Wednesday, 30 November 2011

Day 4 - Least Favourite Regular Series Book

30 Days of the Baby-Sitters Club
Day 4 - Least Favourite Regular Series Book

This is another one that I've split between books that I remember, and books that I've read recently. In all honestly, there aren't any books from the main series that I particularly disliked, but there were some that I didn't care for very much or don't have any strong memories of. This seems like a rather big list, but to be entirely truthful, I really just have little niggling issues with the following books.

From my childhood. This is one of the books that focused on Stacey and one of her many boyfriends, with an issue that was partly altogether too mature for someone who is thirteen and really shouldn't be having boyfriend problems, but also dealt with in a manner that seems appropriate for someone is thirteen. Here, Stacey goes on holiday with her dad and her best friend, Claudia, but spends all her time with her boyfriend, Robert, which annoys Claudia because she didn't tell her Robert would be there also. I suppose Stacey's Lie sparked my hatred of books surrounding "Big Misunderstandings"!

This was one of the last BSC books that I ever read, once I'd almost altogether finished reading the series when I was almost eleven and had moved on to more "mature" Sweet Valley High! But a friend of mine was still really into the BSC and lent me this. I didn't particularly enjoy this book, maybe because I was growing out of the series or maybe just because the entire plot surrounded synchronized swimming, a hobby of Jessi's that was mentioned in one book and then never again! I adored ballet as a kid so normally loved the books about ballet, but Jessi's Gold Medal just didn't interest me.

It's sad but true - a lot of my least favourite BSC books involved Jessi. I don't think it was anything in particular to do with her; her family was most like mine (small, little drama and not Caucasian [yes, I'm actually Anglo-Indian, despite the fact that my skin is literally white]) and I wanted to be a ballerina for a brief period when I was a child and even took classes for a while. By all means, I should have loved Jessi's books, but she just got the most boring or unrealistic plots! Here, I think, she babysits some bratty kid who is a movie star. Sadly, that's all I can remember about Jessi and the Superbrat so it can't have been that interesting.

Here we have evidence that, yes, not only did Jessi get the worst plots, she also had some of the least flattering covers! I honestly cannot remember what Jessi's issue was in Jessi's Horrible Prank, I'm not sure if she pulls a prank on the teacher or if she just doesn't stop the other kids from teasing him. I think this was another book that my friend lent me - she must have been a Jessi fan - but I do remember that the font on this cover was silver because it was the 75th book. I think it came with a free bookmark with vague paisley-style swirls on it. Not sure if it actually had much to do with the BSC, I imagine that they put a lot less thought into the UK releases than the US ones.

* * *

But as an adult? I'd have to say that Stacey and the Mystery of Stoneybrook jumps to mind immediately. I think the whole BSC fan community is in agreement that the ghostwriter of this book was high when they wrote this book as it just isn't in keeping with the rest of the series at all. One of the weirdest, least-explained and just downright bizarre mysteries in the main series.

Then there's Abby the Bad Sport, and not just because it shocked me with the use of the word "mental-retardation". Maybe it was still considered PC to use this word in 1997, so I could be making a fuss out of nothing. Mainly, I just wasn't interested in a book about football, and most of this book focuses on either Abby playing football, the other girls watching Abby play football or Abby bragging about how good she is at football. (Or soccer, if you're American). (Also, this book never got published in the UK, hence the garish pink cover. I'm sure my copy is more of a baby-pink so this may be just a bad picture).

I read Dawn's Family Feud fairly recently, actually over this particular summer. But despite this, I don't have any particularly strong memories of it, except that the kids were complete brats! Dawn, Mary Anne and Jeff were all very out-of-character. Although, I will admit, they probably acted like normal kids, it wasn't in keeping with their usual behaviour in the series. It reminded me a lot of Dawn's Wicked Stepsister, in which the problems seemed a bit contrived and then were fixed very quickly and never mentioned again. 

Finally, I'd have to say Mallory and the Mystery Diary. Why? Because I read it last year and can barely remember the plot. Except that I found it weird that the mystery belonged to Mallory, not Stacey, despite most of the story taking place in Stacey's house. Not quite as weird as Stacey and the Mystery of Stoneybrook, but definitely not very memorable. And the cover-art? Oh, my. Poor Mallory indeed!

What's more distinct for you, your favourite novels or your least favourite? Do you have specific reasons why you don't like some of the books, or were they just not as interesting as others?

Tuesday, 29 November 2011

Top Ten Books on my TBR List for Winter

When I first saw this week's list over at The Broke and the Bookish I was confused. "Hasn't it already been winter for at least a month now?" I wondered, then realised that not everyone else's November is as bad as it has been in Scotland. Up here in St. Andrews we've had gale force winds, I've been wearing jumpers and two pairs of socks since the 1st of October, I've not gone outside the house without my hat, scarf and gloves in at least a month, and the other day my computer told me it was 4 degrees Celsius outside at 9am. Oh, and it's only light between 8am and 4pm now that we've changed the clocks. So, yes, I argue that it's been winter for quite some time! However, I shall still let you know which books I intend to read over the next few months.

