Wednesday, 29 December 2010

Top Ten Books of 2010

Top Ten Tuesday is an original feature/weekly meme created at The Broke and the Bookish.

This week's topic is Top Ten Books of 2010. I found this surprisingly easy to choose this year, but maybe that's because I've become more strict with my ratings? While there are lots of books I loved this year, these are the ten I truly adored. (In the order that I read them).

1. A Gift of Grace by Amy Clipston I've really got into the Amish genre this year, and Clipston is definitely one of the best authors in this steadily growing market. This, the first in the Kauffman Amish Bakery series, is the story of two teenage girls who go to live with their Amish aunt after their parents are killed in an accident. It's a heart-warming tale with characters who are very easy to relate to, not to forgot a lovely community-feel, fantastic setting and a bakery that'll make you very hungry! If you're an Amish fan and haven't yet read anything by this author then you're definitely missing out.

2. Dreaming of Amelia by Jaclyn Moriarty I've been a huge fan of this author since I read her debut novel, Feeling Sorry for Celia, when I was thirteen. All of her novels are written in an epistolary style and I think she's one of the few writers who can really pull it off. If you like quirky, teen novels then definitely check this out!

3. The Summer Before by Ann M. Martin While my biggest book obsession is anything to do with the Amish, I'm also a huge Babysitters Club fanatic. I was so excited to discover that a prequel was being released and pre-ordered as soon as I could. And I was not disappointed. If you were ever a BSC fan, you need to get this book. But I also think it can be read by kids who never grew up with the BSC - it's an excellent introduction, and if they love it then you can always buy them the re-releases!

4. The Betrayal by Beverly Lewis This is #2 in the Abram's Daughters series, and while I found something a bit off about #1 in this Amish saga, I loved this one. The series follows four sisters in from the 1950s onwards, and while they're all wonderful characters, you may need tissues handy when you read these books! 

5. A Promise of Hope by Amy Clipston Spot a pattern?! Sometimes the second book in a series doesn't live up to the first but this one certainly did. This followed on from the events of the first book and told the story of Rebecca Kauffman's sister. I'm starting to really enjoy reading a series that follows several members of the same family.

6. Island of Lost Girls by Jennifer McMahon A bit different from my usual books, but while I'm really getting into the romance genre right now I still like a mystery/thriller now and then. This was almost impossible to put down and had wonderful twists - so if you're fed up with all the soppy books on this list, go check this one out!

7. The Sacrifice by Beverly Lewis #3 in the Abram's Daughters saga, very addictive books! I just got #4 for my Christmas and can't wait to continue to read about the Ebersol girls. Although there seems to be a lot of sadness and tragedy, I've really come to care about these characters.

8. A Simple Amish Christmas by Vannetta Chapman I got an early review copy of this from Abingdon Press and can't wait for the next book from this debut author. This sweet romance is perfect for the Christmas season - add it to your list for next winter!

9. A Time to Love by Barbara Cameron Another early review copy from Abingdon, this is the story of a journalist who is injured in a war zone and goes to recuperate on her grandmother's Amish farm. She reconnects with an old friend, who is now a widower with children, and finds herself falling in love with the simpler way of life. Different from the other Amish books I've read but absolutely wonderful!

10. Sarah's Christmas Miracle by Mary Ellis I read this one just before Christmas and it's such a sweet little novella. For once, this Amish story wasn't focused on romance, but on Sarah trying to bring her older brother home to spend Christmas with their family. Short but very endearing.

What were your favourite books of 2010? Do you agree with any of my choices, or find any that you want to read?

(And yes, I know it's Wednesday but I didn't finish the post until now!)

Tuesday, 28 December 2010

Stylish Blogger Award

I'm very grateful to receive this award from my lovely fellow blogger Diane. Check out her blog for book reviews, quilting and card-making!

In order to accept this award, I need to tell you eight facts about myself:

1. I got a Kindle for Christmas and absolutely love it!

2. I started knitting again this month, after not picking my needles up since I was nine years old, and now have the beginnings of a blanket. I'm currently on square #3 so it's got a long way to go!

3. I have two cats, Sophie and Sparky, that I miss quite a bit when I'm away at university.

4. I have three beauty spots on my right cheek in the shape of a triangle.

5. While I love a glass of wine in the evening, I also rather enjoy Dr. Pepper. 

6. I started taking Zumba classes this year and recommend them to anyone who likes to dance but would rather have fun than follow strict posture rules!

7. I spent a quiet Christmas at home this year with just my parents, my younger brother and the cats... after doing the rounds with my boyfriend's family on the 23rd and 24th, that is!

8. My exams start on the 13th of January so I should really be studying right now!

And now I get to nominate eight bloggers who I think deserve this award:

1. Camille at A Book a Day

2. Jodie at All Things Amish

3. Brenda at WV Stitcher

4. SJH at A Dream of Books

5. Jodie at Books for Company

6. Dizzy C at Dizzy C's Little Book Blog

7. Sami Jo and Sami Jo's Book Reviews

8. Lorie at For the Love of Reading

Thanks for all the excellent reviews and recommendations, girls!

Monday, 27 December 2010

A Hickory Ridge Christmas - Dana Corbit

A minister's daughter and unwed teen mother: five years ago Hannah Woods had been the talk of Hickory Ridge. Her little girl was the light of her life, though Hannah was unable to forgive the one who'd loved her--and then left.

Todd McBride had left town a boy and returned a man with a quest: to find the woman he still adored and ask for a second chance. But Hannah's secret--a child he'd never known about--threw his plans into a tailspin. 

With Christmas rapidly approaching, it seemed the time for love and forgiveness was at hand...

There's not a lot I can say about this book. This was the kind of novel that you could read without needing to concentrate much, easy to put down and pick up again. I did enjoy it, but there wasn't anything original or special about it and I never really connected with the characters. And while I'm a Christian and generally enjoy inspirational fiction, it seemed as if God was mentioned on every single page of this book! I would have loved to have known how the characters felt, not how they thought God wanted them to feel. If the author had got inside the characters' heads a bit more and toned down the often unneeded and slightly forced references to God I would probably have enjoyed this more. While I'll probably try a couple more Love Inspired books, I wouldn't go out of my way to read anything else from this author. 6/10

Sunday, 26 December 2010

Mrs Miracle - Debbie Macomber

Seth Webster's heart never healed after he lost his adored wife. Now, with Christmas approaching, wild twin boys to raise alone, a home in chaos, and the latest in a long line of exasperated housekeepers quitting in disgust, Seth needs more than help to keep his family togethe...he needs a miracle. 

And then a miracle arrives on his doorstep. Her name is Mrs. Merkle, but the kids call her "Mrs. Miracle"—and from the moment the warm, knowing, and very patient nanny appears, everything is different. Her sassy spirit is infectious, and it gives Seth the courage to approach Reba, a beautiful travel agent who's been hurt and betrayed, and is afraid to ever love again. Through the magic of faith—and with a little help from a children's Christmas pageant and a lot of encouragement from Mrs. Miracle—Seth and Reba might just be able to find a Christmas miracle of their very own: true love.

I was far more impressed with this book than I was with The Shop on Blossom Street, the first novel that I read from this author. Mrs Miracle was the perfect Christmas story, packed full of characters overcoming past hurts and finding love again, as well as mysterious and heartwarming "miracles". 

The premise of this novel is that widower Seth's children are out of control and he's running out of options for a housekeeper when a lovely, grandmotherly woman named Mrs Merkle turns up unexpectedly and sets about organising his children, his home and his love life. His two sons continually call her "Mrs Miracle" and the name sticks. But is she truly a miracle from heaven? She does bring Seth together with Reba, and encourage them to let go of the past and learn to fall in love again. When Seth's in-laws arrive for Christmas she also paves the way to fixing their marital problems. And she still has time to teach the local church busy-body a lesson about gossip and jumping to conclusions!

I loved the device of a mysterious house-keeper who seemed to be an angel in disguise. There was no doubt that the author portrayed her as being heavenly or magical in someway, but the specifics were left up to the reader to decide. It's natural that you have to suspend all reason while reading this novel, but the way in which Mrs Miracle helps all of the characters isn't particularly predictable or cheesy. Just the right amount of romance and sentimentalism! Obviously all of the characters have happy endings, but they experience realistic heartaches and difficulties before they reach satisfaction. I appreciated that Macomber not only focused on the young couple, Seth and Reba, but also on Seth's in-laws, who were experiencing problems in their marriage despite being together for forty years. Both young and more mature readers have someone they can relate to, and I felt it was important to show that anyone can have relationship problems, irregardless of age. On a lighter note, there was plenty of humour in the form of a self-righteous, gossipy older lady from the church, who does have a part to play in the main story, even if she seems a bit out of place to begin with. 

