Monday, February 20, 2017

The Mark of the King by Jocelyn Green book review


The Mark of the King

Sweeping Historical Fiction Set at the Edge of the Continent
After being imprisoned and branded for the death of her client, twenty-five-year-old midwife Julianne Chevalier trades her life sentence for exile to the fledgling 1720s French colony of Louisiana, where she hopes to be reunited with her brother, serving there as a soldier. To make the journey, though, women must be married, and Julianne is forced to wed a fellow convict.
When they arrive in New Orleans, there is no news of Benjamin, Julianne's brother, and searching for answers proves dangerous. What is behind the mystery, and does military officer Marc-Paul Girard know more than he is letting on?
With her dreams of a new life shattered, Julianne must find her way in this dangerous, rugged land, despite never being able to escape the king's mark on her shoulder that brands her a criminal beyond redemption.

My Review: 10/10
This book was phenomenal. I had never heard of Ms. Jocelyn Green before now, so I thought she was a new author. I have never been so glad to be mistaken! I cannot wait to get my hands on her other works. But first, The Mark of the King:

This novel was a perfect blend of history, faith in action, spiritual growth, realistic relationships (friends, family, romance), with a little mystery and suspense thrown in. The characters had so much depth and were challenged to be more than their circumstances or emotions. It was inspiring. It was very interesting to see how people changed based on their choices. It made me think about how we take so much for granted- even our character. What don't know what we're capable of unless we've dealt with some of these issues- famine, war, loss, etc. It gave me a greater appreciation for shades of gray, understanding how people can start down dark paths, and grew my compassion.

Ms. Green did not gloss over the hard stuff, painting everything rosy and easy to put to rights like so many do. It was downright painful to read at times and there was more than one scene that had me so affected that I had to wait a while before being able to continue. While those are not the kind of things that usually draw me to a book, it really is a testimony to how realistic the characters are and how emotionally invested you become in their lives. It's good to be so touched sometimes. Necessary even.

The story changes perspective a lot and I was impressed with how convincing each point of view was; whether it was our protagonist (25 year old female), a native child, or a man, it was believably written and so smoothly done that it didn't halt the story at all.

I loved the rich historical details. It simultaneously gave me a glimpse into history in a way I've never experienced before, and also made me aware of how little I can imagine what colonizing our country was like.

The themes of forgiveness, loving your enemy, and prayer was wonderful. They were woven into the story naturally and simply, so that the messages were powerful and convicting, and didn't seem showy, preachy or out of place.

I loved that this was from a French perspective, which is rare among the historical fiction I read. I wish I could go into particulars, but so much happens in this story, that saying anything specific would probably be a spoiler. I can't recommend this book enough.

Monday, February 13, 2017

The Beautiful Pretender (A Medieval Fairy Tale #2) by Melanie Dickerson book review


The Beautiful Pretender (A Medieval Fairy Tale #2)

What happens when a margrave realizes he’s fallen in love with a servant?

The Margrave of Thornbeck has to find a bride, fast. He invites ten noble-born ladies from around the country to be his guests at Thornbeck Castle for two weeks, a time to test these ladies and reveal their true character.

Avelina is only responsible for two things: making sure her deception goes undetected and avoiding being selected as the margrave’s bride. Since the latter seems unlikely, she concentrates on not getting caught. No one must know she is merely a maidservant, sent by the Earl of Plimmwald to stand in for his daughter, Dorothea.

Despite Avelina’s best attempts at diverting attention from herself, the margrave has taken notice. And try as she might, she can’t deny her own growing feelings. But something else is afoot in the castle. Something sinister that could have far worse—far deadlier—consequences. Will Avelina be able to stop the evil plot? And at what cost?

My Review: 5/10

*Please forgive any misspelling of character names; I listened to the audiobook version and could find NO mention of secondary characters anywhere on the internet.*

This story started with an interesting premise: Lady's maid must impersonate her mistress at a Margrave's ball, being friendly enough to secure an alliance with the Margrave but not so friendly as to win his hand. Fail at the first mission and the Margrave (rumored to be deadly violent) will likely kill her. Fail at the second mission and her people and their lands will be subjected to a foreign threat. Fail at the last mission and her secret will be exposed and both she AND her people will likely be destroyed. Sounds like a great story, right? In theory.

It started out okay, though Avelina did not act like a servant- stealing from her Lady's plate the moment her back was turned. Irma was even less believable as Avelina's lady's maid. She had an incredibly loose and sharp tongue considering that she was facing equal punishment if they were discovered.

