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For the Love of Literature

As a bibliophile, my passion for books coalesces with a love of writing, and writing book reviews allows me to share literature with the world.

Answering the Call of Duty

In the Line of Fire: Daring Stories of Man’s Best Hero - Ace Collins

Dogs are known ubiquitously as man’s best friend, and “In the Line of Fire” develops this epithet further, highlighting instances in which dogs of all kinds have come to serve in the military over the years. From Sallie, the bull terrier who served in the Civil War, to Lucca, a German Shepherd-Belgian Malinois mix who sniffed out IEDs during the War on Terror, this illuminating work of nonfiction provides short but incisive accounts of some of the most incredible and patriotic canines involved in war efforts. These dogs served in various branches of the military—even the Navy—and encompass a variety of breeds, shattering stereotypes. Each chapter focuses on a specific dog and how he or she came to be in the military in the first place; many times, especially during the earlier wars, this happened coincidentally but paved the way for canine troops to come. The stories are fascinating, heartwarming, and yes, at times sad. Because they are true, there is not always a happily-ever-after ending, but this emphasizes the realities and vagaries of life. Working dogs hold a special place in my heart, and acknowledging their service and sacrifice allows us to properly honor them and to work toward ensuring that when their duty is done, they can live out the rest of their life in peace and well-being.

I received a complimentary copy of this ebook and was not required to post a positive review. All opinions expressed are my own.

Redemption and Restoration

Thief of Corinth - Tessa Afshar

There is a reason that Tessa Afshar is one of my favorite Christian authors. She pens Biblical fiction with consummate skill and keen insight, and “Thief of Corinth” is no exception. The ancient world of first-century Corinth springs to vivid life and offers readers a tour of the culture and people residing there. Despite this antiquated setting, Afshar draws many parallels between Corinth and the modern world. The issue of women’s rights—or acute lack thereof—features prominently, as does the fallout of a broken family and the repercussions of strained and severed relationships, friendships and peer pressure, and financial struggles.

With unerring acumen, “Thief of Corinth” weaves social and personal concerns and how the two intersect in the lives of the characters. Ariadne, the young heroine, challenges the status quo with her fiery personality and sense of self-preservation. Her cunning and naiveté create a duality that makes her all the more relatable and sympathetic. As readers follow her journey and understand the great impact of the past and how she came to make her choices, they realize the prospect and the cost of restoration. Perhaps the circumstances of her life have, in fact, tuned her ear to the whisper of redemption. Likewise, this novel targets a larger audience besides Christians. Readers outside the faith will doubtless enjoy Ariadne’s story and be touched by its telling and its outcome, gleaning the treasure of “Thief of Corinth” and serving as a testament to the power of love regardless of the time and place.

I received a complimentary copy of “Thief of Corinth” from the publisher. I was not required to post a positive review. All opinions expressed are my own.

Ride Wild, Ride Free

Mary's Song - Ruth Sanderson, Susan Count

Texas, 1952. Twelve-year-old Mary has spent much of her young life in a wheelchair due to a virus that also took her mother’s life. Despite her disability, she has big dreams, and one of her favorite activities is drawing the horses that live in the neighboring fields. “Each sketch was a wish to ride, wild and free, someday.” She becomes friends with fellow horse lover, Laura, and together the two strive to fulfill their aspirations.

Poignant and inspirational, “Mary’s Song” takes young readers along for a spirited ride. Along with a strong theme regarding friendship, the story has a gentle faith angle and also explores other issues germane to modern readers. One girl’s parents are too uninvolved in her life, while the other’s father is overly protective. The narrative delves into tough subject matter such as dealing with loss and disappointment and persevering amidst trials while still maintaining an overall optimistic tone. Middle-grade readers will be encouraged and entertained by this horse tale, which will appeal to those who enjoy some of the horse classics such as “Black Beauty”, “National Velvet”, and the works of Marguerite Henry.

Aloha and Guder Daag

The Hawaiian Discovery - Wanda E. Brunstetter

Admittedly, I have not yet read “The Hawaiian Quilt”, although I intend to rectify that soon and delve into the backstory of some of the characters. While “The Hawaiian Discovery” can be read as a standalone, there are spoilers for the first book. The Amish subgenre of Christian fiction is one that I’ve wanted to explore for a while now, and I’m glad that I finally had the opportunity to do so. The Amish community portrayed in this novel surprised me by being more progressive than I expected while still holding firm to their faith in God.

