Thursday, December 25, 2014

Book Review: Love Unexpected by Jody Hedlund (3.5 stars, 2014)

Love Unexpected by Jody Hedlund
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The story takes place in 1859, on Presque Isle, Michigan. With their steamboat under attack by fresh-water pirates, Emma Chamber and her brother Ryan jump overboard into the frigid waters of Lake Huron, praying for a miracle. Neither of them believe strongly in miracles anymore, ever since their mother died of starvation in Ireland and their father passed away after doing whatever was necessary for them to survive, including theft which then led him to drink. But lighthouse keeper Patrick Garraty spotted the sinking steamboat from his perch and rushes to save whoever he can, meaning Ryan and Emma. Befuddled by the loss of their passage, once again nearly penniless, Ryan must work locally in order to earn enough for their passage on a new ship, work which will take him at least a few months. Emma is left to her own devices, saddened that her brother is once again saddled with her as a burden, that is until Patrick Garraty and the local preacher, Holy Bill, approach her with a proposition. Patrick's wife just recently died and he is in desperate need of someone to watch his two-year-old son, Josiah, while he tends to the care and upkeep of the lighthouse. The only condition is that they must marry. After a moment of panic at the very notion, Emma agrees to Patrick's plan, having already taken a liking to the toddler and thrilled at being able to release her little brother from his responsibility in protecting and providing for her. Now Patrick and Emma must work together to form a new life for themselves and for little Josiah, but their fledgling relationship is tested by local gossips and the rumor mill, raising doubts in Emma's mind about the suitability and faithfulness of her new husband.

This is my third Jody Hedlund book, and the start to a brand new series by her, entitled Beacons of Hope. Ms. Hedlund enjoys writing about lighthouses, particularly those in the Michigan area run by female lighthouse keepers, and so she based Emma and Patrick off two real people, Patrick Garraty and his wife Mary Chambers. The historicity of the novel is fascianting. Even Holy Bill, an eccentric and amusing character, is based off a real individual. I always find that using historic people and places, doing your research as a writer, always enhances historic fiction, and Ms. Hedlund does one of the finest jobs out there when it comes to her research.

As to the characters themselves, I truly appreciated Patrick, both as a husband and as a father. He has a speckled past, full of mistakes and poor choices, but he turned his life around with God's help and refuses to return to his past sins. He is a gentle and loving father, an affectionate husband, and a dedicated lighthouse keeper, determined to keep the lighthouse going every night, even when he's so tired that he can barely stay awake. I struggle more with liking Emma, unfortunately. It's not that she's unlikeable, it's just that she makes errors in judgement. She chooses to befriend the nosiest, most mean-spirited woman in town, spilling her new husband's secrets in earnest to the woman, hoping for advice. Emma creates most of the problems in this book by her foolishness in trusting the wrong people who are obviously the wrong people from the start.

I deeply appreciate Ms. Hedlund's writing. She is skilled in her descriptions and her dialogue, painting very real and vivid pictures most of the time. I just wish, in this book, that Emma and Patrick had talked. A lot of the angst and turmoil could have been avoided with a few simple conversations. Emma constantly jumped to conclusions about Patrick: oh, he couldn't love her, she's plain, he's angry with her, he could never desire her, etc. All while it's obvious that Patrick adores her and is highly attracted to her. She even tries to leave because she assumes something she sees is true, that her opinion of it is right, and that a conversation with Patrick would be pointless. She's sure she's right, and so she runs away without talking to him. That's foolish and reckless. Communication is just as important in fiction as it is in real life, and I just wish that Patrick and Emma had communicated more.

On my rating scale, I would give Love Unexpected 3.5 stars. I'm rounding it up because the flaw is not in her writing, only in some of the character development and design. The book is a quick and simple read, enjoyable in many places, and one that most readers will love.

- I received a free copy of this book from Bethany House Publishers in exchange for an honest review, which I have given.

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Saturday, December 20, 2014

The Hobbit: The Battle of Five Armies

It is a strange thing to finish something that I first fell in love with when I was fourteen. Like almost every other American, I headed to the theater last Wednesday to watch The Hobbit: The Battle of Five Armies. The only problem is that I'm now perplexed. It didn't raise a single tear. I disconnected emotionally from everyone except Bilbo, so when everyone else in the theater is sniffling and weeping, I'm sitting there stoically calm, unmoved by everything except some of Bilbo's emotional reactions.

It's sad. Really, it is because I love this story. I've loved The Hobbit since the moment I first picked up the book. It's an incredible and imaginative tale of adventure and daring-do, with a highly courageous and blunt hobbit at the head. So why didn't this final movie impress me? I suppose I could spend time pondering and rehashing and tearing down, but I won't. I'd like to think that the fans, even the diehard ones, see the flaws and don't need me to remind them. I remember my frustrations with The Two Towers, its plot deviations and insanity, so this feeling is really nothing new. And it may change the next time I see this final installment.

Thursday, December 4, 2014

Femnista - Nov/Dec Edition 2014: A Family Affair

It's the season again, both for the delights of the Christmas holiday and for the next issue of Femnista. The theme this time around is A Family Affair and this issue is in fact stocked to the rafters with the goods on various literary and film families we all know and love, or even love to hate depending on where you stand

Within these delightful pages you will find the goods on the Baratheons (Game of Thrones), the March family (Little Women), the Gilmores (Gilmore Girls), Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters, the Gibsons (Wives and Daughters), the Crawleys (Downton Abbey), the Jones's (Indiana Jones), the Mikaelsons (The Originals), The Bennets (Pride and Prejudice), the Winchesters (Supernatural), and of course, the Holmes's (Sherlock), along with many others.

My article is, as promised, on Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters, a movie I happen to deeply love. I hope you take a moment to peruse the articles, and may you enjoy each and every one of them, harboring any pearls of wisdom shared by the authors within your heart.

And remember, if you're a writer and want to participate, Charity is always looking for new voices. Give it a try, I'm sure you'll love it!

Book to Movie: Thoughts on "Stand by Me" (1986) and the original short story "The Body" by Stephen King

I know what you're thinking. What in the world is she doing reading a Stephen King story? Well, push your eyeballs back in your head and hear me out before you run shrieking from my blog. I have a very . . . liberal approach to literature. I have enjoyed many a story than most Christians make the sign of the cross over. That's just me, it's who I am, and while I'm not swayed by the stories, I do find them an intriguing psychological look at humanity. Know your enemy, so they say, not that I view Stephen King as my enemy, although I'm sure of my readers must disagree on that point.

No, what I'm saying is that I first encountered The Body not through King, but through the film Stand by Me that they based off his short story. I didn't even realize it was one of Stephen King's stories until I reached the end and did some online research. I had no clue. What you're probably wondering now is, what in the world is this story about other than a body? It's literally a coming-of-age story for 4 twelve-year-old boys in the 1960s who go on a trek over Labor Day Weekend to see a dead body. And not just any dead body, but the body of a kid their own age. It's the story of Gordy, Chris, Vern, and Teddy in the prime of their stupendously idiotic youth as they try to figure out who the heck they're becoming when their futures are pretty much already decided for them.

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Book Review: Keepers of the Covenant by Lynn Austin (2014, 4 stars)

Keepers of the Covenant by Lynn Austin
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

People familiar with scripture are most likely also familiar with the story of Esther, how she saved the Jews from being slaughtered by approaching the king when he had not called for her. Keepers of the Covenant approach the story from a different angle, this time through the eyes and experiences of Ezra, a devout man of God from the same era. Ezra lives through the attack upon the Jews, because remember that while the king proclaimed the Jews could defend themselves, he could not undo the permission already given for them to be attacked. So there was an attack on the 13th day of the 12th month, and Ezra, usually a scholar, fought alongside his brothers, defending his people from their enemies. Fast-forward at least a dozen years and we have Ezra asking the new king's permission for the Jews to leave for Jerusalem, their promised land, so they may worship as instructed in the Torah. This story really is about Ezra and his spiritual journey and his putting away the seed of bitterness that has grown within him against any peoples other than Jews. But it also follows the stories of Amina, an Edomite, who was orphaned during the attack, and the story of Reuben, another child, this time Jewish, who for many years of his life loses his way.

All right, I did enjoy Keepers of the Covenant in that I wasn't familiar with the events following the life of Esther. I've never read the book of Ezra in The Bible, so had no knowledge of his story. That part of the novel was fascinating, all of the historic references, and watching Ezra draw his people back into a devotion to God. He truly is a keeper of the covenant with God, and whenever that covenant is broken, God returns the children of Israel into bondage until they repent again and turn from their wickedness. I think Ms. Austin did a superb job in capturing the authenticity of Jewish beliefs at the time, and I appreciated her efforts.

