Monday, December 22, 2014

Longing For Home: Hope Springs book review

Hope Springs (Longing for Home, #2)

Hope Springs

All is not well in Wyoming. Katie Macauley gave up her life-long dream of returning to Ireland in order to make a home for herself in Hope Springs, but her future has never been so uncertain. The town is more divided than ever, with both the Irish and the Reds stealing property, burning buildings, and endangering lives.

Katie’s heart remains sharply divided between her love for playful Tavish and steady Joseph, a decision she feels ill-prepared to make. In the midst of the growing unrest, temperatures drop quickly, too quickly, and Irish nightmares of famine and cold resurface as the little Wyoming town struggles to beat the harsh winter.

Katie makes one sacrifice after another to keep the peace and help see her loved ones through the difficult days ahead, but will it be enough? Can the town make amends before their hatred consumes them all? And will Katie find the love she has been searching for as well as a home to call her own?

My Review: 10/10

Oh Oh OH! This was so unexpected.

This book has stayed on my mind since I finished the first one many months ago. As dissatisfied as I was with certain aspects of the first book, I was unwilling to pay any money at all, let alone over $10 on Amazon for what I believed I'd never read again. But I had to know what happened! How was everything resolved?! Who did she choose?! What of her family?! Etc. etc. etc. Thus began my long library hunt. Finally this past weekend, my book arrived. I was not expecting much pleasure, but rather relief from finally getting answers.

To say it simply, this book had everything the previous one lacked. It was a thing of beauty.

I read this book as a standalone novel; it had been 8 months since I read the first book and I did nothing to refresh my memory. Therefore, any previous irks and irritations did not carry over. It should be noted that it does stand firmly on it's own. Actually come to think of it, I would probably recommend this book be read on its own. Probably. Mmm, maybe. I don't know, I'll have to think on it.

I can't remember the last time I was so emotionally moved by a book that I cried, but this one hit me hard. I'll be brief because my emotions are still too close to the surface.

The romance and Katie's ultimate choice was so well done, so natural. Yes, extreme circumstances kind of threw spotlights on the situation. That would normally frustrate me as it would seem to be taking the responsibility of making a choice from the character. However, this was not the case. The choice was already being made, life just happened. So I was at peace with it.

Most of the resolutions/townspeople I thought were done believably as well. I understood some of their difficult positions and impossible choices.

I cheered inwardly when Joseph finally took a stand. I cheered harder when Katie stayed true to her (flawed, in my opinion) character and disagreed with him over it. I loved that there were consequences for making the right choice. That's so often true for life and I think seeing a character struggle with that and ultimately choose the right thing anyway is so admirable and encourages us to be courageous and upright too. And then Joseph got through to Katie too. So. Good. Ahhhh.

There is just so much good to say about this book. The people, the history, the hurts, all of it, was so realistically done that I felt like I was there, dealing with irrational, hardheaded people, that I sometimes wanted to comfort and sometimes wanted to shake. This book so openly and honestly deals with racism in a time when it was not just common, it was the foundation of the country, of every community. Though we try to pretend it doesn't exist anymore, it does. And even if it didn't, it would still exist as a very important part of all of our histories and our humanity, as this book so poignantly illustrates.

My tiny complaints are thus:
No epilogue?! I'm torn. I love the fact that this book looks like a sequel with no intent to turn it into a trilogy. I would respect the author and this book/set SO MUCH MORE if they would hop off the trilogy train. Just 'cause all the cool kids do it doesn't mean you should too! Some things are made weaker by stretching them out thinner than they were meant to be. On the other side of the same token, I would love another book about these people. I feel like Katie's story is done. But I've always wanted to know Finbarr's story, even more so now. And I just wanted to check in with the town and see how they're doing, healing and growing. I feel like this could have been accomplished with an epilogue, though a spinoff story of Finbarr's wouldn't be unwelcome. Perhaps a novella? I don't know. I'm disappointed that I felt like I didn't get to see enough of the aftermath/healing when I had been immersed in the ugliness and pain for so long. But I'd also likely be disappointed in a whole third book that dwells solely or mostly on that topic.

Second issue- did Bob Archibald fall off the face of the planet?! What happened there? It seemed like Ms. Eden forgot about him. He was briefly mentioned as not being given a respite on the eviction, but that's it. *SPOILERS* *SPOILERS* He was a proven murderer and arsonist. He almost killed several others. What was done about it?! Where did he go? How was he convinced to leave? I felt very unsettled about this.

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

The Daughter of Highland Hall book review

The Daughter of Highland Hall (Edwardian Brides, #2)

The Daughter of Highland Hall 

Fans of Downton Abbey, Jane Eyre, and Pride & Prejudice will enjoy this pure and inspiring romance taking place in Edwardian England amid a clash of cultures and changing times.

Eighteen-year-old Katherine Ramsey travels to London with her family to make her debut into society and hopefully find her future husband. Her overbearing aunt insists she must secure a proposal from a wealthy young man who is in line to inherit his father’s title and estate. But Katherine questions her aunt’s plans when she gets to know Jonathan Foster, a handsome medical student and strong Christian who is determined to protect the poor and vulnerable in London’s East End. When a family scandal puts a damper on Katherine’s hopes for the season, she has time to volunteer with Jonathan, caring for children in one of London’s poorest areas, and romance blossoms. Katherine’s faith grows and she begins to envision a different future with Jonathan. But when Katherine’s work in the East End puts her in danger, Jonathan distances himself from Katherine to protect her. A wealthy suitor reappears, and Katherine must choose which path to follow.

My Review: 6/10
This was better than the last book. While I found much of it to tie itself strongly to pretty much every other book in this genre, there were a few things that stood out to me in a wonderful way. Our heroine makes a comment about following your heart and this being the right move and, for perhaps the first time ever, our hero responds with a comment about how his choice was NOT about following his heart because our hearts are inherently deceitful and following them can lead us astray. He followed up with clarifying that our choices should be made based on following God and then he took the time to question the motivation behind his actions and pray about it. Holy cow, I was impressed. This (the whole following your heart nonsense) is something that has bothered me for so SO long and I have no idea how many times I've vented about it. More than I've been able to keep track of. I am so grateful that an author finally adressed this way of thinking and set the record straight.

I was also super surprised and appreciative of Julia's advice about being equally yoked. I loved that it came about naturally, that it wasn't what he wanted or hear (or what she wanted to say, most likely), and that it pointed to a weakness in Jon. I love when authors allow their characters to be flawed and to make mistakes; it allows realistic growth and lets me really bond with them.

But I did have a few disappointments that I couldn't ignore.

First and loudest: why was Julia there? It seemed beyond inappropriate that William and Julia were still living under the same roof now that they were courting and engaged. It seemed to me that she probably should not be the children's governess anymore, but at the very least, she should have moved out. Sure there were some social mores that I wasn't surprised at them ignoring, but this wasn't just about what society thought, but about staying clear of temptation and maintaining an upright appearance. Realistically, I thought all this would press for a short engagement. But instead they decided to have a normal courtship while also playing at marriage. I thought it was wrong that Julia lived under the same roof, continued to work for the family, and yet acted as mistress of the house; William makes every decision with her, speaking as a "we," etc.

On the opposite end of the spectrum, * SPOILERS * Jon immediately follows up a declaration of love with a marriage proposal. Wait, did William do that too? Now I'm not sure and it seems likely. I guess it only stood out as so awkward because we get to see William and Julia's courtship, but Jon and Kate jump from acceptance to the wedding day. I don't know, apparently in Ms. Turansky's Edwardian time period, couples fall in love from a handful of daily interactions, then wrestle with it, accept it, declare it and then propose. There is no courting. There is no slow build.

Which brings me to me last issue: when making his fine speech, Jon says that he has loved her from first sight. Not only am I sure that was not true (Kate references seeing friendship in his eyes and then Jon is disappointed in her lack of interest in current events) but I think if it were true, it would cheapen those feelings because they couldn't have been built on anything but attraction.

