Sunday, November 25, 2018

Who I Am With You: My Review

About the Book:

Jessica Mason isn’t looking for love when she meets Ridley Chesterfield. Instead she is still reeling from the tragic, unexpected loss of her husband and daughter—and awaiting the arrival of her unborn child. Harboring the secret of her husband’s betrayal, her pain is deeper than anyone knows.

Ridley Chesterfield is hiding out in Hope Springs, Idaho, avoiding a political scandal and the barrage of false media headlines that have tarnished his good name. The last thing Ridley wants is a relationship—but when fate leads Ridley to form a friendship with his reclusive and pregnant neighbor, he wonders if this small-town hideout might be more of a long-term destination. 

When Jessica begins to read her great-grandfather’s Bible, she finds a connection with a man she never knew. Somehow the verses he marked and the words he wrote in the margins open her heart to healing. And as Ridley and Jessica help each other forgive the people who have wronged them, they must decide if the past will define them or if they will choose to love again. 

Who I Am With You weaves together a modern-day romance with Jessica’s great-grandfather’s story from the 1930s, reminding us that some truths can cross generations and that faith has the power to transform families forever.

My Comments:

There were a few years during which I read a lot of Christian fiction, mostly because the publishers were generous with review copies.  When NetGalley started offering a variety of genres I started reading different things and often skipped the Christian fiction. This one caught my eye so I gave it a try.  Unfortunately, though the basic storyline/romance was interesting, the book quickly became a sermon dressed up like a story and the characters became unrealistic.  It is one of those too good to be true, find Jesus and all will be well type books.

I'd like to thank the publisher for making a review copy available via NetGalley.  Grade:  B-

Sunday, October 28, 2018

Review: Cottage by the Sea

About the Book:

Annie Marlow has been through the worst. Rocked by tragedy, she heads to the one place that makes her happy: Oceanside in the Pacific Northwest, the destination of many family vacations when Annie was a teenager.
Once there, Annie begins to restore her broken spirit, thanks in part to the folks she meets: a local painter, Keaton, whose large frame is equal to his big heart—and who helps Annie fix up her rental cottage by the sea; Mellie, the reclusive, prickly landlord Annie is determined to befriend; and Britt, a teenager with a terrible secret. But it is Keaton to whom Annie feels most drawn. His quiet, peaceful nature offers her both comfort and reprieve from her grief, and the two begin to grow closer.

Then events threaten to undo the idyll Annie has come to enjoy. And when the opportunity of a lifetime lands in her lap, she is torn between the excitement of a new journey toward success and the safe and secure arms of the haven—and the man—she’s come to call home.

In this heartwarming tale, Annie finds that the surest way to fix what is damaged within is to help others rise above their pain and find a way to heal.

My Comments:

I'm a long-term Debbie Macomber fan who has been disappointed in some of her recent works.  Luckily, this one was not a disappointment.  Annie was charming and the story was not overly sweet.  I cheered for her and her friends as they learned to make life go their way.  

Thanks to the publisher for making a review copy available via NetGalley.  Grade:  B. 

Book Quotes: Map of the Heart

Map of the Heart: A Novel by [Wiggs, Susan]

I'm not prone to read sophisticated literature known to be filled with quotes that end up in famous anthologies.  However I recently read Map of the Heart and wanted to share this quote with you:
No wonder real life seemed boring.  In the screen world, all a person had to do was watch.  Participation was optional--the screen created a shield or barrier.  You could observe things at a safe distance.  If your world inhabited a tiny screen, you didn't have to be scared or out of control .  You didn't have to deal with the real world around you. 
Question for the bookworms among us:  Do books allow the same thing? 

Sunday, September 23, 2018

Review: Season of Wonder

Season of Wonder by [Thayne, RaeAnne]

About the Book:

Dani Capelli seized a chance to start over in a small town with her daughters. Now, facing her first Christmas in Haven Point, she wonders if leaving New York was a mistake. Dani loves working alongside veterinarian Dr. Morales, but her two children aren’t adjusting to small-town life. And then there’s Dr. Morales’s son, Ruben—Dani’s next-door neighbor. Gorgeous, muscled and dependable, the deputy sheriff is everything she secretly craves and can’t bear to risk loving…and losing.

Ruben never pictured himself falling for a big-city woman like Dani. But beneath her prickly facade, she’s caring and softhearted and she needs all the love and protection he can give. When Dani’s teenage daughter starts acting out, Ruben draws on family traditions to show the girls just how magical a Haven Point Christmas can be. But can he convince Dani that she’s found a home for the holidays—and forever—in his arms?

My Comments:

It's Christmas time and we are back in Haven Point.  Was the ending ever in doubt?  No, but on the other hand, I really enjoyed getting to know Ruben and Dani, especially Dani. 

 Except for a few years here and there, Dani has always had to carry the load alone.  She was in foster care as a child, married a "bad boy" who ended up in prison, and who committed murder when he got out.  She's been a single mom for almost all of her girls' lives and has put herself through school.  She's afraid to let anyone in because she has always been disappointed.  

As Ruben comes into her life she learns that it is ok to lean on others and let them help you.  In his family she sees the support that family can be. 

I enjoyed this heartwarming Christmas romance.  Like Thayne's other books, the characters never get beyond passionate kissing.  

I'd like to thank the publisher for making a review copy available via NetGalley.  Grade:  B.  

Sunday, July 29, 2018

Review: The Ones We Choose

The Ones We Choose by [Clark, Julie]

About the Book:

Lisa Genova meets 23andMe in this exploration of the genetic and emotional ties that bind, as debut author Julie Clark delivers a compelling read about a young boy desperate to find his place in this world, a mother coming to terms with her own past, and the healing power of forgiveness.

