Wednesday, April 19, 2017

The Travelers, by Chris Pavone

The Travelers, by Chris Pavone, tells the complicated (and somewhat unbelievable) story of Will Rhodes: a travel writer who makes one bad decision while on assignment in Argentina, and subsequently becomes swept up in a web of international danger and espionage.  His formally normal and even mundane life a thing of the past, Will struggles to do as he is told, solve the mystery of what is unfolding around him, and keep himself alive long enough to try to save his crumbling marriage.

I had decidedly mixed feelings about this book.  Pavone is a great writer, and the plot is intriguing.  Unfortunately, there are so many different elements and characters and locations that I found it very difficult to keep everything straight, especially in the beginning.  The action jumps around from New York City to Argentina, to Falls Church, to Virginia, to Paris, to rural Iceland, and more.  Add in pseudonyms, flashbacks, and assumed identities, and you have a very complicated and confusing story indeed.

Having said that, the pieces do eventually come together, and the last third of the book was like the final descent of a roller coaster.  I couldn't put it down, and turned page after page to discover Will's fate.  Despite being rather lost in the beginning, he had my full attention by the end.  

It's entirely possible that I wasn't paying enough attention in the beginning, or that I just wasn't in the mood to read this type of book at the time.  Still, the convolution I experienced for much of the book keeps me from giving it a higher rating.  The story is a fun and exciting one, but it helps to go into it knowing that it is a complex story as well.  

*I received this book from Blogging for Books for this review. All opinions are my own.*

Sunday, March 26, 2017

Because You're Mine by Colleen Coble

Alannah and Liam have a loving, idyllic marriage, and they play together in a successful Celtic band. When Alannah is four months pregnant with their child, Liam is tragically killed when his car unexpectedly explodes as he is driving away with his best friend, Jesse. Jesse survives but is badly injured, suffering from both severe burns and significant memory loss. Even as she mourns the loss of Liam, Alannah must deal with a vindictive father-in-law who is threatening to sue for custody of her and Liam's baby; a manager whom she marries in order to get her green card, who is not what he seems; and the strange and eerie happenings at the old Charleston plantation she moves into with her new husband.

This was the first book I've read by Colleen Coble, and I was not disappointed. It was a light and lovely mystery, with a lot of unanswered questions. What were Barry's real motives? What was up with with the strange noises in the night? Why did her new inlaws hate her so much? What was the significance of the alligator in the swamp? What had become of Alannah's mother and sister? Was Jesse really responsible for Liam's death? What were his intentions with Alannah and her band? The answers were slowly teased out (even as more questions were raised) and the slow burn of the pacing definitely kept me turning the pages.

My one complaint, if I had to make one, was that I found much of the dialogue a little odd and stilted. While that was likely simply because I was not used to some of the common Irish vernacular, I found it to be a distraction that I hadn't quite gotten over by the end of the book. Minor nitpick aside, this was a fun and intriguing story, and I would be interested to read more books by this author in the future.

*I received this book for free from Booklook Bloggers in exchange for an honest review. All opinions are my own.*

Saturday, February 4, 2017

The I-Factor, by Van Moody

The I-Factor, by Van Moody, explains to the reader how learning to have a great relationship with yourself is the key to leading a happy, successful, and fulfilling life.  Using a combination of personal stories, practical advice, and biblical references, Moody outlines the process of finding your identity, embracing your significance, and adjusting your perspective.  The overarching theme of the book is that we are only able to have meaningful relationships with other people and with the world around us if we first learn to love ourselves... essentially, that the key to life itself lies within self-love.

I really wanted to like this book, and I do think that the message is a good and important one.  Unfortunately, the delivery was a little bit lost on me.  There were too many lengthy biblical stories for my personal taste (many of which I eventually just skimmed), and too much emphasis on the belief that if you just love yourself enough, and just think positively enough, that everything will work out in your favor.

One section in particular that did not sit well with me was one in which Moody reiterates that if only one believes in himself and thinks positively that it will be the answer to any problem that may exist... from financial difficulties to relationship issues to depression.   It's a nice and tidy thought, and it is for sure is a factor, but it is not the only factor.  And as someone with depression, I find it insulting - and quite honestly dangerous - to insinuate that if someone would just believe in themselves and in God deeply enough that they would be cured.

There was some good information here, and I did enjoy certain chapters ("It's Time To Peel The Onion" was a favorite), but the book ended up leaving me feeling a little unsettled.  Moody writes well, and his thoughts are well organized.  If you're struggling with self-worth and enjoy his particular angle, this might be exactly the book you need to read.  It just wasn't really the book for me. 

* I received this book for free from BookLook Bloggers in exchange for an honest review*

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

The Kindness Challenge, by Shaunti Feldhahn

Who can benefit from a little more kindness?

