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Archive for the ‘Book Recommendations’ Category

Nonfiction Review – Beyond Belief

Wednesday, July 12th, 2017

Beyond Belief
by Jenna Miscavige Hill (with Lisa Pulitzer)

Review by Mirah W. (mwelday)

Several months ago I read Leah Remini’s autobiography Troublemaker (check out my review on the blog) and she exposed many of the questionable practices of Scientology.  I was intrigued by Remini’s book and wanted to learn more about Scientology and the experiences of others who had also managed to escape the Church.  I found Beyond Belief by Jenna Miscavige Hill, the niece of the Chairman of the Board of Scientology David Miscavige.

Jenna was raised in the Church when her parents joined when she was just a small child.  Some of her stories of her childhood in California and her jobs for the Church sounded like nothing more than child labor. During much of her childhood, while Jenna and her father were in California, her mother was in Florida.  The separation of children from their parents (and the rule that members of the Sea Organization can’t have children) seems to be part of an elaborate isolation and brainwashing scheme on the part of the Church.

As Jenna describes her various duties in the Church, her auditing sessions, her limited friendships, and monitored interactions with her family, she voices what seems to be doubt but she stays in the Church, even when given an initial chance to leave.  What she experiences seems to be nothing more than systematic brainwashing and separating of individuals from any support system outside the Church.  There were obvious mixed messages from the Church through their words and actions and even directly from her uncle and aunt, David and Shelly Miscavige. When Jenna questions the Church over some practices or requirements, she is met with hostility, degrading accusations and punishments. Her final frustration that pushes her to leave the Church was a long time coming based on her life story.

In Beyond Belief, Jenna goes into great detail regarding her experiences and she comes across as genuine and honest. While the delivery is a bit simplistic and the writing style is not very sophisticated, I think a reader who is wanting to learn more about the practices of the Church will find this book engrossing and, honestly, quite disturbing.  Beyond Belief gets a solid 4 out of 5 stars from me.

Fantasy Review – The Paper Magician

Tuesday, September 6th, 2016

The Paper Magician by Charlie N. Holmberg

Review by Mirah Welday (mwelday)

Ceony Twill is the lucky daughter in her family.  She was selected to attend Tagis Praff School for the Magically Inclined.  She was a success at school, graduating at the top of her class, but even the most successful students have to select one medium to master, you cannot work with them all.  Ceony has always wanted to work with metal but due to a shortage of magicians who work with paper, the choice is made for her. Ceony is disappointed and frustrated and doesn’t know what to expect when she arrives at the ramshackle dwelling of paper Magician Emery Thane to begin her apprenticeship.

Two unlikely allies, Twill and Thane, being Twill’s apprenticeship with a distance between them that eventually gets crossed and takes them both down a path with dangerous and forbidden magic.

When I started reading The Paper Magician I had no idea what to expect.  I know you’re not supposed to judge a book by its cover but the cover is what drew me to the book in the first place.  The plot and story line of the various characters was unlike any other fantasy book I’d read before; I liked the use of one type of medium that the magician can use and manipulate.  I thought there was some drag during the middle of book one while Ceony is on her ‘quest’ but that’s really the only negative thing I can say about this debut novel by Holmberg.

I was intrigued so much by book one that I quickly went on to The Glass Magician and The Master Magician, the final two books in the series, and I wasn’t disappointed.  There was successful character development and all of the story lines had appropriate conclusions.  While I don’t have kids, I think this would be a good book (and series) for parents to read along with their young adult readers so they can discuss the characters, themes, and situations together.  I would give the entire series 4 out of 5 stars for ingenuity, interesting characters, and an ability to keep my interest.








Audiobook Review – The Litigators

Tuesday, May 10th, 2016

The Litigators by John Grisham

Review by Mirah Welday (mwelday)

I have really been enjoying listening to John Grisham audiobooks lately.  On a recent whirlwind road trip I listened to The Litigators.  The version was abridged and, while I usually prefer unabridged, this was a decent abridgment.  And there were times my husband and I were both laughing out loud, which is always a good sign.

David Zinc has had it at work.  He wants out of his high-powered, high-stress job at a law firm where he is being worked into the ground.  David reaches the end of his rope and leaves his job in dramatic fashion and, afterwards, he finds his way to the law firm of Finley & Figg.  Finley & Figg is a totally different kind of law firm than the one he left. He finds himself in an unconventional law firm with lawyers who can’t agree on how to get new business or how to handle clients.  David gets his footing and confidence while pursuing a case that changes everything for him and Finley & Figg.

