"You can never get a cup of tea large enough or a book long enough to suit me."

-C.S. Lewis

What we read has such an impact on us, and I am always on the lookout for something that will inspire me to be a better person. Here is a sampling of books that have been in the teetering stack sitting on top of what is rumored to be my bedside table.

Saturday, December 26, 2015

Horse in the Wilderness, by Debbie Eckles

Horse in the Wilderness, by Debbie Eckles, is a story about a man named Brent who moves to a small mountain town in order to reinvent himself after his wife's unfaithfulness and subsequent death.  While there, he meets Autumn, a woman who loves horses almost as much as she loves God.  The two find a common bond over music, and Brent slowly starts to realize that God has not abandoned him as he once thought.

The book was tough for me at the beginning.  A lot of characters are introduced all at once.  While I think this is meant to convey Brent's confusion upon moving to a new town, it's also very difficult for the reader to keep track of so many characters.  I admit that I put the book aside for a time because I couldn't get into the story.

However, after I'd been away from it for a while, I found myself wanting to return to find out what happens to Brent.  A book like this is more about the journey than it is about the ending, and Brent's character development was quite compelling.

There is a lot of detail in the book.  I will say that it helps to have working relationship with both horses and music to understand a few scenes.  That's a check on both counts for me, which made the book more interesting to me.  But it's not really necessary to have much knowledge of either to enjoy the book.  

The book is certainly much better than the usual fare that is found with self-published books.  I hope the author continues to write.  She's got talent.

On a side note, this book does deal with depression and suicide.  As always, I caution anyone who is struggling with either to please seek help.  And don't stop seeking that help until you get the medical treatment you need.  No matter how bad off you seem, there is treatment for you.  Call the National Suicide Prevention Hotline at 1 (800) 273-8255.

Disclaimer:  I was provided a copy of this book by the publisher in exchange for a fair and honest review.  

Three out of Five Stars

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Falling Like Snowflakes, by Denise Hunter

I think this is the first book in the romantic suspense genre that I've reviewed.  But I was in the mood for some chick lit this holiday season.  I'd read another of Denise Hunter's books, Barefoot Summer, and liked it well enough that I thought I'd give Falling Like Snowflakes a try.

This book was an absolute joy to read.  There're your basic romantic fiction staples - tough yet vulnerable woman who desperately needs help from a tough situation.  Single guy who also needs help that only the heroine can provide.  They get to know each other, a few obstacles get in the way, and I really don't think it's a spoiler to say that everything works out in the end.  

The thing is, Denise Hunter writes so beautifully that it's easy to actually care what happens to these characters.  Every character in the book is well developed, and I found that I very much enjoyed my time with them.  The three brothers - and this is part 1 of 3 books about these guys - are part of a close knit family that is still realistic in its squabbles.  Reading about this family reminded me of coming home.  And being that it's Christian, there's nothing in here that you couldn't read to your blind great-aunt.  (But Hunter does write one heck of a kiss, I must say!)

All in all, this was a very enjoyable read, the perfect distraction from holiday busy-ness.  I highly recommend this book to anyone who enjoys Debbie Macomber type books.  It also has a few similarities to the movie Safe Haven.  

Four out of Five Stars

Disclaimer:  This book was provided to me by the publisher in exchange for a fair and honest review.

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

The God You Thought You Knew, by Alex McFarland

     Alex McFarland has written a very worthwhile book in The God You Thought You Knew Exposing the 10 Biggest Myths About Christianity.  As the title suggests, there are ten chapters in this book, each one discussion questions that Christians are asked - by others or by themselves - every day.  

     The book is an apologetics discussion.  They're great for enabling a new Christian to learn the faith, or for "experienced" Christians to solidify what they've learned.  I feel that the theology is sound and based on Scripture rather than many of the "magic wand" books I've seen on the market.  If you're looking for a book that tells you how God is going to make you richer / happier / more successful etc, this isn't the book for you.  If you're looking for a book that explains God as he represents himself through the Bible, then this is it.

     Apologetics aside, the topics are very convicting for any Christian.  Take, for example, Myth #1 - Christianity is intolerant and judgmental toward others.  We've got a lot of that in our faith, and none of it is actually condoned by the faith.  The author explains point by point why we are not called to judge others.  This chapter, along with the others, stands as a good reminder for all Christians of who we are called to be.