“The Hawaiian Quilt” packs quite a bit into its approximately 250 pages. The main character is Ellen Lambright, but there is also a diverse cast of supporting characters who take the story in different directions that eventually converge. Some of the time lapses in the story were a bit disconcerting, although this did not really interrupt the flow of the narrative. Partly due to the number of characters, there was a constant sense of action, which made the story seem to unfold quickly. Ellen’s life changes dramatically more than once, and the challenges that she and her friends face are relevant to contemporary readers, from illness to friendship to romance. How they approach these tests of faith is inspirational, as is the mingling of both the English and the Amish world, which also extends to the reading experience with interspersed Pennsylvania Dutch vocabulary, making this an interesting and thought-provoking read.

I received a complimentary copy of this book from Barbour Publishing and was under no obligation to post a review.  

Take Every Thought Captive

The Captured Bride - Griep,  Michelle

Each installment of The Daughters of the Mayflower series proves to be better than the last. In this third installment in the series, Michelle Griep takes readers on a thrilling journey into the wilderness of New York in 1759, during the height of the French and Indian War. Mercy Lytton, the protagonist, descends from the Plymouth pilgrim couple whose story opened the series, but her father was a Mohawk chieftain. Raised in that tribe, Mercy is a very independent and feisty woman with a gift of keen eyesight, which has enabled her to become a scout. Her latest mission involves working alongside a condemned traitor to transport a shipment of gold, and that is when the danger truly begins.

“The Captured Bride” is written in a very engaging and captivating manner, with quaint language that makes use of terms now mostly obsolete but entertaining, such as “cattywampus.” The characters span the spectrum from good to evil and keep the reader guessing while quiet, inspirational transformations occur. Similar to Griep’s “The Innkeeper’s Daughter”, this novel also features plenty of intrigue and plot twists. Mercy, in particular, is a fascinating character; she challenges female stereotypes and wrestles with her own past and where she belongs: “This was home, this maze of trees and rock. A place where she was master, where the only one she had to be sure about was herself.” Her story evokes cultural richness and both cultural and personal reconciliation in a fashion timely for contemporary society, making this a very pertinent novel.

I received a complimentary copy of this book from Barbour Publishing and was under no obligation to post a review. 

We Were Made to Be Courageous

No Less Days - Amanda Stevens

Not having much experience with the speculative fiction genre, and purposely going into this book without reading more than the first sentence of the description, “No Less Days” proved to be a pleasant surprise. This was more or less my first foray into the genre, and I must admit that I was skeptical about how the Christian aspect would play out, but Amanda Stevens truly did a masterful job of interlacing the two. The plot is unique and plausible enough to be intriguing without having to completely suspend belief, and the characters are relatable in their flaws and struggles. Moreover, the subject matter is particularly prescient for contemporary culture.   

Immortality. It seems that society increasingly seeks this elusive state of being, but what might the consequences be? What boon would earthly immortality offer? Mark 8:36 asks, “For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world, and loses his own soul?” “No Less Days” confronts this issue head-on. The central characters are unable to die because of a doctor’s propitious but ultimately naive intervention in each of their lives a century and a half prior. David Galloway unwittingly meets them, and while they share the same unnerving quality of longevity, it soon becomes apparent that altruism is not likewise shared among them. David’s faith is tested as he struggles to do the right thing in what appears to be a catch-22 situation while also navigating a potential romantic relationship with a mortal woman. At the end of the day, what this novel epitomizes is that the focus should be on the legacy that we leave behind.

I received a complimentary copy of this book from Barbour Publishing and was under no obligation to post a review.

Praise in the Storm

My Heart Belongs in Glenwood Springs, Colorado: Millie's Resolve - Rebecca Jepson

Glenwood Springs, Colorado, 1888. The peaceful surroundings belie the burgeoning turmoil that enters Millie Cooper’s life once again. As a poor fisherman’s daughter from Nantucket, she has ventured west and established herself as a nurse, working under a kindly doctor. The heartbreak of her past seemingly behind her, she has settled into the routine of her new life. However, when she reluctantly agrees to accept a position as personal attendant to a condescending, asthmatic woman, her past returns with a vengeance. Forced to confront what she had hoped was behind her—and the fact of her lingering hurt—she strives to find peace in the midst of life’s storms.

From the start, “My Heart Belongs in Glenwood Springs” captured and held my interest. Millie makes a dynamic character, with an independence that is unique for the time period and that serves as both a blessing and a hindrance given the constraints of nineteenth-century society. There are many twists and turns in the plot as characters emerge and interact with one another, and as a result, the novel’s conclusion is not clear-cut, with the suspense lasting until the end. This is difficult to accomplish in works of this nature, with a strong thread of romance and redemption and what can easily become a cookie-cutter narrative. As Millie’s story illustrates, healing sometimes comes long after the initial hurt, but God’s grace and mercy can always be found in all of life’s circumstances, guiding us toward His good purposes.

