Monday, December 28, 2015

With This Ring? book review

With This Ring?: A Novella Collection of Proposals Gone Awry With This Ring?: A Novella Collection of Proposals Gone Awry

Humorous Historical Romance Novella
Collection Offers Love and Laughs

Four top historical romance novelists team up in this new collection to offer stories of love and romance with a twist of humor. In Karen Witemeyer's "The Husband Maneuver," Marietta Hawkins decides to grab the reins when the ranch foreman she loves seems to be leaving forever. Regina Jennings offers "Her Dearly Unintended," where friends stranded by a rising river pretend to be newlyweds when a dangerous stranger arrives.

Mary Connealy's "Runaway Bride" finds a Texas ranger getting more than he expected when he rescues a young woman fleeing a dangerous arranged marriage. And Melissa Jagears' "Engaging the Competition" finds a young woman forced to assist the man she's often sparred with after an accident leaves him helpless. Each tale is a fun blend of history and romance that will delight readers.

My Review: 9/10

I usually love Bethany House's book covers but was not a fan of this one. Every quick glance reminds me of Austin Powers. I realize it's the index finger and not the pinkie, but it's blurry and at a quick glance... combined with the pursed duck lips... ugh. But cover aside, loved this book and I really hope this novella collection becomes an annual thing.

I enjoyed the short story about Dead Eye Dan and Marietta. The conflict between them was original and I admired Etta's determined honesty and, well, her determination in general. It was nice to read about a female lead who (kind of relentlessly) pursued what she wanted rather than one who pined, but practiced self denial so regularly that by the time interest came her way she was bewildered by it.

I'm a big fan of Ms. Jennings' work, so naturally I loved her story as well, though it was a little weird for me to be reading about Josiah. I swear he was just a youngster playing pranks! Katie Ellen was a unique character. Her control issues and the thought processes behind them were very interesting. I loved their exchanges, so much sass! When I wasn't smiling stupidly to myself at how they cared for each other, I was laughing. But that's always the way with Ms. Jennings books. Even after the explanations, I still found their guest more than a tad disturbing, but then again, one of things I love so much about Ms. Jennings' stories is that her people are not black-or-white, good-or-evil. Being a little weird doesn't make you a bad person. And being likeable doesn't mean you're without flaws. Her characters are always so realistic and relatable because she embraces this. I hope we get a story for Josiah's little sister, too!

I have only read a couple of  Ms. Connealy's books but I had gotten the impression that her style was more over the top humor, which isn't really my thing. So I was really surprised by the tone of this story, which was very tense. While I really enjoyed the story, I kind of wish it had been a full length novel, so that Carrie and her brother, Isaac's, relationship could have been more flushed out; their family dynamic really intrigued me. There were a TON of characters, and I got the impression that the reader was supposed to appreciate the small bits of information tossed out here and there, as if they were updates on couples from other stories. It was a little confusing for someone not familiar with the previous stories.

I had hope for Ms. Jagears' story for a while, but Harrison and Charlie just did not suit if you ask me. I really did not like her. Harrison was right in everything he said about her. She was mean, thoughtless, unfaithful, a sore loser... I could go on and on. And by the end of the story, I didn't really like Harrison much either. She was engaged, so he had no business touching her or kissing her. He really was only set up as the hero because he was handsome and intelligent and liked her (for some reason), while her fiance was described as unattractive, slow, and primarily interested in her property. Yet, of the three of them, August was the only one who valued fidelity ("August won't marry a two-timer"). I would have much rather read his story- the one about the plain but strong man who wasn't academically minded, but wasn't stupid, who was a hardworker, steady and faithful, who was rarely emotional and wasn't really romantic, but believed in companionship and who, coming from a family of 20, wanted a small family of his own, separate from their demands and reputation, who had been cheated on and left by a woman just using him and was perhaps even more guarded than before as a result. Maybe he's a little rougher around the edges. Maybe he's the kind of guy who goes along with the crowd and has been a bully by association and needs to learn how to compromise and sacrifice and communicate in non aggressive ways. Or maybe he's all business and needs to slowly be coaxed into letting his guard down. The possibilities are endless and infinitely more appealing to me.

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

The Midwife's Choice (At Home in Trinity #2) by Delia Parr book review

The Midwife's Choice (At Home in Trinity #2)

The Midwife's Choice (At Home in Trinity #2)

A Winning Combination of
Small-Town History and Sweet Romance

Martha Cade is a midwife in the town of Trinity in 1830s Pennsylvania. In a time when the traditional ways of medicine are constantly being questioned by new doctors fresh from medical school, Martha tries to balance her life's calling with the demands of her family. Recently reunited with her estranged seventeen-year-old daughter, Martha finds herself torn between guiding her child and allowing her to be an adult. And the town of Trinity itself is fraught with secrets: as a midwife, Martha knows which families are troubled, which wives are unhappy, and which husbands have crossed the line from discipline to abuse...

As Martha struggles with the conflicts of being a mother, a midwife, and a woman, she learns the greatest lessons of all--that hope can shine even in the darkest hours, and that faith has a way of making the impossible possible.

My Review: 9/10

This sequel was every bit as lovely and thought provoking as the first book.
Martha has learned some hard lessons but when the time finally comes to put them to practice, it is very easy to slip into old habits and beliefs.

I loved that the lessons Martha learns in this book- humility, faith, judgment of character, trust in God's plans and provision, letting go, and embracing change, just to name a few- came about naturally, some in a rush and some over time. I particularly loved the way she realized that some of her burden hadn't been necessary and that she should have opened up to others, sharing her load with them; that her pride and independece wasn't worth the people and relationships she'd had to sacrifice, like with her children and love.

I was just as invested in each of the side stories and loved the clever resolutions at the end.

I have no complaints with the story; I gave it a 9 out of my personal taste. I would recommend it to fans of Lawana Blackwell's Gresham chronicles. It's not to the same tone or style, but I did notice a similar flavor.

 I can't wait for the third book!

Sunday, December 20, 2015

Lord Fenton's Folly (A Proper Romance #2) book review

Lord Fenton's Folly

Lord Fenton's Folly (A Proper Romance #2)

Lord Fenton is a gambler, a dandy, and a flirt—and he must marry or else he will be disinherited, stripped of his wealth and his position. He chooses Alice Stanbridge for two simple reasons: he once knew her as a young girl, and she is the least objectionable option available to him.

However, Alice has harbored feelings for Fenton since their first meeting ten years ago, and she believes his proposal is real. When she discovers it is not, she is embarrassed and hurt. However, a match with the most-eligible bachelor in London would secure not only her future but that of her family as well.

Determined to protect herself from making a fool of herself a second time, Alice matches Lord Fenton wit for wit and insult for insult as they move toward a marriage of convenience that is anything but a happy union. Only when faced with family secrets that have shaped Fenton’s life does he let down his guard enough to find room in his heart for Alice. But can Alice risk her heart a second time?

