Good Husbandry

I have spent more time with my hands in the soil this year than I ever have in the past. I’ve been gardening since I was a kid, but never have I devoted this much effort to it. This past spring, I was completely overcome with my love of my little patch of land. I was hungry for time with it. To have my hands in it, my nose sneezing with it, my eyes filled with it at every turn. Wildflowers, chives, basil, lettuce coming early. Tomatoes, beans, cucumbers, peppers later. Weeds always. Life deep in the soil and bursting out of it.

Not by coincidence, this was also a year in which I struggled with my health. Try as I might, I never felt in control of it. I battled multiple issues at once and the instability of my body scared me. I was hungry for life and fairly terrified that my body was not on the same page with me. My grip on these things that we so casually label as health and feeling good and even feeling alive felt tenuous. The only place my mind seemed to calm and my body cooperate was out in the garden.

There is a balance in the plant world that puts our human lives into perspective, if we’re willing to notice. There is a peace in the midst of the ebbs and flows of life. Even a grace. Or in Kristin Kimball’s exact words:

“The natural order of things is immutable. Seed, flower, fruit, decline, death, decay. Seed. Each stage has its own drama and its own particular beauty. If you can see it, you can accept it. The parts are graceful, and so is the whole.”

Reading “Good Husbandry,” the new release from Kristin Kimball, felt like a warm embrace. It felt like sitting down with a wise friend and spilling your deepest worries and fears, only to have that friend say the exact right thing. The irony is that I never shared anything with Kristin Kimball. Somehow she managed to address the things that weighed on my mind without ever meeting me. Probably because they are the things that weigh on all of our minds.

Make no mistake, this is a beautiful book in part because it is filled with Kimball’s trademark ability (already demonstrated in “The Dirty Life”) to paint farm life in vivid, exciting strokes. She makes you want to head out to the field, or at the very least join a CSA, yesterday. But beneath the soil of a good food memoir lie the roots of a book that is completely candid about family, love and fear. Kimball doesn’t shy away from marital struggles or aging struggles or physical struggles. She doesn’t pretend there isn’t a pull between your children and your other work as a mother. She doesn’t claim perfect contentment in her work or complete confidence in her decisions.

I lost count of the number of times I teared up while I read. There were the stories of her labors and deliveries. Tales of injured horses. Burning barns. Struggling employees and generous neighbors. Page after page of a life. A full life but a normal one. One that echoed of my own. Marriage and motherhood, work and even aging. Also, the desire not to be aging. Victories and defeats. Questions and answers.

There are a lot of feelings that go into reading a book. In this case the one that came to mind was grateful. I was grateful I read it. When I turned the last page, I thought of my garden. Tiny compared to the sprawling acres in “Good Husbandry.” But still, like with our lives, I could detect an echo of similarity. I could see myself leaning over a plant, delighting in the unique joy of harvesting food I had grown myself. Finding in the process a sense of peace that was hard to grasp hold of in other parts of my life. Okay in that moment with “the natural order of things.” 

And reading Kristin Kimball’s words, absorbing their simple truths and honest reflection? That felt like its own kind of peace too. 

*Scribner Books provided me with an advanced copy of "Good Husbandry" in exchange for a fair and honest review.

goodbusbandry.jpg

Never Have I Ever

"What?!?"

That is supposed to be the reaction to a book like "Never Have I Ever," right? And it was definitely mine as I made my way through the twists and turns of this thriller.

It is safe to say that fans of books like "Big Little Lies" will find a happy [if unsettling] home in this book. The whole suburban mama with a closet full of skeletons motif is alive and well in Joshilyn Jackson's new novel. This particular take on that genre features a lovable, flawed main character named Amy. Amy looks to have it all: a happy family, a great job and friends all within a few blocks of her home. That is, until a creepy villainess decides to drop in on her book club meeting and turn her world upside down. All the necessary chaos ensues as Amy rushes to keep her secrets swept under the rugs of her making.

There were several twists in this book, and while I did catch on to a few, the BIG one shocked me. So props to Jackson for that. She also created a character I could root for. Even if I find the idea of keeping secrets from loved ones to be hard to believe, she did a good job of raising the stakes for Amy in a way that was pretty believable. And I hated the bad guy...I mean, girl. Jackson nailed that. I was also satisfied with the ending. So, all in all, I would say this book would make a great weekend read, preferably at the beach (Amy scuba dives, so proximity to the ocean will only enhance this one).

