Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Love's Pursuit

Title:                    Love’s Pursuit
Author:                Siri Mitchell
Publisher:            Bethany House Publishers
Market:                Christian
Genre:                  Historical Romance
Series:                  Against All Expectations Collection (Book 2)
Length:                336 pages
Pub. Date:           June 1, 2009

Description (from Amazon):
In the small Puritan community of Stoneybrooke, Massachusetts, Susannah Phillips stands out both for her character and beauty. She wants only a simple life but soon finds herself pursued by the town's wealthiest bachelor and by a roguish military captain sent to protect them. One is not what he seems and one is more than he seems.

In trying to discover true love's path, Susannah is helped by the most unlikely of allies, a wounded woman who lives invisible and ignored in their town. As the depth, passion, and sacrifice of love is revealed to Susannah, she begins to question the rules and regulations of her childhood faith. In a community where grace is unknown, what price will she pay for embracing love?

My Review:
I have read books by Siri Mitchell in the past, and I have both loved and liked her work.  Love’s Pursuit falls into the former category.  This book did not disappoint me!

The writing is phenomenal.  This book was very difficult for me to put down, and I was thinking about it when I had to put it away.  I connected with this book on a variety of levels.  I, too, was a member of a high control religious group that was very legalistic, and I totally understood the mentality from Susannah’s side, the Captain’s side, and the townsmen’s side. 

I really enjoyed Susannah’s character.  She was the “good girl” who knew how to play the part, and she hated that she really wasn’t good at all.  Honest and beautiful, she was blissfully unaware of dangers.  With all the events in the book, she changed.   The change wasn’t forced but came about naturally. She is the typical “girl next door” that many seem to love to hate because she seems so well put together, but unfortunately they don’t completely know her because of the dictates of religious control.  With the legalism of her society, she couldn’t allow others to see her flaws. 

The Captain…  What an amazing man.   Although not a Puritan, he kept peoples’ secrets as they would (no gossip), and he was insightful, like Small-Hope.   He was an honorable protector, and he was underestimated because of his “heathen” status.  I loved his patience, insightfulness into the human spirit, and the ability he had to read situations.  To a degree, the townsmen were blinded from these same situations by the daily tasks they had to complete and trust for others in their group. 

I loved to hate Simeon Wright.  This character was well written, and it caused me to reflect on appearance.  Some people appear beautiful on the outside, but on the inside they are wicked.  The Bible might call them “dry bones,” and I call them “white-washed fences.”  Small-Hope and the Captain saw right through his fa├žade.

This story is about survival, perseverance, and hope.  To me, it begs for a sequel.  Siri Mitchell, if you’re reading this, please consider a sequel.  Yes, even after all this time.  Questions that I would like to have answered in a sequel are:  1) Does the grandfather believe as Daniel did regarding the Lord?  2) What happens with Joshua?  3) Do Susannah and Small-Hope remain friends?  4) Does Susannah eventually leave the Puritan faith?  5) Is there a future encounter with Levi Wright or the mother?

I absolutely loved this book.  It prompted many trips to the Kleenex box, and the characters will stay in my memory for some time.  It’s very realistic, and Mitchell did a great job researching the Puritans.  This book is suitable for anyone who enjoys Christian fiction.  I’ve looked at the reviews of others (since writing my own), and some didn’t like the fate of a character.  I didn’t like it either, but that is life.  Not everything works out the way we want it to.  However, a sequel could make a completely happy ending, which is what usually happens with this genre.  Even without the happy ending, I still loved this book!

My Rating: 5 out of 5 stars (Nearly perfect)

Saturday, July 18, 2015

Blood of the Prodigal

Title:                  Blood of the Prodigal
Author:              P.L. Gaus
Publisher:          Ohio University Press
Market:              Mystery
Genre:                Fiction
Series:                Ohio Amish Mystery Series #1
Length:              230 pages
Pub. Date:          June 1, 1999

Description (from Amazon):
From the choppy waves of Lake Erie's Middle Bass Island to the too-tranquil farmlands of Holmes County's Amish countryside, mystery and foreboding lurk under layers of tradition and repression before boiling up to the surface with tragic consequences.

For Jon Mills, the journey begins with his decision to retrieve his ten-year-old son from the hands of the Bishop who had ten years earlier cast Mills out of the Order, the same Bishop who is Jon Mills's father.

When Mills turns up dead, dressed in Amish garb, and with the boy missing, Professor Michael Branden plunges headlong into the closed culture to unravel the mystery and find the boy. Working in tandem sometimes and at cross purposes at others with his old friend Sheriff Robertson, Professor Branden digs through the past, recent and otherwise, to uncover the truths that many would prefer to leave undisturbed.

