Monday, February 25, 2019

Within These Lines- Stephanie Morrill

My Rating: 3.5 Stars

Description: Evalina Cassano’s life in an Italian-American family in 1941 is everything it “should be” until she falls in love with Taichi Hamasaki, the son of Japanese immigrants. Despite the scandal it would cause and that inter-racial marriage is illegal in California, Evalina and Taichi vow they will find a way to be together. But anti-Japanese feelings erupt across the country after the attack on Pearl Harbor, and Taichi and his family are forced to give up their farm and move to an internment camp.

Degrading treatment make life at Manzanar Relocation Center difficult. Taichi’s only connection to the outside world are treasured letters from Evalina. Feeling that the only action she can take to help Taichi is to speak out on behalf of all Japanese Americans, Evalina becomes increasingly vocal at school and at home. Meanwhile, inside Manzanar, fighting between different Japanese-American factions arises. Taichi begins to doubt he will ever leave the camp alive.

With tensions running high and their freedom on the line, Evalina and Taichi must hold true to their values and believe in their love to make a way back to each other against unbelievable odds.

My Thoughts: This is a confusing review for me to write. I've been extremely excited for this book for a while now, ever since reading Girl of Astor Street and learning that this was to be Stephanie's next book. I had hoped for a novel as awesome as that, hopefully with some mystery as well. However, this book was not as similar to the author's last as I hoped.

As always, Stephanie's writing is amazing. It is easy to read and relate with, and I blew through the story in a day with little to complain about. But even while reading, I knew that while I believed this story worthy of a four star review for most, it was more of a three star read for me personally. The reason for this is that I believe the narrative relies a lot of the reader having never read another book about Japanese Interment and to perhaps be a little in the dark about that time in history. And for most readers, this is true. Japanese Internment is not a much talked out subject in America, unlike the Holocaust which most everyone knows something about.

However, I have read about Japanese Interment, both novels and nonfiction accounts. I have been interested in the subject from a young age and so, as with any historical I read, I was hoping to learn something new or to at least find the story to be about the internal conflict of the characters who still believed themselves Americans but found their country telling them that they were not American enough.

And I KNOW, I warned that this review would be confusing. Because I do believe that had I not already known about most of what was mentioned in this book (I did learn about one event that I had not heard of before, and was captivated for those chapters) that I would have been singing the story's highest praises. And I do recommend that people read this and learn more about a subject they may not have known much about. Because Stephanie's writing is phenomenal and Japanese Internment is a piece of history that should never be forgotten or dismissed.

That's not to say that if you already know about Japanese Internment, that you will not enjoy this story. It is still well told, it just didn't hit all of the right notes for me. I wish that there had been more of an internal conflict with the characters as their worlds shifted, as well as perhaps some flashbacks to the beginning of Taichi and Evalina's relationship. Because even before internment, it took guts for these characters to choose to be together.

I have provided an honest review of this book. However, I was not required to post a review as I received an ARC through a giveaway held by the author.

Monday, February 18, 2019

Of Fire and Lions- Mesu Andrews

My Rating: 5 Stars

Description: The Old Testament book of Daniel comes to life in this novel for readers of Lynn Austin's Chronicles of the Kings series or Francine Rivers' Mark of the Lion series.

Survival. A Hebrew girl first tasted it when she escaped death nearly seventy years ago as the Babylonians ransacked Jerusalem and took their finest as captives. She thought she'd perfected in the many years amongst the Magoi and the idol worshippers, pretending with all the others in King Nebuchadnezzar's court. Now, as Daniel's wife and a septuagenarian matriarch, Belili thinks she's safe and she can live out her days in Babylon without fear--until the night Daniel is escorted to Belshazzar's palace to interpret mysterious handwriting on a wall. The Persian Army invades, and Belili's tightly-wound secrets unfurl with the arrival of the conquering army. What will the reign of Darius mean for Daniel, a man who prays to Yahweh alone?

Ultimately, Yahweh's sovereign hand guides Jerusalem's captives, and the frightened Hebrew girl is transformed into a confident woman, who realizes her need of the God who conquers both fire and lions.

My Thoughts: Daniel has always been one of my favorite men from the Bible, due to his honor and the many miracles that occur throughout his life. But while there are plenty of books were Daniel is a side character, those stories often leave Daniel appearing inhumanly perfect, without fears or regrets. Whereas Mesu's novel shows him to have been just as human as the rest of us, though perhaps with a bit more faith.

I'll admit that I was hesitant when I first picked up this book. It starts off in Daniel and Belili's old age, leading me to believe that I was not going to be able to see the miracles from Daniel's life but only read as he recounted them. Fortunately, this was not the case as the story drifted back and forth through time, anchoring the narrative in the ending period of Judah's seventy years of exile before shifting back to detail everything that happened in those seventy years.

Belili is not my favorite of Mesu's heroines. She is not as likeable or as upright as some. However, I felt that I could relate to her struggles with belif. Like all of us, she has seen moments of God's goodness, but easily forgets them when faced with hardship. And it is only a long and hard road which leads her to trust Yahweh no matter the consequences to herself or others.

Despite my initial trepidation, Of Fire and Lions has become my second favorite of Mesu's novels (I think The Pharaoh's Daughter will always be my favorite) because of its honesty in portraying the characters' failings and regrets even as they seek to follow God in their daily lives. Trusting God is not an easy path, but it is rewarding if we take courage in God and see it through.

I have provided an honest review after having received an ARC through the author and publisher.

There is also a pre-order sale going on! Read this message from the publisher: We have some serious fun planned for you on release day, March 5th! You are going to want a copy of the book in your hands early that morning to participate in the Of Fire and Lions Launch Day Palooza! (More details to come on this 12-hour event in the March 4th Book Lover Newsletter.)

