Category: awesomeness

Best Books I Read in December (2019)

I only read 15 books in December, and most were just okay—good.

Here are the three I enjoyed the most:

Gone with the Wind, by Margaret Mitchell. Come on, you knew this was going to make the list! It’s my all-time favorite book. I get immersed in the culture—even the parts I don’t like—and the characters are so vivid. Scarlett, although almost entirely unlikable, is larger-than-life, and so is Rhett. Melanie is wonderful. Ashley is…meh. But the book itself is a wonderful, compelling read. (And, in case you’re wondering, it’s absolutely where the name of this blog came from.)

Take the Day Off, by Robert Morris. Yes, Pastor Robert is my pastor. But he writes such important spiritual truths, and my life, health, and well-being have all improved so much since I started implementing a Sabbath day of rest every week.

Higher Power Has a name, by Cavanaugh James. This was an interesting read. I haven’t read too many (if any) faith-based books talking about the problems in our current culture…written by someone who was born in this current culture (he’s a Millennial), so that was an interesting perspective on the present problems.

 

 

What I Read in 2019

My reading goal for 2019 was officially 175 books. Privately, I was hoping to read 200 books. I actually read 225 books!  Tracking my reading the past few years—digitally and in a reading journal—has been great.

My last book finished in 2019—and the decade—was Gone with the Wind, which is my favorite book ever! I’ve read it probably at least 20 times, and I still get made every time, cry, and want to slap Scarlett.

January: 17 books.

February: 14 books.

March: 18 books.

April: 18 books.

May: 17 books.

June: 20 books.

July: 20 books.

August: 24 books.

September: 21 books.

October:  21 books.

November:  20 books.

December:  15 books.

 

 

Book Review: Synapse, by Steven James

synapse
Image belongs to Thomas Nelson.

Title:  Synapse
AuthorSteven James
Genre:  Suspense, thriller
Rating:  5 out of 5

Thirty years in the future, when AI is so advanced that humans live side by side with cognizant robots called Artificials, Kestrel Hathaway must come to terms not just with what machines know, but what they believe. Is hope real for them, or merely an illusion? 

Kestrel Hathaway is a minister reeling from unthinkable tragedy when she witnesses a terrorist attack and steps in to render aid. When she’s questioned by the officials, she realizes the possibility of another attack—a devastating one—is looming, and she and her Artificial, Jordan, work together to untangle the lies and secrets wrapped around the attack.

Federal counterterrorism agent Nick Vernon is determined to stop the attack he knows is coming. He doesn’t want Kestrel in danger—but her insight might be just the thing he needs to break the case.

And Jordan is asking questions an Artificial should never ask; questions about life, God, and the afterlife. Where does the line between humanity and Artificial blur?

This book was a wild ride from the very first page. I read it straight through because I had to know what happened! I was very intrigued with Kestrel, who is a minister asking tough questions in the wake of tragedy. I’ve never read a suspense/thriller book with a minister as the main character, and I think every novel of this type set in the future that I’ve read has done away with the idea of faith and religion, so this was fascinating to read. I highly recommend this novel—but don’t start it unless you have a few free hours to kill right then!

Steven James is a bestselling author with a master’s degree in Storytelling. Synapse is his newest novel.

(Galley courtesy of Thomas Nelson via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.)

Book Review: Lake Season, by Denise Hunter

lake season
Image belongs to Thomas Nelson.

Title:  Lake Season
Author:   Denise Hunter
Genre:  Romance, Christian
Rating:  5 out of 5

After their parents die in a tragic accident, Molly Bennett and her brother and sister decide to make their parents’ dream a reality:  turning their historic home back into an inn. Molly will have to give up her dreams of Italy, but she knows it’s worth it to see her youngest sister finish high school at home in tiny Bluebell, North Carolina. Then Molly finds an unsent letter in the wall of the inn—a letter that tells of a love lost years ago in Bluebell. She wants to return the letter to its rightful owners but has no idea how to find them.

Adam Bradford, secretly bestselling novelist Nathaniel Quinn, is in Bluebell to research his next novel. Quiet and reclusive, he takes no chance on people finding out who he really is. But Molly and Adam become instant friends and soon he is just as fascinated with finding the lost letter’s recipient as she is. But Molly doesn’t know Adam is keeping secrets—and trust is one thing she holds sacred.

