Blue stained wood with crimson carnations

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Book Review: The Painter's Daughter

Well friends it's been a very long-time-no-see since I've been posting here and I have been missing writing and doing book reviews a great deal! My stack of books for review is topping out at around 18-20 inches tall and growing more daunting every month that a new book arrives in my mailbox so with the beginning of a new year and, well, not a new me but hopefully a better organized me I hope to get back in the swing of posting here regularly- books and recipes and all sorts of the random thoughts that skitter through my brain! :)

The first book I will be reviewing this year is "The Painter's Daughter" by Julie Klassen. I have reviewed several of her books now and have enjoyed them all- I even have a few 'bought for later' titles on by bookshelf waiting for a quiet moment to pick up and enjoy!

In this book we hear the tale of Sophie Dupont who while she is a talented artist in her own right spends her days as her prominent father's assistant, hidden away in the shadows. It's no wonder then that when a dashing charismatic artist comes to study in her sleepy little seaside town that she falls for him quite completely- and then becomes a fallen woman as well. When Wesley runs out on her looking for the next great muse of his heart she has no idea where to turn or what she will do.
Enter Captain Stephen Overtree, sent on a mission to retrieve his older wayward brother and return him to his duties on the family estate. He finds Sophie instead of his brother and learning of the situation he has left her in makes a drastic proposal- a marriage proposal! With little hope of Wesley returning in time to save her from complete ruin she takes her chances with a man she doesn't know and prays all will turn out well!

There is nothing I love more than a good thick book with lots of well written details and phrases, and with plenty of twists and turns- and coming in at a robust 450 plus pages this book  hits the criteria on both counts! After the initial introduction and set up of the plot things quickly deepen and expand and take the reader on a good journey along the way- and through a few hidden passageways as well! I really like both Sophie and Stephen and it was nice to see their relationship develop along the way and even deepen as they are separated as he returns to his military duties. Sophie is kind and gentle and is very content to come and live on the family's estate and find her niche there amongst the family while she anticipates the arrival of her child. Stephen is a scarred war hero who is trying to do his duty to the Lord he loves and the vocation he finds himself in. While he appears thunder and bluster on the outside he is a true and honest man, a devoted and loyal man inside. Together the make a great pair! Their road getting there is not as cut and dry as all that though and as they face bumps, detours, and their own personal demons they both must learn to lean on the Lord for their support.

My one little nit pick in this story is that I felt Sophie had the potential for more growth than she was given. I would have liked to see her not slide quite so easily or naturally into whatever role she was asked to play. At times she seemed too quiet and willing to go along with what anyone asked of her- which I suppose is how she got into the trouble she was in in the first place. It would have been nice to see her growing gradually into the resolve she exhibited in the final chapters.

Overall I really enjoyed this book! It was a very pleasant read over a few days, and late nights, and I was well satisfied with the ending and how all was put right. It's always encouraging to read how God can redeem even our greatest mistakes and regrets and brings us into pleasant places! And if anyone knows where to order me up a Captain Overtree hit the contact button and let me know, I think I have an opening! ;)

Final Rating: 4.5

I have been given a copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review and opinion of the product.

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Book Review: Anne of Green Gables, My Daughter, and Me

Today I'm eager to review the hot off the presses 'literary memoir' "Anne of Green Gables, My Daughter, and Me" by the versatility backgrounded author Lorilee Craker. This is the first such book by Craker in the literary memoir genre and my first time reading such a work. "Literary Memoir" is relatively new genre in the professionally published world but it's what the fangirls of the world have been writing and reading as 'meta' (an introspective essay on the person's feelings and views of a particular fandom or element from that fandom) for years. I can't say that I've read anything like this before in the professional context- as it falls somewhere between fiction and non-fiction- so I don't have anything with which to compare it. I will instead try to relate to you the eyes with which I experienced it firsthand.

Anne was essential to my growing up.

