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Valerie S. (VolunteerVal) - - Reviews

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The 5-Minute Visual Guide to the Bible: Time Lines, Photographs, Paintings, and Maps to Enhance Your Understanding of God's Word
Review Date: 7/12/2021


How do you best learn?
- reading printed words on paper/screen
- viewing charts, maps, photos, etc.
- listening to spoken words
- combination of the above

The 5-Minute Visual Guide to the Bible by Michael Wittmer is a great resource for people (like me) whose study is enhanced by viewing images along with reading words. The full-color guide is brimming with time lines, photos, paintings, and maps to supplement Biblical study, and the detailed index makes it easy to find the images on any topic.

I knew I'd appreciate this resource when I read these words in the intro regarding the inclusion of classical paintings: âOf course, nobody knows exactly how Bible characters looked, but they most certainly had darker skin, eyes, and hair than many European artist portrayed them with. Please enjoy such illustrations while recognizing the historical limitations.â

I received a complimentary copy of this book from Barbour Publishing and was under no obligation to post a review.


The Accidental Beauty Queen
The Accidental Beauty Queen
Author: Teri Wilson
Book Type: Paperback
  • Currently 4/5 Stars.
 7
Review Date: 5/20/2019


This is a fun read yet it had more substance than the title and cover may imply. This is the story about twin sisters; one is smart and bookish, the other is pretty and obsessed with scholarship competitions (AKA beauty pageants). Add an allergic reaction on the eve of a big event, an adorable dog, and a cute guy and you've got a perfect summer read.


After the Flood
After the Flood
Author: Kassandra Montag
Book Type: Hardcover
  • Currently 3.6/5 Stars.
 7
Review Date: 9/5/2019


"From the water we came and to the water we will return, our lungs always hungering for air, but our hearts beating like waves."

After the Flood by Kassandra Montag is a powerful debut novel set in the future after a devastating flood covers the entire world, except the highest mountain peaks, in water. I don't usually read dystopian/scifi novels, but this is so much more. The author combines believable characters, exciting action, and beautiful writing to create a truly memorable and unique reading experience.

Main characters Myra and her young daughter Pearl struggle to survive in this post-flood world after experiencing many losses in their lives. Readers accompany them on a long and dangerous journey - what awaits them at their destination? Read this novel to find out.

Thank you to William Morrow Publishing for the free copy of this lovely book in exchange for an honest review.


Aftermath
Aftermath
Author: Terri Blackstock
Book Type: Paperback
  • Currently 4.1/5 Stars.
 9
Review Date: 5/25/2021


As an occasional reader of suspense/thriller novels, my favorite series in this genre is the If I Run trilogy written by Terri Blackstock. Smart heroine, non-stop action, books 1 and 2 end in cliffhangers that propel the reader directly into the next installment. I had those expectations when I began reading Aftermath, also by Terri Blackstock, and that likely did this novel a disservice.

This book begins with a bang (literally) - a huge explosion occurs at a presidential candidate's campaign rally, killing many and injuring more. Nearby, law enforcement swarms a vehicle and discovers boxes of explosives in its trunk. The big question is how these two events are connected.

I enjoyed this, just not as much as the If I Run series. The characters are interesting, the action is compelling ... but occurs on a more 'realistic' (slower) timeline, and the ending is satisfying. The storyline about Dustin and Jamie dominates the plot and is better written. The storyline featuring Taylor seems underdeveloped and left several questions unanswered.

Thank you to Thomas Nelson Publishers and JustRead Publicity Tours for the review copy; all thoughts are my own.


Alex + Ada Volume 1
Alex + Ada Volume 1
Author: Jonathan Luna, Sarah Vaughn
Book Type: Paperback
  • Currently 3/5 Stars.
 1
Review Date: 7/8/2019


In a future world, artificial intelligence (AI) is commonplace and robots of various levels of human appearance are part of daily life. Alex isn't interested in adding AI to his household until his grandmother gives him a android robot as a birthday gift. Volume 1 begins the exploration of how this gift impacts his life and those of his friends. This is primarily focused on interpersonal relationships rather than sci-fi and technology.


The All-American
The All-American
Author: Susie Finkbeiner
Book Type: Paperback
  • Currently 4.3/5 Stars.
 2
Review Date: 9/18/2023


I look forward to reading Susie Finkbeiner's novels because I know they will transport me to another time in history. Her writing style, which is deceptively simple and very thought-provoking, shines in her latest book The All-American. The story originated when Ms. Finkbeiner imagined combining one of the most American activities (baseball) with something very unAmerican (Communism).

