Wednesday, November 30, 2016

November 2016 Bookshelf

Thoughtful Christianity: Faith and Action in the Way of Jesus by Ben Daniel
Kindle Edition - 216 pages

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

I'm not sure I can review this book and do it justice. It was so perfect for the season I find myself in, really for the season the American church has found themselves in due to the recent Presidential election. Ben Daniel, with wisdom and grace, discusses with the reader the way of Jesus in our faith. He corrects some misunderstandings about the history of the church, he discusses the need for learning and becoming educated about issues and faith traditions, and he champions the necessity for operating in a thoughtful way when it comes to being a Christ follower. I honestly can't say more than that because there is too much to say about this title, it is one that - to understand its importance - needs to be read for oneself. This will not be the only time I read the book, it is excellent and I personally will need several readings of it to really glean the wisdom Daniel's shares.





Anne of Green Gables (Anne of Green Gables #1) by L.M. Montgomery
Audio Book - Narrated by Barbara Caruso

I've tried reading this series a couple of times and never could get into it even though I KNEW I would love it. So it occurred to me, 'why not try listereading it?!' It was a good idea. *wink*
I saw the movies years ago, loved it more than I can ever express. Anne Shirley is one of the best characters ever created. She is so lovely, so sincere, so innocent, so...wonderful. We meet Anne Shirley, eleven years old, when she arrives at a train station to be picked up by Matthew Cuthbert. But she was supposed to be a he. Yet Anne wins her way into the hearts of Matthew and his sister, Marilla and eventually into the hearts of the people of Avonlea. She settles into the east gable room at Green Gables, the Cuthbert's farm, and introduces love and light into the lives of those she lives with, goes to school with, etc. Anne's life as an orphan has given her interesting experiences and insights and didn't discourage her from hope - there's an important lesson in her attitude for all of us. There's not much more I can say about the book without ruining the joy of it. It has to be experienced in order to really appreciate the wonderfulness of Anne Shirley and the other characters Montgomery created.




Where Are You Now? by Mary Higgins Clark
Audio Book - Narrated by Alan Nebelthau and Jackie Chung

*GROAN*
I miss MHC. I'm not sure who is writing her books these days, surely it can't be her. I feel it has to be a ghostwriter. I listened to this book so I got a double whammy. The narrators chosen to read this book were AWFUL, especially Alan Nebelthau. Oh my word, so bad. They both read stilted and with an odd cadence. Setting aside the awful narration of the audio book the story itself lacked the elements that MHC used to write - strong characters, strong storyline, engaging dialogue. It felt so...elementary in its writing. Unnecessary detail led to what felt like a very rushed explanation and ending to the story. I ended up being annoyed by the final chapters of the book. This was not good and I'm so sad because MHC has been a beloved author of mine for so long. Seriously - was this a ghostwriter?




The Passenger by Lisa Lutz
Kindle Edition - 320 pages

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

I've not read Lisa Lutz before but I will read her again. Apparently she is the author of a great series about a family of detectives. I'm guessing, however, that this title is very different from those books. This book was great, I really enjoyed it.
The main character of the book, Tanya, is on the run. But she isn't on the run for the first time - her most recent stop as Tanya was just an 8 year layover. She's been on the run for a decade. We learn her story backward while she is going forward trying to outrun her past and her present. Along the way she meets another person on the run, they recognize the looks in each other's eyes. Helping each other, or so Tanya hopes, they each continue on their way trying to find a life as someone else. But the lives are catching up with Tanya, what will happen when there aren't any other identities to assume? Can she go home and face who she really is and the life she ran from?
While parts of Lutz's story are unbelievable, and perhaps impossible, it was still a great read with lots of action and engagement. Lutz does a good job of creating a character that the reader is rooting for.




Try Not to Breathe by Holly Seddon
Kindle Edition -  369 pages

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

Wow! Great story. And it is the author's debut novel. Fantastic introduction.
Amy has been asleep for 15 years. She has hovered between wakefulness and coma after being found beaten in the park. Any inquiries the police did into the crime and possible suspects have gone cold and Amy is mostly forgotten. That is until Alex, a freelance journalist, accidently stumbles across the story. Unable to let it go for reasons she can't understand Alex starts investigating Amy's life and the day she disappeared. As people from Amy's life 15 years ago start to surface Alex begins to put pieces of Amy's puzzle together. But Alex is falling apart - she's a functioning alcoholic and her health is starting to fail. But the closer she gets to Amy's truth the more she sees the necessity of getting clean. And it's Amy giving her the strength to do it.
As I said above, a fantastic story. Seddon has two strong main characters in Amy and Alex. Yes, even though Amy is asleep we get to know her and her voice in this story. And Alex, the functioning alcoholic, is a character the reader feels for, roots for, wants to see succeed both in championing for Amy and in getting rid of the alcohol that her organs are being pickled by. This was a strong debut - I'm looking forward to her next novel.




