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review 2019-09-26 10:09
Me & Jack by Danette Haworth
Me & Jack - Danette Haworth

Joshua Reed is used to moving around since his dad became an Army recruiter and the Vietnam War broke out. Their latest home, in the mountains of Pennsylvania, feels special somehow and Josh's new dog, Jack, is like no other dog he has ever seen. But when a local boy is killed overseas, the town turns on the new army recruiter. And when a few late-night disturbances all point to Jack, it will be up to Josh to save his best friend.

Amazon.com

 

 

 

Joshua Reed is a military kid. His dad, Rich Reed, works as an Air Force recruiter during the Vietnam War, requiring the two to frequently move around the country (Joshua's mother is deceased). Their most recent move has them settling in to a small town in the mountains of Pennsylvania. While Rich does have a hired cook / housekeeper to help around the house while he's away, he's still concerned with his son being left alone too much, so he suggests to Josh that maybe they adopt a dog for protection as well as companionship.

 

Father and son take a tour of the local shelter, Rich being instantly drawn to a nice German Shepherd. Joshua's eyes, however, lock onto a unique looking dog with golden (almost to the point of glowing), slick fur. Feeling an immediate bond with this one, Joshua takes him home and names him Jack. Good thing too, since they come to find out they adopted "Jack" the day before he was scheduled to be euthanized!  

 

Joshua's first attempt at building new friendships in this town is with the neighboring family, The Praters. Ray Prater is around Josh's age and they hit it off easily, but Josh quickly comes to find out that Alan, Ray's cousin, happens to be one of the biggest bullies in school.... and he has a crippling fear of dogs (revealed by Alan's adorable little sister, CeeCee).

 

Because it is a time of war, and an unpopular one at that, Rich, as a recruiter, feels extra pressure to appear likeable to his neighbors. He wants to avoid stirring up any unnecessary tension or disputes whenever possible and encourages son Josh to do the same. Josh tries his best for the most part, even going to extra efforts to try to befriend Alan. While Josh tries to build a good friendship with Ray, he feels obligated to extend all invites he gives Ray to Alan as well. Ray likewise feels obligated to cut Alan some slack from time to time because they are cousins, but he's absolutely fully aware of Alan's abrasive personality. 

 

 

I stared after the crumpled figure of my father. What was happening to people? Why were they acting this way? It made me afraid of becoming an adult. They seemed so full of hate. I did not want to be a person like that....As I lay in bed that night, I imagined myself tracking down the people who threw rocks at my father. They said they didn't want war but then they opened fire on my dad. That sounded like war to me.

 

 

Though Josh really works at showing kindness to Alan, at least in the beginning of their acquaintance, it gets progressively more difficult, what with Alan taking everything Josh says or does as a potential challenge or argument. Tensions between them come to a head on the matter of Jack. When some mystery animal starts causing havoc to the personal property of several residents around town, Alan (*remember his dog phobia) takes the opportunity to place blame on Jack. Wanting answers and justice, Josh's neighbors are quick to jump on the hate-on-Jack bandwagon. Feeling the pressure to fit into his community, Rich warns Josh multiple times that "one more incident" and Jack is getting re-homed. But Josh suspects the real culprit is a coyote yet to be spotted. If he can catch the problematic critter on camera, hopefully all can be set to right once again. 

 

 

There are some bonds that are sacred. Like the bonds between soldiers. Between families. Between Jack and me. 

 

Only I could protect Jack. It came down to me. He was more loyal than any friend I'd ever had, and he trusted me. Prater, that policeman, even Dad --- they were all against Jack. But he was innocent and I knew it. I would capture that coyote on film and deliver the true enemy.

 

It's a mostly cute story about a boy and his dog, with some dramatic moments thrown in to keep the reader hooked. Will Jack get to stay with Joshua? Will Alan ever be able to mellow out his aggressive nature? The characterizations are really well done, the dialogue flows nice and natural, and there's just a touch of historical fiction element to the plot, with everything taking place during the Vietnam War era. Honestly, through most of the story I forgot about the time period, except for moments when Rich has some important talks about the short fuses of many during that time and how we're all just trying to figure it out the best we can, etc. As literary fathers go, Rich was a good, solid, respectable man just doing his best to take care of his son and instill good values in him during a tough time. There's also a nice humor to Joshua, and an impressively strong character, when you consider all he's had to shoulder at a young age!

