The Measure of A Lady by DeeAnne Gist, 2006.
I loved A Bride Most Begrudging. But let me tell you right now, I loved, loved, loved The Measure of a Lady. From its first sentence: This street is Impassible, Not Even Jackassable. (Which for those who are wondering is Rachel van Buren's first introduction to her new home, San Francisco. She's reading a sign on the muddy street.) Rachel and her brother and sister are in quite a mess. Their father died on the way to California. Now they are orphans. As the oldest, Rachel must find some way to survive in this gold-mining community. But can a woman "survive" and still be considered a lady at the end of the day. The first challenge she must face is a hard one: finding a place to stay. When hotels offer neither privacy or decency, what is a lady to do? (Especially since some "hotels" are brothels in disguise.) Luckily a 'hotel' owner--whose place is really more of a saloon/gambling hall--offers her the use of his shack--the shack rated to be "the best" in town. Not quite the accommodations she was hoping for but still...there is some potential there underneath the surface. Johnnie Parker and Rachel van Buren may not have gotten the best introduction, but soon the two become friends. Life in California sure is full of challenges, but Rachel soon comes to love it...for better or worse. If only she could find a way to protect her siblings....
Monday, July 30, 2007
Saturday, July 28, 2007
A Bride Most Begrudging by DeeAnne Gist, 2005
Lady Constance Morrow is a woman who is kidnapped and taken to the American colonies as a "tobacco bride" along with a shipful of convicts that will become indentured servants. Purchased by Drew O'Connor, Constance's story is not at first believed. That she is a daughter of an Earl. That she was kidnapped. That she is a proper lady from a very wealthy family. But slowly and surely, Drew realizes that this English miss is indeed telling the truth. For one thing, she can't cook and she doesn't know how to clean. Another thing, she not only knows how to read and write...arithmetic is her favorite subject. (Granted a real English miss wouldn't be educated in math or other "unladylike" and "unnecessary" subjects.) When she was purchased, she was told that marriage was not a part of the bargain. He was interested only in someone watching out for his three year old sister and having someone cook and clean. Since Drew purchased Mary, another woman on the ship, as well. Lady Constance is spared some of those hardships. But soon after her arrival, the colonists or the council or some body of men meet and decide that Drew must either marry one of the women he has bought and brought into his household OR be banished from the Virginian colonies forever--after having one of his arms broken first. Not a hard choice to make really, marriage it is! But this marriage of convenience is slowly revealed to be just what both need. Can this husband and wife learn to love each other and learn to work together to survive the harsh realities of life? Or will stubborness and prejudice get in the way of true love and happily ever after?
I really loved this book!!!!
Thursday, July 26, 2007
Whence Came A Prince by Liz Curtis Higgs, 2005.
Whence Came A Prince is the third book in the series recapturing the story of Jacob, Rachel, and Leah and placing it within a whole new context: Scotland in the late eighteenth century.
At the close of Fair Is The Rose, the reader leaves Jamie falling in love with Rose and letting go of his first wife, Leana. Rose has just found out she is going to have a baby, and she is overjoyed. And the two seem to be heading towards a happily ever after ending. But anyone familiar with the biblical account, knows that much more is in store for this triangle.
In Tuesday's review, I mentioned that I spent most of the book angry at Rose. I blamed her selfishness for the majority of the problems our three narrators were having. But that wasn't necessarily fair of me, I didn't give credit where credit was due. In the last few chapters of the book, Fair is the Rose, Rose repented and had a change of heart. I wouldn't say she reformed completely, but I think her vows to treat her husband and step-child right...was the first step towards a new Rose.
My anger hasn't gone away. It's just changed focus. Lachlan, playing the Laban role, is one of the most despicable characters I've ever seen. He is a true villain in this book. I felt like booing and hissing whenever he entered the room. So Rose is forgiven, and Lachlan takes the blame.
In Whence Came A Prince, Leana returns home from her visit with her Aunt Meg. She thinks she's returning to a house free of the McBrides. Jamie said he was planning on going home in May. Yet here it is June, and the family remains. So Leana is more than a little surprised to discover her sister is in the "family way" especially in light of her own secret discovery in recent weeks.
Can these three ever be happy? Will they ever escape from Uncle Lachlan's cruel and greedy control? Will any of them find the love, forgiveness, and grace they all so eagerly want?
I really really loved Whence Came A Prince. So much so that I read it all in one sitting. Quite a feat if you've seen how thick it is--537 pages.
Wednesday, July 25, 2007
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Raised in the American Southwest, Kathleen began her love affair with the desert as a child. Before becoming a writer she, among other jobs, worked in both the juvenile facility fro incarcerated girls and a home for emotionally disturved children. Mother of two, sh lives in Northern California with her husband and youngest son. Visit her blog, Reading, Writing, and What Else is There? She is a member of the CFBA, too! Give her a holler!
ABOUT THE BOOK:“Not a safe world.” How many times had she heard it over and over again? Well, it is not a safe world and Dara Murphy Brogan knew it better than most, which is exactly why she had tucked herself away on a desert mountaintop. Now it was just her, the voice inside her head and the boxes of hastily packed odds and ends—all that was left of her pathetic excuse of a life. Hadn’t she chosen the desert because it was barren and brown and dead looking and far, far away from anyone who may have seen the news?
So what was this, this trespasser, this interloper, this wacked out earth mother doing dancing outside her window? Celebrating life and the Spirit in a way Dara never could have dreamed. Until she opened her door and met Jane Cameron.
A book that makes me laugh is a joy, a book that makes me cry is a rarity. But a book that moves me to dance is sublime. To Dance in the Desert is a spectacular experience. Beautifully written, deeply moving, and warmly engaging—that this is Kathleen Popa’s first novel astounds me. That she will quickly be counted among the top caliber of Christian novelists delights me. I simply loved this book.
~Kathryn Mackel, Author of The Hidden
Kathleen Popa creates a compelling vision of a small community’s power to coax waning spirits back toward life. This gem of a novel worked on me like a dream. Popa’s evocative prose captured the nuance and complexity of transformation with equal parts mystery and truth. She conjures the deserts of Dara Brogan’s life with intimate clarity, reminding us along the way of the profound strength of what we take far too much for granted—the deep friendship of kindred spirits. This is a journey worth taking.
~Jeff Berryman, Author of Leaving Ruin
Tuesday, July 24, 2007
Fair is the Rose by Liz Curtis Higgs, 2004.
Fair is the Rose is the middle book in a trilogy fictionalizing the story of Jacob, Rachel, and Leah and placing them within a Scottish context...as Jamie, Rose, and Leana. The first book, Thorn In My Heart, saw the arrival of Jamie McKie at his Uncle Lachlan's estate. He met his cousins, Leana and Rose, and fell madly in love. The problem? He ended up married to the wrong cousin due to his uncle's sly tricks. The book concluded with the both of Leana's son, Ian, and Jamie's resolution to be a proper husband to his wife and stop longing for the cousin that got away.