My Review: 9.5/10

I had been highly anticipating this book after absolutely loving the previous book, A Heart Revealed. I devoured it and admit that I was very disappointed. I procrastinated writing a review because I couldn't reconcile my dashed hopes, high respect for the author, and strong dislike of the book. I waited and waited, and as the weeks and months passed, decided I would reread the book, taking notes and writing an unemotional critical review. Well several months later I finally had the time do so and now I cannot even remember what was so off-putting the first time I read it!

To my surprise, I LOVED this book. My favorite thing about Ms. Kilpack's style is her characterization. Very rarely do I come across characters as honest and real as hers. I loved Alice. I loved her innocence, her openness, and her strength. I loved that she was flawed- prideful, humbled, and constantly warring with her need to protect herself versus her need to let her guard down in hopes of beginning a real relationship with her husband. I loved that she rarely played the victim or felt sorry for herself. I loved that she knew when she was wrong in the moment, and was human enough to stay the wrong course... and that she knew how to apologize. I loved Fenton too. He irritated and provoked me, just like Alice. I liked that he messed up and was caught in it sometimes. He was so very well layered, deep and intricate, that I understood and sympathized with Alice's predicament.


In my first reading, I was probably irritated by another marriage-in-name only set up, however, I have to excuse that as this may have been the ONE situation where I could understand and believe it. Because really, the only thing I thought could have been improved upon was Fenton's reaction to the disinheritance and subsequent change of heart. Given his contempt of his father, I couldn't see him snapping to attention and wanting to prove himself as readily as he did. I needed to see more of his thought process that led him to that point in order to accept it myself. But that was the only thing. The rest of the interactions between father and son were very believable and complicated and real.

On the whole, this book was so well crafted, the relationships so natural and relatable, the messages of vulnerability, healing, and forgiveness so well applied that I highly recommend it.

Saturday, November 21, 2015

The Shock of Night (The Darkwater Saga #1) book review

The Shock of Night (The Darkwater Saga, #1)

The Shock of Night (The Darkwater Saga #1)

When one man is brutally murdered and the priest he works for mortally wounded on the streets of Bunard, Willet Dura is called to investigate. Yet the clues to the crime lead to contradictions and questions without answers. As Willet begins to question the dying priest, the man pulls Willet close and screams in a foreign tongue. Then he dies without another word.

Willet returns to the city, no closer to answers than before, but his senses are skewed. People he touches appear to have a subtle shift, a twist seen at the edge of his vision, and it's as though he can see their deepest thoughts. In a world divided between haves and have-nots, gifted and common, Willet soon learns he's been passed the rarest gift of all: a gift that's not supposed to exist.

Now Willet must pursue the murderer still on the loose in Bunard even as he's pulled into a much more dangerous and epic conflict that threatens not only his city, but his entire world--a conflict that will force him to come to terms with his own tortured past if he wants to survive.

My Review: 8.5/10

This was a great read! At about 10% in, I couldn't put it down and subsequently shirked all duties (and sleep) for the next day and a half.

It's not for the faint of heart- there is a lot of bloodshed and violence that is described almost casually. There is war in the past and war in the present and looks like war in the future, so if you're sensitive to the realities and casualties of such, this may not be the book for you.

Usually I am in that category myself, but as I was familiar with Mr. Carr's works, I knew what to expect. Speaking of which, if you've read his previous series (The Staff and the Sword) you'll notice some similarities in set up and plot points; a super secret organization charged with keeping the good in the world and fighting evil, corruption within, etc. Yet it is definitely still its own story, and even better in some ways.

I am eagerly anticipating the next book in the series!

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

The Painter's Daughter book review

The Painter's Daughter

The Painter's Daughter

Sophie Dupont, daughter of a portrait painter, assists her father in his studio, keeping her own artwork out of sight. She often walks the cliffside path along the north Devon coast, popular with artists and poets. It's where she met the handsome Wesley Overtree, the first man to tell her she's beautiful.

Captain Stephen Overtree is accustomed to taking on his brother's neglected duties. Home on leave, he's sent to find Wesley. Knowing his brother rented a cottage from a fellow painter, he travels to Devonshire and meets Miss Dupont, the painter's daughter. He's startled to recognize her from a miniature portrait he carries with him--one of Wesley's discarded works. But his happiness plummets when he realizes Wesley has left her with child and sailed away to Italy in search of a new muse.

Wanting to do something worthwhile with his life, Stephen proposes to Sophie. He does not offer love, or even a future together, but he can save her from scandal. If he dies in battle, as he believes he will, she'll be a respectable widow with the protection of his family.

Desperate for a way to escape her predicament, Sophie agrees to marry a stranger and travel to his family's estate. But at Overtree Hall, her problems are just beginning. Will she regret marrying Captain Overtree when a repentant Wesley returns? Or will she find herself torn between the father of her child and her growing affection for the husband she barely knows?

My Review: 7/10

Generally, with historical romance, you know the ending before you begin, so I like marriage of convenience stories because we’ve officially gotten that out of the way; the author doesn’t have to waste time trying to build suspense that, let’s face it, I almost never buy into. I also like the fact that the story doesn’t revolve around a courtship, but rather, challenges within a marriage, all the while dealing with getting to know each other, which if you have a healthy marriage, shouldn’t ever really stop, in my humble opinion.

If you don’t mind the clichés (i.e. cads who try to force themselves on innocent women and the knights in shining armor who come to their rescue, etc. Really, I have to wonder if this was as prevalent as it seems, based on how often it’s a plot line in these books), and fake marriage-of-convenience  plot lines
(see below), it’s not bad. I know many of us don’t read these books for the unique story, but for the warm and fuzzy feeling, and if that’s you, you will enjoy this book.

As for me, I did enjoy it; it didn’t promise to be more than it was. I just read so many of these kind of stories that are so similar and I am impacted by missed opportunities as much as what I’m reading. I was a little frustrated that Wesley’s behavior didn’t sicken Sophie more, especially after receiving the first letter about Stephen. That should have been enough to disillusion her about him, if nothing else did the trick. I was disappointed in her there. I really liked Stephen’s character and the way he spoke his mind. Often, I felt like Sophie didn't deserve him or even appreciate him. The details about painting and some of the characters’ side stories were a little too involved for me and broke up the flow, so that I found myself skimming here and there.

I felt like the opportunity for unique struggles and elements are kind of lost if it’s immediately proclaimed a “marriage in name only.” I’m not saying I want details, but let’s be real. If you had a marriage of convenience at that time, I feel pretty confident in asserting that it would almost never be in name only. I would like to read about the challenges that women at that time faced- the emotional aspect and how the relationship developed as a result. I think this can be done tastefully, yet it’s so rarely attempted. Instead we get a regular courtship of the time with a bit of modern challenge- they live in the same house. It’s a little worn. It’s like the authors think that sex within marriage shouldn’t be in a Christian book, or that it is the ultimate culmination of the relationship, so either way, it doesn’t happen until the end. Every woman knows that’s just one aspect of a great relationship.

Given that I spend so much time hovering in Christian historical fiction, I have to say that I’m tired of reading about love stories that revolve around modern (and faulty, I believe) ideas of love and marriage, such as marrying only for love and that love/your feelings are something you have no control over. Those ideas are just not Biblical. Take me back to a time when people married for any number of reasons and relied on God to grow love and friendship there. When marriages lasted because people had to work through things rather than chase their own elusive happiness.

