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Book Review (+ Giveaway): A Fragile Hope

24 Apr

Hope grows when seeds are planted—even in the muddy middle of life.

Josiah Chamberlain’s life’s work revolves around repairing other people’s marriages. When his own is threatened by his wife’s unexplained distance, and then threatened further when she’s unexpectedly plunged into an unending fog, Josiah finds his expertise, quick wit and clever quips are no match for a relationship that is clearly broken.

Feeling betrayed, confused, and ill-equipped for a crisis this crippling, he reexamines everything he knows about the fragility of hope and the strength of his faith and love. Love seems to have failed him. Will what’s left of his faith fail him, too? Or will it be the one thing that holds him together and sears through the impenetrable wall that separates them?

 

 

Cynthia Ruchti tells stories hemmed in hope. She’s the award-winning author of 17 books and a frequent speaker for women’s ministry events. She serves as the Professional Relations Liaison for American Christian Fiction Writers, where she helps retailers, libraries, and book clubs connect with the authors and books they love. She lives with her husband in Central Wisconsin.

Find out more about Cynthia at http://www.cynthiaruchti.com.

 

My Impressions:

Cynthia Ruchti’s novels always make the reader think . . . and perhaps squirm. In her latest novel, A Fragile Hope, that’s just what I found myself doing — thinking and squirming. Why? Because this novel examines what it means to love, and to love deeply one must sacrifice and hope when all seems lost, and that is just plain hard! But squirming aside, I really loved this book. It gets a highly recommended rating from me.

A Fragile Hope is unusual in its point of view, characterization, and setting. Told in a third person voice, the perspective is almost exclusively from main character Josiah Chamberlain, a renowned marriage guru who doesn’t have a clue. Faced with the devastating accident that has plunged his wife into a coma and him into a world of questions without answers, Josiah begins a journey that exposes his false perceptions of his wife and himself. And Josiah is a very unsympathetic character, at first. Ruchti takes a man who is in his own estimation oblivious, and changes him one painful step at a time. The novel’s action takes place in hospital, and the sterility and isolation comes through loud and clear. Am I making you want to read the book yet? 😉 Really, this book is not an easy or even a pleasant read at times. Life can be ugly and oh so hard, and that is what Josiah faces. But . . . love and hope redeem that life. Josiah has numerous choices to make, and despite his own weaknesses, he makes the choices that matter the most to his wife and their marriage. Twists and turns abound as Josiah learns more about himself and the situation he finds himself in. At the end hope, though fragile, survives.

Josiah (and the reader) learn a lot as the book progresses. In thinking about the activities of caring for his wife he makes this observation — Who knew so much of the battle to get her well again would be waged in his attitude, his memories and his mind? (page 190). This is true in any aspect of a relationship and spoke volumes to me. Really the whole book spoke to me. Jesus is at the center of this book, although Josiah spends much of it keeping Him at the periphery. Truth about Jesus’ love and sacrifice seeps into Josiah’s (and the reader’s) heart. This book really does make you think, think, feel and think again.

A Fragile Hope is not a light or a quick read, but rather one that saturates a reader in its emotion and its truth. Ruchti’s novel is sometimes hard, sometimes painful, and yes, squirm-inducing, but always meaningful and relevant, and, for me, a must-read.

Highly Recommended.

Audience: adults.

To purchase this book, click HERE.

(Thanks to Abingdon and LitFuse for a complimentary copy. All opinions expressed are mine alone.)

 

Giveaway

Celebrate the release of A Fragile Hope by entering to win Cynthia’s Sign of Hope Giveaway!

One grand prize winner will receive:

Enter today by clicking HERE, but hurry! The giveaway ends on May 3. The winner will be announced May 4 on the Litfuse blog.

Book Review: The Long Highway Home

21 Apr

Sometimes going home means leaving everything you have ever known. When the doctor pronounces “incurable cancer” and gives Bobbie Blake one year to live, she agrees to accompany her niece, Tracie, on a trip back to Austria, back to The Oasis, a ministry center for refugees that Bobbie helped start twenty years earlier. Back to where there are so many memories of love and loss. Bobbie and Tracie are moved by the plight of the refugees and in particular, the story of the Iranian Hamid, whose young daughter was caught with a New Testament in her possession back in Iran, causing Hamid to flee along the refugee Highway and putting the whole family in danger. Can a network of helpers bring the family to safety in time? And at what cost? Filled with action, danger, heartache and romance, The Long Highway Home is a hymn to freedom in life’s darkest moments.

