Saturday, December 19, 2015

Whatever is Lovely


Whatever is Lovely
Various Authors/Artists
Waterbrook Multnomah 

     The adult coloring book craze is still going strong, apparently- or at least, publishers are still churning them out. Of course, I don't mind coloring. I think it's fun and relaxing, and I was interested in this one, not only because it is faith-oriented, but because it was done by 12 different artists. I enjoy coloring if there's a lot of variety in the designs, so the idea of a book done by several different artists appealed to me.

     Each page in Whatever is Lovely includes a lovely hand-lettered quote or Bible verse, with various types of designs (most of them including flowers or animals) surrounding it. They are very pretty, and fittingly enough, the word that came to mind most often as I was flipping through it was "lovely."

     Unlike a lot of other adult coloring books, while the designs are sophisticated, they are not overly complicated, repetitive, or time consuming. I did one page in a little less than an hour. Overall, I really like this book, and I'm sure I will be getting a lot of use out of it.

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

Friday, December 11, 2015

The Homemade Kitchen


The Homemade Kitchen
Alana Chernila
Clarkson Potter

     This is just a pretty cookbook. It makes everything look good. Not only are the recipes appealing--even the ones that, let's face it, sound weird-- but the whole book feels homey and comforting. This is the type of cookbook that makes people want to be natural and organic and downright domestic. It's lovely. I'm especially excited about the recipes for homemade goat cheese and feta cheese. Also, the popovers are calling my name. :)

     It's written in a friendly, engaging style that's not intimidating for a beginner, and overall I love how many from-scratch recipes there are.

     My only real complaint is that that order of the recipes can be a little confusing, since they're not ordered in sections that I'm used to (such as "soup," "desserts," "meat," etc.) which can make it difficult to find what you're looking for.

Rating: 8

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

Until the Dawn


Until the Dawn
Elizabeth Camden
Bethany House Publishers

A volunteer for the newly established Weather Bureau, Sophie van Riijn needs access to the highest spot in her village to report the most accurate readings. Fascinated by Dierenpark, an abandoned mansion high atop a windswept cliff in the Hudson River Valley, Sophie knows no better option despite a lack of permission from the absent owners.

The first Vandermark to return to the area in sixty years, Quentin intends to put an end to the shadowy rumors about the property that has brought nothing but trouble upon his family. Ready to tear down the mansion, he is furious to discover a local woman has been trespassing on his land.

Instantly at odds, Quentin and Sophie find common ground when she is the only one who can reach his troubled son. There's a light within Sophie that Quentin has never known, and a small spark of the hope that left him years ago begins to grow. But when the secrets of Dierenpark and the Vandermark family history are no longer content to stay in the past, will tragedy triumph or can their tenuous hope prevail?

     I knew from the start that this book would have a different "feel" than the other books that I've read by this author, and I was right.Until the Dawn had a more prominent religious theme, for one thing (which I didn't mind at all) and the setting/mood seemed a little different, too.

     Sophie was such a sweet, refreshing heroine! I've read a few reviews that said she was a naive Mary Sue character whose incessant cheerfulness was unrealistic and annoying; this offended me. Being cheerful and nice to others who don't deserve it is not naive, it's a choice, and I think that was what the book was showing. ahem. I'll get off my soapbox now. (I also loved that fact that what she really wanted to do in life was to be a wife and mother, because that's not something you find a lot of--most historical heroines follow the "all I want is a career" track which is incredibly over-done)

     Quentin was more difficult to like as a character; it wasn't that I didn't necessarily understand where he was coming from, but he still was begging for a bucket of ice water thrown onto his head in the first half of the book. While I did grow to like him, I think I just didn't fall in love with the characters' relationship. I liked them both separately, but I wasn't totally enthusiastic about them together. (also *SPOILER* I was a little unsure about Quentin's relationship with God at the end--so did he become a Christian, or was he just "open" to it? Because if the latter that also brings up relationship issues...*END OF SPOILER*)

     I think my favorite aspect of this book, aside from the mystery of the house, was the supporting cast of characters--the bodyguards, for example, and the group of archaeologists and biologists. I especially loved the bit where everyone was involved with Sophie in making chocolate.

     However, while this book had a lot of good aspects, all together it felt like something was missing or lacking. It didn't mesh together as well as it should have, and in some places the actual writing didn't seem as good as I normally expect from Elizabeth Camden's novels. I never felt bored during it, but it didn't keep me flipping pages in the way that Against the Tide, With Every Breath, or Beyond All Dreams did. That being said, I still enjoyed this book, and it did have some unusual elements and little-known historical facts that gave it the little extra spice that most Christian fiction novels lack.

Rating: 8

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

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Whispers in the Reading Room


Whispers in the Reading Room
Shelley Gray

Lydia’s job at the library is her world—until a mysterious patron catches her eye . . . and perhaps her heart.

Just months after the closure of the Chicago World’s Fair, librarian Lydia Bancroft finds herself fascinated by a mysterious dark-haired and dark-eyed patron. He has never given her his name; he actually never speaks to a single person. All she knows about him is that he loves books as much as she does.

Only when he rescues her in the lobby of the Hartman Hotel does she discover that his name is Sebastian Marks. She also discovers that he lives at the top of the prestigious hotel and that most everyone in Chicago is intrigued by him.

Lydia and Sebastian form a fragile friendship, but when she discovers that Mr. Marks isn’t merely a very wealthy gentleman, but also the proprietor of an infamous saloon and gambling club, she is shocked.

Lydia insists on visiting the club one fateful night and suddenly is a suspect to a murder. She must determine who she can trust, who is innocent, and if Sebastian Marks—the man so many people fear—is actually everything her heart believes him to be.

     I think this was one of those books where I liked the idea of the romance and story more than the actual book itself. I thought it was better than the previous book in the series, and it kept my attention more, but I had a hard time connecting to the plot and the characters. Sometimes I really "got" them, but then a moment later their actions wouldn't make any sense to me. I wish it had focused more on the library and used that route to explore Sebastian and Lydia's relationship; honestly, this was one of those books where I couldn't help imagining what I would do if I was its author.