I first attempted to read the books at 7-8 years old but even being the advanced, voracious reader that I was at that point in time I couldn't quite get my teeth around it. A few years later it was an entirely different story. Anne didn't just provide me with interesting settings and characters to dabble in; Anne marked central points in my understanding of life and people and in her I identified with the little girl with the emotions and dreams that were too big for her to contain. Anne was my literary soul-mate and bosom friend, and her life story played a huge role in making me who I am today.

That's one reason why I think that everyone who has read "Anne" has an Anne story. We identify with her and she leaves marks on us- and she certainly has left marks on the author too!

This book takes the reader through a compelling retelling of the Anne story as she herself as a child, and as an adult found those stories paralleling with her own. When Craker experiences loneliness and bullying at school we hear about the infamously mean-spirited Josie Pye and about how Craker's coming upon a bosom friend of her own made her strong enough to overcome the mean-spirited girls at school. These parallels continue throughout the book as the author has run-ins with her own Gilbert Blythe, Mrs. Rachel Lynde, and Matthew Cuthburt as the cast of characters of her life are unfolded. Central to Craker's story is her orphanage and adoption as an infant, her search for her birth parents as an adult, and how that all shapes and effects her. The author also takes us along for the ride as she and her husband themselves adopt a little girl from Korea and how that also weaves back into Anne's, and Lucy Maude's story.

I really enjoyed this book- and in fact read it in a single day- something that has not happened with any book I've picked up in a really long time! The story drew me in however, and I was once again enthralled with reliving Anne's story, and with seeing it through another's eyes. Having in interest in the Korean people and culture myself I was also riveted with the long letter-style descriptions of the week that she and her husband spent in The Land of Morning Calm when they went to bring their daughter home. It was in exciting vignette of sounds and sights and smells that rang true with all that I have learned about that beautiful country in recent years. Though not overly Spiritual in content Craker is consistent in weaving a thread of Spiritual understanding throughout that helps to nicely tie together the overall themes of where we find our identity and security, whose child we are, and surviving- and healing- from all the cracks that find their way into our lives from us being bereft, left behind, and left- each of us orphans in our own circumstances.

One thing that niggles at me as unanswered was about daughter Pheobe's name change. The name she was given at birth was Eun-Jung meaning grace. From my experience many adoptees will keep that birth name as a middle name, honoring their heritage, and little Pheobe has a Korean middle name, Min-Ju. Perhaps no one else would notice this detail or find it worth mentioning but as the author was so thorough in revealing and explaining everything else in her daughter's story I was disappointed when I kept expecting the answer to 'why change that from the original name?' to come and it never did.

When it comes down to it "Anne of Green Gables, My Daughter, and Me" is a beautiful story of love and acceptance and one I would recommend to any who are willing to wade through the tempestuous emotional waters of adoption. For me, the adoption issue may not have played a part in my life thus far, but it is an issue that is near and dear to my heart- and it's one that I hope plays a part in my future. It's one that looking back now that I suppose I could say began with Anne in the first place. So in many ways, just as Anne shaped me as a child she is shaping me as an adult too; in many ways though I have identified with Anne as a child I still identify with her and I am still writing my own Anne inspired story...complete with emotions and dreams that are too big for me to contain.

And I think that's pretty cool.

Final Rating: 5

I received this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review and opinion of the product.

Monday, August 17, 2015

Book Review: Maggie Bright

"Maggie Bright" by Tracy Groot is a book that is difficult to describe, and to put into words the emotional punch that this one volume contains. I started out picking it because I have a great fondness for the WWII era, and stories of the war of my grandparents generation. It's unusual to see novels written in this era anymore so it went straight on to my list. I was hoping to find a nice little adventure romance contained in it's pages but what I found was so much more!

The book's first character is Claire Childs, an orphaned young woman who has recently mysteriously inherited the small pleasure boat the Maggie Bright. Now making it her home, and hoping to make it her bread and butter by turning it into a floating B&B Claire is full of dreams for her future despite the war whose front lines inch ever closer to England's shores. Into Claire's life come marching a vivid cast of characters all with designs on or connections to her little boat- as she begins to piece together the mystery of why she is a target her whole world is rocked by secrets of what is happening behind enemy lines and she is faced with decisions on just how she can make a stand for what is right.

