Friday, 27 August 2010

A Simple Amish Christmas - Vannetta Chapman

Annie Weaver always planned to return home, but the 20-year old RN has lived in Philadelphia for three years now. Her time of rumschpringe is about to come to an abrupt end, bringing for Annie an overwhelming sense of loneliness. She returns home and finds herself face-to-face with a budding romance with an Amish farmer and Annie has several important choices to make.

Vannetta Chapman's debut novel is far from "simple." Annie is an unconventional heroine, full of doubt and constantly striving to do the best she can for her family and her community. Samuel is insecure and and still hurting from a long ago accident that claimed his family. The protagonists of this Christmas tale have to learn that God's grace can wipe away their pasts and bring something new and wonderful into their lives - together.

A Simple Amish Christmas is full of quirky and lovable secondary characters (some of whom captured my heart in such a way that makes me wonder if Chapman plans to expand on their stories in another novel?) and has a wonderfully Christmassy and chilly setting which makes you want to wrap up under a blanket (or perhaps an Amish quilt!) with a cup of hot chocolate. Chapman has captured the essence of Lancaster County, Pennsylvania perfectly, not only in its landscape and culture but also the spirit of community that is present among the Amish. Annie's family and friends welcome her back with open and arms and encourage her to use her nursing skills to help those in need. This is a far cry from the likes of Beverly Lewis's novels where characters are shunned or flee their families because of past transgressions. Instead, I was reminded of Amy Clipston's Kauffman Amish Bakery series, where the focus is on dealing with day-to-day problems that anyone could face, inside or outside the Amish community - a pregnant teenager, a troublesome home-birth, a car accident, a misunderstanding between a new couple. I have a feeling that Chapman could be following in Clipston's footsteps to become the next bestseller in the Amish genre - and pride of place on my bookcase!

Although I found this a leisurely and unchallenging read, this debut novel is not the "Simple Amish Christmas" story it sells itself as. Annie and Samuel have to learn to trust God and each other and overcome their fears and doubts in order to reach happiness in this endearing romance peppered with challenges, subplots and snowstorms. Vannetta Chapman is an author to look out for, especially if you're a fan of the Amish genre or just a hopeless romantic like me. 10/10

I'm very grateful to have had the chance to review this book from NetGalley and Abingdon Press.

Wednesday, 25 August 2010

The Confession - Beverly Lewis

Katie Lapp, a young Amish woman who questioned the strict rules of her upbringing and even her own identity, has been shunned from her Amish community. Katie--now known as Katherine Mayfield--sets out to find her birth mother, and a life, she has never known. 

Her birth mother is seriously ill and Katie must struggle to find her, and prove her own identity, before it's too late. But in the world of electric lights, telephones, and fancy things, Katie stumbles into a web of greed and betrayal where the garb of the Amish is misused to disguise an evil conspiracy. Meanwhile, unknown to Katherine, her long-lost love, Daniel, has returned to the Amish community to find her. Can they ever be together again?

I read the first book in this series, The Shunning, over a year ago and as a result of this had forgotten a lot of the details. I've also read several other Amish-themed books between then and now and have established my views on who the best authors are in this genre and which series is my favourite. Unfortunately, this book isn't among them. As much as I enjoyed the first book and all of its drama and angst, this one just seemed unnecessarily over-dramatic and cliched. Although I wanted to read about Katie meeting her birth-mother and being reunited with her lost love, I didn't feel so connected to her and there were several passages devoted to the points of view of the servants in her birth-mother's house - many of whom were, bizarrely, English. Was it typical to have English servants in an NY home in 1997? Particularly ones who appeared to have stepped out of an Agatha Christie novel? I did enjoy reading about the "imposter" and wondering whether Katie would ever get to meet Lydia face-to-face (although considering the predictability of this novel, it was rather obvious that this would eventually happen) but I felt that this series lost its charm once it was no longer based in Hickory Hollow. I tend to prefer the Amish novels that focus on people who embrace their beliefs, rather than those who escape the lifestyle. I will read the last book in the trilogy as I checked it out of the library last week, but I definitely prefer Lewis's Abram's Daughters series to this one. But to give the author credit, this trilogy was her first and it's obvious that her writing has grown immensely since this was published. 6/10

Diary of a Wimpy Vampire - Tim Collins

Like Edward Cullen in "Twilight", Nigel Mullet was transformed into a vampire when he was still a teenager, and will remain this age forever. Unfortunately, Nigel became a vampire at the awkward age of fifteen, and must spend eternity coping with acne, a breaking voice, and an ineptitude with girls...In this, his excruciatingly funny diary, Nigel chronicles his increasingly desperate attempts to be noticed by the love of his life, Della Sparrow, the constant mortification caused by his vampire parents (not to mention the worry that they might accidentally eat one of his friends), and the frustration one feels when you've got the whole of boring eternity stretching out in front of you and you can't even have a lie in (vampires don't sleep). Forced to hang out with the Goths and emo kids due to his pale skin and social awkwardness, and constantly battling his embarrassingly overwhelming desire to sink his fangs into Della's neck, will Nigel ever get his girl? Fantastically witty and hugely enter taining, this fun and accessible diary will appeal to any fan of "Twilight" or "Adrian Mole", teenage or otherwise...

I got this book through the First Reads program at GoodReads. This book was amusing enough but I'm afraid I'm probably not the target age group. I could imagine a 12 or 13 year old boy - one who is fed up with all of the girls in his class swooning over Edward Cullen and has a warped sense of humour - finding this funny, but I'm not sure how well it would do in the female audience. It had several one-liners that made laugh out loud and I liked how Collins kicked holes in the Twilight premise - who would really want to be teenager for all eternity? - so I'll admit that found it rather amusing, but I don't think I'll be recommending it to any of my friends! I think that this book would be most appreciated by preteen boys who're looking for a laugh, particularly those who enjoyed Mark Haddon's Agent Z series. 6/10

Plain and Fancy - Wanda E. Brunstetter

Is it good for two people-one plain, the other fancy-to fall in love? Laura Meade loves her modern life, yet she fascinated by the Amish culture in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, where she is studying interior design. Upon their first meeting, she is immediately attracted to Eli Yoder, one of the Plain People, but Laura has no real concept about faith, God's love, and forgiveness of sins. Eli is also enamored with Laura, but to marry outside his faith would be forbidden. What then is the hope for love?

This is the second Wanda Brunstetter novel that I've read and I have to admit that I'm not really compelled to read any more of hers. This story was so simplistic with no space for originality or creativity - just a standard romance set in an Amish community. While it was a bit more fleshed out than the other novel I've read from this author - On Her Own - the characters were total caricatures and not developed enough to actually have motives behind their actions. And the speech was incredibly stilted and fake-sounding. Furthermore, the main character really irritated me - she was so selfish and childish, definitely not mature enough to be getting married and taking on all the responsibilities that an Amish wife and mother has! She only redeemed herself in the last few pages but by this point I was rather fed up with her. I'm giving this book 5/10 as it was fairly enjoyable to read and did keep my interest, even if I feel like I could write a more compelling novel myself! I have one more Brunstetter novel on my TBR and I really hope it's better than this - otherwise, I won't be trying any more of her books.