     Not that the book was terrible, although it does includes several mentions of gambling, drinking, prostitution, etc, which younger readers may wish to be made aware of. The hero was certainly interesting, although I wasn't sure if his characterizations were always consistent, another aspect of the book that plagued other characters beside him. But I did like the other romantic subplots (I always like secondary romances. It's a weakness of mine) and, as I said before, the idea of the story was a good one. It just didn't seem like it was quite filled out to its full potential.

Rating: 7

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

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

The Time Garden


The Time Garden
Daria Song

     Thanks to my grandmother, I've been introduced to the world of "adult" coloring books. When I saw this one I was immediately attracted to its whimsical designs, and I wasn't disappointed. The Time Garden is also laid out in such a way that after it's colored it can be read as a picture book, which I thought was a clever idea. The binding is high quality (it even has a dust jacket, though it's paperback) and so it seems like a children's book in addition to a coloring book. Here's a look at a page I did...

     I liked doing this very much! It's a wonderful way to relax after a hard day at school :)

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

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

The Brontë Plot


The Brontë Plot
Katherine Reay
Thomas Nelson

Lucy Alling makes a living selling rare books, often taking suspicious measures to reach her goals. When her unorthodox methods are discovered, Lucy's secret ruins her relationship with her boss and her boyfriend James—leaving Lucy in a heap of hurt, and trouble. Something has to change; she has to change.

In a sudden turn of events, James's wealthy grandmother Helen hires Lucy as a consultant for a London literary and antiques excursion. Lucy reluctantly agrees and soon discovers Helen holds secrets of her own. In fact, Helen understands Lucy's predicament better than anyone else.

As the two travel across England, Lucy benefits from Helen's wisdom, as Helen confronts the ghosts of her own past. Everything comes to a head at Haworth, home of the Brontë sisters, where Lucy is reminded of the sisters' beloved heroines, who, with tenacity and resolution, endured—even in the midst of change.

Now Lucy must go back into her past in order to move forward. And while it may hold mistakes and regrets, she will prevail—if only she can step into the life that's been waiting for her all along

     As anyone can tell you, I'm not a big Brontë fan, so I was a little worried that this might hinder my enjoyment of the book. However, there was much more "bookishness" to the plot besides Wuthering Heights, Jane Eyre and Agnes Grey, including a healthy dose of appreciation for C.S. Lewis, Beatrix Potter, and Charles Dickens, so I didn't feel left out at all. It was definitely my favorite aspect of the book.

     That aside, I did feel like the writing was a little hard to follow at times, and jumped around oddly. My favorite character was Sid (I'm so predictable when it comes to favorite characters...) and while I didn't dislike Lucy, James, or Helen, I didn't totally fall in love with them, either. Though this book is by a Christian publisher, there's next to no Christian content (I believe God is mentioned briefly twice in the entire book) but I keep reading reviews from non-Christians who didn't like it for being "too Christian," which is pretty sad that people find a pretty basic Christian-based moral worldview offensive or annoying. Not that there might not be other aspects of the book worth criticizing; I'm just sad that that's one of them.

     However, though this book didn't always hit the right notes for me, I still liked it, and Katherine Reay continues to be one of the few writers of contemporary-set fiction that I enjoy.

     In comparison to the author's other books, I definitely liked The Brontë Plot a lot better than Lizzy and Jane, although not quite as much as Dear Mr. Knightley.

Rating: 8

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

Tuesday, October 27, 2015



Matt Sewell
Ebury Press

A cute little book with charming illustrations, although a little inconsistent. Each owl has a short little snippet. Some are informative and factual, and some give very little fact information and instead focus on some sort of lore surrounding the specific owl or even (at times) contemplative rambling. Despite appearances, it's not a kid's book, but rather more of a novelty gift book for adults or teens.

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

Tuesday, October 20, 2015



Lisa Harris

No one needs to push Nikki Boyd to excel on the Tennessee Missing Persons Task Force. The case of her own missing sister, still unsolved after ten years, is the driving force in her work. When a Polaroid photo of a missing girl shows up at a crime scene, Nikki quickly recognizes similarities to the past. The closer she gets to the abductor, the more she feels this case has become personal, and she is not the hunter . . . but the hunted.

With this explosive first book in The Nikki Boyd Files, award-winning author Lisa Harris takes you on a fast-paced pursuit of justice that will have you holding your breath until the heart-stopping finish.

     Having read the last two books in Lisa Harris's previous series, I decided to try this one, especially because the cover looked mysterious and eye-catching. Yes, I judge books by their covers. All the time.

     Lisa Harris is good at building suspense, but I wasn't truly captured by the writing, which seemed a little basic, as did the plot (and the ending was very unsatisfying for me, as well- I didn't like the way the villain turned out.) The characterizations didn't stand out, but I felt they were a little better done here than in her previous books.

     That being said, I don't read a lot of modern thriller-esque fiction, so even though this wasn't amazing, I did enjoy it for a light read. Also, it inspired me to look on my phone and make sure my camera's GPS was off so creepy people can't stalk me from my photos that I post online. (Not that I make a great habit of doing that...)

     But thanks anyway.

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

Street God


Street God
Dimas Salaberrios

His street name was Daylight. But he was a nightmare.

On the streets of New York, darkness and violence reigned. Dimas “Daylight” Salaberrios began selling drugs when he was eleven years old, and by sixteen, he had served his first stint at the notorious Rikers Island prison. Dimas saw only one way to survive: by reigning over the streets. He would be the richest, most powerful ruler in the hood . . . or die trying.

Street God is the true story of one man’s dangerous journey through the underworld of crime, drugs, and almost certain death. It was an encounter with the real God that saved his life — and then made it even more dangerous. Because that God sent Dimas back down the darkest streets he’d ever known — with other lives depending on it. And Dimas had to ask the question: How far am I prepared to go?

A dramatic, compelling memoir full of twists and turns, Street God delves deep into a world from which few ever emerge — and shows how a single spark of light can illuminate even the darkest existence. 