However, I never bought into her use of dialogue. A lot of the books I read are very strict in their use of language for dialogue, making sure the spoken word matches the era in which it is being spoken. I was constantly yanked out of my focus while reading this book because the spoken sentence structure for the characters was too modern. Words like "kids" or "weird" were used, along with more words than I can remember. It was very distracting, just when I started getting into the story, a conversation between characters, any characters, would snap me out of it. So I would like to see more effort put into making the dialogue authentic.

I would have also preferred it if the story had just been about Ezra. All right, yes, I liked Amina a lot. She's a very sweet girl, but the climax could have been achieved just as solidly without her and Reuben. In fact, the book would have been at last 100 pages shorter, and in my eyes, much more concise and effective a read. So yes, while I enjoyed Keepers of the Covenant it could have used a bit of tightening in places. I would, however, still recommend it to friends.

- I received this book for free from Bethany House Publishers in exchange for an honest review, which I have given.

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Sunday, November 2, 2014

Book Review: The Story Keeper by Lisa Wingate (2014, 5 stars)

The Story Keeper by Lisa Wingate
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

When a mysterious manuscript from the forbidden slush mountain arrives on book editor Jen Gibbs' desk in New York, she knows she should put it right back where it obviously came from. That enormous mountain of paper in the conference room is absolutely forbidden to touch, and here she has a piece of it. A significant piece of it as it turns out because once Jen starts reading the decades old manuscript called The Story Keeper by an unknown writer, she is hooked. Not only because of the poignant tale of Rand and Sarra in the Appalachian mountains as they try to escape the evils of men in the 1880s, but also because she is reminded, strongly, of her own ties to the Appalachians, her painful childhood that she escaped at the tender age of 18 and has done everything possible to forget. With the blessing of George Vida, head of Vida Publishing House, Jen heads back to the place she thought she had left behind forever, Looking Glass Gap, and the memories it contains, in the hopes of tracking down the man she suspects is the author of the story, Evan Hall, who made it big in the publishing world as a teenager and that stopped writing. Evan's style is just like this mysterious manuscript, and the story itself even predates the Time Shifters novels that he wrote and which became a world-wide phenomenon that eventually sent him scurrying into seclusion, the inevitable popularity proving too much for his youth. Jen is forced to face her own memories and fears during this pursuit of a brilliant manuscript, and along the way she might just discover that God is more than the limiting and belittling God her father always preached.

If I were to pick a single word to describe The Story Keeper, it would be . . . fulfilling. I don't say that often, about very many books. I'm actually a hard critic on literature because I hold writers to a very high standard, the same standard I hold up to myself as a would-be-writer. And lately I have been disappointed in Christian literature time and again because these books could be brilliantly compelling and instead are merely so-so. That is not the case with Lisa Wingate. I enjoyed Wildwood Creek when I read it earlier this year, but it is The Story Keeper that grabbed me, kept me reading from one chapter to the next, wishing I didn't have to go to work the next day so I could read into the wee hours of the night, wondering about Rand and Sarra's future as Jen researched them, hoping against hope that Jen would find healing by returning to her hometown. I invested myself in Jennia Beth, in her story, in the story that Even Hall had penned and Jennia Beth had found. I even wished that Evan's hit book/movie series, Time Shifters, was actually real because I am, in fact, a geek and would have loved them, probably gone to the Renaissance Festival dressed as one of the characters, and maybe even made a trek out to Looking Glass Gap for the twice a year festival that fans of the series indulge in.

The Story Keeper caught me and held on tight, refusing to relinquish my imagination or the little ache it created in my heart. Jennia Beth couldn't have escaped her life of spiritual oppression and legalism on her own. It took the intercession of an older woman in the community, Wilda Culp, to show her a new world, to broaden her horizons, and to give her the courage to make a run for it, to create a new life, to make something of herself, and to not be bound by the terrible experiences of the past by growing up in a depraved misrepresentation of Christianity. Wilda Culp set her free, and I love that. I also love how Jennia Beth realizes, albeit slowly, that maybe, just maybe, the god of her childhood church, is not God Almighty. Because God in Heaven loves her, just as she is, and He does not speak and reprimand and whip through the hands of the men in the church, oppressing the women of the congregation into insane heights of submission. Jennia Beth finds healing from her past, and if she can do it, so can anyone else. She realizes the bitterness, the anger, and the fear, and she finds wholeness. It's beautiful and precious to see unfolding, and I cherished every moment of her healing. I also loved how the book didn't revolve around romance. Sure, there is a spark of connection between Jen and Evan, but that's not the focus of the story, and Ms. Wingate never makes it the focus. She has proved to me that excellent Christian literature can be penned and have absolutely nothing to do with the ooey-gooeyness of excessive romantic inclination.

In other words, I can't thank her enough for delivering The Story Keeper to a reader desperate for a new kind of story. I am excited to try some of her other books, but I don't know if they will touch me as deeply as The Story Keeper. This book is a winner in my eyes and in my heart, and so I give her my heartfelt thanks for writing it.

- I received a free copy of The Story Keeper from Tyndale House Publishers in exchange for an honest review, which I have wholeheartedly given.

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Friday, October 31, 2014

Murder Rooms Week: A Fandom I Love that Doesn't Get Nearly the Acclaim It Deserves

As you can probably guess, I'm participating, almost late might I add, in a BLOG PARTY for the great miniseries/book series Murder Rooms: The Dark Beginnings of Sherlock Holmes. If you've not heard of it, or if you have, come join me and may you come to love it as much as I do.

Do you ever have those moments when a fandom feels like it was only yesterday? When in reality it was 10 years ago? Because I have those moments, frequently, whether it's grieving the all-too-short run of Moonlight, the best ever vampire drama on television, or aching for the days when Lord of the Rings websites, blogs, and forums abounded online. Somewhere along the line, years passed, other people moved on, and I am left to remember in silence those beautiful stories that I loved for what felt like decades, but was, in fact, only a few years before everyone else found something new to love.

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Book Review: The Pursuit of Tamsen Littlejohn by Lori Benton (2014)

The Pursuit of Tamsen Littlejohn by Lori Benton
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Western North Carolina, 1787 - Tamsen Littlejohn knows that her life is destined to be aligned with whatever man her stepfather deems suitable, that is, the man who can socially advance him the farthest in society. When her stepfather's latest attempt at matchmaking runs awry, leaving Tamsen with a bitter taste in her mouth as she watches Ambrose Kincaid backhand his slave, Tamsen rushes to the consoling arms of her mother. Her stepfather, Hezekiah Parish, changes her world forever in a horrific act of violence, leaving Tamsen desperate to escape. Little did she expect that the young man she encountered in the barn one night during her first escape attempt, Jesse Bird, would this time assist her escape plans instead of foil them as he had unwittingly done before. On the run, Tamsen has no choice but to trust this stranger who now holds her life in his very capable hands.

Jesse Bird always suspected that when love came his way, if it ever did, that he would know it on sight. The moment Tamsen Littlejohn waltzed into his life, Jesse's heart informed him beyond a shadow of a doubt that she was the one. Now to convince her of this fact that is oh, so obvious to him, but not at all obvious to her, as he helps her flee the vindictive cruelty of her stepfather and the would-be suitor she has no intention of marrying. When he was merely a toddler, Jesse's parents, whose names he doesn't know, were killed, and the Shawnee, who had witnessed the burning of their house from a safe distance, swept the young boy to safety, raising him as their own. With Case, a half-Delaware Indian for an adopted father, and Shawnee tradition running through his veins, Jesse's faith, thanks to Cade, remains strong in the one, true God. He is a blend of cultures, belonging to no one and nowhere, blowing where the wind takes him, yet now, having met Tamsen, he dreams of settling down, making a permanent homestead, if that could even be possible, if they can avoid Tamsen's stepfather, and if God doesn't have other plans for their lives.

