Wednesday, March 30, 2016

4 Books That Surpassed My Expectations, and One, Not So Much

Yikes! I spent over 60 hours this month listening to audio books. Do I feel guilty? Not at all. It's a necessity if I'm to offer recommendations on this blog. Besides, I multitask. While the audio is going I also dust, wash dishes, sweep floors, bake muffins, exercise on the stationary bike, or do other chores. But lest I mislead you, I confess there are times--every day--when I toss the dust rag aside, get comfortable in the recliner and simply listen to a captivating story.

Now, about those books I read. Out of the five worth commenting on, two merited a 5-star rating, something I rarely award any title! One received 4-stars. Another garnered 3-stars, and one only got 2-stars. My choice on this last one was difficult as the book had a 4+ ranking on Goodreads. Did we read the same book? Did I react to the content rather than objectively evaluate the work? After some thought the 2-star decision remained in order to be true to myself. 

Like to know what I spent so much time listening to this month? Or, in need of a book recommendation? Or, possibly a suggestion for a gift? Good. Because what follows will answer all those questions. First up, one of my top 5-star picks:

The Lake House” by Kate Morton – 21+ hours; 5-stars

Even before finishing this book I was recommending it to a friend. The audio version of this bestseller was excellent and the narrator's British accent contributed positively to this England-based story. Plenty of twists and turns to this mystery which is centered on a family and the solving of its 70-year old secret. My only criticism of the title is its ending which seemed a bit farfetched.

Still, the author's ability to intertwine three different subplots within the main storyline kept me fascinated and why I gave it a 5-star rating on Goodreads. Won't be at all surprised if this book becomes a movie.

When Jesus Wept” by Bodie Thoene – 9 hours; 4-stars

I approached this audio book knowing Bodie Thoene is a skilled writer with many titles to her credit, but wasn't sure if this work would succeed in audio format. Surprisingly, it did, though the narrator's British accent kept getting in the way initially. He was quite good, but my mind kept wanting a voice of a man or woman which reflected the Middle East tone.

My impression from the jacket copy was that Lazarus was the main character in the book, but Jesus is really the dominate personality. Regardless, the author did an exceptional job of research and writing, making this historical fiction piece both entertaining and educational. This is Book 1 in The Jerusalem Chronicles Series and I’m all for listening to the next one, “Take This Cup,” and perhaps even Book 3, “Behold the Man,” when it is released this coming September.

Note: If you buy the Kindle $1.99 version you can then buy audio for only $3.99!

Dreaming Spies” by Laurie King  - 12+ hours; 3-stars

What piqued my interest in this title was the mention of Sherlock Holmes in the promo copy. Alongside Holmes name was another: Mary Russell. Who is she? I wondered. Sorry Holmes fans for being so ignorant of this author and the lady who I now know is the fictitious wife of the well-known detective.

Anyway, back to “Dreaming Spies.” It turned out to be a mix of adventure and mystery. While the story starts out in England, much of the saga takes place on board a ship or in Japan in the year 1925. Intertwined in the mystery is a good amount of information about that country’s culture and history which at times slowed down the story. Overall, though, the book held my interest. Perhaps if I had read it in its correct order I would have enjoyed it more. It wasn’t until after completing the novel that I learned it was the final title in the Mary Russell Mystery Series. On the plus side: I learned a lot about Japan and now have 13 other titles in the series to add to my wish list.

Rosemary: The Kennedy’s Hidden Daughter” by Kate Clifford Larson – 7 + hours; 2-stars

I’m not enamored by the Kennedy family but this account of how they responded to having a child with mental challenges intrigued me. What I did not expect was how their attitudes and actions would anger me.

The birth of Rosemary, back in the 1920’s, is how the story begins. Not long after the doctors stated she was “retarded,” and medical experts urged the parents to place her in an institution, a common practice back then. But Rose and Joe Kennedy went against protocol and brought their daughter home to be raised and schooled like any other normal child. Admirable actions but mixed with wrong motives. Unfortunately, after a botched lobotomy, the girl was placed in numerous care facilities where she lived out her life.

I don’t regret reading the book as it made me appreciate the advancement we’ve made with how we view and care for those with mental health issues. Expecting to learn much about Rosemary in the pages it was a disappointment to feel I hardly knew her by the books end. The bulk of the material written was about the parent’s efforts to maintain their image, instead of loving, embracing and esteeming their daughter. It was rather dry reading too which is the primary reason for my 2-star rating.

A Voice in the Wind” by Francine Rivers – 21+ hours; 5-stars

I read this book years ago and it still remains at the top in my "favorites’ list" and a title I’ve given to others over the years. When the audio version came on sale ($4.95) recently at I could not pass up the chance to listen to this historical fiction again. Rivers has an exceptional ability as a writer of biblical fiction. Admire Rivers abillity to take historical facts and wisely place them in a skillfully told drama.

The realistic portrayal of the persecution of the early church in Rome is what grabbed my attention during my first read and left me better understanding of what it means to be a Christ follower.

My second time through was more unsettling due to current persecutions taking place of Christians by ISIS and other radical groups. The similarity between America and first- century Rome where believers were belittled, hated or killed for their faith was also disconcerting.

It would have been a somber read if not for the main character, a young Jewess and believer named Hadassah, who offers hope and a striking contrast to a depraved world. Her faithfulness and compassion, while a slave to a wealthy Roman family, is what drives the plot line, turning this heartbreaking saga into an uplifting one.

Note: This is book one in the Mark of the Lion series. Chapters 1 and 2 are a bit slow and heavy with historical data but are a necessary foundation for the entire series. Once you get past them the story takes off with the final chapters making up for the lumbering initial ones. Warning: includes violence.

Any of those titles above appeal to you? 

If not, how about reading my current selection which I started today? 

"Memory Weaver" by Jane Kirkpatrick, another author I enjoy who writes historical fiction which usually contains biblical principles. 

That’s all for now. An audio book waits . . . plus the polishing of tarnished silverware.

P.S. What did you read this month that’s worth recommending? 


  1. Julio---Have it on automatic delivery now so won't miss a single one----Chuckles

  2. You are the most prolific reader/listener I know and I admire you tremendously for it. I read two by Michelle Griep that I thoroughly enjoyed, "Brentwood's Ward" and Galimore - both historical fiction with protagonists who believe in God and pray while engaging in heart stopping action. Very well written. I read her daily blog, too, "Writer Off The Leash." Also enjoyed a modern day mystery, "The Dead Key" by D. M. Pulley. "The Restaurant Critic's Wife" by Elizabeth LaBan was also good. So many books, so little time! Good work, Julie!

  3. I get excited when people pass along their recommendations. So, thanks for taking the time to tell me about these four book titles plus a blog you like. I will definitely add them to my "to be read" list and see if any are on audio.


Always happy to hear from anyone who stops by my blog.