I'm slightly cheating with A Log Cabin Christmas since I've already started reading this on my Kindle. This collection contains nine different inspirational historical romances set in log cabins, with various best-selling authors such as Wanda E. Brunstetter, Margaret Brownley and Kelly Eileen Hake. This book was released by Barbour back in September of this year so it's already available, right in time for Christmas! I read Barbour's A Prairie Christmas Collection last Christmas and thoroughly enjoyed it, and so far it looks like this book will be up to the same standards. 

An Amish Wedding is a collection of three novellas from best-selling Amish authors Beth Wiseman, Kathleen Fuller and Kelly Long. I'm a big fan of all of these author's novels and stories and was particularly fond of their earlier joint-release, An Amish Love, so I can't wait to get started on this book. An Amish Wedding doesn't release until late December and as such with Amish weddings, takes place in the typical winter wedding season.

I've never read a novel by Susan May Warren before, probably because I mainly stick to historical and Amish novels, but when the offer came to get a review copy from Tyndale for The Shadow of Your Smile I couldn't help but jump at the offer! The plot revolves around a couple who have been married for twenty-five years and contemplating divorce, only for the wife to lose her memory in an accident. Suddenly, the husband finds he's been given a second chance at his marriage, and is determined to make her fall in love with him again. If you're a fan of amnesia plots, as I am, look out for this novel in January 2012.

I'm admitting my lack of knowledge in the Christian fiction department today, as I've never read anything by Lori Copeland previously either. But I love historical romances and any book with "winter" and "love" in the title seemed perfect for the Christmas season, so this is hopefully one novel I'll get around to reviewing over the holidays. Love Blooms in Winter is another January release, so perhaps one to keep your eye out for if you get Amazon vouchers for Christmas? I'm not sure if this is the official cover-art and I have to admit that I kind of hope it isn't as the heroine's grin is slightly nauseating. Still, the first book in the Dakota Diaries series definitely sounds like it'll be a good read. 

Tall, Dark and Determined is the second book in the Husbands for Hire series by Kelly Eileen Hake. I'm very much looking forward to reading this December release as I thoroughly enjoyed the first novel, Rugged and Relentless earlier this year. A twist on the traditional mail-order-bride plot, this series revolves around three women who are determined to bring a mining town back from disaster, but need the help of men to do so. What better solution than to advertise for husbands? This series is fun, quirky and romantic, so I'm definitely slotting this book into my winter reading somewhere.

This book actually released back in October but I've had so much on my plate that I sadly haven't got around to read it yet. A Time for Peace is the third book in the Quilts of Lancaster series, a series that I know I can rely on to provide compelling and comfortable tales of people overcoming struggles in Pennsylvania Amish country. If you're an Amish fan and haven't discovered Barbara Cameron by now then make sure you go back to the start of the series and start with A Time to Love!

A November release, His Steadfast Love is a Civil War era novel by historical romance author Golden Keyes Parsons. I discovered Golden sometime last year when I reviewed on of the books in a series about a Huguenot family who moved to America following persecution in their homeland of France during the Reformation. Having studied this period in my early years of university I was impressed with the wealth of historical detail in her novel, and since I've also studied the US Civil War I can't wait to see her take on this period of history.

Since reading the first two books in Tricia Goyer's Big Sky Amish series, I've become a devoted fan of her work. I also think the sinking of the Titanic is one of the most fascinating events of early twentieth-century History, so naturally I can't wait to read this book. Yes, By the Light of the Silvery Moon is technically a March release but I'm definitely planning to read this ARC well before its release date. Besides, March in Scotland is still practically winter anyway!

Yes, I do actually have some Christmas books on my winter TBR! Patricia Davids's An Amish Christmas actually arrived through my letterbox last December, but it was after Christmas so I ended up putting it off until this year. I've heard a lot of great things about Patricia's novels and since this book isn't terribly long it'll be a nice way to occupy myself one evening, hopefully with a mug of hot chocolate and a cosy blanket. After semester ends, that is!

This book wasn't originally on my winter TBR but a friend passed it on to me and I couldn't possibly resist a historical romance about a German family who have settled in America! I studied German throughout high school and nearly did my joint degree in English and German, not English and Modern History, so I love to discover historical novels about German settlers. So I'm definitely looking forward to reading The Christkindl's Gift by Kathleen Morgan.

What books do you plan to read this winter? Are they all Christmas-themed? Have you been saving some books especially for this period?

Pride and Prejudice - Jane Austen


If you're looking for a free and well-read audiobook of this novel I'd definitely recommend this one from LibriVox. The reader, Karen Savage, does an excellent English accent, doesn't read too fast or two slow and manages to give each of the characters a slightly different voice so as to avoid confusion when listening. 

My aim for 2011 was to read Pride and Prejudice, as I felt like I'd failed as a woman and an English Literature student since I hadn't read Jane Austen's most famous novel by now. While I read Northanger Abbey in my first year of university, it isn't exactly representative of her typical work. But it came to September and I hadn't yet read P&P as I'd planned, so I started reading on my Kindle. Sadly, this didn't get very far as I had a lot of work to do for university in September and I completely forgot that I'd been reading P&P. Eventually, in November, I checked out and found an audiobook that sounded nice and downloaded it to my Blackberry, determined to listen to the entirety of the book before the end of 2011. 

