Friday, January 27, 2012

Review of "Beyond Molasses Creek" by Nicole Seitz

Rating: 5 Stars
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Synopsis from Thomas Neslon: Three lives are bound by a single book . . . and the cleansing waters of Molasses Creek.

Having traveled to the ends of the earth as a flight attendant, Ally Green has finally returned to the Lowcountry to bury her father as well as the past. But Vesey Washington is still living across the creek, and theirs is a complicated relationship--he was once her best friend . . . and also part of the reason she's stayed away so long. When Ally discovers a message her father left behind asking her to quit running, it seems her past isn't through with her yet.

As Ally's wandering spirit wrestles with a deep longing to flee again, a young woman on the other side of the world escapes her life of slavery in the rock quarries of Nepal. A mysterious sketchbook leads Sunila Kunari to believe there's more to her story than she's ever been told, and she's determined to follow the truth wherever it leads her.

A deep current intertwines the lives of these three souls, and a destiny of freedom, faith, and friendship awaits them all on the banks of Molasses Creek.

Review: Beyond Molasses Creek is an intriguing novel...from the cover and title to the plot within the pages.  I am drawn to books that merge a few stories into one, but sometimes the concept is better than the execution.  Beyond Molasses Creek is one of the successes.  Nicole Seitz achieves the ideal harmony in this tightly woven novel, which takes the reader from the shores of South Carolina to rock quarries of Nepal.  Although this is a quick read, it is memorable and filled with depth and character.

When I first began reading Beyond Molasses Creek, I was surprised to discover that Ally is a 60-year-old.  I am used to younger protagonists, but in many ways Ally is still a young woman searching for her place in the world, a quality that makes her relatable. Ally's character emerges gradually with each challenge and insight into her past. Vesey shines as a devoted friend, who is as steady and content as the water of Molasses Creek. He is an example not only to Ally, but to readers as well, of finding peace, purpose, and faith despite loss and disappointment.

Sunila's story, unfolding a world a way, is very moving and thought-provoking.  Reading about slavery, child labor, and a strict caste system makes me more grateful for the freedoms that I enjoy.  Captivity and social barriers are central themes of Beyond Molasses Creek, and each character confronts them in different ways. Sunila embodies the inspiring qualities of hope and courage.  I looked forward to the glimpses into her life and watching her story weave into Ally's.  I celebrated with them as their long journeys brought them to their long sought-after destination: peace and happiness.

Beyond Molasses Creek veers more to the side of mainstream fiction than Christian fiction.  I was initially surprised at the references to beliefs in multiple gods, enlightenment, and reincarnation.  Sunila's non-Christian beliefs are realistic, given that she lived in a stone quarry in Nepal without exposure to the outside world for over 30 years.  Ally is a free-spirit, whose beliefs are as diverse as her past.  Her Christian journey is just beginning at the end of the novel, as she acknowledges that she has "crossed over" in her beliefs, but still needs to grow. The novel is a journey to freedom, truth, and the promise of a brighter future.

Beyond Molasses Creek introduced me to the work of Nicole Seitz, and I definitely plan to read more of her novels in the future.

Read an Excerpt: 

I received a complimentary copy of this book from Thomas Nelson.  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, January 22, 2012

Review of "Into the Free" by Julie Cantrell

Rating: 5 Stars
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Synopsis from David C. Cook: Young Millie Reynolds must confront the past and overcome her family’s long history of destructive choices before finding her own path to freedom.

Millie Reynolds knows firsthand the shame of family secrets. With an abusive father and a “nothing mama,” she craves a place of true belonging. Over time, the Gypsies that travel through town each spring offer acceptance. Then tragedy strikes and Millie leaves her world of poverty to join a prominent family on the other side of town. There, with the help of unlikely sources, Millie uncovers painful truths about her family’s past as she struggles to face a God she believes has abandoned her. When unconditional love is offered, Millie learns the power of forgiveness and finally discovers where she belongs.

