Friday, February 16, 2024

 

A Brilliant Night of Stars and IceA Brilliant Night of Stars and Ice by Rebecca Connolly
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Shortly after midnight on April 15, 1912, the captain of the Carpathia, Arthur Rostron, is awakened by a distress signal from the RMS Titanic, which has struck an iceberg on its maiden voyage. Though information is scarce, Rostron leaps into action, determined to answer the call for help. But the Carpathia is more than four hours away, and there are more questions than answers: Will his ship hold together if pushed to never-before-tested speeds? What if he also strikes an iceberg? And with the freezing temperatures, will there be any survivors by the time the Carpathia arrives?

Kate Connolly is excited to join her sister in America and proud to be traveling on the grand Titanic. As a third-class passenger, she is among the last to receive instruction and help after Titanic hits an iceberg. Despite the chaos of abandoning ship, Kate is able to reach the upper decks and manages to board a lifeboat, though after seeing the Titanic sink into the abyss and hearing the cries from the hundreds of people still in the water, she wonders if any rescue is even possible.

Told in alternating chapters from both Captain Rostron on the Carpathia and Kate Connolly on the Titanic, this historical novel is a compelling, heart-pounding account of two eyewitnesses to an epic disaster. Rostron’s heroic and compassionate leadership, his methodical preparations for rescue, and his grit and determination to act honorably and selflessly to save lives and care for the survivors, sets the course for this awe-inspiring story.


MY THOUGHTS

Rebecca Connolly takes what is probably one of the most well-known tragedies in history and gives fresh insight through the perspective of the Carpathia's captain and crew. Instead of the Titanic taking the lead, the Carpathia's captain, crew and passengers are shifted to center stage - both during and in the weeks after the rescue.

The Carpathia was an older ship, and in the early pages, we see some comparisons between these two... The Titanic offered extravagance and ostentation, but the Carpathia had earned respect and admiration on her merits alone. The author also shares a prophetic definition of Titans that was interesting: a race of people vainly striving to overcome the forces of nature. Could anything be more unfortunate than such a name?

I enjoyed getting to know Captain Rostron - an humble man of profound faith who found fulfillment in his job, earned the respect of those who served under him, and had the ability to bring out the best in people. In the hours it took to reach the Titanic, Rostron's crucial leadership wasn't without risk as the ship's speed was pushed to the limit while sailing through the same ice fields that crippled the larger ship.

Connolly has skillfully used her research to create a compelling and fascinating story of heartbreak, compassion, and courage. Rostron's faith makes it even more profound... "I can only conclude that there was another hand at the helm than mine." Rostron's thoughts toward the end say it all:

They had been tried and tested and emerged with a brilliance and strength that they had never previously known. Therein might have lain the true miracle.

Highly recommended.

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Tuesday, February 13, 2024

 

The Yada Yada Prayer Group (The Yada Yada Prayer Group #1)The Yada Yada Prayer Group by Neta Jackson
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

What do an ex-con, a former drug addict, a real estate broker, a college student, and a married mother of two have in common?

Nothing, or so I thought. Who would have imagined that God would make a prayer group as mismatched as ours the closest of friends? I almost didn't even go to the Chicago Women's Conference--after all, being thrown together with five hundred strangers wasn't exactly my "comfort zone." But something happened that weekend to make us realize we had to hang together, and the "Yada Yada Prayer Group" was born! When I faced the biggest crisis of my life, God used my newfound Sisters to show me what it means to be just a sinner saved by grace.


MY THOUGHTS

For me, 5 stars doesn't come close to being enough. I remember reading and loving the first two books in this series many years ago, but never went further at the time. Now I'm starting all over - which is a good thing, because I'm getting more out of the series the second time around.

The story features a social and cultural mix of women randomly assigned together as Prayer Group #26 at a two-day Chicago women's conference. There's no way they would have become friends in the normal scheme of things, so all that unfolds as they journey together, both during and after the conference, is fascinating and inspirational. The story speaks to all of us through its themes of friendship, acceptance, tolerance, understanding, repentance and forgiveness.

