Book Review: The Proving

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I received a copy of The Proving by Beverly Lewis from Bethany House in exchange for a review.

I have enjoyed my second Beverly Lewis book. While the people may be plain and the storyline fairly simple, it carries a relatability to it. Amanda moves away from her family after a disappointment and lives among the Englishers but ends up moving back after her mother passes away and leaves the family Bed and Breakfast to her. Amanda goes back thinking she will fulfill her mother’s wishes to stay for a year then collect the money and return to her new life. However, she ends up finding out that the people she left behind may welcome her back.

It feels nice to imagine the setting of the Amish inn. I wish I could get away and spend a weekend there as well and meet Amanda and the other sweet characters from the story. Amanda’s internal struggle to forgive herself, forgive her twin sister and accept forgiveness from her sister holds a universal message of grace and the importance of family. It also shows that tensions exist in all kinds of all families but they can be overcome if the people involved demonstrate a willingness to show grace and communicate. As a young person, Amanda also grapples with choosing her path for her future as she decides where she wants to live, what career she wants to pursue and if she wants to have a marriage and family. These choices also remind readers that we all have decisions to make and paths to follow and that no one stands alone in moving forward. Amanda and her new friend who visits the inn show a lot of angles on progressing through life with hope.

I enjoy this book and Beverly Lewis. I recommend it as a fairly light read for a peaceful setting and hope for life’s common choices and struggles.

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Book Review: The Two of Us by Victoria Bylin

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I received a copy of The Two of Us by Victoria Bylin from Bethany House Publishers in exchange for a review.

The Two of Us follows a modern, female centric story revolving around faith. While at times almost cliché, it does have a heart. Mia proves an admirable protagonist who struggles with finding direction in her life and trusting God to provide what she wants after she’s been burned a couple times. Yet, despite these troubles, she does hold to her faith as she honestly shares her disappointments, fears and doubts with God. She also stands on her faith and values even when doing so means losing a person or situation she wants. Specifically with sex outside marriage, this book shows multiple angles on how people struggle to uphold their value or who do fall but get back on track with grace. Mia and her sister Lucy show this balance in their lives; Mia starts off the story with a broken heart after her engagement breaks due to her standing her ground to maintain her virginity, and Mia’s younger sister Lucy starts out getting married because she got pregnant due to not waiting for marriage. Over the course of the story, the sisters support each other as each struggles to trust God for his provision and guidance as they choose careers and develop relationships.

I enjoyed this story that somehow felt lighthearted even though it held some weight in its content. I appreciated the characters and their authenticity in not only their struggles but their trust and hope to overcome them with faith and trust. The situations were realistic and relatable, making it easy to apply the sisters’ lessons to my own life, whether relating to choosing my next steps for career like Mia or trusting God to guide me in another area of my life. I liked that Bylin wrote imperfect characters who stood rooted in their faith, authentically shared their doubts and who gracefully failed yet continued on their paths.

Book Review: The Return by Suzanne Woods Fisher

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I received a copy of The Return by Suzanne Woods Fisher from Revell in exchange for a review.

The Return, Suzanne Woods Fisher’s third installment in her Amish Beginnings series, gives readers a glimpse into prerevolutionary life in Pennsylvania through a story inspired by true events. The female leads Betsy Zook and Tessa Bauer give a real sense of the tough situations of the time and a timeless rawness for difficult circumstances. They face loss of family, fear for their lives, relationship choices and more. As they endure their hardships, they become stronger women.

I enjoyed this story and its history. I learned a lot about the time period and people represented in this book and appreciated the new knowledge. Some of the relationship strains between groups of people resembled ones we see now, which gave the story an added layer for lessons learned from history.

Book Review: These Healing Hills by Ann H. Gabhart

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I received a copy of These Healing Hills by Ann H. Gabhart from Revell in exchange for a review.

This book with its Kentucky mountain fall picture on its cover arrived when I moved to Kentucky last autumn. Though the setting was more mountainous and backwoods than Bowling Green and further back in time, it provided a place and mood match. The story followed a city nurse midwife named Francine Howard as she finished her training to “catch babies” and Ben Locke, a man who returned from war unsure of what to do next.

