Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Book Review: Sunset by Karen Kingsbury

About the book:

A New Chapter

With the demands of Hollywood life behind them for now, Dayne and Katy Matthews continue to adjust to life in Bloomington as they look forward to a new chapter together - expanding their family. Meanwhile, the entire CKT staff is busy preparing for the first production in Dayne and Katy's theater.

A Time of Uncertainty

The Flanigans rally to support Bailey and Connor as they try out for lead roles in the musical, but then the family receives tragic news that weighs heavily on everyone's mind. At the same time, Jim Flanigan faces a decision that could drastically change his family's life.

A Beautiful Beginning

As John Baxter prepares for his marriage to Elaine Denning, one of the Baxters enters the most trying season of all. Will a time of renewed love and hope be strong enough to establish the sacred ground of marriage and chart a course for the future? And when the time comes to finally sell the beloved Baxter house, memories of times gone by meet with the changes of today, proving that only the support of faith and family can take a person into the sunset years of life.

My thoughts:

Wow, I cannot believe that this is the end of the Baxter saga!  14 books devoted to a specific cast of characters was very reminiscent of the Left Behind saga (16 total books), but I enjoyed every second.  While I must admit that the first set of 5 books that made up the Redemption series was my favorite, I'd have to say that this final book was probably my favorite of the last 9 books.  It tied up (most of) the loose ends for the Baxter family, and even had a very nice surprise at the end that I was not expecting. 

When there are sooooo many characters to shuffle through, it's typical to want to know more about specific ones and less about others.  I found that to be the case with Luke and Ashley.  I wanted more of the Luke/Reagan story and less of the Ashley story.  Ashley has been featured so prominently throughout the whole series, and by the time I finished this book, I was tired of her.  Her life was full of ups and downs that, after awhile, became unbelievable.  Luke's story, on the other hand, was one that I couldn't get enough of.  At the beginning of the book, he and Reagan were on the verge of ending their marriage.  Their journey through this one book had me in tears by the end.  And if their story wasn't enough for me to have an all-out sobfest, John's complete reconciliation with Elizabeth's death and his upcoming marriage to Elaine was enough to do me in.  Yes, the stories are so sappy that they're syrupy (sp?), but they're a great escape from real life.

I will always stand by my opinions that Karen Kingsbury's first few novels were some of her best, but this was one of her newer ones that was quite good.  It did seem to be a little preachy, but those moments tied in well with the overall story.  My rating for Sunset is 4 stars.

Top Ten Books of 2010

I can hardly believe that 2010 has come and gone in the blink of an eye!!  There have been some truly fabulous books this year, and I have to seriously wonder if 2011 will be able to top it.  I mean, come on....TWO Francine Rivers books in one year (at 500 pages apiece, no less) says it ALL!!

So, these are my top 10 books for 2010.  Each book was published in 2010, and the genres are all over the place.  I've included the link to the reviews I did of each book, and I can assure you...these books are the best of the best!

In no particular order, here we go...

1. The Silent Governess by Julie Klassen (review)
2.  Her Mother's Hope by Francine Rivers (review)
3.  Her Daughter's Dream by Francine Rivers (review)
4.  Deceit by Brandilyn Collins (review)
5.  Predator by Terri Blackstock (review)
6.  The Sister Wife by Diane Noble (review)
7.  Masquerade by Nancy Moser (review)
8.  For Time and Eternity by Allison Pittman (review)
9.  Pearl in the Sand by Tessa Afshar (review)
10.  Seek Me With All Your Heart by Beth Wiseman (review)

Honorable Mention

June Bug by Chris Fabry (review) - This book was published in 2009, but it didn't cross my path until this year, and it was one of the most powerful books I read.  Highly recommended!!

Monday, December 27, 2010

Book Review: The Blacksmith's Bravery by Susan Page Davis

About the book:

Ride shotgun alongside Vashti Edwards, saloon girl turned stagecoach driver, as she tries to redefine her life into a brave Christian citizen. Watch as Griffin Bane, local blacksmith and stagecoach manager, wrestles with his attraction to her. He questions his decision to allow her this work as the dangers on the trail increase. When a gang of outlaws target the stagecoach line, the Ladies Shooting Club goes into action again to protect their friends. Will they succeed in saving the stagecoach line and Vashti and Griffin, so they can build a future together?

