Saturday, May 20, 2017

Bread of Angels

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Bread of Angels
Tessa Afshar
Tyndale

Purple. The foundation of an influential trade in a Roman world dominated by men. One woman rises up to take the reins of success in an incredible journey of courage, grit, and friendship. And along the way, she changes the world.

But before she was Lydia, the seller of purple, she was simply a merchant's daughter who loved three things: her father, her ancestral home, and making dye. Then unbearable betrayal robs her of nearly everything.

With only her father's secret formulas left, Lydia flees to Philippi and struggles to establish her business on her own. Determination and serendipitous acquaintances--along with her father's precious dye--help her become one of the city's preeminent merchants. But fear lingers in every shadow, until Lydia meets the apostle Paul and hears his message of hope, becoming his first European convert. Still, Lydia can't outrun her secrets forever, and when past and present collide, she must either stand firm and trust in her fledgling faith or succumb to the fear that has ruled her life.

     I almost didn't review this book.

     I had requested it from Tyndale a couple months ago (they usually have you put in your requests relatively early before the book comes out) but the thing about book reviewing is that sometimes there are dry spells, and sometimes you are swamped. This past week has been the latter. I had five books come in the mail at once and, unsure if I would be able to commit, I tried to remove my request for Bread of Angels...only to find out the book had already been sent.

     I'm glad it was.

     This book was pleasant and heartwarming. It doesn't follow the pattern of most Christian fiction plots, and in some ways felt more like a fictional biography (in a good way) of Lydia's life, and how she came to a place where she was open to Paul's message about Jesus. It's was definitely more character-driven than plot driven, but it was a good change of pace for me, and I love all of the connections and friendships Lydia made along the way, both Christian and pagan, in her journey. SPOILER (This was wrapped up wonderfully in the end when they all stood by her!) END OF SPOILER.

     Overall, I really liked this one, and I think a part of it was because how many likable characters there were who I just wanted to be friends with! It was one of those books that had the unpredictable fortune of "clicking" with me, and I couldn't help but close the book with a smile on my face.

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

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

The Evaporation of Sofi Snow

32969235

The Evaporation of Sofi Snow
Mary Weber
Thomas Nelson

Ever since the Delonese ice-planet arrived eleven years ago, Sofi's dreams have been vivid. Alien. In a system where Earth's corporations rule in place of governments and the humanoid race orbiting the moon are allies, her only constant has been her younger brother, Shilo. As an online gamer, Sofi battles behind the scenes of Earth's Fantasy Fighting arena where Shilo is forced to compete in a mix of real and virtual blood sport. But when a bomb takes out a quarter of the arena, Sofi's the only one who believes Shilo survived. She has dreams of him. And she's convinced he's been taken to the ice-planet.

Except no one but ambassadors are allowed there.

For Miguel, Earth's charming young playboy, the games are of a different sort. As Ambassador to the Delonese, his career has been built on trading secrets and seduction. Until the Fantasy Fight's bomb goes off. Now the tables have turned and he's a target for blackmail. The game is simple: Help the blackmailers, or lose more than anyone can fathom, or Earth can afford.

     hmmm...

     hmmm...

     I have some mixed feelings with this one, and some problems with it that I'm not sure I'll be able to fully articulate, but I'll try. I guess...I can start with what I liked about this book?  First off: I liked Sofi Snow better than Storm Siren. This was partly because I have the suspicion that I prefer sci-fi over fantasy, and partly because this one wasn't written in the first person/present tense style. (When I realized that, I celebrated, very glad that the author didn't stick with that for this book as she had done in the Storm Siren trilogy). I enjoyed what she was doing with the alien element, and I generally enjoyed the last 1/3 of the book when the climax picked up.

     Now, my problems: this book felt strangely bare, like a skeleton of a story that wasn't fully fleshed out. Perhaps because it felt like different stories at once that didn't quite fit together-especially the romance, which didn't work for me and felt more stiff and awkward than anything else. It was difficult for me to connect to the characters, and the only distinct ones to me were Sofi and Miguel (and maybe Heller). And while this book is clean by secular standards, it definitely includes content (mainly innuendos and mentions of sex) that you don't usually find in novels considered Christian fiction. I applaud Thomas Nelson for branching our genre-wise, but I have noticed that the characters in them-including the main ones-make choices that I far from agree with and find disappointing when considered "normal" in those we are supposed to be rooting for.

