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Thursday, August 10

Hot New Reads! Part II

Lawdamercy....I don't know about you, but it's blazing here!  I'm ready to sprawl out under a fan with a good book!  Which one of these new fiction finds will you choose?

While I don't typically point out my favorites, you'll find a few stars / recommended reads below.  đŸ˜‰

FICTION

Freedom's Ring  (Heidi Chiavaroli)
Boston, 2015
Two years after nearly losing her life in the Boston Marathon bombing, Annie David is still far from “Boston strong.” Instead she remains isolated and defeated―plagued by guilt over her niece, crippled in the blast, and by an antique ring alongside a hazy hero’s face. But when she learns the identity of her rescuer, will he be the hero she’s imagined? And can the long-past history of the woman behind the ring set her free from the guilt and fears of the present?
Boston, 1770
As a woman alone in a rebellious town, Liberty Caldwell finds herself in a dangerous predicament. When a British lieutenant, Alexander Smythe, comes to her rescue and offers her employment, Liberty accepts. As months go by, Alexander not only begins to share his love of poetry with her, but protects Liberty from the advances of a lecherous captain living in the officers’ house where she works.  Mounting tensions explode in the Boston Massacre, and Liberty’s world is shattered as her brother, with whom she has just reunited, is killed in the fray. Desperate and alone, she returns home, only to be assaulted by the captain. Afraid and furious toward redcoats, Liberty leaves the officers’ home, taking with her a ring that belonged to Alexander.  Two women, separated by centuries, must learn to face their fears. And when they feel they must be strong, they learn that sometimes true strength is found in surrender.

This was one of those books that you'll stay up half the night to read, just because you want to know what comes next!  The author has done her research, so you'll learn some history along the way, too.  The modern main character is a lady who was injured during the Boston Marathon bombing, while the historical main character is a lady who is trying to get by on her own during the Revolutionary War.  Both women are survivors, having undergone some harrowing times on their own.  They are tied together by a common thread - and this is one of those stories that jumps back and forth through that, but you'll be able to keep the plots straight.  There is a lot of mystery and intrigue, hence wanting to stay up all night to know the ending, and you'll probably walk away with some questions about your own ancestors...

**The Promise of Dawn (Lauraine Snelling)**  (RECOMMENDED)
When Signe, her husband, Rune, and their three boys arrive in Minnesota from Norway to help a relative clear his land of lumber, they dream of owning their own farm and building a life in the New World. But Uncle Einar and Aunt Gird are hard, demanding people, and Signe and her family soon find themselves worked nearly to the bone in order to repay the cost of their voyage. At this rate, they will never have land or a life of their own.  Signe tries to trust God but struggles with anger and bitterness. She has left behind the only life she knew, and while it wasn't an easy life, it wasn't as hard as what she now faces. When a new addition to the family arrives, Signe begins to see how God has been watching over them throughout their ordeal. But after all that has happened, can she still believe in the promise of a bright future?

This is the first of a new series, and I'm really looking forward to the next one!  The family moves from Norway to Minnesota and faces many struggles together in this new world.  Things are not what they were presented to be, and the family must choose whether to cope or go back home.  It takes a lot of perseverance, patience, and faith, but they choose to stay and work through it -- I want to know how the family plays out!  In addition to it just being a well-told, well-researched, historical Christian novel, it also has good homesteading information...we can always learn from those who came before us.  A good read.

The Return (Suzanne Woods Fisher)
Beautiful and winsome, Betsy Zook never questioned her family's rigid expectations, nor those of devoted Hans, but then she never had to. Not until the night when she's taken captive in a surprise Indian raid. During her captivity, Betsy faces brutality and hardship, but also unexpected kindness. She draws strength from native Caleb, who encourages her to find God in all circumstances. She finds herself torn between her pious upbringing and the intense new feelings this compelling man awakens within her.  Handsome and complex, Hans is greatly anguished by Betsy's captivity and turns to Tessa Bauer for comfort. Eagerly, Tessa responds, overlooking troubling signs of Hans's hunger for revenge. When Betsy is finally restored to the Amish, have things gone too far between Hans and Tessa?  Inspired by true events, this deeply layered novel gives a glimpse into the tumultuous days of prerevolutionary Pennsylvania through the eyes of two young, determined, and faith-filled women.

