Top Reads in 2014 {book reviews}

Top Reads in 2014 {book reviews}

This is my annual list of 4 and 5 star rated book reviews.  It is a long list this year.  Please feel free to comment on your favorite books for the year as well.  Thank you to the many who shared titles of new authors with me this year.

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Looks like this is the fourth year for listing my Top Reads.  {Where did those years go?}  Here are the links to the previous years.

Top Reads in 2013

Top Reads in 2012

Top Reads in 2011

This list includes both fiction and non-fiction.  Tuesday, December 30, 2014 is the day I will publish my 2015 Reading List {Fiction}.  I normally read more non-fiction than I did in 2014.  There is so much good fiction out there, and so many new authors, that my attention has been on fiction.

I read 7 non-fiction and 44 fiction books in 2014.  None of the non-fiction had a 5 star rating, and only 2 had a 4 star rating.  There are 10 fiction titles with a 5 star rating, and 18 with a 4 star rating.


Ann H. Gabhart comes out on top as my favorite new author, as well as the author with the most 5 star reviews for 2014.  Congratulations, Ann!  Have I told you how much I love your books?  I’m looking forward to reading more of them in 2015.

Thank you, Ann, and all the other authors for writing such excellent books.  Really {really, really} appreciate all that goes into making a book come to life.

Quick (alphabetical) author list:  Lynn Austin, Sylvia Bambola, Patricia Bradley, Jerry Bridges, LeGrand Cannon, Jr., Leslie Leyland Fields, Ann H. Gabhart, Katie Ganshert, Elizabeth Gifford, Gina Holmes, Jan Karon, Jane Kirkpatrick, Maureen Lang, Anne Mateer, Eugenia Price, Miss Read, Sarah Sundin, Ann Tatlock, Liz Tolsma, Stephanie Grace Whitson.

Thanks for transporting me to the following corners of the world from my cozy chair.  (fictional): Rosey Corner, Hollyhill, Fairacre, and Mitford. (historical):  North Africa, Sicily, New Hampshire, Nebraska, and the Northwest (US).

Here are the five-star reviews, in no particular order:
Love Comes HomeLove Comes Home by Ann H. Gabhart

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Library copy. Second in the Rosey Corner series, after Angel Sister and Small Town Girl.

Wow! This is a fabulous book. The author has done it again. There are so many strengths in Ann’s writing, it’s hard to know where to begin. I will admit that this book did not ‘hook’ me from the first page, or even page fifty. But once I was ‘hooked’, I didn’t even remember that about the beginning. It is just that good.

There are a good number of characters in Rosey Corner, and they all stick in my mind, even the ones who’ve passed on. Since the story is based on real life I imagine that is what life is like in a small town over the course of time. It is a wonderfully written book that can portray multiple characters well enough that the reader feels as though they know all of them.

I wrote in my review of Small Town Girl that I changed my identification from one character to another by the end of the book. Love Comes Home is mostly about Victoria, or Tori, yet the story is so intricately woven into the lives of other characters that the reader can easily identify with more than one. I wonder if this is because the characters themselves are willing to identify with the feelings of others?

This book deals with everyday events as well as extraordinary events. The story is not predictable, nor are the characters. The strong element of faith in God’s sovereignty is central in many of the characters’ lives, and is often a topic of conversation. Aunt Hattie is the most vocal about her personal relationship with God, while others are less vocal.

I don’t know what it is about this book that makes it so gripping, but I love it. Usually I can see an emotional scene coming, but this book took me totally by surprise on numerous occasions. By that I mean tears streaming down my face all of a sudden, with no warning. That is good writing, don’t you think?

I highly recommend this book, and any by this author. She writes clean, God-honoring, strong stories to which readers can relate. Thank you, Ann!

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The Scent of Lilacs (The Heart of Hollyhill #1)The Scent of Lilacs by Ann H. Gabhart

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Library copy.

There were two things of which I am unsure. One is the title. I know where it came from, but I’m not sure I like it. Not a big deal. The other, which also is inconsequential, is that the story took place in the summer of 1964. Maybe because I remember that year it seemed timeless to me, which is fine.

I loved this book, all the way through. There are multiple points of view, but it is so well written that I didn’t mind. Mostly it was the girl, Jocie, and her father. It’s about relationships with people and with God, about telling the truth, and prayer. It is laced with humor, mostly from the young girl. It is loaded with emotion, skimps on the romantic, and centered on those things which really matter, in my heart at any rate. There is almost an element of coming-of-age to it as well, but not quite.

