Sunday, May 29, 2016

Fading Starlight by Kathryn Cushman

Lauren Summers is in hiding. Her fashion house internship was supposed to launch her career, but a red carpet accident has left her blackballed. The only job she can find comes with little pay, but at least it offers a free place to live–a rundown cottage in the shadow of a cliff-side mansion. Planning to live on savings until she figures out what’s next, she’s unprepared to be contacted by a reporter.

Kendall Joiner is researching Charlotte Montgomery, a former Hollywood ingénue who lives a reclusive life in the cliff-side mansion. Rumors have swirled for decades about Charlotte, and now Kendall wants to find the real story. In return, she may just have the key to getting Lauren back into the fashion world. Desperate to get her life back on track, Lauren's not sure she can turn down the offer--but as she and Miss Montgomery get to know more about each other, Lauren realizes nothing is quite as it seems.
Excerpt from back of book

Lauren, Lauren, Lauren.

Honestly, I loved this girl. 
While she could easily have been one of those "to good to be true" characters, Cushman was able to bring life to Lauren through her relationships, her honest wrestling with life's issues, and the growth she showed over the course of the plot. 

This depth was equally matched in Frances (another favourite, I loved her patient loyalty), Charlotte, Kendall, and to a lesser degree Willow (who fit her role perfectly). 
This was important as I felt the other characters: including Lauren's current and past coworkers and the other neighbours didn't hold as much weight and were quickly forgotten. The effort put into crafting the central characters was thoroughly evident I just wish there had been more "world building" in that area.

I also enjoyed Cushman's style when it came to telling her story. The interactions felt natural as did the use of the flashbacks to explore character history. The flashbacks, in fact, were a great addition to help readers enter into the mystery of Charlotte Montgomery. There were times when the transitions felt a little jarring but that could also be due to me reading at 1am. 

Overall, Cushman presents a great read. There's a solid mystery with some twists and turns I couldn't predict. Central characters with stories that connect, reach out, and give this characters life, and a wonderful story of finding one's way back when life comes crashing down.

4 out of 5 stars.

"Book has been provided courtesy of Baker Publishing Group and Graf-Martin Communications, Inc."

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Wild and Free by Jess Connolly and Hayley Morgan

I'm a sit down and devour a book in a day or two kind of gal. I love to read and I love books. In fact, there are only two types of books that I find myself slowing down for: books that fill page after page with meaningless nonsense and books that are so full of life and wonder that the pages are about to burst from what they contain. Wild and Free is definitely the latter and so worth the time it asks of its readers.

Exploring the fears of being "too much" and "not enough" there are few women who would be unable to find points of connection in Jess and Hayley's words. These friends and co-authors draw heavily upon Scriptural truth and life experience to call women forward to "shake off the lies of insecurity in your life, and step forward to maximize your God-given influence for his glory and the world’s good." (text from back of book)

Although the contrasting experiences and personalities of the authors are sure to help readers find connection with the book (cause let's face it there are always some personalities different people are drawn to first) it was the open honesty and humanness of the authors that drew me in. Through these pages it was easy to picture myself sitting down over coffee with a friend and exploring life intricacies (which sounds like a great way to spend a few afternoons in my opinion).
Like all good discussions I didn't agree with the authors on everything. My personality/time working on my MA make me sensitive to those who try to rush through pain or oversimplify but sometimes it's in those differences that good thought and discussion can happen to allow for growth.

For those looking for a great book for a ladies book club this book is perfect (need a pick me up for summer, fresh start with school in the fall, new you with the new year this is a great option).
You see, the only downside with this book was bot having other women to cheer on and be cheered on by. I really feel that the ability to do life with a group of gals while going through and working through these chapters would make the book that much more impacting.

This is definitely a book going on my "reread later" shelf. 5 out of 5 stars.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the publisher through the BookLook Bloggers <> book review bloggers 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.

Monday, May 9, 2016

Loving My Actual Life by: Alexandra Kuykendall

In life, there is the ideal: fulfilling work, thriving relationships, financial security. Not to mention an orderly and beautiful home and children who never misbehave. And then there’s reality: frustrations, illness, feeling overwhelmed and inadequate. We can wait around for our circumstances to change and in the process miss the goodness right in front of us. Or we can choose to love our actual lives, right here and now.
Excerpt from back of book

Loving my actual Life doesn't follow the traditional life growth, how-to format. Instead, Alexandra Kuykendall invites readers to journey along with her as she journals a 9 month experiment to better living in the life and responsibilities she currently has. Each chapter focuses on a single area of growth be it practical such as organization or less concrete like passion or adventure. Including an entry from each day of the experiment, Alexandra is honest in both the successes and less fruitful ins and outs of her journey while inviting readers to consider their own lives.

