Category: Books

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.

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.

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.

Book Review: A Noble Guardian

I’m hoping to get back to blogging more now that my travel schedule has settled down again. I have so many books to tell you about, some lovely photos and a myriad of thoughts. So here’s my first foray back into blogging for the summer. Thanks for sticking with me.

About the Book:

A Cross-Country Trip through Regency England Brings Intrigue, Rogues, and High Adventure

The must-read conclusion to Michelle Griep’s Bow Street Runners Trilogy: Life couldn’t be better for Abigail Gilbert—but it’s been a long time in coming. Having lived with a family who hated her, it’s finally her time for love. Abby sets off on a journey across England to marry one of the most prestigious gentlemen in the land—until highwaymen upset her plans and threaten her life.

Horse patrol captain Samuel Thatcher arrives just in time to save Abby. But she’s simply another victim in a job he’s come to despise. Tired of the dark side of humanity, he intends to buy land and retire.

Abby pleads with him to escort her for the rest of her journey. He refuses—until she offers him something he desperately needs to achieve his goal. . .money. Delivering her safely will give him more than enough to buy property.

So begins an impossible trek for the cynical lawman and the proper lady. Each will be indelibly changed by the time they reach her betrothed, if they don’t kill one another first—or fall in love.

My Thoughts:

This is the third book in the Bow Street Runners series, however, each book stands alone with only minimal cross-over in the characters. You could read this book without starting at the beginning of the series.

I liked all three books in the series, although, I found them each quite different while all containing themes of intrigue and justice, with a bit of romance. For my part, I thought that The Noble Guardian had a lighter readability to it than the previous books. Perhaps it was the way cynicism was challenged with genuine care and the discovery of what love actually is, but this story left me more encouraged that I expected based on the previous books. Or perhaps it was also that they were on the move throughout the story. There was a clear hero, a clear villain and an (almost) epic journey. All favorable elements in my opinion.

I enjoyed the character development, though I was surprised how long it took Abby to re-frame her thinking to what seemed obvious to me. Then again, isn’t that life – none of us change overnight.

I appreciate that Griep writes real characters who have real beliefs. In her writing you will often see a character with a misunderstanding of God and the world, because that is reality. You also have the chance to see those thoughts challenged in the story, but the book never preaches and sometimes doesn’t even make it clear when the character is misled. I actually appreciate that in a novel, but I do understand that it can make some people uncomfortable so you might consider if that matters to you.

All in all, it was absolutely a story worth reading.

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

Book Review: Whose Waves These Are

About the Book:

In the wake of WWII, a grieving fisherman submits a poem to a local newspaper: a rallying cry for hope, purpose . . . and rocks. Send me a rock for the person you lost, and I will build something life-giving. When the poem spreads farther than he ever intended, Robert Bliss’s humble words change the tide of a nation. Boxes of rocks inundate the tiny, coastal Maine town, and he sets his calloused hands to work, but the building halts when tragedy strikes.

Decades later, Annie Bliss is summoned back to Ansel-by-the-Sea when she learns her Great-Uncle Robert, the man who became her refuge during the hardest summer of her youth, is now the one in need of help. What she didn’t anticipate was finding a wall of heavy boxes hiding in his home. Long-ago memories of stone ruins on a nearby island trigger her curiosity, igniting a fire in her anthropologist soul to uncover answers.

She joins forces with the handsome and mysterious harbor postman, and all her hopes of mending the decades-old chasm in her family seem to point back to the ruins. But with Robert failing fast, her search for answers battles against time, a foe as relentless as the ever-crashing waves upon the sea?

My Thoughts:

Every now and again I read a book that is exceptional in every way. Whose Waves These Are is one of those books. Let me share with a you a quote from the prologue, because, honestly, the publisher’s synopsis above didn’t capture my interest half as much as these short lines did.

“Every wave in that big old blue sea is a story.”

Bob told me this a long time ago, his voice brined with wind and water.

I laughed and focused on the cresting peaks from his old dock. They disappeared faster than a ten-year-old could count.

“Too many waves,” I said. “It can’t be.”

His smile pushed wrinkles around blue eyes as he squeezed my hand tight.

“So many waves, Annie. You remember that.”

It would be decades before I’d learn the truth of that. So many stories. In this pocket of a harbor where broken lives, like waves on the shore, are gathered up and held close. I never imagined then that it would be my breaking place, too.

Nor how beautiful the breaking could be.

Prologue – Whose Waves These Are – Amanda Dykes

This book caught me off guard in the best kind of way. The writing was captivating. Every page seemed to come alive before my very eyes. There are a number of powerful stories out there, but powerfully written stories are harder to come by. Whose Waves These Are exceeded all my expectations.

The depth of the characters impressed me. The author clearly knows people and she wrote real characters with real souls. I loved the attentiveness that was present on every level of the tale. I’m not normally a fan of stories that shift between the past and the present, but the way that this novel flowed it was like uncovering secret surprises along the way, the very act of discovery bridging the gaps in time.

