Appalachian Serenade (review)

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Appalachian Serenade (Appalachian Blessings, #.5)Appalachian Serenade by Sarah Loudin Thomas

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

When 33-year-old widow Delilah Morrissey comes back home to Wise, West Virginia to live with her sister Charlotte, husband Ed and daughter Perla, she’s not the happiest person. Her husband of 14 years has recently died but his disastrous handling of their money has left her penniless. She had a good job in Chicago but it’s 1945, the war has recently ended, and her job has been given to a returning soldier. When she overhears Ed grousing to Charlotte about her being an imposition, she determines to help out in any way she can.

Robert Thornton, upper-30s bachelor, owns the general store in Wise. He loves chatting with his customers but his garrulous manner doesn’t make for efficiency when it comes to serving people quickly and he can’t seem to keep good help. Pretty Delilah catches his eye when she makes her first trip into town. She aids a fellow female customer and her intuitive advice has Robert daydreaming about how great her presence would be for business.

A donkey-drawn pony cart, lots of misunderstandings between these middle-aged singles, plus the reappearance of Robert’s old flame, newly separated but now with four kids in tow, add spice and humor to this historical romance novella.

Delilah and Bob’s decisions are molded by their faith and their romance is thoroughly chaste (in other words, no hot-and-heavy love scenes).

Appalachian Serenade by Sarah Loudin Thomas is a prequel to her first full-length book, Miracle in a Dry Season, which picks up the story of Delilah’s niece Perla in 1954. As of this writing, Appalachian Serenade is a free Kindle download at Amazon.com. (It also contains the first few chapters of Miracle in a Dry Land, Book 1 in the Appalachian Blessings series, which I actually enjoyed more than Appalachian Serenade. Miracle in a Dry Season is scheduled to release in early August 2014.)

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Life Behind the Wall (review)

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Life Behind the Wall - Robert ElmerLife Behind the Wall: Candy Bombers, Beetle Bunker, and Smuggler’s Treasure by Robert Elmer

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Life Behind the Wall is a collection of three novella-length stories for the YA crowd. Each is set in part of Berlin in a different time period between 1948 and 1989.

Book One, Candy Bomber, begins in the summer of 1948. Erich Becker, a 13-year-old Berlin resident, hates the Americans whose bombs wrecked his city and killed his father. He regularly prowls Berlin’s Tempelhof Airport, sneaking into U.S. cargo planes in search of food for his hungry mother and grandmother. He meets U.S. soldier DeWitt who is a journalist, befriends Erich, and writes a story about the hungry children of Berlin. He comes around to Erich’s house with bags of treats like canned peaches and takes Erich and his cousin Katarina up in his plane to do some candy drops over Berlin neighborhoods.

Soon it becomes clear that DeWitt’s interest is in more than Erich. He wants to marry Erich’s mother and move the family to the States. Will Erich be able to forgive the Americans for what he holds against them?

Book Two, Beetle Bunker, begins in 1961. Its main character, 13-year-old Sabine, is a polio survivor who hobbles around on crutches. She lives with her mother, grandmother (Oma Poldi Becker), older brother Erich (from book one), Onkel Heinz, and Tante Gertrud in Oma’s crowded flat in East Berlin.

In this book we see the Berlin wall erected and are part of a daring tunneling attempt to escape from the East to West sectors of the city.

Book Three, Smuggler’s Treasure, begins in 1989. Liesl, the 13-year-old daughter of Sabine and Willi (from book two), lives in West Berlin. She tries to act cool the day she and mother are stopped at the checkpoint and thoroughly questioned on their way to visit Uncle Erich who still lives in the Communist side of the city. Mother and Uncle Erich are most upset when they find she has stuffed her stockings and clothes with slim Bibles. She gets into more trouble when she digs into the family history while researching for a school project and still more when she joins some older kids in a protest at the wall.

This part of the story sees the Berlin Wall come down and also reveals the mysteries surrounding Sabine’s father (Liesl’s grandfather).

These stories offer a great experience of another time in history. They show firsthand the poverty, bravery, resilience, and resourcefulness of the people of East and West Berlin during the Cold War era. They are also an example of how the divided city affected families.

The setting seems realistic with its atmosphere of suspicion and secrecy. Characters must be careful not to be seen with the wrong people or overheard saying the wrong things because they don’t know who to trust and who might be snitching on them to the authorities. Chapter numbers in German and lots of other German words and expressions sprinkled throughout also give a feeling of authenticity to these stories.

None of the main character kids in these books are content to sit around. The stories are fast-paced and filled with adventure and danger. The age of each of the heroes (13) tells us that these books will appeal to tweens and early teens.

The end of Book One has a “How It Really Happened” section that explains which events in that story actually happened. All the books conclude with a set of “Questions for Further Study” designed to deepen and broaden the reading experience for individuals or groups.

As well as giving YA readers three interesting and fun stories, this book would be excellent supplementary reading for home schoolers and Christian school classes doing a study of the Cold War period (all three books are written from a Christian point-of-view).

I received Life Behind The Wall as a gift from the publisher (Zondervan-Zonderkidz) for the purpose of writing a review.

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Cecile’s Christmas Miracle (review)

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Kathi Macias' 12 Days of Christmas Volume 7Kathi Macias’ 12 Days of Christmas Volume 7 by Ruth L. Snyder

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Cecile’s preparations for Christmas this year are nothing like they were last year when she lived in Alberta. Now, as a nurse working with the San Bushmen people of Botswana, she’s covering up to protect herself from the burning Kalahari sun instead of Alberta’s frigid winds, concerned with the medical surprises and challenges she’ll encounter each day at the clinic, and re-evaluating. Has she made the right decision to come out here as a missionary? Her life would be so different if she’d accept Colin’s proposal

Thoughts about her decision are only complicated by the fact that she really does still care for Colin. But best leave all that behind. For such a handsome young doctor has surely found someone else by now.

Snyder’s familiarity with missionary life in Botswana hints at first-hand experience. The details of the foreign setting help us feel the burning heat, smell the stench of sickness and decaying flesh, and experience Cecile’s nervousness as she faces government officials who are determined to shut her clinic down.

I found the story—told from two points of view: Cecile’s and Colin’s—captivating, inspirational, and short. The novella-length makes this the perfect choice for when you need a break from your Christmas busy, baking, shopping, or wrapping gifts.

And I think you will find, like I did, that this little miracle tale adds depth and breadth to your sense of what Christmas is really about.

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