Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Review - Wind Catcher by Jeff & Erynn Altabef

Juliet Wildfire Stone hears voices and sees visions, but she can’t make out what they mean. Her eccentric grandfather tells her stories about the Great Wind Spirit and Coyote, but he might as well be speaking another language. None of it makes any sense.

When she stumbles upon a series of murders she can't help but worry her grandfather might be involved. To discover the truth, Juliet must choose between her new life at an elite private school and her Native American heritage. Once she uncovers an ancient secret society formed over two hundred years ago to keep her safe, she starts to wonder whether there’s some truth to those old stories her grandfather has been telling her.

All she wants is to be an average sixteen-year-old girl, but she has never been average—could never be average.

Betrayed by those she loves, she must decide whether to run or risk everything by fulfilling her destiny as the Chosen.

First of all, I would like to say how much I love the cover for Wind Catcher by Jeff and Erynn Altabef. It's bright and the colors are stunning. It's what got me interested in reviewing this story right off the bat.  I'm a sucker for a pretty sunset and the twisting arrows in the center were an interesting (and integral) element.

Juliet seems stuck between two worlds. The Bartens world, where she doesn't feel she fits in. To them she's "Indian Trash" and won't ever be labeled as anything else. Not by the "popular" kids at least. And the world she left behind when she went to Bartens. The world with her friends, her not-boyfriend Troy, and her grandfather.

The gruesome torture and subsequent murder of one of her grandfather's friends sets a giant snowball rolling down hill and she's powerless to stop it. All she can seem to do is stand in front of it and wait for it to pick her up and take her with it. She finds out that she's part of an ancient... prophecy... if you will. She is "the Chosen" and the fate of the world, quite literally, is in her hands.

But no one wants to be honest with her. Her mother and grandfather have lied to her her whole life. And now Troy isn't being honest with her either. Teachers are keeping secrets. Friends of friends... everyone knows something that they don't want to tell her. It's driving her up the wall. All she wants is to understand what's going on.... and then leave it behind. She wants no part in it. She doesn't want to be "the Chosen". She wants to be normal.

She can't ever be "normal" again.


I love stories with Native American influence. I love the culture and the heritage. So I loved Juliet's grandfather. And the fact that he was a Medicine Man with stories upon stories that he wanted to tell her. It made me sad that she didn't want to hear them anymore. Because it meant that I didn't get to hear them either.

The story established the conflict pretty quickly. People dying. Horrible deaths. Juliet's grandfather seems to be involved somehow but no one can quite figure it out, and she won't ask him until she's pieced together enough of the puzzle to get a straight answer from him.

Ok. So we find things out the slow way. That's fine with me. I like the build up of a good mystery. I like the suspense. I also like plot twists and surprises. I like the idea of an ancient society sworn to protect the coming of the one who would save their world. I liked that the Chosen was Juliet. That the fate of human kind rested, not on a man or an arrogant boy... but a girl who, on the outside, appeared to be just like every other 16 year old girl in creation. Struggling to find her place and figure out who she is in the grand scheme of things.

I liked her grandfather, Jake... or... Sicheii as she refers to him. I liked that he held on to the traditions of his culture. And that he attempted, however fruitless his attempts were, to continue to pass those traditions on to Juliet. He loved her dearly, and gave everything he had for her.

Troy seemed to be her rock. The strong pillar in her crumbling world. The one who would always be there for her, even in spite of all of her temper tantrums and the silent treatment. I loved that this story was not fixated on making him her target. Yes, she expressed feelings for him... but the book was NOT about her pining away for him. Or running after him. Or throwing herself at him. There was no insta-love, or love triangle or love rhombus... whatever you want to call it. He was her best friend and, as sometimes happens with best friends, he became a little something more than that. Even if not in an official capacity. And even if she thought he didn't feel the same way.

I got lost, however, during the detailing of Juliet's dreams. They seemed out of place with the rest of the story. Almost like a completely different story line developed half way through the book. The turn the book took toward the end kind of felt forced. In my opinion, it just didn't mesh with the rest of the story. It was interesting, don't get me wrong. And Juliet totally went from zero to badass in about 10 seconds flat... but her transformation happened so quickly I don't feel like I had enough of a chance to get excited about it before things ended.

