An archive of this Sojourner's Journey – Reflections, book reviews, and other random thoughts

Books

Book Review: Behind the Scenes

About the Book:

Miss Permilia Griswold may have been given the opportunity of a debut into New York high society, but no one warned her she wasn’t guaranteed to “take.” After spending the last six years banished to the wallflower section of the ballroom, she’s finally putting her status on the fringes of society to good use by penning anonymous society gossip columns under the pseudonym “Miss Quill.”

Mr. Asher Rutherford has managed to maintain his status as a reputable gentleman of society despite opening his own department store. While pretending it’s simply a lark to fill his time, he has quite legitimate reasons for needing to make his store the most successful in the country.

When Permilia overhears a threat against the estimable Mr. Rutherford, she’s determined to find and warn the man. Disgruntled at a first meeting that goes quite poorly and results in Asher not believing her, she decides to take matters into her own hands, never realizing she’ll end up at risk as well.

As Asher and Permilia are forced to work together and spend time away from the spotlight of society, perhaps there’s more going on behind the scenes than they ever could have anticipated.

My Thoughts:

Before you dive into “Behind the Scenes” be sure to check out the short novella “At Your Request” that introduces you to the characters involved in the story.  (This novella is currently free on Amazon.  That is subject to change at any time.)

The thing about Jen Turano is that all of her books are delightful and I find it hard to pinpoint exactly what it is that I love about them.  The stories are often dramatic.  (I typically don’t care for dramatic).  And yet, I love Turano’s books.

Perhaps I love Turano’s novels because she keeps things light.  Even deadly peril is introduced with a decidedly comic twist. I do enjoy a good laugh and there is more than one good laugh to be found in “Behind the Scenes.”

Perhaps I love Turano’s writing because her characters are so genuine and particularly unique.

All in all, I can simply say that I enjoyed reading “Behind the Scenes” and I hope that you will too.

– I was given a free digital galley of this novel to review in exchange for my honest opinion. –

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Book Review: An Uncommon Protector

About the Book:

Overwhelmed by the responsibilities of running a ranch on her own, Laurel Tracey decides to hire a convict—a man who’s just scary enough to take care of squatters and just desperate enough to agree to a one year post.

The years following the war have been hard on Laurel Tracey. Both her brother and her father died in battle, and her mother passed away shortly after receiving word of their demise. Laurel has been trying to run her two hundred acre ranch as best she can.

When she discovers that squatters have settled in her north pasture and have no intention of leaving, Laurel decides to use the last of her money to free a prisoner from the local jail. If she agrees to offer him room and board for one year, he will have to work for her to pay off his debt.

Former soldier Thomas Baker knows he’s in trouble when he finds himself jailed because he couldn’t pay a few fines. Laurel’s offer might be his only ticket out. Though she’s everything he ever dreamed of in a woman—sweet and tender-hearted, yet strong—he’s determined to remain detached, work hard on her behalf, and count the days until he’s free again.

But when cattle start dying and Laurel’s life is threatened, Thomas realizes more than just his freedom is on the line. Laurel needs someone to believe in her and protect her property. And it isn’t long before Laurel realizes that Thomas Baker is far more than just a former soldier. He’s a trustworthy hero, and he needs more than just his freedom—he needs her love and care too.

My Thoughts:

This was my first book by Shelley Shepard Gray and I wasn’t expecting a whole lot more than a light and quick read for a Sunday afternoon.  I found myself very happily surprised.  While the plot remained rather predictable, the characters were fabulously well rounded.  They had hopes, dreams, doubts and the author gave us a good look at the pasts that formed them as well as the current motivations that drove them.

The book was also clean.  There was attraction without the indulgence seen rather often these days in romance novels.  Underlying themes of community and worth were also beautifully woven into the story.

I also liked that the civil war references didn’t particularly vilify either side, but gave a well rounded reality to the fact that good people can end up on opposite sides of a war for any number of reasons.

In summary, I enjoyed An Uncommon Protector and would recommend it.

I review for BookLook Bloggers


Book Review: The Captive Heart

About the Book:

The wild American wilderness is no place for an elegant English governess

On the run from a brute of an aristocratic employer, Eleanor Morgan escapes from England to America, the land of the free, for the opportunity to serve an upstanding Charles Town family. But freedom is hard to come by as an indentured servant, and downright impossible when she’s forced to agree to an even harsher contract—marriage to a man she’s never met.

Backwoodsman Samuel Heath doesn’t care what others think of him—but his young daughter’s upbringing matters very much. The life of a trapper in the Carolina back country is no life for a small girl, but neither is abandoning his child to another family. He decides it’s time to marry again, but that proves to be an impossible task. Who wants to wed a murderer?

Both Samuel and Eleanor are survivors, facing down the threat of war, betrayal, and divided loyalties that could cost them everything, but this time they must face their biggest challenge ever . . .Love.

My Thoughts:

I wasn’t entirely sure that The Captive Heart would be a book that I would enjoy, but I decided that it was worth a try.  I’m glad that I took the time to read this novel.  The setting was interesting, ranging from England to Carolina.  I was concerned that the revolutionary war theme might take over the story (I am not a fan of war settings for novels), but it was just an interesting aside and not the main point of the story.  The characters were well rounded and the love story well developed. Overall, it was a satisfying novel.


