December 2016 Bookshelf

The Obsession by Nora Roberts
Kindle Edition - 464 pages

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

This was a really good story - from the storyline to the characters.
Naomi has had an unusual life. It's been marked by violence and loss. But she has maybe found a place she could settle down into. Staying put in one place is foreign to her and makes her feel ancy but the people of this small town she's landed in won't let her run as easy as she has in the past. But when a young woman goes missing and shows up dead, Naomi sees her past may be catching up with her in this unknown town. The question is why? Someone out there seems to have something to prove but she can't understand what...or why. She's tired of running, she's tired of hiding, she's tired of these sick people interferring in her life. She's done and she's going to make sure whoever is trying to get to her is done too.
Roberts has created some amazing characters - Naomi being one of them. Her brother Mason is another great character that I really think a title could be written with him as the main character - he has a different response and perspective of he and Naomi's life to tell. Serial killers are fascinating studies in psychology but Roberts focuses on the aftermath of people they leave behind - their own family and friends, their victim's family and friends, and innocent bystanders. I'm not sure I can point to one particular thing that made me like the book so much - it was all of it together.

Tell the Wind and Fire by Sarah Rees Brennan
Kindle Edition - 368 pages

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

This book isn't in my normal stacks. I generally don't read YA, although I have nothing against it, and I generally don't read sci-fi. Due to that I was a wee bit lost in the themes of the story and the traits of the characters. That's either my lack of knowledge in this genre or it's that Brennan didn't give enough backstory to some parts for me to *get it.*
Lucie is a known name in both the Dark and Light cities. She was born in the dark but with light giftings and two years ago escaped into the light city. She, unwillingly, has become a name associated with fighting the injustices dark city residents experience. Her boyfriend, Light city resident, Ethan has been marked for treason but as the details of this possibility unfold some secrets both Ethan and Lucie have been keeping from each other are exposed. Perhaps the dangerous ones aren't residing in the dark city like those living in the light have tried to make people believe. Or perhaps there are some straddling the dark and light, maybe all of us are in some ways.
I never did quite understand how NYC became a split city of light and dark and why, or how, magic was a part of daily life. Either I totally missed Brennan's backstory on that in the book or I didn't catch whatever she did say about it as the backstory. What I did catch, whether the author meant to do highlight this or not, was the themes of privilege and poverty, injustice toward a people group, the remnant group that is always present to bring injustice into the light. Those are universal themes, universal facts that no amount of injustice and privilege can remove.

I Let You Go by Clare Mackintosh
Kindle Edition - 384 pages

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

Wow! I loved this book. It was excellent and kept me guessing until the moment it didn't - which was on purpose through Mackintosh's writing. Sparked by a case Mackintosh observed while she was part of the police force before becoming an author and then a personal loss of her own, I let you go was written.
Told in alternating POV's we become immersed in a woman's fear and grief and a police investigation into a fatal hit and run. The two stories are intertwined and are full of questions and hopefully answers. I want to say so much more about the story and the characters but it would spoil the experience for the reader and I hate spoiling good things for people.
Read this book, especially if you like the thriller genre, and you won't be disappointed.

Just Show Up: The Dance of Walking through Suffering Together by Kara Tippetts, Jill Lynn Buteyn
192 pages

Kara Tippetts, author of The Hardest Peace, spent the last few weeks of her life co-writing a book with one of her friends, Jill Lynn Buteyn. The topic was one we all stumble into at some point in our lives - how do we, how should we, how can we, show up in someone's hard without making it all about us or it feels too saccharin. I've had the book on my shelf waiting for me and "forgot" about it until one recent night when I was asking God how to show up for a dear friend. Jill happened to be in the same room as me recently and just seeing her reminded me she and Kara had written a book on the very thing I was inquiring of God. Timing. I read the book that night. So thank you Jill, and Kara, for sharing your experiences of showing up to help give others - like me - a guide.
If *you* don't believe in community, hard edges and soft places, big love then *you* will not like this book. Don't even bother. Kara, while alive, showed us the way of community, hard edges and soft places, and big love and we became believers of that way. So this book is based around those practices. What I found the most helpful was chapter 3, The Gift of Silence. The whole chapter was about the very thing I have been learning myself so it served as affirmation of being on the right track. But Jill also included in the chapter some information she gleaned from an article in the LA Times and it included a simple diagram (I'm visual so I'm all about the diagrams) that really put things in perspective. I really found chapter 6, The Battle of Insecurity, to be a very important and helpful chapter as well. Full of reminders about our place in someone's life - especially in their hard. The constant theme of the book was to keep things realistic - don't make someone's hard about you, don't reach out to them to fulfill your need, truly just be there for them. When we can stay true to that, and when we have people in our life who see that, then we will be taken care of as well. Someone who isn't so close to the hard will check in on us and speak to the ways we are feeling about this hard we have entered into with the other person. Philippians 2:1-5 becomes a reality. But really the most important thing? Just show up. As awkward and as uncomfortable as it may feel or even be just show up. God will work out the details of it so just show up.

