Friday, 28 January 2011

Found in Translation - Roger & Kristi Rae Bruner

When Kim Hartlinger—eighteen and spoiled—arrives on a mission trip to Mexico and discovers, to her chagrin, that she’ll be doing construction in a remote village without plumbing and electricity, rather than evangelism in a medium-sized town with a fast food joint . . she has only two choices. “Rough it” (which isn’t exactly what Kim had in mind when she signed up for this trip) or turn around and head home.

Will Kim be able to touch the villagers’ hearts with the Gospel? Or will her time in Mexico be up before she gets the chance?

Pampered Kim Hartlinger is in for the shock of her life when she arrives at her mission trip in Mexico with several suitcases full of designer clothes and a karaoke machine. Convinced that she's going to single-handedly convert everyone she meets with the help of her Spanish-English Bible, Kim sees the trip as an easy alternative to getting a summer job. But before she can unpack her Gucci loafers, she's informed that she's forgotten to read a very important email - the one telling her that the trip has changed, and that she'll now be building houses in an isolated village with no running water, let alone a fast-food joint. To make matters worse, the natives don't speak any English and the team is without a translator, so Kim's going to have a hard time bringing the villagers to the Lord. Could God really have a reason for bringing her to this desolated part of Mexico?

Although reading YA fiction when you're no longer a teenager is  incredibly popular right now, I've never really seen the appeal. Being nineteen myself, I often cringe at the behaviour of characters who are meant to be the same age as me, and this was my problem with Kim. It took me a while to warm up to her, but by the end of the novel I could appreciate why teenagers would enjoy her story, even if I’m still nowhere close to being a YA fanatic.

Kim makes a bad first impression on most of her mission buddies, with the exception of stereotypical black girl #492, Aleesha. I say this because she really is a walking stereotype. I found her amusing for a few pages, but Kim and Aleesha’s constant banter of “Do all black people do X?” and “Can white girls really do that?” got annoying very quickly. Of course, Aleesha has attitude, is excellent at preaching, a great hairstylist, loves to sing...and her name is Aleesha. Just once, I’d love to see a black YA character called Sarah who wants to be a lawyer. Thankfully Aleesha was replaced as Kim’s sidekick by the adorable Anjelita, who is shunned by the other local kids for having been born with a deformity. Anjelita made this book a lot more enjoyable to read, and it was lovely to witness Kim becoming more responsible by caring for her new friend and finding ways to involve her in restoring the village. 

Although she spends most of her time litter-picking with Anjelita, Kim does get a few chances to witness to people. Firstly, she meets typical bad-boy, Geoff, who constantly flirts with Kim and doesn’t seem to care about the mission trip. It turns out that Geoff is only pretending to be a Christian, so Kim decides to show him the truth about God’s love. After a surprisingly short amount of time, Geoff has a complete turnaround in character. While I initially liked this plot-line, Geoff’s transformation was a bit unbelievable, and I felt it gave the wrong image to teenage girls about how easy it is to change a bad-boy into a Christian. Especially as Kim immediately becomes attracted to Geoff after he’s committed his life to Jesus. 

I much preferred Kim’s second attempt at evangelism, which comes about after she discovers that her Spanish-English Bible is actually only in Spanish. Kim prays and relents to God about how her Bible is useless, but then feels him calling her to read the Bible to the villagers. Despite her atrocious Spanish, the locals become interested in her story sessions. Unfortunately, Kim has to leave before she can see the true affects of her Bible-readings, but I felt this was a good lesson in sowing seeds of faith but not always seeing how you’ve affected people. 

As I said before, I’m clearly not the target audience for this book. I might have appreciated this when I was younger, although I’m not entirely sure how my gothic, teenage self would have reacted to spoilt, designer-clad Kim. I think a lot of girls would get annoyed with Kim initially, but hopefully grow to like her as the novel progresses. To be honest, the perfect audience for Found in Translation is girls like Kim – those who are materialistic and forget to put God first in their lives. I think this book could really speak to these girls and hopefully have a impact on them. And of course, I reckon that this series is going to encourage more young people to go on mission trips – and to remind them that building houses and picking up litter are just as important as preaching the gospel. 7/10

Found in Translation is already available in stores and online. The sequel, Lost in Dreams, is due for publication in August 2011.

