Thursday, March 31, 2016

March 2016 Bookshelf

Fly Away (Firefly Lane #2) by Kristin Hannah
Audio Book - approximately 16 hours (13 CDs)

It's four years after the conclusion of Firefly Lane. The Ryan Family and Tully Hart aren't doing well. At all. The heart that held them together is gone and they are at loose ends. Marah is off the rails, Tully is numbed by alcohol and prescription drugs, Johnny and the boys are slugging through the days. But in one instant an accident brings all of them back together again, including Tully's estranged mother, and the past four years is waded through and reconciled. Their heart, while not physically with them any longer, still had presence and helped them find their way back to one another.
Hannah penned this sequel about 5 years after Firefly Lane. She clearly didn't feel like the story was concluded. I'm not sure if I liked it or not. I felt the same way about Firefly Lane. Parts of it I liked or responded to, others parts I was just exasperated. I really did not like the character of Marah - from beginning to end. She was unlikeable as a toddler and became a real pain in the ass, near the end of this book she might have been growing out of that. It's another book checked off my "to do" list, never a bad thing.




272 pages

For Lent 2016 I used this book to guide what I call my "Lent warm up." I wasn't practicing Lent as much as I was/am warming up to the idea of practicing it. See, I'm not about the whole fast from something for 40 days only to gorge on it Easter Sunday and no difference has been made in my life or heart as the result of my 40 days of denial. Lent is more than giving up coffee, Faceook, beer, or slurpees for 40 days. Lent is supposed to be a season of preparation that leads to transformation. So when I found this book I internally leapt because it was describing the kind of Lent (or 40 days) practice that I am about.
I'm SO glad I got the book.
In 40 Days of Decrease Chole takes the reader through a decrease of the things that truly clutter our lives - most of them unseen to the naked eye. This book helps guide the reader through a decluttering of faith. As Chole says in the Prologue, "Though I had purposed to live simply, clutter was collecting around my faith. I was becoming more vulnerable to sin, but sin of a slightly different strain than in earlier years. We all guard against sins of commission and we are vigilant toward sins of omission. But achievements - even in small doses - can make us vulnerable to sins of addition: adding niceties and luxuries to our list of basic needs, adding imaginations on the strong back of vision, adding self-satisfaction to the purity of peace." Strike a chord?  It did, it does with me. I can see it in my own life and I can see it in the lives of many other believers I know. But I can't do anything about them, just me.
The clutter that collects around a faith that Chole chose to discuss and decrease from was so deep and profound, not obvious. Which made it even more meaningful. Day One Fast Suggestion? Lent as a Project. Selah. Other decreases Chole walks the reader through included regret, rationalism, neutrality, God-as-job. I highly recommend this book for a guide during Lent or a season in which you know God is calling you to decrease so that he can increase. This won't be the only time I use this book, I anticipate it becoming an important guide in the decrease of me and the increase of HIM.




Brother by Ania Ahlborn
Kindle Edition - 336 pages

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

Whoa. From the first two sentences Ahlborn lets the reader know this story is disturbing. And it is. It is very, very disturbing.
Michael Morrow lives in a secluded rural falling down farmhouse in Appalachian West Virginia. He lives there with his Momma, Wade (his Daddy), Misty Dawn (his sister), and Reb (Ray, his brother). The family business is gruesome and has driven Misty Dawn to a fairly crazy, detached existence. Michael detaches as much as possible, when Reb isn't forcing him to go on ride along's and stakeouts. Michael didn't come to the Morrow family by birth, he came to them by force. He wants to run, he wants to get away, but his fear of Reb and of the world at large is stronger than his desire to leave and so he stays, submitting to Reb's control. One day, on a drive into town Reb and Michael go into a record store and there is Alice. Alice is like a magnet to a better life, a normal life, for Michael and he begins to foolishly hope that maybe he can make a break for it. But Reb has different plans, only Michael can't figure out what they are and that determines the course of Michael's future - he's got to figure out Reb's plans before all hope is lost.
Whoa. Part of the disturbance of this title is that Ahlborn wrote it - that she imagined such a story. It's very unsettling. But I can't help admire the talent it takes to write such a story either. She wrote it so well that it was very easy, too easy, to believe it to be a real life account. That is very disturbing, in my opinion!  She draws a portrait of a very sick and dysfunctional family that still has an undercurrent of love for each other under all the sickness. It's an interesting look at family loyalty and the power of that even in acts of violence. It's so well-written but I'm not sure I will read any more of her titles, it's a genre that I have to really prepare myself to read and stick with - the violence is a little too realistic for my tastes.




