Monday, May 21, 2018

Tired of Apologizing for a Church I Don't Belong To- Lillian Daniels

My Rating: 2 Stars

Description In this book, Lillian argues that it's time for Christians to stop apologizing and realize that how we talk about Christian community matters. With disarming candor laced with just the right amount of humor, Lillian urges open-minded Christians to explore ways to talk about their faith journeys that are reasonable, rigorous, and real.

After the publication of the much talked about When Spiritual But Not Religious Is Not Enough: Seeing God In Surprising Places, Even the Church, Lillian Daniel heard from many SBNRs as well as practicing Christians. It was the Christians who scolded her for her forthright, unapologetic stand as one who believes that religious community matters. The Christians ranted that Christians, by definition, tend to be judgmental, condemning hypocrites, which is why people hate them. By saying religion matters, she was judging those who disagree, they said, proving the stereotype of Christians. Better to acknowledge all that's wrong with Christianity and its history, then apologize. In this book, Daniel shows why it matters how we talk about Christian community while urging open-minded Christians to learn better ways to talk about their faith.

My Thoughts: I work in a career field made up predominately of atheists and agnostics, among whom there are many who have been hurt by the church or else simply have no use for it. Many times in conversation, I have found myself wanting to apologize or else needing to defend my own beliefs, which lead to hesitance in even bringing them up. When I saw Lillian's book, I thought it would be something that offered encouragement to people in such a place, as well as insight on how to handle those situations. But it turns out, Lillian and I don't belong to the same church either. And while I appreciated her writing style and many of the points she brought up, I very much disagreed with her conclusions.

In the second chapter, during a metaphor for the way Christians should handle questions about our faith, Lillian has this to say, "'Well, this path is no better than any other one,' I reply. And I feel good about... I have neglected to apologize but have demonstrated how open-minded I am." But is that the point? To let people know how open-minded we are? Or to express why we believe as we do? I don't see how the author's response answered the question she started this analogy with— which was why was she intent on the faith path she walked.

However, in the tenth chapter, Lillian states, "I am a pastor and I don't care what you believe. I don't think God does either." So maybe the author doesn't care to answer the question as much as she wants to convince people that religious community, any religious community, is what is important. And to some extent, I agree. Community is important, as is Lillian's assertion that no one should feel excluded over a point of disagreement. But neither should we dismiss belief, because what we believe shapes how we behave.

I will mention that I agreed with many of Lillian's critiques of the conservative church, however, in her critiques she also makes the implied assertion that conservatives cannot be open-minded when she uses that term only to refer to people who agree with her on matters of belief or marriage, disregarding that there are even people in between who agree with some, but not all, of the things she does. And, when describing the arguments conservatives make, particularly regarding those of creationism, she says, "If I were Satan and I wanted to destroy every good thing in Christianity, that's the dichotomy I'd set up. It would ensure that all the smart people stayed away and all the idiots stayed in."

As I stated above, I do agree with many of Lillian's observations. The church often does a poor job of listening to the people they wish to reach and many conservative Christians are harsh and judgemental. But that does not mean that her philosophy on religion solves those issues nor that the very real criticisms of her work, from people of all walks of life, can be waved away as she does in this book.

I have provided an honest review after receiving a copy of the book from the publisher.

Monday, May 14, 2018

The Story Peddler- Lindsay A. Franklin

My Rating: 3 Stars

Description: Selling stories is a deadly business

Tanwen doesn’t just tell stories—she weaves them into crystallized sculptures that sell for more than a few bits. But the only way to escape the control of her cruel mentor and claw her way from poverty is to set her sights on something grander: becoming Royal Storyteller to the king.

During her final story peddling tour, a tale of treason spills from her hands, threatening the king himself. Tanwen goes from peddler to prey as the king’s guard hunts her down . . . and they’re not known for their mercy. As Tanwen flees for her life, she unearths long-buried secrets and discovers she’s not the only outlaw in the empire. There’s a rebel group of weavers . . . and they’re after her too.


My Thoughts: I kind of hate being one of the first to review this story and not give it a four or higher rating. With so many readers and reviewers stating that they adored this book, I entered in expecting to be swept away in a magical narrative that made me forget my own time and place. However, while I was entertained, I was not captivated the way many others were.

The story follows Tanwen, a girl who is able to weave and solidify story, which is a beautiful concept full of vivid imagery. Every story strand is different, some coarse and others fine, vibrant or nearly invisible. And hers is the only art which follows this form, as there are also singers and colormasters (painters) who can weave colors into their art and make ideas come to life— sometimes in actuality.

