Friday, December 16, 2016

The Night Circus

Author: Erin Morgenstern
Pages: 387
Rating: PG - no language, but 2 people die, and there is a very vaguely described sex scene. 
The circus arrives without warning. No announcements precede it. It is simply there, when yesterday it was not. Within the black-and-white striped canvas tents is an utterly unique experience full of breathtaking amazements. It is called Le Cirque des RĂªves, and it is only open at night.

But behind the scenes, a fierce competition is underway: a duel between two young magicians, Celia and Marco, who have been trained since childhood expressly for this purpose by their mercurial instructors. Unbeknownst to them both, this is a game in which only one can be left standing. Despite the high stakes, Celia and Marco soon tumble headfirst into love, setting off a domino effect of dangerous consequences, and leaving the lives of everyone, from the performers to the patrons, hanging in the balance.

My Thoughts: I have mixed feelings about this book. The circus is absolutely magical. I want to go there now so bad! All the descriptions of the different acts and tents are seriously so good. You just feel the mystery and the magic of the place. However, I found the storyline to be a bit frustrating. The game Celia and Marco are playing is vague and confusing. There seem to be no set rules, and no one is forthcoming about how it is supposed to work. I felt that although the circus itself was well-described, the characters are all a bit lacking. There just wasn't enough background to them. I also felt that the love story between Marco and Celia was lacking depth. One minute they don't know each other, the next second they're deeply in love for no discernible reason. It was kind of dumb. I just didn't emotionally connect with their love story in any way.

Overall, I did enjoy this book, if just for the pure imaginativeness of the author when coming up with circus tents. Also, the ending was satisfying. But, I was very frustrated by the general feeling of being lost and confused the entire time...and some of my questions were never adequately answered.

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

The Lake House

Author: Kate Morton
Pages: 492
Rating: PG (a few mild swear words, but that's really it.)

Living on her family’s idyllic lakeside estate in Cornwall, England, Alice Edevane is a bright, inquisitive, and precociously talented sixteen-year-old who loves to write stories.

One midsummer’s eve, after a beautiful party drawing hundreds of guests to the estate has ended, the Edevanes discover that their youngest child, eleven-month-old Theo, has vanished without a trace. He is never found, and the family is torn apart, the house abandoned.

Decades later, Alice is living in London, having enjoyed a long successful career as a novelist. Miles away, Sadie Sparrow, a young detective in the London police force, is staying at her grandfather’s house in Cornwall. While out walking one day, she stumbles upon the old Edevane estate—now crumbling and covered with vines. Her curiosity is sparked, setting off a series of events that will bring her and Alice together and reveal shocking truths about a past long gone...yet more present than ever.

My Thoughts: Initially, I felt like the pace of this novel was too slow. It is, after all, quite long. I admit, I skimmed through to the end to find out whodunnit, and for some reason, that helped me have the patience to start back and the beginning and actually read. I was glad I did, because there was a lot more to the story than I had gleaned from my skim-through. One thing I liked about this novel is that even though it's mainly told from the perspective of Sadie and Alice, most of the other important characters, including Baby Theo, get a chance to voice their thoughts for a few pages. Also, the summary doesn't tell you, but Sadie is staying in Cornwall on a sort of unofficial leave of absence. She refused to let a police case go, even after it was formally closed. This case continues to gnaw at her, and is eventually solved along with the Edevane case, which is very satisfying.

I loved that this book kept me guessing. There are many times when it seems so clear what is happening, only to be proven wrong a few pages later. The whole event (the disappearance of the boy) is much, much more complicated than anyone originally assumed. Love, honor, keeping promises, war, a secret affair, etc. It's all part of it. I added the label of Historical Fiction to this post because World War I and the "shell shock" the soldiers experienced plays an important role in the storyline. And just so you know, Sadie does manage to uncover exactly what happened to Baby Theo, but I won't tell you what it was. That part was a surprise, even though I already knew who was responsible and why, from my look-ahead.  If you like a good mystery, you may want to pick this one up.

Friday, November 18, 2016

Moon Over Manifest

Author: Clare Vanderpool
Pages: 342
Rating: G

Abilene Tucker feels abandoned. Her father has put her on a train, sending her off to live with an old friend for the summer while he works a railroad job. Armed only with a few possessions and her list of universals, Abilene jumps off the train in Manifest, Kansas, aiming to learn about the boy her father once was.
Having heard stories about Manifest, Abilene is disappointed to find that it’s just a dried-up, worn-out old town. But her disappointment quickly turns to excitement when she discovers a hidden cigar box full of mementos, including some old letters that mention a spy known as the Rattler. These mysterious letters send Abilene and her new friends, Lettie and Ruthanne, on an honest-to-goodness spy hunt, even though they are warned to “Leave Well Enough Alone.”
Abilene throws all caution aside when she heads down the mysterious Path to Perdition to pay a debt to the reclusive Miss Sadie, a diviner who only tells stories from the past. It seems that Manifest’s history is full of colorful and shadowy characters—and long-held secrets. The more Abilene hears, the more determined she is to learn just what role her father played in that history. And as Manifest’s secrets are laid bare one by one, Abilene begins to weave her own story into the fabric of the town.

My Thoughts: This is a children's novel, suitable for elementary through middle school age students. I thought it was interesting, but the Rattler didn't play nearly enough of a role in the story, and ended up not being very important in the end anyway. Abilene seemed to be on a much bigger quest to learn about her father and the history of the town, which you get in snippets from Miss Sadie. What I did love is the historical fiction part of the book. The history of Manifest involves a lot of immigrants and World War One as well as lots of information about Prohibition and bootlegging. In the end, the book is really all about a 12 year old girl, trying to find a home for herself. I enjoyed it, but didn't feel it was super memorable.

