Everyday Tidbits...

Be Kind. Do Good. Love is a Verb.

Monday, March 26, 2012


About the book:
Katniss Everdeen, girl on fire, has survived, even though her home has been destroyed. Gale has escaped. Katniss's family is safe. Peeta has been captured by the Capitol. District 13 really does exist. There are rebels. There are new leaders. A revolution is unfolding.

It is by design that Katniss was rescued from the arena in the cruel and haunting Quarter Quell, and it is by design that she has long been part of the revolution without knowing it. District 13 has come out of the shadows and is plotting to overthrow the Capitol. Everyone, it seems, has had a hand in the carefully laid plains - except Katniss.

The success of the rebellion hinges on Katniss's willingness to be a pawn, to accept responsibility for countless lives, and to change the course of the future of Panem. To do this, she must put aside her feelings of anger and distrust. She must become the rebels' Mockingjay - no matter what the personal cost.

Intense. Fast paced. Picks up not too long after Catching Fire leaves off.  Katniss was rescued by the rebels from District 13 and Peeta was captured and taken to the Capitol.  While happy to be reunited with her family and Gale, she is devastated at the thought that she may have lost Peeta.

As Katniss tries to come to terms with the fact that Peeta may not be part of her future, she realizes that she must embrace the cause of the rebellion, knowing that the future, with or without Peeta, is uncertain. As she struggles to accept and understand her role, she also discovers that life in District 13 isn't necessarily any better than it was under Capitol control.

My heart ached when Katniss was finally reunited with Peeta and she realizes how changed he is. Peeta always embodied hope to her.  His goodness and kindness were beacons in their dismal, oppressed world and to watch their relationship shatter into pieces was simply heartbreaking.  To see Katniss finally view herself through Peeta's altered eyes was tragic.  He was no longer the Boy with the Bread who loved her.  He was the boy who would look at her and see that she had manipulated and used him. Her fear that their relationship may never be the same is palpable.  Yet, I was so frustrated when, rather than do all she could to help get him back, she pushed him away.

As the war against the Capitol rages, the story's pace intensifies.  There is a lot of action and this is another one that I can't wait to see how it translates onto the big screen.

Like The Hunger Games and Catching Fire, it's not an easy book to read at times. There is a lot of action and a high body count, but the rebellion is strong and while the course the story follows isn't predictable, it's a logical road for it to take.  There are many who will complain about the ending, but I found it appropriate.  After what Katniss and Peeta have experienced, after fighting a war and surviving like they have, no ending is perfectly wrapped up.  There are going to be loose ends, there are going to be questions, there are going to be consequences.

This is a series that has stayed with me. I've thought a lot about it. I've reworded and rewritten my reviews.  Is it about government oppression?  Is it about war and rebellion? Is it about society fighting back?  Is it about the haves and have nots? Is it about survival of the fittest?  Or, is it about the human spirit and that no matter what happens, you will never kill it off?

I don't have one specific answer.  But, I do think this is a great, thought-provoking series and one that I think should be read by both parents and their youth.  It's a great springboard for discussion about society, government and relationships.  I loved it.  I wanted more, especially in the epilogue.  But, I loved it.

A fitting end to a fantastic series.  Real or not real?


I read my own personal copy, but you can purchase your own here.

Read 3/12

* * * *
4/5 Stars

**This post has been edited because as I continue to think about this book, my thoughts evolve and develop. This review will probably go through several reiterations before I'm completely happy with it.

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Catching Fire...Review

About the book:
Against all odds, Katniss has won the Hunger Games. She and fellow District 12 tribute Peeta Mellark are miraculously still alive. Katniss should be relieved, happy even. After all, she has returned to her family and longtime friend, Gale. Yet nothing is the way Katniss wishes it to be. Gale holds her at an icy distance. Peeta has turned his back on her completely. And there are whispers of a rebellion against the Capitol - a rebellion that Katniss and Peeta may have helped create.

Much to her shock, Katniss has fueled an unrest she's afraid she cannot stop. And what scares her even more is that she's not entirely convinced she should try. As time draws near for Katniss and Peeta to visit the districts on the Capitol's cruel Victory Tour, the stakes are higher than ever. If they can't prove, without a shadow of a doubt, that they are lost in their love for each other, the consequences will be horrifying.