Fans of this author and genre will happily gobble this up. And I will keep hoping that an author will read my review and accept my challenge: give me a character who enters into a realistic relationship from that time period. None of this “in name only” nonsense. Let me see how she struggles with giving herself to her husband while having not fully given her heart. How does that work? How does she deal with the limitations and expectations of women’s roles back then? And how does love come into play? What is the dynamic of having children with someone she maybe respects but isn’t sure she loves yet. Does that change things? I’d imagine so. When does she grow to love him? Why ? How? That’s the story I want to read.

Saturday, October 10, 2015

Fire and Ice (Wild at Heart #3) book review

Fire and Ice (Wild at Heart, #3)

Fire and Ice (Wild at Heart #3)

Bailey Wilde is one of the best new ranchers in the West. She's been living disguised as a man for a while, but when Gage Coulter comes to drive her off her homestead, he quickly realizes he's dealing with a woman--a very tough, very intriguing woman at that.

Gage is an honest man, but he didn't make his fortune being weak. He won't break the law, but he'll push as hard as he can within it. Five thousand acres of his best range land is lost to him because Bailey's homestead is located right across the only suitable entrance to a canyon full of lush grass. Gage has to regain access to his land--and he's got to go through Bailey to do it.

Spending a winter alone has a way of making a person crave some human contact. In a moment of weakness, Bailey agrees to a wild plan Gage concocts. Can these two independent, life-toughened homesteaders loosen up enough to earn each other's respect--and maybe find love in
the process?

My Review: 7/10

I was pleasantly surprised by this book. I didn't read any of the others in the series, so I can say it works well as a stand alone novel. I've only read one other book by this author before and it was years ago. I didn't like it because the humor and tone was way too outlandish for my taste. Maybe that was just the one book, or her writing style has evolved, but this book's humor was much more tongue in cheek, and a little more subtle, leaving me frequently laughing out loud.

I loved that the catalyst to the relationship (and openly admitted at that) was an overbearing mother.


I didn't think regularly attempted murder was necessary as a plotline. I think a live in mother in law during an arranged marriage of less than 24 hours would have been enough drama on its own.

And I didn't understand why Bailey, who seemed to hold herself to some moral standards, thought she was in the right to steal someone else's land? Yes she was clever to buy up the only access to the canyon, but that didn't make the canyon hers. And he was there first! How did she have a leg to stand on, shooting at and threatening Gage when he tried to talk to her about it? If I were him, I would have had the sherriff charge her/arrest her for trespassing on MY land.

If you're already a fan of this author, you'll love this book. If her former work wasn't your cup of tea, this might be the book to change your mind.

Sunday, September 27, 2015

Bathsheba: Reluctant Beauty (Dangerous Beauty #2) book review

Bathsheba: Reluctant Beauty (Dangerous Beauty, #2)

Bathsheba: Reluctant Beauty (Dangerous Beauty #2)

After sending his army to besiege another king's capital, King David forces himself on Bathsheba, a loyal soldier's wife. When her resulting pregnancy forces the king to murder her husband and add her to his harem, Bathsheba struggles to protect her son while dealing with the effects of a dark prophecy and deadly curse on the king's household.

Combining historical facts with detailed fiction, Angela Hunt paints a realistic portrait of the beautiful woman who struggled to survive the dire results of divine judgment on a king with a divided heart.

My Review: 1/10

Full disclosure: I only made it about 10% of the way through and I knew at Chapter 2 that this would not be the book for me.

Painting Nathan, of all people, the prophet who confronts and convicts David about his sin with Bathsheba, as a man who lusts after her himself, always "painting her face over his wife's" when they are intimate was enough to make me sick.

Nathan was human, so obviously he sinned. And given that the Bible describes Bathsheba as being desirable in appearance, it is possible that he had a natural physical response to her. But what is described in the opening chapters is not a passing, knee-jerk response, but a deliberate passion that is grown over DECADES by him, the imaginings of which are still privately indulged in after they are both married.

I don't know what the author was trying to do here. Possibly send the message that no one, not even a messenger of God, was immune to her appeal. But I thought it took a lot of nerve and left me nauseated. This had no Biblical basis that I know of or could find. And if that's just the beginning... I don't think I could stomach the way she portrays history that is bad enough as it is.

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

A Noble Masquerade (Hawthorne House #1) book review

A Noble Masquerade (Hawthorne House, #1)

A Noble Masquerade (Hawthorne House #1)

Lady Miranda Hawthorne acts every inch the lady, but inside she longs to be bold and carefree. Entering her fourth Season and approaching spinsterhood in the eyes of society, she pours her innermost feelings out not in a diary but in letters to her brother's old school friend, a duke--with no intention of ever sending these private thoughts to a man she's heard stories about but never met. Meanwhile, she also finds herself intrigued by Marlow, her brother's new valet, and although she may wish to break free of the strictures that bind her, falling in love with a servant is more of a rebellion than she planned.

When Marlow accidentally discovers and mails one of the letters to her unwitting confidant, Miranda is beyond mortified. And even more shocked when the duke returns her note with one of his own that initiates a courtship-by-mail. Insecurity about her lack of suitors shifts into confusion at her growing feelings for two men--one she's never met but whose words deeply resonate with her heart, and one she has come to depend on but whose behavior is more and more suspicious. When it becomes apparent state secrets are at risk and Marlow is right in the thick of the conflict, one thing is certain: Miranda's heart is far from all that's at risk for the Hawthornes and those they love.

My Review: 9/10

I fell in love with this book and its characters.

And like any lasting love, it was not insta-love. In fact, I almost put it down and labeled it DNF. Thank God for persistance and a sense of obligation. It was the narrator's voice- not first person, yet infused with personality, and one that I was almost ready to dismiss as ditzy. Miranda, starting her story briefly as a child, seemed silly and immature to me. Marlow's story was set up in an unnecessarily confusing way. I thought I could see where it was going, but it was presented in a way that I felt like I -should- know what was going on, but I wasn't 100% confident that I did. As I had little to draw me in to either of their stories, I was just about to write it off when something changed.

What happened? Marlow, the valet/spy, stumbles upon a journal-like entry of Miranda's. His discovery and attitude threw doubt (albeit, ever so slightly, but just enough to keep me turning pages) on my understanding of the current plot outline. I just wanted to see what would happen next.

When "next" turned out to be mailing those private thoughts and then openly admitting it to Miranda, I was hooked. This guy was not who I thought he was going to be. And how was she going to deal with the consequences of what he did?!

After that I really began to appreciate the distinct character voices and frequent, intelligent humor. Especially as Marlow was a little cocky, a little rough around the edges, and you knew just enough to understand why. I loved that he didn't always do what was "right." Sometimes he was mischievous or an instigator. Realistic and entertaining, for sure. Just the way the book was written was enjoyable. For example: *very small spoiler*

"He glared at Ryland. 'Find yourself another lackey. I won't do it.' Time stretched on, the clicking of the mantel clock the only sound as the two men stared at each other. -Chapter 25- 'My lady, Mr. McCrae has arrived.'"