Thursday, November 10, 2016

Behind Every Great Man: The Forgotten Women Behind the World's Famous and Infamous

Author: Marlene Wagman-Geller
Pages: 329
Rating: PG-13 (a few of the people profiled were very sexually open and into drugs, etc. But there is no language)

From ancient times to the present, men have gotten most of the good ink. Yet standing just outside the spotlight are the extraordinary, and overlooked, wives and companions who are just as instrumental in shaping the destinies of their famous―and infamous―men.
This witty, illuminating book reveals the remarkable stories of forty captivating females, from Constance Lloyd (Mrs. Oscar Wilde) to Carolyn Adams (Mrs. Jerry Garcia), who have stood behind their legendary partners and helped to humanize them, often at the cost of their own careers, reputations, and happiness. Through fame and its attendant ills―alcoholism, infidelity, mental illness, divorce, and even attempted murder―these powerful women quietly propelled their men to the top and changed the course of history.
Meet the Untold Half of History, Including:
•Alma Reville (Mrs. Alfred Hitchcock)
•Elena Diakonova (Mrs. Salvador Dali)
•Winifred Madikizela (Mrs. Nelson Mandela)
•Ann Charteris (Mrs. Ian Fleming, a.k.a. Mrs. James Bond)
•Ruth Alpern (Mrs. Bernie Maddoff)
And 35 more!

My Thoughts: I felt that this book was really very interesting. I loved learning about the women behind some of these famous men. My favorites were Mrs. GandhiMrs. Schindler, and Mrs. Charlie Chaplin. I had no idea that Gandhi's wife fasted right alongside him, and usually was imprisoned with him as well. Schindler's famous list was a joint brainstorm between husband and wife. You always just kind of think of these men as single, you never consider that they had wife who was just as much involved in their rise to fame! Each chapter is only 4-5 pages long, so it's easy to read small pieces at a time. My biggest complaint is that sometimes the sentence structure is awkward, occasionally there's a phrase that doesn't seem to fit within a given paragraph, and it's a little disjointed. The author tends to jump from topic to topic without smooth transitions. I got a little lost more than once. Other than that, this was an informative, fun read.

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

The People Code

Author: Dr. Taylor Hartman
Pages: 301
Rating: G

In his life-changing book, Dr. Taylor Hartman introduces you to the People Code and why people do what they do. The concept of Motive is a fresh method for analyzing your own innate personality as well as that of those around you. You then have the ability to utilize that knowledge to improve workplace and personal relationships. As an author, psychologist, and leadership coach, Dr. Hartman offers a remarkably astute system for segmenting everyone into specific Motive-types denoted by a color: Red (power wielders), Blue (do-gooders), White (peacekeepers), and Yellow (fun lovers). He then explains how to ensure that all possible alliances between them function at optimum effectiveness. If you struggle with self-acceptance and have questions about why you and others act the way you do, Dr. Hartman and The People Code can help you maximize your life success by improving your day-to-day relationships.

My Thoughts: I have read a lot of books that claim to be able to tell me all about my personality and why I act the way I do (Birth Order Book, anyone?). However, I must say, this is the best so far. I felt like I actually really resonated with my color (blue) and can see how my actions throughout my life have reflected my driving motive (intimacy). I love how after you figure out your color, there's a full description of the positive and negative traits of each color so that you can really see who  you are. Even if the quiz at first is inconclusive, reading through the descriptions helps a lot. At first I was unsure what color I truly was, but after reading more, I realized I am definitely blue. I thought it was just fascinating, and gave me so many insights about how to interact with others and what to expect from various relationships. I can't give this book enough thumbs up. Like I said, I've read MANY personality analysis books, and I've done those "color tests" they make you do in school or sometimes the work place, and nothing has helped me understand myself better than this book has. You can take the test for free online, if you want. I highly, highly recommend this book. It has a chapter in the back for employers and another one for educators to see how these concepts can be applied in a work setting. I think it's also invaluable to parents. Give this a try! 

Monday, October 24, 2016

Peter and the Starcatchers

Author: Dave Barry and Ridley Pearson
Pages: 451
Rating: PG (There is some fighting and scary stuff happening, a few people almost die, although no one actually does. I would definitely say this is for ages 9 and up)

Summary:In an evocative and fast-paced adventure on the high seas and on a faraway island, and orphan boy named Peter and his mysterious new friend, Molly, overcome bands of pirates and thieves in their quest to keep a fantastical secret safe and save the world from evil. Best-selling authors Dave Barry and Ridley Pearson have turned back the clock to reveal the wonderful story that preceded J. M. Barrie's beloved Peter Pan. Peter and the Starcatchers is brimming with richly developed characters, from the scary but somehow familiar Black Stache and ferocious Mister Grin to the sweet but sophisticated Molly and fearless Peter. Page after page of riveting adventures takes readers of all ages on a voyage from a filthy, crime-ridden port in old England across the turbulent sea. Aboard the Never Land is a trunk that holds the "greatest treasure on earth"-  but is it gold, jewels or something far more mysterious and dangerous?

My Thoughts: I really enjoyed this book! Basically, it's a prequel to Peter Pan, and I love it. It's simply written, in very short chapters, so easily manageable for kids, and also has an occasional illustration. Just as a disclaimer, it IS part of a series of what looks like 4 books, BUT I felt that this book stood on it's own very well, with a very satisfying ending. I don't feel anxious to go out and read the other books. I felt like after I finished this one it's very easy to go straight from this book to the story of Peter Pan with nothing else in between.

Peter is with a group of orphan boys being sent across the sea to become slaves for a rather terrifying king. However, there is a strange trunk aboard the ship, that seems to have some sort of magical powers, and Peter is determined to find out what it is. No sooner does he do so when their ship is overtaken by pirates. A battle ensues for possession of the trunk and it's contents, and we learn where Peter Pan gets his power to fly, his fairy Tinker Bell, and his rivalry with Captain Hook. Definitely a fun book to read! 

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

The Rithmatist

Author: Brandon Sanderson
Pages: 370
Rating: PG - there are a few murders, and some descriptions of how chalklings kill (by slowly eating off a person's flesh)

More than anything, Joel wants to be a Rithmatist. Rithmatists have the power to infuse life into two-dimensional figures known as Chalklings. Rithmatists are humanity's only defense against the Wild Chalklings. Having nearly overrun the territory of Nebrask, the Wild Chalklings now threaten all of the American Isles.
As the son of a lowly chalkmaker at Armedius Academy, Joel can only watch as Rithmatist students learn the magical art that he would do anything to practice. Then students start disappearing―kidnapped from their rooms at night, leaving trails of blood. Assigned to help the professor who is investigating the crimes, Joel and his friend Melody find themselves on the trail of an unexpected discovery―one that will change Rithmatics―and their world―forever.

