The Promise of a Letter by Kathleen Fuller

Book Description:

A letter brings him back to his Amish family. It will take someone truly extraordinary to make him stay.

Roman is on the verge of leaving the Amish ways. Feeling confined by the strict rules, he longs to do something more with his life. But when things don’t go as planned, Roman’s prospects outside of the community dwindle. Upon learning that his beloved grandmother has died and left a letter urging him to reconcile with his brother in Birch Creek, Roman decides to return home. But he doesn’t plan to stay for long.

Leanna Chupp has always made her own way in her small community of Birch Creek. Though some may call her unconventional—strange, even—Leanna is happy. Her unique outlook on life has meant she’s never had many suitors pursuing courtship, which Leanna doesn’t mind. She is content being single.

But when Roman and Leanna find themselves working together again, everything changes. Though neither fit squarely within the strictures of the Amish faith, their differences could be the very thing to help them form a deeper connection to their community and to each other. The question remains: will this strengthening bond be enough to make Roman stay for good?

My review:

The best part about this book was the various facets presented by the characters. They were flawed and experienced real-life tragedies and pain, but the persevered and continued on a path according to God’s plan for their lives.

As I read books like this where the main characters are obviously meant for each other, the suspense of whether they get together is replaced by a curiousity of how they will get together. Clearly Leanna and Roman were destined to get together, but how would they realize it. Fuller offered an interesting journey of discovery between the two that felt authentic and less contrived than similar books. I found the physical description of Leanna and the life-journey of Roman to be particular interesting and unusual. There were aspects of the book that I was really curious about that kept me reading and reading. Due to external factors, it has been rare that I have had the time to read a book a day, but this was such an interesting and quick read that I sacrificed other activities to read it.

If you enjoy reading Amish fiction, you will enjoy this book. It provides a different look at the Amish world and lifestyle.

I received a complimentary copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for my honest review. All opinions are my own.

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The Space Between Words by Michele Phoenix

Book Description:

“There were seconds, when I woke, when the world felt unshrouded. Then memory returned.”

When Jessica regains consciousness in a French hospital on the day after the Paris attacks, all she can think of is fleeing the site of the horror she survived. But Patrick, the steadfast friend who hasn’t left her side, urges her to reconsider her decision. Worn down by his insistence, she reluctantly agrees to follow through with the trip they’d planned before the tragedy.

“The pages found you,” Patrick whispered.

“Now you need to figure out what they’re trying to say.”

During a stop at a country flea market, Jessica finds a faded document concealed in an antique. As new friends help her to translate the archaic French, they uncover the story of Adeline Baillard, a young woman who lived centuries before—her faith condemned, her life endangered, her community decimated by the Huguenot persecution.

“I write for our descendants, for those who will not understand the cost of our survival.”

Determined to learn the Baillard family’s fate, Jessica retraces their flight from France to England, spurred on by a need she doesn’t understand.

Could this stranger who lived three hundred years before hold the key to Jessica’s survival?

My Review:

This is the second book I have read from Michele Phoenix and I was blown away by both of them! I love books that are realistic and true-to-life. Phoenix does not hold back from realistic happenings in her books and is not afraid to have really terrible things happen to her characters. I find it refreshing because real-life can be terrible and it is a little frustrating to read books that are always predictable and happy.

In this story, Phoenix deals with current issues and intertwines events from the past. One of the reasons why historical fiction is my favorite genre to read is because I find that I learn a little bit about the past while reading the novel. Although this is not historical fiction, Phoenix gives us snapshots into the past. Furthermore, the Huguenot persecutions are something that I was not that familiar with, so I found this novel especially interesting.

There were a couple of twists and turns in this book that will hold the interest of all readers, especially in light of the relevance and current events. However, what I found most interesting was the connection between the persecution of the past and the current climate.

The saddest thing about this book was the fact that while I vaguely remembered the attacks on Paris, I had already forgotten many of the details of the attack on the Bataclan. Phoenix’s novel keeps the memory of the attack and the innocent victims alive in readers, even those that were not directly affected by the attacks.

If you want to read a book that is inspiring and painful and disturbing and wonderful, this is the book for you. It is well-written and painfully beautiful.

I received a complimentary copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for my honest review. All opinions are my own.

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When Mountains Move by Julie Cantrell

Book Description:

In a few hours, Millie will say “I do” to Bump Anderson, a man who loves her through and through. But would he love her if he knew the secret she keeps?

Millie’s mind is racing and there seems to be no clear line between right and wrong. Either path leads to pain, and she’ll do anything to protect the ones she loves. So she decides to bury the truth and begin again, helping Bump launch a ranch in the wilds of Colorado. But just when she thinks she’s left her old Mississippi life behind, the facts surface in the most challenging way.