Review: Into the Free is a southern coming-of-age tale of pain and freedom.  Julie Cantrell drew me into Millie Reynold's story from the very first page.  The depth and symbolism woven into the pages give Into the Free a literary quality unmatched by more lighthearted books. Cantrell tackles many heavy subjects in her latest novel, including death, physical and emotional abuse, and addiction.  Reading each event from Millie's perspective, makes her pain more tangible.  I truly doubt that any reader will not be impacted by the obstacles that Millie faces in her quest for freedom.

The story begins in 1936 when Millie is just 10 years old, but shouldering the burdens of an adult. Seven chapters later, it is 1942, and Millie is a teenager still battling the same scars of a turbulent childhood and facing new struggles, but also the dawn of new dreams. Cantrell creates a unique cast of gypsies, cowboys, poor farmers, and proper southern families, that all merge to create a cohesive and powerful plot.  Each group offers new experiences and insights into life, making the plot more intriguing and unpredictable. The migrating gypsies with their magnetic charm and colorful scarves add whimsy and romance.  Meanwhile, Millie finds unexpected comfort and acceptance in the rodeo, but where does she truly belong?  That question kept me turning the pages.  Millie's story is a narrative of harsh realities, but ultimate freedom and hope.  I cannot wait to read Julie Cantrell's sequel and see where Millie's journey leads.

I received a complimentary e-copy of this book from NetGalley, courtesy of David C. Cook.  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, January 16, 2012

Review of "The Accidental Bride" by Denise Hunter

Rating: 3.5 Stars
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Synopsis from Thomas Nelson:  When a wedding reenactment turns real, Shay finds she’s an accidental bride.

Shay Brandenberger is raising her daughter in Moose Creek, Montana, on her childhood ranch, nestled against the Yellowstone River. Despite the hard work, she can’t seem to keep her head above water—and now the bank is threatening to foreclose. She prays for a miracle, but the answer she receives is anything but expected.

Having agreed to play the bride in the Founders’ Day wedding reenactment, Shay is mortified to be greeted at the end of the aisle by none other than Travis McCoy, her high-school sweetheart—the man who left her high and dry for fame and fortune on the Texas rodeo circuit.

Then the unthinkable happens. Thanks to a well-meaning busybody and an absentminded preacher, the make-believe vows result in a legal marriage. But before Shay can say annulment, Travis comes up with a crazy proposal. If she refuses his offer, she may lose her home. If she accepts, she may lose her heart.

Shay isn’t sure if the recent events are God’s will or just a preacher’s blunder. Will trusting her heart to the man who once shattered it be the worst mistake of her life? Or could their marriage be the best accident that ever happened?

Review:  Denise Hunter's latest release and a follow-up to A Cowboy's Touch in her A Big Sky Romance series certainly has an attention-grabbing title.  After all, how can two people really get married accidentally?  Hunter acknowledges that these circumstances are a bit contrived and highly unlikely.  Yet, for both the author and readers it is hard to resist such a storyline because it offers the potential for further blunders and moments of tension as the consequences of such an arrangement unfold.   

Because I read A Cowboy's Touch, I was looking forward to re-visiting Moose Creek, Montana and characters from the first series.   Shay and her daughter Olivia made appearances in the first book, and I was looking forward to reading Shay's story since she was portrayed as a hard-working and loving single parent, experiencing her share of challenges.  In The  Accidental Bride, readers will continue to see that Shay is independent and strong-willed.  These character traits are born out of past experiences and hardships, which include financial insecurity, being left at the altar by her high school sweetheart, and later being deserted by her husband.   There is no doubt that she carries layers of hurt, disappointment, and betrayal beneath her guarded front.   

The one person who threatens to break through these barriers is Travis McCoy, Shay's accidental groom and the man who jilted her.  I initially thought that I would not like Travis; but because Hunter switches viewpoints, we are able to see both of their perspectives.  There is no doubt that situations in the past were not handled well, but I found myself liking Travis better than Shay, which really surprised me.  I was actually irritated by Shay and her stubborn streak, especially during the second half of the novel.  While I understand the feelings that motivated her decisions, I  grew tired of her willfulness. Finally, when there was a resolution in sight, the novel drew to a close a bit too quickly for me, considering the obstacles that were encountered throughout the story.  