My Thoughts: First off - if you're a Sanderson fan, you know his novels are normally very long and for adults. This one is intended for teens. Also, before you read any further, you should know it doesn't stand on it's own. This book came out in 2013, but it says "To be continued" at the end, and from what I've researched online, its sequel is not scheduled to be released until sometime in 2017!! It's unclear whether there will just be one sequel or if it will be a trilogy or more. However, the main mystery in the book (the disappearing students) IS solved before the book ends, there's just clearly more to it, and there are several plot points that aren't fully developed, which I assume will get their time in the next book.

That being said, I really enjoyed this book. Sanderson really has a gift of coming up with new worlds and new storylines no one has ever imagined before. This book is set in a kind of alternate America - it's a group of islands instead of one big land mass. Sanderson also references a few historical figures that are familiar to the average reader (such as Leonardo da Vinci), but he changes their stories/historical contributions slightly to fit in with his alternate reality, which is kind of fun. I enjoyed reading this, and trying to guess who was behind the kidnappings. I didn't even come close! It was a surprise ending for sure, but also a satisfying one. I do recommend this book, but wish I had waited to read it until the sequel came out. By the time I get to it I'm sure I'm going to have forgotten everything about this book!

Wednesday, October 5, 2016

The Women of Duck Commander

Author: Kay, Korie, Missy, Jessica, and Lisa Robertson with Beth Clark
Pages: 260
Rating: G

In the pages of this book, you'll find both fun and inspirational stories . . .

Kay shares the honest story of her relationship with Phil--and his wild and philandering years--and the challenges of being a teenage mother. Even more amazing, she shares the forgiveness she offered Phil and how they have now celebrated forty-eight years of marriage.

Korie tells of her first encounter with Phil when she was in just the fifth grade. At that first meeting Phil came right out and told her what good husbands his boys would make and that she should keep an eye on them. She also shares the reaction her parents had when she told them that she and Willie were getting married when she was only eighteen.

Missy tells the story of their daughter, Mia, who was born with a cleft palate, and their adjustments to this condition and Mia's joyful spirit that inspires them all.

Jessica recounts her first conversation with Jep and how unimpressed she was when Jep bragged that his dad was the Duck Commander Phil Robertson. She told him she'd heard of Daffy Duck, Donald Duck, and Duck, Duck, Goose-- but not the Duck Commander.

Lisa reveals the serious marriage problems she and Al had--problems that almost ended their marriage for good--and how they worked through those issues to have a more stable and loving marriage than she ever imagined possible.

My Thoughts: I really enjoyed this book! I love Duck Dynasty, it's the main show I miss now that we don't have Cable anymore. For a little while, 1 season of it was on Netflix, but it's gone now and that makes me sad. I really enjoyed reading about this family! They are so humble, have so much faith, and they love each other so much! In the TV show, you don't hear quite as much about their faith, but in the book it really comes out. They are all devoted Christians, and they'll share with anyone who will listen. I particularly loved reading about all the problems Miss Kay had in her young marriage. To look at them now, you think their life is just roses, but it went through some serious rocky patches. Many women would have left their husbands, but Kay stuck it out and now their marriage is, as Phil would say, "Happy, happy, happy!" It was inspiring.

The one drawback to this book was that sometimes they reference things that apparently you should know about already? Maybe they're described in detail in other books? They only vaguely describe what went on and it left me feeling like I didn't get the whole story. So I guess I need to read the other books.

But in all, I just really loved to learn more about this family, more about what makes them work, and how dedicated they are to their faith and their family happiness. They talk so much about how it's not things that make you happy, but people. I love that.

Monday, September 12, 2016

Most Wanted

Author: Lisa Scottoline
Pages: 417

Rating: PG-13 (This is definitely an adult novel. I don't know that it would be easy for a teen to understand everything involved in this, but I also rated it PG-13 because there is a serial murder, and the crime scenes are described in detail. It's a tad gory. Very little language though, and no sex.)

Donor 3319 Profile:
Tall. Blonde. Blue eyes.
Medical Student.
Wanted for Serial Murder.
Christine Nilsson and her husband, Marcus, are desperate for a baby. Unable to conceive, they find themselves facing a difficult choice they had never anticipated. After many appointments with specialists, endless research, and countless conversations, they make the decision to use a donor.
Two months pass, and Christine is happily pregnant. But one day, she is shocked to see a young blond man on the TV news being arrested for a series of brutal murders―and the blond man bears an undeniable and uncanny resemblance to her donor.
Delving deeper to uncover the truth, Christine must confront a terrifying reality and face her worst fears. Riveting and fast-paced with the depth of emotionality that has garnered Lisa Scottoline legions of fans, Most Wanted poses an ethical and moral dilemma: What would you do if the biological father of your unborn child was a killer?

My Thoughts: I thought this book was very interesting in it's premise, but I wasn't a fan of the style of writing. One thing that drove me nuts about this book was how every character's outfit had to be described in detail every time you met them (even if you only meet them once, for half a page). If Christine changed outfits for any reason, you get a full description. I read this for a book club and other people in the group actually liked the outfit descriptions, but I thought it was annoying. Sometimes it took forever to get places because of how much the author described things. Every time Christine enters or exits her car, the author specifies that she "chirps" the car either locked or unlocked. So unnecessary. There were also plot points that didn't really help the storyline in any way. For example, Christine briefly visits her parents and it's revealed that her dad has Alzheimer's and this has been very hard on the family, but this doesn't really further the plot and I feel like could have been something just mentioned, and not something to spend an entire chapter on. There are other instances like this as well.