All in all, I found this to be a surprisingly realistic novel considering the almost magical premise. If you're an old romantic like me then you're sure to love this, especially if you like a twist on the typical love story. With excellent characters and a sprinkling of humour and heart-ache, this novel was simply perfect for the Christmas season. There were only a couple of moments when I felt the story was getting too cheesy, and one almost racy situation that seemed a bit out of place, but this didn't spoil the novel for me. 9/10

Saturday, 18 December 2010

Kate's Choice - Louisa May Alcott

In this heartwarming story, Kate is faced with a difficult choice. Her father's dying wish was for her to live with each of his estranged brothers - ultimately choosing one family with which to make her home. Although their motivation varies, all are anxious to have her - one because of her money, another because her great-grandfather had been a lord, a third in hopes of securing her hand for the son of a close friend, and a fourth because of love for her alone.

Which will she choose? Join us for the memorable story of how Kate makes the best choice of all.

Although the title of this book is Kate's Choice there are actually two other stories, What Love Can Do and Gwen's Adventure in the Snow. I have to admit that the last story is actually my favourite, not the main one. Written for newspapers or magazines when Alcott was first embarking on her writing career, these remained undiscovered until recently. Each of the stories centres around Christmas in some way. In the title-story, Kate is left orphaned just before Christmas and moves from England to America to be with her father's relatives. It was his wish that she visit each of his brothers in turn and choose who she wanted to live with. But Kate discovers her father's mother, alone in her big family home, and sets about bringing all of the relatives together at Christmas in order to cheer up her grandmother. In What Love Can Do the neighbours of a poverty-stricken family overhear the children talking about how they can't afford any Christmas gifts and decided to surprise them. And in my personal favourite, Gwen's Adventure in the Snow, Gwen and her cousins go for a sleigh ride and are struck by a blizzard. Sheltering in the family summer house, they have to make do with the few supplies they can scrounge and camp out until the storm is over. I think this one is my favourite because, as a child, I always adored stories about children "playing house" with the odds and ends that they discover in a shed, cellar, tree-house, abandoned house, etc. 

This book would be perfect for any Alcott fan, young or old. The editor has included lots of background information about Alcott, her writing and what can be learned from these stories, which would be interesting to a collector. And the shortness of the stories and the large print make the book perfect for a child who has enjoyed having Little Women read to them but isn't ready for full-length chapter books yet. While those unfamiliar with Alcott's work may find the stories rather predictable, long-standing fans will adore this and recognise her typical characters and values immediately. The presentation of this book is also beautiful, a little hardback with a lovely cover and illustrations and decorative fonts throughout. The perfect stocking filler for a girl who loves old-fashioned stories. 8/10

Friday, 17 December 2010

The Holding - Vicente Blasco Ibanez

This passionate and moving story of social injustice, violence and revenge, set in the Valencian huerta, has become the classic text of Spanish regional realism. Blasco Ibanez, the 'Spanish Zola', dramatically confronts one of the great social issues of the late nineteenth century, the possession of land, in a vivid recreation of the local types and traditional customs of a closed rural community which jealousy guards its rights and administers its own rough justice against the outsider. This novel is both a lyrical hymn to nature and an expose of man's inhumanity to man, narrated with a human compassion worthy of his master, Galdos.

Batiste and his family, poverty stricken and homeless, move into farm land that has been abandoned for ten years. Thinking themselves to be fortunate to get such a good offer from the landlord, they ignore the supposed "curse" on the land that is left from the previous tenant. But the locals haven't forgotten Barret, the old owner, and will do anything to protect his land from being possessed by a new tenant. Thus Batiste and his family are plagued by hostility, rumours and insults from the second they move in. The family are struck by continual misfortune, ultimately causing them to regret ever having dreamt that they could escape their previous poverty in this supposedly plentiful red soil. 

In a strange way, I did enjoy reading this book. It is wonderfully written and the land truly comes alive through the descriptions, but this doesn't detract from how depressing the story is. I won't spoil the ending, but I will say that it isn't positive and uplifting in any way. While Ibanez made clear the plight of the tenant farmers in late 19th century Spain, I just couldn't get my head around how hostile the locals were to innocent Batiste and his family. It seemed absurd that they would hate them simply because they had taken up residence in the land that used to belong to their friend, when it was clear that they weren't intending to disrespect Barret, just wanting to make enough money to feed and clothe their family. I'm sure that there were many struggles like this at the time, but I couldn't help but be perplexed by the behaviour of the characters. 

I would recommend this book to anyone interested in the area, time period or just Spanish literature in general. This book is hard to get hold of, unless you're willing to fork out £15+, but it is worth the read. Just be aware that there are few positive moments in this novella! 7/10

Thursday, 16 December 2010

Sarah's Christmas Miracle - Mary Ellis

Sarah Beachy has plenty to be joyous about as autumn leaves start to fall. She loves her job at the English bed-and-breakfast where she cooks and refreshes rooms between guests. She has a serious beau, and everyone expects an engagement soon. Why, then, would she jeopardize everything by suddenly deciding to take a trip to Cleveland to track down a brother who left the Order years ago?

Her family’s faith in God is put to the test as the holiest night of the year approaches and Sarah remains far away. Sarah’s mother, Elizabeth, has been missing her son for such a long time…will she lose her daughter to the English world as well? Or will the Beachy family receive an unexpected Christmas miracle?

Sarah Beachy is at a crossroads in her life, hanging on to her childhood as she's unsure about the responsibilities of entering the adult world. She's witnessed the hurt that her mother has experienced in losing her older brother to the English world, and this has made her cautious about becoming a wife and mother. But Adam Troyer is desperate to get married and can't understand why his beau is happy to remain at in her parents' home, working at the local inn. So both Sarah's family and Adam are worried when she sets off to Cleveland to visit her older brother and decide whether the life of an Amish mother and wife is best for her. But Sarah soon discovers that life in the city isn't as rosy as her brother made it sound, and her journey makes her realise what she really wants in life. 

This was the perfect Christmas novella; the return of a prodigal son mixed with the coming of age of a young woman. It only took me a few hours to read this book but it really warmed my heart and put me in the Christmas mood. Ellis crafted her characters wonderfully and I loved reading about Sarah and her family, as well as the other members of the community and the English couple who run the local inn. All of these characters were entirely believable and Fredericksburg sounds like a lovely place to live. I appreciated all the little details about the Amish way of life, from descriptions of the cookies that they were baking to the school performance on Christmas Eve. I'd definitely recommend this to anyone looking for a short Christmas story to put a smile on your face. As it's only 134 pages long this would also be perfect for someone wanting to try Amish fiction for the first time, or for a girl in her early teen years. This is the first book I've read from Mary Ellis but I'll definitely be looking out for more of her books as she's clearly the cream of the crop when it comes to Amish fiction! 10/10

Wednesday, 15 December 2010

What I'll be reading in December

As Christmas draws near and my university semester comes to an end, I'm looking forward to curling up on the sofa with some heart-warming novels and some German Lebkuchen (my favourite Christmas treat). Here's what I'll be reading over the next month, so keep your eyes peeled for some reviews! What is everyone else planning on reading this year to get them in the holiday mood?

The Three Day Rule - Josie Lloyd and Emlyn Rees

‘What’s the three day rule? Well, you know the saying: families are like fish. They go off after three days.’

When the Thorne family gather for the annual Christmas festivities – the arguments, jealousies and long-held enmities that make every family Christmas so special – they think they've only got to endure each other for three days, and then they can return to normality. But then the snows come, along with the ninety-mile-an-hour winds and the plunging temperatures, and the Thornes get cut of with only each other for support, or to blame. It promises to be a Christmas like no other...

Mrs Miracle - Debbie Macomber

Seth Webster's heart never healed after he lost his adored wife. Now, with Christmas approaching, wild twin boys to raise alone, a home in chaos, and the latest in a long line of exasperated housekeepers quitting in disgust, Seth needs more than help to keep his family together...he needs a miracle. 