The powerful forces of science and family collide when geneticist Paige Robson finds her world in upheaval: Her eight-year-old son Miles is struggling to fit in at his new school and begins asking questions about his biological father that Paige can’t answer—until fate thrusts the anonymous donor she used into their lives.

Paige’s carefully constructed life begins to unravel as the truth of Miles’s paternity threatens to destroy everything she has grown to cherish. As Paige slowly opens herself up—by befriending an eccentric mother, confronting her own deeply buried vulnerabilities, and trying to make sense of her absent father’s unexpected return—she realizes breakthroughs aren’t only for the lab. But when tragedy strikes, Paige must face the consequences of sharing a secret only she knows.

With grace and humor, Julie Clark shows that while the science is fascinating, solving these intimate mysteries of who we are and where we come from unleashes emotions more complex than the strands of DNA that shape us.

My Comments:

I'm Catholic and the Catholic Church has a reputation for being unfeeling and unrealistic when it comes to matters of family planning.  Basically the Catholic Church teaches that sex, marriage and babies go together--and that to have one while purposefully blocking the others is wrong.  No marriage without sex, no sex without marriage, no sex that doesn't allow the possibility of a baby (no, sex isn't limited to fertile people or fertile times in life, but you can't use artificial birth control to cut out the possibility of a child nor can you engage in sexual behavior that is by design, infertile such as homosexual or auto-erotic acts)and no babies without marriage or without sex (even if having sex doesn't result in a baby).  While sometimes those teachings can be hard to live up to and even seem needlessly cruel, The Ones We Choose is Exhibit "A" on their wisdom.

Paige wanted a baby, but not a husband,so she got pregnant via a sperm donor.  She sees no reason her son should know or want to know anything about the sperm donor but of course, her son doesn't see it that way.  

As fate would have it, Paige had reason to believe she knew who the donor was and had reason to want to confirm it so she broke the ethical rules of her own lab to find out if her suspicions were correct.  

During the book Paige was seeing a man who loved her and (of course) was sleeping with her (no graphic scenes).  He wasn't happy with that status quo, but she was--she didn't want him too close.  

For pretty much the whole book Paige does what Paige thinks is best for Paige, what meets Paige's supposed needs and wants without considering the effect those actions have on others.  Nope, I didn't like Paige at all and that I'm sure colored my opinion of the book.

Actually, it was a well-written story with characters you really felt you knew when the story was over; the problem for me was rooting for Paige and not wanting to shake my "I told you so" finger in her face.  It's hard to rate a book that I have to admit was well-done, but which is about a woman whose life values are so different from my own.  I guess I'll give the book a B.  

Christ in the Classroom: My Review

Christ in the Classroom: Lesson Planning for the Heart and Mind by [Dees, Jared]

About the Book:

If the goal of catechesis is to cultivate an encounter with Christ, why do religious educators spend so much time focused almost exclusively on ideas and not experiences? The reason is that many have never been shown a method that inspires the heart while also instructing the mind. Jared Dees, creator of the popular website The Religion Teacher, shows how applying the steps of lectio divina to teaching can reorient religious education toward encountering the person of Christ rather than merely sharing information about him.

In Christ in the Classroom, Catholic author and speaker Jared Dees applies the five steps of lectio divina—reading/learning, meditation, prayer, contemplation, and action—to the ministry of catechesis. He offers teachers and catechists a practical framework for preparing lessons that broaden the focus of teaching from mostly intellectual learning to also encountering Christ in prayer, reflection, and action. Using this method, students and catechists come to know intimately the person of Christ at the same time that they are learning the tenets and traditions of the Church.

Dees shares stories of success and failure from his own teaching experience and he offers dozens of field-tested strategies, tactics, and teaching methods to effectively integrate the steps of lectio divina into the classroom or other catechetical setting.

Outfitted with these tools, both experienced and new religious educators will feel confident in their ability to teach effectively and lead their students to a life-changing encounter with Jesus.

About Me:

I've spent a lot of time as a catechist.  When I was in junior high and high school I used to help with the pre-school religion program in my parish.  My Senior year I was asked to teach the third grade class, along with a friend.  When I was in college I taught for three years, and then, when my older kids went to public school I taught for six years, and later, for one more.  While I never claimed to be the best, I was available, willing, and I think I managed to teach a few kids a few things over the years.  In short, I never felt like I was wasting my time.

Last year a friend who has taught seventh grade religion in my parish for years asked me to help with her class.  She had thirteen kids, several of whom were major problems.  She needed back-up.  I agreed to help her, though my previous experience with kids has generally been with younger kids (almost all of those years described above were with third grade).  By the end of the year I was completely convinced that we were wasting our time.  

Few of our students attended Mass regularly; some I had never seen at Mass.  They did not seem to know the basic stories of the faith.  Our textbook was filled with words like "transubstantiation" and "epiclesis" but many of these kids experienced Communion as a once in a lifetime event, or so it seemed to me.  Why were we there?  What was the point?  I felt like a social studies teacher rushing through a chapter--but instead of giving the kids a test on the chapter next week so we knew they studied and learned it, we moved on to the next one.  

I've been an "internet Catholic" for a long time--starting back in the days of AOL message boards.  While I haven't heard it so much lately, "back in the day" what I'd read over and over again is that the reason so many of my peers--the late Baby Boomers--left the Church or became only lukewarm or "cafeteria" members was  because of poor catechesis.

While our parents and older siblings had the Baltimore Catechism and were taught lots of knowledge about our faith, by the time my age-mates and I came along, it was the Sadlier "Hippie Jesus" books that were big on pictures and low on content.  My junior high and high school classes never had textbooks.  Yes, said the internet, the problem was lack of content--while we spent our CCD classes talking about feelings and treating other people properly, we weren't learning what we needed to learn to keep us in the faith.

As noted above, I've taught in many different parishes over the years but third grade is where I seem to land.  As either a student or a teacher I've used five different editions of Sadlier's third grade book.  Each was more wordy and less life-based than the one before.  Now my parish uses Loyola Press.

