Waterfall by Lisa T. Bergen

7879278“But that was the thing about courage. Sometimes you had to fake it to feel it.”

This book is a lot different than what I’ve ever read before, for many reasons. The first being it’s target demographic, young adults. I usually despise reading young adult fiction, mostly because the main characters have way to many problems that I prefer to read about, and it’s usually the same set of issues for every book. However, this one I found to be a neat little twist to what you would usually find browsing the young adult section of a bookstore or website.

I first read this in 2011, so I apologize if I don’t quite catch everything, but I loved and still love this book so much I want to share it with you!

My favorite thing about this book is definitely the setting. The book starts and ends in 21st century Italy, but for the bulk of the book, readers are taken back to 14th century Italy (I believe the exact place is around Vienna, but I’m not 100% sure). I don’t read many books set in this time period, I usually stick to the 18th century and beyond, so this was a nice change. I also found the dialogue between the characters to be very believable, as well. That, to me, is one of the most important things when reading (or watching) a historical piece.

Those who enjoyed The Hunger Games will probably enjoy this too, because of the battle scenes we are invited to “watch”. This book had a nice balance between action and having a more relaxed vibe. We also get a more realistic look at the romantic “Knights in Shining Armor”. Are there knights? Yes. But the shining armor, not so much. Because this is set during the Middle Ages, we get a great look at what the Lords and Ladies of Italy may have experienced when things got a bit out of hand and people got too sensitive.

I also enjoyed the characters. They felt very believable, and it was fun reading Gabi interact with all the 14th-century Italian men and women. Speaking of Gabi, girls who find themselves celebrating girl power I think will really enjoy her character. She’s logical and intelligent, and unlike many teenage (and even adult heroines) doesn’t let the romantic stuff get to her head. Though we don’t see much of her sister Lia in this first book, those who find themselves more in tune with her will really enjoy her character development in the later books.

But if you easily turn squeamish, I advise you to maybe not read this book, or at least not before or after eating. There are some pretty descriptive battle injuries, which kind of got me squirming in my seat so just keep that in mind.

I usually try to leave you with some things I saw people got annoyed about, so here we go. I read a lot of reviews where people did not enjoy the stereotypical teenage “language” (like, totally, whatever). Which I can understand, but remember that this book is written for teenagers. Another thing is how easily Gabi is able to pick up the old Italian language, but this is explained in a later book; the longer you spend 1300’s Italy, the easier the language becomes to read and understand.

Now if you think it may annoy you, try to keep in mind that this book was written for the entertainment of teenagers; I don’t think the author thought so many older readers would be interested.

Overall, I really love this book and the rest of the series and highly recommend it to all of you.

If you are interested in reading this book, it is free on Kindle and the Kindle app! Click here to be taken to the page on Amazon.com.

If you are interested in learning more about the Italian Renaissance, click here to be taken to a short but informative article on LifeInItaly.com. Click here to be taken to a webpage on SparkNotes.com.

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The Governess of Highland Hall by Carrie Turansky

9781601424969_p0_v1_s600“After all, He was the giver of every good gift… She would not doubt Him now.”

As a lover of Downton Abbey, I was very excited to find this book set in the same period and setting that the TV series starts out in. I love the period so much, the clothes and the glamor of it all and this book gives a different perspective of what you might see on Downton Abbey. This book was sweet and easy to read that held my attention for most of the story.

First, the cover. It’s gorgeous. I love how it gives the reader a little bit of visual to where the book is set and what the mansion looks like. I suppose one could use their imagination, but I enjoyed having the estate in the background. I’ve heard some people don’t like having the face of the books heroine, Julia, on the cover, but I like being able to see what she looks like.

As for the characters, I’ve never read a book where the main character was a missionary. Julia was a refreshing change of character from the other books I’ve read. She kept strong faith throughout the entire book, even through the difficulties she faced she kept faith in God to lead her through it, rather than helping her out of it (if that makes sense). I enjoyed Julia’s character. Her personality is quieter and a little less headstrong than other heroines, but I think it fit her profession (governess) well. Not to mention there are so many female characters that fit the progressive feminist role, so I enjoyed her.

