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Every Note Played

Every 90 minutes someone in the United States is diagnosed with Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis or ALS.  ALS has no prejudice and can affect anyone at any time.  Currently there is no cure and most people diagnosed with ALS only live 2-5 years, Stephen Hawking being a rare exception.  It is a heartbreaking illness that slowly takes away your life before you are reduced to nothing but a shell, a whisper of what you once were only a few months before.

Richard Evans is a man on top of the world.  He is a concert pianist that plays with raw emotion and incredible technique.  To Richard playing the piano is breathing, it's life.  He gave up so much to live this life of fame but suddenly he is feeling regret.  His playing is perfection but his heart is starting to not be in it.  His mind drifts elsewhere instead of getting lost in the music that his fingers are producing.  Something is wrong.  Audiences jump to their feet after his solo performances at some of the top concert halls in the world.  He is loved by his fans and yet loved by no one all at the same time.

His current tour is suddenly cancelled.  His agent is telling everyone that Richard has tendonitis, a common ailment that most pianists battle at some point or another in their career.  Richard is trying to tell himself that as well, hoping that if he avoids the truth that the truth will magically change.  Richard has been diagnosed with ALS.  

Other than his adoring fans he has no one.  Him and his wife Karina have been divorced for three years and have a searing hatred for one another, and their daughter Grace, who is in college, refuses to speak to him, taking her mom's side on everything.  He's only had one other serious relationship that ended right before his diagnosis, the rest were just meaningless flings.  He is estranged from his dad and two older brothers, and his mother passed away right before Richard turned 19, his only ally in the family.  

The doctor's tell him to get prepared, no one knowing just how rapidly Richard will deteriorate, but where does he turn?  Who can help him?  He holds out as long as he can, losing both of his arms to ALS and relying on home health aids before anyone knows the severity of what is going on.  He is completely alone in his empty apartment with his thoughts, in mourning, losing the love of his life.  Playing the piano was his air, his life, his love, his everything.  Without his ability to play, what does he really have?

A chance phone call brings him and his ex-wife Karina back together and a choice is made that she will bring him home and take care of him for as long as it takes, her too having to battle the raw emotions of being an ALS caretaker as well as dealing with her feelings about her ex-husband and their past together.

Every Note Played is a beautifully heartbreaking story that will stick with you long after you read the final page.  Told predominantly from Richard's perspective, you glimpse into the life of someone that has to endure this scary disease, and get into the mind of someone that has to deal with slowly losing their life, as well as glimpses from Karina's perspective, dealing with her ex-husband and the painful memories that go along with that, as well as being a caretaker to someone with ALS.  

To imagine that so many people in our country have to brave this painful disease on a daily basis leaves me speechless.   My prayers are with anyone that has been affected by this illness.  Before reading Every Note Played I knew little about ALS but now I feel informed and am in awe of how Lisa Genova, being a neuroscientist herself, can paint such a vivid picture of ALS through the eyes of the diseased.  You feel heartbreak not only for that person but everyone involved, see the cleansing of forgiveness, and personal freedom in several forms. 

I truly believe that everyone should read Every Note Played.  There is adult language as well as mild sexual content for those that are sensitive to those aspects but given the situation I believe it goes with the territory.  We all need to be aware of this disease and do our part to help find a cure.  Please to go ALSOne.org to find out how you can help find better treatment options or a cure for ALS.

*I received a complimentary copy of this book from Gallery/Scout Press and NetGalley in exchange for an honest, unbiased review.  All opinions are my own.

Worth the Risk

Each time you pick up a book you're taking a risk.  Is it going to be a good read or is it going to be one that you battle to get through?  All you can do is take a chance and hope that it was worth your time and Worth the Risk

Neither Alicia Waters or Jeff Finch have had a long, fulfilling relationship since their friendship ended when Jeff ditched Alicia for another girl on Prom night.  It's been ten years since then and Alicia has moved back in with her mom, into her childhood home, in Pine Valley.  Since her parents divorce Alicia's mom has became a recluse and a hoarder, turning into a ghost of her former self.  Alicia hopes that her moving back in will help her mom stop hoarding and get back on a healthier path.

Jeff has done pretty well for himself and is now a very successful realtor in Pine Valley.  He has a nice, big house, expensive cars, and dates supermodels, with no relationship lasting longer than a few months.  It's not until he sees Alicia again after all these years that his priorities quickly change and feelings that he did not know he even had begin to surface.

