Nov 28, 2012

The Fiddler, by Beverly Lewis

Amelia is a young and wonderful violinist whose life was always planned for her. Constant rehearsals, presentations, hours of daily practice and a strict father have made her the famous virtuoso, able to delight audiences from all over the world. Despite all her training, “The Fiddler” starts with Amelia fiddling as “Amy Lee” in a country music festival – nothing that would have ever been expected of her. After her performance, her manager is able to get a hold of her and lets her know that her father and he already have arrangements for her, for the next months. The unceasing rings of her cell phone remind her that even her fianc√©, another great musician, was expecting her to be with him on that day... 

Amelia finds herself lost in other people’s wishes, but she’s torn in between herself and not hurting those who are dearest to her. She loves music, but it seems that she has not been able to actually enjoy it. That same night, she starts driving back home, but she gets lost in a bad storm. Conveniently, her cell phone breaks when it falls down to the ground and gets soaked. Amelia then looks for assistance at a nearby cabin, where she meets Michael, an Amish young man who, very much like her, is looking for his own path, away from his roots. Michael and Amelia are surprised at how much in common they have, and both would like to spend more time together, particularly when Michael tells Amelia about his plans of talking to his father and letting him know about his own decision.

Michael asks for Amelia’s support, and both Amelia end up spending the weekend in Michael’s hometown, Amelia gets a little taste of freedom, but also finds some of the consideration and respect she’s been looking for. She’s welcomed by the community, but also frowned at when people learn about her music. Michael realizes he has to stay more than he had initially expected because his father has an accident; he is an honorable person that will not abandon his family in a time of need.

Both of them face challenges and have to deal with respecting their parents. They both realize that the last thing they want to do is offend them, but their control over their lives also has to stop. Besides that, the attraction between Michael and Amelia is obvious. However, they both decide to face the issue and not let themselves go for their mutual feelings.  Also, they will find that there are people who support them and encourage them to do the right thing before God.  Following the right path is never easy, but it is also what shapes Michael and Amelia for the times to come.

“The Fiddler” has all the “Beverly Lewis” features people have come to love; however, she has managed to capture another love story in such a way that it feels as if this was the first time I have ever read an Amish novel by her. In other words, do not think that this story will be innovative in that way. This does not make it   less captivating… I only wish it came in one installment!

I received a complimentary copy of this book from Bethany House Publishers in exchange for an honest review. In no way has this influenced my opinion on the book or on the author.

The Bridesmaid, by Beverly Lewis

A young man and a young woman with hope of marriage; conflict between wants, traditions and needs; the quilting bees, the gardening, and the hard and spotless work in the kitchen; the Kapps, aprons and straw hats; the practically idyllic life in Hickory Hollow… All of it is in this book.  And from this point of view, there is nothing new in this new Amish novel by Beverly Lewis. Actually, I would dare say that the situations depicted in the book are highly impossible. Alas! This is a fiction work after all and, despite all the expected features of a Beverly Lewis book, she manages to create a love story through which we see the characters deal with conflict in a beautiful manner (excepting for Cora Jane, the obnoxious brat) that only someone with a strong commitment to biblical principles would make us of.  Mrs. Lewis summarizes it as follows: “…we’re all here by design… that none of us is an accident in God’s eyes.  Our heavenly Father’s hand is at work in all of our comings and goings – and in the choice of a life mate (p. 312).”  That’s the main beauty of this book.

The story revisits Joanna, the kind young woman who is introduced in “The Fiddler,” the first book of this series.  She has gone on with her life in Hickory Hollow, and the reader learns that she has been at the altar several times, always as a bridesmaid. Cora Jane reminds her that “three times a bridesmaid, never a bride,” and Joanna can’t help but think that some people already consider her to be a spinster at her age. However, she meets Eben when the family travels to another Amish community, and her whole outlook on her life shifts. Distance does not aid their relationship, which is also hindered by Joanna’s commitment to her church, Eben’s duty to his father’s farm, and Cora Jane’s (Joanna’s younger sister) selfishness and inability to cope with change. The largest part of the book describes the hardships Joanna and Eben have to face to nurture their relationship from afar.  

The end is farfetched and a bit too convenient but, despite my chuckles at the unlikeness of the odds, it didn’t keep me from savoring the richness of conclusion, wrapped in the details of Amish culture – particularly quilts – that play an important part in the resolution of the story; Aunt Joanna’s faith, the woman Joanna is named after, is remarkable and inspiring. Equally inspiring are the sacrifices Joanna and Eben are willing to make for each other, putting the other person before their own wants.