I'd enjoyed Northanger Abbey back when I read it in February 2010, but that was it; I didn't love it. Since I'm a fan of romance novels I feel like I should adore Austen, but I don't. But there's nothing wrong with simply enjoying listening to a nice, easy story while you do the ironing or wash dishes, is there? I know that most of my romance-reading or even just classic-reading friends on GoodReads have loved this book and given it five-stars, but I'm afraid P&P is getting a solid but slightly lower 8 out of 10 from me. 

One of the things I enjoyed about NA was the witty dialogue and banter between the characters, and I was not disappointed in this when I started P&P, particularly with the hilarity of all the things that Mrs Bennett and Caroline Bingley came out with. That said, nothing really seemed to happen in the first twenty chapters of the novel and I found myself thinking that if I'd been reading the book and not listening to it then I might have put the book down and moved on to something else. As it was, I kept listening and around a third of the way into the book it began to pick up, particularly as Elizabeth and Mr Darcy actually interacted with each other during this part of the story! For a book that is generally regarded as a "classic romance" there was surprisingly little interaction between the hero and heroine, and while Darcy later proved himself to be a rather admirable gentleman, Elizabeth was rather passive, except on the few occasions when she became quite judgemental. I found that the book got far more interesting when Lydia ran off. As immature and flighty as Lydia is, she seemed to have a bit more personality than Elizabeth, dare I say it? I just wish I'd got inside Elizabeth's head more, as there were a few times when she really showed her personality around the middle of the story and then again at the conclusion of the novel, but to begin with she was too passive for my liking. 

All in all, I was satisfied with the ending of the novel and enjoyed the direction that it took after Lydia's escapades. There isn't a distinct plot structure in this book, so perhaps this explains my difficulty with it and why I was slightly uninterested to begin with. This has in no way become one of my favourite classics but it did provide entertainment and after the initial slow start I truly came to enjoy it. I have to read Sense and Sensibility and Persuasion next semester for English so I'm looking forward to seeing how those compare. I've not become a die-hard Janeite, nor am I pining for my own Darcy (my Simon will do just fine, thank you very much) but I'll admit that Jane Austen does write an engaging story and provides entertaining insight into the lives of the early nineteenth century nobility and privileged classes.

Pride and Prejudice was my Challenge Book for 2011. Did you challenge yourself to read a certain novel in 2011? Did you succeed? I still need to decide what to challenge myself to read in 2012...

Day 3 - Favourite Regular Series Book

30 Days of the Baby-Sitters Club
Day 3 - Favourite Regular Series Book

This is another one that I find myself thinking of in terms of "then" and "now". Thinking back to when I was a child, the two books that really stand out to me (other than Kristy and the Baby Parade, which was inexplicably one of the first BSC books I ever read) are two winter-related books from the early #90s - Mallory's Christmas Wish and Claudia and the First Thanksgiving. I think Claudia's story excited me so much because it dealt with history, censorship, acting and a holiday I'd not heard much about, due to being British. Mallory's story was the first BSC book I ever read and I adored her huge family. Something about this book has just stuck with me over the years. 

Now, however, I'd have to say that my favourite book features my new favourite character - Mary Anne. Mary Anne Saves the Day is probably my favourite BSC book that I read for the first time as an adult. I know, it's terrible to admit that I didn't read a lot of the original books until now, but since I was a child of the nineties, not the eighties, I didn't start reading the BSC books until 2000, which was when I turned nine. By this point, most of these books were in scarce supply in Britain, as they were focusing on issuing the later-series books. As a result, this was one book that I sadly never got the chance to experience when I was a child, but I loved it as an adult. On a similar vein, other recent favourites (some of them rereads) have been Dawn and the Impossible Three, Kristy and the Snobs and Good-bye Stacey, Good-bye. As much as I have fond memories of the later-series books that I grew up with, there's no doubting the quality of Ann's originals.

Confused by the covers? These are what those of us across the sea had to contend with. I actually now generally prefer the US editions, but the books in the #90s had some nice cover-art. The early stuff, such as Mary Anne Saves the Day? Not so much. Poor Mary Anne!

What was your favourite Baby-Sitters Club book? Has this changed now that you're an adult?

Monday, 28 November 2011

Day 2 - Least Favourite Sitter

30 Days of the Babysitters Club
Day 2 - Least Favourite Sitter

The sad thing is that as soon as I saw this entry's title, I immediately thought of Abby Stevenson. I don't think that I have anything in particular against Abby - in fact, Welcome to the BSC, Abby is a pretty emotional book, and the chapter where she visits Niagra Falls in BSC in the USA because she'd always planned to go there with her family before her dad died is pretty moving - but she joined the BSC in the 90th book. Scholastic stopped printing the BSC books in the UK at #105 so I never got the chance to properly get to know Abby, which means that when I did get around to reading some of the later books in the series thanks to BookMooch and Amazon, I never really felt like I'd connected with her. In particular, I was almost bored out of my skull when I read Abby the Bad Sport. Is it possible to have a worse combination of factors in a BSC book for me, a character I don't particularly like and SPORT? Pass me a book or some knitting, please. I'm more of a Mary Anne. It's nothing personal, Abby, you just entered the series a bit too late for me to get to know you.

Who was your least favourite sitter in the BSC?

