Here and Gone – Haylen Beck

Fleeing her abusive husband with her two children, Audra is stopped by a cop in the middle of the Arizona desert. A routine stop turns into a bust for possession for drugs Audra has never seen before … but the worst hasn’t happened yet. Audra is soon to have the fight of her life to save everything she loves.

Here and Gone

Reaction:

Here and Gone easily drew me into the story, and the real world quickly drifted away. I finished reading it in a few hours. The feelings stirred up while reading Here and Gone included fear and anger, and those feelings were hard to shake off.

Characters:

The characters fit well into their roles; all were well-done. Collins was the “good” cop, desperate but not really a bad person. Whiteside … he was dark. The “bad” cop, with no conscience and nerves of steel. My favorite character would be Sean, Tandy (even though he only had a short role), or Special Agent Mitchell. It’s really hard to decide. Especially nice was how Beck showed the inner turmoil of the characters without flat-out explaining it, like in this section:

“When he finished, Mitchell remained still, her gaze on the notebook. The muscles in her jaw bunched. After a few moments she inhaled, exhaled, and got to her feet.” pg. 194

Recommendation:

If you enjoy great writing and are a fan of thrillers, then this is definitely a book for you.

 

Disclaimer: I received this book for free in exchange for my honest review. All opinions are my own.

As Kingfishers Catch Fire – Eugene H. Peterson

The author of As Kingfishers Catch Fire, Peterson, is a pastor – and you can tell in his writing. Divided into teachings from each gospel, As Kingfishers Catch Fire is full of fascinating information. I frequently found myself reading aloud to my husband from this novel. Unfortunately, it simply wasn’t keeping my attention. I kept being distracted by other books. This book is really only for those who want to learn and are able to focus to do so.

However, if you can focus, there is quite a bit going on in this book. Peterson has a lot of valuable insight to offer. One example of this insight is as follows:

“They [the Israelites] did not want to live by faith but by sight. … They wanted gods they could use to get what they wanted, like the gods they had in Egypt. … True, in Egypt it hadn’t worked to their benefit, but that was because they didn’t own the gods. … And when you stop to think about it, so do we [want gods]. ”

pgs. 31-32

If you stop and think about that passage, it makes a heck of a lot of sense. As Kingfishers Catch Fire requires the reader to stop and think frequently, so do not pick up this book looking for a quick read. It requires time and effort. A notebook to take notes with would also be helpful.

Recommendations: this is the kind of novel that would be good for a long-term Bible study group or someone who really wants to delve deeper into the Word of God.

 

Disclaimer: I received this book for free in exchange for my honest review. All opinions are my own.

Approval Junkie by Faith Salie

As Approval Junkie was written by a comedian, I’d expected it to be funny. It wasn’t for me, though. I suspect Salie was aiming for an older, more experienced audience to better appreciate her tale.

Approval Junkie by Faith Salie review

Approval Junkie:

Faith Salie is a genuine approval junkie. Whether she’s looking for roles on T.V. or getting the best grades possible or even choosing a dress for divorce court, Salie always tries to please others – until she learns that it’s really herself she needs to please.

Some Valuable Information:

Approval Junkie read very much like a self-help novel (not necessarily a bad thing) at parts and I struggled to stay focused throughout most of the book. It wasn’t all slow, however. Salie provided some valuable information in a chapter about listening; “There’s a huge difference between listening to help yourself seem funny or smart or right and listening to help someone express himself.” Pg. 88.

Somewhat Offensive Parts:

There were parts that I found somewhat offensive as a Christian, so be warned if you decide to pick up Approval Junkie that a small portion of the book does consist of references to Jesus in a not-so-reverent way.

Recommendation:

Although I found that the story didn’t draw me in, I would still recommend it to other women, particularly mothers. Salie wrote multiple chapters and sections on motherhood, attempting to become a mother, and related struggles.

 

Disclaimer: I received this book for free from Blogging for Books in exchange for my honest review. All opinions are my own.

The Fifth Petal – Brunonia Barry

Wow. I tore through this book! It’s my favorite book so far this year, and I wouldn’t be at all surprised if it remained at least in my top five even when the year is over. Although I have not read The Lace Reader (also by Barry), The Fifth Petal easily holds its own, and the series does not need to be read in order. I didn’t even realize this was the second book until after finishing the novel – but now I’m definitely going to be checking out the first one.

Barry weaves fact and fiction, mystery and mythology in a spellbinding work that I couldn't put down. The Fifth Petal is everything a mystery lover could want.

