Monday, May 2, 2016

The Confessions of X- Suzanne M. Wolfe

My Rating: 3 Stars

Description: Before he became the sainted church father of Christianity, Augustine of Hippo began a love affair with a young woman whose name has been lost to history. They were together for over thirteen years, and she bore him a son. This is her story.

She met Augustine in Carthage when she was just seventeen years old. She was the daughter of a tile-layer. He was a student and the heir to a fortune. They fell in love, despite her lower station and Augustine’s dreams of greatness. Their passion was strong, but the only position in his life that was available to her was as his concubine. When Augustine’s ambition and family compelled him to disown his relationship with the her, X was thrust into a devastating reality as she was torn from her son and sent away to her native Africa.

A reflection of what it means to love and lose, this novel paints a gripping and raw portrait of ancient culture, appealing to historical fiction fans while deftly exploring one woman’s search for identity and happiness within very limited circumstances.

My Thoughts: This is by no means a quick read. Wolfe's lyrical form of writing requires the reader take their time and mull over her descriptions, mentally digesting images of life and living. The analogies she uses fill an otherwise straight forward narrative of everyday life with complexity. But though the writing is beautiful, I could not find myself fully engaged in the story.

Though "X"s life is bittersweet, having years of love and a son only for those to be taken from her, I did not find the majority of it to be captivating or even all that interesting. I could have done without a recount of her childhood or how often her and Augustine "come together". As a work of fiction, I would have preferred there have been more focus on certain events, such as her decision to become Augustine's concubine, rather than the full scope of her life.

There are redeeming qualities to this, and those who love lyrical prose and narratives of a character's life story will absolutely enjoy The Confessions of X. However, the narrative was one that struck me as simply ok rather than attention grabbing.

I received this book through the Fiction Guild in exchange for an honest review.

Friday, April 29, 2016

40 Nights: Faith V Fear- A Movie Review

Thank you to FishFlix for providing a copy of 40 Nights: Faith V Fear DVD for review. FishFlix provides Christian Movies, from the new movie Risen to classics like the Ten Commandments and others. 

Description: An exciting Biblical drama, 40 Nights takes a look at the life of Jesus spanning from his baptism by John the Baptist, His early ministry, and then leading into his 40 day fast in the wilderness. While in the wilderness, Jesus is tempted by Satan and promised great power, wealth, and fame if he will only bow down and worship him. A tale of epic proportions, this film version of the beginning life of the Messiah is a powerful and intriguing film. Following the accounts of the four gospels, this movie gives in-depth detail into the life of Jesus and will help you understand the true story of Jesus Christ a little better.

Directed by Jesse Low and released in 2016, this movie was created to bring simplicity and understanding to the life of Jesus. Over the course of his 33-year life, he faced many trials and incredibly difficult situations. While it's easy to think of Jesus as a perfect man who faced no turmoils in His life, He was still a real man that had to face many of the same problems that all humans face today. He was tempted, he was accused, he was wrongly punished. Although, He was sinless, He faced trouble and difficulties everyday. 40 Nights helps to show everything Jesus endured and overcame in His life and journey to the cross.

My Thoughts: The Bible says that Jesus was tempted by sin and 40 Nights seeks to depict some of that struggle between faith and fear, realistically portraying scenes from Jesus' life before the Gospels interspersed within the story of Jesus' temptation in the desert. The movie portrays the human side of Jesus who still needed to eat and converse with others. In this film, Satan preys upon these needs as weaknesses, drawing out these scenes into longer arguments than are in the Bible.

The movie was not perfect. Much of the dialogue is taken straight from other parts of the Gospels and some of the flashbacks made is seem like Jesus was relying more on the wisdom of his earthly parents than his Heavenly Father. The talent of the actors also varied, with many giving very wooden performances, though the main actors did pretty well.

While not my favorite, 40 Nights does a good job with a subject that I believe is truly difficult to portray perfectly. If you are looking for a Christian movie showing the life of Christ as both God and man, this may be a good choice.

If you would like to purchase the 40 Nights: Faith V Fear DVD, you can do so here.

Monday, April 25, 2016

Shaman's Fire- Sandy Cathcart

My Rating: 4 Stars

Description: A singer, a death, a shaman…what has Sayla Whitewater gotten herself into?

Shaman’s Fire is a modern-day suspense story of a young Native American woman who struggles to find her identity as she moves between the ancient traditions of her people and the beliefs of the merging white world. She discovers magic in the shaman’s fire but, too late, she discovers such magic demands a price. Is it possible that the God of her grandmother is the same Creator her ancestors worshiped?

Shaman’s Fire is a story of choices and how the known world can change in an instant. It’s a story of injustice…a story of heartbreak…and a story of restoration.

