Moonraker’s Bride, by Madeleine Brent

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It is a joy to read a book that I know will make the “10 Star” list on my site. Moonraker’s Bride, by Madeleine Brent, is such a book.

In much the same way as the protagonist in The Blue Castle (another 10 star favorite,) main character Lucy Waring’s life begins in one place and situation before making a dramatic shift to another. Lucy is a 17 year old British orphan living in China, knowing no other life than the impoverished orphanage run by a well-meaning, but sickly, Miss Prothero. Miss Prothero’s ill health forces Lucy, as the orphanage’s oldest resident, to take on all of the daily responsibilities, including the most basic–finding the means to feed the children in her care. Despite the mounting obstacles, Lucy loves being needed and has learned to be a quick-thinking, courageous, resourceful young woman.

One day, when Lucy’s luck (seemingly) runs out, she meets political prisoner, Nick Sabine. Nick’s own future is grim, but this unlikely meeting changes Lucy’s life forever. Suddenly she is immersed in a myriad of adventures that include a puzzling riddle, a lost treasure, a family feud, and numerous other twists and turns.

The story, the writing style, and, especially, the character development in Moonraker’s Bride are glorious. The time period invites some suspension of reality, but it is forgivable. What makes the female-centric novel even more interesting is that author Madeleine Brent was actually a man named Peter O’Donnell (1920-2010) writing under a female pseudonym. I knew this going into the book, but was even more impressed while reading it. Lucy Waring’s sentiments and reactions “feel” female, without being insulting or stereotypical.

I highly recommend Moonraker’s Bride. This was a book I could not put down. It was also a book I immediately missed when I completed it. As an FYI, it is out of print, as are all of the books by Madeleine Brent (a tragedy,) but used copies are available on both Amazon and alibris.com.

10/10 Stars

 

Christ In Every Hour, by Anthony Sweat

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Anthony Sweat, a BYU professor and popular Education Week and Time Out For Women speaker, is one of those talented communicators who can “dial up” a presentation to include heavy doctrinal insights or “dial it down” to make it relatable to the masses but still very powerful.

His most recent book, Christ In Every Hour, is somewhere in the middle. It is both readable and deep, sharing examples of people who have endured great crises with faith and scriptural examples (often from the life of Christ) to instruct us in how we may become more like the Savior, our Ultimate Teacher.

At its core it is a teaching book, and I came away having learned many things I either did not know had not pondered in depth. One of my favorite explanations was the idea of Christ as the “bridegroom,” a term often used in Christianity. Despite numerous times hearing this in Catholicsm and in the Church of Jesus Christ of Letter-day Saints, the whys and wherefores escaped me until reading about it Christ In Every Hour. Another terrific explanation was about the importance of the Jesus’ first miracle of turning water into wine, why it was so significant and what it symbolizes through the ages for all of us. (I hope I have the opportunity to work it into a church talk one day! But I probably just jinxed myself for writing that.)

The book culminates into a clever acrostic:

Christ…

Cleanses

Heals

Restores

Identifies

Strengthens

Transforms

Overall, this book is excellent and I highly recommend it. It’s audience is wide and beyond the scope of Latter-day Saints, appealing to anyone who wants to nurture their relationship with the Lord and make Him a part of your every day life.

9.5/10 Stars

 

Faith Is Not Blind, by Bruce C. and Marie K. Hafen

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I recently heard an interview with Bruce and Marie Hafen and I was so impressed that I decided to find their book, Faith is Not Blind. Bruce Hafen has been dean of the Brigham Young University Law School, president of Ricks College (now BYU-Idaho,) and is a long-time General Authority. He and his wife, Marie, have co-authored several books together.

A short but very powerful book, Faith is Not Blind speaks mainly to members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, but like Sheri Dew’s Worth the Wrestle, it is for anyone (or anyone related to someone) suffering a faith crisis or someone merely “going through the motions” who wants more. In other words, it casts its net fairly wide.

Because many questioning their faith, whether it be faith in God or their particular organized religion, feel a tug-of-war between logic and belief–opting for logic–the Hafens approach faith from a logical view. They know their audience.