Gabhart brought me into this mountain world and taught me about the midwife profession as well as the mountain lifestyle. The characters all held likable qualities, and I could relate to Francine’s internal struggle to determine where she belonged and where she wanted to live in the future. Francine also held admirable qualities to strive to do her best to complete the training as prescribed as well as to fully understand her patients. Overall, she showed strength in many ways as she handled birthing situations, a breakup with her fiancé and a new living and working environment. She held true to her values as she sought her direction for her next steps.

I enjoyed this book and also had the opportunity to meet Ann H. Gabhart at SOKY Book Fest this past weekend. She chatted with me for a while was really sweet. She signed my book, and I got one of her cozy mysteries to read next.

Book Review: The Breakdown by B.A. Paris

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I received an Advance Readers’ Edition of The Breakdown by B.A. Paris through a Goodreads giveaway.

Though I don’t read a lot in the mystery/thriller genre, I have found myself more curious about this writer and the whole genre since reading the book. It starts off a little slow despite the opening death and mystery surrounding it, and it takes a while to develop that the central mystery does not solely revolve around Cass feeling guilty and paranoid about keeping what she saw a secret. Once her paranoia over the killer stalking and taunting her, a lot more details come into play. The setting and details take on a realistic vibe that pulls you into the mystery as though you were there too. I can picture Cass’s house and the restaurants and shops where she meets her friends.

Another aspect I appreciate about this book relates to its cleanness in details. It seems like a lot of stories in this genre include a lot of graphic sexual and violent scenes and details. While this book clearly has some of those aspects, considering it does revolve around the mystery of a murder, it doesn’t handle those details in a gratuitous or graphic way. The real details and the real thrills in the story come from the paranoia and taunting as it unfolds.

Overall I have enjoyed this book as a story outside my normal genres. I find myself appreciating mysteries a little more now.

 

Book Review: The Captain’s Daughter by Jennifer Delamere

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I received a copy of The Captain’s Daughter by Jennifer Delamere from Bethany House Publishers in exchange for a review.

I enjoyed this story, especially for its London 1879 setting. It followed the intersecting lives of Rosalyn Bernay and Nate Moran as they worked at a theater company. They both sought to overcome struggled of their recent past, which they both hid from the other at the outset. Rosalyn hurriedly left her previous employer amid a scandal, and she wished to clear her name and prove her innocence; Nate grappled with the heartbreak of a broken engagement and the injury sustained in battle when he received the breakup letter. They both had to overcome their pride and worry of others’ perceptions while they sought to improve their economic status and stability. This they ended up doing together as Rosalyn rented a room from the Bernay family and they worked at the same theater.

The London setting, the class struggle and the theater details made for a fun atmosphere. The story itself fit into it like a classic from that time period. The characters also showed depth and relatability in their struggles. Most importantly, they had to stand their ground on their values and seek peace through forgiveness of themselves and others. Rosalyn showed a deep understanding and empathy of others as she encountered a variety of people with different backgrounds and intentions. Though Nate thought she might make easy prey for men with ill intentions, Rosalyn contemplated what people might think or want when they interacted with her. Instead of harboring bitterness when someone hurt her, she sought to understand their background and to let go of the situation so she could move forward. In contrast, Nate struggled with this, especially when it came to forgiving his fiancé for breaking the engagement and with forgiving himself for unintentionally putting a comrade in his regimen in danger. Throughout the story, these characters showed the effects of holding grudges and the peace that came with forgiveness.

Overall, this book offered a neat story with some more encouragement that took place in a familiar London class and setting in the town and theater. It demonstrated the power of forgiveness and the power of persistence. The characters stuck to their values and encountered good outcomes. After finishing the book, I felt like I too could move forward in my goals.

Book Review: Beloved Hope by Tracie Peterson

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I received a copy of Beloved Hope, the second book in the Heart of the Frontier series, by Tracie Peterson in exchange for a review.

