Saturday

Review: An Elegant Facade

An Elegant Facade An Elegant Facade by Kristi Ann Hunter
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I very much enjoyed the first book in this series, A Noble Masquerade (Hawthorne House, #1). Hunter points out in the beginning that you don't need to read the first to enjoy the second, and she is absolutely correct. This is a great stand alone book. I enjoyed getting better acquainted with the characters that were in supporting roles in the first book.

Hunter did an excellent job in writing these two books the way she did. It had to be incredibly hard to mingle and entwine them, but to also make them stand-alones. It takes an incredible writer to be able to do this, and Hunter is superb at it.

The characters are fascinating, and the research is spectacular. You'll understand and appreciate that understatement when you get to know Georgina, and Colin, and all the others.

This is an excellent Regency novel with all the fol-de-rols of society that are melded so believably with the characters. No modernisms at all, praise the Lord. And the faith factor is ever so tenderly applied. What I find so wonderful is how masculine Hunter makes Colin's faith, and Griffith's, and the others. No namby-pambies here. It is solid reading pleasure.

Another pleasure is there are no ad nauseum repetitions or character agonizing over some problem. Yes, the problems are agonized over, but in such different ways that it seems so fresh like a fresh, sweet orange peeled--nothing dried out, but fragrance surrounding you--ready to be enjoyed.

Five of five stars. Definitely one of the best reads this year.


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Review: A Haven on Orchard Lane

A Haven on Orchard Lane A Haven on Orchard Lane by Lawana Blackwell
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

MY REVIEW
I have loved every Lawana Blackwell book I've read, and this one is no exception. I could fill this review with all the positive splendepherous words to describe it and it still would not be adequate. This is an amazing slice of life in 1880s rural England. The culture shines. The research is top notch. The care for characters is quite tender. The best read this year.

I love the community, and small town rendition. I think these people already exist somewhere and Blackwell met them, fell in love with them, and wrote about them. They are all 4-dimensional characters (even the supporting roles). Everyone was in character both in actions as well as dialogue. In fact, the dialogue is quite sparkling. The romance reminds me of Jane Austin.

As I get older, I appreciate older characters more and more. Charlotte is a gem, and I can so much empathize with her. Great faith lessons, too. I'm putting this one in the must read column!

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

ABOUT THE BOOK
In difficult circumstances, Charlotte Ward, once a famed stage actress, tries to restart her career--only to experience disaster. Against her better judgment, her estranged daughter, Rosalind, comes to her mother's rescue and moves her to a quiet English coastal village.

Charlotte is grateful to get to know Rosalind after years apart. As one who has regrets about her own romantic past, it's a joy for Charlotte to see love blossom for her daughter. For Rosalind, however, it's time away from teaching--and now she must care for the mother who wasn't there for her. And what could be more complicated than romance?

Together, mother and daughter discover that healing is best accomplished when they focus less on themselves and more on the needs of others.

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Friday

Review: Common Stones: A glimpse into several different worlds, in an effort to become more acquainted with our own

Common Stones: A glimpse into several different worlds, in an effort to become more acquainted with our own Common Stones: A glimpse into several different worlds, in an effort to become more acquainted with our own by Alicia M. Smith
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I eventually realized that every day was a choice: A choice to get out of bed, a choice to decide to take one minute, one hour, one day at a time; a choice to brighten my surroundings for myself and for those whom I love; a choice to enjoy life despite any guilt, fear, or void that may still remain; a choice to trust God fully knowing He holds the entire puzzle in His hands while I only see a handful of pieces.

This is the crux of Common Stones, the thesis if you will. Alicia Smith has gathered several stories (including her own) about some blindsiding events that people face during life in this fallen world. She walks with you through several horrific events (such as her beloved father's war with cancer), and then gives you a nutshell filled with succulent seeds of growth. After we hear Ben's story (in his own words, mind you) -- a young man's fight after a debilitating car crash -- Alicia points out some wonderful truths. Surround yourself with good company! And then she outlines characteristics of a true supporter: listens, speaks with respect, supports the need for laughter.

