Sunday, January 31, 2016

January 2016 Bookshelf

A More Christlike God: A More Beautiful Gospel by Bradley Jersak
Kindle Edition - 352 pages

Thank you to NetGalley and CWR Press for this free readers edition. In exchange I am providing an honest review.

Truth be told I read 68% of this last month but couldn't get it finished in time for that bookshelf. So it becomes book 1 for the new year and new month!  

Wow. What a book. Several times I would read something, ponder it, have to put down the book for a minute and all I could think was "mind.blown." Jersak writes a book on theology that challenges the traditionally held beliefs/views of Protestants. He was first challenged personally and then as he couldn't ignore certain truths rising to the surface of misunderstanding he began to change the way he expressed faith, taught faith, lived faith, saw God. I get it. I'm on that same journey and Jersak has just given me a lot of reasons to continue to chew and ponder God as he really is and not as I was raised being told he is. And yes, there is a huge difference between what I've been told about God and who God actually is. 
Just wow. That's an insufficient statement and review for this book but it's all I can manage. I'm going to read the book again, probably right away, because when I started it I didn't realize the depth it was going to take me in thought and so I want to read it again and give it full attention for anything I may have missed due to ignorance. I also want, and will recommend it to pretty much everyone I know. What Jersak does in this book is completely turn upside down who God is - gives biblical support for it - and it changes everything for people of faith and for people who scoff at faith in Christ. The whole section on 'unwrathing' God was especially mind blowing and revealing! Jersak aimed to write a book in a manner of coffeehouse talk but I maintain that would be one deep and somber coffeehouse meet up. Wow. I highly recommend this book. And that's an understatement. 





Somebody I Used to Know by David J. Bell
Kindle Edition - 432 pages

Thank you to NetGalley and NAL for this free readers edition. In exchange I am providing an honest review.

David Bell is a new-to-me author and the description of this title caught my attention. It fits into a favorite genre of mine.
Nick is a 40 year old divorced man hung up on his college girlfriend who died 20 years ago. Her name was Marissa and no other woman Nick has ever been with has equaled her. One night, doing a quick stop at the grocery store, Nick sees a girl he swears is Marissa, except she can't be - her age and the fact that Marissa died make it impossible. But Nick can't let it go, it sends him down memory lane and that sends him into an investigation of Marissa's last days of life. Suddenly, 20 years of belief about the night Marissa died unravels as new parts of the story are finally revealed. What really happened to Marissa that night 20 years ago?
I could follow the trail of crumbs Bell left, it wasn't that difficult. What I couldn't get to was the way it all came together. And that's where good writing comes in. Bell weaves a story of young people making stupid decisions that can come back to haunt them years later, of the perspective time and living life offers, and even of second chances. It was a quick read, engaged me from the first sentence and didn't let me go until the last.




The Murderer's Daughter by Jonathan Kellerman
Kindle Edition - 384 pages

Thank you to NetGalley and Ballantine Books for this free readers edition. In exchange I am providing an honest review.

Jonathan Kellerman is a prolific author. He's written 41 books! And not only is he an excellent writer, he has his Ph.D. in Psychology. The guy knows human nature. He uses this to his advantage in his books.
Dr. Grace Blades is a successful, but reclusive, psychologist. She has a very well-known private practice helping people who have experienced deep trauma. She should know all about that, Grace comes from deep trauma herself. The story of young Grace catches up with the present day Grace when a man appears, and disappears, in her life and she realizes she knows him - she knew him from a very long time ago. But he doesn't seem to know her. Unfortunately his brief appearance in her life makes her a target and rather than trusting the police to do anything constructive she decides to take matters into her own hands. What follows is an investigation that leads straight to the loose ends of her past.
Grace Blades is an interesting character. Drawing on his knowledge of people and their reactions to trauma Kellerman paints the picture of a deeply wounded but incredibly brilliant person. What I find so ironic in Grace's career choice, and in the people who finally raised her, was she never seemed to have received help herself for her traumatic past. It's as if it got forgotten about, even in some ways by Grace herself. And that seems just about right. Often people become for others what they themselves need. It was a good read, if not a bit over the top (I maintain that there's no way these situations could have happened...ever). I hadn't read any of Kellerman's titles until this one, but I'll be checking out more of his writing.




Broken Promise (Promise Falls #1) by Linwood Barclay
Kindle Edition - 464 pages

Thank you to NetGalley and NAL for this free readers edition. In exchange I am providing an honest review.