In Fair Is The Rose, Jamie is the devoted and loving husband of Leana. Their son is growing and doing well. And they're approaching their one year anniversary. But there is one person in the house who is still bitter about the past. Rose. Rose still hates her sister, Leana, for her role in the deception. And Rose still desperately loves Jamie. But now Jamie refuses to have anything to do with her. No calm words, private words, secret words of devotion. No secret kisses. Nothing. It's like his love for her has disappeared. But Rose doesn't want Jamie to have his happily ever after...not if it's with her sister...and her plots and schemes become more and more elaborate as the days and weeks go by. A secret consultation with a witch here, a meeting there, with a couple of charms and spells along the way. Will Rose's vigilant pursuits lead her to her heart's desire? How many hearts will she trample in the process? Just how far is one teen girl willing to go to get her own way?
Fair is the Rose is an exciting book. But be prepared to get angry as Rose's selfishness wreaks havoc on the lives of everyone she claims to love. I suppose the fact that I could get so angry at the characters is a reflection of how "real" Higgs made them seem. Again, very well written. So I am continuing to recommend this series.
Monday, July 23, 2007
If you've noticed I haven't been that great in posting the past two weeks, it is for a very good reason. As some of you know, I am a very eager participant in Librarians Choices. A group of librarians that compile the 100 best titles for children and young adults published that year. (The list is a book of reviews and suggested activities.) Anyway, our third meeting of the 2007 year was today. And I've been busy, busy, busy reading those borrowed books so I could return them in a timely manner and get new books. So I haven't been reading any Christian books the past eight or nine days. So I couldn't review any new books here. But hopefully, I'll be able to start reading some of the great looking Christian books in my tbr pile.
Friday, July 20, 2007
Readers' Bill of Rights (Daniel Pennac)
2. The Right to Skip Pages
3. The Right to Not Finish
4. The Right to Reread
5. The Right To Read Anything
6. The Right to Escapism
7. The Right to Read Anywhere
8. The Right to Browse
9. The Right to Read Out Loud
10. The Right to Not Defend Your Tastes
Sometimes the hardest "right" (in the Readers Bill of Rights) for me to own up to (live by) is the third one: the right to not finish a book.
Why is it so hard for me to set a book aside? To admit that it is just not for me? To admit that I made a mistake? To just realize that the book and I are not clicking, and that we're just not going to make a good match? Why do I feel the need to give a book not one chance to hook me, but seventy-times-seven chances? Why do I feel so guilty abandoning a book? Like I'm letting the author down.
What about you? How many chances do you give a book? If you're not hooked by the end of the first chapter, do you put it aside? Does it get five pages? ten pages? twenty? thirty? How much before you say that enough is enough? Everyone has their own set of unspoken rules or guidelines when it comes to reading...and I am curious to see if I'm the only one that feels *guilty* about not finishing a book.
The book that is bringing all of this to mind is Converting Kate by Beckie Weinheimer. (It is a book I borrowed from the TWU review center. A book that technically should go back for our next meeting on Monday.) From the very beginning, I've been underwhelmed by the style. There's nothing wrong with it by any means, but it's certainly not sweeping me off my feet. It's both passive and present. If that makes any sense at all. And the other thing that is irking me about this book is that it is stereotyping Christianity in so many ways that are just wrong, wrong, wrong.
I'll elaborate on one of my big pet peeves. In children's literature, 90% of the time faith and religion of the Christian sort falls into two extreme categories. Questionable categories at best if you're trying to qualify them as even belonging to biblical Christianity. On the one hand, you've got the extreme conservative sort. These are typically seen as strict, repressed, abusive, harsh, unbending, diatribe-filled, hateful, condescending characters. They're always characters that are *damaged* psychologically by their faith. In the case of Converting Kate, the extreme character is the mother. A mother that *wants* her daughter to wear only long skirts, no makeup, have her hair pulled-back, be a no-nonsense girl. A girl who is a "witness" to the faith and passes out tracts, etc. In almost every single one of these books, there is an alternative portrait of so-called Christianity praised and glorified. The other extreme presented is of the extreme-liberal variety. Here there is an embracing of agnosticism, a rejection of absolute truth, typically a questioning if not out right rejection of the bible or fundamental doctrines contained therein. Sin is dismissed altogether. Morals redefined or dismissed. Anything and everything goes. It's all one big love fest. Often it is more like John Lennon's song "Imagine" where there is no heaven or hell than anything found in the Bible. These so-called "Christians" are so afraid of "judging" or "offending" anyone that they stand for nothing whatsoever. They don't care what you do, how you live, what you believe, if you believe. They just want to welcome you through their doors. Neither extreme is healthy. And neither is what I would call biblical. Yet this is what authors write of Christianity when they address it at all. It makes me wish that if they didn't have anything nice to say they shouldn't say anything at all. Of course, I'm mainly talking about realistic, contemporary fiction. It makes me want to cry out that there should be some author some where that gets it, that understands what it means to be a Christian. It doesn't mean you judge everybody. It doesn't mean you're condescending. It doesn't mean you're hateful. Or disrespectful. It doesn't mean you carry signs or wear t-shirts protesting liberal ideas. Christians are called to love. And being loving and respectful are how they should be shown. But just because we're called to love shouldn't mean we compromise our beliefs. Any "Christian" portrayed as rejecting the Bible and dismissing absolute truth isn't really a good example of a Christian.
[The good "Christian" idolized in Converting Kate? By browsing and skipping I've figured out that he is your typical sort: agnostic, liberal, homosexual...and by the end....he's "fired" from his job for having gay porn downloaded on his office computer. The book hints that he is not really guilty of this last charge, but still...even so...not what I'd call your average role model.]
Wednesday, July 18, 2007
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Stephen Bly is a pastor, a mayor, an antique Winchester gun collector and a writer.
He's mayor of a town of 308 in the mountains of Idaho, on the Nez Perce Indian Reservation. In his spare time, he pursues the three R's of ridin', ropin' and rodeo...and construction of Broken Arrow Crossing, a false-front western village near his home.
That keeps him very western. And he collect old Winchester rifles, which reflects his love of historical accuracy. He's also a fan of Jimmy Buffet music.
Stephen says about his writing, "I write about the West (historic or modern) from the inside. Born and raised on western ranches, I have both the heart and mind to describe things as they really were...and are. There are those who think the frontier has long passed and with it the ‘code of the west.’ The truth is, both are still around...and it’s fun to show that in a contemporary story. The West is so big, so diverse, so enchanting it’s a thrill to write about it in any era."
Stephen is the author of ninety-five books and hundreds of articles.
