Book Review: The Major’s Daughter

About the Book:

Caroline Adams returns to Indian Territory after tiring of confining society life. She wants adventure, and when she and her friend Amber come across swaggering outlaw Frisco Smith, they find his dreams for the new territory are very persuasive. With the much-anticipated land run pending, they may just join the rush.

Growing up parentless, all Frisco Smith wanted was a place to call his own. It’s no wonder that he fought to open the Unassigned Lands. After years of sneaking across the border, he’s even managed to put in a dugout house on a hidden piece of property he’s poised to claim.

When the gun sounds, everyone’s best plans are thrown out the window in the chaos of the run. Caroline and Frisco soon find themselves battling over a claim–and both dig in their heels. Settling the rightful ownership will bring these two closer than they ever expected and change their ideas of what a true home looks like.

My Thoughts:

Regina Jennings writes fun and lighthearted historical novels with a fair amount of ironic humor thrown in. They are always a good choice for curling up on the couch and relaxing on a Sunday afternoon.

The Major’s Daughter is the third book in the Fort Reno series. It could easily be read as a stand alone novel, but there are characters from the previous books (including Caroline) who are introduced without their background info, so there are things that you would only know about them if you have been reading through the series.

I found myself really enjoying the in depth look at the Oklahoma land rush. The author introduced some of the darker elements of the contest without bogging the book down with them. The romance developing between Caroline and Frisco, as they learned to look past the surface to the hopes and dreams of another, was a sweet story that rounded out an interesting read.

All in all, I’d recommend The Major’s Daughter as a light and engaging read with a good entertainment value. I received a free digital copy of this book in exchange for sharing my honest opinion of the novel.

Book Review: The End of the Magi

About the Book:

Following his vision of the coming Messiah, the prophet Daniel creates a select group of men who will count down the calendar to the arrival of Israel’s promised king. Centuries later, as the day nears, Myrad, a young magi acolyte, flees for his life when his adoptive father and others are put to death by a ruthless Parthian queen.

Having grabbed only a few possessions, Myrad escapes the city, and searching for a way to hide from the soldiers scouring the trade routes, he tries to join the caravan of the merchant Walagash. The merchant senses that Myrad is hiding secrets, but when the young man proves himself a valuable traveler, an epic journey filled with peril, close escapes, and dangerous battles begins.

With every day that passes, the calendar creeps closer to the coming Messiah. And over everything shines the dream of a star that Myrad can’t forget and the promise that the world will never be the same.

My Thoughts:

I am a huge fan of Patrick Carr’s writing, so of course I was waiting on pins and needles for his newest book. The End of the Magi represents a shift from the genre of fantasy to the realm of historical and I think that Carr did an excellent job of navigating that shift.

The characters were extremely engaging and complex, which I have come to expect from Carr’s writing. I also appreciated how human the Magi were, especially in their varying expectations of the Promised One. The historical setting was fascinating and descriptive. In many ways I felt like I was living Myrad’s story, which I think is the ultimate goal of a novel.

I will say that the pace of the novel is slow and thoughtful. This isn’t a galloping suspense novel as much as it is a suspenseful journey of mystery and waiting: waiting for the fulfillment of an ancient prophecy and waiting to discover what that meant for the individual lives of the characters. It’s a perfect read for the season of Advent or honestly for the season of Lent as well, since Carr takes the story of the Magi beyond the birth to the final days of the Long Awaited One.

Overall, I’d say the book was unexpected. I’ve read a number of Magi stories and this one was like no other and yet it was also entirely relatable, perhaps even more so than other tales that have been told. And while I have to say my preference for Carr’s fantasy novels remains, I was impressed by this journey into historical fiction and I would recommend it to you.

I received a free digital copy of this book for review (after I had already ordered a paperback copy) so I’m giving you my honest opinion as a fan who purchased a book and as a reviewer. This book is worth reading.

Book Review: Adorning the Dark

About the Book:

Making something beautiful in a broken world can be harrowing work, and it can’t be done alone.

