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 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. 

Monday, July 31, 2017

July 2017 Bookshelf

Places left hand on Bible, raises right hand, "I solemnly swear that I have not exaggerated nor lied about the following information. I also solemnly swear I have no idea how I CRUSHED reading in this month of July 2017 but I did. 28 books people. TWENTY-EIGHT!"

The God of Intimacy and Action: Reconnecting Ancient Spiritual Practices, Evangelism, and Justice by Tony Campolo, Mary Albert Darling
229 pages

A dear friend is getting her Master's in Spiritual Formation (or something really close to that) and her reading list is extensive. Recently she was sharing with me about all the books she has to read and how she wished there was someone outside of her class she could talk to about them. I just looked at her. *lightbulb*
Campolo and Darling team up to write a book about the life of faith. There are a million (that might not be an exaggeration) books out there about faith and life intersecting so what makes this one different? Campolo and Darling look to the ancient spiritual practices for today's formation of faith. Most evangelical churches have kicked the ancient practices to the curb with noses turned up in the air. Priding themselves in curriculums and catchy sermon series that mirror culture catch phrases etc the evangelical church today has become a shallow shell of its former self. (By the way, Campolo and Darling aren't saying that - I am.) Campolo and Darling propose a revival of mysticism in faith. *GASP* Yeah, it's not what you've been taught it is or think it is. In fact, your guy Wesley followed many mystics back in the day - so did a bunch of other people you like to quote alongside the Bible. Just remember - and breathe while you do - that God is the author of all thought, all ideas, all methods, etc and it is humanity that has altered any of those or twisted any of those to make them what the author did not intend. Cool? Cool.
So this title is Campolo and Darling setting us straight on what mysticism really is and then introducing us to three specific holy habits to practice. Interwoven into all this is their case for a faith that includes evangelism and justice, not one or the other. Drawing examples from several people like St. Francis of Assisi, Teresa of Avila, Thomas Merton, and Henri Nouwen - and so many in between - Campolo and Darling show us how an intimate life with Christ leads us to an urgency about both evangelism and justice. As Darling says in chapter 9, "When we are developing intimacy with Christ through spiritual practices our ideas about ourselves, others, and the world change. We find we are no longer satisfied with the way things are in the world. Promptings from the Holy Spirit begin to lead us to new, more loving, compassionate, and just ways to do what we are already doing, or even to lead us to life-changing directions and decisions involving more intentional personal, interpersonal, and world change."
In this title Campolo and Darling challenge us to intentionally enter into a state of holy discontent in order that we might be compelled to action.

Sister of Mine by Sabra Waldfogel
Kindle Edition 379 pages

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

We all know about the slave owners from the 1800's but we hear very little about a population of slave owners, Jewish people. It seems odd right? Jews who have been oppressed by slavery themselves owning slaves. Yet, there were several Jewish plantation owners - and other business owners - in the 1800's South that owned slaves and like other white owners treated them just the same in regards to whipping, etc.
Massa Mannheim is the largest plantation owner in the county and his daughter Adelaide needs a servant. So he chooses his other daughter, a slave, Rachel to be Adelaide's help. It's his way of protecting Rachel even though Adelaide's mama sees red every time she is around Rachel. The girls grow up together, Adelaide breaking the law and teaching Rachel how to read and write - Rachel caring for Adelaide more as a sister than a servant. As the time draws nearer for Adelaide to seriously consider marriage Rachel has to think seriously about her own life as a slave. She knows she is a slave but is rarely treated as one so it is shocking to realize that she cannot have her own life. She cannot marry who she loves, any children she ever have would be born owned by whoever was her owner, she has no choice. That's hard to take as she watches her sister have choice and exercise her choice - which leads to consequences for Adelaide that in that day were detrimental to her future as anyone's wife. But finally along comes Henry Kaltenbach. Wanting to make more than he is in a dry goods store, Henry decides to become a cotton grower even though he is one of the few Jewish people to be uncomfortable and reluctant to own slaves. He decides if he has to own them then so be it but he doesn't have to treat them as anything but his equal - that's his business. The entrance of Henry into the lives of the Mannheim sisters, Adelaide and Rachel, will change everything for all of them and Emancipation becomes more and more of a reality for the black people of the South.
I really enjoyed this story. Waldfogel took some actual events, such as Jewish people being slave owners in the South, and crafted a story out of it - one that didn't happen but possibly could have. She described the conundrum of a Jewish person owning slaves, of love that doesn't care about skin color or even religious preference, and of a bond between sisters that is hard to ignore. It was a really engaging story - walking that fine line between too much and not enough detail. It was just right. Her characters were easy to get to know and the storylines were believable. I personally have never thought about the slave owners of the South being anything but Protestant so to discover some were actually Jewish was new information for me - distressing actually but informative. Just another indicator that humanity struggles to live up to their potential.

God's Givers: Seven Old Testament Stories of Fearless Giving by Will Stevens
Kindle Edition

I never would have known about this book if a friend hadn't told me about a job opportunity available at WaterStone, the employer of the author of this title. Will Stevens is the Chief Generosity Officer for WaterStone - an organization dedicated to helping people turn their assets into relief for thousands of organizations. First off, can I just say how much I love the title Stevens holds? Chief Generosity Officer. Coolest title ever! Coolest job maybe ever, to help people be generous. Anyway, I am close to digressing, back to the book.
Stevens draws from the Old Testament some stories about giving that aren't always highlighted for that purpose. I liked that he didn't use the same stories that have been used before, I also liked that he leaned into the Old Testament for his examples. Just as I believe the Old Testament still has relevance and a place in our faith so does Stevens. It's a short and easy read with reflection questions at the end of each chapter. For people who haven't considered the act of giving, ideas from this book might be particularly challenging. For others who give, I think the ideas are reminders of the manner in which we should be giving. Reminders such as heart attitude/motive, quality, and even giving that isn't financial. I did appreciate that as well, the reminder that giving is more than a financial act - it includes our time and giftings/talents as well. That is the holistic approach to giving and what God honors above all.

