Wednesday, December 13, 2017

In The Middle Of The Mess, by Sheila Walsh

In The Middle Of The Mess is about struggle, darkness, and ultimately hope. It is a lovely book full of practical suggestions, by someone who has spent her own time deep in the trenches.

As someone who is intimately familiar with hopelessness and even suicidality due to bipolar, I so much more appreciate the perspective of someone who has actually been there herself, rather than an expert who is only talking about book knowledge and hypotheticals. Walsh has lived it, and she shares her experiences, her struggles, and her strategies with such honesty and grace. With her strong faith, her daily practices of mindfullness and awareness, and her carefully cultivated social connections, she overcomes and even thrives. It is both an inspiration and a strong testimony.

One of my favorite parts of the book is when she talks about the importance of her "sister-friends", those friends who are so close that they can go to each other with anything, without reservation and without judgement. My illness has required that I find and recognize those sister-friends in my own life, and I've come to realize that their presence has been every bit as vital as medication and therapy. Walsh understands this so very well.

Overall, this is a wonderful and inspirational book full of practical advice for any Christian who might find themselves "in the middle of the mess."

Sunday, November 12, 2017

Beneath Copper Falls, by Colleen Coble

Beneath Copper Falls is a fast-paced mystery, suspense, and romance all crafted into one story.  It centers around Dana Newell, a 911 operator who escapes an abuse partner and returns to Copper Falls; and Boone Carter, a local man still trying to come to terms with the brutal murder of his sister. Together, they try to make sense of a string of murders, and whether or not they are connected to his sister's death, or to Dana's violent ex-fiance.

I really enjoy Colleen Coble's writing, and I really enjoy reading suspenseful books. The characters were well-developed and likable (at least the ones who were meant to be likable) and it was easy to root for Dana and Boone.  The story moved quickly, and built in intensity right up until the climactic finale.

My one real gripe is that I figured out who the killer was halfway through the book.  It didn't completely stop me from enjoying the rest of the book, because I still got to see how it all played out.  However, it was very frustrating to know more than the characters, and at certain points I wanted to yell at them, "How can you not see who it is??"

Overall though, it was a well-written, fast-paced read.  I just wish I hadn't solved the mystery SO much sooner than the characters.

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

Friday, November 3, 2017

Carve, by Melanie Abrantes

I was really excited to get this book.  With the tagline of "A Simple Guide to Whittling", it was pretty clear what the book was about.  It was a simple, and beginner's, guide to whittling.  I'd never tried whittling before, but I'm a big fan of trying new things, especially when I get to use my hands and create artwork of some sort.

The book itself is lovely.  Nice feel to the cover, thick pages, beautiful photos.  It would actually make a great coffee table book, and conversation starter.

It was very clear that the author is both knowledgeable and passionate about the art of whittling.  The instructions are clear, easy to follow, and everything makes sense.  The book is well organized, and takes you through the basics, including supplies, techniques, and safety.  Finally, it includes several projects to try, with detailed instructions and specific tips, starting with the most basic and increasing in difficulty.  At the time of this writing, I am close to completing my very first whittling project:  a pair of chopsticks.  The process has been both fun and challenging.

Wonderful book, and hopefully the start of a rewarding new hobby.

"I received this book from Blogging for Books for this review."

Friday, September 22, 2017

Convicted, by Jameel McGee and Andrew Collins

Convicted is a really incredible (and true!) story.  Let me just start there.  I finished it yesterday, in my car after an appointment, because I couldn't bear waiting until I got home.  I have not been able to stop thinking or talking about it since.

Jameel McGee was an innocent young man who was in the wrong place at the wrong time.  Andrew Collins was a corrupt cop who was determined to make another drug arrest.  A falsified police report ensured McGee's "guilt," and he was ultimately sentenced to up to 10 years in prison.

The story is told, in alternating chapters, from both McGee's and Collins's points of view.  While McGee describes the horrors of being wrongfully convicted and incarcerated, as well as the violent anger that it caused, Collins honestly recounts his descent from eager young cop making some bad decisions, to the full-blown corruption that prompted an investigation, cost him his job, and eventually landed him in prison as well.

While the book reads like a gripping crime novel, it is really the ultimate story of forgiveness.  When Collins' crimes are brought to light, leading to McGee's full exoneration and release from prison - after four years! - the very last thing you'd expect would be for the two to become friends.  But that is exactly what happened.  Both men found their own paths to God, to redemption, and to forgiveness (both of self and others) and forged the most unlikely of relationships.

The story was superbly told, and while I immediately had compassion for Jameel McGee, I found myself having compassion for Andrew Collins as well.  Yes, he did utterly inexcusable things.  Yes, he put an innocent man in jail.  But never did I feel he was a bad person... just a person who let his ego take charge, and made some really terrible, snowballing decisions.  His remorse and shame at what he had done felt genuine and sincere.  He was a man who truly wanted to right his wrongs,while McGee was a man who truly wanted to learn to forgive.

