Category Archives: Book Reviews

Book Review: “Between Us Girls,” by Sally John

Genre: Christian Inspirational, romance; contemporary fiction


Plot Summary: Jasmyn Albright was comfortable and contented with her life in small town Valley Oaks, Illinois.  Until a tornado completely destroyed her home on St. Patrick’s Day.  Devastated, she takes a solo trip to San Diego and immediately feels a strange sense of welcome and belonging.  The residents at the condo neighborhood of Casa de Vida are a mixed and sometimes kooky bunch but they come to find that they need Jasmyn as much she needs them.

My Book Review:  I was really looking forward to this book on my reading list because of the topic of friendship. I like stories of heroines who start over to find themselves and Jasmyn was one of those characters. She is not the only person who changes over the course of the book, as many characters exhibit growth. In that way, it was a great story of the power of friendship, community and belonging.

But it wasn’t the most amazing read ever. I think I was expecting the story itself to be more powerful. It just didn’t get to me down deep inside. I felt like there were too many “coincidences” to be believable all in one book.

There is some romance that springs up for a couple of the heroines, but I wouldn’t say romance was the starring genre. In fact, there was hardly any kissing so there was obviously no need for concern over content!

People won’t find this a preachy Christian book and they may like it that way. I don’t necessarily need the four spiritual laws spelled out in every book I read. However, when I read a “Christian story” I do look for characters that genuinely live out the Gospel of faith. The older motherly figure in the book, Liv, certainly lives out grace, mercy and love and is always in prayerful dialogue with the Lord. Jasmyn and her friend Sam do come to realize the love of God, but I hope they come to an even deeper personal knowledge of Jesus as their Savior.

There is a sequel that continues with the story of these and other characters from Casa de Vida, but the first book wasn’t enough for me to want read it. However, others may be looking for a quintessential beach read and find it in “Between Us Girls.”

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Posted by on August 11, 2020 in Book Reviews


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Book Review: “Love’s Awakening,” by Laura Frantz

Genre: Christian Inspirational, romance; historical fiction


Plot Summary: The story of the Ballantyne family continues with Silas and Eden’s youngest daughter Elinor.  The apple of her father’s eye, Ellie grows up knowing only love and privilege in the bustling city of Pittsburgh.  The Ballantynes are respected businesspeople, but also harbor fugitive slaves as they work with the Underground Railroad.  Danger lurks literally right next door as the rival Turlock clan head up a posse of bounty hunters to stamp out the acts of the abolitionists.  But Jack Turlock strikes Ellie as a more gentle soul, and his young sister looks up to her as a role model as she teaches Pittsburgh’s first finishing school.  Where will Jack’s loyalties lie when his father pressures him to break the law?

My Book Review: “Love’s Reckoning” (read my review here) was my favorite read from last year, so I was really looking forward to Laura Frantz’s next in the series!  Again, the book cover art is so vivid and gorgeous and it alone deserves 5 stars.  However, I had mixed feelings about LA…

The Ballantynes come across as being a very real family, real characters and it was delightful picking up to read about them again.  Their grace and faithfulness is wonderful—toward each other, their neighbors and even their enemies.  Ellie has grown up watching her parents love each other and wishes for the same kind of love for herself.  The trusting relationship Ellie had with her father was lovely; no doubt it helped her spot a good man when she saw one.  I also enjoyed reading about the prosperity Silas and Eden had established at the time this book takes place.  New Hope certainly sounds like a wonderful home in which to live and no wonder the escapees begged to live there at the risk of being recaptured!

He who pursues righteousness and love finds life, prosperity and honor.  (Proverbs 21:21)

LA has a very different feeling to it than LR.  Whereas #1 felt gritty, wintry and tragic, #2 felt full of spring lilacs and roses.  That’s not a bad thing, but for ¾’s of the book I wasn’t very engaged or interested.  It felt like a typical Christian romance and I felt disappointed.  But.  Then there was a plot twist which I am now beginning to really appreciate from this author, and the waterworks started up.  Just as I was reaching for my kleenex, there was another plot twist, and !

Unfortunately, the overall reading experience was not as good as the first, but I love how Frantz is able to leave you hanging at the end of her books (at least, the two I’ve read so far).  I am definitely going to be reading the last in the trilogy and can’t wait to read others by her.