Annabel Lee (Coffey & Hill #1) by Mike Nappa
363 pages

I'm not sure if I ever would have run across this author and this book had it not been for an anonymous person sending me book 2 in a book exchange I participated in. When I looked up the book I had been sent, Raven, I saw it was number 2 so of course I needed to read number 1 first if possible. Could it have been read out of order? Probably but that's not how I like to roll. So before reading the book I was sent I read this one. So glad I did! Thank you anonymous person for putting Nappa on my radar and this series.
Trudi Coffey is a PI. Her partner, in life and the business, Samuel Hill is long gone - the pig. Every morning Trudi reads the personals looking for one entry in particular. For three years now, and who knows how long before, one word has shown up in the personal ads, a message to someone somewhere. Safe. She likes to imagine what it might mean. What she doesn't know is that she's going to find out soon. A few hours away we meet Annabel, 11 years old and educated by her Uncle Truck. She's mature for her age and already knows four languages. One day, in a flurry of rushed activity, Uncle Truck escorts Annabel into an underground bunker with instructions to not open the door for anyone unless they use the safe phrase. The next day Trudi notes the word safe is missing from the personal ads and the word "unsafe" has replaced it. She barely has time to wonder what that might mean before Samuel shows up unexpectedly and inquires about something he had given her as a gift years ago. And just like that Trudi and Samuel are brought back together in a recovery mission that will result in Annabel's release - hopefully.
This was a great read. I was pleasantly surprised as I didn't have any idea what to expect. Nappa has made Trudi a strong and formidable character - which as a woman I really appreciate. Annabel is an interesting character with an interesting history. The books reads fast and doesn't slow down - keeping the reader engaged in the storyline and invested in the characters. I'm looking forward to book 2!

The Happiness Project: Or Why I Spent a Year Trying to Sing in the Morning, Clean My Closets, Fight Right, Read Aristotle, and Generally Have More Fun by Gretchen Rubin
301 pages

I put this book on my to-read list in 2012. And then I put it on hold at the library about 3-4 months ago and it finally became available. Reading it in the last month of this calendar year was good timing, it gives me something to think about as 2017 is right around the bend. Honestly I feel like I need to read it again. There were several small nuggets that I didn't jot down but should have. Some were simply reminders and some were new-to-me ways to look at or approach something.
Leaning heavily on Benjamin Franklin and his Virtues Chart found in his book Autobiography and everything written by Samuel Johnson, Rubin - after a rainy day bus ride - decided to spend a year pursuing happiness. She also drew from many other sources. Many. Near the end of the book, instead of the beginning, she also discusses the differences between a goal and a resolution. Very helpful discussion of the difference between the two - especially coming up on a new calendar year when resolutions become commonplace in conversations.
In January, among other topics, Gretchen defines clutter - puts it into categories that make sense. In February she allowed the holiday on the 14th to form her purposes for the month - her marriage. For March Rubin tackled work - asking for help, finding fun in failure, working smarter. April found her focusing on, among other things, other people's feelings and acknowledging the reality of them. In May the focus was getting serious about playing and silliness, which sounds like a paradox and in a way it is. Gretchen took on friendship in June, connecting and reconnecting. July was spent, pun intended, in exploring the relationship between money and happiness. While she vacationed with her family in August, Rubin explored eternity - she discovered she had a spiritual mentor even when she didn't realize it.  As school started back up in September she allowed herself to pursue what impassioned her, rightly pointing out that we don't often give ourselves permission to pursue our passions. The year was winding down and in October Gretchen focused on mindfulness - in her eating, her thinking, etc. November found Rubin exploring the contented heart and what kinds of practices brought contentment. And then December, the last month of her year and her project. She set aside December to intentionally practice all 11 months of focuses she had just worked on for the year. What I love about Rubin's month of December, she called it Boot Camp Perfect, was her ready confession that there was nothing perfect about her days or her implementation of the prior 11 months topics. She gave herself grace - celebrated the successes and moved forward from the lapses - and was pleased with being further along than she had been on January 1 when she started the project. She cut herself some slack which happened to be a focus in one of the previous months.
I like Rubin's approach and how she shared it with others. She doesn't say you must do it this way or that, if you do this it is wrong or right, etc - she acknowledges that everyone will have their own unique happiness project, as it should be since we are all different people. She just wanted to share her journey as inspiration for others. It worked.

