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!

Friday, 24 September 2010

The Dream House - Rachel Hore

Kate Hutchinson and her husband Simon are Londoners, performing the balancing act of raising two young children in a cramped terraced house whilst holding down stressful full-time jobs. When everything starts to come apart at the seams they decide to uproot and move to the Suffolk coast. Sacrificing her career, her friends and her independence, Kate battles to make a new life for the family under her mother-in-law's roof - while they search in vain for the perfect home. Months later, with Simon still working all hours and the strains of living with his mother beginning to tell, Kate is questioning the wisdom of their move. Then one evening, out walking, she stumbles upon the house of her dreams, a beautiful place, full of memories - but tantalizingly out of her reach. It belongs to a frail old lady, Agnes, and the two women become close friends. As Kate unravels the dying woman's story she is amazed to discover how much it echoes her own. And as past and present intertwine, Kate is given the strength and inspiration to reforge her own life.

I'm a fan of historical novels and family-sagas so this book was right up my street. I was a bit cautious when starting this novel as it was a gift from my mum and I've sometimes found some of her favourite books to be a bit flat and predictable. Thankfully, this book exceeded my expectations as I really found myself connecting with the protagonist and was completely immersed in the story. 

Kate is eight years into her marriage to Simon when they decide to move to the country to rekindle their love and reconnect with their children. While Kate leaves her high-flying publishing job to become a stay-at-home mum, her husband commutes to London during the week. Eventually they begin to see less and less of each other, and although Kate and the kids are settled in Suffolk, making friends with their neighbours and creating a new life for themselves, Kate and Simon's marriage still seems to be on the rocks. I think that any woman would sympathise with Kate's situation, and it even made me - a nineteen year old, unmarried university student - realise how difficult "commuter marriages" are. Her life also struck a chord with me as I'd love to work in publishing, but know that ultimately, I'd want to stay at home when I have children. My long term boyfriend is also called Simon...spooky!

While exploring her new home area with her children, Kate discovers a beautiful old house - one that she thinks she's dreamed about - which belongs to a long lost relative. Whilst dealing with her new life and the difficulties with her husband, Kate also discovers a long-ago unsolved mystery surrounding her new-found Aunt Agnes that she is determined to solve. Here, the "narrative within a narrative" style of writing takes off as Kate discovers secrets about her Aunt Agnes, and her own family, in her old diaries. This style will be familiar to fans of Kate Morton's The House at Riverton or The Forgotten Garden, although this novel isn't so evenly split between the modern and past narratives. It was fascinating to dip into the 1920s and experience life through the eyes of Agnes. Although I didn't become so connected to her as I did to Kate, it was exciting to uncover the mysteries surrounding her and her family.

I'll admit that it did take me a while to get into the story, but in the end I really cared about the characters and wanted them to achieve happiness in their lives. This is a book with happy endings all round, so if you're looking for a serious novel with absolutely nothing predictable then this might not be for you. But if you like a splash of romance, a dabble of mystery and good dash of historical detail and family problems then I'd recommend this author. 9/10

Thursday, 16 September 2010

Akin to Anne: Tales of Other Orphans - L. M. Montgomery

In this heartwarming collection of nineteen short stories L.M. Montgomery returns to the enchanting shores of beautiful Prince Edward Island to tell about orphans much like Anne of Green Gables -- vulnerable, sensitive, and full of hope and courage. There's the lonely young girl on a quest for a real-life mother, a budding artist who dreams of fame and fortune, and old family quilt that unites two sisters with a long-lost relative, an ancient Egyptian doll that invokes an unusual spell for a little girl yearning for a special friend. L.M. Montgomery brings to life a magical place and a circle of characters who will long be treasured and remembered.

