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review 2018-03-06 14:58
The Space Between Words by Michele Phoenix
The Space Between Words - Michele Phoenix

When Jessica regains consciousness in a French hospital on the day after the Paris attacks, all she can think of is fleeing the site of the horror she survived. But Patrick, the steadfast friend who hasn’t left her side, urges her to reconsider her decision. Worn down by his insistence, she reluctantly agrees to follow through with the trip they’d planned before the tragedy. During a stop at a country flea market, Jessica finds a faded document concealed in an antique. As new friends help her to translate the archaic French, they uncover the story of Adeline Baillard, a young woman who lived centuries before—her faith condemned, her life endangered, her community decimated by the Huguenot persecution. 

Determined to learn the Baillard family’s fate, Jessica retraces their flight from France to England, spurred on by a need she doesn’t understand. Could this stranger who lived three hundred years before hold the key to Jessica’s survival?




American tourist Jessica is recovering in a Paris hospital in November of 2015, the day after the Paris attacks.


"Did a lot of people die?" I asked. I had to know.


The nurse nodded, and I saw tears in her eyes too. "Many," she said. Then she took a deep breath and added, "But many survived." She patted my hand where it still gripped her wrist. "I know you are americaine, but you are French now too."



Trying to heal from the injuries she sustained as an attendee of the death metal concert, Jessica is encouraged by friend Patrick to return to their apartment in town to continue her recovery. As time passes and she begins to show signs of physical strength returning, she feels compelled to return to the States, but Patrick thinks it would be good for her, mentally, to go on with their trip as planned. He stays insistent through her many refusals until he eventually wears her down and she agrees to his idea. 


There was a muddiness to mature adult friendships -- the expectation that they would lead to something more. That they should. And after that night, with our relationship more clearly defined, we'd moved forward more freely, autonomous and intertwined, an unusual duo bound by similar passions and complementary interests. Patrick and I knew what connected us was rare. It didn't matter anymore how others wanted to define it. 


One stop on their journey takes them to a little out of the way antiques shop where Jessica comes across what turns out to be an old sewing box, a box she later discovers dates back to the 17th century. Inside a hidden compartment, Jessica finds the journal of one Adeline Baillard, whose writings explain her fight to escape the Huguenot Persecution. Their crime: being Protestant in a Catholic nation.


There are only a few scant entries to Adeline's journal, giving the impression that she was hurriedly writing an account of her experiences in secret during the time of the persecution. A driving need to know how Adeline's story ended gives Jessica something to focus on other than her PTSD induced nightmares / hallucinations. The process of going on a hunt for the truth also gradually brings Adeline around to a modicum of healing in regards to her own traumatic experiences & memories. 


I'll just get this upfront right now -- this will likely be a tough read for PTSD sufferers. Chapter 17 is especially intense. Being a sufferer myself, I can tell you a number of passages in this book had my nerves on edge or me suddenly in a puddle of tears reading of Jessica's (fictional) account of the attacks. Also, imagining the fear someone in Adeline's position had to live with on a daily basis... this novel was one whopping emotional drain! But in a good way! 


"I want to believe that there's a force for good in this world and that the force won't let the bad have the final word. It doesn't explain or undo the darkness, but... I think somehow it covers it with light." 


~~ Grant


Note for sensitive readers: Within the excerpts of Adeline's journal, there are some brief scenes of brutality depicted, as Adeline writes of the torture endured by those who refused to convert to Catholicism. There are also some gruesome scenes illustrated during Jessica's descriptions of the shootings that occurred at the concert venue. 


Some of my favorite bits: 1) OMG, I ADORED Nelly, the tour guide at Canterbury Cathedral! Her wit and grandmotherly sweetness!  Also neat that in her author notes at the end, Michelle Phoenix reveals that the details of the adventure to the church that Jessica and Grant go on is based on a trip Phoenix herself took to the same church. 2) I found myself moved by little Connor and his visions of "shiny ninjas" (you'll understand this once you read the book).