My Comments About the Book:

I found Christ in the Classroom when perusing NetGalley one day and decided to give it a try.  It is Jared Dees' thesis that unless our students develop a relationship with Christ, we are wasting our time.  I tend to agree.  While I understand why religion texts seem to have gotten longer and more complex over the years, it seems to me, especially when working with basically unchurched kids, that all we are doing is (attempting to)filling their heads with trivia.  If you have no relationship with Jesus are you going to attend Mass?  If you don't attend Mass, does it matter if you can define transubstantiation or epiclesis? 

Dees advocates integrating real times of prayer into your class and the form of prayer he advocates is Lectio Divina, basically praying with scripture. 

Regarding those overly wordy textbooks, Dees recommends picking a limited number of points to make and rather than trying to cover the whole chapter, make those points in a variety of ways--and then use them as a basis for prayer. 

The book itself is easy to read and would be a good gift for any new catechist and well as for experienced ones who are open to trying something new. 

Dees is the author of the website The Religion Teacher which has both free and paid resources. 

I'd like to thank Dees and the publisher for making a review copy available via NetGalley.  Grade: B+

Monday, July 02, 2018

When We Found Home

When We Found Home by [Mallery, Susan]

About the Book:

Life is meant to be savored, but that’s not easy with no family, limited prospects and a past you’d rather not talk about. Still, Callie Smith doesn’t know how to feel when she discovers she has a brother and a sister—Malcolm, who grew up with affection, wealth and privilege, and Keira, a streetwise twelve-year-old. Callie doesn’t love being alone, but at least it’s safe. Despite her trepidation, she moves into the grand family home with her siblings and grandfather on the shores of Lake Washington, hoping just maybe this will be the start of a whole new life.

But starting over can be messy. Callie and Keira fit in with each other, but not with their posh new lifestyle, leaving Malcolm feeling like the odd man out in his own home. He was clever enough to turn a sleepy Seattle mail-order food catalog into an online gourmet powerhouse, yet he can’t figure out how to help his new sisters feel secure. Becoming a family will take patience, humor, a little bit of wine and a whole lot of love. But love isn’t Malcolm’s strong suit…until a beautiful barista teaches him that an open heart, like the family table, can always make room for more.

My Comments:

Susan Mallery's books are generally hit or miss for me--and there have been plenty of misses--but this one was a hit.  Callie, Malcolm and Keira are all the children of single mothers, and all the children of a single man who left those mothers.  Malcolm learned about his father when he was young--he and his mom moved in with his grandfather shortly before his mother died.  The girls never knew their father, and their grandfather learned about them while going through his late son's papers.  The grandfather hunted down these two girls (whose mothers had both died) and brings them home to the family mansion, giving them a lifestyle unlike any they had previously lived. 

Rags to riches stories are always fun and this one was no exception.  Keira had been in foster care, and before that, with a mother who really wasn't there for her.  Callie got in with the wrong crowd in high school and instead of going to graduation she ended up in prison.  She had been out for a while when her grandfather found her, but like many ex-cons was having a rough time of it.  Now they are living in the lap of luxury and having a hard time adjusting to it. 

The strength of this book is the characters--the grandfather who wants to know his grandkids, even if his son didn't want them.  The ex-con whose heart has been hardened, only to have it softened by a girl who needs love.  The girl who was taken out of foster care and given a suite of rooms, an allowance and a private school education.  The young man who knows how to grow a company, but needs help in matters of the heart. 

I'd like to thank the publisher for making a review copy available via NetGalley.  Grade:  B. 

Sunday, June 10, 2018

The Cottages on Silver Beach: My Review

About the Book:

Megan Hamilton never really liked Elliot Bailey. He turned his back on her family when they needed him the most and it almost tore them all apart. So she’s shocked when Elliot arrives at her family’s inn, needing a place to stay and asking questions that dredge up the past. Megan will rent him a cottage, but that’s where it ends—no matter how gorgeous Elliot has become. 

Coming back home to Haven Point was the last thing bestselling writer Elliot Bailey thought he’d ever do. But the book he’s writing now is his most personal one yet and it’s drawn him back to the woman he can’t get out of his mind. Seeing Megan again is harder than he expected and it brings up feelings he’d thought were long buried. Could this be his chance to win over his first love?

My Comments:

True to RaeAnne Thayne's style, this story includes elements of small town closeness, family love and two people who were destined to be together.  Elliot returned to his hometown--but not his home--to recover from an on-the-job injury sustained as and FBI agent.  While he is there, he works his side-gig, as a famous author.  

Sparks have always flown between Elliot and Megan but there has always been some reason things never got off the ground.  Yes, this is the time that changes, but as in Thayne's other stories, we don't get in on an bedroom action.  

The book ends with a bit of a cliffhanger; Elliot solved a mystery but it's one of those answers that just brings forth more questions, and more book set in this charming town.  

I'd like to thank the publisher for making a review copy available via NetGalley.  It was a quick, enjoyable heartwarming read, as most of Thayne's books are.  Grade:  B.  

Tuesday, June 05, 2018

Every Note Played: My Review

Every Note Played by [Genova, Lisa]

Every Note Played

About the Book:

An accomplished concert pianist, Richard received standing ovations from audiences all over the world in awe of his rare combination of emotional resonance and flawless technique. Every finger of his hands was a finely calibrated instrument, dancing across the keys and striking each note with exacting precision. That was eight months ago.

Richard now has ALS, and his entire right arm is paralyzed. His fingers are impotent, still, devoid of possibility. The loss of his hand feels like a death, a loss of true love, a divorce—his divorce.

He knows his left arm will go next.

