Jan 16, 2016

Non-Fiction Saturday: Accidental Saints: Finding God in All the Wrong People by Nadia Bolz-Weber

As part of our Non-Fiction Saturday feature, Emerson Clauss is sharing his thoughts on another intriguing book. This New York Times best-selling author has written what some would call an unexpected and surprising book as unorthodox as she is. 

Review by Emerson Clauss


ACCIDENTAL SAINTS by Nadia Bolz-Weber is a most interesting book.   It is an easy read; it will pull you in and tweak every emotion you might have, some you weren’t even aware of.
Nadia, at first glance, the least likely (looking) pastor, shares some of her background, stories starting and maintaining a most unconventional church, her strange collection of misfit congregation and will make you laugh as you take it all in.  And this is not a book for just the religious or the disenfranchised; although that seems to be the origin and strength of her church, aptly called:  “House for All Sinners and Saints”.  The stories are human stories, ones that everyone can appreciate.
Without preaching here, Nadia’s book is brash, funny, sometimes vulgar… but always riveting.  I found myself wanting to help her at each turn, as part of this weird church.  You begin to feel like a part of her congregation, setting up tables and chairs for a night of meaningful discussion, some laughs and some plain old “shootin the shit”….
And, as you start reading this, and after looking at her picture on the book jacket; you can only imagine when she approached the church hierarchy to be commissioned her own church, how the heads were spinning, at first.  When she speaks of that same process and of her followers, you begin to understand where Nadia gets her strength and her faith to be doing what she does, with the congregation she collects along the way.   It’s downright inspiring.
I will admit, before reading this book, I had heard her interviewed on a radio show.  She was funny, irreverent and irresistible.  That sent me right out to find and read this book; a small part of her story.  
During the course of reading, I really felt inspired by her outreach and her brutal honesty about that work; her first instincts (which are sometimes not what a pastor would say or do), and the fact she is not perfect and lets us inside her world to see how she copes and which little voices she listens to and acts upon.
Refreshing is what I would call Nadia, her story, her work and her followers.  I found myself wishing I lived closer to her church and could attend; although she probably would lump me with those “straight people” she is not sure what to do with.
We could all learn a few things from this story and Nadia’s work; important lessons about grace, forgiveness and shedding prejudices we all have, to some degree.   To start with, go ahead and read this most enlightening and entertaining book.

To contact Emerson Clauss about this or other reviews email him at: ejclauss@gmail.com
ACCIDENTAL SAINTS: Finding God in all the Wrong People (Hardcover)
Author: Nadia Bolz-Weber
Publisher: Convergent Books
Publshed: September 2015
Length: 224 pp
Source: Purchased

Jan 5, 2016

The View From Prince Street by Mary Ellen Taylor (Alexandria Series #2)

THE VIEW FROM PRINCE STREET is the second book in Mary Ellen Taylor's Alexandria Series that's full of history and family secrets, some dating back to the 1700's and others not nearly as old.  This is the continuing story of three families; the Shires, the McDonald's and the Smyth's, and how their pasts have forever linked them to each other. The first book, AT THE CORNER OF KING STREET, was more about the Shire family and it's history, especially how the women of that family tended to suffer from a curse that we now acknowledge as mental illness. In this new book, the story centers mainly around the McDonald and Smyth families, the the Shires are in the story as well. 

Rae McDonald has a reputation as being a cold, unemotional woman. Not unfriendly, just reserved and very private. She has a successful career but is not married and has no family left. She lives on what's left of the McDonald land that dates back over 300 years, but she struggles with her family's history and what legacy she will leave behind, if any. The discovery of a 'witch bottle' on her property in the previous book raised questions about the first known McDonald's and their journey from Scotland to the Virginia Colonies in the mid 1700's, along with Faith Shire, a woman thought to have been a witch. 

Lisa Smyth has returned to her hometown of Alexandria after getting word that her Aunt Amelia's health is failing and the Dementia she suffers from is invading more and more of her mind. Her plan is to sell the historic home Amelia's family has owned for many generations to pay for the cost of nursing facility Amelia now calls home. Being back in Alexandria means Lisa has to face her demons from seventeen years ago while at the same time hang on to her twelve years of sobriety.  

