Rural Voices: 15 Authors Challenge Assumptions About Small-Town America edited by Nora Shalaway Carpenter

Publication Date: October 13th, 2020

Rating: 4 Stars

Rural, for the purpose of this book, as defined in the introduction, “refers to belonging to a community consisting of ten thousand people or fewer that is a significant driving distance from an urban area.” As someone who grew up and continues to live in Iowa, this book was intriguing to me.  Many think of my state as a “flyover state,” with nothing to offer but corn and cows.  As such, I was drawn to this read and was not disappointed or even surprised by the stories each author brought to this compilation.

15 authors spanning across rural America come together in this enchanting read. Based on their experiences living in small towns of America, they open their lives and their towns to the readers, showing us not only a piece of their heard, but the culture of their town.

15 short stories capture the similarities, differences and struggles of rural America and the stereotypes that often come with such a label. Some authors within provide glimpses at the “differentness” of small town residents and lower income people, while others open our hearts to the love and passion they all have for their rural upbringings. But ALL authors show another side of small town living, breaking the stereotypes and inviting us in.

*Disclaimer: A review copy was provided by the publisher.  All opinions are my own.

Kids Fight Plastic: How to be a #2minutesuperhero by Martin Dorey

Publication Date: August 1st, 2020

Rating: 4 Stars

According to this book, the #2minutebeachclean was a challenge started by author Martin Dorey after going to his local beach and experiencing first-hand the horrible amount of plastic littering the beach.  The hashtag quickly caught on and has evolved into a worldwide call to action as citizens work together to fight plastic.

Along the same lines as this #2minutebeachclean Kids Fight Plastic is a short plea to both parents and kids to clean up their home’s use of plastic, while becoming more aware of the dangers and harm that often come from single use plastics. 

There is much to be learned from this book. From the types of plastic, to what is considered good or bad plastic and how each impacts our planet. The author has set this book up to include 16 kid and family friendly missions to make each of us a superhero.  The missions range from raiding your lunch of single use plastics to being more conscious about your clothes in your closet to party decorations and what goes down your toilet.  The author is clearly passionate and builds on his original #2minutechallenge to engage more families in his fight.

How can we be better? How can we save the ocean? The what can start in our own homes in these simple, easy to follow missions to leave the world a better place.

*Disclaimer: A review copy was provided by the publisher.  All opinions are my own.

Don’t Keep Silent (Uncommon Justice #3) by Elizabeth Goddard

Publication Date: June 30th, 2020

Rating: 3 Stars

Rae is an investigative reporter, still reeling from a story that turned dangerous and almost got her and an undercover agent killed.  But, when her sister-in-law goes missing, her brother asks her to use her talents to find her, bringing Rae right back into the path of the undercover agent she nearly killed, Liam McKade.

While Don’t Keep Silent is written as a standalone, the reader feels a missing piece of the puzzle in Liam and Rae’s first encounter and embattled past. The author works diligently to weave both stories together, but one cannot help but feel cheated out of the full history of two strong characters.

Otherwise, this story does not lack for action and suspense with MANY dubious and daunting characters.  Each chapter seems to bring the reader a new suspect as Rae works quickly to find the story that hits closest to home, involving her college roommate turned sister-in-law.

*Disclaimer: A review copy was provided by the publisher.  All opinions are my own.

These Nameless Things by Shawn Smucker

Publication Date: June 30th, 2020

Rating: 3 Stars

The author’s note indicates this book was inspired by Dante’s Inferno.  Truthfully, this is not a story I am well versed in, so I read These Nameless Things with an open, unencumbered mind. As such, the connections to Dante’s Inferno were not made, regardless of if they were there or not. However, this read does offer a unique setting, filled with an array of characters, each with a distinctive story. 

Dan and the other members of his mountain community have all run from something, what exactly they are running from has been lost in their memories.  This “community” is filled with people who have escaped from the West and eventually find forgiveness or strength to continue their journey to the East.  Except Dan, Dan knows he’s waiting for his brother.  A brother he hardly remembers but feels an urge to linger for. Then suddenly unexpected things start happening around the “community” and Dan is forced to decide if he should return to the West in search of his brother or continue to wait.

As I read this book, I kept trying to fit the title of this book with the mystical-esque community on the prairie within.  There are several mentions of the nameless things surrounding Dan, whether in the silence or beyond his field of view.  As Dan lives under the shadow of the mountain, fearing what he cannot see or remember there are many parallels to one’s real life and the worries we face daily, especially as we weather the current pandemic we face. 

After reading several of Shawn Smucker’s books, his writing style and stories continue to stick out for their unique characters and plots.  He continues to show his range of talent in this newest penning as he draws further upon his imagination and storytelling abilities in a whole new way.

*Disclaimer: A review copy was provided by the publisher.  All opinions are my own.

The Unexplainable Disappearance of Mars Patel by Sheela Chari

Publication Date: October 6th, 2020

Rating: 4 ½ Stars

Think Ender’s Game when you crack open this young adult novel.  Mars Patel and his gang are constantly finding themselves in detention for pranks.  But, when Aurora, and then Jonas, go missing he is determined to find them.  Along the way, Mars discovers kids are going missing from all over the world and Oliver Pruitt of Pruitt Prep (think Elon Musk) may have something to do with it.

Mixed with podcast entries, group text messages and school flyers, this read is anything BUT ordinary.  Mars and his crew are determined to stop at nothing.  An explosive series debut in what promises to be an extraordinary adventure of Mar Patel.  This is a wildly entertaining and seriously addicting read you will not want to miss.

*Disclaimer: A review copy was provided by the publisher. All opinions are my own.

