Friday, June 15, 2018

Sacred Rest: Recover your life, renew your energy, restore your sanity

Sacred Rest: Recover Your Life, Renew Your Energy, Restore Your SanitySacred Rest: Recover Your Life, Renew Your Energy, Restore Your Sanity by Saundra Dalton-Smith
My rating: 1 of 5 stars

I really wanted to like this book. I requested my library purchase it so I could read it. is WAY too preachy, repetitive, and lacking in useful content. I enjoyed the brief scientific parts. I enjoyed some of the parts where she talked about her own struggles and those of her patients. However, I needed there to be much more science and much much less evangelism. I'm fully on board with the idea that rest is sacred, necessary, and as God intended. Stop quoting Bible verses at me, though, especially when they are taken out of context and irrelevant. I wanted to read the book to get tips/ideas for how to manage my life so that I feel more rested, present, joyful, and calm. In the end, I realized that reading the book was annoying me so much I was skimming it while rolling my eyes and muttering impolite responses, so when my checkout expired, I didn't bother to renew and finish the last few chapters. She wasn't saying anything new. In fact, the book might not have been too bad had an editor removed all the redundancies, nearly every Bible verse, and every attempt to convert the reader to her particular brand of evangelical Christianity.

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Thursday, June 14, 2018

Grown-Up Marriage: What we know, wish we had known, and still need to know about being married

Grown Up Marriage: What We Know, Wish We Had Known, and Still Need to Know about Being MarriedGrown Up Marriage: What We Know, Wish We Had Known, and Still Need to Know about Being Married by Judith Viorst
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Someone gave this to me for a bridal shower gift, I think, but it sat on my to-read shelves for the past 8 years until I picked it up almost at random last month. I'm actually pretty glad I didn't read it prior to getting married or even in the first few years of my marriage, as I found the tone of much of it quite dismal and depressing and focused on unhappy people.

On the bright side, I appreciate my own marriage and husband even more now that I've finished the book! Perhaps it's a generational thing, since Viorst is substantially older than I am, or maybe her intended audience is the generation younger than I, who might be getting married before they've figured out who they are and what they want? Really, though, there aren't a whole lot of earth-shattering revelations. Much of the book boils down to:
1) Choose your life partner very carefully (I personally recommend eHarmony!)
2) Communicate honestly, kindly, and frequently
3) Treat each other with respect
4) Don't cheat on your spouse and expect anyone to feel good about it
5) Really, just don't cheat on your spouse
6) Maintain your sex life (with your own spouse--see #5)
7) Have fun together because those memories will help sustain you through the rough patches
8) Everything will change all the time as you move through the stages of life, so expect continual adjustments and plan to do the hard work of making them in concert with your spouse.

I don't want to give the impression that I hated the book--it wasn't awful, it just wasn't as helpful as I'd hoped. Clearly there are plenty of other reviewers for whom it clicked. Maybe they recognized themselves in some of the couples or situations, maybe they had some "Aha!" moments while reading one or more sections, or maybe they just read it at exactly the right moment in their lives. That's great! I will donate my copy to the Friends of the Library for a book sale so perhaps it'll make its way to someone who'll get that kind of benefit from it.

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Thursday, June 7, 2018


VoxVox by Christina Dalcher
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

In this near-future dystopia, a right-wing, ultra-conservative preacher leads the "Pure" movement which controls the country to the point where women, girls, and even female babies are forced to wear counters on their wrists which limit them to 100 words per day and administer increasingly painful shocks for each word over that 100. Reading and writing are forbidden. Jobs, passports, and bank accounts, etc., are for men and boys only. Anyone who doesn't adhere to the "Pure" standards--such as adulterers, all LGBTQIA people, and those who protest the restrictions--are sent to "work camps" to do hard manual labor in utter silence. And worse.

Dr. Jean McClellan has been chafing for a year at the restrictions, ripped away from her work as a top neuroscientist days before from curing Wernicke's aphasia--an illness which strips language from its victims, making words jumbled and meaningless. Then the president's brother is stricken with the illness, and suddenly the Reverend Carl and an assortment of suited men in black SUVs show up at her door with an offer she ultimately cannot refuse: return to work long enough to finish the anti-aphasia serum. Touring her new tightly monitored lab with teammates Lorenzo and Lin confirms that all is not above-board, wreaking havoc with her plan to buy time (and unlimited words) for herself and her daughter by not revealing how close they already are to a cure. Question is, is it really a cure that those in power want?

