Friday, September 4, 2009

Hallie's Heart
By Shelly Beach

2008 Winner of Christy Award

As a single woman struggling to establish an antique shop in the sleepy town of Stewartville, Mona VandeMolen’s life is complicated enough. When she discovers her fifteen-year-old niece Hallie hiding in her abandoned beach house, consumed with guilt over her sister’s drowning death, Mona’s true battle begins.
My Thoughts:
I read lots of relationship-style dramas in the Christian fiction category, and thought Hallie's Heart would be another typical book in this genre. But Shelly Beach is an excellent writer and I quickly got caught up in this story that has depth and characters I care about. There's a tender romance also, although it's not the main focal point. I look forward to reading the sequel soon - Morningsong.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

My first trip to Germany

My daughter, Beth, has lived in Tubingen, Germany for almost a year now, leading a newly-formed campus ministry. I was recently blessed with the incredible opportunity to spend two weeks with her. I haven't had time to download my pictures yet, so I'm going to post some Internet pictures of places we visited.

These pictures are of the Neckar River and the Old Town, which has been preserved since the 600's and survived World War II. There were crooked cobblestone lanes, hilly terrain, streets lined with canals, traditional half-timbered buildings, and market day. Incredibly beautiful!

Prelude and Cadence

Title: Prelude, Cadence
Author: B. J. Hoff
Series: American Anthem, #s 1 & 2
Genre: Christian Fiction, Historical
Year Published: 2003
Source: My Kindle
Rating (1-10): 10

B.J. Hoff, one of CBA's premier writers brings this riveting historical fiction series that meticulously depicts nineteenth century America. Prelude transports you to nineteenth-century New York and invites you to step into another time--a time that shaped a nation and defined her faith. This lively story carries you from immigrant ships to opulent estates, from skating-rink evangelistic crusades to star-studded concert halls, and introducing you to men and women you'll grow to love: a brooding blind musician, his suspicious but sympathetic sister-in-law, an unlikely pair of medical partners, and a struggling immigrant family. Pulsing with romance and intrigue, shining with artistry and faith, Prelude sounds the opening notes of a tale with a voice as big as America.

Cadence reunites us with Andrew Carmichael, an inner city physician, and his partner in practice, Bethany Cole, one of the first female physicians in America, who share a desire to serve the poor with their healing skills and with love. As the story continues, they discover that they share more than a professional passion--they share a love for each other. Set in late nineteenth century New York City and the surrounding Hudson River Valley, and incorporating the beginnings of American gospel music, Cadence continues the saga of the courageous immigrants who helped build our nation, the struggles they endured, and the music they created, lived and loved by.

My Comments:
This is a delightful historical with strong themes of romance, but so much more. A blind musical conductor, Hudson River Valley setting, Irish immigrants, Dwight L. Moody crusades, hymn writer Fanny Crosby, tender romance - all these elements and more combine to make a very enjoyable and moving read for me. As a pianist, I am obviously drawn to the prominent musical themes, which are portrayed in an excellent mannor. I look forward to the conclusion of this series, Jubilee.

Sullivan's Island

Title: Sullivan's Island
Author: Dorothea Benton Frank
Series: Lowcountry Tales
Genre: Women's Fiction
Year Published: 2004
Source: Library
Rating (1-10): 9

Publishers Weekly:

Frank's debut novel is a story of redemption set in South Carolina's steamy low country. Susan Hamilton Hayes's comfortable Charleston existence is shattered when she finds her husband in bed with another woman. Faced with a failed marriage, a confused teenage daughter and a mediocre job, she sets about the business of healing. Slowly, supported by visits to her sister in their childhood home on sleepy Sullivan's Island, Susan becomes a successful newspaper columnist, regains her confidence as a woman (despite a hilariously deflating date) and finally explores the death of her complex, abusive father decades before.

Chapters alternate between the present and 1963, the year her father died, as Susan faces both the strength and the damaging effects of her family legacy. The ending - complete with a perfect suitor reemerging from Susan's youth - is almost too picture perfect to ring true, but both the setting and the characters are blazingly authentic. Frank evokes the eccentric Hamilton family and their feisty Gullah housekeeper with originality and conviction; Susan herself - smart, sarcastic, funny and endearingly flawed - makes a lively and memorable narrator. Thanks to these scrappily compelling portraits, this is a rich read.

My Comments:

One of my favorite settings is the Lowcountry of South Carolina, and I thoroughly enjoyed this book. Family drama told with humor and depth of characters make this a very good read. And I fell in love with the Hamilton's Gullah housekeeper, Livvie. This was my first book by Ms. Frank and I hope to read more.

Signs in the Blood

Title: Signs in the Blood
Author: Vicki Lane
Series: Appalachian Mysteries
Genre: Cozy/Traditional Mystery
Year Published: 2005
Source: My Kindle
Rating (1-10): 10

Publishers Weekly Review:
Fundamentalist Christian snake handlers and liberal back-to-the-landers; a secretive white supremacist militia and undercover police agents; simple rural mountain dwellers and sophisticated urban artists—throw in a counterculture commune of allegedly extraterrestrial origin and that still wouldn't cover all the disparate types who populate the Appalachian community of Ridley Branch, N.C., the setting for this well-crafted, dramatic tale of murder, miracles and midlife romance.

Widow Elizabeth Goodweather, the 52-year-old proprietor of an herb and flower farm, becomes dangerously involved in a homegrown investigation when a housebound elderly neighbor refuses to accept the official verdict that her retarded yet woods-savvy son's death was accidental. Evocative detail brings the supporting characters vividly to life, as the plot moves between the mountain man's killing and an unsolved historical mystery that appears to eerily mirror the murderous modern scenario. Also admirable is the sensitivity with which Lane utilizes exotic religions to intensify the book's dark-toned suspense, while resisting oversimplification and insult.

My Comments: This is one of the best mysteries I've read in a long time, and I have my dear friend Kathryn to thank for recommending it to me. The Appalachian setting and local dialect really drew me in, as I could relate to a similar area and way of speaking from visiting my grandparents as a child. The characters are well developed and the plot won't let you go. Highly recommended.