I am really happy to find yet another new-to-me thriller author!
David Harwood serves as the POV in book one of this new thriller series. He and his son are living with his parents while he tries to regain his footing after several tough years. When he's sent to check in on his cousin things get a little more complicated. Over the course of three days David becomes an integral part of a crime investigation that just doesn't seem to be adding up. In the span of these three days several crimes happen - are any of them connected? If so, which ones? If not, then how many people intent on crime are running around the town of Promise Falls, NY? As David runs his own investigation, Detective Duckworth runs the official one through the Police Department. Who can arrive at the truth before someone else is harmed?
This was a great book.  It sucked me in, Barclay introduces a few storylines - some wrapped up, others will carry on into future books in the series. Fortunately for me and a huge thanks to NetGalley and NAL I can move on to book 2 without any waiting, book 2 is sitting on my shelf. These thrillers continue to intrigue me.





Out of Sorts: Making Peace with an Evolving Faith by Sarah Bessey
272 pages

DUDE.
WOW.
YES, THIS.
Out of Sorts: a state of being in one's heart or mind or body. Often used to describe one's sense of self at a time when one feels like everything one once knew "for sure" has to be figured out all over again.
I've been out of sorts for a few years now. And as Bessey says, "I know you feel a bit out of sorts. We all do sometimes. It's okay. Don't be afraid." But the tradition of church is to be afraid of being out of sorts. Don't question, don't have doubts, don't don't don't. Yet time after time, conversation after conversation God, Jesus, welcome - invite even - questions and doubts. And they don't want us to be afraid, there's no reason to be afraid of looking for answers. Being out of sorts leads to all kinds of freedom.
I've had this title on my "to read" list since I heard it was going to be published. It might have sat longer on my list but a friend mentioned a couple of months ago that we should read it and discuss. I am so grateful she suggested doing that. I am so glad this book didn't sit on my list for any longer. You might say that a few things from the book grabbed my attention:

To try and give this book a decent, adequate, halfway acceptable review feels impossible to me. Do you see how many bookmarks I have there?! Bessey and I had similar yet very different childhoods in the church. She was charismatic, I was baptist. That right there introduces just a few differences. :) She wasn't born into the church nursery, I was. There's some more differences. Then how did we have similar experiences?  We both grew up learning about who God is in much the same way. We both grew up being taught what a Christian was and wasn't - we grew up with the same rules and standards, for the most part. We both grew up in the church to later walk away from the church. We both became out of sorts. 
Sarah Bessey takes on all the components of the Christian life - Jesus, Theology, the Bible, Church, Community, the Kingdom of God, Liturgy, Faith, the Holy Spirit, Grief, Justice, and Calling - and wades through the mess they have become to the truths that they hold. And she does it beautifully, graciously, with compassion. She distills the notion of spiritual success is based on the big and flashy to the truth, spiritual "success" is found in the small and unseen. She tackles the idea of spiritual "success" and unpacks the lies it carries to get to the heart of what it really is. 
Sarah Bessey manages to put into words the places I have found myself out of sorts in. She manages to articulate what I haven't been able to yet. Her "work ethic" in sorting out her out of sorts has been spot on, mine has been a bit lazy - certainly a lot 'slower.' I'm so grateful for Bessey putting into words and sharing with others the truths of being out of sorts, the assurances of being out of sorts, the grace for being out of sorts. It's so good to know one is not alone in their bewilderment and their sorting. 
It's an inadequate review in that I don't touch writing style (although it is easy and good, like having coffee with a friend), I don't reveal any particularly revolutionary thoughts to hint toward the substance of the book (I refer you back to my picture of the bookmarks - impossible to choose one thing to reveal!), and all I can really say is, "You must, MUST, read this book." It's an inadequate review but I do pray, yes pray, that you read this book nonetheless.

Kindle Edition - 352 pages

Thank you to NetGalley and Penguin/NAL for this free readers edition. In exchange I am providing an honest review.

