Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Recommended Reading of 2013

Hello, all! Out of all the books I've reviewed this year, here's a list of my favorites. I tried to pick at least one from a variety of genres. Here they are in the order that I read them:

The Tutor's Daughter by Julie Klassen (Regency Romance)

The Tutor's Daughter by Julie Klassen- 10 out of 10 stars

With Every Letter by Sarah Sundin (Historical Romance)

With Every Letter by Sarah Sundin- 10 out of 10 stars

The Girl in the Glass by Susan Meissner (Contemporary Fiction)

The Girl in the Glass by Susan Meissner- 9 out of 10 stars

Dragon Slippers by Jessica Day George (YA Fantasy)

Dragon Slippers by Jessica Day George- 9 1/2 out of 10 stars

Edenbrooke by Julianne Donaldson (Regency Romance)

Edenbrooke by Julianne Donaldson - 8 1/2 out of 10 stars

Anomaly by Krista McGee (YA Dystopian)

Anomaly by Krista McGee- 9 out of 10 stars

Burning Sky by Lori Benton (Historical)

Burning Sky by Lori Benton- 9 out of 10 stars

Stealing the Preacher by Karen Witemeyer (Historical Romance)

Stealing the Preacher by Karen Witemeyer- 8 out of 10 stars

Into the Whirlwind by Elizabeth Camden (Historical Romance)

Into the Whirlwind by Elizabeth Camden- 9 out of 10 stars

Rules of Murder by Julianna Deering (Mystery)

Rules of Murderby Julianna Deering 8 1/2 out of 10 stars

The Mysterious Benedict Society by Trenton Lee Stewart (YA fiction)

The Mysterious Benedict Society by Trenton Lee Stewart- 9 out of 10 stars

Dear Mr. Knightley by Katherine Reay (Contemporary Fiction)

Dear Mr. Knightley by Katherine Reay- 9 out of 10 stars

The Captive Maiden by Melanie Dickerson (YA Historical)

The Captive Maiden by Melanie Dickerson- 9 out of 10 stars

Tales of Goldstone Wood Series by Anne Elisabeth Stengl (Christian Fantasy, the last three books unreviewed on this blog; however, I did review Heartless last year)

Cover art of all 4 books of the Tales of Goldstone Wood series!


Saturday, December 28, 2013

The Captive Maiden

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The Captive Maiden
Melanie Dickerson
Zondervan

Gisela's childhood was filled with laughter and visits from nobles such as the duke and his young son. But since her father's death, each day has been filled with nothing but servitude to her stepmother. So when Gisela meets the duke's son, Valten--the boy she has daydreamed about for years--and learns he is throwing a ball, she vows to attend, even if it's only for a taste of a life she'll never have. To her surprise, she catches Valten's eye. Though he is rough around the edges, Gisela finds Valten has completely captured her heart. But other forces are bent on keeping the two from falling further in love, putting Gisela in more danger than she ever imagined

I had high expectations for this book, and was eager to start it. Though I did like the story and the characters, I did feel the writing was a little lacking in places; it felt a little over-explained or simplified, and the two main characters second-guessing each others' motives so much wore on me after a little bit. However, despite these complaints, I did really like this book.

Though I wasn't sure if I would like Gisela at first (she was more on the rebellious and wild side than I usually think of when it comes to Cinderella) she did ultimately win me over. And Valten- well, I became intrigued with his character in The Fairest Beauty and wasn't disappointed here. I also liked seeing all of Valten's family again- especially his sisters. I heard Melanie Dickerson is working on another fairy tale retelling...hopefully it will be about one of them ;)

One thing that surprised me was that the "typical" part of the Cinderella tale was really only the first half of the novel here; the author took the plot completely down another path. Though I didn't mind this, I felt like the plot might have been dragged out a bit more than was needed. Parts of the romance aspect I really liked; other parts I didn't care for. (There wasn't much kissing until the end, but there was more than I usually like in my books). I liked The Captive Maiden more than The Fairest Beauty, I think. One thing I particularly appreciated was the absence of deception in the case of Gisela and Valten's relationship, both with each other and everyone else. It was a refreshing change from most YA fiction and probably my favorite part about the book. Though it's not one of my favorite fairy tale re-tellings, this book is still getting a pretty high rating- I can't help it. Despite it's faults, The Captive Maiden still captured the magic of the Cinderella story that I love so much.

Rating: 9


Friday, December 27, 2013

The Dancing Master

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The Dancing Master
Julie Klassen
Bethany House Publishers

Leaving London, dancing master Alec Valcourt moves his mother and sister to remote Devonshire--but is stunned to discover that dancing is prohibited! He finds an unlikely ally in Miss Julia Midwinter, but her questions about his past are becoming harder to evade. Together, can they bring new life to this quiet village--and heal long-kept-secret scars?

...And here comes the first of the Christmas Present book reviews ;) As I'm sure many of you know, I've loved Julie Klassen's books since I read The Apothecary's Daughter when that novel first came out. I received The Silent Governess for Christmas the subsequent year, and ever since then this particular author's books have been expected under the tree every Christmas since.

I was excited for The Dancing Master, and it was different from Julie Klassen's books- mainly because most of it was from the hero's perspective. I did like Alec; he certainly wasn't my favorite hero of all time, but I thought he was likable. Julia, on the other hand...it's not that I hated her. And though she was such a flirt, I felt the reason why she acted that way got across well. However, I think my favorite characters were the secondary ones, especially the Midwinter's neighbors. I really was more interested in them than in Julia and Alec...it was just a little hard for me to figure out why Alec liked Julia in the first place. I will admit the mystery aspect was interesting, and I didn't figure it out until nearly the end.

