Sunday, September 30, 2012

Not quite Amish -- but Almost Amish!

Two highly driven, stressed-out mothers.  Three teenagers.  A summer of living a simple Almost Amish life.  The makings of a great book . . . or a cheesy story about a fake "reality TV" experience?  I'm happy to say, I found it to be the former . . . in fact, one of the best books I've read in a while!

Julie and Susan are sisters-in-law who embark on quite an adventure with their children, Brian, Whitney and Angie.  When the chance comes to participate in a reality TV show where they will give up all technology and most modern conveniences, Susan sees an opportunity to boost her career in television and writing.  But her hoped-for results will come only if everything about this experience goes exactly right.  Julie is just exhausted with her life and not sure what she is accomplishing with all her busy-ness.  She never quite measures up to where she thinks she should -- in cooking, in keeping her house, in pushing her kids to accomplish their goals.  She believes participating in the show will help Susan and her daughter as they try to move on after her divorce and will also be a chance for Julie and her two kids to slow down and take a break from their hectic life.  It soon becomes obvious that trying to live a simple life can be pretty complicated, and by the end of summer some pretty important lessons have been learned -- some of them the hard way.

I wasn't sure what to expect in this book, but being a huge fan of Amish fiction I thought it was worth a try.  Truth is, there was very little actual Amish presence in the story.   But it was the Almost Amish presence that made the story so good.  I've been asked and also seen other people try to explain what it is that attracts us so much to the Amish books we read and the Amish lifestyle we admire.  Even though I still can't articulate the answers to those questions as well as I would like, Katie Cushman did a great job of demonstrating some of the answers in this story.  Her main characters were able to simplify their lives enough to find out a lot about who they really were and to carry that over into their "real world" when the summer ended.  Julie, Susan, and their kids were believable people with real strengths and flaws -- people who readers can care about and cheer on from beginning to end of the story.

(This book was provided free of charge from Bethany House Publishers for my honest review.)

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Mennonite Mystery -- Inescapable

About the Book

Lizzie Engel left Kingdom, Kansas, and her Conservative Mennonite faith five years ago, fleeing abuse and rejection aimed at her when she became pregnant with her daughter, Charity. However, when a strange man begins to hang around outside her apartment building in Kansas City and she receives several odd, threatening messages, she begins to fear for their safety. When an untrue accusation of theft causes her to lose her job, she has no choice but to return to the small Mennonite town. Unfortunately, evil follows her, and she will have to face a storm of lies, deceit and murder as a winter blizzard rages around her and the residents of Kingdom.

My Thoughts

When Lizzie returns to Kingdom, she reconnects with several of the town's residents and is surprised to learn what many of them really thought of her when she left her home years before.  As the story progresses, it becomes obvious that someone in town is involved in the danger that threatens Lizzie's and Charity's chances of staying in Kingdom.  Lizzie's main concern is the safety and well-being of her daughter, and she is faced with difficult choices of livelihood and love as she looks out for Charity's best interests.

With lots of questions, mystery, and suspense, Inescapable keeps you guessing about "who-dun-it" and why.  A wide range of characters add to the story and provide various glimpses into the Mennonite community.  The mystery adds a little different twist from many of the stories set in a Plain community.  Some of the people are very interesting to get to know as the story progresses; others seem to fall a little flat.  Nancy Mehl shares real-life lessons in faith and forgiveness as she tells Lizzie's story.  In general, the book is a very good one.  I would recommend it to fans of Amish or Mennonite fiction, and anyone who enjoys a simple mystery.

About the Author

Nancy Mehl lives in Wichita, Kansas with her husband Norman and their dog, Watson. She’s authored thirteen books and is currently at work on her newest series for Bethany House Publishing.
All of Nancy’s novels have an added touch – something for your spirit as well as your soul. “I welcome the opportunity to share my faith through my writing,” Nancy says. “It’s a part of me and of everything I think or do. God is number one in my life. I wouldn’t be writing at all if I didn’t believe that this is what He’s called me to do. I hope everyone who reads my books will walk away with the most important message I can give them: God is good, and He loves you more than you can imagine. He has a good plan especially for your life, and there is nothing you can’t overcome with His help.”
She and her husband attend Believer’s Tabernacle in Wichita.

(This book was provided free of charge by Bethany House Publishers for my honest review.)

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Wartime Love -- With Every Letter

About the Book:

Book 1 in the Wings of the Nightingale series

 Lt. Mellie Blake is looking forward to beginning her training as a flight nurse. She is not looking forward to writing a letter to a man she’s never met–even if it is anonymous and part of a morale-building program. Lt. Tom MacGilliver, an officer stationed in North Africa, welcomes the idea of an anonymous correspondence–he’s been trying to escape his infamous name for years.

