Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Book Review: Radio Girl by Carol Brendler

Radio Girl
Carol Brendler

Official Synopsis

Fourteen-year-old Cece's dream of a career as a radio star gets off to a bumpy, hilarious start in this engaging historical novel marked by mix-ups and misunderstandings that culminate in the panic surrounding the 1938 broadcast of Orson Welles' War of the Worlds.

My Take in 3 Parts

The Plot
The synopsis is such a simple sentence for such an non-simple book. Radio Girl is one of those novels that handles so many things, like teen rebellion, infidelity, treatment of women in the 1930s, and the callousness of those in show business. It is complex and engaging, especially for someone like me who actually KNOWS about Orson Welles' broadcast of War of the Worlds and the ensuing chaos that erupted.

What might seem like a teen novel, actually doesn't fall under any specific genre. Radio Girl's plot downfall, if it has one, is that it doesn't fit anywhere, not in children's, not in YA, and not in adult. It merely fits in with those few who are addicted to 1930s fiction and don't mind reading a comedic yet solemn novel from the perspective of a 14-year-old girl who really is a bit snarky and underhanded to get what she wants.

The Characters
It's almost impossible to say that I love Cece Maloney. But I empathize with her, even while not agreeing with her decisions. She rebels against what she views as the harsh rule of her mother, a mother who is simply trying to protect her only child. Cece does a lot of lying to get what she wants, but thankfully, she learns from her choices and a few important relationships that were damaged during the course of the book end up being healed at the end.

Monday, December 14, 2015

Book Review: A Winter Dream by Richard Paul Evans

A Winter Dream
Richard Paul Evans
Simon & Schuster

Official Synopsis

From wonderful storyteller and author of the bestselling phenomenon The Christmas Box, a new holiday novel based on the story of Joseph and the coat of many colors.

Joe is forced out of the family business by his jealous siblings. Moving on to another company, he soon becomes chief advisor to the CEO. But when the economy turns, Joe’s siblings need his help to save the family business.

Based on the Old Testament story about Joseph and the coat of many colors and including a love story, A Winter Dream can be embraced for its message of forgiveness by believers and nonbelievers alike.

My Thoughts

I've already determined that I like Richard Paul Evans' writing style. He has a fluid and relaxed way of engaging the reader's interest that makes his books so easy to comprehend and digest, perfect for the holiday season.

That being said, his use of the Old Testament story of Joseph in a modern setting just didn't work for me. Other readers have complained that it feels rushed, and I agree with them. Combining the rushed feel with the absurdity of circumstances and it just didn't work. The characters are nice enough, Joe especially. He really is a nice guy, pretty much a guarantee in one of Evans' Christmas stories, at least from what I've noticed so far.

If Joseph's brothers wanted to throw him out of the family, why set him up with a halfway decent job doing what he does best, even if it is halfway around the country? What was up with the character of April being an escapee from a bigamist cult? Joe handled that part of the story surprisingly well considering its absurdity. And how about the ease with which Joe rose up through the ranks of the marketing firm? Nope, none of these elements worked for me. The story felt entirely too slipshod and erratic.

Thursday, December 10, 2015

Book Review: Finding Noel by Richard Paul Evans

Finding Noel
Richard Paul Evans
Simon and Schuster

Official Synopsis

"There are stories, Christmas stories that are stored away like boxes of garlands and frosted glass ornaments, to be brought out and cherished each year. I've come to believe that my story is a Christmas story. For it has forever changed the way I see Christmas."
The Christmas season is supposed to be full of joy, but not for Mark Smart. Life had dealt him one blow after another until one snowy November night, when he finds a beautiful young woman who will change his life forever. Macy Wood has little memory of her birth parents, and memories she'd rather forget of her adopted home. A Christmas ornament inscribed with the word "Noel" is the only clue to the little sister she only vaguely remembers, a clue that will send her and Mark on a journey to reclaim her past, and her family.

My Thoughts

As you can tell by now, I love Christmas books. They inspire and uplift me spiritually. And I really loved The Mistletoe Promise, another of Richard Paul Evans' works. But Finding Noel just didn't fully click with me. Oh, don't get me wrong, I liked the heroine fine. Macy is a survivor, in and out of foster care, a terrible adoption experience, and she's still a compassionate soul.

I really didn't care much for Mark until the very end and a good portion of the book is written in the 1st person from his perspective. He has some good insights, yes, but overall he seemed whiny and, well, young and foolish. Which he was, but my patience with that type of character minimizes the older I become. Honestly, since the title of the book is really about Macy's life, it should have focused more on her. If it had been solely from her perspective, I probably would have loved it.

After all, the book is called Finding Noel, but that really wasn't the entire focus of the story. And it should have been. Instead it sort of wanders here and there, touching a life, having an experience, falling in love, to the point where the character of Noel felt almost like an after-thought. It just didn't work.

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

Book Review: Two Tickets to the Christmas Ball by Donita K. Paul

Two Tickets to the Christmas Ball
Donita K. Paul
Waterbrook Multnomah

Official Synopsis

Can mysterious matchmaking booksellers bring two lonely hearts together in time for Christmas?

In a sleepy, snow-covered city, Cora Crowder is busy preparing for the holiday season. Searching for a perfect gift, a fortuitous trip to Warner, Werner, and Wizbotterdad’s (a most unusual bookshop) leads to an unexpected encounter with co-worker Simon Derrick. And the surprise discovery of a ticket for a truly one-of-a-kind Christmas Ball.

Every year, the matchmaking booksellers of the Sage Street bookshop host an enchanting, old-fashioned Christmas Ball for the romantic matches they’ve decided to bring together.

This year, will Simon and Cora discover a perfect chemistry in their opposite personalities and shared faith? Or will the matchmakers’ best laid plans end up ruining everything this holiday?

My Thoughts

Did you read the synopsis? Assuming that you did, let me give you fair warning that the "enchanting, old-fashioned Christmas Ball" is actually termed a "Wizard's Christmas Ball" in the book. Which doesn't bother me a bit. In fact with all the fantasy I enjoy reading, some that involve wizards, I thought it was a fun bit of genius. But not every reader feels the same way about magic and wizards, so just be aware this book has some of both. As for me the addition of the magical street that's only there sometimes along with the the special Christmas Ball with only the vaguest information on how to attend or where to find it really made Two Tickets to the Christmas Ball shine.

It's funny how a decidedly magical book also has a decidedly Christian flavor. The magical elements were so much fun! I loved the old booksellers and the costume sellers who were working so hard at bringing Cora and Simon together. The mysterious element of Sage Street where sometimes it's there and other times, POOF, it's gone. The Wizard's Ball and all of the elements that come together to get Simon and Cora to attend. Even the dress Cora purchased to wear that literally disintegrated off someone else who was not intended to wear it. It was all so magical! Like reading a mellower version of Harry Potter.

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

Happy December!

I hope everyone is having a blessed holiday season! And I equally hope you're enjoying the Christmas book reviews that I've been posting. I'm going to be busy for the next several days, so I may or may not get a new review posted until the beginning of next week. Just a head's up. Have fun decorating, baking, caroling, wrapping, worshiping, and all of the other amazing things we do during the Christmas season! See you all next week!

Book Review: Christmas at Harrington's by Melody Carlson

Christmas at Harrington's
Melody Carlson

Official Synopsis

Christmas is approaching, and Lena Markham finds herself penniless, friendless, and nearly hopeless. She is trying to restart her life after false accusations landed her in prison, but job opportunities are practically nonexistent. When a secondhand red coat unexpectedly lands her a job as Mrs. Santa at a department store, Lena finally thinks her luck is changing. But can she keep her past a secret? This tender story about fresh starts will charm readers as all of Melody Carlson's Christmas offerings do. Full of redemption and true holiday spirit, Christmas at Harrington's will be readers' newest Christmas tradition.
My Thoughts

I actually had high hopes for this novel simply because the cover was so pretty, so it was a bit of a letdown that I didn't love it. I think it felt toooooo predictable. Most of these stories are naturally predictable, you expect that, but Christmas at Harrington's was just too much. A wonderful gal with an abusive father who happened to be a pastor and then she marries another pastor who turns out to be a skeeze, she ends up in jail, released before Christmas, heads to this small town where a kindly person has lined up a job for her and she ends up playing Mrs. Santa Claus. It was all just entirely too unbelievable for me to get fully involved in the story.