Book: Really Woolly 5 Minute Bedtime Stories

_240_360_book-2037-coverAbout the Book:

Find your favorite Really Woolly® storybooks combined into one beautiful book that you and your little ones will love to use at bedtime. With a simple 5 minute format, the Really Woolly 5-Minute Bedtime Treasury will allow you to spend quality time with your children before they drift off to sleep and won’t leave you exhausted when they beg for just one more story.

My Thoughts:

It’s not so much a storybook as it is a collection of prayers and devotional thoughts.  It looks like it would be very engaging and encouraging for children, filled with thoughts that would bring them sweet dreams.

I review for BookLook Bloggers


Book Review: The Shattered Vigil

cover94449-mediumAbout the Book:

Victory over the dark forces during the feast of Bas-solas should have guaranteed safety for the continent. Instead, Willet and the rest of the Vigil discover they’ve been outsmarted by those seeking to unleash the evil that inhabits the Darkwater. Jorgen, the member of the Vigil assigned to Frayel, has gone missing, and new attacks have struck at the six kingdoms’ ability to defend themselves.

Just when the Vigil thought they had quenched the menace from their enemy in Collum, a new threat emerges: assassins hunting the Vigil, men and women who cannot be seen until it’s too late. The orders of the church and the rulers of the kingdoms, fearing the loss of the Vigil’s members altogether, have decided to take them into protective custody to safeguard their gift. On Pellin’s orders, the Vigil scatters, leaving Willet to be taken prisoner by the church in Bunard.

In the midst of this, Willet learns of the murder of an obscure nobleman’s daughter by one of the unseen assassins. Now he must escape his imprisonment and brave the wrath of the church to find the killer in order to turn back this latest threat to the northern continent.

My Thoughts:

This is the second book in a series.  Or the third if you count the prequel.

Prequel: By Divine Right
Book one: The Shock of Night

You need to read both the prequel and the first book to have any real hope of deeply engaging with this novel, but I can assure you that it will be worth it.  Carr is a masterful writer, one of the best fantasy fiction writers that I have read in years.  His work is layered, symbolic, descriptive and focused.  His characters are real and engaging.  There was one point, between books one and two, where I was concerned about where the story line was headed.  I was so deeply invested in the tale I wasn’t sure my heart could take it if it all went awry, but I’m happy to say that my fears were unfounded.

These novels seem a bit darker to me than his The Staff and the Sword series, which were also brilliantly written.  Yet, the darkness isn’t gratuitous, it’s appropriate.  It the dark of any epic tale, the dark we find within, the dark we find without and the journey toward the light that overcomes.  I would say that these novels might not be for everyone and that they are not geared for younger readers.

I’d give Carr 5 stars for The Shattered Vigil.

I received a free unedited digital galley of this book in exchange for my honest opinion.  I was not required to write a positive review.  I loved it so much that I’m buying the edited version.  This is a series that belongs in my library.

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Book Review: A Different Kind of Happiness

differenthappinessAbout the Book:

How to Love When You Don’t Feel Like Loving

Everywhere we look, we see evidence that love is in short supply. Terrorists and political corruption, school shootings and troubled marriages, impatient online sniping and character assassination–all point to the fact that we do not know how to love one another as Jesus commanded and modeled. We put our own interests and happiness first, despite the fact that the greatest happiness comes through sacrificial love.

In this book, Dr. Larry Crabb shows readers how to understand the deep and perfect love we are shown by our Creator and Redeemer, and how to pour that love into other people. This love is about more than being nice and serving others. It’s about relating to others in such a way that they feel heard, seen, and valued. This love sacrifices and suffers and keeps loving, even when doing so is costly. This kind of love, says Crabb, is the kind worth fighting for in all of our relationships, and A Different Kind of Happiness shows how to make it a reality.

My Thoughts:

I’ve taken my time reading through this book.  As I’ve attended Dr. Crabb’s School of Spiritual Direction and listened to him teach over the last five years I had a head start on much of the content in this book.  And yet, there was so much to absorb, so much to wrestle through in my own life that it took me three months to make my way through A Different Kind of Happiness.

In some of his books Dr. Crabb spends a good deal of time repeating his theme over and over again in new ways to really drive his point home.  In this book, I felt like the writing was constantly moving forward with little of the repetition that I expected.  Perhaps that is why I slowed down in my reading: I didn’t want to miss a thing.

I especially loved the second half of the book that focuses in on seven questions and their answers (both the answers the Bible gives and the ones that we frequently hear from the enemy).

This is a challenging book, a book for anyone who wants to love like Jesus.  It is a book that is desperately needed in a world where we have (at large) forgotten what true love looks like.  And it is a book that helps us find the great joy and happiness that real love brings, even when it comes with a significant cost.

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Book Review: Far From Cold

51N-cdlNBiLAbout the Book:

This is the extraordinary story of God using ordinary people. Follow Mark and Gillian Newham as they leave Britain for Outer Mongolia, sharing God and discovering ever more of Him along the way.

My Thoughts:

Far From Cold is a modern day missionary biography.  If you aren’t familiar with the genre, the goal is not to tell a person’s entire life story as a general biography would do or to give the intimate details of a life as you would find in a memoir, but instead it is a testimony of what it looked for that person to follow God into foreign lands.  It is a biography of a calling.

Far From Cold highlights the story of two British citizens who leave their home for the wilds of outer Mongolia.  Author Gillian tells lots of little stories about the place and people, stories that intersected with the tale of what God was doing in her own life and the life of her husband.  In fact, I found myself relating it to testimony night at church where one person stands up and tells about the work of God in their life, followed by another person and another.  In the book Gillian invites us into twenty years of testimonies complied in one overarching story of the work of God in the land of Mongolia.