Every new book Lori Benton publishes is like a treasure box. I never know what's going to be inside until I crack the cover, but I do know it will be spectacular. Ever since I read Burning Sky, I have been salivating for her next release. She did not disappoint. While nothing can take the place of her debut novel in my heart, The Pursuit of Tamsen Littlejohn is a delight to read, both harrowing and devastatingly tragic, while maintaining the gentility and heroism I have come to expect from the characters she creates through the written word. I loved Tamsen Littlejohn, a young woman solely raised to marry well, who manages to find an inner strength she never imagined she possessed. But it is Jesse, as I suspected it would be, who stole my heart. I struggled a lot with Willa's choice for a husband in her previous novel. Even though Neil was undeniably a good man, I adored Joseph Tames-Your-Horse and still wish she could have ended up partnered with him, since he too was a good man. But in her latest work, I never struggled in pairing Tamsen and Jesse together. They were ideally matched, right from the beginning, only Tamsen didn't know it yet. And I love Jesse's restraint. He adores her almost immediately, but he holds himself back, turns his thoughts a different way, respects her, and he prays for guidance and for patience from God while he waits and hopes that her affection for him will bloom. The development of their love is beautiful to watch, and I appreciate the thoughtfulness that Ms. Benton took in giving them time to fall in love.

I will say that for the more sensitive Christian reader, be aware that there is mention of rape off-page involving a character we never meet, as well as a near-rape to a secondary character that I knew was bound to happen, or almost happen. The book is hard, it's brutal, it's violent, and it's terrifying, but it also conveys hope and faith on intense, heart-felt levels. That's what I appreciate most about Ms. Benton's work. She doesn't write sentimental fluff. She digs deeper into both herself and her faith to put a strong story on the page that is lasting. For the history buff, like my sweet sister, she also has uncovered little known facts of which I had no idea, that Carolina battled with a faction of the state trying to break off, calling itself Franklin. The attempt obviously failed, but it was a bloody and ruthless time in American history that I found intriguing because I had never heard of it before. I bought this book sight unseen because I didn't want to wait in the holds list at the library. Because I knew it would be brilliant. Ms. Benton far exceeded my every hope and now I am left, once again, to wait for her next release in 2015. I'm just thrilled that Waterbrook renewed her contract for a 3rd book and I hope and pray they continue to do so!

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Tuesday, September 9, 2014

How do I recognize someone as being an ISFJ?

I know I've said it before, but I'm going to go over the cognitive functions of an ISFJ yet again.

The ISFJ is comprised of 4 cognitive functions in this order:

Si (internal sensing)
Fe (external feeling)
Ti (internal thinking)
Ne (external intuiting)

What you all want to know is what do these words mean and how do I recognize them in the people around me, correct?

Sunday, September 7, 2014

Book Review: The Preacher's Bride by Jody Hedlund (2010)

The Preacher's Bride by Jody Hedlund
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Elizabeth Whitbread desires to be of profound service to her family, her neighbors, and to her Lord. So when Sister Costin dies soon after the birth of her 4th child, Elizabeth's heart breaks, not only for the babe, but for the husband and three small children left behind. This being a strict, Puritan society during 1650s England, Elizabeth is bound by the laws of her town and make an unfortunate enemy of Mrs. Grew, a powerhouse of female influence upon her husband, Alderman Grew because Elizabeth refuses to back away from helping the Costin infant, even at Mrs. Grew's insistence. The babe, Thomas, struggles to survive, and it is only through the wet nursing of a woman of debatable character is he able to grow strong, all due to Elizabeth's influence and compassion for the family.

As for the husband, John Costin, he grieves the loss of his precious wife, Mary, but focuses all the harder upon his calling from God, to teach the Word, a thing not viewed favorably by the Anglicans since he has not been ordained as a minister of the Gospel. A lowly tinker by trade, John Costin is wise man with a heart for the Lord and he refuses to back away from his calling to preach. Tensions rise in England and King Charles II is placed back on the throne after Richard Cromwell fails in his role as Lord Protector, bringing Catholicism and strict adherence to the religion of the realm back into style. It is during these tenuous times that Elizabeth realizes she need not settle to marry a man she does not love, and John too understands that he could possibly find comfort in a woman's arms again, the arms of Elizabeth who endears herself to him more each day as she cares for his household and supports his teaching. But life is uncertain for an un-ordained minister who refuses to cease his preaching, and John's future is fraught with peril.

Jody Hedlund's books remain an absolute delight for me. I thought I could not love another of her books more than I loved Rebellious Heart, but I was wrong because The Preacher's Bride captured me utterly. Over the last few days I've tried to narrow down why I love the male characters that I do and it always comes back to two things. They are completely masculine, and they are usually devoted to the Lord in profoundly moving ways. I love ministers of the gospel, always have, and always will. So, the appeal John has over me is that he is both masculine and in love with the Lord. A man who loves and serves Christ faithfully and without reserve, pursuing that love ardently and without fear, is attractive in the extremes to me, and that is the type of man Jody Hedlund excelled at creating in this book.

Now, it is possible that I wouldn't have liked The Preacher's Bride nearly as much if the heroine hadn't been equally as well-rounded and likeable as the hero. Elizabeth Whitbread has a servant's heart. She desires the best for those around her and yearns to serve the Lord all her days. She is warm and compassionate, and even though she does fear for the safety of John and urges him to stop preaching, she does it in a way that is gentle and endearingly loving. It didn't take me very long to realize that Elizabeth is, in fact, an ISFJ. Everything about her screams it, and I wish I were as whole of an ISFJ as she is.

One last final note, I love how Ms. Hedlund based The Preacher's Bride off the lives of John and Elizabeth Bunyan. As most of you should know, John Bunyan wrote the famous Pilgrim's Progress which I have yet to read, but he wrote it while in prison for preaching the gospel without being ordained. The historicity is magnificent and I cannot praise Ms. Hedlund's work enough. I love her character development, the setting she uses for her stories, and her impassioned style of writing that gives me just enough sensual desire in her lead characters while still maintaining their solid faith and dignity. She is a winning writer for me, one of my absolute favorites, and The Preacher's Bride is a top-notch historic novel.

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Saturday, September 6, 2014

The Steamcups Collection: Botanical, Avianatical Party Favors/Place Cards

We are now embarking on a new business venture, selling Steampunk items and accessories. You will find our blog/website dedicated to this new business at the link below. At the moment all we have up are these delightful steamcups that my sister, Caitlin, made as party favors. I hope you'll stop on by the new blog, favorite it, whatever, and keep a watch on any and all new posts we add. Obviously, everything we'll put up is for sale unless otherwise stated. See you over at Steamporium!

Steamporium: The Steamcups Collection: Botanical, Avianatical P...: Introducing The Steamcups Collection: Botanical, Avianatical Each of these fabulous teacup themed party f...

Book Review: With Every Breath by Elizabeth Camden (2014)

With Every Breath by Elizabeth Camden
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

It is the year 1891 and tuberculosis has become one of the major causes of death in America. For doctor/researcher Trevor McDonough, this is unacceptable. Ever since he entered the medical profession, he has pondered and planned ways to defeat this dreadful disease, to the point where he has gained funding for his own research wing of a local hospital in Washington, D.C. Only the patients with tuberculosis in their blood as well as in their lungs are accepted, and he knows that he cannot save any of them and so do they, but his research for a cure could potentially save the lives of countless others.

In need of an assistant to calculate and tabulate his findings, Trevor decides to hire Kate Livingston, the girl who challenged him every step of way during their school years, who was equally as smart as him in many respects, and who lost a college scholarship to him upon their graduation. Needless to say, Kate is not necessarily thrilled at the idea of working for Trevor, not only because of his prickly, icy demeanor that she remembers so well from her school days, but also because death haunts the ward she will be assisting in, and it brings with it painful memories of losing her young husband four years ago so suddenly, albeit not to tuberculosis. Trevor is fully capable of putting aside pesky emotions in order to achieve his end goal, the eradication of tuberculosis, but is Kate capable of doing the same? Especially when she starts to realize that maybe his prickly demeanor is only his way of protecting himself from getting hurt, and maybe she is ready to love again.

Let's start with the positive, shall we. Trevor McDonough is an amazing character. I am a lover of the Myers-Briggs Personalty Typing method and so I immediately set about determining Trevor's type. He is a brilliant INTP, one of my favorite types of all time, and so his prickliness and his ability to push through emotions and get the work done appeals to me on so many levels. He is not cold-hearted and icy like Kate constantly harangues, but simply able to perform his work while not getting bogged down in feelings. That is what internal thinking as your first function will do for you, and Trevor does it brilliantly. So, in the terms of the hero, Elizabeth Camden created a winner.

