Bride of a Distant Isle CoverTitle: Bride of a Distant Isle

Author: Sandra Byrd

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

Cover Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

Imagine you’re a woman in Victorian England, the potential heir to a grand estate, and the only daughter of a woman who died in an insane asylum.

Add to that a greedy and dangerous cousin, a mysterious Maltese captain, and allegations about your own sanity, and you have the basis for Sandra Byrd’s newest novel, Bride of a Distant Isle.

Byrd has become a favorite for me over the years, and Bride of a Distant Isle once again delivers with strong characters and an intriguing storyline.

One of the things Byrd excels at are finding little-known historical niches with which to set her stories in, and with this particular read I was fascinated to learn more about the island and customs of Malta, as well as just how absurd insane asylums in the 19th century could be.

But while you’ll learn a lot reading this book, historical facts never take the place of story and the mystery will draw you in from page one.

Spiritual themes involve facing loneliness and finding your place in the family of Christ, and I strongly appreciated how the emphasis was never solely on romance, but each character’s individual relationships with God.

It’s hard to talk about all that I loved with this book without giving too much away, so I’ll just end by saying this: for readers who like well-researched books with an aura of mystery and a dash of romance, I definitely recommend Bride of a Distant Isle!

For a full description or to purchase this book, you can find it here.

(I received this book for free from the author in exchange for my honest review.)

 

 

Title: The Liberation                                                        3D_BOOK-2-614x1024[1]

Author: Marissa Shrock

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

Cover Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

If you haven’t read Marissa Shrock yet, you are missing out.

I originally fell in love with Shrock’s writing when I read what was her debut novel in this series, The First Principle. (You can read the review here.)

I loved that book and didn’t think it could get any better… annnnd then I read this one. 😉

The Liberation picks up where The First Principle left off:

In a corrupt, dystopian society, Vivica Wilkins has joined the rebel forces and must either keep her identity a secret, or risk being executed. With the clock ticking, will she and the other Emancipation Warriors be able to rescue those they love before it’s too late, or will their quest for liberation cost them more than anyone ever bargained for?

This book. Lemme tell ya.

First of all, you won’t be able to stop reading. Second, Shrock’s crazy talented imagination will creep you the heck out with how realistic she created this society to be. And third, her characters are so endearing and well-developed, you’ll cheer for them ’till the very end.

In a style similar to The Hunger Games, you’ll be hooked from the beginning and want to know more. It’s not very often anymore I have to stay up late to finish a book, and The Liberation kept me up until 2:00 in the morning to find out what would happen next.

If you like fast-paced, creative thrillers with faith interwoven throughout, then I definitely recommend this book!

Me, I’m gonna catch up on some sleep before the third and final book comes out! 😉

Let’s Talk Book: When’s the last time a book kept you awake long into the night?!

 

 

 

 

 

Mist of Midnight and Coffee CupTitle: Mist of Midnight

Author: Sandra Byrd

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

Cover rating: 3 out of 5 stars

Series: The Daughters of Hampshire

Challenge #2 in the Bethany House Reading Challenge: Read a book that begins a series.

Rebecca Ravenshaw has returned home to England from India only to find her very identity has been stolen. Someone masquerading as herself not only tried to steal her estate and inheritance–the impostor also lies buried in her family’s grave plot after meeting a sudden and suspicious demise.

Who was she? Will Rebecca be able to prove that she is the true mistress of her own estate? And what about the dashing but mysterious Captain Whitfield living in her home now? Can he be trusted, or are his intentions even darker than the rumors would imply?

Where to start with all that I loved about this book! I guess by saying that Sandra Byrd never disappoints to deliver something that’s fresh in the market and is a much-needed reprieve from predictable plot lines. She expertly chooses eras, settings, and characters that are both relevant enough to find interesting but also different enough to keep your attention.

I’ve read books before about a missionary returning to England from India, but this is the first time where I actually believed the character might have truly lived there. It was clear the author researched both England and India and made it an integral part of Rebecca’s life, which was fascinating. She was not your typical main character and I loved that.

Not long ago I spoke of how I was growing tired of romances, but this book is an example of one done right in my opinion. Several different relationships were paid attention to throughout the book, and parts reminded me of Downton Abbey because of the conversations between characters, which was so very fun!

It held my attention from the moment I started reading, and I couldn’t even begin to solve the mystery. There were several things to mull on throughout the book, and although it was dark and suspenseful enough to keep you turning pages, it ended very surprisingly in a light and inspirational way.

I am very much looking forward to the rest of the books in this series.

(I received this book for free in exchange for my honest review.)

Let’s Talk Book: What’s an interesting series you’ve read lately or have started to read?

