Blue stained wood with crimson carnations

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Book Review: Murder at the Mikado

So dear reader, Julianna Deering is back again with another installment in the "Drew Farthering Mysteries"! reviewed it last summer. Finally getting to sit down and read this book was something of a monumental effort but once I was settled and dug into the book it fairly rolled along and I quite enjoyed it over the course of an afternoon!

This book "Murder at the Mikado" is the third volume in this series and quite lives up to all the hype I gave the first book when I reviewed it last summer. Finally getting to sit down and read this book was something of a monumental effort but once I was settled and dug into the book it fairly rolled along and I quite enjoyed it over the course of an afternoon! 

Drew and Madeline are now engaged and are fast approaching their wedding date when in whirls a past flame of Drew's. Actress Fleur Landis may be married with a child now but that's no damper to her personal dramatics as she is accused of murdering the lead actor- and her former lover- from her old troupe! When Fleur and her husband Landis, Drew's new business manager comes begging for help Drew- who never wished to see Fleur again- relents and takes on the case.
The case progresses though not all is what it seems. Not all is okay at home either as Madeline begins to feel the pressures of their impending marriage set under the specter of charming bombshell Fleur. Soon enough the chase quickens and as more bodies start dropping the hunt for the killer is in full force! But what goes on behind the scenes and behind the public eye is the most important- for both the case and for Drew and Madeline!

So as I said at the beginning I really enjoyed this book! I grew up on mystery novels but as I got older that genre really dropped from my rotation, partially because I thought I'd grown too old for them and partially because I wasn't finding that genre written in Christian fiction. I am ever so glad that that is changing now with Deering's "Drew Fathering Mysteries"!
     In particular I appreciated that the book is well paced and written, and also that the mystery is well concealed until the end- I may have had my suspicions as to who the guilty party was but right up until the end Deering held all her cards tightly! Also, I really liked how this read as straight up clean cut mystery. The mentions of God or spiritual themes are hard to come by in this book but I didn't feel like that detracted from the character or story being told. It has been previously well established where Drew and Madeline are with God and I didn't think it needed to be re-addressed with club-like agility. (But that's just me!) If you are looking for something super-spiritually laced look elsewhere because this is nearly pure mystery/adventure! Additionally, I appreciated that some of the elements present in the first book, like social drinking, were dropped from this installment. While they may be period appropriate, and may be useful tools in characterizing the baddie, fiend, and rogue in a novel I don't find them appropriate for the hero of a Christian novel and I was glad to see them gone!

Something that I loved to see in this book was the full attention that Deering gave to working in references to Gilbert and Sullivan's works. The title of the book comes from Gilbert and Sullivan's "The Mikado" as this is one of the two plays that the theater troupe is preforming when the murder takes place. Personally, though I have not listened to all of their works I have a great fondness for The Pirates of Penzance and was charmed to find bits of it scattered throughout the book!

All in all I have no complaints about this lovely period mystery novel that Julianna Deering has produced and I am happy to recommend it to all of you!

Final rating: 5

I received this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review and opinion of the product.

Saturday, August 16, 2014

"I Am Designed"

So at the moment I seem to be on semi-hiatus from my lovely blog but I'm working on getting back to blogging like I used to- and in the mean time I seem to have it a milestone of 4000 views to my page! Thank you for reading and supporting me!

In leiu of a real thoughtful article here are some rambly thoughts of mine that I wrote out the other week... Perhaps they will encourage you today...?

I Am Designed

I am designed for prayer- not despair,
I am designed to give praise all my days- not be dragged down by my ingratitudes,
I am designed for freedom- not fear,
I am designed for contentment- not grief,
I am designed for a life of love- not a blanket of indifference,
I am designed for giving mercy and receiving grace- not for a like of slavery,
I am designed for sola deo gloria- not for self aggrandizement,
I am designed for my weaknesses being made perfect in him- not for self-implosion,
I am designed for my Savior- not my self. 

Monday, July 7, 2014

Missionary Acres Bound

Hello! I'm working on my write up of my Missionary Acres trip and suddenly realized that I could have (and probably should have) posted it here as well! 
So, posting this here now for reference! 

Dear Friends and Family,
     Hello! I wanted to take a minute here to tell you all what I’ll be up to this coming week! As many of you know last year I planned to go on a missions trip to a place in Missouri called Missionary Acres which is a retirement community for missionaries.

