Sunday, January 10, 2010

2010 Completed Books and Reviews

Wow, the start of not only a new year but a new decade! So many books so little time as always. I finished last year just shy of one book of my yearly goal of 30 but I had lots of review books and some good non-fiction throughout the year. Those always slow me down a bit. But we're off to a new year, fresh clean slate. Because 20-30 seems to be my norm, I'm going to challenge myself with 32 to finish for 2010.

As always, I am not a professional reviewer. It's just my opinions on the stories and how I felt about them. This is mostly for my own records. Sometimes I just want to remember what a book was about and whether I liked it or not.


1. "Freefall" by Kristen Heintzmann

Date Completed: January 9, 2010

Rating: 8.5

Review: When a young woman who
can't remember who she is shows up at
Nica's Kauai home, her first instinct is to call her brother who lives on the mainland. Fearing for Monica's fragile
emotions Cameron, a fraud investigator immediately flies to Hawaii to check out who this person is that his sister is drawn to help. With no memory at all of who she is or why she was in the mountains of Kauai, Nica gives the name Jade to this stranger. But Cameron is at his most suspicious, wondering if the amnesia is all an act. To complicate matters when it turns out that Jade is really Gentry Fox, a rising star, Cameron also has to fight his emotions being involved. Can he trust that this Gentry is being up front and as honest as possible as they crazily return to the mountain on the hunch that Gentry has that she
has left someone behind up there and that they may be in trouble. But as Gentry's memory starts to return in bits and pieces, the mystery only deepens about what really happened up by the waterfall.

I really enjoyed this suspense/romance. The romance that budded between the main characters even as one struggled to figure out who she was and what was going on her life, and the other one fought any relationship due to past hurts was well written. I enjoyed their dialogue and related to their one ste
p forward/two steps back relating in the beginning due to mistrust. Issues of forgiveness, trust, integrity, struggling with life changing circumstances and Christian values rising to the top.



2. "Halos" by Kristen Heitzmann

Completed: January 14, 2010

Rating: 9/10

Review: All her life Alessie Moore has taken halos as a sign of good things to come. So when she pulls into the town of Charity to fill up with gas, after driving from Florida, she is mesm
erized by the quiet beauty of the small town. And when she sees halos around the streetlights she just knows something good is coming for her. But as she pays for her gas things are set in motion that will leave her with nothing and everything good and positive she believes in is tested as she is left stranded in the town. With not much help from the local sheriff or it's citizens who refuse to acknowledge anything bad can happen in their town, an evil darkness threatens to take over which sets Alessi up as it's victim.

Loved this story. It held me riveted and I couldn't put the book down in spots. I never guessed until the end what was going on. The author skillfully slowly revealed bits and pieces of the mystery of the town but didn't fully expose what was going on until the end so I never guessed. The climax near the end left me breathless and tearful as I kept turning the pages wondering the outcome. The only reason I didn't give it a 10 in the rating was the love story between the main characters. While the story was wonderful with great dialogue, I always find the "falling in love" within a couple weeks of meeting between characters a little unbelievable. Maybe I'm getting old and forget what young love is like. LOL. But an awesome read notwithstanding.



3. "Stepping into Sunlight" by Sharon Hinck

Completed: January 25, 2010

Rating: 8.5/10

Review: Penny has had so many changes in her life lately. A big move leaving friends and family behind, her husband bein
g deployed as an navy chaplain and caring and helping her 7 year old son adjust to it all, that when the tragedy of witnessing a crime happens right before her husband leaves, it just becomes too much too to process. She withdraws further and further, her days becoming harder and harder to manage even as she tells her husband in their emails that everything is just fine so that he won't worry. When simple tasks such as taking her son to the bus or picking up groceries totally overwhelm she wonders where God is. But God
is there the whole time sending Penny help in the most unusual ways. But can Penny grab ahold of those helps or will she continue on trying to help herself out on her own strength.

My first read by Sharon Hinck has me hooked. A sensitive story that takes you through every emotion imaginable, I really felt for the characters. Every woman can relate to wondering where God is when life hurts and the author really was able to show how things we don't even think of can be those helps that we need at just the right time if only we will take them.



4. "A Flickering Light" by Jane Kirkpatrick

Completed: February 1, 2010

Rating: 8.5/10

Review: Jessie Gaebele wants nothing more than to
be a professional photographer one day owning her own studio. At age 14 she is thrilled to land a job at
one of top studio's in the town of Winona, Minnesota where she is employed for the next 3 years. As she learns the ins and outs of studio photography including the
posing, the lighting and the workings of a darkroom, her dream is well under way. Her business ability shines through when the owner, F.J. Bauer must take extended time off to heal from mercury poisoning, obtained from exposure to the toxic chemicals needed to print the portraits. But with her successes also comes tempations and trials she never thought she would face in the form of attraction to her married employer.

Jane Kirkpatrick has written many historical novels about real pioneer women and in this series she is finally telling a bit about her own family history. From interviews, artifacts, and articles about her own grandmother, she puts together a compelling story of a real family member. While the story touches on areas that are hard to read as a Christian, namely the attraction between Jessie and her married employer, the author explores the nature of men and women working closely together in a business setting. The author, to me, also showed clearly how sin works it's way into a person's life slowly even while one is denying the whole time that sin is taking a foothold. Also shown was how when we live with guilt from past events in our lives, we may make seriously wrong decisions that affect our futures. Through the story telling we are shown how Jessie clearly did not want to see what others were seeing and how it took the embroiling of others into her wrongdoing that finally opened her eyes. We are also shown how hard, at times, it is to leave that sin behind and how it may take drastic measures to do what is right.

One thing I really enjoyed too, while reading Jessie's story, is the factual and well researched area of photography in the early 1900's. I loved how the author wove all the information about how dangerous and life threatening it could be, and the technical aspects of it right into the story. I learned something without even realizing I was actually learning. Love that. Looking forward to the next in the series.




