Unforgiven (Fallen #5) by Lauren Kate

High school can be hell.

Cam knows what it’s like to be haunted. He’s spent more time in Hell than any angel ever should. And his freshest Hell is high school, where Lilith, the girl he can’t stop loving, is serving out a punishment for his crimes.

Cam made a bet with Lucifer: he has fifteen days to convince the only girl who really matters to him to love him again. If he succeeds, Lilith will be allowed back into the world, and they can live their lives together. But if he fails…there’s a special place in Hell just for him.



I thoroughly enjoyed this addition to the Fallen series. I always liked Cam, even though he was the “bad guy.” I always thought there was something more to him and it turns out I was right. There is something quite romantic about the idea of a man willing to make a deal with the Devil and risk his immortal soul to save the woman he loves. Of course, that is so easy task, and I rather enjoyed having to watch Cam work to regain Lilith’s trust, forgiveness, and love. If you are a fan of this series, than you will enjoy this one. I would recommend reading the other books in Fallen series before picking this one up as it makes reference to characters and events from the previous books that would serve as spoilers, but in the end I think by doing so you will end up with a richer reading experience because you will be able to fully appreciate Cam’s transformation and redemption.


Tess of the D'Urbervilles by Thomas Hardy

When Tess Durbeyfield is driven by family poverty to claim kinship with the wealthy D'Urbervilles and seek a portion of their family fortune, meeting her 'cousin' Alec proves to be her downfall. A very different man, Angel Clare, seems to offer her love and salvation, but Tess must choose whether to reveal her past or remain silent in the hope of a peaceful future. With its sensitive depiction of the wronged Tess and powerful criticism of social convention, Tess of the D'Urbervilles is one of the most moving and poetic of Hardy's novels.


Let me start by saying that I was, “that student.” You know, the one who ALWAYS read the assigned readings no matter how awful they were or how easy accessing the cliff notes were. So, when it came time to chose a book for my 2015 reading challenge in the category of “a book you were supposed to read in school, but didn't,” I was at a bit of a loss, as I have never not read a book that I was assigned. So, I decided to take a different approach. I instead chose a book that I felt like I should have been assigned to read in school, but never was. Hence, Tess of the D’Urbervilles, one of Thomas Hardy’s most famous works.

I am a huge fan of classic literature. I love the language and how authors used to take a whole page to say one thing. I love the descriptions of places, social norms, and everyday life. I really thought that Tess would be right up my alley. Tess has all of the hallmarks of classic literature, but I have to admit that, at times, I had a hard time getting through this novel. Granted, it has over 300 pages, but generally that isn’t an issue for me. Some parts of this novel felt like a chore to get through.

“Never in her life - she could swear if from the bottom of her soul - had she ever intended to do wrong; yet these hard judgments had come. Whatever her sins, they were not sins of intention, but of inadvertence, and why should she have been punished so persistently?”

Tess is certainly a tragic character, who is certainly a victim of circumstance, naivete, and the whims of others. However, I have a hard time seeing her as just the innocent victim. Certainly there were horrible things that happened to her and she paid the price for the actions of others, but she also made bad choices and was weak-willed. She chose to wallow in self-pity and was so easily deterred from taking steps to rectify her circumstances that she can not be deemed entirely blameless for how her story ends. I felt compassion for her and agree that she got a raw deal in life, but there were other times that I wanted to strangle her for some of the choices she made that opened her up to further pain.

As for the men in this novel...I know Angel Clare is the “ideal,” but I found him to be snobbish, hypocritical, judgmental, and stubborn. I cannot say that I believe he deserves such a title. He judges Tess so harshly for something that was not her fault, even after admitting that he himself had pre-marital relations (a consensual relationship, too!). He then runs off to lick his “wounds,” never once giving Tess an ounce of compassion. He acts as if he is the violated one, not Tess. He focuses only on how Tess’s revelation affects him, and never once stops to consider how hard it must have been for Tess. How can he say that he really loved Tess and act this way? It seems that he was far more in love with the idea of Tess that he had created in his mind than the real Tess, if such a confession could rock his feelings so deeply. While I believe that he does redeem himself some at the end of the novel, I still say that he is far less perfect and far more flawed than Tess’s opinion gives him credit for.

As for Angel’s counterpart, Alec D’Urberville, I cannot say that there is much that is “ideal” about him. Except for the bit where Alec appears to learn the errors of his ways (which doesn’t last long when faced with temptation again…), Alec does not put up any pretenses. He is a womanizer and takes advantage of Tess’s weak will to get her to ignore her better instincts. When Tess believes that Angel is lost to her forever, Alec wastes no time playing on her insecurities and doubts to once again get what he wants. Tess is a plaything to Alec, and Tess, because of a lack of will or poor self-esteem, allows him to take advantage of her again and again. I would say that his only redeeming quality is that he does not judge Tess for her past (although this might be because he played a hand in it) the way Angel does. In the end, I think he got what he deserved.

The ending was also a little hard to swallow. I found it hard to believe that Angel, judgmental and righteous as he is, was so easily able to forgive Tess’s final transgression, one that I believe far surpasses her so called previous one. I also found it weird that Tess basically tells Angel to basically replace her with her younger sister, which he apparently does. He’s rather fickle, in my opinion. As for Tess, I don’t know if there was ever another ending for her story. After so much conflict, a tragic end seemed rather inevitable for Tess. Anything less would have seemed disingenuous to her story.

While I can appreciate this novel for what it is, and can understand why it continues to stand the test of time, I can’t say that it will ever be listed among my other classic favorites. Nor do I ever see myself wanting to reread it again and again like some of my other favorites. I am glad that I took the time to read it, and would certainly encourage other classic lit lovers to give it a chance. In the end, it just wasn’t my cup of tea.

2015 Reading Challenge: A book you were supposed to read in school, but didn't


Quidditch Through the Ages by J.K. Rowling

Did you know that: there are 700 ways of committing a foul in Quidditch? The game first began to evolve on Queerditch Marsh - What Bumphing is? That Puddlemere United is oldest team in the Britain and Ireland league (founded 1163). All this information and much more could be yours once you have read this book: this is all you could ever need to know about the history, the rules - and the breaking of the rules - of the noble wizarding sport of Quidditch.


This little book gives the reader the history behind one of the wizarding world’s most exciting sports, Quidditch. It also breaks down the rules, positions, and equipment. The annotations added by Harry and his friends are cute, and any fan of the Harry Potter series will enjoy perusing this book’s pages.

Fantastic Beasts & Where to Find Them by J.K. Rowling

A copy of Fantastic Beasts & Where to Find Them resides in almost every wizarding household in the country. Now Muggles too have the chance to discover where the Quintaped lives, what the Puffskein eats and why it is best not to leave milk out for a Knarl.

Proceeds from the sale of this book will go to Comic Relief, which means that the pounds and Galleons you exchange for it will do magic beyond the powers of any wizard. If you feel that this is insufficient reason to part with your money, I can only hope that passing wizards feel more charitable if they see you being attacked by a Manticore.

