Tuesday, December 16, 2014

(Review) An Amish Second Christmas-Four Novellas by Beth Wiseman, Kathleen Fuller, Ruth Reid, and Tricia Goyer

Publisher: HarperCollins Christian Publishing/Thomas Nelson, October 14, 2014.
Genre: Amish love story, novella.
Format: Paperback.
Pages: 419.
Rating: 4 stars for very good.
Source: Library.

Link for the book @ Amazon. 

When Christmas Comes Again by Beth Wiseman
Katherine Zook and her children are working through the grieving process since Elias Zook died. A mysterious man brings a surprising twist to the untold story.

Her Christmas Pen Pal by Ruth Reid
A stranger in town visits the bakery where Joy works. The first anniversary of her parents death is approaching. An expectation from a beau proceeds a change in direction for life.

A Gift For Anne Marie by Kathleen Fuller
A family coming to terms with their mother's choice.

The Christmas Apron by Tricia Goyer
Ammon Schwartz is preoccupied in caring for his mother. His large family has recently moved to Montana. Esther Glick's delicious pie was auctioned and bought by Ammon. Their friendship leads to helping each other understand a "right" way of thinking.

Amish recipes are included in the back of the book.

My Thoughts:
I'm not a fan of Amish stories. I have read Amish stories over the years, but they are not a favorite genre. On a recent visit to the public library, I decided to read out of my usual element. Reading several short Christmas Amish stories appealed to me. During the rush of the busy season, it feels good to read simple stories that carry me away from my harried life.
Of the four novellas, my two favorites were, The Christmas Apron and When Christmas Comes Again. 
When Christmas Comes Again had an unexpected story-line. The family is grieving, and this alone is an important story. I can relate to missing loved ones at Christmas time. I can relate to the family's steps of grieving. The mystery man brought at least two additional stories. One brought closure for the family.
The Christmas Apron, is the story of two young people. In addition, it is a teaching story. The young couple shows the right kind of mind-set a child of God has. 

Monday, December 15, 2014

(Review) All She Ever Wanted by Lynn Austin

Publisher: Bethany House, 2005.
Genre: Fiction, family saga.
Format: Hardcover.
Pages: 400.
Rating: 3 stars for good.
Source: Self-purchase.

Link @ Amazon. 

Kathleen Seymour is having a "no-good-very-bad-day." A fight with her boss. A phone call from the police department about her teenage daughter. A fight with her daughter. And an invitation to attend a party for a dad she's not seen in over 35 years.
Too many events have stirred Kathleen's childhood memories. A trip back to the past (literally) is a chance for closure.

My Thoughts:
There are a few aspects of the book I really liked. There are a few aspects I did not like.
What I liked:
  • Multiple main characters. All the characters link together (family), but show different personalities, choices, time periods, and world history events. 
  • Coming of age story. 
  • I love the time period of the 1940s and 1960s. 
What I disliked:
  • The ending is wrapped up tight with a cute little bow. The entire book had been about broken people living broken lives. A quick clean-up is nonsense. 
  • Too many stories of secondary characters who needed their own book. For example: Rory Quinn. He was an dreamy, shifty, odd person. I wonder if he had a mental illness? His choice to abandon family in Ireland, and drag away his eldest daughter Fiona promising unrealistic expectations made me angry. Further, Fiona never learned to make wise choices. 
  • Kathleen's husband is plain and boring. He has very little story-line. 

Saturday, December 13, 2014

(Review) The Sweet Side of Suffering: Recognizing God's Best When Facing Life's Worst by M. Esther Lovejoy

Publisher: Discovery House Publishers, March 4, 2013.
Genre: Non-fiction, suffering, faith, Christian growth.
Format: Paperback.
Pages: 160.
Rating: 4 Stars for Very Good.
Source: Self-purchase.

Link at Amazon. 
Link at Christian Book.

The theme is on suffering and blessings that follow.
Ten chapters all begin with the words "The Sweetness of...."
Sweet and suffering are not words that humanity wants in one sentence. But only God can take a hardship and bring blessing.
Lovejoy gives examples of Bible characters, herself, and others to explain her point in blessings coming from suffering.
The sentence that I believe is the focal verse of the book: "God is faithful in all circumstances."