In the tradition of Tony Hillerman, P. L. Gaus depicts a culture that stands outside the norm, but one that is every bit as susceptible to the undertow of the human spirit as any we might know.

My Review:
At the library, I was looking for an Amish book that was different from the usual romances that I enjoy.  This one jumped out from the card catalog, and I selected the first book in the series.  This is the first book I’ve read by P.L. Gaus, and I appreciated the disclaimer in the front of the book that says this is a complete work of fiction, not based on actual events.

I really liked the mystery with the Amish setting, and it is evident that Gaus is familiar with Amish culture.  The descriptions of the bishop and women fit with other Amish books that I’ve read.  Prayer, as a way of handling problems, was both realistic and frustrating for someone who comes from our modern culture.

I did like Mike Branden’s character.  He was respectful, knowledgeable, and played by the rules of the Amish.  Michael didn’t show off his knowledge, and he showed strength of character.  I find it ironic that the bishop thought Branden was prideful.  Robertson was a bit brash.  I questioned his motives and character on more than one occasion, which may have been Gaus’ intent.  I liked Neill, too.  I wondered if there was going to be a plot twist with his character, but none came up in this novel.

This mystery kept me guessing the whole time.  I thought I had the suspects narrowed down, but in the end I was wrong.  The fact that the bishop was not transparent from the start was upsetting, but within the character of an Amish person speaking to an “English” person.  The action really picked up in the last quarter of the novel.  In the end, the mystery was solved, but I’m not sure I’d call it a completely happy ending.  Usually I like a happy ending.  Gaus did a great job writing, and I enjoyed his writing style, but I would have liked to see more of the end at the beginning.  You know, maybe a flashback type of novel showing Jonah’s past with present and the company he was keeping.  I am fascinated by the Amish (maybe because I was a JW – another high control religious group- for 10 years).  However, they frustrate me beyond belief, too.  The “must-keep-separate-from-the-world” philosophy is prideful in itself.  Following a religion or a book (the Ordnung) rather than Christ is craziness to a Christian.

If I could change something, I would have have learned more about Jonah’s character and background rather than be limited to what the bishop or Miss Beachy had to say.

Bottom line, I liked the book.  It wasn’t fast paced until the end, but it was still interesting and cultural.  I would recommend this book to anyone who wants to learn more about the Amish and won’t be too frustrated by their closed yet interesting lifestyle.  I plan to read more books in this series.

My Rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars 

Regency Buck

Title:                    Regency Buck
Author:                Georgette Heyer
Publisher:            Sourcebooks Casablanca
Market:                Regency Romance
Genre:                 Historical Fiction
Series:                 Alastair-Audley Book #3
Length:                402 pages
Pub. Date:           June 1, 1999

Description (from Amazon):
An altogether unsatisfactory arrangement

After their father's death, Miss Judith Taverner and her brother Peregrine travel to London to meet their guardian, Lord Worth, expecting an elderly gentleman. To their surprise and utter disgust, their guardian is not much older than they are, doesn't want the office of guardian any more than they want him, and is determined to thwart all their interests and return them to the country.

With altogether too many complications

But when Miss Taverner and Peregrine begin to move in the highest social circles, Lord Worth cannot help but entangle himself with his adventuresome wards...

My Review:
I came across this book at the library.  I was looking for a historical fiction piece, and I liked the front cover.  It was advertised to be in the same category as Jane Austin (My mind went to Julie Klassen – Love her!).  This is the first book by Georgette Heyer that I have read.

I liked the time period and Heyer’s descriptions of the scenery, clothing, and characters.  The book flowed at a steady pace, but I think I may have missed something because this is book three in the series.  Judith is a bit of a free spirit who doesn’t like to be told she can’t do something.  She doesn’t observe the social rules of the day by choice, and it shows her immaturity.  There is a good amount of conflict between Judith and Lord Worth, her guardian, and there is a bit of a mystery of who she should trust.  Should she trust her cousin or her guardian?  With the recent death of her father, Judith needs to think about which man has her best interest at heart.  Being wealthy, both men (as well as many others) would benefit from a union with Judith Taverner. 

The male characters are very different.  Perry is young and reckless.  If he were alive today, he would be a drinker and drug user, yet he wouldn’t be malicious.  He is ignorant of how life works, and he wants to experience everything it offers.   Lord Worth is a proud, wise man who doesn’t communicate.  He withholds a lot of information, but he is well connected and respected in society.  He is abrasive, controlling, and in today’s society, he’s a first-class jerk.  The Taverner’s cousin, on the other hand, is a good communicator.  He is expressive and seems to be a good friend, but we never quite know what is truly going on in his head.  He is not part of high society.  There were other male characters, but these were the most prevalent ones.