Main points, upon which the book is built, are these:

  • real vs. the ideal
  • early innocent simplicity
  • bewildering complexity
  • mature enhanced simplicity

The last point, mature enhanced simplicity, is the ultimate goal for anyone who wants to break the confines of their struggles and rediscover faith. This usually only comes as the result of complexity. The complexity stage, however, is where many people get stuck, often for a lifetime, often leading to “intellectual apostasy.”

The Hafens assure the reader that emerging from complexity and progressing to mature enhanced simplicity with both faith and individuality intact is a very attainable goal, but it requires work and participation. There is no getting something for nothing. Understanding the ways modern society tries to prevent reaching the goal of mature enhanced simplicity is also key and something they discuss in depth. Personally, I found the idea of the “burden of proof” shift over recent years amazingly accurate.

Without being preachy, the Hafens accomplish a great deal in fifteen brief chapters. The reader will find himself holding up the figurative mirror and self-examining his own faith, as well as feeling more compassion and understanding for loved ones still stuck in the mire of bewildering complexity. At the very least, we learn that faith and logic do not need to be mutually exclusive, but can build upon each other to create one great end result.

It is a brilliant book.

9.5/10 Stars

Bonus Link: Bruce and Marie Hafen discuss stages of faith in the ALL IN podcast.

Part 1: Click HERE              Part 2: Click HERE

 

Carried, by Michelle Schmidt & Angie Taylor

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Most parents would agree that having a child predecease them is the worst possible thing they could imagine. While the majority will not have to experience this devastating trial, John and Michelle Schmidt were not so fortunate. In 2016 their daughter, Annie, an avid hiker, went missing and lost her life in Oregon’s Columbia River Gorge. Despite John’s fame as a member of The Piano Guys, the only thing that could immunize them from the excruciating pain of Annie’s death was their faith.

In Carried, How One Mother’s Trust in God Helped Her Through the Unthinkable, Michelle Schmidt chronicles the heartbreaking events of this difficult time.

The reader should be prepared that only about 30% of the book actually focuses on the search for Annie. The larger portion is a memoir of John and Michelle’s life leading up to the event, a life fraught with the ups and downs of marriage and a growing family while navigating decades of John’s music career. Clearly the purpose of this background information is to provide the reader with a foundation of the faith-building experiences the family endured that sustained them all during the hardest moments of their lives. That being said, Carried almost feels like two books in one and can be a bit misleading in what the story is truly about.

I appreciated the details of John and Michelle’s early life and have great admiration for their faith, but most readers gravitate towards the book for a different reason, which is to read about Annie’s disappearance and the events surrounding it. Still, it is comforting to see a family recover, albeit slowly, from such a loss and to use the experience to help others.

8/10 Stars

Bonus Link: John and Michelle Schmidt discuss the search for Annie in the ALL IN podcast. Click HERE.

All These Things Shall give Thee Experience, by Neal A. Maxwell

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One of the most beloved apostles in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is Elder Neal A. Maxwell. Known for his compassion and his intelligence, Elder Maxwell passed away in 2004 after an eight year battle with leukemia.

At the time of his passing I was in the middle of a self-imposed “hiatus” from Church activity and, although I feel it was something that I, personally, needed to go through in order to shape who I am today, I do not recommend it. It was, in retrospect, both a waste of time and time wasted (not the same thing.) There are so many things I do not know but want to know and so many things I want to learn that I could’ve pursued years ago.

One of those things about which I’ve felt a recent desire to become better acquainted with the lives and teachings of Church leaders, past and present. Elder Maxwell has always been in my peripheral vision but it wasn’t until recently, while in the midst of several exhausting weeks of different trials and challenges, that I decided to read this particular book. It had been sitting for years, unopened, in my Deseret Bookshelf app. I read about two thirds of it and listened to the last third, read by Elder Maxwell himself in that fatherly voice of his, one that exudes both care and concern.

My immediate impression was that Neal A. Maxwell crafts his thoughts with the same quality as Mozart writing a symphony or da Vinci creating the Mona Lisa. This is not an exaggeration. He is one of the most masterful, exquisite writers I’ve ever encountered. But, like any masterful work, appreciating it requires focus and study. This is not a book you can skim or listen to in the background. While I did do some multi-tasking while listening, those tasks had to be fairly mindless in order to pay attention and ponder the messages.

