Friday, January 31, 2014
January 2014 Bookshelf
This is my first read of any of Webb's titles and I enjoyed it. It was an engaging story with mystery.
Two sisters, Beth and Erica, return to their Grandmother's home in Wiltshire, England as part of a will stipulation. Either they live in the house together or it gets sold and the money goes to charities picked by Meredith, their Grandmother. Returning to the house of their childhood summers is a difficult task for both girls as neither have fond memories of their Grandmother. And then there's that incident that happened with their cousin one of their last summers there. As Erica begins to clean out belongings she uncovers pictures and letters that she wants answers to. Webb then weaves together a story of their Great-Grandmother, their Grandmother, and modern day and brings almost all the loose ends together. What answers Erica and Beth are given will either keep them in bondage to the family dysfunction or free them, the choice is theirs.
Webb writes well. She uses description, she develops her characters, she creates compelling story lines, and she throws in a touch of mystery. Looking at her other titles it is easy to see that she loves to bring the past and the present together to provide answers to her characters queries. She writes well but. But she provides almost too much detail, too much story. At places in the book the reading became cumbersome, it began to drag and get weighty under her desire to tell a complete tale. In parts of the book I just wanted her to get on with it already. But it would pick back up and I finished the book mostly satisfied. This may or may not be a spoiler but one question that never got answered was why Meredith had requested Beth and Erica to live there together. The curious part of me isn't satisfied not understanding that particular mystery.
I unknowingly read book three of this series last month so I'm backtracking a bit and reading books 1 and 2 this month. This is book 1. Although the books in this series could easily be stand alones. I enjoyed it. Baart has a lovely writing style.
In this first book we meet Julia DeSmit at age 16 when she has just lost her father. Her mother had left them 7 years prior so Julia is now parent-less. Fortunately she has her Grandma, a wise and wonderful woman. As Julia navigates a life without parents but being parented by her Grandma the reader travels with her through leaving God behind, boy relationships, and heading off to college. Once in college, on her own, Julia makes strides in trying to figure out who she is. What does she want to do with her life and who does she want to be? Her first semester proves to be tougher than she anticipates and she feels at loose ends with herself and her life.
Baart weaves a tale of Julia coming of age but since this is book 1 the reader gets to journey on with Julia in books 2 and 3 as she comes into her own for good. Since I have already read book 3 I really appreciated the peek into Julia's beginnings. Baart has done an outstanding job of developing Julia and her Grandma and the supporting characters. She even manages to give the reader a good sense of the absent mom and passed on dad. I'm looking forward to book 2 and allowing the story of Julia to be completed.
Book 2 in Baart's series about Julia DeSmit is just as lovely as the other two books in the series. I really enjoyed it.
In this book Julia has to confront grace and forgiveness and her long-lost mother shows up on the front doorstep with a boy in tow. Julia's Grandma seems to have a better grasp on navigating these rough waters and Julia feels lost at sea, an island unto herself. Thrown into the mix is *spoiler alert* (if you haven't read book 1) Julia's blooming figure due to her unplanned pregnancy. Julia is also fighting the feelings of guilt and shame that she feels toward herself and imagines others feel toward her as well. And she battles a bit of pride as she has to take a job at the local grocery store and be exposed to people who have known her as long as she has lived. She battles feelings of despair over lost dreams and disappointed hopes all the while trying to get her mother to reveal why she left them so many years ago and why she is suddenly back. Where is God in all of this? Is she as alone as she feels?
Baart continued to develop Julia's character beautifully, although she does seems a tad bit too mature given her age and even in light of being made to grow up a little sooner than planned. Still, it is an enjoyable read and since I read book 3 already this book completes Julia's story for me. I like Baart's writing style and will give her other titles a read. She is easy to read, includes profound bits of thought, weaves a fairly realistic tale, and has really wonderful character development.