My Thoughts: Do you walk the Creator way? Even if not, this book is still a great look at the conflict between Native Americans and Whites as well as Christianity and native traditions. The main characters of this book are Native Americans who follow Christ, at times struggling with certain traditions from the past. While the story focuses on Sayla's spiritual journey, the narrative hits on prejudice and culture clash.

For those reading Shaman's Fire for the spiritual aspect, spiritual warfare is central to the plot. In this story there is a literal battle for Sayla's soul fought between the shaman with his way of shadows and Creator Yahweh with Sayla's family. This spiritual battle is shown through visions and has very real repercussions in the physical world, showing how a family can battle darkness with prayer and faith in the Creator.

There are things about this book that bothered me at times. I was not always certain, particularly at the beginning, what the point was that the author was driving at and there were a few times where I got some of the secondary characters mixed up. One thing that I am still not sure how I felt about it was that the POV switched from character to character, with Sayla in first person, Kadai in second, and Loretta in third person.

Even with it's issues, Shaman's Fire has a lot to offer readers. I received this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

Monday, April 18, 2016

The Bachelor Girl's Guide to Murder- Rachel McMillan

My Rating: 4 Stars

Description: In 1910 Toronto, while other bachelor girls perfect their domestic skills and find husbands, two friends perfect their sleuthing skills and find a murderer.

Inspired by their fascination with all things Sherlock Holmes, best friends and flatmates Merinda and Jem launch a consulting detective business. The deaths of young Irish women lead Merinda and Jem deeper into the mire of the city's underbelly, where the high hopes of those dreaming to make a new life in Canada are met with prejudice and squalor.

While searching for answers, donning disguises, and sneaking around where no proper ladies would ever go, they pair with Jasper Forth, a police constable, and Ray DeLuca, a reporter in whom Jem takes a more than professional interest. Merinda could well be Toronto's premiere consulting detective, and Jem may just find a way to put her bachelor girlhood behind her forever--if they can stay alive long enough to do so.

My Thoughts: Let me start by saying that I love Sherlock (the BBC and movie adaptations, not the actual books. I haven't read those. ), so this description immediately caught my eye. That said, I'm not going to focus my review on how well the story stood up to the Sherlock Holmes stories, only on how it managed to hold up on its own.

When I first received this book in the mail, it was about half as thick as I was expecting it to be. However, McMillan managed to squeeze a lot into those 200 some pages, leaving me with a picture of a city and its inhabitants that was rather complete. Merinda and Jem kept the pace of the story going with their "improper" behavior and Ray's perspective allowed me to see a side of the city that Jem and Merinda were largely removed from.

I didn't like everything about this book. The footnotes, while obviously meant to be informative and amusing, felt more like an intrusion by the author and I stopped reading them about half-way through. Along with this, there were a few times that the scenes seemed to head-hop. This might have been an attempt at omnipresence, yet it didn't come off quite right because most of the book reads as a third person narrative.

I do look forward to the sequel and reading about how Jem and Ray manage to balance their relationship. It will also be amusing to see just what kind of situations McMillan manages to put her heroines in.

I received this book through Litfuse in exchange for an honest review.

Monday, April 11, 2016

Changes of the Heart- Debra Erfert

My Rating: 4 Stars

Description: Buying the 1920s farmhouse south of Phoenix, where the rumors of John Dillinger’s gang hid out in the 30s, is supposed to be Grace Evanheart’s way of escaping an old romance. When she finds an ancient diary with a map under the bedroom’s floorboard, the rumors solidify into fact. She doesn’t know who to trust with the news; Micah Stevens, the handsome deputy and the great grandson of the original landowners with whom she’s attracted, or Jerry, the young historian who seems too intent on learning about her new home?

Micah seems convinced their paths crossed exactly at the right time and in the right place for them to fall in love. Now he just has to convince Grace of the same thing before suspicions of his real motive have her running again.

My Thoughts: This book was so much fun to read. It had history with stories of John Dillinger staying at the farm house, the mystery of who kept breaking into Grace's house, the danger of a date gone horribly wrong, romance between Micah and Grace, along with moments that you can't help but smile at.

Not everything in the book is perfect. There were some spelling errors and Grace goes through a lot more than any one person could probably handle in such a short span of time, with Micah always showing up to save the day. However, these events only made me like Micah more and look forward to their happily-ever-after.

Readers should also be aware that this is not a "Christian" book in the way one might expect from the tag line on the cover. There is a message about God looking out for us, but this doesn't show up until the end and then only in a couple scenes. There is also a lot of kissing (some detailed), which might make some people uncomfortable, and one or two swear words.

