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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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Book Review: “Dear Mr. Knightley,” by Katherine Reay

17657649

Genre: Inspirational fiction; contemporary; romance

Plot Summary: Samantha Moore grew up in the foster care system and always had difficulty relating to people.  It was just easier to escape into her books, preferably Austen or Bronte or mysteries.  When she gets an opportunity by an anonymous donor to go to a journalism grad school program, she decides to accept the offer.  There’s one catch: she must write letters to “Mr. Knightley” who funds the charitable foundation making her education possible.  Through her letters, she details the everyday goings-on of her life from making friends, her trials at school, and the guys she likes.  She begins to understand herself more and comes to embrace herself and others.  But life begins to become even more complicated for her when her favorite mystery writer enters her life.

My Book Review:  If you’ve taken a look at my “Favorite Books and Authors” page, you’ll soon see that the classic novel Daddy-Long-Legs by Jean Webster is one of my all-time favorites.  There are plenty of spin-offs, sequels, parodies, and spoofs of Jane Austen’s works, everything from Captain Wentworth’s Diary to Pride and Prejudice and Zombies.  But I’ve never come across a contemporary retelling of Daddy Long Legs, until now.  And it’s under the Inspirational genre to boot!

How I imagine Sam.

How I imagine Sam.

The entire book is written entirely in first-person narrative, since they are the letters of Sam to Mr. Knightley.  The only time the narrative does switch is toward the end, but it does not feel jarring to the reader and it felt appropriate to the story.  I do sort of feel it was unrealistic the way introverted Sam bars the intimate details of her souls so completely but then so quickly to a total stranger whom she’d never met.  Granted, this was supposed to make it easier for her to communicate, but it would feel dangerous in real life.

When I first checked this book out of the library, the librarian paused and said, “I read this book… The ending was different.  Good, just different.”  Going on that, I wasn’t sure what to expect.  Should I expect it to end like the original Webster book?  Or does it end differently?  Would I like it if it was completely similar, or would I hate it for copying?  If you’ve ever read Daddy Long Legs, you know how that book ends and most probably you guessed the ending before you got there.  How would the plot of Dear Mr. Knightley match in comparison, and would it be too predictable?

Well, I need not have worried.  DMK was not a copycat of my fave, and the contemporary setting of Chicago rendered an entirely different feel.  Reay’s writing style is not Jean Webster’s, and I’m glad of it.  It kept the story fresh and different.  Although there are similar parallels throughout the book (appendix surgery, new clothes, visiting wealthy friends, etc.), in no way did it become predictable.  In fact, I was on pins and needles worrying how the end would come out!

Even though the details of my life are quite different than Sam’s, I felt I could identify with her feelings in some way.  This is partly why I like DLL so much.  DMK is not the cutsy classic that DLL is.  I love DLL for the original voice of the heroine, Jerusha Abbot.  DMK lacks this, but the narrative feels authentic nonetheless.  It is more gritty, more realistic.  The similar story plot that runs throughout both books is tricky to translate to today’s world, but I thought the author did an excellent job.  By the end of the novel Sam is transforming into a healing, mature adult with good friends around her who care about her and whom she cares for as well.  Sam has to face some tough issues from her past before she can really be in the present and move forward with life.  I think this story needed that.  I also liked that the ages of the hero and heroine are evened out a bit.  Sam is an older heroine than Jerusha, and is attending grad school.

I’m sad to see so many terrible 1-star book reviews of this from people who get hung up on little details.  Sam does start out with things she needs to work on in her life, but she eventually learns and grows as a person.  She is naïve about certain things because she has lived in a self-protective bubble in order to survive for so long, but I found this believable.  She doesn’t have parents or close friends at the beginning to help her walk through some of the issues she has to face, and so she flounders her way alone.  She receives several jolts from the realities of life, but learns things along the way.

Sometimes it’s obvious that you’re reading a book by a first time author.  This was not the case with Katherine Reay’s debut novel.  I simply loved reading it!  I couldn’t put it down, especially toward the end and stayed up until midnight finishing it.  It was just one of those books that you mourn finishing.

How I imagine Alex. (played by Chris Pine)

How I imagine Alex.

