Sunday, September 30, 2012

Almost Amish by Kathryn Cushman

"Cushman crafts strong characters that are easy to connect with."--Romantic Times

Julie Charlton is at the breaking point. She's overwhelmed and burned out, and in today's unrelenting society, her kids are, too. When her sister-in-law Susan, a Martha Stewart-in-training, lands the chance to participate in a reality TV series promoting simple living, and needs another family to join her, it seems like the perfect opportunity.

The location is an idyllic farm outside an Amish community in Tennessee. Julie, with her two children, joins Susan and her teenage daughter for a summer adventure. Susan needs to succeed in order to become self-sufficient after an ugly divorce, Julie needs to slow down long enough to remember what her priorities are and regain a sense of purpose and meaning. It becomes clear from the start that "living simple" is no simple matter. With the camera watching every move, Susan's drive for perfection feels a lot like what they left behind, while Julie suddenly finds herself needing to stand up for slowing down. With each new challenge, their season of "going Amish" gets more and more complicated, as each woman learns unexpected lessons about herself and her family.

Almost Amish by Kathryn Cushman was a truly enjoyable novel that went beyond being simply Amish and really delved into the importance of family, trust, and slowing down in life. At first, I had trouble getting connected to the storyline, but after the first few chapters, I was completely drawn in and did not want to put the book down. I really enjoyed the storyline and how events unfolded in this novel. There was a never a point after the beginning where I was bored or could completely predict what going to happen. The plot line was interesting and had an engaging mixture of humorous, suspenseful, saddening, and joyful situations. The tone varied nicely within the story, and the language was easy to understand yet not overly simple. The perspective from which the story was narrated was primarily Julie's, but there were a few chapters where the reader saw everything from her sister in law, Susan's, point of view. The thoughts and feelings of the children were not neglected either; these were expressed through the conversations between characters and a couple of sections of the novel that were told more from their perspectives.

The characters of this novel were realistic and engaging. I enjoyed Julie's quirks and her ability to find positives even in the weird or ugly situations. Her growth into her personality as she began to understand her worth as a person and child of God and the gifts God had given her was a beautiful and compelling change to behold. Susan was a harder character to sympathize with because of her complete lack of emotion and her bossy and controlling personality. Even so, I was able to identify with her struggles because I have many of the same personality traits and have siblings that are more like Julie. I was convicted by the realizations that Susan had about life, letting go, and surrendering to God and His will. The supporting characters, such as the children, Chris, and Gary were great characters who provided a lot of laughs, cries, and helped both Julie and Susan realize and make changes in their lives and characters.

The themes in Almost Amish were clear, convicting, and expertly woven throughout the story. Some of these themes included the importance of taking time for family, being able to say 'no', slowing down in life, surrendering control to God, taking time to understand others before passing judgment, and really listening to the needs and issues that others have. These are truly critical themes to dwell and meditate on, especially in the busy and hectic culture that we live in.

Overall, I really enjoyed Almost Amish by Kathryn Cushman, and I would highly recommend it to anyone who wants an interesting and compelling read.

I received this novel for free from Bethany House Publishers in exchange for an honest review.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Twice a Bride by Mona Hodgson

Love lost doesn’t mean love lost forever.
Can unexpected romance deliver a second chance for two deserving widows?

Full of resolve, young widow Willow Peterson decides to pursue her dreams to be an artist as she settles into a new life in the growing mountain town of Cripple Creek. When she lands a job working as a portrait painter with handsome entrepreneur and photographer Trenton Van Der Veer, the road before Willow seems to be taking a better-than-anticipated turn.

With questions tugging at several hearts in town, including the Sinclair Sisters’ beloved Miss Hattie, change is traveling down the tracks as several unexpected visitors make their way out West. Will the new arrivals threaten the deep family bonds of the Sinclair sisters and the roots of love that are just taking hold for Willow?

Filled with the resonating questions that all women face, this romance awakens hope against grief, love against loss, and dreams against life’s unexpected turns.
Twice a Bride by Mona Hodgson is the fourth novel in the Sinclair Sisters of Cripple Creek series, and this novel explores the lives of the Sinclair sisters' beloved Miss Hattie and sister-in-law Willow Peterson. The novel picked up about a year after the third novel, The Bride Wore Blue. The plot line of Twice a Bride is similar to the rest of the series and for me seemed rather predictable. There were several of unexpected events that did occur that added suspense to the story. Another positive aspect of the story was the the courage and faith that the Sinclair sisters displayed as their friends and relatives were struggling in different areas of their lives. I did enjoy seeing how the characters all worked together and helped bear one another's burdens. Overall, I was not really taken in by the storyline, and I thought that the plot did not flow well nor did the speed at which events moved in the story seem very realistic.

The characters of Twice a Bride were also hard to connect with and follow in the story. The character development seemed very limited, and I felt separated and disconnected from the characters. Even when the reader was allowed to glimpse Willow's thoughts, I had trouble sympathizing or identifying with her struggles because there was little development of her character. The man that Willow begins to fall in love with has even less character development, which works out alright because it adds to his mysterious background, but it makes it hard to experience his feelings and thoughts. While I was not pulled in my Willow's love story, Miss Hattie's love story was more of a surprise for me, and I did enjoy seeing her growth. I felt the most connection with her, and I had more background on her struggles and character from the previous novels. I wish the romance between Miss Hattie and her man (not to give it away!) had been more prolonged; I felt like that the couple had little time to understand each other and made their romance seem contrived and unrealistic.

