It's Never Too Late

December 1, 2020

 

It's Never Too Late
By: Kathie Lee Gifford
224 Pages

Summary:
Former Today show host Kathie Lee Gifford draws on stories from her remarkable life to weave together a beautiful reminder that whatever circumstances we face, God is still dreaming big for our years ahead.

When Kathie Lee Gifford stepped down as cohost of the fourth hour of the Today show with Hoda Kotb, you might have thought her best days were behind her. It turns out, she was just getting started. As Kathie Lee says, “I’m not retiring; I’m refiring!”

Taking us from her Chesapeake Bay childhood when she first heard God’s calling, to her skyrocketing fame with Regis, to her decision to leave television for Nashville, Kathie Lee inspires us to pursue what really matters. Because it’s never too late to forgive, to dance the cha-cha, or to make a difference in the world. --bn.com


This book felt like Kathie Lee was sitting down with you and going through photo albums and briefly chatting about each memory. It was fun to read. She was honest and lighthearted. She was vulnerable and humble. She was open about her faith and the times her faith was tested. While she didn't do a bare her sole type of giving you information, she gave you everything you needed to connect with that particular memory. 

I've always admired her strength. I may not have followed her life and career very closely, but I was aware of enough to know the woman has seen her share of rough times. I remember her being accused to knowingly running sweatshops. I was also there to see how she responded to the charge. I was aware of it when her husband's adultery, and the plot surrounding it. I was also aware enough to see how she tackled it. Within this book, she walks you through all of this and more. You see how her faith in God helped her keep her course- even when that course was more difficult to stick to than walk away from. You see how she conducted herself behind the scenes, where it truly counted. 

It was a pleasure to read this book. I respected her in the days these events happened, and I respect her all the more now. I respect that she was open about the good, bad, heartbreaking, and anger inducing. The truth is, none of us are guaranteed to escape some of the things Kathie Lee faced. Her dignity, poise, and focus on what really matters is something we can all learn from. 

Premeditated Mortar

 


Premeditated Mortar
By: Kate Carlisle
304 pages

Summary:
Shannon Hammer is about to embark on one of the biggest projects of her career. Her best friend Jane Hennessey has purchased one wing of the Gables, formerly the old state insane asylum, located on a bucolic hillside two miles northeast of Lighthouse Cove. Jane plans to turn her section into a small luxury hotel complete with twenty ocean-view rooms, a spa, and a restaurant.

Shannon is raring to get started on the enormous project and is shocked when a group of unruly protesters shows up at the groundbreaking ceremony and wreaks havoc. She’s even more freaked-out when someone pushes her into a pit of bricks in a closed-off room of the asylum. Despite her close call, Shannon wants nothing more than to get back to work . . . until she finds a body not far from where she was pushed. Now Shannon is determined to get to the bottom of the goings-on at the Gables even if it kills her. . . . --bn.com

I have to admit that it's been several books since I've read this series. I meant to keep up with it, but life being life, it didn't happen. I left the series off at book 2, and here we are with book 8. If you're new to the series, have no concern. As I read this book, I never felt holes or gaps from previous installments in the series. The author keeps you in the loop of anything you may have learned in the books leading up to it. 

Shannon's best friend, Jane, has very personal reasons for renovating her wing of the mental institution: her mother was a patient within the same wing. So she's determined to turn a sad and dark location into one that is loving and welcoming. However, the protestors have different feelings. They'd much rather see in no longer exist at all. As the story unfolds, you learn why they feel the way they do. You also learn the protestors are connected to the asylum and how. You learn how the asylum began as a great place, but a change of hands changed all of that. You get to know several of the protestors and their stories. You discover the dark side of the person who took over and her approach to treating mental illness. Not to mention the scars it leaves behind on those who endured it, or watched it unfold. I felt Kate Carlisle did a great job of telling this dark and twisted story, but in a way that wasn't overwhelming or approaching thriller level. I was definitely gripped to the plot and seeing how it unfold further. 

I have to say that cozy mysteries usually don't tackle these types of subjects. While this book focused more on the characters and their lives, I did enjoy the mental health storyline. In fact, I wish Kate Carlisle went a little more into that part of the story than the characters. I enjoyed the book and revisiting these characters. I plan to read the books in between where I left off and this one in the new year. 

