Saturday, March 8, 2014

Eliza's Home by R. Herron

Eliza's Home is a sweet little novella by Rachael Herron. It's currently free for kindle (March '14). Ms. Herron does a great job in a short space of making you love Eliza.

It's 1945 and Eliza is a spunky woman who is running from an abusive husband. She's been married for three years, but was only with her husband for a short time before and after the war. She married him because her sister told her it was time to settle down. But knowing she can't take him any longer, she flees north through California where her car breaks down after all her money flew out the window.

Her rescuer is the handsome Joshua Carpenter, who - wouldn't you know - is building his own home. He hires Eliza to help him and she plans to use the money to get further from her husband. While the storyline is a little predictable - of course they fall in love - it's still a story of hope.

Eliza has made herself at home with Joshua and the community of Cypress Hollow (there's a whole series of books, apparently, I will need to check them out!). But she feels she's not good enough as a divorcee and leaves. She goes back to her sister's house and tells her everything.

As it turns out, Joshua doesn't give up so easily. He followed Eliza to her sister's home and confronts Eliza's husband and tells him to give her a divorce immediately. It was a little unbelievable that he agreed so quickly, but it's a novella - sometimes things happen quick! Joshua reveals that no place is home to him without Eliza there and of course she is overjoyed! Who wouldn't be?

This novella is amazingly sweet. It's not a Christian work, but aside from a little language it could be. I highly recommend it for those times you know you have an hour to kill or you're on the beach!

Thursday, March 6, 2014

Loving Eliza by Ruth Ann Nordin

It's been a while since I've been active here, but my life was consumed by our newest family member! And while I've read many books in the last 2 years, reviewing hasn't been a priority. But I'm hoping to get back to reviewing a little more regularly!

I read Loving Eliza last week and it was a quick, easy read. Ms. Nordin does a wonderful job of drawing the reader in quickly and endearing Eliza to us.

Eliza was a prostitute in the bustling city of Omaha, but now she's in South Dakota to work for the sister of a pastor friend of hers. Except the woman has passed away unexpectedly, leaving Eliza unsure what to do next. She's approached by the town mute, John, who mistakes her for his mail-order bride. Once Eliza explains she is not the bride and it seems the bride is nowhere to be found, Eliza agrees to work for John until she can find another job and his actual bride arrives.

Over time the pair grow comfortable together and John is obviously in love with Eliza, even to the point of trying to take her to the local church whenever they are in town. But Eliza's past is a secret and she says she is unworthy of marrying such a wonderful man.

John's brother, Troy, tries in vain to court Eliza, much to John's dismay and Eliza's attempts to dissuade him. And as soon as Eliza admits her feelings for John, his mail order bride arrives! Eliza leaves and works for the town's grouch who eventually discovers her secret past and threatens to tell everybody.

I won't give away spoilers except to say that this is a story of true love - so you can imagine what happens in the end, but it's not without some twists and turns.

I would highly recommend this book to anyone looking for a quick, sweet love story. Ms. Nordin is a fabulous writer!

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Her Good Name by R. Axtell

In 1892 Espy Estrada is a poor half Portuguese girl in a small Maine town who dreams of doing more with her life than working in the cannery like the other poor Portuguese young ladies around her. A new job as a maid for a local teacher seems promising - especially when he offers to tutor her and help further her education for free.

Espy has all the male attention any girl could want - even that of local heir and pretty boy Warren Brentwood III who is recently back from college.

The two strike up a friendship, and, of course, any reader can see where this is going. Poor girl from the wrong side of the tracks - rich boy who gets whatever he wants...but of course the difference in their social classes keeps them from even seeing each other and from thinking the other would be interested in the least.

Her Good Name gets off to a very slow start. The entire first half of the book is basically back story. Girl and Boy knew each other as kids, they are now reacquainted but know nothing can come of their friendship because of social class. They are both placed on a church committee where they find ways to both linger together longer and avoid each other entirely.

Warren is being pursued by fellow upper-class girl, Christina. Espy seems to have a constant trail of love-sick boys after her. Neither likes the attention the other receives.