Though I can't deny I really did enjoy this book, I don't think it lived up to the other books of this author's that I've read. It was enjoyable and I certainly recommend it; it just wasn't the completely spectacular story I had wanted it to be.

Rating: 8 1/2

objectionable content: pretty much on par with the author's other books. Some "regency tactful" explanations of illegitimacy and adultery, and a bit of kissing. 

Monday, December 23, 2013

Cozy Classics: Emma


Cozy Classics: Emma
Jack and Holman Wang
Simply Read Books

What a cute idea! A board book told with a minimal amount of words (only one word per page), this early introduction to Jane Austen's classic story was adorable. And the pictures really helped tell the story- I would have thought that it would be impossible to tell such a complicated story in only a few words, but the needle-felted illustrations were done to show such pivotal scenes that I knew what was going on on every page! Definitely a great way to introduce very young children to the stories (and it's part of a series too- there are Cozy Classics versions of Oliver Twist and Jane Eyre, among others)

Rating: 8

I received this book for free from netgalley.com in exchange for my honest review.

Monday, December 9, 2013

Cloak of Light

Cloak of the Light, War of the Realms Series #1   -     By: Chuck Black

Drew is caught in a world of light - just inches away from the dark
What if...there was a world beyond our vision, a world just fingertips beyond our reach? What if...our world wasn’t beyond their influence?
Tragedy and heartache seem to be waiting for Drew Carter at every turn, but college offers Drew a chance to start over—until an accident during a physics experiment leaves him blind and his genius friend, Benjamin Berg, missing.
As his sight miraculously returns, Drew discovers that the accident has heightened his neuron activity, giving him skills and sight beyond the normal man. When he begins to observe fierce invaders that no one else can see, he questions his own sanity, and so do others. But is he insane or do the invaders truly exist?
With help from Sydney Carlyle, a mysterious and elusive girl who offers encouragement through her faith, Drew searches for his missing friend, Ben, who seems to hold the key to unlocking this mystery. As the dark invaders close in, will he find the truth in time?
I fully admit that I wasn't really interested in this book from the description on the back; the reason I picked this book up for review is because I'm familiar with Chuck Black's other series and enjoyed them, so I decided I'd try his newest books.


I’m not usually a big fan of speculative/supernatural fiction because a lot of it is, well, speculation, and sometimes the theology tends to get a little strange. However, I did like Cloak of Light much more than I was expecting to; unlike most of the books in this genre that I’ve tried reading, it seemed more coherent and believable and in the back of the book the author is very clear on what the Bible says about angels and demons and what parts were purely fiction.

The story did have a bit of a superhero quality to it, also, which was interesting. My only quibble is probably that sometimes the author’s writing fell into the tell-instead-of-showing trap. His writing style isn’t bad, but it’s not particularly amazing or poetic. Still, it was an interesting read that I think that guys, especially, will like. (I know my brother was interested in reading it after me)

Rating: 7 ½


I received this book free from the publisher in exchange for my honest review.

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Andi Unexpected


Andi Unexpected
Amanda Flower
Zondervan

Twelve-year-old Andora “Andi” Boggs and her fourteen-year-old sister Bethany move to rural Ohio to live with their eccentric twenty-something aunt after the sudden death of their parents. While dealing with her grief, Andi discovers proof of another Andora Boggs in the family tree whose existence was hidden in a Depression-era trunk in the attic. With help from her new friend and neighbor, Colin Carter, Andi is determined to find out who this first Andora was and what happened to her.

I haven’t read a lot of kids books in while, but this one sounded like a good one- I’m always up for a good mystery, you know. However, I’m not sure if it is because I’m older that I didn’t enjoy this one so much, or if it really was just a so-so book. I’m inclined to think it the latter; there are plenty of kids’ books I still enjoy, so I wouldn’t say I’ve exactly “outgrown” them as a whole.

I think what I disliked most about Andi Unexpected was the attitude of the kids- I mean, all that talk about cell phones and texting and really, her older sister was a huge brat. A lot of times Andi seemed more like a teenager than a 12-year-old. The worst part is, I’m sure that these are how most kids act today. (To quote the Professor, What do they teach in schools these days?) I’m not saying there was really anything inappropriate in here, it’s just that I can’t help but roll my eyes and get annoyed at a 14 year old who thinks she’s dying because she doesn’t have unlimited texting. I’ve never texted in my life and I’m still alive.

But on the other hand, I was interested in the mystery- who was this first Andora, and what happened to her? All the same, for a reader who’s used to the stakes being a bit higher in a mystery (I mean, honestly, I’m kind of used to a universe-imploding-if-the-heroes-don’t-win kind of deal) a lot of the “danger” fell a little flat for me, although I understand that for kids, a story like this would be more appropriate.

I was hoping that the Andi Boggs novels might be a bit more like my favorite kids’ mystery series- The American Girl History Mysteries- which I loved. However, I felt a little let down by this book. A lot of it seemed to drag on for me, and I don’t think I’d be interested enough to read any other books in this series. Still, if you’re on the lookout for middle grade mysteries, you might want to try out this one.

Rating: 6

I received this book for free from booksneeze.com in exchange for my honest review.

