Tuesday, October 31, 2017

October 2017 Bookshelf

Absalom's Daughters by Suzanne Feldman
Kindle Edition 272 pages

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

This is Feldman's debut and it is a solid start. It's a story of two girls, sisters actually, who share a father but not a mother or even the same side of town.
Cassie lives with her mother, Lil Ma, and her Grandmother at the far end of Negro Street in Heron-Neck, Mississippi. They run a laundry for the white folk that live in the other parts of town. When Cassie is young she meets a white girl, Judith, that she hears is her sister. But they don't live together and they both have a Mama, although both of them have a Daddy that disappeared. As the girls get older it becomes a bit more obvious that they are in fact sisters with different skin colors, a true sister from another mother kind of situation. When Cassie and Judith are 17 they embark on a trip that they hope will change their lives for the better. Along the road out of Mississippi and through the South they grow up, learn more about themselves, and make tough choices.
I think one thing I really liked about Feldman's writing was her character development and her efforts to remain true to the characters - specifically where they came from. The Mississippi dialect is translated authentically through both girls and the people they interact with all along the way. I also found Cassie's Grandmother's efforts to whitewash her family line fascinating - if not a bit disturbing, although I suppose I can't blame her - and trust me, it pains me greatly to say that. I enjoyed Feldman's debut and will be on the lookout for future titles.

It's Never Too Late to Begin Again: Discovering Creativity and Meaning at Midlife and Beyond by Julia Cameron
Kindle Edition 295 pages

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

Ah! So good. I requested the title because I read the word "midlife" in the subtitle and thought, "Hey, that's me - I'm in my's 40's, that's midlife." Then I started reading it and realized within the first few paragraphs that the book is actually geared toward people in retirement - that kind of midlife. I almost stopped reading but then thought since I am currently unemployed and having a hard time finding a job that perhaps I should just continue to read the book anyway. I'm SO glad I did.
Cameron's book - which I read straight through but is meant to be read in 12 weeks - is a twelve week "course", of sorts, for newly retired people to help them ease into retirement life. But really, as I read it, I think this book is also great for people like me - unemployed and can't find a job so feeling at loose ends - or people in their 40's (midlife so to speak) who are feeling unsettled, discontent, unsure about the career they are in and if perhaps there isn't a change out there waiting for them. Or for people who are looking for a second career but aren't quite sure what.
Cameron proposes a "tool kit" to help people figure out what they want to do in this second life. Morning Pages, Artist Dates, Daily Walks, Memoir Writing, and some easy Tasks. Each week focuses on reigniting a different area, such as: wonder, purpose, humility, motion, adventure, and more. Each week Cameron had valuable insights that as a non-retired person I found inspiring and helpful. In fact, I'm going to reread the book again but this time according the the 12 week course and see what happens as I navigate this unexpected time of life.

Bead One, Pray Too: A Guide to Making and Using Prayer Beads by Kimberly Winston
173 pages

It started in Tallinn, Estonia. I was in the magnificent Russian Orthodox Alexander Nevsky Cathedral and some beads called my name and wooed my soul. That sounds dramatic, and it may be a little bit, but it's true. I kept fingering those beads the rest of the day - heck the rest of my trip. I was enamored with the thought of prayer beads - part of my ever growing interest and desire to enter into a more contemplative life.
This title popped up on a sidebar on GoodReads when I was looking at another title. I immediately requested it from the library. After reading the introduction to the book I immediately put it on my Amazon wishlist to purchase at some later date and then I continued to read the book.
The disclaimer is this is a topic I'm really interested in so my thoughts/review of the book are colored by that. The counter-disclaimer is: if someone isn't interested in this topic it's highly unlikely they would pick up this book unless they were being told to for a job reason. Amiright?
I loved this book. Winston gives a wonderful history of prayer beads and manages to convey the meaningful experience one can have when using them. While she doesn't set out to clear up any misconceptions about the various religions and reasons for using them I feel like her history does just that - clear up misconceptions about them, which made me appreciate her history "lesson" all the more. Winston, after giving a backstory and some examples of beads being used in prayers, then moves on to provide some ideas for prayers to use with them as well as some instruction on how they are traditionally used. I love that in this section she gives *permission* to use them however one would like along with any prayers/poems/hymns/etc one is moved by. In the last section of the book she covers the making of prayer beads and gives tips and resources on beads and other materials one can use to make their own set and then perhaps sets to give away to loved ones.
This was a great spontaneous read that I am so grateful caught my attention. I can't wait to pray on the beads I got in Tallinn AND make a set (or more) for myself and perhaps others in my life who might appreciate them!

I Believe in the Holy Spirit by Michael Green
350 pages

This was a...dense...book. I kept trying out different adjectives and 'dense' was the one that felt the most accurate. Dense doesn't mean it is bad or ill-written, just very...full! This title was definitely geared more toward academia, in my opinion. While the language executed wasn't highbrow or too technical it wasn't for the average person wanting to dig a little deeper into the subject, and person, of the Holy Spirit. It was an okay read but a bit too much, I was actually rather glad to be done with it.

Let's Pretend This Never Happened: A Mostly True Memoir by Jenny Lawson
Audiobook Narrated by Jenny Lawson

Jenny Lawson is hysterical. She also has a mouth on her that would make a sailor blush. That's my warning for those who can't handle extreme amounts of cursing. So don't say nobody warned you. Now moving on.
Jenny Lawson had an unconventional childhood, at least by some people's standards. And whatever is true, mostly true, and not true at all in her recounting of it is all hysterical. Her father is a taxidermist that introduced Jenny and her sister to the world of all animals - big, small, weird, and usually dead after a while. The small town in Texas that she grew up in gave her plenty of material as well. Weaved into all the external material Jenny grew up gathering is her own internal material - an anxiety disorder and later on in her early adult years an autoimmune disease. She married a man who seemed a little opposite of her - in that he had some moments of sanity, hers had never developed. HA!
There's not a lot more to say about Lawson's first memoir - it's a series of stories from her childhood and the first 15 years of her marriage that having the reader/listener wondering "is this true? can it be true? oh my gosh, what if it's true?" I highly recommend listereading the book instead of reading it - Lawson reads her own stories and includes sound effects, singing, and such - it makes the book that much more enjoyable.