Maybe that's the kind of thing that you have to read up to, to appreciate, but I burst out laughing. And that's rare for me with books.

Neither was built up as the epitome of feminine or masculine perfection. There wasn't a bizarre immediate obsession. At one point, Marlow thinks, understandably, that Miranda is trying to casually fish for information as if she's considering marriage to him, the valet. His thoughts are natural. But before the bad taste could settle in my mouth, her true train of thought was revealed and both Marlow and I felt a bit the idiot for going there. I appreciated what I perceived as a set up and set down for my presumptions by the author. In fact, Miranda really teeters back and forth between her options, including embracing being single, and isn't entirely sure what she wants until the end. And that was well done too. It was in line with her character. Her objections and doubts were understandable, not just the product of trying to make the plot more suspenseful.

I thought the undertones of faith were perfectly done. It's not preachy or pushy, but natural; mentions of God are casual enough that you get an idea of the character's upbringing and faith without having to be told. Miranda turns to prayer when she's at the end of her rope. God doesn't necessarily speak to her or provide divine intervention, but He fills her with calm and clears her mind, allowing her to face her circumstances. Things like that.

I think the biggest compliment I can pay this book is that it reminded me a lot, in style and quality, of Regina Jennings' work. I can't wait to get my hands on another of this author's books!

Friday, August 14, 2015

Not By Sight book review

Not by Sight

Not by Sight

Gripping Sophomore Novel from a Rising Historical Romance Talent

With Britain caught up in WWI, Jack Benningham, heir to the Earl of Stonebrooke, has declared himself a conscientious objector. Instead, he secretly works for the Crown by tracking down German spies on British soil, his wild reputation and society status serving as a foolproof cover.

Blinded by patriotism and concern for her brother on the front lines, wealthy suffragette Grace Mabry will do whatever it takes to assist her country's cause. When she sneaks into a posh London masquerade ball to hand out white feathers of cowardice, she never imagines the chain of events she'll set off when she hands a feather to Jack.

And neither of them could anticipate the extent of the danger and betrayal that follows them--or the faith they'll need to maintain hope.

My Review: 6/10 stars

Just a quick shoutout to Bethany House, who always does such a beautiful job on their covers. 

Admittedly my first impression left me apprehensive; there is intense attraction at first sight. That's fine, but the fact that our heroine is described as an "exotic beauty" who makes him forget everything going on around him, and our hero is stunning with his classic good looks... it's just a turn off for me. Why does every historical love match have to be based on looks? Or if it's not, then they fall in love for other reasons, but thankfully, both characters just happen to be gorgeous. One of my favorite things about Pride and Prejudice is that Darcy is not impressed by Elizabeth's reputed beauty. Eventually his opinion of her looks changes, but over time, and in correlation to the growth of his love of her intelligence and spirit.

Thankfully, Grace was more than her looks and her progressive heart. She was a woman of strong faith who had learned or been taught to be sensitive to whispers from the Holy Spirit, stopping herself in her tracks of impulsive human nature, choosing to act in compassion and mercy rather than retaliation and vindication. That is really hard to do, especially in the moment. I thought many of the examples were really well done.

Grace's personal struggles and challenges to her faith seemed pretty minor compared to the other characters', but I loved that one of her problems was not practicing what she preached:

"Returning to her own bed, and the guilt about Jack still weighing on her, Grace's smile faded. No sin is greater than his mercy. Why couldn't she take her own advice?"

I just loved that moment, that awareness, that honesty. It is so much easier to discern where others are struggling and simply tell them where they're wrong. It is so much harder to put that knowledge into practice in our own lives.

The plot was fast paced and the history embedded in the pages was transportive. But for me there were two major issues that detracted from an otherwise great story:

*minor spoilers*

First, Grace wins everyone over and easily solves their complex problems. Totally unrealistic and not a good standard to set if you ask me. I don't believe that everyone would offer up their secrets and struggles so readily, because frankly, any resistance they initially put up was half-hearted at best. And even though, at the end of the book, there seems to be some setbacks with Grace's provided solutions, even those are almost immediately resolved with new-and-improved remedies. It was just too easy. I can't relate to a character that every single person likes and who has a ready answer to everyone's problems. In fact, I would be the one to dislike them on those facets of their personality alone. If everyone likes you, something's wrong. ("For am I now seeking the approval of man, or of God? Or am I trying to please man? If I were still trying to please man, I would not be a servant of Christ." Galatians 1:10 ESV) It would make me suspicious to say the least.

Secondly, and more importantly, I had a big problem with the romance. This setup was really not okay. Grace may not have been promised to someone, but she was cultivating a relationship with an engaged man. I don't care that neither party really wanted it. Until they ended that engagement, they were bound. And they had no business pursuing other people in the meantime. As Jack had no pretenses to moral obligation or faith, his behavior was not really surprising. It was Grace I took issue with, Grace who knew better. I was really surprised that the laws of propriety were not an issue in 1917 and she was able to chauffer Jack every day for three hours, unchaperoned. And what was she doing having a private dinner with an engaged man, especially after a friend called her out? She did not guard her heart or keep things professional at all. She acted like she had no control over her heart or her actions, when the Bible teaches us that both are governed by our choices.

What is worse is that I felt like this book perpetuates a lot of the lies women tell themselves when they begin an affair: "I just couldn't help it, he's the one." False. You could help it. And he is not yours, actually, but hers. "The marriage is basically over." False. It's not over until the papers are signed and they've moved out. "You don't understand, his girlfriend/fiancee/wife..." False. There is no act that justifies cheating. "They're not in love anymore." False. Love is a choice. And you don't know how she feels or what he's telling her.

Grace ignores the wise counsel of another Christian woman and openly acknowledges that she's giving in to temptation with a man bound to another. People make mistakes. My problem was that their whole relationship was wrong and it was not acknowledged as a sinful mistake, it was not used as a lesson to demonstrate the deceitful nature of the heart, or to warn others, no it was touted as a romantic love story with a happy ending. God can bring beauty out of ashes. But it certainly was concerning to me that this book seemed to promote setting fire to integrity and fidelity.

Oh, and it was a very minor thing, but Grace is always inwardly lamenting that whatever she did would aid the war, and the sooner the war was won, the sooner Colin could come home. Pretty much those words exactly. Over and over, like a chant, a never ending mantra. That may be a realistic aspect of her character, but it was annoying for me, as the reader.

In the end, this wasn't the book for me and I wouldn't feel good about recommending it. However, I have hope for future novels by this author.

Monday, July 27, 2015

Crown of Midnight (Throne of Glass #2) book review

Crown of Midnight (Throne of Glass, #2)

Crown of Midnight (Throne of Glass #2)

"A line that should never be crossed is about to be breached.

It puts this entire castle in jeopardy—and the life of your friend."

From the throne of glass rules a king with a fist of iron and a soul as black as pitch. Assassin Celaena Sardothien won a brutal contest to become his Champion. Yet Celaena is far from loyal to the crown. She hides her secret vigilantly; she knows that the man she serves is bent on evil.