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Sense and Sensibility

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Sense and Sensibility
Joanna Trollope
Harper Collins

In theory, I abhor the idea of modernizing Austen: being a writer, I know I would hate people messing around with my books, throwing them in a different time period or (heaven forbid!) adding vampires or zombies or sea monsters to them or something. And why do you need to update stories I still find relevant today, anyway? However, in practice, I’ve read and watched my share of modernized Austen classics- I remember picking up Debra White Smith’s retellings a few years ago, and while I never did get into The Lizzie Bennet Diaries, I have been (mostly) keeping up with Emma Approved. So when I first heard about Harper Collins “Austen Project” I was disdainful…but when I saw a copy of Sense and Sensibility at the library, I picked it up. Typical.

The Austen Project is an upcoming series of books setting Jane Austen’s books in modern day, the first of which, Sense and Sensibility, came out this year. I admit I was curious, but when I began to read I was instantly disappointed. Not from the fact that it was set in modern day, but the fact that according to today’s world, “modernized” might as well be synonymous with “inappropriate.” Aside from Marianne and Willoughby's (called “Wills” in this update) highly unacceptable relationship, there was language- and I mean language. Not so much so that it was on every page or something, but the actual words were very offensive (and I’m not talking about a D**n used a few times, either).

I also felt like something in the book was missing- I couldn’t put my finger on it until later. Though Austen never explicitly mentions God in her works, her characters operate in a very clear Christian worldview. Joanna Trollope takes away that entirely (even Edward, who wishes to become a pastor in the original, wishes to do something “public service-y” rather than religious in this modern story) And that really takes away from the book. It gives the allusion of this update being too much like the original and too little: the things don’t mesh together because of it. Their morals are different, so the idea of Willoughby getting a young girl pregnant is just not as appalling as in Austen’s classic. Instead, he gets her hooked on drugs because that’s so much worse, apparently. The Dashwood girls, frankly,  aren’t as likable because their moral standards aren’t as high. The reason we love Jane Austen’s heroines and heroes are because they have flaws but at  heart they’re good. Joanna Trollope lowers the level of their morals- which means she has to make the villains even worse to gain the reader’s appropriate reaction. For example, when Wills takes Marianne to see his home and they- ahem- become rather intimate (which was NOT in the original, my friends!), Elinor is upset not because of what they did, but because they did it secretly without his aunt’s knowledge. Because apparently it’s okay to have an inappropriate relationship if you keep it out in the open, but not if you use deception. It’s as if the author had to make excuses about why certain characters’ actions were wrong, because while they might have been scandalous back in Jane Austen’s day, today they’d garner nothing more than an eye blink.

And it was too much like Austen's classic in the fact that the author tried too hard to make certain plot points work that just didn't in modern society. Even the way the Dashwoods lost their house sort of had me scratching my head a little bit.

As far as this book was being advertised- as Jane Austen’s classic story with the addition of social media and technology- it wasn’t as overt as I was expecting. Marianne naturally texts Willoughby obsessively, while her hysterics at finding him in London end up on youtube (poor girl). Margaret fiddles with her earbuds and is a bit more on the bratty side than usual (although I was half afraid they would get rid of her character altogether). Practical Elinor is the one to get a job to support her family- unheard of in Austen’s classic but of course a very necessary and a believable addition here.

The thing is, because each of the novels in the “Austen Project” are being written by different authors, I would be willing to read more of the upcoming ones (albeit a bit nervously. If they end up changing Fanny Price’s character-!). However, I highly doubt I’ll ever pick up another book by Joanna Trollope.


Rating: 3

Aquifer


Aquifer
Jonathon Friesen
Blink (Imprint of Zondervan)

In the year 2250, water is scarce, and those who control it control everything. Sixteen-year-old Luca has struggled with this truth, and what it means, his entire life. As the son of the Deliverer, he will one day have to descend to the underground Aquifer each year and negotiate with the reportedly ratlike miners who harvest the world’s fresh water. But he has learned the true control rests with the Council aboveground, a group that has people following without hesitation, and which has forbidden all emotion and art in the name of keeping the peace. And this Council has broken his father’s spirit, while also forcing Luca to hide every feeling that rules his heart.
But when Luca’s father goes missing, everything shifts. Luca is forced underground, and discovers secrets, lies, and mysteries that cause him to reevaluate who he is and the world he serves. Together with his friends and a very alluring girl, Luca seeks to free his people and the Rats from the Council’s control. But Luca’s mission is not without struggle and loss, as his desire to uncover the truth could have greater consequences than he ever imagined.
I’ve begun read dystopian novels- I’m not sure why, but they’ve been appealing to me of late. That’s why I was willing to take a chance on Aquifer, even though I’d never read any previous books by the author. I was a bit surprised to find a small hardcover book in the mail, not much longer than a novella (it was under 300 pages), but I picked it up with an open mind.

The thing about Aquifer is there is nothing really…real about it. I never felt like I got to know all of the secondary characters, or even Luca himself; they all seemed a little one-dimensional to me. Also, I found parts of it very confusing. Something would be described, and I just couldn’t wrap my mind around the picture the words made; it wouldn’t make sense to me. I found the futuristic society a little hard to understand as well. I never got interested or drawn into the story; I didn’t hate it, but my emotions never got involved. Also, the romance moved unbelievably fast. The two of them knew nothing about each other, and the girl was ready to completely leave her family to help him. So Aquifer is not really one I'd recommend, not because it was bad, but because there are better things out there.

Rating: 4


I received this book for free from booksneeze.com in exchange for my honest review. 