I think older teens could enjoy this series as well.  The heroines are young women who grow in virtue and lovely character.  These are romances, and Frantz doesn’t deny sexual tension.  However, it is carefully worded (not titillating), nothing inappropriate happens between hero and heroine, and the curtain is drawn to keep the marriage bed sacred.

So if you are wanting something light and perfumed, I think you’re going to enjoy Love’s Awakening.  Note, I don’t recommend reading this as a standalone without reading LR first.

PS- I found this on Laura Frantz’s Pinterest and loved seeing how she envisioned the characters.  To be honest, Jack was hard for me to picture so this helps to “fill it in”, but at the same time it’s not even close to how I thought he might look.  Ansel on the other hand looks very much how I imagined!

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Posted by on June 11, 2020 in Book Reviews


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Book Review: “The Woman in White,” by Wilkie Collins

Genre: classic; romance; gothic; mystery; thriller; suspense


Plot Summary: Walter Hartright, a young drawing teacher, is employed by a wealthy Cumbrian benefactor to teach his two wards painting.  Over the course of a pleasant summer, he falls in love with the beautiful heiress Laura Fairlie.  But she is engaged to another man.  A stranger arrives with a note containing warnings about Miss Fairlie’s intended.  Who is telling the truth?  Who is the young woman in white who looks like Laura?  And who will emerge from this story sane?

My Book Review: This is my third book by Wilkie Collins, and by now he is at the top of my list of favorite authors and I am quite a fan.  I loved “The Moonstone” when I first read it over twelve years ago and now that I’ve finished WiW I realize I love this one even more!  It is a very thick novel, and switches first person accounts as Moonstone did, and which I love.  It gives the story more of an air of authenticity.  There are three very distinct seasons within the story (or epochs, as Hartright calls it): 1) Limmeridge House; 2) Blackwater Park; 3) investigations from London.

Geniuses are ahead of their time, and that’s what makes this book so riveting.  It covers the themes of mental illness, women’s rights and narcissism.  But it also upholds the “old-fashioned” values of honor, faithfulness and compassion.

One of the best characters of the book, Marian Halcombe, is a strong heroine.  She is not beautiful but she has a capable mind and is a match for the villainous Count.  I loved reading about her standing firm on principles.  She makes mistakes anyone could have made in her discernment but they were honest ones and she had good intentions.  If it weren’t for her physical weakness and loyalty to her half-sister Laura, she could have beaten Count Fosco at Blackwater Park.  I was on the edge of my seat throughout that ordeal!  I felt like I was about ready to go crazy myself, so bizarre were some of the happenings.  Not all perceptions by all good characters are correct, because they only have half the tale.  Neither are all antagonists what they fully appear.  What a great storyteller Collins was!

SPOILER: Walter’s restraint from pursuing Laura when he could have had her was touching.  He could have overpowered her, influenced her, manipulated her just as easily as Sir Percival or the Count could have.  But he is aware of her unavailability (maritally and mentally).  END OF SPOILER.  Love is patient.  Love is kind.  It is not self-seeking… and that is the picture we see in this hero, aptly named.

Wow, these characters were so developed.  You could make a psychological study of almost all of them.  Skipping past the “goodies”, let’s look at some “baddies”.  Count Fosco is definitely the strong evil one of the piece.  He had the hold on people somewhat like a cult leader.  His extreme narcissism and magnetism with which he controlled others were apparent.  But looking at the symptoms his wife exhibited were even more telling.  She worshiped and served him without question.  She is described as having had a completely different personality before her marriage to him.  She had no thought of her own (only programmed by the Count), and would go into a paranoia if she thought his position threatened.  I was doing some interesting reading on this.  Her cold, motionless staring, even her repetitive “busywork”– endlessly rolling the Count’s cigarettes—seemed indicative of a classic textbook Geschwind syndrome or temporal lobe epilepsy, similar to the brains of long-term cult victims.  And Wilkie Collins wrote this in 1859??  Fascinating!

It was interesting that not everything that happened was part of the scheme of the villains.  Certain things backfired on them.  Part of me was disappointed in finding this out in the end because I liked thinking the Count was a Complete Mastermind Evil Being.  But it actually served to make it more realistic and believable.  The ending was not entirely explained [SPOILER: Who was the assassin? END OF SPOILER], but then not everything in life is.  The character Pesca sort of fizzled out at the end for me and he needed a stronger ending.

