Friday, October 11, 2019

The Spice King by Elizabeth Camden

The Spice King (Hope and Glory, #1)

I'm always amazed by Camden's ability to weave historical events into a solid foundation for her novels and The Spice King lives up to her skill. 

Set in Washington in the year 1900, The Spice King follows the story of Annabelle Larkin, a young woman from Kansas filled with great optimism that is tinged by self-imposed burdens. Desperate to repay her father's and sister's sacrifices, Annabelle tirelessly works to earn a permanent position in Washington and repay her families efforts. This introduces her to Gray Delacroix, a reclusive spice magnet fighting his own battles. But what starts as a business venture soon turns to romance, intrigue, espionage, and betrayal. 

As usual, Camden includes a lot of historical background to her story. I, personally, find that while the story may take longer to engage with because of this groundwork, Camden's research and writing skills always lead to a far richer story as a result. Getting a peak into early food regulations, life for those who were disabled, and the politics of the time was fascinating and definitely left me curious for more about the time period. 

I actually quite enjoyed Annabelle and Gray as lead characters. While Annabelle had a plucky optimism that is typical of the genre, I appreciate the struggles she had to remain true to her loyalties when faced with a multitude of bad decisions. I also loved the interplay between Annabelle and her sister showing some of the realities of life with a disability and some of the fears and triumphs that can happen for those involved. 

Additionally, I appreciate how Camden was not satisfied giving a straight forward romance. While the attraction is obvious to readers, I appreciate Camden's willingness to let the characters sit with their consequences and allow the relationship to proceed accordingly. Neither Gray nor Annabelle conform for plot but stay true to the character Camden developed making for a much more satisfying story.

Now, on a final note, this does say Book 1 of the Hope and Glory series so while I did feel some of the story was left incomplete (particularly Luke's fate) I expect that will be addressed in book 2. So I'm willing to give the benefit of the doubt until Caroline's book is released in mid 2020. 

4 out of 5 stars

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

Sunday, October 6, 2019

The DIY Guide to Building A Family that Lasts by Gary Chapman and Shannon Warden

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Dr. Chapman is a well familiar name when it comes to topics of love and relationship. So it really wasn't a surprise to see him and co-author Shannon Warden diving into the topic of family life and the 12 areas they felt were most represented by families looking for positive change in their homes.

The book itself follows a very reader friendly format. Comprised of 12 chapters (plus intro and epilogue) each chapter is broken down into an introduction, a planning section, diy, all-in section, review/sweat equity, reveal/conclusion, and questions for reflection. The break down makes each section easy to follow in its repetition and easy for reference once the book has been finished. Stylistically, I felt the authors found a good balance in their working styles, the material certainly reads as a unified front rather than two voices combating the issue on different fronts.

The material itself was interesting. In all honesty, there wasn't any new information within the text. Chapman and Warden have written a self-help guide filled with basic, common sense information so that a family needing help can access and implement the information without creating more issues. This book isn't meant to be a crisis recovery but rather a helping hand for families wanting home life to be more joyful and fulfilling in the everyday and they stay within that bracket well. I do feel as a result some chapters (namely the one on forgiveness) end up a little over simplified, I'm assuming they were operating under the idea that more complex families or those in crisis would be seeking a professional to help them nuance things into their own context.

Overall, it's a great little intro that's easy to read and gives some solid advice to the everyday family who wants to be more impactful in their day to day.

 4 out of 5 stars

I received this book from Moody Publishing in exchange for my honest opinion, the views expressed are my own.

Saturday, October 5, 2019

A Distance too Grand by Regina Scott

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In A Distance Too Grand Meg Pero takes on the position of military photographer for an expedition hoping to find a suitable pass through the Grand Canyon. Being a female photographer is the least of her problems as former flames and new intrigue follow her into the wild.

Overall, I enjoyed this book. While Scott uses a few familiar plot devices with the reconnecting romance and young woman fighting for her place, the characters themselves add endearing qualities that keep the plot enjoyable. The mystery of the missing Colonel added to the level of interest by expanding the plot from just another coming of age or historical romance.

Honestly the setting holds it own just through the sheer magnitude and power of the Grand Canyon itself. Given Meg's profession of photographer I felt Scott worked hard not only to help readers capture the mood of the landscape but also stay true to the vision and awe Meg would notice with her artistic view of her world.

The characters themselves were well written with Meg and Ben both believable in their ability to carry the overall novel. That said, Dot and Hank are one of my favourite secondary couples of the year. The way Scott wrote in Dot's fault just made her jump off the page in all the right ways while Hank's obvious love for her over the years was so sweetly written in all its ups and downs. I love when authors take the freedom of a secondary character and let them step into their own and Scott's managed this wonderfully.