The Rejected Writers' Book Club (Southlea Bay #1) by Suzanne Kelman
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.

What a fun read! I love the idea of celebrating rejection. And this celebration of rejection is actually a celebration of friendship. Super fun story and characters, A fun stereotype of a small town and some of its residents.
Janet has been living in Southlea Bay for 5 years. She's happy there but lacks any good friendships. One day she receives a call from one of the more colorful residents of the town issuing her a mysterious invite to a secret meeting. Doris, the hostess, is not one anyone is able to say no to so Janet finds herself knocking on Doris' door the next day. What she walks into ends up being a crazy introduction to a whole new way of looking at life. Whether Janet wants to be involved with Doris and this eclectic group of women doesn't matter, they pull her into their crazy antics and sweep her along until she gets into the spirit of things herself. What she ends up finding, finally, is her tribe.
I don't want to say too much about this story or even its characters because I don't want to run the risk of spoiling the fun of this book. I laughed a lot, I felt all mushy at the friendships captured in the pages, I had fun reading it. I'm using the word "fun" a lot but I can't help myself! I can't wait to read book 2.

When I'm Gone by Emily Bleeker
Kindle Edition 366 pages

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

Bleeker is a new-to-me author and I'll be reading her again. I really like Bleeker's style of writing - it's easy to read and engaging, at least for this reader!
We meet Luke and his kids - Will, May, and Clayton - the day of Natalie's funeral. Natalie is Luke's wife and the Mama to those kids. After a year long battle with cancer (not breast) Natalie succumbed to the disease. The evening of her funeral Luke notices a light blue envelope with his name written on it laying on the floor - having arrived through the mail delivery slot. That letter is the first of many to Luke from Natalie, written before she passed. Some of them are chatty, some instructional, some revealing. Throughout the first year of Natalie's absence Luke and the kids are helped by people Natalie set up prior to her death; her best friend Annie, a friend she met at school named Jessie, whoever keeps sending him the letters (although is that helping him or not?), and then others who come along post-Natalie. As the months go by and Luke and the kids find their new normal, questions arise about secrets Natalie seems to have held back from Luke. This first year of life without her is bringing some surprises he never saw coming.

It Takes One (Audrey Harte #1) by Kate Kessler
Kindle Edition 416 pages

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

Yay for a new-to-me author and thriller series! I may or may not be slightly addicted to psychological thrillers and this one - book one of a series - feeds my addiction perfectly.
Audrey Harte is on a jet plane from L.A. to the little town of Edgeport, Maine. The two places couldn't be further apart and that's exactly what Audrey was looking for when she left all those years ago. She hasn't been home in 7 years and true to form her Mama calls while she's still driving toward the town to pick up her Daddy on the way to the house. He's found at the local bar, passed out from drinking too much. She knew she should have missed her flight. While dragging Daddy to her car she runs into her ex-best friend, Maggie, and they have a few words. Welcome home Audrey. Years ago Audrey and Maggie made a name for themselves by killing Maggie's Daddy, Clint. They didn't even try to hide it and Audrey has never regretted it. He was a monster and no adult was willing to take care of him so Maggie and Audrey did. Maggie went one direction after the death of her Dad, Audrey went the opposite. Audrey took that event and its consequences and became a criminal psychologist specializing in teen murders. Maggie just went off the deep end. Problem is the morning after Audrey's welcome back home Maggie is found dead and all eyes are on Audrey. She knew she should have missed her flight.
The ins and outs of the brain and how it drives our motives, behaviors, etc is a fascinating topic to me - one I will never tire of. Kessler takes an event that her main character willinging participated in and uses it to expose the psychology behind trauma and its long term effects on people. True, parts of her story are dramatized - that's why it is called fiction, but the psychological effects are very real.

The Children by Ann Leary
Kindle Edition 256 pages

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

Ann Leary is another new-to-me author. (So many books - and authors, so little time holds more truth than words can adequately express.) This was an easy read, easy in the sense of the story flowed - there weren't tedious moments and the pace was just right. In a way it was kind of a book about nothing, much like Seinfeld was a show about nothing, and yet I wanted to know what happened. I guess this proves that nothing can still be compelling.
Our narrator is Charlotte Maynard, the stepdaughter of Whit Whitman and one of two residents at the old family lake house. Her mother, Joan, is the other resident. Charlotte's sister, Sally, is a first chair violinist with the New York Orchestra and her stepbrothers, Perry and Spin, have their own lives. Everyone is living off of a trust of Whitman money in some way and Charlotte earns her income by pretending to be a Mom who hosts a very popular and well-read Mommy blog. Charlotte's never been married and doesn't have any kids. (Sidenote: this part of the storyline has now got me wondering if Leary based this part of Charlotte on truth, i.e. there are bloggers out there that are essentially living second lives - fake lives - through blogs.) Oh, there's also Everett - not a Whitman by blood but basically is by proxy. Everett has lived on the Whitman lakehouse property his whole life under the umbrella of being the caretaker's son and now the caretaker. That's it. That's what this book is about - the children and stepchildren of Whit Whitman. It focuses in on one summer season that Spin arrives with Laurel, his fiance that he's only known for a few months. Joan, Sally, Charlotte, and Everett go back and forth between loving Laurel and despising Laurel. They can't quite figure her out. And then, around July 4th, pieces start to fall into place and the picture that emerges is one that will change the children and their lives forever.

