Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Book Review: The Giftsnatcher by Charity Bishop (2014)

The Giftsnatcher by Charity Bishop
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Alana and her sister Irina make their living pretending to be witches in Victorian London. And it is partially true, except that "witchcraft" for Alana is actually a talent, a spiritual gift as it were, the gift of being able to take the spiritual gifts, or talents, of others. She collects them, hoards them, and sells them sometimes for a profit or gives the gifts of others away. Her life, in its own way, is peaceful and mundane until Lord Tremaine steps through the door with his grandson, desperately trying to find a way to put the pieces of Edgar's tattered magic back together. Alana never imagines that agreeing to find a magic strong enough to heal Edgar's brokenness will lead her down a dark path of evil shades leaping at her from corners, or that she would ever encounter Dr. Joseph Bell, a hunter whose spiritual gift is to fight the evil of the world. The more Alana discovers about Edgar's family, the more she realizes that she is racing against time and that it may run out before she unlocks the secrets of the Tremain family.

I was already sold on the works of Ms. Bishop with her first novel, I, Claudia: A Tale of Pontius Pilate. Her skills improve with each subsequent story, and while my favorite of her books remains The Secret in Belfast, I still love The Giftsnatcher for its ingenuity and for bringing one of my favorite historic character, Dr. Joseph Bell, to life. More on him in a moment. The story of The Giftsnatcher follows a character previously introduced in The Secret in Belfast, that of Alana, the Giftsnatcher herself. To my delight, not only is Alana the main character, but Richard, the hero of the aforementioned novel also has a bit part to play, along with two of my favorite characters of Ms. Bishop's design, Alistair the Defender and Henoria the Guardian from Thornewicke. Sadly, Byron didn't put in an appearance, but I am anticipating when Ms. Bishop gives him a story of his own.

As for why I love this book, it boils down to Dr. Bell. Ms. Bishop often includes historic individuals in her work, like Nikola Tesla in Thornewicke and so on, but Dr. Bell is a stroke of genius. For the uninformed, he was a professor at Edinburgh, a doctor, and the inspiration for Arthur Conan Doyle's Sherlock Holmes. The man himself has always intrigued me, and while he has been given screen time in the miniseries Murder Rooms, Dr. Bell's faith is sadly absent, an error rectified by Ms. Bishop. Dr. Joseph Bell was a staunch Christian, nothing more, nothing less, and she honestly proclaims that fact, something for which I am very grateful. Plus, she made him seriously badass! I mean, he's a hunter for crying out loud, with guns and knives and stakes and things. He is awesome!

The plot itself is an intriguing glimpse into the imaginary pondering about the Jack the Ripper case of which every westernized human being is familiar. Ms. Bishop has done the unthinkable and actually conjured a new theory, and while it is quite impossible for it to be true, it is still an excellent fit for the speculative world she has invented.

I think that if the more imaginary reader is willing to engulf themselves with Ms. Bishop's literary world, they will not be disappointed. Her first person style does take some getting used to, but after the 2nd book, it's not even noticeable anymore. One thing I deeply appreciate is her dedication to excellence in her editing. This is not a self-published work that is written, glanced over once by the author, and then tossed out into the world. Much thought, design, and, to be honest, chopping goes into each of Ms. Bishop's books, resulting in highly polished works of fiction good enough to be accepted by official publishers, and far better than some of the work already being published.

So, while The Giftsntacher is not my favorite in her series, it still receives the highest of marks from me and I can hardly wait for her next release!

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Sunday, September 7, 2014

Book Review: The Preacher's Bride by Jody Hedlund (2010)

The Preacher's Bride by Jody Hedlund
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Elizabeth Whitbread desires to be of profound service to her family, her neighbors, and to her Lord. So when Sister Costin dies soon after the birth of her 4th child, Elizabeth's heart breaks, not only for the babe, but for the husband and three small children left behind. This being a strict, Puritan society during 1650s England, Elizabeth is bound by the laws of her town and make an unfortunate enemy of Mrs. Grew, a powerhouse of female influence upon her husband, Alderman Grew because Elizabeth refuses to back away from helping the Costin infant, even at Mrs. Grew's insistence. The babe, Thomas, struggles to survive, and it is only through the wet nursing of a woman of debatable character is he able to grow strong, all due to Elizabeth's influence and compassion for the family.

