Thursday, December 27, 2012

A Change of Fortune - by Jen Turano

Lady Eliza Sumner has taken a job as a governess with the Watson family in New York.  Not because she actually is a governess, but because she is trying to track down the man who stole her fortune and besmirched her family's name in England.  So, as plain Miss Eliza Sumners, she tries to conceal her identity and search for the thief inconspicuously.  Once her employer forces her to attend a formal dinner, however, and she finds herself seated next to a Mr. Hamilton Beckett, her carefully laid plans begin to go awry.  Instead of following the trail by herself, she is instead surrounded by new friends eager to assist her.  The money she searches for may even become less important as her new life becomes filled with people she cares about.

This book was just plain fun.  While the plot may not have been terribly original or complicated, the characters in the story were completely endearing.  It wasn't even just Eliza who made the story, but every single character who was involved in her life, from Agatha who became a close friend, to Hamilton and his brother Zayne, to Hamilton's children Piper and Ben, and even the mothers, Mrs. Beckett and Mrs. Watson gave such life and humor to the book that I couldn't put it down.  I loved the friendship between Eliza and Agatha, and how together they couldn't resist the adventure of taking an active part in the investigation.  I also loved how the people around them couldn't help but be taken in by their humor and zest for life, while still working to keep them safe and work with them to recover Eliza's fortune.

I give this book 3.5 stars, rounded up to 4.  There wasn't a lot of depth to Eliza's search for God, yet she still came to realize that He was guiding her steps, and had even worked the loss of her fortune to her good.  I recommend this book if you're looking for a light, fun read.

You can find A Change of Fortune HERE.
You can find Jen Turano's website HERE.
I am excited to see that this is the first book in a set of four!  I can't wait to see what other characters and stories come next!
Ms. Turano has a companion novella available on Amazon for FREE right now, called Gentleman of Her Dreams.

I received a copy of this book from the publisher, in exchange for my honest review.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

A Clearing in the Wild - by Jane Kirkpatrick

A Clearing in the Wild begins with Emma Wagner living in a simple settlement in Bethel, Missouri, where she is merely one of the many colonists leading a life of community under Wilhelm Keil's leadership.  However, Emma is known to question Herr Keil's decisions, and when her husband, Christian Giesy, is to be sent west to locate a new location for the colony shortly after their marriage, she pushes her way into the scout group to be allowed to travel with him.  After they arrive on the West Coast, she is forced to examine her own faith in God, her husband's priorities, and their "leader's" beliefs as they wait for the colony to join them and for Herr Keil to pronounce his decision on the colony's new home.

Emma Wagner Giesy was such a strong character, and a woman who incited me to care about her fate and the decisions that were being made on her behalf.  Likely, it's my placement in modern culture that made me so aggravated at those who wouldn't let her speak and cheered when her husband and fellow scouts began to listen to her, but I could only hope to have been as strong as she was on such a journey.  I was amazed that while she often questioned the way of life established by Wilhelm, she never seemed to question God, or that the Bible was true.  I did find myself wishing that she could come in contact with someone who would lead her deeper into the Bible, however, to find her own way and more Truth than that which the colony had deemed appropriate to share with its inhabitants.

Once I finished the book, I was going to give it 3 stars, mostly because it was such a rough journey and there were so many aggravating sections where the leader forced his way upon the people that I wouldn't deem it an "enjoyable" read.  However, in the section from the author, I realized that it was based on a true story, and that Jane Kirkpatrick had done intensive research on Emma and everything that she went through, and that made the story that much more incredible.  So now, I give this book 4 stars, based on a strong story and the intensity of knowing that it really happened and this Emma Wagner Giesy was likely much as the author depicted her.
This book is only the first in a series, and I look forward to reading more about Emma's life!

I've reviewed Jane Kirkpatrick's books before, and I have usually enjoyed them.  You can find more about the author HERE.
This book is only $1.99 on CBD right now!

Please consider taking a moment to rate my review so I can continue receiving great books to review!

I received this book for free from Waterbrook Multnomah in exchange for my honest review.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Lost and Found - by Ginny Yttrup

Jenna Durand Bouvier has been under the influence of Brigitte Bouvier since her mother died and Brigitte stepped in to guide and shape Jenna to what Brigitte envisioned her to be.  Now that Jenna is married to Brigitte's son, Gerard, and living in her house, she finds that she is losing herself, to the point that when Brigitte suggests that Jenna's jawline is "too masculine," Jenna undergoes plastic surgery to try to please Brigitte's ideals.  However, when the surgery goes wrong and Jenna is left with a lingering infection, she withdraws from the public eye and begins to search even more for God's presence and His will for her life.  Sensing outside influences on Jenna that might bend her away from her plans for her daughter-in-law, Brigitte wields her considerable power to break Jenna and keep her in line.  Will Jenna be strong enough to thrive?  Or will she continue to bear what she considers to be her cross?

This book was intense.  Jenna's search for God and her true desire to seek Him and do what was pleasing to Him was inspiring.  I really hated Brigitte for what she was doing to Jenna, but wanted so badly for Jenna to overcome her situation.  Jenna's search and struggles are so relatable that I think every reader could find himself or herself in her shoes.  The overarching theme to Jenna's journey is "Therefore there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus."  Yet as I would imagine so many of us wonder, she says "The words play in my mind over and over.  I try to rest in their truth.  But the insistent accusations are hard to ignore.  Why can't I rest in truth?  Rest in my relationship with the One I know loves me most?"  Even as Jenna struggles to find her own way and peace with God, she can't help but encourage and strengthen the people around her.  She allows others, whom many would consider not in her class, to speak truth to her life, and she values them and their spiritual wisdom.

I feel that I can't do this review justice.  There is so much I loved about this book that I could go on and on and on.  I don't give many books 5 stars, but this one earned it.  The writing was good, the characters were deep, and the spiritual truths presented were challenging.  I even had to look up the author of the quotes presented at the head of each chapter, Jeanne Guyon, because there was such wisdom in her words.  I will definitely be looking to read other works from Ginny Yttrup, because Lost and Found is not a book that will be forgotten quickly.

I received this book from the publisher in exchange for my honest review.

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Rooms - by James L. Rubart

Micah Taylor is an incredibly talented and wealthy software company owner in Seattle, or at least, that's what he is when he receives a letter from his Great Uncle Archie.  A great uncle who has been dead for several years, and whom Micah has, to his knowledge, never met.  Weirder still is that Archie has left Micah a house on the Oregon Coast, the same coast where as a child, Micah created both happy memories, and the worst memory of his life.  When he goes to Oregon to inspect the house, ostensibly to put it up for sale and to return to his life in Seattle, he finds the house to have been created to his exact taste and preferences.  He is drawn to the house, and even when strange things start to happen in the house, and his life seems to be shifting out of balance, his search for himself and God within him keep him going back and digging deeper to see what his life is meant to be.

This book was a bit strange for me; not necessarily the content - the idea of God working through a shifting house and an inexplicable timeline is not out of the realm of possibility, but it was just a tough story for me to get through.  Instead of being eager to see Micah change and grow and realize the path God had for him, I found myself irritated at Micah and his reluctance to seek the whole truth at each step.  I can't even pinpoint why the book didn't connect with me.  Maybe there were too many back and forths for the story's continuity, or maybe it felt like too many chances for Micah to pick the right one.  Micah's girlfriend Sarah confronts him with "God gives only two choices; hot and cold.  Living in a world of lukewarm gets you spit out," and yet Micah continues to waver between his two lives and separate worlds, trying to find a way to have both.

