Friday, August 22, 2014

Book Review of Miracle in a Dry Season by Sarah Loudin Thomas

Cover Art
Sarah Loudin Thomas' debut novel is a delightful read. I loved the cover with its simplistic picture filled with so much hope and promise. That's exactly what this book leaves with you.

Publisher's Blurb: In a Drought, It's the Darkest Cloud That Brings Hope
It's 1954 and Perla Long's arrival in the sleepy town of Wise, West Virginia, was supposed to go unnoticed. She just wants a quiet, safe place for her and her daughter, Sadie, where the mistakes of her past can stay hidden. But then drought comes to Wise, and Perla is pulled into the turmoil of a town desperately in need of a miracle.
Casewell Phillips has resigned himself to life as a bachelor...until he meets Perla. She's everything he's sought in a woman, but he can't get past the sense that she's hiding something. As the drought worsens, Perla's unique gift divides the town in two, bringing both gratitude and condemnation, and placing the pair in the middle of a storm of anger and forgiveness, fear and faith.

The story of Perla and Casewell infiltrated my heart with its simple but profound message. We are all forgiven. *If we choose to accept it.*

The characters in the story were well rounded individuals. I enjoyed them all - even crusty ol' John. He grows on you as he travels his own journey of understanding and accepting the greatest gift of all. But truly my favorite was the little child, Sadie. I flipped the last page of the book still believing she was the true miracle in the story. Now I hope those aren't spoilers. All that to say Loudin Thomas did a marvelous job of introducing fine characters that came alive within the story, growing in their struggles and in their faith.

That brings me to the next praise - the faith of the story. Loudin Thomas is not shy in her display of God in this book. Some might criticize this, but not me. I love a book that digs deep into the heart of God and the faith journey of the characters. Yet, the message remains simple - forgiveness is available to all, no matter what you've done.

The setting of the story did not stand out, but was woven nicely through the story with the dialogue and the characters.

This delightful story takes the reader on a journey of acceptance and understanding. The plot moves like a gentle flowing stream. Unlike the premise of the story, the plot does not dry up! Although it isn't the type of story that kept me up late at night, reading into the wee hours of the morning, it pulled my reader's heart through page after page to find the sweet ending.

Overall, a very pleasant and encouraging read! Check it out! There is an excerpt for you to try at the Publisher's webpage. Also, an interesting note is that Sarah Loudin Thomas wrote a novella, Appalachian Serenade that is available on Kindle. (It is free at the time of writing this post.) It is the story of Delilah, Perla's Aunt in Miracle in a Dry Season.  Available for you as well is a video of the author. Check them both out!

Thanks to Graf Martin, Bethany House Publishers and the author for my free copy of this book. I received it in exchange for my honest review. I am not required to review it positively.

Monday, August 11, 2014

Book Review of Atlas Girl by Emily T. Wierenga

 You need to read this book!

Cover Art
Emily Wierenga left home at age eighteen with no intention of ever returning. 

Broken down by organized religion, a childhood battle with anorexia, and her parents' rigidity, she set out to find God somewhere else--anywhere else. Her travels took her across three continents in buses, cars, and planes, across mountains and over deep blue seas.

What she hadn't realized was that her faith was waiting for her the whole time--in the place she least expected it.

Poignant and passionate, Atlas Girl is a deeply personal story of the yearning we all share to be truly known, entirely forgiven, and utterly loved.

I loved this memoir. I've never read a memoir before so I wasn't exactly certain what to expect. I was so pleasantly surprisedThe power and passion behind Emily T. Wierenga's prodigal story is profound and absolutely amazing. Her raw honesty touched my heart in so many ways. It was a book of aching tears, anger, sweet smiles and quiet reflection - and I felt every one of those on every single page!

What I loved most about Emily's book was her writing. Her brutally honest assessment bled into each chapter with each word she chose. It's poetic flavour and heart-gripping prose left me speechless at times. It made the pages sing like a bouquet. (That's my lame attempt to be like her ;)). In her own words, Emily says: "That's life and faith too. Messy, blurred and beautiful." Anyway, her words truly were beautiful and open and authentic as she laid bare her heart and her life with her readers.

The next thing I loved about her book was the actual story. Her life has been colourful and vibrant at times and seared with pain and loss at others. Her journey closer to the heart of God demonstrated on each page so beautifully depicts the brokenness and redemption tension we all live in.  The story of her childhood eating disorder and family angst married into her mother's great loss physically and emotionally was poignant and bittersweet. Yet with the sweetest of endings that only God could author.

One last thing I loved about the book were the quotes. Each chapter began with a quote. I wrote many of them down in my journal alongside some new ones I love too by Emily.