When Rae McDonald asks Margret McRae, the local historian to look into her family's past, she has no idea what secrets will be revealed but it's something she has to do even if her own secret is brought to light. Many secrets and painful memories for both Lisa and Rae are revealed and both women are forced to confront them head on. 

MY THOUGHTS:

Since I really enjoyed the first book of the series, I've been looking forward to finding out where the story would go this time around. Alexandria is such an old, interesting city and Mary Ellen Taylor successfully incorporates that history and nostalgia into these books.  As a history buff, I appreciated that aspect.  Like the first book, old letters written by one of Rae's ancestors were used to tell the historical part of the story. The letters were short but very relevant to the more current storyline without being a distraction. 

There are quite a few characters and at first it was a little difficult to keep everyone's connections
straight, but that very quickly resolved itself and wasn't a problem. The cast is developing nicely without being overwhelming. MET has even brought characters from her Union Street Bakery Series into this story. All of the players are in some way relative to one another. I haven't read the USB series, but the way they are introduced here, it doesn't matter. They are all very genuine characters with flaws and quirks that make them very believable. One of my favorite characters is Margaret, the historian. I love her open and funny personality and the way she effortlessly makes everyone feel at ease whenever she is around.

I feel this is a solid second installment with so many good relationships to build on in the future. There's a lot of substance to these stories that deal with serious topics such as alcoholism, mental illness, and adoption to name a few. MET writes about these sensitive subjects with the perfect amount of finesse that they require. I look forward to finding out what direction she will go in with the next book and I will definitely keep reading.  As a bonus,  along with some of the characters from the Union Street Bakery series, she has included a couple of cookie recipes at the end of the book that were featured in this story. One in particular, the Lemon Polenta cookie, I plan on making myself very soon. I'll let you know how they turn out!

THE VIEW FROM PRINCE STREET (eARC Copy)
Series: Alexandria Series, Book 2
Author: Mary Ellen Taylor (@METbooks)
Publisher: Penguin Random House
Published: January 5, 2016
Length: 352 pp (Paperback)
Source: NetGalley

Dec 23, 2015

Christmas Bliss by Mary Kay Andrews (Unabridged Audio Version)

It's been a few years since fans of Mary Kay Andrews' partners in crime pals Weezie Foley and Bebe Loudermilk have been heard from. In fact, the last time was in 2006 with her previous Christmas tale, BLUE CHRISTMAS. Readers were first introduced to the duo way back in 2002 in her smash hit SAVANNAH BLUES.

CHRISTMAS BLISS was released in 2013 and picks up with Weezie mere days away from her wedding to chef Daniel and Bebe very pregnant with her first child with beau, Harry, the deep-sea fishing captain. Both women seem to be charting near perfect lives but rough waters are soon on the horizon. As Weezie is making final preparations for her second, and hopefully, last wedding, her fiance is in New York City working as a guest chef in one of the city's premier establishments. As the days go by and the wedding gets closer, Daniel is almost impossible to reach. To make matters worse, newspaper clippings of photos with him and the beautiful owner of the restaurant cause Weezie's insecurities to surface. At the same time, Bebe gets a visit from a mysterious woman indicating that Bebe's divorce from her previous husband and con-man, Richard was never finalized, which means she is still married to him and could legally, according to the laws of the state of Georgia, could be considered her baby's legal father!

While Weezie jets off to NYC to find out what's going on with her fiance and his sexy boss, Bebe is determined to locate Richard and get divorce papers re-filed before Harry finds out she's still married before the baby comes.

MY THOUGHTS ON THE STORY:

Although I always love when MKA brings these two fun characters back, I was a bit disappointed there wasn't a little more substance to the story. I hate even saying that as it is a Christmas-themed book and it was charming in that regard. In the past, Weezie and Bebe have been through some crazy fun adventures and compared to those, this was a bit tame. That being said, I was glad to see both of their relationships moving forward, especially since it's been forever since we've heard form them. The story had all the charm as in previous books with the same fun characters and it was a cute story to read for Christmas time. However, I do hope that MKA won't wait so long to bring them back and maybe with more of an adventurous storyline.

MY THOUGHTS ON THE AUDIO PERFORMANCE:

When this book first came out in 2013, I received a hard copy from the publisher. Unfortunately, I only made it a third of the way through and had to set it aside because it was too difficult for me to read the print in the book. (My eyes had started getting worse at that time). I was very sad I couldn't finish the book then and felt terrible about it.  So earlier this month I used one of my credits at Audible and purchased the audio version so I could listen to it for this Christmas season. Better late then never, I say!