My thoughts:

I have been a fan of this series since day one! I have especially wished to JOIN the Ladies Shooting Club, but then, I'd have to live to Fergus, Idaho in the late 1800's (on second thought, maybe I'd like to keep my indoor plumbing). Oh, well...I've been able to live vicariously through Trudy, Libby, and now Vashti through all three of these books, and each one has been a real treat.

Vashti was feisty with a capital F. No way, no how was she going to let Griffin Bane talk her out of one day being a stagecoach driver. Now I have to admit that a job like that is definitely not for the faint of heart, but Vashti filled the role beautifully. All she wanted was to be known for something other than a gentleman entertainer, which was part of her past. She knew that she'd never be looked upon as one of the finer ladies of Fergus, but she still craved a fresh start. That part of the story really stood out to me because, just like most people, I've done things in my life that I'm not proud of and wished for my slate to be wiped clean. That's not always possible in the human world, but for Vashti, she managed to earn the respect of several members of the town, and by the book's end, a few were even willing to risk their lives!

And Griffin....my, my, that fella just about made me swoon! He was a big hunk of a guy that deep down, had such a soft heart. I loved the addition of his nephew, Justin, to the story because in some ways, that forced Griffin to care for someone other than himself. Poor guy really was a loner until Justin and Vashti stepped into the picture!

I hate that this was the last I'll hear from the little town of Fergus, Idaho! I loved these characters and the originality of each story. Oh, and did I mention that I loved the Ladies Shooting Club? :o) Those gals were as reliable as the U.S. Mail, and always ready to do their part to protect their town, no matter what. The Blacksmith's Bravery gets a rating of 4 stars, and the hope that someday, there will be a 4th book to this great series. :o)

**Many thanks to Barbour Books through NetGalley for providing a copy for review.

**Click here to see my review of The Sheriff's Surrender, and here for The Gunsmith's Gallantry.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Merry Christmas!

I will be away from my blog for the next few days to spend time with my family for Christmas.  I want to wish you and your family and friends a very Merry Christmas!  Eat lots of great food, and cherish the new memories you will make....I know I will.  ;o)  I'll be back next week with my Top Ten Books of 2010, and let me tell ya...it's shaping up to be a great list!

Merry Christmas!

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Calling All Ham Experts!!!

So, this Christmas will be bringing me a new experience....cooking a ham.  When it comes to ham, I've always gone the safe route--either make a trip to Honey Baked Ham or rely on my mom to cook one.  I really have no clue what I'm getting myself into. 

If you read my HodgePodge post, you read what happened between the grocery cart and my kitchen counter--the netting *WITH THE DIRECTIONS* disappeared!!!  How does this happen?!?!?  I've never had that happen before, and I've bought my share of turkeys and chickens over the years.  Thankfully, I was able to call the grocery store and speak to this really sweet girl in the meat dept. who gave me the directions.  :o)

Here's my question(s):

The directions say to add water to the pan before putting it into the oven.  Um, how much????  Also, it says to baste as needed.  Baste it with what?  The water?  The directions mention nothing about any type of seasoning, so I'm clueless here. 

I don't want to do any kind of sweet glaze because hubby likes a very traditional tasting ham.  I just want a ham that has a good, simple flavor, and one that doesn't turn out too dry.  It's a 9 lb. spiral sliced ham that's supposed to be cooked 15 min. per lb.

Help, please!

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Wednesday HodgePodge

Wednesday HodgePodge is hosted by Joyce at From This Side of the Pond!  Come on over and have some fun!  :o)

1. Share your Christmas Eve traditions.

Honestly, we really don't have any.  Getting together with both sides of the family at Christmas has morphed into it being spread across Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, so the tradition at this point is to just spend it with someone!  Hubby and I usually do our gift exchange on Christmas Eve because going here and there for Christmas can be hectic.

2. What was the best book you read in 2010? (we're not going to include The Bible here)

I'm actually working on a list of my top 10 books of 2010, which I'll post some time next week, and there's no way I can pick just one! 

