Sunday, June 29, 2014

Review of "Mark of Disctinction" by Jessica Dotta

The second book in the "Price of Privilege" series by a favorite new author, our continuation of Julia's story was easily worth the wait.

We again enter the Victorian era and begin immediately where book 1, "Born of Persuasion" left off. (By the way, if you haven't yet read the first book in this series - please don't attempt this one. You'll be very confused. You'll also be quite happy you were able to read them both in succession, rather than having to wait ages for number 2 like the rest of us.)  :)

Julia has "escaped" Mr. Macy and is now living under the protection of her father, Lord Pierson. She is immediately swept up into more intrigue and confusion, as she continues to learn the rules of London society and is forced to be presented as the Emerald Heiress. She finds an ally in Lord Dalry, her father's protégé who is coming into power himself, all as she is trying to discover what she really believes and again, who she can trust.

This beautifully written, suspenseful, interesting, and well-developed story is very worthy of your investment of time and money to have in your collection.

Review of "Life Support" by Candace Calvert

Another book in the author's Grace Medical series (these can be stand alone books, but as they include some of the same characters I believe you'll have a richer experience if you read in order).

Lauren Barclay is a nurse at Grace Medical in Houston, where she has recently returned to be closer to her family. Her younger sister Jessica has been having a tough time and Lauren is unsure of the true cause. Eli Landry is a PA at Grace who has some family struggles of his own, as he is in a long and difficult power struggle with his Father about his older brother, Drew, who suffered a traumatic brain injury years ago. Although Lauren and Eli have had their differences in the past, as they work together they begin to have a better understanding of their shared past and are able to explore the possibility of a new and different future.

This story shows how they navigate some very difficult situations - including illness, misunderstanding, an impending hurricane! - and still find some hope.

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Review of "The Auschwitz Escape" by Joel C. Rosenberg

Whew, this one was tough. The writing was excellent and the story compelling, but what a difficult subject. When dealing with historical fiction, I personally find it a wonderful way to get a feel for what the day/culture must have been like while enjoying a great story. This book was no exception on that note; but the topic, simply painful.

Jacob Wiesz is a young Jew growing up in his family's beloved Germany. As the Nazis begin to come into power, he finds it hard to believe that so much hate exists in the world. Through a series of horrifying events, Jacob eventually joins the rebels fighting the terrible tide of insane prejudice. Although he experiences some success, one operation goes terribly wrong and he finds himself being taken to Auschwitz. Navigating the unthinkable, he is determined to escape and tell the world what is actually happening there - these are not work camps, they are death camps; and the Nazis will give anything to keep that quiet. Jacob will do anything to get out.

And even though it is certainly a difficult subject to read about, much less comprehend, it is absolutely worthy of your investment of time and resources. This is truly an important book.

Review of "The Prayer Box" by Lisa Wingate

Author Lisa Wingate never fails to impress me. I think at this point I have read every book she's published, and although they are all very different in their concept and storyline; they are rich in meaning and texture. Not sure how else to explain it.

Out of all of her books, The Prayer Box easily stands out as one of my favorites. Single mom Tandi Reese has been renting a cottage from elderly Iola Anne Poole on Hatteras Island, and after discovering Iola Anne has passed away, she's terrified she will lose any of the precarious stability she's managed to find there. She's hired by the local church to help clean and prepare the "estate", and in doing so discovers 81 carefully preserved prayer boxes, one for each year of Iola Anne's life. Tandi soon finds that each box is a time capsule of sorts and begins to unravel not just Iola's story....but eventually her own, as along the way she is challenged to rediscover her faith and gain some trust in the God who loves her most.

Ms. Wingate weaves humor, heartache, faith, and transparency in a way that is both unique and touching. This book will not leave you unchanged.

Review of "Tattler's Branch" by Jan Watson

We return to Skip Rock in the early 1900's, where we find Lily Corbett Still has grown up, married Tern, and is practicing medicine in her small town. Although she is brilliant, she sometimes possesses more passion and good intentions than sense! And so, she eventually finds herself entangled in a mystery that includes a bad guy, a baby, and mental illness. I especially enjoyed the strong characters and medical references of the time - thanks to the author for her research!

