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

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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.

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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.