Thursday, June 27, 2013

"The Quarryman's Bride" Review

Emmalyne Knox always knew that one day she would marry Tavin MacLachlan. But when tragedy strikes, Emmalyne’s father moves the family away from their small quarry village just outside St. Cloud, Minnesota. He insists that the wedding between Emmalyne and Tavin will not take place and that Emmalyne will do her duty as the youngest daughter to care for her parents in their old age.

After spending many long years tending to her grief-stricken mother while living in Minneapolis, Emmalyne is shocked to hear that her father has decided to move back to St. Cloud. Emmalyne is also stunned to discover that, after seeing Tavin again, she is still in love with him after all these years away. But Emmalyne’s father still stands in between them.

As tensions rise between the quarry owners and workers, Emmalyne and Tavin, along with their families, find themselves in the middle of the fray. Tavin is determined to find those responsible for the ‘accidents’ at his father’s quarry, and Emmalyne is equally determined to do all she can to help heal the deep wounds in her family.
Emmalyne and Tavin desire to have a future together, but the obstacles they face are seemingly impossible. Will they have the faith to submit to the plan God has for them?

I really enjoyed the previous novel in this collection by Tracie Peterson – The Icecutter’s Daughter – so I really had high hopes for this one. I enjoyed it, but not quite as much as I did the first one. I can’t exactly put my finger on what made this one a bit less enjoyable, but my best guess is that I didn’t relate to Emmalyne as well as I did to Merrill in The Icecutter’s Daughter. The events were a bit darker in this book, too.

Emmalyne’s character did experience some growth over the course of the novel as she realizes what her role could be in the possible healing of her fractured family. However, she seemed to be a little too perfect – the obedient daughter to a hateful father, the young woman who every eligible guy around falls for – and it didn’t always ring true. I will say, though, that her ability to forgive her family, especially her father, was a very touching aspect of the book.

I thought Tavin’s character and his struggles were genuine, and I really felt for him as he tried to figure out where his faith was coming from and where his life was going. As for the other characters in the book, I thought they were a bit over-the-top. Emmalyne’s father’s hatred and bitterness was extreme, as was her mother’s grief and illness for eleven years. Actually, now that I think about it, her mother’s grief was understandable, but the short time that it took for her mother to come out of that fog was rather quick, especially after being in that state for eleven years. There was another character, Tavin’s sister, who plays a crucial role at the end, but I actually thought that whole storyline was a bit out of place and seemed to only throw another wrench into some already tragic situations with these families.

Emmalyne and Tavin’s relationship was interesting because they had previously been engaged. But because it had been eleven years, there was no way they could just pick up where they left off. They each had to deal with their own issues before they could decide what they wanted and needed to do together, and that particular storyline was a unique way to explore a relationship.

Even though some things about this book felt somewhat contrived, the overall themes were actually very touching and portrayed really well. The forgiveness and grace that was extended throughout both of these families could only come from God. It was also really interesting to read about the quarry and the events that were going on there. The unions that were forming at this time in history (late 1800’s) were such a force in industry, and it was interesting to read about the different views from the workers and the owners.

I also thought it was interesting to explore the struggle that Emmalyne faced in honoring her parents but also having her own life. I read another book recently that dealt with this same topic, and while I didn’t necessarily agree with the stance that the characters took initially, it was still interesting to think things through in my own mind.

Tracie Peterson’s writing is so easy to read. It flows well, and faith in God is always at the forefront. Although not as captivating as the previous one by this author, The Quarryman’s Bride was still an interesting novel, one with an excellent message of forgiveness and reconciliation.

I will give The Quarryman’s Bride … 3 ½ BookWorms.

The Quarryman's Bride
by Tracie Peterson
Book #2 in the "Land of Shining Waters" series
Bethany House Publishers
Publication date: June 1, 2013

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from Bethany House Publishers. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this is accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: "Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising."

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

"Though My Heart Is Torn" Review

After a shotgun wedding and a very rough start to their marriage, Gideon and Lonnie O’Riley have finally found happiness with each other. Living on the farm with the Bennetts in the beautiful Blue Ridge Mountains with their precious infant son only adds to the joy that they have found.

Their joy is short-lived when Lonnie is summoned by her father to return home to Rocky Knob. Lonnie’s father claims that her mother is ill, but when she and Gideon arrive in their hometown, equally horrific news waits for them: Gideon has been married to another woman this whole time.

Lonnie is naturally devastated by this revelation, and Gideon’s guilt in the situation threatens to overpower him. Will their love be enough to sustain them when all hope seems lost?

Though My Heart Is Torn is the second book in the “Cadence of Grace” series set in the Blue Ridge Mountains during the early years of the 20th Century.

I requested to review the first book in this series for my blog last fall, but I actually was never able to fit it into my schedule, and it kept getting pushed back. When I saw that the next one in the series was available, I requested it for review through The Christian Manifesto, knowing that it would force me to fit the first one in.

