Review: An Amish Reunion by Beth Wiseman

An Amish Reunion Title: An Amish Reunion
Author: 
Beth Wiseman
Publication Date: April 9, 2019
Genre: Amish
Format: ARC, Paperback
Rating: 4 Stars


From bestselling authors in the Amish genre come four stories about reuniting with those you love.

Their True Home by Amy Clipston

When Marlene Bawell moved from Bird-in-Hand ten years ago, she was in the deepest of mourning for her mother. Now her family has moved back so her father can seek employment after being laid off. To help save money, Marlene works at the hardware store owned by Rudy Swarey’s father. She knew Rudy growing up and had a secret crush on him, though he never seemed to notice her. But just as a friendship between them begins to blossom, her life is once again turned upside down. Will Marlene ever have a chance to find her own true home?

A Reunion of Hearts by Beth Wiseman

Ruth and Gideon Beiler experienced one of life’s most tragic events. Unable to get past their grief, the couple abandoned their Amish faith and went in different directions, though neither could bear to formally dissolve the marriage. When their loved ones reach out to them to come home for a family reunion, Ruth has reason to believe that Gideon won’t be there. Gideon also thinks that Ruth has declined the invitation. Family and friends are rooting for them to reunite, but will it all be enough for Ruth and Gideon to get past their grief and recapture a time when they were in love and had a bright future ahead of them?

A Chance to Remember by Kathleen Fuller

Cevilla Schlabach, Birch Creek’s resident octogenarian matchmaker, is surprised when Richard, a man from her Englisch past, arrives in Birch Creek for a visit. While he and Cevilla take several walks down memory lane, they wonder what the future holds for them at this stage of life—friendship, or the possibility of something else?

Mended Hearts by Kelly Irvin

At eighteen Hannah Kauffman made a terrible mistake. Her parents and members of her Jamesport Amish community say they’ve forgiven her. But she feels their eyes following her everywhere she goes with eighteen-month-old Evie. Thaddeus, Evie’s father, escaped this fate by running away from Jamesport. Now that Thaddeus is gone, Hannah’s old friend Phillip is stepping up to be by her side. He has waited patiently for Hannah to realize just how much he cares for her. But when Thaddeus returns after two years, Hannah can’t deny the love she feels for him. Does the fact that Phillip has waited patiently for her all this time mean that she owes him something? Can she trust either one of them? Can she trust herself? She has repented and been forgiven by the One who is most important—her heavenly Father. But is she willing to risk making more mistakes by opening herself up to love?


Review_I’ve been reading – or, more accurately, listening to – a ton of these Amish short story collections lately, so I was thrilled when I had the opportunity to get an ARC of the latest publication. It arrived on my doorstep the day it was published so I jumped right in. Before I get into the review of the actual stories, I wanted to point out that when you have a physcial copy, versus the audiobook version that I was used to, there’s a dictionary for all of the Pennsylvania Dutch words used in the stories. For the most part they’re straight forward and I didn’t have to bother looking them up, but every now and then I ran across one that I had to check!

Now, on to the actual stories! One thing that all four had in common (besides being about reunions) was that they took a different twist on Amish romance. Divorce, senior citizens finding love, and unwed parents were featured – tough topics for any community, but especially difficult for the Amish. It was refreshing to read some nontypical romance after working through several of these collections nearly back to back. I was able to connect with most of the character and once I started a story I would get sucked in and read it in one sitting. The last story, Mended Hearts, was my favorite out of the four.

The only qualm I had with this collection was that I noticed that several tied in to other stories by the authors. That’s totally fine, and actually makes me interested in reading some of the other full length stories, but I did feel like I was missing out. Maybe because I was reading instead of listening, it seemed like there was important information missing. I also found A Chance to Remember a little off. The romance takes place between an Amish woman and English man, which generally isn’t allowed unless the other party is willing to convert (he wasn’t). The ending felt a little odd and forced, but there was a mention that the two characters in the short story would have their own novel so maybe I just need to pick up the rest of the story!

4 Stars

ARC provided in exchange for an honest review

 

Review: Reflection by Elizabeth Lim

ReflectionTitle: Reflection
Author: 
Elizabeth Lim
Publication Date: March 27, 2018
Genre: Fantasy, Retelling
Format: Hardcover
Rating: 5 Stars


What if Mulan had to travel to the Underworld?