As it turns out, all of us.  Shaunti Feldhahn makes a compelling case for understanding, and implementing, more kindness in our day to day relationships, whether they be with our spouse, our friends, or our coworkers.  Filled with solid research, a biblical perspective, and practical advice, this book walks us through the steps needed to bring more kindness to our lives and to our relationships, and outlines very clearly the improvements that we can hope to see when we consistently put forth the effort. 

With clear organization, and a warm conversational style, Feldhahn extends a sincere invitation to the reader to embark on her 30-day challenge, and to reap the benefits of more kindness, both to the receiver, to self, and to the relationship as a whole.  She also gives additional tips, resources, and further reading for those who wish to go deeper.

An excellent - and important - read for anyone who wishes to have stronger, closer, and more fulfilling relationships of all kinds.

*I received this book from Blogging for Books for this review.  All opinions are my own.*

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Of Stillness and Storm, by Michele Phoenix

Of Stillness and Storm was an interesting book.  And I say that as the most sincerest compliment.  I tire very quickly of books that unfold too predictably, and Of Stillness and Storm was anything but predictable.

It tells the story of a missionary family - led by father Sam's vision - and the toll it takes on everyone involved, most notably the thirteen year old son, Ryan.  Lauren is the long-suffering and weary mom who tries to hold everything down in a foreign country, with a sullen and angry son, while her husband leaves them for two weeks at a time.  When she gets the chance to reconnect with an old friend on Facebook, their shared messages become her lifeline during a period of time that is becoming more and more intolerable.

When the situation with Ryan reaches a harrowing head, Lauren and Sam must make some seemingly impossible decisions;  decisions that they'd really been avoiding making all along.

Of Stillness and Storm is not a pretty book.  It doesn't necessarily make one feel good when reading it.  But it is gripping and raw and real, all of my favorite characteristics in a good book.  Phoenix is outstanding at writing believable dialogue, and the Facebook messages between the two friends were particularly compelling.  The characters are well-developed and relatable, and while it is fiction, it speaks to a very real issue for some very real families.

I received this book for free from Litfuse Publicity Group, in exchange for an honest review. All opinions are my own.

Sunday, December 4, 2016

The Candidate, by Lis Wiehl

Mike Ortiz is a charming and charismatic war hero who is favored to win the White House. He, along with his beautiful and seemingly perfect wife, Celeste, is busy campaigning in the final days leading up to the election.

Erica Sparks is a brilliant and accomplished journalist who is covering their story.  As she watches the couple, all smiles and decorum while they are in the public eye, something about them starts to bother her.  Are they really what they seem?  Why does something about Mr Ortiz's behavior seem so "off"?  What really happened in the Al-Qaeda prison where Mike Ortiz was held for nine months?

Erica sets out to discover the truth, even as her relationship with her preteen daughter suffers, her previously faithful boyfriend is cheating on her overseas, and the body count starts to rise around her.  She knows that what she is about to uncover is even more sinister and dangerous than she feared, but she won't stop until she has answers.

Lis Wiehl - herself an impressive Harvard Law School graduate, former federal prosecutor, and current legal analyst and commentator for Fox News - writes a great, page-turning book here.  While I've read books by Wiehl, I hadn't read the first book in this particular series, and I'm afraid I was missing out!  Well-written, likeable (or thoroughly unlikeable!) characters, believable dialogue, and heavy suspense.  Two enthusiastic thumbs up. 

*I received this book for free from the BookLook Bloggers program in exchange for an honest review. All opinions are my own.*

Sunday, November 6, 2016

Shaken, by Tim Tebow

Shaken: Discovering Your True Identity In The Midst Of Life's Storms, by Tim Tebow, is an uplifting book that delivers exactly what it promises: both a personal story and a broader encouragement about the staying grounded when life throws us disappointment, heartache, and rejection.

I have always sort of had a soft spot for Tim Tebow, even though I didn't particularly follow his career. What I saw was a man who very publicly lived out his dream, and his faith, and who was subsequently skewered by both the media and the general public when he fell out of favor. The more negative Tebow-related things that popped up on my newsfeed, the more compassion I felt. This honest and refreshing book showed me a real and vulnerable side of Tim Tebow that the media couldn't (and wouldn't!) ever capture.

Tebow isn't perfect, and this book doesn't pretend otherwise.  In fact, it takes us deep into the myriad of ways that he - just like the rest of us - struggles with things like disappointment, and failure, and arrogance, and a too-competitive spirit.  He takes us through both the highest of highs and the lowest of lows, how he handled them, how he wished he handled them, and what he learned.

At its heart, this book is one man's story of how he remembers who he is (and whose he is) even when the rest of the world seems like it is conspiring against him.  It is honest, raw, and relatable to anyone who's ever experienced disappointment of any kind - which is all of us.

Great and inspiring read.

I received this book from Blogging for Books in exchange for an honest review.