This is another well-researched, historical, Christian read...this one takes us to Pennsylvania during the era just after the French-Indian War.  It was a time when the Amish community was just being established, and thus a difficult era to live through for the main characters.  It starts off slowly, so plow through the first chapters, but you'll be rewarded with a good story...and then you'll stay up late just to see how it ends.  There's a love triangle, a kidnapping, lots of fear and anxiety, and a side of guilt...but there's also tolerance, acceptance, faith, and self-discovery for the main characters.  This is the third and final book in the Amish Blessings series, and it wraps everything up neatly.

To Wager Her Heart (Tamera Alexander)
Sylas Rutledge, the new owner of the Northeast Line Railroad, invests everything he has into this venture, partly for the sake of the challenge. But mostly to clear his father's name. One man holds the key to Sy's success--General William Giles Harding of Nashville's Belle Meade Plantation. But Harding is champagne and thoroughbreds, and Sy Rutledge is beer and bullocks.  Sy needs someone to help him maneuver his way through Nashville's society, and when he meets Alexandra Jamison, he quickly decides he's found his tutor. Only, he soon discovers that the very train accident his father is blamed for causing is what killed Alexandra Jamison's fiancĂ©--and has shattered her world.  Spurning an arranged marriage by her father, Alexandra instead pursues her passion for teaching at Fisk University, the first freedmen's university in the United States. But family--and Nashville society--do not approve, and she soon finds herself cast out from both.  Through connections with the Harding family, Alexandra and Sy become unlikely allies. And despite her first impressions, Alexandra gradually finds herself coming to respect, and even care for this man. But how can she, when her heart is still spoken for? And when Sy's roguish qualities and adventuresome spirit smack more of recklessness than responsibility and honor?  Sylas Rutledge will risk everything to win over the woman he loves. What he doesn't count on is having to wager her heart to do it. 

The final installment in the Belle Meade Plantation series (although it also works as a standalone), this book wraps up all of the other plotlines while carrying its own.  The author has put a lot of research into making it historically accurate, and her descriptions will make you feel as though you're in Nashville.  The main characters struggle with societal expectations and experience personal growth, eventually together, and enjoy a little romance, too.  The temporal setting is Reconstruction-era in the South...where the location is also struggling with a new set of societal expectations, and trying to figure out how to grow with them....just like the characters, if you will.  It's not a romanticized view of this post-Civil War era, but rather it shows the ugliness, the dirtiness, and how beautiful grace was in the midst of that.  And as an added bonus at the end, we get a recipe for Chess pie....my mama's favorite!!

The Promise of a Letter (Kathleen Fuller)
Roman is on the verge of leaving the Amish ways. Feeling confined by the strict rules, he longs to do something more with his life. But when things don’t go as planned, Roman’s prospects outside of the community dwindle. Upon learning that his beloved grandmother has died and left a letter urging him to reconcile with his brother in Birch Creek, Roman decides to return home. But he doesn’t plan to stay for long.  Leanna Chupp has always made her own way in her small community of Birch Creek. Though some may call her unconventional—strange, even—Leanna is happy. Her unique outlook on life has meant she’s never had many suitors pursuing courtship, which Leanna doesn’t mind. She is content being single.  But when Roman and Leanna find themselves working together again, everything changes. Though neither fit squarely within the strictures of the Amish faith, their differences could be the very thing to help them form a deeper connection to their community and to each other. The question remains: will this strengthening bond be enough to make Roman stay for good?
Following Written in Love, this is the second book in this series, and I'm looking forward to the third!  It picks up right where the last one left off, with Phoebe expecting a baby.  All of the main characters return, but this time, Leanna takes the lead role.  She's not your typical Amish lead, being more of a tomboy, but that just made me love her all the more.  She embraces her uniqueness - which makes life difficult at times - but by being true to herself, she is able to help others, like Roman, be true to themselves.  This is a book about faith - faith in the Lord, faith in others, and faith in yourself.  Now we just have to find out what happens to Ivy...

