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Wednesday, March 7

MARCH into a New Read!

Where the Fire Falls (Karen Burnett)
Watercolorist Olivia Rutherford has shed her humble beginnings to fashion her image as an avant-garde artist to appeal to the region's wealthy art-collectors. When she lands a lucrative contract painting illustrations of Yosemite National Park for a travel magazine, including its nightly one-of-a-kind Firefall event, she hopes the money will lift Olivia and her sisters out of poverty. After false accusations cost him everything, former minister Clark Johnson has found purpose as a backcountry guide in this natural cathedral of granite and trees. Now he's faced with the opportunity to become a National Parks Ranger, but is it his true calling? As Clark opens Olivia's eyes to the wonders of Yosemite, she discovers the people are as vital to the park's story as its vistas--a revelation that may bring her charade to an end.

I loved the first book in this series, about Mount Rainier, and had high hopes for this did not disappoint.  In this second book, we visit Yosemite National Park.  The author does a fabulous job of making you feel like you're right there with the characters...the sensory details are incredibly descriptive and will make you want to rush right out and visit this glorious park!  There are shady characters and moral characters, and sometimes you have to figure out who is who.  There are some elements of mystery and romance, but the overall theme here was one of forgiveness and acceptance.  I eagerly await the third installment of what I hope is a long-standing new series!

A Chance at Forever (Melissa Jagears)
In early 1900s Kansas, Mercy McClain, determined to protect Teaville's children from the bullying she experienced as a child, finds fulfillment working at the local orphanage and serving on the school board. When Aaron Firebrook, the classmate who bothered her more than any other, petitions the board for a teaching position, she's dead set against him getting the job. Aaron knows he deserves every bit of Mercy's mistrust, but he's returned to his hometown a changed man and is seeking to earn forgiveness of those he wronged. He doesn't expect Mercy to like him, but surely he can prove he now has the best interests of the children at heart. Will resentment and old wounds hold them back, or can Mercy and Aaron put the past behind them in time to face the unexpected threats to everything they're working for?

This was the third book in a series, and I have not read the other two, so I can't speak to how it wraps up or connects to anything.  I can say that there were a few characters and events that I felt like I was expected to have a backstory for, but it didn't detract from the heart of this story itself.  The primary theme of the book is forgiveness...accepting change in others, giving grace, and acknowledging that you yourself have changed as well.  There are some pretty heavy topics couched within the pages of this romance, and I found the story to be very believable.  Aaron and Mercy have a lot of hoops to jump through, as well as a host of past misgivings to overcome, but they manage to do just that through their Christian faith, hard work, and faith in each other.  I would be interested to see the other two books in the series, but having read the third first may spoil some of their storylines.

The Heart Between Us (Lindsay Harrell)
Megan Jacobs always wished for a different heart. Her entire childhood was spent in and out of hospitals, sitting on the sidelines while her twin sister Crystal played all the sports, got all the guys, and had all the fun. But even a heart transplant three years ago wasn’t enough to propel Megan’s life forward. She’s still working as a library aide and living with her parents in her small Minnesota hometown, dreaming of the adventure she plans to take “once she’s well enough.” Meanwhile, her sister is a successful architect with a handsome husband and the perfect life—or so Megan thinks. When her heart donor’s parents give Megan their teenage daughter’s journal—complete with an unfulfilled bucket list—Megan connects with the girl she meets between the pages and is inspired to venture out and check off each item. Caleb—a friend from her years in and out of the hospital—reenters her life and pushes her to find the courage to take the leap and begin her journey. She’s thrown for a loop when Crystal offers to join her for reasons of her own, but she welcomes the company and the opportunity to mend their tenuous relationship. As Megan and Crystal check items off the bucket list, Megan fights the fears that have been instilled in her after a lifetime of illness. She must choose between safety and adventure and learn to embrace the heart she’s been given so that she can finally share it with the people she loves most.

On one hand, I really enjoyed this book because of it's travel and bucket list aspects.  On the other hand, I found it very tedious and at times very wind-y...just all over the place.  One sister is coping with physical issues, while the other with burnout and relationship issues.  They leave the drama behind for a bit as we travel the world in this book.  I loved the vivid descriptions of all the places the sisters visit on their bucket list.  The author did her research and saved me quite a bit in travel expenses!  As they travel, both sisters have a bit of a come-to-Jesus moment, realizing that they have to be honest with themselves and those around them, live their lives fully, and let the past go.  From the description, I expected a romance in here, but it was only alluded to.  Also, I found myself wanting to know more about the donor herself, but we only see glimpses of the journal which helps to drive forward the story at times.