- Albus Dumbledore


This little reference book is literally an A-Z guide of magical creatures, including descriptions and facts, and contains no story line. I would have liked more pictures, but the little notations from Harry and his friends were a nice touch. It is a fun little extension of the wonderful world J.K. Rowling introduced us to in her Harry Potter series, and any fan of the series will get a kick out of this book too.

The Best Goodbye (Rosemary Beach #13) by Abbi Glines

The look on Rose’s face had screamed that she was hiding something. Hell, she’d practically run away from me. There was something to that. I knew there was...

After ten years in the employ of a mysterious crime boss, River “Captain” Kipling is ready to leave his sordid past—and his cover occupation as an upscale restaurateur—behind him. The only thing standing in the way of his “retirement” is his commitment to launch a new restaurant in the resort town of Rosemary Beach. With his sister, Blaire, nearby, Captain can delay his dream of running a humble bar on the waterfront, but the unwanted attentions of his head server, Elle, have him itching to get out.

Until he notices Rose Henderson, the new server at the restaurant. All he knows about the pretty redhead with the cute glasses is that she’s a hardworking single mom from Oklahoma. But there’s something overly familiar about her laugh...something strange about the way she looks at Captain...


Another great installment in the Rosemary Beach series. Ever since Abbi first introduced us to Captain, I have found him an intriguing character. There was an aura of mystery surrounding him that made it clear that there was a story to be uncovered. I was even more intrigued after Abbi’s little bombshell revelation about Captain that was dropped on us in Mase’s last book. Captain and Addy’s story is just what you would expect from a Rosemary Beach novel - plenty of drama, passion, and a happy ending. The only reason this one earned 4 stars instead of my usual 5 stars is because I felt the ending was a bit rushed. Other than that, I loved it.


Zero Tolerance by Claudia Mills

Seventh-grader Sierra Shepard has always been the perfect student, so when she sees that she accidentally brought her mother's lunch bag to school, including a paring knife, she immediately turns in the knife at the school office. Much to her surprise, her beloved principal places her in in-school suspension and sets a hearing for her expulsion, citing the school's ironclad no-weapons policy. While there, Sierra spends time with Luke, a boy who's known as a troublemaker, and discovers that he's not the person she assumed he would be—and that the lines between good and bad aren't as clear as she once thought.


As a school teacher myself, I found the concept of this novel very interesting. Most of the school I have worked in have “zero tolerance” policies when it comes to drugs and weapons, and I would say that for the most part, I am a supporter of these policies. However, as this novel points out so well, people and situations tend to be far more complicated. While I don’t agree the main character, Sierra, should have been punished for her honest mistake, I can see the school’s side of the story and the desire to apply the school policy equally in the name of fairness. Nevertheless, life is not black and white. There are gray areas, and I think it is in these gray areas that we learn the most about ourselves and the world around us. I think this one is a worthy edition to YA section of any library.


Dead Wake: The Last Crossing of the Lusitania by Erik Larson

On May 1, 1915, with WWI entering its tenth month, a luxury ocean liner as richly appointed as an English country house sailed out of New York, bound for Liverpool, carrying a record number of children and infants. The passengers were surprisingly at ease, even though Germany had declared the seas around Britain to be a war zone. For months, German U-boats had brought terror to the North Atlantic. But the Lusitania was one of the era’s great transatlantic “Greyhounds”—the fastest liner then in service—and her captain, William Thomas Turner, placed tremendous faith in the gentlemanly strictures of warfare that for a century had kept civilian ships safe from attack.

Germany, however, was determined to change the rules of the game, and Walther Schwieger, the captain of Unterseeboot-20, was happy to oblige. Meanwhile, an ultra-secret British intelligence unit tracked Schwieger’s U-boat, but told no one. As U-20 and the Lusitania made their way toward Liverpool, an array of forces both grand and achingly small—hubris, a chance fog, a closely guarded secret, and more—all converged to produce one of the great disasters of history.

It is a story that many of us think we know but don’t, and Erik Larson tells it thrillingly, switching between hunter and hunted while painting a larger portrait of America at the height of the Progressive Era. Full of glamour and suspense, Dead Wake brings to life a cast of evocative characters, from famed Boston bookseller Charles Lauriat to pioneering female architect Theodate Pope to President Woodrow Wilson, a man lost to grief, dreading the widening war but also captivated by the prospect of new love.

Gripping and important, Dead Wake captures the sheer drama and emotional power of a disaster whose intimate details and true meaning have long been obscured by history.


Dead Wake tells the story of the the passenger liner, Lusitania. The narrative takes a slight deviation from Larson’s usual style. Instead of weaving together two distinct historical events, Larson weaves together the perspectives and experiences of those connected to the Lusitania and its fateful last journey, including the captain of the Lusitania, William Thomas Turner; the captain of the U-boat, Schwieger; the British intelligence office in charge of tracking the activities of the German U-boats; President Wilson of the United States; and the passengers and crew who would lose their lives when the ship foundered. The result is an exciting and suspenseful narrative. I even learned some new things about the Lusitania! Definitely worth a read.


Counting by 7s by Holly Goldberg Sloan

Willow Chance is a twelve-year-old genius, obsessed with nature and diagnosing medical conditions, who finds it comforting to count by 7s. It has never been easy for her to connect with anyone other than her adoptive parents, but that hasn’t kept her from leading a quietly happy life... until now.

Suddenly Willow’s world is tragically changed when her parents both die in a car crash, leaving her alone in a baffling world. The triumph of this book is that it is not a tragedy. This extraordinarily odd, but extraordinarily endearing, girl manages to push through her grief. Her journey to find a fascinatingly diverse and fully believable surrogate family is a joy and a revelation to read.


I really enjoyed this novel and its quirky main character. It’s collection of misfit characters makes for an amusing and heartfelt narrative. While at first glance, the story would seem to be dreary and depressing, the narrative is actually full of light, love, and hope. To be sure, the novel does deal with heavy loss and anyone who has experienced loss or change can easily relate to Willow, but the story is much more about hope than loss. It is definitely a worthy edition to any YA library.

Pocket Prayers: 40 Simple Prayers that Bring Peace and Rest by Max Lucado

This is a short little collection of prayers (about 40), covering various topics, each of which starts with a Bible verse. If you are new to prayer, I think it’s a good place to start. The prayers are not complicated or verbose. I would not say that it is an essential part to a Christian library, but if you are looking for a simple collection of prayers, it is not a bad little book.


The Old Man and the Sea by Ernest Hemingway

The last novel Ernest Hemingway saw published, The Old Man and the Sea has proved itself to be one of the enduring works of American fiction. It is the story of an old Cuban fisherman and his supreme ordeal: a relentless, agonizing battle with a giant marlin far out in the Gulf Stream. Using the simple, powerful language of a fable, Hemingway takes the timeless themes of courage in the face of defeat and personal triumph won from loss and transforms them into a magnificent twentieth-century classic.