That’s when Millie’s grandmother, Oka, arrives to help. Relying on her age-old Choctaw traditions, Oka teaches Millie the power of second chances. Millie resists, believing redemption is about as likely as moving mountains. But Oka stands strong, modeling forgiveness as the only true path to freedom.

Together, Bump, Millie, and Oka fight against all odds to create a sustainable ranch, all while learning that the important lessons of their pasts can be used to build a beautiful future.

My Review:

I’ve been a fan of Julie Cantrell since reading her book, The Feathered Bone. I learned from that book that Cantrell writes honestly, without artificiality. My favorite authors are ones that write honestly about the human condition. Cantrell provides the same level of honest writing in this book.

I didn’t realize this book was a sequel until after I had begun reading it. Although I did not read the first book, it did not impact my understanding of events in this book. It definitely stands on its own.  The characters are engaging and endearing in this book, but what makes it so very good is the message of unconditional love and trust. Readers see this particularly in the character of Bump. However, readers also see that sometimes the most difficult person to forgive is ourself.

This is a great story of forging a new and better life and the possibility of doing so despite pain and hardship of the past. If you like stories of characters with depth who overcome struggles, you will enjoy this book!

I received a complimentary copy of this book from the publisher for the purpose of review. All opinions are my own.

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Stella Bain by Anita Shreve


Book Description:

Stella Bain has no memory of her past when she wakes up in a hospital bed in Marne, France. It is 1916, and she wears the uniform of a British war nurse but speaks with an American accent. As soon as she is able, Stella sets out for London, where she hopes to find answers. What she discovers-with the help of Dr. August Bridge, who takes an interest in her case-both shocks and startles. As Stella’s memories come racing back, she must undertake a journey across the ocean to confront the haunted past of the woman she used to be.

In this gripping historical drama that transports us from Europe to America and back again, Anita Shreve weaves an engrossing tale about love and memory, set against the backdrop of a war that devastated an entire generation.

My Review:

I thought this book was an interesting look at WWI and the role of women in service in WWI. This is the second book from Shreve that I have read and I appreciate the honesty of her writing. In this book, for example, she does not gloss over or try to beautify the ugliness of war. The injuries the soldiers face and the emotional trauma that is a side effect of war is forefront throughout the book.

One of the reasons why I enjoy historical fiction so much is because one can get an idea of how people that lived during the time might have viewed events or ideas that came into vogue when they actually happened. In this book, it was interesting to hear about Freud’s ideas when they were newly introduced.

This novel held my attention because I had no idea which way it was going to go and where Stella would end up. The mystery of her identify was revealed expertly by Shreve in such a way that it was impossible to figure it out before it was time. However, there was enough action and interest to keep me reading to find out who Stella was.

Overall, I thought it was an interesting book that would be great for a weekend read.

I received a complimentary copy of the book in exchange for my honest review. All opinions are my own.

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The Dog Who Was There by Ron Marasco


Book Description:

No one expected Barley to have an encounter with the Messiah. He was homeless, hungry, and struggling to survive in first century Jerusalem. Most surprisingly, he was a dog. But through Barley’s eyes, the story of a teacher from Galilee comes alive in a way we’ve never experienced before.

Barley’s story begins in the home of a compassionate woodcarver and his wife who find Barley as an abandoned, nearly-drowned pup. Tales of a special teacher from Galilee are reaching their tiny village, but when life suddenly changes again for Barley, he carries the lessons of forgiveness and love out of the woodcarver’s home and through the dangerous roads of Roman-occupied Judea.

On the outskirts of Jerusalem, Barley meets a homeless man and petty criminal named Samid. Together, Barley and his unlikely new master experience fresh struggles and new revelations. Soon Barley is swept up into the current of history, culminating in an unforgettable encounter with the truest master of all as he bears witness to the greatest story ever told.

My Review:

One of the reasons why I love reading historical fiction so much is that it brings history to life. It is one thing to memorize facts or to read descriptions of historical events, but another to imagine what it would be like to actually have been present when the event was happening. In Marasco’s book, readers get to experience Jesus’s crucifixion through the eyes of a dog. In many ways, it reminded me of Avi’s book, The Good Dog.

This is the best book I have read in a very long time. I always know when I am completely lost in a book because I say things out loud like, “Oh no!” or even gasp at times. I gave several audible reactions while I was reading this book, so much so that my family asked if I was ok.

One thing that this book made me realize/remember was the danger that merchants and travelers encountered while they were journeying along the roads around Jerusalem. We read the story of the Good Samaritan and other stories that demonstrate the presence of thieves, but this story clearly demonstrated that.

One might not think that there would be any surprises in this book, but I was so impressed with the twists that Marasco included. I had no idea what was coming next. If you enjoy historical fiction, especially with a different and unusual perspective, this book is a must, must, must read!