How do you get a book in your hot, little hands on launch day, you ask? We have three easy options for you!

- Pre-order your copy from WaterBrook Multnomah during their Pre-Order BOGO event. (Pssst...this option includes a free 2nd book!)
- Pre-order a copy from your favorite on-line retailer. Click here for options:
– Visit your favorite local bookseller when it opens on launch day!

Regardless of which option you choose, you will want to be ready to start answering questions at 8:00 AM (Eastern Time). Make sure to check out the March 4th newsletter for more information!

Tuesday, February 12, 2019

Cover Reveal for The End of the Magi by Patrick Carr!!

There is a cover for Patrick Carr's new book!! This one is a bit different than his last few novels (it is a Biblical Fiction novel rather than fantasy), but is sure to be just as amazing. Keep reading to see the short blurb available on Goodreads.

Fleeing for his life after his adoptive father is put to death by a ruthless Parthian queen, Myrad, a young magi acolyte, escapes the city. There he begins an epic journey filled with peril, close escapes, and dangerous battles. Over everything shines the dream of a star that Myrad can't forget and the promise that the world will never be the same.

Monday, February 11, 2019

The Sound of Rain- Sarah Loudin Thomas

My Rating: 3 Stars

Description: In the Dark of the Mine, In the Face of Rising Water,
In the Shadows of the Hills, Faith Will See Them Through

Judd Markley knew he could never set foot underground again. The mine collapse that nearly killed him and claimed his brother's life meant leaving West Virginia forever. Although that hard Appalachian world was all he knew, he put it behind him and headed for the open sky of the thriving town of 1954 Myrtle Beach, South Carolina.

Larkin Heyward's life in the beach town is uncomplicated, mostly volunteer work and dancing at the Pavilion. But she dreams of one day doing more and being more--maybe moving to the hills and hollers of Kentucky to help the poor children of Appalachia. But she's never even met someone who's lived there--until she encounters Judd, the newest employee at her father's timber company.

Drawn together in the wake of a hurricane that changes Myrtle Beach forever, Judd's and Larkin's dreams pull them in divergent directions. It will take a significant sacrifice to keep them together--or maybe, it will take a miracle.

My Thoughts: I was pulled back and forth with this book. On the one hand, I really like Judd's character and reading his scenes was enjoyable. Judd was a really sweet guy who never tried to force his opinion on others, only stated his mind and left it at that. And though this seems to be a growing trend in romance, stepping away from the alpha male heroes, it is a trend that I fully enjoy.

On the other hand, I was not a fan of Larkin. I felt that she was fairly immature and that the book gave her easy outs to her poor decisions. Rather than having to learn to make better choices, she is only encouraged to "follow her dreams", even though these dreams are ill defined and could be followed out where she already is rather than her having to runaway to the mountains. That's not to say that her character did not grow. I did prefer her toward the later half of the story and the way she was with Kyle and Granny. But by then, she willingly turned over the dreams she had worked so hard to achieve.

As to the book as a whole, the pacing is slow, which I liked, but it also meant that most all of the conflict came from the characters themselves. The hurricane that the description of the book mentions hardly makes an impact on the story itself and the conflict hinted at throughout which related to Pete ends up happening mostly off screen. As a character driven story, Judd is a compelling character whose scenes always read with enough conflict to keep the story interesting. And his romance with Larkin is a sweet one. I just wish that Larkin could have been more responsible.

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

Monday, February 4, 2019

Letters to an American Christian- Bruce Riley Ashford

My Rating: 2.5 Stars

Description: What does it mean to be an American Christian?

In Letters to an American Christian, Bruce Riley Ashford, author of One Nation Under God, addresses overarching issues of the relationship of Christianity and politics, speaks to the way historic Christian belief informs specific hot-button political issues, and challenges readers to take seriously both our heavenly and earthly citizenships. Written as a series of letters to "Christian"—a young college student who is a new believer—Letters to an American Christian will help every reader think carefully about how Christianity informs what it means to be an American.

In the midst of a rapidly changing national and political landscape, Letters to an American Christian reminds us of two important truths: we cannot afford to shrink away from our earthly citizenship, and we cannot afford to lose sight of our heavenly citizenship.

My Thoughts: This is one of those books where my opinion of it seems to have scattered across the board. In some ways, I would recommend, while others would cause me to hesitate in offering it to someone. The most important area of this is is the content of the book itself.

Personally, I agree with most of the points or stances that Ashford takes. And I appreciated that he had the guts to call out some aspects of right wing politics that venture into the realm of idolatry, though he does have more to say on issues of liberal politics. Yet, I also found certain arguments weak or else completely Americanized, with little scriptural backing (not that there IS no scriptural backing, but that he did not point to any).

However, I think what might have hindered Ashford's message was the delivery. While the narrative implies that "Christian" is a real person, none of his letters are included. And while many of Ashford's explanations are necessary for those without a political bent, they seem to explain things that someone heavily invested in politics (as Christian is) would already know. Especially since the tone of the letters reads less like something one would write to an acquaintance and more like an essay written to a larger audience.

Because this book reads more for a large audience than an individual, it actually loses its ability to make strong cases for or against certain opinions. Each topic discussed could have gone further into depth, with more real life examples, but instead the letters only grazed the surface as numerous pages were devoted to explaining things which did not need to be explained or else repeating stories from "Christian's" letters (which should be unnecessary if Christian is real and already knows what it was that he wrote).

Ultimately, I do believe that the book could offer some moral challenge, particularly to those who fall in the trap of idolizing the government instead of trusting in God. However, I do not believe that it will be overly effective in convincing anyone to change their opinions or actions, only strengthen the stance of those who already agree with Ashford's position.

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