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Friday, July 6

Summer's Hottest New Reads!

The Five Wishes of Mr. Murray McBride (Joe Siple)
With all his family and friends gone, one-hundred-year-old Murray McBride is looking for a reason to live. He finds it in Jason Cashman, a ten-year-old boy with a terminal heart defect and a list of five things he wants to do before he dies. Together, they race against the limited time each has left, ticking off wishes one by one. But when tragedy strikes, their worlds are turned upside-down, and an unexpected gift is the only thing that can make Jason's final wish come true.

A centenarian and ten year old seem an unlikely pair. Toss in a strong, brave, and kind little girl, and you've got the leading cast of this life-changing adventure novel. For fans of Tuesdays with Morrie or The Five Times I Met Myself, this book delves into some of the hard issues in life, what it means to truly love and live, and how we can affect others. The love in these pages is something we all so desperately need to recover these days. I don't want to say too much (no spoilers here), but you won't be disappointed. I _can_ say, however, that if this book doesn't make you both chuckle aloud and shed a tear, then you are an inhuman robot.

Engraved on the Heart (Tara Johnson)
Reluctant debutante Keziah Montgomery lives beneath the weighty expectations of her staunch Confederate family, forced to keep her epilepsy secret for fear of a scandal. As the tensions of the Civil War arrive on their doorstep in Savannah, Keziah sees little cause for balls and courting. Despite her discomfort, she cannot imagine an escape from her familial confines―until her old schoolmate Micah shows her a life-changing truth that sets her feet on a new path . . . as a conductor in the Underground Railroad. Dr. Micah Greyson never hesitates to answer the call of duty, no matter how dangerous, until the enchanting Keziah walks back into his life and turns his well-ordered plans upside down. Torn between the life he has always known in Savannah and the fight for abolition, Micah struggles to discern God’s plan amid such turbulent times. Battling an angry fiancĂ©, a war-tattered brother, bounty hunters, and their own personal demons, Keziah and Micah must decide if true love is worth the price . . . and if they are strong enough to survive the unyielding pain of war.

I loved feeling like I was part of the setting in this story.  The author does a good job of bringing the Civil War-era south to life!  She also makes the characters very real, doing a good job of pointing out the beliefs and feelings of both sides.  The main character may be white, but she has struggles and prejudices against her for things she cannot her something of a connection with the slaves around her.  She works with the other main character on the Underground Railroad, and together they help as many people as possible.  Along the way, they have their share of struggles and begin a romance that holds a few secrets of its own.  This is a quick read that you'll not want to put down, so bring a glass of tea and settle in for a few hours of reading!

What Blooms from Dust (James Markert)

Just as Jeremiah Goodbye is set to meet his fate in the electric chair, he is given a second chance at life. With the flip of a coin, he decides to return to his home town of Nowhere, Oklahoma, to settle the score with his twin brother Josiah. But upon his escape, he enters a world he doesn’t recognize—one that has been overtaken by the Dust Bowl. And the gift he once relied on to guide him is as unrecognizable as the path back to Nowhere. On his journey home, he accidentally rescues a young boy, and the pair arrive at their destination where they are greeted by darkened skies and fearful townspeople who have finally begun to let the past few years of hardship bury them under the weight of all that dust. Unlikely heroes, Jeremiah and his new companion, Peter Cotton, try to protect the residents of Nowhere from themselves, but Jeremiah must face his nightmares and free himself from the guilt of his past and the secrets that destroyed his family. Filled with mystery and magic, this exquisite novel from award-winning author James Markert is a story of finding hope in the midst of darkness and discovering the beauty of unexpected kindness.

An interesting story set in Dust Bowl-era even reads like a period piece, very dismal, at times emotionless and just struggling to power through. The cast of characters is intriguing, especially the little boy and the story behind him; the magical elements of the coin-flipping lend an air of mystery; the typewriter element is ingenious for its time; and the setting is so well-developed that you feel as though you're right there breathing in the dust. Through all of the hardships, the characters keep their strength through their faith. I thought that the story of the roses, at the end, was especially beautiful!

