Review of The Girl Behind the Red Rope by Ted and Rachel Dekker   Leave a comment

Ten years ago, Grace saw something that would forever change the course of history. When evil in its purest form is unleashed on the world, she and others from their religious community are already hidden deep in the hills of Tennessee, abiding by every rule that will keep them safe, pure–and alive. As long as they stay there, behind the red perimeter.

Her older brother’s questions and the arrival of the first outsiders she’s seen in a decade set in motion events that will question everything Grace has built her life on. Enemies rise on all sides–but who is the real enemy? And what will it cost her to uncover the truth?

For the first time, bestselling authors Ted Dekker and Rachelle Dekker team up and deliver an intense, tightly focused ride through the most treacherous world of all.

***

I can’t say I’ve ever been a fan of Dekker’s writing. I tried reading one book of his years ago and just couldn’t get into it. But when I saw that he and his daughter were writing this one and read the premise, I thought I would go ahead and give it a try. Turned out the story was both better than I thought, but also not quite meeting my expectations. The writing is flawless. You’re pulled into the character’s thoughts effortlessly, the details are perfect with conjuring the scene without bogging you down with too much. For the story itself, I found it intriguing. Yes, it’s your standard religious community that believes only by keeping to themselves and abiding by a list of rules as long as Santa’s list that they keep themselves holy and safe. So they live in fear, scared to step out of line, scared to really know God. To them, He’s just this powerful being in the sky waiting to unleash the Furies upon them that are already ravaging the world, should they break a rule. When they finally hear the message that God loves them, that they are supposed to be His light, it’s something they almost can’t accept.

This part I enjoyed reading, especially how Grace’s eyes were opened to God’s love and she learned how to let go of the fear binding her. That the very monsters she and everyone were scared of were their own creations.

Overall, I enjoyed the story. I was expecting more of a dystopian or supernatural slant, which I feel would have helped it. As it was, it was more of a tease. The great evil haunting everyone, the terrible Furies, felt like a dream that the people of Haven Valley woke up from once they entered the real world once more.

If you’re looking for a pretty decent read with a great message, I recommend grabbing this book. As far as being very memorable, or going deeper into things, it never really reaches that level. But the excellent writing and quick pacing help make up for it.

Verdict: Buy.

(I received a free copy of the book from the publisher and author from the blogging program in exchange for an honest review. All opinions expressed are my own.)

Review of Light from Distant Stars by Shawn Smucker   Leave a comment

 

When Cohen Marah steps over his father’s body in the basement embalming room of the family’s funeral home, he has no idea that he is stepping into a labyrinth of memory. As the last one to see his father, Cohen is the primary suspect.

Over the next week, Cohen’s childhood memories come back in living color. The dramatic events that led to his father being asked to leave his pastoral position. The game of baseball that somehow kept them together. And the two children in the forest who became his friends–and enlisted him in a dark and dangerous undertaking. As the lines blur between what was real and what was imaginary, Cohen is faced with the question he’s been avoiding: Did he kill his father?

***

 

So where to start? Well first of all, lets get to the finer points of this novel. The writing is beautiful. Shawn Smucker knows how to write a haunting tale with vivid imagery that leaves you feeling like you’re walking between a dream and reality. Shawn explores the depth of a father-son relationship and awakening the faith of a man who’s questioned it ever since the loss of his family when he was young.
It’s a good premise and one I was looking forward to, especially when reading about the mysterious supernatural creature called the Beast that haunted Cohen’s childhood.

The sad thing is that the story never delivered. While the writing is excellent, the story is downright flat and ends up going almost nowhere. Cohen doesn’t know if he’s responsible for the death of this father, hence his nightly visits to confession. Then it’s back to the hospital for some dialogue with his sister before collapsing in a chair and crying about the futility of things and loss of something he can’t explain on the inside. And…we repeat. See where I’m going?

The most interesting parts is when Shawn does the flashback scenes to Cohen’s childhood where he meets two mysterious children on their quest to stop the Beast. Honestly, I feel if Shawn had focused on that part of the story from the start and not bothered with an adult Cohen, it would have been a much stronger and interesting story.
But then we come to the end, where everything we think we’re seeing…we’re really not.

I admit, I wasn’t quite sure where Shawn was going with the story, other than trying in a way to show how fathers can hurt their sons. With the endless repetition and focusing on trivial details that (while written beautifully) didn’t add anything to the story, I feel a lot of what he was trying to tell ended up getting lost.

Verdict: If you’re after good writing, obviously this is a book to enjoy for that. For a good story worthy of keeping on your bookshelf, I’d advise looking for something else.

(I received a free copy of the book from the publisher and author from the blogging program in exchange for an honest review. All opinions expressed are my own.)

