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Book Review: Adaline by Denise Kawaii

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“You have been a very Good Boy”

Boy 1124562 is one of hundreds and hundreds of Boys that follow the same routine day after day, always wanting to be Good Boys and obey the cold steel Nurses.  Life is dull and uniformity is the goal – to be a Good Boy, you must not be different, you must follow the rules, you must not question the way things are.  For there is nothing else and there could never be anything else.  Anomalous behavior is swiftly punished and boys quickly learn to behave.

But Boy 1124562, or 62 as he is known, is not the same as his many many identical brothers.  He dreams. And dreaming is not permitted.  If his dreaming is discovered, he may be taken away to be disciplined or fixed. And most of those who are taken away never come back.
Denise Kawaii has created a tense and frightening utopia where sameness and subservience are rewarded and anomalies are quickly excised.  We view this world through the eyes of 62, a boy who is different and struggles to understand and accept his differences.  We see his relationship with 71, his teacher and his friendship with another boy, 99, who may also be experiencing his own anomalies.

The book begins with no explanation of how this culture developed and we learn about the history along with 62.  And we discover what happens when one boy deviates from the set routine in a fixed and sterile culture.

This book completely sucked me in; I devoured it from start to finish and cannot wait for the next book in the series. 
I received a free copy of this e-book from Readers’ Favorite in exchange for a fair and honest review.
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This is an autobiographical account of the experiences of Eva and her twin sister Miriam in Auschwitz.  They were 10 when they arrived and instead of being sent to the gas chambers with their parents and older sisters, they were selected to be part of Josef Mengele’s horrific medical experiments.  At one point, Eva was given an injection that gave her some horrible disease; her incredible strength of will and desire to protect her sister helped her survive.  The book includes an epilogue in which Eva discusses the importance of forgiveness 50 years after being liberated.

This book is geared for middle-school-aged children so it is not too graphic, but it gives a very clear picture of the horrors and abuse that Eva and Miriam survived.  On the down side, it’s not terribly detailed, but that is probably at least partly because it is based on the author’s memories of events that took place 50 years in the past, when she was a young child.  None the less, it is a gripping read – I literally read the entire book in one sitting, unwilling to put it down.  It puts a face on the Holocaust, giving a picture of their life before the Holocaust and after they were liberated.  The author’s ability to forgive and move past hatred and anger is truly inspiring.

I received a free e-copy of this book from NetGalley in exchange for a fair and honest review.
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Escape in Time tells the story of the Eneman family’s survival during the Holocaust.  It begins in the present day, when 12-year-old Nessya discovers that her grandmother has a secret – she is a Holocaust survivor.  Her grandmother Miri decides to write down her story and we read it with Nessya.  Miri lived with her parents and three older sisters in a village in Hungary.  However, in 1944, German soldiers enter Hungary and changes their lives forever.  Miri’s father was infinitely clever and resourceful and eventually manages to get all six of them to Budapest, where they pose as Christians.  The constant threat of exposure and multiple close calls make this book a total page-turner from start to finish.

I loved this book and literally could not put it down.  The characters are so real and the emotions so vivid that I was enthralled.  I also really liked seeing how the story affects Nessya, and how it impacts her relationship with her grandmother.  The book also includes letters and “diary letters”, many of which were written by Miri’s mother; these give more adult view of many of the events (since Miri was a child during the Holocaust).

The story is very rich and detailed and is based on true events.  It clearly is geared for kids, probably middle-schoolers on up, and there is nothing inappropriate for kids – nothing too graphic.  But it is an excellent introduction to the Holocaust and a book that adults as well as children will enjoy.

I received a free copy of this book from Net Galley in exchange for a fair and honest review.
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Okay, this is definitely not your Jewish grandparent’s Haggadah.  I mean, just look at these examples….

Upon drinking the first cup of wine:  “This intentionally bourgeois beverage reminds us that we are here tonight to celebrate the fact that we are free, and not stuck in a factory making Air Jordans.  We are free to live as kings and queens and transgendered royalty!”

When breaking the matzoh:  “This year we are still slaves – next year, free people (depending on how the market goes).