It is an encouraging story that reminds us how God uses everyday people, just like you and me.  I would especially recommend this book for people considering following God into cross cultural missions work as it gives a clear portrayal of the challenges that come with such a calling.  The book is honest about the joys and heartaches of the journey making it clear that Mark and Gillian were just ordinary people who had the privilege of walking with God as He reached out to a people that were far from cold.

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Book Review: Unfrozen, Stop Holding Back and Release the Real You

NotFinalUnfrozenCoverAbout the Book:

[From the Author] I used to believe that I was too much for others: too deep, too intense and too sensitive. I didn’t know how to express my deep thoughts and intense feelings without overwhelming people, so I attempted to become what I believed God and others wanted me to be: good, strong and capable.

My attempts to contain and control my self-expression left me feeling frustrated and inauthentic. I knew I was made for more than a life of holding back, but how could I be me without ruining my relationships? My path through dating, marriage and young motherhood led me through unexpected disappointment, anxiety and depression, despite the amazing people in my life. The pain dug deep, but that’s where I found the real me and a new way to love others with all that I am.

I needed one more nudge to find and release my true voice into the world. That’s when I met Elsa.

Join me in UNFROZEN as I tell the story of the events that led me to stop holding back and release the real me for connected relationships and extraordinary impact.

My Thoughts:

When I first read the subtitle (stop holding back and release the real you) it called to mind a self-help book full of how-to advice.  I’m not a fan of how-to books.  And I’m happy to tell you that Unfrozen is far from being a dry how-to manual.  In this book I discovered a memoir.  A beautiful memoir with an encouraging message.  I love memoirs and the sharing of lessons learned on the journey of life.

In Unfrozen author Andrea uses images and ideas from the movie Frozen to share a message that she has been learning all along her own life’s journey.  Unfrozen is a story of moving from hiding to authenticity, from holding back to letting go, from isolating to deep connection with the world.  Unfrozen is Andrea’s story, framed by Elsa’s story, and it is a story for everyone who is looking to become their authentic self.  Unfrozen is about finding your voice, becoming who you were meant to be and letting the real you take its place to impact the world.

It’s a beautiful book with an encouraging message.  Even more exciting is that the author is also offering a series of interactive lessons so that you can discuss the concepts raised in the book with a mentor, friend or book group, allowing the stories of Andrea and Elsa to weave together with the fabric of your own story and your own authentic transformation. Sharing the journey together really can move you toward the freedom to stop holding back so that you can release the real you.

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

Book discussion materials can be found here.

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Book Review: Forever Doon

_240_360_Book.DOON.coverAbout the Book:

With the witch of Doon claiming the throne, Jamie believed dead, and Duncan and Mackenna trapped in Alloway, Veronica has no choice but to put her grief aside and prepare her remaining followers for the impending battle against the false queen and her forces. But while on a covert mission to steal a powerful elixir from the castle, Veronica discovers her true love may actually be alive, and fighting a battle of his own.

With the Brig o’ Doon destroyed and the portal fragmented, Doon’s forces are not only divided, but also isolated in different dimensions. With the help of a storyteller as ancient as the witch herself, Kenna and Duncan learn they must rebuild the bridge to have any chance of crossing back into Doon with their ragtag army. But when Mackenna insists on fighting as well, Duncan soon realizes the only way he can ensure her safety is to turn her into a cold-hearted killer.

For Vee, Jamie, Kenna, and Duncan, saving their kingdom while keeping their lives intact will take a miracle.

My Thoughts:

To begin you should know that this series is specifically targeted for teens.  While adults may enjoy them, they are clearly not the target audience.   Also, there is a good deal of description around the characters’ physical relationships and sexual attraction so the reader should be aware if that is a sensitive area.

While I found the first two books in the series creative and interesting, I wasn’t really engaged with the series until book three and I was pleased with this final novel.  Forever Doon is not a stand alone book so if you are just discovering the Doon series you should start with the first book (click here to see on Amazon).

I love the idea of Doon and the interactions between a mythical ancient Scotland and the modern world. In the beginning of the series the characters were fairly self focused and in many ways playing with fire in their relationships.  They left me feeling cautious, even when I was cheering their victories. It was the growth of the characters in the final two books that truly began to draw me into deeper engagement with the story.  As Vee, Kenna, Jamie and Duncan began to discover who they were, their strengths, their weaknesses and their need for each other in community, I began to connect with their hopes and dreams.  And as they started to look to the Protector for guidance with trust, rather than offering only “help me” prayers or relying on their own understanding, I wanted to applaud.

Forever Doon is a solid ending to a creative fantasy tale.

I review for BookLook Bloggers

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Book Review: An Elegant Facade

cover86130-mediumAbout the Book:

Lady Georgina Hawthorne has always known she must marry well. After years of tirelessly planning every detail of her debut season, she is poised to be a smashing success and have her choice of eligible gentlemen.

With money and powerful business connections but no title, Colin McCrae is invited everywhere but accepted nowhere. He intends to marry someday, but when he does it will not be to a shallow woman like Lady Georgina, whose only concerns appear to be status and appearance.

But beneath her flawless exterior, Georgina’s social aspirations stem from a shameful secret she is desperately trying to keep hidden–and that Colin is too close to discovering. Drawn to each other despite their mutual intent to avoid association, is the realization of their dreams worth the sacrifices they’ll be forced to make?

