The Westing Game

The Westing Game
By Ellen Raskin 
Published: 2004, Dutton Children’s Books
Genre: Children’s Literature, Mystery

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The sun sets in the west (just about everyone knows that), but Sunset Towers faced east. Strange!
Sunset Towers faced east and had no towers. This glittery, glassy apartment house stood alone on the Lake Michigan shower, five stories high. Five empty stories high.
Then one day (it happened to e the Fourth of July), a most uncommon-looking delivery boy rode around town slipping letters under the doors of the chosen tenants-to-be. The letters were signed Barney Northrup.

And so the mystery begins……

I will be teaching a literature class next fall at my homeschool co-op for 6th-8th graders and I was in search of some “unknown” books to present; this book came as a recommendation to me by a couple of people, so I thought I would give it a read and see what I thought.

I was a little leery at first about a book that revolved around a murder mystery but I was pleasantly surprised with the plot. Ellen Raskin did a great job and kept everything in the book quite clean. Some of the mystery was predictable to me, as an adult, however I did think that the author kept us guessing in a few ways and did a fabulous job of dropping clues through the pages.

I enjoyed how the author wrote from each suspects perspective throughout the book so that we could delve into each of the characters and make our own conclusions. I loved the word puzzles and “games” throughout the book as well. I felt that she also did a great job of tying up all of the loose ends in the final chapters so that you weren’t left guessing or wondering about the characters or the story.

It was a fun mystery novel to read. I definitely recommend it and I have decided to use it in my literature class next year.

I gave it to my 14 year old son to read and see what he thought and he enjoyed the book as well. He said he would certainly recommend it to people and that I should use it for my class next year.

The Westing Game

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The Aviator’s Wife

The Aviator’s Wife: A Novel
By Melanie Benjamin
Published: 2013, Bantam Books
Genre: Biographical, Historical Fiction

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He is flying.
Is this how I will remember him? As I watch him lying vanquished, defeated by the one thing even he could not outmaneuver, I understand that I will have to choose my memories carefully now. There are simply too many.

I was so intrigued by this book that I happened to find that I had two copies of it on my bookshelf, so I decided that it was time to read it. I didn’t really know much about Charles Lindbergh except what was in the history books; he had been the first man to fly a plane solo over the Atlantic Ocean and that his baby had been kidnapped and murdered. I was curious to find out a little bit more about him, especially from his wife’s perspective and not just the public eye.

It was interesting to me that Anne Morrow Lindbergh had her own famous history that is not known and not recorded in the history books; overshadowed by her even more famous husband. Anne was the first American woman to obtain her glider pilot’s license. She also served as Charles’ copilot, navigator and radio operator on many of his flights; flights that broke records that may not have done so if Anne had not been up there with him. Anne was often overlooked, standing behind her husband who ate up the fame and the spotlight in front of her.

As we journey through the aviator wife’s life with her famous husband, we find out how strong, resilient, perseverant and loyal she was. She really was the backbone of her marriage and her husband. She stayed behind to take care of the children, while he continued to fly in the public eye as the amazing Charles Lindbergh. Anne could have easily exposed him for the person he truly was, but instead she protected the image of her husband. Anne Morrow Lindbergh was truly an amazing woman.

I know the book is historical fiction, but I think that Melanie Benjamin really did her research on this one and was able to get inside the mind and feelings of Anne quite well. I have a new understanding for the woman behind the famous pilot as well as Charles as well.

I will take my duties seriously, just as seriously as I once navigated as his crew. I will be the bridge between who Charles was, and who he was assumed to be. The keeper of the flame. The guardian of his reputation, for much of it deserves to be remembered. And it’s up to me, as the aviator’s wife who was once an ambassador’s daughter, to decide how much.

I highly recommend this book for anyone who is looking for a fantastic historical novel, a more personal perspective on the Lindbergh family or a woman who happens to be the strength and protector of the husband in front of her.

 The Aviator’s Wife: A Novel

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the Undoing of Saint Silvanus

The Undoing of Saint Silvanus
By Beth Moore
Published: 2017, Tyndale House Publishers
Genre: Literature, Fiction

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Sergeant Cal DaCosta glanced at the digits on his dashboard as he threw the car into park. “Sheesh. Eighty-four degrees and barely daylight. That body’s going to be ripe.” Several patrol cars were already at the scene, zigzagged all over the pavement.