3. Do you have pets and if so do you allow them on the furniture?

We have 2 dogs--Dasher and Bella--and boy, can they be a handful!  Dasher is a male Chinese Crested Powderpuff that came to live with us July 2007.  It was really a fluke how we managed to get him, too.  See, hubby's parents also have a CCP (her name is Dancer), and she and Dasher were both part of the same litter of 8 dogs (all named after the reindeer) born December 21, 2005.  Hubby's parents have had Dancer since Christmas 2006, and by that time, the breeders had found homes for all the dogs.  So, when summertime rolls around the next year, hubby's mom gets a call asking if she knows anyone that would want one of the dogs from the same litter.  Hubby and I didn't have any pets at that time, and they were giving Dasher away, so we said we'd take him.  That dog just wormed his way right into our hearts, and he is definitely part of the family!

Bella is our other dog, and she's what we call a chug--half pug/half chihuahua.  Fall of 2008 we decided that Dasher needed a buddy, so we got in touch with one of the pet rescue organizations in our area, and she was available.  We had a trial run with her for a week, and my initial thought was that she and Dasher were never going to get along.  By the end of the week, I was honestly ready to send her back.  Dasher decided that last day that he liked her....so we kept her, too!  :o)  And no....she was not named after the Twilight movies (don't know why we get asked that all the time).

As for the rest of the question....  No, we don't let them get up on our furniture unless there's a blanket or something for them to lay on.  We got new living room furniture last year, and I'd like to keep it looking nice (and free of dog hair) for as long as possible!

4. What event from 2010 are you most thankful for?

I'm thankful that hubby made it through his appendectomy with no complications.  Neither of us has ever had any kind of major surgery, and that was an experience that I don't want to go through again any time soon!

5. What did you do in 2010 that you'd never done before.

Bought a brand new car.

6. Brussel sprouts...friend or foe?


7. Who would you nominate for man/woman of the year?

I haven't the slightest idea.  I can think of a few people that shouldn't be nominated....does that count? 

8. Insert your own random thought here.

I'll be cooking a ham for the first time this weekend, and I pray that I don't screw it up!!  I wouldn't feel quite so stressed about it if the directions hadn't disappeared somewhere between my grocery cart and my house.  (Seriously, they were there attached to that netting stuff when I put that ham in my cart, and the netting and price tag were gone when I unloaded my groceries...how does that happen!?!?!)  I'm also cooking a turkey and a chicken, but I have experience with those, thankfully.  :o) 

If you'd like to help me out with my ham predicament, please visit this post (link).

Book Review: Seek Me With All Your Heart by Beth Wiseman

About the book:

What would cause the Amish to move to Colorado, leaving family and friends behind?

Some Amish are making the trek to Colorado for cheaper land. Others are fleeing strict bishops with long memories.

For Emily Detweiler and her family, the move is more personal. Tragedy struck Emily in Ohio, shaking loose everything she believed was firm, including her faith. Her family took the bold step of leaving Ohio to resettle in a small Amish community in Canaan, Colorado, where they hope the distance will help erase painful memories.

David Stoltzfus's family moved to Colorado for reasons he doesn't understand. But Canaan is turning out to be something other than the promised land they all anticipated. Fearing that a health condition will cut his life short, David plans to return home to Paradise, Pennsylvania, as soon as he can. But then he meets Emily, who stirs feelings in his heart despite his apprehension about the future.

Emily's growing love for David surprises her, but she fears that he will find out the truth about her past and reject her. But what if the truth is that they are made for each other? And that God longs to give them the desires of their hearts if only they will seek Him first?

My thoughts:

Oh, my...I think this was one of the best books I read all year! I already know that whatever words I can come up with to describe how much I enjoyed this book will be so insufficient. It had beauty and tenderness, along with sadness and pain, but with definite joy at the end of the journey.

I've said so many times that Amish fiction has reached a point where so many stories are similar, and for something to really reach out and grab me, it needs to have a little something extra. This is that book! First of all, the setting is brand new for Amish fiction fans. This is the first book that I know of set in the mountains of Colorado. That was very intriguing simply because of adjusting to the different weather conditions there compared to Pennsylvania. Second, Emily and her family have to deal with a situation that is almost unheard of in their communities. I won't mention what it is because I don't want to spoil anything, but I've only ever seen it mentioned in one other Amish series. Seeing Emily overcome her past, while also trying not to be attracted to David, is a very beautiful thing to watch unfold.

