The Bridge of Peace by Cindy Woodsmall ~ Review

The Bridge of Peace by Cindy Woodsmall

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The Bridge of Peace by Cindy Woodsmall is the second book of a three book series: Ada’s House. This trilogy reminded me how much I enjoy books by this author. Ms. Woodsmall creates tales with emotional dynamics that pulls me in, keeps me reading intently without wanting to put down the book, and connect with the well-developed characters so that I feel I have a vested interest in the outcome.

Cara and Ephraim’s story is continued from the first book into this one. We also get to know Deborah, Ephraim’s sister a little better since she, Cara and Ada live together in Hope Crossing now. Cara is helping Deborah recover when her fiance leaves her and his mother without support. It seems he even left the Amish lifestyle behind him. The three women eventually establish a good business as a bakery in their new setting in spite of a rough beginning, while Ada continues to mentor Cara.

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Meanwhile back in Dry Lake, where the story originated, Teacher Lena is having difficulties in school with a rebellious and angry student, a bull in the neighboring pasture threatens the school children, Grey is having marital difficulties, Jonathan is attracted to Deborah, Israel is beginning to see Ada, and Dwane is being downright creepy. While we don’t know these characters now, this authors manages to capture our interest in them quickly as our sense of community grows. Suspense builds, and so does the drama. I recommend you bring along a box of tissues when you read this book. The drama in this tale is just as heart-wrenching and touching as those in the first book.

Midst all the emotional valleys and mountain tops, this author holds it all together with great humor and meaningful life lessons. I found it helpful to read this book right after book 1 of the series. The three books together run seamlessly into each other, building on the storyline right at the beginning. You can read them independently, but you would lose some of the references to the action that went on before. Because of that, I recommend purchasing these books together.

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One other thing really attracts me to this author’s works. She weaves into her stories examples that steadfastly demonstrate God’s involvement in our everyday lives. These stories are like word pictures in action. We’re not preached at, but we see God’s principles enacted throughout the book in such a way that it has to touch our hearts. Whenever I read her books, I find myself delving into deep thoughts of spiritual meaning, how God can live through me more effectively, showing how much He loves His children. All this comes so naturally to the author’s pen, that we barely notice it while reading these tales. This is why Cindy Woodsmall is one of my top favorite authors.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received a complimentary review copy of this book from Bethany House (a division of Baker Publishing). I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

 

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Blue Christmas by Diane Moody ~ Review

Blue Christmas by Diane Moody

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Have you ever heard of Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events? Things start out fine, but then get worse and worse. Well, this story is a bit like that with events that begin very well, but then there are surprise twists and turns that seem to get worse and worse. But the best part about this book is that it is the Christian version and so much more upbeat, with a terrific ending. You will not be disappointed.

Hannah was alone this Christmas. Her family was off enjoying a Colorado ski trip where she should be, but since she was assistant manager at the local grocery store, and the manager had just had a family emergency, she was next in line to supervise. On this Christmas Eve, she was feeling a bit sorry for herself when a kind, motherly customer she saw in the store regularly invited to attend Christmas Eve services with her. She wouldn’t take no for an answer either. That was the beginning of an incredible journey for Hannah.

Jason McKenzie is a star. His rock band, Out of the Blue, was a teen favorite. But living on the road was exhausting and from time to time he’d come home for a respite. He showed up on Christmas Eve and was immediately enchanted with Hannah.

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One of the things I like most about this story, besides the fact that it’s a Christmas story, is the humor infused in the tale. There’s a laugh around every corner. It’s good clean humor and makes this story just perfect.

Second, this story means more when you read the history behind the writing of this tale. I love reading where authors get their ideas. This one has a wee bit of truth and a bunch of fun fabrication. And this is one of those books that doesn’t lose its appeal when you read it the second time or third time. That’s my kind of book!

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12 Saturdays by F.P. Lione ~ Review

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12 Saturdays by F.P. Lione

Twelve Saturdays is like an “everything” bagel; it has a little bit of everything in it. The setting is New York City: Staten Island and Manhattan. It has a little bit of suspense and tension with a few bad guys thrown in. There’s fun humor and a few giggles. Some romance, some psychology, some tragedy, some adventure, and lots of relationship dynamics. All this is blended very well into an unforgettable storyline.

