Saturday, February 28, 2015

February 2015 Bookshelf

The Sweetheart by Angelina Mirabella
Kindle Edition 352 pages

Thank you to NetGalley and Simon & Schuster for this free copy.  In an exchange for this copy I am giving an honest review.

I am ambivalent toward this book. I started reading it in January and didn't finish it until February.  It wasn't holding my attention the way I thought it would.  I think the pace of Leonie's coming of age was a bit too slow for me to keep interested enough to keep reading.  It was too easy to put the book down. I am a sucker for coming of age stories and this one was intriguing because of how Leonie came into herself.  In an age where it was scandalous Leonie decides to find herself by becoming a professional woman wrestler.  After high school ends she strikes out to make a mark on the world.  The book follows her life for a year as she learns about the world of fake wrestling and how to play in it.  Mirabella clearly did her homework about wrestling - its moves, etc - because it read like a true wrestling match at times. The story of Leonie becoming Gwen who becomes The Sweetheart is told in third person by someone who seems to know Leonie and all of her various personas very well.  The writing is decent, good even, and the premise of the story engaging but it just didn't keep me.  I was ready to move on.




Stash by David Klein
365 pages

A very interesting story.  I don't know that I liked this book, but I don't think I hated it either.  At best I suppose I am a bit indifferent to it overall.  The description certainly captured my interest.  A stay-at-home mom who smokes pot from time to time and it ends up causing conflict.
Klein introduces several characters in his story of Gwen Raine.  She's a stay-at-home mom of two and in a good marriage. Through contact with an old boyfriend she purchases some pot for a weekend getaway.  Unfortunately she is found out because of an accident she is involved in and this sets off a chain of events that eventually brings all the characters Klein introduces to the same intersection. Told from various points of view Gwen and the cast of characters walk out the days following the discovery of her purchase unaware of the choices and conclusions that await each of them.  On a secondary level is an examination of Gwen's marriage and the battle to keep marriage sacred and a priority.  That was an especially interesting part of the book.  Klein clearly did his research, perhaps to a fault.  The writing and the description got a bit tedious at times. At certain points I thought for sure I was going to abandon the book but then the pace of the writing and storyline would pick up so I continued on.  Klein writes a book that features a non-stereotypical drug use and drug dealing. It was interesting but I didn't feel connected to the story or the characters.



The Boots My Mother Gave Me by Brooklyn James
277 pages

A coming of age story that is colored and influenced by addiction, abuse, and disbelief.  According to James the book is not auto-biographical but more a biography of many people and their lives, including her own, that she has been witness to.  Drawing from many sources she created a fictional story that holds very real storylines.
Harley LeBeau is growing up in a small town with a dysfunctional family. Her Dad is an alcoholic, fueled by rage and disappointment from his own growing up years and Vietnam.  As we often seem to do to the ones we love the most, he turns his anger on his family.  Told from Harley's POV we watch as she and her family try to cope and endure the abuse her Dad dishes out.  After high school graduation Harley flees town and vows not to look back. But our vows can be so uninformed at times.  She returns every so often, duty bound as the eldest daughter to take care of her Mother and Father, as well as her younger sister.  In between trips back home Harley lives a very carefree and scattered life.  She is unable to settle into a major, a job, and even a boyfriend.  And when she tries to settle into one of those something always calls her back to her hometown and her dysfunctional family.  Walking alongside of her is her best friend of almost her whole life.  But he too asks something of her she isn't sure she can give.  Her father's abuse and addiction has extracted a weighty price from Harley.  She isn't sure she can or should trust people and if marriage is what she witnessed between her parents then she doesn't want anything to do with it. But sometimes we have to be willing to let go of our fears and open ourselves up for something sweet, good, and right.
This book is unique in that James is also a songwriter so she created a soundtrack around the book. She includes lyrics to some of the songs in her book as storyline support.  The symbolism of Harley and her mom's boots is a very important part of Harley coming into her own self and discovering the life she is meant to be living.  Walking in her mother's boots gives her fresh insight and a willingness to see other perspectives to life situations, including that of her family. This was a good story that ultimately ends up with healing, maturity, and love finding their way within Harley.