Three years ago, Karina removed their framed wedding picture from the living room wall and hung a mirror there instead. But she still hasn’t moved on. Karina is paralyzed by excuses and fear, stuck in an unfulfilling life as a piano teacher, afraid to pursue the path she abandoned as a young woman, blaming Richard and their failed marriage for all of it.

When Richard becomes increasingly paralyzed and is no longer able to live on his own, Karina becomes his reluctant caretaker. As Richard’s muscles, voice, and breath fade, both he and Karina try to reconcile their past before it’s too late.

Poignant and powerful, Every Note Played is a masterful exploration of redemption and what it means to find peace inside of forgiveness.

My Comments:

Last year, my Facebook feed was filled with people doing the "Ice Bucket Challenge"; agreeing to have themselves videoed while pouring ice water on themselves, in exchange for donations for ALS research.  Here in New Orleans a local hero is Steve Gleason, a former player for the Saints, who has lived with ALS since 2011.  Both this book and the story of Steve Gleason's life make it clear that ALS is one nasty disease. 

When Richard is first diagnosed, as many people do, he went through a "denial" stage--his disease would progress slowly, he would manage to be independent, he wouldn't lose his voice but  the losses came anyway.

Richard and Karina had divorced and of course each was well aware of what the other had done to break trust.  Each was still hurting over the break-up of the marriage but since they weren't the one at fault, neither could really move past it either.  Marriage vows are taken "for better for worse, in sickness and in health" and while Richard and Karina were not able to live those vows while healthy, Karina was able to live them when Richard became ill.  By caring for him through his decline and death, she showed that love is a decision, not just an emotion and, in the end, her love was, in some way, returned.

This book deeply moved me, which is unusual in a book where I really didn't like any of the characters.  Richard was way too self-centered.  Karina struck me as one of those people who just didn't know how to be happy--her problems in life before Richard got sick weren't all that much different or greater than many people's problems but she couldn't just relax, focus on the good and be happy.  Rather she spent her time focusing on what she didn't have and refusing to move on with life.  Their daughter was a rather self-centered college student, but I guess that's pretty par for the course at that age.  I did like the primary home health aid and if there was ever a job that is way underpaid, that's it. 

I'd like to thank the publisher for making a review copy available via NetGalley.  Grade:  A.  

My Review: Winter Solstice

Winter Solstice (Winter Street) by [Hilderbrand, Elin]

About the Book:

It's been too long since the entire Quinn family has been able to celebrate the holidays under the same roof, but that's about to change. With Bart back safe and sound from Afghanistan, the Quinns are preparing for a holiday more joyous than any they've experienced in years. And Bart's safe return isn't the family's only good news: Kevin is enjoying married life with Isabelle; Patrick is getting back on his feet after paying his debt to society; Ava thinks she's finally found the love of her life; and Kelly is thrilled to see his family reunited at last. But it just wouldn't be a Quinn family gathering if things went smoothly. A celebration of everything we love--and some of the things we endure--about the holidays, WINTER SOLSTICE is Elin Hilderbrand at her festive best. 

My Comments:

When I think of Elin Hilderbrand, I think of beach reads--stories set at the beach in the summer, stories that entertain but don't tax you mentally.  This week I'm at the beach and I perused my TBR stack on my Kindle and found Winter Solstice by Hilderbrand and decided to give it a whirl. I guess I should have realized that a book called Winter Solstice wouldn't end up as a warm summery read.

Chapters of the books were titled by the name of a character and showed that character's take on events.  When I read the book I did not realize it was part of a series, but I probably should have guessed as it had a large number of characters with a lot of history that was alluded to but not fully explained.  

One of the characters mentioned that the good thing about the winter solstice is that days get longer thereafter--up until then you watch the days get shorter and shorter.  We learn early in the book that the days of the father of the family are getting shorter--he has a brain tumor and has said "enough" to treatment.  In October, no one seems settled--a lot of the characters have moved out of one part of their lives but haven't fully become established in another and as we watch Kerry's life fade, we watch his children stretch their wings and grow their days.

While the book has plenty of references to past infidelities, everyone in this book remains faithful and there are no sex scenes.  

While not exactly the breezy beach read I was hoping for, I did enjoy this book.  I would recommend reading the other Winter Street books first -- though in a lot of ways I suspect the whole saga is somewhat soap-opera-ish.  

I'd like to thank the publisher for making a review copy available via NetGalley.  Grade:  B.  

Friday, June 01, 2018

Book Review: The Summer List

The Summer List: A Novel by [Mason Doan, Amy]

About the Book:

Laura and Casey were once inseparable: as they floated on their backs in the sunlit lake, as they dreamed about the future under starry skies, and as they teamed up for the wild scavenger hunts in their small California lakeside town. Until one summer night, when a shocking betrayal sent Laura running through the pines, down the dock, and into a new life, leaving Casey and a first love in her wake.

But the past is impossible to escape, and now, after seventeen years away, Laura is pulled home and into a reunion with Casey she can’t resist—one last scavenger hunt. With a twist: this time, the list of clues leads to the settings of their most cherished summer memories. From glistening Jade Cove to the vintage skating rink, each step they take becomes a bittersweet reminder of the friendship they once shared. But just as the game brings Laura and Casey back together, the clues unravel a stunning secret that threatens to tear them apart… 

Mesmerizing and unforgettable, Amy Mason Doan’s The Summer List is about losing and recapturing the person who understands you best—and the unbreakable bonds of girlhood.

My Comments:

This book follows three timelines and it is easy to see how two of them connect and eventually readers realize how the third relates as well--though my first guess was wrong.  Two of the timelines were dated--one in the present day when Laura and Casey are in their 30's and one in the '90s when they were teens.  The third timeline is in italics.  

As noted above, something happened to tear Casey and Laura apart but Casey has no idea what it is.  Laura just left and never came back.  Casey's mother had a reason for wanting the "girls" back together again and she tricked them into a weekend together, a weekend during which she set up a scavenger hunt for them--similar to the scavenger hunts she used to design for them and their peers when they were in high school.  As they move through the clues they learn the truth about each other, their families and their friends, and, of course, themselves.  

