Book Review: Diamond in the Rough

About the Book:

To save her family from financial ruin, Miss Poppy Garrison accepts an unusual proposition to participate in the New York social season in exchange for her grandmother settling a family loan that has unexpectedly come due. Ill-equipped to handle the intricacies of mingling within the New York Four Hundred, Poppy becomes embroiled in one hilarious fiasco after another, doomed to suffer a grand societal failure instead of being deemed the diamond of the first water her grandmother longs for her to become.

Reginald Blackburn, second son of a duke, has been forced to travel to America to help his cousin, Charles Wynn, Earl of Lonsdale, find an American heiress to wed in order to shore up his family estate that is in desperate need of funds. Reginald himself has no interest in finding an heiress to marry, but when Poppy’s grandmother asks him to give etiquette lessons to Poppy, he swiftly discovers he may be in for much more than he bargained for.

My Thoughts:

Turano always writes fun-filled, page turning, improbable romances that I thoroughly enjoy. It doesn’t really matter that they are far-fetched tales. I am prone to laugh out loud while reading and I end each story with a smile on my face.

While Diamond in the Rough is part of a series and there are connections to the first book, Flights of Fancy, you could read this novel as a stand alone.

If you are looking for a implausible, but comical, light read then I would highly recommend this book. I’m looking forward to the next installment in the series.

I received a free digital copy of this novel in exchange for my honest opinion.

Book Review: Shades of Light

About the Book:

“I was desperate. . . . I couldn’t turn off the dark thoughts, no matter how hard I tried or how much I prayed. And then I spent a whole weekend in bed, and the crying wouldn’t stop, and I got really scared. I’ve had bouts with depression before—it’s kind of a cloud I’ve learned to live with—but this time was different. I felt like I was going under, like I’d never feel hopeful again, and then that just made my anxiety worse and it all spiraled from there.”

Wren Crawford is a social worker who finds herself overwhelmed with the troubles of the world. Her lifelong struggles with anxiety and depression are starting to overcome her. She finds solace in art, spiritual formation, and pastoral care along with traditional therapeutic interventions. But a complicated relationship from her past also threatens to undo her progress.

As Wren seeks healing in this beautifully written novel, readers are invited to move beyond pat answers and shallow theology into an experience of hope and presence that illuminates even the darkness.

My Thoughts:

If I’m honest I found this novel difficult to read. Not that it isn’t beautifully written, it is, but it takes you into the mind of someone struggling with mental illness and that is simply not an easy place to be.

I appreciated the exploration of Vincent van Gogh’s life alongside of Wren’s struggles. I also appreciated the exploration of the cross of Christ and what it means that we are all companions in suffering. There were some beautiful “shades of light” in this novel.

If you are looking for a book that will help you understand mental illness then I don’t think this is it. This is a book of companionship with mental illness more than an explanation of it. There is a mystery to the mind that can sometimes only be observed and can not be explained. The author asked hard questions around difficult topics, including the complete inadequacy of formulaic answers and the lack of clarity in where mental illness and sin align or diverge. I appreciated that Brown tackled many of the insufficient ways that the church deals with this topic.

This is a story of compassion and struggle: a story of Jesus who keeps company with us in all that is hard. It’s a story worth wrestling through, but not a light or easy read.

I received a free digital copy of this book in exchange for my honest opinion.

Book Review: More Than Words Can Say

About the Book:

After fulfilling a pledge to a dying friend, Zacharias Hamilton is finally free. No family entanglements. No disappointing those around him. Just the quiet bachelor existence he’s always craved. Until fate snatches his freedom away when the baker of his favorite breakfast bun is railroaded by the city council. Despite not wanting to get involved, he can’t turn a blind eye to her predicament . . . or her adorable dimples.

Abigail Kemp needs a man’s name on her bakery’s deed. A marriage of convenience seems the best solution . . . if it involves a man she can control. That person definitely isn’t the stoic lumberman who oozes silent confidence whenever he enters her shop. Control Zacharias Hamilton? She can’t even control her pulse when she’s around him.

When vows are spoken, Abigail’s troubles should be over. Yet threats to the bakery worsen, and darker dangers hound her sister. Can she put ever more trust in Zach without losing her dreams of independence?

My Thoughts:

There is something about Karen Witemeyer’s writing that allows it to be light-hearted, easy reading while also being entirely sincere. More Than Words Can Say broached subjects of past regret, secrets, broken relationships and a woman’s desire for both independence and fair treatment within a story that captivated the heart of compassion and the beauty of God’s redemption.

While this book could stand alone it would be best read after the first book in the series: More Than Meets The Eye.