Overall, I give this book 3 stars.  I didn't find it to be a bad book, I just didn't think it a great book. Even still, we can take Micah's story as a lesson to not be lukewarm in our own lives, and to not try to live in two worlds of our own.

You can find the book and an excerpt HERE.

I received a copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for my honest review.

Saturday, December 1, 2012

Today's Shadows - by Becky Melby

Heather Conrad has lost her job as an assistant to a hotel company's CEO when her boss is let go for scandalous reasons.  Choosing to spend some time house-sitting for her former boss while she gets her life plan together, Heather, instead is surprised that "house-sitting" turns into "babysitting" for 3 months while her former boss jets off to Venice.  Additionally, Heather is now responsible for helping 6-year-old Izzy settle into her new house, a task made more daunting by strangers continuing to show up too often for coincidence and by the fact that Izzy keeps getting lost in secret passages built for servants long ago.  Intertwined with the story of Heather and Izzy is the story of Maggie, a servant well-familiar with those secret passages and tiny room at the top of the stairs.  What do their stories mean to each other, and how will they intersect to tie them together?

I am not often drawn to books with half the story in the past, and half the story in the present, but this book was very well done, and I was equally invested in both Maggie's story of long-ago, and Heather and Izzy's story from today.  Although Ryan, the love-interest, initially appeared to be somewhat of a goof, as his story filled in, he became more endearing, and a good match for Heather.

I gave this book 4 stars, mostly based on the seamless joining of the disparate stories, and Heather's search for truth to where God has worked in her life.  Also, even though this book is listed as #3 in a series, there is no sense that the reader is missing anything for having not read the other two novels.  My theory from reading the other books' descriptions is that the series is linked by theme only, and not by a common character or story.  As much as I enjoyed this book, I will likely look to read the rest of the series.

You can find the author's blog HERE
You can purchase the book or read an excerpt HERE..

I received a copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for my honest review.

Friday, November 16, 2012

At Every Turn - by Anne Mateer

In At Every Turn, Alyce Benson has a heart for God, and when she's presented with the situation of starving children in Africa who need to hear His Word, she immediately rises to the occasion and pledges a large sum of money to the missionaries returning to serve them.  The only problem is that she had counted on her father granting her request, as he has every request before now.  When her father learns of the purpose for the money, he refuses, and Alyce is left having made a promise that she doesn't know how to fulfill.  Additionally, she has asked the people of the church to match her generous offering and can no longer count on them to assist her in raising her half.  What Alyce does have is a skill few women of her era possess, the ability to drive and to drive fast.  She and her mechanic, Webster, concoct a scheme to race incognito and to use the earnings to raise her donation amount.  But can Alyce trust Webster, who has shared very little of his past with her?  And what of her seeming suitor, Mr. Trotter?  Is he as godly and trustworthy as he seems?

I loved the idea of Alyce's character - a woman in the early 1900s going against the norm of the day and developing her own passion in a male-dominated pastime.  I loved that she wasn't interested in just going along with her mother's plans to "marry well."  Yet, the independent thinking that would develop that sort of character and hobby didn't seem to jive well with her inherent trust of Mr. Trotter and her naivete in trusting others opinions.  Her fear of gossip and scandal also seemed inconsistent with the life she wanted to live.

My favorite characters turned out to be rather minor in terms of storyline, but very important in Alyce's life.  Her grandmother, blind and mostly bedridden, was such a source of accountability to Alyce, and I loved the spiritual legacy she was passing on to Alyce.  Webster Little was a man of mystery, but his character seemed much more consistent about his hidden secrets, and the revelation of his history at the end of the book fit with what we'd been told about him.  I really enjoyed the interactions between Alyce and Webster, and was eager for them to know the truth about each other.

Alyce's determination to help the children in Africa was admirable, and her continued efforts to raise the money while simultaneously being able to hold on to it when faced with the needs of others was humorous and honest.  Her desire to serve God and to find His call for her life made her an admirable character, even while I wanted her to be stronger in the rest of her life.

I give this book 3 stars.  There were definite positives to the book, but I would have liked my main character stronger in her decisions and actions.

You can find the book HERE.
The author's website is HERE.

I received a copy of this book for free from the publisher in exchange for my honest review.

Saturday, November 3, 2012

A Wreath of Snow - by Liz Curtis Higgs

In A Wreath of Snow, Meg Campbell has returned to her family's home for Christmas, but finds her brother's bitterness and demanding nature unwelcoming, and she decides to spend the holiday alone in her cottage instead.  However, the train she is traveling on becomes unable to reach its destination, and the passengers are forced to walk back through the snow to the station they originated from.  During this time, Meg finds herself engaging a fellow male traveler and reveals some of her hurtful past in conversation, only to find out too late that the stranger knows more of her past than she realized.  Gordon hasn't meant to hurt Meg, he only means to make up for the hurt he has caused her family in his youth.  Can Meg and her family make room for his apologies and extend forgiveness?  Can Meg trust the man who made her feel comfortable spilling her own secrets when she finds he's been hiding some of his own?

Although it's a bit early to be reading holiday stories for me, this one was a good story that just happened to take place at Christmas.  Although gifts are exchanged, and the timing plays a part in the setting, it was an enjoyable read even now.  The characters were charming, and the setting was believable.  It was definitely a light, quick read that would make an enjoyable Christmas gift, or a lovely afternoon in a comfortable chair with a hot cup of tea.

The story was almost too quick for the depth of the hurt and betrayal and lies that were woven within it.  The conclusions of healing and forgiveness came too quickly to really understand the characters' journeys to the place where they could understand what had brought them there and how it had changed them.

I give this book 3 stars - a light read where many will enjoy the quick conclusion, but that, for my tastes, I would have enjoyed getting deeper into the characters' lives and transformations.

You can see Ms. Higgs discussing the book HERE.
You can read an excerpt from Chapter 1 HERE.
The author's website is HERE.

Please consider taking a minute to rate my review:

I received a copy of this book from Waterbrook Multnomah as part of their Blogging for Books program, in exchange for my honest review.

Friday, October 19, 2012

Glamorous Illusions - by Lisa Bergren

Cora Diehl knows who she is: the daughter of a hard-working farmer who has sacrificed so that she might improve her future with an education and teaching certificate.  At least, that's who she's been led to believe she is.  When her father falls ill, and the well-known copper king, Mr. Kensington, comes sweeping in to buy the farm, send her Papa for better health care, and plans to claim her as his own, albeit illegitimate, daughter, her world and everything she knows about herself gets turned upside down.  Her biological father plans to send her on a "Grand Tour" of Europe, with his three known heirs, in the common practice of the day for rich kids to see the world and find out how they fit into it.  Can Cora take this chance to find out she fits into this world she didn't know could be hers?  Will she lose Cora Diehl and become Cora Kensington, or is there another option she can't foresee?