The Hidden Side (Heidi Chiavaroli)
New York, 2016 - Natalie Abbott offers answers for hurting listeners on her popular radio program. But she struggles to connect with her teenagers, with her daughter in an unhealthy relationship and her son uncommunicative and isolated. When one member of the family commits an unspeakable act, Natalie is forced to uncover who she truly is under the façade of her radio persona.  New York, 1776- Mercy Howard is shocked when her fiancé, Nathan Hale, is arrested and hanged as a spy. When she’s asked to join the revolutionary spy ring in Manhattan, she sees an opportunity to avenge Nathan’s death. But keeping her true loyalties hidden grows increasingly harder as the charming Major John Andre of the King’s Army becomes more to her than a target for intelligence.  Mercy’s journals comfort Natalie from across the centuries as both women struggle with their own secrets and shame, wondering how deep God’s mercy extends.

In a similar vein as Freedom's Ring, we follow a modern-day timeline that lines up against a Revolutionary War-era timeline.  In this instance, in the modern day timeline, we have a school shooting, where the perpetrator (rather than one of the victims) is the son of our main character...which offers a unique perspective into this growing crisis / trend.  There are multiple narrative perspectives, but they each have a distinct voice and are easy to separate / follow.  There are themes of being true to yourself, both publicly and privately, as well as maintaining hope during times of trial.  Each of the main characters is facing a personal fork in the road, and her response will define who she is from that point on.  The author does a good job of creating believable characters and describing their situations and settings, such that you feel as though you are right there in the book.  It's a page-turner, and one that you'll not want to pick up until you have some time to devote to getting all the way through it!

Can’t Nothing Bring Me Down (Ida Keeling)
Can’t Nothing Bring Me Down is the memoir of 101-year-old, world-record-holding runner Ida Keeling. Miss Ida, as she’s known throughout her Bronx community, isn’t your typical runner. Her fierce independence helped her through the Depression and the Civil Rights movement. But her greatest trials were yet to come. Ida’s two sons were brutally murdered. Justice was never found. Ida felt like she didn’t have the strength to carry on and she couldn’t hope anymore. But encouraged by her daughter, Ida put on her first pair of running shoes at the age of sixty-seven and began to chase the paralyzing sorrow from her heart. Running gave light and new energy to Ida, and since her first race nearly thirty-five years ago, she’s kept running and never looked back. Holding the world record for the fastest time in the 60-meter dash for the 95-99 age group, Ida isn’t slowing down. Now she gives us a clear picture of what it means to overcome obstacles. Ida Keeling shares her inspirational story about growing up as a child of immigrants during the Depression and later raising four children as a single mother. She offers time-tested truths gathered from a lifetime of watching a nation change and from a life-long faith in Jesus. “Every night, I thank him for my many blessings, for his guidance, for his protection,” Ida says, “And every night he tells me, 'Miss Ida, you just keep on, because I ain't done with you yet."

As a former marathoner (and doesn’t it just kill to have to say ‘former?’), I can say that many of Ida’s statements are runners’ life truths. Stick it out, even when it hurts - Life isn’t always easy, but once you break through the wall, it looks a lot sweeter on the other side. Plus, look what you’ve accomplished! Surround yourself with the right people – Birds of a feather flock together…surround yourself with who you want to be. If you want to run a 7 minute mile, don’t start out with the 10 minute group! The way you talk to yourself matters – P!nk says it best, “Change the voices in your head; make them like you instead.” If you’re constantly saying, “I can’t do this,” then you won’t. The book itself is a quick read, filled with her personal history and testament to using running as an answer to grief and stress. She uses it as a survival tool, as all long-term runners are prone to do at times. One of these days, I hope to remove ‘former’ from my title and join Miss Ida in the ranks of centenarian runners!

Spread Too Thin (Ellen Miller)
You know the drill. Somebody asks, "How are you?" and you respond automatically: "Crazy busy!" "I'm exhausted!" "Running too fast."  And it's no wonder! Between the breakneck speed of your job, the one million family activities on the calendar, the volunteer luncheon you signed up to host, the growing to-do list on your phone, and the workout you've been meaning to get to for weeks--if you ever stopped long enough to think about it, you'd be curled up in the fetal position on the floor.  Life these days. It's exhausting, isn't it?  Ellen Miller gets it--and she wrote Spread Too Thin just for you. Whatever stage of life you find yourself in, you don't have to live it frantically. Written for women who care deeply and extend themselves selflessly, this 90-day devotional offers an honest look at the obligations that have drained us and then point us toward a more abundant life with Jesus. Through personal stories, practical insights, and classic Ellen humor, you'll discover that it is possible to find hope--and even peace!--throughout your harried, over-committed days.

Um, yeah.  So my best friend saw that I was reviewing this book, and all she had to say was "It's about time."  There seems to be a general consensus that this Type AAA crap needs to find the light at the end of the tunnel...and that maybe I can get there through a book.  Here's what I know - this book didn't fundamentally change me, but it did put a bug in my ear that it is OK to change.  It is OK to say, "I surrender."  It is OK to be happy being good enough.  I mean, we all hear it, but the author does a great job of connecting with the reader, and understanding exactly where this busy-ness is coming from, deep inside, and then taking it even further and offering tangible steps (and reasons behind them) for allowing yourself to step back.  Written in the format of a life story, coupled with assessments and quizzes for you to challenge yourself, it also has scriptures sprinkled throughout the text.  I like that the book is written in small segments, designed to be read over a period of a few months...because, you know, we're busy.  We don't always have time to sit down and read a long chunk!  This book gives you bite-sized morsels to chew on throughout the day...maybe as you're in the car running errands.

