Spring Splendors

Spring Splendors

Sunday, January 29, 2012

So True! ~ Quotes to Brighten Your Sunday

Goodreads is a great site for a variety of reasons, from digitally organizing your book collection to commenting on and "liking" what your friends are reading. But another plus is that you can keep track of great quotes you read, or stumble upon quotes that really resonate with you. Here are a few that I've spotted and/or added that might make you nod your head and smile:

"Where is human nature so weak as in the bookstore?"
~ Henry Ward Beecher

"Don't cry because it's over, smile because it happened."
~ Dr. Seuss

"I don't think God is ever done speaking into our lives. Even when we don't want to hear it. Even when our hearts are cold."
~ Susan May Warren (Baby, It's Cold Outside)

"In the case of good books, the point is not to see how many of them you can get through, but rather how many can get through to you."
~ Mortimer Jerome Adler

"A broken heart in real life isn't half as dreadful as it is in books. It's a good deal like a bad tooth, though you won't think THAT a very romantic simile. It takes spells of aching and gives you a sleepless night now and then, but between times it lets you enjoy life and dreams and echoes and peanut candy as if there were nothing the matter with it."
~ L.M. Montgomery

"A lady's imagination is very rapid; it jumps from admiration to love, from love to matrimony in a moment."
~ Jane Austen (Pride and Prejudice)

"There's a light in a woman's eyes that speaks louder than words."
~ Arthur Conan Doyle (The Hound of the Baskervilles)

"Love is something more stern and splendid than mere kindness."
~ C.S. Lewis

Saturday, January 28, 2012

Litfuse Publicity Blog Tour: Chasing Mona Lisa

Here's a description of the book:

"It is August 1944 and Paris is on the cusp of liberation. As the soldiers of the Third Reich flee the Allied advance, they ravage the country, stealing countless pieces of art. Reichsmarschall Hermann Göring will stop at nothing to claim the most valuable one of all, the Mona Lisa, as a post-war bargaining chip to get him to South America. Can Swiss OSS agents Gabi Mueller and Eric Hofstadler rescue DaVinci's masterpiece before it falls into German hands?

With nonstop action, Chasing Mona Lisa is sure to get readers' adrenaline pumping as they join the chase to save the most famous painting in the world. From war-ravaged Paris to a posh country chateau, the race is on--and the runners are playing for keeps.

Read an excerpt, watch a video and find out more HERE."

My Rating

Spring

My Review

Chasing Mona Lisa is an intriguing fictional race through a part of WWII history. The various perspectives ("good" guys and "bad" guys) add to the suspense and mystery, and the details and language keep the story interesting for historical-fiction lovers. Goyer and Yorkey really know how to tag-team it!

The secondary characters really shine, especially since Gabi and Eric - while enjoyable characters - are a little hard to fall in love with without having read The Swiss Courier. They drive into the story as people whom the reader should already be invested in. That doesn't mean they don't eventually draw the new reader into the action - they just don't seem quite as deep without knowing their background. As for a couple of those secondary characters, France holds their hearts, and thus the outcome of the story has a very big impact on their futures.

Chasing Mona Lisa really is a wild ride. Some of the twists and turns seem a bit unbelievable, especially since some of the characters didn't really strike me as having brilliant foresight. But if you enjoy a good, unique WWII story, Chasing Mona Lisa is a fun ticket to the past!

*With thanks to the publisher for providing me a copy of the book in exchange for my honest opinion, to be shared during the Litfuse Publicity Blog tour.*

About the Authors

"Tricia Goyer is the coauthor of The Swiss Courier as well as the author of many other books, including Night Song and Dawn of a Thousand Nights, both past winners of the ACFW's Book of the Year Award for Long Historical Romance. Goyer lives with her family in Arkansas. For more about Tricia and her other books visit www.triciagoyer.com

Mike Yorkey is the author or coauthor of dozens of books, including The Swiss Courier and the bestselling Every Man's Battle series. Married to a Swiss native, Yorkey lived in Switzerland for 18 months. He and his family currently reside in California. For more about Mike and his other books visit www.mikeyorkey.com"

To Buy the Book: click HERE

Blog Tour Schedule: Check out all of the other reviews scheduled by clicking HERE.

Contest:

Win an iTouch SPY Pack in the Chasing Mona Lisa Giveaway from @triciagoyer @mikeyorkey!