Friday, November 1, 2013

Dear Mr. Knightley

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Dear Mr. Knightley
Katherine Reay
Thomas Nelson

Dear Mr. Knightley is a contemporary epistolary novel with a delightful dash of Jane Austen.
Samantha Moore survived years of darkness in the foster care system by hiding behind her favorite characters in literature, even adopting their very words. Her fictional friends give her an identity, albeit a borrowed one. But most importantly, they protect her from revealing her true self and encountering more pain.
After college, Samantha receives an extraordinary opportunity. The anonymous “Mr. Knightley” offers her a full scholarship to earn her graduate degree at the prestigious Medill School of Journalism. The sole condition is that Sam write to Mr. Knightley regularly to keep him apprised of her progress.
As Sam’s true identity begins to reveal itself through her letters, her heart begins to soften to those around her—a damaged teenager and fellow inhabitant of Grace House, her classmates at Medill, and, most powerfully, successful novelist Alex Powell. But just as Sam finally begins to trust, she learns that Alex has secrets of his own—secrets that, for better or for worse, make it impossible for Sam to hide behind either her characters or her letters

When I first heard of this book several months ago, my reaction was something along the lines of “abcjelwhfehrbsv itslikeDaddy-Long-LegsandJaneAustenandohmygoodnessIneedtoreadthisbook!!!!” Yeah….I’ve been waiting anxiously for this book to come out. I may or may not have been a little overexcited. Even my sister, a self-labeled “book snob”- especially of contemporary fiction- was anxious to pick up Dear Mr. Knightley.

When I first started, I was a tiny bit disappointed; though I liked the story, the main character, Samantha, wasn’t a Christian at the beginning, and so though there was nothing grossly inappropriate in it (nothing beyond what you might find in a PG rated movie), there were still a few things that popped up that I didn’t care for. But then as the story went on, it got better and I completely fell in love with it (I might as well admit I pretty much fell in love with Alex Powell, too. ;). Though I liked Samantha and her realistic struggles, she didn't quite capture my heart the way the secondary characters did.  I ended up loving the secondary characters. I loved the professor and his wife, Ashley, and Kyle. The ending almost made me cry. And I adored the quotations from -literally- all of my favorite books. I especially loved the redemption themes near the end, and Samantha's thoughts on Eustace and The Voyage of the Dawn Treader. Over all, Dear Mr. Knightley was rather brilliant and once I got past the slow (for me) beginning, I enjoyed (almost) every moment of it.

Objectionable content: Because Samantha grew up in foster care, there are some mentions made of physical abuse. Samantha kisses her boyfriend and almost goes further but decides  not to. There are a few words that are not terrible, but I prefer not to use in my conversation.

Rating: 9


I received this book for free from the publisher in exchange for my honest review.

An Elegant Solution

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An Elegant Solution
Paul Robertson
Bethany House

For young Leonhard Euler, the Bernoulli family have been more than just friends. Master Johann has been a demanding mentor, and his sons have been Leonhard's allies and companions. But it is also a family torn by jealousy and distrust. Father and sons are engaged in a ruthless competition for prestige among the mathematical elites of Europe, especially the greatest prize: the Chair of Mathematics at the University of Basel, which Johann holds and his sons want. And now, their aspirations may have turned deadly.
Lured into an investigation of the suspicious death of Uncle Jacob twenty years ago, Leonhard soon realizes there's more at stake than even a prominent appointment. Surrounded by the most brilliant--and cunning--minds of his generation, Leonhard is forced to see how dangerous his world is. His studies in mathematics have always been entwined with his thoughts on theology, and now, caught in a deadly battle of wills, he'll need both his genius and his faith to survive.

Though this novel is categorized as “historical suspense,” I’m not sure I would describe it that way. It was definitely historical- in fact, I really have to hand it to the author, because I’d rarely read a book that felt so historically accurate in its vernacular without being heavy and hard to read. On the other hand, I wouldn’t exactly label it suspense; it could be a little dry at times. There was a lot about math, and as I’m a bit of a dunce in the subject, I read without really understanding the mathematical equations. However, the intricate plot kept me guessing, although it was very…shall we say, cerebral. Not that that’s a bad thing; it’s just one of those books that you really have to pay attention to. There were several phrases/words that seemed to be unnecessarily repeated throughout the story, and like a lot of classic books, actually, sometimes I felt the writing meandered off the main point (in this case into philosophical questions) although not for too long.

Despite An Elegant Solution being a little long and slightly dull, I still liked it in a way, and I’m actually interested in more books by the author.

Rating: 7


I received this book for free from the publisher in exchange for my honest review.

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Martyr's Fire

Martyr's Fire, Merlin's Immortals Series #3

Martyr’s Fire
Sigmund Brouwer
Waterbrook

It’s almost a little funny how I’ve managed to read all three books in this series. When I first picked up The Orphan King, it was on a whim, and I wasn’t really planning to read the rest of the series. But each of these books managed to be available at just the right time for me to have access to them, and by now I suppose I should finish out the series!

The whole idea that Thomas doesn’t know who is on his team and who isn’t- and so not being willing to trust anyone- kind of drives me up the wall. As the reader, I know that a certain character is a good guy, so I keep wanting to pull out my hair screeching, “Stop fighting this person! They’re okay!” Of course, I know that this isn’t Thomas’s fault. After all, he doesn’t get to see inside other people’s minds the way the reader does. Oh, and did I mention Robin Hood made a cameo appearance in this novel? Bonus points there ;)

However, one thing that I’ve noticed about all three of the Merlin’s Immortals Series books is that it takes me a really long time to become interested in the story. I finally start to really get into it, and then two or three chapters later, the book’s over and I have to wait another year for the next one…and by that time I’ve forgotten what made me so interested in the first place. That’s rather a vicious trap for a novel, I’ve afraid. So, really, I’d probably recommend waiting until all the books in the series are out before reading them (they’re very short novels, too- only a little over 200 pages).

