Monday, November 28, 2011

The Christmas Singing by Cindy Woodsmall


Mattie and Gideon were the couple everyone knew would end up together. Best friends for years, they shared treasured memories and a love deep enough to get Mattie through the darkest times of her mother's ailing health. Then one Christmas singing, Mattie catches Gideon in the arms of an Englischer...and everything changes. Crushed by his betrayal and their subsequent breakup, she leaves home for the long held dream of setting up her very own bakery. Her business is a success and Mattie even catches the eye of the quiet, gentle, Sol but her heart is still bruised from the past. Though she has no real spark with Sol, Mattie would rather settle for companionship with him than risk spending a life alone. Through a whirl wind of events, she is forced to cross paths with the one man she never wants to see again; and it's all she can do to be civil. Gideon desperately wants to make amends for his wrong, but Mattie can barely contain the anger and frustration she feels about unanswered questions from that long ago night. Will anything her former love says or does be enough to bridge the enormous gap between them? Can Mattie find the peace she craves to move on with her future?

If you have the winter blues, this little novella is the perfect antidote for you. I started reading during a road trip and, three hours later, I had nearly finished the story. I found it really engaging and the characters easy to connect with throughout. Mattie Lane was likeable and someone most any girl, especially one who's been scorned, could empathize with. Cindy Woodsmall did a great job handling the awkward relationship between Gideon and Mattie. She allowed Mattie some time to vent her anger toward him as well as work through her feelings past and present. There was good tension throughout and you felt for each character in different ways. I also enjoyed reading from Mattie, Gideon and Sol's point of view and thought it gave the story a nice diversity. The Christmas Singing was a sweet story without being too overdone or heavy handed emotionally. I'd definitely recommend to friends and it's one I'll probably re-read again in a few years. It would be fun finding out what happens with Sol also. Will he get his own book? Hint hint...

I received a complimentary copy of this book from Multnomah/Waterbrook in exchange for my honest review.

Monday, November 21, 2011

The Doctor's Lady by Jody Hedlund


 Having learned several years prior that she will likely never have children, Priscilla White is prepared to leave behind her former aspirations of wife and mother for a teaching position in India. Once the mission board gives her their final letter of approval, she'll be on her way. However, her church's Sunday morning arrival of another prospective missionary, Dr. Eli Earnest, brings an unwelcome dose or reality when he plainly informs her the board has decided only married couples will be allowed to travel to their desired mission posts.

Unbelieving, Priscilla soon discovers his words are true when she receives her own letter of apologetic dismissal from those who hold her very future in their hands. Feeling crushed, she wonders just what is to become of her calling to serve in India and the carefully mapped out plans for her life? Meanwhile, Dr. Earnest is pondering the same thing as he longs to minister to the Nez Perce tribe out West. A marriage of convenience seems the only alternative for them, but both have serious reservations about entering into a business partnership, especially with each other. Yet, with options dwindling, what choice do they have? Will Eli and Priscilla join forces together or allow their individual dreams to fall by the wayside?

The Doctor's Lady is a really good read. You know, the kind you don't want to put down because you're sure if you do, something will happen when you're not looking. Those pages might just pack themselves up and run off if you don't keep an eye on them...In fact, I've usually found the best spot for safekeeping is on a bed stand. That way, you can take periodic peeks to make sure your treasure is still there; even if it means partaking in an all night vigil. Yup, that's how seriously I took my responsibilities for The Doctor's Lady, and you should too.

The writing is quite strong, the characters well fleshed out, the journey interesting; with just enough details to satisfy those curious about what so many pioneers went through, and the overall tone vibrates with tension. I found the scenes between Priscilla and baby David extremely moving and realistic. As a new mom myself, I could totally relate to her feelings of love, loss and despair. Kids have a way of unexpectedly grabbing your heart and not letting go. This was portrayed wonderfully here and brought a tear to my eyes. Continuing our travels with Priscilla and Eli, we also share in their sorrow, joy, weariness, wonder and growth. Growth individually, toward each other, and most importantly, in Christ. They each have personal demons to conquer as they discover the paths to humility, trust, and dependence on others. Eli, especially, is prone toward independence and leaning on his own strength above all else. Can he relinquish control to the one who holds their future in the palm of his hand? Or will his pride be the downfall of all those entrusted to his care?

If you haven't yet picked up a copy of The Doctor's Lady, then make haste to the nearest bookstore. And dust off a spot on your night table.

