Thursday, 29 December 2011

Off The Shelf Challenge for 2012

I'm signing up to this challenge from Bookish Ardour as, due to reviewing and studying, I keep neglecting some books that I've owned for years. They sit on my bookshelves, languishing and gathering dust, despite the fact that I'm actually really looking forward to reading them! I'm going to aim to read 15 books (Level 2 - Trying) that I already own physical copies of. No ebooks for this challenge! And if you're interested, check out the sign up page here for the challenge.

Here's my provisional list and the reasons why I feel I should read these particular books.

1. Oklahoma Brides by Vickie McDonough
WHY: My mum bought a set of ten novella collections from CBD almost a year ago because they were ridiculously cheap. I've yet to read any of the books in this set and I think she's already read half of them, even though they've been on my bookcase! My mum raved about this book and since I read a novella by Vickie this Christmas and loved it, this seems like a good way to break into this stack of books. And by stack, I really do mean stack - I can no longer place books the usual way on my bookcase. That's how bad my bookcase situation is...

2. A Promise for Ellie by Lauraine Snelling
WHY: This is another book that my mum bought me, except this time she bought me the entire boxed series. I feel especially guilty for books that I haven't read when I actually own all of the sequels, and this is one I've even taken to university and placed on my bookcase there to convince myself to read it. These books actually look pretty good and it won't be as taxing as some other books on my list.

3. Zennor in Darkness by Helen Dunmore
WHY: Okay, I'm starting to see a theme here. I think it may have been last year? My mum bought a set of Helen Dunmore books from The Book People (like me, she can't resist a sale when it comes to books!) and gave me five of the books for my Christmas. And sadly I've not got around to reading any of them, even though the covers are gorgeous and I do really enjoy historical fiction. I've picked this one as the story appeals to me and because I'm sure I once checked it out the library but never finished it.

4. The Stone Diaries by Carol Shields
WHY: I swear, I didn't get this book from my mum! Just my mother-in-law. Seriously, my fiance has a mum and stepmum and both of them love to read just as much as I do, so getting married is not going to put a  stop my reading at all! My MIL got me a lovely set of Harper Perennial books for my Christmas this year, ten books in total. I went through the synopsis for each book and decided to add this one to my challenge.

5. A Room with a View by E. M. Forster
WHY: My copy is actually the Penguin Modern Classics edition, but it's close enough. As I said, my MIL does not help my bookshelves at all, and for my 20th birthday she and my fiance's stepdad got me a set of ten Penguin Modern Classics. I've picked this one to be part of my challenge partly because I liked the sound of the story and had heard good things about it, and also because I quoted E. M. Forster's opinion of Northanger Abbey in my History project and figured I should read one of his books.

6. When the Heart Cries by Cindy Woodsmall
WHY: I bought this book sometime in 2010 with an Amazon voucher I got for my birthday but for some bizarre reason, never got around to reading it. A while back I discovered that my local library has the other books in the series so figured I should take this chance and read all the books in the series at once...but now that I've checked again, they only have #2 so I might have to get #3 from Audible. An excuse to get more audiobooks? Yes, please! Also, I've only ever read Cindy's Christmas novellas but have heard good things about this series. 

7. The 19th Wife by David Ebershoff
WHY: Partly because I discovered the TV show Sister Wives this year and find polygamy quite fascinating, and partly because my mum recently read this book and recommended it. That encouraged me to hunt in the box of books under my bed (yes, I've ran out of shelf space that badly that I keep books in boxes!) and find my copy of this book. It's quite long so may have to wait until the summer when I have more time to read. But I've been wanting to read this book ever since it was first published, which I've now realised was in 2008...

8. The Memory Garden by Rachel Hore
WHY: I couple of years ago, my mum bought me Rachel's first three novels for my Christmas. Yes, it was a Book People offer. My MIL is addicted to these as well. I read The Dream House sometime last year and loved it, but have neglected to read the other two even though I know I'll enjoy them as well. I love dual-time narratives and it's refreshing to read books set in the UK, so this is definitely going to be part of this challenge.

9. Plain Jayne by Hillary Manton Lodge
WHY: A friend of mine managed to get this book for me on a bookswapping website back in 2010 and while I was super thankful for her getting hold of the book for me (Thanks, Kate!) I've still not read it! Instead, I think it sat inside a box of books in the bottom of my wardrobe and got forgotten. It is most sad, especially as some of my friends have loved this book.

10. We Need to Talk About Kevin by Lionel Shriver 
WHY: My copy is actually a giant airport edition (even more reason why I need to read it, it takes up more shelf space than other books) but I can't find a decent picture of my edition. A lot of people have raved about this book and said that it's a "must read", especially now that a film has been made about it. I've owned it for quite a while, long before there was all the hype so I really should get around to reading it.

11. Emily of New Moon by L. M. Montgomery
WHY: Again, I own a different edition. I can find picture of the cover, but only foreign-language editions, which will just confuse everyone! I'm a massive "Anne" fan but, with the exception of LMM's short-story collections, haven't read any of her other works. Since I own the entire Emily series (varying editions, including one 1930s hardback) this seems like a good place to start.

