I read Kamila Shamsie’s Home Fire for a book club, and it blew me away with its insight into culture, religion, politics, and family. Adapting the play Antigone to novel form, Shamsie adds even more depth to the storyline. The two sisters and their brother find their lives separating as they follow their adult paths, a shaky family background underneath them. A boy enters their lives, adding a clash in politics. The London setting provides a realistic and modern backdrop for engaging insight into our times. This novel makes a great book for discussion on accepting, assimilating, and adapting cultures.
Sarah Dessen’s latest novel The Rest of the Story hit shelves just in time for summer reading. It even takes place at a lake during summer as Emma Saylor visits her maternal grandmother she hadn’t seen since early childhood. As she reunites with her mother’s extended family years after the loss of her mother, she starts to learn some background. Dessen tackles developing new family relationships, handling the risks of alcoholism, and first love all within the view of a North Carolina lake. The slowly budding romance brings both sweetness and depth as Saylor develops her identity. Though generally revolving around teens, the story delivers a reminder to readers of all ages that we can learn more about ourselves and family by acknowledging the details, flaws and all, rather than ignoring them.
I had the pleasure of reading the last part of this book set on a lake resort at a lake at a state park with my best friend. We read it together for our long distance book club, this time reading the final section and discussing it in person.
Tracie Miles writes an accessible starting point for adjusting perspectives and making life improvements in Love Life Again: Finding Joy When Life Is Hard. Each chapter covers a topic that includes an application the reader can make after reading. It makes a great discussion book to cover with a partner who wants to reach similar goals, and it may pay off to read only one or two chapters a week to give ample opportunity for applying the concepts. The content mostly stays at a surface level, making it a guide beneficial to anyone. However, for those with mental health issues I would suggest it as a starting point or supplement to licensed therapy. As someone who needs more I still find encouragement and direction from this work because each small step makes a different. It serves as a reminder for some of the everyday tasks I can maintain to keep up my mental hygiene as well as my Christian walk and relationship with God.
I received The Baker Compact Dictionary of Biblical Studies by Tremper Longman III and Mark L. Strauss from BakerBooks in exchange for a review.
This mass market paper sized dictionary makes a useful, non cumbersome addition to a theologian’s or person of faith’s shelf. It includes entries for important people, literary devices, historical periods and more. Easy to understand, each definition gives a starting point for understanding the context of biblical concepts. Sometimes it works like a dictionary giving a definition of a literary devices, and other times it has a longer paragraph moreso resembling an encyclopedia entry. I enjoyed reading through this to glean a little more information and learned a lot about various historical perspectives and movements regarding interpretation of the bible. I recommend it as an accompaniment for studying the bible.
Maggie O’Farrell’s This Must Be the Place has a spot in my top 10 reads from last year and probably the top spot for book club selections last year and a spot on my all time favorites list. This novel covers so much territory in time, place, relationships, and more. Daniel Sullivan’s life saga brings infinite contemplations on life as he navigates personal and career triumphs and pitfalls. Each experience feels so real, and each character makes you wish you could meet them in some capacity. O’Farrell has such writing strength in style, depth, and intelligence, and that makes her an author whose work I want to complete.
I received a copy of Summer by the Tides by Denise Hunter from NetGalley.
Summer by the Tides makes for breezy fun at the beach as a positive summer read. After losing her treasured job and her boyfriend, Maddy returns to Seahaven to find her missing grandmother. Her two older sisters, who are estranged from each other, arrive at the cottage as well. The family goes through the physical and emotional process of clearing out the attic and their past. Maddy even finds a nice, handsome next door neighbor. The story unfolds rather straight forward and predictably, making it a comforting read as you imagine beach waves just off your porch.
Look for this book on May 21 as it releases just in time for summer.
I received a copy of The Return by Suzanne Woods Fisher from Revell in exchange for a review.
The Return, Suzanne Woods Fisher’s third installment in her Amish Beginnings series, gives readers a glimpse into prerevolutionary life in Pennsylvania through a story inspired by true events. The female leads Betsy Zook and Tessa Bauer give a real sense of the tough situations of the time and a timeless rawness for difficult circumstances. They face loss of family, fear for their lives, relationship choices and more. As they endure their hardships, they become stronger women.
I enjoyed this story and its history. I learned a lot about the time period and people represented in this book and appreciated the new knowledge. Some of the relationship strains between groups of people resembled ones we see now, which gave the story an added layer for lessons learned from history.
