Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Book Review: Radio Girl by Carol Brendler (2013)

Radio Girl
Carol Brendler

Official Synopsis

Fourteen-year-old Cece's dream of a career as a radio star gets off to a bumpy, hilarious start in this engaging historical novel marked by mix-ups and misunderstandings that culminate in the panic surrounding the 1938 broadcast of Orson Welles' War of the Worlds. 

My Take in 3 Parts

The Plot
The synopsis is such a simple sentence for such an non-simple book. Radio Girl is one of those novels that handles so many things, like teen rebellion, infidelity, treatment of women in the 1930s, and the callousness of those in show business. It is complex and engaging, especially for someone like me who actually KNOWS about Orson Welles' broadcast of War of the Worlds and the ensuing chaos that erupted.

What might seem like a teen novel, actually doesn't fall under any specific genre. Radio Girl's plot downfall, if it has one, is that it doesn't fit anywhere, not in children's, not in YA, and not in adult. It merely fits in with those few who are addicted to 1930s fiction and don't mind reading a comedic yet solemn novel from the perspective of a 14-year-old girl who really is a bit snarky and underhanded to get what she wants.

The Characters
It's almost impossible to say that I love Cece Maloney. But I empathize with her, even while not agreeing with her decisions. She rebels against what she views as the harsh rule of her mother, a mother who is simply trying to protect her only child. Cece does a lot of lying to get what she wants, but thankfully, she learns from her choices and a few important relationships that were damaged during the course of the book end up being healed at the end.
As for the rest of the characters, love the sensitivity and protectiveness of Cece's mom, found Cece's 17-year-old aunt with fanatical Catholicism to be fascinating, and enjoyed getting to know some of the staff at the broadcasting station where Cece found a part-time job on Saturdays.

All of the characters felt authentic and true to the era, right down to the snappy dialogue constantly in use by Cece and her friends.

The Writing
Carol Brendler is a comedic genius. While yes, Radio Girl is a serious bit of fiction, it is also crammed to the gills with light-hearted humor that only comes from an equally light-hearted individual. I would give anything, literally anything, for her to write another book in the same era!

My Final Thoughts
I'd already read Radio Girl last year, and was absolutely tickled to unwrap it as a Christmas present this year, giving me an excuse to re-read it! Like I said before, it's a complex little book that doesn't quite fit in any fictional genre, but I love it, every page of it.

If I were to warn readers of anything, it's to not follow in Cece's footsteps by utilizing her type of subterfuge. Fortunately, consequences are a necessary part of life, and she suffers the consequences for her actions without them being too serious, and learning from her mistakes. Plus, any novel that presents the great Orson Welles as a secondary character is bound to be a hit in my book!

Keep in mind, this isn't a Christian book, so you have a little bit of swearing (very little), mild thematic elements, and some adulterous relationships going on, always with negative consequences, to say nothing of Cece's lying. But please, don't let any of these things stop you from giving Radio Girl a try! After all, people aren't perfect, and Carol Brendler does a stupendous job of conveying that truth!

The Late, Great Orson Welles!

Monday, December 14, 2015

Book Review: A Winter Dream by Richard Paul Evans (2012)

A Winter Dream
Richard Paul Evans
Simon & Schuster

Official Synopsis

From wonderful storyteller and author of the bestselling phenomenon The Christmas Box, a new holiday novel based on the story of Joseph and the coat of many colors.

Joe is forced out of the family business by his jealous siblings. Moving on to another company, he soon becomes chief advisor to the CEO. But when the economy turns, Joe’s siblings need his help to save the family business.

Based on the Old Testament story about Joseph and the coat of many colors and including a love story, A Winter Dream can be embraced for its message of forgiveness by believers and nonbelievers alike.

My Thoughts

I've already determined that I like Richard Paul Evans' writing style. He has a fluid and relaxed way of engaging the reader's interest that makes his books so easy to comprehend and digest, perfect for the holiday season.

That being said, his use of the Old Testament story of Joseph in a modern setting just didn't work for me. Other readers have complained that it feels rushed, and I agree with them. Combining the rushed feel with the absurdity of circumstances and it just didn't work. The characters are nice enough, Joe especially. He really is a nice guy, pretty much a guarantee in one of Evans' Christmas stories, at least from what I've noticed so far.

If Joseph's brothers wanted to throw him out of the family, why set him up with a halfway decent job doing what he does best, even if it is halfway around the country? What was up with the character of April being an escapee from a bigamist cult? Joe handled that part of the story surprisingly well considering its absurdity. And how about the ease with which Joe rose up through the ranks of the marketing firm? Nope, none of these elements worked for me. The story felt entirely too slipshod and erratic.

Plus, it's really not a Christmas story. The book, being all of 260 pages, took place over 3 years time. In other words, poor use of planning and timeline. There are a few Christmases within A Winter Dream, but nothing to actually make it a "Christmas story" despite Joe's dream about himself being a Christmas tree and other trees bowing to it. While the concept of dreams worked for Joseph, dreams from God I might add, they didn't work here simply because I never sensed Joe had any semblence of faith. Why in the world would he be blessed with prophetic dreams when he doesn't really have any faith?

So this one was a miss for me.

Thursday, December 10, 2015

Book Review: Finding Noel by Richard Paul Evans (2006)

Finding Noel
Richard Paul Evans
Simon and Schuster

Official Synopsis

"There are stories, Christmas stories that are stored away like boxes of garlands and frosted glass ornaments, to be brought out and cherished each year. I've come to believe that my story is a Christmas story. For it has forever changed the way I see Christmas."
The Christmas season is supposed to be full of joy, but not for Mark Smart. Life had dealt him one blow after another until one snowy November night, when he finds a beautiful young woman who will change his life forever. Macy Wood has little memory of her birth parents, and memories she'd rather forget of her adopted home. A Christmas ornament inscribed with the word "Noel" is the only clue to the little sister she only vaguely remembers, a clue that will send her and Mark on a journey to reclaim her past, and her family.

My Thoughts

As you can tell by now, I love Christmas books. They inspire and uplift me spiritually. And I really loved The Mistletoe Promise, another of Richard Paul Evans' works. But Finding Noel just didn't fully click with me. Oh, don't get me wrong, I liked the heroine fine. Macy is a survivor, in and out of foster care, a terrible adoption experience, and she's still a compassionate soul.

I really didn't care much for Mark until the very end and a good portion of the book is written in the 1st person from his perspective. He has some good insights, yes, but overall he seemed whiny and, well, young and foolish. Which he was, but my patience with that type of character minimizes the older I become. Honestly, since the title of the book is really about Macy's life, it should have focused more on her. If it had been solely from her perspective, I probably would have loved it.

After all, the book is called Finding Noel, but that really wasn't the entire focus of the story. And it should have been. Instead it sort of wanders here and there, touching a life, having an experience, falling in love, to the point where the character of Noel felt almost like an after-thought. It just didn't work.

However, the final few chapters of the book are very inspirational and uplifting, which is why I give it four stars. Mark does grow through encountering Macy, just as she grows, and he admits that the season when they looked for Noel taught him perspective, about himself, about others, about resentments he had once held, and about forgiveness he needed to extend. That was an important lesson he needed to learn, and it was a very satisfying moment in the book when he reconciles with his estranged father.

Even though I wasn't 100% sold on Finding Noel, I still recommend it to people who might have experience as a foster child, an adopted child, or perhaps you find yourself struggling to forgive someone who has wronged you in the past and you're holding onto resentment. My not loving this story simply means that it wasn't meant for me. Maybe it's meant for you.

