Sunday, December 29, 2013

Book Review: A Study in Silks by Emma Jane Holloway

A Study in Silks
A Study in Silks by Emma Jane Holloway

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Evelina Cooper's world consists of steam-powered machines, fancy-dress parties, and the mysterious death of a servant in her best friend, Imogen's, house. This is Evelina's year to come out in Victorian society, that is, Victorian society of the steam-powered, speculative variety. All she should be concerned with is obtaining an invitation to be greeted by Queen Victoria, certainly not spending her time worrying over the untimely demise of Grace Child. Unfortunately for her, Evelina is the niece of renowned detective Sherlock Holmes, and like her brilliant uncle, finds the mundane, drudge of existence to be utterly tiresome. So, Evelina involves herself in catching Grace's murderer, not only to serve justice to the poor, murdered girl, but also to exercise the talents she has been given, both the intellect of the Holmes family, but also the magical talents of the Coopers. Evelina literally has a foot in two worlds, torn between the high society and promises of a good match, possibly even with Tobias Roth, the man her heart yearns for, or the world of the circus and magic where she grew up, and the Indomitable Niccolo whose very touch sparks unspeakable magic and passion between them. Evelina must decide which world to involve herself in, but both are fraught with tension, danger, and intrigue.

Ms. Holloway is a master storyteller. Even the characters that I do not want to like based on moral grounds (cough, Tobias, cough), I still end up liking. Her villains are solidly crafted, and her world is vividly devised. I love all of the steam-powered machinery, both the ones that are man-made, and the ones that have a little additional touch of magic to make them work like Evelina's Mouse and Bird. Steampunk fiction is rare, especially of the variety that I would like to read. I love this delightful world that Ms. Holloway has so flawlessly created with her agile and clean writing style. It's beautiful and vibrant and I wish I could see this world for myself.

Now, on to the reasons for only giving 3 stars. Ms. Holloway uses too many voices. The book is supposedly about Evelina, but because of the many other characters that we follow, there can be 30 or 40 pages where Evelina is simply gone. And unfortunately for the author, those tend to be the pages I like best. I like following the villains of the story because they are much more interesting than the heroine. I even loved the chapters from Tobias' view, and especially the ones from Nick's perspective. On top of that, Evelina is tormented by romantic afflictions of the most repetitive nature. I could understand ruminating over her dangerous feelings for Nick once or maybe even twice, but any more than that slows the story down and had me almost wishing to skip ahead to some action. This book is 531 pages long. She could have told the story more concisely in half the time and I would have finished it in 2 days instead of 9. Her plot and her characters are bogged down by too much information and too many voices.

The other point against the book is the heroine's supposed cleverness. She's not that clever, and a reader of even the remotest intelligence will note this fact. Everything Evelina discovers is told to her by someone else. Her investigative skills are sadly lacking, and it's a bad sign when the reader is 4 steps ahead of the heroine because one of the other characters revealed something to us, but not to her. Evelina seemed almost blind in comparison to me, but I really shouldn't blame her because I was the one with the other characters, not her, and I couldn't expect her to be a fly on the wall like me. If Ms. Holloway had narrowed the book down to a single voice, Evelina's, or even her, Tobias, and Nick, then the flow would have been much smoother.

Then we have Sherlock Holmes. In some ways, I think Ms. Holloway believes Evelina is more clever than the great detective. No, she is not. And by trying to declare that belief, however subtly, to me as a reader only made me think Evelina arrogant in her magical talents because she has something that Holmes lacks. Add to that the unrealistic tenor of Holmes' personality, and I didn't buy his addition to the story at all. She would have done better to develop this story in steampunk Victorian England utterly devoid of the great detective. I would have bought her story completely, instead I found the logical side of my brain saying, "Why would Holmes care about this?" or "He wouldn't act this way!" Ms. Holloway did herself a disservice by including the great detective.

"A Study in Silks" is, on the whole, very good. I love Ms. Holloway's writing style and her character development, but there is no excuse for the formatting or the length of the novel. I hope her next novel corrects some of the mistakes made in this one, especially chopping down the number of voices. I'll just have to wait and see.

Monday, December 23, 2013

Book Review: Winter Shadows by Casey Bond

Winter ShadowsWinter Shadows by Casey Bond
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

- I received a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

This review is painful for me to write because I always try to be as nice as possible to authors, especially new ones. But, I just could not get into Winter Shadows. There was nothing to grab me, not the heroine, not the hero (either one), and none of the secondary characters. Claire is bland and one-dimensional and I can't tell the two "heroes" apart half of the time, their personalities are so similar. I understand she's trying to write Christian speculative fiction, but the message, whatever it might be, gets lost because she lacks skill.

Had her writing been more active, I might have actually invested emotionally in the story, but truthfully, she needs writing lessons. Either from a college or just by picking up books on writing from the library. Her passion is there, but her skill falls sadly short. I hope before Casey attempts a second book that she takes the time to train herself. Writing is a craft, like any other, and it requires honing. Passion alone doesn't cut it. Working on her writing skills is the first step she needs to take, doing both herself and her readership a huge favor.

Book Review: Thornewicke by Charity Bishop

Thornewicke by Charity Bishop

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Seventeen-year-old Evangeline lives a normal life. She goes to school with her friends, lives with her parents, and nothing exciting ever happens to her. Except for the terror that something is stalking her. Add to that the stunning news that her Aunt Henoria is still alive, and not only alive but wants her to visit, and Evangeline's life is set on a new course. What about her is so different? The normal life she has always led was merely a facade and Evangeline's magical talents rise to the surface as soon as she steps onto the borders of her aunt's property, Dragonspire. It is at Dragonspire that Evangline discovers the reality of who she really is, meeting the local minister Alistair, running into the great Nikola Tesla who lives down the road from Henoria's property, and especially, discovering just what True magic means. Evangeline discovers that the forest of Thornewicke is dying. It is being overrun by evil creatures determined to break the boundary of good that Henoria has set up against them. Evil is encroaching on good, and it must be stopped.

I love speculative fiction. The possibilities of the world intrigue me, and it's always so much more fun that plain, boring reality. What Ms. Bishop has done with "Thornewicke" is craft a complex world of good and evil magic, all based on scriptural teachings, but without preaching. My favorite character in the entire book is Alistair. Don't get me wrong, I love Evangeline, and I ADORE that Ms. Bishop added Tesla as a character, but it is Alistair that won my heart. He is Henoria's guardian, her keeper, and he is helplessly in love with her. A godly man of virtue and high principles, Alistair is strong and everything a minister of the Gospel should be. I love him and Henoria together, even though they're not completely "together." It's a bittersweet relationship. Let's just say that Alistair came alive for me, and is by far my favorite of Ms. Bishop's male leads.

If you love speculative worlds, and are desperate for one with a Christian spin, then give "Thornewicke" a try. There aren't enough Christian books to satisfy my need for fantasy and speculative fiction, so I hope Ms. Bishop writes other books set in this world. Her world building is thorough and complete, and I love how she adds in those historic characters. Now to wait for her next book, The Secret in Belfast, that takes place in the Titanic! Oh, the joys of anticipation!

Friday, December 20, 2013

Book Review: Burning Sky: A Novel of the American Frontier by Lori Benton

Burning Sky: A Novel of the American Frontier by Lori Benton

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Read Chapter One

When Willa Obenchain is kidnapped by Indians at the age of fourteen, she expects to never see her parents again. She adapts to her new culture with the Wolf Clan, her new life. She even eventually marries and has children. Then, in practically the blink of an eye, she loses everything and is left adrift. She has two choices. She can either follow join the Wolf Clan at Niagara where the British soldiers have promised refuse. Or she can return home to the parents she hasn't seen in twelve years. She chooses the latter and is on that journey home that she meets Neil MacGregor, a scientist/botanist who is cataloging the flora of the American frontier. Despite all of Willa's hopes that her family might still be where she left them, she finds her former home vacant. The townspeople do not trust her, and the man she once cared for as a young girl just beginning to blush into womanhood has turned into a man she does not recognize. Willa must choose her identity. Is she Willa Obenchain, the daughter of German immigrants? Or is she Burning Sky, the Mohawk maiden? Her clan brother, Joseph Tames-His-Horse, desperately wants her to return to the Wolf Clan, but the decision must be Willa's. Fortunately for her, she does not make it alone because God stands at her side.