All in all, if you like christian historical romances, you likely enjoy this. As for me, I probably wouldn't buy it or reread it, but I am looking forward to the next book, which seems likely to be about Penelope (and Theo?)!

Friday, October 24, 2014

The Secret of Pembrooke Park book review

The Secret of Pembrooke Park

The Secret of Pembrooke Park

Julie Klassen Is the Top Name in Inspirational regency Romance

Abigail Foster fears she will end up a spinster, especially as she has little dowry to improve her charms and the one man she thought might marry her--a longtime friend--has fallen for her younger, prettier sister.
When financial problems force her family to sell their London home, a strange solicitor arrives with an astounding offer: the use of a distant manor house abandoned for eighteen years. The Fosters journey to imposing Pembrooke Park and are startled to find it entombed as it was abruptly left: tea cups encrusted with dry tea, moth-eaten clothes in wardrobes, a doll's house left mid-play . . .

The handsome local curate welcomes them, but though he and his family seem to know something about the manor's past, the only information they offer Abigail is a warning: Beware trespassers who may be drawn by rumors that Pembrooke contains a secret room filled with treasure.

Hoping to improve her family's financial situation, Abigail surreptitiously searches for the hidden room, but the arrival of anonymous letters addressed to her, with clues about the room and the past, bring discoveries even more startling. As secrets come to light, will Abigail find the treasure and love she seeks...or very real danger?

My Review: 5/10
I had mixed feelings about this book. I really liked the setting, the nods to Jane Austen, and the mystery in general. The plot was very well done; I was very invested in unraveling it, and had no suspicions or theories as to true motives of any of the characters.

However, a lot of William's and Abigail's actions didn't sit well with me. I'm not an authority on 19th century propriety by any means, unless a solid love of Jane Austen's work and a tendency to immerse myself in regency period novels makes me an expert. But I just couldn't see a devoted man of the cloth or a well-bred lady doing the things that they did. I mean, Lydia Bennet would, but she brought shame down on anyone with a teaspoon's worth of sense. Frequently inviting a man into your bedchamber, being alone with said man in said bedchamber, coming upon a half naked man and then staying to chat, the super forward flirtatious remarks, the sensuous lingering touches- these are all commonplace and accepted today, but 200 years ago? Not so much. Definitely not without consequences. I was frequently disappointed in both of them. How often William risked her reputation. If he really cared for her and/or if he had integrity, he wouldn't have trifled with her, but would have taken the utmost care to treat her like a lady and preserve her good name.

Sunday, October 19, 2014

A Most Inconvenient Marriage book review

A Most Inconvenient Marriage

A Most Inconvenient Marriage

A Marriage of Convenience Turns Most Inconvenient in this Historical Charmer

Having fled a difficult home life, Civil War nurse Abigail Stuart feels like her only friend in the world is sweet but gravely wounded patient Jeremiah Calhoun. Fearing he won't survive, the Confederate soldier's last wish is that Abigail look after his sickly sister at home. Marry him, return to his horse farm, and it'll be hers.

Left with few choices, Abigail takes him up on his offer and moves to Missouri after his death, but just as the family learns to accept her, the real Jeremiah Calhoun appears--puzzled to find a confounding woman posing as his wife. Jeremiah is determined to have his life back to how it was before the war, but his own wounds limit what he can do on his own. Still not fully convinced Abigail isn't duping him, he's left with no choice but to let the woman stay and help--not admitting to himself she may provide the healing his entire family needs.

 My Review: 10/10

I have been waiting for what feels like an eternity for this book, and Ms. Jennings did not disappoint; her excellence is as consistent as ever. This novel has it all- history, romance, Christian and moral elements, adventure, personal growth, humor, everything.

I loved every moment of this book.

I was frequently bursting out laughing over the shenanigans and antics that the Huckabee kids got into. I will admit that I don’t usually like children as supporting characters in this genre. They rarely are depicted realistically, but rather portrayed as little angels that highlight the heroine’s maternal instincts thus making the hero fall madly in love with her. Please. I have kids; you can’t pull the wool over my eyes. I love them more than my own life, but they bring out the worst in me as often as they bring out the best in me. Anyway, Ms. Jennings writes life into her characters of all ages. Josiah and Betsy were adorable and hysterical and innocent and mischievous and real. And I loved Abigail’s playful spirit. Oh, the piecrust. And Betsy’s “kitten!” I haven’t laughed like that in quite a while.

I loved that Abigail notes on a few occasions that Jeremiah is not classically handsome, and certainly not the most handsome man she’d ever laid eyes on. Her reflections on his appearance change naturally as her respect and admiration for him grows. I respected her for that.

I loved that Jeremiah didn’t know his own heart for most of the book. How accurate. How often do we convince ourselves that we want something, need something, deserve something, and plow on after it, trampling God’s opportunities in our path? Often we don’t even realize how wrong we were until we’ve gotten what we thought we wanted and it doesn’t satisfy. How grateful I am when He intervenes!

The plot was so well done. The suspense was never too extreme or outlandish. With about 80-90% of the book read, I considered the fact that this story might end in a very unexpected way. Books in the historical fiction/Christian romance department are often predictable. I mean, you know what the story is driving at and how it will likely end. But every so often an author blindsides you with an unexpected blow to take you through a different emotion or experience than the one you signed up for. Ms. Jennings had blindsided me before and I found myself wondering if the love story unfolding was really the story of people I hadn’t invested in.

The growth in some of the characters was natural and well paced, set off by realistic circumstances. I appreciated an honest portrayal of vices, virtues, pain, confusion, mistakes, and sacrifice.

I completely understood Abigail’s heart when it broke for rejection, yet rejoiced in the man that Jeremiah was. An impossible situation. But those seem to be God’s specialty. I cheered when Abigail decided she wouldn’t go down without a fight. But even more, I loved that ultimately it was neither what she did, nor what Jeremiah did, but what God did. From beginning to end, and every second in between, this was the very best kind of story.

Saturday, October 18, 2014

The Brickmaker's Bride book review

The Brickmaker's Bride (Refined by Love, #1)

The Brickmaker's  Bride 

Yearning for a fresh start, Ewan McKay travels with his aunt and uncle from northern Scotland to West Virginia, promising to trade his skills in the clay business for financial assistance from his uncle Hugh. Hugh purchases a brickmaking operation from a Civil War widow and her daughter, but it's Ewan who gets the business up and running again. Ewan seeks help from Laura, the former owner's daughter, and he feels a connection with her, but she's being courted by another man--a lawyer with far more social clout and money than Ewan. Besides, Ewan has resolved he'll focus on making the brickmaking operation enough of a success that he can become a partner in the business
and be able to afford to bring his sisters over from Scotland.

But when Hugh signs a bad business deal, all Ewan's hard work may come to naught. As his plans begin to crumble, Laura reveals something surprising. She and her mother may have a way to save the brickworks, and in turn Ewan may have another shot at winning Laura's heart.

My Review: 6/10
This was an enjoyable read. But I think it would have been refreshingly unique if a couple of things were different. I wished that Ewan's point of view wasn't included. It wasn't always believable (come on, no man would remark to himself that he "noticed a scent of Jasmine.") and it would have added some suspense to not be so confident of his feelings. That might have made Laura's uncertainties more believable.

But even more so, it would have been refreshing to have a poor Scots-Irishman with some pride, thinking he may have been poor, but he could be any man's equal. He could prove genteel, intelligent, hardworking, successful, without being born to priviledge. I just really don't like the self-pitying that's chalked up to rank and unfortunately for me, that seems to be the most popular mode of conflict in this genre. Come on, ladies! Give me a strong, confident, charming lead character!

Apart from that, there was so much to love about this book. I'm a Pittsburgh native, so despite the less than flattering commentary, I loved the history from beginning to end. I agreed with and appreciated many of the Christian themes. Some of the ones chosen were not the usual choices: waiting on God, not judging another person's faith/standing with God, honesty and integrity in every situation, God working all things- even suffering, loss, and death- for good, being disappointed in God's answers, and healing your relationship with God. So much truth in these pages.

