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Book Review: “Sands of Time,” by Susan May Warren

Genre: Christian fiction; suspense; intrigue; romance; contemporary fiction

Plot Summary: [from goodreads.com]An inexplicable ailment was striking down the children of Russia; in less than forty-eight hours, American medical missionary Sarai Curtiss had watched two young patients slip away, and she feared she might have an epidemic on her hands. Yet how could she help anyone in the middle of a violent coup? The new leadership had demanded all foreigners leave the state–on pain of death. Unwilling to leave her clinic, but unable to combat her enemies alone, Sarai had to join forces with an unlikely ally–Roman Novik, the rebel Cobra Captain who broke her heart. Faced with a corrupt government, a brutal military and the truth of their own deepest feelings, it would be a race against time to save the lives on the line–and an entire country at risk.”

My Book Review: No, this review has nothing to do with a Jake Gyllenhaal action flick.  Gotcha.

I became interested in this three-book series (Mission: Russia) by Susan May Warren a couple of years ago because of the intrigue+romance aspect of it.  I read the first book, “In Sheep’s Clothing” (which you can read review of here) last year but to be honest, I was left wanting.  However, I decided to go ahead and read the second installment since A) it’s more of a standalone novel; B) it looked more interesting.

I’m glad I tried it as I liked it much better than the first. The sequel details the story of Viktor’s (Viktor is Book #1’s hero) friend Roman as he seeks to rescue an old acquaintance (okay, a romantic flame from 10+ years’ past) from a dangerous coup who has it in for her because of her knowledge of secrets they don’t want to get out.  The story was fun, fast, and kept me guessing to the end.  I thought Roman– love that name!– made a better hero than Viktor, but I had to struggle to see what he saw in Sarai.  She was really quite annoying and made me want to slap her sometimes.  I don’t say that often.

It was fun to read something set in another part of the world, and I’ve always had an interest in Russia. Descriptions were great, dialogue was humorous, and the book had the benefit of the author’s experience for having been a missionary there at one point.

Yet at the same time, it also suffered from some of my complaints about the first novel. Even though it is an action story, it just has way too much cheesy mushiness throughout that feels forced and sort of gets in the way of another wise interesting book.  If I had realized sooner that it was a Steeple Hill romance novel, I probably wouldn’t have bothered to put it on my TBR to begin with.  But as far as that genre goes, it was probably better than most because of the international intrigue side of things.  I appreciated that it wasn’t a steamy romance, and the characters acted with propriety.  And I don’t know how things go with romance publishers, but it may be that they require authors to have so many romance-checklist additives per page.  ?  Which could explain why it felt cheesy and forced.

The third installment of this series focuses on the other pair I was hoping would come together in the end: Yanna and David.  The plot looks interesting, but I’m outta gas for this genre.  I’ve decided I’m still interested in trying other books by this author, but no more Steeple Hill for me!

If you liked this book, I also recommend…

 
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Posted by on December 29, 2018 in Book Reviews

 

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My 1ST BOOK CLUB! & Book Review: “Sensible Shoes,” by Sharon Garlough Brown

16204594Genre: Christian fiction

Plot Summary: [from goodreads.com:] “Sharon Garlough Brown tells the moving story of four strangers as they embark together on a journey of spiritual formation: Hannah, a pastor who doesn’t realize how exhausted she is. Meg, a widow and recent empty-nester who is haunted by her past. Mara, a woman who has experienced a lifetime of rejection and is now trying to navigate a difficult marriage. Charissa, a hard-working graduate student who wants to get things right. You’re invited to join these four women as they reluctantly arrive at a retreat center and find themselves drawn out of their separate stories of isolation and struggle and into a collective journey of spiritual practice, mutual support and personal revelation. Along the way, readers will be taken into a new understanding of key spiritual practices and find tangible support for the deeper life with God.”