"The possibility of overcoming very deep personal and interpersonal problems lies within the power of each of us....Why do we get and keep ourselves stuck in anxiety, suspicion, resentment, or anger if we all have the power to do otherwise? The answer to this extraordinarily challenging and fascinating question is that we devise and hang on to our emotional problems for a purpose, a purpose more important to us than our happiness. And we deceive ourselves about the fact that this is what we're doing. We participate in the creation of our emotional troubles and deny we've had any part in it. In regard to our troubling emotions and attitudes, we are our own worst enemies." (pg. ix, x)
Whew. It took me several months to read this book. (November 14, 2013 - January 4, 2014!) Mostly because I kept putting it down to think about it and found it hard to pick back up with my crazy life distracting me from its important truths. I needed space in order to soak it in. The bookmark was stuck on page 129 for a little over a month when I picked it up today and decided I had some space. I re-read the first 129 pages and went on to finish the book.
Warner has spent years studying the intricacies of relationships and along with colleagues found that in order to speak knowledgeably to freedoms our relationships need they first needed to experience those changes for themselves. I appreciate that kind of example.
Including several real life stories to provide evidence for his theory, Warner goes about laying the groundwork for the quote I included above, providing explanation of its consequences and manifestations, and then finishing up by showing the reader the way to wholeness and healing. His writing style was not terribly dry and I found it easy to read and understand, he didn't get too clinical or heady. As I was reading I found myself saying, "Yes! That is exactly what happens or what I do" so the information wasn't new to me deep down but it had never risen to the surface for me to explore and think through. Reading Warner's writings helped bring it up so I could acknowledge it. What's so interesting is what always happens when one reads a book like this and is suddenly alerted to a part of humanity not previously recognized, I began to see it in myself, TV characters, movie characters, my children, etc. Fortunately I saw it in myself first. *wink* His real life examples resonate because they are real life, we've probably all done or witnessed very similar things ourselves. Back in September I read another relationship book, How We Love, and combined with this book I think the two titles are must reads for anyone who wants to have healthy relationships - not just healthy marriages but healthy relationships overall. This was an excellent read and is serving as an excellent resource for myself and my relationships. I highly recommend it.
This is Amy Stolls second book and her first adult novel. Her first book was a well-received YA title. Turns out Stolls can write for a wide range of ages. This adult title is well written with good characters and a really interesting story line.
Bess is 35 and unattached. She has a decently full life but can't seem to keep a guy hanging around. For her birthday she was talked into holding a large singles only party in her apartment which ends up changing her life. Bess meets Rory and they begin a relationship that accelerates to a marriage proposal. But before Bess accepts Rory must share his secrets with her. Once Bess hears him she has to make a decision and she isn't sure if she can trust her heart. As she drives her grandparents across country to their new home she makes stops along the way to search out answers to her questions. Along the way she gets more answers to questions she didn't even know she had.
Stolls alternates POV's in her book. A chapter is written from Bess' side and then a chapter is written in Rory's voice. It is also interesting because the Bess chapters are written in third person while the Rory chapters are written in first person. Stolls has great character development, not only for the main characters but for the supporting ones as well. Her main story is interesting and she develops a couple of other smaller side stories that don't intrude on the main story but add to the overall book and its characters. I found myself thinking about the characters and their stories when I wasn't able to read the book. That, in my opinion, is a sure sign of a good read.
Kindle Edition - 171 pages
I actually didn't mean to read this book. I was testing a couple of things out (do I have Amazon Prime and didn't realize it? Can I read my Kindle while walking on the treadmill in the dark? Both of the answers are yes btw) and the book got read. Go figure. :) But since I did legitimately read it I might as well include it in the mix!
Since I didn't necessarily plan on reading the book I had no expectations for how "good" or "bad" it might be. Turns out I found it to be rather enjoyable. Smith has a pleasurable writing style and includes some wit and charm into her books.
Rebecca Schwartz seems to be Smith's character of choice for solving mayhem and mystery. A San Francisco lawyer, Rebecca finds herself in crazy situations and ends up solving them. Yes, it's unrealistic but it is a fairly enjoyable read nonetheless. In this particular title sourdough starter is at the root of the mayhem and murder. As you may know San Francisco prides itself on good sourdough and a once famous family has put their starter on the auctioning block. Some would even kill to get their hands on it. It's up to Rebecca and her group to track down the murderer and the starter.