One the plus side, a scene where I was sincerely about to role my eyes turned out all right in the end. When Lena reads as Mrs. Santa at storytime at the small library in town, she chooses the story of baby Jesus' birth. Not politically correct at all, but the end of the chapter made it seem there wouldn't be any repercussions. I worked in a library. I know when you share anything religious, there can be repercussions. The next chapter had her defending her storybook choice and being verbally attacked by some of the parents. Now that is realism in a library setting. That was the one moment where the story felt real.

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

Book Review: The Christmas Lamp by Lori Copeland

The Christmas Lamp
Lori Copeland

Official Synopsis

Christmas trees, twinkling lights, skating in the park, and holiday displays are the hallmark elements for celebrating Jesus' birth for the sentimental residents of Nativity, Missouri. Will fiscal responsibility replace Christmas their traditions when times are tough?Though their priorities and methods clash, Roni Elliot and Jake Brisco want the same thing---the town to prosper. As the two get to know each other better, each begins to gain a new perspective on what the real wealth of Nativity---and the season---might be.

My Thoughts

This plot had a lot of potential, but it sort of fizzled out about halfway through. The actual Christmas lamp felt a bit like an after-thought, and to be honest, I'm not sure which lamp was actually the Christmas lamp because the story involves 3 lamps. It is supposedly a romance, but I'm at a loss as to how the relationship between Roni and Jake moved from purely platonic to romantic because the sparks just weren't there. I do like some chemistry with my romances, and theirs was sadly lacking.

Monday, November 30, 2015

Book Review: The Christmas Candle by Max Lucado

The Christmas Candle
Max Lucado
Thomas Nelson Publishers

Official Synopsis

Journey back to a simpler time, to a small English village where nothing out of the ordinary ever happens. Except at Christmastime.

When a mysterious angel suddenly appears in a lowly candlemaker's shop, the holy and the human collide in a way that only God could imagine.

Glowing bright with a timeless message, "The Christmas Candle" will warm your heart with a surprising reminder of God's bountiful love.

My Thoughts

Christmas miracles warm the heart in so many ways, and none better than The Christmas Candle by Max Lucado.

Every 25 years, the same angel comes to the elderly candlemaker's shop in the little village of Gladstone, touching one candle, which the candlemaker then gives away to someone in need, instructing that person to pray to God for a miracle after having lit the candle. The miracle always happens. Only now the new minister isn't necessarily a believer in the supernatural workings of God, more of a mind that God created the earth and then left it alone. The candlemaker and his wife battle against the new minister's cynicism and even against their own mistakes, praying that God can and will continue to use them for His glory, this, the final candle they will receive during their lifetime.

Sunday, November 29, 2015

Book Review: The Mistletoe Promise by Richard Paul Evans

The Mistletoe Promise
Richard Paul Evans
Simon and Schuster

Official Synopsis

Elise Dutton dreads the arrival of another holiday season. Three years earlier, her husband cheated on her with her best friend, resulting in a bitter divorce that left her alone, broken, and distrustful.

Then, one November day, a stranger approaches Elise in the mall food court. Though she recognizes the man from her building, Elise has never formally met him. Tired of spending the holidays alone, the man offers her a proposition. For the next eight weeks—until the evening of December 24—he suggests that they pretend to be a couple. He draws up a contract with four rules:

1. No deep, probing personal questions
2. No drama
3. No telling anyone the truth about the relationship
4. The contract is void on Christmas Day

The lonely Elise surprises herself by agreeing to the idea. As the charade progresses, the safety of her fake relationship begins to mend her badly broken heart. But just as she begins to find joy again, her long-held secret threatens to unravel the emerging relationship. But she might not be the only one with secrets.

My Thoughts

I barely read 4 sentences of the synopsis before I knew that I would love this book, providing of course that there wasn't a lot of sexual content (which there isn't, can I get a witness!) Okay, so yes, the sufficient and pleasing lack of sexual content makes me very happy, so happy that I figured I might as well mention it at the beginning of my thoughts rather than at the end.

Oh my, how I love The Mistletoe Promise! I know that a lot of stories have been written around this concept, movies where a guy hires a girlfriend to accompany him to a wedding or vice versa, and it always sinks into depravity. Not so with this novel. My knowledge of Richard Paul Evans began and ended with The Christmas Box movie that I both loved and hated because it was such an emotional roller-coaster ride.

Saturday, November 28, 2015

Book Review: Where Treetops Glisten by Tricia Goyer, Cara Putman, and Sarah Sundin

Where Treetops Glisten
Tricia Goyer, Cara Putnam, Sarah Sundin
Waterbrook Press

(Part of the Official Synopsis)

The crunch of newly fallen snow, the weight of wartime

Three siblings forging new paths and finding love in three stories, filled with the wonder of Christmas

Turn back the clock to a different time, listen to Bing Crosby sing of sleigh bells in the snow, as the realities of America’s involvement in the Second World War change the lives of the Turner family in Lafayette, Indiana.  

The Turner family believes in God’s providence during such a tumultuous time. Can they absorb the miracle of Christ’s birth and God’s plan for a future? 

 White Christmas by Cara Putnam

Official Synopsis

In White Christmas by Cara Putman, Abigail Turner is holding down the Home Front as a college student and a part-time employee at a one-of-a-kind candy shop. Loss of a beau to the war has Abigail skittish about romantic entanglements—until a hard-working young man with a serious problem needs her help. 

My Thoughts

The first story in this collection is fairly endearing and follows the life of Abigail Turner, the first of the 3 Turner siblings whose stories are included in this collection. Abigail is a young woman who's had her heart broken by loss and is afraid to love, and then you meet a young man, Jackson Lucas, who's burdened with financial troubles and kind of considers himself unlovable. I appreciated Jackson's depth of compassion for wounded and hurting children, and applauded his efforts at helping Abigail reach out and love others again, regardless of the fears that weigh her down from her past.

The atmosphere of this novella felt reassuringly accurate to the 1940s, and it gave a refreshing glimpse into the limitations and fears of the era. However, I will say that it felt a little too . . . convenient, with a harried rush to the romance (which is always a hazard with novellas). And without much of a climax. Novellas have their limitations, but there still should have been a plot to engage me, and White Christmas is lacking that type of plot. It's simply sweet, and of course, Christmas plays a huge part in the love story.

Friday, November 27, 2015

Book Review: The Christmas Shoppe by Melody Carlson

The Christmas Shoppe
Melody Carlson

Official Synopsis

The small town of Parrish Springs is not ready for Matilda Honeycutt. A strange older woman with scraggly gray hair and jewelry that jangles as she walks, Matilda is certainly not the most likely person to buy the old Barton Building on the town's quaint main street. When it becomes apparent that her new shop doesn't fit the expectations of Parrish Springs residents, a brouhaha erupts. After all, Christmas is approaching, and the last thing the town needs is a junky shop run by someone who looks and acts like a gypsy. But as townsfolk venture into the strange store, they discover that old memories can bring new life and healing.

Once again, Melody Carlson delivers a Christmas story that will touch hearts and delight the senses. Sure to be a classic, The Christmas Shoppe is filled with the special magic the best Christmas stories share--that intangible mixture of nostalgia, joy, and a little bit of magic.

