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Category Archives: Book Reviews

Book Review: “The Loved One,” by Catherine Palmer, Peggy Stoks

Genre: novella; contemporary Inspirational

Plot Summary: Meg Chilton is proud of her son who is about to graduate from high school and leave for college.  But as his graduation draws nigh, Taylor announces to his parents his decision to join the military.  Devastated, Meg loses herself in her genealogical research—and learns of family’s courage and sacrifice stemming from great love.

My Book Review: I have a few books by Catherine Palmer on my TBR and this is the first I’ve read of her, co-authored with Peggy Stoks.  Actually, this was more of a novella and I zipped through it pretty quickly.  Published in 2007, it is a little dated but the content and story is still good.

The story has a strong, patriotic bent. But by the time I got to Chapter 2, I could see where the story was going and it was predictable.  However, the book flips back and forth between present day and the story of the Chilton forbears and it is the historical fictions that are the most interesting even if the contemporary scenes were repetitive.  I appreciated that the stories from the Chilton past were not wrapped up with nice little bows at the end.  Rather, the characters sacrificed family, emotional well-being and physical safety in order to do what they knew needed to be done: defend their country.

If you are interested in family history, or are looking for something patriotic to read this season, this short book will probably be just for you!

 
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Posted by on July 13, 2019 in Book Reviews

 

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Book Review: “Wish You Were Here,” by Beth K. Vogt

Genre: contemporary fiction; Inspirational; romance

Playlist…

Plot Summary: Allison Denman has only 5 more days until the big day when she marries Seth, the man she’s been dating for six years since they were kids in high school.  They’re perfect for each other (he says).  The dress is perfect (their mothers say).  But how did she end up kissing Seth’s brother Daniel this near to the wedding day? Now what?!

My Book Review: Broken-off weddings intrigue me.  It is never pleasant for the people going through it, but I am curious about the complex emotions and motives behind it.  That’s why I wanted to read this book.

The author was new to me.  I believe this is a first fiction novel for Vogt and I was surprised. You’ve heard me complain many times about the state of Christian romance fiction.  Why would I take a chance on another one?  Because I don’t believe the problem lies in the genre as much as it is individual authors’ perspective and skill.  No, I don’t enjoy the churned-out sugary novels.  But I’m always hoping to find a book where I can trust the author, sink my teeth into a good plot.

I say I was surprised, because I liked this book: a good balance between comedy and seriousness. The characters and dialogue were interesting and it wasn’t cliché.  I liked how the ending left you hanging a little.  Not everyone’s woundedness was healed by the end.  Not everything was completely wrapped up, though you had a good guess how things would turn out.

I liked the subtle presence of animals in the story. The llamas that stare at Allison’s suitors.  The kitty named Bisquick (adorable name!).  I enjoyed the setting for it all—the beautiful state of Colorado which I could picture very well in my mind, although I’ve never been.

Another word on the characters, though. I do wish that there was a little bit more development in Allison’s life after her breakup with Seth.  I appreciate the complexity in that it was hard for Allison to form new ways of relating in her relationships (with Seth, parents, etc,) and sometimes she made mistakes going back to past habits.  But I wish that she had become more fully aware of how her codependency was hurting herself and others, how it fed an unhealthy relationship, and what better ways she could learn from there on out.  I wasn’t convinced she wouldn’t go repeating it in her next relationship.

Many Christian romance novels feature ‘the perfect guy’—the hunk who rescues kittens, volunteers at the homeless shelter, and sweats while chopping wood. I liked that Daniel, the hero of Wish You Were Here, didn’t have everything right in his life, made mistakes, and almost had some of the same control traits as his younger brother.  But he faced those issues, made corrections, and made different choices.  That made for a much more interesting character!

Another interesting character is Allison’s tried and true friend, Meghan. I loved this girl as she told the truth point blank to her best friend.  She definitely had some good words of wisdom, especially as a confidant to Allison’s younger sister who was entering the dating scene.  However, it is too bad that this BFF couldn’t have been more truthful with Allison sooner in her abusive relationship with Seth.

I wish that the characters were a little more mature in their Christian walk, but some attempt is made on both their parts to grow throughout the book. I wouldn’t consider it preachy, but perhaps the spiritual element didn’t feel completely at home, either.  I don’t think that’s a reason to eliminate it, but something for authors to work on making sure things flow a bit better.

Some may be waiting for a series after this, but I don’t believe there will be. However, there is a short story sequel for fans, entitled “You Made Me Love You.”  I don’t think I’ll be reading it because I don’t enjoy short stories, but the summary made me smile!

I don’t think this book will interest everyone, esp. those who abhor romance, but for those who do like I think this will be a pleasant, surprise read.  It’s clean, and I could even recommend it to teenage girls.  It addresses some situations they face such as depression, cutting, and pornography.