ABOUT THE BOOK:
Some call it CowboyLit. Rodeo cowboy Hap Bowman’s on a search for Juanita, the gal of his dreams, whom he hasn’t seen in 18 years. He seems stuck on 12-years-old and the enchanting girl he met then.
"An idiot obsession," his roping partner, Laramie Majors, chides.
But Laramie agrees to a final summer’s trek along the Rio Grande. If they don’t find Juanita during those months, Hap promises to drop the idea of the hunt for the mystery senorita. But if they find her, will she feel the same as Hap does about their years ago interlude?
In One Step Over The Border the time tested values of cowboys rub up against contemporary mores. It’s a crazy story that becomes more logical as the reader delves deeper into it. It will make you laugh and shed a tear or two.
Getting back to Hap’s pursuit . . . don’t we all have someone in the past, that we knew for only a short while, that we wish we could have known better, longer? Stephen Bly has!. So when Hap and Laramie ventured out on a quest for Hap’s Juanita, Stephen decided to invite others to go along too. Folks have been e-mailing Hap firstname.lastname@example.org and asking for their own “Juanita Search Kits.”
They get a bumper sticker, magnet, bookmark, stickers, flyers, etc. It’s a whole packet of material that will equip anyone to join the fun of finding the Juanita with “the mark of God.” If they send Hap a picture of the places where they stuck their Juanita signs, they’ll receive a free copy of the book. It’s all there on the website at http://www.onestepovertheborder.com/
And there’s a very special feature on http://www.amazon.com/...some more adventures about Hap and Laramie that did NOT appear in the book, can be found on AmazonShorts in the story entitled, Aim Low, Shoot High.
Monday, July 16, 2007
Thorn In My Heart by Liz Curtis Higgs, 2003
Although I finished reading Thorn In My Heart on Saturday night, I decided not to review it right away. Sundays are always busy days anyway, and I thought I could use the time to absorb the book. Set in Scotland in the eighteenth century (1780s to be precise), Thorn In My Heart is the novelization of the Genesis story of Jacob, Rachel, and Leah. (Of course these characters aren't called Jacob, Rachel, and Leah.) Rowena plays the role of Rebekah. Alec plays the role of Isaac. Evan plays the role of Esau. Jamie plays the role of Jacob. Lachlan plays the role of Laban. Leana plays the role of Leah. And Rose plays the role of Rachel.
The prologue tells the story of a pregnant Rowena whose midwife tells her that the older will serve the younger. And the opening chapters relate the story of how Jamie and Rowena deceive Alec and obtain the blessing for the younger son instead of the firstborn. But the story really begins to get exciting when Jamie leaves home to visit his Uncle Lachlan and meet his young cousins, Leana and Rose.
Leana and Rose are sisters that love each other dearly, but are very different from one another. The coming of cousin Jamie will change both of their lives forever. For better or worse.
Full of deception, trickery, and betrayal, Thorn of My Heart is an exciting read. Though it was 475 pages, I finished it in two days.
Most of me really loved this novel. The only odd thing about this story is that it is an Old Testament story set in somewhat-modern times. These OT characters though are quoting scriptures, owning Bibles, and attending weekly church (or should I say kirk!!!) services. Which isn't particularly a bad thing, I suppose, it just makes for an interesting read. One of the things one always has to keep in mind though when reading the Old Testament, and Genesis in particular, was that for the most part God's words, God's laws were unknown to man. Sure, God revealed himself to Abraham and gave him some laws and promises. And those I'm sure were passed from father to son and so on. But there would have been no written testament or testimony. No Bible by the bedside to give one hope, assurance, or guidance. No "thou shalt nots" about coveting or adultery. No commandments about lying. The fact that the Mosaic law wasn't given yet doesn't excuse Jacob's and Laban's and Rebekah's sins. But it makes it more understandable. But these characters have the Bible. They have both testaments. They have a lifetime of kirk attendance hearing sermons about do this but don't do that. They know right from wrong. There is a moral code, a moral law, that has been in effect for thousands of thousands of years. So I had a hard time really understanding how Jamie and Lachlan and Rowena and Leana and Rose could behave in such a way at times. I mean when it all comes down to it, humans are sinful. Always have been, always will be. Some things don't change. But the excuses have gone away. While you could somewhat look the other way with Jacob taking two wives....you have a harder time justifying a man essentially doing that in the 1780s. In Genesis times, a man taking two wives was no big deal. Having two sisters as wives wasn't even a big deal in those days. But to see it translated into modern times....it just seems sleazier.
What I loved, loved, loved about this novel was the characterization. I think Higgs did a great job capturing the spirit of these bible characters. When I was reading it, I was thinking...Yes, I always imagined her acting just like that....and really no one could have done a better job making Lachlan/Laban come to life. Everything about the characters was brilliant.
So I do highly recommend this novel and this series!!!
Friday, July 13, 2007
The Prophet by Francine Rivers.
There are not enough words to describe how much I absolutely loved this novel by Francine Rivers. I enjoyed The Warrior. I enjoyed The Prince. But I loved The Prophet. It goes above and beyond my normal reaction to a good book. What is it about? Amos. The prophet Amos. The shepherd prophet. I'm not sure everyone will come to The Prophet with an appriciation for this so-called minor prophet. I think the average reader tends to skip the prophetic portions of the Old Testament. Who do you think of when you think of the word prophet? Isaiah? Elijah? Jeremiah? Daniel? Amos may seem an unusal choice to be chosen as the representative "prophet" in this series. But to me, it was a perfect choice. Why? I've a fondness for shepherds. Sound bizarre? To anyone who has ever read the classic A Shepherd Looks at Psalm 23 by Phillip Keller, this book will sing for you. What do I mean by 'sing'? I mean there is a beauty to it. I'm not suggesting that you have to have read A Shepherd Looks at Psalm 23 in order to appreciate The Prophet, but it does add a whole new depth to it. So besides tending sheep, what makes Amos so special? He is one of the few prophets sent to Israel. That prophesied to Israel. Remember, this is the divided kingdom. The number of good Israelite kings is zero. The number of good kings in Judah, is slightly higher. Judah had its problems with idolatry, but there were times or repentance and righteous living as well. So for this man who was born and raised in the kingdom of Judah to leave his family and country behind to witness to these almost-heathen brothers who have gone generations without seeking the one, true God...is quite a difficult calling. But Amos knows that the safest place to be is in God's will. Therefore he knows that he must go wherever God sends him. He must speak the words God gives him. He must follow God's will and not his own. So even though he doesn't want to leave his comfortable life as a shepherd to go preach to an unwilling audience in a potentially unfriendly country, he must go no matter what the cost. The messages from God that he reveals to the people aren't always easy for his audience to hear. He's not always well-received by the crowds. But he knows that he cannot be a pleaser of men and please God at the same time. So he stands firmly in the Word of God...even if it means standing alone.
Wednesday, July 11, 2007
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
In March of 2005, he proposed to his future wife the same week he signed his first book contract.