What Momma Left Behind by Cindy K. Sproles

Publication Date: June 2nd, 2020

Rating: 3 Stars

“Daddy was right about these mountains. Even in the hardest of times their beauty speaks to you. Life is hard here. A body only has the simple things to keep them goin. A man closes his eyes at night and just prays to open them when the rooster crows.” – p. 161

Set in the 1800’s among the Appalachian Mountains the author captures the speech of the time as well as the hardships faced by many in this area in the 1800’s.  Opening with an author’s note regarding “the fever” that killed many souls in the mountains, What Momma Left Behind transports readers to the struggles, fears and insecurities faced by many children orphaned by “the fever.”

Kicking off with the death of Worie’s momma, this is a tale of loss, suffering and love.  With themes of adoption, hardship and family drama the author’s skilled penning conveys harder times.  While a short read, the language of the less educated, mountain community of the 1800’s certainly slowed my reading speed, but the hardships and hard-fought battles quickly puts life into perspective and is more than worth the read.

*Disclaimer: A review copy was provided by the publisher.  All opinions are my own.

Stories That Bind Us by Susie Finkbeiner

Publication Date: June 2nd, 2020

Rating: 3 Stars

Author, Susie Finkbeiner, is so skilled at capturing families in her novels that it was unsurprising her ability to tug at the heart strings in this newest one Stories That Bind Us

Better Sweet had a less than perfect childhood, but after marrying Norman Sweet the Sweet family immediately wrapped her in their love.  But when Norm suddenly passes, Betty is left as a window in fear of once again being without family.

After having previously read All Manner of Things by this same author I was more than prepared for the intricate family stories she so expertly weaves into her plot lines. Taking on hard themes in this newest penning, this is a story of stories.  From stories of her family, her love and her life after the sudden loss of her husband. While slow in parts, as every family’s life can be, the love captured within the pages and the family bonds snaking across generations are too heartwarming not to read.

*Disclaimer: A review copy was provided by the publisher.  All opinions are my own.

Shifting Shadows: How a New York Drug Lord Found Freedom in the Last Place He Expected by Herman Mendoza

Publication Date: May 5th, 2020

Rating: 4 ½ Stars

Herman gets in with a bad crowd from an early age, doing, and then later selling, drugs.  After marrying his childhood sweetheart, as a way to make ends meet, he decides to go into the ILLEGAL family business.  After countless years in jail, Mendoza finds God and turns his life around. 

Shifting Shadows is a cumulation of his life’s story.  It speaks of the ability to be reborn, renewed and forgiven despite overwhelming odds against you.  Herman could have spent life in prison.  In fact, many with his charges do.  He had a lavish lifestyle, but described himself as never feeling happy, until he returned to prison and found a higher power. 

God certainly played a role in the outcome of Herman Mendoza’s life, but this story is a powerful, all encompassing account of the path he took to get back on track.  This story is well worth the read and despite everything, you may leave it rooting for Mendoza, his family and many others like him.

*Disclaimer: A review copy was provided by the publisher.  All opinions are my own.

The Vision Driven Leader: 10 Questions to Focus Your Efforts, Energize Your Team, and Scale Your Business by Michael Hyatt

Publication Date: March 31st, 2020

Rating: 4 ½ Stars

In this time of turbulence and uncertainty it is important we continue to grow ourselves.  Author, Michael Hyatt has a talent for storytelling and engaging the reader making this a book that you fly through despite the seemingly dense topic. 

Staying on par with our current environment, one of the stories provided within is that of Dr. Ignaz Semmelweis.  Dr. Semmelweis sought to lower child bed fever deaths by inventing the concept of hand washing.  However, his superiors actively opposed this idea and even had him committed to an insane asylum.  Despite this, as we well know, his idea was paramount to the future of medical and hygiene practices, but this reflex to resist change remains ever present.

Vision is an essential ingredient.  Each chapter seeks to answer one of ten vital questions. As readers progress through this book, each question is answered by capturing a thoroughly engaging story of real-world encounters, whether via Michael Jordan, the Marvel Universe, NASA or the many other topics used to convey the message.

*Disclaimer: A review copy was provided by the publisher. All opinions are my own.

Running From the Dead: A Crime Novel by Mike Knowles

Publication Date: June 2nd, 2020

Rating: 4 ¼ Stars

Sam Jones is a private investigator.  For six years he’s been trying to solve the disappearance of an 8-year-old that the police have all but given up on.  He solves it, but with what would seem to be his last week of freedom, due to the choices he made upon confronting the kidnapper, rather than tell the woman who hired him to find her son, he feels driven to save one more person.  The person he chooses to save comes to him in the form of a message on the back of the bathroom door in graffiti. 

Calmly fast-paced is the best way to describe Running From the Dead as Jones unearths many different characters, each playing a crucial role in solving this mysterious case.  Author Mike Knowles does an exceptional job in crafting his writing style around the composed disposition Jones maintains as he races against the clock to save one last person.  Highly recommend this story of an unruffled, unique and fascinating PI, Sam Jones.

*Disclaimer: A review copy was provided by the publisher.  All opinions are my own.

Starfish Pier (Hope Harbor #6) by Irene Hannon

Publication Date: March 31st, 2020

Rating: 2 ½ Stars

Steven is ex-military, settling into Hope Harbor as a fish charter boat captain. Holly is newer to town, taking over as the first-grade teacher and diving into volunteer work at the local church.  Both harbor their own secrets. 

