Friday, December 31, 2010

Softly & Tenderly by Sara Evans and Rachel Hauck

Rating: 4 stars

Softly & Tenderly is the second book in the Songbird series by Sara Evans and Rachel Hauck, which continues the story of Jade Benson.  After being happily married for two years, Jade's life begins to unravel with the discovery that her husband, Max, has a young son from a previous relationship. Facing the impending loss of her mother who is battling leukemia, Jade runs to her childhood home in Prairie City, Iowa.  While trying to overcome feelings of betrayal, anger, and grief, Jade begins to question the life that she has built.  The presence of Dustin, her first love, is both comforting and dangerous for Jade's tumultuous emotions.  By returning home Jade reaches a crossroad in her life, but which path will she take?

After reading The Sweet By and By, the prequel to this novel,  I definitely wanted to read Softly & Tenderly.  I initially thought that the sequel may focus on Willow, Jade's younger sister, but it is very fitting that the authors chose to continue Jade's story.  When reading most books, I expect the endings to tie up nicely because don't we all want to hear about the "happily ever afters"?  Just as their debut novel introduced characters with flaws and weaknesses,  Softly & Tenderly, serves as a reminder that marriages do not lead to "happily ever afters" where every issue is blissfully resolved.   Each person in a family struggles with doubt, weaknesses, anger, sorrow, and sometimes deeply guarded secrets.  Despite these hurdles, hopefully the power to unite in times of need and lean on their faith and each other, each family member will be healed by forgiveness and the power of love.

Like real-life, Jade's struggles are not resolved by the end of the book; but as a reader, I have my ideas about the direction that she might be heading.  I look forward to reading the conclusion of the Songbird series, Love Lifted Me, upon its release during the winter of 2012.

Just as a side-note, this series would make a great Hallmark or Lifetime movie and to the tune of a country song.

I received a complimentary copy of this book from BookSneeze through their book review program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions expressed above are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Happy New Releases!

With the new year, I always enjoy browsing the upcoming titles and anticipating many great stories, especially from some of my favorite authors.  As the saying goes, "you can't judge a book by looking at the cover," but it is wonderful when a favorite story also has an eye-catching design.  Over the past few years, I think that covers have grown even more appealing. It's just like when you open a beautifully wrapped present that holds a nice surprise.

I love all of Julie Klassen's novels and covers, and I can't wait to read The Girl in the Gatehouse.  Since my sister and I love the Jane Austen movies and Masterpiece Classics, Klassen's novels are always among our favorites.   The titles also look great on our bookshelves!

I love Lisa Wingate's humorous, and sometimes quirky, series of books that take place in Daily, Texas (Talk of the Town, Word Gets Around, and Never Say Never).  Larkspur Cove also takes place in Texas, but it appears to be a less light-hearted novel.  Nonetheless, I look forward to reading it soon.

Since Laurie Alice Eakes is not an author that I am familiar with, I am solely drawn to the cover and summary of this novel.  Lady in the Mist appears to be a promising read, and I look forward to its February release.

I love this cover, and last summer I became a big fan of Siri Mitchell.  After reading She Walks in Beauty and The Cubicle Next Door, my sister and I purchased all of her previously published novels.  I can't wait for the release of A Heart Most Worthy in March.

Yet another cover that intrigues me... I have not read any of Nancy Moser's previous novels, but I am looking forward to this one being the first. It looks like a movie that I would love to see!  An Unlikely Suitor will be released in March as well.  After traveling to Newport, Rhode Island and walking along the Cliff Walk a few years ago, I look forward to re-visiting it in this novel.

Although Elizabeth Camden is new to the inspirational fiction scene, the cover of The Lady of Bolton Hill peaks my interest. I am looking forward to reading this historical fiction novel, and I have high hopes that the story-line will meet my expectations.

Both The Frontiersman's Daughter and Courting Morrow Little had eye-catching covers and five-star story-lines, and I am certain that The Colonel's Lady will not be an exception.  I am a big fan of Laura Frantz, and I am especially interested to see if I notice any similarities to Margaret Hale and Mr. Thornton in the movie North and South.  Laura Frantz noted on her blog that she loved the movie as well. I can't wait until it's release in August!

I love all of Allison Pittman's novels, and I am very excited about her two releases this year.  I am eagerly anticipating the release of Lilies in Moonlight in April.  I can't wait until the sequel of For Time & Eternity is released this summer.  The plot For Time & Eternity gripped me from the first page, and the chapter excerpt at the end for its sequel Forsaking All Others left me hanging and wanting to read more right away!

These are just several of the many new novels of 2011 that have already grabbed my attention.  But wait... I haven't even finished reading a stack of books from 2010!  Having too many books that I want to read is a good problem though.  I love to curl up with a good book just before bed, and the holiday season has given me a great opportunity to read several books recently.  I am off to continue reading A Memory Between Us right now.  Did I mention that I can't wait to read the third book in Sarah Sundin's Wings of Glory series too...?

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

A "Capitol" Christmas

We visited Washington, D.C. a few days before Christmas, and we stopped by the Library of Congress, which is one of our favorite buildings.  The tall tree in the center of the main entrance was beautiful, but the building is simply majestic.  The mosaic tile work and the grand stairways and columns can only truly be appreciated in person.  If you ever have a chance to visit Washington, DC, the Library of Congress should not be missed!  We especially love reading the quotes around the ceiling of the main entrance.  One of our favorites is "In books lies the soul of the whole past time." 