My book club decided that this month we were going to read Beth Moore’s first publication of a fiction book. I was not all that excited about this choice because I am not a fan of Beth Moore. However, there have been books chosen for book club that I would never have given a second glance had I not had to read them for book club, and I ended up enjoying them quite a bit. I went into this book dragging my feet, but determined to read it.

I will start off by saying, since this was a book from Beth Moore, I was expecting quite a bit. However, there is a huge difference between writing non-fiction and bible studies and trying to write a fictional mystery suspense book.

The book begins with a subplot and then moves forward with the actual basis of the novel. As I started reading through the book, I wondered what this subplot really had to do with the main story line. It somewhat fit within the book, and yet it just didn’t quite fit into the puzzle. I found the subplot pretty boring and unnecessary; and the manner in which it was written did not really fit within the pages of the novel.

As the author works us through the family history of Jillian, we meet a few characters along the way that influence how she moves forward. I quite enjoyed some of the secondary characters of the book, especially Adella, who added a bit of humor and spice to it all.

I thought the majority of the story line was somewhat predictable; more so then the usual mystery suspense novel. As I was reading through it, I had the feeling that I get when I am watching a “B” movie; the thoughts and the effort was there, but it just wasn’t quite working.

I was also disappointed in the spiritual aspect of the novel. Seeing that it was written by Beth Moore, I was expecting a beautiful spiritual journey that would lead Jillian through the mystery of her family’s past. It just wasn’t there. The spiritual journey was hardly there, we didn’t get to see how God worked through Jillian’s troubled past or how he healed her brokenness. It just sort of happened. I expected a lot more and was left dissatisfied with this aspect of the book.

I tried really hard not to have high expectations of this book, however, it IS Beth Moore and you cannot just go into reading one of her books without some sort of anticipation of greatness. If you are hoping for excellence, you will be greatly disappointed.

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This next section was added after my book club met and includes some thoughts and opinions of others on the book and how the discussion may have changed my perspective of the book. 

There were some mixed reviews between the ladies which caused quite a bit of quality discussion. Some of the ladies enjoyed the book, some thought it was just okay, while others didn’t particularly care for it.

The ladies decided that while the subplot didn’t completely fit in with the rest of the novel, it did give a history of the building and it did have a tiny minuscule of significance in the book. However, it was not a necessary part of the book.

For the most part, we all agreed that Adella was a favorite character, that much of the writing was very “southern” and “Beth Mooreish”.  Many also thought that there were a lot of unanswered questions and many characters and story lines that needed to have more added depth to them.

As far as the spiritual aspect, the fact that I was expecting more, there were a couple of other ladies that had the same feeling. However, one of the ladies made a good point; perhaps the author was writing a book that introduced Christ and a spiritual journey in an easy, not overly religious way so that she could reach the unreachable.

While there was not a consensus that this was a wonderful work of literature, what we could all agree on is that it was a wonderfully light-hearted, easy introduction to Jesus for someone who may be seeking or open to hearing about Him.

If you know someone looking for an easy read, that has a lightweight introduction to Jesus, then this is a great book to give them.

If you are interested in giving Beth Moore’s very first work of fiction a try, you can grab it using my link below. Who knows, seeing that it is her first, it may be worth some money in the future. 😉

The Undoing of Saint Silvanus

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Stone Fox

Stone Fox
By John Reynolds Gardiner
Illustrated by Greg Hargreaves
Published: 1980, Harper Collins
Genre: Children’s Literature

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One day Grandfather wouldn’t get out of bed. He just lay there and stared at he ceiling and looked sad.

Little Willy’s grandfather is ill which leaves 10 year old Willy and his dog, Searchlight, in charge of the farm. When the tax collector stops by and informs Willy that he needs to pay $500 in back taxes or they will lose the farm, he enters the local dogsled race. He needs to win the $500 cash prize to save the farm for his grandfather, but first he must beat Stone Fox, the local Native American who has never lost a race.
It is based on a Rocky Mountain Legend, told through the generations.

