Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Jo Kadlecek's A Quarter After Tuesday ~ Reviewed

A Quarter after Tuesday
Jo Kadlecek
Paperback: 295 pages
Publisher: Navpress Publishing Group (August 30, 2007)

ISBN 978-1-60006-050-2

As the religion reporter for the New Orleans Banner, Jonna Lightfoot MacLaughlin is a single woman looking for love and a good story. She's soon up to her neck in both. While visiting a local senior center filled with authentic faith, Jonna believes she has finally found good news. But after a resident's mysterious death, Jonna learns that someone may have dark plans for the small community.

Jonna's pursuit of a front page story leads into the heart of New Orleans varied views on religion and faith. The writing is solid and the main character interesting, but the pacing felt slow and there didn't seem to be any memorable climactic event. Only toward the last 1/3 of the book does the mystery begin to unravel and the pace increase. The villain is portrayed realistically and the ending gives hope for a third book and perhaps a permanent romantic interest for Jonna.

Reviewed by: Sandra D. Moore

Monday, August 27, 2007

Cyndy Salzmann's Crime and Clutter ~ Reviewed

Crime & Clutter
by Cyndy Salzmann
Published by Howard Books
ISBN-10: 1582296448

Mary Alice is a member of FAC – Friday Afternoon club. Dear friends from this group take it upon themselves to help Mary Alice with the overwhelming task of sorting through and cleaning out a storage unit that was left to Mary by her lost father.

Mary let it slip at a meeting one day that she was late paying on a storage unit that belonged to her late father. All the ladies stopped talking and gave Mary Alice their full attention. Father passed away? Why hadn’t she mentioned this before? What is in that unit that she keeps paying for it each month? Why hasn’t she looked at it sooner?

The FAC club takes on this mission to help Mary Alice face her father’s past thru the stuff in the storage unit. As they enter the unit they discover a 1963 Volkswagen mini bus, tattered letters and other personal items from her fathers mysterious past. What does all this mean?

Cyndy does a great job revealing history from the 60’s thru Mary Alice’s father’s past. The 60’s were such turbulent times and the people were free thinkers. I love how she captures the mind set of the Hippies. She is great about showing the who, what, where and how they lived. It was very fascinating and disturbing at the same time. Some of the choices the people made in the story broke my heart when you see the cost they had to pay for those choices. I also rejoiced for the characters for the redemptive power of forgiveness through Jesus Christ.

Another thing I LOVE about this book are the many recipes spread out throughout the chapters. They look so yummy. There are 26 in all. They are indexed in the back of the book for easy access. I definitely want to try the Fried Twinkie recipe. (Oh, did I say that out loud!!! J ) This book was so much fun reading and then the fun continues as you make the food afterwards. What are you waiting for? Dig in!

Nora St.Laurent
Life Way Book Club Leader

Friday, August 24, 2007

C.L. Kelly's Echo ~ Reviewed

By C.L. Kelly
Published by Zondervan Publishing Co.
ISBN-10: 0310263042

A trip with friends to the Cascade Mountains had been Cassie’s idea. The Ferguson’s had been a couple close to them but had slipped out of their lives when tragic circumstances hit Cassie and Nick’s life. This was Cassie and Nick’s chance to catch up with a couple of old friends and their son, Cody who is deaf. Cassie could see the separate lives the Ferguson family was living. Could this camping trip break the routine of everyday life and bring the Ferguson’s to talk to one another again? Could they stop hurting one another to remember the good times and how much they loved each other? When did life get so serious?

Cody disappears without a trace; Sheila and Andy start to do what they have come to do best: “blame” one another for the situation at hand. Cassie feels bad that she could see the tide was turning for the couple out in God’s country. They just needed a little longer. Now this; a bad storm was moving in and it did not look good. The sheriff came and told them there has been a grizzly bear spotted not to far from where they last saw Cody. Where was God in all of this?

This was the testing of Cassie and Nick’s faith. Did Sheila really believe in God? Could Andy trust God with his son’s life? Would Cody be found alive? How could a deaf boy make it in the wild alone? Could they capture the grizzly bear in time?

This story will grab your heart right from the start, and you won’t want to stop reading. Every parent can sympathize with the Ferguson’s and may relate to how life had gotten so serious for them and learn why it has stopped being fun. Then the suspense takes over and you will not stop reading until you reach the end. I highly recommend this story.