I received a complimentary review copy of this book from Bethany House Publishers in exchange for my honest opinion.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Journey to Christmas

After seeing the interesting trailer for this dvd, I was looking forward to sitting down and learning more about the Christmas story. It's such a big holiday that, in the busyness of the season, I'm the first to admit I don't always put the focus where I should. Sadly, Christ tends to get lost in the details so I was hoping this "journey" would give me a little jolt back to reality.

 Episode one starts off introducing us to five travelers who will be embarking on an adventure to the holy land together. They all have quite different backgrounds-from a talk show host, to an artist, an agnostic, a traditional christian and finally someone with native american roots, this is a pretty eclectic bunch-and all there for different reasons. Some want to re-affirm their existing faith while others just want to walk away with some kind of faith; or at least a basic understanding of who Jesus is/was and how he might pertain to their lives. They're hoping that witnessing in person the places Christ was born, lived, taught, and died will give them more tangible evidence of his existence.

There are four episodes on two discs and each one takes us closer and closer to Bethlehem, the final destination and site of Jesus' birth. Along the way, the group visit numerous historic sites, partake in Jewish traditions, marvel at the ancients customs still practiced today, and grow closer as a team. Various pastors and scholars are also there to guide us along in our biblical understanding of chronological events and important details of the Christmas story.

The production values are very good; my only complaint stems from some conversations between the group in episode one where the sound is extremely low, making it hard to hear what they're saying. After that episode, I had no more issues with the sound and was able to, once again, fully enjoy my viewing.

What I found most interesting, was each person's take on the journey and finding out what really impacted them. Their wide range of reactions also showed me that each of us sees God very differently; what draws me closer to him might be the very thing that pushes my neighbor away. Our journey to God, just like their journey to Christmas, is uniquely our own. In the end, not everyone walked away with what they initially hoped for but I think the trip did change some pre conceived notions about religion, Christianity, Christmas, and God in general.

As someone who is very familiar with the Christmas story, I wouldn't say I learned a lot of new things persay but I still found this dvd set to be engaging, thoughtfully crafted, and a few hours well spent. This would also be perfect viewing for a small group, with a lot of opportunity for discussion following each episode.

Thanks to Tyndale Publishers for a complimentary copy of this dvd in exchange for my honest review.

Saturday, November 05, 2011

The Betrayal by Dianne Noble

Mormonism and polygamy have become somewhat popular of late, and given the nature of the subject, I can understand why. Most people can't imagine living in a plural relationship, sharing one man with multiple wives and children. It goes against everything we consider normal in our culture so we're intrigued to find out what makes these people tick.

The Betrayal and The Sister Wife, book one in this series, shed some light on the beginnings of the movement we know as polygamy today. It's story centers around Gabriel MacKay and the three women he brings into his marriage; Mary Rose, Bronwyn, and Enid. All though the relationship between Gabe and Mary Rose starts off as a typical monogamous one, the Mormon church quickly fills its followers heads with thoughts of celestial glory through the eternal union of sister wives. As they explain, the more women a male brings into heaven, the more exalted his position. They will all be sealed together awaiting the day each husband calls his wife into heaven by her secret name, given at the wedding ceremony in sacred trust and future expectation of coming other worldly delight. 

Mary Rose never buys into this hype but her position is tenuous at best when church leaders pressure Gabe into taking another wife, who also happens to be her best friend. How far can she and Bronwyn go in their quest to follow the "will" of Heavenly Father, even if it means treading a false path? And is it too late to right a wrong once it's been done?

Instead of rehashing all the storyline details, I want to instead focus on the writing by author Dianne Noble. She does a great job of giving details but not overloading us with too much information that isn't relevant to the story. Her descriptions of characters and various event are well drawn and easily relateable. The plot is fast paced and doesn't lag, keeping readers invested in the plight of those we've come to know. By the end, we're truly rooting for them to somehow find their way out of the muddled mess they've created for themselves. 

The final circumstances are left rather ambiguous, opening the door for a third book, which I'd love to see. Instead of leaving off where the polygamy aspect does, it would be interesting to witness the aftermath and directions each character takes. All in all, kudos to Dianne Noble for bringing us into this interesting, unpredictable, world with finesse and eloquent writing which I won't soon forget. Please give us an update on Gabe, Mary Rose, Bronwyn, and Enid in the near future!
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