The secondary story that runs parallel to and eventually intersects with Claire's is one of a bedraggled group of soldiers ordered to evacuate to the seaside town of Dunkirk, France as Hitler's forces push hard at their fleeing heels. Traveling with a mysterious injured captain who spouts nothing but Milton's Paradise Lost these soldiers know not what awaits them there- possible rescue or possible slaughter- but they know that if they delay in any way they will be surrounded, cut of entirely from the British forces and left with no possible hope of rescue.

From its opening pages Maggie Bright will grab hold of your lapels and whisk you away on an adventure. Though readers will find the storytelling style a bit different from the usual paperback romance I found it in no way takes away from the book itself. In fact, from the very beginning I felt like I was reading a war movie straight out of the 1940's! This book quite simply swings. The pacing is fast, the dialogue staccato, and the characters punchy. It's really like Bogart, Bacall, and Bette Davis have come walking off the pages! Groot has done an incredible amount of research into the history and time period into which she sets her story and it shows- it shows in the most striking ways as the reader progresses through the story and I was in turn tickled by it and devastated by it! By the final chapters I was on the edge as I anticipated the conclusion and although I had done some googling and found out historically how what became to be know as The Miracle of Dunkirk concluded I was entirely surprised by where the author takes this patchwork cast of characters and how she sews everything up!

The one caution that I give content wise is to remember this is a war drama. There are sometimes graphic, but not gory, descriptions of the things that are seen in war- in WWII to be specific- and it can sometimes take your breath away. There are also 2-3 usages of British curse words.

I would highly recommend giving "Maggie Bright" a read, I was not one bit disappointed by it and was in fact, looking for when I could expect the sequel so I could catch up with this cast of characters again and find out more about what happens next! The thing I realized though is that it really is meant to end the way it ends. Dunkirk, although an important milestone in the war, does not mark any victorious finale, the war for these men and women will continue on after we have left them and they will continue to do as they have already done- act dutifully, and courageously in the face of great evil, and with the cost of great personal sacrifice. It's like the walkaway in the final scene of "Casablanca"- evil is not vanquished but hope lives on- and that is the beginning of something for the cast of the Maggie Bright that is beautiful.

Final Rating: 5

I received this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review and opinion of the product.

Book Review: A Love Like Ours

It has been a while since I read Becky Wade's debut novel "My Stubborn Heart" so I thought it was time to pick up another one of her books and give a progress report for this author!

This summer Wade's new release is "A Love Like Ours" and follows the story of Lindie James and Jake Porter. Lindie and James were inseparable best friends as kids until a family move separated them and took them down different life paths. Lindie, the little girl with big heart and big spirit spent time helping take care of her disabled sister, caring for thoroughbred horses, and developing her skills to become a children's fairy tale author and illustrator. Jake however, joined the Marines, spent time on the battlefield, and came home the lone man of his team and full of brokenness and regrets. Now the two of them are back in the same place at the same time in the same hometown of their childhood and Lindie is looking for work at the stables Jake manages. As Lindie begins to work out the troubles and fears of a prize stallion she begins to wonder if the same gentleness and attention works on troubled cowboys too?

This story has all the right elements of a book worth loving- family, heart, and cowboys. :) I really enjoy cowboy books and like seeing the contemporary cowboys stories that have been trickling out in recent years as I grew up reading Christian westerns and miss them not being prevalent in the market now! This story paints some very likable and relatable characters within its pages and follows a well laid out storyline that moves at a good pace for both the reader and story. Lindie is a character that is easy to love and who is sweet and unassuming but also weathered by life and determined on the paths that she feels God is leading her on. Jake is everything that is typical of a wayward lost soul but really has plenty of heart worth loving and redeeming.