The Shop on Blossom Street - Debbie Macomber

There's a little yarn shop on Blossom Street in Seattle. It's owned by Lydia Hoffman, and it represents her dream of a new life free from cancer. A life that offers a chance at love . . . 

Lydia teaches knitting to beginners, and the first class is "How to Make a Baby Blanket." Three women join. Jacqueline Donovan wants to knit something for her grandchild as a gesture of reconciliation with her daughter-in-law. Carol Girard feels that the baby blanket is a message of hope as she makes a final attempt to conceive. And Alix Townsend is knitting her blanket for a court-ordered community service project.

These four very different women, brought together by an age-old craft, make unexpected discoveries -- about themselves and each other. Discoveries that lead to friendship and more . . .

Although the story was fairly predictable and each of the characters conformed to a stereotype, I did enjoy this book. My mum's a fan of Debbie Macomber and has a dozen of her books on her bookcase, so I thought I'd better check out her work. This only took me a day and a half to plough through and, naturally, it didn't involve a lot of effort or intellect in order to get into the story. But sometimes you want an easy book to lose yourself in, something mindless that makes you smile. And that's exactly what this novel was. I'll probably read the next in the series when I'm next in need of some light escapism. 6/10

Before the Storm - Judith Lennox

A wild autumn day in 1909: Richard Finborough catches sight of twenty-year-old Isabel Zeale at the harbour at Lynmouth and is captivated by her beauty. Scarred by her past, Isabel has no intention of letting anyone get close. But Richard pursues her, and his persistence and ardour win her heart.

The couple marry and have three children, Philip, Theo and Sara. A fourth is added when Ruby, the daughter of Richard's old friend, comes to stay with them after her father mysteriously disappears. The Finboroughs' lives seem enviably perfect.

Then, in the 1930s, the reappearance of an old acquaintance turns Isabel's world upside down, while Ruby uncovers a series of dark truths about her father that lead her to a terrible conclusion. As conflicts simmer in Europe, it seems that love, war and secrets are set to tear the family apart...

The best way I can describe this book is as a good summer read. Although the 600+ pages might seem daunting, this is an easy book to read and I plowed through it in three days. A great historical blockbuster that spans two generations of a family from the turn of the twentieth century until the end of WWII, this is perfect is you like romance, family sagas or historical settings. I'll admit that Lennox didn't exactly delve deep into the emotions of the characters - difficult with such a large cast - and I didn't always feel terribly connected to them, but she's fantastic at capturing the setting and the period. There was so much drama going on in this book, which made it difficult to put down, but I felt that it was quite sad in places. No one seemed to get what they wanted until near the end of the novel and there were so many broken and dysfunctional relationships - which I suppose is realistic for such families where marriages are made for social and financial reasons rather than love. All in all, a compelling, light summer read although nothing new or original. 7/10 

Shades of Grace - Barbara Delinsky

Grace Dorian is The Confidante, America's favorite advice columnist. Her wisdom has helped to guide two generations—including her daughter, Francine, and granddaughter, Sophie, who manage the vast Dorian empire and oversee the thousand details of Grace's world.

But a national treasure is losing her brilliance. Her once razor-sharp mind is showing strain; her columns have begun to wander. Concerned about Grace's health and future, Francine must step in to fill her legendary mother's shoes and somehow also live her own life, which now suddenly includes her confusing feelings for Grace's handsome doctor and new worries about tempestuous Sophie, who needs more guidance than Grace's public.

I'm a massive Barbara Delinsky addict and I'm constantly amazed at how compelling her books are and how she can create so many unique characters. I've yet to encounter a Delinsky novel that I hate and I've only read one so far that I felt was simply okay. This novel, on the other hand, was fantastic. Although released in 1995, Delinsky is fantastic at painting the portrait of a family dealing with their matriarch's sudden decline into Alzheimer's Disease. The main character of the novel is Francine, who is struggling to come to turns with how much her mother is changing, and taking over the family "business" - writing an advice collumn. Other characters are Grace, declining because of her disease and struggling to hide secrets in her past; Sophie, Francine's daughter who previously went out of her way to rebel against her grandmother and is trying to find her place in the world; Davis, Grace's doctor and Francine's love interest; and new-comer Robin, a journalist whose life was dominated by Grace's collumn who ends up helping Francine. As a result of this large cast of characters, I can understand how some readers could find the many plots and sub-plots difficult to follow. Personally, I love stories with as much drama as this! Hidden family secrets! Secret pasts! Love interests! Yes, I'm a romantic at heart - but this isn't simply a romance. It's a story of families and the ties that bond them together - and building new bonds. I was satisfied with the outcome of the story, even if I did see it coming. And I was pleased with the way that Grace's story panned out. Despite all the drama and new relationships being created, Delinsky didn't forget Grace's disease and it progressed in a very realistic manner. My own grandmother was diagnosed with AD when I was about 11 and although she's taken almost 8 years to get to the stage that Grace does at the end of the book, the difficulties that she and her family suffered really struck a chord with me. Even if you're not a fan of this style of novel or of Delinsky's work, this book is worth reading for the depiction of AD alone. And if you do love family sagas and romances, then this an especially deep and meaningful one! 9/10

The Rapture - Liz Jensen

In a merciless summer of biblical heat and destructive winds, Gabrielle Fox's main concern is a personal one: to rebuild her career as a psychologist after a shattering car accident. But when she is assigned Bethany Krall, one of the most dangerous teenagers in the country, she begins to fear she has made a terrible mistake. Raised on a diet of evangelistic hellfire, Bethany is violent, delusional, cruelly intuitive and insistent that she can foresee natural disasters - a claim which Gabrielle interprets as a symptom of doomsday delusion. But when catastrophes begin to occur on the very dates Bethany has predicted, and a brilliant, gentle physicist enters the equation, the apocalyptic puzzle intensifies and the stakes multiply. Is the self-proclaimed Nostradamus of the psych ward the ultimate manipulator, or could she be the harbinger of imminent global cataclysm on a scale never seen before? And what can love mean in 'interesting times'? A haunting story of human passion and burning faith set against an adventure of tectonic proportions, "The Rapture" is an electrifying psychological thriller that explores the dark extremes of mankind's self-destruction in a world on the brink.

I never would have read this book if someone hadn't lent me a copy but I ended up enjoying it far more than I expected! Although it took me around 60 pages to get into the story (others have also commented on this) it ended up being an incredibly fascinating and compelling read. The idea of the "rapture" or the "apocalypse" is a tricky topic to write about convincingly by Liz Jensen seems to have managed it well. I particularly felt that the way that she handled the Christian aspect to the story was appropriate - unlike many other authors, she doesn't place the blame on Christianity, nor does she suggest that all Christians are like Bethany's parents. This, I appreciated. I found Gabrielle a difficult character to warm to at the start but I ended up rooting for her and really feeling her hurt throughout the story. Despite this, I did feel that she should have just confronted Frazer rather than jump to conclusions. Such a typical woman! All in all, this book might not have had the most appealing characters on the world, nor was it easy to get into because of the unsettling nature and confusing discussion of scientific matters - yet I ended up loving it and couldn't wait to read more each day. Definitely recommended! 9/10

Jane Eyre - Charlotte Bronte

Orphaned Jane Eyre grows up in the home of her heartless aunt, where she endures loneliness and cruelty, and at a charity school with a harsh regime. This troubled childhood strengthens Jane’s natural independence and spirit - which prove necessary when she finds a position as governess at Thornfield Hall. But when she finds love with her sardonic employer, Rochester, the discovery of his terrible secret forces her to make a choice. Should she stay with him and live with the consequences, or follow her convictions, even if it means leaving the man she loves? A novel of intense power and intrigue, Jane Eyre (1847) dazzled and shocked readers with its passionate depiction of a woman’s search for equality and freedom.