I received a complimentary copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for my honest review. All opinions are my own.

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Written in Love by Kathleen Fuller

Book Description:

When a postal error creates pen pals of two young Amish people, can they put behind their past mistakes to see the bright future God has written for them?

Jalon Chupp has a past he isn’t proud to claim. He’s worked hard to overcome his youthful mistakes, and he has recommitted himself to his faith. When he receives a sweet note included in a piece of misdirected mail, he can’t help but write back. Soon, the letters he receives from Phoebe are the highlights of his days, and with a hopeful heart, he suggests they meet in person.

Phoebe, too, looks forward to every single one of Jalon’s letters. Living with her overbearing aunt, Phoebe doesn’t have too much to look forward to. But when Jalon suggests they meet, she panics—although she has shared some of the deepest longings of her heart with him, she hasn’t been entirely truthful about her past. But when Jalon shows up at her aunt’s doorstep, everything is revealed. And she can only pray he’ll forgive her for holding back the truth.

In order to reach beyond the errors of their pasts, both Phoebe and Jalon must put their faith in something—or Someone—bigger than either of them could pen.

My Review:

I have to admit that usually when I am reading a book and the author includes letters written from one character to another, I just sort of skim over them. However, Fuller begins this book with a series of letters written from Jalon to Phoebe, so I found myself carefully reading the letters for a change.

This is a nice novel, perfect for a relaxing afternoon read. It follows the typical romance novel format where the characters have a connection, there is a conflict, and readers have a fairly confident expectation that they will end up together by the end of the story. I liked reading the story, although I found it much more interesting at the beginning and the end than in the middle. I appreciated all the layers of characters that were pulled in because it helped to hold my interest. I liked the addition of Adam, because it is a little uncommon for authors to include a character with a disability.

If you enjoy reading Amish fiction, you will enjoy this book.

I received a complimentary copy of this book in exchange for my honest review. All opinions are my own.

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If I’m Found by Terri Blackstock

Book Description:

Casey Cox is still on the run, fleeing prosecution for a murder she didn’t commit. Dylan Roberts—her most relentless pursuer—is still on her trail, but his secret emails insist he knows the truth and wants to help her. He’s let her escape before when he had her in his grasp, but trust doesn’t come easily.

As Casey works to collect evidence about the real murderers, she stumbles on another unbearable injustice: an abused child and a suicidal man who’s also been falsely accused. Casey risks her own safety to right this wrong and protect the little girl from her tormenters. But doing so is risky and may result in her capture—and if she’s captured, she has no doubt she’ll be murdered before she ever steps foot in a jail cell.

My Review:

I was super excited to read this book because I had read the first one in the series, If I Run, and was looking forward to reading what happened next. Unfortunately, it had been a long while since I had read the first book, so it took me a little bit of time to remember all the details of Casey and Dylan as I began reading this book. As I continued reading, it all came back to me and I greatly enjoyed the book. I had a very similar feeling of disappointment at the end of this book when I discovered that the next installment of this series would not be published until 2018. I can’t believe I have to wait that long!

This book was well worth the wait and was even better than the first one in the series. I appreciate Casey’s knack for evading the law and Dylan’s detective skills. I think it is beneficial the way that Blackstock draws attention to the struggle of many veterans with PTSD and disabilities that resulted from their service.

I like the way that Blackstock pulls in a substory underneath Casey’s search for justice for her friend. It is very creative the way that the substory intertwines and impacts the main plotline. Very cleverly written, indeed.

If you like suspense/mystery books, you will enjoy this one. The only thing you will want to consider is reading the first book in the series before reading this one. It will make a lot more sense if you do.

I received a complimentary copy of this book in exchange for my honest review. All opinions are my own.

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The Memory of You by Catherine West


Book Description:

Thirteen years ago, Natalie lost a part of herself when her twin sister died. Will traveling back to the family winery finally put the memory to rest, or will it completely destroy her?

When Natalie Mitchell learns her beloved grandfather has had a heart attack, she’s forced to return to their family-owned winery in Sonoma, something she never intended to do. She’s avoided her grandparents’ sprawling home and all its memories since the summer her sister died—the awful summer Natalie’s nightmares began. But the winery is failing, and Natalie’s father wants her to shut it down. As the majority shareholder, she has the power to do so.

And Natalie never says no to her father.

Tanner Collins, the vintner on Maoilios, is trying to salvage a bad season and put the Mitchell family’s winery back in business. When Natalie Mitchell shows up, Tanner sees his future about to be crushed. Natalie intends to close the gates, unless he can convince her otherwise. But the Natalie he remembers from childhood is long gone, and he’s not so sure he likes the woman she’s become. Still, the haunted look she wears hints at secrets he wants to unearth. He soon discovers that on the night her sister died, the real Natalie died too. And Tanner must do whatever it takes to resurrect her.

