Saturday, May 30, 2015

Girl of Fire and Thorns (Rae Carson) book review

Fire and Thorns (Fire and Thorns, #1)

Fire and Thorns (Fire and Thorns #1)

Princess Elisa is a disappointment to her people. Although she bears the Godstone in her navel, a sign that she has been chosen for an act of heroism, they see her as lazy and useless and fat. On her sixteenth birthday, she is bartered off in royal marriage and shipped away to a kingdom in turmoil, where her much-older-and extremely beautiful-husband refuses to acknowledge her as his wife. Devastated, Elisa decides to take charge of her fate and learn what it means to bear the Godstone. As an invading army threatens to destroy her new home, and everyone at court maneuvers to take advantage of the young princess, Elisa becomes convinced that, not only is her own life in danger, the whole world needs saving. But how can a young girl who has never ridden horseback, never played the game of politics, and never attained the love of a man save the world? Elisa can't be sure, but she must try to uncover the Godstone's secret history before the enemy steals the destiny nestled in her core.

My Review: 6/10

I found the parallels to Christianity an interesting premise for the story, but it often felt like a cheap imitation.

I liked that the protagonist was not your standard, cliched princess. Though I found her eating disorder/food obsession to range from annoying to disturbing, I also thought it added a layer of authenticity to her character. I was happy when it faded to a soft background hum.

The violence and deaths of some key characters surprised me, because YA novels don't usually allow that element of reality, at least not until the very end. Some of those scenes were a little graphic for my taste.

But the thing that bothered me the most was the promotion of cheating. I don't believe in divorce, and I don't believe in justifying seeking out another relationship while you are married.

I don't care that they didn't consummate the marriage yet, that he likely had a mistress before they married, or that they had spent very little time together before she was taken away. She pledged herself before God to this man for her life. If she wanted to seek an annulment or divorce based on grounds of his prior relationship, then fine, but she shouldn't be starting anything until that is settled. It ended up being a moot point anyway, because of how the storyline progressed, but it struck me forcibly that this kind of attitude promotes cheating and divorce, breaking up marriages and families. A young girl reading this book takes away that her feelings and love and happiness matter more than anything or anyone else, that she can't help how she feels, and that she should pursue someone she loves at any cost. Not only are all of these statements false, but they lead to destruction. These ideas are all too common in YA novels, but it was made worse by its strong association to the pseudo-christianity themes.

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

A Worthy Pursuit (Karen Witemeyer) book review

A Worthy Pursuit

A Worthy Pursuit

Stone Hammond is the best tracker in Texas. He never comes home empty-handed. So when a wealthy railroad investor hires him to find his abducted granddaughter, Stone eagerly accepts.

Charlotte Atherton, former headmistress of Sullivan’s Academy for Exceptional Youths, will do anything to keep her charges safe, especially the little girl entrusted to her care after her mother’s death. Charlotte promised Lily’s mother she’d keep the girl away from her unscrupulous grandfather, and nothing will stop Charlotte from fulfilling that pledge. Not even the handsome bounty hunter with surprisingly honest eyes who comes looking for them.

When the teacher he’s after produces documentation that shows she’s the little girl’s legal guardian, Stone must reevaluate everything he’s been led to believe. Is Miss Atherton villain or victim? She acts more like a loving mother than an abductress, and the children in her care clearly adore her. Should Stone break his perfect record?

Then a new danger threatens, and Charlotte is forced to trust the man sent to destroy her. Stone becomes determined to protect what he once sought to tear apart. Besides, he’s ready to start a new pursuit: winning Charlotte’s heart.

My Review: 6/10
This book could only get me halfway there. So "satisfying" or "unsatisfying" depends on what you want out of it, or what you compare it to. It's a good match, a good companion, to her other books, so if you're a fan, I think you'll enjoy this one too. But for me, it just didn't stand out and I needed something extraordinary.

*slight spoilers ahead*

There were a couple of lines that had me laughing out loud. And the storyline was interesting and definitely suspenseful. In return, I had to overlook the insta-love, our heroine's breathtaking beauty, and some poor choices; I think kindness and integrity can be portrayed without sacrificing intelligence and wisdom. For example, if a strange man was caught on my property spying on me and my children with binoculars, especially when I was in hiding in a remote location, you can bet that I would not invite him into my home to personally care for his wounds in a show of charity and good faith.

On the whole, this book felt half baked. It seemed like the carefully woven lessons didn't hold up to pressure and it just unraveled.
There were heavy doses of scripture applied well- I loved the use of proverbs and Charlotte facing the fact that she had a control issue. I loved the way lending spiritual strength was portrayed, especially in light of the circumstances. That had to take strong faith and I thought it was a great example. Charlotte's choosing  positivity and gratitude when it would be so easy to slip into fear and doubt and negativity was a great example as well: "God's blessings were so prevalent, a person could always find a reason to rejoice."