My Book Review: I first heard of this book on Midday Connection, where it was once recommended for one of their on-air book clubs.  It never really seemed to appeal to me as far as reading genres go.  No excitement, no adventure, intrigue, etc.  But a lady from my church whom I highly respect and who is also in charge of our women’s ministry had an inspired idea to start a women’s book club throughout the summer with this book for discussion.  It turns out, she personally knew the author Sharon Garlough Brown, and contacted her about visiting our church in October around the time the third in the Sensible Shoe trilogy was released.  Well, how could I pass on something this neat?  I signed up for the book club discussions, and got a copy of the book.

The book’s publisher, IVP, is not in the habit of printing fiction books. Their attention is directed toward non fiction (usually in the contemplative genre) that help people grow in their spiritual walk.  But when Brown approached them with her manuscript, they decided to change their rules for once and publish it.  They felt strongly that even though it was fiction, it taught great spiritual disciplines.  Through the emotional medium of fictional characters, biblical truth can be effectively taught in a way non fiction can’t.  This is what has meant so much to fans of the Sensible Shoes club.  Truth climbs in the back door of our heart and helps us see that we truly are God’s beloved and we long to walk more closely with Him, overcoming the walls and barriers that have closed off life for so long.

At first, I had a hard time getting into the story.  It still wasn’t my thing.  It was well written, but just not exciting.  One of the main reasons I had joined was because I knew that the topic of contemplative Christianity would be brought up, and I wanted to learn more about it.  I had come to the right place.  The four female characters in the book—Mara, Charissa, Meg, and Hannah—meet one another at a spiritual retreat center, where a wise spiritual director introduces them to disciplines that help them grow in their walk with the Lord.

a71db3c4fc05f755450487872d6e06fdThere are probably some of you reading this review and already the hackles have gone on the back of your neck. You’ve heard about this strange “pagan form of New Age religion” called contemplative Christianity and you’re scared to death.  I’m glad the author addresses those concerns in her book.  It takes a mind fully bent on discerning truth under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, and not someone who gets creeped out because of something new or outside of the comfortable box to embrace this book.

90 women showed up at our church to begin the book club discussions. Even our pastor picked it up to read and got into it.  We split the book up into 3 chapters at a time and got together in smaller groups at a local log cabin retreat center (WONDERFUL EXPERIENCE!).  We talked about the characters and how we identified or didn’t identify with them, and also about the spiritual disciplines taught along the way, and what God was teaching us through them.  It was my first time being a part of a book club, and I really enjoyed the conversations.

As far as the story itself went, I finally started to get more into it around 2/3 of the way through. The plot gained some suspense and I wanted to know what happened next.  I would probably say I identified the most with the character Hannah, though not in the way some in my group supposed I did.  I knew God was wanting me to dig through some stuff I kept on wanting to shove under the rug.  I would like to go back through the book again and incorporate the spiritual disciplines into my routine.  It’s definitely something I want to explore more deeply.

004October came and we had our big shebang at the end of the bookclub. when Sharon Garlough Brown came to visit our church. Unfortunately, the even started at 9:00 in the morning.  Um, no.  I don’t do mornings well.  I got myself around the earliest as best I could and arrived an hour and a half late, but was able to sit in on the last half hour of her lecture.  Amazingly, it was exactly at that spot in her speech that I needed to hear.  She was talking on Romans 8:31-39 and it was like it was just for me!  I took lots of notes.

We broke for lunch and reconvened later for music worship and then Sharon came on stage again to talk, mainly about her inspiration and background for writing the book. Then it was Q & A time and giveaway time.  At the end of the afternoon, Sharon sat at a little card table with a flower in a vase and we lined up to get our copies autographed by her.  That was so much fun!  I even got my picture taken with her, but I don’t post my pic on the net.  I’ll just post the one I took of her signing books.