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

Tuesday, 25 January 2011

A Plain and Simple Christmas - Amy Clipston

 Four years after being shunned for marrying an "Englisher", Anna Mae McDonough wants to reconcile with her Amish family. And what better time than Christmas? But when her surprise visit doesn't go as planned, she begins to question her place in the family. Is Anna Mae determined enough to follow God's will so the family can heal?

Despite being shunned for leaving her Amish community four years earlier, Anna Mae longs to reconcile with her family. As the birth of her first child approaches, she begins to correspond with her sister-in-law Kathryn, making plans for Anna Mae and her English husband Kellan to visit the Amish community for Christmas. Kellan remembers that way that Anna Mae's father, the bishop, treated her when she announced her decision to marry an outsider, but this doesn't deter her from her plans to return home. Kathryn also experiences similar difficulties with her husband, David, who thinks Anna Mae's visit will bring too much pain to his already hurting parents. But Kathryn feels that God is calling her to bring the family back together in order to celebrate their Saviour's birth. Will Anna Mae and Kathryn's desire for reconciliation bring happiness on this joyous occasion, or will Anna Mae's baby grow up without knowing about its Amish heritage? 

I adore Amy Clipston's Kauffman Amish Bakery series, so when I heard that she was releasing a Christmas novella I immediately put it on my wishlist. Although I didn't receive this book until I met up with my grandparents this month to exchange late gifts, it still seemed close enough to Christmas to read it.

While I felt that this novella didn't have as much substance as Amy's full-length novels, it was still a sweet story of forgiveness and reconciliation. A lot of Amish novels give the impression that once someone has left the community, they cannot return unless they plan to rejoin the faith. This is always something I've had a problem with, as it doesn't seem like a particularly Christian way of treating others. So I was pleased to see that Anna Mae was allowed to visit her family, even if certain members were too hurt to talk to her. Kathryn, her daughter Amanda and her mother-in-law Mary Rose were incredibly welcoming and had come to accept the fact that while Anna Mae was no longer Amish, she still shared their Christian faith, was happy with her loving husband and was starting a family of her own. It's a cliche, but a baby always makes everyone happier!

However, I found it difficult to read Kathryn and David's arguments about whether Anna Mae should visit. David refused to let Kathryn put across her opinions and would actually leave the room in the middle of a discussion. Maybe it's just because I've been reading marriage-preparation books recently and discussing these issues with my fiancee, but I don't think it's right for one person to see their views as superior refuse to listen to the other, especially in marriage. While David eventually admitted to Kathryn that he believed that she had had the family's best interests at heart in her plans for Christmas, a lot of hurt and anger could have been avoided if he'd originally listened to his wife's ideas instead of immediately dismissing them. Personally, I believe that marriage is an equal partnership and a husband should not be allowed to make a decision and force his wife into it, especially not if he's not even considered other options. I've witnessed this many times in Amish books and it makes me feel a bit uncomfortable.

Of course, everything comes together in the end, but the characters experience a difficult journey of healing before they are fully reconciled. As can be expected, members of Anna Mae's family are still hurting from when she left the community, and her father in particular is adamant that she is no longer welcome at home. There are many sad points in this novella, and some of the characters begin to lose faith in the Beiler family ever all being together again. This is an endearing story of forgiveness, which not only finishes in a happy ending, but also a Christmas miracle!

While I didn't feel that this was up to the standard of Amy Clipston's previous books, this was a refreshing and sweet story. This tale of a family coming back together, healing past hurts and learning to forgive is perfect for the Christmas season. I think my main problems were merely that it is difficult to get any true depth of character development in a novella so I didn't really get to know any of the characters, and I felt a bit uncomfortable with the overbearing husbands in both Kathryn's David and Mary Rose's Henry. Maybe if parts of the story had been written from the points of view of the male characters I would have understood their behaviour better. But I won't let this spoil what is ultimately a pleasant Christmas story, and I hope to read more about the characters introduced in this novella, particularly Kathryn and Amanda. 7/10

Doctor in Petticoats - Mary Connealy

What happens when an idealistic student nurse encounters an embittered army doctor in a stagecoach accident? How will she react when she learns her training didn’t prepare her for tragic reality? How will he, an army deserter, respond to needs when he vowed to never touch another patient? Can these two stubborn mules find common ground on which to work and bring healing to West Texas?

