Saturday, August 29, 2015

Go Set a Watchman - Harper Lee

Go Set a WatchmanFrom Harper Lee comes a landmark new novel set two decades after her beloved Pulitzer Prize-winning masterpiece, To Kill a Mockingbird.

Maycomb, Alabama. Twenty-six-year-old Jean Louise Finch--"Scout"--returns home from New York City to visit her aging father, Atticus. Set against the backdrop of the civil rights tensions and political turmoil that were transforming the South, Jean Louise's homecoming turns bittersweet when she learns disturbing truths about her close-knit family, the town and the people dearest to her. Memories from her childhood flood back, and her values and assumptions are thrown into doubt. Featuring many of the iconic characters from To Kill a Mockingbird, Go Set a Watchman perfectly captures a young woman, and a world, in a painful yet necessary transition out of the illusions of the past--a journey that can be guided only by one's conscience.

Written in the mid-1950s, Go Set a Watchman imparts a fuller, richer understanding and appreciation of Harper Lee. Here is an unforgettable novel of wisdom, humanity, passion, humor and effortless precision--a profoundly affecting work of art that is both wonderfully evocative of another era and relevant to our own times. It not only confirms the enduring brilliance of To Kill a Mockingbird, but also serves as its essential companion, adding depth, context and new meaning to an American classic.



I went into this book with a lot of expectations since I had followed a lot of the hubbub surrounding it's publishing. 


Is it the book that TKMB is?  No, of course not.  It was a first draft that was pretty completely reworked to create TKMB. And, as that, it is a worthwhile read.
Is Atticus a racist?  You know, this is probably what I heard the most about prior to reading - that Atticus does a complete 180 and becomes a racist.  And I really didn't find that to be the case.  Perhaps because I expected to read about him parading around in a white sheet.  Instead, I see him more as a man who is trying to deal with the changing times the best way he knows how given his background and society at the time.  Were some of his actions disappointing?  Yes.  But I think that's because this book shows him as human with flaws and making mistakes in a way that TKMB never did.  And I appreciate that because it also shows a lot about the character of Jean Louise. 

It wasn't spectacular, but I'm glad I read it.

Pros:
  • a look at Scout all grown up
  • an interesting perspective on how Lee's writing changed
  • a realistic picture of the times
  • flawed characters
Cons:
  • I think some of the media surrounding the book will drive some people away from reading it
  • I really wasn't fond of grown up Scout

Rating:  2.5/5

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

Curiosity Keeper - Sarah E. Ladd


The Curiosity Keeper (Treasures of Surrey, #1)Title:                Curiosity Keeper        

Author:            Sarah E. Ladd

Publisher:        Thomas Nelson

Market:            Christian

Genre:             Christian Fiction; Historical Fiction

Series:              Treasures of Surrey #1

Length:            352 pages

Pub. Date:       July 7, 2015

 

 
Description (from Amazon):

“It is not just a ruby, as you say. It is large as a quail’s egg, still untouched and unpolished. And it is rumored to either bless or curse whomever possesses it.”

Camille Iverness can take care of herself. She’s done so since the day her mother abandoned the family and left Camille to run their shabby curiosity shop on Blinkett Street. But when a violent betrayal leaves her injured with no place to hide, Camille has no choice but to accept help from the mysterious stranger who came to her aid.

Jonathan Gilchrist never wanted to inherit Kettering Hall. As a second son, he was content working as a village apothecary. But when his brother’s death made him heir just as his father’s foolish decisions put the estate at risk, only the sale of a priceless possession—a ruby called the Bevoy—can save the family from ruin. But the gem has disappeared. And all trails lead to Iverness Curiosity Shop—and the beautiful shop girl who may or may not be the answer to his questions.

Curious circumstance throws them together, and an intricate dance of need and suspicion leads the couple from the seedy backwaters of London to the elite neighborhoods of the wealthy to the lush, green Surrey countryside—all in the pursuit of a blood-red gem that collectors will sacrifice anything to possess.

Caught at the intersection of blessings and curses, greed and deceit, two determined souls must unite to protect what they hold dear. But when a passion that shines far brighter than any gem is ignited, each will have to decide how much they are willing to risk for their future, love, and happiness.