The City, Not Long After by Pat Murphy
244 pages

I'm having a hard time starting this review. I was hoping, as I always do with books I haven't read, to not hate the book but I am surprised at how much I liked it. I really liked this story, although I'm not sure I will be able to say why!
A plague has eradicated a large part of the global population. The story we are reading takes place in California, mostly San Francisco. Those who survived the plague aren't sure how they did - or why - but they are working to make some sort of life in this world that has no structure to it any longer - or any oversight I guess one would say. Danny-boy was three when the plague arrived and took his parents, leaving him an orphan. Until he was eight he was cared for by a woman who survived the sickness. Now he's on his own in a city of others who have found themselves on their own as well. So they band together, forming a motley family and community. Down the road near Sacramento a young woman and her mother are eeking out their own survival. The mother had fled San Francisco when the plague took her husband and two boys - she was pregnant with the young woman at the time. Young woman has no name, the mother is leaving that up to the angel. But it has been 16 years and no angel has appeared to give her a name so she is called nothing. A visitor to the young woman and her mother leads to a journey back to San Francisco to issue a warning to the residents of San Francisco. There the young woman and Danny-boy meet and what happens as a result is clearly fate.
I think the thing I appreciated most about this story from Murphy is how she inspired the residents of San Francisco to defend themselves against war. Murphy draws really compelling characters and created a thought-provoking storyline.  As I always do when I read these kind of post-apocalyptic, dystopian kind of stories I'm left wondering how I would react, respond, and live - survive - in a world undone such as these stories contain. I'm no closer to an answer but I continue to wonder.

The Kill Artist (Gabriel Allon #1) by Daniel Silva
489 pages

I've said it before - I'm so fascinated by the whole spy thing. Not fascinated by the killing, I actually am becoming less and less keen on that, but by the whole hiding in plain sight kind part of it.
Gabriel Allon is a world-class art restorer. He's also a former Israeli spy. In this first title featuring Allon (there's so far 17 titles in Silva's series) an incident happens in Paris that only one person is suitable to bring resolution to. But that person, Gabriel Allon, is hiding in Cornwall restoring a painting and forgetting - or trying to - that he was part of the spy life and that he lost his family to the spy life. All it takes, however, is one name to be uttered and Gabriel is sucked back in for one last mission - a mission of vengeance.
This was a quick read - very quick. In fact, I surprised even myself at how fast I read it! Silva created a story and a character in Gabriel Allon that sucked this reader in and kept me reading to the last word and then added the second book in the series to my to-read list. Silva focuses on the terror of fanatical groups on a global scale - the most infamous conflict being between the Arabs and the Jews. This seems like a series my Dad might like, I'll have to recommend it to him.

My Girl by Jack Jordan
Kindle Edition 226 pages

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

C.r.e.e.p.y. The people who come up with these stories and characters...how? why? does it provide any insight into their own personality or just mean they have a really good imagination?
Paige is alone. Her daughter, Chloe, was abducted and killed a decade ago and her husband, Ryan, killed himself 2 months ago - he couldn't take it any longer. Paige relies on alcohol - white wine is her favorite - and pills to get through her days. She isn't living any kind of life and she's barely surviving the existence she is occupying now. Lately Paige has noticed some odd circumstances and she doesn't think the pills or alcohol she's been living on are to blame. She would remember these things happening...wouldn't she? Because of her addictions Paige doesn't have any friends and family is minimal - Ryan's parents help as they can and Paige's father and brother are trying to help as well. When Paige finds a gun in a secret drawer of Ryan's desk she wonders why he had it and starts to look for answers. But her questions lead her to a very unexpected answer, one that carries with it more shock than anything else.
Jack Jordan is a relatively new author and definitely new to me. He writes what has become a favorite genre of mine - psychological thrillers. While this title is only his second book his writing has the style and feel of someone who has been writing - and being published - for years. Solid story development, great characters, and the ability to tell a story in less rather than more words - something I appreciate because I am unable to do it myself. I also really liked that when this story concluded nobody had all the answers to all the questions in the book - sometimes we don't need all the answers. This is an author I'm keeping on my bookshelf.

Results May Vary by Bethany Chase
Kindle Edition 336 pages

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

Adam and Caroline Hammond have been together for half their lifetime - or pretty close. 17 years and going strong. Well, Caroline thought they were going strong until she discovers Adam has cheated on her...with a man. All of a sudden she's thrown into a tailspin that has her questioning everything she thought she knew about Adam, herself, and their life together. As she tries to suss out what's truth and what's not Caroline starts to question who she is as well. Who is she without Adam by her side? Who is she without the last name Hammond? Who is she at night, home alone, and no prospect of Adam breezing through the door at some point? It's a story of a couple, in their early thirties, finally coming of age.
Results May Vary is Bethany Chase's second title. I really liked this story of betrayal, truth, commitment, and taking chances. I enjoyed Caroline's journey and navigation through her shock, dismay, and realizations. All of those things ultimately contribute to the healing and growth that is necessary for all of us. This was a quick, easy, and enjoyable read and I'm keeping my eye on Bethany Chase from now on.

A Guide for Listening and Inner-Healing Prayer: Meeting God in the Broken Places by Rusty Rustenbach
224 pages

I confess. I started this book and groaned - out loud. It was feeling very "christianese" to me and I can barely stomach that kind of believing any longer. But my groans were soon abated with a pleasant surprise. I mined the gold out of the "christianese" and ended up appreciating the main goal of the book. In fact, it has given me a lot to think on and discuss with my counselor. The part that stood out to me the most was that of false vows and strategies. I recognize that those are the two issues in which I probably operate out of the most when it comes to woundings of my heart. I'm taking steps toward being able to finally kick that crap to the curb. I also really appreciated Rustenbach's reminder of Ecclesiastes 3 - there's a time for everything, including healing.

