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.