Through the entire book Alicia and Jeff fight their attraction for one another and each do eventually find happiness with a happy ending but I ended the book not feeling too happy.

Of all the books that I've read by Heather B. Moore, this one was by far my least favorite.  The story was painfully predictable and the whole story felt forced.  At first I thought it was my mood, so I put it down for awhile, but when I picked it back up I had the same feeling.  The writing was good but the story lacked depth and I fought to find that connection between the characters and the reader.  It did break my heart that Alicia's mom struggled with hoarding as I have known people that have suffered from the effects of hoarding and it is incredibly heartbreaking, but I could not relate to Alicia or Jeff no matter how hard I tried.

This is the first book in the Pine Valley series and, even though I wasn't crazy about this particular book, I do not want to give up on the series just yet. Even though Worth the Risk just wasn't worth it for me I hope the other two books can deliver.

*I received a complimentary copy of this book in exchange for an honest, unbiased review.  All opinions are my own.

If I Live

I picked up If I Live, the third and final book in the If I Run series, expecting to only read a few chapters before putting it down for the night.  I knew I shouldn't have started this book so close to bedtimes.  Several hours passed and as I put my Kindle down all I could utter was, "Wow, now THAT is the way to end a series." 

In March 2017 I read and reviewed the first book in the If I Run series.  I was blown away and knew this series was going to be an incredible ride.  Terri Blackstock has an amazing gift of pulling her readers in from the very beginning and If I Live is no exception.   I fought to tear my eyes away from the pages, but I was instantly hooked, hungering to see how everything would turn out.  

Casey Cox is on the run for her life, having been indicted for the murder of her best friend, Brent Pace, whom she found dead at the beginning of the series.  Though she is innocent she continues to flee from the men who actually murdered Brent, and who now have their sights set on her.  The twist is that the murderers are Louisiana detectives, making it easy for them to cover their tracks and commit the perfect murder, if they can only silence Casey for good.

Dylan Roberts is the detective that was hired by Brent's parents to find the fugitive.  Dylan knows of Casey's innocence, and is working to not only keep them both safe, but to also help unveil the truth about the real killers.

You see the drama unfold through the eyes of both Casey and Dylan, and you also get to see part of the story through the eyes of the killer.  Don't let the "clean and wholesome" tag fool you either.  There is a lot of action and suspense, and quite a few times I was growling out loud in frustration at the direction of the story.  I personally appreciated how the author included Casey's journey to discovering her faith throughout the action in the book and did not think that it took anything away from the story as a whole.  I also enjoyed the little bit of a love story that was sprinkled in there as well.

If you like action-packed, page-turning goodness If I Live is the book for you!  I would strongly urge you to read the first two books so that you can get a better feel for the back story, though the author does do a decent job of catching the reader up if you were to read this as a stand-alone book.   If I could give more than five stars I would!  The writing is exemplary and I promise if you pick up this book you will not be disappointed.

*I received a complimentary copy of this book from Zondervan and NetGalley in exchange for an honest, unbiased review.  All opinions are my own.

Beginner's Garden

I have forever admired those that can keep a plant living for more than a few days.  Those that can grow something that's actually edible gets major kudos from me.  I secretly wish I could be that girl that goes out to her backyard, picks vegetables, and makes a beautiful dish out of them.  If you look at my bucket list one of the things you will see is eat something that you've grown.  If I tried that right now I would make myself incredibly sick.  I hope one day to be able to grow my own vegetables.  The only person in my family that successfully grows their own vegetables is my grandfather.  Last year I asked for gardening tips for a true beginner and he suggested I start with okra.  I took his advice and followed his instructions to a T but I started too late in the season and a few hard freezes took my sweet little plant to the grave.

I know ZERO about gardening.  That okra plant growing as much as it did was a true miracle from God!  With the wealth of information out there it's easy to get overwhelmed, which is why I was so excited to get my hands on Beginner's Garden: A Practical Guide to Growing Vegetables & Fruits without Getting Your Hands Too Dirty by Alex Mitchell.

This book takes you through the entire process and leaves a beginner like myself with no question unanswered.  Alex Mitchell states in the book that, "this is the book I wish I'd had when I started growing (on) my own," and for "people who have busy lives but still like the idea of eating a fresh salad they've grown."  That would be me!