Smith has created a funny and likable character in Rebecca as well as given her well-developed friends. She is easy to read and the story moved along at a perfect pace. She didn't drag it down with too many details or leave the reader wondering what they were missing. She includes just enough suspect to throw the reader off track a time or two but the murderer in the end was no surprise to me. It was an enjoyable read and helped me pass the time on the treadmill rather quickly.
eBook only - 128 pages
This novella, only 128 pages, is a prequel to Jackson's newest title, "Someone Else's Love Story". (Published November 2013) I love Joshilyn Jackson, her books are great reads.
Shandi Pierce is a single mom who was pregnant at 17. The story begins 3 years after her son, Natty, is born. Jackson provides the reader a lot of background on Shandi and Natty as a build up to her title I mention above. In this short story Natty draws the attention of a strange girl. She is strange enough to make every mother in the story feel like she is a danger to Natty. She has convinced herself that he is a chosen one. Of what she has many theories. As Shandi explains it, at 3 years in on this whole mother thing she finally steps up and becomes a real mom to her son when she feels he is being threatened. It's a very heartwarming story of seeing Shandi come into her place as Natty's mom and see all the other Mom's in the story rise to stand alongside of her. The eBook also includes the first chapter (I believe) of "Someone Else's Love Story" which I read and now can't wait to get my hands on the full book and read.
Jackson is a wonderful author. She knows how to craft a story line that draws a reader in and makes them feel like they are watching it all happen rather than "just" reading about it. She also has great characters and develops them well.
My rating will be no surprise if you know me at all. Hatmaker's experiment against excess strikes all the right chords within my own spirit. Turned upside down in her faith a few years back (yet another chord that resounds in my own spirit) she began to allow God to challenge her mindset and beliefs about all sorts of things. In this book she chose to take seven months and confront seven areas of excess that she could easily identify. Certainly there are more areas but these seven seem to be the most prevalent in any home across America. Hatmaker is a great author. She writes as if we are sitting across from one another having a cup of coffee and chatting. She is hugely entertaining and profound all at the same time. She in honest in her shortcomings and the places she knows she struggles in and doesn't care what people may think of her for those things. She tackles the excess of clothes, spending, waste, food, possessions, media, and stress. She writes about each month in diary/blog format which totally works for this kind of book. She shares her successes, failures, and lessons for each month. She inspires. I can't say enough good things about this book. It is a must read and then, hopefully, it will also serve as an inspiration to fight against the excess in each of our own worlds. If we each do it then a domino effect will take place. This is a enjoyable, inspiring, entertaining must read.
I think it takes great skill to write a short story that tells a complete story. Some authors can do it, others cannot. Richmond manages it in this book of short stories that all come together in the last one. She takes one girl, Grace, and somehow Grace is weaved into each story, even if her name isn't mentioned. Richmond weaves in and out of the people in Grace's life and tells some of their story to compliment Grace's. Richmond uses rich language, descriptives that make you feel as if you are there, and develops characters all with these short stories. And some of them are indeed short, taking up only a scant page in the book. However, while reading the book and upon finishing it I feel rather indifferent to the stories so for me it wasn't successful in grabbing me and making me fall in love with any particular character or even story. But my indifference certainly doesn't negate the talent Richmond shows she has in this novel of shorts.
Kindle Edition - 370 pages
Alison Strobel (daughter of Lee Strobel - The Case for Christ, etc) has written several novels. I came across this one as a free eBook offer and decided to give it a shot.
Rachel is the main character, as the title suggests, is this novel about a crisis of faith. Rachel lives in a bubble within Christianity. She's super annoying. She's the stereotypical judgmental, disingenuous, insensitive Christian. Reading the first few chapters I wanted to punch her lights out. In fact, I never did warm up to Rachel throughout the book. I didn't feel for her at any point, I thought she was a weak character on most levels. The short story is that Rachel had really inaccurate views of relationship with God, received some legitimate bad news in one weeks time, and decided to give God the boot. Basically she threw a spiritual temper tantrum. In an effort to remove herself completely from the sources of bad news and her life of faith she moves across the country to live with her lifelong friend who doesn't believe in God. From there things go downhill and eventually Rachel must confront God and change her way of thinking.
