Paige Torn by Erynn Mangum

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Paige Alder has a problem: She can’t say no to anyone. Whether it’s helping her best friend plan a party for her parents’ anniversary, or volunteering to teach two-year-olds at church. Not to mention the fact that she is still doing secretarial work at the adoption agency she works at, a position her boss loves to see her complete to perfection, though her degree qualifies her to take on actual cases. As she helps her best friend plan for her upcoming wedding, Paige learns that there is only one thing she can say no to- the cute guy at church who would like to take her to lunch. The reason? Too busy. Paige believes that serving is the best way to utilize the single years of her life, but when her busy schedule starts to keep her from devotional time and grocery shopping, Paige has to re-evaluate her priorities before she loses her sanity.

Pros

Paige is a charming, funny character who wins the readers heart and attention from the very beginning. Her struggle to balance doing good things while caring for herself is an important, relevant lesson for young adult readers today. Erynn Mangum’s novel is full of light humor, witty dialogue, and laughs.

Cons

While I enjoyed reading Paige’s story, the truth is- nothing really happens in this book, or hardly anything at all. Besides Paige’s romantic dalliance, there is next to zero tension or rising action in this novel. What’s more, the minor storylines don’t resolve themselves. Paige’s issues with time management and saying no are relatable to readers, but these problems don’t speak deep into Christian living. As a personal preference, I prefer books that speak to bigger issues that Christians face today.

Conclusion

Despite the fact that this book was pretty fluffy, I can’t deny the fact that I enjoyed reading it. Paige’s voice is bright, cheerful, and often hilarious. If you want a book that will give you plenty to laugh about but nothing too deep, you will likely enjoy this first title in Mangum’s Paige Adler Series.

Get your copy from Amazon or at your local library!

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How Sweet the Sound by Amy Sorrells

Summary

The Harlan family, known for their affluence and their best-selling pecan pies, appears to be the perfect family. But thirteen year-old Anniston knows that isn’t the case. Thanksgiving night, her family comes apart at the edges, frayed from years of deception, buried secrets, and broken hearts. A domestic shooting takes the lives of two of the Harlan men—Cole, the first-born, illegitimate son of Princella Harlan, and Rey, Anniston’s beloved father. Devastated by the violence, the loss, and the town-gossip, the Harlan family strives for normalcy, though Comfort, the third-born, no longer leaves the house. As Anniston begins to learn more of her family history, she finds strength and faith, instilled by her father’s memory, and a desire to bring hope and love to the most desperate of people.

Pros

The setting of this coming of age novel is vivid and engaging. The Harlan family has run their pecan plantation for years, and reading about their land and the small town surrounding them—including the biases, misconceptions, and gossip that shades every conversation—is realistic and engrossing.

Written in rich, descriptive language, Amy Sorrells tells the Harlan’s story through changing viewpoints. Through Anniston’s point of view, we learn all the secrets of the family as she does. Through Comfort’s story, we learn all the heartache and wounds that plague the family. Both women are strong, engaging characters with moving stories and beautiful voices.

Sorrells doesn’t shy away from difficult subjects, and she writes beautifully about characters dealing and healing from rape and abusive relationships, as well as judging people before you know them, suicide, alcoholism, and the dark, dangerous sin of gossip.

Cons

The opening pages of the novel are heart-wrenching and sudden, leaving the reader shocked and dismayed by what she has read. While the events were engaging, it was jarring as a reader to have so much happen right away, and it also made the pacing drop off afterward. The story slowed down dramatically afterward, dipping into the everyday life of the characters dealing with the aftermath. Then, toward the end of the novel, the events seemed a bit cinched in, too tight to allow the characters to breathe and respond.

With the emotionally heavy content, some of the storylines get a bit lost in the upheaval. For one, Anniston’s summer love with foster kid Jed who works on the farm, disappears part way through the book, leaving the reader to wonder how Anniston is coping with the loss of friendship. These are minor, subjective issues.

Note to the reader: Because the novel deals with multiple emotionally heavy situations and storylines, there is some content that is a bit graphic for younger readers. In addition, there is some strong language and innuendo.

Conclusion
How Sweet the Sound is a stunning coming of age novel with real characters, true stories, told through rich storytelling. If you enjoy character-driven fiction with a message of grace and hope, this is a book you won’t want to miss.

Get your copy of How Sweet the Sounds through David C Cook or at your local library!

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“Hidden Blessings” by Kim Cash Tate

Summary

Kendra Woods has everything—her dream job as partner at an affluent law firm in D.C., a bright future, and an upcoming wedding to her prince charming. But when a bruise on her chest causes her to make a doctor appointment, leery after her late mother’s battle with cancer, Kendra learns that she has stage IV inflammatory breast cancer. And it’s terminal. Stepping away from her career to undergo chemotherapy, Kendra also loses her fiance who isn’t willing to plan a future with someone who might only live a few more years. Kendra’s world is completely destroyed. She returns to her hometown to work with a doctor she trusts, and to stay with her estranged brother in her absent father’s home. But there’s little peace at home where her brother parties, does drugs, and Kendra is reminded of how her father disappeared after her mom died, only after his affair pushed her mom over the edge.

Not knowing that Kendra returned home, Kendra’s father offers a room in his house to Lance Alexander, a youth minister, in hopes that he will have a positive influence on Kendra’s brother, Trey. Lance disrupts life at the house by becoming a servant to both Trey and Kendra, cooking, cleaning up after Trey’s parties, and sharing how the love of Jesus changed him from an ex-criminal into a youth pastor. As Kendra and Trey begin to heal from the past, Lance starts a Bible study, bringing in neighbors and familiar faces from the past. The more Lance takes care of Kendra, the more she realizes how much she cares about him, and Lance sees how much he wants to take care of her—for better or worse, so long as they both shall live.

Pros

Kim Cash Tate’s moving novel covers a lot of hard-hitting questions Christians struggle with today. Why is there pain and suffering if our God is good? Why would God allow us to go through difficult trials instead of healing us? As Kendra deals with the disease ravaging her body, she finds hope in something greater, in life beyond the flesh, and love greater than death. This poignant story follows well-developed characters who struggle with different flaws. Even Lance, the “saint” of a preacher struggles to let go of the past, and the friendships formed through the novel challenge common stereotypes.

Cons

While I admire the author’s willingness to grapple with multiple emotionally taxing storylines, some of the development was lost in the story. Each character has a lot of baggage, which is true to life, but some of them seemed to change a bit abruptly with little struggle. Kendra’s progression through the novel was believable, but some other more minor characters got short-changed in the telling of the story.

Conclusion

Hidden Blessings in a compelling novel that forced me to stop and think about the value of life—living each day to the fullest, but also, maintaining an awareness of the life beyond death. Definitely a worthwhile read!
You can get your copy of Hidden Blessings through Thomas Nelson or at your local library.

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