Finding Quiet

November 9, 2020

 


Finding Quiet
By: Jamie Grace
224 Pages
Summary:
Jamie Grace has lived in the middle of noise for most of her life. Many know her as a singer with radio hits who has spent the last decade on stages and in front of the camera, but behind the scenes, she has struggled with Tourette Syndrome, ADHD, and an anxiety disorder for most of her life. But in the middle of both inner and outer noise, Jamie has learned how to manage the negative effects of her diagnoses, make the most of her strengths, and lean into the journey God has led her on. --bn.com

Jamie Grace has  become a familiar person to me. Not because of her music, but because of the show I watch she's been on: Better Together. On this show, she briefly opened up at her medical diagnoses. As I was listening to her tell how she deals with life I kept thinking that I'd love to hear her story more in depth. I was excited for this book because that's what it's supposed to be. I just knew inspiration was going to be found within these pages.

I wasn't wrong.  Jamie gave a deeper look at her life with Tourette Syndrome. Not being very familiar with this condition, I was appreciative for this. I had no idea how dangerous the ticks are. Not to mention the side effects that some with fighting them. I loved getting more educated about Tourette's from someone living it. The strength she had to not just give up on her dreams was an inspiration. She also gave you a front row seat in her mind for how her anxiety plays out in her life. As you read the words she wrote, you see the battle her anxiety wages. She lays it bare for you. 

To see the things Jamie has gone on to accomplish despite having these medical issues is inspiring to the reader. From a young age, she has been doing what few her age did. Seeing how she relies on God through it all- on a daily basis- reminds you how powerful a relationship with Him is. How impactful it can be. The courage Jamie showed in giving you a look into her life, and all it's complications, is what many people in this world need. Sometimes we need to be reminded that we can still pursue, and achieve, our dreams even if the road to them is difficult. Jamie, I thank you for sharing your story. I pray it blesses every reader.

The Noel Letters

October 28, 2020

 


The Noel Letters
By: Richard Paul Evans

Summary:
After nearly two decades, Noel Post, an editor for a major New York publishing house, returns to her childhood home in Salt Lake City to see her estranged, dying father. What she believed would be a brief visit turns into something more as she inherits the bookstore her father fought to keep alive. Reeling from loneliness, a recent divorce, and unanticipated upheavals in her world, Noel begins receiving letters from an anonymous source, each one containing thoughts and lessons about her life and her future. She begins to reacquaint herself with the bookstore and the people she left behind, and in doing so, starts to unravel the reality of her painful childhood and the truth about her family. As the holidays draw near, she receives a Christmastime revelation that changes not only how she sees the past but also how she views her future.
        --Amazon.com


I've had a long standing tradition of reading each Christmas book Richard Paul Evans puts out. I eagerly await its release so I can get (usually) get lost in a story I don't want to put down. Some books have been better than others, and some have left a more lasting impression, but I still look forward to this Christmas tradition every year. 

This year's release, The Noel Letters, was no exception. The plot sounded right up my alley. And while I think it's a good book, it wasn't as good as I was hoping. Usually, Mr. Evans' books encompass more of the Christmas spirit in terms of the emotions they bring out. This one didn't do that. The Noel Letters was about the long term effects of harboring a grudge. You can see why Noel distanced herself from her father. You can easily see why she felt the way she did. You can relate to the confusion she encounters when she arrives home to everyone singing his praises. How was this man the same man at the root of her pain? There is a heaviness of the heart as you read the pages of this book. How was it able to get as bad as it did? How was the distance and misunderstandings able to last as long as they did?

The letters Noel begins receiving weren't as impactful as I thought they would be. Rather, they were random nuggets of advice that you later learn are connected. Not to say the words written weren't wise, but you didn't always see the connection between them and Noel. Finding out who was behind them and involved with them was more impactful. Once you have this background information on the letters, you see them in a different light. 

The supporting characters were both fascinating and confusing. Grace, I loved and wanted to learn more about. I loved her character. You just knew there was more to her involvement than just a friend of Noel's Dad. Your heart breaks to learn of her story, then it overflows with amazement when you see what she does with the circumstances. You aren't surprised to learn they were close friends, but shocked to see how the friendship came to be. I have to say, she was my favorite of the characters. I could just sit with her all day and gleam life lessons and wisdom from her.

