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.