Sharon Brown was a lovely person to meet, and such a regular-body, too. I found a video of her promoting her series, and more can be found on Youtube:

It seems these books are the type of thing you read and pass on to someone else, and they spread and grow among friends. I even recommended it to my uncle!  I lent mine to another friend who appreciated it, but also said she felt like the problems the characters dealt with were gotten over ‘too quickly.’ She has a point– there are usually no quick fixes in life.  But at the same time, a story arch has to fit within a certain page structure.  Then too, there are two more in the series, so who knows what will occur in the next segment of their journey?

This is a highly recommended novel, because of how it causes one to examine their heart with God at the helm. If this scares you, I encourage you to give it a try in small parts anyway.  A book won’t bite, and it gives the brain something to chew on.

Did you love this book? Why or why not?

I would also recommend:

 

 

 
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Posted by on August 19, 2018 in Book Reviews

 

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Book Review: “In Sheep’s Clothing,” by Susan May Warren

1247812Genre: suspense; Christian; contemporary; romance

Plot Summary: [from goodreads] On the run from the murderer of her best friends, missionary Gracie Benson is all alone in Siberia. What she doesn’t know is that she has in her possession a medical secret that will save millions of lives — or cost her’s. Trying to keep her alive is an FSB agent, a man pursued by his own demons, including a killer who destroyed his father’s life. He and Gracie find themselves in a decades-old mystery of betrayal and Cold War secrets. Only with the help of their friends — a group of Americans and Russians committed to freedom — can they outwit the old guard . . . and save Gracie’s secret, as well as her life.”

My Book Review: One of the things I often look for in a book is a setting in an exciting far-off place with a little intrigue, mystery, and suspense.  Of course, some romance along for the ride doesn’t hurt, either!  This book has all of those elements and it was an entertaining read.  One of the things that made it interesting was that the author has had past experience in being a missionary in Russia with some exciting adventures of her own, just like the heroine Gracie Benson she writes about.

Although I wouldn’t consider Warren’s writing style the best I’ve ever read, I did enjoy the plot twists. The pace kept moving and kept me interested to find out what would happen next.  I also loved reading about Russia (ehnd verking on my Rrrussian ehccent!).  The Cold War has always intrigued me and although the story is set in the modern day, it doesn’t escape the effects of that era.

e24f5c8ea9477d8016e3c1681a56cd1cOne thing I didn’t like was how the romance part of the story develops so quickly over the course of 2-3 days between Gracie and FSB agent Viktor. For the longest time Gracie fights her attraction (but doesn’t do too well of a job of it).  This is for the reason that Viktor is not a believer in Jesus and as a missionary she doesn’t believe in being unequally yoked.  That makes sense to me as a Christian.  It’s really hard to maintain a relationship when two people don’t believe the same fundamentals.  I realize that most of Warren’s audience will probably be Christian, but for anyone who isn’t this teaching comes across as arrogant if not explained well.  I felt the book missed an explanation.  To top things off, SPOILER ALERT Viktor eventually comes to faith in Christ and so –how conveniently- can begin dating Gracie.  This is just too gift-wrapped and bow-tied for my satisfaction.  It’s like we’re all so happy he’s a follower of The Way so he can kiss Gracie.  I would have rather it hinted that he and she *might* follow through on a relationship sometime in the future, once the chaos of the plot was over.  It would have been more believable. END OF SPOILER.

There also seemed to be an awful lot of unnecessary characters peppered throughout (in the form of Viktor’s friends), but I was glad to see that the sequel picks up with them. There is actually a trio in the series Mission: Russia”:

  1. “In Sheep’s Clothing
  2. “Sands of Time”
  3. “Wiser Than Serpents”

I enjoyed the action of this first book enough to want to go through with the rest.  So, if you like a bit of drama and romance, I think this will peak your interest!

I also recommend…

 
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Posted by on November 11, 2017 in Book Reviews

 

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Book Review: “Nightbringer,” by James Byron Huggins

untitledGenre: suspense; Christian fiction, fantasy

Plot Summary: A group of tourists are stranded at a reclusive monastery high up in the Italian Alps.  But that’s the least of their worries.  A hair-raising screech in the dead of night lets them know they and the monks are not the only ones at the ancient abbey.  What is out there and what is it looking for?  And who is the mysterious hero in their midst who seems to know more than he’s telling?

