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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.

Take Every Thought Captive

The Cumberland Bride - Shannon McNear

As the Daughters of the Mayflower series unfolds, paralleling America’s history and English colonization, the stories become more compelling and thought-provoking. Several readers have commented on not caring for the first book in the series, but I would encourage them to try the books that follow because they were, in my opinion, more interesting. Also, any of these books can easily be stand-alones. “The Cumberland Bride” takes place in 1794 along the Wilderness Road that ran from northeastern Tennessee to the western Kentucky frontier. That fact in and of itself was enough to garner my interest, since literature focusing on this specific time period and region seems few and far between, at least in Christian fiction.

The story itself is captivating and full of complexities that embellish the plot. McNear does not shy away from supplying details that immerse the reader in the experience, which I appreciate; it is refreshing to read a Christian story that acknowledges the rough side of life and does not hide behind rose-colored glasses, yet remains clean content-wise. The threat of Indian attack and the horrors of such are discussed, but not graphically. Likewise, the deprivation and difficulty of traveling and living in the wilderness forms a large part of the narrative, a stark reminder as to what our ancestors survived. The conditions seem unbelievable now, and I find myself wondering if people 200 years from now will look back and think the same of our lifestyle.

Another aspect of this novel that really shines is the presentation of the characters. Katarina Gruener, the heroine, has obvious flaws and fragility, which makes her truly come to life on the page. I felt added kinship with her in her affinity for writing and recording stories. Her naivete enhances her relatability, and the awkwardness of the burgeoning romance throughout the novel is endearing and true to life. Indian-settler relations are explored from both sides, with Thomas Bledsoe playing a leading role due to his shadowy past, and I valued how the Native American perspective is respectfully offered. The character dynamics are excellent. For anyone who enjoys a historical jaunt full to the brim with adventure and faith, “The Cumberland Bride” is not to be missed.

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

How the Mighty Have Fallen

Imagine. . .The Fall of Jericho - Matt Koceich

This third installment in Matt Koceich’s Imagine series is my favorite so far. It handles issues pertinent to both Biblical and contemporary society, such as child exploitation and not fitting in, with grace, adding in just enough detail to make sure that young readers understand the situation without it being overwhelming or too frightening. Jake Henry makes a laudable role model, and his situation of feeling alone and unwanted resonates with readers of all ages. His experience in the world of the Biblical Jericho vividly demonstrates a lesson from which we can all benefit: “It’s like God is using this to show me I’m never alone, and I always have a job to do no matter what I feel inside or how crazy the situation is on the outside.” Undeniably, such an outlook on life helps all of us to face our fears and to fully rely on God even when our walls—literal or figurative—are crumbling down around us.

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

Love One Another

Marked by Love: A Dare to Walk Away from Judgment and Hypocrisy - Gareth Stevens Publishing

“Stop telling people they need Jesus, and instead show them they matter. Stop using fear or scare tactics and start loving. Stop talking and start showing. When the people God brings into your life begin to experience a truly giving, sacrificial, unconditional, authentic, and vulnerable love from you, it will have an impact.”

Not your typical Christian nonfiction book, “Marked by Love” truly stands out in the genre. I went into this expecting to glean information about how Jesus expressed His love for us and how we, in turn, are to demonstrate that love to others, but wow, this turned out to be so much more! Many of the points that Tim Stevens articulates are anticipated, and yet he takes them further and stretches them in a way that is honest and raw and, yes, sometimes uncomfortable. An apt description for this book would be eyebrow-raising. Stevens explains that we should move past using the title of “Christians” because it has taken on such a negative connotation over the centuries and is more often than not offensive and use instead a term such as “Christ follower.” At first I was taken aback at this; however, as with so much of this book, I found that when I put aside my initial reaction and considered what Stevens was saying, I understood his point.

The best aspect of “Marked by Love” was that it was thought-provoking. It was an immersive reading experience; it didn’t just reinforce my theological views and ideas but rather challenged me to look outside the box and consider aspects of my faith and life in general in ways I hadn’t before. Stevens doesn’t purport to have all the answers, and although I didn’t always completely agree with him 100%, he expressed and explained his views logically, reaching out to the reader and drawing them in instead of just preaching to them. Many of the Scriptures used throughout the book were taken from The Message, a translation which I have not used before and which offered a new perspective on otherwise very familiar passages. Overall, I found “Marked by Love” to be radically countercultural, especially for conservative, traditionalist Christians (I should say Christ followers!), and doesn’t that also describe Jesus’ ministry during His time here on earth? Breaking down barriers and meeting people where they were with compassion, shattering hypocrisy and judgment by extending love and leaving an example for us to follow so that we can choose to be marked by love.