This was a read-aloud I did with my 8 year old son; he happens to be my only child who doesn’t particularly enjoy reading. Because of that, I try to find short books to read to him that have enough action to keep him engaged. Stone Fox seemed to fit the bill.

When we made it to the end of the book, his first response was “That was short! There’s no more to read?” So I consider it a win, since he was hoping there was more chapters to read. The book was engaging and told the story quickly and precisely enough to keep him enthralled.
You may want to peruse it yourself first; there are some sensitive topics in the book that may affect some children.

It kept my active, can’t-sit-still 8 year old wanting to read the next pages so we definitely recommend it to everyone.

Stone Fox

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Twist of Faith

Twist of Faith
By Ellen J. Green
Published: 2018, Thomas & Mercer
Genre: Fiction, Mystery, Thriller & Suspense, Crime

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The house was a mottled gray color that reminded me of dead fish. Scaly paint peeled from the weathered clapboards. Shutters that looked like they might have been black at one time were now streaked and speckled, hanging at odd angles on rusted hinges.

In Twist of Faith, we meet Ava; a young woman who thought she knew her history but realizes she has no idea where she came from after finding a picture in her deceased, adoptive mother’s belongings. After discovering the photo, Ava goes on a quest to figure out where she came from and what her adoptive family has been hiding from her all these years. On her journey to discover her own past, Ava finds out that her life and family is somehow connected to a series of murders.

Ava decides to enlist the help of her friend Joanne and a police officer who she has become acquainted with around the courthouse, Russell. With their help, she begins to unwind the story of 4 men connected to the same church, their mysterious deaths and how they are related to her adoptive family.

Ellen J. Green did a wonderful job of pulling you into the story. As you start reading through the chapters, you get drawn in because you just NEED to find out what a single random photo of an unknown house with the door open means to Ava’s life and how is her family connected. The author wrote a few well-placed clues into the story that makes you think you have it all figured out. But when you get to the end, you realize you had it all wrong the whole time. I thought it was going to be some cheesy book that the ending and protagonist were obvious, but it turns out I was wrong.

I thought this was a well written suspense thriller that kept me intrigued and quickly turning the pages to get to the eventful climax. I would definitely recommend this book for anyone who loves a well written mystery that keeps you guessing until the very end.

 Twist of Faith

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The Nightingale

The Nightingale
By Kritsin Hannah
Published: 2017, St. Martin’s Griffin
Genre: Historical Fiction, Literature

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If I have learned anything in this long life of mine, it is this: In love we find out who we want to be; in war we find out who we are. Today’s young people want to know everything about everyone. They think talking about a problem will solve it. I come from a quieter generation. We understand the value of forgetting, the lure of reinvention.

I have read Kristin Hannah’s book, firefly lane, and I absolutely loved it. So I was excited to see this recent book of hers getting a lot of accolades. I really love historical fiction so I knew that I needed to read it.

I cannot even begin to imagine what life was like during the war in places like France; right there on the front lines . Hatred, heartache, death, loss, starvation; just trying to find the strength within to survive and keep your loved ones safe. It’s devastating to read about those times but also quite eye-opening about what our world and the people within it are capable of.

Kristin Hannah takes us through the story of the women of the war; the brave and courageous “soldiers” who are often not talked about nor recognized. The women were, in their own way, the backbone of the war. They were not on the front lines; they were left behind, with the enemy in their homes, taking whatever they wanted and leaving behind brokenness. But these women were certainly fighting in ways we would never have imagined they capable of.

In The Nightingale, we follow the stories of two sisters; one leaves and ends up on the “battlefield” and one fights the battles from within her own home. They each save and change many lives of those that had no hope. As we work our way through their stories, each sister discovers what they are capable in times of tragedy; they change, they grow, they mature and they find out what they are truly made of.

Kristin Hannah has a way with words that takes you right into the heart of these women. She is able to place your thoughts as if you are standing right next to each of these sisters; fighting, loving and surviving. She weaves a beautiful story of both present time and of historical times; we do not know the identity of survivor at the beginning of the story until almost the very end.

