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


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