Pictures of the Library of Congress and other holiday sights in DC are located on the "Side Trips" page.  We also loved the elaborate model train display in the U.S. Botanical Gardens Conservatory, which featured models of famous monuments throughout the world.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Our Top Ten Reads of 2010

Here are our top ten reads of 2010.  We consider them all #1 since we loved reading each of them!

Catching Moodrops, Jennifer Erin Valent
The Charlatan's Boy, Jonathan Rogers
Courting Morrow Little, Laura Frantz
Her Daughter's Dream, Francine Rivers
She Walks in Beauty, Siri Mitchell
The Silent Governess, Julie Klassen
For Time and Eternity, Allison Pittman
Under the Overpass, Mike Yankoski
While We're Far Apart, Lynn Austin
Within My Heart, Tamera Alexander

Friday, December 17, 2010

Under the Overpass by Mike Yankoski

Rating: 5 stars

We often hear the phrase, "Put yourself in my shoes," when someone is encouraging us to see a situation from another perspective.  If we are introspective, we may readily try to envision what it would be like to have the life experiences of someone that we meet.  Besides reality-based television shows, like Undercover Boss, very few individuals have the ability or the courage to put that question into action.  Especially in a society that emphasizes wealth, glamour, and gaining fifteen minutes of fame, who would want to put themselves in another's shoes by living homeless?

Mike Yankoski and his friend Sam are two individuals who make such a decision.  In 2003, Mike is a twenty-year-old upper-middle class college student who feels the call to live on the streets after hearing a sermon one Sunday with the strong message to, "Be the Christian you say you are."  Mike decides to test his faith by taking time off from college and immersing himself into the life of the homeless in America.  He wants to observe how churches respond to the needs of the homeless and how he will personally be affected as he relies on God throughout his five-month journey.

Beginning in the Denver Rescue Mission, Mike has the comfort of a cot and a three meals a day, but he begins to learn the social rules of the homeless.  Soon, Mike and Sam are immersed into life on the streets as they travel to Washington D.C. , Portland, San Francisco, Phoenix, and San Diego.  With only a Bible, guitar, sleeping bag, journal, and backpack, they panhandle and rely on the kindess of strangers for their next meal.  They experience the humiliation of digging through the garbage for food and being treated as the outcasts of society. 

Under the Overpass is a thought-provoking read that encouraged me to continue turning the pages.  I thought of my experiences when seeing homeless men and women in the city and the feelings of pity that arise and how I wonder what events may have brought them to such a point in their life.  I am also guilty of looking the other way because of fear and discomfort.  Under the Overpass challenges us to react differently because if you and I were stripped of all of our comforts we would be the same people.  As Mike and Sam experienced, even churches can forget their ultimate mission.  I highly recommend Under the Overpass as a compelling book that will invite reflection, the opportunity for discussion, and the desire to take action.

I received a complimentary copy of this book from WaterBrook Press through their book review program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions expressed above are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Hidden by Shelley Shepard Gray

Rating: 3 stars

Despite the saturation of Amish stories in the Christian fiction market, I have read very few of these types of stories. I love historical fiction, and I am fascinated with the Amish lifestyle, but I suppose the few Amish novels that I have read in the past have been a bit too melodramatic for my taste.

Recently, I was drawn to the cover of Hidden as I was browsing the new titles acquired by my local library.  I was interested in the idea of a modern young woman being accepted by an Amish family as she hides from an abusive boyfriend.

In Hidden, Anna Metzger flees her abusive boyfriend, Rob Peterson, who is running for political office and holds influential power in the community.  Fearing for her safety, Anna arrives at the Amish Brenneman Bed and Breakfast, and seeks a place of refuge with Katie Brenneman, a childhood friend, and her family. Katie's parents welcome her into their home; and although Katie's brother, Henry is initially angered by the possible danger in which she may be placing their family, his heart softens as well.  As time passes, Anna's parents and Rob continue to search for her, but she begins to feel at home with the Brennemans.  Anna knows that she needs to contact her parents to let them know she is safe.  Will Rob find her?  Will  Henry and Anna acknowledge their new feelings for each other?

Because Gray shares the story from multiple characters' perspectives, including Rob's, I continued to turn the pages because of the presence of impending danger.  As a reader, I was worried about Anna's safety; but just as the events reached their climax, they seemed to be resolved too easily.  I felt that there were certain details that were left unattended, and the range of emotions that Anna should have experienced were not as well-developed as they could have been.  Given the abusive relationship from which she fled, she did not seem to have many emotional scars that would hinder her relationship with Henry, besides the fact that they had very different lifestyles.  While the general story line holds promise, the overall execution of the plot falls short.  At 202 pages, it is actually a novella; so perhaps another 50 pages would have better served the story.

Henry's and Anna's story continues in the second book of this series, WantedWanted focuses on Anna's friend Katie.  Despite my disappointment, I am willing to give the rest of the series a chance.  Maybe Anna's story will be further developed.  At the very least, I expect a light read that will serve as a good "winding down" story at bedtime.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Her Daughter's Dream by Francine Rivers

Rating: 5 stars

Her Daughter's Dream is another masterpiece from the pen of Francine Rivers.  I was impressed and moved by Her Mother's Hope, but I was even more touched and inspired by the gripping sequel. The dust jacket of Her Daughter's Dream appropriately describes the epic saga of four generations of mother-daughter relationships as a "rich and deeply moving story about the silent sorrows that can tear a family apart and the grace and forgiveness that can heal even the deepest wounds." 