Now, on to the middling ground. The cover. And the title. Neither of them represent this book with any degree of accuracy. In fact, they are a misrepresentation that offends me. This is not a fluffy little novel with the heroine standing in a shining Colosseum-type structure with sunlight shining in ribbons behind her. Even the dress is not accurate according to my clothing historian sister. This story takes place in the center of Washington, D.C. That aside, the editing of the cover was very badly done. It looks photo-shopped, never a good thing, and I couldn't help but compare it to recent Deeanne Gist and Jody Hedlund covers that are the epitome of quality. This cover is lazy in all respects, but the title is equally as bad. It makes the book sound like some simpering little romance when it really could have been so much more.

Which leads me to the truly negative. I dislike giving truly negative reviews, which is why I'm still staying with a 3 star review. However, I am disgruntled with this rising habit a lot of female authors have in creating spunky, "modern" heroines in a historic setting. Kate irked me from the moment she entered the book. She is arrogant, spoiled, and too all-fired sure of herself. She is bossy and in no way is she representative of Victorian femininity of the time. In terms of pure personality, I finally figured out why I dislike her because I struggle liking the ESFJ personality type. They are so mothering that they smother because they "know" they're right in their plans for you and you had better darn well go along with them because they won't give up or back down. Your dreams don't matter because you're wrong. I hate this type of character and so Kate was an instant negative for me. I'm sure a lot of people will love her, and that's fantastic, but I am not one of them.

To be fair, she experiences an epiphany 15 pages from the end. But it didn't happen soon enough to placate me or urge me to like Kate any better. I hope she and Trevor will be very happy together.

Now on to the biggest pitfall of all for me. This book should not have been a romance. The actual plot, once you get past all of Kate's romantic pondering, is about a man looking to cure tuberculosis. There is more to it than that, bits of development that deepened my interest by leaps and bounds, but I don't want to give spoilers. It is a fascinating concept, and I loved every bit of this book that actually had to do with the plot. So you could say that I love half of it. But the rest was pure romance novel and it did a disservice to an otherwise brilliant story.

I'm being 100% honest in that I expected and hoped for more from Elizabeth Camden. She has great skill. She is a little repetitive about emotions and feelings and doubts, like Kate always reverting back to saying Trevor has a heart of ice. Once was enough. Show us he has a heart of ice (because he actually doesn't). Kate doesn't always have to say or think it. But on the whole she is a good new author in the Christian world of writing. But she needs to work on making her heroines more relatable, and maybe cut back on the typical, dime a dozen romantic feelings that permeate too many Christian historic novels now. This book had meat, but it was bogged down by too much cherry pie. I hope her next work appeals to me more.

- I received this book free from Bethany House Publishers in exchange for an honest review, which, as you can obviously tell, I have given.

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Monday, September 1, 2014

Book Review: Unrivaled by Siri Mitchell (2013, 3 stars)

Unrivaled by Siri Mitchell
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

In Lucy Kendall's life, all should be perfect, but it's just not. She wants to be involved in her father's candy company, especially now that his health is failing so dreadfully, but he wanted her to have better opportunities, and her mother is most insistent that Lucy become a lady and marry well instead. The notion doesn't seem so bad when she meets a charming young man entirely by chance and then keeps him encountering him. At least, he seems an ideal choice for her esteem until she discovers that his name is Charlie Clark and he is, in fact, the son of the man who stole her father's original candy company that makes Royal Taffy and has profited mightily from it.

Charlie himself is drawn to Lucy more deeply than he imagined possible. Having only recently joined the father who left him, his mother, and siblings in the lurch so many years ago, Charlie is unfamiliar with the animosity and rivalry between the Kendalls and the Clarks. What he is used to is the gang mentality of Chicago where he came from, and it displeases him to see some of the same tactics being used in St. Louis, albeit on a smaller scale, both from his father, and from Lucy who thinks herself a Christian.

Charlie is torn. Lucy is torn. It seems there is no hope for this couple to find true love, but of course, they must, because there's no other option.

Unrivaled is a very cute book. I liked Lucy most of the time, liked Charlie all of the time, and absolutely loved the setting, and of course, there is a happily ever after. I will say that the book cover totally threw me. It in no way, shape, or form reflects the story between the pages. There should have been candy making somewhere on that cover because Lucy prefers spending time in the kitchen swathed in an apron stirring candy syrup than all dolled up. The cover, beautiful as it, is not an accurate representation of the story.

Ultimately, while I liked the book, about halfway through it started getting repetitive. The same scenes, the same types of conversations, and I totally did not buy how Lucy's fiancé disappeared from her life. That felt dreadfully contrived. So, only 3 stars for me, and I wish it could have been more. I do like Siri Mitchell's writing a lot, this one just felt too forced. Maybe next time!

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Sunday, August 31, 2014

Classics Club Spin Read: I Capture the Castle by Dodie Smith (1948)

This is actually the very first book I read for my Classics Club challenge. It's delightful to feel that I've gotten started on this project, finally, after 8 months of having no interest in beginning. So it was probably providential that I began with a book I had never read and really had no knowledge about. I not only read the book, but also went out of my way to watch the film adaptation for I Capture the Castle from 2003, so I will also include a write-up about the movie at the end of this post.

For the uninformed, this story is essentially the journal of a young 17-year-old girl named Cassandra Mortmain and takes place sometime in the 1930s. Cassandra has inherited her father's gift for prose, but unlike him, she does not suffer from writer's block. Her family lives in a castle but are actually the poorest of the families in the area, to say nothing of being a bit odd. Her father, a man who goes by his surname, wrote exactly one book in his life, Jacob Wrestling, and it was a monumental success. But after a bout of lost patience with his first wife, and being thrown into prison for 4 months for violent tendencies, he was never able to write again. At the castle, he lives in the gatehouse and reads detective stories, putting forth not a single effort to write.

Cassandra's older sister, Rose, can hardly stand being so poor, so poor that they are fortunate to have enough food on the table, especially when the royalty checks from Mortmain's only novel dry up. Stepmother, Topaz, does the best she can with what she has, but that isn't much considering Mortmain refuses to speak with her on any personal level, and she, as an artist herself and one-time model, stagnates with no one to encourage and no society to attend. Thomas, the youngest child, engrosses himself in his books, and Stephen, their "hired" hand who hasn't been paid in months, loyally does what he can to put food on the table, far more than Mortmain ever does. Stephen even takes his earnings from a second job to assist the Mortmain family, partially out of devotion to the family itself and partially out of his unrequited love for Cassandra.

All of this Cassandra jots down in her journal, her effort to capture the castle and the people living in it. And her journal might have been quite dull had not Neil and Simon Cotton put in an appearance. They have inherited the estate on which the Mortmain's castle resides, Simon being the heir to a vast fortune, and his brother Neil along for the ride from America. Rose, so desperate to escape poverty, is determined to marry Simon, whether she loves him or not, and quite rapidly games of love ensue that have all the characters scrambling, including Cassandra herself who wishes so desperately that she could love Stephen, but simply cannot.

Yes, this is a depressing book. Not all the time, and not for the first half, but it rapidly swivels in that direction once Rose and Simon are engaged. I wish I could have liked it better than I did. It's not that the characters weren't likeable because most of them were, even Topaz with her odd fondness for walking the exterior of the castle nude in the middle of the night. The characters are all unique, with varying personalities, and I am extremely fond of Cassandra herself, even though she wavers between being forthright and romantic. Poor Rose, so desperate for escape, and poor Stephen, whose every compassionate and caring gesture was meant to garner Cassandra's love somehow.

I think part of my befuddlement is that I have no familiarity with romantic love. I see it in movies and read about it in books and hear it in songs, but I have never once been in love myself. So I quirk my head at Rose's insistence that she cannot love Simon and at Cassandra's reticence to return the romantic feelings of her faithful (most of the time) Stephen. Many romantics believe that love is solely a feeling of excitement in the heart alone. I don't believe that. There have been two times in my life where I could have fallen in love, but I shut down the emotion because it was the wrong man. It would have been one of the worst choices of my life to have romantically loved either of these men, and so I walked away emotionally and here I am, completely whole and without having sacrificed by values for something called "romantic" love. I prefer to think of love as being a head/heart decision. The heart cannot simply run away from the head like it does, like most of us simply allow it to do. I think that's one reason why I like the movie The Painted Veil with Edward Norton. The heroine does not love her husband, at all, at the start of the story. She marries him for security, but no romantic attachment. By the end of the story she is deeply in love with him on levels that go beyond mere physical desire. That is true love and that is what I Capture the Castle lacks.