Nora St.Laurent
Life Way Book Club Leader

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Twist Phelan's False Fortune ~ Reviewed

False Fortune - A Pinnacle Peak Mystery
Twist Phelan
Reading level: Ages 9-12
Hardcover: 292 pages
Publisher: Poisoned Pen Press (September 15, 2007)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 1590583639

Business attorney Hannah Dain is in such deep water not even her trusty kayak can keep her afloat. A trip to an abandoned uranium mine with her sister Shelby turns into a daring lake rescue of a mysterious woman. Then Hannah is appointed lead counsel in Shelby’s pollution case on behalf of the local Indian tribe against the Feds – a case, Hannah discovers, that some people will do anything to keep out of the courtroom. When things seem as if they can’t get any stranger, a recently discovered family member shows up on Hannah’s doorstep, further jeopardizing Hannah’s fragile relationship with Shelby.

And then there’s Hannah’s newfound friend, Jerry Dan Kovacs. From the moment he jumps into the lake with Hannah to prevent the mystery woman from drowning, Jerry Dan entangles Hannah in a whirlwind of events, eventually pulling her into a mysterious treasure hunt.

Is Jerry Dan an innocent participant in whatever is going on out by the lake, or merely a bystander? Who put Hannah’s newfound relative at risk” And what about Hannah’s relationship with her ex-boyfriend, Cooper Smith” Only by taking a gutsy chance can Hannah unravel the scheme, bring both halves of her family together, and answer the questions about her future.

My Review

I like fiction that spends time focused on characters and their growth more so than plot. Don’t get me wrong -- I don’t like a character who sits in a Lazy-Boy contemplating how his belly-button lint might bring about world peace -- I just prefer my characters to be realistic.

Twist Phelan’s Hannah is a three dimensional character. But coming into the third book of the series without the benefit of the first two made Hannah a little challenging to grab hold of. Part over-achieving lawyer/athlete, part squashed marshmallow, Hannah is “someone” I’ve encountered several times in my lifetime. But by the end of the novel Hannah felt more fleshed out.

The family dynamics, likely explained fully in books one and two, kept pulling my focus away from the plot. But had I read book one and two – I’ve no doubt I would have easily slid into Hannah’s world.

Phelan creates desert scenery that at times came alive.

Athletes may find much to like in Phelan’s stories. Each contains a different sporting focus. False Fortune focused on the kayak which became symbolic of Hannah’s life.

I was surprised at the level of spirituality (mostly Hindu) in False Fortune. This fascinates me. I read much Christian fiction and as I see a decrease in focus on religion in much Christian genres, I see more spiritual focus in the mainstream fiction I’m reading.

The mystery in False Fortune delivers though a couple items remained unraveled.

Overall, the solid writing and storytelling skills should satisfy legal, mystery, southwest and sports fans.

Reviewed by: Kelly Klepfer

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Christine Lynxwiler's Forever Christmas ~ Reviewed

Forever Christmas
By Christine Lynxwiler
Published by Barbour Books
ISBN 978-1-59789-821-8

After two broken engagements, so-called runaway bride Kristianna Harrington is content to run her shop, Forever Christmas, in he little hometown of Jingle Bells, Arkansas, and forget about romance. She reluctantly agrees to be the maid of honor at her best friend's wedding, but making it down the aisle becomes the least of her worries when a handsome newcomer threatens her precious town. Kristianna vows to stop the striking lawyer hired to change the town name and turns to her childhood friends for help. But Ami is busy with wedding plans, and Garrett seems more interested in bowling than politics. Will Kristianna get the help she needs before both her town and her Christmas spirit are extinguished?


Forever Christmas is a delightful romance with a few twists I didn't see coming. A romantic tale, it's perfect for Christmas gift-giving. It's well written and the plot makes it a fun read. It held my interest from beginning to end. We've all seen those towns that theme around Christmas. Have you ever wondered what it was like living there? Lynxwiler brings it alive for you. The town of Jingle Bells has a few residents I seem to recognize from my own small hometown.

I love these Christmas themed books, and I plan to buy a few for my Christmas list. A great read with a warm and satisfying end.

Reviewed by Ane Mulligan

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Lauraine Snelling's Breaking Free ~ Reviewed

Breaking Free
Lauraine Snelling
Faith Words
ISBN 978-0-446-58208-7
August 21, 2007

In prison for ten years, Maggie Roberts has learned to keep to herself and her emotions under tight control. Up for parole in a few weeks, Maggie is offered the opportunity to work with Thoroughbred race horses in a new prison program. Reluctant at first, her love of horses finally wins out. Working with an abused blood bay gelding, Breaking Free is soon gentled by Maggie's patient touch. But it's not just Breaking Free learning new coping skills. Maggie, too, begins to deal with the guilt of yesterday and embrace the hope for tomorrow. Then Maggie learns a local businessman is set on adopting Breaking Free. Will she have to let go of the one thing keeping her afloat?