My Thoughts

This story succeeds on the strength of its characters, mainly Tommy Thompson, the newspaperman, and Susanna Elton, the city manager. Both of these characters are endearing, Tommy especially, and I appreciated watching a man go from hating Christmas to appreciating it. A little like Scrooge, you might say, but not sooooooo Scrooge-like.

Each of the people who interact with Matilda Honeycutt have their lives changed for the better. She knows exactly what they need to help them deal with painful memories from the past, things that give them anger management issues, trust issues, commitment issues, you name it. Even the "villain" Councilman Snider undergoes a transformation of the heart before the end of the book.

We, the readers, know that Matilda must be an angel, especially since no one can recollect when she arrived in town or when she finally left, just that she helped them while she was there, whether they wanted her help or not.

The story is sweet, but not overly saccharine, and it really focuses on not letting big businesses run small businesses out of town, something I believe in very strongly. While I will do my fair share of shopping at Walmart, when it gets right down to it, I'm more excited to be in a little shop run by locals than a major franchise that I can wander in for hours because I can't find the exit. *cough, Ikea, cough*

The Christmas Shoppe is by no means as permanent as A Christmas Carol, but it is a delightful way to spend an evening, and I wholeheartedly recommend it to readers who enjoy light, fun Christmas fiction sprinkled with a hint of faith.

Click the above button for a link to the official page of links for this Christmas Fiction Extravaganza!

Monday, November 16, 2015

Christmas Fiction Extravaganza!

Christmas Fiction Extravaganza

Now that I have a book review blog, I figured why not!

There are literally no rules for this since it's not even a blogathon or a blog party, just an excuse for me to read and review Christmas fiction, a lot of which, I'm giving fair warning, will be Christian fiction. If you want to post my button on your page, I would be delighted, just so people can find my blog and hopefully some new Christmas books to read!

I've already begun reading and reviewing, but I won't begin publishing the reviews until the day after Thanksgiving. By that point, I'll likely have a review every day or every other day, which should give you plenty of time to find the books before Christmas.

If anyone wants to join in, I'd love to have you! Just, if you do write a Christmas book review, let me know in the comments of this post so I can compile a list here for others to easily find!

Friday, November 13, 2015

Ash & Bramble by Sarah Prineas

Ash & Bramble
Sarah Prineas

Official Backpage Synopsis

 A prince.

A ball.

A glass slipper left behind at the stroke of midnight.

The tale is told and retold, twisted and tweaked, snipped and stretched, as it leads to happily ever after.

But it is not the true Story.

A dark fortress.

A past forgotten.

A life of servitude.

No one has ever broken free of the Godmother’s terrible stone prison until a girl named Pin attempts a breathless, daring escape. But she discovers that what seems to be freedom is a prison of another kind, one that entangles her in a story that leads to a prince, a kiss, and a clock striking midnight. To unravel herself from this new life, Pin must choose between a prince and another—the one who helped her before and who would give his life for her. Torn, the only thing for her to do is trade in the glass slipper for a sword and find her own destiny.

My Take in 3 Parts

The Theme
I love fairy tales and I rarely like a lot of re-tellings. But Ash & Bramble grabbed me with its unique take on the classic Cinderella story. Imagine a world where Story is a living thing with the power to govern the actions of other people, force people into molds to fulfill its own needs. That is the world of this book. These people with their happily-ever-afters don't really know each other. They've been plucked from their own stories and dumped into what Story wants them to do, all at the hand of the Godmother. It's a brutal and scary tale, but intriguing enough to keep me reading.

The Characters
I pretty much loved Pin and Shoe from the very beginning. Yes, I know their names seem silly, but since neither of them had any memory of their Before, they simply chose names based on their profession in working for the Godmother. Pin as a seamstress and Shoe as a shoemaker (duh). But the characters are both delightful and enthusiastic. I especially loved Shoe. His nature reminds me a little of Peeta from The Hunger Games. I was always a sucker for that character.

So yes, I loved the main characters.

However, the secondary characters, not so much. I feel like that required homosexual set of characters just keeps pushing its way into every story, and this one actually has two sets. I wasn't offended, simply bored at the monotony and obviousness of adding them. It made the story tedious, especially since it seems like in this world, love is love and no one took any interest in whether it was heterosexual or homosexual, which struck me as weird because it's still an old-fashioned setting. The addition of these characters just threw the tale off.

The Writing
This is Sarah Prineas' first YA novel, and I'd say she did a great job. I thoroughly enjoyed most of it, especially Part 1, which I thought was just brilliant. Being in the Godmother's fortress, not remembering your Before and not really planning for an After, two characters meet and suddenly escape is a worthwhile venture. It's a great storyline, and I thought a terrific twist on the classic Cinderella.

But I do think the plot lost some momentum, especially once Part 3 finally rolled around. I'd almost stopped investing in the characters a little bit. The love triangle between Pin, Shoe, and Cornelius was completely unnecessary and really bogged down my reading headway. It was just one thing too much. Part 3 almost felt like it could have belonged in a different book, it was so distant from the beginning of the novel, and that's sad to say about anything.

Final Thoughts

On the whole, Ash & Bramble is a solid YA offering from an author breaking into the genre. I enjoyed about 70% of it, and always liked the lead characters, which for me is sometimes a challenge. I just hope that in future offerings, Sarah Prineas tightens her story so it doesn't do quite so much evolving, and that maybe she tones down any love triangles. And just because homosexual marriage is legal now doesn't mean they need to be in everything because then it simply feels like cheap pandering.

Because this is a secular novel, let me also mention that it really is quite clean. No language that I can remember and no real sensual scenes or make-out sessions (homosexual or heterosexual). It is a bit on the gruesome side, but nothing overly bad, just some moderate violence and overall scariness.

I do hope that Sarah Prineas continues publishing YA fiction because she's actually quite good at it. I wish I'd wholeheartedly loved Ash & Bramble from start to finish, but even though I didn't love it, I still like it.

Monday, November 9, 2015

Update on reading Lorna Doone

Wait, what does "Her baint coom, Maister Zider-press" mean?
I think I must have been expecting something other than what it's giving me. For one thing, all of that old English is KILLING ME. Bleh! Okay, yes, I love Shakespeare. But that's mostly because Shakespeare had a lyrical quality to his writing that simply sucks me into the story. Everything makes sense, everything has a purpose and a point to it.

What is the point of John Ridd riding his cousin Tom's horse and nearly getting killed while doing it? I'm afraid that R.D. Blackmore found far too many side plots than he needed and managed to incorporate every single one of them into this story.

Combine that with the extremely old English and I'm floundering a bit.

When John was fishing in the icy stream and found his way into the Doone valley, I was interested. Those scenes had everything to do with the plot and because I already know some of the story from the film version, I was fascinated at how they were similar and how they differed.

Overall, though, this is one looooooooooong book and I would give anything for those characters with the dialogue I can't understand to just go crawl away into some other story!

As an update, I'm about 110 pages into Lorna Doone and I will persevere, but who knows how long it will take me to finish!

Has anyone ever read Lorna Doone before? What was your impression of it? How long did it take you to read it?

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

The Doctor's Lady by Jody Hedlund

The Doctor's Lady
Jody Hedlund
Bethany House Publishers

Official Backpage Synopsis

Priscilla White knows she'll never be a wife or mother and feels God's call to the mission field in India. Dr. Eli Ernest is back from Oregon Country only long enough to raise awareness of missions to the natives before heading out West once more. But then Priscilla and Eli both receive news from the mission board: No longer will they send unmarried men and women into the field. 

Left scrambling for options, the two realize the other might be the answer to their needs. Priscilla and Eli agree to a partnership, a marriage in name only that will allow them to follow God's leading into the mission field. But as they journey west, this decision will be tested by the hardships of the trip and by the unexpected turnings of their hearts.

