Saturday, December 31, 2011

First Date - by Krista McGee

First Date is a fun, lighthearted book about Addy Davidson, a high-school student at a small Christian school, who is chosen to be one of one hundred girls vying for a chance to win a date to prom with the President's son. Addy resists the idea from the very beginning, not even wanting to participate, but allows her Uncle Mike and principal to convince her to at least get on the plane. Convinced that she still doesn't want to be a part of the reality show, she tries to get kicked off as soon as possible. Being herself without the pretenses and ambitions of the other contestants, however, draws the positive attention of the First Son, and the negative attentions of the producer, as well as the majority of the other contestants who feel she is making a mockery of their chance for stardom. Addy comes to the conclusion that if God has put her in this competition, then she needs to be the light He has made her to be, whether that means being nice to the girls who are out to sabotage her or sharing her faith in a very public forum.

After the last several books that I have read, this was a welcome change. A light, quick read, I enjoyed the characters and found Addy to be easy to relate to. A quiet, hardworking student, who wants to stay out of the spotlight and focus on getting into college, you wanted to root for her. The setting of a reality show was current and enjoyable as a light read, and the ambitious backstabbing of the other contestants felt all too plausible. It was nice that Addy had someone who stuck up for her, though, and I enjoyed watching Addy transition from doing everything she could to escape the situation to doing what she could for God. Not perfect, by even her own admission, but courageous enough to try what she felt called to do. I also enjoyed that even though there were predictable aspects to the story, they felt natural and occurred with reasonable lead-up and follow-through. And the ending was not entirely predictable, but that made it enjoyable. It also looks like there will be a sequel, with Addy's roommate and friend, Kara, as the main story; I look forward to following these characters.

I give this book 3.5 stars - a nice break from heavier reading, but no life-changing depth or revelations.

I received this book for free as part of the Thomas Nelson Booksneeze books for bloggers program. I was not required to give a positive review.

Friday, December 30, 2011

Nearing Home - by Billy Graham

Renowned evangelist Billy Graham was approaching the age of 93 as he wrote Nearing Home. In his own words, he says that "growing old has been the greatest surprise of [his] life." He speaks of how he's been told how to die, but not of how to prepare for death. Mr. Graham writes of both practical and spiritual matters requiring preparation in the "here and now." For the matter of physical realities, he talks of retirement funds, and wills, and living wills. He discusses the reality of watching your friends and family pass on before you, and the necessity of physical assistance as your body continues to age. As to the spiritual matters, the book covers both the present need of continuing to develop your own spiritual health, as well as looking to the next generation's needs for teachers. And then, of course, there is the matter of "home," knowing where you'll go when you die, and being ready to be received thereunto.

My first thought upon reading this book was "I can't believe someone can still be writing books at 93 years old." Impressive as that is, the book itself was also a surprise. Mr. Graham's honesty and vulnerability in speaking of his own aging process was refreshing. His grief over the passing of his wife, Ruth, was sorrowful, and his own admission that he continues to miss her even though he knows that he will join her soon was heartfelt. The use of scriptures sprinkled liberally through the text were seamless, and were contextually appropriate, rather than feeling as if they were there to meet some sort of quota, like I've felt in other Christian life books.

The end of the book is, appropriately enough, a call to Christ. While this feels very real to Mr. Graham's ministry, and the lack of it probably would have made the book incomplete, I did find myself skimming this section instead of reading it thoroughly, feeling as if I "knew" this part. However, his final message of "that was then... this is now" applies to everyone. No matter where you are in your life, what you have done, or what you haven't done, whether you've prepared for death or never gave it a passing thought, it isn't too late. That was then...this is now, and now is the time to think about it all.

I give this book 4 stars.

I received this book for free as part of Thomas Nelson's BookSneeze book review bloggers' program. I was not required to write a positive review.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Shadows on the Sand - by Gayle Roper

Love, suspense, secret pasts, real faith versus falsified faith, Shadows on the Sand has it all. Sisters Carrie and Lindsay have run away from their past and made a decent life for themselves in the small tourist town of Seaside. Carrie is just beginning to see signs of returned interest from Greg, a former cop slowly returning to life after living through an unspeakable tragedy. Andi is a teenager working with Carrie, having also run away from a life that she refuses to speak about. Together the characters work together to forge healing relationships and strengthen each others' faith.

I really enjoyed this book. What I loved most was that the main characters were already Christians who were struggling with very real issues. There was no "aha!" moment, there were just people showing their faith through their lives and struggles. They stretched each other to let go of their pasts and trust God for their futures.