Over the last twenty years, Andrew Peterson has performed thousands of concerts, published four novels, released ten albums, taught college and seminary classes on writing, founded a nonprofit ministry for Christians in the arts, and executive-produced a film—all in a belief that God calls us to proclaim the gospel and the coming kingdom using whatever gifts are at our disposal. He’s stumbled along the way, made mistake after mistake, and yet has continually encountered the grace of God through an encouraging family, a Christ-centered community of artists in the church, and the power of truth, beauty, and goodness in Scripture and the arts.

While there are many books about writing, none deal first-hand with the intersection of songwriting, storytelling, and vocation, along with nuts-and-bolts exploration of the great mystery of creativity. In Adorning the Dark, Andrew describes six principles for the writing life:

  • serving the work
  • serving the audience
  • selectivity
  • discernment
  • discipline
  • and community

Through stories from his own journey, Andrew shows how these principles are not merely helpful for writers and artists, but for anyone interested in imitating the way the Creator interacts with his creation.

This book is both a memoir of Andrew’s journey and a handbook for artists, written in the hope that his story will provide encouragement to others stumbling along in pursuit of a calling to adorn the dark with the light of Christ.

My Thoughts: GET THIS BOOK

Honestly, I had pre-ordered a copy before I had an invitation to review this book and I want to buy copies for all my friends. This is a beautiful book on life and beauty and community and the creative process.

I’m not a songwriter or an author. I’m a visual artist who loves beauty and art and adorning the dark. And this book is entirely relatable to me.

I have been moved by the discussions of place-making (even as I continue to wrestle with the transient life of “sojourner” that God has called me to). I have journaled chapters about what it looks like to root myself in the soil of the kingdom and in the uncertain spaces of rented flats. I wept over the beauty of a life that wants to declare the dominion of God to every place within its reach and I spent a whole week re-reading just one paragraph. This book has sparked so many thoughts!

I’m reading this book slowly and I have no qualms about reviewing a book I haven’t quite finished, because the portion I have read has been filled with seeds of beauty planted in the soil of my heart. This is not a book to be rushed, nor is it a book to be shuffled off to a specific group of artists. This book is beautiful and I think it has worth for every reader and especially for those who have chosen a Creative vocation.

I bought the book first, but I also got a free copy for review. All my opinions are my own.

And if I haven’t convinced you to buy the book yet, here is a fabulous interview by The Cultivating Project that you should read.

Link to Interview

That anyone at all in the world would set their sad heart and tired hands to working beauty out of chaos is a monument to Grace. It reminds us of light and high beauty, and it laments the world’s great sorrow. It gives the heart language to rejoice and language to mourn.

Creation groans like a woman in labor? Even so. And we know every birth is a tight-wound cord of fear and joy, pain and pleasure, striving and surcease. Let those who can, tell that story. Let those in Christ whose hands paint worlds, whose tongues limn loveliness, whose ears hear astral strains–let them make, and make, and make. And let the made things adorn the dark and proclaim the coming Kingdom till the King himself is come.

Andrew Peterson – Adorning the Dark: An Artist’s Benediction

Book Review: The Thief of Lanwyn Manor

About the Book:

In this sweet Regency romance, Julia knows Matthew Blake, copper mine owner and very eligible bachelor, is the gentleman she should set her eyes upon. But why can’t she steal her gaze away from his younger brother, Isaac?

Cornwall, England 1818—Julia Twethewey needs a diversion to mend her broken heart, so when her cousin invites her to Lanwyn Manor, Julia eagerly accepts. Lanwyn Manor is at the heart of Cornwall’s mining industry, and as a guest Julia is swept into its intricate world. It’s not long, though, before she realizes something dark lurks in the home’s ancient halls.

As a respected mine owner’s younger son, Isaac Blake is determined to keep his late father’s legacy alive through the family business, despite his brother’s careless attitude. In order to save their livelihood—and the livelihood of those around them—the brothers approach the master of Lanwyn Manor with plans to bolster the floundering local industry. Isaac can’t deny his attraction to the man’s charming niece, but his brother has made his intentions to court the lovely guest clear. And Isaac knows his place.

When tragedy strikes, mysteries arise, and items go missing, Julia and Isaac find they are pulled together in a swirl of strange circumstances, but despite their own best efforts to bow to social expectations, their hearts aren’t so keen to surrender.