My Take in 3 Parts

The Theme
I grew up partly in Oregon, okay. Stories about wagon trains and the Oregon Trail were literally everywhere and so I just grew up loving them. My sister and I even converted a shed into a wagon train and used sawhorses for real horses with stick pony heads tied to them. It was awesome. So I was pretty much guaranteed to like a story about a wagon train. 

But it was making the story about missionaries that really clinched it for me. If there's one thing I deeply appreciate about Jody Hedlund, it's her ability to include strong elements of faith in her writing without it feeling overbearing. The story revolves strongly around the faith of Priscilla and Eli as they're making this perilous journey west. All because the gospel needs to be brought to the indiginous peoples of that region. It's a heartwarming theme and, for me, it never gets old. I love stories that involve American Indians and stories that involve genuine, loving missionaries and The Doctor's Lady had plenty of both.

The Characters
I love Priscilla. Not as much as I love Elizabeth Whitbread in The Preacher's Bride, but still, Priscilla comes pretty close. From the time she was a teenager, she knew she wanted to serve the Lord on the missions field. And even though she didn't like the shape of her dream to alter, she did finally acknowledge that God was in control of her calling and in choosing to lead her down a different path than the one she'd envisioned for herself. She's strong and determined, and she grows a great deal throughout her story, both in maturity and in her faith.

As for Eli, well, I'm particularly attracted to rugged, imperfect men. He has bad childhood memories that haunt him, a scant education, and severe trust and self-esteem issues, and yet he's still a man faithful to his calling to love the American Indians and to serve them in the Lord's name. What's not to love about a guy like that? Both of the leads were superbly rendered and I really didn't want to finish their story.

The Writing
Jody Hedlund rarely disappoints me. She certainly lived up to most of my expectations with The Doctor's Lady. She delivered strong thematic elements, vivid characters, and excellent research into the actual journey itself and the stops made along the way. One thing I do notice, however, is that she usually incorporates a near-rape in her books. It's becoming more prevalent in historic romance now where the heroine must be rescued from having her chastity stolen, and, to be honest, it's becoming predictable. I realize that women are always at risk, anywhere, but I think that plot device shouldn't be used as often and with as much vigor as some authors wield it.

Final Thoughts

From the moment I started this book, I was pretty much hooked. But I couldn't quite put my finger on why. I think I had a niggling suspicion lurking somewhere that I knew this story. After all, Jody Hedlund is prone to using real people to inspire her fictional characters. My guess was right. The Doctor's Lady is inspired by the real life missionaries, Marcus and Narcissa Whitman. I've visited the Whitman mission, heard their stories, and grieved at the knowledge that they were murdered by the very people who they were so intent on saving.

Anyone ever watched the movie Seven Alone from 1974? The orphans in this story ended up at the Whitman mission where they found refuge until the Whitman massacre. The film doesn't cover the massacre, of course, but I knew the ending to that story simply because I'd visited the Whitman Mission.

Fortunately for those reading The Doctor's Lady, the story is not about Marcus and Narcissa Whitman, merely inspired by them. There is no tragic death of the lead characters, only the growth of mutual love and respect. But it is always exciting to learn that a story is inspired by true events, making the fictional characters more grounded in reality than they might otherwise be.

Overall, Jody Hedlund has more hits than misses with me and The Doctor's Lady is a definite hit.

Sunday, October 25, 2015

The Secret Life of Walter Mitty & Other Short Stories by James Thurber

The Secret Life of Walter Mitty and other Short Stories
Review: 3 -

"A solid collection of short stories" by Carissa Horton, written on October 25, 2015

The last time I read a collection of short stories, it was for college and I graduated nearly 2 years ago. It might not seem like a long time, but it really is, especially when you're expecting The Secret Life of Walter Mitty to be a a novella and it turns out to be a short story, barely 7 pages long. I forget that short stories are often published in volumes because they're not what I usually read. Hmm, I guess that explains why the first two "chapters" had nothing whatsoever to do with Walter Mitty. Once comprehension dawned, I was able to appreciate James Thurber's dry and somewhat irascible humor. Although I still think the marketing for this particular collection was all wrong. How many people picked this up thinking it was a novella only to be disappointed? We'll never know.

I came away from this collection with two main thoughts: Thurber did not think kindly on women and he possessed an excellent sense of humor.

When I say that Thurber didn't like women, it's possible I'm wrong, but we suffer immensely at his hands regardless of his personal feelings for us as a sex. Nearly every wife in the entirety of this collection is viewed as a nag and a nitpicker whose sole joy in life is tearing down every one of her husband's joys. In The Secret Life of Walter Mitty, Mitty's wife is the sort I've just mentioned. Poor, middle-aged man whose wife doesn't understand or appreciate his rich and varied imagination. Thank goodness they changed poor Mitty's story in the film starring Danny Kaye so the nitpicker in his life is actually his mother and he claims some of his own back at the end which includes marrying the girl of his dreams. Next up is the starring couple in A Couple of Hamburgers. While the husband here is no gem, the wife gets sadistic enjoyment out of mocking her husband: the way he speaks, his favorite type of restaurant, etc. You name it, she mocks it. If I thought the last mentioned story was depressing, it's nothing compared to The Kerb in the Sky, where a newly married man gets admitted to an insane asylum because his wife finishes every single one of his sentences before he gets there, and corrects all of his stories. He took to sharing absurd dreams so at least she couldn't interrupt.

The humorous stories, however, are absolute gems. The Macbeth Murder Mystery is hilarious because the two leads dissecting one of Shakespeare's finest plays, discover that Macbeth's father is actually the murderer in this story and that everything else is simply written to conceal the actual truth. For a Shakespeare fan like myself, it was both absurd and fun. A Ride with Olympy also had me giggling simply because I could easily picture an American man teaching a Russian man to drive a stick shift when each one of them can only communicate with the other in barely understood French. Had anyone died in the endeavor it would have been a tragedy, but no one did. The Luck of Jad Peters is about a man who spent the better portion of his life expounding on how he had a feeling about something, so didn't do it, and something terrible happened to someone else who took his place. Narrow escapes were his greatest glee, especially since they were mostly made up. And because I can and do enjoy some dark humor, I snorted out loud when he got hit by a massive flying rock that was dynamited out of the river bed. His good luck failed him. It is The Night the Bed Fell that had me rolling practically in stitches. It's almost impossible to describe, but it's one of those domino effects. One thing happens that triggers something else which triggers something else and so on and so forth. Genius.

There are other stories included in this collection as well that only served to depress me because it's a bleak view of life: The Breaking up of the Winships, Something to Say, The Remarkable Case of Mr Bruhl, The Greatest Man in the World, The Evening's at Seven, and One is a Wanderer. While I realize no one's life is perfect, still, this was too much, probably because each one struck a little too close to home. Others, like The Lady on the 142, The Catbird Seat, The Secret Life of James Thurber, Doc Marlowe, Snapshot of a Dog, and The Dog that Bit People were average tales, nothing overly impressive, but still a fairly entertaining read.

Overall, the collection was quite good. Like I said, I don't read a lot of short stories anymore, probably because most authors, particularly inn the era of the 20s through the 50s, loved to indulge themselves in extremely depressing stories. I don't like to read those types of stories and so I avoid them when at all possible. Still, the collection was worth it simply for The Night the Bed Fell which I now claim as one of my favorite short stories of all time!

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

The Butterfly and the Violin by Kristy Cambron

The Butterfly and the Violin
A Hidden Masterpiece Novel
Kristy Cambron
Thomas Nelson Publishers

Official Backpage Synopsis

A Mysterious painting breathes hope and beauty into the darkest corners of Auschwitz--and the loneliest hearts of Manhattan.