The one element that I questioned was how Jake's spiritual development within the story doesn't match (or exceed) the pace at which his and Lindie's romantic relationship develops. While both Lindie and Jake come from Christian families it is Lindie that has held strong to her faith, and Jake who has become estranged from God. Every Christian should know that Scripture lovingly commands us to not be unequally yoked with an unbeliever for our own good. On that basis it really raises my hackles to see the romantic relationship progress to a fairly advanced stage (cuddling, deep kissing, allowing him to spend the night in her home on her couch) while Jake is still very much struggling with whether or not he can ever believe in and trust God again. As she comes to a point of having to separate herself from the closeness she has allowed Lindie experiences a great deal of heartache that I felt so sad to see her go through as I feel it could have been avoided with a little more reserve.

Overall I enjoyed this book! Becky Wade's storytelling and pacing skills have definitely continued to improve since her first work while the same heart and humor has remained intrinsic to her style. I liked the story and all of the characters even the side ones like Lindie's mom or her neighbor Amber; or Jake's siblings- especially the feisty Dru! They add plenty of depth and color to this story and make it feel like its about real people that you might meet and not just characters in a book. If you're heading to the beach or away for a weekend getaway with what's left of the summer I recommend you pick up a copy of "A Love Like Ours" and get lost with some cowboys for a while!

Final Rating: 4

I received this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review and opinion of the product.

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Book Review: To Win Her Favor

Ah dear fellow readers! Another year has past and spring is here again- which must mean that it's
time for another Tamera Alexander book! As you all should remember by now I am an avid and devoted fan of Tamera's work and I have been delighted to be included again on her blogging team for the release of this book!

"To Win Her Favor" is the next fresh installment of the Belle Meade Plantation Series and focuses on the lives and goings on at the next farm over, Linden Downs. Our heroine is Maggie Linden who, at a mere 20 years, is a gifted horsewoman and the sole companion to her ageing, ailing, father (all the rest of their family being lost to the war). The effects of the war on the once booming farm have had its toll as well and now, drowning in tax debt Linden Downs races their only remaining thoroughbred, Maggie's prize possession, Bourbon Belle in the hopes of clearing the debt and changing their future. Her father it seems, has other plans. Before she knows it she has entered a marriage of convenience with an Irishman (of all things!) in order to save the farm- an Irishman that is adamantly against going anywhere near a horse race! As Maggie and Cullen McGrath come to grasp with being in each other's lives and restoring the farm, the biggest racing stakes ever offered- the one that was the answer to all of Maggie's prayers- draws closer. But does God have bigger plans for Maggie and Cullen than either of them ever dreamed of? And has He already been answering Maggie's prayers for her future?

Tamera Alexander writes the realest characters ever put to paper in Christian fiction. Her style and execution is flawless with writing that expresses the keenest observations about both man, beast, and God's fine creation. I am always amazed and delighted to be transported into one of her novels through her beautiful engaging descriptions and I often find myself stopping short and rereading a sentence or paragraph because I've realized what a lovely turn of phrase something is! With this kind of effortless styling the reader is whisked along through through Maggie and Cullen's story and I found myself quickly attached to the both of them.

Something that is done so well in this book, like her others, is the portrayal of real people making real choices about real life. Maggie is young and inexperienced with the harsher realities of men judging against a persons skin tone or nationality- until life as Cullen's wife makes her a wiser woman and forces her to evaluate the way she herself treats people. Cullen too experiences great growth as he moves from his more colorful past behavior and actions in his native Ireland and England to desiring to be the kind of man that Maggie's father assessed him to be, a man of honor and loyalty who will care for his daughter and his land. It is so easy to assign a certain perfection to the characters in a Christian novel, a certain aura of saintliness that proclaims the hero or heroine to be all together despite their flaws. But I never find that to be the case with the Tamera's characters. There is no guile, or pretense, or pomp in the way that these characters find themselves changing. These characters are as living and breathing as you or I. They have differing opinions and are hurt by words and misunderstandings, they fight and makeup; and in the end they reach a place of trust, and even love, despite their rough beginning.