     Will I read the next book? To be honest, I think I might. This one ended on a cliff-hanger (and it's a duology, so not as much of a commitment.) It did have some interesting aspects, and I'm open to more on the story- I'm just keeping a skeptical mind about it.

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

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Wings of the Wind

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Wings of the Wind
Connilyn Cossette
Bethany House

Alanah, a Canaanite, is no stranger to fighting and survival. When her family is killed in battle with the Hebrews, she disguises herself and sneaks onto the battlefield to avenge her family. The one thing she never counted on was surviving.
Tobiah, a Hebrew warrior, is shocked to find an unconscious, wounded woman among the Canaanite casualties. Compelled to bring her to a Hebrew healer back at their camp, he is soon confronted with a truth he can’t ignore: the only way to protect this enemy is to marry her.
Unused to being weak and vulnerable, Alanah submits to the marriage—for now. As she comes to know and respect Tobiah and his people, however, she begins to second-guess her plans of escape. But when her past has painfully unanticipated consequences, the tentative peace she’s found with Tobiah, the Hebrews, and Yahweh is shaken to the core. Can Alanah’s fierce heart and strength withstand the ensuing threats to her life and all she’s come to love?

     I was actually surprised by how "into" this book I got! Lately it seems like it's taken me a few chapters before I really get interested in a novel, but I couldn't put this one down after the first page. I loved the plot, and enjoyed the characters, too. One thing I've really loved about this series is how it focuses on original characters and storylines in Biblical settings. It seems most Biblical fiction tries to novelize real Biblical figures, and besides the fact that that makes me a little uncomfortable, I also think that it hinders telling an original story. (and for people familiar with their Bibles, makes it a little predictable) So I love, love, love the fact that this is basically historical fiction that takes place in a too-oft forgotten time period.

     Now, I do have a few nit-picky things to complain about. I did think that the latter half was weaker than the first; though I understand a part of it was to show God's sovereign hand, it did feel too coincidental to me, and also a little rushed (and the Rahab aspect definitely didn't work for me). However, besides this, I think this was an excellent conclusion to the Out From Egypt series, and possibly the best of the three novels.

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

Monday, May 8, 2017

The Maggie Bright

32980236

The Maggie Bright
Tracy Groot
Tyndale

England, 1940.
Clare Childs knew life would change when she unexpectedly inherited the "Maggie Bright"--a noble fifty-two-foot yacht. In fact, she's counting on it. But the boat harbors secrets. When a stranger arrives, searching for documents hidden onboard, Clare is pulled into a Scotland Yard investigation that could shed light on Hitler's darkest schemes and prompt America to action.Across the Channel, Hitler's "Blitzkrieg" has the entire British army in retreat with little hope for rescue at the shallow beaches of Dunkirk. With time running out, Churchill recruits civilian watercraft to help. Hitler is attacking from land, air, and sea, and any boat that goes might not return. Yet Clare knows "Maggie Bright" must answer the call--piloted by an American who has refused to join the war effort until now and a detective with a very personal motive for exposing the truth.The fate of the war hinges on this rescue. While two men join the desperate fight, a nation prays for a miracle.

     From the beginning of The Maggie Bright I couldn't decide whether I loved or hated the writing style of it. On one hand, the dialogue was snappy and the plot intriguing, but the book was also scattered and confusing. I really wanted to love it, because there was so much potential, but ultimately I just had to accept that the writing style of this novel and I were not compatible. Like many novels written about WW2, I felt like I would have enjoyed this one better as a movie. While I liked the characters and found their personalities distinct and original, I never felt fully connected to them and their thoughts (and since there is so much dialogue, I feel like the entire story would have actually worked better as a movie) and there were so many characters, especially when they were thrown at us in the beginning, that it took the first half of the novel just  for me to get them all straight.