I also want to give some love to some of the secondary characters. Martha....loved her to pieces!! The scene where she introduces her parrot to David and Emily grabbed ahold of my funny bone, and wouldn't let go! And I wish that something had developed between her and certain gentleman, but I'm thinking (and hoping) that story will be featured in a future book. Another character that had an integral role in the story was Katie Ann, and I couldn't help but feel sorry for her from the get-go. Her story was never really a part of the Daughters of the Promise series, so I'm glad that she will be the primary focus of Beth's next book set in Canaan, Colorado.

If you've not read Beth's Daughters of the Promise series, then I strongly encourage you to do so before reading this book. There are a handful of things in this book that build upon the previous books, and unless you are okay with a few spoilers, the entire story is best appreciated if it's read in order.

That said, I don't know how in the world I'm gonna wait until the end of 2011 to find out what happens next in Canaan!! I'll be able to get my Beth Wiseman fix in March (thankfully, that's not far away) when she releases the next book in the Daughters of the Promise series, Plain Proposal. Listen now, when I discover a new author that I love, you better get out of my way at the bookstore...this woman can write!

5 Stars

**This book was purchased by me, and I was not influenced to write a review.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Book Review: A Plain and Simple Christmas by Amy Clipston

About the book:

In the tradition of her widely popular Kauffman Amish Bakery series, author Amy Clipston tells the tale of Anna Mae McDonough who was shunned by her family four years ago when she left her Amish community in Lancaster County, PA, to marry an 'Englisher' (non Amish) man and move with him to Baltimore. Now, eight months pregnant when her first child, she longs to return home for Christmas to reconcile with her family, especially her stern father, who is the religious leader for her former Amish church district.

So Anne Mae writes a letter to Kathryn Beiler, her brother's wife, to enlist her help. Kathryn asks her husband, David, if she should arrange Anna Mae's visit. David cautions her that a visit would cause too much stress in the family and instead suggests they visit Anna Mae and her husband in the spring. However, Kathryn arranges the visit anyway, believing in her heart that it's God's will for the family to heal. When Anna Mae arrives in Lancaster for Christmas, she doesn't receive the welcome she expects and her world begins to fall apart, leaving her to question her place in her family -- and her faith in God.

A book filled with love, the pain of being separated from one's family, and the determination to follow God's will regardless of the outcome, A Plain and Simple Christmas is an inspiring page-turner that will keep you guessing what happens next...right to the very last page.

My thoughts:

A Plain and Simple Christmas was my first experience with author Amy Clipston. Her writing style was exactly what this title implies--plain and simple--but don't let that discourage you from reading this book. She has created very likable characters (with the exception of Henry, the dad), and the plot draws the reader in very quickly.

Even though I knew there would be a happy, tidy ending, that did not stop me from reading this book from cover to cover in one sitting. When I reached the mid-way point, the drama increased, and I started to really wonder whether or not Anna Mae and her Englisch husband would be received well by her family and friends. Thanks to some scheming and planning by her sister-in-law, her first few moments back in Bird-in-Hand were memorable. But it wasn't until their next day's visit that things started to get hairy. Personally, I've been through some of those family moments where the tension is so thick, you could cut it with a knife. Amy relayed that same tension through the pages, and I have to admit, I was a bit worried for Anna Mae dealing with all this stress...all while pregnant with a baby whose arrival is not far away!

Prior to reading this book, I had not read either of Amy's other Amish novels which share the same characters as A Plain and Simple Christmas. I never once felt that it was difficult to relate to the characters, nor did I feel that I didn't have enough of their backstory. This book very easily stood on it's own, and it's a great addition to all of the other Christmas novellas available this season. My rating is 4 stars.