Then one day the teacher Espy works for makes a move on her - and his wife catches their embrace. Or, rather, his embrace, as Espy has somehow been completely unaware of the man's advances that even a child could have picked up on. Not wanting to admit to trying to kiss the maid, the husband says she made moves on him, Espy is fired and the entire town is abuzz because of it. This is where the book gets its name - her good name (which honestly wasn't "good" to start with since she was seen as just another Portuguese working girl) becomes sullied amidst the upper-crust. And for some reason love interest Warren believes the gossip.

The book actually gets slightly interesting when Espy moves to Bangor, Maine, to find more suitable work and to escape the undying gossip around town. Months later she is shocked to see Warren there as well - it seems he's left his father's lumber business in order to study theology and become a minister. The two spend a lot of time together where they fall in love without admitting it to each other.

Warren returns home for a short time and is invited by their hometown pastor to preach. He writes Espy and says he needs her there for moral support. Having not returned home since leaving her sullied reputation behind, Espy is hesitant, but goes for Warren's sake. There he parades her in front of his disapproving parents and their friends, making her further realize she is not a part of his social standing and never will be.

Her Good Name is a very predictable fiction novel. It might be good as a beach read - or, as I read it, something to pass the time while ignoring one's three children and it didn't much matter if I was interrupted over and over.
I found Espy and Warren hard to cheer for. Both had the "woe is me and my lot in life" attitude, though they enjoyed doing charitable work. And I realize I wasn't around 120 years ago, but I seriously doubt the misdeeds - true or false - of a poor immigrant's daughter would warrant the tongue wagging Espy received from the town's elite. And her reaction to run away didn't endear me to her at all. I felt she needed to stand up for herself - make her story known and believed, especially to the man she was actually falling for.

I would give this novel 2.5 stars out of 5. Readable, but hardly enticing.

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Courting Morrow Little by Laura Frantz

Every now and then you read a book that stays with you after you finish the last page. This is one of those books. Courting Morrow Little by Laura Frantz is the story of Morrow, a young woman from the wilds of Kentucky in the times of the American Revolution. After two years in Boston with an aunt, she returns to her father and the home where her mother and sister were killed and her older brother was whisked away by Native Indians.

As a returning single woman, many men set eyes upon her - from ragtag soldiers and frontiersmen to those in power. One set of eyes belong to a young half-blood who is the son of a Shawnee man her father has befriended.

In time, Morrow goes from feeling disdain to friendliness toward the men who stop at her home without warning or invitation. And eventually she realizes she is in love with Red Shirt - the Shawnee half-blood.

Many troubles ensue for Morrow and Red Shirt - running from the law of the land, illness, many separations and more. That would be my chief complaint with this novel - our heroine and hero don't spent nearly enough time together.

But overall Ms. Frantz spins a wonderful tale full of picturesque scenery and details, but not so much that you lose the story. Courting Morrow Little does have Christian undertones, but I think it would be enjoyed by anyone who loves to read romance novels with a memorable story line behind it.

Overall, I would give this book 4.5 out of 5 stars. A must-read of anyone who loves a great love story.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Things Were Better Before You Came

This is a strange title for an adoption-related book, but author Doug Walker did a great job with the title.

Things Were Better Before You Came is a true story about Walker's life, his adoption, his immense fear of rejection and discovering that God will never reject you.

I have to tell you - I have page after page of this book underlined. I related so well to each word he wrote.

As an adoptive mother, I saw my son in Walker's own self, and myself in the role of his mother. The main point I got: They did not speak the same language (figuratively) and had a hard time communicating with each other. I think my son and I are much the same and we, like Walker and his mother, show our love in different ways and it at times frustrated the other when we don't "get it."

I also saw much of myself in Doug Walker as well. He explains that he felt rejected by his adoptive mother after a callous, emotion-filled (and untrue) statement she uttered when he was a child. And as someone who does not know half of my biology, I can relate to that feeling of rejection. As he explains, it's not something you walk around with consciously. It's completely unconscious, it's buried and unrealized, but still there.