     In essence, if you've ever wanted to know the answers to tough questions like why the Bible seems to contradict itself, or how accurate the Bible is, then I recommend this book.  It's very thought provoking.  Like any good book, it planted the seed for even more questions in my mind as I read it.  A few areas seemed weak on intellectual rigor.  However, fortunately, the author has listed a topical "further reading" list at the end.  So I've got my homework cut out for me!

    Four out of Five Stars

Disclaimer:  I was provided a copy of this book by the publisher in exchange for a  fair and honest review.

Sunday, October 18, 2015

Biff and Becka's Stupendous Vacation, by Elaine Beachy

     Biff and Becka's Stupendous Vacation, by Elaine Beachy, is a sweet little story that is probably best used as a read-aloud between parent (or grandparent) and child.  Essentially, it's about a family who for financial reasons needs to scale their annual vacation back to a staycation.

     In each chapter,  a new part of the staycation is explored.  The family goes to a water park and visits a Civil War museum, among other activities.  Each chapter has something for a child to learn from - history, anti-bullying, science.  The educational components of the book tend to be a bit overt and broad-based, which is why I think this book works better as a read aloud.  I can't see children picking this book up strictly for the entertainment value.  The accompanying discussion topics for each chapter would be helpful to any adult choosing to read this book with a child.  

     I recommend this book as a read aloud for Christian families with children in first through third grades.  

     Disclaimer:  I was provided a copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for a fair and honest review.

     Three out of Five Stars  

Saturday, October 10, 2015

The Berenstain Bears' Harvest Festival, by Mike Berenstain

     The Berenstain Bears' Harvest Festival, by Mike Berenstain, is a sweet little anecdote about everyone's favorite family from Bear Country.  It is one of the recent Berenstain Bears faith stories, written by the son of the series creators.

     Papa, Mama, and the cubs take a break from their fall work to attend a harvest festival at the local church.  While there, they learn about their many blessings, and they participate in a prayer of thanksgiving.

     It is a cute little book, although it lacks the plotline of the originals that is so riveting to young readers.  There is no problem or resolution.  It's just a tale of thanksgiving and a participation in a church event.  The illustrations aren't as vibrant as the originals, either.  However, it's a nice little addition to a church or home library that aims to instill faith in its youngsters.

    Disclaimer:  I was provided a copy of this book by the publisher in exchange for a fair and honest review.  

    Three out of Five Stars

Monday, August 10, 2015

Willie Out West, by Rhonda Walker

Willie Out West is a children's read aloud about a young walrus who is asked to save a town from a villain.  The illustrations are adorable, and are the saving feature of the book.

As a teacher, I read many children's books, but this one just didn't make much sense to me.  The plot tends to jump from point to point without giving enough explanation.  This is evident from the beginning, as we don't know why Willie was bored by playing with his friends on the first page.  We also never find out why Willie is even chosen for the task of ridding Out West of its enemy.  We know that Old Walter is ugly, big, and people are scared of him.  But most children are going to expect more for motivation.  Also, targeting a character for being ugly and big is inappropriate in any book, let alone a children's book.  I would not read this to my class for this reason.

There does seem to be a lesson at the end of the story, as Willie realizes at the end that he shouldn't be bored by playing.  But again, this resolution doesn't make sense with the rest of the story, and children are going to be confused.

Two out of Five Stars

Disclaimer:  I was provided a copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for a fair and honest review.

Sunday, August 9, 2015

101 Things Every Girl Should Know, by the Editors of Faithgirlz!

I chose this book for my daughter to read, and it was a good choice because she's already run off with it!  It's basically a girls' magazine in book form - very fun, visually pleasing format.  

Like a magazine, it's chock full of tidbits that tweens and younger teens would be interested in. The "101 Things" run the gamut from advice on social skills to health issues, recipes to crafty kinds of things.  As a young teen, I would have loved to have a book like this.  My daughter is loving it now, and that's about the best recommendation I can give.

The only caveat I had was a reference to the Twilight series.  For me, this is a big uh-oh because the romantic relationship in that series is extraordinarily unhealthy.  And I think (and pray) that many girls are starting to catch on to that.  I know my daughter has, so it's not a worry for me.  

