Wednesday, July 30, 2014

4 Weddings and a Kiss by Mary Connealy, Robin Lee Hatcher, Debra Clopton, and Margaret Brownley

In 1885 five western preachers sit around a campfire talking about unlikely couples they've seen God bring together.

Spitfire Sweetheart by Mary Connealy
Maizy Place is an unruly tomboy. When she causes an accident, injuring neighbor Rylan Carstens, she becomes his unlikely caregiver. Rylan has never noticed how pretty his infuriating neighbor is, and he never expected to fall in love.
This was my favorite of the novellas in the set. I really liked both Maizy and Rylan, especially Maizy's tomboy nature as she reminded me of myself. The two also had a really funny relationship as they fought over their differences in opinion. I also appreciated Maizy's desire to be loved for who she was not for how she could be different.

Love Letter to the Editor by Robin Lee Hatcher
Molly Everton is the outspoken daughter of the town newspaper's owner. When her father brings in an outsider to be editor, she tries to drive him out of town. But Jack Ludgrove is not intimidated. He’s resolved to change Molly's mind about him—as an editor and as a man.
This novella was a sweet read as Molly finally found someone (against her will) that appreciated her for her intelligence, wit, and character instead of those who disagreed with her 'unladylike' attributes.I also liked Jack because he was willing to sacrifice some of his own dreams in exchange for love. And what he found instead was that the greatest adventure he could have was with the person he loved.

A Cowboy for Katie by Debra Clopton
Katie Pearl is uninterested in men and love. But she needs help on her ranch and hires Treb Rayburn, a wandering cowboy looking to make a buck. Will Treb change Katie’s mind?
This novella was both sweet and sad as both Katie and Treb had hidden secrets that threatened to ruin both their lives and their relationship. Katie struggled to return to living under shelter after being trapped in her house after a tornado destroys her house. Treb is still being eaten up by the loss of his family a few years earlier. I enjoyed how each began to change and trust one another and God as they grew to know each other better. 

Courting Trouble by Margaret Brownley
Grace Davenport is either the unluckiest woman alive—or a killer. When her third husband is found dead, Grace is arrested. Attorney Brock Daniels isn't interested in the case—until he meets Grace. Only a miracle will prove her innocence, but the joining of two lonely hearts may be their saving grace.
 This novella was a great ending story because Grace really did have the worst luck with keeping men alive, and it was sweet to see her finally pick the right one. Brock was a man haunted by past mistakes but willing to try again in order to save a life. I loved how he was willing to sacrifice it all to save Grace and her son. I also really liked Grace's son; his determination and perseverance were admirable.

Overall, I liked the style and set up of this novella set, and I really enjoyed the plot line of all of the novellas. I received this book from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.

Monday, July 28, 2014

All for a Sister by Allison Pittman

Read the first chapter excerpt here

In Hollywood during the Roaring Twenties, Celeste DuFrane has it all. Her father’s work with color movie film opens doors that lead to the stardom she’s always aspired to. But after losing her mother, she discovers that half the estate has been left to a woman accused of killing Celeste’s baby sister before Celeste was even born.

Dana Lundgren arrives on the steps of the DuFrane mansion having spent most of her life imprisoned for a crime that never happened. After accusing her of murder so many years ago, why did Marguerite DuFrane leave her a sizeable inheritance?

As Celeste and Dana learn each other’s stories, they come up with more questions than answers. Then a surprising discovery begins to fill in the missing pieces: Marguerite DuFrane’s written confession, penned shortly before her death. Uncovering the treachery and deceit that changed the course of countless lives—most of all, their own—the two women find more than they ever dreamed of.

