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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.

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.

Imagine: The Great Flood by Matt Koceich

The Great Flood - Matt Koceich

“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.

The Second Winter by Craig Larsen

The Second Winter - Craig Larsen

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.

Beneath the Sugar Sky by Seanan McGuire

Beneath the Sugar Sky - Seanan McGuire

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.”

The Woman in the Window by A.J. Finn

The Woman in the Window: A Novel - A. J. Finn

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.

The Daybreak Bond by Megan Frazer Blakemore

The Daybreak Bond - Megan Frazer Blakemore

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.