Saturday, July 5, 2014

Book Review: Truth Be Told

 Today I have a book from an author new to me! I've been wanting to catch a book from author Carol Cox for a while now after I was intrigued by the title and subject of her last work so I was eager to snap up a copy of "Truth Be Told" when it appeared!

The story revolves around Amelia Wagner. Amelia is more then ready for a change of pace when, fresh off the train from Denver and the fast paced high life it offers, she sets foot back in her father's newspaper office in Granite Springs, Arizona. She expects to spend a pleasant summer catching up with her father and once again being in her true home but best laid plans are often thwarted and Amelia finds herself saying goodbye to her dying father and trying to fill the large shoes he's left behind in his beloved profession.

Amelia finds in the wake of her father's death that the paper in is a delicate position due to his inability to pound the pavement in the months during his decline and she will be the doing or undoing of all of her father's years of hard work. She also is puzzled by the biggest story in her father's bulls eye- an expose on a local mining company that never fully came to light. As Amelia beings to track down the full story she finds help in the most unlikely of sources- an employee of the very mining company that her father railed against publicly before his death. Soon Amelia and Ben find themselves in deeper than they ever expected with a story that may be the undoing of both of them!

There was a few quirks with the book that I noticed and wanted to point out. One of them was that Amelia is a really good girl. I mean really, aside from being rather innocent and over trusting she practically has no flaws. Every time she reacts to something in a normal human way (anger, disappointment, confusion, etc.) she, in the very next moment corrects herself and immediately thinks Biblically about the situation in question, always seeing the situation for what it must be and not what it actually appears at the moment. I don't know about you but I just have a hard time liking someone who is always good, who can always change on the drop of a dime and be...perfect. It makes me wonder- 'can a character be too good?'
Another thing was that the mining described as taking place sounds a awfully like today's fracking. It is a pet peeve of mine to see people dragging modern issues into the past for soap box purposes and although Cox never carries through with fully disclosing the ins and outs of the mining operation she has enough of a soap box to make sure that the characters fully disapprove of what is being done in their community. It just isn't appropriate for this setting without providing some explanation in an author's note.  

This book was in all honesty a quick read, the storyline was pretty basic and I'm sad to say predictable. There was nothing terribly exciting in the plot for me- but the thing is that there was nothing particularly wrong with the plot either... As I continued to read and analyze this and try to make sense of it I came to the realization that this is a book that I would have really enjoyed- when I was 14 or 15 years old... And this is the fact that frustrates me. For me it just doesn't deliver on the 'grown up' fiction I was expecting to read. I want characters to be flawed, I need situations to be real, and I think that putting things right doesn't come at the wave of a magic wand. For me this story had more relationship fantasy than realistic fiction.

If you like your fiction on the light side and don't want to think too much about logic and loopholes then this book is for you,  but next time I think I'll be skipping the sugary  fluff and finding something a little more my speed.

Final Rating: 3

I received this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review and opinion of the product.

Friday, July 4, 2014

Book Review: Spoken For: Embracing Who You Are and Whose You Are

Being "spoken for", its a beautiful thought isn't it?

Knowing that someone loves you, wants to take care of you, that someone doesn't want you to belong to anyone else, and wants to identify themselves with you is a truly powerful thought. It's a thought that easily drives a person. When you think about it you find yourself easily picturing a happy couple and the way that they cherish each other and show their devotion to each other. 

Well that is what this book is all about. "Spoken For: Embracing Who You Are and Whose You Are", written by the team of Robin Jones Gunn (from the Sisterchicks devo) and Alyssa Joy Bethke is all about the greatest romance, and the greatest love, the love of Christ, and His relentless pursuit of you His bride. 

This book bounces back and forth between each writers voice and story and unfolds each woman's personal love story as they discuss the way that God loves each one of us and how He, as the lover of our souls, peruses a relationship with us- even when we are unlovely or unfaithful to Him and His highest desires for us. Though 95% of it is 'something I've heard before' the style that Gunn writes and communicates those eternal truths in is refreshingly honest, and poignant. The truth of God's love is one that I think is difficult to write about because how do you quantify something for human imagining and understanding that is so completely  incomprehensible to us here on earth? Gunn and Bethke do a fine job of this though as they take hold of something we can grasp- a love story- and parallel that with our spiritual love story as Christians. 

Many parts of the book were really encouraging to me and really touched me deeply. Chapter six especially was challenging as the authors deal with the topic of "You Are of Great Value". In this chapter one thing that really stood out was the thought of God not needing puppets to do things for Him- we can't do anything for God in and of ourselves- but that we are of great value to Him and there is a difference between the two, and important one, and a striking one. To put it into simple terms it is the need to remember that we are God's treasure and it isn't a position we got by our own effort but by His paid price and not to be trapped by the world. 