Confession...I have not read many books by Ernest Hemingway. I have always meant to, but for some reason I have never gotten around to it. This makes me feel slightly guilty. I mean, how can I be a true bookworm without having read anything by one of my country’s greatest writers? So, as I embarked on my reading challenges for the year, I vowed that I would add more Hemingway to my to-read list. The Old Man and the Sea is my first Hemingway novel. The story is simple. It’s about an old man chasing down a fish. The old man is a tragic character. He’s down on his luck, poor, and in desperate need of a break. His luck appears to change when he hooks a large fish. The fish does not give up easy and the majority of the book is about the man’s struggle to catch the fish.

The old man is certainly a symbol of pride and perseverance, although they seem to work against him in this story. Yes, the man shows perseverance throughout the story, but it is quite obvious from the beginning that his efforts to catch the fish will not lead to success. He doesn’t have the strength nor the help to successfully capture such a large fish. However, the promise of such a large payoff is too good to resist. It is his pride that keeps him from releasing the fish and moving on. Even after he catches the fish and the sharks are attacking, his pride refuses to let him cut his loses, and as they say, “Pride comes before the fall.” In the end, he winds up with nothing. Even though it was obvious from the beginning that things would not work out the way he wanted, I still felt sympathy for him.

Ultimately, I thought the novel was okay. I didn’t love it, but I didn’t hate it either.

2015 Reading Challenge: A Pulitzer-Prize winning book

Thunderstruck by Erik Larson

In Thunderstruck, Erik Larson tells the interwoven stories of two men--Hawley Crippen, a very unlikely murderer, and Guglielmo Marconi, the obsessive creator of a seemingly supernatural means of communication--whose lives intersect during one of the greatest criminal chases of all time.

Set in Edwardian London and on the stormy coasts of Cornwall, Cape Cod, and Nova Scotia, Thunderstruck evokes the dynamism of those years when great shipping companies competed to build the biggest, fastest ocean liners, scientific advances dazzled the public with visions of a world transformed, and the rich outdid one another with ostentatious displays of wealth. Against this background, Marconi races against incredible odds and relentless skepticism to perfect his invention: the wireless, a prime catalyst for the emergence of the world we know today. Meanwhile, Crippen, "the kindest of men," nearly commits the perfect crime.

With his superb narrative skills, Erik Larson guides these parallel narratives toward a relentlessly suspenseful meeting on the waters of the North Atlantic. Along the way, he tells of a sad and tragic love affair that was described on the front pages of newspapers around the world, a chief inspector who found himself strangely sympathetic to the killer and his lover, and a driven and compelling inventor who transformed the way we communicate. Thunderstruck presents a vibrant portrait of an era of séances, science, and fog, inhabited by inventors, magicians, and Scotland Yard detectives, all presided over by the amiable and fun-loving Edward VII as the world slid inevitably toward the first great war of the twentieth century. Gripping from the first page, and rich with fascinating detail about the time, the people, and the new inventions that connect and divide us, Thunderstruck is splendid narrative history from a master of the form.


Erik Larson is one of my favorite historical writers. I love how he often combines two seemingly unrelated stories into one. In this case, he chronicles the development of wireless technology by Guglielmo Marconi and combines it with the story of Hawley Crippen, a medical man who commits murder. Although historical nonfiction, Thunderstruck reads more like a narrative and lacks the stereotypical “textbook” feel of other historical nonfiction. It is not simply a recounting or list of facts, but rather a story told using facts. Having said that, it is clear that the book is thoroughly researched, and I suppose Larson does take some artistic license, but for the most part the story appears to stay true to verifiable facts. This is the third book by Larson that I have read, and I will definitely be picking up more in the future.


The Christmas Shoes by Donna VanLiere

Sometimes, the things that can change your life will cross your path in one instant-and then, in a fleeting moment, they're gone. But if you open your eyes, and watch carefully, you will believe....

Robert is a successful attorney who has everything in life-and nothing at all. Focused on professional achievement and material rewards, Robert is on the brink of losing his marriage. He has lost sight of his wife, Kate, their two daughters, and ultimately himself.

Eight year old Nathan has a beloved mother, Maggie, whom he is losing to cancer. But Nathan and his family are building a simple yet full life, and struggling to hold onto every moment they have together. 

A chance meeting on Christmas even brings Robert and Nathan together-he is shopping for a family he hardly knows and Nathan is shopping for a mother he is soon to lose. In this one encounter, their lives are forever altered as Robert learns an important lesson: sometimes the smallest things can make all the difference. The Christmas Shoes is a universal story of the deeper meaning of serendipity, a tale of our shared humanity, and of how a power greater than ourselves can shape, and even save, our lives.


I swear I am like Pavlov’s dog when it comes to the song, “Christmas Shoes.” Every time I hear it on the radio, I instantly tear up. I can’t help it. It happens every single time, despite the fact that I have heard the song innumerable times. So, I suppose I shouldn’t have expected anything different from this little book based on the popular holiday song. It is a typical “Christmas story,” no different than say the holiday Hallmark movies that I can also claim an addiction to (Don’t judge...I love all things Christmas!). This story is perhaps a little more bitter sweet than others, but it’s still filled with the Christmas spirit. And in case you are wondering...yes, it did make me cry.

2015 Reading Challenge: A book set during Christmas


Twerp by Mark Goldblatt

It's not like I meant for him to get hurt. . . .

Julian Twerski isn't a bully. He's just made a big mistake. So when he returns to school after a weeklong suspension, his English teacher offers him a deal: if he keeps a journal and writes about the terrible incident that got him and his friends suspended, he can get out of writing a report on Shakespeare. Julian jumps at the chance. And so begins his account of life in sixth grade--blowing up homemade fireworks, writing a love letter for his best friend (with disastrous results), and worrying whether he's still the fastest kid in school. Lurking in the background, though, is the one story he can't bring himself to tell, the one story his teacher most wants to hear.


I really enjoyed this YA novel. I found the main character’s narrative to be quite entertaining. I often found myself smiling and/or laughing at the antics recalled by the narrator throughout the story. I like that the story was written in diary form. It's not often that male characters keep a diary (albeit, our protagonist was forced to in this case), and I enjoyed the different perspective. The narrative encompasses all the hallmarks of adolescence: Pranks, fights, crushes, competition, poor judgement, and lessons learned. I think it makes a great addition to any YA library and I will certainly be recommending it to my students in the future.


See Me by Nicholas Sparks

Colin Hancock is giving his second chance his best shot. With a history of violence and bad decisions behind him and the threat of prison dogging his every step, he's determined to walk a straight line. To Colin, that means applying himself single-mindedly toward his teaching degree and avoiding everything that proved destructive in his earlier life. Reminding himself daily of his hard-earned lessons, the last thing he is looking for is a serious relationship.

Maria Sanchez, the hardworking daughter of Mexican immigrants, is the picture of conventional success. With a degree from Duke Law School and a job at a prestigious firm in Wilmington, she is a dark-haired beauty with a seemingly flawless professional track record. And yet Maria has a traumatic history of her own, one that compelled her to return to her hometown and left her questioning so much of what she once believed.

A chance encounter on a rain-swept road will alter the course of both Colin and Maria's lives, challenging deeply held assumptions about each other and ultimately, themselves. As love unexpectedly takes hold between them, they dare to envision what a future together could possibly look like . . . until menacing reminders of events in Maria's past begin to surface.