Although this book was set in 1913, for the most part, it felt as if it could be a contemporary novel.  In a good way.  I didn't get lost wading through settings and traditions of the past, but was able to be swept up in Cora's dilemmas and emotions.  The Grand Tour, however, sounds like a fabulous tradition, and I can only wish that that were still common practice, leaving out the spoiled rich heirs and heiresses, of course.

Even though I enjoyed the story and Cora's revelations very much, there was something about it that kept me from loving it.  The abrupt ending was one; even though it is to be the first book in a series, there was no wrap-up whatsoever.  Maybe I wanted the book to be truly about Cora finding herself while seeing that her true identity lies in how God sees her, and less of it to be about the gentlemen pursuing her.  I can understand how she struggled with how her half-siblings related to her, and that was an honest part of her search for self, but it seemed odd that she'd had no love interests in her old life, and now she's suddenly surrounded by suitors.  Regardless, I still give the book 3 stars, and I will look forward to continuing the saga with the next installment.

You can find the author's website HERE. (Her children's books are fantastic, by the way!)
The publisher's site is HERE. (They list an e-book for free every week - join their list to get the notifications!)
You can buy a copy or read an excerpt HERE
I received a copy of this book for free from the publisher, in exchange for my honest review.

The Air We Breathe - by Christa Parrish

In The Air We Breathe, Hanna is a normal 11-year-old girl, enjoying a morning of errands with her daddy, until their routine trip to the bank becomes a tragedy.  Claire also knows tragedy, having lost her children in a horrific accident, and having lost her marriage in the aftermath.  Both woman and girl feel responsible for their loss, and find some sort of connection in each other.  Can they help each other heal?  What will happen to Claire when Hanna disappears again?

When I started this book, I wasn't sure I was going to be able to finish.  The transitions between points of view of different characters, and then shifting of time between a 2002 storyline and a 2009 storyline made it difficult to feel part of the characters' lives.  As the story filled in, however, and the connections between the points of view became clearer, I became fully ensconced in the characters' lives and hopeful for their healing. I especially loved the point where Claire realized that while, all along, she'd thought that she was the one helping Hanna, she also needed Hanna to help her.

There are very dark aspects to this story, and I do not recommend it lightly without a word of caution.  What happened to Hanna, and the tragedy that Claire suffered, are enough to make you want to deadbolt your door and keep your children inside as long as you can.  But as Hanna and Claire both learned, there is no healing or growth in that, only fear.

I have a couple of minor, picky issues with some little things along the way in the story, but they're more suitable for discussing with someone else who's read it.  And they certainly did not spoil the story as a whole.  As a whole, I surprised myself by giving this book 4 stars.  There is so much depth to the characters and so much to learn from their journey to true faith and healing that I think this book will stick with me for awhile.  One specific moment from Hanna's life was especially poignant: "She asked herself sometimes why He didn't answer her prayers like that anymore, with immediacy, with clarity and theatrics.  And then she answered her own question.  She had stopped expecting Him to.  Without realizing it, [Hanna] had convinced herself she was only allowed one miracle.  She'd used up her allotment and didn't deserve any more."

I, for one, am grateful and blessed that that isn't the way God works.

I received a copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for my honest review.

Monday, October 8, 2012

The Breath of Dawn -by Kristen Heitzmann

Breath of Dawn, by Kristen Heitzmann, is a long-awaited continuation to the story of Morgan Spencer and his family.  We met Morgan and his brother Rick in Rush of Wings, and The Still of Night, originally published 9 years ago.  This third book picks up after Morgan has lost his wife Jill, and has escaped to Rick and Noelle's cabin, once again, to heal and care for his infant daughter.  Quinn Reilly has landed in Juniper Falls after leaving the church community that effectively shunned her after she sent their "prophet," to jail for fraud and embezzlement.  Markham Wilder, the so-called prophet, is now out of jail and seeking revenge on the woman who ruined his perfect plan.  Morgan is known for solving problems, both large-scale corporate failures, and individuals who need rescued.  How far will he go to save Quinn, and will it be enough to save them both?

I was so excited to see a new release from Kristen Heitzmann, and extra excited to see that it involved some of her former characters, that I immediately re-read the Spencer brothers' stories from nine years ago so that I could brush up on the details before diving into the newest installment.  If you haven't read the previous two books, this review may contain spoilers that I find unavoidable in order to give a complete review.  Having just re-read the story of Morgan and Jill, and their love that waited 15 years to be reunited, I found it really difficult to transition immediately to Jill's death, and Morgan's interest in another woman.  Even though 2 years had passed in novel time, the story of Jill and Morgan was still so fresh to me that it was disconcerting to read a second love story for him.  As much as I loved Quinn, though, I eventually settled into the new story and wanted them to find true love and healing together.

I believe that I have read every book that Kristen Heitzmann has had published, and I find that her stories are becoming darker and darker.  This one was a continuation in that pattern, with the vengeful Markham, and the inclusion of a possibly haunted former asylum that included stories of previous patients and staff workers suffering unexplained accidents and testifying to strange occurrences.  As such, this was not my favorite of her writings, and I found myself disappointed in the content of the story.  I still loved the characters, and I was excited to have the extended Spencer family included to help complete the story.  However, I can only give this book 3 stars, based on the rough transition of Morgan's storyline, and the wish for some deeper redemptive revelations for the new characters.

On a positive note, I do think that this novel would suffice as a stand-alone novel, perhaps even better than as a conclusion to the Spencer story if you've read and loved them from the first two books.  There was enough basic information included that I don't think a new reader would feel lost, but she also did not go overboard in rehashing the details of the past.  If you're a Kristen Heitzmann fan, or looking to try a new semi-suspense, semi-romance author, I think this one's worth a read.

You can find more from the author HERE.

I received a copy of this e-book from the publisher, in exchange for my honest review.

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Two Crosses - by Elizabeth Musser

It is 1961, and Gabriella Madison has left her missionary family in Senegal to study in France.  She has no idea that the cross she wears is about to draw her into secret missions and a raging war.  It will also bring her healing and relationships that will shape her faith and her future.  The war between Algeria and France is being fought not just between those who want to see Algeria free and those who want to see it belong to France, but there are those who are using the war as cover for their own acts of revenge.  David Hoffman, Gabriella's professor, and Anne Marie Duchemin are allies working together to save innocent lives, and Gabby and Ophelie are caught somewhere in the middle, united by the Huguenot cross they both wear.

I admit that my knowledge of this portion of history including the Huguenots, Algeria, and France is minimal, making some of the facts and historical details confusing for me to follow at first.  However, the characters were so engaging, and the war so devastatingly brutal, that I was quickly invested in the story and transported to the period of time depicted.  So there's your warning if you do not enjoy either historical fiction or honest descriptions of the horror of war.  There are definitely scenes of heart-wrenching acts of brutality and murder that were difficult to read.  It certainly made me grateful for the religious freedom we've been granted, and opened my heart to pray for those who continue to be persecuted and murdered for their faith in God.

This is the first book in a trilogy, and I am looking forward to continuing to follow the story of these characters and their mission to assist those in desperate circumstances.  I give this book 4 stars.

You can buy the book HERE.
You can read an excerpt from the book HERE.
And you can find the author's website HERE.  (I've read several of her books, and have enjoyed them all!)

I received a copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for my honest review.