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

Free Indeed

The Underground Railroad Brides Collection - Debby Mayne, Lynn A. Coleman, Ramona K. Cecil, Penny Zeller, Barbara Tifft Blakey, Darlene Panzera, Patty Smith Hall, Terri J. Haynes, Dowdy,  Cecilia

This romance collection includes nine novellas which each focus on the Underground Railroad. The settings are diverse and range from 1840 to 1860, including states in both the North and the South. Something that I really enjoyed and found particularly interesting was that the characters represented such a distinct breadth; in some cases they were abolitionists, as expected, but some were free blacks or even slaves themselves. Because the stories were so short, the climax and denouement occurred quickly, somewhat curtailing the suspense, which is my only grievance. It would have been exciting to see each tale as a novel-length work or even to have them all woven together into a single narrative.

Despite the obviously somber backdrop, none of the stories include graphic details, and they are all clean. The gravity of the risks that those helping the freedom seekers took is one of the driving themes, and it also parallels that of the apostles and the early Christian church. The position that lawmen found themselves in, forced to uphold unjust laws regardless of their personal beliefs, was an aspect that I had never really considered before. Strong female protagonists throughout the stories demonstrated that they were just as involved as the men, even if they at first stumbled upon the underground railroad’s workings unintentionally, as was the case in two of my favorites: “Follow the Christmas Star” and “The Winter Quilt.” This collection will appeal to anyone looking for an inspirational read that provides shining examples of faith under fire that are certainly pertinent in today’s increasingly secular society.

Thanks to NetGalley for providing an e-copy of this book for review. All opinions expressed are my own.

Conviction and Convicts

Make Haste Slowly - Rognlie,  Amy

Going into “Make Haste Slowly”, I figured that I was in for a light, cozy mystery that would pass a few hours. I was not expecting a story that would be so hard-hitting and engaging; I didn’t want to put it down! Amy Rognlie manages to write a compelling Christian mystery that incorporates tough subjects with finesse. Because I don’t want to give any spoilers, I won’t comment specifically on what topics come into play, but suffice it to say that they are certainly germane to what is going on here in America. Rognlie combines all of the elements very articulately, and I was not able to guess the various twists and turns that the narrative takes, nor could I figure out the ending ahead of time. The characters were a diverse mixture, and I appreciated the compassion that was extended even toward the so-called villains. Although there was a romantic thread, it was not overbearing and lent itself to the mystery. The Christian message was very strong without being superfluous, and one quotation really stood out to me and encapsulated the novel: “God will always relate to you out of the context of His love for a lost world.” With everything that was occurring throughout the story, the theme of redemption and of reaching out to the lost shone through evocatively. A few instances of divine intervention were so beautifully written that I got goosebumps. I highly recommend this novel and am hoping that the series will continue!

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

Those Lazy, Hazy, Crazy Days of Summer

Melding Spirits - Michael Burge

With “Melding Spirits”, Michael Burge crafts a poignant coming-of-age story laced with suspense and grit. Crossing genres, this story is sure to appeal to a wide audience. The characters are an eclectic mix who work well together. Evan Mason, the twelve-year-old protagonist, is on the cusp of teenagerhood, that magical age in which innocence and naiveté still reign, and this is captured in his interactions with his friends and especially with his relationship with Katie Dobbins, his first love. Both are mature for their age, which is refreshing. The neighborhood is comprised of quirky, unique individuals who augment the plot and add humor as well as creative tension. There is a timeless quality to the narrative, and although the setting is 1958 in Laurenville, Illinois, it could be anyone’s hometown, which further immerses the reader in the experience.

Don’t let the seeming tranquility lull you into complacency, however. As quaint as this story is, there is just enough roughness around the edges to add grit, a discreet thread of mystery that develops slowly and then suddenly rises to a crescendo. Most authors would present both the light and dark elements together or at least simultaneously from the start, and in breaking from this tradition, Burge keeps the reader guessing and achieves an exhilarating climax toward the end of the novel. Aside from some profanity, this is a relatively clean read, with no graphic details or bedroom scenes, and I recommend it as a fantastic summer read.

Many thanks to the author for providing both a signed paperback and a Kindle edition of this book in exchange for a review. All opinions expressed are my own.

Who Was David?

