Posted in Books

True to You

True to You (Bradford Sisters Romance #1)True to You by Becky Wade
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I took a couple of days to try to gather my thoughts on this book, so that I could maybe do a little more than blather and gush. But, nope. Pretty sure this review is going to pretty much be blathering and gushing.

Those who follow my reviews know that fantasy is my favorite genre. I can get behind a good romance now and again, but romance novels very rarely make it onto my favorites shelf. Especially Christian romances, as they tend to lean towards cheesiness and, though that can be fun, they don’t tend to stick with me. But in this book, the first I’ve read from Becky Wade, I found an exception.

When the story first started, it was just cute. A nerdy genealogy librarian falls for the hot former Navy SEAL who seeks out her help to find his birth mother. Nora is sweet and old-fashioned and awkward and a fangirl after my own heart. John is her opposite in every way except for the faith they share. I assumed that their love story was going to be adorable and they would find John’s mom, but that would be all there was to the story.

Man, was I wrong.

There were a couple of pretty major plot twists that took me off guard. In the last hundred or so pages especially, the book took on a depth that I just wasn’t expecting. And the spiritual component that came with that depth was phenomenal. Something I really loved about this story was the fact that, when the characters gave everything completely over to God and trusted Him with every aspect of their lives, everything didn’t just immediately get better. There wasn’t miraculous healing. God is of course completely capable of miracles, but I think the church has a bad habit of promising miracles when they might not be a part of God’s plan.

I love God with all of my heart, and I trust Him with every aspect of my life. The fact that He didn’t heal my infertility and give me a biological child doesn’t change or cheapen that faith in any way for me. I had people tell me that if I would just pray harder, God would take away my physical pain and give me a child. That’s not how faith works. It’s not a cure-all. Christians are still going to have problems and sorrow and brokenness. I have faith because I love Jesus and am astounded by what He’s already done for me. But, God has healed my physical pain; through surgery. And I believe that I’ll adopt someday. In the meantime, I have a niece to look forward to meeting in August! All of that to say, I really appreciated how Wade handled the issues her characters had, and how faith impacted their views of those issues instead of doing away with the issues themselves.

This book was just so beautiful to me. It was funny and sweet and heartbreaking and moving. It was incredibly uplifting. And I can’t wait to read more about the Bradford sisters. Here’s to hoping book two is published quickly!

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Posted in Books

The Elusive Miss Ellison

The Elusive Miss Ellison (Regency Brides: A Legacy of Grace, #1)The Elusive Miss Ellison by Carolyn Miller
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Full review now posted!

Sometimes, you need a radical change of pace. Since October, I’ve read more fantasy in a shorter period of time than I’ve ever read in my life. Don’t get me wrong; fantasy is my favorite genre, and it always will be. But there is such a thing as too much of a good thing. So I decided that I needed a little fantasy break. This book was about as far away from fantasy as is possible, and it was a breath of fresh air.

The Elusive Miss Ellison is a Christian historical romance, set in the Regency era. This is a genre that is very hit or miss for me, but this one was a hit. There were occasional sections that felt stilted, but all in all the book flowed well. The writing, while not that of the classic authors emulated, was solid. The romance was compelling, and the differences between our two main characters added interest. The setting was convincing, and felt exactly like Regency England. There were a couple of instances where modernity made itself felt, generally in medical practices, but the instances were few and understandable. As for the faith aspect, it was heavy-handed in places, but for the most part it was very well-handled and seemed neither forced nor an afterthought, either of which seem to be the case with a lot of Christian fiction.

I really enjoyed this book. It felt light and fresh to me in a way that historical fiction often does not. It was a nice departure from the fantasy and horror I’ve been consuming almost exclusively these past eight months. I needed it. I’m going to start making more room for Christian fiction in my life again, because it’s something my mind and spirit need that I’ve missed. And this was a good book to restart that habit with.

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Jane Eyre

Jane EyreJane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Full review now posted!