When Captain Shang is mortally wounded by Shan Yu in battle, Mulan must travel to the Underworld, Diyu, in order to save him from certain death. But King Yama, the ruler of Diyu, is not willing to give Shang up easily. With the help of Shang’s great lion guardian ShiShi, Mulan must traverse Diyu to find Shang’s spirit, face harrowing obstacles, and leave by sunrise–or become King Yama’s prisoner forever. Moreover, Mulan is still disguised as the soldier called Ping, wrestling with the decision to reveal her true identity to her closest friend. Will Mulan be able to save Shang before it’s too late? Will he ever be able to trust her again? Or will she lose him–and be lost in the Underworld–forever?

Review_

I’ve loved the story of Mulan for as long as I can remember. It’s always been my favorite Disney movie, so when I saw this book on a shelf in Target last year I spazzed out and nearly sprinted to the check out. And then it sat on my shelf, where I stared at it longingly for a year before finally getting myself together enough to read it. And I am SO. GLAD. I finally did. I had really high expectations for this book and it surpassed all of them! It’s for sure going to be one of my favorite reads of 2019.

There are so many things that brought this story together in an absolutely perfect way, not the least of which is the fact that Elizabeth Lim knows her stuff. Not only is she Asian herself, she has a degree in East Asian studies. It was clear the whole time I was reading that she had a massive knowledge base of Diyu and had watched the Mulan movie over and over. Every now and then she’d drop a line from the movie in a clever way and I lived for those little nuggets.

I was so relieved that Lim didn’t make the book all about a romance between Mulan and Shang. She stuck true to the heart of the movie and kept the book focused on finding your inner strength, honor, and friendship – although we do get a few flirty bits towards the end, just like in the movie. My biggest worry going into the book was that it would be turned into a book about Mulan trying to pull Shang out of the Underworld because she was in love with him and blah blah blah, but Lim adds layers of complexity on top of any feelings Mulan may or may not be having. There isn’t anything about it I would change (except the fact that there won’t be a sequel coming). 

I can’t recommend this book enough!

5 Stars

Review: Rumple Buttercup by Matthew Gray Gubler

Rumple ButtercupTitle: Rumple Buttercup
Author:
Matthew Gray Gubler
Publication Date: April 2, 2019
Genre: Children’s
Format: Hardcover
Rating: 5 Stars


A charming and inspiring story about embracing your weird, written and illustrated by Criminal Minds actor/director, Matthew Gray Gubler.

Rumple Buttercup has five crooked teeth, three strands of hair, green skin, and his left foot is slightly bigger than his right.

He is weird.

Join him as he and Candy Corn Carl, his imaginary friend made of trash, learn the joy of individuality as well as the magic of belonging.


Review_

I’m a massive fan of Matthew Gray Gubler. I love his art style and I especially love him on Criminal Minds, so when I saw he was publishing a book wayyyyy back in October, I immediately pre-ordered it. Some context, so you understand how serious that statement is: Rumple Buttercup was my first pre-order. Ever. 

There’s absolutely nothing in Rumple Buttercup that isn’t precious. First of all, the character’s names are Rumple Buttercup and Candy Corn Carl. I mean, c’mon. What more do you want? The art was just like the right mix of unusual and charming. It was the real star of the show… I could have flipped through pages and pages of the illustrations for hours.

The story itself was really well done too. There was a clear and concise moral: everyone has their own shade of weird, so don’t bother being ashamed of yours. I really hope we get more books soon!

See the source image

5 Stars

 

Review: An Amish Kitchen by Beth Wiseman

An Amish KitchenTitle: An Amish Kitchen
Author:
 Beth Wiseman
Publication Date: December 17, 2012
Genre: Amish, Christian Fiction
Format: eBook
Rating:4 Stars


The Amish Kitchen is the Heart of the Home – and the Ideal Setting for Stories of Love and Hope.

Fall in Paradise, Pennsylvania, always brings a brisk change in the weather. This season also ushers in unexpected visitors, new love, and renewed hope for three women.