My Book Review: I became interested in reading another book by author James Byron Huggins after I finished his novel, “Rora” (see my review of it here).  I hunkered down with this adventure in the winter and prepared to be entertained.

This was an easier read than Rora.  The latter dealt with the hard historical account of the Calvinist martyrs in Italy, while Nightbringer was more in the fantasy/supernatural genre.  Although this isn’t the first or the last Christian novel to deal with the subject of the Nephilim, it was the first I’ve read, and I was entertained with the ‘what if’ of what would happen if the descendants of Anak were still on earth.  Of course, if this were truly the case it would very unsettling, but in fiction it makes for great adventure!

The first third of the story was the most interesting to me, as it was able to keep my interest with it’s mystery. But once that mystery was revealed (too early on), the suspense was dropped.  Unfortunately, I felt the author got himself into a rut in the middle of his story.  I was quickly bored reading about one battle after another with the Nephilim beasts and the descriptions that went on page after page.  In every episode, it seemed Cassius (our hero) was severely wounded worse than he ever had before, then quickly recovered and preparing for his next battle, where he was wounded worse than ever before that… and the cycle would go on chapter after chapter.

I can see guys liking this story perhaps more than I did. It has the action, the battles, the hero that may appeal to them.  But it is not a serious work of fiction, and definitely not literary.  If you are looking for something exciting and light, this is for you.

If you liked this book, I also recommend…:

 
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Posted by on July 19, 2017 in Book Reviews

 

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Book Review: “The Meanest Doll in the World,” by Ann M. Martin, Laura Godwin

40081Genre: adventure; children’s fiction

Plot Summary: In this sequel to The Doll People, Annabelle Doll and her BFF Tiffany go to Kate’s school!  An exploration with Auntie Sarah goes terribly wrong, and the two little living dolls are swept up in a backpack and get quite an education.  One adventure follows another, especially on their return trip back home… when they accidentally end up in the wrong house!  Are all living dolls everywhere threatened by the dangerous antics of Mean Mimi?

My Book Review:  I loved the first book in the Doll People Series by Ann M. Martin when I originally listened to it on audiobook some years ago (see review here).  I was delightfully surprised to learn that there were more in the series, so this is my continuation of Annabelle Doll’s adventures.

I would say that I enjoyed this one even more than the first!  It was fun to read such a creative story for children.  The book has many cute, detailed illustrations by Brian Selznik. This would also make for a fun read-aloud book for families.

The main reason I loved this book was that the plot themes provided much food for thought, just as it’s predecessor in the series did.  Much discussion can be derived from it, as many of the situations that Annabelle and Tiffany encounter are common ones found in real life.

SPOILERS: The main plot concerns a very nasty character—a doll—called Mean Mimi.  Annabelle and Tiffany encounter her in a strange house they accidentally end up in when they attempt to find their way back home.  Mean Mimi wreaks terror upon all the dolls that live under the same roof with her.  This is a scary thing when the living dolls face the fact that any one of them could enter Permanent Doll State should they be discovered by humans as being real.  Soon the dolls realize that not only a handful but all of dollkind are in danger of PDS, should Mean Mimi go too far.

serveimageAnnabelle and Tiffany decide to do a very brave thing in helping their new friends fight off their dictator before eventually leaving to go to their real home.  But they unknowingly bring the terror back to Kate’s house with them!  Now the Dolls and the Funcrafts must work together to solve this crisis.  They try talking to her, they try ignoring her, they try capturing her, all to no avail.  Mimi even successfully turns the two best friends against each other for a time.  If they don’t solve this problem soon, they may all be in PDS before they know it!