But other than that, the book is a fun read that a lot of tweens and teens would enjoy.  

Four out of Five Stars

Disclaimer:  I was provided a copy of the book by the publisher in exchange for a fair and honest review.

Thursday, June 18, 2015

Motivate Your Child, by Dr. Scott Turansky and Joanne Miller

     After years of searching, I have finally found the parenting resource I've been looking for.  Motivate Your Child is the first tool I've seen that finally acknowledges that the conscience of a child needs to be trained before your child is expected to know right from wrong.  Other, more popular, parenting programs assume that your child already has this skill.  And that's a fail, in my opinion, because kids don't always know right from wrong in every occasion.  And for the teachers who are reading this, you already know that there are kids who almost never know right from wrong.  

     This book won't get the credit it is due (A) Because it doesn't have a catchy title and (B) It doesn't have a marketing machine getting it in the hands of every parent and teacher in the country.  What it does have is a keen understanding of what makes children and teens tick.  So it's definitely worth more than a look.

     Here's what you'll get from reading this book:
-    A discussion of a child's conscience and why it needs to
     actually be trained before you can expect a child to
     understand society's rules.
-    An understanding that strong-willed children are already
     internally motivated to do what they want and will naturally
     challenge any other system of reward and consequence
     (even natural consequences) that are put on them.  
-    A guide toward helping your child develop the ability to
     question his/her motives in a difficult situation and to
     analyze not just the appropriateness of his actions, but to
     determine what a better choice would have been.
-    A discussion of natural vs. logical consequences and in
     what cases each technique is more appropriate than the
-    A guide toward helping your child become a person of  
     integrity who is able to make choices that are best for him
     or her independent of a parent telling them what to do
     every step of the way.

     This is a Christian book.  The second half of the book is a wonderful resource on how to bring more spirituality into your family without being overbearing about it.

     However, the tools in the first half of the book are relevant to anyone, Christian or not.  I personally used suggestions from the first half to help some of my students learn how to make better choices in social interaction.  It worked better than any other technique I've tried in over 15 years of teaching.  

     I highly recommend this book to anyone who works with children.  These authors understand kids better than any other I've read.

     Disclaimer:  I was provided this book by the publisher in exchange for a fair and honest review.

     Five out of Five Stars

Monday, May 4, 2015

The Paris Wife, by Paula McClain

     The Paris Wife is a fictionalized account of Ernest Hemingway's first marriage to Hadley Richardson.  I'm not a fan of Hemingway or his work, but the writer's life in 1920s Paris has always intrigued me.  The idea of Gertrude Stein, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Hemingway, and so many others in the same social circles is romanticized by so many.  And the story of the wife of Hemingway's youth, the first of four wives, piqued my interest.

     The writing style is plain.  It's a quick, easy beach read.  It's largely told from Hadley's perspective, with a few insightful passages from Hemingway's point of view.  Hadley is the woman who supported Hemingway both emotionally and financially while he started his career.  Their marriage lasted a little more than five years - hardly surprising for a man who was so troubled after the Great War.  But aside from the glitterati of the 1920s Paris writers' community, the story becomes about Hadley's ability to find her own strength.  In her childhood, she was encouraged to be weak, and a lot of that continued into her marriage up to a certain point.  Watching her growth  is very empowering for a woman.

     The book, while fictional, is very well researched.  It's a good summer read, and I can definitely recommend it to anyone interested in the time period or in Hemingway himself.  

Four out of Five Stars

Sunday, April 12, 2015

On Distant Shores, by Sarah Sundin

     On Distant Shores is the second novel in a series about flight nurses in World War II.  I loved the first book, With Every Letter, and was anxious enough to read the sequel that I actually bought it from the Kindle store.  The first one was free, but Sarah Sundin's carefully researched story sucked me in.  And I have to say, after having read On Distant Shores, I am now an avid fan of Sundin's works.

     My only issue with the first book was that the writing style seemed simplistic.  I didn't find that here.  On Distant Shores was so well crafted that I found it difficult to put down.