Review of The Heart of a King: The Loves of Solomon by Jill Eileen Smith   Leave a comment

 

King Solomon was wealthy and wise beyond measure. He could–and did–have anything he wanted, including many women from many lands. But for all his wisdom, did he or the women in his life ever find what they searched for all of their lives?

In this engrossing novel, you’ll find yourself whisked away to ancient Israel, where you’ll meet Solomon and four of the women he loved: Naamah the desert princess, Abishag the shepherdess, Siti the daughter of a pharaoh, and Nicaula the queen of Sheba. As you experience the world of Solomon through his eyes and the eyes of these women, you’ll ask yourself the ultimate question: Did Solomon’s wisdom ultimately benefit him and those he loved . . . or did it betray them?

***

At last, my collection of Biblical fiction from Jill Eileen Smith on the shelf is about complete. I’m happy now. 😀 I’m a huge fan of her work, having collected all of her Daughters of the Promised Land, Wives of King David, and Wives of the Patriarchs series. So I was happy to get her collection of the loves of Solomon, which before was only available as an ebook.

So for the story itself. It focuses on Solomon, of course and 4 women (out of a thousand) who loved him. Naamah, the Ammorite who has come to accept God; Abishag the Shulamite who is first wife to King David and then his son and entrances Solomon with her passion for songs and poetry; Siti, the spoiled Eygptian princess whose intelligence and desire to challenge his belief in God; and lastly Nicaula, the great queen of Sheba who alone he felt to truly be his equal in life.

What I have always liked with Jill Smith’s work is how she manages to portray the people we read about in the Bible and in my opinion, captures their essence perfectly. Solomon’s life was filled with abundance and love, his wisdom unmatched with any. But with all that he had, it was never enough, and Solomon could never find true peace. Even the gift of wisdom he so desired felt like a burden.

I felt both annoyed and sorry for him. Honestly, you can’t help feeling at least a little disgusted how he reuses the same lines of mushy poetry you read in the Song of Solomon on each woman he comes across. But reading on, you can see how in his own way, in those moments he really did love the woman he was with, but his heart was never content.

In this you can’t help but feel for him. For how many times have we made “things” in our own life more important than the One who made them and allowed us to have them? And in so doing, we feel nothing but emptiness inside, only able to feel some spark for the briefest of moments before seeking some new pleasure to try to awaken it back in us again.

Jill portrays that accurately with Solomon, a man who had it all and sought to have so much. He became so enamored with his own wisdom and power he forgot to honor and seek the One who gave it to him. And so nothing in his life satisfied him. Not even love.

Of the women who loved him, Siti was probably my least favorite because she was so whiny and spoiled. But I did like in the end how she started to question her belief in the Egyptian gods and was beginning to make an effort to understand the one God. Naamah was a like a promise that went unfulfilled. She loved Solomon since they first met as children, and marrying him was like a dream come true, even though she knew he would take other wives. In the end, she had to stand off to the side and watch as he went with woman after woman, and ended up forgetting her.
And poor Abishag. She had a lot of love to give, and was probably the most understanding woman ever. She knew what her fate was, but didn’t complain. Even though her moments with Solomon were few, she was happy for them. Because of her gentle nature, she ended up even befriending Naamah, who before was seeing her as just another rival.

And then there is Nicaula. She is beautiful and intelligent, with enormous wealth and power. But she longs for the one things denied her: love. When she hears the tales of Solomon’s wisdom she sets forth to not only see if the tales are true, but find the answers to the burning questions in her soul.

While the story lagged a bit in spots and some moments lost their impact because they were chopped short, Heart of a King is a great read that shows how empty life can be when pursuing things and ignoring God. Because without Him, everything truly is meaningless.

Verdict: Buy

(I received a free copy of the book from the publisher and author from the blogging program in exchange for an honest review. All opinions expressed are my own.)

 

Review of the Refuge by Ann Gabhart   Leave a comment

When Darcie and Walter Goodwin hear of a new cholera epidemic sweeping the area, they join the Shakers whose villages seem immune to the disease. It’s meant to be a temporary stay, but Walter is killed in a riverboat accident. With no family and no money, Darcie has little choice but to stay with the Shakers. To complicate matters, she is expecting a baby conceived before she and her husband came to the Shaker village. Marital relationships are considered sinful in this celibate community, putting Darcie in a unique–and lonely–position. Can the arrival of widower Flynn Keller and his headstrong daughter offer Darcie the hope of happiness . . . and family?

Ann H. Gabhart returns to the enigmatic world of the Shakers in this emotional exploration of the power of love and the bond of family.

***

Darcie and William are fleeing a cholera epidemic and hope to escape the dreadful disease by taking shelter with the Shakers. When William is killed in an accident, Darcy is left alone in a community that forbids marriage and worse, is now pregnant—a visible sign as to the consequences of the ultimate “sin”. With nowhere to go and little money, she sees no other options left to her other than to stay with the Shakers and hope they have mercy on her.