In the book, Walker explains that three single moments in his formative years led him on a path of feeling rejected - a comment from his mother at the age of 9, his mother's willingness to help him search for his birth parents at the age of 12 (he explains that he wanted his mother to be jealous and only want him for himself), and asking his mother if she loved him unconditionally (to which she responded as any mother would - "What did you do?").
Now - Walker is quick to point out that his mother always loved him and he never doubted that, but in his own mind her reactions were not what he wanted and therefore meant that she rejected him. He also says that their relationship is much better now and is healing...his mother had no recollection of even saying these things to him. It just goes to show that trivial things to us might be life-altering for others.

I did want to point out a few lines in the book that really spoke to me. Lest you think this book is only worth reading if you are adopted or an adoptive parents, let me assure you, anyone can benefit from this book. The rejection Doug Walker felt from his mother is something we all face at times in our life.

Early in the book he says, "My existence, I believed, would only be validated by my performance." I think we all feel that way at some time or another. We all feel the need to prove ourselves. And that's really what the book is about. Learning that you ARE loved. Learning that no matter what, God loves you and Jesus died for you even though you were not worthy - and that no matter what you face in life, God is always there, always present, never rejecting.

He also says he came to this realization, "At that moment I realized her love for me is based on one simple truth: I am her son.Her jealously for me was not fueled by the knowledge that I have planted a successful church, that I have never been arrested, or that I have given her three grandchildren. She adopted me when I was a baby, and she continues to adopt me today. In the darkest moments of our relationship, this has always been true, even when I didn't feel it."
For me - this statement sums it up. As an adoptive mother, I don't love my child for the things he does or does not do. No, even as a preschooler, his choices don't always make me happy, and no, we do not see eye to eye on a lot of things and we likely will butt heads over many things for many years. But he is my son. I chose him. I love him and I adopt him daily as my son.

And God adopts us daily in spite of butting heads and arguing with him over things.

Things Were Better Before You Came is an amazing story of love, adoption, redemption, and unconditional love. I highly recommend it for all parents, all children, adoptive families and Christian families.

As of March 15, 2012, this book is $7.99 for Kindle.


Doug Walker visited my home church in March 2012 where he preached an amazing sermon on adoption and shared his own birth mother's story. He also shared how he and his wife have three sons - two are biological and one is adopted. While at our church he was selling copies of his book, which I promptly bought. I will tell you that this book had deeply affected me as a mother and as someone who understands underlying rejection issues. I want to thank Mr. Walker for sharing his story both from the stage and in his book. 

Here is his sermon from his visit to our church:

AdoptionAcceptance&UnconditionalLove from Foothills Community Church on Vimeo.

Saturday, February 25, 2012

All The Flowers in Shanghai by D. Jepson

Duncan Jepson brings us a haunting novel, All the Flowers in Shanghai about a young girl, Feng, in pre-Revolution China. Told solely in the first person, we learn immediately that Feng is writing to a daughter that she had claimed was stillborn but was apparently still alive and was now telling her the story of her life.

Feng was the second daughter. The "spare" to her parents, who are only called Ma and Ba. She has an older sister, only called Sister, who is being groomed to marry a man of a higher status and has been treated like a princess her entire life. Xaio Feng dresses like a peasant and spends her time roaming the gardens with her grandfather and knowing nothing of life aside from the Latin names of flowers.

As her sister is preparing to marry the rich Sang heir, Feng meets a village boy and falls immediately in like with him. They spend a lot of time together, but when Sister is suddenly unable to marry, it is up to Feng to fulfill the contract made with the Sang family.

But Feng was never groomed for any of it - she knew nothing of the ancient traditions and ceremonies involved in a wedding or marriage. She insults her new in-laws immediately, but doesn't seem to care because they took her away from the life she had known and enjoyed. And when her new husband clumsily forces himself on her, Feng turns bitter and angry.

Her mother-in-law's insistence for a male heir angers Feng, so when she does become pregnant she manages to detach herself from her developing baby and makes her maid swear to give the child away if it is a girl. Of course, the entire novel is a story she has written for a child she never knew, so when a girl is born, the reader is not surprised. Her maid takes the baby and gives it away to an older couple and Feng tells the family she had birthed a stillborn son.