The one knock I would give this story is the "common misconception" conversation about Grant and Mona. Just found it annoying that all these little things going on between them gave the impression that they were a couple and then they casually explain they're brother and sister, but people often get it confused. Well, dang. Introduce yourself as siblings at the start and we won't have a bunch of confused readers later! But Iater on I kinda saw why Phoenix might have written it this way... we need the brother available for confused feelings / possible romantic tension between him and Jessica! But still, annoying. 


I'd definitely recommend this one over Phoenix's Of Stillness And Storm. I found the plot here much more complex, entertaining and emotionally moving. I'm strongly anticipating her future works! 


Enduring with courage, resisting with wisdom, persisting in faith... 


FTC Disclaimer: TNZ Fiction Guild kindly provided me with a complimentary copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. The opinions above are entirely my own. 

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review 2018-03-06 13:44
Of Stillness And Storm by Michele Phoenix
Of Stillness and Storm - Michèle Phoenix

It took Lauren and her husband ten years to achieve their dream—reaching primitive tribes in remote regions of Nepal. But while Sam treks into the Himalayas for weeks at a time, finding passion and purpose in his work among the needy, Lauren and Ryan stay behind, their daily reality more taxing than inspiring. For them, what started as a calling begins to feel like the family’s undoing.  At the peak of her isolation and disillusion, a friend from Lauren’s past enters her life again. But as her communication with Aidan intensifies, so does the tension of coping with the present while reengaging with the past. It’s thirteen-year-old Ryan who most keenly bears the brunt of her distraction. Intimate and bold, Of Stillness and Storm weaves profound dilemmas into a tale of troubled love and honorable intentions gone awry.





Lauren and her husband, Sam, are living in Nepal with their thirteen year old son, Ryan, for the purpose of doing missionary work. This project is a labor of love for Sam, who has a sort of frenetic excitement for each day's work, while Lauren and Ryan, though supportive, struggle with their daily grind. 


As Sam is away in the villages of Nepal for days at a time, Lauren is left isolated with only her mostly silent, moody teenage son and her own inner thoughts for company. It is through these inner thoughts that the reader gets to know the story of Lauren & Sam and how the idea of the Nepal project came to be. We also get insight into the tiny fractures within this once solid marriage and why Lauren starts to question where her very life purpose truly lies. 


"A heart unrisked is a heart unshared and yours is too good to waste."


All those years ago, Sam & Lauren met as college kids experiencing a semester abroad in Austria. She was drawn to his intelligence and flattered by his honest interest in who she was at her core. Fast forward to the current moment and Lauren is living a life she flatly describes as "sufficient", which is pretty much aka BLAND. She finds herself bored, lonely and maybe just a bit bitter over the sense that she is doing a lot of the grunt work in this relationship while Sam reaps the rewards of her devotion to him. Even the burden of finding the means to fund Sam's dreams tends to fall on Lauren to answer. But all that is about to be challenged. 


It only takes one instance, one moment of weakness. Lauren receives an online private message (through FB, I believe, or something similar) from Aidan, an old friend of Lauren's from 20 years ago. The private messages continue and the friendship is gradually rekindled. As you can imagine, this can be tricky territory to manuever for a bored, lonely housewife desperate for attention. 


From there, this novel essentially becomes a character study of people and what drives them, their desires, what's worth sacrificing / what's truly important, etc. When it comes to Sam, he seems like a decent, considerate guy with a strong moral code but BORING. The semantics-filled conversations bantered between him and Lauren nearly did my head in at times! There's just not much warmth to the guy, too serious and analytical to be very enticing to readers... to the point where you can almost understand the appeal in the dangerous territory that is Aidan.


Lauren's not the obvious winner either, though. She struck me as having very little backbone, but the kind of person that has to work to just barely contain their whistling teapot of emotions brewing inside. She holds things in until it eats away at her and then when there is a release it's in the form of anger, taken out on others. That said though, one of the aspects of the novel I was most touched by was Lauren's struggle to stay connected to her son and her frustration at not knowing how to stop the disconnect growing between them. 


The setting for this novel is what first peaked my curiosity, as I don't often see fictional stories set in Nepal, a place I'd like to see for myself one day. While I do enjoy Phoenix's work with building the atmosphere, the plot itself didn't do much for me. As I mentioned, the conversations between Sam & Lauren were often a chore to push through and I didn't find either of them especially compelling. I did feel for Lauren when it came to her and her son and the emotional distance but that was about the only plot point that my interest stayed fully committed to to the very end. 