I first read Jane Eyre about five or six years ago, and I really liked it. Since then, I gotten quite a few more classics under my belt. Classics are vastly different from modern fiction, and have to be read differently. Now that I understand this fact, reading classics has become much more fulfilling for me. So, when I picked up Jane Eyre for the second time, I didn’t just really like it; I loved it!

First of all, the writing is absolutely gorgeous. Charlotte Brontë penned one of the most beautiful novels I’ve ever read. Every word she wrote had purpose and power. In this book we have the story of an orphan girl’s journey from surviving to thriving. Life has dealt her a hard hand, but she handles herself with surprising aplomb and grace through even the hardest situations. Jane is different, and marches to the beat of her own drum. So much so, in fact, that many critics refused to believe a woman had written the book when it was first published. There are times when Jane bends over backwards to try to please those in her life because she is so desperate for the love and family that she never had, but she always has a breaking point. When pushed too far, Jane always firmly stands her ground and refuses to lose her identity to those who wish to mold her into their ideals.

“I am no bird; and no net ensnares me.”

That’s one of the most powerful lines I’ve ever read. Jane always remembers her free will and her freedom when faced with those who wish to take those inalienable rights from her, and she always defends those rights. Even in the face of losing that which she yearns for most in the world, she will not be caged or forced to compromise her principles.

Another thing I really loved about this book with Brontë’s faith that shone brightly from the pages. There was much theology and scripture and soul searching in this book. But what I loved most was the fact that it never felt forced or trite. Faith was as much a part of Brontë’s time as breathing, and is portrayed just as naturally.

And, of course, there’s the romance that this book is most known for. It’s beautiful, but it’s not what stands out to me. While it might be the most famous aspect of the novel, it is not the central theme. In my opinion, Jane Eyre is the story of a girl overcoming hardships and finding herself, and always protecting that identity. Without a doubt, this is in my top five favorite classics. And without a doubt, it is a book made for revisiting.

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Posted in Books, Life in General

When Calls the Heart

When Calls the Heart (Canadian West, #1)When Calls the Heart by Janette Oke
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I have a confession to make: I absolutely love When Calls the Heart. You know, the Hallmark show? The Christian historical romance that borders on cheesy where everything always turns out okay? Yeah, that’s the one. It’s one of my favorites. In this show, community is about celebrating together in the good times and supporting each other through the hard times. Faith in God is the norm, and that faith actually means something. And love always finds a way. The show idyllic and wholesome and just makes me really happy every time I watch it. It’s my visual comfort food.

Last week, Chris and I very unexpectedly became foster parents for two little boys. A couple of days ago, they just as suddenly returned home to their mom. Our emotions during this time went haywire; we were terrified because we’ve never been parents and didn’t know what to do, we were thrilled with the boys themselves and fell in love with them despite our efforts not to get attached, and we were a weird mix of devastated (for us) and relieved (for them) when they went home so soon. When they left and our house felt just the slightest bit hollow, I needed to disappear into a book. But the books I’m reading currently, while they’re great books, they were darker than what I needed. So I decided to read the book that inspired my favorite feel-good show.

The book wasn’t perfect. It was stilted and felt a tad forced in places. It was different from the show that I’ve come to love, even though they shared a common name and framework. But it was exactly what I needed when I picked it up. It was short and sweet and full of love and hope and Jesus. Though Christian historical fiction is not one of my favorite genres, it’s what I tend to turn to whenever I’m going through a rough patch in my life. I love how unapologetic the characters are about their faith, and how that faith permeates their lives. I also love how faith is just an expected aspect of life in these bygone eras. And in the vast majority of the books in this genre, you go in knowing that everything is going to turn out okay, and that a happy ending is almost inevitable.

Janette Oke provided me with exactly what I needed here. It gave me some of the hope I needed when I wasn’t feeling all that hopeful. Even though I enjoy the show more than I did this book, I’ll probably continue with the series at some point.

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Sense and Sensibility

Sense and SensibilitySense and Sensibility by Jane Austen
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Rating: 2.5/5 stars

Man, am I glad that’s over. And I feel terrible for saying that.