The Fairy Tale Girl (#1) by Susan Branch
288 pages

My Mama said I had to read these books - more so because of the format of them. Susan Branch's memoir isn't just words on a page, it's her story surrounded by her whimsical and nostalgic watercolors.
In The Fairy Tale Girl, Branch recounts her 20's and early 30's in which she meets and marries her first love, Cliff. Her story with Cliff, with flashbacks to her childhood, takes place between the first and last chapters in which she is on a plane "running away" as far from her home in California as she can in the wake of betrayal dealt her by Cliff.
This book is the first in a memoir trilogy, the first book written and published was actually what is now the third book. Susan realized after writing the third book, which is an illustrated travel journal of a trip through England, that her story begins with the fairy tale ideas she grew up with. So she backtracked and wrote this title plus book 2 as prequels to the now third book. Drawing from the diaries she had been keeping since she was brand new double digits, Susan shares her story. This title draws a picture of Susan's attempts to have the fairy tale kind of life she always thought she would have. And even though life isn't a fairy tale can she still have a life that is her own personal one? Maybe her fairy tale isn't supposed to be what she had imagined all those years ago.
While Susan's story isn't all that different, in my opinion, than most - the way she tells it with watercolor illustrating it, makes it enjoyable to read and special.

Martha's Vineyard, Isle of Dreams (#2) by Susan Branch
386 pages

Susan Branch continues the story of her 30's in this title. With one foot in California and one foot in New England, Branch is trying to figure out what she wants to be when she grows up. She's painting for a friend of Cliff's on commission, baking up savory and sweets for a store on Main Street, and is wondering what she'll look like as a bag lady. While trying to figure all this out she makes some improvements and renovations to her island cottage and begins to figure out what life with four seasons is like. Her friend, Jane, had mentioned she should write/paint a recipe book years ago and slowly Susan begins. After some starts and stops Susan finally decides to go for it and begins looking for a publisher. And that's how we have heard of Susan Branch and her enchanting watercolors, recipes, and home tips. A publishing company, the same one who published Louisa May Alcott!!, picked up Susan's first manuscript. Healing from Cliff's betrayal Susan finds her way forward.

A Fine Romance: Falling in Love with the English Countryside (#3) by Susan Branch
260 pages

To celebrate 25 years of togetherness Susan Branch and her love, Joe, board Queen Mary II and embark on a 2 month journey of England. Still living on Martha's Vineyard Susan has come a long way from her 30's and the mid-1980's in which she was nursing heartache and trying to figure out what she wanted to be when she grew up. Outside of the first few pages of the book, telling briefly the love story between Susan and Joe, this is a travel journal of their two months in England. I liked it, made me want to hop on a ship or a plane myself and go driving through English countryside as they did. Long in love with Beatrix Potter, Susan and Joe make visiting her home a priority. They also visit several other well-known places and Susan's enthusiasm for each place, indeed for England itself, is rather contagious. *Full disclosure: I am a little more in tune to all things British right now as I'm going through the Harry Potter series again and am currently rather addicted to British Crime Drama shows.* Set as the same format, words surrounded by Branch watercolors, the book is easy and quick to read - not to mention enjoyable.

