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.
“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.
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 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.
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.
“Imagine: The Great Flood” is a short, quick read. Combining a time-travel adventure with Biblical history, Koceich crafts an inspirational story for young readers, drawing parallels between the two. The tale opens in modern-day Texas, where ten-year-old Corey Max is having a hard time dealing with an upcoming move that his family will be making to Florida. He suddenly finds himself immersed in ancient Mesopotamia, where preparations for Noah’s ark are almost complete. However, powerful opposition threatens to interrupt the project and bring harm to Noah’s family. As Corey works together with Noah’s sons, he comes to understand similarities to his own situation and wonders if he will ever have a chance to get back home. Although this is a short book, it packs plenty of action and lessons about trusting God into its pages, making it a great choice for kids.
Many thanks to the author, who provided a complimentary copy of the book via the publisher. I wrote half of my senior thesis on women’s relational bonds during the Holocaust, and this time period has always interested me. “The Second Winter” provides a different perspective, one with which I was mostly unfamiliar. Rather than focusing on concentration camp experiences or the lives of soldiers, Craig Larsen draws forth various ordinary characters whose lives slowly coalesce throughout the narrative, forming a compelling tapestry of fate and fortune. As such, this novel has a far-reaching scope, reminding me of Vasily Grossman’s “Life and Fate”. Each character’s actions and decisions produce a ripple effect that inevitably has an influence on many others, demonstrating that in either peace or wartime, in occupied or freed territory, no one exists in a vacuum.
Gritty realism characterizes “The Second Winter”. Larsen pulls no punches, and this is not a happily-ever-after tale. Much of the story unfolds in Denmark during WWII, with forays into East and West Berlin a few decades thereafter, and the impact of German occupation and poverty features prominently throughout the storyline. Hardworking people who find themselves with no good prospects are forced into the territory of moral ambiguity, as Larsen adroitly emphasizes. Polina, the primary character, is a young Polish Jew forced into prostitution, and her interactions with both Germans and Danes imbue the tale with a unique viewpoint without being salacious. The commonplace routine of daily life belies the complexities of relationships and motives that make this a notable book worthy of a thoughtful read.
Vividly mysterious with gothic overtones. That is how I would characterize Seanan McGuire’s Wayward Children series, and “Beneath the Sugar Sky” is no exception. This third book features Rini, who is seeking her mother in order to save her world. The only problem is that her mother died before Rini was born. And so begins the quirky and peculiar tale. The way that the worlds coexist and produce doorways leading into strange lands make for an intriguing read, and while the tale is highly imaginative, it also contains enough technical and world-building detail to challenge the reader. Don’t be fooled by the short length and beautiful cover; this is not a cute, happy-go-lucky yarn, but rather a dark fairy tale that touches on issues that children face in today’s society and the horrors that may lurk behind the doorway to the soul. Nevertheless, hope still reverberates softly throughout the story, and perhaps the final two sentences put it best: “There is kindness in the world, if we know how to look for it. If we never start denying it the door.”
I’m a sucker for psychological thrillers, so I was elated to win a copy of “The Woman in the Window” from Goodreads. However, there has been so much hype about this book that I was actually wary and skeptical about reading it because I wondered if it could really be that first-rate, especially as a debut novel. This genre is full of clichés and it’s very difficult to do something new and different. With that said, I did figure out one of the major twists in the story right out of the gate, and the rest I put together before the ending was revealed. A few of the details were surprising, however, and I still enjoyed the story and didn’t want to put it down.
On par with “Before I Go to Sleep” by S.J. Watson, “Sometimes I Lie” by Alice Feeney, and the works of B.A. Paris, “The Woman in the Window” blurs the line between reality and fantasy and leaves the reader to wonder where paranoia begins. Finn utilizes the unreliable, first-person narrator with Dr. Anna Fox, who suffers from PTSD and has become a pill-popping alcoholic with severe agoraphobia. The entire story takes place over a period of three weeks, and the short, succinct chapters serve as vignettes that enhance the fast pace of the novel. There are classic movie references throughout, paralleling the plot at times and adding an extra layer of depth and meaning. This is an addictive read, with enough intrigue to keep readers turning pages into the night.