FTC Disclaimer: TNZ Fiction Guild kindly provided me with a complimentary copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. The opinions above are entirely my own. 

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review 2018-03-05 14:56
Phoebe's Light (Nantucket Legacy #1) by Suzanne Woods Fisher
Phoebe's Light (Nantucket Legacy) - Suzanne Woods Fisher

Phoebe Starbuck has always adjusted her sails and rudder to the whims of her father. Now, for the first time, she's doing what she wants to do: marrying Captain Phineas Foulger and sailing far away from Nantucket. As she leaves on her grand adventure, her father gives her two gifts, both of which Phoebe sees little need for. The first is an old sheepskin journal from Great Mary, her highly revered great-grandmother. The other is a "minder" on the whaling ship in the form of cooper Matthew Macy, a man whom she loathes. Soon Phoebe discovers that life at sea is no easier than life on land. Lonely, seasick, and disillusioned, she turns the pages of Great Mary's journal and finds herself drawn into the life of this noble woman. To Phoebe's shock, her great-grandmother has left a secret behind that carries repercussions for everyone aboard the ship, especially her husband the captain and her shadow the cooper. This story within a story catapults Phoebe into seeing her life in an entirely new way--just in time. 





Phoebe Starbuck has only just turned eighteen years old and already feels as if she's spent a lifetime caring for her widower father, Barnabus, on the island of Nantucket, MA. No matter how many major financial setbacks he succumbs to, 'ol Barnabus remains ever optimistic about the future. Sadly, optimism alone doesn't pay the bills, so Phoebe has to continually figure out ways to make the meager Starbuck money stretch. Due to too many of Barnabus's failed business ventures, the Starbucks are nearly bankrupt. Resources being limited from the start, the family is now at the point where some miracle boon in fortune must appear or Phoebe and her father will be deemed "Town Poor" and likely homeless shortly thereafter. 


Seeing the whaling ship Fortuna come into port, Phoebe (feeling emboldened by her newly minted "adult" status) puts herself together in the most appealing way she can, being a respectable & modest Quaker woman, and approaches the ship's captain, Phineas Foulger, at the docks. Though much older (in his mid 40s), by author Suzanne Fisher's description of him, the reader gets the impression that Phineas's physical appeal has held up well over the years. The last time he last spoke with Phoebe, she was just a mere girl, but now she wants him to see her as potential wife material. Within mere weeks, using only a comely blend of charm, beauty and innocence, Phoebe wins the interest of Capt. Foulger and soon has the MRS title she so strongly sought. As a wedding gift, Barnabus gives Phoebe the journal of her great-grandmother, Mary, telling her that there's said to be great life wisdom in its pages. But why is Captain Foulger SO insistent on knowing the journal's contents?


Though he was initially against the idea, Phoebe convinces her new husband to allow her to accompany him on his next voyage. Also joining the journey is 21 year old Matthew Mitchell, Nantucket's town cooper (barrel maker) and former suitor of Phoebe. Matthew gets a two-fold request to board the Fortuna, one from Barnabas to keep an eye on Phoebe as he does not trust Capt. Foulger -- and Barnabas can see that despite the history between them, Matthew still cares very deeply for Phoebe --- and one from the captain himself to serve as the ship's cooper. But as the reader soon discovers, nothing aboard this ship is as it might first appear. 


Expecting the adventure of a lifetime, the new Mrs. Foulger instead finds herself smacked with weeks of sweating out mal de mer (chronic sea sickness). She cannot hold down food, she struggles to be attentive to her new husband, most days she can barely stand for more than a few moments. Before long, the captain seems more annoyed than enamored with his young missus... not just distant, but almost surly. He grows outright neglectful of her, leaving her care primarily to Matthew and the cabin boy, Silo. Suffice it to say, she quickly regrets her earlier insistence on coming along on this voyage! The crew of the Fortuna meanwhile battles epic squalls, ship fires, and constant crew fights, blaming it all on the bad luck superstition of having a woman on board. 