My Thoughts:

An Elegant Facade is the second book in the Hawthorn House series.  (Or actually the third if you count the free novella, A Lady of Esteem).  You could read An Elegant Facade as a stand alone novel, but I would recommend reading it with the rest of the series.

I found the novel to be absolutely brilliant.  Kristi Ann Hunter took a risk and began by taking you halfway back into the events of her previous book (A Noble Masquerade) and telling parts of the tale again from another character’s point of view.  This could have come across as cumbersome or repetitive, however, it was so skillfully written that I found it fresh and inventive.  In fact, the author did something that is rarely done, she took a character that I had a mild dislike toward and made her someone that I really cared about.

All in all, I think that this story was a fabulously entertaining read that any fan of faith based Regency Romance should not miss.

– – –

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

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Book Review: No Other Will Do

NoOtherCover2About the Book:

Men are optional. That’s the credo Emma Chandler’s suffragette aunts preached and why she started a successful women’s colony in Harper’s Station, Texas. But when an unknown assailant tries repeatedly to drive them out, Emma admits they might need a man after all. A man who can fight–and she knows just the one.

Malachi Shaw finally earned the respect he craved by becoming an explosives expert for the railroad. Yet when Emma’s plea arrives, he bolts to Harper’s Station to repay the girl who once saved his life. Only she’s not a girl any longer. She’s a woman with a mind of her own and a smile that makes a man imagine a future he doesn’t deserve.

As the danger intensifies, old feelings grow and deepen, but Emma and Mal will need more than love to survive.

My Thoughts:

I enjoyed how Witemeyer opened No Other Will Do with the main characters as children.  Living the back story with them really drew me into the novel and helped connect me to the main male character in a book set in a colony of women.

The characters of this book were well developed and the underlying message of faith was beautiful woven into the story in an authentic way.

I appreciated how the author was realistic about the hardships that the women of her colony faced in a male dominated world, including the reality of abuse, while not vilifying all men (as has happened in other novels I have read).  The fact that the story had several strong male characters was encouraging.

Witemeyer is a skilled writer and the story flowed swiftly from cover to cover as the characters learned about faith, community, trust and love.  There was plenty of suspense and a bit of romance as well.  I enjoyed the novel and even though it includes some heavier subjects I would still place it in the “light reading” category.

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


Book Review: Beautiful Pretender

BeautifulPretenderAbout the Book:

After inheriting the title from his brother, the Margrave of Thornbeck has to find a bride. He invites ten noble born ladies who meet the king’s approval to be his guests at Thornbeck Castle for two weeks, a time to test these ladies and reveal their true character.

Avelina has only two instructions: keep her true identity a secret and make sure the margrave doesn’t select her as his 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.

My Thoughts:

I’ve read a couple of books lately that simply couldn’t keep my attention.  Beautiful Pretender did not have that problem.  From start to finish I was engaged in the story.

I enjoyed the characters and the medieval version of “The Bachelor” that underpinned the entire plot.   Dickerson did a fabulous job of taking a woman who was living a deception and creating a noble character, which was no small task.  The process of a couple overcoming a relationship built on deception, played out amid villainy and suspense, left you cheering them on while waiting for that happily ever after ending that we’ve all come to expect from a fairy tale.

I’ve read a number of novels by Melanie Dickerson and this was one of my favorites.

I review for BookLook Bloggers


Book Recommendation: The Radical Pursuit of Rest

9780830899371About the Book:

We live in a culture that values activity, achievement and accomplishment. Whether in our careers, churches, schools or families, busyness is the norm in our lives, and anything less makes us feel unproductive and anxious. We have to work all the harder, then, to pursue true rest in a 24-7 world that is constantly in motion. John Koessler understands that rest is not automatic or easy to attain. He names the modern-day barriers to becoming people of rest and presents a unique perspective on how pursuing rest leads us to the heart of God. With honest, biblical reflections on trends in our culture and churches, he exposes our misconceptions regarding the concept of rest, as well as offering correction and practices to align our ideas with God’s ideal. The book includes reflection and discussion questions designed for both individual and group use. You will discover the true meaning behind Jesus’ idea of the yoke of rest and restoration for your mind, body and soul.

My Thoughts:

In my work one of the central self sabotages that I run into is a plethora of misconceptions on what rest looks like and how we find it.  With so many misconceptions it’s no wonder that people in ministry so often reach a place of burn out.  Koessler’s book adds a beautiful and resonant voice to the conversion surrounding the Biblical idea of rest.

As this is a core concept that I engage with (both in my own life and as a Spiritual Director) I have read just about every book that I have come across on the subject and I honestly wondered if The Radical Pursuit of Rest would bring any new insights to the table.  It went above and beyond my expectations!  Specifically I deeply appreciated the discussions about rest as a place and the unraveling of the Biblical idea of sloth.

This book has joined my short list of recommendations on the subject alongside Buchanan’s The Rest of God (which is also wonderful, but has a slightly different focus and a greater emphasis on practical application).

I highly recommend this book.

I received a free digital copy of this book in exchange for my honest opinion.  I was not required to provide a positive review.


Book Review: Dawn At Emberwilde

_225_350_Book.1921.coverAbout the Book:

Isabel Creston never dared to dream that love could be hers. Now, at the edge of a forest filled with dark secrets, she faces a fateful choice between love and duty.

For as long as she can remember, beautiful and free-spirited Isabel has strained against the rules and rigidity of the Fellsworth School in the rolling English countryside. No longer a student, Isabel set her sights on a steady role as a teacher at the school, a safe yet stifling establishment that would enable her to care for her younger sister Lizzie, who was left in her care after her father’s death.

