Wednesday, October 28, 2015

The Brontë Plot

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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

Owls

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Owls
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

Vendetta


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Vendetta
Lisa Harris
Revell

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

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Street God
Dimas Salaberrios
Tyndale

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

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The Trim Healthy Mama Cookbook
Pearl Barrett and Serene Allison
Harmony

     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

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The Knight's Bride
Barbour
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 netgalley.com in exchange for my honest review.

A Sherlock Holmes Devotional

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A Sherlock Holmes Devotional
Trisha White Prieb
Barbour

     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 netgalley.com in exchange for my honest review.

Monday, October 5, 2015

The Flower Brides

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The Flower Brides
Grace Livingston Hill
Barbour

     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 netgalley.com in exchange for my honest review.

On This Foundation

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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.
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