     So while I like the premise of this one, sadly, this wasn't the book for me.

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

Wednesday, May 3, 2017

A Stranger At Fellsworth

30649388
A Stranger at Fellsworth
Sarah E. Ladd
Thomas Nelson

Could losing everything be the best thing to happen to Annabelle Thorley? 

In the fallout of her deceased father’s financial ruin, Annabelle’s prospects are looking bleak. Her fiancé has called off their betrothal, and now she remains at the mercy of her controlling and often cruel brother. Annabelle soon faces the fact that her only hope for a better life is to do the unthinkable and run away to Fellsworth, the home of her long-estranged aunt and uncle, where a teaching position awaits her. Working for a wage for the first time in her life forces Annabelle to adapt to often unpleasant situations as friendships and roles she’s taken for granted are called into question. 

Owen Locke is unswerving in his commitments. As a widower and father, he is fiercely protective of his only daughter. As an industrious gamekeeper, he is intent on keeping poachers at bay even though his ambition has always been to eventually purchase land that he can call his own. When a chance encounter introduces him to the lovely Annabelle Thorley, his steady life is shaken. For the first time since his wife’s tragic death, Owen begins to dream of a second chance at love. 

As Owen and Annabelle grow closer, ominous forces threaten the peace they thought they’d found. Poachers, mysterious strangers, and murderers converge at Fellsworth, forcing Annabelle and Owen to a test of fortitude and bravery to stop the shadow of the past from ruining their hopes for the future.

     The best description I can come up for this book is nice. That's a terribly vague word and not one I like to use to describe anything, but it's closest to what I feel about this book. The characters are likable, the plot decent, and the writing elegant, but it lacked the oomph factor that would nudge it into "favorite" territory. I think perhaps that it didn't seem different enough from this author's other books (or romance fiction in general) for me; if I haven't read those, I might have liked this one more. Yet on its own, I think this is a read most Christian romance fans will enjoy. It's sweet and clean, with endearing characters. I just had a difficult time really connecting to it.

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

Saturday, April 8, 2017

Pursued

30259134

Pursued
Lisa Harris
Revell

Nikki Boyd's flight into Nashville was routine--up until the crash landing at the airport. When the dust settles, Nikki discovers that the woman who had been seated next to her on the plane is missing--and no one will admit she was ever there. Erika Hamilton had been flying to Nashville with an air marshal as a key witness in an upcoming grand jury trial. When she flees from the crash, is she running from trouble or straight into it? Before Nikki can even see her family, she and her team are pulled into a missing persons case where the motives are as unclear as the suspects.

     I have a habit of trying making myself try different things so I don't get into a rut. I'm a person generally opposed to change, and that includes my reading choices. But I started reading Lisa Harris's Nikki Boyd Files because I thought I needed to read some novels set in modern day. I never do, and I typically hate the morality and culture of "modern" romance, so...mysteries and thrillers.

     The thing is, though, I'm not drawn to the writing style modern novels like these use. For that reason, after reading the first two books in this series, I wasn't planning on reading the third...but then I read that synopsis, and it just sounded great and Hitchcock-esque. But in reality, it was more typical of the suspense genre than I wanted. Perhaps as an episode of a television crime drama I would have liked it more, but overall the story rang a little empty to me; I had a hard time empathizing with the characters and it lacked that indefinable spark that captures my attention in a good book.

     Anyway, I did try. I just don't think this genre is really for me, as much as I've tried to like it.

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

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

When Tides Turn

30259131

When Tides Turn
Sarah Sundin
Revell

The last thing naval officer Dan Avery wants to see on his radar is glamour girl Quintessa Beaumont—even if she has joined the WAVES.

When fun-loving glamour girl Quintessa Beaumont learns the Navy has established the WAVES program for women, she enlists, determined to throw off her frivolous ways and contribute to the war effort. No-nonsense and hoping to make admiral, Lt. Dan Avery has been using his skills to fight German U-boats. The last thing he wants to see on his radar is a girl like Tess. For her part, Tess works hard to prove her worth in the Anti-Submarine Warfare Unit in Boston—both to her commanding officers and to the man with whom she is smitten. When Dan is assigned to a new escort carrier at the peak of the Battle of the Atlantic, he’s torn between his lifelong career goals and his desire to help Tess root out a possible spy on shore. The Germans put up quite a fight, but he wages a deeper battle within his heart. Could Tess be the one for him?

