Thursday, November 29, 2012

A Christmas for Katie: A Christmas Families of Honor Novella (Families of Honor #3.5), by Shelley Shepard Gray

Katie Weaver, a precocious 6 year old Amish girl, is frustrated with the nativity in front of the library. It looks rundown, old and lackluster. She sets her sights on having a real nativity for Christmas, with real people and real animals. When she, with the help of her sister-in-law Ella, approaches the pretty librarian, Miss Donovan, with her wonderful idea, Miss Donovan dismisses it, looking annoyed but mostly sad. Knowing that love can make people happy and more agreeable, Katie decides to start praying for Miss Donovan so that God may provide her with a boyfriend, and to do a little matchmaking herself. However, strange things start happening: an elderly woman is attacked in front of the nativity, and every day a new nativity figure disappears. Now Katie, with the help of Connor Fields, the new deputy in town, must figure out who's behind the disappearance of the figures before the nativity is left looking worse than it already does. And if she manages a few Christmas miracles in between, with God's help, well, it may be a great Christmas after all.

Katie will soon see how God uses everything for His purposes, answers our prayers and watches over us.

A very cute and sweet story of love, hope, and faith. Written very well, this novella gives us a glimpse into the wonderfully precious mind of Katie, a lovable 6 year old girl. Katie is a sweetheart. As any child, she is full of big ideas, great enthusiasm, and a tender innocence.
Author Shelley Shepard Gray has done a great job writing this girl and what goes on inside her mind. Although there are nice supporting characters, and we get to see their points of view, too, it is Katie who kept my interest, and had me smiling.

Here we have a little girl interacting with adults in a very believable way. The close relationship Katie has with Ella, her sister in law, is heartwarming. Katie's interactions with her mother are funny and tender, as well as her friendship with Miss Donovan, the librarian. Miss Donovan is a nice character with some past hurts and a willingness to move forward. Anyone can identify with her sadness and her desire to come out of her shell, which is why Katie's determination to find her a boyfriend is understandable and very touching.

The mystery behind the nativity figures' disappearance is a fun one; quite predictable but entertaining, nonetheless. There is not much suspense, just a lighthearted mystery, and a simple investigation that serves as a backdrop to the developing attraction between the deputy, Connor, and the librarian, Miss Donovan. Their romance was a little too fast paced, but clean and charming.

There is something, though, that did bother me: the characters sometimes lack consistency. Miss Donovan seems to be shy, someone who keeps to herself, but she is pretty straightforward in her attraction to Connor. It also did not make much sense to me that Miss Donovan is the librarian in a small community and she had no idea who the attacked elderly woman was, although this lady visited the library quite often.

That said, this novella is a great Christmas read; a nice reminder of how God answers prayers, even when we might think it's a little too late, or when people around us think it's not worth it.

This is book 3.5 in the series and the author, very nicely and seamlessly, interlaces past stories from the series into this delightful Christmas story, which most certainly makes the newcomer reader want to go back in the series to find out exactly what happened. So, although she brings us up to speed, she piques our curiosity just enough to make us want to know this family, this community, better.

4.5 out of 5 stars

*I received a copy of this book through The Christian Manifesto (check it out!) in exchange of an honest review.

Monday, November 19, 2012

Material Witness, by Vannetta Chapman

Overview (from Goodreads): Tragedy strikes on the opening night of the Fall Crafters Fair when a woman is killed in the parking lot of Daisy's Quilt Shop, and the only material witness is one of Melinda Byer's boys. The investigation takes a more bizarre turn when detective Shane Black becomes convinced the killer was actually after Callie. This time it's a madman loose in the largest crowd of the year, and he's looking for something or someone. If they can't figure out what, one of Deborah and Callie's close circle of friends may be next. Masked identities, antique quilts with hidden messages, an Amish boy whose handicap makes him stronger, one brave dog, and a possible hidden treasure ... this time it's nonstop action, danger, and a dash of romance.

Review: An excellent, excellent ending to an almost flawless series. Vanetta Chapman, so very skilfully and masterfully, weaves intriguing hidden messages and a beautiful romance into a great mystery. Every detail fits perfectly in the plot, advancing the story, the drama and our interest in the characters. Nothing is out of place, everything is important to the story and every character has a mission to accomplish.