The novel focuses on Hildemara Rose, her daugher, Carolyn, and her granddaughter, May Flower Dawn.  Each woman has secrets and regrets which create tenuous relationships with her mother.  Rivers offers a comprehensive glimpse into the lives of each woman, thus allowing the reader to fully understand the factors that drive mother and daughter apart and ultimately bring them together.

I was immediately engrossed in Her Daughter's Dream, and remained so until the last page. There are extremely sad moments and very joyous moments in this novel.  I mourned for each woman's loss, empathized with her struggles, and cheered for her triumphs.  Although the novel spans several decades, it is clear, easy to follow, and moves at a steady pace.  I imagine that such a feat is difficult to achieve, but Francine Rivers has once again produced an incomparable novel. Like Rivers's other works, Her Daughter's Dream is concrete evidence of her  
unique ability to create plots and characters that will leave a long-lasting impression on readers.  I have learned lessons from each of Francine Rivers's novels, and her latest novel is no exception.  Needless to say, I highly and whole-heartedly recommend this novel!

Two Tickets to the Christmas Ball by Donita K. Paul

Rating: 3 stars

Two Tickets to the Christmas Ball is a whimsical novella which blends Christian fiction with Cinderella and Harry Potter elements.  The premise of the novel is unique for adult fiction, complete with touches of magic, a disappearing street, a costume ball, and wizards.  Two co-workers, Cara and Simon, visit an unusual bookstore run by quirky men with equally quirky names.  Along with their purchases, Cara and Simon receive two tickets to an elusive Wizard’s Christmas Ball, unaware that they are the latest project for a group of matchmakers.  Preparations for the Christmas ball lure Cara and Simon back to the quaint, but relatively unheard of, Sage Street.  As they spend time together outside of the office, Cara and Simon discover an unexpected friendship and a chance at love, but will they accept the gift? 

This novella is enjoyable and appropriate for the Christmas season, but I felt very little connection to the characters, and I was not gripped by the plot.  In many ways, the novella reminds me of many of the Christmas themed made-for-tv movies that are so popular during the holidays.  While they are enjoyable to watch, they often lack compelling plots and do not present fully developed characters.  I felt much the same after reading Two Tickets to the Christmas Ball.  The relationship developed quite quickly between Cara and Simon, with each considering a serious relationship early in the novella.  Although their relationship was not solely based on physical attraction, I did not feel that their feelings were completely developed.  The plot skimmed the surface of more serious topics, such as Cara’s tumultuous family and her strained relationship with her family members.  On the other hand, I felt that the flow of the novella was hindered by minor details and descriptions in several instances. Although details help to set the scene, I would have enjoyed a closer look at the main characters and topics that could have added an extra measure of depth. 

My favorite moments in the plot occurred on the quaint and charming Sage Street.  I love the cover art for this novel and feel that the photo, which depicts Quebec City, sets the perfect scene for Sage Street.  Equally engaging are the supporting characters and resident matchmakers that operate the unique shops that Simon and Cara visit.  Each character and their names add a unique flair to the novella. 

For anyone looking for a quick and light read this Christmas, Two Tickets to the Christmas Ball, may be the perfect ticket to escaping a busy and hectic holiday schedule.

I received a complimentary copy of this book from WaterBrook Press through their book review program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions expressed above are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Within My Heart by Tamera Alexander

Rating: 4 stars

Within My Heart is the emotional conclusion to Tamera Alexander's Timber Ridge Reflections trilogy.  The spotlight of this novel is on Rachel Boyd, a stubborn and guarded widow, who is raising two young sons and struggling to maintain her ranch. As Rachel's feelings develop for the town doctor, Rand Brookston, she must also confront matters of the heart.  Both Rachel and Rand are scarred by past tragedies, but the health problems of a beloved townsman teach them valuable lessons about life, love, and faith.

Tamera Alexander is a masterful story-teller with the ability to create multi-faceted novels with developed plots, realistic characters, stunning scenery, and interesting historical detail. Within My Heart is yet another example of Alexander’s talent as an author.  Both the main and sub plots of this novel focus on the strong emotions of grief and fear.  As a result, Within My Heart strikes a sadder note than its two predecessors, but the overall message is hopeful.

After reading the other two novels in the series, I was glad to have the opportunity to hear Rachel’s story.  Rachel is a very stubborn woman, and one of the most stubborn characters that I have met in my recent readings.  At times, I was a bit frustrated by Rachel’s sensitivity, especially when she found herself annoyed by Rand’s unintentional poor choices of words.  Because her character is fully developed, it is easy for the reader to understand Rachel’s personality, and ultimately empathize with her struggles.

Overall, I enjoyed From a Distance and Beyond This Moment a bit more than Within My Heart.  The final installment in the Timber Ridge Reflections series is still a worthy read, as are all of Tamera Alexander’s novels.  Many novels that present such emotional subject matter as loss and grief are often melodramatic.  Alexander covers these topics without the melodrama.  The result is a well-crafted and touching novel that will long remain within readers’ hearts.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

It's the Season to be Thankful...