Born Michael Robin Parrish on October 13, 1975, Robin's earliest writing efforts took place on a plastic, toy typewriter, and resulted in several "books" (most between 10 and 30 pages long) and even a few magazines.
By the age of thirteen, he had begun winning local writing awards and became a regular in his high school's literary magazine. In college, he garnered acclaim from his English professors and fellow students while maturing and honing his skills.
After college, he entered the writing profession through a "side door" -- the Internet. More than ten years he spent writing for various websites, including About.com, CMCentral.com, and his current project Infuze Magazine, which is a unique intersection between art and faith which he also conceived of and created.
One of his more "high concept" ideas for Infuze was to return to his love for storytelling and create a serialized tale that would play out every two weeks, telling a complete, compelling story over the course of nine months. That serialized story eventually came to the attention of several publishers, who saw it as a potential debut novel for Robin Parrish.
In 2005, Bethany House Publishers brought Robin full circle by contracting him for the rights to not only that first book, Relentless -- but two sequels. A trilogy, to unfold in the consecutive summers of 2006, 2007, and 2008. One massive tale -- of which that first, original story would form only the foundational first volume of the three -- spread across three books.
Robin is the Editor in Chief and creator of Infuze Magazine. He and his wife Karen reside in High Point, North Carolina. Karen works for High Point's First Wesleyan Church, where Robin and Karen are members and Small Group leaders.
ABOUT THE BOOK:
Book Two of the Dominion Trilogy:
The world changed after that terrible day when the sky burned, and now every heart is gripped by fear...
Earthquakes, fire, disease, and floods pummel the earth, and its citizens watch in horror.
A search for answers brings Grant and his friends to London, where an extraordinary discovery awaits that will challenge everything they thought they knew. With a deadly new enemy dogging his steps, Grant realizes that the world's only hope may come from unraveling the truth about himself once and for all. But what he comes face-to-face with leaves even this most powerful of men shaken with fear.
Secrets will be revealed.
Friends will make the ultimate sacrifice.
And destiny will not be denied.
The story continues...
Tuesday, July 10, 2007
Bittersweet by Cathy Marie Hake, 2007.
About a week ago I reviewed Letter Perfect. My review was a little less than enthusiastic. I did mention, however, that this was probably due more to my having a bad week than to the book's style or content. Bittersweet is the sequel to Letter Perfect. While Letter Perfect was narrated by Ruth, Bittersweet is narrated by several characters including: Laney (Josh's sister and Ruth's sister-in-law), Galen Sullivan (Josh's best friend, Laney's long-time crush), and a new character named Ivy. I don't know if it was the change of narrators, or if my dark cloud has lifted, or if I've just grown used to her writing style, but I really enjoyed Bittersweet. Enjoyed perhaps isn't strong enough of a word. I loved this book.
A year has passed since Letter Perfect ended. It is the fall of 1860. The book opens with Laney and Ruth (not to mention the unforgettable Hilda) at the Fair (I'm assuming a state fair) along with some of the Sullivan family. Galen has remained at home to take care of the farm and tend the horses since he is in charge of one of the pony express stations. (I don't know if station is the right word since my knowledge of the pony express is severely limited.) And the time away from his family has shown him several things: he doesn't know anything at all about cooking OR cleaning. He is surviving on the kindess of strangers--okay, they're not really strangers, they're just neighbors who know that a bachelor would need some care and attention while his mama is away. The other thing that he learns is that there is a family (father, son, daughter) squatting on his land. He is not overly thrilled to find them. He wants them gone. He doesn't trust them. But finally, he relents to the man's pleas and allows them to stay if and only if he agrees for his son (I'm assuming 19 or 20ish) to work for him several days a week. Ishmael is the son's name. Ivy is the daughter. Ivy makes a good substitute cook and housekeeper while his mom is away at the fair. Not that she stays at the house--that would be improper--but she does cook a few meals for him and cleans up the mess he's made of the house.
The book is about what happens when everyone returns. Ivy and Ishmael are now "working" for the Sullivan family. Mrs. Sullivan has mercy on the family and sees how they are on the verge of starvation. So she 'hires' Ivy to help her cook and sew and do other household chores in exchange for food for her family. Ishmael, Galen discovers, is also a hardworker. But both Ivy and Ishmael lack polite manners. They've never been taught how to interact and behave around others. They don't know which subjects are taboo. Galen encourages Laney and Ruth to be patient and to try to teach Ivy some of the things she needs to know. A task that proves more challenging than anyone can imagine.
Galen begins watching Laney. Watching how Laney acts with Ivy. Noticing how kind she is. How patient. How forgiving. And he notices just how beautiful his best friend's little sister has become. He is madly in love with her. And he declares his intentions to Josh. But just as he begins to court the woman of his dreams, the unexpected happens.
Life isn't always easy. It isn't always sweet. Sometimes there is pain and confusion. Sometimes there is heartache. Sometimes there is anger. Sometimes life can make you bitter. As the McCain and Sullivan families learn, you may not have control over what happens to you in life...but you can learn to control how you react to life's unexpected turns.
Monday, July 09, 2007
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Linda, a native of Maryland's Eastern Shore, is the author of eighteen historical novels and nine contemporary romances for both the secular and Christian market. A Christy Award finalist, Linda has received numerous awards in both the ABA and CBA, including the Romantic Writers of America's Beacon Award. She lives in Salisbury, Maryland. Learn more!
ABOUT THE BOOK:
Alex Butler is a successful home decorator who hopes she has finally gotten her life together. But when Josh Turner, the man who ran away and broke her heart sixteen years ago, returns to Piper Cove to be the best man in her sister's wedding, Alex can't escape the butterflies in her stomach. But Alex has no time for distractions. Her family has enlisted her to make this the wedding of the century. To pull the event off, she pools the talents of her three best friends - Jan, who creates desserts to-die-for will help with the cake and catering, tomboy Ellen, who works at a landscaping business will handle the flowers and decorations, and Sue Ann, who can…well, Suzie Q can give Alex a much-needed reality check in the course of the wedding planning chaos.
But fate won't be stopped in this small town as Alex and Josh keep running into each other at every turn. When sparks fly, Alex soon finds herself caught in a paralyzing battle of the heart between her old-fashioned Southern father, who fiercely resents Josh for breaking his little girl's heart, and her feelings for the one man she ever truly loved.
Sunday, July 08, 2007
What Is A Healthy Church by Mark Dever, 2007.
What is A Healthy Church is a compact book with a lot of powerful truths. Don't be fooled by its small size, this is not a fluffy book. Who is it for? Anyone and everyone that attends a church. (It is written for pastors and leaders, sure, but it is ALSO written for the congregation at large.)