     In this installment, we read about Georgie, the bubbly nurse from the first book, and her journey as she discovers the strength she never knew she had.  Along the way, she is guided by Hutch, a pharmacist who is struggling with his own overwhelming desire to become something more than what he is.  Hutch's story is very interesting from an historical point of view; although he is a pharmacist, he is not an officer.  WWII Army pharmacists and techs were enlisted men despite their education.  Hutch becomes involved in the push to start the Army Pharmacy Corps.  Since Sundin is a pharmacist herself, the details of his life are particularly good.

     As with the first installment in the series, this book was very well researched.  It's also charged with emotion as we see Georgie and Hutch experience the war in a way that will change them forever.  A must-read for anyone who enjoys good historical fiction.

     Five out of Five Stars

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

I Was Here, by Gayle Forman

As with other books of this subject, I add the following caveat:
If you are depressed or having thoughts of suicide, no matter how small, please seek help.  Even in the last decade, medical science has become so much more capable of helping people with depression.  If you see a doctor who says that you are fine when you are not, or who just throws pills at you that don't help, then see another doctor.  Involve your loved ones and ask them to help you.  No matter what you are going through, there are treatments that can give you the quality of life you wish you had.

     Never having read any of Gayle Forman's works, I decided to give this one a try based on reviews of If I Stay.  And while I Was Here is a tough read, it's a good one.  It examines suicide from the point of view of the surviving loved ones, and in a very thorough way.

    The plot (sans spoilers):  Cody is shocked when her best friend, Meg, kills herself.  They'd been apart during their first year in college, but there was nothing that indicated to Cody that Meg might be contemplating death.  And when Meg's family asks Cody to pick up Meg's belongings from her college apartment, Cody is thrown into a world of Meg's that she didn't know existed.  Cody becomes driven to learn why Meg killed herself, and in the process learns about her own place in the world of the living.

     I appreciate this book because it does a very good job of relating the feelings of the family and friends of a suicide.  The absolute despair, the confusion, and most importantly the guilt are all portrayed in a very real way.  And I think that these are important topics, mainly because so many people who commit suicide think they are doing their loved ones a favor.  In point of fact, the opposite is true.  The book is valuable just because it explores these emotions.  I pray that this book leads any depressed adult (young, or otherwise) to seek help.  And the book encourages its readers to do so, since it also discusses the life-saving options that are available to people contemplating suicide.  

     Never once does it glorify suicide, but instead portrays it as the twisted and sadly contagious killer that it is.  Forman also delves a little into faith-based beliefs about suicide, which I admire her for in today's society.  And no, it's not preachy.

     The book is a tough read, and I certainly don't recommend you give this book to someone who is currently depressed in hopes that it will be a wake up call.  It will only worsen their depression.  But something like this ought to be required reading in high schools.  It's raw, but it's reality, and it could save lives.

     Five out of Five Stars

Monday, March 30, 2015

With Every Letter, by Sarah Sundin

     I picked this book up from the Kindle free store for a little light sick-in-bed reading, and goodness, was I pleasantly surprised!  This is the story of a World War II Army flight nurse who begins an anonymous pen pal relationship with an Army engineer.  For anyone who loved the movies The Shop Around the Corner and You've Got Mail, this is the book for you.

     Other reviewers have said that the writing is a bit simplistic, and I would have to agree.  It took me a few chapters to really get into it.  However, the research that went into this book and the incredible likability (yes, that's a word, I swear!) of the characters make this book a gem.  My grandmother's desire to become a WWII flight nurse and my interest in the era was what originally drew me to this book.  The incredible attention to historical detail did not disappoint!  The author's descriptions and the character development made it so easy for me to lose myself in this story.  And while there is a satisfying conclusion, I really hated to put it down.

     Highly recommended for anyone who is interested in the era, or who wants to read a well-researched novel about the brave, pioneering "Winged Angels" of the US Army Nurse Corps flight nurses.  These ladies were the real deal, gals, and this book is a fantastic tribute to them.

     Five out of Five Stars

Sunday, March 29, 2015

Women Are Scary, by Melanie Dale

     Women are Scary is ostensibly a book about how to find, make, and keep female friends while managing to be a mother at the same time.  What it ends up being is a humorous memoir about the difficulties that mothers have trying to maintain adult friendships.  Which, as most moms get, is a tough thing to do.