I don’t know what my problem with the book was. I’ve really enjoyed everything I’ve read by Jane Austen. Pride and Prejudice, Emma, Northanger Abbey, Persuasion, and Lady Susan were all immersive for me, and left me feeling satisfied when I finished the last page of each. But Sense and Sensibility just let me down.

Not that it was a bad story. It really wasn’t. It even had a healthier dose of complexity and depth than many of her other works. The plot and the characters and the settings were all well crafted, and the writing was lovely as always. It’s a classic for a reason; so what was my problem here?

The humor. Or, the lack thereof. When I read Austen, what keeps me enthralled is her wit and sarcasm. Her leading ladies tend to have wonderful senses of humor, as do the majority of their love interests. But in this story we have a more stoic heroine and, though she’s an interesting character, she’s not quite as compelling as many of her fellow heroines. There were moments of humor, of course; Mrs. Jennings can be incredibly amusing, and it’s hard not to laugh at the elder Miss Steele. But the humor in this story took a distant back seat to the relationship drama, which left me feeling discontented. I struggled reading this.

Was the book terrible? Of course not. I doubt that anything Jane Austen wrote can be fairly considered awful. And I know there are people who hold this as their favorite Austen novel, and I respect their opinions. It just didn’t do it for me, unfortunately.

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The Magnolia Story

The Magnolia StoryThe Magnolia Story by Chip Gaines
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I have a slight addiction to HGTV. It’s not a constant addiction; it merely flares up from time to time. However, there is one HGTV show that I always watch as soon as an episode airs, and that show is Fixer Upper. I love Chip and Jo’s relationship, and the family dynamic they have with their four kids. I love seeing little snippets of their life on their farm and how Jo handles Chip’s endearing but exasperating dorkiness. I love how involved they are in their community, and how supportive they are of artisans in their area and how they do their best to promote them. I love their lifestyle, laid-back and kind of old-fashioned and unapologetically Christian but in a way that loves instead of judges. And, obviously, I love their designs, how they take a run-down house that others would bulldoze without a second thought and make it a home that is perfect for their clients.

When I saw that Chip and Jo had written a book, I honestly just picked it up because I love them and want to support them. I’m not a big nonfiction reader, so I wasn’t sure that I’d ever actually read it. But I needed something bright and positive and inspirational, and this tiny book was exactly what I was looking for. Here is a couple who has faced hardships and muscled their way through with prayer and unflagging optimism. From a really rocky start after returning from their honeymoon to becoming HGTV’s darlings, they’ve worked incredibly hard for everything they have. (They’ve never even owned a television!) What I loved most about this book was seeing the evolution of their relationship with each other, and how it’s the foundation upon which they built every aspect of their business. Even in the pages of the book, each of them was present on every page, with Chip and Jo each having their own font. It was adorable.

The Magnolia Story was so inspirational to me. It focused so much on family and helping each other follow their dreams. If something is your passion, share it with those you love most and start working to attain it. That’s not to say that there won’t be highs and lows. There will be seasons of feast and seasons of famine, seasons of celebration and seasons of mourning, in every life. Because that is life! I know personally, I appreciate the highs in life so much more for my time spent in the trenches. But sometimes that fixation on hills and valleys can lead up to putting off our dreams until the perfect moment. Forget someday; dive in now. You never know where God will take you.

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Treasure Island

Treasure IslandTreasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

In the words of Italo Calvino, “a classic is a book that has never finished saying what it has to say.” These are stories that have stood the test of time, that communicate a thought or weave a tell that has touched deeply a multitude, and continues to do so decades and centuries after its inception. But that doesn’t mean that every single “classic” work of literature will strike a cord with anyone who picks it up. Unfortunately, this book is now an example of that in my life.

I wanted so badly to love Treasure Island. Here is a tale of pirates and buried treasure and gun fights and a young boy named Jim Hawkins who seems to be the center of everything. Here is the origin of Long John Silver, one of the most famous pirates in literature. This novel is one of the ultimate classic adventure stories. And yet, I couldn’t connect with Stevenson’s writing at all. For such a small book, it seemed to drag on forever, with little resolution. I just couldn’t make myself care. Jim Hawkins annoyed me, with his propensity for getting into trouble that somehow ends up saving the day. For a tale of piracy and mutiny, everything Jim “stumbled” into and out of seemed awfully convenient to me. The most three dimensional character in the book was Silver, who I’m pretty sure Stevenson never meant for his readers to like. Every single scene in the book also felt overblown to me, too fraught with emotion compared to the circumstance. I guess it just struck me as overly dramatic, like a literary soap opera from a bygone era.

