Book Review: ‘Bridge to Haven’ by Francine Rivers

From the back cover:

To those who matter in 1950s Hollywood, Lena Scott is the hottest rising star to hit the silver screen since Marilyn Monroe. Few know her real name is Abra. Even fewer know the price she’s paid to finally feel like she’s somebody.

To Pastor Ezekiel Freeman, Abra will always be the little girl who stole his heart the night he found her, a wailing newborn abandoned under a bridge on the outskirts of Haven. Zeke and his son, Joshua—Abra’s closest friend—watch her grow into an exotic beauty. But Zeke knows the circumstances surrounding her birth etched scars deep in her heart, scars that leave her vulnerable to a fast-talking bad boy who proclaims his love and lures her to Tinseltown. Hollywood feels like a million miles from Haven, and naive Abra quickly learns what’s expected of an ambitious girl with stars in her eyes. But fame comes at an awful price. She has burned every bridge to get exactly what she thought she wanted. Now, all she wants is a way back home.

My review:

I haven’t read a Francine Rivers’ book I didn’t like. I’ve been following Francine on Facebook and Twitter to get the latest on the release of her new book, Bridge to Haven, which hit stores on the 22 April 2014. Despite being thick enough to knock someone out (a handy bedside weapon if ever needed), I read it within two days, almost non-stop. I even read it while eating breakfast, which might be a first for me.

Before I get into my review, I just have to say how much I love the cover of this book!

The story follows Abra through her childhood up until her mid-twenties, and it is not for the faint hearted. The heartbreaking experiences in Abra’s formative years cause her to pull back from others and seek her identity elsewhere. Her need to ‘be somebody’ leads her away from family and God and into the arms of men who only want to use her. This part of the book was hard to read, mainly because I really sympathised with Abra and felt her pain. Those familiar with Francine Rivers’ books will know that she writes about difficult topics such as sexual sin and abuse in a very ‘real’ way.

The saving grace in the book is Abra’s childhood friend, Joshua. His patience with Abra and unconditional forgiveness are inspiring – a picture of Jesus’ love (If you’ve read ‘Redeeming Love’, his character is very similar to Hosea). There are many other heartwarming and colourful characters that paint a vivid landscape for the story.

There were only a couple of minor issues I had with the book, such as some head-hopping in one of the latter chapters in the book. There was also a ‘twist’ at the end of the book that seemed to be quite rushed.

Just as a side note, my husband thought the name Abra was strange and asked me if her last name was ‘Cadabra’ (it isn’t, by the way).

Also, as a word of caution, there is a marital love-making scene in the book, although it is described in sensual rather than physical language so I didn’t feel it was inappropriate, but others may feel differently.

The themes of God’s forgiveness and acceptance are present throughout this book, and make for a challenging but inspiring read. Recommended for those who enjoy Christian romance books without puppies and rainbows.

My rating: 5 out of 5 stars

To see my ratings system, click here

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Book Review: ‘A Home For My Heart’ by Anne Mateer

From the back cover:

Sadie Sillsby works as the assistant to the matron at the Raystown Home for Orphan and Friendless Children and dreams of the day she’ll marry her beau, Blaine. But when the matron surprises everyone by announcing her own engagement, Sadie is suddenly next in line for the job. For a young woman who was once an orphan herself, a shot at such an esteemed position is a wish come true.

But the matron of the Home cannot be married. Is Sadie willing to give up her dreams of a life with Blaine and a family of her own? Is she prepared to forgo daily involvement with the children as she instead manages the financial, legal, and logistical aspects of the orphanage?

And when it’s revealed that the Home is spending a lot more money than it’s taking in, can Sadie turn things around before the place is forced to close forever?

My review:

The first thing that struck me about this book was that it was written from the first person perspective, which is very unusual in historical Christian romance. While I do enjoy first person narratives in other genres, eg young adult or chick lit, I wasn’t sure at first if it was really working for the book – however, I soon forgot about my initial hesitation.

Sadie Sillsby, a former orphan, finds herself in the position of matron at the orphanage where she grew up. Having worked there for years, she feels more than qualified for the job and is even willing to give up a chance at love to take on the position she feels God has called her to.