Flynn Keller is still grieving for his wife and struggling to manage his headstrong daughter Leatrice who seems fixed on getting into mischief. After losing his wife because of that same impulsive behavior, he’s determined not to have his daughter killed because of some reckless act on her part. But he needs to give both of them a decent home to stay in and Leatrice needs to learn how to read and write. He doesn’t like it, but the Shakers are looking like the only people he can go to for help.

Honestly, the story turned out better than I expected. It was interesting to read about the Shaker community, even if you were left scratching your head as to how they could have accepted some weird thinking.
The characters Ann Gabhart introduced us to were solid and real. I liked the Shaker women who befriended Darcy, and it was wonderful to read how the birth and taking care of Darcy’s baby brought them even closer and softened the hearts of even the hardest person. A major point of the story is learning not to worry, to take each day as it comes and trust God to work it out, despite what the circumstances look like.

My only quibble is with the romance between the two main characters. I already suspected the author was going to rush it at the end when I reached the three-quarter mark in the book and there was still nothing going on. And then close to the end, a Shazam! is pulled. And you can guess the rest. 😛

While something more natural would have been preferred, this was still a great story to read and one I recommend if you’re looking for solid characters and writing, with a good plot that will keep you turning the pages.

Verdict: Definite buy.

(I received a free copy of the book from the publisher and author from the blogging program in exchange for an honest review. All opinions expressed are my own.)

 

Review of A Bound Heart by Laura Frantz   Leave a comment

 

Though Magnus MacLeish and Lark MacDougall grew up on the same castle grounds, Magnus is now laird of the great house and the Isle of Kerrera. Lark is but the keeper of his bees and the woman he is hoping will provide a tincture that might help his ailing wife conceive and bear him an heir. But when his wife dies suddenly, Magnus and Lark find themselves caught up in a whirlwind of accusations, expelled from their beloved island, and sold as indentured servants across the Atlantic. Yet even when all hope seems dashed against the rocky coastline of the Virginia colony, it may be that in this New World the two of them could make a new beginning–together.

Laura Frantz’s prose sparkles with authenticity and deep feeling as she digs into her own family history to share this breathless tale of love, exile, and courage in Colonial America.

***

 

This is my first book by Laura Frantz, and I have to admit, A Bound Heart is definite a keeper. Frantz transports you to Scotland in the 1750s and the little island of Kerrera. Lark and Magnus are people who live in 2 different worlds. Lark, daughter of a noble clan, is now just the keeper of the castle stillroom where she makes her herbal brews and also tends her bees. Magnus, a laird bound in an unhappy marriage and trying desperately to take care of his people.
When circumstances rip both from the land of their birth, they’re left with only their faith to see them through an ocean-voyage of hardships and then further testing in America.
Frantz is excellent at creating vivid imagery, and the characters are very well-developed. While the story is slow in places, it never gets boring, and it’s wonderful to watch how God takes care of Magnus and Lark through the trials that come their way.
If I have any complaints with the story, it’s only that I wish the romance between Lark and Magnus was better developed, and also that some threads were resolved more fully and fleshed out instead of being brushed aside to hasten the ending.

Verdict: If you’re looking for a good read with inspiring characters, buy this book!

(I received a free copy of the book from the publisher and author in exchange for an honest review. All opinions expressed are my own.)

 

PS: My apologies if this review is a wee bit rushed. That’s what happens when you got too little time and a deadline to post this. 😛

Review of Light Before Day by Suzanne Woods Fisher   Leave a comment

 

After three years on a whaling voyage, Henry Macy returns to Nantucket to news that his grandmother has passed, bequeathing her vast fortune to him and his sister, Hitty. And it was truly vast. But Lillian Coffin was no fool. The inheritance comes with a steep cost, including when they should marry and whom–a Quaker in good standing, of course. But if they relinquish the inheritance, it all goes to Tristram Macy, their father’s thieving business partner.

As Hitty and Henry seek a way to satisfy the will’s conditions, they’ll be faced with obstacles on every side–and it may be that Lillian Coffin will have the last word after all.

Bestselling author Suzanne Woods Fisher surprises and delights with this story of hope and renewal, love and redemption, arriving just when most needed.

***

This is the third book in Suzanne Woods Fisher’s Nantucket Legacy series, which focuses on the Quakers of Nantucket. While I know I’m missing out on a lot of backstory to the characters, I had no problems getting into the book. It’s a well-written and thoroughly enjoyable story, actually becoming the cozy read I was looking for. It was interesting watching how Henry and Hitty both adjust to suddenly becoming wealthy. Hitty is absolutely against it. Wealth, to her, corrupts, and she has no interest in changing her simple lifestyle. She works at the Cent School and moons over a quiet single father who seems to take little notice of her. Moving into her grandmother’s big house feels like moving into prison, and the fortune her grandmother’s chains.