Things were fine until Avelina's intelligence started slipping in order to further the suspense. All of a sudden she is in denial, to the point of delusion, regarding the Margrave's interest and has no idea how to rebuff his attention. And despite Fronica being set up as her arch-nemesis/daughter of evil, Avelina complacently walks into her traps.

The romance lacked any depth (constant fixation on looks/attraction and damsel-in-distress/hero worship) and the dialogue was so saccharine that I was embarassed when there was a chance anyone would overhear- particularly my husband.

The story just dragged on and on, growing more far-fetched and melodramatic, with the characters losing dimension, as the pages turned:

The whole plot of the story centered around the Earl of Plimmwald needing the Margrave's support to fend off Geitbart's invasion. Yet the Margrave is not able to fend off an attack from Geitbart himself. He has no spies and limited forces so that he ends up imprisoned in his own dungeon. Sure.

The Margrave is quickly put off by Fronica's behavior, has no interest in her and suspects her of evil deeds. Yet he never sends her home. Nope, he just continues to put up with her.

Avelina is so shocked by Fronica's villainous confession that she leans back against the railing, which breaks, almost sending her plummeting to her death. When she is saved she has conveniently forgotten Fronica's confession/plans and makes no mention her of likely role in the near death experience.

In the end, the Margrave realizes he hasn't been using his cane and must not need it anymore. Either their loved conquered all, including physical limitations, or he never thought to try walking without his cane before.

Wednesday, February 8, 2017

Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen book review


Water for Elephants

Orphaned, penniless, Jacob Jankowski jumps a freight train in the dark, and in that instant, transforms his future.

By morning, he's landed a job with the Flying Squadron of the Benzini Brothers Most Spectacular Show on Earth. By nightfall, he's in love.

In an America made colourless by prohibition and the Depression, the circus is a refuge of sequins and sensuality. But behind the glamour lies a darker world, where both animals and men are dispensable. Where falling in love is the most dangerous act of all...

My Review: 5/10

The story itself was excellent and the characters fiercely human. The blurbs describe the book as gritty, sensual and romantic. I couldn't disagree more. That's like saying that a man who crudely propositions a woman is flirting. The sexual content was rated X for sure. The author almost seems to fixate on incidents and revel in them. They did absolutely nothing to further or deepen the storyline and, because events happened so many times throughout the novel, I cannot, in good conscience, recommend this book to anyone.

I was particularly disturbed by the threeway/rape scene. Because that's what it was. He was so drunk he was not able to consent. He had no control over any part of his body. And he passed out not knowing what had been done or if he was still a virgin. Putting a fleeting thought in his mind that he was "definitely interested" did not make it okay and perpetuates rape culture. I can only imagine how people would have reacted if the genders were reversed: if the author had been a man and this scene had been about a woman with two men who help themselves because "they love them at this age." Disgusting.

This was one of those rare times when the movie is better than the book. The movie follows the plot of the novel very closely. Even some of the raunchier aspects are present, as they relate to the story, but not in enough detail to distract from the plot or make the audience uncomfortable.

Friday, February 3, 2017

The Vicar's Daughter by Josi S. Kilpack book review


The Vicar's Daughter 

Cassie, the youngest of six daughters in the Wilton family, is bold, bright, and ready to enter society. There's only one problem: her older sister Lenora, whose extreme shyness prevents her from attending many social events. Lenora is now entering her third season, and since their father has decreed that only one Wilton girl can be out at a time, Cassie has no choice except to wait her turn.

Evan Glenside, a soft-spoken, East London clerk, has just been named his great-uncle's heir and, though he is eager to learn all that will be required of him, he struggles to feel accepted in a new town and in his new position.

A chance meeting between Evan and Lenora promises to change everything, but when Lenora proves too shy to pursue the relationship, Cassie begins to write Mr. Glenside letters in the name of her sister. Her good intentions lead to disaster when Cassie realizes she is falling in love with Evan. But then Evan begins to court Lenora, thinking she is the author of the letters.

As secrets are revealed, the hearts of Cassie, Evan, and Lenora are tested. Will the final letter sent by the vicar's daughter be able to reunite the sisters as well as unite Evan with his true love?

My Review: 10/10
True to form, Ms. Kilpack's latest novel was phenomenal and I could not put it down.

The writing was so good, the characters so vibrant, that I felt everything, every good and bad thing, all the way to my toes. Despite being confident of how it would end, I felt all the suspense, all the pain of human flaws, the embarassment, the guilt, the regret, the hope, and the sacrifice.

If you want to feel the full range of human emotion, I highly recommend this book. If you want to see the full beauty of God at work, knitting something beautiful from ashes, I recommend it even more. From relating to the best and worst of people, to getting to witness forgiveness and restoration, I cannot say enough good things about this book.