Catching Fire, the second novel of the Hunger Games trilogy, Suzanne Collins continues the story of Katniss Everdeen, testing her more than ever before...and surprising readers at every turn.

You just knew that the story wasn't over when Katniss and Peeta returned home to District 12 after winning the Hunger Games.

Settled into their new homes in the Victors Village, Katniss and Peeta hope for normalcy.  But, a surprise visit from President Snow shows Katniss that her life will never resemble any sense of normal and that her oppressive government is even more all controlling and placing all the blame of district unrest on her young shoulders.  She and Peeta must continue to present a united, loving front as they make their Victory Tour through the districts and prevent any show of uprising or rebellion.

Katniss' confusion over Gale and Peeta is still troubling her.  Peeta is hurt over Katniss' deception and the fact that she only pretended to love him in order to win the games.  Gale tells her how he feels, which only serves to confuse her even more.  She loves him and he's her best friend.  But, she also loves and needs Peeta and his strength.  It almost sounds like shades of Twilight here, but these are such better, stronger characters and Katniss is strong enough to rise to the occasion and embrace her destiny, especially when she and Peeta see signs of rebellion while on their Victory Tour. Seeing the differences between the Capitol and the rest of the districts in their oppression is enlightening for Katniss and Peeta.

The new Hunger Games are announced and because it's an anniversary year, the terms are different:  this year, the tributes are pulled from the existing victors.  In the case of District 12, that means Katniss, Peeta and Haymitch.  When Haymitch's name is called, Peeta volunteers and he and Katniss are again headed to the arena where they find new allies and gain new understanding.

While Suzanne Collin's imagery is still vivid and colorful, this set of Hunger Games was harder for me to picture in my mind so I can't wait to see how it's portrayed on screen.  President Snow's role is also much stronger and we see his ability to use power to manipulate with minimal verbal communication.  The man is truly terrifying.  And, watching as Katniss begins to further understand the ramifications of her actions and the possibilities of district rebellion is terrific.

Catching Fire has a lot of twists and turns and surprises and a lot more intensity.  New characters are introduced as there are 22 other tributes in these new games and I loved Finnick. The questions of who to trust and who to keep as allies are important as Peeta and Katniss are committed at all costs to keep the other alive. Their tender moments together are some of my favorites.  And people can say what they want, this isn't a love triangle.  Gale is her best friend and she loves him because of that.  But, Peeta is the one who understands.  Peeta is the one who has been through the struggles of the arena and he understands the PTSD issues.  Peeta is the comfort and he brings balance and stability to Katniss' life.

I liked Catching Fire even more than The Hunger Games and I had no idea it would be such a cliff hanger ending, so I was very, very happy to have Mockingjay in hand to start reading immediately.

I read my own personal copy, but you can purchase your own here.

Read 3/12

* * * * *
5/5 Stars

**This post has been edited because as I continue to think about this book, my thoughts evolve and develop. This review will probably go through several reiterations before I'm completely happy with it. 

Friday, March 23, 2012

The Hunger Games...Review

About the book:
Could you survive on your own, in the wild, with everyone fighting against you?

Twenty-four are forced to enter. Only the winner survives.

In the ruins of a place once known as North America lies the nation of Panem, a shining Capitol surrounded by twelve outlying districts. Each year, the districts are forced by the Capitol to send one boy and one girl between the ages of twelve and eighteen to participate in the Hunger Games, a brutal and terrifying fight to the death – televised for all of Panem to see.

Survival is second nature for sixteen-year-old Katniss Everdeen, who struggles to feed her mother and younger sister by secretly hunting and gathering beyond the fences of District 12. When Katniss steps in to take the place of her sister in the Hunger Games, she knows it may be her death sentence. If she is to survive, she must weigh survival against humanity and life against love.

So I'm super late to the Hunger Games party.  I know that.  Dystopian isn't my thing.  YA isn't really my thing.  First person really isn't my thing and first person tense usually bugs me to no end.  I also tend to avoid trendy novels with rabid fans.  However, the film really intrigued me and The Boy was reading it, so I decided I'd read along.

