Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Beyond the Storm - by Carolyn Zane

Abigail Durham is an accomplished hairdresser, living in the small town of Rawston in the Midwest.  As she worries about the stress of fixing a food cart for a fundraiser, and chats with her Aunt Selma about quilt ideas, and thinks about the man she danced with last night, a storm is bearing down on the town.  Not just any storm, but an EF5 tornado that will bring unimaginable devastation to the town and community.  As so many have asked before, Abigail will have to ponder where God is during the storms of life as she and her town try to heal.

I put off reading this book for awhile when I saw that it was part of a "quilt" series.  As much as I actually do like to sew, sometimes I find books about sewing to be, shall we say, less than exciting. Once I started it though, I was immediately sucked into the drama of the storm and the lives of the people living through it, and I could not put it down until I finished it.  Even though the plot of the story as it related to quilting became obvious partway through the book, it was a subtle plot line and one that worked well with the story of the need for the community to piece itself back together after such a tragedy.  The characters were rich enough that I felt myself torn between disbelief that every important character could make it through such devastation, and not wanting any of them to be killed off.  I won't lie and say that I didn't cry through the end of this book.

This book was far more enjoyable than I expected.  I give it 4 stars, and will look to read the next books in this series, hoping for more stories that don't shy from the hard questions about God, but rather uses the strength of its characters' faith to draw others to him through the hard questions.  (Note about the series: I see that each of the books in this series is by a different author)

You can find Beyond the Storm for sale HERE.
You can find the author's website HERE.

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

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Right Where I Belong - by Krista McGee

Right Where I Belong, by Krista McGee, follows Natalia Lopez as she makes the decision to leave Spain and follow her ex-stepmother, Maureen, to Tampa, Florida, after her father's divorce.  Maureen has led Natalia to a faith in Jesus, and Natalia has no other Christian support system remaining in Spain.  Both her father and her mother support the idea of her departure, saying it will look good on her college applications to attend a high school in the States.  Once Natalia arrives, however, her new friends and the education she's receiving at a small Christian high school may lead her to find a calling that her parents would have never expected.  Natalia herself comes face-to-face with unexpected developments as she has vowed to herself to remain single, and yet can't stop thinking about a certain tall, red-headed, pastor's son.

This book was a loose follow-up to First Date and Starring Me, with some of the characters from the previous two stories making an appearance.  However, the book would function fine as a stand-alone, and I actually found myself disappointed that Addy and Kara didn't feature more prominently in this installment.  In fact, I found most of the supporting characters in this story much flatter than the previous two novels.  Natalia was sort of a one-woman-show for this book, and while her story was interesting, I would have liked to have seen a stronger supporting cast.  Natalia's hunger for knowledge of God was admirable, and I liked seeing her character and behavior change as she learned more of who God was and what He wanted for her and from her.  She wasn't the only character to change in the book, and although I wanted more from the other characters, it was good to see them change as well, and to catch glimpses of strong Christians who had had their own struggles with the faith.

I give this book 3 stars.  If I hadn't been hoping for more to Addy and Kara's stories, I think I would have had fewer reservations about it.
I reviewed First Date HERE.
I reviewed Starring Me HERE.
You can find Krista's website HERE.  It looks like she has the start of a new trilogy coming out this year, and I can't wait to find out more about it!

I received a copy of this book from Thomas Nelson, as part of their BookSneeze program, in exchange for my honest review.

Monday, January 14, 2013

Called to Controversy - by Ruth Rosen

Moishe Rosen did not grow up in a home that believed in Jesus as Messiah.  He originally scoffed at his wife when she introduced the idea as truth to him.  And yet, he was let to a belief so full of passion that he could not keep it to himself, but felt called to bring this truth to his people, the Jews.  His ministry took him cross-country several times and led to an organization that brought the truth of Jesus to Jews internationally.

I am not typically a reader of biographies, and it took me a long time to get through this book.  The delay was not due to my disinterest in Moishe Rosen, on the contrary, I found him to be a fascinating person and his passion for Jesus and for the Jewish people to know Jesus as Messiah was incredible.  However, I found the book to be less than its subject.  Maybe it was precisely because Mr. Rosen led such an incredibly interesting life that it was hard to narrow down the stories to include in his biography.  The result was a mishmash of anecdotes and facts that muddled the timeline of Moshie's life and his ministry.

On the plus side, although the book was written by his daughter, Ms. Ruth Rosen, the descriptions of Mr. Rosen's personality felt impartial, and his praises as well as his flaws were accounted for.  Ms. Rosen was not only his daughter, but she was heavily involved in the Jews for Jesus organization, and thus had full access to Moshie's life as both father and leader.

As a person, Mr. Rosen's work was incredible and his life story and his life work are an amazing testimony to the Jesus whom he called Messiah.  As a book, Called to Controversy could have been a more succinct account of that life and work.

