Thursday, April 26, 2012

Beyond Hope's Valley by Tricia Goyer

After my last post, a few people asked what kind of books make me happy.  My answer?  Books like this one.  Let me explain why:

This book is the third of Goyer's "Big Sky" Amish novels about Marianna Sommer and her family. I posted my comments on first one, Beside Still Waters, in October. As I pointed out in that post, I do not read Amish novels as a general rule (okay, I never read them) but I got seriously hooked on these. The writing is excellent, the characters almost seem to leap off the page, I can just picture the setting, and the story is sweet but also compelling.  I read this book in less than a day.

Marianna Sommer has returned to Indiana from West Kootenai, Montana, to help her brother and his longtime sweetheart as they start their new life and family together. Despite her best intentions, she is distracted by thoughts of her own upcoming wedding and her longing for the places and people she left behind in Montana.  She wonders if she made the right choice.  She also struggles with the harsh and unyielding way that the Amish community in Indiana reacts to her newfound beliefs about God and His love.  All Marianna wants to do is share that love with the people she has known for her entire life, but they can't see past their traditions, disapproval, and resistance toward change.

As Marianna and those she loves sort through the tragedies and mistakes of the past in order to find God's will for the future, He gently reminds them that He has a plan and is working all things for good.  This is a wonderful book about redemption, peace, spiritual growth . . . and romance. I enjoyed it and would recommend it to anyone who enjoys Amish fiction, Christian fiction, or even just good clean romance.

So why did this book make me happy?  Believe me, it was more than just the ending.  First of all, I liked it because I like the characters. After three books, I feel like I've gone along with Marianna for a real spiritual journey.  I love this character.  She isn't perfect, she has struggles, she questions her motivations and her decisions and sometimes even her faith, and I like that.  I also appreciate the other characters and the way they come to life through the pages of this series.  I like the honest, "real-life" way these people deal with questions of life and faith.  I admit, I like the warm fuzzy love stuff. But my favorite moment in the book wasn't exactly warm and fuzzy; it was when one of the characters realized that God loved her and forgave her, that something that she had carried guilt over for years wasn't her punishment for her past, and that God had a wonderful plan for her future.  That moment almost made me cry.  And yet, moments like that are what really make me happy.  Quite simply, this book delivers.

One other thing that made me happy and has nothing to do with the plot at all: When I opened the book the first thing that I saw was my best friend's husband's name in the acknowledgments.  How fun is that? I love it that people I know are working toward the success of "happy" books like this one.  So way to go, Aaron Linne.  And cheers to his wife Ashley, my BFF.  You people rock.

Friday, April 20, 2012

Just make me happy!

It seems that lately, most of the books I've been reading (or hearing about, because believe it or not, I don't spend all my time reading) are in some way depressing, disturbing, or dystopian. I don't write about most of these books on my blog, because as the title suggests, this is a blog about things I like. So I don't write about things I don't like. And quite honestly, I don't like books that break my heart on purpose without putting it back together again. I don't like books that give me nightmares. I don't like books that leave me wallowing for days in a sense of hopeless longing for another world, a perfect world, where the atrocities committed in these books don't exist. Don't get me wrong: I know the world is messed up. I know there are messed up people out there who do messed up things to those who don't deserve it. I know that in the real world, not everything gets wrapped up nicely in a big sparkly bow at the end of the book, series, episode, or film. But guess what? That's why I read fiction. To escape the real world and get lost for a few hours in a story of another place, another time, another people, where things actually work out well and the tears I shed are happy tears. It doesn't mean everything has to go perfectly all the time. A good plot has to have conflict and heartbreak along the way. But for heaven's sake, let it end well. Seriously. Let's think about this for a minute:

Would we love Star Wars if ultimately, the Emperor won?

Would we love The Lord of the Rings if Frodo failed?

Would we love Pride and Prejudice if Elizabeth married Mr. Collins and Mr. Darcy married Anne de Bourgh?!