Ewan was one of the most upright men after God's heart that I've seen depicted in print. I realize that he was human and made mistakes. But I felt that a couple of his inconsistencies should have been addressed as mistakes. He did enter into a deception with Kathleen, when providing her with information on the dinner party that she did not attend. Why didn't he just turn around and take her home? Yes he would have been late, but better to be late than assist Kathleen in compromising herself. And while he did not specifically instruct her to lie, I've learned that the state of the heart matters as much as the words themselves when it comes to God's standards. Just as being angry with someone is as severe in His eyes as murder, a deceitful heart and carefully worded omissions are equal to lies (Matthew 5:21-22). Ewan is careful not to technically utter a lie himself, but never seems to realize that a deceitful heart and following actions are still guilty of the sin.

I didn't like the kiss between Ewan and Laura. Despite their feelings, she was in a relationship with Winston. Harboring feelings for another man is bad enough and then you add in kissing. I lost some respect for them both.

Hugh's conversion was a little too abrupt for me, but I'm glad that it happened.

I look forward to checking out more books by this author.

Friday, September 26, 2014

Playing By Heart book review

Playing by Heart

Playing by Heart

Lula Bowman has finally achieved her dream: a teaching position and a scholarship to continue her college education in mathematics. But when she receives a shocking telephone call from her sister, Jewel, everything she's worked for begins to crumble.

After the sudden death of Jewel's husband, Jewel needs Lula's help. With a heavy heart, Lula returns to her Oklahoma hometown to do right by her sister. But the only teaching job available in Dunn is combination music instructor/basketball coach. Neither subject belongs anywhere near the halls of academia, according to Lula!

Lula commits to covering the job for the rest of the school year, determined to do well and prove herself to the town. Reluctantly, she turns to the boys' coach, Chet, to learn the game of basketball. Chet is handsome and single, but Lula has no plans to fall for a local boy. She's returning to college as soon as she gets Jewel back on her feet.

However, the more time she spends in Dunn, the more Lula realizes God is working on her heart--and her future is beginning to look a lot different than she'd expected.

My Review: 6/10
I really enjoyed much of this book. My favorite part was the humanity of Lula. As the oldest in my family, I couldn't immediately relate, but before long, my heart was twisting right along with Lula's as she worked herself to the bone trying to earn the respect of those who should have been her biggest cheerleaders and supporters. I guess a lot of it was the age difference and the time period, but it was still so hard to swallow.

Lula had no easy choices and I really appreciated her growth as she struggled to let God's love and direction be enough, trading the temporary for the eternal.

Though I wasn't clear on the exact time period for most of the book, I loved the historical aspects. At first I thought the tornado was too melodramatic, and then I did a little research and read about the tornadoes that touched down during World War I. Fascinating. The author clearly did a lot of research and found natural ways to have the information sprinkled throughout the pages. She did a great job of staying consistent to the time and attitudes.

The things I didn't like about the book were just specific to my own tastes; I didn't like Jewel's romance. It was obvious, but more than that, I just couldn't picture it myself. While being pregnant with her deceased husband's child, she starts a romance with his best friend, just months after laying him to rest? I realize that, especially for the time, this kind of thing was much more necessary and common, but it just didn't appeal to my steadfast personality. Not at all.

I thought the end was kind of abrupt too. I'm glad that the author didn't write Chet a loophole to get out of the commitment he made, but I was surprised that it pretty much cut to epilogue right after; I'd have liked to hear a little more about his experiences there.  Their's is a story that might make a good sequel- seeing the shape Lula's life continues to take and experiencing Chet's maturity and growth as he experiences war himself and learns that it has little to do with glory. The family dynamics could be fleshed out even more, in both Lula's and Chet's families. Blaze and Nannie would make a good substory. So much potential.

Monday, August 25, 2014

Becoming Bea book review

Becoming Bea (The Courtships of Lancaster County, #4)

Becoming Bea 

Ben and Bea have always irritated each other. But when their friends push them together, can they cease bickering long enough to fall in love?
My Review: 8/10
This book is the best of it's kind. I've read some Amish fiction before, and I'd read the previous book, Minding Molly, and I felt like the author did a really great job of showing another side to the story; both Molly and Bea have distinct voices.

The book is aptly named and you really get to see a transition as a young woman grows up. I thought her changes were natural; being thrown into helping raise children with no previous knowledge, accidentally overhearing some brutally honest words about your character from a friend, being separated from your family, all of these are things that would naturally mature and grow a person. So well done.

I don't know how realistic Don's character/situation is for the Amish, but I thought Bea's reaction to him and his actions was appropriate. I could have done without him as a subplot, but perhaps there will be some redemption for him a subsequent book.

The themes of forgiveness and trust and vulnerability were all beautifully done. I could understand where Bea was coming from in her fear and frustration and doubt. And I thought it was a little ironic that she was called overbearing. Perhaps Molly rubbed off on her more than she realized?

The storyline is interesting and the characters and their relationships are engaging, but ultimately, the charm of this book comes from Bea's voice: her introspection, prayers to God, her flaws and growth and insights along the way.

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Miracle in a Dry Season book review

Miracle in a Dry Season (Appalachian Blessings, #1)Miracle in a Dry Season 

It's 1954 and Perla Long's arrival in the small town of Wise, West Virginia, was supposed to go unnoticed. She just wants a quiet, safe place for her and her daughter, Sadie, where the mistakes of her past can stay hidden. But then drought comes to Wise, and Perla is pulled into the turmoil of a town desperately in need of a miracle.
Casewell Phillips has resigned himself to life as a bachelor...until he meets Perla. She's everything he's sought in a woman, but he can't get past the sense that she's hiding something. As the drought worsens, Perla's unique way with food brings both gratitude and condemnation, placing the pair in the middle of a maelstrom of anger and forgiveness, fear and faith.

My Review: 3/10
This book was more contemporary than I usually go, but I thought I'd step outside of my normal and give it a try. I wondered if perhaps this was a new time period for the author as well; a couple of things struck me as just not right. For example, I just couldn't see a serious fear of witchcraft being used as a subplot for a story set in 1954.

I liked that Perla never revealed the details about Sadie's conception, not even to herself.

I liked the themes of forgiveness, applied in different ways, each unique to the situation.

I liked that Casewell was human, often not even realize his faults, like bing judgmental, when he thought he was being morally strong. I liked the honest portrayal of this man, who has an interest in Perla, but then upon hearing the truth, writes her off. His struggle in learning how to forgive Perla for betraying him before she belonged to him, was a new concept, definitely Christian. I thought it was well done.

And I thought it was interesting for a Christian book to paint a villain into a pastoral position. This would have been refreshing and an excellent opportunity to teach that that sometimes wolves wear sheeps clothing, that just because someone professes to be of God does not mean that they are impervious to sin and corruption, etc. Instead this character took a story that was sweet and made it taste rotten.

*SPOILER* Attempted rape from a pastor?! I know that it happens. I just wasn't expecting to stumble across it in this book based on the synopsis. Just because it didn't go very far, didn't mean i was able to gloss over it like it never happened. And it seemed to serve no other purpose in the book than to paint Perla as a victim and add drama to the story. Completely unnecessary.

And the sermons... where the pastor was telling the congregation that they needed his, not God's, but his forgiveness- why did no one contradict him?! This was 1954, not the dark ages, most people could read and had access to the Bible. The moment when he had them drop to the ground, face first, and crawl up to his feet... Oh it was nauseating. Even after he had been driven from town and Casewell took over preaching, I never felt like those things were properly addressed or any attempt was made to rectify the numerous wrongs. The snake was removed, but it wasn't enough; the poison needed sucked out too.

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Balancing It All book review

Balancing It All: My Story of Juggling Priorities and Purpose

Balancing It All: My Story of Juggling Priorities and Purpose

“How do you do it all?”

That’s the question that wife, mom, actress, and best-selling author Candace Cameron Bure is often asked. And it’s a question that women everywhere are asking themselves as we seek to balance all of our roles, responsibilities, and opportunities.

