Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Shattered, by Dani Pettrey

After five years away, Reef McKenna returns to Yancey, Alaska, and his sister, Piper, is elated. She loves her brother and has been waiting for him to return home. However, her happiness doesn't last long. First, Reef is not planning on staying in Yancey; and second, he appears at Piper's house all covered in blood and no plausible explanation for it. A woman —a snowboarder like Reef— has been murdered, and Reef is the main suspect. He assures Piper he is innocent, and although she believes him, Deputy Landon Grainger does not. Landon is like part of the McKenna's family, which makes it harder for him to work the case, more so because he believes that Reef is guilty. All the evidence points to Reef, and as deputy, Landon trusts the facts. But when other leads surface, much to Piper's relief, Landon decides to pursue the truth even if it means he's wrong and that he could lose his job.

With Piper doing her own investigation, and following her own leads, Landon's impulse to take care of her drives him to join forces with her, or let her join forces with him, in a dangerous case where they constantly face death and, even scarier, where they must face their feelings for each other.

This is a wonderful romantic suspense that keeps the reader at the edge of the seat. It's packed with action, romance, mystery, and intrigue. With a great pace, fast and intense at times, and well written and rounded characters, this book holds the reader's interest from the start.

Piper is a sweet and vulnerable young woman; very naive and trusting, but smart. Landon, on the other hand, is rough on the outside, tough, and very skeptical. He puts facts over faith, and sometimes, duty over love. He has been in love with Piper for quite some time, and she has no idea. On the surface, their relationship seems ok, but Landon just wants, no, needs to be with her, and she is apparently oblivious to it. But jealousy can be a great eye opener, and so Piper’s and Landon's relationship starts taking twists and turns as fast as the mystery twists and turns itself, which makes for a very interesting, entertaining and fun romance.

The mystery is puzzling, and very entangled. As all the characters get immerse in trying to unravel it, the reader goes right along with them from Alaska to California to Canada, and a few other places in between, trying to find a way to make sense, a way to redeem an undeserving young man and bring hope and peace to the entire family. As the book progresses, it is very easy to fall in love with every character and be intrigued by their stories.

As the second book in the Alaskan Courage series, 'Shattered' brings back all the characters from the first, 'Submerged', and an interesting addition in the form of a female reporter who may or may not be a part of future adventures. Here's hoping she can endure and bring some life into one of the Mckenna's brothers who desperately needs closure and healing.

Shattered is much more than an adventure, a mystery, or a romance. It's an enjoyable and profound look at how our lives can come crashing down and be, yes, shattered beyond hope or repair, and how God can graciously take us in all our brokenness and despair and give us hope, a new beginning and love beyond our comprehension. It’s very refreshing to read such deep biblical truths in a book of fiction. It is remarkable how author Dani Pettrey appeals not only to our love for mystery, romance and suspense, but also to our need for redemption, our need for a Savior who can make us whole.

Incredibly well written and never boring, the author’s attention to detail, settings’ descriptions, character development and continuity is exceptional. This book is definitely a must read. Although part of a series, it can stand alone, but I highly recommend 'Submerged', which was easily one of the best books in 2012.

5 out of 5 stars

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

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

A Home for Lydia, by Vannetta Chapman

Lydia Fisher longs for a home of her own, a family of her own. Due to her father’s illness, Lydia is the financial provider for her parents and her siblings, and that responsibility weighs heavily on her, and has made her to be outspoken and strong-minded, unlike most Amish young women. She works hard as a housekeeper at Pebble Creek’s Plain Cabins, and desperately needs to keep her job. However, when her boss dies and his nephew, Aaron Troyer, arrives from Indiana and steps in with a bad attitude and no desire to be there, Lydia’s will to keep working there is shaken. They don’t agree on anything, and mostly they get on each other’s nerves, but deep down they begin to have feelings for each other. Working together with a few friends, Aaron and Lydia manage to make the Plain Cabins profitable, and their love for each other blossoms.

Now, Aaron is torn between his desire to farm in his own property in Indiana, and his profound feelings for Lydia and his desire of being with her. And Lydia sees her dreams of having her own home, her own family, too out of reach. With a little faith in God, and a strong love for each other, Lydia and Aaron can have everything they’ve always wanted.