     Honest & gritty, the synopsis of this book sounded very interesting to me. And it was--although I do feel that it did drag a little bit, despite all of the crazy things that were going on in the author's life. Salaberrios's journey to Christ was a very messy one, even after he became a Christian. It wasn't a book I found I could overly relate to, but I still "got" stuff out of it. If anything, it proves that even those we think of as the most hardened of criminals can come to Christ and turn to their lives around through the grace of God.

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

Thursday, October 15, 2015

The Trim Healthy Mama Cookbook


The Trim Healthy Mama Cookbook
Pearl Barrett and Serene Allison

     Having been familiar with the "Trim Healthy Mama" diet through friends, and whose family often receives the Above Rubies magazine, this book interested me.

     I'm not always big on "healthy" food, but these dishes look good. True, some of the ingredients have me raising a brow wondering if the dishes will taste as good as they look, but for anyone with a strict diet or food allergies, I'd definitely recommend checking out this book. Some of the ingredients are things that might be a little obscure, though, and might have you heading to a health food store.

     However, there's a good variety of recipes types (including desserts, of course!) so it's good even for people who, like me, are neither mamas nor particularly healthy.

     I admit I am a little worried about the binding; my copy has barely been used and I can already see the wear on the spine. For a book with so many recipes, I have a feeling it's going to look pretty torn up after just a short while.

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

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

The Knight's Bride


The Knight's Bride
Dianne Christner, Pamela Griffin, Yvonne Lehman, Tracie Peterson, and Jill Stengl

Take six romantic adventures back in time to the Middle Ages along with five authors including Tracie Peterson, who tell the stories of couples challenged by the injustices of their times. Some couples are pulled apart by wars and feuds, while others have their futures determined by their oppressors. Can a faith be found to keep hope alive and give joy in all circumstances?

     A collection of six novellas centering on "chivalry in the Middle Ages," The Knight's Bride popped up as I was perusing netgalley for ebooks to review. While I haven't always had the best experiences with Barbour novella collections, when I saw the castle on the cover of this one I was drawn in against my will. I don't read a lot of fiction set during the Middle Ages, so I thought six short stories set during this time would be a nice change of pace.

     Unfortunately, the first story was a struggle to get through. The romance in "Where Angels Camp" was, with brutal honesty, rather cringe-worthy and the plot wasn't much to speak of, either. After a certain point, I skimmed to the end.

     "A Legend of Mercy" was marginally better, although I think I may have read the story before in another of Barbour's collections (centered on a central theme of Ireland) some years ago. I didn't remember it well, though, so most of it seemed new to me.

     The third story, "A Stranger's Kiss," was kind of an oddball that didn't really belong in the collection, as the synopsis clearly states that the stories are all set in the Middle Ages...and this one takes place in the 1800s. Granted, it included a castle in the setting, but that doesn't make a story medieval. Aside from that, the story was implausible and over-melodramatic, and also hard for me to get through.

     Thankfully, "A Kingdom Divided" was much better. (although I had a vague memory of perhaps reading this one before too...I'm assuming it was a re-print as well?) I'm not always a big fan of author Tracie Peterson, but this particular story was a welcome change from the others.

     "Alas, My Love" is the previous story's sequel, and while I didn't like it as much as "Kingdom," it was still better than the first three stories.

     By far my favorite, the last tale was "A Child of Promise." Aside from perhaps "A Kingdom Divided," this was the only story where I felt connected to the characters and really liked them. It kept me turning pages and I enjoyed it.

     I'm not a fan of writing bad reviews, but the first three stories in this collection were not to my liking at all, although I didn't regret reading the last three.

Rating: 5

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

A Sherlock Holmes Devotional


A Sherlock Holmes Devotional
Trisha White Prieb

     I'm not usually a fan of devotionals that try to mesh secular things with the spiritual. Actually, I'm a little wary of devotionals in general because I find that a lot of people use them instead of actual Bible reading, and are more inclined to trust other authors' interpretations than what the Bible actually says. That's why, when I first saw this book several months ago, I passed it by without a second glance.

     However, I've been thinking lately that you really can't divide the world into the "spiritual" and the "secular"- God is Lord of all, even entertainment. And while I still do not at all like when people try to "sanitize" truly ungodly things, I do think that if one has a Christian worldview, then that mindset while affect how you look at everything.

     Even fictional detectives.

     So, as I was browsing netgalley (newly encouraged to try more ebooks now that I have a smartphone) I rather impulsively-and still full if misgivings about it- selected this book.

     I think what made this book work was that the author didn't try to sugarcoat or Christian-ize everything. The author was just as good in using Sherlock Holmes as an example of  what not to do as much (or even more, to tell the truth) as what one should do. I liked how the lessons weren't just drawn from the stories themselves, but also from the life of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle or even the different Sherlockian societies today. The author never pretended that Sherlock Holmes was some sort of Christian literature, but proved there were lessons to be learned from the books nevertheless. I admit that there were a few times that there was a disconnect between the Holmes quote/example and the Biblical application where I felt the author might have been trying a little too hard to make it work, but overall I surprised by how much I got out of it. (I fully admit I was not expecting to be impressed)

     One of my favorite bits was when the author used the quote, "You see but you do not observe" to illustrate how we often read the Bible: mindlessly, taking in the words without thinking about what it really means or how we can apply them to our own lives. Her words on foolishness and society's tendency to gloss over such behavior and make excuses for it was also good. Honestly, there was very little (if any) theological points that I found I disagreed with.

     Another thing I liked was that several times she quoted theologians and pastors who lived around the same time that Conan Doyle was writing, such as Charles Spurgeon, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, and C.S. Lewis.

     Of course, I don't need to tell you that like any devotional,  this isn't something to replace personal Bible reading. And, while deeper than I thought it would be, it's still more on the "fluff" end of the theological spectrum. But that doesn't mean that it doesn't have good lessons to impart, and perhaps might be good companion material to use while reading the Sherlock Holmes stories themselves. Still, I would use it more as a literary resource than a Biblical one.

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

Monday, October 5, 2015

The Flower Brides


The Flower Brides
Grace Livingston Hill

     It's been a little while since I've read something by Grace Livingston Hill, and when I saw this volume of hers available- with three stories in it that I hadn't yet read- I decided to try it.