However, this magic system (as well as a diverse cast) were all that I could really see which set this story apart. Once again, there is a girl who grows up as a peasant orphan, seeking more than she has, who only learns once the story picks up that she is actually the child of someone important. Through deliberate withholding of information by nearly everyone around her, it is not until close to the end of this tale that Tanwen learns anything about who she is. And a kind-of-sort-of love triangle only confuses her more throughout.

I still enjoyed the story. There were some creative and unique lines, an amazing magic system, and a little bit of a mystery which Tanwen is able to solve. Yet I am not a fan of stories where the conflict and tension is driven, or at least instigated, by the unnecessary withholding of necessary information. There were a few other things which bothered me, such as the ridiculous renaming of very real animals, but suffice it to say that this story was good... but not great.

I have provided an honest review after having received an ecopy through JustRead tours.

Monday, May 7, 2018

A Refuge Assured- Jocelyn Green

My Rating: 4 Stars

Description: Lacemaker Vivienne Rivard never imagined her craft could threaten her life. Yet in revolutionary France, it is a death sentence when the nobility, and those associated with them, are forced to the guillotine. Vivienne flees to Philadelphia but finds the same dangers lurking in the French Quarter, as revolutionary sympathizers threaten the life of a young boy left in her care, who some suspect to be the Dauphin. Can the French settlement, Azilum, offer permanent refuge?

Militiaman Liam Delaney proudly served in the American Revolution, but now that the new government has imposed an oppressive tax that impacts his family, he barely recognizes the democracy he fought for. He wants only to cultivate the land of his hard-won farm near Azilum, but soon finds himself drawn into the escalating tension of the Whiskey Rebellion. When he meets a beautiful young Frenchwoman recently arrived from Paris, they will be drawn together in surprising ways to fight for the peace and safety for which they long.

My Thoughts: The French Revolution has always been a tough historical event for me to stomach. Not only were the killings horrific, but who was destined for the chopping block could change with the wind, making it doubly terrifying to read about. And until this book, I had not realized that simply making articles of clothing that the aristocracy would wear was grounds for execution. It is a miracle that anyone survived in France.

Though I felt sympathy for Vivienne, losing her way of life in France and then having to flee to America for her actual life, I was not all that enamored with her as a character until much later in the story. While justifiably angry, her attitude toward those around her was often hostile and unlikable. It was only once she gained the care of the young boy that I actually started to like her, and I think that it was their relationship which I appreciated the most.

The way Vivienne and Henri related to each other was extremely believable, with neither sure how to interact or else move forward. Having worked with kids myself, I know that what you say and do can be a careful juggling act between what you mean and how they interpret it. And the same goes the other way around, especially when it is a child you barely know. I also to some extent understand the responsibility of caring for a child who resents you and the task of seeking out others who can help you and whom that child will trust.

With Liam, though his and Vivienne's romance does not really start until the end of the novel, I was still interested in Liam's character throughout. His was a captivating story line, with the Whiskey Rebellion being an event I knew little about. Though these scenes did not include Vivienne or anything having to do with France, they were attention grabbing none the less.

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

Monday, April 30, 2018

All Things Bright and Strange- James Markert

My Rating: 3 Stars

Description: In the wake of World War I in the small, Southern town of Bellhaven, South Carolina, the town folk believe they’ve found a little slice of heaven in a mysterious chapel in the woods. But they soon realize that evil can come in the most beautiful of forms.

The people of Bellhaven have always looked to Ellsworth Newberry for guidance, but after losing his wife and his future as a professional pitcher, he is moments away from testing his mortality once and for all. Until he finally takes notice of the changes in his town . . . and the cardinals that have returned.

Upon the discovery of a small chapel deep in the Bellhaven woods, healing seems to fall upon the townspeople, bringing peace after several years of mourning. But as they visit the “healing floor” more frequently, the people begin to turn on one another, and the unusually tolerant town becomes anything but.

The cracks between the natural and supernatural begin to widen, and tensions rise. Before the town crumbles, Ellsworth must pull himself from the brink of suicide, overcome his demons, and face the truth of who he was born to be by leading the town into the woods to face the evil threatening Bellhaven.


My Thoughts: I went into this story not really knowing what to think about it. I knew from reading Markert's last novel with Thomas Nelson that this was likely to be some sort of analogy, one that was slightly weird and magical. Even the title confirmed the "strangeness" which would show up even within the first few pages in the form of odd characters and unnatural phenomena.

But even with all that was strange about Bellhaven, the first part of the novel began slow, taking awhile to situate the reader in Ellsworth's suicidal mind before even mentioning the chapel in the woods. And up until that point, I wasn't really wanting to continue with the story. It was only the mystery of the chapel, how it worked, why it was there, that kept me interested through the rest of the narrative. Even then, the pace was slow, with an entire chapter dedicated to leaving Ellsworth's thoughts in order to head hop between Bellhaven's plethora of religious leaders and delve into each of their inner sins.