Henry on the other hand, sees the situation differently. He’s always been a man who’s taken long to make up his own mind. It’s why his romance with Anna Gardner has been stagnant all those years. But now, it’s like a light bulb turned on. Even though his grandmother’s fortune comes with strings designed to control their lives from even beyond the grave, Henry has an idea to thwart it and use his grandmother’s wealth to benefit the people in Nantucket. But learning to use the wealth comes with problems of its own.

I really enjoyed the characters in the story. All of them were well-developed, although I will probably forever hold a grudge against Hitty. Anyone who views reading as boring and worse, cuts up a book with scissors, earns them no brownie points with me. 😛 But I digress.

While the story is light, it does touch on the issues of segregation and religious differences, and how they could divide neighbor against neighbor. I loved the messages found inside the book. Of how you shouldn’t underestimate a person’s value or sacrifice your calling to try to match other people’s expectations. And most importantly, seeking God’s Light and letting Him lead you in life.

Verdict: A solid story with great characters and heart. Buy immediately.

(I received a free copy of the book from the publisher and author in exchange for an honest review. All opinions expressed are my own.)

Review of A Sparkle of Silver by Liz Johnson   Leave a comment

 

 

Ninety years ago, Millie Sullivan’s great-grandmother was a guest at oil tycoon Howard Dawkins’ palatial estate on the shore of St. Simons Island, Georgia. Now, Millie plays a 1920s-era guest during tours of the same manor. But when her grandmother suggests that there is a lost diary containing the location of a hidden treasure on the estate, along with the true identity of Millie’s great-grandfather, Millie sets out to find the truth of her heritage–and the fortune that might be hers. When security guard Ben Thornton discovers her snooping in the estate’s private library, he threatens to have her fired. But her story seems almost too ludicrous to be fiction, and her offer to split the treasure is too tempting to pass up . . .

Get ready for a romantic escapade through dark halls and dusty corners that will have you holding your breath and sighing with delight as two charming characters get caught up in the adventure of uncovering the past and finding their way to an unexpected future.

***

Hello, folks! I know, look who’s back. 😛 And with another book review. 😀

As those of who have been following my blog know, I like to occasionally go outside my preferred genre of fantasy and Biblical fiction to try something different and experience a new setting. When I saw Liz Johnson’s work “A Sparkle of Silver” advertised as a comfy mystery romance, I thought to myself “why not?” and decided to give it a try.

Millie Sullivan is a girl who’s struggling to make it one day at a time and juggle finances to keep her grandmother, who is struggling with dementia, housed in a nursing home. Then she is faced with the horrible reality of her grandmother being evicted unless she can come up with the funds necessary to get her a better place. She has zero prospects of that happening until during one of Grandma Joy’s lucid moments, finds out from the woman about a lost diary from her great-grandmother that holds the clues to a lost treasure. Armed with this knowledge, she immediately seeks employment at the local Chateau where Grandma Joy believes it to be.

Ben Thornton is working 3 jobs, his position as a security guard at the Chateau being one of them, Trying to earn enough to pay back the numerous victims of his mother’s schemes. With name after name coming up and feeling powerless to make restitution for his mother’s sins, he despairs of ever being able to wipe the slate clean until he catches Millie snooping around in the Chateau’s library.
Despite his reservations, he agrees to team up with her and find the lost diary in exchange for half of the treasure found.

The first quarter or so of this book was a bit of a slog for me. While I enjoy comfy stories, I like them to go somewhere, not spend pages crammed with details on very simple scenes. It was like Millie’s mind in a way. Veering off into aimless wandering before snap! Back to the story. Wander again…snap!

Every now and then we are sent into the past to relive the days of Millie’s great-grandmother when she was a guest at the Chateau. The ironic thing is that the story there was more interesting and flowed better than the one set in present day. Gradually, though, things do pick up. The mystery, such as it is, never amounts to much, but the romance part between Millie and Ben improves.

Millie, to me, acted ridiculously immature for her age and the responsibilities she was supposed to have, which made it hard to really connect with her. She does grow through the story, but you never feel she truly reaches a mature state until the end. Ben, on the other hand, is a pretty solid character, as well as Grandma Joy, even though her scenes were few.

Overall, the story does improve the farther you go. While I wasn’t exactly treated to a warm and comfy mystery read, I did get a lighthearted story with the message that when you leave things in God’s hands and trust Him to provide for you instead of yourself doing it, things always work out.

Verdict: For those seeking a lighthearted read that takes its time, you’ll have no problem enjoying this story.

(I received a free copy of the book from the publisher and author in exchange for an honest review. All opinions expressed are my own.

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