Heading home to Texas for her sister's wedding, Beth is less than pleased to be sharing her stagecoach with a drunken vagrant. But when they come across another stagecoach that's been involved in an accident, trainee-nurse Beth knows that she needs all the help that she can get. Yet no one is more surprised than she when Alex reveals that he's actually an ex-army doctor. Finally arriving at her hometown, her relatives and neighbours welcome her with open arms, especially when they learn that she's brought a doctor with her. Despite her aspirations to treat the town's residents herself, Beth knows that a female doctor will never be allowed. But Alex is still mentally scarred from the horrors that he's experienced on the battlefield, and insists that Beth help him treat his patients. Her parents are unhappy with this arrangement, until Alex suggests something that even Beth thinks she can agree to - a marriage of convenience. Beth will work alongside Alex, helping to alleviate his fears, and giving her the chance to use her medical skills. Will their marriage remain purely practical, or can it develop into something more? And will Alex's mysterious past ever catch up with him, revealing why he's still having nightmares about the war? 

As you may have noticed, I'm on a historical romance kick right now, especially with novels set in late 1800s USA. Prairie life, homesteading and stagecoaches galore! And Mary Connealy appears to be Queen of these books! I've never read anything by her before but I'll definitely be keeping my eye out for more of her books.

I made the mistake of starting this while studying for my English exam and had to keep tearing myself away. The start of this novel, where Beth is on the stagecoach and comes across the accident, is incredibly fast-paced and sucks you right into the story. Beth's a spunky heroine and takes control of the situation, ordering Alex and the driver around so that she can take care of everyone. Her heart is obviously in the right place, even if she has to beat Alex over the head with his own hat to make him obey her orders!

The chemistry between Alex and Beth is brilliant. While Beth initially finds Alex irritating, they work well together, both as doctor and nurse and as husband and wife. It was lovely to see their relationship developing and I loved Connealy's portrayal of marriage. Not only did this couple have a wonderful equal partnership where they relied on each other, but Connealy made it clear that sex is something to be celebrated between husband and wife. Some books ignore the subject of sex in marriage, or make it seem like a duty, so I'm very grateful to this author for showing that it is something to be both cherished and celebrated! That said, there was nothing graphic or descriptive on the topic of sexuality, just a few sentences here and there hinting that a happily married couple enjoyed spending time together in their bedroom.

While reading the novel I discovered that some of the characters had previously featured in other books - which is excellent as I'd love to read more about Beth's parents! However, I'm more interested in Mandy, the sister whose wedding Beth was heading home for. I really enjoyed the subplot about her in this book, and I'm happy to see that she's the focus of #3 in the Sophie's Daughters series.

I thoroughly enjoyed this book, but I didn't completely love it. While I was initially drawn in by Beth's spunkiness and the quirky and humorous narrative, this petered out after a while. The final conflict was fun to read, but I felt like the focus shifted from Beth to Alex. Of course, I enjoyed reading about Alex too but I found that I preferred the sections of the novel that were from Beth's perspective. I'll definitely be reading more books in this series as I enjoy reading about the McClellan family, but this isn't my absolute favourite historical romance.

If you like your romances to have a quirky narrative and a spunky heroine, this is definitely one to look out for. All three of the books in the Sophie's Daughters series are already on the shelves, so you won't even have to wait to find out what happens next to the McClellan sisters! 8/10

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

Monday, 24 January 2011

Sarah's Garden - Kelly Long

Quite by accident, Sarah King has fallen in love. But this love is forbidden, and could cost her everything she holds dear.

Tucked into the majesty of Pennsylvania’s Allegheny Mountains is a garden Sarah King has been nurturing for years. She never feels more alive than when she is alone with her thoughts and her Creator among the delicate rows of plants. But then duty calls her away from her beloved garden and into a world she knows little about.