While I found a couple of the situations rather hard to believe, I enjoyed the story and recommend it.  Grade:  B+

Thanks to the publisher for providing a review copy via NetGalley. 

Monday, May 28, 2018

Review: Sandpiper Shore

Sandpiper Shore (Harmony Harbor) by [Mason, Debbie]

About the Book:

There's nothing Jenna Bell loves more than a happily-ever-after. That's why being a wedding planner is her dream job - until the groom is Logan Gallagher. She's had a crush on him since . . . well, forever. And now she has to make his day magical as he walks down the aisle without her.

As a secret service agent, Logan's already married - to his career. A wife was never in his plan, until he finds out he needs to marry the woman he's been protecting. He takes his latest assignment in stride, but when he sees Jenna again, he can't deny the attraction sparking between them. Can he really say "I do" if it means saying goodbye to the woman of his dreams?

My Comments:

From beginning to end, this book was absolutely unbelievable.  Seriously, I don't think there was anything that happened in the book that seemed like something that would happen in real life.  For one thing, this is yet another book set in Harmony Harbor in and around the Graystone Inn.  The ghost of Colleen Gallagher makes an appearance, and I have no problem with that--she's part of the world Mason has built and I can suspend reality enough to accept that Mason's world has the people she writes about, and a ghost.  However, once the world has been built, I expect things to be believable within that world, and in this case they were not.

The book starts in a bridal shop, with a customer in tears because she was just dumped, right before the wedding.  While another bride is comforting her, that bride's fiancee comes in and dumps her, for her stepmother.  The second dumped bride runs out of the store and is pushed out of the way of an oncoming car by Logan, who shortly thereafter punches the ex-fiance.  He asks the dumped bride to run to the bar across the street (she's still in a wedding dress) and call his brother the lawyer.  While at the bar she gets drunk and then starts pole dancing in her wedding dress--and the story continues in just this vein.  

Fans of the Harmony Harbor series may want to give this one a try, just to keep up with the series, but if you haven't read the others, I'd skip this one.  

Thanks to the publisher for making a review copy available via NetGalley.  Grade:  C

Sunday, April 29, 2018

Review: As Bright As Heaven

About the Book:

In 1918, Philadelphia was a city teeming with promise. Even as its young men went off to fight in the Great War, there were opportunities for a fresh start on its cobblestone streets. Into this bustling town, came Pauline Bright and her husband, filled with hope that they could now give their three daughters--Evelyn, Maggie, and Willa--a chance at a better life.

But just months after they arrive, the Spanish Flu reaches the shores of America. As the pandemic claims more than twelve thousand victims in their adopted city, they find their lives left with a world that looks nothing like the one they knew. But even as they lose loved ones, they take in a baby orphaned by the disease who becomes their single source of hope. Amidst the tragedy and challenges, they learn what they cannot live without--and what they are willing to do about it.

As Bright as Heaven is the compelling story of a mother and her daughters who find themselves in a harsh world not of their making, which will either crush their resolve to survive or purify it.

My Comments:

I like happy feel-good reads, and this isn't one.  Yes, it ends with joy, and hope, and vision of the future, but death is the reason for much of the book, and for that reason it took me a while to read. No, it isn't a difficult read, it's just that my mind is mush and sometimes it takes work to get beyond a romance novel lately.

I've read a lot of books about WWII, but this is one of the few set during WWI that I've read. 1918 was not only the year of WWI, it was also the year of the flu epidemic; both play a role in the story, but the flu in a much more powerful way--and some quick research I did showed that more people died of the flu than from the war.  

What I've always considered to be signature of Susan Meissner's writing is an artifact of some sort linking a character in today's world to a character in the past.  That is lacking in this book; it is pure historical fiction with no modern characters or subplot.  Also, may of Meissner's early books were Christian fiction, though generally on the milder end of the spectrum; this is general market women's fiction.

The story starts with Pauline's youngest child dying and Pauline never completely emotionally recovering from that.  It's funny, we know in our heads that babies died in those days, and that it wasn't uncommon for people we consider young today to die, but how often do we put ourselves in the shoes of those young mothers whose babies didn't survive infancy?  I've "always" known that my mother had an older sister--though I've never thought of her as such--she was nothing to me but a stone in the graveyard.  When I was pregnant with my first child, I threatened to miscarry and at that point I wondered how my grandmother had felt when her baby died.  Years later for some reason my mom told me that my grandmother became depressed when she went through menopause and that my grandfather had asked my mom, who was on her own by that time, to come home for a while to cheer her mom. My mom said that my grandfather mentioned that my grandmother had been like that after they lost the baby, and that he understood that, but couldn't  understand why she was so upset over something that everyone knew would happen at about that age.  

Back to the book, Pauline and her family move to Philadelphia to live/work in a funeral parlor and caring for the dead Pauline begins to heal.  

The story follows the family through the flu epidemic and then the end of WWI and to the beginning of Prohibition. The world was changing, and so was the family.  One of the daughters ends up in medical school and working as a psychiatrist.  

Susan Meissner does a great job of capturing the era, the death, the hope, the change and despite the fact that it isn't all smiles and rainbows, I recommend the book highly.  Grade:  A. 

Thanks to the publisher for providing a review copy via NetGalley. 

Sunday, April 15, 2018

Review of Robyn Carr's The Family Gathering

The Family Gathering (Sullivan's Crossing) by [Carr, Robyn]

About the Book:

Having left the military, Dakota Jones is at a crossroads in his life. With his elder brother and youngest sister happily settled in Sullivan’s Crossing, he shows up hoping to clear his head before moving on to his next adventure. But, like every visitor to the Crossing, he’s immediately drawn to the down-to-earth people and the seemingly simple way of life.