Jan Watson is a wonderful storyteller, and I am so glad she decided to continue Lily's story. I also appreciate that although she has numerous other books that include these characters, they all can essentially be stand alone titles. However, if you have yet to read any I would recommend starting at the beginning, because it will give you a greater perspective and depth! They are all still great on their own - you decide. Enjoy!

Review of "The Sentinels of Andersonville" by Tracy Groot

I am so glad I read this book. It took me quite a while to "settle in" and really enjoy it, but I am thankful I stuck it through!  A story heavily based in the reality of Andersonville Prison in Georgia, which (especially towards the end of the Civil War), was literally hell on earth. Housing close to a total of 50,000 (in and out) prisoners, the number of men who died there are so high that they are almost unfathomable. Most died of starvation or exposure to the outside elements. Disease ran rampant and at Andersonville, the conditions are not something that anyone would describe as livable - war or no.

The author posts a "note to the reader" at the beginning of the book that is a warning of sorts - and truly, the descriptions of what happened there are hard to read. However, they happened. And may we all take a note to ourselves that this should not ever be repeated. For that reason alone I would suggest you read this book. However, her sense of humor is wickedly depicted, and her characters are real and interesting. Please read this book. You, as I, will be glad you did.

Saturday, June 21, 2014

Review of "The Midwife" by Jolina Petersheim

Several time periods, lives, and mysteries are woven together masterfully in Jolina Petersheim's second novel, "The Midwife."  This beautifully complex story bounces back and forth between 1996 and present day as we learn about Beth Winslow's deep heartache that stems from her mothers' abandonment. A graduate student hoping to pursue a PhD in bioethics, she agrees to be a surrogate for her professor-and so begins a long and winding path she never expected to take.

I could say so much more about the story and its characters but hesitate to even accidentally give anything away. Please, run to your bookstore or favorite ebook app and get this book (along with "The Outcast", please) right away!

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Review of "Born of Persuasion" by Jessica Dotta

A great beginning to the "Price of Privilege" series by a favorite new author, Jessica Dotta's period piece about London society, its rules, and the life of a young woman in the mid- 1800's is rich in description, characterization, and depth of story. I was engaged from page one and she did not disappoint throughout. 

Set in the Regency era, our heroine, Julia, is the daughter of renowned atheist William Elliston. As such she too has (shockingly for the time) scorned God. Both he and now her mother are deceased, so Julia's unknown and untrusted guardian has come into the picture. Julia knows action must be taken to secure her future but does not know whom she can truly trust. Full of suspense and intrigue (they were tricky back then, the English! -everything has more than one meaning), she must discover for herself which course to follow. Can Mr Macy be trusted? Does Edward truly love her? Why did no one tell her William Elliston is not who she thought? Just who is her mysterious guardian?

I can't say enough how much I loved this book. I am eager to get my hands on the next one and anything else by this author, for that matter!

Review of "All For a Story" by Allison Pittman

Monica Bisbaine is a flapper girl and newspaper columnist who wants so much more for her life, yet she continues to settle. Personally, she is scandalously dating a married man (to her credit, she didn't know he was married when he first pursued her; however now that she knows she is unwilling to break it off). Professionally, she skates on the edge of danger with the gossip column she writes anonymously for a local paper, "Monkey Business" -telling all the social hotspots (including speakeasies).

When the paper's owner dies unexpectedly, his distant nephew Maximilian Moore inherits the estate, such as it is, including the newspaper. He moves to DC from California and begins to make some changes. Although Monica is not happy with all of his decisions, she is drawn to him for reasons she struggles to understand.

As always, Ms. Pittman provides great characters and a rich in history story that you will enjoy. Check out her other titles as well; you won't be disappointed!

Review of "What Did Jesus Really Mean When He Said To Follow Me?" by David Platt

'Follow Me' is a quick read that is jam packed with both truth and encouragement. Mr. Platt has a clear and concise way of communicating that will speak to all learning types. This booklet could easily be used as a way to share your faith, or simply as an encouragement to you teaching some basic principles so central to following Christ, yet they are easily ignored or set aside for many. It is convicting in the best way possible. I can easily recommend it - you'll likely want/need more than just one!!

