The Masterpiece by Francine Rivers

978-1-4964-0790-0The Masterpiece is contemporary Christian fiction at its best. Having read and loved Redeeming Love, one of Rivers’s previous novels, I had an inkling that I would enjoy her newest work, fittingly titled The Masterpiece.

Many times Christian fiction can become a little too squeaky clean, which distracts from an exciting or enticing story line and pace. Being a Christian myself, I know that no one is perfect and Christians have just as many faults as everyone else. Therefore, Christian fiction should be real and not put on an act, pretending to be completely wholesome and pure. This is one of the reasons that I love Francine Rivers’s novels. Her characters all have major flaws and pasts that haunt them. Many times they feel like or even try giving up, but God is not done with them yet. Rivers has a knack for writing long books with unique plot lines and memorable characters, and The Masterpiece is no exception.

The Masterpiece is a story of survival, grief, forgiveness, family, and love. Famous LA artist, Roman Velasco has a very checkered past, even though his future looks bright to those who don’t really know him. The only person he lets get a little closer to him turns out to be a young, single mother named Grace, who becomes his personal assistant. Grace has been through many a tragedy and trial in her young life, but she knows and loves the Lord and leans on him in everything. Her parents died when she was a little girl, and God has become her one true father. Because of all the pain and bad relationships in her past, Grace keeps her distance and doesn’t have any interest in becoming romantically involved with anyone. Her only goal is to be able to support herself and her infant, Samuel, so that they can be together full time and she can be a devoted mother to him. She is determined not to let her past dictate her future. Roman, on the other hand, is distrusting and unstable. He doesn’t know the Lord. He lets his past mistakes and pain eat at him daily, unable to forgive or forget the horrible things he has done and seen in his young life. In and out of foster care during his childhood, running from the authorities, and tagging with graffiti in a gang, he is no stranger to the streets. No one knows his real name or the circumstances of his upbringing.

As Roman gets to know Grace, he starts to open up and question her about her devotion to God. When a new tragedy strikes, will Roman be strong enough to survive it?

Though this is a very long book, do not be intimidated. It only took me two days to read it, and I loved it. The story takes place in California and many of the landscapes and settings that are described are beautiful and breathtaking. The plot reads quickly, because it switches back and forth from present day back to the time when both Roman and Grace were children and teenagers. It is through the flashbacks that readers are able to get a better picture of the horrible things that Roman and Grace have both endured in their lives. I would highly recommend this novel for fans of Christian fiction, contemporary fiction, women’s fiction, romance, and even mainstream fiction. It has a little bit of everything between its covers. The ending was a tad bit predictable, but that was to be expected with the kind of story it is. Even so, it was rather enjoyable all the way to the last page.

Thank you to Tyndale House Publishers for the complimentary copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

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What Light by Jay Asher

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What Light will be published on October 18, 2016 by Razorbill (a Penguin imprint).

Though meant for the young adult audience, adults would really enjoy this story as well. With respect to many YA books, the language and romance are very tame. What Light was like a breath of fresh air, compared to some of the YA books that I have read which are full of sex scenes and unsavory language.

This is a perfect book to get into the Holiday season and spirit of giving. For Sierra, Christmas tree farming has been in her family for generations and it is her life. She looks forward to the Holiday season each year, when she temporarily moves from Oregon to California to set up a Christmas tree lot there. Having done so since she was 5, Sierra has developed a set of best friends and neighbors in each of her homes. This Holiday season, however, is going to be bittersweet because it may be Sierra’s last winter spent in California. Her family doesn’t know how much longer they can afford to keep the tree lot open in California during the Holiday season. As with all the years prior, Sierra spends her days working at the Christmas tree lot and her free time with her best friend, Heather.

Though determined not to, Sierra ends up meeting and falling for a guy. Right away, Sierra can tell that Caleb is unlike any of the guys she has known in the past. Sierra has heard rumors about his past and she wonders about the truth. How can a guy who uses his own hard earned money to purchase Christmas trees for others be as bad as the rumors suggest? As Sierra gets closer to Caleb, despite her father’s protests, the Holiday season is also drawing to an end. Once Sierra discovers the truth about Caleb, will she be able to move forward and help him find forgiveness?  Along with the themes of first love and friendship, this novel also has a large focus on family relationships. Sierra’s relationship with her parents will change a bit this Holiday season as well.

I truly loved this book, and I couldn’t put it down. It really put me into the spirit for the upcoming Holiday season. Jay Asher has a knack for creating real characters; characters we can see in those around us on a daily basis. I highly recommend this book!

Truly, Madly, Guilty by Liane Moriarty

9781250069795_0272eTruly, Madly, Guilty will be released on July 26, 2016.

This is a story of a simple backyard cookout between three families, neighbors and friends, – 6 adults, 3 children, and dog. What could possibly go wrong? From the very beginning of the story, it’s clear to the reader that something very bad happened at the party, but the reader doesn’t find out exactly what happened until close to the end of the book. The backstory and the events leading up to the “bad thing” unfolds through the perspective of three very different women – Erika, Clementine, and Tiffany.

Erika is a younger, happily married woman who came from a less than stellar childhood, but thanks to her best friend Clementine, she made it to adulthood. Erika and her husband, Oliver, love children and adore Clementine’s girls. Erika has a secret, though, and when it is discovered, her relationship with Clementine starts to fizzle.

Clementine is a cellist, wife to Sam, and a mother of two girls. She feels pressure from her job and an upcoming major audition that she really wants to nail, but also from every day interactions as a mother and wife during a very busy/hectic time. Ever since the “bad thing” that occurred, her marriage has become less than stable and is threatening to crumble.