Denise Hunter continues to be an author who crafts well-written, modern romances.  The Accidental Bride began on a promising note, but I just could not always sympathize with Shay.  This lack of connection to a main character caused the story to be one of my least favorites of Hunter's.  Despite this setback, I still look forward to a possible upcoming third book in A Big Sky Romance series. 

I received a complimentary e-copy of this book from NetGalley, courtesy of Thomas Nelson.  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, January 14, 2012

Review of "A Wedding Invitation" by Alice J. Wisler

Rating: 5 Stars
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Synopsis from Bethany House: It's hard to concentrate when the past keeps shoving its way into your thoughts...

After returning home from teaching in a refugee camp in the Philippines, Samantha Bravencourt enjoys her quiet life working at her mother's clothing boutique near Washington, D.C. When she receives an invitation to her friend's wedding in Winston-Salem, NC, she's excited to reconnect with her college pals.

But the wedding turns out quite differently than Sam expects. A chance encounter leads to a reunion with Carson Brylie, a fellow teacher and the man who once broke her heart, and Lien, a young Amerasian girl who desperately needs Sam and Carson's help.

But working with Carson might put Sam's tender heart at risk once again. Is she willing to forgive the past and take another chance on love?

Review: I have been looking forward to reading A Wedding Invitation for the past few months and I was not let down.  Alice Wisler has a definite talent for crafting plots that exude depth and memorability.  The title A Wedding Invitation did not prepare me for the strength or uniqueness of the novel.  In fact, I wondered why the title was chosen until I finished reading the novel.  A simple invitation seen in the beginning of story is the foundation for all of the events that follow. As I reflect on the novel, I realize that one event that seems of no consequence on the surface can generate life-changing ramifications. Once again, Wisler made me think beyond the pages of her novel.

The plot of A Wedding Invitation alternates between the East Coast if the U.S. in the early 1990s to a refugee camp in the Philippines in the late 1980s.  Sam's story is as much about her past as it is her present, and the two are smoothly integrated into one novel. Her memories of her camp students and her reintroduction to one family focus on the plight of the Vietnamese and Amerasian refugees following the Vietnam war.  This focus is eye-opening, and Wisler's compassion for the refugees who she met as a teacher like Sam shines through the pages.

Through the pages, I was transported to the dusty classrooms of the Philippines to the bustling city of Washington D.C. to the humid south in North Carolina. The characters are equally diverse, and I enjoyed them all...the main cast - Sam and her family, Carson, and Lien, and even more minimal characters like Sanjay, the owner of a neighboring business.  Sam's Aunt Dovie and Beanie are often the sources of humor and charming quirkiness, but also invaluable wisdom.  Although the novel is told from Sam's first-person perspective, the other characters were well-developed.  The story of Sam's heartbreak unfolds as she opens up to Carson, and their love gently blossoms.  Despite earlier heartache, we are left with a happy and satisfying ending.

Read an Excerpt:
A Wedding Invitation

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Review of The Merchant's Daughter by Melanie Dickerson

Rating: 4.5
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Synopsis from Zondervan: An unthinkable danger. An unexpected choice. Annabel, once the daughter of a wealthy merchant, is trapped in indentured servitude to Lord Ranulf, a recluse who is rumored to be both terrifying and beastly. Her circumstances are made even worse by the proximity of Lord Ranulf’s bailiff—a revolting man who has made unwelcome advances on Annabel in the past. Believing that life in a nunnery is the best way to escape the escalation of the bailiff’s vile behavior and to preserve the faith that sustains her, Annabel is surprised to discover a sense of security and joy in her encounters with Lord Ranulf. As Annabel struggles to confront her feelings, she is involved in a situation that could place Ranulf in grave danger. Ranulf’s future, and possibly his heart, may rest in her hands, and Annabel must decide whether to follow the plans she has cherished or the calling God has placed on her heart.