I give this book 3 stars.  I am glad that I read it, but I did struggle to get through it.
The website for Jews for Jesus can be found HERE, and their work continues on without their founder.
Ruth Rosen has her own page in the staff section of the organization's website HERE.

I received a copy of this book from Thomas Nelson, as part of their BookSneeze program, in exchange for my honest review.

Sunday, January 13, 2013

The Unlikely Gift of Treasure Blume - by Lisa Rumsey Harris

Treasure Blume has an unusual lot to deal with in life; due to a family "gift," the majority of people who meet her will despise her upon their first meeting.  This "gift" has led to a lot of heartache and sorrow in Treasure's life, and has caused the people who love her to work to protect her where they can.  Treasure is tired of being coddled and has struck out on her own, securing her own job as a first-grade teacher in Las Vegas.  Small children are immune to the "gift," but parents, coworkers, and administrators are not.  Can she find some allies who can see beyond their initial impression of Treasure? Could she maybe even find love?

This book was not at all what I expected, but I found myself rooting for Treasure and hoping that she would find a way to make it on her own.  I'm not sure that I bought into the story of the curse/gift that had been handed down through the generations of Treasure's family.  However, setting that disbelief aside, the story was interesting.  I was glad to see Treasure willing to change some things about herself, yet remain committed to working through the ramifications of the "gift" on her own, standing strong to face the insults and injuries that frequently came her way.

I give this book 3 stars.  It was an original idea for a plot, and it was carried out decently.  I just didn't love it.

You can find the book for sale HERE, with excerpts available.

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

Thursday, January 10, 2013

For What It's Worth - by Karey White

Abby Benson is given the chance of a lifetime when her Aunt Grace dies and leaves her property with the advice that Abby turn it into a bakery and fulfill her dream of creating wedding cakes.  With encouragement, and a bit of guilt mixed in, from her family, Abby takes the leap that can change her life.  But with no business experience, what will she charge her customers?  What if she lets every customer decide individually how much Abby's work and creations are worth?  Will it bring her success or failure?  And is she prepared to handle either?

The idea of worth permeates this book and goes so much deeper than just the monetary value of a beautiful, edible creation.  As Abby wonders what her customers will think she's worth, she begins to evaluate what other things in her life are worth, but she, more importantly, has to wonder if she's worth what other people thinks she is worth.  It's a very risky situation, where not only could her business succeed or fail, but she has now wrapped up her own self-worth into the product.  The novel brings this idea of worth into Abby setting new priorities and goals for her life that change the way she views her business and the people in her life.

Overall, I enjoyed this book.  The search for worth on multiple levels took the book deeper than a simple inheritance/dream-come-true plot, and even broadened the romance story-line as both characters had to evaluate what their assumptions and plans for the future had been.  Each chapter started with a recipe, and while I only skimmed most of them, I highlighted a few to attempt at some point.  Maybe I need a book club to cook book recipes for.

I give this book 4 stars.  
You can find the book HERE.
You can find the author's blog HERE.

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

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

If We Survive - by Andrew Klavan

"We were in the cantina waiting for a bus when Mendoza walked in and shot the waiter dead."  With that scene, the novel If We Survive begins, and races through harrowing situation after situation.  Will Peterson, "just [a] sixteen-year-old...from Spencer's Grove, California" and four others have come on a mission trip to Costa Verdes, to help rebuild a school building for the local children.  They've had a successful trip and celebrated the finished project and are only waiting for their pilot to take them back to the states when revolution breaks loose in the country.  Will they make it out?  Can they trust their pilot, Palmer Dunn, a man who seems like a loose cannon, but has military experience in his background?

This book was a little rocky for me.  It started out slowly, taking awhile to adjust to a 16-year-old's point of view and method of relating his experiences.  Once they made it through their first barrier to survival, it began picking up speed and never slowed down.  The writing and suspense had me really wondering if anybody would make it out, and several scenes made me tense until their resolution.  However, even with the good sense of suspense, there was something missing from this book.  It took me awhile to pinpoint it, but I read a book with a similar plotline several years ago, called My Hands Came Away Red, another story of a mission trip caught in a bloody uprising.  With all of the similarities, though, this book lacked any connection to the people involved in the brutality of the revolution.  That's what was missing.  There was a mention or two of the mission-trip kids realizing that the natives were caught in the middle of this, but there was no real compassion or sense of sorrow for the people they'd worked with.  There was just the sense of saving themselves and getting back home to their "normal" lives.  Even Will, who comes to realize "how a person might get to be fearless over time, if he set his spirit on the right path" is still worried more about whether his parents will still be fighting when he gets home than over any sense of loss or trauma from their experience in Costa Verdes.

Overall, I give this book 3 stars.  I definitely got caught up in the action and felt the characters' fear, but I wish that there had been more change or compassion on their part, rather than just a fight for survival.  Even if there had been some reflection on how this would change their lives in the future, it would have been a more satisfying story.

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