Friday, June 22, 2012

"Waiting for Sunrise" Review

Waiting for Sunrise by Eva Marie Everson was sent to me as an advanced review copy by Revell Publishing/Baker Publishing Group. It is the second book in the Cedar Key series, although this book can definitely be read as a stand-alone. This novel tells the story of Patsy Milstrap, who was my favorite character in the first Cedar Key novel, Chasing Sunsets.

Patsy Milstrap wants nothing more than to leave her past where it belongs – in the past. But it keeps catching up with her, and she is finding it harder and harder to push it back where it belongs. When her husband suggests a vacation in Cedar Key, Florida, Patsy is reluctant, but, for the sake of her family and her marriage, she agrees. What she doesn’t expect is that her past will find her in an unexpected way in Cedar Key.
The main story in Waiting for Sunrise takes the reader all the way back to the beginning of Patsy’s story to explore the many events that occurred, both good and bad, to lead Patsy to where she is today. It also follows the story of Billy, Patsy’s half-brother, whose story is connected to Patsy’s in ways that neither of them ever expected.

I’m not usually one to gush about novels that are emotional, pull-at-your-heartstrings-type books. Often those novels try so hard to make you cry that it just becomes depressing or comes off as cheesy. This was not the case with Waiting for Sunrise. It had so much depth, and it was real without going overboard. Even though the subject matter was weighty and sometimes sad, I was not depressed while I was reading it. I think the difference is that there was an underlying sense of hope throughout. Most of the characters turned to God and placed their faith and trust in Him to guide them through the myriad of things that were going on in their lives.
I really enjoyed the main character, Patsy, in this book. I was able to relate somewhat to her – not completely, as I have not been through all of the things that she did – but I do identify with someone who has suffered to some extent with post-partum depression. One thing that I was fascinated with in Patsy’s character was the progression that she went through. Because of her circumstances and what was going on in her mind, you could see how she gradually went into that downward spiral. It was almost as if at times her mind was telling her things that were not true, and she began to believe them. Even though the story itself was good and kept me interested, I mostly kept reading to see where, when, and how Patsy would begin that uphill climb toward forgiveness and healing.

I also liked the other characters in this book. The Buchmans’ acceptance of Patsy into their home was heartwarming, Billy’s and Veronica’s faith in God and love for each other was uplifting, and Gilbert’s steadfast love was heroic. The time period of the novel was good as well. This book was more character-driven rather than setting-driven, but there was still enough there to give you a good sense of the time in which the characters lived.
One thing that bothered me a little in this novel was that I sometimes got a bogged down in the descriptions, especially about what the characters were wearing. It’s nice to know these things when the characters are going to a dance, for instance, but I don’t always need to know what they are wearing just for everyday attire. This is just a personal preference – others might like to have that complete mental picture, especially since the author’s imagery is very clear.

Another thing is that I was slightly disappointed with the final chapter of the book. I understand why it was there, and it brought things back around to the title of the book, but I thought it was extremely different from the rest of the novel. The book would have been just as good and just as powerful if it had ended at the previous chapter. The final one was too ethereal for me. Again, this is a personal preference.
I enjoyed the previous Cedar Key novel for the most part, but I thought Waiting for Sunrise was much better. Before I read this one, I debated if I would continue with the series. Now I know that I will.

I will give Waiting for Sunrise … 4 BookWorms.

Reviewer’s note – While I really enjoyed this novel, I will warn readers that the subject matter in this book is heavy and deals with topics that might not be the best thing for younger readers. I would consider some of the content to be PG-13 at least. I do not say this in a negative way but just to give a word of caution.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from Revell Publishers/Baker Publishing Group. 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."

Friday, June 15, 2012

"The Daughter's Walk" Review

The Daughter’s Walk by Jane Kirkpatrick was sent to me by WaterBrook Press as a review copy.

In 1896, Clara Estby and her mother, Helga, set out on a 3,500-mile trek across America. The goal of the sponsors of this walk, the New York fashion industry, was to promote the new reform dress for women and to prove that women, too, had stamina. The goal of Helga Estby was to earn $10,000 to save the family farm.

A journey of this magnitude is sure to have consequences. For Clara and Helga, and for the family left behind, the cost is dear. But what about women and the fight for their rights and independence? Author Jane Kirkpatrick knits together biography and fiction seamlessly to create a novel that is truly historical fiction.

The initial premise of this novel was fascinating to me. I am a fan of Oregon Trail pioneer stories, and the walk that Helga and Clara undertake is very similar – only at a later point in history and done in reverse. However, the actual mother-daughter walk across America only takes up the first quarter of the book. The rest of the novel tells of the consequences and after-effects that occur as Clara becomes estranged from her family and tries to make it on her own. I enjoyed the walk part of the novel better than the second part. I would have liked for the story of the famous walk to have been more detailed.