Then there is Mortmain. It is difficult to read the story of a man who refuses to support his family. He is an artist, a writer, and he refuses to be anything else, even to put food on the table. Instead his duties fall on the shoulders of Stephen, a young man not even of his own flesh and blood. It was painful to read, albeit less painful to watch in the movie since they softened him somewhat. Where Mortmain is concerned, I would say Dodie Smith did a fine job of portraying the starving artist. The thing I hated about him is that he forced his family to starve right along with him.

So, while it was very well written, Dodie Smith failed to capture more than the barest hint of love, choosing instead to play with fluffy feelings that are based solely in the heart and not at all in the head. As Tintin would say, "I'm a realist" and so this story with all its ups and downs and misinterpretations of love and no one really having a happily ever after wearied me beyond measure. As if somehow happiness is only brought about by our feelings.

Now that you know my opinions of the book, let me say that the film version of I Capture the Castle was fairly accurate. It was done in 2003 and starred Romola Garai (Cassandra) and Bill Nighy (Mortmain) as well as a very young Henry Cavill as Stephen. They tried to stick as close to the original story as possible, which was both good and bad since I had my own issues with the original. I will say that the moments I had wanted the movie to expound on from the book were either too short or skipped entirely. Also, I was never entirely sold on Romola's performance as Cassandra, which is probably not her fault just a fault in the casting. Rose Byrne was exquisite as Rose, and Tara Fitzgerald fit my imaginings of Topaz perfectly.

Yes, the film is R rated for topless female nudity. Remember, Topaz is a nudist sometimes, and we do see Cassandra sunbathing alone on I'm assuming one of the castle ramparts or parapets or whatever you would call them. Mortmain is more relatable to me in the film, probably because he is Bill Nighy and I happen to love him. He's suffering from guilt and shame and the loss of his first wife and had nowhere to put those emotions for so long. By the end of the story he's a much improved man. But my personal favorite was Marc Blucas as Neil Cotton. Don't ask me why I like him, but I always have, even during his season on Buffy: The Vampire Slayer.

So, if you want a movie like the book, than this film does a pretty stellar job. It has all the same romantic flaws as the book, and I wanted to smack several people upside the head numerous times, not the least of which being Cassandra herself. It was pretty, and adequately cast, but not one I would watch again, or even a book that I would probably ever read again.

There you have it. I finished my first read for the Classics Club Spin. Yeah for me!

Book Review: Fair Play by Deeanne Gist (2014)

Fair Play by Deeanne Gist
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Dr. Billy Jack Tate isn't your ordinary doctor. In fact, "he" is actually a she, named after two her grandfathers. She has fought and clawed her way up in a profession dominated almost solely by men in 1893, so it is a godsend when she is asked to do the doctoring at the Women's Building at the Chicago World's Fair. Her clientele of patients is almost nill so she is desperate for a regular income. What she didn't expect was the pig-headed Columbian guard, Hunter Scott, to start pestering her. On loan to the fair from the Texas Rangers, Hunter Scott is a tough man with traditional views about the role of women in society. He can't let Billy walk home alone at night, and when he finds an abandoned infant at the Women's Building, Hunter starts imagining what life might be like with Billy as his wife and lots of little babies to care for. Except that she refuses to give up doctoring and he refuses to give up rangering and so they are emotionally left at a stalemate until they can reach a viable consensus about their mutual futures. Throw in Hull House, a building dedicated to caring for children while their parents work, and Hunter's passionate desire to build a playground for the waifs of Chicago, readers of Deeanne Gist's latest work are in for an interesting ride with Fair Play.

All right, I loved the 1st book in this series, It Happened at the Fair. I loved the characters and I loved the setting and just everything about it. The book literally happened at the Fair, in the midst of it in almost every chapter. So, I admit to being a bit disappointed that Fair Play had less about the fair than its predecessor. I don't even really think Billy toured the fair at all in the book, although I could be wrong. If it had been me, I would have spent every spare moment wandering through that fair and she just doesn't do that. So, there wasn't enough of the actual fair in my opinion. Don't get me wrong, I loved the information about Hull House and the building of the playground, and it's all historical, just the dates are changed to make the events happen at the same time. It was great, just not at the fair.

My biggest complaint, though, is actually with the lead characters. I hate reckless women. I tend to give lower ratings to books where women are so independent that they get themselves into trouble, and Billy is a moron for much of the book, placing herself in unnecessary danger and nearly getting herself raped. I'm sorry but no matter how educated she is, she still goes off half-cocked like a complete nincompoop. At least she realizes this by the end of the book, but I spent a lot of time wanting to smack her upside the head. As for Hunter, I wanted to like him, I really did. I realize that men think about sex more than we women can even imagine, but really? Every time he's in her presence, he's thinking lustful thoughts that he should by trying to stem, not indulge. I mean, come on, admire things jiggling as she's washing her doctoring instruments? Not that anything actually could jiggle in a Victorian corset. So, he was one of those typical males who exhibits sexist tendencies. His mind is focused solely on the physical side of Billy the majority of the time and that got old after awhile. I like men with a little more conscience than he exhibited.

And that's another thing, where was their faith? All right, I don't like books to preach, but this is supposed to be a Christian romance, so where was Christ? I'm sure they must have mentioned faith fleetingly, but it was so fleeting that it disappeared into the ether. I was left with a "clean" read instead of a Christian read and that wasn't what I was expecting. So, with the book not having enough of the Chicago World's Fair in it, and the lead characters not really being to my liking, I sadly have to rate Fair Play a 3 stars. I expected more from Hunter and Billy than they delivered. I'm a huge Deeanne Gist fan so will continue to read her novels with great enthusiasm, but I hope she tries writing a gentler heroine and a nobler hero the next time around.

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Remembering Robin

I've started this post so many times in my head and never knew quite what to say. But I figured I needed to get it out before any more time had passed.

Robin Williams. Genie. Peter Pan. Mrs. Doubtfire. That crazy dad in RV. The semi-evil musician in August Rush. The professor in Dead Poets Society. And the professor in Flubber. Every time I look back over my life, he's been there, in some form or another. And when I heard he had died, not just died but taken his own life, I broke down. It was like losing a long-time friend. He gave me so much laughter throughout my childhood and into my adulthood, so much fun, and so much hilarity. A part of me always expected him to be there.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Sunflower Blogger Award - New Round of Questions

So, I've been nominated yet again for this award, which is so sweet of Hamlette! I think this makes the third, or possibly the fourth time. I love how everyone comes up with new questions that are totally unique from one another. On to the questions!

Monday, August 11, 2014

The Classics Club Spin

So, I joined The Classics Club several months ago and have yet to read a single classic. This might be as good a time as any to start. The spin works with me choosing 20 books from My List and labeling them as 1 to 20. I will do as the challenge suggests and pick 5 that I'm reticent to read, 5 that I'm dying to read, 5 that I'm neutral about, and 5 that will be re-reads for me. It seems that the challenge is sort of a 3 week per book reading schedule, which shouldn't be too hard to stick to.

The first spin is #17, which I looked up only after I created this list. I'm quite neutral about I Capture the Castle so we'll see how I like it. I have no opinion whatsoever going in!

  1. Bunyan, John: The Pilgrim's Progress (1678) 
  2. Dumas, Alexandre: The Man in the Iron Mask (1850) 
  3. Hawthorne, Nathaniel: The Scarlet Letter (1850)*
  4. Dickens, Charles: Little Dorrit (1857)
  5. James, Henry: The Portrait of a Lady (1881)
  6. Pyle, Howard: The Merry Adventures of Robin Hood (1883)*  
  7. Wilde, Oscar: The Picture of Dorian Gray (1890)* 
  8. Stoker, Bram: Dracula (1897)
  9. Conrad, Joseph: Heart of Darkness (1899)
  10. Wharton, Edith: The House of Mirth (1905)
  11. Leroux, Gaston: The Phantom of the Opera (1909) 
  12. Fitzgerald, F. Scott: This Side of Paradise (1920)
  13. Cather, Willa: Death Comes for the Archbishop (1927) 
  14. Woolf, Virginia: A Room of One’s Own (1929)
  15. West, Nathanael: Miss Lonelyhearts (1933) 
  16. Du Maurier, Daphne: Rebecca (1938) 
  17. Smith, Dodie: I Capture the Castle (1940) 
  18. Salinger, J.D.: The Catcher in the Rye (1951)
  19. Lewis: C. S.: Till We have Faces (1956)*
  20. Lee, Harper: To Kill a Mockingbird (1960)*

* Indicates a re-read.