PS – My only disappointment was not with the novel itself, but with the cover. I thought the cover was really appealing until I read the book and realized that the cover image of Abigail was a long way from the plump baker that I found in the novel. (Think Sookie from Gilmore Girls). In retrospect I feel a little disappointed for the character that on the cover they would choose to keep her dimples but alter her weight.

I received a free digital copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

Book Review: The Adventures of Sarah Ann Lewis and the Memory Thieves

About the Book:

What Sarah doesn’t know…

…could doom us all.

It’s 1988 in the middle of nowhere, Texas, and 13-year-old Sarah is about to be swept out of her boring life and into a world of danger.

Spies are coming for her. The people next door are not what they seem. And Sarah’s family has been hiding something. Something BIG. Something not even Sarah knows.

The fate of the world hangs in the balance. But for Sarah, all that matters is rescuing her family. What’s left of it, anyway.

If she fails, the Memory Thieves will learn their secrets, and as a result, millions around the world will die. But to save the people she loves, Sarah will have to team up with strangers she isn’t sure she can trust. Strangers who aren’t even human.

This story is not what you think.

A captivating blend of rural sci-fi, fantasy, mystery, and thriller, the first book of this genre smashing series will have you begging for more.

My Thoughts:

I was captivated from the very first page. This middle grade science fiction, fantasy, mystery was very engaging and creative.

For fans of N.D. Wilson and the Chronicles of Narnia, The Adventures of Sarah Ann Lewis had all the elements of a great story. There was a mystery to be solved, danger to be avoided (the very real type that includes fighting for survival and even death, but isn’t overly graphic in its description), friendships to be made, trust to be reinforced (or betrayed), intrigue, adventure, talking animals and other-worldly creatures.

From a Texas school room to a basement in Berlin, the story never lags. My only complaint is that the next book in the series hasn’t been released yet.

I received a free digital pre-release copy of this book in exchange for my honest opinion. An honestly I really enjoyed it.

Book Review: The Reluctant Bride

About the Book:

Living in London’s poorest slum, Mercy Wilkins has little hope of a better life. When she’s offered an opportunity to join a bride ship sailing to British Columbia, she agrees. After witnessing so much painful heartache and loss in the slums, the bride ship is her only prospect to escape a bleak future, not only for herself but, she hopes, someday for her sister.

Wealthy and titled Joseph Colville leaves home and takes to the sea in order to escape the pain of losing his family. As ship’s surgeon, he’s in charge of the passengers’ welfare aboard the Tynemouth, including sixty brides-to-be. He has no immediate intention of settling down, but when Mercy becomes his assistant, the two must fight against a forbidden love.

With hundreds of single men congregating on the shore eager to claim a bride from the Tynemouth, will Mercy and Joseph lose their chance at true love, or will they be able to overcome the obstacles that threaten to keep them apart?

My Thoughts:

While a perfectly reasonable book for whittling away an afternoon I found A Reluctant Bride to be a rather middle of the road novel. Though it was based on a true story I just didn’t find enough in the story to make it feel entirely believable to me and it seemed heavier on the romance than it was on the history. I’ve read a number of books by Jody Hedlund, but I just didn’t find The Reluctant Bride measured up to my expectations. I couldn’t quite come to terms with Joseph being titled and making the choices that he made, even with him originally being a second son and his unusual upbringing. I also had to look up facts about telegraphs to England from the territories at one point in the book, because the dates didn’t seem to correspond with the ability to send a trans-Atlantic message and expect to hear back in under a week. These little details are important to me, however, someone else might just slide over them without becoming distracted from the plot.

On the positive side, the author paints a realistic picture of life in the London slums. There is no sugar coating here. The fact that Mercy remained compassionate and self sacrificing in her surroundings makes her an exceptional character.

Overall, it was a nice romantic story, but I’d call it light entertainment rather than a riveting novel.

I was given a free digital copy of this book in exchange for my honest opinion.

Born to Trouble

In May I stayed the night in Venice before a flight. I was walking the streets from San Marco to the bus station when I heard this terrible shriek of pain. I looked up and a seagull had caught a swallow and was killing it. I wanted to throw something at the seagull. I couldn’t get the shriek out of my mind. It over-shadowed my evening.

I came home and was watching a family of birds at my feeder. Out of the corner of my eye I saw the neighbor’s cat and before I could blink a baby bird was carried away in cat jaws.

I sat on a Spiritual Direction call as tears dripped through the telephone line. Trouble. Pain. Loss.

