Thursday, May 16, 2019

Loving My Actual Neighbor by Alexandra Kuykendall

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As Christians, we know we are called to love our neighbor. We may even grasp that "neighbor" encompasses more than just the people living next door or down the street. But what we too often don't know is how to begin. How do we love our neighbor? Where do we start? What does this look like in our increasingly isolated world?
(quote from back of book)

Honestly, I have a strong interest in books on community. As an introverted geek I love being involved in community but tend to rock the awkward person in the corner or frazzled mom look over coherent person.

In Loving My Actual Neighbor Kuykundell presents 7 practices to help people learn  how to embrace the community they naturally encounter in their everyday lives and there's even a chapter that specifically addresses being awkward (talk about a book that speaks to my heart.)

When I read Kuykendall in the past, I did struggle  to find her central message amid her storied, train-of-thought writing style. Here, Kuykendall takes a far more direct approach to her topic presenting one chapter on each of her practices followed by some practical application appendices to start brainstorming application when you're finished reading. I was surprised and impressed by these changes as I could still see the central heart Kuykendall's style within a more readable structure.

Overall, I was really impressed with the practicality and ease of application of Kuykendall's book. I, honestly wish this was available when I was in college as she takes concepts such as active listening and makes them accessible. There's nothing overly groundbreaking in these pages as far as information goes. Common sense reigns here with topics such as humility, quietness, giving, or lightening up. 

But it's in this common sense and structurally conversational tone that Kuykendall finds her strength. Community should flow out of the natural and sometimes awkward encounters in our lives, there isn't usually a lot of time for complexities in the everyday and this book reflects the everyday reality it's meant to find its life in.

4.5 out of 5 stars

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

Tuesday, April 30, 2019

Joyful Surrender by Elisabeth Elliot

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First of all, it's worth noting that Joyful Surrender is a re-publishing of Discipline first released by Elliot in 1982. So perhaps I am caught in a generational gap when reading theses pages and trying to find some point of connection (although Elliot does not seem big on relevance either).

Honestly, I did not and will not finish this book. She talks of grace and love but leaves no room for diversity. Night owls do not belong to the kingdom they are merely undisciplined. Physical illness/mental illness you need to connect with God not man. I'll be honest our family is filled with amazing friends and family with special needs many since birth. 

I read Elliot's words and see her passion for the church. I recognize her desire for the necessary place of discipline in a believer's life. However, when that discipline ignores scriptures which tell us of God's plan or tries to stamp out the uniqueness of the body for a unified organism I start to wonder how isolating her gospel was.

2 out of 5 stars

I received this book through the Revell Reads Book tour in exchange for my honest opinion.

Tuesday, April 23, 2019

The Governess of Penwythe Hall by Sarah E Ladd

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Delia Greythorne has been followed by tragedy and what an interesting premise she makes for a main character. Ladd has given readers two solid main characters around which her story gravitates through widowed governess Delia and her charges guardian Jac Twethewey. You can tell where Ladd has done her research with Delia fitting in well with her era and locale. I appreciated the acknowledgements of her unique space as governess and the consideration of her place in life, fleshed out in her conversations with her brother, regarding how her experiences had changed her views from the common goals within her family.

Jac, himself, was the typical male lead as the well-liked underdog attempting to save the family land. Fans of the genre will probably find Delia, Jac, and Penwythe pleasantly familiar company as they ferret out the trauma of Delia's past and try to save their future. There really aren't any twists and turns for those readers who want a nice comfortable afternoon escape.

As far as concerns go, I did find the pacing a bit slower on this novel compared to Ladd's other works. Admittedly, my own health and mental space may have added to this but the pacing just felt off with all the drama and tension of Delia's past, the current grief, and the growing affection with Jac falling aside to many moments of contemplation and reflection. Now, don't get me wrong, these all still showed Ladd's gift for the English language with her strong command of words and grammar, I just yearned for a little more adventure.

I also felt like the role and presence of the children were underutilized. The children were a natural bridge and connection for Delia and Jac and, I confess, only Sophy's name came easily to me memory.

Overall, this was a solid read thanks to its strong concepts and Ladd's obvious skill within the English language. However, it fails to be as memorable  as some of Ladd's previous offerings with its odd pacing and under incorporated characters and emotions.

3.5 stars out of 5

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.

Wednesday, March 27, 2019

The Bride of Ivy Green by Julie Klassen


Julie Klassen has long enchanted readers with her ability to weave research, drama, and romance into enthralling tales of Regency-era England. However, the Tales from Ivy Hill marks Klassen's first foray into a full series. 