But really, this has been one of my favorite reads of the year.  I can see why it is such a classic.  There’s so much depth for analyzing and going deeper and I would love to hear/read/discuss more of it!  I’m also looking forward to watching different film versions.

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Posted by on May 17, 2020 in Book Reviews


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Book Review: “Ashenden,” by Elizabeth Wilhide

Genre: historical fiction


Plot Summary: The history of an old English manor house is told from the point of view of successive generations of owners, servants, and occupants.

My Book Review: I think I might have discovered this book on the shelf at the library, or among goodreads recommendations.  It’s been a long time since I’ve read a book that wasn’t a classic or by a Christian author.  I think it’s time I start investigating other books out there and this looked like an interesting place to start.

Split narratives between past and present are it’s own genre now and its nothing new.  But this book looked interesting to me because the main character is really about a house, and how history treats it.  From the time it is built in the late 1700’s through to present day inheritors Charlie and his sister Ros, we are swept through history chapter by chapter.  In one way this kept me from growing close to the characters.  In another it kept my interest in what happened next.  We know a few things from the first chapter about how the house is in it’s present state, but then we are taken back to the beginning and are clued in as to how it happened.  And then the overall question at stake is, what will be its future?

Despite the interesting plot, there were a lot of things that kept me from liking this book.  There is a small amount of foul language and ‘observations’ I could have done without.  Around chapter 2 I wasn’t sure if I wanted to continue with it, but it takes a lot to deter me from finishing something once I start.  There are several characters who have mistresses or sleep around and have affairs.  In one instance, a man stumbles across a couple having sex which is briefly but graphically described.  So yeah, there are content issues.

However, I liked the conclusion the book makes [SPOILER] in that it doesn’t matter if there is a long uninterrupted line in a single family that owns a place so much as it does if the people who live there are happy and love it and can care for it.   [END OF SPOILER]

I would have to say that my favorite time era depicted was probably when the original architect James Woods goes back twenty years later with his two nieces to visit the house he built.  I liked the idea of Maria carving her initials for Reggie and Bunny to find more than a hundred years later.  They have no idea the context for it, but they appreciate it as being a part of the history of the place as indeed it is.  I wish there were more “easter eggs” like that throughout the book.

You might like this if you enjoy the manor house genre, and especially if you are into Downton Abbey.  Enjoy with a good cup of tea!

I’ve heard that Ashenden Park is based on real-life Basildon Park in Berkshire, but I don’t know this to be 100% certain.  It certainly sounds very similar, featuring honey-color stone and an octagonal room to boot:

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Posted by on April 28, 2020 in Book Reviews


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Book Review: “Arsene Lupin Versus Herlock Sholmes”

Genre: suspense; mystery; early 1900’s


Plot Summary: It all starts in an antique shop, where a professor purchases a convenient little writing desk for his daughter.  What he doesn’t know will ultimately be his downfall… which will then lead to his windfall.  Next, the murder of the Baron D’hautrec leads to confusion… and then order.  And lastly, the theft of a priceless ancient artifact leads to a false trail… which then becomes the true one.  All of these conundrums sound like the French superthief Lupin is involved, and English supersleuth Sholmes is on the trail!  Will they be able to escape each other?

My Book Review: Oh, these obscure vintage mysteries don’t get enough love in the book world!  They make for lively reads with very original plot twists.  Lupin makes an interesting heist-genre character in that he is too bad to be a Robin Hood, yet has a heart enough not to be a complete cold blooded con man.  He’s very choosy—not every valuable is worth stealing in his estimation.  And he plays matchmaker on occasion!  Even so, we should know enough not to believe one word of what he says.

The battle of English and French wits was fun and Sholmes’ interactions with his worshiping sidekick Wilson were hilarious and made for some of my favorite scenes.  A spoof on the popular Sherlock, of course.  But this isn’t purely a case of bumbling investigator against brilliant villain.  No, both are geniuses in their own vein—the question is, who is a step ahead of whom?

Arsene Lupin Versus Herlock Sholmes is the second in the series by Maurice LeBlanc and they are translated from the original French.  I believe I enjoyed this book better than the previous, as the first one was more of a collection of short stories about Lupin whereas this felt connected enough to make a novel.  Short stories have just never been a thing with me.