Anger & Stress Management God's Way by Wayne A. Mack
117 pages

I have read several of Mack's books and have used his resources in my own lay counseling sessions.  He gives solid biblical counsel for life and the issues that come up.  This was one I hadn't read yet and it is so relevant for every human that I figured it was about time to read it!  We all experience anger and stress and we all have moments that we mishandle it.  In this short guide Mack outlines a biblical way to handle anger and stress better.
I have a few complaints with Mack and his other biblical counseling buddies but I'm choosing not to let those things color the whole counsel.  The first step to managing anger and stress in a more Godly way is to identify the trigger of the anger or stress.  I think stress is a little more grey.  And I disagree with Mack that stress is unbiblical.  I think our response to it can dishonor God and damage relationships but the feelings of actual stress are not sinful.  Jesus, in my opinion, even experienced stress in the Garden hours before his crucifixion.  His response to it is what made it sinful or not.  We should not try to stuff or ignore the very valid feelings we have, whether they be stress or anger.  Those are not sinful, it is our response and how we handle them that can be.  Once the trigger, the real one not the surface one, is identified then we can move forward and put into practice a way to respond that is ultimately more healthy and not as damaging to relationships.  Mack keeps things on point and lays out a very practical way from the Word of God to respond out of very intense emotions.




A Place at the Table: 40 Days of Solidarity with the Poor by Chris Seay
240 pages

Sometimes my library system is a wee bit lame.  They didn't have this book on any of their numerous shelves so I had to get it through the InterLibrary program which means my check out time on it is limited.
Not fully realizing that when the subtitle says 40 days it literally means 40 days of short readings. SIGH. So I read it all straight through because I can't have the book for 40 days.  Oh well.  I still pulled out some valuable nuggets of thought. And because I have been a believer for the majority of my life a lot of the core thoughts were familiar so I don't feel like I am missing much by not reading it in 40 days.  I can practice the solidarity fast without the book.  It's a great fast to participate in for Lent if that is something *you* observe.
Seay takes us through the wilderness that the Israelites traveled through for 40 years during this 40 days of awareness.  The Exodus passage is a popular one to use for suffering comparisons, etc.  I will say that because I have been around the block more times than I can keep count of, the Exodus passage feels a bit overused to me.  I get it, 40 years is easy to translate into 40 days or 40 weeks or whatever but I'd love to see an observance use a different portion of scripture!  Except for Passover. That makes complete sense. But that's a minor complaint in light of the focus Seay is inviting us to have alongside of him.  This 40 days of solidarity is perhaps best summed up by one of Seay's own commentaries on Jesus' message to the people in Acts. "I will provide everything that you need; the only obstacle is that some of you will have too much and others will not have enough. I'm counting on you to sort it out." (page 19)  We are invited by Jesus to sort out our much in order to provide for those who don't have enough.
This is a great observance to participate in for awareness.  Less awareness of ourselves and more awareness of others. More awareness of how self-absorbed we really are so that we can be challenged by Christ. He must become greater and I must become less (John 3:30), 40 days of aligning ourselves in at least one way with those who have less is one way to embrace Christ becoming greater in our lives.




What Burns Away by Melissa Falcon Field
Kindle Edition - 336 pages

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

Those damn first loves! They come back to haunt us at the most inopportune times, as in they come back ever.  This is a story of Claire, not just her first love but of her life's disappointments coming back around.
On the cold January day in 1986 that the Challenger blew up 76 seconds after lift off Claire believes her life blew up as well and ever since then the dust from Halley's Comet, the mission of the space crew that perished in the explosion, has been drifting over her life.  On the same day the Challenger blows up Claire watches her parents marriage disintegrate and meets the boy who becomes her first love.  Since that day the trajectory of Claire's life was altered by the choices she made and the things she decided.  She also falls in love with fire, she is captured by it - the beauty of it, the way it starts and grows, the pain it can cause and cover up.
We meet Claire as she is turning 40 years old.  She and Miles have been married for 7 years and have a sweet boy, Jonah. Miles, in pursuit of furthering his career in the medical field, has moved them to a midwest state far away from the sea and salt air Claire grew up in.  She finds herself unmoored, unhappy, unfulfilled, and uncertain about the future with Miles. On her 40th her first love finds her through Facebook and in her loneliness she reestablishes a relationship with him. As we all know this is NOT a good idea, it never is. It stirs up memories she would rather keep in the past about her family, it stirs up feelings she thought had long died for Dean, it stirs up regrets.  You know the saying, "Play with fire and you are going to get burned." Claire allows matches to be lit and she plays with fire, what and who will get burned?  And what will be left after the fire dies out?
I enjoyed this book.  As a 40 year old myself I can relate to the internal struggles Claire was experiencing as she looked back on her life, her growing up years, her first love, her life as a woman - wife - mom.  So much about being a mom and turning the milestone 40 prompts reflection and it can be rather unsettling.  It doesn't help when the first love pops back into the picture and really prompts unsettling memories and thoughts.  This is a story of marriage, motherhood, relationships, and self. The struggle is real.