It was interesting that much of the story is told through the voice of Jodi, a character that I wasn't all that fond of until toward the end. Some of the ladies are stronger in faith and much more comfortable praying than others. For instance, Jodi admits that, "Theologically, I knew I'd been saved, but it wasn't something I felt very much." Maybe there was a time in my life where I could relate to Jodi.

Personally, I found The Yada Yada Prayer Group not only entertaining, but to be life changing in the area of prayer. I've always been a little uncomfortable praying out loud, and that these ladies found it so easy to talk to God and praise Him - "worshiping Him, being glad to know Him - no strings attached" - was an encouragement to me.

Jodi proved herself to be very human, just like the rest of us. While healing both physically and spiritually after a traumatic accident, Jodi dwells on a phrase that I can't get out of my mind either, "If not for grace..."

Highly recommended, 5*


Quotes:
-- Yada definition: "to perceive, understand, acquire knowledge, know, discern." And if spelled Yadah, it means "to acknowledge the nature and work of God."
-- "A saint is just a sinner who fell down...and got up."

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Tuesday, February 6, 2024

 

Up from Dust: Martha's StoryUp from Dust: Martha's Story by Heather Kaufman
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

No stranger to adversity, Martha of Bethany is a woman of dust, undone and unseen in her hurt and loss. After her mother's untimely death, the responsibility for raising her siblings—Lazarus and Mary—lies heavily on her shoulders. She finds solace in a new friendship and the beginnings of first love, but her father's disapproval and unforeseen hardship leave Martha broken and guarded.

Twelve years later, when her friend's husband contracts a severe disease, they send for the new rabbi, Jesus of Nazareth. Martha recognizes the miraculous Healer from a story she heard many years ago, and the life-changing encounter reawakens Martha's hardened heart, even as she faces an unknown future.

With impeccable research and a keen eye for detail, Heather Kaufman delivers a moving narrative of Martha's life in this hopeful story of love, loss, and the promise of redemption.


MY THOUGHTS

Up from Dust by Heather Kaufman is an evocative novel that becomes one of my favorite books of all time. I was caught up in this story from the first page and highly recommend it.

Biblical fiction can be kind of iffy for many people, myself included. But Heather Kaufman has done her homework when it comes to research, which enables her to create a fascinating and compelling backstory for Martha, Mary, and Lazarus. Nowhere does she contradict what Scripture reveals about this family and their relationship with Jesus. Kaufman's blending of fiction with historical background and culture helped me to better understand Martha. And I was literally holding my breath in the scene where Jesus calls for Lazarus to come forth from the tomb.

One particular scene that makes me pause and reflect is when Jesus heals a leper in the hillside colony and Mary asks, "Why not the others? When there are so many in need?" And Thomas answers, "The true question, is why the one?"

Up from Dust is a relationship drama between parents, siblings, and friends. Kaufman's writing style reminds me of the classic author, Taylor Caldwell, whose biblical fiction in stories like Dear and Glorious Physician and Great Lion of God first gave me a love for this genre. For this reader, Kaufman accomplished her hope that she shares in her author's note at the end ... In all things, dear reader, Scripture is preeminent. My hope is that Up from Dust ignites your love of Jesus and drives you deeper into the Word, where there is endless wealth to be found. In weaving this fictional account, my desire was to remain true to what we do now of these flesh-and-blood people who actually lived and loved the one we call Savior and Lord.