In light of reading others review's on this book I feel the need to address a reoccurring theme in the lower rated reviews, the objection to Ms. Alexander's supposed indecency in writing 'sex scenes'. I assure my readers that there are no 'sex scenes' in this book. Period. What this book does contain is brief, discrete glimpses into a married couple's intimate relationship. There are detailed kissing scenes which do often lead to 'married people activities' ;) but that never extends into anything graphic or objectionable in my view, every scene is always a 'fade to black'. In a day and age when persons of any age have so few positive Godly role models in a healthy marriage relationship I find it endearing that we would get to see a little bit into the ups and downs and imperfections of what a real married couple looks like. Couples often seem manufactured to live relationships that are always roses or wanton pleasure and even Christian books fall guilty in portraying that type of relationship. Maggie and Cullen's move from strangers to loving couple, however, is gradual and tender, showing both restraint and passion. And I wholly approve of how it was showcased.

Now lest you get the idea that this book is full of nothing but fluff and cuddles I should let you know that is certainly not the case! In setting her writing in the post- Civil War South Alexander gives herself a rough hewn canvas to work from. Gentry, freedman, and immigrant all have challenging and heartbreaking stories to tell in the period of Reconstruction, and I always walk away from one of Tamera's stories having learned something or gained an angle of perspective that I didn't have before!

The minor nit pick that I have with this book is that there is a single curse word near the very beginning, and if you are sensitive you will want to be aware that there is usage (by wicked men) of strong ethnic slurs that are in keeping with the era. But overall I really loved everything about this book! When I went back over my marked pages it was so evident the Spiritual lesson contained herein was that all our life is a gift from our maker and you can never go back and erase the past, but by God's grace you can go forward. It was a lovely theme and one that is sure to stick with the reader for a long time! I enthusiastically recommend that you pick this book up and enjoy it for your summer reading!

Final Rating: 5

I received a copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review and opinion of the product.

Thursday, April 30, 2015

Book Review: The Soup Club Cookbook

Everybody loves a good cookbook don't they? Well they should! This cookbook caught my eye with it's striking cover and interesting premise, and my love with its heart and purpose. The premise of the book is simple, four friends band together to once a week deliver soup to each other's homes for the evening meal. The friends rotate on a schedule so that each person is providing soup once a month and the rotation continues week in and week out through the entire year. Rich and hearty soups are created for the harsh winter months and lighter refreshing ones for the heat of the summer and they along with any needed accompaniments or sides are dutifully doled out to provide each family with one ready to heat-and-eat meal a week.

The book starts you off with a good look at just how to begin a soup club of your own before launching into a thorough primer of broth building and flavor boosters. Everything is laid out clearly and in a well organised manner with good tips and engaging cooks notes stories for nearly every recipe. The majority of the rest of the book covers a myriad of delicious looking soups that I'm eager to run a few batches of myself! I'm a big fan of chili's and the like and can easily see myself whipping up a pot of the Cuban Black Bean Soup, or the Beck Chicken Chili, or the Chicken Tortilla Soup. What surprised me was that I was equally drawn to recipes like the Potato Leek Soup, and the Carrot Coconut Soup- and I may just get the nerve to try them someday! One soup that has me utterly intrigued is the Filipino Healing Soup and it's almost legendary status among the soup club group has me eager to try it out at the first crack of chilly October air this fall! The book concludes with a good stash of recipes for filling out your soup meal. From Cheddar Cornbread, to Kimchi, to Summer Corn Hash they all look like recipes that will fill the stomach with good things!

Each of the soup recipes in the book are geared for producing a high volume of soup so you shouldn't expect to make a pot of soup for two. But that is kinda the point of this cookbook- and the soup club in the first place. This food is meant to be shared and it's always better when more people are involved! Food isn't just about providing nourishment for your body it's about providing nourishment for your soul. Food- good food- is about people and relationships- anyone who has a favorite dish from mom or grandmom knows that. The food we create to share with others is the best food we will create because as cliched as it sounds that food is seasoned with love. The recipes of The Soup Club are recipes that are meant to be shared, whether that is with a group of soup enthusiasts of your own, or as a gift to the elderly shut in across the street or the struggling new mom at church and what you put into that batch of soup can't be matched with what you will get out of it when you share it.