Phoebe's Light is the first in what looks to be at least a trilogy from Suzanne Woods Fisher, who is primarily known for her nonfiction and fiction Amish-themed books. Between our main character's story and that of her great-grandmother Mary, the novel spans both the 17th and 18th centuries. Props to whomever came up with the idea to print Mary's journal entries in slightly faded ink... brings in a nice realistic touch for the reader, since the fadedness of the journal is something Phoebe mentions repeatedly struggling with as she makes her way through the pages. 


My stance on Phoebe weeble-wobbled throughout the story's progress. In the beginning she seemed sweet and good-hearted, but it can be frustrating reading a character so stubbornly set on getting her way that you just have to watch her set herself up for failure... maybe it's tough because we don't like to see ourselves quite so much, eh? But there were other sides to Phoebe's strong will that were quite admirable. Oooh, I got goosebumps and cheered when she stills the captain in his tracks with her quiet, edged "I asked you a question." Go, girl! 


Also might just be me on this one, but I got a giggle out of Fisher's approach to the topic of sex (or almost sex) in this Christian fiction work. Every time the old captain tried to corner Phoebe for her "marital duties", someone conveniently shows up with a "Captain, you're needed at the helm." There's even one point where Phoebe herself prays for a distraction, gets it moments later when yet again her husband is called away, and the next line reads, "She had never known the Lord to work with such haste." Oh man, loved it! 


Though not absolutely perfect in execution, Fisher crafts one highly immersive tale of historical fiction! I found myself craving just a bit more action and moments of tension between the various protagonists and antagonists, but even so was quite satisfied with the rich detail in character personality traits and living environments. Whether Phoebe was on land or at sea, every bit of her world was virtually tactile to me as the reader, a credit to Fisher's finely honed writing skills. Also a nice feature: if you are a reader new to historical fiction, Fisher includes a handy pages-long 18th century terminology glossary at the front of the book you can refer to for those dated terms. 


I close this book having really become attached to this family and I eagerly anticipate the next installment to see what happens with the next generation! 


FTC Disclaimer: Revell Books (Baker Publishing Group) kindly provided me with a complimentary copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. The opinions above are entirely my own.

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review 2018-02-04 09:50
Counting The Days While My Mind Slips Away by Ben Utecht
Counting the Days While My Mind Slips Away (Thorndike Press Large Print Inspirational Series) - Ben Utecht,Mark Tabb

After five major concussions, NFL tight-end Ben Utecht of the Indianapolis Colts and Cincinnati Bengals is losing his memories. This is his powerful and emotional love letter to his wife and daughters—whom he someday may not recognize—and an inspiring message for all to live every moment fully. Ben Utecht has accumulated a vast treasure of memories: tossing a football in the yard with his father, meeting his wife, with whom he’d build a loving partnership and bring four beautiful daughters into the world, writing and performing music, catching touchdown passes from quarterback Peyton Manning, and playing a Super Bowl Championship watched by ninety-three million people. But the game he has built his living on, the game he fell in love with as a child, is taking its toll in a devastating way. After at least five major concussions—and an untold number of micro-concussions—Ben suffered multiple mild traumatic brain injuries that have erased important memories. Knowing that his wife and daughters could someday be beyond his reach and desperate for them to understand how much he loves them, he recorded his memories for them to hold on to after his essential self is gone. Counting the Days While My Mind Slips Away chronicles his remarkable journey from his early days throwing a football back and forth with his father to speaking about the long-term effects of concussions before Congress, and how his faith keeps him strong and grounded as he looks toward an uncertain future. Ben recounts the experiences that have shaped his life and imparts the lessons he’s learned along the way. Emotionally powerful, inspiring, and uplifting, Ben’s story will captivate and encourage you to make the most of every day and treasure all of your memories.






Ben Utecht spent six years in the NFL as tight end for the Indianapolis Colts as well as the Cincinnati Bengals. Between those NFL years and his four years of college football, he suffered no less than FIVE documented major concussions. In the years following his last NFL game in 2009, he began to suspect that he was losing precious memories. This wasn't just temporary amnesia -- moments of his life appeared to be irretrievably wiped from his memory. With this realization, Utecht quickly became an advocate for brain health and education, nabbing a spot on the board of the American Brain Foundation. He's even spoken before Congress on the matter. 