This Cold War Era coming-of-age story is set in 1952 in a Detroit suburb and features the Harding family, specifically 11-year-old Flossie who loves books and 16-year-old Bertha who'd much rather play baseball than assume the traditional roles of women in her era. The chapters alternate from their points of view and reflect their ages and personalities. When their father, a writer, is accused of engaging in Communist activities, the implications impact the entire family.

The author immerses readers in the history of time and place by weaving facts into the lives of genuine characters you'd meet in any small Midwestern town. It was so interesting to learn about the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League (think A League of Their Own) as well as McCarthyism. There's also a plot thread about a librarian who refuses to engage in book banning, which is sadly relevant today. Bits of humor and elements of faith help readers move through a plot that deals with heavy topics.

Thank you to Revell and NetGalley for the review copy of this novel.


The All-Girl Filling Station's Last Reunion
The All-Girl Filling Station's Last Reunion
Author: Fannie Flagg
Book Type: Hardcover
  • Currently 4.1/5 Stars.
 66
Review Date: 7/24/2015
Helpful Score: 3


From the first page, I knew I'd love this book, and I truly enjoyed every page. It's a perfect summer read - quirky characters, adventure, and some mystery. I especially enjoyed learning about the WASP (Women's Airforce Service Pilots) involvement in World War II and the references to Polish culture. I read this for book club and look forward to a lively discussion.


All Her Little Secrets
All Her Little Secrets
Author: Wanda M. Morris
Book Type: Paperback
  • Currently 3.3/5 Stars.
 3
Review Date: 11/2/2021


"Every lie you tell, every secret you keep, is a fragile little thing that must be protected and accounted for. One misstep, one miscalculation, and your safe little treasures can topple the perfect life you've built around them."
- All Her Little Secrets by Wanda M. Morris

Congratulations to Wanda M. Morris on her debut novel All Her Little Secrets! I was intrigued from the minute I read its African proverb epigraph: "When elephants fight, the only thing that suffers is the grass" and then discovered that it forms the framework of the book's three parts: The Elephants, The Grass, and The Fight.

The premise: In 1979, Ellice Littlejohn escaped small town Chillicothe, Georgia thanks to a full-ride scholarship to boarding school and the unfailing support of Miss Vera. This springboard, along with hard work, determination, and separating herself from her past, earned Ellice an Ivy League education and a career as an attorney. Now working in the legal department of Houghton Transportation, she is the lone Black member of management in a predominantly white - and toxic - workplace. After discovering a shocking crime early one morning when arriving for work, Ellice's career, as well as secrets from her past, are at risk.

I read this in a weekend - its well-written and compelling legal suspense plot had me quickly turning the pages as it alternated between present day and Ellice's difficult childhood. It reminded me of early John Grisham novels sans the courtroom scenes. I appreciated the legal aspects of the novel as well as Ellice's personal story, both past and present. As usual for me, I didn't guess the primary "villain" until the end.

Thank you to Harper Collins | William Morrow and Edelweiss for the opportunity to read and review this novel.


All I Want for Christmas
All I Want for Christmas
Author: Maggie Knox
Book Type: Paperback
  • Currently 2.5/5 Stars.
 2
Review Date: 3/9/2023


I really liked this writing duo's debut novel The Holiday Swap so I was looking forward to reading All I Want for Christmas. My expectations were probably too high because I didn't enjoy it as much as I hoped.

This contemporary romance is based in the Nashville country music industry. Sadie and Max are contestants in a reality singing show, and when paired for the duet week competition, their onstage chemistry is off the charts. Which is unfortunate because in reality, they don't like each other. One (silly) failure to communicate after another (needlessly) complicates their professional partnership, and eventually their emerging romance.

I appreciated Max's not-typically-masculine hobby and pet and Sadie's relationship with her grandmother. I listened to the audiobook and thought the narration by Sophie Amoss and Sean Patrick Hopkins enhanced the writing.

One of the things I enjoyed most about The Holiday Swap was the strong chemistry/no steam element of the romances. All I Want for Christmas has more steam than Swap but likely not enough for many, placing it in an awkward spot for the majority of romance readers.