Rating: 6 ½


I received this book for free from the publisher in exchange for my honest review.

Monday, October 21, 2013

Every Waking Moment

Every Waking Moment

Every Waking Moment
Chris Fabry
Tyndale House

Treha Langsam is a mysterious young woman who has fallen through the cracks, much like many of the elderly people she works with at Desert Gardens Retirement Home. But Miriam Howard, director of the facility, sees her extraordinary gift and untapped potential. Treha is a whisperer of sorts, calling those who have slipped into dementia back to a life of vibrant, if only temporary, clarity.
When Treha's and Miriam's stories intertwine with a documentary team looking for stories of the elderly, Treha's gift is uncovered, and the search begins for answers to the mysteries of her past. As their paths converge, each person is forced to face the same difficult question: What if this is as good as my life gets?

If you haven’t noticed, I’ve been trying to read and review some more contemporary fiction. I’ve read so many pieces of historical fiction that they’re all starting to seem the same to me, so I’ve been shaking up my reading “diet” with some other genres. I figure that that way, not only do I expose myself to other types of stories, but I’ll get more enjoyment out of the historical novels that I do read. I chose this book because I had read something not that long ago by Chris Fabry (June Bug) and liked it. Every Waking Moment, for that reason, easily suggested itself as my next contemporary pick.

I freely admit that I’m more of an adventure/romance/mystery type of girl, and Every Waking Moment (aside from a little bit of mystery) doesn’t have too much of that. But that doesn’t mean that I disliked it. It did take me a few chapters to become interested in the story; and while I think I enjoyed it overall, it did have a few flaws. Because it was about several characters at once, I didn’t really get to dive into each character’s backstory (well, except Treha’s) I didn’t really feel like I ever got to know each character’s personality very well; it was hard for many of the characters to really stand out in my mind- although I did like many of the residents of the Senior Center! I also really liked Du’Relle, and I especially loved that Treha called him Gavroche ;)

However, I was again impressed with Chris Fabry’s writing, because he took a plotline that I wouldn’t have otherwise have been interested in and kept my attention captured throughout the whole thing. This isn’t one of my all-time favorite books, but that’s simply due to my personal taste rather than the quality of the book, and it’s why Every Waking Moment is getting an eight out of ten.

Rating: 8


I received this book for free from the publisher in exchange for my honest review.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Kerry

17214114

Kerry
Grace Livingston Hill
Barbour

When I first made the leap from the children’s section to the adult section of our pervious church’s library, Grace Livingston Hill was one of the first authors that I tried. Her stories were a sweet, clean breath of fresh air. Even though they can be (for lack of a better word) a bit sappy, there is something very pure about them, and I love the old-fashioned way they are written. I’ve read dozens of her books, but I don’t think I’d ever picked up Kerry, so when I saw it available on netgalley, being re-released from Barbour Publishing, it was an easy choice for me.

It’s been at least a couple of years since I’ve read any of Grace Livingston Hill’s books, so I was wondering if they were as good as I had remembered. The thing about her novels is that they never pretend to be anything they aren’t: they’re just sweet stories with a very strong message about Christ. Somehow, Grace Livingston Hill manages to include a strong Gospel message in her books without coming off as overly preachy, which is quite a feat, if you ask me!

Though Kerry isn’t my favorite of her books, I did enjoy it, although it took me several chapters to really get into it. I HATED Kerry’s mother and stepfather. Sam Morgan with his sleazy twenties-lingo and Isobel with her tears and selfishness were pills, let me tell you. Although they were nothing to Henry Dawson. What a snake! The characters did seem to be either “good” or “bad.” There wasn’t really any in-between. They were all very straightforward.

There was one bit where Graham was explaining creation and though most of what he said was good, there was something that didn’t sound quite accurate to me, but I’m not sure if I correctly understood what he was saying. However, for being written so very long ago, the issues they spoke of are remarkably relevant! This version of the story has been “lightly updated” and I’m not sure what that means. Since I hadn’t read Kerry before, I’m not sure what they changed (for all I know, they might have done nothing but updated the spellings of a few words or something)

Rating: 7


I received this book for free from netgalley in exchange for my honest review.

Healer of Carthage


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Healer of Carthage
Lynne Gentry
Howard

A modern-day doctor gets trapped in third-century Carthage, Rome, where she uncovers buried secrets, confronts Christian persecution, and battles a deadly epidemic to save the man she loves.

One thing in this book that really bothered/confused/annoyed me was the way Lisbeth treated her mother. Lisbeth kept behaving as though her mother had abandoned her on purpose, which was ridiculous. Magdelena had accidently fallen in time the same way Lisbeth had, so it seemed spoiled and silly for Lisbeth to be so begrudging. I mean, Lisbeth didn’t have all the facts. For all she knew, it was impossible to get back to their correct time, so why was she so mad at her mother for not coming back? And for someone with a lot of head knowledge about the Roman world, Lisbeth didn’t seem to really understand how the people behaved and acted.

However, as the book went on, she did become more likable. Also, it’s normally hard for me to really get into ebooks, but this was one I read quickly, simply because I really wanted to know what was going to happen next!

I’m still not completely sure what I think of this book; parts of it were really good, but I’m not sure what I think of all the elements that involve the time travel situation, especially with the excerpt I read from the sequel. Also, because Lisbeth isn’t a Christian at the beginning, some of her views aren’t godly, and there is a tiny bit of language at the beginning (not swearing, exactly, but a couple uses of words I don’t consider appropriate). Like all books about the Roman Empire, it deals with the terrible immorality of the people there, and there was a bit of romance-y mushiness that was a little much for me, and the reason I knocked down this book's rating a bit. Still, Healer of Carthage was exciting, and different from a lot of other Christian books I’ve read.