Of course, I realize this is a matter of personal taste. There will always be a market for horror, for sad endings, for dystopians, because there are people out there who enjoy those things. But this is my blog, and I am not one of those people, and so I say: Just make me happy! Let the guy get the girl. Don't kill off so many characters that your book is a graveyard littered with tombs. And for heaven's sake, don't mess with kids! If you must hurt your characters (and I know, sometimes you must), find some way to heal them in the end. Mend those broken hearts. Piece back together the broken lives. Destroy the broken system. Restore justice. Let love win. End with the hope that somewhere, someday, there will be a day with no more tears and no more pain. Praise God, I know that day is coming, and I long for it with all my heart and soul. But while I'm here in this broken and dying world, I like to read fiction that lifts me out of it for a little while, instead of pressing me deeper into it. So please, authors resist the urge to shock and horrify me. Just make me happy!

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Watercrossing by Krissi Dallas

If you've kept up with this blog at all, you probably know by now that I'm a pretty big fan of Krissi Dallas. I've been waiting on pins and needles for her latest book, Watercrossing, ever since I read the teaser in the back of Windfall. So you can probably imagine my excitement when I won a pre-release copy through her Facebook page. (Since Greg and I were with my parents on vacation in Pagosa Springs when I found out that I won, they don't have to imagine my excitement. They got to witness it firsthand) Well, the book arrived on Saturday afternoon, and I finished it (all 300+ pages) before I went to bed on Saturday night. Yeah, I was really excited.

There is always a certain exhilarating dread that goes along with the anticipation of the latest book in a series. I find myself asking questions like, Will I like it? Will it live up to my expectations? What if I hate it? Will it be as good as the rest of the series? Believe me, I've had to live with my share of disappointment.  But thankfully, Watercrossing does not disappoint. Not only is it just as good as the previous books in the Phantom Island series, Windchaser and Windfall, but I think it's even better. The story and the characters pulled me in and wouldn't let me go until the last page.

If you haven't read Windchaser and Windfall, read them. If you have, you know that Windfall ends with Whitnee and her friends back at Camp Fusion after an out-of-this-world experience on the White Island of the Dorians. Whitnee is desperate to get back and try to find her father, who has been missing for six years but just might be hidden somewhere on the Island. Several individuals on the Island are just as desperate to get her back, for various reasons. While Whitnee, Caleb, and Morgan plan, research, and hope to find a way to get to the Island, life rolls on at Camp Fusion. Romance is in the air, and Whitnee finds herself drawn to her friend Caleb, despite all the potential complications of their friendship and the knowledge that there is someone else somewhere out there -- someone she would really like to be able to forget. There are some adorable and downright hilarious scenes between Whitnee and Caleb. I laughed a lot while I read this book.  But just underneath the fun and frivolity, all is not well. Morgan is clearly distracted and not herself, and Whitnee's camper Amelia sinks into depression because she feels rejected by her parents. As the summer rushes to a close, the friends put together a great plan for how to get to the Island and what they'll do what once they get there, but you know what they say about best-laid plans...and if you want to know the rest of the story, you'll just have to read the book.

I do have to say one thing about the ending: it isn't one. Like the end of Windchaser, it's more of a pause for breath before the next book. Unfortunately, unlike Windchaser, the next book did not come out simultaneously, so fans will have to wait on pins and needles warmed by hot coals for Watermark, which is rumored to be out "sometime next year." Bummer. So if you are the kind of person who doesn't handle suspense well, you might want to wait and read both books at the same time.

When I read the Wind books, what really impressed me was the worldbuilding. Krissi does such an amazing job of it that when I saw the map of the White Island in the front of Watercrossing, I thought, "Yeah, that's pretty much exactly where I thought everything was." As you read, you can really "see" the people and the places in the story. In Watercrossing, it's the character building that really stands out. From Whitnee's determination to act more like an adult and keep her focus on finding her Dad without distractions (hello, hot Island boy) to Morgan's struggles, and all the little glimpses we get to see of other characters in between, these people come to life. They feel like real people with real issues that I can really care about it, and I love that.

In spite of the crazy ending, I really liked this book. For some reason, the word that always comes to mind when I think of Krissi's writing is "sparkly." Since I love sparkly things, I was thrilled to see that Watercrossing sparkles and shines even more brilliantly than I dared to hope it might.

(In case you're wondering, Watercrossing officially releases May 22, but you can get it earlier if you know where to look. Also, I reviewed it because I liked it. I receive no compensation of any kind from the sales of this book.)