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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.

The Amazing Adventures of Toby the Trilby by Angela Castillo

Toby was formed in a laboratory with a mixture of cat and human DNA--hence his delineation as a Trilby--by six scientists who have spent the past 40 years in an underground cavern to escape the presumed destruction of the world. As Toby turns twelve, he embarks on an odyssey to find out if he has a soul, venturing out into the world above for the first time. His journey introduces him to various characters, and he learns about himself along the way. This short but powerful story blends several genres--Christian fiction, science fiction, post-apocalyptic fiction--while presenting a relevant contemporary message infused with hope, making it appropriate for younger readers as well as adults.

The Smoke by Lars D.H. Hedbor

This is a highly readable and fascinating account of the Indian tribes who were displaced and forced to align themselves with either the British or Colonial forces during the American Revolution. It presents the Native American perspective as well as that of an Indian captive, the latter through the character of Joseph Killeen. This duology marks it as an intelligent and poignant work of historical fiction. I definitely intend to read more of this series!

Tobit and the Hoodoo Man by E.S. Kraay

The first half of this story focuses on Tobit, a male slave in the pre-Civil War South, and events that will shape the course of his life. His son, Tobias, takes up the narrative of the book’s second half as Reconstruction begins. With hints of “Uncle Tom’s Cabin” and the 19th-century sentimental novel, “Tobit and the Hoodoo Man” presents an interesting, albeit rather idealistic, tale unique to the genre. The characters are mostly black and white—both literally and figuratively; the heroes are nearly sinless while the villains are blatantly evil, and in many ways it is a moral tale. Although a bit quixotic, this is a very readable story for young adults and older adults alike.

Hell's Gates by Mary Masters

“Hell’s Gates” is a story about Walmart. Just kidding; I couldn’t resist. Seriously, though, the writing reminds me of 1980s horror maven Ruby Jean Jensen’s books, which is a good thing. There is a similar creeping sense of horror and a timelessness to the story that is refreshingly free of modern constraints despite the contemporary setting. Masters slowly builds up the atmosphere to a chilling level, and while there is some profanity and a few sexual situations, these are not overbearing—a rare find in the adult horror genre. A multitude of characters, both past and present, contribute to the plot, each credible and relatable. This is a great read for horror fans, whether it’s Halloween or not!

Those We Fear by Victoria Griffith

“Those We Fear” is quite a page-turner. It is more or less a young adult rendition of “The Turn of the Screw”, featuring an 18-year-old American girl named Maria who comes to Scotland to serve as an au pair following a tragedy that landed her in the Witness Protection Program. Increasingly bizarre and dangerous things happen at the Harley estate, and the line between reality and the supernatural and sanity and madness blurs. With continuous action and psychological tension, the story is difficult to put down, if a bit predictable.

Stillwell: A Haunting on Long Island by Michael Phillip Cash

This is a relatively short, easy read. Given that the story revolves around a recently widowed man--Paul Russo--and his family, dealing with grief is one of the main themes, as is facing one's demons. In that manner, the tale is somewhat allegorical, although the vast majority of the plot plays out with Paul denying any supernatural involvement as he tries to move on with his life and his job as a realtor by selling a local mansion. "Stillwell", however, relied too much on horror tropes--lost loved ones who haven't moved on, haunted houses, good vs. evil--so the story was rather run-of-the-mill and not very memorable.

The Bye Bye Man by Robert Damon Schneck

Overall, this small anthology was not as chill-inducing as the cover would have you believe. It is a collection of American stories that may or (more likely) may not have unusual explanations, and each is presented in the general form of an historical research topic. The author raises some questions and theories with regard to the stories, all of which are unresolved, but no answers. They were somewhat interesting but not exceptionally noteworthy.

Behind Closed Doors by B.A. Paris

— feeling shocked

"Behind Closed Doors" is a creeping, insidious novel of nail-biting psychological suspense. It proves that not only is the perfect life sometimes a facade, but it can also be deadly. The characters are three-dimensional and easily evoke either empathy or horror, while the author thrills with circumstances that one would not think possible in the twenty-first century and that make readers truly think. Told in alternating chapters of the past and the present, the plot unfolds as the two gradually coalesce to close the story. There is no gore, but expect to feel disturbed on a skin-crawling level as the incredible tale transpires.