The Scent of Rain - Kristin Billerbeck

Daphne Sweeten has been Paris-trained to be a professional "nose," someone who can recognize over 5,000 different scents.  Dreaming of a job in the French perfume industry, and with ambitions to create her own fragrances, she instead finds herself left at the altar and heading to Dayton, Ohio to work in a failing household goods department.  As if that doesn't seem drastic enough of a change, she now finds herself without the one thing she prides herself on - her sense of smell is completely gone.  How will she find herself and her true worth without being able to do what she does best?

The Scent of Rain had an intriguing premise - who are we if we lose our most identifying feature?  Daphne had to deal with unexpected turn after unexpected turn, and she couldn't even rely on the self she knew.  While I enjoyed the idea of the story, and I cheered for the Daphne who kept trying to make the most of the situation, this book fell a little flat for me.  There was the letter from the ex-fiance, Mark, which Daphne never found time to read, and nobody explained to her.  Wouldn't it be natural to read it immediately?  Or have someone leak the information in it if it's that juicy?  It just felt like a plot hole to me.

Also, the relationship between Daphne and her boss, Jesse, didn't ring true.  (Possible spoilers here!) While it seemed natural for them to be drawn together, and I actually enjoyed the idea of them falling for each other, it happened too quickly to feel real.  There was just no transition between them both saying they needed time, or refusing the idea of the relationship, to being committed to each other.

I liked the idea of the story, and I liked most of the characters, but I really feel this story could have been done better.  So, I feel that I can only give this book 2 stars.  I have read other books by Kristen Billerbeck and have enjoyed them more, so I can still recommend this author!

I received a copy of this book from Thomas Nelson, in exchange for my honest review.

Monday, October 1, 2012

Accidentally Amish - Olivia Newport

Annie Friessen has lived a life steeped in technology.  She co-owns a software development company and has made a small fortune with her computer skills.  However, when she feels threatened by her friends and business partner, she ends up experiencing life with an Amish family and begins to wonder whether the simple life is better.  Rufus, the Amish man who helps her out, also has his livelihood threatened by a jealous competitor, but believes in the Amish way of turning the other cheek.  How will these two communicate? Is it possible for them to understand each other? Is there the possibility of their lives joining?

Usually, I shy away from Amish fiction, but I liked the idea of a story where the Amish and English world intersect so completely, where an Outsider truly tries to see what Amish life is like.  While it felt a little over the top for Annie to frequently make mental notes of things about the Amish that she could Google later, it felt very true to the tech generation, and I liked that the characters commented on the oddness of it directly.  Over the course of the book, it felt more natural for her to turn from her computer to the people around her. She began to learn that people, rather than computers or even money, are what people need for help and healing.  At one point, Rufus says "You have been in our home.  you have been in our church, among our people.  You have even used your technology to study us.  Still you do not understand.  Just when I think you begin to grasp our ways, you take things into your own hands again."  He also says "Our life is grounded in submission, and yours seeks control.  you can't have both."  This is a fundamental shift in worldview for Annie, and I like how it's a gradual shift in both thought and lifestyle for her.  The additional backstory of her research into how her and Rufus' families intersect historically lends weight to the very real conflict of decision to lead an Amish life.

I give Accidentally Amish 3 stars.  It was an interesting read to watch the transition from a technologically-driven life to a simpler one where she could seek God more easily.  Obviously, I do not believe that technology needs to be shunned, or I would not be writing this blog.  However, I can acknowledge that it can be distracting from the important things in life.

I received a copy of this book for free from Barbour Publishers, in exchange for my honest review.

A Lady in the Making - Susan Page Davis

A Lady in the Making is book #3 in the Prairie Dreams Series, by Susan Page Davis.  As is typical for me, I did not realize that it was part of a series when I requested it. However, the author does a pretty good job of giving the reader enough details from the past that after a few chapters, it's easy to forget that you don't know the complete backstory of the characters.  Millie Evans has a history of being a thief and living a life of crime with her half-brother Sam.  Yet, she has decided that she wants to lead a better, honest life, and she wants Sam to go straight with her.  When he tries to draw her back into their old life, she runs away, only to be met on the stagecoach by one of her past marks, a man she tried to get to marry her so she could live a life of luxury.  Now, stuck with David through limited travel options, she tries to convince him that she's changed as they cross the country together.

This book was a little lighter than what I have been reading lately, but I still found it an enjoyable read.  Millie's past weighed on her, not so that she couldn't move forward, but in a way that made her more aware of each choice she made and caused her to want to atone for her actions.  She was a hard worker and eager to prove that she wasn't who she used to be.  I was glad David's upbringing as a "gentleman," and the circumstances throughout their travel forced him to remain in Millie's company long enough to see that her change was genuine.  Even though the list of catastrophes which befell the pair bordered on outrageous, they didn't feel overly contrived, and the story flowed fairly well.  I enjoyed watching their friendship and trust develop slowly, and then continue to bloom into romance.

I give this book 3 stars.  I enjoyed it, and it was decently written, but it didn't really teach me or make me think.

The author has a website HERE.

I was provided a copy of this book from the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for my honest review.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Too Far to Say Far Enough - Nancy Rue

Too Far to Say Far Enough is the concluding book in the Reluctant Prophets trilogy.  Allison Chamberlain is a prophet who gets Nudges from God about the work He wants her to do.  In this story, the Nudge she continues to get is "Go one more mile."  After traveling many literal miles, she begins to realize that maybe this job isn't about the physical distance, but the extra effort required to forgive and to heal broken relationships and to love her enemies.  Having officially adopted her son, and now taking in a runaway 14-year-old girl, Allison's life is filling up with just the day-to-day needs of caring for the people around her.  Add in the criminals trying to exact revenge on her for the work she's both done in the past and is doing now in her rescue work, and she has way too many "piles" to keep straight without help from God and the people He has put in her life to serve as her extended family as well as her extra hands and feet and hearts.

Allison is a compelling character.  Her compassion for broken women and children entrenched in street life is admirable and heartbreaking.  The people who have filled her life are real, they're dirty with real life, and they're working for a better one together.  They are healing, but it is taking time, and it's taking hard work.  They make you root for them, and they make you realize that there really is a dirty side to life that we all too often ignore.

This book made me wish I had started at the beginning of the trilogy.  The characters were so deep and their ties to each other so strong, that I really wish I had known the beginning of their story.  There were so many references to their past that affected the present story, that I felt pretty lost for a lot of the book.  Despite that, I was still able to invest in the characters and be drawn into the desperation they felt.  I was not expecting such a thriller/crime type aspect to this novel, and it certainly wasn't a simple conclusion to resolve the story.

When I first read the title of the book, I didn't get it.  Eventually, it turned out that once you've started doing the work God has called you to, you can never go "too far to say far enough," you need to complete the work He has given you.

Overall, I can only give this book 3 stars as a stand alone novel, but I definitely think if I had read the previous two books, it would have rated much higher as a conclusion to a compelling trilogy.  I will definitely be looking to read the other two, and possibly re-reading this one to get a sense of the complete journey of Allison and her circle of characters.

You can find Nancy Rue's website HERE.
Find the rest of the trilogy HERE.