Completed: February 5, 2010

Rating:10/10

Review: Hennie Comfort has lived in Middle Swan, a mountain mining town, for seventy years. At 86 years of age, Hennie is content and loves her mountain in Colorado, but her daughter would like to move her to Iowa with her family for what remains of her life. But Hennie is not ready for that, and as she meets a young wife who has just moved to Middle Swan, Hennie senses God wants her to befriend the young girl. When the girl, Nit, reads a "Prayers for Sale" sign on Hennie's fence post, she feels compelled to leave a nickel and ask for a prayer. Hennie, never selling the prayers at all, but always ready to pray for someone, invites the young woman in. As they grow closer, Nit finds a friend in old Hennie, a wise woman who can show her the ways of the mountain. And by befriending Nit, Hennie finds an avid and engaged listener for her beloved stories of the mountain town and it's people.

A story of friendship and love, harsh and difficult lives, and the secrets surrounding them. I loved this book! Could not put it down. The author weaves a story that spans the civil war in the late 1800's to the depression through the life of Hennie, the main character. The characters are rich and well developed. The stories skillfully and beautifully woven. My heart was torn at the harshness of life these people endured and rejoiced with them in their blessings. I hated to see the story end. But felt such satisfaction that I'd just read something wonderful.



Completed: February 15, 2010

Rating: 9/10

Review: Miranda has felt without hope and guilty ever since giving birth to a baby at age fifteen. Noreen, her mother, took over the decision to adopt the baby and would not even let Miranda see or know anything about the babe. Given to wandering and being uncommitted in all aspects of life, Miranda has wandered from job to job, city to city in an effort to forget. When her mother falls ill with cancer and subsequently dies, Miranda is left to handle the estate. Coming across an envelope that contains a picture of a baby and a faded postmark, Miranda is on a quest in hopes of finding her child who would now be 11.

I enjoyed the story. The characters were well written and believeable and I loved the personality of Eden, the young girl who befriends Miranda. I thought the author wrote very interesting connecting stories of the other main characters and wove them all together in a thoughtful and sensitive way. Miranda's journey to find her child turned into a lovely story of also finding herself.



Completed: February 23, 2010

Rating: 9.5/10

Review: Deborah Raney is one of my favorite authors. She takes wonderful real characters and plunges them into situations that look impossible and then lets the story unfold all the while totally grabbing ahold of your emotions and never letting go until the end. And even then her stories stay with you for a long time in their tim
eless message. It is the same with this story. We meet Daria and her doctor husband, Dr. Nate Camfield, serving as missionaries to a remote tribe in Columbia. With a deep love for each other and desire to serve God in their calling, they are living in the midst of a rainforest ministering to a trible called the Timone. When other villagers come asking Dr. Nate for his help little do they know as Nate leaves that their lives are about to change forever. When Nate doesn't return in the time set, Daria is torn between calling in help and holding off thinking he just got delayed. When news finally comes that Nate has died in a tragic turn of events, Daria heads home to Kansas with a broken heart and Nate's child growing within her. As she goes through the process of grief and tries to rebuild a life for her and Nate's young daughter, it seems God has brought a wonderful Christian man into her life to do just that. But as she ignores a small voice within her and marries Cole, a telegram will come that plunges all they know into an impossible situation and forces her into making a heart rending decision.

I couldn't put the book down. From the beginning, I was right into the story and could relate to all the emotions the characters displayed throughout the story. I thought the author beautifully wove in the themes of faith, forgiveness, trust and sacrifice in a story that I couldn't get out of my thoughts for days. I highly recommend this one.




Completed: February 26, 2010

Rating: 5/10

Review: I wanted to read this story of Howie Mandel's because of the the component of OCD and adult diagnosed severe ADHD that he deals with in his life. While I did learn a lot about what he has to face on a daily basis and a basic knowledge of how an adult with ADHD, OCD would be acting and why, and a small smidge of what it would be like to live with a germophobe/hypochondriac, I should have known that with him being a stand up comic there would be vulgarity in the book. I always have a hard time reviewing books like this because it is an autobiography so how can I give it a not good rating when he is writing about his life and some of his stories are gut wrenchingly honest and you really feel for what he has gone through his whole life. But on the same token I do not enjoy books with f-bombs scattered through out and "R" stories within them. While there were some laugh out loud moments there were very many cringe worthy moments within the book as he relates some of the jokes he has taken too far and a whole chapter that I feel didn't even need to be in there but was just in there for crudeness sake and shock value. I do, however, acknowledge the fact that this must have been very difficult for him to write, that the world would now have a very different picture of him. I also wish he would have spent a bit more time relating how he controls on a daily basis his OCD, germophobia, and ADHD rather than so many stories of how they got him in trouble.

So there ya go, on the one hand a good score for allowing his life to be open so that we can have a better understanding of all those lettered mental health issues though he could have stuck much more to those themes and a low score because did I really need to know some of the more vulgar happenings in his life that got him to where he is today. Average came out to 5/10.






Completed: March 11, 2010

Rating: 8.5/10

Review: Actress Harper Gray is at loose ends with her life in Chicago. With no acting jobs now for a year, her best friend moved to New York and a break up that knocked her for a loop she was thankful when a call from an old friend who was producing a remake of a famous play, asking her to come and be the understudy for the main actress. With nothing to lose she packed up for New York never dreaming that that move would change her life in more ways than one. Just when she thinks that her life can not be more blessed, something happens that rocks her to the core.

For me this story took a couple of chapters to really get rolling but once it did, I really enjoyed it. The characters are real with flaws and everyday situations that can be related to even though the main character is an actress, a world I have nothing to do with. I really like the character of Harper who after having a year of some really difficult issues to overcome, walked out her faith in the very difficult setting of first Broadway and then Hollywood. I thought the romance part of the book was sweet and engaging with a realness attached to it. All in all a fun read with a message that explores Broadway, Hollywood, internet dating, love and faith.




Completed: March 12, 2010

Rating: 8.5/10

Review: After Annie is told about her parent's divorce, everything she knows about relationships is up for questioning. When th
e opportunity to attend a writing class at her university is available, Annie decides to research and write about what the secret is that makes relationships last a lifetime. With the help of her knowledgeable, albeit strange profressor, she embarks upon a journey that will lead her to the truth and cause her to examine what she herself believes.