The Determined Heart: The Tale of Mary Shelley and Her Frankenstein by Antoinette May
Kindle Edition - 412 pages

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

Confession: I have never read Frankenstein. I have never seen a movie adaptation of Frankenstein. I have never seen a stage performance of Frankenstein. I don't think I have even sat all the way through Gene Wilder's tongue-in-cheek version of it either. Sci-Fi is not my thing, not my genre so Frankenstein was never of interest to me. Plus, I'm not as an accomplished reader as some think I am. Reading books with old language in them is tough work for me. I don't like to work that hard when reading.
My interest, however, has been stirred recently by...well, old age perhaps?  The idea that I really should at least attempt to read some of the classics. So when I saw this book become available to read I decided I would read a story of how the story came to be. I have added Frankenstein to my "to read" list, only time will tell if I ever actually get to it.
This title is part biography and part fiction of Frankenstein's author, Mary Shelley. How much of each is the book composed of?  I don't know yet May offers a rather extensive and impressive bibliography in the back of the book so I assume it is more biographical of Mary Shelley than fiction. Don't mistake this book to be about Mary's creation of Frankenstein, it is less about that and more about her life as a whole. Daughter of two famous parents, one whose life ended prematurely, Mary Shelley grew up in the early 1800's with no moral foundation, free love was admired, and radical ideas about women and their role in society (i.e. they should be seen AND heard). By age sixteen she was involved with the up and coming poet Percy Bysshe Shelley, drawing him away from his wife and children. Shelley, however, was a cad. It's the word that immediately and often came to mind while reading this title. And then near the end of the book Mary herself acknowledges what a cad he was. What a deplorable man, he and Lord Byron it seems. Ick. Men so totally into themselves that they left a train wreck of women and mostly deceased children behind them. And Mary allowed herself to be in the train wreck. Frankenstein was birthed out of a suggestion Lord Byron made. He challenged all the writers in their little friend group to create a story. Mary had already been fiddling with the idea of bringing the dead back to life and thus Frankenstein was created. She went on to write several other pieces of work and was taken quite seriously in her time, despite being a woman.  *grin*
May did an admirable job of bringing the life of Mary Shelley to life and not allowing it to be dry. She lived a very controversial life, full of trysts and sorrow. There were threads of happiness in Shelley's life but the overall arc was that of loss - her mother, her children, Bysshe - and the loneliness she felt despite friendships. Bysshe forced her into a vegetarian lifestyle which added to their misery because of the moods it brought upon him, he was also a devout atheist which he insisted she adhere to as well. In the end all of these things combined to make it one dysfunctional life. The theory in Shelley's day seemed to be that the more miserable and the more weighed down by life one was, the better the poetry and writing that came from them would be. I'm not sure I can agree.




Who Kidnapped Excellence?: What Stops Us from Giving and Being Our Best by Harry Paul, John Britt, Ed Jent
168 pages

Another parable for workplace culture. In this tale Excellence has been abducted and replaced by Average. Average is an imposter of Excellence and uses N. Different, N. Ept, Miss Communication, N. Flexibility, and Poser to accomplish a dismantling of morale, quality, productivity, and customer service. Through trying to recover Excellence Leadership discovers that the team compromised to bring Excellence needs a re-boot and to include employees in the process of making the organization the best it can be. Leadership learns that top-down management weakened Excellence and introduced Average as a replacement. When it is discovered who and why revealed Excellence had been abducted and replaced the organization made a choice to listen to its employees and make the necessary changes and re-boot to once again welcome Excellence back.
Not only do the principles in this parable apply to professional life but the authors also created a sub-story to show how they can, and should, be applied to our personal lives as well.
I feel like I am slowly building a library of books all based on workplace culture, at some point I'm going to create a box set and present it to some people who need to reevaluate their management styles and methods. *grin*





The Doll's House (Helen Grace #3) by M.J. Arlidge
434 pages

I'm quickly becoming "obsessed" with Arlidge and his writing. He is fantastic. The third book in his DI Grace series and it is just as good as book 1. What does concern me, however, is the imagination Arlidge uses to craft his thrillers. How is he coming up with this stuff? Of course I wonder that about Steven King as well. I'm interested in the process Arlidge uses to create these thrillers and how they affect him psychologically - if at all. But moving on.
DI Helen Grace has had a rough couple of years, to avoid spoilers all I will say is read books 1 and 2 before this one to get the full picture. She's lost a couple of key detectives, has a boss who would like nothing more than to get rid of her, controversy keeps following her around and she keeps dodging it - but for how much longer? Called to a secluded beach after a body is discovered buried deep Grace is on the cusp of another serial killer, maybe. While she's at the beach one of her detectives is sent chasing a missing girl case. But certain parts of this girl's life is matching up with certain parts of the buried girl's life and suddenly the missing person's case becomes a hunt for a girl before she is also buried. Grace feels the pressure to find this girl before she becomes another victim of some sick person's fantasy. In the meantime, Helen's personal life continues to hold drama as her boss is out to get her fired and her lonely life continues to be the source of intrigue for others.
I love what Arlidge is doing with the character of Helen Grace and the other supporting characters in these books. Only a few keep "surviving" from title to title and I love the development of Helen's relationship with each. Arlidge writes a detailed, and creepy, thriller - brilliant in so many ways.




