Christian Fiction, Fiction

The Extraordinary Deaths of Mrs. Kip, by Sara Brunsvold

Clara Kip, a 79 year old widow with a recent cancer diagnosis, is going into hospice. Aidyn Kelley, a 24 year old journalist doomed to work on minor stories, is hoping to have her dreams and potential realized. Two women in different stages of life. Two women with different kinds of journeys ahead whose lives will briefly intersect, affecting them both.

In the oddest of ways, Aidyn’s editor reprimands her for a mishap by assigning her to write Clara Kip’s obituary. An obituary for a woman who hasn’t died, but has certainly lived, although not at all like she initially planned. Over just a few meetings, the women come to mean a great deal to each other. Questions are answered, lessons are learned, heartfelt philosophies are shared. Most importantly–just love and be kind.

Never let it be said that anyone leads a boring life. That is the crux of this book: everyone has a story. Everyone also has gifts to share with others, whether it be finding the right words, companionship, or thinking outside the box.

Also never let it be said that one must be a certain age to have wisdom. Aidyn, although young, has plenty. She and Mrs. Kip make a terrific team, despite their brief time together.

I happened upon this book by accident yesterday (available to borrow on Hoopla) and flew through it, continually uplifted with every visit. Though not a Christmas story, it has a Christian aspect, with themes that feel very appropriate this time of year. I recommend reading it during the holiday rush when you need a quiet moment of heartfelt refreshment.

9/10 Stars

ARC (Advanced Reader Copy), Autobiography, Christian Fiction, Fiction, Magical Realism, Series & Collections

November Reads 2022

I read ten books in November. Not bad! I did reviews on the ones that had the most impact on me, but here’s a quick summary.

Best Memoir (which is also nominated for a Goodreads award): Friends, Lovers, and the Big Terrible Thing, by Matthew Perry. Both fascinating and heart-breaking. Just be prepared for a lot of F-bombs.

Best Romantic Comedy: Hello Stranger, by Katherine Center. This comes out in July 2023, but keep it on your TBR (to be read) list. It’s a winner! A journey of self-discovery and growth while facing challenges and falling in love.

Best Magical Realism: The Magic of Lemon Drop Pie, by Rachel Linden. Word is out on this wonderful story of second chances and glimpses into the future. Everyone I’ve recommended this book to who has read it, has loved it!

Best Book Duo: All That Really Matters and All That It Takes by Nicole Deese. Even though I rated them differently, they’re both excellent and worth your time. Clean, Christian fiction, full of flawed but decent people who learn the value of faith, embracing differences, and serving others.

In my opinion, these are the best of the bunch. Rachel Linden and Nicole Deese are new authors for me, but I definitely want to read more of their books. Hopefully something catches your eye!

Christian Fiction, Fiction, Romance, Series & Collections, Women's Fiction

All That Really Matters, by Nicole Deese

Social media influencer, Molly McKenzie, is on top of the world. Her channel has attracted hundreds of thousands of followers, she lives a fairy-tale lifestyle, and her talent manager boyfriend has just lined up a new opportunity to expand her reach even further. It’s truly the chance of a lifetime.

There’s just one thing she has to do. Since the makeover show she’s auditioning for is going to nominate underprivileged youth, the producers want her to have some real-life experience working with them. When Molly’s minister brother, Miles, connects her with The Bridge youth program, designed to help kids transition out of foster care, everything seems to be clicking into place.

Of course, Life is full of variables and unknowns, which grow exponentially when we allow more people into our circle. Those unknowns also happen when we allow someone in who is different. No one knows this better than Silas Whittaker, the youth program’s director. He and Molly appear to be opposites in every way. Add twenty two young people who have experienced more than their fair share of physical and emotional trauma and the unknowns multiply.

The good thing is that everyone, including those twenty two residents, has an end goal. The goals vary, as do their range in selflessness, but they keep everyone motivated. And, as time goes by, and Molly and Silas find some common ground and work to set aside their prejudices, they find that faith in God and in each other can go a long way.

This is a story about growth. Growth, change, and, especially grace–the grace we hope to receive and the grace we need to extend. If you can look past Molly’s initial superficial exterior, you will be happily surprised at the miracles–big and small–that happen in everyone’s lives.

9/10 Stars

ARC (Advanced Reader Copy), Christian Fiction, Fiction, Romance

I’ll Be Seeing You, by Robin Lee Hatcher

AVAILABLE June 7, 2022

When Brianna Hastings is asked to interview the oldest person in her family for a college assignment, she has no idea the impact it will have on her. The “interviewee” is her 98 year old great-grandmother, Daisy, whose teenage life in Boise, Idaho during World War II mirrors Brianna’s in ways she didn’t expect.