A very easy read, Glaen is a story with big lessons. It's a fictional story that teaches biblical relationship principles. The author suggests reading it once for the story and then reading it again to learn. There is plenty of room on each page for personal notes and underlining. It's a great resource to use to teach your own children or a youth or young people's group what romance, love and relating really are from a biblical perspective and it would easily open up conversations between the readers. A study guide is also available.


11. Here Burns My Candle by Liz Curtis Higgs

Completed: March 27, 2010

Rating: 7.5/10

Review: Set in 1745 Scotland, this is the story of a family full of secrets. Lady Elisabeth Kerr loves her husband of 3 years but cannot bring herself to tell him of her belief in the old ways of her family of the Highlands. Lord Donald Kerr is a Lowlander with secrets that he works hard to hide. His mother Lady Dowager Marjory Kerr takes great pride in her title and in her sons but has secrets of her own she is hiding.
As Scotland is thrown into war loyalties must be chosen, but did they choose correctly. Can they get past all their secrets to remain a family as war brings hardship and heartache.

I loved the way the author took the story of Ruth and Naomi and gave it a different backdrop, 18th century Scotland. I enjoyed the story but admittedly I was one of those who struggled in the beginning quarter of the book because of the Scottish dialect woven throughout and the old way of speaking represented in the book. But once I got into the rhythm of that then the story flowed along. I loved the historical aspect to the story and thought is was well presented. You learned of the historical goings on of the time without the story becoming dry and bogged down allowing the relationships playing amongst the main characters to be forefront.




12. "An Absence So Great" by Jane Kirkpatrick

Completed: April 7, 2010

Rating: 8
/10

Review: In this novel, Jane Kirkpatrick continues the story of Jessie AnnGaeble as she continues to pursue her dream of owning and operating her own photographic studio. In trying to put aside her guilty feelings about her feelings for her first boss, she heads off to Milwaukee to help out another woman run a studio. Jessie continues to move around to other studios carefully putting money aside and with the solid goal always before her of owning a studio. When one comes available for sale in her hometown she pursues it and eventually becomes the owner but at what cost to her.

I was very much looking forward to this continuing story of the author's own grandmother. I loved how she wove struggles with integrity, guilt, forgivenss, and listening to God in your heart into the story and didn't hide the bad consequences of wrong decisions. Many emotions were raised in me as Jessie was forced to face forgiving herself, and Fred and Mrs. Bauer faced very hard facts about their lives. It was very interesting reading about the exploration of family issues and divorce, blended families and women's struggles to prove themselves from the beginning of the 1900's. While I am not one to choose a book that exalts divorce within it's story , I felt this did not look at it in that vein. It clearly showed the heartache in the breakdown of a family and how decisions affected more than the individuals involved, but it was still hard to read about a young woman who professed to be a Christian and her part in it. Those parts left me feeling sad and disappointed. But I also realize that it was a fiction novel based on the author's real grandmother and therefore part of her story. As always, the author's research into the time period and into the customs and attitudes of the culture at that time were well brought out in the story as was her research into photography and working women's issues.


Completed: April 11, 2010

Rating: 10/10

Review: Rennie is
a young 13 year old girl who lives in the small town of Ellis, Colorado. Her days are spent as most girl's of the '40's, going to school and helping out on the family farm. Rennie's family is a close one and she loves her simple farm life. Then Pearl Harbour happens and the government builds an interment camp for the Japanese just outside of their town. The town is turned upside down and loyalties become divided as the war progresses and people in the town are either suspicious of the Japanese people or struggle to support them against the town's very vocal naysayers. When a young local girl is brutally murdered and the blame is put upon the Japanese men in the camp tensions continue to grow to a breaking point.

I don't know what it is about Sandra Dallas' writing but she grabs me from the first page to the last. This book is no different. There is so much emotion drawn out of the reader and her characters caused me to look deep within my own heart and question how I would react if this were ever to happen again. My own pastor and his family, when he was a boy, was a Japanese family here in Canada who were put into a local camp and lived through the experience of being taken from your home and put into government camps with everything taken from you and your citizenship questioned. This story by Sandra Dallas really pointed out some of the things his family may have gone through. Very moving with richly written characters, Tallgrass really explores an awful time in our history, looks at the bad and the good of humankind and causes one to ask which side they would be on.


14. "The Right Call" by Kathy Herman

Completed: April 19, 2010

Rating: 9.5/10

Review: Based on 2 Peter2:19b:
"For a man is a slave to whatever has mastered him". The Right Call demonstrates how we are all slaves to something, either to God or to the flesh.

Ethan Langley has returned to Sophie Trace for the summer to work at his uncle's construction comp
any in order to pay for his university. But there is other things drawing him to Sophie Trace, namely the lovely young daughter of police chief Brill Jessup. But Ethan returns to find his cousin and best friend Drew in the midst of deep grief over the shooting death of his roommate. Before they know it others are dying in drive by shooting and the town is in turmoil. When Drew falls victim and Vanessa and her baby son are witnesses, the stakes are even higher and Ethan must make choices when they are threatened. Can he do the right thing even when it might mean danger to all involved?

This 3rd installment to the Sophie Trace Trilogy had everything. Edge of your seat suspense, a little romance, solid characters. I've really enjoyed reading this series by Kathy Herman. The suspense was right up my alley. Fast paced & grabbing ahold of me right from the very beginning and holding my attention right to the end. I'm not a fan of the scare your pants off club but I do love a suspense mystery where I can't put it down because I just have to find out what's going on and what's going to happen. This is the kind of suspense that this book presents. And woven around the suspense is truths of life about our choices and their consequences, whether for the good or for the bad. I found the characters solid and believable as they struggled to understand what was going on around them. All in all a great read individually or as a series.



2010

Rating: 10/10

Review: Love this set of books. This one deals with our favorite foods at restaurants. It details what is used to make them taste so good to us and most of the time it is not good. Then it gives many recipes or substitutions that we can make at home to get a similar version to our favorites at specific restaurants but of course much healthier. It also gives us better options at the restaurant itself. Lots of bright wonderful pictures. I'll be buying this one as the recipes look absolutely delicious.