All For a Sister by Allison Pittman is her third novel set during the Roaring Twenties and connected in some way to the enigmatic Aimee Semple McPherson. While any of these novels can be read on their own, those who have read All for a Song will notice the familiar suave face of Roland in this novel. The formatting of this novel was a little odd, and it took me a few chapters to get into the story as a result. The chapters bounced between Dana's point of view as she is reintroduced into society and into Celeste's life at Ms. DuFrane's request, Dana's point of view as a young girl as she experienced different aspects of jail (but presented from the perspective of a movie script), Mrs. DuFrane's written confession of her wrongs, and Celeste perspective as a young girl. While it was a lot at first, as I learned more about the past and the present situations, the formatting worked well to tie the two time periods together. The author began to use this formatting to tie certain characters and situations into the story as a whole. The plot line was interesting and suspenseful. The way the story was orchestrated the reader was left in the dark about certain details and situations as much as Dana and Celeste were, though I was able to guess on a few things based on hints in Ms. DuFrane's confession. However, the plot also got so convoluted at points during the novel that I completely lost track of what actually happened the night Mary died and how the father was involved in the story. There were a few other points in the story that were also left confusing and not fully resolved.

While there was a lot of mystery and intrigue, there was also a great amount of greed, selfishness, sadness, and sin that was shown in this story. Mr. DuFrane's actions were never truly condemned as sin while Ms. DuFrane's actions were. I did not like this discrepancy as both sinned and needed to confess and to ask forgiveness, especially as both sets of actions negatively affected many people. However, I did appreciate that Ms. DuFrane experienced remorse at the end, though I did not completely agree with McPherson's (and therefore possibly the author's) take on giving/receiving forgiveness. The characters in this book were interesting and intriguing, but I was not able to identify with some of them. I appreciated Dana's strength of character and her perseverance during the injustice served her. I also enjoyed experiencing the Roaring Twenties and California through her eyes after she had missed out on decades of society. I also really liked the producer/director that took her under his wing and showed such care for her. I was not as big a fan of grown up Celeste. She just seemed spoiled, but near the end of the story she did show a more adult side to her. I felt sympathy for the Celeste of years earlier who struggled to cope with fame hungry father, an almost insane mother, and the ghosts of her siblings' memories. Overall, I found All for a Sister to be a compelling read that really delved into the evils that exist in the heart and in society as a whole, even if it was not my favorite of the "All For" novels by Allison Pittman.

I think my favorite was probably All for a Story, but I would still recommend this novel to those looking for a thoughtful novel about the Roaring Twenties.

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

A December Bride by Denise Hunter

What started as a whim turned into an accidental - and very public - engagement. Can Layla and Seth keep up the facade in Chapel Springs this holiday season - for the sake of her career . . . and his heart?

Under normal circumstances, Seth Murphy, the best friend of Layla O'Reilly's ex-fiance would be the last person she'd marry. But the news of their upcoming (and phony) nuptials convinces a big client that Layla may be high-society enough to work for his agency, a coup that would put her fledgling home-staging business on the map. Seth has secretly loved Layla for years, even when she was dating his best friend. Maybe she'll never forgive him for the way he hurt her back then, but he has to try. And Layla is willing to keep up their engagement farce until she's landed her client. For Layla, it's the chance to save her career. But for Seth, it's his last chance to win her heart.

A December Bride by Denise Hunter is one of the twelve Year of Weddings Novellas, each written by a different inspirational romance author. This novella was a quick and easy read, but it was sweet and enjoyable. Despite the length, I was still able to identify with the characters and sympathize with their mixed emotions. For any readers of Denise Hunter's novels, they will find an added bonus in this novella as the main characters and other characters mentioned in this novella are characters that are also seen in Barefoot Summer since both books are set in Chapel Springs. However, for any reader who has not read Denise Hunter's other novels, the characters were easy to connect with and it is definitely not necessary to read any of the other books first. I really liked Seth Murphy and his devotion to winning Layla's heart even at cost to himself. Layla had a lot of bitterness and distrust to work through, but I was glad to see her begin to trust again and to be willing to open her heart up to love. I was not a huge fan of how easily both Seth and Layla were willing to lie and to keep lying to the others even if it did add some suspense to the novella. However, overall I enjoyed this novella, and I look forward to reading the second Chapel Springs novel, Dancing with Fireflies, which I have not had a chance to read yet.

