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.

Monday, September 5, 2016

Courageous- Dina L. Sleiman

My Rating: 4 Stars

Description: Inspired by the vision of the young Lady Sapphira, Rosalind of Ipsworth joins a group of men, women, and children as a defender of the cross, seeking to free captives from prisons near Tripoli. She gladly gives herself to the cause, as she's haunted by a tragic mistake and no longer deserves such joys as marriage and family might bring.

Sir Randel Penigree was reared to serve in the church, but dreams of protecting the innocent as a knight. Joining a crusade to escape humiliation at home, he finds himself drawn to Rosalind as they partner to train and protect a group of young adolescents. When they face political machinations, danger, and an unknown enemy bent on their destruction, they are forced to reconsider their priorities and the very nature of the God they serve.

My Thoughts: Crusade stories can be hit or miss for me, as I do not always agree with the author's interpretation of what happened. This story started out a bit shaky on that ground, though as the story progressed I found more that I agreed with. While I cannot say I was satisfied with all the characters' decisions and conclusions toward the end, I can say that I was overall satisfied with the story.

Randel and Rosalind are two characters who have committed tragic acts in the past and continue to punish themselves. Like many people who went on Crusade in history, their goal is to find some form of absolution. Instead, they come to terms with the realization that there is nothing they can do, only God's grace is sufficient. It was a worthwhile message, along side that of Lady Sapphira, who struggles with the weight of following God's call on her life.

Overall, the story is less a love story between to characters and instead a love story between the characters and God. That is what I most appreciated about this story and would recommend it to anyone looking for more than the typical romance.

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

Monday, August 29, 2016

Sword of Deliverance- Anne H. Campbell

My Rating: 4 Stars

Description: It takes an assassin’s sword to cleave open the past and pierce the evil of magic and murder, betrayal and revenge. Twenty-year-old Brandan, Lord Wulfgar’s notorious chief assassin, has become repulsed by his ruthless killing of innocent people and vows to desert. But he is sent on a mission to conduct Meredyth to Wulfgar to be his wife, a fate worse than death for her. Brandan convinces her that the only way to thwart Wulfgar’s scheme is to flee with him. But then she discovers that Brandan killed her fiancé. Now her desire for revenge threatens his efforts to keep them one step ahead of their pursuers and the magical forces Wulfgar unleashes to capture them. All while Brandan grapples with overwhelming guilt and disturbing revelations about his past and his true identity—and the reality that they may not survive.

My Thoughts: This is an enjoyable first book from Anne Campbell, one that is fantasy with a pretty historical feel to it. The story combines enchanted forests with a portrayal of feudal rule that few medieval fantasies manage to capture.

There were times where certain magical elements felt as though they emerged out of nowhere. At one point, Meredyth is attacked by moss, something that I had not been aware was a possibility in this story world up until the moment it happened. I would have appreciated the story more if some of these fantasy elements had been mentioned or alluded to before they came into play, however this was a minor irritation of mine.

The theme of forgiveness is important in this story; particularly when it comes to forgiveness that is not necessarily deserved. Though the reader is sure of both Brandan and Meredyth's changes of heart, they themselves are not able to accept these changes in each other at first. Through this theme, both characters were very relatable.

I look forward to reading the next in the series and received an advance copy of this book from the author in exchange for an honest review.

Purchase: Amazon

Monday, August 22, 2016

The Loyal Heart- Shelley Shepard Gray

My Rating: 3.5 Stars

Description: Robert Truax, former Second Lieutenant and Confederate officer in the Civil War, made a promise to his comrade Phillip Markham. If anything happened to Phillip, Robert would look after his beloved wife, Miranda. She was his life, his world, his everything.

After the war, Robert is left to pick up the pieces and fulfill his pact. When he arrives at Miranda's home in Galveston, Texas, things are worse than he imagined. Phillip's name has been dragged through the mud, everyone in town believes him to be a traitor, and his widow is treated as an outcast. Even more disturbing is her emotional well-being. Miranda seems hopeless, lost, and so very alone.

Robert had thought his duty would be simple. He would help Miranda as quickly as possible in order to honor a promise. But the moment Robert laid eyes on her, his plans changed. He's mesmerized by her beauty and yearns to help her in any way he can.

He makes it his duty to protect Miranda, turn her reputation around, and to find some way to help her smile again. But it doesn't prove to be an easy task—Robert knows something about Phillip that could shake Miranda to the core and alter her view of the man she thought she knew so well.

My Thoughts: My favorite thing about this book was that it dealt with the crippling issue of depression. Miranda's situation has driven her to her lowest point, tempting her to simply end it all. Those scenes where Miranda struggled were rather powerful and emotional, as was Robert's admittance that he had once thought the same.

However, while I really liked the characterization of Miranda and enjoyed her relationship with Robert, I found myself wondering why it took so long for her situation to be resolved. No explanation is given as to why it took Robert so long to show up, and then once he does, he manages to solve most of her problems in around a week just by asking simple questions of people who Miranda already interacted with regularly.

As well, toward the end, two of Robert's war friends arrived, both of whom had seemed to have little reason to be there other than to remind the reader how good of a person Miranda's dead husband, Philip, was. The end itself felt somewhat off when a number of unnamed characters started out unwilling to help Miranda, only to suddenly change their tune once they were informed of how great Philip had been.

There were definitely parts of this book I enjoyed, and I will likely try the second especially since I have read other books by this author and really liked them. While it is not perfect, it does have its good moments and despite some of the darker points, it is a fairly easy read.

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

Friday, August 19, 2016

Soundless- Richelle Mead- Fantasy Friday

My Rating: 4 Stars

Description: In a village without sound…

For as long as Fei can remember, no one in her village has been able to hear. Rocky terrain and frequent avalanches make it impossible to leave the village, so Fei and her people are at the mercy of a zipline that carries food up the treacherous cliffs from Beiguo, a mysterious faraway kingdom.

When villagers begin to lose their sight, deliveries from the zipline shrink. Many go hungry. Fei and all the people she loves are plunged into crisis, with nothing to look forward to but darkness and starvation.

One girl hears a call to action…

Until one night, Fei is awoken by a searing noise. Sound becomes her weapon.

She sets out to uncover what’s happened to her and to fight the dangers threatening her village. A handsome miner with a revolutionary spirit accompanies Fei on her quest, bringing with him new risks and the possibility of romance. They embark on a majestic journey from the peak of their jagged mountain village to the valley of Beiguo, where a startling truth will change their lives forever…

And unlocks a power that will save her people.

My Thoughts: Soundless did an amazing job with the question: What if no one you knew could hear? And what if you were suddenly the only one who could? I was interested in and captivated by both the way Fei originally described her soundless environment and then later how she coped with suddenly knowing sound and being unable to explain just what all these sounds... sounded like.

The relationship between Fei and Li Wei is also well done, coming across as real rather than forced for the plot. But they are also not so hopelessly in love that the story becomes all about their relationship. The story is clean, with only a couple of non-descriptive kisses, and there is no bad language.

What took the story down from five stars was the ending. Up until the final chapters, it seemed as though Fei was going to be able to convince their village of the danger in staying where they were and thus rescue them from death. Instead, <spoiler> the village is saved by Pixiu; up-until-then mythical guardians which the people managed to wake by passionately screaming <spoiler>. While this had been hinted at, it still felt out of place because of the lack of supernatural events prior to that. It also made me question why Fei had been needed in the first place.

While I didn't like the ending, I would still say that Soundless it worth the read. If for nothing else, the way sound is dealt with makes it interesting.