Wind Catcher hooked me as a Native American YA Fantasy. It took a turn from that and veered more in to the Sci-Fi toward the end. Not that I don't like Sci-Fi... I just think that maybe that element should have been woven a little bit more in to the earlier story to better integrate the two ideas and keep the flow of the story more smooth.

With that being said, it is definitely an interesting story. And like I mentioned, I'm sure a LOT of people can identify with Juliet in the beginning. If you're looking for a new sci-fi/fantasy read I suggest this one. If you're looking for a good, suspenseful mystery I suggest this one. Just hold on to your seat and be prepared for some twists and turns you're not expecting!

Monday, March 9, 2015

Review & Giveaway - Harvest of Blessings by Charlotte Hubbard

The tranquil little town of Willow Ridge is facing a startling challenge. Wealthy Nora Glick Landwehr is determined to make it her home again--and put her past to rest. Cast out by her own family, Nora can't reconcile with Old Amish ways or her strict father. But she'll do anything to help her community embrace the future . . . and make amends to the daughter she had to give up. So, she certainly has no time for her reckless new neighbor Luke Hooley. They disagree about almost everything. And how can she trust him if he always seems to believe the worst about her? Somehow, though, his unexpected support and passionate heart are helping her find her own way in faith. And Nora will discover that even in the face of insidious lies and unyielding judgment, God creates unexpected chances for forgiveness--and love.

I'm so glad I got to read Harvest of Blessings by Charlotte Hubbard, book 5 in the Seasons of the Heart series. True to form, it was fantastic. Just like the rest of the series.

Unlike the other books, though, this centered, NOT on a member of the Lantz family, but on Preacher Gabe Glick's estranged daughter, Nora Landwehr. When Preacher Gabe found out his daughter was pregnant he demanded she name the father, so that he could be held responsible. She refused to name him and was sent away to live with her aunt. After giving birth her baby girl wound up in Willow Ridge, but she did not.

For 16 years Nora lived an English life and even married an English man. She's moving back to Willow Ridge because she's decided the flashy, expensive English life she'd been living was not for her. She desired a more Plain existence but also to reconnect with her family... and the little girl she dropped on her brother's doorstep 16 years before.


Leave it to Hiram to be at the center of the drama in this story. Nora actually buys his home on Bishops Ridge but Hiram believes that entitles him to WAY more freedom than is actually allowed of a business transaction. He's no longer just committing sins unbecoming of a Bishop in the Amish culture, but things that are bordering on abusive and illegal in all sorts of ways. Yuck.

Nora is a different kind of character. In many ways, more experienced in the world than her Amish counterparts, having lived English for half of her life. I like that she goes home though. That she decides the English life isn't what she wants. And I like how persistent she is trying to patch things up with her family. She's a strong woman who, even though EVERY OBSTACLE POSSIBLE was placed in front of her, never gave up hope. Not truly anyway.

Millie was just like her mother. Kind-hearted and strong in ways she couldn't have understood for someone so young. She sacrificed time she could have spent running around having fun, deciding whether or not the Amish church was something she wanted to be a part of, and dedicated herself to taking care of her grandparents.

Luke Hooley... definitely not his brother, Ben, but not bad in his own respect. Still not a member of the church in his 30s, and really not in the mood to settle down with anyone. Until Nora comes along. Then it's like someone has hit him with a sack of potatoes and Nora is all he can think about. And good thing, too. It seems that Luke has a habit of showing up in places at just the right time, manages to rescue Nora from nasty Hiram several times. Messes up once... but sometimes that is what happens when you fall for someone and get jealous.

I wasn't too fond of Ira Hooley at first. He seemed too dismissive for Millie. And when he saw Nora it was like Millie didn't exist to him at all. Forget that he was twice her age. He redeemed himself though. Which was surprising. And he was extremely good to Millie when her world was turned upside down. Or, as they say in the book, her applecart was overturned.