As a series of threatening incidents wreaks chaos in Maria's life, Maria and Colin will be tested in increasingly terrifying ways. Will demons from their past destroy the tenuous relationship they've begun to build, or will their love protect them, even in the darkest hour?

Rich in emotion and fueled with suspense, SEE ME reminds us that love is sometimes forged in the crises that threaten to shatter us . . . and that those who see us for who we truly are may not always be the ones easiest to recognize.


Oh, N Sparks. How I love your romances. It’s been awhile since I have read one of Sparks’s books. I love his books because I don’t have to think about them. The plots tend to be predictable, but there is something reassuring about that. I often bring his books to the beach or read them after a particularly taxing book. They are like that comfortable sweater you throw on when you’re lounging around the house on a rainy day. They are just feel good stories.

I really liked See Me. I had the plot figured out about halfway through, but that didn’t stop me from enjoying it. See Me is a bit of a departure from Sparks's usual romances. It was more of a combination romance/mystery, which added suspense and kept the story interesting. I think this one might be one of my favorites from N Sparks, definitely up at the top of the list. Highly recommend it.


As I Lay Dying by William Faulkner

At the heart of this 1930 novel is the Bundren family's bizarre journey to Jefferson to bury Addie, their wife and mother. Faulkner lets each family member, including Addie, and others along the way tell their private responses to Addie's life.


I know as a self-professed “book nerd” I am supposed to love this book. I mean, it’s written by William Faulkner, one of the greatest American writers. Of course I should love it, right? Right? Unfortunately, I cannot say that I do. I didn’t hate the novel, but I didn’t love it either. I found the basic plot horrifying. This family spends the entire book trying to bury the recently deceased Addie, which takes days upon days to accomplish. The corpse is almost lost in a river, almost burned in a barn fire, and is delayed so much that the sink is undeniable by anyone who passes near it. While I get that Addie’s family was trying to fulfill her dying wish, at some point enough is enough.

I did like how Faulkner continually changed perspective throughout the novel. Each of his characters is unique and had their own parallel story, each I assume represents a way of living or dying. The language takes some getting used to, as he employes a heavy Southern dialect. This book is very “Southern,” not just because of it’s setting, but also because of its religious connotations and ideas of “proper” behavior. This naturally leads to rampant hypocrisy, all done covertly, of course. Nevertheless, the story is at times confusing. Some events lack context, at times the thoughts of characters are jumbled or refer to things that happened but not explained, and I was often left with the feeling that I missed something. I don’t mind having to think about a narrative while I read it. I guess I just prefer to think about it because it is thought provoking, not because I’m trying to put a puzzle together that is clearly missing a few pieces.

While I feel that Faulkner’s writing has merit, it’s just not my cup of tea. Like I said, in the end I am indifferent to this book. I didn’t hate it, but I didn’t like it either. I think this novel falls quite nicely into the “to each their own” category. Some people will love it, others will not. You will need to decide for yourself which side you fall on.


The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry

Moral allegory and spiritual autobiography, The Little Prince is the most translated book in the French language. With a timeless charm it tells the story of a little boy who leaves the safety of his own tiny planet to travel the universe, learning the vagaries of adult behavior through a series of extraordinary encounters. His personal odyssey culminates in a voyage to Earth and further adventures.


I honestly don't know what to make of this one. It is a very interesting story, which can be read very differently depending entirely on how old you are when you read it. Seen through the eyes of a child, the story is full of wonder and adventure. It is warning to young adults to hold on to that "child-like wonder" and creativity. There is also an element of sadness as the adults in the book seem to have lost any sense of curiosity, focused only on their mundane "adult" tasks.

When the story is considered in light of Saint-Exupéry's life, it certainly appears autobiographical. A young boy flies off to have an adventure, only to lose his innocence along the way. He knows that he can never return to the life he has...perhaps he even dies? Not far from the author who dreamed of being a pilot and adventure, only to experience an end to innocence at the hands of war.

I feel like this is a book that I will have to read several more times before I can formulate a more concrete opinion.

2015 Reading Challenge: A book that was originally written in a different language


Prisoner B-3087 by Alan Gratz

Survive. At any cost.

10 concentration camps.

10 different places where you are starved, tortured, and worked mercilessly.

It's something no one could imagine surviving.

But it is what Yanek Gruener has to face.

As a Jewish boy in 1930s Poland, Yanek is at the mercy of the Nazis who have taken over. Everything he has, and everyone he loves, have been snatched brutally from him. And then Yanek himself is taken prisoner -- his arm tattooed with the words PRISONER B-3087.

He is forced from one nightmarish concentration camp to another, as World War II rages all around him. He encounters evil he could have never imagined, but also sees surprising glimpses of hope amid the horror. He just barely escapes death, only to confront it again seconds later.

Can Yanek make it through the terror without losing his hope, his will -- and, most of all, his sense of who he really is inside?

Based on an astonishing true story.


Each chapter in this narrative represents a different concentration camp that the main character, Yanek, is sent to. In terms of providing a broad view of the various different horrors the Jewish people were subjected to at the hands of the Nazis, this book certainly does a good job, but I found it to be very surface level. 

Yanek experienced and witnessed numerous horrors, lost friends and family, and struggled to hold onto hope. The book does not shy away from the gory details, but I didn't find it to be overly graphic. The biggest issue I had with the narrative is that the story felt very rushed. Because it was trying to cover so much ground, each camp was reduced to a short chapter, which didn't allow for some of the elaborating details I would have liked. I suppose the rushed feeling did add some suspense to the narrative, but I felt it was more of a hindrance to the story than a benefit.

Nonetheless, I did like the book enough to include it in future book circles to supplement our unit on identify when we read books like Anne Frank: The Diary of a Young Girl and Hana's Suitcase.  


The Boy in the Striped Pajamas by John Boyne

Berlin, 1942: When Bruno returns home from school one day, he discovers that his belongings are being packed in crates. His father has received a promotion and the family must move to a new house far, far away, where there is no one to play with and nothing to do. A tall fence stretches as far as the eye can see and cuts him off from the strange people in the distance.

But Bruno longs to be an explorer and decides that there must be more to this desolate new place than meets the eye. While exploring his new environment, he meets another boy whose life and circumstances are very different from his own, and their meeting results in a friendship that has devastating consequences.


This was a very surprising and powerful novel. It is a unique novel because it is about the Holocaust and told from the perspective of a German boy, whose father is a top ranking Nazi official. The character of Bruno as been criticized for being "too innocent," but I disagree. First, he's a young boy who loves his father. Of course, he is innocent and naive. He lived a sheltered life, and because of this when he encounters unpleasant things or things he doesn't understand, it is natural that he dismissed them.

However, it is also this same innocence that allows him to recognize that there is something not quite right about what his father does, as well as befriend a Jewish boy trapped in a concentration camp. His innocence allows him to see beyond the differences to the similarities they both share and want to help his friend.