The unexpected arrival of a stranger with news of unknown relatives turns Isabel’s small, predictable world upside down, sweeping her and her young charge into a labyrinth of intrigue and hidden motives.

At her new family’s invitation, Isabel and Lizzie relocate to Emberwilde, a sprawling estate adjacent to a vast, mysterious wood rife with rumors and ominous folklore—along with whispers of something far more sinister. Perhaps even more startling, two handsome men begin pursuing Isabel, forcing her to learn the delicate dance between attraction, the intricate rules of courtship, and the hopes of her heart.

At Emberwilde Isabel will discover that the key to unlocking the mystery of her past may also open the door to her future and security. But first she must find it—in the depths of Emberwilde Forest.

My Thoughts:

This is the second book in the Treasures of Surrey series, however, it completely stands alone with the only connection to the first novel, The Curiosity Keeper, being the Fellsworth School.

Dawn at Emberwilde is primarily a romance with hints of mystery and danger.  This is the type of book that I really enjoy reading, because the plot is highly character driven.

The story revolves heavily around Isabel discovering who she is, what she values, how she must relate to a number of different people whose character is difficult to discern and how to make wise choices.  Of course, there is a mysterious past, smugglers, gypsy stories and courtship thrown in for good measure.

I thought it was an enjoyable and fairly light read very much in keeping with what I’ve come to expect from Sarah Ladd’s novels.

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


Book Review: The Calling

The CallingAbout the Book:

Remko Brant had never been so sure of anything as escaping the Authority City with Carrington Hale. But bravado comes easy when you have nothing to lose. Now a husband, father, and the tactical leader of the Seers, Remko has never had so much at risk.

As he and his team execute increasingly dangerous rescue missions inside the city, they face growing peril from a new enemy. Recently appointed Authority President Damien Gold claims to be guiding a city shaken by rebellion into a peaceful, harmonious future. But appearances can be deceiving. In order to achieve his dangerous ambitions, Gold knows he must do more than catch the rebels—he must destroy the hope their message represents . . . from the inside out.

With dissension in his own camp—and the CityWatch soldiers closing in—Remko feels control slipping through his fingers. To protect those he loves, he must conquer his fears and defeat Gold . . . before one of them becomes his undoing.

My Thoughts:

I’m having a hard time knowing how to rate this book.  It is not a stand alone novel.  When I was offered this book for review I purchased book one in the series (The Choosing) to catch up with the story line.  And honestly, The Choosing was too much for me.  I avoid physiological thrillers and was disturbed by some of the plot themes and the characters that made an appearance in the story, though I did like Rachelle’s writing style and the undercurrents of redemption within the story.  There were, however, some things that made me uncomfortable with the Christ character’s portrayal and I imagine that if I were to sit down for coffee with Rachelle Dekker that I would discover that we hold some different theological views.

But also difficult was the cult like use of Scripture (by a society within the novel) and a writing style that left it to the reader to discern truth from lie.  For someone steeped in the Scripture it was the classic kind of cult manipulation that is very clear, but for someone not so grounded I imagine that it could have created a good bit of confusion.  As a writing tactic it was brilliant.  As a believer who would like to see truth clearly communicated in story I found it a bit disturbing.

But I had agreed to review The Calling so I dug in and continued reading.  Again, I found the writing layered and captivating.  There was as much happening below the surface as there was action within the story.  But again, I became even more disturbed by the incredibly beautiful portrayal of identity as a child of God with a complete lack of even a hint of substitutionary atonement.  In fact, one statement in this novel (referring to salvation) makes it appear that the Christ character isn’t actually Christ at all, but that is incredibly confusing in the light of how he has clearly been portrayed within a Trinitarian context.   Truthfully, only time and the completion of the series will tell where the author is taking the story, so all I can say at this point is that the jury is out for me.

Rachelle Dekker is a masterful writer, but I have serious reservations about the theological undercurrents and where she is heading so I’ll withhold judgement at the moment and hope that she brings it together to display the full beauty of the gospel.

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

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Book Review: A Spirituality of Listening

coverSpiritualityofListeningAbout the Book:

“Biblical spirituality . . . asserts that God is not done with the business of revelation and creation but instead continues to have something to say and something yet to be accomplished in the very culture that isn’t sure if God is done speaking.” So begins Keith Anderson as he invites us on a journey to relearn how to listen.

“My claim is simple: spirituality is grounded in ordinary life experiences. We need to learn to listen to rhythms of life, narratives and creation.”

Rather than settling for a one-sided relationship with God in which we speak but never hear back, we can learn to hear God as we go through our lives. The key is paying attention to the moments that make up our days. As we participate in the world around us, God speaks to us through creation, through the stories we tell, through our pain and as we follow God down unexpected pathways. Learning to listen doesn’t happen in ten easy steps. Instead it is a process of approaching the world with wonder and curiosity as we seek to make sense of what we hear. Hearing God speak takes time and practice, and Anderson offers reflective exercises at the end of each chapter to help us along the way. Listen―and step into a world alive with God’s presence.

My Thoughts:

I had mixed feelings about this book.  I loved the description (above) so perhaps I expected too much.

I liked the work and found a great deal to ponder within its pages.  And I wrestled with it, often forgetting altogether what the author was actually talking about as he wandered across a broad expanse of topics.