While I have a few frustrations with the ending of The Bride of Ivy Green, overall, I am thrilled Klassen has stretched her talents into  forum that allows for the full fleshing out of her locations and characters.

The Bride of Ivy Green fills the final spot in the Tales from Ivy Hill series. I had the pleasure of reading book 1 when it was released but somehow missed book 2's arrival. This is definitely a series that benefits from a thorough and chronological reading. There were definitely moments that were unnecessarily jarring due to missing a third of the story with book 2.

As for its own plot, Th Bride of Ivy Green  seeks to see the stories of Jane Bell and Mercy Grove move to their newest conclusion while welcoming in the mysterious dressmaker Madame Victorine.

Honestly I loved how Klassen pushes these two characters in this series. Jane's fear of miscarriage is so real and the questions it brings into her relationship with Mr. Locke felt very natural concerning a topic and loss many still feel uncomfortable acknowledging. To see her arc of reconciliation within her family and her acceptance of herself was relatable, heartbreaking, and utterly sweet as she finds her peace.

Mercy's struggle felt very much in line with a Klassen novel as she seeks to find her way in life and with her heart. That said, it was no less satisfying to see Mercy wrestle through her new realities as life in Ivy Hill continued to change around her. Mercy has such a strength as a character as she sets her own path away from her family and leans into her faith. (and, slight spoiler, to see how her quiet service is met by the  rallying of the town women was such a series highlight for me).

That leads me to two noticeable differences in this novel. 

I found the faith content was much lighter in this novel vs others by Klassen in this era. While faith is still present it's in much more quiet moments.

Additionally, some of the stories felt as though they could easily continue on into a new novel What did Mr. Drake's decision mean for Mercy at the conclusion? How did Mrs Shabner get on with her new apprentice? This could be considered a strength of the series as a whole, however, Klassen has fashioned such a sweet little village and formed such stories and relationships that naturally flow out of it it almost seems off to say goodbye to Ivy Hill.

4 out of 5 stars

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

Monday, March 18, 2019

When Life Doesn't Match Your Dreams by Jill Eileen Smith

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I loved the premise of this book, the idea of looking into the lives of Old Testament women who can feel somewhat overlooked. Unfortunately, I found this book to have a serious identity crisis. 

Jill Eileen Smith has a long history as a fiction writer and her skill at crafting a story is evident with the way she can form a sentence and pull readers in. However, it felt like this non-fiction book ran more into fiction than not. I understand the value of putting ourselves into another's shoes, another's perspective but the constant speculation and additions to biblical text often felt out of place in this type of book, especially when some of the speculation ran into controversial theology (the story of Adah's almost daughter in law for example). 

The non-fiction section of each chapter also left me wanting more. I felt confused as to the goal as there wasn't more than a cursory awareness of psych or trauma leaving many heart and mind motivations feeling glossed over and oversimplified. At the same time, it felt like the scriptural analysis was also rushed in an attempt to fit in the fictional and situational based examples.  

In the end, I felt like, although bearing a strong concept, this book was trying to be too many things and not finding its footing in any.

2.5 out of 5 stars

I received this book as part of the Revell Reads Tour.

Saturday, March 16, 2019

A Tender Hope by Amanda Cabot


There's something sad about the third book in a trilogy. Thanks to Amanda Cabot's work  A Tender Hope   feels a little bit like saying goodbye to old friends with the characters and town of Cimarron Creek.

While A Tender Hope functions as a stand alone, filled with the romance and criminal mystery that has woven through our time in Cimarron Creek,  Cabot has crafted a trilogy that stands stronger together. Cabot isn't afraid to plan long-term and a good portion of A Tender Hope's satisfaction comes from the resolution of plots begun in A Stolen Heart.

Aside from the resolution of stories including Bertha's family and the ever-changing love life of Nate Kenton, A Tender Hope centers upon the stories of Thea Michener and Ranger Guthrie who are both drawn to Cimarron Creek following the murder of Thea's husband. I really enjoyed Cabot attention to pacing and emotion within this main plot. Thea's grief reads so earnestly as she struggles to reconcile who Daniel was and what that means for her future. Guthrie's confusion on his own feelings also read true and made me chuckle that his moment of clarity came with a conversation with Nate.
It, like so many moments in the novel felt like the town and relationship were coming full circle.

Again, Cabot has built up her wonderful cast of characters. I appreciate how those introduced in early novels are not discarded but built further in later books. In a small town series throw away characters stand out like a sore thumb and Cabot really seems to strive to give each character their own purpose.

I did feel the pacing faltered slightly at the end where the climactic scenes took on more of a rushed tone. 