Yesterday, while visiting a new local library, I realized how thankful I am for our public libraries.  I am fortunate enough to work near a large library, so I have the opportunity to spend my lunch break browsing for new reads and DVDs.  Libraries allow us to expand our reading horizons and our minds.  It's always free to check-out any book our hearts desire, even if it is out of our norm. Last year, my reading list showed much more diversity than previous years, thanks to my wonderful local library. 

The libraries that I frequent near my home and work are relatively new and offer a wide variety of services and technologies to improve the library experience.  I enjoy such features as self check-out and drive-thru windows; but I also enjoy the history, and in some cases, grandeur of older libraries. Because we are bookworms, my sister and I like to visit local, historic libraries on vacation.  In the past year, we visited two libraries, which are particularly striking: The New York Public Library in New York City and The Morrin Centre in Quebec City (Click here or visit the Side Trips page for photos).  These two libraries are vastly different in terms of scale and style, but they both convey a sense of history and knowledge. The New York Public Library is defined by awe-inspiring classical architecture from its lobby with marble columns, to its hall and ceilings with murals and gilded moldings, to its reading rooms with handsome wood circulation desks and shelves.

In contrast, the Morrin Centre, which is housed in a small section of a former 19th century jail, is charming and intimate.  Despite its small scale, The Morrin Centre is hugely impressive, especially considering that its furnishings date to the 19th century when Charles Dickens was a guest speaker.  Nothing connects you to history more than sitting in an old wooden chair at an antique leather topped-desk.

Public libraries are truly a central part of our local communities. They are institutions that are dedicated to the literacy and education of past, present, and future generations.  These two ramblings readers are thankful for all of the services provided by our local libraries!

~ M

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

The Charlatan's Boy by Jonathan Rogers

Rating: 5 stars

Ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls, gather 'round for the adventures of The Charlatan's Boy, as told by Jonathan Rogers.  Prepared to by amazed...prepare to be enthralled. 

The plot of The Charlatan's Boy is fun, quirky, clever, and surprisingly heart-warming. Rogers tells the story of Grady, an orphan boy living with a dishonest, traveling huckster named Floyd.  Beneath the layers of a fantastical storyline, lies Grady's endearing tale of self-discovery and his search for unconditional love. As Floyd and Grady travel from village to village, constantly reinventing their traveling show, Grady is plagued with questions about who he is and where he belongs.  His adventures with Floyd take Grady to places he never imagined while revealing answers he never expected to find.

I highly recommend The Charlatan's Boy to young adult and adult readers.  For anyone looking to expand one's reading horizons, this is a wonderful addition to a reading list.  I generally prefer reading historical fiction novels, but I was engrossed in The Charlatan's Boy from beginning to end.  Jonathan Rogers' writing style is unlike any other author with whom I am familiar.  From the cover design, to the chapter titles, to the plot and narration, this novel is a total package of creativity.  Rogers captures an authentic southern voice in both the conversation and narration, which is a refreshing trait.  His words paint such vivid pictures of the island of Corenwald and its colorful inhabitants that fantasy becomes reality. Grady's tale will continue in Fall 2011, and I will definitely be in the crowd gathering to read the extraordinary tale of The Charlatan's Boy.

I received a complimentary copy of this book from WaterBrook Press through their book review program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions expressed above are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

Monday, November 15, 2010

Amy Inspired by Bethany Pierce

Rating: 4 stars

Amy Inspired tells the fictional story of aspiring writer, Amy Gallagher, but it is a journey of self-revelation and inspiration for both Amy and the reader.  Told in first-person, the reader experiences Amy's emotions as she approaches thirty, works as an adjunct faculty member in a college English department, and faces rejections from publishers.  With a brother planning his upcoming marriage and a friend anticipating the birth of her first child, Amy feels anything but inspired.  In fact, she begins to question her ideals and faith.  When Zoe, her quirky roommate and aspiring writer, invites a friend to stay at their apartment on a "temporary" basis, Amy meets Eli.  Despite their differences, Amy finds herself drawn to Eli, and she struggles to maintain only a friendship with him.  During the months that follow his arrival,  Amy, Zoe, and Eli cope with the relationships and family events that continue to shape their lives.  Through these obstacles, Amy questions herself and God, while seeking wisdom, direction, and inspiration in her life.

As I read Amy Inspired, I was impressed by the story's depth and opportunities for discussion.   The discussion questions at the conclusion of the book offer insightful questions that can be applied to each of our lives.  Because this story is told in first person by an aspiring writer, I am also amazed by the novel's many layers.  Like Amy, I feel that the author's own experiences play a significant role in the story.  As a reader, we see into Amy's soul, but also a bit of Pierce's.  Since Pierce is a young author who worked as an instructor at a university, perhaps Amy Inspired is a bit autobiographical as well.  It appears to be a masterfully told story within a story, in which we can peel away its rich layers.  Ultimately,  Amy Inspired has the ability to inspire its readers. 

While reading Amy Inspired, I found that I could relate to Amy's doubts and struggles.  The novel is not a light read that allows the reader to escape reality.  Instead, it encouraged me to apply some of Amy's lessons to my own life.  The ability to inspire is one sign of a true work of art, and Amy Inspired possesses that trait.