As a reader summarizing I would tell you that the book is actually about “spirituality” and that listening is presented as a core tenant of living a spiritual life, which was good, just not what the title and book summary led me to expect.  And of course the topic of spirituality is incredibly broad, which did leave me feeling as if we kept dabbling along the surface of many ideas without the chance to move deeply into one core idea.

Also unexpected was that the book assumes a target audience of which I am not a part.  I read the entire book with the distinct feeling that the author was not writing to me, which made it hard to engage.   From my perspective the author is addressing three groups of people: people who are disillusioned with the traditional context of organizational church, people within an American cultural context that dismisses Christian contemplative practices as unattainable for the average “busy” Christian and the millennial generation.  (Note: I’m not surprised by the American context as much as disappointed that the material isn’t as applicable across cultures as I could have would have wished.)

Overall, I thought The Spirituality of Listening contained a lot of good material, but the fact that it covers such a broad range of topics delivered to a rather focused audience limits its appeal.

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


Book Review: The Inheritance

inheritancebookcoverAbout the Book:

The death of the clan patriarch has thrown the tiny Shetland Islands community of Whale’s Reef into turmoil. Everyone assumed MacGregor Tulloch’s heir to be his grand-nephew David, a local favorite, but when it is discovered that MacGregor left no will, David’s grasping cousin Hardy submits his own claim to the inheritance, an estate that controls most of the island’s land. And while Hardy doesn’t enjoy much popular support, he has the backing of a shadowy group of North Sea oil investors. The courts have frozen the estate’s assets while the competing claims are investigated, leaving many of the residents in financial limbo. The future of the island–and its traditional way of life–hangs in the balance.

Loni Ford is enjoying her rising career in a large investment firm in Washington, DC. Yet in spite of her outward success, she is privately plagued by questions of identity. Orphaned as a young child, she was raised by her paternal grandparents, and while she loves them dearly, she feels completely detached from her roots. That is until a mysterious letter arrives from a Scottish solicitor. . . .

Past and present collide in master storyteller Phillips’s dramatic new saga of loss and discovery, of grasping and grace, and of the dreams of men and women everywhere.

My Thoughts:

Michael Phillips writes in a slow, classical style not unlike George MacDonald, whose novels he has modernized.  Fans already know and love his style, but people unfamiliar with his writing might want to consider what they are looking for in a story.  If you are looking for a brisk pace and lots of action, then you will want to choose another author.  If you are looking for a tale that slowly unwinds and focuses on what is happening beneath the surface of things then I imagine you will like The Inheritance.

I enjoy a thoughtful and reflective writing style, but I must admit that moving from a stack of review novels by other authors to this book made the slow start to the story stand out and I did have a bit of trouble engaging.  Another factor in my slow engagement with this novel is that I have never liked books that jump between places and people without any obvious connection.  However, once the story line began to develop and the characters’ intersections showed greater substance, I found the book more and more interesting.

I loved the glimpse of a life on a small Scottish Island.  I wrestled with some of the themes, especially the rejection of a formalized idea of church (though the characters’ motivations for each of their rejections were clear).  I disliked the characters that the author meant the reader to dislike (though I appreciated that every character was layered and none was pure villain) and I found myself cheering for the characters who showed a depth of understanding, curiosity and kindness.

Though the story did not end, the book closed well and I am certain I will pick up the next book in the series when it is released.

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


Book Review: The Glass Castle

GlassCastleAbout the Book:

The king is growing old and is concerned about who will replace him. His new wife wants to produce an heir to the throne. The only problem? The king’s first wife gave birth to a son, and no one knows for sure what happened to him. Rumors swirl throughout the castle. The solution is simple: dispose of all orphans in the kingdom. Except, it isn’t that easy. Avery and her friends won’t go quietly. And what they’ve discovered could blow the kingdom apart.

My Thoughts:

Amazon lists The Glass Castle in the category of books for teens and the main characters are all thirteen years old.  I, however, don’t believe the simple writing style is geared toward teens, but is more suitable toward the 8-12 age bracket.

I had a really hard time staying interested in this novel until my kindle told me I was 58% of the way through the book.  Honestly, if I hadn’t agreed to review the book I would have stopped reading after the first chapter.  There was plenty of action, the story starts with a kidnapping, but I took a fairly swift dislike to main character Avery and without a character to connect to the story was slow to draw me in.  Once I was finally engaged in the story I was enjoying myself until the story just stopped.  The book didn’t draw to a close while leaving you with questions to be solved, it simply ended as if someone had torn out the final chapters of the book.  I’m not a fan of cliff hanger endings in children’s literature, but if you are going to write a cliff hanger I expect more than an abrupt halt.

Overall, the plot was creative, the content was clean and the story line did seem to be heading somewhere interesting, but for the length of time it took for me to feel even remotely connected to the characters and the non-ending, I’d have to give it an average three stars.

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


Book Review: A Daring Sacrifice

Daring SacrificeAbout the Book:

In a reverse twist on the Robin Hood story, a young medieval maiden stands up for the rights of the mistreated, stealing from the rich to give to the poor. All the while, she fights against her cruel uncle who has taken over the land that is rightfully hers. Forced to live in the woods and hide with the poor people she’s grown to love, she works to save and protect them, but she never anticipates falling in love with the wealthy knight who represents all she’s come to despise.

My Thoughts:

Last year Dina Sleiman released a female Robin Hood young adult novel called Dauntless that I enjoyed.  (My review is here.)

I decided to try A Daring Sacrifice, even after reading Dauntless, because it was written by Jody Hedlund and I was curious how her writing would cross over for the teen market. And I loved the cover image!