While this story didn’t speak to me, that doesn’t mean it was a bad book. Classics just tend to be hit-or-miss, and though it was a miss for me, I know plenty of people who absolutely loved it. The wonderful thing about books is that we all read them differently. So don’t let me experience deter you. It just might draw you in!

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When She Woke

When She WokeWhen She Woke by Hillary Jordan
My rating: 4 of 5 stars


Warning: Due to the heavy religious tone of the book, this review is going to be religious in nature and will in large part be a discussion of my faith. If you’re offended by this, please feel free to skip reading this particular review.

Some books disturb you psychologically. For authors like King and Koontz and Barker, that psychological fear is their bread and butter, and many of us will pay good money to be frightened. But then there are the books that disturb you on a moral level. A spiritual level. And often, though I’m sure not always, these books are not written with marketing in mind. These books are written because the author has something to say and will burst if they don’t get to vent their anger and concern and fear onto paper, and it doesn’t really matter to them if no one ever reads a word of it. But books like this, like 1984 and The Scarlet Letter, Brave New World and Fahrenheit 451 and The Handmaid’s Tale, will always be picked up but a like-minded reader and passed on to like-minded friends, and perhaps even friends whose minds have rusted shut at the hinges, hinges that creak open reluctantly with every page they read. Because the unknown is always questioned and feared, and what greater unknown is there than the future? If we read to know that we’re not alone, we also read (and write) to know that we’re not alone in our questions and our fears.

When She Woke disturbed me on a moral and spiritual level. Here is a society where religion is king, and has begun to mandate law. I’m a Christian. I believe that God is real, that He created everything that exists, that He is involved in our lives, that He sent His Son to die so we could have freedom and eternity, that life is sacred, that I have been blessed beyond measure, that He has been there with me in my darkest hours and that I will never have to suffer anything alone. I believe all these things with all of my heart. And yet the only thing that scares me as much as a world where religion is outlawed is a world in which religion is THE law. God created us with free will, with the inalienable right to choose for ourselves whether or not we will follow Him, and that’s a right that no government on earth should have the power to take away. To quote the book itself:

“You don’t have to stop thinking and asking questions to believe in God, child. If He’d wanted a flock of eight billion sheep, He wouldn’t have given us opposable thumbs, much less free will.”

I’m not going to get into the plot of the book itself here, though I will say that the comparison made on the back cover claiming the story is “The Scarlet Letter by way of The Handmaid’s Tale” is completely accurate. It was a well-written, thought provoking story that will stick with you long after you finish the last page, and I’m glad I read it. I will say, however, that this book made me incredibly sad. It’s hard to see your faith twisted in such a way that it ruins the lives of others, even if those lives and others are fictional. Christians can be some of the most unforgiving and judgmental people on the planet, which has to infuriate Jesus. He spent His time with fishermen and tax collectors and prostitutes and beggars, with the poor and the broken and those rejected by society. He was despised by those who should have recognized Him, and He died for it. Thankfully, that death couldn’t hold Him and He rose again three days later, but that doesn’t negate the pain and torment He endured at the hands of the very people He had come to save. And if He had chosen to come a couple thousand years later, I think He would have met the same fate; it just would have been televised. Todd Agnew wrote in one of his songs that “My Jesus would never be accepted in my church; the blood and dirt on His feet might stain the carpet.” Harsh, but true.

Jesus told His disciples on the night of His arrest, “A new commandment I give to you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” (John 13: 34-35) THAT is supposed to be how the world knows we’re Christians. Not by the words we spout or the bumper stickers on our cars or the way we look down or noses at others. And I hope and I pray every single day that people see the love of Jesus in me when I interact with them, not judgement or hatred. Because Jesus doesn’t hate. God doesn’t hate. God is love. And if we remember this, if we do our best each day to live this, then the future forecast in this book will never become a reality.

