Book Review: Two Dogs and a Parrot by Joan Chittister

Two Dogs and a ParrotTwo Dogs and A Parrot
What Our Animal Friends Can Teach Us About Life
Joan Chittister
BlueBridge, October 2015
ISBN 978-1-629190-06-8
Hardcover

As a child, Joan Chittister longed for a dog. Living in an urban walk-up apartment wasn’t an ideal location, so Billy, a blue parakeet, arrived and became the center of her life. Her relationship with Billy began to shape her understanding of the importance of animals in our every day lives.

In the introduction, she states, “…the narrative of human relationships with animals has a very mixed and sad history.” She uses a mix of anecdotes and examination of the spiritual bonds to limn and celebrate the relationships that build between people and the animals in their care.

Danny, an Irish Setter, arrived at the convent as a birthday gift, and taught Chittister to embrace differences and adapt to change. Living on his own terms, Danny challenged her to reshape her life and examine the boundaries she’d installed.

The Golden Retriever, Duffy, was rescued. A purebred raised as a show dog, he’d gotten too big and outgrown “the standard of the breed.” He was on the euthanize list when Chittister adopted him. As a pedigreed purebred, he’d been raised to obey and had most of his puppy-ness trained out of him. He didn’t bark, didn’t jump, didn’t run, but he did give unbridled love. He overcame his conditioning to take on tasks he wasn‘t comfortable with in order to be with those he loved.

Dogs age and so do people. When Duffy died, the convent decided that big dogs were too difficult to take on, so Chittister went back to her first love—birds.  Bennie, a small conure, came to live but disappeared one day and then Lady, a caique (colorful parrots native to South America) came into their lives. She brought with her the ability to adapt to new situations without destruction. As Chittester says, “Change expands the horizons of the human heart.”

In a gentle way, this books takes on the lessons of respect, love and acceptance by looking at the bonds between human and animals.

Chittister is an inspirational author and leader in contemporary spirituality, a past president of the Conference of American Benedictine Prioresses and currently serves as co-chair of the Global Peace Initiative of Women.

Reviewed by Michele Drier, February 2016.
Author of Delta for Death and SNAP: All That Jazz.

Book Review: If I Run by Terri Blackstock

If I RunIf I Run
Terri Blackstock
Zondervan, February 2016
ISBN 978-0-3103-3243-5
Trade Paperback

Casey is in the classic “wrong place, wrong time” situation.

The wrong place is her best friends Brent’s apartment. The wrong time is finding his body.

With Brent’s blood on her shoes and knowing the police can trace the shoes to her, she runs.

Casey is a good girl, but her dad was a police officer so she knows her way around forensics and disappearing. With the remains of her inheritance, she’s on the lam; hiding her car, taking a bus and paying cash, finding a man who will make her a false ID. This goes against her grain, but she knows she has no chance if law enforcement tracks her down.

Dylan was in the Criminal Investigations Division in the army and spent time in Afghanistan. Now he’s home and faced with attending the funeral of his best friend, Brent. He and Brent grew up together and Brent’s parents were like his own. They don’t think the local police are doing enough to find Brent’s killer, who they suspect is a woman named Casey, so they hire Brent to track her down. The local police accept Dylan’s help and one of the CID detectives, Keegan, is his contact.

Casey manages to make it to Atlanta when she gets in contact with her sister, Hannah, who sends her a thumb drive Brent left for her and the information on the drive fills in all the blanks about Casey’s father’s death…as well as giving a motive for Brent’s killing and the killer.

This is a tight, tense chase novel with a slight twist. Casey can’t let go of her do-gooder inclinations so even as she’s hiding out, she uncovers what happened to a young girl who went missing years ago on the night of her prom.

Reminiscent of “The Fugitive,” this book is a classic chase with Casey using all her knowledge to keep one step ahead of Dylan. With a cliff-hanger ending, Ms. Blackstock undoubtedly has more episodes of Casey and Dylan’s story.

Reviewed by Michele Drier, February 2016.
Author of Delta for Death and SNAP: All That Jazz.

Book Reviews: Come Rain or Come Shine by Jan Karon, Need by Joelle Charbonneau, and The Readers of Broken Wheel Recommend by Katarina Bivald

Come Rain or Come ShineCome Rain or Come Shine
A Mitford Novel #11
Jan Karon
G. P. Putnam’s Sons, September 2015
ISBN 978-0-399-16745-4
Hardcover

From the publisher—

Over the course of ten Mitford novels, fans have kept a special place in their hearts for Dooley Kavanagh, first seen in At Home in Mitford as a barefoot, freckle-faced boy in filthy overalls.