The story had some shocking twists and revelations. And like I said, Hiram pushed the envelope QUITE a bit. But I loved how Willow Ridge, for the most part, rallied around Nora to help her. Even some of the decisions she made weren't exactly in line with the Amish way of thinking. Makes me wish the town were a place I could actually go visit. And it was great to see all the familiar names from Cedar Creek (One Big Happy Family & Home at Cedar Creek) pop up quite a few times. I miss them.

The book was lovely. Ms. Hubbard's books are never without their share of drama and excitement and are always uplifting. They have a way of making you feel better just for the fact that you've read them. They become stories that you hate to close the book on because you've known the characters so long they almost feel like friends. And you don't want to say goodbye. So, as always, Harvest of Blessings is a highly recommended read. Whether you've read the other books in the series or not. I suggest that you DO pick up the other books, but it's not necessary. Just makes things that much more enjoyable.

Drawing upon her experiences in Jamesport, the largest Old Order Amish community west of the Mississippi, longtime Missourian Charlotte Hubbard (a.k.a. Naomi King) writes of simpler times and a faith-based lifestyle in her new Seasons of the Heart series. Like her heroine, Miriam Lantz, Charlotte considers it her personal mission to feed people—to share hearth and home. Faith and family, farming and food preservation are hallmarks of her lifestyle, and the foundation of her earlier Angels of Mercy series. She’s a deacon, a dedicated church musician and choir member, and when she’s not writing, she loves to try new recipes, crochet, and sew. Charlotte now lives in Minnesota with her husband and their border collie.

Excerpt from Harvest of Blessings by Charlotte Hubbard

When Nora swung open the restroom door, she nearly ran into Hiram Knepp before she saw him in the shadowy hallway. He was leaning against the wall as though he’d been waiting for her to come out. He shifted quickly, so he was blocking her exit.

“Looking good,” he murmured with a devilish smile.

Nora somehow contained her irritation. “Hiram,” she said with a curt nod. “If you’ll excuse me—”

“Oh, there’s no excuse for you today,” he quipped as his gaze roamed the length of her. “You and Hooley are as mismatched as a thoroughbred racehorse yoked to an ox. What do you see in him, anyway?”

Nora didn’t try to break past him, because that would bring her into contact with the arm he’d planted against the wall, right at her chest level. “You’re entitled to your opinion,” she muttered, “but—”

“But I’m really here with a proposition,” Hiram interrupted. “A business proposition, that is.”

As he moved closer, Nora had nowhere to go but backwards, into the deeper shadow. As her back found the wall she instinctively bent one leg up, so her knee was in a strategic position. She remained silent, making Hiram talk while she figured out how to get out of this trap he’d set.

“Several friends have told me how excited they are to be consigning items to your new store,” Hiram continued. “What a shame it would be if your business went belly-up. Most small businesses—especially those owned by women—fail within the first year because they’re undercapitalized. I’d like to help prevent that.”

I just bet you would, Nora thought, but she kept her mouth shut. Anything she said would give him more ammunition.

Hiram smirked. “Miriam Hooley and Andy Leitner can attest to that,” he stated. “They couldn’t keep their doors open if they didn’t have a benefactor who owned their buildings and relieved them of all that overhead. So what if I bought my barn back?” he asked. “What if I became your silent partner, Nora?”

“No way,” she muttered. “I don’t care to pay the sort of interest you’d expect.”

Hiram’s chuckle echoed in the small hallway. “Nora, my dear,” he protested in a silky voice. “You misunderstand my—”

The door to the mens’ room swung open so hard it hit the wall.

“The lady said no, Knepp,” Luke snapped as he stepped into the hallway. “I’ve got zero tolerance for snakes, so you’d better slither back into your hole. Got it?”

Hiram backed away from her. His jet black goatee rippled with his grin as he pointed first to Nora and then to Luke. “There’s just no accounting for taste, I guess,” he said with a shake of his head. “If you care to reconsider my offer, Nora, my door’s always open.”

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