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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.

100 Women of Faith

100 Extraordinary Stories for Courageous Girls: Unforgettable Tales of Women of Faith - Fischer,  Jean

Amidst the myriad compilations of famous and notable people, “100 Extraordinary Stories for Courageous Girls” stands out in that it highlights specifically women of faith. This includes some women who were not necessarily praiseworthy but who nevertheless provide valuable lessons through their actions. One page is dedicated to each of the one hundred women portrayed alphabetically, alongside which is an illustration of them, and this setup is very advantageous for being brief and for possibly reading this in a devotional style, focusing on one woman per day. The women include Biblical characters as well as historical figures and a few contemporary ones. The Biblical women’s stories include the relevant Scriptures, and all of the stories end with a moral message related to the Bible along with a Scripture quotation. Not all of the stories have happy endings; some of the women were martyred for their faith, and although the author mentions that some were tortured, there are no graphic details. When mature words were used, such as “martyr” or “heresy”, a definition was given, and all of the Scripture references were quoted in easy-to-understand language. This is a beautiful collection of the lives of inspirational women of faith, some of whom have otherwise been lost to the annals of history, and a wonderful book for tweens and young teens.

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

How to Combat Bullying

The Bullying Breakthrough: Real Help for Parents and Teachers of the Bullied, Bystanders, and Bullies - McKee,  Jonathan

“The Bullying Breakthrough” packs a lot of information into a small book, making it a good resource that is easy to carry around. My only real complaint is that I thought there should be more of a Christian influence and viewpoint throughout the book; however, this does serve to make it applicable to a wide range of people regardless of religious affiliation or lack thereof. The subtitle defines the target audience as parents and teachers, and the focus is on children, but I felt that the principles put forth here could be generalized for adults as well. It seems that bullying is ubiquitous and that while we should certainly aim to eradicate it at schools, those bullies grow up and sometimes continue to exhibit bullying behavior. Society is becoming increasingly more intolerant, and much of this narrow-mindedness mirrors childhood bullying, just at an “adult” level.

As someone who was bullied as a kid and whose son was bullied, Jonathan McKee is uniquely positioned to offer insight into the issue. He aptly notes that “[p]ain seems to be the common denominator all around. Bullied, bully, bystander…hurt isn’t partial.” He defines bullying as an aggressive, repeated behavior that involves a power play and goes on to discuss the perspective of each group—bullied, bullies, bystanders—and how to reach out to them, which I thought was very perceptive. The discussion questions at the end of each chapter are helpful for facilitating conversation and encouraging action. One of the biggest take-aways is listening to kids and noticing any behaviors that could indicate bullying of some kind. Another major point was the culpability of social media in cyberbullying and causing isolation among kids. The stories include many types of bullying, from the physical to the emotional to that which occurs on social media, and they are heartbreaking but not surprising, which is why things need to change. Fittingly, the last segment of the book is devoted to solutions for those being bullied and for the authority figures in such situations and how to help schools deal with and prevent bullying. Although not a light read by any stretch of the imagination, this is a very necessary and timely resource for anyone who has been bullied, has witness bullying, or has even been a bully themselves, and especially for those who wish to combat bullying.

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

Game On

Stratagem - Caroll,  Robin

Starting this year, I have been avoiding looking at the summary of most of the books that I read, including those I review, to make reading a more exciting experience and to steer clear of figuring out the plot too early. “Stratagem” was featured on many Christian book blogs prior to its release, so when the chance came to read and review it, I jumped on it. Going in, I thought that it was going to be a techno-thriller, so I was actually very pleasantly surprised when I realized that it was about a (fictional) murder investigation. Mysteries and thrillers, including crime thrillers, are among my favorite genres, and it is an added bonus when it happens to be Christian fiction as well because despite the subject matter, I can be assured that the language and details will not be too coarse or gritty.

“Stratagem” deals with many contemporary issues and a believable cast of characters. There is the murder early on in the story, and as the backstories of the characters unfold, it becomes evident that they are true-to-life in all its virtues and vices. There are no saints, and even the protagonist, Grayson Thibodeaux, has a painful past; he is still coming to terms with prior betrayals when he is plunged into even bigger problems. Some of the topics broached in the novel are divorce, abortion, infidelity, and phobias, among others. The concept of Game’s On You was simultaneously intriguing and disturbing, especially with the real advent of escape rooms as entertainment. Virtual reality takes flak for its potential ill effects on players, and I shudder to think of something like Game’s On You coming into play in society as well. Nevertheless, its use in the novel certainly stokes the reader’s adrenaline, and that, combined with the progression of the narrative, make this an un-put-downable thriller.

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

Not Today, Devil!

Oddly Enough: Standing Out When the World Begs You to Fit In - Miljavac,  Carolanne

Prior to reading this book, I had never heard of Carolanne Miljavac, but now I will be checking out her website. “Odd(ly) Enough” is categorized in the spiritual growth section, but it’s so much more than that. Part memoir, part call to action, it is Christian nonfiction but appropriate for anyone looking for that something more out of life, knowing that they need to make a change even if they’re fighting it. Rife with spiritual truths and Scripture, this book will have you both laughing and crying. The tone is very conversational, sprinkled with southern dialect, and Miljavac’s vulnerability and sharing of her own testimony and personal life stories make this feel like sitting down with a tell-it-like-it-is, hilarious but brutally honest friend for coffee instead of reading a work of nonfiction. There are no earth-shattering Biblical revelations here; instead, there is an empathy and a challenge to really live and love in this broken world and to let go and trust God with everything. Miljavac’s message resonates deeply with those of us who are perfectionists and who deal with ongoing life or health issues. After all, “[i]t is in our greatest moments of imperfection, when we are broken and humbled, aware of our need for God, that He comes in and shows us the beauty in our ashes. So everything that we think makes us an outcast is actually what makes us…oddly…enough.” I would definitely recommend this book to all women and particularly to those who are struggling with any kind of adversity—and really, isn’t that all of us?

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

Over the River and Through the Woods

The Christmas Prayer - Wanda E. Brunstetter

Wanda Brunstetter’s “The Christmas Prayer” leaves me with mixed feelings. A brief novella, it is great for a one-to-two hour diversion, and the writing is very easy to understand. However, these qualities are also part of my criticism. The storyline seems like it would have been better suited to a full-length novel, as the plot comes across as rushed, jumping over weeks and even months at a time. The same is true of the characterization. As the reader, I did not feel any strong connection with any of the characters, and they were not developed to any real extent. Part of the narrative comes from Cynthia Cooper’s journal, which in my opinion detracted from the flow of the story. This read more like a teen or young adult novella, and everything came together too neatly and too quickly to be believable. It is reminiscent of a Hallmark Channel movie. Nevertheless, the cover is absolutely beautiful, with an embossed gold border on both the front and back, and anyone looking for a fast, feel-good tale will enjoy this one.

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

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.