With precision and pizazz, fan favorite Sarah Sundin carries readers through the rough waters of love in a time when every action might have unforeseen world-changing consequences.

     Y'all know I love a good Sarah Sundin book. I'm not generally the type for novels that are more on the romance-y side (I tend to like romantic mushy-ness as a subtle side dish rather than a main course) but her books are the exception. I loved the first book in this series, but didn't care for the second, so I was curious if When Tides Turn would regain my good opinion on the Waves of Freedom series.

     Well, it did. Despite the fact that Dan and Tessa were almost complete opposites, I found them both completely relatable (although all things considered, I'm generally more like Dan) and likable. Again, the characters have very real flaws that create messes most authors wouldn't let their characters get into, and sins we many times think as "little" and let slide are addressed in a way that isn't annoying or preachy- what I appreciate most about these books is that the spiritual themes are usually pretty unique and not the cliched ones you tend to find in Christian fiction. Also, though the characters have misunderstandings and arguments like couples tend to do, they aren't dragged out over fifty million chapters that stretch into frustrating torture, as many books make the mistake of doing. My only complaint is that it did take me about four chapters to really get into it, but once I did I couldn't put it down.

     Overall, this book was just pretty adorable.

(Objective content: like most of Sarah Sundin's books, there is some kissi-ness near the end; aside from that it's very clean)

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

Friday, March 3, 2017

The Illusionist's Apprentice

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The Illusionist's Apprentice
Kristy Cambron
Thomas Nelson Publishers

Harry Houdni’s one-time apprentice holds fantastic secrets about the greatest illusionist in the world. But someone wants to claim them . . . or silence her before she can reveal them on her own.

Boston, 1926. Jenny “Wren” Lockhart is a bold eccentric—even for a female vaudevillian. As notorious for her inherited wealth and gentleman’s dress as she is for her unsavory upbringing in the back halls of a vaudeville theater, Wren lives in a world that challenges all manner of conventions.

In the months following Houdini’s death, Wren is drawn into a web of mystery surrounding a spiritualist by the name of Horace Stapleton, a man defamed by Houdini’s ardent debunking of fraudulent mystics in the years leading up to his death. But in a public illusion that goes terribly wrong, one man is dead and another stands charged with his murder. Though he’s known as one of her teacher’s greatest critics, Wren must decide to become the one thing she never wanted to be: Stapleton’s defender.

Forced to team up with the newly formed FBI, Wren races against time and an unknown enemy, all to prove the innocence of a hated man. In a world of illusion, of the vaudeville halls that showcase the flamboyant and the strange, Wren’s carefully constructed world threatens to collapse around her. 

Layered with mystery, illusion, and the artistry of the Jazz Age’s bygone vaudeville era, The Illusionist’s Apprentice is a journey through love and loss and the underpinnings of faith on each life’s stage.

     I love books with premises that are unusual and original. I don't necessarily have a problem finding novels with such tantalizing descriptions- but what I do have a problem with is finding books that fulfill the promise of a intriguing synopsis. With The Illusionist's Apprentice it wasn't so much the novel description that struck my imagination (though that was good too) but the title. (Am I the only one inexplicably drawn to books with "apprentice" in the title? Why do I like that word so much???)

