The three most important parts of a book are: a well constructed plot, compelling characters, and a satisfying conclusion.

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

⭐️⭐️⭐️ANNA'S CROSSING (An Amish Beginnings Novel, #1) By Suzanne Woods Fisher

Publisher:  Fleming H Revell
Pages:  336
Release Date:  March 3, 2015
Genre:  Amish Historical Fiction
Format:  Paperback

About the Book:  When Anna Konig first meets Bairn, the Scottish ship carpenter of the "Charming Nancy," their encounter is anything but pleasant. Anna is on the ship only to ensure the safe arrival of her loved ones to the New World. Hardened by years of living at sea, Bairn resents toting these naive farmers--dubbed "Peculiars" by deckhands--across the ocean. As delays, storms, illness, and diminishing provisions afflict crew and passengers alike, Bairn finds himself drawn to Anna's serene nature. For her part, Anna can't seem to stay below deck and far away from the aloof ship's carpenter, despite warnings.
When an act of sacrifice leaves Anna in a perilous situation, Bairn discovers he may not have left his faith as firmly in the past as he thought. But has the revelation come too late?
Amish fiction favorite Suzanne Woods Fisher brings her fans back to the beginning of Amish life in America with this fascinating glimpse into the first ocean crossing as seen through the eyes of a devout young woman and an irreverent man. Blending the worlds of Amish and historical fiction, Fisher is sure to delight her longtime fans even as she attracts new ones with her superb and always surprise-filled writing.

Wanda's Thoughts: 
1737 – Anna Konig and a group of Amish people were leaving Ixheim, Germany, going to a New World. They were leaving their peaceful and pastoral valley for a world of unknowns, and the voyage was filled with uncertainties. They sacrificed and endured so much just to own a piece of sod in America. The Peculiar people, of a peculiar sect, were headed to Penn’s Woods and their passage was secured on a vessel, the Charming Nancy.

The people were confined to the lower decks, which were pitiful, with the stale air, stench, and sickness. Life was tenuous and could be altered in an instant. They suffered delays, endured seasickness, cold, and much more.

The characters were unique with effective and realistic dialogue ---

Anna had a rare strength of character and showed much determination and compassion. She’d left her home, grandparents, church, and everything she’d loved and lived for to embark on this journey. Anna had lived in a sheltered world, not caring about earthy possessions.

Bairn had a mystique about him and was a man full of contradictions. He was a wayward soul who claimed to not believe in God, but was filled with kindness, especially towards Anna. Bairn’s title is carpenter of the Charming Nancy and is the third person in charge. He lived in a world filled with temptations, and felt a lot of turmoil in his life.

Felix, a mischievous 8 year-old, was like a brother to Anna. He is a very curious Amish boy and as a result finds himself in trouble throughout the story. His mother’s sadness affected him in a deep way.

The character of Georg Schultz is not likable at all, being shadowy, relentless, and utterly despicable.

Christian Muller – As the minister, his duty was to be sure everyone followed the straight and narrow path and conformed to what it meant to be a church member. He had a meddlesome wife, Maria, who constantly kept things stirred up.

Anna’s Crossing had an intriguing premise, with a story of expectations, despair, and faith. The author did a beautiful job with the vividly described scenes. There were some scenes that I found to be very dynamic. Unfortunately it took me to long to become engaged in the storyline and I found myself plodding through sections and losing focus.

The book is readable, but not exceptional – just lukewarm. My rating is 3.5 stars.

About the Author: Suzanne Woods Fisher is the bestselling, award winning author of fiction and non-fiction books about the Old Order Amish for Revell Books, host of the radio-show-turned-blog Amish Wisdom, a columnist for Christian Post and Cooking & Such magazine.

Her interest in the Amish began with her grandfather, who was raised Plain. A theme in her books (her life!) is that you don’t have to “go Amish” to incorporate the principles of simple living.

Suzanne lives in California with her family and raises puppies for Guide Dogs for the Blind. To her way of thinking, you just can't life too seriously when a puppy is tearing through your house with someone's underwear in its mouth.

Suzanne can be found on-line at:

Sunday, October 18, 2015

SMOKE By Catherine McKenzie⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Publisher:  Lake Union Publisheing
Release Date:  October 20, 2015
Pages:  351
Format:  Kindle
Genre:  Contemporary Fiction

Book Description: 

From the internationally bestselling author Catherine McKenzie comes an evocative tale of two women navigating the secrets and lies at the heart of a wildfire threatening their town.
After a decade-long career combating wildfires, Elizabeth has traded in her former life for a quieter one with her husband. Now she works as the local arson investigator in a beautiful, quaint town in the Rockies. But that tranquil life vanishes when she and her husband agree to divorce and a fire in nearby Cooper Basin begins to spread rapidly. For Elizabeth, containing a raging wildfire is easier than accepting that her marriage has failed.
For Elizabeth’s ex-friend Mindy, who feels disconnected from her husband and teenage children, the fire represents a chance to find a new purpose: helping a man who has lost his home to the blaze. But her faith is shattered by a shocking accusation.
As the encroaching inferno threatens the town’s residents, Elizabeth and Mindy must discover what will be lost in the fire, and what will be saved.