Murder at the Flamingo (Rachel McMillan)
Hamish DeLuca has spent most of his life trying to hide the anxiety that appears at the most inopportune times -- including during his first real court case as a new lawyer. Determined to rise above his father’s expectations, Hamish runs away to Boston where his cousin, Luca Valari, is opening a fashionable nightclub in Scollay Square. When he meets his cousin's “right hand man” Reggie, Hamish wonders if his dreams for a more normal life might be at hand.  Regina “Reggie” Van Buren, heir to a New Haven fortune, has fled fine china, small talk, and the man her parents expect her to marry. Determined to make a life as the self-sufficient city girl she’s seen in her favorite Jean Arthur and Katharine Hepburn pictures, Reggie runs away to Boston, where she finds an easy secretarial job with the suave Luca Valari. But as she and Hamish work together in Luca’s glittering world, they discover a darker side to the smashing Flamingo night club.  When a corpse is discovered at the Flamingo, Reggie and Hamish quickly learn there is a vast chasm between the haves and the have-nots in 1937 Boston—and that there’s an underworld that feeds on them both. As Hamish is forced to choose between his conscience and loyalty to his beloved cousin, the unlikely sleuthing duo work to expose a murder before the darkness destroys everything they’ve worked to build.

This book appears to be the first in a new series of mysteries that are set in the 1930s.  I love how the author has recreated the era, both in description and tone, incorporating historical settings of glamour, grit, and everything in between.  While it is listed as a Christian book, the story is not overtly religious in any way...preferring to take its references from the Hunchback of Notre Dame.  Instead, it is probably listed in this category because it is a clean mystery with moral messages.  I love old black and white mystery movies, and this book felt like one of those.  There are hints of romance, bad guys who turn out to be good, good guys who turn out to be bad, sudden twists, and personal struggles all within these pages...and I really look forward to the next installment with Reggie and Hamish.

River to Redemption (Ann Gabhart)

Orphaned in the cholera epidemic of 1833, Adria Starr was cared for by a slave named Louis, a man who stayed in Springfield, Kentucky, when anyone with means had fled. A man who passed up the opportunity to escape his bondage and instead tended to the sick and buried the dead. A man who, twelve years later, is being sold by his owners despite his heroic actions. Now nineteen, Adria has never forgotten what Louis did for her. She's determined to find a way to buy Louis's freedom. But in 1840s Kentucky, she'll face an uphill battle. Based partly on a true story, Ann H. Gabhart's latest historical novel is a tour de force. The vividly rendered town of Springfield and its citizens immerse readers in a story of courage, betrayal, and honor that will stick with them long after they turn the last page.

This was a fascinating story of race relations and human relations, based on truth and using factual names (yet somewhat fictionalized), in the antebellum period.  The author does a great job of building the setting, through well-developed characters and vivid scenery descriptions.  She doesn't dwell on the negative side of slavery, but lays out the facts as they pertain to the story and moves on with it.  It's interesting to think of a slave protecting a white girl - especially when the two suitors come calling - and yet it may have happened more than we realize.  Love and loyalty are not race-dependent, and Louis chose to remain in that station to protect Adria, even as she was trying to save him.  There were a few twists and turns, and I wasn't sure how the love triangle would resolve itself at one point, but good character wins in the end.  The book contains several spiritual references and is a clean romance.  Reading the author's note also brings another level to the historical context.