Angels Burning by Tawni O'Dell
Kindle Edition - 288 pages

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

A new-to-me author that I enjoyed, creating a strong female character that was a great blend of badass and nurturing.
Dove is the Chief of Police in her Pennsylvania town and the reader meets her early one morning when a teenaged body is found in a burning sinkhole outside of town. Dove grew up in the town she now polices and has a past that people hold her up against. But instead of letting the past define her she has chosen to define it, as has her sister. Helping with the investigation of this teenage homicide leads Dove to face her own family's past and reconcile the loose ends that were always hanging around. In the meantime another well-known family in town seems to have some loose ends of their own and Dove is determined to find out how they tie into the murder of a young woman.




A Girl's Guide to Moving On by Debbie Macomber
Kindle Edition - 352 pages

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

This was an enjoyable read. It wasn't especially deep or thought provoking but enjoyable nonetheless.
Nichole and Leanne are starting over...together. They both left their husbands after adultery was exposed. They moved into the same apartment building across the hall from one another so they would have each other and so Leanne could watch Owen, her grandson and Nichole's son, while Nichole worked. Nichole was married to Leanne's son, Jake, who unfortunately had his father's roving eyes and hands. This is the story of Nichole and Leanne making choices to move forward in life post-marriage to adulterous men. They created a simple guide to help them move on and have been sticking to its points when they both meet men who may or may not fit in to the whole moving on idea. And then there's the moving on, what will it look like for each woman and what will she need to do in order to find life and love again?
Macomber is a popular and prolific author, she writes easy to read stories about relationships that leave the reader feeling warm and fuzzy.




The Widow by Fiona Barton
Kindle Edition - 336 pages

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

How much does the spouse of a criminal really know? Do they know it all? Do they know nothing? Do they know something but can't put their finger on it? How does a spouse excuse odd behavior and requests to lie for their spouses whereabouts should they be questioned? What does the innocent spouse have to tell themselves in order to keep living with the suspect? These are the kinds of questions Barton attempts to answer, fictionally, in this title.
Jean's husband Glen has died in a very sudden way but that's not why the newspapers and television reporters are stalking her house. A couple of years before Glen's death he was suspected of kidnapping, and most likely murdering, a little girl. But he wasn't convicted because no solid evidence could ever be found. Jean stood by Glen. She stood by him as they uncovered Glen's extreme porn addiction that included child porn. She stood by him as they searched their home and belongings with a fine tooth comb. She stood by him as his behavior became more and more suspicious. She stood by him as he lied to her about their life. But now Glen is gone, one stumbling step and a bus took his life. Now reporters and police want Jean to quit standing by Glen and tell them the truth about the little girl. How much does Jean know? Has she always known? How much does she tell now? These are the questions Jean is reviewing the answers to in her mind and the reader is privy to her side of the story. The reader also gets the story from the POV of a reporter and a police officer (copper) and Glen's POV pops in for a chapter or two even. This much is clear no matter whose side of the story you are listening to - pornography leads people - and their friends/family - down very dark and dangerous roads.
Overall this was a good read. There were a few parts where it dragged a bit or felt "forced" but Barton manages to pull it all together for a decent story. I wasn't super surprised by the outcome but that didn't take away from the story.





Missing Pieces by Heather Gudenkauf
Kindle Edition - 288 pages

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

Heather Gudenkauf's books have been on my to-read list for a long time and after finally reading one, Missing Pieces, I'll be making sure I read her other titles. I really enjoyed this story.
Sarah has accompanied her husband of twenty years, Jack, back to his hometown when news of a family emergency comes early one morning. Jack has avoided his hometown since he left it and Sarah hasn't ever met any of his family. Arriving in Penny Gate, Iowa Sarah watches her husband transform from the man she's been married to for all these years into one she barely recognizes. Mystery surrounds his childhood in Penny Gate and his return. Everyone in the family is on edge and Sarah discovers she doesn't know anything about her husband and his life prior to meeting and marrying him 20 years ago. But the longer they are there and the more the family emergency reveals the more missing pieces of Jack's life Sarah figures out. But not everyone wants Sarah to find all the missing pieces to the mystery of Jack's family and Sarah finds herself in danger.
One of the reasons Gudenkauf has caught my attention is because she seems to write stories that explore the dynamics - healthy and otherwise - of relationships with a little mystery thrown in. I confess - I'm a sucker for those kind of stories even if they are slightly unrealistic. I know there's no way that real life holds the kind of deception and mystery authors like Gudenkauf write about but it sure makes for a good read.