As their letters crisscross the Atlantic, Tom and Mellie develop a unique friendship despite not knowing the other’s true identity. When both are transferred to Algeria, the two are poised to meet face-to-face for the first time. Will they overcome their fears and reveal who they are, or will their future be held hostage by their pasts?

Combining a flair for romance with excellent research and attention to detail, Sarah Sundin vividly brings to life the perilous challenges of WWII aviation, nursing–and true love. 

My Thoughts:  

With Every Letter is a war-time story of love and hope.  As I read it, I felt like I was getting a history lesson -- but in a much more intriguing way than any history book I ever read in school!  Sarah draws you immediately into the lives of Mellie and Tom, with a back-and-forth look at their lives.  The setting of falling in love while hiding behind the safety of anonymity allowed me to see deep inside the hearts of the characters and learn about their hopes and fears.  Right away I cared about them and enjoyed following the ups and downs they both went through as their story developed.  There was plenty of war, romance, heartache, and joy to keep me anxiously turning the pages to the very end!  I'm excited to see what Sarah has to offer in the next Wings of the Nightingale book.

Meet Sarah:

Sarah Sundin is the author of the Wings of Glory series (A Distant Melody, A Memory Between Us, and Blue Skies Tomorrow). In 2011, A Memory Between Us was a finalist in the Inspirational Reader’s Choice Awards, and Sarah received the Writer of the Year Award at the Mount Hermon Christian Writers Conference. Her latest release, With Every Letter, is the first in the new Wings of Nightingale series.

A graduate of UC San Francisco School of Pharmacy, she works on-call as a hospital pharmacist. During WWII, her grandfather served as a pharmacist’s mate (medic) in the Navy and her great-uncle flew with the US Eighth Air Force in England. Sarah lives in California with her husband and three children. 

Find out more about Sarah at

See what other readers think of With Every Letter  here.

(This book was provided free of charge from Litfuse Publicity Group for my honest review.)

Saturday, September 15, 2012

Math and the Amish? -- Kate's Song + Rebecca's Rose

Kate's Song + Rebecca's Rose = great Amish romance!

OK, I can't help it -- I'm a math teacher.  And when I learned of Jennifer Beckstrand, mathematics-degreed mother, turned Amish author, I was intrigued.  So I had to give her books a try . . . and I'm very glad I did!

Kate's Song

Kate Weaver is a young Amish woman with a special gift of song.  During her rumschpringe (which her older brother likes to remind her has gone on for six years), she has left home to attend a music academy and  pursue her dreams of using that talent on stage.  Although her musical endeavors have gone beyond her dreams, not all has been good in her personal life, and she comes home, needing physical and emotional healing.  Once there, she finds mutual interest with her long-time friend Nathaniel King, and soon that interest goes past simple friendship.  More than anything, Kate longs for a definite answer from God about the direction her life should take.  After much soul searching she finally believes she has God's answer, but misunderstandings abound and become roadblocks in her attempts to follow God's plan.  Will love and truth prevail as she tries to find her way to live out her song?

Rebecca's Rose

Rebecca Miller is a girl on a mission.  She is driven to fulfill every dream on the list made my her late friend Dottie Mae before her untimely death, quite a daunting task to fit in between all the responsibilities Rebecca shoulders in caring for her sick mother and trying to please her demanding father.  Rebecca's sense of obligation to her friend prompts her to try out quite a range of adventures before time to settle down and be baptized into her Amish church.  Levi Cooper seems an unlikely companion in those adventures, but circumstances seem to throw them together.  As they spend time together, Rebecca is surprised to learn of Levi's Amish connections but has no hope that anything permanent can come for the two of them.  And when Rebecca learns of Levi's deepest secret, her whole world is turned upside down.  Will love and forgiveness be able to overcome hurt and anger?

Jennifer Beckstrand brings a new voice to the Amish fiction genre.  The conflicts her characters face seem a little "rougher and tougher" than in some of the other stories I've read.  In both of these stories, she has an interesting way of drawing you directly in to the characters' dilemmas without revealing the whole problem at once.  The complexity of the situation grows throughout the story, and then another "kink" appears to add a new level of intrigue -- even if you feel confident of how things might ultimately work out.  She certainly kept me hooked to the very end of both books.  And I'm definitely looking forward to next year's release of  Miriam's Quilt, the next installment in the Forever After in Apple Lake series.

Monday, September 10, 2012

You could be a winner! -- Dan Walsh's giveway

For the for the next week, starting today and running till next Monday, September 17th, Dan Walsh is celebrating the release of his new novel, The Reunion, with a 10-book giveaway contest! Five winners will each receive a signed copy of The Reunion, as well as his third novel, The Deepest Waters. (He’s including this book because it was named a finalist for an ACFW Carol Award for book-of-the-year). Click on the link below to see how easily you can enter the contest!