The information is very basic, which is much appreciated for this newbie, but make no mistake the amount of information contained within these pages is generous.  I learned so much I never knew and things I didn't know I needed to know!  The book is divided into seasons which is helpful.  As far as the actual gardening, the author keeps the equipment required incredibly minimalistic which motivates you to get started quicker, without excuses.  The section about planting in various containers was especially helpful for me.  Containers do not seem as scary as a plot to me.  I also love how the author added the "where have I gone wrong?" section with each vegetable, noting things to look out for, and even "villains" for certain crops.

The recipes sprinkled throughout the book are a nice touch and the photos are gorgeous!  Simply written and easy to read, the Beginner's Garden would make a perfect housewarming gift and is a wonderful resource!  Highly recommend!

*I received a complimentary copy of this book from Fox Chapel Publishing and NetGalley in exchange for an honest, unbiased review.  All opinions are my own.

Where I End

Quadriplegic.  You hear the word and it pricks your heart.  You struggle to wrap your head around the concept of someone no longer being able to use either of their arms or legs, especially when you hear that this particular quadriplegic is a healthy, young 32-year-old woman with a husband and two small children, and her entire life ahead of her.

Questions swirl in your head as you contemplate what this poor woman must've went through.  What would you do if you were told you would never be able to walk again?  That life as you had once known would cease to exist and that this nightmare that you're now living would be your new normal?  That you may not ever get to wrap your arms around your children or even open a bag of potato chips unassisted.  Would you hold onto your faith or would you lose it?  It seems unreal but this is exactly what happened to Katherine Elizabeth Clarke on May 29, 2009.

Where I End is Kate's journey through the ordeal that brought her to this new normal: a freak accident on an elementary school playground in Grand Rapids, Michigan, all the way through her rehabilitation and miraculous recovery, walking after being told she would never walk again.  Beautiful written and heartbreaking, Kate takes you through the accident,  where a little boy jumped off a jungle gym and landed on her neck, severing her spinal cord, through her 40 day stay in a rehabilitation faculty, and the challenges that she continues to face to this day now that she is home.  Interwoven throughout her story, Kate ties in Biblical doctrine that either mirrors what she endured or the thoughts that she thought during that time in her life.

Each chapter begins with a quote from another literary work which I found quite charming.  Though I love all of the Biblical references, and how everything she went through ties back to Jesus, I must admit that I did get a little lost in it all.  It was a lot of back and forth from her story to the stories from the Bible.  I have had a lot going on in my personal life lately so maybe it just wasn't the right season for me to be reading this particular book.

All in all, I am glad I did get the chance to read Where I End.  Kate's story gives hope to those who feel hopeless and is a great reminder that God is here for us no matter what and does hear our prayers. 

"In an instant, all of life can change.  Sometimes it's because of a decision that we've made.  At times it's thrust upon us by the choice of another.  And other times it's just the result of living in this broken world."

*I received a complimentary copy of this book from Moody Publishers and NetGalley in exchange for an honest, unbiased review.  All opinions are my own.

A Night in Grosvenor Square

With a lot of sadness and illness in my life lately I needed a quick read that would pep me up.  I needed a story that I could finish with a smile on my face instead of tears in my eyes.  I enjoyed reading Falling for a Duke so much that I decided to pick up another volume in the Timeless Regency Collection, A Night in Grosvenor Square

Like all of the books in the series, A Night in Grosvenor Square includes three short stories by three different authors.  I was especially excited to pick up this volume because all three authors are original authors to the series, plus one is one of my new favorite authors, Heather B. Moore.  What is charming about this collection is that each story features a scene that occurs in Grosvenor Square in London sometime in the early 1800's. 

A Match for Princess Pompous is a story of a widowed matchmaker in 1810 named Adelaide.  Instead of being concerned with her own love life, Adelaide chooses to focus on helping other women find their true love and the more challenging the case the better.

No case is more challenging than that of Odette Armistead, otherwise known as Princess Pompous.  Odette has a reputation in London for being one of the most disheartening maidens, but what no one knows is that she has purposely acquired this title.  The truth is that her, and the man that she loves, Jack Hewitt, planned this for the Season, so that once it was over, they hoped, they could tell their disagreeable parents, and finally be together.

Their plan is faulty from the start, and really falls apart when Odette cannot fool the matchmaker!  When I first started reading I had an ideas about where the story would take me and, though predictable at times, I liked how it all turned out.  I must admit that I grew a little bored with the story of Odette and Jack, and the predictability, and actually would've loved to have seen more from Mr. Lexington (Jack's best friend) and the shy Ms. Summerfield, but I also understand this is a short story, emphasis on short.  I did enjoy the story and found it over charming.  This is the first time I've read any of Sarah M. Eden's work but I really liked her writing style and how she brought her characters, and this time period of London and Society, to life.