The premise is about family relationships. Jenna had been out on a date when she learned that her father was in the hospital. By the time she got there, it was too late, and she was overcome by so many regrets. She had not known he had a brain tumor. Then she learned that her father had some rather odd requests for her after his death. And that’s the beginning of an unforgettable series of 12 Saturdays.

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I enjoyed reading this book so much. There were moments of levity which balanced out the revelatory nature of the story. The one driving character, Jenna, was a real, living, breathing person to me. I found myself relating to her on so many levels. The more her background was revealed, the more her life spoke to me.

One element of the book I really enjoyed was the “girl power” feel of Jenna’s friendships. The best of the humor as well as the best of her strength came from these close ties. There were also a few twists and turns as the book progressed that kept me turning the pages.

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Finally, this is a faith-based story. Jenna wasn’t exactly the picture perfect Christian; she was a work in progress, just as we are. I took comfort in the growth in her character shown to us through her trials and triumphs. At a crucial point in the story, she knows where she belongs. I felt a great deal of satisfaction in this conclusion.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received a complimentary review copy of this book from CKN Christian Publishing on behalf of the author. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

 

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Spring Dawn (Seasons of Faith Book 3) by Rebekah Lyn ~ Review

Spring Dawn (Seasons of Faith Book 3) by Rebekah Lyn

Spring Dawn

Spring Dawn is the third book in Rebekah Lyn’s Season of Faith series. In Book 1, we meet Elizabeth, Ian, Jeffrey, Stephen and Michelle. Book 2 continues the story of these five friends. In Book 3, the main plot is focused equally between Ian and Elizabeth’s growing romance and Jeffrey’s life and spiritual growth as a new Christian. You can read my reviews on Book 1 here and Book 2 here. By the time I finished reading the third book, I felt these five characters were also my friends. And because they are, I can’t wait to see more resolution in their lives.

In looking back over the scope of the books I’ve read so far in this series, I could see a pattern. The first book was a book of disasters where many people were thrown together in an effort to survive the season’s group of hurricanes. Our five main characters meet under different conditions and in different capacities. The second book was a book of mystery and adventure where Ms. Lyn’s readers become better acquainted with the friends. This third book is a book of testing: testing character, testing resolves, and testing relationships. An example of this is in the development of Ian and Lizzie’s relationship. In the second book, the reader may conclude that their relationship was on solid ground. Yet this third book creates uncertainty, tests their stability as a couple and stretching each one individually. That makes for very good reading.

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Lizzie begins to put distance between herself and Ian, while simultaneously drawing closer to Jeffrey, especially after his car accident. Ian becomes jealous of Jeffrey when he finds out about this. Michelle, too, feels some envy at Jeffrey and Lizzie’s easy camaraderie. Ian is already frustrated with the slow growth of his design business. He begins to wonder if Lizzie is the One for him to settle down with. Lizzie is not aware of these undercurrents. She is battling her own fears about falling back into her past lifestyle which she has kept hidden from Ian.

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After going through a hair-raising experience in the second book, Michelle feels much less secure in the current book. She’s dissatisfied with life, leans a little more on her friend Jeffrey for friendship while at the same time nothing seems to go her way. This subplot left me yearning for some type of resolution for her.

Jeffrey shares the limelight with Ian and Lizzie. After the events of the second book, Jeffrey resolves to stay closer to God, stay dry and away from former relationships that could lure him back to his old ways. He spends a little more time with Stephen. At the same time, he also resolves to reach out to Michelle in an effort to “be Jesus” to her. Of course, most of these resolutions are tested repeatedly, creating a sense of mystery about his relationship with Michelle. His accident temporarily takes him out of Michelle’s sphere and into the care of his parents. Happily this gives him an opportunity to gain some peace with them.

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I have thoroughly enjoyed this series so far. Rebekah Lyn’s writing style pulls us into the details of friendships and leads us to care for each of the five friends. The pace of this third book is slower than the previous books, which seems to be intentional in order to develop the tangled web of events, tests, and character development. If you enjoy delving into the details of life, watching how people going through life without God learn about Him and reach out to Him when others are not accessible, then you will enjoy this book.