This novel is a phenomenal piece of work. I cannot say enough good things about it. I wish I could tell you more about this epic novel, but I want you to read it and experience it on your own.
I highly, highly recommend it to everyone. It will leave you with a bigger understanding of the war as well as the unnoticed women who fought with the enemy sitting right beside them.

She was crying for all of it at last—for the pain and the loss and fear and anger, for the war and what it had done to her and to all of them, for the knowledge of evil she could never shake, for the horror of where she’d been and what she’d done to survive.

The Nightingale

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Little Fires Everywhere

.Little Fires Everywhere
By Celeste Ng
Published: 2017, Penguin Press
Genre: Literature, Fiction, Family Life

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Everyone in Shaker Heights was talking about it that summer: how Isabelle, the last of the Richardson children, had finally gone around the bend and burned the house down.

There has been a lot of talk about this recent release from Celeste Ng in the book community so I have been wanting to read it for quite some time. It finally came up to the top of the TBR stack.

The book, as you can see from the quote above, starts quite dramatically. The author commences with the ending and then works back through the novel illustrating how the characters got to this emotional finish.

As we work our way through the novel, we find out how Mia and Pearl’s history influences the Richardson family as well as their family friends, the McColloughs. Mia’s choices in the past have an impact on how she parents Pearl, how she interacts with the Richardson family and how she reacts to the situation with the McCollough family; which then creates circumstances that may have never occurred if Mia and Pearl had not just shown up one day.

The Shaker Heights neighborhood somewhat reminded me of The Stepford Wives; everything appeared perfect and neat with zero issues but behind closed doors was another story. With the addition of Mia and Pearl into this community, they start to realize that life is not as they always thought it was.

Some readers enjoy an ending in a book that is somewhat open; an ending that allows you to draw your own conclusions. I am not one of those people. I did not enjoy the ending. I need a book to tie up all the loose ends and to know what the finished product is. This book left me wanting more.

Overall, it was a great book and I enjoyed the story line; it was a well written novel. I would recommend it to those that don’t mind an ending that leaves you questioning.

Little Fires Everywhere

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If I Run

If I Run
By Terri Blackstock
Published: 2016, Zondervan
Genre: Christian Fiction, Mystery & Suspense

There’s blood on the bottom of my shoes. I rinse the soles, knowing the police will trace the impression of the rubber pattern and determine they’re Skechers. They’ll find the charge for the shoe store on my credit card, proving they’re mine.

It has been a while since I’ve read a good, clean mystery novel so I was excited when this was the book club pick for the month.

“Casey Cox’s DNA is all over the crime scene. There’s no use talk to police; they have failed her abysmally before. She has to flee before she’s arrested….or worse. The truth doesn’t matter anymore.”

After her best friend is murdered, Casey makes a split decision to go on the run because she feels that it is her only option. Dylan Roberts, newly discharged veteran, is hired to find Casey and bring her back; and he seems to be the only one interested in finding out the truth about the Casey and the murder.

As we follow Casey on her journey eluding capture, we learn bits and pieces about why she chose to run and not stay; a story steeped in the past and wrapped up in Casey’s family.

I would not classify the writing within the book as literature, but it definitely was a well written mystery that kept me flipping the pages to find out what happens next.  And the book has an open ending and you will definitely want to read the next book in the series, If I’m Found, just as I did. Once you read the second book, you can pre-order the final one in the series, If I Live

I had hoped there would be a little more of a spiritual journey throughout the book then there was. There were bits and pieces of mention here and there, but I felt like it was just maybe barely enough to place it in the Christian category. Perhaps there will be a little more in the next book. (Which there was; there is definitely a spiritual journey developing throughout the series. I look forward to reading the final book once it is published to see how Casey’s walk finishes.)

Knowing that Jesus will not be disheartened or crushed, that he won’t feel the need to shout in the streets or rail against anything, that he will bring forth justice in the twinkle of an eye, encourages me. Things look grim, but God is still in control.

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This next section was added after my book club met and includes some thoughts and opinions of others on the book and how the discussion may have changed my perspective of the book. 

The majority of the ladies in my book club enjoyed the book as well and a couple had even gone on to read the second book as well. There was also consensus that we had hoped for a little more of a spiritual aspect to the book, but that perhaps it is just the genre of the book or maybe it would develop as the series went on.