Listen, I get reinventing. I have done a major overhaul, and am still in the process, myself over the past few years. But Strobel's character Rachel wasn't endearing to me, I didn't feel sympathetic to her. I wanted to sit down with her and tell her to be a grown up and quit being such a baby. She was super annoying. Strobel doesn't write poorly, she writes well enough that I actually think I'll give some of her other titles a shot, but this read felt a little tedious to me. I get what Strobel was trying to do and tell but the ways in which she portrayed her character kind of ruined the underlying messages, in my opinion. Her overall themes of discovering who God really is and how to have a relationship with him are conversations the church at large needs to have more of - there are so many inaccurate views of God and views of the functions on his Body out there - so I give her props for being willing to start some conversations about those topics through a fictional account. I just wish Rachel had been a little more likable.
Kindle Edition - 308 pages
I read this on my Kindle, in the dark, while walking the treadmill. I believe I have it on my Kindle because it was probably a free one and the description sounded decent enough. And it was decent enough but it didn't really wow me.
Lucy is a single young woman who has had enough trauma in her life that she relies a little too much on alcohol to help get her through rough spots. She's also had enough trauma that she doesn't trust anyone so she's totally isolated herself. She has some fringe friends - people on the fringes of her life - but nobody she can rely on. Or so she thinks. A phone call from her brother-in-law changes all that and she sets out to help her baby sister with two "fringe" friends tagging along and a boy who is pursuing her in the background. During their journey toward her sister Lucy discovers many things about herself and allows her perspective on past events to be brought into a better light. In the end will Lucy be able to knock down her walls and let people in? She's searching for who she really is.
Fairchild's book holds potential but she falls flat on a few levels. Her character development feels stunted, her story line is a little weak, and the conflicts she includes in the book don't quite pack the punch I am sure she was hoping for. I don't necessarily regret reading the book but it didn't really grab me at all and I was happy to have it end.
Unfortunately this book annoyed me more than anything. Talley's story had potential but I feel like in the end fell flat. Talley has done within her religion (Mormonism) what many Christian fiction authors are guilty of doing as well. Using the book as a platform to push doctrine. I don't care for it in Christian fiction authors and I didn't care for it in this Mormon fiction book either.
The book's main character, Natalie, is a mom of 6 and living a devout Mormon life. Is that necessary for me to point out? It is because Talley did for sure. For 2/3 or more of the book Natalie sighs, suffers, is irritated, impatient, fearful, reluctant, etc of her role as a wife and Mom and then in her new calling from the Prophet as the President of the Relief Society (Mormon society within each ward). Honestly Natalie grated on my nerves. I believe Talley meant for her to be a character that women could relate to. I thought she was annoying. Perhaps she is someone Mormon women can relate to as Talley made Natalie to be deeply invested in the faith. When Natalie learns she is pregnant with their seventh child she is stunned and prays that Heavenly Father would protect her baby from any ailments, etc. When that doesn't happen (should I have issued a spoiler alert?) Natalie is quick to start questioning all that she thought she knew.
The title alone indicates that the book would be mostly focused on the upside of having a child with Down Syndrome (oh did I spoil that for you again? The title didn't give that away? Really?) but instead Talley spent the majority of the book weaving a character that was whiny and annoying. And then it felt like about 2/3 of the way through she remembered what the book was supposed to be focused on and started crafting that story line. Her character development was weak and inconsistent. I couldn't wait to get through the book and just be done with it. It ended up disappointing and all too predictable in the end.
Continuing my journey through Grafton's alphabet I come to "P". I actually liked this one...somewhat. Grafton's writing has definitely improved as she has worked her way through the alphabet so the books are getting a bit better.