The plot was imaginative and compelling. The links between WWII and modern day, the impact of lives across generations, the mystery of the rocks and the renewal of broken relationships were all engaging themes.

Yet, perhaps, my favorite thing about the book was that it was truly a Kingdom story. It didn’t just mention God or dabble in truth, but it breathed it. A vision for what God was up to permeated every word of the story, as beautiful and natural as a sunrise, weaving a message of hope that left me with a lump in throat and a light in my heart in a way that few novels do.

I’ll leave you with some of my favorite words of wisdom, spoken in the midst of war, from one of the characters. “Don’t get stuck in the dark…. There’s a whole lotta light…Go there instead.”

Whose Waves These Are is well worth reading and has risen to the top of my Best Books of 2019 list. I would highly recommend it to you.

There is also a (currently free) kindle prequel, Up From the Sea, that takes you back in time in Ansel-by-Sea. It is also well worth reading, but it is short and more of a snack, compared to the meal of Whose Waves These Are.

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

Book Review: The Artful Match

About the Book:

Cara Bernay has never fit in. At loose ends in 1881 London after a near tragedy costs her a job, she befriends a carefree artist. With his help, she begins planning a new life and developing her own artistic talent. But soon Cara finds herself at odds with the artist’s brother–a handsome but arrogant earl forcing his brother back to a “respectable” life.

Henry Burke, the Earl of Morestowe, feels the weight of growing financial burdens. Despite misgivings about Cara’s mysterious background, Henry sees she’s a positive influence on his brother Langham and on Henry’s young ward, and he strikes a deal with her to return with them to their estate.

But the family has their own secrets, and when all the secrets come to light, Langham, Henry and Cara all have choices to make.

My Thoughts:

I almost never read a third book in a series without reading the preceding books, but this book caught my interest so I decided to give it a try.

It was clear that there was a fair amount of backstory that I was missing, but the author did try to keep me up to date so the lack of prior information wasn’t confusing. And I’m curious enough now that I’ll probably go back and read the other books.

Oddly enough, the character that I connected to the most was the earl’s brother; the migraine afflicted, substance abusing artist. I think it is the mark of a good writer that all the characters in the book are well developed and that you can really see inside the lives of more than just the main character. That said, Cara’s impulsive idealism made for an interesting story.

There were clear indicators that the character’s had more than a passing relationship with God, even though some of their understandings were off at times. In fact, those struggles with false beliefs are what makes the characters so very human.

The writing felt light and easy to read, even when the subject matter was serious. All in all, I am glad that I read this novel and I’ll look forward to reading more by Jennifer Delamere.

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

Unhurried Lent Day 33: Book Review – Glorious Weakness

Recap: The main idea in these Unhurried Lent posts is that I’m taking time each day during Lent to slow myself down by reflecting on and creatively responding to a theme.

Something Weak

When I started to think of this theme I thought, “I could just put up a selfie and that would say it all.”

And then I thought, this is a great opportunity to review Alia Joy’s book Glorious Weakness.

About the Book:

As a girl, Alia Joy came face to face with weakness, poverty, and loss in ways that made her doubt God was good. There were times when it felt as if God had abandoned her. What she didn’t realize then was that God was always there, calling her to abandon herself.

In this deeply personal exploration of what it means to be “poor in spirit,” Joy challenges our cultural proclivity to “pull ourselves up by our own bootstraps.” She calls on readers to embrace true vulnerability and authenticity with God and with one another, showing how weakness does not disqualify us from inclusion in the kingdom of God–instead, it is our very invitation to enter in.

Anyone who has struggled with feeling inadequate, disillusioned, or just too broken will find hope. This message is an antidote to despair, helping readers reclaim the ways God is good, even when life is anything but.

My Thoughts:

First I want to say that Alia is a beautiful writer and that this book has some really encouraging and powerful things to say. BUT, as it says in the introduction, this book is not for everyone.

Alia’s story spans a number of themes and I kept getting broadsided by things that I didn’t see coming. If you have had medical or sexual trauma in your life or you have unresolved/unhealed wounds around transitions, family, church, mental illness or end of life losses take some caution approaching this book. When the publisher’s description says this is a deeply personal exploration they aren’t kidding. These are the kind of stories that I hear often as a spiritual director and several times I set this book aside feeling a weight of compassion fatigue just from reading what Alia so openly shared. It is one thing to hear tears dripping through your telephone line and have the opportunity to be present with someone. It is another thing altogether to read about raw pain and have no way to interact with the one telling you the story.

The thing that I love is that in the telling of these deeply moving and personal stories Alia kept finding the places where God was filling her own lack with His fullness, even when she couldn’t see it. I also loved how she kept returning to the idea of living out the language of hope in the midst of our circumstances.

In summary I think that Glorious Weakness was a beautifully written, but emotionally demanding memoir of finding God in our weakness and seeing His hand-print of glory on our lives.

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