The only beef I have with the character of William is that he is, unfortunately, the cliche of a person who was betrayed by his (or her) significant other and has a hard time trusting another person for the prospect of marriage due to the possibly she (or he) might be like his previous SO. It was got on my nerves a little bit. I would have preferred if he pulled more of a Rochester from Jane Eyre, instead of a 50% can’t-trust-women and 50% can’t-marry-her-because-she’s-the-governess. Nonetheless, he wasn’t that bad. I just would have preferred him to have a different personality.

Other Comments – I wish Julia had a bit more spunk about her, but due to her calmness it just really wasn’t part of her personality. I did like the little twist at the end, and it wasn’t terribly predictable.

Conclusion – I enjoyed it immensely and thought it’s conservative enough for any Christian to read.

Anna’s Crossing by Suzanne Woods Fisher

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“Even in the midst of great gales, they could know peace.”

I adored this book. It is so different from all the other Amish books I’ve read (which is like, two), and is a refreshing change from the shunnings or running around and “unsure-of-where-they-fit-it-but-always-choose-their-faith” type stories.

This book is set during the 1700’s, as Anna and her Amish community embark on a journey to the New World. This book is so unique from anything I’ve ever read. There are not many books about the travel from Europe to America, and this may be the only book to be set on the Amish journey. While this book wasn’t a “read-in-two-days” book for me, I did have a constant feeling of enjoyment while I read this book.

It’s very faith based but doesn’t feel preachy.  All the characters didn’t feel preachy when they spoke of God; it felt very natural. Sometimes characters in Christian books sound really over the top when they talk about anything that has to do with God, the Bible, etc. But these characters “sounded” real, and it felt as natural as saying hello or goodbye.

I really loved the characters, especially Anna. She kept strong faith and showed great compassion toward everyone, not just those who “deserved” it. All the characters added something to the story. While not all had the honor of being the main character, they didn’t feel like fillers.

I don’t have anything I dislike about this book, but because this book does detail such a dangerous and rough crossing, there is some not so pretty stuff I want to leave you with real quick.

This section of the review contains minor spoilers.

One character dies from a blow to the head, is thrown into the sea but is seen again when his bottom half is sticking out the mouth of a shark caught by the crew. A young woman dies after childbirth, and we read a brief description of her dead body being attacked by sharks. There is mention of a slave ship and a nasty stench coming from it, and once again a brief undetailed description of how horrible the future slaves are treated aboard the boat. One character is inappropriate toward Anna on several occasions, and is then walloped on the head.. There are many mentions of people being seasick and passing away when water runs short.

I highly recommend this book to anyone interested in early America or the first settlers journey.

If you would like to learn more about the Amish and their life in 1500’s England to their crossing to America in the 1700’s, this link contains some excellent information.

If you would like to learn more about the first settlers in general, this timeline from the Historic Jamestowne site has a great brief overview of the settlers.

The Pursuit of Lucy Banning by Olivia Newport

cover-lucy-banningI share a lot of good reviews on my blog, so today I wanted to share with you a book I didn’t enjoy as much. Writing more negative reviews is hard for me because I very rarely read an entire book I don’t like, and I don’t enjoy being critical of books. But at the same time, I think it’s good to have a mix of reviews for all books, not just the good ones.  So without further ado, here is my review.

I was initially very excited to read this book. Mostly because the cover is gorgeous, and I’m a sucker for pretty book covers. You don’t know how badly I wanted to like this book; the plot summary seemed decent enough, the cover was gorgeous, and my friends gave it 4 or 5-star reviews. But unfortunately, this book had so many elements that I felt were underdeveloped, it felt like I was reading a draft. Which is so sad, because I know I would have liked this book so much more if it had been fine-tuned maybe once or twice more.

I did enjoy the historical setting, and the research put into it. I felt like I learned a lot about different social classes while reading this, and it gave be a bit of a Downton Abbey feel. However, there is such a thing as too much of something good, and that is the case here. Because there was so much historical knowledge that the author shares with us, I would have enjoyed learning about the setting before diving into the book.

