presses on to find Rebecca.
I really enjoyed this story.  I appreciated Dempsey's inclusion of the very real struggle Christopher experienced as an SS Officer and a reluctant and disgusted German born man.  Dempsey also provided the reader with some very visual portraits of the treatment the Jewish people, as well as the Gypsy's and a few other smaller people groups, had to endure at the hands of the SS.  For those highly sensitive I would not recommend reading this title, it is rather upsetting to read of the brutality. I realize the story is about finding Rebecca, it would have been interesting, however, to include a chapter or two of narrative about her and the camp she was in. But ultimately that is neither here nor there when it comes to the book on the whole.  Living the SS life through the voice of Christopher was a different perspective on World War II and its atrocities than I have had before. Dempsey, job well done.

Same-Sex Marriage: A Thoughtful Approach to God's Design for Marriage by Sean McDowell & John Stonestreet
Kindle Edition - 176 pages

Thank you to NetGalley and Baker Books for this free copy. In exchange for a copy I am giving an honest review.

The subtitle of the book, A Thoughful Approach to God's Design for Marriage, is tricky.  Will this be, one wonders, another book on the market degrading people who prefer the same sex for their intimate relationships? Or is it truly a thoughtful approach?  It may be the first of its kind if so.  Oh sure, plenty of other books have claimed in their own words to be thoughtful but usually it is the same old tired cliches about homosexuality and God and how the two can't meet up. (God made Adam for Eve not Steve - sound familiar? Ugh) What would a thoughtful approach to this controversial, emotional topic sound like, read like?
I think it may read like and sound like this book from McDowell (the son of Josh McDowell) and Stonestreet. In my opinion, they really did take a very thoughtful and respectful approach to this subject.  Early in the book they state, "....the if in this debate is one of definition.  Same-sex marriage should be legal if marriage is only a way that the government acknowledges feelings of love and affection between people.  If that's all there is to marriage, keeping marriage from same-sex couples would be discrimination along the lines of racism and sexism or perhaps based on religious convictions that are not shared by everyone."  It's a thoughtful approach to the idea of same-sex marriage.  The authors go on to unpack what the definition and purpose of marriage is.  Throughout they are respectful and acknowledging of the very real feelings those who are attracted to their same gender experience. They even, at one point in the book, state very emphatically that those feelings and desires are very real and the Church as a whole cannot, rather should not, punish anyone for their feelings.  Nor do they believe such relationships should be criminalized or go unprotected.  Truly, I didn't know what to expect from this book but I found I was so pleasantly surprised at the very loving and solid discussion the authors hold with the reader.  Their reasoning and foundation for their definition and understanding of marriage is logical and lacking in the high emotion that generally accompanies this topic.  To define marriage, they claim, is key to the whole debate.  And marriage must have a clear definition, a structure to it, or anything goes - even underage and incestuous relationships/marriages. As they say, "If any and every type of relationship should be called marriage, it's no longer a helpful term.  Marriage can't mean everything, or else marriage means nothing." They dissect the cultural shift on perspective toward how people are now viewed.  The Church, on the whole, is called out by the authors for its gross mistreatment of homosexuals, for its application of double standards when it comes to sexual sins, and for its failure to properly teach marriage and live out true marriage.  They contend that the responsibility of the Church is not to fight against same-sex marriage but to fight for marriage.  The blind spots of the Church have caused great damage to the hearts of those who have same-sex feelings and the blind spots have rendered our voices ineffective on the issue.  It's as if the Church has become white noise within this topic. Christians are called intolerant, bigoted, hateful and usually because they communicate their disagreement with the lifestyle not the people in the lifestyle.  But high emotion topics like this one set everyone on edge and then the name calling begins, the refusal to see the actual person behind the harsh words etc. The Church has been told they need to be more tolerant and compliant with this shift in thinking but the same rule doesn't apply to everyone else. The authors tackle this thought head on and refute it. They also refute the argument for equality and their straightforward, logical reasoning is hard to argue against. Again, they are mindful of those who advocate for same-sex marriage and seek to remove the emotion from the debate.  They state, quite accurately in my opinion, that, "You cannot move logically from the equality of persons to the equality of actions, choices, lifestyles, or relationships. It simply does not follow." Lest the quotes I use be taken out of context and misunderstood, I highly recommend reading this book for full context and understanding of the authors intentions.  McDowell and Stonestreet also don't let the Church get away with anything.  They lay blame at the feet of the Church for the ways in which the Church has mishandled and even fed the emotional and vitreous debate. I appreciate not being let off the hook and taken to task for the sin of the Church in this particular area.  It's an excellent book and near the end the authors encourage further reading with some suggestions of titles that propose an opposite view from theirs. I smiled when one of their suggestions is the next book I was going to be picking up to read in an effort to do just what they suggested.  Great minds think alike I guess?
*As I started reading this book an article from Huff Post caught my eye. In it the author has similar things to say as McDowell and Stonestreet do, specifically in regards to the Church's mistreatment of people with homosexual feelings.