Other than that, I did think it was an interesting story. And I liked that it was clean. After seeing the news report with the arrested serial killer that looks astonishingly like her donor, Christine and Marcus try to find out the identity of their anonymous donor. The sperm bank refuses to comply. They decide to sue, but Christine can't wait for a lawsuit, so she drives up to the prison to ask the alleged killer straight out. She ends up investigating the most recent murder on her own, because she begins to doubt the alleged killer's guilt. It's interesting, keeps you turning pages for sure. I wasn't a fan of how quickly it all wrapped up though. If you like detective TV shows, go ahead and read this one. I liked it, but didn't LOVE it.

Tuesday, September 6, 2016

When Crickets Cry

Author: Charles Martin
Pages: 334
Rating: PG - no swearing, no sex or innuendos, but some of the descriptions of heart surgery/traumatic events are a little intense.


A man with a painful past. A child with a doubtful future. And a shared journey toward healing for both their hearts.
It begins on the shaded town square in a sleepy Southern town. A spirited seven-year-old has a brisk business at her lemonade stand. But the little girl’s pretty yellow dress can’t quite hide the ugly scar on her chest.
Her latest customer, a bearded stranger, drains his cup and heads to his car, his mind on a boat he's restoring at a nearby lake. The stranger understands more about the scar than he wants to admit. And the beat-up bread truck careening around the corner with its radio blaring is about to change the trajectory of both their lives.
Before it's over, they'll both know there are painful reasons why crickets cry . . . and that miracles lurk around unexpected corners.

My Thoughts: I really enjoyed this book. Particularly because you're sure the whole time that it's going to be a story about lost love and newfound love, but it's not. The main character, Reese, lost his wife 5 years ago from a heart defect she'd dealt with her entire life. Reese had known her since they were children, and had gone to medical school and become a renowned heart surgeon, all in pursuit of ultimately being able to fix his wife. When she dies anyway, he loses himself, and goes into hiding, per se. He starts going by his middle name, moves to a small town where no one knows him, and cuts all ties with his previous profession.

And then Reese meets Annie, a little girl with the same heart problem as his deceased wife.  She needs a heart transplant but, since she's so small, only the best will do. She's holding out for that perfect surgeon. Now Reese just has to decide whether he can confront his painful past and be the person Annie needs him to be.

I really thought this book was excellent. It's compelling, the storyline is really good, even though it gets vague in places, religion is weaved throughout but isn't overwhelming, and the ending is surprising! I actually got to what I thought was the end, and stopped for a few days because I was so upset about what happened. But then I finally finished it and the ending was not what I thought it was. You may want to give this one a try. It's a sweet story, and like I said, you totally think Reese is going to find a new woman or something but that doesn't even happen. It's all about Annie. And I love that. It doesn't have to be a love story that brings someone out of depression.

Thursday, August 11, 2016

I'll Give You The Sun

Author: Jandy Nelson
Pages: 371
Rating: PG-13 (probably 10-12 F-words in this book, but very little other swearing.)

At first, Jude and her twin brother are NoahandJude; inseparable. Noah draws constantly and is falling in love with the charismatic boy next door, while daredevil Jude wears red-red lipstick, cliff-dives, and does all the talking for both of them.

Years later, they are barely speaking. Something has happened to change the twins in different yet equally devastating ways . . . but then Jude meets an intriguing, irresistible boy and a mysterious new mentor.

The early years are Noah’s to tell; the later years are Jude’s. But they each have only half the story, and if they can only find their way back to one another, they’ll have a chance to remake their world.

This radiant, award-winning novel from the acclaimed author of The Sky Is Everywhere will leave you breathless and teary and laughing—often all at once.

My Thoughts: I really love this author. She is just so so amazing with words! I don't even know how she thinks up the things she says, but they make complete sense, even if it's something I never in a million years would have thought to say. For example, towards the beginning, Noah talks about how walking around in the art museum makes him feel like his skin fits, how "it didn't once bunch up at my ankles or squeeze my head into a pin." What great imagery! What an artistic way to explain how he felt free to be himself! I just love the way she writes.

All that aside, I also loved the story. I have never actually read a book where one of the main characters was gay. It just isn't something that interested me/it kind of made me uncomfortable. But Nelson does an amazing job of writing Noah. Noah is gay, but he's kind of afraid of it, as I'm sure most kids in his position feel. He wishes he wasn't like this, he's afraid of what his family will think if they ever find out, but he can't stop what he feels. Seriously, just such a great novel to create understanding towards kids who are struggling with their sexual identity. 

Another thing I love is in the end, Noah and Jude both realize that they never really knew their parents as well as they thought they did. They made assumptions, made too much out of innocent comments. Noah believes for years that his dad dislikes him and that they have nothing in common. He has completely forgotten the things they used to enjoy doing together, the amazing things they DO share. It's eye opening, for sure.

This book was not predictable. I wasn't sure where it was all going to end up or what was going to happen, and there was a twist towards the end that totally surprised me. This book was definitely worth reading. I hope Nelson writes more books because she is really incredible!

Tuesday, August 9, 2016

The Kitchen House

Author: Kathleen Grissom
Pages: 365
Rating: PG-13 - there are no graphic descriptions, but a girl is raped, and a boy is sexually abused (this is just implied but it's pretty clear what is going on). There's also some violence.

In this gripping novel, a dark secret threatens to expose the best and worst in everyone tied to the estate at a thriving plantation in Virginia in the decades before the Civil War.

Orphaned during her passage from Ireland, young, white Lavinia arrives on the steps of the kitchen house and is placed, as an indentured servant, under the care of Belle, the master’s illegitimate slave daughter. Lavinia learns to cook, clean, and serve food, while guided by the quiet strength and love of her new family.

In time, Lavinia is accepted into the world of the big house, caring for the master’s opium-addicted wife and befriending his dangerous yet protective son. She attempts to straddle the worlds of the kitchen and big house, but her skin color will forever set her apart from Belle and the other slaves.

Through the unique eyes of Lavinia and Belle, Grissom’s debut novel unfolds in a heartbreaking and ultimately hopeful story of class, race, dignity, deep-buried secrets, and familial bonds.

