Sunday, May 31, 2015

As Waters Gone By~




As Waters Gone by



Cynthia Ruchti writes so that we can see what's she's talking about. When you read her sentences, your imagination fills with the sounds and colors and sensations that she's describing. This descriptiveness comes in handy when she's talking about food- I could just about taste the root vegetable soup and the crustless quiche served at the Wild Iris Inn! 

Cynthia is also skilled at rendering emotions. I could feel the combination of serenity and good chaos at the Wild Iris; I could see the dilapidated cottage and its latent possibility, and I could sense the hollow in Emmalyn's chest when she thought of her husband behind bars. 

Emmalyn is a bit of a reserved character at first. She has her secrets and she certainly doesn't intend to share them with strangers. A little distance is her protective measure. After all, when we meet her she is unmoored from all seeming securities, and she's about to ride a ferry across Lake Superior into a strange future. 

This story takes place in two separate-yet-linked spheres: Madeline Island, where Emmalyn is starting over, and a state prison, where her husband is incarcerated. This makes for a very compelling read. In fact, I can't think of another book that has featured a character dealing with a loved one behind bars. The circumstances allow some penetrating questions to be asked- can people change? Can we move beyond a your fault/my fault mindset into an era of restoration? Can the relationship be repaired? Does hope live here- even here? 

The title of this book, and the heart of the story, derive from a verse in Job, in which Job is promised that someday he will remember his troubles "as waters gone by." They washed over you, they frightened you, they soaked you and nearly drowned you. What now? Will you find renewed courage, joy, and gentleness in yourself and in the world? 

I thank Litfuse and Cynthia for my review copy. 




Friday, May 29, 2015

Never Say No~

Never Say No: Raising Big-Picture Kids


Earlier this Spring I had the chance to read "No More Perfect Kids" by Dr. Kathy Koch. I now think that book belongs on every parent's shelf, and I'm inclined to think that "Never Say No" should be next to it. 

This is an awesome book that's full of ideas that could change our relationships with everybody, not just our children. But if you have children, so yourself a favor and try this book. It does not set itself up to be an owner's manual, an instruction book, or a recipe. After all, we are dealing with human beings- not rifles, engines, or collie dogs. 

As the authors explain, if you want behavior modification, there are numerous ways to achieve that. Who hasn't seen shame, fear, and anger used to manipulate somebody? It "works"- on the surface. People adjust their words and actions to appease and calm the situation. Yet deep down, that unhealthy trio destroys. 

So what do we really want when dealing with people in general and when raising children in specific? We want relationship, I'd say. 
We want communication and understanding. 

That's what this book is about. It's about walking without our kids through each area of life. Together, we can share the "safe chaos" of community, we can explore God's work and His ways, we go with courage into the big world, we can let Christ shape our character, and we can train our appetites to crave the good, the better, and the best. 

Working from the infant years through childhood and up to the late teens and twenties, Mark and Jan share what they tried to do with their kids, and we find inspiration for ourselves. There are so many things to consider as you read this book, little things that you can integrate into your days. They discuss all the usual stuff- praise, boundaries, discipline, confidence, responsibility, goals, dreams- but they set each topic in the context of relationship, and that's what makes this book valuable. 

I thank Litfuse and David C Cook publishing for my review copy.

Monday, May 25, 2015

The Long Fall~


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The Long Fall... the third book in the Hawk and Dove series. 

This story opens with Brother Tom, musing on the loveliness of a late summer eve. Tom is now thirty-three years old, and well settled in his life at St. Alcuin's. He is Father Peregrine's personal attendant, and as such his responsibilities range from shaving his superior to lecturing him in common sense. Tom has bonded with his Abbot, more than if they were blood relations. Father knows when Tom is troubled, and always invites him to "Tell me about it." Tom knows when Father is pushing himself beyond reason, and he gently-but-firmly takes him to task. It's a relationship of respect and common humanity. 

Could anything break their understanding? 
Could a change in circumstances destroy their mutual trust? 
Can a soul make itself understood when a body is weakened and afflicted? 
Can love reach beyond speechlessness and provide a healing embrace in pain? 

These and other essential questions are asked in this tender tale. I can see the author's background in hospice care coming through in this episode. She shows us Brother Tom coping with the physical suffering of his dear friend, and learning how to walk that friend toward death, while coping with his own varied emotions and reactions. 

