Thursday, October 18, 2012

Girl in the Glass by Susan Meissner

“The Girl in the Glass is possibly the most beautiful book I’ve ever read. Susan Meissner lifted her book to the level of poetry at the same time she drew me in so deeply to the story that I was lost in the world she created. The story comes in three threads that twist together into a stunning, compelling, enchanting whole. I absolutely loved it.”
—Mary Connealy, author of The Kincaid Brides series

Renaissance is a word with hope infused in every letter.
Since she was a child, Meg has dreamed of taking a promised trip to Florence, Italy, and being able to finally step into the place captured in a picture at her grandmother’s house. But after her grandmother passes away and it falls to her less-than-reliable father to take her instead, Meg’s long-anticipated travel plans seem permanently on hold.

When her dad finally tells Meg to book the trip, she prays that the experience will heal the fissures left on her life by her parents’ divorce. But when Meg arrives in Florence, her father is nowhere to be found, leaving aspiring memoir-writer Sophia Borelli to introduce Meg to the rich beauty of the ancient city. Sofia claims to be one of the last surviving members of the Medici family and that a long-ago Medici princess, Nora Orsini, communicates with her from within the great masterpieces of the Italian Renaissance.

When Sophia, Meg, and Nora’s stories intersect, their lives will be indelibly changed as they each answer the question: What if renaissance isn’t just a word? What if that’s what happens when you dare to believe that what is isn’t what has to be?
Girl in the Glass is hands down one of the best books I have read in awhile. It was not an action packed, fast moving book by any means. But the attraction of this novel lies in its slow moving flow that matches the beauty and the timeless pull of Florence, Italy. I had the opportunity to visit Florence, Italy over a year ago, and this novel both reminds me of its beauty and makes me yearn to spend a month or more exploring this city's exquisite depth. The plot of Girl in the Glass fits beautifully into the setting of Florence. It is rich, deep, and full of surprises. There are several moments in this book are completely unexpected and add to its enchantment. The narration of this book is beautifully intertwined between the perspective of Meg as she finally experiences Florence, the story of Nora, the Medici princess, and Sophia, the 'last Medici'. The connection and flow of this story is confusing at first, but it quickly adds to the beauty and complexity of the story. There is a final level of narration that is discovered at the end of the book, but I will leave that for you to discover yourself.
I loved the beauty and flow of the language used in the Girl in the Glass. It was varied, descriptive, and perfectly fit the world of Florence. Here are some examples:
"Florence, my father told me long ago, is like a dance. It is more than streets and buildings and a steady river; it's a presence you feel, a rhythm you fall in step with."
"Grief is a river like the Arno, the depths of its dark bed you cannot see. To swim in it is to tire in it and sink in it and be lost forever in it."
"Heaven's rules don't just ell us what to do and what not do. They tell us what God is like. People searching for God only need to look at what God says is important. I think love is important to Him. So there are rules about it. Not to make us feel bad about how far we fall short, but to show us how wonderful the real thing is."
Florence itself is also described exquisitely. I felt like I was back in Florence, and I also discovered other places, museums, statues, etc. that I want to return to Florence to see.

The characters in the Girl in the Glass were interesting as well. I really liked Meg, Lorenzo, and Sophia. They were all very different and added their own dimension to the story. They all experienced growth during the novel, and I was very pleased to see how their stories ended. I wish the epilogue that been longer, but I was given plenty for my imagination.

Overall, I really enjoyed this story, and I am seriously considering visiting Florence again because of the Girl in the Glass.

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

Band of Sisters by Cathy Gohlke

Maureen O’Reilly and her younger sister flee Ireland in hope of claiming the life promised to their father over twenty years before. After surviving the rigors of Ellis Island, Maureen learns that their benefactor, Colonel Wakefield, has died. His family, refusing to own his Civil War debt, casts her out. Alone, impoverished, and in danger of deportation, Maureen connives to obtain employment in a prominent department store. But she soon discovers that the elegant facade hides a secret that threatens every vulnerable woman in the city.

Despite her family’s disapproval, Olivia Wakefield determines to honor her father’s debt but can’t find Maureen. Unexpected help comes from a local businessman, whom Olivia begins to see as more than an ally, even as she fears the secrets he’s hiding. As women begin disappearing from the store, Olivia rallies influential ladies in her circle to help Maureen take a stand against injustice and fight for the lives of their growing band of sisters. But can either woman open her heart to divine leading or the love it might bring?