Keep Me Posted by Lisa Beazley
Kindle Edition 326 pages

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

Back in the day, when computers and email were a very new thing to have for personal use and therefore very expensive so the majority of people didn't have them. I wrote letters - handwritten ones - to my friends. And I was really good at it! But with the evolution and accessibility of personal computers and electronic forms of communication my handwriting went to hell in a handbasket and letter writing gave way to emails and then texts. In this story about sisters Beazley revives the art of letter writing.
Cassie and Sidney are sisters separated not just by miles of ocean - one lives in New York City, the other in Singapore - but by technology as well. Cassie has it all - Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, email - but Sidney (Sid) could care less about any of that stuff. She doesn't have any of it except for an email address that she checks maybe a couple of times a month. So when the sisters get some face time at Christmas they decide to write each other letters - handwritten letters that have to be sent through the Post Office - for the next year. They both discover a few things through this experiment. One, their relationship has been existing on surface knowledge about each other for too many years - they want to know each other again. Two, handwriting their thoughts to each other can be therapeutic and incredibly risky. Three, when you write more than normal for today's technology you get callouses on your fingers! Certainly those aren't the only things Cassie and Sid discover about each other and themselves during this letter writing year but it's the start of a whole list.
I miss handwriting letters. I still send out handwritten cards but when I have news to share I resort to the ease of email or some technology based method. Reading this book I feel inspired to do more handwritten news to friends and family, a return to a more simple and personal way of touching base with people I love.

The Cresswell Plot by Eliza Wass
Kindle Edition 272 pages

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

Six kids, two adults, a broken down house, and some c.r.a.z.y. beliefs, i.e. a little family cult. Castella, one of the children, serves as the narrator for this very odd story about a very crazy man and his family. Clearly Father is a narcissist, as all cult leaders are. And he has convinced his family - up until this point - that he really is God. Problem is all the kids are in public school and things just don't add up the older they get and the more they see, hear, and experience outside of their weird bubble. The boys want girlfriends, the girls want boyfriends, they want to wear clothes that don't look like sacks hanging off their bodies, they want to have friends, they want to have a role in the school play, they just want to be normal. But the Cresswell Six are not normal. Or are they and it's everyone else who isn't? Castella and her siblings are trying to figure it all out and Father isn't having it. One day he decides the time is close for them to return to their heavenly residence. Time is running out and Castella is the only one with enough courage to fight for a future.
I kept reading the book because there was a pretty consistent build-up of tension, heading toward the climax of the story. But then it kind of fizzled out. I'm left scratching my head a bit. It lacks backstory - such as why. Why did Father begin this funky cult? The culmination of the story not only fizzled out but felt rushed to a conclusion. It was a let down after certain parts of the story seemed to be building toward a better conclusion. Things felt a bit disjointed throughout the book but the last part was the biggest let down.

Smarter Faster Better: The Secrets of Being Productive in Life and Business by Charles Duhigg
Kindle Edition 401 pages

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

This book took me a lot longer to read than it should have. Not because it was dry or poorly written or any of the usual reasons it might take someone to get through a book. It just took me "forever" for no discernable reason. But I stuck with it because it was really good, really informative, and well written.
Starting with the book's introduction - the topic - I was highlighting things to remember. Duhigg takes 8 components and unpacks them - he believes these 8 parts are key to being productive. They are motivation, teams (teamwork), focus, goal setting, managing others, decision making, innovation, and absorbing data. To discuss each part he sourced out real life examples and events to illustrate the point. These examples were key to understanding what each part looks like in real life - it was a practical rather than academic look at the science - so to speak - of productivity. And Duhigg's writing in a conversational style, even when sharing data, was easy and enjoyable to read. It didn't drag, he provided just the right amount of detail regarding the examples he chose to use or the data and more academic points he wanted to get across. Really good information, really interesting information - I'll be picking up his other title about the power of habits at some point.

North of Here by Laurel Saville
Kindle Edition 271 pages

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

I'm not sure how I feel about this story. I don't dislike it but I'm not especially drawn to it. And about halfway through I felt antsy, I was ready for the story to be done but there was still so much of it left.
Miranda is the daughter of a couple who has lived a very entitled life. She had a brother until about a year ago when he died in a car accident caused by his own selfishness. They are currently living in their second home because their main home holds too many memories of the deceased son/brother. None of them are really living - they are just getting through each day. A handyman they have had for years, Dix, shows up and quietly takes care of things around the house. When further tragedy touches the family Dix gets further involved in Miranda's life.
That's really what the story is about. Dix and his growing involvement in Miranda's life. Some other characters are introduced as supporting ones in Miranda and Dix's lives, Darius and Sally. Saville chose to write the book in sections: Miranda and Dix, Darius and Sally, Darius and Miranda, and Dix and Sally. I think that choice fostered some of my indifference toward the story, the sections were incredibly long. Also, I wasn't convinced to really care about the characters - Saville did character development but I still felt blah about them, they fell flat with me. Which is how I felt about the story overall, just blah.