But finding freedom from the past means facing it.

My Review:

This book has a little bit of everything: Love, loss, redemption, courage, mental health issues, family dysfunction, and unresolved guilt. The best part about this book for me was all the different characters. There are many, many characters in this novel. It is a testament to West’s character development skills that they are all so individual that it was easy to keep them straight. West also does a phenomenal job of introducing them gradually so that readers have an opportunity to get to know them before moving on the another new character.

This book also has some encouraging messages in it. The characters struggle with real life situations and challenges, but we can be encouraged by their ability to overcome. Whenever one reads a romance story it is a safe assumption that the main characters that seem like they are going to get together do end up together by the end. However, it is the journey of their relationship that makes or breaks the novel. I think this story was more original than most and there were so many side stories that it did not seem as predictable as most.

Overall, if you enjoy reading stories of human struggles juxtaposed against a romance tale, this is a great story that you will enjoy.

I received a complimentary copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for my honest review. All opinions are my own.

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Some Small Magic by Billy Coffey


Book Description:

All Abel wants is a little bit of magic in his life. Enough money so his mom doesn’t cry at night. Healing for his broken body. And maybe a few answers about his past.

When Abel discovers letters to him from the father he believed dead, he wonders if magic has come to the hills of Mattingly, Virginia, after all. But not everything is as it seems.

With a lot of questions and a little bit of hope, Abel decides to run away to find the truth. But danger follows him from the moment he jumps his first boxcar, forcing Abel to rely on his simpleminded friend Willie—a man wanted for murder who knows more about truth than most—and a beautiful young woman they met on the train.

From Appalachia to the Tennessee wilds and through the Carolina mountains, the name of a single small town beckons: Fairhope. That is where Abel believes his magic lays. But will it be the sort that will bring a broken boy healing? And is it the magic that will one day lead him home?

My Review:

This is the second book from Coffey that I have read.  I am a fan of how carefully he crafts his stories.  This one has so many twists and turns and surprises that I really had no idea what was going to happen next.  The best part about the story for me was the honesty of the characters.  They were real and flawed and believable.  I also appreciate the detailed descriptions present throughout the book.  I had a picture in my head of the characters and the scenery.  I thought Coffey did a great job with his consistency in describing Abel’s physical challenges.

The only criticism I have is that I would have liked if Coffey had not referred to Willie and “Dumb Willie” throughout the novel.  It didn’t bother me as much at the beginning when the characters referred to him as “Dumb Willie”, however, by the time Abel and Willie were on their own, I thought it would have been nice to just refer to him as “Willie”.

This story is one that stays with you for awhile afterward in the best possible way.  If you are looking for a real story about life with all the challenges and heartaches that come with it, you will probably enjoy this one.

I received a complimentary copy of this book in exchange for my honest review. All opinions are my own.

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Becoming a Woman of Excellence by Cynthia Heald

Book description:

Society beckons us to succeed―to achieve excellence in our appearance, our earning power, our family life. God Himself also beckons us to be women of excellence. But what exactly is He asking? If you’re hungry for God’s perspective on success in a society that bombards you with conflicting demands, feed on the truths of God’s Word that you’ll discover in these pages. You will not only learn to “approve the things that are excellent” but will also experience the joy of becoming God’s woman of excellence. This bestselling topical Bible study has helped over one million women over the past 30 years, and is newly revised and updated so today’s women can discover who God designed them to be in this day and age. Written by Navigator author and Bible teacher Cynthia Heald, the 11 sessions in this Bible study explore what your identity in Christ is and how you can best serve Him.

My review:

This was my first foray into the Becoming a Woman of … series. I can’t wait to read another one. Each chapter is built around a different facet of becoming a woman of excellence and has a large amount of Bible verses that are related to each idea.

As I went through the book, I found that I had a hard time getting all the way through each chapter in one sitting. I appreciated that there were numbered questions in each chapter because it made it easier to break it down into smaller components for those days that I just did not have enough time. My time has been very short lately!

By far, my favorite part of the book was at the end of the chapter when Heald shared “Reflections from an older woman”. I appreciated her wisdom and more personal thoughts. I find myself more and more interested in the wisdom of older women the older I get!

If you are looking for a straight-forward, no-nonsense Bible study on pursuing excellence, this is a good choice. I went through it alone, but I think it might be even more meaningful doing the study with a group or at least a couple of friends to share and discuss the applications of ideas. I think you can trust in a book that has been around long enough to warrant a 30th Anniversary Edition!

I received a complimentary copy of this book from Tyndale Publishers in exchange for my honest review. All opinions are my own.

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