Friday, February 28, 2014

Book Review: The Secret in Belfast by Charity Bishop (2014)

The Secret in Belfast by Charity Bishop
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Charity Bishop is a self-published author, and her latest book is available on Amazon, HERE. Please consider purchasing it as a means of supporting her efforts, and if you do purchase it, please consider leaving a review on Amazon (and Goodreads if you have an account).

It is an exhilarating time for Harland and Wolff, the ship-builders of Titanic. Their finest creation is being completed under the careful guidance of Thomas Andrews, and the ship will eventually set sail towards its inevitable tragic end. Parallel to the building of Titanic runs another story, this time a story of magic and deceit, of good and evil, and the remarkable Gift of a young man named Richard Pierce. He is an Influencer who can calm the minds and hearts of those around him and influence them to his bidding, if he so chooses. A dangerous magical device known as the grimoire, believed to be destroyed by the Conclave, a group of the Gifted to which Richard belongs, has gone missing. Richard must find it before the evil power it wields falls into the wrong hands. Richard works alongside Thomas Andrews and a young woman named Isabel in search of this object that could rip the world apart with its evil. However, not everything is as it seems, and before the end, Richard must face evil from an unlikely source and defeat it or die in the attempt.

If you’re looking for the typical Jack-and-Rose-on-the-prow-of-Titanic love story, you’re not going to find it here. That concept has been done nearly to death, and none quite so well as James Cameron. Instead of going with the mundane and ordinary, Ms. Bishop has transformed the story of Titanic into a marvelous representation of speculative fiction. My poor summary hardly does the story justice. It can’t cover the humor with which she has crafted Thomas Andrews or the spiritual discernment of Richard Pierce or the playful sarcasm of her heroine, Isabel. What it can do is give you a taste of a story that turns Titanic on its head, all with the intention of offering spiritual discernment without preaching too hard at the reader, a difficult task for even the best Christian writer.

In a word, I loved it. Books written from the male perspective have always intrigued me, and Richard Pierce is a stunning male protagonist that feels genuinely male, as if he were written by a man, which is one of the highest compliments I can offer. My favorite character turned out to be not the one I expected, but I dare not give you the name for fear of spoilers. Perhaps my favorite will be yours as well. One of Ms. Bishop’s highest achievements is her talent for creating strong pastors. Ministers in the hands of secular writers are inevitably found guilty of some secret sin or other, utterly hypocritical and deceptive. In Ms. Bishop’s hands, pastors stand strong in the face of sin and evil, wielding the power of God before them verbally and physically. They are men of compassion, strength, and virtue . . . men of great faith. That is where her true achievement lies, and her ministers always leave me eager for her next novel.

Titanic was a tragedy. It grieved the hearts of families who lost loved ones and continues to grieve those of us who care enough to research the reality of the event. Ms. Bishop took the greatest of care with her research, and the end result is inviolable. Even though the story deals in magic and spiritual gifts, the details of Titanic’s building and the reality of the historic characters are true to the last detail. This book is not entirely about Titanic, but more about salvation and the belief that it is never too late for someone to find redemption. Within The Secret in Belfast you’ll find haunted houses to terrify you, specters to chase through your dreams, and ultimately, redeeming grace. This is speculative fiction at its finest hour with a strong hero and heroine and one of my favorite secondary characters in contemporary fiction. Lose yourself in this glorious story, just as I did.

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Book Review: Dandelions on the Wind by Mona Hodgson (2013)

My Rating: 3 of 5 stars

It is Maren Jensen's greatest desire to earn enough money to return home to Denmark before her eyesight fails her completely. A mail-order bride, her would-be husband refused her upon learning of her degenerative sight, abandoning her in St. Charles, Missouri. Maren now lives with the kindly Widow Brantenberg and her little granddaughter, Gabi, helping care for the house and the farm, but making no additional money to put aside for her return trip. It is only when Gabi's father, Woolly, returns alive from his time in the war between the states that Maren imagines the possibility of another life, a life of wholeness and love in St. Charles.

I am fond of historic literature, but lately prairie fiction is just not impressing me. Anything having to do with the 1850s to 1870s simply slides on past my radar as being mediocre. That could either be just me, or it could be that this book simply didn't snag my attention. I fear it's the latter. Sometimes novellas work and sometimes they don't. In Ms. Hodgson's case, her writing is excellent. She is masterful at creating genuine characters and placing them in real-life situations. It's just that I think Maren's story would have been much better suited to a full-length novel. Her story is interesting, but it moves far too quickly, and resolves itself too easily. For a young woman who earnestly desires to return to Denmark, she acquiesces to Woolly's attentions far too easily. It felt too simple, as if everything had been done before in various other books, in various other pairings. The guilt-ridden father finally returns home after his wife's death in order to care for his little girl. It's a familiar story and I guess I was expecting either something more, or something longer. It's nothing against Maren or even Woolly, it's just that it didn't live up to my expectations.