Manhattan art dealer Sera James watched her world crumble at the altar two years ago, and her heart is still fragile. Her desire for distraction reignites a passion for a mysterious portrait she first saw as a young girl--a painting of a young violinist with piercing blue eyes.

In her search for the painting, Sera crosses paths with William Hanover--the grandson of a wealthy California real estate mogul--who may be the key to uncovering the hidden masterpiece. Together Sera and William slowly unravel the story behind the painting's subject: Austrian violinist Adele Von Bron.

A darling of the Austrian aristocracy of 1942, talented violinist, and daughter to a high-ranking member of the Third Reich, Adele risks everything when she begins smuggling Jews out of Vienna. In a heartbeat, her life of prosperity and privilege dissolves into a world of starvation and barbed wire.

As Sera untangles the secrets behind the painting, she finds beauty in the most unlikely of places: the grim camps of Auschwitz and the inner recesses of her own troubled heart.

My Take in 3 Parts

The Theme
This book reminds me a little bit of The Fellowship of the Ring, when Galadriel gives Frodo the Phial of Galadriel and tells him, "May it be a light to you in dark places when all other lights go out."

The Butterfly and the Violin is a dark, traumatic novel, but with a thread of hope carefully woven through each line of the chapters set in Auschwitz. Even in absolute and utter darkness, when 1.5 million people are dying around you, God still hears your cry and He is still faithful. The author captured the reality of a bleak era that brought me to hysterical tears, but still managed to present the idea that God is there, in the turmoil, and the grime, and the death. He hears the cries of His people and He grieves, not only for the lives lost, but for those who are doing the killing, something I hadn't quite realized until I felt that swell of anger against the Nazis, unbridled hate, and then came to realize that while I want to blindly reach back in history and kill all of the Nazis, God was grieving for them. That's quite a realization, both about God and about myself.

The Characters
So what we have here is two sets of characters, those in the 1940s and those in the current day.

Sera James and William Hanover are trying to unravel the whereabouts of this piece of Holocaust art, a painting of a young woman with her hair shorn, numbers tattooed on her arm, and a violin in her hand. They take this journey together. I like both of them. Sera has been hurt before, left at the altar, and so she has trust issues, both with me and with God. Those issues, of course, are resolved by the end, which is important. William, we don't really get to know him all that well, except that he's a businessman who felt the real calling on his life was to be a minister. His story in this leads him back to that path and calling from God, and I liked that storyline.

But the truly impactful character, the most prominent, is Adele Von Bron, the young woman whose portrait Sera and William are researching. It is she, a renowned young violinst from a prominent Austrian family, who tried to help Jews escape from Vienna, and ended up being sent to Auschwitz Birkenau for reeducation purposes. It is she who was forced to play for the Birkenau orchestra of prisoners, play her violin as families were split and countless innocents were sent to the gas chambers. This book is her story, and I felt every iota of weakness and terror and doubt that Adele felt during her time in Birkenau.

So, while I appreciate the modern characters, I loved Adele, and even Vladimir Nicolai, the young cellist who she loves and whose passion to save Jews also found him captured by the Nazis.

The Writing
Kristy Cambron is new on the writing scene, with this being her debut novel. If The Butterfly and the Violin is a testament to her storytelling abilities, than Christian literature is in for a revolution. Her style is fresh and original, she tells just enough of the atrocities in Auschwitz without crossing a line into the grotesque, and her heart for the era of World War II really shines, just as her expertise does in being an art historian. This is not a historical romance, but a historical novel, and I really appreciate the difference. Any romance within the book does not take precedence over the story.

If I were to nitpick about one tiny thing, it's that I really don't know if the modern storyline was necessary. Then again, I'm not for novels that have dual eras most of the time, so I'm just not used to it.

Final Thoughts

Never assume this book is an easy read, because it's not. I nearly stopped reading several times because my heart was just so overwhelmed by what I was learning, things I never wanted to know about the concentration camps. But you can't just ignore or imagine away atrocities like this. Just like we can't imagine away the grim truth that thousands of our infants are slaughtered every day in the womb. If there's one thing I realized, it's that America has become, in some ways, what we once hated and despised.

Every Christian should read this book.

Monday, September 14, 2015

Inkdeath (Cornelia Funke) - Chapters 1 - 5

I finally got around to starting Inkdeath. Whew. There are always so many books that need reading, especially those that have been loaned to me, and I was beginning to fear that I wouldn't get to Inkdeath this month which would have greatly depressed me. But the time has come, as the Walrus said, and so let us begin. I've never written about individual chapters before so don't be surprised if it takes me a few posts to find my stride.


Tuesday, September 8, 2015

Like There's No Tomorrow by Camille Eide

Like There's No Tomorrow
Camille Eide
Ashberry Lane Publishers

Official Backpage Synopsis

 What if loving means letting go?

Scottish widower Ian MacLean is plagued by a mischievous grannie, bitter regrets, and an ache for something he’ll never have again. His only hope for freedom is to bring his grannie's sister home from America. But first, he'll have to convince her lovely companion, Emily, to let her go.

Emily Chapman devotes herself to foster youth and her beloved Aunt Grace. Caring for others quiets a secret fear she holds close to her heart. But when Ian appears, wanting to whisk Grace off to Scotland, everything Emily needs to protect—including her heart—is at risk.

Set in central Oregon’s high desert and the lowlands of Scotland, Like There’s No Tomorrow is an amusing yet heart-tugging love story about two kind, single caretakers, two quirky, old Scottish sisters bent on reuniting, and too many agendas. It’s a tale of family, fiery furnaces, falling in love, faith, and the gift of each new day.

 My Official Take in 3 Parts

The Theme
It's always hard to let people go, even when it's best for them. In Emily's case, she loves her Aunt Grace with every fiber of her being, to the point where it's hard for her to imagine a life without her. But what if Grace's place isn't in Oregon, but back home, in Scotland, with her sister Maggie?

For Ian, his letting go involves something quite different. Stagnating hatred and grief have crippled him emotionally for years due to a personal loss, and it's impacted his relationship with God, the God he once loved deeply and who took away his anger before. Ian must discover that some things, like his faith, are worth fighting for while others, like his bitterness, must be turned over to God.

I love this theme, the idea of releasing control into bigger, more capable Hands than our own. Loving doesn't always mean keeping, and the sooner we learn that the better. And then with Ian, he must release his anger in order to become whole again, to trust again. And I especially love how prayer plays such a huge factor in Ian's healing. Not prayer for himself, but a prayer of blessing for the person he hates. That type of prayer brings about healing every time.

The Characters
I thought I would struggle with Emily because she deliberately holds back information from her Aunt Grace. But I couldn't dislike her because I can see her point of view. When you want to protect people, the last thing you want to do is tell them something that could potentially lead to their harm, like elderly Aunt Grace making a trip to Scotland in her frail condition. So Emily hides information, all out of the sincere belief that she's protecting others, but she does reach the point of giving God the reins and it all works out for the best. She learns to trust, and I love that.

Ian I liked from the first, partly because he's Scottish, but also because he's a gentleman, through and through. He's considerate of the people around him, loves his family, and when he and Emily fall in love, he doesn't do it by halves. Plus, he's constructive in his anger. I would say that he manages the "be angry and sin not" instruction pretty well.

Ahhhh, the sisters. Grace and Maggie (the sister who Ian takes care of) are quite the pair. Both of them struggle with mental frailty, and Maggie's going blind to boot, but they're stronger together. I love that. It reminds me of my sister and our relationship and how I always feel that we're stronger together rather than apart. Grace and Maggie have it down. And while Maggie is far spunkier than Grace, she did a little bit of learning of her own this story, very important learning. Sometimes it's harder to accept help than to give it, and she finds that out.