Running Free immediately registered with me since my daughter is also involved in a Therapeutic Horseback Riding program. Maggie's awakening is well paced and believable, and though the romance felt rushed, it is apparent that a second chance at love is only icing on the cake of Maggie's post-prison life. As she finds her niche again and begins to sort through her grief and shame, she becomes a woman worthy of the title Heroine. Good, solid writing and a fresh storyling. A must read!

Reviewed by: Sandra Dionne Moore

Friday, August 17, 2007

Linda Nichol's In Search of Eden ~ Reviewed

In Search of Eden
Linda Nichols
Publisher: Bethany House (February 1, 2007)

ISBN-13: 978-7642-0167-7

Today is your birthday . . . I want you to know that you are in my heart, as you always have been. I pray for you every day. I pray I did the right thing . . .

Thus wrote Miranda DeSpain on the anniversary of the day that changed her life forever, the day her heart was torn in pieces. Ever since that wrenching event, she's been unable to settle down, embrace life. She finds herself starting one adventure after another, trying to forget. But she never can. As she approaches her twenty-seventh birthday, she determines once again to reinvent her circumstances, to start anew. Buth there's one lose end to tie up first . . .

Miranda's search lead her to Abingdon, VA, where Joseph North, chief of police, takes not of the new woman in town. Suspicious of her motives, he begins to check into her past. When he finds a baby picture of his niece in her possession, he is compelled to find discover the connection between Miranda DeSpain and his niece. In the process, he must face his own painful past.

A beautiful story of courage and perseverance, sacrifice and betrayal. Linda weaves all the elements of a good story together to make this book a poignant reminder that forgiveness is a choice. Though the "surprise" ending threw me and felt contrived, the beautiful way in which broken relationships were repaired and the overall pacing, coupled with a superb writing style, far outweighed that negative for this reader.

Reviewed by: Sandra D. Moore

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Allison Bottke's One Little Secret ~ Reviewed

One Little Secret
By Allison Bottke
Published by Bethany House
ISBN 10: 0-7642-0058-5

Click here to see an interview with Allison.

An invitation to record a CD with a hunky, young pop star? It's the stuff dreams are made of...right? For Ursula Rhodes, a suburban wife and mom, one little secret is about to change her whole life.

In the land of glitz and glamour, Ursula isn't fazed in the least by the constant parade of Prada and Tiffany's or the high-profile celebrity sightings. A beautiful home, a loving family, and fulfilling volunteer opportunities leave this fashionable and faithful housewife completely content, even if she did have to give up her dreams...

Nikolai Prevelakis, or Nik Prevel to his fans, is the hottest young music star in the country. But it isn't enough. Handsome, famous, and living like a rock star, Nik isn't content. When his path crosses Ursula's he sees the opportunity he's been waiting for.

One Little Secret contains all the right stuff—good writing, deep characterizations and a great story from an author who lives in the midst of it. Bottke knows L.A. and all its burbs. And it shows. The Southland, with its sun, beach communities and Hollywood, almost becomes a character in the book.

Creating a twisting, totally non-predictable plot, Bottke infuses a witty chick-lit style to contemporary fiction. Her voice is fresh and unique. I was drawn into the story from the first page. Her characters are real and fall into the same traps we do. When the wife of one of her husband's law partners is condescending to her, Ursula wants to dig into the grocery cart, grab a fresh lemon pie and shove it in the woman's face—but knows she can't. I laughed out loud numerous times at Ursula's thoughts and reactions. And I blinked back tears a few times, too.

With characters I could relate to, I found myself getting angry at Nik, fearful that Ursula was heading toward trouble, and worried that Don, her husband, would be blind to a sexy new law partner's advances. There's conflict at every turn! A few times I wished I had Ursula's cell phone number. I'd call her up and yell at her. But as the story unfolds, Bottke kept surprising me with a new twist I hadn't expected.

In Ursula, Bottke gives us a portrait of a Christian woman living in a fallen world. She faces temptations; she sins but keeps going, assured of her Savior's love and forgiveness. How she shares her faith with those around her is well written, never schmaltzy or preachy. This reviewer gives it her highest recommendation—a must read!

