Book Review: The Hope of Refuge

The Hope of Refuge (An Ada’s House Novel)

Cindy Woodsmall

Publisher’s Summary: Raised in foster care and now the widowed mother of a little girl, Cara Moore struggles against poverty, fear, and a relentless stalker. When a trail of memories leads Cara and Lori out of New York City toward an Amish community, she follows every lead, eager for answers and a fresh start. She discovers that long-held secrets about her family history ripple beneath the surface of Dry Lake, Pennsylvania, and it’s no place for an outsider. But one Amish man, Ephraim Mast, dares to fulfill the command he believes that he received from God–“Be me to her”– despite how it threatens his way of life.

Completely opposite of the hard, untrusting Cara, Ephraim’s sister Deborah also finds her dreams crumbling when the man she has pledged to build a life with begins withdrawing from Deborah and his community, including his mother, Ada Stoltzfus. Can the run-down house that Ada envisions transforming unite them toward a common purpose–or push Mahlon away forever? While Ephraim is trying to do what he believes is right, will he be shunned and lose everything–including the guarded single mother who simply longs for a better life?

Click here to see options from Random House’s online catalog.

Click here or on the image to order the book from

This is the first in a new series of books by the author of When the Heart Cries, When the Morning Comes, and When the Soul Mends.

Bottom line? I liked it. Very much. And I usually don’t like this type of book. Which says a lot. I definitely recommend reading it.

I apologize for the short review–I’d love to write more, since, as I said, I really enjoyed the book. However, we now have a 5-week-old puppy in the house (as of Monday evening) and life has gotten _very_ hectic.

Book Review: The Vanishing Sculptor

The Vanishing Sculptor

Donita Paul

Publisher’s Summary: Return to the world of the dragon keepers, where the fate of three missing statues will determine the fate of the world. Tipper, a young emerlindian woman, has been responsible for the upkeep of her family’s estate since her sculptor father disappeared several years ago. To make ends meet, she’s been forced to sell off the artwork he left behind.

When at last her father returns, accompanied by two strangers from a distant land, Tipper discovers that her actions have unbalanced the foundation of her world, as well as her father’s life, and she must act quickly to undo the threat. But how can she save her father and the world on her own?

The task is too huge for one person, so she gathers the help of some unlikely companions—including her guardian, the giant parrot Beccaroon, the wizard Fenworth, and his librarian Librettowit—and sets out on a quest, eventually witnessing the loving care and miraculous resources of Wulder.

Join new characters and old friends on a journey into a fantasy that inhabits the same world as the DragonKeeper Chronicles, but in a different country and an earlier time, where the people know little of Wulder and nothing of Paladin.

link to publisher

It was with some trepidation that I agreed to review this book. I love fantasy. I was 3 when my father started reading the Chronicles of Narnia to me. Probably three-quarters of the books I devoured in grade school were fantasy/scifi (or history, but that’s a different story). Tolkien, Lewis, L’Engle, Le Guin, Alexander…and so on. I also write fantasy myself, have studied worldbuilding (love it!) and other elements vital to such stories.

Needless to say, I felt I had a pretty good background to critique such a book. HOWEVER, the previous modern Christian fantasies I’d read were merely okay to abominable, not to mention preachy and/or treacly (and I’ve talked with enough Christian fantasy readers to know I’m not the only one who feels this way). For example, Raising Dragons by Bryan Davis was so bad that after about 3 chapters I skipped to the ending, was highly unimpressed by that, and promptly returned the books to the library. It’s almost as if there is such a lack of writers in Christian fantasy that even the blandest/most mediocre of efforts can find a publisher. The writers ignore such things as “show, don’t tell,” and “Hook your reader with the very first sentence.”

I winced when I read the first sentence of The Vanishing Sculptor: “Sir Beccaroon cocked his head, ruffled his neck feathers, and stretched, allowing his crimson wings to spread.” Do you know how hard the critiquers at Miss Snark’s First Victim would have nailed that sentence?

The next 2 or 3 pages are all description, which I guess is supposed to be worldbuilding, but which came across as turgid. If I’d not been reviewing the book, I probably would have read no further. As it was, I didn’t really get into the story until oh, chapter 25 or 26.

BUT, about midway through the book, things started rolling along, and I actually enjoyed reading the rest of the story. Also, Donita Paul does manage to balance the two sides (good doctrine vs. good fantasy) fairly well. Which is very difficult to do. I know. I’ve tried.

So, I guess I would have to say, as far as Christian fantasy goes, this is pretty good. In fact, I just passed the book on to a young (12 year old) friend of mine, saying she would probably like it.