It was around this point that the religious nature of the story emerged, with the religions and denominations dividing amongst the tension pulling the town apart. It's also when Ellsworth's predestined role begins to come into play.

I don't want to give away what happens or delve too much into the point this book was trying to get across. I'm not one hundred percent sure that I even understand what that point was. But I do want to say that I ended this book even more torn that I had with Markert's last. The mystery is engaging, the story weird enough to keep you guessing, but I'm not sure that I agree with the things the author was saying. Some of it, that not all things beautiful are good, were spot on while others... it's kind of difficult to explain without giving the story away.

This story is weird. It's dark despite being set in a really bright place, with a narrative that takes its time delivering partial answers. Still, ignoring my confusion over the religious point, it was an interesting read with an interesting setting.

I have provided an honest review after having received a copy of the book through the Fiction Guild.

Monday, April 23, 2018

Julie- Blog Tour and Review


Welcome to this stop on the Julie by Catherine Marshall Reissue Celebration Blog Tour with JustRead Publicity Tours!


Title: Julie
Author: Catherine Marshall
Publisher: Gilead Publishing
ReIssue Date: April 17, 2018
Genre: Historical Romance Fiction
*A New York Times bestseller*
-------------------------------
Will the dam hold?

Julie Wallace has always wanted to write. Trying to
escape the Great Depression, Julie’s father buys the
Alderton Sentinel, a small-town newspaper in flood-prone Alderton, Pennsylvania, and moves his family
there. As flash floods ominously increase, Julie’s investigative reporting uncovers secrets that could
endanger the entire community.

Julie, the newspaper, and her family are thrown into a perilous standoff with the owners of the steel mills
as they investigate the conditions of the immigrant laborers. As the Alderton Sentinel and Julie take on a more aggressive role to reform these conditions, seething tensions come to a head.

When a devastating tragedy follows a shocking revelation, Julie’s courage and strength are tested.
Will truth and justice win, or will Julie lose everything she holds dear?

TO PURCHASE A COPY*


REVIEW
It wasn't until this edition was announced that I even knew Catherine Marshall had written anything other than Christy. And while I was super excited to see another book by her, I was also disappointed that it was not a sequel to Christy, which I had felt ended on a cliffhanger with some unanswered questions. However, Julie stands on its own as a really good read, and I am so glad that I finally learned about it.

Set in the mid-1930's in Pennsylvania, Julie's story is one quite a bit removed from that of Marshall's other novel. Yet it still explores some difficult questions of faith. Where as Christy was just entering the ministry, Julie's family has only just left it. Her and her father struggle with the question of who God is to them and what it means to live out Christ's teachings. These questions were explored in a way which was honest and heart breaking, with a pastor having to leave the ministry to find God. And even though I don't necessarily agree with every conclusion reached, I appreciate that this real life struggle of someone who was raised in church but still doesn't really believe in or understand God was not glossed over.

The history aspect of this novel was also very well researched. Part of that was because the author actually lived through this time period, something which very few people can say today. Yet she also researched the events of this story, along with so many different industries involved, and all without the help of the internet! Her research allowed her to write one of the most horrifying and heartbreaking endings which I have ever read, made all the more real by the fact that these events actually occurred.

Perhaps the down side of reading this book for the first time at this stage in my life is that I have read many books before it. So, for me, love triangles are a trope which I have been frustrated with for sometime now and so it became the one down side of this really amazing read. Yet, as with Christy, the romance is far from being the center of the story, so I was able to get by with it, though I still wish it hadn't been there. However, though I know that I enjoyed it, I also know that this story will not be for everyone.

I have provided an honest review after receiving a copy of the book through the publisher and JustRead.


ABOUT THE AUTHOR


Catherine Marshall (1914-1983), “The New York Times” best-selling author of 30 books, is best known for her novel “Christy.” Based on the life of her mother, “Christy” captured the hearts of millions and became a popular CBS television series. Around the kitchen table at Evergreen Farm, as her mother reminisced, Catherine probed for details and insights into the rugged lives of these Appalachian highlanders. Catherine shared the story of her husband, Dr. Peter Marshall, Chaplain of the United States Senate, in “A Man Called Peter.” A decade after Dr. Marshall’s untimely death, Catherine married Leonard LeSourd, Executive Editor of “Guideposts,” forging a dynamic writer-editor partnership. A beloved inspirational writer and speaker, Catherine’s enduring career spanned four decades and reached over 30 million readers.



GIVEAWAY


(1) Winner will win: 
  • $25 Amazon Gift Card
  • Bookmark Swag
  • Necklace (exact or similar & *subject to change)
  • Print Copy of Julie

(Only Gift Card open internationally. Others open to US Mailing Addresses)




*NOTE: This post contains affiliate links.