Thank you to Putnam and NetGalley for the egalley. Here's hoping Maggie Knox's third book will be one I enjoy more.


All Manner of Things
All Manner of Things
Author: Susie Finkbeiner
Book Type: Paperback
  • Currently 3.5/5 Stars.
 2
Review Date: 7/25/2019


This book immediately captivated me with its sense of time and place. Then I quickly fell in love with the characters. In it readers meet the Jacobsons, a fairly typical family living in the Midwest in 1967. Their daily lives are a product of their heritage, their extended family members, and their friends and neighbors in their small Michigan town. Then the Vietnam War and a new resident in town change everything. To say more would spoil the reading experience for others; you'll want to experience it all for yourselves.

I loved that letter-writing played a major role in advancing the plot and sharing inner thoughts and feelings. The author also skillfully incorporated many pop culture elements (music, movies, slang terms, etc.).

I'm still thinking about Annie and her family and am wishing them well in all manner of things.


All My Knotted-Up Life: A Memoir
All My Knotted-Up Life: A Memoir
Author: Beth Moore
Book Type: Hardcover
  • Currently 4.3/5 Stars.
 3
Review Date: 4/21/2023


My faith is very important to me, and I have a bookshelf filled with nonfiction Christian living books. However, I'm not a fan of published Bible studies, including those written by Beth Moore, American evangelist, author, and Bible teacher. So when I heard she wrote a memoir, I had no plan to read it. But then I saw so many glowing reviews, so FOMO eventually put All My Knotted-Up Life in my ears, and I'm grateful.

Before reading this memoir, I knew two things about Beth Moore:
1) She was a very successful 'celebrity' in Christian publishing and speaking circles.
2) She spoke out against Donald Trump's misogynistic behavior in 2016, jeopardizing her career.

These are included in her memoir, as is much, much more. She is brutally honest in sharing her life story: the good, the bad, and the ugly. She begins with her childhood and her family of origin and concludes in the present time.

I highly recommend the audiobook read by the author which includes a disclaimer about her strong Arkansas accent when sharing her earliest memories. Telling her deeply personal stories, her voice is infused with mirth during the humorous memories and with grief and anger when recounting the heartbreaking moments.

I respect Beth Moore for baring her soul in this memoir and commend her for remaining faithful in her roles of daughter, wife, mother, and Christian despite the trauma she's experienced. Well done, good and faithful servant.


All My Secrets
All My Secrets
Author: Lynn Austin
Book Type: Paperback
  • Currently 4.5/5 Stars.
 1
Review Date: 2/20/2024


All My Secrets, Lynn Austin's latest novel, reminded me that she's a queen of Christian historical fiction. She combines compelling characters, a strong sense of place, and issues of faith to create must-read stories. I really appreciated the audiobook narrated by Sarah Zimmerman.

While many of her books take place in times of war and hardship, All My Secrets is set in the opulence of Gilded Age (1898) New York City. But, as we know, wealth does not ensure perfect, trouble-free lives and the Stanhope family is no exception. The plot features three generations of Stanhope women as each deals with her family of origin, past choices and losses, current decisions, and future hopes and dreams.

I especially enjoyed that using wealth to fund charitable causes that assist people was an important theme. I've been involved in philanthropy on personal and professional levels and have witnessed the impact for both givers and receivers. It was also great that women's suffrage gets mentioned as well.

Thank you to RB Media and NetGalley for access to the audiobook. This story will stay with me for quite some time.


All the Dangerous Things
All the Dangerous Things
Author: Stacy Willingham
Book Type: Hardcover
  • Currently 3.8/5 Stars.
 14
Review Date: 1/23/2023
Helpful Score: 1


I can't imagine reading All The Dangerous Things by Stacy Willingham as a mother of little children! It was hard enough as a grandmother of very young ones.

The premise: Isabelle Drake is living a parent's worst nightmare. Her toddler son Mason was taken from his crib in the middle of the night while she and her husband slept in the room next door. The police investigation found no answers, and a year later, Isabelle's life is falling apart. Her husband left her, she literally can't sleep, and her sole focus is desperately searching for information about Mason and his abductor. The story is told with extensive flashbacks to Isabelle's childhood with her parents and sister which add a second mystery to the plot.