These stories might have been written over a century ago, but there is something about them that make them so modernly appealing.  I encourage you to give these a try!

*This book also goes by the titles: The Blonde Lady or Arsene Lupin Versus Sherlock Holmes

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Posted by on April 14, 2020 in Book Reviews


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Book Review: “The Marquis’ Secret,” by George Macdonald

Genre: historical fiction; Inspirational; classic


Plot Summary: A year has elapsed since the Lord of Lossie passed away and still Malcolm has not claimed his identity as rightful heir.  Lady Florimel has been spending her time in London with friends, but their bad influence is rubbing off on her and it has Malcolm worried. How can he best protect her while in her employ as groom?  Meanwhile, will the steward of the House of Lossie succeed in ruining the fisherfolk’s village?

My Book Review: I enjoyed reading the first in this series by George Macdonald, The Fisherman’s Lady (see book review here).  I loved the Gothic atmosphere set in Scotland– full of ghosts, superstition, crackling fires, and fresh landscapes.  I was looking forward to more of that.

This book had its strengths and weaknesses.  I appreciate short chapters, so that was a plus.  But I definitely did not find it on a par with TFL.  Probably the thing I missed most was the above mentioned atmosphere.  Half the book is set in London and the south of England.  While the rest does take place in Scotland, it just didn’t have the same gothic appeal.

However, the book did contain some of its own sweetness.

It takes a lot for me to label a book “preachy”.  I would love to write a post later on this topic if I ever get around to it!  I don’t fall into the same camp as a lot of folks who eschew spiritual conversations in books as though that made for a literary downfall.  However, when the characters themselves seek to turn every spare moment into an opportunity for a sermon… yes, I take issue with that just as I would if they were real life characters.  I admired Malcolm for his honest living before God and others, and he had intentions for good all along.  But one can easily turn a person away from the Gospel when they’re a one-note johnny.  There’s no room for the Holy Spirit to do His work.  This was an irksome element for me.

But as I said, I respected Malcolm and he was hard not to like.  I loved his looking at a situation straight on and shining God’s light on all around him.

“Malcolm was one of the few who understood the shelter of light, the protection to be gained by the open presentation of the truth.”

He lived out the Book of Proverbs in a refreshing way.  He believed that if you’re right with God and man, there’s no need to fear anything.  He is a novelty in the world around him, and to us living in our world today.  “But the noble man makes noble plans, and by noble deeds he stands.” (Isa. 32:8)   Because of this, I would recommend George Macdonald’s books especially for young people.  They’re entirely safe, wholesome stories that I would have enjoyed reading growing up.

An example of Malcolm’s good character qualities is his showing his sister some tough love.  SPOILER ALERT: He held out hope that he would not have to go to extremes to protect her but as she kept pushing him away, he eventually came to the decision that claiming his authority, dealing her an intervention and giving her an alternative was the best thing to do for her, even if she completely rejected his love.  On the flip side, Macdonald wraps everything up too quickly and neatly all in the same chapter, and Florimel does a complete 180 in about a second and a half which was not believable (unfortunately, one of the book’s weaknesses).  END OF SPOILER.

Another one of the book’s downsides is Macdonald frequently skipping over essential plot parts that seemed to bore him or that he forgot to write about so he went back and stuck it in quickly by saying, “I’ll just mention here that Malcolm did xyz…” End of Chapter.  Felt a bit lame and lazy to me.

There were quite a few good quotes out of this one, popping up in those spiritual conversations Malcolm has with Lady Florimel, Lady Clementina and other characters.  But my favorite thing about the story was the unsaid parable that wove itself throughout and culminated in a fairytale-like ending, which is maybe what Macdonald is best at.  I’ve been reading in the book of Isaiah lately for my devotions and came across this verse.  With what’s been going on in the news, I’ve been longing for Jesus to come back and put things right.  When every knee shall bow and tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord and “the Lord Almighty will be exalted by His justice, and the holy God will show Himself holy by His righteousness.” (Isa. 5:16)  He will make justice the measuring line and righteousness the plumb line (Isa. 28:17).  “And a highway will be there; it will be called the Way of Holiness.  The unclean will not journey on it; it will be for those who walk in that Way; wicked fools will not go about on it.  No lion will be there, nor will any ferocious beast get up on it; they will not be found there.  But only the redeemed will walk there…  Gladness and joy will overtake them, and sorrow and sighing will flee away.” (Isa. 35)  Doesn’t that sound wonderful?  Even so, come Lord Jesus!