So, how do we do it? Working since the age of 5, Candace has been in a balancing act for nearly her entire life. She is the first to tell you that there is no miracle formula for perfect execution in every area of your life, but there definitely are some lessons to be learned, lessons that come to life in Candace's story.

Come along and dig into Candace’s story from her start in commercials, the balance-necessitating years on Full House, to adding on the roles of wife and mom while also returning to Hollywood. Insightful, funny, and poignant, Candace’s story will help you balance it all.

 My Review: 9/10

I recently read Candace Cameron Bure's previous book Reshaping It All and enjoyed the family stories and recipes and Biblical motivation. I guess I expected this book to be exactly the same format but with the focus on balance this time. It is entirely different and I liked it better! I got it on loan from the library, but I think I'm going to have to get my own copy because there was so much I want to be able to refer back to. It's stuffed full of advice with personal application, ideas and wisdom.

I thought it was great that she shared her private journal entries when they were applicable. It showed me that no matter how great your love for God is, we all have moments when we feel super distant and like we're messing everything up. I think sometimes we might be afraid to let those feelings out, thinking that if we say it or write it, then they become a permanent truth. But that's just the devil at work, trying to make us fearful, ashamed, guilty, etc. The truth is that we need to acknowledge our feelings and deal with them, work through them and then we can move on. Then we can see that those times of weakness did not define us and they did not last.

I also loved her remarks on marriage and child rearing, especially: "People talk about marriage being a 50-50 give and take situation, but it's more than that. It's more than compromise. It's about giving 100%, finding your role in that relationship and honoring all aspects of it." Yes! I just had to explain a smaller scale of this to my two girls. I explained that while compromise is awesome, sometimes they need to sacrifice- that's what love is. And being completely unwilling to love one another is what was causing a lot of their fights. Ms. Bure is right on about this. Her Biblical wisdom on respecting your husband was also exactly right. It also happens to be a very unpopular viewpoint in our culture, which makes me appreciate her speaking up even more. Those gems are quotes that I might make into art or include in wedding cards.

Lastly, I was very strongly impacted by her illustration of a prayer partnership with her friend. Immediately, I thought, what a great way for me to grow closer to God, keep perspective of my prayers and blessings and also be held accountable; it's easy to pray something like, "God, please help me to get in better shape and eat right!" and then forget about it, do nothing to change your life, your habits, your self discipline. But having someone to whom I'm sharing my prayers with, knowing that they are praying for me too, and updating each other on prayers that have been answered, reminds me of the things I say I want, and helps motivate me to make changes too. I've implemented this with my sister in law in the last week and it has already been making a difference in my life, in ways I wasn't expecting.

In short, I recommend  this book so much that I will likely buy it for others. It has been a God send.

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Rachel book review

Rachel (Wives of the Patriarchs, #3) Rachel 

Can true love overcome a legacy of betrayal?

Rachel wants nothing more than for her older half sister Leah to wed and move out of their household. Leah wishes her father would find a good man who would love her alone. Unbeknownst to either of them, Jacob is making his way to their home, trying to escape a past laced with deceit and find the future God has promised him.

But the past comes back to haunt Jacob when he finds himself on the receiving end of treachery. The man who wanted only one woman ends up with sisters who have never gotten along and now must spend the rest of their lives sharing a husband. In the power struggles that follow, only one woman will triumph . . . or will she?

Combining meticulous research with her own imaginings, bestselling author Jill Eileen Smith not only tells one of the most famous love stories of all time but will manage to surprise even those who think they know the story inside and out.

My Rating: 9/10

I don't really have any complaints with this novel. It's not a full star simply because I wouldn't want to read it again. That is not a reflection of the writing, just that this story is so painful.

Ms. Smith did a wonderful job bringing the characters to life. I felt like she did them justice, presenting their strengths, weaknesses, struggles, and victories without prejudice, without bias. As a result, it really showed me the condition of my heart. I've always known I have an unforgiving spirit, but I'd thought I'd been getting better. Not so. Watching the sisters struggle, I heard my own heart responding in kind, taking up arms, and thinking about how I would feel, what I would do. And it was never to my own sacrifice, never for the good of others over myself. At least Rachel felt occasional guilt and eventual repentence and remorse. I have a long way to go.

In addition, this retelling really made me aware of how differently this story could have gone. Every step of the way, if they had chosen another path, things could have been so different. From the getgo, if just one of the sisters had chosen to love the other, regardless of how they were treated, I don't think Leah could have done what she did. I wonder if Rachel could have refused the marriage? I know she wouldn't have wanted to, but if she was trusting God and his ways, and I wonder if she would have been allowed to break her own marriage contract since Jacob had taken her sister by mistake? Hm. What a different story that would have been.

I completely understood her fear of allowing Jacob and Leah to spend any time together, to be close. How different it would have been, if she had even just chosen to love her sister herself- respond in kind words, compliments, companionship, encouragement, and ultimately forgiveness.

And I don't know if this part was accurate (will have to reread the Bible story myself now) but I noticed that Rachel did not turn to God much, except to beg for a child. But like so many of us, instead of trusting His silence (and perhaps pouring herself into her nephews), she attempted anything she could to make the decision herself. When will we learn that we cannot force God's hand?

Though so painful to read, this story was full of hard-earned wisdom. It was a colorful, vivid retelling.

Sunday, May 25, 2014

Full Steam Ahead book review

Full Steam Ahead Full Steam Ahead

When Nicole Renard returns home to Galveston from an eastern finishing school, she's stunned to find her father in ill health. Though she loves him, he's only ever focused on what she's "not." Not male. Not married. Not able to run their family business, Renard Shipping.

Vowing to secure a suitable marriage partner, Nicole sets out with the Renard family's greatest treasure: a dagger personally gifted to Nicole's father by the pirate Jean Lafitte. Many believe the legend that the dagger is the source of all Renard Shipping's good fortune, though Nicole is sure her father's work ethic and honorable business practices are the keys to their success. Before she can board the steamer to New Orleans, Nicole finds her father's rivals—the Jenkins brothers—on either side of the gangplank, ready to grab her and steal the dagger. Quickly, she decides to instead travel north, to Liberty, Texas, where she can decide what to do next.

Darius Thornton needs a secretary—someone to help him get his notes in order. Ever since the boiler explosion aboard the "Louisiana," Darius has been a man obsessed. He will do anything to stop even one more steamship disaster. The pretty young socialite who applies for the job baffles him with her knowledge of mathematics and steamships. He decides to take a risk and hire her, but he's determined her attractive face and fancy clothes won't distract him from his important research.

The job offer comes at exactly the right time for Nicole. With what Darius is paying her, she'll be able to afford passage to New Orleans in mere weeks. But Mr. Thornton is so reclusive, so distant, so unusual. He can create complex scientific equations but can't remember to comb his hair. And his experiments are growing more and more dangerous. Still, there are undeniable sparks of attraction between them. But Nicole is leaving soon, and if she marries, it must be to a man who can manage a shipping empire. Darius certainly doesn't fit that description. And the Jenkins brothers have not given up on kidnapping Nicole and seizing the Lafitte dagger for themselves.

My Review: 7/10

I'm a fan of Karen Witemeyer, but this one fell just a little short for me.

It was still a page-turner, still captivating, from the very first words to the very last. And I really loved the first half of the book. Nicole was intelligent, strong, and sassy, but with some understandable insecurities of her own. Darius was confident and lovable in his mania. I liked the way he respected her and treated her as his partner, his equal.

But some details didn't add up. Nicole's mother's parting words were to choose the right man for her, not her father's business, yet she talked herself out of Darius being the right choice. I got the impression that her father wasn't as concerned with someone with loads of shipping experience, so much as some brawn to protect the family. So I was a little confused as to why Nicole was so adamant on that point.