Reading Willingham's newest suspense novel annually in January is a welcome change from the sweet and sentimental novels I tend to read in December. I don't read a lot of suspense/thrillers, but I liked A Flicker in the Dark last January and this title as well. This had a strong sense of place in both storylines, and the visits to Isabelle's childhood and the pacing made this unique for me. I wouldn't classify this as a fast-paced thriller, and most of the characters are hard to like.

Thank you to Macmillan Audio and Netgalley for complimentary access to the audiobook, narrated by Karissa Vacker.


All the Feels (Spoiler Alert, Bk 2)
All the Feels (Spoiler Alert, Bk 2)
Author: Olivia Dade
Book Type: Paperback
  • Currently 3.5/5 Stars.
 2
Review Date: 11/17/2021


All the Feels is a steamy open-door contemporary romance with plenty of sexy talk and action. The story features Alex, a handsome and impulsive actor in a controversial role for a Game-of-Thrones-type TV show, and Lauren, a short, curvy therapist who is hired as Alex's "minder" after his high-profile incident in a bar.

While the forced proximity begins against Alex's wishes, he quickly learns to appreciates Lauren's calming presence, and she eventually enjoys his near constant stream of sarcastic humor. In addition to lots of steam, the plot includes real-life issues including job burnout, living with ADHD, and family expectations.

This romance is best enjoyed after reading Spoiler Alert, book 1 in the series. The "world" is built in Spoiler and a few events occur in both novels from different perspectives. Feels has less fan fiction than Spoiler (which was great for me) and lots of body-positivity messaging.

Olivia Dade wrote the novels she wishes had been available when she began reading romances at age seven, featuring heroines who look like herself (and me). It's so important for readers of all ethnic origins, sexual preference, and body types to find people like themselves as heroes and heroines in romances.

Many thanks to Avon and NetGalley for the review copy of this novel. I'm eager to read whatever the author writes next.


All the Lonely People
All the Lonely People
Author: Mike Gayle
Book Type: Hardcover
  • Currently 4.8/5 Stars.
 2
Review Date: 1/2/2022


I'm grateful All The Lonely People by Mike Gayle was pressed into my ears by Libro.fm and the Currently Reading podcast.

This emotional story, told in two timelines, features Hubert Bird. Readers first meet him in present time where the 84-year-old widower leads an active life in England with a group of close friends. He recounts their adventures to his daughter Rose during weekly phone conversations. However, we quickly learn things aren't as Hubert reports, and his efforts to reconcile this changes his life in unimaginable ways.

The historical timeline begins as Hubert is a young man in Jamaica, then follows his immigration to and early days in England, his courtship and marriage to Joyce, and the issues their relationship creates among prejudiced family members and neighbors. Readers also experience the joys and challenges of Joyce and Hubert raising their children and dealing with Joyce's health conditions.

One of my favorite character types is the elderly individual who struggles to find meaning in their present circumstances. Hubert Bird joins Ove (A Man Called Ove), Eudora (The Brilliant Life of Eudora Honeysett), Odile (The Paris Library), Mukesh (The Reading List), and Ellie (The Christmas Dress) on my list of favorites.

The novel's exploration of loneliness seems especially timely as the world deals with distancing and isolation due to COVID which will certainly impact our future in countless ways.

This was excellent on audio with narration by Ben Onwukwe who infused authenticity and personality into Hubert through his dialog.

Thank you to Hachette Audio for the advanced listening copy of this incredible story of found family.


All the Pretty Places
All the Pretty Places
Author: Joy Callaway
Book Type: Paperback
  • Currently 3.8/5 Stars.
 2
Review Date: 5/10/2023


Happy Pub Week to Joy Callaway and All the Pretty Places! May is the perfect time to read this historical novel that features love of nature, both in manicured Gilded Age gardens and public parks.

It's 1893 and Sadie Fremd is at a crossroads in her young life.
- The Panic of 1893 is jeopardizing the economic stability of her Rye, New York community and her family's landscape nursery that creates elaborate private gardens for the socially elite.
- She, rather than her brothers, has the passion and knowledge to be her father's successor in leading the family business, but it's not proper for a women to assume such responsibilities.
- And she's being pressured to marry to secure the financial stability of the family rather than for love.

Her German immigrant father believes strongly in employing families of new Americans who become almost family to Sadie. So a possible financial crisis for the nursery's customers puts her father and brothers in jeopardy as well as their employees. Her decisions will not only affect the rest of her life but also of many others whom she loves.