Fever at Dawn by Péter Gárdos, Elizabeth Szász (Translator)
Kindle Edition 240 pages

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

Using letters between his parents from late 1945 to early 1946, Gárdos shares the story of their meeting and love and what they both had to endure to get to each other.
Both Miklos and Lili survived World War II and the camps that were meant to kill them. Both were transported to Sweden for medical care and respite. They did not know each other then but soon would. Miklos was told he had 6 months more to live, his lungs would not recover or heal from the awful case of TB he had contracted in the last days of the war. Determined to not accept that fate, he did after all survive Belsen, he found out all the names and locations of the women from his region in Hungary under the age of 30 that were also in Sweden for medical care after the war. There were 117. So he wrote all 117 the same exact letter - only changing the name of the recipient - and began corresponding with those who wrote him back. He was convinced he would find a wife this way. He was convinced he would live longer than 6 months. Lili was one such recipient and after a period of time in which she brushed off the letter she did write Miklos back. They began to exchange letters about themselves and Miklos communist ideas and all manner of things. Fever at Dawn details the story of Miklos and Lili and how they came to love one another through letters.
Gárdos writes a beautiful tribute to his father and mother, sharing the parts of their story that they never really shared themselves but had preserved in their letters. His mother gave him the letters after his father died and he was moved to honor his father, and mother, in this way. Somehow he also found out details of their experiences during the war that they had not revealed to each other initially. He shares those intense memories with the reader, sobering accounts of what they were forced to do in their effort to survive the mass extermination of the Jews. Fever at Dawn is simply written but a wonderful tribute to the power of hope and love.

People Who Knew Me by Kim Hooper
Kindle Edition 305 pages

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

The events of 9/11 changed the lives of thousands of people. This is a story of one of them.
Connie Prynne has been living in California for 14 years with her daughter, Claire. It's just the two of them , always has been. Connie hasn't even dated, her sole focus has been on Claire all these years. There's no family to visit or help out, it's just Connie and Claire. But a medical diagnosis changes things. Connie is suddenly in a situation where she has got to get some things in order "just in case." And that includes coming clean about her life pre-Claire and pre-California. The life she had and lived as Emily Morris and the one she chose to let die on 9/11.
I liked the story overall but Emily/Connie I kinda hated. She was awful. Selfish, bratty, lacking in human kindness and compassion, whiny, just awful. And her years living as Connie didn't seem to really cure her of that, she just hid it better. I was wishing Drew would wise up and kick her to the curb before she could totally devastate his heart. It was a good story, perhaps a bit tedious in some places - of course I might feel that way because for a lot of the book I wanted to kick Emily/Connie in the shins - with Emily whining about her lot in life, as if the people around her were in a conspiracy to make her miserable. The overall theme of the book did make me wonder, however, if there was anyone from the tragedy of 9/11 that used it to free themselves from one life and start another?

Everyone Pays by Seth Harwood
Kindle Edition 320 pages

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

Harwood's a new-to-me author, his Jack Palms series is on my to read list but I haven't gotten around to it yet. This title seems to be a stand alone but I could easily see it turning into another series.
Clara Donner is a rare sight in the San Francisco PD Homicide Unit. It's a boy's world but she's working to open it up for other women. Her partner, Hendricks, and her are on call and it turns out this is going to be the busiest week yet of their careers, maybe of all time. Called out to a body found, they arrive at a grisly scene - within 24 hours there's another body found, this one in even more of a grisly state. Suddenly pieces fall together and it looks like someone out there is taking the law into their own hands. Before the body count rises Donner and Hendricks need to find the guy. But this guy isn't your typical killer - he has a particular mission and only a specific set of people he's targeting. In fact, you might say he is doing God's work - or so he believes.
This was such an easy read - and I mean that as a compliment. It moved along so quickly with just the right amount of detail that I had read half the book before I even realized it. I like Donner as a strong female character, I like that a man wrote her as one. I appreciated that Harwood didn't shrink back from details but also didn't include too many. His killer was a freaky choice, though not far fetched. He made me interested enough in Clara Donner that I'm hoping this book becomes 1 of a series so we can continue to follow Donner on her gig as a female homicide detective.

Burying the Honeysuckle Girls by Emily Carpenter
Kindle Edition 322 pages

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

Althea hears her mother's words echoing in her life, "Wait for her. For the honeysuckle girl. She’ll find you, I think, but if she doesn’t, you find her." For twenty-five years Althea has been hearing those words, wondering what they mean and dreading her 30th birthday, coming up in a couple of weeks. She doesn't dread getting older, she dreads 30. All the women in her family have a history of disappearing on their 30th birthday. Althea would like to break that cycle but first she has to find out why they disappeared and how to stop it. Problem is, the men in her family aren't keen on her finding out the family secrets - they would rather lock her up in the local mental institution and keep their reputations intact. Althea decides to not follow their plan and instead pave a new path for herself and future women in her family.
Carpenter weaves a story of old southern misogyny, mental illness, and the strength required to fight for a new life. This story was disturbing to me - it was the asshole men that kept the women in the story oppressed. They made me angry and it made me angry that the women in the story kept picking such creeps. I read the story and I kept reading it because I wanted to find out the truth Althea was searching for but I'm not sure I was very connected to the story. I was glad to find out the beginning, middle, and end of the women in Althea's family but it was also an easy book to finish and put down. This tells me I wasn't totally bought in to the characters and the storyline itself. I really can't even say what seemed to be the missing ingredient in order for me to buy in 100% but being able to walk away from it so easily tells me there was something missing. It was well written and I would give other titles Carpenter's pens a chance.

