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review 2018-11-18 07:51
The Road to Cardinal Valley (Cardinal Valley duology, #2)
The Road to Cardinal Valley - Earlene Fowler

Where to start with why I didn't like this book.  Let's start with the fact that I was invested in the characters from the beginning.  I cared about what happened to them and after the last book I felt confident that things would work out as the author led this reader to believe.

 

Then she yanked the rug out from under me.  I don't like authors to set up relationships only to start jerking them around.  Call me dull, but I like a certain ... not predictability, but continuity.  So nothing was going to end up the way she led me to believe at the end of the first book.  Certain heartbreak - most undeserved - was on the cards for a major character, when suddenly the author introduces, if not an outright deus ex machina, then one hell of a coincidence, and happiness ever after is magically guaranteed for everyone.  Even I had a hard time swallowing this one.

 

The Road to Cardinal Valley focuses on Ruby's dysfunctional mess of a younger brother, an alcoholic with hepatitis who has no desire to sober up.  What follows is just enough codependency to thoroughly irritate me.  I could care less about Ruby's brother by about mid-way, but in another stretch-too-far, it all works out in the end with an act of redemption that coincidentally solves everyone's problems.  

 

Earlene Fowler writes a top-notch mystery that I'd happily recommend to anyone who likes traditional mysteries with strong, heartfelt characters.  But she was definitely trying something new here and, for me at least, it just didn't work.

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review 2018-11-18 07:36
The Saddlemaker's Wife (Cardinal Valley duology, #1)
The Saddlemaker's Wife - Earlene Fowler

I love Earlene Fowler's Benni Harper mystery series, but shied away from this book for years because it sounded sappy.  It wasn't sappy, but I still didn't like it much.  Even though I knew from reading the acknowledgments in her Benni Harper books that she is a vocal Christian (not in a bad way - just an active credit to her faith front and center in  each book - I did not know this one and its follow up would have a concentration of faith and Christianity as part of its storyline.  

 

It wasn't too heavy handed, and the author made sure the characters were non-judgemental and weren't too picky what the 'higher power' was called, but it still wasn't my jam.  It's not that I'm an atheist; I'm not.   But I am cynical; the more you talk about it, the more apt I am to to think you're trying too hard.

 

So, I wasn't inclined to enjoy the story, although I did, like all the author's other books, become invested in the characters and this is what kept me reading.  A lot of characters were American Indian, which added a more realistic roundness to the community of Cardinal Valley.  And the story's 'mystery' was pretty damn shocking.  Mostly because I wasn't expecting this to be a story that went in that direction, but also because Fowler's other work avoided the decidedly less functional dynamics that happen when people have too much power and influence.  Everything about this story was tragic.

 

In retrospect, I probably liked this book more than my rating suggests.  I read the second one before I wrote this and I'm pretty sure it coloured my feelings about this book.  The story here was compelling and the book ended on a hopeful note.  Unfortunately, it ends with unresolved issues, making the second book necessary if closure for the reader is a priority and well... I didn't like the second book.

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review 2017-11-20 07:17
The Chosen
The Chosen - Chaim Potok

I seem to have inadvertently found myself on a theological reading streak.  Like The Alchemist, this book was recommended to me by a friend (although more enthusiastically), and also like The Alchemist, I picked it up for reasons that ended up having nothing to do with the book.  I thought The Chosen was about baseball.

 

It's not about baseball.

 

What it is about, at its core, is exactly the same thing The Alchemist is about (which almost defies coincidence):  the power of silence, listening to your heart/soul, and following your own true path.  But while The Alchemist uses parable, allegory and fantastic storytelling to get its message across, The Chosen tells the same message using an opposite style, set in WWII New York, and using first person-past tense POV.  This is the story of two boys brought together by a softball game; one is a Hasidic Jew and one is Conservative (I think–it's never explicitly stated whether he's Conservative or Reform).  Although they live only 5 blocks apart, they inhabit completely different worlds within the same religious faith, and have very different relationships with their respective fathers.