Despite references to God and scripture, and despite Nicole praying for God to direct her path and lead her to the right man, she did not turn to God when she realized she'd fallen for Darius. She tried to blaze ahead on her own, which almost ended in disaster. I thought this was an excellent portrait of the way we try to solve our problems without God- thinking that if He didn't respond in the way we wanted, He just must not be listening. In her broken relationship with her father, I would have loved to see Nicole turn to her Heavenly Father for love and acceptance, and through Him, finally believe that she is enough and loved as is. Then, to see her step out in faith, trusting God to have worked everything for her good, without having to see proof of it first. These characters were human and relatable, but sometimes I want ones that inspire me, that make hard choices and encourage me to do the same.

I was also surprised at the amount of time spent fantasizing about or pursuing physical things- looks, touches, kisses, etc. It took up a decent amount of pages and more of the relationship than I was expecting.

I loved the historical aspects and Darius' struggle to face his obsession and turn it over to God. I thought that was really well done. I'd recommend this book to fans of this genre and fans of this author.

Friday, May 16, 2014

Love's Sweet Beginning book review

Love's Sweet Beginning (Sisters at Heart, #3)

Love's Sweet Beginning

It wasn't Cassie Haddon's fault that she had managed to reach the age of twenty-five without possessing any useful skills. Until the war, she had always had servants to wait on her. Since then, she and her widowed mother had moved from place to place, relying on family to care for them. Now she's forced to find work to support them both. What isn't in her plans is falling for Jacob West, a local restaurateur and grocer. She needs a job and he needs help. But what they both need is love.

My Review: 2/10 
I appreciated the attempt to show a character struggling to obey scripture. But there were too many glaring problems. The romance itself was the biggest one. Cassie and Jacob were so hot and cold, it was like every other paragraph one of them was storming out, then thinking about marrying them, then crying, then thinking they didn't deserve the other, et cetera. The constant back and forth was giving me whiplash. Then you add in all the secrets, lies, omissions, jealousy, insecurities... ugh.

Then there were the issues with scripture. When Patrick first announces his intentions, he owns that the verse referred to a man's widow. By the end of the book both he and Cassie seem to have forgotten this? Not to mention the fact that she initially rebuffs him by stating the passage refers to Old Testament. Why did she not stand firm on this? Not to mention the fact that the verse states the man's obligation to the woman. She is not required to accept. All of this is irrelevant. Cassie states that she's been told her soul hangs in the balance if she doesn't comply... She should know that there is only one Way to God, to Heaven, for salvation. And if she didn't, then the author should have taught her.

Her struggle to follow the commandment to honor her parents was not flushed out either. Honoring your parents is not simply obeying their every single command. And her duty to obey Christ and His directions come first.

I had other issues with the plot and subplots and the characters and their histories, but these were the most important ones.

Saturday, May 10, 2014

A Death-Struck Year book review

A Death-Struck Year

A Death-Struck Year

A deadly pandemic, a budding romance, and the heartache of loss make for a stunning coming-of-age teen debut about the struggle to survive during the 1918 flu.

For Cleo Berry, the people dying of the Spanish Influenza in cities like New York and Philadelphia may as well be in another country--that's how far away they feel from the safety of Portland, Oregon. And then cases start being reported in the Pacific Northwest. Schools, churches, and theaters shut down. The entire city is thrust into survival mode--and into a panic. Headstrong and foolish, seventeen-year-old Cleo is determined to ride out the pandemic in the comfort of her own home, rather than in her quarantined boarding school dorms. But when the Red Cross pleads for volunteers, she can't ignore the call. As Cleo struggles to navigate the world around her, she is surprised by how much she finds herself caring about near-strangers. Strangers like Edmund, a handsome medical student and war vet. Strangers who could be gone tomorrow. And as the bodies begin to pile up, Cleo can't help but wonder: when will her own luck run out?

Riveting and well-researched, A Death-Struck Year is based on the real-life pandemic considered the most devastating in recorded world history. Readers will be captured by the suspenseful storytelling and the lingering questions of: what would I do for a neighbor? At what risk to myself?
An afterword explains the Spanish flu phenomenon, placing it within the historical context of the early 20th century. Source notes are extensive and interesting.

My Review:  5/10 *Spoiler alert!*

Solid, middle of the line effort. I really liked the first few chapters, especially the bantering in Latin. I enjoyed the setup of scenery and characters. For a book that only covered about a month in total and spent about 20-40 pages on any particular day, it moved fast enough. It was engaging, kept my interest, and was easy to finish.

Some major things got in the way for me though:

*The romance. I love a good love story. I have never said this before and I hope to never say it again, but when Edmund was introduced and Cleo reacted, I could feel my eyes rolling and my lips mumbling "oh come on!" of their own accord. It would have gone down better if one of three things happened. 1. Edmund died. 2. In the panic and desperation of the epidemic/war, they had a quickie wedding or one night stand and had to work through the muck of the aftermath. 3. The book followed up with them both years down the road and showed that it amounted to nothing, that the romance that flared between them was sparked by the circumstances. It was special, but incapsulated in that time, never to be fanned to life again.

As it was, none of those things happened. Edmund was a perfect gentleman with no faults and everything going for him. He was immediately taken with her and promptly took up the role of solicitous fiance, making arrangements on her behalf and putting her best interests ahead of his own. The humor about the birth control pamphlet (fascinaing!) had me chuckling to myself, but nothing even came of that, despite being built up so much.

*Cleo herself. It was interesting to read about the spanish flu through the eyes of a 17 year old orphan of priviledge (strange indeed). But then Cleo morphed into a superhero, saving men, women, and children, scaring away burglers with a withering stare and idle threat, digging graves, and rescuing the nearly departed from the mortuary. Cleo's only faults, lying to her family and being reckless with her own health/safety, were not faults so much as "the indirect boast" (Jane Austen) because they were done for the benefit of others. I couldn't relate to her and she got on my nerves. Even when she made stupid, rash decisions that likely would have had serious consequences in real life, everything worked out.

*The death toll. While there were occasionally deaths, Cleo saved many more lives than were taken. Of her family and the primary characters, only one died. Doing the math from the historical notes, it seemed that only 1 in 15 died of the spanish flu (at least in Portland... really a 7% mortality rate? That can't be right... ) so I guess the lack of immediate characters succumbing wasn't inaccurate. But still, no one personally connected with her went down, with the exception of Margaret (we only meet her briefly in the beginning) and Kate (whom Cleo only knew for a few weeks and didn't even start to learn anything personal about her until just a few days before she died). Even the patients that were brought in- those who died got a passing line and those who slowly regained health were checked up on throughout the whole book. With the focus on life over death, it gave the impression that the spanish flu actually wasn't that bad. Which brought me to...

*The point. What was the point of the story? It was not a death-struck year, but a flu-ridden month. It seemed to me that Cleo was altered more by her personal tragedy as a child than by the events of either the war or the spanish flu.

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Love Comes Calling book review

Love Comes Calling

Love Comes Calling 

Dreaming of becoming an actress, Boston socialite Ellis Eaton captures Griff Phillips' attention. But while filling in for a look-alike friend at the telephone exchange, she overhears a call that threatens Griff's safety. With handsome policeman Jack Flanigan investigating - and her heart in a muddle - will she discover what might be the role of a lifetime? 
My Review: 7.5/10
This book is a full submersion into the roaring twenties- the language, attitudes and history is all there. As a reader, you feel transported back in time, which is why I love historical fiction. I love learning about the way daily life was in any given period of time that is far enough removed from the one I live in. The Author's notes show just how much she prepared for this novel and shows you how much truth was weaved into the fiction- I loved it!

Ellis took some getting used to for me. Initially, though I found her insecurities annoying, I appreciated that Ms. Mitchell was consistent in her characterization and I respected her uniqueness as a heroine. For a while, every time Ellis despaired of not measuring up, I felt more and more irritated... until I met her family. While I didn't understand why they treated her the way they did, I (finally) did understand how Ellis got it into her head that she was a disappointment, a failure, and a constant source of exasperation.

