Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Quiet a lot to contemplate in Be Still My Soul

     Joanne Bischof's Be Still My Soul seems at first a drama or an unlikely romance, but it deals with something far greater than that: a romance with God and finding a home not in a place but with a loved one.   In the story, Bischof draws the reader first into Lonnie Sawyer's life and paints a grim picture of what she has endured and what she will continue to endure with her distant hope coming from her loving aunt, then Bischof  draws the reader with Lonnie into a new and unexpected life with Gideon O'Riley.  Though Lonnie is the protagonist of this tale, it is very much about her giving him the opportunity to grow from an attractive boy into a loving man.  The question seen throughout the piece is whether or not Gideon will take that opportunity and grow up.

     Throughout the tale, Gideon shows good points that point to a good heart but he also seems to cling to being self centered and self pleasing.  He's angry that he's stuck with Lonnie and that it is really his fault they are both stuck, and that makes him more angry.  The beginning and end of this tale, while painful, read extremely well; however, somewhere in the middle it slows and became difficult to push through.  With the addition of a new character named Jebediah and his wife, the story picks up again and carries through despite emotional trauma.  There are moments that are sad and might be too much for some women who have lost much in their life, but it is a beautiful tale and inspires the reader to lean on God as well, since Lonnie does it as she goes through so much.

     After reading the Advance Reading Copy of this book Be Still My Soul by Joanne Bishcof, provided by Multnomah publishing, it is impossible not to recommend this book with the small qualification that a few chapters get slow in the middle, but it is well worth the read. So, read on, reader, let your soul be still, and enjoy.

Sunday, September 2, 2012

Becoming enmeshed in Saunders Creek

             Tracey Bateman's novel The Widow of Saunders Creek explores both the depths of grief and of finding identity again without a lost one.  In the novel, Corrie Saunders returns to the house she inherited from her husband in hopes of feeling closer to him.  When it starts, he's been dead six months, killed taking on a suicide bomber, and Corrie feels more and more lost.  By learning to live again, and through help from his cousin, Eli, and his aunt, Corrie rediscovers skills that used to bring her much joy and Eli describes her creative gift as: "I think God gave her a piece of His heart, and she put it on the wall" (Bateman 274).
          But the book does not only deal with rediscovering old joys and learning to live with grief; it also explores dimensions of the spiritual realm.  Bateman set her story in the Ozarks in Missouri where Christianity and old ways and magic all about in a strange mixture.  Many families there have older relatives who practice magic and speaking to the dead and the Saunders' family is no exception.  When Corrie is placed between Eli, who is a pastor, and Eli and her husband's elderly aunt who says she speaks to the dead, it does not take a genius to guess where Corrie's grief stricken mind goes.  What was really enjoyable about this book was the way that Bateman dealt with the spiritual world, easing the reader and Corrie both into it first little occurrences and building up to full on manifestations of physical movements.
          Bateman handles the explanation of what demons try to do, and how they can use grief to try to draw people in to their webs,   well, and she also writes the demonic interactions in such a way that it's first subtle and then not, but always believable.   She beautifully shows the differences between our loving God and these demons that pretend to be loved ones but are just masking their wickedness.
            Receiving a free reviewers copy from Water Brook Press was a great opportunity to read The Widow of Saunders Creek.  It is to be hoped Tracey Batman has other great novels like The Widow of Saunders Creek coming out soon.

Friday, August 31, 2012

Francine Pascal's The Wakefield Legacy The Untold Story

          Following up Francine Pascal's The Wakefields of Sweet Valley comes The Wakefield Legacy: The Untold Story.  In this novel, Pascal takes the same five generation journey as before but follows the twins' of Sweet Valley High's paternal side, starting with Theo Wakefield who leaves his family and inheritance of title and estate in England to travel to America in 1866.  Again, the characters are enjoyable to read but the author lets down the reader by imposing events and actions that do not seem natural to the character.
          In Theo Wakefield, Pascal hardens his heart and he becomes what he ran away from, which fits some people but not the good and loving man she paints Theo.  Before his last decision on the pages of the novel, Pascal takes away his brother, his parents, his home, the two women he loves (one in 1866 and one years later) and his twin son.  This being the case and him doting upon his daughter, it does not seem likely that he would make any decision that would cost him his daughter (only living child and piece of his last love).
          From Theo, Pascal creates enjoyable characters: his daughter who experiences the San Francisco quake, to her son Ted whose story is completely heart breaking and the one that connects to the women's novel with Amanda and mirrors Theo's story in him losing his two loves, then his son who participates in WWII and finally his grandson who is a child of the sixties and becomes the father of the Sweet Valley High twins.
          The WWII story in this novel is the best of the ten stories about the twins' ancestors and is exciting, dangerous, and wound up very nicely. Robert and Hannah Weiss are well crafted and believable. They would be the couple most suggested to be read and then the story of the parents of the twins is the next best story.  The novel was well written but again the sadness and tragedy seemed forced into it to make the Wakefields bump into the women's line several times before finally ending up together when it might have been better to have just not had them meet until the parents' generation.