Wow.  Simply: Wow.  I am shocked as hell at how much I liked this book.  The premise, although disturbing, is fascinating and the exploration of the feelings of the participants and victors was well done.  I'm finding it difficult to put my thoughts into words and I'm sure that this review will undergo some polishing and changing over the next few days as I think and reread.**

I know there are a lot of people who think the idea of kids killing kids is abhorrent and I completely agree.  However, this wasn't a book filled with gratuitous violence and murder.  It was kill or be killed and survive at all costs.  None of these children goes into these games for the sheer pleasure of murder.  They are thrown into these games for the sheer pleasure of a depraved segment of society that lives of the hard work of others and finds obsessive joy in gladiator-style reality entertainment.  Katniss wasn't thrilled with her first kill, nor was she appalled.  She didn't glory in any of it.  She did what she had to do to survive and return to her family.

The idea of an oppressive government and a controlled media isn't always so far off.  Think Iron Curtain and Cold War. Totalitarianism. Think of the varied definitions of communism, maoism and even socialism and the arguments that erupt over those definitions.  There is no society that is immune to it. When I think of the hunger games portrayed here, I think not only of Ancient Rome and the Colosseum or Cold War Russia, I think of our society's obsession with Reality television.  While we don't, yet, have shows that portray teenagers being forced to kill each other, we have our share of embarrassing train wrecks and watching someone else's humiliation and misfortune has become entertainment.  And, yet, we watch.  (Well, I don't, because not only don't have satellite or cable, we don't watch those shows by choice.)

Suzanne Collins' descriptions and imagery and vivid.  I can just picture the contrast of the colorless, depressed districts with the nauseatingly bright, depraved Capitol and these people who can look at these gladiator-type games as sport without caring in the least that these kids are going to die. I can see the Gamemakers who sit up in their own little world and control the actual games.  And, I can feel Katniss' confusion and confliction at liking and needing Peeta and then using him.

These are two 16 year old kids, but they're kids who have been through difficult times and have lived hard lives.  Katniss may not understand the nuances and intricacies of romance and interpersonal relationships, but she understands love and fear. She has strength and gumption and isn't waiting around for someone to save her.  And, Peeta.  I love the character of Peeta.  Katniss took some time to grow on me and I'm still not sure how much I like her, but Peeta resonated with me from the start.  Peeta loves with his whole heart and Katniss is so jaded that she doesn't know who she loves, she just knows that she needs to survive and that she needs Peeta to survive with her.

There are so many levels to interpreting/reading this book.  It's a perfect book to promote so many discussions whether they be about war, about government, about oppression, about relationships.

I'm so glad I don't have to wait for Catching Fire to be released.  It's sitting on my desk at this moment!  The  Boy really liked The Hunger Games and we have had some terrific discussions about it and about history.

*Updated to add that we saw the film and loved it.  I thought it was a terrific adaptation that stayed really true to the book. The casting was fantastic.  Couldn't have been better.

I read my own personal copy, but you can purchase your own here.

Read 3/12

* * * *
4/5 Stars

**This post has been edited because as I continue to think about this book, my thoughts evolve and develop. This review will probably go through several reiterations before I'm completely happy with it.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

By the Light of the Silvery Moon...Review

About the book:
Destiny Brought Them Together. Will Tragedy Draw Them Apart?

Amelia Gladstone's mind is filled with promise as she gazes at the marvelous new ship, ready for its maiden voyage. The Titanic holds the promise of a reunited family. . .and of possible love waiting on American shores. Nothing could mar Amelia's joy, until she sees a ragged stowaway being escorted down the gangplank.

Down-and-out after squandering his fortune, Quentin Walpole thought his voyage to America ended on the Southampton pier. Then a sweet lady--his angel of mercy named Amelia--secured his passage with a spare ticket. Now he's headed to America, eager for a second chance.

But once the voyage begins, the past confronts Quentin when he discovers that his wealthy railroad tycoon father and older brother Damien are also on board. As Amelia tries to bring about reconciliation between father and son, she suddenly finds herself the center of both brothers' attention with a choice to make: Who can she trust with her heart?