Much of this story revolves around events at the orphanage and the dilemma that Sadie faces in keeping the orphanage open. Sadie has a lot to learn in her new position and it is satisfying to see her grow in the role and in maturity as a woman. In addition to all this, she has the added confusion of how to act around Blaine, whom she rejected for the role, and Earl, a charming gentleman from The Children’s Aid Society. Will her heart ever find a home?

The storyline was fairly predictable, without too much conflict, but the character development was interesting enough to make this an enjoyable read for me. Recommended for those who enjoy sweet, easy-read, historical romances.

Thank you, NetGalley and Bethany House Publishers for providing me a free copy of this book in exchange for my honest opinion.

My rating: 4 out of 5 stars

To see my ratings system, click here

Book Review: ‘Be Still My Soul’ by Joanne Bischof

From the back cover:

Pretty Lonnie Sawyer is shy and innocent, used to fading into the background within her family, and among the creeks and hollows of the Appalachian hills. Though her family is poor and her father abusive, she clings to a quiet faith.  But when handsome ladies’ man and bluegrass musician Gideon O’Riley steals a kiss, that one action seals her fate.

Her father forces her into a hasty marriage with Gideon—a man she barely knows and does not love. Equally frustrated and confused by his new responsibilities, Gideon yearns for a fresh start, forcing  Lonnie on an arduous journey away from her home in Rocky Knob.

Her distant groom can’t seem to surrender his rage at the injustice of the forced matrimony or give Lonnie any claim in his life.  What will it take for Gideon to give up his past, embrace Lonnie’s God, and discover a hope that can heal their two fractured hearts?

Gideon only ever cared about himself. Now that Lonnie is his wife, will he ever be worthy of her heart?

My review:

This was the first book I’ve read by Joanne Bischof. I rarely buy hard-copy books these days (e-books are easier to carry around) but from the reviews I’d read from other bloggers, I really wanted to have this one sitting on my shelf. Be Still My Soul is Bishof’s début novel and she has done a fantastic job.

I quickly found myself drawn into the book and the setting, initially appalled by the way Lonnie was treated by her father, and then by Gideon.
I really hated Gideon, the ‘hero’, from the start of the book and I felt like Bischof would have to perform a miracle to get me to like him again, but she did just that. By the end of the book, to my surprise, I was cheering for him.

I didn’t feel like I got to know Lonnie as well as I would have liked – maybe if there was more reflection on her background, the way she related to her mother, her relationship with God, her likes/dislikes. Having said that, there are two more books in the series, so hopefully Lonnie’s character is developed some more in these.

The plot moved along at a swift pace, with many conflicts and heartbreaking moments. I was really pleased that there was a satisfying ending to the story, although I know I’m in for more angst with book #2 from reading the back cover.

The spiritual element of this book was present throughout, with references to God and verses from the Bible. I liked how Lonnie’s relationship with her aunt was a source of strength and reminded her to trust that God’s eyes were upon her. I look forward to seeing how the future books build on Gideon’s developing faith.

Overall, I thought this was a wonderful story and I will definitely buy the next two books in the series to see how Gideon and Lonnie trust God as they face the challenges before them.

My rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars

To see my ratings system, click here

Book Review: ‘A Bride for Keeps’ by Melissa Jagears

From the back cover:

Although Everett Cline can hardly keep up with the demands of his homestead, he won’t humiliate himself by looking for a helpmate ever again–not after being jilted by three mail-order brides. When a well-meaning neighbor goes behind his back to bring yet another mail-order bride to town, he has good reason to doubt it will work, especially after getting a glimpse at the woman in question. She’s the prettiest woman he’s ever seen, and it’s just not possible she’s there to marry a simple homesteader like him.

Julia Lockwood has never been anything more than a pretty pawn for her father or a business acquisition for her former fiance. Having finally worked up the courage to leave her life in Massachusetts, she’s determined to find a place where people will value her for more than her looks. Having run out of all other options, Julia resorts to a mail-order marriage in far-away Kansas.