However, after thinking it over since finishing it, there are some other thoughts I have on the story.  SPOILER ALERT: Alex is not your typical hero in a typical Christian fiction novel.  In fact, I’m not sure I could really call him a hero.  I liked this on one hand because he isn’t perfect.  On the other, he treats Sam in a terrible manner.  Is he really any better than Josh?  Josh wasn’t a good guy, but he did make it clear what he wanted of Sam.  Alex ‘hangs out’ with Sam, often texting to see if she will meet him at such and such a place at such and such a time, and she jumps like Johnny-on-the-spot to be there.  But she’s always left wondering as to whether it’s just hanging out or something more.  Is it a date, is it not a date?  She tells all this in her letters, but Alex still never makes things clear.  Until one night he springs a proposal on her, Darcy-fashion.  I would say Sam has a right to be angry!  Sam has bared her soul unknowingly all along, but Alex was never clear about himself.  Of course when Alex comes clean in the end, he admits that Mr. Knightley behaved wrongly and is sorry.  He says he knows it will take time to earn her trust of him back, but yet the next moment he’s asking to kiss her.  I don’t think Alex is as mature as Sam has grown to become throughout the novel.

I believe that Katherine Reay did a wonderful job of addressing the issues of one of my favorite classics head on in the end of this story.  It was a delicate thing to tackle.  It’s such a romantic love story that shouldn’t be shot down and ruined because of it’s flaws, but the problematic areas shouldn’t be glossed over either.  In this way, I appreciated the ending better than the one in DLL, where everything is gladly accepted with a bow on it.  END OF SPOILER.

I did feel a bit disappointed with the spiritual aspect of the story.  Some readers may be glad to know that this is not one that will come off feeling preachy.  There is some little mention of God, as Sam notices that He is an important part of the Muris’ lives.  She starts to want that for herself, but is not sure she can have it.  But that’s where that story line ends.  I suppose not everything needs to end up in a neat and tidy, but by this point the reader has come to care about Sam and what happens to her.  Mrs. Muir advises Sam to pray even if she doesn’t believe.  That God has things in His hands.  But it’s unclear how Sam can come to be a child of God.  I guess I felt that the lines were blurred when it came to Sam’s salvation.  However, this wasn’t a major quibble for me in liking/disliking the book.

bfc0e7a8db3f51c6330113095f03e3e8One thing I loved was Sam’s happy adoption by Mr. and Mrs. Muir.  Even though Sam was a grown adult, she still had the need for loving parents who made her feel supported, secure, and safe.  For some reason that tugged at my heart and made me feel like I belonged, too.  I loved the spot at the end where Mr. Muir has a daddy-to-daughter talk with Sam.

I found some good quotes I want to copy before I return it back to the library, and this is definitely a book I want to look out for at book sales to add to my own collection.  Should you read DLL or DMK first?  I don’t think it really matters.  If you read DLL first, you may have somewhat of a feeling of what will happen in DMK.  But as I said, it’s not predictable.  If you read DMK first, you will know how DLL ends, but DLL is an easy one to guess the ending on anyway.  I would probably suggest reading the classic one first, just because it’s fun to find the similar details hidden like Easter eggs throughout the contemporary version.  It’s really up to you.  But I would definitely recommend this to any lover of the original, either way!  Love all the references to modern pop culture (like Sherlock, film versions of P&P, etc.).  Oh, and the reference to Unbroken!

 
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Posted by on May 8, 2016 in Book Reviews

 

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Another Win!

290363I must be having a lucky winner’s streak lately when it comes to book treats!  A couple of weeks ago, I randomly won a giveaway on goodreads for Randy Alcorn’s book, “Deadline” (book #1 in the “Ollie Chandler” Series).  Alcorn’s Eternal Perspective Ministries sent me a copy in the mail after I’d been alerted I’d won.  I was pretty excited, as stuff like this never happens to me!

The only drawback is that when you win a giveaway, you’re sort of under obligation to write a review of the book as soon as possible on goodreads.  It’s like a free ad for the publisher.  While I want to read the book, I may not want to read it for some time yet.  I’m in the middle of a really good one right now!  In fact, I would prefer it if I could have the freedom to choose to read it a while from now.  But then, it was me who signed up for the giveaway in the first place…

I’m not sure what I’ll do about it yet.  For the meantime, I wrote a temporary thank you in place of a review on goodreads.  It was pretty exciting to win something for once!

Have you ever signed up for book giveaways and won?

 
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Posted by on April 27, 2016 in Uncategorized

 

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