Monday, October 24, 2016

Love's Faithful Promise- Susan Anne Mason

My Rating: 4.5 Stars

Description: When her mother suffers a stroke, medical student Deirdre O'Leary makes the difficult choice to put her career on hold to care for her. Dr. Matthew Clayborne is renowned for his amazing results with patients, but when Deirdre approaches him about helping her mother, she finds him challenging and surly. Deirdre has had enough of complicated men in her life. After her fiance left her, she vowed never to give a man that kind of power again. 

Widower Dr. Matthew Clayborne is devoted to two things: his work with wounded soldiers and his four-year-old daughter, Phoebe. He won't abandon either of these priorities to care for one older woman. However, when Phoebe suffers a health scare, they're offered respite at the Irish Meadows farm, where his daughter's weakened lungs can recover--but only if he cares for Mrs. O'Leary.

Matthew intends to hate Irish Meadows, yet he immediately feels at home, and soon both Mrs. O'Leary and Phoebe are showing improvement. But since he has no intention of leaving his life up north forever, and Deirdre has sworn off marriage in favor of her career, how will they deal with the undeniable attraction between them?

My Thoughts: I love these books! Mason does an amazing job of portraying realistic characters with believable struggles. And where most authors lose steam the farther they get in the series, Mason's books have instead gotten better with each one. I am so sad to see this series end and really hope that she decides to write another series for these characters' children.

Truly, the only thing I think could have been done better was Connor and Jo's story. Unlike in the previous two books, where both couples received nearly equal attention and page space, Connor and Jo were maybe a fourth of this story. While I had been immediately interested the moment their POVs came into the picture, I still felt that there was more that could have happened with them. Matthew and Deirde's story was fully engaging, but I ended the book feeling like I barely knew Connor and Jo.

Everything about this book is interesting and though I wish there had been more of the one story line, both were still engaging. The book presents a number of questions that are still applicable today and will most likely touch close to home with many readers, especially those who have ever questioned whether or not they should balance both a career and a family. I highly recommend this series and look forward to anything else this author may write.

I provided an honest review of this book after having received a free copy from the publisher.

Monday, October 17, 2016

Forever Doon- Carie Corp and Lorie Langdon

My Rating: 3.5 Stars

Description: With the witch of Doon on 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: If you've made it this far in the series, then there is something about this fairy tale like story and its quirky characters that sucks you in. This final installment of the series holds no shortage of that, though this time around the fairy tale is a bit darker. Compared to the last book, this one ups the tension as well as the danger, allowing the characters to finally show just how much they have grown through their struggles.

However, many parts of the story felt forced. Kenna and Vee suddenly started manipulating their calling to communicate with each other, something that previously wasn't a possibility, and the rings of Aontacht ended up as an ex machina, with Vee basically saying, "I don't know if the rings can do this, but lets try it... oh look, it worked!".

The addition of Jamie and Duncan's POVs was also something that I wasn't sure of in the beginning. While I never did warm to Duncan's POV, I did find that Jamie's added a lot to the story, mainly about God's grace and forgiveness. That, along with the allegory of the Destined having kingdom shaped holes in their hearts, made me appreciate this story over the last one. And while this series is not my absolute favorite, fans of this series will love this conclusion.

I have provided my honest opinion of this book after having received a free copy from the publisher.

Monday, October 10, 2016

A Time to Rise- Nadine Brandes

My Rating: 4 Stars

Description: What more can you sacrifice than your life?

Parvin Blackwater is dead.

At least…that’s what the Council—and the world—thinks. But her sacrifice tore down part of the Wall long enough to stir up hope and rebellion in the people. Now she will rise again. Strong, free, and fearless.

Parvin and Solomon must uncover the mysterious clues that Jude left behind in order to destroy the projected Wall once and for all. Meanwhile, the Council schemes to new levels of technology in its attempts to keep the people contained. Can a one-handed Radical and a scarred ex-Enforcer really bring shalom to the world?

My Thoughts: As always, Nadine's writing style is one that makes her books really hard to put down. Everything moves quickly and Parvin's internal thoughts often come in short burst of sentences that truly feel like actual thoughts instead of a literary idea of them. As well, the faith element is strong throughout, with Parvin trusting God far more than she did in the other two books.

I can't say that the story was perfect. When it was over, I was still left with a lot of questions that I would have liked answered, though toward the end  I started to realize that they never would be. These pertained mostly to world building, with Nadine's story world so large that I started to notice a few holes.

