Where to start? I was intrigued at the idea of reading a historical novel set in the medieval Scottish high...moreOriginally published on my blog, Read Love.
Where to start? I was intrigued at the idea of reading a historical novel set in the medieval Scottish highlands. I began with high hopes. In the early going, the novel had promise -- reading was gentle and easy, and there was a fairytale-like quality to the book. The setting and characters seemed almost enchanted. To her credit, Taylor created a village nestled into the highlands seemingly hidden from the world and all its evils. Its inhabitants were different, but kind and warm. This felt like a good place to live and, for the reader, a good place to visit.
We get a glimpse of Serena as a baby in a prelude to the story. This creates mystery and narrative tension. However, the manner in which her villainous father returns to the story is a little disappointing. Despite this shortcoming in the narrative, Serena is a sympathetic heroine and we want her to be happy. Her mother and the other secondary characters who love her are all well-drawn and endearing.
Serena is at the center of a love triangle. I quickly decided that I favored one suitor over the other, and Serena's heart chooses fairly quickly as well. However, this brings to mind another flaw in the novel -- one of the suitors vanishes from the book near the end. It's hard to believe that a man would promise marriage and so readily disappear without trying to win his desired bride.
I liked the hero, Gavin, very much. He is compassionate, chivalrous, and kind to the village of "misfits". I had emotional investment in the outcome of the novel for him. I was sorry to see that he was not given enough opportunity to be heroic. Usually the hero rescues the damsel-in-distress and saves the day, right? Not so here. He was rendered impotent by the choices the author made.
While I enjoyed the novel, it never blossomed into the book I had hoped it would be. The fairytale-like quality remained, but in a different sense. To some degree the book always felt like a tale rather than events happening to real people. There was never enough sense of immediacy or depth of emotion. One could find parallels between Highland Sanctuary and The Scarlet Letter. Each novel has a character who is judged by a "religious" and supposedly "pious" authority/culture. However, while the latter is thick with psychological and emotional tension, the former has little. Highland Sanctuary suffers for being a little too neat. Real life is messy, and the happenings of this book, messy as they were, could have been depicted with more depth and nuance.
All of the quibbles mentioned above don't hurt the overall reading experience much. For some time, this was en route to being a four-star book. As I said, it started off nicely and I hoped it would continue to build interest. It did for a time. The plot built slowly and at a certain point began to pick up speed and scope like a tumbling stone. In the end, though, the novel's end was its demise. The author, while not having made anything more than casual Christian references to God, prayer, and faith, suddenly presented a sermonette in the form of a letter from one of the characters. There was a comparison made connecting a sacrifice (which I felt was empty and unnecessary) to Christ's crucifixion. The connection felt heavy-handed, and the letter unauthentic and disconnected from the character's voice.
To sum up, what started with charm and grace lost its sparkle and hiccuped a bit coming to a close. Overall, though, the book was entertaining. Though it is part of a series, Highland Sanctuary stands alone and can easily be enjoyed without having read the first book in the series, Highland Blessings. The messages of this tale have merit: Love conquers all, home is where your loved ones are, and true sanctuary is only found in Christ. In short, while the ideas are good, the execution could have been improved.
I love the premise of this book. There is one prayer for each of the major participants in the Nativity Story. The illustrations look like old oil pai...moreI love the premise of this book. There is one prayer for each of the major participants in the Nativity Story. The illustrations look like old oil paintings, and Mary, Joseph, and Jesus actually look Jewish! No blond-haired, blue-eyed Jesus in these images. A beautiful way to read and tell the story of Christ's birth.(less)
White Christmas Pie is my first experience reading a Wanda Brunstetter book. I know that she has a good rep...moreOriginally published on my blog, Read Love.
White Christmas Pie is my first experience reading a Wanda Brunstetter book. I know that she has a good reputation for writing Amish Fiction, so I was excited when, on my way to the checkout, I saw this on a special display at the library. I snatched it up, added it to my pile, and went merrily on my way.
White Christmas Pie is a very easy read. While's it's not deep, its characters are not fleshed out, and the story is fairly predictable, I found the experience to be very comforting. Reading Christian fiction, particularly Amish Fiction, is a breath of fresh air. It's akin to watching Little House on the Prairie. People are simpler, life is gentler, and one is restored and refreshed for having spent a little time away from the world at large.