**Thanks to Zondervan through the LibraryThing Early Reviewers Program for providing a copy for review.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Book Blogger Hop! (1)

First timer here on the Book Blogger Hop!  I'm hoping to meet some great new book friends today...maybe find a few books recommendations, too.  :o)  If you're at my blog for the first time, I am a voracious reader of Christian fiction.  Occasionally, I will toss in someone's memoir if it's one I'm really interested in.  But...it's mostly Christian fiction.  My desire is to read uplifting stories that share God's love, and any genre will do as there's plenty to choose from.  If you'd like to check out some of my reviews, here's a couple of links to some of the books I've reviewed lately, and who knows...you may find something you just hafta read!  :o)

Review of Plain Paradise by Beth Wiseman (Amish fiction)

Review of Menu for Romance by Kaye Dacus (Christian romance)

Review of For Time and Eternity by Allison Pittman (Christian historical fiction)

OH!  And to answer the question on the Crazy for Books blog this Friday....

What do you consider the most important in a story: the plot or the characters?

Hmmm...that's a tough one because each one relies on the other.  If I can only choose one, I would have to say the characters.  If the plot is one that feels recycled, I can tolerate that, but if I cannot connect with the characters, then there's a big chance it'll be a DNF book.

Wanna join in on the Hop?  Then, head on over to Crazy for Books!  :o)

Book Review: Anna's Return by Marta Perry

About the book:

When Anna Beiler returns to the Pleasant Valley Amish after three years in the English world, she doesn't come alone-she comes with a baby daughter. Despite people's assumption, the child is not Anna's biological child but was adopted by her after the real mother, Anna's friend, tragically died. So Anna returns not seeking the redemption her family assumes. Instead, she's hoping to hide herself among the Plain People from the baby's violent father until she feels it's safe to go back into the world again. She tells herself she can do anything to protect her baby, even lie to the people who love her most. So she moves in with her brother Joseph and his wife Myra. She reconnects with her father, sister Leah, and Leah's new family. And she begins to spend time with Joseph's partner in his machine shop, Samuel, whose steady patience and thoughtful responses, which made him seem "slow" when they were children, now suggest to her a deeper understanding that sometimes infuriates her and more often makes her feel safe.

Returning isn't as easy as Anna had hoped, because it forces her to face the consequences of her own irresponsible behavior that led her to leave in the first place, and the pain she caused those she left behind. True redemption, she finds, is not a simple matter of pretend humility, but a deep change of the heart that means she will never be the same again. She learns, too, that redemption comes with a renewed love and appreciation for all the people in her life, the tightly bonded community that will always nurture and protect her.

My thoughts:

In some ways, I think I came upon this book at the wrong time.  Having read nothing but Amish fiction for a straight month and nothing but it (literally), I was a bit burnt out before I even started this one.  The back cover blurb sounded great, really, but I felt like I had to make myself finish this one. 

The story lagged a bit in several places, and I was disappointed that the relationship between Anna and Samuel didn't progress any faster than it did.  There were also times when it was difficult to keep all the characters straight.  I kept getting the relationships confused between which characters were siblings and which were cousins.  Part of that could have easily been due to the fact that I have not yet read the first two books in this series.

I'm giving Anna's Return a rating of 3 stars because even though I had a tough time staying focused on the story, it was still a good one, especially with the Amish culture thrown in.  Without the Amish aspect, it would've been quite dull.

**Many thanks to Berkley Publishing for providing a copy to review for the Inspy Awards.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Wednesday Hodge Podge

1. What does it mean to have the 'holiday spirit'?  For me, it means that my life would be so very different if Christmas did not exist.  I know scientists have proven all this mumbo-jumbo that Jesus was not born in the winter, but still, we celebrate his birth this time of the year.  If he had not come into this world to save me, there would be no reason for me to have the "holiday spirit" and celebrate Christmas each year.  Sure, it's nice to go shopping and exchange gifts, eat 'til we can't eat any more, and decorate 'til the cows come home, but all of that is show and fluff.  Jesus really is the reason for the season.

2. What sits atop your tree(s)? Why?  Well, right now it's a beautiful blue angel reminding me that the Angels came to announce the birth of Christ.  When my husband has his way on Christmas day when his parents come to visit, the angel will (unfortunately) be replaced by a Yoda tree topper that his mother saw fit to give him last year.  I'm tellin' ya...there is just no escapin' Star Wars in my house.

