Friday, May 31, 2013

A Most Peculiar Circumstance - by Jen Turano

A Most Peculiar Circumstance is a sequel to A Change of Fortune, the second in the Ladies of Distinction series, picking up with the rescue of Hamilton Beckett's wandering, adventurous sister, Arabella Beckett, who has found herself in jail after taking a detour from her speaking engagements to save a stranger's daughter from being sold into prostitution.  Predictably, the people she encounters during the rescue do not take kindly to their merchandise being stolen, nor to being shot by a woman, and so danger continues to follow her home.  Theodore Wilder, the private investigator sent to find Miss Beckett, finds himself in the position of continuing to protect this woman who both intrigues and enrages him.  While Arabella's eyes are being opened to the discord between her privileged, rich, life and the lives of the women she has encountered during her latest escapades, she has to search within herself to see whether she's trying to serve others or serve herself and her own causes.

I was very excited to read this book, since I loved Ms. Turano's first novel, and I wasn't disappointed.  Her characters are strong, deep, and humorous.  I absolutely loved the friendships that developed between Arabella, her sister-in-law Eliza (from Book 1), and Agatha (also from Book 1), and the addition of Theodore's sister Katherine.  They were funny and strong, yet never too independent to seek guidance from God, or to accept help from others.  Arabella was able to promote the cause of women's right to vote, yet  realize that she may have not been altogether altruistic.  She says "I've been so smug in my belief that God specifically chose me to change the lives of women, when in actuality it seems I'm the one whose life needs to change."  And change she does.  I love watching her growth through the book, even through her "peculiar circumstance[s]."

This book was also really well tied to the first novel, with a brief yet effective synopsis delivered via other characters filling in Arabella on what she missed while she was traveling.  I'm especially excited now to read book 3, looking forward to more of this writing style and continuing to enjoy the characters I've already come to love.

I give this book 4 stars.  Ms. Turano is quickly becoming one of my favorite authors, and I look forward to reading more of her work.

You can find the author's website HERE.

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

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Perfecting Kate - by Tamara Leigh

Kate Meadows may not be living the "perfect" life, but she has always been fairly confident with who she is.  Even though she struggles with her frequently renewed vow of "Thou shalt embrace singledom and be unbelievably, inconceivably happy," she continues to search for "the One."  When she and her fashionable housemate, Maia, are approached to be part of a roommate makeover article, she gives in, and finds herself enjoying not only the attention from the makeup artist, Michael Palmier, but also the attention she gets from the makeover.  However, as Michael continues to suggest additional things she should fix, and her client Dr. Clive Alexander continues to express doubt over her "improvements," she starts to wonder whether there's something deeper she needs to work on perfecting.

This book started out rough for me.  The character's description of herself as "twenty-nine years young (and holding, five foot seven (on tiptoe), 110 pounds (wrung out)...." felt so unrealistic that it immediately turned me off to the story.  (Seriously, 5'7" and 110 pounds would put her BMI at 17.2 - Underweight).  She later admits that those measurements were a stretch, and she's more like 5'3" and 125 pounds, much more realistic, and still healthy.  But the damage of her initial self-assessment was already done for me.  I couldn't get past her, and by extension the author's view of what constitutes beauty.  Kate does eventually realize that no matter what she does to change her appearance, that it can't change her heart, and she takes on a different project "Perfect Faith," which helps elevate the book to where I at least managed to finish it.

I give this book 2 stars.  I liked Kate, and wanted her to like herself - without all the crazy surgeries and cosmetic changes.  There's nothing wrong with wanting to be healthy, and pushing herself to exercise was a noble goal, but I couldn't get on board with the overall focus of the book on unrealistic outward appearances.

Please consider rating my review (NOT the same as rating the book!)

You can find Perfecting Kate HERE.
You can find the Tamara Leigh's website HERE.

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

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Not by Sight - by Kathy Herman

Five years ago, Micah Cummings and his daughter Riley Jo disappeared without a trace, and leaving behind only questions.  Had Micah chosen Riley Jo over his other sons and daughter to run away with and start a new life?  Had they gotten lost in the woods that Micah knew like the back of his hands?  Or had something darker and more sinister happened to them?  The biggest question, of course, is: are they alive or not?  Abby, Riley Jo's now 16-year-old sister, holds onto faith that they are still alive.  She tells her family she has seen a little girl who looks just like Riley Jo would now, but her mother and older brother refuse to give in to the hope that Abby tries to bring them, writing it off just like the other times Abby has thought she saw her sister.  However, Abby won't let this one go, and when she begins to receive threatening phone calls telling her to stop looking for the girl, she feels the need to figure out what's going on, because even if this little girl isn't her sister, she may still be in danger.

The fears and what ifs in this book felt very real - what would I do if somebody I loved disappeared without reason?  Would I hold on to hope, contrary to what everyone around me was telling me?  Would I see their faces everywhere I turned?  It was so easy to see the story from both sides - Abby holding onto faith that God would bring her father and little sister back to her alive, and Kate - so afraid to hope, yet unable to truly grieve after so much time without answers.  Abby's journey of faith, as she encourages her little brother Jesse to believe, was captured so completely in her explanation to Jesse of why she loves the story of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego: "I love that story too.  What's also amazing is that they told the king they would trust God even if He didn't save them.  I'd love to have that kind of faith.  I don't yet."  The Christians in this book had to deal with real-world struggles - could they continue to believe even if it felt like God wasn't answering their prayers?

I give this book 3.5 stars.  It was well-written, and I could feel the characters' fears, hopes, and struggles.  It's the first in a series, and I look forward to following along with this family!

You can find Not by Sight 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.

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

An Open Heart - by Harry Kraus, M.D.

Jace Rawlings has made a good life for himself in the United States as a cardiac surgeon, far away from his childhood as an MK - missionary kid - in Africa, and far from the God of his childhood.  And yet, due to extreme circumstances where Jace almost dies and believes his dead sister calls him to return to the place from their past, he doesn't hesitate.  Believing he's been sent by his sister, and perhaps by God Himself, Jace willingly returns to Africa to start a heart surgery program.  However, no matter how called he feels, the road isn't easy, and there seems to be much more at work than just the complicated politics of Kenya.  Can Jace let go of his past, find healing, and find the God who has chosen him?

This book was fast-paced, and a compelling read.  Jace struggles with deep loss and disappointment from his past, and has to decide whether he can trust the God he feels has forsaken him.  As the twin brother of a girl who loved God with her whole heart, Jace identifies with Esau and the Bible verse that says "Jacob have I loved. Esau have I hated."  That's a powerful image for him to get over, and his struggle to feel accepted by God is honest and heartwrenching.  His childhood as a missionary kid in a boarding school for missionary kids has turned him off to "Christianese," and that also feels very real in a world where people don't want to just hear big words that don't mean anything to them.   Additionally, Jace faces a spiritual battle that is very real to the world of Kenya, and the book even discusses how missionaries don't really talk about such things in the States, because nobody would believe it here.

Overall, I give this book 3.5 stars.  I liked it, it kept my interest, but I didn't love it.
I do enjoy the author's writing, and like how, for the most part, his inclusion of medical information enhances the story without confusing the reader.

You can find An Open Heart 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.