I thought The Litigators was a legal drama with heart and humor.  It has a fair share of twists, cut throat lawyers and just enough doubt to make it interesting.  One recommendation: definitely read (listen to) the epilogue!



Fiction Review – Winter Street

Wednesday, April 20th, 2016

Winter Street by Elin Hilderbrand

Review by Mirah Welday (mwelday)

This past holiday season I was looking for a new holiday book and found Winter Street by Elin Hilderbrand.  I have read (and listened) to other Hilderbrand books and one thing I like is that she can make her locations seem almost like additional characters to the story.

Enter Winter Street and the Quinn family. Kelley and Mitzi Quinn own and operate the Winter Street Inn, a bed & breakfast in Nantucket. Mitzi drops a bombshell on Kelley just before Christmas and his children rally around him to provide support and encouragement.  But little does Kelley know, his children are dealing with various crises of their own.  And what about Kelley’s ex-wife Margaret, where does she fit in?  Mitzi has never liked her but do her children and Kelley need her now?  And what about Bart, the Kelley’s son with Mitzi and new Marine who recently went to the Middle East? All calls and emails to him are unable to be delivered. Is he safe?

Everyone gathers at the Winter Street Inn for the holiday and to support Kelly but does he really want to keep the bed & breakfast after this holiday heartbreak?  The Inn is a Nantucket staple but Kelley might not have the heart to keep it going himself.

Winter Street is a holiday novel about the function within a dysfunctional family and the power of moving on and accepting things you cannot change. It was a quick read that is lighthearted and great for a cold (snowy) winter’s day. I’m looking forward to joining the Quinns again in Winter Stroll.




Hello, 2015!

Thursday, January 1st, 2015

Hello, 2015!

By Mirah W. (mwelday)

Every year it seems more and more things get in my way as I try to get through my ‘to be read’ shelves.  At present count I have 6 shelves (about 80 books) on my living room bookcases of books I want to read.  I can’t stop myself from getting more books, even though I already have plenty.  And based on some of the fellow PBSers I know, I don’t think I’m alone in this affliction.  I have several books that have moved to the top of my ‘to read’ list.  Here are my top 5 I hope to get to this year:

1)   All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr – This novel is a National Book Award finalist and I enjoy books about World War II so this book quickly made the list.  A young French girl and a German boy become connected while trying to survive the atrocities of the war.  I’ve heard from others that the novel is beautifully written and reviews indicate it is well-researched.



2)   Leaving Time by Jodi Picoult – Picoult has written another best seller and in her typical style, she has the readers guessing and doubting what they would do when faced with questions of conscious.  A mother disappears and a daughter lives her life constantly wondering about her mother and questioning if she was abandoned by choice.



3)   The Rosie Effect by Graeme Simsion – The sequel to the funny and insightful The Rosie Project. The first book was a great reminder that love can be a reality for everyone. I really enjoyed getting to know the characters and can’t wait to see what happens to them in the next stage of their relationship.



4)   Game of Thrones by George R. R. Martin – I am totally behind the times.  It seems everyone has read the books or watched the TV show except me!  Several friends and my husband have all recommended the series and I’ve yet to read book one.  Time to catch up, I think.




5)   Wives and Daughters by Elizabeth Gaskell – Every year I try to read at least one classic and I’ve been meaning to read this one for a while.  I am a huge fan of the BBC mini-series and love the characters created by Gaskell.  The plot is full of misunderstood characters, unrequited love, and a questioning of the standard roles of men and women.




Hopefully I’ll be able to get to all of these (and many more) this year.  Fingers crossed!  I’d love to know what books you have on your ‘to read’ list for the coming year; please share your top picks in the comments, I may want to add some of your choices to my list!  Happy reading in 2015!







Read the Book Before You See the Movie, part 3

Thursday, January 16th, 2014

By Vicky T. (VickyJo)


For the last few days, I’ve been sharing with you the titles of books that are going to be turned into movies in 2014.  This is the last of the 16 titles, and once again, they all sound very interesting.  Be sure and grab the book before the film comes out!