Thursday, August 7, 2014

In Defense of Severus Snape

Snape as a child

I was already an adult when I first experienced the Harry Potter series. My parents were of the same mindset as most Christian families, that Harry Potter was evil and their children needed to be protected from it. I never really minded all that much, apart from missing out on the latest thing that had all the kids my own age salivating. So, when I did finally watch the movies and read the books, it was without the wide-eyed wonder I would have used as a child reader. I wasn't moved by the story. Oh, it was interesting, but nothing spectacular, and I couldn't see what all the fuss was about. Ron was a jerk. Hermione was a know-it-all. And Harry, well, Harry goes it alone far more often than I liked in a child.

Fortunately for me and the best friend who has waited oh, so patiently for me to join her fandom, my opinions are prone to change. I wasn't ready to love Harry Potter when I read it 6 or so years ago. But I was ready when I plunked myself down in my office chair for a long work-day, and plugged myself into the audiobook version of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone. I was hooked from that moment on. I couldn't wait to start my day so I could spend 6 or so hours with Harry and his friends. I love going to work every day anyway, but listening to Harry Potter made the day that much more enjoyable. I lost myself in that world, a world come alive through the voice acting of Jim Dale. I'm very much an auditory and tactile learner and the books themselves were too long, too burdensome, for me to fully enjoy reading. You must admit that Rowling got more verbose as she went along. I didn't remember much of them after my first reading. Now, I feel like I remember almost everything. Sure, some details have escaped me, but where I saw Harry's world in black and white before, now it's in vibrant color with scents and sounds and sights that before I couldn't even imagine. Jim Dale did it for me. He drew me into the world of Harry Potter, a feat I thought impossible.

Monday, June 30, 2014

Book Review: Saving Amelie by Cathy Gohlke (2014)

My Rating: 5 of 5 stars

It is the year 1939 and American, albeit German-born, Rachel Kramer visits Germany once again with her adopted father. It is a regular trip, every 2 years, for her to have a harmless check-up from the doctors at the Institute. Even though she is now a full-grown woman, the check-ups must continue and so, reticent though she may be, Rachel agrees to this trip, not having the heart to refuse her father. But this Germany is not the Germany of her youth. The black spider is everywhere, plastered on flags flying from almost every building, and the SS officers acquainted with her father prattle on about eugenics and purity of race. Yes, her father works in eugenics and has for as long as she can remember, but there is something different about the discussions now that make Rachel nervous. Talk of one race being more valued than another set pings of concern through her brain, but it is only when she Rachel speaks with her oldest childhood friend, Kristine, that she truly begins worrying.

Kristine is terrified for the life of her daughter, Amelie. A deaf child is unacceptable offspring for an SS officer and Kristine's husband, Gerhardt Schlick, is one of the cruelest men Rachel has ever known. She didn't like him as a teenager and she does not like him now, particularly since he still holds an unhealthy fascination for Rachel while emotionally dismissing his wife. He speaks of his daughter as if she were subhuman and when he insists that Amelie receive "treatment" for her deafness, Kristine pleads with Rachel to help her, to take Amelie with her back to the states. Rachel's eyes begin to open to the atrocities of this new Germany, and she agrees, albeit reluctantly for she has no experience with children, but all too soon Rachel realizes that leaving may not be as easy as she had hoped. It is only with the assistance of American reporter Jason Young that Amelie is sneaked away to safety, and Rachel must soon follow. Her father is not who she thought he was, and neither is her past, but can Rachel escape Nazi Germany before it's too late and she becomes a broodmare for the Reich?

Wow. I already knew that Cathy Gohlke was an excellent writer ever since I read William Henry is a Fine Name, but I wasn't expecting the traumatic and terrifyingly brilliant novel she dished out in Saving Amelie. Nazi Germany has never been one of my favorite subjects, but I was willing to revisit the topic because it was Cathy Gohlke. She did not disappoint. As I said, I know very little about the era, but I'm assuming her historic facts and dates are accurate. She writes her novel with an air of authenticity, so I trust she did her research. Plus, I recognized in Jason Young the elements of William Shirer, an actual American reporter in Nazi Germany during Hitler's rise to power. She did, in fact, base Jason off Shirer, so I was not imagining their similarities. If you get a chance and can find a copy, watch The Nightmare Years starring Sam Waterston, Shirer's incredible story.

However, back on track once again, I appreciate the great lengths Ms. Gohlke went to in creating believable characters. Rachel is one of those delightful creations who you sometimes like and sometimes dislike because she is selfish, just like everyone else, but tries to develop a new way of thinking about "lesser" races like the Jews. The girl is a Fi user if I ever saw one, caring more for her own emotions and beliefs about something than the opinions of others, even more about her own fears than the fears of other people. She completely discounts a terrifying experience an acquaintance of hers has near the end of the book. So, Rachel grows, but she's still flawed. It's a good thing she also has many likeable qualities or I would have struggled in accepting her as a heroine. Jason won me over almost immediately, not only because he used amusing Americanisms from the 1930s, but also because I sensed a bit of Shirer in him.

Jason and Rachel both start their journey without any semblance of faith. Jason is transformed through hearing Dietrich Bonhoeffer preach in an underground church, and Rachel begins her transformation through encountering a woman named Lea Hartmana and her grandmother who try their hardest to live the faith they proclaim. The faith elements felt genuine, not pushy or intrusive, a natural progression of questioning during a time when people are desperate to believe in something. From what I know about Bonhoeffer, very few people would have come away from one of his sermons unchanged, so it makes sense that Jason would begin questioning his personal belief system after an encounter with the man.

This is a hard topic. This book deals with cruelty of the most abominable kind to Jews and to handicapped children and to anyone the Nazis deemed subhuman. Women are viewed as property by Nazi Germany and Ms. Gohlke doesn't sugarcoat that fact, although she never goes into too much detail. There is a horrific, but not surprising, near rape scene about 3/4 of the way through the book, but nothing happens. Nazi Germany was nightmarish, and Ms. Gohlke makes sure her readers understand that without detailing it out in unnecessary descriptions. I admit that I never cried, but I was invested in all of the lives in this book, from little, adorable Amelie in her red coat to Rachel whose life has been turned upside down to Lea Hartman who also has a large role to play in the story though I can't go into detail for fear of spoilers.

You know, I look at Nazi Germany and the murder of the "undesirables" and I see a parallel in our own society. Think of the cruelty of racism until Martin Luther King Jr. took a stand. Think of the millions upon millions of children sacrificed to abortion every year while Christians stand back and do nothing. These characters realize that the only way for evil to take charge is for good people to do nothing, but by this point, it's too late to stem the tide of Hitler's evil. If the church had taken a stand against the tyranny early on, as Bonhoeffer urged, maybe Hitler would have been stopped before he even got started. I just hate seeing history repeat itself, but that is what I see in the American society I love so much. We've become Hitler in our own way, and that's an ugly confession to make to anyone.

Saving Amelie is hard-hitting and brilliant, and should be read by every Christian reader.

- I received this book free from Tyndale House Publishers in exchange for an honest review, which I have given.

Saturday, June 14, 2014

Give yourself permission to pursue your dreams

Memories shape our lives, sometimes even shape our futures if we let them. When I was in my early twenties, I was completely adrift. I'd graduated from high school, and didn't want to go to college. I talked myself into thinking that I didn't need it, that I could be equally as successful without it. In some cases, it's true that you can be successful without college, but not with me. Despite everything I said about not needing college, my not attending college weighed heavily on me. The lack of a college education was like a millstone tied to my ankle. And before anyone asks, no, my family never made me feel that way. They never acted like I was wasting my life because I was only working a part-time job and not going to college.

The final tipping point to action stemmed from the books I was reading at the time. I was a typical young Christian woman in her early twenties so I read a lot of Christian romance. Every time the heroine made a success of college I felt a pinprick of guilt. But it was Debra White Smith's book First Impressions that clinched it for me. The heroine, based off Jane Austen's Elizabeth Bennet, was a college graduate who was younger than me. I had waited 5 years out of high school, was now 23-years-old and Lizzie had surpassed me in her college success. I couldn't let that happen, and I couldn't live with myself knowing that I was letting an education slip through my fingers and swirl down the proverbial drain.

