Category Archives: Fantastic

What Alice Forgot by Liane Moriarty

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What Alice forgotWhat Alice Forgot” opens with Alice Love regaining conciousness on the floor of a gym. We meander through her daydreams and memories of being 29, newly pregnant, and madly in love with her husband. But when she wakes up, she is told that she is 39, with three children and going through a nasty divorce. “That was the day Alice Mary Love went to the gym and carelessly misplaced a decade of her life.”

We follow Alice as she navigates this new life. Because she believes she is 29, she sees the world as fresh and new and beautiful. But the life she is dropped into has lost all of those qualities, and it is up to her to puzzle out why. However, all of the people that she turned to a decade before have been alienated to some degree by one thing or another.

The whole time I was reading this book, I was intrigued by the premise of it. Alice is able to objectively evaluate the choices she made for a decade. And it is the kinder, gentler version of herself analyzing everything. Not the cynical 39 year old near divorcee! At one point, Alice’s sister Elisabeth tells her this: “Maybe this memory loss is sort of a good thing because it will help you see things more objectively without your mind being cluttered with everything that’s happened over the last ten years. And once you get your memory back, you’ll still have a different perspective and you and Nick will be able to work things out without all the fighting.”

I love a book that challenges me to think differently and this one does just that. Liane Moriarty seems to be shouting, “Just let go of your bitterness and hurt for a moment and really think about what you’re doing!” So often we hold onto the past as if it’s all we have, when what we really need to do is learn from it and live for today. So I challenge you to read this book. Remind yourself of simpler times. Take a long hard look at your life and see if there are things that need to be changed. If you’re like me, you’ll be inspired to be kinder by following the example of Alice Love.

 

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The Gods of Guilt by Michael Connelly

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the-gods-of-guilt“I took a right on First and saw the Town Cars parked along the sidewalk. There were six of them in line like a funeral procession, their drivers gathered together on the sidewalk, shooting the breeze and waiting. They say imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, but ever since the movie, a whole contingent of Lincoln lawyers had cropped up and routinely crowded the curbs outside the courthouses of L.A. I was both proud and annoyed. I had heard more than a few times that there were other lawyers out there saying they were the inspiration for the film. On top of that, I had jumped into the wrong Lincoln at least three times in the past month.” -Mickey Haller

I love a book that doesn’t take itself too seriously. Especially when said book is well written and entertaining in many different ways. Mickey Haller gets a call to defend a man accused of murder only to find out that the victim was a former client of his. A woman he had relocated years earlier, who then returned home even though it was unsafe. The accused maintains his innocence, and claims that he was referred by the victim herself.

Maybe like me, you have seen Matthew McConaughey play the Lincoln layer in the movie that is referred to in this book! Maybe that is enough reason for you to pick up the book and have a read. But, if it’s not, then let me give you a few more reasons.

1. A varied cast of characters, none quite like another, so that you will absolutely fall in love with at least one of them. My favorite is the driver Earl. Loyal, tough with a heart of gold. You know the type.

2. A story that never lags, but keeps your interest no matter how long it takes you to read.

3. The tension of whether there would be a happy ending or not. Of course I thought there would be, but then something would go wrong and I’d be in doubt. Then, just when I again assured myself that it would end well, something would happen to make me doubt my story predicting abilities, not to mention my faith that Michael Connelly would write the ending that I wanted.

If you want more reasons, go read it yourself. Seriously, you’re going to love it. Have I steered you wrong yet? (If I have, I’m ever so very sorry!)

The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas by John Boyne

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stripedpyjamasBruno is nine years old when his father is transferred to a new job. The German family packs up their belongings and moves to Out-With. The first time Bruno looks out his new bedroom window and sees the low huts with so many people all milling about in striped pyjamas, you realize that his childlike mind has changed Auschwitz into Out-With; and that his father is the commandante of a concentration camp and that he has no idea what any of it means.

I loved the innocence that a child’s vocabulary brought to such a dark part of history. Listen to his description of Hitler, “The Fury was far shorter than Father and not, Bruno supposed, quite as strong. He had dark hair, which was cut quite short, and a tiny moustache- so tiny in fact that Bruno wondered why he bothered with it at all or whether he had simply forgotten a piece when he was shaving.” His little thoughts were enchanting and I found myself smiling and giggling along with him.

There were times that his ignorance broke my heart, and times when I was glad he had no idea what was going on around him.