I received a complimentary copy of this book from Bethany House Publishers through their book review program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions expressed above are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Hatteras Girl by Alice J. Wisler

Rating: 4 stars

I've just returned from a vacation in Hatteras.  Not in reality, but I was transported to the Outer Banks while reading Alice J. Wisler's most recent book, Hatteras Girl.   Hatteras Girl contains elements of a light, relaxed read, with enough conflict to give the novel substance. The novel tells the story of Jackie Donovan, a "Hatteras girl" and newspaper reporter looking for love and attempting to accomplish her long-time dream of re-opening the Bailey House Bed and Breakfast.  As Jackie's dreams become real-life possibilities, she faces challenges and opportunities that she never imagined, and learns that God's plan is not always the same as one's own plans.

Hatteras Girl is a very enjoyable read from a fresh perspective.  Wisler's use of first person, present tense allows the reader to connect to the emotions and experiences of the main character, Jackie.  The supporting characters are equally well-crafted, especially Jackie's roommate, Minnie, and her precocious son, Zane.  Wisler's descriptions bring the small communities of North Carolina's Outer Banks to life, capturing the charm and beauty which draw so many visitors to the coast each year.

In each of Wisler's novels, I have found elements to which I can relate. Like Jackie, I entertain the dream of restoring an old home and opening a bed and breakfast.  As a child, I often vacationed in Nags Head with my family.  I recently "reconnected" with the Outer Banks on a trip to Corolla (See photos in the Side Trips page).  Reading Hatteras Girl evoked my vacation memories and helped me to envision the setting of the novel.  I often find relatability lacking in modern novels, but this has not been the case with Wisler's books.  After reading Hatteras Girl and How Sweet It Is, I am quickly becoming of fan of Alice J. Wisler, and highly recommend her work.

I received a complimentary copy of this book from Bethany House Publishers through their book review program.  I was not required to write a positive review.  The opinions expressed above are my own.  I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.” <>

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

The American Patriot's Almanac by William J. Bennett and John T.E. Cribb

 Rating: 5 stars

The American Patriot's Almanac is a treasure trove of interesting facts and stories relating to America's past and present.  Ranging from government-related topics to pop culture, this book contains subjects to interest a wide range of readers.  Like the United States, this book is comprised of many unique pieces that blend to make a unique whole.  William Bennett and John Cribbs capture the essence of the country and the spirit that is uniquely American. 

The American Patriot's Almanac is a beautifully designed hardcover book, reminiscent of an antique book with gilded lettering on the spine and rough-cut pages.  The almanac is designed for daily reading, and the structure is easy to follow.  Each chapter is a month, and a page is devoted to each date of the month, with a detailed description of an important or interesting event in American history that occurred on that particular date as well as a list of other events.  Several pages at the end of each month or chapter delves into a variety of other topics.  For example, the end of March discusses the "Fifty All-American Movies," while August ends with The Constitution and The Bill of Rights.

I highly recommend The American Patriot's Almanac to readers who enjoy history or who are interested in learning American history.  Although I generally read fiction novels, I have enjoyed perusing this almanac.  I will not read this book straight through, but I am sure that I will reference and read it in the future.  The selections that I have read have been informative and enlightening.  It is refreshing to learn new things about America or to be reminded of certain events that shaped the country.  This is definitely a book I will keep on my bookshelf for many years!

I received this book free from the publisher through the <> book review bloggers program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 <> :
“Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Courting Morrow Little by Laura Frantz

Rating: 4.5 stars

Courting Morrow Little is a another entrancing read from the pen of Laura Frantz.  The Frontiersman Daughter was a captivating debut novel, which made me an instant Laura Frantz fan.  Frantz's second novel, Courting Morrow Little, is defined by the same elements which made The Frontiersman Daughter one of my favorite novels last year: interesting and developed characters, vivid descriptions, an unpredictable plot, and a well-balanced blend of fiction and historical facts.

Frantz's love of Kentucky and its history is evident in the detailed depictions of the undeveloped and untamed wilderness, its inhabitants, and the forts and Indian settlements that dotted the landscape.  I enjoyed reading Courting Morrow Little and felt as though I were transported through the wild and dangerous frontier.  There were a few instances when I felt the plot slowed, but it would soon surprise me with an unexpected twist.  About 60 pages from the end of the novel, I found myself wondering what else could happen.  I feared that the end of the book was going to drag on in uneventful detail.  Fortunately, I was wrong and soon became engrossed in yet another adventurous twist that yielded a satisfying conclusion to the novel.

Courting Morrow Little follows the life of Morrow Little upon her return to the Kentucky wilderness after spending two years in the civilized city of Philadelphia.  As she settles into Kentucky life with her now ailing father, Morrow must face her past heartache as memories surface of the violence her family suffered years earlier by the hands of Shawnee warriors. To complicate matters, Morrow's return instantly attracts attention from several potential suitors, including a half-blood Indian.  With her heart drawing her nearer to a Shawnee warrior, Morrow must search her heart for forgiveness.  But how can she love, much less marry, a man from the same tribe who permanently scarred her family, and where will such a love lead?  Morrow's journey is one worth reading, and I highly recommend this book as well as The Frontiersman's Daughter.  I cannot wait for Laura Frantz's next novel, especially since she is taking inspiration from one of the characters from my favorite movie North & South (based on Elizabeth Gaskell's novel).   ~M

Sunday, October 31, 2010

How Sweet It Is by Alice J. Wisler

Rating: 4 stars

How Sweet It Is is the first book that I’ve read by Alice J. Wisler.  I admit that I did not have high expectations for this novel.  Based on the back-cover synopsis, I expected this to be light-hearted, perhaps "cheesy" read that lacked depth.  To my surprise, the storyline was fresh and meaningful, with dashes of flavor that are unique to Wisler.  The story is told in first person by Deena Livingston, a young woman who moves into her deceased grandfather's remote cabin in North Carolina, following a devastating car wreck and a broken engagement.  Deena's life has diverged onto a path that she has not chosen and she must attempt to find happiness and healing in her new home.  Living in her grandfather's home and following his instructions to teach cooking to a group of troubled middle school students, Deena learns life-changing lessons about love, forgiveness, happiness, and healing. 

