Sunday, March 22, 2015

Words to Dream On by Diane Stortz

I still remember when our son was born and we started to leave the hospital.
There were pamphlets, how-to guides. nurses visits, home visits, everything to help us care for our child's physical and mental well being in those foundational and sleep deprived early days.

Yet, as our little one grew I found it difficult to find a durable, accessible, and child-friendly source to help introduce our son to matters of faith and the heart. Although the market is full of books for bedtime full of familiar Bible stories I struggled to find one that was suitable colourful with age-appropriate story length and durable enough to handle my son's love of books (we're not rough we just love our books).

I was thrilled for the chance to review Words to Dream On and hopeful my hunt may have found a match.

When our new book first arrived I was instantly caught by the beautiful illustrations throughout the book and it's front cover. I love that the pictures reflect the story to help our son engage the story as we still work to help him gain some verbal skills. Pictures can sometimes be overlooked for importance but as I watch our son engage visually I'm beginning to realize how crucial a strong image can be  for our little man.

The second thing I noticed was the binding. Some books you pick up and they go straight on the shelf, they're the type that extra care is required. Words to Dream On, however, has a nice thick cover and binding which I had no problem handing over to my 21 month old to explore and begin discovering right out of the box! I love that this will easily be around for many years of bedtime stories.

The third thing we all noticed were the stories. After years of volunteering and a Bible College degree I often get annoyed by children's stories that paraphrase and "dumb down" to the point that you're left with only moral thoughts and nice feelings (yes, sadly they exist). On the other hand, I'm equally discouraged by children's stories that are so long a child loses interest (training up a child I'm convinced also includes attention spans). Stortz offers a perfect compromise though with a 3-4 page average story that includes pictures, a bedtime prayer, the actual scripture reference (so mom and dad or older siblings can follow along at their own level afterwards) and a short blessing to tie things together. While the stories themselves are somewhat paraphrased, they've been true to the story and child accessible to the point that when #2 arrives this summer I know that the age gap won't be an issue for both of them enjoying this book for at least a few years.

Finally, I really appreciated the order of this book. Chronological in nature, families can choose to read through in order building upon the narrative and seeing how God's story unfolds over time or families can use the handy index to find stories that more closely connect to real life or family devotionals that may already be underway.

Finding a good collection of Bible stories can be difficult in today's market but if you're looking for a book that is durable, engaging, and will appeal to multiple family members I highly recommend giving Words to Dream On  a second look!

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.”

Saturday, March 7, 2015

Where Trust Lies

Where Trust Lies by Janette Oke and Laurel Oke Logan picks up on the story of young Beth Thatcher, a school teacher returned to her family following a year on the Canadian Prairies.
However, upon returning home, Beth must come to grips with the changes a year has brought to her and her family dynamics while deciding where her heart lies amid potential tragedy.

Okay, okay, can I blame baby brain? I totally missed the fact that this was the second book in this series until I reread the cover following confusion when the characters started referencing events I knew weren't in this book.
For purists, this series needs to be read in order. For readers who don't mind, Oke and Logan do a fabulous job weaving details of prior events into the newest editions with a grace and ease that make it simple to pick up and go (if you aren't like me and don't realize an early story exists).

Although living on the Canadian Prairies myself for the better part of a decade, Oke is generally not an author I pick up. I don't mind romance when it's not the main genre and many of Oke's books only bring a passing interest as a result. Since Where Trust Lies is the second in the series I found the romance to be equally tempered by adventure, character development, and an inner searching from Beth that took me back to my own dating adventures (perhaps because I saw echoes of my own sweet husband in Jarrick). Overall, this made for an engaging balance that kept me reading without breaks until the book was finished. Though a seemingly simple plot, I found it echoed in ways that left me surprised for this author.

For readers who appreciate character growth this can be a fun novel to delve into. As the second in the series the foundation built in the first is expanded upon here, allowing readers a greater insight into Beth's fears, concerns, and growth which have stemmed from her time away and the natural changes which can happen upon leaving girlhood. 

On the other hand, I also struggled somewhat with the unresolved story lines within the book, but with reservation as I do realize the nature of Oke to set storylines in place for the future. Beth's interactions with young Victoria felt rushed and unresolved whereas Margaret felt underutilized in her role as older sister and sounding board for Beth's musings. This seemed odd given the sisters seemingly close relationship prior to Beth's departure and the awareness of both on how short their time together may end up being, given Beth's conflicted opinions on where she needed to be. The introduction of the sisters throughout the Thatcher's journey also felt very blatant given Oke's usual style.

All in all, I believe Where Trust Lies is a solid offering from Oke and Logan that will appeal to her fanbase and followers of this genre.

4 out of 5 stars.

I received this book from Bethany House in exchange for my honest review, the opinions expressed are my own and unaltered.


Sunday, March 1, 2015

Dauntless by Dina L. Sleiman

Hope is no longer a concept Merry Ellison believes in. Forced on the run following her father's decision to support the rebels in their quest against King John, Merry relies on her wits, skills, and wariness to keep her and the surviving children from their village alive and safe from those who would do them harm. Yet, their whole life threatens to crash around them when ghosts of the past and present become all too living.

I am a sucker for historical fiction. I've admitted this many times and when I heard the premise of Sleiman's Dauntless featuring the teenage daughter of a slain baron around the time of Robin Hood . . . I couldn't resist. Better yet, I'm glad I didn't!

Sleiman's novel has some classic trademarks of the genre. A young hero struggling with their faith following a wounding, a love interest (or two), and a strong cast of supports to help move the plot along.

Instead of being annoyed by the presence of another love triangle, I was impressed at the honesty of Allen's journey.Wren's childhood innocence could have seemed an overused device to move along the plot but instead her essence continually delighted me as she turned up on the pages, proving a needed contrast to Merry's wounded guarding and Timothy's warring ambitions.

Merry, herself, provides the target audience (Dauntless  is classified as juvenile fiction) with a fascinating role model. She's brave, smart, and loyal while openly wrestling with her need for vulnerability and her views on faith and religion in a world that no longer makes sense. This issue, if memory serves, can be quite timely for readers in the target age range.

Overall, I appreciate Sleiman's work. The characters aren't perfect but there are lessons in their growth and struggle, even for those characters who choose poorly (sorry I refuse to give away the villain's true identity!) Much like Timothy's first encounter with the survivors the children of Dauntless naturally draw their audience in through the charm and honesty they continually manifest. The pacing felt natural -rushing where needed for extra anticipation and slowing in natural ebbs and flows. Sleiman is honest at the books end where fantasy and fiction collide but the end result is still a highly satisfying read.
I would recommend this novel to fans of historical fiction, youth fiction, and stories with a female lead.

I received a copy of this book through Bethany House Publishing in exchange for my honest opinions. The above review is my own.