Chasing Mona Lisa is the continuing tale of Gabi Mueller and Eric Hofstadler (first introduced in The Swiss Courier). This time the due are on a relentless quest to save the most famous painting in the world - the Mona Lisa. You can help Gabi and Eric with your very own spy pack when you enter The Chasing Mona Lisa Giveaway!


One passionate protector will receive:
  • iTouch (The must-have device for any spy. Camera, Maps & Music.)

  • Starbucks Gift Card (For all those late nights.)

  • Moleskin Notebook (For those important notes.)

  • Invisible Ink Pen (Don’t want anyone reading those important notes.)

  • Chasing Mona Lisa by Tricia Goyer & Mike Yorkey (Great handbook and intriguing tale for any spy-in-training!)

Enter today by clicking one of the icons below. But hurry, the giveaway ends at noon on January 31st. The winner will be announced at the Chasing Mona Lisa Facebook Party on 1/31. Tricia and Mike will be hosting an author chat (on Facebook and Live from Tricia's website) and giving away their books and a Book Club prize pack! (Ten copies of the book for your small group or book club AND a LIVE Author Chat for your group with Tricia and Mike.)

So grab your copy of Chasing Mona Lisa and join Tricia and Mike on the evening of the 31st for an author chat, spy training (do you know how to pick a lock?) and lots of giveaways.

Enter via E-mail Enter via FacebookEnter via Twitter

Don't miss a moment of the fun. RSVP today and tell your friends via FACEBOOK or TWITTER and increase your chances of winning. Hope to see you on the 31st!

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Learning

"All life lessons are not learned at college, she thought. Life teaches them everywhere.”
~ Anne of the Island by L.M. Montgomery ~

If you're wondering where I've been, I guess you could say I've been learning. For some reason I haven't had as much energy and enthusiasm for blogging lately. School (and all that it entails) has been keeping me busy, and I think I might have a touch of senioritis. Graduation is just around the corner, but there's so much to do and remember in the meantime!

It's hard to balance everything. I want to be creative with my school projects and get back to my own writing, as well...and planning blog posts has unfortunately taken a back seat. I have so much to learn - whether it's in the form of book knowledge for my classes, or learning to trust in God in all things, including when I feel uninspired or overwhelmed.

All this to say - I'm still here. I'm so grateful for your friendship, and I hope to have some more posts besides book reviews to share with you sometime (although there should still be plenty of those!). We'll see where God leads.

Thanks for reading my rambling! May we all keep on growing and learning...

"A wise man will hear, and will increase learning; and a man of understanding shall attain unto wise counsels: to understand a proverb, and the interpretation; the words of the wise, and their dark sayings. The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge: but fools despise wisdom and instruction."
~Proverbs 1:5-7

"For whatsoever things were written aforetime were written for our learning, that we through patience and comfort of the scriptures might have hope."
~Romans 15:4

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

A Bit of Beauty

Hmmm... I haven't posted for a while. So what is a girl to do?

Why, look at what's on her desk, of course!

This lovely figurine (entitled "Beautiful Belle") was a Christmas gift from my parents. Belle is such a sweet heroine - a bookworm, a dreamer, and fiercely loyal to those whom she loves. The gentle colors, the flowery design, and the flowers themselves (reminders of the Beast and the lessons he had to learn about loving beyond appearances) are gorgeous, are they not?

I simply love the Jim Shore figurines. They make such great gifts - a way to share a bit of beauty with someone in your life. (You can generally find them in Hallmark stores, or you can scroll through all the delightful options on the Jim Shore website. Might I just make a quick note that "Someday is Today" - with Snow White and her Prince - is absolutely stunning?)

I think Belle would approve of the books, don't you?

Hope these pictures bring a bit of beauty to your day!

Friday, January 20, 2012

The Books That Were on Fire: My Thoughts on "The Hunger Games" Trilogy

What makes "The Hunger Games" series so intriguing and engrossing? I've connected elements of the trilogy to C.S. Lewis' sermon "The Weight of Glory" for a class paper. I've found the series to be a thought-provoking example for parts of the ethics and war lecture given recently in my American Military History class. I've discussed various plot twists and themes with a friend in my dorm.

Really, The Hunger Games, Catching Fire, and Mockingjay are on fire with intense action, ideas, and emotions!

If you missed it before, you can find my thoughts on the first book (The Hunger Games) HERE. The following thoughts are on the series as a whole, and they do include major spoilers. If you're really interested in the series and haven't yet read it, I recommend waiting to read this until after you've done so. But if you have read the books, I'd love to read your thoughts in the comments section!