I received a free copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for my honest review.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

The Girl in the Glass - by Susan Meissner

The Girl in the Glass covers multiple continents, various characters, and several hundred years of time.  Marguerite Pomeroy, or "Meg" as everyone calls her, is an editor at a publishing house that produces travel books.  Ever since she was a little girl, Meg has dreamed of traveling to but one place: Florence, Italy, the land of her beloved Nonna who died before she could take Meg there herself.  Her father has promised several times over the years since then to make the trip, but has never managed to come through on his promise.  Meg has made friends with a brother and sister author team who live in Florence and are excited at the possibility of her visit.  Additionally, their neighbor Sofia has recently been sending Meg chapters of a memoir about Florence that she is writing, a book where she claims to be the last of the Medici family, and where she talks about hearing a voice from the distant past speaking to her through art.  Will Meg's father come through on his promise?  Will Meg make it to Florence?  What will it be like for Meg to meet her Florentine friends in person?

This book started out a little slowly for me.  I had trouble making the transition between the points of view of Meg, Nora, and Sofia (I admit that some of this is the Kindle formatting, and may be easier to notice the transition in print!), but it did not take me long to get sucked in to the story.  Having studied architectural history in college, and having taken a trip to Florence several years ago, the descriptions of the city and the buildings and the art were very real to me, and I could picture them as if I had just been there yesterday.  Not only that, but the clear love of the city and its history made me want to go back tomorrow!

In addition to the city, I loved how the author weaved God into the creative works of the Renaissance.  She wrote "Wise Brunelleschi merely discovered what God had already set across man's path to stumble upon.," and in talking about the Uffizi: "Walking its halls was like walking through a corner of the Creator's mind."  While discussion of God and faith was very sparsely detailed in the book, it permeated the story through notes like this, making it very heartfelt.

The characters quickly became people I cared about, as well.  Sofia made me want to hug her and fix everything that needed fixing; I wanted to find the perfect match for Meg and have a character sweep her off her feet.  Even the minor characters were deep enough to feel like real people, for good or for bad.  While this book would not be classified as a classic love story, the love of the characters for each other, and Meg's search for what love should look like in her own life make it a much more believable tale of love than many others that I've read.

I admit that my own love of Florence may have biased my judgement on this book, but that said, I give this book 4 stars.  The ending seemed a little quirky to me, but overall, I really enjoyed this book and its characters.

You can find Susan Meissner's website HERE.
You can read an excerpt from Chapter 1 HERE.

Please consider ranking my review:

I received a copy of this book from Waterbrook Multnomah as part of their Blogging for Books program in exchange for my honest review.

Abducted - by Janice Cantore

Carly Edwards and Joe King are police partners, on the graveyards patrol shift, when they get the call that Joe's wife and infant son have been admitted to the hospital.  While the doctors are still figuring out what's wrong with his wife, his son is Abducted directly from the pediatric wing of the hospital.  Even as Carly tries to solve the kidnapping, she's also dealing with her ex-husband and their relationship that was looking towards reconciliation, while another man in her life begins to show interest in her.  Additionally, her roommate seems to be distancing herself from Carly, and becomes agitated at Carly's new found Christianity.  How will Carly deal with all of these relationship issues while trying to help her partner get his family back together and to solve a crime that's bigger than any of them imagined?

Abducted is the second book in the Pacific Coast Justice series, written by Janice Cantore, a retired Long Beach police officer.  While this book can certainly stand alone as a novel, there were numerous references to incidents in Carly's past, as well as several other characters, that I can only imagine were detailed in the previous book.  This book would have flowed as a story, for me anyway, without so many of those references.  Most of the past crimes referenced didn't have a bearing on this story and only served as distractions instead of helping the story along.

The deepest part of the story was that of Carly and Nick's path of forgiveness and new beginnings.  It was refreshing to read a book where, even though hurtful mistakes had been made and forgiveness wasn't easy, or even understandable by most of the people who knew them, they worked at their relationship and prayed for renewal.

Other than the forgiveness storyline, I found the book just okay.  I give it 2.5 stars, rounded down to 2 stars.

You can find more from the author HERE.

I received a copy of this book for free from Tyndale publishers, in exchange for my honest review.

Friday, August 31, 2012

What Your Husband Isn't Telling You - David Murrow

In What Your Husband Isn't Telling You: A Guided Tour of a Man's Body, Soul, and Spirit, David Murrow walks the reader through the three areas of a man's life (body, soul, and spirit), and discusses the reasons that men struggle and what about his nature causes those struggles.  He defines the two driving forces in a man's life to be Provider and Protector, and then explains how those affect everything a man thinks and does.

This book left me conflicted.  While on one hand, I can foresee situations that will make me reflect on this book and how the author addressed it, I felt let down by his cynicism on both men and women.  He makes a point at the beginning of the book to acknowledge that not all men struggle with the same things, and that some of the points in the book may not apply to the reader's husband, but he doesn't seem to give the same leeway to women.  He seems to assume that that majority of his female readers will fall into all of the same pits when it comes to understanding their men or handling their struggles.  The other disappointment comes from how much emphasis he puts on the nature of men as a reason for their behavior.  He does occasionally say that men shouldn't be given free reign to act on these excuses, but by the end of the book, it begins to feel like an awful lot like a free pass for men's behaviors, and women are just supposed to understand why they happen without being able to change anything.  In addition, the author sprinkles in enough scripture to make his reasons seem Biblical, but he leaves God out of several lines of reasoning.  He talks a lot about "culture" and "society" driving the definition of a man, and leaves out that God created men to be different than women.  He even mentions Joshua from the Old Testament "dismissing the cautious advice of ten spies but accepting the counsel of two risk takers," as if Joshua was merely acting as a "manly man" instead of trusting God's provision and protection in taking the Promised Land.

My rating of the book started to fall the further I read.  In the end, I give it 2 stars.  I think it could have been much better, but I did still take a few points from it that I hope will help in my relationships with the men in my life.

I received a copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for my honest review.

What I Didn't Say - by Keary Taylor

When the book What I Didn't Say opens, Jake is your fairly typical American teenager from a small town, or in this case, small island.  He's a football player, dreaming of graduation when he'll join the Air Force, and crushing on a girl whom he can't tell how he feels.  Well, he could if he wanted to, he just can't work up the nerve.  However, with a few drinks in him, and some encouragement from his equally drunk friends, he finds the courage to go find her to declare his love.  His entire future changes in a horrific accident which renders him mute for life.  Now, the girl, Samantha befriends him, and their relationship grows, but he no longer has the voice to tell her what's on his heart.  Meanwhile, Samantha herself is holding on to secrets that could also change her life if anyone were to find out.  Can their relationship withstand the secrets and the silence?

The accident that happened to Jake was shocking and heartbreaking; I can't even imagine having your entire life altered by one stupid mistake, and living with the consequences every single day.  With the consequence being the loss of his voice, he can't even scream or rant or complain to anyone.  His struggles with accepting his fate felt very true; he realized that he had a choice to make and that it was his choice alone to decide to wallow in his new disability, or to accept it and move on.  It wasn't an easy choice, and he didn't make it and move on without ever looking back, but I liked that he was able to look at it and know he was at the fork in the road.