Fern has a green thumb for growing healing herbs, but longs for love to bloom in her life. Then the next-door neighbor’s oldest son, Abram, comes running into Fern’s kitchen seeking help for his little sister. The crisis soon leads to a promise of romance–until mistrust threatens to end the growing attraction.

Nearby, Hannah runs her parents’ bed and breakfast, Paradise Inn–but her life feels nothing like Paradise. She longs for a man of integrity to enter her life, but never expected him to knock on the front door looking for a room. Will she be able trust Stephen with her future once she discovers his mysterious past?

When a storm blows a tree onto Eve’s farmhouse, she has little choice but to temporarily move her family into her parents’ home. Outside of cooking together in the kitchen, Eve and her mother can’t agree on anything. But this may be just the recipe for hope in healing old wounds.

“Three Amish stories–each celebrating love, family, and faith–all taking place in a tight-knit community where the kitchen truly is the heart of the home.”

Review_I’ve been on a roll with Amish short story collections lately. I really love the ones that Beth Wiseman puts together because they all focus around a central theme which is gently incorporated into all of the stories. This one is obviously all about the kitchen being the heart of the home, so the kitchen is where the main characters connect and come together.

As with both of the other collections I’ve read, Beth Wiseman’s story (the last in the book) was by far my favorite of the three. Two big things set it apart: it was mainly about the relationship between a grown, married woman and her mother, and the romance included in the backdrop isn’t between two self-sure adults, it’s the first romantic experiences of the main character’s 16 year-old sons. I’ve been on a bit of a bender with these collections, so it was super refreshing to get a story about a mother and daughter repairing their relationship through shared time in the kitchen instead of a more traditional love story.

Out of all the stories I’ve read in these collections, Abram, the male MC in the first story, was by far my least favorite. He was surly and rude, and his feelings for Fern go from contempt to love for seemingly no reason at all. I liked Fern well enough, but something about Abram just rubbed me the wrong way, I guess. The plot was still fun and creative, though, and I did enjoy their relationship eventually. The second story was sweet and, in some ways, touched on the relationship between mother and daughter too, although the ending left me wanting a bit more closure. I guess that’s one of the hazards of a short story!

4 Stars

Review: Amish Voices by Brad Igou

Amish Voices
Title: Amish Voices
Editor: 
Brad Igou
Publication Date: June 25, 2019
Genre: Christian
Format: ARC, eBook
Rating: 3 Stars


Strong families. Caring communities. The nearly nine in ten youth who join the church. How do the Amish do it?

In Amish Voices, Amish writers share news and advice from their communities and reflect on their daily lives, work, and faith. Brad Igou, publisher of Amish Country News, gives readers a behind-the-scenes tour of Amish life by compiling writing from Family Life, a popular monthly magazine that thousands of Amish people read. Learn about how the Amish began and what they value. Hear what they think about technology, happiness, community, obedience, success, and change. Listen in as they discuss shunning and rumspringa and forgiveness. Find out what sustains them in difficult seasons, and how they try to trust God in all things.

Why learn about the Amish from outsiders when you can learn from the Amish themselves? And why just learn about them when you can learn from them?

Review_I’ve been reading quite a bit of Amish fiction lately, so when I saw a non-fiction book about the Amish I jumped at the chance to read it. As popular as Amish fiction has become, there aren’t many opportunities to learn about the culture from the Amish themselves. Amish voices is even more unique because not only were the articles from Family Life written by the Amish, they were written for the Amish.

Amish Voices was organized really well and covered a wider range of topics than I expected it to. I was especially surprised to see that the history of the Amish was included, and that was one of the parts that I found most interesting. Maybe because they live a lifestyle closer to a historical time period than modern day, I’ve never stopped to consider what their past was like. I jumped around in the book, skipping to the sections and articles that I found the most interesting. Aside from history it was mainly articles about courtship, marriage, and family life in the community.

3 Stars

ARC provided in exchange for an honest review

Review: The Yankee Widow by Linda Lael Miller

The Yankee WidowTitle: The Yankee Widow
Author: 
Linda Lael Miller
Publication Date: May 1, 2019
Genre: Historical Fiction
Format: eBook, ARC
Rating: 3 Stars


A richly drawn, multigenerational saga writ large against the complexities and heartbreak among families of both sides as men take up the war to presserve the nation or defend their way of life. Told in a smart, assured and compelling voice, the novel is the story of Caroline, the young wife of Jacob, who together live on a farm raising their daughter Rachel just outside of Gettysburg. When Jacob joins the Northern army to do his duty and help save the Union, no one anticipates he will not return. Caroline gets news that he is wounded and has been taken to Washington DC with his regiment, and so she must find her way there and navigate the thousands of wounded to find him. Thus begin this saga that focuses on the strong women and men of both sides and both races who sacrificed so much and loved so well during this critical juncture in American history.