     I'm still not quite sure what to make of this book.  It starts off very funny, but the style started to wear on me after a while.  The author is a blogger, and while I'm sure her writing style is perfect for a blog, I think there just isn't enough substance here to be worthy of a full length book.  The premise is interesting, but you can't buy this book thinking it's going to be full of awesome relationship advice.  For moms out there, truly, I think we know who makes a good fit for us and who doesn't.  It all comes down to the time that we have for socializing.

     This book is valuable if you just want a good bubble-bath kind of a read that's going to cheer you up at the end of a long day full of too much spit-up and not enough adult conversation.  This book is going to remind you that you are fulfilling a very important God-given role, and that you are not the only one who doesn't channel June Cleaver every day.  

     I also appreciate this book because it acknowledges all mothers equally - adoptive, birth, "working", "stay-at-home" and every other label that society has put upon us.  It also has some incredible suggestions for simple charitable works that mothers can do while on play-date outings with each other.  I'll be looking into some of these ideas myself, and the book is worth a read if only for those suggestions.

     Three out of Five Stars

Disclaimer:  I was provided a copy of this book by the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Jesus Swagger, by Jarrid Wilson

Jesus Swagger: Break Free from Poser Christianity is probably a good book for brand-new Christians who are looking to become something more than Sunday Morning Christians.  The book's premise is the importance of living a Christ-like life at all times, not just for an hour on the weekend.  And the author gives us several ideas for how to do that in his own trendy writing style that will probably appeal to many younger Christians.  This message is a good one - after all, a true Christian life is led both inside and outside the church.

However, beyond anything that might help a new Christian think outside the box, I believe readers should exercise caution with this book.  First of all, it doesn't matter what urban dictionary definition of "swagger" the author chooses to use, the term has a negative connotation among most of our society.  It reduces our Lord and Savior to a bit of hipster slang.  And that's pretty rich coming from an author who criticizes the "Jesus is my homeboy" movement as being disrespectful to Christ.  I see no difference between that "#JesusSwagger."  The Bible tells us repeatedly to approach God in worship with "reverence and awe" (Hebrews 12:28, among others).  There is no reverence in this term.  It's a marketing gimmick, plain and simple.

I also take issue with the fact that while the author says once that church worship is still a good thing, the book tends to negate that statement.  A quotation that is particularly bothersome is, "Worshiping during church service is great, but worshiping outside of that element is even greater."  Can we really put one over the other?  Such a statement ignores the significance of listening to an educated pastor explain the true meaning of the Bible.  I can go out into the streets and preach to the masses all I want, but that is worthless if I have not myself taken the time to learn from a good teacher, or to surround myself with mature believers who will challenge me if I am wrong in my teachings.  And every Christian needs to know that, from the new believer to the seasoned pastor.  It is troubling that the two ways of worship are not given equal importance.

However, as I've stated above, I do think this book would be good for brand-new Christians to give them ideas of how to live their faith outside of church.  I also very much agree with the author's stance that churches need to stop making membership growth their main focus.  

The author has good intentions, but I believe there are better books on this topic.  This one is just a good introduction.

Two out of Five Stars

Disclaimer:  I was provided a copy of this book by the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

Sunday, March 15, 2015

My Heart and Other Black Holes, by Jasmine Warga

Before I write my review of this book, I want to send a message to anyone who is contemplating suicide, is depressed, or feels as though there is something "not right" with life.  No matter how badly you feel, no matter how much guilt or sadness or frustration you are carrying, there is help for you.  If a medical professional has told you you're fine, or given you a prescription isn't helping, there is still help for you.  Keep seeking it.  And there is so much more information on this website.  http://www.suicidepreventionlifeline.org/

Do not give up on yourself, because no matter what you think right now, you are worth more than what you are going through.  And so many advances have been made even in the last twenty years that there is help for you no matter how impossible your world may seem.  There are people who are trained specially just to help you - yes, you - live a life that is meaningful and enjoyable.  It takes time, it won't happen overnight, but the new person they will help you become will be stronger and more filled with self-worth.


This book, as you may have guessed or were probably already aware, is about teen suicide.  To be more precise, it's about two teens who decide to make a suicide pact.  