I loved this book! Sweet and simple, mixing the past and present together seamlessly as it explores Adam and Molly’s fears and issues as well as secrets from the past. I was invested from the first page, and I loved the characters—and the small town of Bluebell—as well as the family bond between Molly and her siblings.

Denise Hunter is a bestselling author who lives in Indiana. Lake Season is her newest novel.

(Galley courtesy of Thomas Nelson via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.)

Book Review: Chasing the Shadows, by Maria V. Snyder

chasing the shadows
Image courtesy of the author.

Title:  Chasing the Shadows
Author:    Maria V. Snyder
Genre:  YA, sci-fi
Rating:  5 out of 5

Lyra Daniels is dead. To be fair, she was only dead for sixty-six seconds, but now she has a new name (Ara), a new job—and the rest of the world has to continue to believe she’s dead, so murdering looter Jarren won’t know she’s still alive and out to get him. Because he’s blocked their planet from communicating with the rest of the galaxy, and now everyone thinks they’re dead, which is what going dark like that usually means.

A spaceship is coming to check it out, but it will be almost two years before they arrive. And Jarren isn’t the only threat Ara and her team face:  they still have a deadly alien race to contend with and figuring out what exactly the Terra Cotta Warriors do—along with how they got there and why—is also at the top of the list.

It’s all in a day’s work for Ara. Good thing she got crazy good at worming through the Q-net after she died. Because that may be the biggest mystery—and the most important to figure out—of all.

Just like Navigating the Stars, I was hooked from the first of this. Ara grows up a lot in this book—dying will do that to you—as she starts to look beyond herself and her own wants. And everything isn’t easy for her. The rest of the security team doesn’t always listen to her or respect her opinions, which is hard to swallow for someone used to doing what she wants and asking forgiveness after. The growths of all her relationships was well-done and compelling. And I love the mystery of the Terra Cotta Warriors!

Maria V. Snyder is a bestselling author. Chasing the Shadows, the second book in the Sentinels of the Galaxy series, is her newest novel.

(Galley courtesy of the author in exchange for an honest review.)

The Best Books I Read in October (2019)

This was a tough one. I read 21 books in October, bringing my total for the year to 186. And, while several were just “meh,” several of them were really excellent. The best of these:

the library of lost things

The Library of Lost Things, by Laura Taylor Namey.  This is about mental illness, friendship (and SUCH an awesome friendship!), love, and figuring out the future. I loved all of it!

the grace year

The Grace Year, by Kim Liggett.  This book was unusual. Dystopian setting where women have no rights and are treated as nothing (that’s clearly not the unusual part…), and they spend their entire seventeenth year banished outside the town…and not all of them come back. But no one talks about that Grace Year. Completely compelling read.

the curious heart of ailsa rae

The Curious Heart of Ailsa Rae, by Stephanie Butland. This was a cute, sweet read that I immensely enjoyed. Ailsa is such a likable and lovely character, and her transition from on the verge of death and needing a heart transplant to a determined survivor was engrossing from the first page.

What I Read in October (2019)

Books Read in October:  21

Books Read for the Year: 186/175

Topical Books/Monthly Goal Books:

The Anatomist’s Wife, by Anna Lee Huber(cultural). Okay, “cultural” might be stretching it a bit…but I loved this take on a female Sherlock Holmes. (I’ve already procured the second one, too.)

Every Exquisite Thing, by Matthew Quick (TBR).  I’m just going to say “eh” on this one. I was not impressed.

More than a Good Bible Study Girl, by Lisa TerKeurst (spiritual). An excellent read!

The Beauty and the Damned (classic). Honestly…I thought this book kinda sucked. I don’t like selfish, self-absorbed people, and the two main characters were nothing if not that, so this was not the right choice for me.

The Obesity Code, by Jason Fung (nonfiction). Interesting reading, but a little dense and repetitive at times.

