Thursday, February 15, 2018

Oath of Honor by Lynette Eason

In her new novel Oath of Honor, Lynette Eason has offered a drama/mystery that would easily fit into any Friday night  television lineup.

Eason excels in placing her readers at the  heart of the action. I appreciate how she can weave her plot and truly make her main characters the readers eyes. I did not feel  the plot was overtly obvious and  never felt like I was moving too far ahead of Izzy and Ryan's discoveries. Eason really strives to lay her story out not without twists but still in a way that feels logically as Izzy and Ryan uncover their trail of clues.

As a main character, Izzy strikes me as your typical heroine. Easily likable thanks to her hard work ethic, her kind heart, and her appropriate mix of vulnerability and police smarts she easily holds this book together. I appreciate how relatable Eason makes her heroine, spiritual elements are not overly heavy but pop up in natural flowing ways given the high stress/short time frame of the narrative.

That said, those looking for a  book with a sermon should probably look elsewhere. Throughout the story I was constantly struck by how easily this could be turned into a series screenplay, bringing the strengths and weakness of that genre. 
The action and adventure kept me pressing on to discover Kevin's killer, the budding romance felt a little rushed but tempered thanks to the author's skillful use of established character history. 
Eason keeps her pace tight and fast which helps build the tension and convey the stress Izzy and Ryan were under in tangible ways. 
That said, some areas struggled though in the written format.

I felt that  the scenes with the family whether at home or during heavy emotional moments struggled to convey the nonverbal emotion that is so present in those moments. As a result, those scenes lost impact and  even felt awkward at times.

I was also unsure  how to interpret the mental health  aspect of the story line. I wish more emphasis had been placed on the differences between  illness and where the story eventually went (seriously don't want to give away spoilers).

3.75 stars out of 5

"Book has been provided courtesy of Baker Publishing Group and Graf-Martin Communications, Inc."

Thursday, February 1, 2018

The Middle of the Mess by Sheila Walsh

The Middle of the Mess is insightful, informative, and filled with the perfect blend of real talk and vulnerability. 

Walsh excels in her gentle combination of story and reflection. Her ability to bring life to her words by letting the stories take their time to ebb and flow adds depth that only an experienced storyteller can bring.

I spend a lot of time with my nose buried in psychology and self-help books (counselling classes tend to do that to a person) but the most impactful are always the ones where the author weaves together heart with truth, a mix Walsh has mastered.Walsh has walked through the darkest of valleys and calls out to readers from a place of familiarity not superiority. I loved this as it makes the book relatable and referable. Let's face it, everyone today is touched by mental health. It's also probably one of the more stigmatized categories of illness. Walsh's book seeks to battle the stigma with information, heart, and humanity, the best weapons. 

Obviously, for those familiar with Walsh's career the presence of a strong faith/theological component will come as no surprise. While there are no startling revelations in her material such as the importance of community, the journey of salvation, God's desire in our lives - the straightforwardness with which she pairs  these truths with the realities facing those battling mental illness is encouraging and a great resource for those in the middle of such a battle or supporting someone who is.

4.5 out of 5 stars. 

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the publisher through the BookLook Bloggers book review bloggers program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 : “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.

Monday, January 22, 2018

The Lacemaker by Laura Frantz

Image result for the lacemaker frantz

Alright, this review was actually due to be posted  last week but weather, the post, and a mini plague all determined that this week was a much better fit ;) Thankfully, I can wholeheartedly say that The Lacemaker is worth the wait.

Laura excels at drawing reading in through her plot, a point well supported by The Lacemaker. I was on the edge of my seat as Frantz brought forth the bustling, tension-filled streets of the just barely English colonies and the loyalties which  were rapidly changing. Her peaceful painting of Ty Mawr proved an ample setting for character growth, sweet romance, and the inclusion of faith so inherent to the previous novels I've encountered by Frantz.

As far as characters go, I do feel the character development is far more rushed than the typical novels I tend toward. The relationships connected to both Liberty and Noble offered so much material that it would have been impossible to do everything justice. That said, I still felt as though few relationships were explored truly outside  the main duo and even that left me wanting more.

Frantz's true strength is in her stories. While I am  under educated on the politics  that led to the war for independence and cannot vouch for accuracy, I was thoroughly impressed by Frantz's ability to infuse her words with the emotions, urgency, and tensions that I can only imagine were present in that time of change. Frantz has  the ability to make you feel the story and that alone is worth the read.