Where We Fall by Rochelle B. Weinstein
Kindle Edition 306 pages

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

This is Weinstein's third title but my first to read of hers. And it takes on a topic that I'm interested in, that I experience - although not to the level one of the main characters does in the book.
Abby and Ryan have been together, as a couple, for 17 years. They have a 16 year old daughter, Juliana. Ryan is a hero football coach in their town and Abby? Well Abby She is very rarely seen outside of the house, except for game days. Sometimes when Juliana gets home from school her mom is in a dark bedroom buried under the covers, sleeping. Abby is depressed and has been for as long as she, and anyone in her life, can remember. One day it all comes to the surface and boils over. It leads Abby to seek more intense therapy at an inpatient facility, leaving Ryan and Juliana to fend for themselves - although they've already been doing that for a really long time. So Abby is getting the help she needs, finally, and Ryan and Juliana are back in their hometown dealing with another kind of crisis. And then one day Juliana utters, "Lauren", a name Ryan has been trying to forget for 17 years. Lauren, Abby, and Ryan - it's time to get everything out in the open and let things fall where they are going to fall.
I really like the equal time each main character got in this story. I loved reading from the point of view of Juliana about what is was like to have a Mom who was so depressed she wasn't even a mom. Or to read the point of view of Ryan who is trying to be the Dad, and Mom, the Coach and the faithful husband. What I always find myself asking, however, is - do these kind of situations actually happen in real life? And if they do, do they get resolved the way Weinstein chooses to resolve this one? Although I will say I liked the way this story ended. I like that in the end the only person who could do the right thing to right the wrongs did what they needed to do. People might not agree with the way the person chose to resolve things but I thought it was brave and loving. Weinstein's other titles were already on my "to read" list and I'm glad because I really dig her writing style.

Mrs. Sherlock Holmes: The True Story of New York City's Greatest Female Detective and the 1917 Missing Girl Case That Captivated a Nation by Brad Ricca
432 pages

Fascinating! First of all, the name Sherlock Holmes caught my attention for this book. I may or may not be obsessed with Sherlock Holmes. But the topic of the book sealed the deal. I had to read it.
This is the real story of Grace (Quackenbos) Humiston, a female lawyer and detective in the early 1900's. She earned her law degree at NYU because they were the only school, at the time, who would allow women to study law. She not only had a good mind for law but she had a keen eye for observing and seeing what others didn't. This skill led her to detective work. She worked for both federal and state governments during her career and assisted thousands of immigrants with legal matters. A opponent of the death penalty she was able to overturn several executions at the eleventh hour by finding new evidence in places nobody else had thought to look. She was also a warrior against white slavery (as it was called then), now known as human trafficking. In 1917 her career led her to a case of a missing teenager in New York City. Ruth Cruger had been missing for weeks when her father, Henry Cruger, finally pleaded with Grace to take the case - the police and their detectives, as well as some other private detectives, had been unable to find Ruth and had almost given up on her as a runaway. Her family and friends knew that was not true, Ruth would never do that. Grace took the case and ended up solving it, helping the Cruger family be able to have closure with Ruth's disappearance. Her career bottomed out as she investigated other situations in which she insisted criminal activity was occurring but couldn't get the support she needed to do complete investigations. Throughout her lifetime Grace was a champion for justice and a defender of the needy.
I really enjoyed this telling of Grace Humiston and her contributions to law, investigations, and immigration law and reform. I like how Ricca told Grace's backstory leading up to her becoming involved in the 1917 Cruger case, it provides the reader with important information about Grace's knowledge and experience with law and investigating. What I also liked about the book was Ricca's writing style - not dry and academic but very storytelling and engaging.

Love in a Fearful Land: A Guatemalan Story by Henri J.M. Nouwen
116 pages

This is another book I am reading "along" with my friend taking classes in spiritual formation (or something like that). In fact, this book was part of the class reading list because her class culminated this particular session by taking a trip to Guatemala - she's just returned. Anyway.
On July 28, 1981 Father Stanley Rother was assassinated in his parish, Santiago Atitlan Guatemala. He had been a part of the community for 13 years and refused to leave them as violence in the area increased and the threat of revolution was becoming more and more of a reality. On July 25, 1984 Father John Vesey took Father Rother's place in the parish and invited his friend, Henri Nouwen, to come and pray with he and his people. It was through this trip that Nouwen heard Father Rother's story, saw firsthand the impact he had on the area and still had post-death, and agreeing with Father Vesey - decided to share Father Rother's story as another example of the modern day martyrs.
Through letters Father Rother sent home to friends and family, articles written about him after he passed, and conversations with people who got to work alongside of Father Rother - Nouwen shares the story of a man's deep love for the residents of Santiago Atitlan and his commitment to them even at the expense of his own life. It is a story that highlights the truth - love wins. Love does win, every time.

The Reluctant Empath by Bety Comerford, Steven P. Wilson
112 pages

Years ago a person I knew blamed her inability to be around certain people, ahem me, on being empathetic. I immediately bristled because she was not an empath - she was the exact opposite of. She went on to explain her "empathy" and I bit my tongue. What she was describing was not empathy but rather her refusal to enter into authentic relationships. Anyway. The point is that her comment so bugged me, me who is an empath, that I set out to know as much as I could about empathy. So far all of my knowledge gathering, research if you will, has served to support what empathy really is and not what this person I had interactions with claimed it was. So when this book became available I was immediately interested in reading it. It's been sitting on my "to read" list for a few years due to life etc but I have finally gotten around to it.
Unfortunately, this book let me down a bit. I'm sure the authors would claim I have negative energy or something but I don't think that's the case. I think I'm let down because it was very...buzzy. Read the book and you'll understand I am alluding to vibrations that we give off, according to the authors. I believe we all have an energy that can either drag us and others down or lift us and others up. I just don't believe we have it to the degree and depth that the authors do. And because they believe in past lives, communicating with the Other Side (ahem dead), and vibrations the book about empathy is actually a book about psychic abilities, in my opinion, more than it is about empathy. They claim that empathy is all very supernatural and such. That's cool, I think some of that definitely takes place. I don't think, however, that every single person who is an empath, like myself, is buzzing all the time and tapping into past lives and aliens and such. So while I jotted down a thought here and there from the pages about living life as an empath, overall I was fairly disappointed with the book.