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Book Review: Cloak of the Light by Chuck Black (Wars of the Realm #1)

Cloak of the Light (Wars of the Realm, #1)Cloak of the Light by Chuck Black
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

For college boy Drew Carter, the world will never be normal again. When he and his friend Ben begin experimenting with a machine that can help a person perceive the world at faster than the speed of light, Drew sees something he never anticipated, an enormous, malevolent creature who is like a man, but not like a man, all at the same time. When the Lasok machine, a device invented by Ben's physics mentor, explodes, Drew finds himself blinded and his friend injured. Against all odds, his sight returns slowly, but he has been changed by the explosion. His senses are heightened, his instincts sharp, his reactions swift and sure, and now he can see these beings without the aid of the Lasok machine. By studying these creatures, the Invaders as he calls them, Drew realizes there are two kinds, the dark ones who influence evil thoughts in men and are usually capable of turning those thoughts to action, and then the light ones, who do all within their power to defend humanity against the dark ones. Drew, for all his new superpowers, sees but doesn't understand what's happening, and until he believes in more than just his own abilities, Drew will remain lost.

I'm a long-time Frank Peretti fan. I first listened to his This Present Darkness and Piercing the Darkness audio books when I was a tween and practically have them memorized, even now so many years later. I love books about angels and demons (it's not hard to guess that's what these light and dark invaders are), so when I found out about Chuck Black's new series, I was determined to give it a try. I admit that no author has ever taken Peretti's place in my affection for supernatural fiction, but Chuck Black comes in a close second.

I like how he's modernized these supernatural beings. They're not in togas and sandals. They wear jeans and dark shirts, and while they do carry swords, they also carry guns, seriously awesome guns. If I were to change one thing about how these supernatural beings are developed, it's that I wish the reader could hear them. Drew can't hear them, only see them, and so the reader suffers the same fate. One of the many things I loved about Peretti is how his story follows multiple characters. I would have loved to have been on the other side of this story, seeing it from the perspective of the angels and demons. Still, nothing's perfect, and it certainly isn't enough of a complaint to decrease my rating.

The book is rather preachy, however. I know, I know, this is Christian fiction, and it's expected to be preachy, but sometimes it felt a little bit much. Sydney, a girl who Drew likes, is the one solid Christian influence in his life, and she's a very forthright girl about her faith, more forthright than any fellow Christian my age that I've ever met in real life. She must be very unique. So I wish the Christian aspect of the novel was shown more through doing and less through preaching, but oh well.

Chuck Black has created a fascinating world. Right now demons and angels are very popular in secular culture, so it's refreshing to find an author tackling them from a new perspective, reinventing them, as it were, so they're beings of the modern age, armed to the teeth with guns and toting swords on their backs. It's awesome. And, if I may say, Cloak of the Light is a much wiser choice for Christian youth than, oh, say the City of bones books that are quite sacrilegious. I eagerly anticipate the next book in the series.

- I received a free copy of this book from Multnomah in exchange for an honest review, which I have gladly given.

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Tuesday, June 3, 2014

I think it's time to . . . write


So this is what it feels like to go for over a month without blogging. Weird. I'm not sure if anyone else suffers this fate, but the longer I go without writing, the creakier my style gets. If that's even a word. Creakier. That's not necessarily a good thing for someone who minored in Creative Writing. I suppose the only answer to this dilemma is to write more often. However, I do have a partially good excuse for my absence. I'm about 90% sure I posted about my job at Compassion International. The last three months have been spent in training and incredibly busy work days so when I get home the last thing I want to do is look at a computer screen. My job is data entry, so that's a little understandable, I think. But, I must get myself back into the rhythm of blogging since I do enjoy it, although I'm discovering that I'm less keen on reviewing books than I was before I was gainfully employed full-time. That aspect of my blog go by the wayside, or I might review only when I'm really keen on something. We'll see, no promises.

I know that most of my popular posts are about the ISFJ. That's fantastic, and I'm thrilled, but I also need my readers to understand that I don't always want to talk personality types. So, I'll probably take a break from that aspect of my blog for awhile, try something new on for size, maybe even bits of creative writing. There's this fun writing contest for Beauty & the Beast that Serena posted over at Edgy Inspirational Romance that looks intriguing. I've always been partial to this particular fairy tale, but never really liked all the adaptations and re-imaginings that have come down the pike since the original story made its debut. Not a huge fan of Beastly, let me tell you. The contest ends in December 2014, so I have plenty of time to think up a retelling. Of course, if I do decide to participate, I won't necessarily post the writing here, unless it's something I don't plan to put in the final draft. Like an extra scene or a side bit, or something like that, a short as it were. It could be a fun way to spend a few months of my free time.

Sunday, April 20, 2014

An Easter Afternoon Tea

Left to right: my sister Caitlin, mom Tammy, and me (probably the first time most of you have seen me)

I realized that it's been months since I last posted about Afternoon Tea, probably because it's been months since we've really done one on a major scale. I figured there was no better time than Easter to enjoy a lovely tea so this morning we went all out with the preparations.

So, my darlings, Happy Easter, and prepare yourself to enjoy the goodies I have for you today!

On the Menu

Spiral-Sliced Ham
Cream Scones
Mini Salmon Quiche
Brie and Baguette Wheel
Sauteed Mini Squash

Saturday, April 19, 2014

A Lesson on Transformation from Gandalf and Will Graham

With this being Holy Week, my thoughts have been focused on transformation for the last several days. Christians undergo a transformation when we're saved. Christ himself underwent a transformation on Resurrection Day, suddenly no longer confined by a physical body and its limitations. Transformation is something that everyone on earth undergoes at some point or another. A tipping point, as it were, from evil to good or from good to evil. Literature itself is ripe with the concept.

Think of Gandalf the Grey transforming into Gandalf the White. Gandalf the Grey is impressive in his own right, but he is viewed by many, hobbits especially, as harmless. He is merely an old wizard who specializes in magic tricks. Gandalf the White is something else entirely. He has metamorphosed into a pure version of himself, the version of Gandalf that was always just below the surface but needed death and resurrection to be released.

I've always been partial to Gandalf the Grey, probably because he's kick-ass tough and abounding with sarcasm. But I also appreciate the wisdom of Gandalf the White, who was only born out of sacrifice and death. Gandalf the White is the full interpretation of Gandalf. People who focus only on either Grey or White are missing Gandalf's journey, and thereby missing his point. He is the perfect example in literature of transformation from someone being merely a neutral color to being perfect purity. He is symbolic of Christ's transformation. Whatever else Peter Jackson might have done to Tolkien's work, he got Gandalf right, and for that I will always love him.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Book Review: Caught in the Middle by Regina Jennings (2014)

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Anne Tillerton, a buffalo hunter who wears men's clothes, finds herself tracking down a runaway cook to Garber, Texas, successfully thwarting a train robbery/murder in the process. What she didn't expect is that she would actually know the man she saved from a lifetime ago. Or that she would end up caring for the cook, Tessa's infant son when she heads off into the great-unknown with her latest paramour. Anne is stuck with a baby in a strange town and the only chance for a job comes from Nick Lovelace, the man from the train, who would like it very much if she would please consider wearing a dress to the office. Anne's life isn't easy, at least compared with Nick's, but if there is one thing Anne does well it's make other people think outside their comfort zone. And Nick finds himself questioning his motivations. He builds railroads, yes, but how far is he willing to bend his conscience to please his only employer? Will Anne's influence finally help Nick realize that there's more to life than money and tat he can make a living in other ways that don't include kowtowing to corruption? And what about Anne? Can she be tamed and her heart mended from the heartbreak and abuse she's suffered in a past she would rather forget?

I already knew I liked Regina Jennings' style of writing when I read her novella in A Match Made in Texas. I mean, out of the 4 authors included in that collection, Ms. Jennings' characters were the ones I loved the most. When the opportunity came along to review one of her full-length novels, I jumped at the chance, and she completely lived up to my expectations and then some.

Give me a heroine who is more than fluffy skirts and biblical proverbs spouted at inopportune times and I'm a happy woman. I need meat in my historic romance, something very few authors are able to fully provide, so that sets Ms. Jennings a little higher than most in my estimation.

Anne Tillerton is not your average prairie fiction female. She's tough as leather, clad in it too, and she wears her independence as proudly as she wears her revolver. But she's more than a woman who's more masculine than feminine. She's a woman who has suffered through very little fault of her own. The face she presents to the world is a way of protecting herself. She doesn't want men to look at her and she doesn't dress to impress. A combination of things drew me to Anne. First, she's spunky. Some writers add too much spunk or not enough, but Anne's spunk was just right. Second, she's more than her appearance suggests. Like most women, her heart yearns for love and acceptance, for protection, and for motherhood. Anne is the perfect heroine because she's a mixture of ideal woman and hurting, abused soul. She's real.