The first four chapters talk about a Christian's role within the church. How every person who calls himself (or herself) a Christian should be in a committed relationship with a particular church. He stresses the fact that the church is a PEOPLE and not a place. (A church is also not a music style.) He states over and over again how we as Christians are called to be in relationship to one another--called to love one another despite of or in spite of our flaws. We're sinners. We're all sinners. But we're called to be a family. A united family. Honestly, if you're not convicted by reading these chapters, I don't know what's wrong with you.
The next three chapters deal with the first three signs (or marks) of a healthy church. These first three marks are according to Dever the essential ones. The ones where if you're church is lacking or in error, then you're in serious trouble.
1) Expositional Preaching.
2) Biblical Theology.
3) Biblical Understanding of the Gospel
The last six chapters deal with the remaining six marks of a healthy church. These are marks that are deemed important but not essential. You might notice how these marks relate to one another...and how a deficiency in one often leads to widespread problems.
4) Biblical Understanding of Conversion
5) Biblical Understanding of Evangelism
6) Biblical Understanding of Membership
7) Biblical Church Discipline
8) Biblical Discipleship & Growth
9) Biblical Church Leadership
I highly recommend What is A Healthy Church. It is incredible book. Just incredible.
As we gather to worship God and exercise love and good deeds toward one another, we demonstrate in real life, you might say, the fact that God has reconciled us to himself and to one another. We demonstrate to the world that we have been changed, not primarily because because we memorize Bible verses, pray before meals, tithe a portion of our income, and listen to Christian radio stations, but because we increasingly show a willingness to put up with, to forgive, and even to love a bunch of fellow sinners. You and I cannot demonstrate love or joy or peace or patience or kindness sitting all by ourselves on an island. No, we demonstrate it when the people we have committed to loving give us good reasons not to love them, but we do anyway. Do you see it? It's right there--right in the midst of a group of sinners who have committed to loving one another--that the gospel is displayed. The church gives a visual presentation of the gospel when we forgive one another as Christ has forgiven us, when we commit to one another as Christ has committed to us, and when we lay down our lives for one another as Christ laid down his life for us. Together we can display the gospel of Jesus Christ in a way we just can't by ourselves. (28-29)
Saturday, July 07, 2007
One website that makes it easier to manage your podcasts is Oneplace.com. Oneplace doesn't just feature podcasts of course. There are many reasons why it exists. But managing podcasts is one of the main reasons I've found the site to be useful. What is Oneplace?
OnePlace, LLC., began operating OnePlace.com in 1998, aimed at offering "everything for the Christian community." Over the years we have evolved into the largest Christian streaming website, providing Christian audio and video content online.
Almost all ministries offer users some method of listening to sermons free. Some just offer audio/video streams through window media players or real (media) players. Some offer free mp3 downloads. Some offer podcasts. You'll find as you browse through the ministries that a good many charge you money to download a sermon. But if you take the time, you can find some great free resources as well.
This page lists ALL the ministries.
This page lists all of the ministries offering mp3 downloads and/or podcasts. Note, not every mp3 is free. But some are.
- Here are just a few of the ministries you'll find at OnePlace:
- Back to the Bible
- The Bible Answer Man
- Desiring God
- Grace To You
- In His Grip
- Key Life Network
- Running to Win
- Truth For Life
- The White Horse Inn
And this is just to name a few. Each ministry page offers additional resources as well. For example, you can find out more about each ministry--what they believe, etc. Each page is linked to the ministry's official site. And typically has contact information as well.
You can also listen to their internet radio station "FaithTalk"
Friday, July 06, 2007
I often used to tease my mother that certain talk shows were above her maturity level. That she just couldn't watch them without getting upset and shouting and yelling at the tv. Little did I know that one day that would be me. Only this time, it's a newspaper article. Blame It On Mr. Rogers: Why Young Adults Feel Self-Entitled. This article is completely nonsensical. And knowing that, I should be able to let it go, right? Right? I mean why waste one moment of thought on such a stupid argument? Hence why it is above my maturity level.
Fred Rogers, the late TV icon, told several generations of children that they were "special" just for being whoever they were. He meant well, and he was a sterling role model in many ways. But what often got lost in his self-esteem-building patter was the idea that being special comes from working hard and having high expectations for yourself.
But that assessment of Mr. Rogers is false. It wasn't the idea that kids were deserving of praise all the time. And his use of the word special wasn't that of perfection and praise. It was more in the sense of being unique, of being valuable. You are not just a nameless, voiceless person whose identity and worth are insignificant in this world. There is only one you. NOwhere in that message was it stated or implied that that "you" was better than anyone else. Mr. Rogers didn't teach or imply in anyway whatsoever that your uniqueness as an individual gave you the right to special treatment. It was all about equality. Sure you're special. But so is your brother, sister, classmate. Everyone is "special" in the sense that they are a unique individual with a unique personality. It wasn't so much that he was teaching children to love themselves and only themselves. He was teaching them to love themselves AND to love those around them. It was about being emotionally responsible. About showing compassion. About being understanding. About being forgiving. About sharing. About getting along with others. About communicating. About being patient. About teamwork. About self-control. "Special" never meant better. And it never meant there was no room for improvement. (Like the article implies.)
When you think of the words "entitlement" what do you think of? I think of children and teens who feel "entitled" to have their parents buy them anything and everything they want. If they're young that means that they have every toy that they've ever expressed interest in. If they're older it means that they've convinced their parents to give them every cd, dvd, gadget, etc. And in many cases even a car. Or perhaps they expect their parents to pay for their college tuition. For their parents to go into debt so they can have the latest and the best of everything. They feel they deserve whatever they want because they've never been told no. They've never been taught the value of a dollar. Whose fault is that? Is Mr. Rogers to blame for the parents lack of common sense? If a parent can't say no to a child, and if a parent can't set boundaries for a child...is that anyone else's fault but his/her own?
Mr. Rogers was never materialistic. That's not who he was. He embodied simplicity. The man had the same curtains and furniture for however many years--decades--it was. He was never about having the latest and the best. His message was never "you need more stuff to be happy*." If today's young adults have that message...they weren't getting it from Mr. Rogers. Chances are they weren't getting it from any public television broadcast.
I think this problem of self-entitlement goes back much further than that. It's not this generation that is showing the first signs. This isn't a new problem. Most adults have this problem as well. Why else are there so many people--of all ages and generations--in financial debt? If people didn't feel "entitled" to things that they couldn't afford to pay for today, then they wouldn't be charging up such huge amounts on their credit cards. People want what they can't afford. And they don't want to wait. Pure and simple. They don't want to wait. They don't want to work. They don't want to do things the responsible way. If kids and teens have a sense of entitlement, it is because that is the lifestyle they see their parents live day in and day out year after year.