Confrontation: Challenging Others To Change by June Hunt
96 pages

I hate confrontation. I mean, who actually LIKES it?  But it's a fact of life, a reality so I want to make sure I do it well - with respect, clarity, and confidence. And because I am also a believer in God I also want to do it under his direction and suggestions. A few years ago I read a life-changing book for me personally about biblical conflict resolution but every so often I need a refresher. This book was a much needed refresher right now. I'm in the midst of a conflict that is going to require confrontation and I want to make sure I am doing my part well. I am only responsible for my part.
This short but powerful book about confrontation, biblically, had several great reminders and new points for me. It outlined 4 styles of confrontation and gave evidence for why one of them is the most effective, and respectful, out of the 4. I really appreciated how Hunt unpacked each and made the case for the most effective one, biblical assertive confrontation. I just have to keep reminding the "fixer" part of my attitude that I am only responsible for myself and my part - I can't fix anyone else. *grin*




The Face Transplant by R. Arundel
Kindle Edition - 361 pages

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

I got 14% in and gave up. I just couldn't keep going and every time I thought about pressing on I would turn to other things to avoid reading it! That's a sure sign to give up the title and move on.
The idea, the premise, is so intriguing. The execution too tedious. There were way too many characters from the start and their dialog was, well, cheesy. I just couldn't get into it which is to bad, because like I said the idea is a good one but it needs a more experienced mind authoring it I think.



The Kill Box (Jamie Sinclair #3) by Nichole Christoff
Kindle Edition - 283 pages

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

Jamie Sinclair is Christoff's PI/Security Specialist, aka a badass woman. This is the third book with Sinclair fighting for justice but the first book I've read. I'll be backtracking and reading the other two for sure.
Disclaimer: I don't believe that real life is anything like these kick ass women that I love to read about. Heck, I don't think real life is as exciting and adventure filled as any book makes it out to be. But it doesn't stop me from reading the fiction and loving the fiction, or rather the idea of justice happening.
Jamie Sinclair follows a trail that leads from her home in D.C. to rural New York. In attempting to talk some sense into her soldier boyfriend she stumbles on to a 20 year old cold case that has connections and ties to many people in the town, including her boyfriend. Determined to find out the truth about the crime from 20 years ago, Jamie sets off a chain of events that keep tumbling down like a domino train. But when the events stop knocking into one another will the truth be exposed finally or will it just be a dead end?
Christoff is a strong author. She writes good characters, has interesting crimes for her PI to solve, and develops the stories at just the right pace. She's only written this series so far featuring Sinclair and they are only available by eBook but now that I have read this one I am willing to hunt down numbers 1 and 2 and keep up with the series as long as Christoff writes it.




Stars Over Sunset Boulevard by Susan Meissner
Kindle Edition - 400 pages

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

I'm a little "meh" about this title. It's not the writing or the characters, it's the execution. When a book is described as having two stories in one then that's what I am expecting. This title, described that way, was actually one story with a snippet of the present day here and there. The present day parts were unnecessary and detracted from the real story, in my opinion.  The real story could have, and actually was, told without any present day influence. When the brief present day snippets interrupted the actual story I felt irritated and skimmed through them to get back to what seemed to me the true story.
Audrey and Violet are in the secretary pool at the company producing the newest feature film, Gone With the Wind. Audrey dreams of being an actress while Violet dreams of being a wife and mom. Both of them discover they will do what is necessary, in their opinion, to protect their secrets and pursue their dreams. Through the years, and the choices, they keep choosing each other and the friendship they share even when it's each other they are hurting.
I think I would have enjoyed this more if the present day bits didn't distract the story.




The Brontë Plot by Katherine Reay
Kindle Edition - 351 pages

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

Katherine Reay has taken her love of Jane Austen and crafted titles around her stories. She throws in other author works as well to round out the story she wants to tell.
Lucy works with and for an interior designer that goes beyond eye pleasing style and gets to the heart of a person. Lucy herself has a good eye for quality and style, some of which is fed by her love - nay, her obsession - with books. She runs a book buying business as part of the interior design side and has been wildly successful at obtaining and selling classic works of writing. But she hasn't done it with a clear conscience or above reproach methods. Her boss doesn't know how she procures what she does and she tells him stories that seem to make sense. This doesn't bother Lucy much until she meets James. James has a way about him that compels Lucy to honesty. But honesty scares Lucy and she isn't sure about how to do it. As all deception does, it catches up to Lucy and sends her on a trip to discover what honesty living can and should look like. But can she? Can she forget her lying ways, her lying lifestyle, and begin to live in and for truth?
I read this book straight through, didn't want to put it down. BUT. (Did you sense that but coming?) But upon finishing it I felt dissatisfied. I can't quite put my finger on the why but I do know throughout reading I was irritated more often than not with Lucy and Helen, the two main characters. I might have also been annoyed at Reay's inclusion of Austen works. Admittedly I'm not a huge fan of Austen but I don't think that is why I was annoyed. It was just so much. And felt like a stretch at times. It kind of makes me wonder if Reay can write books without the influence/inclusion of her influences. It's one thing to be influenced by certain authors etc but it's another thing to lean too heavily on them. This is Reay's third title based on Austen works, or leaning heavily on them. Can she write without the foundation of Austen?  Overall the story had a disconnected feel to it - the progression of Lucy and James' relationship, Lucy and Helen's relationship, etc.





