Wednesday, August 26, 2009

A Promise for Spring, by Kim Vogel Sawyer

At its heart, A Promise for Spring is the story of two people who need to be reminded that God is not only in control, but that He is trustworthy.
Emmaline Bradford is a gently-reared Englishwoman who has waited five long years to join her fiance, Geoffrey Garrett, in Kansas. To her shock, when she finally reaches her destination she finds Kansas to be brown and barren and Geoffrey to be someone she no longer remembers. She wants to head back to England as soon as possible, but Geoffrey persuades her to wait until spring.
The details of farm life in what I imagine to be the late 1800’s (A Promise for Spring doesn’t spell out the date) are fascinating and true to life. Sawyer doesn't gloss over any of the hardships facing Emmaline. One tidbit in the book that I especially enjoyed was that one of Geoffrey's neighbors pronounces her name "Emmalion." For some reason that tickled me. As the story goes on, we see that Emmaline truly is a lion when it comes to facing down fearful situations.
Geoffrey's challenges in maintaining a sheep ranch are also well-researched and authentic. His forceful personality works for him as a rancher, but doesn’t win him Emmaline's regard at first. How they both resolve their difficulties kept me turning pages until I reached the satisfying conclusion.
Start with "Emmalion" and Geoffrey, add in two ranch hands and the above-mentioned neighbors and A Promise for Spring equals an enjoyable read. I recommend it.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Just One Look, by Harlan Coben

What can I say about a book by Harlan Coben? Exciting, page turning? Yes, but after reading one or two of his novels I find they're all cut from the same mold. It's like going to McDonald's for a meal. You know what you're going to get, so that’s why you go there.
Same with Just One Look. Having read a couple of other of Coben’s books, I knew this would follow a pattern. That’s why I picked it up—when I’m in the mood for a fun, escapist read, there’s no one like Coben to provide it for me.
The plot line of Just One Look concerns Grace Lawson, who discovers a mysterious photograph mixed in with her order from Photomat. (Remember film developing? This story has a 2004 copyright date.) The picture is of a group of young people, and one of them looks like her husband. Mystified, she shows him the photo, and that evening he disappears.
The fast-moving story follows Grace’s efforts to find him. The police think he simply left, as husbands sometimes do, and don’t take her concerns seriously. There are multiple plot twists, and one very creepy bad guy. Coben twisted this plot like the gears of a clock—it was impossible for me to put it all together until the last cog fell into place at the end of the book.
Just One Look is a great airplane read—you won’t notice how long you’re stuck in that uncomfortable little seat because you’ll be so busy racing through the story.

Monday, August 3, 2009

Shadows of Lancaster County, by Mindy Starns Clark

The cover picture makes the story look like an Amish tale, but for the most part I'd call Shadows of Lancaster County a mystery/thriller. The plot concerns Anna Bailey, who fled Lancaster County to escape a painful past. She's in California making her living as a skip tracer when she receives a phone call from her brother's wife informing her that her brother, Bobby, has disappeared.

Anna realizes she has no choice but to go back and help find him.Even though she's disguised her appearance, it's not long before she's recognized as part of a notorious crime that took place when she was a teenager. Her search for Bobby takes her back into the Amish family of her sister-in-law, then draws her deeper into the mystery surrounding his disappearance. Following the trail her brother left, she’s drawn into the high tech world of DNA research and cutting edge gene therapy.

As Anna digs deeper, she begins to suspect that nothing is quite what it seems in the peaceful world her brother inhabited. Shadows of Lancaster County builds to an exciting climax, both in the current mystery of what happened to Bobby and in revelations about the crime of which Anna and her brother were accused eleven years earlier.

The fast-paced story has many moments of high tension, but it seemed to me that it peaked too soon. The last chapters read more like the denouement than a climax. This is not to say that I didn’t like the story. Clark’s sharp research into DNA and genetics gave a gripping air of authenticity to Shadows of Lancaster County. I recommend the book, and would love to hear from other readers as to their opinion of the way the story lines were concluded.