Overall it was a good book. It made you think differently about things, and wonder what life was like on both sides of the fence. The only thing I disagreed with a bit was that it seemed to me that the majority of the people wished they weren’t Nazis. There was one particularly unkind guard at the camp, but other than that, most of the adults disagreed with Bruno’s father. Or were not proud of what they were doing. And it seemed to me that if the Nazis were anything, it was proud. It seems unlikely to me that the 9 year old son of a commandante would be so ignorant of the Nazi ideals. Maybe I’m wrong, but the book seems apologetically Nazi and in my mind, that is an oxymoron. The Nazis did not apologize. They thought they were right.

I would recommend “The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas” to anybody. It was sad, as you’d expect a book about Auschwitz to be, but the sadness was tempered a bit by the imagination and thoughts of a little boy trying to figure life out.

Sparkly Green Earrings: Catching the Light at Every Turn by Melanie Shankle

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9781414371719_p0_v1_s260x420 (1)“Every mother knows the reason Robert Frost took the road less traveled is because he wasn’t traveling with children who needed to go to the bathroom every thirty minutes. Otherwise he would have taken the road paved with McDonald’s and truck stops with restrooms, covered by antibacterial hand soap and prayer. And that would have made all the difference.” –Melanie Shankle

The thing about parenting is that it is simultaneously the same and drastically different for everybody. Whether you have boys or girls or both. Lots of children or only one. There are things that are the same straight across the board. There are difficulties and joys, and we as Moms love to share both. We want to tell you all about our experiences, and in turn we want to hear just how you have handled the situations you have found yourself in. Reading Sparkly Green Earrings feels like you are just sitting down with Melanie and having a conversation about your day. Of course you don’t get to say anything, and the day in question actually lasts a few years. But it’s the kind of conversation we all need to have every now and then. The kind that makes you laugh. Not the mean kind where you’re  laughing at someone, but fun kind where you shake your head and say, “Oh man, I remember that!”

This is my favorite kind of parenting book. It’s not a list of rules and how to’s. There is no magic formula for having perfect children. It is just a simple story of one woman’s journey. She is willing to sit down with you (ok… she sat down a while ago… now it’s your turn to sit) and share the things she has learned as she parented her daughter through her first eight years of life. It is full of the honesty we expect and appreciate these days. Then, while you’re still holding your sides, and trying not to laugh so loud you wake the baby next to you, she drops a little revelation on you. Something about looking at your children through the eyes of their creator, or seeing yourself as you really are, or finding the meaning of grace and love and mercy simply by holding your newly born baby that very first time.

“We like to believe they are better versions of us, but the truth is, they are us. They are full of our selfishness and impulsiveness and pettiness. They want things to go their way just like we do, and they scream and yell and throw things when it doesn’t work out. The only difference between them and us is what my grandma would refer to as ‘home training.’

God gives us these raw little people, and we have to form them and mold them and teach them how to operate in society. And if we get a glimpse of all the ugliness that lies right beneath our own polished surface? Well, then, there’s a humbling lesson too. It’s those moments when I realize I have to extend grace to Caroline as she figures these things out by trial and error in the same way God lavishes me with mercy, even as I make the same mistakes over and over again.”

Until I Say Goodbye: My Year of Living With Joy by Susan Spencer-Wendel and Bret Witter

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“We are born alone and die alone, but all my favorite moments of life had been spent with someone else.” –Susan Spencer-Wendel

Until-I-Say-Goodbye_custom-234c902cc18a9db2bd48b9c9f4f7aa29af7856b7-s6-c10I have had this book sitting on my Kindle waiting to be reviewed for a long time now. I can’t quite figure out how to explain to you that you should read it. Because you will love it. Because you will be challenged by it. Because you will see that it is possible to live with joy. In any circumstance.

In 2011, Susan Spencer-Wendel is diagnosed with ALS or Lou Gehrig’s Disease. She knows that this diagnosis means a loss of her career, her mobility, her freedom, and ultimately her life. And her life is not simply the breath in her lungs, it is also a husband and children, friends and family. Once she receives this diagnosis, she decides to live these last days fully. To give her children and her husband memories to help them through the hard days ahead. She says this, “I thought of my new uncertainty: How long can I live with ALS? I thought, ‘Don’t search for answers. Live the question.’ Enjoy life more because of the uncertainty, not less.” She takes trips with her children, and her husband, and her best friend Nancy. She lives her life while she still can. And when she is incapable of the outward, physical side of life, these same people step in and perform each and every task for her.