The one issue that I had with this book that I don't know whether to call a big one or a small one is with how it treated dating. Alyssa Joy Bethke (as you find upon reading) is someone who obviously from my generation of Christian young women, and while I am well aware that everybody and their life story is different I was surprised and a bit concerned at the casual breakup/makeup attitude modeled by Bethke as she tells the story about how she found and ended up with her husband. In today's Christian culture this may exist more prevalently than I am aware but just because it does does't mean it should. God calls us to higher standards in our relationships- especially our deepest personal ones and although all worked out for Bethke in the end as she established what sounds like a very happy marriage that doesn't mean that God's highest standard for getting them to that point was followed. Today, I believe there are many more wise and Biblical ways of bring two people to the marriage alter.  

This book is a very manageable paperback coming in at 182 pages divided over eleven chapters. The end of each chapter is set up with comprehensive study questions and will make for good personal or group study. Initially I thought that this book was directed towards adult women, and though I still feel that it is entirely appropriate for that market, I found myself really thinking that some of the young teen girls that I disciple would really benefit and enjoy this devotional. I also really like the cover for the book; it is light filled, warm and inviting as well as embracing bright spunky colors for the overall scheme. In short, its a book that makes you want to pick it up! And I do hope that you do just that, it was a good breezy read with the kind of substance that a heart needs to hear sometimes in this difficult Christian walk. I will be looking forward to reading more devotionals from Gunn and be looking forward to seeing what Bethke does next! 

Final Rating: 4.5

I received a copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review and opinion of the product.

Saturday, May 31, 2014

Book Review: The Global War On Christians

When I first received my copy of "The Global War On Christians: Dispatches from the Front Lines of Anti-Christian Persecution" by John L. Allen Jr. to review I was really excited. I wanted to learn about the persecution issues that other Christians in other parts of the world were facing and relatedly, about the socio-political climates that create or foster those conditions. I have been disappointed to find this book not as helpful I hoped.
In all honesty, this has proven the hardest book for me to review both because of the substance of the book and logistically. Numerous extraordinary personal circumstances have kept this book at the top of my TBR pile but just out of reach of completion for many weeks past when this review was due.

The book is laid out in three sections:
~Anti-Christian Persecution Around the World
~Myths About the Global War on Christians
~Fallout, Consequences, and Response

After a brief overview, part one launches into a region by region, country by country discourse on conflicts in the given area. Regions covered are Africa, Asia, Latin America, The Middle East, and Eastern Europe. I was first excited by this section of the book. The Introduction and the Overview are filled with the type of content that I hoped to find- informational, well thought our and reasoned and impassioned- even if I didn't agree with all the arguments made. But here is also where I felt the book start to fall apart.
As the author begins to relate accounts of persecution and martyrdom I began to notice the distinct lack of footnotes documenting the source of the stories. A quick perusal of the rest of the book and I soon realized that there wasn't any bibliography for this book. Imagine my surprise then that as I continued to read the author of this book actually addresses the lack of footnotes and basically says that to document all the sources for every account he cites would be "unwieldy" and recommends the reader use an "internet search engine" to find everything he talks about! In a non-fiction book, especially one where the author is lauded as "the Vatican correspondent for the National Catholic Reporter and a Vatican analyst for CNBN and National Public Radio" as well as being an Associate Editor of The Boston Globe this is unforgivable and simply shows the willful lack of credible reporting! An academic type non-fiction book without footnotes is simply a book of fiction and opinion.
As I moved into what I anticipated to be the meat of the book in the region/country breakdown chapters another thing that became very evident from this point on was that the author was relating stories that were 95% about members of the Catholic church and 5% about Christians from other faith traditions. When selecting this book I knew going in that the author was a Catholic- but with this being a more mainstream publisher not a Catholic one I expected there to be a balance in the material that he related. I was not expecting a book that read like a church periodical, unfortunately that is just what it feels like.

In addition, I was really frustrated that the majority of the 'info' given on each country was not explaining the socio-political climate but relating the individual stories of the Catholic lay people on the scene.  I really didn't learn anything about the area itself or about what Christians face in a particular country, I just heard basic accounts about individual people.  As wide spread as persecution is I think it would have been better to relate one powerful story and use it to illustrate what happens, or how and why this is typical of the country instead of overwhelming and (dare I say it?) boring the reader droning on and on with nothing more than news clippings that could be found on the internet.