If you liked this book, I also recommend…

 
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Posted by on June 20, 2019 in Book Reviews

 

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Book Review: “The Blue Castle,” by L. M. Montgomery

*See Note

Genre: romance; classic

Playlist…

Plot Summary: 29-year old Valancy Stirling takes stock of her uneventful life.  All she has ever known is a grey, dull existence with no real love of her own.  Her favorite fantasy is to dream of her very own ‘blue castle’ in which everything is just as she would wish and she entertains a string of handsome suitors.  But then she gets a shocking medical diagnosis that changes her perspective on everything.  What will she do with the rest of her life?

My Book Review: L. M. Montgomery has been a favorite author of mine since way back.  I grew up with her as a teenager, convinced that I was a Montgomery heroine myself.  I’ve read almost all of her novels, but still have a few more of the Anne series and one or two obscure works to cover.  I purposefully waited to read “The Blue Castle” until I was the same age as the main character– I always like to identify with the characters I’m reading about.  However, I’d been a little bored with the last Anne book I’d read (“Anne of Ingleside”) and was not sure how I would like this one, especially since it is less known.

I absolutely loved this, as it turned out to be such a sweet gem of a story!  There are almost three parts to Valancy’s journey but I don’t want to put major spoilers here.  At first I was unsure I would become so attached because the first third details Valancy’s bitterness about life and her lack of familial love.  But a few plot twists I never saw coming changed the whole thing, both for Valancy and for me as a reader.  I began to wonder how I might react to the news that I had a fatal disease, and it was interesting to see Valancy’s attitude go from self-pity to acting on her new self-discovery.  Who might we become if we really acted on what we thought or felt on the inside?

Valancy finds love—not among her joy-robbing relatives that she’s known her whole life, but among the outcasts of society. She decides to spend her life acting on her compassion, and in so doing mirrors Jesus’ actions toward the lepers, the dying, and those of scandalous reputation.  Her blue castle no longer becomes her ideal, but a little ramshackle cabin in the sticks becomes her wonderful reality.  She spends so much time enjoying living in the here and now, that she forgets about her impending sentence.

I found the story to be so beautiful and it gave me much food for thought. Not to mention, I got a good laugh out of some of her relations!  Set during the 1920’s, it’s definitely a lot different from Montgomery’s other tales, but I’m sure it will become a new favorite for you as it now is with me.

*Note- This is one of those instances where you can’t judge a book by it’s cover.  This is not a Harlequin romance novel, like this popular book cover above indicates.  Nor does Valancy have brown hair and wear 1980’s nighties.  And the hero of the story does not look one bit like a Ken Barbie doll!  No, below are pictures closer to what I picture them to look like (even though their dress and age may be a bit off)…

If you liked this book, I also recommend…

 

 
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Posted by on June 5, 2019 in Book Reviews

 

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Book Review: “Just Jane,” by Nancy Moser

Playlist…

Genre: historical fiction; Inspirational Christian fiction

Plot Summary: The youngest daughter of the vicar of the small village of Steventon, Jane leads a pleasantly ordinary life full of friends, town gossip, balls, and family relationships.  She longs for a romantic relationship as well, but Providence doesn’t seem to be providing that.  As the years go by, she matures to find her own voice that she develops in writing some of literature’s more beloved heroines.  This is her story.

My Book Review: I have stacks of books by Nancy Moser I want to read, and I finally tackled my first as an “in between book” (book read while waiting for other books to arrive via Interlibrary Loan).  I have read a few books written by Austen fans meant to be “sequels” to her works, but to be honest I have never cared much for them and don’t go in for them anymore.  I thought this would be a little different in that it is a fictionalized telling of Jane Austen’s life.

The first third of the book did not really have my attention.  It was hard to get used to the first person/present tense narrative, and I disliked Jane’s immature voice.  It just wasn’t how I imagined her.  However, she matures as the story progresses and Jane and her sister Cassandra endure many hardships over the years.  In some ways, I found I could identify.  Moving away from a home one loves; moving multiple times; financial hardships; family quarrels…  In a lot of ways, Jane wasn’t a lot different than the average “jane”.  I loved the theme of the book—Jane struggles to find her own meaning and purpose in life in an age where women’s only status was that of matrimony.  Jane had several offers and therefore opportunities to “better” herself in the world’s eyes.  But she had an overriding factor in the midst of all of it that was common sense driven by her faith.  What a true-life heroine for our young girls to follow!

I came away from the book with a deep appreciation for Jane Austen than I ever have before.  She really gleaned truth and wisdom from her life experiences and packaged them into her fiction.  She may have felt like only an obscure, single woman at times, but she lived her life faithfully and it had such an impact on the lives of countless generations of ladies ever afterwards.  It is sad when some only celebrate her stories for their romance and ridiculous characters; sometimes it seems they capitalize so much on that aspect that one’s impression of Austen books is that they are shallow, bawdy, and titilizing (I believe she would be rolling in her grave if she knew).  But the real essence of Austen is her good sense, wise living and humorous observations of humanity.  They are stories we can all learn from.

