Category: Christian Fiction

Book Review: The Extraordinary Deaths of Mrs. Kip by Sara Brunsvold

I have absolutely ONLY good things to say about this book. It was interesting, inspirational, and even something of a “how to” manual for living. It has been nominated for my Top 10 Books of the Year list.

First, the story was excellent. Aidyn, a young reporter, is supposed to interview an elderly hospice patient to gather information for her obituary. The woman, Mrs. Kip, has other ideas, and soon Aidyn finds herself engrossed in Mrs. Kip’s life story. As a reader, I enjoyed both storylines: present-day Aidyn interacting with Mrs. Kip and trying to move ahead in her career, and the high-impact story of Mrs. Kip’s past. These two are seamlessly woven together, and I found myself as anxious as Aidyn to learn what happened next.

The two main characters are extremely well-written. By the end, I felt like I truly knew and understood both women. Each character’s personality is unique and detailed, and beautiful in its own way. I appreciated how the gentle character moments were interspersed with information about Mrs. Kip’s life story.

As a Christian, the highlight of this book for me was the incredible depth and breadth of Christian content included. Mrs. Kip is a beacon of hope and love, and shares her faith with everyone with whom she comes in contact. I was inspired by both the life she lived and the slow death she was currently enduring. This character is so special, and anyone with an open mind can walk away from reading about her with some new ideas about how to approach both life and its inevitable conclusion.

When reading more about the author, I was stunned to learn that she is quite young, and that this is her debut novel. The quality of the writing, plus the depth of the faith demonstrated in the story, left me imagining an older writer with many (many) more years of life experience to draw from. I’m beyond impressed that someone so young could so beautifully and realistically capture the aging and dying process with such sensitivity.

The Christian Fiction world is definitely lucky to have many more years of Ms. Brunsvold’s work to look forward to!

Definitely five out of five perfectly-arranged cheese platters. (Honestly….this one was TOO GOOD to limit to just one type of cheese in my rating!)

When the Meadow Blooms by Ann H. Gabhart

I have so many good things to say about “When the Meadow Blooms”! Ann Gabhart is a new author to me, and after reading this amazing story, I’ll definitely be seeking out more of her work.

This is the story of Rose, a young single mother in the 1920s. Rose is forced to leave her children in an orphanage while she undergoes treatment for tuberculosis. This book covers Rose’s time in the sanatorium, what her children had to deal with at the orphanage and (most importantly) what happened after they were reunited.

First, I appreciated the historical accuracy of the book. The author obviously did significant research into the various locations portrayed in the story, and provided an accurate account of what those places were like in the 1920s. I definitely learned some things about medical care and the treatment of children that I didn’t know before. As always, I appreciated the chance to discover new things.

The story of how this fractured family was reunited was beautiful to read. The girls and their mother are finally allowed to be together again, but only through the help of Rose’s brother-in-law Dirk. I enjoyed how all four of these characters found emotional growth and healing through each other.

Each of the four major characters was very well-drawn and detailed. They all felt like real people, and I empathized with each of them for different reasons. Calla, the older daughter, was probably my favorite. Her loyalty to and love for her younger sister was beautiful, and she showed maturity well beyond her years.

Overall, this was an incredibly interesting and inspirational story. I was invested from the very beginning, and left with a sense of closure at the end.

Definitely five our of five slices of perfect provolone!

Book Review: Until Leaves Fall in Paris by Sarah Sundin

“Until Leaves Fall in Paris” by Sarah Sundin is one part historical fiction, one part romance, one part Christian fiction, and one part pure literary magic. The book tells the story of Lucie, a young women living in Paris during the German occupation of World War II, and Paul, an American businessman with a young daughter.

In the course of trying to navigate the occupation, Lucie buys a bookstore from Jewish friends who are fleeing the country and Paul runs an auto manufacturing company and deals with the Germans. These actions propel both characters toward a mutual relationship, and cause both to examine their personal faith and their definitions of right and wrong.

