Monday, December 10, 2018

Breathe: Making Room for Sabbath by Priscilla Shirer




Rating: 4 of 5 stars
Length: 127 pages
Published: September 2014


Breathe by Priscilla Shirer is the latest online Bible study program in which I participated with Proverbs 31 Ministries. In the past, I've reaped great benefits from 5 Habits of a Woman Who Doesn't Quit by Nicki Koziarz, Unglued by Lysa Terkeurst, Wait and See by Wendy Pope, Listen, Love, Repeat by Karen Ehman, and Seamless by Angie Smith. Prior to reading her book, I'd only heard of Ms. Shirer through her father, who is a paster in the Dallas/Fort Worth area - Tony Evans. The things I had heard about her were very positive, so I was quite excited to dig into this study. And I'm not going to lie, I was happy it was a short one since we are in the midst of the busy holiday season. 

The overall premise of Breathe is we are overly busy. We don't slow down and smell the roses. Shirer posits that God designed us and the world in such a way that we must take time to rest and remember - remember our purpose, remember to love, remember to spend time with Him. She calls this the #SabbathMargin - creating space for God to enter in. She further explains, after six days of creating, He saw that it was good and rested on the seventh day. In doing this, He illustrates the importance of us taking that same time. It may be difficult to carve out an entire Saturday or Sunday. But what if we took a few minutes each day to stop and meditate on His goodness? 

The book is written in a relatable and practical way for both women and men. There are several areas and pages to jot down notes of your own as well as from Shirer's video presentations that can be purchased via LifeWay. I wish there was a little more written content and less questions. Some of the questions tended to be repetitive, and some of them were not relevant to me. However, it was helpful to reflect and commit to some Sabbath practices by memorializing them in writing. 

My biggest takeaway from this book was that people who tend to hoard (things, time, etc.) live with a slave mentality, and "Slaves live from a position of deficiency. Free people live from a place of holy expectation." After completing this study, I have a renewed commitment to thinking, walking, and living in freedom. Rather than hold on to the temporary things of this world, I hope to hold on to things that contribute to my eternal life. I will not always be perfect, but the goal is to be better. And I hope God blesses my progress (and yours too!). 

Recommendation: Priscilla Shirer is a powerful writer and speaker. This short book is packed with motivational messages, and it's the perfect antidote this time of year when we all tend to be more busy than usual. 

The next Proverbs 31 Study is Lysa Terkeurst's It's Not Supposed to be this Way. Sign up for free on the P31 website. 

Until next time ... Read on!

Regardless of whether I purchase a book, borrow a book, or receive a book in exchange for review, my ultimate goal is to be honest, fair, and constructive. I hope you've found this review helpful.

Saturday, December 1, 2018

The Proposal by Jasmine Guillory




Rating: 4 of 5 stars
Length: 336 pages
Published: October 2018


The Proposal by Jasmine Guillory was December's light and fun pick by my new book club Planner Girls Read Too. This is the second book written by Guillory, preceded by The Wedding Date. Many readers seem to think The Wedding Date is prerequisite reading for The Proposal. I've only read The Proposal, but it sounds like Ms. Guillory simply recycles some characters within her books (Her third book, The Wedding Party, will debut in 2019 and will feature some secondary characters from The Proposal.) 

I preface this review with some pertinent information: The Proposal is chick lit. It's meant to be read for entertainment — an escape from reality. There are several steamy sex scenes as well as a generous amount of colorful language. If this is not your cup of tea, you may want to pass it up. However, if you're looking for a quick, fun read over the holidays or even on summer vacay, The Proposal fits the bill. 

The story begins with a very public proposal to the book's protagonist, Nikole (Nik), by her superficial actor boyfriend of five months. Not to be bullied into saying yes, even though she has to answer in front of 45,000 people, Nik does the right thing and says no. In swoops Carlos (from The Wedding Date) and his sister, Angela to save her from the unwanted publicity. The three of them make fast friends, and Carlos becomes Nik's new romantic interest of the "rebound" type. A mix of friendship, food, and frequent sex all become factors in the lines being blurred for these two. 