A Daring Sacrifice was a quick, easy and engaging read.

The novel balanced a genuine physical and emotional attraction between characters while keeping the content clean.  In fact, I really appreciated the thoughtful discussion questions at the end of the book, which would be great for a teen book group.

The other thing that I appreciated was that while there was a truly evil villain, the story didn’t focus on evil so that the villainy became a background to plot rather than a central focus.

Overall, I found it to be an entertaining love story that both teens and adults would enjoy.

I review for BookLook Bloggers


Book Review: Out of the House of Bread

outofthehouseofbreadAbout the Book:

Out of the House of Bread is about satisfying your hunger for God.  It is an invitation to sacramental living.

 

Too often, the disciplines of the Spirit remain dormant-unused by many Christians because they feel too much like rules.  But what if they aren’t rules?  What if they are potent conversation starters?  Invitations to discover God right now, today?

 

Pairing each chapter on the process of baking very good bread with a spiritual discipline that complements it, this extraordinary book will help you feel and experience God’s nearness as you discover new avenues if prayer along the way.

 

Out of the House of Bread is a glorious celebration of the seasons of our walk with God, remembering and introducing forms of prayer to take you closer to God in worship.  Accommodations for gluten-free or vegan bread, as well as an appendix with suggested reading and artwork for contemplation, complete a book sure to surprise you with its honesty, conviction, and hunger for God to be known through and in all things.  Especially through and in you.

 

My Thoughts:

I fell in love with Preston Yancey’s writing last year when I read his memoir Tables in the Wilderness. (My review is here.) He is a beautiful writer, drawing his reader into a conversation full of curiosity and invitation.  So when I saw he had written a book on spiritual disciplines I was intrigued.  As a Spiritual Director I love introducing people to new ways that they might connect with God, but as the informational blurb states many people are skeptical seeing the disciplines not as an invitation, but as a rule or a burden.

I think Yancey did a masterful job of inviting the reader to see the historical Christian spiritual disciplines from a fresh angle.  I loved how he wrote for a variety of different readers, even explaining how a believer comfortable with liturgical practices might see icons in a traditional sense and how a believer who has no familiarity (or level of comfort) with icons can actually find icons that invite them to ponder God as close as the cup in their hand or the bowl in their cupboard.

The pairing of the act of baking bread with the exploration of the spiritual disciplines was another creative way to invite the reader to enter into the process of discovery.  These aren’t things to merely be pondered, but things meant to be lived.  There is a tactile aspect to our discovery of God in our every day life and each chapter not only gave spiritual exercises, but also baking instructions as another way to move into reflection.

I read through this book at the same time as several of my friends and really enjoyed our discussions on each chapter and the way that it impacted us individually.  All in all, I loved the book and recommend it.

I received a free pre-release digital edition of this book in exchange for my honest review, however, I did purchase a hard copy as a welcome edition to my library.


Book Review: Remnants: Season of Glory

season of gloryAbout the Book:

In the third and final volume of the Remnants series, the power of the Remnants and their people are growing, threatening Pacifica’s careful plans for domination. Among the Trading Union, village after village, outpost after outpost, and city after city are drawn to people of the Way, and agree to stand against those who hunt them. But Pacifica intends to ferret out and annihilate the Remnants—as well as everyone who hasn’t sworn allegiance to the empire—setting the stage for an epic showdown that will change the course of a world on the brink … forever.

My Thoughts:

Season of Glory is the third book in the Remnants series after Season of Wonder and Season of Fire.  This is not a stand alone novel and you need to read the first two books before diving into this one. (Book one and two are both on sale for $1.99 at the time of this post.  Click on their title above to see them on Amazon)

Season of Glory is everything that I could want in a conclusion to a series.  With a number of twists and turns it kept me on the edge of my seat truly uncertain of the final choices of several of the characters.

This series was a beautiful portrayal of what it means to walk into your destiny, through the wonder of a unique calling, the fire of suffering and the glory of a life surrendered to Love.  I loved it.

I received a pre-release digital galley in exchange for my honest opinion.

 


Book Review: Curio

_240_360_Book.1802.cover About the Book:

In this steampunk-flavored YA novel by Evangeline Denmark, Grey has a secret the Chemists who rule her town can never know.

Grey Haward has always detested the Chemists, the magicians-come-scientists who rule her small western town. But she has always followed the rules, taking the potion the Chemists ration out that helps the town’s people survive. A potion that Grey suspects she—like her grandfather and father—may not actually need.

By working at her grandfather’s repair shop, sorting the small gears and dusting the curio cabinet inside, Grey has tried to stay unnoticed—or as unnoticed as a tall, strong girl can in a town of diminutive, underdeveloped citizens. Then her best friend, Whit, is caught by the Chemists’ enforcers after trying to protect Grey one night, and after seeing the extent of his punishment, suddenly taking risks seems the only decision she can make.

But with the risk comes the reality that the Chemists know her family’s secret, and the Chemists soon decide to use her for their own purposes. Panicked, Grey retreats to the only safe place she knows—her grandfather’s shop. There, however, a larger secret confronts her when her touch unlocks the old curio cabinet in the corner and reveals a world where porcelain and clockwork people are real. There, she could find the key that may save Whit’s life and also end the Chemists’ dark rule forever.

Books published under the Blink imprint are intended for a general readership without being overtly Christian.

My Thoughts: (One spoiler)

I really wanted to love this book, but I honestly can’t recommend it.