The author writes that this book helped her deal with the loss of a dear friend, and I am glad she was able to use her writing in such a cathartic way.  I'm also glad that this book was accepted for publication, not only because the author is a gifted writer, but also because the subjects of depression and suicide hold so much stigma.  We need more discussion of both issues in a way that treats them seriously.  And this book does that.

I'm conflicted about the book, however.  There are adequate descriptions of what depression feels like, and I'm sure this is helpful to many readers who are experiencing depression.  But the author never really captures the bleakness of someone who is that close to suicide.  The words are there, but the emotion (or lack thereof) really isn't.

Aysel's decision to stay alive (and this isn't a spoiler, it's in the book synopsis) comes at a very alarming rate.  It troubles me that she decides life is finally worth living because of some boy.  What does that say to suicidal readers?  What if that boy never comes along?  What if that boy comes along but then breaks up with you?  There is very little sense that Aysel has decided that she herself is worth the effort to live.  There is just suicidal Aysel and non-suicidal Aysel who is all ready to live her life (with maybe a few therapy sessions) as though nothing has happened.  And darn it, she doesn't want to live life without Roman.  What a troubling message for someone who is feeling suicidal because someone just broke up with them!

The bounce back from serious suicidal ideation just happens too quickly.  What does that say to a depressed reader?  It takes a long time to recover from depression that serious, and I would hate for someone to think that their situation is hopeless just because it's taking them longer to recover than it does for the characters in this book.  

(Spoiler Alert in this paragraph) As far as Roman's story goes, we get a small sense of what he is going through, but again, there is more bounce back from his depression than one would expect after his suicide attempt.  He seems much more lucid and in control of his thoughts than someone in his position would tend to be.  The author does make a note at the end that true recovery does take a long time (and it does), but how many people read author's notes?  That note would have been better placed at the front, where more people might see it.

Now, I'm not sure how much of this is the author, and how much of it is a publisher who doesn't want to have that much sadness in one book.  (Because, yes, bookselling is a business, and you do have to take the target audience into account).  But it's a narrow path you travel when you put something like this out there.  I truly hope that readers who have depression or suicidal thoughts seek the help that is offered in the back of the book.  No one's life story is the same.  And the characters in this book are just that - fictional characters.  Happy endings like the one in this book take time, and I would hope that no reader would expect recovery to happen so quickly.

Two out of Five Stars

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

10 Ultimate Truths Girls Should Know, by Kari Kampakis

     There are so many powerful messages for girls in this book, it's impossible to list them all in an appropriately-sized review.  However, the 10 truths that are discussed in this book are certainly important for every girl to know.  The book steers girls middle school and up to a God-centered life that helps them get through the struggles of adolescence.

     The 10 truths themselves discuss issues such as popularity, confidence, dealing with boys, building a good reputation, and living a life for God.  A tall order for one book, and I do feel the book does fall short in a couple of areas.  The chapter on popularity in particular tends to be vague and starts with an example that might be too cliche for many girls to respect.  This chapter is the first chapter in the book.  I encourage girls to keep reading beyond this chapter if they find it irrelevant.  The book does get much better, and is full of so much Bible-based wisdom that is applicable to modern life.

     I particularly appreciated the comments at the end of the book that surrendering to God and His plan for your life is not something that happens in one day.  Rather, it's a life-long process that goes far beyond a simple altar call at summer camp.  And many details of that process are well developed in this book in a way that reaches out to adolescents.  With discussion questions at the end of each chapter, I feel this book would be an excellent choice for a youth group book club.  I certainly wish I had gone through a book like this with my youth group in middle and high schools.

     Four out of Five Stars

Disclaimer:  I was provided a copy of this book by the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

Friday, January 23, 2015

I Shall Be Near To You, by Erin Lindsay McCabe

     The idea behind this book is an intriguing one.  It's inspired by the women (estimated by some to be between 400 and 750) who disguised themselves as men in order to fight in the American Civil War.

     Newlywed Rosetta Wakefield can't handle staying behind while her husband goes off to war.  She decides to enlist partly to be near him, partly to help earn enough money to buy the farm they've been hoping to start.  While encamped with her husband's regiment, she encounters the usual issues one might expect from a situation like this.  How does a woman hide herself, and how difficult would it be?