 

My Review:

I requested this book from NetGalley based on the description and, yes, I also judged the book by its cover.  I expected an intriguing mystery about a lost jewel and two people searching for it (and growing) together. 

The mystery wasn’t that intriguing.  It was fairly easy to figure out all of the twists and turns and final conclusions.  Nor does Camille or Jonathan seem particularly interested in finding the missing ruby.  They both seem to be moving on with their lives, both individually and together.  However, even though my expectations weren’t really met, I still enjoyed the reading of the book and think it was worth the time.

The prose and dialogue flowed nicely.  While there were a few inconsistencies in the text, it didn’t interrupt or really detract from the overall story.  The story structure itself was also satisfying.  I wasn’t lost at the beginning but there also wasn’t so much background information that I grew bored before getting to the meat of the tale.  There were some lengthier descriptions.  These were well written, though, so even they were engaging.

Both Camille and Jonathan (as well as many of the supporting characters like Jonathan’s sister and father) were well-developed.  They were multi-faceted, changing, and growing characters throughout the book.    The story is driven forward based on their personal struggles and the issues surrounding the missing ruby and its effects on their lives.  I did feel like the romance portion moved a little too quickly.  But overall it, too, was believable. 

Sarah Ladd seemed to be well-versed in the period in England she chose as her setting.  There was nothing to jump out as glaringly impossible or inaccurate.  It was a satisfying read in all aspects.

The spiritual aspects of the book were handled appropriately.  Camille struggles some with her faith while Jonathan is more a solid rock believer.  Through situations and circumstances, Camille grows in her trust in God and His good will. 

The only elements that might not appeal to ultra-conservative readers are the mention a few times of the drinking of wine and some smoking.  However, I believe that these customs were very true to the times represented.  So they are not really endorsed or offensive. 

All in all, this was a pleasant book to read.  It was not as gripping from a mystery or suspense standpoint as I had hoped.  Regardless, the characters and the writing style made it enjoyable. 

I received this book as an Advanced Reader Copy via the publisher at NetGalley in exchange for my honest review.


Pros:
·         Sweet romance
·         Likeable characters
·         Wonderful descriptions
 

Cons:
·         Not much of a mystery
·         Back cover/description promised more than the book delivered
 

My Rating:      3.5 out of 5 (Good)

Monday, June 15, 2015

The Crimson Cord - Jill Eileen Smith


The Crimson Cord: Rahab's Story (Daughters of the Promised Land #1)
Publisher:        Revell

Market:            Christian

Genre:             Biblical Fiction, Historical Fiction

Series:              Daughters of the  Promised Land #1

Length:            368 pages

Pub. Date:       February 17, 2015

 

Description (from Amazon):

Wife to a gambler who took one too many risks, Rahab finds herself sold as a slave to cover her husband's debt. Forced into prostitution by Dabir, counselor to the Syrian king, Rahab despairs of ever regaining her freedom and her self-respect. But when Israelite spies enter Jericho and come to lodge at her house, Rahab sees a glimmer of hope and the opportunity of a lifetime. In one risky moment, she takes a leap of faith, puts her trust in a God she does not know, and vows to protect the spies from the authorities. When the armies of Israel arrive weeks later, Rahab hopes they will keep their promise, but she has no idea what kind of challenges await her outside Jericho's walls--or if she will ever know the meaning of love.

 

My Review:

Rahab is not a person from the Bible I have really spent much time thinking about.  I know the basics:  she saved the spies and she’s in the lineage of Jesus.  That’s about it.  So I found it fascinating to read Smith’s take on the story.  She fills in the details of Rahab’s life in a way that is believable even if speculative. 

Rahab as a character is multi-dimensional.  She is shown with her flaws as well as her growth through those flaws.  The interaction of characters is dynamic and interesting.

I will say that some of the supporting characters seem a bit flat.  But that didn’t affect my enjoyment of the book as a whole. 

In conclusion, an interesting take on the story of Rahab, based on the information found in the Biblical text and expounded on from there. 


My Rating:  4 out of 5 stars

 
 
I received this book as an Advanced Reader Copy via the publisher at NetGalley in exchange for my honest review.