The following quote is by Mark, the last paragraph of the book.
And perhaps, after all the songs and poems and stories of the season, Christmas is really no more than that - humanity's search for the familiar. Every year we bring out the same songs, partake of the same foods and traditions, and share the things that make us feel that there's someplace we belong. And in the end all any of us are looking for is home.

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

Book Review: Two Tickets to the Christmas Ball by Donita K. Paul (2010)

Two Tickets to the Christmas Ball
Donita K. Paul
Waterbrook Multnomah

Official Synopsis

Can mysterious matchmaking booksellers bring two lonely hearts together in time for Christmas?

In a sleepy, snow-covered city, Cora Crowder is busy preparing for the holiday season. Searching for a perfect gift, a fortuitous trip to Warner, Werner, and Wizbotterdad’s (a most unusual bookshop) leads to an unexpected encounter with co-worker Simon Derrick. And the surprise discovery of a ticket for a truly one-of-a-kind Christmas Ball.

Every year, the matchmaking booksellers of the Sage Street bookshop host an enchanting, old-fashioned Christmas Ball for the romantic matches they’ve decided to bring together.

This year, will Simon and Cora discover a perfect chemistry in their opposite personalities and shared faith? Or will the matchmakers’ best laid plans end up ruining everything this holiday?

My Thoughts

Did you read the synopsis? Assuming that you did, let me give you fair warning that the "enchanting, old-fashioned Christmas Ball" is actually termed a "Wizard's Christmas Ball" in the book. Which doesn't bother me a bit. In fact with all the fantasy I enjoy reading, some that involve wizards, I thought it was a fun bit of genius. But not every reader feels the same way about magic and wizards, so just be aware this book has some of both. As for me the addition of the magical street that's only there sometimes along with the the special Christmas Ball with only the vaguest information on how to attend or where to find it really made Two Tickets to the Christmas Ball shine.

It's funny how a decidedly magical book also has a decidedly Christian flavor. The magical elements were so much fun! I loved the old booksellers and the costume sellers who were working so hard at bringing Cora and Simon together. The mysterious element of Sage Street where sometimes it's there and other times, POOF, it's gone. The Wizard's Ball and all of the elements that come together to get Simon and Cora to attend. Even the dress Cora purchased to wear that literally disintegrated off someone else who was not intended to wear it. It was all so magical! Like reading a mellower version of Harry Potter.

And then you have Christian faith. Every character in this book except for Cora's family is a Christian. Cora's family ostracized her for getting uppity when she became a Christian so now she's trying to find her way, make her own traditions, celebrate Christmas the way Christ would have her celebrate it. That's all well and good, but I know many unsaved people who know how to love their families and celebrate Christmas. Being a Christian does not necessarily make one nice, just as not being a Christian doesn't make one underhanded and mean. The typecasting in Two Tickets to the Christmas Ball did bother me, as did the excessive amount of preaching. I don't like too much preaching in my Christian novels anymore because you're literally preaching to the choir, and so this was too much.

Overall, I'm combining my rating, which would be a 3, with my mother's rating, which would be a 5. Mom read this book and absolutely loved it. She'd never read anything like it before, found it unique and utterly enchanting, and I think wants to own it. Really, it comes down to a matter of taste. I think Ms. Paul could have done slightly more with the magical element of the story and less with the Christian preaching, and my mom thought it perfect the way it was written. Two different opinions, neither of them wrong. What I will say is that you won't find a more unique Christmas book out there. It is enthralling and engaging, and if you enjoy fantasy and magic and don't mind being overdosed on Christian preaching, then you're pretty much guaranteed to love it!

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

Happy December!

I hope everyone is having a blessed holiday season! And I equally hope you're enjoying the Christmas book reviews that I've been posting. I'm going to be busy for the next several days, so I may or may not get a new review posted until the beginning of next week. Just a head's up. Have fun decorating, baking, caroling, wrapping, worshiping, and all of the other amazing things we do during the Christmas season! See you all next week!

Book Review: Christmas at Harrington's by Melody Carlson (2010)

Christmas at Harrington's
Melody Carlson

Official Synopsis

Christmas is approaching, and Lena Markham finds herself penniless, friendless, and nearly hopeless. She is trying to restart her life after false accusations landed her in prison, but job opportunities are practically nonexistent. When a secondhand red coat unexpectedly lands her a job as Mrs. Santa at a department store, Lena finally thinks her luck is changing. But can she keep her past a secret? This tender story about fresh starts will charm readers as all of Melody Carlson's Christmas offerings do. Full of redemption and true holiday spirit, Christmas at Harrington's will be readers' newest Christmas tradition.

My Thoughts

I actually had high hopes for this novel simply because the cover was so pretty, so it was a bit of a letdown that I didn't love it. I think it felt toooooo predictable. Most of these stories are naturally predictable, you expect that, but Christmas at Harrington's was just too much. A wonderful gal with an abusive father who happened to be a pastor and then she marries another pastor who turns out to be a skeeze, she ends up in jail, released before Christmas, heads to this small town where a kindly person has lined up a job for her and she ends up playing Mrs. Santa Claus. It was all just entirely too unbelievable for me to get fully involved in the story.

One the plus side, a scene where I was sincerely about to role my eyes turned out all right in the end. When Lena reads as Mrs. Santa at storytime at the small library in town, she chooses the story of baby Jesus' birth. Not politically correct at all, but the end of the chapter made it seem there wouldn't be any repercussions. I worked in a library. I know when you share anything religious, there can be repercussions. The next chapter had her defending her storybook choice and being verbally attacked by some of the parents. Now that is realism in a library setting. That was the one moment where the story felt real.

Don't get me wrong. I liked Lena fine. This one isn't a romance, so that was nice, and I loved the three little girls in the story: Beth, Cassidy, and Jemima. The characters themselves were quite nice and loveable, but I just never fully bought the story. Oh well, maybe next time.

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

Book Review: The Christmas Lamp by Lori Copeland (2009)

The Christmas Lamp
Lori Copeland

Official Synopsis

Christmas trees, twinkling lights, skating in the park, and holiday displays are the hallmark elements for celebrating Jesus' birth for the sentimental residents of Nativity, Missouri. Will fiscal responsibility replace Christmas their traditions when times are tough?Though their priorities and methods clash, Roni Elliot and Jake Brisco want the same thing---the town to prosper. As the two get to know each other better, each begins to gain a new perspective on what the real wealth of Nativity---and the season---might be.

My Thoughts

This plot had a lot of potential, but it sort of fizzled out about halfway through. The actual Christmas lamp felt a bit like an after-thought, and to be honest, I'm not sure which lamp was actually the Christmas lamp because the story involves 3 lamps. It is supposedly a romance, but I'm at a loss as to how the relationship between Roni and Jake moved from purely platonic to romantic because the sparks just weren't there. I do like some chemistry with my romances, and theirs was sadly lacking.

The plot apart from Roni and Jake's story made slightly more sense. A small town that's reluctant to change its traditions finds that it has to in order to survive. Who puts a Christmas tree in the middle of an intersection? That's a tradition? Um, no, that's crazy, and begging for a lawsuit. So the town realizes that it's not so much the way the they celebrate Christmas that matters, just that they do celebrate it. The town adapts, and in so doing, they save themselves. Tradition is all well and good, but not when it clings to the archaic and outmoded ways that will actually drag you down rather than lift you up.