In this one Kinsey is hired to look into the disappearance of a Doctor. He disappeared 9 weeks ago with no sign nor word from him. His ex-wife hires Kinsey and she goes on quite a goose chase in an effort to earn her pay. At the same time Kinsey is looking for new office space and finds one that seems to good to be true. Meeting the landlords of the space leads Kinsey into another kind of investigation. Both are, brace yourself for the surprise, solved by Kinsey at the eleventh hour.
What I liked about Grafton's "P" is that she weaved into one book two different mysteries and they worked together and not against each other. She managed to pull it off. We see more of Kinsey's human side in this title as well and I have noticed that Grafton has been focusing on developing Kinsey's character more in the past few books.
Thanks to GoodReads and HarperCollins Publishers for this ARE (Advanced Readers Edition).
When you start comparing an author to Harper Lee you had better be able to stand behind it. Fortunately for Wiley Cash it is a fair comparison. Not quite to the level of brilliance as Harper Lee but I can see where the comparison is born from. The prose brings to mind Harper Lee as does the portrait of Easter and Ruby.
It's the baseball season of the home run race between McGuire and Sosa. Easter and Ruby have lost their Mom, their Dad left years ago, and they have been moved into a home and assigned a guardian. Just as they are getting used to their new life their Dad, Wade, shows up and wants them back. But he can't have them back so he takes them. Unfortunately for Wade and the girls the guardian isn't the only one interested in finding them, a man named Pruitt is hunting Wade and isn't interested in being stopped. During their travels the girls learn more about Wade and he learns what being a Dad could mean and look like. As he searches for Wade and the girls their guardian, Brady Weller, also has his own revelations about being a father. The story ends with a greater understanding of fatherhood, doing the right thing, finding acceptance for past disappointments, and moving forward.
The POV of the book consists of three characters: Easter, Weller, and Pruitt. It's an interesting choice that Cash did not make one of the POV's Wade. Pruitt seems like a background and inconsequential character, which in some ways he is. But Cash brings him into the spotlight just enough that he becomes part of the story with a voice of his own. I had no problem distinguishing between the voices in the book, unlike at least one other review I read. Where Cash could have improved was developing the characters a little more, they did lack some depth. I would have been fine with a few more pages added to the length of the book if it meant the characters were more dimensional. The story line was a little lacking in depth as well. I found myself wanting more of the story, of the background. But it was also a compelling story so it ended up keeping my attention. I wanted to know what happened to Easter, Ruby, Wade, and even Pruitt. The story ended on a very satisfactory note for me, part of it was predictable but the part that wasn't I enjoyed and smiled as I read the last sentence. I haven't read Cash's other title but after this read I am interested in picking it up and giving it a go to see if the comparison to Harper Lee is truly founded.
Kindle Edition - 608 pages
I read the Kindle edition of this book while walking the treadmill each day. It took me 31.6 miles to read the book. :) There's a fun fact to start off this review, you're welcome! *wink*
This was a free download a year or so ago and I bit the bullet thinking that "someday" I would get around to reading this tome about Bonhoeffer. I didn't think I would get to it as soon as I did. But I'm glad I did. Metaxas did a perfect work for the layman, er in this case laywoman. He wasn't heady with his portrait of Bonhoeffer, he painted him in a relateable light. It was easy reading in the sense that how Metaxas dissected the life of this man was enjoyable to read, I never once stumbled through it feeling like I was wading through the quicksand of Bonhoeffer's life. I learned A LOT about Bonhoeffer and his family that I didn't know, and my understanding of his influence on the church today and on humanity today was enlightened. I get why he was kind of a big deal. :)
Sometimes the things we know that we know we are called to do seem contrary to God's word, don't make sense, seem foolish, etc. Yet Bonhoeffer knew that he knew what God had asked him to be involved in with the conspiracy against Adolf Hitler. He is among the few examples we have of people God has specifically marked for such a task. And in the midst of his spy work he ministered to people and taught the word of God faithfully. He was quite exceptional by all accounts. He held this life on earth loosely and was all too happy to let it go for the name of Christ. Oh that I would find that kind of bravery within me, yet I know I would not.