As they say, third time lucky! I tried reading this book when I was 11 because my grandma gave me a copy and Mia Thermopolis read it in Mia Goes Fourth but I gave up on it. I tried again when I was fourteen but obviously wasn't the hopeless romantic that I am today. But, thankfully, I decided to give it another go this year and ended up adoring it! This has to be one of the most romantic stories ever written and I loved that Jane and Mr Rochester were unconventional heroes and heroines. My only complaint is that I got a bit bored during the section where Jane goes to live with her new-found cousins as she rarely mentioned Mr Rochester and I found it hard to be convinced that she missed him so much that she'd go back to him. Other than that - this book was perfect! And there was a wonderful quote in the concluding chapter that reminded me of how I feel about my boyfriend. 9/10

"I know what it is to live entirely for and with what I love best on earth. I hold myself supremely blessed - blessed beyond what language can express; because I am my husband's life as fully as he is mine. No woman was ever nearer to her mate than I am; ever more absolutely bone of his bone, and flesh of his flesh. I know no weariness of my Edward's society: he knows none of mine, any more than we do of the pulsation of the heart that beats in our seperate bosoms; consequently, we are ever together. To be together is for us to be at once as free as in solitude, as gay as in company. We talk, I believe, all day long: to talk to each other is but a more animated and an audible thinking. All my confidence is bestowed on him, all his confidence is devoted to me; we are precisely suited in character - perfect concord is the result."

Sunday, 22 August 2010

Ship of Dreams - Martina Devlin

A group of people meet on one of Titanic's lifeboats, saved from death by random chance. These survivors, drawn from different nationalities and walks of life, have only one factor in common: all have survived a tragedy that captures the world s imagination. This thread binds them together when they are rescued and taken to New York. Two of the survivors are Irish emigrants hoping to make a new life for themselves. Both have a secret: one is carrying a baby and the other has buried a baby. Also on board is a beautiful American girl who has scaled New York society to marry the heir to a hotel fortune. But her gilded life is threatened when he drowns. Then there is the French gentleman s secretary with ambitions to better himself, a US Cavalry officer convinced his dead wife intervened to rescue him, and an English teacher plucked from the sea by the Irish girls. The story follows them from rescue to arrival in New York, centre of their hopes and expectations. But certainties have been shattered and life in the Titanic s wake can never be the same again.

I began reading this book about a month after I watched the film Titanic for the first time. Since I’d barely started school at the time of Titanic’s release, I didn’t get around to watching it until I was at university. Many discussions ensued about what we’d do in Rose’s situation – my best friends were convinced that I’d go after the love of my life, whereas I believed that my boyfriend would have tied me into a lifeboat in order to make sure I didn’t do anything as stupid and reckless as Rose did – but what hit me most about the film wasn’t the love story, but the catastrophic loss of life. It almost had the same affect on me as Schindler’s List did. Thus I racked my brains for the name of the Titanic-themed novel that I knew I had buried in my TBR pile back in my parents’ house and picked it up the next time I visited. I started reading it in the early hours of the morning on Monday morning – after working several early shifts at the Open, my brain decided to automatically wake me up at 6am that day – and found the initial introduction a bit cheesy, but once I got into the book later that day I couldn’t put it down. Even after the fuss about the Titanic died down, the characters were still very engaging. I particularly liked Bridie (whose name I constantly read as “Birdie”) and Hannah’s story, as well as the Major’s and the details about Edmund’s crush on Bridie. I have to admit that I didn’t really care for Nancy and Louis’s love story as it was hard to believe that Louis had been infatuated with her since their first brief meeting. Nancy and her relationships with her mother and mother-in-law were interesting – the politics of high society always are – but the ending with her and Louis just struck me as a bit over-the-top and cheesy. Perhaps that wasn’t the best extract to include in the introduction either. Yet overall, I really enjoyed reading about these characters and found it a fascinating period of history. The emphasis on the differences between rural Irish life and that in the city of New York also intrigued me, and made me want to know more about developing America. Devlin also created several interesting minor characters, including Nancy’s mother, Violet, and the black woman, Ellen, whom Hannah befriended. Although they didn’t feature constantly throughout the book, they were incredibly believable. All in all, I was very satisfied with this book, and the only faults I would believe worthy of comment were that Nancy and Louis’s relationship didn’t quite seem convincing enough, and that Edmund’s character didn’t seem quite as developed as the rest, other than his crush on Bridie. This book gets an 8/10 from me and I hope that Devlin writes more historical novels in the future.

More Than Friends - Barbara Delinsky

The Popes and the Maxwells are more than next-door neighbors: Annie Pope and Teke Maxwell were college roommates; Sam Pope and J.D. Maxwell are old friends and law partners. But in a matter of moments, the two families are torn apart by tragedy. Sam and Teke are spotted in an act of spontaneous – and unprecedented – lovemaking by 13-year-old Michael Maxwell, who dashes out of the house and runs into a passing pickup truck. The accident leaves the boy in a coma. 

J.D. copes by trying to get somebody sued or arrested, preferably the driver of the truck, who turns out to be Teke’s childhood sweetheart. When Sam’s indiscretion comes to light, Annie can hardly bear to be around him. As the days pass and the families rally around Michael, they are also forced to treat their own injuries and find a way to heal.

Initially I thought that the premise of this story was a bit flimsy and unbelievable - the husband from one family spontaneously has an affair with a wife from another - but as I progressed with the book I got sucked into the lives and emotions of the characters and found myself understanding their actions and feelings. Delinsky really has a skill with making you believe in her stories and characters, even here in one of her earlier novels. She seems to be making the cross-over from romance to "family isssue" orientated books with this novel, and although there are a few cheesy romance lines here and there and a couple of cliched sex scenes, she focuses a lot more on the ramifications of an affair on two families and how everyone copes with it. It was interesting to see how some people came out better because of the affair, whereas others changed their wholes lives and had to adapt accordingly. Having read one of Delinsky's more recent novels - The Family Tree - I can see how she made the progression from this, her first "issue" book, to the more literary, women's fiction style novels that she's writing today. Although I didn't totally believe in the premise to begin with, and found some of the more romance-y sections of the book cheesy, I did thoroughly enjoy this book, and would say that's it's probably my third favourite of her novels - with The Family Tree coming in first place and The Woman Next Door in second. 8/10

Little Face - Sophie Hannah

The first time she goes out after their daughter is born, Alice leaves the two-week-old infant at home with her husband, David. When she returns two hours later, she insists that the baby in the crib is not her child. Despite her apparent distress, David is adamant that she is wrong.

