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Recommended Reading of 2013

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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)

With Every Letter by Sarah Sundin (Historical Romance)

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

Dragon Slippers by Jessica Day George (YA Fantasy)

Edenbrooke by Julianne Donaldson (Regency Romance)

Anomaly by Krista McGee (YA Dystopian)

Burning Sky by Lori Benton (Historical)

Stealing the Preacherby Karen Witemeyer (Historical Romance)

Into the Whirlwind by Elizabeth Camden (Historical Romance)

Rules of Murderby Julianna Deering (Mystery)

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

Dear Mr. Knightleyby Katherine Reay (Contemporary Fiction)

The Captive Maiden by Melanie Dickerson (YA Historical)

Tales of Goldstone Wood Series by Anne Elisabeth Stengl (Christian Fantasy, the last three books unreviewed …

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 …

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'…

Cozy Classics: Emma

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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.

Cloak of Light

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 th…

Andi Unexpected

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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 kid…

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 …

Aquifer

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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 an…

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…

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…

Martyr's Fire

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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 Immo…

Every Waking Moment

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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” wi…

Kerry

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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 with…

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 …

Greetings From the Flipside

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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...bu…

Winter in Full Bloom

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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 &a…

Return to Me

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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…

The Brontë Sisters

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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 sh…

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 …

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…

What Once Was Lost

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 rejec…

City on Fire

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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 de…

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 disapp…

Born of Persuasion

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 pres…

An Honest Heart

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…