We all agreed that we may not be able to do some of the things that Casey did or to put ourselves in her place. Many of the things that she did throughout the book were quite courageous and knowledgeable.
There was also an interesting subplot within the book that some felt was added to just prolong the book and the series, while others felt that it helped to develop Casey’s character traits.

Overall, we agreed that it was a decently written book and we enjoyed reading something out of the “normal” Christian genre.

I recommend the book, as well as the series if you are looking for a good, clean murder mystery.

If I Run

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The City Baker’s Guide to Country Living

The City Baker’s Guide to Country Living: A Novel
By Louise Miller
Published: 2017, Penguin Books
Genre: Romantic Comedy, Fiction

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The night I lit the Emerson Club on fire had been perfect for making meringue. I had been worrying about the humidity all week, but that night, dry, cool air drifted in through an open window.

I do not typically read a whole lot of romance books, but I have seen this one recommended by a few people on Bookstagram, and I have been reading some more intense books lately, so I thought I’d give it a try.

I was pleasantly surprised by this book. I don’t normally read this genre because I find it predictable and cheesy. While it was a little bit predictable and cheesy, it is written in a fun, lighthearted way that I was able to still enjoy. It also helped that the main story line of the novel was not the aforementioned romance.

In The City Baker’s Guide, we meet Olivia Rawlings, a pastry chef, who inadvertently causes a fire with her latest creation. Running from embarrassment, she ends up in the small town of Guthrie, Vermont. Growing up with virtually no family around her, Livvy becomes overwhelmed with the small town, everyone is family kind of life.

“With the joys of a fragrant kitchen, the sound of banjos and fiddles being tuned in a barn, the crisp scent of the orchard just outside the front door Livvy soon finds herself immersed in small-town life.”

As we watch Livvy begin to fall in love with the town and people of Guthrie, we learn that despite living in the city her whole life and having a career as a well-known pastry chef, Olivia just yearns for a family and a home to call her own.

There are only a few moments in my life that I have ever wanted to bask in—driving up the coast of Maine beside my father on an autumn afternoon, when I pulled my first chocolate souffle out of the oven, the first time Salty rested his muzzle in my lap and sighed. And now this. I would have given anything to pause time right here.

This is a very light read, the writing is done quite well and the characters are lovable. I recommend it as a wonderful “beach type” read.

The City Baker’s Guide to Country Living: A Novel

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Caroline: Little House, Revisited

Caroline: Little House, Revisited
By Sarah Miller
Published: 2017, William Morrow
Genre: Historical Fiction, Biographical, Literature

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Caroline’s wrist turned and flicked as the steel tongue of her crochet hook dipped in and out, mirroring the movement of the fiddle’s bow. With each note, the white thread licked a warm line across her finger. Her pattern had just begun to repeat, chorus-like, as the tune ended.

Nostalgia. That is the feeling I experienced while reading this book.
I read the The Little House Books so many times as a young girl that I practically had them memorized. I was pleased to see that there was now a book written from the perspective of the mother. Since I am now a mom myself, I loved getting to read the same story but from Caroline’s point of view.

I thought that Sarah Miller did a wonderful job of staying true to the historical knowledge of the Ingalls family, but adding enough of her own creative elements that we were able to really feel like we were a part of Caroline’s life. She did an impressive job of portraying what a woman would think and how a woman would feel during the troubles and times of the Ingalls family.
I cannot begin to imagine what it would be like to be a pregnant mother, leaving behind your entire family and all you have ever known, to travel across the country into the unknown.

Those that she could not bear to leave sat close around her, yet as she looked backward through the keyhole of canvas at the blur of the waving hands, Caroline could not help but wonder whether Charles and the girls would be enough.

The writing in the book was beautiful. The words used, the pictures that the author created, put me right back inside that wagon with the Ingalls family; only this time I was the mom and not Laura.

I really enjoyed this book and reliving the days of Laura and Mary through Caroline’s eyes. I definitely recommend this book to anyone who read and loved the Little House series as a young child (or still does).

Caroline: Little House, Revisited

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