     While I think this book is worth the read for any female interested in the Civil War, it falls far short of what it could have been.  The narrative is simplistic, and I just didn't feel the spark from the main characters that the author intends.  There are aspects of the plot that are never really resolved, and the ending is almost eye-rollingly predictable.  I would have loved it had the plot been as refreshing as the idea behind it.

     In hindsight, I think this book works better as a YA read.  I just tend to expect more from adult historical fiction.

     Two out of Five Stars

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Invincible, by Cecily Anne Paterson

     Invincible is the sequel to Invisible, a book  about a partially deaf middle school girl who is trying to find her way in the world after her father's death.  And while I picked up Invisible quite by accident, I was very much looking forward to reading its sequel.

     Invincible picks up where Invisible left off, although I think it does well as a stand-alone book, as well.  I feel that Cecily Paterson really comes into her own as a novelist with this book.  Even more so than its predecessor, Invincible does a fantastic job of relating the journey of a young girl through the murky waters of adolescence.  It is just as meaningful and entertaining as Sarah Dessen's best works.

     In this installment of Jazmine's story, we see more of the self confidence that she started to develop in Invisible.  But this confidence starts to wear ragged around the edges as Jazmine finds herself trapped in a relationship that is slowly turning from slightly controlling into downright abusive.

     The abusive relationship is a theme that I haven't seen explored much in YA fiction, and particularly at the lower levels as this book is.  But I admire the author for tackling it.  So many of our girls - today and in generations past - get trapped in abusive situations because they can't recognize the signs until they're too emotionally attached to leave.  Either that, or they don't know how to stand up for themselves.  We focus so much on this kind of abuse in the adult world, but it's just as much of a problem in adolescent dating.  And it's rare to find a book that touches on it with so much accuracy.

     A girl reading this book is going to follow Jazmine as she goes through the classic issues of not knowing what to do, of hiding the problem from her friends and family, and finally the awareness that she is worth so much more than what her boyfriend makes her feel.  Her growth from helpless victim to a young lady of confidence and bravery is an inspiration that any girl would benefit from reading.  And as with the prequel, there is nothing in Invincible that would give parents pause.

     This is a book that I will give to my daughter, and I encourage any parent to do the same.  It's eye-opening in a non-preachy, entertaining way.  The topic it covers is too prevalent in our society, and I feel this book should be given the attention that it is due.

     Five out of Five Stars


Sunday, January 18, 2015

The Secret Life of Violet Grant, by Beatriz Williams

Important Warning That The Book Jacket Doesn't Tell You:  Don't start reading this book on a Monday night of a busy work week.  Save it for a weekend when you'll be able to truly enjoy it.  And make sure you have meals ready to go in your freezer so your family doesn't starve while you're locked in your bedroom devouring this book.

The Premise:  Vivian Schuyler, an aspiring magazine writer in mid 1960s New York, takes delivery of a suitcase that was apparently lost by her aunt in 1914 Zurich.  The only trouble is, while the suitcase has been found, her aunt has been missing since 1914.  Family legend has it that dear Auntie Violet murdered her husband, ran off with her lover, and is either dead or doesn't want to be found.

But Vivian sees the potential career-launching story in this.  She starts delving into the mystery of her aunt's disappearance a la Letters to Juliet, although this story is much more fascinating.  Because Aunt Violet, as it turns out, was disowned by the family for denying her destiny of being a proper tea-pouring, corset-wearing lady.  Instead, she becomes educated enough to be accepted for a position at Oxford and later in Berlin as an atomic scientist.  The woman hobnobs with Einstein and his colleagues, and the research of the author allows us an interesting look at a very small part of this world.

The story alternates chapters between 1960s Vivian and pre-World War I Violet, and each story is just as riveting as the other.  And since two different stories are told in each chapter, this book truly is a page turner.  The lives of both women parallel each other as we learn of their struggles and triumphs.  We see how both women come into their own in the world, and the contrast between the two eras is accented.

The writing is witty and the plot is fast-paced.  In each section, you've got a proper villain and spunky heroines who are each fighting for their own place in their world.  With espionage and romance, to boot.  I was sorry to have to put this book down when I was finished.  I recommend this book to anyone who is looking for good historical fiction about strong women.

Five out of Five Stars