Francine Pascal's Sweet Valley Saga The Wakefields of Sweet Valley

          Most women have either heard about, read, or even watched the twins of Sweet Valley High at some point in their lives, but they may not have heard of the two prequels before the series.  In The Wakefields of Sweet Valley, Francine Pascal takes the reader through the five generations of women before the Sweet Valley High twins.  This book moves from 1866 with Alice Larson traveling from Sweden to the US through the story of her tragic children, twins in the 1920s, a girl who grows to be a woman in the French resistance in WWII, and finally to the twins' mother Alice Robertson who is a child of the sixties.
          Though the stories are exciting and cover interesting points in history, it is hard to get through.  The writing is simple and inviting, causing the reader to move quickly through the pages; however, heart ache after heart ache beats down on these characters.  Yes, they do continue on and make lives for themselves in some way or another but most of the stories are tragic or just short of tragic and some of the tragedies seem author imposed instead of natural to the plot and or characters.  For instance, Alice Larson's grand-daughter Amanda falls in love with a man and when her twin sister does something unforgivable to drive the two apart while pretending to be Amanda, it is left unexplained to the man.  Amanda sends a letter to him but it seems more realistic for her, a character who already braved going to all the jails in the area to look for him, to actually go to his home in person and make sure that he at least knew she hadn't betrayed him.  Amanda just stays home and nurses her broken heart and then raises her sister's child instead of doing anything and this just seems unbelievable.
          The most entertaining stories were the last two stories, but perhaps that is because one was less tragic and the other was not even really painful.  Another reason these were enjoyable may be the back drop of the stories.  WWII in France is a vastly intriguing topic and opens itself to being romanticized through the eyes of a young girl falling in love.  The sixties, it can be supposed, may be interesting to some.
          Francine Pascal succeeded in creating inviting characters that draw the reader in and sewing a pattern into all of the stories with a wooden rose from the first Alice to the second, but this story would not be something easy to re-read. She also told the tale of losing love and moving on with life and finding it in a different way, which is something good to share with society. Therefore, the characters are well crafted and the plot interesting at times, but the book is removed far from the favorite's list because of its tragic often author imposed losses.

Friday, July 20, 2012

Wildflowers from Winter by Katie Ganshert

          Wildflowers from Winter by Katie Ganshert is not in my usual vein of reading; however, it is a book that I vastly enjoyed and left me eagerly looking forward to reading again.  When I finished reading the book I even wrote down my immediate reaction.  It was "So horribly, gut-wrenchingly sad, and yet I couldn't put it down.  A very, very good read."  My rule for reading books is to read books with good action, plot, romance, and comedy that are not sad, and yet not only did I read this book but I could not put it down.
          "For Ryan, my cute delivery guy turned husband. Who knew what God had in store for us when you delivered that first passage?" The dedication of this book seemed an apt one for the story line.  A chance meeting between a delivery guy and the person he is delivering to does not often end in romance; however, theirs clearly did.  The circumstances surrounding the lead characters in this book, Bethany Quinn and Evan Price, should make it even more unlikely that they would choose to meet again or even become friends, and yet the plot of the story shows that God has other plans.  
          One of the things I liked the most about this book is that it is a book where the God of the Christians can be seen to be present, but, like the gentleman He is, He doesn't force Himself on any of the characters.  All of the interactions between the believers and non-believers in this book are done in such a way that it feels real enough to see in day to day life, though one hopes to avoid the tragedies in every day life.  The book also deals with a distorted view of God that is used to imprison and put fear into people and the liberty of really meeting God.  
          Wildflowers from Winter is a beautiful piece that is well crafted and easy for the reader to slip into the world.  This book, which was received as a reviewer's copy from Water Brook Press, was something completely outside of the my usual reads and it was a great read.  I look forward to reading the next in its series.