Then the fateful night arrives, and one brother faces a greater choice.

Will Amelia's fate ultimately be one of love or loss?

I was curious that several Titanic-themed books have come my way for review because I hadn't realized it was the 100th anniversary of the Titanic tragedy this year.  Tricia Goyer has done amazing research and her recreation of the Titanic experience is lush and elegant and her descriptions rich and colorful.

When Amelia Gladstone impulsively helps a stranger secure passage on the Titanic, she has no idea how their futures will be entwined, because helping others is just part of her generous nature and she is traveling to America to marry a man she's never met.  When Quentin accepts Amelia's help, he has no idea how she will affect his life, because he's squandered his fortune and lived on the streets for far too long.  When he discovers his estranged father and brother are also on board ship, he feels undeserving of love or second chances.

For what is a tragic subject, this isn't a heavy recounting of the ship sinking.  Rather it's a sweet retelling of the Prodigal Son parable.  It's not overly preachy, but the Christian elements are obviously very strong.  Amelia was a bit too perfect, but this was a book that was enjoyable and easy to read.  A nice diversion before the fire on a cold, rainy afternoon.

Thanks to Amy at Litfuse Publicity for the opportunity to review this book.  You can learn more about Tricia Goyer here.  You can purchase your own copy here.  You can see other reviews and tour stops here.

Read 3/12

* * * *

Friday, March 16, 2012

Love's Sacred Song...Review

About the book:
Standing in the massive shadow of his famous father, young king Solomon wavers between fear and bravado, wisdom and folly. In the uncertain world of alliances and treachery, Solomon longs for peace and a love that is true and pure--a love that can be his cornerstone.

A shepherdess in the northern city of Shunem, Arielah remembers the first time she laid eyes on Solomon in Jerusalem when she was just seven years old. Since then she has known that it was her destiny to become his bride. When her father, a leader of their tribe, secures a promise from King Solomon to marry Arielah as a treaty bride to help unite the kingdom, it seems her dreams may come true.

But how can this simple shepherdess live as part of Solomon's harem? Can Solomon set aside his distractions to give himself completely to just one woman? Or will he let duty, deception, and the daily routine divide his heart?

Mesu Andrews expertly weaves the words of the Song of Solomon into this touching story of the power of love. Readers will be transported from the glowing fields of Shunem to the gleaming city of Jerusalem as they experience this rich and textured novel from a master storyteller.

Song of Solomon isn't a book of scripture that I have spent much time reading, and I'm not as familiar with the story of Solomon as I am with King David.  However, since I really enjoyed Mesu Andrews' first novel, Love Amid the Ashes, I looked forward to this one.  Don't you just love that cover?  It's gorgeous.  And just like Love Amid the Ashes, Mesu does a fantastic job of capturing biblical times.  Her characterizations are terrific and her descriptions sumptuous.

Unfortunately, this was a story that frustrated me more than enthralled me.  Arielah's story is inspiring, but tragic.  The Daughters of Jerusalem and the secrets, deceptions and intrigues in King Solomon's court were so negative and Solomon was clueless at how his new queen was treated.  Yet, as much as I despised certain characters, there were others I loved:  Jehosophat, Reu and Bathsheba, for starters.

Mesu does a fantastic job at weaving the songs and poetry from Song of Solomon into the story.  What could have been sappy was, instead, sentimental and romantic.

Not one of my favorites, but still an intriguing story.  Fans of biblical fiction will love it.

Available March 2012 at your favorite bookseller from Revell, a division of Baker Publishing Group. Thanks to Donna Hausler of Baker Publishing for the opportunity to review this book.  You can learn more about Mesu Andrews here.  You can purchase your own copy here.

Read 3/12

* * *
3/5 Stars

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Sixty Acres and a Bride...Review

She's Finally Found a Place to Call Home... How Far Will She Go to Save It?

With nothing to their names, young widow Rosa Garner and her mother-in-law return to their Texas family ranch. Only now the county is demanding back taxes and the women have just three months to pay.