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review 2019-08-16 20:15
HOLLOW KINGDOM by Kira Jane Buxton
Hollow Kingdom - Kira Jane Buxton

 

HOLLOW KINGDOM is simply sublime!

 

S.T. is a domesticated crow living with his mofo, Big Jim. (S.T. calls all humans mofos, because that's what Jim calls them.) He spends his days learning tricks, caching objects and avoiding Dennis, Big Jim's bloodhound. Then, Jim's eyeball falls out. What happens next? You'll have to read this to find out!

 

I read the reviews of a few of my friends and decided to give this one a go. I'm so glad I did. There is really no way to describe this book, or to even shelve it at Goodreads because it doesn't fit into any neat category, genre or sub-genre. This is mostly because HOLLOW KINGDOM is from the crow's point of view. And a cat's. And a whale's. It's beautifully written, with prose so carefully crafted-it's both inspiring and heartfelt. For example, (keep in mind this is from the crow's point of view):

 

 

“I cannot recommend this to you enough: find something that you believe in, right down deep in the depths of your silvery plumage, and then throw your heart at it, blood and valves and veins and all. Because I did this, the world, though brambled and frothing at the mouth, looked more vibrant; blues were bluer, and even the fetid puddles that collected under rusting cars tasted as sweet as summer wine.”

 

The other reason I liked this book so much is the humor; it's hilarious! I won't tell you what S.T. is short for, or his pet names for certain mofo items. I found myself laughing aloud on the second page and that continued throughout. S.T.'s hopefulness and his love of humanity kept me going through this past week or so, despite the seemingly endless violence we hear about all the time.

 

“Watching the sunrise.....what an act of beauty, of unwavering faith, something to look forward to each and every day.”

 

I am very much simplifying for this review, but be aware, this is a bit more than your average zombie apocalypse. The cause of it was sobering when I thought more deeply about it. Also, I don't see how anyone could not take away a love for our environment, our animals, and our very earth. We need to care of her, because she takes care of us.

 

HOLLOW KINGDOM is a unique, hilarious, thought-provoking, and beautifully written novel and I'm giving it my highest recommendation.

 

ALL THE STARS!

 

*Thank you to NetGalley and the publisher for the e-ARC of this book in exchange for my honest feedback. This is it!*

 

**Also, if you could hook me up with every book by this author in the future, that'd be great.**

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review 2019-07-10 06:28
The Secrets of Paper & Ink by Lindsay Harrel
The Secrets of Paper and Ink - Lindsay Harrel

Brought together by a charming bookstore in England, three women fight to defy expectations, dream new dreams, and welcome love into their lives. 

As a counselor, Sophia Barrett is trained to help people cope with their burdens. But when she meets a new patient whose troubles mirror her own, she realizes she hasn’t dealt with the pain of her recent past. After making a snap decision to get away for the summer, Sophia moves overseas to an apartment above a charming bookstore in Cornwall, England. She is hopeful she will find peace there surrounded by her favorite thing: great literature. Bookstore owner Ginny Rose is desperate to save her business without asking for help from a husband who’s decided to take a break from their marriage. Ginny never imagined she’d be solely responsible for keeping afloat her husband’s dream, but the unexpected friendship with her new renter has her feeling more optimistic. Between the two of them—and Ginny’s brother-in-law, William—the bookstore might stand a chance. Then Sophia finds a notebook in the bookstore that contains journal entries from Emily Fairfax, a governess who lived in Cornwall more than 150 years ago. Sophia learns that Emily harbored a secret passion for becoming an authoress—as well as a deep love for her childhood friend, Edward, whose station she dared not dream to touch. Eager to know more of Emily’s story, Sophia goes on a quest—dragging Ginny and William with her—to discover the heart of the woman behind the beautiful entries. Soon Ginny’s need to save the bookstore becomes more than a way to save her marriage, and Sophia finds new purpose of her own. Together they find that sometimes both heartache and hope can reach across the centuries.