There Must Be Some Mistake by Frederick Barthelme
Kindle Edition - 224 pages

Thank you to NetGalley and Little, Brown and Company for this free copy.  In an exchange for this copy I am giving an honest review.

Huh. Perhaps I missed the point of Barthelme's story?  I finished the book and was left wondering what the point was. It was a very mundane story with rather mundane characters.  There was nothing very compelling about any of it.  I kept reading because I kept thinking something was going to happen to really shake up the story and perhaps the characters but nothing really did. Even the end of the book felt rather anti-climatic.  I'm not sure I felt connected or intrigued enough by the characters to care what actually happened to them.
In short, the story features Wallace who has just been let go from his job of 30 or so years.  He's kind of floating, unsure what to do with his future and who is in it.  He lives in a condo community where several strange and unsettling events happen to many of the residents in a short amount of time.  So that's the short of the story. I kept thinking maybe it was a mystery that was going to present itself or that something was going to happen but nothing ever did, not really.
Nothing really ever happened of interest, what was the point?!





The Evolution of Alice by David Alexander Robertson
Kindle Edition - 216 pages

Thank you to NetGalley and Portage & Main Press for this free copy.  In an exchange for this copy I am giving an honest review.

I'm not sure how I feel about this title.  Certainly not all that moved.  I think I was supposed to. I think the goal was to have the reader feel connected and invested in Alice and the other people in her life. But I didn't.  It was a decent story of a woman who experienced tragedy and of the people who surrounded her but I don't feel like it lived up to the potential it was supposed to have.
Alice, a single mom, and her three children live on the rez (reservation). Her best friend, Gideon, is like a surrogate Uncle to the girls and a platonic companion to Alice.  Tragedy strikes, unimaginable loss for a parent to go through and as with any loss there are ripple effects. Coming out of grief to function in life is a tough process that has no timetable and this is the story of Alice and her grief.
I was tracking fine with the story of Alice, Gideon, and her children but Robertson threw in a few chapters that, in my opinion, were unnecessary.  He veered off course a time or two and I felt like that interrupted to flow of the story.  These interruptions contributed to my disconnect to the story and its characters. It just didn't work for me overall.



Stillwater Rising (Stillwater Bay #1) by Steena Holmes
Kindle Edition - 253 pages

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

A book with heart.  Holmes tackles the heart issues of loss and anger in this first book of a new series. She uses the platform of a school shooting to do so, it's unfortunate that she has so many examples of that to draw from.
Jenn is the focal character in this title, although the stories of many others rank top billing as well. The book opens with the town of Stillwater Bay a month into its grieving process from a school shooting in which 11 children and 2 teachers died.  Jenn's son, Bobby, was one of the children killed that day.  Her daughter, Charity, was saved.  A month later the school is re-opening for half a day in an attempt to begin to move forward while the grieving and healing process continues.  Jenn and her best friend, Charlotte, are at odds over this day.  Charlotte's husband is the school Principal and she is the Mayor so Jenn feels betrayed.  Not only are the families who lost children at the hands of the shooter grieving but so is the single mother of the shooter, Julia. Isolating herself in her grief and shame, Julia is resisting any kindness shown her by those who have been able to separate the actions of her son from her. There is a lot of anger, sadness, bitterness, confusion, and fear in the town of Stillwater Bay and everyone is coping in very different ways.
Holmes does a great job of giving attention to the shooter's mother and her own grief.  I think too often we forget that regardless of what that child did, the parent still lost a child - perhaps in more ways than the other parents did. I really liked the attention Holmes paid to that particular character in this story.  I liked her balanced perspective on this often neglected part of the story.  Holmes took the reader through the grief process of Jenn in very realistic ways, I felt connected to her and to the others trying to figure out how to cope.  I really liked this title from Holmes and will keep my eyes open for book 2 in the series.