Deluxe Reader's Bible (Thomas Nelson)
The NKJV Deluxe Reader’s Bible is an invitation to get caught up in the story of Scripture, as history, poetry, and prophecy come to life on pages designed for people who love a good book.  Perfect for both devotional and extended reading, the beautifully designed NKJV Deluxe Reader’s Bible features the exceptionally readable Thomas Nelson NKJV Typeface in an elegant single-column format. Premium, high-contrast paper, classically sewn lay-flat bindings, and an innovative approach to chapter and verse markers combine to create a distraction-free reading experience you’ll want to return to again and again.  Features include:  The New King James Version, known for its literary beauty and trustworthy accuracy; Single-column layout, designed for optimal readability; Beautiful Thomas Nelson NKJV Typeface; Two satin ribbon markers; and a Classic slipcase for protection and display.
This beautiful version of the Bible comes with a leather binding, red ribbon for marking your spot, and a cardboard box for storage.  It reads like a novel, without the distractions of footnotes and verse numbers, and uses updated language (NKJV version) that eliminates the "thous" and "thees," thus making it easier to understand.  Each book is its own story, so it can be read all the way through or as short stories.  It also includes a study guide, which would be appropriate for book groups.  This would make an excellent gift for a graduate or anyone who has expressed an interest in reading the Bible cover to cover, but gets frustrated with the distractions of a typical Bible.

Contrarian's Guide to Knowing God (Larry Osbourne)

This practical guide speaks to those who are weary of formulaic faith or who are haunted by nagging doubts about the church, as well as those who find the traditional spiritual disciplines impractical or even agonizing because of their personal wiring. Easy to read but filled with challenging ideas, this book provides a spiritual foundation for pastors and teachers, committed Christians, and anyone interested in discovering God for themselves but wary of predictable paths.

This is an updated version of a 2007 book, under the same name, that has an added study guide with questions for a church group or book club.  It focuses on faith, zeal, balance, rules, and how we incorporate all of that into our personal relationship with God.  It's a book for those people who just can't seem to feel like they belong with the 'church ladies.'  The gist of it is that you do not have to follow a prescribed set of religious 'rules' to be faithful, but that your spirituality can be simple and authentically yours.  It's 240 pages that basically tell you to be true to yourself, know God, and be comfortable with the way that you choose to worship.
The 10-Day Belly Slimdown (Dr. Kellyann Petrucci)
The New York Times bestselling author of Dr. Kellyann's Bone Broth Diet reveals her powerful belly-slimming plan that will help you lose up to 10 pounds in 10 days! Are you sick and tired of your belly fat? Frustrated with diets that don't take it off? Angry that you don't look the way you want to look, and can't wear the clothes you want to wear? Naturopathic physician and weight loss specialist Dr. Kellyann Petrucci has spent over 20 years showing people how to do the impossible: take off stubborn belly fat. After guiding thousands of amazing transformations over her career, Dr. Petrucci has targeted the most powerful ways to flatten your belly--deprivation not included! In The 10-Day Belly Slimdown, you will learn the #1 biggest secret to rapid belly-blasting: "mini-fasting." This simple but revolutionary shift in the timing of your meals means you'll eat within a seven-hour window each day. While you're mini-fasting, you'll never feel hungry--luscious, satisfying bone broth will quench cravings and melt off pounds, collagen-packed shakes will kick your metabolism into overdrive, and "slim-gestion" foods, herbs, and spices will fight bloat, lower inflammation, and cleanse your gut. In combination, these strategies deliver incredible results quickly and safely. The 10-Day Belly Slimdown includes daily meal plans, batch cooking tips to make meal prep a snap, 80 delicious new recipes, and a sensible maintenance plan. As you heal your belly from the inside out, you'll feel younger, happier, and lighter than you thought possible.

If you’re looking for a drastic lifestyle change, rather than a diet, then this book could be a good one for you. While it touts itself as a way to quick-drop ten pounds (think ‘before a big event’), it really is something you’d want to incorporate regularly, as yo-yo dieting isn’t good for you. There is a lot of bone broth in place of actual meals, and recipes that use her bone broth recipe. It also includes a workout plan and lots and lots of medical research to back up her suggestions. I honestly felt that this was a long infomercial and not something that I would incorporate into my life. The suggestions are more drastic than I’m willing to undertake…and I’d rather feel good and be happy than starve myself to look good for an event. However…not everyone feels the same way. If you find yourself in the latter category, look no further than these suggestions.
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