Review: The Wonder of You by Susan May Warren

If it’s a new Susan May Warren novel, you can bet I’m going to get my hands on it somehow. She never fails to deliver a story that both encourages and entertains. Her latest, The Wonder of You, is the quality story I have come to expect from her– sweetly romantic, faith-driven, family-centered, adventurous, with a few moments that had me chuckling (specifically, a little story about a fort 🙂 ). Plus, this story is the most recent in her “Christiansen Family” series, and it focuses on the youngest sibling, Amelia.The Wonder of You Quote

Summary: Mortified after her year abroad is cut short, Amelia Christiansen returns to Deep Haven, certain she isn’t brave enough to embrace the adventures she’s dreamed of. The last thing she expects is for the man who broke her heart to cross the Atlantic and beg forgiveness.

Heir to a European hotel dynasty, Roark St. John has trekked from one exotic locale to another, haunted by tragedy and the expectations that accompany his last name. Amelia is the first woman to give him a reason to stop running. He’ll do anything for a second chance—even contend with Amelia’s old flame, who is intent on sending Roark packing.

While one surprise after another leaves Amelia reeling, Roark’s continued presence only highlights the questions pursuing her. Like him, is she running from the life God has called her to? Could finding her place mean leaving home behind?

My thoughts: Amelia is very easy to relate to, I think. She’s the baby sister of the family, wanting prove her independence and just a little intimidated with life at the same time. She wanted adventure and to see the world, but after a not-so-successful photography trip abroad (read: heartbreak), she’s back in her hometown trying to figure out where she belongs.

The Wonder of You by Susan May WarrenClearly, Roark and Amelia draw strength from each other, and could depend on each other. It’s beautiful how he sees her, as herself with all her insecurities, and loves her just as she is. Together, they are stronger. But, with her long-time boyfriend Seth still in the picture, Amelia has to figure out her own heart. Seth is familiar and comfortable, while Roark is new and cultured. (While this was almost a love-triangle situation, it never felt unrealistic or predictable).

Roark is a complex character. He seems like the perfect guy from the outside, but carries the weight of guilt and mistakes, with a little bitterness toward God. He wants to start fresh and prove his love to Amelia, but lying to her about his identity is not the best choice. It was one of those “I want to throw your own book at you” type situations. But by the end, thankfully, no one was harmed by my book throwing.

I loved catching up with Grace (Amelia’s sister) and Max as a minor secondary story! He still doubts himself and it’s not good for their relationship. Max’s struggle is with choosing life–you can’t let fear control you because you can’t know what the future holds. I like how Susan revisited these characters and renewed some of the same struggles from their story in When I Fall In Love. They are just the sweetest couple. Their storyline really shows how doubt can be unrelenting and not so simple (or fairy-tale-like) in overcoming.

Both Amelia and Roark’s journeys in this story prove how God uses His love to draw us to Him – to trust in His plan, His strength, and His capabilities to redeem, guide, and bless us. I really loved how Susan used other characters to offer words of wisdom to Amelia and Roark at different times. This story continued the theme of grace woven into each character’s life, and illustrated the importance of obeying God’s calling whenever and wherever it may take you.

After this one, I am even more excited to see what’s next in the last book in this series, You’re the One That I Want, Owen’s story. But I will be very sad to say goodbye to this family I’ve come to “know”! Thank you for reading!

Review: “Born of Persuasion” by Jessica Dotta

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Where should I even start with reviewing this book? Born of Persuasion is the first book in what has become one of my favorite series of all time. I’m not saying that lightly. I had the honor of reading book 2 in this series, Mark of Distinction, as a historical romance judge for the INSPY awards this year. Turns out Mark of Distinction WON the 2015 INSPY award in its category! *insert happy dance here* Now that the judging process is over, I am free to gush about and discuss all of the wonderful books I read.

First, here’s a synopsis of Born of Persuasion: The year is 1838, and seventeen-year-old Julia Elliston’s position has never been more fragile. Orphaned and unmarried in a time when women are legal property of their fathers, husbands, and guardians, she finds herself at the mercy of an anonymous guardian who plans to establish her as a servant in far-off Scotland.

