Sunday, April 29, 2012

Review of "The Messenger" by Siri Mitchell

Rating: 5 Stars
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Summary from Bethany House: Hannah Sunderland felt content in her embrace of the Quaker faith... until her twin brother joined the Colonial cause and ended up in jail. She longs to bring some measure of comfort to him in the squalid prison, but her faith forbids it. The Friends believe that they are not to take sides, not to take up arms. She is not allowed to visit him, even if she were able to secure a pass.

Jeremiah Jones, a Colonial spy, needs access to the jail to help rescue men important to the cause. Upon meeting Hannah, a plan begins to develop. Who would suspect a pious Quaker visiting a loved one?

But Jeremiah is unprepared for Hannah, for her determination to do right, to not lie. How can one be a spy and not lie? Hannah, in turn, is surprised by Jeremiah... for the way he forces her to confront her own beliefs, for the sensitivity and concern that he shows her despite the wounds he still carries.

In a time of war, can two unlikely heroes find the courage to act?

Review: Siri Mitchell delivers yet another beautifully written work of historical fiction in her newest release, The Messenger. This novel reminded me why Siri Mitchell is one of my favorite authors: it is rich in historical and authentic detail, the plot maintains a steady pace, and the main characters are equally developed into believable and three-dimensional individuals.  I was so engrossed in the plot by the last 100 pages of the novel that I stayed up into the wee hours of the morning to finish the last page. It was simply too good and too suspenseful to put down. Until the last couple of pages, I could not determine how the novel would end - would it be tragic or promising?  I've learned from Mitchell's other historical fiction novels not the expect perfectly tied-up happily-ever-after endings, and The Messenger is no exception.  Her realism is both refreshing and thought-provoking. 

The Messenger is told from the first-person perspective of both main characters, Hannah and Jeremiah.  They are vastly different, but united in their desire to overcome the injustices that they witness in the British occupied city of Philadelphia. By presenting the story from two perspectives, Mitchell allows the reader to delve fully into the motivations and emotions of each character.  I felt equally connected to Jeremiah and Hannah by the end of the novel.  They were both frightened of the dangerous task set before them and doubtful of their ability to succeed, but they found the strength to fight for their beliefs. Jeremiah and Hannah grow personally, spiritually, and emotionally over the course of their experiences. As a result, the love that develops between them is on a deeper and more meaningful level than one often sees in novels. 

I loved the incorporation of the Quaker faith in Hannah's daily life.  After recently traveling to Philadelphia and hearing about past and present day characters, Mitchell's descriptions gave me a deeper insight into Quaker beliefs during the Revolution. Hannah's inner battle to reconcile Quaker teachings and her personal convictions added extra depth to the plot. The combination of Quakers, unlikely spies, and the British occupation of Philadelphia make the plot of The Messenger truly unique and suspenseful.  This book will remain on my shelf for many repeat readings!

I received a complimentary copy of this book from Bethany House 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, April 22, 2012

A Visit to Pennsylvania

A few weeks ago we visited Philadelphia and some of the surrounding areas.  We had plenty of opportunities to fill our appetite for books and history.

The Schwenckfelder Library in Pennsburg, PA is not housed in an old building, but it is full of history, with Pennsylvania Dutch and German artifacts.  The library focuses on genealogy, and has shelves of old books, most of which are written in German. We were in a book lover's paradise.

Doylestown is a quaint town, and home to the Mercer Museum.  We were in awe of the concrete castle loaded with old artifacts from floor to ceiling, literally.  At times we felt like were were on the set of Jane Eyre, or some other period drama as we roamed the hallways and staircases. The Mercer Museum has a bit of everything, from old bottles to gallows. Henry Mercer amassed his collection so that future generations could appreciate and discover the past.  The museum is truly one-of-a-kind, as is his house, Fonthill.  Fonthill is another concrete castle laden with artifacts, mostly antique tiles and his own Mercer tiles. 

We also visited Philadelphia and its historical sites - Independence Hall, the Liberty Bell, Christ's Church, and Elfreth's Alley (the oldest residential street in the U.S.).  Philadelphia is a modern city with gems of history tucked among its streets. For a bird's eye view of the city, take a ride to the top of City Hall. The perspective is truly breathtaking... especially for those of us who are afraid of heights!

Schwenckfelder Library
Old Books at the Schwenckfelder Library
Old Books at the Schwenckfelder Library

Wedding Dresses at the Schwenckfelder
The Mercer Museum

Old Stagecoach at the Mercer Museum

The Mercer Museum

Recreated General Store at the Mercer Museum

Independence Hall

The Liberty Bell

Elfreth's Alley

A View to City Hall

The Philadelphia Museum of Art

Pennsylvania Hospital, founded in 1751 by Benjamin Franklin
This is the nation's first hospital and it is still in operation.