Starfish Pier is not my first experience with author Irene Hannon.  After previously reading Hidden Peril, a suspenseful romance, Starfish Pier was a much more tranquil vibe. However, from the start I was skeptical about the abruptness of their feelings for one another.  From literally the moment Holly stumbles on his boat they are smitten but fighting back love.  The chemistry of Steven and Holly was hard to feel as the shifting of perspectives from Steven, to Holly, to Steven’s brother Patrick, and even Holly’s neighbor Pete added to the forced feeling of their romantic bond.  Regardless, Hannon holds nothing back as she embraces some incredibly heavy themes and topics.  Thus, as the setting remains idealistic, there are certainly some heavy storms waged on land, in hearts and through the secrets each holds. 

*Disclaimer: A review copy was provided by the publisher.  All opinions are my own.

Standoff (Natchez Trace Park Rangers #1) by Patricia Bradley

Publication Date: May 5th, 2020

Rating: 3 ½ Stars

Brooke is excited to be following in her father’s footsteps.  She’s been training to become a law enforcement officer in the National Park Ranger service. However, prior to her ride along training with her father he abruptly cancels and is later found dead. 

Luke is deep undercover as a drug dealer.  He’s returned to his summer home, next door to Brooke, as part of his most recent operation.  After 14 years without seeing or communicating with Brooke he is thrown right back into the feelings they had for each other all those years ago.  But Brooke is now dating the town’s most eligible bachelor.

Despite being stuck in a love triangle, Brooke’s character remains a strong, independent female lead.  Refusing to be anything but blunt with her family and male suitors, Brooke proves to be a spitfire as the principle character. This strength of hers aids in bringing an entirely eventful and fast-paced story to the hands of all readers.  Bradley continues to create dazzling stories, full of explosive suspense, strong characters and action-packed narratives so be sure to pick up this, her latest.

*Disclaimer: A review copy was provided by the publisher.  All opinions are my own.

A Spy With Scruples by Gary Dickson

Publication Date: March 3rd, 2020

Rating: 4 ¼ Stars

I’ve been pondering how to properly dissect this read. An Improbable Pairing was such a flirty, coming to Switzerland story as Scott Stoddard is knocked off his feet by the Countess de Rovere, a woman so far out of his league an improbably but perfect pairing they make.  So, when I learned of this second novel I expected more of the same.

First, I was pleasantly surprised to encounter that this second read was strong enough to hold as a standalone.  Providing enough history to both refresh one’s memory of the first while not feeling like those diving into book two were really missing out.  Where book one spun a pleasurable love story, book two created an atmosphere of deception, guilt and intrigue.  One of my favorite aspects of the Stoddard’s, and subsequently Dickson’s storytelling, is that while Mrs. Stoddard, the former Countess de Rovere, is a strong and powerful character, the story remains primarily dedicated to Scott and his more American views as he aims to maintain his own success outside of the intrigue and celebrity of his new wife. Furthermore, Dickson chooses to address the Vietnam war from an entirely unique angle.  Providing the readers with an international, espionage angle while maintain the aristocratic, deliberate and formal writing we’ve come to enjoy in the first book.

*Disclaimer: A review copy was provided by the publisher.  All opinions are my own.

Called Out: Why I Traded Two Dream Jobs for a Life of True Calling by Paula Faris

Publication Date: April 21st, 2020

Rating: 3 Stars

Author, Paula Faris, is best known for her roles as a weekend anchor on Good Morning America and a co-host on The View.  Called Out provides readers a memoir-esque read rooted in faith, as Faris discusses what called her to give up these seemingly “dream” jobs to host a faith-based podcast. 

Given the name of this book, Faris spends a healthy amount of time introducing readers to the farfetched idea of a “calling” and recognizes the general population’s inability to define it.  However, Called Out successfully delivers a powerful definition curtailing from one’s skill sets, curiosities and proficiencies, creating a foundation for the book’s remaining lessons.

Faris does NOT fail to name drop throughout the read, including her experiences with Robin Roberts, Michael Strahan, Whoopi Goldberg and many more.  But her lessons remain relatable, including her experiences with imposter syndrome, the fears derived from any life change, and learning to not let our self-worth and identity be stolen solely by our vocational, work calling.  

*Disclaimer: A review copy was provided by the publisher. All opinions are my own.

Don’t Overthink It: Make Easier Decisions, Stop Second-Guessing, and Bring More Joy to Your Life by Anne Bogel

Publication Date: March 3rd, 2020

Rating: 4 Stars

“In this book, I’ve sought to convince you that what you think about matters.  By changing your thought life, you can fundamentally change the way you experience the world.” – p. 193.

Author, Anne Bogel, gives readers so many relatable instances of overthinking.  Don’t Overthink It is a great guide to conquering, recognizing and correcting our overthinking.

This book defines overthinking as the repetitive, unhealthy, unhelpful thoughts that plague us and lead us to feel bad while ultimately accomplishing nothing.  Bogel provides readers an overarching guide to all things overthinking.  Beginning with the gender differences of overthinking – women really do have more going on in their brains – to topics such as how to make decisions, what should drive decisions and MANY, MANY examples of Bogel’s own overthinking.  

There are a plethora of key takeaways that will certainly stick with readers throughout this book, including our need to let our values drive our decision making.  Allowing our values to guide us is accomplished by clarifying our objectives and requires us to spend our time and money shaping where we focus our attention and energy.  Other solutions offered by Bogel are the need to reframe our thinking from “it’s too hard,” to “it’s too hard right now.” For all of those habitual overthinkers, this is certainly a book to put on the “to-be-read” list. 

*Disclaimer: A review copy was provided by the publisher. All opinions are my own.