Bonus shot. Just had to include this because I thought it was hilarious. My niece came over while I was taking pictures of the book and made bunny fingers behind it. She made me laugh treating the book as though it were a person, but then again, I think I was making her laugh taking pictures of a book... ;)

Bonus shot. Just had to include this because I thought it was hilarious. My niece came over while I was taking pictures of the book and made bunny fingers behind it. She made me laugh treating the book as though it were a person, but then again, I think I was making her laugh taking pictures of a book… 😉

the-colonels-ladyTitle: The Colonel’s Lady

Author: Laura Frantz

Rating: 3 out of 5 stars

Cover Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

You voted, and we had a winner! The last time we met, I asked you all which of the 16 challenges in the Bethany House book challenge I should tackle first, and you all chose for me to read “A book with a great cover.”

Considering I’ve had Laura Frantz’s book The Colonel’s Lady on my Kindle for what seems like forever now, it seemed like a good choice. And talk about a book with a beautiful cover! The blue of that gown, the natural light coming in, the silver locket she’s holding… I just loved it!

Unfortunately though, the book didn’t hold up as well as the cover did. There were aspects I appreciated and it was an all-around solid read, but it just felt like something I’d read many times before. But I’ll stop and warn you all that this may be more of a rant than a review, because I’m personally starting to tire of the romance genre, and that probably played a significant part in why I couldn’t really connect with this book.

There were redeeming factors, don’t get me wrong. A child of a prostitute shown mercy. A traitorous brother. An amazing act of God of Biblical proportions. But these things were just touched upon so that the main thing was still the romance. I guess I’m just starting to wonder, especially in the Christian genre… shouldn’t our relationship with God be the main thing? You still need a storyline, I get that. But can’t He be the focus with romance on the side, instead of romance the focus, with God on the side?

I guess that’s just where I’m at. Feeling like the Christian market is kind of missing it. And from a writer’s perspective, I get it. I know why, and it’s a hard line to walk. I could easily be accused of the same thing myself one day.

But… I just miss seeing Jesus in the books I read. And with the popularity of books like Fifty Shades of Gray right now, we need to be stepping it up. And I don’t mean in steamy scenes that try to tempt the general market over to our side, but by being the light and salt of the earth and leading others to the only kind of love that’s unfailing and true. That eternally saves.

It doesn’t mean we become prudes. It doesn’t mean we completely ignore the physical attraction side of romance. But does 2/3 of the storyline have to be purely based off of the character’s physical responses to one another and both pretending they don’t like each other until the very end of the book with nothing more but maybe a prayer or two thrown in?

To me, a good book–especially in the Christian market–should draw me closer to God or deepen my relationship with Him in some way. But lately the opposite has happened instead. I realize that could be my own fault, but it’s happened in too many books and stages of life now for me not to wonder if there isn’t some level of improvement that could be made in the genre itself.

We’ve forgotten our first love, and it’s about time we got back.

Let’s Talk Book: I’m really curious to know– what do you all think? Do you find reading romances hinder or help your relationship with God? Could romance writers improve on this a little bit? Are we missing the bigger picture, or doing the best we have in years?

Bethany House recently posted this really fun Reading Challenge that I am going to try this year. I’ll make sure and blog about each one as I cross them off the list, but everything’s better with friends, right? So I am calling out all of you subscribers, all of you blog stalkers, and definitely all my fellow book lovers to join with me in 2015! 🙂 If you decide to do it, let me know through commenting or #BHReadingChallenge, and maybe we can do some of the same categories together!

But to kick things off, I’m asking all of you: which of these 16 challenges should I tackle first?! Vote by leaving a comment with your pick, and I’ll… well, naturally, I’ll go with the one that has the most votes. To be fair and all. 😉

Happy New Year of Reading, everyone!

2015 Reading Challenge

The First Principle, ShrockTitle: The First Principle 

Author: Marissa Shrock

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

Cover rating: 2 out of 5 stars

Considering The First Principle is marketed for a YA audience, I was a little worried at first about whether or not I would like it. YA writing is often simplistic and condescending in a way that grates on my nerves like nothing else can. But the premise was intriguing, so I opened that first page hoping to find something different, and I am thrilled to say debut author Marissa Shrock did not disappoint.

The First Principle is set in a futuristic society where 15-year-old Vivica Wilkins finds herself in a dire predicament: abort the baby she suddenly finds herself pregnant with in obedience to the country’s underage Termination Law, or go against everything she’s ever been taught or believed as the governor’s daughter. Will she choose the way of her heart? The way of the underground Christian rebels? Or the way of her mother? Either way, the choice she makes will affect her for the rest of her life. The question is–is she ready to pay the price?