We'll see if the 2nd book in the series interests me any more than the first one.

- I received this book for free from Blogging for Books and Netgalley for this review.

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Book Review: What Once Was Lost by Kim Vogel Sawyer (2013)

My Rating: 3 of 5 stars

Read Chapter One
Author's Bio

Christina's parents ran a charitable poor farm until their deaths, and now the responsibility falls to Christina herself, a young woman who harbors a deep compassion for the downtrodden. When a fire displaces Christina and the poor farm tenants, she struggles to find places for her little family, at least until the mission board sends the funds to rebuilt. Little Tommy is the hardest one to place, since his blindness makes him a perceived liability around the house, but she finally settles him with a loner who lives on the outskirts of town, Levi Jonnson. The man runs a lumber mill, and is gruff in his ways, but she is left with no alternative. Surprisingly young Tommy takes to Levi almost immediately, and now all Christina must do is wait for the mission board to send funds. Except that they haven't done so, and now her tenants are slowly finding other positions in life. Is it just possible that God has a plan for her life that is apart from her own goals? Can she let the poor farm tenants go, releasing them into new life experiences and options? Only Christina knows for sure whether she is capable of letting go of the past and looking to the future.

Kim Vogel Sawyer is a staunch Christian author whose presence has been felt in the Christian fiction community since 2006. She implements faith elements into her novels throughout the entire book, and What Once Was Lost is no exception. Christian is a young woman of strong moral character and a passionate belief in God. The secondary characters, especially the ones from the poor farm, are equally as dedicated to their faith, and that leaves only Levi who comes to the Lord slowly. Ms. Sawyer surprised me by including an unmarried pregnancy since that can be a touchy subject in Christian fiction, but she handled the topic well.

I wish I had liked this book, but I just could not get into either the story or the characters. I never connected with either Christina or Levi and I found the romance to be exceptionally sappy and predictable. I'm sure that I'm in the minority in this, it's just that I literally despise lines like, "And my heart leaped like a nimble deer" when describing a woman's response to a man's entrance into a room. No, it just did not work for me, at all. No doubt there are plenty of fans out there who love Ms. Sawyer's books, and a part of me is sorry that I won't be joining their ranks, but the book did not work for me. I wish her the best in her future ventures, and with the audience she attracts.

- I received this book for free from Blogging for Books for this review.

Saturday, February 15, 2014

Book Review: By the Pricking of My Thumbs (Tommy and Tuppence) by Agatha Christie

By the Pricking of My Thumbs (Tommy and Tuppence, #4)By the Pricking of My Thumbs by Agatha Christie
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I admit it, I'm now a die-hard Tommy and Tuppence fan. Ok, so my adoration actually started upon seeing Anthony Andrews play Tommy in a rather muddled interpretation of this story. But if I hadn't watched the episode, I would have never decided to read the book! A book which, as it turns out, is loads better than what the screenwriters pieced together. Who knew they created such a dreadful Frankenstein's monster?!

When Tommy's aged Aunt Ada dies in a home for elderly ladies, her belongings are disposed of by Tommy and Tuppence, all except for a few knick-knacks, odds and ends, and a painting that originally belonged to one of the other elderly ladies in the home. Tuppence remembers quite vividly her encounter with Mrs. Lancaster, and talk of a child being buried behind a fireplace. In a sudden fit of whatever you want to call it, Tuppence decides to return the picture to Mrs. Lancaster, thinking the woman might want it back. Except that Mrs. Lancaster has been rather suddenly removed from Sunny Ridge, and now Tuppence is sniffing out some sort of foul play much to Tommy's chagrin. He's helpless to stop her, and while he's off at a very hush-hush meeting of English politicians and officials, Tuppence is doing reconnaissance of her own, determined to find Mrs. Lancaster just in case the woman was right about her stories of a dead child in a fireplace, perhaps even the house in the painting.