The Best Yes: Making Wise Decisions in the Midst of Endless Demands by Lysa TerKeurst
272 pages

A while back a friend mentioned she needed/wanted to read A Best Yes. I said, let's do it! Reminders and refreshers are never a bad idea, especially the older I get and the more my brain feels stuffed so full things are getting crowded out. The Best Yes addresses not just the people-pleasing mentality the Church has fostered in Christians but the deeper implications of it for each individual. TerKeurst carefully unwinds the tight ball of yarn that makes up the disease of saying yes to everything to show the frayed places and the tangles always saying yes creates. Nobody is going to want to wear a sweater with thin places, broken threads, etc.  And as TerKeurst is careful to point out - this doesn't mean you always say no either. Neither extreme of yes or no is wise, beneficial, right, or good. There's a balance and it's called the best yes. Drawing from both practical and spiritual guidelines Lysa helps the reader see how to make choices that are the best yes. And when we need to say no? She calls it the small no and gives a way for that too, which I appreciate. It's one thing to say, "Just say no" but to give ways and examples of how to go about saying no without damaging relationships, feeling insecure or guilty, etc is a whole other thing and TerKeurst leads the way. In fact her chapter on the small no reminded me I have not yet gotten back to someone who asked me to join something. The answer is a no and the chapter reminded me of how to do it so nobody feels bad. Chapter 18 was unexpectedly a *perfect* chapter for me to read at this time. Titled "When my best yes doesn't yield what I expect" TerKeurst's example for the chapter was based on a older teenage child and a decision they had made that in turn made Lysa feel like a mothering fail. That is exactly the place I am in myself these days with both of my teens. Reading her words, hearing someone affirm how I was feeling about the fail or the perceived fail I should say, was something I needed. (Although I'm still looking for someone willing to take over parenting these two lovelies of mine...anyone? anyone?) It seems like all the best yes choices I have made over the years with my two are failing but TerKeurst reminds me, and other readers, to keep going. Keep making the best yes choices. Don't give up. I would say the overall message/reminder I gleaned from reading the book was that practicing small no's and best yes' leaves sacred space for God and others and it is that sacred space that we each need in our lives.

Chosen?: Reading the Bible Amid the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict by Walter Brueggemann
Kindle Edition - 114 pages

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

So really this is more a booklet than a book. In the Kindle edition the 114 pages are really about 70 pages content and the rest is compiled of tips and such for having a healthy discussion about the content of the book. So all this to say I read the book in about 2 minutes. *wink*
Brueggemann concisely speaks about the promises from God to Israel regarding land and being "chosen." And he holds a conversation about what being chosen entails - the responsibilities it carries - and how Israel fails to uphold those. "It would seem that in every claim of chosenness - from Israel, the United States, the church - the chosen must choose beyond their chosenness. This is difficult, for it is against the grain of entitlement and assurance. But unless difficult choices are made, the present violence can only hold out a future of perpetual violence." He logically points out that leaning upon a Biblical promise won't hold water with the world and to try to make claims based on it alone isn't going to get Israel very far. His straightforward and easy to comprehend explanations can't really be argued with at all. He concludes, based on reading the scriptures and dissecting God's interactions with the Israelites that, "the land is given to Israel unconditionally, but it is held by Israel conditionally." They can't keep the land, the promise of God, if they don't adhere to standards of behavior set forth in the Torah. This is called the Deuteronomic If. Brueggemann was able, in this booklet, to explain to me in ways I could understand the conflict surrounding being a chosen of God and why it can be filled with strife. Included in the booklet is a study guide meant to help lead group discussion about this tension filled topic - I would love to have discussions with people about this, he brings up such good points.