My Thoughts on "The Hunger Games" Trilogy

When discussing this series the other day, my friend asked me if I thought it was possible to love a book but not love it at the same time, or something to that effect. When it comes to "The Hunger Games" trilogy, my answer is, "Oh, yeah!"

I love it. The non-stop action...the tension...the head-on collision with serious, meaningful questions... It's a well-written story that "works on many levels" (as a certain penguin from Madagascar 2 might say, if you don't mind the movie reference!). Horrific, terrifying, and yet completely captivating - that pretty much sums it up.

At the same time, I don't love it. The books are set in a future built on the author's own imagination. Whether all of the assumptions put forth in the book reflect the author's worldview is a call I can't make. But I can tell you that there are indeed assumptions that should be treated with careful reflection by every reader.

As far as I could tell, there were no references to religion throughout the series. Some might say that there is no place for religion in the dystopian world of Panem. And I suppose that is the point. Panem seems to have arisen from an evolutionary viewpoint, with the idea that in the future human beings will have moved past their need for "fantastical myths" and "delusions." It is a place where survival of the fittest is very much the order of the day. The silence created by the absence of any mention of any form of life after death or any type of religious beliefs speaks louder than any words on the subject.

Consider Katniss' thoughts after the assassination of President Coin:

"I no longer feel any allegiance to these monsters called human beings, despite being one myself. I think that Peeta was onto something about us destroying one another and letting some decent species take over. Because something is significantly wrong with a creature that sacrifices its children's lives to settle its differences.... The truth is, it benefits no one to live in a world where these things happen." (p. 377, Mockingjay)

Certainly, at first glance "The Hunger Games" series seems to promise absolutely no happiness at all. But at the end of Mockingjay, Katniss and Peeta and some of the others attempt to keep the legacies of those who died alive. Peeta tries to hold onto his love for Katniss. Katniss tries to hold onto "every act of goodness [she's] seen someone do." But even Katniss' admission that "there are much worse games to play" doesn't erase the fact that if there is no life after death, all of it is for naught (quotes from Mockingjay, p. 390).

Why is it all for naught? Consider C.S. Lewis' words in his sermon "The Weight of Glory":

"...even if all the happiness they promised could come to man on earth, yet still each generation would lose it by death, including the last generation of all, and the whole story would be nothing, not even a story, for ever and ever."

Lewis is talking about those who seek a sort of "heaven on earth," but I think it works just as well for the "hell on earth with what little bits of heaven we can preserve" picture presented in "The Hunger Games" series. But the thing is, if I am correct in assuming that the dead in this series are thought to simply cease to exist, than there is no point in holding onto any "bits of heaven." As Lewis says (in the same sermon) in regards to avoiding death:

"...as if we could believe that any social or biological development on this planet will delay the senility of the sun or reverse the second law of thermodynamics. Do what they will, then, we remain conscious of a desire which no natural happiness will satisfy."

So here's where I come back to loving the series again. The books show the complete and utter dissatisfaction that humans ultimately have with this world as an end in and of itself. We long for more - legacies that will not fade; total freedom that exists in truth; justice and yet mercy; a safe place to call home forever.

Remember the song that makes an appearance at Rue's death in The Hunger Games and in the epilogue of Mockingjay? It's a song that speaks of hope, safety, and especially love. "Here is the place where I love you." It's what we ache for, a love that doesn't cease when someone leaves this world. A love that isn't bound by time and location.

Here are some of Jesus' words to His disciples (and we, too, are His disciples if we are saved through His grace, by faith):

"If ye were of the world,
the world would love his own:
but because ye are not of the
world, but I have chosen you
out of the world, therefore the
world hateth you....

And ye now therefore have
sorrow: but I will see you again,
and your heart shall rejoice,
and your joy no man taketh
from you....

These things I have spoken
unto you, that in me ye might
have peace. In the world ye
shall have tribulation: but be of
good cheer; I have overcome
the world."

~ John 15:19 and 16:22, 33 ~

That love exists. A Love beyond this world. A Love that has overcome the world. A Love that gives joy, which can never be taken away.