12. Mary Reilly by Valerie Martin
WHY: Three reasons! I read Valerie's Property a few years ago and loved it; a friend sent me this in the post as she knew how much I'd enjoyed it (Thanks, Anne!); and I kept putting this off until I read the original story of Jekyll & Hyde, on which this book is based. Well, GoodReads tells me that I read Stevenson's original back in October 2009 so I've put this book off for too long. It's not exactly a long book so this should be an easy addition to my list.

13. Eight Cousins by Louisa May Alcott
WHY: I'm also a massive fan of the Little Women series and have owned this book since I was about 11. I'm sure I started reading this book as a child, and even have a memory of falling asleep while reading this book and waking up with it on my chest. I also own a lovely 1950s illustrated (and sadly abridged) hardback of Rose in Bloom, the sequel, so would love to finally get around to reading this book.

14. The Other Hand by Chris Cleave
WHY: This is another one that there was a lot of hype about several years ago, including from my own mother! I actually managed to get hold of a copy of it on a bookswapping website back when it first became popular, but it's languished for a while on my shelf. I get the impression that the synopsis is ambiguous, in the style of The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas, which is another book I really appreciated, so I hope to read this book in 2012 as well.

15. An Accidental Woman by Barbara Delinsky
WHY: I truly do love Barbara's novels and own quite a few of them that remain unread, but sadly only read a couple in 2011. My love of her books was revived when I downloaded Not My Daughter from Audible, and I've decided to start working my way through those books that she's written that I actually own copies of - and there's quite a few! Why start with this one? It's a giant hardback and takes up a LOT of space!

"Reserves", in case any of these books are disappointing and end up unfinished. Or in case I become ambitious and want to aim higher:
16. Twenties Girl by Sophie Kinsella (giant airport book and has been on my shelf for two years)
17. The Reader by Bernhard Schlink (a lot of hype about this book but yet still unread)
18. Ice Trap by Kitty Sewell (given by a friend as it was on my wishlist years ago)
19. My Best Friend's Girl by Dorothy Koomson (loved Marshmallows for Breakfast and am a failure as a chick-lit reader if I haven't read this book by now)
20. The Year of Fog by Michelle Richmond (went to all the effort of getting a copy of the from the US when it was virtually unheard of over here)
21. Cage of Stars by Jacquelyn Mitchard (I used to really like her books, and another book about Mormonism)

Anyone else fancy signing up to this challenge? Or have any recommendations of which books to start with?

Tuesday, 20 December 2011

Top Ten Books I Hope Santa Brings

Thanks, as usual, to The Broke and the Bookish for hosting this wonderful meme every week. 

Also, yet again, Blogger has decided to insert random paragraph breaks between my images. I'm not sure what's going on as I can't actually see these random white spaces when I edit the post. I may have to attack the HTML later, if I can. Please ignore the awful formatting for now and join me in glaring sternly at Blogger. That is all. 

1. The Blythes are Quoted by L. M. Montgomery
This was on my Christmas list last year, and I've had my eyes on it ever since I heard that L. M. Montgomery's last ever manuscript was going to be published in full and completely uncensored. I preordered it from Amazon but when it was released I was told they didn't have it in stock. I don't think they had enough interest from UK readers to bother stocking it, to be honest. So this is one that needs to actually be purchased from Canada, unfortunately. My mum seems to have been investigating this one recently so it may end up in my stocking this year!

2. Lilly's Wedding Quilt by Kelly Long
Those of you who remember my review of  this book may be confused by its presence on my wishlist, but I read a Kindle edition of this book from the publisher back in March and loved it so much that I want to own a physical copy to display on my bookcase. This book really touched me when I read it, so hopefully it'll have the same effect the second time I read it...providing this is one book I get for Christmas!

3. The Lost Summer of Louisa May Alcott by Kelly O'Connor McNees
I heard about this book a while back and recently stumbled across this beautiful cover on Amazon while having a look at prospective presents for my mum, who is also a Little Women fan. This is another one that made the shortlist for my Christmas list this year and I'd love to read it sometime.

4. A Widow's Hope by Mary Ellis
While making my Christmas list, I checked out which books had been on my GoodReads wishlist for several years, and this was one of them. I read Mary Ellis's Christmas novella last Christmas and absolutely adored it, but somehow I've not got around to reading any of her full-length novels this year. I read a sample of this book and was hooked, so this is another one I'm hoping to receive this Christmas. 

5. A Man of His Word by Kathleen Fuller
Kathleen Fuller is pretty much in the same boat as Mary Ellis. I've read nearly all of her novellas and have had my eye on this book for a while but just not had the opportunity to read it. I also read a sample of this book and found it very engaging, so fingers crossed!

6. Courting Miss Amsel by Kim Vogel Sawyer
I had my eye on this book when I heard of its release at the end of 2010 and it was on my list of prospective review books, but I never got the chance to review it in the end. This one didn't make the cut for my Christmas list, which I limited to five books, but since I've just received a lovely little cheque from my uncle and aunt I may use my Christmas money for this book. I've read a couple of Kim's novels recently and really enjoyed them.

