Friday, August 29, 2014

The Midwife


The Midwife by Jolina Petersheim is one of those books that I passed over reading for awhile because I'm not a huge Amish fiction fan. I like most of Beverly Lewis' books, but I've found the huge surge of Amish fiction following Lewis' popular work to be largely cheesy, unrealistic, and poorly written. So I never jump to read an Amish fiction that's not by Lewis. However, the description to this book sounded so intriguing that I gave in and gave it a shot. The description reads:

"The story about a mother who risks everything to save a child not genetically hers . . .

The Past -- Graduate student Beth Winslow was sure she was ready to navigate the challenges of becoming a surrogate. But when early tests indicate possible abnormalities with the baby, Beth is unprepared for the parents' decision to end the pregnancy -- and for the fierce love she feels for this unborn child. Desperate, she flees the city and seeks refuge at Hopen Haus, a home for unwed mothers deep in a Tennessee Mennonite community.

The Present -- As head midwife of Hopen Haus, Rhoda Mummau delivers babies with a confident though stoic ease. Except in rare moments, not even those who work alongside her would guess that each newborn cry, each starry-eyed glance from mother to child, nearly renders a fault through Rhoda's heart, reminding her of a past she has carefully concealed.

Past and present collide when a young woman named Amelia arrives in the sweeping countryside bearing secrets of her own. As Amelia's due date draws near, Rhoda must face her regrets and those she left behind in order for the healing power of love and forgiveness to set them all free."

Now doesn't that sound amazing?! Well, it was. I wasn't sure what to expect when I read this book, but I was completely blown away. I figured out many of the "secrets" and "twists" early in the book (I think the reader was meant to), but then several that came at the end were completely unexpected and I didn't see coming at all. I received this book in the mail on Wednesday afternoon and had finished it by mid day Thursday. It was just that compelling. I literally had trouble putting it down. The characters were fully drawn and rich, the setting was beautifully described, and the plot was intricately laid out and intertwined the past and present perfectly.

Also, I have to add that the cover of this book is just gorgeous. I couldn't stop looking at it - so beautiful. I loved this book so much that as soon as I closed the last page, I immediately got online and ordered her first book, [book:The Outcast: a modern retelling of The Scarlet Letter|16922991] (okay, I had a coupon and a gift card, but still, I have never done that with an author before). I'm counting down the days till I get The Outcast in the mail, because if the reviews are to be believed, it's even better than The Midwife. I hear she's currently writing a third book and I will be getting it as soon as it comes out! Jolina Petersheim is being added to my "favorite authors" list, and you'd be smart to add her to yours, as well. I'd recommend this book to any lover of Christian fiction - even if you don't like "Amish fiction".

The Remaining


I just finished reading an exciting new release, The Remaining, by Travis Thrasher. The Remaining is the novelization of an upcoming movie of the same name. It's a category I enjoy - Christian horror/thriller, so I was very excited to read and review this book, and look forward to watching the movie as soon as it comes out! The premise of this book isn't groundbreaking - a group of six friends (Skylar, Lauren, Tommy, Allison, Jack, and Dan), preparing for the Dan and Skylar's wedding. After the vows are exchanged, people suddenly begin dropping dead at the reception. It soon becomes clear that this is the Rapture, but instead of their bodies disappearing, just their souls are caught up into Heaven. All of the friends except Lauren are "left behind" and have to try to survive and figure out what's happening around them.

Although the concept is nothing new, the execution does bring some fresh ideas, such as the bodies being left behind and the events of the apocalypse happening very rapidly as opposed to over a period of years. Also, there is no antichrist figure in sight. Although these liberties are taken and it's by no means an extremely accurate representation of what people believe the Rapture and tribulation will look like, it works in the time frame of the movie and book and makes for an exciting, action packed book (and I'm sure, film).