The Orphan's Tale by Pam Jenoff
336 pages

Ah! I just can't seem to get enough of the World War II era. I'm not the only one. That war - its atrocities, its display of humanity in the face of evil, its double standards, its final outcomes - provided a diverse time of history to pull stories from. True stories, fiction stories based on real events, documentaries, etc. Jenoff discovered two real stories at Yad Vashem - the Unknown Children and the rescuers' circus - and weaved together a fictional tale based on those real events.
Noa is a Dutch girl who got pregnant by an SS Officer. Thinking her baby would fit the Aryan mold she gave birth in a girls home under the Reich. Astrid grew up in the family business, the circus. Her Jewish family had a very successful circus and she was a performer in it. In Hitler's early years she met and fell in love with a German officer. They married and lived in Berlin. But then the war started in earnest - both the war against Jews and the war to take over the world. Noa and Astrid are faced with choices - some to make on their own, others made for them - that lead them to each other in the strangest of circumstances and in the oddest of sanctuaries, during a time when nobody or nowhere was very safe and you weren't sure who you could or should trust.
Told in alternating voices, Noa and Astrid's, Jenoff creates a beautiful story of the fight for hope in dark times, the fight for love to not just survive but thrive, and what really makes a family. All of Jenoff's books are on my "to read" list but this is the first one I've actually read. The others will not be far behind. Jenoff, with her varied life experiences, creates characters that the reader can immediately know, storylines that touch the heart, and shares history in a way that makes you wanting to know more.

Forgive Me by Daniel Palmer
Kindle Edition 416 pages

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

Wow! This is my first read of Daniel will not be my last read. This title was ambitious, fast paced, and fingernail biting ensued at certain points as the suspense swept me up.
It was ambitious because it was two stories that Palmer managed to seamlessly merge together to make it feel like one story. One story ended, for the most part, and I still had so much more of the book to go - the second story was just gaining its momentum. But Palmer pulled it off - it didn't feel like two separate stories that happen to feature his main character, Angie.
Forgive Me starts with a peek at the second story, although the reader doesn't know that storyline doesn't come on full force until 2/3 of the way through the book. Chapter 1 kicks off storyline one - Nadine, a 16 year old who lives with her alcoholic mother, is tired of being the adult in her family. So she runs away. After four weeks of no leads, Nadine's parents hire Angie DeRose, a private investigator specializing in finding runaways. But it's been four weeks since Nadine has disappeared, Angie can't make any promises with so much time that has passed. Any trails are sure to be ice cold by now. Still, she pulls together her team and tackles the missing person case. In the meantime, Angie's personal life is taking a few unexpected hits and she's trying to balance her personal life with the search for Nadine which has become very important to her. Near the end of the storyline featuring Nadine, the second storyline starts gaining some traction. Someone is tailing Angie and she is unaware. Is it someone related to the case she's working? If not, then what could or who could it be related to? As Angie persists in searching out information on a picture she found in her parents attic that nobody can give answers, for she doesn't realize that what she is slowly uncovering is quickly leading to danger for she and her family.
I couldn't, even if I had wanted to, put this book down until I finished it. It kept me on the figurative edge of my seat, especially with the Nadine storyline. Palmer managed to do a couple of things really well. One, channel his inner teenage girl and get the reader to forget a man was Nadine's creator and voice. Two, he gave the reader a picture of one of the many ways girls disappear into human trafficking and some are never to be seen again. Not only does his Nadine storyline serve as a expose of sorts for how a girl gets picked up, it also delves into the mindset some - if not all - of these girls eventually adopt for survival and sanity. He attempts to give the reader some understanding of why girls - kids - people - caught in slavery conditions don't just make a run for it. Whether the reader understands or not is up to them ultimately, Palmer just provides the perspective. Fantastic read, I'm ready to read his others!

Globalization, Spirituality, and Justice: Navigating the Path to Peace by Daniel G. Groody
280 pages

Whoa. What a book. And I mean that in the best ways possible. It had smaller font, some charts, and lots of supporting stats making it a bit more academic than I usually can read. BUT it was so worth reading. This is another title I never would have picked up had I not told my friend in school I would read along with her. I am so glad I told her I would read along with her.
Groody tackles the intricate discussion of how globalization is influenced - or not - by spirituality and the need for justice. I'm not sure I can adequately review the book or provide any tidbits about it that would make anyone want to read it. If you are interested in the themes mentioned then you will want to read it. That's perhaps the best I can do. There was so much good information and discussion in the book that I don't even know where to start with a summary that does the book justice (no pun intended, ha!). Groody, a priest, weaves personal narratives into the topics at hand - softening the potential academic dryness. He uses the Catholic Social Teaching as a basis and then goes beyond it. He draws in other world religions, helping to humanize them and strip away the demonization we are so tempted toward with them, for example - Muslims. He connects the dots between liturgy and justice, further deepening my desire to return to a liturgical style of worship. He gives a realistic "report" about the pros and cons of globalization and how spirituality can help it in positive ways but how spirituality is not necessarily doing that presently. He lays out what justice really is in God's world and how we can, and should, take up the cause of justice God's way.