And then a miracle arrives on his doorstep. Her name is Mrs. Merkle, but the kids call her "Mrs. Miracle"—and from the moment the warm, knowing, and very patient nanny appears, everything is different. Her sassy spirit is infectious, and it gives Seth the courage to approach Reba, a beautiful travel agent who's been hurt and betrayed, and is afraid to ever love again. Through the magic of faith—and with a little help from a children's Christmas pageant and a lot of encouragement from Mrs. Miracle—Seth and Reba might just be able to find a Christmas miracle of their very own: true love.

A Hickory Ridge Christmas - Dana Corbit

A minister's daughter and unwed teen mother: five years ago Hannah Woods had been the talk of Hickory Ridge. Her little girl was the light of her life, though Hannah was unable to forgive the one who'd loved her--and then left.Todd McBride had left town a boy and returned a man with a quest: to find the woman he still adored and ask for a second chance. But Hannah's secret--a child he'd never known about--threw his plans into a tailspin. With Christmas rapidly approaching, it seemed the time for love and forgiveness was at hand...

A Prairie Christmas Collection - Various

 Experience Christmas on the historical American Great Plains as retold by nine different multi-published authors, including Tracie Peterson and Deborah Raney. Follow pioneers, immigrants, and orphans through their adventures, heartaches, challenges, victories, and romances. You are sure to find more than one favorite among the nine holiday romances in this unique collection to warm your heart and inspire your faith.

The Christmas Bus - Melody Carlson

The people of Christmas Valley always celebrate Christmas to the fullest extent. The mayor plays Santa, every business is holiday themed, and there's a nativity for the kids each Christmas Eve. This town knows Christmas. But this year nothing goes according to plan. Shepherd's Inn is full of strangers, Mad Myrtle is causing problems, and a young couple with a baby due any minute rolls in to the middle of town in their Partridge Family-style bus. It's hardly the holiday Christmas Valley wanted - but it may be just what they need. 

Sarah's Christmas Miracle - Mary Ellis

Sarah Beachy has plenty to be joyous about as autumn leaves start to fall. She loves her job at the English bed-and-breakfast where she cooks and refreshes rooms between guests. She has a serious beau, and everyone expects an engagement soon. Why, then, would she jeopardize everything by suddenly deciding to take a trip to Cleveland to track down a brother who left the Order years ago?

Her family’s faith in God is put to the test as the holiest night of the year approaches and Sarah remains far away. Sarah’s mother, Elizabeth, has been missing her son for such a long time…will she lose her daughter to the English world as well? Or will the Beachy family receive an unexpected Christmas miracle?

Friday, 10 December 2010

Montana Man - Barbara Delinsky

Lily Danziger wanted more. 

With a newborn daughter and only herself to rely on, she was running from the shallow life she'd been living. Circumstances had changed and now she wanted more security than money could buy. Without looking back, she was heading to safety and a new start - until a blizzard stopped her and she had to ask a stranger for help.

He came with a Stetson, a gruff voice and an even gruffer manner, but he was their only chance for survival in the snowbound car. He led them to a temporary refuge, then offered her permanent security. It was everything she needed, but would it leave her wanting more?

This was a vast improvement on the last romance novel that I read from this author. Barbara Delinsky is one of my favourite writers and I've started investigating some of her earlier works. While I was disappointed by An Irresistible Impulse, this novel had the typical Delinsky charm. Well developed characters, excellent interaction and chemistry, a cute baby, a couple of subplots and one of my favourite plot devices - snowbound in a cabin! While initially I was a bit annoyed that Quist conformed to the typical alpha male stereotype of an aloof, masculine woman-hater, Delinsky quickly made him into someone that I could sympathise with and enjoy reading about. Both Quist and Lily make judgements about each other and come to realise that first impressions aren't always the best, and end up liking each other...and falling in love, obviously! I appreciated that they both had pasts, particularly that Lily had come from a broken marriage and had a baby. But one aspect of romance novels that has always bugged me is that men are allowed to have been promiscuous but even women who have been married have to have had bad sexual experiences until they met The One. I'm not a fan of this double standard! This book was originally published in the Harlequin Temptation line, so there is a fair amount of sex, some of it described quite graphically. This isn't normally something I look for in a novel, but the engaging characters and plot made up for it. I was particularly pleased with the ending, where the catalysts for Quist and Lily meeting - he looking for his sister and she escaping her husband's family - came to a head. It was nice to know that these subplots weren't forgotten in the whirlwind of romance, and it made the characters and their histories all the more realistic. All in all, this novel did have its faults where typical romance stereotypes emerged, but otherwise this was a sweet romance and a perfect comfort read. 8/10

Saturday, 4 December 2010

Tree/House - Jessica Knauss

Upon the death of her strange and distant husband, Emma awakens into a world full of possibility. With the help of a vagrant who camps on her property, Emma comes to understand that her life, up to this point, has been little more than a bad dream. Does she have the courage and the strength to move on and create her own life, by her own rules? A fast and fascinating read that will leave you wondering about the pink kitchen sponge.

I actually enjoyed this book during the first two parts, but the last one was a bit of a let down. It started off as a slightly sad tale about a woman who was floating through college, unsure of where she was going in life, who ended up marrying her college professor because he was infatuated with her. Her marriage is stifling and boring and while her husband can spout romantic poetry he is unable to satisfy her in any other way. In the end, he loves Shakespeare more than her loves Emma, and she finds herself not terribly upset when he dies tragically. The novella starts with the aftermath of his funeral and then goes back to show how Emma and Franklin met. However, the last section became rather ridiculous and unbelievable. While the character of Geraldine, a vagrant who lives in one of the trees on Emma's estate, was quirky and interesting, all of the events in the final section involving her became more and more obscure. I won't spoil anything for you, but so much happened all at once that I was disappointed and this has made me drop my rating of this novella. It is an interesting tale and very well written, so if you're looking for something quirky and a little bizarre then I would recommend this. 6/10

Tuesday, 30 November 2010

Where Hearts are Free - Golden Keyes Parsons

The odds are stacked against Bridget and Philippe reuniting. But God has a plan for them if they'll only believe.

It’s 1687, in the burgeoning town of Philadelphia, and for seven years, Bridget Barrington has watched with growing affection as Philippe Clavell worked as an indentured servant for her father, a wealthy landowner.

Her father rejects her request for Philippe to be a potential suitor as he has none of the qualities Mr. Barrington hoped for his daughter's future husband, the least of which is a respectable income.

Heartbroken, Bridget accedes to her parents’ wishes and gets engaged to a man she does not love. However, Bridget's husband-to-be does not love her, but only her wealth.

But there's always light in the midst of darkness for those who have faith. This stunning historical romance concludes the gripping Darkness to Light series.

The love that Bridget and Philippe have for each other is not respected by their society, she being the heir to a promising plantation and he a mere indentured servant. Philippe is well aware that their relationship cannot go anywhere, so when he is offered his freedom in return for separation from Bridget he leaves the Barrington estate without a second glance. But little does he know that this will plunge Bridget into a marriage of convenience to a disreputable man. Will Philippe discover this in time to rescue her from the clutches of her husband-to-be? Will God provide a way for these star-crossed lovers to be together? 

This lovely historical romance definitely surpassed my expectations! I'm a history geek and a romantic at heart but I will admit that the blurb sounded a bit cheesy, even for my standards. However, once I was a third of the way into the story I became entirely immersed and didn't want to put it down. I wanted to find out whether Bridget and Philippe would ever get together, and if Edward would be outed for being the scoundrel that he truly was. I will admit that it took me a while to warm up to Bridget and I would have preferred more interaction between the couple before they were separated to fully convince me of their love for each other. Because of this, it took me a while to be come completely interested in their conflict, but by the end of the novel I definitely thought that it was worth the read.

This is the third in a series about a noble Huguenot family from France who escape Catholic persecution during the 17th century, but it can easily be read as a standalone book. And as I've studied this particular period of history at university I can say that Parsons has clearly done her research and produced an authentic novel. Bridget's marriage of convinience, I felt, was particularly appropriate for the period and the conflicts she encountered were probably quite common for a woman in her situation. I was also impressed that the author dared to deal with the historical conflicts between Catholics and Protestants, and did so without favouring either side. This is an issue that few authors dare to attempt in the Inspirational genre, for fear of offending people, but Parsons was incredibly delicate yet honest with her examination of the topic. I will caution that this is definitely a Christian novel, and the characters frequently seek God's guidance and pray to him in difficult situations. I thought her portrayal of faith was excellent, but non-Christians may find this unappealing.