Though facing eviction, Rosa falls in love with the countryside and the wonderful extended family who want only her best. They welcome her vivacious spirit and try to help her navigate puzzling American customs. She can't help but stand out, though, and her beauty captures attention. Where some offer help with dangerous strings attached, only one man seems honorable. But when Weston Garner, still grieving his own lost love, is unprepared to give his heart, Rosa must decide to what lengths she will go to save her future.

When their husbands are killed while living in Mexico, Rosa Garner follows her mother-in-law when she returns home to Texas.  Upon arriving, Louise and Rosa discover that renters abandoned the family farm, back taxes are owed and they have no way to pay.  However, the extended Garner family looks out for one another and as they work to raise the necessary money and make the farm productive, Rosa finds herself drawn to one of the Garner men in particular.

Weston is the perfect cowboy, but a man who harbors his own grief and regret.  As he finds himself drawn to Rosa, he's not sure he's ready to commit to another woman.

Inspired in part by the story of Naomi, Ruth and Boaz, this is a charming and entertaining story of love and family and loyalty.   I absolutely loved Rosa and her spunk as she tried to find her way and fit into this new western, American culture. The Garner family is terrific and full of their own quirks, yet loyal to a fault.

A terrific debut novel.  I look forward to more from Regina.

Thanks to Amy at Litfuse Publicity for the opportunity to review this book.  You can learn more about Regina Jennings here.  You can purchase your own copy here.  You can see other reviews and tour stops here.

Read 2/12

* * * *
4/5 Stars

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

We Lived in Heaven: Spiritual Accounts of Souls Coming to Earth...Review

About the book:
This book is a remarkable collection of accounts of families who have had the opportunity to meet the souls of their sons and daughters before they were born. Read about the vivid memories of life in heaven by young children, and dramatic stories of prayers answered by guardian angels who watch over us. Discover:

* A letter from a mother to her son, whom she gave up for adoption, telling him of the dream that guided her through that painful decision.
* A kidnapped child who survived her ordeal by the guiding hand of the baby sister who would be born years later.
* A little boy's memory of being brought to earth by his grandfather--a man he never knew.
* A woman's vision of a child in a garden, and the powerful certainty that he was her son, waiting his turn to come into this world.

Sarah Hinze's own personal pre-birth experiences complete this inspiring collection, which radiates a universal sense of peace, joy, and hope that touches us all.

The concept of "near-death experiences" is not a new one.  There are many, many resources and studies available that document these experiences. Sarah Hinze has collected many stories similar to near death experiences, but they are ones she calls, "pre-birth experiences".  The stories she shares include those of children who have memories of living in Heaven and parents who have received visits from children yet unborn

I think my favorite parts were the foreward and author's notes.  The foreword was written by a man who has spent years researching near-death experiences and talks about how the belief in a pre-mortal existence isn't new and that there is evidence to suggest that such a belief was discussed not only in the ancient Greece, but also in the early Christian church. We know it's in the Bible because we read in Jeremiah 1:5 where the Lord tells Jeremiah, Before I formed thee in the belly I knew thee; and before thou camest forth out of the womb I sanctified thee, and I ordained thee a prophet unto the nations.  

I am a firm believer that our mortal time on this earth is not the end of life, nor is it the beginnings. Rather, it's just another step in our progression.  I am also a firm believer that we have ministering angels among us and that, many times, those ministering angels are members of our own families, whether they've already passed on, or have yet to arrive.

All of these accounts are short vignettes and the book is easily read in one sitting.  Many will touch you and make you think.  I found the writing style to be a bit distracting in that I would have liked to see a narrative tie these stories together. I believe that the actual accounts are shared here as they were shared with the author and some editing to smooth out sentence structure would have been nice.

Still, this is a unique collection of stories that are sure to touch you and make you ponder your own opinions of mortality.

Thanks to Tristi Pinkston Book Tours for the chance to review this book.  You can learn more about Sarah Hinze here.  You can purchase your own copy here.