The ending was the most surprising and powerful part of the story. I don't want to give anything away, so I won't give anymore details. I do feel that this is a great book to give to young readers to start the conversation about the Holocaust. The story generates many questions and Bruno is relatable enough to appeal to young readers. I was blown away by this novel and it left a lasting impression on me. It is an impressive and touching piece of literature.


The Almost Moon by Alice Sebold

For years Helen Knightly has given her life to others: to her haunted mother, to her enigmatic father, to her husband and grown children. When she finally crosses a terrible boundary, her life comes rushing in at her in a way she never could have imagined.

Unfolding over the next twenty-four hours, this searing, fast-paced audiobook explores the complex ties between mothers and daughters, wives and lovers, the meaning of devotion, and the line between love and hate. It is a challenging, moving, gripping story, written with the fluidity and strength of voice that only Alice Sebold has.


Let me start by saying that I am a fan of Alice Sebold. I loved The Lovely Bones, but there is not much good I can say about this book. The main character, Helen Knightly, is one of the least sympathetic characters I have ever met between the pages of a book. I wanted to feel bad for her. She had great potential for sympathy. Her childhood, her father's death, her mother's slow decay, should have all inspired feelings of compassion, but her actions and the motivations behind them had the complete opposite effect. The plot was insipid and the ending was abrupt and incomplete. I didn't like this one at all.


Hana's Suitcase by Karen Levine

In 2000, a suitcase arrived at a children's Holocaust education center in Tokyo, Japan, marked "Hana Brady, May 16, 1931." The center's curator searches for clues to young Hana and her family, whose happy life in a small Czech town was turned upside down by the invasion of the Nazis.


My fellow English teachers and I decided to read this book as a companion novel to Anne Frank: The Diary of a Young Girl as part of our narrative nonfiction/identity unit. Our students responded well to this book, especially since it has a detective novel element to it. The book has two parallel timelines - Hana's story and Fumiko's (curator of the museum in Japan) quest to find out who Hana is and what happened to her. 

It is a quick read and has lots of photographs, which helps bring the story to life. I liked the back and forth between the different timelines. It added a level of suspense which drove the story forward and kept it interesting. Hana's story also provides another perspective to help students better understand the Holocaust, and generated some really great discussions with my students who made connections to current events. While I love Anne Frank's diary, I believe that Hana's Suitcase is an excellent addition to any school/classroom library.


Ashley's War: The Untold Story of a Team of Women Soldiers on the Special Ops Battlefield by Gayle Tzemach Lemmon

From the author of the New York Times best seller The Dressmaker of Khair Khana comes the poignant and gripping story of a groundbreaking team of female American warriors who served alongside Special Operations soldiers on the battlefield in Afghanistan - including Ashley White, a beloved soldier who died serving her country's cause.

In 2010 the US Army Special Operations Command created Cultural Support Teams, a pilot program to put women on the battlefield alongside Green Berets and Army Rangers on sensitive missions in Afghanistan. The idea was that women could access places and people that had remained out of reach and could build relationships - woman to woman - in ways that male soldiers in a conservative, traditional country could not. Though officially banned from combat, female soldiers could be "attached" to different teams, and for the first time women throughout the army heard the call to try out for this Special Ops program.

In Ashley's War, Gayle Tzemach Lemmon uses exhaustive firsthand reporting and a finely tuned understanding of the complexities of war to tell the story of CST-2, a unit of women hand-picked from across the army, and the remarkable hero at its heart: 1st Lt. Ashley White, who would become the first Cultural Support Team member killed in action and the first CST remembered on the Army Special Operations Memorial Wall of Honor alongside the Army Rangers with whom she served.

Transporting readers into this little-known world of fierce women bound together by valor, danger, and the desire to serve, Ashley's War is a riveting combat narrative and a testament to the unbreakable bonds born of war.


I thoroughly enjoyed listening to this story, and found this book to be fascinating, as I had never heard of the CST program prior to listening to this book. While Ashley White's story was the centerpiece of the book, I liked how the author weaved together several of the women's stories to provide a much more holistic view of the CST program and its participants. These women are inspirational. They came from all across the United States, all with a single-minded goal: to serve their country in the most meaningful way possible. 

Prior to this program, positions on the front lines had been largely closed to women, despite the fact that women have proven both their ability and willingness to serve in the most dangerous environs of war. These women, carefully selected, were in essence pioneers, tasked with proving themselves in a male dominated field resistant to change. They not only had to prove themselves in the moment, but set a prescient that would impact the lives and careers of generations of female soldiers to come. They pushed themselves physically, mentally, and emotionally to serve at the highest standard they could achieve.

Yet, they were human. It could have been really easy to portray these women as "other," something beyond what anyone could hope to achieve, but I think the author did a good job humanizing them. She wrote about their flaws, challenges, hopes, and dreams. She made them unique and ordinary at the same time. This made their characters relatable and I found myself draw in by their stories because I could relate to them and their experiences as women on a personal level.

You don't have to be overly interested in military stuff to get hooked by this book, as the focus is less on that and more on telling the stories of these incredible women. In my opinion, this book is well worth a read (or listen!). 

Milk and Honey by Rupi Kaur

'milk and honey' is a collection of poetry and prose about survival. About the experience of violence, abuse, love, loss, and femininity. It is split into four chapters, and each chapter serves a different purpose. Deals with a different pain. Heals a different heartache. 'milk and honey' takes readers through a journey of the most bitter moments in life and finds sweetness in them because there is sweetness everywhere if you are just willing to look.


This is a beautiful collection of poems. It's various line drawings are reminiscent of Shel Silverstein, but this is no children's book. The poems cover a spectrum of experiences and emotions, from abuse to finding love to breaking up. They are raw, real, and vulnerable. It is a prime example of how powerful and healing poetic expression can be. Rupi Kaur is my new favorite poet. Love this book.


Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail by Cheryl Strayed

At twenty-two, Cheryl Strayed thought she had lost everything. In the wake of her mother’s death, her family scattered and her own marriage was soon destroyed. Four years later, with nothing more to lose, she made the most impulsive decision of her life. 

With no experience or training, driven only by blind will, she would hike more than a thousand miles of the Pacific Crest Trail from the Mojave Desert through California and Oregon to Washington State — and she would do it alone.

Told with suspense and style, sparkling with warmth and humor, Wild powerfully captures the terrors and pleasures of one young woman forging ahead against all odds on a journey that maddened, strengthened, and ultimately healed her.


I found this to be a remarkable narrative. I had never heard of the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT) and I am not an outdoorsy girl. I enjoy nature and the occasional hike or bike ride, but I am not the type of girl who likes camping outside with no access to a shower and indoor plumbing. I much prefer "glamping," or glamorous or luxurious camping. Picture something along the lines of a giant RV with an indoor shower, satellite TV, running water, refrigerator, stove, fireplace (optional), and fold-out Queen sized air mattress and you have a inkling into what I define as my version of "camping."