I enjoyed the fast-paced nature of this book. I finished it in just a few days. I like the diversity among the characters in the book. I didn't feel like anyone was put in a stereotypical box with respect to race, gender, culture, etc. I found it nice to read a book that features people of color without race or ethnicity being the primary issue of the book. We need more books like this. I wasn't a fan of the language or sex scenes. At times, I felt the author got dangerously close to over-sexualizing Nik. Some of the other scenes in the book were a little unrealistic (like the scene where Nik encounters her ex-boyfriend). But then other parts of the book were quite relatable (like when Nik re-evaluates her motives for dating the men she has in the past.) There are a few life lessons in the book that are served up without beating the reader over the head with them. 

I had a lot of fun with this book. It made me laugh, and despite being chick lit, it made me think. I closed the book with a soft smile on my face. This is an enjoyable story for readers who appreciate matters of the heart.

Recommendation: I like to read light material as the year comes to a close to keep myself upbeat and my spirits high during the holiday season. This selection was a perfect fit for those tasks. 

Until next time ... Read on!

Regardless of whether I purchase a book, borrow a book, or receive a book in exchange for review, my ultimate goal is to be honest, fair, and constructive. I hope you've found this review helpful.

Friday, November 30, 2018

Barracoon: The Story of the Last "Black Cargo" by Zora Neale Hurston




Rating: 4 of 5 stars
Length: 193 pages
Published: May 2018


For a little over a year, I've devoted most of my reading time and review space to promotion of new (and often Texas) authors. I made the decision in the last quarter of this year to focus on reading some books on my personal to-be-read list. Barracoon: The Story of the "Last Black Cargo" by Zora Neale Hurston was a find through an Amazon daily deal back in July of this year that I have been meaning to get back to. I took some time over a long weekend to dig in and read this amazing work of non-fiction by Hurston, who is most notably remembered for her work of fiction - Their Eyes were Watching God

Barracoon is a biographical account of the last known surviving and formerly enslaved African, Cudjo Lewis*, his capture and forced voyage in the trans-Atlantic slave trade on the Clotilda - the reported last slave ship to come to the United States from Africa. Barracoon is a Spanish word that translates to "barracks." It is the facility where Africans were held before being sold and transported into slavery. Koosula ended up in Alabama and eventually became a free man at the conclusion of the U.S. Civil War. He lived through capture, forced detainment, slavery, and the Reconstruction and Jim Crow eras. At 94, Koosula died in 1935. 

*[Cudjo was known as Koosula in the motherland, and he seemed overjoyed for Hurston to refer to him by his real name. Therefore, for the remainder of this review, he will be Koosula.]

Hurston met Koosula at the request of Charlotte Osgood Mason, who funded Hurston's trips to Alabama to interview and write Koosula's story. As it happens with most biographers, Hurston developed a personal yet professional relationship with Koosula giving her an excellent vantage point from which to tell this very important story. I do feel it is important to read many stories and perspectives about slavery, lest we forget our sordid history, and I am thankful Hurston wrote this one.  

As a reader, I could tell how much time and effort Hurston put into this book. I like that she stuck to her guns and demanded that it be published as she had written it - in Koosula's dialect. Unfortunately, this delayed the book's publication for nearly 90 years. However, I can understand her insistence on this. We, as the audience, need to hear Koosula. Writing it any other way would have muted his very emotional story. I appreciated the abundance of direct quotes provided. I could almost hear Koosula speaking, and I definitely could feel his emotion. Koosula was not really black or what we'd call African American today. He was an African forever displaced in this strange land he was forced to call home. His story is a sad one. Even after being freed he, like many African Americans today, and his family were grossly disenfranchised. All six of his children and his wife preceded him in death as a result.  