7. The Quilter's Apprentice by Jennifer Chiaverini
I've heard some really good things about this series but unfortunately I can't find this book in either of the library systems that I'm connected to. This looks like it'll be one that I'll have to buy at some point down the line! I'm not a quilter myself, but I'd love to try it sometime. 

8. To Win Her Heart by Karen Witemeyer
I read Head in the Clouds earlier this year and adored it, and was hoping that I'd get the chance to request To Win Her Heart to review at some point this year, but I had too much on my plate. And since this story includes a librarian, this has to be one that's high up on my wishlist. I've only read one of Karen's books but I love her style of writing. Another one that I may spend my Christmas money on. 

9. Virgin River by Robyn Carr
Someone recently recommended this series to me but it's another one that I can't find in either library catalogue! It is on Audible, so if I don't end up buying this with my Christmas money I'll probably download the audiobook. I normally read Historical or Amish fiction, but I do enjoy some contemporary romances and sagas from time to time and this series has some great reviews.

10. Wonderland Creek by Lynn Austin
Another librarian love story! I worked in my school library a lot in my final two years of high school and enjoy alphabetising books far too much (so much so that my fiancé's film collection is also alphabetised, and I volunteered to do it...) This was another would-be review book that sadly didn't make the cut, and I almost forgot about it until several of my friends on GoodReads started to rave about it. Plus, isn't this cover just absolutely gorgeous? This one needs to be pushed higher up on my wishlist for definite.

Sunday, 18 December 2011

A Quick Bookish Survey

I stole this from this post here over at The Broke and Bookish as I thought it would be a good way to keep everyone up to date with what I've been reading lately, and let them know what book reviews to expect from me soon!

1. The book I'm currently reading is A Log Cabin Christmas Collection by various authors, including Margaret Brownley, Kelly Eileen Jake and Wanda E. Brunstetter. I'm currently reading the sixth novella in this collection and really enjoying it. Barbour released a similar collection this time last year called A Prairie Christmas Collection. So far, I'm thinking that I preferred the first collection as while I'm enjoying these stories, I've not yet read one that I absolutely loved. I have really enjoyed Margaret Brownley and Liz Johnson's stories but Wanda E. Brunstetter and Liz Johnson's weren't quite as compelling. Kelly Eileen Hake's was in the middle!

2. The last book I finished was an audiobook from my local library system, Suddenly by Barbara Delinsky. It's one of her earlier novels and while the plot was as complex as some of her later ones and I really enjoyed observing the characters evolve over the course of the novel (which is very long, about 15 hours in total on audio CD) there was a lot of sex in this book. One or two sex scenes I could overlook but there were at least five or six in total, three of them very close together. Sliiiightly awkward when you're listening to the audiobook while hanging up the washing and your fiancé walks in to ask you a question to hear an awkwardly written sex scene being read about by the narrator from the loudspeaker on your Blackberry. So while this was a generally enjoyable novel, there was too many sex scenes for my liking.

3. The next book I want to read is The Shadow of Your Smile by Susan May Warren. This is a contemporary novel about a husband and wife who are considering a divorce when the wife is involved in an accident that causes her to lose her memory, giving the husband a second chance at his marriage. I'm intrigued by this premise so hope to read it next.

4. The last book I bought was Waiting for Summer's Return by Kim Vogel Sawyer because it the ebook cheap on and with the exchange rate as it is, it only cost me about £1.50. Granted, I did have to hack the ebook to make it work on my Kindle but this book has been on my wishlist for quite some time and since I hadn't used up all of my book budget for December I decided to take this chance to grab it! I think the paperback is actually out of print right now so I would have had to have bought an ebook at some point if I did want to read it.

5. The last book I was given was The Christkindl's Gift by Kathleen Morgan which I received along with some other Christmas books in a bag passed on from a friend of mine. I'm looking forward to reading this one as it appears to have some German characters in it and I like the fact that the title has a German word in it. I love German Christmas traditions and honestly think they have the best Christmas food, particularly Stollen and Lebkuchen! 

Apologies for the random gaps in this post, they don't show up when I edit the post so I don't know how to get rid of them!

Tuesday, 13 December 2011

Non-Fiction Reads for 2011

I aimed to read more non-fiction in 2011, but I didn't set myself a specific number of books I planned to read in case I disappointed myself. It's not that I tend to steer clear of non-fiction for any particular reason, I just prefer reading fiction a lot more. So I'm pleased to announce that I read a total of eight non-fiction books this year! Some of these I may have reviewed before, but others are entirely new to this blog.