We once again see Callie interacting with her three Amish friends: Deborah, whom I love in a I-want-to-be-like-her kind of way (yeah, I'm a Deborah groupie), Esther, and Melinda. The depth their friendship has reached, the way their friendship has grown, progressed and mature is simply lovely. They are friends who love, support and look out for each other with fierce love and determination, and that is a rare thing even in a work of fiction. But we also get to see Callie falling in love with a man who really loves her and is not afraid to show it. I loved that. I'm a sucker for a good, sweet, clean romance.

Now, this time around, we get to know Deborah's and Melinda's children, too. Usually when writing kids, authors tend to write them as either too precocious or too bland and immature for their age. Not here. The children are written age appropriately, and we get to see how their mind works, how they plot and plan and how they take action in their strong-willed way. I loved the children's point of view, and how innocent and, at the same time, take charge they are.

The character development is one of the best I have seen/read in a long time. The way Mrs. Chapman uses descriptions and details to reveal the characters' personalities and traits is clever and makes everything fit together. Nothing is superfluous. The story flows, the pace never breaks, and every word, detail, dialogue and description serves a purpose.

The mystery, the drama, the suspense and the romance held my attention, kept my interest and had me turning the pages quickly and steadily. Intriguing, beautiful and sweet with a great ending that did not disappoint and gave me closure. Mrs. Chapman did such a great job that, even when things didn't necessarily turn out as I hoped, it still made me smile, completely satisfied.


5 out of 5 stars

Friday, November 16, 2012

A Plain Scandal: An Appleseed Creek Mystery, by Amanda Flower

Overview: The people of Appleseed Creek in the heart of Ohio's Amish Country are under attack. Soon after the dust has settled on a buggy accident that turned out to be murder, an unknown assailant begins cutting off the long hair of Amish women and the beards of Amish men.

New to the area, computer specialist Chloe Humphrey may not share their customs, but she is certainly alarmed over these crimes against the Amish and worries how such events will impact her growing number of friends who are more connected to that way of life.

In this small community, when Chloe discovers the body of an Amish businessman who was stabbed in the back and whose beard was cut off, she knows that finding the murderer and restoring peace to Appleseed Creek is as much her responsibility as anyone else's.

Review: This was a very entertaining read, a very enjoyable ride. Very well written, nicely paced, it keeps you wondering, guessing and piecing together bits and parts of the mystery to figure it all out. You will know who the villain is, you will sort of know who else is involved, but the how and why? Leave it to those involved in the mystery to reveal it all to you.

The author does a very nice job of keeping the reader interested, invested in the mystery as well as in the characters. Chloe is very likable, Timothy is sweet, and Becky, as well as her family, is charming. The character development is what I would expect in a light read: not too deep or detailed, but not too superficial either.

One thing that keeps bothering me, here and in the first book of the series, is how slow the romance is developing. I get that Timothy used to be Amish and they have their differences, but it's just too dragged. Chloe keeps second guessing herself and Timothy's intentions, even though it is incredibly obvious how he feels about her, and the people around her tell her, and Timothy himself tells her. No, she keeps wondering. Also, the portrayal of the Amish is still very shaky. Very few are good natured people; most are petty, mean, downright vindictive and vicious. But at least in the end there is a sense of some of them changing for the better.

This is the second book of the series, and much better than the first, A Plain Death, which makes me look forward to the next. It was a quick, easy read, a lot of it very predictable from the start, but with a few, nice surprises that kept it interesting.

4 out of 5 stars

*I received a copy of this book from B&H Publishing Group through NetGalley in exchange of an honest review.

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Accidentally Amish, by Olivia Newport

Annie Friesen has it all: a successful career, money, beauty and a boyfriend who loves her. Or does he? When Annie discovers that her boyfriend (who also happens to be her company's attorney) has joined forces with her business partner in a devious plan against her, Annie runs away to have some time and space to sort things out and figure out how to save her company from her partner and her boyfriend. But when her escape does not go as planned, she ends up in an Amish farm staring into the eyes of Rufus Beiler. The attraction is immediate and mutual. As they get to spend more and more time together while she is in hiding, their attraction increases, as well as her curiosity towards the Amish way of life. Rufus knows that there can't be anything between them —he is Amish, she is an Englisher. Annie, however, discovers that they have a common ancestor: an Amish settler who came in the 1700's. Now she is torn between the life she has, with its comforts, luxuries and technology, and the life she thinks she wants and needs, a simpler, quieter, peaceful life.