I remember describing Until I Say Goodbye: My Year of Living with Joy to someone while I was reading it. I started crying, and I know they were thinking, “Why are you reading that book if it’s so sad?” But the thing is, it’s not sad while you’re reading it. It really is filled with joy. Somehow, Susan manages to truly live with joy. She pulls her mind out of the funk as often as she has to and reminds herself of the joy to be found. And in doing so, she will remind you too. The story is sad. But the telling is incredible. It offers hope. Susan reminds us to live our own lives no matter what the circumstances. To love your children and husband with everything you’ve got.

I’ll leave you with this thought of Susan’s. It may show you a little bit of why I enjoyed this book so much.

“I said I felt like the luckiest person in the world.

And I did.

I might have been dying, but that night- on that terrace, after that meal, with those people- I was experiencing the full wonder of life.

I had arrived a stranger, but I was leaving with a new family.

I was unafraid.

Fearless.”

Ride the Dark Trail by Louis L’Amour

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I have been trying to write a review of Ride the Dark Trail for a long time now, but every time I sit down and begin looking over my highlights, I end up rereading large portions of the book. Not because I forget what it’s about, but because the story and characters are so engaging that I just don’t want to stop reading. Let me introduce you to a few of the characters. Better yet, let me have L’Amour introduce you to some of my favorite characters yet.

“Well, they hadn’t much to see. I’m a big man, weighing around two-fifteen most of the time and most of it in my chest and shoulders. I was wearing a handlebar mustache and a three-day growth of beard. My hair hadn’t been trimmed in a coon’s age and that beat up old hat was showing a bullet hole picked up back of yonder. My slicker was hanging open, my leather chaps was wet, and my boots rundown at heel so’s those big-roweled California spurs were draggin’ a mite.”

This is Logan Sackett. Main character and narrator of this particular book. Is it just me, or do you feel like you could sit by a fire and listen to that guy tell stories all day? That’s why I just keep reading every time I pick up the book.

“They guessed right on some things, they guessed wrong on Emily Talon.

‘You got nothing,’ she said, and she cut loose her dogs… only they were slugs from a big Dragoon Colt.

They couldn’t believe it. They’d been sure if there was trouble it would come from me, and they paid no mind to the womenfolks, or mighty little. And they didn’t even know about Al.

Em just tilted her old pistol and cut loose, and just as she fired, Al Fulbric jumped from the bedroom door with a shotgun in his hands, and somehow my old six-shooter was speaking its piece right along with them.”

Oh, Em Talon. She is the kind of woman needed in a frontier land. The kind of woman who does what needs to be done, who will stand with her man, and if she outlives him, will stand firm on what they built together. A woman who does what is right, and encourages others to do the same, even if that encouragement comes by force.

There is another woman in the book. Pennywell Farman. She’s younger, but she has a good teacher to follow. After that last fight, Logan says, “I might have held back myself, for fear of the women getting shot, but there was no hold-back in Em.

Nor in Pennywell.

She had got off two shots. I saw her loading up again afterwards. She was pale as a ghost when it was over, but she was thumbing two cartridges back into her pistol, and she was ready.

Man, those were women!” She may have been scared, and new to shooting, but that didn’t stop her. There was shooting that needed to be done, and there she was, so she did it.

And a newcomer that I am very interested in meeting in his own book. “The rider sat erect, holding the reins easy in his hand, a dark and handsome young man whose what-the-hell sort of smile was in odd contrast to the coolness of his eyes.” Milo Talon. A name I have long been familiar with, but with no more information than simply the name. And let me tell you, the years of waiting were not for nothing. Milo Talon did not disappoint. “‘There’s only one of you,’ Chowse said, trying for a bluff. ‘You’re buckin’ a stacked deck.’

‘Stacked decks don’t always turn up the cards a body would expect,’ Talon said mildly, ‘especially when I’ve got all the aces. I didn’t come in here to lose anything, and if you’ll recall, I opened the game. Of course,’ he straightened form the bar, ‘if you boys want to see what I’m holding you’ll have to ante up, and the chips are bullets… forty fives to be exact.’

‘I’m betting,’ he said easily, that I can deal them just a mite faster than you boys can, and without braggin’ boys, I can say I ain’t missed anything this close since who flunk the chunk.'”

And that is just a few of the characters. We haven’t mentioned Reed Talon, Barnabas Talon, Al Fulbric or even any of the bad guys.