Quotes:
-- "Some men are so sure of their appearance that they stop tending to the man inside - the soul."
-- "Sometimes love engulfs us suddenly, like a consuming fire. Other times it comes over us slowly, like a sunrise."
-- "There's truth in his words that it's the sick who most need a physician. He comes to the sinners, and I find it interesting that the righteous do not like it." - Lazarus

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Friday, February 2, 2024

 

Raspberries and Vinegar (Farm Fresh #1)Raspberries and Vinegar by Valerie Comer
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Christian fiction


Josephine Shaw: complex, yet singleminded. A tiny woman with big ideas and, some would say, a mouth to match. But what does she really know about sustainable living as it relates to the real world? After all, she and her two friends are new to farming.

Zachary Nemesek is back only until his dad recovers enough to work his own land again. When Zach discovers three helpless females have taken up residence at the old farm next door, he expects trouble. But a mouse invasion proves Jo has everything under control. Is there anything she can’t handle? And surely there’s something sweet beneath all that tart.

Raspberries and Vinegar is the first novel in the Farm Fresh Romance series which sees a group of young women purchase an old farm in northern Idaho together with the purpose of growing their own food and proving to those around them that they can make a difference. It is a story of living sustainably on the land and focusing on real, local food from a Christian point-of-view. It doesn't pad the issues nor preach about them, but allows the characters the freedom to grapple with environmentalism as believers.


MY THOUGHTS

I remembered enjoying one of Valerie Comer's books several years ago, so I decided to start at the beginning of her Farm Fresh series. While Raspberries and Vinegar may be a romance, it's so much more. Emotions range all the way from humor to heartbreak. Faith elements are gently woven throughout - strong faith, loss of faith, and faith struggle in light of tragedy.

In light of today's culture, it's interesting to see a book published in 2013 focus on holistic, sustainable living. As the book's description states, it is a story of living sustainably on the land and focusing on real, local food from a Christian point-of-view. I like that. This is something I can get behind. Jo's character initially comes across as outspoken, pushy, my way or the highway. But she gradually changes as the story progresses, which I suspect is what the author intended. The story is neither preachy nor timid; rather, it allows the reader to think. And I learned interesting things along the way, such as "Holistic simply means looking at the whole system and treating it as a unit."

I liked Zach and Jo very much, and enjoyed the growth of their relationship. Because of the differences in their faith and worldviews, Jo couldn't see a future for them. The only negative for me is that feeling was stated a little too often. Once or twice and I've got it.

One of my favorite quotes is these words from Zach's mother to Jo: "The fate of the entire world isn't on your young shoulders. Relax a bit, and let God be God."

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Monday, January 29, 2024

 

A Christmas Legacy

A Christmas Legacy by Anne Perry

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Mainstream fiction


After leaving her position with Charlotte and Thomas Pitt to get married, Gracie thought her days as a maid were behind her. But when her good friend's daughter, Millie, turns up on her doorstep just before the holidays, frantic because things are going missing from the kitchen in the household she serves, Gracie knows she has to find out what is happening. Millie, whose mother died years before, can't risk being accused of theft and getting thrown out on the street, with no character references for a new position.

So Gracie takes on Millie's job herself, claiming Millie is sick and needs a few days to recuperate. At first, it seems that all is normal in the household, even if the couple's elderly granny keeps entirely to her bedroom upstairs. But Gracie begins to realize that Granny is suffering from neglect--and rather than helping her, the husband and wife have decided she isn't dying fast enough.


MY THOUGHTS

I loved this book so much! A Christmas Legacy is part of Anne Perry's Christmas novella series, but it works beautifully for any time of the year. The main seasonal connection is that Gracie wants to have the mystery solved and be home with her family by Christmas.

Although Anne Perry writes murder mysteries, this isn't really a whodunit - other than that two quite unlikeable characters would like to hasten someone's death. It's a contrast of hearts, reflected in actions. Greed, selfishness, and scheming contrasted with kindness, caring, empathy, and a willingness to risk it all in a time when servants could be cast out without references, literally leaving them at the mercy of the streets.

Perry knows how to write a story that flows at a steady pace and captures the reader's emotions from the start. The characters are well developed and we can see into their hearts. Gracie was a character in the Thomas & Charlotte Pitt series, but this story stands alone. And the ending is wonderful, guaranteed to leave you smiling.