Wanda's Thoughts:  Elizabeth and Ben, after 10 years of marriage, were getting divorced. Elizabeth had worked woodland fires for 10 years, since she was 26 years old, and then became the arson investigator for the regional district. She’d taken an investigator course as part of her arson training and was now working as a private investigator for the prosecuting attorney. Ben came from money and works at a private high school, one that costs forty thousand dollars a year to attend. It is where Ben attended. I found Ben to be rather laid-back about the divorce and the fire, which threatened the home that he and Elizabeth lived in.

44-year-old Mindy is married to Peter, a manager at the bank, and they have two teenage children. They are part of the middle class. Mindy had worked at the high school science lab, but lost her job when the budget was slashed. Now her domain was entirely domestic. Her constant attention was on her kids, and Mindy was finding it hard to keep up with the world outside her family. Her kids’ lives seemed to take up most of her time.

Nelson residents were told to remain on high alert. The town could be in real danger because of a fire spreading up the north side of the Peak eating through timber. Now there is evidence of arson and a local teen could be involved. And the story unfolds ---

Both Mindy and Elizabeth are complex characters, and the lives of these two do intertwine throughout. I never became fully engaged in the character of Mindy, even though she was an intricate part of the story. I found that part of the story-line to be just lukewarm. However, I immediately connected to Elizabeth, finding her to be the best part of the story-line.

There are complex relationships, a mystery that slowly unravels, some romance, and a satisfying conclusion. This finely layered novel, with and interesting premise, certainly evokes vivid realism through both the well-described scenes and the vibrant presentation of characters. My rating is 4 stars.

I received a copy of this book from NetGalley in exchange of an honest review.

About the Author:  Catherine McKenzie was born and raised in Montreal, Canada. A graduate of McGill University and McGill Law School, Catherine practices law in Montreal. An avid runner and skier, she's the author of the international bestsellers SPIN, ARRANGED, FORGOTTEN, HIDDEN and the novella, SPUN. HIDDEN was a #1 Amazon bestseller and a Digital Book-world bestseller for five weeks. Catherine's newest novel, SMOKE, will be published on October 20, 2015.

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

MY MOTHER'S SECRET: Novel Based on a True Holocaust Story By J. L. Witterick

Publisher:  Berkley
Publication Date:  2013
Pages:  208
Genre:  Historical Fiction
Format:  Paperback
⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ About the Book:  A novel based on a true story, a mother and daughter risk their lives to provide shelter to two families and a German soldier--all unbeknownst to each other--in a tiny two-room house in Sokal, Poland, during the Nazi invasion.

Based on a true story, MY MOTHER'S SECRET is a profound, captivating, and ultimately uplifting tale intertwining the lives of two Jewish families in hiding from the Nazis, a fleeing German soldier, and the clever and "righteous" mother and daughter who teamed up to save them.

Franciszka and her daughter, Helena, are unlikely heroines. They are simple people who mind their own business and don't stand out from the crowd. Until 1939, when crisis strikes. The Nazis have invaded Poland and they are starting to persecute the Jews. Providing shelter to a Jew has become a death sentence. And yet, Franciszka and Helena decide to do just that. In their tiny, two-bedroom home in Sokal, Poland, they cleverly hide a Jewish family of two brothers and their wives in their pigsty out back, a Jewish doctor with his wife and son in a makeshift cellar under the kitchen floorboards, and a defecting German soldier in the attic--each group completely unbeknownst to the others. For everyone to survive, Franciszka will have to outsmart her neighbors and the German commanders standing guard right outside her yard.

Told simply and succinctly from four different perspectives, MY MOTHER'S SECRET is a reminder that there are, in fact, no profiles of courage and each individual's character is a personal choice.

This book was inspired by the true story of Franciszka Halamajowa, who, with her daughter, saved the lives of fifteen Jews in Poland during the Second World War. She also hid a young German soldier in her attic at the same time. Before the war, there were six thousand Jews in Sokal, Poland. Only thirty survived the war and half of those did so because of Franciszka.

Wanda's Thoughts: 
A story of hope and survival, My Mother’s Secret is a remarkable book inspired by true events that took place during the Holocaust in Sokal, Poland.

Germany invades Poland in 1939. Hitler’s popularity is growing and he seems to have a hypnotic power over the people. In 1941 things go from bad to worse when Jews lose their freedom and are treated horribly with brutal acts committed daily. The unbelievable sounds of screaming coming from the ghetto filled them with terror. Jewish families are living in constant fear each day, not knowing if it will be their last.