The Meanest Doll in the World was published in 2003, the year the US went to war with Iraq.  Are you seeing any sort of parallel going on here?  [*I will put in a disclaimer here and say that the authors in no way spell out what my interpretation is.  This is just my own personal takeaway here.]  In the real world, we are facing a scary threat to this nation and to all free people everywhere.  We’ve fought our battles, but returned before the job was done.  Now we are dealing with threats on our homefront, and no amount of talking or placating or ignoring will make the problem go away.  The Dolls have a little bit of a different situation going on in that they don’t have a lot of options in dealing with Mimi.  But we can be proactive in facing our enemies while there’s still time.

I was quite surprised to find that the author does not write Mean Mimi as a lot of children’s authors would these days.  I was expecting at any moment to find that Mimi wasn’t really that bad of a doll after all, that she was just unloved and misunderstood, and that after talking with her she would mend her ways and all would be fine.  Kum-ba-ya.  But instead, Mimi was nasty through and through.  She was a doll looking for absolute power, not love.  She could look innocent at times and cry crocodile tears, but in the end there was no holding hands with her.  To save them all, she had to be taken out of the picture.  She ends up doing that to herself without any help.  END OF SPOILERS.

There were so many elements of this book for me to love.  Some parents, however, might want to be aware that there is a theme of ‘positive thinking’ that may resemble New Age ideas.  It didn’t trouble me too much as it wasn’t a major aspect to the story, and was more of Annabelle’s way to put more effort into calming herself down than working herself into a panic.  Overall, I found the amount of good things about the book to far outnumber the smaller reservations I might have had.  I will also say that although I found the pictures entertaining, had I been a little girl I would have been totally creeped out by the drawings of Mimi.  I would have had nightmares for weeks.

This is definitely a fun read to curl up with your daughters (provided they aren’t too sensitive) and enjoy reading & talking about.  I’ve even read of some boys liking the series as well.  I can’t wait to read #3 The Runaway Dolls!

 
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Posted by on December 30, 2016 in Book Reviews

 

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Book Review: “Wildwood Creek,” by Lisa Wingate

18059811Genre: mystery; suspense; 1800’s; romance; contemporary fiction

Plot Summary: Allie Kirkland is an aspiring film student working on the set of a reality tv show.  The series, documenting the historical mining town of Wildwood Creek, stars contemporary people living as the pioneers would have in 1800’s Texas.  But there’s a mystery surrounding the place:  All of the people of the town disappeared over a hundred years ago, and historians have never been able to solve the eerie puzzle since.  What happened so long ago?  Will the same thing happen again?  And what is the mystery concerning the historical character of Bonnie Rose?

My Book Review:  Wildwood Creek is the fourth in the “Moses Lake” Series by Lisa Wingate, but the first I’ve read by this author.  I am under the impression that these books do stand alone, but some of the characters reappear in some of the same books.

I thoroughly enjoyed this read.  It was one good piece of storytelling!  The story skips back and forth between the present day (from Allie’s POV) to 1800’s Texas (Bonnie Rose’s viewpoint).  This kept the suspense throughout the book and consequently kept my interest.  I love books that slowly divulge secrets throughout, while somehow still spinning more mysteries.  The suspense also gave me some anxiety, and having my emotions invested in a story is a good thing!

The writing felt solid, the chapters weren’t too long, and I enjoyed the character of Allie.  Although there is some romance included, the novel really wasn’t about that aspect of it and I’m not really sure I would qualify it under the romance genre.  I could identify with her in that she has lived her life for a long time expecting things to always be hard, difficult, and miserable.  But something changes her perspective throughout the course of the book and she begins to realize that she can embrace all of life, both good and bad.  She opens herself up to life as a whole as a result.

bb0116d38b9c0cfbee13ed3966a14d64There were a few nitpicky things I felt didn’t benefit the story.  In some ways I felt that things dragged on too long in the present day setting.  The character of Bonnie Rose, though I sympathized with her, started to become redundant with her narrative.  Some extra characters didn’t really feel like they had anything to do with the plot and probably weren’t necessary.  I still had unanswered questions after finishing the book, such as SPOILER ALERT: Why did Allie look like Bonnie Rose?  Why did the mysterious director want her to play the schoolteacher?  Did he have inside information that no one else did, and if so, what?  END OF SPOILER.