Grant Williams, a handsome young veterinarian, has left the city to open a rural practice among the Amish. Within minutes of meeting shy but feisty Sarah King, he is captivated by her.

As their feelings grow for one another, Sarah insists they can never be together. Marrying Grant would mean being uprooted from her home, her family, and her community. Throughout the cold Pennsylvania winter, with her garden tucked away until spring, Sarah begins crafting a quilt that illustrates her pain. Can anything lasting blossom from a love that’s forbidden?

Sarah buries her shyness in her garden, nurturing her plants with her God-given gift and love of the land. But when her sister marries and leaves the family farm, Sarah has to step into her shoes and tend the vegetable stall. Initially scared at the prospect of having to deal with people - especially Englishers! - on a regular basis, Sarah soon finds that she's enjoying herself. Especially since Grant Williams, the local English vet and her new neighbour, continually visits the stall and becomes a close friend. It begins to feel like Grant has always been part of her life, and as Sarah spends many hours helping him plant a vegetable garden she realises that what she feels for Grant is more than she's ever felt for any Amish boy. But where can their relationship go? Sarah could never leave her community. Could Grant ever give up his sports car and join the Amish world?

Kelly really grasps the essence of the Amish way of life in this simple love story. I felt like I was working with Sarah in her garden and walking beside her and Grant in the forest. There was a true sense of peace, despite the dramas occurring in the lives of the characters. And I really got the impression that the Amish were welcoming, loving people. While some novels choose to focus on shunnings and people who find themselves pitted against the Elders in their community, this portrayal was entirely different. I loved the way in which the Amish welcomed Grant with open arms when he expressed his desire to become a vet for their community. And they freely accepted his help in emergencies, allowing him to drive them to the hospital or a friend's house if needed. This was very different to other novels where the Amish avoid anyone English at all costs.

Sarah and Grant's story isn't terribly complicated. A girl falls for a boy that she cannot be with because of societal differences, yet both yearn to be together. Sarah's parents were surprisingly accepting of their daughter's developing relationship to an outsider, and while they discouraged her they didn't actively try to stop them being together. They could have banned her from seeing him, but they let her make her own choices. And while Sarah does have another love-interest, her best friend Jacob, it is clear that Grant is the only man that she's interested in. I appreciated that Kelly showed not only the blossoming friendship between Sarah and Grant, but also their attraction to each other and the physical aspect of their relationship. While the emotional and spiritual foundations of any relationship are always the most important, a lot of authors forget about attraction and even simple hugs and kisses. I'm sure that any reader will agree that the kisses shared between Sarah and Grant were not lustful, but emphasised their love for each other and their desire to be together.

My only minor complaints about this book would have to be that Grant initially appeared to be far too forward in his flirtations, and that the situation with the Fisher farm was resolved a little too easily. Grant is, in my eyes, clearly flirting with Sarah from their first meeting at the vegetable stand. Something just didn't sit right with this, and it made me a little wary of him to begin with. I wouldn't have minded if their relationship had built up to flirtations, but it seemed a little odd to behave in such a forward manner from the start. I did warm up to him, but this niggled me for a while. As for the Fisher farm and the mystery surrounding that, all the problems were resolved in a couple of pages near the end of the novel and it just seemed a bit too fast and too easy.

I thoroughly enjoyed this story and became so involved in the lives of the characters that I even shed a tear or two over their struggles! Kelly Long is definitely an author to keep your eye on if you're interested in Amish fiction. Not only does she understand her subject inside and out, she creates characters that you'll wish you never have to say goodbye to. 9/10

Friday, 21 January 2011

Random Acts of Heroic Love - Danny Scheinmann

Two tales of love

Two stories of loss

One great emotional journey…

1992: Leo Deakin wakes up in hospital somewhere in South America. His girlfriend Eleni is dead and Leo doesn’t know where he is or how she died. He blames himself for the tragedy and is sucked into a spiral of despair. But Leo is about to discover something that will change his life for ever.

1917: Moritz Daniecki has survived fighting in the Great War. But at what cost? Abandoned in the Siberian wilderness, he is determined to return to his beloved Lotte, the memory of whose single kiss has sustained him throughout the war. What lies before him is a terrifying journey over the Russian Steppes. If he ever makes it, will she still be waiting?