1. The Sixty Minute Marriage by Rob Parsons
See here for my full review. In brief, my mum leant me this book soon after I got engaged on New Year's Eve but I put off reading this book for a month or so as I found the first couple of chapters disheartening. The book contained numerous stories of how not to do marriage, most ending in affairs. I wished there had been stories from couples who had followed his advice and not made mistakes, but most were from people already in broken relationships realising what they could have done to protect their marriage. While there were a lot of encouraging suggestions about how to keep communication flowing and making sure you spend time together as a couple despite holding down busy jobs and looking after children, it initially scared me and made me think "Look at all these problems we might have when we get married!" Still, this book presented a lot of ideas for preventative action that I've taken note of. Only some of the initial sections in this book were more relevant to couples who have been married for a while and are having problems, so a lot could be gleamed from later chapters. I would recommend this to engaged and married couples, but maybe skip the first few sections if you don't want to be disheartened! As for couples who have been having problems, this book will definitely be an encouragement. 

2. Growing Up Amish by Ira Wagler
This is a book that I plan to write a full review of at some point, so I won't say too much right now. I'm not a massive fan of memoirs so I was pleasantly surprised by how much I enjoyed this book and how easy it was to become immersed in Ira's story. I felt that this book reflected issues that many closed communities experience, problems that aren't exclusive to the Amish. I will admit that I did find some parts a bit repetitive, and although it doesn't sound right to complain that someone repeats the same actions too often in their life (he can't really help that, can he?!) perhaps some parts could have been summarised more creativity to avoid making the reader lose interest. My only real disappointment with this book was that Ira didn't really dig very far into the spiritual aspect of Amish life until the end of the book. I do wish he'd explored this more throughout the novel, if not with his own personal beliefs than with what his family believed.

3. Rules of Engagement by Richard & Katharine Hill
See here for my full review. This was an engagement present from my parents, and while a lot of the advice in this book wasn't new to me and my fiancé it was encouraging to read through it and realise that we'd already considered a lot of the issues that the authors suggested newly engaged couples should discuss. For us, a lot of the suggestions in this book seemed incredibly self-explanatory but maybe we're just an exceptionally well-prepared couple! So for other couples this book might be an excellent help to their marriage in terms of emotional issues. To be honest, the section of this book that I found most helpful was the part at the end that included suggestions on practical wedding matters, such as places to inform of your change of name and suggestions of hymns to walk into and out of the church to. I'd definitely recommend this book as an introductory guide to weddings and marriage, and although it is British there isn't much that isn't universally applicable. And while this book comes from a Christian publisher it's produced by Care for the Family for the general market and doesn't contain anything particularly spiritual.

4. I Do... Every Day: Words of Wisdom for Newlyweds and Not So Newlyweds by Roger & Cynthia Hopson
Although I didn't find all of the entries in this devotional useful, the majority of them spoke something of wealth to either me or my fiancé. As I read this on my Kindle, I highlighted several passages to share with Simon at a later date, since he's isn't much of a reader. There were only a couple of entries where I couldn't find anything to highlight, which is definitely the sign of a good marriage book. Even if some of the information in this book wasn't entirely new to me, it still made me think over certain issues and reminded me of the important elements to a good marriage. I'd definitely recommend this book to all couples, whether newly engaged or married for several years, if you want to refresh your mind to the important aspects of marriage and gain some handy hints and tips.

5. The Mitford Girls by Mary S. Lovell
This was a fascinating book, and I'm looking forward to reading some of Nancy Mitford's novels as preparation for my exam for my Reading the 1940s course. My only complaint would be that Pamela and Deborah felt a bit neglected, especially towards the end of the book. Maybe there just isn't much information about them, but it felt like they were pushed aside because they didn't lead such exciting lives. This was an incredibly fast read considering the 500+ pages, and although I put it down for a week or so as I was moving house, I jumped right back into it again this week. Very compelling writing, and the author managed to put across a balanced view of the sisters, despite their varying commitments to Fascism and Communism, which could have forced some biographers to pick a side. Mary Lovell presented the girls with all of their flaws and positive attributes, without judging their political allegiances. I just wish we could have heard a bit more about Pam and Debo as I'm sure their lives were interesting, even if they were slightly less scandalous than their sisters.

6. Female Chauvinist Pigs: Women and the Rise of Raunch Culture by Ariel Levy
How wonderful to find a book that so exactly echoed my thoughts on so-called modern "feminism"! While I do wish that the book had been a little more statistical and less based on anecdotes, there were some stories in here that were fascinating, such as the author's experience with Girls Gone Wild. I like to leave this book in strategic places around my flat so that my fiancé's friends pick it up and ask me what it's about. This is a book that any woman needs to read - whether you're appalled at how little respect today's young women have for themselves and their bodies, or whether you yourself think that modern feminism has brought about sexual equality; you never know, this book may change the way you think. I originally started out highlighting my favourite passages in this book but had to stop as I wanted to just read it all the way through. I'll probably read it again, highlighter in hand. I wish there were more women who shared the thoughts of Ariel Levy, but sadly the evidence is all around us to suggest otherwise. 