I would definitely read more from this author and I'm interested in the rest of the Darkness to Light trilogy. This is more than your typical inspirational historical romance, dealing with some difficult situations and a time period that's not commonly featured in romantic novels. If this is a genre or topic that you're interested in then be sure to put Golden Keyes Parsons on your wishlist! 8/10

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

Wednesday, 24 November 2010

Remembering the Babysitters Club

Although I was a nineties kid and a noughties teen, I, like hundreds of thousands of girls across the globe, was affected by the work of Ann M. Martin. Her Babysitters Club series was first published in 1986 and sold over 176 million copies worldwide. Although I also gobbled up Sweet Valley and Nancy Drew stories, it was the world of preteen babysitters that truly enchanted me. My dad used to moan at me for reading books that weren’t particularly educational or enlightening, but I’d have to say that I’d encourage my own daughters to read this series. 

While so many young teens read about gossiping, stealing boyfriends, buying clothes and joining the popular crowd, the adventures of Kristy, Mary Anne and their fellow sitters focused on having slumber parties, looking after younger siblings, making friends and discovering new talents. Even though the girls did have crushes on boys and go shopping at the mall, there is more to life for the BSC. Kristy coaches a softball team, Mary Anne loves to read and knit, Claudia takes art classes, Stacey is a Mathlete, Dawn cares about environmental issues, Mallory writes stories, Jessi is a ballerina and Abby plays soccer. And of course, they all love to babysit! 

The focus on babysitting, I believe, shows how much the girls care about their families. Kristy always jumps at the chance to babysit for her stepsiblings, Karen and Andrew. Sure, Claudia always moans about her oldest sister, Janine, and Mary Anne resents her father’s over protectiveness of her, but they love them really. The girls have fights with their parents and siblings and friends but ultimately they always work things out. Even when Stacey makes friends with the popular crowd and leaves the club for several books, she returns because she does care about her old friends. Friendship is the basis of the club – there is no bitching, back-stabbing or gossiping here. Sure, the girls argue, but only as much as a normal group of a friends; a group that has foundations in more than just fashion and boys. 

As a teenager, I was definitely a Mallory. I had glasses and braces at the age of 11 and always felt rather dorky. I wore rather outrageous outfits that I'm sure looked hideous on me, just because I was trying to be "cool" like my older friends. But I also loved to read and write tons of stories. Now I think I'm more of a Mary Anne - I'm a bit conservative, sometimes shy, have a steady boyfriend and love both books and cats! This was the wonderful thing about the BSC - there was always a girl that you could relate to. There was even a boy babysitter, Logan Bruno, to appeal to the male audience (as well as Shannon, another extra sitter who wasn't mentioned quite as often). I actually knew one boy who liked to read these books!

Thinking of boys and the BSC reminds me of the time that my friends and I tried to start a Babysitters Club Fan Club. There were four of us who loved the books - three ten-year-old girls and one boy in the year above us. We made badges out of cardboard and safety-pins and wore them on our school uniforms, probably causing everyone to make fun of us. We tried to have club meetings at school and I vaguely recall being allowed to meet in the library at break time, so I suppose our teachers must have been happy that we were appreciating some form of literature. We even had three newsletters - two of them word-processed on our dad's computers and one laboriously hand-written and copied several times. Alas, the club failed after a while. But the amazing thing was that at least five kids who had never read the books wanted to be part of our club just because it sounded like fun. Clubs have always had some sort of appeal, which explains the popularity of the Babysitters Club. From the Sleepover Club to the Unicorn Club, children have adored uniting because of a common interest. And while me and my friends weren't old enough to babysit (we may have been almost the same age as Mal and Jessi but this was 2001!) we formed a fan club for the books that we loved the most.

The Babysitters Club still unites people all over the world - there are websites where fans blog, snark and generally chat about their favourite children's book series.  Just check out the list of book blogs that I follow and you'll find a few there. The love of the Babysitters Club series did not end when the final book was published in 2000. In fact, ten years later, Ann M. Martin released a prequel to the series, The Summer Before, which I read earlier this year and was incredibly satisfied with. The girls were exactly as I remembered them and Ann hasn't lost her touch after all these years. Although the books were ghostwritten as the series picked up popularity and thus slightly lost their Ann-touch, I still enjoy them as they contain the typical BSC values of friendship and families first, and also the general craziness of thirteen-year-olds who are allowed to babysit! 

I'd never allow a preteen to babysit my kids - nor would I allow my kids to babysit until they're at least sixteen! But this doesn't dampen my love for these wonderful books. Yes, they can be unrealistic, and yes, caricatures appear with more frequency as the novels became ghostwritten. But these books inspired me and made me happy when I was a dorky, Mallory-like child. And today, while I'm balancing John Milton's Paradise Lost and Alessandro Manzoni's The Betrothed, I may find myself turning to Mallory's Mystery Diary or Claudia and the Genius of Elm Street to cheer myself up!

Check out Babysitters Club Week at Bri Meets Books.

Tuesday, 23 November 2010

Rachel's Top Ten Holiday Reads

Top Ten Tuesday is an original feature/weekly meme created at The Broke and the Bookish

Each week they post a new Top Ten list that one of their bloggers at The Broke and the Bookish will answer. Everyone is welcome to join. All they ask is that you link back to The Broke and the Bookish on your own Top Ten Tuesday post AND add your name to the Linky widget so that everyone can check out other bloggers lists! If you don't have a blog, just post your answers as a comment. Have fun with it! It's a fun way to get to know your fellow bloggers. Don't worry if you don't have ten or if you have more than ten! Post what you can!

1. Little Women by Louisa May Alcott This was one of my favourite books as a child and I try to reread it at least once a year. I don't always manage this, but I always make sure that I watch the film over the Christmas holidays! Although the book doesn't focus primarily on Christmas there are several Christmas scenes throughout and it just has a lovely, family-orientated, wholesome feel that is perfect for the Christmas season.

2. Anne of Green Gables by L. M. Montgomery This is another book that doesn't focus on Christmas but has wonderful values in it that I always associate with the season. Another childhood favourite!

3. Christmas with Anne: and Other Holiday Stories by L. M. Montgomery This is a wonderful little collection of stories that I read last Christmas and adored. Two of the stories come from the "Anne" novels but he rest are taken from newspapers and magazines that Montgomery wrote for. The stories focus on events surrounding Thanksgiving, Christmas and the New Year. The themes can be rather same-y but I'd recommend reading one every few days for the month of December and it'll definitely get you in the mood for Christmas and cheer you up! 

4. A Simple Amish Christmas by Vannetta Chapman I read this a few months ago as a review book for Abingdon Press and loved it! I'm a fan of Amish fiction, romances and Christmas stories so this was perfect for me. Check out this review to find out more.

5. Grace by Shelley Shepard Gray This is another recent read with a wonderful message and Christmassy setting. Check out the review for more information if you're a fan of Amish romances and happily ever afters.

6. Akin to Anne: Tales of Other Orphans by L. M. Montgomery You may have guessed who one of my favourite comfort-read authors is! I just think that Montgomery suits the holiday season perfectly with her sweet stories and wholesome values. This is a collection of stories about orphans who either get reunited with family members or make their own new families. Plenty of happy endings and will definitely put a smile on your face. Click here for more information. 

7. The Guernsey Literary Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Schaffer and Annie Barrows I read this around Christmas 2009 so for that reason will always associate this book with Christmas. I do think it suits the season as it's an easy read and made me smile a lot. Juliet, the main character, reminded me a lot of Jo March so perhaps that's why this book reminds me of Christmas.

8. White Boots by Noel Streatfeild One of my favourite children's authors, although I didn't read this book until 2008. As I read this over Christmas I, again, associate it with that season but I'm fairly certain that it was also set in winter. Anything by Streatfeild is perfect for the holidays, much like Alcott and Montgomery.

9. Forever Rose by Hilary McKay McKay is a severely underrated kids author who I absolutely adore. This is the fifth book in her Casson Family series but you could easily pick it up and read it as a standalone novel. This book is partly set over Christmas and I loved the angst that Rose had because her class teacher hated the holiday season.

10. Mallory's Christmas Wish by Ann M. Martin Indeed, I was a massive Babysitters Club fanatic as a child and this book has always stuck with me because it was one of the first I ever read. Incidentally, I will be blogging about the BSC later today - check back sometime this evening!

Thursday, 18 November 2010

Effi Briest - Theodor Fontane

Unworldly young Effi Briest is married off to Baron von Innstetten, an austere and ambitious civil servant twice her age, who has little time for his new wife. Isolated and bored, Effi finds comfort and distraction in a brief liaison with Major Crampas, a married man with a dangerous reputation. But years later, when Effi has almost forgotten her affair, the secret returns to haunt her, with fatal consequences. Considered to be Fontane’s greatest novel, Effi Briest is a humane, unsentimental portrait of a young woman torn between her duties as a wife and mother and the instincts of her heart.

I'm afraid that reading this immediately after Madame Bovary may have influenced my opinion on this book. It was impossible not to compare the two, and I definitely prefer Emma to Effi. While I felt sorry for Effi, pushed into marriage to a much older man when she was barely a child, I couldn't help but find her selfish and immature. Even her husband refers to her as a "spoilt young woman"! I'm sure that Effi had motivations for her actions but I never really felt like I understood them; Fontane didn't really get inside her head the way that Flaubert did with Emma. Although this novel offered a fascinating insight into late 19th century German aristocratic society I found it difficult to connect with the characters in comparison to other novels I've read from the period. I sympathised with their plight at being victims of the society in which they lived, but I never got to know them well enough to really care about them. There were, however, some wonderful descriptions of the scenery. I have the feeling that Fontane is better at describing locations than he is the emotions of his characters. 7/10

Monday, 15 November 2010

Shout out for Amish fans!

Many of my followers will be aware of the Fans of Amish Fiction group at GoodReads. (If not, get over there!) We discuss our favourite authors and books from the genre and discover new ones, as well as discussing a book together each month. We've even been fortunate enough to have the wonderful authors Marta Perry and Barbara Cameron join in with our discussions! At the moment we're reading Barbara Cameron's debut novel A Time to Love, which I reviewed a few months ago. From my experience, the authors in this particular genre are incredibly generous both with their wealth of knowledge on the subject and their desire to bless us with books! As an example of this, I'd like to direct you to a giveaway that author Gayle Roper is holding at my friend Jodie's blog All Things Amish. Jodie is a fellow GoodReader who has just started blogging about the Amish, aiming to provide all the essential information about the genre on one website. I encourage you to check out the giveaway and read the interviews with Gayle! 

I'd also like to give a little shout out to my fellow Amish GoodReads bloggers: Camille, Diane, Brenda, Lorie, Kristy, Jodie, Liz and Sam. Check out their blogs; you may discover some excellent new books.

Wednesday, 10 November 2010

A Celebration of the Simple Life - Wanda E. Brunstetter

Join Brunstetter in celebrating the simple life of the Plain People! Pairing devotional readings and Scripture from the KJV with her original poetry, this gift book encourages you to reflect on your attitudes, responsibilities, and Christian duty in light of the Amish philosophy of simplicity. A breath of fresh air for those under stress! 

Such a lovely little book, I only wish I could have held the real thing rather than an eBook. This is a wonderful devotional that I know I'd love to own. There are over thirty reflections under the headings "Attitude", "Responsibility" and "Christian Duty" on subjects such as "A Humble Attitude" and "Responsibility to Fellowship." Each reflection includes a poem from Wanda Brunstetter, a Bible verse, a note from Brunstetter relating the scripture to an example in the Amish lifestyle and a small prayer. This is all completed with absolutely stunning photography that will simply take your breath away; I simply cannot emphasise enough how beautiful these pictures are. Although I'm not a fan of Brunstetter's fictional work, she does have a wealth of knowledge about the Amish and I'd definitely recommend this book to anyone who is interested in the Amish or loves reading novels about them or anyone who just wants to simplify their life. This would make the perfect gift or stocking filler as it isn't particularly large or expensive. I only wish I'd known about this when I was making my Christmas list! 10/10

Many thanks to Barbour and NetGalley for giving me the chance to read and review this book.

Monday, 8 November 2010

Long Time Coming - Vanessa Miller

Faithful Christian Deidre Clark-Morris is a professional career-minded woman with a loving husband and beautiful home, but no children. Kenisha Smalls has lived in poverty her entire life and has three children by three different men. After learning that Kenisha has inoperable cervical cancer, the relationship between these two women becomes a catalyst of hope, leading them both to a place of redemption and healing.

When Deirdre and Kenisha first meet it seems like they have nothing in common, but circumstances conspire to bring them together and build a surprising friendship. Deirdre is a high school principal with a lovely husband, but she's depressed because a medical condition has left her unable to have children. Kenisha is scraping through life as a single mother on benefits, having birthed three children to three different fathers, and has just been diagnosed with inoperable cervical cancer. Deirdre initially stereotypes Kenisha, thinking that it's impossible for such a woman to be a good mother, but she finds herself drawn to her son, Jamal. When Jamal calls Deirdre for help when his mother becomes ill, she begins to see Kenisha for who she really is and finds herself called to help her. But it may well be Kenisha who ends up helping her... 

This is the first book I've read from the author, and also my first foray into the African-American genre. As far as I know, we don't have any race-specific genres in Britain, and although I've read some excellent books by black authors such as Dorothy Koomson and Malorie Blackman, I know that they don't specifically aim their books at a certain race. For this, I'm quite please as I doubt there's anyone out there aiming books at someone who is half Scottish, three-eighths English and one-eighth Indian! However, I thoroughly enjoyed this book and truly don't think that you have to be African-American in order to read it.

This book will really pull at your heartstrings, as would any story about someone in their twenties dying of cancer. I really felt for Kenisha and her anguish at leaving her children without a mother. Although there were a few moments where I had tears in my eyes, I wouldn't say that this is a depressing book. The way that Kenisha and Deirdre helped each other deal with their problems was incredibly uplifting. Each of them made judgements about the other but were able to overcome these in order to become friends and support each other. The character dynamics in this story were excellent, and Kenisha's children were adorable. I always find that children brighten up a story!

I did have a few problems with this book, namely in the last third. Although I really enjoy Christian fiction, I felt that a lot of this story focused on Deirdre trying to convert Kenisha and in some places it almost came across in a "Bible-bashing" manner, where Deirdre felt that conversion was more important than simply being there for her friend and letting God shine through her actions. I'm a firm believer of showing Christ to people through the way you speak and act, and waiting for them to ask you questions, rather than trying to talk about God all the time. This was mainly present in the last third of the book, and although it didn't make me dislike it, I do feel that it brings my rating down a bit. I also found the epilogue incredibly cheesy! I do like a happy ending but this overdid it a bit.

Although I felt that this novel had its faults, I'd definitely recommend it to anyone looking for unconventional Christian fiction. Kenisha isn't your typical heroine, but she's incredibly endearing and you'll find yourself rooting for her to let go of the past and to find peace with everyone in her life. I found it more difficult to relate to Deirdre as I felt that she'd caused so many of the issues she had in her life, but it was excellent seeing her grow as a character, and watching her overcome stereotypes and judgements in order to become friends with Kenisha. I also appreciate that the author felt brave enough to deal with so many popular issues in our society - drug addiction, single-parenthood, alcoholism, poverty, death, cancer, street crime, infertility - and that she did so in a tactful manner. So many Christian novels focus on "safe" topics, so I admire Vanessa Miller for stepping out of the mould. Definitely an author to watch! 8/10

Many thanks to Abingdon Press and NetGalley for giving me the chance to read and review this book.

Tuesday, 2 November 2010

The Jewel Box - Anna Davis

Grace Rutherford is the one and only Diamond Sharp, the 'It' girl of 1920s London, whose weekly newspaper column delights readers with tales of her nightly escapades: the dinners, the dancing, the hairdos, the fashion, the men... 

Caught up in the glitz and glamour of the day, Grace begins a passionate affair with charming, flirtatious American author Dexter O'Connell. Soon, though, she finds herself falling for John Cramer, the charismatic neighbour her widowed younger sister adores. Irresistibly drawn to both men, Grace discovers that they are bitter enemies. As she becomes tangled up in the mesh of secrets and lies that binds them together, she must try to find out which man, if either, she can trust.