This dual-time narrative follows the stories of two very different men who can't let go of the women they love. In 1992, Leo Deakin loses his girlfriend in a bus accident in South America and struggles to get over her death, wondering how he could ever possibly move on. He sees Eleni in everything he does, yet her continued presence in his life causes him to fall into a spiral of depression. Meanwhile, in the Austro-Hungarian Empire on the outbreak of WWI, Moritz Daniecki leaves his beloved Lotte to fight the Russians. He ends up captured and placed in a Siberian POW camp, and it will take him years to trek back to Lotte after he escapes. The memory of her brief kiss keeps him going through the cold winter and the harsh life of Revolution-era Russia, but will she still be waiting for him when he makes it back to their village? And what is the link between Leo and Moritz's tales of enduring love?

I've had my eye on this book for a while but I never got around to reading it until I was lent a copy. I really enjoyed reading about the "other side" of WWI. While everyone knows about what went on in Britain, the USA, Germany and even France, Russia and other Eastern European countries often get forgotten. Moritz's story was tough and truly heartbreaking, as he devoted himself to travelling across Russia despite not knowing whether Lotte would wait for him. The descriptions of the state of the Austro-Hungarian army and the POW camp were rather horrific, and not for the faint-hearted! There were some scenes that made me feel a bit sick, but you truly understand what the soldiers experienced. Even those who have never studied this period in history will be able to appreciate this book as it gives you a flavour of the Eastern front of WWI without expecting any prior knowledge. I also loved the way that Moritz's story was told, in his death-bed speech to his oldest son during WWII. I could almost hear his voice as I read the story.

Leo's story, on the other hand, was told in third-person and I felt rather detached from it. While I was intrigued with the premise - a man waking up in a hospital in South America and having no idea how he got there - the mystery of his accident and Eleni's death was solved very quickly, and I found it difficult to connect with him. I sympathised with his plight at having lost his love, but the way that he dealt with it didn't sit well with me. Despite claiming that he was mourning Eleni, he got involved with a couple of women who he didn't care about and it made me feel rather uncomfortable. I explained the situation to my fiancee and even he thought it made Leo an unlikable character. Leo also makes friends with Roberto, a physics lecturer, and makes connections between physics and love. These were kind of interesting, but didn't mean a lot to an Arts student like myself! I was happy with the conclusion to Leo's story and I warmed up to him a lot more in the last few chapters, but overall he was difficult to connect with.

This novel is worth reading just for Moritz's story - it truly is a tale of heroic love. Leo's is heartbreaking in its own way, even if I didn't always agree with his actions. Don't read this if you're feeling sad, as the plight of Moritz and Leo will probably just make you feel worse! I would recommend this to anyone who enjoys dual-time narratives (I suspected the connection early on but it's still worth reading to uncover it!), unusual tales of love or historical fiction. And it's completely possible to read this without knowing anything about WWI, the Russian Revolution, South America or physics! I would caution that some of the war details are a bit graphic, and cursing and crude references to sex are made at several points throughout the novel. 7/10

Friday, 14 January 2011

Rugged and Relentless - Kelly Eileen Hake

When three landowning women put an ad in the paper expressing their desire for healthy, hard-working husbands-for-hire to help them set up and run a sawmill, they never dreamed their tiny town would be overflowing with proposals from bachelors who responded promptly...and in person! Out of this logjam of potential suitors, which one will Evelyn Thompson choose? Jacob Grainger trails his brother's murderer to Hopesfall where, to keep his true intentions secret, Jacob pretends to court Miss Evelyn Thompson. Will this lumberjack-turned-bounty-hunter find himself falling for the enterprising female?