I'm honestly a bit torn on the book. While I enjoy life growth and the topics Alexandra focuses on (honestly it was nice to hear a mom talking about the necessity of creativity and passion after kids) and I'm also finding myself more intrigued and the storytelling power of the stream of thought, intimate style of writing which seems to be gaining popularity, I'm not entirely sure how to merge the two in my own brain.

I recognize part of my struggle was my own mentality. I went in looking for something a bit more cut and dried (from the experiment in the title) but found something more true to life. A lot of twists, turns, and flips as the author navigated life in all its messy, organic glory. 
This can be a strength if you're ready and looking for it and once I found that readers groove (it took a few chapters) I found the book to read much more strongly.

In the end, I'm not sure all readers will be able to engage with this style of writing, pick out the lessons, and reflectively see how it could apply to their own lives. The writing is so organic and true to life and I've known many who struggle with that. However, I think most moms can read this and see a glimpse of self and take encouragement from the realization of community and journeying together.

3.5 stars out of 5

"Book has been provided courtesy of Baker Publishing Group and Graf-Martin Communications, Inc."

Tuesday, May 3, 2016

Someone Like You by Victoria Bylin

Single mom Julia Dare has a lot on her plate. A brand new Christian, she's busy trying to run her own business, spend time with her widowed mother, and raise her young son, Max, despite his father's less-than-ideal influence on him. When a big account from her event-planning business sends her to the Caliente Springs resort, she's shocked to come face-to-face with Zeke Monroe, the resort's general manager and her college sweetheart.

With his faith in tatters, Zeke Monroe is determined to keep the historic Caliente Springs resort running despite financial difficulties. But when Julia walks back into his life, he can't ignore the feelings she stirs up. As they work together on an important client's dream wedding, the fate of the resort soon depends on their success. When Zeke and Julia are pushed to their limits both personally and professionally, will their history put up walls between them or bring them together?
Excerpt from back cover

In Victoria Bylin's latest book Julia Dare isn't the only one with a lot on her plate. I was surprised just how much was packed into my first foray with Bylin's writing. Between Julia, Zeke, and Hunter or Ellen and George or Ginger and the wedding or Max there was always something going on in this book. The more I read, however (and there was a lot to read: exes, siblings in different directions, etc), the more I began to feel that this was due to the author's strengths. While I felt there was nothing overly noted about the setting (good or bad) Bylin's obvious strength was in the characters and relationships she mapped out for their lives. It was good to see Bylin utilizing that strength and made for a far stronger book in the end than I anticipated.

The main characters were well constructed. Julia was honest in her confusion as she tried to sort out old feelings and new relationships along with her growing faith and new life as a business owner and single mom. She had a strength in her vulnerability that was nice to see in this genre. Although that said. I far preferred following Ellen's journey with George. 

Ellen and George, although a fast pace considering the one month timeframe giving under the one month wedding planning job that brings Ellen, Julia, and Max to the resort. However, her struggles to move forward, her obvious love for her family, and just the overall sweetness of George's attention made me almost want to skip through to find more of this sweet duo. Maybe growing up in a family that loved westerns influenced me a bit but George just seemed like the uncle or grandpa you wished could jump off the page and spend time with face to face,

The plot itself felt fairly predictable in pacing and resolution for a contemporary romance fiction but Bylin was able to throw in some wonderful highlights including Chet and Ladybug that will help Someone Like You stand out in readers minds rather than fall into the grey murkiness of forgotten books. 

4 out of 5 stars

"Book has been provided courtesy of Baker Publishing Group and Graf-Martin Communications, Inc."

Monday, May 2, 2016

Finding God in the Hard Times: Choosing to Trust and Hope When You Can't See the Way by Matt and Beth Redman

When I was in high school the new "in" song was Blessed be your name. 

It was for good reason.