Obviously this book is very realistic since it is based so closely on the actual events that occurred in the lives of Helga and Clara. The amount of historical research that was done for this novel is astounding, and I give the author high praise for staying as true to the story as she possibly could. As I said in my introduction, however, the biography/fiction aspect of this novel was seamless in its presentation. The novel felt biographical but still had enough of a fictional story, especially after the walk, to keep it going. The writing in this novel is good, and the characters come through loud and clear.

That being said, I was disappointed in this novel because I expected there to be a sense of triumph and hope, and to me, neither of these things came through. Ultimately, this family rift and the other consequences of the fated walk made the overall tone of the book depressing. The spiritual aspect of the story did not come through well, either. It felt as if God was just tacked on here and there, especially at the end, instead of the characters having a deep, lasting faith in Him.

The division that occurs in the family after the walk is just heartbreaking. I was saddened and frustrated by the grudges that were held for so long. Even at the end there didn’t seem to be much redemption or forgiveness, which left me feeling dissatisfied.

A message that is loudly heard in this novel is that of the early suffragist movement. Those who were most supportive of this historic walk, during and after, were suffragists. Clara’s ability to make an independent life for herself after the separation from her family was certainly an accomplishment, especially at this point in history.

Overall, this novel is an interesting, though somewhat discouraging, story of two determined women during a very dynamic time in history. However, I would have enjoyed more details of the walk itself rather than all of the hopeless drama that followed.

I will give The Daughter’s Walk … 2 ½ BookWorms.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from WaterBrook Press. 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."

Friday, June 8, 2012

"The Alarmists" Review

The Alarmists by Don Hoesel was sent to me as a review copy by Bethany House Publishers.

Brent Michaels is a sociology professor who has been asked to consult on an investigation by the U.S. military. He has done this type of work in the past, but nothing can prepare him for this assignment.
Colonel Jameson Richards is the head of the special unit who hired Brent Michaels. It is December of 2012, which coincides with the ending of the Mayan calendar, and the team needs a sociologist to help them unravel the recent chaos that seems to be happening around the world.

The further they dig, the more they discover that the seemingly natural events might be hiding something far more dangerous. Someone is controlling events, and Brent and the team only have until December 21st to try to stop it.
The premise of The Alarmists drew me in immediately. The tension of trying to figure out and stop a doomsday plot has all the parts necessary for a great suspense novel. I think this was halfway achieved in The Alarmists. The problem was that the sections in between the action sequences were rather dull. The overall flow was such that something would happen, and it would get exciting (‘up’), then the team would research it, and it would get boring (‘down’).  It kind of felt like a roller coaster, but not in a good way. However, the overall plot stayed interesting throughout the novel, which was what kept me reading during the down times.

The characters in this novel were engaging, but there were a so many that I never felt completely connected to them. I actually thought the bad guys in this book were more interesting and better developed than the good guys. The evil genius aspect really came through – this guy was really smart to figure out how to do what he did. And to have the resources to carry out this scenario just added to the mind-blowing plan.
As for the spiritual side of this novel, I thought that it was done pretty well. When the characters would talk about their faith, it felt natural instead of forced. I also appreciated the points that were made about science and faith and how they are not mutually exclusive. At the end, however, the faith aspect was way too vague, which didn’t seem to fit with how it had been portrayed previously in the novel.

While I thought the plot of this book was good, the ending was just too abrupt. And it really didn’t need to be. It would not have hurt the book at all if things had just been carried out to completion in the same manner that everything else had been up until that point. The abruptness of the ending and the vagueness of the faith aspect at the end almost seemed as if the last few chapters were written by a different person!
Since this story was told from multiple points of view, there was some suspense, but no surprises. Even though there were some down moments for me, the scheme the villain came up with and the pursuit by the military team kept me connected enough to keep reading.

I will give The Alarmists … 3 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."

Monday, June 4, 2012

"After All" Review

After All, the final book in the Hanover Falls series by Deborah Raney, was sent to me by Howard Books as an advanced review copy. You can read my reviews of the first two books in this series as well: Almost Forever & Forever After.

After All continues the story of the lives of the people who were affected by the fire at the Hanover Falls, Missouri, homeless shelter the previous year.

Susan Marlowe lost her husband of twenty-four years in the shelter fire, and in the eighteen months since, she has slowly started to put the pieces of her life back together. Working almost nonstop at the new Grove Street homeless shelter and worrying about her grown sons keeps her mind and her heart occupied. Over the last few months, there is something about her late husband David that keeps bothering her – their marriage was actually not too great in the two years leading up to his death – and Susan just can’t shake the feeling that something was really wrong.
Andrea Morley, the fire inspector in charge of the homeless shelter fire investigation, knows that she has no right to grieve for the loss of David Marlowe. After all, he was someone else’s husband. Even though the media attention of the terrible fire has made her in demand as an investigator, she still misses her closest friend.

Peter Brennan’s life was forever changed after the Grove Street fire. As the fire chief, he can’t get out from under the weight of guilt from that night. Could he have done more to save his fellow firefighters? Trying to rebuild his squad of firefighters is difficult in a small town, and he also keeps finding himself doing tasks, reluctantly, at the new shelter. As Peter is drawn more and more to the shelter, he wonders if it is to the shelter itself or to its director, Susan Marlowe.
The fire that affected so many lives was a terrible tragedy. Yet, through it all, there is forgiveness, growth, and even new love.