Review: 10/10

Review: I usually never finish non-fiction teaching type books. But this one I did. And I loved it. The author takes us through the Christian walk and living a life that is Unexplainable apart from God in every area of our daily living. And then he left the last chapters to help us understand that all the steps are unattainable apart from the grace of God. I found it a great encouragement in everyday Christian living and living it in a way that 'causes others to notice because it is unexplainable. Definitely a keeper to refer to again.

Completed: May 5, 2010

Rating: 8/10

Review: I picked up this book at the library because I must admit I do like manners and I do think they are important. They title totally grabbed me and I'm glad I got it. The author makes the case for manners by taking us through different centuries and introducing us to different civilizations and the people who set the manners of the day and how they used them in their day and takes us to the present and where we sit with manners now. From the courts of Louis XIV to the salons of France to today's workplace the author shows that manners do matter. I also loved this book because it's really quotable and I do love a good quote. The only thing that was a downside for me was the occasional F bomb thrown in which is really ironic considering it is a book on manners.


Rating: 10/10

Review: A young mother, Mary, with a fierce, protective love for her deaf/mute child yet hiding secrets of her past and her young boy, Jack, born under unusual circumstances with no way to communicate seemingly living in a world of his own find themselves alone and afraid and broke on the streets of Chicago. When they seek shelter at a Salvation Army a strange and unusual gift presents itself through Jack and suddenly their lives are very much changed. With the depression hitting people hard, news of Jack's strange and prophetic gift quickly spreads as people are looking for hope and now Mary must make decisions that will protect Jack in the present and his future.

I loved this story. I could not put it down. As the story unfolds I was drawn more and more into Jack and Mary's world. My mom's heart broke for Mary's as she had to make extremely difficult decisions and then cried as she struggled to face things that were happening and still keep her fledgling faith in tact. I think I went through every emotion while reading this book. Which to me meant it was an awesome read as I was totally caught up in the story.



Rating: 10/1
0

Review: Easy, simple to read, easy to implement in real life. I read this in one sitting. An easy to read format of one
rule per page with an easy explanation
makes this book easily digestable. Most are pretty self explanatory and there were a few surprise ones, to me anyway, that I can easily put into my daily life towards a more healthy diet and lifestyle. Highly recommend to anyone looking to follow a more natural way of eating rather than the highly additive containing way in which most North Americans eat.



Rating: 10/10

Review: Sandra
Dallas once again brings a gripping story about mining life in Colorado. The people of Swandyke, Colorado are going about their lives as usual when a huge avanlanche rolls
down the side of the mountain changing their lives forever. While very different circumstances have bought them to the town and different things and attitudes and hurts separate them, when emergency and tragedy strike all that is laid aside as they work sacrificially to help each other.

Through her incredible gift at story telling the author builds her characters in rich detail and the reader is totally caught up in their lives. Each chapter looks at a different life of one of the characters or families that are directly affected by the avalanche. As a reader I was caught up in their histories and what brought them to Swandyke and the circumstances they found themselves in, the harshness of mountain and mining life leaving their mark upon them. Through her characters the author shows how none of us is perfect and none of us are without sin and one never knows what brings a person to where they are at. The story is heart breaking, read with kleenex handy, but not without hope in the end.




21. "Indivisible" by Kristen Heitzmann

Completed: May 24/2010

Rating: 7.5/10

Review: Police Chief Jonah Westfall is a committed
police chief in a small mountain town. When weird animal mutilations start occuring he is on high alert and determined to find the culprit before it escalates. But clashes with a child hood friend keep coming up and his six year sobriety is put to the test. When the new vet in town starts to develop an interest in him that is more than professional it starts to put his world into a spin as secrets start to surface.

It took awhile for
me to get into the story. I found the first half of the book was filled with vague references that were later answered as the story progressed but left me a little confused at times. The animal part of the story was disturbing to me and I had a hard time with reading those parts of the story but I found the story of the germophobe a pleasant side story.



Completed: June 4, 2010

Rating: 7.5/10

Review: When both of their parents pass away at the same time in each other's arms, the adult children of Jack and Laurel gather from all over the world to say goodbye and lay their parents to rest. While going through their parents personals they come across boxes and boxes of letters their father had written to their mother over the course of their 39 year marriage, one every Wednesday. But the letters reveal more than some of them want to hear, some shocking truths about their past. But they must be careful not to make assumptions and continue to read to get the full truth. Definitely a story of true love, forgiveness and living out your values.




Completed: June 17, 2010

Rating: 8/10

Review: Pastor Jordan Rau believes he alone is in charge of his destiny, so when the opportunity to work overseas with a Missions agency is offered to him, he takes the position against the wishes of his whole family and for all the wrong reasons. Believing this position can monetarily get him ahead he takes his wife, epileptic 17 year old son and 14 year old daughter to Germany. But soon after they arrive, tragedy grabs the family as their son and friend are murdered. Awashed with guilt, hate and anger, Jordan sets his whole focus of finding his son's killers. Returning to the States, he is blinded to the fact that his actions are really destroying the rest of his family when they need him the most.

This is Randall Arthur's second book that deals with different issues in the church. The first (#24, 2009 list) dealt with legalism and this one delves deeply into liberalism. Pastor Jason Faircloth from the first novel makes an appearance in this one also as a friend who comes alongside the devastated family. I thought the book was fast paced and showed how becoming embroiled in hate and revenge and a belief of ourselves controlling our lives can quickly take over our lives and ruin everything around us. While this story leaned heavily on the relationship aspect of the church and how we should be there for each other, reading the first book helped in bringing a balance to what this story was saying. Relationship is very important in church but God's Word must be first and foremost, His truth is what sets us free. The relationships should be there to support that.