How Sweet It Is inspired me in a couple of ways.  The novel is infused with cooking ideas and recipes as Deena teaches her students to cook and experiments in her own kitchen.  Although I am not a cook, I decided to try out the "homemade" tortilla chips referred to in the novel.  (Cut a flour tortilla into triangles and bake for 15 minutes at 375 degrees.  Deena coated hers in olive oil and sprinkled the pieces with garlic salt, but for dessert, you can coat them in butter, cinnamon and sugar).   A few recipes are also included in the back of the book, which is a fun addition to the novel.

More important than cooking-related inspirations, I was moved by the novel's message of finding happiness in life even when it takes an unexpected path.  Although I have not gone through an experience as tragic as Deena's, I am struggling with an unchosen job change.  Like Deena, I find myself longing for my former life.  (In my case: my former job, office, and co-workers.)  Reading Deena's story has inspired me to search for happiness in my new circumstances.  Although it may take time to adjust to life's new flavors, we must trust that the end result will be a delicious new recipe with its own unique tastes that are worth experiencing. 

How Sweet It Is opens with this quote by Helen Keller, which I find particularly poignant:
When one door of happiness closes, another opens; but often we look so long at the closed door that we do not see the one which has been opened for us.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Catching Moondrops by Jennifer Erin Valent

Rating: 5 stars

After reading Fireflies in December and Cottonwood Whispers several months ago, I anxiously awaited the release of Catching Moondrops.  The latest installment in the series does not disappoint.  At 19, Jessilyn Lassiter is still the spunky and determined heroine.  She is determined to win Luke Talley's heart once and for all and begins to see signs of success.  Meanwhile, racial tensions escalate in Calloway, with the arrival of a young black doctor, Tal Pritchett.  Love blossoms between Tal and Jessilyn's friend Gemma, but the beauty of new and true love is threatened by hatred as the Klan once again violently makes its presence known.  Jessilyn, her family, and friends find themselves fighting for morality and equality in the face of deadly threats.  As Jessilyn witnesses the evil actions of the Klan, the seed of hatred and bitterness that was planted in her heart several year prior grows into a poisonous vine that seems destined to destroy her life and her relationships.

Like the other novels in this trilogy, Catching Moondrops completely captivated me and whisked me away to Calloway, Virginia in 1938.  The southern dialogue is engaging and refreshing and the characters are developed and well-crafted.  I have been captivated by Jessilyn's love for Luke since Fireflies in December, and this novel provided the perfect conclusion to their story.   Catching Moondrops is not just a love story; it is also a drama, which examines the racial tensions and hatred that sadly defined the south in the early 1900s.  Valent touches the sensitive subjects of discrimination, cruelty, and hatred in each of her novels, which make them especially thought-provoking and meaningful. Each novel delivers a satisfying blend of love, drama, and several comical moments.  As a testament to the quality of Jennifer Erin Valent's novels, they have even engaged a non-reader in my family, which has always been a difficult task indeed.  I highly recommend all three novels to readers!  ~ M

Sunday, October 10, 2010

June Bug by Chris Fabry

Rating: 5 stars

June Bug is a poignant novel of survival, sacrifice, family and love.  June Bug is a spunky, but mature 9-year-old traveling around the United States with her father in an old RV.  At least, she believes the man she has been living with for the past seven years is her father.  When she sees her face on a missing child poster in Wal-Mart, June Bug's life veers down an uncharted road.  As June Bug seeks the truth from her father, John, he is forced to confront memories of a painful past.  Meanwhile, June Bug's biological grandparents in West Virignia are struggling to uncover the truth about their beloved granddaughter's disappearance while dealing with the painful questions of their daughter's involvement.  Chris Fabry's vivid story-telling will keep readers turning the pages as the truth unfolds and the characters' lives irrevocably change.

June Bug captivated me from the first page.  Chris Fabry masterfully tells the story from several perspectives of the individuals impacted by June Bug's disappearance: June Bug, John, the grandparents, and the police officer heading the investigation.  Each perspective is equally moving, but June Bug's voice is especially compelling.  I was anxious to discover the truth about June Bug's life and how she came to live with her father, John.  The ending, though bittersweet was not a disappointment.  I would love to read a sequel to the novel that picks up several years later because I wonder what life holds for each character further down the road. This novel is one of those rare thought-provoking gems that I find myself thinking about even a couple of days after finishing it.  June Bug is the first book I have read by Chris Fabry, and I am anxious to read his other novels.

The Sweet By and By by Sara Evans and Rachel Hauck

Rating: 4.5 stars

As a fan of country star, Sara Evan's music and Rachel Hauck's novels, I was excited to discover that both women have joined forces and released an inspirational novel.  The Sweet By and By is a collaborative effort that successfully blends the emotional story lyrics present in Sara Evan's songs with the character development and humor that defines Hauck's novels.