Falling by Jane Green
Kindle Edition 384 pages

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

I thought this would be the typical romance. I was wrong and I'm so glad I was. I really enjoyed this story by Jane Green. I've read one other title authored by her and I like her a lot. She is quickly becoming one of those authors in which I want to read everything they have ever written.
In this story Emma, an English woman living in America, has given up her high-powered and high stress career for a slower pace. She's moved from New York City and the world of finance to Westport, Connecticut and a suburb kind of life. She's going to indulge her interest and passion for interior design and try to make a living doing something she loves rather than something she doesn't. She's got one friend in town and is looking forward to what this chapter of life is going to bring her. Her landlord, Dominic, and his son - Jesse, live next door and Emma quickly finds herself spending time with them, much to her own surprise. As the title says, this is a love story - but whose and how will it unfold?
What I really liked about Green's love story is the lack of predictability that is in most - boy and girl meet, boy and girl get together, ex of one and/or some jealous/manipulative person enters into story, misunderstanding and conflict occur, boy and girl go separate ways because of assumptions and zero communication, somehow misunderstanding and conflict are cleared up, boy and girl get back together and live happily ever after. Green doesn't participate in this format for her love story and it's so refreshing. Instead, she has boy and girl communicate and work through assumptions and misunderstandings - in other words, she has developed her adult characters to be healthy and functional adults. What a concept! Jane Green is an author carving out her own place on my bookshelves.

A New Song (Mitford Years #5) by Jan Karon
Audiobook narrated by John McDonough

In this title Father Tim and Cynthia take an interim parish in Whitecap, North Carolina - an island community 600 miles from their Mitford home. Battling homesickness, Father Tim and Cynthia "bloom where they are planted" and begin to immerse themselves in the lives and ways of the people of Whitecap. St. John's of the Grove is a hurting church community - the married choir director ran off with the married organist, there is petty squabbling going on amongst members, and they are without a permanent priest. Father Tim comes in with the ability to have unbiased perspective and provide some healing and help. Outside of the church he befriends several island residents - a group of men who can be his stand in breakfast buddies he's missing from Mitford.
I love this title (okay I love them all) in part because of how Father Tim and Cynthia embrace - despite their homesickness - the people and life of Whitecap, a community so very different than their mountain home community. I love the lessons in grace that Jan Karon provides through Father Tim and Cynthia - they provide much food for thought for me.
A couple of other people in my library system have been listening to the series on audio as well so there's a wait list for book 6. I'm filling in the wait times with other audiobooks but I am eager for book 6.

The Red Tent 
Well, I'm finally getting around to this read by listereading it. It's accompanying me while I do my driving.

The Harvard Classics in 365 Days
I haven't made much - if any progress - on this 365 book (which is clearly going to take me waaaaaaaaay more than 365 days to read) during the month. This also means I'm not doing so great on my daily walking. BUT I am determined to start up again - both with the book and the walking. They do go hand in hand, I figure reading a day of the book is a great thing to do while getting a daily treadmill walk in.

Hallelujah Anyway: Rediscovering Mercy
In all honesty I could read this title in a short afternoon. BUT I'm choosing to do a chapter a week as I have joined a women's book discussion group at the church I've started attending and this is the book we are discussing. I love Anne Lamott's non-fiction and so far this title doesn't disappoint.

Option B: Facing Adversity, Building Resilience, and Finding Joy
I have been hearing great things about this book and the title, including the subtitle, caught my eye - especially in this season of my life. 

Saturday, September 30, 2017

September 2017 Bookshelf

Do You Hear What You Are Thinking? by Jerry A. Schmidt
143 pages

I'm having a hard time giving some adequate thoughts about this title. Not because it was bad but because it was SO good. And because one read isn't enough. I'm labeling my first read of it a warm-up read to the real read which might lead to a cool down read of it. Seriously! It is a small, short little book that is packed full of really wise counsel.
Do you hear what you are thinking? Think about that question again. What you think translates into belief and action. So what we think needs to be reexamined, most especially if what we believe about ourselves, the world, faith, etc and how we act because of those beliefs are unhealthy.
I don't think in positive and healthy ways about myself and that manifests itself in all sorts of dysfunction junction ways. I am okay admitting this, I am not okay with living like it *forever* ~ especially when I am aware of it and know it can be different. My counselor mentioned this book somewhat offhandedly so I searched it out - literally had to search it out as it is out of print and hard to find - and am glad to have found it. I'll also be glad to share it, my husband is the next person I'm handing it to for reading and gleaning! *wink*

His Majesty's Dragon (Temeraire #1) by Naomi Novik
353 pages

I confess I would have never given this book a second look, well a first look actually, had it not been brought to my attention. It's not a genre I am inclined toward. But a book club that I am mostly a part of chose it and I'm game to read things I normally wouldn't so I picked up Novik's book 1 - of what I found out was a total of 9 in the series - and dove in. Because this is not my genre I feel my review will be colored a bit by that so keep that in mind.
Captain Will Laurence serves for His Majesty's Navy right up until the moment when he captures a dragon egg from a French ship and it hatches in his presence and he becomes the dragon's handler. Laurence and the dragon are now in the aerial corps for His Majesty. The dragon, named Temeraire by Laurence, turns out to be quite a catch for the English military as he is a rare breed. This title is the story of Laurence and Temeraire becoming a team and learning how to be aviators and not sailors for the King.
While Temeraire is an interesting character I can't imagine he is interesting enough to pull off 9 full length novels and a couple of novellas in between. There's only so much development you can do with a dragon, only so many stories you can create with a man and his dragon until they begin to be variations of the same battles and stories. I found the story hard to keep engaged with, slightly bored with the repetitive details of dragon care, and not as compelled by Captain Laurence or even Temeraire as I imagine people who like the genre probably are. I'm not sure I like Novik's writing either, it gave me the feeling of flatline. If it had been more engaging I would probably be inclined to read on in the series. As it is I have no desire or need to read books 2-9.