Keeping up the deadly charade becomes increasingly difficult when Celaena realizes she is not the only one seeking justice. As she tries to untangle the mysteries buried deep within the glass castle, her closest relationships suffer. It seems no one is above questioning her allegiances—not the Crown Prince Dorian; not Chaol, the Captain of the Guard; not even her best friend, Nehemia, a foreign princess with a rebel heart.

Then one terrible night, the secrets they have all been keeping lead to an unspeakable tragedy. As Celaena's world shatters, she will be forced to give up the very thing most precious to her and decide once and for all where her true loyalties lie... and whom she is ultimately willing to fight for.

My review: 6/10

The first 80% of this book was a 4 star. I was so disappointed. And then, the last 75 pages or so was a 10 star. What? Yes. I've ended this book feeling both disappointed and hopeful.

The thing about labeling your main (female) character an assassin... it's not a title that you just use to make them seem hard or badass. First the physical, an assassin should have razor sharp senses and reflexes, a strong ability and desire to blend in, be anonymous. They should be cool, calm, deadly focused. If emotions take over the drive, that's when mistakes are made. An assassin needs to be all of these things, or else they would likely be killed from a botched attempt before they earned the title. I would suspect that an accomplished assassin would have learned to be very suspicious, frequently on edge, after seeing what they saw. They would be extremely guarded emotionally.

Celaena was everything an assassin is NOT. I couldn't even believe it.


Let's start with Davis' office. She seriously waltzed into that situation, where she intended to be sneaking and spying, very conspicuously dressed in movement-impeding clothes. Why not have something on underneath and shed the dress when needed? I would think her mind would be working on exit strategies first and foremost in every situation she finds herself in.

Moving on to Chaol, who is quickly built up as the most important person in Celaena's life, ever. He is everything. Then, all of a sudden, he is not. Nehemia is everything, and because he didn't tell her that he'd heard of a threat to Nehemia and that the King planned to question her, now Chaol is the enemy. What? This doesn't even make any sense. I thought Chaol was your everything? You would prioritize his safety over everyone else's. If the king had decided Nehemia was a traitor and ordered Chaol, his CAPTAIN of the guard, to execute her, what would she expect/want him to do then? Be executed himself? Of course not. Not only does the flip make no emotional sense, it makes no logical sense.

Celaena just busts into that warehouse in an emotional rage, annihilating everything in her path. She doesn't think or collect information before acting. You would think she would have learned from what apparently happened with Sam and would have learned not to act rashly, emotionally. But no, she just bursts in there intent on destruction. She was not clever, she was not wise, she was not stealthy, she was just stupid.

While troubling, I didn't think Chaol's withholding that information was such a big deal. It's not like he'd known Nehemia would be killed. Celaena doesn't ask any questions, doesn't think or consider, doesn't listen before turning on him.

The theme for this  story is that Celaena is always two steps behind. It's amazing she wasn't killed. She has no problem divulging her secrets and plans to those she currently considers trustworthy. I was floored. Even if they don't betray you (and she should have had a healthy respect for her mistaken judgments at this point), do you not care that having that kind of information could get them killed?! Why did they need to know? It was so carelss, so sloppy.

The whole Grave thing came out of nowhere. It was unnecessarily disgusting and should have been impossible. How is it that he got into the castle, past all the guards, past Nehemia's personal guards and then had the time to hang around and be "artistic?"

Why, WHY, did Celaena tell Yellowlegs the WHOLE riddle?! She's supposed to be intelligent! If you know that this is a riddle telling you the location of three powerful objects, WHY would you hjust hand that info out?! Why wouldn't you give her a piece of it? Why would you fish for information based on what you did know, asking questions like, what kind of power would it take to open a portal and let in creatures (like the ridderak), how would they get that power? etc.

At that point, I thought this book and its characters were doomed. I forged on, however.

Then, all of a sudden, Celaena transforms. Not into any of the poorly concealed surprise identities (SPOILERS: Fae, heir to the throne of Terrasen... seriously who didn't see that coming from about half way through the first book?) but into the smart, calculating powerhouse she should have been from the beginning. She thinks first, then acts. What a difference it makes.

I will read the next book in the hope that Celaena has been permanently altered and she can now be someone I respect.

Thursday, July 23, 2015

Throne of Glass book review

Throne of Glass (Throne of Glass, #1)

Throne of Glass (Throne of Glass #1)

In a land without magic, where the king rules with an iron hand, an assassin is summoned to the castle. She comes not to kill the king, but to win her freedom. If she defeats twenty-three killers, thieves, and warriors in a competition, she is released from prison to serve as the king's champion. Her name is Celaena Sardothien.

The Crown Prince will provoke her. The Captain of the Guard will protect her. But something evil dwells in the castle of glass--and it's there to kill. When her competitors start dying one by one, Celaena's fight for freedom becomes a fight for survival, and a desperate quest to root out the evil before it destroys her world.

My Review: 6.5/10
I liked Celaena's brand of flaws. She's a little vain and materialistic. These are character traits that aren't dished out too often in the books I read. This is a book about an assassin, so there is gore and unapologetic violence, but it wasn't extreme, thankfully.

The story was interesting enough to keep me turning pages, but there were some things that got in the way and kept me from really getting lost in the story. I could sense a love triangle brewing, which I'm never a fan of. Sometimes Celaena did stupid and uncharacteristic things. As an assassin, she would have spent all of her training learning how to be invisible, how to blend in. She really needed to be told not to draw atttention to herself in the competition? There were several things like this that kept me from buying into the story that she was the best in the land. She was a little too soft, too vulnerable, too reachable, too soon.

I could see some surprises being set up for later on, so I wasn't shocked when I was supposed to be, etc.

I will continue reading the books in this series because I still think it has potential. But the writing and lack of realistic, hard characters are what kept this book from being one of a kind versus one of many.

Monday, July 20, 2015

The Heart of Betrayal book review

The Heart of Betrayal (The Remnant Chronicles, #2)

The Heart of Betrayal (The Remnant Chronicles #2)

Intrigue abounds in this hotly anticipated sequel to The Kiss of Deception!

Held captive in the barbarian kingdom of Venda, Lia and Rafe have little chance of escape. Desperate to save her life, Lia's erstwhile assassin, Kaden, has told the Vendan Komizar that she has the gift, and the Komizar's interest in Lia is greater than anyone could have foreseen.

Meanwhile, nothing is straightforward: there's Rafe, who lied to Lia, but has sacrificed his freedom to protect her; Kaden, who meant to assassinate her but has now saved her life; and the Vendans, whom Lia always believed to be barbarians. Now that she lives amongst them, however, she realizes that may be far from the truth. Wrestling with her upbringing, her gift, and her sense of self, Lia must make powerful choices that will affect her country... and her own destiny.

My Review: 8/10

I have little to say about this book that I waited for with bated breath. I can't remember the last time I anticipated a book so much. Maybe Harry Potter. No, it's not in the same league, but just... feelings.

Anyway, though it's not fair to compare Heart of Betrayal to the first book, that's what's about to happen:

The first book built up a lot of mystery and interweaving side stories. Yet I believe it was still a good stand alone novel. This book would not stand strong on its own; it's the classic in-between book in a trilogy. It relies heavily on established relationships and plot layed out in the first book, and works to set up the third book. I think it covers a much smaller time line, so there is little development or growth, and understandbly, Lia does not travel and is a prisoner, so there are few new characters, adventures, or mysteries uncovered.