Rating: 9/10

Review: Twelv
e year old Marta grows up in a small town in Switzerland with a hard working and loving mother and a tyrant and abusive father. When her father decides she is old enough to be pulled from school and hires her out to work taking all her wages, Marta is determined to be more than a servant. With her mother's encouragement to "fly" she leaves home to attend a housekeeping school for girls. Being a good student she learns all she can about housekeeping and cooking and uses her wiles to earn some extra money for her mother. She develops a dream of one day owning her own inn but those dreams almost shatter when she must decide whether to go home to her ailing mother and dependant sister or to keep on pursuing her own goals. When news comes of her mother's death and her father's demand for her to return home so she may work for him, she makes the decision to move to Canada to pursue her own life. There she meets Niclas Waltert and falls in love but she is unprepared for the sacrifices marriage and family make on her. Following her husband to across Canada and into the U.S., she tries to forge a better life for her family. Using her strong personality and tough love she tries to make her own daughters into strong women, but possibly at the cost of relationship.

I love Francine Rivers and was very interested in this story as with it she explores her own family history and tries to make sense of rifts between her own mother and grandmother. I kept going back and forth between mother and daughter in my emotions as each struggled to find their place in the world. My heart broke for Hilde as she always felt she never had her mother's love and for Marta as she tried to show her love by making Hilde strong and not dependent on her. The story line was really interesting and it was a fairly fast read for me considering it is quite a big book, although at times I found the writing a little "terse" and choppy. But the story of a mother's hopes and dreams for her children and a daughter's desire for acceptance and love came through. Looking forward to Pt. 2.


25. "Higher Hope" by Robert Whitlow
Book 2 in Tides of Truth Series

Completed: July 9, 2010

Rating: 6/10

Review: Higher Hope continues the story of Tammy Lynn Taylor (Tami), a law student clerking for the summer at a prestigious Savannah law firm. She's aggressive when it comes to digging for the truth, and goes for it at all costs. After winning her first case, she is now faced with being assigned to find information on a local preacher who has allegedly been slandering a business man. But as Tami checks into the preacher's actions and words, a prophetic ability on the preacher's part comes into focus. But is speaking the truth according to the preacher just cause in a libel suit. Add to the internal struggle of her work, Tami is also facing a struggle with critical choices as two men show interest in getting to know her better thank just as a colleague.

I wasn't really into the first story in this series. I reviewed it last year (#20 in the 2009 reviews). But I wanted to read the second to see if I warmed up to the main character at all in the second. The story continued showing how she tries to live out her strong religious values in every aspect of her life including work and relationships even while living apart from her sheltered existence with her family in a small town. Being in a busy, worldy law firm presents many challenges and she must make choices seemingly on a daily basis. Again I found the story all right. I still didn't warm up to any of the characters except maybe Mrs. Fairmont, the elderly, sickly woman whom Tami lives with and helps to care for. Her plight in the story tugged on my heart. Maybe I'm just not cut out for legal stories. There is a third in the series but I don't know if I'll get to it or not.



26. "In a Heartbeat - Sharing the Power of Cheerful Giving" - Leigh Anne and Sean Tuohy with Sally Jenkins.

Completed: July 20, 2010

Rating: 10/10

Review: I loved the movie
"The Blind Side" and have watched it several times with different people. It has always provoked much great conversation afterwards, which I love, and much inspiration. I remember saying to my friend, who took me to see it in the theatre: "I want to be like her (Leigh Anne Tuohy) when I grow up!" But being a movie, I knew there had to be more to the story than what can be shown in a couple of hours and I wondered how much of the movie story was artistic license. So when this book came up for review written by the actual couple who lived the story, I immediately wanted to read it.

This book is not so much a huge rehashing of the movie, though it does tell the story a bit, and then it gives some background to Leigh Anne and Sean's lives growing up, but it is more about the philosoph
y of giving that the Tuohy family live by. This aspect fascinated me. The fact that they actually had a giving philosophy that was discussed and decided upon, then lived and walked out and deliberately passed on to their children. They were giving before they were wealthy. They were givers before Michael came along so it was almost a natural progression for them to see the need in Michael and then work to meet it. Their deep personal belief of being cheerful givers and "trying to help those that pop up right in front of you" has directed and focused their lives.

There were so many deep truths and inspirations written in the book that I did much underlining. It's a book I will read again most definitely.



27. "Sometimes a Light Surprises" by Jamie Langston Turner

Completed: July 28, 2010

Rating: 9/10

Review: Ben Buckley had t
o face the tragic loss of his wife when they had a young family. But in dealing with his grief he shut his children out and wasn't there to help them deal with their own grief, choosing instead to throw himself into work and allow his own mother to basically raise them. Now he is still reaping the neglect he sowed into his family in their own relationships with him. But what really bothered him was just weeks before her death, his beloved wife was turning "religious" on him. Twenty two years after her death he is still dealing with guilt over how he treated her in the weeks before her death. But Ben's very ordered life is about to be rocked when the daughter of the woman whom he blames for his wife's conversion applies at his business for a job. Not quite understanding why he gives the job to Kelly, he starts to get a glimpse into her own family's life only to find that her mother is now terminally ill. Over time Kelly's honesty and hard work and eventually her faith start to break down the walls around his heart just as his own daughter is trying to put their own family back together.

I really enjoyed this read. It was nothing really profound or surprising but the characters were so well written that I was drawn into their worlds. I could really empathize with all the main characters in things they were g
oing through right down to the nosy secretary. There were moments when I reached for tissue and moments that made me smile. The ending wasn't neat and tidy and I liked that. It showed the character to be on more of a journey than the neat ending I would have thought would have wrapped up the story. A very good, satisfying summer read.



28. I Am Hutterite by Mary Ann Kirkby

Completed: July 4, 2010

Rating: 10/10

Review: Mary Ann Dornn was born and raised on a Hutterite colony in
Manitoba, Canada. As a child her life was a happy one on the colony, attending school, playing with friends and having her family close. Then when she was 10, her idyllic world was turned upside down when her parents made the life changing decision to leave the colony. Thrust into a culture that she and her siblings didn't understand and one that didn't understand them, she struggled for years to fit in her peers.

"I am Hutterite" is her story of her family's life on the colony, the circumstances that led to their leaving and her teenage
years as overwhelming as they were living poor and trying to be accepted.

