and ramblings on everything in between
I had the opportunity to meet, laugh, eat, encourage, and read with a great group of women from my church this past year. Our founder, Rachel, asked 8 of us if we would like to create our own book club, with a focus on fellowship, encouragement, and good reads that are honoring to God. Sometimes we read Christian authors and sometimes we read secular authors. Sometimes all of us love the book and sometimes all of us hate the book. We have had a nice mix over the past few months and I have enjoyed every minute with these ladies. The ways in which we have strengthened our relationships has been amazing to see. The last book club I was a part of was through a library, and the only interaction I had with the members was on book club night. These ladies are a part of my life every week and it has been special to enjoy one Friday night a month dedicated to each other, our love for reading, and our faith in God.
Another thing I enjoy about this club is the vastly different reading styles and preferences of the members. I enjoy a hodge-podge of genres and authors, but if I had to pick one I would go with the classics (although, I’m pretty positive I haven’t read one classic this year). A few ladies enjoy a Nicholas Sparks-esq love story. A few others enjoy dystopian novels. This exposure has certainly opened my reading horizon this year.
As this year comes to an end and my group takes December off to focus on the holidays, I want to share with you our year in review.
Redeeming Love by Francine Rivers
Genre: Christian Fiction / Romance
Rating: 4/5 Stars
Goodreads synopsis: California’s gold country, 1850. A time when men sold their souls for a bag of gold and women sold their bodies for a place to sleep. Angel expects nothing from men but betrayal. Sold into prostitution as a child she survives by keeping her hatred alive. And what she hates most are the men who use her, leaving her empty and dead inside. Then she meets Michael Hosea. A man who seeks his Father’s heart in everything, Michael obeys God’s call to marry Angel and to love her unconditionally. Slowly, day by day, he defies Angel’s every bitter expectation, until despite her resistance, her frozen heart begins to thaw. But with her unexpected softening come overwhelming feelings of unworthiness and fear. And so Angel runs. Back to the darkness, away from her husband’s pursuing love, terrified of the truth she no longer can deny: Her final healing must come from the One who loves her even more than Michael does … the One who will never let her go.
My two cents: I really enjoyed this book. It’s based off of the book of Hosea in the Bible, and giving the story this new light helped me to understand that book better. I admit that I often don’t pick up Christian authors but this book surprised me. It’s great for anyone who loves a love story, regardless of your faith.
The Maze Runner by James Dashner
Genre: Young Adult / Dystopian / Science Fiction
Rating: 2/5 Stars
Goodreads synopsis: When Thomas wakes up in the lift, the only thing he can remember is his name. He’s surrounded by strangers—boys whose memories are also gone. Nice to meet ya, shank. Welcome to the Glade. Outside the towering stone walls that surround the Glade is a limitless, ever-changing maze. It’s the only way out—and no one’s ever made it through alive. Everything is going to change. Then a girl arrives. The first girl ever. And the message she delivers is terrifying. Remember. Survive. Run.
My two cents: This book kept me interested until halfway through. Then it got really weird. I haven’t read The Hunger Games or Divergent trilogies, but I was reassured they are a million times better than this.
Unlocked by Karen Kingsbury
Genre: Young Adult / Christian Fiction
Rating: 2/5 Stars
Goodreads synopsis: Holden Harris is an eighteen-year-old locked in a prison of autism. Despite his quiet ways and quirky behaviors, Holden is very happy and socially normal on the inside, in a private world all his own. In reality, he is bullied at school by kids who only see that he is very different. Ella Reynolds is part of the in crowd. A cheerleader and star of the high school drama production, her life seems perfect. When she catches Holden listening to her rehearse for the school play, she is drawn to him the way he is drawn to the music. Then, Ella makes a dramatic discovery she and Holden were best friends as children. Frustrated by the way Holden is bullied, and horrified at the indifference of her peers, Ella decides to take a stand against the most privileged and popular kids at school. Including her boyfriend, Jake. Ella believes miracles can happen in the unlikeliest places, and that just maybe an entire community might celebrate from the sidelines. But will Holden s praying mother and the efforts of Ella and a cast of theater kids be enough to unlock the prison that contains Holden? This time, friendship, faith, and the power of a song must be strong enough to open the doors to the miracle Holden needs.
My two cents: This was a sweet story, but it lacked depth and good character development. I prefer my novels on the thought-provoking side and didn’t find that here.
The Light Between Oceans by M.L. Stedman
Rating: 4/5 Stars
Goodreads synopsis: After four harrowing years on the Western Front, Tom Sherbourne returns to Australia and takes a job as the lighthouse keeper on Janus Rock, nearly half a day’s journey from the coast. To this isolated island, where the supply boat comes once a season and shore leaves are granted every other year at best, Tom brings a young, bold, and loving wife, Isabel. Years later, after two miscarriages and one stillbirth, the grieving Isabel hears a baby’s cries on the wind. A boat has washed up onshore carrying a dead man and a living baby. Tom, whose records as a lighthouse keeper are meticulous and whose moral principles have withstood a horrific war, wants to report the man and infant immediately. But Isabel has taken the tiny baby to her breast. Against Tom’s judgment, they claim her as their own and name her Lucy. When she is two, Tom and Isabel return to the mainland and are reminded that there are other people in the world. Their choice has devastated one of them. M. L. Stedman’s mesmerizing, beautifully written novel seduces us into accommodating Isabel’s decision to keep this “gift from God.” And we are swept into a story about extraordinarily compelling characters seeking to find their North Star in a world where there is no right answer, where justice for one person is another’s tragic loss.