 

I can't do justice to this book in my review, but it works for me so much better than The Alchemist did; while I could appreciate the beauty of the writing and the story Coelho created, Potok's creation had the profound effect on me that I think the author was aiming for.  The Chosen is going to be one of those that stay with me permanently.

 

Book themes for Hanukkah: Any book whose main character is Jewish, any story about the Jewish people

 

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review 2017-11-15 10:20
Pope Francis: My Door is Always Open
My Door is Always Open: A Conversation on Faith, Hope and the Church in a Time of Change - Pope Francis

I had a hard time rating this until I reminded myself I was rating the book not the Pope.  The Pope's part in the book is brilliant and I genuinely loved reading his words.  The author's part was more problematic for me.  Spadaro took on the roles of both interviewer and interpreter of the Pope's message, and I found his explanations to be denser and wordier than the Pope's original words.  His desire to expound and explain the Pope's message came from a sincere and heartfelt place, and I often got the impression it was his way of re-experiencing these interviews, but I also could not get the word 'mansplaining' out of my head, which is probably unfair, but there it is.  Eventually, I just skipped his sections of analysis and just focused on Pope Francis' words.  Ultimately, this made a huge difference for me, and I was unable to put the book down.

 

Definitely a work meant for a select demographic, but worth the time.

 

Book themes for Hogmanay / New year’s eve / Watch night / St. Sylvester’s Day: Read a book about the papacy.

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review 2016-04-19 00:12
Whispers in the Reading Room (Chicago Fair Mysteries, #3)
Whispers in the Reading Room - Shelley Gray

So many disjointed things to say about this book.  First from the synopsis:

 

Just months after the closure of the Chicago World’s Fair, librarian Lydia Bancroft finds herself fascinated by a mysterious dark-haired and dark-eyed patron. He has never given her his name; he actually never speaks to a single person. All she knows about him is that he loves books as much as she does. 

 

When I started reading this, it was so good, I didn't want to stop.  At work yesterday I planned out my race home and worked the cooking and de-spidering of the front hall (don't ask) around getting as much of this book read as possible first.  Then, I hit a wall of sorts.

 

This is a Christian mystery.  I don't like reading Christian anything. I am Christian, but my faith is a quiet, private thing I don't feel the need to work into every thought and conversation I have.  The way I see it, my faith in God doesn't require a constant reminder.  But don't let me get started; the point is, I don't want to read about characters gushing on about God and how he'll take care of everything, or put them on the right path, or whatever it is they think he'll do (two words: free will).

 

On top of this, it isn't even a Christian mystery; yes, there are dead bodies, and yes, they are suspected of the murder of one of them.  But the four main characters never investigate anything; they're too busy courting each other and worrying about reputations and whether or not they're going to go to jail.  This is a Christian romance wearing a murder mystery feather in its hatband.

 

Bridgett, one of the main secondary characters, SEES the murdered man's pocket watch in someone else's waistcoat on the same night of the murder.  Does she TELL anyone?!?  They are all suspected of murder, she lays eyes on the murderer not 5 minutes after being questioned and she decides that, no.  She'll keep it to herself.  BAH!

(spoiler show)

 

Having said all of that, the book was still very, very readable.  The faith in God stuff was only really 4, maybe 5?, short paragraphs interspersed throughout the story, so it was never preachy.  Much.  Nobody was getting saved, anyway.  I'd have been able to ignore it, but Sebastian and Lydia each had to mire me in their internal monologues of "I'm not worthy!  I'm not good enough! I don't deserve good things" and in light of the whole Christian angle, the redemption theme became way too heavy-handed, as we went from honest introspection, to wallowing, to drowning in their shortcomings pretty quickly.  These issues combined brought my rating down a star.  The last half-star was knocked off for lack of any really compelling mystery.

 

This is the third book of a 3 book series, but each features different characters that only make minor appearances in other books.  I was easily able to read this one first and felt no need to play catch-up with previous events.

 

I doubt I'll buy either of the other books new, but I'd be tempted if I came across them at used book prices.  Christian fiction just isn't my thing, but if any of my BL friends enjoys the sub-genre, I can highly recommend this one.  Gray is a good writer, and she sucked me right into her characters' lives.

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