Liar Liar (Helen Grace #4) by M.J. Arlidge
Kindle Edition 440 pages

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

I LOVE M.J. Arlidge and DI Helen Grace. Yes, I realize this is a genre I love anyway but Arlidge does it SO well!
In this title DI Helen Grace and her team are in a frantic search to find an arsonist who can also add murder to his/er resume. 9 fires in three nights, 4 people dead, several wounded. Any leads Grace and her team dig up are ending in dead ends and time is not on their side as it appears the arsonist is getting anxious. The investigation is not made easier by the dogged presence of media and the anger Grace endures from those who don't like her theories about the possible suspects. Add to the stress of the investigation a new Captain that the DI has to report to and get to know plus personal life changes and Helen is once again the most popular unpopular copper in Southhampton.
Fire freaks me out. I think it might be the thing that I would hate to be in the most. Arlidge must have observed, interviewed, etc firefighters to get a handle on how fire behaves because the descriptions of it make me feel like I'm *in* it. In this title Arlidge backed off of Grace's personal life a bit but still moved that storyline forward. I'm so curious to see where Arlidge takes Helen Grace professionally and personally.

Eat This Book: A Conversation in the Art of Spiritual Reading by Eugene H. Peterson
186 pages

Whoa. Just whoa. I honestly don't know what to say about this short but impactful book from Peterson. He says so many insightful things, so many soul examining things. His discourse on the replacement trinity was eye opening and challenging to American christianity, as it should be. American believers need to allow themselves to be challenged in how they interact with Christ and his word. Peterson provides the challenge in a grace covered conversation. I have the study guide for this book and will do it separately at some point. It will provide the much needed, in my opinion, reminder of how to read the word of God and interact with the One who authored my life.

We Could Be Beautiful by Swan Huntley
Kindle Edition 352 pages

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

This story could have been beautiful.
That might be harsh but I'm not sure how else to start this review. The characters and plot of this title follow this trend I've noticed the past few years about obscenely wealthy residents of, usually, New York City and their struggles of being the 1%. It makes me groan. This title has pushed me over the edge, I'm not reading any more books that have descriptions about wealthy people struggling to make sense of their lives.
In this title Catherine is a wealthy 43 year old that is so delusional in her goodness that I felt slightly violent toward her. She's so annoying. So privileged in all the worst ways. So whiny. I might have liked her more if Huntley had spent only one or two chapters on the character of Catherine that she spent the whole of the book except for the last chapter. I am much more interested in the Catherine of the last chapter than the one that spent the majority of the book whimpering about her life.
Ugh. There's more I could say about the book but then I would sound whiny and annoying so I'll just say I don't recommend it. Not unless you like reading about wealthy people who think they have awful lives and whine about it.

Cruciformity: Paul's Narrative Spirituality of the Cross by Michael J. Gorman
441 pages

A couple of things led to my DNF (did not finish) status on this title. I had to get it through inner-library loan and there are no renewals on it and I started it too late to get through it by the due date. The second reason was it was SO meaty and academic that I couldn't get my head into it. I'm just not in that heady of a space right now. I got to page 45 before I decided it was time to give it up and since it was also sitting at the door of its due date the choice was kind of made for me. But I did not abandon it because it was poorly written or dull. Even though it is meaty and heady it is not dry in its delivery. Gorman keeps it engaging, at least in this reader's opinion! This is a title I picked up on my continuing quest to read the books on my friend's class lists for her classes. She had to finish the book, I did not. However, I may pick it up again at some point in my life - although considering the length of my to-read list that is probably not actually going to happen.

The Spirituality of the Gospels by Stephen C. Barton
161 pages

This title landed on my bookshelf in my continued reading of my friend's class reading lists. It's a short but heady book outlining the four gospels - Matthew, Mark, Luke (and Acts), and John and the contributions they each make to the spirituality of Jesus and by extension to us. Barton unpacks the specific focuses of each gospel and how they differ from each other - and yet how they support one another. Out of the four gospels Matthew has always been the one I lean into the most. I've always attributed that to an in-depth teaching I sat through years ago in which the person who taught the book brought it to life and made it sing out to me. And while I think that is definitely true, I also would contend - perhaps because of reading this book by Barton - that I also lean into Matthew's gospel the most because of the way I see and think about things. This was an interesting read, I never would have come across it were it not for my friend's class. It's rather academic so not for everyone but an interesting read for me.

Living Jesus: Learning the Heart of the Gospel by Luke Timothy Johnson
224 pages

A couple of things led to my DNF (did not finish) status on this title. I had to get it through inner-library loan and there are no renewals on it and I started it too late to get through it by the due date. The second reason was I kept nodding off when trying to read it - even after a good night's sleep! This tells me that it wasn't engaging enough for me to get through it. I got through all of the preface and chapter 1 and upon starting chapter 2 felt reluctant to try and push through and make it happen before the due date. Johnson's writing is not for me - I found it to be dry and tedious. The topic I was excited about but Johnson's delivery of it left me disappointed. Bummer.

 Out to Canaan (Mitford Years #4) by Jan Karon                                                                  Audio Book Narrated by John McDonough                                                                       Part of the joy of this series is the charm of the characters. And part of their charm is their simple and down to earth ways. I found out that Hallmark Channel did a movie, "At Home in Mitford" so of course I watched it. I didn't have high hopes and it's a good thing. My dad has never read the books so he loved the movie. If you haven't read the books it was a cute movie in its own way but it had nothing, literally NOTHING, to do with the book series except for the names! I realized what was missing from the movie that the series has is the charm Jan Karon created with such salt of the earth people and simple ways of living life. I suppose, in 2017, trying to translate that visually wouldn't fly with the majority of the population which is really too bad. Perhaps those of us living in 2017 should reexamine the simpler ways of life. 