I really enjoyed reading The Soup Club Cookbook because in reading of these four women's culinary history and friendships it reminded me of a lot of good things from my own past. Reading good cookbooks like this makes me want to be a better person. It makes me want to be the person who likes squash, and doesn't blink at garbanzo beans, and the one who shares what she has freely and with warmth. And that sounds like a pretty good cookbook to me!

Final Rating: 5

I received a copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review and opinion of the product.

Book Review: The Set-Apart Woman: God's Invitation to Sacred Living

Leslie Ludy and her husband Eric have been popular Christian and homeschool conference speakers for the better part of the last two decades. Last year I had the opportunity to attend via simulcast the Set-Apart Girl Conference held from the Ludy's own ministry center, Ellerslie. The conference was my first encounter with the Ludy's and their teaching and it turned out to be a great experience with lots of challenging and encouraging teaching!

Fast forward to present time and to me getting my hands on my first Ludy book, this one written by Leslie, I suspected from the title, would focus on much the same as the conference had and I was right! "The Set-Apart Woman: God's Invitation to Sacred Living" is your own personal guide to hearing and implementing God's sacred calling on your life.

In these ten chapters Leslie reminds the reader of who God is to us and about His willingness, and indeed power, to transform lives that are wholly His. In today's culture there seems to be a growing disconnect with Christians as to what exactly it means to be a Christian and what a Christian looks like as they go about their daily life. There seems to be a prevalent attitude that says 'I can act this way over here and and do these things- and still go to church twice a week and love God over there'. Its a dangerous mindset that Leslie confronts both head-on and lovingly. Those who would cry 'legalism!' at her call to Spiritual focus in our lives are reminded that part of the issue that the church currently faces in winning the world to Christ is that we have come to resemble the world so much that we have nothing to offer them. Her call to be different is indeed a call to win people, not repel them. "Legalism chokes life, but true set-apartness gives life." (pg.32)

Leslie calls her readers to pursue a deep relationship with God, and pursue it despite our feelings or difficulties that may arise, pursue it until our feelings align themselves with the word of God. She quotes A.W. Tozer who said, "The man who would know God must give time to Him." It is wise advice. She then encourages readers to eliminate the time wasters from our life that keep us from giving God that time He deserves. Everything from the ways we spend entertaining ourselves to the idols we allow in our lives are under fire from the author as she systematically pulls the rug out from any arguments that excuse a divided focus in our lives. Instead she recommends many helpful ways for us to find fulfillment in establishing an eternal focus in our lives.

I admittedly found some of the beginning chapters of this book a bit slow reading but that was really more to do with having already heard much of what Leslie wrote at the conference I attended. If it had been my first time hearing it I think it really would have been a much smoother read for me. When I had reached the two-thirds mark for the book I did lay it aside for several days as I had gotten busy and I was pleasantly surprised to come back to it and find everything from that point on much fresher. Chapters 8 and 9 on 'The Solid Rock" and being "Strong and Courageous" really impacted me deeply, in part, as they connected exactly where I was studying in BSF with the Life of Moses study! The challenge to set aside fear and to put feelings into their place, to live with "strength for today and bright hope for tomorrow" was both very convicting and comforting to me.

In wrapping up Leslie offers her readers one last challenge and that is to turn outward. In a world that is passionate about preaching it's causes and green-lifestyles (or whatever the flavor of the week is) we as Christians are commanded by Christ to be passionate and active as well! I was challenged and delighted by the thought that we are to 'be Christians not humanitarians' and that even as we reach out for the weak and oppressed and become God's hands on earth to the orphans, the neglected, and the abused, we do so to introduce them to the only One who can change them or us, Jesus Christ.

I would wholeheartedly recommend this book to anyone that is looking for a fresh and energizing look at their Christianity, or to any Christian woman who is struggling with who God is and how He fits into her daily life! The chapters are easily read in about half and hour's time and include inspiring quotes at the beginning and thought provoking scriptures and study questions at the end. The end of the book also provided a reading list of Christian discipleship texts and biographies that are sure to continue your reading and growing for a long time to come!

Rating: 5

I received a copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review and opinion of the product.