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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.

Zero Day by Ezekiel Boone

Zero Day: The Hatching Series, Book 3 (Hatching Series, The) - Ezekiel Boone

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!

The Life and Times of the Real Winnie-the-Pooh by Shirley Harrison

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.

Creature Keepers and the Hijacked Hydro-Hide

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.

The Sound of Diamonds by Rachelle Rea

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.

Runaway Romance by Miralee Ferrell

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.

The Determined Heart by Antoinette May

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.

My Absolute Darling by Gabriel Tallent

My thoughts regarding this book are conflicting. I really wanted to like it, and although I almost gave up on it after the first few chapters, I decided to stick with it. The story itself is ok, but the prolific use of profanity on every single page was a big turn-off for me. I understand that the subject matter paved the way for this, but it was just too overdone; probably a third of the book could have been cut by eliminating the multitudinous swear words. Still, Tallent provides an evocative social commentary on generational abuse with a philosophical bent. The characters are deeply flawed, which allows their humanity to shine through, and while the tale is often bleak and stark, there is a whisper of deliverance that bleeds through.

Brother by Ania Ahlborn

And the dysfunctional family of the year award goes to the Morrows. On its surface, this story is reminiscent of that of the historical Bloody Benders, but with an even more sinister flavor. Amidst the habitual routine of his life, 19-year-old Michael Morrow does not ask questions. He knows better. However, meeting an attractive girl who shows interest in him changes everything. Sometimes diverging from what is familiar is painful, though, for all of those involved. Ahlborn crafts a deeply disturbing tale interwoven with abuse, murder, and vengeance. “Brother” is not for the faint of heart and contains sexual scenes as well as widespread profanity. Nevertheless, the story keeps the reader turning pages in an eagerness to discover whether there will be a light of redemption in the end.

Brother by Ania Ahlborn

And the dysfunctional family of the year award goes to the Morrows. On its surface, this story is reminiscent of that of the historical Bloody Benders, but with an even more sinister flavor. Amidst the habitual routine of his life, 19-year-old Michael Morrow does not ask questions. He knows better. However, meeting an attractive girl who shows interest in him changes everything. Sometimes diverging from what is familiar is painful, though, for all of those involved. Ahlborn crafts a deeply disturbing tale interwoven with abuse, murder, and vengeance. “Brother” is not for the faint of heart and contains sexual scenes as well as widespread profanity. Nevertheless, the story keeps the reader turning pages in an eagerness to discover whether there will be a light of redemption in the end.

Sometimes I Lie by Alice Feeney

“Sometimes I Lie” is an evocative thriller that takes readers down the rabbit hole with protagonist Amber Reynolds. The action switches between the present, when Amber is in a coma, and the week prior, and is also interspersed with diary entries from her childhood. This combination keeps the reader guessing as the story unravels and becomes more and more intriguing and, eventually, shocking. This is a psychological thriller at the highest level, complete with the unreliable narrator and a sinister reality distortion. A domestic thriller on par with the works of B.A. Paris, “Sometimes I Lie” provides a pulse-pounding, mindboggling journey of incredible finesse that reminds readers to keep your friends close and your relatives closer.

The Other Girl by Erica Spindler

A short but thought-provoking read, Erica Spindler’s “The Other Girl” is reminiscent of something from Investigation Discovery. Detective Miranda Rader has worked hard to overcome her less-than-idyllic childhood, but when she is called to the scene of a particularly brutal homicide, the pigeons come home to roost. Her past and present collide, and she must come to terms with both if she wants to move forward. This novel mixes a police procedural with romantic elements and suspense, and it does contain one graphic scene as well as sexual situations and language. Despite being short, the plot does not seem rushed and it is wrapped up neatly in the end. The crime itself is an all-too-plausible scenario, and Miranda’s perseverance inspirational, making this an interesting read.

Generation of the Last Hour by Rochele Rosa

Written with a light Christian nuance, “Generation of the Last Hour” is a rather unique addition to the dystopian genre. Although this is a clean read and there is a refreshing lack of profanity or sex, I would not consider it a feel-good story. The main characters are children, the narrator being 15-year-old Raquelle Granger, who initially run their own underground city in the aftermath of a world war that began generations earlier and continues to rage. As such, there are disturbing incidents and encounters, but with mostly nongraphic violence. The story throughout is bleak and resembles a Holocaust narrative, but with an undercurrent of hope. Overall, it was interesting, although the ending came quite suddenly and a bit too neatly.