Quick note- there were some sensitive subjects in this one, so if you're a sensitive reader, be kind to yourself and do some research before you dive in.

*Harper Collins provided me with a copy of this book in exchange for a fair and honest review.

neverhaveiever.jpg

In the Night of Memory

“How many people have been forgotten? How many have been lost?”

I couldn’t help but wonder these things as I read “In the Night of Memory” by Linda LeGarde Grover. Her book, rich with emotion and thoughtfulness, took me to deep places I hadn’t planned to visit. As I journeyed with two sisters from a turbulent early childhood to a salvaged adulthood, I thought about how many real life stories this one must mirror. It invited me to think about abuse and restoration, about motherhood and larger family ties.

Some “big thought” books can be a tough read. It can feel like the author is standing on a soap box, preaching down at you. Not so with this one. “In the Night of Memory” tells a story that is compelling with characters you want to root for. Its story completes the arch of two women’s lives without dragging on, nor does it rush. It is lyrical and beautifully told from start to finish.

If you read “There, There” by Tommy Orange and loved it, this is definitely a read alike. What I loved about this one, though, is the focus on women and their stories. Linda LeGarde Grover tells her story with expertise and passion that spills off the page and invites the reader to learn and grow as they enjoy her story.

*University of Minnesota Press provided me with a complimentary copy of this book in exchange for a fair and honest review.

memory.jpg

Outer Order, Inner Calm

Stay calm, folks...Gretchen Rubin has released a new book!

"Outer Order, Inner Calm" embraces the clean-up wildfire that was lit by Marie Kondo. But while Kondo feels idealistic, Rubin's take is one of a realist. It is a huge relief to read OO, IC and realize "I can do this!" Her tips are easy and practical.

If you've read Rubin's previous work, you know that she is kind of the queen of light bulb ideas, and this book holds up her reputation. It is formatted so that each page features one tip and so many were ones I applied immediately to my own cleaning efforts.

This is definitely a book of tips. So don't go into it expecting a memoir (please write another memoir like "The Happiness Project," Gretchen!) or a step-by-step guide to cleaning. Even though the book is divided into sections, each page very much stands alone as a single tip to apply to your attempts at outer order. Which totally works, as long as you're not expecting something else.

I totally subscribe to the idea that we feel better when the spaces that surround us are put in order. And like most of the world, finding that order is often a struggle. So this book and its simple format provided just the boost and inspiration I need to chase my outer order on the way to some serious inner calm. Thanks Gretchen!

*Penguin Random House provided me with a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

order.jpg

The Seamstress

Sometimes, it is hard to review a book. That is because, while there were a lot of things done right by the author, the truth is that you didn't love the result of their hard work. That was my experience with "The Seamstress."

I want to be gentle with my words because I really do believe that there were bright spots in this novel. It was clear that Allison Pittman put a lot of passion and attention into this project. The descriptions of settings were beautifully done. I never questioned that she was an authority on both the time and place in which she wrote. I also felt that the plot was a compelling one and I loved the tie-in to a beloved character and a little known one from "A Tale of Two Cities." These were highlights.

On the other end of the spectrum, I experienced three major problems that kept me from loving this book as I might have. First, I struggled to love her characters. Even now that the book is done, I wonder, "Who were the heroes?" "Who were the villains?" And most importantly, "Who was I supposed to be rooting for?" Even more confusing was her treatment of Marie Antoinette. I've never seen her treated with such adoration, and the opposing revolution treated with such scorn. Blame it on a deep love of Les Miserables, but this was hard to stomach. My second problem revolved around some of the intimate scenes Pittman (and Tyndale) chose to include in the book. For a book that is supposed to be Christian Fiction, I think they could have rode the edit button a little harder. Lastly, when Pittman's story finally collided with "A Tale of Two Cities," character dialogue suddenly shifted to Dickens English. It felt clunky and I wished that she had chosen to deliver the sentiments of his story with modern language that matched the rest of her book.

Overall, this book was an enjoyable read. I don't want to imply that it wasn't. It was interesting and the setting was breathtaking. Not perfect for me, but that is the beauty of reading. I'm confident there will be many readers who will think it was fantastic.

