Sunday, July 29, 2012

Jesus Calling by Sarah Young & The One Year Daily Grind by Sarah Arthur

These are a couple of amazing devotionals I've been reading since January 1st. Sarah Young is a missionary and Sarah Arthur is in ministry also. Some of you might be familiar with Jesus Calling, as I think it's sold quite a few copies. The overall theme of this book is in its subtitle: Enjoying Peace in His Presence.  Sarah Young talks about trusting Jesus, letting go of anxieties, being thankful, how much He loves us, and keeping our eyes on Jesus instead of the problems around us. Many times I've felt the specific topic is exactly what I needed to read that day. It's a one year devotional with just a few paragraphs to read a day and she gives 2-4 Scriptures to read that correspond with the topic. It's very quick to read, but is very powerful.

The One Year Daily Grind has a little bit more to read each day, but is still between a few paragraphs and a full page. She also gives a few references or a little longer passage.  She uses humor, a lot of her own life experiences to show what she's learned, and usually has an interesting question to leave you with.  The book covers all kinds of topics and authors she likes are mentioned, especially C. S. Lewis.  She even puts in some of her free verse poetry!  This book also often hits me with a topic or question I needed to read. You may have heard of her previous book, Walking with Frodo, a bestseller. 

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Finding Our Way Home by Charlene Baumbich

This was the first book I've read by Charlene Baumbich and I think it's the third in her Snowglobe Connections series, though it wasn't hard to follow at all without having read the first two.  The story is about two very different women, Sasha and Evelyn. Sasha is a 37-year-old  injured ballet dancer who moves back to her childhood home in a small town in Minnesota to recuperate and Evelyn is the 19-year-old she hires to cook, drive her to appointments, etc.  Sasha was injured during a performance and doesn't know if she'll recuperate enough to get around easily, much less dance again.  She leaves her family and friends abruptly in Boston and cuts herself off from all who care about her. A lot of her story focuses on her memories of dancing, her joy at watching birds play outside her window in a half-melted frying pan and her depression over the change in her life, though the story isn't depressing.

By contrast, Evelyn is an optimistic, newly-engaged girl who tells it like it is.  She's a tomboy to Sasha's femininity, loud to her quiet, large to her small frame. She works at bringing Sasha out of herself to engage with the world again. She loves to read nonfiction about anything, so it was interesting to see what she'd be reading about next, from chicken coops to Einstein. She doesn't want to go to college in the fall because of wanting to be near her fiance Jorden, whom her parents don't approve of. The story took turns letting us see how each woman viewed the world.

I found myself slightly bored with this story. I'm not interested in ballet or bird-watching and there were quite a few parts describing both. I really liked Evelyn and her take on the world.  She's very wise and I think a lot of people could learn a lot from her.  I liked Sasha too, and I thought her attitude was understandable considering what she had to deal with, but it just wasn't as much fun to be in her head. The book was well-written, but tended to ramble a bit about the birds and one other passage where a character was evaluating possible scenarios went on for quite a while. The parts about the snowglobe were pretty strange and seemed to border on it being used as a charm, which seemed unnecessary. However, I really liked the theme of "grace to cover everything" that ran through the book.  It ended up being an encouraging book.  I'd be interested in checking out the other two books since I assume they would be about different topics.  I was given a free copy of this book by Waterbrook Multnomah in exchange for an honest review.

Monday, July 23, 2012

Widow of Saunders Creek by Tracey Bateman

This was a fascinating story!  Corrie Saunders' husband was killed in the war in Iraq about 9 months ago and she moves into his family's home in the Ozarks, one they had started to remodel and were going to live in when he returned.  She meets her husband's cousin Eli, a pastor, for the first time, while he is doing the remodel. A lot of the book focuses on their blossoming relationship while Corrie continues to grieve her husband.  Almost immediately after moving in, she starts to hear strange noises and see strange things. Her husband's aunt practices witchcraft and believes it's Corrie's husband trying to communicate, while Eli warns her that there have always been strange things occurring in this house and that it's not his cousin.  She doesn't know what to think and is torn between wanting it to be her husband and feeling terrified that it isn't.