Will her love for her work, her company, and those around her be enough to keep her close to home? Or will her love for Rufus and for the simpler, uncomplicated life he represents be strong enough to call this new life home?

Annie and Rufus are very different: he is a whole lot country and she is a whole lot techno-geek. Certainly, a match made in impossible-love heaven. You see, Rufus is a baptized Amish, with no intentions of leaving the church or his family. Annie is a technology loving, 21'st century girl, with no intentions of exchanging her Prius for a horse and buggie. Or so she thinks. She is quite a relatable character because in our fast pace world, many of us dream of a slower, simpler life. So almost everyone can identify with Annie on that. And that's a good thing because she is the driving force throughout the book. Although we get to see much of Rufus, we don't get to know him much at all. He is like a big, almost impenetrable wall, and it's a little bit frustrating. He certainly says a lot, is very quick to give his opinion, but his feelings for Annie? Those were pretty guarded until the end.

The author tells quite an interesting, romantic story with a little suspense thrown in. Annie's lawyer boyfriend is kind of creepy, and obsessive, so each time he appears you feel a little bit on edge. And that kept me interested most of the time. However, there is a story within the story that did not work for me. Every so often the author goes back to the 1700's to tell the story of Jakob, the settler to which Annie traces back her ancestors. Yes, it's a nice story, but too long, too detailed and too out of place. Every time the main story got a nice, interesting pace going, the author cut back to the 1700's and Jakob's struggles with his family. It didn't add to the main story, and sometimes felt like it would go on and on, when all I wanted was to see Annie's and Rufus' story develop.
So once I felt invested in the main story, the author pushed me back and my interest dwindled.

There are a few nice side stories in the main story about Rufus' sister who left the church and her family to follow her calling, God's calling; and about Rufus' problems with a developer. Both side stories complimented the main story very well as we got to see Annie interact with and get involved in both issues, and how that helped the romance evolve.

A few things were left unsolved, so I expect a second book. It would be very interesting and sweet to see Annie's and Rufus' relationship progress, and to see both side stories happily concluded.

3 out of 5 stars

*I received a copy of this book from Barbour Books through NetGalley in exchange of an honest review.

Monday, October 29, 2012

Oh, that inadequacy feeling!

I am a wife and a mother of a soon to be 3 years old boy. I am also a Christian, and I work outside the home, as a secretary to my sister. My husband and I both work full time, while my mother cares for our son, Ian. It is not what we wanted. Our intention was for me to be a stay at home mom. Our heart was in it, completely in it. Our finances, on the other hand, did not catch up to our hearts on time, and they still haven't, so I have to work. We do not spend what we don't have, we are not given to luxuries or buying things on a whim. My husband simply does not make enough money on his own to pay for our basic needs like mortgage, food, water, electricity, phone. When we had our son, we went through our fiances carefully and studied the possibility of him having a second job because we felt certain that I had to be at home. As it turned out, a second job would mean that my husband had to be outside our home from 5am to 9pm, with no time in between to be with me and our son. We vetoed that, and chose to keep things as they are.

And this is what happens: the more books, articles, blogs and videos I read and watch, the more I am being bombarded with the idea that, as a Christian wife and mom, I should be at home because we are called to be keepers of the house. There was a video where the lady even said that I could be blaspheming the Bible because I am working outside the home. There are a lot, and I mean A LOT, of blogs out there from wives and mothers who insist that we should take that leap of faith because if we do as God says, He will provide. Although the women that say these things think they are encouraging women like me, I've got to say I have never felt more inadequate in my life.

In the eyes of the world (which I actually do not care about at all), I am not living up to my full potential. I am a college graduate who has never worked on her field of study, an underachiever. Yes, to the world, I am insignificant; sometimes, even our clients treat me that way. But that is the world, this comes from people from whom I expect nothing more. Their work is their life, and they measure their worth through their income and job success. That is not me.

However, I have come to realize that in the eyes of many Christians (mostly women), my brethren, my people, I am not living up to my full potential; I am an underachiever. Even women who have been in my shoes treat me that way. To them, I am a blasphemer, I live contrary to the Bible, I don't care enough for my husband or my son, I am not being a good helper, I am not being the mom I need to be, and I am not being the homemaker, the keeper of the house God has called me to be. Yep, definitely inadequate.