Additional note: The fourth book in this series is soon to be released. Look for a December wedding!

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Disclosure of Material Connection: I received a complimentary review copy of this book from the author. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

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When Mercy Rains (The Zimmerman Restoration Trilogy, Book 1) by Kim Vogel Sawyer ~review~

When Mercy Rains by Kim Vogel Sawyer

When Mercy Rains

This is a story of family dynamics, secrets, hidden sin and its consequences. Ultimately there is redemption, forgiveness and peace, but the journey from heartbreak to healing is long and rocky, full of twists and unexpected turns, lies and deception. The question that continually ran through my mind while I was reading this book was, “How could such a seemingly invisible act lead to such enormous, far-reaching consequences?”

Suzanne Zimmerman grew up in an Old Order Mennonite community in rural Kansas. But at the age of 17, she suddenly discovered she was to become an unwed mother. She confided this to her mother who immediately made arrangements to send her daughter off to another Mennonite community to adopt the baby out to Suzanne’s cousin Andrew and his wife. But the experience was more traumatic than she expected, and when the time came, she elected to stay in Indianapolis. At the new church where she attended, Suzanne met a couple who essentially adopted her, encouraged her to get her high school graduation equivalent (GED), and schooling for her RN degree. The story picks up twenty years later: Suzanne was now living contentedly on her own, working the night shift as a nurse at a Mennonite missionary hospital. She loved coming home to her apartment where her 19-year-old daughter, Alexa, usually had a meal prepared for them. Alexa was an amazing cook.

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Alexa and Suzanne’s lives took a sudden right turn when they received a letter from a younger brother who informed them that Suzanne’s mother was seriously injured in a farming accident and was unable to walk. She was now confined to a wheelchair. Clete wanted Suzanne to return to Arborville to help the family take care of her. For awhile, she was torn about making such a momentous decision, but she finally decided to take a leave of absence of a few months. The really difficult decision to make was whether to take Alexa with her. It meant having to risk revealing a few secrets she had kept from her family, and even from Alexa herself.

Alexa was beside herself with excited anticipation about meeting her family for the first time. She really didn’t know what to expect. She had visualized a joyful, boisterous reunion, happy faces, and welcoming tears. But when that didn’t happen, she realized that no one had known about her. Why hadn’t her mother told them about her? What puzzled her more was the silent tension and apparent resentment her mother was greeted with. But Alexa was made of sterner stuff, and she was determined to melt the ice and win her family over, beginning with her grandmother, Abigail Zimmerman.

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While this is a character-driven book dealing mostly with mother/daughter issues, the author manages to ramp up the tension and suspense by revealing only a little bit of information at a time. The reader is forced to make numerous assumptions which turn out to be erroneous when major bumps in the road appear. This is the writing strategy that keeps us on the edge of our seats and turning the pages. Because of this, I managed to read the 344-page book in just a few days.

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Another thing I liked about this book is the complexity of the situation. Suzanne had a large family, and her disappearance made ripples that upset the lives of her former boyfriend, all her brothers and sisters, her mother and father, and Alexa. The book explores many of these problem areas while still keeping the focus mainly on Suzanne, her mother, and Alexa. At times, it didn’t look as if any resolution could be reached with Mrs. Zimmerman and some of the family members. But in the end, the seemingly impossible becomes possible and the final events resolve satisfactorily.

Even though the subject matter is serious and the darkness of discord runs constantly throughout the plot line, the author was still able to add moments of humor and light. Suzanne’s former boyfriend, Paul Aldrich, had gotten married after she had left. He had a son Danny before his wife died of cancer. The boy has a great sense of mischief and lends comic relief to the story. Many times, the author also defuses tense moments through Alexa’s light and cheerful personality. One of my favorite funny moments, however, occurred when Mother Zimmerman, Suzanne, Alexa, and Shelley took a day trip to Wichita. Just when you think Shelley’s bad attitude would ruin the trip for the women, Mrs. Zimmerman’s former wry humor finally broke through the awkwardness and anger. It was a moment of hope and a turning point in the story.