Lost Lake by Sarah Addison Allen
296 pages

I adore Sarah Addison Allen. I've probably already said that a time or two in other book reviews.  In 2011 she was diagnosed with breast cancer and this is her first book since then.  No doubt about it, breast cancer or an illness/disease like cancer is going to change a person - change their writing, their outlook, their stories.  I feel like this book reflects a change that Addison Allen went through.  Not that the book was bad by any means, it was good.  But it wasn't the Sarah Addison Allen magic of before.  Literally the magic was missing. And what Addison Allen does best is insert magic into life. That was missing in this book. And the bits, the hints of it there weren't developed in the style that I associate her with, that I fell in love with.
In Lost Lake Kate and her daughter, Devin, spontaneously drive to Lost Lake to visit her Aunt Eby. Lost Lake is a place full of good memories for Kate and she needs that right now for herself and for her daughter. With her husband passing away a year ago, Kate's been walking around in a fog ever since.  She knows she needs to wake up and Lost Lake may be just the place to help her.  Arriving at the lake she discovers her Aunt has recently decided to sell it. It has fallen into disrepair and only a handful of faithfuls return every summer.  The faithfuls are there half resigned to Lost Lake being sold and half hoping Eby will change her mind. Kate's unsure of her future and all of a sudden Devin is insisting there is an alligator roaming the property and talking to her.  Eby's dearest friend, Lisette, mute since birth cooks the most fantastic food for the camp and has conversations with a chair in the kitchen that seems to move on its own accord.  Maybe for more than just Kate what is lost will be found at Lost Lake.
It's a good book. It's a great story, the characters are solid and compelling.  If it were written by someone other than Addison Allen I would give it a better or different review. But because I have read what Addison Allen can do with reality and magic I was a little let down, or disappointed, with this one.  It's still worth reading and I still adore Addison Allen, I'm hoping as she continues to gain strength and health after her battle with breast cancer that her strengths in the genre will return as well.

Pastrix: The Cranky, Beautiful Faith of a Sinner & Saint by Nadia Bolz-Weber  224 pages

A few weeks ago Shia LaBeouf came out of a closet.  Not the closet we generally associate with that phrasing but out of the closet of no faith. He became a believer this year and started talking about it.  People weren't very receptive to his description of being a Christian now. Let me rephrase. Evangelical Christians weren't receptive.  Aside from being all too cynical these days about people becoming believers they also didn't appreciate the language that LaBeouf used when talking about it.  Apparently *we* (do I have to be included in that "we", ugh) have forgotten that when we come to Christ we are bid to come as we are not as a cleaned up, perfect version of someone.  So Shia has come to Christ, we are compelled to take him at his word on this, just as he is. Shia's language probably offends *us* (there I am again, lumped in - and yet rightfully so) more than it does Christ, after all we cannot see the heart of others, but God can.
I bring this up to introduce Pastrix.  Nadia Bolz-Weber's spiritual memoir.  It is beautiful, messy, lovely, controversial.  She curses like a sailor, she and Shia have common ground, and yet she undoubtedly loves God - maybe even more than I do!  Can you love God, serve God, and still have a tongue that flies off the handle at times?  I believe yes, you can.  I myself don't use that language but the older I get the less offended I get, it's just not a battle worth fighting in light of other issues.  I cut through the language to get to the heart and Bolz-Weber has heart.  She has a beautiful heart that is seeking Christ day in and day out.  She, as we all do, stumbles at times and then, as we all do, gets back up and continues on.  In this memoir she shares her spiritual life story and it is far from dry and "textbook."  One look at her picture may indicate that!  She currently pastors a church in Denver and I have proposed to my book club, we read this title for November, that we take a field trip and go a'vistin' House for All Sinners and Saints.  Part of the ELCA, Nadia is breaking molds and challenging held beliefs about who qualifies to come before God and enter into his presence. I'm guessing LaBeouf would be extremely comfortable to join their worship services.  Here's what really struck me about Nadia's journey.  How she got from point A in the text of a passage to point B and found the heart of God to share with her congregation and readers.  It was astounding to me how unpacked she takes a passage we've heard a million times and bring it relevancy for herself first and then for us.
Beware, if you are a traditional evangelical you will not appreciate this book, Nadia's style, or her tongue.  You will be offended with her inclusion of those in this culture that are controversial, namely LBGT.  You will be disappointed with the ELCA for allowing her in, but it won't surprise you since they opened their doors to gay pastors a few years back.  You will scoff at her insights on Christ because you have been taught that nobody who is a woman, tattooed, and curses can have anything profound to share about God.  You will miss out on listening in on the messy but beautiful faith of one sojourner.  So beware and don't say I didn't warn you.

The Remains of Love: A Novel by Zeruya Shalev
432 pages

I abandoned the book at page 68.  I didn't want to but it was so slow going and tedious to read that I gave up in light of all the other books I have to read this month.  Originally written in Hebrew, it was translated into English.  I'm wondering if this is part of the slow read.  It all made sense, as far as I can tell the translation was accurate but Shalev is a prolific author.  She is very descriptive, employing beautiful imagery.  She is very wordy as well, and this may have worked against her in this novel.  Her introduction of characters and their development was very slow going and confusing at times.  There wasn't always a clear delineation for which character was currently being featured.  I generally can follow a character driven story line but this one was tough to follow, it seemed to be one long run on sentence even though grammar was used.  It didn't move at a pace that kept me engaged or even interested.  I was bored by the characters and the story and wondering when, and if, it ever picked up and became interesting.  A quick flip through portions of the book through to the end indicated the pace of the book never changed and the story remained tedious and wordy.  I couldn't finish it out.