The Writing
I do believe Camille Eide has a gift with character development. Her story is about real people with real problems and fears, and yet all of the characters felt relatable in some way. I could like each of them for their own strengths, because those strengths far outweighed any weaknesses. Yep, there's romance and gushing and all of that good stuff, but it's tastefully written and tender rather than coarse. Ms. Eide has a good handle on how far is just far enough with the physical attraction thing.Well done.

Final Thoughts

I don't read a lot of contemporary writing, frankly because I like historic fiction better, but Like There's No Tomorrow impressed me more than I thought possible. Problems aren't all wrapped up and solved with a neat little bow like most novels I read. Some things don't go away, but this book is a good reminder that we can't simply stop living because we're afraid that something might happen. God doesn't want His children to live their lives in fear and timidity and I cheered when Emily finally moved past her own fear and started considering her future.

Like There's No Tomorrow is a terrific read, and I'm forever indebted to the friend who loaned it to me, and also slightly envious because she knows the author online. Lucky lady!

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Remembering Tolkien

J. R. R. Tolkien
January 3rd, 1892 - September 2nd, 1973

My relationship with Tolkien began with a hobbit, one Bilbo Baggins by name. I was fourteen, browsing the shelves of my local library, and plucked an Alan Lee illustrated copy of The Hobbit from its space. My life is forever changed. Such a wide range of possibilities opened up, an entire new world of wonders. This lead to a glorious span of 4 years as The Lord of the Rings films were released where I eat, slept, and breathed everything Tolkien. Those years are long gone now, but my affection for this man and his stories will never fade.

A Bride in the Bargain by Deeanne Gist

A Bride in the Bargain
Deeanne Gist
Bethany House Publishers

Official Backpage Synopsis

In 1860s Seattle, a man with a wife could secure himself 640 acres of timberland. But because of his wife's untimely death, Joe Denton finds himself about to lose half of his claim. Still in mourning, his best solution is to buy one of those Mercer girls arriving from the East. A woman he'll marry in name but keep around mostly as a cook.

Anna Ivey's journey west with Asa Mercer's girls is an escape from the griefs of her past. She's not supposed to be a bride, though, just a cook for the girls. But when they land, she's handed to Joe Denton and the two find themselves in a knotty situation. She refuses to wed him and he's about to lose his land. With only a few months left, can Joe convince this provoking--but beguiling--easterner to be his bride?

My Take in 3 Parts

The Theme
Joe Denton needs a wife in order to keep from losing half of his land and Anna Ivey wants to start a new life away from all the mistakes of her past.

Along her journey, Anna does discover that she actually wasn't responsible for the death of her father while he served in the Civil War, nor did she make her brother run away to join the Union, or her mother to give up hope. She is not God and so she cannot possibly take responsibility for another person's actions.

Joe learns that it is just possible something else matters more than the land he loves so much.

Okay, there's the theme. I was really hoping for something more than just basic stuff, but really, this is it. Oh well.

The Characters
It took awhile, but I did finally reach the point of liking Anna. Not loving her, but at least liking her. She has a great capacity for compassion and loves to take care of others, a trait that I understand. However, she is incredibly foolish in her beliefs about other people and her beliefs about herself. She felt entirely too self-centered for her own good, making decisions for other people that she really didn't have a right to make. I also don't know why in the world she was assuming Joe only wanted to marry her because of  the land. Um, no, anyone reading could tell he wanted her.

And that's Joe's problem. All I got out of him is that he loved his land and lusted after Anna. His behavior towards her was entirely inappropriate most of the time, and way too gratuitous for a Christian romance. I felt myself inwardly cringing at times because of how he looked at her, or touched her, or kissed her. It felt . . . invasive. And yes, very crude.

And then you have the local doctor who helps both Joe and Anna. Doc Maynard would have been likeable. He's the founder of Seattle, got the ball rolling as it were, attends church with his lovely wife, is very fond of Anna and Joe. And he started the first whorehouse in Seattle. Which I'm sure he must have since he's an actual historical figure. Why even mention that? It feels like we're simply excusing that part of his life simply because he goes to church. I could not excuse him and so, frankly, even when he's doing "good" things for other people as a healer, I still couldn't let myself like him because I knew he brought prostitutes into Seattle. Such a fine, upstanding Christian man.

The Writing
While Deeanne Gist is an excellent writer, I just didn't like this book. I also feel it wasn't her best effort. A few of the plot points felt entirely too convenient, and overall it just felt rushed without anything of real long-lasting value added to the story.

Final Thoughts

This book really disappointed me. Just like in Fair Play, the lead characters were too focused on sins of the flesh. Faith of any kind was an after-thought. Oh, Anna prayed, but it was never in a "God, please lead my path, give me Your instruction, guide me to where You would have me go." No, it was never like that, it was always "God, give me strength as I tell him this." She never asked God for wisdom or anything, just prayed for strength to carry out her own choices. The only real spiritual advice she received was from Doc Maynard and you already know how I feel about him.

I'm finding that Deeanne Gist's books are really hit-or-miss with me. When she adds waaaaaaay too much sexual innuendo and heated looks and heat pooling in the back of stomachs, then I immediately start to lose interest. I'm not reading a trashy paperback, but a Christian romance. There needs to be a distinction and she doesn't quite make it.

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Top Ten Literary Characters You Didn't Click With

So I've actually altered the name a little to be just literary characters because I really wanted to just blog about it on Bookshelves and not on Musings. It's part of a Top Ten Tuesdays theme and I found it on You, Me, and a Cup of Tea!

Gale Hawthorne in The Hunger Games
He was entirely too reckless for me to fully like, he was partially responsible for the death of a character I loved, and I was always a Peeta fan, so oh well.

Farid in Inkheart
I didn't mind him in Inkheart, but as the series of books progressed, he got stranger, his possessive love towards Meggie and his very weird obsession with Dustfinger really threw me off. Inkdeath made me happy on many levels, one of them being that Meggie choosing a much, much healthier match.

Sirius Black in The Harry Potter Series
He was a bad influence, a bully, and I didn't like him. In fact, his behavior, which I found deplorable, made me much more a Snape fan than I would have been otherwise.

Colonel Brandon in Sense and Sensibility
I actually feel bad about this one because I know that I should connect to him and I even like Alan Rickman. But I never click with Brandon, he was just sort of there, and that was it. He was nice and all that, but I felt like there should have been something else, something more. Plus, I never saw it working out between him and Marianne and I still hold to that belief. If there were ever a sequel written, I'm sure they would have been miserable.

Mary Poppins in, well, Mary Poppins
I feel good about adding her to this list because I'm talking about the literary character, not Julie Andrews who pretty much everybody loves, and rightly so. Mary Poppins in the book is self-centered, vain, and just all around unpleasant. It was quite an eye-opener and no mistake.

Galadriel in The Lord of the Rings
And when I say Galadriel, I really do mean both book and film. It's not that I ever disliked her, but I never fully understood her either, her motivations or her intent. We just never clicked, and she's one of the very few characters Tolkien wrote where I feel this disconnect. I even connect to Tom Bombadil!

 Thomas in The Maze Runner
I've read the first two books in the series and LOVE the movie. I don't know how such a bland lead character could suddenly have depth, but I suspect Dylan O'Brien had much to do with it. All of the male characters in the book felt much the same, reacting the same, speaking the same, etc. Thomas at least should have stood out from the rest, but he just didn't for me. The movie really helped!

Mycroft Holmes in Sherlock Holmes
And by Mycroft, I mean the character in the actual stories as written by Arthur Conan Doyle. None of the film adaptations that move him out of his time or change his personality. Mycroft and Sherlock are at once similar and dissimilar. I dislike Mycroft's lack of action. Yes, he's brilliant, but what use is that brilliance if he spends most of his time sitting in his gentleman's club? Sherlock at least gets out, solves crimes, and saves people's lives. He's active whereas Mycroft is passive and I'm less inclined to like passive characters unless I'm given a very good reason for doing so.