My two cents: This novel possessed the depth that I love. It was a touchy subject for some of those in my book club, which led to a great discussion about what we thought was the right thing to do with the child. The author painted a very vivid picture of life on the island and her characters quickly became like well-known friends to me. Being her first book out of the gate, it was extremely well done.
The Orphan Train by Christina Baker Kline
Genre: Fiction / Historical Fiction
Rating: 3/5 Stars
Goodreads synopsis: Nearly eighteen, Molly Ayer knows she has one last chance. Just months from “aging out” of the child welfare system, and close to being kicked out of her foster home, a community service position helping an elderly woman clean out her home is the only thing keeping her out of juvie and worse. Vivian Daly has lived a quiet life on the coast of Maine. But in her attic, hidden in trunks, are vestiges of a turbulent past. As she helps Vivian sort through her possessions and memories, Molly discovers that she and Vivian aren’t as different as they seem to be. A young Irish immigrant orphaned in New York City, Vivian was put on a train to the Midwest with hundreds of other children whose destinies would be determined by luck and chance. The closer Molly grows to Vivian, the more she discovers parallels to her own life. A Penobscot Indian, she, too, is an outsider being raised by strangers, and she, too, has unanswered questions about the past. As her emotional barriers begin to crumble, Molly discovers that she has the power to help Vivian find answers to mysteries that have haunted her for her entire life – answers that will ultimately free them both.
My two cents: This novel is told from two time periods and I really enjoyed the back-and-forth. I became more attached to Vivian’s story, so much so that whenever it switched back to present day and Molly’s story, I found myself wanting to skip over those parts. I had never heard of the orphan trains and this novel provided some additional information in the back about the history. I enjoyed how the author weaved a bit of history into the work of fiction.
Good, Clean Murder by Traci Tyne Hilton
Genre: Mystery / Christian Fiction
Rating: 2/5 Stars
Goodreads synopsis: Living on her own for her first time, Bible school student Jane cleans houses to make ends meet. But being independent brings big trials, like falling for a handsome professor, dealing with an obnoxious roommate, and then there’s the dead bodies… Who knew being housekeeper to wealthy owners of a Roly Burger franchise would mean sweeping up clues to their death, while ministering to the needs of their heirs? This is one big mess that Jane is intent on cleaning up before things get even worse.
My two cents: Entertaining novel, I’ll give you that, but probably wouldn’t recommend it to others unless Christian mystery novels are your thing.
Sweet Misfortune by Kevin Alan Milne
Genre: Romance / Chick Lit
Rating: 3/5 Stars
Goodreads synopsis: Sophie owns a chocolate shop where she sells Misfortune Cookies-dipped in bitter chocolate they contain messages she handwrites each day such as “Your car seems fine now, but just wait…it will eventually be a source of frustration and unexpected delay.” What starts as a gimmick, turns into a surprise hit with customers. But when her ex-fiancée moves back to their small Washington town, he is surprised at how bitter and unhappy Sophie has become. He proposes a bet–she must place an ad in the paper that simply states “Wanted: Happiness.” If at least 100 people respond, proving happiness isn’t a myth, she agrees to a date with him. If not, he’ll leave her alone forever. Sophie is convinced she’ll win, but fate has other ideas when a reporter at the paper is intrigued by the ad as a story and posts it in newspapers across the country.
My two cents: This novel is funny, heartbreaking, and sweet all wrapped into one. I’m not a romance novel kind of reader, but I must say this one was good and not too over the top if this is a genre you normally avoid. I loved how cynical the main character is, determined to write off love. Traumatic life events left her wanting to close herself off from others, and I found it easy to empathize with her lot in life. I enjoyed this twist on a romance novel and would definitely recommend it to others looking for an easy, entertaining read.
Crossing the Deep by Kelly Martin
Genre: Christian Fiction / Young Adult
Rating: 2/5 Stars
Goodreads synopsis: Sixteen year old Rachel Harker expects the church sponsored hiking trip in the Smoky Mountains to be short and painless. Four days later, injured and scared, Rachel prays to just make it home alive. Asher Jenkins, fellow hiker and handsome skeptic who is only on the hike so he doesn’t have to go home and face his abusive ‘uncle’, finds Rachel in the woods and tries to get her back to Deep Creek Trail. A small hole hidden under the fall leaves causes her ankle to twist and forces Asher to leave her to get help. As night falls, he comes back, unable to find the right trail. As hours stretch into days, an unexpected rainstorm bears down the mountain, flooding Deep Creek and cutting off their way home. Rachel puts all of her faith in God to save them. Asher thinks believing in God is a waste of time and does what he can to prove to Rachel that He doesn’t exist.
My two cents: I’m thankful this title wasn’t picked in the summer when I was doing a lot of solo hiking! Probably would have made me think twice about what I’d do if I sprained an ankle along the way. While the main character is portrayed in a strong Christina light, two of us who are youth leaders in the book club decided we wouldn’t recommend this to our high school girls. Rachel spends most of the novel “falling in love with” a non-Christian and this is something we really emphasize not to do at youth group. I think the message would be misconstrued with our girls. Other than that, a quick read but not one that is high on my fav list.