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Finally, in spite of the fact this is not a romance story, Suzanne’s former love interest is another major element of the story because Paul is the carpenter refitting the house to accommodate the wheelchair. He is constantly present and both Paul and Suzanne realize they must come to terms with their former relationship and their current feelings for each other. Unfortunately, this is one of the threads that remains unresolved by the end of the book. But I have hopes it will be settled in the next book, which focuses on Alexa’s new life among the Zimmermans.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received a complimentary review copy of this book from Waterbrook Press and the website, Blogging for Books. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

 

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Always on my Mind: A Christiansen Family novel (Book 4) by Susan May Warren ~Review~

Always on my Mind (Book 4) by Susan May Warren

Always on my Mind

I have been captivated with the Christiansen Family series since the first book I have read. I’ve read and reviewed several of the books in the series since then and every one of them is superb in character development, family dynamics, incorporating faith into the characters’ lives and personalities. Always on my Mind is one of the best in this series I’ve read so far. It goes on my book shelf with the other keepers because I’m going to read them over and over.

The book is about Casper Christiansen and Raina Beaumont. We actually meet them in the previous book of the series: When I Fall in Love (Book 3). That book was about Grace Christiansen and Max Sharpe. Raina was Grace’s culinary assistant. She was living temporarily with her aunt in Deep Haven, Minnesota, a town near Evergreen Resort. The resort is the setting around which most of the books in the series revolve. Raina met Casper the previous summer when she delivered a pizza to some of his friends. Casper was in charge of a competitive rowing team and managed to rope Raina into participating. That is how their romance began. But she was carrying a secret that was unfortunately revealed at Casper’s sister’s wedding (Eden Christiansen and Jace’s story is another book in the series), near the end of the book. Casper was hurt and secretly jealous. He decided to bury his rage by following a dream of his, working for an architect’s team down in Roatan, Honduras.

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But while Casper was down in Roatan searching for artifacts and hidden treasure, he couldn’t get Raina out of his head. He cut his adventure short and flew north to try to make up with her. He arrived in Minneapolis where Raina was living with Grace just in time to take her to the hospital where she gave birth to a beautiful baby girl. Casper didn’t even know she was expecting, and the baby certainly wasn’t his. But when she decided to place her baby up for adoption, he quickly got angry again. He knew who the father was, and was having difficulty wrapping his mind around the turn of events. Thinking Casper was rejecting her again, Raina ordered him out of her life. When he complied without a protest she was devastated.

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Raina eventually moved back to Deep Haven to stay at her aunt’s house. She found a job at an antique store that she grew to love. Not knowing about Raina’s plans, Casper decided to stay at the resort to help his brother Darek over the winter. Darek wasn’t able to hire him, so Casper found a job in sales at the local hardware store/ sports shop. Soon, he discovered Raina was back in town. From then on the story became very interesting.

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Susan May Warren writes some of the most stirring character development I have ever read. Her characters feel real, as if they were people we know. Their pain and their struggles feel real, and we grapple with their problems right along with them. The author is adept at expressing her characters’ mental and spiritual anguish equally. If we are honest with ourselves, we can see our own belief systems and feelings in their inner battles. You can’t help but empathize with them in their triumphs and failings. Most of us could probably think of someone we know going through the same type of turmoil in their lives.

One of my favorite parts of this story is the intriguing mystery the author has created. Raina becomes involved in solving this mystery as a representative of the antique shop that is evaluating an estate. Casper joins forces with her as a volunteer for the Deep Haven Historical Society when he finds items that offer clues toward solving the mystery. What they learn in their “treasure hunt” becomes an intriguing parallel to their own unique situation. Entries from Aggie’s diary of a hundred years ago
become a valuable object lesson for Raina in the present. Furthermore, a couple of surprises at the end at so much depth to this wonderful story.

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I read quite a few book in the Christian genre. Sometimes a book’s inclusion of God, faith in Jesus, and the role of faith in the characters’ lives sound artificial and contrived, while some other books only make passing remarks about God. That’s not the way God operates in my life. He is vital, real, and foremost in my thoughts in most of my waking hours, and His principles influence my way of life because He values me and I value Him. I’m delighted when I discover books such as those of Ms. Warren’s, which reflect a similar relationship in their characters. The characters aren’t perfect, just like me and you. Ms. Warren’s characters don’t preach; they live, love, falter and learn. They grow just as we do. They are three-dimensional. I’m attract to that.