Sunday, 27 November 2011

30 Days of the Baby-Sitters Club: Day 1 - Favourite Sitter

Apologies for the lack of posting lately. I've been busy doing NaNoWriMo (nowhere near 50K, but I'm hoping for 30K!) and writing tons of essays (part of the reason why I'm very far behind with NaNoWriMo). So to make up for the lack of reviews lately, I've decided to take part in the 30 Day Baby-Sitters Club Challenge and entertain some nostalgia for the next 30 days.

Day 1 - Favourite Sitter 

If you'd asked me this question ten years ago, when I first read these books, I would definitely have said Mallory Pike. As a preteen I had chunky glasses, braces, awkward clothes and an obsession with reading and writing. I didn't have a huge family (although we spent a lot of time with my mum's best friend, who had five red-haired children...seeing the similarity here?) and I'm afraid I've never been into horses in any way, but other than that we could have been twins. Mallory Hates Boys (and Gym) still resonates with me even as a twenty-year-old, and I cringe alongside Mallory as she's chosen last for the volleyball team and can't hit the ball to save her life. 

But now that I'm older, I'm definitely more like Mary Anne Spier. I'm not quite as super-sensitive as she is, but I do cry at a lot of things, and last week I bawled at a climatic scene in a Firefly, which surprised even myself. Like Mary Anne, I love classic children's books - Little Women and Anne of Green Gables are my favourites - and my family owns two cats, who are currently shunning me as I only come home from university every two months and they're unimpressed with this. My dad wasn't quite as strict as Mary Anne's, but my family were definitely stricter than my school-friends'. I never really underwent a dramatic makeover as such in high school, but when I was fourteen I had my waist-length hair cut to my shoulders and everyone made a big deal out of it. I've always been seen as the responsible one in my group of friends (or the "Mummy" of the group, but let's not go into that...) and I was voted "Most Responsible" in my high school yearbook. While I never had a boyfriend at all in high school, I'm the only one of my friends to be engaged at university, much like Mary Anne was the only one of her friends to have a steady boyfriend. Enough comparisons? I think so. I definitely relate a lot more to Mary Anne so she has to be my favourite character as an adult.

Did you read the Baby-Sitters Club series by Ann M. Martin? Who was your favourite character? Has this changed over time?

Tuesday, 15 November 2011

Top Ten Unread Books on my Bookshelf

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly meme over at The Broke and the Bookish.

1. Eight Cousins by Louisa May Alcott I remember starting to read this when I finished reading Little Women and Good Wives, which suggests that this was at least ten years ago. I fell asleep with this book on my chest...and for some reason never tried to read it again. Considering that I bought a lovely, 1950s American hardback copy of the sequel, Rose in Bloom, from a charity shop in Edinburgh a few years ago I should really read this book. That, and that Louisa May Alcott is one of my all time favourite authors!

2. The Year of Fog by Michelle Richmond I heard wonderful things about this book when it first released, but it wasn't available in the UK at the time. I stalked BookMooch until I found someone who would post to the UK. And now, after all that effort, this book is languishing in a box under my bed. 

3. Mary Reilly by Valerie Martin I friend gave me this book after I raved about Property, and I put off reading it until I had read Stevenson's original Jekyll and Hyde story. This was almost two years ago so I really have no excuse for not reading this.

4. My Best Friend's Girl by Dorothy Koomson This is another book that I went to an effort to get hold of and never read. My mum raved about this book, and I'd read Marshmallows for Breakfast and Goodnight, Beautiful, so it seemed sensible to get hold of the book that made Koomson so famous. I think this one is also, sadly, under my bed.

5. Ice Trap by Kitty Sewell Another under-the-bed book. Someone gave me this, and it's a particularly interesting ARC copy. I keep starting this then never getting anywhere, but the premise is too interesting for me to just give up altogether and pass on to someone else. Someday, I will read this!

6. The 19th Wife by David Ebershoff I definitely want to read this now that books about Mormons are becoming more popular, and since I occasionally watch Sister Wives. I spotted this on my MIL's shelf the other day and felt guilty that I've owned this for at least a year but have no idea where it is. Box under bed, possibly? I really need another bookcase.

7. We Need to Talk About Kevin by Lionel Shriver This one is on the shelf above my bed back home, since I've been intending to read it ever since I got hold of it. I was intrigued by the premise of this novel long before the film came out, so now I really should read it before someone spoils the plot for me or makes me watch the film first.

8. Twenties Girl by Sophie Kinsella I bought this at the airport on my way back from Germany - which was in July 2009. I'm not even a massive fan of Sophie Kinsella, although I really enjoyed Remember Me? and The Undomestic Goddess. Considering I spent £10 on the airport paperback this book needs to be read.

9. When the Heart Cries by Cindy Woodsmall I know, I'm a very bad Amish fan if I haven't read this book. I actually bought it with an Amazon gift voucher over a year ago, just after my 19th birthday. Amazingly, my home library system has all three books in this series so I plan to read this sometime over December/January and borrow the subsequent books in the series, as I hear it's impossible not to read them one after another. Considering how unusual it is for a Scottish library to own Christian books, and Amish ones at that, I really should take advantage of this opportunity. 

10. Plain Jayne by Hillary Manton Lodge I made a big fuss over trying to get hold of this on, and eventually a friend managed to grab it for me. At least this one is in plain sight on my university bookcase, so I've not totally forgotten it. I keep pledging to read it and then not. 