Cimarron Creek is not a fast paced, edge of your seat read. It's more like coming home to friends. I would definitely recommend taking the time to read all three, in order, so that one can fully appreciate the characters and town Cabot has crafted.

4 out of 5 stars.

I received this book as part of the Revell Reads Tour.

Friday, March 15, 2019

A Desperate Hope by Elizabeth Camden


Elizabeth Camden once again weaves her skill s researcher and storyteller to bring history to life through the fictional village of Duval Springs. Influenced by the real life towns and villages who were moved and relocated during the building of the Ashokan Reservoir, Camden explores themes such as community, belonging, love, and identity.

Once again I had the chance to learn through fiction (honestly one of my favourite parts of historical fiction). I had never heard of the Ashokan Reservoir or the towns that were moved in its construction. While Camden chose to construct her own fictional town for the purpose of this story, her skill as a storyteller allows Duval Springs/Highpoint to spring up as central characters in their own right. She captures so many small town quirks that naturally evolve in such close knit communities especially in a time that is so intertwined with grief and hope.

The central human story focuses on Alex Duval, mayor of Duval Spring and Eloise Drake.  Alex really stood out as a primary character, perhaps due to Duval Springs presence and Alex functioning as the living, visible "heart" of the town driving it into the future. Eloise was interesting as well, strongly written with two clear paths, I appreciated how she was able to see her own strengths as well as how both romantic options were people she had established knowledge and experience with.

Spiritually, Camden does weave faith into both Eloise and Alex's lives bringing faith up as an important factor on numerous occasions and being  an important factor on life changing decisions for both characters. Well never preachy, the characters faith is certainly not hidden.

A Desperate Hope is filled with hurting hearts, wild dreams, and irrepressible hope as Duval Springs and its inhabitants face their future in a landscape changing for progress.

4 out of 5 stars.

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

Saturday, March 9, 2019

The Curse of Misty Wayfair by Jaime Jo Wright

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Wright has done it again. The Curse of Misty Wayfair blends past and present to provide mystery and redemption in an edge of you seat read.

Jaime Jo Wright has quickly become my "must read" in the realm of historical fiction.  Her ability to weave past and present to provide a deep and engaging tale is unmatched. Here, Pleasant Valley, Misty Wayfair, and the Coyle Curse all function as  solid anchors weaving their way into the characters lives. Her ability to compare and contrast her main characters despite the decades helps make them real and relatable.

Honestly I was impressed with both Heidi and Thea's stories. Heidi's stands out for Wright's handling of sensitive matters such as mental illness and special needs. As a mom to two boys with autism, Emma especially stood out in Heidi's story and I appreciated how she was a unique character with strengths and weaknesses not a character of pity (honestly though Wright has some amazing secondary characters this time, Connie and Mrs. Amos  are additional highlights in the novel). I also appreciated how Heidi worked through her anxiety you can see Wright took the time to give her characters depth over stereotype.

Thea's story really emphasized the mystery aspect between the origins of Misty Wayfair's ghost, the Coyle Curse, and Thea's own origins. Wright gives readers plenty to sink their teeth into as the mysteries all come to a dangerous head for Thea.

As usual, Wright adds an additional layer through her characters search for meaning and identity, exploring how faith could function within their  lives. I appreciate how Wright doesn't shy away from her characters having mistakes or hurts in their  past in regards to faith but includes them alongside natural character progression and the eventual flushing out of each characters faith journey.

4.5 out of 5 stars.

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

Thursday, February 14, 2019

Tiny Truths Illustrated Bible By Joanna Rivard and Tim Penner

It's hard to capture an active three year old's attention. However, through a combination of engaging pictures, conversational dialogue, and timeless truth The Tiny Truths Illustrated Bible  had my little one begging for "just one more story" (and another and another).

My kids both give "lotsa thumbs up" to the pictures which they loved! Aside from cute and kid-friendly, they helped maintain interest when my three year old struggles with lingering speech issues. They complement and enrich the story from cover to cover.

The story itself was perfect for our three year old and, I believe, the preschool through kindergarten age really is the perfect focus range for this edition.
This is an age.range we haven't  really found well covered in the past. While we love The Jesus Storybook Bible it's still a little too advanced for our youngest but he's also informed us  he's too big for the ultra simplified infant one. Relying more on paraphrase and a story-telling emphasis, Tiny Truths uses conversational language that is familiar to convey  the stories and truth so familiar to the church.  Even my oldest was drawn in by the way each story was phrased with little questions here and there to encourage thoughtfulness and engagement.