Rating:7


I received this book for free from netgalley in exchange for my honest review.

Monday, October 14, 2013

Greetings From the Flipside


Greetings From the Flipside
Rene Gutteridge and Cheryl McKay
B&H

Hope Landon has been rewriting other people's greeting cards since she was six years old -- there's always a funnier caption. She's all set to chase those creative dreams with her musician fiance in New York City until he leaves Hope at the altar, deciding he must not really love this girl if he can't write a song for her. That may give her something to write about . . .

Hope disappears alone on what was supposed to be the couple's monthlong honeymoon. Upon returning she learns of her funeral -- everyone in her life concluded Hope must have killed herself after being jilted. Needing a fresh start more than ever, she heads for the Big Apple only to discover it's not that easy to rent a place when you've been declared dead.

I got this book because it looked cute and funny, but it was NOTHING like I expected. At all. The book blurb is really misleading. It tells you, technically  what happens...but not really. So I don’t think I had ever been more confused in my life about a book. For the first several chapters I was scratching my head because it made NO SENSE. At all. Finally, I understood that everything written in third person is what was really happening in the story; everything written in first person was what Hope was dreaming while she was in a coma.

Strange.

Parts of this book were really funny (after, you know, I actually figured out what was going on) but about halfway through, it lost my interest and I had a hard time finishing it. This book just didn’t work for me. Most of Hope’s card ideas I just didn’t find particularly funny. And it was just so…bizarre. I just had a hard time getting into a book when half of it wasn’t even what was really happening.


Rating: 4

I received this book for free from the publisher in exchange for my honest review. 

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Winter in Full Bloom

Winter in Full Bloom

Winter in Full Bloom
Anita Higman
River North

When I first saw this book, I thought it was a historical novel; however, when I clicked on it, I found out that it was, in fact, a contemporary. Anyway, I shrugged, thought, “why not?” and so requested this title for review.

The book immediately got my attention with the first chapter. Anita Higman’s writing was quirky and relatable, although it was really hard for me to imagine someone spilling their heart out to complete strangers the way Lily did. That just ‘does not compute’ in my mind- I can’t imagine just meeting someone on a plane and then spilling out my heart to them (although I know that does happen!)

This book deals with some heavy issues (most of them family-related) and I wouldn’t recommend it to younger readers for that reason, but also I don’t think it would be as interesting to them, anyway. Winter in Full Bloom still wasn’t quite my cup of tea; it was a lot about relationships, issues with family (especially between mothers & daughters) and then a bit of romance. Sometimes the plot twists seemed a little unlikely, and parts of it, though heartfelt, almost seemed a little sappy.  I get I found it too...emotional for me. Although, considering that the main plot didn’t interest me very much, the book still managed to keep me reading, and luckily it wasn’t overly long.


Rating: 6

revived this book for free from the publisher in exchange for my honest review

Thursday, October 3, 2013

Return to Me

Return to Me, Restoration Chronicles Series #1


Return to Me
Lynn Austin
Bethany House

The strength of this book was probably the fact that you can tell that the author has been to the Holy Land; many of her descriptions were very detailed about Israel and its culture. Though I’d need to re-read the books of Zechariah, Haggai, and Ezra before saying whether or not it was accurate to the Biblical accounts, nothing stood out as being grossly inaccurate. (And the Bible references used in this story are located in the back of the book, so you can easily look them up)

I really wanted to like Iddo, but I just couldn’t. He just seemed really pushy to me, and I know it sounds terrible because nothing is more important than the Lord, but many times he seemed more concerned with building the temple than with his family. I did like Zechariah, but all of the characters annoyed me at one time or another. Sometimes I wanted to shake Yael and *SPOILER* when she finally gave up her sorcery and turned to the Lord, it seemed as if her entire personality changed like that*END OF SPOILER* I also didn’t care for that near the latter half of the book, several years were skipped. It didn’t bother me when it went from when Zechariah was a boy to when he was an adult, but after that when it skipped I felt a little disappointed.

I know I’ve complained a lot up, there, but really the book wasn’t that bad. Judging for the book description, I didn’t think Return to Me would interest me much, but I was wrong- though it’s a very long book, it kept me interested the entire time. Also, I’ve always been fond of Lynn Austin’s writing style, even when I haven’t particularly cared for her storylines. Return to Me isn’t one of my favorites by the author, but I’m sure I’ll still read the other books in this series.

Objectionable content: one character is involved in sorcery, and she mentions false gods and astrology often; several “thematic elements,” such childbirth, child sacrifice, and some of the Torah’s laws about sexual immorality are mentioned. A book for 16+

Rating: 7 ½



I received this book for free from the publisher in exchange for my honest review.

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

The Brontë Sisters

The Bronte Sisters: The Brief Lives of Charlotte, Emily, and Anne

The Brontë Sisters: The Brief Lives of Charlotte, Emily, and Anne
Catherine Reef
Clarion Books

I originally got this book because, as I’ve mentioned on my other blog, I’ve never cared overmuch for the Brontë’s novels, and I was hoping that by reading about their lives I would understand and like them better. As I must admit after reading this book that though I do understand them better, I wouldn’t say I liked them better. However, I did like this biography. It was on the shorter side, and included some nice pictures and even some photographs. For someone who knew very little other than a few basic facts about the family (especially on Emily and Anne- I think most classic literature fans know at least a little about Charlotte), this book was informative. I probably would have liked it to have been a little longer, as I like a tad bit more detail, but as all of the Brontë siblings tragically lived such short lives, I suppose it’s only to be expected that their biography would be on the shorter side, as well.