Logan is on his way to California. He’s wanting to see the ocean for the first time. But, when he sees some men harassing a lady, he is unable to leave her on her own. He stands up for Pennywell and takes her out to Em Talon’s place to be taken care of. Once there, he finds that before she married Talon, Em’s last name was Sackett. She’s a Clinch Mountain Sackett and she’s in trouble. Naturally, Logan stays to help her out of her troubles. The story goes from there, and in true L’Amour fashion, things aren’t easy, but they’re worth it. This is one of the things I love about L’Amour’s writings. If you read carefully, you see a man who understands and values life. He doesn’t hit you over the head with the things he holds true, but the imprint of it lies just beneath the story. I love all the recollections of Em and Talon. When you read them, it’s as if you are remembering a true love of your own. And if you are blessed enough to be living with your love, you appreciate him all the more. If not, it would leave you longing for one of life’s greatest treasures. Because a strong relationship between husband and wife is nothing to be taken for granted. It is something to be nurtured and fought for. I leave you with this interaction between Logan and Em.

“‘You stand tall in any outfit.’ I said. ‘I’d like to have known your husband.’

‘Talon was a man… all man. He walked strong and he thought right, and no man ever left his door hungry, Indian, black man or white. Nor did he ever take water for any man.’

‘He was a judge of the land,’ I said, ‘and of women.’

‘We had it good together,’ Em said quietly, ‘we walked a quiet way, the two of us, and never had to say much about it to one another.’

She paused. ‘I just looked at him and he looked at me and we knew how it was with each other.’

Hours later, well down the trail to Brown’s Hole, I remembered that. Well, they’d been lucky. It was not likely I’d ever find a woman like that, but no matter what any man says, there’s nothing better than two, a man and a woman, who walk together. When they walk right together there’s no way too long, no night too dark.'”

Treasure Mountain by Louis L’Amour

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In Treasure Mountain, some of the boys go in search of the final resting place of their Pa. He acted as guide for a group of treasure hunters when the boys were little. Now, however, their Ma is getting along in years and wants to know why he never made it back to her. So, Tell and Orrin set out to find and follow Pa’s final trail.

The Tinker shows up in the beginning of the book and decides to ride along with them. And a man named Judas Priest who tells them, “I look for a grave as well as you. I also look for the reason why there needs to be a grave.” His father Angus Priest had accompanied the group that Pa led.

Treasure Mountain is another book with a lot of familiar as well as semi-familiar characters. Tell, Orrin, Tyrell and the Tinker all feature in here, Logan and Nolan are mentioned in stories. We catch up with Nell, one of the Trelawney girls from back home, as well as a whole group of baddies who give chase to the Sacketts, up into the mountains where they feel most at home. Books with more than one Sackett are some of my favorites, and when they sit around a fire at night telling stories, well that’s just icing on the cake. One of my favorite stories comes from this book. I’ll share it with you here. If you like it, and I know you will, then come on back and read the book that is written all around it and I can tell you you’ll enjoy it too.

“Nolan was forted up down in the Panhandle country with some Comanches yonder a-shootin’ at him.. One of them got lead into him. He nailed that one right through the ears as he turned his head to speak to the other one, and then he wounded the last one. Nolan walked in on him, kicked the gun out of his hand, and stood there looking down at him, gun in his fist, and that Comanche glared right back at him, dared him to shoot, and tried to spit at him.

Nolan laughed, picked that Injun up by the hair and dragged him to his horse. He loaded that Indian on, tied him in place, then mounted his own horse and rode right to that Comanche village.

He walked his horse right in among the lodges and stopped.

The Comanches were fighters. No braver men ever lived, and they wanted Nolan’s hair, but they came out and gathered around to see what he had on his mind.

Nolan sat up there in the middle of his mustang, and he told them what a brave man this warrior was, how he had fought him until he was wounded, his gun empty, and then had cussed him and tried to fight him with his hands.

“I did not kill him. He is a brave man. You should be proud to have such a warrior. I brought him back to you to get well from his wounds. Maybe some day we can fight again.”

And then he dropped the lead rope and rode right out of that village, walking his horse and never looking back.

Any one of them could have shot him. He knew that. But Indians, of any persuasion, have always respected bravery, and he had given them back one of their on and had promised to fight him again when he had his strength.

So they let Nolan ride away, and to this day in Comanche villages they tell the story. And the Indian he brought back tells it best.”