Band of Sisters by Cathy Gohlke was an interesting and truly captivating story that illustrated the presence of trafficking even in the early 1900's. The plot line was engaging and moved at the perfect pace. There were chapters that moved quickly and there were also chapters that were slower and focused more on the characters' feelings and thoughts. The book had instances of suspense, mystery, romance, sadness, and joy that nicely combined to keep me emotionally engaged in the storyline. The plot followed the life events of the characters primarily, but it also had a broad enough scope to clearly portray the poor living and working conditions the Irish immigrants had in America. This allows the plight of the characters to really shine through and cause that sympathetic connection with the reader. The narration of the story alternated primarily between Maureen and Olivia, but Maureen's younger sister and one of Maureen's friends also have a couple chapters from their perspective.

The characters in this novel were excellently developed and realistic. The main characters all had their strengths and weaknesses, and their struggles to overcome their flaws was realistic and inspiring. I really liked Maureen. She was strong willed, stubborn, and unafraid to stand up for what she felt was right. I enjoyed watching her grow in her knowledge of God, her trust towards others, and her courage to fight against injustice. I had more trouble connecting with Olivia because her troubles as a wealthy woman seemed less important in comparison to Maureen's. I did admire her persistence in seeking out Maureen, her relationship with God, and her desire to do more to help the oppressed immigrant women. I especially loved her discussion of the book In His Steps and her  application of it to the proper mindset the 'band of sisters' should have -what is the Holy Spirit calling us to do? The other minor characters supported the main characters well and added a nice variety and depth to the story.

The themes of the Band of Sisters were clear and convicting. These included the importance of following God's will for your life, the reality of trafficking and slavery for women in America, and the call we have to help those who are suffering.

Overall, I really enjoyed this novel, and I would highly recommend The Band of Sisters by Cathy Gohlke.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Darkness Rising: East Salem Novel by Lis Wiehl and Pete Nelson

The evil in East Salem is no longer content to hide in the shadows. The stakes—and the darkness—are rising.

Dani Harris thought there wasn’t much left that could surprise her after serving as a forensic psychiatrist in East Salem. And Tommy Gunderson has faced few challenges in his life that he couldn’t overcome by either physical strength or his celebrity status.

But as they race to uncover what’s really happening behind the high walls of St. Adrian’s Academy, it becomes clear that supernatural forces have been at work here for generations. And now their focus is on making sure Dani and Tommy don’t interfere.

When the unseen becomes seen, faith is the only weapon strong enough to fight in a battle involving not just murder and betrayal—but angels and demons.

Darkness Rising by Lis Wiehl and Pete Nelson is the second novel in the East Salem Trilogy. Occurring only a few months after the first novel, Waking Hours, the plot line flows quickly and never stops moving. The plot is exciting, action packed, and filled with suspenseful moments.  Some important facts are revealed to the reader in the first few chapters, but the characters do not realize what is going on until near the end of the book. This causes the reader to be literally on the edge of their seat waiting to discover if the characters will unveil the truth in time. The story is told alternatively between Dani and Tommy's point of view. There are also a couple of other characters who are focused on from time to time. These changing perspectives allow the reader to have a greater understanding and wider view of the situations at hand.

The characters in Darkness Rising were interesting and had their flaws. I felt like there was less character development in this novel than in the first one. I did not learn very much that was new about Dani Harris nor Tommy Gunderson, and the new characters that entered this novel only received the merest of development. However, there were still some interesting elements of the story related to the characters, and the interactions between the characters were entertaining and added to the plot. Some of the characters did have unexpected roles or changes in the story, and other characters' flaws and strengths were made more apparent.

Darkness Rising deals significantly more with demons, demon possession, and angel-demonic warfare than the first novel did. Some of these aspects were interesting, but I was put off by many of Lis Wiehl's assumptions about spiritual warfare and how demons and angels interact with humans. I do not want to ruin the story for anyone, but there was one time in particular in this story where I completely disagree with Lis Wiehl's view on demon possession. Suffice it to say, I could not find any biblical support for that type of demon possession, and I found plenty of biblical references that indicate that it cannot occur.

Overall, I found Darkness Rising to be an incredibly interesting and nail biting read that I was glued to for several hours. My only warning would be to read it carefully and evaluate the ideas and concepts wisely from what you know.

I received this novel for free from Thomas Nelson Publishers and in exchange for an honest review.