Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Jillian Hart's A Handful of Heaven

A Handful of Heaven
By Jillian Hart
Published By Steeple Hill
ISBN-10: 0373873492

Who’s to say that ordinary people, who live ordinary lives, can’t find love in an ordinary way? Jillian Hart’s Love Inspired book from Steeple Hill exemplifies just that.
Two people, Paige McKaslin and Evan Thornton literally grew up in the same town, attended the same church, and even had children who were friends, still they only passed in the night – mere acquaintances.

She, recovering from a husband who left her with a diner, a baby and more responsibility than she knew what to do with, while he was recovering from a wife who’d financially destroyed him, finally managed to meet and get to know one another.

Paige is bound by a diner, that though she loves, is a cumbersome and draining venture. When she and Evan are finally forced by coincidence to meet and talk, an immediate attraction is unleashed. Both, trying to learn to trust once again, work their way through a series of incidents that offer an opportunity for love.

Faced with the empty nest syndrome as her son prepares to go to college, Paige learns that loneliness is not the company she wants to keep. This “simply sweet” story reminds us that love really happens in the most un-ordinary ways – no ringing bells, no fireworks, just honest, sweet and simple.

Jillian Hart brings a touching and entertaining “feel good” story that allows us to say, “Ahhh,” at the end of her book. My only complaint – Jillian made anyone in their early forties seem old. A delightful book filled with touching descriptions and wholesome reading that teaches love doesn’t have to be tacky to be good.

Reviewed by Cindy Sproles
Mountain Breeze Ministries

Saturday, February 24, 2007

Allison Pittman's Speak Through the Wind ~ Reviewed

Speak Through the Wind
by Allison Pittman
Published by Multnomah
ISBN-10: 1590526252

In the mid-1800's, a little girl is rescued off the streets of New York City. Reverend Joseph offers Kassandra (Sadie, from Ten Thousand Charms) a home, an education, a chance to learn about the love of God, and a cranky housekeeper. It's not a bad package until, when Kassandra is just fifteen years old, Ben Connor sweeps her off her feet, shatters her heart, and steals her hope. From one NYC brothel to another in San Francisco, and a baby in between, Kassandra winds up in Wyoming Territory with scarcely a light in her eye. Then she meets Gloria, who's pregnant and desperate, and Biddy, a young girl of great faith. After all Kassandra has been through, what could they possibly teach her that life's cruelties haven't already? Perhaps the truth that God never left her...and the chance to return home again.

Allison Pittman pens a powerful novel in "Speak Through the Wind."

I've read plenty of prostitute fiction from the same time frame. You'd think I wouldn't find a story that would touch me anew.

However, Kassandra's story is heartbreaking and believable. The tale requires that the reader suffer and learn along with Kassandra from the wisp of a child beginning through the dank reality of adulthood.

At times gritty and gut-wrenching, Pittman manages to tell the truth with just enough detail that the book pulls the reader into the setting. Weak-stomached, weak-kneed, or those who don't want to read about the reality of a fallen world might find the sensory experience of this novel a little too costly.

I see myself in Kassandra's story. No, I've not lived the life of a prostitute. But I have swallowed Satan's lies and made some pretty ugly messes. I've not sold myself for money, but I've sold my self-respect to gain a friend, or my common sense to feel a little better for a brief moment.

Through poignant prose, Kassandra lives and breathes on Pittman's pages.

As a fan of Francine Rivers, I've always been more inclined toward The Last Sin-Eater because of the haunting loneliness of the characters than to Redeeming Love's perfect Hosea. Pittman manages to capture the beauty of both of those novels as she paints a haunting character in Kassandra and a beautiful picture of redemption in "Speak Through the Wind."

I'm glad I had the opportunity to read it and meet Kassandra. I think I could even say that her life changed something within my soul.

Isn't that what Christian fiction is supposed to do?