In all honesty after a certain point I did give up on completing this book. In all my reviews I've never done that, and in all the reading I've ever done I could count on one hand the books that I've 'quit' on but try after try there was just nothing that engaged or attached me to this book. Nothing stirred me to better understanding or to action on my Christian brother and sister's behalf- and in a book that is meant to do just that that is what I perhaps find the most disappointing....

The issue, the war on Christians and Christianity is real. It is real and it is powerfully evil but today on some level we all have just tuned out to the realities of this fact. This issue, this war, deserves- and should demand- our attentions. In reading this book the reader should not feel further disconnected and discouraged; they should feel enlivened and ready to help wherever they can. The sad reality of this book is that however much I read about individuals the author never introduced me to and made me care about the people and has instead effectively raised another barrier to the readers dismissal of the issue due to the way the material was presented in this book.

Final Rating: 1.5

I received a copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review and opinion of the product.

Thursday, May 1, 2014

Book Review: Into the Whirlwhind

It’s taken me a long time for me to write this review – in many senses! First off I want to thank Amy at Bethany House for investigating and help resolve a problem I was having at the end of the year with my reviewers account! She was kind enough to let me have my pick of recent available new releases; right at the top of my list was Elizabeth Camden’s newest “Into the Whirlwind”! Once received I was eager to read it and eager to get my review posted, but my own life has been a bit of a whirlwind since the beginning of the year and has kept me from posting as planned.

Camden’s newest offering centers around Mollie Knox, single daughter of a Civil War veteran and owner and proprietor of her father’s beloved 57th Illinois Watch Company. Just like the exquisite watches she lovingly assembles Mollie is a woman of delicate parts moving precisely in time and according to expectation. Zach Kazmarek is the exact opposite of Mollie. Raised from humble immigrant beginnings to become one of the city’s most prominent attorneys Zach is bold, passionate, and not afraid to get what he wants; working for one of the city’s biggest and best department stores he’s developed a reputation for just that. For three years Mollie and Zach have met for strictly business purposes, she thinking him cold and unfeeling; he thinking she was the most beautiful creature on earth. After three years neither really knows the other but that is about to change….

Set against the background of the Great Chicago Fire of 1871 Mollie and Zack are thrown together in a way they never expected. Amidst the chaos of that night and the following weeks Mollie is carried away on a whirlwind of events and emotions that throws her tightly ordered world into a tailspin that she may never recover from… Conflicted about what she truly wants from life, and from Zack, Mollie struggles to rebuild her company and her life and learns that sometimes the only way to survive the winds of change is to embrace them.

Having fallen in love with Camden’s work in the stellar “The Rose of Winslow Street” I have followed with interest her subsequent releases these last few years. Going into this book I had only a little knowledge about the Great Chicago fire and found many of the details she shares truly interesting as she, from the first pages, grabs the readers hand and pulls them along into the fire. In many places it really felt like you were there with Mollie, Zach, and little Sophie, whom they pick up during their flight from the city. I don’t know why, but in the past when I think of the Fire I think of the great destruction that accompanied it- but I’ve never considered what that meant personally, logistically, and financially to the people affected. Through Mollie and Zach’s eyes you really get a picture of how the city was rebuilt and changes made and it brings to the reader a personal connection to an event from long ago.

 Over all my feelings on this particular Elizabeth Camden novel are mixed. There are things I really liked about the book like the time period, the neat way the historical info was presented, and the character of Zach who has a strong presence throughout. But there are things that I felt left something to be desired. I would have loved to dig a bit more into Mollie for example, though she is the main character and the story is told mainly from her perspective there were times that I felt disconnected from her- like she wasn’t telling the whole truth with a particular thought or action. There were times that I questioned her sincerity in what she thought or did with her relationships with Colonel Lowe vs. Zach and how she treated both of them. In both cases it seemed that the relationship was more about her then about two parties and equal ground. At the end I got annoyed because when she’s ready for what she wants she goes all angsty over whether or not she can get it, and get it when she wants it and I don’t find that attractive in any heroine.

Having said that however, I realize that the issues that I have with Mollie’s character are not a deal breaker for this book. Despite her being more indecisive than I would have liked for a woman with the futures of others in her hands I couldn’t really dislike her either. Mollie finds her security in her routine and in knowing what to expect from herself and others- and I can’t say that I have never been that way myself. What Mollie learns however is that with the right people by your side the storms of life are nothing to fear.

Final Rating: 3.5 stars

I received a copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review and opinion of the product.