** Mainstream fiction, clean

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Sunday, January 28, 2024

 

The Body on the Beach (Fethering, #1)

The Body on the Beach by Simon Brett

My rating: 4 of 5 stars


Mainstream fiction

Very little disturbs the ordered calm of Fethering, a pleasingly self-contained retirement town on England’s southern coast. Which is precisely why Carole Seddon, who has left behind both her husband and her career at the Home Office, has chosen to reside there. So Carole is surprised to encounter a new neighbour with one name and a colourful past. 'Jude' is not really Fethering . . . but even she is not as surprising as the body Carole finds on the beach.

A body, it has to be said, that has disappeared by the time the police arrive. Only Jude is ready to believe what Carole says she saw – and from that moment on, the two women resolve to turn detective.


MY THOUGHTS

Prolific British whodunit author, Simon Brett, begins a new series set in the coastal town of Fethering. Is it perfect? No. But I loved it and eagerly anticipate reading further in the series.

The town of Fethering - with it's lovely beach area, local pub, and housing clusters separated by wealth and social status, or lack of - feels like a major character. Secondary characters are interesting and sometimes quirky, but not over the top. Setting and characters are well established in this first story and will feel welcoming when I return to the next series book.

The two protagonists, Carole and Jude, are delightful. Carole's life had been pretty quiet until Jude, her new neighbor, moved in. Opposites in personality, Carole isn't sure what to make of her as they become connected through the discovery of a disappearing body on the beach. I love their humor and slowly growing friendship. Jude remains a little bit of an enigma and it will be interesting to learn more about her. The mystery was well crafted and fun to try and figure out, not that I ever did.

** Mainstream fiction, a little profanity

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Thursday, January 18, 2024

 

Dead Wrong (Agatha's Amish B&B #1)Dead Wrong by Vannetta Chapman
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

When Agatha Lapp’s brother and sister-in-law are tragically killed in a buggy accident, Agatha relocates to the new Amish community in Hunt Texas, nestled in the Texas Hill Country. She’s there to make a success of her brother’s dream--an Amish B&B. Agatha is friendly, efficient, and capable. She's also a fifty-five year old widow who has learned to be independent. When she discovers Russell Dixon’s lifeless body in Cabin 3, she runs next door where retired detective Tony Vargas lives. The police determine that her guest died of natural causes, but as Agatha and Tony put together the events of the previous two days they become convinced that the police are Dead Wrong.


MY THOUGHTS...

Delving into the pages of a Vannetta Chapman Amish book is like gently wrapping a warm blanket around you. I knew Dead Wrong would be good; I just didn't know how good it would be! The story moves at a steady pace, without unnecessary words or filler. The chapters were short enough to encourage me to keep reading; in other words, I never wanted to put it down.

This book is a perfect blend of setting, characterization, and storyline. A two-story Amish B&B on the Guadalupe River in the Texas Hill Country - how beautiful and peaceful that must be! Agatha used additional cabins to house Englisch visitors, while keeping the main house true to Amish ways. The cultural mixture allowed for creative storytelling.

I loved how the main characters were in their mid-fifties. Both Agatha and Tony had tragic losses in their backgrounds. Agatha was a smart, honorable woman, good through and through. Tony Vargas, a retired police detective, had allowed grief to eat away at him. But after Agatha literally comes running into his life, Tony looked "like a man who'd woken abruptly from a long nap and found himself dropped into the river of life."

The mystery itself was well crafted and never obvious. There were lots of possible suspects who, if they didn't have obvious motives, it quickly became clear that none were telling the truth. There were moments of gentle humor and spiritual insight. I loved this quote by Bishop Jonas... "Sometimes we have to be remined that the next great thing comes after this life."

I can't wait to see how the relationship between these two unlikely friends grows in future stories.

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