After I warmed to her, I really enjoyed the humor she brought to most situations and appreciated her honesty. I liked that she didn't always have an answer, that she sometimes felt confused, and that not everyone liked her (and that they, in turn, weren't written off as evil or useless for not being TeamEllis). Even when I found her reasoning flawed, I still could see how she got there and I appreciated such an authentic point of view. Reading the Author's note on how ADHD played a role in this was fascinating to me and, while it made total sense, it made me want to go back and read it again with that in mind. So well done.

There were only two things that kept this book from perfection for me.

The first and most important thing: I never bought into Ellis' refusal/avoidance of Griff's affections; it just did not seem natural at all to me. I have never known someone to reject love because they thought they didn't deserve the person. I've seen such insecurities manifest themselves in jealousy, fear of losing the other person, clinginess, trust issues, etc., inevitably destroying the relationship, but I have never seen them stop the relationship -before- it starts. It's human nature to dream of the fairy tale ending (getting more than we deserve) so I just didn't buy it.

Secondly, Jack Feeney was a little (sometimes a lot) too naive/trusting. Bless her, but Ellis did not do a very good job of fishing information from him subtly, so how did he not suspect anything? Or if he did, then why didn't he do anything about it? It seemed to me that someone who was so afraid of crossing those he "owed favors to" wouldn't risk incurring their wrath by overlooking her rather obvious display of memory, interest, and connection. And what was with his somewhat random spilling of his past? I felt like they hardly knew each other and these weren't the things you confided in someone you've only hung out with/talked to a couple of times.

On the whole though, I thoroughly enjoyed this book. I'd recommend it to anyone who loves historical fiction, particularly set in the twenties and anyone who is itching for a fresh, strong female lead.

Monday, April 28, 2014

Longing for Home book review

Longing for Home (A Proper Romance, #2)

Longing for Home 

Twenty-six-year-old Katie Macauley has placed all her hope in Hope Springs, a small town in the 1870 Wyoming Territory. But if she wants to return home to Ireland to make amends with her estranged family, she'll need to convince the influential Joseph Archer to hold true to his word and keep her on his payroll as his housekeeper despite her Irish roots. The town is caught in an ongoing feud between the Irish and the "Reds" the frontiersmen who would rather see all the Irish run out of town and the Irish immigrants who are fighting to make a home for themselves in the New World. When Joseph agrees to keep Katie on as his housekeeper, the feud erupts anew, and Katie becomes the reluctant figurehead for the Irish townsfolk. As the violence escalates throughout the town, Katie must choose between the two men who have been vying for her love though only one might be able to restore hope to her heart.

My Review: 6.75/10

*Spoilers ahead!*

My very first thoughts on reading this book were not favorable; the opening chapter that sees Tavish and Ian giving Katie a ride did not impress me. I thought Tavish's thoughts and comments were repetitive and based on nothing. Not to mention the way he kept stating the obvious. Tavish was way too interested, way too soon. I just didn't find it believeable. I was about ready to turn this one in as one I couldn't finish, but for some reason, I pressed on a little longer. I'm glad I did.

While Tavish never gives up on his relentless pursual of Katie, you quickly spend a lot less time in his head, which makes his interactions more charming than shallow.

Ms. Eden does a good job of providing hard choices and real struggles. Romantically, it didn't seem like an easy choice for me, except for the fact that Joseph wouldn't let Katie know of his feelings. But there was plenty to love in them both, from her point of view.

Her ultimate choice between Hope Springs and Ireland was not an easy one either.

And no easy solutions for the problems in Hope Springs were offered either.

And then, we finally get the whole tale of Katie's past. That's not easy either. The way it was built up, I kept expecting the author to have built in a loophole, something that would remove all blame and guilt from Katie's shoulders, where her family was concerned. I expected it, but it never happened, fortunately. Her past was understandable, but she still placed reasonable blame on herself. I was really proud of Ms. Eden for giving her characters real problems, real struggles, real regrets. These things build character in a person, making them interesting, unique, and hopefully full of integrity and strength. She allowed Katie the time to earn the reader's compassion and respect. That is not easily done nor common enough.

I rated this book the way I did because though I enjoyed it (I really loved the Irish infusion, the dialogue, the history, the details, everything. So well done!) and thought so much of the plot and characterization well done, I had a criticism for every compliment.

I didn't understand why Joseph thought he could court Katie after she moved out. How did he think that would go with the Reds? Seems to me it never crossed his mind, which was totally out of character.

And with all the power Joseph held, and he held it all, why did he not demand peace, require civility, fair prices, no violence/harassment, etc as part of terms of lease? If anyone violated it, they would be given a warning and then, if it continued, they'd be evicted. Seems plenty simple to me.

Why were there no lawmen to enforce anything? I understand that it was a territory, but if they could have a church with a pastor, they could have a sheriff or deputy or something and a jail, even if it was only a one room holding cell.

Why did it not occur to Katie herself to ask Granny about staying there, especially as she'd just spent time with her, reflecting on how much help Granny needed?

At the time, I was wondering why there was so little reference to God and why Katie didn't pray and seek out the Bible for answers, and now I'm thinking, this may not have been a Christian based novel. I'm not sure, so I'm going to discount that.

When it came down to it, I thought Katie flipped from being annoyed with Tavish to being super into him, just a little too quickly. If I remember correctly, it really happened when he saved her by dancing in her stead. I thought that was well done, certainly the kind of thing to turn a girl's head. But Katie seemed to flip too easily (and often) in general for me. First Tavish, then Joseph and back and forth and back and forth (though it did seem that her preference for Tavish was always stronger and present, which appeased me). Then it was leaving Hope Springs, then talk of staying for years, then leaving, then staying, then leaving and ultimately staying. Too much, too easily flip flopping. Perhaps this was supposed to be a character flaw of hers. I'm not sure.

Ultimately, I enjoyed this book. It was interesting, stuffed with history and authenticity, and a sobering taste of realism. The things I loved and the things I thought could have been better put aside, the book left me wanting more. Will Katie ever learn to read? How will the Reds and Irish find peace? What will happen with Katie's family? What will happen with the new housekeeper? What will happen with the Archer family? What will happen way down the line with Finbarr? These are just a smattering of the things I'm dying to know and the character's I'm invested in. This book will draw you in and hold tight.

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

An Untamed Heart book review

An Untamed Heart

An Untamed Heart 

The Long-Awaited Prequel to the RED RIVER OF THE NORTH Series
Twenty-year-old Ingeborg Strand is certain she is destined to be an old maid. She's had several suitors but none she deemed worthy of spending her life with. That is, until she meets a university student from Oslo, and feelings stronger than friendship begin to develop between them. But tragedy strikes, and the future begins to look bleaker than ever.
Grief settles heavily over Ingeborg, and her mother suggests that she leave Norway and start afresh in America, as so many others have done before her. But how will she accomplish that with little money and no one to accompany her?
It isn't long before she meets Roald Bjorklund, a widower who has been planning to go to America for some time, lured by the promise of free land. He's a good man, a hard-working man--and he has a young son who desperately needs a mother. He's clearly interested in Ingeborg, but is he the answer to her prayers? And what about love? This isn't how she's always imagined it.
Ingeborg Strand has a heartrending decision to make...

My Review: 1/10

Full disclosure- I skimmed a lot and didn't finish it.

I realize it's kind of petty to take issue with a book because of something like names, and the author was being authentic to the culture, but she didn't have to choose names like Ingeborg and Gunlaug for the main characters... even Ingeborg's sisters had better names. Lots of heavy G and R sounds which made it hard to chew through.

But I could overlook this if I fell in love with the characters or even found them mildly interesting. But I just didn't understand them. It seemed to me that there were a lot of (immediately) contradicting thoughts and actions from Nils and Ingeborg. One minute she's saying she won't put her brother in the same position she's been put in (matchmaking) and then all of sudden she's forcing them to dance. I had a lot of "what? what just happened?" moments when reading.

Also, several characters (like Nils and Ingeborg) were constantly frustrating me because they dwelled a lot on their problems but were always avoiding confrontation or being passive aggressive. I don't have respect for people or characters who whine about their circumstances and are unwilling to adress the problems head on. Both should have just spoken to their parents and then heard them out. Maybe it was a cultural thing.