Monday, April 16, 2018

For Love and Honor- Jody Hedlund

My Rating: 4 Stars

Description: Lady Sabine is harboring a skin blemish, one, that if revealed, could cause her to be branded as a witch, put her life in danger, and damage her chances of making a good marriage. After all, what nobleman would want to marry a woman so flawed?
 

Sir Bennet is returning home to protect his family from an imminent attack by neighboring lords who seek repayment of debts. Without fortune or means to pay those debts, Sir Bennet realizes his only option is to make a marriage match with a wealthy noblewoman. As a man of honor, he loathes the idea of courting a woman for her money, but with time running out for his family’s safety, what other choice does he have?

As Lady Sabine and Sir Bennet are thrust together under dangerous circumstances, will they both be able to learn to trust each other enough to share their deepest secrets? Or will those secrets ultimately lead to their demise?


My Thoughts: It's been a few years since I have read a Jody Hedlund novel and, that I remember, the book I did read was an adult fiction novel rather than YA. I had not been all that impressed by that book than so I did not have high expectations for this one. However, I ended up being glad to have given this one a shot.

As a YA novel, For Love and Honor is not quiet as serious as other adult novels set in this time period. The reasons for the characters needing to get married is fairly predictable, one needing to save his land and the other having no other prospects. Yet the book did an admirable job of setting up a foundation for their eventual romance by giving the characters a common interest and passion. Rather than falling in love because the other was attractive and sweet, these characters fell in love over works of art and a calling to preserve the past for future generations.

Perhaps the weakest facet of this book was the conflict toward the end, when Sir Bennet must save his family and Sabine must overcome the consequences of keeping her blemish a secret. Though I understood that their ages likely played into their choices, Sir Bennet's stubbornness to accept help from her or anyone else still seemed foolish with the fate of so many people weighed in the balance. And sadly, he never did have to learn to swallow his pride as everyone else simply accommodated it rather than remind him that he shouldn't be in the position to postpone saving lives.

Even through that, however, I still found myself holding on to the end, cheering for these characters to find their happily ever after. And I will just have to go back and read the rest of the series now that I have seen what this one is like.

I did NOT receive this book in exchange for a review. The decision to review it was my own.

Monday, April 9, 2018

Reclaiming Shilo Snow- Mary Weber

My Rating: 2.5 Stars


Description: Trapped on the ice-planet of Delon, gamer girl Sofi and Ambassador Miguel have discovered that nothing is what it seems, including their friends. On a quest to rescue her brother, Shilo, a boy everyone believes is dead, they must now escape and warn Earth of Delon’s designs on humanity. Except the more they unearth of the planet and Sofi’s past, the more they feel themselves unraveling, as each new revelation has Sofi questioning the very existence of reality.

Meanwhile, back on Earth, Sofi’s mom, Inola, is battling a different kind of unraveling: a political one that could cost lives, positions, and a barely-rebuilt society, should they discover the deal made with the Delonese.

But there’s a secret deeper than all that. One locked away inside Sofi and ticking away with the beginnings, endings, and answers to everything. Including how to save humanity.


My Thoughts: I have to admit, I'm not sure why this book is as loved as it is. Like with the first book, the writing is pretty smooth and easy to read, and for the first quarter, I though I was going to like this so much better than the first book. The writing was intense, filled with suspense and some pretty horrifying imagery. That imagery finally had me fully engaged in the Sofi's plan to bring the Delonese down. However, that changed soon after.

Eventually, <spoiler> Sofi and Miguel are apprehended <spoiler/> after which, the characters are subjected to mind games which lead nowhere. The Delonese attempt to break Sofi and Miguel into explaining how they gained access to their systems in the last book, however this takes place over a hundred pages in which the description is repetitive and neither characters are able to pick up on something which I realized after only two pages.

Other reviewers have mentioned Inola, Sofi's mother, as being a new point of view in this book. This addition was something that I both liked and didn't. Her perspective was a great addition to the emotion of the family dynamics (one of the few things I really enjoyed- more in a minute) however, most of her scenes were of conversations and info dumping which I did not care for.

The love between Sofi and Shilo is the only thing that really sticks out to me about this story. Personally, I can fully relate to the lengths Sofi is willing to go to for her brother and I also appreciate the honesty in the relationship between her and her mother. Despite how awful of a parent Inola is, I still felt that she was able to trick herself into believing she did the right thing, not only by her kids but by the rest of the world. However, my appreciation for this facet of the book wasn't enough to redeem the story for me.

I have provided an honest review after receiving a copy of the book from the publisher.