I was so excited to read this that I opened it up as soon as it came in the mail and finished it in less than 24 hours. It wasn't quite as good as I was expecting, but it was scary, thrilling, and a very quick read. It isn't labeled YA, but it feels like it was written at a teenage level. It's a book that my 12 year old would be able to read (if the themes were a bit less scary - maybe in a year or two). This isn't an upbeat book by any means - it's an apocalyptic story and - SPOILER - everyone dies in the end, although they do all end up accepting Christ at some point before death. (end spoiler) It's a book that will keep you entertained and turning the pages, but nothing life changing or absolutely amazing. I have a feeling that the movie will be better than the book, because there's so much action from page to page that there isn't as much depth as I would've liked - and that type of story lends itself much better to a movie than to a book. I recommend this book to anyone looking for a thriller with Christian themes, and am looking forward to seeing the movie.

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

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

The Trail


The Trail: A Tale about Discovering God's Will by Ed Underwood is an allegorical tale (there seems to be a lot of these being published lately) that will help you discover eight principles for discovering God's will for your life. The story follows Matt and Brenda, a married couple facing challenges and tough decisions, on a hike through the High Sierras with guide and former firefighter and current pastor Sam Lewis, who their friends Brian and Lindsey introduced them to. As they hike the trail, Sam gives them important instructions and the eight principles. The principles and Scriptures are summarized in the back of the book and there is also a discussion/reader's guide included.

I'm not a huge fan of allegorical fiction, so I wasn't expecting too much out of this book, to be honest. I normally have a difficult time reading this type of book because I'm generally the type of reader who wants either a non fiction book or a fiction book, not one mixed together. However, I did enjoy this book. The story was enjoyable and moved along pleasantly, and the spiritual truths were imparted well throughout the story. I'd recommend this book to anyone who enjoys Christian fiction and who is looking for some good tips on how to know God's will for your life.

In The Secret Service


In The Secret Service: The True Story of the Man Who Saved President Reagan's Life by Jerry Parr is a thrilling memoir about the life of a Christian man in the Secret Service. The book description reads:

"Meet Jerry Parr. In 1981, he was the agent standing next to Ronald Reagan when John Hinckley, Jr., stepped out of the crowd, intent on killing the president. In the Secret Service is an adrenaline-filled ride through the life of the agent who saved Ronald Reagan’s life. Jerry spent much of his life as a silent eyewitness to history, with a gun at his fingertips. What motivates a man who is ready at a moment’s notice to step into the path of a bullet? In In the Secret Service, you’ll also follow Jerry’s inner journey. That journey led him from the halls of the powerful to the streets of the poor in Washington, D.C., to the mountain passes of war-torn El Salvador to help orphans.

You won’t want to miss this insider’s perspective on the Secret Service and a look into the heart of a man who was—and is—ready to sacrifice himself for another. At times heart-pounding, at times heartrending, this richly textured memoir of a Secret Service Agent will first move you to the edge of your seat, then to the depths of your soul."

I happen to love memoirs, and this is a thrilling page turner that you won't want to put down. Parr takes us through his years of service and, of course, saving President Reagan from assassination. The story is richly woven and has much depth. Parr's Christianity has directed his life and makes for not just exciting stories, but spiritual truths. You'll read this book for the stories, but come away from it with much more than that. I highly recommend this book to any Christian.

Overwhelmed


I've had Overwhelmed by Perry Noble on my "want-to-read" list for awhile now, so I was really excited when I saw that it was free on Kindle for a limited time and downloaded it right away. The description for Overwhelmed sounds like it has a great premise: "Stressed out? Anxious? Overwhelmed? Good news—you’re not alone!

No one ever said life was going to be easy. Between financial struggles, marital issues, health scares, and the regular, run-of-the-mill problems of everyday life, it’s easy to feel weighed down and trapped by your circumstances. In times like these, it’s tempting to just throw in the towel and quit. Well, don’t do it!