Kathleen McInerney did a good job of bringing these two lovable characters to life and her Southern accent was spot on without going overboard. Though I will say, later on in the book, it started to be a little syruppy for me. I know I'm just being picky and maybe I was a bit frustrated by the lack of adventure in the story, but I have to be honest. I think if there is to be a Weezie and Bebe Mystery Number 5, I will read it reather than listen.

The bottom line is this is a cute, quick Christmas-themed book that I don't regret reading at all. The characters are beloved and I will never give up on them. This book would make a great Christmas present and is perfect for reading on a Christmas break either from school or work.

CHRISTMAS BLISS (Unabridged Audio Version)
Series: Weezie and Bebe Mystery
Author: Mary Kay Andrews
Publisher: Macmillan Audio
Published:     October 2013
Length: 7 Hrs 39 Mins
Source: Purchased

Dec 19, 2015

Non-Fiction Saturday: A Common Struggle by Patrick Kennedy & Stephen Fried

It's Saturday and that means another great non-fiction book recommendation and review from Emerson Clauss for Non-Fiction Saturday. The book, A COMMON STRUGGLE deals with the sensitive, but very current topic of mental health.


A COMMON STRUGGLE by Patrick J. Kennedy and Stephen Fried is a book highlighting the courage and sacrifice to share a personal story of one person’s shortcomings and “demons”.  Kennedy shares his personal tribulations dealing with mental health challenges, so as to enlighten us and show us there are solutions to these problems.  The book is not a “tell all”, like the many we have seen about the Kennedy clan.  Only when it helps tell his story, does Patrick include the influence of his immediate family, then the more encompassing, Kennedy extended Family.  Obviously, his immediate family, including his most famous and notable father Ted, are in his story.
With the topic of mental health so much in the news today, but rarely talked about in depth or with solutions and treatment in mind, Kennedy pierces that veil.  He speaks openly of his battles, sometimes daily, to function in the real world.  He is brutal in his honesty and shares how his family and congressional staff, after election to public office, help him function daily and sometimes cover for his dis-function.
Probably most of us cannot imagine the pressure “A Kennedy” grows up under; that alone is probably overwhelming.  Add to that, personality traits that are genetic as well as destructive habits totally ingrained in your familial culture; the fact he or any Kennedy child survives this gauntlet is amazing.  
Patrick chronicles his battles, while in school, onto college and into public life.  This is an insider’s account of what a young adult, from a prominent family does, as he moves from the protected world of private schools and colleges, into adult life; with all that he implores to try to be functioning ‘as expected’.  
His coping mechanisms include prescribed medications, others drugs used not from prescriptions, alcohol abuse, and how quickly all of this can get out of control.  For someone who is already struggling with very complex issues before any medication/alcohol abuse; this is a big challenge.
In following with so many of his family’s decisions to enter public life, Kennedy chooses the same.  He starts small, than runs for the US Congress; winning a seat in Rhode Island.  He uses this platform to start in earnest, his fight for Mental Health parity, for inclusion in insurance offerings and covered health issues, and for de-stigmatizing the diagnosis itself.  He expends much of his time and political capitol on this most personal issue; he has (had) some big successes we still benefit from today
The only thing I had to keep fighting to keep out of my head while reading this book, is that Patrick chronicles what and how a person of privilege is able to afford help, hire folks to assist, and always have his family’s wealth to count and fall back on for assistance; something most us would never be able to afford; a safety net we do not have.  
If this story could get lost in this privileged reality, Patrick does well to bring it back down to earth.  He shares how important certain people become; the ones who understand the illness and those who will support your recovery, every minute of every day.  This book is full of personal insight and raw feelings; it is compelling.
At the time Patrick was in Congress, he made Mental Health his obsession.  He has since made its awareness, discussion and availability of treatment, his life’s work through his foundation and ongoing efforts today.  

For anyone who has struggled with mental illness and available treatment, this is an important book. For anyone who has tried to help someone with mental health issues, whether successful or not; this book is helpful.  For anyone who wants to make a difference in our society in reference to mental health and how it affects us all; this book is a must read.

