In the Bookcase


{The End.} Top 10 favorite reads of 2015.

The End. (of 2015)

I traveled a great many places in the world this year... through the power of books! See my completed 2015 book map on Pinterest to see my favorite spots I got to "visit".

Tarissa's 2015 book map

With the year coming to a close, it's time to perform the end-of-the-year round-up of favorite books read during these last 12 months... Usually I try to do a "Top 10" post for this annual event, but... extra books get in the way of me being able to declare exactly 10. I'm sure you're excited to hear all about my favorite books this year, no matter how many there are! >>>

In no particular order, my top 10 favorite picks...

Listen to the Moon by Michael Morpurgo
This is the kind of children's fiction I grew up reading and still enjoy to this day. It's an amazing story filled with historical impact, a quality plot, and the hidden secrets of the human mind. {Read my full review here.}

A Sherlock Holmes Devotional: Uncovering the Mysteries of God by Trisha White Priebe
This book provides readers with how to look at the literary character of Sherlock Holmes from a Christian perspective, and furthermore, using the art of deduction to find God's everlasting mercies in your life. It combines two big things in my life: a fictional detective who has stood the test of time and God, who created time itself and everything in it. {Read my full review here.}

The Band That Played On: The Extraordinary Story of the 8 Musicians Who Went Down with the Titanic by Steve Turner
Never before has so much information been collected in one volume concerning these 8 men -- the most well-known of them being Wallace Hartley, the bandleader. This book is a treasure -- for music and maritime enthusiasts alike. {Read my full review here.}

Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier
So easily was I sucked into the deep and mesmerizing world of Rebecca's, the one she left behind before her death. The one that continues revolving without her -- yet always with her. I think one day I shall have to re-read this vintage classic. {Read my full review here.}

Rose in Bloom by Louisa May Alcott
I read this one for my annual Louisa May Alcott reading challenge! A beautiful gem of a book, penned by the same hand which authored the time-honored novel Little Women. This is the sequel to the charming volume entitled Eight Cousins. {Read my full review here.}

The Sound of Diamonds (Steadfast Love #1) by Rachelle Rea
The plot thickens, twists, and surprises the reader with every chapter. As a reader of historical fiction, I found this book to outwit and surpass many a book I've read before. So much research and study went into its writing. The historical details weave themselves so effortlessly into the plot, as only a true wordsmith can make the words do. The use of Dutch and Spanish authenticate the dialogue. Sweet romance harmonizes with the enthralling plot. And the spiritual transformation completes the story as a whole. {Read my full review here.}

Chronicles of Avonlea by L.M. Montgomery
A collection of several short stories penned by the beloved L.M. Mongomery, author of the Anne of Green Gables series. Her stories bring out the best of emotions; blissful happiness and the bottomless pit of despair, sometimes at the same moment. {Read my full review here.}

Dead Wake: The Last Crossing of the Lusitania by Erik Larson
Erik Larson has researched and collected together everything you need to know about the Lusitania in a single volume. It covers Captain Turner and his life, Kapitänleutnant Schwieger and how he destroyed the largest moving ship, and the government's angles on the whole affair as well. {Read my full review here.}

Adventures and Adversities (Tales of Taelis #1) by Sarah Holman
I just adore Adventures and Adversities, and felt it to be quite refreshing in the midst of all the books available on the market today. This is exactly what good, clean, Christian fiction is supposed to be. I think this book would be best enjoyed by pre-teens and young adults, although anyone could certainly appreciate the story. {Read my full review here.}

Winter Passing by Cindy McCormick Martinusen
A woman's pursuit of her family's history. When her grandmother passes on, Darby Evans latches onto the dying wish -- that Darby visits Austria and sets things aright. Grandmother Celia, born in Austria, escaped during World War II after the country was overtaken by the German occupation. Upon the start of Darby's investigation, she starts to realize that her grandmother left many things unsaid. {Read my full review here.}

And now, for the honorary mentions...