Some scenes are so beautiful, and so true, and so good, as we see grace amid hard realities. Her portrayal of Brother John and Brother Michael, the monastery's infirmarians, is a tribute to all those who work in the healing arts. The indignity of illness and the depersonalization of becoming only a "patient"- John and Michael resist those attitudes. They strive to tend the sick with the care of Christ, treating each old, sick man with the same honor as when they were sound and healthy. 

Read these books, and let the characters take up residence in your heart. There is a heart-easing, comforting way about these books. 

I thank Lion Hudson books for providing me a review copy of this book. 

The Wounds of God~



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In Abbot Peregrine's own pain, the wounds of Christ have become very precious to him. These wounds of God- received because of love- are at the core of Peregrine's theology. They comfort him in his afflictions, and they teach him mercy when he interacts with the world. 

Again, as you read this book, you'll see Peregrine being refined like gold in the fire. This conforming to the image of Christ happens slowly, surely, and with many stumbles on the way. Reading about Peregrine, I felt a little whisper in my heart: "God doesn't abandon the work that he's begun." 

Along with Peregrine, we also see Brothers Francis and Tom and Theodore and Cormac, and we get to peek into their maturing lives. 
You may think a monastery would be a narrow, joyless, dull place- but there's a great deal of life being lived within the gates of St. Alcuin's! 

When Father Peregrine is invited to a theological debate, will justice or mercy win? 
Does Brother Francis have any substance underneath his easy laugh and ready smile, or is he merely shallow and unmoved by things of importance?
What was that incident regarding Brother Tom and a certain girl? 
And what happens when a piece of sensual, spiritual poetry is discovered on the grounds? 

You'll find out the answers to these questions and more, in this second delightful volume of the Hawk and Dove series. 
You'll be glad to know there's five more books waiting for you! And you may find yourself craving a cup of tea as you read. 

Thank you Kregel and Lion Hudson for proving me with a review copy in exchange for an honest opinion.

The Hawk and the Dove....

The Hawk and the Dove (The Hawk and the Dove #1)




On and off through the years, I've seen people recommend Penelope Wilcock's "The Hawk and the Dove" series. I had it in the back of my mind to try them, and never got around to it. Now, thanks to Lion Hudson Publishing, I've been able to encounter these stories in fresh reprint editions.

At first, the books sound rather obscure. Vignettes from a 14th century Benedictine monastery? Wasn't that the Dark Ages? Were people back then even human? Didn't monks live such tiny lives? What could they have to say to me?

Oh, there's so many reasons to read these books.
Read them for the fine writing that turns these little tales into magic doors that transport you to another world.
Read them for the way they'll absorb you utterly, and the way you'll crave the next chapter, and the way they'll feed your heart.
Read them for their deceptive simplicity, because while they're stories of particular people and place- the brothers of St. Alcuin's- they're somehow about you and I too.

Read them for Brothers Tom and Cormac and Francis and Theodore. Enjoy the delightful camaraderie of young men all trying to understand their vocations and conform their lives to the pattern of simple service. There are antics and escapades and growth in goodness aplenty among these novices!
Read them for Brothers Andrew and Matthew and Edward, older men who took their vows long ago and still find themselves learning God's ways.
Read them for Father Peregrine, the abbot who leads them all, with justice and distance at first, and eventually with a true shepherd's merciful hand.

These men may belong to the 1300s, but the human heart still breaks and mends in the same old ways.

Father Peregrine feels real enough to step off the pages. His "strength" and his "weakness" are both laid bare for us- humility and pride, gentleness and severity, prayer and tears- and we see him become the Wounded Healer, a man who can bless others because he owns his brokenness and offers it falteringly to God. He's not a stained-glass saint, lovely as those are. He's a laughing, working, struggling man who "does Christianity" in a beautiful way.

And I'd be remiss not to mention Melissa and her family as well.
In the first two books of this series, each monastery story is grounded in a scene between fifteen year old Melissa and her mother. Melissa's wise mother understands the best way to guide and guard her daughter's growing spirit is to give her stories, and these accounts of Father Peregrine are their distant family history. We see Melissa and Mary and Beth and Cecily and Therese- the five daughters- going about their days, with Melissa eager for the next story that Mother will tell. You may find yourself craving a cup of tea as you read.