Dakota is unprepared for how quickly things get complicated. As a newcomer, he is on everyone’s radar—especially the single women in town. While he enjoys the attention at first, he’s really only attracted to the one woman who isn’t interested. And spending quality time with his siblings is eye-opening. As he gets to know them, he also gets to know himself and what he truly wants.

When all the Jones siblings gather for a family wedding, the four adults are drawn together for the first time in a way they never were as children. As they struggle to accept each other, warts and all, the true nature and strength of their bond is tested. But all of them come to realize that your family are the people who see you for who you really are and love you anyway. And for Dakota, that truth allows him to find the home and family he’s always wanted.

My Comments:

A literary classic this is not, but it is a heartwarming enjoyable read with a villainess who is easy to hate and a hero who is easy to love.  As we watch Dakota come to town and discover the stability and love his siblings have found there we realize that much of the happiness we find in life is found because we choose to find it and live it, warts and all.  

I'd like to thank the publisher for making a review copy available via NetGalley.  Grade:  B.  

Tuesday, April 03, 2018

Sorority: My Review

About the Book:

Prep meets Girls in White Dresses in Genevieve Sly Crane’s deliciously addictive, compulsively readable exploration of female friendship and coming of age that will appeal to anyone who has ever been curious about what goes on in a sorority house…

Margot is dead.

There’s a rumor she died because she couldn’t take the pressure of being a pledge. You may not ask what happened to her. It’s not your business. But it wasn’t a suicide, if you’re wondering.

Spring Fling will not be cancelled. The deposit is non-refundable. And Margot would have wanted the sisterhood to continue in her absence, if only to protect her sisters’ secrets: Shannon is the thinnest girl in the house (the other sisters hate her for it, but they know her sacrifice: she only uses the bathroom by the laundry room); Kyra has slept with twenty-nine boys since she started college (they are all different and all the same); Amanda is a virgin (her mincing gait and sloping posture give it away); and while half the sisters are too new to have known Margot, Deirdre remembers her—she always remembers.

With a keen sense of character and unflinching, observant prose, Crane exposes the undercurrents of tension in a world where perfection comes at a cost and the best things in life are painful—if not impossible—to acquire: Beauty. A mother’s love. And friendship…or at least the appearance of it.

My Comments:

Does this sound like a book that is going make sorority girls look good?  I started reading it, and gave up after a few chapters.  I just couldn't find any of those girls to like. 

 I wasn't a sorority member, and my college didn't have national sororities, only local social clubs.  I wasn't a member and saw only the public parts of pledging.  I thought it was a lot of foolishness and couldn't understand why some girls were in tears over pledging activities and yet wanted to continue--if someone deliberately did things that got me upset I'll tell her to take a long walk on a short pier and go find something else to do. Still, all in all, most of the girls I knew who were in clubs were intelligent, competent, basically good people, whereas the characters in this book are all the stereotypical college girls with issues, and none of them really seem like they'd be fun to be around.  Maybe that's why they are all miserable.  

Thanks to the publisher for providing a review copy.  DNF.  

Sunday, March 11, 2018

Not Perfect: My Review

Not Perfect: A Novel by [LaBan, Elizabeth]

About the Book:

Tabitha Brewer wakes up one morning to find her husband gone, leaving her no way to support herself and their two children, never mind their upscale Philadelphia lifestyle. She’d confess her situation to her friends—if it wasn’t for those dreadful words of warning in his goodbye note: “I’ll tell them what you did.”

Instead, she does her best to keep up appearances, even as months pass and she can barely put food on the table—much less replace a light bulb. While she looks for a job, she lives in fear that someone will see her stuffing toilet paper into her handbag or pinching basil from a neighbor’s window box.

Soon, blindsided by catastrophe, surprised by romance, and stunned by the kindness of a stranger, Tabitha realizes she can’t keep her secrets forever. Sooner or later, someone is bound to figure out that her life is far from perfect.

My Comments:

I guess it is easy to say that "I'd never do that" when you've never been in someone else's shoes, and I'll never be in Tabitha's shoes--if my husband ever left me, I have a job that will pay the basic bills around here and keep food on the table--but I can't imagine every doing what Tabitha did, and maybe that's why I never quite liked this book.  Here is this woman with a degree from a fancy school who has been a stay at home mom and wife to a well-paid lawyer.  They have all the trappings of their upper-middle class lifestyle, including private school for the kids, and a love for gourmet food.

After months she realizes that her husband isn't coming back and that she has no money and so she looks for a job, and is given one, albeit one she didn't apply for and is probably not well-paid.  Does she keep it, and keep looking, figuring some money is better than none?  No, she just continues in her angst-filled self-pitying world and avoids anyone who might be able to help her.  She steals basil from the neighbor's window boxes and toilet paper from friends but instead of selling her husband (presumeably expensive) cuff links she gives them away.  

Then there are the other characters.  One is an old woman who offers Tabitha pot-laced candy and who makes it easy for Tabitha to "borrow" money she needs by leaving it laying about the house.  The other is a man Tabitha meets at Stuart's alumni function who realizes she is an imposter (not an alumna) who becomes the new love interest in her life--and don't get me started on Stuart.  They all just seemed strange, not realistic at all.  

I'd like to thank the publisher for providing a review copy via NetGalley.  I read the second half of the book at a pace between fast and skimming so maybe I missed something, but I'm giving this one a "C", and hope that others enjoy it more than I did.  

Friday, February 02, 2018

Things to Do When It Is Raining: My Review

About the Book:

Mae Summers and Gabe Broadbent grew up together in the idyllic Summers’ Inn, perched at the edge of the St. Lawrence River. Mae was orphaned at the age of six and Gabe needed protection from his alcoholic father, so both were raised under one roof by Mae’s grandparents, Lilly and George. Their childhood friendship quickly developed into a first love—a love that was suddenly broken by Gabe’s unexpected departure. Mae grew up, got over her heartbreak and started a life for herself in New York City.

