Monday, October 31, 2016

The Centurion- Ken Gire

My Rating: 3 Stars

Description: An ambitious Roman soldier. A stunning crucifixion. An unlikely romance. A long war and a chance reunion—the moving parts that make The Centurion a gripping story of love, duty, and sacrifice.

Lucius has always dreamed of military conquest and Roman glory. Little does he know how a routine crucifixion will change him forever.

Curious about this “King of the Jews,” Lucius seeks out His followers and falls for one Mary Magdalene. But all is interrupted when Lucius is called to lead military campaigns. There the hardships of war, year after year, wear him down to nearly nothing.

When Lucius finally returns to Rome, the city has lost its allure. A chance encounter tests his allegiances, and he must decide who he is, what is real, and what is worth dying for.

My Thoughts: The Centurion is a fast paced novel which juxtaposes the life and training of a Roman soldier (Lucius) with that of the burgeoning Christian church through the eyes of Mary Magdalene. The rapid pace comes from Gire's magnificent use of short scenes in order to depict only what is necessary. In the first part of the novel, this serves well to mimic the chaos soon after Jesus' crucifixion.

However, at times these short scenes became too intense, treating the drunken discussions of men as earth-shattering observations and Lucius' training speeches as though they came from Braveheart. The consistently epic tone could be wearing, especially since there were few reprieves.

Like many novels in this vein of fiction, Biblical fiction surrounding the crucifixion, The Centurion is told in omnipresent which allows for various character perspectives. Particularly in the beginning, some of these perspectives were muddled, with few of the secondary characters introduced in any way before they were suddenly acting.

The Centurion does offer some unique content. The writing style is almost cinematic in nature, making it similar in cut scene format to The Passion. As well, the story is told in a historic light, depicting an early church that fully expected the return of Christ in their lifetime. Not everyone will appreciate the make up of this novel, however there are those who will adore it.

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

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.