Reviewed by Ane Mulligan

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Gilbert Morris' The Cat's Pajamas ~ Reviewed

The Cat's Pajamas
Gilbert Morris
Paperback: 256 pages
Publisher: Harvest House Publishers (March 1, 2007)
ISBN-10: 0736919651
ISBN-13: 978-0736919654

In the second book of Morris's cat detectives series, the mystery is more developed and more vital to the story. A movie is being filmed in White Sands, and to everyone's astonishment, it seems that Jake once had a romantic relationship with its famous leading lady. The cats are involved, too, when they're chosen to be in the film. Throw in an obnoxious, bullying producer, his beaten-down son, a jealous actress, and you know trouble is coming. Morris throws a slight curve ball, however. Since pretty much everyone is given a motive for killing the evil producer Aaron Tobin, you're just waiting for him to become a victim. Instead, someone entirely unexpected is killed. And of course, Jacques comes to the rescue once again.

The other characters in White Sands are more developed in the second book, as well, including the beautiful veterinarian, Enola, who comes around regularly to check on the animals. Morgan Brice and his daughter, Rhiannon, who appeared briefly in book one, play a larger role this time around. Brice is an elderly eccentric who lives in a shack on the beach and home schools his granddaughter. Rhiannon is a ten-year-old genius who has practically memorized their set of encyclopedias, spouts large words and philosophy, and says whatever is on her mind—no matter how tactless.

If you plan to spend some time this summer lying on the beach, or by the pool, throw a copy of Morris's cat detective books into your beach bag.

Reviewed by Robin Johns Grant

Monday, August 13, 2007

Gilbert Morris' What the Cat Dragged In ~ Reviewed

What the Cat Dragged In
Gilbert Morris
Paperback: 256 pages
Publisher: Harvest House Publishers (March 1, 2007)
ISBN-10: 0736919643
ISBN-13: 978-0736919647

Gilbert Morris has a great set-up for his new cozy mystery series—featuring "cat detectives" Jacques and Cleo. The person belonging to the two cats is a struggling single mother named Kate. She's astounded to discover she's inherited a beach house in White Sands, Alabama and the money that comes along with it. Unfortunately, there are two conditions. First, she has to live in the house and take care of the former owner's animals, which include a raccoon, a ferret, a rabbit with a death wish (she constantly chews electric cords), a cussing parrot, a pit bull, and a snake. Second, she has to share the house with Jake, another heir who is also required to live in the house.

Jake and Kate are truly the odd couple. Jake is a former cop who believes in cooking everything from scratch and keeping things neat as a pin. Kate believes in microwave thawing and throws her clothes on the floor. Kate has a natural affinity for animals. Jake hates them, even though he grudgingly agrees to help take care of the menagerie because of the terms of the will. Kate is a Christian and Jake is a skeptic. So naturally, sparks fly. Does anyone see a romance coming?

Most of What the Cat Dragged In sets up Jake and Kate's inheriting the money, meeting, and attempting to set up housekeeping together. (Although for propriety's sake, Jake occupies an upstairs apartment of his own.) And of course, we get to know the two cats, Jacques and Cleo. Cleo's a sweet, fluffy ragdoll. Jacques is a rare cat known as a Savannah, which is half Serval wild cat. His nickname is "Jacques the Ripper." Both Jake, the former cop, and Trouble the pit bull are afraid of him.

The mystery starts pretty late in the book, which is all right because it frankly isn't as interesting as Jake and Kate, the animals, and the quirky characters in White Sands. This is a mystery, however, so eventually the friend of Kate's son, Jeremy, is killed, and Jeremy is a suspect. Jacques the Ripper comes to the rescue by uncovering an important clue that clears Jeremy.

Reviewed by Robin Johns Grant

Thursday, August 09, 2007

Diann Hunt's Be Sweet ~ Reviewed

Be Sweet
By Diann Hunt
Published by Thomas Nelson
ISBN-10: 1-59554-194-2

Viney Haverford always told her daughters to "be sweet." But the only thing sweet about Charlene Haverford these days is her sweet tooth. Little sister Janni is the nice one. The one with the intact marriage, the great kids, the stable life on the family homestead in Tappery, Michigan. Charlene's the sister who left town brokenhearted and humiliated but built a sweet life for herself half a continent away: High-octane job. Red BMW. Seaside cottage. And an uncomplicated relationship with a great-looking man.

Charlene might not be the sweet sister, but she still craves sweets, like the incomparable maple syrup from her family's own maples. Which is why she's finally coming home. And to make sure her tightfisted sister doesn't botch plans for their parents' 50th anniversary party. And to show the local gossips that she's not the loser they think she is.