I also enjoyed several of the other characters in the book.  I liked that Samantha was smart and working hard to get herself where she wanted to go.  Jake's friends stayed loyal even after the accident left him disabled and with ugly scars; again, it was realistic in that it wasn't an easy decision, there were definitely awkward moments, and thoughts of blaming the accident on them, but they were still there, and they kept working on staying friends.  Jordan, Jake's sister, was also incredibly loyal, helping him out, having his back, encouraging him.  It was very sweet.  I loved Jake's whole family, from his mom who could feed the entire island at any given time, yet discouraged his friends from cursing in the house, to all 6 of his siblings who kept his life busy and the house loud.

I give this book 3 stars.  I enjoyed the characters, and it was an interesting journey to observe for both Jake and Samantha to figure out their situations and new realities.  I liked that, for the most part, characters were able to look beyond themselves and see where others needed help.

Right now, this book is only $1.99 for Kindle on Amazon!  But for only 5 more days!
You can find Keary Taylor's website HERE.  Her Author's Note at the end of this book gives the reader a glimpse at her own story and how she put her heart into this work.

I received a copy of this book for free in exchange for my honest review.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Be Still My Soul - by Joanne Bischof

In Be Still My Soul, Lonnie Sawyer hasn't lived an easy life.  With a controlling father and an overly submissive mother, she has tried to blend into the background to avoid being noticed.  Until the night Gideon O'Riley walks her home and requests a good night kiss.  Even though Lonnie knows she fought him off and nothing happened, she can't prove it, and her father forces Gideon to do "the right thing," by marrying her.  Forced to marry Lonnie, can Gideon get past his anger and resentment and become the husband she needs him to be?

This book surprised me by how much I enjoyed it.  I read the entire book in a day, because I could not put it down.  I especially enjoyed the hero characters of Jebediah and Elsie.  It's rare for an older couple to be placed in the saving role in a novel, but the mentor relationship is so important for younger men and women to understand how to change and grow.  It really worked well in this story, and I wanted Jeb and Elsie to take me under their wings!

Gideon struggles a lot with not only the changes he needs to make, but with the very idea that he needs to change.  He didn't want this marriage, he didn't want Lonnie, why should he step up and help her?  His personal growth through the book felt very honest and realistic.  It was a gradual change, and it was believable.  As a reader, I wanted him to change more quickly for Lonnie's sake, but he had to learn his lessons slowly and want to really change.

There is definitely an element of sadness in the book, but it fits the story and doesn't feel excessive.  I know there are readers who don't like to read sad books, so I like to prepare you if that's you!

I'm excited to see that this is the first book in a series, and I look forward to reading the next one!
I give this book 4 stars.

You can read an excerpt from Chapter 1 HERE.
You can find Joanne's blog and website HERE.

Please consider rating my review:

I received a copy of this book from Waterbrook Multnomah Publishing Group in exchange for my honest review.

Friday, August 17, 2012

Full Disclosure - by Dee Henderson

Ann Silver is a woman full of secrets and intrigue.  It's what makes her good at her job, and allows her to have a very select circle of friends.  When Paul Falcon is introduced to her, he finds that he wants to know those secrets, and is only further intrigued by where their circles overlap.  She drops some information in his lap that leads to very big breaks on a very important case that he has been working for a long time.  The farther he gets into his relationship with Ann, and the further into the case he gets, the more secrets are revealed about her past. In the interest of Full Disclosure, can she trust him with her secrets?  Can he handle them if she does?  Where does the crime trail lead, and how exactly are she and her influential friends involved?

This is a really hard review for me to write.  I really really wanted to like this book.  The entire O'Malley Series has a place on my bookshelf, and this book made me want to re-read them all.  I enjoyed the reference to the O'Malley characters here, but it made me a bit squeamish to read that Ann was the author of the books.  It felt self-promoting, as additional characters were frequently commenting on how good the books were and telling her what a good author she was.  Other than a token appearance, however, most of the previous characters (Ann's "friends" whom she fictionalized) didn't really engage with this story.

As much as I liked the character of Paul Falcon, I found Ann to be a bit tiring.  She was touted as a good listener and a good friend, but this book only gave her the one side of being needy and selfish with her time.  I can't say that I would have wanted more of her story, though, because the book already felt overly long.  The two major crime stories took an eon to intersect, and I was able to guess the main part of the "twist" at the end fairly early on in the story.  Also, the side notes from Ann's day job of investigating difficult murders just served to add uneccessary grief to the book.  If we had just seen Ann's burden and need to leave the job behind, it would have sufficed, instead of knowing exactly how bad the crimes were.

I think I can still give this book 3 stars, based primarily on the characters of Paul, Sam, and Rita.  I would have liked to have seen Paul's storyline with his family play out a bit more, and his dialogue and pursuit of Ann be dialed back a notch.  I would have liked to have seen more interaction with the O'Malleys, at least enough to catch up on where they were "now."  Additionally, even though I liked the main two crime stories, they were just too drawn out to keep me in suspense.  I do love Dee's writing style, I just wish this book had been more concise.

I had high expectations for this book, but feel that it fell a bit short for me.

Find the website for the book HERE.

I received an advanced reader copy of this book from Bethany House Publishers in exchange for my early and honest review.

The Deposit Slip - by Todd M. Johnson

Erin Larson left her father's farm and the town of Ashley when she was in high school; now she's back to mourn her father's death and to sort out his estate.  When she finds The Deposit Slip for $10,000,000 in his safety deposit box, she is determined to find out where it came from and where the money is now.  Only, the bank denies that the deposit exists, and no lawyer will see the case through, until Jared comes along.  Jarod has ties to the town of Ashley, and he needs a big case worth a lot of money, but can he make it through this case without going broke or endangering the lives of those involved?  Will Erin find out where her father might have come across 10 million dollars?

The premise of this story was intriguing, and I enjoyed the suspense of finding out if the money existed, where it came from, and where could it be now.  I liked Jarod and wanted Erin to find closure.  However, there were so many characters in this story, and so many of them seemed to have secrets, that it was hard to get invested in more than that.  Too many characters had hints of backgrounds that the author wanted to tease out, and there just wasn't room in the story to fully flesh them all out.  He did do a good job of tying everything up at the end, though, and it didn't feel like there were loose ends.

If I hadn't just read a really good suspense book before this one, my review might have been more favorable.  As it is, I enjoyed the plotline and the story, but can only give this book 2.5 stars.  I did see that this was a debut novel by Mr. Johnson, so I would enjoy watching him develop as an author.  If his writing style tightens up a bit, I think that his story-telling is enjoyable enough to produce some great books.

I received a copy of this book for free from Bethany House Publishers in exchange for my honest review.

Sunday, August 12, 2012

A Heartbeat Away - by Harry Kraus

Tori Taylor is an accomplished surgical oncologist, at the top of her game and climbing the professional ladder.  Only two things stand in her way: a virus that has substantially weakened her heart, and the staff that she has belittled and criticized in her pursuit of perfection.  Now, that same staff is in charge of her own surgery and rehabilitation as she undergoes a heart transplant in the very hospital in which she has previously been untouchable.  Once the new heart is in place, Tori begins to change.  She has nightmares about things that aren't from her own memories, she cries more, and she has compassion for the people around her.  The new Tori wants to understand where these changes came from; whose heart was this before it became hers? Has the new heart changed her?  Or has God used the experience to change Tori?  As Tori seeks answers, she may find more than she bargained for, and not everyone is happy that she's searching.