The romantic aspect of the story was also very sweet to read. I appreciated the theme of redemption that seemed to follow Liberty throughout her romantic endeavors. Again, this is an area of the story which reaps the rewards of Frantz's skill in incorporating feeling into her narrative as readers can join with Liberty and Noble through the loss, fear, and sweet discoveries of love.

Overall, I will recommend this novel and look forward to what Frantz has planned next. 4 out of 5 stars.

"Book has been provided courtesy of Revell and Baker Publishing Group."

Sunday, January 14, 2018

How to Fix a Broken Record Thoughts on Vinyl Records, Awkward Relationships, and Learning to Be Myself by Amena Brown

How to Fix a Broken Record has the unique feeling of being both familiar and brand new at the same time. 
Amena comes along side her readers much like a big sister or an older best friend, walking her readers  through the lessons she's learned as she reflects back on the  lessons life and music have brought her way.

To be fair, there are a lot of life lesson/reflections based books on the market these days and Amena's book hits on many of the same topics that have already been discussed. However, there were a few areas that helped How to Fix a Broken Record  stand out from the crowd.

First, Amena brings balance into her discussion looking at lesson from throughout the different stages of her life. While others do this to different degrees the honesty with which Amena looks at singleness, dating, marriage, and infertility is  a scope and breadth not often seen in this type of book. I love how she allows readers to see the beauty and pain of each stage rather than chasing after a single chapter. I appreciated the honesty with which these struggles were presented.

I also appreciated the fact that Amena brings her whole self forward into her lessons:  her life, her experiences, and her culture. I confess, in many ways I am very naive about American culture in general living north of the border and to see Amena paint her life as a minority within the United States was helpful.

Overall, this was a solid book and a great option for readers looking for a read focusing on life experiences.  Those who read extensively within the genre may find their attention wavering at times as the uniqueness is centered mainly upon the fact that it is Amena's story rather than broader concepts or aproaches.
4 out  of 5 stars.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the publisher through the BookLook Bloggers <> book review bloggers program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 <> : “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.

Friday, January 5, 2018

Where We Belong by Lynn Austin

Where We Belong

In the city of Chicago in 1892, the rules and expectations for Victorian women are strict, their roles in life limited. But sisters Rebecca and Flora Hawes are not typical Victorian ladies. Their love of adventure and their desire to use their God-given talents have taken them out of society ballrooms and delivered them to the Sinai Desert–and into the teeth of a sandstorm.
Accompanied by Soren Petersen, their somber young butler, and Kate Rafferty, a plucky street urchin learning to be their ladies’ maid, the two women are on a quest across the desert chasing rumors of an important biblical manuscript.

This was my second foray into Lynn Austin's writing and I feel like it takes a solid two books to really get a handle on how she writes. Austin's ability to take solid research and weave in fictional adventure stands out in her newest novel following the Hawes sisters as the adventure around the globe seeking how  to responsible use their God-given resources and follow his plan.

As seems to be the case with Austin's style this means lots of switching back and forth between time periods in order to flesh out her characters stories. I was relieved and impressed at how smoothly her transitions flowed in this book compared to the last I had read by her. As a result, this story is far more immersive, the plot lines are much clearer, and readers are treated with a much more easily navigated plot. As the time travelling confusion was one of my biggest concerns with my last Austin novel it was good to see  the author had refined her skill.

However, she certainly didn't lose any of her ability to produce characters during that refinement. Where We Belong is filled with strong, intriguing characters that eagerly draw you into their hurts and dreams. I loved how successfully Austin uses the sisters diverging skills to develop interest and spur character growth. Both Flora and Becky held their own as primary narrators for their portion of the story and engage readers in different  ways.  Not to mention how blindsided I was  by the final third's focus on Kate and Soren! It takes a good writer to take a fiery maid and a solemn butler and make me ache for their story but the servants backstories had a surprising amount of depth for secondary characters that helped bring the book to it's well traveled conclusion.

Travelling, oh the travel. Austin's characters wrack up a lot of miles and you can tell she's researched the details of their locales. Considering we are in the  middle of a nasty cold snap it was wonderful to open up the book and feel like you're peering off at an approaching sandstorm or wandering around Paris. Austin has a knack for bringing her settings to life.

That said, I did have a few complaints that took away from the overall story. 
As much as I love the Hawes sisters, at times, in Austin's attempt to convey a deeper spiritual truth the conversation lost its natural flow and began to feel very scripted. I wouldn't say the characters were  out of the personalities they had been built with but the material felt very stilted and predictable  - particularly in key scenes like on the Nile.  For those that like to be immersed in their novels  this may be a draw back as it certainly brought me out of the narrative.