A part I really enjoyed was the prologue. It describes how Joanna and Eben met. It happens all in the beach, where there are many non-Amish people enjoying the sand, sea and sun.  At one point, Joanna starts toying with the idea of letting her hair down, just to enjoy the breeze, but she “didn’t want to add to the misconceptions far too many Englischers already had about us [the Amish people], some even from novels they’d read (page 9).” Being the utmost Amish writer, I could picture Mrs. Lewis getting a kick out of this line, as I did.  I don’t know how many accomplished people would be brave (and goofy) enough to let themselves joke with themselves the way she does, all the way to the end.  Joanna  likes writing, and I can picture a bit of Mrs. Lewis in her – rereading what she has written, pondering ways of choosing a better wording, having a binder with her drafts, finding inspiration in her friend’s lives and even snuggling in bed with a notebook on her lap (p. 130-132, 206, among other references throughout the story). In short, this particular novel offers a deep insight into Beverly Lewis’s as a woman and a writer. 

I also enjoyed several references to other characters that live in Hickory Hollow.  I won’t mention how Mrs. Lewis uses this resource, but I will say that this book sparked my interest in reading some of her previous stories again, which I would gladly do anytime.  This particular feature is not absent in “The Bridesmaid;” Mrs. Lewis has a way of writing in which she tells enough of the story to make a book interesting and enjoyable, while leaving enough slightly inconclusive to leave the reader wondering about the “what else,” and she certainly delivers with each sequel. 

I would definitely recommend this book to anyone who might be interested in Amish fiction.  As any of her previous works, this book has clean vocabulary, good morals and godly principles. Furthermore, as with any couple getting to know each other in the way Joanna and Eden do, there is sexual tension, but it is coupled with respect, modesty and restraint. This can only be treasured in a time where the pace and values of today sadly seem to always tend in the opposite way.

I received a complimentary sample of this book from Bethany House Publishers, in exchange for an honest review.  This has not biased my opinion on the book, nor on the author.

Nov 27, 2012

Whispers in the Wind, by Lauraine Snelling

Cassie Lockwood is a young lady who used to be a star in a Wild West Show.  Her livelihood had always depended on her shooting and riding skills, but when the Show is cancelled, she finds herself in a situation where she has to provide for herself and some other performers that have always been with her, without making use of her training.  After coming across with a deed to ranch, half to which her late father was entitled, she decides to go to North Dakota and start a new beginning.

However, she finds that a family is already established in the ranch and has been living there for many years. Mavis Engstrom and her three children have to face the fact that they have to give up and share a good part of their land with strangers.  To Ransom and Lucas, Mavis’s older boys, Cassie is an intruder; to Gretchen, the youngest one, Cassie is the opportunity to have a sister. There is a fourth brother who is away from home, but other than some letters between him and Mavis, not much is known about him.

It is not easy for Mavis to deal with conflict, but she decides to respect the wishes of her late husband and Cassie’s father, the original owners of the ranch. They all pitch in and help Cassie and the others settle. But Cassie’s inexperience leads her to question her purpose in life, her worth and her faith in God. 

Through all her mishaps and tries to understand and perform all what keeping a household implies, Cassie does demonstrate some fortitude of character. I like the fact that she is constantly concerned of others and accepts her responsibilities (although these are practically self-imposed); not many people would face life the way she does.  I particularly enjoy Mavis; she is the ever wise motherly figure that is willing to demonstrate a Christian character – unselfish, accepting of others and willing to serve. With the help of Mavis, Cassie will find out that her value goes beyond the chores she is able to perform.

“Whispers in the Wind” was one of those books that are good for spending the time, but I would never pick them up again and read a second time. When I started reading it, I did not know that this is the second book in a series by Mrs. Snelling; however, this did not keep me from grasping the main story line, which is quite straightforward. There are some “loose ends,” but I may say those are due more to the fact that I am not familiar with the beginning of the story (the first book).  Also, it was not interesting enough for me; I am not looking forward to reading neither the previous, nor the next book in the series.

It has good Christian principles, so I would recommend it as an easy, clean read.

I received a complimentary sample of this book from Bethany House Publishers, in exchange for an honest review.  This has not biased my opinion on the book, nor on the author.

Nov 26, 2012

Short-straw Bride, by Karen Witemeyer

If you think of the typical fairy tale, what comes to your mind?  Well, in my version, there’s always a damsel in distress that falls in love with the strong, handsome fellow, the one she hopes will sweep her off her feet one day – their wedding day. Short-straw bride has all that, along with boots covered in mud, horses swiftly galloping to the rescue and even “Indians.” The only difference is that fairy tales generally end in a wedding, but this novel has one at the beginning.