I received this novella from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Down South by Donald Link

Perhaps best known as the James Beard Award-winning chef behind some of New Orleans’s most beloved restaurants, including Cochon and Herbsaint, Donald Link also has a knack for sniffing out a backyard barbecue wherever he travels and scoring an invitation to sample some of the best food around. In Down South he combines his talents to unearth true down home Southern cooking so everyone can pull up a seat at the table and sample some of the region’s finest flavors.
Link rejoices in the slow-cooked pork barbecue of Memphis, fresh seafood all along the Gulf coast, peas and shell beans from the farmlands in Mississippi and Alabama, Kentucky single barrel bourbon, and other regional standouts in 110 recipes and 100 color photographs. Along the way, he introduces all sorts of characters and places, including pitmaster Nick Pihakis of Jim ‘N Nick’s BBQ, Louisiana goat farmer Bill Ryal, beloved Southern writer Julia Reed, a true Tupelo honey apiary in Florida, and a Texas lamb ranch with a llama named Fritz.

This cookbook is not just a cookbook; it is more than that. It tells the story of a culture. The stories behind the recipes and styles of food are heartwarming, and I was drawn in by the photographs of the landscapes, people, and other landmarks in each chapter. The pictures in this book are spectacular. I immediately wanted to make and eat many of the recipes because they looked delicious. The recipes themselves are a unique mixture of drinks, meats, sides, and desserts that show the wide array of different foods that are enjoyed in particular places in the South. I look forward to crafting meals that broaden my tastes and that introduce me to more delicious Southern style foods. I would definitely recommend Down South not only as a cookbook but also as a book to put on a side table and to spark interesting conversations with guests.

I received this book from Blogging For Books in exchange for an honest review.

Life of Miracles by Don Schulze

Read first chapter excerpt here

At first, Don Schulze wasn’t sure he was really hearing from God . . . because what he was hearing didn’t make sense. Could God really be calling him to leave a good career and a stable life to take his family on a journey of ministry across the country and around the world? And could Don trust God to take care of his loved ones on that journey? Would they trust and understand God’s call as well?

With a deep breath and a lot of faith, Don and his family took the leap and said yes—stepping forward into what would become a lifelong quest to follow God’s calling. In A Life of Miracles, you’ll travel with this ordinary family across the years as you witness inspiring encounters with God—dramatic rescues, just-in-time provisions, amazing miracles of healing, and God’s surprising answers to “everyday” prayers. As you read, you’ll see evidence of just how closely God sticks by us, even in our most uncomfortable moments.

This modern-day spiritual odyssey takes you on a heartwarming, soul-stirring exploration of faith. Join Don and his family on their unexpected adventures . . . and discover how your own daily walk with God can add up to a life of miracles.

Life of Miracles by Don Schulze tells the incredible story of the work God has done in and through the Schulze family over the decades. The book starts with Don's life right before he accepted Christ, and it then continues to convey the majority of his ministries over the years and how God has shown up in big ways for him, his family, and his ministries. The miracles that the Schulze family experience are incredible, and it really humbled and challenged me to take a new perspective on how I view prayer, miracles, and the work that God can do. I liked how Gospel oriented Don was both in his book and in his ministry. I also appreciated how each chapter ended with a biblical application related to miracles, faith, and prayer, and then a passage of Scripture that was related to the application and chapter. This book also really challenged me to listen to God and His leading in my life. Oftentimes we pray but we do not stop to listen to what God is telling us in response. Another application I got from reading Life of Miracles is to pray specific prayers and to then trust in faith that God will answer, especially when praying for others. I often will pray very general prayers instead of trusting God to be able to answer the specific ones as well. Overall, I found this book to be a very interesting and certainly convicting read, and I pray that we all live our lives glorifying God and spreading His truth to every nation and people group.

I received this book from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review. 

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Mark of Distinction by Jessica Dotta

Read first chapter excerpt here 
London is said to be the glittering jewel of society, a world unto itself—but to Julia Elliston it is a city of shadows. Her life is swiftly dissolving into scandal. And in Victorian society, even a whisper of scandal—substantiated or not—can be the death of a young woman’s reputation.

Now under the watchful eye of Lord Roy Pierson, one of most influential men in England, Julia begrudgingly accepts his protection. But Chance Macy’s power is far-reaching as well, and he is eager to assert his claim over her.

Thrust into society as the Emerald Heiress, Julia is the toast of London, a celebrated curiosity. But in reality she’s trapped between the clutches of two powerful men. Aided only by a gentleman whose intentions she prays she can trust, Julia must finally take control of her own fate—but outwitting one’s foe rarely goes according to plan.