I hope somehow I've conveyed a bit of the winsome, heart-easing, encouraging nature of this book. Begin with "The Hawk and the Dove," and be prepared to go find the next book, and the next.

Thank you Kregel and Lion Hudson for proving me with a review copy in exchange for an honest opinion.
Penelope Wilcock
"My aim in writing is to make goodness attractive. I love simple human kindness and gentleness, and I am moved by human vulnerability. I am fascinated by the power that is within our grasp to lift one another up, to heal and strengthen and encourage each other - our power to bless.
In the novels I write, I think of the reader sitting down to enjoy a book, the door of their imagination open wide to allow the story in to influence and shape their spirit. I accept the responsibility that confers as a great privilege, and it is my intention that when you put down any book of mine at the end of reading it, you will feel hopeful, peaceful and comforted, more ready to look on your fellow human beings with compassion and see their point of view.
I live in the English town on Hastings, on East Sussex's south coast. I write a blog called Kindred of the Quiet Way. 
I would like to encourage you who are reading this to take the trouble to review on Amazon the books you read - as a reader I find customer reviews immensely helpful in making up my mind whether to purchase a book, and as a writer I find readers' reviews so valuable as feedback and food for thought." 

Sunday, May 17, 2015

Searching for Sunday~


Searching for Sunday: Loving, Leaving, and Finding the Church



"Perhaps being disillusioned is a good thing if it leaves you facing the Truth."
That was my thought after finishing Searching for Sunday.

Rachel Held Evans knew who she was. She was a pastor's daughter, ensconced in a tight-knit Evangelical community. Her family was a link in a chain of giving and receiving, of visiting the sick and sending casseroles to new mothers. All of her childhood memories were bracketed by those familiar people and that particular expression of Christianity. And it was, in some ways, a very good thing.

But in other ways, that same sense of unity would leave a growing Rachel wondering where she fit. She makes an excellent point partway through the book: In Evangelical circles, we call ourselves "a community of believers." Because we're afraid of faith becoming mere rote routine and ritual, we emphasize the personal beliefs. And we often ask our people to believe far more than just the Nicene Creed. We mine the Scriptures for dozens of other principles and doctrines, and we package it together as a whole.

So when Rachel could no longer swallow the whole Evangelical serving, when she could no longer sign off on the doctrinal statement, she felt that she'd lost her place in her childhood church.

She unfolds her stories a sensitive touch, holding on to the things that blessed and nourished her even as she describes her strong disagreements with the American Evangelical culture.

When did she begun to trust her place in the Body again? When she found a place at the table of communion, a place on the path of pilgrimage, a place in the row of footwashers, a place where the healing oil flows. When she couldn't bear the weight of belief any more, it was tangible, tactile sacraments that re-introduced her to Christ and His people.

I requested this book because I had heard that it was arranged around the sacraments, and that idea piqued my curiosity.
Rachel chose seven sacraments: Baptism, Confession, Holy Orders, Communion, Confirmation, Anointing of the Sick, and Marriage.
She writes several chapters about each one, telling us what they have come to mean to her and drawing in dozens of thoughts from saints both ancient and modern. She manages to meditate on the essence of each one, revealing them to be so compelling and beautiful that it seems to me like the sacraments must preserve the church, instead of the other way 'round.

And she does a wonderful job showing how the sacraments apply to all of us. (Typically, marriage would seem to have no bearing on the single, and holy orders would be reserved for the ordained.) Rachel expands on those ideas, exploring marriage as the mystery of our union with Jesus and holy orders as the calling of every man and woman to recognize and live their sacred calling.

Buried about three quarters of the way through the book is one of my new favorite quotes: "Scripture doesn't speak of people who found God. Scripture speaks of people who walked with God." Excellent point. I never like the whole "I found God," thing. It doesn't make theological or logical sense. But walking with God? Oh yes. That points to ongoing relationship, and that's what this book is about.

I thank Traci at Traces of Faith dot com and Thomas Nelson for providing me with a review copy in exchange for an honest opinion.

Friday, May 15, 2015

Seven Revolutions~

Seven Revolutions: How Christianity Changed the World and Can Change It Again




"Seven Revolutions" is going to be one of my favorite books of 2015. It's a history lesson and a course-correcting challenge all at once. 