Young Caspian in Prince Caspian
I felt a complete and total disconnect from Caspian in his first book. I don't know if it was because he was a child, or simply the circumstances of the book, but Prince Caspian is one of my least favorite Narnian novels. As soon as Caspian grew up and started his Voyage of the Dawn Treader, I loved him. But he just didn't work in Prince Caspian for me.

Edward Rochester from Jane Eyre
Now, to be fair, I've only read half of this novel, and I was barely twenty when I did so. My perspective may have changed since then. But he seemed so arrogant and cold, and I could not stand his nickname for Jane, always calling her Janet. I don't mind him in film adaptations, sometimes even loving him like with Toby Stephens, so it's something about the way he's written in the novel that doesn't sit right with me. I'm planning to fully read it next year so my opinion may change, hopefully.

Monday, August 31, 2015

August Reflections

Hmm, let me see, what has happened this month? I meant to, but never really got started on a reading challenge that involved inspy awards books for this last round of awards. I honestly don't like having to read a book because it's required of me. I'd much rather read it because I want to read it and because inspiration struck. Some of the reads this month were that way, and that's how I like it. So, no more reading challenges of that ilk, I think.

August Goals

To my absolute amazement, I did read 5 books in August, which was a part of my goal. The rest of it was reading such books as Tiffany Girl by Deeanne Gist and some other books that I already own, but that did not happen, which is okay since I'm not in a rush to read any of them. I do wish I'd finished reading The Iliad, but that's just going to have to move to my goals for September. Certainly it needs to be finished before I crack the spine of Lorna Doone. On the plus side, I read both Not By Sight and Mind of Her Own, which were on my list of goals. Go me!

Books I Read

Plans for September

Reading Cornelia Funke's Inkdeath with chapter posts along the way

Finishing Homer's The Iliad

Reading a total of 4 other books, not really caring what genre or length

Let us welcome September!

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

When Mockingbirds Sing by Billy Coffey

When Mockingbirds Sing
Billy Coffey
Thomas Nelson Publishers

Official Backpage Synopsis

What marks the boundary between a miracle of God and the imagination of a child?

Nine-year-old Leah’s invisible friend seems harmless enough until he aids her in upsetting the tranquility of her new town, a place where her parents desperately hoped she’d finally be able to make friends and fit in. Hidden within a picture she paints for a failed toymaker are numbers that win the toymaker millions. Suddenly, townspeople are divided between those who see Leah as a prophet and those who are afraid of the danger she represents. Caught in the middle is Leah’s agnostic father, who clashes with a powerful town pastor over Leah’s prophecies and what to do about them.

When the imaginary friend’s predictions take an ominous turn and Leah announces that a grave danger looms, doubts arise over the truthfulness of her claims. As a violent storm emerges on the day of the annual carnival, Leah’s family and the town of Mattingly must make a final choice to cling to all they know or embrace the things she believes in that cannot be seen.

My Take in 3 Parts

The Theme
A little girl is somehow miraculously chosen to give Mattingly a message. Either from God or from some other being, but a definite message, and the town divides on how that message should be received, or even if it should be received.

What really stood out to me while reading this book is that nothing is as it seems in the small town of Mattingly. No one is as they seem. Almost the entire town goes to church and yet that same set of churchgoers turn their backs on an elderly man with an ailing wife when his success goes down the drain. Who does that? I found When Mockingbirds Sing to be an apt description of a society that pretends everything is fine, that everyone loves each other, when in reality there is a ton of backbiting and hatred going on. In other words, this book speaks the truth about the church, in ways many Christians do not eve want to admit. No, I'm not judging, not being harsh, just being honest about what I've seen during my years as a Christian, both in others and in myself. It's not a pretty picture. And this book really strips away the facade of Christianity to reveal the face beneath. We're not perfect, we're ugly and sinful creatures, and yet there is still salvation. The worst thing we can do, as believers, is put forth a false front of perfection and piety when we know, in our heart of hearts, that we coveted our best friend's new car, that we lusted after a sister's husband, or that we slipped down the street to buy a lotto ticket when our church is deadset against gambling.

I don't like pretending that all is well when I know it darn well isn't. And I'd rather have the truth out in the open than have people tiptoe around it as if the truth is an ugly thing to be ignored instead of released. When we confess truth, we conquer sin. It's as simple as that.

The Characters
On Shifting Sand by Allison Pittman was the last book I read that left me in a conundrum over how I felt about the characters. I usually either love characters or hate them, so this in-between is an unusual place for me. I didn't quite know what to make of Leah. In fact, sometimes I downright disliked her because she had no sense of societal timing over where and when to say something. Allie, Leah's friend, and Mabel, Barney's wife, I liked throughout the entirety of the book. Apart from them, I never liked someone all the time or disliked them all the time. Reggie the pastor, Barney the toymaker, Jake the sheriff, Allie's parents, Leah's parents, all of them had moments of like and dislike. It made them like real people. Because I don't always like the people I like or dislike the people I dislike, if that makes any sense at all. Very few people are bad all of the time or vice versa. So I felt authenticity in Coffey's character design, in their simplicity of emotion, yet complexity of action and mindset. These people felt real to me, and I appreciate that realism.

The Writing
Now, the writing is flawless. Billy Coffey writes his stories with a unique colloquialism that matches the society he's using. I don't usually read books where accents are written into the dialogue, but it works for Coffey's style. Even Leah with her stutter worked, although I think it did make When Mockingbirds Sing a little bit of a slow read for me because her sentences slowed me down. Still, that's a very minute point in an otherwise excellently penned prose.

Final Thoughts

I'm a little conflicted over this book. While I did like it, there were times when I almost wasn't certain what the author was trying to convey with his story. Maybe it's really just a story and individual people get out of it different things. That wouldn't surprise me if it were so. It's refreshing to read Coffey's work because he sees things differently. This isn't a love story or a genuine drama, but simply a story, almost a folktale. And it's told from the perspective of two little girls, very unusual lead characters in adult fiction. You've gotta love that.

Yes, this book really is unusual in that it deals with the supernatural in a strange way. You don't know whether Leah is lying or telling the truth until the very end, and that's one of the primary reasons I kept reading because I had to know. That alone means Coffey's style works. He never felt preachy, just forthright, letting the reader judge for themselves what he meant in the actions or words of any one individual character.

I will also say that it's nice having another male author joining the Christian fiction genre, because male authors really are few and far between. So while I'm not wholly in love with this book, I think it is one I will remember for quite a long time. And I'm definitely going to read more of Coffey's work. He's almost like the Ray Bradbury of Christian fiction, and for me, that is a very high compliment.

Monday, August 24, 2015

Classics Club Spin Choice!!!

The Classics Club chose #5 for the spin number, and for me that ends up being Lorna Doone!

Now, about this story.

I love the movie version from 2000 with Aiden Gillen and Richard Coyle. It's the epitome of an epic romance for me, beaten maybe only by Ivanhoe. Except that Lorna ends up with the guy she's destined to be with, unlike poor Rebecca and Ivanhoe.

But it is possible, in fact likely, that Blackmore's story is very different from the film I hold so very dear. This is why I'm halfway dreading reading the book because what if it ruins my opinion of the movie? I've had that happen before and really frustrated myself! So let's pray this isn't going to be a repeat of past experiences.

Ooh, and as a means of inspiring myself to read and finish this book, since I didn't own my own copy, I purchased the one to the left. It's from 1889, and yes in not the best condition, but I love vintage books! And it's even illustrated which is always a plus.

Unless we're talking Edgar Allan Poe. Then illustrations are a definite negatory for me. I'd rather read his stories with absolutely no imagery other than what's in my head. My head usually doesn't come up with quite as gruesome of images as the illustrators.