This was a fantastically written book.  The suspense kept me guessing, but never with blind turns to throw me off course.  Information was revealed in a logical way, where I never felt that things were being intentionally hidden; instead, I learned things as the characters discovered them.  Even with three stories unfolding simultaneously, I was enthralled with every character in the book.  Each time the point of view shifted, I was eager to find out more about that aspect of the story, and I couldn't wait for them to all come together.  I know that the science vs. religion conflict is a big one in the medical community, and Tori's initial doubts and inner debates felt very real, as well as her eventual realization that even science requires faith.

A Heartbeat Away is one of the best books I've read recently, and I debated between giving it 4 stars or 5.  In the end I give it 4 stars, but it's probably closer to a 4.5.  I definitely recommend it to anyone who likes a well-written suspense novel, or even to try it if you don't usually!

I have read several of Harry Krause, M.D.'s novels and have enjoyed all of them.  This is another author from whom I keep an eye out for new releases.  Reading the "Getting to know Harry" section at the book only made me appreciate him and his writing more.  I hope you'll try one of his books!

I received this book for free from David C. Cook publishers via NetGalley in exchange for my honest review.

Saturday, August 11, 2012

Starring Me - by Krista McGee

We first met Kara McKormick in First Date, where she befriended Addy during the reality show to win a date with the President's son.  When we pick up with Kara in Starring Me, she and Addy are still friends, and Kara is hoping to pursue a career in acting.  The opportunity arises for her to audition for a teen-driven variety show, but what Kara doesn't know is that the audition is based less on talent and more on her character.  Even less expected is that this search for a career will also lead her to God.

Chad Beacon is one of America's current heartthrobs.  Having celebrity land in his lap after winning a reality talent contest, he is hoping to broaden his career options by adding acting to his resume.  His parents know that if he is to spend a significant amount of time with a female co-star, his heart will become invested in her, and so they, understandably, want a say in choosing the actress.

I really enjoyed First Date, and had been looking forward to learning more about Kara in this sequel. Her spunkiness and her friendship with Addy continued to enrich the story.  Kara's family, too, added life and depth to the book, and felt like a family I would love to be a part of.  I loved watching her journey of faith, from her complete denial of the existence of God, to the questioning of his existence, to her acceptance and joy at the discovery that He loved her.  Her emotions always felt real and honest, and for the most part, the people that helped her get there seemed genuine.

My only issue with the book was perhaps that Chad felt too perfect.  He didn't really seem to struggle with anything, and even though his faith was his own, he was very quick to agree with everything his parents suggested.  I've known solid teenage Christians, but I don't know if I've ever known someone that in sync with their parents.  His character felt a little flat for all the perfection.

Overall, this was a great sequel.  And I was still left wanting more!  It isn't super deep, but there are some thought-provoking elements to keep it from being too light.  Kara's struggles to decide between career and family, even her decisions over which career path to choose, these are things that most readers can identify with on some level.  Watching how God orchestrated her path to draw her to Himself can cause us to wonder where He has worked in our lives to draw us to Him.

I give this book 4 stars.  I definitely recommend that you read First Date first, and then follow it up with this enjoyable sequel!

You can read Krista's blog HERE.  I look forward to reading more from this author!

I received a copy of this book from Thomas Nelson via NetGalley, in exchange for my honest review.

Friday, August 10, 2012

Five Miles South of Peculiar - by Angela Hunt

Darlene, Carlene, and Magnolia Caldwell grew up Five Miles South of Peculiar, on a large estate handed down from their grandfather, Chase Caldwell.  Darlene and Nolie (Magnolia) have been living in the home together, while Carlene has been working on Broadway as the "famous" sister.  However, Carlene's career has come to a sudden end, and while Nolie welcomes her sister's "visit" with open arms, Darly has reservations and is impatiently waiting for Carly to return to the big city.  Carly can't bring herself to admit her defeat, even as she finds herself drawn back to small-town life.  With the home's ownership only six years away from reverting to the county, all three sisters need to find a plan for their lives, as well as finding their place in each others'.

I have really mixed feelings about this book.  I found myself really drawn to the characters and was quickly immersed in the feel of the town and their lives.  Being invested in the story enough to care about the characters usually makes a book good in my opinion.  However, the inconsistencies in the characters started to bother me throughout the book.  Darlene would say that she wanted to reconcile with her sister, Carlene, but continue to voice how she couldn't wait for Carly to return to New York.  Carly genuinely seemed to desire a renewed relationship with Darly, but she couldn't discuss the reason for her return, and she continued to make changes to Darly's life without discussing them with her.  I know that a prolonged tension usually makes for a more interesting book, but Darly's eagerness for Carly's return became overdone.

The other sticking point that kept me from liking this book more was the feeling that I was being interjected into the middle of the sisters' stories.  Usually I get that feeling when I have picked up a second or third book in a series without reading the first book.  Unfortunately, this seems to be a stand-alone book.  It reads like it would make a much better middle book.  There was so much background information about the sisters' lives that needed to be fleshed out earlier in the story.  Also, the ending was wrapped up so quickly that I would have liked knowing there was another book coming to finish out the new directions that were introduced in a flood at the end of this book.

The mixed feelings make it difficult for me to give this book a rating.  I think I give it 2.5 stars, rounded up to 3 stars for making me care about the characters enough to want to know more about them.

I have read several of Ms. Hunt's books before and have enjoyed them; this book fell a bit short of her other works, in my opinion.

I received a copy of this book from the publisher, via NetGalley, in exchange for my honest review.

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Interrupted - by Rachel Coker

When we meet Alycone Everly, she is a girl of fourteen who has been slowly forced into isolation by a mother whose mental health is deteriorating.  Feeling shunned from town from people who think her mother is crazy, Allie cares for her mother by herself, with only her neighbor friend Sam knowing how bad the situation actually is.  Upon her mother's sudden death, Allie is taken to Maine to Beatrice, the woman who wants to adopt her and be her mother.  Allie refuses to allow Beatrice to take her mother's place, and thus keeps Beatrice, and the love she has to offer, at arm's length.  When Sam shows up unexpectedly next door in Maine, she continues to keep herself aloof, trying to protect her heart from further loss.  Can Sam, the boy who was always there, find a way to help her open up, and find both love and faith?

This book intrigued me, as it is a young adult work, written by a young adult.  Rachel Coker was only fourteen herself when her first book was published.  I really wanted to read a book written by a teen for teens.  I was not disappointed.

Although the book started off a little bit slowly, once Allie lost her mom and had to decide on her own who to be and what to believe in, the story picked up quickly.  She held herself so tightly wound and separate from anyone who wanted to love her, that it made me ache for her and want to help her open up.  Her struggle with wanting to believe in God, even though her mother despised Christianity, felt honest and real, and I was glad to see her overcome the obstacle.  Once she did, the change and peace in her life, even though it didn't change her circumstances, was visible to those around her.

I give this book 3 stars.  Allie had to face so much on her own, but she grew through it and was able to change and grow, and that was an interesting journey for the reader to take.

You can find an excerpt of Interrupted: Life Beyond Words HERE.