Jean used to be apolitical, never imagining a fringe movement could gain such power. Now she's fighting for the lives of everyone she loves as part of an underground resistance network. Her tension, frustration, despair, rage, and fear are palpable. I could almost hear relentless, urgent music playing in the background as I read. It was particularly haunting to alternate reading this novel with listening to the third Maggie Hope mystery, set primarily in WWII Berlin. In the era of a Trump White House, this cautionary tale should inspire you to exercise your right to vote, speak up, and join protest movements...while you still can.

Do not read this at bedtime because you'll either try to sleep and fail, or keep reading through the night until you finish the book.

For readers' advisors: story doorway is primary, character and setting are secondary. There is quite a bit of profanity, some sex, and some violence.  There is a lot to discuss, so it's a good choice for book clubs.  Also suggest to fans of The Handmaid's Tale or Future Home of the Living God.

Many thanks to and the publisher for the ARC I received in exchange for my honest review! I don't usually read dystopia, but this was excellent.

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Nilo and the Tortoise

Nilo and the TortoiseNilo and the Tortoise by Ted Lewin
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The story is pretty simple: Nilo is a young boy who gets left behind on a small island in the Galapagos Islands when he is playing ashore while his father's boat gets repaired. While Nilo's away from the beach, the rope tied to the anchor breaks, sweeping the boat out to sea. Nilo is remarkably calm about this and explores the island until his father can return to him the following day. In the meantime, he sees an angry bull sea lion, many different birds, the volcano's caldera, and a large tortoise, who lets Nilo sleep next to him.

In all honesty, the watercolor illustrations are so detailed and beautiful, I hardly noticed the words on the page. I was in such awe of the artwork!! I'm so glad we own a copy of this book, so I can sit and stare at the paintings as long as I want (or really, as long as my children will let me).

5+ stars for the artwork. 3.5 for the story (which is sweet but not "amazing"). The average is therefore 4.25...although I am tempted to round up to 5 anyway purely due to how much I love the watercolors.

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Saturday, May 12, 2018

Princess Elizabeth's Spy

Princess Elizabeth's Spy (Maggie Hope, #2)Princess Elizabeth's Spy by Susan Elia MacNeal
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Book #2 in this series was enjoyable to read in many respects, but it had so many issues, I wish there had been another round of revisions before it went to print.  For example:
* There was a continuity issue wherein Maggie read a newspaper account of a supposed suicide in a London hotel, then a few scenes later magically knew the young woman had been murdered, but shortly thereafter still thought it was a suicide.  Huh?
* Also, as other reviewers have pointed out, the plot parallels the TV show "Alias" WAY too closely.  I am a huge "Alias" fan, but the TV show did it first and better!
* I liked Hugh, and if Ms. MacNeal hadn't so abruptly had John join the RAF between books & get immediately shot down, the romance would have worked a lot better.
* For a brilliant, logical woman, Maggie sure overlooked the obvious and jumped to too many (wrong) conclusions.  She is new to spying, so a touch of that would be fine, but not constantly.
* The subplot about who killed Lily was rather a dud after the careful opening setup.  Like the author meant to go one way, changed her mind mid-book, and never went back to adjust the scenes/story/plot to fit.
* Maggie often seemed less mature in this book.  I kept trying to figure out how old she was because it felt like she'd regressed.

There are other things, but you get the point.  Still, I like the series overall and am already listening to Book #3.

For readers' advisors:  character, story, and setting doorways.  Some profanity throughout.  Some violence (a pretty high body count--mostly gunshots and one beheading).  Allusions to sex but no actual sex scenes.  Still WWII England in all but a few scenes.  Leisurely pace until the very end.

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Friday, May 11, 2018

Cooking for Ghosts

Cooking for Ghosts (The Secret Spice Cafe Trilogy, #1)Cooking for Ghosts by Patricia V. Davis
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

What happens when four women with four very different life histories meet online and decide to open a restaurant aboard a haunted ship? Lives change, decades old mysteries come to light, and more than food spices up the kitchen.

This book had a little bit of everything: ghosts, romance, mystery, culturally diverse characters, murder, and relationships of many kinds--between friends, parents and children, husbands and wives, newly formed couples, and with ghosts. It's set almost entirely on the Queen Mary, a once-grand ship now permanently docked in Long Beach, California. The ship is both haunted by ghosts and sentient in her own right, taking an active role in the events of the story.