I** If you'd like to discuss this book or other non-fiction with Emerson, he can be reached at ejclauss@gmail.com

A COMMON STRUGGLE (Hardcover)
Authors: Patrick Kennedy & Stephen Fried
Publisher: Blue Rider Press
Published: October 5, 2015
Length: 425pp

Dec 5, 2015

Non Fiction Saturday: Red Notice by Bill Browder

As regular readers of SGR blog know, I don't spend a lot of time reading Non Fiction. My long-time, RL friend, Emerson Clauss, has been a guest review several times and I've decided to make him a permanent contributor so he can share what he discovers in that genre with my readers.  He keeps me tuned in to so many great non-fiction books and his enthusiasm is contagious. I'll be sharing his book on what I will be calling Non-Fiction Saturday! The book he is spot-lighting today is one I have every intention of reading.



RED NOTICE by Bill Browder is a fantastic tale of intrigue, high finance, spies, big investments with surprises at every turn.  What makes this book an amazing read, is that it is not only a true story, it will pull every heart-string you have, will leave you hoping for the best in our modern world and how the "world" in Russia works; today with Putin at the helm.
Browder starts his story of financial wizardry with his struggle to make a name for himself in the world of high finance and big deals; the dreams of Wall Street.  He makes early inroads into the business the old fashioned way; with a good education, good instinct and plenty of hard work and gutsy moves.  
Bill finds himself looking for a way to differentiate himself in a pool full of sharks, and finds a niche in Russia.  Along the way, he gives us mere mortals a view into the world of high finance and big investing.  He weaves a great story of relationships, educated gambles and how the investment world works.
Russia creates a challenge for Bill and his new company, his associates and most importantly, his well healed investors.  It is a challenge with huge rewards, for what he has stumbled into and uncovered.  As Russia is trying to enter the new era of open borders and inviting outsiders into their economy, Browder finds some market and valuation anomalies that make the risk worth pursuing.  And pursuing he does.
With his new company, Bill assembles a team to research and vet all sorts of obtuse information about particular Russian companies and the folks who run them.  At each turn he is more surprised and astounded; how could these fantastic deals not have been found by anyone else...
Browder and his company spend years developing their business and investments in Russia, through some monumental changing times for Russia and the "Federation".  Russia is undergoing a lot of ups and downs, economically, socially and in the business world.  However, the realities of doing business in Russia soon comes home to roost.
This true story starts sounding like an exciting Bond movie, except the players are real, have real lives and families.  It does keep you on the edge of your seat. After a while, I was unable to put the book down, and had to know what happened next.  And, when Bill's story started intersecting with current international news and the circumstances surrounding these events, it became that much more intriguing.
For all of the players in this real life drama, the stakes get higher at every turn, and they find that the old ways of Russia, with government being controlled by the infamous oligarchs; is alive and well.  Possibly, the old ways of Russia have never gone away, and have never gotten better, despite the face the Kremlin tries to put on.  
Bill and his comrades become more aware of this, when the attacks begin on them, their investments and people who represent and do business with them.  And as most American are aware, the government in Russia is scary at best, sinister at its worst.  
The clandestine meetings, phone calls and face to face visits will keep you riveted to every turn of this tale.  The courage of the people working for Bill and with him to salvage the best of a worsening situation is inspiring.  Unfortunately this courage taunts the Russian government to unleash its wrath, to the demise of one of Bills associates, Sergei Magnitsky, soon to be killed in prison after his arrest.