I received a complimentary copy of this book from Barbour Publishing and was under no obligation to post a review.

More Than Conquerors

When God Says "Go": Rising to Challenge and Change without Losing Your Confidence, Your Courage, or Your Cool - Elizabeth Laing Thompson

 “When God Says Go” is tellingly subtitled “Rising to challenge and change without losing your confidence, your courage, or your cool”. This clever alliteration gives an indication of the story within, because although this is a work of nonfiction, it reads more like a collection of personal accounts, threaded together to form a manifesto of sorts about facing and conquering life changes. The truth of the matter is, few of us welcome change, yet we all find ourselves having to deal with it throughout our lives. We like to be in control, and so often when God beckons us to a task, we balk due to fear and uncertainty. Thompson points out a profound truth here, however: “God’s call wasn’t about the people he called—God’s call was about Him. It was and is and ever will be about Him…When we live our life devoted to fulfilling God’s purposes, we stop worrying about ourselves: our success, our reputation, our appearance. We lose ourselves in Him. In His purpose. In His call.”

Building upon this insightful realization, each chapter is about a calling. Ten Biblical characters’ stories are highlighted among twelve chapters, after which a relevant explication in a modern setting ties the past and present together, followed by a corresponding example from the author’s life. Each chapter ends with a “Let’s Go Deeper” section, which includes a Bible reference for further study, a journal prompt, and a prayer prompt in the form of a Bible verse. This thoughtful organization and conversational tone draws readers in and makes “When God Says Go” a wonderful resource for either individual or group study. No matter how great or seemingly small our own calling may be, this book reminds us that we are more than conquerors through Him who loved—and still loves—us.

I received a complimentary copy of this book from Barbour Publishing and was under no obligation to post a review.

Compact, Convenient, and Inspirational!

The Prayer Map for Women: A Creative Journal - Compiled by Barbour Staff

In the style of a daily planner, “The Prayer Map for Women” offers a pleasant, easy-to-use guide for establishing or venturing further into a deeper prayer life. The first thing that I noticed about this prayer map was its conveniently compact size; it is lightweight and will fit in most women’s purses or bags for easy carrying. Also, because it is spiral-bound, writing in it is very handy, without having to hold the pages open; this is one of the first features I look at when considering any kind of notebook or journal. The pages themselves are whimsical and appealing without being ostentatious or detracting from its purpose, with magenta and teal illustrations.

Two pages are allotted for each entry, divided into small, concise sections. Each page begins with “Dear Heavenly Father” and contains the following sections: Thank You For; I Am Worried About; People I Am Praying For Today; Here’s What’s Happening in My Life; I Need; and Other Things on My Heart That I Need to Share With You, God. The second page ends with “Amen. Thank You, Father, for hearing my prayers.” There is also a different Bible verse at the end of each entry, which grounds the writer in Scripture and encourages further reading of the Word. For women who are looking to jump-start, revive, or simply go deeper in their prayer life, this quaint little journal is the perfect guide!

I received a complimentary copy of this book from Barbour Publishing and was under no obligation to post a review.

Dramatic but Underwhelming

Shadows of Hope - Georgiana Daniels

Let me preface this by saying that this is not the type of book that I would normally pick up. Had this been promoted by a non-Christian publishing company, I would not have considered it. However, the premise sounded fairly intriguing and I wanted to dip my toes into something outside my comfort level. With that being said, “Shadows of Hope” just didn’t really get off the ground with me. The drama, while expected given the subject matter, was in my opinion overdone, and the characters didn’t resonate much with me. The narrative is divided between Marissa—whose viewpoint is related in the first person—her husband, Colin, and Kaitlyn, the “other woman”. I found it difficult at times to sympathize with Marissa because of her self-centered attitude toward her marriage and her sometimes unrealistic expectations overall. Colin didn’t seem to have many redeeming features, while Kaitlyn is portrayed as an angelic figure. The way that these three interact throughout the novel does add a definite human interest aspect, but the plot seemed too drawn out.