There is also a mystery to solve in this book because someone is trying to kill one of the Taverners.  The mystery and the pursuit of Judith’s hand in marriage move this book along at a nice, steady pace.  This book brings out how important it was to marry for money and status rather than for love.

Something that took me a few pages to figure out is that Peregrine is Perry.  I have never heard of the name Peregrine prior to this book.  Although this book was republished in 1999 (first publication was in 1935), the author passed away in 1974, so the book is several decades old.  There was a bit of a language barrier possibly for that reason.  There were things I didn’t understand; the humor was one thing.  Another thing I didn’t understand was the “taking of snuff.”  It seemed like they sniffed it up their noses.  Really?  And women?  Yuck!

The bottom line is that this is a good book.  I enjoyed it, but I wouldn’t say that I loved it.

My Rating:  3 out of 5 stars 

The Sister Circle

Title:                    The Sister Circle
Author:                Vonette Bright and Nancy Moser
Publisher:            Tyndale House Publishers
Market:                Inspirational
Genre:                 Fiction
Series:                 The Sister Circle Series #1
Length:                352 pages
Pub. Date:           December 31, 2002

Description (from Amazon):
The Sister Circle, book one of this charming contemporary series, introduces Peerbaugh Place, the quaint Victorian house that becomes a refuge to seven women of vastly different ages, personalities, and backgrounds. When Evelyn Peerbaugh hung the ancient sign in front of her house, she had no idea how life was about to change. In a matter of days, she became the newly widowed owner of a busy boardinghouse, trying to cope with the lives and emotions of the most incompatible group of women ever gathered under one roof. Through struggles and triumphs, the women forge a special bond of sisterhood. Readers will find their own place in the circle, gaining insight into their own spiritual gifts, as they laugh and cry with each of these women.

My Review:
Without having an e-reader, I found myself looking at the shelves in the library for books.  Because I haven’t read anything by Bright or Moser prior to this book, I decided to check it out.  I liked the idea of a group of women from different backgrounds coming together.  I was not disappointed by this book.

I enjoyed how real the characters were.  I could see their flaws in me or another person I know.  I loved seeing how God was working in each of their lives, and how He used each of them to teach one of the other women.  The book seems to answers critics.  For example, May talks about how long it takes men to get to know each other versus how long it takes women to get to know each other.  The women quickly come to know details of each other’s lives, and they encourage each other to become better.  Their lives come together and provide for each other in ways the women didn’t know that they needed.  It’s amazing how different the characters are – personalities, behaviors, patterns of speech, and the authors keep true to each character.

Through reading this book, I identified with personality traits of one of the characters, and frankly, I didn’t like it.  What I did like is the thought that God loves all people, no matter their flaws.  God puts people into our lives to allow iron to sharpen iron and work out those negative personality traits.  Thank you Jesus!  There is good character development in this book.  The women recognize their flaws, and the allow God to change them.

The writing was great.  There was a nice mix of background and dialogue.  I believe there is some foreshadowing to what the next book in the series may explore, but I could be wrong.  Without spoiling a scene, there is one thing I hope is answered.  There is acceptance of a situation in this book, yet it is a loose end.  It’s something I want to know how it turns out.  I wonder about the connection, and it makes me want to read the next book to find out!

I didn’t like how quickly one character went from where she was to being saved.  I would have liked to know more about what she was going through.  I also don’t know if I liked the romance between Evelyn’s son and another resident.  These are minor issues.  They aren’t deal breakers. 

Overall, I really enjoyed this book.  I want to continue with the other books in the series.  I would recommend it for anyone who likes stories about women learning to get along while edifying and encouraging each other.  It’s a book that will bring tears to your eyes in places, and make you smile and chuckle in other places. 

My Rating: 4 out of 5 stars 

Thursday, July 2, 2015

Secrets of Sloane House

Title:                    Secrets of Sloane House
Author:                Shelley Gray
Publisher:            Zondervan
Market:                Christian
Genre:                 Fiction (mystery and romance)
Series:                 The Chicago World’s Fair Mystery Series Book 1
Length:                328 pages
Pub. Date:           July 8, 2014

Description (from Amazon):
Against the backdrop of the 1893 World’s Fair, a young woman finds employment with an illustrious Chicago family—a family who may guard the secret of her sister’s disappearance.