Reviewed by
Kelly Klepfer

Thursday, February 22, 2007

Karen Hancock's Return of the Guardian King ~ Reviewed

Return of the Guardian King
Karen Hancock
Published by Bethany House (April 1, 2007)
ISBN-10: 0764227971

Abramm Kalladorne knows that is his wife Maddie singing just ahead. Separated from her and their boys when his kingdom fell to his brother, he is anxious for a reunion. As he hurries forward, he stumbles—and is jerked back to cruel reality. He isn't crossing a sunny meadow on his way to a joyous family reunion. He's one in a group of refugees lost in a snowstorm in the mountains, miles from his family. Known to his companions as Alaric, evil knows his true identity and pursues him into the mountains and beyond. Moroq, his oldest enemy, will do anything he must to destroy Abramm.

His wife, Maddie, has arrived in the royal city of Fannath Rill, in her home country of Chesedh. Alone. Her oldest son, Simon, is missing and Ian, her youngest, she saw killed as they tried to escape Kiriath. She's also received word that Abramm was captured and burned in Execution Square. An outcast among her own people, she comes under increasing pressure to cast aside her grief, renounce her faith, and assimilate into the royal lifestyle. As First Daughter, she has a role to play and certain rules to follow.

Others of the Kirithian royal party are also living in Fannath Rill. Crown Princess Carrissa, Abramm's sister and Trap Meridon, Duke of Northille-Abramm's oldest and closest friend-are exiles with Maddie. Each has their own personal storms to contend with, as well as grief the loss of Abramm and his sons.

The personal struggles are carried out against the backdrop of war. Betrayal and a new role she feels unprepared to fill will stretch Maddie's faith to the breaking point. Abramm's own faith undergoes it own fire as he determines to follow his first love, no matter what the cost.

Return of the Guardian King is the final novel in the outstanding Legends of the Guardian King series by Karen Hancock, winner of multiple Christy awards. This last book lives up to the standards set by the first—an intricate and complicated story world inhabited by complex characters. A lot of her writing reminds me of JRR Tolkein's fantasy works—story worlds with great depth and characters capable of stirring up this reader's emotions. This entire series has a permanent place on my bookshelves.

Cheryl Russell

Monday, February 19, 2007

Nicloe Seitz's The Spirit of Sweetgrass ~ Reviewed

The Spirit of Sweetgrass
By Nicloe Seitz
Published by Integrity/Thomas Nelson
ISBN-10: 1591455065

Essie Mae Laveau Jenkins is a 78-year-old sweetgrass basket weaver who sits on the side of Hwy 17 in the company of her dead husband, Daddy Jim. Inspired by her Auntie Leona, Essie Mae finally discovers her calling in life and weaves powerful "love baskets," praying fervently over them to affect the lives of those who visit her roadside stand. When she's faced with losing her home and her stand and being put in a nursing home, Daddy Jim talks her into coming on up to Heaven to meet sweet Jesus – something she's always wanted to do. Once there, she still has work to do. Now Essie Mae, who once felt powerless and invisible, must find the strength within her to keep her South Carolina family from falling apart.

The Spirit of Sweetgrass is a beautiful tribute to southern traditions and lifestyle as well as a disappearing art. The history and Gullah details Seitz incorporates in the story make it a must read for anyone fascinated with Lowcountry culture.

Nicole Seitz writes beautifully, weaving and crafting this saga not unlike the baskets so diligently and painstakingly woven by her protagonist's loving fingers.

Those who expect a specific genre basket hook on which to hang The Spirit of Sweetgrass will find a touch of sweet romance with women's fiction depth, chock full of history and fantasy. This story stretches beyond one genre and seeps into other categories. If forced to choose, I'd call it literary because of Nicole's style. I got caught up is Essie Mae's life from the beginning, and though there were a couple of chapters that dragged a bit for me, the end satisfied.

Jesus is mentioned throughout, but those who only read clear "how to be saved" Christian fiction aren't likely to feel comfortable reading The Spirit of Sweetgrass.
Nicole has managed to bust open the God box, maybe replacing it with a woven basket so He bursts out all over. Heaven sequences are thoughtful, speculative and may frustrate theologians. Serious jot-and-tittle Christian fiction readers may want to avoid reading this book, especially if they tend to read with a microscope. Voodoo and ghosts are tossed into the mix now and again, too.

If you love to ask God questions and like to ponder heaven, or if you curl up with lazy, literary fiction, quirky characters, cultural details and stories that wrap around your thoughts and your heart, I think you'll enjoy The Spirit of Sweetgrass.