I'm not sure what I expected when I picked up this book, but it certainly wasn't what Lori Benton delivered. Once I started reading "Burning Sky" I could hardly put it down. I finished the last 100 pages well into the wee hours one night because I could not stop reading, even knowing I had to go to work the next day. Ms. Benton has a distinct knack for storytelling. In the hands of any other writer, this same story might be flat or even mundane. But Ms. Benton brings Willa's tale to glorious life. Her writing style is reminiscent of classical authors, but without being overdone. She simply knows how much to describe and what to leave to the imagination.

The main characters are deliciously realistic. I struggle with most heroines of historic fiction, but not so with Willa. She is a tormented soul who has suffered much and lost much. She is a confused member of two distinctly different worlds. I sympathize with Willa, feel her pain, want to heal her, and above all, I want her to love again. Neil is also relatable. He is a compassionate Scotsman who loves Willa almost from the very beginning. He stands by her even when no one else will, and he defends her even if it means he might get hurt in the process. He is a loving, decent man. Which is what makes the story almost painful for me because I love Joseph Tames-His-Horse. It's not that I dislike Neil, only that I love Joseph and Burning Sky together. I know why Willa made her choices. I understand her logic, but a part of me still wishes for a different outcome.

I know that Ms. Benton has a contract for another book by Waterbrook. I hope this 2nd book will not be her last because I haven't loved a historic author this much in a long time. Most of the historic books I read receive 4 stars because they're good, maybe even great, but Ms. Benton has a blessed touch with her writing that makes me salivate for her second novel. I pray that recreates the same magical prose she has mastered with "Burning Sky."

 - I received this book for free from WaterBrook Multnomah Publishing Group for this review. 

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Book Review: It Happened at the Fair by Deeanne Gist

It Happened at the Fair
It Happened at the Fair by Deeanne Gist

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Cullen McNamara is frustrated as all get-out with his father for securing him a place at the Chicago World's Fair. Always a clever boy, Cullen invented an automatic sprinkler system for houses and barns. The Fair is everything he ever imagined it would be, but it turns out that his location in the Machinery Building is nearly deafening. And Cullen already struggles with his hearing at the best of times. He's nearly resigned himself to returning home since he can't even hear the few customers who might be interested in his invention. A stroke of good fortune comes his way, or maybe it's Providence, when Cullen discovers that the young lady he met on the very first day of the fair, Miss Della Wentworth, is actually a teacher for the deaf. She agrees to tutor him, and love blossoms at the Chicago World's Fair of 1893.

I practically eat, sleep, and breathe the 1893 Chicago World's Fair. Have you ever read The Devil in the White City Murder, Magic, and Madness at the Fair that Changed America by Erik Larson? I know, it's about a serial killer loose in Chicago at the same time, but it's also about the development of the Chicago World's Fair and that, to me, is far more interesting. I never imagined anyone would write a book that actually took place at the Fair! Yet there it was, merrily sitting on the library shelf, just waiting for me.

Deeanne Gist transported me to 1893. I could see the setting and all the buildings, everything. All right, I admit that if you aren't in love with the Fair like me than you might find it a little dull. Your loss, I'm afraid, because Deeanne has penned yet another winner of Christian historic fiction! I love Cullen! I love Della! There really isn't a single thing I don't love, unless it's that rather nasty short story she wrote that really could have gone unwritten. So, that short you keep seeing pop up? The prelude? Umm, it's gross, and avoid it all costs. "It Happened at the Fair" is brilliant! Her short, not so much.

Bravo, Deeanne, you've done it again! Now to wait on your next novel!

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Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Veronica Roth, what are you doing to the world!!! a.k.a. When reviews ruin the ending!

I don't know whether to be furious or grateful to this one Amazon reviewer for totally spoiling the ending of Veronica Roth's Allegiant. But because I'm a nice person, I won't go into details about the spoiler that smacked me upside the head.

Have you ever stumbled on a review that completely ruins your desire to read a book? I mean, I haven't even had a chance to read Insurgent yet because of school, and now I don't really want to touch it with a ten-foot pole. I've got it checked out from the library on my Kindle and it expires in a few days, and I'm just going to let it expire. I know myself, and I know that I'll likely never finish this series.

The ending might fit in with the character development . . . or it might not. I'll never know. All I know is that Veronica Roth might have made a monumental mistake. No matter how much a person might dislike The Hunger Games trilogy, at least the ending is satisfying. A lot of readers aren't happy with Roth's ending, and I suspect that will affect how well her movies do at the box office. I don't want to see Divergent in theaters now. I really don't, and all because I found about the ending. Of course, even if I hadn't stumbled over that stupid spoiler, even if I had read all the way to the end of the series, I suspect that I would still hate the outcome and never want to see the movies. It's hard to believe how excited I was about the story when I first read Divergent several months ago. The book was so fascinating and I just couldn't put it down. Sad to see what's happened between then and now.

There's a few reasons why I don't read very many Nicholas Sparks books. First, the man never permits happy endings. And second, he never permits happy endings! Maybe he's written one book, one solitary book, that doesn't end with me blubbering into the pages. So I decided to stop reading because he's gotten formulaic. Back when he wrote The Notebook his style was still fresh. People didn't know what to expect from the story, but now, well he's given himself away as an enemy of the happily-ever-after scenario. Sorry, Nic, but I'm not putting myself through your emotional rigamarole anymore!

Translation: Veronica Roth, I'm not tolerating your heartstring manipulation either! I can almost forgive J. K. Rowling for hers, even though she still made some critical errors when it came to the fate of certain characters. But this is J. K. Rowling, and despite Veronica Roth's apparent Christian faith, she supposes she can do it better than Rowling. I may not live in a Rowling saturated world, but I appreciate her knack for storytelling, and at least she got the ending right.

Who knows, maybe this post will inspire me to finish Roth's Divergent series. Then again, maybe not.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Book Review: A Talent for Trouble by Jen Turano

A Talent for Trouble
A Talent for Trouble by Jen Turano

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

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

Felicia has spent four years of her life, mainly those between 20 and 24, pretending to be something she is not. The facade she presents to society is that of a demure young lady with atrocious taste in clothes who yearns to marry a minister. Turns out, that's not quite the truth. God knew what she needed in a man, and the reverend she had set her sights on was certainly not it. When the reverend marries someone else, Felicia is forced to reevaluate her life, starting with her wardrobe and than the behavior she presents to the world. She is an upstanding Christian woman, but she's playful and crazy and prone to getting herself in trouble. And when the Lord brings Grayson Sumner, an English aristocrat, into her life she's finally read to get swept along with the changes coming her way.

Jen Turano hasn't been on the writing scene for very long, but her stories promise a glittering future. Her style is active and interesting and her characters lively. Unfortunately, and it is a small thing, there were too many characters for me to follow all of them. Perhaps if I had read the first books in the series I wouldn't have been quite so lost. Plus, while I am 100% pleased with her voice, I'm afraid the characters were a little too absurd for me to appreciate them. If I knew Felicia in real life, we would not be friends. She places herself in far too much peril simply by being careless and, well, foolish. It's hard to respect a heroine as foolish as Felicia.

Still, the faith-based aspect of "A Talent for Trouble" is thoroughly sound, the writing style is engaging, and I just know readers will continue to love her work. I may not read another of her books, but I am sure that I am in the minority. Best wishes to the author.

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Sunday, October 6, 2013

Book Reviews: The Governess of Highland Hall by Carrie Turansky

The Governess of Highland Hall
by Carrie Turansky

Rated (3 out of 5 stars) 
Podcast interview with the author

When ill health forces the Foster family to return to England from their twelve-year mission trip to India, daughter Julia must do everything within her power to offer her parents monetary support. Since she is trained as a teacher, the logical choice is to become a governess, and so she immediately seeks such employment. Highland Hall is conveniently close to her parent's house, and so Julia prays desperately that Sir William will hire her to instruct his children and his two nieces. Little did she expect that upon receiving the position, Julia would find herself wishing for far more than just the place of a servant in this magnificent house. Kind and compassionate, she befriends both Sir William and his sister Sarah easily, and finds herself no longer dreaming of a return to India and her former life, but perhaps the start of a new life at Highland Hall.

To begin with the positive aspects of this novel: the heroine is charming and likeable, a secondary romance held me in rapt attention, and the children are adorable, both Millie and Andrew. It's sweet how Julia reads classic children's stories to them, like Robin Hood or The Jungle Book, and I love her patience with them. Sarah, William's sister, is a sweet creature, very compassionate and forgiving, who always tries to see the best in people. Plus, I learned about death duties, the taxes foisted upon the aristocracy by the English government when they inherit land or fortune. I had no idea that the taxes were so harsh, and that explains why so much of the aristocracy lost their homes. I just had no idea until this novel that there was such a thing.