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Lincoln in the Bardo

Lincoln in the BardoLincoln in the Bardo by George Saunders
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I wanted to love this book. I really did. And all I could manage was deciding that it was okay, that I respected the story Saunders was trying to tell and the research it required. But I just couldn’t make myself love it.

Not that there weren’t aspects of the story that I liked, because there were. There was real emotion here, deep emotion. There were philosophical questions on death and what lies beyond the grave, thoughts on war and parenthood and religion. Racism and sexism were addressed in ways that were harsh and real. Saunders also provided a plethora of quotations from various historical documents on Lincoln, on his personal life and appearance and presidency, on the state of the White House and the state of the Union while he served as Commander in Chief. And he provided readers with some great information on Willy, the poor Lincoln son who died too soon. This was Willy’s story, and Lincoln’s story, and the story of a nation represented by ghosts in a graveyard.

This all sounds like the makings of a new literary classic. And it probably is, or will be. But it fell flat for me. There were some descriptions and language that felt uncomfortably overdone, as though Saunders included them for shock value alone. (I never want to hear about a ghost’s grotesquely swollen member ever again, for example. And the Barons! Good grief at the mouths on that couple.) It could be that I’m a prude, and others probably wouldn’t be bothered as much. Also, some of the writing just felt so pretentious which is my problem with a lot of literary novels. Again, this might just be me, and I can’t put my finger on a particular example because I listened to the audiobook and thus can’t flip back through.

Speaking of the audiobook, listening instead of reading is likely the only reason I finished this. The vocal cast was phenomenal including the talents of Nick Offerman, David Sedaris, Lena Dunham, Ben Stiller, Julianne Moore, Susan Sarandon, the author himself, and many more. There were 166 voice actors in all, which is quite possibly a world record. (Penguin Random House Audio has applied to Guinness for exactly that.) And, had I not made it to the end, I would have missed a pretty great ending. Which is why I settled on three stars here. A lot of people are going to love this book. It might even be life changing for some. Just because it wasn’t for me doesn’t mean it isn’t for you.

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Silence Fallen

Silence Fallen (Mercy Thompson, #10)Silence Fallen by Patricia Briggs
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

4 entertaining stars.

I don’t believe in guilty pleasures. If I enjoy something, I see absolutely reason to be embarrassed of that enjoyment. Years ago, before I came to that conclusion, Urban Fantasy was one of my guilty pleasures. Now it’s simply a genre I enjoy spending time in, especially when I need something lighter. How is it that urban fantasy is “lighter,” you might ask. Many series in the genre, such as the Dresden Files and the Hollows and the Mercy Thompson series, of which this book is one, follow the misadventures of one particular individual over the span of multiple small books. So going in, I am almost certain that the main character is going to be okay, no matter what happens. It’s like visiting an old friend, hearing about terrible situations they had found themselves in some time past, but because they’re here now, telling you the story, you know everything must’ve worked out alright. So, compared to epic fantasy where even central characters are fair game, visiting the urban fantasy genre is fairly relaxing.

Mercy, our coyote shapeshifter and VW mechanic who pals around with werewolves and vampires and all manner of other paranormal creatures, is always getting into trouble. In her defense, it’s often through no fault of her own. And Mercy is not some hapless, helpless damsel, waiting for some man to come to her rescue. This little coyote can save herself, thank you. In this book, the tenth in the series, she finds herself in Europe, cut off from her wolfpack and, worst of all, her husband. This installment was a bit different from its predecessors, providing both Mercy and Adam’s perspectives, instead of staying focused on Mercy. Seeing the different sides of the story was a fun change.

All in all, this was an entertaining and comfortable read. There weren’t many surprises, but that’s exactly what draws me back to the story; knowing that everything is going to turn out alright is a good thing sometimes. Also, there was a recurring Doctor Who reference as well as a brief Star Wars reference, which made my little nerd heart happy. Now, excuse me while I go prowl the internet for news of Mercy’s next adventure.

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