The character development could have been better. Lucy had all the qualities of being a great heroine, but, unfortunately, falls short because there is little to no development with her. She’s a goody-two-shoes, which in some cases isn’t awful (because that usually comes with faults), but she’s just too good to be true. As for her suitors, it pretty obvious who was going to win her heart, as Newport made one of them about as awful as a character could get.

There were so many things going on, and I think if maybe Newport had focused on just one other event apart from the main plot, the book would have flowed and ended a lot cleaner. Instead, there were about four other subplots that took away from the enjoyment.

Conclusion – All in all, it was an average fluff reading that I read in a few days, but you could read it in two. I was very disappointed, and assumed it would be excellent because I will admit; I was drawn first to the cover. But don’t let my review scare you away! My opinion is not popular, and if you enjoy quick reads, you’ll probably enjoy this.

If you enjoy this period of history, here is a Wikipedia link that gives some information on this period in history. It may not be completely trustworthy, but it is a quick link with some info.

With Every Letter by Sarah Sundin

13459177“Be friendly and open, but stay true to how God made you. Delight in your differences while reaching out to others.”

~*Minor spoilers to follow.*~

I cannot even tell you how much I enjoyed this book. I was immediately drawn into the story from the first page I read. Every free moment I had, I was reading this book. I’ve never read anything like this before; the storyline is so unique, the characters are wonderfully depicted, the settings are perfect. As I read this, I found myself wanting to scream at the characters, which doesn’t happen very often but I love it when it does.

I adored Mellie. As a quiet and shy person myself, I could completely relate to her. That’s something I love when I read books. I understood her anxieties, her solitude, and her distress at having to come out of her shell. Throughout the entire book, I was thinking how similar we were in character and thought. One quote I loved was not a quote, but more of a statement, and one that is very true and real for me… “Overcoming shyness was hard work.” How true it is.

I loved Tom, as well. He reminded me a bit of Steve Rodgers, better known as Captain America. It made me think of Steve when I read something Tom said: “Fear as a means of control? ‘That’s not the kind of man I am, sir.'” It made me think of in the second Captain America movie when he said this: “Yeah, we compromised. Sometimes in ways that made us not sleep so well. But we did it so that people could be free. This isn’t freedom. This is fear.” I’m getting off track, but it was just something I enjoyed.

Because this is a wartime novel from the point of view of nurses and soldiers, there is a little bit of violence and wounds, but for the most part, they are pretty undescriptive.

As much as we fantasize about the World War II era (the clothes, the music, the movies) I liked having this fresh bit of realism. For the men and women who fought and nursed on the frontlines of war, I’m sure the last thing they thought of was when the next Fred Astaire movie was going to be released. But despite these hardships, Sundin weaved together a realistic but humorous story that I will go back and reread.

To learn more about women and their roles during the war, check out this link from the National WWII Museum (opens in a new window).

If you’re interested in this book, as of this review it is free on Amazon Kindle. Click here to be taken to the book (opens in a new window).

She Walks in Beauty by Siri Mitchell

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“This table is a pigeon trap. A dozen different forks and knives and spoons. Four different goblets. All of them just waiting to be knocked over or misapplied and mishandled. It’s a wonder anyone is ever tempted to eat.”

I adore this book. I know the title sounds a little bit cheesy, but let me explain. This novel is set during the late 1890’s, where debutante balls and the like were a big deal. Usually, when a young woman (aged 16-21) from an aristocratic or upper-class family reached the age of maturity, she was able to “debut”, a sort of rite of passage for the young woman as she steps into the glitz of parties, balls, and upper-class society. But the other purpose for her debut was to find a husband from a select few of her same class.

A lot of ritual goes into her debut. Corsets and dresses to be fitted, manners to be perfected, dances to be learned. Which is why this book was given the title – she was supposed to look like a high society woman, and her future was built upon the success of her debutante “season”.  Mitchell did a fantastic job researching the historical setting of the book and bringing the reader into the story. The writing was really well done; it was detailed, not to the point of boredom, but was enough to give you a taste of what everything was like for the young girls preparing for their debut.

The characters were wonderfully developed. To me, the characters are really what makes a story good. I also loved that the novel was written in first person, so you were able to sympathize with Clara and her evil corsets. Clara was excellent and witty and funny. I enjoyed reading about her journey a lot throughout the book.