Get your tissues out and enjoy this great read! It’s a hard one to put down.

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In Perfect Time (Wings of the Nightingale, #3)In Perfect Time by Sarah Sundin

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Going to pick this up from the library. Can’t wait to read!

This book is definitely my favorite this year. I don’t give five stars often. This is at least five stars. Excellent! I won’t retell the story. It is the third and final in the Nightingale series, which is about the flight nurses in World War II.

Balance is the key in my opinion. Sarah exhibits a tremendous ability to balance the details of history, the story line, and the characters in her books. The reason her books stand so well is that the author’s theology of the God of the Bible is so naturally woven into the very fabric of her story and characters, not artificially inserted, that it holds everything together.

I love the way the author uses two points of view seamlessly, and infuses the facts of the historical aspects of the story also seamlessly. Her style is, I don’t know another word to describe it, seamlessly smooth.

I love both Kay and Roger, and their character development in the story (which I won’t spoil). I love the author’s repetition to show character. I was deeply moved both by their characters and the historical events, knowing that many of these wartime events are historical. I was most deeply moved by the characters’ growth in their relationship to God.

I cannot recommend this book highly enough.

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Small Town GirlSmall Town Girl by Ann H. Gabhart

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Library copy. This is the second in the Rosey Corner series. I read this one first.

I love It! I love the characters, the story, the point of view. As the title suggests, it takes place in a small town. That is one reason I like it. And I love that it is based on the author’s mother’s small town experiences. It is historical, at the beginning of the second World War.

There are lots of characters, and they are characters, which weave the story together. This is a stand alone book, which makes you want to read the others just to spend more time with the characters. I changed midway through the book which character I identified most closely with. See what you think when you read it.

It’s a story full of faith and hope in the midst of difficulties and misunderstandings and human error. I love the contrast shown in the lives of different ones who profess to know God, and the thought process of the one seeking Him.

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A Clearing in the Wild (Change and Cherish Historical #1)A Clearing in the Wild by Jane Kirkpatrick

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Library copy. I am loving this book. Love this style of writing. ~~ Forty pages to go … oh my, what hardship this west coast pioneering compared to NH a century earlier!

This book is the first in a series, which I am rather anxious to read. While the book stands alone, the story isn’t finished, and leaves the reader hoping beyond hope that things turn brighter in the next two books, as they begin to at the end of this one.

It is beyond me to critique a writer such as Jane Kirkpatrick. Her writing is as writing should be. It is not entertainment. It is thick. Thick enough to sink one’s teeth into or to sink down into as in a feather comforter. Characters (good and bad), plot, language, description of the environment, matters of the heart, matters of faith, they are all there.

When I stop to read a phrase or sentence aloud, just for the pure sound of the words; when I want to wring the neck of one of the characters even though they are fictitious; when I feel as though I am there; that is a five star rating.

On top of all of this, the book is historical. The Bethelites were a real group of people, and much of the story is gleaned from historical records. The author who combines historical fact and fiction seamlessly is tops on my list.

Thank you, Jane, for a superb book! I highly recommend this book, although for some it would appear dry. This is not a contemporary inspirational romance. It is a work of substance. I love it.

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Miss Clare RemembersMiss Clare Remembers by Miss Read

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Library copy. May have read it before. Absolutely love reading about Dolly Clare’s childhood, after hearing about her as a teacher at Fairacre School!

This is an all-around great read! One of Miss Read’s better (so far) ones. I truly enjoyed it and took my time reading it. Miss Clare remembers her entire life in this volume, wonderfully spun around the ‘war to end all wars’ and its sequel. It didn’t focus on the wars but it gave a sense of what life was like for that generation, which had not previously been acquainted with war so close to home.

There is much to be gleaned from Miss Clare’s perspective on life, particularly in relation to those relationships and events which do not go as planned. Family, community, life in the country, being content with what you have and where you are, relationships of family members, friends, teachers, and students.

I suppose the younger reader might think it a bit unrealistic, so much of our world has changed since. It really was like this, not even a century ago. To me it brings out the best in life, without focusing on material things, but on the things that matter the most.

I highly recommend this book to readers of any age. It would be a good book to read aloud as a family. There’d be plenty of opportunity for discussion. I found it to be quite a reflective read.