Erika’s neighbor, Tiffany, is what I would picture as a desperate housewife. A former dancer with a body that would stop traffic, Tiffany is married to Vid and his larger-than-life personality. They have a teenage daughter, a huge estate, and enviable lifestyle (at least from the outside looking in.)

The story begins two months after the devastating event which caused a ripple effect for these three women and their families. Clementine and Erika are asking themselves, What is we hadn’t gone? while Tiffany and Vid try to live with a crushing guilt, reliving the moment over and over and wondering how it could have been prevented.  

This book had me intrigued from the very first chapter. I had guessed a few scenarios of what I thought had happened at the cookout, but I was wrong. When the whole story of what happened was revealed, I felt much differently about the characters. In the beginning I judged them for their actions, but when I found out what they had been going through for two months, I realized that I was way off base. This story serves as a great reminder to all that it only takes a second for something tragic to happen, even in the most innocent of moments.

I would highly recommend this book, as with all of Liane Moriarty’s books. She has a knack for hooking the reader and taking them on a wild ride, twisting and turning frequently before coming to a lurching stop at the truth.

Family Tree by Susan Wiggs

9780062425430_2354bFamily Tree will be published on August 9, 2016 by William Morrow. This is a perfect romantic story for Fall, set mostly in Vermont during maple sugar collection season. Finishing it on the first day of Spring made me long for Fall a bit.

Anna Rush Harlow is living in Manhattan, enjoying married life and her successful career. She is the producer of a hit cooking show starring her celebrity chef husband, Martin. She is unexpectedly surprised and ecstatic when she realizes she is pregnant. However, her life changes in the blink of an eye when there is a freak accident on the production set. A year later, she wakes up from a coma a divorced woman who has lost everything she built her life on in Manhattan. She moves back home with her mother, older brother and his wife, and her nieces and nephews on the family’s maple sugar farm in Vermont. As she tries to pick up the pieces and move forward with a plan in life, she realizes that the place she couldn’t wait to get away from when she was young might just be the place she is happiest. It also happens that Fletcher, her former love still lives in their hometown and is also divorced. Is it too late for Fletcher and Annie, or will they be able to get past the hurt they caused each other when they were younger and life’s plans got in the way?

The story switches between present day after Annie’s accident to when she first met Fletcher, her college years, when she first met Martin and started the cooking show, when she and Fletcher rekindled the flames years later, and finally to her marriage with Martin. Through the flashbacks, readers get to know the real Annie, smart as a whip, fun-loving, and dedicated to her lifelong dream and love of cooking.

Much of the story is heavily centered on family, forgiveness, and second chances. The ending is a little predictable, but I loved the story so much that I didn’t really care. Readers will feel like they are working alongside Annie and her brother as they harvest the maple sap, boil it, and make Sugar Rush, their famous maple syrup. Food and cooking play a big part in the novel as well, as many mouthwatering dishes are prepared and described in detail. I really loved this book, and I know you will too. Fans of romance, contemporary women’s fiction, and regular fiction rejoice – this novel has a little something for everyone.

After You by Jojo Moyes

After You is the much anticipated, highly necessary, second installment in the Me Before You series, featuring Louisa (Lou), a character readers, myself included, absolutely love. I say “second installment” rather than “final installment,” because I’m hoping that Jojo writes many more stories featuring Louisa. For those of you wanting to read this book, I would highly suggest reading Me Before You first. It is absolutely wonderful, and you won’t be able to put it down until you’ve devoured it like a piece of chocolate lava cake.

I enjoyed After You just as much, if not more than Me Before You. Louisa has been traveling around Paris, hoping to experience new things to help counterbalance the grief of losing Will. She then settles down in a London flat, but it doesn’t seem much like a home, lacking any personal items or furniture. She takes a job as a bar maid in the airport, where she works thankless hours on not so fun tasks with no satisfaction or hope of finding something else. Perhaps the worst is the ridiculous outfit and wig she has to wear at work (you’ll have to read it for the specifics!).

After an unfortunate accident, Louisa finds herself in the hospital and then in need of help while she recuperates for 9 weeks. She moves back in with her loud, and mostly dysfunctional family until she can no longer handle the monotonous conversations, bickering between her Dad and Mum, and repeated family meals. Back to London she goes for more unhappy days of work and lonely nights in her flat. Then, an unexpected visitor turns up at her doorstep, someone with a connection to her past with Will, and her life becomes much less boring, and much more chaotic in a flash. She joins a grief counseling group against her initial wishes, and becomes rather connected to the motley crew of fellow grieving men and women. Leaving the group one day, she has a pleasant run in with the handsome EMT, Sam, who helped her after the accident months prior. She hadn’t realized at the time how kind and caring he was, and oh so handsome! Lou finds herself not so lonely any longer. When the story ends, we see Lou embarking on a new journey with a fresh outlook and so many people supporting her unselfishly. I only wish I could have a few more chapters to read!

The scenes from this book caused me to both laugh out loud and also wipe tears from my face. As a matter of fact, I cried through the last two chapters! Some of the things that come out of Lou’s father’s mouth are just plain hilarious. Also, the grief group has its share of characters who will say anything that comes to mind. Laughter is the best medicine, as they say; and Lou (as well as the reader) is subjected to plenty of humor. Jojo Moyes has a knack for developing characters in such a way that readers do not want to turn the last page, because they will physically miss the characters. I find myself in a depressive sort of state today after finishing the book. I miss Lou, Sam, Lily, Mr. and Mrs. Clark, the Traynors, and even sourpuss Richard from the bar. What a story this was! I absolutely loved it, and I will be most thrilled if Jojo Moyes decides to keep Lou’s story alive for many more installments.

Now, what in the world am I going to read next? Stay tuned, readers…