As for the leads, as I said Meg and Ben carry the plot well with the romance, mystery, and scriptural threads all mainly interwoven through their characters. I appreciated Scott's confidence in allowing her characters to explore their changing lives in their own pace. This really allowed the spiritual and romantic plot lines to feel more natural. I like how Meg wrestled with her identity and how that played into romance rather than just jumping headlong. I also appreciated how Scott established this as a character trait as she explored faith in the same manner.

4 out of 5 stars

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

Thursday, October 3, 2019

Homeschool Bravely by Jamie Erickson


Homeschooling is on the rise and the opinions on homeschooling are skyrocketing accordingly. In her new book, Erickson strives to address some of the most common naysaying voices both internal and external.

For the most part, as a homeschool mom on their second year, I can see how this book would bring encouragement to those new to homeschooling and veterans alike. Erickson addresses a wide variety of topics including schooling multiple children, qualifications to school, and avoiding comparison. These practical lessons are infused with Erickson's passion and a wide knowledge of scripture to help families find their footing. 
I also appreciated the perspective Erickson brings as one trained in formal education. This gives her a unique perspective when addressing some of the more common fears by those in opposition to homeschooling and paints a picture of grace when seeking to understand those fears while responding in love.

My biggest concern with the book was how little room Erickson leaves for re-evaluating your family's decision to homeschool as time passes. Erickson's book, with its black and white thinking, doesn't leave much room for the messy grey that often makes up family life.  I know homeschool families that have switched back to more traditional schooling due to work, health, or other commitments who would feel nothing but guilt and condemnation from Erickson's connecting of homeschooling with calling. That worries me.

Overall, I think this book has a lot to offer. It's biblical perspective can help homeschooling families zero in on their purpose and help them frame their homeschooling to their individual family's strengths and weaknesses, offering practical advice from one who has been there. However, the firm black and white thinking could be harmful to those who are struggle in circumstances outside of their control due to the interweaving of faith, calling, and homeschool commitment which leaves me feeling a bit wary.

3 out of 5 stars 

I received this book from Moody Publishing in exchange for my honest opinion, the views expressed are my own.

Sunday, September 29, 2019

Back Roads to Belonging by Kristen Strong

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Every once in awhile I read a book that feels different. The words leap off the page and feel less like text and more like sitting in the kitchen over coffee with a friend sharing and learning more about life. Back Roads to Belonging is one of those kitchen conversation books.

Honestly, Kristen has a way of cutting right to the heart of the matter within this conversational tone, weaving hard earned wisdom, grace, and humour through her narrative while anchoring everything with Scripture. I especially appreciated the structure of her work, each chapter including introducing the chapter's theme, sharing a story from friend or personal past, and ending with a blessing. 

I also appreciated the way in which Kristen unpacks the topic of belonging, one often charged with so much meaning and emotion in our lives, in such a clear and gentle way. There's no denying each chapter clearly points to a central theme of belonging but each chapter also stays true to exploring belonging from a different perspective that both builds and expands understanding.  
This constant fleshing out and broadening means that most readers, will find a chapter that resonates with their own journey of belonging while also simplifying the ability to use this book as a reference. 

If I had to choose one book to recommend this year, this would be it.

5 out of 5 stars

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

Saturday, September 7, 2019

Finding Lady Enderly by Joanna Davidson Politano

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A rag woman, a country estate, and intrigue around every corner combines to create a highly enjoyable read from Joanna Politano.

Joanna Politano knows how to deliver a plot that is both fresh and engaging to readers. There really was so much to love within these pages. The characters were well fleshed out and had flaws that made them feel more realistic. I appreciated how Rothburne Abbey was able to take some of these on itself as it mirrored Raina's personal journey throughout the plot. Sully was a great romantic lead with his passion and drive, though I wish he had recognized his own identity as more than rescuer earlier in the book. 

I also appreciated the detail Politano put into the layers of her plot. The depth within the themes of renewal/restoration, the meanings of identity and names, the challenges of pursuing freedom and truth all made for a riviting read where the plot pulled readers in without revealing all of its secrets before their time.

Now, all that said, there were two points that detracted from the story slightly for me personally. During the transitions from Raina to Sully were a little jarring as the timing felt off but was never specifically mentioned. Now, admittedly, I was reading late at night which happens when you can't put a book down ;) but I do wish there was more clarity in those pov changes.