The story continues from there - covering more than 30 years time in all and goes into the beginning of communist China where Feng makes some drastic and unforeseen changes in her life.

In the end, I did not feel connected to any of the characters in this book, except maybe the given-away daughter since the letter was to her. Feng goes from a sweet, unassuming innocent to a cold-hearted, angry and bitter woman. Feng's family simply abandons her without and any life lessons (though I'm assuming that's just how things were in depression-era China). Her husband I can only assume is a fool and simply does what he is told by his father, mother and then wife.

I also felt like Feng spent much of the book searching for a true parent figure. Her mother treated her cruelly, using her children only as pawns to move up in station. For many years Feng looked to her older maid as a mother figure, then sought out another mother-figure after that. It seems that Jepson gave Feng many women who could fill the role, but none who could fill the pain Feng felt.

Overall, I give All the Flowers in Shanghai 3.5 out of 5 stars. It was fairly easy to read, but some of the material was tough and at times the language more crass than I'm used to, but it certainly fit with the storyline.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

A Sense of Duty by Lisa Shea

I got A Sense of Duty as a free download for my Kindle and I have to admit to being intrigued from the beginning! I adore all things medieval, so I really hoped this book would live up to my expectations and it sure did.

It begins with a prologue outlining the unspoken love between Constance, the daughter of an English Lord, and Gabriel, her personal guard who had fought in the crusades. It's hard to believe that not even a chaste kiss has crossed between them, but they stand motionless for what seems like hours on the beach, Gabriel's arms protectively around Constance.
But sadly, Constance has been pledged in marriage ten years prior to a much older Lord Barnard and the time for their hand-fasting has come. And as much as she loves Gabriel, she needs to marry Barnard to ensure his protection over her parent's lands.
She tells Gabriel that their time together had been "amusing," crushing his heart, and she marries the older man.

Six years pass and Constance feels like a prisoner in her own home. With two stillbirths behind her and no living children, her husband has decided to see if any of the local women or maids can produce a child for him. Constance is scorned, hurt, but glad that the older man leaves her alone. She wistfully thinks of Gabriel. And she passes the time she works with an older man named Ralph who teaches her to wield a sword and dagger as protection against local bandits.

On a trip to see her elderly Aunt Silvia at a nunnery, her guards are killed and Constance is taken captive. She is locked away, though not broken. Constance knows that they have demanded ransom, but doesn't understand why her husband has not paid it. Perhaps her brother might. When she is saved by mercenaries known as the Angelus, Constance's curiosity is piqued, but she's too grateful to worry about it. She is returned to her brother's home to recuperate against her husband's wishes.

As she regains her strength, Constance realizes that her beloved Gabriel is closer than she thought - he is a neighbor of her brother! Gabriel is in her childhood home once again, but this time flirting with the younger sister of Constance's sister-in-law. She does her best to ignore him, choosing instead to play with her young nieces and nephews - relishing in the ability to be with children. As time passes, her sister-in-law, Alison, realizes that Constance is not as she imagined and apologizes profusely for not visiting and for leaving Constance without the affections of her own family. However, Constance's jealous husband wants her to have nothing to do with her brother, his family, or the tall, handsome man who keeps stealing glances at his wife.

Through a harrowing series of events, Constance and Gabriel finally admit their love for one another, as expected, and Barnard flies into a rage. It is revealed that Gabriel is at the head of the mercenaries called the Angelus and Constance figures our that Barnard himself is at the helm of the bandits who have been robbing people and leaving them for dead the last several years.

When Gabriel is sentenced to hang - along with his men - and Constance is forced to return to her husband's keep, will they be able to unveil Barnard's deception and save the men of the Angelus?
Of course - the answer should be obvious!

A Sense of Duty is full of twists and turns - some expected, many not. There is just too much to try to cover in a quick book review! But if you like romance (not steamy stuff, but stories of finding your true love) and you like Medieval or Regency novels, I really think you will enjoy this one. I could barely put it down! I give Lisa Shea's book 4.5 out of 5 stars!

(PS - it is still free as of 2/14/12! Get it now!)