To start off it was full of descriptive writing that really did help me “see” the worlds that were being described.  And it was full of creativity.  If I’d talked to you after the first couple of chapters I would have told you how interesting I found the world building and story development.

That said, as the story continued to unfold I had a bit of trouble connecting to the characters and the bouncing between the worlds of Mercury and Curio City illustrated how little I cared for the world or events of Curio, which is a large part of the book.  It was only the jumps back to Mercury that kept me at all engaged.  It simply felt like I was reading two novels at once.

I might have been able to see past the two story lines and credit it to the development of a new author if the content hadn’t gotten so dark.  And yes, I realize steam punk usually carries some sort of dark element.  In this novel the the darker elements of the story played on strong sexual themes and the sexual content is the reason that I can’t recommend this novel.

This book was sent to me by the publisher for review under the label of “Children’s Literature.”  Amazon lists it under the category of Teen which is a more appropriate label.  It’s not that I think that young adults are naive and I do understand that if you want to mirror the opposite of a love that cherishes and protects you would describe a false “love” that wants to devour and possess, but (spoiler coming) I don’t really think that young people need to be reading a descriptive, almost rape scene.  I certainly didn’t need to read it.  The image of a man crazed by blood is disturbing enough and could have carried the plot without the sexual elements, which go far beyond this one long, drawn out scene.

I do think Evangeline Denmark has a gift for writing, however I would like to see her grow in discernment, particularly when writing for a younger audience.

Also, while BLINK books are not meant to be overtly Christian, the only thing in this book that even hinted in that direction was the theistic idea of a maker.  In fact, there was a stronger theme eastern religion and the idea of good as a balance to evil (Defender as a balance to Chemist) than there was of any Christian theme, with the possible exception of the yet to be developed centrality of blood to the story.

I received a digital galley of the book for review in exchange for my honest opinion.


Book Review: Playing the Part

 About the book:

“Turano, known for her delightfully humorous tales, has done it again.”–Booklist starred review of In Good Company

Lucetta Plum is an actress on the rise in New York City, but must abandon her starring role when a fan’s interest turns threatening. Lucetta’s widowed friend, Abigail Hart, seizes the opportunity to meddle in Lucetta’s life and promptly whisks her away to safety at her eligible grandson’s estate.At first glance, Bram Haverstein appears to be a gentleman of means–albeit an eccentric one–but a mysterious career and a secret fascination with a certain actress mean there’s much more to him than society knows.While Lucetta has no interest in Abigail’s matchmaking machinations, she can’t ignore the strange things going on in Bram’s house and the secrets he hides. As the hijinks and hilarity that Bram, Lucetta, and their friends are swept into take a more dangerous turn, can they accept who they are behind the parts they play in time to save the day?”Turano has crafted another feisty female protagonist who defies the mores of her time, in this case 1882 New York. This provocative novel brims with the author’s trademark humor and subtle romantic style laced with faith.” —Library Journal“The author will have readers laughing out loud and rooting for their favorite characters to fall in love. Lucetta is a plucky, admirable character filled with wit and intelligence. You will want to catch up with the first two books and then put this fast-paced, engaging novel on your must-buy list.”–RT Book Reviews Top Pick

My Thoughts:

I did laugh out loud, more than once.  Turano is my new favorite author to turn to when I really need a good laugh and Playing the Part did not disappoint.

This is the third book in a series and while you could read it without reading the other books first you will miss out on some of the character development that happened in previous novels.

Book One was: After A Fashion

Book Two was: In Good Company

The whole series was delightful.

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


Book Review: Curious Faith

About the Book:

We are born with an innate curiosity to explore, marvel, and believe there is more to life. But, laundry piles up. Bills pile up. Ultimately, life piles up. We can doubt God’s goodness and the everyday becomes marked by restraint, limits, and settling for the routine. Hardship extinguishes our hope and we exchange curiosity for control. Curious Faith is about rescuing the now. It’s about exploring possibility with a God who is unlimited, unpredictable, and ever-loving. In these pages, Logan Wolfram invites readers to overcome feelings and outside circumstances that inhibit growth and rob them of hope. Readers will learn to pursue curiosity and enjoy the wonder of an open-handed life.

My Thoughts:

“Are we missing the manna God provides to sustain us for each day?”

I love the question and I have to say that I also loved the book.  Logan’s writing is a challenge of awareness, a call to wake up and to look for God, to rescue the here and now of our lives.  The book was very personal, relying heavily on the author’s own story of faith as inspiration, and it was inspirational.  If you are the type of person who hears someone share their own faith story and thinks “that’s just crazy” then this book probably isn’t for you.  If you are someone who loves the diversity of the ways that God meets people and inspires them to pant for His streams of living water in their own life, then you may love it as much as I did.

Logan quotes authors from a faith movement that you may or may not be comfortable with, however, I personally found this book to be well balanced.  The emphasis on faith and hope and expectation was beautifully offset by a strong humility before the sovereignty and goodness of God in suffering and pain.   I also loved the author’s honesty as she spoke about things that she thought that she had heard from God, how it sometimes turned out differently than she had thought it would and how it moved her not to disillusionment, but to curiosity.  What was God up to in her life?  It was real and honest and avoided both the extremes of believing we have it all figured out and believing that we can’t hear from God.

All in all this book was an exploration of the goodness of God and how we can walk in curiosity and the expectation of seeing His goodness unfold in our own lives and in the world around us.  I found it to be an uplifting read.

“The exploration of His goodness will rewrite our stories and breathe new life into us.”