But Charlene's tie in Tappery proves stickier than anticipated. Sweet Janni has turned moody, Mom's acting paranoid, Dad may be sneaking around with a local widow, the police seem to be stalking them all, and the little twinge in Charlene's mouth has morphed into a full-blown, sugar-0induced toothache. A hunky local dentist offers a delicious diversion. But just when things get cozy, a series of revelations open both sisters' hearts to sweet possibilities they never imagined.

Diann Hunt proves life begins at forty-five, and you don't begin to hit your stride till fifty. Her characters are zany, witty, eclectic, deep, gritty ... in other words: real, warts and all. But the book isn't a piece of fluff. There's a message of healing in its pages, a throwing off of old baggage, and trust. All wrapped up in one delicious, hilarious read.

Heavily character driven, the story unfolds at an unhurried pace, allowing the reader to get inside Charlene's head and know her. By the time you've finished half a chocolate chip cookie and a cup of coffee, you're sitting beside Char at the kitchen table, walking with her through the maples, tapping trees and getting sticky hands.

What I found so interesting is how Hunt wrote Be Sweet in first person from Charlene's point of view, yet you know each character intimately. Though each is seen from Char's perspective, each is fully developed and has their own unique voice.

The antics will keep you chuckling all the way through, from Viney's paranoia to Janni's strange behavior. Toss in a Harley, that hunky dentist, a couple of hormonal college kids, and you've got one of the best reads of the year. Grab something maple, preferably covered in chocolate, and enjoy. This reviewer gives Be Sweet her highest recommendation. It's a 5 star book.

Reviewed by Ane Mulligan

Wednesday, August 08, 2007

Rachel Hauck's Diva NashVegas ~ Reviewed

Diva NashVegas
Rachel Hauck
Paperback: 312 pages
Publisher: Thomas Nelson (May 8, 2007)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 1595541918
ISBN-13: 978-1595541918

What do you do when the past you've been skirting shows up at your door with cameras rolling?

Aubrey James ruled the charts as the queen of country for over a decade. She'd rocketed to fame in the shadow of her parents' death-both of them pioneers in Gospel music. But while her public life, high profile romances, and fights with Music Row execs made for juicy tabloid headlines, the real and private Aubrey has remained a media mystery.

When a former band member betrays Aubrey's trust and sells an "exclusive" to a tabloid, the star knows she must go public with her story. But Aubrey's private world is rocked when the Inside NashVegas interviewer is someone from her past-someone she'd hoped to forget.

All the moxie in the world won't let this Diva run any longer.

My Review:

Diva NashVegas is a well-written dual first person point of view novel that made me laugh, tear up, and speed read.

Hauck writes tight prose and great characters. I wasn't sure I'd like this book based on the premise. A spoiled superstar diva and her sad story. Self-proclaimed divas put my annoyance-alert sensors on high.Seriously, I don't care for selfish people and high drama gets old real fast.

I ended up being very pleasantly surprised. Aubrie pulled at my heartstrings. Should any of us actually feel sorry for the rich and famous? But I did. And then the male character who did her wrong -- boo hiss -- I ended up feeling compassion for him, too.

Not only did Hauck try an unusual point of view change up, she actually tosses in a few "inappropriate" words and shows the heroine in a not so great moral light. I applaud the reality factor of Diva. Both Hauck and Thomas Nelson have pushed the edgy envelope.The Christian fiction I've read lately is a long way from prarie romance. Should you prefer the innocence of the prairie breezes, you might not want to pick up Diva NashVegas. But if you're looking for a good novel that tells a good story and might just convict you, or remind you, or even give you a glimpse of the light, I suggest 'Diva."

Reviewed by: Kelly Klepfer

Colleen Coble's Abomination ~ Reviewed

Abomination by Colleen Coble
• Hardcover: 336 pages
• Publisher: Thomas Nelson (August 7, 2007)
• Language: English
• ISBN-10: 1595541411
• ISBN-13: 978-1595541413

Abomination opens with a stranger sitting in a car, staring at his wife's photo. As darkness runs off the moonlight, he drives to an isolated spot on a lake. He removes a blanket wrapped body from his car's trunk. Before he hauls the corpse down to the dock, he tucks a partial peanut butter sandwich under her blouse. He enters the co-ordinates into a GPS unit, then dumps the blanket-bound body into a boat. He returns home after her watery burial and unloads the GPS information into a geocaching site. He also leaves a cryptic message: "ABOMINATIONS WILL FIND YOU."