The police are called to the scene. Detective Constable Simon Waterhouse is sympathetic, but he doubts Alice's story. His superior, Sergeant Charlie Zailer, thinks Alice must be suffering from some sort of delusion brought on by postpartum depression. With an increasingly hostile and menacing David swearing she must either be mad or lying, how can Alice make the police believe her before it's too late?

This is the second book I've read by Sophie Hannah and already I'm beginning to feel that her novels have a formula. Her main characters are insecure, damaged women in dodgy relationships who get themselves into terrible situations where men abuse them. 2D police officers, who also have damaged pasts and are, of course, romantically involved with each other and have anger problems, investigate the case. At the last minute, the woman solves the mystery only to confront the killer in a dangerous situation that almost costs her her life. But it all works out in the end, so that's fine. Seriously, I'm fairly certain that this book and The Point of Rescue have the same formula. I didn't mind the main character in that book but two of the same woman just annoyed me. I didn't sympathise with her because, well, why was she in this situation in the first place? Why had she married this man that she didn't really know and couldn't trust? And I really hated the scenes where Alice was mistreated by her husband - there are similar scenes in the other book and they're incredibly difficult to read. Why do all crime novels have to involve women being abused? To make it worse, David's actions were never explained. The mystery was good, although the ending was a bit strange, how Alice was suddenly an unreliable narrator. I did enjoy reading this, but the cliches annoyed me and it made me uncomfortable in places. I might read another Sophie Hannah novel as they are very compelling, but probably just from the library. 7/10

The Sacrifice - Beverly Lewis

Abram's Daughters book 3, the sequel to the bestselling The Betrayal. This powerful family saga features four Amish courting-age sisters growing up in Lancaster County Pennsylvania, beginning in the 1940s. Life in Gobble's Knob was all Leah Ebersol ever wanted until her older sister Sadie abandoned faith and family, leaving Leah no choice but to believe the worst, that Sadie-and her own beloved Jonas-had betrayed her. Now, two years later, Leah still misses both Sadie and Jonas keenly. Because of her sister's shunning, she cannot contact either of them but hears through the grapevine that they are married. Loyal neighbor Gid is still biding his time, but on the verge of accepting his courting invitation, tragedy befalls the Ebersols and Leah must again choose between her own happiness and her family. Mary Ruth dreams of becoming a teacher, but it has gotten pushed to the back of her thinking when a nice young Amish boy comes courting. Twin Hannah yearns for her sister to attend baptismal classes with her, but Mary Ruth is not ready to take her vows. How will this family in turmoil find peace? 

I'm fairly eating these books up! Can't get enough of this series. I've come to accept that some sort of tragedy is going to befall the Ebersol family in each book and that Leah is going to suffer many trials, but that doesn't make these books any less engaging or compelling. Lewis's writing gets better with each installment and she makes it possible for us to truly get inside the heads of her characters and understand their feelings and emotions. It was great to finally see more focus on Hannah and Mary Ruth and their decisions as to their futures. As a result of Mary Ruth's quest for higher education, Lewis delves into the intricacies of the Amish way of life and their theology. She discusses Amish culture and beliefs in The Parting but this book dealt with it in a far more accessible way. I also appreciated the development of the father's character and his relationships with his family. All in all, a great new addition to this series and I'm looking forward to getting hold of the fourth book in the series. I do hope that Leah is able to find happiness in the next couple of books! 10/10

Saturday, 21 August 2010

Island of Lost Girls - Jennifer McMahon

One summer day, at a gas station in a small Vermont town, six-year-old Ernestine Florucci is abducted by a person wearing a rabbit suit while her mother is buying lottery tickets. Twenty-three year old Rhonda Farr is the only witness, and she does nothing as she watches the scene unfold – little Ernie goes with the rabbit so casually, confidently getting into the rabbit’s Volkswagen bug, smiling while the rabbit carefully fastens her seatbelt. 

The police are skeptical of Rhonda’s story and Ernie’s mother blames her outright. The kidnapping forces Rhonda to face another disappearance, that of her best friend from childhood – Lizzy Shale, whose brother, Peter just so happens to be a prime suspect in Ernie’s abduction.

Unraveling the present mystery plunges Rhonda headlong down the rabbit hole of her past. She must struggle to makes sense of the loss of the two girls, and to ask herself if the Peter she grew up with - and has secretly loved all her life - could have a much darker side.

Wow, why haven't I heard of this author before? She has such an unusual voice and way of making her characters and setting believable. I picked up this book to read on the bus to Dundee and had to finish reading it as soon as I got home because it was impossible to put down. This was an incredibly compelling story and had a lot of twists that I didn't see coming, and just a couple that I sort of suspected. Highly recommended to mystery/thriller fans - this is an author to watch. 10/10

On Her Own - Wanda E. Brunstetter

Barbara Zook was devastated when her husband David was killed. Will she be able to raise their four young boys and manage her beloved David's harness store on her own? When harness maker Paul Hilty arrives in Webster County, Missouri, he finds himself agreeing to help run Barbara's shop. Things are going fairly well until widower Bishop John Frey comes a-courting Barbara, and Paul's jealousy takes everyone by surprise. Will Paul try to beat out the competition or end up hightailing it back to Pennsylvania? Will Barbara marry for love or be forced to enter into a marriage of convenience?

This was a fairly average romance, pretty much like Mills & Boon or Harlequin set in an Amish community with a Christian emphasis. I normally really enjoy the Amish genre - especially Amy Clipston and Beverly Lewis - but this is the first of Brunstetter's novels that I've read and I can't say that it's up to the standards I'm used to. This little book was only 170-odd pages long, my first clue that there wasn't much to the story, and had a fairly predictable plot. Due to the shortness of the book, the characters didn't have a lot of space to develop and this made it hard to really care about them, and although it was fairly well written, there were several moments where speech seemed stilted, particularly with Barbara's eldest son, Aaron. Also, is Barbara a typical Amish name? There were a couple of characters whose names made me do a double take. All in all, this isn't a taxing read and would be nice, light reading for someone who has a low reading level and needs to practice their reading. But other than that, it was just too formulaic and predictable and - well, a bit boring, especially after reading Clipston's A Promise of Hope, which is also about a widowed Amish woman. I have a couple of other Brunstetter books on my TBR and I'll give them a go but I can't say that I'm impressed with her work. I can say that I've been inspired to write a predictable Christian romance and get it published with this company to pay off my student loan though... 5/10

The Undomestic Goddess - Sophie Kinsella

Workaholic attorney Samantha Sweeting has just done the unthinkable. She's made a mistake so huge, it'll wreck any chance of a partnership. 
Going into utter meltdown, she walks out of her London office, gets on a train, and ends up, in the middle of nowhere. Asking for directions at a big, beautiful house, she's mistaken for an interviewee and finds herself being offered a job as housekeeper. Her employers have no idea they've hired a lawyer; and Samantha has no idea how to work the oven. She can't sew on a button, bake a potato, or get the #@%# ironing board to open. How she takes a deep breath and begins to cope - and finds love - is a story as delicious as the bread she learns to bake.

But will her old life ever catch up with her? And if it does - will she want it back?