First, here's a list for you. What do these things have in common?
The inherent dignity of every individual. The concept of universal "human rights" that stems from such belief. 
Philanthropy. Care for the poor, the sick, the immigrant. Reverence towards the dead. 
Freedom of religion and conscience. The basic notion that God is love.   

All these concepts may seem disparate at first, but one thing is evident: These ideas permeate Western society. 
Everyone I know believes these ideas are all true and good, that they're something to be guarded because we recognize they're precious.
We Americans can't picture our country without these undergirding. Indeed, they're what made us great. 

Yet where did these concepts come from? Where they latent in every fine civilization? Did they flower at some point in the evolving human consciousness? 
Do they spring from the Enlightenment? How about the French Revolution?
Did George Washington invent them for America? Can we trace these ideas back to a discernible beginning?

Mike Aquilina and James Papandrea are here to make a fascinating argument: It was the Church that first began to burn with these ideas, and it lit the culture on fire soon afterwards, and the world as we know it is warmed by the Church's flames. 

Now, that's quite a claim- that human rights and religious freedom came from the Church. Humph! 
Some people will spit milk out their nose just reading it. 
The repressive, bigoted, backwards, totalitarian Church is to be credited with positive, progressive things? Never! 
So, Messers. Papandrea and Aquilina, you'd better have some facts to back this schtuff up. 
{This book has over 150 footnotes, so yeah, you can spy on their research if you're interested.}

The authors make their case in ten chapters that are both dense and extremely readable. The topics are Human Dignity- A Revolution of the Person,  the Home- a place for loving relationship, Work- Labor being holy, Religion-Worship by choice and conscience, the Community- love for our neighbors, Death, and then The State-Government as Stewards. 

In each case, they look at what we know of the Roman world first. After all, the Church was birthed in the Roman world. If the Church was going to have some spectacular effect, we should see it in comparison to Rome. 
A small band of people, claiming to follow the Resurrected one, in an empire that was the height of culture and a veritable beehive of competing philosophies. 

Historians disagree as to whether life in Rome was a "paradise" or a purgatory. It probably depended on what class you were in- and how you defined pleasure. Although no culture is homogenous, there were mainstream schools of thought and majority attitudes. 
The tenets of Christianity came in conflict with many of these attitudes. So what would have been compelling about the Christian vision and the converts' lives? What did the Christians have to say that was relevant in Rome? 

A great deal, it turns out. 
I suggest that if I've piqued your interest at all that you go get ahold of Seven Revolutions. It will be far more fun for you to argue or agree with the authors than it will be to read more of this review. I thank Image Books for providing me with a complimentary copy. 

Monday, May 11, 2015

Grief Undone~

Grief Undone: A Journey with God and Cancer




I am very glad that Elizabeth Groves and her children chose to share this story, "Grief Undone: A Journey with God and Cancer."

Those words are so like the words of my Grammy, who died one year ago at the end of May 2014. She consistently referred to the whole process of life with sarcoma as "My God journey" and "My cancer journey." In an odd way, it makes me smile to think about that, and hear her voice saying it in my memory. She would not- could not- see her life outside of God, and she did not separate God from her cancer. 

Just as Nancy Guthrie explains in her endorsement that is quoted on the back cover, Elizabeth Groves is both honest and insightful. 

Through her words, she shows us the heart of her husband, Al Groves. He was a man who knew that he lived and moved and had his being in God, even as his living turned to dying. Amidst his physical discomfort and waning health, he tried to take every potential fear or trouble captive to his Lord. 
He preached redemption-in-suffering to everyone, beginning with himself. He focused on Christ, sought to imitate Christ, and fell on the love of Christ in broken dependence. 

He had spent years studying and teaching all of the grand truths about God's compassion, mercy, comforts, provision, hope, peace, and everlasting life. 
We somehow think those are very abstract, ethereal things, that float above our world. They aren't. God's gifts take root and grow in one place- reality. That means the cancer ward, the hospital bed, the hospice room. The Groves experienced this. 

During this journey, God trained them to spot His gifts. He called their names over and over with perfect-for-the-moment, particular-to-them kindness. One beautiful example was a football game that Al got to experience with his boys. The kind detail was a wall, just right for a footrest, that happened to be in front of their seats. Al was in a great deal of pain from blood clots at the time, and elevating his legs gave him a measure of relief. The presence of that wall reminded Elizabeth that God knew, and cared. 