But assurance in eternal life does not mean that we just give up. Not at all! What I really love about "The Hunger Games" trilogy is Katniss' constant battle. She never stops fighting. She never stops trying to hold onto good. We may not be in Katniss' shoes exactly, but consider these verses from Ephesians:

"For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places. Wherefore take unto you the whole armour of God, that ye may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand." (6:12-13)

And from Romans:

"Let love be without dissimulation. Abhor that which is evil; cleave to that which is good." (12:9)

"The Hunger Games" trilogy has a lot to say about good and evil, war (like militarism vs. just war theory, etc.), and where the world is headed. But whether or not I agree with everything it says, if it forces me to think critically and examine (and grow) in my faith, then I think it's a powerful story with a lot to offer. In that way The Hunger Games, Catching Fire, and Mockingjay really seem to be the books that were - and are - on fire.

(You can find C.S. Lewis' sermon "The Weight of Glory" HERE. Movie poster image 1 and image 2 from Moviefone.com. Book cover images from the author's website.)

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Litfuse Publicity Tour: The Shadow of Your Smile

Here's a description of the book:

"A beautiful blanket of snow may cover the quaint town of Deep Haven each winter, but it can’t quite hide the wreckage of Noelle and Eli Hueston’s marriage.

After twenty-five years, they’re contemplating divorce . . . just as soon as their youngest son graduates from high school. But then an accident erases part of Noelle's memory. Though her other injuries are minor, she doesn’t remember Eli, their children, or the tragedy that has ripped their family apart. What’s more, Noelle is shocked that her life has turned out nothing like she dreamed it would. As she tries to regain her memory and slowly steps into her role as a wife and mother, Eli helps her readjust to daily life with sometimes-hilarious, sometimes-heartwarming results. But can she fall in love again with a man she can’t remember?

Will their secrets destroy them . . . or has erasing the past given them a chance for a future?"

Read the story behind the story HERE.

My Rating

Spring

My Review

A new season has come to Deep Haven. In Warren's previous novel set in Deep Haven, My Foolish Heart, the serious elements of the story were balanced with fun and warmth. But The Shadow of Your Smile is very much a "winter" story, in more ways than one. The atmosphere is colder and darker, and yet the season of prolonged icy feelings and potential danger allows for the contemplation some difficult questions and a budding hope that another season is on its way.

Because of the weather and tone differences, Deep Haven looks quite a bit different in this story than in My Foolish Heart. But this allows the book to really stand on its own, exploring the complex and painful lives of a new cast of characters. Hidden secrets and sorrows... Faults and forgiveness... New love and renewed love. The characters experience a lot of hurting, but they also learn that God's healing touch is not as unattainable as it sometimes seems.

The Shadow of Your Smile has cold hands but a warm heart, as the saying goes. The characters and situations are sometimes very frustrating to read about, and while Warren's writing is lovely, some of the twists and turns are not always so. But buried underneath the snow is life that is waiting to be found again.

*With thanks to the publisher and NetGalley for providing me with an e-copy of the book in exchange for my honest opinion, to be shared during the Litfuse Publicity Blogging tour.*

About the Author

"Susan May Warren is an award-winning, best-selling author of over twenty-five novels, many of which have won the Inspirational Readers Choice Award, the ACFW Book of the Year award, the Rita Award, and have been Christy finalists. After serving as a missionary for eight years in Russia, Susan returned home to a small town on Minnesota’s beautiful Lake Superior shore where she, her four children, and her husband are active in their local church.

Susan's larger than life characters and layered plots have won her acclaim with readers and reviewers alike. A seasoned women’s events and retreats speaker, she’s a popular writing teacher at conferences around the nation and the author of the beginning writer’s workbook: From the Inside-Out: discover, create and publish the novel in you!. She is also the founder of www.MyBookTherapy.com, a story-crafting service that helps authors discover their voice.

Susan makes her home in northern Minnesota, where she is busy cheering on her two sons in football, and her daughter in local theater productions (and desperately missing her college-age son!)

A full listing of her titles, reviews and awards can be found at: www.susanmaywarren.com."

To Buy the Book: click HERE

Blog Tour Schedule: Check out all of the other reviews scheduled by clicking HERE.

Contest:

Come Back to Deep Haven and Win a $200 Visa Card from @SusanMayWarren!

Sometimes love requires a little forgetting ... Come back to Deep Haven and find out what's been happening in your favorite quaint hamlet. If you're new to the Deep Haven series - this is the perfect book to start with - each book in the series is a stand alone story.

Susan is celebrating the release of The Shadow of Your Smile by giving away a prize pack worth over $200 from 1/9-1/28.




