Friday, January 29, 2016

The Confessions of X

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The Confessions of X
Suzanne M. Wolfe
Thomas Nelson


Before he became the sainted church father of Christianity, Augustine of Hippo began a love affair with a young woman whose name has been lost to history. They were together for over thirteen years, and she bore him a son. This is her story.


She met Augustine in Carthage when she was just seventeen years old. She was the daughter of a tile-layer. He was a student and the heir to a fortune. They fell in love, despite her lower station and Augustine’s dreams of greatness. Their passion was strong, but the only position in his life that was available to her was as his concubine. When Augustine’s ambition and family compelled him to disown his relationship with the her, X was thrust into a devastating reality as she was torn from her son and sent away to her native Africa.

A reflection of what it means to love and lose, this novel paints a gripping and raw portrait of ancient culture, appealing to historical fiction fans while deftly exploring one woman’s search for identity and happiness within very limited circumstances


     When looking for clean fiction, the word "concubine" is not exactly a term one wishes to find, and I admit that when I first heard about the book I checked twice to make sure it really was from a Christian publisher. However, I happen to be currently reading Augustine's Confessions...which meant that this title definitely piqued my interest.

     While there were a few scenes near the beginning that I was uncomfortable with (not always from a romantic origin: childbirth is not my favorite thing to read about) and I wouldn't recommend it to younger readers, The Confessions of X was a beautifully written story. While not overt in preachy-ness, or even in Christian content, it nevertheless showed Augustine and his Christianity in a respectful light. My only real complaint is that, while much time is spent on X's early life, things move very quickly (in an almost rushed manner) with the last few chapters, and seemed to end somewhat unresolved spiritually.

     I fully admit that my heart is full of prose rather than poetry, which means that while I could see the appeal of the lyrical quality of the writing in this novel, I don't think I appreciated it as much as other readers might. However, this is purely personal preference, and I'm really rather excited to see this style of writing in the Christian fiction genre. However, I do feel the need to caution readers that this does contain "thematic elements" to be aware of.

Rating: 8

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

Sunday, January 24, 2016

A Spy's Devotion

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A Spy's Devotion
Melanie Dickerson
Waterfall Press


In England’s Regency era, manners and elegance reign in public life—but behind closed doors treason and tawdriness thrive. Nicholas Langdon is no stranger to reserved civility or bloody barbarity. After suffering a battlefield injury, the wealthy, well-connected British officer returns home to heal—and to fulfill a dying soldier’s last wish by delivering his coded diary.

     For a reader, it's always a little risky when an established author takes up a "new" genre. Known for her Christian fairy tale retellings, Melanie Dickerson's new book explores the Regency period, and I'm happy to state that she slides effortlessly into the period, crafting a book that I think I liked even more than some of her fairy tales.

     While I confess Melanie Dickerson's writing style is not my favorite, I do love the way she weaves her stories- but even more than that, I'm always pleased by how noble her characters are. They are always truly good people that it is a pleasure to follow. Nicholas and Julia are no exception to this, and I was rooting for them the whole time. The plot, if conventional by Romance standards, is still engaging, and accurate to the Regency setting.

     Though A Spy's Devotion did start out a little slowly, it picked up about halfway through and there were even a few scenes that had me very worried about how everything was going to turn out! Overall, I found myself pleased with this novel, and I'm looking forward to the next books in this series.

Rating: 8

I received an ebook copy of this book for free from netgalley.com in exchange for my honest review.

Thursday, January 21, 2016

Curio

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Curio
Evangeline Denmark
Blink

Grey Haward has always detested the Chemists, the magicians-come-scientists who rule her small western town. But she has always followed the rules, taking the potion the Chemists ration out that helps the town’s people survive. A potion that Grey suspects she—like her grandfather and father—may not actually need.

By working at her grandfather’s repair shop, sorting the small gears and dusting the curio cabinet inside, Grey has tried to stay unnoticed—or as unnoticed as a tall, strong girl can in a town of diminutive, underdeveloped citizens. Then her best friend, Whit, is caught by the Chemists’ enforcers after trying to protect Grey one night, and after seeing the extent of his punishment, suddenly taking risks seems the only decision she can make.

But with the risk comes the reality that the Chemists know her family’s secret, and the Chemists soon decide to use her for their own purposes. Panicked, Grey retreats to the only safe place she knows—her grandfather’s shop. There, however, a larger secret confronts her when her touch unlocks the old curio cabinet in the corner and reveals a world where porcelain and clockwork people are real. There, she could find the key that may save Whit’s life and also end the Chemists’ dark rule forever.


     Steampunk has always held a fascination for me, but I've never really gotten a chance to read many novels within the genre. When I first saw Curio, not only was I intrigued by the cover, but I was also excited to learn that it was being published by a company I review for- giving me the perfect opportunity to read it.

     While imaginative, I found that Curio had some very distracting issues. Like its prequel novella, Mark of Blood and Alchemy, I felt that this novel really faltered in its lack in giving the reader a sense of place and in-world logic and possibilities. It was descriptive in the fact that I could easily picture in my mind the characters (and fashions, for that matter) and I got the overall "feel" of the book--but unfortunately, there was little to no worldbuilding in how this steampunk world actually worked both scientifically and politically. It is a ridiculously hard element to balance when writing a fantasy because you want to educate the reader without overloading them with info-dumps, but I can't say that this method of jumping right into the action without much background knowledge truly helped me. In fact, I think the scant backstory I gained by reading the prequel might have made it more confusing. By the end of the book, the reader did get more information, but I felt that it was too little too late.