Her character building made up for a lot of this, particularly when it came to the way Solomon handled Parvin's past "relationship" with Jude. There was a sequence of scenes which dealt with this that were probably my favorite part of the entire book. This, along with with the theme of forgiveness, was particularly powerful.

In a genre steeped with teenagers who are selfish and bent on doing life their own way, A Time to Rise is a refreshing read for Christians, reminding use that obedience to God is the greatest adventure of all.

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

A Time to Rise

Monday, October 3, 2016

Jesus and the Beanstalk: Overcoming Your Giants and Living a Fruitful Life- Lori Stanley Roeleveld

My Rating: 4 Stars

Description: We live in unsettling, challenging times. Everywhere we look, we see giant problems: giant obstacles to sharing faith, giant barriers to peaceful lives, giant strongholds of fear. But what if you knew eight small secrets to unlocking a strength big enough to overcome whatever obstacle life may bring?

Using allegory and a bit of humor, Jesus and the Beanstalk explores a passage in 2 Peter 1 to uncover eight truths that will help you unleash a larger-than-life faith: 

- Faith
- Goodness
- Knowledge
- Self-control
- Perseverance
- Godliness
- Affection for others
- Love 

In this creative, refreshing perspective on spiritual growth, you will discover an unyielding strength when you tap the power of a God who is stronger than any beanstalk and bigger than your biggest giants.

My Thoughts: I don't usually read non-fiction, mostly because I find that the themes and messages found in fiction stick with me longer. But when I heard of this book, I was interested in how the author used a fairly simple fairy tale to draw allegory to the Christian faith, especially since it is one that most people already know.

However, Roeleveld does not simply rely on the story of Jack and the Beanstalk to make her points, she consistently backs them up with scripture and personal experiences. The references to scripture were perhaps my favorite parts of this book, as comparing Jack and the Beanstalk to the verses in 2 Peter served to remind me just how magnificent and marvelous our God really is and that slaying giants isn't just for storybooks and Old Testament David.

The draw backs I found were that not all of Roeleveld's personal stories made sense to me in the context of chapter in which she had used them, and there were also some chapters that seemed to drag the point on longer than necessary. However, I do recommend this for those who love fiction and are looking for a book such as this.

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

Monday, September 26, 2016

Karolina's Twins- Ronald H. Balson

My Rating: 3 Stars

Description: From the author of Once We Were Brothers comes a saga inspired by true events of a Holocaust survivor’s quest to fulfill a promise, return to Poland and find two sisters lost during World War II.

Lena Woodward, an elderly woman, enlists the help of both lawyer Catherine Lockhart and private investigator Liam Taggart to appraise the story of her harrowing past in Nazi occupied Poland. At the same time, Lena’s son Arthur presents her with a hefty lawsuit under the pretense of garnering her estate—and independence—for his own purposes. Where these stories intersect is through Lena’s dubious account of her life in war-torn Poland, and her sisterhood with a childhood friend named Karolina. Lena and Karolina struggled to live through the atrocity of the Holocaust, and at the same time harbored a courageous, yet mysterious secret of maternity that has troubled Lena throughout her adult life. In telling her story to Catherine and Liam, Lena not only exposes the realities of overcoming the horrors of the Holocaust, she also comes to terms with her own connection to her dark past.

Karolina’s Twins is a tale of survival, love, and resilience in more ways than one. As Lena recounts her story, Catherine herself also recognizes the unwavering importance of family as she prepares herself for the arrival of her unborn child. Through this association and many more, both Lena and Catherine begin to cherish the dogged ties that bind not only families and children, but the entirety of mankind.

My Thoughts: This story is told in two intersecting narratives, one being Lena's current search for Karolina's twins and the other being where she tells Catherine about her life during WWII. As such, most of the book is told in a first person dialogue from the perspective of Lena. These portions of the book were by far the strongest, capturing the day to day struggle of Jews under Nazi Germany while also showing instances of true courage on all sides.

Yet the modern day portion of the story fell flat. I constantly found myself questioning why I needed Catherine and Liam's input, as most of what they say in regard to WWII is commonly held knowledge. As well, the dialogue in their scenes was often stilted and centered around comic relief pertaining to pregnancy and feminism. Instead of reading like actual people, both seemed more like projections of modern society.

The shift back and forth between the two narratives can be frustrating. To go from intense scenes from the Holocaust to those of courtroom drama creates moments in which the temptation to put the book down is strong. For the historical aspect of Karolina's Twins alone, I would suggest reading this book, as it is the majority of the story. However, be prepared for some scenes that will most likely slow the story down.

Also, as a note for those who prefer to read books without it, there is a fair bit of language, some of which felt unnecessary.