I don’t read a lot of contemporary Christian fiction novels – I stick to mostly historical fiction – but of the contemporary Christian fiction books that I have read over the last few years, I have enjoyed Deborah Raney’s the best. She writes about typical people, and she is able to keep the characters normal. They have emotions and express them - they deal with difficult things – but Ms. Raney is able to write these characters and events well without going over the top.
The storyline in After All, was the most interesting of the three in this series. It was complex and involved several characters, which kept the plot moving. There were only a couple of times when I felt things could have moved along a bit faster. As I have said in my previous reviews of these novels, the author does really well in writing about the complicated topic of the benefits and roadblocks to having a homeless shelter in a small town. The shelter repeatedly comes under attack from the community in this novel, but Susan is determined to keep it running. I liked her unwavering commitment to something that was good even when it was unpopular. I was so sad when I would read about the people in the town, even Peter, who were not supportive of the shelter.

Although I still think he has a little ways to go, I liked seeing how Peter’s character grew throughout the novel. His opinion of the shelter softened some, and he was able to form somewhat of a relationship with Susan’s son. He also started attending church again and seemed to no longer be trying to shut God out of his life. I think he still has some things to learn, but don’t we all?
I also enjoyed the part of the story that revolved around Andrea and her relationship with Susan’s late husband. Andrea was not always a sympathetic character, but her story is important in terms of the overarching plot throughout the series. I think the author did well with portraying the indiscretions of Andrea and David, noting that the relationship was improper even though it did not advance physically.

The only thing I didn’t like about this book was that Susan and Peter sometimes acted immature. They seemed to act like two teenagers dating instead of two adults who had both been married before. (Does he like me? Is there anything there? Oh, he’s having lunch with her – he must not like me anymore). I would think that people in their 40’s would just talk to each other honestly and not play games. However, when I said this to my husband (who once again is listening to my running commentary on yet another romantic novel…!), he said that maybe they were acting like that because they actually had not been on a date since they were teenagers. And that’s a good point. If you’ve never had a boyfriend as an adult, then I guess you might not know exactly how to act. But, it is one of my pet peeves when the two main romantic characters in a novel choose to play childish games instead of just talking to each other.
Overall, I enjoyed the Hanover Falls novels by Deborah Raney, and this one, After All, was my favorite.

I will give After All … 3 ½ BookWorms.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from Howard Books. 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."

Friday, June 1, 2012

"Almost Amish" (Nonfiction) Review

About the Book: Have you ever stopped to think, Maybe the Amish are on to something? Look around. We tweet while we drive, we talk while we text, and we surf the Internet until we fall asleep. We are essentially plugged in and available 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

Rather than mastering technology, we have allowed technology to master us. We are an exhausted nation. No one has enough time, everyone feels stressed out, and our kids spend more hours staring at a screen each week than they do playing outside.

It’s time to simplify our lives, make faith and family the focal point, and recapture the lost art of simple living. Building on the basic principles of Amish life, Nancy Sleeth shows readers how making conscious choices to limit (and in some cases eliminate) technology’s hold on our lives and getting back to basics can help us lead calmer, more focused, less harried lives that result in stronger, deeper relationships with our families, friends, and God.

Read the first chapter here:

About the Author: Nancy Sleeth is the codirector of Blessed Earth, a faith-based environmental nonprofit that focuses on creation care. Following a spiritual conversion and an environmental awakening, Nancy and her family reduced their electricity use to one-tenth and their fossil fuel use to one-third the national averages. Prior to heeding this calling, Nancy served as communications director for a Fortune 500 company and served as an educator and administrator at Asbury College. Nancy and her husband, Matthew, live in Wilmore, Kentucky. They have two children, Clark and Emma.

My Take:

The Amish way of life – living the way our ancestors did – is fascinating to those of us in the modern world. In Almost Amish, the author gives tips to ways that we can duplicate this way of life without actually becoming Amish.

My husband and I read this together, and while we did have some takeaways from the book, it was not quite as helpful as we thought it would be. The author tends to focus on being ‘green’ more than being Amish. I realize that the Amish inherently have a ‘green’ lifestyle as well as a simple one. It just felt as if some of the things that are suggested in this book would take a much larger income than what we currently have.
The author has good intentions, but this book sometimes came off as a ‘look at what we did’ biography rather than a book of practical applications. There are some tips here and there that could definitely be put into practice in our family. However, most of these things are things I’ve heard before. I think I was expecting this book to be more about living a simpler life, and it was actually about creating a ‘green’ lifestyle. ‘Simple’ does not always equal ‘green,’ and ‘green’ does not always equal ‘simple.’

Even though I didn’t get as much out of this book as I had hoped, the message of simplicity is one that is very appropriate for our too-busy, modern society. Others might be able to glean more from this book than I did.

I will give Almost Amish … 2 BookWorms.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from Tyndale 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."