I loved this book! I'm always cautious of Sophie Kinsella because although I really enjoyed Remember Me? I couldn't stand the Shopaholic books. But this one is definitely my favourite of her novels. In a sense it was similar to Remember Me? in that the character had a major personality change as a result of a drastic event in her life - in this case, she made a huge mistake at work that cost her her job (which was basically her whole life) and had a bit of a mental breakdown. Samantha somehow finds herself accidentally working as a housekeeper and ends up enjoying her new occupation. I liked how this book didn't look down on those who enjoy housekeeping and homemaking in favour of high-powered business job. Feminism is about having the right to choose what you want to do with your life - and if that's being a homemaker or a housekeeper or a cleaner, then so be it! There's also a little romance, as in all chick-lit novels, and yet again the lesson is that you shouldn't try to hide anything from those you love as it could end badly. All in all, this was a cute and very funny book and definitely one I'd recommend to chick-lit fans. 9/10.

The Vanishing Act of Esme Lennox - Maggie O'Farrell

In the middle of tending to the everyday business at her vintage-clothing shop and sidestepping her married boyfriend’s attempts at commitment, Iris Lockhart receives a stunning phone call: Her great-aunt Esme, whom she never knew existed, is being released from Cauldstone Hospital—where she has been locked away for more than sixty-one years. 

Iris’s grandmother Kitty always claimed to be an only child. But Esme’s papers prove she is Kitty’s sister, and Iris can see the shadow of her dead father in Esme’s face.

Esme has been labeled harmless—sane enough to coexist with the rest of the world. But she's still basically a stranger, a family member never mentioned by the family, and one who is sure to bring life-altering secrets with her when she leaves the ward. If Iris takes her in, what dangerous truths might she inherit?

I enjoyed this but definitely expected something more. This book was far too short to capture the full issue of institutionalizing women who were too "unconventional." I enjoyed reading about Esme and Kitty but didn't care at all about the modern story. I felt that Kate Morton could have written a better novel on this subject as she manages the dual narratives very well, and in much more depth. I'm not saying that I didn't enjoy this story, just that it wasn't developed enough and had so much more in it that could have been explored. I felt a bit let down as I'd heard so many good things about this novel. I would be interested in reading more books in this subject, but feel that there just isn't enough to this particular story. 7/10

Queen of Babble in the Big City - Meg Cabot

Lizzie Nichols is back, pounding the New York City pavement and looking for a job, a place to live, and her proper place in the universe (not necessarily in that order). 

"Summer Fling" Luke's use of the "L" (Living Together) word has her happily abandoning plans to share a one-room walk-up with best friend Shari in exchange for cohabitation with the love of her life in his mom's ritzy Fifth Avenue pied-à-terre. Lizzie's landed a non-paying gig in her chosen field—vintage wedding gown rehab—and a paying one as a receptionist at Shari's boyfriend's father's posh law firm. So life is good . . . for the moment.

But almost immediately her notoriously big mouth is getting her into trouble. At work she's becoming too chummy with society bride-to-be Jill Higgins, inflaming the ire of Jill's troublesome future mother-in-law. At home she's made the grievous error of bringing up the "M" (Marriage) word to commitment-shy Luke. Once again joblessness and homelessness are looming large for hapless blabbermouth Liz—unless she can figure out some way to babble her way to a happily ever after.

I didn't enjoy this quite as much as the first book but it was still a fun, fluffy story. Lizzie has grown up a bit since the last installment but she still has a lot to learn. Like a lot of women our age, she hides her true self from her boyfriend and despite daydreaming about the idea of them being married, she never talks to him about the future. Hopefully other women will learn a lesson from Lizzie's mistakes - the best relationships are the ones where you can be yourself and talk about anything. I really enjoyed the parts of the book about Lizzie's fashion career and her job at the law firm, especially the characters that Cabot created in these new situations. The ending was a huge cliffhanger and I really hope that Lizzie doesn't go back to Luke - that would show that she hasn't learned anything. But I guess I'll have to get the third book and see how things work out. 7/10

A Promise of Hope - Amy Clipston

When Sarah Troyer tragically loses her husband Peter, she is left to raise infant twins alone. Overwhelmed and grieving, she lives with her parents in the Amish community of Bird-in-Hand, Pennsylvania. Sarah is taken completely by surprise when a stranger arrives claiming connections to Peter's past - Peter had told her he was an orphan with no family. From Luke, she learns her husband hid a secret life, one with ramifications that will change her own. Sarah's family, concerned for her and the future of her twins, encourages her to marry again. It should make sense - but Sarah's heart says no. She feels trapped. Should she marry a man she doesn't love? Or discover if her growing interest in Luke can be trusted? 

This is the second book in the Kauffman Amish Bakery series and the book that made me realise that Clipston is definitely my favourite author of Amish fiction. Beverly Lewis may well have earned a name for herself but I’ve fallen in love with the Kauffman novels. Clipston portrays the Amish as normal people who have the same problems as us “Englishers” and have to rely on God to help them through these struggles. I particularly like the fact that Clipston mentions specific Bible verses through her novels, rather than simply having vague references to characters praying. I really got the feeling that these characters looked to the Lord when they experienced problems. I also loved the sense of community that exists in the Kauffman family. I really envy the togetherness and commitment of Amish communities, which Clipston captures beautifully. I wasn’t completely sure what to think of the storyline initially, as the idea of an Amish husband with a hidden past seemed a bit over-the-top, but it panned out wonderfully and I really felt the emotions of Sarah Rose and Luke. I’ve rather fallen in love with Clipston’s characters and I hope that the epilogue was hinting at a third book in the series about Sarah Rose’s brother Timothy. Another 10/10 from my favourite Amish author!

The Vineyard - Barbara Delinsky

Natalie Seebring's children are appalled at her decision to remarry months after the death of her husband of fifty-eight years. Faced with their disapproval, and determined to reveal secrets she has kept for decades, Natalie hires Olivia Jones, a lonely young single mother, to help write her memoir. Olivia longs to be part of a big happy family, and a summer at Natalie's beautiful vineyard by the sea seems the first step in realising this dream. But as the past is laid bare, their lives will change forever.

So far, this has to be my least favourite Delinsky novel. It was perfectly readable and a compelling story, but it didn’t have the usual engaging characters or the “pull” that made me not want to put it down. I’ve enjoyed a couple of Delinsky’s older novels – such as A Woman Betrayed and The Woman Next Door – but this one was missing something that even those books had. I didn’t care about the characters as much and to begin with Olivia just annoyed me with her neediness. I did find the story about Natalie’s life fascinating and found myself thinking that it would have worked well as a purely historical novel about her family and the history of the vineyard. Like with many books that focus on both the past and the present, I preferred the past. Olivia did grow on me and I did care about her and her daughter, but her relationship with Simon seemed to change so quickly that it was almost unrealistic. Likewise, everyone’s relationship problems seemed to be sorted out very quickly at the end of the story, and although I like happy endings, it was a bit cheesy how it all worked out so easily. All in all, I did enjoy reading this book and it was something I could read on my long bus journey between Edinburgh and St. Andrews, but it’s definitely not one of Delinsky’s best. I’d only recommend it to hardcore Delinsky fans desperate to read all her books or someone wanting a cheap, quick read for a holiday or a long commute. 6/10 

Year of Wonders - Geraldine Brooks

When an infected bolt of cloth carries plague from London to an isolated mountain village, a housemaid named Anna Frith emerges as an unlikely heroine and healer. Through Anna's eyes, we follow the story of the plague year, 1666, as her fellow villagers make an extraordinary choice. Convinced by a visionary young minister, they elect to quarantine themselves within the village boundaries to arrest the spread of the disease. But as death reaches into every household, faith frays. When villagers turn from prayers and herbal cures to sorcery and murderous witch-hunting, Anna must confront the deaths of family, the disintegration of her community, and the lure of a dangerous and illicit love. As she struggles to survive, a year of plague becomes, instead, annus mirabilis, a "year of wonders." Inspired by the true story of Eyam, a village in the rugged mountain spine of England. Year of Wonders is a detailed evocation of a singular moment in history. 