The narrative was a little weird and confusing for a while- we'd switch back and forth between mar/Hilde etc. and characters would refer to themselves as if they were speaking about someone else ("did he think her daughter...")

Overall, there was lots of dialogue, but not much being said, lots of actions being described, but nothing really happening.

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Caught in the Middle book review

Caught in the Middle (Ladies of Caldwell County, #3)

Caught in the Middle 

The train to Garber, Texas, is supposed to bring life's next victory to Nicholas Lovelace. Instead, it gets held up by robbers who are thwarted by the last person Nick ever expected--Anne Tillerton from back home in Prairie Lea.

Anne’s been hiding away as a buffalo hunter. She’s only in Garber to find their runaway cook, but the woman flees--leaving Anne with her infant son. With Nick the only person Anne knows in Garber, the two form an unlikely team as they try to figure out what to do with the child.

But being in town means acting and dressing for polite society--and it's not going well for Anne. Meanwhile, Nick's work is bringing new pressures, and being seen with a rough-around-the-edges woman isn't helping his reputation. Caught between their own dreams, a deepening relationship, and others' expectations, can the pair find their way to love?

My Review: 9/10

I was so excited when I saw that Regina Jennings had a book coming out this month! I first heard of her just a couple of months ago when reading A Match Made in Texas. Unexpectedly, hers was my favorite short story in the set and I took note of her name, determined to keep an eye out for her work. I had such high hopes for this book and Ms. Jennings did not disappoint.

I had no idea this was part of a series. It worked just fine on its own. Although, if you'd read the previous books, you'll probably better appreciate updates on and the involvement of previous characters.

The best thing about this book was the abundance of interesting and realistic characters. I always love a hero that is unapologectically (at least for a time) imperfect because that is relatable. Our flaws lead to struggles which develop our character. I cannot admire or believe in characters that are portrayed as perfect. And Ophelia. Oh my. She was deliciously obnoxious. I loved some of the ways she was described, such as: Using her parasol as a walking stick, she made her way to the customary chair and sank into it like a queen on her rival's throne." (page 172)  I was amazed at Anne's calm demeanor when Ophelia constantly spoke about her as if she wasn't there at all and the way Nick let her. I appreciated being able to see his struggles in those moments.

I thought Ms. Jennings captured the human heart so well when Finn is discovered and Anne is left with an immediate and impossible choice. The bond between Anne and Sammy, the change occurs so naturally. Being orphaned, or living like it with unavailable parents was so common back then, so it is a common theme in books placed in this time period. To me, 99% of the the time, they are trite; just a subplot used to characterize the heroine as unfailingly compassionate and sacrificial and feminine so that her love interest is inexplicably drawn to her. But Ms. Jennings work is the exception, not the rule. I loved the line "Anne watched the quiet house as she silently buried her dreams of independence." She did not enter into this with excitement and joy and because of a love for all children. Anne enters into this terrified, but for the love of this one child. And I thought it was even more important that Nick did not fall for her because of her bond or sacrifice for Sammy. How refreshing that a love was built many layers deep, starting out with respect.

Touching on subjects of abuse, especially at this level, and healing can be very tricky. I thought Ms. Jenning did a wonderful job throughout and I particularly loved her description of Nick's handling of her: "Nick smiled. Anne could grouse all she wanted. She was there and she was dressed respectfully. He wouldn't expect much more from her. Incremental change, gradually increasing the grade- that's how trains got from swamp to mountaintop. You couldn't go steep, especially carrying a load as big as the one Anne toted." (page 159) How perfectly put. Nick's determined and steady work on Anne, his patience and perseverance were a perfect blend and seemed very true to his personality. Their's was a beautiful love story to watch unfold.

The scene in Ophelia's dining room was entertaining and not needlessly so. I thought it was an excellent portrayal of a woman with a history of abuse. And I loved Nick's response. I come across a lot of authors who give their characters a history of some kind of pain/suffering and only seem to pull it out when they want to make their character vulnerable so that the lovebirds can bond. Ms. Jennings creates consistent characters that are true to form, even when things become uncomfortable, messy or downright unbearable.

I loved the moment Nicholas realized he was in love with her. Unique. Natural. Simple. Exquisite.

I could go on and on and on about the things I loved in this book- well-time and placed humor, the arguments between Nick and Anne that represented both sides well, the challenges to living out Faith, struggles with prioritizing integrity over prosperity, etc. But this book is so well done, you just have to read it. You'll find yourself constantly taking notes, dog-ear-ing, highlighting and underlining, and returning often reference a concise, well put line or two.

The only criticisms I had were brief and small in comparison: the bridge drama that happens early on- it seemed senseless to me that the man would charge headfirst into certain drowning. I thought, geez, that is the last thing his wife needs right now. And it appeared to be due to pride/ego rather than service. But then he didn't drown and I thought, I must have misunderstood the situation. I'm not sure on that, but I think the points could have been made (family first, love, need of the bridge etc) without it being quite so dire and dramatic.

The other issue I had was just with the plot. When Anne/everyone found out that Sammy's grandparents wanted him, my first thought was, "oh, I guess she's going to have to seek out Tessa afterall." I mean, it didn't matter if grandparents were of closer kin, if the mother put her child in the care of someone else. Her claim was sound. And in the beginning, she remarked that she could easily track wherever Tessa went next, there just wasn't any point. So I thought, she should just get Tessa to write something that is legal and binding. So it was a little mind boggling to me, the desperation and events that followed.

Bottomline, this is a book I will read and reread often and delight in every time. I think I've found a new author to love!

Sunday, March 30, 2014

A Heart's Rebellion book review

A Heart's Rebellion

A Heart's Rebellion 

Dutiful Jessamine Barry is tired of waiting patiently for a man to decide her future. So even though Lancelot Marfleet, second son of an aristocrat, is taking an interest in her during the London season, she refuses to consider him as a suitor. Instead, she's ready to take fashionable society by storm--and finds a rakish young man all too willing to help her do it. When things go too far, Jessamine will learn that the man who is faithful through thick and thin is more worthy than the one who speaks pretty words. But will her disgrace keep Lance from reconsidering her as a wife? And when tragedy strikes and Lance becomes his father's heir and a titled gentleman, will he think she only wants him now because of his title?

My Review: 6/10 

I did not realize that this book was a sequel until I was already knee deep in it. While it stands alone fairly well, I wonder if my perception of a few key characters would have been different if I had read the first book.

As it was, Jessamine and I did not get on. At all. She spent a good portion of the book being caught up in whining, self-pity, and pining after another woman's man. Oh my. It was difficult to swallow. Like a raw egg.

Her behavior toward Lancelot was just awful. She was shallow and stuck up, immediately dismissing him because of his looks. After realizing who he was, I expected her to be mortified and humbled. But no, she was all pride and conceit, thinking herself better than him.

As the story went on, her self-involvement reached a peak with her blaming everyone else for her feelings and obsessions, as if she is purely a victim of her circumstances. She may have been at one time, but at this point she is choosing her own self destructive path. She is no victim. Even when Megan tries to gently direct her to God, telling her to trust in His plans for her, she hardens her heart and persists.

Jessamine's attitude and actions may be an accurate representation of how some people really think and behave but they are not people I could respect or stand to be around much.

That being said, I did sympathize with her on a few points; overhearing the brief words between Rees and Celine was humiliating. I cannot even imagine. Rees in general seemed to be rubbing it in her face from the beginning all the way to the end with his talk of wishing she had found a love like he had with Celine. Why did he feel the need to compare the two? Why talk about himself at all?

I also understood the root of her insecurities, the cause and effect; her comparing herself to Celine and trying to compete, her seeking out what consoled her bruised ego, even why she was repulsed by a man who seemed too timid and was too similar to both her father and former intended, both of whom she blamed. What I didn't understand is why she thought she was superior to him or even equal to him, why she was so confident in her own appeal that she felt the need to rebuff his advances from the very first.