7. The Last Enemy by Richard Hillary 
This was one of the set texts on my Reading the 1940s course, and I wasn't entirely sure what to expect in reading the auto-biography of a WWII RAF pilot. When I was discussing this course with my family my dad brought out my Grandpa's first edition of this book, which was a nice surprise! My dad loved this book, but me and my dad don't always share the same taste in books, so it was pleased to find that I enjoyed this book a lot more than I had expected. The last chapter didn't completely fit with the rest of the book (although according to the introduction Hillary fabricated part of this section) but the rest of the memoir was fascinating. A great insight into the life of RAF pilots in WWII, which was far from glamorous. It was really interesting observing Hillary as he grew from a lazy, self-centered Oxbridge boy into a man with life experience and understanding of the world. I found myself musing over this book for several days afterwards. 

8. Plain Wisdom: An Invitation into an Amish Home and the Hearts of Two Women by Cindy Woodsmall & Miriam Flaud 
Initially I was really excited to read this book as I'm fascinated by the Amish, but in terms of tit-bits and trivia, there wasn't much included in this book that I didn't already know from word-of-mouth, novels and the occasional documentary. I ended up treating this book as a devotional and reading a chapter each morning, as I found that you couldn't read too much of this book all at once. Some sections provided some interesting reflections on life and God and made me consider how I could apply certain proverbs or snippets of advice to my own life. Others were simply interesting as they provided a bit of added insight into Amish life. But there were also some sections where I would read a little story from Cindy's life than another from Miriam's and not feel like I had gained anything from that morning's reading! But the same can be said from all non-fiction books and devotionals; not every aspect is going to appeal to your life. Some sections seemed disjointed, as if the authors had tried to squish to stories or anecdotes together that didn't really fit, and nearly every single one of Miriam's stories started with the same scene-setting style of writing that got a bit annoying after a while. While I picked up this book to learn more about the Amish way of life, I found myself enjoying Cindy and Miriam's musings on their Christian lives more interesting than the facts and snippets about the Amish. It was encouraging to see that Cindy and Miriam shared so many viewpoints on God, despite the differences in general Christian theology and that of the Amish. So while I was slightly disappointed in this book, it did provide some food for thought and it was generally encouraging. If you're already an avid Amish fan you probably won't learn too much in the way of new facts about their lifestyle but this does work well as a devotional and provides a lot of topics to pray over.

Monday, 12 December 2011

Christmas Mail-Order Brides

READ: NOV 16 - 24, 2011

Ride the transcontinental railroad as marriage arrives by mail-order—and just in time for Christmas. Annika arrives in Wyoming to discover her intended is missing. Jolie’s journey to Nevada is derailed by disaster. Elizabeth carries a load of secrets to Nebraska. And Amelia travels to California to wrap up her final attempts at matchmaking. Will the holiday season be the ticket to spark love in unexpected ways?

1. A Trusting Heart by Carrie Turansky 
I think the main message of this story is to follow the path God wants you to take because it might not necessarily lead to where you imagine it will end. Annika is cautious about being a mail-order bride, and resigns herself to marrying a man who hasn't got over the death of his wife and spends most of his time drunk and neglecting his family. It takes her a long time to consider that maybe God sent her to Wyoming not to marry Chase, but his brother. I also loved the relationship that Annika forged with her prospective groom's daughter. I don't really have any complaints with this story, but I didn't absolutely adore it either. It was a very enjoyable start to the collection and had all of the elements that romance readers look for in a novella. 

2. The Prodigal Groom by Vickie McDonough
Definitely my favourite in this collection! Another case where the bride ends up marrying someone other than her intended. What I loved more about this story wasn't the unconventional plot but the chemistry between the characters. It reminded me a lot of Mary Connealy or Kelly Long in the way that the author showed the two main characters growing closer together and slowly realising their attraction for each other. I really appreciate it when Christian authors acknowledge how important the physical aspect of a relationship is to marriage, as well as the emotional and spiritual. My only complaint with this novella is that there was a bit of mystery injected suddenly at the end that came way too fast and didn't merge properly with the rest of the story. 

3. Hidden Hearts by Therese Stenzel
Probably my least favourite novella in this collection, but still a sweet story. Orphaned Elizabeth is sent to become a mail-order bride as she has no inheritance and her aunt and uncle refuse to pay a dowry for her. She keeps her background from her husband, and he keeps his hidden from her as well. Everything goes pear-shaped because of their secrets, and the overt message is not to keep anything hidden from the person you're married to, and communication can avert a lot of problems. In a way, I felt this was more the story of Elizabeth finding herself and coming to understand who she is in God's eyes, not society's, than the story of her falling in love with Zane. Still not sure entirely what I thought of this one, but a nice enough story. 

4. Mrs Mayberry Meets Her Match by Susan Page Davis
I appreciated that the stories were all tied together with one about the matchmaker herself. It was interesting to hear about her background and how she got into the business. This was the typical story of a couple who don't realise how perfect they are for each other, with the added humour of one party trying to set the other up with various people. Again, sort of a lack of honesty/communication story. It was nice, but I didn't relate to Mrs Mayberry as much as I did the other female characters, probably because of her age and life experience. As is a pet peeve of mine in a lot of American Christian fiction, there was a brief comment about how Mrs Mayberry abstaining from alcohol earned her the respect of Lennox. I would prefer if authors just didn't push any sort of opinion on alcohol by just not mentioning it at all in their stories as I get quite offended when the idea that All Alcohol is Evil is suggested. The assumption that all Christians abstain from alcohol is entirely unfounded, and as a Christian who enjoys a couple of glasses of wine with my dinner on a Friday night I often find myself grimacing when characters in books get holier-than-thou about drinking alcohol. This is purely a personal issue I had with this book, but even excluding that the story was cute but not as compelling as the first two. 