From a glance at the cover this appears to be yet another chick-lit novel, so I was pleasantly surprised when it turned out to be much more than that. Set in London in the Roaring Twenties when women were just starting to gain independence and freedom, this is the story of Grace, a "modern woman". She's the daughter of a Suffragette, still unmarried at the age of 30 and one of the lucky few to have a professional job as a copywriter. Grace is also the secret author of a society column in a newspaper, and spends much of her time visiting nightclubs and restaurants and advising women on what to wear, how to do their hair, where to eat out and how to do the Charleston. Yet deep down, Grace yearns for more than this. Flashbacks reveal that she and her sister were once in love with two brothers who went to fight in the Great War, the war that changed everything. Grace has resigned herself to looking after Nancy, her widowed sister, and Nancy's children, but the appearance of two very different men makes her question the life she's living. Dexter O'Connell has a bad reputation with women, but Grace is convinced that a little romance won't cause any trouble. But her fling could risk her chances with John Cramer, a solid and responsible journalist whom she could actually spend her life with...

This is a novel about betrayals, mistakes, putting others first, heartbreak, the Great War, women's rights, responsibilities, selfishness, hidden affairs, family secrets, risk-taking and so much more. Yes, Grace finds herself torn between two men, and she cares a lot about clothes and make up and, like any chick-lit heroine, jumps to all the wrong conclusions and tries to run away from her problems. If you're looking for something entirely original, then this may not be the book for you. But for me, the wonderful setting and the complex backgrounds of the characters in this novel made this into more than just chick-lit. There were some great twists and turns that I didn't see coming and I could really relate to Grace, a modern and independent woman who really does wish that she had a man by her side, but just keeps making all the wrong decisions. If you enjoy chick-lit with a difference or just a fun view of London in the 1920s then I'd definitely recommend this novel. 8/10

Friday, 29 October 2010

Madame Bovary - Gustave Flaubert

Emma Bovary is beautiful and bored, trapped in her marriage to a mediocre doctor and stifled by the banality of provincial life. An ardent reader of sentimental novels, she longs for passion and seeks escape in fantasies of high romance, in voracious spending and, eventually, in adultery. But even her affairs bring her disappointment and the consequences are devastating. Flaubert's erotically charged and psychologically acute portrayal of Emma Bovary caused a moral outcry on its publication in 1857. It was deemed so lifelike that many women claimed they were the model for his heroine; but Flaubert insisted: 'Madame Bovary, c'est moi'.

As much as I loved Flaubert's style of writing I found myself disliking Emma more and more as the novel progressed. Initially I was sympathetic towards Emma's situation; believing that marriage would solve all of her problems but discovering that life is not like a romance novel. And I could understand when she started trying to fill up the void in her life with material objects and affairs. But then she become demanding with her lovers, forcing them to fulfill the romantic fantasies she had from novels, and she couldn't cope when everything didn't work out entirely as she'd planned it. She just couldn't let go of her dreams and realise that life isn't perfect and that you have to make things work, rather than expecting men to rush into your life and fix everything. This is an excellent book to analyse and study because of this concept (and many others that feature in this novel), but I got rather frustrated with Emma towards the end of the novel. It was also horrifically depressing in places, so don't read this if you're having a sad day. I definitely recommend this book because of the incredible amount of issues it covers, as well as the wonderfully descriptive yet very readable narrative style. But I'm afraid that sometimes I just wanted to take Emma by the shoulders and shake her! 8/10

Monday, 25 October 2010

Grace - Shelley Shepard Gray

It’s Christmastime at the Brenneman Bed & Breakfast, and everyone is excited about closing down for the holiday. Anna and Henry will be celebrating their first Christmas as a married couple, and for Katie and Jonathan Lundy, it’s their first Christmas with baby Eli. Winnie and Samuel Miller plan to stop by as well for a wonderful two weeks of family and rest. 

But when two unexpected visitors show up, hoping to stay for Christmas, the family must test their commitment to hospitality. Levi is a widower who lost his wife four years ago and can’t bear the thought of another Christmas alone. And Melody is a young pregnant woman who won’t open up about how she ended up on her own at Christmas at almost nine months pregnant. Anna, who knows a thing or two about keeping secrets, doesn’t trust her, and strives to find out the truth about these two strangers who have disrupted their holiday.

But as the Christmas spirit descends on them all, along with a snow that traps them at the inn, a healing and hopefulness takes over, allowing new relationships to be built, and the boundaries of family to be extended.

Melody and Levi are strangers when they arrive at the Brenneman Bed and Breakfast in Ohio, both burdened with pain and sadness. But the welcoming, family-orientated nature of their Christmas getaway will not allow them stay unhappy for long. Soon they find themselves drawn together during the preparations for the holiday season and slowly they come to realise that God has great plans for both their futures. Can a miraculous event on Christmas day bring them together? 

This sweet, wholesome Christmas tale is the first book that I've read from the Sisters of the Heart series but it can be read entirely as a stand-alone novel. Grace is a simple story about two people thrown together to help each other heal past hurts and learn to love again. The characters in this story were quirky and endearing, making me want to go back and read the previous novels, and I came to enjoy learning about their lives. I particularly enjoyed the subplot about Melody's English friend, Leah, who is determined to track her down before Christmas day. I also loved the setting of the Bed and Breakfast and could imagine it as a real place! 

But as I said, it is a simple novel. I've read another couple of Christmas/winter themed Amish novels recently and this one pales slightly in comparison. Although I enjoyed this book, it didn't grip me and compel me to continue reading in the way that others have. I also had no doubt in my mind that the main characters were going to get together. Even in a romance novel where you expect a Happily Ever After ending, I like some stumbling blocks to be thrown in the path of the characters, something to make me wonder whether everything will work out. Melody and Levi had nothing to overcome after the first hundred or so pages. There was also something about the author's style of writing that irritated me; it felt like she was continually stating the obvious and telling us how the characters felt rather than let it show through their actions.

I would recommend this to those who enjoy Amish fiction and are looking for a simple, predictable Christmas tale. It's a quick read and easy to put down and pick up again. Although I wouldn't place this novel among the best of the Amish books available, I would be interested in reading more from this author as I think that she creates realistic characters and wonderful settings. 7/10

Thanks to NetGalley and HarperCollins for giving me a chance to read and review this book. Grace: A Sisters of the Heart Christmas Novel by Shelley Shepard Gray goes on sale tomorrow, the 26th of October 2010.

Saturday, 23 October 2010

Book Blogger Hop: October 22 - 25, 2010

In the spirit of the Twitter Friday Follow, the Book Blogger Hop is hosted by Crazy for Books and a place just for book bloggers and readers to connect and share our love of the written word! This weekly BOOK PARTY is an awesome opportunity for book bloggers to connect with other book lovers, make new friends, support each other, and generally just share our love of books! It will also give blog readers a chance to find other book blogs to read! 

This week's question comes from Becky who blogs at Becky's Barmy Book Blog:

"Where is your favorite place to read? Curled up on the sofa, in bed, in the garden?"

My answer: Because my little flat in the North of Scotland is absolutely freezing right now, I tend to read curled up on my bed under a pile of blankets! Sometimes, when all of my flatmates are out, I snuggle up on the sofa but it often gets too noisy in my livingroom to concentrate on reading. So generally, my bed is the best place to read.

How about everyone else?

Tuesday, 12 October 2010

Hide in Plain Sight - Marta Perry

She couldn't turn her back on her family in their time of need.

So when her sister was injured, financial expert Andrea Hampton traded the big city for Amish country to help turn her grandmother's house into an inn.

But life with the Plain People took a treacherous turn when a string of accidents and pranks threatened her family. Someone didn't want the secrets the old house harbored to come to light. Trusting anyone— even the handsome carpenter who seemed so genuine—was a battle for Andrea, but her life depended on her ability to find the truth.

This was a first in many ways for me - my first novel by Marta Perry, my first book from the Love Inspired line at Harlequin and my first foray into the world of romantic suspense. I was pleasantly surprised at how much I enjoyed this book. Don't let the cheesy blurb fool you - this is a lovely, simple romance that will keep your attention but not require a lot of brain power.

Andrea has a prestigious job in the city and is cautious about leaving it to come home to her family in Lancaster County when her sister, Rachel, is injured in a car accident. She loves her job - but her boss and colleagues don't take too kindly to her putting family matters before her work. But it's undeniable - her grandmother and sister need her help setting up their family home as a B&B, even more so now that Rachel is out of action. Further difficulties arise when there appears to be a prowler on the lose. Is this person simply a troublesome teenager or is something more sinister going on?

