Moon Over Tokyo

by Siri Mitchell
Siri Mitchell has written another beautiful story in Moon Over Tokyo. Much like the first Mitchell novel I read (The Cubicle Next Door), the setting plays prominently in the book: Siri pens engaging descriptions of Tokyo, bringing the sights and sounds of the city alive in a way that reveals the inner tensions and beauty of its Japanese culture. As I turned the pages of this book, I felt as though I was escaping to a foreign world: And though my feet have never stepped upon Japanese soil, I feel as though I’ve experienced a bit of its intrigue.

But this book offers so much more than just an interesting setting in Tokyo: It also offers an enchanting romance. Journalist Allie O’Connor prays for a friend who speaks English: And what she gets is an unexpected reunion with Eric Larsen, an old high school classmate who spars with her politics but creates sparks in her heart. Allie and Eric’s romance doesn’t hold any highly dramatic moments: Rather, it’s a tender story that unfolds with the timidity and uncertainty that characterizes most real-life relationships.

As Allie explores her fears and feelings about Eric, she learns some important lessons about her faith as well. Allie’s story is one of dreams, fears, and learning to give control to God. And that’s why I loved this story so much. Yes, it’s a very romantic story (one of the most romantic I’ve read for awhile!).  But it’s about so much more than a guy and a girl who fall in love: It’s also about the God of love who brings them together.

In the field of Christian chick-lit, where most stories seem to involve large US cities, gallons of coffee, and sassy 20-somethings, Siri Mitchell’s Moon Over Tokyo offers a refreshingly unique setting and characters with more depth. I highly recommend this book for anyone who’s craving a good romance or a trip to an exotic place!

Scoop

by Rene Gutteridge

The first in Gutteridge’s new “Occupational Hazards” series, Scoop brings together two unlikely partners: laughter and the news. The humorous tale includes an overmedicated producer, a news anchor who can’t frown, and a Christian intern who has her own ideas about “good news.” And while each of these characters offer plenty of entertainment value in their own right, the funniest character of all is the news program itself: Let’s just say that Channel 7 News has enough quirks to make even the stiffest funny bone tingle.

If the humor doesn’t interest you, don’t worry: Gutteridge throws in a little mystery and romance too. Add to that an eye-opening glimpse into the world of local news and, in my opinion, you have a fun, lighthearted read. I’m already looking forward to the next book in this series! Keep ‘em coming, Rene!

Chugga-Chugga Choo-Choo

by Kevin Lewis, illustrated by Daniel Kirk

Perfect poetry and endearing illustrations make this story a perfect edition to any little engineer’s library. The vintage color and feel of this book will have parents recalling their own childhood. But today’s babies and toddlers are sure to love the bright and colorful pictures as well.

My 18-month old son enjoys reading, and like most little ones, he has his favorites. Chugga-Chugga Choo-Choo is one he will pull from the book basket day after day. And there’s nothing I enjoy more than feeling him snuggle close while we watch this little toy train wind its way around a young boy’s room.

If you’re looking for a sweet and simple story with beautiful illustrations, your search can stop here: This is a must-have for any little one.

A Woman’s Place

by Lynn Austin

Set in the WWII era, this novel by Austin turns to the lives American women on the homefront for its inspiration. I found the subject matter to be interesting and enjoyable, particularly because this aspect of WWII life is often eclipsed by stories of soldiers, battle, and politics.

A Woman’s Place takes us to Stockton, Michigan, where we meet four unique and likable women : Ginny, a wife and mother who’s searching for meaning; Rosa, a strong-willed Italian from Brooklyn who’s trying to fit in with her new in-laws; Helen, a semi-retired schoolteacher and wealthy heiress with a past haunted by lost love; and Jean, a recent high school grad who struggles to balance romance with her high career aspirations. All four women end up seeking work at a factory in the Stockton Shipyard and are assigned to the same crew.