The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead
306 pages

I haven't always been impressed or won over by Oprah Book Club picks or books that have a lot of chatter surrounding them. But this title, in my opinion, deserves the pick - the chatter. Whitehead has crafted a read that is relevant for our times now even though it discusses slavery and the Underground Railroad from the 1800's. The fact that many of Whitehead's conversation points could apply to today's atmosphere, especially in America, is sobering. The fact that progress has been made in "race relations" but maybe not as much as we have deluded ourselves to think is frustrating and embarrassing. And in a slight shift from most authors who choose to tackle this part of American history, Whitehead also addresses the injustices and damage the white man has heaped upon the Native American as well.
Cora is the book's main character and the reader follows her journey from life on a plantation as someone's perceived property to escaping through the Underground Railroad to the dream and hope of a life lived in freedom. Whitehead's Underground Railroad is literal in this story. A network of tracks and trains that run deep under the surface of the nation. I loved the idea of a literal railway system being forged deep under the soil of America. As it is the real Underground Railroad and how it operated was amazing - I am fascinated by it. But back to Cora. Cora was born on Randall Plantation and believes she will die there. Why would she entertain any thoughts different than those? But one day another slave, Caesar, plants the idea of escaping into her head. First she dismisses it but then as events at the plantation escalate she revisits the idea - daring to dream of a different life. But the road to freedom is fraught with peril, most especially for a black person in the deep South in the 1800's. As they travel the Underground Railroad and make stops along the way, Cora and Caesar learn what the cost of freedom can be and that not all slavery is visible - sometimes it is disguised as freedom. Does the Railroad ever come to stop? Is there an end? And if so, is true freedom found there? Cora perseveres in hopes to discover the treasure of freedom she dreams of.
Whenever I think about the Underground Railroad I am humbled and awed at the endurance of the human spirit. No matter how viciously and consistently the white man tries to force others into submission, to break the spirit of those they label inferior due to the color of their skin or some such nonsense, people find a way to rebel against injustice and not just survive but thrive. To forge a life worth living. The fortitude that takes prompts a reverential awe within me. Whitehead manages to capture that fortitude in Cora, and in the others she comes across in her journey to freedom. One of the characters, Royal, shares his opinion on justice with Cora, "....for justice may be slow and invisible, but it always renders its true verdict in the end." Cora didn't believe Royal's opinion about justice and its making me wonder if I believe that or not as well. I've always believed in justice having the final say but so much seems unraveled these days that I can't see justice winning the war. I hope I'm wrong. I hope I'm so wrong that I get made fun of for how wrong I will end up being.

Domestic Secrets by Rosalind Noonan
Kindle Edition - 352 pages

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

What a...disturbing...story.
Rachel and Ariel met as single moms, stuck with each other through marriages that ended with them as widows, and still walk through life as single moms. They are different as night and day but somehow they have always been friends. Ariel is the local vocal coach for any kid in town, especially the ones in the High School Glee Club. Rachel is the local hair salon owner. They both have seniors in High School, among the other kids, and spring is a busy season for them. The Spring Showcase is coming up as is Prom. Ariel has recently ended a relationship that was unhealthy but is seeing someone new. She won't tell Rachel who though and as time goes on Rachel gets more and more concerned because it seems Ariel might not be in a relationship that is acceptable. But who could it be? As time goes on and Rachel watches Ariel at Spring Showcase rehearsals she begins to wonder things that she shouldn't be wondering about her friend. Trying to dismiss these thoughts she is finally forced to face them when a tragic event happens involving both of their seniors. And as always happens, what was attempting to hide in the dark is eventually exposed by the light.
Noonan's story isn't unrealistic. It combines a lot of actual events into one story. It's still disturbing on a few levels. Ariel is disturbing on many levels. I don't know if I liked the book or not. It was a story I couldn't put down though. Once I started it I had to finish it because it kept me wondering and I knew I wouldn't be able to get anything else done or sleep until my wonderings had been answered. For the readability alone it gets praise from me. Noonan hooked the reader from the beginning and didn't let them go until the end.

Hunting Hope: Dig Through the Darkness to Find the Light by Nika Maples
Kindle Edition

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

Psalm 74:16-17 (VOICE)

16 The day and the night are both Yours—
    You fashioned the sun, moon, and all the lights that pierce the darkness.
17 You have arranged the earth, set all its boundaries;
    You are the Architect of the seasons: summer and winter.

"Winter is not a fluke. Winter is every bit as God-ordained, as blessed and necessary, as are the other three seasons." And so Nika Maples begins her book on finding hope - light - in the darkness of a winter season. Maples has quite a story and has been through many winters of life so she understands the loss of hope and the need to find it. Winter is a reality in life. Hope is a hard topic to unpack. It's a kind of a vague concept to try and grasp. It's nothing tangible so you have to be okay with it being something that dwells within. But you have to find it first. Maples had some great nuggets of wisdom in her title about hope. There was nothing that really stood out to me as transforming but that isn't a bad thing necessarily. Us humans have pretty horrible memories so reminders are never a bad idea.

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, I squeezed in book 4 on audio. And listereading it I was reminded why it is perhaps my most favorite book in the whole series!

I also started listereading to Moby Dick (unabridged version) and All The Light You Cannot See but didn't finish them before the month, or in this case, the year was over. Check in next month to see if I manage to finish Moby Dick or not - the jury is still out on that one!


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