Connecting to Nick Lovelace was harder because his goal, at least in the beginning, is money. He wants financial solvency, and while there's nothing wrong with that, sometimes the Lord has other things in mind, like sacrifice and suffering. Yes, Christians are called to suffer for their faith, for standing on their principles. Nick is called upon to do so, and he discovers that he possesses a greater strength of character than he imagined. Nick starts out as the type of man I would consider self-absorbed and then has his horizons broadened by circumstances and the Lord's leading. Not a perfect hero, by far, but, like Anne, a realistic one. Because no one is perfect.

Ms. Jennings, like many of the authors I'm reading now, is fairly new to Christian fiction. And for my own selfish sake, I hope she sticks around for a good many years to come. It's possible that I only loved Caught in the Middle because I identify with the heroine. Sometimes I like an author, but don't always like every book they've ever written. But Caught in the Middle is a real winner with me and I can hardly wait to try my hand at another of her delectable books.

- I received this book free of charge from Bethany House Publishers in exchange for an honest review, which I have given.

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Saturday, April 12, 2014

Book Review: A Broken Kind of Beautiful by Katie Ganshert (2014)

Katie Ganshert's newest novel, A Broken Kind of Beautiful hits stores on April 15th, 2014.

Author's Website 
Read Chapter One 

It is the story of Ivy Clark, a ravishingly beautiful young woman of a hard upbringing. She is the daughter of an adulterer and his mistress, and the one thing she always wanted but could never attain was her father's love. Not even the affection lavishing on her every summer by her father's wife, Marilyn, could make the ache go away. He didn't want her. Never wanted her. So, when the opportunity arises for her to start modeling with her father's brother, Bruce, as her agent, she takes it. Her mother is dead and apart from foster homes, she has little choice, entering the world of modeling as a young teenager and never looking back. She learns the walk, the talk, and puts every ounce of her womanhood to use in manipulating men and making a name for herself in the modeling community.

But now Ivy is getting old. She's nearly 25, a death knell in the modeling business. Her career is ebbing, and Ivy clutches desperately at ways to recover and attain the type of notoriety that would assure her job even as she ages. But it's not working and finally Ivy has only one job offer, from her father's wife Marilyn, to come model a photo shoot of wedding dresses from Marilyn's bridal shop, Something New. The last thing Ivy wants is to return to small-town Americana where all she remembers is the hurt of her father's indifference, a man now dead without ever reconciling with his daughter. She has no choice.

Perhaps it is the loving atmosphere that Marilyn exudes that starts to soften Ivy's heart. Then again there's Davis, Marilyn's nephew and no blood relation to Ivy, whose determination to not be seduced tilts her entire world on an angle. A man who treats her like a lady and refuses to take advantage? All Ivy knows is that she is now caught between two worlds. The world of modeling that no longer wants her, or a life that includes Marilyn, a woman who has always loved her, and Davis, a man who is nearly as broken as Ivy herself. Fortunately for all involved, God is still in the business of healing the brokenhearted.

Modeling was never on my childhood radar. My life included climbing the tallest tree in the backyard so I could see the ocean over the house, helping my dad dismantle the family car when it started wheezing, and fishing on the weekend. That was my life. So, connecting with a character like Ivy Clark is nearly impossible. I grieve for her and ache for the pain she's gone through, but it is a distant grief because I have never experienced anything even remotely similar. If anything, Ivy's story reminds me of little Jon-Benet Ramsey, a child beauty pageant queen who was murdered when I was still pretty much a child myself. That little girl's photo was splashed across magazines and newspapers for months, even years, calling for justice in her slaying, a justice that never came. Every time I look at that perfect face I always wonder how her parents could steal her childhood from her like that. I'm not talking about murder, but about forcing her into beauty competitions. It's an ugly, ugly world, so when I read the story of Ivy Clark, I though of poor Jon-Benet. Life is nasty in that world and I wouldn't wish that existence on anyone.

The one thing in the book I didn't really like is the ending. It felt rushed and a little too symbolic for my taste. When heroines need to make a change of heart and mind, they need to do it on their own. Not have the decision foisted on them because there is no other option. Ivy was backed up against a wall. The ending felt too easy, which is probably crazy since it is a painful conclusion (yes, there is still a happy ending). But the end really did feel like the author didn't know where else to take the story so she figured this would be a good option of getting Ivy out of that life. By forcing her through circumstances. Like I said, it felt too easy, but oh well.

Even though my own life experiences are nothing like Ivy's, I know her story will move many, many readers. Ms. Ganshert is a fairly new author on the Christian scene, and she has a distinctive voice that will garner a loyal readership following. Her stories aren't mundane or simple. They handle the dirty and agonizing real-life heartbreak that happens all the time. A Broken Kind of Beautiful is still a winner even though I never fully connected with either Ivy or Davis.

- I received this book for free from Blogging for Books for this review

Saturday, April 5, 2014

Book Review: Life Support (Grace Medical #3) by Candace Calvert

Life Support by Candace Calvert
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Readers familiar with the series have already met the affectionate Lauren Barclay in Rescue Team, the 2nd book in the Grace Medical series by Candace Calvert. Lauren always puts other people's needs before her own, to the detriment of her own relationships and happiness. It is a part of her genetic makeup, and it is strongest when troubles pop up in the life of her younger sister, Jessica. When Lauren's parents need her to keep an eye on Jess while they head off to Colorado for family business, Laurence has little choice. She leaves Austen for Houston and takes up residence at Houston Grace Medical. Between the jitters she gets whenever she encounters Eli Landry, local PA and friend to Jessica, and the constricting fear that Jessica might have one of her extreme "lows," Lauren is torn more ways than she can count. Especially when Eli starts sneaking his way into her heart, not hard to do since he's a loving and capable man in possession of an adorable daughter, Emma, and blind Newfoundland, Shrek. Lauren and Eli butt heads over care of disabled individuals since Lauren is an enabler and Eli wishes, for all the world, that the older, disabled brother he loves so much could be permitted to die if the time came. The two learn to cope together, Lauren discovering that enabling Jess is not the answer, and Eli realizing that there is always hope where his brother is concerned.

For Christian fans of medical dramas, this book series, and this author, will really hit the spot. I connected better to the characters in Life Support than I did to Kate and Wes in Rescue Team, probably because I suspect Lauren of being an ISFJ (we can be enablers), and that I understand her need to protect a younger sister. Lauren is a good reminder that Christians aren't perfect and that, no matter how sincere in our faith we might be, we will still make mistakes and wrong choices. Lauren is prone to it because she thinks she's protecting someone when she's really doing damage by not addressing the elephant in the room that no one wants to discuss. She realizes this by the end of the book, thank goodness, but the journey from point A to point B was fascinating.

Eli is an excellent male lead because he is logical and prefers to not let his emotions run his life. Except where his daughter is concerned, naturally, and he is an excellent father. I'm not sure what part was my favorite, his sheepishly telling Lauren that she is his music (Phantom of the Opera much?) or when he and Lauren are snookered into dressing like pirates for a party Emma, in full Elizabeth Swann attire, must attend. Both scenes were awesome, but I think the Jack Sparrow references really clinched the story for me, and my liking of Eli.

I don't know what it's like to live with a handicapped individual. But I do know what it's like to live with someone who suffers from clinical depression. Jessica's problem is bipolar disorder, caused by a chemical imbalance, just like clinical depression. And just like many Christians, Lauren and her parents are convinced that bipolar disorder can be beat with just prayer. Nope, I'm sorry, it doesn't work that way. Medication is there for a reason, and the worst thing in the world a pastor can tell a Christian suffering from a chemical imbalance is that they aren't praying enough or that they don't have enough faith. So, I was pleased with the outcome of this book because it gives a solid wake-up call to those Christians who think that people who suffer from depression or bipolar disorder are somehow in sin. That's not the way it works, and it certainly isn't biblical. There is no sin in taking medication for a chemical imbalance, and I was so happy that was Candace Calvert's conclusion.

Ms. Calvert always offers a solid story of realism in the life of medical personnel, a world in which I have absolutely no familiarity. Her characters feel real, their situations convincing, and the world in which they live compelling. Once again Ms. Calvert has written a winner, and I hope that she will continue to be a steadfast voice for medical drama in Christian fiction.

- I received a free copy of this book from Tyndale House Publishers in exchange for an honest review, which I have given.