The book is packed with the marvelous life lessons that would help us over those troublesome stumbling blocks that cobble our maturing faith if we'd only take them to heart. I don't know about you, but I'd much rather learn from someone's mistakes rather than stubbing my own toe. Pain is a great teacher, but why must we bear repeated pain when someone else has graciously shared his or her life changing event?

We absolutely should bear each other's burdens. God declares this. One reason is so that the burden does not weigh down our sibling in Christ. Another reason is so that we learn from their mistakes... or hardships... or accidents... or we learn compassion. Whatever the lesson, we grow.

Just as Chappy learned that there were blessings for him and his family from Hurricane Katrina. He just had to stop and listen for the Holy Spirit's urging. Listening to God a few men were able to build a ministry that had far reaching effect on "un-accepting" people. People who found Christ in a coffee shop rather than a formidable church setting.

Words of wisdom abound in this book. Notice the miracles... Let God hold you up... Celebrate the milestones no matter how big or how small... However, one thing that shines throughout this book is that faith is our binding cord and common stone that solidly holds siblings in Christ together. Together we bring Him glory, and together we hold each other up. There's nothing as satisfactory as the family of God.

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Review: Sidney Chambers and The Dangers of Temptation

Sidney Chambers and The Dangers of Temptation Sidney Chambers and The Dangers of Temptation by James Runcie
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Oh, my goodness... I can see most of the reviewers, like me, have watched the series on PBS so are familiar with Sidney as a young priest. I can also see that most did not have a problem with Leonard and Sidney's "explanation" how homosexualism is an accepted kind of "love".

I had a problem with it. I had a problem with the last show that I watched in the TV series where all the strong hints about Leonard's angst about his tendency toward other men. Oh, everything is quite ok because the Church of England doesn't require priests to never marry. You would think that a person who reads his Bible would have come to terms with what God says about that kind of lifestyle, and recognize how the Church's position was a bit more aligned with the Bible than his skewed view of it.

Sidney's problems have never been resolved. As we grow and mature, our problems are resolved and we acquire other problems. That is what's so uncomfortable about this series. The underlying problems are never wrestled with and just fester undercover of the idyllic life.

I enjoyed the references of pop culture because I grew up during the period of the late 60s and early 70s. However, Sidney's old girlfriend, Amanda, said she wore a black and white dress because that is what he is, no gray, all black and white. She doesn't know him at all, because Sidney is all gray taking justice in his own hands by not revealing the culprit who stole the necklace, just as he did not reveal who murdered who in the last TV show. Who set him up as judge and jury?

The whole thing skates along the edge of a dark pit, and I keep seeing that for everything to turn out righteously correct, the whole thing needs to tumble into the pit.

The mysteries were light, fluffy things. They didn't even seem to be well thought out, especially the one in Germany where Gunter was killed. If you enjoy the TV series, just keep watching the series and don't waste your time with the books. They really do not give you any greater insight into this complex character of Sidney Chambers.

I am glad I received this book from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review because I'd be really angry if I'd spent so much money on it. If you are a stickler for biblical principles in your spiritual leaders (archdeacon, priest, pastor, friend) then you probably won't enjoy this book.

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Thursday

Review: Saving My Assassin

Saving My Assassin Saving My Assassin by Virginia Prodan
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This is one of the absolute best non-fiction reads this year!

When you think of communism, you think of Russia or North Korea or East Germany. I just never thought of Romania. Virginia points out so many hurtful things about communism, and these things are in such stark contrast to how wonderful we have it here in America.

She says, "I should be dead. Buried in an unmarked grave in Romania. Obviously I'm not. God had other plans." Then she tells you all about her childhood; how she was left at home at the tender age of six years while her family went to visit a favored aunt. There is something entirely wonderful about that aunt, but I won't tell you. I'll let you find that out on your own.

Amazing things happen to Virginia, and she gives God all the glory for each one. In her story, she tells you exactly how God touches lives in the most treacherous places. The story is gripping, uplifting, engrossing, and enlightening. Well worth every penny you spend on it. It's definitely a keeper. It is a super read for all ages, but I think teens would be enthralled to read and discuss this book as a group. In our society, Christianity is is easy. This book shows how hard it can be in other societies. It would be an excellent challenge for teens to hold fast to their faith.