Reviewed byKelly Klepfer

Friday, February 16, 2007

Dr. Gary Chapman and Catherine Palmer's It Happens Every Spring ~ Reviewed

It Happens Every Spring
By Gary Chapman and Catherine Palmer
Published by Tyndale

Word travels fast at the Just As I Am beauty shop. So when a homeless man appears on Steve and Brenda Hansen's doorstep, the entire shop is abuzz, especially when Brenda lets him sleep on their porch.

That's not all the neighbors are talking about. Spring is blooming outdoors, but an icy chill has settles over the Hansen's marriage. Steve is keeping late hours with clients, and the usually upbeat Brenda is feeling the absence of her husband and her college-age kids.

Add to that the unsavory business moving in next to the beauty shop and the entire community gets turned upside down. Now Brenda's friends must unite to pull her out of her rut and keep the unwanted store out of town. But can Steve and Brenda learn to thaw their chilly marriage and enjoy the hope spring offers?

I love Christian fiction because you can learn while being entertained. Based on concepts from his non-fiction book The Four Seasons of Marriage, Dr. Gary Chapman joins forces with CBA best-selling author Catherine Palmer to launch The Four Seasons series.

Anyone who's been married or contemplates marriage will enjoy this first book. A page-turner, I read it in It Happens Every Spring in two sittings. An explosion of trouble in the opening sentence sets the stage in this fast-paced novel. Be ready for an emotional rollercoaster ride. You'll chew your nails, laugh out loud one minute and cry the next.

You may also see your own marriage through new eyes. Chapman and Palmer hold nothing back in presenting a gut-wrenching story filled with all the temptations and problems of marriage. Be ready for some unexpected twists in this honest portrayal. Novel Reviews gives It Happens Every Spring a high recommendation.

Reviewed by Ane Mulligan


Saturday, February 10, 2007

Kim Vogel Sawyer's Bygones ~ Reviewed

By Kim Vogel Sawyer
Published by Barbour Books, April 2007
ISBN 1597894044

After being shunned by her parents for marrying a man outside the Mennonite community, widow Marie Koeppler left her childhood home and never looked back. It was too painful. Now, nearly twenty-five years later, she's stunned to see her former beau walk through the doors of the truck stop where she waitresses. He bring unexpected news.

Marie's aunt has died, and to everyone's surprise, she's left her house, belongings and café to Beth, Marie's daughter. To receive her inheritance, Beth must come and live within the Mennonite community for a period of no less than three months. She determines to live there so she can pay her mother back for all the sacrifices Marie made for her growing up.

Marie returns with Beth to help her adapt to the Mennonite lifestyle and finds more than her list beau waiting fro her, It isn't long before she finds herself wanting to remain. Beth, however, finds herself living under a shadow of suspicion when homes are broken into and antiques stolen. Loyal to her daughter, yet missing the simplistic lifestyle, Marie is once again faced with a heart-wrenching decision.

Romance is not my first choice in books, but if Kim Vogel Sawyer's name is attached, I'll grab it, knowing I'll get a good read. In her second novel Bygones, and the first of a trilogy, Sawyer doesn't disappoint. Reading more like women's fiction, it's a story of hope and restoration. It's a story of a strong relationship between mother and daughter. I saw my own relationship with my mother reflected there.

The conflict between Marie and Henry is believable—their reluctance evokes empathy. The spiritual thread in this book is excellent. Marie's return to her roots is well executed and a natural outgrowth of the character, never feeling contrived. Without spoiling the story, I'll just say Sawyer winds the spiritual message through her stories with the skill of a master-weaver. The best part of reading this book is this author turned off my inner editor. Novel Reviews gives Bygones a high recommendation.

Reviewed by Ane Mulligan

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

Mary Connealy's Petticoat Ranch ~ Reviewed

Petticoat Ranch
By Mary Connealy
Published by Barbour Books
ISBN-13: 978-1597896474

What better groundwork could be laid for a humorous romance in Texas, than having the twin brother of your dead husband literally fall into your lap?

The widow Sophie Edwards does a double take when she retrieves a fallen cowboy from a deep creek bed. The mud covered and injured man looks vaguely familiar. When one of her daughter swears her Pa is back from the dead, Sophie knows this the man couldn’t be the husband she cut down from a noose and buried herself.

