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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