     At any rate, I had only read one other book by this author and enjoyed it, so I thought it was pretty safe to say that I'd like this one. And I did. It had some very distinct things going for it: the setting, likable characters, and may I say, a beautiful cover. There were even some lovely, tender moments that struck beautifully true. Goodness, how I wanted to love it. But I just...didn't. And I couldn't figure out why. One possible reason is that I felt like the plot wasn't as tightly wound into a mystery as was implied by the book blurb- it was more of a exploration of Wren's past and present. I don't mind that; I just felt like the plot came and went in phases. I also felt that the characters lacked a distinctive voice. There were some nice "inspirational" elements that I thought worked well- except that they slid into the book in a bedside-devotional type of way that felt generic rather than specific to the characters saying them. I'm no hater of faith elements presently plainly in novels at all; I just thought that the sentiments expressed sounded more like a well-written essay statement than words those characters might use to express themselves. This seems like a nit-picky sort of complaint, and it might be.  I just didn't fall in love with this book and am still trying to figure out why, and that's all the reasoning I can come up with for the moment.

     BUT I would still recommend trying this book if it sounds interesting to you. I know a lot of people who've loved it, and after all...I read this while I've been a bit under the weather, and sickness tends to make me grumpy and critical.

I won this book in a Goodreads giveaway. I was not required to write a review, favorable or otherwise.

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Murder on the Moor

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Murder on the Moor
Julianna Deering
Bethany House Publishers

Mystery Awaits on the Mysterious Yorkshire Moors At the urgent request of an old school friend, Drew and Madeline Farthering come to Bloodworth Park Lodge in the midst of the Yorkshire moors, a place as moody and mysterious as a BrontE hero. There have been several worrisome incidents out on the moor--property destroyed, fires started, sheep and cattle scattered--and worst of all, the vicar has been found dead on the steps of the church. 
Drew's friend is obviously smitten with his bride of eight months, though it's hard to imagine what she sees in the awkward man. Drew can't help wondering if her affections lie more with the man's money and estate, while her romantic interests focus on their fiery Welsh gamekeeper. As the danger grows ever closer, it's up to Drew to look past his own prejudices, determine what is really going on, and find the killer before it's too late.

     If you've been following my blog for any length of time, you've probably noticed that one book series that I've been keeping up with is Julianna Deering's Drew Farthering Mysteries. They are a bit different than most Christian fiction out today, and while they aren't exactly Agatha Christie or Dorothy Sayers (because I mean, honestly, who is?) they are certainly some of the most charming and vintage-ly fun modern mysteries I've found. Murder on the Moor is the 5th book and probably one of my favorites- set on the moors, it draws upon the mysteriousness of Wuthering Heights and The Hound of the Baskervilles. Sometimes I found the references to other mysteries/literature were a little over-done, simply because I wanted the book to stand on its own two feet without relying on something else to prop it up, but I liked the plot and it had a good variety of characters. I don't want to say too much about it lest I give anything away, but overall I thought this was a great addition to the Drew Farthering Mysteries, and it makes me happy that Bethany House has taken on a longer series beyond the 3-book formula they normally stick to.

Rating: 8

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

Sunday, January 29, 2017

Shine Like the Dawn

30618378

Shine Like the Dawn
Carrie Turansky
Waterbrook/Multnomah

Separated by an inconceivable tragedy, can faith and love reunite childhood friends and light the way to a bright future? 
In a quiet corner of northern Edwardian England, Margaret Lounsbury diligently works in her grandmother s millinery shop, making hats and caring for her young sister. Several years earlier, a terrible event reshaped their family, shattering an idyllic life and their future prospects. Maggie is resilient and will do what she must to protect her sister Violet. Still, the loss of her parents weighs heavily on her heart because she wonders if what happened that day on the lake might not have been an accident. 
When wealthy inventor and industrialist William Harcourt dies, his son and Maggie s estranged childhood friend, Nathaniel returns from his time in the Royal Navy and inherits his father s vast estate, Morningside Manor. He also assumes partial control of his father s engineering company and the duty of repaying an old debt to the Lounsbury family. But years of separation between Nate and Maggie have taken a toll and Maggie struggles to trust her old friend. 
Can Maggie let go of the resentment that keeps her from forgiving Nate and reconciling with God? Will the search for the truth about her parents death draw the two friends closer or leave them both with broken hearts?"

     I was drawn to this book because of its fresh, colorful cover- it looked like spring. While I have gotten away from reading as many Christian historical romances as I once did, I decided to give this one a try. Unfortunately, I found this one couldn't really rise about the generic formula of the genre, and I struggled. It's not any worse than most books of its type, but I was looking for something more and didn't quite get it.