Wendy, the coworker with her father in his bookstore, was a character I couldn't make sense of. You knew they were connected as she worked side by side, for years, with him. She was his righthand man in the business operations, as well as some of his personal life. Both she and Grace were the ones to care for him all the years Noel wasn't there- especially during his illness and death. There was a mourning with a touch of bitterness you meet right away, but can't quite figure out. I have to say the revelation of Noel's Father and Wendy was a surprise I didn't see coming. It was one I couldn't really understand. You aren't there to watch it unfold, so it's hard to imagine.

Overall, I'm glad I read the book. It was a story that tackles a darker set of feelings and emotions that can exist during the holidays. Grudges can bring damage that takes years to heal, if you let them. This book is a reminder of there always being two sides to every story, but being willing to learn both sides is key. Forgiveness was the center point of the story. Forgiveness from both sides. I felt much of the emotions Noel felt within the pages. I understood them. I cried a few tears and points. It's a good read, but not one that I think I would read again. 

Christmas Ever After

September 29, 2020

 


Christmas Ever After
by: Karen Schaler
396 Pages

Summary:
Author Riley Reynolds is desperate to salvage her career. Her last book didn't do well and, if things don't change, she's looking at being dropped by her publisher. So, the woman who has sworn off Christmas for most of her life has been told to write a Christmas book. Her publicist uses questionable tactics to make this happen. So, the girl who doesn't do Christmas is going to host a Christmas Camp. Since her publicist tells everyone listening that she's Miss Christmas, it makes perfect sense. Things get off on the wrong foot and she must do what she can to salvage not just her career but the Camp. She can play along for a few days with her fans, right? But.... what are her ex-boyfriends doing there?

Karen Schafer has quickly become part of my Christmas reading traditions. She releases a new book themed around Christmas each year, and I devour it. This one, I felt, fell a little flat. Rather than making the days at the camp, and it's Christmas-themed activities, the book spends most of it's pages on prepping for the camp. I'm used to the Camp time being the focus of the book, with everything else being a supporting story line. This time around, it's flipped.

This particular Christmas Camp isn't like the others in previous books. This Camp centers around Riley. The attendees are fans who paid to be there- with the focus on Riley's Christmas traditions. No one- not even Luke- knows she doesn't do Christmas anymore. Things get a little hairy when, amongst the guest list, are blasts from her past with intentions on becoming her future. Misunderstandings run rampant in this book- mostly at the hands of her near-do-well publicist, Mike. 

You learn why, as a child, Riley loved Christmas and why those days abruptly ended. You get an up close look at her life and how it became the way it currently is. You see her slowly open her heart and mind to the possibility of letting Christmas back into her life. You see her focus shift from just saving her career, but making sure others involved get what they want, as well. 

Riley and Luke, the manager of the Inn, get off on the wrong foot. He's left scrambling to clean up a mess she made when she storms out of an interview about the Christmas Camp. Riley and Luke both have reasons for needing the Christmas Camp to be successful, so they have to work together to make it happen. The road isn't always smooth, but they tread the path, nonetheless. It doesn't take long before she's having to think fast to live up to false expectations her publicist promises. 

While Christmas Ever After isn't my favorite book in this series, it was still a good read. I connected with Riley, Luke and several of the other characters. Despite being a slower read than it's predecessors, it was still a cozy read to get get lost in. No one will find the basics of the story unpredictable, but you don't buy it thinking they will. Karen Schafer gives you what you are expecting: a heart-warming story around Christmas. She delivers another book showing the magic and wonder of the Christmas spirit. 

The Christmas Swap

September 1, 2020

 


The Christmas Swap
By: Melody Carlson
176 Pages
$16.99

Summary:
Emma Daley's parents have been living in Africa for the last several years. So, rather than spend her Christmases alone, she's been spending them with her friend, Gillian Landers. This year, Emma is looking forward to a relaxing Christmas- away from the bickering of the Landers family and Mrs. Landers' constant complaining. Gillian, however, talks her into spending Christmas with them since her father has done a Christmas house swap. Instead of spending Christmas in Arizona, they're going to have a White Christmas in Colorado. Not ever having seen snow in person, Emma can't pass up the invitation.