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Look to the MountainLook to the Mountain by LeGrand Cannon Jr.

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This is my copy, the 1942 edition, picked up used. My original copy, in the 1970s, long gone. I first read it in my high school Social Studies class, history of my town in New Hampshire. Thank you, Mr. (Arthur) Pease.

I love this book! It does have some language in it, all of which I’d much rather do without, but the writing, the writing is so beautiful. I’ve got about 100 more pages to read. I find myself crying often for the beauty of it, and reading parts of it aloud, just for the beauty of it.

This book was written in 1942. I am amazed by that. It’s historical, in the 1770s in New Hampshire. I feel as though I am there. I love the point(s) of view, mostly Whit but at times others. Beautifully done. It’s a long book, but every word belongs there. The telling of the story never meanders. The story itself covers a bit of territory.

I finished it last night. And how the tears flowed at the end, not for sadness. I’m not sure how to review this book. I will just say what comes to mind.

The point of view moves around a bit in order to put things into perspective, because the main character’s character is such that much of the story would be lost by sticking to his point of view. Read the book and you will understand. I think one has to read to the very end in order to grasp it fully.

This book is a beautiful (for lack of a more descriptive literary term) blend of the character of Whit Livingston, the historical events and culture of the day, and the plot and supporting characters. And not in the least, the land. It is not in any way a romance as we know it today. Pioneer life did not lend itself to romance. It was too difficult. This book is a love story, more than one, of those who stuck together in the business of pioneering and defending freedom in the beginnings of America.

Perhaps it is because this book digs down to those things which matter most in life. It is not about the surface things, how things look, or what is said, but about what is deep in the heart and what is lived.

I identified with Whit more than any character. His tenacity to do what he believed to be the right thing, and his willingness to own his mistakes; his careful planning and propensity for work; his commitment to relationship and care for those whom he loved; all of these moved me, in spite of the fact that he did not know God in a personal way, I was greatly moved.

The book made me want to be there, through thick and thin, with the story. I did not remember it from my previous reading(s), but I doubt now that I will ever forget it. What kind of book brings tears to the eye when writing a review?!!

I recommend this book for all who love the history of America, those who love New England and its people, and those who want to learn about that land and people. It is one character, not Whit, who uses language. I was able to read it without bother, whether that is wise or not, you can decide for yourself.

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Walks The Fire (Prairie Winds, #1)Walks The Fire by Stephanie Grace Whitson

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Library copy. Took a few pages to get into it, now it is hard to put down! Wagon train from Illinois to Oregon in the 1800s. I’m liking the way the author wrote this book so far… This book is a fabulous read! I love the way the author blends history, character, faith, and a few other things (no spoilers). Taking my time reading it, to absorb it. There is nothing predictable about the story.

And there was nothing predictable to the very last page. This is one excellent book! I took my time reading it, in order to absorb it. There are so many pieces to this book.

I love the verses at the beginning of each chapter. I love that there are multiple characters, but not all, with deep faith in God. I love the strength of character so many showed in very diverse ways. Such a blending of differences, beautifully ‘stitched’ together.

The author put so much information, historical, Biblical, botanical, geographical, racial, and also about her beloved quilting, right into the story and the characters. This book is so good I don’t know what the point of view was. I was so busy being in the story, I didn’t have time to notice.

This is a love story, but not a romance. It is a story of sacrifice and hardship and faith and prayer. It doesn’t preach. It is real without being earthy or raw.

I highly recommend this book. I can’t wait to read the sequel, Soaring Eagle.

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A Light in the Window (Mitford Series, #2)A Light in the Window by Jan Karon

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Library copy. Have looked forward to reading this since finishing At Home in Mitford.

Do you find yourself smiling when you read this series? I do. Now that’s a good read 🙂

This second in the Mitford series by Jan Karon did not disappoint. Ready to jump into book three! There’s really nothing to say about the book, other than I highly recommend that you read it, if you haven’t already. Even if you have, as a number of people have told me, it’s time to read them again.

Small town life, real life problems and personalities, real faith in a personal God, real colorful characters, old, young, in-between, sane and not-so-sane, a marvelous dog named Barnabus, and a published cat named Violet, not-so-marvelous. Plenty of action, plenty of conversation, plenty of aha moments. I especially enjoyed the description and history of Miss Sadie’s ballroom ceiling.

This book is packed with good stuff about Father Tim and the ways he cares for people. His opinion of himself is in great contrast to what he does. That is a good part of what makes this a great book. That woven together with many other threads.