When four young women head off to the ghost-town of Hopesfall, Colorado to turn it into a bustling, prosperous saw-mill, they end up with far more than they bargained for. While Cora plans to wed her fiancee, she knows it's not safe for her friends to be alone in a town full of men. Thus Evie, Lacey and Naomi come to the conclusion that they need to find husbands - fast. But these unconventional women don't want to wait for the right man to come along and make a proposal; they plan to make sure that they get just what they want by hiring husbands! But when their unusual advertisement brings dozens of men to Hopesfall, rather than the letters they had expected, the women realise that they have a lot more on their hands than they'd anticipated. Especially with the mysterious Jake Creed who seems far too protective over the women, especially Evie. Little do they know that Jake ended up in Hopesfall purely by chance, and is actually searching for his brother's murderer. He certainly didn't expect to find himself protecting three headstrong yet vulnerable women who insist that they want to pick spouses out of the rabble of men that they've put to work rebuilding their town. Suddenly he finds himself in a race to find his brother's killer before the man in question marries one of the women that he's sworn to protect. And he definitely doesn't want Evie to get into this man's clutches...although Jake can't quite figure out why he feels so strongly about the stubborn woman he always ends up arguing with! 

The protagonists of this novel alone make it wonderful. While I adored the setting and the descriptions of the food, Evie and Jake were what made me thoroughly enjoy this novel. Like most women, Evie is insecure, but she also knows how to hold her own and assess situations. Unlike her best friend, Lacey, she doesn't rush into anything - except an opportunity to argue with Jake. She was a really endearing character and I appreciated the fact that she was self-conscious about her curves. As someone who cannot buy trousers anywhere at the moment because years of genetics have given me a more curvaceous derrière than most current fashion-designers admire, I understood Evie's dilemma! So naturally, I became Jake's number one fan when he told Evie to eat more as she was losing weight. Curvy heroines and the men that love them immediately get my vote in any novel. Jake is also a winner because of his caring attitude. While he initially sets out to find his brother's killer and discover what truly happened to his sibling, his plans change when he realises that the women of Hopesfall need protection. He sets aside his own desires in order to help them set up the town, and underneath his stubborn demeanor he's truly a caring gentleman.

The other women intrigued me as well. Despite her frilly clothes and privileged upbringing, Lacey clearly wants to look after her friends and her heart is always in the right place, even if she finds herself useless in the kitchen. Cora appears to be emotional and vulnerable to begin with, but her fight to convince her fiancee that she still wants him despite his injuries really brings out her true character. And Naomi is still a little mysterious to me. She was very quiet throughout the entire novel, yet seemed to be the more reasonable and sensible one of the group. I look forward to reading more about each of them in the upcoming books in the series. There were several interesting characters in the men who arrived in Hopesfall, yet I can't guess which ones Lacey and Naomi will choose as husbands!

One of my only complaints would have to be that the sections from the point of view of the murderer than Jake was hunting didn't really flow with the rest of the story. They felt a bit awkward and it seemed as if the author was trying too hard to be mysterious. The initial scenes with Braden, Cora's fiancee, also had a few odd moments, but this disappeared after a while. Other than that, there weren't any major letdowns but I would have liked a bit more time with Evie and Jake at the end! It was all over far too soon for me. I guess I'll have to wait for the next book to see how their story pans out.

If you're looking for an unconventional historical romance with moments of suspense and comedy, then this spin on the mail-order bride plot is definitely for you. If the protagonists don't win you over, the descriptions of Evie's delicious food definitely will! Look out for the first in the Husbands for Hire series from Barbour in March 2011. 8/10

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

Tuesday, 11 January 2011

Top Ten Bookish Resolutions

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

This week's topic:
Top Ten Bookish Resolutions

We're already in the new year and we want to know what your bookish resolutions are. They can be book-blog related, reading related, writing related and/or book related! If you've already posted your own resolution list on your blog feel free to link it below and let us know how you're doing with your resolutions!

1. Not obtain any new books until my TBR is under 200 I noticed on GoodReads today that my to-read shelf is at 199, and I know that that's going to get higher as I still have some books due to arrive from BookMooch. Considering that all of the shelves in my room at my parents' house are full, I have boxes in the attic and under my bed, as well as a box and several piles of books in my student flat, I physically do not have any space left for new books! 

2. Read more books by L. M. Montgomery I have at least ten books and anthologies by L. M. Montgomery waiting to be read, but for some reason I just keep forgetting about them. Which is crazy as she's one of my favourite authors! This year I need to read more of her books to rekindle my love.

3. Read more non-fiction I think that university has put me off reading non-fiction books for fun, so I should really do something about this. I have a lot of non-fiction books that I've owned for years and never read, so I have plenty to get started on.