Beautiful, inspiring, and touching true story.

I received this book from Blogging for Books for this review.

Saturday, September 9, 2017

Launch Your Dream, by Dale Partridge

Launch Your Dream, by Dale Partridge, bills itself as a 30-day, step-by-step plan for preparing, launching, and growing your own business.  And that's what it is... kind of.

I had mixed feelings about this book. On the positive side, it was written and organized well.  It was easy to read, with nice short chapters, and his writing style was warm and conversational.  There were some good actionable steps to take, and some generally helpful business advice.  It also went into such areas as creating your mission statement, conducting market analysis, and navigating your social media presence. 

The problem I had was that if you've read any sort of book in this genre before, it really didn't contain anything new.  I was actually excited to read it, but felt a little bit let down.  It was fine, and it was motivating in the way that a polished motivational speaker is motivating, but it didn't feel like it had a lot of substance.  At times, it also felt like an advertisement for his website (and its accompanying paid consulting course). 

Dale Partridge has built a very successful and lucrative business for himself, so he is clearly doing something right.  But this book - largely for reasons I can't really put my finger on - just felt a little "off" for me. 

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

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Here and Gone, by Haylen Beck

Here and Gone, by Haylen Beck, is the consummate page-turner.  Audra is a caring mother, fleeing an abusive husband with her two young children.  As she drives though a long stretch of desert road in Arizona, she is pulled over by a local sheriff, and a routine traffic stop quickly devolves into a series of events that finds Audra taken into custody. 

Without giving away some major plot points, Audra's troubles quickly become any parent's worst nightmare.  She soon finds herself an unwitting participant in a race to save her kids - and herself - from a dangerous and highly organized group of sophisticated criminals, whose reach far exceeds anything Audra could have imagined.  Aided by an unlikely source of help, a man with his own vendetta to settle, she sets out to uncover the truth before it's too late.

A fast-paced and shocking thriller, this is a book best read when you have a weekend to spare.  You won't to put it down after Chapter 3.  Well-written, suspenseful, and a satisfying and wild ride from start to finish.

I received this book from Blogging for Books for this review.

Sunday, June 4, 2017

Beyond Justice, by Cara Putman

Hayden McCarthy is a no-holds-barred attorney who lives for her work. When she is given a wrongful death case against the government, she knows that it is going to be a career-making case.  She is determined to follow through and win at all costs, despite blatant signs that someone or someones will go to great lengths to get her to drop the case, as well as romantic distractions in the form of her roommate's handsome and charming cousin, Andrew Wesley. 

This was a good and suspenseful book, and a relatively quick read.  Ms Putnam weaves together several tough elements and issues such as immigration, corruption, romance, and faith.  The characters were well-developed and likable, including the secondary players.  Hayden's roommate Emilie was a hoot, and I would love to see more of her in future books.  The pacing was excellent, and kept me turning right until the unexpected end.

This was the first book I've read by this author, but I would love to read more.  Great book for a fun and suspenseful summer read.

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

Mistfit Faith, by Jason J. Stellman

Misfit Faith, by Jason J Stellman, is the refreshingly honest, raw, and thought-provoking journey of a man who became disillusioned with the church, and what it actually means to follow Christ.  Frustrated by rules, dogma, and hypocrisy, Stellman seeks to find his own faith, his own way, despite feeling like a spiritual misfit.

As someone who has definitely lived a great deal of my life in frustration with organized Christianity, and ultimately found my faith outside of the church, I was really looking forward to reading this book.  It did not disappoint.  It made me want to have a beer with the author to discuss it further... and I don't even drink beer.

Stellman is an excellent and engaging writer.  He combines personal stories, biblical insights, and humor with great skill.  He's also well-versed in pop culture (one of my favorite things) and doesn't take himself too seriously.  He doesn't shy away from tackling big issues like heaven, whether God is angry or loving, the significance of the trinity, and how we should be approaching "earthly" things.  His writing style is casual and conversational, and I couldn't put the book down once I'd started. 

I'd recommend this book to anyone who doesn't fit into a two-dimensional Christian box, who's ever questioned their faith, who doesn't want to be spoon-fed, and who wants to dig deep and really discover a God who is patient and loving and maybe not quite the jerk that Sunday school made him out to be.

If you're super sensitive about your faith, or offended easily (he uses fun, in-your-face chapter headings like, "Embracing Our Inner Dickhead"), maybe tread with a little caution.  But if you're willing to let go a little bit, especially if you've ever wondered where you, and God, fit in in this whole kaleidoscope of Christianity.... grab your favorite adult beverage and start reading.

Two enthusiastic thumbs up. 

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

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.*