3. When was the last time you gave yourself a pat on the back?  Probably after I finished putting up the tree!

4. Which of your senses is most sensitive this time of year?  This year?  My sense of sight since I just got over a case of pinkeye last week...most miserable thing I've ever been through in my life.  It wouldn't have been so bad if it had just been the pinkeye because I had that under control.  But no, my eyelids saw fit to swell up to (at least) triple their size, and it was very uncomfortable.  Thankfully, that was over by week's end, and all is well again. 

But if we're talking about which sense is hightened normally, it would have to be smell.  I love all the Christmas potpourri options--the cinnamon, vanilla, pine (on some occasions)--not to mention the scents of everything cooking (well, baking, mostly). 
5. What do you have too much of in your kitchen?  At the moment, flatware.  Hubs and I just bought a new service for 8 which was 53 total pieces, and we haven't yet cleaned out the drawer of the old flatware that needed replacement....I don't even know how many pieces are in there!

6. What do you do for meals on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day? Big meal? Breakfast tradition? Open the cookie tins and have at it?  Lately, it's been something different every year.  Usually, I cook for Thanksgiving, and have everyone over to our house from my side and hubby's side of the family.  That didn't happen this year since we went out of town, so my Thanksgiving spread will now be on Christmas Eve with my family coming over.  Christmas Day will be spent with hubby's folks, and who knows when or what we'll eat.  If it's brunch like we did last year, I may have to start up the oven for some homemade cinnamon rolls....something that I seem to have become known for this past year.

7. What is the best thing about winter?  Clothes!  Well, for me, at least.  :o)  Most of my really cute clothes are for cold weather, so I love when I can pull out all my sweaters, and go to town for 3 to 4 months!  And thankfully, where I live, we don't really get the full winter experience with snow and such regularly....just the cold temps....so, me and my closet full of warm clothes get along just fine!  :o)

8. Insert your own random thought here.  Can't wait until later on today when I get my BBQ on!  It's our Christmas lunch/party today at work, and I love me some BBQ!  I think there might be some pecan pie off to the side somewhere, too...... We ladies also do an ornament exchange every year, and it's always lots of fun.  :o)

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Book Review: Plain Paradise by Beth Wiseman

Winner of the 2010 Inspy Award for Amish Fiction

About the book:

Linda's Amish life seemed like paradise. Until she found out her family had been hiding a secret since the day of her birth.

Josie was just a frightened teenager when she left her baby in the care of an Old Order Amish couple in Lancaster County. Since then, seventeen years have passed and while much has changed, one thing hasn't. Josie still longs to reconnect with her daughter Linda.

But Linda is unaware of Josie--and living an idyllic life within the Amish community. The bishop's grandson, Stephen, is courting her and she hopes that he will propose soon. When her birth mother comes to Paradise, Linda finds herself unexpectedly drawn to Josie's world. Meanwhile, her adoptive parents--and her Amish beau--are trying to understand how this interruption in Linda's life could possibly be God's will.

As new relationships begin and old ones are tested, no one's life will remain the same. In the process of losing and letting go--Linda realizes whose daugther she really is. And as only God can do, something more powerful and far more beautiful is forged within the Daugthers of the Promise community...hope.

My thoughts:

I've been on an Amish fiction binge lately, and recently stumbled upon some great books by Beth Wiseman.  Let me just say that I think I've found another favorite Amish author (what???....it's not like you can have too many)!  :o)  I just finished Beth's fourth book in her Daughters of the Promise series, Plain Paradise, and it definitely ranks in the Top 10 of my all-time favorite Amish books.  It's a story that I've read several times--never from an Amish perspective--about a mother who gives up her child for adoption, then after many years, searches to find this child and build a relationship.  Only thing is...there's not much time for Josie to find Linda, and make up for lost time.