     I admit I was really dragging my feet with this one. Part of the reason was that this was an ebook, which is definitely not my preference, but also, as a whole, I don't think these three stories lived up to some of the other GLH books that I've read.

     I admit that it was rather difficult for me to like the main character of Marigold. She wasn't all bad, but her attitude annoyed me even though I found her character to be realistic. I guess, considering the way she was raised, her actions seemed especially unlikable?

     White Orchards had some sweet moments, but the hero and heroine were separated for much of the book and some aspects of the plot seemed very familiar to me, even though I hadn't read it before. I liked the characters, though.

Rating: 6

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

On This Foundation


On This Foundation
Lynn Austin
Bethany House Publishers

When news that the wall of Jerusalem is broken down, and its gates have been burned with fire, Nehemiah, Jewish cupbearer to King Artaxerxes in Persia, seeks God's guidance. After fasting and prayer, he's given leave to travel to Jerusalem and rebuild the city wall, not anticipating all the dangers that await him on his arrival.

The leaders of the surrounding nations become his fierce enemies, plotting to assassinate him and halt the work. A drought, meanwhile, has left the country impoverished, many families resorting to selling their children as bondservants just to keep from starving.

Capturing the rebuilding of the wall through the eyes of a number of characters, On This Foundation is a powerful exploration of faith in the midst of oppression, and hope that, in spite of appearances, the gracious hand of God is upon those who believe.

     If you've been reading my reviews for a while now, you've probably noticed that I have my "favorite" authors I come back to time and again. Lynn Austin is definitely one of those--but at the same time, I've never been as much of a fan of her Biblical fiction as I have been with her other historical novels.

     That being said, I still wanted to read this book, and while it's not one my favorites of her books, I did think it was worth the read. Halfway through On This Foundation I even stopped for a moment and went, "You know, I really want to re-read the book of Nehemiah now!"

     I really liked Nehemiah's character in this book, and the plot with Chana was very interesting to me, because it was not something I see a lot of authors willing to do *SPOILER* as most would have made her betrothed either the villain or a losing side in a love triangle*END OF SPOILER*. Still, while I did like On This Foundation for the most part, it didn't capture me as much as I wanted to. However, now that this series has wrapped up, I'm very interested in what Lynn Austin's next project will be.

Rating: 7

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

Thursday, September 24, 2015

The Carols of Christmas


The Carols of Christmas
Andrew Gant
Thomas Nelson

From Oxford professor and renowned British composer, a joyous account of the history behind our favorite carols.

Everyone loves a carol--in the end, even Ebenezer Scrooge. They have the power to summon up a special kind of mid-winter mood, like the aroma of gingerbread or the twinkle of lights on a tree. It's a kind of magic.

But how did they get that magic? Andrew Gant--choirmaster, church musician, university professor, and writer--tells the story of some twenty carols, each accompanied by lyrics and music, unraveling a captivating, and often surprising, tale of great musicians and thinkers, saints and pagans, shepherd boys and choirboys. Readers get to delve into the history such favorites as "Good King Wenceslas," "Away in a Manger," and "O, Tannenbaum," discovering along the way how "Hark, the Herald Angels Sing" came to replace "Hark, how all the welkin' ring" and how Ralph Vaughan Williams applied the tune of an English folk song about a dead ox to a poem by a nineteenth century American pilgrim to make "O Little Town of Bethlehem."

A charming book that brims with anecdote, expert knowledge, and Christmas spirit, this is a fittingly joyous account of one of the best-loved musical traditions.

     It seems a bit premature to be reading Christmas books in September, but when I saw this book available I couldn't help but pick it up. While I'll be the first to say I'm musically challenged, I love listening to music anyway. And one technical aspect I can understand and appreciate is the history behind the songs.

     With this in mind, I settled down with this book, assuming it would be a quick, fun read.

     Well...not exactly. At least, it wasn't a quick read. The book, packed with information, was a bit more...scholarly than I had anticipated. Not a bad thing, but it did take more time to chew on, and I found myself reading a chapter or two a day during my free time.

     I was unfamiliar with a lot of the stories behind the carols; so I felt like I learned a lot. My favorite chapters were probably those later in the book, on carols such as "Away in a Manger," "Good King Wensceslas," "I Wonder as I Wander," and "We Three Kings."

     Overall, a book full of well-researched information and a good resource for anyone who wonders about the familiar carols we sing every year.

Rating: 7

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

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Royal Blood

Royal Blood
Una McCormack
Broadway Books

The city-state of Varuz is failing. Duke Aurelian is the last of his line, his capital is crumbling, and the armies of his enemy, Duke Conrad, are poised beyond the mountains to invade. Aurelian is preparing to gamble everything on one last battle. So when a holy man, the Doctor, comes to Varuz from beyond the mountains, Aurelian asks for his blessing in the war.

But all is not what it seems in Varuz. The city-guard have lasers for swords, and the halls are lit by electric candlelight. Aurelian’s beloved wife, Guena, and his most trusted knight, Bernhardt, seem to be plotting to overthrow their Duke, and Clara finds herself drawn into their intrigue...

Will the Doctor stop Aurelian from going to war? Will Clara’s involvement in the plot against the Duke be discovered? Why is Conrad’s ambassador so nervous? And who are the ancient and weary knights who arrive in Varuz claiming to be on a quest for the Holy Grail…?

     I ended up really enjoying this Doctor Who novel. This might be simply because I loved the setting, which was a medieval-like culture with  remnants of modern technology, but I thought the plot was interesting as well. It seemed a lot less "science-y" which might bother some readers, but I didn't mind. Personally, I was just pleased that it wasn't overly confusing. Doctor Who is known for it's complicated plots, but sometimes it's nice to have a story that's a little more straightforward. 