I did wonder about the mention of Percy and Velma’s youngest grandchild waving a fly swatter over the orange marmalade cake (p.368), since they had a new grand baby a month or so previous 🙂

What are your favorite moments in Mitford?

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These High, Green HillsThese High, Green Hills by Jan Karon
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Library copy. Third in the Mitford series.

I thoroughly enjoyed reading These High, Green Hills. I love where the title comes into the story, just once I believe, near the end, although it is no secret. It is amazing that the reader can come to know so many varied characters so well in the course of reading this author’s books. I love the consistent viewpoint of Father Tim. And I love not having to read first person in order to have it so.

One might assume that this is light reading. It is not. There is depth to it, as much as the reader will receive. This book is loaded with relationships of the true kind. It deals with death, homelessness, domestic abuse, physical trauma, retirement, and love, among other things. Summarizing it does not do it justice. You just have to read it.

The cave experience was paramount, as was the funeral (preparation). Those moments in a book when the pov character changes, when the reader can understand how to effect this by being in the pov’s shoes, are priceless. This book has any number of those moments.

I love the way a new character was brought into the story as one main character passed into the presence of her Lord and Saviour. I love the relationships with people, and especially those with Jesus Christ.

This book is a gold field waiting to be mined by the reader. I highly recommend it to all, especially those interested in what really matters in life. Come to Mitford and meet Timothy, Cynthia, Dooley, Sissy and Sassy, Buck Leeper, Barnabus, Uncle Billy Watson, and a host of other small town folk. It will do your heart good.

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The rest of the books were a four-star rating which means ‘really liked it’,  listed by author, non-fiction first, then fiction, in no particular order.
Surviving the Island of Grace: Life on the Wild Edge of AmericaSurviving the Island of Grace: Life on the Wild Edge of America by Leslie Leyland Fields
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

What an excellent book! Borrowed from the public library. Heard about Leslie Leyland Fields when her latest book was released, Forgiving Our Fathers and Mothers. Caught my eye because she lives on/near Kodiak Island. I lived there once long ago for a short while. Thus, the subject held a special interest to me.

It is written in memoir style, which is one of the author’s specialties. She has an MFA and is an experienced writing teacher on the college level, as well as being an experienced writer. I have no criticism(s) of the book. It took me two weeks to read. It’s not a quick read, but it will get you right out there on the Pacific Ocean with the salmon set netters and their way of life. If you are unfamiliar with fishing and island living, this book may seem surreal to you, but I assure you it is very real. It took me back to my days of listening to the marine forecast, because there was nothing else on the air, and tales of search and rescue, not to mention eating fresh caught salmon. All wonderful, all obtained through difficult circumstances, all of grace.

Thank you, Leslie Leyland Fields for writing this book.

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God Took Me by the Hand: A Story of God's Unusual ProvidenceGod Took Me by the Hand: A Story of God’s Unusual Providence by Jerry Bridges
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I’m so excited to read this book! I won a copy from Goodreads First Reads!

Thank you so much to Tyndale House Publishers for giving me this copy of God Took Me by the Hand by Jerry Bridges. This review is my own honest opinion of the book. I am not being paid to endorse the book.

This little book is an account of the author’s life in light of his ministry with the Navigators. It is written from the perspective of God’s Sovereign providence (what other perspective is there?), as events throughout his life lead pointedly to his specific areas of service to God.

It is written in the author’s distinctive style, which he acknowledges and which underscores the emphasis on God’s providence. What the author cannot say, the book says clearly and consistently — the key to experiencing divine providence in life is humility. The author lives life in an attitude of humility.

I purposely read the book slowly. It could easily be read quickly, but I wanted to let each point ‘sink in’ before going on to the next one. Needless to say, the book is well organized and deliberate in its presentation. Discussion questions are included for each chapter, to be used in a group study.

The book is excellent, both in content and presentation. Particularly because one need not agree with the author’s theology in order to accept what he is saying, it being his personal testimony. The book lends itself well to the introspection of the reader, which is the author’s intent.

Personally, I was moved by this illustration of God’s providence, and moved to much introspection. I am thankful to have been ministered to through the reading of such a fine book, and trust many others will benefit from it as well. I highly recommend this book for people in all walks and stages of life.

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Refiner's FireRefiner’s Fire by Sylvia Bambola
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Library copy. My first read of this author.