Thankfully for Andrea's family, grandmother Kathryn has rented out her barn to a carpenter named Cal. Cal is only too happy to help out the family in their time of need, although Andrea is suspicious about his intentions. Is he the prowler? Is he trying to take advantage of her grandmother's generosity? Or is Andrea simply too worried to take notice of what is right in front of her, and the attraction she has for this man?

I liked how Marta interwove the mystery of the troublesome prowler and Andrea's internal battle over whether to leave her family in the comforts of the country and return to her high-flying job in the city, thus leaving behind any chance she had with the handsome new stranger she'd just met. While I guessed that Andrea and Cal would hit it off (a bit obvious as this is, after all, a romance novel), I'm afraid that my years of reading Nancy Drew did not detain me from following the red herrings in this story. I thought I had the whole mystery figured out, but there was a little twist towards the end that I didn't see coming.

As someone who has never read a Love Inspired book before I'd have to say that I enjoyed it more than I expected. While the blurbs, and sometimes the covers, can be incredibly cheesy, the story itself was quite well written and very compelling. This novel was only 250 pages long so obviously there were not dozens of intricate sub-plots, but considering the word-limit and the restrictions of this particular Harlequin line, I think that Marta has created a rather good novel. I liked that the characters sought help from God in times of need, but the references weren't overdone to the extent that they were unbelievable. At each time that Andrea prayed for guidance or help I found myself thinking that I would have done the same in her position. I also liked the fact that Marta made it obvious that there was chemistry between Andrea and Cal. I'm under the impression that some Christian authors like characters to form good friendships then suddenly fall in love, but never experience attraction or romantic feelings - this isn't how it works in real life! Andrea and Cal clearly had chemistry between them, even if they did to try hide it, and this made them all the more realistic as characters.

My only real complaint would have to be that the "bad guy" gave a rather cheesy monologue at the end of the novel, when their identity was revealed. I have to admit, I cringed a little. One other thing that bugged me was that the characters' clothing was often described, and I didn't really see the need for this to be commented on time and again, but I suppose that other women might be more interested in this.

All in all, I was pleased with my first attempt at Marta Perry, Love Inspired and Romantic Suspense. This was a nice, easy read, perfect for sandwiching in between the books I've been reading for my university courses. I'll definitely be reading more books by Marta Perry. 7/10

Monday, 11 October 2010

While My Sister Sleeps - Barbara Delinsky

Molly and Robin Snow are sisters in the prime of their lives. So when Molly learns that Robin - an Olympic athlete and the favorite child - has suffered a massive heart attack, the news couldn't be more shocking. At the hospital, the Snow family receives a grim prognosis: Robin may never regain consciousness. 

Feelings of guilt and jealousy flare up as Robin's family struggles to cope and their relationships are put to the ultimate test. It's up to Molly to make the tough decisions, and she soon makes discoveries that destroy some of her most cherished beliefs about the sister she thought she knew.

Once again Barbara Delinsky brings us a masterful family portrait, filled with thought-provoking ideas about the nature of life itself, how emotions affect the decisions we make, and how letting go can be the hardest thing to do and the greatest expression of love all at the same time.

As anyone who knows me will know, I really respect the writing of Barbara Delinsky. I seem to read at least one of her books every month, and although they can hardly be considered "comfort reads" because of the issues they cover and the way that families are torn apart, there is something very enjoyable about exploring the lives of real people who experience real problems. I like books that make me think "What if?" Jodi Picoult's novels also have this affect on me, but I find that I prefer Barbara Delinsky. The tag-line on the copy of my book reads "Fans of Jodi Picoult will love this" which, in my opinion, isn't entirely accurate. Jodi Picoult deals with controversial issues, whereas Barbara Delinsky tends to look at the ramifications of a situation on a family. This book focuses on one event - the family favourite, a runner in her early thirties, collapsing due to heart problems and needing to be on life-support - and how the individual family members react. 

The protagonist of the novel is Molly, the youngest sibling who feels overshadowed by her older sister. Now that Robin is lying on a hospital bed and her mother can't bear to leave her, Molly finds that responsibilities fall to her. She has to take over her mother's duties at the garden nursery where they both work, as well as fending off Robin's reporter ex-boyfriend whose intentions may or may not be good. In the process, Molly ends up making a new friend, one who isn't interested in her just because of who her sister is. He helps her to discover new things about herself, and uncover the truth about what Robin thought about her. By the end of the novel, each family member has changed in some way, from Molly to her mother to her older brother who is starting his own family. 

I really liked Molly's character and enjoyed watching her grow and mature throughout the novel. Initially, I wasn't too keen on her as she seemed determined that there was no way that she could come out from under Robin's shadow, but as the story progressed this changed. I also warmed up to Kathryn, the mother, who had issues of her own to deal with. My only gripe with this story was Chris, Molly's older brother, who although having his own sub-plot, didn't seem a very well developed character. His story did link in with the main story but it seemed to be resolved far too quickly and tacked on in an awkward manner. I also got annoyed whenever one character said "Omigod!" as it made them sound like a twelve-year-old girl! 

Fortunately, these were my only issues with this book. Otherwise, it contained great characters and brilliant conflict, as all of Barbara Delinsky's novels do. I could really imagine myself being in these character's shoes and wondered how I would cope with a similar situation. There were a couple of teary moments, so be prepared, but by the end of the book I was satisfied with how the characters grew and changed as they learned to deal with the issues facing them. 9/10

Saturday, 9 October 2010

Eugene Onegin - Alexander Pushkin

Eugene Onegin is the master work of the poet whom Russians regard as the fountainhead of their literature. Set in 1820s imperial Russia, Pushkin's novel in verse follows the emotions and destiny of three men - Onegin the bored fop, Lensky the minor elegiast, and a stylized Pushkin himself - and the fates and affections of three women - Tatiana the provincial beauty, her sister Olga, and Pushkin's mercurial Muse. Engaging, full of suspense, and varied in tone, it also portrays a large cast of other characters and offers the reader many literary, philosophical, and autobiographical digressions, often in a highly satirical vein. Eugene Onegin was Pushkin's own favourite work, and it shows him attempting to transform himself from a romantic poet into a realistic novelist. Eugene Onegin was Pushkin's own favourite work, and this new translation by Stanley Mitchell conveys the literal sense and the poetic music of the original.

Not being a massive fan of poetry, I wasn't sure what to expect when starting this "Novel in Verse". But how is it possible not to love Pushkin? The writing was simply beautiful and I think the translator, Stanley Mitchell, deserves a lot of praise for containing the beauty of Pushkin's writing in his translation. It was also incredibly readable, unlike some other novels from this period which can trip you up with the language and descriptions. To anyone looking to read Pushkin for the first time I'd definitely recommend the 2008 Penguin Classics edition as the translation is beautiful and easy to read, peppered with many helpful footnotes. I'm glad that my European Literature module gave me the chance to read this and have to say that I'm slowly warming up to poetry! 8/10

Tuesday, 5 October 2010

The Boy Who Kicked Pigs - Tom Baker

Robert Caligari is a thoroughly evil thirteen-year-old who gets his kicks from kicking pigs. After a humiliating episode with a bacon butty, Robert realizes just how much he loathes the human race - and his revenge is truly terrible. This subversive horror-fantasy from Tom Baker (ex-monk, ex-sailor, and the ultimate Doctor Who) is outrageous and funny, and since the hardback was published in 1999 has gone on to become a cult classic. It is illustrated throughout with black and white line drawings from David Roberts. 

While I loved the style of writing and the social commentary in this book, it was incredibly disturbing! I started out really enjoying the amusing narration about a strange little boy, but it became darker as the story progressed. At only 124 pages, this is a quick read, which makes the change from a bizarre tale into a rather frightening and gruesome one all the more sudden. Not only was I disturbed by the insight into the warped mind of Robert but also by the grisly descriptions of the outcome of his pig-kicking, world-hating actions. Definitely not one for children, even though this does look like it was aimed at that audience. To be totally honest, I don't know who'd enjoy this book - perhaps people who have a very warped sense of humour? Although I want to give the author credit for his superb narrative, the unsettled feeling that I had upon finishing this "gruesome masterpiece" brings down my rating somewhat. 5/10

Monday, 4 October 2010

The Reckoning - Beverly Lewis

Katherine Mayfield, the new Mistress of Mayfield Manor, always dreamed of a fancy "English" life. But as the seasons pass, she finds herself grieving the loss of her Amish family and dearest friend, Mary Stolzfus. Shunned from the Plain life she once knew, Katherine finds solace in volunteer work with hospice patients--a labor of love she hopes will bring honor to the memory of her birth mother. Unknown to Katherine, her long-lost love, Daniel Fisher, is desperate to locate his "Sweetheart girl," only to be frustrated at nearly every turn. Meanwhile, she delights in the modern world--once forbidden--cherishing the attention of Justin Wirth, her handsome suitor. Her childhood entwined with Daniel's, yet her present life far removed from Lancaster County, Katherine longs for the peace that reigned in her mother's heart. And once again, she is compelled to face the heritage of her past.