Sloane House is among the most gilded mansions of Gilded Age Chicago. Rosalind Perry, the new housemaid, pours the morning coffee before the hard gaze of her mistress.

“It’s simple, Rosalind,” she says. “I am Veronica Sloane, heiress to one of the country’s greatest fortunes. You are simply one in a long line of unsuitable maids.”

Back on the farm in Wisconsin, Rosalind’s plan had seemed logical: Move to Chicago. Get hired on at Sloane House. Discover what transpired while her sister worked as a maid there—and follow the clues to why she disappeared.

Now, as a live-in housemaid to the Sloanes, Rosalind realizes her plan had been woefully simple-minded.

She was ignorant of the hard, hidden life of a servant in a big, prominent house; of the divide between the Sloane family and the people who served them; and most of all, she had never imagined so many people could live in such proximity and keep such dark secrets.

Yet, while Sloane House is daunting, the streets of Chicago are downright dangerous. The World’s Fair has brought a new kind of crime to the city . . . and a lonely young woman is always at risk. But when Rosalind accepts the friendship of Reid Armstrong, the handsome young heir to a Chicago silver fortune, she becomes an accidental rival to Veronica Sloane.

As Rosalind continues to disguise her kinship to the missing maid—and struggles to appease her jealous mistress—she probes the dark secrets of Sloane House and comes ever closer to uncovering her sister’s mysterious fate. A fate that everyone in the house seems to know . . . but which no one dares to name.

My Review:
I selected this book because of the historical Midwestern theme.  The book’s cover is unique with the two triangles (two paths, sisters, outcomes, and two sides of Chicago).  I have previously read and enjoyed books by Gray.

This book is about the journey of a young woman who lives on a farm in Wisconsin, and she travels to Chicago, which is made larger by the World’s Fair, in search of her missing, more vibrant sister.  This journey also illustrates the changes that take place in Rosalind.  She is changed by her experiences in the showy home of the very wealthy Sloane family.  Rosalind is a likeable character, and her immaturity shows in some of her decisions.  Although I enjoyed her character, I didn’t connect with her.

The romance in the book was a bit surprising.  Reid was wealthy and had one foot in society and the other foot in the working class.  He was her go-to guy in Chicago, but the romance was developed rather suddenly without many clues alluding to their mutual attraction.  There were a few times that I noticed Reid’s appreciation of how slim Rosalind was.  The attraction had to go beyond the physical, but it wasn’t shown through dialogue or description.

To say that this book has a dark side is an understatement.  However, I don’t think it was unrealistic to show an extremely wealthy family believing that they are above the law.  It was sad to read how the wealthy can destroy people who are not, and the poor are treated as if they are sub-humans.  It was also sad to read the devastating effects wealthy men may have had on wealthy women.  Yes, this novel has a dark side.  I didn’t like the injustice in the book.  Sadly, the injustice is undoubtedly factual.  I would have liked to see people be prosecuted for their crimes or some sort of happy ending for the evil situations.  There was also backbiting amongst the poor, demonstrating their need to survive over a need to connect with other people.

I would recommend this book to anyone over age 18 who enjoys a bit of a darker read with Christian undertones.  If this were a movie, it could be rated PG-13 if the scenes were alluded to but not shown.  If dark scenes were shown, it would be rated R. 

My Rating: 3 out of 5 stars

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Self Helpless

Title:                    Self Helpless
Author:                Rachel Hall
Publisher:            Peninsula Psychology Publishing
Market:                Chick-lit
Genre:                  Fiction (humor and romance)
Series:                 ---
Length:                318 pages
Pub. Date:           March 12, 2014

Description (from Amazon):
Jenny Peterson is a single, self-help junkie looking for her soul mate. But despite being an expert in self-improvement, her life still seems to be stuck in a rut. Her designer clothing rental business, even with its well-heeled Orange County clientele, is mysteriously losing money. And although it goes against every fiber in her moral makeup, the one guy she pines for happens to be her best friend’s husband. But are her fortunes about to change? A super-cute mystery guy has just recommended a new self-help book, and from the moment she opens the pages of A Better Life, her world is turned upside down in ways that not even Dr. Phil could have predicted.

My Review:
This is the first book I’ve ready by Rachel Hall.  Part of what attracted me to the book was that Jenny is a fashionista and funny, and it reminded me of the Finley Anderson Tanner mysteries by Rhonda Pollero (Sadly, she no longer writes books).  It was definitely worth my time to read this book.