This book is not new. It was published in 2000. It is written timelessly. It is beautiful! A beautiful book. Can’t tell you the last time a book drew me away from reality as this did.

The characters are so clear, so real, whether lovable or not. The writing is strong. The use of the senses to put the reader in another time and place, the use of multiple points of view, tons of conversation, and even some pondering by main pov characters is helpful to the reader.

I love the setting. I love the title. I love the characters. I love the ending. There is so much hope and love in this story, despite the fact that it is set in a dark place during hopeless times. The strong element of faith under persecution is a reminder to the reader that eternity is far more important than today.

I urge you to read the book synopsis. Historical fiction set in Romania, under the iron rule of Ceausescu in 1980s Bucharest, the Underground Church, long lost brothers and their wives. Great insight into the meaning of the Gospel and the thought processes of both regenerate and unregenerate minds.

I highly recommend this book. I will be reading more of this author’s books.

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Wings of a DreamWings of a Dream by Anne Mateer
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I ‘met’ the author on Twitter a few months ago and decided I should read one of her books, just to see if she was any good (smile), you know? Some day, I hope, you will be able to say the same of me.

I was a little nervous, although this is the second author to go through this process under my scrutiny (another smile). I’m pretty sure God knows what He is doing when He sets these meetings up (smile).

I loved the book! and I choose not to go into detail about the story. You can read the synopsis, you can read the book, and I promise you will not be disappointed. If it looks straightforward, it is not. If it looks simple, it is not. If it looks like a million other stories, it is not. The characters, the story, the spiritual aspect of the story, the descriptions, were all good. I was there in another time and place, experiencing what the pod character went through. When I started reading and saw it was in the first person I thought I might not like it, but the author does a thorough job of sticking to the main character’s point of view, which more than made up for it.

I highly recommend this book and author. It’s squeaky clean, some history, some romance, and lots of faith.

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Wonderland CreekWonderland Creek by Lynn Austin
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Library copy.

Just love Lynn Austin’s writing. Less than 50 pages and I feel like I’m there, in the story. Awesome!

And it was awesome, all the way to the end! Characters are fabulous. The main character, from whose point of view the entire book is written (big plus in my book), Alice (in Wonderland – ha!), captures your heart from page one. You will find yourself reacting to her often. I can’t speak to the setting, having never been to Kentucky except on the Interstate.

The story keeps hopping from one exciting event to the next. Never a dull moment. The writing is wonderful, squeaky clean (of course), and multiple layers.

But the thing that separates Lynn’s writing from that of others (though there are a few authors who do so), is the strong line of faith in the story line. It is not just in the characters. It permeates the story, as it should all of life. It is not idealistic and church-y, but down-to-earth and practical faith. Miss Lillie is indeed a wise woman.

I highly recommend Wonderland Creek, and all of Lynn Austin’s books.

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At Every TurnAt Every Turn by Anne Mateer
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Absolutely delightful story! This is a library copy.

I think that Alyce will be with me for awhile. She is so real! I wanted to shake some sense into her at times,
and other times I was admiring her spunk. The story is clever, the characters quite real, and the faith line is the core of the story and carries it to the end. Very well done.

This is a great read for everyone. Squeaky clean (of course), hard to put down. Though it is first person narrative there is plenty of action. The supporting characters are clearly portrayed, and the ‘twist’ is maintained to the end. I especially love the ‘hint’ of romance without all the ‘mess’. It’s a great story because there are many characters of different gender and generation and levels of faith with whom to identify (or not). I’ll be interested to read other reviews to see if any thought it ‘preachy’. I did not.

Great book, Anne! Can’t wait to read the next one!

*Happy to see so many great reviews! The less than stellar ones are not noteworthy in my opinion.

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With Every Letter (Wings of the Nightingale, #1)With Every Letter by Sarah Sundin
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Absolutely love this book! It’s a library copy.

I was living in the story right along with Tom and Mellie. Sarah has a beautiful way of painting the picture, both the physical and relational scene. Beautiful use of dual point of view. Didn’t know how it would end until it did. I was quite frustrated with Mellie’s desire to remain anonymous!

Well done. I highly recommend this book to anyone who likes a little WWII history mixed in with their romance. Needless to say (or is it), there is a strong faith element in the book, and it is squeaky clean. Love how both characters, not just one, did lots of personal growing during the story.

Thanks for the trip to N. Africa and Sicily!