The Truth About Butterflies: A Memoir by Nancy Stephan
227 pages

"The caterpillar dies so the butterfly could be born. And, yet, the caterpillar lives in the butterfly and they are but one." (John Harricharan)

This is a beautifully written and told story of Nancy and her daughter, Nicole. Nancy shares some of her back story so the reader understands the relationship she and Nicole share once Nicole is born. Before Nicole was born to Nancy, who was almost still a baby herself, I sensed the strength that was being birthed within her.  She had a traumatic start to life and it seems to be preparation for the life she would find herself living with Nicole.
At age 9 Nicole was diagnosed with diabetes and from that moment on the fight for her physical life and quality of her life consumed both Nancy and Nicole until the day the fight ended.  Not only did Nicole have severe diabetes but in her teen years, if I understood the timeline correctly, she was diagnosed with breast cancer and had to have a mastectomy.  Her medical problems continued to increase and slowly take over every major function of her body. The battle to live was getting increasingly harder and more exhausting.  Through it all Nancy was there.  Fighting for her child until neither one of them could fight no longer.  Eventually Nicole, at age 27, lost the multiple battles her poor body was fighting and she flew away to be with Jesus.  What followed Nicole's death was a mother's grief.  Nancy chronicles parts of her grief journey and the part where it began to change and she began to heal.  Finding a box of Nicole's things in the attic Nancy stumbled upon a treasure trove of Nicole's dreams and God used them to bring Nancy into healing. That was the other part of both Nancy and Nicole's story, they had a deep faith in God and saw him be present in so many ways that it would have been impossible for them to deny him and his existence.
I was so pleasantly surprised at how much I liked this book.  It really is a very touching story of a mother's love, grief, and healing and of a daughter's ultimate healing. Nancy wrote the story of she and her daughter with grace, the appropriate amount of details, and with ease.  It was easy to read and become involved in their story.  I love memoirs in general because every person has a story to share. Stories are so important and can communicate truths and lessons to different people for different reasons.  I appreciate it when people share their stories.

Rosa's District 6: Stories by Rozena Maart
168 pages

Maart was born and raised in Cape Town's famed District 6.  An inner-city residential area of Cape Town that consisted of mostly black families until the late 1960's when apartheid began forcing the district residents to move and rebuilt it under white man regime.  I don't want to go off on an apartheid rant during this book review so that's all I will say about the history.
Maart's book is a series of short stories that one character, Rosa, slips into. Other characters make appearances in some of the stories but Rosa is the constant. The stories take place in April and May of 1970, after apartheid had started its brutal rule over the black people of South Africa.
Rosa is a precocious child with a hand condition.  She flits in and out of everyone's homes and lives and seems none the wiser to the brutality her people are beginning to experience.  Rosa likes to record stories and until her Auntie provided her with a booklet to wear around her neck she was recording them on walls and furniture. In the stories we see the lives of some of the residents much as Rosa might be watching.  Although we are privvy to more of the adult information.  Maart's characters explore love, relationships, desires versus responsibilities, the human response to jealousy and fear: her characters live out, in story, the spectrum of human emotions that we all have the potential to feel at some point in our own lives.  She keeps apartheid mostly away from her stories, choosing to focus more on the actual people of the district rather than the brutality that has started to invade their well-being. District 6, or the part of the district that most of her characters seem to reside in, is largely made up of people of the muslim faith.  This also is evident in the stories but not outright stated.  It's important to note because the faith of the characters does influence some of the behaviors and responses that come from the stories.
I really love that the author intimately knows District 6.  She is not writing from a place of removed or cleaned up research but from a place of personal experience. When she describes Table Top Mountain or the streets or the stores she is not removed from it but she helps the reader to visualize it much as I am sure she does when writing about it.  Her characters are not removed from reality either. They are easy to connect to and to relate with. I do wonder if her fictional characters are based on people she was in community with during her time in district 6, I can't help but think they must have some qualities and similarities to people who she interacted with.  And then I wonder, was Rosa based off of Maart herself?  Either way the stories and characters bring life, and perhaps a bit of understanding, to those who have only heard of District 6 in negative or removed terms.

Job: Interpretation: A Bible Commentary for Teaching and Preaching by J. Gerald Janzen
273 pages

Well.  Apparently this month I am not in the mindset of being terribly academic.  I got to page 11, which was still the Introduction.  The commentary isn't bad at all, I'm just not in a place to be academic.  So I gave it up.  If I didn't have to borrow it through another library system I may have tried to renew it and stick with it longer but because it comes from a different library it has to be returned.  So I'm giving it up for lighter material.  Someday I may pick it back up.
A note about academia:  I so appreciate academics, I do. But I think that *we* have discounted the face value of text.  We pick apart and dissect text until it no longer represents the literal words written.  Somewhere along the way it seems *we* decided the written text wasn't true or accurate and wasn't worth taking at face value so it needed to be tilled and torn apart. Just because *we* have doubts about words written doesn't mean they don't mean exactly what they say. I feel like this has happened with the whole of the Holy Bible but especially with the Book of Job.  There are so many thoughts and ideas and theories out there about this man and his trial. But what if what happened is just what is written?  What if in all *our* picking and dissecting we have complicated something that is actually simple, i.e. exactly as it is written? What if?
*Because I didn't get past page 11 and I did enjoy those pages I'm not giving it any rating.

Motherless by Erin Healy
Kindle Edition - 368 pages

Thank you to NetGalley and Thomas Nelson for this advanced copy. In exchange for a pre-publish copy I am giving an honest review.

What an odd book.  It wasn't bad but I'm not sure I thought it was good either. My husband asked me what it was about and I never could come up with a description that would make sense.
The book is narrated by two people.  It starts off being narrated by Misty, mother of two children and wife of Garrett.  Misty is dead and she can still view the lives of her children and husband.  Misty, in a manic place, walked into the ocean when Dylan, her son, was only three weeks old.  Her daughter, Marina, was three and became a mommy figure to Dylan while their Dad did his best to move them on.  Fast forward 16 years.  Misty is looking in on her kids and Garrett and knows the time is coming for them to learn the truth soon about her disappearance and death.  Confusing the situation is an accident Garrett is in, the reappearance of Misty's cousin Sara, and a story that doesn't quite tie together.  "Why do we lie to the kids?" And the answer has been, "To protect them," but is that true? Have they been protected or was their damage just delayed 16 years?
Strange book.  The narration was slightly blurred and when Misty's voice dropped off I was a bit confused for a page or two until I picked up who the next narrator was.  Something about the story line frustrated me but also kept me reading so that the truth of Misty and Garrett and their family could be known.  I sort of understand what Healy was attempting in her choice to narrate through Misty and the second person but something about that choice falls a bit flat, it is too vague and a little murky.  Part of my frustration had to do with the character of Sara.  She was cowardly with the truth and there was no reason to be.  She came off as guilty of something when she wasn't guilty of anything. Like I said, I think I get what Healy was trying to accomplish with the story and the characters but I'm questioning that she was actually able to pull it off.