What I have really come to love about Beth's books is that they are perfect for a new Amish reader.  Her style of writing gives a lot of factual information about the Amish, but the info flows very well with the rest of the story.  Now, I've been reading Amish fiction since Beverly Lewis hit the market, and while I'm no expert, I know the basics.  Since I've been reading Beth's books, I love that I'm discovering new things that I didn't know.  Until I read Plain Paradise, I didn't know that the Amish don't feel it is their calling to minister to others (yes, you read that right).  When I read that, I actually had to take a second look, and then, mull it over for a minute.  I came to the conclusion that this "rule" is probably in place to keep them even more secluded, and not unequally yoked with non-believers (another tidbit mentioned in this book that goes beyond the marital aspect that most of us are familiar with).  Furthermore, it keeps them away from any temptation of going against their Ordnung, or being led astray by something fancy in the Englisch world.  Instead of direct ministering, it appears that they choose to live their lives as an example to others of their faith and trust in God.  Wow...what a great witness, and a selfless one at that!! 

Amish fiction is not for everyone, but since I've been reading so much of it lately, I've developed a much greater admiration for thier simple lifestyle.  As we know, they aren't encumbered by a lot of things or distractions, and instead, focus their time and energy on living a life pleasing to the Lord.  Goes back to living by example, huh? 

All of the Daughters of the Promise books can be read in any order, but I would recommend reading them as they were released.  Each story builds upon the one prior, and continues the storylines of all the characters.  I cannot wait to read the conclusion to this series, Plain Proposal, due in March of 2011.  In the mean time, I'll be hunting for a copy of Beth's newest book, Seek Me With All Your Heart, which appears to be a spinoff of the Daughters of the Promise series.  Definitely looks to be some good reading!  :o)
4.5 Stars

**I received my copy of this book through PaperBackSwap, and was in no way influenced to write a review.

**Click here to read Beth's interview after she had been nominated for an Inspy Award.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Book Review: An Honest Love by Kathleen Fuller

About the book:

Anna must find the courage to tell Lukas the truth. Will he find the courage to forgive her?

Anna was once betrayed by someone she loved deeply. In an attempt to never be hurt again, she and her mother relocated to Middlefield, Ohio. It was the ideal place for Anna's broken heart to mend. In Middlefield, Anna withdrew from risk, placing all her attention on managing the new gift shop she and her mom bought.

When Lukas introduces himself, Anna can't resist her attraction to him. Though she finds herself falling in love, she's hiding a piece of her past in fear that their future will be destroyed if she tells him the truth.

But love can't be built on lies and the past comes rushing back to Anna in an irreversible way. Now Lukas must decide how he will react to Anna's betrayal. As they cling to their belief in an honest love, they realize it's a path they must walk together even as it leads to unexpected places.

My thoughts:

You know...I think I may have found a new favorite Amish author.  Kathleen Fuller has thoroughly impressed me with her great storytelling with the first two books in her Hearts of Middlefield Series.  I'm always a little nervous to read a new Amish author because so many plot lines are recycled among all the Amish novels available now, but Kathleen offers an emotional storyline in An Honest Love that kept me glued to each and every page.

I loved the slow and gradual closeness of Elisabeth's and Aaron's relationship.  He was certainly not the perfect Amish son, and went after life in the fast lane during his running-around years.  After a stint in rehab to overcome a drug addiction he developed, he came back home and joined the church, intending to become a model Amish member.  What he didn't plan on was a new friendship with local girl, Elisabeth.  Elisabeth had always wondered about Aaron's quiet nature after he came back home, and didn't understand why he seemed to purposefully cut himself off from everyone.  Because of an impromtu offer to work for her brother-in-law, Gabe, she found herself spending more time with Aaron since he was also employed by Gabe.  What resulted was the sweetest friendship between Elisabeth and Aaron that I couldn't seem to get enough of.

The other storyline was between Lukas and Anna, and their story also had a good foundation with friendship before it got serious.  What disappointed me was that there wasn't as much of their story as there was of the Elisabeth/Aaron story.  Since the back of the book specifically mentions the Lukas/Anna story, I was expecting it to be more front and center than it was.  I felt that I didn't get to really know their characters as well, particularly during one long section where their story was not even mentioned.  Don't get me wrong....this was still a great book, but I would've liked there to have been more of a balance between the two storylines.