13 Minutes by Sarah Pinborough

Books such as “13 Minutes” are one of the reasons why I love Goodreads giveaways. They offer reads outside my usual genres, ones that I probably wouldn’t pick up otherwise. For instance, the accurate comparison of “13 Minutes” to “Mean Girls”, with its high school cliques, gossip, and endless drama, would ordinarily be an automatic turn-off. However, the mystery element drew me in, and from the very beginning the story unraveled like a train wreck—compulsively readable even as the plot imploded around the characters. And oh, those characters! There is no easily defined good and bad; the various girls are conniving and manipulative, and the story plays out from multiple viewpoints and with multiple media, including text messages, a journal, and consult notes. Just when it seems that the situation is approaching a resolution, the tale takes another twist, culminating in an explosive ending. Due to the setting and nature of the novel, it does contain profanity, drug use, and sexual situations, but generally in context and not overdone.

Stalking Jack the Ripper by Kerri Maniscalco

This book was a mixed bag for me. I really wanted this to be a five-star read, but it just didn’t quite do it for me. The protagonist, Audrey Rose Wadsworth, seemed difficult to connect to. On the one hand, she was a paradigm for early women’s rights and an example of how a woman’s intellect could match a man’s, even when it came to studying medical science and cadavers. However, she was also annoyingly brash and obtuse on many occasions, and the romantic angle only added to this and led to a good deal of eye rolling during my reading.

The mystery itself was, in some ways, not as unique as I had hoped. The identity of the killer became fairly clear despite scattered red herrings due to process of elimination and clues dropped here and there. Part of the ending did offer a nice twist, though. This is definitely not a novel for the overly squeamish, as it contains details that one would expect from a story about Jack the Ripper. A few illustrations enhanced the reading experience and further developed the mixture of history and fiction.

Bread of Angels by Tessa Afshar

This was my first book by Tessa Afshar, but it definitely won’t be my last. “Bread of Angels” is a stunning work of Christian biblical fiction, providing a rich backstory for Lydia, a seller of purple cloth who is mentioned in Acts 16. She is remarkable not only for her conversion to Christianity and for her hospitality, but also for being an unmarried yet successful businesswoman. At the tale’s opening she is a teenage girl working with her father to create the purple dye that he has perfected, but storm clouds soon appear on the horizon, and Lydia’s life is forever altered.

Although she perseveres, fear continually dogs Lydia throughout her life, along with a sense of guilt and shame at the secrets she keeps. Her story is one of a gentle, industrious life, and yet her heart cannot find true peace. One day, however, she meets some visitors to Philippi, and as her story coalesces with those of the apostles, she realizes—in more ways than one—what she has been missing.

“Bread of Angels” quickly drew me into Lydia’s story, and her sometimes harrowing experiences lent a touch of suspense to the narrative that made this book a difficult one to put down. Each chapter begins with an epigraph, a quotation from Scripture, which serves as a chapter title of sorts and which correlates to the action in the novel while also further grounding the work theologically. I would highly recommend this book to anyone interested in women of the Bible and in Christian fiction in general.

Julia Defiant by Catherine Egan

Catherine Egan has achieved the difficult task of writing a sequel that is not only as compelling as its predecessor, but even more so. Having won this novel from Goodreads, I borrowed the first book, “Julia Vanishes”, from the library. This series is a departure from my usual genres, and I’m glad that I’ve given it a chance; I’m eagerly anticipating the third book now.

“Julia Defiant” was a more mature novel, with more depth and complexity—just as a sequel should be. An action-filled, complex plot kept the story moving swiftly along, but what really stood out was the characters. While they were introduced and given roles in book one, in “Julia Defiant” they were really fleshed out and allowed to shine. Unlike most works of fiction, the characters don’t fall easily into categories of good and bad, and this moral ambiguity keeps the reader guessing. The world building adds another layer of intricacy as things shift between the “normal” world and the place to which Julia can vanish, and Julia’s enhanced abilities take the story to a whole new level. I would highly recommend this series to anyone who enjoys well-written, intriguing fantasy with plenty of twists and turns.