Finding Tom Connor by Sarah-Kate Lynch
270 pages

I believe this is Lynch's debut book.  I've read a couple others of hers, published after this one, and I can see the growth in her writing.  I really enjoyed the other two for the theme she built the story around.  She attempted to do that in this book as well but as with any writer she grew into it and her later books reflect that.
Molly is set to marry Jack in a few days and is doing one last dress fitting. Unfortunately she finds out the dress fits but the fiance doesn't.  After Jack is exposed for who he really is and Molly exerts some energy letting others know how hurt she is, the wedding is called off.  So the wedding is off, the relationship is off, but the wedding dress is staying on.  Molly won't take it off.  I never did quite understand why she wouldn't and I'm not sure Lynch even knew herself why she had Molly continue to wear it.  Through a series of hungover and emotional decisions, Molly finds herself jetting off to Ireland with her Aunt Vivienne in search of an Uncle they just discovered they have. Once reaching Ireland and using land travel to get to the town of Ballymahoe, a series of unfortunate events happens to Molly.  When she finally ends up in Ballymahoe she comes face to face with one of her unfortunate events during the trip.  A side story that starts before Molly's story and speeds up to intersect to hers is the story of Ballymahoe's draw to the general public.  Virgin Mary was sighted in 1969 and the town has been living off continued sightings for years.  But she hasn't appeared in about a month, is it the new priest who has run her off or did she move on for other reasons?  If the town loses her then they lose their businesses and livelihood's but not if someone can come up with another way to keep Ballymahoe on the map.  Sometimes fate is a little messy and a lot chaotic before it delivers.
Like I said at the beginning, Lynch has grown quite a bit as an author and this work reflects that if read after some of her later work.  For that reason I enjoyed reading it because I enjoy seeing and recognizing growth in an author.  Everyone has to start somewhere right?  Lynch's character development is decent in this title and her settings are authentic in feel.  It was not my favorite of the books she has written but neither was it a bad read.  I'm glad that I had read a couple of her later works before this one so I knew ahead of reading this what her potential is in later titles.

Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can't Stop Talking by Susan Cain
352 pages

So I read this book once already this calendar year, in February.  But it was so good and has stuck with me all these months that when someone in my book group mentioned they had gotten it I suggested we read it for book group! Yes! It is THAT good. And the second read was even better than the first.  The first time I got a ton of good info from it and that was while walking on the treadmill.  This time I read it while sitting in a chair so I caught things on a deeper level than I did the first time around.
What I really like and appreciate about this book is that Cain doesn't hoist introverts on to some pedestal and claim superiority because all of the positive they contribute to the workplace and relationships, instead she makes the case that they are just as valuable as extroverts, which the Western world prefers, and have equal standing in society. Neither does she dismiss the value of extroverts or wave them off as superficial.  She gives both equal credit but focuses on the why's of introverts to help the Western culture, which is significantly extroverted, gain understanding of introverts.  Her research is thorough, compelling, and presented in an interesting manner.  She engages the reader and makes what could be, and probably is in some circles, a dry subject matter very interesting and easy to read.
Reading it a second time I am struck once again how important it is to understand the differences - strengths and "weaknesses" - between extroverts and introverts.  It makes a huge difference in all interactions, specifically the marital ones. If you are married and opposite in temperament from your spouse I highly recommend this book as one of the ones to read to gain understanding of both sides.I find this book to be very enlightening.  

Thursday, October 30, 2014

October 2014 Bookshelf

Family Inheritance by Terri Ann Leidich
Kindle Edition

Thank you to NetGalley and BQB Publishing for this advanced copy. In exchange for a pre-publish copy I am giving an honest review. 

Three sisters, bound by blood and a tragic childhood, who haven't spoken to each other in years come together again as their Mother is in a coma.  Helene, Alice, and Suzanne have all done their best to separate themselves from the life they lived growing up.  That includes keeping distance from one another.  But now they have to come together to decide what can be done with their Mother.  Helene, the oldest, left the family as soon as she graduated high school and has never looked back.  Now she's in a dead marriage with a teenage son that is flirting with alcoholism.  Alice got married out of high school to an abusive man and has remained in the marriage all these years.  She has a blind eye to the abuse her husband deals her children as well as her.  Suzanne is single, marriage didn't work for her, and on the corporate ladder to the top in her company.  The problem is she drinks, heavily and all of the time.  And her drinking is starting to cause a lot of problems.  These three women show up at their Mother's bedside with the past and present dragging them down.  Through visits with each other and reconnecting as sisters they each begin to find strength to share their stories with one another, get help, and break the cycles of dysfunction they have perpetuated.  The inheritance their parents left them with has run out and it's time to build a new inheritance for themselves and their children.  With hard work and persistence they can build a new legacy.
I thought this was a really good book.  Leidich does a really good job at portraying the inheritance these sisters are living with and what needs to happen for a new one to come into existence.  I've seen other reviews critical of the changing the sisters went through, that is was too unrealistic and too fast.  I disagree. As a lay counselor I know that change can happen quickly when the hard work is put in.  Leidich doesn't skip over the mentions of hard work each sister has to put in to her healing.  And she doesn't ignore the hard work other family members have to put in as well in order for healing to take place and for the old inheritance to pass away so the new one can be birthed.  While not giving all the sordid details Leidich tackles the tough topics of alcoholism, rape, domestic and sexual abuse, and self-esteem.  Those who have struggled with those issues before may find themselves uncomfortable or even unable to read a book that is candid about those topics. The conclusion of the story is that we are all handed an inheritance by our parents as we are being raised. But as adults we all have the choice to live off of that inheritance or not.  Perhaps we need to make our own.