Unbroken, by Laura Hillenbrand: This is the remarkable biography of Louis Zamperini, a budding juvenile delinquent turned Olympic runner who competes in the 1936 Olympics in Berlin.  When war breaks out, Louis joins the Army, manages to survive a plane crash only to be rescued by the Japanese and taken to a POW camp.  His story is incredible, to say the least, and one of my favorite books.  The movie stars Jack O’Connell as Louis; the film is written by Joel and Ethan Coen, and is directed by Angelina Jolie.  It opens in December.



The Maze Runner, by James Dashner:  Ever since The Hunger Games books hit the scene, readers have been searching for more novels like them.  The Divergent trilogy fits the bill, but so does The Maze Runner, again the first book in a trilogy set in a dystopian United States.  60 boys survive in a completely enclosed environment, with a new boy arriving every 30 days.  Thomas is the new arrival, and is soon involved in planning an escape from the glad through a maze that surrounds their living space.  The film will star Dylan O’Brien as Thomas, and will open in September.


The Hundred-Foot Journey, by Richard C. Morais:  This is a debut novel about a man named Hassan Haji and his rise to fame as a Parisian chef.  Haji’s grandfather owns a modest restaurant in Bombay and this is where Hassan’s story begins.  We follow him from India to England to Paris, and watch his culinary star rise to great heights.  The movie stars Manish Dayal and Helen Mirren and is being produced by Steven Spielberg and Oprah Winfrey.  It opens in August.


The Giver, by Lois Lowry: First published in 1993, Ms. Lowery won the Newbery Award for excellence in children’s literature with this story of 12-year-old Jonas.  In a world with no poverty, no unemployment, no unhappiness, Jonas is chosen to be the community’s Receiver of Memories.  Once he begins his study, he starts to understand the truth about his world.  The Giver will star Meryl Streep and Taylor Swift.  It should hit theaters in August.



Serena, by Ron Rash: Newlyweds George and Serena Pemberton travel to North Carolina in 1929, where George plans on creating a timber empire.  They work hard to make this dream come true in very dark, even violent ways.  Jennifer Lawrence (Katniss in The Hunger Games movies) plays Serena, while Bradley Cooper plays George.  This pair made last year’s Silver Linings Playbook a winner; hopefully their on-screen chemistry continues.  I couldn’t find a definite release date for this film.






Read the Book Before You See the Movie, part 2

Wednesday, January 15th, 2014

By Vicky T. (VickyJo)


Here are five more books that are going to be made into movies this year.  You should have plenty of time to read the novel before you see the film.  You know the book is usually better!



A Long Way Down, by Nick Hornby:  Four very different people (a talk-show host, a single mom, a troubled teen and an aging musician) meet on the same roof top on New Year’s Eve and find that they have one thing in common: each one of them showed up on this roof to jump to his or her death.  Dark and yet humorous, you won’t soon forget this novel.  The movie stars Aaron Paul, Pierce Brosnan, Toni Collette, Rosamund Pike and Sam Neill.  I couldn’t find a U.S. release date for this film.



Dark Places, by Gillian Flynn: This is the story of Libby Day.  As a seven-year-old, Libby was the only survivor of her family’s horrific murder.  25 years later, Libby finds herself short on cash and comes up with a unique plan: she will sell artifacts relating to her family’s murder to The Kill Club, a group of true crime enthusiasts who debate famous murder cases.  Libby learns some shocking truths about the terrible event in her past.  The movie stars Charlize Theron as Libby, and is scheduled for release in September.



Gone Girl, by Gillian Flynn: Ms. Flynn has hit the Hollywood jackpot as another one of her novels gets turned into a movie starring Ben Affleck and Rosamund Pike.  This film should be released in October.  Gone Girl is the story of Nick Dunne, who becomes a prime suspect when his wife Amy disappears on their fifth wedding anniversary.




This is Where I Leave You, by Jonathan Tropper: This funny novel gives us the Foxman family: Judd, who has just lost both his wife (she was having an affair) and his job (she was having an affair with his boss.)  Judd is called home when his father dies to sit Shivah with his dysfunctional family.  Seven days with this group?  What could go wrong?  The movie stars Jason Bateman, Tina Fey, Rose Byrne and Jane Fonda.  It will be released in September.



Wild: From lost to found on the Pacific Crest Trail, by Cheryl Strayed: This memoir follows Cheryl as she tries to reclaim her life after the death of her mother and going through a divorce by hiking the Pacific Crest Trail.  She is inexperienced, but determined.  Is this a good plan, or just another one of her bad life decisions?  The movie stars Reese Witherspoon, Charles Baker and Laura Dern.  No release date has been set yet.