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.”


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