Thursday, March 28, 2013

The Tutor's Daughter by Julie Klassen

Read the first chapter here

Emma Smallwood, determined to help her widowed father when his boarding school fails, accompanies him to the cliff-top manor of a baronet and his four sons. But soon after they arrive and begin teaching the two younger boys, mysterious things begin to happen. Who does Emma hear playing the pianoforte at night, only to find the music room empty? And who begins sneaking into her bedchamber, leaving behind strange mementos?
The baronet's older sons, Phillip and Henry Weston, wrestle with problems--and secrets--of their own. They both remember the studious Miss Smallwood from their days at her father's academy. But now one of them finds himself unexpectedly drawn to her...
When suspicious acts escalate, can Emma figure out which brother to blame and which to trust with her heart?
Filled with page-turning suspense, The Tutor's Daughter takes readers to the windswept Cornwall coast--a place infamous for shipwrecks and superstitions--where danger lurks, faith is tested, and romance awaits.

The Tutor's Daughter by Julie Klassen was a wonderful novel that reminded me of the dialogue and secrets of Jane Austen's Northhanger Abbey, the forbidden romance and suspense of Charlotte Bronte's Jane Eyre, and as well as displays its own wonderful storyline, characters, and setting. The plot line of The Tutor's Daughter was very interesting and quick paced, and it was filled with instances of mystery, danger, humor, kindness, and romance. One of the least predictable romances that I have ever read, I was drawn into the story from the very beginning and I could not bear to put this novel down at any time. The mystery and suspense in The Tutor's Daughter is spectacular, as every member of the Weston family, from the stepmother to all of the Weston sons to even the young ward Lizzie have very surprising secrets that they are withholding. The narration of this novel alternates mostly between the perspective of Emma and Henry, with a few sections being told more from Phillip's point of view. The setting of this novel was beautiful, with an old manor sequestered in the hills against a harsh and dangerous coastline. The setting was also used to beautifully add to the mood throughout the novel as tensions arose and unknown dangers were revealed.

The characters of The Tutor's Daughter were also very realistic and well written. Emma was an excellent character that I felt an immediate bond to. She is quiet, loves books, is kind to others, and is hesitant to accept change from what she knows and loves. She is a good teacher, and she is not afraid to confront others when they are acting wrongly. However, as a result of her mother's death, she has strayed away from God and seeking to live her life without Him. Henry and Phillip both have secrets that reveal them to be very different from what they seem. From her time with them when they were young pupils at her father's school, Emma remembers  Phillip as a kind and loyal friend and Henry as a rude, angry, and hurtful  young man. However, as Emma is reunited with both young men, she slowly begins to re-evaluate her views of their unique characters. Henry is by far my favorite character. He is filled with surprises and even some of his reprehensible acts from his childhood are shown to not be what they seem. I wish I could explain more of what I loved and admired about Henry, but unfortunately it would be too much of a spoiler to do so. The other minor characters of the ward Lizzy Henshaw, the younger Weston twin brothers, Julian and Rowan, and the evasive red-haired man who never stays away, are all intriguing and add to the overall suspense and breadth of the story.

Overall, I really enjoyed The Tutor's Daughter by Julie Klassen. The plot was fantastic, the characters engaging and realistic, the setting beautiful, and the spiritual message at the end was inspiring and convicting. This was my first novel of Julie Klassen that I have read, and I cannot wait to read more!

I received this novel for free from the Baker Division of Bethany House Publishing in exchange for an honest review.

Friday, March 22, 2013

Damascus Countdown by Joel C. Rosenberg

Read the first chapter here.

All eyes are on the Middle East. Israel has successfully launched a first strike on Iran, taking out all of their nuclear sites and six of their nuclear warheads—and causing The Twelfth Imam to order a full-scale retaliation. US President William Jackson threatens to support a UN Security Council resolution condemning the Jewish State for unprovoked and unwarranted acts of aggression.

Meanwhile, CIA operative David Shirazi has infiltrated the Iranian regime and intercepted information indicating that two Iranian nuclear warheads survived the attack and have been moved to a secure and undisclosed location. In danger not only from the ongoing missile strikes on Iran but also from the increasingly hostile and suspicious governments of multiple countries, David and his team are in a race against time to find the remaining nuclear warheads before disaster strikes.

The Damascus Countdown by Joel C. Rosenberg is the third novel in the Twelfth Imam series following the Twelfth Imam and the Tehran Initiative novels, and this book is a smashing ending to this series. The Damascus Countdown is filled with international tension, mind blowing suspense, staggering sadness, and is action packed to the end. This novel could have been pulled from today's headlines as confrontations arise between Iran and Israel and as Syria becomes more embroiled in civil war and nuclear intrigue, just as is seen in the Damascus Countdown. The plot line moves quickly in most parts as the action and intrigue increases and then slower in others as Scriptures and Biblical prophecies are explained in light of current events. I found the alternation between action and explanation to be interesting and to increase the suspense exponentially.