My Thoughts: I had kind of a hard time with this book. Sometimes I got so frustrated with the plot I had to put the book down for a while. It's one of those books where it just seems like bad things keep happening and nothing ever really gets better! And it definitely doesn't have a neat and tidy ending where everything is suddenly happily ever after. One slave that Lavinia is very close to ends up being sold, and you never find out what happens to her. She's just gone.

I thought it was definitely an interesting book - to be written mainly from the perspective of a white girl, who as an indentured servant doesn't really fit into either the world of the slaves or the world of the white family she serves, is an interesting perspective. But I felt frustrated because so many things would have worked out better if the characters had just communicated! If the captain had told his family Belle's true identity as his daughter, if someone had explained to Lavinia the status quo of black vs white. Lavinia is kind of naive and of course, since she is thrown in with the negro slaves of the household, she comes to love them as her family. But she never really understands the way things work, and what the slaves can and can't legally do. She just doesn't get it, and that causes some problems. No one ever properly explains it to her. I also felt like there wasn't enough of a wrap-up at the end. There's this big climactic crazy scene where the poop totally hits the fan, and then like 3 pages later the book is over. I would have liked more of an explanation of what happened next. And there is a sequel, but it's not about the same main characters. It's the next generation.

But I do have to say that the book was humbling to read, because I think the author very realistically described the reality that black slaves had to deal with during this time period. They could be sold at any time, for any reason. For that matter, they could also be killed at any time, for any reason, with no repercussions. Families were not guaranteed to stay together. They had no real say in anything. It was a terrible way to live. But what impressed me the most was the intense faith in God that the slaves had. They are always talking about how things are the will of the Lord, how the Lord is taking care of us, etc. How many reasons they had to believe God didn't love them, had abandoned them, or maybe even didn't even exist! But they held on, maybe because they had to believe there was something better out there. It was the only thing that kept them going each day. Just amazing, really.

In all, I probably would recommend this book, but just be warned, it doesn't leave you feeling warm and fuzzy.

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Garden Spells

Author: Sarah Addison Allen
Pages: 286

Rating: PG-13 (this is definitely an adult novel. There were a few too many curse words, and I wasn't pleased with the descriptiveness of the sex in it. It's not extremely graphic, it doesn't go on and on for pages, but the little that there is I felt was too much. I like my sex references in books to be super vague.)

The Waverleys have always been a curious family, endowed with peculiar gifts that make them outsiders even in their hometown of Bascom, North Carolina. Even their garden has a reputation, famous for its feisty apple tree that bears prophetic fruit, and its edible flowers, imbued with special powers. Generations of Waverleys tended this garden. Their history was in the soil. But so were their futures. A successful caterer, Claire Waverley prepares dishes made with her mystical plants - from the nasturtiums that aid in keeping secrets and the pansies that make children thoughtful, to the snapdragons intended to discourage the attentions of her amorous neighbor. Meanwhile, her elderly cousin, Evanelle, is known for distributing unexpected gifts whose uses become uncannily clear. They are the last of the Waverleys - except for Claire’s rebellious sister, Sydney, who fled Bascom the moment she could, abandoning Claire, as their own mother had years before. When Sydney suddenly returns home with a young daughter of her own, Claire’s quiet life is turned upside down - along with the protective boundary she has so carefully constructed around her heart. Together again in the house they grew up in, Sydney takes stock of all she left behind, as Claire struggles to heal the wounds of the past. And soon the sisters realize they must deal with their common legacy - if they are ever to feel at home in Bascom - or with each other

My Thoughts: I felt like this was a good story, I really enjoyed the little bits of magic laced in, and I thought the characters were well rounded, etc. As I said above, I wasn't comfortable with how descriptive the sex scenes got, even though it wasn't bad enough for me to close the book and say I'm done. I liked how the book switched perspectives several times so you get to hear from each character. I'm going to check out more by this author, because she came highly recommended, but I'm hoping her other books are better. I wasn't super enthralled by this one.

Monday, July 18, 2016

Me Before You

Author: Jojo Moyes
Pages: 369
Rating: PG-13 (There's one time the main character has sex with her boyfriend, but it's not descriptive. I was much more bothered by the fact that the F-word is in this book probably 10-15 times.)

Louisa Clark is an ordinary girl living an exceedingly ordinary life—steady boyfriend, close family—who has barely been farther afield than their tiny village. She takes a badly needed job working for ex–Master of the Universe Will Traynor, who is wheelchair bound after an accident. Will has always lived a huge life—big deals, extreme sports, worldwide travel—and now he’s pretty sure he cannot live the way he is.

Will is acerbic, moody, bossy—but Lou refuses to treat him with kid gloves, and soon his happiness means more to her than she expected. When she learns that Will has shocking plans of his own, she sets out to show him that life is still worth living.

My Thoughts: So this book, and it's accompanying movie, has been all the rage lately. I probably would not have picked this up except that my book club chose it for the month of July, so I read it.

I do have to say that it is very well written. I read the whole thing in 3 days. It never gets boring or tedious at ALL and it's very emotional. You really understand the way everyone is feeling.

That being said, I'm not sure if I particularly like the story. Will is not just wheelchair bound, he's a quadriplegic. Everything has to be done for him. He has to be fed like a baby, bathed, moved around, everything. He's totally helpless. And, the worse part is, even though he can't MOVE his body parts, he can still feel pain in them. Will wants to commit an assisted suicide. When Louisa finds out, she sets out to convince him that life is worth living, even if it's not the life he intended for himself.

Spoiler, Spoiler, Spoiler...if you don't want to know how it ends, STOP READING NOW!

Surprise, surprise, Louisa ends up falling in love with Will, despite his paralysis. And, Will falls for Louisa. However, none of this changes his mind. He still wants to commit suicide. It's heartbreaking to read how his mother feels about all this, how Louisa feels. And I agree with Louisa when she tells Will he is being selfish. He tells her that her love is not enough for him. He can't stand to live life like this even with the love of his family, of Louisa, and with so many things that he CAN do. It frustrates me because his brain is still there, the essence of who he is still exists. In the end, he does go through with the suicide, and everyone just has to accept it, because that's what will make him happy. The book is apparently supposed to be giving us an idea of why it would be ok for someone to commit an assisted suicide. And I don't really know how I feel about it, especially in a situation such as was presented in this book. I don't think you should end your life just because it didn't go the way you wanted it to. I think about how I would feel if a loved one of mine wanted to do something like that and I just can't even stand it. It's really horrible. 