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While We're Far ApartWhile We’re Far Apart by Lynn Austin
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Library copy. I am so thankful for a wonderful public library system which has many works of Christian fiction available.

This book is wonderful! This is WW2 on the home front. The points of view, generated by the third person narrator, didn’t go the way I expected. Sometimes I wished I knew more about other characters, but I trust the author to bring it all together in the end, which she always does. And I will say again how annoying it is to me when all the characters with strong faith are dead! Memories just don’t have the punch needed. Live characters, no matter how flawed, have much better punch!

It’s still a wonderful book. The characters, the story, the different perspectives, the common threads, all coming together are amazing. This story is multi-generational, with both men and women’s points of view. Servicemen at home and abroad, Jews in America and Hungary, parents, grandparents, children, girlfriends, and pets — pretty much covers all bases effectively. And women doing men’s jobs during the war.

I did figure out one of the mystery elements, but not the other. There was a point in the story, and I believe the author intended for the reader to figure it out before the character did (no spoilers), when i just knew I knew what she didn’t know, you know what I’m saying? – ha! I think there were two places like that. But the cause of the fire was a surprise to me, and shocking.

I love reading about the Jewish people. I hate the atrocities which they suffered at Hitler’s hand, but I love hearing their stories, especially when God intervened. I loved the character of Jacob. I kept wanting him to come to true faith in Messiah as his Saviour. And I loved Penny’s character. My favorite part of the book was when she went to find out about Roy. His character was almost too good to be true.

One of my favorite parts of the book was the use of radio broadcasts and newspapers for keeping up with the war. So much has changed in the way that we receive information that I thought the author did a superb job of making that part of the story, almost to the point of being part of the characters. Also the use of the bus system when people did not own their own automobiles.

I recommend this book to all who enjoy historical fiction with a bit of romance. The Gospel is not spelled out in the book, it isn’t preachy, but it makes you think about God from several viewpoints. And, of course, it is a squeaky clean read.

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Crossing OceansCrossing Oceans by Gina Holmes
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Library copy. My first read of this author.

While this is not my preferred genre (historical fiction), it being contemporary Christian romance fiction, I have to say I enjoyed it very much. Not from the get-go, it took a few pages for me to ‘get into’ it, but once I did there was no stopping. Very nicely done. Needs no elaboration. Just read the book for yourself! A great book for all generations, young and old, male and female. A great clean family faith read. Love the title with its very clear meaning.

Looking forward to reading Wings of Glass very soon.

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Wings of GlassWings of Glass by Gina Holmes
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Library copy. Really so thankful for my public library system having so much Christian fiction available!

I really don’t know how to write this review. I’ve never had a book affect me the way this has. Usually if a subject is close to home I am crying all the way through it. This book did not make me cry, though I think it should. Let me explain.

The book is very well written. I do not care at all for the first person. I find myself saying that to myself over and over as I read a story written in the first person. This book needed to be written that way. It couldn’t have worked any other way. I know that. It is very well done. Read it and see for yourself.

The characters and story are excellent. My favorite character is Fatima. She is as real to me as any real person. I think we should all have a friend like Fatima! Everything about the book is believable and realistic. It moves along even though the story is a difficult one.

The strength of the book is in the author’s ability to get inside Penny’s head…no spoilers…in such a way that I feel like I am back in my abusive marriage, which ended a long time ago. I would caution those who have been there that this does NOT read like fiction. It is not entertaining or relaxing reading. I highly recommend this book, particularly to those who have not experienced abuse to better understand those who have.

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On Distant Shores (Wings of the Nightingale, #2)On Distant Shores by Sarah Sundin
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Received my copy as a birthday giveaway from the author. Thanks Sarah!

Am enjoying reading…wonderfully written historical romance which takes place in Italy during WW2. Excellent. Clean as a whistle, wonderful spiritual viewpoint(s), dual point of view (nicely done). Really no criticism. I enjoyed it, and will add Sarah to my list of Christian fiction authors.

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Snow on the TulipsSnow on the Tulips by Liz Tolsma
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Library copy. Recommended by, among others, Sarah Sundin. It had to be good. It is.

Snow on the Tulips is the story of a family during the Dutch Resistance in World War II. I was somewhat familiar with this period of history. The author did a great job of putting the reader right there. Sarah Sundin said the book kept her up at night. I agree. The reader lives right through the Resistance with the book characters. It is a dark story because that is what happened. But it was not hopeless.