The characters of the Damascus Countdown were realistic and were developed well. More is learned about David Shirazi and his journey into a better understanding of faith in this novel, and he even has opportunities to share his beliefs with others in critical situations. The other supporting characters also became more developed and played a bigger role in the story's progress. David's friend from his childhood had more of a role in this novel, and it was interesting to see her side of the story as well while the plot progressed.

Overall, I really enjoyed the Damascus Countdown because of its intensity and realistic nature. While it is not necessary to read the other two novels first, the Damascus Countdown is certainly a thrilling ending and climax to the entire Twelfth Imam series.

I received this novel from Tyndale House Press in exchange for an honest review.

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Outrageous Courage by Kris and Jason Vallotton

Read the first few chapters Here.

This is the story of one of the most courageous, radically obedient people we know.
Tracy Evans, a physician assistant, has treated rebel guerrillas while captive on an Asian island. She's sipped tea in a Mozambican hut while bullets whistled through the grass walls. She's cared for 900 HIV-positive orphans.
In these pages you will find not only gripping, un-embellished true stories of Tracy's exploits around the globe, but the more amazing account of what God can do with--and through--one person's raw faith and obedience.

Outrageous Courage by Kris and Jason Vallottan tells the amazing story of God's work in the life of Tracy Evans and how she in turn uses her life to spread the Gospel and God's love to unreached people. This book covers the life of Tracy from her perspective after the introductory chapter where Kris relates to the reader when he met Tracy. The next chapter tells of an event in Tracy's later life when Tracy was in a dangerous situation in the Philippine islands. The rest of the book then follows a chronological path from Tracy's childhood to her current work in Africa with young orphans. Tracy had a rough childhood, but once she became a Christian, she never stopped speaking the Truth of the Gospel. I enjoyed and was convicted in Outrageous Courage as Tracy revealed the weaknesses that she had to work through as she grew to understand more of God's love and developed a deeper relationship with her Heavenly Father. I was inspired by the trust and faith she placed in Christ and the radical courage that God then gave her as she spoke the truth and ministered to others all over the world. I agreed with Tracy's views on the love of God and the Gospel.  However, some of the smaller theological points that she made I found that I did not agree with her reasoning. These differences are only small denominational differences though and does not lessen overall truth of the Gospel that Tracy relates through her words and actions in this book. Overall, I found Outrageous Courage to be a very interesting, convicting, and powerful book of a woman who trusts God and lives her life to bring glory to God alone.

I received this book for free from Baker Publishers division of Bethany House in exchange for an honest review.

Monday, March 11, 2013

Fortress of Mist by Sigmund Brouwer

The throne is redeemed, but the battle is just beginning.
In the dark corners of an ancient land, evil lurks in the shadows. Powerful druids haunt the spaces of their lost territory. Double-minded noblemen fight for domain and influence. Invaders from the north threaten the kingdom of Magnus. This land of promise and redemption is mired in deceit and corruption.

The Orphan King, once victorious in conquest, appears to be losing his grip on his seat of power. Thomas rules Magnus, but does not know whom he can trust. His enemies anticipate his every move, thwarting him at each turn. Something is not right.

Under attack, both in the supernatural and natural worlds, Thomas must reach back into the secret layers of his past to find the strength and wisdom to fight his battles. When the mist clears, who will stand with him?

Fortress of Mist by Sigmund Brouwer is the second novel in his Merlin's Immortals Series. This novel picks up at the end of the first novel, The Orphan King. The plot line of Fortress of Mist is fast paced and is filled with mystery, suspense, romance, deceit, and betrayal. The narration is told primarily from the perspective of Thomas, the Orphan King, with some portions told from other characters' points of view. I thought that the first novel's storyline developed slowly and choppily with little plot development, but I found the plot of Fortress of Mist to be more well written, smoother, and had a more development since it was a continuation of the first novel. The suspense and mystery created in Fortress of Mist were excellent and surprised me multiple times as the novel continued.

The characters of Fortress of Mist were varied in their amount of development. Some of the characters, such as Thomas and Katherine, became more developed and had more dimension as the author revealed more about them than in the first book. Other characters, both new and old, remained one dimensional, were hard to identify with, and did not add much to the story because of their lack of depth. I liked learning more about Katherine in this story, but I still felt like there was too much left in the dark about both Thomas and Katherine and it made it hard for me to relate to them as the story continued. I like the mystery of the Merlin's Immortal series, but I find that there might be too much unrevealed, making it hard to properly identify with the characters.

Overall I found Fortress of Mist to be an interesting yet quick read. This novel flows directly out of The Orphan King, so I would highly recommend reading this novels in order. The plot of Fortress of Mist was slightly better than the first novel, and some of the characters did develop a little more as well. However, I think that these books could be improved significantly if they were made longer and contained more revelation and character development.

I received this novel for free from Waterbrook Multnomah Press in exchange for an honest review.