The idea that anyone, let alone a female on her own, would set out into the wilderness carrying all their supplies on their back and walk for miles and miles across unforgiving terrain and be at the mercy of the elements just seems insane to me. No thanks! But I can see why it was appealing to Cheryl at a time when her whole life seemed to be unraveling around her. I admire her courage in undertaking such an endeavor. I felt sympathy for her plight - losing her mother, estrangement from her stepfather and siblings, her divorce. I didn't necessarily agree with how she went about dealing (or not dealing) with her grief. I think in many ways, she was the cause of her own suffering. Nevertheless, I can see how undertaking a solo journey in the wilderness could help one find their way back to themselves. A journey such as the one Cheryl takes strips you of all pretenses. There is nothing and no one to hide behind or distract you from yourself. You have no choice but to face yourself head-on as you push yourself to your limits.

The narrative was humorous and exciting, and I enjoyed hearing about all the people Cheryl met along the way. Cheryl is not a perfect person, as none of us are, and there were certainly decisions she made that I would not make. However, I found myself forgiving her for her folly and recognizing the humanity in her story. Which of us is perfect? Which of us doesn't make mistakes? Who among us is brave enough to face our demons, our imperfections, head on? Who among us hasn't lost their way? Which of us hasn't made excuses for our actions?

I don't know if I can say I felt inspired by Cheryl's story. I will probably never feel an urge to backpack by myself through the wilderness, but I did enjoy her story, one human being to another. 


Sense and Sensibility by Jane Austen

The first of Jane Austen's published novels, Sense and Sensibility portrays the life and loves of two starkly different sisters: Elinor and Marianne Dashwood.

The elder Elinor is the epitome of prudence, discretion, and self-control: Marianne embodies emotion, openness, and enthusiasm. This contrast results in their attraction to men of vastly different character - and sparks family and societal dramas that are played out around the sisters' romantic attachments.

Secrets, betrayals, and confessions soon complicate the lives of the Dashwoods, whose goal is nothing less than the achievement of perfect happiness. Beyond the polar differences between the two sisters' characters lies the universal dilemma of balancing what we owe to other human beings against our own needs.

In the pages of this novel, Austen - the most insightful and, at the same time, the most entertaining of novelists - demonstrates her gift for irony. As with many of the greatest works of literature, the resolution of this one is ambiguous: It is for the reader to decide whether sense and sensibility have truly merged - if life and love can really coexist.


Sense and Sensibility is my second favorite Austen novel. I have always felt a kinship with sensible Elinor. Of all the Austen heroines, she is the one I feel is most similar to myself. I have always admired her steadfastness, practicality, and stoic manner. I never could quite understand why Marianne was the beloved one of the two sisters. To me, she has always appeared indulgent, flighty, and overly dramatic. 

The sisters represent the polar opposites, which is what makes this the perfect choice for my reading challenge. 

The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines sense and sensibility as follows:

Sense (noun):
a. capacity for effective application of the powers of the mind as a basis for action or response : intelligence
b : sound mental capacity and understanding typically marked by shrewdness and practicality;also : agreement with or satisfaction of such power 

Sensibility (noun):
a. peculiar susceptibility to a pleasurable or painful impression (as from praise or a slight) —often used in plural
b. awareness of and responsiveness toward something (as emotion in another)

Sensible people are governed by logic. They rely on their heads, their reason. They are willing to sacrifice their own desires in favor of practicality. Where as people who rely on their sensibilities are motivated by their emotions, and are not afraid to respond with unrestrained emotion, positive or negative, in any given situation. Both have their pros and cons, and the message I always got from this novel is the importance of finding the balance between the two. Elinor is often mistaken as being unemotional or detached; Marianne is so easily overcome by any emotion, good or bad, that she appears almost bi-polar.

Of course, there is also Edward Ferrars to consider. As much as I wanted to hate him for it, I have always admired his loyalty and unwillingness to give into the pressures of others. He was a fool to make a promise to Lucy at such a young age, but I have always admired how he refused to break his promise to her, despite the pressure of his family and even to the detriment of his own heart. On the other hand, I always feel an urge to rage at him to forget honor and marry the woman he really loves. Edward is no Mr. Darcy, but he is definitely up there on the list of my favorite leading men.

Even though I have read this book numerous times, I loved it just as much as I did all the other times I read it. Like a pair of comfortable slippers, it was easy to slip into this world created by Austen and lose myself in the language and characters of this novel. This one will never get old for me, and I foresee many more rereadings.

2015 Reading Challenge: A book with antonyms in the title

Room by Emma Donoghue

To five-year-old Jack, Room is the entire world. It is where he was born and grew up; it's where he lives with his Ma as they learn and read and eat and sleep and play. At night, his Ma shuts him safely in the wardrobe, where he is meant to be asleep when Old Nick visits.

Room is home to Jack, but to Ma, it is the prison where Old Nick has held her captive for seven years. Through determination, ingenuity, and fierce motherly love, Ma has created a life for Jack. But she knows it's not enough...not for her or for him. She devises a bold escape plan, one that relies on her young son's bravery and a lot of luck. What she does not realize is just how unprepared she is for the plan to actually work.

Told entirely in the language of the energetic, pragmatic five-year-old Jack, Room is a celebration of resilience and the limitless bond between parent and child, a brilliantly executed novel about what it means to journey from one world to another.


This was another audio book pick for me, and I must say that I thoroughly enjoyed listening to this story. The audio book was done extremely well, with different actors (is that what you call them? readers?) reading each part. The story is told from the perspective of Jack, which makes for an entertaining and interesting read. Because Room was the only thing Jack knew, having never left it, his perceptions of the "outside" world were both hilarious and heartbreaking. The narrative is full of the innocence and naivete that one would expect from a five year old narrator.

The relationship between Jack and his mother are at the heart of this story. His relationship with his mother was touching and a bit odd. Cut off entirely from the world, these two did what they could to survive. Their interdependence is both natural and unnatural. Jack's mother is perhaps one of the bravest characters I have ever had the privilege to encounter, and I can't even begin to imagine how I would survive, let alone keep a child alive, if I found myself in the same situation. Things don't prove any easier once they do escape. Both Jack and his mother face challenges as they try to integrate into the world beyond their small shelter.

This book deals with some tough topics. It is not graphic per-say, but it certainly doesn't shy away from some of the heavier experiences of the characters. Sorry if that statement seems vague. I don't want to give too much away. Ultimately, this book is about more than just survival. It's about courage, determination, resilience, and the bond between mother and child. I'm curious to see how they will translate such a dramatic and complex story to film, with the film version of Room set to release soon.

I can't speak to the reading of this novel, as I listened to the audio version, but I would recommend giving the audio version a chance. I really feel that the way the audio book was done enhanced the story. It made it more personal. I liked how they used different people to read each part, rather than one person using different voices for each character. It made the reading feel more like a play, rather than a novel. Regardless of the format, I do feel that this novel is worth a read, as it is a very touching story.


Resilience: Hard-Won Wisdom for Living a Better Life by Eric Greitens

You cannot bounce back from hardship. You can only move through it. There is a path through pain to wisdom, through suffering to strength, and through fear to courage if we have the virtue of resilience.

