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.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

About book reviewing: A round-up

I realize that, since most of my book reviews are for books received from NetGalley, it may be difficult for some to believe that these books are really worth their money. First of all, let me explain something: when I choose a book to review from NetGalley, I do so because either I like the author or I like what the book is about, which means that most of the time I'm reading a book that I'm fairly certain I will like. It not always works out that way, but, as you may see in my blog, most of the time it does.

I try to be honest in all my reviews, try to, as bad as a book may have been, look for something positive because, let's face it, sometimes a book appears to be terrible, but almost always they have a redeeming quality. Now, out of all the books I have read in the past months, there a few that stand out as amazing for me, so much so that I'm buying them either to read again or to give as a gift; books that I have gone to great lengths to recommend because I think they are worth reading and sharing. And here they are:



Submerged (not from NetGalley, but from the publishers)

As you can see, only one book of fiction has made it to this list. I have read quite a few that are actually pretty good, but Submerged stands out above them all. All of these books have been given to me in exchange of an honest review, and I'm more than grateful for that. If you have the chance and the time to read them, you are in for a great time, a wonderful read and a great growth in your knowledge of God, His Word and His will.

Before I go, I cannot leave out a great author that has become my favorite fiction writer: Vannetta Chapman. The books I've read by her (A Simple Amish Christmas, Falling to Pieces, A Perfect Square) have been wonderful. I highly recommend this author. She really does write fiction full of grace.

The Keeper, by Suzanne Woods Fisher

Julia Lapp is once again stunned by Paul Fisher, the boy she has planned on marrying since she was a girl, when he tells her he wants to postpone the wedding again. But she is not taking his change of heart siting down: she will do whatever it takes to change his mind, even confronting the man she knows is behind Paul's decision: Roman Troyer, the Bee Man.

Roman is a mysterious man who never shares information about himself, his family, his life. He travels through Amish communities renting his bees to farmers. Never one to settle down in one place for long, he is now intrigued by Julia, who confronts him for his part in Paul's decision. Will Julia be able to change Paul's mind and have her wishes come true?

This is much more than a love story with sort of a love triangle. This is a story about family, about sharing one's heart and giving ourselves completely for love, about conquering our fears, living in faith and trusting God.

Julia has held on for so long to her dream of marrying Paul that she has lost respect for herself and has lost sight of what God's will is for her. She will grow, she will learn, and she will know by the book's end what real love is.

She has a family in need: a shy sister, a special needs brother, a trouble maker 12 year old sister, a sick father in need of a heart transplant but refusing to have one. The stories of each character are compelling, funny at times, sweet and heartbreaking at others.

However, the way the story is told did not work for me. There were too many different points of view that did not make sense. It was enough with Julia's, Paul's and Roman's.

I did enjoyed it. It was a nice read, predictable but very sweet. The Choice was the first book I read from Suzanne Woods Fisher, and I was actually afraid of how many deaths there would be in this one. One, just one, but, although expected, it is painful to read. It will not distract from the love story or the enjoyment of the book in general, but it's still sad.

The character I enjoyed the most? Fern, a stern, wise, and in her own way sweet woman brought in as a housekeeper to help the Lapps. She has  proverbs (I'm guessing Amish proverbs) for everything and that will make you want to go back in the book just to write them down and memorize them. Excellent character.

This is the first in the series, and it is a very good start.

3.5 stars

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Something Blue, by Dianne Christner

Megan always dreamed of marrying a preacher or a missionary. Now it seems that her dream may come true as her boss' brother, a handsome and charming missionary pilot named Chance, starts working alongside of her. However, Micah Zimmerman reappears in her life as a pastoral candidate in her church. She thought she didn't want anything to do with Micah, but immediately he starts to prove to her that he is not the same tall and gawky guy she knew in college. Now Megan has to choose between the life she always thought she wanted and the life she never knew she dreamed of.

This is a novel about second chances, the struggles we face in terms of our faith and our love life, about making good decisions, about trusting God to lead our way and the importance of understanding when God is the one doing the leading, not our own desires. Megan is a pretty strong character, very set in her beliefs and very straightforward. Micah is sweet, strong-minded, and somewhat needy but in a good, you want to reach out to him kind of way. Chance is likable, fun and interesting. 

I like when a novel gives us not only the girl's point of view, but also the guy's, and in this case, guys'. Here we get to see things from Megan's perspective, but also from Micah's and Chance's. And I love to have an insight into the guys' mind, how they feel, what they are thinking. It makes for a more interesting and compelling story. However, as nice and well written as both guys are, I think that you will gravitate more towards one depending on your personality and type, which means that a few of you may be disappointed with Megan's choice in the end. But it will not come as a surprise, since the story, although nicely written, sweet and touching, is highly predictable, at least the romantic side of it. 

Aside from the romance, we have a few side stories —Micah's possible job as a minister in Megan's church, a gossiping widow, changes in friendships— that are well told, keep you interested  and make the story advance. However, I thought that the side story for Megan's mom was much ado about nothing and Megan's reaction to it was disappointing and exaggerated. 

This is the third novel in the series, but it can very easily be read alone, which I really liked. I would recommend this novel to a teenage girl or an adult who wants to read a nice, sweet and endearing romance. 

3.5 stars out of 5 

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