In The Sweet By and By, Jade Fitzgerald is a young woman who is the owner of a vintage, antique shop and just weeks away from marrying Max Benson, a successful lawyer from an upper-class family.  With pasts that they both wish to forget, they agree to live in the present while embracing the future.  After Jade reluctantly sends a wedding invitation to her estranged mother, Beryl, memories from the family's past set ripples of pain and regret into motion.  These ripples soon turn into a wave of emotion that they must confront.  While the women struggle to reconcile their past, Max also faces the return of his former fiance and a secret that he wishes to keep from Jade.  Will Jade's and Max's love for one another surmount the obstacles that they face?

The Sweet By and By skillfully displays the complexities of family relationships and the power of forgiveness as individuals struggle to come to terms with their past actions and decisions.  While reading this novel, I was drawn to the unfolding story of Jade's and Beryl's tumultuous relationship.  Like this story, real-life is complex with no "perfect" endings.  Our lives are always a work in progress. 

I look forward to Sara Evan's and Rachel Hauck's upcoming novels in the Songbird series.  Hopefully,  readers will once again re-visit the lives of some of the characters in The Sweet By and By, especially Jade's younger sister, Willow.

Still House Pond by Jan Watson

Rating: 4 stars

I am often guilty of judging books by their covers, but an appealing cover design is one of the elements that draws me to a book (in addition to the plot and the author of course!).  My first impression of Still House Pond was based on two elements: the author, Jan Watson, first and the cover second.  Based on the cover design, I made the assumption that Lilly Gray Corbett was around 16 years old; so I was a bit surprised when I discovered that she was only 12.  The synopsis on the back cover of the book does allude to Lilly Gray being a child, however.  Nonetheless, I adore the cover, and I believe it captures the essence of both the title and the most pivotal event in the novel.

Throughout the past few years, I have read each of Jan Watson's novels, starting with her moving and charming first novel, Troublesome Creek.  Watson crafts such realistic characters that, after reading her four novels, I feel as though I know and understand the folks that make up the fictious Kentucky communities.   I enjoyed reading Still House Pond because the novel welcomed me into the life of Copper, the star of the first three novels, through her daughter Lilly Gray.  The novel follows the life, faith, struggles, and triumphs of Copper's family and her small Kentucky hills community in 1896.  The details of the day-to-day life of the main characters is charming but interspersed with enough troubles to make the plot interesting.  There were only a few major events in the novel, but they lacked suspense, and the outcomes were somewhat predictable. 

I enjoyed the re-introduction to Copper that this novel provided; and it was interesting to be a part of her adult life as a midwife/doctor, wife, and mother of a few children.  The novel primarily focuses on Copper's family, but it also introduces Manda, Copper's hired help.  Manda faces struggles of her own  throughout the story, which eventually impact the life of Copper's family.  Manda was an interesting character, but I did not feel like I completely knew her.  I would have liked the plot to delve deeper into her character so that I could better understand her decisions. 

Overall, Still House Pond is a very well-crafted and charming novel.  Jan Watson's words paint vivid scenes and life-like characters. In many ways, Jan Watson's stories remind me of Catherine Marshall's famous novel, Christy.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

While We're Far Apart by Lynn Austin

Rating: 5 Stars

I have been anticipating the release of While We’re Far Apart for a few months and the novel lived up to my expectations.  Lynn Austin delivered yet another thought-provoking, engaging, and multi-faceted novel.  Like Austin’s earlier A Woman’s Place novel, While We’re Far Apart examines the lives of several different characters during World War II, but I found this novel to be much more engrossing and moving.   Each chapter is told from the perspective of one of the three main characters: Esther, a motherless 13-year-old child whose father enlists in the war; Penny, a sheltered young woman who takes a risk and volunteers to care for Esther and her younger brother Peter, and Mr. Mendel, a Jewish widower whose son and extended family are living in Hungary and experiencing the autocracies of the Nazis.  As the characters face inevitable life changes, they are forced to overcome fears, prejudices, and cruelty and confront secrets that they did not know existed.  Can they embrace these changes and trust God to see them through times of uncertainty and grief?

While I was reading the novel, I often found myself thinking that the plot would make an excellent movie.  The characters were realistic and well-developed and although the story was told from several different perspectives, the plot flowed seamlessly and the lives of the main characters tied together to create a moving and intricate snapshot of life during the tumultuous years of World War II.  I would have enjoyed a slightly longer epilogue to conclude the stories of the main characters since I found myself wondering about their lives a few years later.  I hesitate to call that a flaw, however; I believe that I wondered about the character’s futures because I began to care about them throughout the novel.  Only a talented author can create characters that readers truly care about.  That is why Lynn Austin remains one of my favorite authors! I highly, highly recommend this book.   ~M

Moon Over Tokyo by Siri Mitchell

Rating: 4.5 Stars

After reading Siri Mitchell's She Walks in Beauty last year, I became a big fan of her writing.  Within the last year, my sister and I have read both her historical and contemporary novels and we have enjoyed each one of them. Most recently, I read Moon Over Tokyo, a novel that follows the life of an American newspaper  reporter and inspiring writer, Allie O'Connor.  Allie is a somewhat quirky and sarcastic, but very relatable character as she struggles to embrace life in Japan.  In a "it's a small world twist" Allie meets Erik Larsen, a former high school classmate who she considered her rival.  As her friendship with Erik develops, Allie is forced to examine her prejudices, dreams, and her life in and out of Japan.