I received a copy of These Healing Hills by Ann H. Gabhart from Revell in exchange for a review.
This book with its Kentucky mountain fall picture on its cover arrived when I moved to Kentucky last autumn. Though the setting was more mountainous and backwoods than Bowling Green and further back in time, it provided a place and mood match. The story followed a city nurse midwife named Francine Howard as she finished her training to “catch babies” and Ben Locke, a man who returned from war unsure of what to do next.
Gabhart brought me into this mountain world and taught me about the midwife profession as well as the mountain lifestyle. The characters all held likable qualities, and I could relate to Francine’s internal struggle to determine where she belonged and where she wanted to live in the future. Francine also held admirable qualities to strive to do her best to complete the training as prescribed as well as to fully understand her patients. Overall, she showed strength in many ways as she handled birthing situations, a breakup with her fiancé and a new living and working environment. She held true to her values as she sought her direction for her next steps.
I enjoyed this book and also had the opportunity to meet Ann H. Gabhart at SOKY Book Fest this past weekend. She chatted with me for a while was really sweet. She signed my book, and I got one of her cozy mysteries to read next.
I received an Advance Readers’ Edition of The Breakdown by B.A. Paris through a Goodreads giveaway.
Though I don’t read a lot in the mystery/thriller genre, I have found myself more curious about this writer and the whole genre since reading the book. It starts off a little slow despite the opening death and mystery surrounding it, and it takes a while to develop that the central mystery does not solely revolve around Cass feeling guilty and paranoid about keeping what she saw a secret. Once her paranoia over the killer stalking and taunting her, a lot more details come into play. The setting and details take on a realistic vibe that pulls you into the mystery as though you were there too. I can picture Cass’s house and the restaurants and shops where she meets her friends.
Another aspect I appreciate about this book relates to its cleanness in details. It seems like a lot of stories in this genre include a lot of graphic sexual and violent scenes and details. While this book clearly has some of those aspects, considering it does revolve around the mystery of a murder, it doesn’t handle those details in a gratuitous or graphic way. The real details and the real thrills in the story come from the paranoia and taunting as it unfolds.
Overall I have enjoyed this book as a story outside my normal genres. I find myself appreciating mysteries a little more now.
I received a copy of Dr. Caroline Leaf’s book The Perfect You: A Blueprint for Identity in exchange for an honest review.
This selection reads like an easily accessible textbook. While that may conjure an image of a boring book, it provides a lot of insight. The idea of understanding how your thoughts work and how you can shape them to improve your life gives you not only knowledge but hope. As Leaf explains, a lot of people feel stuck in their negative thought patterns, and she shares understanding and guidance to alter those for the better.
Leaf divides the book into sections, separating the parts that explain how the thought processes work and the biblical bases she uses with the assessment tool and explanations on how to apply it. The flow generally made sense as it gave a foundation for the information so you could have a strong base to use the assessment rather than simply take the assessment and have no background for it. I preferred the first two sections most as they provided all the information. However, the assessment could be used as a workbook for further reflection. I would like to spend more time on nit to use it as an ongoing source of encouragement and growth. The assessment has a lot of questions and depth to it, so it seems like this can be used over a lengthy time for best results.
I enjoyed the book overall, both for its insight as well as its tools for improvement. Leaf knows her brain as well as her bible. I particularly liked how she ties them together. She makes the information accessible and relatable to real life by pointing out how people feel when they do good and how we tend to steer our thoughts. Then she anchors the hope for improvement using biblical principles on how God created us and continues to shape us.
“But, as I have emphasized throughout this book, you do not have to let your thoughts control you. You are not a victim of your thoughts and their biology; you are a victor over them. This means you can change these thoughts! You may have been nursing these negative mindsets for so long that they are so familiar to you that you think they are normal. This mistake is often made. However, only the thoughts formed when you are in your Perfect You, from God’s perspective, are normal, while the rest need redesigning or, to use the scientific term, reconceptualization. You can analyze your thoughts and, because of the neuroplasticity of the brain, redesign and rewire them. This is ‘renewing the mind’ in action, and with the guidance of the Holy Spirit it is an essential part of a healthy, good life. Indeed, it is grace meeting science, since research shows that conscious awareness of thoughts makes the thoughts amenable to change because they are physically weakened!” (page 257)