A couple of surprising plot twists keep things even more interesting near the end so I never got bored.  I really liked how the author didn’t end things exactly how one would expect in a typical romance, SPOILER with Bonnie marrying another man for a number of years, instead of the handsome captain.  But that she was happy and learned to love him despite him never being her first love.  END OF SPOILER.  Another aspect I really enjoyed was the epilogue, in which Allie listens to an early historical recording of one of the characters who survived Wildwood Creek.  It somehow added a feeling of history to an entirely pure work of fiction.

I would definitely recommend this to anyone, and I hope I’ve peaked your interest.  Those who loathe preachy novels will appreciate that this isn’t one of them.  I’m planning on reading other stuff from Lisa Wingate in the future!

 
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Posted by on October 27, 2016 in Book Reviews

 

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Book Review: “A Shred of Truth,” by Eric Wilson

1573358Genre: mystery; suspense; intrigue

Plot Summary: [from goodreads.com] In “The Best of Evil, “Aramis Black uncovered family secrets and historical conspiracies, hoping that his own dark past had come to certain resolution. But now, in the dark of night, he finds his brother unconscious and tied to a statue in Nashville’s Music Row …with the initials AX carved into his back. A shadow from his former life has reappeared, casting threats of violence and retribution. And soon the attacker is swinging his blade of self-righteous judgment directly at Aramis, calling upon him to “face his sins.” Can Aramis finally break free from the guilt of his old ways… or will he succumb to the vengeance of an arrogant sociopath?*

My Book Review:  If you’ve read my book review of the first in the Aramis Black mysteries, you’ll know I highly enjoyed The Best of EvilNow Aramis’ story continues, starting with an assault on his older brother.

The narrative stays consistently the same in this second installment with Aramis telling the story in first person, often ruminating over his pain and anguish– first at one end of the spectrum of emotions and then swinging the next moment to the other end.  One of the hallmarks of this series seems to be the Blacks’ family history wrapped up in various conspiracy theories of American history.  This time around, it’s the Pilgrim father William Brewster and his involvement in Freemasonry.  A mysterious ring wanted by an anonymous person who calls his himself “AX.”  What does this have to do with Aramis’ mother, Diane Lewis Black, who was killed when Aramis was yet a little boy?  …Or was she?

I have little knowledge about William Brewster and the Freemasons.  Is it true or is it hype?  All I know is that even though I don’t accept Freemason teachings, I’m not freaked out about American founding fathers being involved, mainly because I don’t believe they believed they were doing anything anti-biblical in the early days of it.  But again, this is just my own speculation and I don’t know enough about it.

491d413f37cb35f482c25b3f3f479a0bI enjoyed the read, but wished that the story had given more information about the theory itself, and didn’t continually dwell on the same old ruminations that go through Aramis’ mind as he works his way through the mystery concerning his family.  He seems to go round and round in circles a lot because he doesn’t know exactly what he wants.  But overall the book was suspenseful and intriguing.  I never saw the end coming!

I can very well imagine Aramis in my mind.  I’m convinced that one of the librarians at my local library is Aramis under a different name (has black hair, always wears black, and has tattoos down both arms).

I wish there were more in this series, but sadly it doesn’t seem as though there are any on the horizon.  I know I like this author enough to want to try several others by him, and am looking forward to it, too.  So if you like a good story loaded with mysterious historical secrets, family intrigue, and riddles, I’d say A Shred of Truth would definitely be a good fit for you!

*For whoever wrote this book summary: For the record, I think this word really ought to be changed to ‘psychopath’.  Do your research. 😉

?Did any one else take the hint at the end of the book and figure out what the last letter of each chapter spells out?  Very creative!

 
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Posted by on August 31, 2016 in Book Reviews

 

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