The Myth of Multitasking: How "Doing It All" Gets Nothing Done by Dave Crenshaw
138 pages

Multitasking has been held up as the goal for a long time. All mothers feel like multitaskers and feel like rock stars when they can do 15 tasks at once. I used to pride myself for multitasking. Turns out I was actually switchtasking. But more on that in a minute. In the past few years, working outside the home especially, I have discovered that my perceived multitasking skills have waned. At first I attributed it to my age but then I started hearing about the myths of multitasking and I started to relate to the cons of such work "ethic." For at least a year now I have been thinking about single tasking and moving toward a work style that reflects that rather than the scattered, almost frenetic style of multitasking. On my own and supported by articles and such I saw that the cons of multitasking numbered, outweighed, any perceived pros.
This parable by Crenshaw supports the growing research that multitasking is actually one of the least effective methods for accomplishing work, tasks, etc. Bolstered by actual research Crenshaw's parable proves that multitasking isn't even real, it's actually switchtasking that is happening so quickly that it appears it is multitasking. But the facts are the brain can't do it. Ever. It's not possible. Not even a high functioning CPU can multitask, it switchtasks. Crenshaw goes on to tell the tale of the costs of humans switchtasking. And the costs are real and high, personally and professionally. One simple test to prove the cost of time and concentration of multitasking was to write a sentence and number it simultaneously and then to do both separately and see what kind of time and mistakes were made during both tests. Crenshaw doesn't just unpack the problem, he presents realistic solutions as well. This parable, based on actual research, serves to affirm my decision to kick multitasking to the curb - professionally AND personally - and focus on single tasking for the best efficiency, productivity, and for my relationships.




Who Killed Change?: Solving the Mystery of Leading People Through Change by Kenneth H. Blanchard
143 changes

Ah change. Us humans hate it. We kick against it, we fight it, we whine about it. It unsettles us, makes us uncomfortable, and we squirm when it's presented. In this parable Change has died and the suspect list is long. Through a two day interview session with all the suspects the Agent discovers why Change passed away. It turns out it wasn't just one person/responsibility to be blamed for the demise of Change but it was the culmination of many neglects, refusals, lack of teamwork, and laziness. Not only did I glean some good points in regards to times when Change is introduced but I gleaned some good points for why a current workplace might be experiencing low morale, productivity, etc already. A major character in the problem of workplace morale, productivity, change is Convertible. Convertible is the one who always drives everything from the top down. This leadership style has proven to be the biggest inhibitor to needed change in an organization. It neglects the employees in the organization that the Change will actually impact. It takes an entire team of people - with different jobs, positions, salary levels, and strengths - to ensure a healthy and productive workplace.





The Wiregrass by Pam Webber
304 pages

When a title is reviewed as "reminiscent of To Kill a Mockingbird, Tom Sawyer, and Of Mice and Men...." then I am hoping it's a good read and lives up to the review. Those are big shoes to fill.
After reading it I can see why it is being compared to those titles. It IS reminiscent of those titles.
This is a coming-of-age, deep south culture, danger lurking in the dark, novel. Every summer a group of cousins live with their Aunt and Uncle and engage in harmless fun. But this summer things feel different from the first day they are in town. People seem more guarded, the yards are empty during times when they had been full in summers past, and Aunt and Uncle are issuing warnings they haven't before. The cousins go about summer business as usual but with a growing awareness that something is changing and something is wrong. Curiosity leads the kids to go places they shouldn't and find out things they can't quite understand. In the end a secret is exposed and their lives will never be the same again. The lessons they learn this particular summer will shape the rest of their lives.
Pam Webber is a new author and is receiving high marks for this debut novel. It is a simply told story but one filled with warmth. Her description of Ain't Pitty makes me want to crawl up in her lap. The story is told through the voice of Nettie, one of the cousins. She's a great narrator for this tale and the reader catches the coming-of-age growing pains Nettie is experiencing and recognizing in her cousins.  This is a lovely story with a message of grace and good triumphing over evil.