Next, I can be a hopeless romantic, but it entirely depends upon the story I'm reading. Being choosy about the romantic fiction I read just comes with the territory for my personality type. So, while, The Governess of Highland Hall has many charming attributes, it simply did not serve to permanently peak my interest. One thing all readers should know is that the setting is in the Edwardian period, meaning Carrie Turansky is riding the coattails of the successful BBC miniseries Downton Abbey. Unfortunately for this book, I really dislike DA, or at best, have no fondness for it. It felt like watching a historic soap opera without any characters that would motivate me to care about their fate. In the same way, The Governess of Highland Hall delves perhaps a little too deeply into being a soap opera of emotions. And, if that were not enough, I feel that she based her story a little too strongly both on Downton Abbey, but also on Jane Eyre, which for me is almost unforgivable.

It is like a mishmash of both stories. Where the servants romantic lives are concerned, we have Downton Abbey. And where the young governess coming to care for the children of a brooding widower is concerned, we have Jane Eyre. I am not against people using the notion of the governess in literature. After all, Charlotte Brontë did not have sole ownership of that character type. However, if an author is going to use a governess in such a setting, it needs to be different from Jane Eyre. There was even a fire. I mean, really, that's been done and done very attractively in Charlotte Brontë's masterpiece. Also, and I hate to say this, but I dislike having Christianity be so prevalent in Christian fiction. Heavy-handed religious faith is unpleasant to read, sometimes even for Christians, and I feel that Ms. Turansky added a bit more than was good for the story.

Perhaps if Ms. Turansky's writing style had been more active, I could have appreciated the book more. As it is, the style lacks energy and excitement. She tells me everything instead of shows me. There is too much focus on the thoughts of the characters, for example, "William wanted to reply with the same sentiment, but his throat tightened, and he patted her back instead." I don't like hearing William's emotions like that. His actions need to show his emotions. She could just have easily left off the first half of the sentence and instead written, "His throat tightened and he merely patted her back." The reader is not foolish. We can understand what William is feeling without the author having to tell us what he's feeling. Show us his actions, and I guarantee that we will understand.

Finally, I'm sure that Ms. Turansky's book will be a great success. Downton Abbey is obscenely popular right now, and her book is full of charming characters. For me, it was just too similar to a great classic without having any of its meat. 

 - I received this book for free from WaterBrook Multnomah Publishing Group for this review.

Friday, September 13, 2013

Book Review: Rebellious Heart by Jody Hedlund

Rebellious Heart
Rebellious Heart by Jody Hedlund

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

- Received a free copy from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

Susanna is the typical young lady to be found in the Americas just before the Revolutionary War. The daughter of a clergyman, she seeks to do good as the Lord desires, treating the downtrodden with compassion, but still maintaining loyalty to England. That is, she is loyal until young lawyer Benjamin Ross begins planting thoughts in her head, thoughts she would rather not have, of liberty from the oppressive British soldiers. It isn't until Susanna finds herself in the situation of helping a runaway indentured serving girl that she realizes some rules must be broken because God's laws are higher than man's. And perhaps she'll be fortunate enough to find love along the way.

This book is amazing, from start to finish. I could barely put it down. Susanna is the ideal heroine because you see her make decisions and not just believe everything thrown at her. She has to see proof before she changes her mind and the fact that she isn't easily swayed is appealing to me. She is not so stubborn as to be irritating, rather she is a darling young woman with a genuine compassion for those less fortunate than herself. Throwing Benjamin Ross into the mix was pure genius. He is vocal where Susanna might be quiet, passionate where she is calm. They are the ideal mix and the passion within their relationship is breathtaking.

So, I loved it. Jody Hedlund paints a clear picture of life in the colonies before the Revolution. And what's more she adds mystery and intrigue in the most frightening of ways. The one thing I would have changed is the background history of the villain. It just does not jive with his behavior. No one could possibly fall so far into evil just because an evil blow was dealt him. So, in that regard, I didn't entirely buy the motives of the villain, but the hero and heroine far make up for that flaw.

My next goal is to devour as many of Ms. Hedlund's books as possible because she is a marvel!

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Thursday, September 5, 2013

Book Review: Reckless by Cornelia Funke

Reckless by Cornelia Funke

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

A part of me wishes that I could hold my hand over my reflection in a mirror and vanish to another world. Cornelia Funke works her magic once again with this new fairy tale series about Jacob Reckless, treasure hunter extraordinaire, who lives in our world, but vanishes for months, even years, at a time behind the mirror. The Mirrorworld's inhabitants are made up of elves, living stone men, a race of Bluebeards, child-eating witches who are despised by their healing sisters, and, of course, humans. To say nothing of unicorns, man-swans, lorelei, and other mystical and fabulous creatures of fairy tales and myth.

I won't bother to give a synopsis of the plot. I feel it might ruin some of the magic if I were to attempt an explanation. All I can say is that Jacob Reckless is one of Ms. Funke's finest literary creations. He is not Dustfinger or Mo from the Inkworld trilogy. No, he certainly is not, but he is complex in his own right. Just as Dustfinger attracted me with his cowardice, Jacob attracts me with his selfishness. Ms. Funke makes her characters so very human. They are imperfect, like antique cracked china, but that makes them real. You can see where they have been, and what created their flaws.

I'm not sure what other readers were expecting from this series. Perhaps another Inkworld. But the Mirrorworld is far darker, more brooding, and contains many more flaws than her gentler Inkworld. Jacob is a grown man with a man's desires. He has delighted in the presence of women because he has no moral code telling him otherwise. The scenes aren't witnessed, but they are alluded to, and so no, this series is not for children. I'm not sure it's for teenagers and not even for half of the population of adults who read fantasy. Only a small percentage of readers will appreciate this book and its sequel. I just happen to be fortunate enough to fall into that percentage. Now if I could only find a mirror that would accept my handprint on the glass, I would be a truly happy woman.

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Sunday, August 25, 2013

Book Review: Severed Trust by Margaret Daley

Severed Trust
Severed Trust by Margaret Daley

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

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

In the small town of Summerton, life is normal. Kids go to school, parents go to work . . . and people pop prescription pills for fun. Kelly discovers the hard way that being accepted into a pill party isn't all it's cracked up to be, especially when another attendee ends up dead. But she's too scared to talk, not even to her best friend Lexie, and certainly not to Lexie's Uncle Ethan who just happens to be a Texas Ranger. Secrets and lies pile up and Ethan is desperate to get to the bottom of the mystery, especially before someone he loves gets hurt.

This is one of those books with a plot so true-to-life that it's terrifying. Pill parties are real. Kids don't just take heroine or cocaine to get high. It can just be a combination of pills snitched from their parents. So, in this regard, Margaret Daley addresses a very real issue that tends to get glossed over in literature, even Christian lit. Prescription drug addiction is real and it can ruin your life.

Now, on to the book itself, I couldn't really put it down. I started it sometime early this morning, before church, and just finished it now. Which means that the story was compelling enough to keep me reading. However, I will say that I think Ms. Daley had a few too many main characters. She changes perspective several times to represent these characters and it was hard for me to remember who was related to who and what their connection was to someone else. Also, I think it climaxed too quickly and with too easy of a resolution. I'm not sure what I expected, but not everything tidily wrapped up, well mostly wrapped up since I'm still not sure about one guy's motive in showing up again in his ex-wife's life.

Ultimately, the book would have been better had it been written strictly for teens. Because I read a lot of teen lit, I found Ms. Daley's voice to match teen lit better than adult. I connected with Kelly and Lexie much better than her adult characters. The teen voice just worked. I would like to see what she would do with a book written solely for teens. I think she would wow the Christian market and I hope she considers it someday.

On the whole, Severed Trust was a very compelling read about a terrifying subject, made all the more scary because it's real.

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Saturday, August 24, 2013

Book Review: Rules of Murder by Julianna Deering

Rules of Murder
Rules of Murder by Julianna Deering

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

- I received a free, advance copy of Rules of Murder from Bethany House Publishers in exchange for an honest review.

Drew Farthering, wealthy heir to the Farlinford Processing company, adores murder mysteries. He even has the latest Agatha Christie novel on standing order from the local bookstore. But he never imagined that murder would show up on his own doorstep on the night of a glamorous party, and not just one murder, but two. And now, since murder has assaulted his homestead (huge though it may be), Drew takes it upon himself to put his nose for mystery to good use. With his closest friend Nick Dennison (son to the Farthering's family retainer) in tow, Drew determines to outwit the criminal mind wreaking havoc on his family. Add to the mix the lovely Madeline Parker (niece to Drew's stepfather) and the author has created the perfect concoction for a 1930s English mystery.