When reading this collection of stories it is important to remember that they were never intended to be read together. They were all written for publication in magazines and newspapers, often months or years apart. Although I enjoyed Akin to Anne, I have to admit that perhaps grouping them together by theme might not have been the best idea. Reading the same plot over and over again can be tiresome, so I'm quite glad that I read a different story or two each day for a fortnight. There were some stories that, while being mildly enjoyable, I've probably already forgotten, and others that I thoroughly enjoyed and found very sweet. Below is a list of the stories included in this collection, arranged depending on how much I liked them. I do recommend this book to fans of L. M. Montgomery as each story features her lovely and memorable style of writing, but I'd suggest not to read more than two stories at a time as this can really spoil them. 7/10

Charlotte's Quest
The Running Away of Charles
Penelope's Party Waist
Charlotte's Ladies

Freda's Adopted Grave
The Girl Who Drove the Cows
Jane Lavinia
Millicent's Double
The Little Black Doll
Her Own People


Marcella's Reward
An Invitation Given On Impulse
Ted's Afternoon Off
Why Not Ask Miss Price?
The Fraser Scholarship
The Story of an Invitation
The Softening of Miss Cynthia
Margaret's Patient

Monday, 13 September 2010

A Time to Love - Barbara Cameron

When Jenny is injured in a car bomb attack overseas, she awakens beneath one of her grandmother's Amish quilts---and discovers something even more comforting: an invitation to recuperate back home in Lancaster County. Pennsylvania life proves healing in many ways---until she unexpectedly falls in love! After traveling the world, could she ever settle here? 

Barbara Cameron twists the typical storyline of an "English" woman falling in love with an Amish man in her first novel in the Quilts of Lancaster series. Jenny has always felt a special connection to her grandmother's Amish community, despite her father leaving the faith as a teenager. When she's injured while reporting from a war-torn country, Jenny decides to recuperate in Lancaster, where she feels at peace. There she reconnects with Matthew, a man she became friends with on her childhood summer visits, whom she discovers she still has a crush on. But Jenny's still hurting, both physically and emotionally, and she's not sure if she's ready for a relationship - let alone one with a widower who has three children and belongs to a completely separate part of society. It's going to take the help of the handsome farmer himself, his adorable children, his meddling sister and Jenny's ever-faithful grandmother to convince Jenny that God has brilliant plans for her future, no matter how bleak the repercussions of her accident may look. 

Jenny is the anti-heroine: she's insecure about her looks, worried about her future and cares more about others than herself. She's a woman that we should all be able to relate to. I loved that Barbara Cameron dared to create a character who struggled with her movements and speech; Jenny struggles with things that we take for granted yet she still manages to make new friends and fall in love. Her lifestyle is also unconventional, having spent most of her adult life in war-torn countries reporting on how children are suffering. Cameron really makes us feel the heart that Jenny has for the children she meets, and how she wonders if she's let opportunities disappear from her life because of her career. More and more women in today's society are getting married late and put off having families because they want to focus on their jobs, like Jenny, which is what makes her an appealing and modern character.

Her love interest, Matthew, is also appealing. He's an old-fashioned gentleman, always eager to help Jenny and constantly looking for opportunities to visit her, which is most endearing! Matthew is father to three children, and I have to admit that I like the storyline of a single woman falling in love with a man with a past and a brood of kids. The children added humour and lightness to the story and served to show us what a loving woman Jenny is. Not only does she fall in love with the Amish and Matthew, but Jenny becomes enamoured with his children. Annie in particular was incredibly cute and I'm sure every reader will have a soft spot in their heart for her.

I was incredibly impressed with Barbara Cameron's venture into the genre of Amish fiction and especially pleased with her unique take on the genre. Jenny had previous connections with the Amish community through her grandparents which made her involvement with the People, and her interest in Matthew, all the more believable. I also loved how Jenny wasn't a typical romantic heroine and had the same struggles that we all have - and much more. This is a fantastic novel and I'll definitely be looking out for the second in the series, A Time to Heal, in March 2011. 10/10

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

Thursday, 9 September 2010

"Life is Good" Blog Award

Thanks so much to Dizzy of Dizzy C's Little Book Blog for this award! It's lovely to be so appreciated. Dizzy also writes a great book blog that I'd recommend checking out.