Amazon.com

 

 

 

 

As a counselor to victimized women, Sophia Barrett is quite skilled at offering solutions and guiding her clients to a place of healing. When it comes to her own hurts? Not so much. Sophia recently suffered an emotional breakdown following the one year anniversary of the death of her fiance, David. Her feelings around the death are complicated, as it is revealed to readers that, to some degree, the relationship was beginning to take an abusive turn just prior to David's passing.

 

Wanting to finally face and resolve the long avoided issues and emotions within herself, Sophia makes a spur of the moment decision to rent a flat above a bookshop in Cornwall, England. The property owner, Ginny Rose, has her own struggles and soon enough both ladies come to lean on each other, bonded through their mutual hard-luck experiences. In Ginny's case, it's a combination of the bookshop struggling to make a profit and the state of her marriage growing increasingly rocky. Even though the shop started as the dream of Ginny's husband, he's largely checked out of both the business and the relationship. Having given up everything for him, Ginny is determined to throw everything she's got into keeping the shop financially afloat because it's the only home she feels she has left. 

 

Though the bond between Sophia and Ginny might have started on a tenant - landlord footing, they're soon unbreakable best friends. Sophia starts helping Ginny revamp the shop to draw in more customers. During one lengthy book sorting process, Sophia comes across what looks like a reprinting of a journal belonging to one Miss Emily Fairfax, a Cornwall governess from over 150 years ago (The Secrets of Paper and Ink actually opens with a bit of Emily's story). Intrigued by the story of star-crossed love she finds in the journal pages, Sophia dedicates herself to unearthing more on the life of Ms. Fairfax. In the process, she finds a new romance herself, with none other than Ginny's brother-in-law.

 

This book will likely have plenty of high praise simply for the fact that it is a story set around a bookshop. As far as the specific plot here itself.... everything was just much too convenient for me: Ginny needs a new website for the shop but can't really afford a top tier web designer, but husband Garrett's good friend just happens to be a web designer who likes Ginny so much he'll happily do it for free... Boom. Suddenly she has mad business to the shop with very little work necessary on her end. Sophia wants to research the life of Emily Fairfax, but overwhelmed with where to start. No worries, her new crush just happens to have a professor friend who has just the right connections for Sophia to find every answer she seeks in only 2-3 steps. Everything, even down to the "twist" at the end is just SO PREDICTABLE IT'S BORING.

 

The dialogue is silly and cringey a good part of the time. With the exception of the Emily / Edward passages, nearly every character in this story feels way too 2-D.

 

Christian themes are not all that present until the closing chapters, where Harrel chooses to douse readers with it all at once right before they go. 

 

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 2019-07-07 13:09
Swim to Me by Betsy Carter
Swim to Me - Betsy Carter

It's a fresh start for Delores Walker when she boards a Greyhound bus bound for Florida. Leaving the Bronx far behind, she's headed for sunny Weeki Wachee Springs, frayed roadside attraction in danger of becoming obsolete with the opening of Walt Disney's latest creation, only miles up the road. Always more suited for a life underwater, Delores joins a group of other aquatic hopefuls in this City of Live Mermaids, where she discovers a world of sequined tails and amphibious theme shows that even Disney couldn't dream up. It's in this fantastic place of make-believe and reinvention that Delores Walker becomes Delores Taurus, Florida's most unlikely celebrity. Bringing together an eccentric assortment of outcasts, poseurs, and underdogs, this wise and poignant novel conjures up a time in America when anything was possible, especially in the Sunshine State. A story of family, chasing dreams and finding your way, Swim To Me will have you believing the impossible—even in mermaids from the Bronx.