Barry’s writing kept me so involved that I thought about The Fifth Petal even when not reading, and more often than once read long into the night. There were times when I worried about the story being mostly resolved with the usual bookworm problems – “too many pages left”; but The Fifth Petal – though not entirely happy – met the perfect end.

Perfect Blend of Mystery & Thrills:

Despite The Fifth Petal being marketed as a thriller, it wasn’t too spooky for the faint of heart (like me) – even reading with only light enough to see the page wasn’t too anxiety-inducing. Barry found the perfect blend of fantasy, mystery, fact and fiction – and she left just enough questions at the end of the novel to keep readers guessing (in a satisfied way) long after the last page is devoured.

The Fifth Petal is everything I ever wanted in a mystery, and I can’t wait to read Barry’s other novels – they are sure to be just as amazing as this one was.

Disclaimer: I received this book for free in exchange for my honest review. All opinions are my own.

Beauty Begins by Chris Shook & Megan Shook Alpha

Beauty Begins focuses on women, with a strong emphasis on inner beauty and the Bible. Each chapter ends with reflection questions and a prayer. Even with two authors, the writing flowed smoothly. I loved that the last chapter was written by Kerry Shook and Jordan Alpha (husbands to Chris and Megan) – it was good to get the men’s perspective as well.

Beauty is about more than what is on the outside, as we see in Beauty Begins.

More Than Looks:

Shook and Alpha didn’t just focus on beauty – since the book was about inner beauty they also talked about relationships, culture, fashion, and more. I particularly loved a section that talked about teaching your children: “Far from being disqualified, you are actually in a great position to talk to your kids if you have made the same mistake in the past” Pg. 66. Although I’m not a parent, I saw in that quote wisdom that can apply to friendships, too.

Since there were many great quotes throughout Beauty Begins, I cannot only use one. Pg. 68 says, “You impress people when you talk about your strengths, but you influence people when you admit your struggles.” That gem reveals so much. We read throughout the book that focusing on outer beauty keeps us focused on things other than God – this shows us that inner beauty allows us to be vulnerable and genuine. We are learning to show our true beauty.

Just Let Go:

On pages 79 & 80, Chris wrote a story about her son on the monkey bars talking about how he was scared to let go for fear she would not catch him. She caught him, but he only let go when he could not hang on any longer. Her story is reminiscent of us with God. He is always there to catch us, but we resist letting go, preferring to hold on until we cannot hold on any longer. Beauty Begins has a major focus on trusting God.

Recommendation:

Since I cannot spend this whole review quoting Shook and Alpha, let me leave you with this recommendation and a final quote. I loved reading how Megan talks with God, and so will include it as the final quote: “Sometimes I even buckle the passenger seat belt to acknowledge His [God’s] presence, and then I just talk” Pg. 91. If you want to trust God with your inner beauty and rely on Him, this is a good book to read. It’s not a “how-to” book, but rather a kind of guide to point you in the right direction.

Good luck on your journey!

 

Disclaimer: I received this book for free in exchange for my honest review. All opinions are my own.

Lola – Melissa Scrivner Love

Failing to see who the true leader of the small gang, The Crenshaw Six is could be a huge problem for the Mexican cartel. She lives in the shadows, with everyone misjudging her as harmless – but Lola should not be underestimated. There are huge decisions to make, sides to choose, and punishments to deal out.

It's a man's world - but in this thriller, some women should not be underestimated. Lola by Melissa Scrivner Love

Lola really brought to light how invisible women can be. A great example was on pg. 53 “She doesn’t fear Lola, because in Mila’s mind, they are equals. Women in a man’s world.”

Positives & Negatives on Details:

A fast paced and interesting read, some parts were pretty intense and had me wanting to throw the book. Lola was a well-developed character, and I liked reading Lola narrating her own tale. In some parts I appreciated the glossed-over description, where what could have been quite gruesome wasn’t too bad to read at all – but in other parts I wished for more details.

I also wished to read more of how the story ended. There were a few parts that felt a little unfinished. That aside, it was nice to read a tale from the wrong side of the tracks, to see the world how Lola sees it. To see that not everything is black and white, not everyone is all good or all evil – and sometimes those who appear good really aren’t good at all.

Recommendation:

Lola was a very good read, although I would not call it a thriller. I recommend it to anyone who wishes to see the world from another perspective. The narrator grew up in a bad area, the victim of bad parenting who decided to make something of herself – not good, but not “all evil”, either.

 

Disclaimer: I received this book for free in exchange for my honest review. All opinions are my own.

Enjoy – Trillia J. Newbell

Enjoy: Finding the Freedom to Delight Daily in God’s Good Gifts by Trillia J. Newbell

Throughout Enjoy, Newbell incorporated references to Bible verses and also “The Enjoy Project” at the end of chapters – making this read not only perfect for a discussion setting but great for including in personal devotion time. Enjoy can be savored as a light read, but also used as an in-depth tool for spiritual growth. Having those options was one of the best parts of reading this book.