Bottom line: If you are hungry for more all-things Austen… if you disliked Masterpiece’s “Miss Austen Regrets”… if you would benefit from a wholesome story of a real-life heroine…

I think you will like this.

I also recommend:

 
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Posted by on May 5, 2019 in Book Reviews

 

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Book Review: “Doctor Thorne,” by Anthony Trollope

Genre: classic; romance

Playlist…

Plot Summary: [from goodreads.com] “…Doctor Thorne is the compelling story in which rank, wealth, and personal feeling are pitted against one another.  The squire of Greshamsbury has fallen on hard times, and it is incumbent on his son Frank to make a good marriage. But Frank loves the doctor’s niece, Mary Thorne, a girl with no money and mysterious parentage. He faces a terrible dilemma: should he save the estate, or marry the girl he loves? Mary, too, has to battle her feelings, knowing that marrying Frank would ruin his family and fly in the face of his mother’s opposition. Her pride is matched by that of her uncle, Dr Thorne, who has to decide whether to reveal a secret that would resolve Frank’s difficulty, or to uphold the innate merits of his own family heritage.”

My Book Review: I highly enjoyed the second in the Barchester Chronicles series (“Barchester Towers”) about ten years ago, and always meant to return there.  But I wasn’t sure if the characters would be the same and I wasn’t ready for more of Mrs. Proudie!  It turns out, this book isn’t connected very much to the first two Barchester books, except by way of general vicinity.  It could easily be read as a standalone novel.

It’s been a while since I’ve read a book over 400 pages and I was afraid of getting stuck halfway through this one.  However, I have been experiencing somewhat of a revival in my reading life and didn’t have a problem, though it took me longer to get through.  Nevermind,– I was just proud of myself for completing it!

Fortunately, Mrs. Proudie stars in only a small cameo appearance.  But we meet other interesting characters, and Lady Arabella and her sister Lady de Courcy take the place as “women who rule the roost”.

I was looking forward to some great Trollope quotes, but alas this story wasn’t as peppered with the same wit as BT.  This story features a sweet love story between two young characters, but the suspense wasn’t enough to really hold fast my attention.  I felt it dragged on a bit too long and I started to become antsy to finish and be on to another book.

Although, I have to say that it makes for wholesome reading, especially in a day and age when couples often prove fickle, take no thought for each other’s future or well being, and do not prove constant.   I think readers will find a wonderful role model for young ladies (or anybody) in the character of Miss Mary Thorne.  Virtues such as faithfulness, sacrifice, and genuine love never go out of style.

I cannot wait to watch the Julian Fellowes’ new film version of the book!  Has anyone watched it yet and what were your thoughts?

 

If you liked this book, I also recommend…

 
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Posted by on May 2, 2019 in Book Reviews

 

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Book Review: “Tangled Ashes,” by Michele Phoenix

Genre: Christian fiction; historical fiction; mystery; contemporary fiction

Plot Summary: The Chateau de Lamorlaye holds secrets.  That is what historical contractor Marshall Becker finds when he reluctantly agrees to take on the Renaissance-era castle renovation project in Northern France.  But he also finds that some of the people surrounding the castle harbor mysteries of their own, including himself.  Who is disturbing the property at night, obviously looking for something?  Who is the old man who lives on the historical site?  What is it about his employer’s family governess that holds his attention?  And what is the WWII story behind this mysterious old castle, involving a girl named Maria, her friend, and the classified program started by the Nazi occupation?

My Book Review: Anytime a plot summary gives me goosebumps, I’m in.  That’s the way it was with this book and I couldn’t wait to get my hands on it.  I was hooked right from the prologue, which begins with a flashback to WWII.  That’s the way the story was often told—back and forth from present day to the 1940’s. Who wouldn’t want a good read featuring a mystery that takes place in an ancient chateau?

I’ve got to say that this story gripped me right through. The characters are well fleshed-out and one can tell the author Michele Phoenix writes from the heart.  When I was finished with the book I was intrigued to find that much of the historical setting for the fiction was factual and that the author spent much of her youth at the Chateau in Lamorlaye, France.  That adds a whole, richer dimension to things!  You can see more pictures and videos about it on the author’s website here.  I was pretty excited to see that it was very much like how I pictured it in my mind.  I guess that means Phoenix did an excellent job at descriptive writing!

I knew somewhat about the Nazis’ secret Lebensborn program (I won’t give any more spoilers away; avoid video below if wanting to avoid spoilers), but I was interested to know a little more while reading Tangled Ashes.  That’s always one thing I like when reading a fictional (esp. historical) book—learning about something new.  The story was well crafted in that it was hard to tell where the fiction began.