I think this goes back to the Depression. People of that generation that were growing up lived with little. They didn't get everything they want. They were happy with whatever they could get. They were happy to have enough to survive. They lived in poverty. They didn't expect someone to hand them all of life's luxuries. They often worked--either around the house or actually doing small jobs--and contributed to their family. They didn't expect something for nothing. However, when this once-deprived generation began to grow up and have children of their own, they wanted to indulge their children. They didn't want them to have to go through the same hardships. If their child wanted this or that--something the parent had never had the pleasure of having as a child--they wanted to say yes. While this generation worked hard to give their kids everything they wanted, their kids didn't particularly go out of their to learn this same work ethic. And then that generation began growing up and having kids...except that they had grown up feeling entitled and passed on the same. Etc. and so forth. You can see where this is going. It is parents who model how to act, how to behave, how to SPEND. If parents don't teach their kids the meaning of hard work, discipline, responsibility...and if they cater to their every wish and desire....then they shouldn't be surprised when they act entitled.
No person automatically deserves the fine things in life like a big-screen HDTV just by virtue of being born "special."
In some ways, I think "entitlement" is just a fancy word for selfish. And that is something that we as humans are born with. It infects everyone of us from the start. We have to be taught to think of others. We have to be taught to love others. We have to be taught to be compassionate and generous. We have to be taught how to respect others. We have to be taught how to interact with the world. Selfishness is not something that we learn from watching tv...although there are many programs and commercials that glorify a selfish attitude.
* It's you I like,
It's not the things you wear,
It's not the way you do your hair--
But it's you I like
The way you are right now,
The way down deep inside you--
Not the things that hide you,
Not your toys--
They're just beside you.
But it's you I like--
Every part of you,
Your skin, your eyes, your feelings
Whether old or new.
I hope that you'll remember
Even when you're feeling blue
That it's you I like,
It's you yourself,
It's you, it's you I like.
Sarah, My Beloved by Sharlene MacLaren, 2007 (October).
Sarah, My Beloved is the second book in the Little Hickman Creek Series by Sharlene MacLaren. Sarah, first introduced in Loving Liza Jane as the mail order bride who arrived a bit too late to win her prospective husband's heart, is living in the town's boarding house. Sarah feels convinced that God has brought her to Little Hickman. And that He has great plans for her there. Enter Rocky Callahan. (He was also introduced in Loving Liza Jane as the grieving man whose bitterness has turned him away from God.) Rocky is the new caretaker of his niece, Rachel, and nephew, Seth. When Sarah sees these three 'lost' souls that need lovingkindness, she opens her heart to a family in crisis. And when Rocky blurts out a proposal of marriage, Sarah, after some consideration, agrees. She is eager to show these children some love and tenderness. And she hopes to melt Rocky's bitterness away as well. But this marriage "in name only" soon becomes a place where love blooms and blossoms. But this path to true love won't be easy for either of them.
I enjoyed Loving Liza Jane. But I really enjoyed Sarah, My Beloved. I am looking forward to the third book in the series, Courting Emma, which will be released in Spring 2008.
Thursday, July 05, 2007
If you're fortunate to live near one of Mardel's twenty-six stores (fourteen of which are in Texas) then maybe you can share in the pure joy that is Mardel. There is no physical store that can complete with the selection and variety of Mardel. (Sure, you can order practically any book from Amazon or maybe Christianbook.com but no "real" store can compete.) Hence why cities that have a Mardel have a hard time keeping their Family Christian Stores open. So if you're willing to pay full-price, it's a dream. And if you're looking for a good price, it's still a dream. And if you're a bargain-hunter, this is really your kind of store.
Today's joy? For under $28 dollars....all of this was purchased:
2 leather bibles (1 imitation leather Daily Chronological Bible NIV, 1 genuine leather thumb-indexed thinline Holman Christian Standard Bible)
Quickverse Black Box Edition, for Mac
4 Lynn Austin books: (1 Gods & Kings, 1 Faith of Our Fathers, 1 Among the Gods, and 1 Candle in the Darkness)
Paying retail those items would have been $34.99, $44.99, $79.99, $12.99, $12.99, $12.99, $12.99. So you see Mardel for me is more than just a happy place. It is a wonderful, glorious, happy, happy, joy, joy place.
Loving Liza Jane by Sharlene MacLaren, 2007.
Loving Liza Jane is an enjoyable historical fiction novel set in Kentucky in 1895. Liza Jane is a newly-licensed school teacher who comes to Kentucky because she feels led by God to start a new adventure in life. So she says goodbye to her aunt and uncle and goes to face her future. There are many things she has to adjust to...but within a matter of days...Liza Jane has fallen in love with the place...and the people of Little Hickman Creek. Now it probably won't come as a shock to anyone that Liza Jane will meet some interesting suitors who try to win her heart. And it probably won't surprise anyone that she falls for a widower with two kids--one of whom is her favorite student in the class. But despite the fact that the book has predictable moments, it never ceases to be enjoyable. In fact, as a reader I enjoy predictable books a good bit of the time. You know what you're getting. Loving Liza Jane is a mix of Christy by Catherine Marshall and the Elizabeth series by Janette Oke.
This is the first novel in a new series--Little Hickman Creek Series. I think they will all be quite good. Why? Because the characters are so enjoyable. There really is a community cast. I'm halfway through the second in the series, Sarah my Beloved, and I'm already wishing I had a third.
Wednesday, July 04, 2007
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:Chuck served four years in the Elite 75th Ranger Regiment–the same unit profiled in the movie “Black Hawk Down.” Chuck saw combat in Panama in 1989. After leaving active duty, Chuck flew helicopters in the Wisconsin National Guard while attending the University of Wisconsin.
In 2004, after ten years as a stockbroker, Chuck left that profession to pursue full-time writing. At the same time, he began working as the "Adventure Correspondent" for CBN.
He is the author of five books, including A More Elite Soldier, Bulletproof, and
Allah's Fire, the first of three books in the Task Force Valor series.
Today, Chuck, Connie, and their five children live on a farm in Appalachia, where Chuck now pursues his varied interests of farming, writing, adventure travel and public speaking, among other things.
ABOUT THE BOOK:
As the global war on terror heats up, the U.S. deploys a team of highly trained special operators overseas to locate and neutralize threats, bringing EOD expertise to dangerous missions that have no room for error.
A DEADLY EXPLOSION
A new specialty explosive is on the black market: ITEB looks like water, but when it's exposed to air, the effects are lethal! The United States government is frantic to keep it from our shores. Staff Sergeant Euripides "Rip" Rubio knows how destructive ITEB can be. He has already risked his life to thwart a horrific terrorist plot involving the chemical. Now Task Force Valor heads to Panama, on the trail of an arms dealer who plans to use ITEB to make a killing...literally.
AN ADVENTURE ABROAD
Fernanda Lerida is a University of Florida grad student who jumps at the chance to join a biological expedition to a mysterious former prison island. But the snakes, bugs, and crocodiles are soon the least of her worries as the group stumbles upon something they were not meant to see. To Make matters worse, Fernanda soon finds herself alone and being pursued by an unseen foe.