What books have been languishing on your bookcase for too long? Are there any here that grab your eye? Let me know, it may convince me to read them faster so that I can pass them on to someone else! These are all hard copies as well, I've not even looked at the 200+ books I've accumulated on my Kindle since December 2010!

Thursday, 10 November 2011

The Wounded Heart - Adina Senft


Nearing the end of her first year of widowhood, Amelia Beiler is still unsure as to whether she should sell her husband’s business.  Despite receiving offers from English and Amish men, she appreciates the independence that running the pallet-making shop brings her, as well as the financial security. But when she’s diagnosed with multiple sclerosis and offered the chance of alternative treatment in Mexico, selling the shop may be the only way to raise funds to cure her from this life-threatening disease. As soon as word gets out that Amelia’s business may be for sale, Amish men from the community are lining up to make bids. Soon the whole church is in upheaval as men are clamouring to convince Amelia that it’s not God’s will for her to sell to the Englisher who is willing to pay more than any of her Amish neighbours, and the Church elders are sceptical over whether they should pay for such unusual medical treatment. Matters are complicated further when one of the bidders begins to take a more personal interest in Amelia, who does not feel that she’s in any position to be entertaining a beau at this point in time. Can she decide what route is the best one to take for her family, as well as her church and business?

The Wounded Heart is Adina’s debut into the Amish genre, although she appears to have written various other novels for the Christian market previously. While I wouldn’t place the first novel in the Amish Quilt series among my favourites in the genre, it was for the most part an interesting and easy novel to read, and I imagine that Adina’s writing will strengthen in time as she gets to grips with the style of this genre. What appealed to me about this novel was that the main conflict wasn’t centred on the romance between Amelia and Eli, but on Amelia’s medical condition and the dilemmas this created. In particular, the fact that community pays for medical treatment as the Amish do not take out health insurance plays a large part in Amelia’s story.

Amelia’s issues ended up being more complicated than I’d expected, mainly because the elders of her church refused to pay for her to travel to Mexico to receive alternative treatment for her MS. Early on in the book, they inform her that they are willing to pay for her to take medication for the rest of her life but that this new treatment in Mexico doesn’t seem like something they should be getting involved in. As the daughter of a nurse, their ignorance and distrust of new methods that could potentially prolong Amelia’s life or even cure her of her disease really riled me, especially as they seemed to make the decision without doing any research and then informed Amelia that their decision was God’s will for her. I’m afraid that the actions of the leaders of the church stopped me from enjoying this book as much as I’d hoped to. While there are many aspects of the Amish faith that I admire and try to apply to my own beliefs, the way that the elders had the final say on Amelia’s medical treatment really annoyed me, more so because they tried to pass off their opinions as God’s will for her. It was presented in such a way that suggested that Amelia had no way of speaking to God herself, and had to go through the ministers or deacons of her church. In fact, Amelia very rarely prayed or conversed with God throughout the book.

In all honesty, I wasn’t a fan of the Amish community in The Wounded Heart. Everyone was continually sticking their noses into each other’s business, advising them on how to live their lives so as to avoid being under the Bann, and gossiping about those whose behaviour does not conform to their expectations. This novel did not give a particularly positive representation of the Amish. While I don’t agree with some of the romanticised views presented in other books, this one actually made me wish Amelia would move to a more open-minded community who would put her medical needs ahead of their preconceived and unfounded views of modern medicine.

Without spoiling the ending, I will say that close to the end of the novel Amelia’s situation changes significantly and she avoids having to make a decision that could potentially place her under a shunning. While I was pleased for her, I couldn’t help but wonder how her life would have turned out if she had made a decision that had caused her to be shunned.  Or would she have sacrificed her needs for the sake of the church and avoiding being ostracised? This book made me think a lot about the different branches of the Amish church and how some of them don’t always display Christian characteristics.

The romantic aspect of this novel is very minor, which made a nice change from the typical plots which are so prevalent in the Amish genre. In fact, there was a lot more focus on the relationship between Amelia and the two women she makes quilts with, Carrie and Emma, than there was on Amelia and Eli’s relationship. The lives of her quilting friends were very intriguing and I’m looking forward to hearing about Emma’s creative writing pursuits in the second novel in the series, The Hidden Life. There’s a teaser at the back of Amelia’s story that has already sucked me in, so I will definitely be reading the rest of this series, despite my distaste for the strict community in which the books are set.

I hesitate to class this novel as Christian fiction due to the way in which Christianity is portrayed through the Amish faith. As interesting and compelling as I found this story, my emotions were in turmoil over the way Amelia’s life was being influenced by the opinions and decisions of her church elders. Sometimes having a book twist my emotions so much can be a rewarding experience, but in the end I found myself a bit disgruntled when reading The Wounded Heart. This novel is worth reading for the touching relationship between Amelia, Emma and Carrie, the quilting details and in showing the heart-wrenching decisions someone has to make when they’re diagnosed with MS. But I wouldn’t recommend this as an introduction to the Amish genre, or as a good representation of the appealing characteristics and values of the Amish way of life.

Review title provided courtesy of FaithWords.