Lydia is a very vulnerable young woman. Yes, she is strong and very opinionated, but only because she tries to protect herself, her feelings and her heart. That complexity makes the reader identify very easily with her. She slowly but surely falls in love with Aaron, who goes from being a very angry, uncomfortable stranger, to being compassionate, caring and dependable. Although there is a hate/love relationship at first, which I usually don’t like since it’s been done a few too many times, it is so well written, expressed and justified, and not at all overdone, that not only did I enjoy it, I loved it.

Vannetta Chapman knows how to write a love story. Every sweet detail, every look, every stare, every soft embrace is just in the right place at the right time. Her characters are written with real people in mind, so they are never one dimensional, and they never fall flat. True to her style, Mrs. Chapman makes use of everything to further the plot and move the story along with a nice rhythm and pace. Every story connects, every character relates to one another and to the story as a whole. In the middle of chaos, she knows how to write the unexpected sweet moment, the loving concern, and the tender touch. You can actually see it playing in your head, the stillness of everything else, the presence of just the two characters in love. That is a great accomplishment.

As the story moves along, the romance takes sort of a backseat to a few family dramas, and a small mystery of sorts about a string of robberies close to the Pebble Creek area that ultimately affect the Plain Cabins. Now, it is remarkable how a burglary situation can be funny, touching, suspenseful, scary, and sweet. A nice dose of humor and drama with a tender moment between sisters, and a scary confrontation with the robbers, make for a fantastic side story with a final romantic touch that keeps the main story in motion. Very well written indeed.

As the second book in the series, I was at first sad to know that I wouldn’t get to see Miriam, Gabe, Grace and the rest of the family from 'A Promise for Miriam' because usually another story means a new and different set of characters. But here we get to enjoy them once again, although at times it felt more like their book than Lydia’s. I wanted to spend time with Miriam again, but it sometimes felt as if Miriam’s story overshadowed Lydia’s. Once Lydia’s story got my interest and full attention, I was pulled back, and left wanting to know Lydia and Aaron better.

'A Home for Lydia' is a beautiful story about love, the love of family, the fragility of life, and the grace of God that sustains us. With inspiring wisdom and great biblical truths, this love story goes deep into the heart, and stays there.

4.5 out of 5 stars

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

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

A Promise for Miriam, by Vannetta Chapman

Miriam King is a sweet Amish school teacher at the Plain school of Pebble Creek who enjoys working with children. However, most Amish women her age, 26, are already married and with children. But Miriam loves her job and has not met a man whom she loves more than teaching. Until now.

A few years after the death of his wife, Gabe Miller moves to Pebble Creek with his daughter, Grace, and a strong desire to be left alone. But, as Gabe will discover, being alone is rarely an option in an Amish community, more so when it’s such a friendly, loving and accepting community as this one. With his arrival, Miriam instantly faces new challenges in her work and deep in her heart, as she tries to help Grace find her voice and Gabe find his way back to God’s grace and a new love.

It’s very unusual to find a romantic story with compelling main characters, heartwarming and moving back stories, well written second characters and side stories, a little suspense, a little funny side, and a beautiful message of love, grace and new beginnings. A Promise for Miriam has it all. This is the story of Miriam, a 26 year old Amish woman who by Amish standards should have married a few years ago and should be raising her own children instead of teaching other people’s children. She has had her suitors, but no one has captured her heart as much as her students have. When she meets Gabe and Grace, she is quite content with her life.

Miriam is immediately drawn to Grace, who has not spoken since her mother died, and wants to help her, knowing that the little girl is smart and very much able to speak. But Gabe is reluctant. He is a strong male lead, set in his ways, stubborn and in no way interested in anyone’s help. Miriam, however, is almost as stubborn as he is and very determined to help Grace even without her father’s consent. And so begins the relationship between Miriam and Gabe: sometimes sweet, other times strained; sometimes passionate, other times timid. Both Miriam and Gabe are very outspoken where Grace is concern, but when it comes to their feelings for each other, not so much.

Much like anyone else, Miriam and Gabe have a hard time admitting what is obvious to everyone else: they are falling for each other. The complexity and realness of these characters is fantastic. They are strong, but cute; stubborn, but endearing; outspoken, but shy. And the secondary characters are just as great. Mostly made up of Miriam’s family, these characters are written to steal your heart, bring wisdom and a sense of family, and community that is very common in Amish novels. The way Vannetta Chapman writes, however, any commonality is enhanced by how she uses words, settings and situations to make the ordinary just a little bit extraordinary.