 

 

ELIZABETH MUSSER writes ‘entertainment with a soul’ from her writing chalet—tool shed—outside Lyon, France. Elizabeth’s highly acclaimed, best-selling novel, The Swan House, was named one of Amazon’s Top Christian Books of the Year and one of Georgia’s Top Ten Novels of the Past 100 Years (Georgia Backroads, 2009). All of Elizabeth’s novels have been translated into multiple languages.

For over twenty-five years, Elizabeth and her husband, Paul, have been involved in missions’ work in Europe with International Teams. The Mussers have two sons, a daughter-in-law and three grandchildren who all live way too far away in America. Find more about Elizabeth’s novels at http://www.elizabethmusser.com and on Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest.

 

My Impressions:

Elizabeth Musser has long been a favorite with my book club. We began our journey with her in The Swan House and have since read many of her novels. With her being an Atlanta native and setting many of her books there, we have enjoyed a couple of field trips as well, visiting places she mentions in her books. When I heard she had a new book out, I had to include it as a surprise selection. The Long Highway Home was an excellent choice for our group, and I believe will be for yours as well. We love, love, loved it!

The Long Highway Home is a very complex novel involving multiple characters and story lines. But it is not a difficult book to read. Once you get into the flow of the shifting points of view, the stories take off and you find yourself immersed in the characters’ journeys. Each has a unique viewpoint and story that adds depth and insight. And I loved how all the threads intersected with each other in miraculous, yet very believable ways. In fact, Musser has a sentence that describes that (and real life) well — But every now and then the Lord pulls back a curtain-slice of sky and we get to see the bringing together of all the plot lines in real time!

The subject matter is refugees, specifically Muslim refugees making their way to Europe. The time is 2005, and the majority of the refugees are men. We felt the issue was handled with truth and grace. The hardships they faced — from the distrust and animosity of locals to the suspicions and threats from fellow refugees — were not sugar-coated, but handled in an honest manner. The Oasis, the refugee mission in the book, is a real place and the Mussers work with those who lead the ministry there. Her passion is obvious throughout the book.

The power of the gospel to transform lives is beautifully illustrated in The Long Highway Home, as is the means God uses to draw people to Himself. Although it is a work of fiction, many of the ministries and people were drawn from real life, giving it a greater authenticity. Because of this, the novel is perfect for book clubs or missions groups.

Beautifully written, authentic characters, a meaningful message — The Long Highway Home has it all. It is also a suspenseful read with a dash of romance that you will not want to put down. It gets a highly recommended rating from my group.

Highly Recommended.

Audience: adults.

Great for book clubs.

To purchase, click HERE.

(Thanks to the author for complimentary copy. All opinions expressed are mine alone.)

Book Review: Sandpiper Cove

20 Apr

Hope Harbor police chief Lexie Graham has plenty on her plate raising her son alone and dealing with a sudden rash of petty theft and vandalism in her coastal Oregon hometown. As a result, she has zero time for extracurricular activities–including romance. Ex-con Adam Stone isn’t looking for love either–but how ironic is it that the first woman to catch his eye is a police chief? Yet wishing for things that can never be is foolish.

Nevertheless, when Lexie enlists Adam’s help to keep a young man from falling into a life of crime, sparks begin to fly. And as they work together, it soon becomes apparent that God may have a different–and better–future planned for them than either could imagine.

 

Irene Hannon is the best-selling author of more than 35 novels. Her books have been honored with the coveted RITA Award from Romance Writers of America, the HOLT Medallion, the Reviewer’s Choice Award from Romantic Times BOOKreviews magazine and the Daphne du Maurier Award for mystery/suspense. Irene and her husband make their home in Missouri, USA. Irene invites you to visit her at her website, http://www.irenehannon.com.

 

My Impressions:

A return trip to Hope Harbor, Oregon? Sign me up! Irene Hannon’s contemporary romance series set in a small coastal town has everything I like — relatable characters, beautiful setting, and stories filled with heart and hope. In book 3 of the series, Sandpiper Cove, an unlikely couple discovers that you really can have a second chance.

Old friends and new are part of Sandpiper Cove. The novel focuses on police chief, Lexie, and ex-con Adam. A unique couple to be sure and more than an opposites attract story line. Hannon handles the obstacles that face this couple realistically. The emphasis is on second chances in life and love, and more than one character learns that God can indeed make things new. I loved the community aspect of this novel, with most willing to look at present actions rather than past mistakes. I also really liked that the main characters focus was not just on themselves, but on others that need a helping hand. For fans of this genre, the romance is sweet, with a big dose of sizzle.

Hope Harbor is a place I would love to visit, and I am pleased that I’ll be able to do just that in future books. A bit of a mystery for the next book is hinted at, and of course I just have to know what Charlie the taco man is up to. I have a few theories about this angelic minor character.

Easily read as a standalone, you really do need to start at the beginning of this series — it is just too good to miss.

Recommended.

Audience: adults.

To purchase, click HERE.

(Thanks to Revell for a complimentary copy. All opinions expressed are mine alone.)

Children’s Corner: The Berenstain Bears Bless Our Pets

17 Apr

In the newest Berenstain Bear Living Lights title, The Berenstain Bears Bless Our Pets, Brother, Sister, and Honey Bear love their pets Little Lady, Gracie, Swish, and Cutsie … they are just like part of the Bear family. So when Preacher Brown holds a special Blessing of the Pets service on Sunday, the Bear family joins in. But what starts as a peaceful gathering of Bear Country neighbors and their animal friends on the lawn of the Chapel — including dogs, cats, rats, goats, and even a snake or two — ends up needing a little heavenly intervention.

 

To purchase, click HERE.

 

My Impressions:

The Bear family is just like us! They work, they play, and they have pets! In the latest book in the Living Lights series, The Berenstain Bears Bless Our Pets, everyone in Bear Country comes to church to ask for God’s blessing on very special members of their family, their pets. Large and small, common and unusual, the pets are present. I especially liked the scripture verse at the beginning of the book — The righteous care for the needs of their animals (Proverbs 12:10). It is a wonderful reminder to children about God’s creation and mankind’s directive to care for it. The book is filled with fun illustrations and there is plenty to cause a chuckle — pandemonium breaks out at one point. This book, targeted at children ages 4-8, is also a great way to get kids reading. If you have a pet-loving child in your life, definitely check out Bless Our Pets.

Recommended.

Audience: children ages 4-8.

(Thanks to Zonderkidz for a complimentary copy. All opinions expressed are mine alone.)

Book Review: A Trail of Crumbs

13 Apr

“I believed it would have been a sin to stay inside when God had sent us such fine weather. According to Pastor Ezra Anderson, sin was the reason we’d got in the dusty mess we were in. The way I saw it, that day was God’s way of letting us know He wasn’t mad at us anymore. Just maybe He’d seen fit to forgive us.”

Pearl Spence has been through more in her young life than most folks could handle. But through it all, her family has been by her side. They may not be perfect, but they love her and they all love each other, come what may. That’s one thing Pearl no longer questions.

But the end of her beautiful day signals the beginning of the end of her secure life.

Now her family is fleeing their Oklahoma wasteland. Pearl isn’t sure she’ll ever see home or happiness again. Are there any crumbs powerful enough to guide her back to the dependable life she once knew?

The strong narrative voice of Finkbeiner’s young protagonist from A Cup of Dust returns in this gritty yet hopeful sequel, sure to please her many fans.

Susie Finkbeiner is a story junkie. Always has been and always will be. It seems it’s a congenital condition, one she’s quite fond of.

After decades of reading everything she could get her hands on (except for See the Eel, a book assigned to her while in first grade, a book she declared was unfit for her book-snob eyes), Susie realized that she wanted to write stories of her own. She began with epics about horses and kittens (but never, ever eels).

It takes years to grow a writer and after decades of work, Susie realized (with much gnashing of teeth and tears) that she was a novelist. In order to learn how to write novels, she read eclectically and adventurously (she may never swim with sharks, but the lady will jump into nearly any story). After reading the work of Lisa Samson, Patti Hill, and Bonnie Grove she realized that there was room for a writer like her in Christian fiction.

Her first novels Paint Chips (2013) and My Mother’s Chamomile (2014) have contemporary settings. While she loved those stories and especially the characters, Susie felt the pull toward historical fiction.

When she read Into the Free by Julie Cantrell she knew she wanted to write historical stories with a side of spunk, grit, and vulnerability. Susie is also greatly inspired by the work of Jocelyn Green, Rachel McMillan, and Tracy Groot.

A Cup of Dust: A Novel of the Dust Bowl (2015), Finkbeiner’s bestselling historical set in 1930s Oklahoma, has been compared to the work of John Steinbeck and Harper Lee (which flatters Susie’s socks off). Pearl’s story continues with A Trail of Crumbs: A Novel of the Great Depression (2017) and A Song of Home: A Novel of the Swing Era (2018).

What does she have planned after that? More stories, of course. She’s a junkie. She couldn’t quit if she wanted to.

My Impressions:

Susie Finkbeiner’s novel, A Cup of Dust, is excellent. It opened my eyes to the forgotten history of the Dust Bowl, but also introduced me to the wonderful character, Pearl Spence. Pearl’s story continues in her second novel, A Trail of Crumbs, another beautifully written novel that grabbed my heart and wouldn’t let go. This book gets a highly recommended rating from me.

Tragedy strikes the Spence family once again, and the only remedy seems to be to relocate from the dry dusty world of Red River, Oklahoma to the color-filled town of Bliss, Michigan. Will the family find a new home filled with hope and possibilities or lose their way?

A Trail of Crumbs is filled with wonderful characters, not the least 10 year old, Pearl. The book is told in her first person voice, allowing the reader a look into her story, but also a different perspective of other members of her family. The result is insightful, yet tinged with innocence. This is a coming-of-age novel, and it broke my heart to read Pearl’s transformation from a hope-filled child to one who knew the cynicism of adults. Her observations of the other characters give an almost complete sketch of their motivations and struggles. I say almost, because one can never know just what goes on in the heart and mind of another person. This did not frustrate me as a reader; rather it made me examine my own assumptions about others. The setting of Bliss is like another character. The wonder Pearl expresses at the depth of color each season brings is in stark contrast to the gray/brown world of her early life. It is no surprise that Pearl is drawn to the story of Dorothy Gale and her adventures in Oz.

The importance of story runs throughout A Trail of Crumbs, and Finkbeiner deftly includes the ridiculously fun stories Daddy relates, the books that Pearl immerses herself in, and the stories Pearl makes up to help her cope with the many changes in her life. All add to the story that becomes Pearl’s life. Home is a major theme — what makes it and how to find it. Pearl’s family is not conventional, not one are related by blood. But as she states: “Blood didn’t mean anything when it came to making a home.” (page 136). As Pearl settles into her new home, Mama seems to lose her sense of it. The book ends with questions that I hope will be resolved in the third installment due out next year, A Song of Home.

I apologize if my review seems to be rambling. I really loved A Trail of Crumbs, and Pearl found a place in my heart. But with many great books, I often find it hard to express just what they mean to me. Another blogger has coined the term SWOOF — squeezing words out of feelings. This is how I feel about A Trail of Crumbs, a novel that elicits feelings that mere words cannot express. All I can say is get copies of A Cup of Dust (if you haven’t read it yet) and A Trail of Crumbs and settle in for stories that will sweep you up and away.

Highly Recommended.

Audience: adults.

To purchase this book, click HERE.

(Thanks to Kregel for a complimentary copy. All opinions expressed are mine alone.)

Book Review: The Sacred Scarred

12 Apr

“Beauty can indeed come from ashes.” Calysta Daniels met Brendan Keefe at a time when she was embracing the true meaning of beauty and he was becoming the embodiment of a beast. Several years later, their paths crossed once again, and she agreed to a strange request to save her father from imprisonment: to live under the beast’s roof for four years. It didn’t take long for him to realize that there was something about her that a part of him hated – something sacred threatening to expose all his scars. Scarred as they both were, she was holding on to a secret that kept her sacred, while he was holding on to a past that kept him scarred. Thus, the battle of wills raged within the beauty and the beast over what price had to be paid to make a person truly beautiful.

 

 

 

Joanna Alonzo is a walking paradox. She is a beautiful, albeit messy, mixture of thought and emotion, expressed in the form of hopefully readable – and relatable – stories. She is a kingdom kid, who looks forward to being a writer and storyteller even when she reaches heaven. She is passionate about the unreached, about those who have yet to know the Love she found in the arms of the Almighty. She is intrigued by the world and its people, who day by day, continue to convince her that God is the greatest Storyteller of all.

 

My Impressions:

With all the buzz surrounding the release of Disney’s newest imagining of The Beauty And The Beast (my favorite childhood fairy tale) comes the advent of various retellings of the story in novel form. Joanna Alonzo, author of The Sacred Scarred, has written a contemporary version with a Christian twist. She takes very messy lives and weaves them into a modern-day fairy tale with the power of God at the center. The result is an edgy YA novel.

Both Calysta and Brendan are the products of very dysfunctional families. Yet the paths they find themselves on are very different. One chooses hope in God; the other the pursuit of perfection. Their self-inflicted scars mar their lives, but God’s healing is there for them if they will just accept it.

The Sacred Scarred, with its characters and situations, definitely has a YA vibe to it. Readers in the targeted audience (older high school to young adult) will identify with the struggles the characters face. The dysfunction of the families was at times difficult to read (there is a lot of abandonment by important women in the main characters’ lives). The book takes a while to come to the familiar Beauty/Beast storyline as it sets the stage for the action. I felt the book dragged at times, and I became impatient for the real story to begin. The real story, to me, is the transformation of Brendan and his beastly attitudes and expectations. There are magical elements for those who love that about fairy tales. The theme of God’s love is very strong and prominent throughout the book. And the happily-ever-after is achieved for most involved.

While The Sacred Scarred wasn’t really a hit for me, it is an interesting spin on the Beauty/Beast story.

Audience: older teens to young adults.

To purchase, click HERE.

(Thanks to the author for a complimentary copy. All opinions expressed are mine alone.)

 

 

Children’s Corner: The Legend of The Sand Dollar

10 Apr

This newly illustrated edition of The Legend of the Sand Dollar renews the wonder and charm of the original and timeless tale written by Chris Auer. With new vibrant artwork from Bad Dog, Marley illustrator, Richard Cowdrey, this holiday classic is brought to life for a new generation. The Legend of the Sand Dollar tells the story of Kerry, as her cousin Jack reveals to her the deeper meaning of Easter hidden within something as small as a sand dollar. This Easter tale reminds everyone everywhere that when Jesus died for us and was resurrected, he promised hope for all.

 

 

Chris Auer, an Emmy nominated screenwriter, is the author Molly & The Good Shepherd, The Littlest Magi, the 2:52 Mysteries of Eckert House series, and he adapted The Legend of The Candy Cane for video. He teaches screenwriting and producing at Savannah College of Art and Design. Chris is passionate about storytelling and hopes to reflect the reality of God in the lives of children through story. He lives in Savannah, Georgia.

 

My Impressions:

Scripture tells us that God reveals Himself through His creation. The Legend of The Sand Dollar by Chris Auer is a good illustration of that. Based on a popular poem of the Southeast, Auer’s book clearly and beautifully tells the story of Easter, the real story of Easter. While the narrative of this children’s book tells of Jesus’ work on the cross, the illustrations confirm the beauty of God’s world. I really liked that the story is passed from one child to the next emphasizing the easy manner of sharing about God. The author includes interesting facts about sand dollars and the original poem — good jumping off points for more exploration. The Legend of The Sand Dollar is perfect for family reading time, easily understood by young children, but with challenging vocabulary and sentence structure for the readers among you. I think this book will soon become a favorite for Easter and throughout the whole year.

Recommended.

Audience: children ages 4-10.

To purchase this book, click HERE.

(Thanks to Zonderkidz of a complimentary copy. All opinions expressed are mine alone.)