Amish Celebrations (Beth Wiseman)
The Gift of Sisters
Hannah and Rachel are fraternal twins approaching their sixteenth birthday—a time when they will be allowed to spread their wings and enjoy their rumschpringe. The sisters couldn’t be more different: Hannah is outgoing and beautiful, while Rachel is shy and withdrawn. And when newcomer Abraham Stoltzfus arrives in Lancaster County, both women fall head over heels for him, each fighting for his affections in their own ways and driving the sisters to turn on each other. Who will Abraham choose? And will Hannah and Rachel reunite after a devastating heartbreak?
A New Beginning
Rebecca and Noah are in love and about to be baptized. But when Noah decides to enjoy one last night of his rumschpringe a few weeks before the ceremony, he does something that causes Rebecca to reconsider his proposal. As Rebecca and Noah navigate the turn in their relationship, Rebecca must learn to forgive Noah or abandon her dreams of marrying him. If Noah won’t forgive himself in time for the baptism, his guilt could cause him to run from his love for Rebecca and leave his community behind.
A Perfect Plan (previously published in An Amish Wedding)
Priscilla King has been planning to marry Chester Lapp since she was sixteen years old, and when Chester pops the question on Priscilla’s nineteenth birthday, wedding plans begin immediately. But everything begins to fall apart as Chester works to build a house for his new bride, only to have one disaster after another occur. Can true love take this couple through the challenges that threaten their union, or will they begin to doubt that they are on the right path, the one God has chosen for them?
A Christmas Miracle
Mary is twenty-seven years old and already has five young children. Married to her husband at age eighteen, she wasn’t quite prepared for motherhood, and exhaustion and frustration are sending her into a downhill spiral as the holidays approach. Too proud and ashamed to ask for help, Mary’s situation begins to take a toll on her marriage. But when an elderly man in a red suit and his sidekick elf befriend Mary, showering her with wisdom and advice, she must choose to accept help, learn to cope with her situation, and ultimately find the true meaning of Christmas.

The tie that binds each of these four stories together is that they are celebrating something, including birthdays, baptisms, weddings, and Christmas.  I like these stories because they show that the Amish go through many of the same struggles and challenges as the rest of us, but they do it with the strength of their faith.  Each story is bite-sized, perfect for reading a whole one before bedtime, and will leave you mulling over it afterward.  My favorite was a Christmas Miracle, partly because I love Christmas stories, and partly because I just loved the magic behind how it all worked out for the main character!  If you like fiction that makes you think just a little, and helps to strengthen your own faith, then this is a great collection.


The Faith of Dolly Parton (Dudley Delffs)
Dolly Parton has entertained, educated, and inspired millions of fans for over five decades. Whether she’s writing songs, performing live, recording new albums, acting in or producing new movies and TV programs, expanding her wildly successful Dollywood amusement park, helping children around the world learn to read with her Imagination Library nonprofit, or donating millions of dollars to schools, charities, and people in need, the Queen of Country Music has never been shy about crediting her Christian faith for her success. “A belief in God is essential,” Dolly shares. “You have to believe in something bigger than yourself. We grew up believing that through God all things are possible.” Growing up in the little mountain church where her grandfather preached, Dolly started singing hymns and playing guitar at services when she was only six. Consequently, she has never been shy about discussing her faith and relationship with God. “People say, ‘Well, I am surprised that you talk about your faith,’ and I say, ‘Why not? That’s who I am. That’s what keeps me going,’” she explains. Tennessee native, Dolly fanboy, and award-winning writer Dudley Delffs now spotlights ten faith lessons as evidenced in Dolly’s life, music, interviews, and attitude. The Faith of Dolly Parton focuses on the ways Dolly’s life can inspire us all to be more authentic, to trust God during hard times, to stay grounded during the good times, and to always keep our sense of humor. Sometimes poignant, sometimes funny, frequently surprising, and always true to Dolly’s down-home spirit of joyful generosity, this book will delight her millions of fans as well as anyone seeking a fresh faith-filled role model.

Staying true to the personality of Dolly herself, this book focuses on ten lessons that she's drawn from her life.  I knew about her music, but did not know much about Dolly, the person, until reading this book.  Her story is one of hardship, faith, and overcoming through her strength in character.  I love the song 'Coat of Many Colors,' but didn't realize how much it drew from her own background!  She keeps a sense of humor through it all, and imparts us with her wisdom to keep on keeping on...bringing our own unique talents to serve others and the Lord.  For any fan of Dolly Parton, this is a must-read!

