Friday, April 10, 2015

The First Principle - Marissa Shrock


The First Principle

Publisher:        Kregel Publications

Market:            Christian

Genre:             YA; dystopian

Length:            240 pages

Pub. Date:       December 20, 2014
 

Description (from Amazon):

In the not-too-distant future, the United Regions of America has formed. Governors hold territories instead of states, and while Washington, DC, is gone, the government has more control than ever before. For fifteen-year-old Vivica Wilkins, the daughter of a governor, this is life as usual. High school seems pretty much the same--until one day, that controlling power steps right through the door during study hall.

When Vivica speaks out to defend her pregnant friend against the harsh treatment of Population Management Officer Marina Ward, she has no idea she's sowing the seeds of a revolution in her own life. But it isn't long before she discovers her own illegal pregnancy. Now she has to decide whether to get the mandatory abortion--or follow her heart, try to keep the baby, and possibly ruin her mother's chances at becoming president.

A rebel group called the Emancipation Warriors, who are fighting to restore freedoms once held unalienable, offer her asylum. Can Vivica trust these rebels to help her or will they bring everything crashing down around her? Accepting their help may come with consequences she isn't ready to face.

Marissa Shrock's debut novel crafts a chilling story of what may be to come if we allow the economic and moral crises currently facing our country to change the foundations on which we built our independence--and of the difference one person can make when they choose to trust God's lead.

 
My Review:

I received this book as a review copy from the publisher in exchange for my honest opinion.  I requested the book for two reasons.  The first being that futuristic dystopian literature is still such a hot area for young adult fiction.  I like to explore authors’ different takes on the prevalent theme.  However, the bigger draw for me was the author herself, Marissa Shrock.  She is a middle school language arts teacher, as I was once, publishing her first novel.  So my assumption was that she would have a good handle on what appeals to teen readers.  I was not disappointed.

Fifteen-year-old Vivica Wilkins is the daughter of a governor in the not too distant future United Regions of North America.  She has been indoctrinated that government knows best and to toe the line.  Vivica doesn’t question her life until she discovers her illegal pregnancy and begins to wonder about the sanctity of life and if the government is really looking out for the best interest of those it’s meant to serve. 

Vivica is driven by both internal conflict and external events.  She is surrounded by characters who are each true to their own natures and have their own agendas.  This at times creates support for Vivica and her journey and at other times creates a lot of the plot tension that kept me turning pages.

While the idea of a United Regions of North America and the government structures was confusing at times, I think both were adequately explained throughout the story.  It was just such an unfamiliar (yet recognizable) “country” and government system that at times I had to pause in the story and think.  Never a bad thing.  Shrock creates a very believable option of a future society full of government control and the acceptance of any beliefs but those founded on Biblical principles. 

My qualms with the story came in two linked areas.  The first being the relationship between Vivica and the father of her child.  It just seemed a bit too dramatic and forced to me.  It also seemed in place for the sole purpose of pushing Vivica to accept Christ and the Emancipation Warriors beliefs.  The beliefs the Emancipation Warriors are fighting for in the book are unashamedly Christian and biblically based.  Both good things to expose young readers of today too.  However, many times it seemed nothing more than a plot device and will perhaps turn some readers off the book as a whole.

As far as questionable content for the conservative reader, there is both violence (although not graphic) and, as mentioned, teen pregnancy.  However, I believe it is perfectly acceptable for young adult readers.  The book brings a perspective not really found in current YA dystopian novels.  Most are based on the achievement of the individual protagonist.  While Vivica is strong and certainly does her part, it is clear that there is a bigger work at play and that God ultimately helps people succeed.  Additionally, the story world created by Shrock is not as fantastical and fictional as most dystopian worlds tend to be.  She took trends we already see in our current culture and simply magnifies them in her future story world.

Overall, I think this is a worthwhile book for both teens and adults alike.  It made me ponder some of the things I see around me in society and government.  I was rooting for Vivica, which kept me turning pages.  And the book ended in such a way that I wonder if this is the first in a series – an idea that I would fully support as a reader.

Pros:  fast-paced; dynamic protagonist with antagonists I loved to dislike; realistic future worldview

Cons:  some plot jumps; spirituality as plot device

My Rating:  3.5 out of 5 stars (Good)

*This review is also posted on The Christian Manifesto website

Come Winter - Clare Gutierrez


Come Winter      

Publisher:        River Grove Books

Market:            General

Genre:             Historical Fiction

Length:            408 pages

Pub. Date:       February 19, 2015

 

Description (from Amazon):

Lady Caterina Tabor, an extraordinary young girl who, en route to England, finds herself captured and at the mercy of a stern and powerful lord. Forced to work as a common kitchen maid in the dank halls of Dermoth Castle, Caty dreams of her past as a free and autonomous maiden with a bright future in the English courts—did fate have other plans?

This early trial is but the first in a litany of shocking tribulations; imprisoned, abused, accused of sorcery, and kidnapped, Caty’s life is for so long anything but charmed—but you can’t keep a soaring heart shackled. As we follow this misunderstood maiden’s journey through both the unexpected, electrifying joys of new love and the pain of mind-boggling adversity, we become eyewitnesses to the astonishing way she not only transforms herself but also enchants, inspires, and invigorates those around her.

Spanning decades of castle life, treacherous journeys, bloody battles, and heartache, Come Winter is a sweeping yet personal tale of a brave woman who at once embodies and transcends the prescribed, and oftentimes oppressive, roles her society demands. Let Clare Gutierrez (author of Dancing with the Boss) curate your voyage back to the Scottish highlands of ages past—a time and place in which simply staying alive constituted a noble adventure, and becoming a patron of the oppressed and the impoverished could make you a hallowed queen.