Because now, over a decade later, and with a lot more education (specifically focusing in areas such as counselling, crisis, and music - my course selection was hilarious) I can see the lack of venues for expression during times of trial that still exist in the church. I remember walking into counselling classes where large percentages of the class had never heard of lament - let alone understood its purpose and I've yet to see percentages for those outside of higher education.

Blessed be your name was unique for its time as a modern worship song that acknowledged the time of pain, suffering, and messy unclear situations without answers while still being fully worship.

Honestly, I still love that song.

One other thing I learned in college was that it is infinitely easier to run on for pages than to confine oneself to a small word count when the topic is important. Given my love of Matt Redman's lyrics I was curious to see how he would address the same themes evident in the popular song when given the space to roam free.

Finding God in Hard Times is the book I wish had been assigned while I was a counselling student. This is not a deep theological debate, it's not a how to/ 10 step/ here's your answers book either. It is a beautiful journey though -either self-contained or as the start of deeper study.

I loved the simplicity of Matt and Beth's text. Heavily reliant on both scripture and personal touches Finding God stood out to me in its refusal to deny God's unchanging faithfulness through trial while being equally unwilling to oversimplify and brush off the reality, painfulness, and tension of living in a broken world.

This is that rare book I would actually feel comfortable giving to a friend going through a rough patch or recommending for a small group (not just because of the handy guide provided by Matt and Beth at the end); Matt and Beth's writing is comfortable sitting with pain, sitting with confusion, and yet constantly, gently pointing readers back to God.

5 out of 5 stars

"Book has been provided courtesy of Baker Publishing Group and Graf-Martin Communications, Inc."

The Quieting by Suzanne Woods Fisher

The Stoltzfus family faces serious problems, both in the church and at home. Everyone in the community expects minister David Stoltzfus to fix things–fast. But David doesn’t work fast. He prefers to wait for God to work in individual hearts. However, even he is left wondering if the solution to their most pressing problem might be a Quieting.

When David’s mother arrives, uninvited, more upheaval is in store. She has matchmaking plans for everyone in the family, including David and her eligible granddaughters–and especially for David’s niece Abigail. When Abigail stumbles onto a curious connection during her genealogical research, it could help David solve one problem–but will it create another?

Excerpt from back of book

A few months ago I found myself drawn into the The Imposter the first book of Fisher's latest series The Bishop's Family. At the time I found it to be a solid Amish fiction and one that would be well liked within that genre's fans.

With the coming of book 2 The Quieting, I was pleasantly surprised to see that, not only has Fisher managed to recapture all of the strengths and charm of book 1 but expanded the Stoltzfus family in such a way to make them even more real, relatable, and readable. I'll certainly be recommending this book to friends, starting with you ;)

For a little twist, I'll start with what I didn't like. The characters I fell in love with in The Imposter (namely Katrina and Thelma) were hard to find in this book due to space. So the continuity lover in me found myself longer for more than just the occasional pop in to update us on the baby.

Otherwise I loved this book.

Jesse (another favourite character from the first book) featured heavily in book 2 and is well set up for a feature book of his own down the road (which I'm already eagerly hoping for since book 3 is about Ruthie). His character development has been so real and beautiful that I find myself smiling over his predicaments and wondering how much of that charm I may see out of my youngest down the road (better to prepare early ;) )

Abigail was another highlight in this book. She reminds me, to be honest, of some people I know on the upper end of the autism spectrum, although I can't say that was the intent of the author. Still I love her unique perspective and how that didn't hinder her from carrying this story. Again, Fisher seems to excel in highlighting the painful ins and outs of coming of age in a way that makes her characters beautifully human and so easily connectable to a wide range of readers.

Also drawing on Fisher's strengths in this series is the ongoing romance of David and Birdy. Most Amish fiction seems to have some romance in it and The Quieting  has more than enough for readers to find at least one couple to root for, that said, I appreciate how the relationships have struggles and may not fit the norm. There were more than a few times I marveled at Birdy's strengths and David's cluelessness but, again, just made the story more believable. Honestly, I'll read book 3 just to make sure these two are doing okay.

Amish fiction is not for everyone. But if you're looking for a book about family, coming of age, or life with great character development and relationships, give this series a try and see if you don't just become the next person to find yourself at home in Stoney Ridge.

4.5 out of 5 stars

I received this book as part of the Revell book tour in exchange for my honest opinion. The views expressed are my own