The Hardest Peace: Expecting Grace in the Midst of Life's Hard by Kara Tippetts
192 pages

If you have followed me on Facebook or even on my other blogs then you may have heard about Kara Tippetts.  Let me be upfront, I don't know Kara personally. I've never met her even though we live in the same town and have a lot of the same friends.  I don't know her personally and yet I feel as if I do. Kara has the amazing ability to draw anyone in and make them feel like they are close, personal friends. Many people say, "To know Kara is to love Kara," and they are right.  I believe she has allowed me, and thousands of others, to know her and she is loved.  Deeply.

Kara has and speaks of peace.  She speaks of a hard peace in which God is found at the places she arrives in this journey.  He is there waiting for her, to embrace her and comfort her.  It is a hard peace but it is peace.

HOW?  How does this woman, much too young and with a whole bunch of life to live yet, say that she has peace in all of this?  

The Hardest Peace hit bookshelves, literal and virtual, yesterday.  October when the month turns pink in support of Breast Cancer Awareness.  This time when Kara is still alive and has been able to hold the book in her hands, read excerpts to groups of people, and sign her name to this work of her heart. Kara is alive today, she trusts God for tomorrow. 

The Hardest Peace is Kara's story from start to present.  She gives us a snapshot of the messy of her life prior to faith.  She introduces us to her husband and their story.  She lets us peek in on her four children and the wonder of them in her life.  She brings us to Colorado Springs from North Carolina and we hear of how tough moving to Colorado was from day one. She talks about the life she and Jason thought they were going to live and the life they have had to accept.  She is candid about the life her family will live without her and how she is trying to prepare all of them for that day and time. Kara is dying.  The cancer is not going to turn back and retreat at this point.  All treatments are to buy as much time as possible.  Just a few weeks ago she shaved her head for the second and last time. Kara knows she will die bald.  The treatments ensure that. 

Kara shares from a place of deep peace and grace.  She can do so because of the big love she has experienced in Christ.  She is thoughtful in her story and she invites the reader in with some questions at the end of each chapter.  She doesn't want just people who have cancer, for example, to read this book.  She claims, and I agree, that this book is for anyone who has experienced, is experiencing, or will experience hard.  Well, that's everyone.  We cannot escape the hard of life, the sharp and rough edges of people and circumstances.  We cannot escape it but we can have peace, hard peace, in the midst of it.  Unless you have walked through hard with peace you can't speak with any authority on it. You have to experience it to share it honestly and without cliches.  Kara has the authority to show us and tell us that it is possible to have hard peace when life isn't so gentle.  She has been well equipped to speak on this topic.

Kara's book, The Hardest Peace, is a gift for the reader.  The message Kara has lived to share is for anyone who has faced hard and that is each of us. 

Pick up a copy for yourself and a friend today.  You will be challenged and comforted by Kara's story.

**A special edition review was posted October 2, click here for that extended review.**

The Dead Will Tell by Linda Castillo
304 pages

Seriously.  When I get a Linda Castillo book I have to make sure I have the time it needs to read in one sitting.  I cannot open a book of hers, begin and then put it down for any longer than a bathroom break. From page one her books have captured me and hold me hostage to the story.  There is not one point of this title that I could have put it down and not obsessively thought about it while doing something else, even sleeping!
This is Castillo's sixth book featuring Chief Kate Burkholder. I love the character of Kate.  She's kick ass in all the ways she needs to be to be the Chief of Police in Painter Mills, Ohio. Having grown up in Painter Mills as an Amish girl, she came back a few years ago as an Englisher Police Officer.  This gives her unique ties to both the Amish of the county and the English.  In this book Kate's relationship with John Tomasetti is at a new level and they have some bumps in the road.  But the focus of the book is on the Englishers that are systematically being killed by someone bent on revenge. The first problem is that Kate and her men can't quite pick up on the connection between the murders until a piece of evidence is brought forward by someone on the fringes.  After that the case begins to come together in very disturbing and frightening ways especially when it is discovered that it is a case tied to a cold case from 1979.  And once again Castillo builds such an interesting and twisting case that I kind of see who the murderer might be but then second guess myself because I see no way how it could be.  And then it is.  She is like Mary Higgins Clark in that respect.  I almost always think I can figure it out but then second guess myself.  Cases of revenge always stop me a little in my tracks. I have a really strong sense of justice and so sometimes when revenge is exercised I do a little cheer for the person who meted it out even though I know what they did and how they did it was wrong.  Interestingly enough Castillo, in this title, puts two cases of revenge up against one another and in juxtapose shows how revenge can be meted in two ways with similar outcomes.  It's an interesting study, so to speak, in revenge - not that either method was appropriate.  But I did still cheer a little.  *wink*  Great book, I had to read it all at once and I did.  I can't wait for number 7!

Vanishing Grace: What Ever Happened to the Good News? by Philip Yancey
Kindle Edition - 304 pages

Thank you to NetGalley and Zondervan Publishing for this advanced copy. In exchange for a pre-publish copy I am giving an honest review. 