Steampunk Reviews

So I was taking one of those ubiquitous quizzes on Facebook. This one was “What kind of Science Fiction reader are you?” I thought that sounded like a pretty cool quiz. But I was quite surprised by the results. It suggested “Steampunk.” I’d never even heard of steampunk.

According to Wikipedia,

Steampunk is a sub-genre of fantasy and speculative fiction that came into prominence in the 1980s and early 1990s. The term denotes works set in an era or world where steam power is still widely used—usually the 19th century, and often Victorian era England—but with prominent elements of either science fiction or fantasy, such as fictional technological inventions like those found in the works of H. G. Wells and Jules Verne, or real technological developments like the computer occurring at an earlier date. Other examples of steampunk contain alternate history-style presentations of “the path not taken” of such technology as dirigibles, analog computers, or digital mechanical computers (such as Charles Babbage’s Analytical Engine); these frequently are presented in an idealized light, or with a presumption of functionality.

I love alternate history/historical fantasy, so I said, “Okay. I’ll bite.” and ordered a few of the books on the list. I had already read ‘The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen,’ thought the idea was fascinating (though the book itself left much to be desired).

The first two to come in were Howl’s Moving Castle by Diana Wynne Jones and The Diamond Age by Neal Stephenson (William Gibson’s The Difference Engine is awaiting me at the library).

Now I’ve run out of time to do really in-depth reviews (books are due today), but I must say I did enjoy them. Howl’s Moving Castle is more like fantasy than science fiction to my way of thinking, and the sequel House of Many Ways is the same. But they’re both delightful reads, well-written and funny, for kids and adults. I especially like Sophie 🙂

The Diamond Age (or, A Young Lady’s Illustrated Primer) was fascinating. I’m not sure I liked the book, as in the characters (except Nell) or plot or ending, but the writing was superb and the world-building incredible. I’d recommend it for older readers, mostly because of the Drummers and their ‘Wet Net’, which are very sexual in nature.

Book Review: Never Say Diet

Never Say Diet

The Never Say Diet Personal Fitness Trainer

Chantel Hobbs

Summary: After years of failed diet attempts, Chantel Hobbs discovered the missing ingredient to permanent weight loss: to change your life, you first have to change the way you think.

She developed a balanced plan for exercise and nutrition and lost two hundred pounds. Now, through writing, speaking, and her work as a personal trainer, she inspires others to achieve far more than they thought possible.

In Never Say Diet, now available in trade paperback, Chantel provides everything readers need to lose weight for good, including:

  • Simple, step-by-step workout routines that fit into a normal weekday schedule
  • A realistic approach to nutrition that helps people break their bondage to food
  • Strategies for staying motivated when life takes unexpected turns
  • Keys to dealing with discouragement by relying on God’s strength
  • The secret to moving beyond past failures and getting over old excuses

Chantel helps readers make the five commitments that are necessary for changing their lives. Her high-energy, no-nonsense approach inspires readers to achieve results that last in body, mind, and spirit.

Personal Trainer: Her newest book, The Never Say Diet Personal Fitness Coach, now allows readers to have Chantel show up each week to inspire, encourage, and energize them on the journey to a healthy life that centers on body, mind, and spirit.

This fitness guide helps readers set new weight-loss goals and create an exercise schedule that works in the midst of life’s constant demands. Readers will be inspired with Scripture, and they will welcome Chantel’s healthy eating plan with simple, energy-and-nutrition-packed recipes. Weekly checklists and personal evaluations direct readers in reaching their goals. Plus, Chantel’s personal and entertaining stories provide the motivation needed to get through even the most frustrating days.

With Never Say Diet and The Never Say Diet Personal Fitness Coach readers will establish new fitness habits that burn off excess weight, increase strength, and establish a new, healthy way of living.

Okay, so I don’t usually read diet books. Yes, I need to lose weight–according to my BMI, I’m obese (by all of three pounds). However, I’m one of those “active but overweight” people. I do Zumba twice a week, and 40+ minutes on the treadmill at least two other days, preferably more. I can do a day-long hike without keeling over half-dead. I did Irish stepdancing up until last September (I’d still be doing it, but the class wasn’t on an available night for me). I don’t eat refined sugar or corn syrup. No matter what I eat or don’t eat, I’ve been the same weight (within 5 pounds) for well over a year now. Most people think I’m quite a bit lighter than I am. The bottom line is, I’ve never hit the rock bottom that Chantel describes, at least not as far as the way I look. But food does have a definite hold over me. I like to eat. I enjoy (far too much) the way things taste, to the point of overeating because it tastes so gooooood.