While there is nothing bad about the story, the fact that much of plot centers around contrivances and misunderstandings takes it down a notch. Still, this fact didn't take away from my enjoyment of the novel. I happily turned the pages to see Will, Karen, Regina, Mark, Frank, et al through to the end. I wanted a happy ending for them all and the author was kind enough to oblige.
Christmas Pie could probably be shared by mother and daughter. I would imagine the novel is safe reading for anyone 12 or older. It's clean, positive, and uplifting. And though the story has its turmoil, it is never dark or weighty. From what I've read on goodreads, this book is not necessarily on par with the rest of Brunstetter's other work, so don't be misled. I look forward to reading more by this author. (less)
Ah, Mitford! You are such a breath of small-town fresh air!
If you are unfamiliar with the Mitford Years serie...moreOriginally posted on my blog, Read Love.
Ah, Mitford! You are such a breath of small-town fresh air!
If you are unfamiliar with the Mitford Years series, you need to start at the beginning, At Home in Mitford. These books, which follow life in a sleepy North Carolina town, are told from the point of view of Father Tim, the rector of Lord's Chapel. Much like an easy chair or an old sweater, this series is a cozy delight. You'll not find arresting intrigue, high drama, or pulse-quickening action in the pages of a Mitford Years book. But that's not to say you won't find something of value.
What you'll find in Mitford is a loveable town with endearing characters. With each installment, you'll feel like you're catching up with family and friends. Jan Karon says she writes "to give readers an extended family, and to applaud the extraordinary beauty of ordinary lives." And she's true to her word. There may be a bigger dose of minutiae than you'll encounter in a dramatic novel, but therein lies the charm. These characters feel like ordinary people--people you'd meet in a real-life small town. And we watch their lives unfold at a steady pace. We watch them celebrate, grieve, love, laugh, and grow. And hopefully we grow a little bit with them as they learn lessons from every day life.
So, if you find you need a break from whatever larger-than-life drama you might be reading and want a quiet escape to clear your mind and take a deep breath before plunging back into murder, mystery, or mayhem -- look no farther than Mitford.(less)
This was my first experience with both NetGalley and Jenny B. Jones (thank you, Thomas Nelson!). I'm happy to...more*Originally posted on my blog, Read Love
This was my first experience with both NetGalley and Jenny B. Jones (thank you, Thomas Nelson!). I'm happy to report it was a positive one. I don't have a lot of experience reading Christian fiction, so I was a little surprised that There You'll Find Me felt very contemporary. In fact, in the early pages, I was looking for differences to set it apart from similar mainstream releases like Anna and the French Kiss. On the surface, these two titles seemed similar: an American teenaged-girl goes abroad for school and drama and relationships ensue. A hotel heiress whose rebellious ways made her a tabloid star meets a Hollywood big ticket vampire boy. A young Paris Hilton and Rob Pattinson in a Christian book? And Finley is a cynic? The differences were not obvious, but who says Christian books can't be hip and funny?
Luckily, I enjoyed There You'll Find Me a lot more than I did Anna and the French Kiss. This novels succeeds in many areas. It has humor without ever being rude or vulgar. You won't find any underage drinking in this book -- Finley's rebellious time immediately following the death of her brother is mentioned, but we are not given details. Finley's family comes across as loving and supportive. This is a rare treat to see in a teen book! Emotions feel genuine. When Finley is upset, she never sounds whiny. Given that she's still grieving the loss of her brother, her occasionally standoffish attitude makes sense. Her grief gives a context and a meaning to her actions, and Finley is very self aware. Her character is one that many girls will be able to relate to. She's very hard on herself. In fact, one aspect of Finley's personality quickly became bothersome: her compulsive counting of calories! This annoyed me for some time, as I felt like the book was looking the other way. In actuality, though, the novel turns this behavior into a discussion point and successfully deals very plainly and honestly with a difficult subject.