Head Case: My Brain and Other Wonders by Cole Cohen

This is a tough book to review. On the one hand, it's a fascinating memoir of someone with a very unique neurological condition (having a large hole in the parietal lobe of the brain), yet I found the author a bit disconnected, in a way. She was difficult to engage with, in that I felt as though I was witnessing an awkward movie with jumps in time and place as opposed to a story with a cohesive whole. Nevertheless, it was interesting work of nonfiction, and as Cohen herself says, "Everyone has a labyrinthine brain with a Minotaur at the center: a memory, an illness, a heartache, a deep frustration." Perhaps this serves as the basis of a reader-author connection.

The Roanoke Girls by Amy Engel

The first thing that attracted me about this book was the title, since the historical Roanoke has always fascinated me, so I was excited to be a Goodreads First Reads winner. Had I not won a copy, I probably would not have read it, as it falls outside of my normal reading parameters. Although this Roanoke is not to be equated with the historical colony, it shares the same haunting quality.

“All the Roanoke girls somehow unable to grow up, stuck in a suspended childhood their entire lives.” Shortly before turning 16, Lane Roanoke goes to live with her grandparents and cousin, Allegra, following her mother’s suicide. Her mother’s life was one of despair and darkness, with no love for herself or for Lane, and all she would say about growing up at Roanoke—the name given to the family’s farm in Osage Flats, Kansas—was that it was a nightmare. At first, Lane finds her new life at Roanoke to be fine, enjoying Allegra’s company despite her cousin’s moody nature. However, as that transformative summer comes to an end, Lane’s blinders start to fall off, and she realizes just how much of a curse being a Roanoke girl can be, so that her reluctant return a decade later drags her back into the storm’s eye.

This is definitely not a feel-good story. It portrays a dysfunctional family, peeling the layers of which like an onion causes tears. Engel writes with an unflinching manner, and as a result this book contains profanity and sexual situations, although these do not detract from or overshadow the story itself. While considered a thriller, “The Roanoke Girls” whispers its horror with a lingering sense of unease; don’t expect jump-out-of-your-seat scenes. Instead, the plot moves along like a sordid train wreck, and those who go along for the ride will be drawn into a tale that is all the more sad and frightening for its potential reality.

Mystery Rider

Mystery Rider (Horses and Friends) - Miralee Ferrell

Kate Ferris and her friends Tori and Colt are back in this third installment of the “Horses and Friends” children’s series. Their trio is becoming a foursome as Kate’s former rival, Melissa, starts hanging out with them. Kate, however, isn’t sure that Melissa’s intentions are good, and she remains suspicious; is the Lord softening Melissa’s heart, or does He perhaps have a plan for Kate in mind? To add to the mixed bag of emotions, the kids notice a mysterious hooded person riding a black horse at night near the Ferris’ barn. Who is it, and what is he or she hiding? Mysteries abound!

Reminiscent of a Nancy Drew novel, “Mystery Rider” continues Miralee Ferrell’s “Horses and Friends” series. With a firm but gentle Christian backbone, the books feature characters with real flaws who are believable and with whom the younger generation will easily relate. The “Secrets For Your Diary” section at the end of the story underscores this connection. There is a perfect amount of suspense and conflict sure to keep readers intrigued while learning a little about horsemanship and friendship too.

Be Thou My Vision

— feeling love
Not by Sight - Kate Breslin

“For King, For Country, For Freedom.” As a suffragette and staunch supporter of the war effort, Grace Mabry defies social convention in 1917 England, much to her wealthy father’s chagrin. With her fiery spirit and outspoken nature, trouble seems to follow in her wake. Now that World War I is raging, women are leaving their traditional roles inside the home to take jobs vacated by servicemen and to contribute to the war effort. Eager to do her part, Grace signs on with the Women’s Forage Corps, despite her lack of experience with farm work. In so doing, she begins to realize her naiveté about the lower social classes. She also unwittingly comes into contact with Jack Benningham, whose reputation as a rake and conscientious objector to the war is well known among London’s upper crust. What follows is a journey of faith and intrigue as alliances are tested and treachery revealed.

Demonstrating the same phenomenal level of literary artistry and historical detail that characterized her debut novel, “For Such a Time,” Kate Breslin takes readers on a voyage that is both heartfelt and suspenseful. The characters spring to life with relatable flaws and a depth that makes them authentic and memorable, while the lush descriptions of the English countryside paint an almost tangible portrait of rural existence. Allusions to such classics as “The Scarlet Pimpernel” and “The Phantom of the Opera” enhance the storyline without detracting from its originality, and the theme of Christianity woven throughout the narrative expresses gentle faith in action. There is also an author’s note as well as discussion questions appended to the story itself. “Not By Sight” is definitely a novel to be savored!