The faith element was present, but almost as a side note, or so it seemed for much of the story’s duration. Granted, there was no profanity or sexual situations—this was a clean read—but faith was not as prominent an issue as I was expecting and hoping for. This was hard to reconcile with my expectations. I also anticipated more suspense and was surprised when so much of the story’s backbone was revealed relatively early on. Nevertheless, I did want to find out exactly how things turned out in the end for each character. Despite not being the most compelling novel I’ve ever read, “Shadows of Hope” does offer a look at redemption and at facing life’s challenges and heartbreaks.

I received a complimentary copy of this book from Barbour Publishing and was under no obligation to post a review.

Of Love and Pirates

The Pirate Bride - Kathleen Y'Barbo

As the second book in the Daughters of the Mayflower series, “The Pirate Bride” proved to be even more engaging and intriguing than “The Mayflower Bride.” This series is interesting in that it chronicles pivotal points in history from a Christian perspective, with each installment written by a different author. This arrangement keeps the volumes fresh, avoiding the repetitious pattern that could otherwise easily result. “The Pirate Bride” goes a step further and adopts a perhaps unconventional approach to what is obviously a romance, introducing the heroine—Maribel Cordoba—when she is only eleven. Her story begins aboard a ship in the Caribbean in 1724, and her fateful encounter with the privateer Jean-Luc Valmont has implications that travel far beyond that time and place.

Indeed, Maribel’s somewhat eccentric character—being rather unladylike for the time—continues into young womanhood as the narrative shifts to 1735 for the second half of the novel. Part of what drew me to Maribel’s character was her love of reading and books, which was not common during the eighteenth century, as well as her indomitable spirit. Her journey is a unique one, offering a glimpse of maritime, convent, and domestic life in and around the Caribbean. The story, as such, presents a distinctive narrative with gentle Christian undertones. How the characters’ lives connect and weave together demonstrates Kathleen Y’Barbo’s creative skill, with the romance itself playing out toward the novel’s closing. “The Pirate Bride” is a fascinating work of fiction with plenty of adventure and novelty sure to delight and entertain.

I received a complimentary copy of this book from Barbour Publishing and was under no obligation to post a review.

Let My People Go

Imagine... The Ten Plagues - Matt Koceich

In this second book about time travel and Biblical stories, Matt Koceich again intertwines the two to create an incredible adventure. “Imagine: The Ten Plagues” takes the reader back to Ancient Egypt during the time of Moses and the exodus of the Israelites, seen through the eyes of a young girl. Eleven-year-old Kai Wells is facing a bully in her Florida neighborhood when suddenly she finds herself transported thousands of years back in time. She befriends a resident and becomes involved in helping a child stay safe from the Pharaoh and his servants while witnessing the plagues visited upon the hardhearted Egyptians.

“The Ten Plagues” was, in my opinion, a quicker and even more exciting read than its predecessor, “The Great Flood.” Koceich neatly creates characters to whom young readers can relate, while dealing with issues germane to what kids are facing today. This narrative focuses on bullying and standing up for what is right despite intense pressure, and yet it does not become preachy or superior. This is a great way for kids to learn a moral lesson in a fun and interesting way and to also introduce or reinforce major Biblical stories.

I received a complimentary copy of this book from Barbour Publishing and was under no obligation to post a review.

Faith and the Gold Rush

My Heart Belongs in San Francisco, California: Abby's Prospects - Janice  Thompson

“My Heart Belongs in San Francisco” by Janice Thompson was my introduction to this series. The storyline was not what I was expecting, especially taking into account the book’s cover, which made it all the more interesting, although I did take issue with some of the characters. Set in San Francisco in 1853 during the height of the gold rush, there is a menagerie of characters from around the country and the world, lending a balance across the spectrum of class and reputation. Abby herself comes from a background of privilege, and as such she is ill-equipped to deal with the lawlessness and immorality of the city. Her naiveté comes as no surprise, but her lack of good judgment regarding people borders on the unbelievable. She complains about being coddled and yet proves time and again that she is incapable of taking care of herself or, in many cases, making good decisions. Overall, the characters lacked depth. They were rather stereotypical and cookie-cutter, with a clear delineation between the “good guys” and the “bad guys.” Had they been more two-dimensional, the story would have profited and had more substance.

The faith element suffered a bit, as well. I agreed with all of the viewpoints on Christianity, but the way that it was presented in the novel was too heavy-handed and over the top. It seemed as though the author wanted to incorporate as many Biblical quotations as possible, but the execution was lacking, and the narrative needed more direction. The application to the characters’ lives and situations was too tidy and superficial. That is not to say that I did not enjoy the book, however. The idea of creating an aristocratic heroine in the setting of San Francisco is an intriguing one, and if the characters were fleshed out more and the plot tightened and implemented more compellingly, this would be a more absorbing story.