The Owl: Justice Never Sleeps by Bob Forward
Kindle Edition - 216 pages

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

Originally published in 1984, this updated version caught my eye. I love a good mystery and am always on the lookout for good authors in this genre. Forward fits the bill but in my searching it seems like he's only authored 2 books, this one and its sequel.  How disappointing for readers! He writes a good story and he has a very compelling character in Owl.
Owl never sleeps. Literally. He hasn't slept in 8 years since he lost his wife and started roaming the streets of L.A. as a vigilante.  He runs a private detective agency and charges a very high price so he is only sought out when the person is desperate.  He has no home, car, or even a second set of clothes.  He checks in to motels to shower and change his clothes every so often. He has Danny who runs his business and helps him work with clients. We meet Owl in an alley and very quickly get an idea of his modus operandi.  He seems to possess a supernatural ability to dodge the "bad guys" and get the job done. He has a reputation but he is also completely off the grid. His case in this title involves a girl burned beyond recognition and her father's desire for revenge.  Revenge is something Owl knows about.
Like I said above, it's a shame Forward has only written 2 books.  He has solid storylines, good characters, and interesting crimes that need to be solved.  I'll read the sequel and then be sad that there is no more.




Chastity Is for Lovers: Single, Happy, and (Still) a Virgin by Arleen Spenceley
Kindle Edition - 160 pages

Thank you to NetGalley and Ave Maria Press for this free copy.  In an exchange for this copy I am giving an honest review.

Why is a woman who has been married for almost 20 years reading a book about chastity?  One, I have teenagers. But the second reason, and more important one actually, is this: chastity is NOT abstinence. They are very different things.  Chastity is a lifelong practice, married or not.  Abstinence basically ends when marriage happens. Chastity is purity but not the kind of purity that is preached about to teens in youth groups.  Purity is so much more than abstaining from sex until a certain time. A few years ago a high school teacher I had invited me to come and speak to a class she had of all teen girls.  I spoke on purity. And when I mentioned it to the girls I could see them begin to glaze over until I said I was talking about purity that didn't have to do with sex.  Say what?  They perked up.  Why?  Because purity, like chastity, has been relegated to the label 'sex' and collectively we have forgotten that it encompasses so much more.
Spenceley outed herself as a virgin a few years back with her blogs about living a chaste lifestyle. Because people think chaste and abstinence are the same thing she used that misconception to get the conversation started.  What is a chaste lifestyle, really?  This book is short, simple, to the point, practical, and full of wisdom.  I really liked how Spenceley laid out her idea for living a chastity driven life.  She comes from a strong Catholic background and I'm not bothered a bit, in fact she clears up some misconceptions about practicing Catholics and I appreciated that.  Let's just say she and I agree on way more than we don't agree on.  Drawing from scripture, being raised by parents willing to talk about sex, and trial and error Spenceley builds a strong case for chastity.  And she infuses it with grace, because God infuses everything with grace.  Her discussions on how chastity is practiced within a marriage relationship was, frankly, eye opening for me and I've been married for almost 20 years! But I had fallen into the trap the Church has set regarding chastity and abstinence. So her book comes at a good time for me personally and in my parenting.  I won't be using props like crushed roses or spit water to talk to my girls about sex and purity.  I'll be using the examples of purity that are given in scripture and incorporating sex into a lifestyle of chastity not as the only thing to be chaste in.  Thanks Spenceley for this book, it's fantastic.  I believe it's a read for marrieds, singles, engageds, really anyone.




Disquiet Time: Rants and Reflections on the Good Book by the Skeptical, the Faithful, and a Few Scoundrels edited by Jennifer Grant and Cathleen Falsani
Kindle Edition - 352 pages

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

This is a great book for those that have popped the Christian bubble they had been living in. If you still live inside the bubble then this book of short essays on faith and God will most likely offend you. I, however, thoroughly enjoyed it.
A grouping of thoughts and ponderings about a life of faith from some very different walks of life. All of them love Jesus but most evangelicals would label them as heretics or something like that. Surely their souls are in danger because they have left the traditional church (oh, I did that), purport that the Apostle Paul - and God - like women and want to engage them in ministry equally as men (oh, I believe that), talk about loving people with different faiths/beliefs (huh, I believe we should love everyone as well...), have doubts and questions about faith (um, I'm starting to notice a pattern between myself and these authors), and have the audacity to compel others to extend grace to people who don't look/believe/sound/dress/etc just like *us*! (Weird.  I think my soul might be in danger too?!)  Exploring topics from the Bible such as poop, cuss words, homosexuality, end times, genitals, good people behaving badly, and more this collection of writings gives me much to think about.
I recommend this book for those who have tired of the life we are told we must live if we are to be considered a Christian.