Of Mess & Moxie (Jen Hatmaker)
Jen Hatmaker believes backbone is the birthright of every woman. Women have been demonstrating resiliency and resolve since forever. They have incredibly strong shoulders to bear loss, hope, grief, and vision. She laughs at the days to come is how the ancient wisdom writings put it.  But somehow women have gotten the message that pain and failure mean they must be doing things wrong, that they messed up the rules or tricks for a seamless life. As it turns out, every last woman faces confusion and loss, missteps and catastrophic malfunctions, no matter how much she is doing “right.” Struggle doesn’t mean they’re weak; it means they’re alive.  Jen Hatmaker, beloved author, Big Sister Emeritus, and Chief BFF, offers another round of hilarious tales, frank honesty, and hope for the woman who has forgotten her moxie. Whether discussing the grapple with change (“Everyone, be into this thing I’m into! Except when I’m not. Then everyone be cool.”) or the time she drove to the wrong city for a fourth-grade field trip (“Why are we in San Antonio?”), Jen parlays her own triumphs and tragedies into a sigh of relief for all normal, fierce women everywhere who, like her, sometimes hide in the car eating crackers but also want to get back up and get back out, to live undaunted “in the moment” no matter what the moments hold.
Written in conversational tones, this book is distinctly for the women in your life.  It's like one of those self-motivational classes - the kind they make you take in middle school - but funnier.  I have to be honest here and say that I was first attracted to the book simply based on the word "moxie;" I love that word, and nobody ever uses it anymore!  This is Jen's story about her struggles in life and how she overcame them, but it's also her encouragement to other girls and women who are facing their own struggles.  She makes you laugh out loud at times, and cry along with her at others.  I think the tone, and how it feels like a conversation, is one of my favorite aspects of this book.  No matter your age, or your current emotional state, you'll find encouragement and love in these pages.
Just Sayin'  (Dandi Daley Mackall)
Just Sayin’ tells the story of an almost-blended family that almost falls apart before it even begins. 11 year-old Cassie Callahan is staying with her grandmother while her mom, Jennifer, recovers from a difficult breakup from her fiancĂ©, Trent. Cassie, along with Trent’s kids, Nick and Julie, are trying to figure out why their parents’ relationship ended so abruptly and searching for a way to bring them back together. Meanwhile, the kids get caught up in a game show that encourages the “art” of insults, and learn along the way that our words have much more power than they think.  In a way that only Dandi can accomplish, this story weaves together, in a contemporary way, an old-time game show, letter writing, outstanding vocabulary, and reminders from God’s word that taming our tongue is both difficult and important!

This is a quick read...it's written like a series of letters and correspondence among the characters.  It's easy to keep up with who is 'talking' because the letters are each written in a different type / handwriting, which I appreciated.  Sometimes, with books set up like this, it's difficult to keep track of who is speaking.  Overall, the book is very funny and would be better for a young adult audience than your typical 'adult' reader.  It has struggle, family dynamics, and a lot of humor, but couched within all of that are some good moral lessons....specifically about how our words affect others.

The Separatists (Lis Wiehl)
After getting the green light from her network to launch an investigative news show, Erica flies to Bismarck, North Dakota, to investigate Take Back Our Homeland, the largest secessionist group. What she finds is profoundly disturbing – a growing threat to the future of our union.  Back home, her husband Greg is drinking more and talking less—and taking an unusual interest in the glamorous author Leslie Burke Wilson. Erica’s teenage daughter has also begun acting out in troubling ways.  Then she discovers a potential informant murdered in her Bismarck hotel. Take Back Our Homeland might be even more dangerous than she had thought—and she’s unwittingly become one of the key players in the story. Her fear and anxiety escalate – for her marriage, her daughter, and her own life.  Bestselling novelist and former legal analyst for Fox News Lis Wiehl takes us behind the anchor’s desk in this gripping look at high-stakes reporting in a country torn apart.

This is the third and final book in the Newsmakers series, and I thought it was the best one of the three.  The main character is really deep into the political spotlight, to the detriment of her family, and this sets her up for all sorts of struggles.  Admittedly, it's a bit over the top at times, and yet slow at other times, but it's in the same vein as both of the other Newsmakers books; so if you liked the others, then you'll like this one.  It's fast-paced and you could really see the events playing out today, given the current political climate; however, I didn't like that the author felt the need to insert her own political opinions into the book.  As in, she takes jabs at real people, but only on one side of the fence, rather than just leaving it as a purely fiction book.

I received some, but not all, of these books in exchange for an honest review.  All opinions are my own.
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