Yes, Jenny is great with fashion, and she’s funny.  We read her sarcastic thought that are left unsaid.  Jenny is an imperfect main character.  Being a little overweight and having some acne in an appearance dominated profession are two obstacles in her life.  I enjoyed her character.  However, there is one event in the book that I really wish wouldn’t have happened.  Jenny, what were you thinking?!

Hall has done a great job writing this book.  I loved Jenny’s character right away, and I wanted to find out how her obsession with Marc ended up and if anything was going to happen with Brice.  Reading this is like listening to your own internal monologue at times.  It helps you connect to Jenny and understand her better.    She’s an underdog that I cared about and rooted for throughout the book.  There are a couple of things that happen in the book that are surprising, and one of those is a bit shocking, too.  I didn’t see it coming.

The book that Jenny buys helps her to grow and mature throughout the story.  Again, she is an imperfect character, and she doesn’t always do the right thing.  Isn’t that true with all of us though?  Everyone makes poor choices from time to time, but fortunately for Jenny, there are people in her life who are willing to give her a second change.  She has people to pick her up when she has fallen.

I would recommend this book to anyone over age 18 who likes chick-lit, humorous stories about fashionistas, and female underdogs who enjoy self-help books to help them succeed in the romance department.

Thanks to Goodreads First Reads and Rachel Hall for providing a copy of the book in exchange for my honest review.

My Rating: 4 out of 5 stars 

Thursday, June 11, 2015

Honest and for True

Title:                   Honest and for True
Author:               Jane Lebak
Publisher:           Philangelus Press
Market:               Women’s Fiction
Genre:                 Romance
Series:                 Adventures of Lee and Bucky (Book 1)
Length:               312 pages
Pub. Date:           May 5, 2015

Description (from Amazon):
29-year-old Lee has a Park Slope apartment with easy access to Manhattan, loves her job as an auto mechanic, and can see her guardian angel (a wisecracker with a fascination for the Rumours album.) That's kind of a full life for a kid in the world's biggest playground. Despite what everyone thinks, she doesn't need, or want, a romantic relationship.

Far more comfortable in blue jeans and flannel than in heels and satin, Lee finds herself lying to every man she dates. To the physical trainer, she's a preschool teacher; to the guy at the bowling alley, she's a secretary. The lies keep romance at arm's length even as they drive the angel to distraction until the day she realizes she's fallen for a straight-laced accountant who's exploring his dark side through bizarre foods (please note: sea cucumber is not a vegetable). But now he thinks she's someone she's not.

Now she's got to turn those mechanic skills on herself to diagnose and repair the most important relationships in her life. And just think, she used to find it tough repairing a transmission!

Long-time comedy writer and novelist Jane Lebak serves up a hilarious comedy with angels and spare tires and a recipe for the best omelets you've ever tasted. Also what may be the most romantic toilet-fixing scene in the English language. But there really isn't an award for that, so we’ll never know.

My Review:
This is the first book I’ve read by Jane Lebak, but it won’t be the last.  What drew me to the book was the cover (Yes, I do judge books by their covers.) and the element of humor.  I was in the mood for something funny, and this book delivered.

I really liked Lee’s carefree and spunky personality.  Over the course of the book, I really felt like I knew her because the book is so well written.  It’s not just Lee that the reader gets to know.  We have pretty good insight to Beth, Avery, and Hal as well.  There were parts of the book that had me chuckling and parts that had me in tears. 

I’ve never read a book with a character like Bucky.  Reading about angels really made me stop and think about guardian angels.  The only problem I would have with being able to speak with our guardian angels is that we probably wouldn’t have a close relationship with God.   Bucky was a cool part of Lee’s life, and it seemed like it could be real, too.  It wasn’t written like a far-out fantasy novel.  Reading about Bucky was biblical without being religious, dogmatic, or pushy.  Instead, it was thought-provoking, inventive and fresh.

There is some conflict between Lee and other characters.  With the variety of conflicts, we see other sides of Lee, and I wanted to know what happened next with each of the relationships.  The book was pretty fast paced, and I didn’t want to put it down.  Yes, I lost sleep reading this book.

Anyone who likes angels, non-traditional female characters, and humor mixed with serious issues will enjoy this book.  It’s not a comedy, but the characters are funny at times.  There is one four lettered f-word (Hint:  The word is not “free.”) that might offend some readers, but it’s only once, and it’s toward the end.  Other than that, this book is appropriate for conservative readers.

Thanks to Jane Lebak, Goodreads First Reads, and Philangelus Press  for providing a copy of the book in exchange for my honest review.

Pros:      Funny, thought-provoking, and fun

Cons:     One four lettered word

My Rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars