An Unseemly Wife, book review & giveaway

An Unseemly Wife, book review & giveaway“Much as I love Aaron, and I do down to my very toes, I find myself resentful of being stampeded. This unwifely resentment so hard to admit even to myself…” from An Unseemly Wife by E.B. Moore

About this book: (from the publisher) 

Not all journeys come to an end…. 

1867. Ruth Holtz has more blessings than she can count—a loving husband, an abundant farm, beautiful children, and the warm embrace of the Amish community. Then, the English arrive, spreading incredible stories of free land in the West and inspiring her husband to dream of a new life in Idaho.

Breaking the rules of their Order, Ruth’s husband packs up his pregnant wife and their four children and joins a wagon train heading west. Though Ruth is determined to keep separate from the English, as stricture demands, the harrowing journey soon compels her to accept help from two unlikely allies: Hortence, the preacher’s wife, and the tomboyish, teasing Sadie.

But as these new friendships lead to betrayal, what started as a quest for a brighter future ends with Ruth making unthinkable sacrifices, risking faith and family, and transforming into a woman she never imagined she’d become….

About the author: (from her websiteE. B. Moore grew up in a Pennsylvania fieldstone house on a Noah’s ark farm.  The red barn stabled animals two-by-two, along with a herd of Cheviot sheep. After a career as a metal sculptor, she returned to writing poetry. Her chapbook of poems, New Eden, A Legacy, (Finishing Line Press, 2009) was the foundation for her novel, An Unseemly Wife both based on family stories from her Amish roots in Lancaster. E. B. received full fellowships to The Vermont Studio Center and Yaddo.  She is the mother of three, the grandmother of five, and lives in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

Genre: Fiction/Historical

If this book were a movie, I would rate it: PG

How I’d judge this cover: Perfect

Reminds me of… The Outcast by Jolina Petersheim 

Will especially appeal to… fans of unflinching historical fiction, especially that which depicts American pioneers of the nineteenth century.

Would I read another by this author? Yes. Though I didn’t particularly *enjoy* this story, I admire this writer’s incredible talent. The teaser she provides for her second novel makes it sound even more intriguing than the first. 

This story matters because it provides a hard look at  how easy it is for us to judge one another–and the great risk that lies therein.

My take: Don’t be fooled by the cover. This is not your typical Amish novel. If you pick it up hoping for a nice, pat ending with the uplifting spiritual message found in most so-called Bonnet Fiction, you will be disappointed. If you hope to find a complicated, layered novel of beautiful prose and an unflinching examination of the human heart–well then. Let’s talk.

While Ruth is as Plain a heroine as you might find, her feelings and relationships are anything but simple. Her very human-ness is what drew me into her story. That, and the aforementioned beautiful prose–it’s hard not to admire this book simply because it’s so well written. Nonetheless, it is on the whole a dark tale, at times so bleak I was sure I wouldn’t find any hope in it. 

And yet–there is. True, the ending did drive me a little nuts, but I liked it. It’s the sort of conclusion made for animated discussion among book club members.

Thanks to New American Library for providing me a free copy to review. All opinions are mine.

After words: Intrigued? Leave a comment for your chance to win a copy for yourself. Might be the next pick for your book club.

Spotlight on Kathi Macias, author of The Singing Quilt

Spotlight on Kathi Macias, author of The Singing QuiltI so appreciate what Kathi Macias is all about. She’s a woman passionate about Jesus first and foremost. This makes her passionate about things He cares about…social injustice, for one. So she uses the gifts He gave her to write stories about things that matter. Stories that aim to change people’s hearts, and thereby change the world.

Today I’m delighted to welcome Kathi back to Story Matters.

She is the multiple award-winning author of nearly 35 books, including the Quilt series, the Freedom series, and Extreme Devotion. Her devotionals reach hundreds of thousands—through the Christian Civic League, Black Christian News, Latino Christian News, Christians in Recovery, and A popular speaker, Kathi also loves outreach to prison and homeless ministries, and aiding the persecuted church globally. A mother and grandmother, Kathi and husband, Al, live in California.

About The Singing Quilt  (from the publisher) Jolissa Montoya believes God is calling her to work with the disadvantaged childrenSpotlight on Kathi Macias, author of The Singing Quilt in her inner-city neighborhood. There’s only one problem: The children wouldn’t be able to understand her. Jolissa suffers from a speech impediment and has a thick accent because Spanish is her first language. Ridiculed through much of her youth, she is quite shy and reticent to speak. She is convinced that what God has spoken to her heart is impossible. Impossible, that is, until one day when her confidante shows her a quilt—a quilt that depicts the life of a courageous woman. Can another woman’s courage move her to try the impossible and step out and follow God wherever He leads her?

The Singing Quilt is set against the backdrop of the life of Fanny Crosby, who in addition to writing hundreds of songs was also a well-known public speaker and active in Christian rescue missions despite her disability. Readers will be inspired not to let fear or a disability prevent them from answering what they think is God’s impossible call.

And now from Kathi, in her own words…

Her story

The Singing Quilt is the third and final book in The Quilt Series from New Hope Publishers. Each of the three books (The Moses Quilt, The Doctor’s Christmas Quilt, and The Singing Quilt) are stand-alone books and can be read in any order. What ties them together is their quilt theme: each is a contemporary story told against the background of a quilt that depicts the life of a famous American woman in history whose faith and courage continues to inspire and change lives even today.

Each book has its contemporary story built around a particular social issue: The Moses Quilt deals with inter-racial relationships; The Doctor’s Christmas Quilt deals with abortion; The Singing Quilt deals with verbal abuse and overcoming physical or emotional handicaps. I have always been passionate about writing about such topics because I believe God’s Word speaks to each of them as nothing else can. I also wanted readers to see how the faith and courage of someone in history can still impact lives today.

The biggest event that brought me to this point in my ministry was coming face to face with Jesus Christ in 1974. Prior to that, having come of age in Southern California in the ‘50s and ‘60s, I was naturally social-issues-focused. I wanted so much to make a difference in the world but didn’t have a clue how to do that until I became a believer. Because I’d had a passion to write since I was a child, it seemed a natural next step to become a Christian writer, though it took years to mature enough (both spiritually and in my writing) for that to happen. And, of course, I naturally incorporated my other passion—for social issues—into the mix.

Why her story matters

What have I learned along the way? How much I don’t know. Seriously! The more I learn about the Lord’s faithfulness and power, the more I realize I don’t know and can’t do—apart from Him. As I move through these senior years of my life, I know I only want to do what He has called me to complete while I’m here on this earth—all for His glory. The rest is just fluff anyway.

When people read The Singing Quilt I hope they will understand that they don’t have to allow their past to control their future, that God can heal any hurt and restore any loss. Some years ago I received the greatest compliment ever about my writing. It came from a young man of 17 who had just read one of my books (No Greater Love, set in South Africa in 1989 and dealing with the issue of Apartheid). He said, “Mrs. Macias, I just want you to know that your books make me want to lead a noble life.” And that is what I hope and pray will be the inspiration of all my books.

As for the future, I have no idea what God has left for me between now and when I “graduate to heaven,” but whatever it may be—writing a bestseller or praying for someone or anything and everything in between—my hope is that I will do it in obedience to His calling so that when I finally go home I will hear Him say, “Well done, good and faithful servant.” How I long for that day! But until then I must be about my Father’s business.

Readers can connect with me on Facebook (under Kathi Macias or Kathi Macias author) or Twitter (@alandkathi) or Pinterest (under Kathi Macias), but the best is probably via my website ( or They can browse my books, watch the accompanying videos, sign up to receive my monthly devotional newsletter, or click on “contact” and send me a personal note, which I promise to answer.

Postscript: Thank you, Kathi! And special thanks to Don at Veritas Communications for putting me in touch with Kathi and supplying her biographical information.

A Quilt for Christmas, book review

A Quilt for Christmas, book review“My Beloved Eliza & children, I take this opportunity to tell you I am well and hearty and that Enoch delivered your quilt this evening… It is as fine a quilt as ever was… There never was a wife as good as you…” ~ from A Quilt for Christmas by Sandra Dallas

About this book: It is 1864 and Eliza Spooner’s husband Will has joined the Kansas volunteers to fight the Confederates, leaving her with their two children and in charge of their home and land.  Eliza is confident that he will return home, and she helps pass the months making a special quilt to keep Will warm during his winter in the army.  When the unthinkable happens, she takes in a woman and child who have been left alone and made vulnerable by the war, and she finds solace and camaraderie amongst the women of her quilting group.  And when she is asked to help hide an escaped slave, she must decide for herself what is right, and who can she can count on to help her.

About the author: Sandra Dallas is the author of thirteen novels. She is a former Denver bureau chief for Business Week magazine and lives in Denver, Colorado.

Genre: Fiction/Historical

If this book were a movie, I would rate it: PG. Some mild cussing, appropriate to story. 

How I’d judge this cover: Thumbs up. Nicely captures the feel and content of this novel.

Reminds me of… Jan Karon’s Mitford series; Jennifer Chiaverini’s Elm Creek Quilts novels

Will especially appeal to… quilters, of course. Would makes a lovely Christmas gift.

Would I read another by this author? Absolutely. I enjoyed her graceful prose and the gentle way she blends themes of faith with fiction.

This story matters because it is about so many things that are important in life: family, faith, sacrifice, friendship and healing.

My take: Every once in a blue moon I’m in the mood for a homey, old-fashioned prairie story. You too? If so, you won’t find better than this one. 

I’ve not had the pleasure of reading a novel by Sandra Dallas before (please allow me a moment to crawl out of my cave), but I was immediately hooked by her graceful, straightforward prose and apparent ease at crafting a story. I liked that she doesn’t mess with dialect–as many prairie novelists do–which makes hers a smooth, easy read. Really, you could curl up with this one in a weekend and finish it easily. I also liked that she keeps the plot moving right along. When something happens, it happens, without a great deal of wind-up to get there. I also really, really liked the way the characters are depicted as living their Christian faith. They share their beliefs as well as their struggles without fanfare. They are people of faith (or not) and so their faith simply is–nothing preachy or oppressive about it.

Anticipating a simple story, I was surprised, pleasantly, by this novel’s twists and turns, especially in the last third of the story. Kept me hooked, ratcheting my interest as the story progressed.

Altogether a sweet, wholesome tale–perfect to cozy up with during a cool, autumn weekend.

Thanks to St. Martin’s Press for providing me a free copy to review. All opinions are mine.

After words: Part of the story behind this story is that this year marks the 20th anniversary of Dallas’s The Persian Pickle Club, about “a group of women in 1930s Kansas who form a quilting group and share not only their sewing skills, but lively town gossip and loyal friendships.” A Quilt for Christmas is the author’s response to her fans, who clamored for another quilting story. This one is set in the Civil War era and features characters who are the grandmothers of the Persian Pickle Club ladies.

Have you read The Persian Pickle Club? Apparently it’s being made into a movie. Having enjoyed A Quilt for Christmas, I’d like to see it but feel I should read the book first. How do you feel about seeing a movie made from a book before you read the book itself?

Spotlight on Carrie Sparks McClain, author of Dragonfly

Spotlight on Carrie Sparks McClain, author of DragonflyToday on Story Matters I’m pleased to feature Carrie Sparks McClain, whose novel, Dragonfly, debuted last summer. Look at the cover (below). Isn’t it lovely? I have one copy of Dragaonfly up for grabs today. Leave a comment and you’ll be entered to win. 

Carrie is a graduate of Middle Tennessee State University, where she majored in public relations. She began her writing career with the occasional article for her local newspaper, before challenging herself to finish her first novel. She is currently working on the second book in the Walker mystery series. She resides in Tennessee with her husband and daughter, where she enjoys cooking and music.

And now, in her own words…

Her story

I am from a rather small southern middle Tennessee town, an only child with a large extended family in the area, where saying “Hello” to a stranger is normal and going to the high school football game on Friday night is being social. I was raised a typical country girl, taught good manners and how to properly make sweet tea. After finishing college, I came back home to marry my sweetheart and now we have a little girl who acts like me, but looks like him. My husband and I both have full-time jobs and side business/hobby ventures. He is a musician and, of course, I am a writer. We stay very busy.

I have always loved to write in some form or another. I was good at organizing and writing papers in school. Then my college degree was focused on media writing and writing for the music industry. My husband and I are both songwriters so that is also fluent in my family and in my home. A novel just seemed like a fun and challenging next step for me.

I wrote Dragonfly as a challenge for myself to see if I could actually put together a plot, develop characters, and tell an in-depth story that others might be interested in reading. Luckily, when I nervously allowed a couple of girlfriends to read the finished product, they loved it and encouraged me to publish it.

Why her story matters

Writing a novel is not as easy as you may think. You have a great idea for a story, but then you have to develop characters, name the people and places, research the facts, and then finally make all the pieces fit to create interest, intrigue, and mystery without letting the cat out of the bag too soon. The process was not what I thought it would be. Most of all I learned a lot about taking it from a manuscript to a published book. When you self-publish you have creative control; however that means you have more responsibilities. I had to find an editor, a cover designer, decide on font and interior design for the book. Then once it is published you need to be able to market and promote it. There was a lot of discovery in the process that will help make things run more smoothly for future publications.Spotlight on Carrie Sparks McClain, author of Dragonfly

When people read Dragonfly, my hope is that they will take away a love for the characters, a chance to relate to the people and the place, and the feeling like they have been a part of the story from beginning to the end. I hope readers will be enveloped in the plot, the romance, the mystery, and end each chapter looking forward to the next.

I also hope that my story enables readers can see the good in others, the chance to let love happen, and the thrill of the mystery within all of us. I also hope my experience as a writer will encourage others who love to write. I never dreamed I would be able to accomplish what I have. There are so many non-traditional as well as traditional publishing opportunities with today’s technology. Take advantage of what is available to you as a writer.

Postscript. Thank you, Carrie! Appreciate your taking the time to visit Story Matters today.

Friends, leave a comment and you’ll be entered to win a copy of Carrie’s debut. You can also be in touch with Carrie online via Facebook, her Website, and Email.

The Garden of Letters, book review

The Garden of Letters, book review“Although Angelo had been trained as a doctor he had loved hearing stories since he was a small child, and he knew every person in the world had something locked in his heart to tell.” ~ from The Garden of Letters by Alyson Richman

About this book: (from the publisher) Written in dazzling prose and set against the rich backdrop of World War II Italy, Garden of Letters captures the hope, suspense, and romance of an uncertain era, in an epic intertwining story of first love, great tragedy, and spectacular bravery.

Portofino, Italy, 1943. A young woman steps off a boat in a scenic coastal village. Although she knows how to disappear in a crowd, Elodie is too terrified to slip by the German officers while carrying her poorly forged identity papers. She is frozen until a man she’s never met before claims to know her. In desperate need of shelter, Elodie follows him back to his home on the cliffs of Portofino.

Only months before, Elodie Bertolotti was a cello prodigy in Verona, unconcerned with world events. But when Mussolini’s Fascist regime strikes her family, Elodie is drawn into the burgeoning resistance movement by Luca, a young and impassioned bookseller. As the occupation looms, she discovers that her unique musical talents, and her courage, have the power to save lives.

In Portofino, young doctor Angelo Rosselli gives the frightened and exhausted girl sanctuary. He is a man with painful secrets of his own, haunted by guilt and remorse. But Elodie’s arrival has the power to awaken a sense of hope that Angelo thought was lost to him forever.

About the author: (excerpted from her websiteAlyson Richman is the bestselling author of several novels, which have received both national and international critical acclaim and have been translated into eighteen languages.  The Lost Wife was nominated as one of the best books of 2012 by the Jewish Journal of Books and is in development to be a major motion film. Her forthcoming novel, The Painted Dove, centers around the French courtesan Marthe de Florian and the mystery of her Paris apartment that remained locked for 70 years.  It will be published in September 2016.  A graduate of Wellesley College and a former Thomas J. Watson Fellow, she currently lives with her husband and children in Long Island, New York.

Genre: Fiction/Historical

If this book were a movie, I would rate it: a mature PG-13 for sensuality and war-time violence.

How I’d judge this cover: Thumbs up for sheer loveliness and suitability to the story.

Reminds me of… The Girl You Left Behind by Jojo Moyes; Sarah’s Key by Tatiana de Rosnay; The Kommandant’s Girl by Pam Jenoff

 Will especially appeal to… women who enjoy well-researched, historical/literary fiction with an unusual angle.

Would I read another by this author? Maybe

This story matters because…it explores the way we communicate without words, with an especially beautiful look at the power of music. 

My take: This is one of those book I was eager to read for many reasons. One, I love to be surprised by a fresh angle on a familiar but fascinating era. Two, the story idea captured me. Three, it’s endorsed by many novelists I admire. Here’s what a few had to say:

“…stirring and memorable.” ~ Pam Jenoff, international bestselling author

“Moving, unforgettable, and so expertly told.” ~ Sarah Jio, bestselling author

“…a very special talent.” ~ Kristin Hannah, bestselling author

But for all the good words about it, this novel failed to capture me. I struggled with point of view, which often flip-flops from one character’s to another’s within scenes, sometimes within paragraphs. I’m seeing this more and more, especially in literary fiction, so perhaps it’s a new trend. But I find it confusing.

More significantly, I was unable, for whatever reason, to connect with the characters. This happens. Not every novel will appeal to every reader. Given Alyson Richman’s track record, I would be quite willing to give another of hers a try. And I’m equally sure other readers will have a different experience with this one than I did.

Thanks to Berkley Books for providing me a free copy to review. All opinions are mine.

After words: How about you? Have you read a novel others were raving about but  didn’t hit you the same way?

Jamie Lapeyrolerie of Books & Beverages, guest

Jamie Lapeyrolerie of Books & Beverages, guestAs a blogger, one of my greatest joys is connecting with like-minded bloggers whose blogs I love. Meet one of these: Jamie Lapeyrolerie (La-pay-roll-er-ee. She assures me that once you hear it a couple of times, it’s not so scary.). She writes over at Books and Beverages (as well as She Laughs With Dignity, where she blogs about beauty, faith, and other mischief, which I look forward to covering on Story Matters another day).

Though originally from Southern California—and self-proclaimed Cali girl through and through—she now resides in Austin, Texas. She’s an Azusa Pacific University alum (go Cougars!), and her parents, sister & her family (including “two extremely cute and sweet nieces”) and brother all call California home, so she returns to visit often.  Outside of reading and blogging, she loves photography, traveling and is a big sports fan. Her main love is soccer, but she also loves watching the Lakers and Saints play (“even if the past few seasons have been a bit painful to watch”).

Here’s a bit more about Jamie, in her own words…

Her story:

I originally started blogging when I was shooting wedding photography. I studied journalism in college, so I enjoy writing and have always loved photography and that gave me the opportunity to do both. I did that for several years and while it was a ton of fun and took me to really pretty places, I realized I didn’t want to shoot weddings long-term. I prefer travel photography :). So as that faded, another realization hit – I wanted to keep blogging, but I had no idea what to blog about. I’ve always loved reading, so one day I thought, “I’ll try a book blog. I bet there’s a few blogs out there by people who love books as much as I do!” We can go ahead and call that the understatement of 2012. :)

My blog is called Books and Beverages and is for those who love story (the beverages was added because I needed another “b” word when I was thinking of the title. Probably the most uncool story ever. I know). You’ll find a variety of book related topics, from reviews, to books discussions, fun book gift ideas, as well as my author interview series called 4 Questions. Since C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien are my favorites, I recently started the monthly Inklings Series where I invite readers to join in reading one of their works. It’s been one of my favorites! I also try to live up to the beverages aspect of the blog by posting something beverage related once a month. My favorite TV show is The Walking Dead, so when that’s on, I have a weekly recap and discussion of Sunday’s episode – definitely not book related, but I can’t help myself :)

When I first started blogging and finding more book blogs and programs, I got a little overwhelmed. I saw how successful other book blogs did things and thought, well, that’s probably how I should do things too. But shortly after, thankfully, I realized that wasn’t being true to myself and how I like to write, blog, etc. It sounds so cliché, but you really have to be yourself in how you blog, what you blog about and all that good stuff. Once I gave myself permission to do that, not only was it that much more fun, my blog started to grow more as well.

I’ve also learned you have to set boundaries. I get a variety of requests from authors, publicists and other nice people to review a book or join in a blog tour and I’m much better now at saying no. Most of the time it’s simply because I have no time and don’t want to overwhelm myself, but sometimes I know it’s not a fit for my blog, so I try hard to stick to my guns about that.

What would I do differently? I’d kick fear in the kneecaps much earlier on :) . For example, when I decided to try out the 4 Questions project, I’d get really nervous about emailing authors to join in (It’s really embarrassing to admit that, because the worse they could do was ignore my email and that’s totally okay!). Anyway, I finally got over that and you know who joined in? Tony Dungy. For you non-sports fans, he coached and played for Super Bowl championship teams. If I’d never hit send, that would have never happened. So why not dream big? Some of my favorite series are ideas I randomly decided to try in hopes they’d work. Since many of them are still all a part of my blog, it’s safe to say trying different things is a must.

Why her story matters:

One of my favorite quotes from Tony Dungy is “Words can inspire wonder, kindle hope or provide direction; or they can tear down, dampen spirits, and destroy initiative…resolve to use your words to build people up.” It’s from a devotion he wrote based off of James 3:4-5 and it’s now over my desk at home and at work. I remember having a light bulb type moment after reading that, thinking, yes, this is what I want my words to do. It sums up a lot of my hope for my blog.

I have the chance to encourage authors in using their gifts (whether a good or not so good review, I think both are beneficial and there are definitely healthy ways to do it, not like the anonymous trolls out there), to bringing about discussions, to getting people excited about stories. There’s so much waiting to be learned and it’s only a page away. :)

It’s also an opportunity to share about things I’m passionate about, like changing the world. Again, it’s the stories books can carry that can change a person’s heart. Ultimately I want to be faithful with the gifts the Lord has given me and I think part of that is sharing about that.

Plus if people read a post or two and can laugh from it, mission fully accomplished!

Looking ahead…

If there’s someone out there who would like to pay me to read, travel, take pictures of these adventures and then blog about them, then perfect! haha! Sorry, back to reality. I like that blogging keeps stretching me creatively, so my hope is that blogging will impact my career – whether that means becoming a part of the industry in some aspect or even writing – I’d love to continue to see Books and Beverages grow and impact the community I love being a part of!

As to what encourages me—in the blogging world, definitely my readers and fellow bloggers! It’s always funny sharing stories with friends in person about a friend blogger and I have to explain that they’re friends from the internet and it’s totally not creepy to call them friends :). In everyday life, my faith definitely provides constant encouragement, whether the Lord reveals that through scripture, prayer, a sermon and especially my family and friends.

I love hearing from fellow readers and bloggers! Whether in comments, social media, emails – it’s always awesome knowing there’s folks out there sharing posts, spreading the conversation and joining in. Blogging is definitely a community effort and I love being a part of it!

+ + +

Thank you, Jamie! So happy to have you here today.

Friends, want to learn more about Jamie and connect with her online? You’ll find her at all these popular spots:








Miracle in a Dry Season, book review

Miracle in a Dry Season, book review

“…sometimes the gifts God gives us feel like burdens, but we have to trust that He knows what He’s doing.” ~ from Miracle in a Dry Season by Sarah Loudin Thomas

About this book: (from the publisher) In a drought, it’s the darkest cloud that brings hope.

It’s 1954 and Perla Long’s arrival in the sleepy town of Wise, West Virginia, was supposed to go unnoticed. She just wants a quiet, safe place for her and her daughter, Sadie, where the mistakes of her past can stay hidden. But then drought comes to Wise, and Perla is pulled into the turmoil of a town desperately in need of a miracle.

Casewell Phillips has resigned himself to life as a bachelor…until he meets Perla. She’s everything he’s sought in a woman, but he can’t get past the sense that she’s hiding something. As the drought worsens, Perla’s unique gift divides the town in two, bringing both gratitude and condemnation, and placing the pair in the middle of a storm of anger and forgiveness, fear and faith.

About the author: (excerpted from her website) Sarah Loudin Thomas grew up on a 100-acre farm in French Creek, WV, the seventh generation to live there. Her Christian fiction is set in West Virginia and celebrates the people, the land, and the heritage of Appalachia. A graduate of Coastal Carolina University in Conway, SC, Sarah once dreamed of being a marine scientist. But her love for words won out and she has spent much of her career in public relations and marketing. She currently oversees fundraising and communications for a Christian children’s home in Black Mountain, NC.

Sarah and her husband Jim live in the mountains of Western North Carolina with their dog, Thistle. Sarah is active in her local church and enjoys cooking and–you guessed it–reading.

Genre: Fiction/Contemporary*

If this book were a movie, I would rate it: G

How I’d judge this cover: Two thumbs up. Nicely captures the era and atmosphere of the story. 

Reminds me of… Linda Nichols’ At the Scent of Water; Carla Stewart’s Chasing Lilacs; Jolina Petersheim’s The Outcast.

 Will especially appeal to…women who like Christian fiction with a homespun feel and acknowledgement of the supernatural.

Would I read another by this author? Yes. An author to watch. 

This story matters because…it explores the nuances of judgment and acceptance, and how often the hardest forgiveness to extend is that to ourselves. 

My take: From page one, I was taken with this debut author’s gentle voice. Her prose is clean and clear, and she has pulled together a host of well-crafted, real-life character, many of whom possess a definite growth edge. Especially Casewell, the main character. (Take note, by the way, that the MC is a man–an unusual choice for a novel of this type, but in this case, a very very good one.)

While the story itself contains more telling (vs. showing) than I prefer, it also contains many points of beauty. I was particularly impressed by its themes of miracles and vivid portrayals of God’s tender love.

Oh, and did I mention its sweet conclusion? Lovely.

Thanks to Bethany House for providing me a free copy to review. All opinions are mine.

After words: * I have to remark here on the genre. Set in the ’50s, Miracle in a Dry Season is tagged by the Bethany House as Contemporary. And so it is, technically. Most publishers define Contemporary as any story set after WWII (though some make it the Vietnam War era and beyond). However, I just want to say that this novel has, to me, much more of a historical romance feel than a contemporary fiction one. Which may or may not be important to know.

Framing Faith, book review

Framing Faith, book review

“The principle of photography is seizing the moment. Carpe diem.”~ from Framing Faith: From Camera to Pen, an Award-Winning Photojournalist Captures God in a Hurried World by Matt Knisely

About this book: (from the publisher) Stop. Slow down. Be present. The moment matters.

Like a photographer or storyteller, Jesus exhibited time and again how easy it is to capture moments of profound importance just by noticingstopping, and responding to his surroundings. In a world moving way too fast, Framing Faith is a book for people seeking to focus their lives, to find a deeper knowledge of God, and a more authentic Christian faith. In this modern age, many of us fill every “spare” moment we have rather than taking an intermission to see the true works of God and realize that he is present in every moment.

Matt Knisely communicates biblical truths in a fresh way, allowing you to really hear them, as if for the first time. He illustrates a new way to see God and to help us live in the moment through the exploration of various photography concepts, including:

  • Perspective
  • Composition
  • Processing
  • Darkness versus Light

His probing questions and unexpected presentation lead readers into a place of honest self-examination, causing them to ask, “Am I listening to God?” Framing Faith provokes its readers toward reflection; it reveals God is in everything we see and do.

About the author: (from his website) Matt Knisely is an Emmy Award winning visual storyteller, creative director and author who loves telling stories of the extraordinary in the ordinary. He has been described as “one of the most versatile photojournalists working today,” and has a national reputation for his unique approach to visual storytelling.

He is the creative director for Gateway Church in Southlake, Texas. Matt’s work has won many honors, including the Edward R. Murrow Award for photography.

Genre: Non-fiction/Religion/Christian Life/Spiritual Growth

How I’d judge the cover: Thumbs neither up nor down. It’s artistic and gives a sense of what the book’s about, but it wouldn’t have compelled me to read it had I not heard good things about it first. Also, the profile confuses me a bit: its youthfulness doesn’t match the adult tone and concepts of the book.

Reminds me of… Madeleine L’Engle’s Walking on Water: Reflections on Faith and Art for the way it connects these two disciplines.

Will especially appeal to…photographers, artists, writers and other creative types; also any Christian, man or woman, longing for encouragement for living in the moment.

Would I read another by this author? Yes. I like his fresh, insightful way of examining the Christian life.

This story matters because… it talks “about stopping–really stopping–to focus, capture, develop, and savor the moments in life that really matter.” (from the book)

My take: Artists of every ilk will find much to connect with here. Certainly, Matt Knisely’s thoughtful and often profound insights on story and storytelling resonated deeply with me. But I would also say that even if you’re not creatively inclined, you will still find much to appreciate about this writer’s unique take on faith and life. Reflections like this one, for example: “Perspective gives us meaning. It frames our world, gives us a point of reference, and allows us to see different possibilities.”

For a book on the power of stories, however, I wished for more of them. I felt much of the book focused on concepts and not enough on concretes.

I also wanted more connection with the specific photos in the book. Unless I missed them (and I looked), I found no captions. I’m not a photographer myself, so I felt this would have helped me to know what I was looking at–especially the more abstract ones. I definitely enjoyed the exception: a full-page photo of a bunch of boys running out onto a field (which I actually lingered over, savoringly), and then was pleasantly surprised when he later told the story around it. I wanted more like that.

Still, Framing Faith provides many thought-provoking ideas about how art and faith connect. For me, that alone makes it a worthwhile read.

Thanks to Thomas Nelson and Book Look Bloggers for providing me a free copy to review. All opinions are mine.

After words: I first heard about this book from Jamie, one of my new favorite bloggers. Check out her review at Books and Beverages (and enjoy more of her fun blog while you’re at it).

One Evening In Paris, book review

One Evening in Paris, book review“Whenever I’m looking for love, I go to the Cinema Paradis.” ~ Melanie in One Evening in Paris

One Evening in Paris by Nicolas Barreau (translated by Bill McCann)

About this book: (from the publisher) Alain Bonnard, the owner of a small art cinema in Paris, is a dyed-in-the-wool nostalgic. In his Cinéma Paradis there are no buckets of popcorn, no XXL coca-colas, no Hollywood blockbusters. Not a good business plan if you want to survive, but Alain holds firm to his principles of quality. He wants to show films that create dreams, and he likes most of the people that come to his cinema. Particularly the enchanting, shy woman in the red coat who turns up every Wednesday in row 17. What could her story be?

One evening, Alain plucks up courage and invites the unknown beauty to dinner. The most tender of love stories is just getting under way when something incredible happens: The Cinéma Paradis is going to be the location of Allan Woods’ new film Tender Memories of Paris. Solène Avril, the famous American director’s favourite actress, has known the cinema since childhood and has got it into her head that she wants the film to be shot there. Alain is totally overwhelmed when he meets her in person. Suddenly, the little cinema and its owner are the focus of public attention, and the red-plush seats are sold out every evening.

But the mystery woman Alain has just fallen in love with seems suddenly to have vanished. Is this just coincidence? In One Evening in Paris by Nicolas Barreau, Alain sets off in search of her and becomes part of a story more delightful than anything the cinema has to offer.

About the author: (from the publisher) Nicolas Barreau was born in Paris, the son of a French father and a German mother. He studied romance languages and literature at the Sorbonne and worked in a bookshop on the Rive Gauche in Paris but is far from an inexperienced bookworm. With his other successful novels The Woman of My Life, You’ll Find Me at the End of the World, and The Ingredients of Love, he has gained an enthusiastic audience.  

Genre: Fiction/Contemporary

If this book were a movie, I would rate it: PG for mild (and rare) profanity.

How I’d judge this cover: Two thumbs up. How can  you not love this gorgeous cover? It captures the story beautifully, too.

Reminds me of… Midnight in Paris (film)

Would I read another by this author? Maybe.

Why this story matters: True love is worth the pursuit, no matter what the cost. 

My take: One Evening in Paris tells the tale of not just one love story, but two–no, make that three.

The first is that of the love of between a man and a woman, whose story unfolds tenderly and at a gentle clip. The second is that of a movie-lover for the cinema and is told primarily from the perspective  of Alain, a man who gave up a promising career in order to return to his first love, the old-fashioned movie theatre once owned by his favorite uncle. The third is that of a Parisian for Paris, and in this novel, the author invites us all to share in his fascination with her charm and beauty. Certainly not a bad place to set a love story, either.

This light and airy novel can easily be read in a weekend (I did). It’s sweet and uncomplicated, but for all that is has going for it, it didn’t completely capture me. Perhaps, for my taste, it was rather too much like a Woody Allen movie. (You’ll note the obvious reference to him in the book–the director named Allan Wood.) I’ve never been a particular fan, although I did enjoy Midnight in Paris. Nonetheless, I thought the best part of this novel was that, unlike so many romances, this one is written by a man and from a man’s point of view. I like what this perspective brings to a love story. Which, for many romance lovers, will make this novel worth at least a try.

Thanks to St. Martin’s Griffin for providing me a free copy to review. All opinions are mine.

Accidents of Marriage, book review

Accidents of Marriage, book reviewAn engrossing look at the darker side of a marriage—and at how an ordinary family responds to an extraordinary crisis.

Accidents of Marriage by Randy Susan Meyers

About this book: (from the publisher) Maddy is a social worker trying to balance her career and three children. Years ago, she fell in love with Ben, a public defender, drawn to his fiery passion, but now he’s lashing out at her during his periodic verbal furies. She vacillates between tiptoeing around him and asserting herself for the sake of their kids—which works to keep a fragile peace—until the rainy day when they’re together in the car and Ben’s volatile temper gets the best of him, leaving Maddy in the hospital fighting for her life.

About the author: (from the publicist) Randy Susan Meyers is the author of The Comfort of Lies and The Murderer’s Daughters and a finalist for the Massachusetts Book Award. Her writing is informed by her work with batterers and victims of domestic violence, as well her experience with youth impacted by street violence. She lives with her husband in Boston, where she teaches writing seminars at the Grub Street Writers’ Center. She is also a frequent contributor to The Huffington Post.

Genre: Fiction/Contemporary

If this book were a movie, I would rate it: R for language, some sex (but mostly married and not terribly graphic)

How I’d judge this cover: On the whole, thumbs up–though Maddy is described as having darker hair. It always bothers me when the model on the cover doesn’t match the character in the book because it makes it seem as if the cover designer didn’t read the story.

Reminds me of… Liane Moriarty, Julie Lawson Timmer

Would I read another by this author? Definitely (though I’d love it if the next didn’t have quite so much salty language)

Why this story matters: As it explores the complexities of family and the will to forgive.

My take: Accidents of Marriage is the first of Randy Susan Meyers’ novels I’ve read, but surely not my last. This was a powerful story by a skilled storyteller, a tale I won’t soon forget. I must say this at the outset, though: The language is brutal–to the point that I almost put it down. But the story is so compelling I decided to stick with it, see where it was going–and I’m glad I did. Looking at the story as a whole, there’s actually a point to the profanity, if you can stomach it. 

Sometimes, especially in the first few chapters, I stumbled a bit over some sentence syntax, occasionally having to go back and reread, but then things smoothed out and I got caught up in the flow. Don’t know if this was an editing issue or just me. Probably just me.

The story unfolds from three points of view: Maddy, the wife and mother; Ben, the husband and father; Emma, their oldest daughter. It wouldn’t have worked without Ben’s perspective. Outwardly he is so wholly unlikable–monstrous at times–that the reader really requires knowing him from the inside out in order to have even a glimmering of sympathy for him. Emma’s perspective adds texture to an otherwise very adult tale–although at times her maturity seems to outdistance her years.

This is the kind of novel that makes me impatient with life (i.e., responsibilities) because mine kept interrupting my reading time. I couldn’t wait to learn what happened next in the lives of these characters I came to care for–yes, even Ben.

Again, one of those gritty books that’s not for everyone, but I found it utterly gripping and heartrendingly real.

Thanks to Atria Books/Simon & Schuster for providing me a free copy to review. All opinions are mine.