It's obvious by now that I'm a sucker for a good detective story, a good thriller, a good mystery. I love the twists and turns - or the potential of them. I love the way minds go to work to put together a puzzle, I myself am not good at that. 
Raybourn is a new-to-me author but she has quite an extensive list of titles to her credit. Parts of this new series about a woman in the late 1800's that is part scientist and part detective I enjoyed, other parts not so much. 
Veronica Speedwell is an orphan and has just buried her guardian. She has made plans to immediately return to the fields, forests, valleys, and beaches to search out her much loved butterflies. Her plans are very suddenly interrupted when a man she has never met persuades her to go to London with him for her safety. This change in plans leads quickly to no plans and a very spontaneous adventure of sleuthing follows. Unsure of why the danger that exists surrounds her and seems to be centered on her, Veronica in the spirit of being an independant and strong woman, sets her course to determine the truth. 
Raybourn fleshed out the character of Veronica and Stoker very well but, in my opinion, took too long to do it and used a bit too much detail. For me the book was slowed down by the influx of detail Raybourn used to flesh out her characters and to provide a picture of what was going on. In fiction there is a fine line to walk between not enough and too much detail. I myself cannot walk the line which is why I focus my writing on non-fiction. Raybourn stepped over the line into the too much detail side of things, in my perspective. I got bored with the story rather than intrigued and was glad to be done with it. This is a shame because the idea of a strong and independant woman in the late 1800's in England sleuthing is a great premise to build on.  I wonder if further books in the series would calm down in terms of details since Raybourn so thoroughly covered the personal details of Veronica and Stoker in this first book. I may have to give book 2 a try just to satisfy curiosity. 



Kindle Edition - 321 pages

HOLY SMOKES. An engaging storyline, intriguing characters, great writing, and Dexter-ish overtones.
Eden and Eric Archer are Sydney Homicide cops, raised by a criminal it turns out. When Eden meets new partner Frank Bennett they are thrown into a serial killer hunt without getting a chance to know one another. All Frank knows is that Eden's brother, Eric, is a pain in his arse and growing more difficult every day. As the hunt continues for the serial killer Frank also begins to piece together bits and pieces of Eden and Eric's mysterious behavior. When the two begin to converge Frank must remember the question Eden had asked him, "What's the most important thing to do right now Frank?" Catch the serial killer, of course that's the most important thing. Right?
Oh my word. What a great debut novel and first book in a series! Fortunately I don't have to wait for book 2 and can just dive right in. Fox, drawing inspiration it seems from Dexter's character, has created really interesting characters and knows how to create a thriller that is truly chilling.




Sync or Swim: A Fable About Workplace Communication and Coming Together in a Crisis
by Gary Chapman, Paul E. White, Harold Myra
112 pages

A very quick read, perfect for busy managers who have read or listened to Chapman and White's The 5 Languages of Appreciation in the Workplace: Empowering Organizations by Encouraging People. This fable brings to life the necessity of appreciation and how to speak the language of your employees and co-workers.
Being a good leader requires humility, work, and investment. This fable demonstrates that through Sam, newest CEO of Monarch Enterprises. Guided by Olympia, a mentor he didn't seek out or ask for but received nonetheless, Sam learns how to correct his missteps and communicate in the most effective ways with each of his employees. Filled with quick and applicable lessons the reader can quickly catch on to the value of understanding your employees and co-workers for success at all levels of the organization. I think I'm going to buy The Chief a copy - more as an encouragement than a hint. *wink* He is deeply interested in how to connect and work with his employees and this book will just reinforce his efforts.





Rising Above a Toxic Workplace: Taking Care of Yourself in an Unhealthy Environment
by Gary Chapman, Paul E. White, Harold Myra
176 pages

When you work in a space with other people up to, and surpassing at times, 40 hours a week it is inevitable that differences are going to surface. Working styles, managerial styles, personalities, personal ethics and work ethics, etc. The difference between a healthy workplace and a toxic one is how these differences are addressed and responded to. It matters little, in the end, if the organization is secular or faith-based - workplace health is important no matter what. It is a determining factor in employee retention, more important than money it turns out (according to various polls, surveys, etc). So what does an employee do, no matter what level they are at in their current place of employment, when having to work in a toxic environment? What makes it toxic? What defines it as such?
Taking their research from the The 5 Languages of Appreciation in the Workplace: Empowering Organizations by Encouraging People Chapman and White, joined by Myra expand and discuss what a toxic workplace is and how one can live within it - if they even should. As Kenny Rogers sang, "You've got to know when to hold 'em, Know when to fold 'em, Know when to walk away, Know when to run....That the secret to survivin' Is knowin' what to throw away And knowin' what to keep...." Using many, many real life examples based on a lot of interviews they held with all different types of employees the 3 authors discuss survival tips, boundary lines, leadership lessons, and offer up discussion questions for the employee in an unhealthy work environment. With the exception of perhaps one example used the end result of a toxic work environment is the employees always end up leaving eventually. Once they have hung in for as long as they can, tried to be positive agents of change, drawn and stood firm on boundaries the employee has eventually left in defeat, poor physical health at times, and in need of some mental recovery as well. This is somewhat discouraging, although not surprising, news to those who are currently in a toxic situation and trying to determine how long they should stick it out and how to maintain their own personal integrity while staying.
As even the 3 authors pointed out, unfortunately the ones who need to read the book, heed the counsel, and make the changes toward health are very rarely, if ever, the ones who are willing to do so. At the end of this read I don't feel encouraged in staying but rather discouraged at what seems to the be the inevitable outcome.  This is not the fault of the authors, it's just the result of us humans not being willing to engage in self-awareness/evaluation and a good dose of humility. Employees, i.e. the minions, can engage in those practices all they want but until the leadership does nothing will improve.