Rating: 8

The Mysterious Benedict Society

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The Mysterious Benedict Society
Trenton Lee Stewart
Little, Brown, and Company

Not long ago, Petie posted a bit of a mini-review of this book, and since she recommended it, I decided to try it out- and am I glad I did! The Mysterious Benedict Society was quirky and altogether delightful. It was one of the few young adult novels I’ve read that’s been completely clean (even though it’s categorized as YA, it’s about a group of younger, more middle-grade kids) and I enjoyed every minute of it!

Near the last half I was totally getting a bit of Doctor Who déjà vu, though (Seriously, there were some elements that really reminded me of the season finale of series three. Totally) But I wouldn’t say that’s a bad thing. ;)

I’ve read a couple other books that began wonderfully and mysteriously like this one only to peter out and either become too creepy or too boring for me to go on, but this one was a perfect mix of excitement, science fiction, and old-fashioned fun. I loved all the characters, and it would just be too hard to pick a favorite- although I admit to liking Kate quite a bit ;)

Rating: 9

Friday, September 27, 2013

Elusive Hope


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Elusive Hope
MaryLou Tyndall
Barbour

I really liked the first book in this series, Forsaken Dreams, so I was looking forward to this book in the hope that it would live up to the last one.

This is definitely a problem exclusive to me, but I found it really, really weird to read a book with the hero’s name being Hayden. Because it’s my own name, I just think of it as feminine even though I know that it was historically a boy’s name. Still, it was a little strange for me!

It was hard to like Hayden and Magnolia at times, because they were both so selfish. However, the most annoying aspect for me was the fact that the romance was totally grounded on physical stuff. The author must have mentioned dozens of times how attracted the characters were to each other, even when they supposedly hated each other’s guts. Half the time, it just seemed like the author was repeating what she had already mentioned earlier.

What I did like was the spiritual aspect- it was the most unusual part in the book, as you don’t normally find spiritual warfare in a historical book like this. Still, the mushy-romance aspect of the book was just too much for me at times, so that gave my rating a bit of a hit.

Rating: 5 ½


I received this book for free from the publisher in exchange for my honest review.

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

What Once Was Lost

What Once Was Lost    -     
        By: Kim Vogel Sawyer

What Once Was Lost
Kim Vogel Sawyer
Waterbrook

 On a small Kansas farm, Christina Willems lovingly shepherds a group of poor and displaced individuals who count on her leadership and have come to see the Brambleville Asylum for the Poor as their home. But when a fire breaks out in the kitchen leaving the house uninhabitable, she must scramble to find shelter for all in her care, scattering her dear "family."
 
With no other options, Christina is forced to approach Levi Jonnson, a reclusive mill owner, to take in a young blind boy named Tommy Kilgore. Levi agrees with reluctance but finds himself surprised by the bond that quickly grows between him and Tommy. As obstacles to repairing the farm pile up against Christina, she begins to question her leadership ability and wonders if she can fulfill the mission to which she's dedicated her life. And when an old adversary challenges Christina, will she find an unlikely ally—or more—in the aloof Levi? Can Levi reconcile with the rejection that led to his hermit-like existence and open his heart and life to something more, especially a relationship with a loving God?

I found Christina really, really annoying- both with the way she overprotected Tommy (not letting him do anything by himself) and with her stubbornness. She was one of those heroines who charge ahead and want to do everything themselves in their own way, and jump to conclusions. She struck me as kind of bossy. And then there was the part where her pastor told her that people often misunderstand that verse in Corinthians about women keeping silent in the churches, and that of course women can be leaders in ministry. I have no problem with women serving in ministry, but I do have a problem with women being in leadership over men (especially spiritually) However, that’s a whole other can of worms!

But even aside from that, I found this book wasn’t very good at capturing my attention; I’ve read plenty of others like it. I didn’t care for Christina, I found Levi passable but not particularly memorable, and most of the secondary characters didn’t have as much of a distinct personality as I would have liked. If I had gotten this book in any other way than for a review, I probably wouldn’t have finished it, because it just didn’t interest me very much.

Rating: 4


I received this book for free from the publisher in exchange for my honest review.

City on Fire

City on Fire

City on Fire
Tracy Higley
Thomas Nelson

As Vesuvius churns, a slave girl-turned-gladiator joins forces with an unlikely source to seek justice.
In the coastal town of Pompeii, a new gladiator prepares to fight. But this gladiator hides a deadly secret: she’s a runaway Jewish slave girl named Ariella, disguised as a young boy. A savvy fighter, Ariella determines to triumph in the arena, knowing her life will be forfeit should anyone uncover the truth.
Cato, a wealthy politician, moved to Pompeii after tiring of the corruption in Rome. But he soon learns that Pompeii is just as corrupt, and if he doesn’t play the game, his family could pay the price. Determined to bring about justice for the citizens of Pompeii, Cato searches for allies. But what he discovers instead is a confounding group of Christians . . . and a young female gladiator whose fame is growing daily.
Political unrest reaches a boiling point as Christians are jailed and executed, and the mountain in the distance threatens to destroy the city with its river of fire. Cato and Ariella must act quickly and courageously to save their loved ones before all is lost.
     In some ways, this book wasn't what I was expecting. This is the fourth book by the author that I've read, and so far I've really enjoyed her books. However, City on Fire had more problems than her others.