     This book was also very clean. There was a bit of a love triangle between the the Duke, his wife, and his most trusted friend (yeah, all very Camelot-inspired) but it never got inappropriate. I did catch one or two technical editing errors, though, but that didn't really spoil my enjoyment of the book. It did feel the ending was a little rushed, though, and the book was short, which meant that there wasn't a whole lot of world-building. (and the Doctor seemed a little out of character here and there...) Still, Royal Blood was one of the better Doctor Who books that I've read, but that might be because it approached my "comfort" genre of historical fiction more than the others. ;)

Rating: 7 1/2

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

Saturday, September 12, 2015

Deep Time


Deep Time
Trevor Baxendale
Broadway Books

"I do hope you’re all ready to be terrified!"
The Phaeron disappeared from the universe over a million years ago. They travelled among the stars using roads made from time and space, but left only relics behind. But what actually happened to the Phaeron? Some believe they were they eradicated by a superior force… Others claim they destroyed themselves.
Or were they in fact the victims of an even more hideous fate?
In the far future, humans discover the location of the last Phaeron road – and the Doctor and Clara join the mission to see where the road leads. 
Each member of the research team knows exactly what they’re looking for – but only the Doctor knows exactly what they’ll find.

Because only the Doctor knows the true secret of the Phaeron: a monstrous secret so terrible and powerful that it must be buried in the deepest grave imaginable…

     This particular Doctor Who novel brought to mind episodes such as "The Satin Pit" or even "Hide." The characterizations of the Doctor and Clara (which I personally find to be the most important part of these types of books) worked pretty well. There wasn't a whole lot that screamed out their television personalities to me, but nothing in them that seemed contrary to them, either. There were also several minor characters, who I amazingly was able to keep all straight and several who I ended up genuinely liking and caring about.

     The plot was interesting, although sometimes it dragged a little bit and the writing could feel a little clunky at times.

     One thing I did find a little annoying was that this year's batch of Doctor Who books are all part of a story thread titled "The Glamour Chronicles," but they didn't seem to be ordered in books 1, 2, and 3, so I basically just had to guess and pick one. While I think this is because the books are technically able to stand on their own, I really wanted to read them in order, and I think this book ended up being the last one. :P

     This is the fourth Doctor Who novel that I read, and it was probably the most serious out of them, since it involves several character deaths. It also has more instances of language (d**n and h***) than the others I had read. I wouldn't say the language was overwhelming, but it was present.

     However, despite these complaints, Deep Time was an entertaining read, and hopefully I'll be able to read the other books in this "series."

Rating: 7

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

Monday, September 7, 2015

A Noble Masquerade


A Noble Masquerade
Kristi Ann Hunter
Bethany House Publishers

Lady Miranda Hawthorne acts every inch the lady, but inside she longs to be bold and carefree. Entering her fourth Season and approaching spinsterhood in the eyes of society, she pours her innermost feelings out not in a diary but in letters to her brother's old school friend, a duke--with no intention of ever sending these private thoughts to a man she's heard stories about but never met. Meanwhile, she also finds herself intrigued by Marcus, her brother's new valet, and although she may wish to break free of the strictures that bind her, falling in love with a servant is more of a rebellion than she planned.

When Marcus accidentally discovers and mails one of the letters to her unwitting confidant, Miranda is beyond mortified. And even more shocked when the duke returns her note with one of his own that initiates a courtship-by-mail. Insecurity about her lack of suitors shifts into confusion at her growing feelings for two men--one she's never met but whose words deeply resonate with her heart, and one she has come to depend on but whose behavior is more and more suspicious. When it becomes apparent state secrets are at risk and Marcus is right in the thick of the conflict, one thing is certain: Miranda's heart is far from all that's at risk for the Hawthornes and those they love.

     A Noble Masquerade was rather fluffy and adorable and amusing and a perfect way to spend a lazy day. There were times I felt the writing was just a little scattered, but overall it had more than enough charm to make up for it. Who doesn’t like heroes in disguise and quirky heroines and overprotective brother characters and spies?

     I’m glad this is the first book in a series, because I want to meet up with these characters again.

     My sister once mentioned to me that Christian romance books are usually the cleanest things you’ll ever read until the very last chapter, and I agree. Once the characters admit to their feelings, I feel like authors then try to slam as many kisses as possible into the last three chapters. A Noble Masquerade was no exception to this, which means that while I greatly enjoyed 85% of the book, I was a little annoyed with that aspect by the end.

     Still, A Noble Masquerade was an altogether enjoyable debut by Kristi Ann Hunter, and I look forward to reading more of her work. Especially if they include more espionage (and quite honestly, her acknowledgements section was actually really fun to read, too. Now I feel like searching on youtube for videos of exploding tomatoes)

Rating: 8

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

Thursday, September 3, 2015

The Mistress of Tall Acre


The Mistress of Tall Acre
Laura Frantz

The American Revolution is finally over, and Sophie Menzies is starved for good news. When her nearest neighbor, General Seamus Ogilvy, finally comes home to Tall Acre, she hopes it is a sign of better days to come. But the general is now a widower with a small daughter in desperate need of a mother. Nearly destitute, Sophie agrees to marry Seamus and become the mistress of Tall Acre in what seems a safe, sensible arrangement. But when a woman from the general's past returns without warning, the ties that bind this fledgling family together will be strained to the utmost. When all is said and done, who will be the rightful mistress of Tall Acre?

Triumph and tragedy, loyalty and betrayal--readers find it all in the rich pages of this newest historical novel from the talented pen of Laura Frantz. Her careful historical details immerse the reader in the story world, and her emotional writing and finely tuned characters never cease to enchant fans both old and new.

   There isn't a lot of Colonial fiction in the Christian market, so I do tend to keep my eye out for those ones that do pop up. For that reason, I'm definitely familiar with the novels of Laura Frantz (although apparently I haven't reviewed any of her other books on this blog before- what's with that?)

   The basic plot of The Mistress of Tall Acre is one I've read several times over. (Even the plot twist near the end, while I admit I didn't expect it while reading, is one I've seen used before). However, I felt that Laura Franz skillfully wove her tale so that it felt like new. Also, the synopsis is a little misleading, as I thought the "marriage of convenience" would happen at the very beginning and basically serve as the catalyst for the rest of the plot; in this I was thankfully wrong. There was much more to it than that, and I felt that I had more than enough time in the space of the story to really get to know the characters before they got married, so that afterward I found myself able to root for their relationship.

