March 2015 Bookshelf

Eight Twenty Eight: When Love Didn't Give Up by Larissa Murphy, Ian Murphy
Kindle Edition - 243 pages

Thank you to NetGalley and B&H Publishing Group for this free copy.  In exchange I am providing an honest review. 

I was first 'introduced' to the Murphy's story a couple of years ago when I happened upon the video above.  Take 10 minutes, watch it, then come back. Cool? 

Okay. WOW right? I mean c'mon. 

When I saw they had written a book of their story I knew I wanted to read it.  What an inspiring, challenging, affirming couple and story. It's amazing and oh so humbling.  And for any haters out there, just keep hating.  Larissa is the real deal, Ian is the real deal. She is honest about the struggle, the doubt, the challenges.  What I am humbled by is her willingness to work through the hard and get to the joy, every single day. I love how Ian loves her.  I am amazed at the very real marriage they have built despite challenges.  Near the end of the book she refers to their marriage as a sovereignly disabled marriage.  What a perfect description.  She embraced Ian's disability as her own in the covenant of one flesh.
After dating each other for 10 months Ian was in a car accident that ended up in a severe brain injury. Nobody would have blamed Larissa for cutting out but she hung in there.  Her love for him compelled her to stay and it grew while he was locked away in his mind, in coma, and struggling to make a reappearance.  She chronicles the years following his accident leading up to their marriage.  I confess, the fact that she was hoping for and looking toward marriage with the news of his new limitations, etc means she is a stronger woman than I am. Had they already been married it would expected but they weren't yet. That is an amazing love, that is a love that truly goes beyond self and is reliant on Christ.  There's no other reason for it.
This is a beautiful story. It's not a story everyone will be asked to live but it is the story Larissa and Ian were asked to live and they are making it a beautiful testimony to what covenant marriage and love is.  So very inspiring for my own marriage, the reminders of what selfless love looks like and acts like and what it accomplishes.

Change of Heart: Justice, Mercy, and Making Peace with My Sister's Killer by Jeanne Bishop
Kindle Edition - 208 pages

Thank you to NetGalley and Westminster John Knox Press for this free advanced readers copy.  In exchange I am providing an honest review. 

Oh this was really powerful. I always think the stories of forgiveness are powerful, and especially when they happen between a victim's family and the perpetrator. This is the true story of Jeanne Bishop and her journey of forgiveness toward her sister's killer.  And like I said in another review, for any haters out there - just keep hating.  You cannot tell someone that their very real and factual experience isn't or hasn't happened. So keep hating if you need to.
Jeanne chronicles the event of her sister's murder and the trial.  She then shares her hard work toward forgiveness, recognizing that if she allowed anger to dwell in her life she would be eaten alive with bitterness, anger, etc. She knew she didn't want to be that kind of person.  In her quest for forgiveness Jeanne also was challenged to reexamine her views on the death penalty and life incarceration. She allowed the challenge to change her perspective on her previously held views and she took action on them to live out what she felt was a better system of justice.
Because of Jeanne's investigation into the death penalty and such I began to change my own views! She argues a good case, she is after all a lawyer.  She lays out a compelling case against the death penalty and for restorative justice/mercy.  Her reminder that nobody is outside of the redemption of God and her examples to back that up are powerful. I know. I know there are examples of those who are released and pick back up their life of crime as if it hadn't been paused but even those people aren't exempt from the redeeming touch of God. Because of Jeanne's story and thoughts on restorative justice I am doing some digging of my own so I can come to my own conclusion about what I believe, what I think may be biblical etc.  Very glad to have read this book!

The Death of the Detective by Mark Smith
Kindle Edition - 729 pages
Abandoned after Chapter 3

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

Published the year I was born, 1974, Smith's novel has been released for a new generation of readers. But I couldn't get into it.  It starts off confusing, it felt to me like the novel started in the middle of a story and the middle of a sentence. There was a lot of rambling and undefined characters. A lot of description that felt like Smith had opened a thesaurus and let it do the writing for him. His prose reminded me of some authors that I don't like so that didn't endear me to the story either.  It's been called perhaps the best detective book ever. I respectfully disagree. So many good books have been authored since 1974 and so many authors have done the detective story better.  I finally abandoned after chapter 3 because I felt like I was trying to read confusion and I don't have time for that.  I'm seeing in other reviews comparisons to Dickens.  I also respectfully disagree with that comparison as well.  I like Dickens, I do not like this style of writing.  It's more in the style, in my opinion, of someone like F. Scott Fitzgerald or J.D. Salinger.  So unfortunately I couldn't get past chapter 3 and am unable to give it a rating or a positive review.

Wherever Grace is Needed by Elizabeth Bass
400 pages

I always appreciate the double meaning of something.  Take the title of this book for example. Wherever Grace is needed she goes, wherever Grace is needed it is given.
Grace is in-between families. She's got 2 half brothers on her Dad's side and a half brother and sister on her Mom's side, she doesn't really feel like she belongs anywhere.  We first meet Grace when she is 7 and then we meet up with her again when she is 30.  By the time we meet the adult Grace she has figured out a life for herself and, quite frankly, is settling for less than good enough.  As Grace travels from Portland to Austin, Texas we meet another family, this one will intersect with Grace soon.  Jordan is a 16 year old in exile at her Grandparents house for the summer. Her Dad, brother, and sister are back in Austin. Grief covers this family like a heavy wet blanket. To protect her heart Jordan has built up strong walls around herself. Nobody in her family understands her.  She and Grace, it will be discovered, have quite a bit in common - feeling in-between.  All of the books main characters land on the same street in Austin, Texas during one summer. That summer stretches into fall, then winter, spring, and then summer again. Throughout the seasons relationships are formed, refined, broken, renewed, and each person is learning a bit more about themselves and their family members.  And in order for it all to happen, Grace is needed.
I haven't read any other of Bass' titles and I really liked this story and her characters.  She writes a relatable story, develops characters so it feels as if you know them, and even includes some brain food for thought.  Bass explores family relationships, grief, life altering health issues, transitions, and more in this story of Grace.