A follow-up, of sorts, to his book What's So Amazing About Grace? which I thought I had read but it turns out I haven't.  Oops.  I will need to remedy that soon, especially after reading this book.
What a fantastic read.  Wow.  Yancey has such amazing insights in this book about the grace that has vanished in our post Christian world. One observation that stands out and resonates with me is the effort the Church has put into making sure people hear the truth.  They put so much effort, perhaps too much into it and do so without grace.  Jesus "came from the Father full of grace and truth."  Note Jesus first interacted with others in grace so that he could then share truth.  The Church has been trying to do it the other way and when that happens grace is never dispensed because people are too guilt ridden to accept it or driven away by the legalism they have experienced.  That first observation leads the way to many others from Yancey, I highlighted so many portions from this book to go back to and really think through.
I haven't read Yancey before, and I'm not sure why I haven't. He is easy to read.  He writes for everyone, highly educated or not.  I appreciate authors that write for all people.  He always writes with a balance of personal observation/opinion and others experiences.  This book was full of discussion points, I need a group of people to read it as well so we can then discuss!  I could truly go on and on with examples from this title to back up my opinion that it is a great read but then I run the risk of spoiling the goodness of the content for others.  All that to say, this is a worthy read.  I loved it!

Somewhere Safe with Somebody Good (Mitford Years #10) by Jan Karon
511 pages

I'm a Mitford Fan and that's kind of an understatement. I adore the town and residents of Mitford and how Karon makes you feel as if you also live there.  The Mitford Series is one that I have read and reread multiple times.  It makes me feel comforted.  Actually it makes me feel fed, soul fed.
I admit I was a bit dubious about a book 10 coming out.  At some point, as much as I hate it, a series must end.  But book 10 was wonderful.  And wonderful is inadequate to describe this latest installment in the Mitford series.  It was home. That's what Mitford feels like, home.  And Father Tim?  It's like he is my Pastor.  I adore Father Tim with everything in me.  His wisdom, life and spiritual, is gold.  His heart is beautiful.  His honesty is refreshing.  I absolutely adore Father Tim.  Where I felt like he had departed from himself a bit in a few other books Karon has written him into outside of Mitford, within the first page of this title he was exactly as she has crafted him to be over the years. Mitford is where he is his absolute best at what he does and who he is.  Of this I am convinced. But I believe this is true of all humans.  There is one place where we are the very best versions of ourselves.
In this title Father Tim and his bride, Cynthia, have returned from a trip to his homeland, Ireland. That trip appears In the Company of Others. They return home to Mitford and Cynthia begins a new book but Father Tim continues to wrestle with retirement and what to do with himself.  There's plenty to keep him busy but he misses the importance of the here and there things in light of doing something magnanimous. Through reluctant acceptance he dedicates himself to the here and there things and finds that they are the true bread and butter of generosity and living well.
Karon brings back the majority of the beloved Mitford characters in this title.  I'm thinking it may be the last Mitford novel featuring Father Tim as the main character but perhaps Karon will continue with the residents of Mitford through Dooley, Father Tim's son. I think that could work, Dooley is a great character and I can see Karon getting quite a bit of mileage out of him.  But that's just my humble opinion.
I loved this book.  I literally feel as if I curled up in Mitford and was just fed the best meal I've had in a long time.

The Missing Place by Sophie Littlefield
Kindle Edition - 352 pages

Thank you to NetGalley and Gallery Books for this advanced copy. In exchange for a pre-publish copy I am giving an honest review. 

Such an interesting book. I'm a little torn about how much I may have liked it or not.  Parts of it were well done and then other parts I felt were underdeveloped or too vague.  I've not read Littlefield before, my introduction read to her wasn't bad at all.
In this title two mothers, completely different in personality and upbringing and current lifestyle, come together in a tiny town in North Dakota.  Shay and Colleen each arrive in Lawton looking for their sons, Taylor and Paul, who went missing on the same day.  It can't be coincidence.  As the mothers ban together despite their differences and begin to uncover truths about the modern day gold rush industry, oil drilling, and track down what happened to their sons they encounter danger as who they threaten to expose gets nervous.  As time ticks on and their sons are missing still both Shay and Colleen resort to doing things they wouldn't normally consider doing in their real lives. Having to interact with each other they are also forced to look at themselves and evaluate their parenting styles, personal choices, and relationships.  As they get closer to the truth the nerves set in.  Are their sons alive, dead, in trouble?  And what will the fallout be when they finally get their answer?
Littlefield clearly did research, extensively, about the modern day gold rush going on in North Dakota and other states. In her own way, through fiction, she exposes the flaws and illegal actions of the oil companies.  She introduces the subject of Indian reservations and land being raped and pillaged by the oil companies. She brings into light the faint undertones of racism still evident today between the Native American and the "white man."  She highlights the poverty that towns actually experience with the big boom of oil, it's a poverty that is hidden by the noise of money.  Littlefield brings to the forefront the desperation our economy suppressed nation is feeling and how the oil companies take advantage of that by paying large wages but overworking and exposing people to unsafe working conditions.  She portrayed the lifestyle of these boom towns very well.  Within the characters Littlefield did a comparison and contrast of sorts in mothering styles.  The focus being on what can happen when a Mother smothers her child and enables unhealthy behavior.
At times the story clipped right along but at other times I felt like it dragged on and on under unnecessary details.  As the book moved along I felt dissatisfied overall and so I believe that's why I'm torn about my feelings on it.  The resolution involving the sons felt a little anti-climatic to me and how far beyond that the story continued felt tedious as well.  The last few chapters of the book felt like a short story or really long epilogue.  I didn't connect enough with the Mothers or other characters to care that much what happened beyond the main resolution.
Still, there was something interesting about the story.