The 5 Languages of Appreciation in the Workplace: Empowering Organizations by Encouraging People by Gary Chapman, Paul White
Audio Book

Clearly this month I have a focus to my non-fiction reading. Low to no morale in a workplace is detrimental to productivity, customer service, and loyalty. And those are just the three that came to mind right away. Appreciation is something that can make or break the morale of a business and sometimes it's a matter of just a few tweaks, other times it needs to be completely overhauled. Chapman, drawing on his experience from The 5 Love Languages, enlists the help of Paul White to explore how the 5 Love Languages translate in the workplace and how they make a difference, just as the love languages do.
I appreciated Chapman and White's thoughtful and thorough approach to appreciation in the workplace. They did several years of research and interviewing to bring into the light why appreciation counts and why a paycheck isn't what appreciation is. The book is said to be for anyone but a lot of its language is geared toward managers/supervisors. There were several sections that were very useful to hear for myself and my workplace relationships. They make a careful case for appreciation and give many practical examples of it. The thing about it, and why it doesn't usually look like appreciation, is that it takes work - lots of work. It takes intentionality, emotional investment, consistency and that's hard to do in our personal lives much less our work lives!  But Chapman and White give examples of success when employees take the time to make it a habit. They even address the question, "But what if I don't appreciate my co-worker/employee?" I appreciated that particular section as much as the rest. The fact is, we aren't always going to be able to find something about each person that we do appreciate, so what then? Chapman and White give a practical rescue.  *whew*





Eden (Archer & Bennett #2) by Candice Fox
Kindle Edition - 320 pages

Thank you to NetGalley and Kensington for this free readers edition. In exchange I am providing an honest review.

AH!  Book two just as good as book 1. And darn it, book 3 is not available in the United States yet, it seems. Such a bummer about that. I hope the wait isn't too long.
Fox continues to develop her characters in book 2 of her new series. Eden and Frank are getting really used to each other by now, Eden's criminal father is becoming part of Frank's life - even if he doesn't like it, and a new case of missing girls has Eden going undercover and Frank sitting by watching her and trying to help out Hades. In book 1 we got a lot of Eden and Eric's background even though the book was titled for their father. Now in book 2 we get Hades background even though the book is titled for Eden. I'm digging the way Fox is drawing her characters and how she is introducing the reader to them past and present. Frank's character is weaved all throughout as he is the POV of the books.
I feel like if I say too much I will spoil the book for future readers and I really do not want to do that.




You (You #1) by Caroline Kepnes
422 pages

Well alrighty then. This book was awful and great all at the same time. I'm not even sure how to "rate" it. Kepnes first book had a great plot, storyline, and characters. It was also entirely too excessive with the characters, language, and sex. There's a fine line between not enough and too much. My head actually kind of hurts from the over indulgence of language and sex. Stephen King said that you have to stay true to your characters and their personalities. Kepnes stayed true alright to Joe Goldberg, the main character, but wow - the language she had him employ was excessive. It was so much that it bordered on distasteful and detracted rather than engaged, in my personal opinion. I don't mind language sprinkled in but when a story in slathered in it then I have a hard time enjoying to story. Rabbit trail - Like in Dexter. I love that show but Deborah's language about did me in. It was very hard for me to put that in the background in order to watch the show. It was way too much. Back to the book.
Joe works at a bookstore and thinks way too much of himself in a completely false humble kind of way. When a woman who shops at the store catches his eye he's hooked. He MUST have her and nobody else can. And so Joe sets out to have Beck, he manipulates people and situations in order to drive her to him. And he's not the obsessed one, of course he's not he just loves her to death.
Joe is the kind of villain you love but hate. You can't help but like him regardless of his very concerning proclivities. One brilliant part of Joe is his use of social media to cover his tracks. This is brilliant and very scary. Social media can make someone appear to be around when in fact they may not be any longer. And social media can be hacked and monitored without anyone ever being the wiser. I don't think this part of the plot was exaggerated by Kepnes, I think it was accurate. I imagine that true stalkers think like Joe, behave like Joe, are like Joe - how Kepnes was able to translate that into a character that is somewhat endearing is beyond me.
There's a book 2 but I'm not enthralled enough to read it. I'll admit, it the excessive language and sexual content that is the most off-putting to me. But Kepnes writes incredibly well, incredibly.