One grand prize winner will receive:
  • A $200 Visa Gift Card (Use that to rekindle a little romance, treat yourself to a spa day, snap up those shoes you’ve been eyeing, or purchase a few great books!)
  • The entire set of Deep Haven Books
The winner will be announced on 1/30/12 on Susan’s blog, Scribbles! Just click one of the icons below to enter and tell your friends about Susan's giveaway on FACEBOOK or TWITTER and increase your chances of winning.


Enter via E-mail Enter via FacebookEnter via Twitter

Monday, January 16, 2012

Beauty in This Season

"To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven..."





"He hath made every thing beautiful in his time: also he hath set the world in their heart, so that no man can find out the work that God maketh from the beginning to the end."

~ Ecclesiastes 3:1, 11 ~

(I took these photos yesterday on the Corban University nature trail. Yes, we had snow in my neck of the woods, and it was beautiful while it lasted!)

Friday, January 13, 2012

Litfuse Publicity Blog Tour: The Keeper

Here's a description of the book:

"Julia Lapp has planned on marrying Paul Fisher since she was a girl. Now twenty-one, she looks forward to their wedding with giddy anticipation. When Paul tells her he wants to postpone the wedding--again--she knows who is to blame. Perpetual bachelor and spreader of cold feet, Roman Troyer, the Bee Man.

Roamin' Roman travels through the Amish communities of Ohio and Pennsylvania with his hives full of bees, renting them out to farmers in need of pollinators. He relishes his nomadic life, which keeps him from thinking about all he has lost. He especially enjoys bringing his bees to Stoney Ridge each year. But with Julia on a mission to punish him for inspiring Paul's cold feet, the Lapp farm is looking decidedly less pleasant.

Can Julia secure the future she's always dreamed of? Or does God have something else in mind?"

My Rating

Spring/Summer

My Review

Fisher's writing is a pleasure to read as she effortlessly combines the quirky with the authentic. Her stories are creative but not too far out there to also be familiar and comforting. Stoney Ridge is a great place to visit through Fisher's book. And The Keeper is a great addition to Fisher's Amish novels, with sweet sibling relationships and a honey of a romance!

The traveling bee keeper, Roamin' Roman (love his name!), is an interesting character who speaks about the great freedom of his wandering profession but falls unwittingly in love with the Lapp family in general, their farm, and eventually a particular Lapp sister. The Lapp sisters are great girls who are each unique and each in need of some hard lessons. These characters and more get a chance to share their perspectives throughout the book, and while it seems a bit random at times, the various scenes ultimately come together to show the story of a family and community learning about love and faith in complicated, difficult, and "real" circumstances.

The Keeper has a generally gentle pace that travels through some sweet places but also some surprising situations. The emphasis on fondness, family, and forgiveness is very sweet indeed. Sadie's and Mary Kate's stories (especially M.K.'s relationship with Jimmy Fisher!) promise to be great additions to the "Stoney Ridge Seasons" series in the future!

*With thanks to the publisher for providing me a copy of the book in exchange for my honest opinion, to be shared during the Litfuse Publicity Blogging tour.*

About the Author

"Her interest in the Amish began with her grandfather, W.D. Benedict, who was raised Plain. She has many, many Plain relatives living in Franklin County, Pennsylvania, and travels back to Pennsylvania, as well as to Ohio, a couple of times each year for research.

Suzanne has a great admiration for the Plain people and believes they provide wonderful examples to the world. In both her fiction and non-fiction books, she has an underlying theme: You don't have to "go Amish" to incorporate many of their principles--simplicity, living with less, appreciating nature, forgiving others more readily-- into your life.

When Suzanne isn't writing or bragging to her friends about her first new grandbaby (!), she is raising puppies for Guide Dogs for the Blind. To Suzanne's way of thinking, you just can't take life too seriously when a puppy is tearing through your house with someone's underwear in its mouth.

Suzanne can be found on-line at: www.suzannewoodsfisher.com."

To Buy the Book: click HERE

Blog Tour Schedule: Check out all of the other reviews scheduled by clicking HERE.

Contest:

It’s a “Honey of a Giveaway” from Suzanne Woods Fisher!

Suzanne is hosting a "honey of a giveaway"during the blog tour for The Keeper! During 1/3-1/17 you can enter to win an iPad2 from Suzanne and connect with her on January 17th at The Keeper Facebook Party!