Everett is skeptical a cultured woman like Julia could be happy in a life on the plains, while Julia, deeply wounded by a past relationship, is skittish at the idea of marriage at all. When, despite their hesitations, they agree to a marriage in name only, neither one is prepared for the feelings that soon arise to complicate their arrangement. Can two people accustomed to keeping their distance let the barricades around their hearts down long enough to fall in love?

My review:

This book, a début novel by Melissa Jagears, is probably the best mail-order bride story I’ve read. Right from the first chapter, Jagears’ easy-to-read and engaging writing style left me in no doubt that this book was a keeper (excuse the pun). So good, in fact, that I kept my husband awake by reading it into the wee hours of the night.

One of the things I liked the best about this book was that a least half of the story was written from the viewpoint of Everett. His character was very believable, especially the way he struggled with his feelings for Julia. After having two mail-order brides leave him for other men, and another one turn up on the train dead, it was no wonder it took him so long to trust Julia. I think many guys would relate to him and he was the perfect Christian romance hero – a little rough around the edges, but gentle and kind.

Julia’s lack of interest in Everett was really annoying – in a good way. There were plenty of hurdles for them to overcome in their marriage, and I enjoyed the slow build of their romantic connection, and the lessons they learned along the way.

The spiritual element of this book was woven into the story in a way that wasn’t forced or preachy, as both characters turn to God for forgiveness and healing.

The only negative for me was that I felt the viewpoint changed a little too often and it was hard to know at times when the changeover had occurred.

Thank you, NetGalley and Bethany House Publishers for providing me a free copy of this book  in exchange for my honest opinion.

My rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars

To see my ratings system, click here

Book Review: ‘When Courage Calls’ by Janette Oke and Laurel Oke Logan

I use Grammarly’s english grammar check because having bad grammar is as embarrassing as having bad breath – everyone notices, but no-one will mention it.

From the back cover:

Her courage and her heart will be tested in ways she never expected…

Beth Thatcher has spent her entire life in the safe, comfortable world of her family, her friends, and the social outings her father’s wealth provides. But Beth is about to leave it all behind to accept a teaching position in the rugged foothills of western Canada. Inspired by her aunt Elizabeth, who went west to teach school several years ago, and gently encouraged by her father, Beth resolves to put her trust in God and bravely face any challenge that comes her way.

But the conditions in Coal Valley are even worse than she’d feared. A recent mining accident has left the town grieving and at the mercy of the mining company. The children have had very little prior education, and many of the locals don’t even speak English. There isn’t even a proper schoolhouse. In addition, Beth’s heart is torn between two young men–both Mounties, one a lifelong friend and the other a kind, quiet man who comes to her aid more than once.

Despite the many challenges, Beth is determined to make a difference in the rustic frontier town. But when her sister visits from the East, reminding her of all the luxuries she’s had to give up, will Beth decide to return to her privileged life as soon as the school year is over?

My review:

I’ve been a Janette Oke fan for a long time. In fact, it was her books that introduced me to Christian romance and planted the seed of someday writing my own love stories. Her new book, written with her daughter Laurel Oke Logan, follows on from the Where Calls the Heart series left off, and it certainly didn’t disappoint me. When Courage Calls tells the story of Beth Thatcher (niece of Elizabeth Thatcher) who leaves her high society family in the city and moves to the remote village of Coal Valley to take up a teaching post. When she arrives, there are a few surprises she wasn’t counting on, and she learns to trust God for the strength she needs to care for this hurting community, both practically and spiritually.

There was a lot to like about this book. Firstly, the pretty cover drew me in straight away. Secondly, who doesn’t like a good story about Canadian Mounties? The character of Beth is very likeable. Her passion and unwillingness to give up, despite the impact on her health, were admirable qualities.

The romance element was a slow build and secondary to the main storyline. Beth has three potential suitors and it isn’t until the final chapters of the book that you find out who has won Beth’s heart. Even then, there are still unanswered questions. I’m really hoping there are more books in this series so I can find out what happens next!

It would be interesting to find out how Janette and Laurel share their writing, as there is only one viewpoint character throughout the book (Beth), yet I didn’t get the sense there were two separate writers. It is hard to find a flaw with this book. Some may think it a little slow-moving, or a little preachy and ‘wholesome’. I didn’t mind these things.