The Things We Keep by Sally Hepworth
Kindle Edition - 352 pages

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

One of the most devastating illnesses, in my opinion, is Alzheimer's. And when it happens to people who haven't lived a full life yet it seems even more cruel.
Anna is a thirty-nine year old who has Alzheimer's. It's progressed fast and she can't live with her twin brother and his family any longer, she needs to be somewhere where she can be watched 24/7. So Anna becomes one of two under 50 year old residents in a residential facility. The other resident is Luke, a 42 year old who has a different kind of dementia that affects his language. The rest of the residents are in their 80's and just living at the residence due to their old age. They become family to each other. Enter Eve, the new cook who has her own traumatic past she's trying to recover from, and the story of Anna and Eve holds lessons for everyone around them. In both healing and letting go there are things to keep.
I really liked this book and the story. I love how Hepworth made sure her characters reminded the reader of the life they still possessed even if they were older or had no memories left. I love how she built a relationship between the residents and employees of the residence. It was a heartwarming story of new life, second chances, and familial love.





A Drop in the Ocean: A Novel by Jenni Ogden
Kindle Edition - 295 pages

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

I like the stories where the coming-of-age happens for either a second time or for the first time later in life. This is a coming-of-age story for a woman who just turned 49 and found out her life's work was no longer being funded.
Anna has been doing research in the field of Huntington's Disease for the last 15 years. Seeing as how a cure is still so far off she is blindsided when her recent grant request is denied and she suddenly finds herself jobless and at loose ends. She's got one friend, prefers seclusion to crowds, and isn't sure what she could do now. Taking a risk, something very unusual for her, Anna agrees to spend a year on a remote island in Australia. She figures she will read and write and figure out by the time she turns 50 what she should do with her life. But life on the island isn't as remote, secluded, or isolated as Anna thought it would be and she finds her days filling up with new experiences and new people. She discovers her heart expanding in ways she thought it could not and when the year is over has choices to make she hadn't anticipated.
Jenni Ogden, like Lisa Genova, had her first career in the study of the brain. And like Lisa Genova, due to her interactions with patients and their families, knew that she could introduce the general public to the sciences of the brain in an informative but easy way to learn about. Enter the fiction story about a very real disease, in this case Huntington's. I like that Ogden comes at Huntington's from the clinical perspective and adds in the human element, because in the end it is the human element that has the most impact on the individual and on the family and friends of that person. She used took Anna's clinical approach to people affected by Huntington's and made her confront the human element through new experiences and relationships. I look forward to what other fictional stories Ogden will create to share very real illnesses and diseases with the general public.





Far From True (Promise Falls Trilogy #2) 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 very happy to be able to keep up with Barclay's Promise Falls Series. This is book 2 and it seems that book 3 will wrap up all the loose ends. I haven't read any of his other works but I've moved them to my to-read list because I really like his style.
Book 1 characters David Harwood and Detective Duckworth feature in this second installment of the Promise Falls Trilogy but joining them is PI Cal Weaver. Some of the loose end storylines are resolved in this book and others are still unresolved leading into book 3. This title starts with a tragic accident happening at the drive-in theater. The large screen falls into the parking lot, crushing cars and killing 4 people. Detective Duckworth needs to figure out who did this and why and as he investigates the number 23 keeps coming back at him. There were the 23 dead squirrels, the ferris wheel cart #23, and the hoodie with 23 on it from book 1. And the trend, because that is what it seems to be, continues with the fall of the movie screen and other things that happen thereafter. Suddenly Duckworth believes he is dealing with a killer trying to send a very specific message - the problem is he can't figure his way to what 23 is supposed to mean. Meanwhile, David Harwood is dealing with his new boss - the former mayor who wants a second chance and trying to catch the attention of a woman who has caught his. But she's got her own problem - her son's grandparents are threatening her and PI Cal Weaver finds his way into her dilemma quite by accident. But Cal needs the work so he takes the job and the other one that comes his way - a home break-in where nothing seems to be missing but something has most definitely been taken. Promise Falls, for such a "small" town, is busy with crime and intrigue these days.