River of Grace: Creative Passages Through Difficult Times by Susan Bailey
A running theme that you learn all throughout this book is how creativity and spirituality go together, hand in hand. Susan tells how God's mercy has shown her a greater kind of essence, once she let herself glide along with His unending grace. How you can create new life in your surroundings as you allow the river of grace to run through you? {Read my full review here.}

Christy by Catherine Marshall
A beautiful book that illustrates quality morals and character-building traits. This book is now considered by most a vintage classic, especially in the Christian community. In 1912, Christy Huddleston is a courageous 19-year-old, daring to shed her high-society life to become a schoolteacher in a little community set among the Appalachian Mountains... {Read my full review here.}

The Ghost and Mrs. Muir by R.A. Dick
Yes, it's about a ghost. Yes, this ghost haunts a house. Not in a spooky way, though, but in a delightful way -- or once you get to know him, it's not really a spooky idea at all. {Read my full review here.}

Previous years of top favorite books:

2014 // 2013 // 2012 // 2011 // 2010


Book Review: The Christmas Cat

The Christmas Cat by Melody Carlson (5 star review)

The Christmas Cat

written by Melody Carlson

176 pages // published in 2014 // Christian fiction // Christmas

My Review...

5 Star Rating

A feline-filled Christmas story to warm your heart!

Author Melody Carlson introduces us to a man in his thirties, unattached, and certainly doesn't want to become attached... to his grandmother's cats that she left behind. To complete the instructions she left for him in her will, Garrison Brown is required to find good adoptable homes for each of her unique cats. Until he completes the task, he won't be eligible for his inheritance...

Stories that center upon someone's last will that comes with strings attached always make for a good read. This one is perfect. Or purrfect, as the case may be.

Garrison just may learn something from his grandmother, even from beyond the grave. Lessons in kindness, love, and true Christmas spirit.

Any cat lover will certainly adore this book to pieces (or even if you don't consider yourself a cat-lover, maybe just an enjoyer of nature and creatures... you'll still like it).

As always with Melody Carlson's work, I'm so pleased with another clean, inspirational book!

The Christmas Cat is available on Amazon in either hardcover or e-book.

P.S. Like and vote for this review on Goodreads and Amazon.

*Any purchase made through the links in this post support this humble blogger with a small commission. Thank you!


[Guest post!] Louisa May Alcott as muse, guide and grief counselor

I want to thank Tarissa for allowing me to guest post on her wonderful blog. My name is Susan Bailey and I blog at Louisa May Alcott is My Passion. I have always enjoyed her Louisa May Alcott Summer Reading Challenges and I know my readers have too.

River of Grace by Susan BaileyMy new book
Recently Tarissa graciously read and reviewed here my first book, River of Grace: Creative Passages Through Difficult Times, a spiritual memoir about a long season of loss and grief followed by the grace of a renewed life expressed through a blossoming of creativity. In the book I include a series of “flow lessons”—practical applications of the themes of the book meant to impart the spiritual truths for you, the reader.

Never meant to be a writer
I am fifty-nine years old and never thought I would become a published author. Like many kids I created my own books (sequels to Black Beauty, stories about my trolls and ghost stories told around the camp fire at Girl Scout camp). It was just a little pipe dream forgotten the moment I discovered the guitar at age fifteen.

Meeting Louisa in the crabapple tree
Meeting Louisa
But in my childhood I also came to know Louisa May Alcott whom I never forgot; she became my lifelong friend and muse. We were introduced not through Little Women but rather through a children’s biography, The Story of Louisa May Alcott by Joan Howard. A tomboy at heart who did not have the physical ability nor the guts to actually be one, I loved how she wrote and produced plays with her sisters just like I did with the neighbors. I mimicked her writing in apple trees by climbing into our little crabapple tree, pencil and pad in hand. Finally I had a friend with a temper as fierce as mine. I had trouble fitting in and she did too.

Louisa May Alcott: A Modern BiographyThe adult version
Later in my twenties when I first laid eyes on Martha Saxton’s controversial biography Louisa May Alcott: A Modern Biography (and the lurid cover), I found a friend with an artists’ temperament similar to mine; she too lost herself in a vortex of creativity and suffered depressive episodes.