Now for the criteria:

To accept the award you must link back and thank the person who gave you the Life is Good award and answer the 10 questions and pass it along to 6 other blogs :)

1. If you blog anonymously are you happy doing it that way; if you are not anonymous do you wish you had started out anonymously so you could be anonymous now?

I've just started blogging but I do have information about who I am and where I'm from on my blog. Not enough to attract stalkers but enough to make myself personal and easy to relate to, I like to think.

2. Describe one incident that shows your inner stubborn side.

Today I bought a return ticket to the next town, where I volunteer in the church office. The bus only leaves once an hour and we missed the one at 4:20. My friend suggested that we just walk the three miles home but I insisted on waiting for the 5:20 bus because I'd paid for my ticket!

3. What do you see when you really look at yourself in the mirror?

I see a slim brunette with very pale skin and a few "beauty spots" here and there, who wears rather funky purple glasses and colour co-ordinated jewellery. I can look older or younger than my 19 years depending on whether I dress myself up or down or wear make up (not very often).

4. What is your favorite summer cold drink?

I discovered Pimms this summer, thanks to my boyfriend's parents, and I love it! A very British drink, quite popular in St. Andrews.

5. When you take time for yourself, what do you do?

Watch a lot of rubbish TV shows online (since I don't own a TV) such as Scrubs or Friends, spend too much time on the internet, or read my "comfort read" books, such as my favourite kids books.

6. Is there something you still want to accomplish in your life? What is it?

Since I'm only nineteen I still have a lot to accomplish! Ideally, I'd like to finish university with a good degree, and perhaps get a job in the publishing industry and hopefully one day become an author. My main desire in life, though, is to get married and have a family.

7. When you attended school, were you the class clown, the class overachiever , the shy person, or always ditching?

I was quite shy and studious at school. I wasn't an overachiever but I got good grades and worked hard at the subjects I enjoyed, like English, History and Art.

8. If you close your eyes and want to visualize a very poignant moment of your life what would you see?

I can't exactly visualise this moment, but the moment that I realised how advanced my grandma's Alzheimer's had got and how much she'd changed in the last few years was very poignant. 

9. Is it easy for you to share your true self in your blog or are you more comfortable writing posts about other people or events?

As my book is primarily a book blog, I don't reveal a lot about my life, unless it's in relating my life to a subject or experience in a novel. I don't mind talking about myself here and there but I wouldn't reveal anything incredibly personal.

10. If you had the choice to sit down and read or talk on the phone, which would you do and why? 

Hmm, difficult question. I do enjoy a good chat and it's nice to catch up with my mum, or my boyfriend, who currently lives 90 minutes away and we only get to see each other twice a month. I do find it hard to find time to read right now, but I find it more difficult to find time to have a chat, so probably talking on the phone!

I am passing this award on to:

My Usless Crafts

WV Stitcher

A Dream of Books

Lost in a Good Book

Sarah's Book Reviews

Family Life

Friday, 3 September 2010

Tristan's Gap - Nancy Rue

She thought they had the perfect family…

For eighteen years Serena Soltanis has poured herself into her family, making every effort to please her husband and to protect her daughters from the evils of the world. Respected and admired for her obvious parenting success, she leads a popular mothers’ group at her church, passing along wisdom gained through years of experience.

until she woke up in a mother’s worst nightmare.

Then the unthinkable happens. Sixteen-year-old Tristan, the quiet “good girl” of the family, disappears–and the search brings to light unpleasant truths that prompt Serena to question nearly everything she believes about her children, her marriage, and her faith.

“Where did we go wrong?”

Brokenhearted by her daughter’s behavior and her husband’s angry response, Serena struggles to see God’s hand of grace in their lives. Initially determined to rescue Tristan from whatever trouble she’s in, Serena learns the painful lesson that true strength won’t be found in regaining control of her daughter’s choices but in finally learning when to let go.