Read 3/12

* * *
3/5 Stars

Tuesday, March 6, 2012


About the book:
Sarai, the last child of her aged father, is beautiful, spoiled, and used to getting her own way. Even as a young girl, she is aware of the way men look at her, including her half brother Abram. When Abram finally requests Sarai's hand, she asks one thing--that he promise never to take another wife as long as she lives. Even her father thinks the demand is restrictive and agrees to the union only if Sarai makes a promise in return--to give Abram a son and heir. Certain she can easily do that, Sarai agrees.

But as the years stretch on and Sarai's womb remains empty, she becomes desperate to fulfill her end of the bargain--lest Abram decide that he will not fulfill his. To what lengths will Sarai go in her quest to bear a son? And how long will Abram's patience last?

Jill Eileen Smith thrilled readers with The Wives of King David series. Now she brings to life the strong and celebrated wives of the patriarchs, beginning with the beautiful and inscrutable Sarai.

I haven't read Jill Eileen Smith before, but I enjoy fictionalized accounts of biblical events.  There is, of necessity, such a high degree of subjectivness to these stories, because the accounts in the Bible are brief and scholarly research can only take you so far.  I think the author did a terrific job with her research and portrayal of Sarah and Abraham. Their relationship was a love story and one that, despite their grief at not conceiving children according to their own time frame, lasted through the ages.

The secondary characters of Lot and Melah serve to compare the faith of each family.  Sarai strives to believe in Abram's God and Melah worships the gods of idols.  Ultimately, one woman has her faith affirmed and the other loses not only her faith, but her life.

Abram's strength and unwavering faith were amazing.  I also thought that the portrayal of Sarai's grief and regret over Hagar was well done.  She seems to forget that it was at her own request that Hagar became pregnant with Abram's son.  I loved Eliezer and Lila's and wish there was more to their stories.

Ultimately though, this was a story that had all the right parts and while fascinating and well written, it just isn't going to become one of my favorites.  Fans of Jill Eileen Smith will enjoy it as will those who love stories about biblical women.

Available March 2012 at your favorite bookseller from Revell, a division of Baker Publishing Group. Thanks to Donna Hausler of Baker Publishing for the opportunity to review this book. You can learn more about Jill Eileen Smith here.  You can purchase your own copy here.

Read 2/12

* * *
3/5 Stars

Monday, March 5, 2012

More Beauty, Less Beast: Transforming Your Inner Ogre...Review

About the book:
With her own offbeat brand of wit and near-wisdom, inspirational humorist Debora Coty addresses heart needs of women struggling to tame that out-of-control inner beast that unexpectedly pounces, roaring and shredding, as it threatens to destroy the divinely beautiful princess hidden within. 

In More Beauty, Less Beast, women will find simple, practical techniques for embracing the true beauty rightfully theirs as cherished daughters of the King. Whether jaded by emotional wounds, unrealistic standards, or lack of confidence, this laugh-out-loud, girlfriend-to-girlfriend encouragement will help women transform their destructive inner beast into the exquisite beauty they were always meant to be.

I've moved away from reading self-help type books, but when this one came up for review, it sounded fun. And it really is fun.   I don't know that I'd even call it a self-help book, although it is focused on helping women control the destructive inner part of us that is so frustrating.  I don't know of any woman who doesn't have an inner ogre as Debora Coty calls it.  Whether it's fed by low self-esteem, guilt, over scheduling or simply life's trials, there is something that breaks through when we least expect it and, often, when we least want it.

Full of humorous anecdotes and personal experiences, Debora makes you laugh out loud and nod your head in understanding.  I think my favorite chapter and one that is most relevant to me at the moment was her chapter on self control and the BARF technique to use when you're angry:  Back off, Admit, Redirect and Forgive.  Brilliant.

There was so much in this little book and it's easy to read in one or two sittings, or you can just pick it up and read a short chapter or two at a time. Debora covers nearly every subject you could think of including: Behavior, Judging by Appearance, Conquering Guilt, Kindness, Marriage and so forth.  Definitely recommended.

Thanks to Amy at Litfuse Publicity for the opportunity to review this book. You can learn more about Debora Coty here.  You can purchase your own copy here.  You can see other reviews and tour stops here.

Read 3/12

* * * *
5/5 Stars

Saturday, March 3, 2012

The Captive Heart...Review

About the book:
Bandit troubles intensify as Caleb Bender's family tries to settle into their new life in 1920s Paradise Valley.