But then, characters' actions didn't hold up to their professed virtues. I had warning bells going off in my head when Stone pretended he'd been deceiving Charlotte; I thought for sure this was going to turn into an epic misunderstanding. Though I was pleasantly surprised that it didn't, I was still disappointed in Stone for going there. I've certainly gotten backed into corners and the natural instinct to tell a clever lie bubbled to the surface. But God doesn't need us to lie our way out of things. He's bigger than that. Of course we still slip up, we still make mistakes, but I felt like this deception was passed off as something to admire, rather than a flaw of human nature. As if, because we knew his true feelings, no harm done. Stone's fear of his enemy's power was stronger than his trust in his God. I'd have preferred to see an example of what God could do with bold faced honesty and unswerving faith.

I loved Stone's firm personality. His determination and openness is not something that is usually seen in this genre, and it was so refreshing. I loved that he responded to her need to learn how to trust with straightforwardness and solemn vows. I loved Charlotte's unyielding personality too. She acted with decisiveness and confidence.

But then, moments of doubt would come out of nowhere. For example, Stone has just declared his intent to pursue her until he gains her or dies, but a few pages later, Charlotte tells herself that she has no right to expect anything or make demands of him. What? For someone who exudes strength and confidence, her random boughts of unfounded insecurity seemed to exist only to drive the suspense and the thrill at the eventual resolution. Why? It's not like readers don't know where this is going to end up; you can't have it both ways- characters who are so in love that they openly declare their intent, but then uncertainty as a driving force of suspense.

And, as always, this book would have been so much better if we were only privy to one character's thoughts.

Thursday, May 21, 2015

An update on a prayer request

A few weeks ago, I posted a vague message on facebook, asking friends and family to pray for us as we sought God's guidance in making a big decision.

As most family and friends know, we started the process to be foster parents about a year and a half ago. It was long, tedious and involved. We completed it and are officially certified. The agency we work with used to solely be a christian adoption agency and they are very new to foster care. As such, there has been very little activity for placement, compared to the onslaught we were expecting. And since we do have our two young daughters to consider, we've had some limitations on cases we were willing to take on. As a result, we haven't been matched yet.

In the meantime, I reached out to our caseworker about something God had put on my heart. Given my background, I've always had a heart for teen/young mothers. Having been the product of one, and having experienced it myself, I know the kind of information, or lack there of, that is out there. I know the stigma, I know the loneliness, I know the struggles. I was blessed beyond measure in having Jon for a partner. Our relationship certainly endured its own set of challenges and setbacks, but he was a devoted father and took up arms with me from the very first. Most girls in my situation don't have that. Many don't have any support system at all. I believe that God has shaped me and grown me the way that He has to be able to relate with and help these young women. That's where my heart is. He has given me some ideas, some images of how that may take form, but I don't know how it will begin or where it will go.

Anyway, as He continued to nudge my soul about this, I finally reached out and contacted our caseworker, asking what pregnancy care services they provide and if there is any need for what I have to offer:  mentoring, possibly a stable home to get them on their feet. I was not expecting the enthusiasm I received.We talked at length about ideas and questions. I was told that there wasn't a great need, but that there had been times in the past where someone could have used what I wanted to provide. Right now, we would be prepared to take on one that was the right fit, so that was fine with us; we would wait on God's timing.

Several weeks later, I got a call that they had a potential match. We were kind of in shock. The way the conversation had gone, we were prepared to wait months, maybe even years. Jon and I talked about it and we prayed about it. We got as much information as we could and set up a meeting to meet with our caseworker and hammer out the details of how it would work. We reached out to friends and family for prayer. And we waited.

We met with our caseworker first, and talked over details for a long time. At the end of the meeting, we agreed to meet with this young woman over the next week and move forward. She had been staying at a maternity home ( I didn't know such things existed) and it was an emotional struggle for her. Things were moving fast; all we could do was pray and trust God.

A few days later, I got a call that she had left the maternity home and was en route to her native state. We certainly weren't expecting that any more than we had been expecting the initial call. But I wasn't discouraged; I understood.

So that is the result of the specific situation I asked for prayers on. If/when we get another call, you can probably expect a similar vague prayer request. On the whole, I'm happy with how things went. I'm glad we got more information on how we may go about this in the future and I'm happy with how we handled our concerns and uncertainties by leaning heavily on God. I trust His judgment in the outcome. I don't know all the ways He is going to use this very brief experience, but I do know one thing that has come from it: when I first heard about her and that she was staying in a maternity home, I started looking these places up. Lo' and behold, there was one actually within walking distance of where we used to live, and so only about 5 minutes away from where we are now, and it is a picture-match of one of the images God put on my heart. I couldn't believe it. What I want to do someday, what I want to create, already exists and it's in my backyard. I got so excited. And then I found out that they have a need for mentors. *cue explosions of insensibility going off in my spirit* As He so regularly does, God left me speechless. And with energy and excitement humming through my veins.