Lisa Gungor thought she knew her own story: small-town girl meets boy in college and they blissfully walk down the aisle into happily ever after. Their Christian faith was their lens and foundation for everything—their marriage, their music, their dreams for the future. But as their dreams began to come true, she began to wonder if her religion was really representative of the ‘good news’ she had been taught.  She never expected the questions to lead as far as they did when her husband told her he no longer believed in God. The death of a friend, the unraveling of relationships and career, the loss of a worldview, and the birth of a baby girl with two heart defects all led Lisa to a tumultuous place; one of depression and despair. And it was there that her perspective on everything changed. The Most Beautiful Thing I’ve Seen tells the story of what can happen when you dare to let go of what you think to be true; to shift the kaleidoscope and see new colors and dimension by way of broken pieces.  Lisa’s eloquent, soul-stirring memoir brings you to a music stage before thousands of fans and a front porch where two people whisper words that scare them to the core. It is the story of how doubt can spark the beginning of deeper faith; how a baby born with a broken heart can bring love and healing to the hearts of many, and ultimately, how the hardest experience in life often ends up saving us.
Admittedly, I'm a bigger fan of their music than I was of this book, but if you're not familiar with their music, you don't have to be.  This book isn't about touring with the band, or even how she goes through the songwriting process, it's about their faith and the journey they've taken to get where they are today.  One of the biggest themes within that framework is love, acceptance, and inclusiveness.  The story is told through the metaphors of a dot, line, and circle....where the dot is the church she was raised in (and how confining it felt), the line is the journey that she makes to get to today's faith, and the circle is her new definition of religion, which is all-encompassing.  It is a memoir, but more than that, it's a testament to the changing face of religion - to a more open spiritual definition where all people are included (ie, gays, ne'er-do-wells, and the types that traditional religion overlooks).  At times it gets a bit silly, but is an interesting narrative on Christianity in the modern world.

Freak of the Week (Ann Gabhart)
What did Mrs. Rooks mean? That his leg wasn't his problem? What did she know? She wasn't lopsided with one leg shorter than the other. She wasn't a freak. Clay Ashby has a little problem. He limps. That makes him feel like a lopsided giraffe especially after Nikki Hendricks, the most popular girl in sixth grade, starts making up rhymes about his limp that has the other kids laughing at him. But then he meets up with an old man trying the impossible in spite of disabilities ten times worse than Clay’s. When Clay joins a baseball team, Old Dan helps Clay believe in his abilities and shows him heart matters more than looks. But Nikki, on the team that always wins, is still ready with her rhymes. Will a ballgame for the championship settle it all?

This is a sweet book for children of all ages.  We read it aloud together as a family, and got into some great discussions about character along the way.  My kids really aren't into sports, but one of them is special needs, and so this is something that they cope with on a regular basis.  While they understand how to approach his needs, and help those around us with him, this gave us an opportunity to talk about other types of special needs.  The author writes from a Biblical perspective of turning the other cheek and demonstrating love to teach love.

Fawkes (Nadine Brandes)
Thomas Fawkes is turning to stone, and the only cure to the Stone Plague is to join his father’s plot to assassinate the king of England.  Silent wars leave the most carnage. The wars that are never declared, but are carried out in dark alleys with masks and hidden knives. Wars where color power alters the natural rhythm of 17th century London. And when the king calls for peace, no one listens until he finally calls for death.  But what if death finds him first?  Keepers think the Igniters caused the plague. Igniters think the Keepers did it. But all Thomas knows is that the Stone Plague infecting his eye is spreading. And if he doesn’t do something soon, he’ll be a lifeless statue. So when his Keeper father, Guy Fawkes, invites him to join the Gunpowder Plot—claiming it will put an end to the plague—Thomas is in.  The plan: use 36 barrels of gunpowder to blow up the Igniter King.  The problem: Doing so will destroy the family of the girl Thomas loves. But backing out of the plot will send his father and the other plotters to the gallows. To save one, Thomas will lose the other.  No matter Thomas’s choice, one thing is clear: once the decision is made and the color masks have been put on, there’s no turning back.

I wanted to like this book.  The cover is beautiful and the plot sounds intriguing and very promising, but I just didn't like it.  I plowed all the way through it, thinking my interest would pick up, but this just wasn't a book I could connect with or endorse.  I did, however, learn a bit about history that I had not learned before...namely, about the Gunpowder Plot.  I'd heard of Guy Fawkes, but just in vague terms.  The history lesson received through this book is why I'm giving it three stars.  I thought that it was slow, did not like the characters, and found the fantasy aspect very left field.  It's not often that I dislike a book, and you might like it a lot.  If fantasy is your thing, it would be worth checking into further.  If nothing else, you'll receive a first-hand account and history lesson from 17th century England.

I received some, but not all, of these books in exchange for an honest review.
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