A RISKY RESCUE
When Rip's path collides with Fernanda's, they find themselves caught in the midst of a brutal turf war. Can they use the chaos to their advantage, or will one false step set the entire island ablaze?
"Island Inferno is a boy-meets-girl story. But in Chuck Holton's world, boy meets girl in the middle of a jungle at 25mph. hanging under a parachute with an assault rifle strapped across his chest. You'd better plan on reading this in one sitting. And once you're done, you'd better give yourself time for your pulse to calm down."
----TOM MORRISEY, Author of Deep Blue, and Dark Fathom
Tuesday, July 03, 2007
Shopping For Time: How To Do It All and Not Be Overwhelmed. Carolyn Mahaney, Nicole Whitacre, Kristin Chesemore, Janelle Bradshaw. 2007.
Carolyn Mahaney is the mother. Nicole, Kristin, and Janelle are her daughters. Together they have written Shopping for Time: How To Do It All And Not Be Overwhelmed. Let me tell you something, I was skeptical of this book. You may be wondering, why did I request a review copy of a book I thought I may not like. I wanted to read this book for two reasons. One I wanted to judge such a book for myself. It's unfair to judge a book by its cover. Or in this case, to judge a book based on the title "How to Do It All and NOT Be Overwhelmed." It sounded unrealistic. It sounded like it would be one of those bossy little books that make you feel condemned and unworthy. Or perhaps to judge it based on the fact that I rarely have anything positive to say about "women's issues" type books.
Rarely. Elizabeth George. Not for me. Couldn't stand A Woman's After God's Own Heart. Besides the fact that I thought the title was misleading, I disagreed with much of what she had to say. For the record, my main problem with books by and for women are that they don't concern me. In 99% of these books if you are not a married woman with children, you're barely worth a mention at all. That was one of my biggest complaints against A Woman After God's Own Heart. It wasn't about being a woman. It was about being a wife. It was about being a mother. Being single obviously never occurred to this Elizabeth George as a valid audience to address. The book wasn't about growing closer to God. It was about being a stereotypical housewife. The book essentially told you that except for church, a woman should only leave the house once a week. It also said that you should never sit down for longer than five or six minutes. If you DID actually sit down and rest for longer than that, she condemned you as terribly lazy. It said things that the only answer you should give your husband is yes. That you should never express an opinion that disagreed with his. And that not only should you greet your husband at the door with a fresh application of lipstick, but that once he was home you were supposed to dote and hang on his every word. It essentially said that you were supposed to be with him and stay with him and wait on him. And that his hobby should be your hobby. And that you weren't allowed to be separate and individual. If he was home, he was to be your sole focus. Which I suppose is all fine and good to a certain extent. But seriously, people need alone time. I wouldn't want anyone to follow me around that much. Elizabeth George went on to mention that women should better themselves by trying to read one or maybe two books a year. Seriously. And I guess that's all you COULD read if you're not allowed to sit for longer than five minutes. I suppose I should amend that. You're probably allowed to sit down if and only if your husband is sitting down. Actually, I guess I should be grateful she doesn't outright condemn sitting and reading altogether. The sad thing? I bought five or six books by Elizabeth George based on my sister's high praises. So I now own a good collection of books--I've only read the one--that I wouldn't read for all the money in the world. (That's not true, I might read them for money and for the fact that I could make fun of them.)
Anne Ortlund. I honestly don't remember if I gave up on Disciplines of a Beautiful Woman or not. I know I hated what I did read of it though. Hated it. She actually said things like a woman should never pray or read the Bible UNLESS she was dressed, had her hair done, and was wearing make-up. Seriously. God doesn't love you if you're not all painted up, according to her. Never mind that he was a God that sent his son to die for us while we were yet sinners. Never mind that God sees us, hears us, knows us, and loves us at our best and worst twenty-four hours a day. No, you have to be "beautiful" to be loved and accepted by God according to Ortlund. That and the gagging fact that she thinks you HAVE to have a vaseful of flowers in your bathroom. And anything less than her definition of feminity is just that 'less than.' There's no allowing for personality or diversity here.
So I was all poised to dislike or disagree with Shopping For Time. Which brings me back to a second point. I know lots of women--including my sister--who would want to read a book like this one. So knowing that there is an audience out there who needs this kind of book, I wanted to review it.
First thoughts of this book. The good news is that Carolyn and daughters actually WANT women to spend a good deal of time sitting. That is always good news. the second piece of good news is that throughout the book, they actually say things like adapt our suggestions and make them fit with who you are. You don't have to do it just like this to be perfect. Be who you are. You don't have to conform to our definition, and play by our rules. I sensed no condemnation. No judgement. Which is always a good thing. Third, the book while mainly written for wives and mothers...does take a few sentences in each chapter to address those NOT in that particular "season" of their lives. They address single women, college-aged women, teenagers, etc.
The book acknowledges that God is sovereign. It is His plans for us that come to pass. Not our own plans. We control nothing. We don't sit down and tell God what to do. This isn't a book about controlling one's life and accomplishing all our hopes and dreams in an effort to "have it all" according to the world's standards.
The book is organized around five tips.
1) The First Tip: Rise Early (Joining the 5AM Club)
I knew I would hate this book when I saw the phrase '5AM Club' in one of the titles. But I was wrong. The chapter is about how that time happens to work for them. But how it is perfectly acceptable to have a 6AM club or 8AM club. It all depends on where you are in your life. If you have a husband and family that need to be up and out of the house by 7 or 7:30. Then 5AM might make sense. If you're a college student whose classes don't start until 11AM, then 8 or 9 is fine to get up. The point wasn't the time. It was the fact that your supposed to change your schedule just a bit so that you can fit in time with God at the very beginning. Take an extra thirty minutes or an hour to give to him right from the start. And I noticed that if a wife and mother could best fit her devotions in right after the husband leaves for work and the kids leave for school...that that is "allowed." The point is to have alone time with Jesus where he is your focus. So because the chapter allowed for many variations and was nonjudgemental, I actually LIKED this chapter a great deal.
2) The Second Tip: Sit Still (Sitting at Jesus' Feet)
Closely related to the first tip, this chapter is all about spending time with God in prayer and Bible reading. It is about focusing on him. It is about loving him. It is about growing in him. For some people, this may mean making a plan or following a plan to study and read the Bible. For others, it may be more relaxed. It needs to be a balance of discipline and yet relaxed enough to allow for our humanity. The chapter is not about how to be legalistic. It isn't about how God loves us more or less. More if we're consistently disciplined, and less if we miss a week or two...or gasp....much longer. It isn't about working for God's acceptance. It isn't about working at all. This chapter is all about our need, our dependence on God. It is about grace. Not about guilt. Not about pride. Not about self-sufficiency.