I received a complimentary copy of this book from Barbour Publishing and was under no obligation to post a review.

To Win a Soul

The Heart's Appeal - Jennifer Delamere

As much as I enjoyed “The Captain’s Daughter”, “The Heart’s Appeal” really struck a chord with me. Being book two, it can be a standalone, although Rosalyn’s story does make an appearance as a potential spoiler for book one’s ending. “The Heart’s Appeal” touches on many of my interests from the get-go: women’s life in the nineteenth century, the practice of medicine, and educational studies. Julia Bernay makes a captivating heroine; she is an independent, forward-thinking woman who challenges the status quo of 1881 London by working toward a degree in medicine. First, however, she must pass the Queen’s College matriculation exam, the main hindrance of which is the Latin language portion. A fateful experience saving a barrister’s life intertwines his and Julia’s fates in unexpected ways as they both seek to further their careers.

The London Beginnings series offers a thought-provoking foray into the lives of women living in the city during the latter part of the nineteenth century and their journeys of faith. “The Heart’s Appeal” demonstrates the entrepreneurial zeitgeist that was starting to take hold among the female population and highlights the double standard with which they were repeatedly confronted. The novel does not shy away from these contentions, illuminating both the aristocratic and less well-to-do classes and their interactions. Through it all shines the backbone of the Christian faith. The narrative is not preachy and does not sugarcoat controversial and antagonistic situations, lending it credence and real-life applications even for contemporary society. “The Heart’s Appeal” is a stellar addition to Christian historical fiction and to this wonderful series.

The Mayflower Bride by Kimberley Woodhouse

The Mayflower Bride - Kimberley Woodhouse

The Daughters of the Mayflower series begins aptly with “The Mayflower Bride” by Kimberley Woodhouse. A few months ago I read Rebecca Fraser’s “The Mayflower: The Families, the Voyage, and the Founding of America”, which provided a detailed, if rather dry, account. While the hero and heroine are fictional, “The Mayflower Bride” draws upon true events and sticks mostly to the historic timeline of occurrences. It offers a very good glimpse into the lives of the Separatists and the faith and beliefs that led them to venture to the New World, and their interactions with the Strangers (those outside their beliefs) further exemplifies their code of conduct. A poignant love story blossoms amidst the manifold hardships and tragedies that afflict the voyagers, with most of the narrative taking place aboard the Mayflower. Enough particulars about the decisions leading up to the journey and the arrival in the New World are given to flesh out the story, however, adding to the element of faith. This is a very well-written, clean book that explores America’s colonial beginnings from a Christian viewpoint.

The Innkeeper's Daughter by Michelle Griep

The Innkeeper's Daughter - Michelle Griep

What a unique work of Christian historical fiction! With “The Innkeeper’s Daughter”, Michelle Griep crafts a fascinating story that combines romance, suspense, and hardship against the backdrop of Dover in 1808. The dialect immerses the reader in this Regency world, and the realistic challenges and situations which the characters face reinforce this connection. Moral quandaries and tests of faith feature prominently and demonstrate that despite the passage of time, some things do not change. Be it two hundred years in the past or contemporary society, faith and trust in God are essential, especially in trying circumstances.

“The Innkeeper’s Daughter” beautifully illustrates this through the story’s main conflict. Intrigue and adventure flow as a steady undercurrent that swells toward the end of the narrative, with no predictable ending to spoil the ride. The hero, Alexander Moore, accepts a covert assignment to get to the bottom of a deadly conspiracy and lands at the Blue Hedge Inn, which is run by the comely Johanna Langley and her aging mother. Plagued by financial difficulties and concerns for her mother and young brother, Johanna tries to take the world upon her shoulders, trusting in herself above all, as do so many of us today.

Part of what makes this novel so captivating is the quirky and unusual characters. They are unlike any I have come across in other Christian fiction, especially the peripheral characters. Not only do they add depth to the story, but they also offer a perspective on physical disability and mental illness. The villains, who are not always easy to pick out here, are handled cleanly in spite of their actions. Overall, this story reminded me in certain ways of “The Scarlet Pimpernel”. Gambling played a substantial role in the narrative, and this is another example of how Griep’s book proves its distinctiveness. Rather than portraying betting as inherently evil, “The Innkeeper’s Daughter” demonstrates that it can be done honestly as long as you never gamble what you can’t afford to lose. The question becomes how far the characters are willing to go to uphold their convictions and their loyalties.

I received a complimentary copy of this book from Barbour Publishing and was under no obligation to post a review.