Tyndale provided me with a copy of this book in exchange for a fair and honest review.

seamstress.jpg

Save Me the Plums

She’s done it again.

I couldn’t help but marvel, as I read Ruth Reichl’s new book, “Save Me the Plums,” at how she manages to make every one of her books feel so personal and heartfelt. This one, which chronicles her time as the editor at Gourmet is so honest, so raw, that I couldn’t stop until I had taken in the whole story from hiring to [spoiler alert] firing.

Every piece of Reichl’s journey through Gourmet is emotional.

Her hiring. Her feelings of inadequacy and doubt that humanize her in a way you wouldn’t normally expect from someone who had achieved fame as a food writer decades before she joined Gourmet.

September 11th, which launches into her consciousness as she enters the Gourmet offices and sees the second plane crash on television. Her fears and concerns as a New York City resident, as well as her determination to triumph over the fear. Real, palpable emotion that is familiar to anyone who lived through that day.

An encounter with an older gentleman in a Paris restaurant. The ambience, the mystique, and that unique “could this really be happening” moment that is standard in Ruth Reichl books. I couldn’t help but cry.

A chocolate cake. A stir fry. An apple pancake. An endless cascade of food that never stands on its own. It is always supported by a story and Reichl’s unmatched ability to describe sights, scents and tastes. Can you get emotional about a lobster? Sure you can, with Ruth at the helm.

With every book she publishes, you have to wonder if she can continue to produce the magic that is Ruth Reichl’s memoirs. But then she does it. Again and again and again.

There are very few people on this earth who I would probably get weird around if I met them in person. Ruth Reichl is one of them. Because, the thing is, she makes you feel like you know her. She lets you into her life on such an intimate level that you can’t help but count her among your friends. Can’t help but admit that if you ever ran into her on the New York City subway, you would just have to ask for a hug. And that is a true gift.

plums.jpg

Chronicles of a Radical Hag (with Recipes)

I’ll admit it, I grabbed “Chronicles of a Radical Hag (with Recipes) because of the cover. It was so pretty and the title cracked me up. Also attractive to me was the concept...a woman named Haze takes a job at the local paper and spends decades chronicling local and national events all through the corky lens of her own experiences.


Once I dug into it, I had mixed feelings about this book. I thought the tone was old fashioned, which was refreshing, and the characters were likeable enough. But, generally speaking, the plot played out exactly as expected with no satisfying twists or complicated moments. It felt a bit formulaic.


I also appreciated that the author had something to say, and saw this book as her opportunity to share her thoughts, but gosh, did I feel like I was in the pew and she was in the pulpit. No need to ask where she stands politically after reading this book! It was as if the columns from Haze were not-even-thinly veiled windows into Landvik’s politics. And if there is one thing I desperately want less of in my life, it is divisive politics, regardless of which side of the divide they fall on. There was very little sign of grace, or interest in conversation, with different people. Ironically, the only character remotely interested in building bridges was its young teenage character, a thrown bone that didn’t make up for the tone of the rest of the book. And what grated the most was that I didn’t really believe the main character, Haze, would have said a lot of the things in the columns attributed to her. She seemed kinder than the words Landvik often assigned to her.


In the end, I loved the concept of this book. I love books that celebrate older generations and their stories. I loved seeing significant moments in history through the lens of Haze’s articles. I liked most of the characters and could even get on board with the happily ever after treatment they all received in the end. I just wish there had been more nuance here. Less black and white, a little more meeting in the middle. Grace! We could all use more voices that show grace towards views that are different than our own.

University of Minnesota Press provided me with a copy of this book in exchange for a fair and honest review.

chronicles.jpg

The Lost Man

The mystery in Jane Harper’s “The Lost Man” plays out like a specimen under a microscope.


As the book’s cover promises, the story opens with “three brothers, one death, no answers.” You read what has happened [The accidental death? The murder?] and you know something is wrong, but you just can’t make sense of it. Then, things start to come into focus. With the precision of a lab technician, Harper slowly eases important facts into your line of vision. Things are a little clearer, a little clearer, and then suddenly, BAM! Clarity! Every piece of the mystery makes sense and wow, does the resolution feel good.


“The Lost Man” was a perfectly executed mystery from start to finish. The opening scene draws you right in and true to Jane Harper’s rep, the scenery was just as seductive. The main character was one to root for and the supporting cast was equal parts attractive and suspicious. You never knew quite where to point your finger OR if you should be pointing it at all. Agatha Christie would be proud.