Beat the Rain by Nigel Jay Cooper
Kindle Edition 256 pages

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

What a strange, sad, interesting read. It wasn't bad, at all, just not what I was anticipating - which is probably a good thing!
Louise and Tom have been together for years and just like that Tom is gone. Dead without any warning to anyone. Louise is undone, Tom's twin brother Adam is left missing half of himself, and Tom's parents are trying to keep a stiff upper lip - as good British do. Six months after Tom's death Louise and Adam find their way to each other and forge a new life with each other having grieved Tom. A few years later and they have a girl and a boy, Adam is a published author, and Louise owns her own cafe and has made it successful. But Louise is unhappy. Actually she is desolate and she doesn't know why. She is not the mother she thought she would be, she is not the wife she thought she would be - she loves Adam but something is missing. Are Louise and Adam together just because Tom suggested it posthumus or is their relationship real and worth fighting for?
Told through chapters alternating between Adam's perspective and Louise's, Beat the Rain, is the story of a relationship that travels through the mountains and valleys. What waits for Adam and Louise at the end of the winding roads?

The Last One by Alexandra Oliva
Kindle Edition 304 pages

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

Whoa! What a read. Combining reality television with a pandemic Oliva details a world where reality and "reality" get mixed up.
Zoo, as the producers call her, is one of twelve contestants on a reality tv show based on wilderness survival. The game is easy, last one in the game wins. There's only one way to get out of the game and that's to utter a certain phrase in Latin, otherwise you are in until you aren't. After some time spent in team challenges the contestants are finally let loose (with a cameraman following them of course) for the big solo challenge. On day three of the solo challenge, Zoo wakes to find her cameraman gone. Thinking it must be part of the game she pushes on to continue searching for clues. But days turn into weeks, in the middle of it she drinks bad water and gets sick for a few days but recovers and pushes on. As she treks toward what she believes is her final clue she is amazed at the budget this show has for special effects and props. So real, they don't seem fake at all. What Zoo doesn't know is they aren't fake. Everything she is running into that she assumes is for the reality show is actually REALity. Survival isn't just for the tv show any longer.
This was a really interesting book. Oliva flips back and forth between the early days of the show filming, when everyone was still healthy and unaware of a coming wipeout, and Zoo weeks into the whole thing thinking she is still participating in the reality show and its various challenges. She creates a strong character in Zoo, one that does what she has to do in order to survive and be true to herself. Oliva perfectly portrays the tv show contestants, understanding that behind the scenes producers and directors are looking for certain kinds of people to fill certain roles. I loved the character of Brennan that Zoo eventually meets and he helps to soften the edges Zoo has had created through her circumstances. It's an interesting storyline to consider. For all of our technology, human interaction is still the most effective and reliable way of communicating urgent matters and when the humans start disappearing, the ones left behind are either in the dark or isolated out of fear. If you were the last one what would you do? I know I wouldn't fare so well. *grin*

Chronicle of a Last Summer: A Novel of Egypt by Yasmine El Rashidi
Kindle Edition 192 pages

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

I'm so glad that I got the chance to read this title because I love getting insight into different ways of life - politically, etc - and similar ways of life - politically, etc. This title has a large political component to it and that intrigued me. While the book is not labeled as autobiographical, certainly the author's own growing up experiences are part of the story - perhaps all of it. Regardless. It was written in a very straightforward, reporting kind of manner. As if the girl is detached from the events going on around her and yet as the summers go by we can see the events going on around her have pulled her in, molded her beliefs, etc - she doesn't seem to be as aware of it as we might be. The girl feels lonely to me, she never indicates that she is but she speaks and acts as if she is.
We meet this young girl in the summer of 1984 in Egypt. We never learn her name but she is our guide through the next 28 years. We meet her again 14 years later in 1998 and then again, for a final time, in the summer of 2014. When we meet her in 1984 her father has been gone for 50+ days, although she doesn't know why he is gone and when he might return - nobody is talking about it. That summer of 1984 is a quiet one in her hot flat with her mother so quiet and sad. She attends a British school, not one from her own people, and wonders why people scoff at her. There are only two TV channels to keep her occupied when she has exhausted all other methods of distraction. And every day there are power outages for an hour or two. On her way to school each day she drives alongside of the Nile, beautiful and serene. Her cousin, Dido, is talking to her about political events - things she has heard adults talking about in low voices but she doesn't quite understand herself. Does this have something to do with why her father is no longer at home? In the summer of 1998 when we meet her again she is at University. She is majoring in film, she wants to make films and documentaries. Dido wants her to make political documentaries but she isn't so sure. Her mother is still quiet and shut up in the house. Now there are 15 TV channels to provide some distraction. On her way downtown she drives alongside the Nile - now blocked by an ugly fence and so much rubbish that she is sad. She no longer tries to find out where her father is or what happened. She puts together pieces of conversations and events and thinks she knows. She will probably never see him again. And then, it is summer of 2014. Dido and her are barely speaking, he has changed so much. Her film was never made but she's working at turning it into a book instead. The Nile is no longer safe for anything - drinking, being in, even looking at - it has become ugly with abuse. She lives downstairs from her mother in the house they all grew up in. Her mother has reentered life. She has become a minor activist and posts things on Facebook. For distraction there are too many to count TV channels that run 24/7. Power outages still happen though, every day, for an hour or two. Her father suddenly appears as if he were never gone so now there is a relationship to figure out. Some things haven't changed. But she? She has changed.