Clay McClellan has come in search of the killers of his brother Cliff, and when fate drops him into the middle of Cliff’s widow and four daughters this rugged cowboy finds himself surrounded in an estrogen filled environment.

Both Clay and Sophie find their ultimate goals are the same – find the men who killed Cliff and set things right. However, their rough idea of being a good Christian steps in the way more times than they realize. Clay decides since the men in the Bible would take care of the family widows, he’d be obedient and marry Sophie, taking on all four children and a wife who’d lived as a survivor for some time. The entire package almost proved to more than a hand-full, but through his determination to provide for his new family, he and Sophie go head-to-head with the band of outlaws who unjustly strung up her husband.

You’ll chuckle as the two practically come to blows through their own stubborn antics, and you’ll be touched at how God subtly grooms the two into belief, repentance and forgiveness, providing a reward of happiness and love in the end.

Barbour Publishing has done it again by bringing the talents of Mary Connealy to the forefront with her wit, crisp work, and believable characters. Sit back and enjoy the half-cocked banter that knits Sophie and Clay into a full-fledged family. Petticoat Ranch is a wonderfully crafted love story that drives a gentle message of forgiveness you’re sure to find well worth the time.

Reviewed by Cindy Sproles
Mountain Breeze Ministries

Monday, February 05, 2007

Ann Gabhart's Orchard of Hope ~ Reviewed

Orchard of Hope
by Ann Gabhart
Published by Revell, March 1, 2007
ISBN-10: 0800731697

Thirteen year old Jocie Brooke never knew so much could change in one year. Despite her trust in a loving God, things seem to be worsening for her beloved town of Hollyhill. The war over civil rights has people in an uproar, so when a black family purchases a farm just down the road, Jocie wonders if her neighbors, her friends. . .her church, will somehow find the path to peace.

Not if the Klan can help it.

Their presence means trouble, not only for the black residents of Hollyhill, but for anyone with the courage to stand up to them, including young Jocie. She believes God loves everyone, including Noah Hearndon and his beautiful activist mother, Myra.

The moment I sat down to read this novel, I knew I was in for rollercoaster ride. At times I found myself terribly anger, at others, unutterably sad. With words that flowed like poetry across the page, Ms. Gabhart created a work of art that deals beautifully with a difficult time in our nation’s history.

I wept at the beauty of the emotions evoked by such lines as:

“I know he kept breathing till after we got him to the hospital, but it was because his spirit took off so fast his body got caught by surprise. As soon as he saw those angels coming after him, he was gone. I know he was.”

In other places I raged, my heart pounding in fear for the safety of this young girl and her family.

In the end, I stood up and cheered—heartened by the knowledge that we as a people have begun to grow past the hate that once consumed us. Thanks to our loving Creator, we can learn to forgive, learn to heal. Best of all, we can learn to hope. This is one book I will remember for a very long time.

Review by Elizabeth Ludwig

Thursday, February 01, 2007

Sharlene MacLaren's Through Every Storm ~ Reviewed

Through Every Storm
By Sharlene MacLaren
Published by Whitaker House
ISBN: 0-88368-746-1

Struggling through the tragic loss of a child, Jeff and Maddie Bowman experience the immense pain and grief caused by a broken heart and a marriage severely strained and headed toward divorce. Feeling completely hopeless, Maddie questions whether life will ever be normal again.

Then faced with having to care for a precocious little boy, Maddie slowly realizes how to let God be in control even when life is crashing down around her. The love that she finds will give her hope and strength to make it through every storm.

MacLaren's debut book is a page-turner. A compelling plot, her characters are deep, both fragile and strong—especially the little boy, Timmy. MacLaren portrays the genius child with a depth of insight I found completely believable. He was still a child with childish ways, in spite of his brilliant mind.

Without giving away the end, both Maddie and Jeff find their way back to God in a manner I found natural and in harmony with the story. I applaud MacLaren for not overwriting this. This heartrending tale unfolds at just the right pace and carries the reader through to a very satisfying end. Novel Reviews gives Through Every Storm a high recommendation.

Reviewed by Ane Mulligan