As for the husband, John Costin, he grieves the loss of his precious wife, Mary, but focuses all the harder upon his calling from God, to teach the Word, a thing not viewed favorably by the Anglicans since he has not been ordained as a minister of the Gospel. A lowly tinker by trade, John Costin is wise man with a heart for the Lord and he refuses to back away from his calling to preach. Tensions rise in England and King Charles II is placed back on the throne after Richard Cromwell fails in his role as Lord Protector, bringing Catholicism and strict adherence to the religion of the realm back into style. It is during these tenuous times that Elizabeth realizes she need not settle to marry a man she does not love, and John too understands that he could possibly find comfort in a woman's arms again, the arms of Elizabeth who endears herself to him more each day as she cares for his household and supports his teaching. But life is uncertain for an un-ordained minister who refuses to cease his preaching, and John's future is fraught with peril.

Jody Hedlund's books remain an absolute delight for me. I thought I could not love another of her books more than I loved Rebellious Heart, but I was wrong because The Preacher's Bride captured me utterly. Over the last few days I've tried to narrow down why I love the male characters that I do and it always comes back to two things. They are completely masculine, and they are usually devoted to the Lord in profoundly moving ways. I love ministers of the gospel, always have, and always will. So, the appeal John has over me is that he is both masculine and in love with the Lord. A man who loves and serves Christ faithfully and without reserve, pursuing that love ardently and without fear, is attractive in the extremes to me, and that is the type of man Jody Hedlund excelled at creating in this book.

Now, it is possible that I wouldn't have liked The Preacher's Bride nearly as much if the heroine hadn't been equally as well-rounded and likeable as the hero. Elizabeth Whitbread has a servant's heart. She desires the best for those around her and yearns to serve the Lord all her days. She is warm and compassionate, and even though she does fear for the safety of John and urges him to stop preaching, she does it in a way that is gentle and endearingly loving. It didn't take me very long to realize that Elizabeth is, in fact, an ISFJ. Everything about her screams it, and I wish I were as whole of an ISFJ as she is.

One last final note, I love how Ms. Hedlund based The Preacher's Bride off the lives of John and Elizabeth Bunyan. As most of you should know, John Bunyan wrote the famous Pilgrim's Progress which I have yet to read, but he wrote it while in prison for preaching the gospel without being ordained. The historicity is magnificent and I cannot praise Ms. Hedlund's work enough. I love her character development, the setting she uses for her stories, and her impassioned style of writing that gives me just enough sensual desire in her lead characters while still maintaining their solid faith and dignity. She is a winning writer for me, one of my absolute favorites, and The Preacher's Bride is a top-notch historic novel.

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Saturday, September 6, 2014

Book Review: With Every Breath by Elizabeth Camden (2014)

With Every Breath by Elizabeth Camden
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

It is the year 1891 and tuberculosis has become one of the major causes of death in America. For doctor/researcher Trevor McDonough, this is unacceptable. Ever since he entered the medical profession, he has pondered and planned ways to defeat this dreadful disease, to the point where he has gained funding for his own research wing of a local hospital in Washington, D.C. Only the patients with tuberculosis in their blood as well as in their lungs are accepted, and he knows that he cannot save any of them and so do they, but his research for a cure could potentially save the lives of countless others.

In need of an assistant to calculate and tabulate his findings, Trevor decides to hire Kate Livingston, the girl who challenged him every step of way during their school years, who was equally as smart as him in many respects, and who lost a college scholarship to him upon their graduation. Needless to say, Kate is not necessarily thrilled at the idea of working for Trevor, not only because of his prickly, icy demeanor that she remembers so well from her school days, but also because death haunts the ward she will be assisting in, and it brings with it painful memories of losing her young husband four years ago so suddenly, albeit not to tuberculosis. Trevor is fully capable of putting aside pesky emotions in order to achieve his end goal, the eradication of tuberculosis, but is Kate capable of doing the same? Especially when she starts to realize that maybe his prickly demeanor is only his way of protecting himself from getting hurt, and maybe she is ready to love again.

Let's start with the positive, shall we. Trevor McDonough is an amazing character. I am a lover of the Myers-Briggs Personalty Typing method and so I immediately set about determining Trevor's type. He is a brilliant INTP, one of my favorite types of all time, and so his prickliness and his ability to push through emotions and get the work done appeals to me on so many levels. He is not cold-hearted and icy like Kate constantly harangues, but simply able to perform his work while not getting bogged down in feelings. That is what internal thinking as your first function will do for you, and Trevor does it brilliantly. So, in the terms of the hero, Elizabeth Camden created a winner.

Now, on to the middling ground. The cover. And the title. Neither of them represent this book with any degree of accuracy. In fact, they are a misrepresentation that offends me. This is not a fluffy little novel with the heroine standing in a shining Colosseum-type structure with sunlight shining in ribbons behind her. Even the dress is not accurate according to my clothing historian sister. This story takes place in the center of Washington, D.C. That aside, the editing of the cover was very badly done. It looks photo-shopped, never a good thing, and I couldn't help but compare it to recent Deeanne Gist and Jody Hedlund covers that are the epitome of quality. This cover is lazy in all respects, but the title is equally as bad. It makes the book sound like some simpering little romance when it really could have been so much more.