The relationships in the novel were realistic and solid. Love was real. Finley and Beckett develop a legitimate friendship and have good conversation. They forge bonds based on trust and caring. This is no heated, lusty teen angst style romance. Finley's friendship with Mrs. Sweeney also develops in a believable manner. Nothing comes too easily or quickly. The two learn slowly how to trust each other and communicate in a productive way. There is a lot of humor and a lot of heart in the dynamic between Finley and Mrs. Sweeney. I laughed and cried while reading this book, and it's rare for me to find myself laughing out loud or with tears trickling down my face while reading. Have no fear, this is not melodrama; it's more subtle and measured. And you'll cry because events unfold in a way that is neither forced nor manipulated. Additionally, when Finley starts dealing with her emotions, you'll find that Jones does not sugarcoat things or bring resolution too quickly. Isn't this how life works? We struggle and we fight, and we may or may not succeed. But we don't learn to fly overnight. I loved that Jones doesn't oversimplify things.
There You'll Find Me is indeed a Christian book. I think you'll notice some of the differences I've outlined above. The novel succeeds in presenting the story of a girl struggling to find God and hear God's voice during a time of personal upheaval in a manner that is current, subtle, and even-handed. Readers will never feel they are being preached to. Finley's questioning is shown as healthy and normal. It's encouraged. And when Finley prays, it feels like it's coming from her heart and her mouth, not the voice of an authoress on a soapbox. We see characters care for and love one another. I believe they all hear God's voice through their heartfelt efforts to help each other and their desire to know one another. Again, this is life. And as such, any reader should be able to read this book without feeling discomfort or exclusion.
The only quibble I have is a minor one: the author may have taken on too many plot elements. In doing so, some areas or characters are left unexplored or underrepresented. For instance, I would have enjoyed seeing more daily life interaction between Finley and her host family. And though at times, the various narrative pieces felt hard to manage, I feel this was an intentional effort to highlight Finley's struggle: She is trying to juggle grief, expectations and pressure surrounding her music school audition, issues surrounding life and death in her burgeoning friendship with Mrs. Sweeney, her relationship with Beckett, issues with control and self-image, as well as her quest to find God again. That's an awful lot to deal with! But this is a reality many are faced with every day. I highly recommend There You'll Find Me. (less)
Barnes & Noble offered The Christmas Book as a free Nook book for a short time. Having read another of...moreOriginally published on my blog, Read Love.
Barnes & Noble offered The Christmas Book as a free Nook book for a short time. Having read another of Melody Carlson's Christmas novellas, I decided to hop on the free offer before it was gone! (If you are reading this now, you're too late.)
The Christmas Bus is a nice little read to help get you in the Christmas spirit. It's not going to win awards for literary value, but it accomplishes what it sets out to do.
The novella, which reads a little like Jan Karon's Mitford, tells a heartwarming story of a small town called Christmas Valley. The hamlet capitalizes on the commercial side of Christmas to draw tourists. But in Carlson's tale, the characters learn a lot about the true meaning and spirit of Christmas. This story teaches about hospitality and generosity and serves as a gentle reminder to all of us to open our hearts at Christmastime.
While The Christmas Bus is for the most part predictable, Carlson succesfully creates a comforting, heartwarming tale. And she does throw in a surprising little twist at the end that I enjoyed.
If you are looking for a short, peaceful book to read in December, The Christmas Bus is a nice diversion and a relaxing way to sit a spell to escape the hustle and bustle of the holiday season.
Paper Angels is clearly inspired by Country singer and Author Jimmy Wayne's own life. He was himself once a...moreOriginally published on my blog, Read Love.
Paper Angels is clearly inspired by Country singer and Author Jimmy Wayne's own life. He was himself once a recipient of the Salvation Army's Angel Tree program. Having lived through hard times himself, he feels a personal responsibility to give back. Knowing Jimmy Wayne's music and background, I was curious to read this book, and thanks to NetGalley, I was able to do so.
I began reading on Christmas Eve and finished the day after Christmas. Paper Angels tells an important story. Readers will understand a little more about the Salvation Army and the organization's Angel Tree program. But more importantly, readers will be given an immeasurable gift. For this novel is a fitting book to read at Christmastime to remember what the Spirit of Christmas is all about.
The two storylines and two families intersect thanks to the Angel Tree. When Kevin pulls Thomas' angel off the tree at the mall, he begins to think about more than himself and his own troubles. Additionally, each time he goes to buy a gift for Thomas, Kevin has an encounter with someone from his past with whom he has lost touch. Through his giving to Thomas, and his interactions with friends, Kevin begins to learn how to be a better husband, father, and friend. And just as importantly, his faith, which been forgotten and nearly lost, is refound.