I still really enjoyed this book. The writing is pretty good and the characters are a lot of fun to read about. If you're looking for something to read this summer, I would definitely suggest this.

I received this book through I Am a Reader, Not a Writer in exchange for an honest review.

Monday, April 4, 2016

Numbers Ignite- Rebecca Rode

My Rating: 4 Stars

Description: Treena and Vance think they’ve pulled out of the numbers game forever. They’re wrong.

After Treena’s disastrous attempt to unite the nation, she has the deaths of hundreds haunting her dreams. Now, with hatred and accusations following her past the border, she’s determined to leave that horrible day behind and find a peaceful, uneventful life with Vance and the settlers. But when she starts seeing mysterious figures hiding in the abandoned cities at night and uncovers a strange desert population, she realizes there’s a danger much greater than NORA to worry about—and she just abandoned her people to their fate.

Vance is a prisoner. Being rejected by the girl he loves and put on trial for betraying his clan are bad enough, but now he’s been framed for a crime he never committed. Their less-than-perfect refuge has become the political game of a madman, and Vance is the only one who can stop it—if he can keep from being executed first.

Treena and Vance are still very much in the game, and this time it will take everything they have to save those they love.

My Thoughts: It seems like forever since I've read a dystopian novel (outside of A Time to Speak by Nadine Brandes) which I've actually liked. Like most YA dystopians, Numbers Ignite is the story of a teenage girl who fights against the system and (hopefully) leads her people to freedom. It has some of the normal tropes: Treena's so awesome that she is actually the highest ranking citizen, all the boys really like her, and NORA wants her to be the face of... well anything that they can have her be the face of really.

What makes this series standout is that most of these tropes are handled differently than in other YA dystopians. Treena, while fighting against the "system", is fighting against one that ultimately favors her. In this sequel, Treena doesn't have to fight and doing so gets her nothing. She also doesn't let  her popularity with the boys and NORA go too much to her head. What could have been just another awful love triangle is instead a girl who by the end of book one has decided which guy she loves and doesn't let the addition of the third guy change her mind.

Numbers Ignite is in many ways better than a lot of YA dystopians and even its own prequel. Vance and Treena are able to stand on their own as characters and, for most of the book, Rode avoids a lot of the cliches present in other novels.

The end could have used some work. Honestly, this was my least favorite part, as most of the conflicts ended up being resolved by secondary and tertiary characters, with Vance and Treena only looking on. Then, once the dust had settled, the other characters simply made Vance and Treena their spokespersons with NORA, even though neither of them had shown any aptitude for diplomacy. This felt a bit forced to me and I would have preferred a different outcome. But though I can't say the book was perfect, I will say it was totally worth it.

I received this book through I'm a Reader, Not a Writer in exchange for an honest review.

Monday, March 28, 2016

A Sweet Misfortune- Maggie Brendan

My Rating: 2 Stars

Description: Rachel Matthews isn't one to rely on others to take care of her. Destitute and alone, she still wants to make her own way and her own money--even if she's forced into the life of a dance hall girl. Horrified by her circumstances, Rachel's brother sends a friend--the widely admired cattle baron John McIntyre--to rescue her, then sets off to earn enough money to buy back the family ranch. But when months pass without her brother's return, Rachel isn't sure she can take one more day in John McIntyre's home--especially once she discovers that he's the one who holds the deed to her family's ranch.

Sparks fly between this spunky, independent heroine and the ruggedly handsome hero as they navigate the snarled terrain of pride, greed, faith, and love in Maggie Brendan's delightful series set in the Old West.

My Thoughts: A Sweet Misfortune addressed some important concepts, such as taking the time to learn people's stories and not casting judgement. These appeared often in the story, with many of the characters having to address their opinion of Rachel's dance hall days and the friends from the Wild Horse who she is unwilling to abandon. However, this is one of the few things I can say I liked about the novel.

Everything mentioned in the back cover description takes place in the first couple chapters, which should give some hint as to how little happens in the book plot-wise. Time and again something would happen, hinting at a conflict that would carry the book, only to be resolved before it could cause any real complication in the story. Physical ailments disappeared after a couple chapters and any complicating romantic interests are dismissed after two or three conversations. Even John's initial belief that Rachel was a soiled-dove didn't seem to really matter as he dismissed it rather easily.

Yet it was repetitive dialogue that took me out of the otherwise sweet story. Through most of the book, characters would repeat the same words and phrases within the same conversation, making the interactions feel copied and pasted.

The lack of urgency and complication, along with repetitiveness, made this book difficult for me to get through. I'd had no doubt that the characters would work things out and had little interest in finding out how they did it. What kept me reading was a hope that eventually one of the conflicts would pay off, creating some suspense in the story. I don't feel that that ever happened.

I received this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.