So anyway, if you choose to read this book, you'll definitely not be bored, but I don't really know how I feel about the overall message of it.  

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Pilgrimage: My Journey to a Deeper Faith in the Land Where Jesus Walked

Author: Lynn Austin
Pages: 238
Rating: G
The opportunity to tour Israel came at a good time. For months, my life has been a mindless plodding through necessary routine, as monotonous as an all-night shift on an assembly line. Life gets that way sometimes, when nothing specific is wrong but the world around us seems drained of color. Even my weekly worship experiences and daily quiet times with God have felt as dry and stale as last year's crackers. I'm ashamed to confess the malaise I've felt. I have been given so much. Shouldn't a Christian's life be an abundant one, as exciting as Christmas morning, as joyful as Easter Sunday?
With gripping honesty, Lynn Austin pens her struggles with spiritual dryness in a season of loss and unwanted change. Tracing her travels throughout Israel, Austin seamlessly weaves events and insights from the Word . . . and in doing so finds a renewed passion for prayer and encouragement for her spirit, now full of life and hope.

My Thoughts: I really enjoy Lynn Austin's religious fiction, and when I saw that she'd written her personal struggle with faith, I decided to read it. I'm so glad I did. I learned so much. Austin is truly a biblical scholar. She knows her Bible stories, and she has learned so much from them. It was refreshing in a way, since in the LDS church we focus so much on the Book of Mormon and the lessons we learn there, the Old Testament stories are kind of an afterthought and often fall by the wayside. I loved the way Austin delved deep into some of the most familiar but also some more obscure Old Testament stories, and gleaned amazing and profound lessons. I found myself underlining (in light pencil since it's a library book) and bookmarking page after page as I read. Plus, it was also really neat to learn the history of some of the places she visited in the book, since all of them were significant Bible locations. I highly recommend this book. I promise you'll learn something and maybe even be inspired to make a change in your life! I'll leave you with some of my favorite quotes.

God knows that we all need to be brought out to the desert from time to time to free us from our comfortable self-sufficiency. If He strips us of all our own resources, we just might learn to lean on Him. (pg 21)

It's easier to camp beside the Dead Sea's bitter waters mumbling "Poor me. Why doesn't God help me? Why can't I feel His presence?" than it is to search and climb and stretch spiritual muscles that have become flabby from lack of use. (pg 47)

Spiritual growth and vibrant faith in God don't happen in isolation, but under pressure. Without the danger of threats from Pharaoh, we never would have to decide if we're going to trust in our own chariots and horses, or in God. (pg 60)

Perhaps my first prayer should be for a deeper love and compassion for others, a heart like God's own that looks beyond the outward sin and sees individuals the way that He does. Before I start sounding a warning, I need to earn the right to be heard through acts of love and kindness. (pg 164).

Meeting with God is more like an appointment at the vision center to get my glasses adjusted - and maybe finding out that I need a new prescription altogether. My daily quiet time isn't an item to check off on a to-do list but an appointment with The Boss to get my priorities realigned and a new assignment to complete.  (pg 227)

Saturday, April 16, 2016


Author: R.J. Palacio
Pages: 313
Rating: G

August Pullman was born with a facial difference that, up until now, has prevented him from going to a mainstream school. Starting 5th grade at Beecher Prep, he wants nothing more than to be treated as an ordinary kid—but his new classmates can’t get past Auggie’s extraordinary face. WONDER, now a #1 New York Times bestseller and included on the Texas Bluebonnet Award master list, begins from Auggie’s point of view, but soon switches to include his classmates, his sister, her boyfriend, and others. These perspectives converge in a portrait of one community’s struggle with empathy, compassion, and acceptance.

My Thoughts: I feel like this was a really good book for elementary and middle school students to read to help them be more accepting and kind to others who are different from them. I read it quickly, it's not hard to read, and I love that the chapters are all only about 3 pages long so it's easy to take breaks or read just a little at a time. I'm not sure I really liked how it changed perspectives several times, and there were a few storylines that didn't relate directly to Auggie but that I was still curious about that never really got resolved.

Reading this book reminded me of an experience I had when I was about 5 or 6. There was a little boy in my class at church who was severely deformed. I'm not sure if he had been in a fire or what, I don't remember, but he was blind, was missing a foot and a lower arm, didn't have much in the way of ears, and his skin was really scarred all over like he'd had a lot of severe burns. I was TERRIFIED of this kid. My dad had to come to class with me whenever that kid came to church because he scared me so badly. No matter what my dad did, he couldn't convince me that this was just a normal kid and I had nothing to be afraid of. I'm not sure if I would have been too young, but I think something like this book could have helped. I couldn't see past this kid's face to who he was inside, which is something that Wonder addresses quite a bit. Anyway, definitely worth the read, especially if you know someone who has a situation similar to Auggie's.

Wednesday, April 6, 2016

Wonderland Creek

Author: Lynn Austin
Pages: 385
Rating: PG
Summary: Alice Grace Ripley lives in a dream world, her nose stuck in a book. But the happily-ever-after life she's planned on suddenly falls apart when her boyfriend breaks up with her, accusing her of living in a world of fiction instead of the real one. To top it off, Alice loses her beloved library job because of cutbacks due to the Great Depression.

Longing to run from small-town gossip, Alice flees to the mountains of eastern Kentucky to deliver five boxes of donated books to the tiny coal-mining town of Acorn, a place with no running water, no electricity, and where the librarians ride ornery horses up steep mountain passes to deliver books. When Alice is forced to stay in Acorn far longer than she planned, she discovers that real-life adventure, mystery - and especially romance - may be far better than her humble dreams could have imagined.