How does that apply to us living in today?  As God’s children, we are to be carriers of justice and beautiful holiness as well.  And that is just what Malcolm illustrates when he comes back to Portlossie.  He fellowships with even the humblest of his tenants; the faithful are rewarded; fairness is set in order; the wicked are castigated and the repentant are encouraged.  Although—a bone to pick here: SPOILER ALERT: As the “ruler” of Lossie, I don’t believe the punishment Malcolm meted out to Mrs. Catanach and Caley was a just example to other citizens of law and order; I believe he let them off too lightly.  I know the point was his trying to demonstrate mercy but the biblical illustration of the kingdom of heaven falls short here.  This is because of one of Macdonald’s fundamental beliefs (see below) END OF SPOILER.

As much as I enjoyed the scriptural truths played out in this fiction, there were some holes from Macdonald’s own faulty theology also present.  I could have written them down but honestly I don’t have time for that and don’t feel like being more of a watchdog here than what I am already.  So I’ll spare you the point by point analysis.  Besides, I can’t remember what they all were anyway.  🙂  I did find it interesting that Master Graham was ousted by the church for being ‘heretical’ but we are not told what his unorthodox teachings were.  George Macdonald didn’t believe in the concept of hell; he believed it was not in God’s nature.  Yet the justice of God (as already described, a major theme in The Marquis’ Secret) demands a dealing with unrepentant sin.  There is also quite an emphasis on being good, yet not exactly receiving Christ’s work on the cross for us.  The reason for this is because Macdonald also didn’t accept the orthodox view of Christ’s atonement for sin.  To him, salvation was only a process of evolution toward Christ-likeness.  I believe it is both and am disappointed Macdonald erred on such major points of doctrine.

However, one of the things Macdonald did well was teach the concept of “God as Father, and sought to encourage an intuitive response to God and Christ through quickening his readers’ spirits in their reading of the Bible and their perception of nature.”

This probably wasn’t George Macdonald’s best, but it did fully demonstrate his core beliefs.  And that won’t keep me from enjoying more of his books in the future.

A closing quote from the book:

“…in the kingdom of heaven to rule is to raise; a man’s rank is in his power to uplift.”


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Posted by on April 10, 2020 in Book Reviews


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Book Review: “Gormenghast,” by Mervyn Peake

Genre: classic; fantasy; literary fiction


Plot Summary: Gormenghast picks up in the detailing of the life of Titus Groan, seventy-seventh Earl of the Castle and inheritor of the endless monotony of rituals and symbols.  As the boy grows, he wearies of his stagnant life and begins to eye the world outside of the castle with much interest.  In particular, a mysterious girl—called “The Thing”– who holds the freedom Titus longs for.  Not only is the life of the young Earl told, but also that of his sister Fuchsia, the banished servant Flay, and the manipulative mastermind Steerpike…

My Book Review: I loved the Gormenghast Series almost as soon as I started the first book, Titus Groan (see my book review here).  Peake is marvelous!  What vocabulary and descriptions!  The colors this man uses!  It is often said of Tolkien that he made up beautiful languages and names and then made up plots to fit around them.  It’s my opinion that Peake (who was first and foremost an illustrator) made up picturesque settings and then made up plots to fit around them.  Some may find that tedious and sometimes it does become so, but have patience and a colorful picture will emerge in your mind’s eye.  I had to stop my reading every once in a while to give a gloriously contented sigh before I picked back up again.

“… Titus first thought consciously about the idea of colour: of things having colours: of everything having its own particular colour, and of the way in which every particular colour kept changing according to where it was, what the light was like, and what it was next to.”

These books aren’t action-driven; they’re not even exactly character-driven.  Sometimes it is hard even to like the protagonists.  But they are landscape-driven, and even color-driven.  First and foremost is the Castle itself, a massive, crumbling monstrosity that is the entire universe for all our characters.  There are even shadowy areas that the head servant Flay himself is not familiar with and needs to chart a new map so as not to get lost.  Tunnels, wings, hallways, dungeons, dormitories, attics, towers…  who could ask for anything more?