Now, Father Tim Kavanagh’s adopted son has graduated from vet school and opened his own animal clinic. Since money will be tight for a while, maybe he and Lace Harper, his once and future soul mate, should keep their wedding simple.

So the plan is to eliminate the cost of catering and do potluck. Ought to be fun.

An old friend offers to bring his well-known country band. Gratis.

And once mucked out, the barn works as a perfect venue for seating family and friends.

Piece of cake, right?

In Come Rain or Come Shine, Jan Karon delivers the wedding that millions of Mitford fans have waited for. It’s a June day in the mountains, with more than a few creatures great and small, and you’re invited—because you’re family.

By the way, it’s a pretty casual affair, so come as you are and remember to bring a tissue or two. After all, what’s a good wedding without a good cry?

Like so many others, I’m a longtime fan of Mitford and its wonderfully normal citizens, quirks and all, and I’ve laughed and cried my way through every book in the series. Come Rain or Come Shine fits right into the mix and I loved being back in the center of this delightful place. It’s even better that the story centers on one of my favorite characters, Dooley, adopted son of Father Tim and Cynthia, and his upcoming wedding to Lace Harper.

There’s a lot going on in Dooley’s life all at once—graduation from vet school, starting his clinic, getting married—but that really isn’t so unusual and it’s even less unusual that money could be a little tight at such a time. What’s so heartwarming is the way others in the community come together to make this wedding happen, good evidence of the affection the townspeople have for one another.

I do wish there had been more of Father Tim and Cynthia but this is the way life evolves from one generation to the next, isn’t it? Truthfully, there isn’t any real plot here but that’s not what comfort fiction readers look for and the important things, the characters, just sail off the page and into the readers’ hearts.

Technically, this is not part of the original Mitford series but more like an offshoot. When it’s all said and done, I don’t really care because I love this book as much as the earlier ones. I do think there’s a bit too much headhopping and, because of that, I heartily suggest that readers new to the series start at the beginning because, otherwise, you just won’t get the full effect and you won’t understand the characters. Guaranteed, you’re going to love Mitford and it’s citizens 😉

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, February 2016.

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NeedNeed
Joelle Charbonneau
HMH Books for Young Readers, November 2015
ISBN 978-0-544-41669-7
Hardcover

From the publisher—

“No one gets something for nothing. We all should know better.”

Teenagers at Wisconsin’s Nottawa High School are drawn deeper into a social networking site that promises to grant their every need . . . regardless of the consequences. Soon the site turns sinister, with simple pranks escalating to malicious crimes. The body count rises. In this chilling YA thriller, the author of the best-selling Testing trilogy examines not only the dark side of social media, but the dark side of human nature.

One of the many things that concerns me about today’s society is that we’ve been teaching our children to expect far more than they’ve ever earned, a sort of privilege in which many of them believe that all good things must come their way. Such is the darkness at the heart of the social networking site, NEED. It’s a hopeful sign that Kaylee recognizes the fallacy behind what NEED offers but she joins anyway. She’s a smart girl, though, and it doesn’t take her long to begin to realize the truly awful things happening and the demands that teens are facing in exchange for having their needs met.

The action takes off exponentially and tension continues to build as teen and adult readers alike go along for the rollercoaster ride until a most satisfying ending. If I have any reservations, it’s that I don’t really think that teens, despite their feelings of privilege, are quite this gullible (although they DO tend to behave like sheep and follow the latest fads just because everybody else does). I also think there are way too many narrators but, on the whole, I do recommend this. It’s not Ms. Charbonneau‘s strongest work—she’s one of my favorite authors—but it kept me up at night and that’s a good thing.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, February 2016.

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The Readers of Broken Wheel RecommendThe Readers of Broken Wheel Recommend
Katarina Bivald
Sourcebooks Landmark, January 2016
ISBN 978-1-4926-2344-1
Trade Paperback

From the publisher—

Once you let a book into your life, the most unexpected things can happen…

Broken Wheel, Iowa, has never seen anyone like Sara, who traveled all the way from Sweden just to meet her book-loving pen pal, Amy. When she arrives, however, she finds Amy’s funeral guests just leaving. The residents of Broken Wheel are happy to look after their bewildered visitor―there’s not much else to do in a dying small town that’s almost beyond repair.

You certainly wouldn’t open a bookstore. And definitely not with the tourist in charge. You’d need a vacant storefront (Main Street is full of them), books (Amy’s house is full of them), and…customers.