This book had a lot of different aspects to it, with a love story, the supernatural, and grief all rolled into one.  Tracey Bateman does a wonderful job of combining these into a cohesive story that keeps up a good pace and feels believable.  The characters are all very likeable and you feel for Corrie as she's dealing with so many emotions at once, on top of the strange occurrences.  The book was slightly creepy during those moments, though there weren't many of them, especially if you're reading it at night by yourself!  The author does a good job of putting forth different viewpoints of the supernatural while still being theologically accurate, but not preachy.  I was impressed with how the family members who disagreed with each other were still very respectful and loving. This would be an especially good book to give to someone who's not a believer or who's seeking.  I would highly recommend this book to anyone!  Don't forget to rate this review!

Friday, July 20, 2012

The Wedding Dress by Rachel Hauck

I found this to be a very interesting and well-written book.  It tells the story of four women from different times who all come to possess the same miraculous wedding dress that never seems to age.    The dress was originally made for Emily in 1912 and the bulk of the story focuses on her and on Charlotte in the present.  Charlotte finds the dress in an old trunk she wins at an auction from a mysterious man and starts to investigate its origins. Charlotte is especially interested because she owns a bridal boutique and is engaged herself, though she's not sure about her upcoming wedding.  The investigation leads her to discover the stories of the other three women and how the lessons they've learned will impact her own choices and lead her to the truth of her heritage.

I really liked the character of Charlotte and the different stories about the women who had the dress.  Each woman's story was very unique.  The stories are interwoven throughout the book, so we get a little bit before we return to Charlotte and the present.  I never found myself bored with the story, but I did get frustrated with the character Emily. Maybe it was a sign of the time she lived in why she made some of the choices she did, but I had a hard time understanding them.  It seemed fairly obvious when she made the wrong choices, but it wasn't to her. Not to say that it wasn't realistic, as everybody makes mistakes. I also would have liked a bit more of a love story between Charlotte and her fiance, more leading up to the engagement instead of starting with it.  Overall, I would definitely recommend this book. It was a quick and enjoyable read.

Monday, July 16, 2012

Titanic 100th Anniversary Reading Challenge

Read or watch 12 Titanic related items in 2012
Hosted by
1. Murder on the Titanic by Jim Walker
2. Titanic movie-James Cameron
3. Titanic with Len Goodman documentary
4. Titanic 2012 miniseries
5. Echoes of Titanic by Mindy Starns Clark & John Clark
6. Downton Abbey Season 1
7. Promise me This by Cathy Gohlke
8. Downton Abbey Season 2

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Echoes of Titanic by Mindy Starns Clark & John Campbell Clark

This is the first book Mindy Starns Clark has written with her husband,  a Titanic history buff. It focuses on Kelsey Tate, the great-grandaughter of Adele, a survivor of the Titanic disaster, who works for the family investment business Adele helped to establish after reaching America. She discovers her mentor dead on the same night her grandmother's role and identity on the Titanic is questioned while they also face a hostile takeover. She must work to solve the mystery of what happened all those years ago on the Titanic and whether her mentor committed suicide or was murdered. Cole Thornton, an ex-boyfriend, aids her in the investigation while she reevaluates her priorities in love and faith.  The fate of the company and her life depends on the outcome.

With this year being the 100th anniversary of the Titanic's sinking, there have been some new fiction books on the market featuring that event. This is the third book I've read this year focusing on the Titanic, two new ones and one quite a bit older one, and I sadly have to say that I was disappointed with every one of them.   I did like that the authors wrote sections that took place in 1912, showing us what happened between Adele, her cousin, and other people of the time.  Those were my favorite parts of the book and I wish they would have put  a lot more of those in. I felt they did a pretty good job portraying the ship, what it was like sailing on it and what transpired during the sinking. It was the modern-day story that was lacking. The mystery surrounding the murder was ok, but the characters seemed flat and all the talk of investments and bonds got a little tedious. There wasn't much to the romance and the book just seemed to move too slowly. I did like how Kelsey started thinking about her life and faith and what her priorities should be in balancing a career and a family. I think that's something that could really resonate with both women and men. I think either men or women interested in Wall Street and history would probably like the book and while I did like parts of it, I found it disappointing overall.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