To be honest, The Christmas Lamp was bland for me. It has some good Christmas messages, but it also flounders a bit with the plot and some loose threads are tied up way too soon, and sometimes even off-scene which I never like. The most I can really say is that it was an easy read and did have quite a bit of Christmas spirit, just not the pizzazz or sparkle of what I was expecting. I won't be reading it again.

Monday, November 30, 2015

Book Review: The Christmas Candle by Max Lucado (2006)

The Christmas Candle
Max Lucado
Thomas Nelson Publishers

Official Synopsis

Journey back to a simpler time, to a small English village where nothing out of the ordinary ever happens. Except at Christmastime.

When a mysterious angel suddenly appears in a lowly candlemaker's shop, the holy and the human collide in a way that only God could imagine.

Glowing bright with a timeless message, "The Christmas Candle" will warm your heart with a surprising reminder of God's bountiful love.

My Thoughts

Christmas miracles warm the heart in so many ways, and none better than The Christmas Candle by Max Lucado.

Every 25 years, the same angel comes to the elderly candlemaker's shop in the little village of Gladstone, touching one candle, which the candlemaker then gives away to someone in need, instructing that person to pray to God for a miracle after having lit the candle. The miracle always happens. Only now the new minister isn't necessarily a believer in the supernatural workings of God, more of a mind that God created the earth and then left it alone. The candlemaker and his wife battle against the new minister's cynicism and even against their own mistakes, praying that God can and will continue to use them for His glory, this, the final candle they will receive during their lifetime.

I'm a staunch believer in the supernatural, in the activities of angels and demons, and in God's daily working in our lives. There is no such thing as coincidence and this book proclaims that truth loudly and firmly. I've never read any of Max Lucado's work, not even storybooks when I was a child, so I wasn't sure what to expect. His writing style is minimalist, but that means you're not distracted by too much information. The story shines on its own and doesn't need a lot of adverbs or adjectives bogging it down.

If you're looking for a solid Christmas read with a lot of faith elements that don't necessarily preach, then don't look any farther than The Christmas Candle. It's a simple little book, only takes a few hours to read, if that. It warmed my heart and I pray that it will warm yours.

Sunday, November 29, 2015

Book Review: The Mistletoe Promise by Richard Paul Evans (2014)

The Mistletoe Promise
Richard Paul Evans
Simon and Schuster

Official Synopsis

Elise Dutton dreads the arrival of another holiday season. Three years earlier, her husband cheated on her with her best friend, resulting in a bitter divorce that left her alone, broken, and distrustful.

Then, one November day, a stranger approaches Elise in the mall food court. Though she recognizes the man from her building, Elise has never formally met him. Tired of spending the holidays alone, the man offers her a proposition. For the next eight weeks—until the evening of December 24—he suggests that they pretend to be a couple. He draws up a contract with four rules:

1. No deep, probing personal questions
2. No drama
3. No telling anyone the truth about the relationship
4. The contract is void on Christmas Day

The lonely Elise surprises herself by agreeing to the idea. As the charade progresses, the safety of her fake relationship begins to mend her badly broken heart. But just as she begins to find joy again, her long-held secret threatens to unravel the emerging relationship. But she might not be the only one with secrets.

My Thoughts

I barely read 4 sentences of the synopsis before I knew that I would love this book, providing of course that there wasn't a lot of sexual content (which there isn't, can I get a witness!) Okay, so yes, the sufficient and pleasing lack of sexual content makes me very happy, so happy that I figured I might as well mention it at the beginning of my thoughts rather than at the end.

Oh my, how I love The Mistletoe Promise! I know that a lot of stories have been written around this concept, movies where a guy hires a girlfriend to accompany him to a wedding or vice versa, and it always sinks into depravity. Not so with this novel. My knowledge of Richard Paul Evans began and ended with The Christmas Box movie that I both loved and hated because it was such an emotional roller-coaster ride.

In keeping with tradition, this novel is also a roller-coaster ride. Both Elise and Nicholas have committed serious mistakes in their lives, enough to keep them running from serious relationships. At least until they meet each other. The novel is entirely written from Elise's perspective, but you also get to know her through Nicholas' eyes, and he sees someone beautiful, charming, worth caring for and treating well, things she has never experienced from anyone before. 

Literally, this book is a fairy tale come true for a lot of women readers. Alright, yes, the idea of a contractual relationship with a start and end point is strange. But Nicholas takes such impeccable care of Elise. He's a lawyer (WEALTHY) so he sends her expensive gifts every day, takes her to dinner and to the theater on his dime, flies her to New York with him so she can see the sights at Christmastime, and he constantly reminds her that she is someone of value and of worth, not just to him, but to others, and she needs to start acting like it. He asks her for nothing in return, just her platonic company because he respects her, even when their attraction starts growing. WOW! What a guy!

As for Elise, poor thing, she's a bit traumatized, which just made me sympathize with her plight. Bad parents, bad marriage, bad mistakes, and she's left lonely and afraid to trust anyone with her heart. Yeah, I can see why she would think Nicholas was too good to be true, and then fall in love with him. I fell in love with at about the same point as Elise.

I literally read this book in just a few hours because I could not put it down. It captures the Christmas spirit, and also captures the sense of isolation a lot of people can and do feel around the holidays. I'm fortunate. I have my parents and my sister and some friends. I'm not alone, and so I love Christmas. But if you were alone, the holiday would be hard. Richard Paul Evans captured that reality very vividly.

The Mistletoe Promise is an inspiration and I am going to add it to my personal collection because I intend to read it every year.

Saturday, November 28, 2015

Book Review: Where Treetops Glisten by Tricia Goyer, Cara Putman, and Sarah Sundin (2014)

Where Treetops Glisten
Tricia Goyer, Cara Putnam, Sarah Sundin
Waterbrook Press

(Part of the Official Synopsis)

The crunch of newly fallen snow, the weight of wartime

Three siblings forging new paths and finding love in three stories, filled with the wonder of Christmas

Turn back the clock to a different time, listen to Bing Crosby sing of sleigh bells in the snow, as the realities of America’s involvement in the Second World War change the lives of the Turner family in Lafayette, Indiana.  

The Turner family believes in God’s providence during such a tumultuous time. Can they absorb the miracle of Christ’s birth and God’s plan for a future? 

 White Christmas by Cara Putnam

Official Synopsis

In White Christmas by Cara Putman, Abigail Turner is holding down the Home Front as a college student and a part-time employee at a one-of-a-kind candy shop. Loss of a beau to the war has Abigail skittish about romantic entanglements—until a hard-working young man with a serious problem needs her help. 

My Thoughts

The first story in this collection is fairly endearing and follows the life of Abigail Turner, the first of the 3 Turner siblings whose stories are included in this collection. Abigail is a young woman who's had her heart broken by loss and is afraid to love, and then you meet a young man, Jackson Lucas, who's burdened with financial troubles and kind of considers himself unlovable. I appreciated Jackson's depth of compassion for wounded and hurting children, and applauded his efforts at helping Abigail reach out and love others again, regardless of the fears that weigh her down from her past.

The atmosphere of this novella felt reassuringly accurate to the 1940s, and it gave a refreshing glimpse into the limitations and fears of the era. However, I will say that it felt a little too . . . convenient, with a harried rush to the romance (which is always a hazard with novellas). And without much of a climax. Novellas have their limitations, but there still should have been a plot to engage me, and White Christmas is lacking that type of plot. It's simply sweet, and of course, Christmas plays a huge part in the love story.