Life Verse by David Edwards
Kindle Edition - 241 pages

Thank you to NetGalley and Tyndale House Publishers/NavPress for this free copy.  In exchange I am providing an honest review. 

Being a lifelong believer of Christ I am always drawn to books and resources about scripture and spiritual life.  So Edwards book on life verses captured my attention immediately. Unfortunately, being a lifelong believer of Christ also means, to quote Solomon, "there is nothing new under the sun." Edwards book is really good for a new believer, but I would have been fine with an abridged version.  
The author lays out a really simple case for scripture, the purpose of it for our lives, and the methods of studying it to get the life God intended for us from it.  There is a lot of good information in the book, but at the same time it leaned a little too much toward the typical evangelical approach to God. It lent itself toward another formula for the Christian life, and we have way too many formulas as it is.  Like I said, a great resource on scripture in general for newer believers but I really think one should use discretion when applying the formula Edwards proposes for a life verse.  

Precious and Fragile Things by Megan Hart
416 pages

Megan Hart must be a Mom. You would have to be a Mom to know how to write so accurately how hard it is at times.  How hard it is but how deeply you love those children who make it so hard.
We meet Gilly in her car with her two children running errands. She's had it *up to here and higher* with them but really needs to run this one last errand and then they will head home, she promises.  Gilly, to keep from lashing out at her kids in anger and frustration, takes deep breaths and tells herself to hold it together. But what Gilly would really love, what she is craving, is some quiet. No little hands pulling on her, no husband hands pulling on her, no voices asking and whining for things. She wonders what it would be like to run away.  She is weary of this life that she has created and lived. She is so weary. And then she gets a chance to do just that, run away by allowing herself to be taken away. In a series of fast moments Gilly and her children are carjacked, the children are released, and the abductor takes Gilly along to an unknown destination. She almost doesn't mind, until she does mind.  Time and distance from her created life put things into perspective but in order to go back she has to escape first.
I really liked this book. It was such an interesting look into a weary and worn woman and how her one choice created a domino effect for what happens to her during her 'abduction.' It also was an interesting look into her abductors life and what was driving him.  And then their story. What happens between an abductor, of sorts in this case, and the one who has been taken from their life.  I really liked Hart's character development, her relationship building, her relationship analysis, and how she led Gilly to realizations and truths.  And for this reader Hart created empathy for the abductor, Todd. I really liked Todd and I wanted him to have some kind of *win* in his life instead of what he had to this point that we meet him. Hart's look at life's precious and fragile things touches on so many different facets of life, it's a good read.

Reading Lips: A Memoir of Kisses by Claudia Sternbach
224 pages

Kisses. There are so many kisses, Friendly, Romantic, Familial, Goodbye, Hello, Controlling, Wishful, Created, etc.  In this memoir Sternbach takes the reader down memory lane with her and she thinks back on some of the meaningful and more poignant kisses of her life thus far. It made me consider the same kisses I have had in my life.  A kiss is intimate, it takes trust if it is a healthy kiss. Years ago when Pretty Woman came out I was struck by a line in the movie.  Julia Roberts says to Richard Gere that she never kisses her clients because it's more intimate than anything else and she won't allow that kind of intimacy.
Sternbach relives some of her most intimate life moments through the kisses that did or didn't happen. Stories of family, of lovers, of friends, and stories of betrayal. I thought it was a easy and lovely read.

The Far End of Happy by Kathryn Craft
Kindle Edition - 432 pages

Thank you to NetGalley and Sourcebooks Landmark for this advanced readers copy.  In exchange I am providing an honest review. 

Based on a real event from the author’s life, this book takes place over the course of about 12 hours one day. But what led to the highlighted day took years and years.
Ronnie and Jeff have been married for 12 years, they have 2 boys, and live on a secluded farm. Jeff is an alcoholic and Ronnie can't do it any longer.  The reader meets Jeff only briefly in the story before he becomes a background character and the way we get to know him is through the voices of his wife, mother, and mother-in-law.  Jeff has engaged the community in a standoff and throughout the day of waiting all three women introduce us to his story through their memories of him and reliving backstory.  Ronnie learns new things about her husband throughout the day that provide additional insight into his current state. At the end of the day Ronnie, his mother, and his mother-in-law have to come to terms with who Jeff pretended to be and who he actually was.
A portrayal of a person who is able to hide their true selves from people for extended lengths of time, but as all things do eventually unravels in a series of events.  It's also a portrayal of the lives that contribute to and are affected by the truth being exposed. I'm curious how the author was involved in a real life situation similar to the one she writes in this book, what heartbreak.  When a person pretends to be someone they aren't there are always consequences and heartbreak.  Craft writes a fictional story, based on real life events, that appeals to the readers sense of curiosity.  Let's be honest, in our human nature we are curious and nosy but instead of making up the parts of this particular story Craft opens to door and invites us into the real story. And the real story always exposes the humanity of people.


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