In 2012, Eric Greitens unexpectedly heard from a former SEAL comrade, a brother-in-arms he hadn't seen in a decade. Zach Walker had been one of the toughest of the tough. But ever since he returned home from war to his young family in a small logging town, he d been struggling. Without a sense of purpose, plagued by PTSD, and masking his pain with heavy drinking, he needed help. Zach and Eric started writing and talking nearly every day, as Eric set down his thoughts on what it takes to build resilience in our lives.

Eric's letters drawing on both his own experience and wisdom from ancient and modern thinkers are now gathered and edited into this timeless guidebook. Resilience explains how we can build purpose, confront pain, practice compassion, develop a vocation, find a mentor, create happiness, and much more. Eric s lessons are deep yet practical, and his advice leads to clear solutions.

We all face pain, difficulty, and doubt. But we also have the tools to take control of our lives. Resilience is an inspiring meditation for the warrior in each of us.


I saw Eric Greitens give an interview on The Daily Show and was intrigued by the idea of his book. I added it to my "to-read" list and it quickly got lost in the shuffle. As a commuter, I spend a significant amount of time in my car and lose valuable reading time. I have always had mixed feelings about audiobooks. While I like that it allows me to "read" while driving, I miss having a physical book in my hands. However, since I am now spending so much time in my car, I decided to give audiobooks another go. I was pleased to see that my local library had the audio version of Resilience and decided it would be the perfect test subject for determining once and for all if audiobooks were for me.

I have always had the up most respect for our military men and women. I admire their bravery and their willingness to put their lives on the line to protect others. My heart breaks when I hear how they are left unsupported and hurt after they return from the battle lines. I have made it a point to support charities that provide services and help to wounded veterans. But as much as I respect them, the truth is it is hard for me to truly understand their hardships. In our modern era, the divide between civilian and soldier is vast and ever growing. Unlike in the past, our country can be at war without the average citizen ever experiencing one inconvenience. Even though our country is "at war," for the majority of the population it's almost as if the war exists only on TV. Because of this, the men and women who risk their lives for us face little understood challenges as they try to integrate back into civilian life. I fear that in many ways, we fail to adequately support these men and women, and give them what they really need: a purpose. We fail to recognize and utilize their skills, and because of this many of veterans find themselves homeless, unemployed, addicts, or suicidal. We owe these men and women so much, much more than what they get.

In truth, I had a mixed reaction to this book. I liked the idea of the structure, a set of letters written back and forth between friends, but was disappointed how it played out in the book. The book is in fact a set of letters, but it only contains the letters that Eric wrote to his friend, Zach, a soldier suffering from PTSD. The book does not include Zach's responses to Eric, so at times, I felt like I was only getting half of the story. I wanted to know more about Zach's experiences, thoughts, and reactions. While they were at times alluded to in Eric's letters, I was disappointed that the book turned out to be more of a one-sided conversation. 

I did not find anything in this book to be ground-breaking or even mind-blowing, but I think that was the point. Eric draws on the writings of ancient philosophers and past thinkers to discuss the idea of what it means to be resilient. The "wisdom" found in these pages is nothing new, because the idea of what makes a resilient person is not anything new. I think the biggest thing that stuck me is how Greitens talks about how we perceive our suffering. When faced with pain, we (meaning humans in general) often see our situation as unique and therefore incapable of being understood by others. But the truth is, our experiences are not unique. Losing a brother in battle is no different from losing a brother to cancer. The experience or circumstance is different, but the result and the pain is not. The idea that our pain is not unique is like a slap in the face. It's an idea that is harsh, but ultimately I have to agree with Greitens. It's true. It's a liberating truth, in my opinion. If our suffering is not unique, it lifts the burden of having to carry it on our own. It frees us to connect with others and share pain, making it easier to carry.

The other point that I found interesting is that Greitens says that veterans often falter after returning home because society gives them a free pass. We allow them to indulge in their suffering by removing any responsibility or accountability in an effort to "make things easier" for them. We make excuses for them, thinking that we are helping. Greitens says that in fact what we need to be doing is holding them accountable and helping them find a purpose. Our servicemen and women go from having a clear purpose, being part of team, with every minute of every day regimented and controlled, back to a life where the objective and the routines they are accustomed to no longer exist. Greitens goes on to say that anyone who lacks purpose will find themselves in a similar position. I thought this was a very interesting point of view that makes perfect sense when you stop and think about it.

In the end, I thought the arguments that Greitens laid out in the book where not particularly revolutionary, but I surmise that was not the intent. Many of the ideas in the book came across as common sense and universal, which seemed to be the point. One cannot escape suffering, this is perhaps one truth that we can all agree on, but how we chose to deal with that suffering is our choice. I am glad that I read the book, but didn't experience anything profound enough that will have me returning to its pages again and again. It was a good audiobook and I liked listening to the author read the letters. It felt more personal that way. Overall, an intriguing read with useful insights.


Charlotte's Web by E.B. White

Some Pig. Humble. Radiant. These are the words in Charlotte's Web, high up in Zuckerman's barn. Charlotte's spiderweb tells of her feelings for a little pig named Wilbur, who simply wants a friend. They also express the love of a girl named Fern, who saved Wilbur's life when he was born the runt of his litter.

E. B. White's Newbery Honor Book is a tender novel of friendship, love, life, and death that will continue to be enjoyed by generations to come. It contains illustrations by Garth Williams, the acclaimed illustrator of E.B. White's Stuart Little and Laura Ingalls Wilder's Little House series, among many other books.


This was one of my favorite books growing up. In fact, I still have my childhood copy. The dust jacket is long since missing, the pages are yellowed and stained, the binding is broken, and it has that old book smell. I can still remember sitting with my mother and reading it for the first time. It has been years (decades even) since I had picked it up, so it was a no-brainer for me which book I would chose to fulfill the book from your childhood category for my reading challenge.

Unlike so many other things, this book has not lost it's shine. It is just as good now, as I remember it being when I was a child. I have been so disappointed by films and other books that I have rewatched/reread as an adult, only to find that they lack the luster my memory painted them with. This was not the case with Charlotte's Web. I loved Wilbur and all the other animals. I even loved Charlotte, despite my rather intense loathing of spiders. All the feelings I associated with this novel in my memory - love, joy, sadness, laughter - where all still there as I reread its pages.

This book remains a classic for me and I hope that I will someday be able to share it with my children some day. It is a book that has and will continue to stand the test of time. It is a simple story with tremendous heart. It is a story about love, friendship, and the cycle of life. I love it just as much today as I did as a child. It's nice to know some things never change. 

2015 Reading Challenge: A book from your childhood


Still Alice by Lisa Genova

Alice Howland is proud of the life she worked so hard to build. At fifty years old, she’s a cognitive psychology professor at Harvard and a world-renowned expert in linguistics with a successful husband and three grown children. When she becomes increasingly disoriented and forgetful, a tragic diagnosis changes her life--and her relationship with her family and the world--forever.

At once beautiful and terrifying, Still Alice is a moving and vivid depiction of life with early-onset Alzheimer’s disease that is as compelling as A Beautiful Mind and as unforgettable as Judith Guest's Ordinary People.