In this second installment of the Price of Privilege Trilogy, Jessica Dotta is a genius. I do not know of many books other than Mark of Distinction that ends on a cliffhanger because the novel ends happily. If someone just picked up and read the last couple pages of this novel, they would think that all was well and there did not even need to be a third novel. However, after reading Born of Persuasion and Mark of Distinction, I knew that there was no way events could end happily for Julia. Plus, after reading this second installment, I was rather annoyed with Julia. Julia certainly had more than her share of misfortunes and deceptions in her short life, but at the same time she remains complacent and allows the men in her life to just walk over her. I understand that during this time period women did not have a lot of say in their choices and lives, but Julia refuses or is completely unable to respond to what is going on around her even when she has the opportunity. It was not until the end of the novel that she begins to make her own decisions, which I was glad to see, but she still turns to malleable putty and tells all to Macy when she meets him near the end. That is not to say that Macy is not a fantastically charming character and makes it very hard for Julia (and the reader) to believe all the wicked things he has done. Still, I hope she can grow a backbone around him in the next novel before she gets more people she loves killed.

Needless to say, Julia is not my favorite character. However, Lord Dalry, who is seen briefly at the end of the first novel, quickly became my favorite character in this trilogy. He cares for Julia,  befriends her, teaches her about society, intercedes for her, and even begins to help Julia understand who God is and about His Word as she struggles to understand who she is and what she is to do. I liked how Julia began to turn to God and to trust Him. I did wish that it showed up a little more in her life after the fact. It did not really change how she acted nor how she treated particular people. I was glad though to see Julia and Isaac's relationship grow, and I enjoyed seeing them grow closer to one another and to God. As a result, I was not too happy with how it all culminated, though I understood Julia's choices, just not how it was implemented by certain characters. I am also intrigued to see how it will all turn out in the next novel. Julia's relationship with her father is also an interesting part of this book. Julia is very intimidated by her prickly and temperamental father, and she just wants to be loved, but he has trouble showing that to her. I hope that they are able to break through each others' barriers more and learn to love one another in the next installment.

Overall, I highly enjoyed Mark of Distinction with its intriguing plot, suspenseful twists, and captivating characters. I was pulled in from the beginning, and I read it all in one afternoon. I would definitely recommend this trilogy to any reader who loves the novels of Jane Austen and Charlotte and Emily Bronte.

Friday, July 18, 2014

While the World Watched by Carolyn Maull McKinstry

On September 15, 1963, a Klan-planted bomb went off in the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Alabama. Fourteen-year-old Carolyn Maull was just a few feet away when the bomb exploded, killing four of her friends in the girl’s restroom she had just exited. It was one of the seminal moments in the Civil Rights movement, a sad day in American history . . . and the turning point in a young girl’s life.

While the World Watched is a poignant and gripping eyewitness account of life in the Jim Crow South: from the bombings, riots, and assassinations to the historic marches and triumphs that characterized the Civil Rights movement. A uniquely moving exploration of how racial relations have evolved over the past 5 decades, While the World Watched is an incredible testament to how far we’ve come and how far we have yet to go.

While the World Watched is a compelling story of how the 16th Street Baptist Church bombing affected and shaped one girl and how she viewed the world. The majority of the book described the events that occurred both in the South and in Carolyn's experiences before and after the bombing. I was really moved by how racial prejudices hindered Carolyn's early life, even when she was not actually aware that they existed. I was shamed to see how cruelly whites of all ages, both male and female, treated their black neighbors, especially in the case of the children. I was shocked by the suffering and trauma inflicted on the members of the 16th Street Baptist Church by the bombing, particularly the young children like Carolyn and her brothers. And since violence was a regular occurrence for that community, Carolyn's family and her community never discussed what occurred or worked through the emotions the bombing incited. As a result, it took Carolyn years, many unhealthy choices, and finally God's hand at work before Carolyn even realized that she was bitter, depressed, and grief-stricken as a result of the bombing. I found Carolyn's redemption story to be convicting and moving, especially as she struggled to forgive those who were responsible for the bombings, something she could only do through a relationship with God.

