Monday, May 22, 2017

The Chapel Car Bride- Judith Miller

My Rating: 2 Stars

Description: With her penchant for seeing the best in everyone, Hope Irvine sees a world full of good people in hard places. When her father accepts a position traveling in a chapel car as an on-the-rail missionary, she is determined to join him in his efforts and put her musical skills to good use by serving the mining families of West Virginia, saving their souls, and bettering their lives.

Luke Hughes shares Hope's love of music and her love of God, but as a poor miner he knows he can offer her no future. Still, the notes she sings resonate in his heart. When she begins to travel with a young mine manager to neighboring counties, Luke can hardly suppress his jealousy. It isn't until he begins to suspect these missions of mercy might be the mine manager's cover for illegal purposes, though, that Luke feels justified in speaking up. But how can he discover the truth without hurting Hope or, worse, putting her in danger?

My Thoughts: This novel was fairly lack-luster. There's not much to the plot, it's more just things that happen in the characters lives. The first two chapters of the book are spent in a town other than Finch (where they spend the rest of the book), dealing with a conflict that has nothing to do with the rest of the story. While it did lead to the moment when Hope and Luke met, it was in no way necessary for them to meet that way.

Hope and Luke are both characters with very little personal conflict. Hope is a very nice person who wants to help everyone and Luke is the same, but neither one have any real personal issues to overcome. The only character I really cared for was Kirby, whose character was a bit tarnished, and clearly not the guy Hope was going to choose.

I might have still thought this book was all right if not for the writing. Within the first hundred pages, it was said at least five or six times that the miners didn't like outsiders and that included people claiming to be preachers. Then there were also the number of times it was said that only the women and children were ever happy to see Hope and her father (and that was because she bribed them with candy and thread). All of this was told rather than shown, which would have been a lot more interesting.

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

Monday, May 15, 2017

The Illusionist's Apprentice- Kristy Cambron

My Rating: 2.5 Stars

Description: Harry Houdini’s one-time apprentice holds fantastic secrets about the greatest illusionist in the world. But someone wants to claim them . . . or silence her before she can reveal them on her own.

Boston, 1926. Jenny “Wren” Lockhart is a bold eccentric—even for a female vaudevillian. As notorious for her inherited wealth and gentleman’s dress as she is for her unsavory upbringing in the back halls of a vaudeville theater, Wren lives in a world that challenges all manner of conventions.

In the months following Houdini’s death, Wren is drawn into a web of mystery surrounding a spiritualist by the name of Horace Stapleton, a man defamed by Houdini’s ardent debunking of fraudulent mystics in the years leading up to his death. But in a public illusion that goes terribly wrong, one man is dead and another stands charged with his murder. Though he’s known as one of her teacher’s greatest critics, Wren must decide to become the one thing she never wanted to be: Stapleton’s defender.

Forced to team up with the newly formed FBI, Wren races against time and an unknown enemy, all to prove the innocence of a hated man. In a world of illusion, of the vaudeville halls that showcase the flamboyant and the strange, Wren’s carefully constructed world threatens to collapse around her.

Layered with mystery, illusion, and the artistry of the Jazz Age’s bygone vaudeville era, The Illusionist’s Apprentice is a journey through love and loss and the underpinnings of faith on each life’s stage.


My Thoughts: To be upfront, I had not found the premise of this book to be all that interesting. The description made it fairly clear that actual illusions would play little part in the way the book was written and would instead be a backdrop to the rest of the plot. In that I was right. Though the reader is able to view a number of illusions throughout, the continued skepticism of the point of view characters takes away the grandeur of them. Even Wren, an illusionist by trade who should be fascinated by other people's work, instead seems to snidely remark on how none of it could possibly be real.

I understand this in someways, as the author obviously wishes to make her position on such matters clear. And she goes to great lengths to remind the reader that magic is not real and that mystics are nothing but frauds. Yet it causes me to question why the author wrote about vaudeville at all, if she had no intention of using the inherent smoke and mirrors to further draw the reader in.

Cambron has no issue with creating well developed worlds and characters. Wren's background is full of twists, which were well spread through the novel. However, for a story like this, there is a need for a twist in reality, at least so far as the reader understands it. Cambron attempted to capture that same level of mystery with the flow of the scenes and the way in which the characters interacted, and yet I don't believe that it succeeded.

At times, both Elliot and Wren were incredibly vague with their internal monologues, to where I was not sure what they were thinking. At others they seemed to contradict past information given to the reader or else reintroduce facts the reader is already aware of as though they were not.

I wish that I could have liked this book. I've read and enjoyed other novels by this author, as well as novels which dealt with illusion. However I cannot help but feel that Cambron's writing style is not suited to this subject matter. Though, that could be only my opinion.