     I felt this book had a lot in common with another Harper Collins Imprint YA, Storm Siren, because both of them contained imagination and promise, but both also suffered from the many of the same world-building problems. I feel like they're both on the right track, but fell short of the mark a little bit.

     Another issue I had with Curio was the constant focus on the body. This was not always in a romantic context (although it often was), but it happened so often it ceased to become uncomfortable and felt like over-kill; for a book from a Christian publisher, I was very disappointed with the extent of the teenage romance [insert picture of the disapproving frown of a Victorian grandmother on my face]. I really wouldn't call this Christian fiction at all, which is not something I have a problem with in and of itself, although I do think it might be something Christian readers may wish to be aware of since it is from Harper Collins Christian Publishing.

     There are many five-and-four-star reviews for this book on Goodreads, so this may strike the right notes for some people. It did have an intriguing premise and a distinctly "different" setting. However, I confess that I was disappointed.

Rating: 6

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

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

Dressed For Death

Dressed for Death (Drew Farthering Mystery #4)

Dressed For Death
Julianna Deering
Bethany House Publishers

This Traditional British Cozy Mystery
Gets a Regency Twist


Drew and Madeline Farthering celebrate their six-month anniversary by attending a fancy Regency era costume party. Drew is glad to see Talbot Cummins, an Oxford classmate, and his fiancée, Alice Henley, though many present seem worried about the couple. Everyone's concerns are realized when, at the concluding grand ball, Alice dies of an overdose of cocaine. Tal refuses to believe she took the stuff intentionally, and Drew is determined to find out if her death was an accident or murder.

Drew is shocked and disillusioned when the police arrest Tal's father and reveal that the man has been smuggling drugs into the country for the past twenty years. Reeling from the death of his fiancée and the revelation about his father, Tal begs Drew to find out what's going on. Drew, now questioning his own ability to see people as they really are, does so reluctantly, not ready for the secrets he's about to uncover--or the danger he'll bring down on everyone he holds dear.

     Having enjoyed the previous Drew Farthering mysteries, I was pleasantly surprised when I saw that a fourth book would be coming in this series.


     The classic mystery setting of the 1930s English Countryside is always fun to return to, and the Regency twist, although only prominent in the beginning, was an interesting addition (although I admit some disbelief at the way the men [and even women] were able to quote so much Jane Austen...something tells me that might be a little unrealistic ;)

     However, I did feel that this mystery wasn't as strong as the others--I guessed the culprit almost immediately (actually, I had a "hunch" about who the murderer was going to be even before the murder happened...). That being said, there were plenty of times that I felt doubt about my choice and thought I might be wrong. I did find this mystery surprisingly disturbing (I say "surprisingly" because I do read a lot of mysteries, so I'm not exactly a stranger to murder in that context.) Perhaps this was because *SPOILER*one of the victims was a young teenage boy my brother's age. Yet I've read other books where teenage boys have died, so I really don't know what it was about this instance, but it just threw me off. *END OF SPOILER*

     Anyway, while it did take me about half the book to really "get into" it, by the last few chapters I was twisted in knots wondering if I had guessed right or not. I do warn the reader that I found Dressed For Death more depressing than its preceding books, but for anyone who wants to spend more time with Drew and Madeline Farthering, it's one to add to the to-read list.

Rating: 7

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

Wednesday, January 6, 2016

The Bachelor Girl's Guide to Murder

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The Bachelor Girl's Guide to Murder
Rachel McMillan
Harvest House


In 1910 Toronto, while other bachelor girls perfect their domestic skills and find husbands, two friends perfect their sleuthing skills and find a murderer.

Inspired by their fascination with all things Sherlock Holmes, best friends and flatmates Merinda and Jem launch a consulting detective business. The deaths of young Irish women lead Merinda and Jem deeper into the mire of the city's underbelly, where the high hopes of those dreaming to make a new life in Canada are met with prejudice and squalor.

While searching for answers, donning disguises, and sneaking around where no proper ladies would ever go, they pair with Jasper Forth, a police constable, and Ray DeLuca, a reporter in whom Jem takes a more than professional interest. Merinda could well be Toronto's premiere consulting detective, and Jem may just find a way to put her bachelor girlhood behind her forever--if they can stay alive long enough to do so.


     This was a book I've had my eye on from the first moment it appeared on Goodreads-- two lady detectives? In Edwardian times? Inspired by Sherlock Holmes? Obviously, I'm in. While at times bending history to suit its needs, The Bachelor Girl's Guide to Murder was a fun, quirky romp through 1900s Toronto. And the footnotes. I loved the footnotes. Easily one of my favorite aspects of the book.

     I do have a few issues from a theological perspective, as there are a few times that I felt there was too much emphasis on "doing what's right for you" and flouting societal conventions, since honestly I don't think that's the best way for Christians to act in certain circumstances.It actually wasn't in some ways as feministic as I feared (being an ardent non-feminist, I do admit to having very immovable ideas on women's roles) although there were definitely several times the book veered into territory I didn't agree with.

     That being said, The Bachelor Girl's Guide to Murder is a madcap adventure that includes quite a lot of laughs. Its strength isn't so much in its mystery (which wasn't terribly unpredictable) but in the charming writing style, the characters, and the promise that we'll be getting the chance to see these ladies again soon.

     Also, the phrase "cracker jacks!" has permanently entered my vocabulary.

Rating: 8


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