Multiple Listings by Tracy McMillan
Kindle Edition - 320 pages

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

I've never heard of Tracy McMillan but she's apparently pretty well-known in the TV world as a writer. Her first title was a memoir and while this one draws from some of her life experiences it's a fictional story about a single woman and the life she's trying to ensure for herself and her 16 year old.
Nicki Daniels is 37 years old, self-employed, single mom to Cody, estranged from her parents, and in a relationship with a man 11 years younger than her. Jake, her boyfriend, wants to open a restaurant with her support - and as her best friend says, with her money - and move in together. She's moving forward when in a short amount of time several things happen to shake up her orderly life. Her con-man father shows up at her front door after 17 years of incarceration, her son has 26 absences for the first few months of school, and Jake has suddenly gone off the grid. Nicki can't trust her dad, Ronnie, but wants to - trusts Jake, but thinks she shouldn't - and can't figure out if she's failing Cody as a parent or succeeding. But she takes tiny steps to starting again with Ronnie, standing up to Jake, and parenting her teenaged son. And it's those tiny steps that she finally finds her way forward again.
I really liked the relationship that McMillan ends up building between Nicki and Ronnie - the steps that they have to go through to find their way, the work that Ronnie did while in prison to better himself for when he got out and the purposeful things he does to prove to Nicki he can be there for her and Cody. I like the messages McMillan weaves in about the incarcerated and life outside of the bars, I imagine she may be a voice for reforming the system?  This was a really good read, McMillan weaves a lot of real life into this fictional story and it all works.




The Girl From Home by Adam Mitzner
Kindle Edition - 336 pages

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

Eh. This is my second Mitzner title to read and review and it fell flat for me. Mitzner spends too much time on details that are unnecessary and not enough time developing the storyline and characters, in my opinion.
Jonathan is a financial wizard and has a trophy wife. But his pride is greedy and leads him to make some poor decisions that are sure to have a domino effect of dismantling his current life. Traveling home to see his ailing father he decides to attend his 25th High School Reunion where he renews his acquaintance with a few classmates. One of them is Jackie, the girl every boy in high school had a crush on. She didn't give Jonathan the time of day back then but now it's a very different story. As Jackie and Jonathan spend more time together things become a little more complicated than they needed to be. Finally Jonathan must decide if Jackie is worth it or if she's using him for her own reasons.
Much like the other title of Mitzner's that I read, my complaint with this one is its elementary development and writing. I just couldn't buy into the characters and their spontaneous emotions that Mitzner wanted the reader to believe went deeper than sex. Also Jonathan's life in the financial world - the investigation didn't encourage him to transform into a better man, getting caught forced him to. This reader didn't believe in any remorse on his part for the intentional fraud he committed. It was just all so unbelievable when all was said and done.



No One Knows by J.T. Ellison
Kindle Edition - 368 pages

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

Ellison is a new-to-me author that, after reading this title, I have added her other books to my to-read list. Great writing! Her other titles are all in series but this is a stand alone book.
For five years Aubrey has been hoping for her husband, Josh, to return back to her and their life. One night he kissed her and then disappeared, no clues as to his whereabouts or if he was even still alive. Daisy, her MIL, can't stand her and believes Aubrey killed Josh. But there's no way she would have or could have, he was her life - her savior from a very dark and troubled childhood. Daisy succeeds in having Josh declared legally dead after 5 years so she can go after his life insurance. Aubrey could care less, she just wants Josh to return home. But as soon as Josh is declared dead, people and events start pointing at proof of life - Josh's to be exact. As in he is alive. Aubrey can't believe it but too many things start happening that feel to solid to be coincidence so she goes searching for the answers. But as she searches she starts to realize that perhaps she didn't know Josh like she thought she did and maybe he's still alive - but why has he never come back to her?
Ellison writes a story that was engaging and kept this reader on the hook. The character of Aubrey is really interesting to follow throughout the story. I have a lot of admiration for those who can come up with thrillers that twist and turn and keep on doing so right until the very end, Ellison accomplished that with this story.





Honorable Mention:
About three years ago I read the Harry Potter series for the first time (it won't be my last) and have been hearing how good the audio book versions are - a good narrator/reader makes ALL the difference people.
In October I started listening to the series on audio during my commutes. This month, in addition to the above mentioned audio books (which I had not read/listeread before), I squeezed in books 2 and 3 on audio. They were fantastic!



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