Readings I enjoyed the past month in this year long read (which is actually going to take me longer than a year since I have fallen a bit behind. Whatever! *grin*): Aesop's Fables. Yes, that's all that I really enjoyed from the selections I read the past month. One particular reading I ended up abandoning due to it's length (WAY more than the 15 minutes *promised* and I'm a fast reader!) and it's wordiness. It was such a tedious selection. Anyway, I'm snacking - definitely not feasting - away at this book.  

Thursday, August 31, 2017

August 2017 Bookshelf

August. A traditionally slow and hard month for me to read books, one or more. And since last month I shocked even myself I was thinking this August would be no different. I'm happy to report that I have bested the month of August - at least for this year - and managed a normal monthly reading total! *whew*

Last month I was so stunned by the number of books I had read I didn't mention that I've added a couple of new sections to my monthly blog. You'll find them after the reviews of the books I read for the month. So make sure you check out what I'm rereading and what I'm "in the middle" of as the month wraps up and a new one starts. What have you been reading lately?

The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood
Audio Book narrated by Betty Harris

Atwood was in Berlin in 1984, when the city was still divided by the Berlin Wall, and she found herself wondering what a totalitarian United States would look like. The Handmaid’s Tale was her answer. The one rule she had for herself was that she wouldn't include in the story anything that had not really happened at some point in history. So is the story a true story? No but it has true events. In Atwood's own words, "There’s a precedent in real life for everything in the book,” she says. “I decided not to put anything in that somebody somewhere hadn’t already done. But you write these books so they won’t come true."
The book is unnerving for sure. I confess I picked it up mostly because of Hulu's adaptation of it, which Atwood has consulted on and likes. The screen adaption takes liberties that Atwood didn't in the book but she feels they are appropriate ones, ones that make sense given what has happened in the 30 years since she published the title. So I picked up the book because Hulu's publicity of their adaption kept catching my attention.
Gilead is the society that has risen from the ashes of what was once the United States of America. And in the republic of Gilead women have no rights - no reproductive rights, no body rights, no education rights, nothing. They are mere ornaments for the men. They are assigned duties per their ages and abilities. Women who are of age and appear to have the ability to reproduce are given to wealthy couples to bear children for them. They endure rape once a month under the watchful eye of both the wife and husband in a ceremony taken out of context from the Bible. The whole society is structured around grossly inaccurate interpretations of portions of scripture. Women who are not of child-bearing age but capable are given duties of housekeeping. The wives then have nothing to do as women are no longer allowed to read or partake of social things like TV watching - which is only for news now. The powers that be decided that being a wife, mother, housekeeper, etc was too much for one woman and so they have divided the duties up as a "help", expecting all the women to love this idea and appreciate the men for easing their burdens. In reality all it has done it created divisions, resentments, acts of revenge because of jealousies, even physical assault in some cases. The story is told through the voice of Offred, not her real name, a handmaid to a higher up commander and his wife. She did not choose this but it was death or this forced role so she chose to submit to the handmaid role. In her times of reflection - many because she is an outcast and not allowed anything else to occupy her time - she gives us snapshots of her life "before." Before the world turned upside down and women became property of the state. Offred's been in her handmaid role for about 3 years it seems, after a considerable amount of time training for it at a center, once she was apprehended. This commander and his wife are her second couple. She was unable to conceive for the first couple. Any lack of conception is the handmaid's fault, never the fault of the man - it is not even considered that he might have inadequate seed. In order to live out the role she's been forced to, Offred tries very hard to submit to the ways of thinking and speaking. But she has known a different life and it creeps in, keeping her from forgetting who she has been and who she has lost.
Margaret Atwood claims her book wasn't meant to be prophetic and she had no visions of the future but wow. This book is unnerving because of its relevancy today. I'm a former republican and this book is a picture of where the party is headed if they keep on the road they are on especially with Prez 45 "leading" this nation. It's frightening. It's absolutely terrifying. There are certain statements and observations from Offred that don't sound like they were penned in 1984 but in fact were penned in the past year. It's unsettling. So regardless of whether Atwood meant for it to be prophetic it certainly has that feel right now. It's a sobering read that calls us to be wide-eyed about the world we are in today, most especially or maybe exclusively in America.

Missing, Presumed (DS Manon #1) by Susie Steiner
Kindle Edition 368 pages

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

I really cannot get enough of this genre.
A young 20-something woman has gone missing in the middle of the night. Front door left open, wineglass shattered, spots of blood. CCTV doesn't give any hints as to where she went or who might have taken her. DS Manon Bradshaw has been called in on the misper case which is quickly discovered to be high-profile due to the woman, Edith, who went missing. Her dad is part of the Royal Surgery. Along with the rest of her assembled team they start tracking down Edith's last days and minutes - where did she go, who did she talk to, etc. But the investigation is slow and yielding no results and frustrating everyone involved. Where did Edith disappear to and is she still alive?
Steiner did a good job at making the reader feel the drudgery of this misper case. I was getting increasingly frustrated at the dead end leads and the fizzled out theories about where Edith might have been taken off to. I liked how Steiner gave Manon character development through her personal life as well as her professional life and how she drew a picture of the work-life balance that can be hard to have in a profession like law enforcement. And I liked the outcome Steiner chose to have for the Edith part of the story, it was a bit different than your usual fare.