Wednesday, 9 November 2011

Falling to Pieces - Vannetta Chapman


Callie Harper had never planned to run a quilt shop, but following the death of her aunt she finds herself moving to Shipshewana, Indiana to look after her aunt’s property. Running the quilt shop is not at all what she intended, and while she’d prefer to simply sell the shop and move on with her life, the Amish women who frequent the shop and depend on it for their income are very persuasive at convincing Callie that she should reopen and take over its management. Deborah Yoder in particular knows how much her friends need the money they make from selling quilts in Daisy’s Quilt Shop. Callie doesn’t plan on getting too close to her new Amish friends, but she soon finds herself relying on Deborah when the owner of the local newspaper is found dead, and Callie the main suspect. Although many people in the town saw Callie arguing with him several times before his death, Deborah knows that Callie isn’t capable of murder. But who is? And is the murderer still in Shipshewana? As more bizarre events begin to occur, Callie and Deborah have more on their minds than selling quilts. Can these two unlikely allies figure out who the murderer is and prove Callie’s innocence?

Vannetta Chapman’s debut novel, A Simple Amish Christmas, was the first book that I ever professionally reviewed, so Vannetta holds a special place in my heart. Having adored her first book, I jumped at the chance to review the first novel in her cozy Amish mystery series. While I’ve read mysteries and thrillers in the past – everything from Agatha Christie to romantic suspense – I’d not previously encountered a cozy mystery, so this was a brand new experience for me. Knitting, baking and quilting are all hobbies that tend to be utilised in cozy mysteries, which makes them fit in quite well with the Amish genre. After all, what is more cozy than snuggling up underneath an Amish quilt?

And this is just what our protagonist, Callie, finds herself doing for the best part of her initial visit to Shipshewana. Having fond memories of her Aunt Daisy but not visited her in a long time, she’s shocked and surprised at her aunt’s death and at inheriting her quilt shop. I found Callie to be a very relatable and sympathetic character, always trying to help those in need, like her new Amish friends, but also getting emotional and upset at wrong-doings, to the extent of dunking a glass of juice over the head of the local newspaper when he refuses to retract n article! Having an Amish and an English protagonist working together to solve the mystery is a nice touch, and while I felt like I could connect with Callie more than Deborah, Deborah was still an interesting character. Like Callie, she had a habit of acting before she’d thought things through and accidentally bringing trouble on herself. Since Shipshewana is quite a different Amish community from the more well-known ones in Pennsylvania and Ohio, readers will likely be intrigued by how closely the Amish and English work together in their daily lives, as shown through Callie and Deborah in the quilt shop. I hope that the subsequent books in the series will also delve deeper into the lives of Esther and Melinda, the other Amish women who contribute quilts to the shop.

As I mentioned, this is my first cozy mystery and I was pleasantly surprised at how quickly I became immersed in Deborah and Callie’s attempts to track down suspects and figure out who was behind the events occurring in their town. There’s one scene near the end of the novel where I simply could not put the book down until I learned the outcome and found out that all the characters were safe and sound! I hadn’t expected quite so much suspense, so having my heart thumping as I urged Callie and Deborah on in their sleuthing was definitely unexpected but very welcome. My only real complaint about the mystery is that the ending was a bit of a letdown. After all the interviewing of suspects and laying traps, the person behind it all wasn’t really related to the main characters. It made me wonder why some of the people Deborah and Callie had been following up had been acting so suspiciously in the first place, but maybe they will feature in other mysteries later in the series. I don’t want to give away anything about the ending, but I’ll just say that I wasn’t entirely satisfied.

After waiting almost a year for the next book from Vannetta Chapman, I can say that Falling to Pieces was definitely worth the wait. While I normally prefer reading Amish romances, this mystery was a fun and compelling read and I’m looking forward to reading more about Callie and Deborah’s sleuthing in A Perfect Square, the next book in the series. If you enjoy Amish books but want something different from the usual tales of courtships and shunnings, then definitely check out Falling to Pieces.

Review title provided courtesy of Zondervan.

Monday, 7 November 2011

Liebster Blog Award

Way, way back in September, when I was in the throes of moving house and starting back at university and sadly not blogging very much, the lovely Gwendolyn Gage gave me this blog award! Make sure you pop over and check out Gwen's blog here, and the online novel she's writing here, posted as she writes each chapter. She's a brave woman to not be tempted to super-edit each chapter before she uploads them! I don't know if I could manage to do that or not. Anyway, Gwen's a fellow aspiring writer, book blogger and woman of faith, and I'm proud to have been given this award by her.

The Liebster Award is given by fellow bloggers to blogs with fewer than 200 (or sometimes 300) followers. For those of you who don't speak German (and to be honest, two years without studying German has made my knowledge a little rusty too), "liebster" means "darling". One of the cutest German words I've discovered in my lifetime! 

Here's how the award works:
  • When you receive the award, thank the blogger who gave it to you and link back to them.
  • Copy and paste the award on your blog.
  • Choose three to five blogs that deserve a bigger following, give them the Liebster Award, and let them know you’ve done so by leaving a comment on their blog.

I've decided to link to book blogs that specifically have followings around 50 or less, since this is quite similar to mine. There are a lot of excellent reviewers of Christian fiction out there who sadly get overlooked (because, to be entirely truthful, there are a lot of us!) and I think these girls in particular deserve a bit more attention.

1. My good friend Camille at A Book A Day, who is a fellow student and yet manages to read a LOT of books. She's currently at law school and has a particular passion for Amish fiction and mysteries. Camille also likes to change the background and layout of her book blog frequently, so it's always a surprise when I go to check on her reviews! Be warned - her blog plays music! I nearly always forget this and get a fright when a tune blasts out of my speakers.