For anyone who enjoys the era of Wodehouse's Jeeves & Wooster or Agatha Christie's Poirot this book offers the highest appeal. The author knows the vernacular used in 1930s England by the young and horrendously wealthy, and particularly understands how to take a young man like Drew Farthering (would-be-detective) and make him interesting and fun. Because Drew is fun. He and Nick are such delightful pals, scampering around and trying to solve the murders that crop up on Drew's estate. The characters are likeable, from start to finish. Of course, loving Wodehouse's Bertie Wooster as I do, it only made sense I would adore such ridiculously playful characters as Drew and Nick. To some, I'm sure, they will seem silly and immature, but to me, they are delicious.

Ms. Deering's writing style is simplistic and minimalist, just as I like it. No absurdly big words that require a dictionary or long sentences where the reader forgets where the author was headed. She utilizes active descriptors instead of passive, helping the reader place themselves right in the thick of the action. And her characters are flawlessly designed. Drew and Nick, despite being cut rather from the same playful cloth, or unique from one another in character design. Madeline is a likeable heroine instead of annoying. I cheered for her and Drew. She brings out the best in him and that is what every heroine is called to do with her hero. Even his constant use of "My Darling" was rather adorable instead of irritating!

It isn't easy following in the footsteps of the great mystery writers like Agatha Christie and Dorothy L. Sayers but Julianna Deering makes an exquisite go at it. I admit, she had me going. Not so much that she had me fooled, but she fooled me into thinking she hadn't fooled me. I was disappointed for awhile, thinking I had the mystery all figured out long before I was even halfway through the book. There were too many cliches running around that made me originally think the novel mediocre at best. But the ending was a slam-bang finish and had me slapping my palm to my forehead in impressed disbelief. It's not easy to surprise a mystery connoisseur and I applaud her for managing just that!

I now salivate at the thought of a second book and wish Ms. Deering the best possible success!

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Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Book Review: Into the Whirlwind by Elizabeth Camden

Into the Whirlwind
Into the Whirlwind by Elizabeth Camden

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

- Reviewed for Bethany House as a free advance copy in exchange for an honest review, which I have given.

Mollie Knox never imagined her precise, orderly world would ever shatter, but shatter it did, on a dry day at the beginning of October in 1871 when fire ignited all of the Chicago skyline. Running her father's watch business might have never been something she would have chosen for herself, but she excels at the fine craftsmanship and, better yet, the accounting aspect of the 57th Illinois Watch Company, named after her father's time during the Civil War. That night, as the fire blazes, Mollie finds herself fleeing for her life with Zack Kazmarek, the attorney for Hartman's, Inc. who purchased the majority of her watches for resale. Yet, despite the upheaval of losing almost everything, Mollie determines to start her life afresh, refusing to wallow in self-pity, she determines to rebuild her father's company, although now she has a little matter of Zack's unexpected adoration for her to contend with.

I'm a romantic in some ways, but not in others. I fear that for me Elizabeth Camden's main mistake was having a hot-headed hero. Don't get me wrong, I sometimes enjoy that type of hero, and I liked Zack very much by the end, but it was a long time in coming. I expected him to be cool and collected, logical, which is the persona he presents to the reader up until we realize he is almost goofy with love over Mollie. Goofiness in the male hero has never entirely been my cup of tea. Especially when halfway through the novel, a second man is introduced, Colonel Lowe, who I liked much more. I didn't buy into the author's storyline for him because it just not seem plausible so a little of the magic for me was lost right there.

However, with that out of the way, apart from the generally overdone romanticism near the first 3rd of the novel, I was quite thoroughly enchanted by Elizabeth Camden's story. She has a charming way with words that really paints a vivid image in the reader's mind of this historic setting and the fire as it destroys Chicago. The imagery is quite breathtaking. I couldn't ask for a better heroine than Mollie, who I respected as a strong woman, and I especially loved the little character of Sophie, the child Mollie and Zack find during the fire and care for until her family finds her. She is such a horrendous brat but only because she has nothing to do, nothing to occupy her time, and I loved Elizabeth Camden's gentle nudge that children need something to occupy them and they must not be too spoiled or it will ruin their character. That's a fantastic message she incorporated and I applaud her for it.

So, overall, a very enjoyable read. I wouldn't mind picking up a few of Camden's other books when I have the time.

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Sunday, August 11, 2013

Book Review: Critical Pursuit by Janice Cantore

Critical Pursuit
Critical Pursuit by Janice Cantore

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Two things exist in K-9 Officer Brinna Caruso's world: her scent-trained dog Hero and her hunt for child predators. Photos she's dubbed the Wall of Slime cover one section of her office, the faces of those child predators reminding her to be ever vigilant. Why? Because Brinna Caruso was once a six-year-old child, handcuffed to a post at an abandoned shack in the desert by a child molester, left to die. Except she was rescued, and even though Brinna's faith in God died that day, His compassion and use for her continues on in her calling as a police officer.

When a lawsuit crops up against her involving the death of a minor, Brinna is temporarily busted down to patrol. And her partner is none other than Jack O'Reilly, local basket-case who ended up "five fries short of a happy meal" when his pregnant wife died in a head-on collision with a drunk driver. She must leave Hero at home and work with a man she would really rather not, especially when her first good look at him reveals not just dead eyes, but empty, creepy eyes. Jack O'Reilly is a train wreck, made worse through his loss of faith in a God he once loved. Can these unwilling partners help one another not only heal, but also stop the sudden influx of missing little girls with a suspiciously similar MO as the way Brinna was abducted and restrained?

I judge my Christian thrillers according to two separate authors. If a writer falls somewhere in between Dee Henderson (pretty good) and Brandilyn Collins (the best there is), then they've succeeded. Janice Cantore's Critical Pursuit hits the mark to perfection, falling somewhere right in the middle. It's always hard reading a book where the main character not only struggles with God, but is outright bitter about Him. But I get it. I get sometimes why there is a struggle because it is very human to feel that He lets us down when something doesn't go our way. Brinna's bitterness doesn't make her unlikeable, just as Jack's raging against the Almighty rather makes me feel compassion than frustration. Non-Christians ask the question, "If God is so loving, how could He allow so much evil in the world?" It's a normal question that they ask, especially now in this era of doubt. And I feel that Janice Cantore covered that question very well, and even though not every emotion is wrapped up in a neat little package by the end of Critical Pursuit, I feel it will be by the end of the series.

One of the things I like most is how Ms. Cantore doesn't delve into the nasty details. I'm sure she saw her fair share of ugliness in her years as a cop, but her readers don't need all of that detail, and so she doesn't give it to us. It's hard and angering to read about pedophiles, but Ms. Cantore spares us too much informatino. And I for one, appreciate it! I don't really read much in the way of suspense anymore, but I couldn't put Critical Pursuit down, well, except to go to church. But my entire thought process for two days was finding time to finish her book because it is so fascinating with such realistic and relatable characters. I admit that I guessed what would happen next so the climax wasn't much of a surprise, but it still interested me because I was emotionally invested in the characters. I'm excited to see where she takes the series and the characters, and I hope I get to see more of Jack's old homicide partner, Ben Carney, who never stopped caring about Jack even when Jack stopped believing. The next book can't come soon enough for me!

Please note, I did receive a free advance copy of Critical Pursuit from Tyndale House Publishers in return for an honest and open review, which I have given. I also hope that the occasional misspellings of words/names and the repeating of the same conversation between Brinna and Tony in my Kindle edition is fixed before actual publication.

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Saturday, August 10, 2013

Book Review: Trapped: Caught in a Lie by Melody Carlson

Trapped: Caught in a Lie
Trapped: Caught in a Lie by Melody Carlson

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

GraceAnn's parents graduated from USC and are prestigious and wealthy doctors. She's well on her way to an acceptance letter from Stanford by the end of her senior year. But when her boyfriend, Clayton, breaks up with her, accusing her of being too demanding and high maintenance, her grades plummet for one week, a single week, and in only two classes. Unfortunately, the bell curve for grading results in an F for both exams and GraceAnn's dreams of Stanford grow dim. Until she catches a classmate cheating and suddenly a possibility open before her. Ask to retake the test, using the confiscated answers from her classmate, or just accept the bad grades. the good Christian girl is faced with a choice and before she knows it, GraceAnn is caught up in a web of lying.