   Overall,  The Mistress of Tall Acre was a sweet, entertaining read, and I really enjoyed it.

Rating: 8

objectionable content: most of the "content" here is subject matter rather than explicit scenes or situations. There are a couple kisses (between married couples) and some things implied (e.g. marital infidelity, slavery, the "duties" of marriage, etc.) that would not be suitable for younger readers.

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

Sunday, August 30, 2015

The Lost Heiress


The Lost Heiress
Roseanna M. White
Bethany House Publishers

Brook Eden has never known where she truly belongs. Though raised in the palace of Monaco, she’s British by birth and was brought to the Grimaldis under suspicious circumstances as a babe. When Brook’s friend Justin uncovers the fact that Brook is likely a missing heiress from Yorkshire, Brook leaves the sun of the Mediterranean to travel to the moors of the North Sea to the estate of her supposed family.

The mystery of her mother’s death haunts her, and though her father is quick to accept her, the rest of the family and the servants of Whitby Park are not. Only when Brook’s life is threatened do they draw close—but their loyalty may come too late to save Brook from the same threat that led to tragedy for her mother.

As heir to a dukedom, Justin is no stranger to balancing responsibilities. When the matters of his estate force him far from Brook, the distance between them reveals that what began as friendship has grown into something much more. But how can their very different loyalties and responsibilities ever come together?

And then, for a second time, the heiress of Whitby Park is stolen away because of the very rare treasure in her possession—and this time only the servants of Whitby can save her.

   After reading The Culper Ring series by Roseanna White, I knew I could look forward to any other books of hers. Of course, being also a reviewer for Bethany House, I couldn't help but be excited when I saw this series!

   The Lost Heiress is a lovely bit of escapism, bringing to mind the elegance of a Downton-Abbey-like setting mixed with the fairy-tale-ish plot of Fox's Anastasia. (It reminded me at times of Lori Wick's The Hawk and the Jewel,too, except better written) I admit I was a little worried when I saw the large cast list at the beginning of the book, but despite my early-on misgivings, the introductions of the characters were done well, so I never got anyone confused. I'm also fond of multiple POVs anyway, so that didn't bother me.

   While I liked Justin and Brook, I also loved many of the secondary characters- Especially Brook's father (he was such a dear!) and the flirtatious but good-hearted Brice (and the next book in the series is about him- hooray!) Any complaints I'd have would be a few more-than-necessary kisses and the ending seemed a tad bit more dragged out than needed. Also, I do admit that I probably liked the first half of the book more than the second half, simply because I liked seeing Brook become acquainted with her biological family.

   Overall, though, I'm anticipating the next two books in the series: The Reluctant Duchess and The Waiting Lady. Can't wait!

Rating: 8 1/2

I received this book courtesy of the author and publisher in exchange for my honest review.

Thursday, August 27, 2015

A Jewish Baker's Pastry Secrets


A Jewish Baker's Pastry Secrets
George Greenstein with Elaine Greenstein, Julia Greenstein, and Isaac Bleicher
10 Speed Press

Ah, pastry. Just the word makes me grin. I can never pass up a good pastry (especially if generous amounts of icing are involved) so I was quick to swoop up this book.

A Jewish Baker's Pastry Secrets is chock full of classic recipes, both familiar and delightfully ethnic (many familiar to my own heritage). I'm especially keen on trying the babka recipes (that chocolate one sounds delicious) and I have a feeling this cookbook is going to get very used around the holiday seasons.

My only disappointment is the complete lack of pictures. I'm no stranger to photo-less cookbooks, as the family cookbook supply has a many of them. But photos are one modern cookbook staple that I'm fond of and find to be hugely helpful. however, aside from that, I think I'm really going to enjoy using this cookbook.

Rating: 8

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

Monday, August 24, 2015

"Anne of Green Gables," My Daughter, And Me


"Anne of Green Gables," My Daughter, And Me
Lorilee Craker

A charming and heartwarming true story for anyone who has ever longed for a place to belong.

“Anne of Green Gables,” My Daughter, and Me is a witty romp through the classic novel; a visit to the magical shores of Prince Edward Island; and a poignant personal tale of love, faith, and loss.

And it all started with a simple question: “What’s an orphan?” The words from her adopted daughter, Phoebe, during a bedtime reading of Anne of Green Gables stopped Lorilee Craker in her tracks. How could Lorilee, who grew up not knowing her own birth parents, answer Phoebe’s question when she had wrestled all her life with feeling orphaned—and learned too well that not every story has a happy ending?

So Lorilee set off on a quest to find answers in the pages of the very book that started it all, determined to discover—and teach her daughter—what home, family, and belonging really mean. If you loved the poignancy of Orphan Train and the humor of Mennonite in a Little Black Dress, you will be captivated by “Anne of Green Gables,” My Daughter, and Me. It’s a beautiful memoir that deftly braids three lost girls’ stories together, speaks straight to the heart of the orphan in us all, and shows us the way home at last.

I'm not usually a big memoir reader, but any mention of Anne Shirley usually interests me. An author who appreciates Anne and L.M. Montgomery as much as I do? GIVE ME THE BOOK.

Overall, I did enjoy this book. It leaned very heavily on Anne-ish things in the beginning, but soon delved more deeply into the author's life. Sometimes it seemed a little strange for me that she didn't mind sharing so much (or that the people she was talking about didn't mind either) but hey, I guess we're different kinds of people.

Adoption isn't something I'm overly familiar with, at least not in my own family, so it was fascinating to look at a parent who not only has adopted, but was adopted herself. It gave me a lot more insight in to what goes through a person's head when they are in that situation. Also, this book did make me laugh out loud a couple of times, which is always a good sign.

Rating: 8

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

Friday, August 7, 2015

The Drosten's Curse


The Drosten's Curse
A.L. Kennedy
Broadway Books

From award-winning author A.L. Kennedy, an original Doctor Who novel featuring the beloved Fourth Doctor, as played by Tom Baker.