West Prescott's family has decided to spend Christmas in the desert of Arizona. So, against his wishes, he swaps homes with  the Landers family. However, his vacation finds him home and discovering something he never thought he'd find.

This book is a quick, cute holiday read. I thought it would be reminiscent of The Holiday, but it really wasn't. West forgets something at his house that he goes back for, but isn't able to get away before the Landers family arrives for their stay. I had a hard time liking Mrs. Landers. She pretty much complained about everything from the start. Gillian is a spoiled product of a wealthy family, so she's used to getting what she wants. Emma is an awesome character with her head on her shoulders, but it's hard to understand why she's close enough to spend multiple Christmases with Gillian since they're complete opposites. The book does address this, but you still don't quite get it. 

I think the main issue I had with the book lies with Gillian. From early on in the book, you understand she's a pampered, privileged woman. Later in the book, she adds manipulator and liar simply to get what she wants. And she does this with her friend. I wasn't expecting her to be as conniving as she was and with who she was. 

Overall, this was a cute read. I wouldn't add it to my favorite holiday reads list, but it was a nice little read. I would recommend getting it from the library over buying it. I don't think it was worth the $17 price tag because I  don't see myself ever rereading this book. 

Royal

August 18, 2020

 


Royal
By: Danielle Steel
288 Pages

Summary:
As the war rages on in the summer of 1943, causing massive destruction and widespread fear, the King and Queen choose to quietly send their youngest daughter, Princess Charlotte, to live with a trusted noble family in the country. Despite her fiery, headstrong nature, the princess's fragile health poses far too great a risk for her to remain in war-torn London.

Third in line for the throne, seventeen year-old Charlotte reluctantly uses an alias upon her arrival in Yorkshire, her two guardians the only keepers of her true identity. In time, she settles comfortably into a life out of the spotlight, befriending a young evacuee and training with her cherished horse. But no one predicts that in the coming months she will fall deeply in love with her protectors' son.

She longs for a normal life. Far from her parents, a tragic turn of events leaves an infant orphaned. Alone in the world, that child will be raised in the most humble circumstances by a modest stable manager and his wife. No one, not even she, knows of her lineage. But when a stack of hidden letters comes to light, a secret kept for nearly two decades finally surfaces, and a long lost princess emerges.

A fascinating story of family and royalty, and an unforgettable portrait of an extraordinary young woman and the man who brings her home, Royal is an exhilarating work from America's most beloved storyteller.
            ---courtesy of bn.com

                                *** My Review does include some spoilers ***

This story is all about the fallout of war and secrets. As the book opens, princess Charlotte is sent away for her own safety. No one thought it would be for more than a year. Well, a lot happens when  the year in question is during a war. And in true fiction style, a lot happens in Princess Charlotte's life within said year. Not only does she keep her true identity secret, but she falls in love, gets pregnant, gets married, becomes a war widow, gives birth and then dies. The rest of the book is centered around her daughter, Anne Louise who doesn't learn of her heritage until she's an adult.

There were parts of this story I had a hard time connecting with. Most of the story had me fascinated. What originated out of revenge grew to a genuine parental love between Lucy and Anne. You kept waiting to see how the truth would unfold and it didn't happen in a way I expected. You didn't always want to like Lucy. Her motives weren't always good in the beginning- but they changed over time. She gave Anne a happy and solid life full of love that she probably wouldn't have had otherwise, 

Not being a big horse fan, I wasn't pulled into that part of the story. While I like the groundbreaking leaps Anne made for women in the equestrian field, I wasn't as pulled into this aspect of the book as I was with other parts. 

The area I had the hardest struggle with was the last 1/4 of the book. Anne's transition to royal life wasn't at all what I expected or thought likely. Nor was I able to get behind the romance of Anne and Anthony. In a matter of a paragraph she goes from seeing him in a brotherly view to confessing her love in a romantic view. 

Overall, it was a moderate read. There were amazing parts and equally disappointing parts to this story for me. I wasn't as gripped or invested in this book as I have been with previous Danielle Steel books. I don't think I would buy this particular book. I love her historical fiction, but this one wasn't one of her bests. It's a great summer beach read, but not among my favorites.

 

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