I picked up this book because we live in a area that has many Hutterite colonies and I have a very close Hutterite friend that has left her colony and is like part of my family. Her family has become our friends and we have visited them on the colony and they are now in transition to leave and it is a major thing. I loved this book. It is written with much honesty and it opened my eyes to what life is really like on a colony, good and bad. It is heart breaking at times in it's directness and openness and in telling the story and circumstances and made me realize how difficult it is for colony members to make a decision to leave and how hard it is for them to relearn a different way of life totally foreign to a colony.

In all the telling though, I loved
how Mary Ann ended the story. Her last paragraph left me smiling and with a feeling of satisfaction and of hope and encouragement for life's circumstances and her epilogue is beautiful. It is a story of love and conflict, a clash of cultures and where we fit in and forgiveness and hope. I love a line in her epilogue: "...it is only when we embrace our past that we can find true fulfillment in our future." An excellent read!


Completed: August 17, 2010

Rating: 7.5/10

Review: The Astronomer takes place in France during the Inquisition, a perilous and dangerous time. The clashing of religion and science has come to a head and many are losing their lives as they are caught having secret meetings. The clash between protecting the then Catholic belief of keeping science out of religion and telling the people what to believe and the fledging Lutheran group trying to bring about a Christianity of openness and knowledge to the people comes to a head.

I found the story interesting buy confusing. I get very bogged down when unfamiliar names are used for the characters and even though because of its setting this story had to make use of all strange to me names, I found it really hard to keep the characters straight and there were many of them. Some of the things related going on during the inquisition were hard to read and because of the nature of everything going on I had to really focus to "get" what was happening. I'm not doing a really good job with the review because I no longer have the book in my hands and can't refer to it, but that shows too that even though I finished out the story I still did not really become absorbed by it.



Rating: 10/10

Review: Erma's fun take on the perils, adventures and fun of travel. Having always travelled and
wanting to instill in her own children a love of the
world and it's different cultures, Erma and her husband have travelled extensively with their family and without. Here she takes us through airpor
ts, into hotels, and on tours with her usual hilarious take and her experiences. A fun, perfect summer read.






Completed: August 27, 2010

Rating: 9.5/10

Review: Philadelphia newspaper reporter
Ellen Gleason comes home one day from work to find a missing child flyer in her mail. Giving it a quick glance she is shocked to see the child pictured looks an awful lot like her adopted son Will. Putting it aside, she focuses on her child and her job which is having layoff issues. But the flyer eats at her. Eats at her to the point of Ellen literally putting her job on the line to get at the truth. What begins as an internet search just to put her mind at ease turns into a mystery that she never thought she'd ever encounter. One that involves way more than she bargained for. One that will turn her life upside down.

In my goal this year to read outside of the Christian genre a bit more this year, I found this book reviewed on another site. It sounded very interesting so I picked it up. Oh my word, I'm so glad I did. This book gripped me from the very first pages and didn't let go until the very end. I couldn't put it down and would read snatches of it all day long whenever I could grab a minute in between dayhome drama. I personally, didn't find a dull moment in the writing. Even the less intense sections held my interest and added to the story instead of just being filler. The author had me second guessing my conclusions, which were many, right until the end. Just when I thought I knew what would happen or thought the story was finished I'd look and I still had lots of pages left to read. I personally loved the way the author wrapped it up even though some have said the end fell flat. I found it satisfying in it's portrayal of a mother's love for her child and wanting to find the truth and do the right thing even though it would cost her. Even though some have critisized her character not calling the birth parents immediately, I could relate to her hesitations and wanting to think through each step and make sure she was absolutely right before she turned her and Will's lives upside down. What parent would't. Would we so immediately have called on a suspicion had we been in her shoes? I found her fears and confusion totally real. She might have been wrong in the way she went about things, trying to solve it on her own, but I think the fact that she wanted to do what was right according to the truth she would find out, without involving a whole bunch of people, was true to her character of being a news reporter. I think because of that, she totally would have wanted to "sniff" out the facts herself. The fact that she blew off deadlines at work even though it might mean the loss of her job in order to pursue her finding out the truth was also true to her character as a mother who loved her adopted child and knew this could change all their lives as was going against her lawyers advise to just forget about it and go on living her life. Yes, some things in the story seemed to be wrapped up all of a sudden but I personally thought it went int
o line with how the story was playing out. The only thing I found unrelatable was how easily she forgave her co-worker for the seemingly unforgivable. That I found wrapped up a little too easily considering the fall out.

All in all I loved this story. Definitely had the "What would I do..." aspect throughout.




Completed: September 2010

Rating: 7/10

Review: I said yes to this book on two counts: First, my son was interested in reading it and true stories/testimonies are his preferred genre of read and second, there is not a whole lot of testimony type books out there written by young contemporary fellas.



The author takes us through his life being raised in a privileged family having everything he wanted. Come his early adulthood h
e noticed that the easy access to stuff was not fulfilling his heart. This is his story of how God lead him to understanding what He wanted his life to be, what constitutes a Godly man and the path his life took to work towards it. From taking the author from an expensive neighborhood and an expensive education to showing him how to really work hard, to connecting with the land through hunting and fishing, this is definitely a guy's book. LOL. I have to admit I did get a tad bit bogged down in the hunting & fishing stuff and the male psyche involved but in the end I get what he was saying. The chapter that really stood out to me was the one on learning and how the author shared how he had to learn that education and knowledge was not the same as experience. I also liked his strong belief in mentorship. Throughout the book it was enjoyable and encouraging as the he revealed his "aha moments". I know my son will enjoy reading this young man's story.








Completed: September 17, 2010

Rating 8/10

Review: Lissa Randall is a young high school student who future is full of promise. She is a very high academic achiever and pretty much has her choice of colleges to attend. But her life takes a tragic turn when coming home from one of the colleges they are visiting, as she is driving, her and her mom get into a fatal car accident which kills her mother. Left with crippling guilt and grief, Lissa has dropped her ambitions and 18 months later is content to work quietly in a small library getting her rides from others. But she cannot work past her guilt or the voices within that keep saying it's all her fault and they halt her from getting behind the wheel of a car. In desperation, she signs on to take driv
ing lessons from a man who specializes in young people who are afraid and hesitant in driving. Little does she know that Ev McAllister, the instructor, not only teaches driving but life lessons along the way. Coinci
dences and characters start to merge together until their lives are thrust together centering on the kind Mr McAllister.

