Saturday, July 30, 2011

A Curse Dark As Gold

A Curse Dark as Gold
Elizabeth C. Bunce
Arthur A. Levine Books

     Rumpelstiltskin was never one of my favorite fairy tales. It never struck me as fair. Yes, the miller's daughter got to keep her baby, but she was still stuck married to that greedy, merciless king! A Curse Dark as Gold solves the problems I had with the original story, but unfortunately comes will a whole host of new ones.
     I never really thought of Rumpelstiltskin as a "magical" fairy tale. True, the little man turns straw into gold, but in an age when it was commonly thought the right mixture of metal could produce gold, people turning straw into the precious material wouldn't seem like as much of a stretch. The only magical element to me was Rumpelstiltskin riding in on a flying wooden spoon.
     Not so with A Curse Dark as Gold. Talk about curses, charms and spells- I was really quite surprised. The people of the town that the story takes place in are very superstitious, something the main character, Charlotte, shrugs off as foolish and silly. That, of course, did not bother me. What did was the fact that at the end of the book Charlotte discovers the magic and superstition to be real. The last few chapters are full of ghosts and magic and hexes and charms. Quite honestly, if all this magic had been at the beginning of the book I never would have read it.
     This wasn't the only problem, however. The first half, while not offending my personal convictions or morals in any way, was just...boring. It was mostly about Charlotte striving to save her mill, and there was much talk about how the mill worked. Somewhat educational, but not something I found particularly interesting. I just couldn't get into this book at all. I wanted to like it...but sadly, this is not a book I can recommend.

Rating: 3

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Her Mother's Hope

Her Mother's Hope
Francine Rivers

     Near the turn of the twentieth century, fiery Marta Schneider leaves Switzerland for a better life, determined to fulfill her mother’s hope. Her formative journey takes her through Europe and eventually to Canada, where she meets handsome Niclas Waltert. But nothing has prepared her for the sacrifices she must make for marriage and motherhood as she travels to the Canadian wilderness and then to the dusty Central Valley of California to raise her family.
    Marta’s hope is to give her children a better life, but experience has taught her that only the strong survive. Her tough love is often misunderstood, especially by her oldest daughter, Hildemara Rose, who craves her mother’s acceptance. Amid the drama of World War II, Hildie falls in love and begins a family of her own. But unexpected and tragic events force mother and daughter to face their own shortcomings and the ever-widening chasm that threatens to separate them forever. 

     In some ways, Her Mother's Hope was a very hard book to read; it often reminded me of Eve's Daughters by Lynn Austen. Marta had such a terrible childhood (mainly her father's dislike and cruelty to her, as well as her sister Elise's suicide) that it profoundly affected the choices she made later in life and had the potential to destroy all the relationships dearest to her. Marta made me terribly angry several times the way she treated her daughter Hildegard. At the same time, it was easy to see why she did what she did, even if I can't say I ever really liked her. There were several times I wanted to literally shake her! Because Marta could see many of Elise's personality traits in Hildegard, she determined that her daughter would never end up like her sister. Since Marta blamed her own mother for "coddling" Elise, she did the exact opposite with Hildegard, instead often singling her out from her other siblings to "toughen" up. Hildegard was easier to like, although I got annoyed at her a few times, too. I found the ending realistic, but hopeful.  Her Mother's Hope was an amazing, rather epic look at family relationships and how even experiences from our earliest childhood can color our decisions made as adults.

Rating: 7

Saturday, July 23, 2011

The Harvest of Grace

The Harvest of Grace
Cindy Woodsmall

     When Sylvia Fischer turned down her beau's offer of marriage, she expected him to give her the time and space she'd requested, believing they would eventually wed. .Instead he married her sister. When she learns that his betrayal was her father's idea--a proposition made to save the farm--she knows she'll never trust another man.
     Despite the secrets hiding in Aaron Blank's youth, he thinks he's ready to face his future. As he sets out to make up for the wrongs he's done to his family, he meets Sylvia, the new farmhand from a nearby district. She doesn't want him around, seems to have his father's heart in the palm of her hand--and what she knows could ruin his future.

     Though I've read Amish fiction from Beverly Lewis and one or two of Wanda E. Brunsetter's Amish books, I had never read any from Cindy Woodsmall. The Harvest of Grace is the third in the Ada's House of Hope series, and I enjoyed it.
     I can't remember the last book I read that I enjoyed a relationship as much as Sylvia and Aaron's. Their hilarious conversations- from their first meeting onward- coaxed smiles from my face and even a giggle or two may have escaped my lips. I was almost always impatient when the scene switched to the other characters, because I enjoyed them so much! I found (most) of the other characters likable. It didn't have any villains per say, but I did want to slap Elam upside the head and give him a good piece of my mind. I got annoyed with Cara a couple of times, too (but I can't really compare her to Elam...that guy was a jerk).
     I hadn't read the other books in this series, so I was grateful for the section at the front of the book that summarized the first books in the series. Still, I would recommend reading The Hope of Refuge and The Bridge of Peace before tackling The Harvest of Grace.
     This book was a change of pace for me from other Amish books I have read, and there were several times I raised my eyebrows and wondered if a few things were actually accurate. The attitudes of many of the characters seemed a little more "worldly" than I usually think of those of the Amish faith having (by worldly I don't mean inappropriate, just...not Amish).  I'm no expert on the Amish, though, so take my words with a grain of salt.
     Despite this, I found this book very enjoyable, and I would recommend it to any one who like Amish fiction.

Rating (out of ten): nine

I received this book for free from Waterbrook Multnomah publishers in exchange for my honest review.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

The First Gardener

The First Gardener
Denise Hildreth Jones

If Heaven had a backyard, it would look
like the garden of the Tennessee governor's 

     Jeremiah Williams has been tending the gardens of the Tennessee governor's mansion for over twenty-five years. And like most first families who have come and gone, this one has stolen his heart. Mackenzie and her husband, Governor Gray London, have struggled for ten years to have a child and are now enjoying a sweet season of life-anticipating the coming reelection and sending their precious daughter, Maddie, off to kindergarten-when a tragedy tears their world apart. As the entire state mourns, Mackenzie falls into a grief that threatens to swallow her whole.
     Though his heart is also broken, Jeremiah realizes that his gift of gardening is about far more than pulling weeds and planting flowers. It's about tending hearts as well. As he uses the tools that have been placed in his hands, he gently begins to cultivate the hard soil of Mackenzie's heart, hoping to help her realize what it took him years to discover
     A Southern tale of loss, love, and living, The First Gardener reminds us that all of life is a gift, but out heart is the most valuable gift of all.

     Not being a huge fan of contemporary fiction novels, I hope you won't hold that against me when I admit this is one of the best I've read of the genre. True, there were some things in it I didn't quite agree with, and some characters I wanted to give a piece of my mind to. I am a 17 year old homeschooled girl. I had absolutely nothing in common with any of the characters. Nothing I could relate to...and yet I truly cared about what happened to them! That is good writing right there. No, it is not my favorite book. And it's not a light, happy, fluffy read that makes you feel particularly uplifted. I probably won't wear out the cover reading it so much. But I can say it's a story I won't forget soon. It's a realistic, raw look at real people- their hopes, their flaws, their feelings, and most importantly, their faith.

Rating (out of ten): 8

I received this book for free from Tyndale Publishers in return for my honest review.
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