So, aside from crying, feeling overwhelmed by this, being sad or depressed, what should I do? Should I quit my job and take that leap of faith? Should my husband take a second job? I'll tell you what I most definitely am not doing: I am NOT reading anymore blog posts about this. I am NOT watching anymore homemaking videos like the ones I have watched. I will NOT read another article on the wonders of being a stay at home mom, and how much more wonderful their kids are because their mom is with them, and how they have never missed a milestone or a kids-say-the-darnest-thing moment because they are always there. Enough of all that. I have realized that I have a much better way to deal with this.

I see myself through the eyes of the Lord. I know God loves me, and has blessed me with a wonderful husband, an amazing son, and a great house. And I am a keeper of my home, even if I am not in my home all day. I take good care of it, clean it, organize it, play with my son in it, enjoy our time together in it. I am a helper to my husband, I cater to his needs, as he does with me. We help each other around the house, and we care for our boy together. We parent our son fully, completely and around the clock. Even if we are not there, Ian fully knows and understands what God and we expect of him and his behavior. We are, in fact, always present in him.

No, I am not the perfect wife, mother and homemaker, but I strive to be great. Do I wish I could stay home? You bet. Would I take "that leap of faith"? Don't think so. What God has given us, we are responsible for. If I were to leave my job, half the things would be left unpaid. Do I trust that God will provide? Oh, yes! Right now, He is very graciously providing through both of our jobs, and it is our hope that one day He will provide only through my husband's job, and I will be able to stay at home. And when that happens, I promise to extend grace and kindness to those who will be facing the very feeling of inadequacy that I have felt in the past few weeks. Thanks be to God for His grace and mercy.

Friday, October 26, 2012

Dangerous Calling: Confronting the Unique Challenges of Pastoral Ministry, by Paul David Tripp

Overview (from Goodreads): After traveling the world for many years and speaking at hundreds of churches of all kinds, Paul David Tripp is concerned about the state of pastoral culture. He is not only concerned about the spiritual life of the pastor, but with the very people who train him, call him, relate to him, and restore him if necessary. Dangerous Calling reveals the truth that the culture surrounding our pastors is spiritually unhealthy--an environment that actively undermines the well being and efficacy of our church leaders and thus the entire church body. Here is a book that both diagnoses and offers cures for issues that impact every member and church leader, and gives solid strategies for fighting the war that rages not only in the momentous moments of ministry, but also in the mundane day-by-day life of every pastor.

Review:  Excellent book. Profound in its message; simple (in a great way) in its delivery. The author is a great example of how you can write with wisdom about a complex issue and be readable —easy to understand and comprehend, which makes the message stronger.

Now, this is a book targeted at pastors, and it certainly is a must for every pastor. But Mr. Tripp has done such an amazing job here that not only should it be required reading for every pastor, seminary student, minister and church leader, it should also be a must read for every Christian. Here's why: How many of us put our pastors on a pedestal, like they can't do wrong? How many of us are hard on our pastors, never showing mercy or grace when we think they fail or have done wrong? This book lays a pastor's heart wide open for all to see. We see his struggles, challenges, fears, sin, his strength in God and the hope in His grace, which lead us to very specific issues for which to pray for our pastors, elders and other church leaders. We learn what we already know but don't really realize: pastors are like the rest of us —same struggles, same fears, just maybe on a greater scale. Once we realize that, we'll see our pastors in a new perspective and we will pray more efficiently for them.

Also, this book helped me look deeper into my own heart, motivations and attitude towards myself, others and God and His Word. It's a wonderful call to attention to that which I desperately need to change, and a great call to arms to change it in God's strength and by His grace.

Mr. Tripp draws from his own experiences as well as the experiences of pastors close to him, and I'm sure pastors and church leaders everywhere will identify with them and receive the much needed pastoring that the author knows they lack. This is an insight into pastors' lives and hearts, a mirror; a great way for seminary students to learn what being a pastor really is, and a wonderful way for the rest of us to understand our leaders better and to grow in the Lord.

5 out of 5 stars

*I received a copy of this book from Crossway through NetGalley in exchange of an honest review.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

21 Ways to Connect with Your Kids, by Kathi Lipp

Overview (from Goodreads):Parents spend a good chunk of time making sure their kids are okay--they're getting good grades, doing their chores, and doing just enough cleaning that their rooms won't be condemned if the Board of Health happens to drop by. 21 Ways to Connect with Your Kids offers a straightforward, workable plan to create new avenues of connection between parents and their kids. This handy guide coaches moms and dads to do one simple thing each day for three weeks to connect with their kids.