The bookstore might be a little quirky. Then again, so is Sara. But Broken Wheel’s own story might be more eccentric and surprising than she thought.

A heartwarming reminder of why we are booklovers, this is a sweet, smart story about how books find us, change us, and connect us.

Being a former bookstore owner and current bookblogger, it’s only natural that I would be drawn to a book about, well, books and the love of books. As it turns out, The Readers of Broken Wheel Recommend was not exactly what I thought it was going to be but that didn’t diminish my enjoyment of this quiet yet quirky story.

From the beginning, I had to suspend a lot of disbelief. For instance, I found it hard to credit that Sara would leave Sweden and her life behind just because she lost her job even though her life really was all wrapped up in that job and in her correspondence with Amy. I also found the willingness of the townsfolk to have Sara move into Amy’s house more than a little puzzling.

Putting those issues aside, this is an appealing story and, having had a bookstore myself, I totally get Sara’s desire to share her love of books with the town. There’s something truly uplifting about finding the right book for a person or just in helping them experience the joy of escaping into whatever world a particular book offers. I don’t mean to sound silly about it but being a bookseller is a passion that never goes away and I know that librarians and individual readers lending books to their friends feel the same joy. That goes for today’s book bloggers, too, who simply have to tell people about the books they want others to know about. Because of all that, and Sara’s general aimlessness, I did believe in her idea of having the bookstore.

The other aspect of the tale that I found interesting is the juxtaposition of the dying town, Broken Wheel, with the nearby more prosperous town of Hope. Without knocking the reader over the head with the comparison, Ms. Bivald brings the two towns into the full light of day and watching what happens to Broken Wheel and to Sara when she opens her bookstore is endearing to say the least. Bookstores really can be the heart of a community and that’s why I long to be running one again.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, February 2016.

Book Review: A Private History of Happiness by George Myerson

A Private History of HappinessA Private History of Happiness:
Ninety-nine Moments of Joy from Around the World
George Myerson
BlueBridge, June 2014
IBSN 978-1-933346-51-9
Trade Paperback

There are moments in our lives when happiness and joy overwhelm us. A wedding. The birth of a child. A graduation. A prize or award.

But there are other, quieter, more personal moments when we feel a peace, a sense of rightness, a oneness with our surroundings and the people in our lives.

George Myerson, a previous Lecturer and Reader in English in King’s College, London has culled the journals, diaries and writings of poets, writers and plain people over more that 4,000 years to synthesize the happiness that comes quietly into one’s soul from everyday occurrences.

These aren’t the milestones that mark our lives, but the recollections and reminiscences that we usually don’t share with others.

In the 24th Century BCE, the scribe Ptah-Hotep records that “Wisdom has caused me, in high place, to live…” and that he found the favor of the king. In May, 1852, Lodias Frizzell writes in her diary that they found a perfect place to camp on their wagon trek across the country to California and that she was able to cook a “general feast” for her family.

One rejoices that he was able to live in high places and one is happy that she can perform those small, daily functions that provide for her family and these actions give them happiness…maybe a small, warm spot in their soul.

Myerson has pulled selections from such people as Benjamin Franklin, Humphry Davy, Walt Whitman, Fanny Burney and Lady Sarashina, a court attendant from Kyoto about 1050. The topics range from science to fish to the refreshment of drinking from a mountain stone well.

Topics cover Love, Nature, Food and Drink, Creativity and Evening among others and Myerson discusses the selections and gives brief biological sketches of the authors.

I generally don’t read inspirational literature, but these selections give the reader a glimpse into the lives of some notables–and some obscure people–and reminds us to be aware of and absorb the grandeur of everyday life.

Reviewed by Michele Drier, September 2015.
Author of Delta for Death and SNAP: All That Jazz.

Book Review: Nora Bonesteel’s Christmas Past by Sharyn McCrumb—and a Giveaway!

Nora Bonesteel's Christmas PastNora Bonesteel’s Christmas Past
A Ballad Novella
Sharyn McCrumb
Abingdon Press, October 2014
ISBN 978-1-4267-5421-0  Hardcover

From the publisher—

When someone buys the old Honeycutt house, Nora Bonesteel is glad to see some life brought back to the old mansion, even if it is by summer people. But when they decide to stay through Christmas, they find more than old memories in the walls.

On Christmas Eve, Sheriff Spencer Arrowood and Deputy Joe LeDonne find themselves on an unwelcome call to arrest an elderly man for a minor offense. As they attempt to do their duty, while doing the right thing for a neighbor, it begins to look like they may all spend Christmas away from home.