After more than a decade, Mae and Gabe find themselves pulled back to Alexandria Bay. Hoping to find solace within the Summers’ Inn, Mae instead finds her grandparents in the midst of decline with their past unraveling around her. A lifetime of secrets stands in the way of this unconventional family’s happiness. Will they be able to reclaim the past and come together, or will they remain separate islands?

From the bestselling author of Mating for Life comes a powerful story about guilt, forgiveness and the truth about families: that we can choose them, just as we choose to love.

My Comments:

This is one of those books that I can see other people enjoying a lot more than I did.  It is the story of four couples--Lilly and George, Lilly and Everett, Virginia (Lilly's daughter) and Chase and Mae (Virginia's daughter) and Gabe.  In some ways it may have been the story of Jonah (Gabe's father) and Virgina as well.  It is a story of love, of secrets and of pain.  It is the story of the end of life and the story of new life.  It takes place in different timelines and at first it is hard to follow how it all fits together.

Unfortunately, I never connected with the characters or felt real empathy for them.  While I finished the book, I was glad to be done. 

I'd like to thank the publisher for making a review copy available via NetGalley.  Grade;  B-

Wednesday, January 31, 2018

Review: Sisters Like Us

Sisters Like Us (Mischief Bay) by [Mallery, Susan]

About the Book:

Divorce left Harper Szymanski with a name no one can spell, a house she can't afford and a teenage daughter who's pulling away. With her fledgling virtual-assistant business, she's scrambling to maintain her overbearing mother’s ridiculous Susie Homemaker standards and still pay the bills, thanks to clients like Lucas, the annoying playboy cop who claims he hangs around for Harper's fresh-baked cookies.

Spending half her life in school hasn't prepared Dr. Stacey Bloom for her most daunting challenge—motherhood. She didn't inherit the nurturing gene like Harper and is in deep denial that a baby is coming. Worse, her mother will be horrified to learn that Stacey's husband plans to be a stay-at-home dad…assuming Stacey can first find the courage to tell Mom she's already six months pregnant.

Separately they may be a mess, but together Harper and Stacey can survive anything—their indomitable mother, overwhelming maternity stores and ex’s weddings. Sisters Like Us is a delightful look at sisters, mothers and daughters in today’s fast-paced world, told with Susan Mallery’s trademark warmth and humor.

My Comments:

If you can get over the fact that the main characters all come across as caricatures, this isn't a bad read.  Harper feels guilty for not making fresh pasta (you know the kind you make with flour and ...I don't know,,, I did it once, definitely didn't think it was worth the trouble and she always layers the table cloths and place mats on her table to create a coordinated look.  She's beyond Suzy Homemaker but now that she is trying to run a business, she just doesn't have time for all that anymore.  

Lucas is Harper's age but dates the twenty year old airhead of the week--but is becoming more and more a part of Harper's life every day.  Where do you think this is going?

Stacey is the stereotypical science nerd.  She just doesn't "get" so many social things, but she marries a kind nurturing man who wants a baby, so she obliges, and is then terrified that she won't love her baby.  Stacey and her husband take in his nephew, who is eighteen.  When Stacey learns he is dating her niece, she gives him the condom talk--and then tells him how he needs to stimulate a woman to orgasm, but the scene comes off not as erotic but as a sadly funny reflection of Stacey's lack of social skills. 

Clearly this book is far more about the characters than about the plot line, which is pretty is obvious from the beginning.  Still, it was an enjoyable and relaxing read, so I'll give it a B. 

Thanks to the publisher for providing a review copy via NetGalley.

Monday, January 08, 2018

Review: A History of the Church in 100 Objects

A History of the Church in 100 Objects by [Aquilina, Mike, Aquilina, Grace]

About the Book:

The star of Bethlehem exemplifies the birth of Jesus, the Wittenberg Door is synonymous with the Protestant Reformation, and “the pill” symbolizes the sexual revolution. It’s “stuff” that helps tell the story of Christianity.

In this unique, rich, and eye-catching book, popular Catholic author and EWTN host Mike Aquilina tells the Christian story through the examination of 100 objects and places. Some, like Michelangelo's Pietà, are priceless works of art. Others, like a union membership pen, don’t hold much monetary value. But through each of them, Aquilina offers a memorable and rewarding look at the history of the Church.

When Catholics tell their story, they don’t just write it in books. They preserve it in memorials, monuments, artifacts, and museums. They build grand basilicas to house tiny relics.

In this stunning book, Aquilina, together with his writer-daughter Grace, show how the history of the Church didn’t take place shrouded in the mists of time. It actually happened and continues to happen through things that we can see and sometimes hold in our hand.

The Christian answer to Neil MacGregor's New York Times bestseller A History of the World in 100 Objects, Aquilina’s A History of the Church in 100 Objects introduces you to:
The Cave of the Nativity (the importance of history, memory, and all things tangible)
Catacomb niches (the importance of Rome, bones, and relics of the faith)
Ancient Map of the World (the undoing of myths about medieval science)
Stained Glass (representative of Gothic cathedrals)
The Holy Grail (Romance literature and the emergence of writing for the laity)
Loaves and fish (a link from Jesus to the sacrament of the Eucharist)
The Wittenberg Door (Martin Luther and the onset of the Reformation)
Each of these and the 93 other items and places in the book tell part of the Christian story. Each is an essential piece of the story of our salvation.

God makes himself known and accessible through material things, always accommodating himself to our condition. It is, after all, the condition he created for us—spiritual and material—and the form he assumed for our salvation.