My Thoughts:
The Sweet Side of Suffering is a concise book, which will help a person going through a life struggle and are looking for a place of comfort. Our comfort comes from the Lord. And The Sweet Side of Suffering affirms what we know in our mind, but need to be reminded of in our heart.
The only draw-back is I believe the author held back in sharing from her life. It could be she wanted to hold on to privacy. The Christian non-fiction market has become more transparent in memoir books. Sometimes it's a "too-much-information" in a book. More often, to know another person has or is going through what I'm going through helps. It brings intimacy. It brings hope. 

Friday, December 12, 2014

(Review) Man in the Blue Moon by Michael Morris

Publisher: Tyndale House Publishers, August 17, 2012.
Genre: Christian fiction, World War I, the South.
Format: Paperback.
Pages: 400.
Rating: 4 Stars for very good.
Source: Self-purchase.

Link for the book at Amazon,
Christian Book. 

The time period is the last half of 1918. World War I is in the final stages, the flu epidemic has begun.
Ella Wallace manages a store. It's a store and job she didn't want. It is a means of support for herself and three sons.
Her husband Harlan Wallace disappeared. It is not believed he died, he ran-off.
Land was given to Ella from her father. It is in a coastal area of Florida. The land is wanted by unsavory men. Men who will not tire of depraved antics to soften Ella's resolve in not selling her legacy.
Ella is a haggard woman. She reminds me of the woman photographed in the 1930s by the female photographer Dorothea Lange.

My Thoughts:
An additional character is in the story, which is an anomaly in Christian fiction, a Native American. She is a Creek. Her name is Narissa. Narissa adds both a depth to Man in the Blue Moon, and also a yearning to know more about her history/life.
Man in the Blue Moon is a departure from the normal Christian fiction story of girl meets boy, or a tidy ending. It is a sad story. A story where people are not seen as either good or bad, people are not placed in a small box. They are shown in all the gray areas. Further, coloring outside the defined lines are noted.

There are aspects of the story I really liked.

  • The southern setting, culture, and language. I love southern expressions. "I declare." "Mercy." "Plumb pitiful." 
  • The whistle of the steamboat on the water, pine trees, a southern breeze, humidity and heat. Michael Morris drew me into the story with vivid narration. 
  • A unique story in Christian fiction. 
I feel a little break of sunshine would have helped. Most of the story is depressing. One sad scene after another. Heartache followed by a let-down. It's true, life can be this way, but a respite helps. 

Thursday, December 11, 2014

(Review) Hidden Places by Lynn Austin

Publisher: Bethany House, July 1, 2001.
Genre: Fiction.
Format: Paperback.
Pages: 436.
Rating: 5 Stars for excellent.
Source: Self-purchase.

Link @ Amazon for the book: Hidden Places. 

Eliza Wyatt is a young widow with three children. Her surly father-in-law has recently died. Her beloved husband died a year before.
The Wyatt Orchard is the source of income for her family. It is their home. It is her source of security. It is the future hope for her children. It is a legacy she had planned to pass on to her children.
Bad business decisions have left her in a bad state.
Meanwhile, a stranger arrives at her door asking to help work the place in exchange for a meal. Eliza's daughter believes him to be an angel. An angel disguised as a hobo.
Meanwhile, Eliza's late husband's aunt Batty, has come to live with them.
The time period is the early years of the Great Depression.

My Thoughts:
This is one of the BEST Christian fiction books I've read.
I had a difficult time laying the book down to do other things. I read the book in two days.
The main characters in the story are Eliza and her three children, aunt Batty (Betty), and Gabriel Harper. What gives an added dimension to the story is chapters devoted to the history of these individual characters. The chapters define their individual life's journeys.
Aunt Batty, or Betty. Is an eccentric personality. When the story began, I wondered if she had an imbalanced mind, or if she was saner than the other characters. On one page her statements were both odd and yet prolific. Some of my favorite quotes in the book came from the sage words of aunt Batty.
It is refreshing for a Christian fiction story to have heroines who are both average looking (not a Miss America) and yet have a special quality to their personality that sets them apart.
Gabriel's identity kept me guessing. It was difficult to not realize his arrival was not by chance.
I have always loved strong characters in stories. Hidden Places has characters that are torn by choices they've made and by others. They wrestle with decisions. I've read fear is one of the greatest motivators. Fear is behind many of the character's anger and unforgiveness.

Favorite Quotes:

"We all see what we want to see...." 

"Oh, we didn't pray that the angel would get better-only that God's will would be done, and that we could accept it."