I appreciated this book on many levels. As a reader and as someone who has been disappointed in YA novels before, I found The First Principle to be refreshingly realistic and non-condescending. Never does Shrock take advantage of her reader’s intelligence. Vivica is a strong teenage character who cares about more than just what she’s going to wear and who’s-dating-who. The adults in her life are shown respect, but ultimately she’s the leader of her own life, and I applaud Shrock for respecting her audience and hopefully empowering young adults through this book.

As a writer, I found the book to be full of non-stop action and I finished it within two days. The futuristic world Vivica lived in was 100% believable, and all viewpoints were represented. The book doesn’t preach. Instead, it focuses on a question that brings a fresh perspective on the pro-life vs. pro-choice debate: not what if abortion was outlawed, but what if abortion was required by law? She lets Vivica face the question and then lets this play out naturally in a fictional setting that is at once intriguing and thought-provoking. For that reason, I’d recommend this book to people on both sides of the argument as a conversation starter.

And finally as an adoptee, I appreciated this book for another reason entirely. Suffice it to say that the story has impact and touched me enough to bring me to tears in a few places.

Overall, I would not hesitate to recommend this book to both YA and adult readers alike. The First Principle has built-in appeal no matter the age. Shrock is a much-needed voice in today’s world and in this genre, and I cannot wait to see more from her in the future.

(I received this book for free from the author and Kregel Publications in exchange for my honest review.)

I Like GivingThe winner of one free copy of I Like Giving chosen by random selection is…

Tessa Ice!

Congratulations, Tessa! I’ll be in touch soon to get your prize to you.

Thank you to all who entered, and make sure to stop by often for more giveaway opportunities in the future! 🙂

 

I Like GivingTitle: I Like Giving: The Transforming Power of a Generous Life  

Author: Brad Formsma

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

The title of this book originally caught my eye, because I do like giving! I’d recently been despairing because I realized that all the self-help books out there, while definitely useful and good, were just that–focused on self. They were all about helping you in your marriage or how to get over your past or how you could be a better cook. Please don’t get me wrong, those are all great things, and working to better ourselves by sheer default also happens to better the lives of those around us, too.

But what I was craving and felt like the Christian market was missing was a book simply focused on loving others– what we could do for them, and ideas on how to do it.

I Like Giving was the answer to that craving!

This book is filled with practical ideas, inspirational stories, and all the benefits of giving packaged in a fun, colorful book that made it easy enough to read in a day. It’s a very simple read (don’t expect fancy vocabulary or complex theological discourse), but that’s part of the appeal of the entire thing.

Anybody can read this book, and anybody can give! There’s no rule book for giving. You don’t have to be a preacher. You don’t have to have a certain degree. You don’t even have to have a big checkbook. It’s all about the heart and the honor of God being able to use you to make a difference in somebody else’s life–whether it’s as simple as giving of your time, or as big as writing a check with a lot of zeroes. Each of them are giving. And each are a beautiful thing because of the people they touch.

This book and what it talks about is something that’s very close to my heart, and it challenged me to take my giving to the next level. You can never love or give too much. You’ve heard it said: “You can’t out-give God,” and it’s true. He fills our cups to overflowing so that we can share out of the overflow, and how much joy it brings to do so! It’s one of the greatest privileges I know to be able to share God’s love and grace with others. Not because of anything I’ve done or am, but because of what He’s done and Is. Not for my name, but for His.

While I Like Giving challenged me to give more, it did it in a way that was very non-condemning. I didn’t feel guilty after reading; just inspired and encouraged by the true stories of people who gave or were given to and had their lives changed forever.

If you’re craving a book that’s radical, that might just leave you changed when you turn that last page, and, at the end of the day isn’t even really about you, then I Like Giving is your book!

(I received this book for free from Blogging for Books for this review.) 

In the spirit of I Like Giving, I will be giving away one free copy of this book to a U.S. resident! The giveaway will be open for one week starting today, August 27th, and ending on next Wednesday, September 3rd. The winner will be chosen through random.org and notified via e-mail. The winner will have until midnight Friday night (Sept. 5th) to claim their prize, or it will be given to the runner-up. 

To ENTER leave a comment with your e-mail answering one of these questions: 1) Tell us about a time someone gave to you when you needed it or least expected it. What did it mean to you? or 2) Tell us about a time you gave to someone else. How did it change you?

To find out more about the “I Like Giving” organization/movement and to see more of their stories and videos, visit them here: http://www.ilikegiving.com.

 

 

 

 

 

Pursuit of Tamsen LittlejohnTitle: The Pursuit of Tamsen Littlejohn

Author: Lori Benton

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

I first fell in love with Lori after her debut novel Burning Sky hit the racks last year (you can read my review of that one here :  http://wp.me/p2QkQq-U). Since then, Burning Sky has won three Christy Awards: one for Best Historical, Best First Novel, and another for Book of the Year.