If I had to choose 3 favorite chapters it would be these:

  • The Omniscience of an Omnipotent and Omniloving God
  • Prayer and Growth
  • Follow the Brethren

All of these chapters resonated with me for different reasons. Going into great detail about God’s omniscience helps us to understand that challenges help to shape us to become like Him one day, which should be our ultimate goal. Learning how to pray in a way God can answer has been a recent personal pursuit, so I was happy to learn more on the subject. Following the brethren (leaders) is a strong pep talk of a chapter, but sometimes tough love is the best course, especially when the only agenda behind that pep talk is to help the reader self-reflect and improve.

I learned a lot of things that I need to consider in my own life, especially when things are difficult. I also understand, more than ever, why Neal A. Maxwell was so revered. He KNOWS people, how they tick, how they function, how they act and react. I was amazed at his perception. This book is a treasure.

10/10 Stars

Insights from a Prophet’s Life: Russell M. Nelson, by Sheri Dew

Insights_from_a_Prophet_s_Life_-_Russell_M._Nelson_580xWhen you have an incredible subject like Russell M. Nelson and a gifted writer like Sheri Dew, you have the recipe for success. This was, hands down, one of the best biographies I’ve ever read (heard as an audiobook.)

As someone who has loved biographies since I was a child, my standards are fairly high, and Insights From a Prophet’s Life not only met those standards, but exceeded them. What a fascinating man!

I was prepared to be impressed, but I was left amazed. Yes, he is a brilliant and well-respected heart surgeon; yes, he is a devoted husband and father; yes, he is a faithful servant in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, but there are many, many stories between these milestones. And, despite his gifts, hard-work, and humility, he has not escaped tragedy. The chapter on his first wife’s passing is heartbreaking. The chapter on his courtship with his second wife is optimistic.

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Russell M. Nelson and his first wife, Dantzel

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Dr. Russell M. Nelson, heart surgeon

All of his experiences, including adapting to the changing world as a surgeon and spiritual leader are inspiring. Everything he does is with an enormous amount of faith and discipline.

By the end I was entertained, motivated, impressed, delighted, and honored to learn more about our dear President Nelson.

10/10 Stars

Bonus Link: Author/Deseret Book CEO, Sheri Dew, discusses writing about Russell M. Nelson in the ALL IN podcast. Click HERE.

 

The Coming of the Lord, by Gerald N. Lund

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I’m a newcomer to the world of podcasts, and one of the very first ones I heard was a fascinating interview with Elder Gerald N. Lund, well known in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints for his prolific writing of historical fiction, such as The Work and the Glory series.

The podcast series ALL IN was interviewing Elder Lund about the Second Coming of Jesus Christ, a subject on which he is very knowledgeable. The Coming of the Lord, Elder Lund’s very first book, was referenced several times and, since a 30 minute podcast episode can only cover so much, I sought after the book.

The subject is gripping, dramatic, and very interesting. The book is well-researched, using many quotes and prophecies from scriptures and the prophets of old and in the latter days. It is interesting to think that it was written in the early 1970’s because many of those prophecies have already been fulfilled.

I learned a lot, but the writing is a bit cumbersome. My rating is based on the writing, not the subject. Elder Lund did mention on the podcast that he is in the process of writing a revised version of The Coming of the Lord. I would be curious to compare it with the original.

8.5/10 Stars

Bonus Link: Gerald N. Lund discusses “signs of the Second Coming” in the ALL IN podcast. Click HERE.

The Stranger in the Woods, by Michael Finkel

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Once upon a time there was a young man from Massachusetts named Christopher Knight who walked into the Maine woods and away from society…for 27 years. He didn’t tell his family, he had no friends, and he abandoned his car.

This is the beginning of the strange but true story of the North Pond Hermit, a man who shunned society but was still dependent on it. While living in a tree-covered clearing deep in the forest, Knight subsisted on food and supplies from twice-monthly raids of nearby cabins. His burglaries numbered into the hundreds.

Besides food he also stole clothing, bedding, a TV, watches, batteries, propane, and reading material–lots and lots of reading material. Meanwhile, the nearby residents didn’t know what to think. Some felt sorry for him, some wanted to help him, but many were enraged.