Physically, I appreciated the book's break down. The index is a great addition and I love how the Old to New Testament transition gets it's own page in the text for easier referencing.

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.

Tuesday, February 5, 2019

Duck Commander Happy, Happy, Happy Stories for Kids Fun and Faith-Filled Stories By Korie Robertson and Chrys Howard

My only exposure to Duck Dynasty comes from Korie Robertson's earlier book Strong and Kind. That said, I like stories, my boys learn well through stories and I was curious where Happy, Happy, Happy Stories for Kids  falls into the ever growing spectrum of spiritual growth/life lessons for kids that is available.

Overall, the format is familiar. Each of the fourteen chapters begins with a relatively short story(the last chapter we read falling around 8 pages) brought to life with every day vernacular and bright engaging images. The story is then reinforced with a page dedicated to a scripture verse, a page of reflective questions, and two pages dedicated  to practical application. The minor format tweak with the practical application section proved a huge success with our boys who loved taping into visual, audio, and hands on learning making for some great engagement and reflection from both kids.

I also appreciated how biblical and moral truths were reinforced through everyday stories with everyday kids. My boys are really enthralled with John Luke's adventures and I can see them being disappointed when we finish the  book in its entirety together. The fact that we don't know much about the Duck Dynasty family hasn't made any difference to their enjoyment as we're reading about kids in relatable situations and learning foundational truths(although I'm pretty sure the 5 year old now wants to build his own tree house which was not the moral of that particular chapter.)

I could see kids in the 5-9 year old range connecting most easily with this material and thanks to the supplementary pages it is a great resource for parents wanting to start conversations with their kids.

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 18, 2019

With This Pledge by Tamera Alexander


Utterly Captivating!

Tamera Alexander's retelling of the events of the Battle of Franklin and its effects on the residents of Carnton had me completely immersed and rooting for these characters based upon the actual residents and soldiers who participated in the unfolding of Franklin and the final days of the war.

Now, as a Canadian, I only have a basic knowledge of the U.S. civil war which is why I was thrilled to find Alexander has done her research, even using actual correspondence from those in and around Carnton. Her attention to detail, even in regards to battle, surgery, and recovery helped me as a reader with no connection to the events catch glimpses of the turmoil of the time (although fair warning readers who enjoy happy endings don't go researching the characters after Alexander pens the end).

Obviously using actual places, events, and correspondence from the primary characters adds a  level of depth that is natural but I also appreciate how Alexander respects the people while fleshing out the story of Lizzie, Roland, and even Tempy. She respects their flaws, pain, and their quirks which may have been easier to smooth out, instead allowing them to further richen the narrative. The debates between Lizzie and Roland regarding slavery, the questions of moral men, the trauma of the children and helpers all gave further insight into the era.

With This Pledge  was my first foray into Alexander's work but I shall definitely be checking her out again. I highly recommend this book for any fans of historical fiction, romance, civil war era novels.

5 out of 5 stars.

losure 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.

Wednesday, January 9, 2019

Mark of the Raven by Morgan L.Busse

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Based on Mark of the Raven, The Ravenwood Saga has the potential to be my favourite Christian fantasy series in years.

Right from the start, Busse is invested in taking  the time to world build. As a result, the book is filled with rich family and world history, interesting geography, and, of course, the division of the great houses gifts. Busse obviously has put a lot of thought and heart to the creation of her characters home and it brings the story a depth and immersion I've found lacking in other reads in this genre of late.

The concept of the gifts is what lands this novel firmly in its fantasy genre. I really enjoyed the slow reveal of the gifts as well as the way readers are introduced to the concept of a gift that has been twisted or warped from it's original purpose. Between the contrast of the houses of the Light and the houses of the Dark Lady, Busse has set up the possibility of introducing themes of faith and redemption without being overly cliche or preachy. I really appreciate how naturally she works her elements into her plots allowing them to feel natural to the characters, especially with Lady Selene and Lord Damien.

These two really caught my attention (aside from Renata and little Opheliana who I sincerely hope make reappearances in the future).  Both characters were strong enough to hold their own plotlines with notable weakness that made them more interesting as they seek to best  lead their people and honour the gifts they've inherited. While I guessed the eventual outcome of these two meeting, Busse definitely throws a twist into the plot in the  last 75 pages and I was on the edge of my seat for how the ceremony would unfold. 

I'm always leery of reviewing the first in a Christian fantasy as so often a fantasy series needs to viewed as a whole to see how an author will use the history and plots established. However, Mark of the Raven is well worth the risk. Also is it April yet? I need to know what happens next!

4 out of 5 stars.

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