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

Monday, May 8, 2017

An Uncommon Protector- Shelley Shepard Gray

My Rating: 3 Stars

Description: Overwhelmed by the responsibilities of running a ranch on her own, Laurel Tracey decides to hire a convict—a man who’s just scary enough to take care of squatters and just desperate enough to agree to a one year post.

The years following the war have been hard on Laurel Tracey. Both her brother and her father died in battle, and her mother passed away shortly after receiving word of their demise. Laurel has been trying to run her two hundred acre ranch as best she can.


When she discovers that squatters have settled in her north pasture and have no intention of leaving, Laurel decides to use the last of her money to free a prisoner from the local jail. If she agrees to offer him room and board for one year, he will have to work for her to pay off his debt.


Former soldier Thomas Baker knows he’s in trouble when he finds himself jailed because he couldn’t pay a few fines. Laurel’s offer might be his only ticket out. Though she’s everything he ever dreamed of in a woman—sweet and tender-hearted, yet strong—he’s determined to remain detached, work hard on her behalf, and count the days until he’s free again.


But when cattle start dying and the squatters damage a barn, Thomas realizes more than just his freedom is on the line. Laurel needs someone to believe in her and protect her property. And it isn’t long before Laurel realizes that Thomas Baker is far more than just a former soldier. He’s a trustworthy hero who’s survived a terrible past. He needs more than just his freedom, he needs her love and care too.


My Thoughts: The story started out really good. It was engaging and easy to read, so I blew through the first quarter of the book in one sitting. At that point, I was pretty sure that it was already much better than the last book in the series (which I had given 3.5 stars) and I was really excited to pick it back up the next day.

But then something changed. The story started become repetitive, with a good portion of the character's interacts being the same argument over and over. I also started to notice certain words were repeated far more than they needed to be. There were four pages in a row in which Thomas was "contemplative" about something. He also managed to say a few times what Laurel was thinking, using the same wording so that the character voices of the two were indistinguishable.

As with many authors who become popular, I think this book suffered from too few drafts. As though the editor trusted we would read it anyway, despite the mistakes. And while the problems with this one were not overbearing, they were still off-putting. The story is there for anyone who loves Gray's books, and I still believe that the story itself was better than the first book. However, I'm frustrate to see a great story hurt by simple fixes. So this time around, I can't give it any higher than a three.

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

Monday, May 1, 2017

The Angels' Share- James Markert

My Rating: 4 Stars

Description:

Some believed he was the second coming of Christ. William wasn’t so sure. But when that drifter was buried next to the family distillery, everything changed.
Now that Prohibition has ended, what the townspeople of Twisted Tree, Kentucky, need most is the revival of the Old Sam Bourbon distillery. But William McFee knows it’ll take a miracle to convince his father, Barley, to once more fill his family’s aging house with barrels full of bourbon.

When a drifter recently buried near the distillery begins to draw crowds of pilgrims, the McFees are dubious. Yet miracles seem to come to those who once interacted with the deceased and to those now praying at his grave. As people descend on the town to visit the “Potter’s Field Christ,” William seeks to find the connection between the tragic death of his younger brother and the mysterious drifter.

But as news spreads about the miracles at the potter’s field, the publicity threatens to bring the depth of Barley’s secret past to light and put the entire McFee family in jeopardy.

The Angels’ Share is a story of fathers and sons, of young romance, of revenge and redemption, and of the mystery of miracles.


My Thoughts: The Angels' Share is a good read. The writing is compelling and sucks you into the time period as well as William's chaotic life, inserting you into the setting of Twisted Tree. The story literally opens with a bang and leaves with one as well. Though the pace is slow, there is nothing dull or uninteresting about it.

At times, the lingo was a little much. The author Markert writes as though you already know what most of the terms mean and, though there are context clues, I still was not sure about the meaning of a few. As well, the period slang is thick throughout the dialogue, which was both good and at times stereotypical. I've listened to recordings of mobsters who didn't sake "Jack" so often.

I would also not come looking to this book for a "Christian" read. Despite it's being published by Thomas Nelson, I found it hard to pinpoint a Christian message. Don't get me wrong, the story is great and if you are not looking for a scriptural message, then this is perfect. The "Potter's Field Christ" is portrayed as a character whom no one can agree on, who lived in a time when no one could agree on what they believed anyway.

In some aspects, the story does place the reader in the position of the Israelites during the time of Christ, unsure which narrative they have heard is true. In that respect, it makes for an interesting discussion though I disagree with many of the parallels drawn. As to whether or not you might like this novel, I guess that depends on what you are looking for.

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