During the giveaway one Grand Prize winner will receive a Prize Pack valued at $600:
  • A brand new 16 KB iPad 2 with Wi-Fi

  • A $25 gift certificate to iTunes

  • A copy of The Keeper

But wait there's more! Just click one of the icons below to enter, then on 1/17 join Suzanne for The Keeper Facebook Party! During the party Suzanne will announce the winner of the "Honey" of an iPad Giveaway and host a fun book chat and give away some fun "honey" inspired prizes - It'll be 'sweet"!

RSVP early and tell your friends!


Enter via E-mail Enter via FacebookEnter via Twitter


Don't miss a moment of the fun. RSVP today and tell your friends via FACEBOOK or TWITTER and increase your chances of winning. Hope to see you on the 17th!

Thursday, January 12, 2012

My Review of First Date

Here's a description of the book:

"Addy Davidson is the last girl in the country who wants to be on the new reality TV show to win a date to prom with the President’s son. She’s focused on her schoolwork so she can get a scholarship to an Ivy League college, uncomfortable in the spotlight, never been on a date, and didn’t even audition for it.

But she got selected anyway.

So she does her best to get eliminated on the very first show… right before she realizes that the President’s son is possibly the most attractive guy she has ever seen in person, surprisingly nice, and seemingly unimpressed by the 99 other girls who are throwing themselves at him.

Addy’s totally out of her comfort zone—but that may be right where God can show her the most about who she is . . . and who she was meant to be."

My Rating

Fall/Spring

My Review

Clever and fun, First Date takes elements of the story of Esther and gives them a modern, YA twist. Addy feels she can never live up to the legacy of her missionary parents - nor is she sure that she wants to. When she is thrust into the world of reality T.V., she makes sure everyone knows that she doesn't want to be there. But then new friendships, new opportunities, and the reminders found in her mother's journal help Addy to strive to make a difference in a hectic, dog-eat-dog world that is so very different from the quiet life she enjoys with her Uncle Mike.

While the book doesn't come across as entirely believable in its contemporary premise, readers familiar with the book of Esther from the Bible should enjoy making connections between the two stories. The fictional re-telling is creative, and the different competitions and surprises keep the plot interesting. Some parts are a bit hard to swallow, either because they're frustrating (like when the people from the girls' hometowns seem to "worship" the girls, in a way) or they're too "perfect." But Addy's growth throughout the novel, especially as seen in her attitude at the end, is admirable.

First Date is a sweet story for girls who are looking forward to prom (or those who remember the anticipation and angst of prom), complete with day-dream-worthy romance and some good lessons to ponder.

*With thanks to Thomas Nelson Publishing through the Booksneeze program for providing me with a copy of the book in exchange for my honest opinion.*

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

My Thoughts on The Hunger Games

Wow! There is a lot going on in this book - both moving and disturbing. To help me sort my thoughts on it, I'm not going to keep my "review" spoiler-free. So if you haven't yet read the book but you plan to someday, this is my warning that the following post will give away major plot twists. For those of you who have read the book, I'd love to make this a discussion and hear your thoughts on the book, too!

My Thoughts (with spoilers):

I consider myself a rather sensitive person, so The Hunger Games is a bit out of my normal reading fare with its violence and cruelty and other disturbing elements. The book left me with a foggy feeling and numerous ideas swarming around in my mind, forcing me to take the time to try and dissect all those thoughts. But that isn't necessarily a bad thing!

The premise of this book is extremely intriguing, and the writing is very engaging. The heroine is excellent for a story told in first-person, as she is loyal to family, strong, spunky, and yet conflicted - basically, she's "the girl who was on fire" in more ways than one. She's on fire for her family and those she loves. She's on fire for survival and freedom. And she's on fire with emotions and uncertainties that threaten to consume her.

And speaking of "the girl who was on fire," those costume and setting descriptions are fabulous! They sparkle and paint a terrifying and yet irresistible word picture. There is a great balance between the recognizable and the futuristic, especially in the arena. From the tracker jackers to the mockingjays, and from the cameras everywhere to the amazing, super-expensive medicines, there seems to be just the right touch of inventiveness and possible future technology. The whole world of the story is so clever and creative!

That cleverness bleeds into the plot, forcing Katniss to hide her emotions from the unseen cameras even while dealing with extreme pain and duress. In this case survival isn't just about physical endurance and strength - it's about making yourself look like a winner even when you feel like you can't make even one more step. That definitely adds a whole new level to the games...