I don’t want to miss the opportunity of mentioning how great a character Grace is. Not many writers know how to write children. Grace is neither too precocious nor too immature for her age. She is just right. The way her mind works, the way she acts, how she thinks is so touching, so pure, so very much like most children her age. A very well written little girl. Also, I have to say that, as a mother, Grace’s story moved me. It was hard to read how the loss of a mother can affect a child. I was constantly reading and praying, with tears in my eyes and my son in my mind, asking God to let us (me, my husband and my son) enjoy each other for many years to come.

This is a beautiful story of a first chance at love, a second chance at happiness, and God’s grace and His purpose for our lives, even in the middle of our sorrow.

4.5 out of 5 stars

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Love Comes to Paradise, by Mary Ellis

Nora King moves to Paradise, Missouri, with the hope of conquering the heart of the elusive and rebellious Elam Detweiler, whom she previously met and with whom she fell in love while living in Harmony, Maine, a very conservative Amish district. With freedom in her mind and anticipation in her heart, Nora arrives to Paradise to a new home and a new beginning. She makes great friends, finds a good job, but Elam’s heart appears to be out of her reach. But that changes when Lewis Miller arrives. He comes from Harmony hoping to win Nora, offering her his heart. Now Elam is definitely interested, and Nora has a decision to make: will she choose Elam, the bad boy whom she wishes to change? Or will she choose Lewis, the good boy whose love can help her change for the better?

This is a sweet, funny and highly enjoyable book about love, brokenness, and hope. Nora is the kind of female lead anyone can identify with, Amish or not. She is far from perfect, carrying a heavy burden of past mistakes and hurts that still haunt her, just like any one of us. And she is in love with the bad boy, Elam. She has traveled far just to be near him, to be able to conquer his heart. She doesn’t question whether he deserves it or not; she is prompted by what she feels and what she thinks she can accomplish with Elam: to change him, to make him see the error of his bad ways and to convince him of joining the Amish with her. And it is in that last thing that we can start seeing a glimmer of the growth that is coming, a little bit of who Nora will become. In her quest to change Elam, the reader will see that it is Nora who will be transformed.

Author Mary Ellis has done a remarkable job of presenting and developing a character like Nora. Her mistakes are those of any teenager; her hurts are those of any human being; and her unrequited love is just like the one I had before I met my husband. Nora is a nicely written representation of a normal young woman. She has a past, and it spreads like wild fire, and her reputation is marred in her new Amish community of Paradise. Yes, the Amish community is just like our church community; there’s gossip, exaggeration and mean spirited people. But there are also true Christians who help us change, and grow, extending us grace and mercy. Enter Violet, Emily and Lewis.

The secondary characters in 'Love Comes to Paradise' are very well written. Violet is charming and engaging, Emily is funny, as well as her husband, and not afraid to speak her mind, and Lewis is a sweetheart, a mature young man. Solomon, an Amish preacher and Violet’s father, is one of the grouchiest, angriest Amish men I’ve ever read about, and that made the novel even better. Usually, an Amish preacher is written as sweet and wise, or stern and firm, but Solomon is on a whole other level. He interprets a series of strange natural occurrences and disasters as the wrath of God over their Amish community due to their interaction with the Englishers. And Emily, who has not been able to have children, thinks he is right. And that makes for a very entertaining side story. Every secondary character is enjoyable; they each have something to offer and they each contribute to forwarding the plot in nice, interesting ways.

However, as interesting as the secondary characters are, they never take away from Nora. Her love life is front and center, but her friendship with Violet and the close relationship she develops with Emily and Nora’s interactions with them is a nice change from what we usually see in a love story. Although a romantic story through and through, 'Love Comes to Paradise' is mostly the story of Nora and the way God’s love for her saves her, her love for her friends drives her, and the love of the right man frees her.

A different kind of story, full of great characters, interesting side stories and touching romantic moments, this book is a wonderful read. It’s the second book in the series, and I highly recommend reading them in order. There is a lot of back story for Nora, and although it is explained rather well for the new comer (like me), it just piques the reader’s curiosity, and just made me want to go back to get an in depth look into her whole story.

5 out of 5 stars

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