Saturday, July 30, 2011

An Amish Story with Rich Characters -- The Harvest of Grace

The Harvest of Grace, the third of Cindy Woodsmall’s Ada’s House novels, was a delight to read, with its multiple story lines and rich, complex characters.

Sylvia Fisher is betrayed by the man she is expecting to marry and decides that she must leave the people and farm she loves. Working hard to help another family save their struggling dairy business seems to be the way to escape her hurt and loneliness. But her plans are disrupted by the unexpected return of the Blanks’ wayward son, Aaron, who has other ideas for his family’s future. Sylvia’s life becomes more complicated as she deals with issues of her heart, toward God, her family, and others.

Old friends from the previous Ada’s House novels are prominent characters in this story as well. Cara continues to try to prepare herself for acceptance into the Amish church and marriage to Ephraim but finds that she has lingering hurt and anger standing in her way. Lena and Grey, Deborah and Jonathan, and Ada and Israel work their way through various issues in their relationships.

One of the things I enjoyed the most in this series was Cindy’s development of such rich, authentic characters. Many of the individuals had deep, complex issues to deal with. As they dealt with those issues, she showed how they struggled with themselves, with other people, and with God to learn lessons of forgiveness and to enjoy the fruits of the harvest of His grace.

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(I received this book for free from WaterBrook Multnomah Publishing Group for this review.)

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

A Great Story with a Challenge -- Courageous

For months I've been following the plans and preparations for Courageous, the newest movie from Alex & Stephen Kendrick and Sherwood Pictures (the Georgia church who brought us Facing the Giants and Fireproof.)  When I ran across the novelization of the story by Randy Alcorn, I decided to give it a read -- and I'm really glad I did!

Courageous is the story of four law enforcement officers (as well as their families and a couple of other friends) who take their calling to "serve and protect" seriously.  As the strains of their work and various struggles of family life take their toll, each man finds himself at a different place in his relationships with his wife and children -- and with God.  As they see the impact that the absence of fathers makes on the drug- and gang-related scene they regularly deal with, the truth hits home that these men are falling short in their own roles as fathers.  Through courage from God and accountability to each other, they determine to take seriously the important and difficult job of fatherhood.

On a surface level, this is a great story to read just for the pleasure of reading.  It goes much deeper, though, in dealing with very important and relevant topics.  Fathers, in particular, will be challenged to take a serious look at the impact they are making on their families, but mothers and children will be touched as well.  I would recommend this book to anyone who enjoys a good story with a healthy dose of conviction. 

If you have seen the other Sherwood Pictures movies or read the books, you will find a couple of familiar characters making appearances in the story.  Now I'm even more ready for this movie!

(Tyndale House Publishers provided me with a complimentary copy of this book for my honest review.)

Monday, July 18, 2011

Treasuring Emma by Kathleen Fuller

Treasuring Emma by Kathleen Fuller is a quick-to-read Amish story which starts the new Middlefield Family series.

Emma Shetler has faced much loss in recent years. Her mother’s death to cancer and her father’s death three years earlier have left Emma and her grandmother alone on the family farm. When Adam Otto returns to his family’s farm next door after being gone for two years, Emma has to deal with the broken heart she still carries as a result of his leaving. Family financial concerns lead to conflicts with her sister Clara, and new complications arise when her brother-in-law’s cousin arrives in town.

Treasuring Emma contains many of the usual elements of Amish stories, but with plenty of questions to keep you turning pages and involved in the story. The characters were interesting – some fun to get to know and some not the kind of folks you would call your friends. A couple of things caught my attention as different from some Amish stories. Adam’s experiences during his time in the “English” world were described a little more explicitly than usual – although I didn’t find this in any way offensive. And Clara was much more outspoken toward her husband than Amish wives are usually portrayed.

There were just enough pieces of the story left hanging to bring things to a good conclusion -- but also to keep you waiting for the next Middlefield Family book.

(Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the publisher through the BookSneeze®.com book review bloggers program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255.)

Friday, July 15, 2011

The Blessed -- Shaker Series

The Blessed by Ann H. Gabhart was my first exposure to the group of people known as the Shakers. I have to say that I found their ideas and way of life pretty strange, but those oddities were an important part of this story set in the mid-19th century.

Isaac Kingston has lost his beloved wife Ella, and the guilt he carries over her death is so strong that he considers ending his own life. Lacey Bishop has had her share of struggles in her young life, and things get much more complicated for her after the death of her “surrogate mother” who taught her so much about God and the Bible.

Through very different sets of circumstances, Isaac and Ella both find themselves moving into a Shaker village, surrounded by strange people with unusual ideas about living, loving and worshiping. They both are hesitant to become Believers and sign the Covenant required for official status as members of the community. In the midst of their reluctance, both become more confident in what they believe and find a strong measure of healing and freedom from their past and present trials.

This is the fourth book in Ann Gabhart’s Shaker Series but easily functions as a stand-alone title. The story was very interesting and engaging, although it seemed to have something of a slow start. There were many intriguing characters who added richness to the story, although at times the cultural/historical information seemed to overshadow them. I did enjoy the book and would be glad to read another by this author.

Available July 2011 at your favorite bookseller from Revell, a division of Baker Publishing Group.

This book was provided to me free of charge from Revell for my honest review.

Saturday, July 9, 2011

A trio of Amish stories -- The Judgment, Lilly's Wedding Quilt, Sarah's Garden

My reading has slowed down during the last few weeks.  I guess you could say I've been distracted by a new love.  Traveling out of state to visit my first grandson and scrapbooking his pictures have taken much of my time and interest lately.

I have managed to read a little, though, and some of my most recent reads have been three Amish stories -- one by well-known Beverly Lewis and two by a new face on the Amish scene, Kelly Long.

The Judgment by Beverly Lewis is the second in her Rose Trilogy.  This book allows a return visit with Rose Kauffman and her sister Hannah "Hen" Orringer. 

Rose is torn between her feelings for Silas Good and those for her long-time friend and confidante Nick -- the bishop's wayward foster son who has run away from the community.  Her mother's health and her sister's troubled marriage with her English husband, Brandon, also deeply concern Rose.

This was a great installment in the trilogy.  It didn't provide many answers to the challenges of the characters -- in fact, it seemed to add more questions.  But it was a great set up for the conclusion due to come out this fall!

Sarah's Garden and Lilly's Wedding Quilt, Patch of Heaven novels, are the first two Amish books by Kelly Long. The stories are great and add a slightly different element from the norm. Kelly writes more open expression of desire and passion into her Amish characters than any others I've read. While the stories are very enjoyable and there is certainly nothing inappropriate in them, it was definitely unexpected.

In Sarah’s Garden, Sarah King expects to join the church, marry an Amish man, and live her life as an Amish wife. It appears that Jacob Wyse may be the one she will live that predictable life with. But when Englisher Grant Williams moves next door and sets up a veterinary practice among the Amish community, her feelings and plans take twists and turns she never expected.

In Lilly’s Wedding Quilt, Lilly Lapp finds herself in a marriage based on a series of misunderstandings. She is uncertain whether the relationship will bloom into real love but commits herself to giving it her best effort. Lilly resigns herself to the fact that she has missed out on the traditional gift of a wedding quilt, something very important to her, and is quite surprised to see how that longing is finally resolved.

I hope there are more Patch of Heaven stories yet to come!