While I read this book on my Kindle app, I think I'd like to hear the audio version. I have a feeling an oral re-telling would be an even more powerful vehicle for this story. I am overjoyed that Common has purchased the rights and is making this into a TV movie, and I can't wait to watch it. I gave this book four stars because I felt that there was some unnecessary repetition, and I wished Hurston had given us a little more biographical information on Koosula once he was in the United States. Even so, this short book is information-filled and an important part of American history. 

RecommendationThis story is a must read. It won't take you long to finish it, so why not pick up a copy today? 

Until next time ... Read on!

Regardless of whether I purchase a book, borrow a book, or receive a book in exchange for review, my ultimate goal is to be honest, fair, and constructive. I hope you've found this review helpful.

Sunday, November 18, 2018

The Witch Elm by Tana French




Rating: 3.5 of 5 stars
Length: 464 pages
Published: October 2018


With the completion of The Witch Elm, I have now read all of Tana French's novels. Her first six books comprise a series that features the Dublin Detective Murder Squad. I enjoyed each of those books at varying levels. The Witch Elm is French's latest novel that features a murder mystery. However, the new book is standalone and is told from the perspective of a civilian - Toby - rather than from the perspective of a detective. Because the point of view is different, the writing style and story is vastly different. In perusing some online reviews, the book doesn't appear to have been well received by many of the author's dedicated fans. I think this is because those of us who enjoyed the Murder Squad series were expecting more of the same. If you go into this newest story without expectation, I think your result will be more positive. I rate this novel a 3.5, leaning strong toward a 4. 

The story opens with the protagonist, Toby, experiencing a traumatic event. This leads him to a family home where he spent much of his childhood to help care for his dying uncle. Then, a skull is discovered in a witch elm tree. From there, we learn more about Toby's cousins, who are more like his siblings, and his relationship with them. As the author peels back the layers, we tend to care less about the mystery as she focuses more on Toby figuring out who he was, who he is, and who he has become. We, as the reader, get an intimate look at Toby as the central character. Unfortunately, he's not a very likable one. But that's the thing about this author's novels, we get to meet characters who are real and flawed, making her stories resonate with the audience long after the book has been read.  

While the way The Witch Elm is told is different from French's previous novels, there are some elements that remain the same. As always, this is a well-written story full of well-constructed prose, imagery, foreshadowing, and character development - among many other literary devices. Because I received an advance reader's copy, I cannot quote directly from the novel, but you will not be disappointed in the strong writing. At nearly 500-pages, there's plenty of opportunity to enjoy French's style. She takes her time developing the plot. It takes about 30% of the book (or about chapter 5) before the reader realizes the crux of the plot. 

Overall, I enjoyed this book. I like the mystery genre, but this book was more of a study of the human condition. I would recommend this book for a long-term read. You'll want to take your time with it to fully appreciate what it has to offer. I will note, the content is dark and somewhat depressing, so you might consider where you are emotionally before embarking on this book. 

Recommendation: So, will you enjoy this book? My answer. It depends. It depends on what kind of reader you are and what type of books you enjoy. I do believe it is worth a look. Grab an ecopy or the audio version - the print copy is much too heavy to lug around. 

Until next time ... Read on!

Thanks to Viking Press Publishing - Penguin Random House for an advanced reader's copy of The Witch Elm by Tana French. Regardless of whether I purchase a book, borrow a book, or receive a book in exchange for review, my ultimate goal is to be honest, fair, and constructive. I hope you've found this review helpful.

Thursday, October 18, 2018

Bad Blood: Secrets and Lies in a Silicon Valley Startup by John Carreyrou




Rating: 4.5 of 5 stars
Length: 341 pages
Published: May 2018


After reading journalist John Carreyrou's investigative book, Bad Blood: Secrets and Lies in a Silicon Valley Startup, I do believe truth can be stranger than fiction. How in the world did such a young lady fool so many tenured business people and politicians? This book is an in-depth look at Elizabeth Holmes and her startup, Theranos. The genesis of the book was derived from Carreyrou's October 2015 Wall Street Journal report. 