Kingdom Files: Who Was David? - Matt Koceich

Marketed as a “biblically accurate biography”, I had some issues with this particular installment in the series. Although I understand the author’s intent to portray David as the “man after God’s own heart” role model that he was, I felt that there was not enough acknowledgement of his mistakes. For instance, the entire episode with Bathsheba and Uriah and the fact that David had many wives were both left out entirely. While these are not necessarily age appropriate fodder for 8-12 year olds, I think that some sensitive mention could be made regarding David’s struggle with sin; it seemed that David was written too idealistically. The biographical section of the book was, in my opinion, a bit confusing and dry for adolescents; the “clues” contained details critical to the story rather than shedding additional light on the narrative, and there was no real tie-in between David’s story and the reader until the power-ups section at the end of the book. Engaging the reader in David’s life story would have made it more appealing and interesting, and including some basic maps along with the nicely-done illustrations would have dispelled some of the confusion of David’s often nomadic life. With all of that being said, however, I honestly did not entirely dislike this book. I think that with a few tweaks it could be as wonderful as some of the others in this series. As it is, I would highly recommend that adults read this story with their kids to answer questions and make things more clear, as well as to help with name pronunciation. This would make a nice study for Vacation Bible School or Sunday School, especially by using each of the ten “power-up” lessons and each one’s accompanying Bible verse as a guide and structuring in the relevant parts of David’s story with each.

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

Who Was Esther?

Kingdom Files: Who Was Esther? - Matt Koceich

“Who Was Esther?” proves to be a delightful resource and introduction to this influential biblical figure for those aged 8-12. Esther was a great choice to include in the Kingdom Files series because she is very relatable. She was an orphan raised by her older cousin Mordecai, and she did not come from a particularly high station in life. Furthermore, she was Jewish, and the major backdrop of her story revolves around the persecution that her people faced. Despite all of this, she acted courageously and trusted God, making her an incredible role model. This is underscored throughout the narrative with pertinent Scripture that is infused into the writing, and with tie-ins to Jesus and to God’s role in Esther’s story despite His not being explicitly mentioned in the biblical book. Clues scattered throughout the biographical section offer further explanations and insights, and cute illustrations help bring the account to life. The story itself is followed by a section of ten “power-ups”, each with a memory verse, which includes lessons to learn from Esther’s life and how it relates to how God is working in our lives. This would make a very nice study for Vacation Bible School or Sunday School. My only criticisms are that a pronunciation guide is needed for the names of some of the people, and a kid-friendly Bible translation would be much more appropriate for the verses that go along with the power-ups.

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

Give Me Liberty or Give Me Death

The Patriot Bride - Kimberley Woodhouse

The Daughters of the Mayflower series continues with “The Patriot Bride” by Kimberley Woodhouse. This unique series is generational, with each installment highlighting a woman descending from Mayflower voyager Mary Elizabeth Chapman, who was the focus of the first book. In “The Patriot Bride” we meet Faith Lytton Jackson, a 32-year-old woman residing in Boston as the colonies head toward war with England. With things intensifying, Faith and a named Matthew Weber become spies for the patriot cause, facing the dangers both of being caught and of their budding relationship.

This story contains many gems that make it stand out in the historical fiction genre. Faith makes a daring heroine, one who challenges the status quo of eighteenth century female conduct with her sharp intelligence, independence, and valor. The faith element is strong, and there are many scripture verses throughout the text, underscoring how much the fight for and eventual victory of the American Revolution depended upon the patriots’ faith in God. Along with the fictional characters are some easily recognizable historical figures, including George Washington and Benjamin Franklin. Including them not only strengthens the setting but also gives readers a glimpse into what they may have been like in their personal lives and interactions. It is all too easy to view the Revolutionary War from the safety of history, knowing the outcome and forgetting how radical it actually was. “The Patriot Bride” drives home the reminder of how steeply the odds were in Britain’s favor and of the awful—and often gruesome—consequences that awaited the patriot leaders if they lost and demonstrates how these early American overcame the odds to form our nation.

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

A Watershed Moment

A Daring Venture - Elizabeth Camden

Poised on the brink of a watershed moment for delivering clean water to the masses, “A Daring Venture” adroitly combines science with the human element. Hindsight is usually 20/20, and it is easy to look back and forget that what we now take for granted was once contentious and groundbreaking. As such, it is informative to see both sides of the controversy and to get a glimpse into the techniques, sacrifices, and struggles of each. Elizabeth Camden achieves this without overwhelming the reader with scientific detail, composing a novel that keeps readers engaged and intrigued.

My grandmother was born in 1908, and I know little about her life or the early twentieth century in America, so it was a treat to read a story set during that time period. Another aspect of this novel that distinguished it from other historical fiction was the occupation and background of the main character, Rosalind Werner. Her childhood brush with cholera paves the way for her professional aspirations and also makes her more sympathetic to readers, and having achieved her doctorate in biochemistry from a German university makes her completely unique in this genre. Nicholas Drake is similarly distinctive, a suitable complement and adversary. The moral and ethical considerations woven into the narrative cause Rosalind and Nick’s professional and personal lives to intersect while infusing the story with a subtle faith element. Elizabeth Camden truly pens a tour de force with “A Daring Venture”, and I would highly recommend it to anyone looking for an intelligent, absorbing read.