I enjoyed the conclusion to the Heritage of Lancaster County series more than the second book but not quite as much as the first. While living in her birth-mother's mansion in New York, Katie comes to realise that she misses many aspects of her old Amish life - quilting, baking, helping those who are to frail to look after themselves. Can she really throw that all away and become completely "fancy"? I felt that on her quest to discover who she really was, Katie really grew as a character and the immaturities about her that I'd previously disliked diminished. Katie's friends and relatives back in Lancaster also featured more in this book, which is another reason why I enjoyed it. It was great to read about Rebecca coming to terms with her daughter's shunning, Mary finding love and Annie rekindling her friendship with her brother. 

Throughout the book, several characters discussed finding salvation through belief in Christ. I appreciated that Beverly Lewis had picked up on the fact that a lot of Amish don't believe in this and instead think that you have to earn your way to heaven, as this is an aspect of Amish life that I don't entirely agree with. However, I can see how this would make the novel unappealing to a secular audience. Daniel's discovery of salvation in the second book had been a trivial point but it was discussed much more frequently in The Reckoning, so be aware of this if you are not a Christian and are considering reading this book. 

All in all, I've enjoyed reading this series but would not say that it is my favourite of the Amish sagas available. Lewis broke into the scene with the Heritage of Lancaster County books and while this was groundbreaking at the time, her writing has changed a lot since the late 90s. There are some cliches and predictabilities about these books and the speech can seem stilted in places. These novels make great comfort reads, but a better series by Lewis is the Abram's Daughters series. There are several other authors of Amish fiction who I'd recommend, my favourites being Amy Clipston, Vannetta Chapman and Barbara Cameron. The Heritage of Lancaster County is a great place to start in the Amish genre, and because it was the series that started it all, you can only move on to bigger and better books! 7/10 

Thursday, 30 September 2010

Waiting on Wednesday

Waiting on Wednesday is a weekly event hosted at Breaking the Spine that spotlights eagerly awaited upcoming releases. Head on over there to take part or to check out all the other fabulous books that people are looking forward to reading! 

The book that I'm most looking forward to is A Place of Peace by Amy Clipston, book three in the Kauffman Amish Bakery series, which is released in December 2010. I've read the first two books and loved them! Amy Clipston is one of my favourite authors of Amish fiction and I'd definitely recommend her if you haven't checked her out already.

Miriam Lapp, who left the Amish community in Pennsylvania three years ago, is heartbroken when her sister calls to reveal that her mother has died suddenly. Traveling home to Pennsylvania, she is forced to face the heartache from her past, including her rift from her family and the break up of her engagement with Timothy Kauffman. Her past emotional wounds are reopened when her family rejects her once again and she finds out that Timothy is in a relationship with someone else. Miriam discovers that the rumors that broke them up three years ago were all lies. However, when Timothy proposes to his girlfriend and Miriam's father disowns her, Miriam returns to Indiana with her heart in shambles. When Miriam's father has a stroke, Miriam returns to Pennsylvania, and her world begins to fall apart, leaving her to question her place in the Amish community and her faith in God.

Tuesday, 28 September 2010

Top Ten Favourite Fictional Couples in Books

Top Ten Tuesday is an original feature/weekly meme created at The Broke and the Bookish.

My favourites right now are definitely:

1. Anne & Gilbert from the Anne of Green Gables series by L. M. Montgomery

2. Sephy & Callum from the Noughts and Crosses series by Malorie Blackman

3. Leah & Jonas from the Abram's Daughters series by Beverly Lewis

4. Francine & Davis from Shades of Grace by Barbara Delinsky

5. Jane & Mr Rochester from Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte

6. Ross & Lia from Second Glance by Jodi Picoult

7. Rilla & Kenneth from Rilla of Ingleside by L. M. Montgomery

8. Caddy & Michael from the Casson Family series by Hilary McKay

9. Marvinder & Patrick from the Surya trilogy by Jamila Gavin

10. Annie & Samuel from A Simple Amish Christmas by Vannetta Chapman

What are your favorite couples in books? Do you disagree/agree with any of mine? What makes a good fictional couple in your mind? What couples make you want to gag?

Sunday, 26 September 2010

Why I read Inspirational novels

I just read an excellent article by Shelley Shepard Gray about why she writes Amish inspirational romances. I was particularly interested in the reaction that her friends had to her profession of choice:

"Tom's wife writes Amish romances," he said while smiling, almost as if I should be embarrassed that he divulged my secret.

I've had a similar reaction recently when I've mentioned that I review Christian novels for Abingdon Press and Barbour Publishing. I don't think it should be a secret that I like to read these novels and get excited at the chance to critique them. But a lot of my friends, particularly  those who are Christians, look down on this type of fiction and assume that these books are predictable and badly written just because they have the "Inspirational" label. I'll admit it, I have read a few books by Christian authors that I've felt were sub-par; but I've also read thrillers and family sagas and chick-lit novels that I've been equally unimpressed with. The suggestion that a novel should be unworthy of reading purely because it features characters who love God and involve him in their daily lives is, to be frank, narrow-minded and ignorant. It's also offensive to the writer - anyone who has written and published a novel has achieved more than I have. Even if I hate the book that I'm reading, I can appreciate the time and effort that has gone into the story and that there will be a lot of people who do enjoy it, even if I don't. 

I don't indulge in a diet purely of Inspirational novels. I read plenty of secular novels, ones that feature characters who have sex before marriage, who get drunk, who make irresponsible decisions, who cheat on their husbands or wives, who use words that I consider profane. I live in a world where these kinds of thing happen all the time, all around me. But I also enjoy reading books about characters who are similar to me, who discover new things about God in their everyday lives. I don't always uncover something new and inspiring every time I read an Christian novel, but sometimes I do, and even put a post-it on a page with a particularly relevant verse or statement. I'd like to stress that while there are a vast quantity of romance novels in the Inspirational genre, there are plenty of other sub-genres to explore. I recently read Tristian's Gap by Nancy Rue which covered the topic of a teenage girl running away from home because of her overbearing parents. The issue of teenage runaways is very much present in today's society and there is nothing to say that it's not one that doesn't affect Christian families. I love that more and more authors are writing about topical issues and exploring different genres with a Christian slant. I think the reason that many people, including Christians, look down on Inspirational fiction is because they think it's full of mass-produced romance novels with a few Bible verses and references to prayer tossed in. I can assure you all that this is not the case.

I myself am particularly partial to the "bonnet-fiction" genre that is emerging. Shelley Shepard Gray describes the appeal of these books:

There's a quiet appeal to a way of life that doesn't involve computers, cell phones, traffic, radios or GPS systems. In the Amish community, family and faith are integral to every decision -- and with that comes comfort.

When I write about my characters spending the morning in prayer, passing an afternoon canning with friends or piecing a quilt for a charity auction, I wish I were doing those things, too. And when my characters speak with absolute certainty that the Lord is with them, I also yearn to feel that way.

I wish I had more time to appreciate nature, to get to know each of my neighbours, to try more recipes, to make my own quilt. I spend too much time watching reruns of my favourite TV shows, reading blog posts and scrolling through Facebook. I'm sure we're all guilty of this. I could never give up my phone or my computer but I do appreciate the days when I'm able to go about my daily tasks with more efficiency because I don't have any internet access. I'm always amazed at how much the Amish get done in a day, purely because they don't have any technological distractions. I'd like to take a leaf out of their book and try to make my days more efficient so that I can do the things I love more often - work on my writing, read the hundred or so books sitting in my room, bake shortbread for my boyfriend, take up knitting again. 

I hope that authors like Shelley Shepard Gray and Amy Clipston will continue to give the Inspirational genre more recognition and respect. We're lucky to have so many talented writers who want to inspire and encourage us in our lives - while providing us with entertaining reading materials! And as for those who staunchly believe that Christian novels aren't worth glancing at? Well, they're just missing out!