Thomas' storyline is the most compelling part of the novel. And Thomas is also the strength of the book. You'll want to read the story through to its conclusion just to find out what kind of Christmas and what kind of ending Thomas has. This young man is both giving and forgiving. He is compassionate and kind. He has his own struggles and troubles, but he overcomes them through faith and love. I won't give anything away, but Thomas has a heart of gold. And we can all benefit from reading this book at Christmas time and remembering that, even if our lives are difficult or stressful, there is always someone who is hurting and struggling more than we are. If we remember to look past ourselves and help others, we'll be rewarded more than we could ever imagine. I hope that those who read this book are inspired to be generous and give of themselves to make someone else's life a little bit happier. Not just at Christmas, but all year through.
This was a really comfortable, comforting read. It was heartwarming and simple, gentle and kind, funny and warm. Mitford is akin to Mayberry. There yo...moreThis was a really comfortable, comforting read. It was heartwarming and simple, gentle and kind, funny and warm. Mitford is akin to Mayberry. There you'll find a young boy reminiscent of Huck Finn, a country vet likely inspired by James Herriot, and a whole slew of sympathetically drawn country characters. Mitford is a great little escape!(less)
I won a copy of this book through a Goodreads First Reads giveaway. And one day, not long after receiving the ema...moreAlso published on my blog, Read Love.
I won a copy of this book through a Goodreads First Reads giveaway. And one day, not long after receiving the email notification from Goodreads, I received a package from Amazon. The author, Nicole O'Dell, had bought me a copy of her book! How cool is that? I've never received a giveaway book so quickly before! I was really impressed and grateful.
The Wishing Pearl is the first in a planned series of Diamond Estates novels. Diamond Estates is a Christian outreach center, a residential treatment facility for troubled teens. In book one, we meet Olivia Mansfield, whom O'Dell manages to introduce to us in a way in which we can immediately sympathize with her. The opening scene has her playing her oboe: "The oboe understood her. It sang her somber song. Melancholy and forlorn...Perfect words to describe its cry and Olivia." Right away, you want to learn about Olivia and her sadness. And you find she is a nice girl. She's not a bad girl, but she is losing her way -- she starts to make poor choices. As Olivia navigates these choices, the author expertly shows her thought process, which is legitimately and believably one of a sixteen-year-old girl. Eventually, Olivia's life becomes unmanageable, and she reaches a breaking point which ultimately takes her to Diamond Estates. Her flight begins more as running away from danger in fear than running toward God or rescue, but Olivia is able to learn to trust in God and regain the faith that she had lost as a child. This book chronicles her journey.
Rather than go into the plot in-depth, I'm going to touch on some aspects I particularly enjoyed. First, Olivia's relationship with her brother Jake who is deaf. He and Olivia have a very special relationship. The novel uses their relationship, as well as another deaf character, to show compassion and empathy toward people who are different. Second, there are humorous moments that help keep the book and its serious topics from feeling too heavy. Third, I enjoyed getting to know Olivia's three roommates. The girls' group dynamic is very well done. And although there is an occasional weighty one-on-one discussion, the lighthearted moments show the girls as friends and family. This character-centered aspect helps keep the novel from feeling like an Afterschool Special. Finally, I liked that the mean girl -- yes, every book has one -- is served a portion of grace rather than revenge. This is definitely an idea worth exploring in teen literature!
Where the novel shines is in its portrayal of thoughts and feelings that seem like they are coming from a real teen. Nicole O'Dell does an exceptional job giving voice to all the feelings of doubt, shame, inadequacy, fear, etc., that a teen -- especially a girl -- can feel. For teens who are faced with tough situations that give rise to hard questions, fear, and discouragement, the novel provides guidance and hope. At one point, Olivia is encouraged to "fight the lies". The explanation that follows this advice, touching on what those lies are, is a terrific lesson that people of all ages can benefit from. Curious? Read the book!
I really enjoyed The Wishing Pearl and would highly recommend it! I look forward to reading the next installment, The Embittered Ruby, when it comes out next April. (less)