Meredith first meets Travis when a bully throws her lunch pail in his land – the forbidden Archer Land, dutifully and fiercely guarded by the four orphaned Archer brothers. Her leg gets caught in one of Travis’s traps, and injures her leg in such a way that even its natural growth is hindered.  However, that day is when Travis becomes her first love (Maybe first crush?), and she never stops daydreaming about him.  Some years later, after Meredith has been sent a way with her uncle, she overhears a plan to take over Archer Land.  Meredith feels it’s her duty to warn the brothers about the tragedy about to fall on them, and she ends up spending the night at the Archer’s cabin.  With her reputation soiled, one of the brothers is forced to marry her, and they decide to draw straws to make the final call.  However, Travis hasn’t forgotten Meredith either, and he feels it’s his duty as the oldest brother to marry her; he ends up fixing the straws and marrying Meredith.

Day by day, they all have to face situations that will test their faith. For one thing, they live together, but they decide that it would not be correct to “be married” without the proper courtship – so they don’t sleep together.  On another hand, Meredith finds out about the straws and believes Travis will never love her.  She decides to prove herself, and the ever independent and problem solver, her naive intentions translate into disappointments after her plans generally end with her repeatedly injured.  Travis, the ever handsome, strong husband, comes to her rescue, but is willing to forgive – sometimes, just because someone else intercedes for Meredith. I enjoyed reading about their conflict, and how they gave in, in order to better love and serve the others. Even Meredith finds daily household chores an opportunity to be a dutiful wife that will honor God with her marriage. It was refreshing to read a story where the link between a married man and woman is so truthfully depicted, pointing to God providing opportunities to shape their characters. 

Obviously, the more they get to know each other, the more Meredith and Travis are actually attracted to each other and they start making silly mistakes, which gives the story a funny note.  However, sexual tension also rises. Generally, I would not comment on this particular feature, but the fact that there is a point where there is a repetitive and continuous description of physical demonstrations, actually harm the quality of the story to my taste.  A very classy, romantic story turns tacky and distracting from the main plot.  This is the main reason why I’m not giving a 5-star rating in this review.

I do commend Mrs. Witemeyer for the inclusion of the Native American community. This story is a beautiful reminder of how we all share ups and downs in life, face challenges, and come together when there is someone in need – no matter our backgrounds nor skin color.

I would recommend this book for anyone interested in a fast-paced, easy to read romantic story. Also, there are enough situations that could be used in a teenagers class to talk about Biblical principles and godly decision making. Just exercise caution regarding all the sexual implications. I think that it could also be a good teaching tool for couples who want to get married; it might require a resourceful facilitator, but the multiple events that will try Meredith’s and Travis’s relationship could be good examples of how marriage is constantly tested. 

I received a complimentary copy of this book from Bethany House Publishers in exchange for an honest review.  This has not biased my opinion on the book, nor on the author.

Nov 25, 2012

So, are you keeping busy?

You may wonder about the title of this blog; well, that is a question I often get. And if people ask something like that, it is obvious that they haven't witnessed the neat creativity display on the dining room table, which is more like a craft corner lately... :)

And to my ever restless crafty bone, the acquisition of a sewing machine as my Christmas gift last year is making it spin, twirl, loop, hop, and smile!  Or, as I have said before, it makes ideas in my head tickle! :)

And going back to keeping busy, this post is just one token of the ripple effects in the once-used-for-sharing-meals dining room (which I confess extends to the living room quite often...).

A good friend of mine got married last September, providing me with a wonderful opportunity for transferring those tickling ideas into practice...  After a little thought, I decided to ask her what their favorite colors are (blue and green, as you can see), and started the hunt for fabric...  It all ended up with a table runner and three thermal trivets; I thought this would be a neat, practical gift that they could use many times.  And they liked it!!  :)

I would have had more pictures of the process itself, but I took them while I was making the runner, back in July, mainly for documentation. I'll probably blog more about the "how to" later. In the meantime, I hope you enjoy these! :)

This is the pieced table runner - that basically means the top part, made up of tiny scraps (or *pieces*) of fabric, in different shapes and sizes, sewn together.

Something that I discovered while making this runner is that the back is as equally interesting as the front.  So, just in case you're curious, here it is!

After the pieced top was finished, I prepared what is called a "quilt sandwich."  This sandwich consists of a pieced top, batting in the middle and the back layer of fabric, which must be sewed together. This makes the finished quilt (the table runner, in this case) have a sort of "puffy" look, which varies according to the stitch direction or pattern. A fun way of quilting is by "free motion quilting" the sandwich. This is the technique I used for quilting the runner. Basically, the quilt sandwich has to be moved in different directions in order to make a design with the thread.

This is the back view, after the quilting was finished. 

The finished table runner, front and back views:

So, how do you keep yourself busy when you're at home?