Monday, September 15, 2014

Book Review: The River

When it comes to Amish Fiction, a synonymous term should be author Beverly Lewis.  Beloved for her story lines, pure writing, and intriguing details of Amish life, she is credited for creating the genre.

I had an opportunity to read and review a copy of her latest stand alone novel The River.  

Lewis engages the reader with a beautiful cover and a slightly different approach to her typical novel structure- a sister pair who left the Plain life given an opportunity to return for a rare celebration.  Though they had never made their vow to the church, relationships remained rocky and unknown as they faced family and friends for the first time since their departure.  Though Tilly and Ruthie left for separate reasons, their return is equally uneasy. Haunted by the afternoon they lost their baby sister to drowning in the River and by past relationships, the sisters bravely return home.  The path of reconciliation is not easy and comes with unexpected announcements.

Lewis is really in a class by herself when it comes to Amish fiction, and even this is not her best work in my opinion, it is still worth the read.  It engages the reader with enough twists in the plot and fulfills the desire for reconciliation in many of the story lines.  Long time readers will find the book still enjoyable due to its uniqueness of story lines.

While I love Lewis and the genre in general, I did overall not care for the book.  Not a bad read, just not in the top 'must reads' for the genre.  I felt the story would have worked well more in a short story or novella form.  It was dragged out with twists that did not make sense or fit nicely within the story.  I felt the reconciliation was too fictitious to be believe considering the years of hardship that were faced.  I also felt the river and loss of sister became much less important to the story than the other conflicts.  As a reader of Amish fiction I was also confused by the relationships presented (spoiling uncle, spoiling parents, lack of 'shunning' type of behavior, or interventions by a bishop).  The fact that this was an Amish family did not seem believable based on other stories presented by the same author.

All in all, The River is not a bad read, but if it is your first time to the genre of Amish fiction, seek out some of the earlier classics or series by Lewis.

3 out of 5 stars.

*I was given a copy of the book in return for my honest review.

Thursday, September 4, 2014

Book Review: Blessed are the Peacemakers

The Berenstain Bears are a classic literature standby for children.  From trips to grandma's, the consequences of eating too many sweets, or dealing with school troubles, the bear family has learned life's lessons for decades.  In a renewed aspect, the lovable family from bear country has stepped beyond solving moral dilemmas and has reached into adding the spiritual basis for these character traits.  Now published by ZonderKids, The Berenstain Bears have incorporated church, faith, and scripture into their timeless tales.

I had the opportunity to read and review the newest addition to the collection The Berenstain Bears:  Blessed are the Peacemakers as a member of the BookLook blogger program. While I received the book for free, the opinions are unbiased and my own (and my children's).

Blessed are the Peacemakers is the story of two groups of 'gang' bears who just can't seem to get a long- the big bully troublemakers and the nerdy weaklings.  Brother and Sister Bear (of course) are friends with both groups are so are stuck in the middle as they reach to resolve peace in the Country School.  The tensions rise with the casting of rivals in the roles of "Romeo & Juliet". The sparks fly at the play even with the adults until the squire and preacher come to save the day by quoting peacemaker scripture.

I wanted to love this book.  I loved the Berenstain Bears growing up.  The characters had depth and reality.  They were not perfect 'people' but they were grounded by their love for each other and by good character.  These books leave the Bear Family as flat, uninteresting characters with seemingly a 'holier than thou' attitude.  The other characters are so blatantly type case and in a way that I'm surprised flies in today's culture. (Gangs?  Really?)  Instead of focusing on the scripture of being peacemakers and how people are blessed when they are obedient to Christ's command, the storyline focuses on the fights.  The scripture is thrown out by a character and never really explain or followed through.  I was left thirsty for more of an explanation on peacemaking from the verse than what was shared.  This story could have been great if the kids had learned to get along and then in turn taught their parents.  The connections between peacemaking on the playground and the stage were disjointed.  (My children ages 8 and 4 were confused by the 'the play got too real so the kid freaked out' segment).

I love the concept.  I love tying scripture into 'moral' books and making the connection of where good character traits come from.  I hope the other efforts done by ZonderKidz and Berestain are more effective.

Mike Berenstain has tried to maintain the quality and integrity of the books his parents started, but this unfortunately does not match up.  While it won't be a huge waste of money or time ($3.99 retail) I wouldn't rush to buy it either.