This novel and its writing style were such an easy swallow that you could take it down in a weekend or maybe even one very ambitious day. You’ll want to read it quickly because you WILL want answers. Guaranteed.

Flatiron Books provided me with a copy of this book in exchange for a fair and honest review

lostman.jpg

Nifty [Book] Gifties for Christmas: Nonfiction

Black Friday is approaching and that means…CHRISTMAS SHOPPING! When I think about the perfect Christmas gift, I always-always-always think of books. And I truly believe there is a book for everyone.

I am going to hit both sides of the spectrum, fiction and non, in the coming weeks. But today, we are talking nonfiction. Hopefully you can find something in this list to satisfy everybody on your nice list.

FOR THE FOODIES…You just can’t top Ruth Reichl in the food category. Her memoirs are heartfelt and beautifully written. This particular book is blended with enough recipes to get any cook through the winter and beyond.

ruth.jpg

FOR THE HANDYMAN…My husband loves these books. The guy knows what he’s talking about, and they come in a boxed set, so they look a little nicer than your average fix-it book.

blackanddecker.jpg

FOR THE DECORATOR …This hot-off-the-press book is filled with beautiful pictures that have totally inspired me as I decorate my new house. The cool thing is that, unlike a lot of design books, the writing is just as much fun as the pictures.

cozy.jpg

FOR THE NATURE LOVER…I loved that this book was both practical and pretty. I love getting outside, and this book had great ideas for how to do just that. It also fills you in on all of the benefits of outdoor living, and provides fun playlists and book ideas for every season.

forest.jpg

FOR THE FUNNY TV LOVER…Did you know that Ellie Kemper had a background in writing? That’s right, folks, she’s not just the super cute secretary from The Office! I binged this book in a day, and it was an absolute joy.

ellie.jpg

FOR THE REALITY TV LOVER…It might seem weird to recommend a political book in this category, but let’s get honest, here. This book wasn’t even a little political. It is the story of a young Obama staffer whose life decisions leave the reader with that same wonderful-icky feeling that a Bravo show would.

corner.jpg

FOR THE FAITH LOVER…If you want to take a slightly different spin on a Christian book, and the person you’re buying for is in their 30s, you pretty much can’t miss with this pop culture-faith fusion book from the host of The Popcast with Knox and Jamie.

wondering.jpg

FOR THE HISTORY LOVER…Bobby Kennedy’s life and career have always been fascinating to me. As the political scene gets crazier and crazier, this is a great look at someone who was dedicated to making a difference in the world.

bobby.jpg

Trick or Read

  1. An Acceptable Time

    There was a ton of buzz in the #bookstagram world about “A Wrinkle in Time” this year, and rightfully so. BUT. “An Acceptable Time” is a little more grown up and is positively dripping with autumn vibes. I wouldn’t go so far as to say it is spooky, but there are sinister undertones that work perfectly for a Halloween read. I pull this one out every year on the 31st.

  2. The Devil in the White City

    Looking to go the nonfiction route? Look no further than this ultra-creepy true story from the Chicago World’s Fair. I mean, we’re talking serial killer who REALLY LIVED AND BREATHED AND DID THIS STUFF. I don’t even know if I’m brave enough to read it on Halloween. If you are, do.

  3. Rebecca

    “Rebecca” is everywhere these days. Why? Because there are few books so immersed in setting and character and MOOD FOR DAYS. This book is dusty and cobwebby (it’s a word) and there are secrets galore. And romance too. So if you want to pick the one off this list that has a little “he loves me, he loves me not,” this one is for you.

  4. And Then There Were None

    You can’t go wrong with anything Agatha. If you have the time, you can make your way through the entire Hercule Poirot series from the start (Do it on audio. You’re welcome.). If you only have time for one though, this is it. It does everything good that Agatha Christie is famous for (fast developing plots that wizz by in a few hours and mysteries that often feel positively unsolvable), with a little extra va-va-voom. Oh, and in case you’re tempted to go this direction, trust me and save “Murder on the Orient Express” for a snowy winter day.