The Crucible by Arthur Miller-Insight into the Salem Witch Trials

I ended up reading this because another book I read, The Shape of Mercy, mentioned it. I didn't know a whole lot about the Salem witch trials and it's always fascinated me, plus I'm trying to read more classics, so I picked it up. This is actually a play, so it was a very quick read because of all of the dialogue. The author wrote it during the 1950's when the McCarthy witchhunts were happening, as a parallel to the Salem witch trials of the 1690's. While the author did use real people for his characters, there's not much known about them personally, so he gives them characteristics based on what is known. He focuses the story on John Proctor and his wife, the girls that accuse them, and the parents of the girls. He creates a few possible reasons for the girls' accusations and shows how the superstition and hysteria spreads. Ultimately, it becomes a decision between telling a lie to live or telling the truth and being sent to your death.

I thought this was a very interesting read. We don't know why the witch trials happened or what the motives were behind it, but this gave some interesting possibilities to think about. It sure made me appreciate our modern-day justice system a lot more! There were a lot of superstitions and misguided beliefs then as there is now and it shows the importance of checking our beliefs against the Bible, the ultimate Truth.

The Shape of Mercy by Susan Meissner

This is the first novel I've read by Susan Meissner, a former Minnesotan! Lauren Durough is a young woman living in the present day who takes a job transcribing the diary of Mercy Hayworth, a victim of the Salem witch trials. The novel splits its time between the present day and the late 1600's, with almost every chapter containing diary entries of Mercy's.  They progress from the start of the accusations in January of 1692 to the end of September, when she dies. Lauren's story focuses on her family , a young man named Raul, and her roommate, with her trying to figure out her place in the world, and how her family's wealth affects that. An overall theme seems to be about perceptions and making snap judgments without all the facts.

The diary entries were very well done, providing insight into Mercy and the circumstances surrounding the trials. While Mercy is fictional, most of the other characters were real people, which made it even more fascinating. The Crucible was mentioned and I had never read it, so I ended up reading that for more insight into the trials. Lauren's life seems dull by comparison and I couldn't wait to get through her parts and back to Mercy.  The book felt a little off balance because of that. I did like how Lauren got to know Abigail, the relative of Mercy's who hired her, and ultimately, how she tried to right a wrong from Abigail's past.  I did have a problem with where the author decided to go with Mercy's story.  I can understand why she did it, but it didn't feel like a fitting conclusion for her. Overall, I liked the book because the diary entries were fascinating and because of a few other plot points, but I was disappointed in the ending.
Please rate this review!

Friday, July 6, 2012

Hunger Games Trilogy by Suzanne Collins

For those of you who don't  know what the series is about, it focuses on Katniss Everdeen, a sixteen-year-old living in North America sometime in the future.  The country has been split into 12 districts and each year 12-18 year-olds from each district are chosen by a lottery to compete in a televised competition in a fight to the death called the Hunger Games.  When Katniss's younger sister is chosen, she steps forward to take her place. The first book is full of nonstop action as Katniss is whisked away to the Capitol for training and grooming in preparation for the Games.  Most of the book focuses on what happens during the Games and on Katniss's relationship with Peeta, the boy chosen from her district. The second book, Catching Fire,  continues her story and brings in a lot of the survivors from other districts of previous Hunger Games. I don't want to say much more than that for those who haven't read it because I don't want to give too much away, but her choices in the first book greatly impact what happens in the second.  This book also focuses a lot on the next Hunger Games.  Mockingjay, the third book, does a complete 180 and is much slower with a completely different setting.