However, to give due credit, the characters remained consistent. *mild spoilers* This has not ever been a love triangle, though one character's unrequited love seems to make some people disagree, and I appreciate that Ms. Pearson kept Lia solid in her feelings. I love that she was never confused or waivering. I thought some of the risks she took, fueled by her emotions, were too reckless and not worth it, but I wouldn't say it was unbelievable; I remember being stupid in love myself.

I can't wait to see how Lia's story is resolved and to have all the missing pieces of the puzzle finally come together to reveal the history and truth of this world.

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

Irish Meadows By Susan Anne Mason book review

Irish Meadows (Courage to Dream #1)

Irish Meadows (Courage to Dream #1)

Irish immigrant James O’Leary has spent his life building Irish Meadows into a thriving horse farm and is not about to let hard economic times threaten its success. He intends for his daughters to marry prosperous men–ones who will secure the family’s rightful place in society, and at the same time, guarantee the future of Irish Meadows. Both girls, however, have different visions for their futures.

Brianna and Colleen O’Leary know their father expects them to marry well. Yet despite his wishes, Brianna, the quieter sister, dreams of attending college. Vivacious Colleen, meanwhile, is happy to marry–as long as her father’s choice meets her exacting standards. When stable hand Gilbert Whelan returns from college and distant family member Rylan Montgomery stops in on his way to the seminary in Boston, the two men quickly complicate everyone’s plans. It will take every ounce of courage for both sisters to follow their hearts. And even if they do, will they inevitably find their dreams too distant to reach?

My Review: 7/10

I always get so excited about new authors- I'm always hoping to stumble on a new favorite.

This was a good debut novel in this genre. I enjoyed the characters and their struggles were mostly believable. I love, love, love when heroes make mistakes. Even better is when they don't sweep it under the rug but have to face it.

One of my favorite parts was a fight between Gil and Bri when she called him on his current lack of integrity and honor. His choices were understandable but still wrong and I loved that the author allowed him to make them.

Ironically the biggest problems I had were the Christian elements. While a lot of messages in the Bible are debated, the one, most important fact is clear: no one measures up. No matter how minor we think our sins are, they are offensive to God and unacceptable to Him. Jesus did for us what we can never do for ourselves, by paying the price for our innumerable wrongs, so that we may have salvation through Him. This message not only was omitted but I felt that the opposite was taught:

"You're a girl becoming a woman, and you've likely made a few mistakes along the way. You've not done anything so terrible that God wouldn't forgive."

Wrong. Wrong wrong wrong. This sends the message of, hey whatever you've done, it's not that bad. I would have preferred colleen to have made and revealed some intentional mistakes but even with her history as given, this is still wrong. *spoiler* Though she was blameless in what she had somehow been convinced she was responsible for, she, herself, was not perfect. She was still a sinful human being in need of grace and mercy.

There were a couple other instances when the characters lamented on someone's worthiness instead of their need for Christ.

I liked what Bri said at the end about putting her trust in God, I just wished I had seen some instances when she exercised that by seeking God's will first.

I loved Brianna's growth and the strength she found. Her situation wasn't easy. While I couldn't relate to some of her priorities (I would have felt like my future husband would have been more important than school or a career), I liked that she stayed true to character; the things most important to her remained most important even when she got other things she'd wanted.

I felt like the strained relationships did a 180 at the end to make the book wrap up nicely, which is something I don't swallow well. Those are aspects of reality that I usually wish carried over into fiction because those of us who can relate to that benefit more from knowing that others go through it too and that we can change how it affects us if the people themselves cannot or will not change, rather than a neatly tied Disney-esque package of an ending.

All in all, I'd recommend this to fans of this genre, especially to book clubs. Though I disagreed with some of the messages, it can be counteracted with open conversations, I think. I look forward to reading more from this new author.

Thursday, June 25, 2015

Becoming Lady Lockwood book review

Becoming Lady Lockwood

Becoming Lady Lockwood

Amelia Beckett is delighted to be a widow. Married by proxy to a man she'd never met, Amelia recognizes that a fortuitous entry into widowhood frees her from meddlesome chaperones and matchmakers. Heiress to her mother's sugar plantation in Jamaica, she happily anticipates working in a man's world, with the additional credibility of her new title: Lady Lockwood. But with the arrival of Captain Sir William Drake, her plans quickly go awry...

William has traversed the Atlantic with one purpose. If he cannot prove that Amelia's marriage to his brother was a fraud, she will be entitled to a sizeable portion of his family's estate. He is determined to return this duplicitous "Lady" to London for an official hearing, and he carries with him a letter that will ensure her cooperation...

Left with no choice, Amelia joins the captain on his return voyage to England, and the two quickly find that ship life does not allow for evasion. Amelia and William are ceaselessly thrown together, and amidst fierce storms and ocean battles, what began as antipathy seems to be evolving quite unexpectedly. But as they draw ever closer to their destination, will the impossibility of their circumstances shatter any hope of a future together

My Review: 5/10 and I think that's being generous.

This was okay for a first novel, but it was lacking any depth. Characters who have no flaws are just not interesting to me. I won't even get into the suspension of reality with one woman on a ship with 800 men for six weeks and the total lack of danger here. This book read like a to-do list; Amelia quickly undertakes winning over every single man on the ship and helping with all of the chores. We follow her around, charming everyone. She's Superwoman- a nurse/doctor, a seamstress and sailmaker, an expert at charting, a chef, a linguist, a spy, a soldier, etc. At the same time, she's always trembling and crying. It's supremely annoying. The romance was instantaneous and seemed based on attraction. The language and lack of propriety were not fitting for the time period.

I did not buy into the whole issue of discrediting his brother's marriage to Amelia so that the law would not prevent Captain Drake from marrying her; I knew that the Bible said something specifically about men marrying their brothers' widows to protect and provide for them, and I was sure the topic had been a plot in other books I'd read. I knew marriage between cousins was encouraged through the end of the 19th century. I assumed marriage between people not blood-related was acceptable, especially during the time period of the Napoleanic Wars (1803-1815). To my astonishment, after finishing the book, I looked it up and discovered how wrong I'd been. Apparently in 1560, the Church of England forbade marriage to any kind of kin, marriage or blood related, with the exception of cousins and some step-relations. Sibling's spouses stayed off limits until the marriage act in 1921 ( Fascinating.

Though it turns out that the facts here were sound, and I'm appreciative for learning something new, it doesn't change my dislike of the characters, their lack of mistakes, growth or relatability or the way I felt when I read it.

Sunday, June 14, 2015

The Midwife's Choice (At Home in Trinity #2) by Delia Parr book review

The Midwife's Choice (At Home in Trinity #2)

The Midwife's Choice (At Home in Trinity #2)

A Winning Combination of
Small-Town History and Sweet Romance

Martha Cade is a midwife in the town of Trinity in 1830s Pennsylvania. In a time when the traditional ways of medicine are constantly being questioned by new doctors fresh from medical school, Martha tries to balance her life's calling with the demands of her family. Recently reunited with her estranged seventeen-year-old daughter, Martha finds herself torn between guiding her child and allowing her to be an adult. And the town of Trinity itself is fraught with secrets: as a midwife, Martha knows which families are troubled, which wives are unhappy, and which husbands have crossed the line from discipline to abuse...