  5. The Screwtape Letters

    What happens when the devil and his nephew demon are pen pals? This book happens, that’s what. And listen, this is not a sermon, but if we are going to have a holiday that involves ghosts and witches and other things we probably shouldn’t be dabbling with to begin with, it’s probably not a bad idea to recenter with the guy who understood spiritual warfare better than most, C.S.Lewis. Just a little reminder that it’s all fun and games…until it’s not.

anacceptabletime.jpg
devilinthewhitecity.jpg
rebecca.jpg
andthentherewerenone.jpg
screwtapeletters.jpg

The Struggle is Real.

What mom hasn't thought, at least a dozen times (okay a thousand), "the struggle is real"?! Nicole Unice's book takes this common phrase and embraces it. With the wisdom of a woman who knows her Bible, but the approachability of a girlfriend at the playground, she shares simple ways that women can find freedom and release from life's sticky situations.

I loved Unice's voice in this book. You just felt like she got it. She got you. She did a wonderful job of weaving personal anecdotes in with stories from scripture and more academic thoughts. Just when one method of communicating her thoughts might be getting stale, she switched to a new medium, keeping my attention. This means, of course, that she knows her audience. The busy mom whose attention span is...wait, nope, it's gone. So it mattered that she was able to pack a ton of information and helpful tips into a book that moved along.

Unice also included sections at the end of each chapter called "Keeping It Real". This was an opportunity for personal application that would be welcome for an individual reader or for a book club or Bible study group.

So the next time you find yourself cleaning melted gummy bears out of a car seat, or scrubbing crayon off your white walls, or answering the fiftieth "why" question of the day, just remember the struggle is real, but we're all on the same team. Then, just maybe, grab a copy of this book and charge up on Nicole Unice's good words of encouragement.

Tyndale House provided me with a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

struggleisreal.jpg

Laurentian Divide

Why is it that, when I usually think of a sequel, I hear that corny “wah-wah” sound effect in my head. I expect to be disappointed. But then, something like “Laurentian Divide” happens, and suddenly, my faith is restored. A follow-up book can not only be good, it can be excellent.

“Divide” does what a good sequel should. It fills in details and updates on the characters that we love, but also tells a compelling story of its own. Sarah Stonich did a perfect job of picking the characters from "Vacationland" to highlight in its follow-up. I couldn't help but root for each person to find fulfillment as the story unfolded, and Stonich delivered, with the raw and willing sense of reality she brings to her work.

This narrative takes place over the course of just a few days, in the run-up to widowed Alpo and diner waitress Sissy’s wedding. Not only do we experience “all the feelings” with those two characters, we also follow along as one character struggles with alcohol addiction and as the town experiences growing concern over one of its missing citizens.

If you read “Vacationland”, the first installment in this series, and didn’t hope against all hope that Pete, Alpo’s son, would be the main character in this new book, I can’t help you. He was clearly the man to call to the plate this time around, and not surprisingly, his story was a homerun. No spoilers here, but I can almost guarantee that you will be rooting for him through every painful, struggling moment of his story. Alpo and Sissy provided good supporting characters in my read, although other readers may gravitate towards one of them instead of Pete. They are given equal screen time.

This idea of a smaller cast of characters being central to the story worked well in “Divide”, but did provide a startling contrast to “Vacationland”. The literary magic of the first book came from the oddly named chapters, the different character focus in each one, and Stonich’s ability to put it all together into a story we cared about. In losing that for the second book, the story took center stage. The effect of that decision is hard to pin down. Some of the magic may be gone, but the narrative flow only increased. A win or loss is for the individual reader to decide.

Not lost in “Divide” is Stonich’s very special ability to develop a character, to show who they are in the everyday decisions they make. There are surely big moments in this story, but I found that the small ones were the revelations. There is in “Divide” an understanding of the bittersweet realities of life, an acceptance of the good and bad that comes with the simple act of living. I closed the book feeling the contagious contentment of the people on the pages, and that is quite a gift.

divide.jpg

Hidden Among The Stars

Time-slip is a genre that has the power to grab you and not let you go, if it is done well. "Hidden Among The Stars", the new novel from Melanie Dobson, certainly is. 

Dobson takes her readers on two journeys that are set on a collision course (as time-slip novel duel story lines usually are). In the present, Callie Randall is a book store owner who loves books but often hides from real life challenges due to fear. Back in 1938, Luzia Weiss is a young Jewish woman on the cusp of fame due to her musical talent. Both Callie and Luzia will face their own set of challenges, and the decisions of one will lead the other on an adventure she never expected.