Not to mention the proof that aliens really built the pyramids!  And the Plague Bingo card.  And the recipe for Weed Butter with which to make macaroons and matzo brie.

Yeah… so…  Definitely funny.  I mean seriously hilarious. I cracked up repeatedly while reading this.  Not particularly kid-friendly, though.   Not sure the line “Say this prayer, which means thanks for all the crap we have to deal with every damn day” is exactly what I want my kids to be reading at the Seder table.  Nor do I want them to be reading “A F*#%ING RIVER OF BLOOD” and I don’t particularly relish the idea of explaining what a shank is (as opposed to a shank bone, I mean).  Although the recipe for “non-gross gefilte fish” looks pretty good!

Point is that I loved reading this.  Funny, irreverent, but still true to the Seder.  If you’ve got children or if you want a traditional Seder experience, this probably isn’t the Haggadah for you.  But if you want to hold an innovative, bold, flippant, and definitely non-dogmatic Passover Seder – this definitely will make your night!

I received a free copy of this book from Net Galley in exchange for a fair and honest review.
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As a long-time Holmesian, I’m always happy to get a new Sherlock Holmes novel. This one is set between “The Final Problem” and “The Empty House,” during the Great Hiatus, the “missing years” when Holmes was believed to have died at the Reichenbach Falls.  This time period seems to hold an almost irresistible lure for pastiche authors and Murthy definitely stands out from the crowd.

The book definitely has the feel of the original Doyle stories.  Although various historical events of the period are critical to the story, Murthy manages to incorporate them without distracting the reader from the actual mystery.  I was particularly pleased that Watson was involved; to me, he is essential to a good Sherlock Holmes story, and this book definitely give you the feeling of Watson as the narrator.  Murthy’s explanation for Holmes’ survival at Reichenbach, and Moriarty’s as well, was both ingenious and plausible and his characterization of both Holmes and Watson is definitely true to the original Doyle - I could definitely hear their voices throughout the book.  I also enjoyed the various disguises Holmes used throughout the book – always fun to see the “master of disguise” at work!

I gather there are several more books planned in this series and I’m looking forward to them!

I received a free copy of this book from Net Galley in exchange for a fair and honest review.

Book Review: Dreaming Spies by Laurie King

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This is the latest in the series of novels featuring Mary Russell and Sherlock Holmes.  It may not make too much sense to a reader who is not already familiar with the series.  Avid Sherlock Holmes purists may be a bit disappointed; as always, Russell is the main protagonist, with an older Holmes definitely playing second fiddle to his young wife.  Warning to Watson fans – he rarely appears anywhere in this series (although we do get Mrs. Hudson at least!)

The story begins in Oxford but much of it is told in flashbacks.  The book is really divided into three parts – a ship voyage from Bombay to Japan, an adventure in Japan, and then events back at Oxford again.  I found the book rather slow going at first and the first half feels almost more like a travelogue than a mystery novel, but it definitely ramps up at the end.  The settings are fun and there are some enjoyable secondary characters, particularly Sato.   Her dislike of the English habit of drinking tea with… *gasp*… MILK makes for a particularly lovely scene.

While this is not my favorite book in the series, I found it a definite improvement over the last couple of books, which I found distinctly disappointing.  I would recommend it to fans of the series.

I received a free copy of this book from Net Galley in exchange for a fair and honest review.
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First of all, this is NOT an SAT prep book so if you’re looking for practice tests and such, this isn’t what you want.  What you do get here is an interesting book with a lot of advice and information about how to score well on the SAT and other college entrance exams.  Study tips are clearly set out in shaded boxes, which is helpful and I particularly liked her advice on dealing with test taking anxiety.

My biggest concern with this book is that the SAT is going to be changing significantly next year (2016) and that will clearly impact the information and advice in this book.  Additionally, I found the book focused too much on the author’s own goal of earning a perfect SAT score – seriously, who cares?  Particularly since she not only didn’t achieve it, she didn’t even improve all that much over the course of her year-long project.

Overall, though, I found this book a quick and easy read, and it has a lot of resources and suggestions that I hope will be useful with my own kids.