I, also personally, feel that the romantics will find the ending a wonderful conclusion but I would have preferred a more realistic end. Everything clicked into place just a little too neatly in the final chapters for my own taste and I was intrigued by the other path Raina had available to her which felt more plausible. 

Politano knows how to weave story and characters with meaning and message to create an engaging narrative for readers to fall into, that said, the ending does feel a little too clean for the story that was told and I'll probably be pondering Raina's what-ifs for awhile.

4 out of 5 stars.

I received a copy of this book as part of the Revell Reads blog tour in exchange for my honest opinion.

Saturday, August 3, 2019

Whose Waves These Are by Amanda Dykes


Whose Waves These Are is nothing like the books I normally choose to read and was everything I needed to read this summer.

Dykes blends historical and contemporary fiction, romance and mystery to provide a plot that is both engaging and complex.

The plot itself was a joy to read, I was concerned when I realized that the story itself would jump between WWII and contemporary settings that plot threads may go unaccounted for or that the time jumps could feel sloppy, However, Dykes is masterful at incorporating her thoughts and ideas into a cohesive story that flows well and often had me in wonder at the twists and details she includes.

This is in part due to the strength of her anchoring characters. Annie Bliss is relatable both in her insecurities as well as in her returning to her place of safety in Ansel as she tries to determine her next step in life. Annie has flaws, fears, and failures that give her depth yet still presents the strength and determination that make her easy to root for.

Alternately Robert Bliss anchors the historical sections with ease as he walks through the afternath of the war, what it meant to survive, and how to work through his grief. In many ways GrandBob felt like the most fleshed out character and quickly became my favourite part of the book. Dykes really took the time to point out the moments of Bob's life that gave shape to the man Annie knows and that progression really allows Dykes to have an impactful and emotional conclusion that just wouldn't hit home without the time and effort she spent introducing Bob the way she had.

Actually between Annie, Robert, and the mysterious second male lead of Jeremiah, it wouldn't be a far stretch to say that Whose Waves Are These centers upon a theme of learning to move forward and live after loss, a topic Dykes handles with sensitivity and realism. Dykes takes care to give her characters room for an emotional response and certainly was able to bring about a response from me (yep, this was definitely a book I shoved in hubby's face asking if he could believe it . . . in a good way).

As I said, Amanda Dykes was not on my radar before this book but I'll definitely be taking the time to look her up from now on.

4.5 stars out of 5

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

Friday, July 19, 2019

Yours Truly, Thomas by Rachel Fordham

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Every once in awhile an author introduces their readers to a village so charming and wonderful you wish you could stop by and visit. Sometimes, if you're lucky, the author will give you a chance to visit once again.

In Yours Truly, Thomas, Fordham takes readers back to the little town of Azure Springs. While not what I would call a traditional sequel to The Hope of Azure Springs, Yours Truly, Thomas  still features the same landscape and cast of characters that were so endearing in the first novel with it's own host of mysteries and romance. 

However, this novel feels more like a "summer read". The writing not quite as crisp, the plot a little more familiar. This novel is a comfortable read for a hot summer afternoon and a chance to revisit old friends more than be challenged or engaged by deep plots. The old friends though . . .

Personally, I was thrilled to see the return of Margaret and her boarding house. Margaret was one of my favourite characters in Fordham's other outing to Azure Springs and I loved seeing her character get some more time to shine. It was also interesting to see how life had played out for both Em and Eliza in the years that had passed. Fordham certainly doesn't forget the characters of her past which I appreciate as a reader, the town's moved forward but not forgotten and the continuity of Azure Springs felt honest. I also appreciate Fordham's willingness to let characters live with the consequences of their actions within the plot, for better or for worse. It felt respectful of the secondary characters and allowed them their own moments of importance.

As far as new characters go, Penny is a lovely lead. I enjoyed having her backstory at the dead letters office and how it allowed letter writing to become so important to the plot. She is a wonderful mix of romantic and seeker of wisdom wrestling to find her place in life.  Both Penny and the male lead Thomas really help emphasize a theme of new beginnings and second chances that just seems at home in Azure Springs.

As I mentioned earlier, the plot wasn't especially surprising, that said it was the perfect level of engagement for a lazy summer afternoon with a satisfying resolution of the main stories by Fordham at the end and I certainly wouldn't hesitate to visit again should Azure Springs pop up once more.

3.75 stars out of 5

I received this book as part of the Revell Reads book tour in exchange for my honest opinions

Friday, July 12, 2019

A Reluctant Bride (Bride Ships #1) by Jody Hedlund


Jody Hedlund has done it again. A Reluctant Bride is, by far, my favourite read this summer and I'm so excited for book #2 in March 2020.