Confections and Pretense felt a lot like a Cinderella story to me.  Anne Preston has lived a hard knock life.  She has no family, lives in a boardinghouse in London in 1825, is thirty-one, considered an "old maid," with no hopes of ever getting married.  She is lucky enough to work at Gunter's Tea Shop, an ice cream shop that is in a nicer London neighborhood, serving members of the ton.  Anne pours everything she has into her job, slowly saving every cent, so that she can hopefully one day open her own ice cream shop in America. 

Anne is a daydreamer, so when she meets a distinguished, older American man, her imagination runs wild, especially after he rescues her from what could've been a very bad situation.  Little does the charming American, Davis Whitledge, know but he actually put Anne in an even worse predicament than either of them could've ever imagined; a matter of life and death.

Out of all of the stories, I would have to say that Confections and Pretense was my favorite.  The plot did not lead where I thought it would and the ending actually gave me goosebumps with its twist ending.  My heart felt for sweet Anne and her plight and I found myself rooting not only for her to find love with Mr. Whitledge but also to find a way out of her "societal rules," and able to pursue he dreams.  Annette Lyon is also a new author to me, but I love her style of writing, and want to find books from her to read.

Little London was the story that I had anticipated by Heather B. Moore and was surprised it wasn't my favorite.  It is the sweet story of Ellen Humphreys and Quinn Edwards, and their chance encounter in a small meadow near Harpshire Village, a small town on the outskirts of London, in 1826.  Ellen is a country girl and Quinn is the Marquess of Kenworth, a title that he does not wish to bestow, but has grudgingly held since his father's passing a few years back.  After Quinn and Ellen's parley in the meadow, they each know, due to their unequal status in Society, that they can never be together.  As the story unfolds, events transpire, and characters come into play, and makes each of them both second guess everything they know.

Little London has its predictability (as most love stories in this series do) but it was an engaging read.  What I loved the most was the epilogue at the end of the book.  I hate when certain stories end and you're left to wonder where the characters ended up.  With Little London, you do not have to worry!  Heather B. Moore always does a wonderful job of character development, and this short story does not disappoint.

Just like the other books in the Timeless Regency Collection the stories are short, sweet, with little twists and turns and drama mixed in here and there.  I enjoyed my time in early 1800's London and I'm sure you will too.

*I received a complimentary copy of this book from Mirror Press in exchange for an honest, unbiased review.  All opinions are my own.

Assassins' America

Over the years there have been numerous assassination attempts on the President of the United States.  According to Wikipedia, there have been more than 30 attempts on the president's life and four attempts were successful.  Being from Dallas, the assassination of President John F. Kennedy is still talked about to this day in our area, and everyone knows about President Abraham Lincoln's assassination at Ford's Theatre, but what about the other two presidents that were murdered in cold blood while in office, and what about the men that assassinated them?

Jessica Gunderson and Joe Tougas tackle this tough subject, wanting to "examine the lives of each killer and his victim," in Assassins' America.

Published by Capstone, this book targets children ages nine to fifteen, but is still informative for an older audience as well.  It is extremely well written, well researched, and does not diminish the violent acts in which each presidents was assassinated, or the depiction of their killers.  There are a few little facts that are left out but they are nothing that takes away from the validity of the each individual stories.  The book is laid out in an easily readable format, which could be used for teaching as well as casual reading.

I was refreshed on my knowledge of Presidents Lincoln and Kennedy, both their lives and their deaths, and learned a lot about Presidents Garfield and McKinley, who's lives and assassinations I knew very little about.  What's heartbreaking is how public each assassination was.  I cannot imagine what the spectators of these horrific acts experienced.  I also found it extremely interesting that this book delved into the killers minds and circumstances during that time.  Years later my heart still hurts for these presidents and my mind wonders how different America would be if any of them had lived to carry out their terms.

Assassins' America is currently only available for purchase through Capstone and is actually broken down into four individual volumes, each focusing on one president.  I highly recommend this book for young adults as well as teachers and libraries.  Wonderful resource! 

*I received a complimentary digital copy of this book from Capstone and NetGalley in exchange for an honest, unbiased review.  All opinions are my own.
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