Staying Power: Building a Stronger Marriage When Life Sends Its Worst by Carol Kent, Gene Kent, David Lambert and Cindy Lambert

Publication Date: March 31st, 2020

Rating: 3 Stars

The purpose of Staying Power, as defined by the authors early in the reading, was to write to couples encountering challenges.  The authors were determined to aid in strengthening marriages during times of difficulties rather than weaken, as many do. The challenges they targeted were not those that come from inside the marriages, such as infidelity and gambling, but rather those that arise from outside like illness, raising a grandchild or, as the authors encountered, having an incarcerated loved one.  As you read this book, be prepared to hear a lot about the incarceration of the authors’ son.  This theme arises frequently as they seek to use their personal experiences, and the experiences of others to navigate the “staying power” needed to weather the outside storms.

Particularly standing out in this read were the positive uses of anger.  Every person, couple, human experiences anger.  Anger can be used to provide motivation, teach you something about yourself, and become a catalyst for communication.  The authors do a great job of enabling the reader to understand their key points by providing real life examples to solidify the content in the minds of those who decide to pick up a copy of this book.  Other great takeaways from this read are the lessons in choosing the right words, and ideas for providing thoughtful gestures for your loved ones in times of extreme challenge. 

However, the excessive number of authors, and their changing view points and storytelling, causes the reader to flip to the back of the book again and again in hopes of keeping them all straight.  This inclusion of four authors, two sets of married couples, didn’t seem to add value to the story line.

*Disclaimer: A review copy was provided by the publisher.  All opinions are my own.

Silent Shadows (Harbored Secrets #3) by Natalie Walters

Publication Date: March 31st, 2020

Rating: 3 Stars

Pecca has had a wild childhood.  After being romanced by and ultimately impregnated by a gang leader, she runs from her past decisions to a small town to start over.  Colton too finds himself in that same small town as he seeks treatment for a movement disorder at the veteran’s facility Pecca works for. A romance begins to blossom, but more importantly Maceo, Pecca’s son, and Colton teach each other that their disabilities don’t hold them back.

A story of gangs, violence and love are at the forefront of the suspense within.  This book seeks to read as a standalone, however, I would have loved to see more of Pecca’s past and siblings, as it felt there were still too many shadows (pun intended) to grasp the story as it unraveled.  Regardless, Silent Shadows provoked the senses and brought the excitement all suspense lovers are sure to enjoy.

*Disclaimer: A review copy was provided by the publisher.  All opinions are my own.

Thriving in Love and Money: 5 Game-Changing Insights about Your Relationship, Your Money, and Yourself by Shaunti Feldhahn and Jeff Feldhahn

Publication Date: March 3rd, 2020

Rating: 4 ½ Stars

Money is one of the main sources of tension in any relationship. This book does an incredible job blending research with action in helping readers “getting on the same page” as their spouse. I really appreciated and enjoyed Shaunti and Jeff Feldhahn’s approach to this book.  The authors’ writing was supported by their own sponsored research, but the dialogue was not bogged down in facts and figures that often put readers to sleep.  On the contrary, I breezed through this read and gained several insights that I use almost daily with my husband. 

Thriving in Love and Money included several moments that causes the reader to shake their head because it so perfectly grasps your spouse’s views on spending.  However, it conversely has moments of wide-eyed acceptance that, when you’re honest with yourself, are how you subconsciously feel or actively respond.  Regardless, this book gives readers several ways to productively look at money, spending and saving.

First, as with any research, the authors define their research questions.  These are the questions they seek to answer and the underlying purpose that sets this book apart from others in this genre. This question is: What is underneath our responses to money in marriage that either does or does not allow us to thrive?

 This research question led to great insights about financial unity busters and builders that allow the reader to gain perspective on themselves and their spouse.  However, one of the lessons that REALLY stuck with me was the explanation the authors gave on how women and men think differently about decisions, financial and otherwise.  They started by having the reader picture the tabs and windows open on an internet browser.  Men typically have one window open at a time in their brain, they like to process, close the window and then move to the next one.  Meanwhile, women often have MANY windows bothering them at once, they are bouncing back and forth, worrying about different things, trying to close windows and keep processing.  As a female, this really stuck with me.  Since reading this, deep conversations about what is stressing and worrying me with my husband have constantly brought me back to this analogy.  I may be stressing about 10 different things at once, but my husband is focused on solving one big one before letting the others bother him too much. 

There were several other gender related differences that have made an impact on our lives, but it was clear from the 200+ pages of this book that the authors had really created something usable and worthwhile from their research.  Thriving in Love and Money will hopefully become a staple in many relationships as savers and spenders seek to co-habitat and co-mingle their money.  I know I will certainly refer back to it again and again.

*Disclaimer: A review copy was provided by the publisher.  All opinions are my own.

The Happy Camper by Melody Carlson

Publication Date: March 3rd, 2020

Rating: 4 Stars

The Happy Camper begins with Dillon who finds herself lost, single and without a job.  Dillon is not sure where her happiness went, but after moving home to take care of her grandpa she is surprised to find herself welcome back with open arms to her small hometown. 

This is a delightfully loving book.  As the reader walks through the renovating of Dillon’s trailer and the community she finds as a result of it, one cannot help but find a permanent smile stuck on their face.  After having previously read Carlson’s Courting Mr. Emerson, it become even more clear that she is a natural at creating family driven stories.  So well done, The Happy Camper is a great warm up to these first few days of spring. 

*Disclaimer: A review copy was provided by the publisher.  All opinions are my own.

Timmy Failure: Mistakes Were Made by Stephan Pastis

Publication Date: February 7th, 2020

Rating: 3 ½ Stars

GIVEAWAY Opportunity: Make sure you are following For The Love Of The Page and comment on this post for a chance to win a copy of this book! 

Timmy Failure: Mistakes Were Made is a cute book about an otherwise labelled “weird” kid and his imaginary (?) Polar Bear.  Together Timmy and Total solve mysteries at their detective agency, aptly named Total Failure Inc.  “Solve” may be a strong word, but their agency provides Timmy with an outlet to keep his mind off the stress his single mother faces. 