     I will say, though I thought the idea of a female gladiator far-fetched, she did carry it off more believably than I thought she would. On the other hand, there were a lot of awkward parts with her trying to disguise herself as a man (often ending up with people implying they thought her homosexual) There was actually a lot more objectionable content in this book than in her others, because ancient Rome was just so immoral. I would NOT recommend this book to younger readers, even though I could tell the author tried to be as tactful as she could with the subjects.

     The novel did drag at times, although scattered through it were some exciting or interesting scenes that I really liked- especially when the volcano began to erupt. However, City of Fire isn't in my top favorites list

Rating: 7

I received this book for free from booksneeze.com in exchange for my honest review.

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Enchanted

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Enchanted
Alethea Kontis
Harcourt Children's Books

This book started out wonderfully- it was well-written, engaging, and the characters were interesting and likable. However, as the story went on, it began to lose my interest. It seemed purposefully dragged out, and some of the plot twists were a little confusing. Sometimes, it seemed like the author was just trying to shove as many fairy tale references in there as she could. Also, there were a few uses of the word d**n and a couple times I thought something might have been an innuendo, but it went over my head because, well, I’m me. Of course, there was also your typical fairy-tale magical content, with fairy godmothers and vengeful fairies and a conglomeration of enchantments from familiar stories.

As a retelling of The Frog Prince, it would have been great. I think if the author had kept this book shorter and focused more on the heroine,  Sunday, and her prince, this book would have been better- as it was, it was a bit of a disappointment. However, that didn't mean it didn't have its good points, and I may be persuaded to pick up the next book in this series if the opportunity presents itself.


Rating: 7 (somewhat entertaining and/or beneficial) 

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Born of Persuasion

Born of Persuasion. Price of Privilege Series #1   -     
        By: Jessica Dotta

Born of Persuasion 
Jessica Dotta
Tyndale House Publishers

The deeper you wade into some stories, the more complex the riddle grows...does that not sound utterly intriguing? After reading the book description and the author's bio, I had very, very high expectations for this book. In the end, I am completely confused about what I think of it.

The year is 1838, and seventeen-year-old Julia Elliston’s position has never been more fragile. Orphaned and unmarried in a time when women are legal property of their fathers, husbands, and guardians, she finds herself at the mercy of an anonymous guardian who plans to establish her as a servant in far-off Scotland.

With two months to devise a better plan, Julia’s first choice to marry her childhood sweetheart is denied. But when a titled dowager offers to introduce Julia into society, a realm of possibilities opens. However, treachery and deception are as much a part of Victorian society as titles and decorum, and Julia quickly discovers her present is deeply entangled with her mother’s mysterious past. Before she knows what’s happening, Julia finds herself a pawn in a deadly game between two of the country’s most powerful men. With no laws to protect her, she must unravel the secrets on her own. But sometimes truth is elusive and knowledge is deadly.


The mystery was intriguing, but confusing...sometimes in a good way, and other times not so much. I was never sure which characters to like...or which characters I was supposed to like. (For instance, I sort of liked Edward...much more than Mr. Macy, anyway, who from the beginning I found to be really creepy. And yet, even so there were little glimpses of Mr. Macy that I liked.) Am I the only one who wanted to know more about Mr. Greenham? For some reason he was one of the characters I was interested in the most.

There was a sort of mastery and power about this book that I haven't come across often, but some things just puzzled me. I never really connected with Julia; Rissi mentioned on her blog that Julia seemed more like the narrator than the protagonist. For a story written in first person, I felt like the reader didn't get to really know Julia very well, and sometimes the story seemed a little stagnant, although it picked up in the end.

As the reader, many questions are left unanswered, and I am looking forward to the next book. However, this novel was a little dark (It's not compared to the Bronte's Gothic novels for nothing) and I didn't care for the stormy romance with the mysterious man- but maybe that's just my taste in books.

Rating: 7 

I received this book for free in exchange for my honest review.

Monday, September 9, 2013

An Honest Heart

An Honest Heart, Great Exhibition Series #2   -     
        By: Kaye Dacus

An Honest Heart
Kaye Dacus
B&H

Set during the Industrial Revolution and the Great Exhibition of 1851, An Honest Heart is a "sitting-room romance" with the feel of a Regency-era novel but the fashions and technological advances of the mid-Victorian age.

Featuring dual romance stories, the main plot involves seamstress Caddy Bainbridge and the choice she must make between two men: one from the aristocracy, the other from the working class. Award-nominated author Kaye Dacus pinpoints the theme of honesty—both men in this love triangle have deep secrets to hide, and Caddy’s choice will be based on which of them can be honest with her.

Courtship . . . cunning . . . candor. Who possesses an honest heart?

One thing that was interesting about this book isn’t that isn’t a sequel to the first book in this series; rather, An Honest Heart takes place during the events of Follow the Heart, just about some of the other characters.

I really loved the heroine’s name, as I recently named one of my own characters Cadence who also had the nickname of Caddy (And here I thought I was being so original!;) I also liked Caddy’s mother; she added a little humor to the story. I wouldn’t describe this book as exciting of exhilarating; however, I still ended up getting involved in the story and characters. In fact, the story got very stressful several times! (although I got a little annoyed for the Doctor about not being completely honest with Caddy…I was quite sure she would understand!) And despite how the book description sounds, it was very clear from the beginning who she would choose; also, this was mainly about Caddy, and unlike Follow the Heart, it wasn't really a "dual" romance. Either way, it was still a nice read.

Rating: 8


I received this book for free from netgalley.com in exchange for my honest review.
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