“I shall make you the jewel at the heart of the universe.”

Something distinctly odd is going on in Arbroath. It could be to do with golfers being dragged down into the bunkers at the Fetch Brothers’ Golf Spa Hotel, never to be seen again. It might be related to the strange twin grandchildren of the equally strange Mrs Fetch--owner of the hotel and fascinated with octopuses. It could be the fact that people in the surrounding area suddenly know what others are thinking, without anyone saying a word.

   I'm always pleased when I get a chance to review a Doctor Who novel (especially while I'm waiting for a new season of the show!) and I was excited when I saw this one available. I've never read anything by A.L. Kennedy before, but she managed to capture the spirit of Classic Who quite well.

   The characters were interesting and I enjoyed reading about Bryony and Putta; the Doctor is, of course, as fun as ever (although he wasn't as much of a main character as Bryony was...he was prominent, of course, but you still sort of get the idea he's not the main character of this tale) Aside from typical Doctor Who weirdness, there wasn't anything really objectionable aside from a single use of the Lord's name in vain and a couple mentions of evolution. Well, and the creepy factor. But I didn't find it too bad.

   I did find The Drosten's Curse a little confusing, though, especially since there were so many things going on at once and a lot of minor secondary characters. Sometimes it made my head hurt (and it didn't help that headaches played a large part in the story itself!) and I felt the plot could have been a little more streamlined. I don't usually mind a lot of different story threads at once, but there were a couple times there was so much going on that I felt a little like I was reading a muddle. I did like the formatting of the book, though-- it wasn't broken up into chapters, but rather scenes. It felt more in tune to the format of the TV show that way.

Overall, I recommend The Drosten's Curse to Who fans, new or old.

Rating: 7

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

Monday, August 3, 2015

Til We Meet Again

'Til We Meet Again: A Memoir of Love and War   -     By: Ray Whipps, Betty Whipps, Craig Borlase

Til We Meet Again
Ray & Betty Whipps with Craig Borlase

Ray and Betty Whipps both served in Europe during WWII: Ray as an infantryman under General Patton in the trenches of Normandy, Paris, and Belgium, and Betty as a field nurse in Cherbourg, France. The two met when Betty tended to Ray after he was injured in a mortar blast. Both strong Christians, the two bonded over their shared faith, and as Betty nursed Ray back to health, they fell in love and vowed to marry after the war. However, soon after Ray returned to his unit, he was captured by German forces and held captive in Stalag VII, Germany’s largest prisoner of war camp. It was there that Ray’s faith was put to the ultimate test as he endured the most horrific weeks of his life—weeks marked by brutality, malnutrition, back-breaking labor, and near-constant death. The only thing that kept him alive was the dream of someday reuniting with Betty

     Told from Ray's first person perspective, with Betty's letters scattered throughout, Til We Meet Again did take me a couple chapters to get into, but I ultimately enjoyed it. It was mostly about Ray and his experience's during the War, which were both fascinating and horrifying at the same time. As I read, I couldn't help but be so impressed at what the soldiers and the nurses had to go through. Honestly, I don't think I have half the gumption these folks did.

    Recommended to World War Two buffs, those interested in "real-life" stories, and to anyone who wants a look at the lives of Christians during one of history's toughest times.

Rating: 8

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

Monday, July 27, 2015

Through Waters Deep


Through Waters Deep
Sarah Sundin

It is 1941 and America teeters on the brink of war. Outgoing naval officer Ensign Jim Avery escorts British convoys across the North Atlantic in a brand-new destroyer, the USS Atwood. Back on shore, Boston Navy Yard secretary Mary Stirling does her work quietly and efficiently, happy to be out of the limelight. Yet, despite her reserved nature, she never could back down from a challenge. When evidence of sabotage on the Atwood is found, Jim and Mary must work together to uncover the culprit. A bewildering maze of suspects emerges, and Mary is dismayed to find that even someone close to her is under suspicion. With the increasing pressure, Jim and Mary find that many new challenges--and dangers--await them.

   Sarah Sundin is known for her fabulous World War II settings and relatable characters. This newest book throws something else into the mix- a good old-fashioned mystery.

   As always, the characters were well-rounded with interesting problems and personalities. Mary was a dear, and Jim was so sweet! That's not to say that their decisions were always perfect (some had me throwing my hands into the air in frustration) but they were both likable in spite of their imperfections, which is what made them such wonderful characters.

   I also really liked the mystery aspect of it, even Mary's mentions of Nancy Drew...I'm pretty sure I would have acted the same way as she did in that respect. The mentions of the war, Navy yard, and time period were pretty effortless and were far from distracting from the plot; rather, they added to it. It gave me a new perspective on the time period; I wasn't aware of a lot of the politics leading up to America's entrance into the War, and I felt like I really learned a lot. In fact, after reading this book, I'm thinking that I'm going to like the Waves of Freedom series even better than Wings of the Nightingale.

   I could have done with a bit less kissing there in the last couple of chapters, but it wasn't quite so prominent as in some of her other books, and while I can't say I *approve* of it, I will admit that her characters always have a good starting relationship that builds first before it ever gets to that. There was one particular twist that had me groaning, but it wrapped up better than I'd hoped and the character involved even grew on me after a while. I'm really excited for the next two books in this series!

Rating: 9

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

Friday, July 24, 2015

A House Divided


A House Divided
Robert Whitlow
Thomas Nelson

A father's mistakes nearly cost his children everything. Now his children must unite to take on the most important case of their respective careers.
   Every once in a while I like to pick a random novel to shake up my reading habits, and A House Divided was my choice this time.

   Part legal drama, part family drama, I liked it. of course, being no lawyer (and having no interest in being one whatsoever) a lot of the legal stuff went over my head (and all that paperwork that had to be done by the characters? ugh. Makes my head hurt just thinking about it)

   However, I did like how the book showed people growing and overcoming, and I found the characters to be realistic. While I wouldn't say I really enjoyed this book, because it was out of my interests, I thought it was well-written and I became fascinated with how everything was going to work out.