I'll Be Home for Christmas by Sarah Sundin

Official Synopsis

Abigail’s brother Pete is a fighter pilot hero returned from the European Theatre in Sarah Sundin’s I’ll Be Home for Christmas, trying to recapture the hope and peace his time at war has eroded. But when he encounters a precocious little girl in need of Pete’s friendship, can he convince her widowed mother that he’s no longer the bully she once knew?

My Thoughts

I've never read any of Sarah Sundin's work before, and honestly, her inclusion in this collection is what first piqued my interest. She didn't let me down.

The morose and emotionless character of Pete Turner snagged my attention right away, especially because I knew that wasn't his real self.  Grace Kessler works desperately hard just to keep food on the table since her husband died leaving her and her little girl, Linnie, in debt. Pete has to learn to let himself feel again, and Grace has to learn to trust again, especially since she and Pete had history from when they were children and he was a bully. Grace must overcome her fear of loving another pilot since her first husband died in the war, and Pete learns that he cannot plug the God-shaped hole in his heart with anyone other than God. 

Truly, this is an inspiring and uplifting story. Irrationality strikes people at the strangest times, leaving chaos and drama in its wake, and that, naturally, happens here. But all ends well, and Christmas is saved. Sarah Sundin incorporated all of the elements of a superior novella, developing an intriguing plot, captivating characters, and a dynamic climax that had me unwilling to put the book down.

Even though I wasn't in love with Cara Putnam's story, the collection is worth tracking down simply because of Sarah Sundin's exquisite novella.

Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas by Tricia Goyer

Official Synopsis

In Tricia Goyer’s Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas, Meredith Turner, “Merry” to those who know her best, is using her skills as a combat nurse on the frontline in the Netherlands. Halfway around the world from home, Merry never expects to face her deepest betrayal head on, but that’s precisely what God has in mind to redeem her broken heart.

My Thoughts

The third, and youngest, Turner sibling is in the Netherlands, serving as a nurse on the frontlines as the US forces prepares to move into Germany. Tormented by memories of how her true love left her to return to Germany to serve as a Nazi (or so she supposes), Meredith struggles to remain upbeat and positive. Especially when one of the young men in the small village who she spots for only the briefest moment, reminds her of David. Being born on Christmas, being so far away from home, missing her brother Pete's wedding to Grace, all of these weigh heavily upon Meredith's heart, but none so heavy as still loving David and wishing desperately that she didn't.

While I wanted to like Tricia Goyer's story, I really never lost myself in it. Like Cara Putnam's story, there isn't much of a climax, and most of it felt very much the same, with the same emotions and doubts and fears presenting themselves over and over again, and one day looking much like another. The Christmas element actually felt very contrived, and I never could understand Meredith's determination to keep her nickname of Merry a secret. Plus, it was terribly preachy and cliched, and I never like that in my Christian fiction. This one just didn't click with me, but I'm sure it will with others.

Final Thoughts

Overall, the collection is merely average, but Sarah Sundin's story makes it definitely worth the read. And just because I didn't fall wholeheartedly in love with each story doesn't mean others won't, and so I encourage any fan of World War II fiction to give Where Treetops Glisten a try.

Friday, November 27, 2015

Book Review: The Christmas Shoppe by Melody Carlson

The Christmas Shoppe
Melody Carlson

Official Synopsis

The small town of Parrish Springs is not ready for Matilda Honeycutt. A strange older woman with scraggly gray hair and jewelry that jangles as she walks, Matilda is certainly not the most likely person to buy the old Barton Building on the town's quaint main street. When it becomes apparent that her new shop doesn't fit the expectations of Parrish Springs residents, a brouhaha erupts. After all, Christmas is approaching, and the last thing the town needs is a junky shop run by someone who looks and acts like a gypsy. But as townsfolk venture into the strange store, they discover that old memories can bring new life and healing.

Once again, Melody Carlson delivers a Christmas story that will touch hearts and delight the senses. Sure to be a classic, The Christmas Shoppe is filled with the special magic the best Christmas stories share--that intangible mixture of nostalgia, joy, and a little bit of magic.

My Thoughts

This story succeeds on the strength of its characters, mainly Tommy Thompson, the newspaperman, and Susanna Elton, the city manager. Both of these characters are endearing, Tommy especially, and I appreciated watching a man go from hating Christmas to appreciating it. A little like Scrooge, you might say, but not sooooooo Scrooge-like.

Each of the people who interact with Matilda Honeycutt have their lives changed for the better. She knows exactly what they need to help them deal with painful memories from the past, things that give them anger management issues, trust issues, commitment issues, you name it. Even the "villain" Councilman Snider undergoes a transformation of the heart before the end of the book.

We, the readers, know that Matilda must be an angel, especially since no one can recollect when she arrived in town or when she finally left, just that she helped them while she was there, whether they wanted her help or not.

The story is sweet, but not overly saccharine, and it really focuses on not letting big businesses run small businesses out of town, something I believe in very strongly. While I will do my fair share of shopping at Walmart, when it gets right down to it, I'm more excited to be in a little shop run by locals than a major franchise that I can wander in for hours because I can't find the exit. *cough, Ikea, cough*

The Christmas Shoppe is by no means as permanent as A Christmas Carol, but it is a delightful way to spend an evening, and I wholeheartedly recommend it to readers who enjoy light, fun Christmas fiction sprinkled with a hint of faith.

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Woohoo, Snow Day off from Work!!

I think Compassion has changed its snow day policy because, for the first time since my mom has worked there (which is nearly 5 years), they called a snow day! Woot, woot! Get a load of that gorgeous snow! And thank goodness for the new snowblower my parents bought last year on sale! That cut the shoveling time by at least half, if not more!

Monday, November 16, 2015

Christmas Fiction Extravaganza!

Christmas Fiction Extravaganza

Now that I have a book review blog, I figured why not!

There are literally no rules for this since it's not even a blogathon or a blog party, just an excuse for me to read and review Christmas fiction, a lot of which, I'm giving fair warning, will be Christian fiction. If you want to post my button on your page, I would be delighted, just so people can find my blog and hopefully some new Christmas books to read!

I've already begun reading and reviewing, but I won't begin publishing the reviews until the day after Thanksgiving. By that point, I'll likely have a review every day or every other day, which should give you plenty of time to find the books before Christmas.

If anyone wants to join in, I'd love to have you! Just, if you do write a Christmas book review, let me know in the comments of this post so I can compile a list here for others to easily find!

Saturday, November 14, 2015

Experiencing an Authentic Scandinavian Meal

Even though my family hails from Swedish/Finnish roots, the Sons of Norway opens its doors to anyone with Scandinavian heritage, little caring if you're actually Norwegian or not.

Two years ago my family, meaning myself, Caitlin, Mom, and Dad, attended the Lutefisk dinner that they host yearly in November. My grandfather (Mom's dad) always cooked lutefisk for Christmas, but he passed away before Caitlin and I ever met him so we'd never experienced anything like an authentic Scandinavian meal apart from a few Swedish meatballs. It was a lively and glorious experience, all except for the lutefisk itself.

What is lutefisk exactly?

Lutefisk is dried whitefish (normally cod, but ling is also used) treated with lye. It is then either baked (how my grandfather apparently prepared it) or boiled (how the cooks at Sons of Norway prepare it).