All the Missing Girls by Megan Miranda
Kindle Edition 384 pages

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

Whoa. A story written backwards. It seems like that shouldn't be a new idea or an unusual idea but it is. And until the book was 2/3 read I didn't think the idea of writing the story backwards was working until all of a sudden it was.
Nic gets a call to come home late one night - perhaps it was actually early one morning. She reluctantly makes plans to go back home and help her brother take care of their Dad and the house. She's been back home a few times since she graduated but only for the quickest of visits. Too many memories linger, ones she's been trying to forget. But now she's back in her hometown for two months. And as much as she wants to shut the past out, the past wants to become present. A decade ago her best friend disappeared one night, never to be found. On her second night home in the present another girl disappears and nobody can find her. Whispers and rumors circulate the town and Nic feels she is at the center of all those whisperings. But you can't know what you don't know. Or can you?
Did Megan Miranda write the story backwards or did she write it forwards and then reorder the chapters to be backwards? Either way it was an engaging thriller. It was really interesting to read a story backwards because the chapters you are reading keep you kind of in the dark about certain behaviors, or things said - it's like it is all out of context, except not really. And then when you get to the chapters where all the threads start getting tied together everything falls into place - almost suddenly. Well done Megan Miranda, well done.

Rejected Writers Take the Stage (Southlea Bay #2) by Suzanne Kelman
286 pages

Okay seriously - this group is so much fun! I hope Kelman has as much fun, if not more, writing these ladies and their crazy small town shenanigans as I do reading about them.
The Rejected Writers Club is on a new mission in this second installment of the Southlea Bay series. Doris, commander in chief of sorts, has rallied the group to help Annie keep her family farm. Out of the fundraising brainstorming session comes the idea to do a musical even though none of them have that kind of background and experience. Janet's voice provides narration again and this time she's been cast as the director of the show. The group pulls in other colorful characters to help them pull off their big show and in the end the biggest lesson learned is that sometimes family is born of blood but sometimes family is made of living life together.
There's a Southlea Bay #1 and a Southlea Bay #2, I'm crossing my fingers that Kelman is noodling about ideas for Southlea Bay #3 - she ended book 2 with a perfect subject matter for book 3. Here's hoping!

Little Girl Gone (An Afton Tangler Thriller #1) by Gerry Schmitt
Kindle Edition 329 pages

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

Author of cozy mysteries, Laura Childs, has stepped up her game in this title - written under her real name. I've read some of Childs' mysteries and I have liked them - this is nothing like those! This book by Schmitt has a lot more grit to it.
Afton Tangler is a community liaison with the Minneapolis Police. While scaling a frozen waterfall she gets a call that sends her back to the Twin Cities as quickly as possible. A three month old baby has been abducted. Afton's job is to be there for the parents, to get questions answered, to provide support. But what she really longs to be doing is investigating the crime - helping to find the baby. Fortunately for Afton, this time around she gets to do just that. Along with Detective Max Montgomery, Afton uses more gut instinct than training to follow leads and hunches in an effort to find this baby alive and as quickly as possible. But the trail is twisty, the leads vague and unrelated...until they aren't and Afton and her partner are on the hunt for a little girl and her abductors.
First off, Minnesota sounds miserable to live in during the winter. And I hear in the summer it is buggy and muggy so sounds like not so great anytime of the year. Okay, there. I just had to state that the weather would be a deterrent to living there - perhaps even visiting. Now I can get on with the real review. The weather comment applies because the story takes place in a lot of snow and ice in Minnesota. I like Schmitt's Afton Tangler. At first I wasn't sure, but I warmed up to her. I like the idea of the main character going in with gut instinct and Mama Bear bravado and not much else. I liked that the Captain in her PD gave her the opportunity, even though I don't think it would happen in real life. I liked that the Detective she worked with listened to her and didn't just dismiss her, even though - again - I don't think that would happen in real life. But I like Afton, I like her enough that I hope to read the second book in the series sooner rather than later.

At Home in Mitford (Mitford Years #1) by Jan Karon
Audio Book, narrated by John McDonough

When my oldest was a newborn I was introduced to Jan Karon's Mitford. I read all about Father Tim and the town of Mitford while I nursed her. And not only did I fall in love with my child during this time, I fell in love with Father Tim as well. And the rest of the residents of Mitford. In fact, I fell in love with the town of Mitford and with the idea of liturgy. This Baptist raised girl didn't know much about liturgy...then. Anyway.
Jan Karon's Mitford, North Carolina is a town which holds the most interesting of personalities. While the book is not a Christian book the main character is an Episcopalian priest so the reader is going to get some insights about faith just through Father Tim's musings. As with all smaller towns, and those towns being in the South as well, this one holds all types and yet they all come together when necessary - there is a deep affection between them all even if they drive each other nuts! It's the town this introvert would want to live in. Father Tim is the priest I wish I could have in my real life. Jan Karon crafted pure pleasure with this series. I've read it many times through the years - and bonus, she's not quite done yet, there's a couple of new titles I haven't even read yet.
Following in the vein of needing something good and enjoyable to listen to while I drove around town, this series on audio follows my listening of the Harry Potter series a few months back. I love listening to books I loved reading so much - it revives my absolute joy in them and makes all the aggravating driving easier to deal with! *grin*

Margaret Atwood's The Handmaid's Tale is on deck - the CD deck that is. I'm listereading it while in the car. 

Missing, Presumed by Susie Steiner - a free read I've had sitting on my Kindle for over a year, before it was published but I'm just now getting to it. 
"Beth, did you say before it was published?" I did! I get pre-published, uncorrected proofs from NetGalley to review, in theory BEFORE they are published so the word gets out about them. But life.