Since I won this from Goodreads and it is a sequel, I first read book one, “The Firefly Code.” I didn’t know much about the story going in, and this was also the first book I’ve read by this author. I was surprised at the rather heavy subject matter and at how skillfully it was handled, especially for a middle-grade book; the duology is definitely as applicable to adults as to older kids and teens, and it is particularly germane to contemporary social issues and concerns despite being set a few generations in the future.
Picking up where “The Firefly Code” left off, Megan Frazer Blakemore’s “The Daybreak Bond” details the journey of the Firefly Five on their mission to save their friend Ilana from being scuttled. The two books coalesce together seamlessly, as if they were one long novel, although there are some subtle reminders peppered throughout the narrative to keep readers up to speed in case it has been a while since they read book one. “The Daybreak Bond” is even more intense than its predecessor, taking on the moral and ethical considerations that come with genetic engineering and being natural or designed. The Firefly Five, and particularly the main character Mori—from whose point of view the story unfolds—begin to understand the implications of their utopic existence in Old Harmonie and that the control of Krita stretches farther than they realized and impacts many beyond their own city. The repercussions of privilege and the failure to take responsibility when things go wrong become more evident when they interact with a trio of kids from “outside”, underscoring the ripple effect that results from power and supremacy. Ultimately, the story focuses on challenging the status quo and on remaining true to oneself in a society that emphasizes conformity, despite the consequences.
Receiving this book via the Goodreads First Reads giveaway program meant reading the first two books in the series. This is definitely a trilogy that I likely would not have read were it not for winning the giveaway. Honestly, I entered it on a whim, and when I won, I started wondering what I had gotten myself into because this is a horror series about cannibalistic spiders and I’m an arachnophobe. What was I thinking?! So it was with a deep breath that I sat down with “The Hatching”. However, I was surprised! I not only enjoyed it, but I haven’t even had any nightmares! Ezekiel Boone does a good job of crafting a frightening apocalyptic-scale scenario with enough detail to be convincing but without turning to splatter-gore. There is a scientific and political approach to the problem by the main characters, and although there is a large cast of characters and many geographical locations, the story does not become bogged down or difficult to follow. The characters themselves are relatable, representing multiple viewpoints, and some of the issues which arise with the spider invasion parallel current political and social concerns.
Book 2, “Skitter”, achieved that often challenging feat of living up to the fast pace and intrigue of its predecessor, maintaining and continuing the storyline and the actions of the various characters. The ending hinted at an approaching denouement, as the main players and overarching narrative coalesced, but still with plenty of anticipation. This set the stage for the trilogy’s finale, “Zero Day.” What became even more evident in this climax was that beyond the horror of the spiders themselves was the collapse of civilization in the face of a threat that couldn’t be foreseen, one that tore away at the infrastructure and humanity of society. Sometimes the danger lies within ourselves as much as or even more so than in the outside force, and this perception of human nature undergirds the narrative and propels this series above many others in the horror genre. If you’re looking for a story that will make you think while also causing your spine to tingle—just make sure that’s not a spider crawling up your back—give The Hatching series a go!
A few days prior to beginning “The Life and Times of the Real Winnie-the-Pooh”, I read Ann Thwaite’s “Goodbye Christopher Robin: A.A. Milne and the Making of Winnie-the-Pooh”, which provided a nice context for and complement to this story. However, I would venture to say that “The Life and Times of the Real Winnie-the-Pooh” by Shirley Harrison was somewhat lighter fare, having for its main subject the eponymous bear himself. While of course A.A. Milne, Daphne Milne, Christopher Robin, and Nanny Nou each have their respective roles, along with E.H. Shepard and those responsible for the proliferation and preservation of Pooh through the years, more emphasis is placed on the background and cultural exposition of the bear.
This story, complete with handy inset notes describing certain details with which the reader might be unfamiliar, is truly a must-read for Pooh lovers everywhere, a nice blend of history and a travelogue of the original Winnie-the-Pooh and his friends, all of whom currently reside at New York Children’s Library. Harrison’s research unearths fascinating tidbits of how Pooh became world-famous and the impact that this had upon not only the Milnes but also literature and the world itself. A list of charities benefiting from Winnie-the-Pooh’s legacy, as well as captioned photos, a “Pooh Lifeline” (a chronological timeline), and an index all serve to enhance the reading experience. For all of those the world over who have grown up with and been touched by the indomitable Pooh and his fellow Ashdown Forest companions, this book provides a nostalgic, memorable trip to the Hundred Acre Wood and beyond.