That’s why the key thing I brought away from this book is that food is fuel, not your main source of fun (or worse, comfort). At one point in the program, she has you make your meals nutritious, but boring (though not permanently), because changing the way you look at food is the only way to break its hold over you. And I can see that. In fact, that thought now goes through my head almost every time I wonder “What am I in the mood for?” That’s the wrong question, according to Chantel. The right question is “What does my body need?”

Her program seems to be a straight-forward deal, and fairly easy to remember, though it still takes plenty of willpower to follow. More willpower than most of us have. That’s why the all-important first step is surrendering our will to God’s. He wants us to be healthy, and it is only through His strength that we can turn from the idol of food (‘you cannot serve both God and chocolate’).

There were a couple of areas that I did have problems with. One is food allergies/intolerances. I’ve a lot of them. Many of her meals call for lean poultry or fish–many times trying to eat chicken/turkey and/or fish (even tuna) makes me nauseous. Same thing for eggs. Nor can I do the Kashi thing. I like Kashi. Used to eat it all the time…until I discovered that oatmeal gave me headaches. Corn’s another thing I have to avoid, including popcorn. My husband has Crohn’s, so he has issues with things like celery or lettuce. You know, those good fibery vegetables. My daughter can’t eat so many things that we don’t even usually take her into consideration when making meal plans. I make all her bread at home, which means plain white bread (though with unbleached flour), because making whole wheat bread is a royal pain in the boohickey.

Some of the exercises I have issues with too. The cardio isn’t too much of a problem–I do that already. The ones that get me are the ones with the stability ball. I’ve had a lot of back problems (and legs, and knees, and feet, and neck), and the exercises she shows tend to exacerbate my bad spots. I think she chose the stability ball because it’s easy to use and keep at home, but there are other methods of working the core muscles (which is her main goal as near as I could tell) that are a lot kinder to the body. I know this because my physical therapist made me do a whole slew of them.

Overall, Never Say Diet was a hard-hitting, workable, sensible book. I think those of us who struggle with saying no to food can get a great deal out of it.

Book Review: When the Soul Mends

When the Soul Mends

Sisters of the Quilt Book 3

Cindy Woodsmall

Publisher’s Summary: After receiving a desperate and confusing call from her sister, Hannah Lapp reluctantly returns to the Old Order Amish community of her Pennsylvania childhood.

Having left Owl’s Perch more than two years earlier, she finally has settled into a satisfying role in the Englischer world. Hannah has found love and a new family with the wealthy Martin Palmer and the children she is helping him raise; and her life-long dream of being part of the medical community is being realized. But almost immediately after her arrival, the disapproval of those who ostracized her, including her headstrong father, reopens old wounds.

As Hannah is thrown together with former fiance Paul Waddell to work for her sister Sarah’s mental health, hidden truths surface about the events during Hannah’s absence, and she faces an agonizing decision. Will she choose the Englischer world and the man who restored her hope, or will she heed the call to return to the Plain life–and perhaps to her first love?

When the Soul Mends is the final book in this series (called “Sisters of the Quilt,” which is something of a misnomer, since quilts play only a very small role in the story), and the one I liked best.
The basis of the book is that Sarah, who has only a precarious hold on sanity, gets a hold of Hannah and begs her to come home. As Hannah reconnects with those who turned their backs on her, many secrets come to the surface. SPOILER ALERT: By far the most important secret revealed is that Paul had tried to contact Hannah, as she had tried to contact him, and their attempts had been purposely sabotaged by a jealous girl. This places Hannah in the dilemma of having to chose between Martin and Paul. END SPOILER.

I was pleased by the ending. Yes, parts of it seemed to come out of nowhere (at least it did on the first reading–on the second I was looking for the clues, and they were there), but it fit the characters far better than some of the previous scenarios. And while the epilogue seems a bit “Quick! Make sure everybody ends up happy!”, so what? I like happy endings. I far prefer them over “realistic” endings. If I want realism, I’ll go read a newspaper and get myself royally depressed.

SPOILER ALERT: I was especially glad that Hannah goes back to her Plain ways. One of the big hangups of When the Morning Comes (Book 2) was how quickly Hannah seemed to throw off her Amish upbringing and embraced the Englischer world. Turns out she hadn’t really left those ways behind, that she wanted to return to a simpler life, and that the Englisher world, and more importantly, Martin’s world, made her very uncomfortable. END SPOILER.

Over all, When the Soul Mends is a pretty good read, a nice break from the madness of my quilting business and the holidays. I probably won’t keep it (my bookshelf space is so limited I have to be brutal with what I keep), but I did reread parts of it (especially the last seven or eight chapters) for enjoyment, because I’m a sucker for a good romantic ending.