The storyline of the murders and the man behind them was a bit dark for my tastes, but it didn't go as far as I feared, and so it didn't ruin the book for me. The love story was sweet, although perhaps a bit abrupt from the "I've barely noticed you," to the "I've fallen for you" phase. There was still some uncertainty, and they both had to resolve some things in their past to make the relationship work. I liked that they were honest with each other, and that they worked at understanding each other.

Overall, I give this book 4 stars. It had enjoyable characters and a sense of real faith; I would recommend it to fiction fans!

I received this book for free from WaterBrook Multnomah Publishing Group for this review.

Friday, December 23, 2011

A Sound Among the Trees - Susan Meissner

A Sound Among the Trees is a fictional story that spans multiple generations of women who live, or have lived, at Holly Oak House in Fredericksburg, Virginia. The history of the house encompasses the Civil War, the physical battles that raged around it, and the battles, both mental and relational, that waged within it. The current lady of the house, Adelaide, is convinced that the house is trying to absolve itself of the sins of the house by taking out its angst on the women of the family line. People in the town are convinced that Adelaide's great grandmother, Susannah, haunts the house to absolve herself of her crimes. Are either of these true? You'll need to read the book to find out. :)

I am not a fan of ghost stories, and while the book focused on the idea of Susannah as a ghost, I had trouble getting interested in the story. There were two story lines that did pull me in, though: the story of Susannah herself - told through stories to her cousin Eleanor, and the story of Caroline, Adelaide's daughter, who ran away from home and returned only periodically, once bearing an infant daughter whom she left for Adelaide to raise.

Caroline, the prodigal daughter, leaves home to experience the world in every way she can. She doesn't know who her daughter's father is, and she has an eclectic resume of odd jobs from her travels. However, her travels eventually lead her to a convent where, in her words, the nuns teach her that "people who fall against the last door on earth, find out how to crawl through it." She is changed by God, she has found peace, and she returns to Holly Oak to share that peace and to be the daughter and grandmother that she should have been before.

Susannah's letters tell the story of the civil war and her family's involvement in it, living in the South, but having ties to the north. As a reader, I felt Susannah's conflict, her confusion over the war itself and what her role within it should be. She became more than the "ghost of Holly Oak" through her own voice in the letters, and she became part of the reinstatement of peace to the surviving generations of Holly Oak Women.

Overall, I would give this book 2.5 stars. I was solidly in the 2-star category until I got to Susannah's letters and the conclusions. While those finally got me engaged in the story, it wasn't really enough for me to rank the book much higher.

You can read an excerpt from the book HERE.

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I received this e-book for free from Waterbrook Multnomah Publishing Group for this review.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Indelible - by Kristen Heitzmann

Indelible begins with a daring rescue of a small child by a man driven to save those in danger. Trevor MacDaniel is attempting to overcome what he sees as the sins of his past by the good deeds of his present. Natalie Reeve, an amazing sculptor with an astonishing gift that she once considered a disability, tries to understand what she sees in Trevor, what pulls him towards these perilous situations. And, somewhere, someone lives in darkness who feels the need to challenge Trevor's light. The small Colorado town once again deals with danger and uncertainty as its people work together to restore peace.

Kristen Heitzmann is one of my favorite authors, and I am always excited to see a new release from her. Indelible appears to be a companion book to Indivisible, although there is no indication on the book itself or on the description on retailers' websites. However, the characters are the same, and there is enough reference to their past that I found myself wishing I had re-read Indivisible before starting this book. Indelible could likely stand on its own for most readers, but I would recommend reading them together.

For the most part, the characters in the book are well-written and engaging. I did find myself not really caring about the mysterious dark character for most of the book because a) there wasn't enough written about him to give me something to care about, and b) the quotations that began each of his segments appear to be from Paradise Lost, a book I probably should have read at some point, but haven't, thus nullifying the connection of quotes to character.

Part of what made the dark character's segments confusing was that the formatting in the e-book seemed to have been lost in transition. The change from named characters to the mysterious character was only marked by a page break, and an unattributed quote. As the story begins to fill in, there are several references to Paradise Lost, which is what makes me think that is where the quotes are from. I have not looked at a print copy of this book, so I do not know if that was merely an e-book issue or not.

Overall, I would give Indelible 4 stars. I do hope that there is a third book in what seems to be a series in this town, because many of the characters' side stories were left incomplete. When characters are that well-written, it makes me want to know what happens to them!

You can read an excerpt from Chapter 1 HERE.

I received this e-book for free from Waterbrook Multnomah Publishing Group for this review.