Written in Kathi's warm and compassionate but thought-provoking tone, this book will motivate parents to incorporate great relationship habits into their daily lives and give them confidence that they can connect with their kids even in the midst of busy schedules.

Review: This book was not what I expected at all. I was expecting something more along the lines of 1) Talk to and with your kids, 2) Do stuff together, etc. You know, the usual stuff. But 21 Ways to Connect with Your Kids is packed full with ideas of what to do with and for our children. It's not just "Talk to and with your kids"; it's how to talk to them, when, what to say, how to prepare yourself for it. This book is all about doing. The author draws from her personal experience, as well as the experiences and advise of others to make a great compilation of very good ideas of things to do to connect with our kids. It's a very practical book.

Although there may be many books that fit this description, this one goes further. It is not only about the many things you can do with your children; Mrs. Lipp helps us to custom fit the ideas according to our children's personalities, their likes and dislikes. There is a personality quiz at the beginning of the book to more or less guide us to see which personality best describe our children, and it is a very handy tool for understanding our kids' different needs.

I really liked how candidly and sincerely the author spoke about her own problems connecting with her children. Everyone can identify with her struggles, relate to her, sympathize and know that they are not alone. However, many of the ideas presented here, although very good, are pretty basic and common, so I sometimes felt like it was strange, for example, to receive advise on eating together with my children, since we do so everyday. But if you have a blended family, somewhat detached teenagers, are thinking of starting a family or if you are simply at a lost of what to do with your kids, here you will find good, fun ideas to enjoy each others' company. Yes, some are very basic but I still encourage you to read this book just to see how simple, basic ideas can be given a fun new twist.

4 out of 5 stars.

*I received a copy of this book from Harvest House Publishers through NetGalley in exchange of an honest review.

Friday, October 12, 2012

Leah's Choice, by Emma Miller

After watching her sisters get married, Leah Yoder wondered about her future husband, the Amish man she was going to spend the rest of her life with, and raise their children while living in their Amish community close to her family. However, when she meets Daniel Brown, a Mennonite missionary, she is taken aback. She is attracted to him, finds him fascinating, and starts questioning her Amish ways.

On his part, Daniel is awestruck by Leah, this beautiful Amish girl who is strong, independent and always prepared. They spend time together and begin a forbidden courtship behind her family’s back. But when their feelings for each other get stronger, Leah faces a decision that will affect her life forever: Will she leave her family and follow her heart to be with the man she loves or will she stay with her family and forsake the love of her life? 

Leah Yoder is not afraid to speak her mind; she is very outspoken, smart, a natural born leader and a free spirit (well, sort of. I don’t know how free spirit you can be in the Amish community). She is a great character, as well as Daniel. You see their instant attraction and it’s not hard to see why. She is beautiful, independent, resourceful, strong and smart; he is sweet and exciting, full of interesting stories and with a heart committed to God and His work.

It’s easy to love these characters, to be interested in their story, in the blossoming romance. However, their romance is not well developed. They go out on a non-date (Leah refuses to call “date” that which is obviously one), and is cute and you know they loved it, they loved being with each other, but the next thing you know, a few days have gone by, they have been seeing each other, but the reader is not privy to what happened during those dates. It sometimes felt as if we were being told parts of a story instead of the whole story. It felt somewhat segmented. And the romance is not the only thing affected by this: each time a problem appeared, it was solved rather quickly, and uneventfully. It’s like this happened, and this is how it was solved. This way of telling a story is disappointing to me because there was no tension. The author creates some sort of anticipation with a few problems here and there, but then, as quickly as the problems appeared they went away; so as soon as some tension began to built, it was pulled back, and that made the story rather flat.

I did like the fact that the author showed different sides of the Amish, including some domestic violence, and alcoholism. Also, I loved to read about the differences between Mennonites and Amish, and the differences from one Amish community to the next.

The story is sweet, the characters are very likable, cute; they are what made the story interesting and worth reading for me. Leah’s choice will not come as a surprise, but, although expected, it is a nice, and satisfying ending.

