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Monday, December 30, 2013

THE CHOICE by Suzanne Woods Fisher



Much better written than many novels in the “Christian Lit” genre, THE CHOICE presents the life of an Amish community with an emphasis on the helpfulness and “family” feel of the members of the church as well as the all-encompassing structure of the faith.  Carrie is fully developed, as are Mattie, Abel, and Esther. Some of the other characters are presented so briefly, or in such a strictly confined way, that they seem one dimensional.  The plot is full of tension and is believable.  The life of the community is a fully developed character itself and is essential to the plot. 
The use of the “dutch” language is sometimes annoying. Often sentences and phrases are immediately translated in italic, but occasionally a word or phrase is not, leaving the non-Amish wondering at the exact meaning.  I would have liked to know more about Mattie and Emma’s life after the choices they make, but as this is a part of a series, those stories may be covered in another book.  My edition (e-book) did not have any notes revealing the content of other books in the series.
Book group will have a field of topics to discuss – arranged marriage, step-parenting, death of a spouse, faith as life encompassing, medical experiences with chronic disease, bullying, outsider vs insider in relatively closed communities, forgiveness, business fraud and many others.
4 of 5 stars

Monday, December 23, 2013

THE SISTERS WEISS by Naomi Ragen



THE SISTERS WEISS  by Naomi Ragen
Rose and Pearl grow up in an ultra-orthodox home in New York with a Rabbi father and ultra-observant mother. Theirs is a loving but strict family, requiring absolute obedience from the girls and their older siblings. When sheltered and naive Rose (the older of the two) becomes friendly with a new girl whose family is newly observant and extremely permissive, she sees a world beyond her closed society.  Sent away from home into an even more strict and confining school, Rose rebels and commits a sin her family considers unforgivable.  Pearl, who adores her older sister, is left behind to deal with a fractured family and her own perceived guilt. The remainder of the novel covers the career and family of Rose and the eventual re-involvement of Pearl’s conservative religious beliefs in her life.
I found the first three fourths of this novel very informative concerning the ultra-orthodox life style. The characters were fully developed and consistent.  The writing was clear and presented the various viewpoints with insight and sympathy.  The situations were transparently presented and led to the final plot conflict.  Unfortunately the final section of the novel seemed hurried, the characters lost their consistency of thought and action, and the ending was contrived and disappointing. 
There is much here that book groups will find worthy of discussion, despite the novel’s limitation.  The family situation, the effect of religious faith on family life, sibling relationships, guilt, forgiveness, redemption, choice of career, women’s choice’s, family dynamics, unplanned pregnancies, and education are all worthy topics.
3 of 5 stars

Thursday, December 19, 2013

THIS DARK ROAD TO MERCY by Wiley Cash



Two little girls who have just lost their mother to cancer are in foster care about to be sent to Alaska to live with Grandparents they have never seen. Enter their n’er-do-well father, a failed major league pitcher with a dark past and a sudden interest in his daughters.  Dad also suddenly has LOTS of money ,  a damaged baseball player and the FBI following him.  A former cop turned guardian ad litem is the girl’s only advocate when Dad kidnaps them and tries to disappear.
Cash shows us that he can write fragile, failed, caring, evil, greedy, selfless, kind, merciless and merciful characters with a tight plot. THIS DARK ROAD TO MERCY will have you reading far into the night to find out what happens to Easter and Ruby, the money, and the dad. In Cash’s debut novel, A LAND MORE KIND THAN HOME, he gave us an atmospheric Southern gothic novel.  DARK ROAD invests more in character in this thriller that at times seems like a friendly family drama – but be not deceived, this novel has true darkness as well as true mercy.  Well worth your time!

Saturday, December 14, 2013

Killing Jesus by Bill O'Reilly & Martin Dugard




Much more a history lesson than an “execution” story, KILLING JESUS relates in great detail the backstory of Israel, Rome, politics in AD 34, Judaism and Christianity. Sprinkled with numerous footnotes and maps, O’Reilly and Dugard have written a detailed account of the events leading to the death of Jesus of Nazareth.  Sometimes gruesome, often too detailed, but nonetheless infinitely interesting, this book will be enlightening for any person of faith (Christian or not) or student of history. 
4 of 5 stars

SYCAMORE ROW by John Grisham



SYCAMORE ROW by John Grisham

John Grisham returns to the Clanton Courthouse of A TIME TO KILL and his hero Jake Brigance to bring a story of money, family dysfunction, racism, and legal maneuvering.  Seth Hubbard has died – by suicide – leaving behind two conflicting wills, a black maid, two disgruntled children, four apathetic grandchildren, a dark secret, greedy lawyers and LOTS of money. Grisham manages to make us like old Seth, a genuinely unlikable person, even while we sympathize with his greedy children and root for his maid.  SYCAMORE ROW will send you out to write an airtight will as soon as you finish reading, all while keeping in mind that is exactly what Seth thought he was doing.  Seth did Jake no favors by ordering Jake, and only Jake, to defend his “final” will, but it does make a fascinating tale.
5 of 5 stars

THE BRIDE'S HOUSE by Sandra Dallas




THE BRIDE’S HOUSE is home to three very different young women across three generations of the same family. Each has a secret.   Each generation has secrets.  The secrets are eventually revealed (but not by me!) and show how the keeping, or telling, of a secret can affect an entire generation and even succeeding generations.  Sandra Dallas is a writer of people, complete with foibles, warts and generosity of character. In THE BRIDE’S HOUSE she has woven a fascinating tale of love, deceit, passion, heartache, callousness, generosity, forgiveness, redemption and the women who are affected and affect others.  The three women – Nealie, Pearl and Susan – are complete individuals surrounded by fully fleshed out characters. 
The plot is believable and interesting.  Book groups will love this book that spans a century – from 1880 to 2000 – and a changing country -- from a rough and tumble mining town to a sophisticated Denver.  
5 of 5 stars