I don't get the whole pressure to excel in school. Cheating as a homeschooler was impossible since there was no one to cheat off of other than myself. My folks expected me to go to college, but there was never the pressure to attend a higher-end university. They knew I would go to college when it was time, and I would pick the school that worked with my finances because I would be paying for it. No academic pressure from them, ever, which was awesome. So I don't get GraceAnn. I really don't. And the more she lies, the harder it is for me to connect with her. I get making a mistake that first time and feeling guilty. That's when you come clean because you just can't keep the lie inside. So when she's always talking about wanting to turn back the clock and make different choices, I roll my eyes because she could start making different choices now.

Anyway, despite my lack of empathy with GraceAnn, I realize that her issues are issues that plague high school students everywhere. So this is a very real topic of concern and therefore I think Melody Carlson captured it sufficiently. Even though GraceAnn's story didn't move me, it will impact others, and that's what counts.

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Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Book Review: Damaged: A Violated Trust by Melody Carlson

Damaged: A Violated Trust
Damaged: A Violated Trust by Melody Carlson

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Just as I was moved to grief by Enticed and Forgotten, Damaged reminds me of how desperately victims of sexual abuse need support and compassion. When Haley petitions the court to live with her dad, she's hoping that this will be the start of new beginnings. Sure, dad has a girlfriend who's closer to her age than his, but it's awesome being able to dress in clothes she likes and have a little freedom from her mother's overprotective nature. Within a few days of being at a new school, it feels like she's finding acceptance amongst the in-crowd. Never mind that they don't know the real Haley, the Haley who can't stand action movies or vinegar on her fish and chips, the Haley who really doesn't like football and listens to Taylor Swift. And that's the first step down a very dangerous road of pretending to be something she's not just so she can fit in. And when Harris Stephens casts his eye her way after a nasty break-up with his girlfriend, she couldn't be happier because he's everything she's ever dreamed. Or is he?

I know that one of the arguments against this book will be Haley's mother. The woman is a legalistic Christian whose focus is on judging instead of forgiveness. She's resentful, bitter, and beats her children and ex-husband over the head with the Bible instead of showing them the love of God. This might just upset a few folk from a legalistic background, but I couldn't agree with Melody's conclusion more. What Haley and her Dad need is a church founded in forgiveness and the love of the Lord. They found it in the arms of a non-denominational church and that can be something of a touchy subject for some Christians too. Since I attend a non-denominational church and find the teaching to be sound, I'm thrilled for Haley and her dad. Others might not agree or like their need for a non-denominational setting.

A few aspects of the story are also a bit contrived, such as the circumstances surrounding Haley's bad experience. I didn't buy into it completely and if you read the book, you'll see why. But, just as with Melody's other books in this series, she addresses a very real topic that is relevant to teen girls today. She braves a topic that most Christian authors give a very, very wide birth, and I applaud her for it. While this book might not be useful to a girl who has had Haley's experiences, it might help a friend of someone who has, give them insight into what their friend is going through, and maybe help them find a way to prove to their friend that they are not damaged beyond repair.

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Monday, August 5, 2013

Book Review: Out of Control by Mary Connealy

Out of Control
Out of Control by Mary Connealy

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

I don't mind flawed characters in Christian fiction. What I mind are those supposed spunky heroines who don't have a lick of good sense and run off into danger at the drop of a hat paying no never-mind whatsoever to their sweetheart's words of advice. That's what I hate and that's what describes uppity Miss Julia Gilliland. The thing is, I believe the author intended us to like Julia. I'm sure she must have because no author really sets out intending their readers to dislike their heroine. So, I give Mary Connealy the benefit of the doubt that she didn't want me to dislike Julia. But I do. She comes off as, at best, distracted to the point of recklessness. I like my heroines to be relatively practical and Julie does not fit that requirement.

Then there is the supposed hero of this mixed-up historic romance, the dashing Rafe Kincaid. I disliked him already when he started bossing around a woman he had no right to boss around. He's often thinking about how desperate he is to marry her, but he doesn't know her at all, and what he does know about her, like her obsession with fossils, irritates him. He kisses her just to keep her quiet and that is a bad way to start any relationship. I'm supposed to cheer for Julia and Rafe, but the problem is, I don't like either one of them. Their relationship was a failure for me.

This book gets positive reviews, as does Ms. Connealy. Many readers love her work, and that's fantastic. I just don't find enough substance in the relationships to have enjoyed investing my time in this book. Most Christian fiction is relationship driven so you must, absolutely must, get that part of the story right. On a purely stylistic level, Ms. Connealy feels merely mediocre. Her descriptive vocabulary is extremely limited, often repeating the same descriptive terms in abundance. Let's just say that I expect more out of my fiction because I've invested my time in the story.

Sunday, August 4, 2013

Book Review: I, Claudia: A Tale of Pontius Pilate by Charity Bishop

I, Claudia: A Tale of Pontius Pilate
I, Claudia: A Tale of Pontius Pilate by Charity Bishop

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I've been a fan of biblical fiction since I was a teenager and gulped down every book that Darlene Mindrup ever wrote. But none of the fiction I've read, not then, and not in recent years, can compare to the emotional impact of I, Claudia: A Tale of Pontius Pilate.

This tale follows the life of Claudia, wife of Pilate, from before they were even married. Its historic setting rings true in every respect, and the author does her best to give reasons to Pilate's choices, such as the brutal beatings of the Jews when they rioted against the building of the aqueducts using temple funds in Caesarea. The book paints an intimate picture of a man whose history in the Bible is limited to washing his hands of Jesus' blood despite knowing His innocence.

Charity compels the reader by giving a name to certain Biblical characters who are well known, such as the centurion whose faith in Jesus was so strong he begged Him to heal his servant, knowing the Messiah could perform the miracle from a distance. The lives of Lazarus, Martha, and Mary take on living, vibrant color, as does the merciful face and love of Jesus Christ himself.

Some authors would be tempted to wax melodramatic, overloading their manuscript with prosaic prose. Charity chooses instead to write in the vein of contemporary authors, a choice that allows the book to make sense, to move the reader emotionally. There is no jungle of descriptive prose to hack through, only simplistic style of honesty that makes for a swift and honest read.

I connected with all of the characters. Even the ones I originally hated, I learned to pity. There isn't a single character in I, Claudia that is half-heartedly formed, all of them are individualistic and powerful, the heroine most of all. Expect miracles and supernatural elements in I, Claudia. Expect the moment of Jesus' death to move you beyond reckoning and the day of His resurrection to shake your foundations just as it shook the foundations of the temple and ripped the curtain in two.

This book honestly takes biblical fiction to a new level of honesty and experience. If you too, like me, are a fan of biblical fiction, in other words a Christian, then I, Claudia is right up your alley!

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Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Book Review: Prince Caspian by C.S. Lewis

Prince Caspian
Prince Caspian by C.S. Lewis

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

"Bother!" said Edmund, "I've left my new torch in Narnia."

I can't count the number of times I've read this book, but it grows dearer to me with each reading. Like rediscovering a gem I'd half-forgotten. That's the beauty of Narnia.

In Prince Caspian, the book follows Peter, Susan, Edmund, and Lucy as they are called back to Narnia, this time from the blowing of Susan's magic horn by the desperate Prince Caspian as he fights alongside the Old Narnians against his Uncle Miraz. One of the best aspects of this book is how the timeline is so inventively written. We learn about Caspian, but only halfway through the book, after the children are called from England and have no idea why they are in Narnia. It's a fantastic and clever design and one more writers should use. Playing with the timeline, when done right, makes a story much more interesting.

It's possible that people can read about Narnia without understanding the complexity of its allegory. But where's the fun in missing half the point? C. S. Lewis knew how to be faithful to his beliefs in his writing without cramming it down anyone's throat. As a Christian, I know who Aslan represents, and his interactions with the children when they disappoint him, still so filled with love, is telling of Christ's interactions with his children. It's beautiful and I think it's profound in how Lucy is the only one who first sees Aslan in Prince Caspian. Perhaps because she was looking for him. It's a beautiful book, one I read to my sister before she could read chapter books, and one I hope to read to my children should the Lord bless me in that way.

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Sunday, July 28, 2013

Book Review: That Dog Won't Hunt by Brandilyn Collins

That Dog Won't Hunt
That Dog Won't Hunt by Brandilyn Collins

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

My first reaction to this book was "What the?" I'm a long-time fan of Brandilyn's seatbelt suspense, as she's coined the intense adrenaline rushes she puts to paper. This is not those books. Like a few other reviewers I halfway expected an evil villain to show up, threatening, well, somebody! But that doesn't happen. And it didn't need to happen is what's more!