With two months to devise a better plan, Julia’s first choice to marry her childhood sweetheart is denied. But when a titled dowager offers to introduce Julia into society, a realm of possibilities opens. However, treachery and deception are as much a part of Victorian society as titles and decorum, and Julia quickly discovers her present is deeply entangled with her mother’s mysterious past. Before she knows what’s happening, Julia finds herself a pawn in a deadly game between two of the country’s most powerful men. With no laws to protect her, she must unravel the secrets on her own. But sometimes truth is elusive and knowledge is deadly.

Let’s see if I can coherently share my bubbling thoughts.

For any fans of the Victorian era, this series is perfection. It has the feel of a slightly gothic setting with deep, complex characters. Born of Persuasion is certainly a page-turner! The story is told from a first person narrative in the future, so it’s like Julia is telling her life story with additional insight. Her added hints at trials to come increase the mystery and foreshadowing of events through the story. Let’s just say it makes the reader anxious over what could happen next. And anxious over WHO to trust.

While this IS certainly a Christian fiction book, it is extremely different in the fact that the heroine is an atheist. But, she is so well written she is very likable and easy to identify with. I think her viewpoint is relevant to today because the spiritual struggles she faces are ones countless people battle with: belief in God, hypocritical people. and judgmental attitudes. Author Jessica Dotta stretches her spiritual journey and transformation over all three books in the series, so I won’t say more about it just yet.

It has been several weeks since I read this series, but it’s still something I can’t get over. It’s still fresh in my mind! Words cannot possibly convey the amazingness that is this series. Through it all, suspense and mystery are perfectly maintained. With unexpected MAJOR twists around every corner, there is never a dull moment. (Have I used enough CAPS in this review yet?) All I have left to say is you should read this soon.

Do you have a favorite book or series that is stuck in your mind and won’t let go? Are you a fan of Victorian intrigue? I’d love to hear your thoughts!

Review: “Maggie Bright” by Tracy Groot Blog Tour

After my overwhelming love of The Sentinels of Andersonville by Tracy Groot, I was very excited to get my hands on her latest book, Maggie Bright. While it was not as epic as Sentinels (I don’t think any book can top that in its genre!), it was very good!

maggie brightBook Summary: “England, 1940.” Clare Childs knew life would change when she unexpectedly inherited the “Maggie Bright”–a noble fifty-two-foot yacht. In fact, she’s counting on it. But the boat harbors secrets. When a stranger arrives, searching for documents hidden onboard, Clare is pulled into a Scotland Yard investigation that could shed light on Hitler’s darkest schemes and prompt America to action.Across the Channel, Hitler’s “Blitzkrieg” has the entire British army in retreat with little hope for rescue at the shallow beaches of Dunkirk. With time running out, Churchill recruits civilian watercraft to help. Hitler is attacking from land, air, and sea, and any boat that goes might not return. Yet Clare knows “Maggie Bright” must answer the call–piloted by an American who has refused to join the war effort until now and a detective with a very personal motive for exposing the truth.The fate of the war hinges on this rescue. While two men join the desperate fight, a nation prays for a miracle.

Tracy Groot skillfully writes vivid characters. From the first few pages of the book and glimpses of the characters, their unique personalities are established. Along with Clare, the story features American Murray Vance and Detective Inspector William Percy from Scotland Yard in England. While their story unfolds, a contrasting storyline of Private Jamie Elliot under siege, making his way to Dunkirk, France, immerses the reader in the action on the continent. The banter between the characters, particularly that of Clare and Detective William, was a fun and bright spot in the midst of drama.

The Maggie Bright brings these characters together – sometimes with surprising revelations – and unites them with a courageous purpose. I enjoyed seeing how the different characters realized they could contribute to the war efforts and make sacrifices, no matter their age or abilities.

Tracy confronted a unique subject within this story. And, featured the rescue at Dunkirk – an aspect of WWII I was previously unaware of.  Within this story, the importance of belief in bolstering courage and faith in the power of prayer were highlighted and central to the story. I look forward to whatever is next from Tracy – I will be reading it!

One thing I love about reading historical fiction is that, while being entertaining, it often sheds light on interesting historical events or persons. Do you have any favorite examples of books like this? Have you heard of the rescue at Dunkirk?

Thank you to Tyndale House Publishers for a complimentary copy of this book in exchange for my honest review.

Review: Always on My Mind by Susan May Warren

Today I get to share my review of Susan May Warren’s latest book in the “Christiansen Family” series: Always on My Mind. It continues the stories of Casper Christiansen and the woman he is still in love with, Raina Beaumont. While it stands alone as a complete story, reading the previous book in the series provides additional background information on the characters. I have a lot to say about this one, so read on!