My loose plan is to spend the summer devoted to my girls, since I've wanted it so badly for so long and only got it one year, when Lily was 1. But when they go back to school in the Fall, and my mornings/afternoons are pretty wide open, I will be researching/pursuing this, God willing. I don't know how He is going to use me, only that He will and I'm so excited to start.

Thank you for your prayers!

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Wednesday, May 20, 2015

The Midwife's Tale (At Home in Trinity 1) book review

The Midwife's Tale (At Home in Trinity #1)

The Midwife's Tale (At Home in Trinity #1)

Martha Cade comes from a long line of midwives who have served the families of Trinity, Pennsylvania, for generations. A widow with two grown children, she's hopeful that her daughter will follow in her footsteps. But when Victoria runs off, Martha's world is shattered.

Worse, a new doctor has arrived in town, threatening her job, and she can't remember a time when her faith was more tested. Still determined to do the work she knows God intended for her, Martha is unprepared for all that waits ahead. Whether it's trying to stop a town scandal, mending broken relationships, or feeling the first whispers of an unexpected romance, she faces every trial and every opportunity with hope and faith.

My Review: 10/10

This book was a breath of fresh air- everything I love in a christian/historical/romance novel. The religious themes weren't the usual- through Martha's choices and regrets, this book challenges the reader to question their prejudices, become self aware of some overbearing, controlling tendencies, and turn to God for comfort.The portrayal of characters and their flaws, motivations, and rationale was refreshingly honest. And the romance took a backseat. If it hadn't been in mentioned in the plot synopsis, I wouldn't have even been sure it would unfold. I saw this as a strength.

 I loved the storyline, the way Martha is able to look back on her words and choices and see where she was wrong. I loved that she realized she erred in judgment- it really goes both ways, doesn't it- by overlooking common sense and things that didn't add up just because of someone's title.

I loved her growth and introspection. The things she struggled with were very relatable- her reputation, anger, temper, patience, integrity, all of it. I loved that sometimes there weren't easy or obvious answers and so she wrestled with some choices, ultimately having to leave them in God's hands.

Though many of the characters were relatable and loveable, and many of the relationships had lessons imbedded, my favorite was the relationship between Martha and Will (aka Boy). I especially loved that Will did have moments of vulnerability, but more often than not was rude, disrepectful and irrascible. It always provokes me when a child is depicted as a flawless angel. Children are wonderful, but have just as many "moments" when they're selfish, greedy, impatient, etc as adults. Martha's relationship with Will was a beautiful example of how to -choose- to view someone the way God sees them and how to practice love when it's not easy or natural.

This was a fairly peaceful, quiet read, though there were moments of suspense. I appreciated that it didn't end with a cliff hanger, yet my immediate thought was, "after all that, I have to know what happens next!" I hopped on Goodreads to see if this was one in a series and lo' and behold! This is actually an updated reprint of a book published over a decade ago... AND THERE IS A SEQUEL! YESSSSS. I've requested it from my library and I will be buying this version and the new version of the sequel because I love the updated covers. Bethany House always does an amazing job with beautiful book covers.

Monday, May 18, 2015

Amish Promises book review

Amish Promises

Amish Promises

When Joel and Shani Beck arrive at their new home on Juneberry Lane in Lancaster, PA, they’re looking for peace. Joel’s recently returned from Iraq and is recuperating, and Shani is just happy to have her family back together. They can’t imagine any trouble with their Amish neighbors, the Lehmans, but things get off to a rocky start when their son accidently hurts Simon, one of the Lehman boys.

Timothy Lehman, a widower, is the family patriarch and demands the Beck boy work in Simon’s place. Tensions escalate, but Shani can’t help but be drawn to Eve Lehman, Timothy’s sister, who runs the household. The two begin to form a strong friendship forged on faith and family, and things seem like they’ve quieted down until Joel’s single and handsome army friend Charlie catches Eve’s eye. Suddenly, life for both families becomes more complicated than any of them could have ever imagined.

My Review: 5/10

I didn't finish this book. It had a beautiful cover and the premise seemed interesting. I've read a couple of Ms. Gould's books before so I thought I'd give it a try. But right off the bat there were about 12+ characters and flip flopping view points and tenses, that made things really confusing. Even after a while, I still have to get my bearings when a new chapter/scene started. It's kind of slow moving and you spend a lot of time with surly, miserable characters and that was frustrating. And on the whole, the uniqueness of being submerged in the amish world and their culture was marred by spending so much time blending it with modern Americans and their culture. This just wasn't my cup of tea.