I received a free copy of this book from Blogging for Books in exchange for a fair and honest review.

Review: Dragonholder by Todd McCaffrey

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Dragonholder is the story of Anne McCaffrey, an award-winning science fiction author who probably single-handedly turned dragons from people-eating monsters into telepathic heroes.  It’s a nice little book, but don’t expect a properly researched in-depth biography.  The book is full of family stories, including Anne’s various experiences with ESP, and of course draws heavily on Todd’s own memories of growing up with his mother as her writing career began and eventually took off.  However it is very short and not as well organized as it should be– it jumps around quite a bit, chronologically, and really just “hits the highlights” so to speak.  I don’t at all feel as if I know Anne McCaffrey after reading this book; it’s more like looking through a family photo album while hearing some of the stories about the people in the photos.

This book first came out in 1999 and ended with Anne’s purchase of Dragonhold in Ireland in 1988.  This is basically just a re-release dressed up with a new introduction by the author.   There’s no new material other than that intro – nothing about Anne’s life between 1988 and her death in 2011.

However, that being said, if you are a fan, you’ll want to read this.  You get glimpses not only of Anne but of many other famous authors – Isaac Asimov, James Blish, Harlan Ellison, and so on.  There are family photos scattered throughout and many wonderful family anecdotes.  I think my personal favorite was the one about when Anne was supposed to award herself a Nebula in 1969!

I received a free copy of this book from NetGalley in exchange for a fair and honest review.
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Okay, this is SERIOUSLY COOL!  City on the Edge of Forever is one of the most popular Star Trek TOS episodes of all time.  It even won a Hugo Award.  However, the version that was eventually filmed and shown bears little resemblance to Harlan Ellison’s original script, which was extensively rewritten by a variety of editors including D.C. Fontana, Gene Coon and Gene Roddenberry.  Ellison was reportedly so upset that he almost took his name off it, although the final teleplay version is credited to him.

This gives Trek fans the opportunity to see just what all the fuss was about – it presents Ellison’s original teleplay version in graphic novel format.  It’s clear from reading this that Ellison’s basic concept was retained – a crewman goes back in time to the US in the 1930s and changes history by saving someone’s life, and Kirk and Spock have to follow and fix things by allowing the woman, who Kirk falls in love with, to die.  But that’s about it as far as similarities go.

Ellison’s original story is much more graphic and gritty than the final version.  His characterization of Kirk and Spock particularly is somewhat different than what is seen in the TV show.  However, it’s important to remember that the Kirk we know from the TV series and movies is much more mature than in this story, which was a first season episode.  I do like his treatment of Yeoman Rand, who is much more BAMF than on the TV show  - she’s not running into the Captain’s for protection here but picks up a phaser and blasts away!

I definitely like the artwork – the likenesses are just brilliant and the expressions amazing.  You can really grasp the characters’ emotions through the artwork, it’s that well done.  My main problem, honestly, is that this is not designed for an e-reader.  Reading this on my 8-inch tablet using Adobe DE was frustrating.  For anyone considering purchasing this (and if you are a Trek fan… what are you WAITING for?!), get the print version.

I received a free copy of this book from NetGalley in exchange for a fair and honest review.
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This is a cozy mystery in which one member of a mystery book club is trying to solve the murder (or was it really suicide after all?) of another member. I will say that the main character, Hazel Rose, is a bit edgier than the usual cozy lead – she’s been married four times and we meet her current (sort of) boyfriend – they’re rather on-again, off-again (more on-again right now, apparently!)  And it takes some effort to keep track of everyone – the relationships are very intertwined and definitely take a bit of sorting out.  For example, Carlene, the victim, is married to Hazel’s first husband, who was dating Carlene’s BFF before Carlene stole him from her.  The characters have very complicated lives.  They steal each other’s lovers, or cheat on their spouses, or marry someone else’s ex-spouse, or… well, you get the idea.  It can get confusing!