Knight’s nighttime escapades culminated into one final burglary of a summer camp kitchen, where he was finally apprehended and came to the attention of the author, Michael Finkel, who was determined to write Knight’s story.

The writing style is entertaining and economical, much like Knight himself (whose legal issues continue to this day.) Like the local residents, I was conflicted about Christopher Knight. Living off the grid is one thing, but breaking the law and violating peoples’ property and sense of security is something else. One thing that’s undeniable, however, it’s a fascinating story.

9/10 Stars

Almighty, by David Butler

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I recently heard the author, David Butler, interviewed on my favorite podcast show, ALL IN and knew I had to read this book. He is one of those people who speaks like he’s always smiling and the tone of his writing is no different. I loved this book! Feeling unhappy? Unloved? Marginalized? Life got you down? Read Almighty.

It is written for anyone of any Christian faith. It is like a booster shot of sunshine, reminding you that life is more than a parade of challenges. David Butler personalizes our Heavenly Father into a loving, approachable celestial parent. A celestial parent who is waiting for you to have a relationship with Him. This book is like wrapping a warm blanket around the aching heart, the heavy mind, the broken spirit.

I highly recommend it.

9.5/10 Stars

Bonus Link: David Butler discusses his book, Almighty, on the ALL IN podcast. Click HERE.

Worth the Wrestle, by Sheri Dew

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There is a vast spectrum between belief in God and non-belief. There is also a large spectrum within the range of belief. In the course of our life this is something that everyone must self-evaluate at least once. Our belief system, after all, shapes who we are, what we do, and how we interact with others. Am I a Christian or not? Do I believe in God or not? Do I adhere to the doctrine of an organized religion or not? Am I satisfied with my belief system or not? All of us have answered these questions, either in quiet solitude or aloud.

It is only fair to tell the reader of this post two important things: 1. This blog is maintained and written by a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. 2. While not strictly for a Latter-day Saint audience, Sheri Dew’s Worth the Wrestle is directed mostly towards members of this particular church.

Having said that, and knowing what one is getting into when reading this book, its audience is well, anyone. If you are a seeker of faith, a student of religion, a Latter-day Saint who is struggling, a Latter-day Saint whose testimony is strong but needs a booster shot, or even a curious person with any belief system who seeks important suggestions for a happier life, then this book is for you.

Sheri Dew has been blessed with a wonderful gift of expression. Her messages are simple, but the outcome is undeniable. She uses examples from her own life when she encountered situations that could have threatened her beliefs. Like all of us, she has wrestled. She knows of what she speaks, and does so brilliantly. However, unlike all of us, she has emerged victorious from that wrestle with her initial beliefs intact. She also gives examples of friends and acquaintances who have wrestled with their faith. What is the common denominator for those, like Sheri Dew, who are able to heal from their spiritual slumps? True humility and true desire to find their way back. The outcome for the humble person versus the obstinate one is profound.

I listened to the audio version of this book on Deseret Bookshelf PLUS, a treasure trove of faith-based materials available to anyone. Sheri Dew, the current CEO of Deseret Book, reads her own words, making them all the more poignant and expressive. At the book’s conclusion I was fortified, spiritually uplifted, and informed. All good things.

9.5/10 Stars

The Ultimate Guide to Menstrual Cups, by Jackie Bolen

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I have a new project! I’ve been researching ecological, cruelty-free health and beauty products over the last several months (one of the reasons why this blog went dormant for a while.) This quest has led me to reusable menstrual products, mainly menstrual cups. (All together now…”eewwww.” And now, “What the heck is a menstrual cup?”)

Developed in the 1800s, redesigned in the 1930’s, and finally coming into prominence in the last decade, menstrual cups are similar to tampons, except that they collect the flow instead of absorbing it. Made of medical-grade silicon or TPE (thermoplastic elastomer,) they are healthier (virtually no risk of TSS!), more comfortable, and more economical. Choosing the right one, however, is a process that requires time, patience, knowledge, and research.

I have learned A LOT about these little marvels recently, enough to know that the limited resources of information vary greatly in their quality. There are only a small handful of websites and Youtube channels that I would recommend. There is, however, only one book I would recommend, and that is this one, The Ultimate Guide to Menstrual Cups, by Jackie Bolen. It is only available in ebook form, and is on Amazon for $4.49.