Simply put this book is investigative journalism at its finest. 

I think the prevailing theme in this book is that we, as a society, have to get back to the facts. The lies and deception have to stop. We are not better off having been persuaded to one person (or group's) way of thinking. Rather, the truth shall set us free. 

I thoroughly enjoyed the way Carreyrou presented this fact-based story. He was very detailed, explaining complex science and medical processes in a way that made it easy for this liberal arts major to understand. Having said that, some of his format caused confusion for me. The way that he interchanged the identification of key players by using their first names and last names made it difficult to follow because there were a lot of players involved. Also, I found the change of perspective midway through the book troublesome. He told the first part of the story in third person, and then when his role was introduced, he abruptly changed to first person. 

Googling "Elizabeth Holmes" will generate a plethora of articles, videos, and photos. Check out the free Way Back Machine to get some insight to the now defunct Theraonos website. I've watched some online videos, and I can certainly see the effectiveness of her persuasive communication skills. She doesn't offer up a whole lot of science, but she uses her words very well. It is easy to see how her charisma and charm won over so many people (especially older men who were ridiculously memorized by her). 

The saddest thing about this whole story is that Holmes had a good idea. Despite knowing the outcome, I found myself pulling for her technology to work. What if she wouldn't have gotten in her own way and succeeded? What if she had listened to the many voices of reason and developed a societal-changing product? She not only robbed her investors, partners, and customers but also society as a whole because tunnel vision and greed resulted in Theranos' demise. Instead, the only thing Holmes succeeded in was proving the old adage true - If something sounds too good to be true, it probably is. 

Recommendation: If you want to learn more about this fascinating true story, please check out Bad Blood. This book offers so much more than what you can glean online. 

Until next time ... Read on!

Regardless of whether I purchase a book, borrow a book, or receive a book in exchange for review, my ultimate goal is to be honest, fair, and constructive. I hope you've found this review helpful. 

Tuesday, October 9, 2018

Karma's A Killer by Tracy Weber




Rating: 4 of 5 stars
Length: 9:19:00

Narrator: Anne James
Published: March 2018


Karma's a Killer by Tracy Weber is the third in a series of cozy mysteries that features Kate Davidson, a yoga instructor, and her faithful canine companion, Bella. While this book is the third in the series, it stands alone and can be read independent of the other books in the Downward Dog Mystery series. The story centers around the murder of an animal rights activist, Raven, and the murder suspect, Dharma, who happens to be Kate's estranged mother. As a result of these tumultuous events, Kate finds herself in the midst of an informal investigation and race to find out the truth about her mother. 

I know the old saying is you can't judge a book by its cover, but this cover art was just so fun and piqued my interest. Once I started listening, the author wasted no time getting right to the action, thus engaging me as a reader. Weber's writing style is certainly suited for audio reading/listening. You can really see what she is describing. James, the narrator, also did a good job acting out the character's voices, making it easy for the reader to follow the plot. Overall, I found the story to be fast-moving with enough mystery elements and captivating dialogue to keep the reader following along. I also appreciated the strong portrayals of women in this story, specifically that of the protagonist and her best friend, Rene. 

I have very few critiques. At the beginning, I found the audio to be a little muffled and not as clear as some other audiobooks I've listened to; however, over time it got better and there was more clarity. I also could have done without Kate's seemingly obsession with weight. I would classify this book as chick lit, and I think the focus on women's physical appearance was a bit problematic. 

Recommendation: I really enjoyed this book, and I would recommend it to anyone interested in cozies, mysteries, or just a good book to enjoy over a relaxing weekend. 

Until next time ... Read on!

Thanks to Midnight Ink and Audiobookworm Promotions for an Audible.com copy of Karma's a Killer by Tracy Weber. Regardless of whether I purchase a book, borrow a book, or receive a book in exchange for review, my ultimate goal is to be honest, fair, and constructive. I hope you've found this review helpful.