My Thoughts: Lynn Austin is quickly becoming a favorite author for me. She writes clean, Christian novels in an non-annoying way. I've read a lot of Christian novels that always have this one character that is so sappy and annoying with the way they just live their religion so perfectly and basically act like God pretty much lives in their house. I just feel like those characters are totally unrealistic. This novel does have an old woman, a former slave named Lillie who has had just a litany of terrible things happen to her in her life, but is committed to God and is always saying things like "Just trust in God. The Lord knows what he's doing." But Lillie also has quite a personality, and is involved in some events that seem pretty shady at first, including helping a man fake his death and funeral. I just feel like Lillie is much more of a realistic character than those you typically find in Christian novels.

Anyway, I really enjoyed this book, even though the historical fiction part isn't as huge as in some of Austin's novels. The packhorse librarians were a real thing during the Depression, which I thought was really interesting. Also, the town Alice visits happens to be in a 60 year feud between two of the families that make up the town. It reminded me of the Hatfield's and the McCoy's. Alice really learns a lot about herself and about caring for others as she works herself into the lives of these humble mountain people. She does find love, but the book is not centered around that story, and it's not all sappy and ridiculous. Austin is pretty tame with the way she writes her love stories. If you're looking for a good, CLEAN adult novel...check this out! I've read two other books by this author, and I'm sure I'll continue to enjoy more of them.

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Call The Midwife: Farewell to the East End

Author: Jennifer Worth
Pages: 314
Rating: PG-13 (a few of the stories are rather mature in nature)

Call the Midwife: Farewell to the East End is the last book in Worth's memoir trilogy, which the Times Literary Supplement described as "powerful stories with sweet charm and controlled outrage" in the face of dire circumstances.
Here, at last, is the full story of Chummy's delightful courtship and wedding. We also meet Megan'mave, identical twins who share a browbeaten husband, and return to Sister Monica Joan, who is in top eccentric form. As in Worth's first two books, Call the Midwife: A Memoir of Birth, Joy, and Hard Times and Call the Midwife: Shadows of the Workhouse, the vividly portrayed denizens of a postwar East End contend with the trials of extreme poverty—unsanitary conditions, hunger, and disease—and find surprising ways to thrive in their tightly knit community.

My Thoughts:  This was probably my least favorite of the three books, although I still found it very interesting. It was neat to hear what happened to each of the people the author worked with (Trixie, Chummy, Cynthia, and the nuns) and in case you care, almost none of them do what the show says they do, but we expect television to take some liberties with the storyline. This book was my least favorite because it seemed to be just made up of stories that didn't fit into the first two books, so it's kind of sporadic. But still interesting. This book includes the stories of Meg and Mave, twins who are married to the same man and who insist on following extremely old books about pregnancy and birth; the story of the woman who after finding out she is pregnant yet again with a child they can't afford gets a backstreet abortion and almost dies, the woman who naturally births triplets, The Master's Arms (old guy who is sick and has lost his entire family except one daughter, who comes to nurse him), and the story of the ship's woman who ends up pregnant (this one and the abortion story are particularly disturbing).

I have to say though, that in the end I highly recommend all three of these books. I wish there were more!

Friday, March 11, 2016

Call the Midwife: Shadows of the Workhouse

Author: Jennifer Worth
Pages: 293
Rating: PG
The sequel to Jennifer Worth's New York Times bestselling memoir and the basis for the PBS series Call the Midwife
When twenty-two-year-old Jennifer Worth, from a comfortable middle-class upbringing, went to work as a midwife in the direst section of postwar London, she not only delivered hundreds of babies and touched many lives, she also became the neighborhood's most vivid chronicler. Woven into the ongoing tales of her life in the East End are the true stories of the people Worth met who grew up in the dreaded workhouse, a Dickensian institution that limped on into the middle of the twentieth century.
Orphaned brother and sister Peggy and Frank lived in the workhouse until Frank got free and returned to rescue his sister. Bubbly Jane's spirit was broken by the cruelty of the workhouse master until she found kindness and romance years later at Nonnatus House. Mr. Collett, a Boer War veteran, lost his family in the two world wars and died in the workhouse.
Though these are stories of unimaginable hardship, what shines through each is the resilience of the human spirit and the strength, courage, and humor of people determined to build a future for themselves against the odds. This is an enduring work of literary nonfiction, at once a warmhearted coming-of-age story and a startling look at people's lives in the poorest section of postwar London.
My Thoughts: This book was considerably more depressing than the first one, and much less about midwifery. In fact, I don't think there was much mention of birth at all in this book. It was much more concerned with the history of the poor in London, which was horrible by the way! Workhouses were the governments form of "caring" for the destitue, but in reality it was worse than death for many. Some people actually committed suicide to avoid the workhouse. Widows who had no other choice but to enter the workhouse with their entire family were immediately separated from their children, and they often never saw them again. The discipline was harsh and unmerciful...young children were severely beaten for the smallest infractions. I couldn't believe such a thing even existed!

The book is split into three main topics - the workhouse, the scandal of one of the nuns being put on trial for shoplifting, and then the story of an old man named Mr. Collett, who served in the army, barely survived, and then lost his entire family in World War II. I thought each of the stories was just fascinating, and I particularly was impressed with Mr. Collett, who is unfailingly grateful for what he has. He lives in deep poverty, but talks about how it is such a luxury that he has a roof over his head, a bed to sleep in and food to eat. He has hope that he will see his wife and children again soon He's truly an inspiring man and his story is touching.

Worth makes the point in this book that we rarely ever hear the stories of the desperately poor from this time period,  and they are so humbling. I am overwhelmingly grateful that such issues are no longer a part of our daily lives. I sped through this book in just a few days, I found it so fascinating and it just opened my eyes to how much people have suffered throughout history, even in times of peace.

Saturday, March 5, 2016

Call The Midwife

Author: Jennifer Worth
Pages: 319
Rating: PG-13 (There are a few chapters about a prostitute who ended up pregnant, and some of the descriptions of the prostitute life are quite graphic.)