I believe that one of Mitchell's greatest strengths is her ability to describe a setting so thoroughly that readers feel as though they have been transported through time or across the world.  Moon Over Tokyo is a perfect example of that strength.  Although I have never been to Tokyo, Mitchell's descriptions and imagery allowed me to envision the scenery, the skyscrapers, the hustle and bustle of the populated city, and the serenity of the smaller seaside or mountain towns.  The one minor fault that I found with this novel is that the voice of Allie O'Connor is very similar to the voice of the main characters in Mitchell's other contemporary novels.  Despite the similar voice, the setting and the plot made this story unique.  I highly recommend this novel to my fellow readers.  It is a quick and fairly light read, but I plan to keep this book on my shelf for quite a while! ~ M

The Enclave by Karen Hancock

Rating: 4 stars
While browsing through the book section of a discount store, The Enclave caught my eye. The front cover and the synopsis suggested that this novel would be a suspenseful read, with a touch of science fiction.  As an avid reader of historical fiction, I was not convinced that I would enjoy this novel.  But…unable to resist a bargain, I decided to give it a try; and I am glad that I did!

Karen Hancock delivers an imaginative and mysterious story that delves into the world of genetic science.  When Lacey McHenry begins working at the Kendall-Jakes Longevity Institute, she is unaware that she will face unfathomable dangers to her life by a mysterious intruder and the scientists who she esteems.  Cameron Reinhardt is an absent-minded scientist who is ridiculed for his Christian beliefs.  As he uncovers the Institute’s secrets, Cameron is forced to face painful and terrifying secrets from his past.

Meanwhile, life exists in an underground community, The Enclave.  Protected by an intimidating group of “Enforcers,” the Enclave’s inhabitants are virtual prisoners in a secret world, held captive by the lies generated by a mysterious leader.  Will the inhabitants who seek the truth find their way above ground and into the light?

A few of the science fiction elements and the imagery of genetic mutations were a bit unsettling for me, but the story was exciting, and well-written with well-developed characters.  The mystery surrounding the Longevity Institute and the Enclave kept me engrossed, and the conclusion was action-packed and satisfying. Although this is not a book that will read again, I highly recommend it to other readers, especially those who enjoy suspense and science fiction.   ~M

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Movie Review

We just watched Flywheel, a movie that a co-worker recommended.  View our review on the Movie Review page!    ~M

Sunday, September 12, 2010

The Tale of Another Reader...

Unlike my sister, I have been a bookworm since a young age.  As a very young child, I asked my mother to read Mother Goose Nursery Rhymes until I memorized many of them. Throughout elementary school, I eagerly awaited the next Scholastic book order, and I loved the Babysitters Club and Sweet Valley Twins series.  Reading was my reward after completing my school work.   

Today, visiting the library and bookstore or browsing books online is something that I cannot resist.  Finding a new book and anticipating the twists and turns in the plots is exciting.  Reading continues to be a way that I can reward myself after a long day at work.  Since my sister has become such an avid reader, we can discuss the books that we read and analyze their plots.  I have to admit, in terms of the number of books read, she is now more of a bookworm than me! 

Until recently, I have never endeavored to count or create a journal about the number of books that I have read.  After all, reading is not about quantity, but enjoyment.  My sister is able to combine both by setting personal goals, enjoying the books that she reads, and then being proud of reaching her goals.  I am proud that she has reached her personal goals as well; so she did influence me to set a personal goal recently.  Summer is my down-time, and I hoped to read at least 20 books.  A few weeks ago, I met my goal, but I do not anticipate being able to continue at the same rate.  Presently, work consumes most of my weekdays.  And, I can't forget to point out that this blog will have an impact on my reading time as well.  We have both committed to this endeavor; so we will see where it leads...

Saturday, September 11, 2010

The Tale of One Reader...

Several years ago, I was not a bookworm.  Today, thanks to my sister, I am; and I cannot imagine what I did before I rediscovered the joy of a good book.  Books are my stress-relievers and companions.  I enjoyed reading as a child, and I especially loved reading books like the Boxcar Children with my mother before bed.  Sometime after elementary school, I drifted away from reading and did not return to my old hobby until college.  After my lifelong bookworm sister persistently asked me to start reading I again, I finally relented and read Hope by Lori Copeland.  I was immediately pulled into the light-hearted, adventurous novel with a spunky heroine.  Gradually, my inner bookworm began to re-emerge.

My daily reading regimen is to read for a few hours each day.  Since I work full-time, my reading time is limited to my lunch hour and my wind-down time before bed.  In 2008, I decided to track the number of books I read in a year.  I set my goal at 50 books and began tracking my progress in July 2008.  By July 2009, I read a total of 55 books, primarily Christian/Inspirational fiction, along with a few classics.  During my past reading year (July 2009-July 2010), my goal was to read 60 books and expand my selection of books to include other genres.  My latter goal led me to begin reading the Harry Potter series, which I did not expect to enjoy.  I am now an avid Harry Potter fan! To my surprise, I read a total of 71 books last year.  I am sure that other readers exceed my total, but I definitely feel a sense of accomplishment that I exceeded my personal goal!

My new goal for my current reading year is to read 70 books and write reviews for many of the books, thus the creation of this blog.  This blog is not solely my own, however; it is a joint endeavor with my fellow bookworm/sister.  Together, we are diving into to blog-pool to post book reviews and ramble about a few other topics.   A year of blogging begins now...


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