Another aspect of While the World Watched that I found very interesting was the quotes from the Bible, JFK, Martin Luther King Jr., and other civil rights leaders of the time that were interspersed throughout the pages. They were well placed and picked to go along with the topics of the chapters, and they gave a broader and more thorough picture to what was going on at the time. I also enjoyed learning more about this particular time in the Civil Rights movement and how it transpired in Birmingham Al., especially from the firsthand perspective of Carolyn who was involved in the thick of things. However, at the same time I was saddened by the cruel and prejudiced treatment towards Carolyn and her friends that existed both when she was a child and even when she was older.
Overall, I found While the World Watched to be a very moving and compelling read that gave me a fuller picture of what happened in Birmingham, how the bombings affected those involved, and how God can redeem any situation and person.

Friday, July 4, 2014

Born of Persuasion by Jessica Dotta

 Read first chapter excerpt here

The year is 1838, and seventeen-year-old Julia Elliston’s position has never been more fragile. Orphaned and unmarried in a time when women are legal property of their fathers, husbands, and guardians, she finds herself at the mercy of an anonymous guardian who plans to establish her as a servant in far-off Scotland.

With two months to devise a better plan, Julia’s first choice to marry her childhood sweetheart is denied. But when a titled dowager offers to introduce Julia into society, a realm of possibilities opens. However, treachery and deception are as much a part of Victorian society as titles and decorum, and Julia quickly discovers her present is deeply entangled with her mother’s mysterious past. Before she knows what’s happening, Julia finds herself a pawn in a deadly game between two of the country’s most powerful men. With no laws to protect her, she must unravel the secrets on her own. But sometimes truth is elusive and knowledge is deadly.

With an intricate mixture of Jane Austen and Charlotte Bronte, Born of Persuasion by Jessica Dotta puts together a compelling story of intrigue and romance. The plot line was very interesting but complex, so it made it a little hard for me to follow at first. However, once I understood more of the back story, I quickly was drawn into the story. There were several unexpected twists and turns, suspenseful moments, danger, forbidden romance, and mystery. The narration was from Julia's perspective as if she was retelling the story from later on in her life, which made it interesting because the reader learned about her thoughts, and also added an element of foreboding because there was a sense of dark shadow hanging over her narrative. I also really enjoyed the storyline, particularly the second half of the story, as Julia struggled to understand what was going on and who to trust. The characters were complex and intriguing as well. I did not particularly like or understand Julia. Her personal feelings and thoughts did not seem to meld with the timid and shy way Julia acted around people. I think this was because Julia was telling the story from the future, so her way of telling it reflected how her personality and character had grown over the years. However, even though Julia did not change much in this story, she did begin to grasp the seriousness of her actions near the end, and I think that she will begin to grow as a character during the next two novels. Mr. Macy was definitely an interesting character; very smooth and charming. I was immediately drawn to him like Julia was, but I still liked Edmund better. Edmund was also a complex character who struggled to balance his beliefs with his desires, and he ended up having a much harder road to travel because he could not come to a decision. Overall, I highly enjoyed this novel. The dark mood, the brooding characters, the danger, and the old mansions all fit the style of Bronte, and the dialogue, love triangles, the silly characters like Ms. W matched the Austenian style as well. I really liked how these styles merged together in this novel, and I look forward to reading the next novel, A Mark of Distinction.

I received this novel from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Isle of Shadows by Tracy L. Higley

As a courtesan, Tessa of Delos enjoyed unparalleled luxury and influence. But even in the grand palaces of Rhodes, she felt herself a prisoner.
On the island of Rhodes, 227 BC, Tessa of Delos has served for ten years as a hetaira—a high-priced Greek courtesan—to a wealthy politician. In that time, she's lived in luxury, but as a virtual prisoner, serving at her master's whim. Though intelligent and beautiful, Tessa has learned to numb herself to all desires for freedom and love.
But when her owner meets a violent death, Tessa is given the chance to be free—if she can hide the truth of his death and maintain a masquerade until escape is possible. She joins forces with unlikely allies—a Hebrew houseservant named Simeon and Nikos, a seafarer who wants to work in the house of Tessa's owner.
As Tessa seeks freedom for herself and for those she is beginning to love, forces collide that will literally shatter the island’s peace, bringing even the mighty statue of Rhodes, Colossus, to its knees.
A powerful story showing how the love of God can transform and bring back to life a soul jaded by sin and grief.

