Monday, February 25, 2013

The Sky Beneath My Feet - by Lisa Samson

When Beth hears that her husband is being told to take a month-long sabbatical from his position of Men's Pastor at The Community church, she first doesn't know what to make of it.  As she begins to dream of a Florida beach house, however, she finds that her husband, Rick, has instead decided to spend the month in the shed in their backyard, apart from his family.  Beth's brother, Gregory, suggests that perhaps this month is as much, or more, for Beth's benefit as it is for Rick's - a suggestion that Beth finds ludicrous.  At first.  As the month goes on, and Beth finds herself in new, and what some might call crazy, situations, she begins to look at life differently.  Maybe this month isn't as crazy as she thought, or maybe, it's just the right kind of crazy.

If you're looking for a romance book, or a mystery book, or any sort of fast-moving plot book, this isn't it.  However, if you're looking for characters that draw you in and make you think and keep you thinking about them even after you've put the book down?  This is the book for you.  Lisa Samson is so good at character development, that it's easy to forget that there isn't much "happening," per se, in the story.  Yet, the reader can feel the characters stretching, and growing, and changing, and it makes the reader want to change, too.  Beth starts as a pastor's wife who doesn't even want the Jesus fish on her car, to someone who begins to see just what it means to symbolize Jesus to others.  She watches her husband's "everything Fast," and wonders if it's wrong to isolate ourselves into seclusion "thinking [we can] find God if [we] can just shut the world out.  But what if God's waiting...not in here...but out there?"

You can't read this book and not wonder if there's not someone you should be helping, or wonder if your church is really being Jesus' to the world around him.  You can only hope to be changed through a journey like Beth's and have your own eyes opened to the people living around you.

I give this book 4 stars.  I think this one is going to stick with me for awhile.  

You can find The Sky Beneath My Feet HERE.
Lisa's website is HERE.

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

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

The Tutor's Daughter - by Julie Klassen

Emma Smallwood has helped her father run his school for boys since she was but a young girl herself.  Once her mother dies, she can't bear to leave him as he loses vigor for life and their enrollment dwindles.  She sees a chance for change and hope when she receives a letter from Sir Giles Weston, the father of two of their former students, inviting Miss Smallwood and her father to come live on the estate and tutor the two youngest Weston men.  Once there, however, the tutors find their presence is not altogether welcomed and there seem to be secrets around every corner.  What is going on in the manor, and which Westons are part of it, and which Westons can be trusted?

I think that this book could have been a good suspense story.  Or a good romance story.  However, it tried too hard to be both, and didn't really succeed at either.  The suspense aspects of the plot were so drawn out that it lost the on-edge feeling, as it tried to fit the love story in between the revelations of the family's secrets.  And there were so many attempts to put the reader off track about who loved whom, that it was hard to really care about most of them getting together at all.  Characters' personalities shifted so drastically throughout the story that it was hard to relate to them.  There were several small things about the plot and story that bothered me as well; for instance, if Emma grew up right next door to an all-girls' school run by her aunt, why did she not attend classes there?

That said, I didn't dislike the book; I just didn't love it.  The writing style was good, I just felt the plot could have been a bit tighter.  I still cared about Emma and wanted to see how the book would turn out for her; I enjoyed seeing her come a bit out of her tutor shell and be willing to stand up for herself and do what she thought right.

I give this book 3 stars.

You can find The Tutor's Daughter HERE.
The author's website is HERE.
Ms. Klassen is also available on Facebook HERE.

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

Monday, February 11, 2013

The Dilemma of Charlotte Farrow - by Olivia Newport

It's 1893 in Chicago, and Charlotte Farrow has been working hard as a house maid to make a quiet life for herself and to provide for her son - the son her employers are unaware of.  However, once her son's caretaker is called away for a family emergency and Henry shows up at the house, she feels that her only choice is to pretend she doesn't know him.  Fortunately, the family decides he can stay until they've found a home for him, but that leaves Charlotte forced to watch others care for her son while she can't even call him by name.  Where will Henry go?  And will Charlotte be able to live with his absence, or will she find a way to get him back?

This book reminded me very much of the popular British show Downton Abby - the lifestyle, the servants' positions, even their very characters felt like I'd been watching their stories evolve over 2.5 seasons.  I was glad for that, because it actually made the house and staff easier to picture and to understand the interactions between staff and employers.  Initially, the book engaged me because of the familiarity I felt with the characters.  However, as the book went on, I felt less connected and cared less for how it would resolve.  The only character that I was disappointed to not read more of was Lucy, who for the majority of the book was off on her honeymoon to Europe and wasn't actually heard from.

I give this book 3 stars.  The premise of the story was interesting, but it then began to drag on with not much hope or change for the characters until sudden resolutions at the end.  This book was #2 in the Avenue of Dreams series, and it looks like book #1 was exclusively about Lucy, so I will be interested in backtracking to read her story.

You can find The Dilemma of Charlotte Farrow 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.

Home Run - by Travis Thrasher

Cory Brand has been swinging a bat his whole life.  As a child, he swung to protect himself and his younger brother.  The practice garnered by necessity has exposed a talent that becomes a means to an escape.  But how does he escape the nightmares and the broken dreams unrelated to baseball that he has had to leave along the way?  Now that the baseball life is falling apart, where can he turn to heal the broken parts inside of him that baseball never really fixed?

I was unsure how to feel about this book.  The story of a childhood of abuse turning into the dream of a professional sports career was intriguing.  Yet, I had a hard time with Cory’s journey; because he seemed to not be able to look past himself to see the people he was hurting.  It rang true for a while, but his downward spiral seemed to continue too long without any hint of redemption.  I began to wonder whether there would be any change at all by the book’s end. 

I give this book 2 stars.  There was change in Cory’s life, but there was just so much damage and so little restoration that the story didn't balance out for me in the end. 

You can find the book HERE.
The author's website is HERE.
The book is "based on" this movie being released in April.  I think I'd be interested in seeing how this story translates to the big screen.

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

Wings of Glass - by Gina Holmes

Penny Carson is swept away at the tender age of 17, by a man who manages to sound more possessive than her father.  Trent Taylor is not only possessive and intense, but quickly isolates Penny and becomes abusive.  Penny not only thinks begins to fear that escape isn’t possible, she can’t bring herself to want to leave Trent.  Until she finds new friends, Trent promises to change but doesn’t, and a baby enters the picture.  If Penny can’t stand up to Trent for herself, can she do it for their son?  And can Trent change, or will it take more than promises to fix what’s broken in this family?

Written as a letter to her son, Manny, Wings of Glass is disturbing in that the reader sees not only the abuse that occurs, but the psychological toll that the abuse and lifestyle has taken on the writer.  It’s a difficult book to read, but clearly shows the emotional turmoil that women stuck in abusive relationships endure.  Despite the content, the writing engaged me: I was frustrated at Penny’s refusal to leave, not taken in by Trent’s promise to change, and cheering her friends who were trying to help.  As with real abusive relationships, I’m sure, however, it had to be Penny’s choice.  Penny had to wrestle through what it meant to be a daughter of God, and whether divorce and separation was better or worse in His sight than being stuck in an abusive relationship.

Overall, I think this was a well-written book, but I don’t think I can say that I enjoyed it.  I’m not sure to whom I would recommend it, as I think it would be a hard read for anyone, and worse if you had actually endured this type of relationship.  Perhaps it could serve as encouragement for people to watch out for their friends and to help where possible should there be signs of abuse.
I give this book 3 stars.

You can find the author's website HERE, and she's doing a giveaway of a signed copy of this book now!

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