Critics and fans agree: this lady is something special.

I’m pleased to say The Pursuit of Tamsen Littlejohn lives up to high expectations and doesn’t slack on quality. It follows the lives of Tamsen Littlejohn and Jesse Bird, two people just trying to survive in the wild frontier of the late 1700’s. Eager to escape an unwanted suitor and a harsh stepfather, Tamsen places her life into the hands of rugged frontiersman Jesse Bird. As the two run from pursuit, they may just end up landing in one another’s arms.

As in Burning Sky, once again Benton’s characters leap off the pages with how real they seem. Not a single character is overlooked, and even the secondary characters are given histories that breathe life into them without pulling away from the main plot. Her literary style and descriptions are just beautiful. There is something so unique to her work, something so emotional and real about her characters, that it doesn’t take long to get pulled in.

She also does her research well, and I really enjoyed learning about “The Lost State of Franklin” which follows the short but chaotic attempt of western North Carolina to break apart and form its own separate state. Super interesting stuff!

The only reason I didn’t give this read a full five stars is because it didn’t completely measure up to Burning Sky in my mind. Why is hard to put my finger on. Did I just personally connect more to the characters and plot line of Burning Sky? Was it because The Pursuit of Tamsen Littlejohn was just a little bit too long? I’m not sure, but I will still gladly recommend this book and have mentally categorized Lori Benton into my “Must-Read-Any-and-All-New-Releases” List.

If you’re looking for a new author who’s making noise in the Historical Fiction genre, I highly recommend Lori Benton. You won’t be disappointed.

P.S. Lori Benton just recently posted a fascinating look at how the cover of The Pursuit of Tamsen Littlejohn was made. I’d highly recommend checking it out here: http://loribenton.blogspot.com/2014/07/cover-journey-chat-with-artist.html

(I received an ARC of this book for free in exchange for my honest review.) 

Let’s Talk Book: What are some of your all-time favorite book covers?

A Place in His HeartTitle: A Place in His Heart

Author: Rebecca DeMarino

Rating: 3 out of 5 stars

First, a quick bio from Amazon.com: “Anglican Mary Langton longs to marry for love. Puritan Barnabas Horton still grieves the loss of his beloved wife, but he knows his two young sons need a mother. And yet these two very different people with very different expectations will take a leap of faith, wed, and then embark on a life-changing journey across the ocean to the Colonies. Along the way, each must learn to live in harmony, to wait on God, and to recognize true love where they least expect to find it.

This heartfelt tale of love and devotion is based on debut author Rebecca DeMarino’s own ancestors, who came to Long Island in the mid-1600s to establish a life–and a legacy–in the New World.”

There were some things I liked about this book, and some things I didn’t. So to make it easier, I’m just dividing this review into two straight-forward categories: things I liked about the book, and things I didn’t. 😉

Things I Liked:

Lately I’ve been lacking in my early American history, and this book immediately caught my attention because it’s set right in that time period. We owe so much to those first settlers and explorers who paved the way for us. It had to be terrifying, striking out into the great unknown like that, and it was people like the author’s ancestors who played a part in creating what we now call The United States of America today.

That’s one of the main things I really appreciated about this book. I was just washed anew with an overwhelming gratitude, appreciation, and understanding for what all of our ancestors endured to give us the land we live in today. Because the author was writing this about her own distant family, I think her passion and understanding of what they had to sacrifice for The New World really came through.

And how about that–this story is actually true! Of course, creative license is almost always taken with Historical novels to fill in the blanks–and the same is true here–but Mary Langton and Barnabas Horton were real people. They actually existed. For me, that just adds a whole ‘nother layer of “cool.”

Things I Didn’t Like:

This book was so sad! The title gives you a clue, but it apparently went right over my head, because the entire book really is about Mary trying to win a place in Barnabas’s heart. As far as romance goes, it’s all one-sided until almost the very end. I hurt for Mary trying to win her husband’s heart, but it just takes way too long for them to get there and becomes a pretty depressing read. Barnabas was also a really hard character to like. To me, he came across as a very selfish character, and with Mary making one too many excuses for him, I didn’t see how winning his heart was all that big of a deal. Granted, it’s obvious these characters are developed enough to have very strong feelings towards them as a reader. I just wish there had been a better hero and heroine to cheer for.

All-in-all, it was clearly very well-researched and pretty well-written, but I just couldn’t get behind those characters.

(I received this book for free from the author in exchange for my honest opinion.)

Let’s Talk Book: What’s a time period you enjoy reading about or would like to read so that you can learn more about it?