3) The Third Tip: Sit and Plan (Taking a Personal Retreat)
The third tip is harder for me to relate to. The authors advise women to take one or two days out of the year to focus their attention on themselves and do an inventory of sorts. To assess what they want and what they need. To look for ways to change. To look for ways to improve. To make new goals. To make priorities. To get organized. To make lots of lists. Anyone who knows me knows that I am not a list-maker. I don't do lists. I don't do organization. I don't do written goals. So this "personal retreat" would be pure torture for me. I wouldn't find it refreshing. I'd find it depressing. But I know many people in my life who DO make lists, who do have goals, who are ultra-organized. I know they're going to love this chapter. So I don't think it's "bad" by any means. Just not for me.
4) The Fourth Tip: Consider People (Evaluating Relationships Carefully)
This chapter is all about friendships and relationships. Again not so much for me. I don't have friends in all those categories. And I'm not in an environment to find and make those kinds of friendships. Even when I was surrounded by more people, I wasn't outgoing. I've never really sought to maintain twenty or forty friendships when three to five will suffice just fine. I would rather have a few that are manageable than twenty that I never saw or wrote. But again, I think this chapter will be relevant to many people. Many.
5) The Fifth Tip: Plan to Depend (Being Productive in Daily Life)
Despite how this chapter may sound, it actually is not about doing anything on your own. It is all about depending on God day by day, moment by moment. So while they spend a great deal of time focusing on planning and organizing and being efficient and all sorts of things that I would never actually do, they also approach it with the philosophy that they will get done what God wants them to get done. That by allowing God to shape your life and your priorities, that you actually feel at peace with what gets done and not be overwhelmed and stressed.
So the book does offer some practical tips, but it offers many spiritual tips as well.
So what did I think? I actually liked this book. I thought that it was actually realistic and biblical. I really appreciated the fact that it was not judgemental. That the women allowed for the fact that every single woman is different.
Monday, July 02, 2007
Hake, Cathy Marie. 2006. Letter Perfect.
Ruth Caldwell, a clumsy tomboy, travels west to ultimately find love and danger in California, 1859. Grieving the loss of her mother, Ruth travels west alone to meet the father she never knew. Unfortunately, her father has died. Fortunately, her father's partner Josh McCain, Sr. and Josh McCain, Jr., offer her their home. There is also a sister. Laney, Elaine Louise, McCain. Ruth becomes best friends with Laney, and though Josh at first finds her more than a little frustrating to be around, he soon becomes smitten. But in this "Wild West" setting, little is as it appears. And danger may be closer than they'd ever think.
This week has been an odd week at best, full of many discouragements and bouts of plain disillusionment. So if you're Cathy Marie Hake, and you happen to be reading this, keep that in mind. I was mostly puzzled by Letter Perfect. Greatly puzzled if I'm honest. It's not that the writing is bad. It's not. It's just confusing in a few small ways that end up all in one big mess by the end. The book begins with Ruth Caldwell being introduced as a tomboyish miss who is clumsy both physically and socially. She's always making a mess of things. Always getting in and out of trouble. Just a real handful. You never know what to expect. That is how this character is set up. And it's true for the first chapter. We see Ruth Caldwell out of her element at a ladies' school...a charm school. She ends up making a calamity at a dinner and getting thrown out of school for being unladylike. But once she's out of that environment, that label doesn't really fit anymore. Yet Ruth refers this way about herself over and over and over again. Which I suppose I can see as possible. Certainly we as humans have a way of seeing what we think are our flaws and magnifying them above and beyond what an outside observer would note. So I'm not being over critical there. Not necessarily. But this one thing kept working with a larger theme: I never knew quite what to expect next. This story wasn't predictable at all...not remotely. You might think that was a good thing. It might even be a good thing to another reader. But I wanted to know where I was going. I knew it was a romance. I knew it was set in California. But everything else was like a thousand different plots being juggled in the air and randomly caught and pieced together. First there was a big deal made about the pony express. Then there was a great deal of focus spent on the transcontinental railroad. Then there was a chapter or two where I thought the author was leading the reader in the direction of a Native-American (Indian) versus whites/government/soldier. There was some talk of Indians attacking forts and settlements. Some talk of how unsafe it was to travel. How Indians would murder you. And whatnot. And there were a few chapters were there was a big emphasis on slavery and Abe Lincoln and how the North and South couldn't continue on in peace...that something was brewing. (The book is set in 1859). And then there were bits and pieces about a women's suffrage movement. All those plot elements thrown in and jumbled together. They'd talk about a thing for a chapter or two and then either not mention it again for the rest of the book, OR they'd wait five or ten chapters to bring it back up. Regardless, all of these little indicators were adding up to false advertisement.
The main thread of the novel seems to be a mystery of sorts. But again the clues are all over the place and the reader has no clue they're even supposed to be looking for clues until you're well over halfway through the novel. Up until that point where you learn that
one of the characters is embezzling funds from the ranch, you have no clue that there is a mystery to be solved and a villain to be caught and dealt with.
What adds to this confusing "mystery" is the fact that the author whether purposefully or accidentally uses names interchangeably. What do I mean? I mean for two thirds of the book, perhaps except for one scene of introduction, this character is called "Dad." He is the father of the man Ruth eventually marries. Even after the reader learns that he is behind the embezzlement and that he most definitely is a drunk. And he could have other vices as well. He is still referred to as "Dad." Not unusual, right? But then out of the blue, "McCain" shows up. If you're like me, you're going McCain who???? Where did this guy come from??? Who is he??? What's going on???? But then you either flip to the beginning or read a paragraph or two further and discover that Dad and McCain are the same person. From that time on, she refers to "Dad" as "McCain" about 75 or 80% of the time. All the characters by this point know him to be a villain. Yet there is one chapter close to the end, and after about ten or twenty chapters after "Dad" has only been called "McCain" in the text that he all of a sudden--out of the blue--is "Dad" again. Why this switch back again? Why? Why the switch at all? Why use them interchangeably if it's a stylistic thing???? If McCain is a cold, calculating, distant man who is a murderer, then why refer to him as Dad again once the reader is aware of his true nature. His own daughter now knows him essentially to be an immoral criminal who would not stop short of murder. His son knows the same and is trying to protect the woman he loves. Yet he's "Dad" again. But only for that one chapter. I believe the next chapter sees him as "McCain" again.
So while I don't feel Letter Perfect is a bad book by any means, it left me just a wee bit puzzled. Especially this whole McCain/Dad thing. I tend to think that you should pick a name and stick with it. To bounce back and forth seemingly at random is just confusing. Grant you, I thought it odd that this book told almost 99% through her eyes would have this man, this stranger, be "Dad." So in some ways, it was almost a relief for him to be called something else. But he does make a good villain, I suppose. He was bad to the core and he didn't repent.