Alzheimer's is a terrifying disease. The idea of losing everything that makes you, you, is just so frightening. To forget your spouse, your children, memories, both good and bad, to me seems like the worst kind of torture. I can't imagine what that must be like or how devastating it must be to the loved ones around them.

To be honest, this novel wasn't what I was expecting. In fact, I didn't realize it was a work of fiction until I started reading it. For some reason, I had it in my head that it was based on a true story. In a way, I guess it is. It is certainly realistic fiction. I am sure that Alice's story is reminiscent of many sufferers of Alzheimer's disease. 

I think the novel did a fine job of depicting the disease, especially it's progression. It was heartbreaking to watch this strong, intelligent woman, lose everything - her career, her independence, everything that made her life what it was. It was hard to watch how the diagnosis affected her husband and her children. It was hard to see how drastically her life changed in such a short span of time. It wasn't all bad though. There were sweet moments between Alice and her husband and children. There were moments of triumph when Alice successfully forms a support group for people with Alzheimer's and when she speaks successfully at a medical conference about what it's like to have the disease. But the truth was never far away. There is no cure, and the inevitable will always happen.

Overall, this wasn't a bad read. I can't call it spectacular, but I did enjoy it. It's a quick read and only took me a few days to finish. I liked the story well enough that I am interested in checking out the film adaptation. I am curious to see how the story translated to film. A three star read for me.


Angela's Ashes by Frank McCourt

"When I look back on my childhood I wonder how I managed to survive at all. It was, of course, a miserable childhood: the happy childhood is hardly worth your while. Worse than the ordinary miserable childhood is the miserable Irish childhood, and worse yet is the miserable Irish Catholic childhood."

So begins the luminous memoir of Frank McCourt, born in Depression-era Brooklyn to recent Irish immigrants and raised in the slums of Limerick, Ireland. Frank's mother, Angela, has no money to feed the children since Frank's father, Malachy, rarely works, and when he does he drinks his wages. Yet Malachy does nurture in Frank an appetite for the one thing he can provide: a story.

Perhaps it is a story that accounts for Frank's survival. Wearing rags for diapers, begging a pig's head for Christmas dinner, and searching the pubs for his father, Frank endures poverty, near-starvation and the casual cruelty of relatives and neighbors yet lives to tell his tale with eloquence, exuberance and remarkable forgiveness.

Imbued with Frank McCourt's astounding humor and compassion — and movingly read in his own voice Angela's Ashes is a glorious audiobook that bears all the marks of a classic.


I am the type of reader who ALWAYS finishes a book once I have started it. Even if a book is horrible, I always hold out hope that it will somehow get better. I suffer through to the end, so I never have to wonder "what if?" Angela's Ashes was the one exception to this rule. No matter how I tried, I just could not get through this novel the first time I attempted to read it. Having grown up in a large, Irish-American family, there were many things I could relate to in Frank's story, but I just couldn't get past what I perceived as endless whining. I got it. Your life sucked, you were poor, your father was a drunk and unreliable. Join the club! I failed to see how Frank's experience was so different from my own and the millions of other's that came before him.

Because of my predilection for finishing books, no matter how terrible they are, there was only one option available to me if I was going to complete the 2015 Reading Challenge. I knew that I would have to finally get through Angela's Ashes. I decided to go with the audiobook, thinking that when my frustration level got too high, I could distract myself with the author's accent. I'm a sucker for accents. It worked, and I was finally able to get through the book.

I still don't love the novel, but I don't hate it as much as I did the first time I tried to read it. It didn't feel so much like a "woe is me" tale as it did the first time around, and I was able to appreciate the humor, disappointment, and determination of Frank's story much more. It is unlikely that I will ever recommend this novel as a "must read," nor am I likely to seek out its sequels, but I am happy to say that I made it through it and no longer have it hanging over my head as an unfinished book. I have a new appreciation for the novel, but it will still never make my favorite books list. 

2015 Reading Challenge: A book you started, but never finished


Faith is Not a Feeling: Choosing to Take God at His Word by Ney Bailey

In 1976 the Big Thompson River flood in Colorado took 150 lives, including those of seven women on staff with Campus Crusade for Christ International. Deeply grieved by the loss, survivor Ney Bailey embraced a journey of faith that led her to a life-changing truth: No matter how things look and no matter how we feel, God is in control.

In Faith is Not a Feeling, Ney reveals how life’s tragedies and challenges lead each of us to an important decision about how we will relate to God. Building on a foundation of experiences all believers can relate to, this well-loved speaker and teacher shows how you can take advantage of the endless opportunities life provided to deepen your trust in the Lord.

Faith is Not a Feeling has taught hundreds of thousands of people how to choose to believe God’s promises over their own personal feelings. Now you, too, can discover the secrets that will allow you to face painful experiences with a measure of objectivity, use your feelings to take you to God, and experience true peace in the midst of failure and trials. Best of all, you will learn how to obediently and confidently take God at His word as you never have before.


Because of the things I experienced in my childhood, trust is not something that comes naturally to me. A fact that often surprises people, especially when they remark on how many friends I have. Yes, I have always been social. Yes, I have always gotten along with a variety of people, and because of that, I have always had a large circle of friends. But I think many people would be surprised to find out how little they really know me. I can count on my fingers, and have plenty left over, the number of friends who truly know me.

Once trusted, my  loyalty is never ending. Once betrayed, forgiveness may be given, but trust is unlikely to be bestowed again. That's just the way I am built. As a child, I often prayed to God to change my difficult circumstances, and when I did not receive the result that I thought I should, my trust in God waned, and it eventually drove me from the Church. I never lost what I perceived as "faith." I never stopped believing in God; I never doubted His existence. I simply doubted His plan and love for me. As a result, I spent many years trying to do everything on my own and searching for answers to questions that had already been answered by God.

It was only years later that I was able to see "the forest through the trees." I had gained enough perspective to see that God had answered my prayers as a child. His answers just came in a different form than I expected, and in truth, far surpassed what I had requested. The biggest challenge for me and my faith boils down to one word: trust. I didn't trust God's Word, His promises. I had a misconception of what "faith" meant. It is more than just believing. It is taking God at His Word. It is trusting that He will do what He says He will.

That's what I got out of this book. "God's Word is: truer than anything I feel, truer than anything I experience, truer than any circumstance I will ever face, truer than anything in the world." God is the same today as He was yesterday and will be tomorrow. My feelings, experiences, circumstances, and the world change day to day, hour to hour, minute by minute. God is forever and He never lies. I can have faith, can take Him at His Word, because he always keeps His promises. Such a refreshing idea to someone who has experiences tremendous disappointment. And when I look back at my life, I can see example after example of God's faithfulness.

This simple truth is expounded throughout the book and the twelve week Bible study that is included. I found the Bible study to be very helpful in reflecting on what Ney talked about in the various chapters and appreciated the easily applicable tools included. In fact, I think I got more out of the book by doing the Bible study than I would have had I just read the chapters. The questions where often thought provoking and some required a great deal of thought and reflection to answer. Overall, I would say this book is worth the time.