2. Abbie is another fellow fan of Amish fiction, but she also reads a lot of historical and contemporary romances. She has a very organised website with an excellent rating system (including notes on how "steamy" a book is), so definitely check out Abbie's Reading Corner.

3. Maureen's Musings features a lot of great book reviews, as well as a ton of blog tours and giveaways. Maureen features books from every corner of Christian fiction, so even if you're not as mad about romance novels as I am, there's sure to be something that takes your fancy.

4. Courtney's Chitter Chatter strives to find clean YA novels and non-preachy Christian novels, and I admire her for this. She also has a very pretty blog, full of honest yet informative reviews. Kind of like condensed versions of mine, LOL? It's worth taking a look at.

5. And finally, Sara over at Shoopette's Book Reviews, who is a fellow review at The Christian Manifesto. She reviews a variety of Christian fiction and has good, solid rating system as well as the occasional book giveaway on the go. Pop on over!

Wednesday, 2 November 2011

October: What else have I been reading?

As coursework and university reading begin to pile up, I'm afraid I don't have as much time for reading this autumn as I used to. But here's what I managed to squeeze in between essays.

READ: OCTOBER 9 - 10, 2011

Tommy & Tuppence are hired to track down wartime spies at a seaside resort... It is World War II, and while the RAF struggles to keep the Luftwaffe at bay, Britain faces an even more sinister threat from 'the enemy within' -- Nazis posing as ordinary citizens. With pressure mounting, the Intelligence service appoints two unlikely spies, Tommy and Tuppence Beresford. Their mission: to seek out a man and a woman from among the colourful guests at Sans Souci, a seaside hotel. But this assignment is no stroll along the promenade. After all, N and M have just murdered Britain's finest agent!

This was my first Agatha Christie experience and I thoroughly enjoyed it. While I had my suspicions about one location and a couple of red herring characters, I honestly did not expect the ending at all! I loved Christie's humour and she actually had me laughing out loud in a few places. I'll definitely be reading more of her mysteries in the future, and I found this far more readable than the other "spy" novel we have to read this week, The Heat of the Day by Elizabeth Bowen, which I'm still slowly trudging through. I can see why Christie has remained much loved over the ages - not only does she have a very easy style of writing, sprinkled with humour, and a wonderfully intricate way of weaving mysteries, she also created some very suspenseful moments that even make the reader nervous! 

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READ: OCTOBER 6 - 15, 2011

Linda’s Amish life seemed like paradise. Until she found out her family had been hiding a secret since the day of her birth. Josie was just a frightened teenager when she left her baby in the care of an Old Order Amish couple in Lancaster County. Since then, seventeen years have passed and while much has changed, one thing hasn’t. Josie still longs to reconnect with her daughter Linda. But Linda is unaware of Josie—and living an idyllic life within the Amish community. The bishop’s grandson, Stephen, is courting her and she hopes that he will propose soon. When her birth mother comes to Paradise, Linda finds herself unexpectedly drawn to Josie’s world. Meanwhile, her adoptive parents—and her Amish beau—are trying to understand how this interruption in Linda’s life could possibly be God’s will. As new relationships begin and old ones are tested, no one’s life will remain the same. In the process of losing and letting go—Linda realizes whose daughter she really is. And as only God can do, something more powerful and far more beautiful is forged within the Daughters of the Promise community... hope.

I actually listened to this as an audio-download from Audible, which explains why it took me over a week to finish this book. I was surprised to find that this was probably my least favourite of Beth Wiseman's novels so far, but still an excellent story! I think this is attributed to how young Linda is, as it made her a bit more difficult to relate to. Sometimes she could be quite immature, which didn't settle well with the fact she was constantly thinking about getting married to Stephen, and made me wonder whether she was really old enough to be a wife and mother. I loved reading about Josie and Mary Ellen reconciling their differences, even if this was only a small part of the novel. A lot of the novel focused on Josie's spiritual journey, and readers of my reviews will know that conversion plots aren't exactly a favourite of mine, but Josie's was interesting to read. I loved that Beth displayed how powerful prayer and healing can be, topics which can sometimes be a bit taboo among certain Christian circles. God still heals, even in the twenty-first century, and even among the Amish! So although I didn't always relate to Linda due to her youth, I did thoroughly enjoy this novel and will be looking out for the opportunity to read the final book in the series. 

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READ: OCTOBER 5 - 17, 2011

'One of my favourite Persephone books,' said Charlie Lee-Potter on Radio 4's Open Book, 'is a collection of short stories by Elizabeth Berridge first published in 1947 when she was 28.They are a revelation to me, I was transfixed by the quality of the writing. It seemed to me that they are quite radical stories, they were quite sharp and hard and disruptive as ideas.' In his Preface A N Wilson writes: 'She is a novelist of distinction who is also - and this is a rarity - equally at home in the quite different medium of the short story, with its need for an iron discipline and control. Many of the masters of this genre, carried away by their cleverness, either convey or actually possess the quality of heartlessness. Others - and one thinks primarily of Chekhov - are able to retain the discipline of the medium but suffuse its tight confines with warmth. This is the quality of Elizabeth Berridge's stories which sends us back to them, which makes us read and re-read until they have become friends.' In "The Tablet" Isabel Quigly wrote about Elizabeth Berridge's 'remarkable capacity for taking one inside the world of her short stories and showing what happens to the people, where they belong, what they feel.' She too invoked Chekhov: 'It is there that she should be seen, at the highest level of short-story writing, without stereotypes, without foregone conclusions, with deep humanity and a recognisable voice.'