Bathing the Lion by Jonathan Carroll
Kindle Edition - 288 pages

Thank you to NetGalley and St. Martin's Press for this advanced copy. In exchange for a pre-publish copy I am giving an honest review. 

*scratches head* HUH.
This title was so odd, so confusing, so disjointed, and so bad that I'm not sure what I can say about it.  It falls into a genre I generally don't care for but beyond that detail, and in the end that is a very minor detail, this book was bad.  It was scattered and followed no real story line. The description of the book on NetGalley is deceiving.  It made it sound like the book would take the reader on a great adventure.  It only takes one to confusion and irritability that time was wasted on this non-story when there are so many other books to read. In short, 5 people who kind of know each other have a shared dream and it seems to indicate the end of a life they all used to live.  A sixth character joins them and seems to be the antagonist but perhaps isn't?  I'm really asking because I have no idea.  Character development is hardly worth mentioning and the book could have used a preface of sorts to explain a little more clearly what a mechanic is.  Even though it isn't my favorite genre I have read other titles in this category before and understood and even appreciated the stories.  So this review isn't about the genre, it's specifically about this book.  It's really awful.  Mr. Carroll seems to be a prolific author but this one was a miss.  I'm rather irritated that I spent time on it.

The Beginner's Guide to the Birds and the Bees by Sophie Hart
Kindle Edition - 384 pages

Thank you to NetGalley and Bookouture for this free copy. In exchange for a copy I am giving an honest review.  

I really enjoyed this book about sex and relationships by Sophie Hart. It's her second book and I liked it enough that I want to read her first one.  Hart's niche seems to be on sex and relationships.  At the end of her book she thanks the reader for reading the "naughty" book.  However, and this is not a complaint, I didn't find it naughty at all.  I found it so well-written and so classy.  I thought it was great. 

Annie is a 34 year old single woman who happens to be a sex therapist.  She has a flourishing practice and her professional life is amazing.  It's her personal life that isn't flourishing and needs some help.  Scarred from a past relationship, Annie is reluctant to try again.  Meanwhile, she counsels couples through relationship issues that affect their intimate lives.  The story focuses on Annie and three couples she is working with.  The couples are in various stages of relationship.  Ray and Linda have been married for 30 years and Ray feels like all they are is roommates.  Zoe and Simon have been dating for 3 years and just recently got engaged. In an attempt to keep their already vibrant sex life sizzling they decide to take a vow of celibacy until the wedding night. It could be a long six months.  Nick and Julia have been married for three years and trying for almost a year to get pregnant.  With every month that passes and no baby is conceived Julia grows more and more clinical toward Nick and their intimate life and Nick dreads being around his own wife.  Three very different couples in very different stages of life and they all come to Annie for help.  While Annie helps them she wonders who might help her, she's lonely and desires relationship but fears it at the same time.  Is there anyone out there who will help her change her mind?  
I REALLY liked this book.  Annie is a counselor so I relate closely to her.  I have been married for 19 years so I could relate to Ray and Linda but also Nick and Julia, even though we are way past trying to have babies!  As it always is in relationships there is more to the story.  Each couple comes to Annie with a problem, the one they identify as the major one but in order to have a major problem you usually have a bunch of minor ones that have piled up.  Even with Zoe and Simon choosing celibacy other issues are exposed and need to be addressed in order for their marriage to start off in healthy ways.  I felt like Hart did a masterful job with Annie, both her professional and personal life were realistic and true to life.  How Hart unpacked each couple and their problems and inner selves was so good, very realistic and very relateable.  I found myself being able to relate with every character, male or female.  Sophie Hart writes well, very easy and pleasurable to read. I think I'm a fan of hers!  

A Better Place by Barbara Hall
Kindle Edition - 282 pages

Thank you to NetGalley and Open Road Integrated Media for this free copy. In exchange for a copy I am giving an honest review.  

The first copyright on this book is 1994 so this seems to be a revised edition, a fresh release.  I've never read it so for me it is a brand new read! Apparently Barbara Hall is a very successful television writer and producer but she's also become a successful author. 

This book by Hall features Valerie who has a cast of characters surrounding her that have allowed themselves to be changed or affected by her.  There's her husband, Jason, who is a screenwriter. Back in her hometown of Maddock lives old friends Tess and Mary Grace, her parents, and her old love Joe - now married to Tess.  Valerie is a whirlwind of self-absorption.  She commands attention, she steals relationships, she leaves a trail of destruction wherever she is.  And yet she has people reluctantly loyal to her, it's a mystery to everyone except for Valerie because she's too blind to the truth of who she is.  Valerie ends up back in Maddock in an attempt to find herself and ends up stirring the pots of the past that had settled.  
This is a coming of age story for the older adults.  Valerie and her cast of characters are stuck at a certain maturity level.  As the story progresses each character begins to shed their current maturity for a different one. Valerie seems to stay stuck in this self-absorbed whirlwind that she is comfortable with while every one else is trying to find freedom from her.  Honestly I couldn't stand Valerie, she was a super annoying character.  I am not a fan of self-absorbed people.  Actually as I think about it, none of the characters were great, I didn't warm to any of them.  They all were whiny, blame shifting, lacking maturity.  Yet the story had some very relateable themes/topics.  I think every decade we live we go through a coming of age of sorts.  And depending on what we are still holding on to from our pasts depends on certain maturity levels.  Despite my dislike of the characters I still found the book enjoyable to read.  I may give Hall's other titles a shot.  