Let me just say that lutefisk with lye is pretty gross. It is gelatinous, wobbling on its platter as its brought to the table, and just all around nasty.  Then again I'm what . . . 4th generation Swedish American? I didn't grow up eating it so naturally it seems weird.

Your next question is probably, why would you ever want to go back?

I love tradition. I love being around people of a similar heritage and customs to my own, who know what I'm talking about when I mention a Dala Horse or a Tomte and can appreciate the deliciousness of adding cardamom to bread.

So while my father is salmon fishing in Oregon (because the last lutefisk dinner was waaaaaaaay more than enough for him), we (Mom, Caitlin, and I) reserved space at this year's Lutefisk Dinner for this afternoon.

It was heavenly!

Friday, November 13, 2015

Book Review: Ash & Bramble by Sarah Prineas

Ash & Bramble
Sarah Prineas

Official Backpage Synopsis

 A prince.

A ball.

A glass slipper left behind at the stroke of midnight.

The tale is told and retold, twisted and tweaked, snipped and stretched, as it leads to happily ever after.

But it is not the true Story.

A dark fortress.

A past forgotten.

A life of servitude.

No one has ever broken free of the Godmother’s terrible stone prison until a girl named Pin attempts a breathless, daring escape. But she discovers that what seems to be freedom is a prison of another kind, one that entangles her in a story that leads to a prince, a kiss, and a clock striking midnight. To unravel herself from this new life, Pin must choose between a prince and another—the one who helped her before and who would give his life for her. Torn, the only thing for her to do is trade in the glass slipper for a sword and find her own destiny.

My Take in 3 Parts

The Theme
I love fairy tales and I rarely like a lot of re-tellings. But Ash & Bramble grabbed me with its unique take on the classic Cinderella story. Imagine a world where Story is a living thing with the power to govern the actions of other people, force people into molds to fulfill its own needs. That is the world of this book. These people with their happily-ever-afters don't really know each other. They've been plucked from their own stories and dumped into what Story wants them to do, all at the hand of the Godmother. It's a brutal and scary tale, but intriguing enough to keep me reading.

The Characters
I pretty much loved Pin and Shoe from the very beginning. Yes, I know their names seem silly, but since neither of them had any memory of their Before, they simply chose names based on their profession in working for the Godmother. Pin as a seamstress and Shoe as a shoemaker (duh). But the characters are both delightful and enthusiastic. I especially loved Shoe. His nature reminds me a little of Peeta from The Hunger Games. I was always a sucker for that character.

So yes, I loved the main characters.

However, the secondary characters, not so much. I feel like that required homosexual set of characters just keeps pushing its way into every story, and this one actually has two sets. I wasn't offended, simply bored at the monotony and obviousness of adding them. It made the story tedious, especially since it seems like in this world, love is love and no one took any interest in whether it was heterosexual or homosexual, which struck me as weird because it's still an old-fashioned setting. The addition of these characters just threw the tale off.

The Writing
This is Sarah Prineas' first YA novel, and I'd say she did a great job. I thoroughly enjoyed most of it, especially Part 1, which I thought was just brilliant. Being in the Godmother's fortress, not remembering your Before and not really planning for an After, two characters meet and suddenly escape is a worthwhile venture. It's a great storyline, and I thought a terrific twist on the classic Cinderella.

But I do think the plot lost some momentum, especially once Part 3 finally rolled around. I'd almost stopped investing in the characters a little bit. The love triangle between Pin, Shoe, and Cornelius was completely unnecessary and really bogged down my reading headway. It was just one thing too much. Part 3 almost felt like it could have belonged in a different book, it was so distant from the beginning of the novel, and that's sad to say about anything.

Final Thoughts

On the whole, Ash & Bramble is a solid YA offering from an author breaking into the genre. I enjoyed about 70% of it, and always liked the lead characters, which for me is sometimes a challenge. I just hope that in future offerings, Sarah Prineas tightens her story so it doesn't do quite so much evolving, and that maybe she tones down any love triangles. And just because homosexual marriage is legal now doesn't mean they need to be in everything because then it simply feels like cheap pandering.

Because this is a secular novel, let me also mention that it really is quite clean. No language that I can remember and no real sensual scenes or make-out sessions (homosexual or heterosexual). It is a bit on the gruesome side, but nothing overly bad, just some moderate violence and overall scariness.

I do hope that Sarah Prineas continues publishing YA fiction because she's actually quite good at it. I wish I'd wholeheartedly loved Ash & Bramble from start to finish, but even though I didn't love it, I still like it.

For France

Nothing I say can make the fear and the pain go away. But you are not alone. The world grieves with you and empathizes with you. America has stood where you are standing, watching our Twin Towers crumble at the hands of terrorists. Know that my prayers and the prayers of millions of people around the world go out to you right now. Evil will not triumph. It never has in the past which is why it keeps trying to win. May this tragedy be overcome, may the evildoers be vanquished, and may peace and comfort reign in your hearts and in your nation once more.

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

First Snowfall of the Season

I'm not talking the first snow of the year, but the first snow of the season, after you've gone through the heat of summer and then watched the leaves falling, and then finally, even before you expect it (like this crisp morning in Colorado) you wake up to little crystals coating every surface of your yard and house.

My very first thought immediately flies to Christmas. So many good memories are tied up in Christmas for me, traditions, family and friends, books and movies, Christmas concerts, gifts under the tree, an elderly cat happily drugged out on catnip with her paws wrapped around her Christmas stocking. The very first snow of the season reminds me that winter is almost here, and with it, Christmas. Even though the sun bursts through the clouds by 10 am, melting all of the snow by noon, it was still there, and it still turned my thoughts to December.

Snow also reminds me of other things. Like when I lived on the coast of Oregon as a child and only experienced snow twice. Caitlin and I made the tiniest snowman ever on both of those occasions and then watched him shrink each day until he looked rather like an emaciated albino penguin. Or how about the move to Colorado when I was 14-years-old, to a house in definite snow country, and that winter falling in love, absolute love, with snow and sleds and full-sized snowmen.

Monday, November 9, 2015

Update on reading Lorna Doone

Wait, what does "Her baint coom, Maister Zider-press" mean?
I think I must have been expecting something other than what it's giving me. For one thing, all of that old English is KILLING ME. Bleh! Okay, yes, I love Shakespeare. But that's mostly because Shakespeare had a lyrical quality to his writing that simply sucks me into the story. Everything makes sense, everything has a purpose and a point to it.

What is the point of John Ridd riding his cousin Tom's horse and nearly getting killed while doing it? I'm afraid that R.D. Blackmore found far too many side plots than he needed and managed to incorporate every single one of them into this story.

Combine that with the extremely old English and I'm floundering a bit.

When John was fishing in the icy stream and found his way into the Doone valley, I was interested. Those scenes had everything to do with the plot and because I already know some of the story from the film version, I was fascinated at how they were similar and how they differed.

Overall, though, this is one looooooooooong book and I would give anything for those characters with the dialogue I can't understand to just go crawl away into some other story!

As an update, I'm about 110 pages into Lorna Doone and I will persevere, but who knows how long it will take me to finish!

Has anyone ever read Lorna Doone before? What was your impression of it? How long did it take you to read it?

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

Book Review: The Doctor's Lady (2011) by Jody Hedlund

The Doctor's Lady
Jody Hedlund
Bethany House Publishers

Official Backpage Synopsis

Priscilla White knows she'll never be a wife or mother and feels God's call to the mission field in India. Dr. Eli Ernest is back from Oregon Country only long enough to raise awareness of missions to the natives before heading out West once more. But then Priscilla and Eli both receive news from the mission board: No longer will they send unmarried men and women into the field. 