By A Thread by R.L. Griffin
Kindle Edition - 272 pages

Thank you to NetGalley and R.L. Griffin for this free copy.  In an exchange for this copy I am giving an honest review.

Well.  Alrighty then.  The description of the title doesn't give away what the book is actually about. What the book is actually about is a group of young professionals that cuss up a storm, drink more than fish do, and sleep around. There's a bit of a story weaved in between all the language, drinking, and sex but that's not what the book is actually about. I think Griffin wants it to be about the minimal story but the copious language, sex, and drinking overshadows any storyline.
Stella is the main character and Griffin uses her as the focal point of the "story."  Stella experiences grief which is the reason for the heavy drinking at first.  The sex comes when Stella decides she isn't going to risk loving anyone again, she'll just have sex with men.  And the cussing, well it's a lot and so unbefitting of young professionals. I mean really.  In between all the drinking, language, and sex Stella goes to law school and somehow manages to pass it - mostly drunk it seems.  Other reviews talked about the romance, love story, etc....huh.  Okay.  Not really. Just not really.  Disappointing, this book and the others in the series had potential to be good, solid stories but the sex, the cussing, the prolific drinking takes over any potential and drowns it.




The Missing and The Dead by Jack Lynch
Kindle Edition - 228 pages

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

More great writing from a new-to-me author!  I love the name Jack Lynch, it's a great pen name.  And it might not be a pen name, it could be his real name which means he was destined to write in this genre.  Lynch died in 2008, unfortunately, but wrote 8 Bragg novels before he left this earth.  I hope to get my hands on all of them to read.
Brash Books is releasing updated editions of mystery/suspense books written in the 1980's and introducing them to new readers.  I'm super glad, it's one of my favorite genres.
In this Bragg Thriller the hunt is on for a missing person that turns into two missing persons and grows into 4 missing persons due to a small airplane crash.  Not all who are missing will be found alive though.  Peter Bragg, a private detective, is on the hunt to find as many alive as possible.  The path he originally takes twists and turns and becomes something totally different by the time all the pieces fall into place.  The villain of the story is a fascinating study in human psychology, I'd actually like to know more about him as well! Peter Bragg is a good to honest detective, a lone ranger willing to do what it takes to solve the riddles.




In the Heart of the Dark Wood by Billy Coffey
Kindle Edition - 384 pages

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

I've not read any books authored by Billy Coffey until this one.  And I'm wondering why I haven't!  Just goes to prove there are so many good books (and authors) and so little time.  I really really relate to Coffey's writing style and to his way of storytelling. I have put all of his other novels on my 'to-read' list.
In this newest title of Coffey's he features Allie, an 11 year old girl, who hasn't cried in five hundred and forty two days.  Her belief is the tears bottled up inside of her would mean everything is done and finished and the end has come and she just cannot accept that.  It's not done and finished and she will find her Momma and everything will be as it should be once again.  Allie can't believe her Momma might be gone when all they found of her was one tennis shoe.  That doesn't mean she's gone forever right?  She could come back. The belief that her Momma is waiting to be found pushes Allie to go on a search for her.  She convinces her best friend, Zach, to come along and they set off to find Momma once and for all. Led by a broken compass Allie and Zach find themselves in the dark wood.  And what they find there is so much more than what they were searching for.  At first they are lost and then they find themselves.  But will they survive the dark wood to return to their families?  Will they survive the dark wood and its dangers?  Will they survive the mind tricks their depleted and broken bodies play on them?  Only if they push on through the dark wood.
I read a note from the publisher that Coffey has set all of his novels in the town of Mattingly, Virginia. I love when an author camps out in a town and makes it come alive through multiple stories of its various residents.  This particular book focuses not just on Allie and her Dad and the falling away they have experienced, but on a town wounded and broken and trying to heal and piece itself back together.  Coffey clearly has a way with writing descriptively, he was able to detail emotions, scenes, and characters in such a way that I, as the reader, felt as if I were 'watching' a movie - I could almost see everything happening.  Coffey brought his fiction to a place of reality.  I'm looking forward to reading his other titles.