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.