As they recognized the gifts given in this hard season, the Groves gave a "sacrifice of praise." Elizabeth includes a piece that Al wrote for his blog, about flossing his teeth. When you have terminal cancer, he wryly observed, you may as well quit flossing- especially if you've always disliked the task. Yet he chose not to, because something as pedestrian as tooth flossing was an act of hope when he viewed it rightly.   

I think people will find themselves understanding the Groves' experiences if they've walked a loved one towards death- the focus on Heaven, the step by step trust in God, the blessings dispensed at just the exact moment. Elizabeth's experience of grief will also resonate with readers. Absence permeates everything- the "important" and the "ordinary." Al would not be their for the college graduations, the weddings, or the grandbabies. He also would not be there to eat mushroom's off the kid's pizza anymore, or to pray them through a rough patch. 

Near the end of this book, Elizabeth describes prayer and worship- those moments when we come before the Throne of God, together with all of His saints. 
She writes, "In those moments in my imagination I feel as if.... I might glimpse Al's face in the crowd. It's almost like being together in the same place at the same time, since we are both before God's throne- he in actuality, I by faith. Someday we will be there together. And in the meantime it is a privilege, a joy, and a sweet refreshment to stand in faith in the radiance of God's presence, to close my eyes and feel the light of his glory on my face." 

I thank New Growth press for publishing this true story, and for providing me with a review copy in exchange for an honest opinion. 

Saturday, May 9, 2015

Restoring all Things~

Restoring All Things: God's Audacious Plan to Change the World through Everyday People



The first few lines of the introduction let you know you're in for something interesting. Why, the authors ask, is God so into 're' words, such as resurrection, restoration, and redemption? What does this tell us about God's heart, that these are the ways He relates to His creation?

When we Christians look at the culture/geopolitical landscape, do we adopt a different set of "re" words?
Do we tend towards reaction, rejection, and resistance? Could we take a page from God's book and replace those negative concepts with something like renewal, revival, and reconciliation? And wouldn't that make our witness clearer and our efforts more fruitful?

This book starts off by asking some worldview questions, and they're foundational.
What is the world? (Accident, Illusion, or Creation?)
And what are we? (Images of God with a responsibility to fellow man, or chance arrivals in a chaotic galaxy?)
And what we we to do with the world? (Do we have a role, do we have a purpose, can we make a difference, is it worth trying?)

The heart of this book is stories of people who decided to make a change, to extend their hands and roll up their sleeves. What I love most is that these people looked at the same disturbing news stories that the rest of us saw. Yet instead of seeing all the wrongs as evidence that Earth spins abandoned on its axis, they looked and said, "My God is restoring all things. How do I participate?"

What made the difference between disgusted resignation or apathetic acceptance and creative intervention?
The Gospel.

So we read about Friend's Ministry, a productive 61 acre community garden. Their mission? "To give people a dignified place to work in exchange for help." Gardening contracts trade 37.5 hours of work for the payment of a bill up to $300.00. Along the way, gardeners form friendships and mentoring relationships, and learn life and job skills.

We read about New Horizon's Ministry, which serves an otherwise invisible demographic in Colorado. If a woman gives birth while in prison, the state takes her child. On the surface, this seems to make sense. However, the deadline to reclaim the child falls within most prison sentences. So the mother forfeits her child, losing any chance to rebuild her family. That's where New Horizon's steps in. They take the children, and place them in loving Mennonite homes. When the mother is released, she too is cared for and shepherded as she reintegrates. If all goes well, mother and child begin a new life together surrounded by a great support system.

We read about The Rare Genomics Institute, a group dedicated to sequencing the genome of people with rare diseases. They service mostly children whose diseases are unknown and so far incurable. By isolating any genetic abnormalities, they hope to give researchers and doctors more information to work with. The "ordinary people" come in because the services are crowd funded - the $7,500 procedures are paid for by donations.

The authors even discuss the arts world, and point to the way song and story and image all convey truth, goodness, and beauty.

All in all, this is a good read. It's a reminder to think before we begin pontificating about the decay of our culture- after all, there's more than a few chances to do good right there amid the bad.

Or as one guy said, "Let your light shine before men, so that they can praise our Father in heaven."

I thank Baker Publishing for providing a review copy.