...not to mention the love story. I'm probably just as confused as Katniss when it comes to Peeta and Gale. Peeta really seems to have a great heart, but appearances are certainly deceiving in this book. I think it's safe to say that he really does care for Katniss, and his loyalty to her is quite endearing. But I can't help but get snagged on the scene with the girl who started the fire not far from where Katniss was sleeping. While it doesn't seem clear who first attempted to kill the girl, it is suggested that Peeta is the one who finishes her off. It is noted that Peeta joined the group to save Katniss in a round-about way, and he is almost killed by Cato later on when he demonstrates his devotion to her. Yet...if he didn't have a crush on Katniss, would Peeta have joined the group anyway? Or would he have gone solo? And would he have as little remorse for killing Katniss as he seems to have for sharing the responsibility in killing that girl? I'd also like to know if he ever gave a second thought to young Rue in the arena. I could ask "What if?" all day, but I guess I'm just curious about this baker's son who shows such tenderness and care to Katniss, as well as jealousy for her feelings toward Gale. I admire him in some ways, and I think he can be very sweet. But he's a puzzle.

While I do really like some of those scenes between Peeta and Katniss, my favorite part of the book is the interaction between Rue and Katniss in the arena. This is the part that really shows that love and beauty remain despite the horrific circumstances. Even though Rue and Katniss are supposed to be enemies, they bond and work together. I suppose a similar argument for Katniss' attachment to Rue in comparison with Peeta's attachment to Katniss can be made, because there's always the question of whether or not Katniss would still care about Rue if Rue didn't remind Katniss of her sister. But there's hope in Rue's innocence, her trust, and her passion for music. That mockingjay pin that Katniss wears is like a symbol of a free spirit that man couldn't destroy - of something beautiful like music coming out of something that was used for evil purposes. The song Katniss sings to Rue...the flowers she surrounds her with in her death...the bread that District 11 gave in gratefulness to Katniss - all of that provides a powerful image. Even the muttations that come in later - probably my least favorite part of the book - couldn't be made of or destroy the souls, only the bodies.

I know The Hunger Games isn't Christian fiction, and I realize that there is more that could be dissected in terms of political and social agendas (perhaps commentary on class divisions or the source of power in a nation). But these are some of the thoughts of a girl who believes that God is more powerful than man and that there is always hope in Him who works for the good of those who love Him. I am deeply thankful that God has not abandoned us, and no matter what the present or the future look like, He will never leave me.

Well, I have Catching Fire and Mockingjay yet to read, so we'll see what I think of the series as a whole! And again, please feel free to share your thoughts here, as well! (Although I'd appreciate it if you don't mention books two or three just yet!)

(Cover image from the author's website.)

Saturday, January 7, 2012

My Review of The Maid of Fairbourne Hall

Click HERE to read the book description and learn more about the author!

MY RATING

Summer

MY REVIEW

The Maid of Fairbourne Hall is a delight! The story initially plunges the reader into a swift river - and it doesn't take long for the current to change, transforming Miss Margaret Macy into Nora, the maid of Fairbourne Hall. While the pace lessens off and on, the intrigue continues and historical details, as well as some back story, flow expertly throughout the pages.

And let's not forget the romance! When the heroine finds herself in the home of a spurned suitor and a would-be love interest, some sparks are inevitable. The love story is great, complete with some wonderful kissing scenes! Twists and turns, secrets and surprises - all add to the romantic tension that builds steadily and ever so sweetly.

Mixed in with the clever plot and the enjoyable romance is well-written characterization. Margaret learns a lot during her tenure of service, and her growth is quite visible and realistically rendered. Her character really blossoms, and it's beautiful to see her embrace her work and come to understand and truly serve others. The whole book is beautiful!

*With thanks to Bethany House through CFBA for providing me with a copy of the book in exchange for my honest opinion.*

Friday, January 6, 2012

My Review of The Rose of Winslow Street (CFBA)

This week, the
Christian Fiction Blog Alliance
is introducing
The Rose of Winslow Street
Bethany House (January 1, 2012)
by
Elizabeth Camden

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

A research librarian and associate professor, Elizabeth Camden has a master’s in history from the University of Virginia and a master’s in library science from Indiana University. She has published several articles for academic publications and is the author of four nonfiction history books. Her ongoing fascination with history and love of literature have led her to write inspirational fiction. Elizabeth lives with her husband in central Florida.