Isle of Shadows by Tracy L. Higley is a revised and significantly updated version of the original title The Shadow of Colossus, and I found it to be an intriguing and moving read. The story is set on the island of Rhodes and includes many of the politcal battles between the Greek politicians that existed during that time. I thought that the descriptions of the island and the statue Colossus to be very well done, and I definitely felt immersed in the culture of the time period. The plot line was well written and included elements of mystery, suspense, romance, and a whole lot of danger for the characters involved in the cover up plot. There are also clear themes in this novel, such as the importance of asking God for forgiveness and then relying on His overwhelming love and power to transform broken lives. I found that theme to be very prevelant and convicting in this story. The characters are also realistic and well developed. I felt an immediate connection with Tessa, and I was drawn into her feelings and thoughts as she struggled with her degrading and difficult lifestyle. I enjoyed seeing her heart change and watching her begin to move past her mistakes and begin to seek after the one true God as she spent time in the Jewish quarters of the island. I also found Nikos to be a dynamic character as he tried to understand what was happening and how he could get revenge. He also experienced character growth as he was influenced both by the Jews' beliefs as well as by Tessa. Overall, I thought Isle of Shadows was an interesting and exciting book with very realistic and intriguing characters.

I received this novel from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.

A Match of Wits by Jen Turano

Read First Chapter Excerpt Here

After his departure from New York two years ago to meet up with his almost-fiancée, Zayne Beckett is the last person Agatha Watson wanted to stumble upon in her travels as a reporter with the New York Tribune. Quite pathetically bedraggled, he clearly needs to be taken in hand and sent back East to his family. Although she no longer has feelings for him, Agatha realizes, by hook or by crook, she'll have to be the one to get the obstinate man home.

Zayne has no desire to be taken anywhere and is prepared to drag his heels all the way home... until he finds himself slipping back into the familiar banter of his former friendship with Agatha. Once they arrive in New York, Zayne realizes Agatha's determined nose for news has earned her a few enemies, and he hopes to repay her help with some help of his own. When she rebuffs all his attempts to prove himself a knight in shining armor, the lengths to which they'll go to win this battle of wills lead to some memorable antics.

Everyone else may think them a match, but nothing could be further from the truth--until Agatha finds herself in real trouble. Have these two stubborn, too-smart-for-their-own-good people been meant for each other all along?

A Match of Wits by Jen Turano was a sweet and fun novel that kept me laughing to the point of tears and had me pulling for the Agatha and Zayne. This novel is the fourth in the Ladies of Distinction series and while it would be possible to read this novel on its own, you would be missing out on a lot of interesting back story concerning the two main characters as well as the multitude of other characters that are mentioned. This novel even ties in with the novella, A Gentleman of Her Dreams, which is the prequel to the series and stars Charlotte St. John. The plot line of A Match of Wits centers around the antics of Agatha and Zayne, which have always been two of my favorite characters in the series. The story is interesting and moves at a quick pace. It also includes great moments of humor, sarcasm, and comic relief, especially between Agatha and Zayne as well as between Agatha and anyone. There are also more tender moments, which is nice to see because Agatha had never really shown much vulnerability in past novels. One thing that I did not really like about the plot was that at about three fourths through the book, the plot kind of gets hung up on Zayne's botched proposals, but then immediately jumps into a not very believable kidnapping. While I have enjoyed the larger than life nature of the characters and the danger, I thought a little more development of that part of the story would have been helpful. However, the fantastic interactions between Agatha and Zayne more than made up for this minor detail. They definitely have the best comments and actions between the two of them, and Zayne's clueless attitude is just great. I also liked how both characters had to learn to grow up a little bit and to begin to let go of pride and to trust one another and God with their lives. Both Agatha and Zayne had flaws that hindered their relationship until they began to work through their weaknesses. Piper, of course, stepped in and saved the day in her little wise way, which was great. Overall, I found A Match of Wits to be highly amusing and a fun summer read, and I look forward to seeing if there will be another novel in the series. I would love to see what happens to poor Jeffrey Murdock.