Friday, May 15, 2015

The Choosing - Rachelle Dekker


The ChoosingPublisher:        Tyndale House Publishers

Market:            Christian

Genre:             YA, Fiction, Dystopian

Length:            464 pages

Pub. Date:       May 19, 2015

 

Description (from Amazon):

Like all citizens since the Ruining, Carrington Hale knows the importance of this day. But she never expected the moment she’d spent a lifetime preparing for—her Choosing ceremony—would end in disaster. Ripped from her family, she’ll spend her days serving as a Lint, the lowest level of society. She knows it’s her duty to follow the true way of the Authority.

But as Carrington begins this nightmare, rumors of rebellion rattle her beliefs. The whispers contradict everything she’s been told; yet they resonate deep within.

Then Carrington is offered an unprecedented chance at the life she’s always dreamed of, but she can’t shake the feeling that it may be an illusion. With a killer targeting Lints and corruption threatening the highest levels of the Authority, Carrington must uncover the truth before it destroys her.

 

My Review:

I received this book as an Advanced Review Copy (ARC) from the publisher via Edelweiss in exchange for my honest review.

I have been reading Ted Dekker’s books for years and have read most of them.  They are intriguing.  So when I came across a book written by his daughter on Edelweiss, I knew I wanted to read it.  Regardless of what it was about, I wanted to see how her writing compared to her father’s.  

While there were some similarities between the two, Rachelle shows in this book that she is more than capable of standing on her own and writing a story worth reading.  I was very pleasantly surprised with the story telling, character development, and overall message targeting her Young Adult audience.

The book jumps right into the action of a Choosing Ceremony.  While it was puzzling to jump right into the middle of a scene and a character’s thoughts, it certainly made me want to keep reading.  I wanted to follow Carrington as she is questioning all that is occurring as well; I was putting the pieces together to understand what was happening.  This book was definitely a page turner from start to finish.

I will say the text was full of typos, and that is probably the main negative I have to say about the book.  However, since I was reading an ARC, I imagine those have all been fixed in the final copy.  Additionally, the story was so engaging that I was able to overlook the annoyances, even as a former English teacher.  That is rare for me.

The story is very smooth flowing between dialogue, character interaction, character introspection, and description.  I would say the only thing that broke the flow was when the first few chapters each ended with retellings of the society’s history.  While this was necessary for an understanding of the story world, it was jarring at times.  I was glad when those history lessons dropped off early in the book.

Carrington was a very dynamic character.  She has a very visceral struggle between all she’s been taught to believe as truth versus what her heart tells her truth really is.  What is her worth?  Where does her value come from?  How do you navigate what your life is to be?  What do you do when you work so hard but don’t get the results you expect? 

Her challenges were portrayed in a very realistic way.  The other characters were equally as realistic and their motivations as believable.  I could feel Carrington’s father’s emotion for her and her pain.  I understood Larkin’s feelings of loneliness at her ostracism.  The whole set up of The Authority and its cast system was troubling to its very core.  The growing feelings between various characters (including Carrington’s own conflicting emotions) were handled in a manner appropriate to the intended audience and in a true-life manner.  All of it together drew me in to the story world and kept me captured. 

While I did find parts of the story line predictable, like the mystery behind the murdered Lint girls and the budding romance, that didn’t detract from the overall story for me nor did the predictability detract from the well-developed characters and plot.  The much needed message of value and worth just because of whom we are and WHOSE we are (children of God) more than compensated for the predictability. 

Scriptures are quoted throughout the book.  At times, members of The Authority twisted them for self-serving purposes or to justify actions.  This showed that if you don’t know the Word for yourself you can be easily led away from the truth by those in leadership. 

There is some violence in the book.  It is not gratuitous in any way. 

I look forward to having both my tween and teen daughters read it and discussing the book with them.  I think the book definitely reaches its target audience of young adult girls and can be an opening to important conversations.

I did feel the book wrapped up too quickly.  It left several threads loose.  I am hoping there will be a second book to carry on the characters and their story.

Pros:  an important message packaged in a story that is intriguing and focused; kept me up late nights turning pages

Cons:  I want a sequel  J

 
My Rating:  5 out of 5 stars (near perfect)

Monday, May 4, 2015

A Bit of a Sabbatical

With a new little one soon to join our family, I have much to do in the next few weeks and then even more to do afterwards as I adjust to a new normal.  That being said, I probably will not be posting full reviews on here for a bit.  I will be trying to keep up with some short few paragraph reviews of what I'm reading.  And you can always check in on what I'm reading on Goodreads.  At the very least I'll be keeping track and giving star ratings over there.

~becki

London Tides - Carla Laureano


London Tides (MacDonald Family Trilogy #2)Publisher:        David C. Cook

Market:            Christian

Genre:             Fiction; Christian Romance

Series:              MacDonald Family Trilogy #2

Length:            340 pages

Pub. Date:       June 1, 2015

 
Description (from Amazon):

Irish photojournalist Grace Brennan travels the world’s war zones documenting the helpless and forgotten. After the death of her friend and mentor in the field, Grace is shaken.

She returns to London hoping to rekindle the spark with the only man she ever loved—Scottish businessman Ian MacDonald. But he gave up his championship rowing career and dreams of Olympic gold years ago for Grace ... only for her to choose career over him. Will life’s tides bring them back together ... or tear them apart for good this time?

 
My Review:

I received this book as an Advanced Reader Copy via the publisher at NetGalley in exchange for my honest review.

This is another book that the editor at The Christian Manifesto sent out for review, and I picked up based solely on reading the description.  As a result, I didn’t have many expectations going into it.  I didn’t even know it was a part of a series until I added it to my Goodreads.  It definitely is a book that can be read as a standalone as I didn’t feel like I was missing anything from the previous book while reading this one.

I really enjoyed the characters of Grace and Ian.  Grace clearly has issues she needs to work through from her past.  However, she was in denial to that; it wasn’t until push comes to shove that she realizes she doesn’t have it all as under control as she thinks.  I was cheering her along the whole time.  Ian is just a genuinely nice guy.  Really, a picture of forgiveness and grace.  In fact, if I have one issue with him it’s that he forgives even when I don’t think I would be able to.  He’s almost too perfect.  But isn’t that how we like our heroes in romances?

The supporting characters of Asha and others in the story strike just the right night of supportive, adequately developed characters without stealing the show.

The book is well paced without dragging description or convoluted prose.  The last bit did seem rushed to get to the conclusion.  It was almost like the author wasn’t sure what new conflict to add and so was ready to get to the happy ending.

The story world of both London and glimpses Grace’s previous photojournalist life were easy to immerse myself in.  Having been to London, it was fun to “visit” places again. 

The romance in this story was believable.  Ian and Grace seem to genuinely care for each other, yet their individual issues (specifically Grace’s) seem to get in the way at times.  Ian’s patience goes above and beyond, a picture of forgiveness that Grace needs to see.

The book isn’t overtly spiritual.  Grace’s faith is mentioned a few times throughout the book.  It comes into play that her belief in God and Him taking care of her is what has helped her get through many of her difficult times.  However, her faith doesn’t seem to be helping her work through the issues those difficult times created.  None of the characters seem to have a vibrant, growing relationship with God. 

There are some scenes that get a bit steamy but none cross a typical conservative line.  There are also words used that are considered British curse words.  I don’t think either of these things are enough to alienate any but the most conservative readers.   I tend to be pretty conservative when it comes to those two areas and was not offended. 

I think this book would appeal to readers of contemporary romances who want a sweet story with authentic character growth.  It can be read by both Christians and non-Christians alike.  I sped through the book.  However, I have no idea where they would take the series from here.  All the loose strings seem nicely wrapped up.  Perhaps the next book will bring one of the supporting characters into the spotlight?

 
Pros:  likeable characters; true feeling; realistic

Cons:  a few seriously romantic scenes; some British swear words

 
My Rating:  4 out of 5 (very good)

 

***This review is also posted on The Christian Manifesto and Goodreads.

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Justified (Mended Hearts #2) - Varina Denman


Justified (Mended Hearts, #2)
Publisher:        David C. Cook

Market:            Christian

Genre:             Contemporary Fiction

Series:              Mended Hearts #2

Length:            416 pages

Pub. Date:       June 1, 2015

 
Description (from Amazon):

In a small Texas town ruled by gossip, Fawn Blaylock believes others are justified in condemning her untimely pregnancy. Stifled by guilt, she yearns for grace while the local football coach treats her with gentle respect.

Justified perfectly captures the rhythm and romance of life in a small town, telling the unforgettable story of a woman searching for renewal, a man looking beyond what others see, and a community torn between judgment and love. It is the unforgettable story of broken dreams, second chances, and relentless hope.

 

My Review:

I received this book as an Advanced Reader Copy via the publisher at NetGalley in exchange for my honest review.

I really didn’t know what to expect from this book.  I received an email from the editor at The Christian Manifesto asking for a reviewer.  After looking at the description, it sounded like a book that would interest me; so I took on the assignment.  In hindsight, the description is deeper than the book itself.

I had a lot of issues with this book.

The book was written in first person from Fawn’s perspective alternating with third person somewhat omniscient from Tyler and JohnScott’s perspectives.

Can we just pause here for a moment and say how much I hated pretty much every character’s name?  Okay, small nitpick done.

Fawn is spoiled and whiney.  One of her main focuses being to get back into her pre-pregnancy designer clothes.  Tyler and JohnScott are both more caricatures than realistic characters.  The rest of the supporting characters really don’t seem to have much to them.  They are really more plot devices, coming in to play their part and then stepping out, than a part of the ongoing story.  I didn’t feel that any of the characters were more than one-dimensional or grew as the story progressed. 

The dialogue was hard to follow and jumped around from topic to topic before circling back around.  The characters also belabored their introspection. 

I really didn’t get a grasp of the small town feel that is mentioned in the description.  The characters are going back and forth between bigger Texas cities a lot.  There really is not a lot of gossip or condemnation (other than self) for Fawn to deal with.  A lot of it seems to be in her head. 

The romantic relating…wasn’t.  I felt like a lot of the interactions were cheesy or over the top.  I didn’t really care if anyone got together or had a happily ever after.

As far as spiritual elements to the story, it seems like Fawn tries to have some sort of spiritual revelation of her worth and her forgiveness.  However, it just missed the mark for me.  There was not a lot about redemption or justification aside from a few conversations Fawn and JohnScott have.  The majority of the people who are nice to Fawn are non-Christians.  The church people who are supposedly condemning her just simply aren’t mentioned much (other than throwing her a baby shower.

Aside from those overarching issues, there were so many minor things that just didn’t make sense.  For instance, when a character drank some water and its wetness “washed the soot of bitterness from her lungs.”  What?!?  Hopefully the water she drank didn’t get into her lungs.  That can be deadly.  Then you have Tyler being able to observe nuances of actions and facial expressions from Fawn’s parents across the street in their car from where he was sitting in his truck (although the text had previously said he’d driven off).  Fawn states that JohnScott was at fault along with her for an altercation she has with Tyler at a football game.  Nowhere does the text support that JohnScott has any guilt to hold in that. 

There were also smaller inconsistencies.  The pastor walking to the front of the church then all of a sudden in the back with other characters.  Fawn thinking about the football game and then the text saying by the time she got home she had already pushed the game far from her mind.  Later she goes to one of JohnScott’s football games with the rationalization that going will put him out of her mind.  Other inconsistencies or head scratching incidents would include spoilers but suffice it to say there were plenty.

Then there was just wrong information like when Fawn’s doctor said the lotion she used interfered with hearing her baby’s heartbeat on the Doppler.  To my knowledge (and Google research), there is no lotion that interferes in that way.  Also, Fawn was pregnant for longer than the normal 9 months, clearly had no idea she was in labor, and was able to birth her baby in two pushes.

I’m a detailed person and so while I can handle an inconsistency or two with grace, a book full of them can send me over the edge – as this one did. 

There are some edgier topics covered – premarital sex, physical abuse, drinking, etc.  None are really written about in an offensive way though.  It is a pretty safe book for all audiences.

In conclusion, had this not been a review book I would have quit reading long before the predictable, anticlimactic end.

***This review also appears on The Christian Manifesto and Goodreads

Pros:

Cons:  full of inconsistencies; stereotypical characters;

My Rating:  0.5 out of 5 (waste of time)