Our Souls at Night by Kent Haruf
192 pages

Haruf's last book before his death in 2014. And really it was the perfect way to end his writing legacy. A beautifully sweet story, although sad.
Addie Moore is lonely. She can get through the days just fine but the nights are awful - she can't sleep. Her neighbor, Louis, is without his wife also. Both are widowed. So Addie proposes an idea. "Let's sleep together." But she means literally sleeping, not the figurative use of sleeping. Louis agrees, perhaps first out of curiosity more than anything. And in the quiet of the nights, under the cover of dark, Addie and Louis find the companionship they both had been missing. But just as breaking bread together grows intimacy so does sleeping together. Soon Addie and Louis are spending part of their days together as well, helping Addie's grandson - Jamie - get through a hard summer without his parents. With age comes, hopefully, wisdom created out of life experiences. Addie and Louis share this with Jamie and the summer is spent with the three of them all learning about second chances.
I have loved Haruf's books. He was such a simple but beautiful voice in fiction - specifically American fiction. His titles prove that sometimes the very best story is the one most simply told.

Geography of Grace: Doing Theology From Below by Kris Rocke, Joel Van Dyke
348 pages

This is another book of my dear friend's class reading list. And it was g.o.o.d. Wow. Authors Rocke and Van Dyke team up to propose a new (the the mainstream evangelical church that is) thought about where God's grace is seen and experienced first before anywhere else. I literally have no idea how to review this book adequately. It was such a powerful read, were I highlighting it most of the book would be highlighter yellow. I love how the authors used examples not commonly used or perhaps thought of to model their theory of grace. They used the story of the unnamed concubine in Judges 19, the movies 8 Mile and Little Miss Sunshine, and the story of Hagar. They gave fresh insight into the story of the prodigal son, the Holy Spirit, the name Yahweh, and a couple of other stories contained in the Bible. They made the case for reading God's word from an anthropological point of view rather than a theological point of view. It was such an excellent read. I cannot recommend it enough.

The Just Church: Becoming a Risk-Taking, Justice-Seeking, Disciple-Making Congregation
by Jim Martin
260 pages

While this is a book that was part of my friend's class reading list, it has also been on my to-read list. Jim Martin draws on his many years experience serving first as a pastor on staff with a church pursuing biblical justice and then as a staff member with International Justice Mission (IJM). Using his own personal experiences to share what becoming aware of biblical justice is and what to do with the realizations, Martin helps guide readers through the steps toward action once awareness has occurred. Part 1 of the book is for any and all to glean from. Part 2 is as well but Martin structures it more for churches looking to weave pursuit of justice into the fabric of their congregations and worship services. Using word pictures like the playground merry-go-round, looking for trouble, and failure points Jim Martin leads the reader to engage with risk for the sake of God's people. He is a champion of a thoughtful and intentional engagement rather than a needy and rushed hand of assistance. One is sustainable, the other is not. Martin's book is proof that pursuit of justice isn't an optional part of the believer's life but one that must happen consistently.

Queer, There, and Everywhere: 23 People Who Changed the World by Sarah Prager
272 pages

It's a title I never would have known about or seen had my youngest daughter not plucked it off the library shelf as her choice for a book to read. And since she read it I figured I would too. I like to read some of the same books my kids do so we have talking points, so I can get an idea of what they might be interested in or thinking about.
Prager chose 23 people from throughout time and throughout the world to share with readers. The 23 she chose all exhibited ideas, actions, and statements that indicated they weren't 100% their gender assigned at birth. And a lot of these people we've all heard of - some were not a surprise, others may be. Drawing on research already out there about each person Prager chose, she shares with the reader their backstory and what they did to change the world - especially the world they found themselves living in. It is true that all of them can be credited with making some serious headway for a variety of causes including the rights for people who identify within what is now called the LGBTQ community. It was a quick read, an easy read in the sense that it was a fun informative not a dull or dry informative, and in light of today's discussions about gender and sexual orientation and everything in between it is a relevant and timely book.

Never Smile at Strangers (Strangers Series #1) by Jennifer Jaynes
310 pages

Jaynes landed on my to-read list with the third book in this series. So I had to read the first two beforehand. "Had to", like it was such a chore. It was far from a chore. And yes, the books could be read as stand alone's and in any order but when there is an order I like to follow it.
So glad to have discovered a new-to-me author in this genre that I just cannot get enough of.
In this story a nineteen year old girl has vanished from a small Louisiana town. Nothing like this ever happens in this town that consists of about three buildings so everyone is feeling a little unsettled. The tale is told through the voice of the killer and of the missing girl's best friend, Haley. As the story unfolds and we learn more of the killer's background there is a sympathy for the person and what he has been forced to endure and do in the years of his life. When the urge to kill isn't satisfied with his most recent victim and more people start disappearing, it becomes clear to him that it is only a matter of time until he is discovered. Everyone is on high alert especially with no real clues as to where the girls are disappearing to and who among them is part of it.
Jaynes did an excellent job at casting doubt on enough people that I really was guessing until the very end. And even once the killer was exposed I was like "whaaaaa?" I had to stop reading for a moment and think about the foreshadows that might have been given and I missed. I gobbled this story up and the cover was barely closed before I was diving into book 2.

Ugly Young Thing (Strangers Series #2) by Jennifer Jaynes
268 pages

Jaynes picks up the storyline from book 1 by through a different voice. Allie, the sister of the killer in book 1, is all alone in the world. And now the voices of her mother and brother are talking to her. She finds herself in Grand Trespass, Louisiana - the only hometown she's ever known - and living with an older women who has agreed to take care of her until her "forever home" can be found. Psh. "Forever home", as if anyone was going to want Allie with all the baggage she is hauling around thanks to her mother, brother, and her own poor choices. But Miss Bitty is breaking down Allie's defenses and she's beginning to believe that maybe things can be different. But then a murder happens. And then another one, a little closer to Allie. The voices are telling her she cannot escape what her destiny of death seems to be. Can she ever escape the past that was for a future that can be? Or is she forever destined to be part of her family's history of violence?
I read this one as quickly as I read the first. Jaynes writes a story that keeps moving - the pace keeps the reader engaged and the story keeps the reader's attention and interest. As I was closing the cover of this title I was queuing up book 3 on my Kindle so I could start it immediately.