3 out of 5 stars

*I received a copy of this book from Harlequin-Love Inspired through NetGalley in exchange of an honest review.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Manners That Matter for Moms: The Essential Book of Life Skills for Your Kids, by Maralee McKee

Overview (from the Publishers): Corporate trainer and mentor Maralee McKee turns her attention to the home and shares the simple, savvy, and sincere skills kids need in order to flourish in today’s culture.
Skills for each stage of life make this the go-to book for moms with children of any age. Readers will learn how to impart the basic tools that empower kids to relate to others well, as well as…
  • gain self-confidence by learning to make conversation pleasant, not painful
  • overcome self-doubt by mastering new etiquette for today’s on-the-go, casual, techno-savvy families
  • develop the interpersonal skills that will help them become the best version of themselves they can be in any setting
Fun, practical, and thoroughly up-to-date, this manual offers everything moms need to equip their kids to flourish in their relationships.

Review: Author Maralee McKee’s passion (or one of them, anyway) is manners: teaching them, making good use of them, writing about them. Her enthusiasm about manners was, at first, funny to me. I’ve always been laid back, very go-with-the-flow with this type of things. But the author makes a compelling case for good manners, their importance and how easy they are to learn and to teach to our kids.  

Right from the start, I felt at home. I loved the fact that the Forward seemed to be written by a friend in common; like a friend introducing us to her good old friend because she just knows that we will hit it off, and we do. The author begins telling us her story, a very touching story, which made her relatable, made her feel closer and made me want to keep reading. 

If you are like me, you always say please and thank you, always greet people and look them in the eye when speaking with them. Those are the basics, things we are taught from the start. But they are not enough and the author makes that perfectly clear. It’s funny how a book about manners will make you look deeper into your parenting, what you expect of yourself and your children, what you can provide for them to be better persons in the Lord and with those around them. Manners that Matter to Moms does just that. It is a very practical book that not only addresses the need for teaching our children manners, but also speaks to the importance of, as mothers, being the primary manners role model for our kids. 

Never one to use a knife, I always cut my meet using my fork (WHAT!), never put the napkin on my lap while eating (yikes!), I always, always, hang my purse in the back of my chair (oh no!) and never send formal invitations to anything, not even my wedding (my goodness!). It’s terrible, I know. It’s not what I want for my son, and this book has helped me see that and has made me want to change that.

As with any parenting book, I don’t necessarily agree with everything, but as a whole I think it’s a great tool for any household. From saying please and thank you, to how to introduce yourself and others, to the correct behavior when eating anywhere, there is a great lesson to be learn here: in all our relationships, dealings and conversations we should always be polite, pleasant and present. 

4 out of 5 stars

*I received a copy of this book from Harvest House Publishers through NetGalley in exchange of an honest review.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

A Perfect Square, by Vannetta Chapman

Overview (from Goodreads): There's more to the quaint northern Indiana town of Shipshewana than handcrafted quilts, Amish-made furniture, immaculate farms and close-knit families. When a dead girl is found floating in a local pond, murder is also afoot. And Reuben Fisher is in jail as the suspect Reuben refuses to divulge any information, even to clear himself of a crime Deborah is certain he didn't commit. So, with her English friend, Callie -fellow sleuth and owner of Daisy's Quilt Shop-Deborah sets out to uncover the truth. But the mystery deepens when an elderly man seeks Callie's help in finding his long-lost daughter, missing since the days of the 1965 Palm Sunday Tornadoes. An old man who has lost his past. A young man who may lose his future. Once again Deborah and Callie find themselves trying to piece together a crazy quilt of lives and events---one that can bring unexpected touches of God's grace and resolve the tragedy that has shaken this quiet Amish community.

Review: I read A Perfect Square as I normally eat a piece of delicious chocolate cake: slowly but steadily, savoring each sentence, each paragraph, enjoying author Vannetta Chapman’s use of words, descriptions, emotions and sensations. The way Mrs. Chapman tells a story is similar to how a fine quilter stitches patterns together: every detail fitting in perfectly so that in the end, what looked like a scarf at first, turns out to be a beautiful, intricate and lovely quilt. Here, what looked like nice, enjoyable mystery turned out to be a beautiful, intricate and lovely story of love, loyalty, friendship, honesty, mercy and grace.