I am so glad I got this book from Netgalley in exchange for a fair and honest review.

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Monday

Review: Supernova

Supernova Supernova by C.A. Higgins
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

My review...
Well, first thing is that this book is buried among numerous books with the same title. Frankly, I think that should be changed, but I'm just the reader not the editor.

Secondly, unless you have just read (as in finished Lightless last night), you might find yourself in a bit of a quandary because this book starts up right where the last ends. Thirdly, because of this, there is little care taken to make the reader have any empathy for the revolutionaries cause nor for the revolutionaries. There is little character development because it's all been done in book 1. The first book moved a bit slower building up an intense dislike for The System. This one does none of that, so you can't just pick up this book and expect to know what's going on.

Because of the lack of care taken to create empathy for the characters, this book doesn't click well with me. I loved the first one, but this one left me cold as space itself. I may try to read the last few chapters of Lightless again and then come back to this one. I did not care for the Constance character in the first one, so her character leaves me cold in this one. She seems very cardboardish to me.

However, Ananke and Althea's story line provoked an intriguing thought line for me. Super intelligence from a super computer that has planet-destroying capabilities is not only daunting, but highly threatening to secure living. Perhaps humans will attain that kind of creation, but I doubt it. If we did... This part of the story delves into all kinds of practical problems and stretches the imagination into the scary reaches of human/machine relationships.

About the book ...
C. A. Higgins's acclaimed novel Lightless fused suspenseful storytelling, high-caliber scientific speculation, and richly developed characters into a stunning science fiction epic. Now the dazzling Supernova heightens the thrills and deepens the haunting exploration of technology and humanity—and the consequences that await when the two intersect.

Once Ananke was an experimental military spacecraft. But a rogue computer virus transformed it—her—into something much more: a fully sentient artificial intelligence, with all the power of a god—and all the unstable emotions of a teenager.

Althea, the ship's engineer and the last living human aboard, nearly gave her life to save Ananke from dangerous saboteurs, forging a bond as powerful as that between mother and daughter. Now she devotes herself completely to Ananke's care. But teaching a thinking, feeling machine—perhaps the most dangerous force in the galaxy—to be human proves a monumental challenge. When Ananke decides to seek out Matthew Gale, the terrorist she regards as her father, Althea learns that some bonds are stronger than mortal minds can understand—or control.

Drawn back toward Earth by the quest, Althea and Ananke will find themselves in the thick of a violent revolution led by Matthew's sister, the charismatic leader Constance, who will stop at nothing to bring down a tyrannical surveillance state. As the currents of past decisions and present desires come into stark collision, a new and fiery future is about to be born.

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Review: In His Place: A Modern-Day Challenge for Readers of In His Steps

In His Place: A Modern-Day Challenge for Readers of In His Steps In His Place: A Modern-Day Challenge for Readers of In His Steps by Harry C. Griffith
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

My Review...
Would you like to take a peek inside today's churches (regardless of denomination)? Would you like to take a peek inside how Christians rationalize their thoughts and actions? This is an eye opening read. It is not designed to make you feel guilty, nor designed spur anger at church people. It is a very well written story that highlights what is wrong with the Bride of Christ today.

Some Christians are like Saul thinking that murderous attacks will purge the Bride into righteous action, some Christians are like the immature Mark who went home rather than face conflict head on, and others are like personified Jesus without prejudice and rancor just loving the believer and unbeliever alike.

Jesus' plan was for each believer to feed and care for His sheep with the right heart attitude. Griffith makes sure we become aware of our own righteous attitude because of seeing how the characters in this novel act and react and carry through the challenges that Jesus set before his disciples and thus to each one of us.

As the pastor begins to recognize where he failed, he tries lead his church in the right direction, but fails miserably at first. Not until he has his own Jesus-come-to-meeting is he able to rise to the leadership role that God prepared for him.

This is truly a wonderful, modern day parable in the same vein as Joshua, and In His Steps. Very well worth the money and the time invested to read. I am going to suggest this book for my Bible study group. I think it will open eyes, give hope, and spur us to be better, more Christ-like Christians.