One of the things that was so attractive about this book was the setting. Dobson did a wonderful job of immersing readers in the setting, whether it was an adorable bookstore in 2018 or a fairy tale castle in Nazi-controlled Austria in 1938. Also, I couldn't decide which side of this story I liked better, and that is a high compliment. Often with books like this, I can't wait to return to my "favorite" side, which can make a book drag. Not so with "Hidden Among The Stars". And the ending was so satisfying.

The thing about this book is that it wasn't sappy. Dobson didn't insist on happy endings for everyone involved, nor did she sugar coat the struggles the characters faced. She managed to balance reality with hope, struggles with breakthrough. 

I did guess at the main plot points that were meant to shock the reader well before their revelation, but I don't think it took away from my enjoyment at all. Playing these secrets closer to her vest may have put Dobson's book over the top, but it was still extremely enjoyable and I will be passing it along to other lovers of the historical fiction/time slip genres.

*Tyndale Fiction provided me with a complimentary copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

 

hiddenamongthestars.jpg

The Wondering Years

I laughed. I cried. I did all the things, then I came back for more.

Knox McCoy’s “The Wondering Years” is a candid look at his life and faith, told by way of a series of entertaining anecdotes and cultural references galore. It is -a rare thing- a book that will make you think about your own relationship with God while not boring you at all. A book that sounds and feels personal, like a friend talking to you in a coffee shop...talking to you, not at you. Big difference.

Every kid who grew up in church faced a moment when they had to decide if they wanted a faith of their own, separate from the one presented to them by their parents. I distinctly remember this phase of my life. I also know that, for many second or third-generation Christians, the struggle to reconcile the image of God we were taught, with the world we live in can be difficult. Knox addresses these struggles and more, wondering what faith should feel and look like as well as asking who God is at our darkest moments. Disguised in this easy-to-read book are deep thoughts and challenging statements. And I didn’t hate that at all.

On the lighter side, you are going to be hard pressed to find a book that has a stronger 90’s pop culture game than “The Wondering Years”. Knox hits all the high points AND all the Christian pop culture hits too (yes, that is a thing!). If you can work a reference to Nicolae Carpathia into your book, you’re winning in mine.

If the honest look at faith is the heart of this book, the pop culture is the heartBEAT. It keeps you moving right through the pages until you’re done and you don’t want to be.

Perhaps what I loved most about “The Wondering Years” was Knox’s willingness to leave his faith journey unfinished. He bypassed the pitfall of so many spiritual books, the painful pull to tie his story up in a neat bow. You don’t finish this book feeling like Knox has it all figured it out. You might not even agree with some of the things he says. That’s okay. He is just one of us, processing and reprocessing as he moves along life’s journey, and his willingness to admit that makes this book even more worthy of your time.

*Thomas Nelson provided me with a complimentary copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. "The Wondering Years: How Pop Culture Helped Me Answer Life's Biggest Questions" will be on sale November of 2018.*

thewonderingyears.jpg

Virgil Wander

“Virgil Wander” is set in the present but it feels perfectly, irresistibly old-fashioned. That is, above all else, its greatest method of seduction.

Set in a midwestern town, Leif Enger’s new novel follows the story of Virgil, an everyman-type who owns a failing movie theater and works for city hall to make ends meet. When Virgil’s car plunges into Lake Superior, he escapes death but is left to put the pieces of his life back together, beginning with his failing memory. The result is a heartbreakingly honest portrayal of a man’s journey to discover the best version of himself.

Thanks to Enger’s masterful writing, this book drew me in from the very start and never let go until the last page...maybe not even then. His beautiful descriptions of small town scenes and relatable characters were in perfect contrast to a plot that was sometimes realistic and sometimes achingly artsy. It has been said that it took Enger ten years to write this book, and I could see why. Each detail was polished. No word was wasted, no scene overplayed.

I was sad to see these characters go when I closed the book. And while Enger did an admirable job of accelerating and then wrapping up a plot that took a turn I never expected, he also left some strings hanging in the air. He didn’t resolve everything and he didn’t even come close to answering every question posed within in the pages of “Virgil Wander”. I was okay with that...more than okay. It only added to the appeal of a book that was hard to pin down, like a kite on a stormy day.