What is so heartening about this drama, playing out in real time for Bill and his associates, is how many people stayed courageous to help each other to safety under some extreme risk and stress, to extricate a few of them from Russia, and to eventually avenge Sergei's death in a most unique way.  Bill puts his business life on hold in the late stages of this dilemma and sets his site on safeguarding his associates and pursuing justice for Sergei.
He puts his intelligence, strenuous work ethic and earnest efforts (and I'm sure considerable money) to extracting some justice from the folks in Russia responsible for his friends death and for his own persecution.  This brings him squarely into the middle of some heavy world politics, where the stakes are high; but his personal risks are still bigger.  After all, he has angered the Russian Government, one where Vladimir Putin, former KGB officer is now President.  Putin does not like to lose or be shown up... we have all heard the stories, rumors of his detractors disappearing.
Browder lays much of the workings of Putin's Russia right on the table; and survives to tell this story.  And it is a riveting story, one that will bring a tear to your eyes more than once; after you are pulled successfully into this drama.  And there is much to learn about this story in the archives of recent history in news accounts.  I know I will be digging further into this; it's too intriguing not to.
To say this story is "told", would put it into the past.  Two things about that:  some of the story is still in the news and the players are still involved; one is a pissed off President Putin.  And yes, we have all heard  stories of assassinations traced back to Putin or his cronies...  
Bill closes his book with one thing I would like to quote him talking about countermeasures to safeguard himself and his family: "...this book.  If I'm killed, you {the reader} will know who did it.  When my enemies read this book, they will know that you know... That simple act will keep the spirit of Sergei Magnitsky alive and go further than any army of bodyguards in keeping me safe."   
This book is an exceptional read, hard to put down, even for Thanksgiving Dinner.  Bill Browder has the courage to share his story, the story of his friend, Sergei Magnitsky and that of enduring courage, the strength of the human spirit at its best.   If this book fails to pull you in and hold your attention and heart... you may want to check for a pulse.

Author: Bill Browder
Publisher: Simon & Schuster
Published: Reprint Edition October 2015
Length: 416 pp



 

Nov 22, 2015

The Sunday Salon: Back to the Books!

Happy Sunday all! I haven't done a post in awhile where I talk about the books I'm currently reading and listening to so I thought I'd do that today. I'll also update you on the status of my decision to move to Ohio. It's a rainy day here in central Florida, which doesn't bother me at all. It will make for a relaxing book-reading day for me.

With Thanksgiving days away, I'll be taking a break from clearing out my house in preparation of selling it. It's a lot of work when you've lived there for over 20 years, not to mention it's even harder when you are literally half blind.  I hired a guy to come and work in my yard last week and he did a great job! Now if only the leaves would stop falling! Hopefully, I'll be ready to start showing the house the week after. My mom and I met with a realtor last Monday (she's selling her house also and moving with me.) and that made it all seem very real! I know her house will sell very quickly but mine will probably take a bit longer as there are repairs that need to be done. Bur for the right buyer, it would make a great investment. I have a few people interested in looking at it so keep your fingers crossed for me!

Since my recovery from surgery, I've been making up for lost time with the house chores so that hasn't left a lot of time for reading. On the other hand, I am making progress with audios. I love that I can work around the house and listen to my books. It makes the time fly by! But at the end of the day when I think I'll have an hour or so to read, I'm so exhausted I can't stay awake past the first few pages. So my book reading is suffering.

I have two review books I need to read. I've started one called TENACITY by J.S. Law. It's a thriller set in the UK and centers around an investigator with the Royal Navy. She is probing a possible suicide on the British submarine, TENACITY. It's the first book in a new series that others have described as "riveting". I'm very anxious to get back to it. This book was released on November 3rd.


The other book is ALONG THE INFINITE SEA by Beatriz Williams. I've been very curious about her books over the last couple of years but haven't yet read one. So when her 'people' sent me a copy I jumped at the chance to read it. This one is in the historical fiction genre and has a bit of a romance. I was wary of the romance part because I don't usually read books for romance but I was assured it's a subtle element. I haven't read a historical fiction novel in awhile so I'm looking forward to this one. This book was released on November 3rd as well.

I have two audio books going right now but I had to take a break from one of them. A LITTLE LIFE by Hanya Yanagihara is a very long book at over 33 hours and it's a gut-wrenching story. I've reached the half-way point and decided to set it aside for just a bit.

The other audio I started last week is by an author with whom I've become quite smitten. Lucy Clarke's THE BLUE is her third novel and though I'm only about 2 hours in, I'm already totally engrossed and connected to the characters. All of Clarke's books have an adventurous aspect to them as they always revolve around the sea. THE BLUE is about a crew of a 50' yacht that is sailing from The Phillipines to New Zealand and the mysterious goings on amongst this group of people who haven't known each other long but each has a story aching to come out. I have grown to love Clarke's beautiful writing and how she is able to draw the locale into the story and make it seem like it is within reach of the reader. She is a lovely writer and is becoming a favorite of mine. I especially liked the Prologue of this book for it's wonderful prose. I even went back and listened to it twice! The narrator, Scarlett Mack, is doing a terrific job, especially with the different dialects of the characters.
I'm also moving forward with Karin Slaughter's Will Trent Series in between all these other books. I'm on Book 5, FALLEN, though I'm only about 25% done. There are seven books so far in the series and I am really missing it. I desperately want to get back to it. Her crime fiction/suspense writing is amazing but for some it's a bit violent. I have her latest, a stand-alone novel called PRETTY GIRLS on audio but I haven't started it yet. Probably won't get to it until January. :(