By the Pricking of My Thumbs is delightful. I literally never wanted to put it down, and I wouldn't have except that I had to work. It is absolutely nothing like the tv episode, and for that I'm glad because the book is so much more like Agatha Christie. A kindly old vicar of the highest virtue in a town full of mostly friendly people. This is Agatha Christie, perhaps not at her best, but at my favorite. I love Poirot and Miss Marple, but I do believe that Tommy and Tuppence Beresford are now my favorites of her characters. It's time to read the rest of their series, short stories and all!

For the rest of my reviews, see my page HERE.

Book Review: Wildwood Creek by Lisa Wingate (2014)

Wildwood Creek (Moses Creek, #4)Wildwood Creek by Lisa Wingate
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

When Allie Kirkland's father died in a tragic car accident, he left a void that nothing could fill. Nothing except the idea of continuing in her father's chosen profession, the glitz and glamor of Hollywood film-making. Despite the disappointment of her family, mother, stepfather, and various half-siblings, Allie is determined to make a go of the Hollywood life, not in front of the camera, but behind. So when the opportunity crops up to intern with a company producing a historic reenactment village, she leaps at the chance. Little mysteries pop up here and there about Wildwood Creek, the town they are recreating, and none more mysterious than the story of Bonnie Rose, the school teacher of 1861 that many locals had claimed was a witch. Coinciding with Allie's story is the story of Bonnie Rose, the book altering between the voices of the two women, one a strong survivor, and the other learning that she's stronger than she thinks.

I confess to being a bit doubtful about the variation of characters. It's hard mentally to jump from one era to another within the same book. I've never much enjoyed the multi-generational stories that span over a hundred years. Because of that part of myself, I wish that Wildwood Creek had been told in two different books. Just when I started getting into Bonnie Rose's story, the voice switched over to Allie's life, and just when I invested myself in Allie's life, I was back with Bonnie Rose. The book is excellent, but I'm just not accustomed to that aspect of Ms. Wingate's style.

That issue aside, some books are just plain good. The writing, the characters, the setting, and Wildwood Creek is one of those books. Both Allie and Bonnie Rose are intelligent, relatable heroines. Bonnie Rose had suffered more than any young woman should have suffered, and her voice is ripe with the pain and fear, but also beautiful when she allows herself to hope. Allie is all spunk and twenty-first century heroine who happens to be just klutzy enough to make me laugh. Getting stuck in a window frame, indeed! I think that's something I might do! The downside is that Bonnie Rose's romantic interest is never fully developed, either one of them. The story just didn't have enough time, but it would have if Bonnie Rose had been given her own book. At least Allie had Blake, and he's developed enough, for the most part, that the reader likes him and gets to know him.

My brain clicks along in a logical way most of the time, unless I choose to turn it off, so there were parts of the story I just didn't buy. Like, what girl in her right mind who hasn't shaved her legs in weeks sneaks off in capris with the young man she loves? Umm, no, not going to happen in any civilized western country. And then there's the cell phone call that she should have made to her friend, but didn't. Kim has a cell phone and Allie could easily borrow one to try and find her, but she never even thinks about it. So, there were a couple of little niggly things that snapped me out of the story's pacing, but most books have at least one or two so it didn't bother me too much.

Overall, Ms. Wingate is a very engaging author whose writing voice is solid and intriguing. It could not have been easy writing from the perspectives of two such different women in two such different time periods, but she managed it with flying colors. I loved all of the characters that I was supposed to love, and despised the ones I was supposed to despise. The book is not a typical romance, but has suspenseful elements interwoven in such a way as to make the story that much more intriguing. All in all, Wildwood Creek is a fun, innovative read, and fortunately for me, I wasn't completely lost upon discovering it was 4th in the Moses Creek series when I hadn't read any of the previous books. It stands solidly on its own two feet and speaks to fans of both historic and contemporary Christian fiction.

- I received this book free of charge from Bethany House Publishers via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review which I have given.

For the rest of my reviews, see my page HERE.

Thursday, February 6, 2014

Book Review: Rescue Team by Candace Calvert (2013)

Rescue Team (Grace Medical, #2)Rescue Team by Candace Calvert
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Search and rescue team captain, Wes Tanner was driven into the darkness as a little boy and left in the woods by his mother. That heart-pounding of a seven-year old motivates the man to keep looking, to keep pushing, to find the people who are lost. The safety of other people is his top priority, and is almost a complete 180 from the views of Kate Callison, the interim ER director for Grace Medical in Austin, TX. Her life is such that Kate is always running, from her emotions, from her father, from anything that will remind her of the mistakes she's made in the past. Wes and Kate meet through tragedy, and she is inevitably drawn to his quiet strength and his certainty that God watches over His creation. Her instincts are to push him away, but what Kate doesn't realize at first is that when she pushes Wes away, she's pushing God away, and He is the One she needs most to quiet her fears and give her a future and a hope.