The novels truly shines in several areas:

  1. Character development: We learn a great deal about both Lucie and Paul, as well as Paul’s daughter Josie. All three are portrayed in great detail, which makes them feel like real people you (as the reader) could meet and interact with. I found myself genuinely wishing for happiness for all of them, and eagerly reading “just one more chapter” to see how the author would evolve their stories. One added note for Sarah Sundin fans: Paul played a smaller role in “When Twilight Breaks”, a book I also recommend.
  2. The romance storyline: While both Lucie and Paul had interesting individual storylines, it was magic when the two came together. Of course there are misunderstandings, as Paul is publicly working with/selling to the Germans, while Lucie is trying to help her Jewish friends. However, things are not always as they appear, and I enjoyed watching the two getting to know each other, realize that appearances can be deceiving, and growing closer. The slow-burn romance was absolutely believable, and a joy to watch unfold.
  3. The historical information: While I’ve read a lot of World War II fiction (and non-fiction), I had not come across a book that was directly focused on occupied Paris before. I learned a lot about what life was like for American expats, Jewish locals, business owners, and German military figures. All the information was shared as a natural part of the story and never made me feel like I was reading a textbook. What could be better than actually learning something while enjoying a great story?
  4. The faith element: Both Lucie and Paul are Christians. I liked how their faith guided their actions, and how they actively sought out God when circumstances grew difficult and they needed guidance. This story provides wonderful inspiration and support for Christians who are struggling with difficult circumstances, and a nice faith boost to those who aren’t.

All in all, this is a truly excellent book. Five out of five perfect razor-thin slices of mild cheddar!

Book Review: A View Most Glorious by Regina Scott

“A View Most Glorious” by Regina Scott is the third book in the “American Wonders Collection” series. It is absolutely fine as a stand-alone. This installment tells the story of Cora, a young suffragette who decides to prove her independence, make a statement about the abilities of women, and avoid a marriage she doesn’t want by climbing Mt. Rainier.

This book is definitely character driven. Both main characters (Cora and her mountain guide Nathan) are incredibly well-written. The reader will feel like he/she is gradually getting to know real people as the story moves along and more and more about the characters’ pasts, families, and personalities are revealed. This is a historical romance, so it’s not surprising that feelings grow between the two. I found it interesting that two people from high society backgrounds, both looking for more out of life, managed to find each other. It was fascinating to watch their relationship develop.

Although the romance is lovely, it is only one part of what this book has to offer. The relationship unfolds as the couple undertakes a climb of Mt. Ranier together. The reader will learn a lot about the geography of that area, and what it was like to be undertake such a challenge without the benefit of modern equipment and safety gear. There is also plenty of information about daily life, religion, clothing, food, and the role of women during that time. Despite learning quite a bit, you will never be bored or feel like you’re sitting in a history lecture. All of this information is presented as part of the story, and is truly fascinating!

Since this is a Christian novel, I’ll address the role of Christianity in the story. Nathan is a devout Christian, and lives as he believes. His daily morning devotions provide an excellent example for Cora, as well as for the reader. It is always nice to read about a Christian person (Nathan) who lets his faith guide his actions without constantly announcing it and trying to force it onto others. I thought the religious aspect of this novel was handled perfectly.

5 out of 5 slices of thinly sliced, ultra-sharp Cheddar!

Book Review: The Nature of Small Birds by Susie Finkbeiner

I first discovered author Susie Finkbeiner when I read “Stories That Bind Us”. I loved it so much that I snatched up a copy of “The Nature of Small Birds” as soon as it became available without even reading the blurb, and I’m SO glad I did. This book is every bit as amazing, detailed, and moving as the first one I read. I plan to do the same when her next book comes out.

