Book Review: “It Had to be You” by Susan May Warren

it-had-to-be-you-250x381Happy Tuesday! It’s time for another book review here at The Green Mockingbird. This time it’s the latest from author Susan May Warren!

It Had to be You (Tyndale House Publishers), the second in her “Christiansen Family” series, is a contemporary drama and romance centered on another sibling in the Christiansen family, Eden Christiansen.

Eden is struggling to find her place in life while stuck at an entry-level job in a field she loves and holding on to her role as big sister too tightly. She would love to advance and become a star reporter, but she cannot seem to achieve a promotion out of the obituary department at the Minneapolis Star Tribune. She spends her free time as loyal fan, family cheerleader, and protective sister of her brother Owen, the new star forward for the St. Paul Blue Ox NHL team. She cannot see that she lacks self confidence in her own writing or that her overprotectiveness is causing her brother to shirk responsibility.

Through events resulting from Owen’s immaturity and recklessness, Eden meets Jace “The Hammer” Jacobsen, team captain and veteran enforcer for the Blue Ox team. His bad-boy reputation precedes him, intimidating Eden from the beginning, though she believes he could become the mentor her brother Owen desperately needs. Jace knows he is near the end of his career, but his emotional scars and secret guilt over past decisions weigh him down and keep him from facing the possibility of a career outside of pro hockey. As Jace and Eden combine forces to help a stranger, Eden gets to know the real Jace – not the famous celebrity – but the kind, protective, and sometimes intimidating person. Jace is afraid to let Eden in, thinking that she is just using him for a story. As their worlds collide and personal feelings come to the surface, they both must learn lessons in forgiveness, trust, and grace.

A secondary storyline gives depth to the characters and reinforces the theme of trust. It involves Jace’s best friend, single dad Sam, and his daughter, Maddy. She is in need of an organ transplant to save her life. Sam and Maddy’s story intertwines with Eden and Jace’s in unexpected ways, emphasizing the meanings of sacrifice and love, complete with moments of heart-wrenching emotion.

Jace and Eden are an unlikely pair: a famous hockey star and a down-to-earth would-be reporter. Jace has no clue how to approach her with her honesty one minute and withdrawn demeanor the next. They each avoid admitting their growing attraction, both convincing themselves that they are not good enough and that neither would be interested in a romantic relationship “with someone like me”. As their relationship slowly grows past friendship, Jace opens up to Eden about his fears and struggles with accepting forgiveness. Jace sees that Eden’s gift is recognizing others’ potential and encouraging them. With his support, she starts to find the encouragement she needs to move past insecurities and become confidant in her role in life.

The closeness of the Christiansen family is essential to the characters of It Had to be You, much like the first book in Susan’s series. Jace’s character has never before experienced this closeness. This poignant picture of a family grounded by faith and united through struggles serves to draw the characters closer to each other and closer to Christ.

Fans of pro hockey will be delighted with its inclusion in this novel, while those not remotely familiar with the game will not be lost. It provides an element of adventure and danger to the story. I personally don’t know much about hockey, but I really liked the glimpse Susan gives into the game through the characters’ experience.

Susan skillfully communicates the idea that God’s grace and forgiveness is available for anyone to freely accept. Each person has the potential to impact the world around them every day, with every decision he or she makes, by offering grace and love even to those who may not deserve it. That is the message at the heart of It Had to be You.

 

“You are God’s child, and that means He’s crazy about you. And that doesn’t change because you do something stupid…or terrible. God’s love simply is.” – It Had to be You, Susan May Warren

 

Note: Thank you to Tyndale House for the complimentary ARC of this book in exchange for my honest review. The opinions I have expressed are my own.

You can connect with Susan May Warren at her website, on Twitter, or visit her Facebook page.

 

Do you have a big, supportive family like the Christiansens? How has that blessed you? I’d love to hear your thoughts!

Book Review: “Songs of the Shenandoah” by Michael K. Reynolds

Finally, I’m getting to my review of Songs of the Shenandoah Michael K. Reynolds. This was my first book for the 2014 Empty Shelf Challenge. Though I’ve not read the previous books in this series, I really enjoyed getting to know the Hanley family siblings in this one.

Songs of the Shenandoah

 

Songs of the Shenandoah (B&H Books) is a sweeping saga of family, forgiveness, and triumph set against the backdrop of the Civil War. The third and final novel in the “Heirs of Ireland” series, it follows the Hanley family siblings as they are involved in various efforts on both sides of the war. Immigrants from Ireland a little over 10 years earlier during the infamous Irish Potato Famine, at the start of the novel the Hanley siblings are spread throughout the United States in different vocational pursuits. The main characters are siblings Clare, Seamus, and Davin, while Caitlyn Hanley, another sister, is a supporting character.

Eldest sibling Clare, now married to Andrew Royce, is a reporter for her husband’s inherited New York Daily newspaper. The mother figure of the family, she feels responsible for her brothers and sister even now, having brought them from Ireland. As Clare witnesses battles firsthand as a journalist, the dangers of the war become credible threats for her and her family.

Seamus Hanley is a discouraged preacher recently returned from ministering in the Sierra Mountains during the California Gold Rush. He travels to New York City with his wife and daughter, Ashlyn and Grace, to reunite with his siblings before assuming ownership of Ashlyn’s family plantation in the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia. He hopes to avoid any renewal of his Pastoral calling, believing that he has failed to fulfill his mission in the gold fields. His reluctance does not matter, however, as he is faced with a dilemma and must choose to serve as a chaplain to the Confederate army. Seamus struggles with finding his calling and maintaining his place in serving the south, no matter his personal feelings about war politics. On top of his other struggles, his decisions as a young, inexperienced soldier years earlier in the Mexican-American War still haunt him and have potential unforeseen consequences.

Youngest sibling Davin Hanley became very rich in the California Gold Rush and is recently returned to New York City. Through a series of misguided and unwise relationships, Davin finds his only reasonable option is to join the war efforts. He fights for the Union army in an Irish battalion. Brash decisions of his past concerning the treatment of his brother Seamus haunt him and cause him to question his worth and past decisions. In the turmoil of war, a beguiling nurse, Muriel McMahon, challenges Davin’s heart and his character in ways he cannot anticipate.

Reynolds successfully tells a story spread over several years’ time, without making the reader feel overwhelmed. The story is blended seamlessly through years of war and struggles. It moves swiftly and concisely while explaining key battles and scenes essential to the storyline with great detail.

The perspectives of different war participants offer depth to the story. The novel delves into the trials and triumphs of Irish regiments in the Union army, as well as immigrants in the Confederate army. The reader experiences the war through the eyes of a chaplain, private, news reporter, and nurse. With the various viewpoints explored, the reader sees that both sides of the conflict are seeking the will of God. The perspectives of each character evolve through the course of the novel, emphasizing things that truly matter, such as family, forgiveness, and redemption.

Thank you to the publisher for providing a complimentary copy of the novel in exchange for my honest review.

Empty Shelf #1: Songs of the Shenandoah

Yesterday, I finished my first book for the Empty Shelf Challenge! (I first introduced this challenge here).  It was Songs of the Shenandoah by Michael K. Reynolds, a sweeping drama following siblings of an Irish immigrant family as they are involved in various parts of the Civil War. Now my shelf isn’t so empty. A review is to come soon…..

Songs of the Shenandoah