I haven't read a lot of Christian fiction in the past – with the exception of my slight obsession with Amish novels – but I'd definitely consider getting hold of more of it after this book. Sixteen-year-old Tristan vanishes into thin air, much to the shock of her family. Everyone assumes that she must have been kidnapped, because surely such a happy "good girl" with a loving family wouldn't leave of her own accord...would she? But all is not as it seems. As the search for their daughter progresses, Serena begins to realise that by overprotecting Tristan they've pushed her so far away from them that they don't even know who she is anymore. While her husband refuses to admit that their daughter would willingly want to leave home, Serena is forced to admit that blindly following her husband's rules and advice will not bring their daughter back, and that this may have forced her to leave in the first place. Serena has to take matters into her own hands as she searches for her teenage daughter, and trust that God can help to bridge the gap between them.

While I was initially unsympathetic towards the character of Serena, a woman who believed that her family was "perfect" and that by wrapping her children in cotton wool she could protect them from the "evils" of the world, I came to like her more as she grew and changed throughout the novel. Serena is not too proud to admit that she has made mistakes in her past and humbles herself so that she can bring her daughter home. She is surrounded by a host of wonderful secondary characters - the quirky but well-meaning Aunt Pete, her youngest daughter Max and an unlikely friend, Hazel, covered in tattoos with an unruly brood of children but a heart of gold. The one character that I couldn’t stand was Serena’s husband, Nick. Just reading about his arrogance made me want to throw something! I know that Nick was vital to the story but I could not fathom why Serena had married such a man or stayed under his thumb for so long. I also found it difficult to believe that his actions were based upon his desire to please God. While God and Christianity didn’t actually feature a huge amount in this book, the message seemed to be that God is always with us, even though the bad times, and that God’s grace is always there, no matter what we do. While, to me at least, this isn’t a new and radical idea it appears that this is something people need to hear.

While I found it hard to emphasise with some of the characters – at least for part of this book – this was incredibly hard to put down. The search for Tristan should compel many to read on, and although the ending isn’t tied nicely in a big, red bow, seeing Serena’s character mature and change is very satisfying. 9/10

Thursday, 2 September 2010

An Irresistible Impulse - Barbara Delinsky

 Sitting in a Vermont jury room, Abby Barnes finds herself actually hoping to be chosen. The trial is sensational - a real headline-grabber - and the thought of being occupied for a few weeks is appealing. The time away from a relationship that is no longer exciting will give her a chance to think...

Then she meets fellow juror Ben Wyeth, a witty and charming college professor who shows Abby just what's been missing from her life. But although they share gruelling days of grisly testimony and long nights of passion, there is a part of Ben that he can never share with her - or any other woman.

This book started out as a 7 but dropped to a 5 by the time I was finished with it. I didn't exactly have high expectations, being fully aware that this was one of Barbara Delinsky's earliest novels (1983) and a category romance at that. But the story started off nicely, keeping my interest with the background of a woman needing a break from life getting jury duty and meeting an intriguing stranger. The jury is situated in a remote cabin for three weeks so that no outside influence can affect their vote and Delinsky painted the setting and the secondary characters quite well considering how short this novel was. Unfortunately, once the two characters got to know each other better my hopes of this being a "sweet, light romance" were shattered. I was under the impression that the Silhouette Special Edition line featured love and meaningful relationships, not sex and alpha males. I didn't really warm up to the character of Ben - while he was kind to Abby, he admitted that he didn't love her and was just attracted to her. That alone is enough to put me off a man! And while Abby worried about this, she ended up happily going along with the no-love-just-attraction relationship, enough that she made a rash decision near the end of the book which could have had a rather negative outcome. Ben was a bit forceful, too, and not in what I saw as a romantic way, which really made me wonder what Abby saw in him. And the way their relationship progressed...I know it's a romance novel, but I'm not terribly fond of the "sex first, love later" storyline. Plus, this book was very heavy on the sex, and not in a tasteful way. Cheesy and awkward descriptions abounded! 

All in all, this novel started out promising but went downhill about halfway through because of the sex scenes and the lack of a believable, loving relationship between the hero and heroine. I admire Delinsky's ability to create an interesting situation and setting and likeable secondary characters, especially in such a short novel. I just don't think the passion-fueled, let's-fall-in-love-later romances do much for me. 5/10