(Susan’s having a book club chat online TONIGHT! Join the event on her Facebook page.)

always on my mindCasper, recently jaded from an unsuccessful archeological treasure hunt in Roatán, returns to his hometown of Deep Haven after another rejection from Raina. He is seeking peace and a way to prove himself to his family, having been the classic “middle child”, always trying to fix everyone else’s situations but still searching for his own place to belong. However, Raina is still constantly on his mind.

Raina has never had many people to rely on. Grace Christiansen, Casper’s sister, has taken her in and encouraged her as she’s dealt with an unexpected pregnancy. After she decides to give the baby up for adoption to someone more prepared for motherhood, she is left with feelings of failure and unworthiness. The true identity of her baby’s father complicates her relationship with the Christiansens – especially Casper. While trying to escape and recover, she finds herself house sitting back in Deep Haven. Her biggest challenge comes when her job puts her in the path of Casper, a man she can’t seem to move beyond.

Warren uses antique letters and mementos to impart wisdom and guidance to the characters, with a story from the past that parallels life events of the main characters. Casper’s work at the local historical society and Raina’s job with an antique store lead them to exploring an estate of a local resident together. As they are brought together by various circumstances, themes of forgiveness and sacrificial love play out in the decisions they make.

Warren’s characters face realistic problems and struggles through this story. As the characters grow, one lesson they learn is that some people are placed in others’ lives in order to be a light for Christ. Sometimes, no matter how much a person wants to fix a situation, he or she must step back and allow God to work through them in an unexpected way to change another’s heart.

A small side story takes place along with Casper’s. His older brother, Darek, is dealing with his responsibilities managing the family resort and wrestling with being enough as a husband and father. A returning reader would likely think it good to catch up with these characters. Touching on Darek’s life again is a reminder that people’s stories are never finished. They are not through growing and being molded by Christ, even after they find a “happily ever after”.

One faithful trait of Susan’s stories is her message and tie in with the story of Christ’s redemption. She beautifully illustrates through her characters’ lives the sacrifice of Jesus, His relentless pursuit of mankind, and His ready forgiveness and love. God’s love is not showered on people because of their accomplishments, but because of grace shown to them in brokenness.

A sincere thanks to Tyndale House publishers and Family Fiction for obtaining an ARC copy for my honest review. This review will also appear on Family Fiction’s website at http://www.familyfiction.com/bookreviews/.

Review: “When I Fall In Love” by Susan May Warren + Giveaway Info

When visiting Susan May Warren’s Christiansen family, it’s like visiting your aunt & uncle – you know there will be a warm welcome and the familiar strength of family love, but you never know the fun you’ll have or the life lessons you’ll learn until the day is over. That’s how the latest in the Christiansen Family series is, When I Fall In Love. (Here’s my gushing thoughts on the previous two: Take A Chance On Me and It Had To Be You)

When I Fall In Love ~ Review

My copy in front of my TBR shelf.

Grace Christiansen, homebody and local restaurant manager, wants something more from life in Deep Haven, but she’s a little reluctant to risk any major changes. When her family surprises her with a culinary trip to Hawaii, she faces her fear of failure and sets out to realize her dreams and God’s plans for her life may be more – and better – than even she could imagine. When she teams up with Blue Ox player Max Sharpe for a cooking competition, he starts to show her that adventure can be found in everyday life. Max has his own problems and reasons for keeping his distance from Grace, but a vacation in paradise may prove to change his attitude toward finding a future with a family.

Watching Grace and Max’s relationship develop through this story is quite the ride. We see them each experience trials and struggles with self-worth, the fun and possibility of pursuing dreams, and the fulfillment Christ gives when we let Him direct our steps. The message of grace and Christ’s love is beautifully woven through this story.

It’s hard for an author to establish a large, loving family on the page without making them sound too “perfect”, but Susan does a fantastic job depicting realistic characters. I love how the Christiansens are such a model family. Though not without their flaws, each one loves and supports their siblings or children through joys and struggles.

There’s a small side plot with one of Grace’s siblings, Casper (the fun treasure-hunter one), and it takes place back in Deep Haven while Grace is in Hawaii. The occasional perspective from the woods and lakes of Minnesota was an interesting contrast with the beaches of Hawaii. I’m anxious to see where Casper’s (and brother Owen’s) stories go in the next book in the Christiansen Family series, Always On My Mind (releasing 2015).