About the book...
Charles Sheldon's WWJD? was a significant challenge in its time, but God calls us to do more than wait until we are facing a decision and then choose to do what we think Jesus would do. We are to incarnate Christ in our time, being conscious of the presence and power of God within us in all of our thoughts and actions. This is what pastor Steve Long wants his congregation to understand. When Long challenges his prominent but self-satisfied congregation to become a living force for Christ in their small North Georgia town, he is blindsided by personal trials. Responding to Christ's command “As the Father has sent me, so I send you,” Pastor Long tackles these difficult situations--and more--over a tumultuous week of trials and testing and ultimately learns (as he leads) what it means to walk In His Place.

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Review: Journey's End

Journey's End Journey's End by Renee Ryan
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

MY THOUGHTS...
True reading pleasure for the most part. One thing this book has that is deeply annoying is the rehashing of territory already covered. There is a difference between discussion for solutions, and discussion to remind of what's gone before. That is okay for a serial in a monthly magazine, but not okay in a novel length book that one might read in an evening or Saturday afternoon.

Introspection of characters is good and necessary for story flow, but rehashing the same thing over and over is an insult to readers' intelligence as if we can't remember what we've read two chapters ago. It is a wordy way to pack a story to an acceptable page length. If an author must do that, it would be better to add a character than to have character's never grow past their initial mindset. You keep reading, hoping something will happen to make the character grow up... and it does... but the character stays in the rut. That is not good writing.

However, the characters in this book are very well developed and quite interesting. Each character has a charming uniqueness that does move the story along (although a bit slowly). I do recommend this book, but buyer beware: It has a soap opera feel to it.

About the book...

Having grown up on the mean streets of nineteenth-century London, Caroline St. James is used to fighting to survive.

So when her beloved mother—abandoned and ignored by her wealthy family—suddenly dies, the scrappy twenty-two-year-old devises a plan to right this terrible wrong. With nothing to lose, she sails to New York to find the man who turned a cold shoulder to her mother’s suffering: Caroline’s grandfather.

To settle the family score, Caroline infiltrates her grandfather’s privileged world, hoping to sabotage his business from the inside. But as she sets her plot in motion, she meets Jackson Montgomery, a virtuous man who is struggling to recover from a family scandal of his own. As their friendship grows, and Caroline begins to piece together the motives that led her family to turn its back, she is forced to make a decision: Should she risk everything in the name of justice? Or can she look toward the future and let love and forgiveness guide her instead?


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Review: The Domino Game

The Domino Game The Domino Game by Greg Wilson
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

I tried. I really, really tried to get into this book. I loved Gorky Park, and some other Russian-based stories, but this one was difficult to get into because I couldn't establish a rapport with any of the characters. I just didn't care about anyone of them. As I started to grow close to one, the story would flip to another unknown. Then it all became a jumble because there were just too many characters to untangle. The story objective was unclear from the very first. Perhaps it is just me, and that I am used to better story organization. I gave it 2 stars because it does have potential for anyone who can assimilate all the characters.

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Review: Surveillance

Surveillance Surveillance by Reece Hirsch
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

MY REVIEW
This is an extraordinary thriller and suspense. It gives you an insight into just how invasive to our privacy the government can be, and that is scary. The story line is non-stop flood with a pace that makes it hard to remember to breathe.

The characters are very well developed; each one acting, talking, and responding in character. In fact, the whole story is very well written, and quite believable. I found myself quite sympathetic with the main characters. One of them does something very much within character, but it was hard to believed he'd do such a terrible thing. Then he was repaid for it, and it felt like a good justification for his deed. That, to me, is great writing.

The problem a lot of authors have these days is writing with the reader in mind so that what happens to the characters as a result of their actions is felt by the reader as a logical and just consequence regardless whether is it actual justice or not. Case in point would be a married person having an affair, and that results in the break up of his or her marriage. That is justice. Betrayal of trust results in breaking a relationship. Hirsch applies this kind of justice in this story, but it isn't the same scenario because I don't want to spoil the ending.

So you have, in this book, an excellent exploration of trust, betrayal, ingenuity, and triumph. This is well worth the money!

About the book ...