Christ's Church, where George Washington, Ben Franklin,
and John Adams attended

Christ's Church

Review of "Glamorous Illusions" by Lisa T. Bergren

Rating: 5 Stars
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Summary from David C. Cook: The first book in the Grand Tour series, Glamorous Illusions will take readers on a pilgrimage through Europe-and straight into the soul.

It's the summer of 1913 and Cora Kensington's life on the family farm has taken a dark turn. The crops are failing and worse, so is her father's health. Then a stranger comes to call and in one fateful afternoon, Cora discovers that her birth father is a copper king-a man who invites her to tour Europe with her new family. As she travels across America, then on to England and France, Cora faces the hardships as well as the privileges of assuming the family name. And though now she knows more of her true identity, she soon discovers the journey is only beginning.

Review: Glamorous Illusions is a captivating prelude to Lisa T. Bergren's newest series.  The novel's departure from the traditional settings of historical fiction is very refreshing. In a plot that takes us from Montana to Paris, France, Bergren's descriptions bring the locations alive from the relatable perspective of an average young woman. Amid the glamour of the Grand Tour, danger, romance, and family drama add levels of interest and intrigue.   

Despite difficult circumstances, Cora Kensington has the chance to embrace a lifestyle that many people can only live in their dreams. Although the plot is set in 1913, its message still rings true today.  It is easy to get caught up in dreams of the glamorous life, portrayed by the wealthy and the famous, but sometimes tarnish is revealed.  How much more obvious would the illusion of glamour become if we were give the opportunity witness a "privileged" lifestyle first-hand, like Cora?  For Cora, the Grand Tour is journey of growth and self-discovery.  Her doubts and questions are understandable; and her character is one with whom the reader can sympathize.  In addition to her struggles to claim her place in a newly discovered family and life, Cora must also contend with matters of the heart. Glamorous Illusions presents two potential but contrasting suitors.  Both have their charms, but will either win Cora's heart?   

Glamorous Illusions concludes in France, promising more European travels in the next novel. Bergren also leaves us with unanswered questions that pique our interest for the sequel.  I truly wish it was already released, but anticipation makes the wait more exciting. 

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.” 

Sunday, April 8, 2012

Review of "Wildflowers from Winter" by Katie Ganshert

Rating: 4 Stars
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Summary from Waterbrook Multnomah: Like the winter, grief has a season. Life returns with the spring.
A young architect at a prestigious Chicago firm, Bethany Quinn has built the life she dreamed of during her teen years in a trailer park.  An unexpected interruption from her estranged mother reveals that tragedy has struck in her hometown and a reluctant Bethany is called back to rural Iowa. 
Determined to pay her respects to her past while avoiding any emotional entanglements, she vows not to stay long. But the unexpected inheritance of five hundred acres of farmland and a startling turn of events in Chicago forces Bethany to come up with a new plan.
Handsome farmhand Evan Price has taken care of the Quinn farm for years.  When Bethany is left the land, Evan must fight her decisions to realize his dreams. But even as he disagrees with Bethany’s vision, Evan feels drawn to her and the pain she keeps so carefully locked away.
For Bethany, making peace with her past and the God of her childhood doesn’t seem like the path to freedom. Is letting go the only way to new life, love and a peace that she’s not even sure exists?

Review: Katie Ganshert's debut novel, Wildflowers from Winter, is a poignant tale of relationships and reconciliation.  The circumstances surrounding the plot are sad and bleak, but beauty and promise become more evident as the plot progresses.  Ganshert clearly illustrates how even during the winter seasons of our lives, something fresh and beautiful is just under the surface waiting to blossom. Each character is bound by past or present pains, losses, and fears.  Their emotions are raw and real, lending authenticity and depth to the characters.  Ganshert employs both first person and third person perspectives to convey the story.  Bethany, Robin, and Evan are main characters connected by recent losses, and the plot is presented from each of their perspectives.  Bethany's perspective alternates between third person and first person.  At first, the change felt a little odd, but ultimately allows more insight into Bethany's inner emotions.  As she experiences the present in third person, her past is relayed in first person. Her struggles with her past become understandable as Ganshert reveals the factors that created rifts in Bethany's relationships. The background makes the slow demolition of Bethany's walls more triumphant.  

Robin, who is open and loving, is Bethany's opposite in many ways.  While Bethany feels uncomfortable re-entering Robin's life, she receives an unexpected and heartfelt welcome.  Robin's story is one of loss and hope.  Although Robin is in a deep state of mourning and depression throughout most of the book, Ganshert makes it easy to sympathize and empathize with her character.  

Wildflowers from Winter is reminiscent of real-life.  The end doesn't paint a picture of suddenly perfect lives; each character still faces healing and growth.   After spending time with Bethany, Robin, and Evan during the winter season, I wanted to spend more time with them as spring returned to their lives. I enjoy reading Ganshert's future novels.  Wildflowers from Winter is a well-written debut novel with an emotional depth that makes it memorable.   

Click Here to Read an Excerpt.

I received a complimentary copy of this book from WaterBrook Multnomah 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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