Amazon.com

 

 

 

 

 

Bronx native Delores Walker first experiences Florida's Weeki Wachee Springs Mermaid Show roadside attraction while on a family road trip when she's just fourteen. By the age of sixteen, she's invited to join the show herself. It's the 1970s, her father has recently walked out on the family, and young Delores eagerly accepts the position but it doesn't take long for her the grittier side of this whole new world she's now a member of. Still a teenager, Delores -- now going by the stage name Delores Taurus --- is already having to deal with lewd men licking the glass at her shows.

 

Though the cast of ladies brings together a variety of backgrounds, a kind of sisterhood naturally forms, strengthened by the Womens' Lib movement of the era. Behind them all is Thelma, who seems rough on the swimmers but the story later reveals she does truly care about them and has their backs, even if her concern comes out a little on the gruff side. Though she's sometimes left in a tough position when it comes to the business side of things, Thelma does her best to battle sexism against her mermaids. There's also some time spent on Delores's relationship with her father, his anger issues, and Delores's struggle with her mother sometimes being petty and manipulative.

 

The whole plot is wrapped around a behind the scenes look at a mermaid show, making it a strong pick for summertime reading. Plot moves a little slow at times, but the bonds between the ladies keeps the pace enjoyable even when the action might lag here and there. As far as individual character development, a number of them start out pretty good  but many of the characters are not quite fleshed out enough IMO. 

 

In the end, the main theme looks at the idea of everyone having their little secrets and the common thread of everyone having the temptation to start fresh from time to time, that sometimes meaning a new approach to their identity. You might not be able to change where you originally came from, but each day is an opportunity to move one step closer to who you want to be. Story's end resolution is a little weak, but I still had a good time on the ride. 

 

 

 

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review 2019-06-12 19:57
Loving My Actual Neighbor by Alexandra Kuykendall
Loving My Actual Neighbor: 7 Practices to Treasure the People Right in Front of You - Alexandra Kuykendall

As Christians, we know we are called to love our neighbor. We may even grasp that "neighbor" encompasses more than just the people living next door or down the street. But what we too often don't know is how to begin. How do we love our neighbor? Where do we start? What does this look like in our increasingly isolated world? Following practices outlined in the first chapter of 2 Peter, Alexandra Kuykendall lays out the framework for where to begin. From practicing humility to listening with understanding to being generous in our relationships, Loving My Actual Neighbor offers practical, start-now steps readers can take to love their neighbors. With her approachable, friendly tone and down-to-earth advice, Kuykendall has carved out for herself a place in the hearts of readers, who will be thrilled to extend her commonsense approach into this sphere of their lives.

Amazon.com

 

 

 

 

In this latest installment of her Loving My Actual ______ series, Kuykendall ponders on the question: In an increasingly socially isolating world, how does one go about showing love for one's neighbor. Her use of the word "neighbor", she clarifies, isn't limited to one's literal next door neighbor, but really anyone we come in close proximity to throughout the course of our lives. 

 

The inspiration for this newest book came to Alexandra through her realization that she knew little to nothing of the woman living across the street from her for several years --- even though they had spoken briefly a number of times. Alexandra knew they had common ground between them, both being mothers of young children, but for the life of her, she could never remember her neighbor's name! Kuykendall compiles stories of not only her own journey to be a better neighbor, but also those of her friends and acquaintances who'd had a similar epiphany and also put themselves on a path toward change. 

 

Considering all these accounts she gathers together, Kuykendall comes up with a seven step plan on how to better appreciate our fellow humans. Using biblical text, primarily pulling from 2 Peter, Kuykendall's system brings it all back to the basics of just being a good-hearted human being. She encourages readers to pursue strong, nurturing relationships with others on a foundation of humility, empathy, and, ideally, unconditional generosity.  Each chapter closes on prompts for reflection: "Scripture to Digest" (relevant bible passage to think on); "Questions for Reflection"; "Practicing the Practice", which offers Pay It Forward type ideas to engage with others, making extra effort to speak to the lonely or isolated, etc; and "A Call To Saturday Living", a sort of meditative prayer focusing on how to best implement the themes of that chapter. 