Review: Fairy tales have been in the spotlight recently, with tv shows and movies inspired by the classic stories.  Melanie Dickerson's latest novel, The Merchant's Daughter, takes its inspiration from Beauty and the Beast.  As a result, the conclusion is predictable, but the journey through the pages is pleasant.  Although The Merchant's Daughter is classified as a young adult novel, it is definitely a worthy read for adults as well.  Dickerson's writing is strong and compelling and the characters are well-developed, especially Annabel and Lord le Wyse.  The story is told from the perspectives of both main characters, which provides satisfying insight into their emotions.

Annabel is a charming heroine who encounters numerous obstacles on her quest to live a happy, righteous, and faithful life. Though she faces evil, contempt, and fear, she remains undeterred.  Her sweet and nurturing disposition is contrasted with Lord le Wyse's dark and brooding aura.  In many ways, The Merchant's Daughter reminds me of Jane Eyre. Lord le Wyse and Mr. Rochester have much in common, and both are softened by love.  The love between Annabel and Lord le Wyse slowly unfolds as the story progresses and circumstances draw them together.  Their insecurities and doubts are real and applicable to readers of any age.  The "happily ever after" ending is more rewarding after witnessing both characters wrestle with and finally admit to their feelings.  

The Merchant's Daughter is a classic tale of inward beauty outshining outward appearances, but it delves deeper to offer messages about faith, strength of character, and love.  This was my first introduction to Melanie Dickerson's work, and I definitely plan to read The Healer's Apprentice soon!

I received a complimentary e-copy of this book from NetGalley, courtesy of Zondervan.  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, January 1, 2012

Review of Love Lifted Me by Sara Evans and Rachel Hauck

Rating: 4.5 Stars
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Synopsis from Thomas Nelson: A fresh start is a gift. So is having a hand to hold.
Jade and Max share a deep love, though revelations from his past have recently shaken their marriage. And Jade is completely smitten with Max’s little son, Asa, whom she is now raising as her own. Their blended family brings her a joy she’s never known. But there is one more secret to be uncovered. One that will impact them all.
Max is doing his best to “man-up” and prove himself worthy of Jade’s devotion. As well as that of his young son. It seems like life in Whisper Hollow, Tennessee, will pick up where it left off until Max is faced with an unusual opportunity—leave his family’s law firm to coach high-school football in Texas.
Realizing a fresh start will bring healing to their marriage, Jade takes the leap of faith and moves with him and baby Asa, bidding good-bye to her beloved Blue Umbrella shop.
The new beginning in quaint Colby, Texas, is soon sullied when Max discovers the high-school program isn’t all it seemed. While Max struggles to rebuild a once glorious football team, Jade wrestles with news that could break Max’s heart . . . and change their lives forever.

Review: I have followed the winding road of Jade's story since The Sweet By and By.  Each novel in Sara Evans' and Rachel Hauck's Songbird series has been as touching and melodic as a country song.  A chorus of love, pain, healing, and faith flows through the series and into the third novel, Love Lifted Me. The conclusion of Softly and Tenderly left me with a lingering anticipation of what the plot of Love Lifted Me would hold for Jade and Max.

Throughout the course of three novels, Jade and Max have been through a multitude of hardships.  They have led imperfect lives, which makes them realistic individuals, not just characters in a book.  In the previous two stories, Max's personality annoyed me.  Love Lifted Me redeems his character and introduces a stronger and less self-centered side of Max Benson. True to the trend if the Songbird series, secrets threaten the tenuous relationship between Jade and Max.

The change in setting from Whisper Hollow, Tennessee to Colby, Texas introduces new characters and new challenges that keep the plot fresh and interesting.  There is a focus on football, which I found less engaging.  As a reader who knows very little about the game, the football scenes were ones that I skimmed. Since my first introduction to Jade, I have hoped for a happy ending to her story. Love Lifted Me is a heart-warming conclusion that flows with a steady tempo.

I received a complimentary e-copy of this book from NetGalley, courtesy of Thomas Nelson.  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.”

Read an Excerpt:


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