Perry Noble has stood at the edge of the abyss himself, and in Overwhelmed, he shares the keys to unlocking the chains of anxiety and despair once and for all. Building on the premise that when we shift our focus from our circumstances to Christ, everything changes, Perry walks readers through a life-altering plan for overcoming stress, worry, depression, and anxiety so we can be free to enjoy the abundant, joy-filled lives we were created for.

God knows we’re frustrated. He knows we’re tired. He knows we’re struggling. But He also knows how things are going to turn out. He is greater than anything you are going through . . . so don’t give up on God. After all, He’s never given up on you."

I can definitely relate to all of this, so I couldn't wait to read the book. I deal with anxiety and worry problems, so I was hoping there would be a lot of take-away for me in these pages. Noble states that he's not going to give platitudes or quick fixes in this book, but he does at times. My main disappointment with this book is that it dealt mainly with depression, as opposed to worry and anxiety. The book description focuses on worry and anxiety, so it was a bit of a surprise that it focused so much on depression instead. I think this could be a decent book for people going through depression - it does have lots of Scriptures and some good tools. Also a minor concern, but the cover could definitely be more appealing. It's not a cover that would draw me to it in a bookstore. I'd recommend this book to Christians struggling with depression, but there are many other books out there that are better.

Beautiful On The Mountain


Beautiful On The Mountain: An Inspiring True Story by Jeannie Light is basically a biography of how Jeannie came to minister at a small church in Graves Mill, Virginia. The description from the publisher sounded great: "If you enjoyed the classic novel Christy and the bestselling Mitford series, then you’ll love Beautiful on the Mountain, a real-life tale about serving God in unlikely circumstances. In 1977, Jeannie Light left her fine plantation home amid heartbreak and came to Graves Mill, a tiny hamlet in the Blue Ridge Mountains. Alone in an utterly new kind of life, Jeannie was determined to find the courage to make a fresh start.

To Jeannie’s surprise, she found herself called upon by her new neighbors to open the old, deteriorated country church, a place that had once united the fractured community of mountain folk. With no training, and no small amount of trepidation, she undertook the task. And as she embarked on an unforeseen series of adventures, from heartbreaking to hilarious, Jeannie would learn more than she ever expected about faith, loving your neighbor, and doing the work that God sets in front of you. Because sometimes, God calls us to go where there is no path . . . and leave a trail."

However, the execution was a bit lacking. This was a first person memoir-style book and it lacked depth and needed some editing. It started out strong, but got a bit boring as the pages went on. The ending was extremely abrupt and why she ended up leaving wasn't ever explained. I also don't believe that women should be pastoring a church, so that rubbed me the wrong way as well. There were some interesting stories and great bits and pieces, but as a whole, the book was fairly weak. Some parts were worth reading. Other people may find it more enjoyable - it just wasn't quite what I expected.

Vanishings


The Vanishings is the first book in the spinoff of the adult Left Behind series. I've read and greatly enjoyed the Left Behind book series for adults, so was interested in reading this book to see if it might be appropriate for my 12 year old, who loves to read. The premise of this book is following three teenagers after the Rapture - Judd ("The Runaway"), Vicki ("The Rebel"), Lionel ("The Liar"), and Ryan ("The Skeptic"). Book one finds them reeling in the aftermath of the Rapture and their decisions not to follow Christ beforehand. We get to view the Rapture and the following events through the eyes of these teenagers, as opposed to the adults like in the regular Left Behind series.

This is a great book for preteens and young teens, in my opinion. The publisher's recommended age is 9-12, but I think this would be a bit too much for a 9 year old. I think a better age range for this book is 11-15. I am planning on having my 12 year old read this and think it's perfect for his age in terms of reading level and the scariness factor. This book has plenty of action, adventure, drama, and suspense to keep kids turning the pages. The story continues in book two, Second Chance. I recommend this book to any Christian pre-teens/young teens. This is a great way to keep your kids reading while also giving them biblical-based fiction.