Review_The word that keeps running through my mind as I try to write this review is atmospheric. The Yankee Widow does such a good job of sucking you straight back to the 1860’s, even when you’re reading it on your smartphone under your electric blanket with white noise playing on your computer in the background.

The language Linda Lael Miller uses sets the tone which, in my opinion, really drives the plot of this book. The characters are well-developed with flaws and strengths, which can sometimes be hard to find in characters from the 1800’s for whatever reason, and the setting was vivid. Although the farm that the majority of the story takes place on is in fact in Gettysburg, the Battle of Gettysburg doesn’t swallow the whole book. We follow the characters for quite a while before the battle happens and a long, long time afterwards. I really enjoyed the two male characters and found their relationship endearing – not to mention a great example of the division wreaking havoc on the country as one fought for the Confederacy and the other the Union – except for at the very end. The last two chapters of the book found Caroline, the main character, doing things that she claimed she wouldn’t and having feelings that were totally different than what I last knew to be true. To be fair, this all happened directly after a year’s time jump so that could explain the change in behavior, but I found it a little off-putting.

It’s obvious that this book was very well researched on several fronts – farm life and everyday tasks, propriety, language, child rearing, and then the actual Civil War on top of it all. My only complaint is that there were instances throughout the book where a bit of dialog or a description of the farm would slide into info-dumping about the politics of the war or the leaders of the war, etc. It made the reading dense at times and I would just sort of skim those parts and move back into the story.

If you’re a fan of atmospheric Civil War novels, particularly about the home front and losses, then you should give this book a try!

3 Stars

ARC provided in exchange for an honest review

Review: Crooked Kingdom by Leigh Bardugo

Crooked Kingdom
Title: Crooked Kingdom
Author: 
Leigh Bardugo
Publication Date: September 27, 2016
Genre: Fantasy, Young Adult
Rating: 5 Stars


Welcome to the world of the Grisha.

Kaz Brekker and his crew of deadly outcasts have just pulled off a heist so daring even they didn’t think they’d survive. But instead of divvying up a fat reward, they’re right back to fighting for their lives.

Double-crossed and badly weakened, the crew is low on resources, allies, and hope. As powerful forces from around the world descend on Ketterdam to root out the secrets of the dangerous drug known as jurda parem, old rivals and new enemies emerge to challenge Kaz’s cunning and test the team’s fragile loyalties.

A war will be waged on the city’s dark and twisting streets – a battle for revenge and redemption that will decide the fate of the Grisha world.


Review_

I…… don’t even know how I’m going to do this review. This is just one of those books, ya know? As soon as I started reading Six of Crows – review HERE – I knew that I was about to dive into something special (I was right), something that would grab me and shake me like Harry Potter or Twilight or any of the other super popular series that seep into you and make you obsessed with a fictional world for more than a little while (I was right).

The single thought that ran through my mind as I read through the twists and turns was that Leigh Bardugo was a GENIUS. Every single scheme was so intricate and so well thought out. Some of the ideas were completely off the wall and I have no idea how Bardugo’s brain was able to weave so many different cons with so many different moving pieces together in such a seamless way. I can’t even begin to imagine writing a plot so entirely dependent on the tiniest of details and explosive chain reactions. She’s a queen.

My single solitary complaint is that I wanted a little bit more from a few of the characters at the end of the story. Some of the gang had more time to shine than others at the end, and one in particular was kinda shoved to the side. But other than that, this was a masterpiece. A bold statement coming from someone who’s only read 2/7 books in the Grishaverse world, but I think it’s earned its place among fantasy giants like the Wizarding world.

I can’t wait to read the Grishaverse trilogy and, more important, King Nikolai’s spin-off. He made a very brief appearance in Crooked Kingdom and I already know that I love him.

5 Stars