The book is concise, informative, and thorough. In my experience, potential users always have the same questions and this book addresses all of them.

9.5/10 Stars

The Book of Joy, by Douglas Abrams

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Despite having only met a handful of times, the Dalai Lama and Anglican Archbishop Tutu are terrific friends. Their mutual love, respect, generosity, and self-deprecating humor is wonderful to witness. The Book of Joy, by Douglas Abrams, chronicles a meeting spanning several days in which the author both observes and asks questions of these two revered spiritual leaders. The questions are about joy, happiness, the toxic state of the world and how to find joy and happiness within it. There are also questions regarding their personal lives, experiences, and challenges.

Both men have overcome great obstacles in regards to health and national politics. Both have had to adapt their spirituality and personal philosophies to the changing world. Both are highly disciplined (although the Dalai Lama clearly excels in this trait.) They also differ in many ways. Archbishop Tutu is a Christian, the Dalai Lama is a self-described “non-theist” Buddhist. The archbishop is married with children, the Dalai Lama leads a celibate lifestyle. The archbishop chose his path in life, while the Dalai Lama was sought out and plucked from his very large family at the age of 3 to fulfill his spiritual obligations.

The book could be described as “pleasant.” But I cannot describe it as groundbreaking. It is endearing to see the banter between the men and to hear about their histories, especially the Dalai Lama’s exile, but my interest did not go too far beyond this. The concepts of love, kindness, compassion, and forgiveness are, no doubt, very important, but I did not extrapolate any significant depth from the discussions. The Dalai Lama was always the one who initiated answers, while the archbishop usually “seconded” them. However, for a reader such as myself who believes in God and an afterlife, unlike the Dalai Lama (who frequently reminded the reader of this fact,) it often felt like a large puzzle piece was missing.

The person who doesn’t give himself enough credit is the author himself, who often contributed insights that elaborated and enhanced the discussions. As the book continued I found myself highlighting more and more of his thoughts. By the end, after color coding the contributions of all three men involved, the Dalai Lama had the most highlights, the author was second, and the archbishop was third.

Make no mistake, I do think an audience exists for this book. Someone who reveres these men more than myself, someone who is a nontheist or agnostic, someone who lacks personal or scriptural resources on joy and happiness, someone who wants to read a pleasant book about joy without digging too deep, someone who enjoys a wider range of reading material than myself…there are plenty who would enjoy this book very much. Sadly, my enjoyment had its limitations.

7.5/10 Stars

 

 

The Tattooist of Auschwitz, by Heather Morris

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Stories of love, discipline, generosity, and resourcefulness that were born out of the Holocaust never fail to amaze me. But because of the atrocities of the time, I usually prefer to learn about them in a documentary. It’s much easier for me to devote an hour or two to this cruel period than several hours reading about it. Knowing this about myself, I began The Tattooist of Auschwitz with caution. Seeing the word “survival” on the cover also helped me. Whatever darkness endured by the main character it would ultimately be about…survival.

Armed with this knowledge and drawn in by Heather Morriss’s high-quality writing style, I began the story of Lale, a Jewish Slovakian man in his twenties who went to Auschwitz when concentration camps were still in their infancy. Quickly promoted from the assistant to the main tattooist responsible for carving thousands of permanent numbers into inmates’ arms, he was given access to more areas of the camp, afforded extra rations which he usually shared, and even came face to face with the “doctor of death” himself, Josef Mengele.

Through Lale’s eyes we are given a glimpse into the abominable creativity the Nazis used for dehumanizing those who crossed their paths. Any wrong move–or no move at all–brought death. The alternate side is how the craftiest and luckiest (often a factor) inmates survived from day to day, submissive on the outside, powerfully resolute on the inside.

This book reads very smoothly as we live through Lale’s three years at the hands of such doom. Every day could be his last. But, like other inspiring stories from this time, he triumphs again and again, helps many others, constantly dodges death, and even finds love.

The Tattooist of Auschwitz is a phenomenal book that deserves its many accolades. It is only graphic in its honest portrayal of events but never more than necessary. I appreciated that. There are also a few f-bombs, but I allow rare leniency on this because of the setting’s intensity.