EDIT: I cannot believe I almost forgot to mention Matilda. Possibly the best and most intelligent pet ever. Who thought a pet pig could be so hilarious or get Agatha in even more trouble than she can herself? Definitely an excellent part of the story. She really is quite funny and even manages to save the day a few times.

I received this novel from Netgalley and Bethany House in exchange for an honest review. 

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Left Behind by Jerry B. Jenkins and Tim LaHaye

 Read the first chapter here

An airborne Boeing 747 is headed to London when, without any warning, passengers mysteriously disappear from their seats. Terror and chaos slowly spread not only through the plane but also worldwide as unusual events continue to unfold. For those who have been left behind, the apocalypse has just begun.
A repackage of the New York Times best-selling novel Left Behind.

Left Behind is the first novel of thirteen in the Left Behind series, though if you want to read the series right then there are three prequels that help add a lot of interesting background to both the situations and the main characters seen both in this book and in the entire series. I read the Left Behind series a few years ago, but I thought it was a very interesting and suspenseful series. The characters seemed very shallow at first, but over the course of thirteen (or fifteen) books, I grew to really connect with many of them as they struggled to survive and to save others. I do not particularly agree with this series' take on the End Times, but I did appreciate how the authors had significant portions of the Bible, such as Daniel, Ezekiel, Revelation, and other books, included in the series to back up their interpretations of the End Times. This series does include a lot of sadness and violence because of its apocalyptic nature, but there are still many moments of redemption as well as little romance. Overall, I would recommend this series to readers who enjoy apocalyptic novels and are willing to read through to the very end. 

Firewall by DiAnn Mills

 Read an excerpt here

After a whirlwind romance, Taryn Young is preparing to board a plane at Houston International Airport, bound for a dream honeymoon, when a bomb decimates the terminal. Injured but still alive, she awakens to discover her husband is missing and they’re both considered prime suspects in the attack. Further, the FBI is convinced her husband isn’t who he appears to be.

Agent Grayson Hall’s number-one priority is to catch those responsible for the day’s act of terror. All evidence is pointing to Taryn and her new husband. But his instinct tells him her pleas of innocence are genuine. Is her naivetĂ© just for show, or could she truly be another victim of a master scheme, possibly linked to the software she recently developed for her company?

With both their lives and reputations on the line, and the media outcry for justice increasing with each passing minute, Taryn and Grayson have no choice but to trust one another . . . and pray they can uncover the truth before they become two more casualties.

Firewall by DiAnn Mills was an suspenseful and intriguing novel that kept me glued to the pages. The plot line was fast paced and well written, and it included the interesting idea of how technology could be (and probably often is) used for both terrorism and to further a person's greed. The storyline included several unexpected twists and turns, including a very huge plot twist in the first few chapters, and I was left not knowing who to trust and who was behind the attacks until the very end. I was shocked to discover who the real killer was and why they were motivated to kill and blow up so many civilians. The narration of the novel was very interesting and continued the suspense of the story. Most of the chapters were in third person narration but still told from either Taryn Young or Grayson Hall's perspective. However, a few chapters were in first person narration from the perspective of an unknown person who was involved in organizing much of the plot surrounding Nehemiah. The characters in Firewall were interesting and fairly well developed. Many of the characters had secrets that threatened the United States' security and there were so many unknowns that even the reader was not sure which characters were trustworthy. I really liked Grayson and his uncle Joe; they worked well together and were dedicated to protecting Taryn. I also liked Taryn's character. She had her own set of flaws and struggles, but I enjoyed seeing how she began to turn to God again for stability and to trust him again. I cannot say too much about Taryn and Grayson, but I liked how they interacted with one another, and I really enjoyed the epilogue. There were a couple things I thought seemed a little unrealistic about their interactions, but I cannot say more without giving away a major plot twist. Overall, I enjoyed Firewall, and I look forward to reading more of DiAnn Mills' novels.

I received this novel from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.