And these words from N.D. Wilson came to mind:

Heat rises. Man is born to trouble. When Job lifted his face to the Storm, when he asked and was answered, he learned that he was very small. He learned that his life was a story. He spoke with the Author, and learned that the genre had not been an accident. God tells stories that make Sunday school teachers sweat and mothers write their children permission slips excusing them from encountering reality.

Lions are fed. Every day, animal stories end in those jaws. Leviathan snorts fire. Unicorns won’t plow. What good is a story without struggle? What good is a plot without danger? How is a character’s mettle tested? How is it made in the first place?

Nails are forged for pounding. Man is born to trouble. Man is born for trouble. Man is born to battle trouble. Man is born for the fight, to be forged and molded—under torch and hammer and chisel—into a sharper, finer, stronger image of God.

Eve had done nothing wrong. Our mother wandered the garden, doing no evil. She and her lover existed in Paradise. What had she done to deserve a dragon? A serpent? A forked tongue and lying eyes laboring to get her killed?

She had been born. Her life was a story. She was born—even when pure—for trouble.

Ponder this. Adam. Our unfallen father arrives on the scene to discover what exactly?

Adam was given the world and a garden and all manner of fruit to eat. He was given every beast to tend and name. He was given a wife and lover traced by God’s own fingers—a muse to make Helen of Troy put on sunglasses and a hoodie in shame. Fairy tale. And then, having done no wrong at all, he was given a dragon, a wife who had been deceived, who had believed that God was a petty liar and therefore chosen to defy Him. Eve had stepped directly under the curse of the Almighty, smack into thou shalt surely die. Adam, still having done no wrong, had been given loss. He had been given trouble with a capital T. And like every person who has been given a beating heart and breathing lungs and seeing eyes and hearing ears and fingers and thumbs and thoughts and an entirely unasked-for existence in the flowing stream of history on this space-time stage, he had been given a choice.

As the sparks fly upward, Eve was born to a moment in the garden when she faced a dragon spewing lies.

As the sparks fly upward, Adam was born to a moment when his garden was invaded by a deceiving dragon and he learned that his love was under a death curse.

The plot hinged. The past was ready to be written in forever stone. The future waited to swirl up or down, left or right.

Death By Living – N. D. Wilson

The future waits for us to choose. How will we live in the midst of turmoil and trouble. Some days lions are fed. Other days God sends an angel to close their jaws. Sometimes, having done nothing in particular to earn it, we are given trouble. We are given choice.

The plot hinges. What will you choose? What will I choose?

Can I worship in the echo of the screaming swallow?

Will I trust the Word of the Lord when a serpent out to get me killed comes crawling into the garden?

The plot hinges…

I suspect I’ve quoted this book more than any other book.
It’s impact on me can’t be measured. Check it out:
Amazon US: https://amzn.to/2Xeiy5t
Amazon UK: https://amzn.to/2XkrUg0

Book Review: Of Fire And Lions

About the Book:

The Old Testament book of Daniel comes to life in this novel for readers of Lynn Austin’s Chronicles of the Kings series or Francine Rivers’ Mark of the Lion series.

Survival. A Hebrew girl first tasted it when she escaped death nearly seventy years ago as the Babylonians ransacked Jerusalem and took their finest as captives. In the many years amongst the Magoi and the idol worshippers she thought she’d perfected pretending, with all the others in King Nebuchadnezzar’s court. Now, as Daniel’s wife and a septuagenarian matriarch, Belili thinks she’s safe and she can live out her days in Babylon without fear–until the night Daniel is escorted to Belshazzar’s palace to interpret mysterious handwriting on a wall. The Persian Army invades, and Bellili’s tightly-wound secrets unfurl with the arrival of the conquering army. What will the reign of Darius mean for Daniel, a man who prays to Yahweh alone?

Ultimately, Yahweh’s sovereign hand guides Jerusalem’s captives, and the frightened Hebrew girl is transformed into a confident woman, who realizes her need of the God who conquers both fire and lions.

My Thoughts:

I’m sometimes hesitant to read a fictional story about Biblical characters, but I really appreciated Andrews’ tale Of Fire and Lions. I appreciate that Andrews gives an outline for how she writes Biblical, historical fiction.

1) Biblical accounts and Scripture build the foundation,
2) Historical facts support the truth of God’s Word, and
3) Creative fiction holds the historical fact and Biblical truth together.

I absolutely loved that the creative fiction made the familiar stories come alive. For example, I’d never worked out a timeline or thought of the age that Daniel would have been when cast into the lions den. It moved me when I realized he wasn’t a young, strong man at that point, but an older, more vulnerable age. For some reason I tend to create an image of a character and then it never ages, so to meet Daniel in his later years was a gift that I had missed when I read the Biblical text.