Despite his efforts to learn all he can regarding what's going in his mind and to preserve what's left, Utecht fears for what his future may hold. With that in mind, he wrote Counting The Days While My Mind Slips Away, what he calls "a love letter to my family" something tangible to capture his memories of the man he was in case his mind fails him. In these memories, readers are given an inside look at the questionable practices of the NFL regarding head trauma. Even within this text, several times Utecht admits that he had to refer to others to verify  or remind him of what used to be some of his own memories. For instance, he discusses his experience with playing the Colts when they won the Super Bowl in 2006... he has pictures of him with the Lombardi trophy but in his mind it's like it never happened. 



I now understand that our essence as human beings lies in our ability to remember. Everything that matters about our identities -- our very sense of self -- comes from our memories. We may live in the present, but the present doesn't last. Every moment quickly slips into the stream of short-term memory and journeys toward the ocean that is the long-term memory center of the brain. There our memories take root, shaping us, refining us, defining who we are. We are the culmination of all we have experienced, all we have thought and read and believed, all we have loved. We are living memories. Without memories we cease to be ourselves. In a very real way we cease to be.


Utecht takes us back to the very beginning: his early days of growing up a preacher's kid. Like many a young boy, Utecht was introduced to football by his father, through many hours of tackles & tosses in the yard, even taking Ben (at age 11) to watch his first NFL training camp. As he says, "That's what I loved about the game...Football meant time with my dad." Utecht grew up big for his age, so by the time he started his school years, coaches took notice of his size and football seemed a natural path to take, as it also meant pretty much immediate social acceptance within school hierarchy. It doesn't read as intentional, but it's almost like he was groomed for this as a career choice from the very beginning, being quietly guided by something on life's sidelines.


I was so excited to sign with the Colts and start my career, and yet, as a result of my career I cannot even remember how it started.


Almost immediately upon completing high school, Ben is offered a full ride football scholarship to University of Minnesota (which he accepts, naturally). Pretty much right out of college, he is signed to the Colts. By this time, Utecht's formidable size weighs in at 6'7", 250lbs. A reader may go into this book thinking they're in for pages full of descriptions of head trauma but dang, I was distracted by all the skeletal issues this guy was having over the years of his NFL career --- popped ribs, hip fractures, pelvic damage, separated shoulder, broken ankle.. that's not even all of it -- left me wondering if this guy was ever tested for some sort of skeletal disorder, bone deficiency, something?!


In one portion of the book, Utecht shares some entries from a journal he began to keep of symptoms he was noticing after head injuries, most excerpts focusing on 2009, his last year with the NFL... and it wasn't a planned retirement. There's a whole swirl of drama surrounding him being cut from the Bengals. He describes being "cut" while still on the IR (injured roster), which is technically not supposed to be allowed. A player is supposed to be cleared for play before they can be cut. Utecht comes to find out that the doctor who signed off on his being cleared wasn't even a medical doctor! Amazing how shady the NFL comes out in these memoirs I've been picking up lately! 


Utecht's story is interesting, but not necessarily the most riveting stuff (though he does offer some comedic stories involving Peyton Manning). But I feel like in the case of CTE, it's important to get as many testimonies out there as possible if a true solution is ever to be found. In that respect, this remains an important read. It does have a heaaaavy Christian lean to it though, so just a heads up if that's not your thing. I don't mind it most times but some stuff he says here... even I was giving some of the pages some side eye. 


If you've read other books on this subject, many of them are likely referenced here. Utecht cited League Of Denial many times and Bennet Omalu himself is blurbed on the back cover of this book. Utecht also covers some of the material that was discussed in Cindy Feasel's book, After The Cheering Stops (to clarify, he doesn't mention her book specifically, he just discusses similar topics). 



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review 2018-02-04 06:38
Truth Doesn't Have A Side by Dr. Bennet Omalu
Truth Doesn't Have a Side: My Alarming Discovery about the Danger of Contact Sports - Bennet Omalu,Will Smith,Mark Tabb

When Dr. Omalu discovered a connection between head injuries and cognitive dysfunction, he thought the sports industry would welcome his findings. Instead, this gentle man of faith became the subject of a controversy that threatened his career, his family, and his right to live in the United States. In Truth Doesn't Have A Side, the doctor who inspired the movie Concussion shares insights that will change how you view your family's involvement in contact sports. This is a riveting story of finding new life in America, new strength within the heart, and renewed faith in God's call to speak the truth no matter what. 