Rating: 8

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

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Luther and Katharina


Luther and Katharina
Jody Hedlund

   When I first learned that this book was coming out, I was extremely excited. Y'see, I've always found the story of Martin Luther and his wife, Katharina Von Bora, fascinating, and while I'm not entirely positive what I think about writing novels about real people (simply because I don't think I'd like a novel written about me years after I'm dead) that didn't lessen my interest in this book. Then, of course, I saw the gorgeous cover and was even more determined to read it.

   The historical background in the novel was interesting. I especially liked the first few chapters when Luther and Katharina first met; their conversations (arguments?) were most entertaining! The author didn't skimp on the religious nature of the reformation, either, which I appreciated.

   The one thing that knocks the rating down on this one, though, is that it was too romance-y for me, and I wouldn't recommend it to younger readers because many of the characters could be quite crude with their accusations and innuendos. This is not uncommon for the time period of the book, I've noticed, as the sixteenth century was...ahem...rather bawdy and savage at times.

   Anyway, some of the content of this book was not to my taste, but I still enjoyed most of the book, and I'm sure anyone who has wondered how Martin Luther went from calling Katharina the "hissing katzen" to "Kate, my rib" will want to pick this one up.

Rating: 6

I received an ARC copy of this book for free from the publisher in exchange for my honest review.

Thursday, July 2, 2015

The Curiosity Keeper


The Curiosity Keeper
Sarah E. Ladd
Thomas Nelson

Camille Iverness can take care of herself. She’s done so since the day her mother abandoned the family and left Camille to run their shabby curiosity shop on Blinkett Street. But when a violent betrayal leaves her injured with no place to hide, Camille has no choice but to accept help from the mysterious stranger who came to her aid.

Jonathan Gilchrist never wanted to inherit Kettering Hall. As a second son, he was content working as a village apothecary. But when his brother’s death made him heir just as his father’s foolish decisions put the estate at risk, only the sale of a priceless possession—a ruby called the Bevoy—can save the family from ruin. But the gem has disappeared. And all trails lead to Iverness Curiosity Shop—and the beautiful shop girl who may or may not be the answer to his questions.

Curious circumstance throws them together, and an intricate dance of need and suspicion leads the couple from the seedy backwaters of London to the elite neighborhoods of the wealthy to the lush, green Surrey countryside—all in the pursuit of a blood-red gem that collectors will sacrifice anything to possess.

Caught at the intersection of blessings and curses, greed and deceit, two determined souls must unite to protect what they hold dear. But when a passion that shines far brighter than any gem is ignited, each will have to decide how much they are willing to risk for their future, love, and happiness.

   If my previous experiences reading Sarah E. Ladd's books hadn't encouraged me to try this novel, the title alone would have. The Curiosity Keeper-- sounds intriguing and Dickens-ish, doesn't it?

   Both sweet and mysterious, if a bit slow-moving, I very much enjoyed this novel. I do admit it took me a few good chapters for it to really suck me in, but I really grew to enjoy the characters, especially the secondary ones. My favorite was Jonathon's father- but then again, given my taste in favorite characters, that's not surprising.

   I think what I liked most about this book was its sense of place. While the main characters were perfectly adequate to tell the story, I personally loved the setting of the curiosity shop, as well as the Gilchrist home. It gave the book a very different "feel" than most regencies. As I mentioned before, it reminded me of a Dickens BBC adaptation. And I could certainly appreciate the old, antique, and "odd" curiosities several of the characters were enamored with. (another reason for my affinity for the elder Mr. Gilchrist, perhaps?)

   Though this novel definitely moved at a slower pace than I generally prefer, I have no qualms wholeheartedly recommending it to Regency lovers. Overall, this was a book I was pleased to find available for review, and I'm already looking forward to the next book in this series.

Rating: 8

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

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

In Good Company


In Good Company
Jen Turano
Bethany House

After spending her childhood in an orphanage, Millie Longfellow is determined to become the best nanny the East Coast has ever seen. Unfortunately, her playfulness and enthusiasm tend to bring about situations that have employers looking askance at her methods. After her most recent dismissal, Millie is forced to return yet again to an employment agency.

Everett Mulberry has suddenly and quite unexpectedly found himself responsible for three children he’s never met. Attempting fatherhood while also pacifying the less-than-thrilled socialite he intends to marry is made even more complicated when the children scare off every nanny he hires. About to depart for Newport, Rhode Island, for the summer, he’s desperate for competent childcare.

At wit’s end with both Millie and Everett, the employment agency gives them one last chance–with each other. Everett is wary of Millie’s penchant for disaster, and she’s not entirely keen on another snobby, grumpy employer, but they’re both out of options. As Millie falls in love with her mischievous charges and tries to stay one step ahead of them, Everett is more focused on achieving the coveted status of society’s upper echelons. As he investigates the suspicious circumstances surrounding the children’s parents’ death, will it take the loss of those he loves to learn whose company he truly wants for the rest of his life?

   I enjoyed After a Fashion a lot, so I was really looking forward to In Good Company. While this novel did have its good points, overall it didn't quite impress me.

   Part of the reason I might not have enjoyed this one so much are because I have a couple historical fiction pet peeves- most notably, the use of first names among characters. I can understand Everett and Millie using first names. Sure, it isn't quite appropriate considering their stations, but to the modern reader titles can seem very formal and aloof between hero and heroine. But literally, nearly everyone was using first names. I mean, five minutes after they'd met, Everett's mother was telling Millie to call her Dorothy. Even today I wouldn't do that, and I highly doubt a woman in Mrs. Mulberry's position would ask her to do so! Again, this probably won't bother most people...but it does make me wince.

   Then again, I wouldn't say these books are strictly accurate to history anyway. I knew that coming in to them, so I don't expect it. But the first names thing is a personal annoyance of mine, and at times the plot of In Good Company was a little contrived and inconsistent.

   However, I did enjoy the book. I didn't like it as much as After a Fashion, but it had some funny bits and the characters were interesting. Personally, I'm really looking forward to the last book, Playing the Part. Lucetta is one of my favorite characters, and the synopsis sounds intriguing!

Rating: 7

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