Which leads me to the truly negative. I dislike giving truly negative reviews, which is why I'm still staying with a 3 star review. However, I am disgruntled with this rising habit a lot of female authors have in creating spunky, "modern" heroines in a historic setting. Kate irked me from the moment she entered the book. She is arrogant, spoiled, and too all-fired sure of herself. She is bossy and in no way is she representative of Victorian femininity of the time. In terms of pure personality, I finally figured out why I dislike her because I struggle liking the ESFJ personality type. They are so mothering that they smother because they "know" they're right in their plans for you and you had better darn well go along with them because they won't give up or back down. Your dreams don't matter because you're wrong. I hate this type of character and so Kate was an instant negative for me. I'm sure a lot of people will love her, and that's fantastic, but I am not one of them.

To be fair, she experiences an epiphany 15 pages from the end. But it didn't happen soon enough to placate me or urge me to like Kate any better. I hope she and Trevor will be very happy together.

Now on to the biggest pitfall of all for me. This book should not have been a romance. The actual plot, once you get past all of Kate's romantic pondering, is about a man looking to cure tuberculosis. There is more to it than that, bits of development that deepened my interest by leaps and bounds, but I don't want to give spoilers. It is a fascinating concept, and I loved every bit of this book that actually had to do with the plot. So you could say that I love half of it. But the rest was pure romance novel and it did a disservice to an otherwise brilliant story.

I'm being 100% honest in that I expected and hoped for more from Elizabeth Camden. She has great skill. She is a little repetitive about emotions and feelings and doubts, like Kate always reverting back to saying Trevor has a heart of ice. Once was enough. Show us he has a heart of ice (because he actually doesn't). Kate doesn't always have to say or think it. But on the whole she is a good new author in the Christian world of writing. But she needs to work on making her heroines more relatable, and maybe cut back on the typical, dime a dozen romantic feelings that permeate too many Christian historic novels now. This book had meat, but it was bogged down by too much cherry pie. I hope her next work appeals to me more.

- I received this book free from Bethany House Publishers in exchange for an honest review, which, as you can obviously tell, I have given.

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Monday, September 1, 2014

Book Review: Unrivaled by Siri Mitchell (2013, 3 stars)

Unrivaled by Siri Mitchell
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

In Lucy Kendall's life, all should be perfect, but it's just not. She wants to be involved in her father's candy company, especially now that his health is failing so dreadfully, but he wanted her to have better opportunities, and her mother is most insistent that Lucy become a lady and marry well instead. The notion doesn't seem so bad when she meets a charming young man entirely by chance and then keeps him encountering him. At least, he seems an ideal choice for her esteem until she discovers that his name is Charlie Clark and he is, in fact, the son of the man who stole her father's original candy company that makes Royal Taffy and has profited mightily from it.

Charlie himself is drawn to Lucy more deeply than he imagined possible. Having only recently joined the father who left him, his mother, and siblings in the lurch so many years ago, Charlie is unfamiliar with the animosity and rivalry between the Kendalls and the Clarks. What he is used to is the gang mentality of Chicago where he came from, and it displeases him to see some of the same tactics being used in St. Louis, albeit on a smaller scale, both from his father, and from Lucy who thinks herself a Christian.

Charlie is torn. Lucy is torn. It seems there is no hope for this couple to find true love, but of course, they must, because there's no other option.

Unrivaled is a very cute book. I liked Lucy most of the time, liked Charlie all of the time, and absolutely loved the setting, and of course, there is a happily ever after. I will say that the book cover totally threw me. It in no way, shape, or form reflects the story between the pages. There should have been candy making somewhere on that cover because Lucy prefers spending time in the kitchen swathed in an apron stirring candy syrup than all dolled up. The cover, beautiful as it, is not an accurate representation of the story.

Ultimately, while I liked the book, about halfway through it started getting repetitive. The same scenes, the same types of conversations, and I totally did not buy how Lucy's fiancé disappeared from her life. That felt dreadfully contrived. So, only 3 stars for me, and I wish it could have been more. I do like Siri Mitchell's writing a lot, this one just felt too forced. Maybe next time!

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Mini Book Review: A Thing of Beauty by Lisa Samson (2015)

Former child star Fiona Hume deserted the movie biz a decade ago--right after she left rehab. She landed in Baltimore, bought a dilapidate...