Sadie also has great empathy for people who lack access to the health benefits of time in nature and is an early advocate for the creation of public parks. It's hard to imagine a time when public green spaces weren't an essential feature of any community.

I enjoyed this novel, but I gained a greater appreciation when the author's note told me it was inspired by the author's great-great-grandmother. Now I want to read The Fifth Avenue Artists Society, the author's debut novel that was also inspired by her ancestors.

Thank you to Harper Muse and NetGalley for access to the audiobook narrated by Cassandra Campbell, one of my favorites.


All Things Reconsidered: How Rethinking What We Know Helps Us Know What We Believe
Review Date: 9/1/2022


I've listened to a few episodes of The Popcast, so I'm a bit familiar with Knox McCoy, but I don't follow him or the show (too many podcasts, too little time). I appreciate that his faith informs his pop culture observations, and that's evident in the reflections in All Things Reconsidered.

This is a collection of short essays, sharing his personal opinions and reflections on topics ranging from sports and pop culture to family and faith. Most are humorous with a few delving into deeper topics. (Almost) all include at least one Hamilton reference. I most enjoyed the story about young Knox and his buddies in a Taco Bell drive-through while in Omaha (my city) for the Men's College World Series.

While I was intrigued by the concept of this book - reevaluating opinions and beliefs after life experiences and additional learning - the theme wasn't consistent throughout. It was evident in a few stories, but most were just funny observations about Big Bird's name or the basic premise of the show Full House. This is like a bowl of sugary cereal - it's tasty while you're consuming it, but it doesn't stay with you for long.


All You Have to Do Is Call
All You Have to Do Is Call
Author: Kerri Maher
Book Type: Hardcover
  • Currently 3.4/5 Stars.
 4
Review Date: 9/19/2023


Happy Pub Day to Kerri Maher and All You Have to Do Is Call, historical fiction set in Chicago on the eve of the Roe v. Wade Supreme Court ruling. It explores women's issues including body autonomy, motherhood, childcare, and the patriarchy.

The story centers around Veronica, the fictional founder of Jane, an underground network of services providing safe illegal abortions. The other characters are connected to her like spokes of a wheel and have very different life circumstances: a lifelong friend who's a devoted wife and mother, an artist who's a collaborator in Jane, and a young woman professor who becomes a Jane volunteer. Each of these characters links to others as the Jane network grows.

Unlike the author's previous books which were based on actual people, this plot is based on actual events but the characters were created to tell the story. I was interested in the varied paths that brought each woman to Jane; I'm sure most readers could see a bit of themselves in at least one character. I especially appreciated the involvement of a faith community in one of the plotlines.

This novel is eerily relevant today since Roe v. Wade was overturned, and is a "sister novel" to Looking for Jane by Heather Marshall which explores the same topic with a Canadian setting.

Thank you to Berkley and NetGalley for the review copy of this novel.


American Housewife: Stories
American Housewife: Stories
Author: Helen Ellis
Book Type: Hardcover
  • Currently 4.1/5 Stars.
 6
Review Date: 3/30/2017


I thoroughly enjoyed this short collection of snarky short stories. They range in length from 2 pages to 40 pages. I liked the author's dry sense of humor, but it's probably not for everyone. At least one story (The Fitter) had me laughing one minute and crying the next. If you like the front cover, you'll likely enjoy the stories within.


An American Marriage: A Novel
An American Marriage: A Novel
Author: Tayari Jones
Book Type: Audio CD
  • Currently 3.5/5 Stars.
 3
Review Date: 7/8/2021


I'm grateful I read An American Marriage by Tayari Jones with my book club because we had a dynamic discussion about it.

Published in early 2018, the novel is (sadly) incredibly relevant today as one of its themes is the wrongful conviction and incarceration of an innocent Black man.

The premise: Just 18 months after his marriage to Celestial, Roy is sentenced to a 12-year prison term for a crime he didn't commit. This is very hard on their relationship, and when Roy is released he's devastated by the changes in Celestial's life.

This is an outstanding novel with beautiful writing and so much loss and heartache. The characters are complex, and not all are likeable. As a fan of epistolary novels, I was pleasantly surprised that a considerable portion of the story is told through the letters Celestial and Roy exchange in the early days of his sentence.

The audiobook is excellent with Sean Crisden and Elsa Davis providing the narration. Their performances enhanced the many big feelings in this character-driven novel.


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