~ from back cover




The book Concussion by Jeanne Marie Laskas (the basis for the movie by the same name starring Will Smith) explored the topic of "mild" brain trauma within the NFL and Dr. Bennet Omalu's role in bringing the dangers of brain trauma in athletes to light. In Laskas' book, we got to know a bit of Omalu's personal story. In Truth Doesn't Have A Side, readers get the expanded version (though, in all honesty, the bulk of the first 65 pages or so of material in Truth are pretty well covered in the Concussion book).


Yes, he does talk about his discovery of and work with CTE cases, but the majority of this book focuses on the years prior to his time in the spotlight -- the journey from a small community in Nigeria, through years of red tape and racial prejudice to finally finding a new place to set roots in the United States. What a journey it's been for this man!


In his own words, Omalu discusses his family history, the good and the bad. The story of Omalu's father is particularly harrowing: Omalu's father and aunt were abandoned by their mother after her husband's supsicious death, leaving them to survive as street children until a visiting missionary was able to arrange housing for them. Unfortunately, it didn't pan out well -- Omalu's father was beaten, often starved, treated as a servant, but endured it because the family did provide him with schooling. The way Omalu tells it has an almost biblical tale kind of ring to it! 


During the Nigerian Civil War (aka Biafran War), the time during which Omalu himself was born, his father's accomplishments -- college degree, years of dedicated employment as a civil servant -- were minimalized to "You're Igbo", forcing the entire family to have to relocate to a refugee camp for the duration of the war. The crazy thing is Omalu's father STILL worked as a government employee while they forced him to live in a refugee camp! 


My father's name was Amaechi, which means, "I may be down today, but no one knows what tomorrow may bring!" 


~ Bennet Omalu


As mentioned a bit in Concussion, Omalu explains how medicine was actually not a natural calling to him. His true dream was to become an airline pilot, but since his parents had their hopes set on him studying medicine, that's what he went with (though he does admit that science DOES feed his natural curiosity quite nicely). Imagine where the medical community would be had he take the "I do what I want!" stance. Truthfully, it made me a little sad for him that he didn't feel the freedom of choice to pursue his heart's desire, but I applaud his commitment to fully dedicate himself to his field regardless, as his work has opened the way to research that is on its way to helping so many in future generations.


Omalu describes the journey of how he came to have SO many degrees and certifications, the process of earning medical degrees in both Nigeria and the US. Through it all, he reveals his struggles with deep depression, racial prejudice in his new American community once arriving here in 1994, and the frustration of having certain people wanting to bar his progress every step of the way. It certainly seemed like an act of God that he managed to get a medical degree here at all.


The CTE material, Mike Webster case that started it all, all of that... actually takes up only a small portion of this book. The book in its entirety is not a long read, less than 300 pages total. The bulk of his discussion on his CTE years starts in Chapter 11 (approx. 120 pgs in, hardcover ed.).


For those interested in behind-the-scenes movie facts and trivia, Omalu also dishes on his very first meeting with Will Smith, who was chosen to portray Omalu in the film Concussion, how Smith originally wasn't interested but once a friendship developed between the to, he was quickly and happily immersed in the role. 


Omalu tells a powerful story, but it was sometimes hard to follow, as he would jump back and forth between his days as a medical examiner in Pittsburgh and his time as an ER doctor in Nigeria... with little to no transition or chronological explanation in between. I will say though, Omalu closes on a wonderful prayer for the future that left me quite moved. 


Following the close of his story, Omalu offers parents a Q & A guide on the topic of sports and head trauma, should their children want to play contact sports. He strongly urges readers to keep their kids out of such sports altogether, but admits that if you choose to go forth with sports anyway, it's best to at least go in informed. 


FTC Disclaimer: BookLookBloggers.com and Zondervan Publishing kindly provided me with a complimentary copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. The opinions above are entirely my own. 

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