As Martha struggles with the conflicts of being a mother, a midwife, and a woman, she learns the greatest lessons of all--that hope can shine even in the darkest hours, and that faith has a way of making the impossible possible.

My Review: 9/10

I was so excited to get my hands on this sequel (and even more excited to hear from Bethany House that they are updating this book, to be re-released this winter, and there's even going to be a third!)!

It was every bit as lovely and thought provoking as the first book.

Martha has learned some hard lessons but when the time finally comes to put them to practice, it is very easy to slip into old habits and beliefs.

I loved that the lessons Martha learns in this book- humility, faith, judgment of character, trust in God's plans and provision, letting go, and embracing change, just to name a few- came about naturally, some in a rush and some over time. I particularly loved the way she realized that some of her burden hadn't been necessary and that she should have opened up to others, sharing her load with them; that her pride and independece wasn't worth the people and relationships she'd had to sacrifice, like with her children and love.

I was just as invested in each of the side stories and loved the clever resolutions at the end.

I have no complaints with the story; I gave it a 9 out of my personal taste. I would recommend it to fans of Lawana Blackwell's Gresham chronicles. It's not to the same tone or style, but I did notice a similar flavor.

 I can't wait for the third book!

Friday, June 12, 2015

The Bitter Kingdom (Fire and Thorns #3) by Rae Carson book review

The Bitter Kingdom (Fire and Thorns, #3)The Bitter Kingdom (Fire and Thorns #3)

The champion must not waver.
The champion must not fear.
The gate of darkness closes.

Elisa is a fugitive.

Her enemies have stolen the man she loves, and they await her at the gate of darkness. Her country is on the brink of civil war, with her own soldiers ordered to kill her on sight.

Her Royal Majesty, Queen Lucero-Elisa né Riqueza de Vega, bearer of the Godstone, will lead her three loyal companions deep into the enemy's kingdom, a land of ice and snow and brutal magic, to rescue Hector and win back her throne. Her power grows with every step, and the shocking secrets she will uncover on this, her final journey, could change the course of history.

But that is not all. She has a larger destiny. She must become the champion the world has been waiting for.

Even of those who hate her most.

My Review: 8/10

This was a pretty good conclusion and easily the best book of the series.

My only strong complaint was that the characters didn't react very realistically in more traumatic situations. For example, after the death of an estranged loved one, Storm lets out some high pitched keening, and then is fine the following day. Elisa has an understandable identity crisis toward the end of the book, and after a day or two and a few words from another character, she adopts a new purpose and is fine.

Otherwise, a good read.

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

The Crown of Embers (Fire and Thorns #2) by Rae Carson book review

The Crown of Embers (Fire and Thorns, #2) The Crown of Embers (Fire and Thorns #2)

She does not know what awaits her at the enemy's gate.

Elisa is a hero.

She led her people to victory over a terrifying, sorcerous army. Her place as the country's ruler should be secure. But it isn't.

Her enemies come at her like ghosts in a dream, from foreign realms and even from within her own court. And her destiny as the chosen one has not yet been fulfilled.

To conquer the power she bears, once and for all, Elisa must follow a trial of long-forgotten—and forbidden—clues, from the deep, hidden catacombs of her own city to the treacherous seas. With her go a one-eyed spy, a traitor, and the man whom—despite everything—she is falling in love with.

If she's lucky, she will return from this journey. But there will be a cost.

My Review: 6/10

In some ways, the story got better and in some ways it got worse.

This is not a standalone novel; you'll want to read the previous book first. *Light SPOILERS ahead*

I understood that Elisa was trying to be diplomatic and civil, but she could do that while still being a strong leader. I mean, if she was critical of alejandro for being weak, I found it unbelievable that she would be so lily-livered about everything. For goodness sake, I expected her to rearrange the condes' priorities when they kept trying to mollycoddle her and kept being condescending, but Elisa disappointed.

It was better in that the food obsession finally stopped and the storyline was more interesting.

But what really kept me from engaging with the story was the religious aspect. It seemed like ms. Carson took everything from christianity and then twisted it. This is not a new concept, but the fact that she still called him God instead of a made up name for a fictional religion in a fantasy story troubled me. I mean, how many young adults have read the Bible to be able to pick out which parts are true and which parts are fiction? More likely, they'll recognize something they've heard before, pertaining to christianity, and therefore think the whole thing is scripture. But it's not. As I said, it's twisted and misapplied and the lessons and disconnect the heroine experiences as a result could confuse and mislead a young reader's faith. That left a really bad taste in my mouth. I will be careful who I recommend this to, if anyone.

Sunday, June 7, 2015

Death Row Chaplain book review

Death Row Chaplain: Unbelievable True Stories from America's Most Notorious Prison

Death Row Chaplain: Unbelievable True Stories from America's Most Notorious Prison

From a former criminal and now chaplain for the San Francisco 49ers and the Golden State Warriors, comes a riveting, behind-the-bars look at one of Americas most feared prisons: San Quentin. Reverend Earl Smith shares the most important lessons he's learned from years of helping inmates discover God's plan for them.

In 1983, twenty-seven-year-old Earl Smith arrived at San Quentin just like everyone thought he would. Labeled as a gang member and criminal from a young age, Smith was expected to do some time, but after a brush with death during a botched drug deal, Smith
's soul was saved and his life path was altered forever.

From that moment on, Smith knew God had an unusual mission for him, and he became the minister to the lost souls sitting on death row. For twenty-three years, Smith played chess with Charles Manson, negotiated truces between rival gangs, and bore witness to the final thoughts of many death row inmates. But most importantly, Smith helped the prisoners of San Quentin find redemption, hope, and to understand that it is still possible to find God
's grace and mercy from behind bars.

Edgy, insightful, and thought provoking, this book teaches us God
's grace can reach anyone—even the most desperate and lost—and that it's never too late to turn our lives around.

My Review: 8/10

Death Row Chaplain is a book about a man who is called out of drug-related crime and violence to become a chaplain at one of the most high security prisons in the country. His stories of men behind bars will challenge commonplace notions of those who commit crimes and what can become of them. It reminds us that God is powerful to work in all people, no matter our past.

Overall, this is a powerful testament to a God who acts on His own terms according to His own plans—a refreshing reminder that we often don’t get in typical American churches, with their carefully laid out plans and ministries.  The stories of inmates and the chaplain himself—plus athletes, once he ends up being a chaplain to professional San Francisco teams—will have you facing God’s grace, repentance, unrepentance, darkness, and the light that can conquer all. It presents to you the degree of misery that this world can so easily give, but also the hope that can shine in the most dismal places.

I have only two criticisms of the book.  Occasionally, I felt like the author was name-dropping, which may have just been my reading of it and not accurate of his intentions.  This was minorly irksome and didn’t happen most of the time.