This particular book tells the story of the Matthews family during three time periods, which come together to provide the reader with a complete portrait of the lives of the family members. The tale is unique in that it is told during three distinct years: 2013 (present day) from the perspective of patriarch Bruce, 1988 from the perspective of 18-year old daughter Sonny, and 1975 from the perspective of matriarch Linda. I found it easy to keep the time periods straight, and enjoyed this interesting method of storytelling. As each character’s POV chapter ended, I was sad that it was over, but also eager to pick up missing threads of the narrative from the next character’s chapter. This made the book virtually impossible to put down!

The story itself revolves around the family’s adoption of a Vietnamese child named Minh/Mindy in the 1970s, and how that event affected the family and their relationships going forward. I appreciated learning more about the Vietnam Babylift, a topic about which I knew nothing before reading this novel. It was interesting to learn about this historical event, while also seeing how one particular family reacted to being part of it.

All of the characters were incredibly well-written. Of course, we learn the most about the three major POV characters, but other family members were portrayed with a great deal of detail as well. I found plenty of moments I could relate to personally, as well as others that I could only sympathize with.

I loved the way the family’s entire history felt complete by the end of the book. There were some laughs along the way, as well as some tears (both happy and sad). I’m so glad to have had the chance to read “The Nature of Small Birds”….it is a story that will stay with me for a long time.

One final note: I enjoyed the author’s blurb at the end in which she explained how she got the idea for the story. She had been researching an earlier book, and came across information about the Babylift. It didn’t fit for that book, but she made a note and came back to it when she was looking for a new idea. I appreciated that little glimpse into her writing process, and am SO glad she made and found that note!

Five out of five chunks of the most perfect Provolone!

Book Review: Miriam’s Song by Jill Eileen Smith

“Miriam’s Song” by Jill Eileen Smith was an impressive book. As the author mentioned in her note at the end, not a lot is historically known about Miriam. Somehow, Ms. Smith managed to take the historical record, combine it with the records of Miriam’s contemporaries, and mix it all in with various other histories of those times and events, and end up with a story that was both fascinating to read and educational. While I was familiar with the basic details of Miriam’s story going in, I found I learned a lot about life in those times, and was provided enough information to really try to imagine what I would have felt and experienced had I been living then. It also left me with plenty to think about regarding the nature of God and his relationship with his chosen people. I’d love to discuss my thoughts with other readers.

The actual story was very interesting to read. Miriam is a great character, and although not much is known about her, the author did a great job in bringing her to life in a realistic way that felt true to both the known facts about her life and the events she lived through. I enjoyed getting to know her, and watching her grow from a brave little five-year-old to a mature woman of faith.

In reading about Miriam in between the major historical events she witnessed, I learned a lot about what daily life was like for the Hebrew people, both during their enslavement in Egypt, and after they gained their freedom and moved toward their new land. Reading this helped me to better understand some of the things that happened, and the mindset of the people that brought those events about.

I highly recommend this book. Read it for the quality storytelling. Read it for the in-depth character study of a lesser-known historical woman. Read it for the thought-provoking insights. Just read it. You’ll be glad you did!

Book Review: When Twilight Breaks by Sarah Sundin

“When Twilight Breaks” by Sarah Sundin is a historical novel set around the early days of Hitler’s rise to power in Germany. The author skillfully weaves in a lot of information about historical events, daily life, and the mindset of various parts of society. I enjoyed the new things I learned, and the book never felt like a history text. All of the information shared was a natural and easy-to-read part of the story. I particularly appreciated the viewpoint of Peter, a young man who sees some benefits to Hitler’s early policies and actions. I’ve always wondered how everyday people allowed and accepted Hitler’s later atrocities, and seeing this time in history through Peter’s eyes helped me understand a bit more of what things were like for average citizens during this time.

The romance between Evelyn and Peter was handled beautifully. Their initial meeting was a truly delightful scene, and I enjoyed watching them get to know each other, and try to understand each other’s viewpoints about the current events they were living through. I honestly believed what each person was thinking and feeling, and could understand their logic. The author wrote the entire relationship with empathy and beauty, and I thoroughly enjoyed reading about it.

Honestly, this is one of my favorite books of the year so far. The mix of fantastic characters, historical information, and romance is absolutely perfect.