Monday, May 4, 2015

Reservations for Two~

Reservations for Two (Two Blue Doors #2)



Oh, I have been waiting for this book! 
Ever since last spring when Hillary Manton Lodge seated me at "A Table by the Window," I've been hoping for "Reservations for Two." When it arrived, I dug right in. 
{A witness described me as "glued to that book."} 

Right away, I remembered why Juliette D'Alisa is a favorite character. She's intense- she lives life with a passion that may be partly genetic, her being French and Italian. She's insecure too, just unsure enough about who she is and what she should do that I can understand her. And the author nails this character's voice. Juliette, Etta, Jules... whatever name you call her, she doesn't falter as she narrates events and shares her emotions. 

And she can cook! This story made me hungry for every recipe Juliette mentions. Like the first volume, this isI one fine literary feast. 

And then the humor- various quirky characters provide funny lines throughout this book.
Example: "I can clean an oven like no one's business. My skills with an oven brush are show clap worthy. Children dream of one day being able to clean an oven like me. Old men weep." 

Most of all, mixed in with the food and the humor, I love the aspect of family.
I wanted more time with the D'Alisa gang, both those related to each other by blood and those chosen as friends. And they're all here...
Clementine, the meticulous pastry chef. Alex, the quiet eldest brother. Comic Nico, who says what he's thinking. Wise Caterina, whom Juliette leans on. Opinionated Sophie, who really does care. Adrian, the sous chef who's a little to close for Juliette's comfort. 
They're all integral parts of the D'Alisa clan. They're the sort that will pitch in with prep work during the dinner rush or support you during an ER visit. They're the kind who will distract your worry with Bananagrams in the middle of the night.

There's plenty of tension, or shall we say "growth opportunities," in this book, so all that familial support is absolutely necessary. Reading this, I felt like I'd been listening to a friend who has familiar concerns about family and identity and work. 

So, was the sequel worth the wait? Yes. I so enjoy reading about this restaurant family whose world revolves around cooking food and sharing it to nourish other people. 
So, now I guess I have to wait for 2016 for the conclusion to the Two Blue Doors' Series. 
I'll be waiting with eager anticipation. That's for sure. Thank you Blogging for Books for my review copy!

Sunday, May 3, 2015

Unoffendable~

Unoffendable: How Just One Change Can Make All of Life Better


So we look at the world and we think "Oh, the road rage and the internet unkindness and the short tempers and long grudges! Oh it's all so unpleasant." 
Yeah. 
Now imagine if somebody boiled it all down to a personal challenge for you and for me: Become "unoffendable." 
Take yourself right off the market of being mad, get off the bus to bitterness, deal with injustice without outrage. 
That would be really hard. 
And maybe really beneficial. 
And maybe it's even got roots in the Gospel. 
That's what Brant Hansen is here to try to persuade you of. 

Living life unoffended (by other people's snappy responses and inconvenient stupidity and downright sinfulness) will set you free to do God's work during the day and to sleep better at night, and maybe it's what Jesus called us to all along. 

There are about a hundred objections to this theory- "What about righteous anger? What about anger that fuels constructive work? Shouldn't I be angry at evil?" - and I think Brant answers most of them. 
When Brant starts leading us to Scripture, showing us things like James 1:20, we wonder why we've never heard about this before.
For the last decades we've been told all these things about how anger can be positive, while personal experience tells us it's a cruel and ugly master.
No wonder we're confused!

Brant knows what we are as humans. We're concerned about our rights, we want to get back at those who insult us, we check out everybody's behavior and respond to them accordingly- often with anger. And he knows who God is. God is the only One with the right to be angered, and only He can handle anger's power with perfect justice and mercy. For the rest of us, anger is really effective if we're attacking someone, and really unhelpful when we're solving problems. 

And the whole time you're reading this book, trying to swallow the curative pill of releasing your right to be angry, Brant will make you laugh. He has some terribly funny stories to tell, most of them him picking on himself. 

This book is a shove in the right direction- toward rest and release and restoration for us and the world.
Go read it.

Thank you Booklook for providing me with a review copy.