This is one of those books that for me, took a while to get into. Not that the story was slow or boring or tedious in any way, but there was just so much introduction of characters in a short period of time and each had their own story going that it was almost hard to keep it all straight. It seemed like it was a handful of stories all going on at once in the beginning. But I stuck with it because I knew somehow they had to all connect at some point. And connect they did in very interesting and unusual ways. I loved the thread of hope that was woven throughtout the story, even though heartache and tragedy were happening in the lives of some of the characters. I'm glad I stuck with it.





Completed: September 22, 2010

Rating: 8.5/10

Review: Barbara's 18 year old daughter Emily has had a rough few years. After the family watched their beloved husband and father succumb to cancer, Barbara tried to juggle her grief and keeping things "normal" for her daughter and son. But now Emily is in trouble and has been since her father's death. Turning to drugs she handled her grief in the worst way. And it has come to the point where Barbara has felt she must do an intervention. She hires a Christian drug treatment centre she finds on the internet and together they talk Emily into going for treatment. On the way, though, the interventionist is found dead in her vehicle and Emily has disappeared. With the police thinking Emily did it, Barbara and her young son try to find Emily. With a deep belief that she couldn't have committed such a crime and a text message from Emily crying for help, Barbara sometimes steps on the toes of the very patient detective in charge.

I love Terri Blackstock's suspense and this one didn't disappoint. It's fast paced and moves along with no dragging parts. At a few parts I was a little frustrated with the son and his interference but he was just in a desperate place to find his sister too. I was touched when at the end of the story Terri wrote a little of her own struggle with interventions and her own daughter and drugs.




Completed: October 1, 2010

Rating: 10/10

Review: Abigail Bennett finally has her life in control. She's become partner in an accounting firm in only 5 years, has a posh office & a great apartment. Life is on track after being raised
in a home full of stress and chaos, rejection and unrealistic expectations. Abigail was 5 years old when her sister Hailey was born and her whole world turned upside down. She went from only child to having a sister who grew to have many problems and yet their father's heart which directly impacted everything in Abigail's growing up years. Feeling the pressure to always put Hailey's needs first Abigail finally is able to break away from her family and start a new life. But then tragedy strikes and Abigail is pulled into path that seems headed for destruction. Leaving everything behind she sets off on a search for a man who she assumes must answer for the tragedy.

As I write this review, I must admit I am still literally breathless from the story. It is so beautifully written and is so heartbreaking and emotional that I cannot get it out of my mind. In dealing with her present situation Abigail must also deal with her past and the point to which it has brought her. As Abigail tries to find redemption for herself the bond, resentments, obligations and love between sisters takes on a new meaning with this story as it works it way through three time periods at once and how mental illness affected the family and it's results on all involved. Yet the
re is never confusion as to what is happening or where you are in the story. Very gripping. Kleenex recommended from the beginning.





Completed: October 8, 2010

Rating: 9/10

Review: I originally read this book in 2008, review is here. I really enjoyed it then and remember how the character of Julia really drew out my emotions and empathy. I reread this just to remind myself of everything before I went on to the second book in the series. I still really liked it the second time and still felt those emotions and empathy towards the main character. So well written.




37. "Summer Snow" by Nicole Baart


Completed: October 15, 2010

Rating: 8/10

Review: Summer Snow is the sequel to After the Leaves fall and continutes the story Julia DeSmit. Pregnant with nothing, Julia quites college and returns to her childhood home to live with her grandmother. She is ready to start over and the best she can until the baby arrives. Trying to keep the pregnancy a secret as long as possible because she doesn't want to deal yet with the small town fall out, she goes about her days working and trying to fit back into life. But then yet another shock enters her life as the mother who abandoned her when she was nine returns. And brings with her a small five year old boy who it turns out is Julia's half brother. This was a curve ball that sets in motion feelings and events that Julia is not ready to face especially with everything else on her plate. How many times must she face rejection and not be expected to crumble.

I looked forward to reading this sequel because the first one so affected my emotions. The author again delivered with an emotionally tugging book. Each character was so well defined and their side of the story so well written that you could really relate to each even if you didn't agree with them. As Julia is forced to get to know her mother, I could feel all her anger just bubbling under the surface as she tried to hold her tongue for her grandmother's sake. I thought the story in a sad and yet hopeful way and was satisfied with Julia's place in life as it was left.


38. "Gotta Have It!" by Dr. Gregg Lantz

Completed: October 18, 2010

Rating: 9/10

Review: Each of us has a "never enough" activity, food, or behavior and we're ready to throw a grown up tantrum when we don't get it. Dr. Lantz calls it excessities and it takes over when our excessities become our necessity. They are our rewards, our coping mechanisms and an illusory answer to our pain. We use them to insulate ourselves from a difficult world. But our real needs such as purpose, hope and security and we tend to starve them and grow our hungers for those things we think are satisfying when in truth they are strangling us.

In this book, we are taken through steps that eventually will teach us to identify those controlling urges, compulsions, addictions, patterns and behaviors that have taken hold in our lives and eventually take over lives. We are taught that when we stick to our excessties we hold back the life God has planned for us. This book teaches and encourages us to know God is there and the life He has purposed for us is one where excessities have no place. A life where we can have true freedom and realize our true needs.

I first said yes to this book because I thought it would delve into excessities such as too much spending on certain things but it is so much more than "things and stuff". It gets into behaviors and patterns in oneslife, ways of reacting and go to methods we have taken on that we think help us to cope. And totally what I needed. Now how did God know to get me this at this time? :v) The book is broken down by chapters that first define the difference between excessities and true needs, then goes through each true need and then what God provides. Each chapter has questions that lead you through the process of examining in your own life what that particular chapter was talking about. I loved the process though some questions were extremely hard and I must admit about halfway through I just started to read straight through. But I definitely plan on going back to it in a couple of months to keep working through it. I don't want to quit just because the examination at times was hard. It is so worth it.