 

KUYKENDALL'S 7 STEP PLAN

 

1. Holding a posture of humility

2. Asking questions to learn

3. Being quiet to listen

4. Standing in the awkward

5. Accepting what is

6. Lightening up

7. Giving freely

 

Once you have that foundation down, Kuykendall branches out into more specific suggestions of bonding with your neighbor: 

 

* Re: Conversations: Use open-ended questions, followed by clarification questions to show you are truly listening to the speaker, as well as follow-up questions for a later meet-up, to show you've been thinking of them. She points out: you never know when you might be the one person who bothered to check in on them when they needed it most! She also reminds readers to be prepared for an honest response to your questions and be empathetic enough to hear the person out! Additionally, take non-verbal cues into consideration (body language, facial expressions) and consider the setting of the conversation. Is the subject matter something that requires privacy? Is the setting generally hospitable?

 

* Cultural Filters: When interacting with others, consider specifics of the situation that may make their reaction different from what you might expect. Are they in mourning? Otherwise suffered a trauma? Are there cultural differences to take into account --- something that seems fine to you but might be considered offensive to them?

 

* Disputes: how to best give or receive forgiveness

 

* Food / Humor: useful in diffusing difficult situations

 

* Teamwork: tips on how to successfully partner with neighbors on projects

 

 

At the end of the book, Kuykendall offers a supplement, several pages long, entitled "More Ways To Connect With Your Neighbor". Within are a few different segments: "Additional Ideas for Practicing the Practice", "10 Ways to Connect with Families Throughout the Year" "10 Ways to Love Your Homebound Neighbor", and "10 Reasons to Have a Block Party".

 

When taking all this information in, Kuykendall frequently reminds her readers, practice makes perfect. This is not meant to be a one and done process, but an entire reboot in one's social interaction, intended to be carried out (hopefully) for the rest of your days. One of the portions I found most helpful was questions to ask when checking your motives for doing something:

 

* Am I investing in the outcome or the process?

* Am I expecting something in return?

* What am I willing to give up in order to love my neighbors well? 

* Would I do it anonymously?

* Will there be unintended consequences?

 

My honest response to this book, having read the previous two? This was my least favorite of the bunch. I got a lot out of the first two, and while there were still some good tips in this third one, and while I love that Kuykendall terms herself a "kitchen anthropologist", this third offering in the series had a few areas I found disturbingly problematic, given the theme of the work.

 

Yes, it has helpful pointers, but largely the message is one of common sense human decency. I don't know if she ran short on ideas and had to hit word count, but like many a self-help book out there, she establishes a few key points early on and then pretty much just repackages those ideas in numerous different ways throughout the following chapters. 

 

Beyond the repetitive nature of the text, there was an underlying element to this book that just SCREAMED privilege and bias. She swears she's not a judgmental person, yet some of her actions involving those of a lower income bracket than her family would (at least in part) indicate otherwise. There's even a line where she says (verbatim),"I have relationships with people who live in poverty." Wow. Okay. Way to put yourself out there?

 

Then there's the weird and frequent focus on the race of her various neighbors, usually closing with a pat on the back for herself for interacting with a minority without making it too awkward. In fact, there's a healthy dose of quiet humble brag throughout the whole book. But at least she does acknowledge that she does see needing to consistently work on her prideful nature. 

 

It's a worthwhile topic for discussion --- being better people to our fellow man --- and Kuykendall brings up fair suggestions.... but really, it's stuff we should know anyway, if we've been raised right.  Sadly, now, my once happy opinion of her work has been somewhat tainted over the privileged, disconnected tone that came through this latest work. 

 

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

 

____

My reviews for the previous two books in this series:

 

LOVING MY ACTUAL LIFE

LOVING MY ACTUAL CHRISTMAS

 

_____

 

EXTRAS

 

LOVING MY ACTUAL NEIGHBOR BOOK TRAILER LINK

(Scroll down to bottom of page to see video)

 

INTERVIEW WITH KUYKENDALL RE: LOVING MY ACTUAL NEIGHBOR

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