The only downfall I encountered in reading the book was the bouncing timeline. Each chapter tells a story starting with the location and the date. This was helpful at first. But the chapters do not tell a linear story. And soon I began turning back and forth to discover if this next segment happened before or after that segment. However, in hindsight I discovered a couple of things. First, that the way and format she tells her story is truly compelling and interactive - indicative of how our lives are so interwoven through people and time. After awhile I choose to ignore the dates and just fall into the story as Emily chose to unfold it. This helped greatly. Secondly, (and I didn't find this till I turned the last page) there is a proper, consecutive timeline printed on the last pages. A great thing to include - only wished I'd seen it earlier.

On a personal side note, it was very fun for me to read a book where I've been to one of the setting locations. I live only a few hours from Edmonton, Alberta and found a sense of school-girl joy when she would list a location that I'd been to and could actually picture. That was cool! It has been a great pleasure to support a local CANADIAN author.

Overall, I've been so profoundly impacted by Emily's story and her faith in love and in His love. I received my copy of her book for free but have already ordered a few copies to use for friends and family that I know will love her story.

Without any hesitation I recommend this book to anyone. Especially those who have wandered aimlessly in their journey with God. Whether you had (or have) an eating disorder, a debilitating illness in your family or a twisted and convoluted view of religion doesn't matter. This book goes so much deeper than the events into the heart of what God truly wants for us. Emily quotes many times throughout her book the whisper from God that I'm certain changed her life.

Watch Me take care of you.

And who of us doesn't want to see the Hand of God in our lives?

Find an excerpt here. Or a book trailer here. Or Emily herself here.

Thank you to Emily Wierenga, Nuts About Books Blogger program and Baker Publishing for the opportunity to review this amazing book. I received the book free of charge in exchange for my honest review.

Friday, July 25, 2014

Book Review of Captured by Love by Jody Hedlund

I was completely captured by Jody Hedlund's latest novel!

Cover ArtMichigan Territory, 1814

A voyageur and a young woman swept up in a time of upheaval and danger
discover firsthand the high price of freedom.

The British Army has taken control of Michilimackinac Island and its fort, forcing the Americans to swear an oath of loyalty to the crown in order to retain their land. Pierre Durant is a fur trader who returns after being away from the island for years, only to find the family farm a shambles and those he cares about starving and at the mercy of British invaders.

Torn between the adventurous life of fur trading and guilt over neglecting his defenseless mother, Pierre is drawn deeper into the fight against the British--and into a relationship with Angelique MacKenzie, a childhood friend who's grown into a beautiful woman. She now finds herself trapped by the circumstances of war and poverty, and the cruelty of her guardian, Ebenezer Whiley.

As tensions mount and the violence rages on, Pierre and Angelique must decide where their loyalties rest and how much they'll risk for love.

Captured by Love was a deep and abiding love story that I suspect will stick with me for awhile. The characters felt alive on the page with anxiety and passion that I couldn't help absorbing. The book was hard to put down. The action wasn't intense and edge of your seat, but the love story was. The obstacles that this couple faced were challenging and seem to mount higher with each turn of a page. It felt much like plucking the petals of a daisy - they will be together; they won't be together; they will ... they won't. It pulled me through the story with a fierceness many stories lack.

The conclusion of the book, and the love story, didn't come with a crash or boom, instead it gently led the characters to a very natural ending that didn't feel contrived, forced or unrealistic. I enjoyed this part of the story the most.

Another awesome aspect of the story was the obviously powerful attraction and passionate bond between the two main characters. It at times felt so powerful that it would lead the hero and heroine to fall into sin. However Hedlund portrayed their angst/desire for each other beautifully and yet within the bounds of Christian fiction. The spiritual journey each character had to travel revealed the often times, very real emotions of lust, passion and sexual desire. Yet, this was perfectly balanced with their love and commitment to follow God's will and plan for each of their lives. Sometimes faith can be arduous. Well done, Jody.

The setting was beautiful and devastating at the same time - a war-torn isolated island of such breathtaking beauty in contrast to a harshness of survival. I felt the setting played a key role in the plot, keeping the reader entrenched in the emotions of the story.

Jody Hedlund did a fantastic job with this story. The writing felt so natural and flowed with ease. I have only read a few of her books to date, but she is closely becoming one of my tops! Captured by Love is the third book in her Michigan Bride Collection and from the tiny bread crumbs dropped in the final chapters I will bet there is another one on the way. (?) I have not read book 1, Unending Devotion or book 2, A Noble Groom in the series yet. This did not affect the enjoyment of this story at all. Check out her book links page where you can click on any of the books and find fun facts, chapter excerpts and reading discussion guides. Enjoy!

A definite recommended read for those who love epic love stories and historical backgrounds. A beautiful bouquet!

Feel free to check out Jody's blog if you are interested in writing. She has won awards for how helpful and fun her blog is. She is also active on facebook and twitter. On her website is a media page where she shares links from her book blogging tour she made this July to celebrate the release of Capture by Love. Be sure to check out the fun!

Thanks to Bethany House and the author for a free copy of this book in exchange for my honest feedback. I was not required to review it positively.