I actually saw the movie before I read the book, which I know you're not supposed to do.  I was on the waiting list at the library, however, so I had to wait my turn.  I read it about 2 weeks after I saw it and I felt they did a pretty good job.  The book was better, mainly because I felt the relationship was developed more between Peeta and Katniss.  I thought the first and second books were equally amazing, just because you didn't know what to expect.  Mockingjay was so different from the first two, and Katniss is out of the action for a while, so I had a harder time getting into it. I am glad I finished out the series and was happy with the ending. 

While the books are violent, they aren't overly gruesome and the author does a good job of making you really think about where this country is headed and what a single person can do.  Peeta, especially, is a voice of reason in the chaos of the games and is the first to question their roles in it.  Katniss is an extremely strong character who knows her mind and often speaks it. She's tough, but loves her family and shows great perseverance, sacrifice, and cunning.  She can also be unforgiving, stubborn, and wary of others.  I read these a few months ago and don't recall any foul language, but one character struggles with alcoholism and there is some sexual innuendo in one spot that younger readers probably won't understand.  Just an FYI if your kids are going to be reading it.  Overall, a great series and one that definitely makes you think.

Demon by Tosca Lee

Clay is a book editor in a large city, somewhat recently divorced, and is being stalked by a demon.  Clay doesn't believe he's a demon at first, but Lucian knows things about him and wants him to write down his story.  He wants to explain what life was like before humans existed and how the fall of Lucifer and his angels came about.  He describes the creation of the world and the emotions he experienced watching God's affection for humans even though they constantly disappointed Him.  Job, Lucifer's strategies, and other topics are touched on as he talks his way through history to the present.  He appears when Clay least expects it and takes on different forms, besides, so he is never sure who he'll be.  Though Clay doesn't want to listen, it's like he has no choice.  As Clay understands more of Lucian's story, his own begins to unravel.

I thought this book was fascinating.  It gave a different perspective to view Biblical and contemporary events from and made me think about what could have gone through the minds of the fallen angels before and after their fall.  It especially shows the great love God has for us when you think about how many chances we as humans get that the demons didn't.  Since so much of the book consisted of conversations, it reminded me of the Shack by W. Paul Young, another excellent book. I'll definitely be reading more of Tosca Lee!

This was a Christy Award Finalist and ForeWord Magazine Silver Award Winner.

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

The Real Enemy by Kathy Herman

This is the first in a trilogy about Brill, a police chief in a small town in Tennessee near the Smoky Mountains. She and her husband have 3 children, two in college and a 9-year-old. They moved to the town of Sophie Trace from Memphis a month ago, and their quiet life is interrupted when people start to get kidnapped. They're all ages and races with no connection to speak of and no evidence is left at the scene, so Brill calls in David, someone's she worked with in the past from the FBI. Brill has her hands full with the kidnappings, gangs, a dead body, rumors of Cherokee ghosts behind it all, and pressure from the mayor to solve everything now.

On the home front, she's still reeling 18 months after finding out her husband, Kurt, cheated on her. They are staying together for Emily, their youngest, but she doesn't want to forgive and can't believe that she could ever trust him again.  While Brill and Kurt are Christians, Kurt has repented and is actively trying to win his wife back, while Brill is stuck in her bitterness and anger.

My mom likes Kathy Herman's books and has read them all.  She recommended Herman's next series especially that features one of the daughters, but I couldn't read that without reading this first.  I like to read things in order even if it's just characters mentioned because I like to have the back story. I was somewhat disappointed in this book. I was expecting something quite suspenseful, but it felt slow more than anything. The case plodded along and the focus seemed to be on their marriage about as equally as the case. It was nice to get different perspectives, such as Brill, Kurt, and some of the townspeople. The writing was well-done and I'm going to continue with the series because I did like it overall.

First blog!

So this is my first blog. I never wanted to write a blog and never thought I would, but I found out I can blog for books, so here I am!  I love to read fiction, especially Christian fiction, so I've decided to review books for some publishers and hopefully pass on some good suggestions. Feel free to comment, agree, disagree on my reviews and maybe we can start a good discussion.