I loved this book right up until the end where it skipped to the present day after the plague with Anna and the minister. At this point, it got a bit too weird for me and there were some moments where I had to reread sections and wonder why they were relevant to the story. So the bizarre ending pulls the rating down a little bit. However, the rest of the book was completely enthralling. I read a similar book about a town that cuts itself off during an epidemic - Thomas Mullen's The Last Town on Earth - and this prompted me to look for books with similar topics. Geraldine Brooks was recommended to me and this book languished on my shelves for ages before I picked it up on a whim. I immediately found myself pulled into the world of 1600s England - which, fortunately, I studied this semester at university - and felt the pain of Anna and her neighbours. This was a truly fascinating book, full of historical insight into the medicines and superstitions of the period - two subjects which I'd not particularly been interested in prior to reading this book but which I found incredibly interesting to learn about. I'd recommend this book to anyone interested in learning about late 17th century England, or the growth of medicine, or witchcraft accusations and superstitious belief, or plagues. This book covers a range of topics and is difficult to put down once you've started, even if the storyline is obviously a sad one. My only complaint is the bizarre ending - some aspects of it worked well, and I liked that Anna was given a new life, but the part with the minister really seemed unneeded. Overall, 8/10

The Betrayal - Beverly Lewis

Book 2 of Abram's Daughters. Spanning three generations, the Abram's Daughters series paints a powerful family portrait of four Amish sisters growing up in Gobbler's Knob, Lancaster County. In Book One, The Covenant, when oldest sister Sadie is beguiled by a handsome, dark-haired ''Englischer,'' it is younger sister Leah who suffers from her sister's shameful behavior. In Book Two, The Betrayal, Leah and her beloved Jonas are separated for half the year when he accepts a long-desired carpenter's apprenticeship in Ohio. They are confident that by letter and heart-felt promises, their love is strong enough to survive the temporary separation. But never could they have foreseen the bitter test facing them and their families. 

This was such a heart-wrenching read! Yet I still want to read the rest of the books in the series. Beverly Lewis's books are incredibly readable and I finished this in two days. I was engrossed in the descriptions of the land and the food of Lancaster County and truly would like to visit it some day. As for the characters, I was taken in, yet again, by Abram's daughters. Sadie's grief and Leah's desire to settle down with her betrothed were just as engaging as in the last book and I was pleased to see that Hannah and Mary Ruth's characters were developed further. I'm looking forward to discovering whether she joins the Amish or leaves to become a teacher. As other reviewers have pointed out, many issues in this book could have been prevented if only the characters had communicated. But wouldn't this have been the situation a hundred or two years ago? In a sense, Amish novels are like historical novels. You have to suspend disblelief a little and accept that crisis often develop out of small problems that snowball out of control. As much as I felt sorry for Leah at the end of the book, I can only hope that Lewis has something better planned for her life that will appear in the final three books in this series. I have to say that this book was probably better than the first in the series as I felt that I got to know the characters more, so this is a 10/10.

The Deep End of the Ocean - Jacquelyn Mitchard

The horror of losing a child is somehow made worse when the case goes unsolved for nearly a decade, reports Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel columnist Jacquelyn Mitchard in this searing first novel. In it, 3-year-old Ben Cappadora is kidnapped from a hotel lobby where his mother is checking into her 15th high school reunion. His disappearance tears the family apart and invokes separate experiences of anguish, denial, and self-blame. Marital problems and delinquency in Ben's older brother (in charge of him the day of his kidnapping) ensue. Mitchard depicts the family's friction and torment--along with many gritty realities of family life--with the candour of a journalist and compassion of someone who has seemingly been there. International publishing and film rights sold fast on this one--it's a blockbuster.

I wasn't sure that I'd like this book at first as the characters were very difficult to sympathise with. But as the story progressed I came to realise that what makes the plot so complex is the flawed nature of the characters. I've read another of Mitchard's novels, A Theory of Relativity, and found the characters rather annoying. In this case, their flaws made them fascinating rather than irritating, and eventually this book became impossible to put down. Not having any children myself, it was hard to imagine how I'd act in such a situation but I still really felt the pain that the family was going through in their grief. I did feel like there were a couple of lose ends that weren't completely tied up at the end about the kidnapper, but all in all I was pleasantly surprised at how much I enjoyed this novel. Recommended to fans of Jodi Picoult and Barbara Delinsky. 9/10

The Summer Before - Ann M. Martin

Before there was the Baby-Sitters Club, there were four girls named Kristy Thomas, Mary Anne Spier, Claudia Kishi, and Stacey McGill. As they start the summer before seventh grade (also before they start the BSC), each of them is on the cusp of a big change. Kristy is still hung up on hoping that her father will return to her family. Mary Anne has to prove to her father that she's no longer a little girl who needs hundreds of rules. Claudia is navigating her first major crush on a boy. And Stacey is leaving her entire New York City life behind... order to find new friends in Stoneybrook, Connecticut.

The Summer Before . . . is a sweet, moving novel about four girls on the edge of something big - not just the Club that will change their lives, but also all the joys and tribulations of being twelve and thirteen.

I must have read at least fifty of these books as a child and after coming across them in a charity shop at the age of sixteen and rediscovering the joy of the adventures of these preteen babysitters, I started to recollect the books. I now have half a shelf full of these colourful little novels sitting on my bookcase that I revisit when I'm in need of some light relief to destress myself. So when I heard that a prequel was being written I was naturally excited at the premise of it. Although many BSC fans would like to hear about the lives of the characters as adults, writing about children is what Ann M. Martin does best. The Summer Before did not disappoint. 

Martin seemed to slip back into the voices of the characters very easily. I particularly liked Stacey's story as it showed her as a normal girl, dealing with the problems of broken friendships and moving house. A lot of the BSC books focused on Stacey's diabetes or her boyfriends or how "sophisticated" she was. In The Summer Before she was just a regular preteen girl and I felt that she was very realistically portrayed. I also enjoyed Claudia's story and the excitement yet disappointment of having your "first love." This was also very natural, although it would have been nice to see more of Claud's relationship with her sister Janine. Mary Anne has to cope with convincing her dad that she's old enough to babysit, and although she came across as less mature than the other girls this was in fitting with her character in the regular series. It was nice to watch Mary Anne grow and become more confident with babysitting and talking to her dad. Kristy's story was my least favourite as it seemed a bit out of the blue for her to suddenly expect her dad to visit, but it did kind of tug at heart strings. I could never imagine what it would be like to be missing one parent and have no way of contacting them, but her emotions seemed believable to me. 