When El Pantera kidnaps Rachel and leaves her brother, Aaron, for dead, Jake Weaver and the Mexican native Domingo pursue the bandit leader to his mountain stronghold in a hopeless rescue attempt. Jake and Domingo manage to escape with Rachel, with the bandits hot on their trail.

In a desperate attempt to avoid recapture, Domingo puts himself squarely in harm's way, giving Jake and Rachel time to get away. This is not the quiet life Caleb Bender envisioned when he led his family out of Ohio.

What is a father to make of his daughter's obvious affection for a man outside the fold? And how will a pacifist Amishman like Caleb respond to the events that threaten his family and their way of life?

The Bender family has survived a year in the wild Paradise Valley in Mexico.  Now, joined by others of their faith who have made the long journey in search of religious freedom, they hope for a peace which is not to be found.

Miriam finds herself falling in love with Domingo, their hired hand.  Not Amish and not even Christian, she knows that her father will never approve of her relationship with him.  She attempts to find happiness with an Amish man, but her heart belongs to someone else.

When Rachel and her brother Aaron are attacked returning home from a trip, Rachel is kidnapped and Aaron left for dead.  Jake and Domingo go after El Pantera and after rescuing Rachel, Domingo sacrifices his safety to let Rachel and Jake get away.  When they return home without him, Miriam and Domingo's sister Kyra go after him.

Wow.   What a story and a refreshing look at the Amish faith from a vastly different perspective than one normally sees.  I love these characters and I didn't want the book to end.  I especially loved the part with Ada, where we get a glimpse into her heart and mind as she struggles to save her young nephew and return home after the attack that resulted in such tragedy.  And Miriam is such a strong young woman, faced with difficult decisions.  The exploration of love vs. faith and religion is brilliantly executed.

I adored Paradise Valley, the first in this series and I anxiously awaited the release of The Captive Heart.  I am thrilled to say that Dale Cramer has done it again.  It's going to be a long wait until December for the third and final book in the trilogy.

Thanks to Noelle at Bethany House for the opportunity to review this book.  You can learn more about Dale Cramer here.  You can purchase your own copy here.

Read 2/12

* * * * *
5/5 Stars

Friday, March 2, 2012

Bridge of Scarlet Leaves...Review

About the book:
Los Angeles, 1941. Violinist Maddie Kern's life seemed destined to unfold with the predictable elegance of a Bach concerto. Then she fell in love with Lane Moritomo. Her brother's best friend, Lane is the handsome, ambitious son of Japanese immigrants. Maddie was prepared for disapproval from their families, but when Pearl Harbor is bombed the day after she and Lane elope, the full force of their decision becomes apparent. In the eyes of a fearful nation, Lane is no longer just an outsider, but an enemy.

When her husband is interned at a war relocation camp, Maddie follows, sacrificing her Juilliard ambitions. Behind barbed wire, tension simmers and the line between patriot and traitor blurs. As Maddie strives for the hard-won acceptance of her new family, Lane risks everything to prove his allegiance to America, at tremendous cost.

Skillfully capturing one of the most controversial episodes in recent American history, Kristina McMorris draws readers into a novel filled with triumphs and heartbreaking loss--an authentic, moving testament to love, forgiveness, and the enduring music of the human spirit.

I enjoy learning about history, even when it's the dark side of history.  The treatment of Japanese Americans during World War II has always been reprehensible to me.  I understand fear, but I don't easily comprehend the decision-making process that led to relocation camps.  In Bridge of Scarlet Leaves, Kristina McMorris has captured an intimate look at the time and the essence of the Japanese American people and their WWII experience.

They knew their families might not immediately support their marriage, but when Pearl Harbor is bombed the day after Maddie Kern and Lane Moritomo elope, they are thrust into a new and difficult reality.  Suddenly, Lane isn't simply a Japanese American. He's an enemy.  An enemy who must relocate.