I received a complimentary e-copy of this book via the BookLikes Giveaway contest, and Pen and Sword Books kindly provided a different format when the original was incompatible with my computer.
Quirky characters and a rather zany storyline mark “Creature Keepers and the Hijacked Hydro-Hide”, the first book in the eponymous middle-grade series. Jordan Grimsley and his sister Abbie arrive in their late grandfather’s dilapidated house in the Florida Everglades during spring break because their father inherited it and intends to renovate it and turn it into a bed and breakfast. However, what they expect to be a boring two weeks turns into the adventure of a lifetime when Jordan discovers that cryptids—those legendary creatures sometimes sighted but nevertheless shrouded in mystery—are real. Not only that, but they need his help!
With somewhat immature humor and delightfully implausible situations, this story will doubtless appeal to upper elementary and middle school readers. Illustrations enhance the allure, and the characters range from funny to evil and from young to old. The predominant themes are friendship, loyalty, and perseverance, which undergird the madcap yet endearing plot. Overall, “The Hijacked Hydro-Hide” forms a fun and interesting basis for this series.
Opening in the Low Countries in the Netherlands in late August 1566, Rachelle Rea’s “The Sound of Diamonds” sets the stage for an interesting tale unfolding during the Protestant Reformation. This is not an oft-explored time period for Christian historical fiction, which makes “The Sound of Diamonds” all the more noteworthy. The two primary characters, Gwyneth Barrington and Dirk Godfrey, represent both sides of the denominational divide, the former being Catholic and the latter Protestant. Rea handles both perspectives respectfully and deals with the inner conflict that accompanies a growing and maturing faith.
Told in the alternating first-person viewpoints of both Gwyneth and Dirk, the story progresses at a quick pace. Despite a distressing first encounter months earlier, Dirk rescues Gwyneth from the convent where she has been staying as it comes under siege by Protestant raiders. The journey to return her to her home in England is fraught with dangers and perils, not the least of which is the condition of her own heart. Although the shift between characters in each chapter is slightly confusing, the plot unravels cohesively, flowing from one event to the next without interruption. This is a quick read. It is mostly a romance, and while the love story is perhaps somewhat overdone and advances too quickly, it is a clean, wholesome narrative. “The Sound of Diamonds” is the first book in a trilogy, and although it does not end on a cliffhanger, it prepares for the continuation of the series.
I received a complimentary copy of this book from the publisher. A positive review was not required.
Reality TV star Ann Stanway finds herself getting a reality check of her own in this timely novel by award-winning author Miralee Ferrell. Suddenly, Ann’s seemingly picture-perfect life in Hollywood comes to a screeching halt—or did it ever really exist in the first place? Reeling, Ann flees Los Angeles and begins a journey of self-discovery when she unexpectedly winds up in a small Kentucky town. She finds a true friend in Sarah, a kind young Amish woman, and she meets an attractive man, but how much of herself is she willing to share? Can she move beyond the façade of her former life and embrace a simpler life?
With issues germane to today’s high-speed, technologically-driven society, Miralee Ferrell crafts a compelling story about the importance of faith, love, and finding oneself. In a world where everyone seems to be looking for a claim to fame, books like “Runaway Romance” remind us of what is truly important. Endearing characters enhance the plot and emphasize the value of friendship and caring for one another, and the insights into Amish life are intriguing. “Runaway Romance” is a stimulating, inspirational story for all ages, and it is also an UP TV premiere movie set to release in early 2018.
With echoes of her deceased mother Mary Wollstonecraft’s avant garde feminism undergirding the narrative, Mary Godwin Shelley emerges from “The Determined Heart” as a heroine ahead of her time. Her unconventional love affair with Percy Bysshe Shelley marks a pivotal turning point in her young life, and what follows leads to myriad highs and lows and generates her crowning achievement, “Frankenstein.” Populated by characters both legendary and mundane, this story draws readers into a world that is in many ways reflective of contemporary society, and although it is a work of historical fiction, it nevertheless imparts a stimulating view of classic literature and the lives of those who composed it, tempestuous relationships and all. Short chapters and a continuous pace make this a relatively quick read, as well.