Someone is after her, but she doesn't know why. She's bleeding from a six inch gash to her chest, but can't remember the attack. A small child in the backseat of her car is a stranger to her, as is her own name. Her car quits running and she manages to ditch it into a lake. But she doesn't know where she is or where she's headed. All she knows is, it is bitterly cold, she has a toddler to protect, and a murderer somewhere behind her. She staggers back to the main road, determined to hide from approaching traffic. But her senses are dulled by her weakened state, and a car with a female driver overtakes her on the road.

Bree Matthews is fairly certain the wounded woman next to her is fleeing an abusive relationship. How else to explain her physical appearance, her lack of proper winter clothing, and out in the middle of nowhere, in the dark, with a child in tow? But Bree can't come up with any hard answers, because the woman seems to be suffering from amnesia and has no answers to give. When her passenger refuses to be taken to a hospital, Bree has no choice but to take her to her home to live. But will her memory return before the killer tracks her down?

Colleen Coble's Abomination is a chilling tale of one man's obsession and a serial killer that taunts the authorities by the cryptic clues he leaves. It is also a story of second chances and hope. The ending initially left me off-kilter, but as I turned over the story in my head, the clues that had eluded me finally dropped into place. Abomination is a creepy read that kept me guessing up to the end.

Cheryl Russell

Tuesday, August 07, 2007

Matt Bronleewe's Illuminated ~ Reviewed

Title: Illuminated
Author: Matt Bronleewe
Publisher: Thomas Nelson, Inc.
ISBN: 978-1-5955-4249-6
August 7, 2007

Matt Bronleewe’s Illuminated is a refreshing novel full of intrigue, suspense, mystery and love.

When August Adams’ family is threatened, the rare manuscript dealer reaches across the centuries to match wits with a renaissance printer in order to decipher clues in not one, but three Gutenberg Bibles.

Soon August’s estranged wife, April, is caught in the layers of deceit and forced to risk the destruction of the very books she is paid to protect in her job at the Library of Congress.

As they try to unravel the clues, the couple reaches across the miles, across their failed marriage, and through a web of moles within the government and within two powerful bloodthirsty societies who have fought since the time of Gutenberg himself.
No one and nothing is exactly what it seems in Bronleewe’s page turning romp of intrigue.

Reviewer: Marjorie Smith

Friday, August 03, 2007

Beverly Lewis' The Brethren ~ Reviewed

Author: Beverly Lewis
Publisher: Bethany House
Genre: Christian romance
ISBN: 0764201077

In The Brethren, the third and final book in the Annie’s People series, Beverly Lewis continues to give her readers what they have found irresistible in her previous best-selling books. Set amongst the Amish in Paradise, Pennsylvania , the book opens with main character Annie Zook at odds with her strict father, preacher Jesse Zook, and living away from home. The fact that she has chosen to stay with her banned friend Essie (Esther Hochstetler) to help look after Essie and Zeke’s four children while Zeke is being held in jail after confessing to a murder makes the rift all the more galling to the elder Zook.

As is typical in Lewis’s books, more than one serpent has found its way into the Amish paradise. Under the settlement’s idyllic surface are misunderstandings, grudges, and secrets that even strict rules and authoritarian leaders can’t keep hidden forever. The result is a twisty plot that raises questions like did Zeke actually commit that murder, who is Ben Martin really, and will Annie make peace with her father and remain a plain woman or follow her heart to pursue her beloved art and become the fancy wife of her English beau?

Characters play an important part in this story. (As someone who hasn’t read the first two books in the series, I must admit the large cast of them, many of whom were introduced in earlier volumes, had me a little confused, though with close attention I got them all straight.) Main character Annie is a vital young woman who doesn’t always understand herself, is impulsive and strong willed yet hard-working, thoughtful, and kind. Zeke, in his mentally disturbed state is an interesting study. Preacher Jesse Zook seems the most complex character. While unyielding in his rigid stance toward Annie, he is demonstrably tender with his wife and shows a largeness of character at the end of the book that took me by surprise. Off-site characters Lou and Ben provide an interesting non-Amish viewpoint of Paradise.

The setting is also integral to these books about the Amish. Lewis, obviously familiar with their home and farm routines, describes these in satisfying detail, giving readers a sense of living in this picturesque and simple place. Yet even here progress is making inroads – though the juxtaposition of cell phones and automobiles with Amish life did feel a little bizarre. Lewis introduces just enough Amish-isms into the conversation of her Paradise characters (“Wonderful gut,” “purty,” “Ain’t so” etc) to keep them feeling authentic throughout.