Highly, highly recommended for mature teens and older. This would make a terrific book club selection or just for individual reading. It is uplifting in ways you would never expect but most importantly–it will change you.

A worthy 10/10 Stars

 

The Radium Girls, by Kate Moore

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If you’ve never heard of the “radium girls” and their sensational trial in the mid 1930s, you’re not alone. Until reading this book, neither had I. But it is a piece of history that needed to be told.

After Marie and Pierre Curie discovered Radium in 1898 it became the “wonder element.” Radium was put into face creams and lotions, people drank radium-infused water, and its glowing properties were put to use in special paint at the Radium Dial Company in New Jersey. “Fortunate” women were hired to paint over numbers on watches worn by American GIs fighting in WWI. Later, radium watches and clocks were sold across the US.

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Example of a radium clock

The highly trained women who painted the dials made more money than most in the workforce. They could help their families and still afford expensive clothing. Others longed to follow in their glowing footsteps. That’s right, the dust from the workroom clung to them, making their glowing figures instantly recognizable as they walked home each evening.

Speed was of the essence and these women kept up, 6 days a week, long hours every day. Paid by the unit, they were trained to use the “lip, dip, paint” method, a quick way to give the brush that perfect point necessary for such delicate work.

But over time the radium worked its way in deeper than the women’s skin and hair. A toothache here, a painful hip there, a sore arm, and worse. Much, much worse. Radium poisoning was making its appearance, starting slowly until it could not be ignored.

Radium Girls tells the story of these women and what they endured physically, emotionally, and financially as their health issues began dominating their lives. Eventually their illnesses forced the medical community to connect the dots and someone needed to be held accountable. So began the lawsuits against Radium Dial, who, for years, stubbornly refuted all accusations.

The book is important and I’m so grateful to finally know of this segment of history, one you would never learn about in school. These women’s suffering cannot be overstated, as you read believing…hoping…knowing that surely the company will be made to pay, right? Sometimes the company’s reactions were so, so frustrating.

A very impressive recounting of the events and, although long in coming, the vindication these women deserve.

9/10 Stars

 

 

How To Walk Away, by Katherine Center

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Experience has taught me something about Katherine Center’s books. They are formulaic. This is not necessarily a bad thing!

Formula (A mild spoiler you can decide to skip. My feelings won’t be hurt.):

  • Main character is a scrappy, sassy female who experiences a life-altering event.
  • As Sassy Female transitions and adjusts, there are two guys–Most Likely and Least Likely.
  • Least Likely has earned his title because he’s recovering from his own life-altering event.
  • Sassy Female and Least Likely become friends with the assumption that nothing will ever happen between them.
  • Meanwhile, things are taking shape with Most Likely.
  • In classic “tortoise-and-the-hare” fashion, Most Likely loses the romance race after a jerk move while Sassy Female and Least Likely go off in the sunset together.

I promise, I’m not trying to make fun of this formula. Why? Because it works! These sassy females are just so dang likeable! And these life-altering events are big events, things we can only pray we never have to experience.

Our sassy female in How To Walk Away is Maggie Jacobsen. Her event is….a spoiler that I’m not going to divulge here. Let’s just say that everything was in place for her life and her future and what happens next sends those plans down in flames. (hehe)

But, if you know the formula and you’re OK knowing the formula, then you also know that things will work out for our sassy protagonist. What makes How To Walk Away a reader’s escapist delight is the journey. That journey is fun, witty, karmic, and emotional. There is something life-affirming to the formula Katherine Center uses because it’s something many of us have experienced–your life is headed in one direction, gets derailed, and you end up in a better place than you could’ve imagined. And though that derailment isn’t very fun as it’s happening, the ending would not have been possible without it. When it’s all over, you’re a little stronger, a little wiser, and a lot happier–just like these characters.

I know, vaguest review ever. I’ll just conclude by saying that Maggie’s journey is worth the read. (Mine was a zippy 3 hours. I could not put the book down!)

8.5/10 Stars

Disclaimer: While sassy females are going through that process of mourning the life they knew, they sometimes get frustrated and angry. Those emotions can bring out some choice words. One particular choice word that starts with F appears about 10 times in this book. I’m very much not a fan of that language, but it’s there and it didn’t keep me from reading. Still, now you know.