Tuesday, December 30, 2014

December's Review Round-up

Here is the link to this month's review posted at Wildflower Faith:

Rhythms of Grace by Kerri Weems
This was by far my favorite non-fiction discovery of 2014!

You may have noticed that December was slow month for book reviews. I enjoyed the little break and used it to catch up on some other reading. In January, though, this blog will be full of reviews!

Here are a few titles that you can expect to see:

Hope Crossing by Cindy Woodsmall
Always on My Mind by Susan May Warren
Price of Privilege by Jessica Dotta
The Pleasure of His Company by Dutch Sheets

I hope you all enjoyed a beautiful Christmas! I wish you a Happy New Year.

Monday, December 22, 2014

Book Review: "The Wishing Season"

Denise Hunter has been among my favorite authors for some time now. I always look forward to her new releases, knowing I'll get to enjoy a sweet story. The Wishing Season, her newest release, disappointed me, though. Yes. It was a sweet story. But it pushed the boundaries of Christian fiction too far. If I had a teenage daughter, I wouldn't be comfortable letting her read this book. And, though the book wasn't written for teenagers or young adults, it does carry the label Christian fiction. To me that means that the Christian characters in the book, though human and vulnerable to temptation, should be "role models" for those who read their stories. P.J. and Cole weren't.

When an elderly lady in town offers to give her spacious house to the applicant she finds most worthy, P.J. and Cole both apply. P.J. wants to turn the home into a restaurant/bed and breakfast. Cole wants to turn it into a home for young adults transitioning out of the foster care system. The owner of the house can't decide which applicant has the better idea, so she gives one floor of the home to P.J. for a year and the other to Cole. At the end of that time, she'll see how each of them has done and choose a winner.

The problem is: P.J. and Cole are complete strangers. Both are unmarried. They are now living together. And as the book progresses, they fall in love and can't keep their hands off of each other--while still living in the same house. They never go so far as to sleep together, but they go in and out of each other's bedrooms at all hours of the day and night. And Hunter portrays the situation as totally normal, nothing anyone should be concerned about when, in reality, it's a high-temptation situation that unmarried Christians should avoid. I'm not surprised when secular media uses this tactic, portraying what shouldn't be normal as normal in order to get people to decide that it is normal after all. But I shouldn't find that in a book written for Christians.

On the positive side, I did like Hunter's portrayal of Cole overcoming the great hardships of his life. He was a complex character who learned about changes he needed to make in his opinion of himself. He carried his issues through the story, was hit with a crisis, failed in his response to it, then accepted new insight and made things right. I enjoyed reading about it, though I wish even that would have have had a bit more depth. Hunter told me what went on inside of Cole, but didn't quite convince me it was so.

Thomas Nelson Publishers sent me a complimentary copy of this book for my honest review.

Friday, December 19, 2014

Book Review: "The Secret of Pembrooke Park"

A regency romance with layers of mystery, The Secret of Pembrooke Park is Julie Klassen’s most intriguing story yet. I just kept reading, my mind trying to sort it all out. Though I did guess bits, Klassen kept me mildly uncertain and guessing to the end where everything worked out just right. I recommend this perilous tale!

Trying to set things right for her family who suffered a serious financial set-back because of her investment recommendation, Abigail Foster encourages her father to accept an unusual housing offer. For unknown reasons, the anonymous owner wants Abigail’s family to live at Pembrooke Park for at least one year for a very low rate, household help included. The Fosters know little about the history of the manor but do know that the Pembrookes are distant relatives. They make plans to move in, sending Abigail ahead, alone, to help the servants prepare.

When Abigail begins to hear rumors about the estate that her servants, under threat of losing their jobs, refuse to confirm or deny, she starts seeking answers on her own. Journal pages written by a former inhabitant arrive in the mail to make her even more curious—and to provide clues. Bumps in the night, grave warnings from mysterious sources, strange behavior of town residents, and the suspiciously timed arrival of one of the actual Pembrookes all spur Abigail’s investigation on. Does Pembrooke Park offer hope for her family or threaten to destroy it? She has to keep seeking the truth.

I received a complimentary copy of this book from Bethany House Publishers in exchange for this honest review. It was an intense adventure with unusual characters set in a favorite historical time. Fans of books like Jane Eyre and Wuthering Heights will want to discover The Secret of Pembrooke Park.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Janet's Reading Themes for 2015

I don't know how you choose books to read. But I like to choose reading themes. Last year, along with whatever books came along for review, I focused on books by Dee Henderson. I read Jennifer, then I reread The O'Malley's series, then I caught up with Henderson's three most recent books. Now I've learned her next book, Taken, will be released in April - I can't wait!

For 2015, I have some new themes:

First, for my devotional reading, along with my Bible, I'll be reading books by C.S. Lewis. I've collected most of them and read several. But I still have more to read and some I long to reread. I don't expect to get through them all, but I'm going to read as many as I can. I'm starting with The Weight of Glory, one I've seen quoted from often that I have yet to read.