One thing, the title. I like the title, but there were too many references to it in the book. There only need be one in my opinion.

I love this about the book: The author showed two diametrically opposed points of view regarding what was the right thing to do in this situation (the war) before God. She presented both with equal conviction, and worked the story beautifully around it. I loved that.

I could do with less romance in historical fiction. I thought it was a bit overdone, but that could be me. Overall I enjoyed the author’s style in this well told story. The glossary of Dutch words was quite helpful, and handy in the front of the book.

The best part of the book was reading the Story Behind the Story at the end. I would never have guessed that this story was taken so closely from the real events in the life of her family. She did a seamless job of turning it into a wonderfully readable story!

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Shadows of the Past (Logan Point #1)Shadows of the Past by Patricia Bradley
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Library copy. This is the author’s debut novel.

For the most part I enjoyed this Christian mystery. I knew that there will be a sequel, which sometimes means the book doesn’t have a concise ending. This did. I find no fault with the story, the characters, or the writing. The story moves along at a good clip, with plenty of conversation and action. Patricia’s description of the scene, particularly with certain smells, is commendable.

As to point of view … my oft complaint, with seasoned authors too, is the almighty narrator. Particularly in a mystery, I would prefer to stick with one or two points of view, rather than being made privy to too many. It gave the story away a bit, though not completely.

The author did a fabulous job of weaving all threads of the story together, with no loose ends. The only thing I didn’t like was the romance. I can do without it, tactfully done or not. It seemed a bit ‘put on’ in places. The faith element was beautifully done, in character, which has the greatest effect. Loved that part.

I highly recommend this book as a well-written clean Christian romance/mystery.

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Village Christmas (Fairacre, #6)Village Christmas by Miss Read
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Library copy.

This book is 45 pages! Must be the shortest book ever published. It is about two spinster sisters in the village of Fairacre, at Christmas.

It’s a lovely quick read, highly recommended. Amazing how the author can develop characters in so short a story, so that the reader feels they know them. Lovely.

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The Sea HouseThe Sea House by Elisabeth Gifford
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Library copy. I am so excited to find and read this book about the Isle of Harris, Scotland!

I really liked this book. The author’s education shows in her writing. I really like the three points of view. Each chapter was titled with the point of view character’s name, and in some cases a place and date. One character was in the 1990s, living in the house which the other two inhabited in the 1860s. Two of the characters were consumed with solving the mystery of the sea people, their ancestors.

Since the Islands of Lewis and Harris are also the land of my heritage, I was admittedly more taken with local flavor and character, and the oral traditions. The part about the crofters being deported to Canada was just as my great-aunt had told me in very few words. It was quite real and moving reading that part of history. The author did a great job with this horrible event.

The modern-day story was fascinating, being seamlessly woven into the historical accounts. I kept wanting answers, thinking there would be many unresolved threads at the end, or that it would seem manufactured. I needn’t have worried. I liked the ending, though I could see where other stories could be told amongst the threads of this one.

When I got near the end of the book, I began looking at it from the viewpoint of the story. I like the element of mystery which the author stuck to, except in one instance, which kept me from putting it all together until the last page. I love the way she would show a scene rather than tell it, leaving plenty of room for one’s imagination. To me that is what good writing does.

I think that there are likely many levels to this book, which I would need to read again to absorb. It was a love story, but not in the usual sense. It was about mothers and daughters, in an absent sort of way. It is about the islands and the sea, the people who inhabit them, and the people who visit. It was about what people do with their lives and about keeping or losing what one has. It was highly relational from a distance. It was a study in contrasts, science and religion, evolution and faith, strength and weakness.

I was rather caught up in parts of the story where I identified with the characters. I liked them all, flaws and all. Can’t be specific without spoilers. You just need to read the book. And perhaps plan a visit to the Outer Hebrides …

This is a clean read, with one use of language and one suggestive scene, both in character and not offensive. I recommend this book and this new author, and look forward to reading more of her work, which is well researched, with a Bibliography of sources.

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A Broken Kind of BeautifulA Broken Kind of Beautiful by Katie Ganshert
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Library copy. Christian Fiction Book Devourers Group selection.