Titus apparently, as he realizes that Gormenghast cannot be Gormenghast unless it is in relation to somewhere else.  He inwardly kicks at the infinite number of rules and regulations that keep the castle alive.  They are so old that their symbolism has been forgotten but no one can deviate from them nonetheless.  I had to stop and think about the idea of legalism—adherence to the letter, but containing no heart.  The Master of Rituals, Barquentine fits this bill:

“The fanaticism of his loyalty to the House of Groan had far outstripped his interest or concern for the living—the members of the line itself….  It was the chain that mattered, not the links.  It was not the living metal, but the immeasurable iron with its patina of sacred dust.  It was the Idea that obsessed him and not the embodiment.”

Contrast this with the servant Flay.  Although he adheres in a religious way to the laws of Gormenghast, he decides to take an alternative action for the sake of the people he cares about.  The law of love is better.  I could not help seeing a parallel between the Pharisees and Jesus in the Gospels.

One of the most interesting characters is the antagonist Steerpike.  Intent on knocking off the pillars of Gormenghast one by one until he has unlimited power, this fellow is a chilly one indeed.  It is often believed that villains aren’t “real” if they have no layer the reader can identify or sympathize with; bad guys are merely “misunderstood” or not given an ear in the first place.  But there is such a thing as a sociopath [and for the record, DON’T ask Holmes], and I believe this describes our Steerpike.  Lacking any moral conscience, he picks off his victims in various ways evil.  His soul is hideous and his means are graphic.

But he doesn’t overtake the castle all at once—no, that would be too easily identifiable.  His corruption of the place happens over a long period of time.  This is often the case with real-life institutions as well.  I am writing this at a time when I am reading daily of corruption that has infiltrated the church and other religious organizations.  The previously wise and strong members become old or pass away, and others become mentally flabby or sleepy.  After a while, reports begin to trickle in of abuse, scandal and misconduct.

“The sense of unreality which had spread through the castle like some strange malaise… so that although there was no lack of incident, and no question as to its importance, a sharpness, an awareness was missing and nobody really believed in what was happening.  It was as though the caste was recovering from an illness, or was about to have one.  It was either lost in a blur of unfocused memory or in the unreality of a disquieting premonition.  The immediacy of the castle’s life was missing.  There were no sharp edges.  No crisp sounds.  A veil was over all things, a veil that no-one could tear away.

“How long it lasted was impossible to say, for although there was this general oppression that weighed on every action, all but annihilating its reality of significance, making… a ceremony of dream… yet the sense of unreality in each individual was different; different in intensity, in quality, and in duration, according to the temperaments of all who were submerged.

“There were some who hardly realized that there was a difference.  Thick bullet-headed men with mouths like horses, were scarcely aware.  They felt that nothing mattered quite as much as it used to do, but that was all.

“Others were drowned in it, and walked like ghosts.  Their own voices, when they spoke, appeared to be coming to them from far away.”

Will we wake up and take a good look at our surroundings and evaluate with them discernment?  If we don’t, who will?

SPOILER ALERT:  So disappointed that my favorite character, Fuchsia, was killed off in such a nonchalant way.  Even though she wasn’t always likeable, I could identify with her in some ways and admired her fierce and passionate soul.  But it felt like Peake was getting to where he didn’t know what to do with her, and so she was easily disposed of.  It didn’t make sense to me and I wish that he had buried her with more ceremony.  I’m so sorry for the loss of this heroine.  She will be greatly missed.  END OF SPOILER.

This book suffers a little from tedious minutiae and repetition, but the stretch it gives one’s brain muscles is well worth the exercise.  Such great quotes out of this one!  I even learned of a new-to-me genre that this series is classified under: Mannerpunk (hmm! Now I will have to go exploring that one!).  Mervyn Peake is among one of my top all-time favorite authors; I seriously hope you will not skip him.

I also recommend…

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Posted by on April 7, 2020 in Book Reviews


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Book Review: “Mrs. Lincoln’s Dressmaker,” by Jennifer Chiaverini

Genre: historical fiction; Inspirational; Civil War


Plot Summary: Elizabeth Keckley, a former slave woman living in 1860’s Washington DC, is hired by many of the city’s female elite for her superior dressmaking skills.  While serving many congressmen’s wives, as well as Varina Davis, Mrs. Keckley also receives an opportunity to sew for Mrs. Lincoln as her husband prepares to enter the White House.  For the duration of the Civil War, Elizabeth is employed by Mary Lincoln as her personal modiste and she witnesses history in the making first hand.  When tragedy strikes, what will become of the bond of friendship between these two very different women?