Elizabeth Berridge is one of those forgotten gems of English literature, and, quite frankly, it's a real shame that more people haven't heard of her. She has an amazing way of writing that makes you feel such incredibly real emotions without needing to use overly lavish descriptions. In fact, compared to other writers in the 1940s, such as Elizabeth Bowen, her writing is surprisingly sparse. Each of the stories in this collection touched me in a different way, and one even quite horrified me. I'll definitely be trying to get hold of more books from Berridge, as hard as it may be!  You can see my thoughts on the individual stories in this collection here.

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READ: OCTOBER 23 - 25, 2011

The Last Enemy is the story of Richard Hillary, one of Sebastian Faulks' three 'fatal englishmen'. In this extraordinary account the author details his experiences as a fighter pilot in the Second World War, in which he was shot down, leading to months in hospital as part of Archibald McIndoe's 'Guinea Pig Club', undergoing pioneering plastic surgery to rebuild his face and hands. The Last Enemy was first published in 1942, just seven months before Hillary's untimely death in a second crash and has gone on to be hailed as one of the classic texts of World War Two.

I ended up enjoying this book a lot more than I expected. The last chapter didn't completely fit with the rest of the book (although according to the introduction he fabricated part of it) but the rest of the memoir was fascinating. A great insight into the life of RAF pilots in WWII, which was far from glamorous. Observing Hillary as he grew from a lazy, self-centered Oxbridge boy into a man with life experience and understanding of the world was really interesting.

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READ: OCTOBER 21 - 27, 2011

Dowryless and desperate, Tressa Neill applies to the inaugural class of Wyatt Herdsman School in Barnett, Kansas, in 1888. The school's one-of-a-kind program teaches young women from the East the skills needed to become a rancher--or the wife of one. Shy and small for her twenty-two years, Tressa is convinced she'll never have what it takes to survive Hattie Wyatt's hands-on instruction in skills such as milking a cow, branding a calf, riding a horse, and cooking up a mess of grub for hungry ranch hands. But what other options does she have?
Abel Samms wants nothing to do with the group of potential brides his neighbor brought to town. He was smitten with an eastern girl once--and he got his heart broken. But there's something about quiet Tressa and her bumbling ways that makes him take notice. When Tressa's life is endangered, will Abel risk his own life--and his heart--to help this eastern girl?
This was a bit slow to start with but otherwise I loved this twist on the typical mail-order bride storyline. Tressa and five other Eastern girls travel to Kansas to attend a Herdsman School run by "Aunt" Hattie in order to learn how to be wives to ranchers. Tressa carries a lot of baggage and hurt, but so does Abel, who finds himself continually running into Tressa no matter how much he tries to convince himself that he doesn't want a wife. There's also a mystery surrounding cattle going missing from Abel's herd, and a romance with Aunt Hattie, not to mention Luelle and Sallie's romantic crises. I'm not sure if I just wasn't in the right frame of mind when I started this book, but it took a while to capture my attention. Once Tressa and Abel started to spend some time together, though, I was thoroughly immersed in the story. I liked the little touches Kim added in creating realistic secondary characters like Sallie and Luella, and the mystery added a nice edge to the story. I'd sort of figured out who was behind the cattle rustlings, although I had been wondering if the hints directed at the man in question were red herrings! This was my first historical novel from Kim Vogel Sawyer (I've previously read one of her YA Mennonite novels) but it definitely won't be the last. A very enjoyable read, perfect for fans of western and prairie romances.

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READ: OCTOBER 16 - 18, 2011

Twenty-year-old Nellie Monroe has a restless brilliance that makes her a bit of an odd duck. She wants to be a private investigator, even though her tiny hometown offers no hope of clients.   Until she meets Amos Shetler, an Amish dropout carrying a torch for the girl he left behind. So Nellie straps on her bonnet and goes undercover to get the dish.   But though she’s brainy, Nellie is clueless when it comes to real life and real relationships. Soon she’s alienated her best friend, angered her college professor, and botched her case. Operation Bonnet is a comedy of errors, a surprising take on love, and a story of grace.

While this book had a slow start, I felt that it really picked up about a third of the way through and Nellie became a lot more likeable character towards the end of the story. I loved Nona, although it was sad to see Nellie struggling to realise that her grandmother would soon need more help than she could provide. My aunt was my grandma's carer for many years and it took her a long time to finally decide to put her mother into a nursing home when her Alzheimer's got too much for her to handle. It seems like this is a topic a lot of authors are dealing with right now, as it also popped up in a kids book I read this month, 'Ten Rules for Living with My Sister' by Ann M. Martin. The ending was really touching as well, so although it took me a while to get into this book and I was initially annoyed and perplexed by Nellie's antics, I'd have to say that I did enjoy the book in the end. As the cover says, it's not your grandmother's Amish fiction! I know I'm only 20 but I have to admit, I probably prefer granny-Amish fiction but this was a fun change.