I was provided a copy of this book from Zondervan in exchange for my honest review.

Sunday, July 29, 2012

Belonging - Robin Lee Hatcher

Felicia Kristofferson has been looking for a family to belong to for most of her life.  Shipped west on an orphan train after the death of her mother, her siblings and she were given to separate families.  Upon the death of the parents who raised her, she finds that she was never truly adopted and has no inheritance, to claim.  Rather than accept the marriage proposal of her "cousin," she strikes out on her own, vowing to live as an independent woman and hoping to continue the search for her siblings.  She takes a job as a schoolteacher in a small town, determined to make a difference in the lives of her students.  Unbeknownst to her, her acceptance to the job was opposed by both her landlord, who fears that every woman is out to get a husband and so will not last long as a teacher for his daughter, and Helen, the rich woman on the school board, who is the mother-in-law of the woman who could become Felicia's good friend.

I enjoyed this book as a light read.  I admired Felicia's independent spirit, and her refusal to take the "easy" way out by marriage.  The search for her siblings seems like a storyline that will continue on, as this is the first book in a series.  Although the love story between Felicia and Colin was a given, I enjoyed the secondary story of Kathleen as she realized that she "should" love Colin, but also found her independence and courage to stand up to her mother-in-law and found love of her own.  Helen, the mother-in-law, was almost too overbearing for me to enjoy as a character.  There was no real growth or resolution on her meanness; even Kathleen's rebellion and the town's refusal to bow to her wishes didn't seem to change her or give her a wake-up call to the reality that she couldn't control people.  I know that in real life people don't always, or even often, change, but in my books, I like to think that they should.

I give this book 3 stars.  It was an enjoyable read, and I would like to follow the characters through another book or two.  I hope that we will continue to see growth in their relationships and personal lives through the extended story.

You can find the author's website HERE.
You can read an excerpt or purchase the book HERE.

I received this book for free from the publisher via Edelweiss in exchange for my honest review.

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Coming Home - the Baxter Family Story Ends

Written as a conclusion to the tale of the Baxter family, Coming Home brings the Baxter clan back to Bloomington to celebrate John Baxter's 70th birthday.  Every son and every daughter has made plans to be there; they've all thought through what their father has meant to them over the years and written heartfelt letters to express their love to the leader of this family.  The family has dealt with their share of struggles and loss over the years, and have always managed to cling to God and to each other to get through.  Will another heartbreaking tragedy be enough to break them, or will they continue to rely on God's great faithfulness?

There was a time where I made a vow to myself to never pick up another Karen Kingsbury book again.  But the first series about the Baxter family - the Redemption Series still ranks as some of my favorite stories I've read.  I am a sucker for the Baxter family, and when I saw that this was to be either a "conclusion" or an "introduction" to their story, I couldn't resist.  I really wanted to see how their saga played out, but I wasn't sure that a book could serve as both an introduction and a conclusion.  I was right to wonder - it really can't.  The first 30% of the book was spent on catching the reader up on the Baxters' past, all six siblings' defining moments.  At first, I thought it was a nice refresher - after all, it has been several years since I read the original series.  I also knew that there had been several spin-off sets to the story that I had never read, so it was nice to catch up on who had how many kids and to find that Ashley and Landon were living in "the Baxter House" now.  But 30% is a large section of a book to be retelling events that have already been written about, yet one hundred pages (give or take, I was reading the e-version) is not really enough to tell a new reader all of the heartache, struggle, and victory that Kari, Ashley, Brooke, Erin, Luke, and Dayne have been through.  If a new reader picked up Coming Home, though, they would already know that Kari's husband dies, Hayley survivves, Luke marries Reagan, and other major plot points of the earlier series.

Once the book gets past the introductions though, the tears and grief hit hard and fast, and just keep on coming.  I will not pretend that I did not cry through a very large portion of this book.  I will absolutely not spoil the story for you, though, so I can't tell you anything about the tragedy.  You'll need to be like me, and with every point-of-view switch wonder: is this the person who won't make it to the next chapter?  I did hate that - I hated, from the perspective of feeling like I love this family, knowing that something major was going to strike one of them and not knowing who it would be.

Overall, I am glad I read this book.  I was glad to "hang out" with the Baxters just a little bit longer.  While I am very, very sad at the turn this book took, unlike some of the earlier books, I felt like there wasn't a moment where everything worked out just peachy for everybody.  My only wish was that less time had been spent rehashing the past and more time was spent on the present and future of the family.

I have a hard time rating this book, but I'll give it 4 stars, just because I love the Baxter family so darn much. And isn't a character, or twenty, that stays with you the mark of a good book?

Karen Kingsbury's site can be found HERE.
I don't know if I recommend the entire 22 books of this loose series, but I do highly recommend the first five books, starting with Redemption.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

The Widow of Saunders Creek - by Tracey Bateman

Corrie Saunders is The Widow of Saunders Creek.  Her husband Jarrod lost is his life protecting Iraqui villagers from a 12-year-old strapped with a bomb.  To Corrie, and to almost everyone who knew him, he was a hero.  His cousin, Eli, however, remembers him differently.  Eli remembers Jarrod as competitive and selfish, and most importantly, as the man responsible for his leg injury that kept Eli himself from serving his country.  Corrie has inherited property in Saunders Creek that has belonged to the Saunders family for generations.  She moves there to see if she can find Jarrod's memory, but she seems to find his presence itself in the house.  Eli warns her that humans cannot return to the earth, and that she needs to be careful of letting this spirit into her life.  Will she believe Eli, who is becoming a dear friend and possibly more, or will it be too hard to finally let go of Jarrod?

This book was so much  more than I expected.  I hesitated to request it, because I don't typically like books that deal with demons and spirits.  However, the balance in this book made it such a great story.  Eli believes definitively that there should be no contact with the spirit world, that the Bible condemns witches and mediums.  Even so, there are self-confessed witches within his own family who consider their gift to be from God.  He manages to love them without condoning their beliefs.  Corrie, understandably, is somewhere in the middle.  She believes that Eli is honest and caring and that his beliefs seem sound.  But she is still grieving intensely, and would like nothing more than proof that Jarrod is still with her.  The demonstration of how easy it is to let demons prey on our fears and hopes is very realistic and timely.  Yet the author clearly shows that Jesus is the only spiritual Power and being that we should trust, and that His Name is the Name above all.

In addition to the supernatural aspects of the book, the characters within story made it so much richer and fuller than just a ghost story.  The book alternates points of view between Corrie and Eli, giving us both sides of the story, and allowing each of them to interact with minor characters that serve to enrich their personalities even further.  Even though some characters appear for only short scenes, they demonstrate the town's love for Eli, who has always felt inferior to Jarrod, and they give pictures of loving relationships and committed marriages.

I give this book 4 stars.  I really enjoyed all of the characters, and felt that there was such a good balance of love and struggles that the book felt neither sappy nor depressing.  The relationship between Corrie and Eli develops so slowly and naturally, that even though you know from the early pages that that's where it's going, you're happy when it gets there.  I would definitely look to read more works from this author.

The author's website is HERE.
You can read an excerpt from Chapter 1 HERE.

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I received a copy of this book for free from Waterbrook Multnomah as part of their Blogging for Books program in exchange for my honest review.