Don't Say a Word (Strangers Series #3) by Jennifer Jaynes
Kindle Edition 258 pages

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

In this title Jaynes continues Allie's story from book 2 but in her new location of East Texas with her adoptive mother, Miss Bitty. Bitty is still taking in foster kids and Allie has a four year old son. It's been 6 years since they left Louisiana behind for good. The newest foster kids in the house are twin sisters who were found in their closet hiding from their dead parents in the other room. One twin, Carrie, isn't talking and the other, Zoe, only speaks when spoken to. Normally Allie helps Bitty out with the practical parts of caring for foster kids but she stays away from the emotional parts. Yet something about these girls is making Allie reconsider her usual modus operandi. Sammy, Allie's son, warms to the twins and despite their parents killer being on the loose everyone begins to settle into a routine of sorts and begin trudging the long road of healing from such a trauma. Yet as time goes on the twins start behaving differently and a rift is growing between the two of them. Is it the stress of seeing their parents dead or something more? Allie, Bitty, and others try to help the girls come to terms with and cope with the loss of their parents. The problem is there is still someone out there who is hoping they don't say a word.
The third book in this series by Jaynes was just as good of a read as the first two books in the series. It can be read stand alone but I highly recommend reading books 1 & 2 first to get some background on Allie especially. I'm starting to catch on to Jaynes extremely subtle foreshadows and this time around I caught on to who the killer probably was sooner than I did in the previous two titles. But I'm not letting myself get cocky, who knows what book 4 brings and if I'll be able to catch her excellent foreshadowing.Oh, yes there is a book 4 and yes I began it the moment I read the last word of this title. I am loving this author and series!

The Stranger Inside (Strangers Series #4) by Jennifer Jaynes
Kindle Edition 274 pages

In this fourth title of Jaynes Strangers Series she introduces a new set of characters. The ones from books 1-3 are free to live their own, hopefully violence-free, lives. This book introduces us to mystery author Diane Christie and her children, Alexa and Josh.
A few years ago Diane and her children lost their husband and father to suicide. Alexa is attending college in New Cambridge so Diane moved herself and Josh to nearby Fog Harbor. Diane is a popular mystery author and she also volunteers at a suicide crisis hotline, Josh goes to school, and Alexa is...busy. Busy battling a deep depression. When young college aged students who happen to be girls and Alexa's age start ending up dead in small New Cambridge, Diane gets a feeling in the pit of her stomach. Something is very wrong. Could it be that the killer seems to be calling her on purpose to tell her about the murders before anyone else knows? Or could it be the new man in her life? Or perhaps it's something or someone she doesn't recognize yet. All Diane knows is the pit in her stomach is growing bigger and everything seems a bit murky. She's afraid Alexa is next on the killer's list and she'll do whatever it takes to keep Alexa and Josh safe.
Another fantastic thriller from Jaynes. She took me on some twists and turns I didn't anticipate and I loved every moment of the ride. I'm ready for her next book except it isn't out yet! Waaaaah!

Faith and Violence: Christian Teaching and Christian Practice by Thomas Merton
296 pages

Merton authored this book in 1968 but, unfortunately, it is as relevant in 2017 as it was then. I say unfortunately because we haven't made much progress in the in-between years. Merton is an author on my to-read list. As the saying goes, "So many books, so little time." But I'm finally getting to him thanks to my friend's schooling!
I truly could not, can not, get over how applicable this book from Merton is today, in the year 2017. It's...disheartening. This is one of those titles where, if I were highlighting with yellow, the entire book would be yellow with only small sections of white - or unhighlighted - material/text. I searched for a portion that could serve as a summation quote of the title but there were simply too many to choose from. Drawing from the times he was living in and through in 1967 and 1968, Merton has at-the-ready examples from the Civil Rights Movement, the Detroit riots, the Vietnam war, and the nuclear threats of the - 1968 - day. He also draws from World War II which the world was only 22-23 years removed from at the time.
Merton makes compelling, biblical, arguments for non-violence as resistance to evil. Martin Luther King Jr, of course, serves as the most recent historical example of someone who was successful in leading a movement of change through non-violence. When we lost him we lost so very much. Merton, then although it is true today - perhaps more so, exposes the false beliefs of nationalism being equal to faith in Christ. The two are not the same and there is lengthy discussion about the differences and what being a nationalist actually looks like versus being a disciple of Christ. In part four of Merton's book he veers away from, in my opinion, the topic of the title and has several essays about faith in Christ in its various forms and manifestations.
Clearly this is a book for anyone who is a pacifist. But I would challenge all of my "gun-crazed, I bleed red-white-and-blue, Jesus is a Republican and an American" friends to read this book and allow themselves to be challenged by what Merton has to appropriately and rightly, and biblically, share.

The Lovely Bones by Alice Sebold
328 pages

Judging from reviews of all the titles Sebold has penned, The Lovely Bones seems to be the favored among titles.
Our story is told to us by Susie, a recently murdered 14 year old. Susie is observing from her heaven the family, friends, and community left behind. One of those community members is the man who killed her but nobody either believes it or can prove it. So she watches the slow disintegration of the investigation into her death and of her family. She does what she can to "will" people to take a closer look at her killer but eventually gives up as the police and her family give up. As the years fly by Susie watches everyone but her grow up, find their first loves, graduate from first High School and then college, start careers, start families, move on from even the memory of her. And just as everyone has given up and settled into their lives sans Susie a small piece of new evidence surfaces. Can Susie, and her killer, finally be found after all these years? Can what her family and friends have lost after all these years finally be found as well? The answers to those questions are up to Susie.
A really good story told in a very unique way. I really liked what Sebold did with Susie's voice and with the storyline. She stayed away from predictable plot lines and created interesting characters. While I enjoyed this book very much, I think it is probably the only Sebold I am ever going to pick up and read. The other title reviews aren't overwhelming in their enthusiasm for the book so I think I'll just move on to other reads. But I did really like this one.