Channeling the Ripper

I, Ripper: A Novel - Stephen Hunter

Approaching the nineteenth century’s most infamous serial killer in a unique and disquieting manner, Stephen Hunter’s “I, Ripper” pulls out all of the stops to create an incendiary tale of madness and mayhem. The story of those fatal 1888 months comes primarily from two perspectives: that of Jack the Ripper himself and that of a budding Irish journalist who becomes entwined in the killings. Both narrate in the first-person, Jack in diary entries as the events unfold and the journalist after twenty-four years have passed. Occasionally interjected between the two are letters from a prostitute named Mairsian. What results is an unsettling glimpse into London’s underworld and the various possibilities regarding how and why the murders unfolded.

Hunter craftily utilizes dualism to achieve what Saucy Jack’s motivations and thought processes may have been as well as how the killings were perceived and even exploited by the news reporters of the day. As a result, this psychological thriller tends to be graphic and at times crude, particularly concerning Jack’s epistolary narrative, but the distinctive viewpoints also serve to shed fresh light on the details of the case, one that continues to shock and intrigue over a century later. And just like the events themselves, “I, Ripper” contains shocking twists and unsettling theories.

I received a complimentary copy of this novel from The Reading Room in exchange for an honest review.

Bombs Away!

Weapons of Mass Deception - David Bruns, J. R. Olson

An engaging military thriller co-authored by David Bruns and J.R. Olson, “Weapons of Mass Deception” takes readers on a fast-paced journey into the foreboding world of nuclear warfare. A few select rogue Iranian agents could irreversibly alter world history. Imagine that the 2003 raid on Saddam Hussein turned up no weapons of mass destruction not because they didn’t exist, but rather because they were being safeguarded in Iran, with their masterminds patiently waiting until the time is ripe to usher in a nuclear war. Navy SEAL Brendan McHugh, along with fellow graduate Liz and CIA friend Don, unwittingly becomes involved in a matter of national security as the nuclear threat slowly yet terrifyingly comes to light.

Covering a time period of over a dozen years and involving numerous groups of characters, “Weapons of Mass Deception” delivers on the promise of nonstop action and alarmingly plausible scenarios. The intricate storyline offers readers an authentic glimpse into the life of our military men and women as well as that of jihadists. For anyone who appreciates military thrillers, this novel is not to be missed, and it is noteworthy to point out that prior military knowledge is not necessary for the story’s enjoyment.

I was provided with an early reviewer copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

Jumping Through Hoops

Silver Spurs (Horses and Friends) - Miralee Ferrell

In Silver Spurs, book two of the “Horses and Friends” series, Kate Ferris finds herself busy taking care of the horse barn, which her family has opened to boarders. They also plan to host a horse show. This gives her a chance to practice riding with a trainer, but it brings along its share of problems, too. One of the boarders is an unfriendly, spiteful girl from school, and Kate struggles to deal with her while also combatting her own feelings of jealousy. Furthermore, opening the barn proves to be more challenging than she expected, and she has to learn to trust God in the face of obstacles.

This continuation of Kate’s story provides adolescent girls (and older readers as well) with food for thought when tackling their own problems. Kate and the issues that she is faced with are very prevalent to today’s youth, and the story also contains fun and a hint of mystery, making this series well-suited to a wide variety of young readers. The strong thread of Christian faith that hallmarks the books results in an inspirational storyline that gives today’s young women the motivation to follow their dreams with God’s help. Be sure to check out notes by Kate and by the author at the end, too.

"Be still and know that I am God."

Finding Love in Bridal Veil, Oregon - Miralee Ferrell

Schoolteacher Margaret Garvey had her heart broken at the age of sixteen when her beau Nathaniel left town without her. Now, four years later, another tragedy befalls her, followed closely by the arrival of two young runaways in town. In seeking to shelter them, she finds herself in a precarious position, especially when a local man is found murdered. Her situation and her heart become more complicated when Nathaniel returns to town and begins competing with a local logger for her affections. With so many issues arising at once, can she look through the chaos and find God’s peace and plan for her life?

In this sweeping historical novel, Miralee Ferrell creates an exquisite story of love and adventure at the turn of the twentieth century. Craftily manipulating multiple storylines, she gathers them together flawlessly and believably to build an inspirational story that transcends time. With excitement, betrayal, loss, love, and faith, readers of “Finding Love in Bridal Veil, Oregon” will find something for every literary taste, while anticipation for the plot’s resolution will keep the pages turning to the very end.