I thoroughly enjoyed this story, which made sense to me despite not having read the first in the series. Though the setting may seem old, simple and isolated from civilization, it presents complex human issues through the lives of the three sisters in the Flanagan family in Oregon City. The story revolves around Hope; she, along with her older sister Grace, survived a massacre by the Cayuse. The effects of that trauma lingers even more than two years later when the trial occurs for the Cayuse. Hope still keeps her heart hidden and fears the man who abused and impregnated her while she was held hostage. Yet as the story unfolds, we see multiple perspectives and timelines of forgiveness as well as hope for romance and intimacy after healing.

The story depicts a realistic development of pain, healing and forgiveness. Hope goes from fear to hope as she finally learns to trust the Lord. Ultimately, she sees that she need not hide from the prospect of marriage as she can enjoy an intimacy with God as well as with someone he has in mind for her. The story shows the understanding and patience of a godly man as Army lieutenant Lance Kenner gets closer to Hope, always respecting her need for space and understanding. Hope’s sisters also go through different phases of trust, love and forgiveness as they embark on new stages of their relationships and healing from the massacre trauma.

I enjoyed the story, particularly its realistic and hopeful portrayal of healing and forgiveness. The setting may have been different from my experience, but I could relate to the universal experience of learning to trust. It also presented new information regarding history that informed while providing a premise for a timeless hope lesson.

I already have another Tracie Peterson book on my shelf to review. I look forward to reading and reviewing Out of the Ashes as well as continuing the Heart of the Frontier series.

Wonder Book Review: Kinder Than Necessary

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I recently have read and fallen into awe over R.J. Palacio’s Wonder for the KIRB Appeal Book Club at Warren County Public Library. This story follows an inspiring young boy named Auggie Pullman who suffers from a myriad of health issues resulting in severe facial deformities as he ventures into public school the first time as he enters fifth grade. Though much younger than me, Auggie reminds readers of all ages of the importance of being kinder than necessary. He faces his obstacles, much like anyone faces personal issues, as he hides them, thus blocking his connection to others and his way to see how to overcome his struggles, understands his differences and how he may have to take care of himself differently than other people do, learns not to let mean people ruin his otherwise good days, and adjusts his perspective on people’s reactions to his visible struggles and differences all the while demonstrating the power of kindness.

Toward the beginning of the story, Auggie shares how he lets his hair fall into his face because “it helps me block out the things I don’t want to see” (21). He even shares that he had the forethought to grow it out so he could do that; he wanted to hide his face and his struggle with his health issues. This makes sense; no one likes to have people stare at them. I too know what it feels like; I simply wear gloves at work and catch people glancing at them in contemplation of why I would wear them. Most of them end up asking questions about them, rarely seeming to understand I do it to protect my skin and health (not wearing them results in numerous bleeding cracks, which sometimes lead to bubbly staph infections…all of which hurt). It feels easier to hide the problem and try to ignore it. Yet, it can’t really go away. Auggie hiding his face may have kept people from quickly noticing his difference, but it also kept him from engaging in the world around him. With the hair over his eyes, he not only couldn’t see people’s silly stares, he couldn’t see his own world or goals. As he discovers, people stare either way. I have received as many questions about my cracked hands before I wore gloves as I have while wearing the gloves; I have decided I’d rather get asked about the gloves and not have the infections. This allows me to get through my days more successfully. Auggie does the same thing by putting his best face forward and going to his school every day rather than going back to homeschooling and not having a school community or group of friends.

By showing up to school and taking care of himself, Auggie demonstrates his understanding that he is a little different than most people. His cleft palate and other issues make it harder for him to eat. Therefore, he must chew his food with his front teeth rather than in the back of his mouth like most people. Some people may react to this since it normally might get perceived as rude or might get crumbs on the table. However, not eating this way could result in him choking. Auggie understands that he must take care of his choking risk with greater care than the average person. Again, I sympathize with my skin issues. I must protect mine more than the average person. I might get some silly stares and questions for my unusual use of gloves, but not wearing them increases my risk of illness and infection. So I must understand that I might have to care for myself a little differently or with more effort.