Romance is woven through this book, as is the exploration of other relationships – parent-child and husband-wife. The ability and willingness of the Amish to forgive is a theme that plays a big part in the resolution of several of the story’s threads. As is typical in Lewis’s books, the Christian faith and its outworking is also a theme that remains front and center. In The Brethren there is a clash of the Amish belief system versus beliefs more in sync with a personal and literal interpretation of the Bible. Various characters risk being misunderstood and even banned by turning to evangelical ways. In the end, Lewis seems to come down on the side of having both – the outward simple lifestyle plus a personal though secret faith, as expressed by Annie and her beau: “They’d made a secret pact, vowing to live out their days with their eyes fixed on the Lord Jesus.”

If you’ve read the other two book in this series, The Preacher’s Daughter and The Englisher, you’ll not want to miss this conclusion to the story. If you haven’t read any Beverly Lewis before, this book is certainly representative of her popular storytelling style – a style that has seen previous books in this series, and this one, achieve a place on such prestigious bestseller lists as The New York Times and USA Today.

Violet Nesdoly

August Book Releases

August 2007 Releases

1. Abomination by Colleen Coble from Thomas Nelson. A young woman flees from a serial killer who leaves his victims at geocaching sites.

2. Family for Keeps and Sadie's Hero reissued as one book by Margaret Daley, from Steeple Hill Love Inspired. This Love Inspired Classic captures two touching stories that were favorites of readers.

3. Jacob's List by Stephanie Grace Whitson from Bethany House Publishers. Facing the challenge of their lives, the Nolans learn that their son's list is about a lot more than youthful adventure. Jacob's List: a story of reconciliation. . . against all odds.

4. In His Dreams from the Michigan Island Series by Gail Gaymer Martin from Steeple Hill Love Inspired. Two widowed in-laws meet again on Beaver Island after a few years absence and find joy in the sense of family, especially the hero's emotionally impaired pre-teen daughter, but the familiar friendship goes far beyond what they expected.

5. Massachusetts Brides by Lisa Harris from Barbour Publishing. Three old-fashioned romances bloom in the heart of New England.

6. Missionary Daddy Book 4 of A Tiny Blessings Tale by Linda Goodnight from Steeple Hill Love Inspired. A single missionary battles to adopt two boys from Africa and discovers the woman of his dreams is not who he thought she was.

7. Murder by Mushroom by Virginia Smith from Steeple Hill Love Inspired Suspense. A potluck on the lawn of Heritage Community Church brings out the usual pests: ants and flies, gossips and murderers.

8. Off the Record by Elizabeth White from Zondervan. A hidden past with journalist Cole McGaughan could end Laurel Kincade's judicial career...Or will the truth set them free to love again?

9. The Restitution 3rd book in The Legacy of the King's Pirates series by MaryLu Tyndall from Barbour Publishing. When Lady Isabel Ashton's only son is kidnapped, she is forced to enlist the aid of the boy's father, the pirate who ruined her life and stole her virtue.

10. To Love Anew Book One of Three by Bonnie Leon from Revell. When Hannah Talbot is banished from London and transported to Australia on a prison ship she's certain God has turned his back on her.

11. Trusting Him by Brenda Minton from Steeple Hill Love Inspired. A woman learning to trust, a man longing to be trusted, and a love that takes them by surprise...

Thursday, August 02, 2007

Sherri L Lewis's My Soul Cries Out ~ Reviewed

My Soul Cries Out
Sherri L Lewis
Paperback: 288 pages
Publisher: Urban Books (July 1, 2007)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 1893196976
ISBN-13: 978-1893196971

My Review:

My Soul Cries Out is a powerful redemption story about Monica and Kevin that on more than one occasion moved me to tears. I loved how the author wasn't afraid to tell it like it is when it came to internal thoughts, especially the skank ho references to certain women. Hilarious! The author masterfully wrote about Monica's rage the way it might really happen and didn't soften the issues for fear of offending the reader. This is real life trauma and heartache! Monica was a very flawed character but the author did such a fantastic job of growing her in her relationship with the Lord and with others that I couldn't help but love her. I just can't say enough good things about this book.

Kevin's characterization was so well done that I can honestly say I haven't read any novel highlighting the pain that comes from childhood abuse that was better at showing it than this one. And I've read a lot of them. You can't help but have compassion on Kevin when he reveals his struggles and you see how even the church had betrayed him by not protecting him. The way Kevin and Monica's relationship developed throughout the story is proof that God can use anything--even the most horrible sin or mistake--to make us more like Him.