Within 3 chapters, I was completely and totally hooked on the lives of Brandilyn's Dearing family. The basic plot point is getting all of the immediate Dearing family together for their yearly family reunion. Except this time the baby of the family, Ben, brings home a fiance. Now Mama Ruth and her hubbie Syton are open-mined about this girl, but equally worried that they might just scare her away with all of their playful rough-housing and teasing. She and Syton have three girls, two of which have spouses and children, and they're a fun-loving group. What she doesn't count on is the emotional baggage that Ben's fiance, Christine, is saddled with and the terror Christine feels at making even a simple misstep and incurring the family's wrath.

Really, the book follows three separate threads. And all those viewpoints make it awesome and interesting. We follow Ben and Christine from their respective viewpoints, one of Ben's sisters and her potential sweetheart from their viewpoints, and then Mama Ruth. It's a terrific way to cover this type of family drama because just one viewpoint would overwhelm and even bore the reader very quickly. Brandilyn avoids that ho-hum nature of the family drama with her typical upbeat writing and poise. I couldn't stop reading, even if it meant reading into the wee hours of the night, which I did.

There are no boogie-men to jump out at the main characters (except the ones they carry with them), just a simple, quirky, loving family as they find their way with grown-up children and a cute little Yorkie named Lady Penelope who knows she's queen of the pack even though daddy won't let her into the dining room with them for supper.

Don't go into this book expecting Brandilyn's typical genre. But if you're willing to accept that this is a different genre from her norm, than I think you're going to be pleasantly surprised and definitely entertained. Now to wait upon the sequel!

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Sunday, July 21, 2013

Book Review: A Bride Most Begrudging by Deeanne Gist

A Bride Most BegrudgingA Bride Most Begrudging by Deeanne Gist
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

When presumptuous Lady Constance Morrow is kidnapped aboard a ship headed for the Americas, loaded to the gills with female and male prisoners as indentured servants, she is certain that upon arrival she will find someone to believe her story. Such is not the immediate case, and she is purchased as a bride by a most reprehensible man who then has the bad fortune to lose her in a game of cards. Constance finds herself then under the ownership of sturdy Master Drew O'Connor who wants no wife. Obviously, God had other plans. Together the two attempt to forge out a new life, particularly since despite both of their wishes, they are bound together in holy matrimony per the laws of the colony.

Deeanne Gist writes what you might call sensual Christian romance. She's not afraid to pronounce sexual attraction between a husband and wife, and though she soundly closes the bedroom door against the reader, she has a fun time with the foreplay. Which, I admit, is refreshing, especially for readers like myself who are bored with books where the beau and his lady are perfectly unmoved by sexual attraction and the accompanying emotions. Deeanne has no such problems, and I commend her for her forthrightness. Some will find her too descriptive, but I found it to be just enough without crossing into impure territory.

Now, as for the story, I admit that it is a little weak. For instance, my suspicious mind doubts that Constance would have made the voyage to America still a maid. Yet, she does. Also, a part of me wishes, however fleetingly, that the book had a counterpart to it, written from the perspective of Drew's brother. Josh has more flaws than his brother, therefore making him more interesting. I like Josh, moral scabs and all, and I wish Deeanne has written a sequel, which it appears she hasn't. Maybe someday she'll indulge Josh and give his story an end.

Speaking of endings, there were aspects of the ending I didn't like. When I pick up a fluffy romance, I don't expect the type of tragedy that climaxes A Bride Most Begrudging. It was a shock, and I really wished she hadn't gone where she did at the end. Still, there were enough unique aspects to Deeanne's writing that kept me fully engrossed from start to finish. I love that Constance is interested in mathematics, and I love all of the little historic bits that Deeanne added to her story, like explaining the mistletoe at Christmas. Her work is charming and I'd say she does for Revolutionary fiction what Karen Witemeyer does for the prairie romance, infuses a bit of life.

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Thursday, July 18, 2013

Book Review: Forgotten: Seventeen and Homeless by Melody Carlson

Forgotten: Seventeen and Homeless
Forgotten: Seventeen and Homeless by Melody Carlson

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Adele's mom is bipolar. And there's nothing wrong with that. It's a genuine illness that can be treated with proper medication, but can still cause disruptions. It's not really the fault of the individual, it's just life. But for Adele, she wishes for the umpteenth time that her mom could be normal and at least hold a job. She has her college education in a solid field, could bring in a good paycheck, but she just can't focus. All of Adele's hopes when her mom relocated them for her new job go flying out the window when her mom disappears on her with a new boyfriend. She literally abandons her daughter and the facade that Adele has created at her new school, reinventing herself as one of the cool kids, is suddenly in jeopardy. She can't pay the rent, but it kills her to think of losing the new friends she's just made, especially Jayden who she can't help but notice resembles Jude Law. So she keeps up the pretense. At least she has a job, albeit not one that pays enough. But the day comes when the eviction notice is hammered on the door to her condo and her key no longer fits in the lock. Forgotten, living out of her mom's boyfriend's equally abandoned van, Adele tries to make the best of a bad situation, being homeless at seventeen. Is God even listening, and if He is, does he care?

I finally got around to reading the 1st book in Melody Carlson's Secrets and I'm impressed with the strong start she made. The only weak link in the series is Deceived, book #5 I think, about the cults. At least so far. Adele is a tough kid and while she might be down and out, there are certain things to which she will not stoop. And just when hopelessness starts to steal her soul, God steps in and gives her a way out. That's the beauty of this series and while some might find it cliche, I do believe God works in the lives of the downhearted and mistreated. He truly cares and Adele finds that when she reaches the end of her rope, there are people, loving people from God, who are there to catch her when she falls. This book teaches young people to care about those around them and not always jump to the worst conclusion about their peers. When someone is down and out, help them instead of trample them further into the mud. Well done, Melody, another winner!

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Book Review: Percy Jackson - The Sea of Monsters by Rick Riordan

The Sea of Monsters
The Sea of Monsters by Rick Riordan

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

So, we're back in the world of Percy Jackson for the 2nd installment of the series by Rick Riordan, a world where mythological creatures actually exist and, well, the ancient gods and goddesses still have kids out of wedlock. Why do I love these books so much, even knowing as much as I do about Zeus, Poseidon, and the rest? Search me!

All I do know is that Riordan knows how to spin one heck of a fascinating story! One reviewer mentioned how they disliked the lack of parental influence in the kid's lives. This is true, but it doesn't really bother me because these stories in no way, shape, or form resemble reality. Percy's mom sends him off to Camp Half-Blood every summer and then he goes on a quest and nearly gets killed by mythological monsters. How does that reflect reality? So, yeah, parents not really involved, and I don't mind a bit. Moving on.

In this 2nd installment to the series, Camp Half Blood is in trouble, and we're talking majorly serious trouble. Their magical borders are collapsing and the tree who was once Thalia, daughter of Zeus, is dying. The only thing that could possibly save both the camp and the tree is the Golden Fleece with its magical healing properties. It turns any land that owns it, lush and green and prosperous, so yeah, that would work. Except it means a quest and this time Percy and Annabeth are not the chosen favorites of the camp, ever since Chiron was accused of poisoning Thalia's tree and replaced by the irascible Tantalus who hasn't eaten in 3,000 years.

Still, the kids manage to find a way to be included, even if it means accepting advice and gifts from Hermes, who not only runs the postal service but is also the god of thieves. Percy, Annabeth, and Percy's half-brother Tyson who happens to be a Cyclopes (that's what happens when gods mate with nature spirits, really, Poseidon, come on dude, show some class) race off to not only find the fleece, but also rescue Percy's satyr friend, Grover, a character from the 1st book. Grover's quest to find Pan, the nature god (I think), isn't going so well, or at least that's what Percy's dreams imply. So not only does he have to find that Golden Fleece, but his best friend too, all while avoiding flying so Zeus doesn't blast him out of the sky. Fun times!

Bits of The Sea of Monsters felt repetitive, like going to summer camp and going on a quest. But there were still moments I didn't see coming and that ending is a humdinger. Should be fun in the movie! What can I say, this is a great read. I love the spunky thought processes that Riordan gave to Percy, aptly accomplished in the first person writing style. The kid is likeable and fun, and yes, crazy too. Not to mention the positive outlook that Riordan places on western civilization. The gods only exist while the west exists, and they cause western civilization to thrive. I love that. The west is an awesome place to live and it's terrific reading a series that appreciates America, even though it is a bit strange having the entrance to Olympus being on top of the Empire State Building. Cool though. I can hardly wait to start reading the 3rd installment because Kronos, the big baddie, is cooking up something nasty and must be stopped at all costs!