Newbell's novel to encourage and show us that God's creation is a gift to us - not meant to cause us guilt, but to be savored as pointing to our Creator.

Not Only For Women:

Although primarily geared towards women, Enjoy is applicable towards men as well, and can be a useful tool for either sex. As evidenced by the title, Newbell crafted a novel to show us that we can enjoy (no pun intended) God’s creation without feeling guilty. Creation is one of God’s many gifts to us! Without shirking from touchier subjects (like sex), Newbell gently helps us discern whether we are enjoying something, or idolizing it.

Newbell helpfully added some perspective to several verses, including Genesis 1:28 within the pages of Enjoy; on pg. 15 she reminded us that “we must steward his [God’s] world to the best of our ability”. We have dominion over the world, but also a responsibility to it because of the privilege we have been given.

An immensely thought-provoking read, Enjoy helped me to notice aspects of everyday life that I never thought significant before. It also helped me realize where I have some correction to apply in my own life. For instance, on pg 7 Newbell brings our attention to the fact that God knew man would turn from Him even as He created us, and yet He still declared all that He had made, including man, very good! (Genesis 1:31)

Included Recommendations:

Several times while reading Enjoy, I noticed that Newbell included recommendations for works by other authors. It is wonderful to see not only that she supports other writers, but that additional support is given on various topics that aren’t addressed as thoroughly in this novel.

Reading Enjoy inspired me to start a project of my own to savor God’s creation and gifts to us more thoroughly. I recommend this book to any reader who wants to be challenged and grow spiritually.

 

Disclaimer: I received this book for free from Blogging for Books in exchange for my honest review. All opinions are my own.

Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason – Helen Fielding

Strangely enough, this book was not one I picked for myself. A book I ordered online did not come; this book by Fielding came in its place. With a little bit of back and forth with the seller, we were given a refund and told we could decide what happened to this book – no need to ship it back. If we didn’t want the book, it could be donated.

Fielding's book The Edge of Reason definitely got a reaction from me as a reader - and not necessarily a positive one. This book makes an impression.

You know me, I couldn’t resist reading an (unexpected) free book! (Even if it was the second in an unfamiliar series.) The book definitely garnered a reaction from me (oftentimes an angry reaction), so I decided to share my opinions on it.

Entering the World of Bridget Jones:

For the first half of this book I only had complaints – the book reads as thoughts from Bridget’s head, which means unless it is a direct conversation, the “sentences” are almost always incomplete. That drove me absolutely bonkers throughout this novel and I almost stopped reading due to it.

Time is marked by dates, and under each date is a short note from Bridget about her weight and caloric intake along with other information about the day. Although I couldn’t find a mention of Bridget’s actual height, it was distressing to read her constantly fretting about weighing 130 lb (give or take). Seeing as The Edge of Reason reads as if primarily geared towards young adult readers, it seems that it would be detrimental to those same readers to have yet another character thrusting numbers at them about how much is okay to weigh and how many calories are *too* many. Not to mention, Bridget and her friends are heavy drinkers, and at one point experiment with *natural* (still illegal) drugs.

The obsession Bridget, Jude, and Shaz have with dating/self-help genre novels is frankly rather distressing, but I’m happy to report that was one of the things that improved towards the second half of the novel.

(Offensive) Shock Value Techniques:

In the first half, Fielding randomly incorporated a boy with supposed schizophrenia for no visible purpose other than shock value, which I was angry about. The addition of the boy was unnecessary – he only appeared in the story for a short time and quickly disappeared again – and was also very unhelpful for the general fear about mental illnesses. Another anger-inducing slight to people with mental illnesses in their loved ones was found on pg. 152, when a homosexual character claimed he didn’t want to talk (due to sad feelings about an ex-boyfriend) “Because I have lost my former personality and become a manic-depressive.” Fielding does realize that mental illness does not work that way, right?

There were other, slightly less offensive things included for shock value, but the book did get better sometime after the halfway mark. There were a few things funny enough that I laughed out loud, and at the end it seemed that Bridget had grown since the beginning of the novel.

Final Thoughts:

All in all, I would not want to read this book again – or anything else by this author – but I am glad to have stuck with it until the end. The story ends well, but it is still not recommended reading material for those who have less self-confidence or sense of self.