Saving Abby by Steena Holmes
Kindle Edition 274 pages

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

Steena Holmes is one of those authors that I keep reading the first books of her different series but I never get around to book 2 or beyond! This title is a book 1, I'm determined to read book 2...at some point.
Claire and Josh Turner are a dynamic duo team - he writes and she illustrates a popular children's book series. They've been trying for years to have a child of their own but with no success. During a recent European trip they decided to let go of the dream of their own child and move forward. After being home for a few weeks Claire has not bounced back from her jet lag. Extreme exhaustion and piercing headaches keep her lethargic. When she and Josh find out that she is pregnant they are overjoyed and shocked at this turn of events. But when another event threatens to overshadow their good news, Claire and Josh have a choice to make - one that isn't easy and may cost them their dreams of being parents.
Holmes writes stories that grab the heart and don't let go. Her characters are relatable and her storylines are the stuff of real life - nothing implausible. I enjoyed this title of Holmes and it renewed my interest to read her other titles - finishing off those series I haven't yet.

A Light in the Window (Mitford Years #2) by Jan Karon                                        Audio Book Narrated by John McDonough 

Ah, Mitford. Ah, Father Tim. Thank you Jan Karon for creating such a wonderful village, such wonderful characters, such a wonderful story to be comforted by and inspired by. It is balm to my troubled spirit. Listereading it this time around proves to me that I will never tire of Father Tim and the residents of Mitford. On to book 3. 

These High, Green Hills (Mitford Years #3) by Jan Karon
Audio Book Narrated by John McDonough

One of Father Tim's statements is, "Is there no balm in Gilead?" My answer? Yes, there is. And the balm is the residents of Mitford, North Carolina. This series reminds me of my foundation of faith in God. On to book 4.

Written/Published in 1983 this title is out of print and hard to find. But some bookstore/seller in the United States had a well worn and read copy on hand for sale. My counselor had mentioned it in passing and I hunted it down. It's got notes from the previous owner, including her name and phone number, which is kind of fascinating to read after the actual text of the book. It's not a long book but it's chock full of stuff to chew on, thus the reason why Do You Hear What You Are Thinking? is still in progress on my bookshelf. 

Stepping outside of my genre preferences I'm reading a book about dragons - not fanciful but very real and used in wars. Temeraire and his handler, Captain Laurence, are in service to their country and king in His Majesty's Dragon.

And lastly...
Normally I wouldn't give a book in progress an introduction but since this book is hanging around for a year I thought I would intro this one.

The Harvard Classics in a Year: A Liberal Education in 365 Days by Charles Eliot, Amanda Kennedy (Editor)

My dear friend, Jenni Harding, mentioned this book to me. We share a love of reading so she knew this would be of interest to me. I've been trying to read more of the classics - like one a year, ha! It's been tough. This book is going to help. It's also going to sit on my bookshelf in progress for the next year. As indicated by the title it's a book that breaks down the classics into 365 readings. Bite-sized pieces that give me a taste for the classics and most likely will lead me to want to read a few of them in their entireties. 
A brief word about the word"liberal" in the title. Many people in my life hear that word and a wall goes up. I know this because I was one of them at a point in time. Which I admit but have corrected. There are many definitions to the word liberal, grab a dictionary and check them out. The one that applies to this title is defined by the words liberal arts. Please click here for a definition.
Here's an introduction in Charles Eliot's own words about the volumes of books that led Amanda Kennedy to compile it into a daily reading: 
"All the main divisions of literature are represented. Chronologically considered, the series begins with portions of the sacred books of the oldest religions, proceeds with specimens of the literature of Greece and Rome, then makes selections from the literature of the Middle Ages in the Orient, Italy, France, Scandinavia, Ireland, England, Germany and the Latin Church, includes a considerable representation of the literature of the Renaissance in Italy, France, Germany, England, Scotland and Spain, and arriving at modern times comprehends selections derived from Italy, three centuries of France, two centuries of Germany, three centuries of England and something more than a century of the United States."
Once Charles Eliot, a one time President of Harvard University, was asked to compile the classics of literature that would give an adequate overview to any person and could fit on a five foot shelf he got to work. "Dr. Eliot's Five-Foot Shelf of Books free you from the limitations of your age, of your country, of your personal experiences; they give you access to all ages, to all countries, to all experience. They take you out of the rut of life in the town you live in and make you a citizen of the world. They offer you the companionship of the most interesting and influential men and women who have ever lived; they make it possible for you to travel without leaving home, and to have vacations without taking time off from your work. They offer you - if you will only accept their gifts - friends, travel, the knowledge of life; they offer you education, the means of making your life what you want it to be. Emerson said: 'There are 850,000 volumes in the Imperial Library at Paris. If a man were to read industriously from dawn to dark for sixty years, he would die in the first alcove. Would that some charitable soul, after losing a great deal of time among the false books and alighting upon a few true ones, which made him happy and wise, would name those which have been bridges or ships to carry him safely over dark morasses and barren oceans, into the heart of sacred cities, into palaces and temples.' Emerson's wish, which is the great need and wish of thousands of earnest, ambitious people, has been fulfilled. The fulfillment is Dr. Eliot's Five-Foot Shelf of Books." (Kennedy)
"So vast is the range of The Harvard Classics, that they touch every phase of human interest. They tell of the great discoveries and inventions of the ages, the epoch-making progress of our world in science and medicine, and they relate the history and development of our laws, our educational systems, and our humanitarian reforms. They present the supreme works of 302 of the world's immortal, creative minds; essays, biography, fiction, history, philosophy, the supreme writings which express man's ambitions, hope and development throughout the centuries." (Kennedy)
"President Charles Eliot wrote in his introduction to the Harvard Classics, 'In my opinion, a five-foot shelf would hold books enough to give a liberal education to any one who would read them with devotion, even if he could spare but fifteen minutes a day for reading.'" (Kennedy)
So fifteen-twenty minutes a day it is for the next 365. Here's to the classics.