4. Realistically schedule the books I'm going to read for review purposes While I have a lot of great books from publishers that I can read and review, I need to think seriously about how many I can review on time, especially during term-time. I should decide which ones I really want to read, and which I just requested because they looked remotely interesting.

5. Read Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen Every year I pick one book that I've been putting off reading that I really do want to read. Last year I read Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte, which my grandma had given me a lovely copy of but I'd tried reading several times as a teenager and always hated. Reading it at 18, I loved it! I hope I'm the same with Pride and Prejudice as I feel it is my duty as both a woman and an English student to read it.

6. Not feel ashamed of the books that I read A lot of people give me flack for being an student of literature whose favourite genre is romance. Specifically, Christian and Amish romances. Yes, I've read Dickens, Pushkin, Milton and Shakespeare, and many more. But I do love my romance novels, and to be honest, when I do get somewhere with my writing I'd much rather be thought of as the next Nora Roberts than be compared to Alessandro Manzoni. I'm not going to let people's comments put me down anymore, especially as I have a wonderful group of friends online that I can talk to about my favourite books. 

7. Read rather than waste time online I procrastinate a lot on the internet, as I'm sure most people are guilty of! But I've realised that I spend a lot of time reading about books rather than actually reading a book. I need to cut down on this as I'm wasting valuable reading time!

8. Be ruthless with my TBR Not just because this will enable me to get it below 200 and buy more books (!) but also because I'm sure I own some books that I don't actually want to read anymore. Either because my tastes have changed dramatically, or because it's a classic that I feel like I should read, or because I bought it purely to support the church/school fundraiser, or because it was ludicrously cheap and looked remotely interesting. Especially as I'm getting married in 2012 and I realise that Simon and I own a ton of books, films and CDs and we're going to try to squish them all into a small flat and I need to be sensible about my belongings from now on.

9. Read 100 books in 2011 I've managed this for the last two years (including rereads and kids books) so this should be fairly easy, but I'll put it down anyway. What would be good would be if I were to manage 100 books that I hadn't read before. Although I read 105 books in 2010, only 83 of them were completely new to me. If I can just read 17 more new books next year I'll reach my goal!

10. Expand my blog While I do primarily write reviews because I enjoy doing it, I'd love to have more followers and get more feedback on my reviews. Perhaps I'll look into doing some giveaways and author interviews to get more publicity to my blog.

Friday, 7 January 2011

Murder in Plain Sight - Marta Perry

There are secrets buried in Amish country...

Did a sweet-faced Amish teenager brutally murder a young woman? To save her career, big-city lawyer Jessica Langdon is determined to defend him—against the community's bitter and even violent outrage. Yet without an understanding of Amish culture, Jessica must rely on arrogant businessman Trey Morgan, who has ties to the Amish community… and believes in the boy's guilt.

Jessica has threats coming from all sides: a local fanatic, stirred up by the biased publicity of the case; the dead girl's boyfriend; even from the person she's learned to trust the most, Trey Morgan. But just when Jessica fears she's placed her trust in the wrong man, Trey saves her life. And now they must both reach into a dangerous past to protect everyone's future—including their own.

While so many of the Amish novels that are currently saturating the market are focused on love and romance, Marta Perry tackles an entirely different subject - can the Amish kill? When a local English woman turns up dead in a barn, along with an unconscious Thomas Esch clutching a hammer, the residents of Lancaster don't doubt for a second that he committed the crime. But his English neighbour, Geneva Morgan, is convinced of his innocence. Trey Morgan doesn't share his mother's opinion but grudgingly decides to shadow the big city lawyer that she hired in order to protect his mother's involvement in the case. Jessica Langdon isn't pleased with Trey's presence, merely wanting to settle the situation in order to keep her job in Philadelphia, but a series of disturbing threats and incidents cause her to look to Trey for help. Was the murder more than a drunken mishap? Are Jessica and Trey getting themselves involved in something sinister and dangerous?