My Comments:

We Catholics like our "stuff".  While the trend in church buildings in the 1960's and 1970's may have been minimalist and utilitarian, today's new churches tend to look like churches with stained glass, statues and a sanctuary with a tabernacle front and center. We are physical beings and our senses can bring us closer to God.

A History of the Church in 100 Objects uses pictures of our "stuff" as leadoffs for chapters on the history of our faith.  If you click the Amazon link above and page though the sample pages, you'll see that it is a beautiful book.  As a history buff and a Catholic I found it fascinating and learned some new stories (because what is history of not his (and her) story?  

Thanks to the publisher for making a review copy available via NetGalley.  Grade:  B+

Review: The Promise Between Us

The Promise Between Us by [White, Barbara Claypole]

About the Book:

Metal artist Katie Mack is living a lie. Nine years ago she ran away from her family in Raleigh, North Carolina, consumed by the irrational fear that she would harm Maisie, her newborn daughter. Over time she’s come to grips with the mental illness that nearly destroyed her, and now funnels her pain into her art. Despite longing for Maisie, Katie honors an agreement with the husband she left behind—to change her name and never return.

But when she and Maisie accidentally reunite, Katie can’t ignore the familiarity of her child’s compulsive behavior. Worse, Maisie worries obsessively about bad things happening to her pregnant stepmom. Katie has the power to help, but can she reconnect with the family she abandoned?

To protect Maisie, Katie must face the fears that drove her from home, accept the possibility of love, and risk exposing her heart-wrenching secret.

My Comments:

I loved this book and highly recommend it. 

When someone becomes physically ill--whether with the 24 hour stomach bug or cancer or chicken pox--they generally garner the sympathy of those around them.  It is expected that if the disease lasts more than a day or two that a trip to the doctor has at least been considered, and it is assumed that decent health insurance will cover that visit.  We may all joke about how men's colds are so much worse than Mom's colds but we rarely blame the person who is physically ill for his or her disease.

Mental illness is different.  Somehow, many of us think that if the mentally ill would just get their acts together and quit acting that way, their illnesses would disappear--or we think that the illness is caused by weakness on the part of the one who is ill.

The main character in The Promise Between Us is Katie, and Katie is mentally ill.  Katie is also a very strong and selfless woman who has nearly lost her life to that illness.  Katie has OCD and anxiety and in this book we stand in her shoes and see the world through her eyes.  We see her cope (sometimes well, sometimes not so well) with the voices inside her head.  We see how her mental illness affects her relationships.  

Two other adult characters in the book suffer from a mental illness and for one of them, denial is his drug of choice.  In both cases we see how seemly sane people can suffer greatly from mental problems even though they appear, at least on the surface, to be happy and successful.

Finally, there is Maisy, a bright well-loved child who is starting to show signs of OCD.  She has four adults in her life who love her and want the best for her; they just disagree about what that is when it comes to her OCD and to their relationships with each other.  

Barbara Claypole White's niche seems to be novels dealing with mental illness as you will note if you click her name under this post.  As I've noted about her other books, White does a great job of making her characters more than their illness, though the illness is the focus of this story.  

I'd like to thank the publisher for making a review copy available via NetGalley.  Grade:  A

Tuesday, January 02, 2018

Review: The Tattooist of Auschwitz

The Tattooist of Auschwitz

About the Book:

Based on the incredible true story of Lale Sokolov 

Heart-breaking  - a tale of love and survival amidst the horrors of Auschwitz.

Human - the real story behind one of the most potent symbols of the Holocaust - the blue numbers tattooed on prisoners' arms.

Inspirational - the very best of humanity in the very worst of circumstances.

Unforgettable - a story untold for over seventy years is finally shared.

Life-affirming - one man's determination to survive and live a full life with the woman he loved.

Fully verified - Lale Sokolov's background and story has been fact-checked against all available documentary evidence.

My Comments:

One of the iconic symbols of the Holocaust is the numbers tattooed onto the forearms of those chosen to survive the selection process that sent most of those arriving at death camps to the gas chambers.  Lale Lokolov was the person who applied many of those tattoos.

I've read that those who survived the concentration camps were generally young adults who were in good physical shape when they arrived, were able to make friends who helped them survive and who were either there for a relatively short time, or who managed in one way or another to get extra food.  Lale was an early arrival at Auschwitz but other than that, he fit the profile of the survivor.  For whatever reason, those running the camp deemed him worthy of extra rations and private sleeping quarters.  Further, he was able to befriend a local villager who worked in the camp and women who sorted the luggage of new arrivals, and to broker trades of valuables found in the luggage for food for himself and others.  

One day while on duty as a tattooist, Lale had to apply a tattoo to Gita, to whom he was immediately attracted.  He managed to meet her, carry on a romance with her, and after they were free, re-connect with her and marry her.  

Lale was the quintessential "people person" who knew how to read people, how to get along with them, and yes, how (within the confines of the situation) to get them to do what he wanted.  A particular guard was assigned to be his "keeper" and while he and Lale were by no means friends, a part of me thinks that had they met in a different time at a different place, they might have been. 

The story follows Lale from his arrival at Auschwitz through his escape from the Nazis near the end of the war, through working for the Russians (and escaping from them) to finally reuniting with Gita and marrying her.  The book ends with a list of the fates of some of the major characters, which I found interesting.

The book is classified as historical fiction and I suppose this is one of those times that having the liberty to make up conversations, characters or even events can help tell more truth than sticking strictly to that which could be remembered by an old man or verified through documentary evidence.  Still, I'd be curious to know what in the book actually happened, and what was a figment of the author's imagination.

While I enjoyed the book, the writing style struck me as less than professional--the book rambled at times and the sentence structure was very simplistic in parts of the book.  Nevertheless, I enjoyed the book (as much as you can use the word "enjoy" to describe visiting a place designed to torture and kill people) and give it a B.  I'd like to thank the publisher for making a review copy available via NetGalley. 

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