So, there we have it, Lorna Doone is my Classics Club Spin for September and October!

Sunday, August 23, 2015

Classics Club Spin

This is an event from the Classics Club! I wasn't going to participate and then figured, why not. At least I would have 2 months in which to read whichever book gets chosen from my list and that is quite doable.

The way this works, I list 20 books from my Classics Club reading list of unreads, and tomorrow the Club admins or whoever they are pick a number randomly and I read whatever book correlates to that number. Get it? Got it. Good!

Moving on to the books.
  1. Bunyan, John: The Pilgrim's Progress (1678) 
  2. Trollope, Anthony: Phineas Finn (1869) 
  3. Dumas, Alexandre: The Man in the Iron Mask (1850) 
  4. Fitzgerald, F. Scott: The Love of the Last Tycoon (1941) 
  5. Blackmore, Richard Doddridge: Lorna Doone (1869) 
  6. Salinger, J.D.: The Catcher in the Rye (1951)
  7. Cather, Willa: Death Comes for the Archbishop (1927)
  8. Wells, H. G.:The Time Machine (1895) 
  9. Woolf, Virginia: A Room of One’s Own (1929) 
  10. Dickens, Charles: Little Dorrit (1857)
  11. Burnett, Frances Hodgson: The Making of a Marchioness (1901)
  12. Melville, Herman: Moby Dick (1851)
  13. Fitzgerald, F. Scott: The Beautiful and Damned (1922)
  14. West, Nathanael: Miss Lonelyhearts (1933) 
  15. Stevenson, Robert Louis: The Black Arrow (1888) 
  16. Collins, Wilkie: The Woman in White (1859)
  17. Du Maurier, Daphne: Rebecca (1938) 
  18. Bronte, Charlotte: Jane Eyre (1847)
  19. James, Henry: The Wings of the Dove (1902) 
  20. Conrad, Joseph: Heart of Darkness (1899) 

All right, great spinners, spin on! I am ready for thee!!

Monday, August 17, 2015

Prelude for a Lord (Gentlemen Quartet #1) by Camille Elliot

Prelude for a Lord
The Gentlemen Quartet Series
Camille Elliot
Zondervan Publishers

Official Backpage Synopsis

An awkward young woman. A haunted young man. A forbidden instrument. Can the love of music bring them together . . . or will it tear them apart?

Bath, England—1810

At twenty-eight, Alethea Sutherton is past her prime for courtship; but social mores have never been her forté. She might be a lady, but she is first and foremost a musician.

In Regency England, however, the violin is considered an inappropriate instrument for a lady. Ostracized by society for her passion, Alethea practices in secret and waits for her chance to flee to the Continent, where she can play without scandal.

But when a thief’s interest in her violin endangers her and her family, Alethea is determined to discover the enigmatic origins of her instrument . . . with the help of the dark, brooding Lord Dommick.

Scarred by war, Dommick finds solace only in playing his violin. He is persuaded to help Alethea, and discovers an entirely new yearning in his soul.

Alethea finds her reluctant heart drawn to Dommick in the sweetest of duets . . . just as the thief’s desperation builds to a tragic crescendo . . .

My Take in 3 Parts

The Theme
This tale really is about two people with different griefs and sufferings finding one another. Alethea and Dommick discover they can help one another heal, because each of their sufferings is a private embarrassment to themselves, Dommick especially. How did you treat a man with PTSD in 1810? When the nightmares began after he returned from fighting Bonaparte, what did his family do? They didn't know what else to do with him and so he was labeled the Mad Baron because he did not know how to face the horror he saw in battle. He is a strong man with a fierce countenance and a determined loyalty to his family, but he only views himself as weak because of the nightmares that attack him at any given time. He does not live up to societal expectations and so his entire family's reputation is at risk because of that "weakness."

It's hard living up to the expectations of others, but even harder when those expectations go contrary to our own nature. Alethea loves to play the violin. It is the height of her pleasure, her purest moment of joy, the time when she feels the most liberated. Yet it isn't proper for a young woman in 1810 to play the violin because it requires so much physical movement that draws improper attention to the body.

Alethea must stand firm against the tide of judgement that threatens to wash her away. There is nothing improper in her behavior. She is absolutely proper, just a trifle odd according to societal standards.

It is an exquisite theme of healing and understanding the pain of others.

The Characters
Every single lead character has become family to me. I grieved with Dommick on the most intimate levels, feared for Alethea and Clare's (Dommick's sister) safety, laughed at Lord Ian's antics, and experienced a yearning in my secret soul to know a man like Lord Ravenhurst. Dommick's mother, Alethea's aunt, little obnoxious Margaret who is Alethea's cousin, everyone spoke to me in some way. There isn't a single lead character that I disliked, and that for me is absolutely rare.

But let's start with Alethea. She is like a sister to me because we are like one another. I have felt the same uncertainty she feels because she is just different enough to be socially unacceptable. I love who I am, the interests I have, the views I hold most dear, and the habits I maintain. But I am different from other women in their early 30s and there are times when I quail with fear because I know that I am different and wonder if I should change. The answer, of course, is no. I am who I am, with my strengths and talents, and the Lord loves me for them. Why should I change them? Alethea is the same, with her love of the violin and long energetic walks, and her determination to cling to the things she loves most. Her vision for her future alters after she meets Dommick, of course, but he does not change her. And I love that.

As for Dommick, I adored him. His relationship with Alethea took the entire book to mature. It did not suddenly leap from mild irritation to passionate adoration. It was slow and gentle, just as one would expect to happen with love. He is strong in his protection of his mother and sister, values Lord Ian and Lord Raven as his dearest friends, and finds his way back out of the darkness that threatens to engulf him in this novel. He felt real, authentic, more real than any other male lead I've encountered in this past year. I feel like I know him, the innermost part of his heart and mind, the strengths and the weaknesses. It is a marvelous feeling.

Now on to Lord Ian and Lord Raven. Aww, Lord Ian. Such a foolhardy madcap of the first order, and yet endearing all the same. He is the daredevil, the one who flirts with anything in skirts, and the one who leaps into action. He is charming and fun and crazy, and I like him, but it is already Lord Raven that has captured my heart. It is Lord Raven who supported Dommick during his hardest times. It is Lord Raven who observes and supports quietly, all while fully prepared to unleash his dry wit upon friends and family. He is calm and cool, and yet at the same, full of yearning for something. I even anticipate a conflict between Lord Ian and Lord Raven in regards to Dommick's sister Clare in a future book. Lord Raven keeps his feelings close, unwilling to share them with just anyone, but I sense his attraction to Clare. He may just be too late. He is the ideal Regency hero, somewhat like Mr. Darcy and yet not, if that makes any sense at all.

The Writing
Camille Elliot is masterful at her craft. I would not change a single thing in all of Prelude for a Lord unless it were to draw it out even longer. I wanted to never emerge from her powerful prose. Every time I picked up this book, after 2 or 3 pages, it was like I sank between the covers and was there, in Bath in 1810, knowing and loving these people. Now that is the epitome of powerful writing!

Final Thoughts

I told one of my Goodreads buddies that this book felt like coming home to an old friend I hadn't seen in years. I LOVE it that much! And if you've been following my reviews for awhile, you know that I don't say that unreservedly very often. But I do LOVE THIS BOOK. Every moment captured me in new ways, and I love how I couldn't predict the events as they unfolded. Everything was a surprise, and that enabled me to sink into this story with my entire being.

Thank you, Camille, for this book. For this series! Because I am so far over the moon at knowing you're writing an entire series! You're giving me Lord Ian's story and Lord Raven's story and I suspect even David's story even though he wasn't a character in this particular book. You are marvelous in every respect, and I now have to actually buy Prelude for a Lord because it has become such a huge part of myself!

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 ...