Though the women come from vastly different backgrounds, they’re drawn together by their circumstances and an unlikely friendship forges between them. Austin does a nice job weaving the stories of each individual woman together into one cohesive novel. And she ties loose ends together at the end in a satisfying way. My only complaint about the novel would be the somewhat stilted dialogue that occasionally surfaces in the story. I just felt that some of the conversations failed to capture an authentic voice for the characters involved.

Shaky dialogue aside, I did enjoy this book, and I’d recommend it to anyone who enjoys good historical fiction.

Firstborn Series

by Karen Kingsbury

Book #1: Fame

Like most of Kingsbury’s books, Fame shares a tale of faith and family, with romance developing quietly along the way. This story picks up where Kingsbury’s Redemption series left off: While the Baxter family grieves the loss of their mother in Bloomington, Indiana, their unknown brother, Dayne Matthews, continues to live the high life in Hollywood. Patriarch of the family, John Baxter now holds the secret of the past by himself, and remains clueless that Dayne is the son he and his wife gave up for adoption so long ago. Meanwhile, Bloomington kids’ theater director Katy Hart gets the opportunity of a lifetime: a chance to star alongside Dayne Matthews in a major feature film.

I’ve read many Karen Kingsbury books in the past, so I expected another good story when I picked up Fame. But I was disappointed with the one-dimensional characters and slow-moving plot. And maybe it’s just the weariness of chasing a toddler around making me a little touchy, but some of her literary devices became downright irritating.

It’s been awhile since I read anything of Kingsbury’s and I’m left wondering who’s changed: me or Kingsbury? Fortunately, the first chapter of the next book in the series–which was included at the end of Fame–looks promising: I was more intrigued by this single chapter than I had been by the entire story of Fame. So despite this weak opening, perhaps there’s hope for the series after all.

     

I’m going to review the next four books of this series together, because my feeling is that this whole series should have been written as one book anyway.

All in all, I was entertained by Kingbury’s Firstborn series, at least enough to continue reading in a mildly interested kind of way. But in my mind, the story just lacked real warmth or depth.  The characters felt a little flat. And I felt like many  of the scenes were strung out–as if Kingsbury was writing just to reach a particular word count, rather than to deepen the story.

I can’t say I’ll never read Kingsbury again. But after this series, my expectations have sunk a bit, and I think there are probably plenty of other authors who will supply me with a more satisfying read.

Those Who Save Us

by Jenna Blum

With a stark look at the Holocaust, Blum weaves a powerful tale of mothers and daughters, secrets, and a heritage of guilt in Those Who Save Us. The story unfolds in two narratives: One chronicles the life of Anna–a German woman who becomes mistress to a Nazi camp officer during World War II. The other narrative follows Trudy–Anna’s daughter–as she searches for answers and resolution about her mother’s past and her own father.

I was intrigued by the story and it’s thought-provoking look at an often-ignored perspective; that of Germans who lived amidst the reality of the Holocaust, and their children who inherit the guilt.

Unfortunately, the story was provocative in more ways than one: Blum litters the story with overt sexual references that left me feeling uncomfortable and embarrassed to be reading her prose. I understand her desire to push readers into the sordid reality of Anna’s life as a Nazi’s mistress, but for me the line was crossed: The amount and degree of sexual content was just too much for me to recommend this book to others, no matter how well-crafted the story may be.

The Church Ladies

by Lisa Samson

Samson delivers again in this engaging story of Poppy Fraser, a reluctant preacher’s wife who’s struggling to hold herself and her family together.

This story doesn’t boast clever plot twists or fast-paced action; It unwinds at a slow and steady pace–like one of the many walks Poppy takes to gather her thoughts throughout the book. As she grapples with the guilt of a past affair and the pain of an increasingly estranged daughter, Poppy resents the pressures and expectations of being a preacher’s wife. While she constantly entertains the notion of running away from it all, Poppy’s real relief comes in an unexpected place: A group of minister’s wives who begin prayer meetings when Poppy’s best friend loses her son in an accident. These “church ladies” influence Poppy’s faith journey and as she does some difficult soul-searching, she eventually learns to embrace the grace she so desperately needs.