I vaguely recall reading another of Ms. Calvert's books a few years back, possibly Code Triage, and found it to be excellent. I'm not usually one for medical dramas, despite all those episodes of Diagnosis Murder, but I find Ms. Calvert's writing to be clear-cut and straight-forward, with realistic characters, and genuine fears and problems that they face. Realism is the key to Ms. Calvert's fiction, a key that dragged me deeper into the story in the hopes of a resolution for poor Kate who has been through so much, and for Wes who still struggles with his mother's abandoning him. She makes me want to invest in these characters, care about them, and that isn't always an easy feat to accomplish.

What I liked most is how Christianity was so seamlessly incorporated into Rescue Team. Sometimes a novel gets preachy, even for me, but Ms. Calvert knows the line she needs to walk. This is about desperate and hurting people reaching the conclusion that God is the only One who can help them climb from their pit of despair and loneliness. The romance in this book is mostly terrific (more on that in a minute), but in the end, Wes couldn't save Kate. It had to be God, and I loved how she came to that conclusion not by his urging or pushing, but by God's gentle nudge in her spirit.

All right, as for the romance, I love Wes and really like Kate. However, I'm not one to condone missionary dating, which is sort of what Wes does, and like clockwork he falls in love before he knows where he is, with a woman who doesn't share his faith. At least, not right away. The relationship worked out in the end, but I also wonder at the many instances of missionary dating that don't have such a happy ending. Just something to ponder.

Overall, Rescue Team was an exciting, enjoyable, and remarkably quick read. Ms. Calvert has quite the flair for imagery and her comedic timing with Wes's humor had me laughing out loud regularly. I'm excited to see what she has for us in the future!

- I received this book as a complimentary copy from Tyndale Publishers in exchange for an honest review, which I have given.

For the rest of my reviews, see my page HERE.

Sunday, February 2, 2014

Book Review: Captain Wentworth's Diary by Amanda Grange

Captain Wentworth's Diary (Jane Austen Heroes, #3)Captain Wentworth's Diary by Amanda Grange
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This book is exactly as it sounds; a diary from Captain Wentworth's perspective, the hero of Jane Austen's Persuasion. As most of my friends know, I don't go in for epistolary writing. Or Jane Austen-inspired fiction, for that matter. But . . . I couldn't resist! Wentworth is my second favorite of the Austen heroes, superseded only by Emma's Mr. Knightley.

Finding a diary from his perspective was pure heaven for two reasons.

1) I love the male perspective in literature. Heroines are usually the focus of most writers, but I've always loved novels from the perspective of the hero. I'm sure I have The Hardy Boys to blame for it, too. While all my friends were reading Nancy Drew, I was nose-deep in a book about my favorite brothers. So, yes, reading Persuasion from Wentworth's perspective appealed to me.

2) I always wanted to see how Wentworth and Anne met and wooed back in 1806! It never fully satisfied me to simply watch them become reacquainted. I needed to understand the background, their courtship, what first attracted him to her, and the circumstances surrounding their shattered engagement. This book erased any fondness I might have held for Lady Russell, but I enjoyed watching the drama unfold, listening in on the conversations between Lady Russell and Wentworth, particularly the final conversation before he leaves for 8 years. All that back-history satisfied a need in me to find out what happened.

I admit, the format of the book was not the most enjoyable. It's doubtful that men in the Regency era, or most men in general, take the time to write out their thoughts in a diary, particularly regarding entire conversations and scenes. If Ms. Grange had penned her story as an actual novel instead of in epistolary format, I would have loved it all the better. As it was, I still read Captain Wentworth's Diary in a single day, savoring every word, and loving him all the more for his emotional challenges. I finally feel as though I understand him, and he is as honorable a man as I already knew him to be.

For those complaining of the author using Ms. Austen's dialogue, there is no other way for Ms. Grange to have written the book. Imagine trying to rewrite conversations between Anne and Wentworth! It simply wouldn't have worked. As it is, the use of Austen's original dialogue lends an air of credence to the book itself, and helped me believe wholeheartedly in the author's conclusions about Captain Wentworth's character and emotions. As soon as I am able, I will hunt down Mr. Knightley's Diary followed by Colonel Brandon's Diary for I am sure they will be equally as excellent.

For the rest of my reviews, see my page HERE

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 ...