In addition to the main story, there were several subplots regarding redemption that were both believable and moving. The story of Alaysia's quest for peace and redemption was perfectly done and complimented the main theme of My Soul Cries Out. True-to-life, the comments made by an unbeliever can often be used to turn the struggling Christian's life around. Oh, and the ending gave me the happy shivers. I SO loved this story and can't wait to read the next book from this author, who is even more beautiful than the model on the cover.

My Soul Cries Out was published by Urban Books.

Reviewed by: Michelle Sutton (pen name)

Wednesday, August 01, 2007

Jamie Langston Turner's Winter Birds ~ Reviewed

Winter Birds
by Jamie Langston Turner
Paperback: 400 pages
Publisher: Bethany House (September 1, 2006)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 0764200151
ISBN-13: 978-0764200151

At eighty I knew I must not delay. The branches of the tree were nearly bare. My method: I sent letters to nine people, family acquaintances, five of whom responded, to apply as Providers of Winter Hospice for Sophia Marie Langham Hess.

The wealthy widow Sophia chooses, finally, to live with her nephew and his wife in a modest bungalow in Greenville, Mississippi. Winter Birds, Jamie Langston Turner’s third novel, is the story of Ms. Hess in that winter season and the tale of the gradual unthawing of her heart in the home of Patrick and Rachel.

The time period spanned in this contemporary novel is about one year, though through Sophia’s flashbacks and memories we are able to piece together the entire life story of this intelligent but embittered octogenarian. The setting is spare. Mostly we’re in Sophia’s room, which looks out over a playground, has in view a mortuary and, just outside the window, a bird feeder.

This book majors on characters. Sophia, the main character, who tells the entire story in first person (present tense, no less), is rich and complex. As a former English teacher and the widow of Eliot Hess, a noted Shakespeare professor, she shows herself to be intelligent, cultured and perceptive. She is also sneaky, funny, and at times a less than reliable narrator, colored as her outlook is by low self-esteem, betrayal, disappointment, and cynicism.

Other main characters Patrick and Rachel, as well as secondary characters Terri, Steve and Potts, are seen and interpreted through Sophia’s eyes in satisfying physical and psychological detail. Sophia’s penchant for people-watching leads to some amusing reflections - like this one at the Christmas dinner table, when most of the guests are gushing about the pin Sophia got as a gift and Sophia, catching the look on teenager Mindy’s face muses:

“Mindy is eyeing the pin, frowning slightly as if wondering how such a small thing, something she would never be caught wearing, can evoke such emotion from adults. Perhaps she will tell her friends about it later: “And this fat old woman was wearing this weird-looking bird pin that everyone was having a cow over!”

Langston Turner’s prose style is simple. In one place she has Sophia overhear aspiring writer Patrick report to Rachel “in painstaking detail” (Sophia thinks Patrick is an incredible bore) something his teacher has said about “two kinds of simplicity – one producing art, the other banality.” As I read this book, I got the feeling that simplicity producing art was the effect Langston Turner was after and, in my opinion, achieved. But if the prose is simple, other stylistic features like Shakespearean lines as titles and the descriptions of bird behavior under those titles, both of which are then woven into the story line of the chapter, make the book satisfyingly thoughtful and layered.

Death is a theme that runs through the entire story. That’s probably not surprising, as Sophia is 80 and feels that her own is imminent. This theme is underlined again and again as Sophia watches the goings-on at the mortuary across the street and obsessively reads the "Milestones" columns from old Time magazines, paying special attention to the obits. Other themes that emerge as the back story unfolds are betrayal and deception. What finally transforms this often pessimistic story into a hopeful one is the message that love has the power to heal and restore.

The Christian aspect of the novel is handled with a light touch. Sophia, herself a skeptic throughout the book, does a good job of articulating common objections to belief. These are countered not with platitudes and sermons but with actions. Rachel, Patrick and others do a good job of showing in their own imperfect ways, what it means to serve and love the way Jesus taught.

This book is easily one of my favorites of 2006. The beautiful writing full of wisdom, literary allusions and stylistic elegance give it the moodling possibilities of poetry. Its quiet but compelling plot, realistic characters and sly humor made me wish it were twice as long. It reminds me of Marilynne Robinson’s Gilead and, like that book, it’s one I’m planning to read again, this time with highlighter always at hand.

Violet Nesdoly