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

Monday, September 19, 2016

King of the Friend Zone- Sheralyn Pratt

My Rating: 4 Stars

Description: Esme Taylor has an amazing fiancé, a lifelong best friend, and a problem. The problem stems from the fact that her best friend is named Hunter and, well. . . he’s kind of (totally) hot. It’s hate at first sight when her fiancé, Jon, and Hunter meet. Jon’s convinced that Hunter is in love with Esme, and that Hunter must be out of the picture if their upcoming marriage is to succeed.

Esme thinks Jon is paranoid.The truth is, Jon’s not that far off. Hunter is in love with his best friend and always has been. What Jon has wrong, however, is that Hunter never had any plans of ruining Esme’s happily ever after. Hunter wants what’s best for Esme, even if that’s not him.

When Jon pushes hard to end Esme and Hunter’s friendship, opposition comes from the most unlikely of places. It’s an eccentric lady with a cookie cart who suggests a different solution to Esme’s problem: Hunter and Esme should give each other a chance.

They’ve both thought of the possibility over the years—of course they have. But with a ring already on Esme’s finger and a heap of hurt feelings and broken trust in the mix, there hasn’t been a worse time to explore the depths of their feelings for each other.

Both Esme and Hunter think it’s time to move on and leave childhood crushes in the past. The question is: Can one woman and the taste of one cookie change their minds?

My Thoughts: The cover of this book is a little deceiving, making it look like the characters are college age and that this story would have NA themes. Instead, the characters are older and far more mature than I had expected. Which is a good thing.

I absolutely loved this story. Esme and Hunter are very sympathetic and I loved Hunter from the very first scene in his point of view. He is a strong lead who completely respects Esme's independence while still being an arm for her to cry on. And despite Esme's becoming engaged to someone else, I didn't find myself disliking her like I often do with these types of stories. Instead, I understood her point of view and liked that she tried to work through her engagement even when her fiancé insisted everything had to be his way.

One thing that took away from this story was the number of missing words, usually "not" and "no", that were necessary for the sentence to make sense in context. While not a horrible distraction, it did pull me from the story more than once as I had to go back and re-read the line. However, after reading this, I plan to pick up any others by this author.

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

Monday, September 12, 2016

Ben-Hur: A Tale of The Christ- Carol Wallace (based on that by Lew Wallace)

My Rating: 4 Stars

Description: As one of the bestselling stories of all time, Lew Wallace's Ben-Hur: A Tale of the Christ has captivated and enthralled millions around the world--both in print and on the big screen. Now Lew's great-great-granddaughter has taken the old-fashioned prose of this classic novel and breathed new life into it for today's audience.

Coming to theaters in August 2016 as Ben-Hur, a major motion picture from MGM and Paramount studios, the story follows Judah Ben-Hur, a Jewish nobleman whose childhood friend Messala betrays him. Accused of trying to murder the new Roman governor in Jerusalem, Judah is sentenced to the galley ships and vows to seek revenge against the Romans and Messala. But a chance encounter with a carpenter from Nazareth sets Judah on a different path.

Rediscover the intrigue, romance, and tragedy in this thrilling adventure.

Also included: the inspiring story-behind-the-story of Lew Wallace--Indiana lawyer, author, and Civil War general.

My Thoughts: I had actually never heard of this book until I saw the 2016 movie trailer. But that trailer captured my attention and so when I saw this book I was really excited to read it. That said, since this edition is a modern adaptation, my review will include both my opinion of the story as is and my opinion of it as a modern story, though I cannot fully compare it to the original.

If you love Biblical fiction, as well as the more wandering tales found in classics, and yet are less comfortable with the language of many of those classics, this should be a good fit for you. Ben-Hur is an intriguing read that follows Judah through a number of different settings and situations. The history is phenomenally woven in, as are the Biblical aspects. Taking into account that it was originally written more than a hundred years ago, back before today's standard of editing, I found the story itself to be well worth the hype surrounding it.

It is difficult to critique this as a modern adaptation, as I have not read the original to know how much as changed. However, the book did not live up to my interpretation of a modern story. From what other reviewers have said, the edition is considerable shorter, with much of the descriptions and internal musing removed in order to make the story more palatable and also to fix pacing issues. Yet there were other issues that Carol Wallace did not fix. One that stood out to me were the number of times that the story would contradicted itself in ways that could have been remedied by the change of a sentence or two.

Ben-Hur is a great story, one I am still glad to have read. However, there is still much that I think could have been improved upon in a modern adaptation.

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