This book is the inspiration for a Hallmark channel movie and tv series starring Lori Loughlin (from Full House) – definitely something to keep an eye out for.

Thanks to NetGalley and Bethany House Publishing for providing me a free advance copy of this book (to be released in Feb 2014) in exchange for my honest opinion.

My rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars

Book Review: ‘Gentleman of Her Dreams (a novella)’ by Jen Turano

Synopsis: When Miss Charlotte Wilson asks God for a husband, she decides He must want her to pursue Mr. Hamilton Beckett, the catch of the season. The only problem? She’s never actually met Hamilton. Fortunately, one of her oldest and dearest friends, Mr. Henry St. James–who has returned to New York after a two-year absence–does know Hamilton. Much to Henry’s chagrin, Charlotte immediately ropes him into helping her meet Hamilton. However, none of her plans to catch Hamilton’s eye go as she expected, and she is even more confused when her old feelings for Henry begin to resurrect themselves. In the midst of the mayhem Charlotte always seems to cause, she wonders if the gentleman of her dreams might be an entirely different man than she thought.

*****

My review: This book is a prequel to Jen Turano’s ‘Ladies of Distinction’ series. It is the first book I’ve read by Jen Turano and I’ve already downloaded her next book to read. I fell in love with this charming story almost instantly when I was introduced to Charlotte, a woman in her twenties who is determined not to be a spinster. Charlotte had me laughing out loud many times (including on the train – how embarrassing!) with the incredible lengths she went to in order to get her man, such as chartering an unseaworthy vessel so she could then be rescued. Seeing things from Henry’s perspective was also fun – his disbelief at Charlotte’s antics was one of the highlights of the book. He had a lot of admirable qualities and it was easy to see why Charlotte would have feelings for him, although why he would be interested in Charlotte is still a mystery to me!

The Christian content in this book is fairly minimal – God is mentioned a few times, but you don’t get the sense that any of the characters have a strong faith. The book is squeaky clean, however, and probably something teens and young adults would enjoy as a foray into historical romance.
Overall, it was a fun book to read and I’m excited to read other books in this series.
*****
My rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Book Review: ‘The Miner’s Lady’ by Tracie Peterson

Synopsis: When Chantel Panetta’s younger sister claims to be in love with Orlando Calarco, Chantel knows there is no hope. The Panettas and Calarcos have been sworn enemies for decades, and young love cannot heal the deep wounds between the two iron-mining families. Yet, unable to resist Isabella’s pleas, Chantel agrees to help her sister spend time with Orlando…only to have a run-in with Dante, Orlando’s brother.
Chantel can’t deny the attraction that flares when she’s with Dante. But when a tragedy occurs at the mine, is there any hope that the hatred that has simmered between these two families might be resolved? Or will Chantel and Isabella’s hope for love be buried amidst decades of misunderstanding?


*****
My review: I received a free copy of this book via Bethany House publishing and NetGalley. I have read a previous series by Tracie Peterson and thought it was very romantic, so I looked forward to snuggling up on the lounge with my iPod to read this book. It took me only a few nights to read.
The story begins with Chantel Panetta returning from Italy after a year with her grandparents, only to find her younger sister has fallen in love with a Calarco – a sworn enemy of the Panetta family. The relationship between the Panettas and Capulets is reminiscent of the Montagues and Capulets from Romeo and Juliet.
The story hooked me in right away. The mining town backdrop was different to other historical romances (I’m a bit tired of sheriffs and wagon trains now) and there was a foreboding sense of danger with the hazards associated with mining and a particularly shady character who threatens Chantel’s family. I thought Tracie did a great job building up the suspense.
The book was also very romantic – two romances for the price of one – and while I knew how things would end, I enjoyed watching it unfold. The book had a strong theme of forgiveness and leaving things to God, which I also liked.
There were a few interesting twists and turns in the story, and some tragedy too, but I’m pleased to say there was plenty of happily ever after as well (unlike Romeo and Juliet!)
I recommend this book for readers who enjoy romantic Christian historical suspense novels.
My rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars
*****