Left scrambling for options, the two realize the other might be the answer to their needs. Priscilla and Eli agree to a partnership, a marriage in name only that will allow them to follow God's leading into the mission field. But as they journey west, this decision will be tested by the hardships of the trip and by the unexpected turnings of their hearts.

My Take in 3 Parts

The Theme
I grew up partly in Oregon, okay. Stories about wagon trains and the Oregon Trail were literally everywhere and so I just grew up loving them. My sister and I even converted a shed into a wagon train and used sawhorses for real horses with stick pony heads tied to them. It was awesome. So I was pretty much guaranteed to like a story about a wagon train. 

But it was making the story about missionaries that really clinched it for me. If there's one thing I deeply appreciate about Jody Hedlund, it's her ability to include strong elements of faith in her writing without it feeling overbearing. The story revolves strongly around the faith of Priscilla and Eli as they're making this perilous journey west. All because the gospel needs to be brought to the indiginous peoples of that region. It's a heartwarming theme and, for me, it never gets old. I love stories that involve American Indians and stories that involve genuine, loving missionaries and The Doctor's Lady had plenty of both.

The Characters
I love Priscilla. Not as much as I love Elizabeth Whitbread in The Preacher's Bride, but still, Priscilla comes pretty close. From the time she was a teenager, she knew she wanted to serve the Lord on the missions field. And even though she didn't like the shape of her dream to alter, she did finally acknowledge that God was in control of her calling and in choosing to lead her down a different path than the one she'd envisioned for herself. She's strong and determined, and she grows a great deal throughout her story, both in maturity and in her faith.

As for Eli, well, I'm particularly attracted to rugged, imperfect men. He has bad childhood memories that haunt him, a scant education, and severe trust and self-esteem issues, and yet he's still a man faithful to his calling to love the American Indians and to serve them in the Lord's name. What's not to love about a guy like that? Both of the leads were superbly rendered and I really didn't want to finish their story.

The Writing
Jody Hedlund rarely disappoints me. She certainly lived up to most of my expectations with The Doctor's Lady. She delivered strong thematic elements, vivid characters, and excellent research into the actual journey itself and the stops made along the way. One thing I do notice, however, is that she usually incorporates a near-rape in her books. It's becoming more prevalent in historic romance now where the heroine must be rescued from having her chastity stolen, and, to be honest, it's becoming predictable. I realize that women are always at risk, anywhere, but I think that plot device shouldn't be used as often and with as much vigor as some authors wield it.

Final Thoughts

From the moment I started this book, I was pretty much hooked. But I couldn't quite put my finger on why. I think I had a niggling suspicion lurking somewhere that I knew this story. After all, Jody Hedlund is prone to using real people to inspire her fictional characters. My guess was right. The Doctor's Lady is inspired by the real life missionaries, Marcus and Narcissa Whitman. I've visited the Whitman mission, heard their stories, and grieved at the knowledge that they were murdered by the very people who they were so intent on saving.

Anyone ever watched the movie Seven Alone from 1974? The orphans in this story ended up at the Whitman mission where they found refuge until the Whitman massacre. The film doesn't cover the massacre, of course, but I knew the ending to that story simply because I'd visited the Whitman Mission.

Fortunately for those reading The Doctor's Lady, the story is not about Marcus and Narcissa Whitman, merely inspired by them. There is no tragic death of the lead characters, only the growth of mutual love and respect. But it is always exciting to learn that a story is inspired by true events, making the fictional characters more grounded in reality than they might otherwise be.

Overall, Jody Hedlund has more hits than misses with me and The Doctor's Lady is a definite hit.

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Living Life in the Slow Lane

"Teach us to number our days, that we may gain a heart of wisdom." - Psalm 90:12

You'll notice some changes to this blog. I've been praying for months for God to give me a specific theme, a purpose for this goal that goes beyond film and books. I love both of those things, and I'll still share about them sometimes, but I also feel the Lord wants me to share my observations about life from my perspective. The perspective of a homeschooled young woman in her thirties who has deliberately chosen to live a slow life and not get caught in the race to achieve. I hope you'll stick with me during this transition over to something that will bring me fulfillment and I hope will encourage others to slow down, take a deep breath, and just look at the glories of God that surround us every single day. I'm going to start sharing my heart on this blog because that's what God is asking of me.

I like my life. It's good that I can actually say that with conviction and sincerity. It doesn't mean I never have periods of melancholy because I haven't reached certain heights of expectation that I've set for myself. But those are always the moments when God is able to reach me with some new truth about myself.

Do you ever fool yourself into thinking you want something, but you actually want something entirely different?

Take the concept of employment. Women have been "liberated," whatever that is even supposed to mean, and so we're able to hold down jobs and be "independent," again another word I'm not entirely sure has a viable meaning. I'm not discounting women who work. I work full time and enjoy it. I love my coworkers and I love knowing that I'm making a difference because my fingers process money and set up accounts for the Lord. That money goes to release children from poverty in Jesus' name because I work at Compassion International. That's an incredible mission and one I stand behind wholeheartedly.

Sunday, October 25, 2015

The Secret Life of Walter Mitty and Other Short Stories by James Thurber

The Secret Life of Walter Mitty and other Short Stories
Review: 3 -

"A solid collection of short stories" by Carissa Horton, written on October 25, 2015

The last time I read a collection of short stories, it was for college and I graduated nearly 2 years ago. It might not seem like a long time, but it really is, especially when you're expecting The Secret Life of Walter Mitty to be a a novella and it turns out to be a short story, barely 7 pages long. I forget that short stories are often published in volumes because they're not what I usually read. Hmm, I guess that explains why the first two "chapters" had nothing whatsoever to do with Walter Mitty. Once comprehension dawned, I was able to appreciate James Thurber's dry and somewhat irascible humor. Although I still think the marketing for this particular collection was all wrong. How many people picked this up thinking it was a novella only to be disappointed? We'll never know.

I came away from this collection with two main thoughts: Thurber did not think kindly on women and he possessed an excellent sense of humor.

When I say that Thurber didn't like women, it's possible I'm wrong, but we suffer immensely at his hands regardless of his personal feelings for us as a sex. Nearly every wife in the entirety of this collection is viewed as a nag and a nitpicker whose sole joy in life is tearing down every one of her husband's joys. In The Secret Life of Walter Mitty, Mitty's wife is the sort I've just mentioned. Poor, middle-aged man whose wife doesn't understand or appreciate his rich and varied imagination. Thank goodness they changed poor Mitty's story in the film starring Danny Kaye so the nitpicker in his life is actually his mother and he claims some of his own back at the end which includes marrying the girl of his dreams. Next up is the starring couple in A Couple of Hamburgers. While the husband here is no gem, the wife gets sadistic enjoyment out of mocking her husband: the way he speaks, his favorite type of restaurant, etc. You name it, she mocks it. If I thought the last mentioned story was depressing, it's nothing compared to The Kerb in the Sky, where a newly married man gets admitted to an insane asylum because his wife finishes every single one of his sentences before he gets there, and corrects all of his stories. He took to sharing absurd dreams so at least she couldn't interrupt.