Summary: In the 1950s, twenty-two-year-old Jenny Lee leaves her comfortable home to move into a convent and become a midwife in London's East End slums. While delivering babies all over the city, Jenny encounters a colorful cast of women—from the plucky, warm-hearted nuns with whom she lives, to the woman with twenty-four children who can't speak English, to the prostitutes of the city's seedier side.

My Thoughts: I've been totally addicted to the TV show on Netflix, and knowing it's based on a memoir, I decided to check it out. Guess what? This is just the first of THREE books! Which is awesome because when I finished it I was disappointed that it ended so soon! I found this book to be completely fascinating, especially because these midwives were pioneers in the work of taking care of pregnant women. It's amazing what they were able to do.

Not all the stories are about babies and pregnant women and it's really interesting to read about some of the history of the area. I was particularly struck by the descriptions of the workhouses, which is where the desperately poor used to turn when they had no other choice. The workhouses were honestly not much better than Hitler's concentration camps. Families were separated and children usually died. Seriously so depressing.

If you've been watching the show, you'll recognize the majority of the stories, although some of them don't end quite as happily, which is a bummer. Reading it makes one grateful for all the advances in medicine and laws that we have today that make things even better for mothers.

Highly recommend this one, especially if you're already watching the show!

Saturday, February 27, 2016

My Name Used to Be Muhammad: The True Story of a Muslim Who Became a Christian

Author: Tito Momen with Jeff Benedict
Pages: 278
Rating: PG (Tito is beaten several times, and there are some references to sexual activity...this book is high school level and up)

Summary:Tito Momen was raised Muhammad Momen. He was born in Nigeria and taught to observe the strict teachings of Islam. Beginning at age five he woke at 4:45 every morning to attend the mosque and perform dawn prayer with the other men in his village. He began training to memorize the Qur'an at age six by copying the entire Qur'an word for word. He was being raised to become a leader among clerics, capable of leading a jihad, or holy struggle, to convert nonbelievers to Islam. But Tito's path took an unexpected turn when he was introduced to Christianity. His decision to believe in Jesus Christ cost him his family and his freedom. Tito thought he would spend his remaining days enduring a life sentence in an uncivilized Egyptian prison. For fifteen years he suffered and waited and prayed. Tito says, "I never gave up hope. I never stopped believing." Although he was falsely imprisoned, beaten, and ridiculed, Tito's remarkable true story is one of faith, forgiveness, and testimony that God does hear and answer prayers.

My Thoughts: I thought this book was extremely interesting. I read the entire thing in just a few days. It's a quick read, and moves along really well. I like that in the beginning, he adds a disclaimer saying that his experiences with Islam are on the extreme side, and that he knows there are MANY peaceful, loving, and tolerant Muslims in the world. I felt like that was so important in a world that general lumps all worshipers of Islam into one, terroristic group.

This book was really inspiring to me because Tito's story is an example of the fact that the Lord is truly in control of our lives, even when it seems that nothing is going right. Tito's life is a testimony to the fact that all our trials will be for our good. It seemed like nothing good was coming of Tito's decision to convert to Christianity, but in the end, he looks back and shows the reader how all of his hardships had been a blessing in disguise. For instance, while in prison he developed some serious health issues. While these issues were quite the trial, they are also the reason he was ultimately released from prison. I thought it was a great book, and super interesting, particularly since Muslims are basically forbidden to convert to Christianity. Tito was risking his life when he chose to convert. Most of us don't have to deal with that. And it begs the strong is my faith? Would I be willing to give up everything in order to keep it?

Thursday, February 25, 2016

The Storied Life of A.J Fikry

Author: Gabrielle Zevin
Pages: 258
Rating: PG-13 (several instances of the f-word, references to sex, although no graphic descriptions)

A. J. Fikry’s life is not at all what he expected it to be. He lives alone, his bookstore is experiencing the worst sales in its history, and now his prized possession, a rare collection of Poe poems, has been stolen. But when a mysterious package appears at the bookstore, its unexpected arrival gives Fikry the chance to make his life over--and see everything anew.

My Thoughts: I felt like this book was just ok. While it was a nice quick read and entertaining enough to keep me reading it, I didn't fall in love with it completely.It also had a few too many swear words in it for my taste.  AJ is quite depressed at the beginning of the story. His wife has died in a car accident and he is quite alone. The "mysterious package" is an abandoned 2-year old girl, who AJ ends up adopting, and she helps him really turn his life around. I just felt like this story has been told before, in a million different ways. But I did like the underlying theme about how books and stories can bring people together, solidify relationships, and change the way we think about things. 

Trickster's Choice and Trickster's Queen

Author: Tamora Pierce
Pages: Book 1: (I lost the paper where I wrote this down but both books are between 300-400 pages)
Book 2:

Rating: PG (in book two there is a vague reference to sex and of course, there is fighting and killing, but nothing super gory or descriptive)

Summary:Trickster's Choice:
Alianne is the teenage daughter of the famed Alanna, the first lady knight in Tortall. Young Aly follows in the quieter footsteps of her father, however, delighting in the art of spying. When she is captured and sold as a slave to an exiled royal family in the faraway Copper Islands, it is this skill that makes a difference in a world filled with political intrigue, murderous conspiracy, and warring gods.
Trickster's Queen: Aly’s adventure continues. . . . No longer a slave, Alanna’s daughter is now spying as part of an underground rebellion against the colonial rulers of the Copper Isles. The people in the rebellion believe that a prophecy in which a new queen will rise up to take the throne is about to be realized. Aly is busy keeping the potential teenage queen and her younger siblings safe, while also keeping her in the dark about her future. But Aly, who is usually adept at anticipating danger and changes, is in for a few nasty surprises.

My Thoughts: I enjoy these two books, even though they aren't my favorite of the Tortall novels. Aly is a spunky, independent, smart character and I love her quick thinking and sly mind. She's very good at what she does. The trickster god Kyprioth decides to use Aly to help him gain back his lands from the people who took them hundreds of years ago. There is a prophesy stating that this will happen but he needs help. Aly is that help. There are definitely some fun twists and turns, including crows who can become human, magic used unwisely, and lots of spying and intrigue. Again, not my favorite of the Tamora Pierce books, but still good for a read.