Most of the novel is set in the 1940s, as Daisy crushes on her older sister, Lillian’s, boyfriend, Brandan, right before he is deployed. A fateful choice brings next door neighbor, Todd Kinnear, to Daisy’s rescue. Todd, who is mature beyond his years but classified 4-F and cannot enlist, is as heroic as they come, yet has always been more like a brother to Daisy and Lillian. Still, he was the best part of the story.

I’ll Be Seeing You could be classified as Christian Fiction because of the amount of Biblical references and characters’ internal dialogue reconciling their actions with God’s teachings. However, the sisters’ immaturity and bad choices are so blatant that it appears they haven’t learned a thing, which makes the teachings feel heavy-handed and out of place.

The message of learning from others’ mistakes is fairly clear, as well as “those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it,” but it is plot-driven more than character-driven. My motivation to keep reading was finding the answers to certain questions, some of which, frustratingly, never materialized. In the end, it read more like a Young Adult novel (and not a great one) than any other genre.

Thank you to NetGalley and Thomas Nelson Publishing for the advanced copy.

8/10 Stars

Christian Fiction, Fiction, Romance, Series & Collections

The Rocky Mountain Series, by Pamela Nissen

The Rocky Mountain series, by Pamela Nissen, is a set of sweet Christian romances I recently discovered. It is light reading and very clean. Set in Boulder, Colorado in the late 1800s, it tells the story of the five Drake brothers. Ben, Joseph, Aaron, and Zach are all honorable men. Max is the black sheep of the family, barely making an appearance, but with an important influence in the second book.

The plots are predictable in that each one brings a brother together with his future wife, but they are very enjoyable nonetheless. All of the characters are struggling with something, not unlike real life, and it is just a matter of finding the person who is the right fit to help with those challenges. (Again, not unlike real life.)The brothers are kind, noble, hard-working, and chivalrous. The women are smart, independent and nurturing. They deal with the expected trials of nineteenth century frontier living–weather, predators, thieves, etc.–learning about themselves and each other through it all.

Don’t be misled by the book covers. This series is better than you would expect.

Book 1: Rocky Mountain Match (Joseph) 9/10 Stars

Book 2: Rocky Mountain Redemption (Ben) 8/10 Stars

Book 3: Rocky Mountain Proposal (Aaron) 8.5/10 Stars

Book 4: Rocky Mountain Homecoming (Zach) 8.5/10 Stars

Christian Fiction, Fiction, Women's Fiction

Courting Mr. Emerson, by Melody Carlson

I have always enjoyed Melody Carlson’s books, but Courting Mr. Emerson might be my favorite one so far.

George Emerson is a fifty-five year old high school literature teacher. He has never married, has no friends, and his entire life is as buttoned up and starched as the shirts he wears every day. “Casual” is not in his vocabulary. He avoids anything social and is easily overwhelmed. But he is also well-mannered and kind, with a hidden strength that rises to the surface when necessary.

Enter Willow West, a free-spirited artist and gallery owner who visits the high school one day to ask George to write a college letter of recommendation for her grandson, Collin. Something about George intrigues Willow and, through a combination of circumstances and her dogged determination, she decides to befriend him.

The rest of Courting Mr. Emerson is like a dance between these two characters. (Characters I would LOVE to see on screen.) The more Willow tries to take George out of his comfort zone, the more he resists. Sometimes Willow is successful, sometimes not. When she is, it’s a step forward. When she isn’t, it’s a few steps back. There are apologies and renewed efforts. Little by little, George makes progress. As he does, we begin to understand what made him that way and why he believes God has turned His back on him.

It is refreshing to see Melody Carlson write through the eyes of a male protagonist like George Emerson. It’s a very different plot than other books she’s written. Willow West is a wonderful character. She’s caring and wise, but far from perfect. Her life is upended when her vagabond daughter, Josie, who is Collin’s mother, appears, bringing resentment and anger that has built up over the years. Willow handles her daughter expertly and even George plays a supportive role.

The entire story takes place over a summer that turns out to be an educational one for everybody. There is laughter and tears, new-found faith and healing. I love everything about this book.

9.5/10 Stars

Christian Fiction, Fiction, Historical Fiction, Series & Collections

Muddy: Where Faith and Polygamy Collide, River: Where Faith and Consecration Converge, by Dean Hughes

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I’m going to combine the first two novels in Dean Hughes’ newest series:

MUDDY: Where Faith and Polygamy Collide

If you’ve ever wondered what it was like to be a polygamist family in the early days of the Utah pioneers, look no further. Muddy, and the books following it in the series, will give you a fly-on-the-wall view.

Morgan Davis, a faithful young man in his 20’s from Farmington, Utah, has been asked to marry and settle in Southern Utah. Over time, despite his great hesitancy to participate in polygamy, he is asked to marry again.

But there is more to the story–much, much more. There is the setting up in a new place, the adjustment to being a husband and father, and the challenges that accompany hard living while farming and having to provide everything for your family in a place with no resources or commerce.

