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!  


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