I really was excited about this book because … hey… book club murder… what could be better for a mystery buff, right?  But I found it rather tedious, and trying to keep all the characters’ interrelationships straight was more bothersome than interesting.  Most of the characters were not terribly well-developed and didn’t do much for me.  Amazing how many of them tended to come over to Hazel’s house, or talk to her elsewhere, and just spill all this personal private information out to her.  The ending was depressingly telegraphed and I guessed the main surprise twist well before the big reveal.  Don’t think I’ll be looking for any future books in this series.

I received a complimentary copy of this book from NetGalley in exchange for a fair and honest review.
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"More Motivation than Educational" is my title for this review!

I enjoyed reading this book but it was not what I expected or wanted.  The author talks a lot about her personal experiences with drawing and there are lots of her drawings and sketches all through the book.  It’s the story of her personal journey as an artist and I think if you are an artist yourself, you’ll really love this.

However, although the book is supposed to be a “non-artist’s guide,” I didn’t feel it really was directed at me.  It focuses more on inspiring you to make drawing part of your daily life than on how to draw.   Although there is a chapter on supplies and one on basic techniques, it’s really not a “how-to” book.  I think this book is really geared for someone who at least has some basic artistic knowledge and ability. There is a long alphabetical list of prompts but if you don’t know HOW to draw, all the ideas of WHAT to draw won’t do you much good.

Basically, if you are looking for inspiration and motivation, you’ll probably love this book.  If you’re looking for help in learning how to draw, go elsewhere.

I received a free copy of this book in exchange for a fair and honest review.
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I jumped at the opportunity to review this book, because I am a dedicated Holmesian from way back.  Frankly, however, if you are a devotee of Sherlock Holmes, this book is not for you.

If you are new to Sherlock Holmes – maybe you’re a fan of “Sherlock” or “Elementary” or the Robert Downey Jr./Jude Law files – and just want to know more about the original stories, then this book is perfect.  It’s mainly a book of facts – brief summaries of all the Sherlock Holmes stories, descriptions of the main characters, and lots of lists and trivia.

For anyone who’s already familiar with the canon, though, there’s nothing new here really.  It’s based on the “Sherlock Holmes Encyclopedia” but is much less complete.  There are a lot of omissions and odd gaps; for example, while there are lists of the better known TV, radio, theater, and movie adaptations, there’s nothing about any of the many hundreds of novels and short stories that others have written about Sherlock Holmes, or the parodies and pastiches.  The only books that the author mentions are a few books similar to this one.

Honestly, you could find most of what’s in here on Wikipedia or one of the many excellent fan websites  - not to mention a lot more that this book omits.

Overall, as I said, if you’re a newbie to the canon, this is a good introduction.  But if you’re already a fan, I wouldn’t bother.

I received a free copy of this book in exchange for a fair and honest review.
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This is the latest book in the Hope Street Church mystery series.  I enjoyed this as much as I did the earlier books.  Cooper has calmed down a lot, and also matured as the series has progressed.  She’s developed more patience with her family and has been promoted at work.  In this book, she’s taking on two mysteries at once – one involving her church, the other her job.

I must admit that I figured out who the culprit at work was very quickly, and also had my suspicions regarding the killer.  Nathan’s behavior in this story continued to frustrate me; his mixed signals are just annoying. But overall, this was another great book in this series.  It was just a fun, quick read with all the familiar characters I’d enjoyed meeting in the earlier books.

Definitely look forward to the next book in this series!  Hope it is coming SOON!

I received a free copy of this book in exchange for a fair and honest review.
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John Creasey was an amazingly prolific British crime thriller author who wrote well over 600 novels under his own name and several dozen pseudonyms.  Some of his most famous characters include The Toff, Gideon of Scotland Yard, Inspector West, Patrick Dawlish and the Baron.  He also had quite a few other series, wrote a number of novels in the Sexton Blake series, a host of Westerns, a bunch of romance novels, and a ton of stand-alone books.  His books were short, quick, exciting, and always fun to read.

I’ve been a fan of Creasey’s work for decades and found this biography fascinating.  It’s not just the story of his life; it’s the story of how he managed such a prodigious output, while still managing to travel around the world (several times!), run several times for political office (never successfully), found the UK’s Crime Writers’ Association, and have a family (he married four or five times – I sort of lost track!)