My Book Review: Jennifer Chiaverini is known for her fictional “quilt genre” books.  Those haven’t really piqued my interest, but I have a few of her other historical fiction on my TBR.  This is the first I’ve read by her, and I was impressed.  Although it felt a little slow-reading for me at times, I came away from it being glad I learned a lot about the people on whom this story is based.

Elizabeth Keckley was a real person who was born into slavery in 1818.  She was able to buy her and her son’s freedom at the age of 37 and eventually moved to the capitol and established a successful dressmaking business for herself.  This lady was so interesting to learn about.  I would relate more, but it would spoil the book.

We’ve heard about Antietam, Gettysburg, the Emancipation Proclamation, 13th Amendment, the fall of Richmond and John Wilkes Booth.  But this is told from a friend of the First Lady’s point of view which makes the story unique.  The most interesting part for me was the time related after Abraham Lincoln’s assassination.  I had no idea what happened to Mrs. Lincoln after the White House years.  It was fascinating, but if you’re hoping this story ends in a grand fashion with fireworks you would be wrong.  In some ways, it was heartbreaking.

In this story, we learn the kindness of a true friend in Keckley.  She was a fashionable, dignified, self-educated woman with common sense and whom Mrs. Lincoln needed and turned to in times of trouble.  Sometimes, Elizabeth could be too over-giving in a codependent sort of way.  Mary Lincoln wasn’t the easiest person to get along with.  But reading of Keckley’s love and loyalty was beautiful.

I was thinking about our modern era of social media.  How easily one’s text can be misconstrued and before you know it there is a facebook battle or twitter backlash.  We think our troubles are unique to our time, but in reading Mrs. Keckley’s story we find that is not true.  How does she handle the media outrage against her?  As a heroine– with perseverance, honesty, and right living despite not everything being made just this side of heaven.

If we think we have a terrible time of it in politics, it is maybe slightly comforting to learn that nothing new is under the sun.  Lincoln was not elected by the majority of the population, and many Republicans tried to run against him during his second presidential campaign.  Many “friends” deserted them and the news was full of criticism, slander and lies.  But the country made it through, and history remembers Abraham Lincoln as one of our greatest presidents.

I think Chiaverini was pretty methodical in her historical research.  I felt like the characters leapt off the page and it’s been fun to look up their photographs and feel like I know them.  If you are a history buff, I think you will appreciate this one.

PS- As you can tell from my review of Lincoln here, it is one of my favorites.  I was interested to know that Elizabeth puts in a cameo appearance as Mrs. Lincoln’s attendant in some key scenes!

The video below sums up her life in brief, but does contain spoilers:

I also recommend…

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Posted by on February 9, 2020 in Book Reviews


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Book Review: “The End of Law,” by Therese Down

Genre: historical fiction


Plot Summary: Three people living in Germany during the 1930-1940’s must make decisions that will affect the others’ lives forever.

My Book Review: Most books set during the Holocaust are from the “good guys’” points of views—the victims, the good Germans, Jews, resistance fighters, etc.  I wanted to read a book that was from an ordinary German citizen’s perspective.

It was clear from the first chapter that this book would not be drawing me in deeply emotionally.  The characters felt held at a distance, the main character Hedda does not fit your typical heroine mold, and large chunks of time was passed over fairly quickly.  However, I found it a quick read and my interest was held more on a need-to-know basis than on invested feelings.  This may have been a mercy because I’m not sure I could have handled the content otherwise.

I appreciated that this story focused on an aspect of the Nazi regime that is not told as often as others, and that is the euthanizing of precious lives of disabled and mentally ill citizens, many of whom were young children and infants.  As mad and deranged as you may know the Nazis to have been, there is probably much worse you didn’t know and this book tells of the sad history and fate of so many.