You can learn more about author Susan May Warren at her website here, on Twitter, or Facebook. Also, check out the GIVEAWAY she’s having right now for a KitchenAid mixer!!

(For another fabulous blog post Q&A with Susan May Warren AND info about books 4 & 5 in the Christiansen Family series, head over to Suzanne Woods Fisher’s blog.)

Note: Thank you to Tyndale House Publishers for a copy of this novel in exchange for my honest review. I was not required to write a positive review.

Review: “Saving Amelie” by Cathy Gohlke

The best books leave you satisfied with the conclusion, but still wanting a little bit more of the characters when the last page is read. The latest novel from Cathy Gohlke, Saving Amelie, is like that. It’s an exciting, heart pounding – and often heart wrenching – story set in Germany during World War II.

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Rachel Kramer, adopted daughter of a prestigious genetics researcher, returns to Berlin with her father in 1939 to find it much changed from her growing-up years. At first naïve and preoccupied, she takes little notice of the presence of SS Officers, Adolf Hitler’s “supermen”, and their impending threat to the citizens of Germany. When a childhood friend reaches out to Rachel for help in saving her daughter Amelie, deaf since birth, Rachel begins to realize the true plans of the Nazis and her father’s entangled involvement with them. Hitler wishes to rid the world of anyone with a disability, such as Amelie, and others he declares unfit by ghastly means. As she uncovers the secrets of her father’s research, Rachel realizes the threat of the Nazis and the power they have over the unsuspecting German people.

Jason Young, an American reporter stationed in Berlin, is waiting for his big break with a first rate news story. After meeting Rachel Kramer and helping her solve some of the puzzling facts about her biological family, he becomes the only person she can turn to to rescue Amelie and help her flee a frightening new realty that is closing in fast. When more secrets come to light, Rachel must find a place to hide while evading the SS officers desperately searching for her.

Rachel and Jason’s characters both grow and mature as a result of their circumstances and the people around them. As Jason questions his motives in helping Rachel, he discovers the meaning of sacrifice and selflessness, and the possibilities of faith in God. When Rachel’s life suddenly changes, she goes through a time of disappointment and unhappiness. However, her character begins to find new hope, even in the midst of her trials, because of the love and care of the people around her.

Gohlke conveys the emotions of the characters effectively through her writing style. The reader experiences the terrors and heartache of the wartorn time, and is caught, as the characters are, right in the middle of the action. With small glimpses into the supporting characters’ journeys along the way, the reader is privy to more than just the viewpoints of the main characters. Additionally, small bits of the characters’ personalities, habits, and mannerisms are well-placed, aiding in making the characters realistic.

Numerous historical facts are woven into this story, with some characters or their actions modeled after real people. There are great examples of people helping each other, in small ways, doing whatever they can to help bear the burden and plight of their people. German Pastor Dietrich Bonhoeffer, a renowned theologian who spoke out against Nazi persecution, even makes a few appearances in the story. These characters reinforce the strength of setting Gohlke establishes, engrossing the reader in WWII Germany, in a time of food rations, blackouts, confiscation of personal property, and genocide.

Saving Amelie communicates an important message through the journeys of Rachel, Jason, Amelie, and others. Through these struggling characters’ stories, the reader sees that God loves everyone, even through uncertainty and trails. His strength is there, even when His children are weak and powerless. Sacrifice is a decision. As the characters experience firsthand, it is often easier to turn one’s back on the suffering and wrongs of this world – but that is not what Jesus did. He sacrificed the ultimate price because of his love, providing this “costly grace” freely to any who would believe.

Note: Thank you to Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., for the complimentary ARC copy of this book in exchange for my honest review.

Learn more about author Cathy Gohlke and her books at her website.

 

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!

Empty Shelf #2: The Sentinels of Andersonville

I finished my second read for the Empty Shelf Challenge over the weekend. It was an advance copy of “The Sentinels of Andersonville” by Tracy Groot. A captivating, fast-paced retelling of the parable of the Good Samaritan, “The Sentinels of Andersonville” is in a league all its own set during the Civil War period. Saying “I loved it” is putting it mildly – I think it’s going to be one of my favorites of 2014!

It releases 2/1/14 ~ review to come soon!

Empty Shelf #2: The Sentinels of Andersonville