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Review of "Heart of the Country" by Rene Gutteridge

Although I was fully prepared to love this book and be engaged, as I really enjoy Ms. Gutteridge's writing and sense of humor, I had such a hard time not only getting in to this book, but truly liking it as we went along.

Luke and Faith are madly in love; he from a wealthy family, she, a small town girl. It seems to be a match none the less, and for a while their lives are idyllic. However, Luke is busted for what seems to be his part in a Ponzi scheme, and when Faith finds out she literally hits the road to go back "home"  - not really even listening to his explanation. Her problems are compounded when she arrives, as she finds out her father is very sick and her sister is not terribly interested in having a relationship with her.

A contemporary take on the story of the prodigal, this book was readable but not fully engaging or even especially memorable for me personally.

Review of "Every Waking Moment" by Chris Fabry

Chris Fabry is quickly becoming one of my go-to authors, as I'm pretty sure what I'm going to get when I start one of his books : not only a great read, but a thought-provoking, interesting, and even an unusual-subject-matter-book. Along with some humor. "Every Waking Moment" does not disappoint in any of those regards.

Our four main characters are Treha Langsam, a custodian at a retirement home who has a special gift: she is able to communicate with patients with dementia, to reach them and draw them out, even though she is considered by some to be impaired, or to have her own special needs; Miriam Howard, the facilities director at the home who is on the cusp of retirement herself. She is kind and caring, and unfortunately her replacement does not accept what she cannot understand, and Treha soon finds herself unemployed. Devin Hillis, an aspiring documentary filmmaker who "collects stories" and has just enough belief to keep hanging onto his dreams, but just few enough dollars that it's high risk to continue; and his assistant, the wise cracking and somewhat more realistic Jonah.

The book also includes an interesting element of suspense, as we are shown pieces of why Treha is as special as she is. The many layers of this book make for an excellent story, one that I can highly recommend!

Review of "Bridge to Haven" by Francine Rivers

The long-awaited newest Francine Rivers novel, "Bridge to Haven", is a sweeping saga that takes the reader from a small town in California, to the Korean War, to the big screen in Hollywood, and back again.

When a caring pastor and family man finds an abandoned newborn baby under a bridge while on his morning prayer walk, he soon realizes that things in his family's life are going to change. What he doesn't realize at the time is just how much change is around the corner.

Baby Abra grows up and believes, inaccurately, that she is not loved, and is not even worthy of it anyways. She begins to rebel accordingly, making some extremely bad decisions that have lasting negative impact. Certain that is she can be a "star" she will finally be worthy and important, she does not consider those she's left behind. She also doesn't consider how some of her choices will affect the ones who love her.

Ms. Rivers was reportedly inspired by a story in the Bible from Ezekiel, and it's clear she has done her homework about the era. Although I love all of her books and was definitely prepared to love this one....I just....liked it. I can't rave about it. I felt like there were a few plot points that weren't resolved and I was left hanging, and I eventually became annoyed by Abra's stubbornness, as she was bringing a lot of her heartache upon herself. You can only sympathize with so many bad decisions; then it starts to feel frustrating. All that to say! - I definitely think it is worth reading and forming your own opinion.

Review of "Popular" by Tindell Baldwin

Tindell Baldwin had one focus in her teen years: to be popular by any means possible. She began drinking, smoking, doing drugs, having sex. In her memoir "Popular: Booze, Boys, & Jesus" she tells that although she had an amazing family who loved her unconditionally, although she was pretty, although she knew all about Jesus; she still was trying to fill a perceived emotional void that she ultimately determined could only be filled by God.

She is very transparent in this memoir, sharing very raw and vulnerable parts of her story. In no way is she trying to make herself look good, or downplay any of the choices she made. The book is divided into two parts, "Dark" and "Light" - and she is very open about what her decisions cost her.  I can easily recommend this book for anyone, but especially for a teen going through a tough time and/or a parent of a child who is struggling. This book will give you hope.