The humorous stories, however, are absolute gems. The Macbeth Murder Mystery is hilarious because the two leads dissecting one of Shakespeare's finest plays, discover that Macbeth's father is actually the murderer in this story and that everything else is simply written to conceal the actual truth. For a Shakespeare fan like myself, it was both absurd and fun. A Ride with Olympy also had me giggling simply because I could easily picture an American man teaching a Russian man to drive a stick shift when each one of them can only communicate with the other in barely understood French. Had anyone died in the endeavor it would have been a tragedy, but no one did. The Luck of Jad Peters is about a man who spent the better portion of his life expounding on how he had a feeling about something, so didn't do it, and something terrible happened to someone else who took his place. Narrow escapes were his greatest glee, especially since they were mostly made up. And because I can and do enjoy some dark humor, I snorted out loud when he got hit by a massive flying rock that was dynamited out of the river bed. His good luck failed him. It is The Night the Bed Fell that had me rolling practically in stitches. It's almost impossible to describe, but it's one of those domino effects. One thing happens that triggers something else which triggers something else and so on and so forth. Genius.

There are other stories included in this collection as well that only served to depress me because it's a bleak view of life: The Breaking up of the Winships, Something to Say, The Remarkable Case of Mr Bruhl, The Greatest Man in the World, The Evening's at Seven, and One is a Wanderer. While I realize no one's life is perfect, still, this was too much, probably because each one struck a little too close to home. Others, like The Lady on the 142, The Catbird Seat, The Secret Life of James Thurber, Doc Marlowe, Snapshot of a Dog, and The Dog that Bit People were average tales, nothing overly impressive, but still a fairly entertaining read.

Overall, the collection was quite good. Like I said, I don't read a lot of short stories anymore, probably because most authors, particularly inn the era of the 20s through the 50s, loved to indulge themselves in extremely depressing stories. I don't like to read those types of stories and so I avoid them when at all possible. Still, the collection was worth it simply for The Night the Bed Fell which I now claim as one of my favorite short stories of all time!

Sunday, October 11, 2015

How many times can you remake Little Miss Marker?!

Please make sure to check out the They Remade What?! Blogathon.

It's a bit of a shock when you agree to something and then find out after the fact that your library only has 1 in 4 films. Not such a good thing. So I tracked down films 1, 2, and 3 on Amazon for a decent prize, made even more decent with rewards bucks through my credit card. One might call me obsessive and say I could have backed out of this topic, but I really didn't want to, and honestly, I was quite curious about Tony Curtis' film and Shirley Temple's. I only saw Shirley's movie once a long time back, and didn't care for it, so my memories were really sketchy, and my experience with Tony Curtis had been limited to his role in Walter Matthau's Little Miss Marker. How crazy is that, that the dude would get a role in the same movie twice!?

Anyway, I tracked all 4 films down, and did get them all watched, much to my relief and no small amount of pride.

For those of you unfamiliar with the story, let's start there.

Sorrowful Jones is a bookie, meaning he takes illegal bets on racehorses. On top of that, Sorrowful is a tightwad if ever there was one. Matthau's film even has the Tony Curtis character telling him that he knows Sorrowful still has the first dime he ever made, which might actually be true. One day, a desperate man walks into his establishment, wanting to place a bet with a marker, meaning a little slip of paper meaning he's good for the money. Sorowful doesn't take markers, but for whatever reason, in some he has a soft heart, in others he has an ulterior motive involving the winning horse, Sorrowful agrees to take the guy's marker. In this case, the marker is his little girl, whose name ranges all over the place. Sorrowful now has the little girl, daddy doesn't come back with the money, and Sorrowful is stuck with her. Softening of heart, protective fatherly instincts, and all of that, kick in, along with all sorts of emotional connection to the female lead, whose name also ranges all over the place.

The only really major variance in plot is the Tony Curtis film, 40 Pounds of Trouble, from 1962. This one is about a casino manager in Las Vegas named Steve McCluskey who's slightly on the lam from California so he can avoid paying alimony to his ex-wife. A guy in the casino loses a bundle, heads back to California to get it, never comes back, and good, old Steve realizes that the guy's daughter has been left behind.

Such are the plot main points.

Now, to examine the films under individual topics: Sorrowful Jones, The Kid/Doll/Marky/whatever, thoughts on the plot, and then my final thoughts.

Friday, October 9, 2015

Danny Kaye or Ben Stiller? - A Duel of Walter Mitty!

Danny Kaye or Ben Stiller - A Duel of Walter Mitty

Danny Kaye has been a favorite actor of mine since the first time I saw White Christmas when I was somewhere around 5-years-old. I love this man for his absolute skill at being slapstick silly and being so absurdly adorable while doing it.

So I leaped at the opportunity to write a comparison post for Danny's version of The Secret Life of Walter Mitty from 1947 and the Ben Stiller version of 2013 for the "They Remade What?!" Blogathon.

Being objective, however, is going to be a struggle since I've not even seen the remake yet, and love the original. Ben Stiller and I are not buddies. I've seen, oh, maybe 4 of his movies throughout my life and been unimpressed by all of them, mainly because he's in them. But I don't want to be unfair to him and so I am giving him a sporting chance to impress me with his remake of a well-loved classic film. So I'm going to write about the original film first, which I just watched, and then give the remake a shot in the 2nd half of this post (watching it for the very first time!).

Instead, let's begin with The Secret Life of Walter Mitty, the 1947 version. Danny Kaye's Mitty works for Pierce Publishing in New York City as a proof reader and spends the better part of his days imaging himself in various scenarios. He's the captain of a ship carrying Indian spices who's in danger of going down in a whopper of a storm. He's a riverboat gambler in the Deep South, or a World War II flying ace for England, or a western gunslinger set out to save his lady love, or even a world-renowned surgeon. You name it, he's imagined it, and always with the same beautiful blonde by his side.

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Book Review: The Butterfly and the Violin by Kristy Cambron (2014)

The Butterfly and the Violin
A Hidden Masterpiece Novel
Kristy Cambron
Thomas Nelson Publishers

Official Backpage Synopsis

A Mysterious painting breathes hope and beauty into the darkest corners of Auschwitz--and the loneliest hearts of Manhattan.

Manhattan art dealer Sera James watched her world crumble at the altar two years ago, and her heart is still fragile. Her desire for distraction reignites a passion for a mysterious portrait she first saw as a young girl--a painting of a young violinist with piercing blue eyes.

In her search for the painting, Sera crosses paths with William Hanover--the grandson of a wealthy California real estate mogul--who may be the key to uncovering the hidden masterpiece. Together Sera and William slowly unravel the story behind the painting's subject: Austrian violinist Adele Von Bron.

A darling of the Austrian aristocracy of 1942, talented violinist, and daughter to a high-ranking member of the Third Reich, Adele risks everything when she begins smuggling Jews out of Vienna. In a heartbeat, her life of prosperity and privilege dissolves into a world of starvation and barbed wire.

As Sera untangles the secrets behind the painting, she finds beauty in the most unlikely of places: the grim camps of Auschwitz and the inner recesses of her own troubled heart.

My Take in 3 Parts

The Theme
This book reminds me a little bit of The Fellowship of the Ring, when Galadriel gives Frodo the Phial of Galadriel and tells him, "May it be a light to you in dark places when all other lights go out."

The Butterfly and the Violin is a dark, traumatic novel, but with a thread of hope carefully woven through each line of the chapters set in Auschwitz. Even in absolute and utter darkness, when 1.5 million people are dying around you, God still hears your cry and He is still faithful. The author captured the reality of a bleak era that brought me to hysterical tears, but still managed to present the idea that God is there, in the turmoil, and the grime, and the death. He hears the cries of His people and He grieves, not only for the lives lost, but for those who are doing the killing, something I hadn't quite realized until I felt that swell of anger against the Nazis, unbridled hate, and then came to realize that while I want to blindly reach back in history and kill all of the Nazis, God was grieving for them. That's quite a realization, both about God and about myself.