This is only the second novel of Perry's that I've read, but I'd definitely recommend her to any fans of romantic suspense or Amish fiction. Marta certainly understands the Amish and portrays them accurately, and she's also excellent at getting your heart thumping. I was reading this late at night but couldn't bare to put it down in case something exciting happened in the next chapter! While I did suspect the murderer early on in the story, this didn't detract from my interest. I was intrigued by the connections between the threats made against Jessica, and wanted to know how everything somehow linked back to the Morgan family. Geneva Morgan was a wonderful character, as was Leo Frost. I always appreciate having well developed secondary characters in the background to move the story along. Geneva held the story together, much like the grandmother in Perry's Hide in Plain Sight (#1 in the Three Sisters Inn series from Love Inspired Suspense), and I thought it was realistic that Jessica have Leo aid her with her legal work, as she couldn't possibly handle such a complicated case on her own.

The only minor setbacks to the mystery that I'd have to mention would be being able to spot the killer early on (although maybe I just read too much Nancy Drew as a child!) and the semi-monologue that he gave at the end of the novel when he revealed himself. Like I commented in my review of Hide in Plain Sight, it just seemed a bit cheesy and predictable. I can't really put my finger on what I didn't like about what he said or the way he said it, but it irked me in some way. And while I enjoyed the romance between Jessica and Trey, there were a couple of the typical "I touched him and felt a spark shoot up my arm" moments that you always get in romance novels that I wish authors would get rid of; they're just too over-used. Their Happily Ever After ending also seemed a little bit rushed.

But despite the minor issues I had with this book, I did throughly enjoy it. If I don't get a review copy of its sequel, Vanish in Plain Sight (June 2011), then I'll probably end up purchasing it myself as I have a feeling that the loose ends that weren't completely tied up at the end of this novel will be explained in #2 in the series. Although a bit rusty in places, this is an excellent addition to the growing Amish genre and a pleasant (or perhaps not!) break from the typical baking escapades and romantic picnics. 8/10

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

A Prairie Christmas Collection - Various

Apologies for the lack of posting, but I have a good excuse - I got engaged on New Year's Eve, and had to tell everyone in my family! My boyfriend (well, now fiancee) and I had already planned a trip to visit my grandparents and my aunt this week but a lot of our time was taken up making preliminary wedding plans, so I didn't get the chance to read this review. This one is particularly appropriate as it's definitely focused on love and romance...

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

This is a wonderful collection of historical romances, the perfect Christmas gift for anyone who is a true romantic at heart or simply an admirer of the good old days of wagons and bonnets. From stories of love at first sight to newly married couples overcoming problems together to widowers and spinsters finding a love they never thought they'd experience, there is sure to be more than one story in here to delight an avid inspirational historical romance reader.

Having spent most of December reminiscing with the first season of Little House on the Prairie, I was excited when I remembered that I'd received a review copy of this book from Barbour. And I definitely wasn't disappointed with this collection! While I'm not normally a fan of short stories, each of these were at least 50 pages long and had room for plenty of character development, descriptions of the great plains of the prairie and even some sub-plots. My personal favourites were "The Christmas Necklace" by Maryn Langer, which involved a mystery surrounding a woman who falls from wealth and ends up working as a maid; and "Circle of Blessings" by Deborah Raney, in which a female college student falls for her tutor and has to prove to her father that he's worthy of her affection.

I appreciated the range of different stories in this collection, featuring everything from girls barely out of their teens to older women suffering from past heartbreaks. While one might expect repetition when the setting and time period of each story is limited, I'd like to assure potential readers that this is not the case. There was only one story that I felt was a bit too contrived and predictable, and bizarrely it was the first one, "Take Me Home" by Tracey Bateman! While it was cute, I felt it was veering towards being sickly sweet. This may just be a matter of personal taste, and I'm glad that I continued reading as I was introduced to some wonderful new authors. I was surprised to discover that the final story, "Cold As Ice" by Jill Stengl was linked to "Take Me Home", featuring some of the same characters. In a nice way, these two sandwich the rest of the stories together.

If you're a fan of historical romances or would just like to relax with some short stories during the cold nights before Christmas, I'd definitely recommend putting this book on your wishlist for next winter. 9/10

I have a more detailed review, including my thoughts and ratings of each individual story at GoodReads. Click here if you're interested.

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