Two companion stories that really are not related except that a few of the people know each other and they’re in the same mountain location offer a brief but gentle look at the Christmas season. Sheriff Spencer Arrowood and his deputy, Joe LeDonne, are tasked with arresting a traffic offender on Christmas Eve with snow approaching and the elderly Nora Bonesteel, who has the Sight, is asked by a “snowbird” neighbor to find out why peculiar things are happening with her Christmas decorations.

Both stories, on the surface, would seem to be rather simplistic and they actually are but there’s a kernel of meaning in each that reflects the best of home and hearth, so to speak. At times, the stories drag a little but it’s nice to spend time again with Nora and the Sheriff and Joe (as cranky and cynical as the last might be) and absorb some of the Appalachian sensibility Sharyn McCrumb conveys so well. Is there mystery here or perhaps fantasy? Yes, in a very mild way, but it’s far more about the characters and the setting. The appeal is in these people and their community and I always enjoy returning to Appalachia and, in particular, to Ashe Mountain.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, November 2014.

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To enter the drawing for a hardcover
copy of Nora Bonesteel’s Christmas Past
by Sharyn McCrumb, leave a comment
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Tuesday evening, November 25th.
This drawing is open to residents of the US.

Book Review: Revolutionary by Krista McGee—and a Giveaway

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Title: Revolutionary
Series: Anomaly #3
Author: Krista McGee
Release Date: 07/15/14
Publisher: Thomas Nelson Publishers

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RevolutionaryRevolutionary
The Anomaly Trilogy Book Three
Krista McGee
Thomas Nelson, July 2014
ISBN 978-1-4016-8876-9
Trade Paperback

From the author—

All her life Thalli thought she was an anomaly. Now she must use her gifts to fulfill the role she was called to play: Revolutionary.

Back in the underground State against her will, Thalli is no longer the anomaly she was before. She has proven herself to be a powerful leader aboveground and returns with information that Dr. Loudin needs to complete his plan of uniting the world under one leader: himself. But he, too, has information. A secret he has kept from Thalli her entire life. A secret that, once revealed, changes everything about the person Thalli thought she was.

Hoping to help Thalli rise up against the Scientists, both Berk and Alex join her underground, but their presence only brings more trouble for her. Now Dr. Loudin knows just the leverage to use on his captive, and she is forced to choose between the two of them. Is her first love her true love? Or does Alex ultimately claim her heart?

Unsure of everything around her, including her own identity, Thalli doesn’t know where to turn. She knows she needs the Designer, but he seems further away than ever. What she does know, though, is that if she doesn’t do something to stop Loudin, the fragile world aboveground will be lost once and for all.

 

Good versus evil is at the core of the Anomaly Trilogy and everything finally comes to a head in Revolutionary with a mixture of battles and introspection and, in Thalli’s case, a lot of questioning about her faith. A theme such as this one always has a religious flavor to it and there’s plenty of it here but Ms. McGee has wrapped it in a thrilling dystopian that kept me on the edge of my seat after a little bit of a slow start.

Loudin is the very personification of evil but, at the same time, he made me reflect on our current society’s predilection towards excusing terrible behavior based on something like a rough childhood or mental abnormalities. Yes, it’s true that Loudin is clearly insane—he gives new meaning to “megalomania”—but, when you get right down to it, he’s just plain evil. Ms. McGee has drawn him so evocatively that I would get a chill down my spine every time he came on the scene, wondering what horrible plan he’d come up with this time.

The relationships between Thalli and the two young men in her life, Berk and Alex, are really interesting. It eventually becomes clear that she loves one but there is no doubt whatsoever that both are integral parts of her being and she cares deeply for both. The romance has developed naturally over three books and I’m so glad of that; it never becomes the central story even though it’s important.

Thalli herself is a young woman faced with the overwhelming need to stop Loudin because she really may be the only one who can. Imagine having the fate of humanity literally resting on your shoulders! Unfortunately, Thalli is also wrestling with doubts about her faith as so many believers do when faced with horrendous crises and those doubts will certainly affect the outcome of this epic battle.

There’s heartbreak in this story as well as hope and I found myself completely satisfied while still wishing there could be more. It’s always hard to come to the end of a much-loved series so I’ll just say, “Well done, Krista McGee, and thank you!”

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, July 2014.

About the Author

Krista McGeeKrista writes for teens, teaches teens, and more often than not, acts like a teen. She and her family have lived and ministered in Texas, Costa Rica, and Spain. Her current hometown is Tampa, FL.


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