If you are looking for a read alike to this novel, I found it to have a similar vibe and plot progression to “Empire Falls” by Richard Russo. But that is only a loose comparison. This novel stands as a unique work that is certainly worth your time.

*Grove Atlantic provided me with an advance copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. “Virgil Wander” releases on October 4, 2018.

virgilwander.jpg

Adrift

In the vein of “Dead Wake” by Erik Larson, “Adrift” is a larger-than-life true story about survival in the midst of the most impossible circumstances. It is, in turn, shocking, tragic, and inspiring. And worth your time if you love nonfiction.

Brian Murphy weaves the story of the fated ship John Rutledge into a greater fabric of ships sailing into dangerously icy waters in 1856, one of the deadliest years for sea travel on record. By placing his story against a larger backdrop, Murphy is able to make the survival of a single sailor aboard the John Rutledge all the more remarkable.

Any history junkie will enjoy the unique details Murphy is able to cull from historical records. Even the story of the lone survivor, Thomas Nye, is filled with “bonus content” that includes pleasurable rabbit trails of stories about his extended family. As the amount of information the reader is given grows, you will begin to feel as if you too have spent time in the myriad of libraries, museums, and  historical sites that Murphy visited to put together his book.

Murphy did take some liberties with dialogue and thoughts ascribed to various people in the story, but I was able to forgive him for this based on two things. First, this is the style of many best sellers in this genre lately, including the books by Erik Larson. Second, Murphy addressed his decision to do this before the book even began, in an Author’s Note. The extra dialogue, which he separated from actual documented words by not using quotation marks, did add to the narrative flow of the story, which I’m betting was his intention.

By the time I finished this book, I was astonished that I had not heard the story of the John Rutledge and Thomas Nye before. I was sad it had never found its way into any of the many historical classes I had taken in school. And I was glad to have stumbled upon it now.

The final test of a good book was one that “Adrift” passed. I spent the hours after I finished forcing my family to listen, in great detail, to the tragic story of the John Rutledge and the other ships lost in the same sea that year, and to the inspiring story of Thomas Nye, who lived to share what had happened. I couldn’t stop talking about it. Nye’s story, interpreted through the skilled pen of Brian Murphy, is one I would definitely recommend you pick up.

Da Capo Press provided me with a complimentary copy of this book in exchanged for an honest review. "Adrift" is due to be released on September 4, 2018.

adrift.jpg

The Dinner List

What five people, living or dead, would you choose to have dinner with?

We've all been asked this question, and in "The Dinner List", Rebecca Serle takes it on and uses it to weave a beautiful, dreamy story. 

At the opening of the story, the narrator, Sabrina, finds herself seated in an Italian restaurant with the love of her life, her best friend, her dad, her favorite college professor, and...Audrey Hepburn. As the story unfolds, Sabrina is forced to confront issues with the most important people in her life. She is challenged to rethink long held views and get past her own emotional hang-ups for a chance at healing and reconciliation. 

This book's tone reminded me a lot of the television show Younger. The main character and her friends and boyfriend are very Brooklyn hipster (even if Sabrina prefers Manhattan) and I'm not going to lie, it worked for me. I loved the references to places around New York City and Serle made me believe that she was an authority on it, which matters to me. 

The relationships that find themselves at the center of the story were just messy enough to be interesting, and the way the story unfolds, dancing between fantasy and reality, definitely kept the pages turning. "The Dinner List" features quick chapters and a low page count that makes it one of those rare stories you can binge read in a day. It reads young and fresh and maybe a little corky. And while the appearance of Audrey Hepburn as one of the characters rang a little odd, I'm always up for her presence anywhere for any reason, so I went with it. 

If the goal of this book was to reveal deep truths, it fell short for me. The word "young" keeps popping into my mind, and in the sense of lessons learned, it felt like a young voice was trying to deliver life lessons to me. I didn't come away with any newfound revelations. However, if the goal was to tell a love story in a fresh, new way, it definitely succeeded. It is perfect if you're looking for a great weekend read with a nice big dose of romance. And if you're an Audrey Hepburn fan? No question this one is for you. 