All in all, this was a fantastic book and was definitely worth waiting for. I only wish Ann M. Martin was creating more new Babysitters Club books as she definitely hasn't lost her touch. 10/10

The Parting - Beverly Lewis

Nearly one hundred days have passed since the untimely death of Nellie Mae Fisher's beloved younger sister, Suzy, and Nellie dares again to dream of a future with handsome Caleb Yoder. But with rumors about Suzy still flying among the People, there are those who would keep the young courting couple apart...including Caleb's own father. 

Meanwhile, a growing number of Honeybrook's Amish farmers are demanding tractors and other forbidden modern conveniences. When a revival adds to the tensions, passions flare. With the Old Order community pushed to the breaking point, Nellie and Caleb find their families -and themselves- in the midst of what threatens to become an impossible divide.

So far I've read three of Beverly Lewis's novels and enjoyed all of them. This one was slightly different to the other two - The Shunning and The Covenant - in that it is set during the split in the Amish church in the 1960s. Because of this, the story had more emphasis on the Amish theology and how it differed from conventional Christian beliefs. I found this really fascinating as one of the things that has always bugged me about the Amish way of life is that they seem to focus more on the Amish culture - no electricity, specific clothing guidelines, not associating with non-Amish - than the Word of God, and a lot of their culture has no scriptural foundation. So it was interesting to read about families who discovered the truth about Salvation and how this was treated. To those that were interested in the theological side of this book, there's an excellent BBC documentary about a similar situation that happened a year or so ago:

Of course, I enjoyed reading about the typical aspects of Amish life: Nellie and Caleb's courtship, Nellie's bakery, and the rumours about Suzy's running-around years. To be totally honest, I didn't find these parts of the book to be as engaging as the sections about Nellie's father and friends discovering salvation through Christ. I liked Nellie as a character but Caleb seemed a bit two-dimensional, and this stopped me from really warming to their courtship and truly caring about the outcome. Likewise, as fascinating as it was to read about the family recovering from Suzy's death, the truth about what happened to her seemed to be tied up far too quickly and neatly in less than a chapter. 

I was intrigued by the story about Rosanna adopting her cousin's twins. It didn't totally fit into the main storyline, which made it a bit awkward, but it was interesting enough and I'm sure it's significance will become clear in the second book. 

One of my main gripes with Lewis is that nearly all of her books are in a series, and I've started 3 so far! When will it ever end? Although, considering how much I'm coming to like the Amish genre, I don't mind the steady stream of books. It'll keep me going until - if this ever happens - I get bored. 

Overall, I wasn't quite as interested in these characters as I was with some of the other Amish books I've read, but the subject matter - a split in the Amish church because of the issue of Salvation - was fascinating and well written. Looking forward to reading the next in the trilogy. 8/10

A Gift of Grace - Amy Clipston

Rebecca Kauffman's tranquil Old Order Amish life is transformed when she suddenly has custody of her two teenage nieces after her "English" sister and brother-in-law are killed in an automobile accident. Instant motherhood, after years of unsuccessful attempts to conceive a child of her own, is both a joy and a heartache. Rebecca struggles to give the teenage girls the guidance they need as well as fulfill her duties to Daniel as an Amish wife.

Rebellious Jessica is resistant to Amish ways and constantly in trouble with the community. Younger sister Lindsay is caught in the middle, and the strain between Rebecca and Daniel mounts as Jessica's rebellion escalates. Instead of the beautiful family life she dreamed of creating for her nieces, Rebecca feels as if her world is being torn apart by two different cultures, leaving her to question her place in the Amish community, her marriage, and her faith in God.

I wasn't entirely sure what to expect of this book and was pleasantly surprised. Although it is written in a rather simplistic manner, it suits the book and doesn't detract from the values of the story. Although written in the third person, I really felt like I got inside the heads of Rebecca, her husband, Daniel, and her nieces, Jessica and Lindsay. I felt like I was experiencing the hurt of the girls at being uprooted from their normal life and the confusion Rebecca had over what was the best way of caring for her nieces. Overall, I thought that the book presented a realistic picture of two "worldly" girls moving to an Amish community. The ultimate decisions of Lindsay and Jessica weren't what I expected, but this made it even more believable! I also appreciated the Christian emphasis of the novel - which was far more present than in Beverly Lewis' Amish books - and the verses that Elizabeth reminded Rebecca of in her time of need. I must go back sometime and write them down! Elizabeth and the other Kauffman family members fitted into the story neatly and really gave the book its "Amish community" atmosphere and the scenes in the bakery truly made me feel like I'd been transported to Lancaster country. I'm glad that this book is part of a series as I'd love to read more about the family. All in all, I thoroughly enjoyed this book and am pleased that it exceeded my expectations. If you're looking for an enjoyable, thought-provoking story with realistic characters and strong Christian values that is an easy read then I'd definitely recommend this! Can't wait to get hold of the next book! 10/10

The Covenant - Beverly Lewis

Book 1 of Abram's Daughters series from bestselling author Beverly Lewis.

Years of secrecy bind the tiny community of Gobbler's Knob together more than the present inhabitants know, and the Plain folk who farm the land rarely interact with the fancy locals. So when Sadie is beguiled by a dark-haired English boy, it is Sadie's younger sister, Leah, who suffers from her sister's shameful loss of innocence. And what of Leah's sweetheart, Jonas Mast, sent to Ohio under the Bishop's command? Drawn into an incomprehensible pact with her older sister, Leah finds her dreams spinning out of control, even as she clings desperately to the promises of God. The Covenant begins a powerful Lancaster portrait of the power of family and the miracle of hope. 

I loved this book! I've been interested in the Amish and their culture since I read Jodi Picoult's Plain Truth, and read Beverly Lewis' debut novel The Shunning earlier this year. However, I felt a bit let down by Lewis' first novel - although it was compelling it was rather predictable and the character's didn't completely come to life for me. The Covenant, however, was very different and showed a vast improvement in Lewis' writing.

The story centres around an Amish family with four daughters. The youngest, twins, don't feature a lot in the story although I'm sure their own stories will become more important later in the series - Mary Ruth wants to be a schoolteacher although this is not allowed in her community, and Hannah wants to be able to express her creativity and individuality and seems quite shy. The older sisters, Sadie and Leah are very different. Leah helps her father on the farm and is quite the tomboy until she reaches her courting years and wants to become more womanly in order to please her husband - who she hopes will be her second cousin, Jonas, and not the boy next door whose farmland her father covets. However, her older sister is a constant worry to her. Sadie constantly sneaks out to meet an English boy who will ultimately break her heart. Their parents and aunt also feature in the story. Her mother suddenly becomes pregnant again and their father interferes with Leah's courtship with Jonas. Their maiden aunt, Lizzie, apparently has a secret surrounding her teenage years, which I hope will be revealed in the next book! 