The second criticism was in the composition and framing of the book.  I felt like I was going to dive into the prison ministry angle right away from the introduction, but instead we got a long tale of how the chaplain arrived where he was. This wouldn’t have bothered me at all if the setup of the book didn’t make me expect one thing forthcoming and get another.  Overall, I’m glad to see that tale. It just wasn’t what I was expecting.

Also, after the first chronological chapters of the chaplain’s life, the various chapters and topics of those chapters didn’t seem to be put together according to any noticeable organizational principle. Some sort of cohesive organization and transition for the chapters would have increased the delivery of the whole.

Overall though, I recommend this book. For subject matter alone, I would give it a 10/10, but as a book, I will give it an 8/10 due to the way it was written and organized.

Saturday, May 30, 2015

Girl of Fire and Thorns (Rae Carson) book review

Fire and Thorns (Fire and Thorns, #1)

Fire and Thorns (Fire and Thorns #1)

Princess Elisa is a disappointment to her people. Although she bears the Godstone in her navel, a sign that she has been chosen for an act of heroism, they see her as lazy and useless and fat. On her sixteenth birthday, she is bartered off in royal marriage and shipped away to a kingdom in turmoil, where her much-older-and extremely beautiful-husband refuses to acknowledge her as his wife. Devastated, Elisa decides to take charge of her fate and learn what it means to bear the Godstone. As an invading army threatens to destroy her new home, and everyone at court maneuvers to take advantage of the young princess, Elisa becomes convinced that, not only is her own life in danger, the whole world needs saving. But how can a young girl who has never ridden horseback, never played the game of politics, and never attained the love of a man save the world? Elisa can't be sure, but she must try to uncover the Godstone's secret history before the enemy steals the destiny nestled in her core.

My Review: 6/10

I found the parallels to Christianity an interesting premise for the story, but it often felt like a cheap imitation.

I liked that the protagonist was not your standard, cliched princess. Though I found her eating disorder/food obsession to range from annoying to disturbing, I also thought it added a layer of authenticity to her character. I was happy when it faded to a soft background hum.

The violence and deaths of some key characters surprised me, because YA novels don't usually allow that element of reality, at least not until the very end. Some of those scenes were a little graphic for my taste.

But the thing that bothered me the most was the promotion of cheating. I don't believe in divorce, and I don't believe in justifying seeking out another relationship while you are married.

I don't care that they didn't consummate the marriage yet, that he likely had a mistress before they married, or that they had spent very little time together before she was taken away. She pledged herself before God to this man for her life. If she wanted to seek an annulment or divorce based on grounds of his prior relationship, then fine, but she shouldn't be starting anything until that is settled. It ended up being a moot point anyway, because of how the storyline progressed, but it struck me forcibly that this kind of attitude promotes cheating and divorce, breaking up marriages and families. A young girl reading this book takes away that her feelings and love and happiness matter more than anything or anyone else, that she can't help how she feels, and that she should pursue someone she loves at any cost. Not only are all of these statements false, but they lead to destruction. These ideas are all too common in YA novels, but it was made worse by its strong association to the pseudo-christianity themes.

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

A Worthy Pursuit (Karen Witemeyer) book review

A Worthy Pursuit

A Worthy Pursuit

Stone Hammond is the best tracker in Texas. He never comes home empty-handed. So when a wealthy railroad investor hires him to find his abducted granddaughter, Stone eagerly accepts.

Charlotte Atherton, former headmistress of Sullivan’s Academy for Exceptional Youths, will do anything to keep her charges safe, especially the little girl entrusted to her care after her mother’s death. Charlotte promised Lily’s mother she’d keep the girl away from her unscrupulous grandfather, and nothing will stop Charlotte from fulfilling that pledge. Not even the handsome bounty hunter with surprisingly honest eyes who comes looking for them.

When the teacher he’s after produces documentation that shows she’s the little girl’s legal guardian, Stone must reevaluate everything he’s been led to believe. Is Miss Atherton villain or victim? She acts more like a loving mother than an abductress, and the children in her care clearly adore her. Should Stone break his perfect record?

Then a new danger threatens, and Charlotte is forced to trust the man sent to destroy her. Stone becomes determined to protect what he once sought to tear apart. Besides, he’s ready to start a new pursuit: winning Charlotte’s heart.

My Review: 6/10
This book could only get me halfway there. So "satisfying" or "unsatisfying" depends on what you want out of it, or what you compare it to. It's a good match, a good companion, to her other books, so if you're a fan, I think you'll enjoy this one too. But for me, it just didn't stand out and I needed something extraordinary.

*slight spoilers ahead*

There were a couple of lines that had me laughing out loud. And the storyline was interesting and definitely suspenseful. In return, I had to overlook the insta-love, our heroine's breathtaking beauty, and some poor choices; I think kindness and integrity can be portrayed without sacrificing intelligence and wisdom. For example, if a strange man was caught on my property spying on me and my children with binoculars, especially when I was in hiding in a remote location, you can bet that I would not invite him into my home to personally care for his wounds in a show of charity and good faith.

On the whole, this book felt half baked. It seemed like the carefully woven lessons didn't hold up to pressure and it just unraveled.
There were heavy doses of scripture applied well- I loved the use of proverbs and Charlotte facing the fact that she had a control issue. I loved the way lending spiritual strength was portrayed, especially in light of the circumstances. That had to take strong faith and I thought it was a great example. Charlotte's choosing  positivity and gratitude when it would be so easy to slip into fear and doubt and negativity was a great example as well: "God's blessings were so prevalent, a person could always find a reason to rejoice."

But then, characters' actions didn't hold up to their professed virtues. I had warning bells going off in my head when Stone pretended he'd been deceiving Charlotte; I thought for sure this was going to turn into an epic misunderstanding. Though I was pleasantly surprised that it didn't, I was still disappointed in Stone for going there. I've certainly gotten backed into corners and the natural instinct to tell a clever lie bubbled to the surface. But God doesn't need us to lie our way out of things. He's bigger than that. Of course we still slip up, we still make mistakes, but I felt like this deception was passed off as something to admire, rather than a flaw of human nature. As if, because we knew his true feelings, no harm done. Stone's fear of his enemy's power was stronger than his trust in his God. I'd have preferred to see an example of what God could do with bold faced honesty and unswerving faith.

I loved Stone's firm personality. His determination and openness is not something that is usually seen in this genre, and it was so refreshing. I loved that he responded to her need to learn how to trust with straightforwardness and solemn vows. I loved Charlotte's unyielding personality too. She acted with decisiveness and confidence.

But then, moments of doubt would come out of nowhere. For example, Stone has just declared his intent to pursue her until he gains her or dies, but a few pages later, Charlotte tells herself that she has no right to expect anything or make demands of him. What? For someone who exudes strength and confidence, her random boughts of unfounded insecurity seemed to exist only to drive the suspense and the thrill at the eventual resolution. Why? It's not like readers don't know where this is going to end up; you can't have it both ways- characters who are so in love that they openly declare their intent, but then uncertainty as a driving force of suspense.

And, as always, this book would have been so much better if we were only privy to one character's thoughts.