I really enjoyed reading this novel, once I got into it. The women's histories are revealed slowly, and the story is told from nearly everyone's point of view at some point. I highly doubt that Rohini's storyline would have wrapped up so tidily in real life--too many loose ends were glossed over, such as where Naag was staying & what did he leave behind--but I was glad it ended as it did. Likewise, as improbable as it was that all four women ended up paired off, I'm glad no one was left alone & lonely.

For readers' advisors: character and setting are primary doorways. Profanity is sprinkled throughout. There is some sexual content, but no explicit sex scenes. Violence occurs but isn't graphic. The pace is fairly leisurely most of the time, speeding up a bit at the end. It's primarily magical realism. (The author is a big fan of Sarah Addison Allen, as I learned after I finished reading.) One minor character is gay.

This first book in the series is about 3.5 stars, but I'll round up to 4 because I'm looking forward to reading the next two.

The publisher sent me a free copy in exchange for my honest review.

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Saturday, April 14, 2018

Someone to Care

Someone to Care (Westcott, #4)Someone to Care by Mary Balogh
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Viola Kingsley spent more than two decades as Viola Westcott, Countess of Riverdale. It was a loveless marriage, but she did come out of it with three children. As it turned out, that was ALL she got out of it--upon the death of the Earl, the entire Westcott family discovered that Viola and Humphrey had never been legally married, since his unknown first wife was still alive at the time of their wedding. Overnight Viola went from being a wealthy widow to a penniless pariah. The Earl's title transferred to a very reluctant Cousin Alexander; the Earl's money went to his sole legitimate heir: Anna, his daughter from his first marriage.

Several years later, Viola's life has stabilized: instead of being rejected by her family, the entire Westcott and Kingsley clans have gone out of their way to enfold and support her. Camille, her eldest daughter, has made her a grandmother. Anna is impossible to hate and absolutely insisted on giving Viola's home and dowry back to her and to her youngest daughter, Abigail. Viola worries constantly about her son Harry, back with his regiment and fighting Napoleon's forces, but he says he's having the time of his life. She should be content. And yet....

Just after her grandson's christening, Viola snaps. She has been suppressing her true self for a quarter of a century, and at 42 years of age, she no longer knows who she is and desperately needs to be alone to figure it out. She makes her escape in a hired carriage, which breaks down in a small village in the middle of nowhere, stranding her temporarily at the sole inn. Because Fate has a wicked sense of humor, she's not the only traveler stranded there that day. Marcel Lamarr, Marquess of Dorchester, the only man to ever tempt her to break her marriage vows, is already in the main dining room when she arrives. It's been fourteen years since she sent him away....

Marcel has a well-earned reputation as a gambler and cynic, a long list of former mistresses, and a history of avoiding family responsibility. He's in no hurry to return to his estate and deal with the various relatives living there, including his own children. In fact, he's successfully avoided dealing with them more than a few brief times a year since his wife's fatal accident almost 17 years ago. When he spies Viola, he makes the impulsive decision to send his brother away with his carriage, intending to test his powers of persuasion...and is delighted when she doesn't turn down his offer to escort her to the village fair. He's even more delighted when she agrees to spend the evening with him...and then to run away with him to his remote cottage.

What starts out as an impulsive fling evolves into a far more complicated relationship as the weeks go by, eventually becoming impossibly tangled once they are discovered by their respective families. For it turns out that responsibilities are not shed quite as easily nor permanently as Marcel had talked himself into believing, and to his astonishment, he's no longer sure he wants them to be.

This fourth book in the Westcott series is my favorite so far, and not just because the protagonists are only slightly younger than I am (a nice change from twenty-somethings who are magically as mature as people a decade older). Ms. Balogh is known for her character-driven romances, and this is one of her best, in my opinion. Viola and Marcel bring lots of baggage to their relationship, and the journey they make toward reconciliation and healing, particularly Marcel in his broken relationships with his children, is an absorbing story to read.

For readers' advisors: character doorway is primary, setting (1813 England) is secondary. There is no violence, but there are sex scenes (not overly explicit) and some mild swearing (mostly variations on "damn").

Many many thanks to NetGalley and the publisher for the ARC ebook I received in exchange for my honest review.

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