OVERALL: While he last two stories weren't quite as enjoyable as the first two this was a lovely little collection that put a smile on my face at the end of each story and got me in the Christmas mood. 

I read this book for Fans of Amish Fiction's Christian Fiction Group Read for November.

Sunday, 11 December 2011

Not My Daughter - Barbara Delinsky

READ: OCT 19 - NOV 03, 2011

When Susan Tate's seventeen-year-old daughter, Lily, announces she is pregnant, Susan is stunned. A single mother, she has struggled to do everything right. She sees the pregnancy as an unimaginable tragedy for both Lily and herself.

Then comes word of two more pregnancies among high school juniors who happen to be Lily's best friends-and the town turns to talk of a pact. As fingers start pointing, the most ardent criticism is directed at Susan. As principal of the high school, she has always been held up as a role model of hard work and core values. Now her detractors accuse her of being a lax mother, perhaps not worthy of the job of shepherding impressionable students. As Susan struggles with the implications of her daughter's pregnancy, her job, financial independence, and long-fought-for dreams are all at risk. 

The emotional ties between mothers and daughters are stretched to breaking in this emotionally wrenching story of love and forgiveness. Once again, Barbara Delinsky has given us a powerful novel, one that asks a central question: What does it take to be a good mother?

It has been far too long since I read a Barbara Delinsky novel, and that became ever more clear to me as I listened to this audiobook any chance I got - washing dishes, ironing, walking to and from town, cooking dinner, etc. This was one of those books that really got my emotions riled up, but in a good way. There's a definite difference between stirred up emotions over anger at a character, or anger at the way a character is being treated. In this book's case, it was the second one, and I became increasingly annoyed at the way everyone blamed Susan for her daughter's pregnancy. This book brought up a lot of important questions about parenting and responsibility, and in particular: at what stage do you stop being accountable for your children's actions? Sometimes, no matter how much you have talked to your child about a certain issue, they'll still ignore your advice and do their own thing. 

There were a couple of issues I had with this book, just based on the fact that I'm Scottish and situations like this would be treated entirely differently over here. For example, a principal could not be fired because her daughter got pregnant, and if a school board did try to do this, the teacher's union would get involved! And over here, I'm fairly certain the legal age for procreating is sixteen, even if you can't drive, drink or vote yet. You can also get married at sixteen. So Susan wouldn't have been held accountable for Lily's pregnancy, which I think is a good thing as seventeen year olds aren't children any longer! So I got pretty annoyed at the sections with the school board as it was entirely unjust to consider firing Susan over the actions of her nearly adult daughter. 

This was a very compelling novel, probably one of Barbara's best so far. It ranks right up there along with While My Sister Sleeps, Shades of Grace and The Family Tree. I'm so glad I picked this audiobook as it reminded me of how much I enjoy Barbara's family sagas, especially the way that she looks at situations from the view points of all the parties involved and examines how they each cope with the crisis at hand. I almost wish she'd revisit Lily and her friends sometime, once their children are grown up, and see how their friendships have changed over time. I will definitely be making an effort to seek out more books from Barbara and I'm so glad that Not My Daughter rekindled my love for her writing. 

Thursday, 8 December 2011

The Christmas Singing - Cindy Woodsmall


Believing that her boyfriend Gideon Beiler had betrayed her, Mattie Eash had fled from Pennsylvania to Ohio one Christmas. Now settled into her new life with her Ohio relatives, she has opened a cake shop and has a successful career as a cake-decorator, and a lukewarm relationship with reliable Sol Bender. But when a catastrophe drives her back to her home community in Pennsylvania, she finds herself face to face with Gideon again. As she prepares cakes for two of her friends’ upcoming weddings, she’s forced to spend time with her old boyfriend, who is building the home that one of the couples will move into once they’re married. Their encounters make Gideon wonder why he gave Mattie up all those years ago, and whether now would be the good time to tell her the truth about why he broke up with her. Will Mattie be content to reconcile with Gideon, or have past hurts hardened her heart too much to allow her to forgive him?

This is your typical Christmas novel. The storyline has been done many times before, which makes it comfortable and reliable for the reader, but Cindy Woodsmall inserts a few changes here and there to make the story fresh and original. This has to be the first time that I've read a novel in which an Amish character makes and decorates cakes for a living, and I was equally surprised to read about another character that frequently went on hunting trips. I found it particularly refreshing to read about Mattie making a living for herself as a single woman. Most Amish novels don't go into much detail about the lives of the women who have to support themselves because they don’t marry young and don’t wish to stay at home and be a burden to their parents. Often crafts are shown to be hobbies that Amish women indulge in when they’ve finished with the day-to-day tasks of cooking, cleaning and raising a family, but there are many Amish women who do make their living from crafts such as quilting, sewing and in Mattie’s case, baking and decorating cakes. So it was encouraging to see Cindy revealing this often forgotten aspect of the lives of Amish women, and single women in particular.