The Witch Of Lime Street by David Jaher

The Witch of Lime Street: Séance, Seduction, and Houdini in the Spirit World
By: David Jaher

In a captivating narration of a face-off between the accomplished escape-artist Houdini and the charming hostess of 10 Lime Street, Jaher draws us into the unknown. Houdini has stunned audiences everywhere with his daring feats, but he desperately wants to communicate with someone he loved and lost – his mother. With a slow build, Jaher sets the scenario and introduces the cast. In an unfulfilling search to contact his mother, Houdini exposes flimflam artists everywhere – he has a very definite view on what is acceptable or not, and taking advantage of those grieving loved ones falls into the “unacceptable” category. When Houdini befriends a huge proponent of the Spiritualist movement but remains unconvinced of the mediumship displayed being genuine, it isn’t long before a scientific contest to prove authentic mediums exist is established.

In this captivating narration, Jaher brings to life the show down between the witch, Margery, and Houdini - the escape artist.

Not a Typical Historical Read

Despite personal opinions on mediumship and séances, there were events in The Witch of Lime Street that had me as a reader baffled. As Jaher’s novel is depicting actual historical events, it would have been easy for the novel to come across as dry and boring, however that was not the case. Once the stage was set the novel drew me in and I was eager to discover what happened next. Houdini was a very complex, realistic character. Despite his pride and arrogance, he also came across as deeply layered – passionate about his cause and desperately determined to prevent “mediums” with nothing more than street tricks (something Houdini himself was very familiar with) from fooling the bereaved.

The “witch” known as Margery was also a very complex, well-written character. Despite her background, Margery is described by all who meet her as cultured and of a far better stock than a typical run-of-the-mill medium. Despite the rigorous testing Margery is put through (and tolerates with good humor) in order to determine whether or not her mediumship is genuine, Margery offers very little resistance and continues to go above and beyond as an excellent hostess. As Jaher introduces more information about Margery, as a reader you start to realize the difficult position Margery is in. She is a character that induces a sympathetic response the more you understand her.

More Information Would Be Nice

It would have been nice to hear more about involvement from Bess, Houdini’s wife (she is mostly present at the beginning and end of the novel, and not in any major way) however, with the sources Jaher worked with for this novel it is understandable that she may not have been mentioned much (and this story does not revolve around her). I also would have very much liked to have read whether any verdict on the Crandon’s involvement with the “lost boys” was determined – and if not the Crandon’s, where were those children? Jaher briefly introduces the mystery in the chapter entitled “Lost Boys” (pg. 345), but doesn’t tell us of any solution.

Typically, historical novels are not in my zone of interest, but The Witch of Lime Street was a fascinating read and I’m glad to have read it. Jaher primarily came across as pro-Spiritualist, but he still presented the story with countless sources as evidence to back him and without noticeably skewing the facts either way. For those who wish to review Jaher’s sources, he lists them in the back of the novel.

 

Disclaimer: I received this book for free from Blogging for Books in exchange for my honest review. All opinions are my own.

After You – Jojo Moyes

Recently, I picked up ‘Me Before You’ (also by Jojo Moyes – here’s my review) at the recommendation of my sister-in-law. It was extremely sad (I cried afterwards) but a very well written piece of work. After experiencing ‘Me Before You’, I was hesitant to read ‘After You’ (it’s the 2nd book to ‘Me Before You’) – I didn’t want my heart broken by a book again! However, Moyes talent drew me in again, and I read ‘After You’.

In a beautifully written piece of work, Moyes draws us into Lou's world yet again. Although 'After You' is at times heartbreaking, it was definitely worth the read.

‘After You’, a Review:

‘After You’ did not break my heart in the same intense way as ‘Me Before You’. That’s not to say that this was not a sad book in any way – it was sad at times – but the overall tone of the book was not particularly sad.

An extremely unexpected character shows up in Louisa’s (Lou’s) life (with disastrous results) and Lou experiences life in a whole new way. Through plenty of time and the help of friends and family, Lou learns how to move on – and that it’s okay to live life to it’s fullest.

The characters in ‘After You’ are at times raw and painful, but real and relatable as well. Moyes crafts a story where all of the characters come to life. There were times when I was unable to put the book down because I had to know what happened next – there were also times when I was too horrified to continue reading.

‘After You’ didn’t leave me in a puddle of tears like the previous novel did, but the ending was so bittersweet and tender that I promptly described the entire storyline to my husband. It’s the kind of story that leaves you with the barest ache when it’s over, in part wishing it had continued (because it was real, and you were there) – but also in part glad it is over (because the intensity can get to you).

Please read ‘Me Before You’ before delving into ‘After You’, but I think you will thoroughly enjoy them both (and maybe not cry quite as much with the second novel). I will eagerly await any future writings from Jojo Moyes.