Flatiron Books provided me with a complimentary copy of this book in exchange for a fair and honest review.

thedinnerlist.jpg

Forest Therapy

I picked up “Forest Therapy” by Sarah Ivens around the same time that my family moved into a neighborhood that bordered on a large park. Turns out, it was just the right book at just the right time.

Ivens infuses her book with beautiful descriptions of nature that make you want to get outside immediately. She points out again and again how forest therapy is extremely beneficial to our health and offers tons of tips for how to rejuvenate your inner tree hugger. The chapters in the book make it easy to cherry pick subjects you feel strongly about, like getting outdoors with your kids or allowing nature to rekindle the romance in your relationship.

I love a good list, and “Forest Therapy” is brimming with them. Ivens offers everything from book lists to playlists to recipes for natural face masks. I found myself dog earing pages again and again so that I could revisit them with each passing season and take some of her suggestions.

I am someone who loves the outdoors. Still, I realized after reading this book that I could get into nature even more. Since reading “Forest Therapy”, I have found myself reading outside in the twilight hours instead of on the couch, doing my yoga in the grass, and paying extra attention to the plants inside and outside my home. And the park across the street? I am listening to its invitation to visit whenever possible. In a time when we are urged by our culture to be inside more and more, I am so thankful for a voice that reminds us there is another way. If you need that reminder, “Forest Therapy” is the book for you.

*Da Capo Press provided me with a complimentary copy of this book in exchange for a fair and honest review.

foresttherapy.jpg

The Hidden Side

Oh gosh. This book dug into deep, dark places. It got serious REAL fast, and it never really came up for air. And, honestly, I couldn't put it down.

Heidi Chiavaroli, author of "The Hidden Side", took on a myriad of tough topics in this fast paced, addictive piece of historical fiction. From bullying to school shootings to family tragedy to some good old fashioned war-time espionage, the subjects just kept coming and Chiavaroli handled them carefully and with an expertise that was impressive. That said, this is not a breezy read.

In 2016, a family finds their entire world turned upside down after a school shooting. Their quest to find new life, new hope, after tragedy is compeling in part because Chiavaroli has created characters that we can root for. She has also created characters that feel real. They are not shined up, made pretty for a Christian fiction title, forced to minimize their problems and make them tidy. Instead, they find redemption and hope from a God who accepts them, even in their worst moment.

In 1776, one woman must decide if she will support a cause she believes in with all her heart, that of the Revolution, by living a double life. Her decision gets more and more complicated as she realizes that, in spite of their allegiance to Britian, the redcoats are in some cases well meaning and [dare I say] worthy of her affection.

These two stories absolutely held my attention from the first page to the last. There was not a moment of lag, not a moment I didn't care about the outcome of their narratives. Don't read this book for a breezy break, do read it for a well-written and challenging story.

I only have one critique of this book, and it was large enough to make me rate it 3/5 on Goodreads. The character in 1776, by all appearances in my own research, did not exist. She is tied to extremely influential historical figures in the story, and it bothered me that she was not real. I am a big fan of historical fiction, and for me, the most successful stories manage to hug close to history enough so that you are not alterring it. Creating this particular woman and placing her right alongside real people, often motivating their decisions, seemed one step too far. BUT, it sure made for a good read!

Tyndale has provided me with a complimentary copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

 

hiddenside.jpg

Things I Never Told You

There are secrets lurking just beneath the surface of this book, and I know it even before I open it. 

Thanks to a great title, "Things I Never Told You" had me excited from the first time I heard about it. I happened to start it over Memorial Day Weekend, and it had all the things I hoped for in a summer read. Great characters, a little romance, and a lot of mystery to keep the pages turning.

Beth Vogt did a great job of making me care about her characters, particularly the three who took on narrative roles. There is nothing quite as satisfying as spending your journey through a book rooting for people you care about. She took on big issues, like recovering from the loss of a family member and dealing with a cancer diagnosis, and did so with care and skill. The struggle felt real, and that is the mark of a good book.

In the end, the "things" mentioned in the title didn't turn out to be quite as shocking as I had expected. I wished Vogt had pushed the plot a little farther to make the payoff even more satisfying. But she did convince me that the secrets the main character had kept were important enough to her to alter her life. And I loved the redemption that followed their release.

If you are looking for a good book, particularly a chance to plug into a series with great characters (this is just the first of the Thatcher Sisters books), I would definitely recommend picking this one up.

thingsinevertoldyou.jpg