The other area I struggled with is the ending. Now, don't get me wrong, I love a happy ending,  in fact I find open-ended or depressing ending very dissatisfying. Yet, this conclusion felt both rushed and too perfectly wrapped up given the drama and adventure  the characters had faced.  The ending was  what I look for and yet still sat somewhere left of where it  felt it should for reality's sake.

4 out of 5 stars

"Book has been provided courtesy of Baker Publishing Group and Graf-Martin Communications, Inc."

Friday, December 29, 2017

Grace For Amateurs by Lilly Burana

I was so excited to read this book. It honestly checked a lot of my  interests: mental health, people in fringe communities, faith. . . this should have been a no-brainer must read for me. That said, Grace for Amateurs holds  the  place as the only book in 2017 I did not finish despite my best efforts and I do not see that changing in the near future.

Let me say, I love memoirs. I love the strength people show in allowing us to come alongside and peek into their stories. I also  enjoy books that make me think and grow by presenting information to be processed and tested. Grace for Amateurs, though a memoir by genre, felt more like an agenda wrapped in a story. Rather than entering into a dialogue of sorts with the author, as I plowed  through the pages I felt sure I'd be reprimanded for having a question or ideal  that is more in line with my more cautious fact gathering over the author's seemingly passionate left leaning ideology.

Now admittedly this may change in the second half of the book but I had hit the point where I dreaded picking up this book.
 I am, most likely, not the author's target audience. Again, while this  is a personal memoir the material came across as attempting to be informative but  without the non-bias or at least bias aware tone I prefer in my reading. Because of this lack of tone awareness the material felt confrontational at times,  angry at others. The material is definitely more focused on Burana's emotional skepticism in the sections I read than on her experiences,  which helped support her  position  without  needing to acknowledge her personal biases

I know others have enjoyed Burana's work and this was my first introduction to her  writing, that said I doubt I'll be back again.

2 out of 5 stars

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the publisher through the BookLook Bloggers <> book review bloggers program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 <> : “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.

Saturday, December 23, 2017

The House on Foster Hill by Jaime Jo Wright

The House on Foster Hill

Kaine Prescott is no stranger to death. When her husband died two years ago, her pleas for further investigation into his suspicious death fell on deaf ears. In desperate need of a fresh start, Kaine purchases an old house sight unseen in her grandfather's Wisconsin hometown. But one look at the eerie, abandoned house immediately leaves her questioning her rash decision. And when the house's dark history comes back with a vengeance, Kaine is forced to face the terrifying realization she has nowhere left to hide. 

A century earlier, the house on Foster Hill holds nothing but painful memories for Ivy Thorpe. When an unidentified woman is found dead on the property, Ivy is compelled to discover her identity. Ivy's search leads her into dangerous waters and, even as she works together with a man from her past, can she unravel the mystery before any other lives--
including her own--are lost?

Wow, Wow, Wow! 
Considering this is Jaime Wright's first foray into the world of solo novels (she has published before in romance collections)  she has quickly shot her way into one of my favourite books of the year.
This woman is a skilled storyteller. First off, the plot. I  was on the edge of my seat (okay technically pillow but still) the whole time. Wright masterfully brings readers back and forth in  time between Ivy and Joel's turn of the century mystery and Kaine and Grant's modern day suspense. Honestly, most dual timeline stories leave me dazed and confused with  transitions that seem jarring. Wright manages to make her transitions feel natural and free flowing allowing the story to maintain its flow throughout.

This was absolutely necessary to maintain the suspense and drama of her plot and she packs in a lot of both. 
Wright is not one to shy away from serious topics.
 I was impressed with the honest approach she took in weaving in topics such  as human trafficking, abuse, death, grief.  I love novels that take the time to shine light on topics that can be uncomfortable but necessary. Given the sensitivity with which Wright explores such big topics I was curious to see how she would incorporate a faith element into her plot and was pleased to see that she maintains the same quality and realism that she brings to her other subjects. Kaine and Ivy's individual struggles with faith given their losses as well as Gabriella's steadfast faith in light of her trials were believable and thought provoking without coming across as a sermon surrounded by a novel.

Of course, the bulk of the story relies on it's characters and Wright has given some amazing characters. Ivy was an early favourite of mine but Grant and Joy soon became favourites as well.
Wright doesn't give picture perfect characters, they come scarred and with walls and I appreciate how Wright  allows readers to discover their secrets over time rather than reading right through them.

4.5 stars out of 5

Book has been provided courtesy of Baker Publishing Group and Graf-Martin Communications, Inc