Friday, October 5, 2018

Old Buildings in North Texas by Jen Waldo


Genre: Literary Fiction / Dramedy
Publisher: Arcadia Books
Date of Publication: April 1, 2018
Pages: 213



After rehab, Olivia, a 32-year-old cocaine addict, is required to move back in with her mother and pregnant sister. Having left a promising career in journalism in New York, she’s now working as a sales assistant for a family friend in her home town in North Texas. 

Under pressure from her court-mandated counselor – an old high school friend - to take up a hobby, Olivia decides on "urbexing." Soon she’s breaking into derelict homes, ex-prisons, and old drive-ins across North Texas, and it’s not long before she’s looting state property and making money off the possessions, fixtures, and fittings that have been left behind.

Old Buildings in North Texas is about a modern woman’s search for personal equilibrium and wild adventure -- the attempt to find stability in existence without losing sight of what makes life worth living. Jen Waldo’s style modulates effortlessly from domestic nuance to taut adventure, tackling social and moral transgressions with incisive observation and vivid humor.


Rating: 4.5 of 5 stars 

Old Buildings in North Texas is a comedic drama (aka dramedy) set in the fictional town of Caprock, Texas written by native Texan, Jen Waldo, and centers around Olivia who is recovering from a cocaine addiction and heart attack. This results in the 32-year old moving back home with her mother who has legal custody of Olivia as she attempts to put her broken life back together. Adding to this court-appointed relationship and living arrangement, is Olivia's 20-year old sister, who is in a predicament of her own, Olivia's former high school friend who is now her therapist, and Zachary, who is her new boss and close family friend. 

In an effort to find a new hobby (you know, besides getting high on illegal drugs), Olivia turns to urban exploration (aka urbexing) where one gains entry into abandon buildings and snoops around. As she embarks on this hobby, she toes the line of legal versus illegal and learns more about herself and her loved ones in the process. The reader is treated to a fast-paced story that doesn't necessarily provide a detailed conclusion but does result in a satisfying ending. 

The book is just over 200 pages with short chapters that are titled in such a way that help push the plot forward. (As an aside, I think a lot of authors miss opportunities to further connect with their readers when they simply number their chapters. I really appreciated the descriptors in this book.) Due to personal obligations, I had to read this book in four days, but I quickly finished it in a day and half. The story flowed well, and the content kept me interested until the very end. 

Jen Waldo is an excellent writer. I thoroughly enjoyed this book and appreciated her vivid prose. This small blurb on page 17 where Olivia describes her first urban exploration experience grabbed me right from the beginning: 
The first thing I notice is the silence. And the stillness. I don't know that I've ever been in a place so suspended. For several seconds I remain unmoving as I inhale the passage of time. 
In reading the synopsis, one might believe the book is about urbexing, but it's more a story about family, relationships, and identity. This might cause some readers to feel misled, but I found it refreshing. I do wish there would have been a little more diversity among the cast of characters. And as a Christian, I didn't mind the Biblical scripture that was included in Olivia's meditation time; however, it seemed to be a little incongruent with her personality. Olivia wasn't a very likable character, and I don't think someone who was unsure about her belief in God would have been so vigorous about her study and meditation of Him. Having said that, I also found Olivia to be an equally relatable, yet flawed character. 

Recommendation: This book is laugh-out-loud funny with touching moments interspersed. I would recommend this to anyone who would like to read a fast, funny book set in the heart of north Texas. So, if you're looking for some good fiction to curl up with this fall, check out Ms. Waldo's excellent book ... or enter the 
giveaway below to win a copy! 

I received a complimentary signed paperback copy of Old Buildings in North Texas from Lone Star Book Blog Tours in exchange for my honest review. 
Regardless of whether I purchase a book, borrow a book, or receive a book in exchange for review, my ultimate goal is to be honest, fair, and constructive. I hope you've found this review helpful. 

Until next time ... Read on!