I’m not going to deny that the story of a couple who have been separated for years being brought back together by a great catastrophe isn’t somewhat predictable and sometimes over-done. I’m not a massive fan of storylines that are created out of a lack of communication between a couple, but this is partly because I’m fortunate to be a relationship in which there is a lot of communication between both partners. The reason why communication-driven plots are so popular in the romance genre is that it is one of the simplest and most common causes of problems between couples. Mattie and Gideon’s story also contained another plot point that I’ve witnessed a few times recently in romantic fiction; that of one person discovering that they have some sort of medical problem and breaking up with their significant-other in an attempt to protect them from suffering alongside them in their illness. While I struggled to relate to Gideon and Mattie’s relationship problems in this story, I’m certain that the issues of keeping secrets and failing to communicate over misunderstandings will strike a chord with many other readers. If anything, I hope that someone will read this book and come out of it with the revelation and understanding that secrets should never be kept between two people who love each other, and that no matter how difficult it is, communication is key in order for a relationship to survive.

In all honesty, I wish this novella could have been longer. In discussing this book with my book group a lot of us felt that the shortness of the book limited the amount of time that Mattie and Gideon spent together on the page, and we really wished that we could have read about the day that they spent in each other’s company towards the end of the book. But this is the general issue with novellas – they’re short and sweet, but sometimes it just feels like there’s something missing. One thing’s for sure with The Christmas Singing, and that’s that I’ll be looking out for more of Cindy’s novels now that I know what her writing is like. A novella isn’t always the best example of an author’s work, but it’s often a good indication of whether you’ll like their books.

So if you’ve never read any of Cindy Woodsmall’s novels before, The Christmas Singing may be a good place to start. It does contain a well-used storyline, but the characters refresh it and make it into something new and original. This is the perfect book to get you in the Christmas mood, especially if you enjoy romantic tales of reconciliation.

Review title provided courtesy of Waterbrook.

Tuesday, 6 December 2011

Day 8 - Least Favourite Super Special

I realise I haven't updated this in a few days. Apologies, but sadly university work has to come before the Baby-Sitters Club! I know, it's shocking, isn't it? 

30 Days of the Baby-Sitters Club
Day 8 - Least Favourite Super Special

This was difficult for me as I don't remember any Super Specials that I particularly disliked. There are a few that I don't have terribly strong memories of, such as the book that took place at Shadow Lake, but none that I have bad memories of from my childhood. However, I did read Here Come the Bridesmaids! for the first time last year and found the story quite contrived. To be honest, most of the Super Specials are pretty contrived but sometimes reading a children's book for the first time as an adult can make you pick up on these things easier, without the smokescreen of nostalgia! I remember actually getting bored with the California part of the story and preferring the parts set in Stoneybrook with Stacey, and by the end of the book I felt like this plot would have worked a lot better as a regular series book told from the point of view of Dawn. I did enjoy this story as it was pretty fun, but it would probably have to be my least favourite of the Super Specials.

Also, I actually have a US copy of this book, but I love the cover-art for the UK edition so I had to use it on this post!

Saturday, 3 December 2011

Day 7 - Favourite Super Special

30 Days of the Baby-Sitters Club
Day 7 - Favourite Super Special

As a kid, Sea City, Here We Come! was definitely my favourite book. I must have read it at least ten times. It just seemed so exciting, with the hurricane hitting Sea City and everyone having to evacuate and pack up their stuff and take emergency measures. I live in Scotland and we never have extreme weather. The biggest thing that's happened to me weather-wise is the extreme snow we had in 2010, and the most that happened then was that Tesco ran out of bread and milk for a day because the Forth Road Bridge was shut because of snow! So books with extreme weather emergencies were always exciting to me.

And to be honest, they still are! I reread Snowbound recently and found that I enjoyed it a lot more than I'd remembered. Although there's extreme weather in this book, all of the situations were much more normal and realistic than in the Sea City book, and the girls have their parents help them out when they're stuck with their baby-sitting charges! Definitely one of the more "real" Super Specials.

Friday, 2 December 2011

Day 6 - Least Favourite Mystery

30 Days of the Baby-Sitters Club
Day 6 - Least Favourite Mystery

Without a doubt, I'd have to say Beware, Dawn! I read this book earlier this year and as much as I love to escape into a BSC book and ignore the unbelievable aspects of the story, there were too many ridiculous things about this plot for me to ignore. The story surrounds the girls being given threatening notes but not consulting each other on this because they're too busy competing to win some sort of sitter-of-the-month award and don't want to look bad by being scared by the notes. I can buy Kristy doing this because she is competitive and I can see her wanting to look brave in the face of the threats, but the other girls, especially Mary Anne and the younger sitters would be scared for themselves and for the kids they were sitting for. The competition was blatantly just a plot device put in place to stop the girls talking to each other, since otherwise they would have solved the mystery immediately. As much as I like non-mysteries, this one was lame: Dawn had told off some boy for teasing someone else and got him in trouble with his parents so he rode around the town on his bike, leaving threatening notes for each of the girls as payback. Kudos for continuity as this kid had been causing trouble in other books, but otherwise this plot was pretty lame. Definitely one of the weaker mysteries.