The Art Fair by David Lipsky
Kindle Edition - 275 pages

Thank you to NetGalley and Open Road Media for this free copy. In exchange for a copy I am giving an honest review.  

First published in 1996, Lipsky's debut novel has been re-released and this is my introduction to Lipsky. 

It's a story of Richard, and his mother Joan.  Once upon a time Richard was part of a family.  There was his dad, his mom, his brother Jon, and then him.  But one summer Joan started painting in an attempt to be a well known artist. The paints eventually drove a distance between she and her husband and they divorced.  A few years down the road Richard is living with her and has this compulsion to be her caretaker.  As time goes by and she rises up and then falls down in the world of art, Richard's belief that he is her caretaker grows.  It grows to such a place that it becomes unhealthy for both Richard and Joan.  He puts his life on hold for the pursuit of making her a name.  But a time comes, as it always does, where Joan and Richard need to part ways and get on with their own lives.  You may think that Joan, as the Mom, would struggle the most with the cutting of the cord but in a twist it's Richard who is having the harder time.  The Art Fair is a play on words.  Yes, Joan and Richard went to more art openings than they could count but they both find out that the art world isn't all that fair.  
As I said, I have never read Lipsky before and I enjoyed it.  He writes a simple and good story. He has characters that the reader can relate to.  He developed the relationship between Richard and Joan so well that I could almost see the facial expressions, hear the tones of voices, and view the body language.  Lipsky has only written this one novel.  He's written one other fiction book, a collection of short stories.  Otherwise he is a non-fiction author.  But he can write fiction as well. I'm interested to see if he write any more fiction in the future. 

A Little Bit of Everything Lost by Stephanie Elliot
Kindle Edition - 285 pages

Thank you to NetGalley and Patchwork Press Cooperative for this free copy. In exchange for a copy I am giving an honest review.  

Stories about first loves get me.  Is it universally true that first loves always end poorly or abruptly with little to no closure?  Ugh!  That's my baggage rearing its head, let me put that back away.  Okay back to the book.  :)  

Marnie and Joe meet the summer she is 19.  It was a chance meeting that turned into a very intimate, steamy summer relationship.  At the end of the summer they go back to their schools but Marnie can't forget Joe.  Although it seems that Joe has forgotten her.  She encounters a situation that she eventually chooses to leave Joe out of and is just getting back on track with her life when he reappears.  Fast forward 15 years later to Marnie, mom of 2 boys and wife to Stuart.  The book starts after Marnie has lived through a stressful summer.  The circumstances of her summer have brought the past to the present and they are colliding.  Marnie knows in order to get some peace in her own life and to possibly save her marriage from becoming a roommate situation that she needs to track down Joe and get some closure after all these years.  When Marnie and Joe encounter each other what will happen between them and the first love feelings they had for each other so long ago?  Choices will have to be made.  Interacting with a first love can be dangerous or it can bring the closure needed.  
Elliot's book about first love then and life now flips the reader back and forth between past and present until the two stories finally meet up.  My one complaint with this, and with other books of this genre that have employed a similar method, is that the author does all this illusion and build up to the big event that changed everything. The subtle hints and mysterious tone drives me crazy.  This isn't a mystery book and it's a genre that you could easily guess, out of about 3 or 4 scenarios, what happened to cause the relationship to end.  By the time the reveal of the shocking event happens I am neither shocked nor moved.  It's a relief to finally just have it out there.  I would prefer the author use the big, shocking event as a preface and setting the story up.  Anyway, it's a complaint I have but in the case of this book it didn't affect my opinion of the story.  I enjoyed the story of this first love, even if it brings up my first love memories. I will say that Elliot's choice to include such detail of Marnie and Joe's hot summer romance bordered on soft porn in my opinion.  It was perhaps a bit too much, after one or two encounters the reader could easily understand that they had chemistry.  It didn't enhance the story to describe the majority of their sex sessions. And no, that's not the part of their story that brings up my first love memories, ha!  Being a teenager and in love is tough and Elliot did a good job of bringing out the angst, uncertainty, insecurity that goes along with relationships at that age.  She tackles a controversial and emotional topic in a straightforward manner that I appreciated.  I liked her writing style.  She was a new-to-me author and I'll be checking out her other titles. 

The River is Dark by Joe Hart
Kindle Edition - 223 pages

Thank you to NetGalley and Thomas & Mercer for this free copy. In exchange for a copy I am giving an honest review.

I love finding great new thriller authors and I found one in Joe Hart.  Wow!  I loved this book, this mystery.  I am excited to check out his other thrillers.  He's more prolific, it seems, in the supernatural/horror genre which isn't my thing and I will steer clear of but any of his thrillers I'm going to check out.  
Liam Dempsey is a detective on leave when he gets the call that his brother and sister-in-law have been murdered in their home.  As the only family his brother, Allen, has Liam goes to take care of the details.  The problem is Liam and Allen haven't spoken in two years and Allen hated Liam.  But blood runs thicker than water sometimes and so Liam goes.  Entering into the town and the surface details of the murder investigation Liam picks up on discrepancies and oddities.  His brother and wife weren't the only ones murdered recently and Liam is positive there is a connection.  Stealthily conducting his own investigation Liam uncovers much more than the local law enforcement or the BCS is.  But what he uncovers places him in danger and anyone else who may be helping him.  Liam wonders how many more people will have to die before they can catch the killer and is he going to be one of the dead?  
Joe Hart writes so well.  He uses descriptives and adjectives that are refreshing and not the same stale ones that I've read a thousand times before.  His character development is well executed and goes at a pace the reader can keep up with.  This mystery/thriller is really good, had me guessing right up until the moment when I suspect Hart wanted to reader to clue in.  Great book!