Sunday, June 8, 2014

Review of "Critical Pursuit" by Janice Cantore

Brinna Caruso is a Long Beach Police Officer with a pretty unique story. She was kidnapped as a small child, abused, and left to die. Found and returned to her now emotionally broken family by a determined police officer, she grew up and dedicated herself not only to the law, but specifically to finding missing children. She is laser focused on child predators and is determined to eliminate them from her "Wall of Slime," one by one. As the 20 year anniversary of her kidnapping draws closer, a seemingly copycat serial predator begins taunting her. She is also forced to work with a new partner on patrol, Jack, who is nursing a serious grudge against the drunk driver who killed his wife and unborn child.

This is the first book in a new series by retired LBPD officer Janice Cantore.

Review of "Passages Volume 1: The Marus Manuscripts" by Paul McCusker

Passages Volume 1: The Marus Manuscripts is a summary of three books in one volume:
Arin’s Judgment:
Wade Mullins is a pretty smart schoolkid in the 1940's just post WWII.  He and his best friend Bobby are fascinated by airplanes, bombers, and bombs.  Bobby's cousin Lee has just sent him some drawings that are top secret, as they are related to the creation of the atomic bomb.  Through a series of events Wade ends up with the drawings and is attempting to burn them when he is transported from his basement in Odyssey to Marus. Interestingly in many ways, Marus is quite technologically advanced, using solar for everything - but it has led them to begin to worship the sun instead of the Unseen One.

Wade is quickly taken as a "guest" of Tyran and Tyran's top sidekick, Dr. Liszt.  He shares with Dr. Liszt the atomic bomb drawings and the information is quickly used for evil and not for good.  Also, the flu Wade had before arriving in Marus has far-reaching consequences....

This is a retelling of the story of Noah, but at times I wondered if Hitler was in there somehow (Tyran was awfully similar in his attempts to take over the world). All in all, I am still enjoying the author's take on Biblical stories through the lens of Odyssey.

Darien’s Rise:
It's the summer of 1958 and Kyle and his sister Anna couldn't be more bored.  They are staying for a month this summer with their grandparents in Odyssey and are looking for a little adventure.  Their uncle tells them of an old house in the woods and they decide to find it.  When they do, what first appears a decaying, abandoned house actually is a portal to another world - the world of Marus, where kings and generals and swords are the norm.  Soon both Anna & Kyle discover their calling - she the 'voice' and he the 'protector'; and their lives, both in Marus and Odyssey, will never be the same.

This retelling of the story of David, Saul, and Samuel was wonderfully done, and I love the author's take on Biblical stories through the lens of Odyssey. In the few books I've read so far, they have done a great job of depicting the truth while telling an interesting and poignant story.  I highly recommend this series, both for children and adults.

Annison’s Risk:
It is the 1920's and 'Dreamy Madina', or Maddy as she is known, has come with her family to America from Russia to escape the Russian Revolution.  She now lives in Odyssey and often has dreams of a fairy tale princess who asks for her help.  She loves to read and has many fanciful ideas.  While playing hide and seek with a neighbor boy she is transported to a palace in Marus - where she sees the princess from her dreams.  She can only jump into this real life fairy tale with her whole heart, and she just might learn something - and help save the kingdom.

This retelling of the story of Esther was wonderfully done, and I am really enjoying the author's take on Biblical stories through the lens of Odyssey.  In the few books I've read so far, they have done a great job of depicting the truth while telling an interesting and poignant story.

Visit for more information about the publisher of this and other great books.

Review of "It Had to be You" by Susan May Warren

The second book in the Christiansen Family series by Susan May Warren, and I think I liked it even better than the first. Eden is one of my favorites from the Christiansen clan. She is everyone's cheerleader, truly believing in their strengths, yet fails to see her own true value. She is struggling to find her place in the world and perceives that everyone else has something special but her. Her younger brother Owen has just earned a contract to play professional hockey and he is edging off the straight and narrow, not seeing how the choices he makes in the moment can have long term consequences.

Owen's teammate, team captain Jace Jacobsen, has a "reputation" - although we very quickly see his real heart. He appears to have everything he could ever want but carries around a huge amount of guilt and loss. He feels things deeply and even after a short period of time realizes Eden just might be the person he could spend his life with.

I love the way the author wove several storylines together seamlessly, not taking the expected way to tie things together but showing how broken things can be made beautiful when you allow God to fulfill His purposes in your life. I wholeheartedly recommend this book!