It was her total lack of humility and over abundance of insecurities (which I believe drove her constant defensive position at every interaction with Lancelot. I prefer characters who have a sense of humor; Jessamine was constantly irritable and offended.) that kept me from being able to connect with her or believe in their romance.

As a side note, I wasn't sure what to make of the drugging episode. Initially it rubbed me the wrong way because it seemed way too modern and out of place. Did that really happen back then? It would seem so, considering that Lancelot referenced a drug he was aware of. The author must have done her homework here. If that's the case, it just seemed too extreme and poorly contrived that he would have the nerve to drug her and make off with her in public. Perhaps he'd thought her defenseless before, but after Celine's arrival, and their connection, I'd have thought the former Lady Wexham's position and influence would have been enough to end any dishonorable schemes.

This is the first book I've read by Ms. Axtell and though I would have preferred to closely follow Megan's story rather than Jessamine's, and I will likely not read the next book (Delawney?), I might just go back and read the first book. Celine appears to be a protagonist who is classy, intelligent and generous. She fell in love with a man because of his honor and respected that, rather than trying to dissolve it- my kind of heroine, my kind of love story.

Saturday, March 29, 2014

The Reaver: The Sundering, Book IV book review

The Reaver (The Sundering, #4)

The Reaver 

In the 4th book of the multi-author Sundering series launched by New York Times best-selling author R.A. Salvatore, Richard Lee Byers introduces Anton Marivaldi—a renowned reaver with an insatiable thirst for bounty and a moral compass that always leads him toward the evil he’s never tried.

Endless, pounding rain afflict the Sea of Fallen Stars and the coastal regions surrounding it. Harvests are failing, travel and trade are disrupted, and civilized forces are giving way to the deluges caused by the storms. In panic and despair, many have turned to the goddess Umberlee, Queen of the Deeps, offering her sacrifices with hope that they will be spared the inevitable reckoning of her perpetual tempest.

Evendur Highcastle, undead pirate captain, risen from the depths to assume the mantle of Umberlee’s Chosen, takes advantage of the people's desperation to strike for both spiritual and temporal power in her name.

Vying with Highcastle for the hearts and minds of the people is Stedd Whitehorn, a little boy and the chosen of a god thought lost to time: Lathander, the Morninglord. In a time of such upheaval, Stedd’s message of renewal and hope runs in stark contrast to the savage ethos of Highcastle and his waveservants.

When Anton captures the boy in order to collect Highcastle’s considerable bounty, the reaver is quickly caught in the riptide caused by the sundering of worlds.

My Review:  7/10
By Jonathan Armstrong

Richard Lee Byers came up with a fun and imaginative tale, but fell short in traditional writing areas that, unfortunately, undermined it.  Even still, I would probably re-read the book some day; it’s pleasurable and its tone is light. I would consider it a not-so-guilty pleasure.

Honestly, not knowing the author’s background or having read any of his other books, he reminds me of someone who created good adventures in a game like Dungeons & Dragons, was encouraged by the players, and then decided to turn those adventures into writing without being trained (or self-taught) in the mechanics of writing. The bad was mostly the result of writing mechanics (which can be improved) and the good was from the actual story. In other words, Richard Byers has a story to tell that’s worth listening to, but he needs to improve on how he tells it.

The first thing that struck me when I was reading was how cliché Anton Marivaldi seems in the opening of the book: a pirate captain lusting after treasure, caring nothing about his crew, and seeking his own adventure. There was a glimmer of hope that he could be deepened as a character when we discovered that he is threatened by depression after combat, but that was never really built upon. To be certain, we find out more about his past, but we didn’t get it in small doses or in a climactic reveal scene. We got it in a pretty anti-climactic fashion, actually. I will get to what made it that way later in the review.

Umara Ankhlab, a wizard(ess) of Thay, is the other unlikely hero of the book. Hers is an interesting story, which I enjoyed and have no complaints over. The way her vampire master made her willingly surrender to his bite well characterized both Umara and her vampiric overlord. In fact, it was a perfect representation of Umara’s spirit in the current hierarchy of Szass Tam’s Thay.

Here is my first complaint: the companionship between Anton and Umara was not earned by the writer. Their camaraderie developed way too quickly and way too easily with few obstacles. Realistically, when considering that one is a reviled pirate, one is a red wizard of Thay, they are both trying to kidnap the same child for different gains, and their companionship was actually based on positive moments shared together instead of shared evil motives, there should have been a trilogy’s worth of obstacles to overcome to get them there. Take their first scene together as an example. Sure, they both needed to get out of the temple and do so with Stedd Whitehorn in tow, but was there no distrust? If you and another party both infiltrate a temple to try and steal a child, you should have two goals once the alarms sound: get out with Stedd, and leave the other party to take your fall.  However, if we are accepting that the dire circumstances within the temple caused the two parties to fight together because they were too desperate not to, I would expect that to end soon after. It did, when Umara’s vampire master killed the rogues that Anton made a deal with. But Anton and Umara? Nope. Umara was ordered to stay behind to fight a celestial by herself, even though it would surely kill her, and she agreed because she had to listen to her vampiric master. But then Anton inexplicably decides to stay behind and help her…and then shortly after he and Umara are comrades-in-arms the rest of the book, with only circumstantial, token resistance to companionship between them.

The easy bonding between Anton and Umara is only saved by one thing:  Stedd Whitehorn. The child Chosen of Lathander has Biblical comparisons, which I won’t go into detail about. Suffice it to say that Stedd is most often concerned with a) preaching hope and the return of Lathander to the world in a time of darkness, b) preventing the rise of darker forces like the followers of Umberlee, c) following the revelations of Lathander, and d) bringing out the good in even the “unredeemable” such as a wizard of Thay and a villainous pirate. Richard Byers did a good job of creating opportunities to show how Anton and Umara were slowly changing—slowly finding hope, slowly reversing course on previous life choices—as a result of being with Stedd. This would have been an easy part of the book to force, but fortunately this aspect of the book was well done. Anton and Umara at first chased after Stedd because he was worth money or advancement to their own interests, but they eventually found themselves drawn to his message of light and his willingness to see good in them. Stedd gave them hope not just for their circumstances, but also for their own selves. The only realistic foundation for Anton and Umara’s companionship centered around Stedd. Their companionship made little sense when Stedd wasn’t involved, but when Stedd was, their relationship was beautifully formed. In fact, Stedd Whitehorn was a wonderfully done character overall; this character is responsible for the uplifting and spiritual tones of the book that would make me want to re-read it again some day.

An additional note, Stedd’s different roles as a typical child and a powerful Chosen were perfectly intermixed in his behavior. I also appreciated how Stedd came from the camp that Farideh and company freed at the end of the third book in the Sundering series.

Now to the anti-climactic scene where Anton’s past is revealed. This was poor, poor dialogue. First off, Umara asks about Anton’s past and Anton is way too open to revealing it (following the too-easy relationship pattern). There should be some greater barriers here. But regardless, the resulting conversation is mechanical, formulaic (and bad) writing. Anton delves into a recounting of his youth which consists of about a short paragraph’s worth of information. Then Umara says a one-line sentence or question that has no purpose but to transition to the next part of Anton’s story. Then another short paragraph of information. Then another one-liner. Rinse and repeat. There was no real interaction here. There was no emotion, interest, or reaction from Umara in any of the lines she said. Umara’s lines were only for the sake of continuing Anton’s tale. It was a wasted opportunity.

There were some other good points to this story (the different representations of Umberlee, Umberlee’s undead pirate Chosen, the different landscapes and unexpected adventures resulting from their travels) which I would talk about if I hadn’t written so much already. Without delving into them, I will simply say that the different plot points and combat scenes were inventive and interesting.

The combination of all this good and bad produced a light, maritime adventure. This was a good read, but could have been much better. It might be the equivalent of beach reading where Forgotten Realms is concerned. Here is to hoping that Richard Lee Byers fixes some of the issues that undermined this book before he publishes his next. Even if it’s not written well, I am interested to see where Stedd, Umara, and Anton end up.