Rating: 6

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

Thursday, January 26, 2017

Blog Tour: The Returning


The Returning
Rachelle Dekker
Tyndale

Twenty years have passed since Carrington and Remko Brant's baby, Elise, was kidnapped and they were forced to leave her captive in the Authority City. Though they fled with the Seers far from Authority reach, they've never given up hope of rescuing their daughter from the man who betrayed them. Now Authority President, he's ushered the city into a new era of "peace" -- one where the Scientist Roth Reynard's Genesis Serum has eradicated all memory of emotion or rebellion. But the mysterious Aaron and his Seers are once again on the move, threatening the illusion the Authority has worked so hard to build. As the Seers send seven chosen warriors to rescue Elise and bring restoration to the Authority City, the lines are drawn for a final battle between light and darkness. The key to ultimate victory may rest within the strangely powerful girl who has felt forgotten but was never abandoned -- a truth she'll need to wage war against the powerful forces of evil. 

     This is going to be a hard review for me to write, because I haven't written a review this negative in some time. However, there were several things that kept me from liking The Returning. I won't overwhelm you with all of them, but my top three issues are as follows.

1) The spiritual aspect of this series was not to my liking, something I suspected in the other two books but became especially prominent here. The vague, mystic form of spirituality used in this novel, so focused on power within an individual, felt very theologically flawed and untrue. Not that it's entirely wrong when combined in a Christian context, but I felt like only a portion of faith was shown here to the exclusion of anything else so that it didn't work as a Christian metaphorical message or as a secular storytelling device. Many will probably disagree with me on this, but I did not think that so-called "Christian" aspect of the story worked well at all.

2) The spirituality also served as a deus ex machina; by a certain point the "stressful" bits lost their punch because I knew there would be a fix coming. They were always saved by supernatural power, so very few of the consequences of decisions, deaths, and illness lasted.

3) I don't know if this was really only a problem in this book, or I've just forgotten or didn't notice this in the previous books, but the writing here was cluttered with clichés with an occasional poetic sentence and was difficult for me to get through.

     Was there anything I did like? Well, despite my complaints about the "out" that the spiritual element continually gave the characters, I did appreciate the scene where there was a confrontation between physical science and supernatural power: I do believe that God is the creator of the laws of the universe and so is not mastered by it. Some things we just can't scientifically explain, and to deny that is...well, bad science. Also, I did appreciate Jesse's character journey and found it the most interesting part of the book.

     I thought the other two books in this series were okay but this one just didn't do it for me. If you loved The Choosing and The Calling, then you may enjoy this one, but I thought The Returning just had to many problems, both literary and theological, for me to get past.

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


Q&A With The Author, Rachelle Dekker (Courtesy of Tyndale)

Rachelle Dekker

1. Set the scene for The Returning. What has happened since The Calling ended? Well, it’s been nearly 20 years, and the world has changed. I don’t want to give too much away for those who haven’t read the first two, so I’ll just say the world is very different and much more dangerous than it once was. But something is brewing under the surface. Change is coming, and people know it.

2. What themes are explored in this book? Identity is something I am always exploring, so that’s no different in The Returning. But in this novel I took a really hard look at forgiveness and how that relates to our journey of discovering who we really are.

3. How have Carrington and Remko developed as characters throughout this series? Well, we meet them as young adults, just out of their teen years, and we find them middle-aged in book three. So we’ve journeyed quite a bit of life with them. They have grown and changed, as people do, and even in this last novel they struggle with remembering their true identities. I believe life is always stretching us and showing us different ways to love, so their growth reflects that.

4. The Returning focuses on Carrington and Remko’s daughter Elise. Tell us more about Elise’s character and her growth throughout the book. Elise starts the book in a pretty dark place. She grew up without parents, believing she was abandoned, only to discover there’s an entire world that has been kept from her. Her journey can be divided into two parts, in my opinion: first, learning who she really is; and second, learning how to live that out. It’s the same journey we all take, and I believe that makes her pretty relatable.
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