For Review:

the lies we tell

The Lies We Tell, by Debra Webb. this was the second book in The Undertaker’s Daughter series—I haven’t read the first one—but I had no issues catching up or following along. Kind of a dark family drama/murder mystery, and a solid, enjoyable read.

the speed of falling objects

The Speed of Falling Objects, by Nancy Richardson Fischer. I loved When Elephants Fly, by this author, and this novel was excellent as well. Family angst and a catastrophic rainstorm adventure with a hot movie star? Yep, I’m there. I truly enjoyed this entire novel, and read it straight through in one sitting.

one night gone

One Night Gone, by Tara Laskowski. Sometimes, books with dual timelines just don’t work for me. This one, however, did. Mystery in a seaside town, a girl missing for 30 years…

trinity sight

Book Review: Trinity Sight, by Jennifer Givhan. A dystopian novel with Zuni mythology… When Calliope wakes up and finds all the people are gone, she sets out to find her family. Along the way, she finds creatures from myth and legend. This was an oddly compelling read.

whispers of shadow & flame

Whispers of Shadow & Flame, by L. Penelope. Another excellent read in the Earthsinger Chronicles! I love the different cultures in these books, and the magic system. Can’t wait to read the next one!

a spell of murder

A Spell of Murder, by Kennedy Kerr. Temerity Love runs Love’s Curiosities—and is renowned for her expertise with antiques. When a murder happens in her tiny Scottish town, her services will be needed to solve the crime. I loved this cozy mystery mixed with magic, and look forward to reading more!

the widow of rose house

The Widow of Rose Harbor, by Dina Biller. Fantastic read! The love interest, Sam, is just so…lovable. Alva has been tarred and feathered in the press thanks to her horrible husband after she left him. Now that she’s a widow, she wants to come home to New York, but the rumors have followed her and her efforts to restore an abandoned mansion are thwarted by a ghost. Enter Sam, the eccentric genius professor (I really wanted to say “playboy billionaire” there and go of on an Avengers tangent…) obsessed with studying ghosts.

the library of lost things

The Library of Lost Things, by Laura Taylor Namey. Darcy is named for one of literature’s most beloved characters, which satisfies her book-loving soul. Now she’s trying to keep her carefully orchestrated life—and her hoarding mother—from falling apart. When Darcy meets Asher, she yearns to get to know him better, but trust has never been her strong point. Darcy’s BFF Marisol makes this book! (Actually, ALL the supporting characters are marvelous.)

the grace year

The Grace Year, by Kim Liggett. This had the feel of The Handmaid’s Tale…except I didn’t care for that book, and I LOVED this one. In a male-dominated society, when they turn sixteen, girls have to get rid of their magic so they don’t have power over men, so they are banished for one year, The Grace Year. Not all of them will come back. And those that do will be changed.

oracle

The Oracle of Cumae, by Melissa Hardy. It’s possible that reading three books right before this one that were amazing made this less-than-amazing book seem even worse, but…honestly, I liked the premise, but the plot was meandering at best, and really more like pointless.

girls like us

Girls Like Us, by Randi Pink.  This is set in the 70s and is about teenage girls dealing with unplanned pregnancies. It was supposed to be about defying conventions and standing up for yourself…except none of them really did that.

christmas angels

Christmas Angles, by Nancy Naigle. This was a sweet Christmas romance about Liz, who buys the deserted inn that belonged to her grandparents and sets out to restore it.

the middle matters

The Middle Matters, by Lisa-Jo Baker (review forthcoming). A solid, relatable, and inspirational read.

bound in flame

Bound in Flame, by Katherine Kayne. I don’t think I’d ever read anything set in historical Hawaii, so I was excited to read this. But…the writing was shaky at best, and felt very bare-bones (Not in a clean, sparse way, but in an this-is-practically-an-outline-without-details-or-connections way).

if darkness takes us

If Darkness Takes Us, by Brenda Marie Smith. This was a unique concept to me:  secret doomsday-prepper granny left to take care of her four grandchildren after something knocks out all power and the government. Some of the characters seemed more like caricatures than actual people (rebellious teenager, angry pre-teen, verbally abusive husband) and the POV felt more distant than I would have liked, but it was an interesting read.

the curious heart of ailsa rae

The Curious Heart of Ailsa Rae, by Stephanie Butland. This was a fantastic read! It’s about a girl who gets a heart transplant after a lifetime of being sick, and how she learns to live again.

Left Unfinished:

I Have No Secrets, by Penny Joelson. I made it about 20% of the way through this, and decided to stop. It was interesting, I just don’t think it was a good fit for me now.

The Best Books I Read in August (2019)

I read 24 books in August, bringing my total for the year to 143.