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Sunday, July 14, 2013

Book Review: Percy Jackson - The Lightning Thief by Rick Riordan

The Lightning Thief
The Lightning Thief by Rick Riordan

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I have little memory of The Lightning Thief that hit theaters some odd years ago. Maybe it was because I went on Valentine's Day with my two bff's and discovered families with literally nothing else to do on that day packing the theater out so we couldn't sit together. But, for whatever reason, it irked me, so I really didn't enjoy myself. Which is a shame because, having just finished the book for the first time, I LOVE the story!

I struggle with first person writers a lot of the time. Some books take you too deeply into the character's psyche and others don't give you enough. I'd say Rick Riordan gave the audience just enough with his development of Percy Jackson, demi-god. Percy is a mischievous, personable character from the very beginning. He sticks his neck out to defend others which immediately places him in the hero category which, duh, only makes sense since he is a demi-god and they're sort of known as heroes.

In this first book of Riordan's series, the reader follows Percy through his realization that he is a demi-god, to his training at Camp Half-Blood and then through his quest to recover the master bolt that has been stolen from his Uncle Zeus. The adventure is a blast from start to finish. Riordan incorporates classic mythological characters into the modern setting, and he does it flawlessly. Because the book is from Percy's perspective, his quirky sense of humor permeates every word, making Percy's discoveries all that more fun and engaging for the readership.

Now, I haven't been a kid in, oh, quite a long while, although not as long as some. But I still couldn't put the book down! When I had to do something else, like go to work or fix supper, it was killing me to not know what was happening to Percy and his friends. It's a fun read, more fun than I expected, and kids who have already been introduced to magic through the wonderful world of Harry Potter are going to LOVE the stories of Percy Jackson. I'm about ankle-deep in the sequel, The Sea of Monsters and huffed just a little because I had to put it down so I could write this review. Ah, the trials of a ravenous book reader!

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Monday, July 8, 2013

Book Review: Shattered: A Daughter's Regret by Melody Carlson

Shattered: A Daughter's Regret
Shattered: A Daughter's Regret by Melody Carlson

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Seventeen-year-old Cleo loves her mom, but not her mom's overprotective nature. When the chance comes for Cleo and her best friend Lola to attend a concert in the big city, a Christian concert even, her mom refuses to let her drive. And because the date coincides with a party her mom, Karen, must attend, she can't drive the girls to the concert either. Knowing that she and Lola can make it safely into the city and back again, Cleo figures out a way for them to attend the concert without her mom ever knowing. The guilt is sort of a shock, and she can't really concentrate on the music, but at least Lola had a good time. When Cleo wakes up the next morning, her mom is nowhere to be found. At least until a police officer rings the doorbell with the worst news imaginable.

Choices have consequences, and Cleo learns this the hard way. And the way she deals with the guilt of her last choice is making another poor decision in an attempt to erase her pain. Shattered deals with two separate issues: rebellion and substance abuse. What begins as the prospect of a fun evening with only a little deception quickly spirals out of control. Choices have consequences and when you're a teenager, your protective parents aren't out to squash your fun, they only want to keep you safe.

One of the best lessons learned in Shattered is that you can't make other people's choices your own. Don't heap guilt on your head over a choice someone else made, even if it was from an indirect action of your own. We are responsible for our own actions and cannot control the actions or choices of others, no matter how much we want to.

This one was a tough book to read. I understand the decisions Cleo made because I had a little bit of a rebellious streak in me as a teenager, still do even though I'm an adult now. I get wanting to do the exact opposite of my parent's instruction. In my case the consequences were never severe. In Cleo's case, the consequences were devastating. With a lot of guidance and love from her aunt, Cleo learns to accept forgiveness, both from herself and from the Lord. She has a tough road ahead of her, but I think she'll make it.

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Thursday, July 4, 2013

Book Review: The Strange Files of Fremont Jones by Dianne Day

The Strange Files of Fremont Jones (Fremont Jones, #1)The Strange Files of Fremont Jones by Dianne Day
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

The first lesson any author should learn is what genre of book he/she is writing. Dianne Day didn't quiiiiite have that figured out. The Strange Files of Fremont Jones starts off as a coming-of-age story of a young woman in 1905 then morphs into a potential mystery before taking on supernatural elements of weird Poe-esque formatting until settling in for a single sex scene that could have come out of any trashy dime-store romance novel. Not cool and I'd like to hope, not her best effort!

Because despite all the culminating weirdness, the character of Caroline Fremont Jones is likeable and intrigued me from the very beginning. The other major problem aside from the hodgepodge of genres is the predictable nature of the actual "mystery" in the book. I knew, or at least suspected, who was involved from almost the very moment I met him. Why? Because I didn't like him much, knew I was supposed to, so my feelings of dislike must stem from the direction I myself would take such a character, i.e. making him a villain. Needless to say, Fremont doesn't always have the best judgement!

And that's another thing. This girl is stupid! For being such a fan of Sherlock Holmes (my fangirl's heart LOVES that part of her character), she really doesn't make safe or rational judgement calls. What young, respectable woman in 1905 charges off into San Francisco's Chinatown without an escort? I realize she wants to be independent, but really?

So, I couldn't put the book down and it had fascinating elements, but I hope Dianne's next books in the Fremont Jones series have a more cohesive plot. I don't want my supernatural mysteries to mesh with reality. If she wants to give her readers the chills, then by all means stick to a Poe format, but don't bounce between ghost stories and real mysteries.

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Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Book Review: A Girl Named Digit by Annabel Monaghan

A Girl Named Digit (Digit, #1)A Girl Named Digit by Annabel Monaghan
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

So, here I am, at the end of a not-too-long journey with Farrah Higgins and John Bennett. Farrah, or rather Digit, is an exceptionally bright girl, mathematically gifted, and does everything she can to hide that proclivity from her fellow high school students. That is, until she uncovers the mode of communication by eco-terrorists via a stream of numbers at the beginning credits of her favorite show, or rather, the favorite show of her "best" friends. Before she has time to count the bumper stickers plastered to her walls one more time, Digit is whisked into protective custody, guarded by John Bennett who has the good fortunate to be a mere 21-years-old to her seventeen years. Cooped up alone together for a week, pouring over translations of telephone conversation transcripts, Digit and John unravel part of the mystery on how to track down the bad guys and save the day!

And that's just for starters! The rest you'll have to find out on your own because no one really likes spoilers. I know I don't!

What I will say is that while A Girl Named Digit is nothing mind-boggling, it's still a cute spy fluff piece that manages to be a little unique in that Digit is such a brainiac. And she is smart! Not when it comes to social skills or guys, but hey, no one's perfect. And all right, no FBI dude in his right mind would let a 17-year-old kid in his care drink a beer, but no one was looking, right? So, yeah, the entire plot is contrived and impossible, but then, so are the James Bond movies and Mission Impossible so this book really isn't stretching it all that far.

Annabel Monaghan has a good thing going for her. While this book doesn't make it into my 5 star reviews, it's still a fun read and I've already added her sequel to my anticipated reads for next year upon its release. Digit is fun, intelligent, and socially inept, in other words, your average teenager with a higher intellect tossed into the mix for fun. And yeah, there's a 4 year difference between Digit and John. Oh well, my parents have the same gap although, to be fair, they met when Mom was 19 and Dad 23. Digit turns 18 at the end of this book, however, so at least the creepy vibe won't be prevalent in the next volume. I just hope she doesn't overdo it with sensual content. You gotta draw the line someplace!

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Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Book Review: Deceived: Lured from the Truth by Melody Carlson

Deceived: Lured from the Truth (Secrets, #5)Deceived: Lured from the Truth by Melody Carlson
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I love how this series doesn't need to be read in order. A good thing since my library only owns the final 2 books for some reason. Totally weird.

While I wouldn't say Deceived is as good as Melody Carlson's final book in this series, it still packs quite the punch. Life is unpredictable and nothing is more unpredictable than those raging teenage hormones. Rachel is unsettled. Her parents have just divorced and her mom wants to start dating again. Their church split just like her parents did. Now she's at a summer resort working in an ice cream shop, trying to advance her dreams of owning her own restaurant.