In his higher level of understanding from being different from the other kids, Auggie achieves a level of perspective and peace I have yet to perfect. He realizes most people don’t mean to be rude or mean when they point at him because of the difference they see in him. He notes that they don’t laugh when they point and reflects that if a Wookie went to his school he may do the same thing out of curiosity (62). This bit of wisdom seems to keep him from letting those people bother him. He takes his difference in stride. He may look odd and may have to care for himself in ways others don’t expect or find odd, but he knows what he has to do and rolls with it.

Auggie’s ability to roll with the punches doesn’t come without its rough days though. He almost quits school after learning about some kids making fun of him behind his back. He also suffers physical harm at the hands of bullies from another school, almost taking away his great joy from the rest of that weekend’s activities with his friends. Auggie’s sweet, supportive mom reminds him, “No, sweetie, don’t let them do that to you. You were there for more than forty-eight hours, and that awful part lasted one hour. Don’t let them take that away from you, okay?” (277). The comments and stares I get come as part of the beauty of working retail. I admit I have let some of the ignorant and mean comments stew in my mind longer than they should. I have worked to hold a perspective closer to that of Auggie’s. Usually for each time someone says something ignorant, I can find someone who authentically thanks me for my help or kindness. I also remind myself that most these people are fortunate enough to not be able to relate to my health issues and therefore don’t understand the depth or complexity of them.

The reality exists that we all face some sort of difficulty on some sort of regular basis. Some of these struggles others can see, while others people can’t. As Wonder shows, everyone gets bullied to some extent, whether by intentional meanness or the ignorant variety, at some point. That demonstrates the importance of this story’s lesson: to show a little more kindness than is necessary. Auggie’s teacher Mr. Tushman quotes the James Barrie story The Little White Bird to emphasize this idea’s origin. Then he shares an example of Joseph in the movie Under the Eye of the Clock where someone does a small act of kindness for Joseph and how that one small gesture tremendously impacts Joseph. Mr. Tushman quotes, “‘It was at moments such as these that Joseph recognized the face of God in human form. It glimmered in their kindness to him, it glowed in their keenness, it hinted in their caring, indeed it caressed in their gaze'” (300). Auggie’s perspective on others’ treatment of him and his reactions to others demonstrate the difference kindness can make on people.

We all face difficulties, and we all have aspects of ourselves and our experiences that make us different from others. Like Auggie, we can grow our perspectives on them so we don’t let those differences hinder our ability to engage with our lives and to take care of ourselves. Books like this help us remember that we all face challenges and we can all show kindness to each other. Ignorant or mean remarks don’t have to ruin our otherwise good days, and a little extra kindness truly can make someone’s day or life a little brighter. Let’s all be a little kinder than necessary.

 

***Each year, members of KIRB Appeal collect spare change in jars to donate to a charity at the end of the year. Since we have read this book first this year, we are donating to a charity that helps kids with cleft palates.

Book Review: The Essential Guide to Prayer

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I received a copy of The Essential Guide to Prayer: How to Pray with Power & Effectiveness by Dutch Sheets from Bethany House in exchange for a review.

While a lot of books already exist regarding prayer and a praying life, Sheets manages to deliver new material. Most of this comes from examples he has uncovered and analyzed. He notes the importance of lifting up requests and how they get answered accordingly.

Especially pertinent for today’s world involves the note to play the role of a watchman. This means not only praying for protection when in danger but always praying for safety and deliverance. These requests save people when they may not even realize it. Sheets shares an example of a man saved from harm after praying for protection when he didn’t even know of the imminent danger around him. Sheets reflects on this deliverance writing, “We shouldn’t assume that we need to pray only when warned. Jesus told us to pray daily for deliverance from the evil one,” as a way to maintain a “proactive watchman prayer” (130). This reminded me to pray daily for my health and safety, perhaps starting with a regular recitation of the Lord’s Prayer.

Another practical reminder Sheets gives his readers relates to pray using Scripture. He reminds us to find the appropriate verses for our situations and to use them to confess, declare and make requests to God. This gives a foundation and power to intercession. Sheets also uses 1 John 5:14-15 to note the confidence we can have that God will answer prayers as they align with His will.

Overall, this book provides good reminders as well as evidence through stories and Scripture to back them up. It gave me some notes to reflect upon to improve my own prayer life as I move to intercede.