Also for devotional reading, I plan to read some of the Kindle Freebies I've collected over the past few years. Some are by well-known authors like Beth Moore. Others are by bloggers who wanted to share their thoughts in digital book form. I've gleefully grabbed so many of these when they were offered for free. Now I want to read them! (And if they were written by self-published authors who were hoping for positive reviews, I will be writing those for the books I enjoy.) I'll be reading Walking with Bilbo by Sarah Arthur first.

Then for fun, along with whatever books come along for review, I plan to finish as many series I've started as I can. Again, there is no way I'll get through them all in one year. My must-read-to-finish-series list on Goodreads has 75 titles. But I've been reading through The House of Winslow series by Gilbert Morris since 1999, and I still have four books to go (plus the three books in the spin-off series A Winslow Breed, but they won't count toward this theme). It's time for me to finish some of these series. I'll actually be starting with The Price of Privilege by Jessica Dotta which I just received for review. This will wrap up her ultra-mysterious Price of Privilege trilogy.

  • Your turn! What reading themes or goals are you setting for 2015?

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Book Review: "Two Tickets to the Christmas Ball"

If you, like me, never quite outgrew the love of a great fairy tale, Two Tickets to the Christmas Ball will sweep you off your feet. Published in 2010, it remains one of my Christmas favorites, a delightful story by an imaginative author.

Donita Paul's imagination is revealed in her characters. (Sandy and Skippy were my favorites.) It is revealed in the story's setting—if only I could actually visit Sage Street and the Warner, Werner, and Wizbotterdad bookstore. (That’s right—it starts in a bookstore. I was sold from the start! And I’d love to buy a dress from the Booterbaw sisters someday. If only I could.) Finally, her imagination worked overtime all through the vaguely familiar, but not entirely predictable plot. I enjoyed this book.

As a bonus, skillfully crafted into the story are many subtle words of Christian wisdom and practical ideas for life. This is my favorite kind of story: one I can thoroughly relax and enjoy, yet glean some significant insight from as I do. (The one I considered most profound can be found in the second full paragraph of page 144.) If you’re in the mood for a sweet Christmas story this season, go out and find this book!

Friday, December 5, 2014

Finding Guilt-Free Time to Read

I’ve been asked how I find time to read as many books as I do. First I’d have to say that when you enjoy something thoroughly and benefit from it, if it’s your passion, so to speak, you make time for the activity. Reading is such an activity for me. My God and my family come first, but reading enhances my relationships and my involvement in ministry. What I put in, God can bring out. Reading has value that way.

The Woman's Study Bible, NIV
Here are a few tricks I’ve learned:

1. Use waiting time. The television character, Rory, one of the Gilmore Girls, always carried a book in her purse to read when she had to wait for something—a bus, a friend, an appointment, whatever. She had the book available and made good use of the time. Likewise, one of my college professors claims he read the entire Old Testament while waiting for his wife to do her make-up on Sunday mornings. My husband doesn’t put on make-up, praise the Lord, but my professor’s point was that we can make good use of waiting time. A few minutes here and there eventually get us through even a great, big, overwhelming book!

2. Get up early (or stay up late). It all depends on how you’re wired. If you’re an early bird, get up before anyone else and enjoy a few moments of uninterrupted quiet, reading time—the Bible first, then other books. If you’re a night owl, celebrate getting the rest of the household to bed and reward yourself for a good day’s work by reading before you tuck yourself in.

3. Multi-task. Here’s your opportunity to get really creative. I’ll offer a few ideas to get you started: I like to work-out in the morning, and sometimes I run on a treadmill. I’ve learned that if I make the incline steep, I can burn the same amount of calories per mile walking as I burn running on a flat surface. If I’m walking, I can read as I do, and walking is easier on knees and ankles. It takes a little longer to complete a work-out, but joint health and reading time justify that. I also like to read while I cook. I’m notoriously impatient while waiting for water to boil or pasta to soften up. If I keep a book on the counter to read during these waiting times, I’m more likely to get the recipe right.

4. Reward yourself for doing tasks you usually put off. Tell yourself if you complete the dreaded task, you’ve earned a little time to read. Then keep your promise—treat yourself. Don’t rush off to do something else.

5. Turn teaching your children into playtime for yourself. I found this idea in a Focus on the Family Magazine article last year. It’s too much fun! If a child fails to do a chore, as children sometimes do, rather than rant and rave, fuss and fume, quietly do the chore yourself. Later, have your child pay you back by doing a chore for you. Choose a dreaded, time-consuming one, then read while your child works. (This isn't as effective with little kids, but with teenagers, it’s ideal.)

These are just a few ideas. I hope they are helpful to you. If you have others, please take the time to comment and share. I always appreciate finding more time to read: God’s Word first, then other worthwhile books--or blogs or magazines.