Just a few little things to finish out this review. This book made me glad I was not born in the late 1800’s. I could not have handled those awful corsets. I enjoyed the plot twists. While they aren’t always necessary, they do add a fun bit of excitement to books. I also really loved that the reader get’s closure. You know what happens to the main characters in the end. I can’t stand when an author leaves a stand-alone book unfinished.

I enjoyed the book and the new view it gave me about high-society in the late 1800’s New York.

If you’re interested in learning more about debutant balls and it’s origin, click here. It will open in a new window and is very informative.

Bridge to Haven by Francine Rivers

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“Sometimes God has to destroy in order to save. He has to wound in order to heal.”

Bridge to Haven the first book I’ve read of Francine’s and is by far the most touching and heart-wrenching books I’ve ever read. This book was on my to-read list the moment I saw the cover, and I’m so glad I was able to get my hands on it. Following the story of the Prodigal Son from the book of Luke, we are taken on a journey with Abra, a broken young woman who is unable to grab onto her life.

I love that Francine doesn’t shy away from reality to get her point across, yet it’s done with a careful hand. She writes so beautifully and draws you in from the first word. You feel as though you’re there, living in the story, instead of just reading it.

Like Redeeming Love, this novel is full of some pretty heavy stuff. From the very beginning, we already experience illness and death, and then are brought along as Abra deals with emotional, physical, and sexual abuse, and forced abortion. Francine does an excellent job of painting Abra as a sympathetic character, but it may be a bit too much for some readers.

I’ve read a lot of reviews that suggest Abra is too unrealistic of a character, but sometimes one has to hit rock bottom to get back up on her feet. She deals with a lot of stuff, but I don’t believe it’s addressed in an unrealistic way. I think people believe that because what Abra deals with is usually a silent, private issue and that nobody talks about it. Then you read about her, even as a fictional character, trying to deal with all that she’s gone through and then you try to figure out how a person can go through all of that during only a couple of years.

Another thing I liked was that her struggle with God was consistent throughout the entire novel. One of my biggest pet peeves is having a character wrestle with their faith and then come back to Christ in almost the same breath. It was a lovely change from other books I’ve read though I didn’t expect anything less from Rivers.

There are a couple of things that didn’t bother me but did bother other readers that I wanted to share before I close this review. It involves minor spoilers, so if you want to be completely surprised just skip ahead to the next section. The first is the plot twist. I didn’t see it coming, but then I hardly ever see anything coming in mystery shows and what not so it did surprise me. But other readers thought it was silly and saw it from the moment the character stepped into the story. The other is Abra and Joshua’s relationship. Some people thought it was weird because, for the first five years of Abra’s life, they were siblings (adoptive) before she was given to another family but again, this didn’t bother me.

All in all, I adored this book and recommend it to anyone who thinks they’re too far gone to be saved.

So Fair a Lady by Amber Lynn Perry

51wtomqr4hl-_sx321_bo1204203200_“We must ever strive to be worthy of the blessings of God. We must ever be humble, teachable and courageous enough to accept the challenges and turmoil that awaits us. If we will stand but valiant, God will surely deliver us!”

Thanks to American Girl and their line of the Revolutionary War dolls Felicity and Elizabeth, I have always had a soft spot for anything set in the 18th century. But it’s so difficult to find good fiction set in this period of history that is not a TV show or movie. And so I was very excited when I found about Ms. Perry and her series of books set during the Revolutionary War (and short side note, how gorgeous is this cover!).

This book is different from anything I’ve read before, and not just the fact that it is set in a different time period than what I usually read. It’s quite suspenseful, and if you’ve watched the TV show TURN: Washington’s Spies it’s similar to that, but, of course, this story is fictional.

I like to say that a book or novel is about 50% character and 50% plot, and the characters lived up to my expectations for what I had hoped they would be. They were very well rounded and didn’t feel flat. Though the book is mostly from the point of view of Eliza, our female protagonist, I loved how you got to see from the point of view of the other characters. It gave a fresh perspective on what was happening to not just one character, which allowed to feel more invested in the story rather than just reading it. It’s somewhat of a coming-of-age story for Eliza, but all the characters experience growth in maturity as the story progresses.