“A lot of Jen Waldo’s debut novel takes place out on the porch of Olivia’s mother’s house. […] With its casual, confidential tone, Old Buildings in North Texas puts the reader in one of those porch chairs, reclining on a warm evening with a cool drink.” ~The Skinny

“Old Buildings in North Texas is an amusingly written and well worked book” ~Trip Fiction

“This novel is an absolute blast. There are serious moments of course, but Jen Waldo looks for the comedy in everything to create a memorable scenario that reminded me very much of the style of Six Feet Under.” ~Shiny New Books




Jen Waldo lived in seven countries over a thirty-year period and has now settled, along with her husband, in Marble Falls, Texas. She first started writing over twenty years ago when, while living in Cairo, she had difficulty locating reading material and realized she’d have to make her own fun. She has since earned an MFA and written a number of novels. Her work has been published in The European and was shortlisted in a competition by Traveler magazine. Old Buildings in North Texas and Why Stuff Matters have been published in the UK by Arcadia Books. Jen’s fiction is set in Northwest Texas and she’s grateful to her hometown of Amarillo for providing colorful characters and a background of relentless whistling wind.

Connect with Jen
: WebsiteTwitterGoodreads Author Page | Amazon Author Page



Three Fabulous Prizes!!
First Prize: Signed Copy of OBiNT + $10 Amazon Gift Card
Second Prize: Signed Copy of OBiNT + $5 Amazon Gift Card
Third Prize: eBook Copy of OBiNT 
Oct. 2-11, 2018
(U.S. ONLY)




02-Oct Excerpt Texas Book Lover   
02-Oct Guest Post That's What She's Reading
03-Oct Review Tangled in Text
04-Oct Author Interview Chapter Break Book Blog  
05-Oct Review A Page Before Bedtime (You are here)  
05-Oct Excerpt Max Knight
06-Oct Guest Post Story Schmoozing Book Reviews  
07-Oct Review Momma on the Rocks   
07-Oct Notable Quotable Books and Broomsticks   
08-Oct Notable Quotable StoreyBook Reviews 
09-Oct Review Reading by Moonlight
09-Oct Guest Post The Page Unbound
10-Oct Sequel Spotlight All the Ups and Downs 
11-Oct Review The Clueless Gent
11-Oct Review Forgotten Winds

Sunday, September 30, 2018

A Kind of Freedom by Margaret Wilkerson Sexton




Rating: 4.5 of 5 stars
Length: 256 pages
Published: 2017


I learned about A Kind of Freedom by Margaret Wilkerson Sexton from my online book club - Literary Fiction by People of Color. I was able to secure a copy from my local Fort Worth Library via digital loan. I jumped right into the story and finished it about 36 hours later. 

A Kind of Freedom is a saga told through three generations. Each section vacillates between pre-Civil Rights Movement, the late 1980s, and right after Hurricane Katrina. Evelyn is born of a doctor and homemaker. She and her sister Ruby appear to have all of the amenities that not many Black people enjoyed during the 1940s. But as it often happens, some life choices drastically changed the direction of Evelyn's life, resulting in societal tragedies for her daughter, Jackie, and also Evelyn's grandson T.C.

Overall I found this story very intriguing. I literally couldn't put the book down. But I also found it extremely depressing. There are a lot of conflicts in this novel. Some of them include mass incarceration, drug abuse, poverty, and inequality. My hope was there would be some ray of sunshine for this family. I wanted each character to pull him- or herself out of their situation. However, like real life, that can be a lot easier said than done. The way Sexton presents this family is very real, very raw. Her writing is poignant. I think she is an author to keep my eye on. 

I finished the book still thinking about the characters. I do wish the author could have closed up a few loose ends for me, specifically - What happened to Terry? 

Recommendation: This is a good read for someone who would like to take a peek into the life of an African American family. But remember, this is simply one person's perspective, and it cannot be generalized to a whole race of people. 

Until next time ... Read on!

Regardless of whether I purchase a book, borrow a book, or receive a book in exchange for review, my ultimate goal is to be honest, fair, and constructive. I hope you've found this review helpful.