I received a complimentary copy of this book from Bethany House Publishers and was not required to post a positive review. All opinions expressed are my own.

Hope for the Hopeless

The Hope Jar - Wanda E. Brunstetter

The English and Amish world coalesce in Wanda Brunstetter’s “The Hope Jar”, book one of The Prayer Jars trilogy. A case of mistaken identity thrusts an English girl with a broken past into the peaceful life of the Amish and opens the door to a deception that only grows with each passing day. A thread of romance adds to the intrigue and speculation about what will happen and how things will ultimately turn out. The unique array of characters enriches the story, with both English and Amish alike who are unhappy with their current situations and the direction their lives are taking. These multiple viewpoints allow the reader to easily understand aspects of Amish life with which they may not be familiar, including words in Pennsylvania Dutch, as well as the particular challenges the Amish face in today’s society.

While this novel is set in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, the Amish communities of Berlin and Sugarcreek, Ohio are about an hour and a half from where I live, and I have always enjoyed visiting there. I’ve always been a country girl, and the simple life appeals to me. I love how “The Hope Jar” presents Amish life through the eyes of a young English woman because that makes it all the more relatable and comprehendible. Including the perspective of other characters, some of them Amish, really gives interesting insight and makes for a well-rounded, wholesome reading and learning experience for both adults and young adults.

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

Unafraid: Be you. Be authentic. Find the grit and grace to shine. - Carey Scott

With the current prevalence of social media, there is an overwhelming lack of genuineness in daily life. Filters create images of people as fairies, animals, you name it, and it doesn’t stop at photos. Whether we’re talking about Facebook posts, text messages, chats, emails, or even video conferencing, the personality we project often isn’t our true self. Instead, it’s the mask that we feel the need to put on for that particular person or situation, and we’re so used to donning it that most of the time we’re not even aware of it. Juggling the myriad roles we play, the busyness of life fuels the masquerade. So how do we get off this crazy carousel of lost identity? That’s where Carey Scott’s “Unafraid: Be You. Be Authentic. Find the Grit and Grace to Shine.” comes in.

This uplifting, inspirational nonfiction book is overflowing with wisdom and guidance about how to be real and authentic through embracing our identity as Christians because “when we really sink our teeth into the truth that our identity is fully rooted in our Creator, it will change everything…if you’re afraid to be real in a world that glorifies the fake, scripture will help you find the grit and grace to unabashedly be yourself.” Scott is not afraid to get down and dirty with readers, speaking truth in a very relational tone that feels like sitting down for coffee with a friend. The numerous Bible verses employed throughout are in modern translation, which I found a bit jarring at first but which actually offered a different perspective and deeper insight. Each chapter concludes with two sections: “Finding the Grit”, which presents application questions, and “Finding the Grace”, which consists of a prayer. “Unafraid” is written for women, and no matter your situation or circumstance, I guarantee that this book will speak to your heart.

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

Loyalty and Brotherhood

The Black Star of Kingston - S. D. Smith, Zach Franzen

This novella was my first introduction to the world of Green Ember (simply because I was able to get this book from the library hold list first), and it has set the stage for what promises to be a compelling series. With strong themes of loyalty and brotherhood, "The Black Star of Kingston" is both simple enough for adolescents and intriguing enough for older readers. Despite some violence due to a battle, this is a clean read, and one I recommend for anyone looking for adventure and camaraderie. 

The Lilies of the Field

The Fashion Designer - Moser,  Nancy

Reading Nancy Moser’s “The Fashion Designer” was stepping into foreign territory for me in several ways. Fashion has definitely never been an interest of mine, and the only sewing I ever do is to patch up a small tear here or there or to reattach a button. The fact that I enjoyed this book so much is a testament to Moser’s writing skills. Beyond the Titanic—which does, by the way, get a mention and play briefly into this story—I am not very familiar with the era; however, my grandmother would have been a young child at the time so it was fun to get a glimpse into that world.

Indeed, this was a seminal period in American history, and Moser injects the zeitgeist of 1912 into her novel from the first page. Annie Culver, the main character, represents the American dream and is a rags-to-riches story of a sort. She and her friends decide to take a risk and embark on a journey to opening their own dress shop, although their efforts are often frustrated and they must learn to rely on God and to seek and trust His plans above their own. The story explores the issues of women’s rights and women in the workforce and also delves into more somber subjects such as domestic abuse and rape. Moreover, in writing a Christian novel, Moser does not shy away from the hard questions that we all face at one time or another, and the applicability of these topics remains just as germane today, making “The Fashion Designer” a fantastic, inspirational read.

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

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.