And as for the plot, the description made me feel a bit hesitant about it at first, but by the end of the first chapter I was hooked. It was different then what I had expected, but I was truly pleasantly surprised at how much I enjoyed it. The plot description made it seem as though Eliza was running away from a too-persistent suitor, but there are so many more layers that get peeled back as you dive deeper into the story, so it makes it a fast-paced page turner.

I enjoyed this book so much, and will be looking forward to the next books that Ms. Perry has planned for her readers.

The Book Thief by Markus Zusak

41gum-hafhl-_sx334_bo1204203200_“I have hated words and I have loved them, and I hope I have made them right.”

I was utterly captivated by this book. It took me a while to read, and I’m normally a pretty fast reader, but this book is not for those looking for a light, easy-to-read book. There’s some pretty heavy stuff in there so I had to read a bit slower than I usually would to make sure I was catching and absorbing everything so I wouldn’t miss something later on in the book.

I think everyone should read this book, especially those who are interested in the WWII era. I’ve read books from a soldier or a woman’s point of view (in America) but never one from a girl as young as Liesel. She was a very interesting character. Her story was so heartbreaking, and it’s sad knowing that while her story may have applied to a few children in the middle of WWII, many were not so lucky. It was interesting, going through things through her head. I wanted to laugh and cry all at the same time and just could not seem to put it down.

However, as I mentioned above, the book contains some pretty heavy stuff. If you’re even the slightest bit familiar with WWII and the persecution in Germany, then what is mentioned in the book should not be a surprise to you. But even if it’s not a surprise to you, it’s not easy to read about such violence. The violence isn’t graphic, but it is still pretty hard to read so if you’re sensitive to such things I would steer clear or read with a wary eye.

A couple things I wanted to stick in here is that from like 100-150, the book dragged a bit, and I found that I skimmed more during this section of the book than I actually read. And while this part didn’t really bother me, there is a bit of touchy language so if a couple cuss words bother you, then it might hinder your enjoyment of the book.

I really enjoyed this book and will probably read it again, and hope that you all will read and enjoy the book as well.

*I also want to add this: I have also seen the movie and it is almost exactly like the book. Of course, some parts of the book were omitted from the movie, but overall the movie was spot on to the book.

Redeeming Love by Francine Rivers

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“Love cleanses, beloved. It doesn’t beat you down. It doesn’t cast blame.”

This book is quite possibly one of my absolute favorite books. I had read Bridge to Haven, and as soon as I finished I wanted to read this book, mostly to see what all the fuss was about. It took me a while to finally get my hands on it, as every time I went to the Library someone always had the copies they had, but when I was finally able to get it and I’m so glad I did. It was such a great novelI finished it in just one day.

I always love a good romance, but this book definitely has more meat to it, not a fluffy lovey-dovey type of thing. So don’t come in expecting a sweet romance, because you’ll be disappointed. But regarding the book’s title, redeeming love is the definite theme here. Angel struggles with Michael quite a bit, and at some points, it’s a bit comedic at how frustrated she gets. Growing up in the situation she did, you can see how it would be difficult to accept pure love, without sexual relations. You have to put yourself in her shoes with this book. It’s an amazing read, but not the kind of light and fluffy Christian novel most are used to reading. It’s dark and heartbreaking because this was how many women lived and not many (if any), women got the chance of love that Angel got. So, of course, it’s frustrating how she just didn’t accept Michael’s love but if you think about her and her situation, it makes sense.

But luckily, because this is a romance book, we do get to see a little bit of romance between the two primary characters, which is very sweet but brief, taking place probably within the last 30% of the book if I remember correctly.

This book, as with Bridge to Haven, is not for the faint of heart. The book has scenes that are not explicit but elude to some sexual situations, inside and outside of marriage. Being a Christian book, I believe it is done tastefully and would recommend it for girls maybe 15+. The book is quite dark, to be honest. There’s no way to deal lightly with such complicated topics anyways (rape, abuse, prostitution) but from my little knowledge of such matters, they were handled with care and were explained very gracefully without diminishing the severity of the issues.

All in all, if you can handle dark and complicated subjects, then you will join me and the millions of others who have been greatly touched by this incredible book.