ABOUT THE BOOK

The last thing Libby Sawyer and her father expected upon their return from their summer home was to find strangers inhabiting a house that had been in their family for decades. Widower Michael Dobrescu brought his family from Romania to the town of Colden, Massachusetts with a singular purpose: to claim the house willed to him long ago. Since neither party has any intention of giving up their claim, a fierce legal battle ensues between the two families.

When important documents go missing from the house, Libby suspects Michael is the culprit. Determined to discover the truth behind the stolen papers, Libby investigates, only to find more layers of mystery surrounding Michael and his family. Despite their rivalry, Libby finds herself developing feelings for this man with the mysterious past.

As a decision about the house looms in the courts, Libby must weigh the risks of choosing to remain loyal to her family or give her heart to a man whose intentions and affections are less than certain.

If you would like to read the first chapter of The Rose of Winslow Street, go HERE.

MY RATING

Summer

MY REVIEW

From the synopsis, The Rose of Winslow Street sounds like a story about a pushy man who claims ownership of a house belonging to a rich girl, leading to a battle in court and then happily ever after. But while that may describe some of the bare bones of the book, from the very get-go the plot is much more complex and extraordinary than that!

Michael Dobrescu takes family very seriously, and he'll do anything to provide for his own. But when the path to protecting his family takes him to the house on Winslow Street, it cuts off the professor who labored for years to improve the house - as well as the professor's big-hearted daughter. Emotions run high, secrets run deep, and tension - romantic and otherwise - simmers just below the surface in this well-written, engaging, and very unique historical romance with Romanian flair.

Camden caught my attention with her debut, The Lady of Bolton Hill, but she captured my imagination with The Rose of Winslow Street. Full of resiliency, rejuvenation, and roses, this book has it all - including a difficult-to-top, romantic gift and that happily ever after previously mentioned. Stunning!

*With thanks to Bethany House through CFBA for providing me with a copy of the book in exchange for my honest opinion.*

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

The Maid of Fairbourne Hall (CFBA Tour)

This week, the
Christian Fiction Blog Alliance
is introducing
The Maid of Fairbourne Hall
Bethany House (January 1, 2012)
by
Julie Klassen

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Julie worked in publishing for sixteen years (first in advertising, then as a fiction editor) and now writes full time. Two of her books, The Girl in the Gatehouse and The Silent Governess won the Christy Award for Historical Romance. The Girl in the Gatehouse also won a Midwest Book Award and The Silent Governess was a finalist in Romance Writers of America's RITA awards.

She graduated from the University of Illinois and enjoys travel, research, BBC period dramas, long hikes, short naps, and coffee with friends. Julie and her husband have two sons and live near St. Paul, Minnesota.

ABOUT THE BOOK

Pampered Margaret Macy flees London in disguise to escape pressure to marry a dishonorable man. With no money and nowhere else to go, she takes a position as a housemaid in the home of Nathaniel Upchurch, a suitor she once rejected in hopes of winning his dashing brother. Praying no one will recognize her, Margaret fumbles through the first real work of her life. If she can last until her next birthday, she will gain an inheritance from a spinster aunt--and sweet independence. But can she remain hidden as a servant even when prying eyes visit Fairbourne Hall?

Observing both brothers as an "invisible" servant, Margaret learns she may have misjudged Nathaniel. Is it too late to rekindle his admiration? And when one of the family is nearly killed, Margaret alone discovers who was responsible. Should she come forward, even at the risk of her reputation and perhaps her life? And can she avoid an obvious trap meant to force her from hiding?

On her journey from wellborn lady to servant to uncertain future, Margaret must learn to look past appearances and find the true meaning of "serve one another in love."

If you would like to read the first chapter of The Maid of Fairbourne Hall, go HERE

PARTIAL REVIEW

Doesn't the synopsis of the book make you wonder how a lady in 1815 London ends up working as a housemaid in the home of a former suitor and a passing love interest? As I write this, I'm only about 1/4 of the way through the book, but already I'm awed at how Klassen has made this story twist and turn in such a way as to turn Margaret's position on it's head! Engaging and intriguing, so far The Maid of Fairbourne Hall has the makings of a great story! I'm eager to read more - so be looking for my full review to come soon!

*With thanks to Bethany House through CFBA for providing me with a copy of the book in exchange for my honest opinion.*