Saturday, May 2, 2015

"Chance of Loving You" Novella Collection

Chance of Loving You



"Hook, Line, and Sinker." 
I was having Deep Haven withdrawal between Christiansen books, so I read Susan May's story first. 
On the surface, this sounds like a comic little tale- two groups of college students compete for the fishing contest jackpot. 
When you dive down deep into the characters' hearts, however, you'll find there's much more going on. 
Susan May has brought her classic emotional depth to this short novella. 
For me, this is the hallmark of her writing. I start off thinking "Oh, cute story!" And then next thing I know she's wrenching my heart around. 
Abby and Ross are both precious, in their own way. She's a New Testament Greek scholar, he's the class charmer. 
And you'll be delighted to get to know them, to see how much they mean to each other, to wish they would tell each other the truth, to laugh at all the fishing misadventures, and then to treasure the ending. Susan May always gets me, hook, line, and sinker.  

I read Candace Calvert's story next. "The Recipe" is the tale of Aimee Curran, a girl who has found her calling. Ever since her first "apron time" with her mom, Aimee has loved nourishing people. First in her own kitchen, then as a hospital dietary assistant, and now as a rising culinary star. A scholarship to culinary school is within reach- all she has to do is win a Vegan Valentine Bake Off. 
She did not need a mix-up at the hospital, that lands her at the bedside of an old lady who is refusing her food. 
How involved should Aimee become with this compelling patient? And with the lady's protective grandson? 
Will that budding friendship be a help or a hinderance to Aimee's dreams? 
"The Recipe" combines life's strongest flavors- loss, love, regret, and new hope. It all bakes into a tasty, come-back-for-seconds kind of read.

And last but not least, Terri Blackstock's contribution. Terri crafts incredible suspense, and I wondered how she's do with the novella format. She has a winning premise, pardon the pun: How would you split a fortune with a complete stranger?  And "For Love of Money" is full of twists and turns. 
It's a roller coaster ride of "Yes, no, maybe- stop, go- left, right, slam on the brakes!" 
And the two characters driving the story? Well, they've come unmoored. 
To continue the driving metaphor, I kept wishing someone would take their license away before they crashed us all. I had to keep reading to find out what happens, turning pages, following Blake and Julie through comedy and catastrophe.
This tale will make you reconsider that ubiquitous wish of winning the lottery, and make you glad to have love instead of money. {Blake and Julie, at the end, could probably teach us a lesson or two in this area!} 

I thank Tyndale House for providing me with a review copy in exchange for an honest opinion. :-) 

Friday, May 1, 2015

Until the Harvest~

Until the Harvest



Sarah Loudin Thomas's second novel has all the charm and truth that we encountered in her first, while providing a fresh plot that ripens like a Summer garden- sure and slow. 

The combination of winsome storytelling that reveals almost magical moments and glimmers of God's glory led me to christen Miracle in a Dry Season "an Appalachian fairy tale." Until the Harvest carries on this tradition. 

Assuming you've read Miracle, you'll be so happy to meet Perla and Emily and Casewell again. If this is your first book by Sarah, rest assured that it stands on its own. You'll meet the earlier cast through Perla's son, Henry Phillips, our main character.

On New Year's Eve, 1975, Henry is a college student at West Virginia University, studying agriculture. He's a beloved son to Casewell and Perla, and he's an upstanding young citizen in their community. If he was asked what his coming year might bring, he wouldn't have included a sudden death that derails his world. He wouldn't have seen himself taking an opportunity that's more like a hand grenade- safe for a moment, then explosive.
He wouldn't have pictured the peculiar Hoffman sisters, Mayfair and Margaret, becoming such a part of his days. 

In short, Henry never imagined that 1976 would be such a time of grief and trouble, and he never expected such pure rays of light to come through the dark. You may just love this Phillips boy by the time his story ends.

And we also get the Hoffman girls' stories too. Mayfair, age twelve. She has frail health and a sensitive soul- and both are guarded by protective Margaret. Because I have a sister, I appreciate sister relationships in literature. This one is a keeper. 
And Margaret by herself is a character worth knowing as well. It's her dreams that made me love her. She has lovely, wholesome wishes for her future... they just always seem out of reach. 

Thankfully, Henry and Mayfair and Margaret have Emily Phillips....but you'll just have to read the book if you want to find out all the surprises this tale has in store. It is a lot like a fairy tale, with a '68 Barracuda instead of a charging steed, a little gray house with daffodils instead of a castle, and an elderly farmer's wife instead of a good fairy.

Until the Harvest will feed your heart like a slice of Perla's wedding cake, and memory of its sweetness will linger in your mind. 

I thank Bethany House and Sarah Loudin Thomas for the chance to review this book.