When Morgan is asked to marry his second wife, Ruth–a quiet young widow–he and his first wife, Angeline, must navigate this new dynamic in their family. What are the logistics when there are two wives? We are privy to all of this, and it’s fascinating.

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RIVER: Where Faith and Consecration Converge

Just when Morgan thinks his life is on track, he is thrown more curve balls. River begins with a grasshopper plague swarming into the community. Dean Hughes describes it in such detail, you feel yourself swatting the insects away.

But the biggest new challenge, aside from the grasshoppers, is that Morgan Davis is asked to move with his family to a new settlement and begin living the United Order’s Law of Consecration. If we thought the logistics of plural marriage were challenging, living this law is even more difficult. Many hands might make light work, but they also bring different viewpoints, personalities, and interpretations of rules.

Meanwhile, Washington DC is starting to pursue polygamist families. Morgan, his wives, and children must prepare and decide what to do should he be hauled away by the deputies.

River is a very “meaty” book, with a lot more intensity and personality clashes than its predecessor, Muddy. A terrific second book in the series.

My Observations

Dean Hughes is a very gifted writer. He has a way of showing us the thoughts and feelings of different characters that is both realistic and detailed. He explores an impressive array of human emotion. During the multiple talks to set up the Law of Consecration in the community, Hughes touches on nearly every kind of concern that people would have when asked to live such a lifestyle. It takes an enormous amount of faith and selflessness, things that are difficult for even the best of people.

But I think the thing that impresses me most about Hughes’ writing style is the way he writes women. He seems to know how women tick, their worries and fears, their jealousies and concerns. I am constantly amazed at how well the female characters’ innermost thoughts are described.

This is historical fiction at its best, with realistic fictional characters living and interacting with actual figures from history. I find myself often in moments of self-reflection wondering how I would react to the hardships these people faced and the things that were asked of them by their church leaders.

9.5/10 Stars

Christian Fiction

The Designer Bag at the Garbage Dump, by Jackie Macgirven

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Sigh…

This is a book I debated about putting on this site because it is one of the worst books I’ve read lately, but reviews are about honesty and public service, so here is one to avoid.

(My Goodreads Review)

This book is advertised as a modern-day parable, but it is absolutely not a parable. Parables are gentle and subtle, allowing the reader to extrapolate the message on their own. This book was the complete opposite of subtle. It was a sledgehammer grinding a message into the reader.

The premise sounded interesting: a self-absorbed shopaholic meets Jesus on the subway who admonishes her materialistic ways and forces her into a new setting–India, of all places–to care for the forgotten. But it is all downhill from there…

As a Christian book I found it ridiculous, tedious, and very heavy handed. The characterization of Jesus Christ was appalling. None of us ask to be born in a certain time or place. I felt like I was being made to feel guilty for being born into a middle-class American family while others are suffering. One person’s blessings are not the cause of someone else’s suffering, and that is the way this story is told. And no, I did not miss the message. How could I? It had all the subtlety of a buffalo playing the tuba.

After having just read Unaccustomed Earth, with its exquisite high quality writing and subtle, yet powerful, messages about interpersonal relationships within families, this book was insulting. I felt talked down to by the writer.

Both Goodreads and Amazon give praise to this book through their many reviews, although there are a few who share my opinion. It is terrible.

3/10 Stars

Christian Fiction, Fiction, Romance, Series & Collections

Let Them Eat Cake, by Sandra Byrd

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Like so many new college graduates, Lexi Stuart is at a crossroads. She has to choose between her passions and jobs that are lucrative, and she is floundering. Others in her life seem to be reaching new milestones and she is not. It’s a position in which lots of young people find themselves.

In the meantime, Lexi, a self-proclaimed “Francophile,” has found work at a cute French bakery and cafe. She’s living with her parents, not dating but open to possibilities, and reexamining her relationship with God.

As expected, Lexi has a lot of choices to make. New situations are constantly spiraling toward her that require reactions and decisions. Through it all the reader is in her head as she navigates the road of Life over several months.

Sandra Byrd, the author, as created a character who is quite realistic. Lexi is a level-headed girl from a solid family, but she isn’t perfect. She’s young enough to still experience plenty of uncertainty, but grounded enough to know her ultimate goals. The problems are the where, the when, and with who.

This could be classified as “light” Christian fiction. It is enjoyable without being heavy-handed. Characters are likable, personable, and very human in their challenges and actions. And, despite her challenges, Lexi is never over-dramatic or narcissistic.

Let Them Eat Cake is Book 1 of 3 in Sandra Byrd’s French Twist Series. I feel invested enough in Lexi Stuart to root for her happiness and curious enough to see what happens next in her life.

8.5/10 Stars

Book 2: Bon Appétit

Book 3: Pièce de Résistance