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Finally, another aspect about the author’s books I love is how eventually the entire Christiansen family is gathered together and she wraps us in the collective family sense of warmth, belonging, identity and acceptance–warts and all. As readers, we get to see genuine family love the way it’s designed to be, not sappy or saccharine, but one that folds its arms around the newcomer in welcome, even when that person is flawed. I get the sense that a person could only write about that type of family if that is their own experience. Reading these books brought to my mind some great memories of my own.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received a complimentary review copy of this book from Tyndale House Publishers, Inc. through their Blog Program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

 

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Slave Again by Alana Terry ~Review~

Slave Again by Alana Terry

Slave Again

This novella is an in-between book, almost like a pre-quel. Though each of Ms. Terry’s books can be read alone, they lend support for each other, beginning with Beloved Daughter, then Slave Again, and finally Torn Asunder. The novella is short enough to be read quickly. Since I am already reading Torn Asunder, I noticed that what is introduced in this book is continued in that one. So if the story seems a little disjointed, there are several threads being introduced that will continue later in subsequent books.

The suspense and action in this book is tough as nails and somewhat graphic. The worst of it is implied, but our imaginations can easily fill in the details. This is not meant to be a feel good, tender read. The events portray the horrors of living in North Korea, how some try to cross the river into China out of desperation just to earn some money to send back to their starving families. The major thread follows Pang and Mee-Kyong after they have escaped Camp 22. They are about to cross over the border, guided by a sleazy, greedy border broker. Before crossing, Mee-Kyong gives birth to a dead baby; she is considerably weakened by the bleeding but crosses anyway. The broker sells her and another girl into a hotel that prostitutes them. Mee-Kyong adopts the young girl, Sun, and tries to protect her as best as she can.

Eventually she escapes and finds the home of an American couple operating a business in the area. But they also operate a secret seminary for refugees who desire to return to North Korea and offer hope to their friends, neighbors and families. The work is very dangerous, and only a few pass over the border at a time to minimize the risk. Mee-Kyong arrives at the house after the last group has already departed. This is where we become acquainted with Roger and Juliette Stern, the American couple who reach out to North Korean refugees as much as they are able. At first, Mee-Kyong doesn’t know how to react to the couple. The cultural differences are great, and being a fighter, she finds it hard to lower her guard and trust them. Eventually she decides to stay with them for awhile.

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This book is filled with danger, suspense, and gritty reality. The author’s talents are crystal clear, as she keeps her readers on the edge all the way through. Our emotions are all over the place as we feel alternately repulsed and heart-broken by the ugly life the North Koreans face, the slavery they sometimes enter when reaching China, the indulgences of the Americans living in China, and the futility of everyone’s efforts to right the wrongs, in contrast to the little bit of hope as we see Mee- Kyon’s life transformed. There are plenty of surprises in this story, including the identity of a spy for the North Korean government in the Stern’s home. Finding the identity of the agent only intensifies the suspense because it impacts the characters in the next story, Torn Asunder.

What I like most about the author’s writing style is that she writes in a brutally honest manner, not pulling her punches in the way she confidently displays the ugly reality of refugee life and the blatant trafficking that goes along with it. While this is written from a Christian viewpoint, you don’t have to be a Christian to be swept in the poignancy of the story and tragic realities. I am looking forward to reading more books from this author.

Alana Terry loves homeschooling. She loves it so much that in addition to teaching her three boys at home, she also leads clubs and day camps for homeschoolers in her community. An eclectic homeschooler at heart, Alana enjoys the freedom of family-directed learning and also plans interdisciplinary unit studies for homeschoolers of various ages.

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In addition to the “My Solar-Powered History” series, Alana has published “A Boy Named Silas: The First Five Years”, the true story of her tube-fed son’s complicated medical history. She also writes Christian fiction. Her debut novel, “The Beloved Daughter”, won second place in the 2012 Women of Faith’s writing contest.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received a complimentary review copy of this book from the author. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

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