Sunday, September 9, 2012

A Great Story of Restoration -- The Reunion

Some writers have a way of grabbing your attention and drawing you into their story from the very beginning . . . and then keeping your full attention to the very end.  Dan Walsh is a master at that and has done it once again in The Reunion. 

To say Aaron Miller has lived a hard life is an understatement.  After coming home from Vietnam he lost his family and spent years living homeless on the streets.  Now he lives alone in an old storage building, working quietly as a handyman in a non-descript trailer park, making just enough money to get by.  He quietly lives out the faith he found in recent years, caring for people, befriending them, and even saving lives -- all the while never thinking of himself as a hero.

But there is much more to Aaron than people around him know.  And unbeknownst to him, someone who does know his past is looking for him.  Once he is found, Aaron's life is about to change in ways he never could have imagined.

As in his other books, Walsh goes to the depths of the human heart and feelings.  This is a story of second (or more) chances at life, of restoration of love and relationships.  And thanks to Dan's masterful storytelling, I turned the last page glad to have met the characters and shared some important days of their lives.

This is the third book I've read by Walsh (I hope there are many more), and they have all been winners. I would highly recommend his work to anyone who enjoys a good story with messages of hope and faith.

Dan Walsh is the award-winning author of The Unfinished Gift, The Homecoming, and The Deepest Waters. A member of American Christian Fiction Writers, Dan served as a pastor for 25 years. He lives with his family in the Daytona Beach area, where he's busy researching and writing his next novel.

Available September 2012 at your favorite bookseller from Revell, a division of Baker Publishing Group.

(This book was provided free from the publisher for my honest review.)

Thursday, September 6, 2012

A Fun Read -- Short-Straw Bride

Karen Witemeyer's Short-Straw Bride is a fun read set in Texas in the late 19th century.

Ten-year-old Meredith Hayes made the "mistake" of trespassing onto Archer land -- something that few people are brave enough to try.  Her one brief encounter with Travis Archer made such an impression that she spent much of her childhood and teen years dreaming of him as a dashing hero.

Fast forward twelve years and Meredith finds herself facing the prospect of stepping onto Archer land again.  After overhearing a plot to do damage to the property fiercely protected by the four Archer brothers, Meredith feels obligated to warn them of the danger.  A series of unfortunate circumstances forces Meredith into a marriage of obligation to one of the Archer brothers.  When she discovers that Travis is the one she's matched up with -- all because he drew the short straw -- she worries about the prospects of ever experiencing real love with the man of her dreams.

I would recommend Short-Straw Bride to anyone who enjoys an easy-to-read story involving romance, suspense, adventure, and faith.  Many of the characters some alive on the page and are people who would be fun to meet.  You can't help but cheer them on as they face the dangers posed by those with less than noble motives to their actions.

(This book was provided free of charge from Bethany House in exchange for my honest review.)

The Breakthrough -- with a GIVEAWAY!

Boone Drake is on top of the world.  After suffering the loss a few years ago of pretty much everything that mattered in his life -- including his wife and son -- he is enjoying life much more than he ever expected.  He has married again, has gained an adopted son, is chief of the Chicago Police Department Major Case Squad, has the car and house of his dreams, and has found his way back to a faith in God that had gone missing after so much tragedy in his life.  So why does he have the feeling that his world is about to fall apart again?

And fall apart it does!  Boone suffers not one, but two tragedies.  He feels a desperate need to stay with his wife Haeley after she suffers a serious accident.  But another case hits too close to home and pulls him into a dangerous situation in a far away location.  Boone is not sure if his skills and his faith will be enough to get him through these latest challenges.

In The Breakthrough, the third novel in his Precinct 11 series, Jerry Jenkins continues the stories of Boone and Haeley Drake, Jack Keller, and other characters introduced in The Brotherhood and The Betrayal.  As in the previous books, the characters are faced with major crises that test their faith.

I enjoyed The Breakthrough, but it was not my favorite Jerry Jenkins book.  Even though the plot is full of suspense and includes many twists and turns that keep you guessing, I felt like it sometimes fell a little flat and some of the elements were resolved too abruptly.  All in all, though, it was well worth the time I spent reading it.  This book could work well as a stand-alone, but I think it is much better read after the first two in the series.

A GIVEAWAY!  The publisher provided me with a certificate entitling one reader of my blog to receive a free copy of The Breakthrough.  For a chance to win this book, please let me know you're interested by posting a comment below by 5 p.m. on Monday, September 10.

(I was provided a free copy of this book by Tyndale House in exchange for my honest review.)