The cases Timmy and Total face offer the reader a hilarious escape into the world of Timmy’s mind.  Author, Stephan Pastis, uses his skill in cartoon imagery to transport us not only to the world of Timmy’s mind, but to his crime solving notebook as well. 

Also, after reading this book, be sure to check out the companion movie now streaming on Disney+.

*Disclaimer: A review copy was provided by the publisher.  All opinions are my own.

We Unleash the Merciless Storm (We Set the Dark on Fire #2) by Tehlor Kay Mejia

Publication Date: February 25th, 2020

Rating: 4 ½ Stars

Book one, We Set the Dark on Fire, was an explosive debut novel for Mejia.  Told from the point-of-view of Dani, as she completes top of her class as a Primera at the Medio School for Girls and is chosen for marriage by the highest politically standing suitor available.  Book one is Dani’s story.

Book two, We Unleash the Merciless Storm, picks up right where book one leaves off.  But that is where the similarities stop. This second, and final, book in the series is told from Carmen’s point-of-view and where the first of the series was pristine, proper and plentiful, this is dusty, gritty and rough.  In this conclusion to a not-to-be-missed series, the reader is exposed to just how different, yet similar, Dani and Carmen are.

Of course, everything we loved above book one is still on display in We Unleash the Merciless Storm.  Book two wraps up with such a tsunami of a story, so many relevant themes to today’s political atmosphere and turbulence.  This is a YA Fantasy series not to be missed!

*Disclaimer: A review copy was provided by the publisher.  All opinions are my own.

Two Reviews: The Christian Entrepreneur: Dream, Plan, Execute, Grow by Brock Shinen & Thinking Like a Boss: Uncover and Overcome the Lies Holding You Back from Success by Kate Crocco

The Christian Entrepreneur: Dream, Plan, Execute, Grow by Brock Shinen

Publication Date: February 4th, 2020

Rating: 3 ½ Stars

The title, The Christian Entrepreneur, may be misleading as it lends a businessperson to think in terms of secular versus non-secular, but this book is valuable for all.  The author, Brock Shinen, primarily focuses on the service industry, likely because he himself is a lawyer that started his own practice some time ago.  He does a great job giving the basics and middle ground of starting a new business.  There are great lessons, antidotes and stories within. 

Some key ideas are:

  1. Understand the origin of your business idea, plan and execute.
  2. The crucial foundation needed for understand what your business will be, its specific distinction, its product or service and the niche market to be served.  He also discusses ideas and avenues to securing funding, as well as building a team and understanding your business’ landscape.
  3. Having a clear business plan was important as well.  This should include specifically what the business will do, how money will be made, who will do what and what goals/steps will be taken to reach this.
  4. Shinen even brought in his legal background in understanding the anatomy of a dispute.  All of which provided necessary insights into running a successful business.
  5. Lastly, The Christian Entrepreneur ends with a discussion of the 10 (11 with the bonus item) commandments of business.   

The organization and depth of this book is incredible in providing insights to those looking to start a business, those that work with entrepreneurs and business owners and those that are just looking to gain a more thorough understanding. 

*Disclaimer: A review copy was provided by the publisher.  All opinions are my own.


Thinking Like a Boss: Uncover and Overcome the Lies Holding You Back from Success by Kate Crocco

Publication Date: February 18th, 2020

Rating: 3 Stars

Thinking Like a Boss takes on 12 lies the author, and many starting their own business, have told themselves.  Each chapter is dedicated to a lie:

  1. I need to have it all together
  2. I’m not ready to start
  3. I’m not qualified (I’m not smart enough, young enough or old enough to succeed)
  4. I will never make enough money
  5. Making money is greedy
  6. I need to say yes to every opportunity that comes my way
  7. I can’t possibly have a successful business and be a good mom
  8. I need my friends and family’s understanding in order to be successful
  9. I don’t have enough time
  10. It’s already been done before
  11. I am my business
  12. I am not capable of handling success

All 12 lies start with a personal story and it’s influence on the author’s life.  Crocco, is a coach, training others to overcome these lies both in real life and through these pages.  By using this platform as an opportunity to share her experiences, lessons and insights with a wider audience she is ultimately successful in doing so.  And while this book wanes in engagement, the stories and “realness” within stand alone.

*Disclaimer: A review copy was provided by the publisher.  All opinions are my own.

Yes Sisters: Surrounding Yourself with Women Who Affirm, Encourage, and Challenge You by Angelia L. White & Erin Keeley Marshall

Publication Date: February 4th, 2020

Rating: 2 Stars

Through this book I was hoping for a blueprint of how to be an empowering friend and what to hunt for in a similar friend.  However, as I started reading Yes Sisters I found I was being given stories, some of which were fictional, as the author attempted to weave stories of women into chapter, some of which were unsuccessful in engaging the reader.

There some positives though.  For instance, I think women are often guilty of saying yes to too much.  Authors, Angelia L. White and Erin Keeley Marshall provided great insights into how to make sure women (an men for that matter) can ensure they are saying “yes” to the right things.  This includes practicing a pause, allowing yourself time to think things over and check your priorities before taking on more to a typically already busy to-do list. It is important to understand when no may really be the best yes, this book has ways to determine and address these cases.  Lastly, my favorite piece of this read came at the end of each chapter.  It is here the author introduces the reader to a “Yes Sister,” creating what is arguably the most empowering piece of this read. 

*Disclaimer: A review copy was provided by the publisher.  All opinions are my own.

The Land Beneath Us (Sunrise at Normandy #3) by Sarah Sundin

Publication Date: February 4th, 2020

Rating: 4 stars

Clay Paxton is the final Paxton brother wrapping up the final installment of this series.  Clay finds himself waiting to fulfill the premonition he keeps seeing in his dreams of how he dies.  However, when he meets, saves and marries Leah Jones he starts having second thoughts about God’s premonition of his death. 

The Land Beneath Us is so different and yet entirely as satisfying as the first two books in this series.  Author, Sarah Sundin, wastes no time in digging into Clay’s past and family history despite waiting to tackle the family drama in the first two reads and while this book continues to both stand alone or as part of the series, the family crisis takes much more of a front seat. Sundin also approached deeper themes in this novel as she addressed orphans, mixed races and more. 

I could not have thought of a better final book in this incredible series.  The characters jump out of the pages and the messages of love, forgiveness and perseverance flow through.

*Disclaimer: A review copy was provided by the publisher.  All opinions are my own.

Anatomy of an Affair: How Affairs, Attractions, and Addictions Develop, and How to Guard Your Marriage Against Them by Dave Carder

Publication Date: September 5th, 2017

Rating: 3 Stars

Anatomy of an Affair is an intense, thoughtful and eye-opening read.  I have been with my partner nearly a decade and this book succeeded in teaching us a lot about each other, our thoughts and our feelings.  Specifically, page 129-131 has a list of roles, values, responsibilities, etc. that provided an extraordinary aid in breaking down our marriage/household tasks.  It facilitated a great conversation that then led into discussing several other topics within. 

Author, Dave Carder, does a thorough job of explaining “close calls” in a relationship, what to be careful of and how to keep the spark of joy and excitement alive in marriage.  One suggestion, aided by this book, is to recreate 8 great moments from “dating,” by taking time for ourselves we remember what brought us together in the first place.

*Disclaimer: A review copy was provided by the publisher. All opinions are my own.

Managing Worry and Anxiety: Practical Tools to Help You Deal with Life’s Challenges by Jean Holthaus

Publication Date: January 21st, 2020

Rating: 2 Stars

When writing a self-help book, it is always key to first identify your niche and “why” behind the writing.  Specifically, whether this topic has been overdone or if you are adding something to it.  Author, Jean Holthaus, ponders these questions and ultimately decides to go ahead with the book based on current events and the rising levels of anxiety and worry in young children after receiving a call from an elementary school superintendent. Despite this back story, this book is NOT written for a younger target, nor is it especially written for a layperson parenting one. 

Managing Worry and Anxiety is filled with graphics of the brain, neuropathways and stories of scripture, adding a level of complexity to this read.  Good descriptions and points are certainly made, but as a whole, the book lacks its niche.  Specifically, the author does a great job in laying out the sources of stress, such as unmet needs, receiving what is unneeded, onetime events, betrayal and sustained distress.  Holthaus gives basic mitigaters for stress sources strongly pointing toward “self-reflection” solutions and stages of the change process. But, ultimately the book is over complicated and doesn’t quite hit the mark for targeting the appropriate audience. 

*Disclaimer: A review copy was provided by the publisher.  All opinions are my own.

Coming Soon: The Summer We Found the Baby by Amy Hest, In Search of Safety: Voices of Refugees by Susan Kuklin & Trowbridge Road by Marcella Pixley

The Summer We Found the Baby by Amy Hest

Publication Date: July 14th, 2020

Rating: 3 Stars

During war soldiers leave their families, their loved ones and their pets.  This is a story of war from the lens of three younger narrators, as the narrators’ siblings, friends and neighbors head off to war, leaving them behind on the Homefront. 

Set from the perspective of three kids, age 12 and younger, the characters find a baby on the steps of the library.  The story cascades from there and is full of secrets, childhood troubles, debacles and observations – all of which play out over the course of a few hours.

This is a lighthearted and enjoyable read.  Targeted at a younger reading audience, author Amy Hest, shows talent in juggling three very different personalities and perspectives as readers are introduced to multiple viewpoints in early adolescent reading.  Hest portrays past and present in an entertaining novel that finds a silver lining in the heartbreak and stress of war.

*Disclaimer: A review copy was provided by the publisher.  All opinions are my own.


In Search of Safety: Voices of Refugees by Susan Kuklin

Publication Date: May 12th, 2020

Rating: 5 Stars

In Search of Safety: Voice of Refugees is the story of five refugees, each of which arrive in America after facing the horrors of war and loss in their home countries.  The optimism and fears they all share as they are just beginning their new life in America is magnetic.  Author, Kuklin does such an unbelievable job capturing each narrator’s feelings as the reader embraces each story, crying and smiling alongside those that have survived and are determined to carry on. 

As a born and raised second-generation American I often take my comfortable life for granted.  The experiences I have been sheltered to are brutally encapsulated in these raw and powerful accounts.  Kuklin shows us, through each survivors’ words, that we MUST do better.  Plopping us in Omaha, NE she shows us the astonishing strength of very different refugees having fled five very different countries. 

*Disclaimer: A review copy was provided by the publisher.  All opinions are my own.


Trowbridge Road by Marcella Pixley

Publication Date: May 12th, 2020

Rating: 4 Stars

This heart breaking read is set in the 1980’s when little about AIDS was yet understood.  June Bug is surrounded by reminders of the disease that took her father.  Her one shining light comes via an imaginative kid down the street, Ziggy.  Ziggy and June soon become inseparable as they leave their troubles and emotional scars behind them for new worlds they’ve dreamed up. 

This childhood perspective of mental health, emotional scars and complicated families is strikingly heartwarming, tender and real.  Pixley does a great job of keeping the focus on the bigger issues within the story, not losing the reader to the imaginative worlds spun by Ziggy and June.  The supporting characters all add a welcome layer to this read. 

*Disclaimer: A review copy was provided by the publisher.  All opinions are my own.

Collateral Damage (Danger Never Sleeps #1) by Lynette Eason

Publication Date: January 7th, 2020

Rating: 3 Stars

Brook is a psychologist, Asher is military special ops.  After both survive a café bombing in Afghanistan they find themselves home and living in North Carolina.  But, the war has followed them home.  Just as Asher seeks Brooke’s help for PTSD their worlds begin to crumble. 

Collateral Damage has A LOT of moving parts to it.  There are seemingly new characters introduced every few pages for the first quarter of the book and then the reader is tasked with keeping each side plot straight as we wait for them to all tie up nicely upon conclusion.  This way of organizing the plot adds to rather unnecessary confusion to the reader.  However, the story is riveting despite the constant crossing of narrators.

*Disclaimer: A review copy was provided by the publisher.  All opinions are my own.

Two Reviews: Listen Well, Lead Better: Becoming the Leader People Want to Follow by Steve Harling & Becky Harling & Still: 7 Ways to Find Calm in the Chaos by Jenny L. Donnelly

Listen Well, Lead Better: Becoming the Leader People Want to Follow by Steve Harling & Becky Harling

Publication Date: January 7th, 2020

Rating: 4 ½ Stars

As one of my first leadership books of 2020 this one has certainly set the bar high for the coming year.  In a world of 8 second videos and social media our attention and ability to listen to one another is at an all time low.  Husband and wife team, Steve and Becky Harling, bring us back to the foundations of being leaders through listening.  Each chapter is engaging with stories from their own leadership successes and experiences, while getting to the root of how to improve one’s self.  Additionally, each chapter ends with questions for your team and questions for self-leadership that open up great conversations and immediate areas for focus or improvement. 

Each chapter begins with a KEY, such as chapter 1’s: “the secret sauce to your leadership is your ability to listen.” Or chapter 6’s “allow others to help shape the vision.”  These simple statements set the tone for the chapter and provide easy reflections to help shape one’s own leadership abilities.  Throughout this book, expect tips, stories and facts to help increase your influence on others through your ability to listen.  Learn how to listen better to those you lead, and your team and personal success will soar. 

*Disclaimer: A review copy was provided by the publisher. All opinions are my own.


Still: 7 Ways to Find Calm in the Chaos by Jenny L. Donnelly

Publication Date: January 7th, 2020

Rating: 3 Stars

Still: 7 Ways to Find Calm in the Chaos is a read about finding calm through God.  Author, Donnelly’s focus is providing 7 steps to REST.  Rest in this context is not an act, verb or state of doing.  Rest is inside of us, a place. So, what can readers expect from this book, a deeper understanding in how one can do the following to find calm:

  1. Lean – the act of putting weight on something.  Support is right in front of you each and every day, per Donnelly, find God and you will find your support.
  2. Let go – you cannot control everything, a good lesson for all.
  3. Cultivate intimacy – don’t just give “honey do” lists, the foundation of relationships comes from friendship first.
  4. Put on praise – praise is to be looked at as a garment we wear through the “positivity confetti” we spread.
  5. Live in the present – as we’ve become a “hurry up” culture we’ve depleted our rest. 
  6. Enter the garden – we must prune, tend, plant and water our garden to be beautiful and full.  The same goes for ourselves.
  7. Wrestle into rest – release everything and see with love while walking with wisdom.  Learn to feast on peace not panic. 

There are many important lessons that can be learned through this read, but they are hidden amongst references of scripture and God.

*Disclaimer: A review copy was provided by the publisher. All opinions are my own.

The Way of the Brave (Global Search and Rescue #1) by Susan Warren

Publication Date: January 7th, 2020

Rating: 4 Stars

Orion’s past is full of heartbreak. After serving in the military and losing his knee and several friends, he returns to Alaska to hide out where he’s comfortable, at the foot of Denali mountain.

Jenny is a psychiatrist in Minnesota. After leaving the CIA and working to move past the mistake that still haunts her she’s taken up climbing.   Her goal is to summit Denali with two of her closest friends.

But when her, and her friends go missing at the peak, Orion can’t sit back and do nothing. Plus, Jenny looked so familiar to Orion when he saw her in town, he can’t shake it.

This heart pounding tale holds so much heroism and romance in its icy grip. A more action-packed tale than The Mountain Between Us, author Warren’s expert understanding, and detail, makes the reader feel as if they are right there freezing on the icy slope with the rest of the group. However, the Senator’s side story seemed out of place as a beginning and end cap to the read. A seemingly half-hearted attempt to set up a series. And, while both the men and women introduced in The Way of the Brave would make for a welcome series, this book may have read better as a standalone.

*Disclaimer: A review copy was provided by the publisher. All opinions are my own.

Take Back the Tray: Revolutionizing Food in Hospitals, Schools and Other Institutions by Joshna Maharaj

Publication Date: May 5th, 2020

Rating: 4 ¾ Stars

Social Gastronomy refers to chefs that use food to create social change. Chef and author Joshna Maharaj embodies this entirely, as is evidenced by this book. Broken into three key sections surrounding first, community food centers, which caters to low income individuals helping to lower food insecurities and teach sustainable healthy eating. Second, hospitals which are supposed to be centers of healing and health and yet are serving patients dismal, reheated frozen food. And lastly, universities, which are to be an academic nucleus catering to the growth of young minds as they embark on the rest of their lives.

Each of these three focuses are places where individuals are to be learning, growing and thriving and yet the food they serve would seem to indicate the opposite. For instance, how can we expect patients to heal and get better – the purpose of a hospital – when the food they serve seems to indicate the exact opposite? Additionally, how can we expect college students to learn and thrive when we’ve let the “freshman 15” and cheap ramen meals become a right of passage for those obtaining their first glance of food freedom from their parents? This is not an okay way to think and Chef Maharaj addresses this as she rallies the reader into embracing social change in the fight for better.

Written in the voice of a friend and someone who cares, you can’t help but make this cause rise to the top of your list in pushing for change.

*Disclaimer: A review copy was provided by the publisher. All opinions are my own.

2019 Year in Books

Over the course of 2019 I read 117 books.  That is roughly 33,600 pages.  The shortest book read was Gillian Flynn’s The Grownup, while the longest read was The God Game by Danny Tobey.  The average length of book I read was just over 300 pages.  My goal continues to be diversity in my reading as my genres read ranged from non-fiction to daily devotionals and thrillers.  Of the books I read in 2019 the most reviewed was The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen R. Covey, while the least reviewed as Words of Comfort for Women by Carolyn Larsen.  Below I’ve provided as summary of all my 2019 reads that I gave 5 stars to, including those coming in 2020 and my favorite in the romance and non-fiction categories, as there were way too many good overall fiction reads to choose from. 

Best Romance

  • Wooing Cadie McCaffrey by Bethany Turner

Best Non-Fiction

  • Wild Game: My Mother, Her Lover, and Me by Adrienne Brodeur

5 Stars

5 Stars Coming 2020

  • You Are Not Alone by Greer Hendricks & Sarah Pekkanen
  • The God Game by Danny Tobey
  • In Search of Safety: Voices of Refugees by Susan Kuklin
  • Take Back the Tray: Revolutionizing Food in Hospitals, Schools, and Other Institutions by Joshna Maharaj

Candlewick Press: Weird Little Robots by Carolyn Crimi & On Snowden Mountain by Jerri Watts

Weird Little Robots by Carolyn Crimi

Publication Date: October 1st, 2019

Rating: 3 ½ Stars

Penny Rose is new to town, lacking in friends she spends her time creating robots in the family shed out back. So, when she discovers Lark, also friendless and never without her sunglasses, they quickly become best friends. Penny Rose and Lark are perfect compliments – Penny Rose in her creation of robots from “junk,” and Lark in her artistic love for making bird houses. Together they create the perfect Robot Town.

Author, Carolyn Crimi, gives readers a heartwarming read of friendship, trust and forgiveness with so many lessons handpicked for readers young and old. Especially enduring is Crimi’s nod to female scientists and engineers throughout, a great reminder that girls can do anything! The illustrations dispersed within further add to the marvel and imagery Penny Rose’s robots spark in the reader’s mind.

*Disclaimer: A review copy of this book was provided by the publisher. All opinions are my own.


On Snowden Mountain by Jerri Watts

Publication Date: September 10th, 2019

Rating: 4 Stars

With her father off fighting in WWII Ellen doesn’t know how to care for her sunken, depressed mother. Upon reaching out to her estranged Aunt Pearl, Ellen and her mother are whisked off to Snowden, Virginia, a small town lacking in Baltimore’s comforts. In her newly simple life, a life without electricity and indoor plumbing, Ellen meets an unlikely friend, Russell. Like Ellen, Russell hides his family life from prying eyes. This is a story of friendship, healing and finding home where you least expect, but is it enough to save her mother from her all-consuming darkness?

On Snowden Mountain places WWII so far on the fringe you forget the book is set in the 1940’s, this could have easily been a current day story not unlike the non-fiction Hillbilly Elegy and while Ellen’s story of tough times and resilience are fiction, the lessons and themes enraptured within are far from it. Heartwarming, heartbreaking and heart stopping, this is a read for all ages.

*Disclaimer: A review copy of this book was provided by the publisher. All opinions are my own.

“Murder Off the Page” by Con Lehane

Be sure to check out my contribution to ReaderViews!

Reader Views Book Reviews

MURDER OFF THE PAGE

Con Lehane
Minotaur Books (2019)
ISBN 9781250317926
Reviewed by Jill Rey for Reader Views (07/2020)

Reading successfully as a standalone, Con Lehane graces us with another in his 42nd Street Library Mystery series, “Murder Off the Page,” as we follow Raymond Ambler and detective Mike Cosgrove.

“Ambler sat for some time after Mike left, disturbed more than he’d let on by Mike’s suggestion that the 42nd Street Library’s crime fiction collection somehow begat murders, not only on the pages of its mystery novels but off the page as well.” – p. 26

There are many characters introduced within the folds of this page-turner. From bartender, Brian McNulty, to co-worker and crush, Adele, the characters are as quirky as the mystery within. Primarily reading from Ambler’s point of view, readers are offered some glimpses into Cosgrove and Adele’s head as well, as the team seeks to clear…

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“Break and Enter” by Lori Matthews

Check out my ReadersView debut!

Reader Views Book Reviews

BREAK AND ENTER
Lori Matthews
Wild Coyote Press (2020)
ISBN 9781734450514
Reviewed by Jill Rey for Reader Views (06/2020)

“Break and Enter” is the first in Lori Matthews’s newest series Callahan Security. This swoon worthy, Charlie’s Angel-esque, female robin hood read is an extraordinary debut of what appears to be an action-packed series.

Kicking off in Italy and quickly moving to the Hamptons the scenery is almost as captivating as the story within. Author, Lori Matthews creates an exquisite narrative as she flips between Mitch and Alex’s point-of-views as they both vie for success in their endeavors.

Alex is a thief, or as she likes to call herself an asset repossession specialist extraordinaire, ARSE for anyone paying attention. Specializing in returning assets to recently single women. She’s returned anything from family heirlooms to expensive watches, but her most recent job requires her to return a one of a kind…

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