I’ve read this described as ‘chick lit’, but I disagree here. This isn’t your fluffy romance novel (you’ll be pleased to know if you abhor that genre).  Romance really doesn’t factor much into the story; I would say it’s more about flawed characters who struggle and grow during the course of the book.

I will be keeping an eye out for more books by Michele Phoenix, and have at least one other of her books on my TBR. I burned the midnight oil finishing this one, and I’m sure it’ll be the same for you!

If you liked this book, I also recommend…

 
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Posted by on April 22, 2019 in Book Reviews

 

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Book Review: “The Legend of Sigurd and Gudrun,” by J. R. R. Tolkien

Genre: classic; poetry; myth; fantasy; medieval

Plot Summary: [from goodreads:] In the “Lay of the Völsungs” is told the ancestry of the great hero Sigurd, the slayer of Fáfnir most celebrated of dragons, whose treasure he took for his own; of his awakening of the Valkyrie Brynhild, who slept surrounded by a wall of fire, and of their betrothal; and of his coming to the court of the great princes who were named the Niflungs (or Nibelungs), with whom he entered into blood-brotherhood. In that court there sprang great love but also great hate, brought about by the power of the enchantress of the Niflungs, skilled in the arts of magic, of shape-changing and potions of forgetfulness.

My Book Review: I am not a hardcore Tolkienite, but I do enjoy stretching myself and have made my way through many of J. R. R. Tolkien’s works.  “The Legend of Sigurd and Gudrun” was my continuation of reading his non LOR books.

The book is made up of two longish poems (“lays”), and one is a sequel to the other. Actually, the book is Tolkien’s retelling of an ancient Norse myth called “The Lay of the Volsungs,” and was published after his death by his son Christopher, who added many of his father’s notes and his own commentary.

It shouldn’t have taken me so long to read it as it did. It would have been relatively quick reading, but I was busy and to tell the truth I found it murky and boring.  I found it hard to remember what happened the last time I left off, and by the time I made it to the breaks with Christopher Tolkien’s notes to explain what it was I just read, I’d completely forgotten and not much made sense.  A lot of oath-swearing, deceiving, fighting and killing.  Blood and guts.

On the plus side, I found it a lot of fun to read out loud. Tolkien wrote the lays in the style of the old Norse and there are a lot of ancient, outdated words that were fun to come across.  Tolkien really was a master at language and it shows (even if I’m too thick to fully appreciate it).  There was even a particular line or two I copied down that reminded me much of the True Story of the Savior of the World, Jesus Christ.  This sounds very strange, but I plan to include in my Christmas cards this year:

In the day of Doom

he shall deathless stand

who death tasted

and dies no more,

the serpent-slayer,

seed of Odin:

not all shall end,

nor Earth perish.

 

On his head the Helm,

in his hand lightning,

afire his spirit,

in his face splendour.

When war passeth

in world rebuilt,

bliss shall they drink

who the bitter tasted.

 

“I saw heaven standing open and there before me was a white horse, whose rider is called Faithful and True. With justice He judges and makes war.  His eyes are like blazing fire, and on His head are many crowns.  He has a name written on Him that no one but He Himself knows….  ‘He will rule them with an iron scepter.’ …And I saw an angel coming down out of heaven, having the key to the Abyss and holding in his hand a great chain.  He seized the dragon, that ancient serpent, who is the devil, or Satan, and bound him for a thousand years…. And the devil, who deceived them, was thrown into the lake of burning sulfur, where the beast and the false prophet had been thrown.  They will be tormented day and night for ever and ever….  Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth….  ‘Now the dwelling of God is with men, and He will live with them.  They will be His people, and God Himself will be with them and be their God.  He will wipe every tear from their eyes.  There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.’ He who was seated on the throne said, ‘I am making everything new!’  …He said to me: ‘It is done.  I am the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End.  To him who is thirsty I will give to drink without cost from the spring of the water of life.’ …No longer will there be any curse…  Whoever is thirsty, let him come; and whoever wishes, let him take the free gift of the water of life.  He who testifies to these things says, “Yes, I am coming soon.” Amen.  Come, Lord Jesus.  (Revelation 19:11 – 22:20)

I found it interesting that one of the characters toward the end of the tale, named Atli, is loosely based on what we know from old legends of Attila the Hun. That gave a wonderful grounding to the story, as if there really was a historical basis to the fiction I was reading.

I know there will be die-hard Tolkien fans out there who will want to read anything they can get their hands on of his who would enjoy this book. Otherwise, you might want to pass on it.

If you liked this book, I also recommend…

 
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Posted by on April 5, 2019 in Book Reviews

 

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