This is a wonderfully clean read. A little more on the relationship side than I prefer, but so well done that I couldn’t put it down. The characters and story line are both strong. And the faith element is handled up front and effectively. But the thing that makes this book stand out is Katie’s style of writing. The words themselves are what jump off the page. Her use of the five senses in writing is rarely rivaled. There were times when I questioned her use of a word, but even those were so effective in getting the point across and putting the reader right into the story, they are easily forgivable. This book has no flaws that I can see. I highly recommend it.

I might add, not having mentioned the theme of the book, that the title and theme are beautiful, no pun intended. To use another’s term, seamless. Effective, and one that touches every girl and woman ever born. This book has something for all.

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Lighthouse (St. Simons Trilogy, #1)Lighthouse by Eugenia Price
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I read Eugenia Price’s books years ago. I liked them then. I find much more depth to them now, being decades older.

This is the first of the St. Simons’ trilogy. When I first read this book I was likely still living in New England, had not been anywhere else yet. Now I have lived away for over a decade (this time) and long for home. Because of that I think I can identify strongly with James Gould’s character, which was in fact a real person.

Almost a decade ago I made a brief side trip to Savannah. I tried and failed to find St. Simons. I did see the light at Tybee Island, and a good bit of historic Savannah, and Charleston, which made reading this book all the more enjoyable, in spite of the changes even since the book was written.

As to the writing, if one can dare to review Miss Price’s superb writing. I’m thankful it is not in the first person. It is from James Gould’s point of view, but in such a clever way that others are drawn in as well. In some ways I wish the book were more romantic and less realistic. That is how I remember her books. There were some difficult passages of life, but they were real, and dealt with as such.

There are so many levels in this book. There are cultural differences, character development, relational issues, family, political, personal aspiration, friendship, and the difficulty of maintaining one’s livelihood amidst the perils and turmoils of the day. All of these issues are seen within the framework of the individual’s faith in God, which is peripheral throughout the book. Only at one point does it come to a head, and that very tactfully.

Such a good read. When it has finished soaking in, I will read the next book in the series, New Moon Rising.

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At Home in Mitford (The Mitford Years, #1)At Home in Mitford by Jan Karon
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This copy is currently in my possession from a free library.

What a delightful story! My mother used to read (and loved) anything by Jan Karon. Not sure I’ve read this one, am sure enjoying it.

This book was a pleasant surprise. There are lots of characters, but the characterizations are so clear that it was hard to forget any of them. I love the point of view, which is the narrator’s view of Father Tim.

This is not a warm fuzzy story, although Mitford appears to be the perfect town. There are many ordinary and extraordinary difficulties with which the reader can identify. It is not a predictable story.

Already checked the next two books in the Mitford series out of the library. Great book — great author. Highly recommended. Squeaky clean and very much faith-based, but not in the way I expected. I love the personal relationship with God angle for an Episcopalian priest. That surprised me. Enjoy!

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I'll Watch the MoonI’ll Watch the Moon by Ann Tatlock
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I borrowed this from the public library, which is where I discovered this author, Ann.

Fabulous book! Just when you think the history part is done, she introduces yet another aspect of history during this time period. I learned a lot, all the while following the characters and the story line. If you think you know about the polio epidemic and World War II, think again. This book puts you right in the midst of it, through the eyes of its characters.

I love the point of view. It is cleverly done. At times I thought, this can’t work, but then I realized how it did. If you like a strong faith element, this book provides it, from several viewpoints. Also cleverly done.

I hope you will enjoy reading it as much as I did. Did I mention that you might need a box of tissues at times? This book has different levels, and emotions, and varying viewpoints of the same event, which are quite moving when taken all together.

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Pieces of Silver (Pieces of Silver #1)Pieces of Silver by Maureen Lang
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Library copy. Story is compelling, moves right along, hard to put down.

The thing I like the best is the foundation of faith which is distinctly woven into the story. Excellent. I love this in Maureen’s writing. She consistently writes this way.

It is written from the know-it-all-narrator point of view, not my favorite. I prefer one or two. It gets a bit overwhelming when I know what’s going on in the protagonist’s head. That being said, Maureen did a good job of it. Just not my style.

If you are looking for a story with more on the history end of things, this may not be the book for you. The strong thread is historical, but for me it came across as relational, thus romantic, although the family element was very strong. I tend to like a little less on the romance side, and more on the historical. But that’s me.

I highly recommend this book. Maureen is such a good author, presenting a clear line between right and wrong and the basis for true faith in God. Clean, clear writing, with a bit of a twist at the end.

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8 thoughts on “Top Reads in 2014 {book reviews}

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