Franciszka is an incredible woman who displays motivation, cleverness and courage. She is a warm and loving mother to Helena, but is willing to risk their lives to save others. She hides two Jewish families and a German soldier in a small house and shed, and she never asks for anything in return. A touching story, indeed! This story is told in the simplest way and is a book quite appropriate for YA’s. 5 stars.

About the Author:  J. L WITTERICK - MY MOTHER’S SECRET, which is based on a true story, is J. L. Witterick’s debut novel.   It is a bestseller in Canada and has been published in a number of countries around the world.

Saturday, October 3, 2015

Our Souls at Night By Kent Haruf⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Publisher:  Knopf
Release Date:  May 2015
Pages:  179
Genre: Fiction
Format: Hardcover

Book Description:  A spare yet eloquent, bittersweet yet inspiring story of a man and a woman who, in advanced age, come together to wrestle with the events of their lives and their hopes for the imminent future.

In the familiar setting of Holt, Colorado, home to all of Kent Haruf’s inimitable fiction, Addie Moore pays an unexpected visit to a neighbor, Louis Waters. Her husband died years ago, as did his wife, and in such a small town they naturally have known of each other for decades; in fact, Addie was quite fond of Louis’s wife. His daughter lives hours away in Colorado Springs, her son even farther away in Grand Junction, and Addie and Louis have long been living alone in houses now empty of family, the nights so terribly lonely, especially with no one to talk with.

Their brave adventures—their pleasures and their difficulties—are hugely involving and truly resonant, making Our Souls at Night the perfect final installment to this beloved writer’s enduring contribution to American literature.

Wanda's Thoughts:  I’m saddened that this is the last of Kent Haruf’s books - such an outstanding author.

I was deeply touched by this story-line. Again, it is old-fashioned storytelling told in the most simple, special, and pure way.

Louis and Addie, both widowed, are in their 70’s. They have been neighbors for a long time, but are only slightly acquainted. They are both lonely and lacking companionship as they embark on an unusual, but touching relationship. The message is powerful as they share their memories, secrets, and regrets, talking to each other late into the night.

This story is both beautiful and bittersweet with endearing characters that you’ll surrender you heart to. Simply superb! 5 stars.

About the Author: Kent Haruf was born in eastern Colorado. He received his Bachelors of Arts in literature from Nebraska Wesleyan University in 1965 and his Masters of Fine Arts from the Iowa Writers' Workshop at the University of Iowa in 1973. For two years, he taught English in Turkey with the Peace Corps and his other jobs have included a chicken farm in Colorado, a construction site in Wyoming, a rehabilitation hospital in Colorado, a hospital in Arizona, a library in Iowa, an alternative high school in Wisconsin, and universities in Nebraska and Illinois.

Haruf is the author of Plainsong, which received the Mountains and Plains Booksellers Award, the Los Angeles Times Book Prize, the Maria Thomas Award in Fiction, and The New Yorker Book Award. Plainsong was also a finalist for the 1999 National Book Award. His novel, The Tie That Binds, received a Whiting Foundation Award and a special citation from the Pen/Hemingway Foundation. In 2006, Haruf was awarded the Dos Passos Prize for Literature.

All of his novels are set in the fictional town of Holt, Colorado. Holt is loosely based on Yuma, Colorado, an early residence of Haruf in the 1980s.

Haruf lived with his wife, Cathy, in Salida, Colorado, with their three daughters. He died of cancer on November 30, 2014.

Friday, October 2, 2015

WATER FROM MY HEART By Charles Martin⭐️⭐️⭐️

Publisher:  Center Street
Date of Publication:  May 19, 2015
Pages:  368
Genre:  Fiction
Format:  Hardcover

About the Book: 
New York Times bestselling author Charles Martin's breathtaking novel of love and redemption.Charlie Finn had to grow up fast, living alone by age sixteen. Highly intelligent, he earned a life-changing scholarship to Harvard, where he learned how to survive and thrive on the outskirts of privileged society. That skill served him well in the cutthroat business world, as it does in more lucrative but dangerous ventures he now operates off the coast of Miami. Charlie tries to separate relationships from work. But when his choices produce devastating consequences, he sets out to right wrongs, traveling to Central America where he will meet those who have paid for his actions, including a woman and her young daughter. Will their fated encounter present Charlie with a way to seek the redemption he thought was impossible--and free his heart to love one woman as he never knew he could?

 Wanda's Thoughts:
 I’m definitely in the minority on this one.  It was obvious from the get-go that this book and I were not a good fit, and I didn’t feel particularly satisfied at the conclusion.  I found the plot drawn out, especially the first half, and the story-line a bit incredulous.  I had to work to get through this one --- cumbersome and plodding with the plot shifting from past to present. 

On a positive note – there were some rich and powerful scenes with rather intense drama.  I was very moved by the scene between Shelly and Charlie on the beach.  There was also a message of hope and redemption, and a romance and relationships that tie it all together. 

I’m a big fan of this author, but this one just failed to pull me in.  My rating – 3.5 stars.

About the Author: 
Married to Christy. Father of three boys.