I’m always reading books (particularly fiction) to see how they parallel the world and situations I live in.  Many don’t believe anything like Nazi Germany could happen today.  Either that or they go to the other extreme to flippantly call anyone they dislike with a Nazi.  Let’s look at some of the things the Nazis did.  They determined some persons worth less than others because they lacked ‘the perfect body.’  If a person’s health was in a certain undesirable way to the State, they ordered that person done away with.  Hundreds of infants were killed (on the basis of race, health or disability).  Germany ignored their own laws in order to permit this treatment of people.  Therefore, the title: The End of Law.

This child was killed in the euthanasia program. His name was Richard Jenne.

Does any of this sound chillingly contemporary?  If it doesn’t, why not?  If it does, what will you and I do personally?  That is the biggest takeaway a person could glean from this book.  The characters Karl Mueller and Walter Gunther made a lot of terrible choices and contributed to feeding their country’s killing machine.  Yet one allowed God to penetrate his conscience and at a point in time decided enough was enough and started by saving one life.  The other continued to harden his soul until he could no longer feel anything and he became despicable even to his superiors who gave him his bloody orders.

In the midst of living in a brain-washed culture, some individuals dared to not believe in what was going on.  But I had never considered how lonely and agonizing this must have been for them.  You couldn’t trust anybody; how could you bounce ideas off of another rational person when you didn’t know who was rational and who wasn’t?  It was basically efficient crazy-making.  And if you could hold onto your beliefs, what could you do with them?  Can what may seem like a one-person army make any difference?  The real-life hero Albert Goering makes a fictional appearance in part of the story (see the documentary “Goering’s Last Secret”).  I marveled at how one person making a public stand against craziness and death could have such a huge impact.  You never know how one’s actions may inspire another to think and then also act, like a domino effect  I only pray I can be faithful in my world.

I left the book wishing I could have cared more about the characters but I was glad to have learned some history and I would like to learn more about some of the things presented.  I really encourage you not to pass over this book just because “you aren’t into Holocaust tales”.  The point is not entertainment, but to remember and learn and be wisely responsible in today’s world. I don’t ever want to be the type of person that passively let a Fourth Reich happen.


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Posted by on February 2, 2020 in Book Reviews


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Book Review: “The Fisherman’s Lady,” by George Macdonald

Genre: classic; mystery; Victorian; Gothic

Plot Summary: Malcolm MacPhail has lived all his life by the sea with his grandfather, waking early each morning to fire the village’s ritual canon, and earning his living by fishing.  He knows the water and all the people of his little town.  But something changes in his life when he is introduced to a new calling—that of serving the marquis as captain of his yacht.  He also encounters the marquis’ young and pretty daughter, Florimel.  Secrets surround around him…  His grandfather has a secret, the manor house holds a secret, and so does a neighboring noblewoman.  But who holds the truth, and what does the truth mean for young Malcolm?

My Book Review:  I think every Christian needs to try reading at least one George Macdonald story.  Whether one of his children’s books or one of his romance novels, a lot of theology gets packed into the story and characters and it does good for one’s soul.  I appreciated the old-fashioned sense and virtues found in the character of Malcolm.  I recommend the edited version by Michael Phillips if you cannot slog your way through archaic Scots dialect.

So… a Christian gothic romance?  Hmmm, interesting combination.  Christian, –or at least Inspirational genre,– yes.  Gothic, most certainly.  Very little romance.  Big plot twist.  Yes, I saw part of the twist coming, but not the half of it!!

I got some very good quotes and I definitely plan on finishing the sequel, and reading even more by Macdonald.  However, I would not say I agree with his all of his theology –even as respected as he is.  It is very surprising once you read about it.  Christian writers Michael Phillips and Madeleine L’Engle also subscribe to similar beliefs.  However, I would not say that they surface so much in the story for a person to recognize such a big difference between it and orthodox Christianity.

I mostly just loved the atmosphere.  The crackly, firelit, Scottish countryside; shadows, leaves, and forest; spooky attics.  It is such sensory fodder for a vivid imagination!  And, I had fun brushing up on my best Scottish accent.  🙂

Wanting to travel far away to another time and place while sitting in your armchair safe at home?  Grab a cozy blanket and this novel… I’m sure it will be just the thing for you!  (*Side note: please ignore the popular book cover that’s out there of a watercolor painting featuring boy and a very mature Florimel.  It makes it look so outdated and uninteresting.  Which is why I am not featuring it on my blog post as I usually do with my book reviews.)

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Posted by on November 17, 2019 in Book Reviews


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