What was your least favourite mystery?

Thursday, 1 December 2011

Naomi's Gift - Amy Clipston


After having her heart broken more than once, Naomi King has given up on love and resigned herself to remaining at home and helping her mother care for her siblings. It isn’t until widower Caleb Schmucker returns from Ohio for the holidays, along with his eight year old daughter, Susie, that she begins to wonder whether God will grant her another second chance. Caleb has been told many times that Susie needs a mother and that he should remarry, but he wants to find a woman who will love Susie as much as she loves him. When Susie captures the eye of Naomi while at a farmer’s market, Susie latches on to the older woman and the two become fast friends. Soon Caleb is spending more time with his daughter and her new best friend than he would have expected, especially considering the rumours circulating about Naomi and the way that she supposedly chases after single men. But with Caleb cautious about courting again after the death of his wife, and his sister determined to match him up with someone other than Naomi, will anything come of this new friendship? 

Amy Clipston is one of the first authors I read when I discovered the Amish genre, so she’ll always hold a special place in my heart. I adore her Kauffman Amish Bakery series and I’m always eagerly awaiting the next instalment, so I was glad that she’d chosen to revisit one of the reoccurring characters, Naomi, in her Christmas novella. As much as I love Amy’s stories, I’m always cautious when it comes to novellas as their shortness often leaves little room for character development, which can make some novellas seem predictable or rushed. I’m pleased to say that I was rather satisfied with Amy’s attempts in Naomi’s Gift, and while the story did rely a little too much on the “love at first sight” idea, I enjoyed witnessing Naomi and Caleb overcome their past difficulties and become open to new relationships. 

The underlying theme in Naomi’s Gift is that God is always willing to give us another chance, no matter how many mistakes we’ve made. Those who are familiar with the Kauffman Amish Bakery series will recall that Naomi, in her younger years, was apt to throw her attentions at young men, often without thinking through her actions properly, and was then led along by another man who had no interest in marrying her. As a result of this, by the start of Naomi’s Gift, she’s convinced that love and marriage are not what God has planned for her since she’s been hurt so many times before. Caleb is also hurting because of the loss of his wife and although duty suggests that he should remarry for Susie’s sake, he can’t bear to marry someone who doesn’t care for both of them. While Naomi and Caleb are instantly attracted to each other, they hasten to deny it and bond over their love of Susie and the fact that neither of them feels ready for a relationship at that moment. While the chemistry is present between them from the start of the story, it was nice to see their friendship develop gently and naturally. 

Of course, well-meaning friends and relatives are apt to suspect that something more is going on between Caleb and Naomi, and in particular, Caleb’s sister Sadie, who is convinced that her friend, Irene, is a better match for Caleb. Repeating malicious rumours that she’s heard about Naomi, Sadie tries to push a wedge between the couple and convince him that Irene is more suited for him than Naomi. Here, Caleb’s desire to find a woman who loves Susie as much as she loves him comes into play, and it was so encouraging to see the way that Susie played a role in all of his relationships. Sometimes children are inserted into a story for entertainment and to give a book the “Aww!” factor, but Susie was a character in her own right who interacted with everyone. Caleb includes his daughter in every decision he makes, therefore how a woman treats his daughter is essential if he’s considering marriage to her. 

I really struggled with Sadie’s character, particularly because her gossiping and self-centred mannerisms are not in keeping with what one would expect from an Amish woman. As much as I would love to write off her character as an illustration of how gossip can infiltrate even the Amish way of life and hurt people, showing that no one is perfect, I could not see any motivation for Sadie acting the way she did. She constantly bad-mouthed poor Naomi and pressed Irene on Caleb at every opportunity without checking whether he actually liked the woman. In the end, she apologies, but I didn’t find her character terribly realistic or her actions believable, so ultimately it seemed as if she was acting as she did purely to move the plot along and create conflict. This is one of the problems with novellas, and Sadie definitely suffers from lack of character development. I felt the same way about David in Amy’s other novella, A Plain and Simple Christmas, who is stubborn throughout the entire story, refusing to listen to any of his wife’s ideas and suggestions until she goes behind his back and ultimately makes him realise that he was wrong, where upon he eventually apologies. Sadie’s stubbornness and belief that she knew what was best for Caleb and his daughter definitely reminded me of David, which is the main pitfall of this otherwise lovely novella. 

Despite the lack of development in secondary characters as can be naturally expected in a short novella, Naomi’s Gift is a sweet and endearing love story. A couple who don’t ever expect to experience love again stumble upon it at Christmastime with the help of Caleb’s adorable daughter, reminding readers that one of the gifts God gave us is the possibility to always have a second chance. 

Review title provided courtesy of Zondervan.