The Characters
So what we have here is two sets of characters, those in the 1940s and those in the current day.

Sera James and William Hanover are trying to unravel the whereabouts of this piece of Holocaust art, a painting of a young woman with her hair shorn, numbers tattooed on her arm, and a violin in her hand. They take this journey together. I like both of them. Sera has been hurt before, left at the altar, and so she has trust issues, both with me and with God. Those issues, of course, are resolved by the end, which is important. William, we don't really get to know him all that well, except that he's a businessman who felt the real calling on his life was to be a minister. His story in this leads him back to that path and calling from God, and I liked that storyline.

But the truly impactful character, the most prominent, is Adele Von Bron, the young woman whose portrait Sera and William are researching. It is she, a renowned young violinst from a prominent Austrian family, who tried to help Jews escape from Vienna, and ended up being sent to Auschwitz Birkenau for reeducation purposes. It is she who was forced to play for the Birkenau orchestra of prisoners, play her violin as families were split and countless innocents were sent to the gas chambers. This book is her story, and I felt every iota of weakness and terror and doubt that Adele felt during her time in Birkenau.

So, while I appreciate the modern characters, I loved Adele, and even Vladimir Nicolai, the young cellist who she loves and whose passion to save Jews also found him captured by the Nazis.

The Writing
Kristy Cambron is new on the writing scene, with this being her debut novel. If The Butterfly and the Violin is a testament to her storytelling abilities, than Christian literature is in for a revolution. Her style is fresh and original, she tells just enough of the atrocities in Auschwitz without crossing a line into the grotesque, and her heart for the era of World War II really shines, just as her expertise does in being an art historian. This is not a historical romance, but a historical novel, and I really appreciate the difference. Any romance within the book does not take precedence over the story.

If I were to nitpick about one tiny thing, it's that I really don't know if the modern storyline was necessary. Then again, I'm not for novels that have dual eras most of the time, so I'm just not used to it.

Final Thoughts

Never assume this book is an easy read, because it's not. I nearly stopped reading several times because my heart was just so overwhelmed by what I was learning, things I never wanted to know about the concentration camps. But you can't just ignore or imagine away atrocities like this. Just like we can't imagine away the grim truth that thousands of our infants are slaughtered every day in the womb. If there's one thing I realized, it's that America has become, in some ways, what we once hated and despised.

Every Christian should read this book.

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Tolkien Party - Imladris (A Fanfiction) by Me

I'm including this for the Tolkien Blog Party of Special Magnificence (hosted by Hamlette)

Fourteen years ago, I was so avidly in love with all things Tolkien that I delved into fanfiction. This week, I've done something I almost swore to myself I would never do. I looked back at some of my writings, grimaced at the emotionalism of it all, and decided to give this story, one of which I'm particularly fond, a rewrite. I nearly posted it here without editing it, but couldn't, in all good conscience, do it. The core of what you see is the story I imagined all those years ago, but any skill you might find in these lines is a result of many years of practice and deliberate schooling. Thank goodness I didn't just throw Imladris up here without taking the time to hone it, if you will. May you enjoy this story as much as I enjoyed writing it all those years ago, and as much as I enjoyed editing it yesterday and today.

Synopsis: While Frodo lies wounded in Elrond's house, the hobbits deal with the pain of nearly losing their cousin and friend along with the guilt that they could not protect him.

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

A Tolkien Blog Party of Special Magnificence 2015 (hosted by Hamlette)

It is again time for Hamlette's A Tolkien Blog Party of Special Magnificence! And I'm so proud of myself for actually participating this year because I reallllllly love Tolkien and have reallllllly wanted to participate in this blog party before, but never made the time!

Please come and join in the fun if you like, post answers to Hamlette's questionnaire on your own blog, leave a comment on her post letting her know you've done so, participate and revel in all things Tolkien!

Now, on to this lovely questionnaire Hamlette developed!

1. What draws you to Tolkien's stories?  (The characters, the quests, the themes, the worlds, etc.)

A. So, I love fantasy. Hopefully everyone knows that by now. I can pretty much attribute that love first and foremost to Narnia, and because of Narnia, I tried Tolkien's world. Never looked back. You know how they say some stories are epic? An epic love story, an epic adventure, an epic this or that? Tolkien's stories are all of those things and more. The world feels real, the characters feel real, and these are life and death struggles of good against evil, at the very basic level of our being. These stories are alive, and that's why I love them.

2. What was the first Middle Earth book you read and/or movie you saw?  What did you think of it?

A. I saw The Hobbit animated film when I was around 10 or so and then read The Hobbit for the first time when I was 14-years-old and we'd just moved to a new state and I needed some familiarity. Really loved the animated film as a kid until I realized that Gandalf's name was horribly mispronounced. The book? It's still one of my favorite books of all time. A kid's adventure story like The Princess and the Goblin, nothing more or less, and that's what I love about it. Tolkien's world hadn't been fully developed yet and so I love the simplicity of The Hobbit.

3. Name three of your favorite characters and tell us why you like them.

In a world as dark as the one Tolkien penned, the characters need a father figure to guide them. Gandalf is that figure. It doesn't mean he's always right in his judgement calls. Let's be honest, he makes some mistakes. But I always felt that Gandalf was always dependable. I especially love him in The Two Towers film when he says "Look to my coming, at first light, on the fifth day. At dawn, look to the East." And when that fifth day comes, at dawn, guess who's there, riding to save the day?

Gandalf, who is so powerful and mighty, is a lover of small things and small people. He doesn't discount someone simply because they could not be counted among the very wise or the very great. He's a lover of hobbits, a people that don't always love him back, but who he goes out of his way to befriend and defend with his life. What's not to love about a character like Gandalf?

I gave serious consideration to my options for this second choice. I've never actually chosen Aragorn as a favorite character, not when it comes to one of these types of tags or memes. But I do love him know, far more than I ever did when I was young and watching The Lord of the Rings movies for the first time.

When you love Aragorn, you're loving three versions of him. You love Strider, the mysterious Ranger who you're not entirely sure can be trusted. You love Aragorn from the films, the reluctant king. And you love Aragorn the noble-hearted, self-assured king in Tolkien's stories. Three different versions of the same man, and it has taken me 14 years to reach the point of loving all three versions.

Strider, I think, will always be my favorite version simply because he is so enigmatic. I'm rarely drawn to kings, so it makes sense I would love the kingless version of Aragorn the best, but I must deeply respect the Aragorn of Tolkien's original work and empathize with the tortured soul version of Aragorn that Peter Jackson invented. All three have merit.

This should surprise no one and if it does, well, that just means I haven't talked about him enough.

Bilbo was the very first character of Tolkien's that I ever encountered, both in film and in book form and he is steadfastly adhered to my heart. Bilbo is now, and always will be, one of my top 5 favorite characters.

He's the one who you would never, ever suspect of wanting to go on an adventure. He's peaceful and calm at home, and yet, he steps outside himself and into one of the greatest literary stories of all time. He took the literal step of faith and it transformed him. He is like my own personal hero. I'm content and complacent in my life, but if Bilbo can take such an enormous step of faith, then why can't I?