Naturally, she meets a boy. This boy is from Australia with that absolutely to-die-for accent, and Rachel falls head over heels in a matter of days. When Josiah invites her out to visit his church, Rachel is impressed with the teaching and the conservative values of the congregation. It's only when she loses her job and decides to stay with the congregation, who amazingly all live on the pastor's property, that Rachel realizes she may have just gotten herself involved with a cult.

Melody Carlson's Secrets series strives to teach its readers to think for themselves and not be caught off-guard or unawares by the enemy. In Enticed, the heroine gets caught up in a human trafficking ring because she trusted the wrong people. In Deceived, the heroine makes a similar mistake compounded with the fact that she's a weak Christian who lacks knowledge of the Scripture and so is easily lead astray.

I admit that this story is a little harder to swallow than Enticed. No teen girl I know would think wearing long "granny" dresses and living on a ranch with 100 other people is normal for a church congregation. So the concept is a little far-fetched, but hey, I'm assuming this type of deceit happens because the last time I checked, America is still rife with cults. Deceived, despite lacking the emotional wallop of Enticed, still manages to instruct young women, and any reader really, in the way they should go, looking to God's teaching first and foremost and not being lead astray by false prophets.

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Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Book Review: Enticed: A Dangerous Connection by Melody Carlson

Enticed: A Dangerous Connection (Secrets, #6)Enticed: A Dangerous Connection by Melody Carlson
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I picked this book up this morning and finally set it down before heading to work tonight, having finished the whole thing in a matter of hours. It's one of those stories where you just can't stop reading because you're terrified of what might happen to the heroine, and you HAVE to know the conclusion before doing anything else!

When young Christian teen Simi dreams of becoming a model, she never imagines getting herself caught in such a vicious trap as human trafficking. But that's precisely what happens. She doesn't take the proper precautions to fulfill her dreams, moves too fast, and before she knows, it she's been kidnapped to be sold to the highest bidder. Simi pleads with God to spare her and rescue her, strengthening her faith throughout the difficult ordeal she experiences. Will God be faithful and send her an ever-present help in trouble?

I have only one complaint, that of an inconsistency where Simi's hands are tied and then in the same scene they're not tied anymore and she accepts a cup of water. That's it, my one complaint, and certainly not enough of a grip to warrant bringing the rating down from a 5. Melody Carlson is renowned for her books that instruct Christian teen girls to utilize wisdom when making their choices. I have always appreciated her for this tendency, but this is the very first book I've read in her Secrets series, and now I'm dying to read more. I love how she doesn't sugar-coat the nastiness of the world, but neither does she describe all of the nastiness with imagery. She goes just far enough to get the point across, and no farther.

Every Christian teen girl needs to read this book. I may not be a teenager anymore, but Enticed made even me more aware of the dangers that lurk in the online scene. The Lord calls His children to be wise as serpents and gentle as doves. We can't just leap into anything and everything because it sounds good. If Simi had done her due diligence and researched the so-called "modeling" company she signed up for then she wouldn't have ended up in such a deadly situation. It's a great message to teen girls everywhere to be wary.

But what I love most is Simi's unrelenting faith. She has moments of fear and doubt, but she immediately turns those feelings over to the Lord. And because of her trust in Him, she is strengthened and can stand against the fear she faces.

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Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Book Review: Blue Moon Promise by Colleen Coble

Blue Moon Promise (Under Texas Stars #1)Blue Moon Promise by Colleen Coble

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

There are exemplary Christian historic romances and there are rotten ones. Blue Moon Promise falls somewhere in between. While Colleen Coble does not have the power to move her readers like Karen Witemeyer, she still develops likeable heroes and heroines. They're just not great, and not entirely memorable.

I like the heroine, Lucy, and I also like the hero, Nate. Colleen taught me that people can be married by proxy, as in Lucy and Nate's case, and it's interesting to watch their relationship develop. I wish that Colleen had more depth to her dialogue and descriptions, but even with the simplistic style she utilizes, she is still leaps and bounds ahead of many historic Christian writers. I heaved a sigh of satisfaction at the end, having everything neatly wrapped up, all of my questions answered. I still doubt some of the plot points, like Lucy's young brother Jed's amnesia regarding the circumstances of their father's death, but it didn't distract me that much from the story.

What did distract me was the lack of coherency. Lucy is in a constant state of doubt over Nate's feelings for her, even though they're pretty obvious to the reader because of his actions towards her. I love religious truth in my literature, but only if it is done well, and I admit that in Coble's work, the Christianity gets a little preachy and feels a little forced, especially the scene around the campfire on the cattle drive with Nate reading the Bible aloud to some of his cowboys. I just don't buy it.

Overall, Coble's Blue Moon Promise was an entertaining, fluffy read. It was one that I couldn't stop reading, so that says something at least. It's cute, but not one I would purchase although I am awaiting my chance to read the 2nd in the series.

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Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Book #2 for CCLRC: Winnie-the-Pooh by A. A. Milne (1926)

As impossible as it might be to believe, I never read Winnie-the-Pooh as a child. Sometimes I actually have a hard time remembering exactly what I did read  that didn't comprise of The Hardy Boys or Nancy Drew. However, that is neither here nor there.

There's no need for a summary since practically everyone, whether they've read the books or not, knows the story of Pooh Bear and his friends living in the Hundred-Acre-Wood, and having their adventures with the little boy known as Christopher Robin. What I hadn't expected was the charming prose that Milne employed to tell his story. He's one of those interactive authors, sort of like C. S. Lewis or J. R. R. Tolkien, who occasionally interjects himself into the conversation. As Milne is writing, or telling, this particular story, he has Christopher Robin sitting next to him, listening to the tales, asking questions, and hugging his stuffed bear, Winnie-the-Pooh.

Despite the stories being a little silly, or a lot silly, they are absolutely enchanting. I almost wish I had read them as a child because then I would appreciate them more than I can ever do as an adult. The tales are a way to awaken a child's imagination. Christopher Robin is one of those imaginative children that used to be the norm. He played with his stuffed animals in probably a little forest outside his home, and imagined they were real. I can't think of a single child of my acquaintance that would have the wherewithal to make up such a complex world of characters and so I must give kudos to both A. A. Milne for his ingenuity, and to little Christopher Robin Milne for giving him the idea in the first place.

Now, one might be surprised to learn that the characters in Milne's stories are rather different from the Disney characters we know and love. Eeyore is pretty much the same, but Piglet surprised me by quite a selfish little creature. Pooh hasn't changed one iota; he is still a bear of very little brain, but Rabbit has myriads of friends and relations who follow him and, therefore, everyone else, on their adventures.

This book covers a birthday for Eeyore, a flood in the Hundred-Acre-Wood where Pooh and Christopher Robin save Piglet, an adventure to find the North Pole, an adventure to find a Heffalump, and the time that Eeyore lost his tale, along with several other short stories. Each chapter is a different tale, although Christopher Robin does plan a party to celebrate Pooh after he came up with the idea on how to save Piglet.

So, while I never read these as a child, I want my children, when I have them, to read about Winnie-the-Pooh and learn by Christopher Robin's example. Children should have wild and vivid imaginations!

Saturday, January 12, 2013

Library Loot - 2nd Week of January

Yes, I'm on a young adult fiction kick, and really loving it. Not that I have all that much time to read, what with school, but I snatch a few chapters here and there. I really should read that Death in the Air book from last week. I started it, but got distracted by the Classic Children's Lit Challenge that I'm doing. My bad!

New Loot:
  • Dragon Rider by Cornelia Funke
  • A Wrinkle in Time by Madelaine L'Engle
  • Guardians of Ga'Hoole: The Capture by Kathryn Lasky
  • Winnie-the-Pooh by A. A. Milne
  • The Borrowers by Mary Norton

Old Loot:
  • Boy Sherlock Holmes: Death in the Air by Shane Peacock
  • The Curse of the Toads by Rebecca Lisle
  • Enchanted Inc. by Shanna Swendson

Library Loot is a weekly event co-hosted by Claire from The Captive Reader and Marg from The Adventures of an Intrepid Reader that encourages bloggers to share the books they’ve checked out from the library. If you’d like to participate, just write up your post-feel free to steal the button-and link it using the Mr. Linky any time during the week. And of course check out what other participants are getting from their libraries.

Book Review: Miss Kopp's Midnight Confessions by Amy Stewart (Kopp Sisters #3, 2017)

Original Summary Deputy sheriff Constance Kopp is outraged to see young women brought into the Hackensack jail over dubious charges ...