Creasey received over 700 rejection slips before selling anything but he kept going.  His work ethic and methodology were amazing; he wrote entire books in three days… before computers!  He hired a team of readers whose job was to review each manuscript, tear it apart (as he put it), and suggestion alterations, after which he would revise each book several times before it was published.  When asked about writer’s block, he claimed it did not exist – it was just laziness and vanity on the part of writers.  He was incredibly determined and focused, and although early in his career he believed it was unnecessary to do research, he eventually changed his approach and spent considerable time researching police, crime, and anything that might apply to his books.

I personally find it a shame that while Agatha Christie is a household name, many people have never heard of John Creasey, either as himself or under one of his many pseudonyms.  However, the book ends with a statement that his books are being republished in e-format so many new readers will now have access to his wonderful books.
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Organizing and de-cluttering books always make me feel I can magically transform my space into something you’d find in House Beautiful.  In reality, of course, they all usually say exactly the same things, most of which I already know.

This book is different; it’s more like a philosophy than just a simple way to organize.  Kondo emphasizes touching every item in your home and deciding which ones bring you joy and which ones you can easily live without.  She also recommends tidying by category rather than by room, since items in the same category (say, clothes) can be located in multiple rooms around the home.  This makes sense to me, although her method does require you to have reasonably large chunks of time available and her all-at-once approach is probably not feasible for many people.

Her approach clearly is geared towards Japanese homes and some things in the book do not seem to work if one does not live in Japan (how Japanese closets are ideal storage spaces, for example).  Many of her suggestions re closets are not practical in American homes – many do not have enough closets for everyone in the family to have their own and many do not have closets large enough to store other things, like entire bookcases full of books!

Some elements in the book do not resonate with me, many of which are probably due the influence of Kondo’s personal religious beliefs on her method.  Kondo anthropomorphizes her home and possessions:  greeting her home, thanking her clothing for its hard work, telling her purse to have a good rest, and so on.  Her book has a whole section on home shrines and talismans, which probably won’t apply to many American readers.

Part of her method involves having a designated place for literally every item you own and putting everything in its designated place immediately after using it.  For example, she has a routine that involves putting everything she has with her away immediately upon entering her home – for me, that probably would not be possible most days. I’m not that disciplined and also often come home and immediately have to start doing something; taking time to empty my purse, thank it and all its contents, and put everything away in a designated spot just is not going to happen.  Frankly, I’d rather focus on loving my husband and children than on making sure my blouse or jeans feel loved.

I do like the focus on simplification before organization and her emphasis that one should not feel guilty about discarding things that are no longer needed or wanted.  However, the book is frankly too long – there’s too much about her personal experiences as a child and teen – and in many places it resembles a “self-help” book more than a guide to tidying.

I received a free e-copy of this book from Blogging for Books in exchange for an honest and unbiased review.
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“Lights Out” is an addition to last year’s series of e-book shorts commissioned for the 50th Anniversary of Doctor Who.  It is not a novel but a short story, and is told in the first person from the viewpoint of a character the doctor nicknames Fifty-One.  It is quickly clear (at least for those who have watched the Twelfth Doctor’s first few episodes) that this story is set immediately after the first episode, “Deep Breath” – the Doctor is getting coffee and discovering (I love this reference!) that he is “the fetching sort” after all!

This is basically a murder mystery – the Doctor and Fifty-One are in line for coffee, the lights go out, and when the come back on, someone is dead.  This keeps happening so the Doctor needs to figure this out fast, as the body count is increasing with frightening rapidity!  Clara is not with the Doctor, so he makes Fifty-One his companion while they solve the mystery.  And the solution is one that I doubt any reader will expect.

Holly Black’s characterization of the Twelfth Doctor is excellent; she has his sarcasm down pat.  This is without a doubt the latest Doctor (which is even more impressive given that Black probably worked mainly from scripts rather than being able to watch full episodes before writing this).  Despite the extremely limited page count she was given, Black provides vivid descriptions of the characters and settings, and even tosses in a few Classic Who references , such as Terileptils and a nod to Sergeant Benton’s coffee-making skills.  My main complaint about this e-short is that it is just that – too short!  I felt the entire story was rushed.  Black has created a lovely little gem of a story but would definitely have benefited from being give a higher word-count.