Following the Tynemouth, a ship chartered to bring 60 women to 1860's British Colombia and help establish the settlement under British rule through marriage, Hedlund chooses to focus readers through the eyes of Mercy and Joseph.

Mercy is an amazing protagonist and really highlights Hedlund's skill as both author and researcher. While Mercy is definitely a character readers can empathize with and root for, Hedlund is respectful of the social and economic setting Mercy would have grown up in and the effects it would have on her worldview. This adds layers of drama and tension that, I felt, gave the book a much stronger rhythm and urgency when appropriate. I appreciated that Mercy has to wrestle through her long established views on worth, class, and self while reminding readers just how difficult it can be to break free from those old perspectives.

Adding to the strength was Joseph, who provided his own contrast and similarity to Mercy as he wrestled with the expectations of class and upbringing affecting how he approached and interacted with his world. I particularly enjoyed how Joseph's greatest rival is his own worldview and the chance that gave Hedlund to allow the character to grow over the course of the book.

I was also impressed with how Hedlund worked faith into her plot and into the characters lives. Unlike some  stories, the inclusion of faith felt natural and the questions the characters had about faith and God felt real given the struggles they had been facing and the mentors or lack thereof they had to guide them. I appreciate when faith is a natural outcome of character development in the genre.

Honestly, I cannot recommend this book. When I look back at some of my favourite fiction in the last five years Jody Hedlund is always near the top for her deep and heartfelt characters and willingness to focus on the historical areas that are often overlooked in the genre. 

4.5 out of 5 stars.

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

Thursday, June 27, 2019

A Reluctant Belle by Beth White

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Joelle Daughtry is not your typical southern belle facing life after the civil war. She's a business women, a writer, and a teacher for the local freedmen. She's also, perhaps, my favourite female protagonist I have encountered this year.  

I cannot figure out how Beth White has managed to stay under my radar before this point. Her ability to weave plots left me on the edge of my seat.
Between the rising violence with the klan, the tug of war for Joelle's heart, and the twisting turns surrounding the death of Schuyler's father the story had this sense of chaos and urgency that made the characters spring to  life. It felt less like a linear plot at times and more like exploring the lands and lives of those connected to Daughtry House.

I also appreciated the way White respects the characters she's created. While no one could deny the growth evident in the characters they stay true to themselves. As an introvert, it can be so frustrating to see introverted protagonists suddenly "find their courage" and turn extroverted  to save the day. There is certainly no denying Joelle's capability but at the same time there was a respect for her abilities and allowing the character to flourish within those characteristics. 

Now for those of you, like myself, who are coming into this series on book two, take heart. A Reluctant Belle can easily stand alone. Any plot points that carry over from A Rebel Heart are explained within the context of the story. This does give the feeling of major spoilers for those of us coming in late, however, with White's skill at bringing together her plot and characters I will definitely be looking for A Rebel Heart  to dive into the details of Selah and Levi's story.

4.5 out of 5 stars

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

Saturday, June 1, 2019

When You Are Near by Tracie Peterson

When You Are Near has mystery, murder, and romance, that said, it doesn't read like a normal Christian fiction/historical romance. I was surprised that central character Lizzy Brookstone's potential love triangle became more focused on her personal grieving journey adding  layer of interest and depth I wasn't expected from the summary. This shift, I felt, allowed for more character development with the other female characters which was a refreshing change. Having the interactions with Mary, Ella, and Rebecca made the book more enjoyable and really sets up potential focuses for the later novels in this series.

Truly, this reads much more as a historical fiction than a romance with Peterson investigating grief's expressions through Lizzy, Rebecca, Mary, Wes, and Oliver's individual stories. I appreciate how while they all shared the varying losses the expressions were unique to the characters established personas.

That said, I'm not sure how to give a full review of this novel as it feels very incomplete. When You Are Near is book one of the Brookstone Brides series and it very much feels somewhere between incomplete and an excellent groundwork novel for what's to come. 

The mystery of August's death, the challenge for Lizzy's heart, the future of the Extravaganza all felt like they were just starting to pick up as I closed the last page. I was left wishing I could grab the next book. Thankfully, it appears that Peterson has anticipated this desire in other readers with book 2 slated for June of 2019 and book 3 possibly slated for October, a blisteringly fast  pace for most series release and lends to the possibility that Peterson has purposely interwoven the three books to function more as a single narrative over three books.

Either way, I'll be looking forward to seeing if this series lives up to its strong start in When You Are Near.

4 out of 5 stars.

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

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

Cover Art

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

Image result for Mark of the Raven by Morgan L.Busse

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."