Overall, while I enjoyed Twice a Bride as a quick, easy read, I was somewhat disappointed by the story line and the lack of development in the characters.

I received this novel for free from Waterbrook Multnomah Press in exchange for an honest review.

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Be Still My Soul by Joanne Bischof

Night’s chill tickled her skin. Lonnie pressed her hands together and glanced up. He was even more handsome up close. Having grown up the shy, awkward daughter of Joel Sawyer, she’d hardly spoken to any boy, let alone the one who had mothers whispering warnings in their daughter’s ears and fathers loading shotguns.

Pretty Lonnie Sawyer is shy and innocent, used to fading into the background within her family, and among the creeks and hollows of the Appalachian hills. Though her family is poor and her father abusive, she clings to a quiet faith. But when handsome ladies’ man and bluegrass musician Gideon O’Riley steals a kiss, that one action seals her fate.

Her father forces her into a hasty marriage with Gideon—a man she barely knows and does not love. Equally frustrated and confused by his new responsibilities, Gideon yearns for a fresh start, forcing Lonnie on an arduous journey away from her home in Rocky Knob.

Her distant groom can’t seem to surrender his rage at the injustice of the forced matrimony or give Lonnie any claim in his life. What will it take for Gideon to give up his past, embrace Lonnie’s God, and discover a hope that can heal their two fractured hearts?

Gideon only ever cared about himself. Now that Lonnie is his wife, will he ever be worthy of her heart?
Be Still My Soul by Joanne Bischof was a sweet and spellbinding novel that I really enjoyed. The plot line was interesting and had several unexpected twists that really added to the suspense of the novel. The story was intriguing and held my interest so well that I finished the novel in one sitting. The story was told in third person, but it still alternated between Gideon and Lonnie's point of views.
The characters of Be Still My Soul were definitely my favorite part of the novel. The characters had their strengths, but their flaws were clear and realistic. The couple that Gideon and Lonnie meet halfway through the novel were beautiful foils to the flaws that both Lonnie and Gideon had. The farmer, Jeremiah, was eccentric and craggy in temperament, but he was loyal and caring and taught Gideon new lessons about love and faithfulness. Jeremiah's wife helped soothe Lonnie's wounded heart and prepare her for being a loving yet confident wife. Lonnie was a sweet character who had been slightly mistreated by her father much of her life. She began to experience an expansion in her character in the novel, and she learned to trust in God and His faithfulness and peace even when Gideon was a selfish jerk. Gideon was my favorite character in the novel because of the incredible transformations that occurred in his life. I do not want to give too much away, but his growth as a man and husband were amazing to watch.
The themes in this novel were clear and convicting. Some the topic and themes the author explored included was the need for love and respect in marriage, trusting in God's love and faithfulness, a willingness to forgive, and the importance of unselfishness and turning to God for guidance.
I really enjoyed Joanne Bischof's first installment in her Cadence of Grace series, and I look forward to reading her other novels.
I received this novel for free from Waterbrook Multnomah Press in exchange for an honest review.  

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Prayers of a Stranger by Davis Bunn

Amanda is ambivalent about her husband's idea for a big family holiday up north. Last year she planned a special Christmas in their own home, carefully preparing a nursery and the keepsake ornaments for their newborn. Now that room stands as empty as her heart.

Then a neighbor's mishap turns into a last minute chance for Amanda to take a much needed vacation to tour the Holy Land.

An extraordinary turn of events allows Amanda to help answer a young mother's plea for healing. Then, filled with a sense of awe, Amanda visits the place of Jesus' birth. There she discovers anew the miracle of the Christ child.

Her return to Florida marks a momentous shift in her soul and in her marriage as she begins to realize that her journey did not end in the Holy Land. And that God does not just answer the prayers of strangers...but also those of her own heart.

Prayers of a Stranger by Davis Bunn was a sweet and captivating novel that resonated with my own heart. I know someone who went through a similar journey after a loss. She came back from the Holy Land with a deeper relationship with God, a renewed spirit, and even more happiness less than a year later. This novel parallels my friend's journey and shows the mercy and love of our Heavenly Father in all circumstances.

The plot of Prayers of a Stranger is simple yet powerful. The story has unexpected twists, convicting scenes, and incredible revelations. The tone of the novel follows the storyline and the characters' journeys beautifully.

The characters of Prayers of a Stranger are well developed and realistic as well. Amanda is a flawed character that clearly struggles with her faith, relationships, and other issues. She has her strengths, but she is overwhelmed by her own weakness. The other characters are developed realistically as well and support Amanda on her journey to a new heart and spirit.

Overall, I felt that Prayers of a Stranger was a beautifully crafted and highly convicting novel that displayed anew the glory of our Savor's birth and its impact in all of our lives.

I received this book for free from Thomas Nelson through in exchange for an honest review.