A handful of those were great reads, but three of the truly excellent reads included a book about three older women who changed their lives and found their dreams, a fantasy that started off with a girl who had never set foot on land, and a girl who has never really thought about her ethnicity and is forced to not just confront it but decide how it will shape her life.

women in sunlight

Women in Sunlight, by Frances Mayes (she also wrote Under the Tuscan Sun) is about three older, single American women who become friends and defy expectations to move to Italy. While there, they truly embrace themselves and who they are as they create their best lives yet.

crown of coral and pearl

Crown of Coral and Pearl, by Mara Rutherford. Nor and her twin sister are the most beautiful girls in Varenia, so they know one of them will be chosen to marry the prince of Ilara. Nor longs to see the mainland, but when her sister is chosen, she knows that will never happen. Until her sister is injured and she’s chosen to replace her—finding Ilara a land of treachery, murder, and darkness.

color me in

Color Me In, by Natasha Diaz. Nevaeh has never really thought about her ethnicity, but when her Jewish father and her black mother separate, she and her mother go to live with her family in Harlem. One of Nevaeh’s cousins is angry because Nevaeh can pass as white and is oblivious to struggles of those around her in Harlem. Then Nevaeh’s dad decides she needs to embrace her Jewish roots, leaving Nevaeh struggling between two identities.

Also worth mentioning:

beekeeper

The Beekeeper of Aleppo, by Christy Lefteri.

never have i ever

Never Have I Ever, by Joshilyn Jackson.

enchanted ever after

Enchanted Ever After, by Shanna Swendson.

Book Review: Isaiah’s Daughter, by Mesu Andrews

isaiah's daughter
Image belongs to WaterBrook.

Title:   Isaiah’s Daughter
Author:   Mesu Andrews
Genre:   Biblical fiction
Rating:   4.5 out of 5

After she loses her family to war, Ishma—desolation—is a child grieving and frightened when she is taken in by the prophet Isaiah and his wife. She grows up in their home but fear still lurks when she sets eyes on a soldier. Since Isaiah is out of favor with the king, he has been tasked with teaching the young noblemen, and Ishma is introduced to young Prince Hezekiah when he is traumatized from his brother’s ritual sacrifice.

Ishma and Hezi are close friends as they grow up, but his father’s evil reign separates them for years, despite their love for each other. Until Isaiah adopts Ishma and gives her a new name, Zibah, delight of the Lord, which also makes her one of the nobility—and eligible to marry the prince. But Zibah must overcome her fears and learn to trust in the Lord if she is ever to end up where she truly wishes to be.

I’ve only read two of Mesu Andrews’ books—so far—but I love how she brings stories from the Bible to vibrant, breathing life! As Ishma grows from a frightened, traumatized child to a loving and faithful adult, the reader is drawn along on her journey—and learns truth along with her. I cannot recommend Mesu Andrews and her novels enough!

Mesu Andrews has been writing since her chronic illness over 20 years ago. Isaiah’s Daughter is the first in the Prophets and Kings series.

(Galley courtesy of WaterBrook via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.)

Book Review: Color Me In, by Natasha Diaz

color me in
Image belongs to Delacorte Press.

Title:   Color Me In
Author:   Natasha Diaz
Genre:   YA
Rating:   4.5 out of 5

Sixteen-year-old Nevaeh Levitz never really thought much about her roots or her racial identity, but when her black mother and Jewish father split up and she and her mom move in with her mother’s family in Harlem, she comes face-to-face with it. Nevaeh loves this family and wants to be a part of them, but one of her cousins hates that she passes for white and doesn’t understand the injustices their family has to face.

When she spends time with her dad—and his new girlfriend—her dad pushes for her to embrace her Jewish side—the side he never gave much attention to himself, guaranteeing her life at her posh private school becomes even tougher. She doesn’t know which side of her heritage is really her.

Then Nevaeh falls in love and starts to realize she has a voice, a voice she can use to speak out against the hate and oppression she encounters every day, as she embraces her newfound identity and all the joy—and sorrow—it brings with it.

The journey of self-discovery and realization Nevaeh experiences is riveting and the opposition and prejudice she experiences is infuriating. Her entire world has been turned upside down, and she just wants to find where she belongs, but everyone opposes her, making her more confused than ever. The power and strength she uncovers when she embraces her true identity is inspiring and uplifting. This is a fantastic read!

Natasha Diaz was born in New York and lives there still. Color Me In is her debut novel.

(Galley courtesy of Delacorte Press via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.)