Maddie's fear, especially, as she realizes that she and Lane are being torn apart, is palpable.  Her determination to be with her husband at whatever cost is heartwarming.  Lane's determination to prove his patriotism ultimately leads him away from the internment camp and into war.  Maddie's brother TJ, heartsick because he views her marriage to a Japanese man as a betrayal, enlists as well.  That Lane was once his best friend doesn't matter.  Yet, as the war progresses, both men find themselves in situations they never could have imagined and their experiences bring new understandings.  Left behind at the internment camp with her young sister-in-law and a difficult mother-in-law, Maddie comes to her own understandings and discovers hidden strengths.

I thoroughly enjoyed the author notes at the back of the book and I learned, in part, that the premise of this novel began with a true account of two brothers during WWII, one who had fought for Japan and the other for America. While researching the subject, Kristina happened across a brief mention of roughly two hundred non-Japanese spouses who voluntarily lived in an internment camp. She was stunned and fascinated by the discovery, and immediately knew it was a story she needed to tell.

As the daughter of a Japanese immigrant father and Caucasian American mother, Kristina grew up living between these two cultures. Through Bridge of Scarlet Leaves she hopes to share with readers a unique perspective of an intriguing, and often tragic, portion of our country's history, while also honoring a diverse range of quiet heroes.

I think Kristina definitely achieved her goal.  And, while the ending wasn't what I wanted, it was appropriate to the story.  There are so many adjectives that come to mind as I attempt to put my thoughts about this book onto virtual paper. I loved these characters and their stories moved me beyond words. This is a story that is at once timeless, intimate, warm and lyrical as well as a poignant blend of both wretched and beautiful.

A story I thoroughly enjoyed and absolutely recommend.

Thanks to the author for the opportunity to review this book.  You can learn more about Kristina McMorris here.  You can purchase your own copy here.

Read 2/12

* * * * *
5/5 Stars

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Beauty for Ashes...Review

About the book:
She's a beautiful young widow. He's a Southern gentleman with a thirst for adventure. Both need a place to call home.

It's 1876 and eligible bachelors are scarce in Hickory Ridge. But Carrie Daly has found love. Not the weak-in-the-knees kind, but something practical. Still, she isn't quite ready to set a date with Nate Chastain.

Griff Rutledge is passing through to collect an old debt. Formerly a member of Charleston society, Griff has been estranged from his family for years. Determined to lead an unencumbered life, he is on his way to explore the gold fields and cattle ranches of Australia. But when he's asked to train a Thoroughbred for an upcoming race in Hickory Ridge, he decides to stay a bit longer.

Despite objections from the townsfolk, and her fear that true happiness has eluded her, Carrie is drawn to Griff's kindness and charm. But Griff isn't sure if he wants to settle down. It will take a leap of faith for them to open their hearts and claim God's promise of beauty for ashes.

Widowed young, Carrie Daly has come out of mourning and finds herself falling for a charming newcomer.  Griff was just passing through Hickory Ridge, trying to collect a debt, but once he meets Carrie, he decides to stay and accepts a job training a horse for an upcoming race.  Carrie's brother has married a local widow with two young sons and when they move into Henry and Carrie's home, drama ensues, driving Carrie away and into town.

The townspeople are judgmental and not welcoming of Griff, but Carrie is her own person and determined to find her own happiness.  The horse racing aspect was interesting with references to what would have been the first race of the Kentucky Derby.

I loved Carrie and her strength and spunk and determination.  I hated, absolutely hated, Mary.  I don't care that her life was difficult, she was a mean, angry shrew and the kind of person who would have been that way even if her life had been rosy.  The dynamics between Carrie and Mary made for an interesting story and I did like the changes that took place in Mary's children.  I think Carrie was a saint for what she put up with from her brother's wife out of love for him and Christian duty.

Second in the Hickory Ridge series,  Ada and Wyatt return as do other characters from  Beyond All Measure, but the book stands alone well.   You can click on the link to see my review of the first book. Beauty for Ashes is definitely my favorite so far and I look forward to the next book which is about Sophie.

Thanks to Amy at Litfuse Publicity for the opportunity to review this book.  You can learn more about Dorothy Love here.  You can purchase your own copy here.  You can see other reviews and tour stops here.

Read 2/12

* * * *
4/5 Stars