Good friends Callie and Deborah are once again deeply involved in what appears to be a murder investigation, with their friend Reuben as the only suspect. The mystery, or more accurate, mysteries are so engaging and interesting that I found myself sneaking extra coffee breaks at work just to be able to keep reading. I couldn’t stop. I didn’t want to stop reading.

This novel is a great example of how details can make or break a novel. Here, every detail, every description serves a purpose either to add a piece for the mystery puzzle or to help the reader get to know the characters better, go deeper into their personalities, what they’re thinking, how they feel. I loved the fact that we got to see more of Deborah, we got to know her and her family better. I also loved to see more of Esther, but missed Melinda. I’m guessing book 3, Material Witness, will have a whole lot more of her.

Seeing how Callie interacts with her three Amish friends, how their relationship grows and how she starts letting go of her past is a wonderful added plus to this remarkable story. I really liked how Mrs. Chapman is, slowly but surely, resolving one of the most intriguing mysteries this series has (at least for me): Which of the three guys —Trent, Shane or Andrew— will Callie choose in the end? Now, I’m not saying that I like where it seems to be headed (let it be Andrew, pleeeeeease), but I love to see Callie figure it out, figure herself out and make the decision.

Great story. Wonderful read. I cannot wait to start reading Material Witness, the last of the series.

5 stars out of 5

The Haven, by Suzanne Woods Fisher

Sadie Lapp returns home after spending the winter with her newlywed sister in Ohio. Her return is completely unexpected and surprising, but not as much as the fact that she comes carrying a baby in a basket. Soon, she is the talk of her Amish county. Everybody assumes the baby is hers, even Gideon, the young man that has been courting her for the past few months, and his reaction and response to the situation puts a strain in their relationship.

Meanwhile, Sadie starts getting closer to Will, a troubled college student who is staying at the Lapp farm acting as a guard for a pair of falcons that is nesting there. Although Will is an Englisher, Sadie can’t help but feel attracted to him; and he cannot help being attracted to her. As their relationship grows, Gideon does everything he can to have her forgiveness and win her back.

Who are the baby’s parents? Who left him with Sadie? Why? And which way will Sadie’s heart go in the end?

Suzanne Woods Fisher is a great story teller. She is funny and endearing where the story needs it; sweet and tender where it calls for it; and compelling and profound where it requires it. Here we have a very well written love triangle that makes you feel for all three involved, care for each of them, and constantly change your mind when it comes to who Sadie should choose in the end. This is a sweet story of love and forgiveness.

Sadie is thrust into a situation that would be hard for anyone, even more so for a 15 year old girl: a rumor that her trip to visit her sister looked highly suspicious and that the baby she brought home is hers. She learns the hard way about gossip: how hurtful and unfair it is, and how incredibly fast it spreads. But through this entire situation, quiet and shy Sadie learns to find her voice, to confront things head on, speak her mind and grow up. A great example of how God uses these types of situations in our life for our own good. However, although Sadie certainly did need to grow up and stand up for herself, I think the author forgot that she is only 15 years old: she sounds way too mature, too wise when handing out advice to much older people. A 21 year old or maybe even an 18 year old Sadie would have made more sense.

Now, in this story we not only get to see Sadie’s side of things; we see Gideon’s and Will’s points of view, as well as Sadie’s father’s and M.K.’s points of view. And that is one point of view too many. I don’t mind her father’s side of the story simply because it’s not Sadie’s love story alone, but her father’s as well. And I loved seeing him sort out his feelings for Fern, my favorite character in this series. But M.K, Sadie’s youngest sister, is too annoying for me and I constantly wished there was less of her. The way she is written, she is mostly a caricature, an exaggeration.

The story kept my interest and my anticipation all the way through. I wanted to see Sadie’s father happy with Fern, a remarkable, very well written character; a sweet and caring woman disguised as a stern housekeeper. But mostly, of course, I wanted to see the resolution of this funny and interesting love triangle. Sadly, however, I was disappointed. Although the story is a great journey, the ending left me without closure; it was too open and inconclusive. Sadie’s final and most expected choice is mostly implied. In the end, we didn’t get to see much of Sadie, so her thought process was lost on me. However, although disappointed with the ending, the story is so well written, the characters so likable (well, most of them anyway) that I still felt satisfied.

4 out of 5 stars

*I received a copy of this book from Revell through The Christian Manifesto (cool site! Check it out.) in exchange of an honest review.