My verdict is – READ THIS!  You’ll get a totally outrageous setting (the Intergalactic Coffee Roasting Station – a whole space station devoted to coffee!!), a great one-off non-human companion, and a great mystery.

I received a free e-copy of this book in exchange for an honest and unbiased review.
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This is the first in a new cozy mystery series; the hook here is garage sales and the book includes tips for both sellers and buyers.  The main character, Sarah Winston, is on her own after her husband C.J. cheated on her with a younger woman.  C.J. is the police chief and all the officers seem to have it in for her, writing tickets at the least provocation, so she can’t go to the police for help but instead feels persecuted by them, even though she’s the one who was wronged.

Sarah is an interesting character, and there are some good twists and turns to this mystery.  Setting part of the story on a military base (they were a military couple before splitting) is unusual and adds to the mystery. The cheating husband aspect also distinguishes this from more typical cozy mysteries.  The tag sale theme was not exploited as much as I would like, but was interesting.

Overall, an enjoyable read.  I’ll definitely be looking to read future books in this series.

I received a free e-copy of this book in exchange for an honest and unbiased review.
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“The Graves of the Guilty” is the third in the Hope Street Church mystery series.  As with the first two books, there are definite Christian overtones, but if you’re not looking for that, they really are not so obtrusive as to detract from the story.

This book was a bit different from the first two in the series in that the Bible Study group was less involved in solving the mystery this time around.  They are present throughout the book, mainly doing their Bible study lessons and also providing support for one member who is dealing with a serious personal crisis.  But I miss their involvement in the actual crime-solving activities. 

We do get a bit of a love triangle (or maybe square?), as Edward (the Colonel from a previous book) pops up again.  Edward and Cooper even go undercover in this book, which is interesting, if a bit unrealistic.  I found Nathan a bit less likable this time around, but that may just be me.  Cooper’s sister Ashley and her husband also seem to be having some problems. 

There is also an extremely idealized WalMart shopping trip – wish my WalMart was as nice a place to shop at as Cooper’s!

Overall, this book was not as good as the first in the series but is still a fun quick read for fans of cozy mysteries.

I received a free e-copy of this book in exchange for an honest and unbiased review.
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I really enjoyed the first book in this series and the second did not disappoint.  Cooper Lee and her friends from Hope Street Church begin volunteering for a local charity, a sort of Meals on Wheels type organization.  They of course stumble across a murder and when the volunteers become suspects, they begin searching for the murderer themselves.

Cooper is still very likable and the author does a good job handling her growing relationship with Nathan, although Nathan is not as nice as he was in the last book – he’s overly focused on work, takes his frustration out on Cooper a bit, and is too quick to jump to conclusions after reading a text on her phone (which he shouldn’t have been doing in the first place!)

The mystery is very engaging and kept my attention throughout.  I rather liked the Colonel, although I don’t think he’s supposed to be a very likeable character really and I did find his reaction to a single Bible verse rather excessive.  Compared to the last book, I found this one a bit more preachy but I still enjoyed it a lot.  It’s a great cozy mystery and I definitely recommend it.

I received a free e-copy of this book in exchange for an honest and unbiased review.
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Okay, this clearly is NOT my normal read – what is a nice Jewish girl like me doing reading an Amish romance novel?  I’m not really sure – and also not sure I’ll ever read another one!

I thought it might be interesting to try something totally outside my comfort zone.  I don’t read romance novels much, and obviously not Christian-themed ones.  I found this book to be very slow going.  The “plot twists” were telegraphed well in advance and as a result the story did not really keep my interest.  The book was ridiculously predictable so there was no real suspense and I was not really emotionally invested in the story.

The emphasis on faith is woven carefully throughout this story and I am sure that for Christian readers this takes on greater meaning than it can for a reader of a different faith.   While I did not love this book, I think it probably would be a good read for someone who could better appreciate and enjoy the subtleties of the religious elements.

I received a free copy of this book from Blogging for Books in exchange for an honest and unbiased review.


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