The book was well laid out, easy to read and understand, and didn't use big, complicated terms or ideas which sometimes this kind of book can do. The thoughts and processes were step by step with lots of encouragement. It didn't leave you feeling heavy and guilty but yet left me wanting to finish the process even though sometimes it was really difficult to work through the answers because of the result at the end of the road. I highly recommend this book to anyone even if you don't think you have issues.



39. "The Help" by Kathryn Stockett

Completed: October 29, 2010

Rating: 9.5/10

Review: Set in 1960's Jackson, Mississippi "the Help" brings together a narrative of 3 women working together to have their stories told. Skeeter, born in privilege on a cotton plantation, was pretty much raised by the black maid, Constantine, and had a special relationship with her. But when she comes home from college, Constantine is gone. And no one will talk about it or tell her what happened. Aibleen, is a nuturing black maid currently working for Skeeter's school friend raising her two year old daughter. Their paths cross as Aibleen serves lunches at the weekly bridge club hosted by her employer which Skeeter attends. Minny is a brash and bold black maid, with several children and an abusive husband. She has been fired from lots of jobs for her bold mouth and is currently working for what the "league" ladies consider white trash.

Skeeter longs to leave Mississippi and pursue writing but her need to know what happened to Constantine keeps her in Jackson. Taking a job ghost writing a cleaning column for the local paper, she enlists the help of Aibleen. Eventually, because of the things she witnesses of the way the black maids are treated, she convinces Aibleen to rally some maids together to secretly tell their stories. In a volatile time and setting, they were literally putting their lives at stake. At first, no one would help except Minny. Then when a fellow maid is jailed for something she didn't do, the anger pushes the women to begin wanting to talk.

The Help was an amazing read and I couldn't put it down. The characters are so richly written and multi faceted, not just one dimensional. Their hopes and dreams and feelings really shine through as does their suppression and abuse and how they lived in fear of doing anything about it. Stories were told of harshness and heartbreak and total injustice and yet stories of lovely relationships between white women and their black maids also were also injected. My heart broke from this book, as a Canadian who was nowhere near to any understanding of this time in American history. I love how the author summed up why she wrote the book: "Wasn't that the point of the book? For women to realize, We are just two people. Not that much separates us. Not nearly as much as I'd thought. All that said, I did think some of the loose ends were wrapped up just a little bit too easily, but not enough to ruin the main reason for the story. Loved this book and highly recommend it.





Completed: November 10, 2010

Rating: 8.5/10

Review: In this book, Beth Redman shares her testimony and how her life changed when she got ahold of the fact that God deeply loves each one of us and understands us and knows each of us. Even though He knows our past, He still works for our futures and defends us, not leaving us alone. He restores us to Himself. Using lots of scripture and weaving her testimony through out this is a study that really came at a time when I need it. I think every young girl should read it and do the study. As Beth teaches, once you get a revelation of this, life can throw what it may and you will know beyond a shadow of a doubt where you stand with God. Easy to read, very uplifting, pointing constantly to God. Great study.



41.  City of Tranquil Light by Bo Caldwell


Completed:  December 13, 2010


Rating:  9/10


Review:  I excitedly said yes to this book tour because I have very good Mennonite friends who are right now missionaries in China.  So it intrgued me to read a novel based on the author's own grandparents and other missionaries to China.  The story is breathtaking, taking you through the life of a young man in the early 1900's who said yes to the appeal of another missionary visiting his church, to come to China and yes to the call of God.  On the way there Will meets Katherine, a nurse, who is also going to China to serve the people.  Katherine and Will take turns telling their story, Will through a narrative and Katherine through journal entries.  The story spans their life together as husband and wife ministering to the people in the city of Kuang P'ing Ch'eng -City of Tranquil Light.  Tested spiritually, mentally and physically, they rise to the daily challenges of the time: poverty, bandits, warlords, changing governments and a people who don't trust them.  

The story is beautiful and heartbreaking, challenging and eye opening, historical yet relevant for today.  Not only do we get a glimpse into the life of a missionary as they totally lay their lives down for a people, but we get a peek into how all the hardships and the joys affects personal faith and marriage against the backdrop of early 19th century China.  I don't think you have to want to be a missionary to be touched by this story.  


42.  "It's No Secret" by Rachel Olsen


Completed:  December 2010


Rating:  8/10


Review:  I really enjoyed this book.  It's written in an casual, conversational style but has lots of solid biblical based teaching for women. Truths that never change but offered in a contemporary way for our everyday issues.   Hitting on twelve areas that all women deal with at some point  (such as:  God's source of spiritual beauty and strength, overcoming comparisions, embracing our need for rest, to name a few),  the author leads us to finding our answers in the Lord and connecting to Him and to our sisters in Christ.  Each chapter is followed by a short study that further encourages the reader to dig into the Word for themselves and make it real in their own lives.  I liked how each chapter brought nuggets of truth that created more of a desire to search out the scriptures for myself for what God was saying to me about the different areas.

4 comments:

ham1299 said...

I LOVED Beneath a Southern Sky. Very good. I wasn't as into An Absence So Great, but I think it's because I hadn't read the first one. I bought the first one and will read both soon - I'm sure i'll like it much more after that!

Thanks for stopping by my blogs! :-) This is a great book blog!

Bev K said...

Thanks for the reviews. I too have just recently discovered Sandra Dallas. I picked up "Prayers for Sale" while on Holiday and loved it. When I got back, I read "Buster Midnight's Cafe'" and "The Persian Pickle Club" I have "Alic's Tulips" set aside to enjoy while camping next week.
A book I'll recommend to you - although you may already have read it- is "the guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society" by mary Ann Shaffer and Annee Barrows. It'a marvelous read.

Bev K said...

Sorry for the spelling errors, I didn't re-read it before posting.

Christina said...

I can't wait to read every one of your reviews. I did read "Her Daughter's Dream" and loved it. Is there anything Francine can't write?