The characters were very real and sympathetic. Although it takes a while to get into the book and warm to all the characters, I soon found myself hoping that Leah and Jonas would be allowed to continue their courtship and sympathising with Sadie after her beau leaves her. Normally I don't like silly, niave teenage girls but I could really understand how Sadie could allow herself to be used by an English boy. The characters in this book were much easier to like than those in Lewis' first novel and I definitely want to continue reading the series. I also felt that I learned more about the Amish and could understand some of their customs - even if some of their beliefs did not seem to be in line with scripture. 

I'm very much looking forward to reading the next book and would recommend this for people wanting to learn more about the Amish and looking for a simple but exciting story full of secrets. 9/10

I Dared to Call Him Father - Bilquis Sheikh

How do I give myself to God completely? What happens when I do? I Dared to Call Him Father is a book for everyone who has ever asked these questions.

It is the fascinating true story of Bilquis Sheikh, a prominent Muslim woman in South Asia who faced these questions at the crossroads of her life—and found the astonishing answers. Her entire life turned upside down as a series of strange dreams launched her on a quest that would forever consume her heart, mind and soul.

This was a short book - it only took me an evening to read - but it was very inspiring. I already knew that Muslims who converted to Christianity were persecuted but I wasn't aware that it was actually stated in the Quaran that honour killings should be made on family members who left Islam for another religion. Bilquis was an extremely strong and faithful woman to continue living in Pakistan despite the threats that were made in her life. It made me really grateful that I live in Britain where, although the government still tries to restrict the behaviour of Christians, it is nowhere near as dangerous to be a Christian as it is in the middle east. It was also interesting to read about the contrast between Bilquis, who told everyone in her family that she had changed her religion, and her servant who was a "secret Christian." It made me wonder how many other "secret Christians" there are in Pakistan. 

It did take me a while to get into this book because of the simplistic style in which it was written, but once I'd read a few chapters I was hooked. I'm glad that I read it as it has enlightened me to the risks that Christians in the middle east have to take. The only parts I didn't like about the book were the extra chapters added to the book in the new edition, which were written by one of Bilquis's Christian friends. They really didn't seem to add anything to her story, especially not the one about the differences between Eastern and Western cultures. However, this is just a minor annoyance.

Overall, this is a short and simple book about a Musim woman who takes the risk of converting to Christianity and how it changed her life. 8/10

The Constant Princess - Philippa Gregory

Katherine of Aragon is born Catalina, the Spanish Infanta, to parents who are both kings and crusaders. At the age of three, she is betrothed to Prince Arthur, son and heir of Henry VII of England, and is raised to be Princess of Wales. She knows that it is her destiny to rule that far-off, wet, cold land. Her faith is tested when her prospective father-in-law greets her arrival in her new country with a great insult; Arthur seems little better than a boy; the food is strange and the customs coarse. Slowly she adapts to the first Tudor court, and life as Arthur's wife grows ever more bearable. Unexpectedly in this arranged marriage, a tender and passionate love develops. But when the studious young man dies, she is left to make her own future: how can she now be queen, and found a dynasty? Only by marrying Arthur's young brother, the sunny but spoilt Henry. His father and grandmother are against it; her powerful parents prove little use. Yet Katherine is her mother's daughter and her fighting spirit is indomitable. She will do anything to achieve her aim; even if it means telling the greatest lie, and holding to it.

I really enjoyed this, but it wasn't as compelling as The Other Boleyn Girl or The Boleyn Inheritance, also by Philippa Gregory. I was able to put this book down and not feel the need to go back to it immediately. Although I wanted to know what happened to Katherine, the book focused so much on her time away from the Tudor court, and then when she did marry Henry, there was a lot of attention paid to war and battles. I did feel very sorry for her as she didn't seem to have many happy periods throughout her life, but she didn't quite come to life the same as the Boleyns. Plus, I think I prefer the multiple first-person format of The Boleyn Inheritance - after a while, the italics began to irritate me. 

It was interesting to read about her imput into Henry's rule and how she became regent of England while he was in France. I was also surprised to read that she'd had a child before Mary and that it had died. Katherine is often brushed over in history as having married Henry, only ever had a girl and displeased him because of this. I feel quite enlightened now, even if I did sometimes doubt Gregory's portrayal of certain figures when it differed from that of my Modern History lectures.

All in all, I enjoyed this book but it was much heavier and not as exciting as the Boleyn novels. I was glad to learn more about Katherine and now want to read about Henry's other wives. 8/10

Queen of Babble - Meg Cabot

Lizzie Nichols has a problem, and it isn’t that she’s blowing her college graduation money on a trip to visit her long-distance boyfriend Andy in London. 

She just can’t keep anything to herself, including her indignation at finding out her beloved boyfriend wasn’t completely faithful to her during their separation. She’s now out on the streets with no money and a non-changeable airline ticket home for exactly a month away.

Fortunately, Lizzie’s best friend, Shari, comes to the rescue. She’s spending the summer in the South of France catering weddings in a romantic sixteenth century chateau, and she’s able to sort Lizzie out with a job. One glimpse of the gorgeous Chateau Mirac, not to mention the equally gorgeous son of the owner, and Lizzie is hooked.

This was such a feel-good read. Meg Cabot's books are always hit or miss with me and after reading a few reviews I was worried that I wouldn't like this - but I did! Lizzie's nervous rambling annoyed me for a chapter or two but after that I found that I could really sympathise with her. Being a university student myself I understand the fear of having no idea what to do with my life, and also the horror of discovering that the guy you're debating spending the rest of your life with isn't who you thought he was - or in my case, discovering that my best guy friend has become a stoner who likes going to clubs that play left-wing anti-german rave music. So, yeah, although Lizzie babbled a lot, she was an appealing and realistic character. I'll admit that I didn't laugh out loud at this book I did really enjoy reading it. At the moment I'm studying a lot of 18th century literature for my university course and this was the perfect book to relax with - quick, light and funny. If you're a chick-lit fan - even a semi-secret one like me! - I'd definitely recommend this. Looking forward to reading the next two in the series! 8/10 

A Woman Betrayed - Barbara Delinsky

With a twenty-year marriage, two terrific kids, and a successful career, Laura Frye has everything she could ask for - until her husband Jeff mysteriously disappears. Beside herself with worry, Laura maintains that the Jeff she knew would never leave voluntarily. But what about the Jeff she didn't know? As her husband's many secrets come to light, Laura is left with a shocking picture of the man she married, and a world that is falling apart. Shaken to the very core, Laura looks for ways to hold her family together and rebuild her life. What she finds is a strength she never knew she had, and a love she thought she had lost forever. 

Nothing can ever top my favourite Delinsky, 'The Family Tree', but I still thoroughly enjoyed this. Published in 1991 this is one of her earlier novels, and this is clear from her style of writing and the sometimes awkward-and-unneeded sex scenes. The characters, however, were for the most part very believable and made me want to keep reading so that I could figure out all their dirty secrets. In a sense, 'A Woman Betrayed' is a bit like a soap opera - addictive, character driven and full of twists. If you're a fan of Delinsky's more recent Jodi-Picoult-esque novels then this might not be for you, but if you like stories about families and the secrets they have - not to mention a happily-ever-after-despite-the-odds romance - then you should enjoy this. It may have been a bit over-dramatic in places and I never did figure out what Jeff's motivation was, but this was perfect comfort reading to squish in between coursework. I'll be looking out for more of Delinsky's books - both old and new. 8/10