The first book, Be Still My Soul, had an interesting, albeit somewhat overdone, concept. Although I felt the writing was pretty good (the descriptions made you feel as if you were right there in the Blue Ridge Mountains), overall, the novel was just too heartbreaking for me to enjoy it to its fullest. The novel did have a satisfying conclusion, though, so I was wondering where the second book would take the characters.

Was I surprised when I found out!

After the plot in the first book was the usual “having to get married and learn to love each other along the way” plot (which I actually like), the second book revolves around Lonnie and Gideon being forced to be apart because he is already married to another women. This second plot was much more unique, even to the point of being unrealistic. I understand that the time period in which this story takes place lends itself to a couple being forced by others to “do right by” the first wife.  But I just couldn’t help thinking, “what about the second wife?” Why do you need to do right by the first wife and not the second?

Even though that part of the plot bothered me, it was definitely an interesting concept that kept me engaged during the first half of the book. The descriptions of the setting and surroundings are so real that you feel as if you're right there in the Blue Ridge Mountains with the characters.

However, once I got to about halfway through the book where Lonnie and Gideon are pretty much forced to be separated, I have to admit that I quickly lost interest. It seemed as if the last half of the book was just Lonnie and Gideon missing each other. I understand that their situation would be extremely difficult, but I don’t think that half of the second book needed to be devoted to only their inner monologues. It was just too long and drawn out. And then after all of that bemoaning the fact that they aren’t together, they each seem to flip a switch and start thinking that they could be interested in other people. That was most unrealistic and disappointing of all. I didn’t like spending 40% of the book reading about how they were devastated over losing the other person, but then by the end of three months they were each ready to move on. It made me wonder if they were ever actually in love in the first place.

In this novel, and in the previous one, Lonnie tries to rely on God to get her through the struggles she is facing. This is an excellent aspect of her character, and through this Gideon is shown what it is like to have faith in God. But in the first book, and most especially in the second one, I kept having the feeling that the faith Gideon is experiencing in his own life is based more on him having faith in Lonnie rather than in God. He wants to be a “good” person like Lonnie is instead of experiencing true repentance through Christ. I am hoping that Gideon’s faith will be more developed in the final book.

It might seem as if I have given away too much of this book, but I really don’t think I have. There is another twist at the end of the book that sets up the third book in the series.
While Though My Heart Is Torn has an interesting concept, too much of the book relies on the emotions described in the title rather than using action and character development to move it along.

I will give Though My Heart Is Torn … 2 BookWorms.


Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from WaterBrook-Multnomah Publishers. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this is accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: "Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising."

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

"The Icecutter's Daughter" Review

Merrill Krause is loyal to the promise she made to her dying mother – to care for her father and four older brothers for as long as they need it. Caring for her family’s horses and assisting in the ice harvest each year has never been a burden to Merrill, even though her best friend insists that she will never have a home and family of her own if she doesn’t start acting more like a lady. Merrill does long for a husband and children, but her work and her protective older brothers never give her a chance to get to know any of the young men in the area.

When Rurik Jorgenson arrives in Waseca, Minnesota, to help his uncle in the furniture business, Merrill assumes he will be like every other man she has met. But Rurik doesn’t seem to be the least bit intimidated by Merrill’s brothers, and there is immediately a connection between the two of them. When things from Rurik’s past follow him to Minnesota, Merrill and Rurik become involved in a scandal that they never saw coming. They must rely on God more than they ever have before and learn to trust Him and each other before they can begin to have a promise of love.

Set in 1896 during a Minnesota winter, The Icecutter’s Daughter is a story of faith and trust in our God who has everything in His control.

When I first requested this book for review, I have to admit that I picked it only because I was very curious as to what an “Icecutter” was. I have read many Tracie Peterson books in the past, but the last few of hers that I have read have not really been my favorites. They were fine – just nothing that made them stand out from the pack.

The Icecutter’s Daughter, however, seemed to hearken back to the ‘olden days’ of when I first started really reading Christian fiction. Back then I enjoyed her stories because they always had so many dimensions to them, and this novel once again captured that extra something special that I remember from her earlier books.

My favorite part of this book was how well I related to the main character, Merrill. I have mentioned before that I’m not really a “girly girl.” I would much rather watch college football on a Saturday than go shopping, and I very much prefer a T-shirt and jeans and a baseball cap to pretty much everything else in my closet. Also, when I was growing up, I had a hard time understanding some of the other girls when they would become so obsessed with make-up and clothes and the latest rock star. In that same way, Merrill is like me in the story. She enjoys working with her brothers and father during the ice harvest, and she doesn’t always understand other women’s fascinations with lace and frills. She is independent and a hard worker and she doesn’t think she should have to change who she is for a man.