The other day, I went through my Kindle and took note of all the books I haven't read yet and I was ashamed of myself! I think it's time for me to ban myself from buying anymore books at least for the rest of the year, if not longer. I have some wonderful books that I'd even fortotten about!

So, that's what's going on in my book world. I'm hopeful I'll make a big dent in my reading this week and I can't wait! I'm starting today! First up I need to finish TENACITY and FALLEN. That is my first priority.

Usually I like to cook on Sunday, but I'm taking a break there too. Yesterday I made a recipe my mom makes all the time that is a cheesy, potato casserole. So I'll just be heating that up, adding a veggie and probably put some chicken in the toaster oven to bake. Easy, peasy!

Now I'm off to get comfortable and start reading! I'd also like to wish everyone a safe and Happy Thanksgiving!

Nov 14, 2015

Finders Keepers by Stephen King (Unabridged Audio)

In this second book of the Bill Hodges Trilogy Stephen King takes us into the mind of a reader obsessed with a series of books. John Rothstein, the writer of the series and creator of the iconic protagonist, Jimmy Gold, has not released a new installment in years and has been living an isolated existence, almost in obscurity for many years.  Morris Bellamy is obsessed with Jimmy Gold and is infuriated about the way Rothstein has left the character. Bellamy is so consumed by this obsession that he, and two accomplices break into Rothstein's secluded home and steal the money he purportedly kept in a safe. While cleaning out the safe they also find several filled notebooks of the aged author's writings. Bellamy is convinced these notebooks are the next installments of the series not yet released.  

After hiding his treasure, Bellamy is then sent to prison for an unrelated crime. As the years pass he dreams of the day when he can reclaim the notebooks and prove that Rothstein had, in fact, written another Gold book.  When finally released he discovers his treasure is gone and he sets out to find it.

My Thoughts on the Story:

Immediately, I was excited about the story featuring an obsessed reader. Morris Bellamy is a low-life but he is no dummy. He is totally obsessed with these books and will do anything to get those notebooks back. It has now been a few years since the Mercedes killings when we first met retired cop Bill Hodges. He isn't present right away, but King enters him into the story very naturally. Along with Hodges, Jerome and Holly are also included, which I really liked. They  sre an odd group of friends that you wouldn't think would have anything in common with each other, but their bond is evident. There are also a few minor characters from book one. For me, the story was original and had me riveted from the beginning. I have only read a few of King's other books but I really enjoy the way he reveals details in these crime fiction books. He doesn't throw everything at you at once. It's like peeling layers of an onion. I enjoyed it very much. There was just as much suspense as in the first book so it made the listening time go by very quickly.

My Thoughts on the Audio Performance:

As with MR. MERCEDES, Will Patton was exceptional. I've always been a fan of his acting ever since I first saw him in the Costner/Hackman film NO WAY OUT. His talent is unending. The way he can so smoothly distinguish between characters is total perfection. He brings such life to these people and makes them totally believable.  His ability to use so many different inflections of his voice for all these characters and keep them all straight is amazing. He is one of my all-time favorite narrators.

The Bottom Line:

I was curious where this second book would take us and if it would be a continuation of MR. MERCEDES.  I liked how King told a new story but kept it related to Book One. And even though I wasn't as blown away with this one as I was with MR. MERCEDES, I still really liked it. I'm looking forward to the final book. Lastly,  I have to mention the cover! It is as great as the previous one with its subtle hints! It's a great read in any form, but if you're looking for a new audio, I highly recommend giving this one a try. Will Patton is wonderful and makes the whole experience even better.

FINDERS KEEPERS (Unabridged Audio)
Author: Stephen King
Narrator: Will Patton
Publisher: Simon & Schuster Audio
Published:  June 2015
Length: 13 Hrs 5 Mins (448 pp)
Source: Purchased from Audible.com