A secret ritual
Never much of a reader, still I fell into a curious ritual of reading a biography on Louisa (never her own writing) in the autumn months and then going on a pilgrimage to Orchard House in Concord to complete that ritual. I discovered her artist sister May’s drawings and paintings on the walls and stood for long moments in front of Lizzie’s melodeon, wondering about this shadow sister. It was as if this family was still alive.

My love of Louisa was my little lifelong secret until five years ago and that’s when everything started to change. My mother had just passed away in the spring of 2010 after a long illness and I felt numb and empty. In River of Grace I write,

“It began with a thoughtful gift from my husband. Rich had bought a couple of books for me during the last year of my mother's illness, both related to Louisa May Alcott [The Lost Summer of Louisa May Alcott by Kelly Connor O’Nees and Louisa May Alcott: The Woman Behind Little Women by Harriet Reisen]. Aware of my longstanding interest in Louisa, he thought that reading might ease the pain. I hadn't had the heart to read them while my mother was sick, but after she died I was ready for something new.” (River of Grace, Chapter 4)

Setting things in motion
The former book set the stage for the latter which turned out to be a game-changer. Reisen and Nancy Porter’s documentary of the same title was showing on PBS and I was hooked. Reisen was local to me in Massachusetts and so I reached out to her, first by email and then by phone. It was the first time that I had shared this secret passion and I couldn’t believe a complete stranger let me babble on and on about Louisa. I will never forget that kindness.

PBS Documentary

Reisen’s own passion for Louisa’s canon led me at last to Louisa’s books:

“It began not with Little Women, but with Hospital Sketches, a thinly veiled memoir of her experience as a Civil War nurse. Her moving description of the death of a virtuous soldier named John Suhre and how she had nursed him acted as a soothing balm on my grief. She described death as noble, and her belief in the afterlife was unmistakable. Where once I had felt a kinship with Louisa because of our mutually shared mood swings, deep tempers, and passions for our art; now I identified with the woman who found sacredness and hope in death just as I had. While Louisa wrote mainly to support her family, it seemed that the act of creating helped her to work through her own grief after the tragic passing of her younger sister Elizabeth whom she called her ‘conscience’ and ‘spiritual guide.’” (River of Grace, Chapter 4)

Carried by a river of grace
Louisa May Alcott is My Passion started up soon after that and my writing journey began. I was conscious of this new gift being linked with God’s grace. With no formal education or experience in writing, and a lifetime of reading to catch up on, I had many doubts. I decided to trust in God’s grace and go with it, not unlike floating downstream on a river. Sometimes the water was calm, other times turbulent but that river of grace coupled with the advice of my muse Louisa, produced a work I am most proud of because for the first time I gave it my all.

I would like to end this post with a video and a song I wrote and produced for Louisa and Lizzie called “I Will Remember You.” You can find River of Grace on Amazon; I hope you enjoy it and that it speaks to you.

Read Tarissa's 5-star review for River of Grace.


Looking to the Star of Bethlehem with Ishtar's Odyssey

For years, my family has enjoyed Arnold Ytreeide's family advent books. It started with Jotham's Journey, continued with Bartholomew's Passage, and ended with Tabitha's Travels ...(or so we thought!)...

What a pleasant surprise to find out that the story wasn't quite over with those three, but continues with a fourth installment in 2015, sharing the story from the point of view of Ishtar, a Persian wise man's son. To continue with family tradition, we're reading it for Advent time this year.

After hearing about Ishtar's Odyssey being published this year, I discovered that the illustrator Dave Hile has shared a behind-the-scenes look at how he designed the front cover of the newest book. The step-by-step process is fascinating! Check out his case study on Ishtar's Odyssey book cover.

Case study on Ishtar's Odyssey

Has your family ever read Mr. Ytreeide's books?
What will you be reading during Advent this year?

*Any purchase made through the links in this post support this humble blogger with a small commission. Thank you!