When former computer-crimes prosecutor Chris Bruen and retired hacktivist Zoey Doucet open their San Francisco law firm, it’s the best day of their professional lives. That is, until their first client walks through the door.

Ian Ayres is an “ethical hacker” who was hired by a company to test the security of its online systems. On the job, he uncovered some highly classified information: the existence of a top-secret government surveillance agency and its Skeleton Key, a program that can break any form of encryption. Now Ayres is on the run. And after government agents descend on Chris and Zoey’s office during their potential client’s visit—killing two employees—they, too, are forced to flee for their lives.

From California to Ecuador to Mexico, the trio must try to evade a hired assassin, a bloodthirsty drug cartel, and their own government. But how can they escape an adversary that can access every phone call, every email, every video feed?

Surveillance is critically acclaimed author Reece Hirsch’s third book in the Chris Bruen series.


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Tuesday

Review: I Let You Go

I Let You Go I Let You Go by Clare Mackintosh
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

MY REVIEW...
Here is a novel with such an intriguing premise that you can't help but keep turning the pages to the end. I was fascinated to the end.

However, I was also betrayed by the author. (What follows is sort of a spoiler.) About half way through the book you suddenly find out that the first person prose is not who you have been led to believe she is. Then a little further on, and you get a whole different perspective from another first person point of view. All the while the perspective is shifted back and forth between the first first person and two detectives trying to solve the hit and run murder of a five year old boy. Then the second first person is inserted in the mix... Confused? Well, now you now how I felt while reading this book.

One thing to keep in mind, the writing is superb, but jumping into so many different heads is not well done. There are no transitions or even warnings that you are about to jump from Bristol to some rural, coastal village of Wales. So that brings the five-star writing down to three-stars. Then you must know that the characters are so well developed that brings the three stars up to four stars.

Frankly, the story is a roller coaster, and you just have to hang on, keep reading, and maybe you'll figure it all out by the last page.

I hate being betrayed by the author. It isn't a murder mystery that you must figure out who killed the boy. The author makes it plain that the guilty party admits her guilt ... or is she really guilty? Maybe she has been so abused and twisted by the second first person that she lies. Or maybe she isn't lying. Well, you'll just have to read the thing to understand what I'm talking about. I don't think hiding who the first person moves the story along or even creates any more suspense. It comes off as just what it is, a plot ploy that is just a trick. I just hate that. However, the roller coaster ride was pretty good so it almost made up for the betrayal.

ABOUT THE BOOK
On a rainy afternoon, a mother's life is shattered as her son slips from her grip and runs into the street . . .

I Let You Go follows Jenna Gray as she moves to a ramshackle cottage on the remote Welsh coast, trying to escape the memory of the car accident that plays again and again in her mind and desperate to heal from the loss of her child and the rest of her painful past.

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Review: PULSE

PULSE PULSE by L.R. Burkard
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I received this book from the author for an honest review. Well, I loved it!

The story is from the point of view of three teen girls. I cannot tell you how absolutely refreshing it is to read from a single point of view of one character with no head hopping, and the head jumping from one character to the next is done by chapters with clear headings. No confusion whatsoever. Wonderful!

How would you manage in the dead of winter to wake up with zero electricity, no transportation, and no hope of rescue for a very long time? When 15 miles is an all day trip one way, and money means nothing, but food and water is the most precious commodity, I think you would find yourself in the exact predicaments as these three girls. Except Lexie has the added luxury of living on a farm, and her family are preppers.

It's a wonderful story line premise, and Burkard's writing sizzles with tension. Her characters are developed in such a way that you think you'd recognize them when you passed them on the street.

Although, the teen girls seem to talk the same. Since they are friends, I imagine that would probably happen. Their situations are all different, but so are their backgrounds. I think they would have some unique idioms and/or speech patterns that would differ also such as filler words. But that is so minor, you don't really notice it.

It is a story about faith, and the strength faith gives you when you face adversity. It also has a strong foundation in ethics and moral issues that young people might be shocked into thinking about.

This is a story that moms and daughters should read together then talk about. It's a story that friends should read together and talk about. Dads and daughters should read it and talk about it. The story is that strong. After reading it, you'll find yourself pondering it days later. I would love to write a story that strong!

It well deserves five stars.

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