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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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 ...