Saving Amelie by Cathy Gohlke

Read first chapter excerpt here

Increasingly wary of her father’s genetic research, Rachel Kramer has determined that this trip with him to Germany—in the summer of 1939—will be her last. But a cryptic letter from her estranged friend, begging Rachel for help, changes everything. Married to SS officer Gerhardt Schlick, Kristine sees the dark tides turning and fears her husband views their daughter, Amelie, deaf since birth, as a blight on his Aryan bloodline.

Once courted by Schlick, Rachel knows he’s as dangerous as the swastikas that hang like ebony spiders from every government building in Berlin. She fears her father’s files may hold answers about Hitler’s plans for others, like Amelie, whom the regime deems “unworthy of life.” She risks searching his classified documents only to uncover shocking secrets about her own history and a family she’s never known.

Now hunted by the SS, Rachel turns to Jason Young—a driven, disarming American journalist and unlikely ally—who connects her to the resistance and to controversial theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer. Forced into hiding, Rachel’s every ideal is challenged as she and Jason walk a knife’s edge, risking their lives—and asking others to do the same—for those they barely know but come to love.

“Germany is at stake—heart and soul…When the church stops standing for Jews—for anyone—then we stop being the church. Grace is costly—it took the death of our Lord Jesus Christ, our Savior, to achieve that grace. It requires just as much from each of us.
But we’ve come to practice cheap grace—grace that appears as a godly form but costs us nothing—and that is an abomination, a stench in the nostrils of God.”

Saving Amelie by Cathy Gohlke was a stirring novel that demonstrated the power of love and it means to lay down your life for your friends and family. True discipleship. The message Bonhoeffer preached to his German congregation and wrote in his book The Cost of Discipleship was one of the main themes of this novel and is a message that is still relevant today. As Christians, people who love and follow Jesus, are we justified in remaining mute and inactive when people are scorned or even killed because of their race or physical capabilities, or are we called to stand up, to choose to save the unlovable even when it is dangerous? Saving Amelie captures the attitude of inaction and purposeful ignorance of both the German people and America at the beginning of World War II when the Nazis started using eugenics to first sterilize the "impure" and then to round up the weak, the deaf, the old, the 'imperfect' and to kill them. Both people groups simply stood by and did not respond until it was too late. As Edmund Burke says, "The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing." However, this novel also demonstrates that not everyone refuses to act and that people can be saved even if just a few respond and help. In addition, there is a portion of this novel that reveals the atrocities that German soldiers found themselves forced to enact on Polish Jews when they invaded Poland and their reactions to their jobs. I had never thought about what these actions might have cost the simple German farmers who were Christians and did not hate the Jews or the Poles and how it might have caused them to choose death over a life with these memories.

Saving Amelie was researched very well and felt very genuine and real. I was astounded by the ruthlessness of the German Institutes in their sterilization and then killing of those they deemed to be imperfect. Even American scientists who believed in eugenics were taken in by the Nazi's schemes. The plot line of this novel was very well written and moved at the perfect pace so that I could connect with both the story and the characters. The descriptions of both the German cities and the small towns like the Passion town were beautifully done and really allowed me to picture what they must have been like in the 1940's. I also enjoyed learning about the real Passion town and also seeing how the townspeople worked together to save both their traditions and eventually those the Nazis wished to kill. The characters were realistic and well developed. There are two parallel storylines at the beginning of the novel; Rachel's life and Leah's. However, as the novel goes on, these storylines finally intersect and allow the reader to have a better idea what is occurring. At first, I really did not like Rachel's character. She was extremely selfish, jealous, and unwilling to believe what was actually happening. However, as the story progressed, she begins to change as she meets Christians, reads the Bible and The Cost of Discipleship, and experiences the love of a family. Leah is another important character who I liked more but who I quickly found had her own set of faults and prejudices that she had to work through. I was happy to see these two women begin to trust one another and God and to place their imperfections in His hands. Jason was probably one of my favorite characters because he was steady and determined to discover the truth. He did experience character growth as he met Bonhoeffer and as he realized there was more to life than having his byline on an important article. Overall, I highly enjoyed this novel. There was a great amount of sadness and despair in Saving Amelie, but the hope that can only come from showing love and trusting in God ultimately guided the story even through the dark times in Germany.

I received this novel from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.