My Thoughts:

Sarah Ladd writes intriguing and suspenseful historical novels and The Thief of Lanwyn Manor is no exception.

While the book is the second in the Cornwall series it stands entirely on its own.

I have to admit that I thoroughly enjoyed this novel. While the first book in the series focused in on smuggling, this tale turned its focus to the mines and the livelihood of mining towns in Cornwall, which I could really envision after watching Poldark.

The suspense and mystery of Lanwyn Manor, the eerie atmosphere surrounding the house, the vivid character development, the fears, challenges and growth points all made this novel one that I stayed up entirely too late reading.

This is definitely one of my favorite of Sarah Ladd’s stories and I would recommend it.

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

Book Review: A Pursuit of Home

About the Book:

In early 1800s England, Jess Beauchene has spent most of her life in hiding and always on the move in an effort to leave her past far behind her. But when she learns the family she thought had died just might be alive and in danger, she knows her secrets can only stay buried for so long.

Derek Thornbury loves the past, which has led him to become an expert in history and artifacts. He knows Jess has never liked him, but when she requests his help deciphering the clues laid out in an old family diary, he can’t resist the urge to solve the puzzle.

As Jess and Derek race to find the hidden artifact before her family’s enemies, they learn as much about each other as they do about the past. But can their search to uncover the truth and set history right lead to a future together?

My Thoughts:

A Pursuit of Home is far and away my favorite book in the series. It may, in fact, be my favorite book by Kristi Ann Hunter.

The Haven Manor series begins with a short novella, A Search for Refuge, continues in book 1, A Defense of Honor, follows with book 2, A Return of Devotion, and finishes with this book, A Pursuit of Home, which releases November 5th. If you haven’t read the previous books you can start now and be up to date by release day. If you have, you can pre-order now and you are in for such a treat!

We first meet Jess briefly in the Hawthorne House series and she plays a secondary character role in the earlier Haven Manor books, but finally she gets a book all her own and it is a splendid tale full of adventure, intrigue, art, a challenge to overcome fear, the beauty of true friendship and the realization of what love really looks like.

Derek is also finally fully developed as a character and he is a fascinating man who manages to elevate the story to another level as he learns to read people the way he reads art.

All in all I can’t recommend it enough. I would recommend reading the whole series and if you are so inclined, meeting Jess and the Duke of Marshington in the Hawthorn House series gives a more fully developed context for the tale, though I’m sure the story would also stand alone.

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

Book Review: What Does Your Soul Love

What do you really want? What is your soul clinging to? What is getting in your way? In these pages Gem and Alan Fadling outline eight key questions that offer deep insight into how we experience soul change. These questions open the door to spiritual transformation. They help us unpack where we are stuck, where we are in pain, where we are afraid, and much more. They also reveal the path to joy and to the heart of God. Spiritual inventories and exercises will guide you, along with stories from Gem and Alan’s lives and their ministry together through Unhurried Living. “Embarking on a journey of transformation involves remaining awake to a deeper level of reality that is always present,” write the Fadlings. “Remaining on this journey requires a simpler, God focus. These eight questions about transformation can help us cultivate this kind of deeper awareness and soul focus. These paths help keep us on the journey of transformation. They keep us in the presence of the transforming One.” This practical, personal book offers a path to understanding what God wants to reveal in your soul.

My Thoughts:

This book gives you eight “soul” questions to ponder.

  1. Desire: What do you really want?
  2. Resistance: What is getting in your way?
  3. Vulnerability: Where are you hiding?
  4. Truth: What is most real to you?
  5. Pain: How are your suffering?
  6. Fear: What are you afraid of?
  7. Control: What are you clinging to?
  8. Joy: What does your soul love?

With insight and practical application exercises, Alan and Gem lead you through these questions in this spiritual primer for your inner life.

The topics are diverse and entire libraries have been written on the subjects of each section, but here is a book that gives insightful consideration and a solid jumping off point for each topic. Applicable for someone who is just putting their toes into the river of spiritual formation as well as for those who are at home swimming in deep waters, What Does Your Soul Love is a valuable companion on the journey of transformation.

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

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.