Once Rurik comes along and she realizes that he is attracted to her, it just felt very similar to the way it was with my husband and me. Rurik comes to care for her because of who she is, not because she acts as a woman is “supposed” to act. On the other hand, Merrill isn’t only good at farm chores and working with horses. She is a great cook and can paint beautiful pictures, too. She’s an all-around talented gal, and it was a nice balance for the character. Just because she was good at “man’s work” didn’t mean that she couldn’t still be feminine. Merrill’s character really resonated with me in this way.

I said that I initially picked up this book because of the occupation of the main character’s father, and I have to admit that the ice cutting was an interesting process. It was also interesting historically since by the turn of that century, electric ice machines were being produced that were slowly taking away the need for cutting ice from lakes.

Overall I thought the story moved at a very comfortable pace after it got started. About halfway through the book I was beginning to think that the main plot point (the romance between Merrill and Rurik) was going to be led along by the completely overused Big Misunderstanding and just-talk-to-each-other-already conflicts. But as I kept reading, I was pleasantly surprised. There were enough twists and turns and outside circumstances that gave the story much more dimension than I was expecting. The lies and false accusations that were part of the plot were at times frustrating but were also intriguing.

The romantic part of the book was pretty good, but there was a bit too much “love-at-first-sight” for my taste. The main characters didn’t interact much and yet fell in love very quickly in a matter of weeks. I did, however, like that the author was able to show that there was chemistry between Merrill and Rurik without going overboard with physical descriptions of passionate kisses and stolen glances and the like.

The spiritual aspect in this novel was well-balanced. Faith in Christ is clearly presented, and their faith blends in naturally throughout every aspect of their lives instead of being shallow.

The Icecutter’s Daughter is exactly the type of novel that first got me so interested in the Christian fiction genre, and it is an excellent beginning to the ”Land of Shining Water” series.

I will give The Icecutter’s Daughter … 4 BookWorms.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from Bethany House Publishers. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this is accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: "Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising."

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

"A Noble Groom" Review

Annalisa Werner, recently widowed, is struggling to save her farm in Michigan in 1880. Her father’s answer to her plight is to send word back to relatives in Germany to send a husband to America for Annalisa.

When Carl Richards arrives from Germany to the small farming community of Forestville, Michigan, he is relieved to secure a job working on Annalisa’s farm until her groom makes his appearance. A falsely accused nobleman, Carl is running from those in Germany who would have his head.

As Carl learns the rigors of farm life, he also finds himself more and more drawn to Annalisa and her precious daughter. Carl will do all he can to save Annalisa’s farm, but he worries what will happen when the man who is to marry her shows up. Will he be able to walk away from the woman he is beginning to love?

From the moment I began reading this novel, I was drawn into it. The overall story was completely engrossing, and there were several smaller stories that intertwined with each other throughout the entire novel that kept it interesting. The concept of a mail-order groom was also an interesting switch to the normal mail-order bride stories.

The characters in this novel were not necessarily relatable, since their lives and their situations were completely foreign to me, but they were definitely sympathetic.  I felt for them so much. Their lives and struggles were so hard, and yet they persevered through it all. I also liked watching the immense growth that Carl experienced over the course of the novel.

The writing in this novel really puts you in the middle of everything that is going on. I thought this was true in a previous novel by this author – The Doctor’s Lady – and it was definitely true again in this novel. I could imagine myself being right there in the middle of the cornfield working alongside Carl and Annalisa, which is why I think I was able to be so sympathetic towards the characters. At times I would even say that the descriptions were somewhat gritty, because they were so true-to-life.

As for the spiritual aspect, I thought the novel was pretty light in that area. Annalisa realizes that God loves her and cares for her, which is an excellent theme that runs throughout the course of the novel. However, Christ is not mentioned as the way to faith in God. She seems to almost be putting her hope completely in Carl rather than God, even towards the end of the book. Carl fulfills her fairy tale, and she doesn’t seem to need too much more than that. I can imagine that the steps of faith that Annalisa did take in the novel will eventually lead her to an ultimate faith in Christ, but the reader is not actually given that information.

I also thought at times that the book was too sensual for my taste.  I understand that the author was trying to show Annalisa what a true, loving marriage can be, but the romantic scenes were sometimes a bit much.

Even though the spiritual aspect was not as deep as I would have liked, Annalisa experiences tremendous growth in this book as far as social issues are concerned. She learns that she has a voice as a woman in a male-dominated German society. She also realizes that she can have a marriage filled with love rather than just one that comes out of obligation.

Those social and historical pieces of the novel were absolutely fantastic. As I said earlier, the story was completely engrossing, and the social and historical aspects were most of the reason that the novel was so absorbing. Aside from a few times when I thought the inner monologues of Carl and Annalisa got repetitive, the story kept my interest.

A Noble Groom is a tale of struggle and hardship but also one that shows that true love can be found.

I will give A Noble Groom ... 4 BookWorms.

A Noble Groom by Jody Hedlund
Bethany House Publishers
368 pages
Published April 1, 2013

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from Bethany House Publishers. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this is accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: "Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising."