Monday, December 28, 2015

Book Review: The Mapmaker's Children by Sarah McCoy

This book follows two stories, separated by some one hundred and fifty years, but connected by an old farm house, a doll's head and the Underground Railroad.

Sarah Brown is the daughter of abolitionist martyr John Brown. Not able to have a family of her own due to a childhood illness, Sarah finds her calling in helping the UGRR through her artistic talent-- creating pictures that serve as secret maps for runaway slaves.

Eden, a contemporary woman, moves into an old farmhouse with her husband Jack after several failed attempts to have a child. As Eden questions her marriage, she meets Cleo, a young girl who lives in the town with her grandfather, and Cricket, the dog. The three discover secrets in the old farmhouse that may be connected to a rich history with the UGRR.

As a fan of historical fiction I was excited to read this book, but couldn't really get into it. It didn't feel like much happened. There were points where the story got interesting, mostly Sarah's side of it, but that wasn't until around halfway in. Eden's story felt small and almost unnecessary. The writing itself was good, and I don't think the author was going for a "flash-bang" kind of story, which is fine, but I just didn't feel a deep connection with the characters and found it confusing at times. Overall, it wasn't terrible, but it wasn't great.

I received a free copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for my honest review.

Monday, August 17, 2015

Granite Flats

There's a lot of data to filter through when it comes to streaming TV shows and movies on Netflix-- I've certainly had my share of binges which never would have happened without that click-of-a-button access to this movie metropolis that we all love and hate. But of all that I have watched on the old 'flix, no show has captured me in the way that BYUtv's original series Granite Flats did. I'm writing this review because we need more shows like this one, and I want to get the word out! I watched it ince, then I watched it again.

It's not often that I find a series that is not just interesting, but profound. Quite honestly, this show has changed the way I see entertainment. And, credit where credit is due, I have my mom to thank for pointing this show out to me.

So, what is Granite Flats, and why do I love it?

In a nutshell it's a Cold War era mystery/drama TV series based in a small town named, of course, Granite Flats. At first glance we might think this is a kid's spy series, but look closer and you will see that it is much, much, much more. 

This show deals not only with intriguing plots, but fantastically-rounded characters who grow and change as the series progresses. It is a deep, intelligent, emotional masterpiece. If I ever meet the writer I will shake his hand firmly and say, "Well done sir, well done." I also cannot praise Christopher Lloyd and Parker Posey  enough for their outstanding guest roles as two of the series' best characters. 

I leave you readers with nothing more than this bit of enthusiasm which I hope will inspire you to fire up Netflix for yourselves and hopefully come to be as delighted as I was to be a part of a town called Granite Flats. 

Friday, June 26, 2015

The Scarlet Pimpernel review

The Scarlet Pimpernel by Baroness Emmuska Orczy

My rating: 4 stars rating: 4.4

(Mine doesn't have a cool cover like this!)

"We seek him here, we seek him there, those Frenchies seek him everywhere ..."

The daring Scarlet Pimpernel and his band of loyal men risk their lives outwitting French revolutionaries to rescue aristocrats, and their sympathizers, from the terrible fate of the guillotine!

The book is as fun as the movie, which I always enjoy (I own the 1982 version). You can't help but love the foppish, seemingly vain Sir Percy and despise the cold and vengeful Chauvelin. It is also a very cute romance between Sir Percy and his brave wife Marguerite (most of the story being in her perspective). The book differs some from the movie, especially near the end, but not so much as to estrange the two. Aside from lots of mild curse words of the time, the book is quite clean.

Saturday, April 25, 2015

Book Review: The Pharaoh's Daughter

Title: The Pharaoh's Daughter by Mesu Andrews
My Rating: 4.5 stars
Amazon rating: 4.7

 From the editor:

“You will be called Anippe, daughter of the Nile. Do you like it?” Without waiting for a reply, she pulls me into her squishy, round tummy for a hug. 
I’m trying not to cry. Pharaoh’s daughters don’t cry.
When we make our way down the tiled hall, I try to stop at ummi Kiya’s chamber. I know her spirit has flown yet I long for one more moment. Amenia pushes me past so I keep walking and don’t look back. 
Like the waters of the Nile, I will flow.
Anippe has grown up in the shadows of Egypt’s good god Pharaoh, aware that Anubis, god of the afterlife, may take her or her siblings at any moment. She watched him snatch her mother and infant brother during childbirth, a moment which awakens in her a terrible dread of ever bearing a child. Now she is to be become the bride of Sebak, a kind but quick-tempered Captain of Pharaoh Tut’s army. In order to provide Sebak the heir he deserves and yet protect herself from the underworld gods, Anippe must launch a series of deceptions, even involving the Hebrew midwives—women ordered by Tut to drown the sons of their own people in the Nile. 
     When she finds a baby floating in a basket on the great river, Anippe believes Egypt’s gods have answered her pleas, entrenching her more deeply in deception and placing her and her son Mehy, whom handmaiden Miriam calls Moses, in mortal danger.
  As bloodshed and savage politics shift the balance of power in Egypt, the gods reveal their fickle natures and Anippe wonders if her son, a boy of Hebrew blood, could one day become king. Or does the god of her Hebrew servants, the one they call El Shaddai, have a different plan—for them all?

 My thoughts:

I'll start by saying that this is by far the best book I have read through the "Blogging for Books" program. Andrews did her research well, and I was impressed and fascinated with how she intertwined biblical and secular history. It's books like these, enriched with the ins and outs of daily of the time, that help to bring a vividness and deeper understanding of scriptural events. Naturally, the story is fictional, but Andrews seemed to remain true to the biblical events, while opening our imaginations to what might have occurred between the lines and behind the scenes. Writing a book like this is most certainly a lot of work as you are burdened with the responsibility of portraying some of history's most renowned characters and events, and our author did not take her responsibility lightly. I found the book easy to read despite the sometimes heavy dialogue (which only made the book feel more true to its time), but most of all it was the story itself that kept me turning page after page after page.

This was my first read from Mesu Andrews, but it won't be my last.

I received this book free from the publisher in exchange for this honest review.

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Book Review: Garden of Madness

Garden of Madness by Tracy L. Higley

My rating; 3.5 stars rating: 4.5 stars

"The Untold Story of King Nebuchadnezzar's Daughter"...

Despite the luxurious life of privilege afforded a daughter of Babylon, Tiamat yearns for more-- adventure, the chance to make a real difference, not simply to be a bartering piece in her mother's games of manipulation and deceit.

As the king roams the hanging gardens of Babylon like a mad beast, a dark plot is underway in the shadows of the palace, and Tiamat may be the only thing standing between her family and utter downfall, but is she willing to sacrifice everything for the sake of the ones she loves? And what of this One God her deceased husband's brother speaks of, and the claims of the Prophet Belteshazzar that "The time of the prophecy is upon us"? Are the God's Tia has always trusted truly demons in disguise?

Garden of Madness is a rich story that transports the reader to a time nearly forgotten, the time of Babylon the Great. The story is steeped in mystery and dark plots, crafty magi and brutal murder. The pace was a bit sluggish and I had a very difficult time liking the male protagonist, even after his change of heart, and I felt that not everything pertaining to the Jewish faith was theologically sound, but I did enjoy this book, and appreciated that it was clean, if somewhat violent.

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Book Review: This is What You Just Put in Your Mouth?

This is What you Just Put in Your Mouth? by Patrick Di Justo
My Rating: 3.8 stars

I decided to try something different this time. I'm not generally a "food book" person, but I do like information, and this book seemed, well, informative. We do not have a gushy exposé here-- as the author himself states in the introduction, "If you're looking for shocking stories of the gigantic corporate conspiracy to poison America through its processed foods, you're reading the wrong book." This is simply a collection of information for the curious-- to help us understand why a company may choose to put a certain ingredient in their product-- how it reacts with other ingredients, it's chemical makeup, that sort of thing. The format is easy to read: each chapter focuses on one product-- like Southern Comfort Egg Nog-- breaks down some (but not all) of the ingredients in it and their intended or assumed purposes, as well as giving a little back story on how the author got his scoop. Sarcasm abounds throughout, which is sometimes amusing and sometimes annoying when you actually are interested in the facts, but, for the most part, I did appreciate the humor. Di Justo himself is not a chemist, but a reporter, and he's not shy about putting his opinions in at times, especially concerning politics. Call me old fashioned, but I believe a good reporter should be politically unbiased (of course, I doubt such a one actually exists). Just the same, it was a good read and I enjoyed sharing interesting tidbits from it with my husband (during which I referred to the book as "in your mouth", because the title gets really annoying after repeating it more than once). In the end the book is just what it claims to be-- nothing more, nothing less.

Note: I received a free copy of this book from Three Rivers Press in exchange for my honest review.

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Book Review: A Certain Truth

My rating: 4/5 stars

Another triumph from Bell!

I've been plowing my way through reading material, and would up picking this book up again. I had left it half read when I fell into the black hole of not reading several months ago (don't fear, I'm on the mend). This is the third book in "The Trials of Kit Shannon" trilogy, and I don't believe I reviewed the first two after reading them a year or so ago, so this review will serve as a summary of all three books.

The series chronicles, as the title suggests, the trials of Kit Shannon, an early 20th century defense attorney in L.A., who is also one of just handful of female lawyers in America. Each book is full of intrigue and mystery, so they keep you interested, and it's always difficult to predict the guilty party. The trial scenes are especially entertaining, as Bell likes to save a few surprises for the courtroom. He also weaves history into his stories by bringing in actual historical figures, so you get a history lesson along with an entertaining fictional tale. 

Like I said, I did drop out of this book halfway through, so in that sense I think it was a little less interesting at points than the previous two, which held my interest solid til the end, but this did really gain momentum in the second half. Kit finds herself swept into a murder plot during her honeymoon cruise, and ends up defending a client who may not be entirely guiltless, all while navigated personal and spiritual challenges. I enjoyed the well rounded characters and the plot twists and turns. Bell has written a couple books on the art of suspense, and his credibility shines through in his fiction. 

An exciting read for sure!

Thursday, March 12, 2015

Book Review: I Like Giving

I like giving by Brad Formsma

My rating: 3.8 stars

I mostly read fiction but occassionaly enjoy a nice self help or inspiritional book. I've had this one sitting around for the past several months and finally decided to pick it up and read. At first I sort of thought the guy was just bragging, but as I continued the book it became apparent that he and others who shared their stories were simply trying to inspire others a lifestyle of giving. I enjoyed the stories of people who gave what they had-- sometimes it was as simple as a gesture, other times as extravagant as a new house. By the end I believe the book had accomplished its purpose-- I felt inspired to give more freely and even learned a little about myself and why I feel fulfilled when I give (there is even a chapter about the science behind giving!).

It was an enjoyable, easy read. I'm a little surprised by the cover price on this book at $14.99, as it is a book about giving, after all, but I can't complain since I received my copy free from the publisher in exchange for this review!

Friday, March 6, 2015

Book Review: While We're Far Apart

While We're Far Apart, by Lynn Austin

My rating: 4.3 stars
Amazon rating: 4.7 stars

I blazed through several books so quickly that I forgot to review some of them! This book is set during WWII and partially divides perspective between thirteen-year-old Esther whose father is off fighting, and Penny, the woman who is watching Esther and her brother until their father returns. Penny has secretly been in love with the Eddie, the children's father, since childhood and hopes that caring for his children will win his love, but that won't be easy as Eddie still grieves the loss of his wife, and the children seem reluctant and too heartbroken to let someone else into their lives. 

We also have the perspective of Jacob, Eddie's Jewish landlord who works desperately to locate his son who is right in the middle of heavy persecution against the Jews. 

Is the story unravels these three characters, and several others, touch each other's lives and teach one another valuable lessons about forgiveness, moving on, and growing up. 

I loved this story. While it was sad in many parts, it had just enough to keep you hoping for the best, and I was not disappointed at the end.

Book Review: Wonderland Creek

Wonderland Creek, by Lynn Austin

My rating: 3.8 stars rating: 4.6 stars

I've completed yet another book by one of my favorite authors, and thought I'd throw up a quick review.

Alice lives more in the world of books than the real world... that's why her boyfriend decides it's time to end their relationship. In an effort to deal with the breakup, Allie decides to deliver some donated books she has been gathering for a small town library in the mountains of Kentucky. Alice quickly finds, in the backwoods of Kentucky, that real life is much more exciting than anything in a book, as she is swept, against her will, into a plot of deception, greed, and even murder.

While this isn't a new favorite for me, I did enjoy the story and it held my interest. There was a diversity of interesting characters, even if one wasn't sure halfway through the book who to like and who not to. My favorite thing about the story was the overall message-- not just of real life versus fiction, but of actually living a life of substance even if it's harder, versus an empty life of ease and comfort. In many ways the book itself reflects the journey of the heroine-- it starts out light and a bit shallow, and ends with depth and insight. I am yet to read anything by Lynn Austen that I do not like!

Friday, January 30, 2015

Death Comes to Pemberly review

Matthew Ryhs and Anna Maxwell Martin in PBS's "Death Comes to Pemberly"

The latest Jame Austen(ish) Masterpiece miniseries sparked my curiosity when it aired at the end of the year (here in the US anyway), but I didn't get around to watching it until its recent release on Netflix (I'm sure I have Netflix to thank for too many hours wasted, it makes movie viewing just too easy!). 

In short, I have mixed feelings about this adaptation of P.D. James' Pride and Prejudice murder mystery sequel. Granted, I have not read the book, so can only judge the film. 

I'll start by stating what I liked about the series...

The scenery and costumes were beautiful and lush. Masterpiece always does a top-notch job with their films.

I have no complaints about the acting (though I'll share some issues I had with the casting shortly). The actors did a fine job.

It held my interest! I watched all three hours of the series in one sitting. 

So what didn't I like about the series?

I think my biggest issue is the plot. I have not read any of the P&P sequels that Austen's followers have written, though to the best of my knowledge there are several, and I thought this one was an odd choice to adapt. The plot centers largely on Mr. Wickham being suspected of murder and, quite honestly, who really cares that much about Wickham? Now, if Darcy would have been accused of murder, that may be a good premise... but, not so. Of course, Wickham's life is not the only thing at stake, but also the Darcy's reputation and good standing as Wickham's family through marriage-- what looks badly for him, will reflect badly on the family... but again, is social standing really enough to grip a reader's/viewer's heart and twist it with sympathy and longing? Not quite. The plot felt, in a word, small. I craved more from a sequel with such a famous predecessor. That said, there was a cute side story involving Darcy's sister Georgiana, which really could have been the main focus of the plot and probably would have been splendid in itself.

My next issue would be the casting choices for Elizabeth and Darcy. Matthew Rhys was almost, almost Darcy worthy, but not quite (in my opinion), though I have no complaints about his acting, I think he actually did a pretty good job. And I like Anna Maxwell Martin, but not as Lizzy, I'm sorry to say. She was just all wrong, I felt.

Lastly, where was the trademark Austen wit!?
There were a few cheeky remarks and some of the social humor that Austen is famous for, but all and all wit was sadly lacking in this film, especially in Elizabeth's character... you don't really see her taking on life's challenges with that vivacious persona that is not merely an aspect of our dear "Lizzy Bennet", but is, in fact, the essence of her character! I'm sure that the author was trying to show that Elizabeth was grown up now and how she would handle a darker real life sort of situation, but it just didn't do it for me.

And even though I said "lastly", I do have one more small complaint, and that is that I felt the love scene was merely gratuitous, placed in the film just for people who would want to see Darcy and Elizabeth in bed together. The original Austen novels are perfect without any of that, so why change it? Albeit, the scene was brief and not too graphic, so it didn't ruin the movie, and sure Darcy and Lizzy are married and all that, but the scene could have cut after they started kissing and it would have been good enough.  

After all that, it kind of sounds like I hated it, but I honestly didn't. It was good... and, really, that's my complaint, it was good, when it could have been great.


Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Book Review: This Quiet Sky: A Novella

Title: This Quiet Sky
Author: Joanne Bischof
Publish Date: Nov. 2014 (Mason Jar Books)
Amazon rating: 5 out of 5 stars
My Rating: 3.8 out of 5 stars

A bittersweet love story that tells the tale of 16-year-old Sarah Miller and fellow student Tucker O'Shay. When Tucker took on the task of tutoring Sarah in algebra, she had no idea it would lead to a love that would stay with her for the rest of her life. A bond quickly forms between the two, but Tucker is unwell-- just how unwell Sarah is not sure, but as her feelings for him grow so does her fear that Tucker may not live to see all of his dreams fulfilled. 

I enjoyed this little novella and felt the author told her story well. There were a few instances where I had a difficult time setting it aside! My only qualm, and this is often the case in the Christian romance genre, is that I felt the characters were a little too physically affectionate for Christians of that era. But, it wasn't enough to toss the whole book out, it was still a sweet story and a pleasant read.

Book Review: A Proper Persuit

Title: A Proper Persuit
Author: Lynn Austin
Publish Date: Sep. 2007 (Bethany House)
Amazon rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars
My Rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars

Finally got around to reading this book, which I've been meaning to do for the past year! Lynn Austin was already a favorite author of mine, so I knew I couldn't be too let down, and I wasn't. Lynn writes her stories in a style that feels easy and natural, and the stories she tells are fresh, witty and always have a pleasant surprise thrown in.

In this coming of age adventure, Violet Hayes is a 20-year-old socialite determined to find her mother in 1893 Chicago during the World's Fair. But her time in Chicago holds much more adventure than she could have dreamed and opens her eyes to ways of life she had never imagined.

This book made me chuckle on several occasions-- you can't help but love Violet's dramatic imagination, and yet the story held substance and meaning. The characters are well thought out-- individuals, not cookie cutter heroes and heroines. For me, Lynn Austin's books are what all other Christian Romances should aspire to. I liked this one a lot. There was one fairly passionate kissing scene, which I generally don't like, but compared to "Christian" books I have read that take the whole "kissing, touching, lusting" thing way too far, this felt tame. Aside from that, I think the very end could have played out just slightly different, but I can't get into that without giving away major spoilers. All in all, a fun and fulfilling adventure, and I have no qualms against recommending it to fans of Christian fiction.

It's just good to finally be reading again!