When I see Samson’s name on the cover of a book, I’ve come to expect two things: beautiful prose that captures the raw emotion of her characters and a story that has a hopeful heart. It’s not for the action-junkie crowd, but if you don’t mind a quiet pace, you’ll enjoy Poppy’s story.

The Cubicle Next Door

by Siri L. Mitchell

This was the first Mitchell book I’ve picked up, and I was rewarded with a cute “chick lit” story, complete with quick-witted characters and humorous situations that kept me smiling as I turned the pages.

The Cubicle Next Door centers around Jackie Harrison, a civilian employee at the United States Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs. As the story opens, her office is about to be “compartmentalized” into cubicle space for two. Bewildered by the antics of her new officemate, Joe Gallagher (a pilot turned instructor at the Academy), Jackie begins to write about her frustrations on her online blog, The Cubicle Next Door. But just as Jackie’s feelings for Joe start leaning toward romance, a national news program features her blog on a special report: Suddenly everyone’s attention is fixated on Jackie’s unproclaimed love for her officemate–including Joe himself!

I enjoyed the witty banter between Jackie and Joe, but it was in the more sincere moments of Jackie’s vulnerability that the story became most endearing. From a whirlwind makeover by her grandma’s best friends to her first-time attendance at an Air Force football game, Jackie slowly allows her world to expand beyond the safety of her online blog. And of course, her feelings for Joe help prod her along the way.

With a clever plot and characters you want to cheer along, The Cubicle Next Door delivers a great mix of romance and reality. And for extra charm, Mitchell adds entertaining glimpses of the quirks and traditions of the Air Force Academy and Colorado Springs. In my opinion, it’s a winning combination, and I recommend this title for those who enjoy the chick-lit genre.

Evidence of Mercy

by Terri Blackstock

I picked up this book during a recent vacation in North Carolina. Though I wouldn’t categorize the story as anything particularly noteworthy, it was an entertaining read.

Evidence of Mercy centers on the story of Lynda Barrett, a lawyer whose life gets shaken when someone sabotages her plane and attempts to take her life. Jake Stevens, a perpetual bachelor enjoying the good life, has a rude awakening when he becomes also becomes a victim in the crash.

While I sometimes struggle with the unrealistic plot developments (Despite warnings from the nurses on staff, Lynda manages to wheel herself through the hospital, up the elevator, and into Jake’s ICU room just a day after she’s wounded in the crash, for example), I did enjoy the overall story. It unfolds at a nice pace, with a nice combination of action and personal character development to keep the reader interested.

Not really a mystery, I think Evidence of Mercy could be better described as a combination of light suspense and romance. If you enjoy that type of story, I think you’ll find this an enjoyable book.

The Kite Runner

by Khaled Hosseini

Wow. This book would be noteworthy enough simply for its eye-opening glimpse of Afghan life and history. But it also delivers with a good story:a tale of despair, betrayal, and hope that is fueled by the internal conflicts of its main character, Amir.

The story follows Amir’s life, from his early days as the privileged son of a Kabul businessman, through the political unrest of the late 70s and 80s that eventually leads his family to leave Afghanistan and settle in the US. Though he enjoys his new life in the States, Amir’s past haunts him–especially a tragic event involving his childhood friend and servant, Hassan. He’s given an opportunity to redeem the past by returning to Afghanistan and readers travel along for an unforgettable journey into the Taliban-ruled country.

Its easy to imagine that Afghanistan has always been the conflicted and war-torn country that we hear about on the news today. And much of that darkness and brutality has been inked into the pages of this book. But The Kite Runner reminds us that this country has a gentler side to its history as well–and even holds out some hope for this nation of political turmoil. If you want a book that’s timely, educational, and entertaining, sit down with a copy of The Kite Runner. It’s a journey you’ll not soon forget.

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