While I will always be a fan of the great Amish authors like Cindy Woodsmall and Beverly Lewis, Kathleen Fuller has quickly become an author that I will be reading more of.  Her style of writing is simple, but with complex emotions that fully engage me in her stories.  I'm eager to read the final book in her Hearts of Middlefield Series, A Hand to Hold.

4.5 Stars

**Many thanks to Thomas Nelson through BookSneeze for providing a copy for review.

**Click here to see a couple of the recipes for yummy food featured in the book.

Announcing the Winners of the 2010 Inspy Awards


INSPY Winners Announced

December 13, 2010—The INSPY Advisory Board announced today that the following books have been awarded the inaugural INSPYs in their categories. Recognizing the need for a new kind of book award, the INSPYs — http://inspys.com/ — were created by bloggers to discover and highlight the very best in literature that grapples with expressions of the Christian faith.
The INSPY Award winners are:

Crossing Oceans by Gina Holmes, General & Literary Fiction (Tyndale House)

Evolving in Monkey Town by Rachel Held Evans, Creative Nonfiction (Zondervan)

She Walks in Beauty by Siri Mitchell, Historical Fiction (Bethany House)

The Knight by Steven James, Thriller/Suspense/Crime Fiction (Revell)

Green by Ted Dekker, Speculative Fiction (Thomas Nelson)

Plain Paradise by Beth Wiseman, Amish Fiction (Thomas Nelson)

Sons of Thunder by Susan May Warren, Romance/Romantic Suspense (Summerside)

Once Was Lost by Sara Zarr, Young Adult Fiction (Little, Brown)

The 2010 INSPY Awards cover books published from July 2009 through June 2010.
"We on the Advisory Board are really pleased with this year's winners," said Amy Riley, who spearheaded the INSPY's creation. "We're looking forward to building on this year's success in the future." The winner in each category was collectively chosen by a panel of blogger-judges, who were working from a short list of five books.
The Advisory Board collectively expressed their appreciation for the volunteer judges. "We really want to thank our judges for all their time and hard work," Riley said.

The judges in each category explained why they chose the winner they did:

• "Crossing Oceans by Gina Holmes focuses on issues we all must face, such as life, death, relationships, and the choices we make when faced with our mortality.… Holmes leaves her characters flawed and human, which makes them extremely relatable."

• In Evolving in Monkey Town, "[Rachel Held] Evans' honesty in telling her faith journey impressed us along with how much her love of the Lord imbued the entire narrative. Interweaving her own tale with the views of people she meets, Evans juxtaposes all of the voices about God in her life."
• In She Walks in Beauty by Siri Mitchell, "a steadfast faith is embedded into the plot seamlessly and not, instead, centered out as a forceful plot device. The novel's inspirational resonance will reach Christian and non-Christian readers alike."

• "The literary skill employed by Steven James creates a story" — The Knight — "that steals the reader’s sleep while also stealing their breath. Creating an unforgettable set of characters who face an unimaginable and escalating series of terrifying crimes, James captures both the imagination and heart of the reader as he spins his tale."
• "The brilliance of Green by Ted Dekker is the fact that it is both the beginning and the end of the series. He did something completely unexpected with the ending of his book, while tackling the Christian faith from a different angle."
Plain Paradise by Beth Wiseman "is perfect for people who have never read Amish fiction before. The story line was interesting and it was easy to get involved with the characters. This book dealt with subject matter not normally found in Amish fiction, which made it a refreshing change."
• "Sons of Thunder by Susan May Warren is an epic story that spans a couple decades and takes place on several continents. Warren took us from the Greek Isles to Prohibition-era Chicago, and back again, with enough description to make us feel like we'd lived in both places; she filled the book with rich detail, multi-layered characters, and plot twists we never saw coming."
• In Once Was Lost Sara Zarr "authentically portrays Sam, a pastor’s daughter, grappling with her faith in the midst of personal upheaval and uncertainty. Teens will relate to this excellent and very real book that goes beyond a surface-level exploration of what it means to follow God."

The innovative INSPY Award is designed to help readers in their search for the preeminent faith-inspired literature of today. The INSPYs were created to select and showcase books with the highest literary standards that grapple with the Christian faith. To find these works, the INSPYs net is cast wide, accepting nominations of books aimed at the Christian bookstore market as well as those from the general market.