Pop Goes the Weasel (Helen Grace #2) by M.J. Arlidge
Kindle Edition - 416 pages

Thank you to NetGalley and NAL for this free readers edition. In exchange I am providing an honest review.

I really, really, REALLY like Arlidge and this DI Helen Grace series. It's so good and that is the lamest word to use - incredibly inadequate for how well-written these books are and how much I like them. This is book 2 in the series and he's up to book 5 - publishing this year.
It's been about a year since the events of the first book in which DI Helen Grace caught a serial killer that happened to wreak havoc on several lives on her team of investigators. Things are still a little shaky but Grace is determined to stay the course solving crime in Southhampton. When a call comes in that a body has been found heartless - literally - DI Grace and her team go to work. But as the hearts begin to stack up and their leads keep stalling out Grace begins to wonder if this is a serial killer who will be able to get away with murder.
Arlidge continues his development of key characters, in addition to main Helen Grace, in book 2 and I love what he is creating - both in Helen and others. Helen is a fascinating character and her mystery both deepens and unravels with each chapter, in each book. Arlidge writes a tight story - full of depth, description, character. These are excellent books. If you like the genre of mystery/thriller then these books should be on your "to read" list.




Mrs. John Doe by Tom Savage
Kindle Edition - 312 pages

Thank you to NetGalley and Alibi for this free readers edition. In exchange I am providing an honest review.

I am fascinated by the CIA and its international counterparts. I can't imagine that the books and shows that capture my attention are anything close to reality but they fascinate me nonetheless.
Nora Barton gets a call from her husband's counterpart in London. Jeff, her husband, is dead and she's needed to come to identify him and bring him back home. Details are minimal. Nora catches the first flight she can and lands in London to identify her husband's remains. Things quickly go from bad to worse. After positively identifying her husband at the morgue she is mugged in a nearby park. The mugger isn't successful but she's shaken all the same. Her husband ha died suddenly and she's an attempted mugging victim?  How much more can she handle? As it turns out, a lot more is going to be required of Nora before her trip concludes and she can resume life and figure out what that looks like without Jeff.
I really liked this stand alone title from Savage. I don't think I have read him before but I am curious to read more of his titles since I liked this one so much. It was packed full of action (perhaps unrealistic but I am easily entertained), had great characters, a great plot, some twists and turns. It was a lot of fun to read and try to figure out as the story went on.




A Blossom of Bright Light (Jimmy Vega Mystery #2) by Suzanne Chazin
Kindle Edition - 368 pages

Thank you to NetGalley and Kensington for this free readers edition. In exchange I am providing an honest review.

That I didn't realize this was a book 2 in a series means it can be read as a stand alone and the reader doesn't feel like they've missed some part of the story if they hadn't read book 1 yet.
Jimmy Vega is a homicide detective in Upstate New York. Craving some alone time with his girlfriend, Adele, he talks her into skipping out on an urge to go check in at the center she is executive director of. 8 hours later Jimmy and Adele are both regretting that decision and become quickly enmeshed in a murder investigation that potentially could have been avoided. As Jimmy tackles the case the leads are stacking up and then fizzling out and frustration mounts. Meanwhile Adele hovers on the fringes of several situations that don't seem to be related and yet - when all the threads are untangled it turns out they might indeed all be intertwined. As Adele fights the politics within a broken system and Jimmy tries to discover truth before more lives are lost and damaged time is ticking down.
I enjoyed this title by Chazin. I was also frustrated by it but not because of the author's writing. I was frustrated because she highlighted very well some of the brokenness that is evident in several of our government systems - Immigration, Justice, Criminal to name a few. The brokenness and greed is frustrating and not a work of fiction, even if this story is. I like the character of Jimmy Vega, I'll keep tabs on him.