Five out of five chunks of my favorite sharp cheddar!

Book Review: The Love Note by Joanna Davidson Politano

“The Love Note” by Joanna Davidson Politano is one part historical fiction, one part romance, one part women’s empowerment, one part Christian fiction, and one part pure literary magic. The book tells the story of Willa, an 1800s nurse who yearns to be a doctor rather than follow the path society (and her father) expects of her….namely, to get married and be a full-time wife.

In the course of trying to steer clear of marriage, Willa makes a deal with her father and finds an old love letter. This propels her on a course of self-discovery and strengthened faith.

The novels truly shines in several areas:

1. Character development: While we learn the most about Willa, several other major characters are portrayed in great detail, which makes them feel like real people you (as the reader) could meet and interact with. I loved how their hidden motivations for their actions were slowly revealed as more information is gradually uncovered about each person’s past and experiences.

2. The love note plot: The note Willa found early on plays a major role in the story. I loved seeing how different people came across it, believed it had been written for them, and reacted to the words. I also appreciated the way Willa’s search for the (long ago) intended recipient is seamlessly woven into the current events in her life. The author skillfully manages to tell several people’s stories at once without ever overwhelming the reader. I enjoyed learning about all of them, and some will stay with me long after I’ve finished reading.

3. The wonderful little quotes at the start of each chapter: Although it’s never stated explicitly, I believe these are Willa’s own musings. All were entertaining, and some were downright profound.

4. The unexpected surprises: Certain things happened throughout the story that I wasn’t expecting. I liked how these small (and not so small) events peppered the narrative, giving me some enjoyable surprises.

5. The faith element: Willa, as well as other important characters, is a Christian. I liked how her faith guided her actions, and how she actively sought out God when circumstances grew difficult. Her story provides wonderful inspiration and support for Christians who are struggling, and a nice faith boost to those who aren’t.

All in all, this is a truly special book. Five out of five perfect razor-thin slices of mild cheddar!

Book Review: The Price of Valor by Susan May Warren

“The Price of Valor” by Susan May Warren is the third book in the Global Search and Rescue trilogy. While I believe this one can be read as a stand-alone, you’ll care a lot more about what happens to the characters if you’ve read the first two books. A new-to-the-series reader could absolutely follow the plot and enjoy the story, but I felt much more invested in the outcome based on having read the series in order.

This volume focuses on the relationship between Ham and Signe, which has been teased in the first two books. I was thrilled to see their story taking center stage in this one, as enough hints had been dropped earlier to make me eager to learn their backstory, as well as to see what would happen in the present. I was not disappointed! Both characters are well-written and realistic, and their interplay (and issues) make perfect sense based on what the reader knows about each of them. To avoid spoilers, I won’t go into any further details, but suffice it to say these two experience an exciting and intense storyline!

As a fan of the series, I was happy to see a few chapters devoted to Jenny and Orion as well. Aria and Jake got a couple of mentions, as did other Search & Rescue team members from earlier books.

This book is action-packed! It opens with the team on location in Italy for a mission. Just in case the actual mission wasn’t exciting enough, there is a volcanic eruption followed by a tsumani. Of course the team leaps into action to help with the disasters. The descriptions of Italy, both natural features and man-made edifices, were detailed enough to allow the reader to “see” everything without bogging down the story.

Back in the states, the action doesn’t let up. There is plenty going on with Signe’s situation, and some loose threads regarding White (a friend-of-the-team) are addressed.

In terms of the Christian element of the story, Ham’s faith is bolstered through conversations with old friends and new acquaintances. Signe’s spiritual journey was more dramatic, as she grew up with little faith of her own, and has further to go. Both were beautiful examples of how God reaches out to people in their daily lives.

Natural disasters, political intrigue, spycraft, and relationship drama…”The Price of Valor” has it all! And Susan May Warren is equally adept at writing about all of these aspects.

Five out of five super-thin slices of perfect Provolone!