There is, of course, a lot of holy imagination happening, but all in all I felt that the story not only stayed true to the Biblical text, it captivated. I now find it easier to put myself in the shoes of the captives than I did before. I stood with awe as I watched the ways that the LORD met with the characters. I remembered, yes, this is my God. I felt their doubts, their losses, their joys, all very real and very familiar.

The book does jump back and forth in the timeline of Belili’s life, but I didn’t find it at all hard to follow. In fact, this was one of those books that I really hated to have to set down and walk away from at any point.

I really liked Of Fire and Lions and would recommend it to you.

I received a free digital copy of this book for review in exchange for my honest opinion.

As You Wish

Are you familiar with The Princess Bride? It’s a movie that I memorized I watched it so often. And of course, “As You Wish” was Westley’s way of saying “I love you.”

I think we all have those particular ways in which God communicates to us saying, “I love you.” For me there are many. One of them is starfish.

Brittle Star

Ever since I was a kid I’ve been fascinated with starfish: their textured feel, the way they suck onto a rock (or your hand), their colors. I always scanned the tidal pools of the Pacific for them.

But, they are much fewer and farther between here on the Welsh coast, so they seem especially significant when I come across one.

A couple of weeks ago I took a day of solitude with the Lord and I heard him say, “Come to the beach with me.” To be honest I wasn’t feeling much like prying myself off the couch and I sensed the beach that he was inviting me to was one that’s a bit of a drive from here. But I couldn’t bring myself to refuse the invitation and so I went.

As I walked on the beach I was talking with the Lord and I remember looking down the beach and praying, “I know there are no tide pools here, but even without the starfish I’m really aware of how you show your love for me.”

About two miles down the beach I was focusing on where I was stepping, as there were a lot of jelly fish on the beach that day, and at a curve where the tide was just going out, I saw my first brittle star. So, they might not technically be starfish, but they are starfish in every way that matters to me. And as I walked along I saw not one, but literally hundreds of them. I just wanted to laugh. I’d done it again. I’d boxed God in. As if he couldn’t say “I love you” with a starfish unless there were tide pools.

Rhossili – The Gower
Jellyfish
Going in circles
Wild Welsh Ponies

And to up the ante, I ended up going home on a different route and the wild ponies were right there on the side of the road for me to enjoy.

It was a sweet day and a sweet reminder of the God who has time and again moved heaven and earth to show me his love: in Jesus, in a starfish, in a sunny day on the beach, though a herd of ponies, in the midst of pain, on the days when I don’t want to pry myself off the couch.

I am loved.

You are loved.

Keep your ears open.

You might hear “As You Wish.”

Keep your eyes open.

You might be surprised by a starfish.

Book Review: The Number of Love

About the Book:

Three years into the Great War, England’s greatest asset is their intelligence network–field agents risking their lives to gather information, and codebreakers able to crack every German telegram. Margot De Wilde thrives in the environment of the secretive Room 40, where she spends her days deciphering intercepted messages. But when her world is turned upside down by an unexpected loss, for the first time in her life numbers aren’t enough.

Drake Elton returns wounded form the field, followed by an enemy who just won’t give up. He’s smitten quickly by the intelligent Margot, but how can he convince a girl who lives entirely in her mind that sometimes life’s answers lie in the heart? Amid biological warfare, encrypted letters, and a German spy who wants to destroy not just them but others they love, Margot and Drake will have to work together to save themselves form the very secrets that brought them together.

My Thoughts:

Though The Number of Love is the first in a new Codebreakers series I would highly recommend that you first read the Shadows Over England series. In this series you will be introduced to the characters and learn back story that I would argue is fairly essential to a full understanding of this book.

(The first book in the Shadows Over England series is called A Name Unknown and can be found at Amazon US https://amzn.to/2XcK0R7 or Amazon UK https://amzn.to/2F7ivOy.)

I really appreciate Roseanna White’s writing and anticipate when a new book is released. The Number of Love did not disappoint. It had suspense, intrigue, character growth, grief, loss, triumph, love and faith. I am the polar opposite of the main character in both personality and thought, yet I connected deeply with her story. I think that in itself is quite a feat of writing. I imagine a mathematician would find this story even more riveting that I did. I also found the historical foundation of Room 40 and the code breakers to be fascinating and I walked away from the story with a deep appreciation for people whose gifts are far different than my own.

All in all it was a fascinating story that I highly recommend.

I received a free digital copy of this book for review in exchange for my honest opinion.