Metaxas' accounts of Bonhoeffer and his family were an inspirational and challenging (personally) read. I am so glad to have started the first month of this new year with this life story.
Kindle Edition - 149 pages
This was a short little book that I finished quickly. In it Manning discusses the great love that God has for us in spite of us. He addresses the things we attempt to do to keep God's love or earn it. He dispels those myths with examples from the life of Jesus that prove quite the opposite - we are loved for who we are not for what we do for God. He provided some great thoughts to meditate on and, as with his other books, while we don't 100% meet eye to eye theologically we agree on enough that I appreciate what he has to share and I find it impactful in my own spiritual life.
I really enjoyed this book. It's Rosenberg's first adult novel and in my opinion it was done well.
Eve's life is about to be turned upside down. During a garage sale her husband, Chuck, leaves her and the children for good. Stunned by being left alone in the middle of her life Eve goes through a mourning process that drags everyone down with her. But in the midst of mourning life goes on and Eve has to go on with it. What follows is a journey through grief to the other side, with colorful characters to accompany her along the way. As she sheds her old life Eve repairs all that has gone wrong in her home, both literally and figuratively.
Rosenberg's Eve is a relateable character. And her development of the supporting characters is done well. What I liked about each character is how fleshed out they were. Each was interesting and contributed to the story and to the repairs Eve was making to her life. The story was easy to read and felt familiar in good ways. I will be picking up other adult titles she writes.
"I have a dream that churches around the world will come alive with a passion for justice and a hatred of evil, that their goals would no longer be centered around revival or church growth, but the freedom of humanity from all that enslaves and oppresses."
Walker's book ends with this dream but it sums up the book well so I'm employing it to begin my review. Warning: this book is not pleasure reading. It is tough to be confronted with the evils that exist in this world, to read of one man's account of interacting face to face with those evils on a constant basis as he attempts to bring justice and freedom to the oppressed. Walker doesn't go into unnecessary detail, just enough to give the reader a clear picture of the atrocities that have befallen our women and children of this world. And lest you think it doesn't happen in the United States be prepared. It does. It is just as dark, oppressive, and evil as anywhere else in the world. It was rather fortuitous that I read this book right as we were headed into Super Bowl weekend as things like major sporting events, conventions, etc are huge draws for human trafficking. (For more on that click here and here.)
Walker takes the reader on a journey into some of the brothels of the world and outlines how he worked to gather evidence and expose the evil and being perpetrators to justice and rescue women and children (boys and girls). He also honestly discusses how hard his life as an investigator was on him personally and on his marriage, as one can imagine. He brings to light the johns and how their own hurts and insecurities, along with greed and lust certainly, feed the trafficking. He gained valuable insights the 4 years he was embedded in the situations and graciously shared those with the reader in order that we also would have insight.
All in all, despite having known about human trafficking, Walker further opened my eyes to the form of modern day slavery that is holding so many in hopeless situations. I am prayerful.
Kindle Edition - 380 pages
Continuing my loosely held goal of trying to read classics that I haven't before I "picked up" Great Expectations as my next title. I seem to like Dickens rather well, I really liked A Christmas Carol and I liked this book as well. Sometimes I find Dickens hard to follow but for the most part I enjoy his story lines, characters, and descriptives.
In this title a boy by the name of Pip is the main focus of the story. Pip lives in unfortunate circumstances and is reminded of it quite often. He has the unfortunate occasion to run into a convict and is coerced to assist him. This secret weighs heavily on Pip throughout his life. Trying to prove to himself and others that he is better that his circumstances Pip begins to distance himself from those who do care for him through a series of events. An unknown patron funds his education on becoming a gentleman and Pip believes his unnamed patron to be the odd and eccentric Miss Havisham. He lives many years under this belief but comes to discover that all is not as it seems in his life or the life of those around him. The call to great expectations is defined in very different ways than Pip ever dreamed it would be.