 

My Review:

I received an advanced copy of this book from NetGalley in exchange for my honest review.

Coming into this book, I didn’t really know what to expect; the write up on NetGalley just seemed interesting. 

I turned the final page pleasantly satisfied.

I was immediately drawn into the story of Caty and her life.  Why was she being sent to court?  Where does she get her strength?  How is she going to deal with each new obstacle?  It was a book I didn’t want to put down.  Caty is strong but not harsh.  She is compassionate and innovative, not to mention intriguing. 

My one complaint would be at times the narrative was confusing as I was unclear how much time, if any had passed.  It seems as the book progressed, the author got better at dileneating that.  But for at least the first half, the timeline seemed sketchy.  Thankfully, for the most part that didn’t hinder the story itself.

I will caution conservative readers that there are moments of passion sprinkled throughout – no more than a handful.  They are always between married individuals and not described in great detail.  Still, they were more than I generally like in my reading.

Pros:  appealing characters; engaging plot; fascinating book

Cons:  uncertain timeline in portions; some passion

My Rating:  4.5 out of 5 (excellent)

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Chasing Sunsets - Karen Kingsbury


Chasing Sunsets (Angels Walking #2)Title:                Chasing Sunsets

Author:            Karen Kingsbury

Publisher:        Howard Books

Market:            Christian

Genre:             Fiction

Series:              Angels Walking #2

Length:            336 pages

Pub. Date:       April 7, 2015

 

 
Description (from Amazon):

From #1 New York Times bestselling author Karen Kingsbury comes the second novel in a brand-new series about divine intervention and the trials and triumphs of life; the dramatic story of a woman desperate to find deeper meaning in her life.

Growing up in a comfortable home, Mary Catherine wanted for nothing. Though she loves her wealthy parents, their lifestyle never appealed to her. Instead, Mary Catherine pursues meaning through charity work, giving away a part of herself but never giving away her heart.

Mary Catherine lives in Los Angeles with her roommate, Sami, and volunteers at a local youth center with coach Tyler Ames and LA Dodger Marcus Dillinger. Despite Mary Catherine’s intention to stay single, she finds herself drawing close to Marcus, and their budding romance offers an exciting life she never dreamed of. That is, until she receives devastating news from her doctor. News that alters her future and forces her to make a rash decision.

Inspirational and moving, Chasing Sunsets is the story of one woman’s deep longings of the soul, and the sacrifices she’s willing to make in search of healing.

 
My Review:

As an avid Karen Kingsbury fan from the start, I thought I had read every book she’s written.  However, I somehow missed book 1 in the Angels Walking series.  Perhaps because of that, Chasing Sunsets seems to jump right into the middle of an in progress story.  While that was disconcerting for the first few chapters, Kingsbury does a great job filling in any gaps for readers like me who didn’t read the first book. 

I do believe the description of the book is a bit misleading.  This book is as much about Marcus as it is about Mary Catherine.  It is the story of their individual journeys in relationship with Christ and to find purpose as well as the story of where their journeys intersect with one another.  It is also a story of reaching out to help those in need of hope.  Intermingled is a look at the story from a spiritual perspective – what is going on behind the scenes that the human characters are unaware of. 

There is a good balance of dialogue between characters as well as introspection of the characters themselves.  There is not a lot of description of setting or appearance, but I didn’t feel anything was missing as a result.  As usual with Kingsbury’s books, there was a long list of characters involved in the story telling.  While that can be overwhelming initially, she does such a great job fleshing out each character, it doesn’t stay confusing for long.

As mentioned earlier, this is as much Marcus’s story as Mary Catherine’s.  And I found myself rooting for him more.  While Mary Catherine seemed a bit more self-focused, Marcus was just an all-around likeable guy.  I found Mary Catherine’s quick emotional changes and waffling a bit indulgent.  One moment she’s secure in truly living her life and giddy with love.  Then a few paragraphs later she’s forgotten all of that and is scared and lonely.

The budding romance between the two seemed to blossom quickly.  I’m not a very sentimental person, so at times their interactions seemed over the top.  But overall I think that most readers will enjoy that aspect of the story. 

The parallel stories of what was happening with the people alongside what was happening in the spiritual realm with the angels were fascinating to me.  While I have not ever thought much about angels among us or what they are like personality-wise, I think the picture that Kingsbury painted could be an accurate one.  Jag and Aspen, the two angels assigned to the mission, were both believable.  In the days since I finished reading, I have found myself pondering the spiritual realm occurring in conjunction with my own life. 

The book does deal with gangs, gang violence, and prison.  However, none of these topics are handled lightly or offensively in any way.  They give dimension and movement to other aspects of the story. 

The ending left me with my mouth hanging open.  I couldn’t believe it was the end.  There was so much still to be resolved.  How could it be the last page?!  I guess that means I’ll be anxiously awaiting the third installment…and going back to read the first book while I wait.

My major complaint about the book is that the text is full of little inconsistencies (i.e. for Jag’s past failed mission is it Tom or Terrance Williams?).  They don’t disrupt the overall flow for the story but could be annoying to a discerning reader.

This book would appeal to teen girls and women who like sweet romances, character growth, and pondering the spiritual warfare going on around us.  I think the spiritual realm would be off-putting to some secular readers.  If you are a fan of Karen Kingsbury’s other works, this latest novel will be right up your alley.

Pros:  fast-paced story; likeable characters; leaves the reader wanting more

Cons:  inconsistencies

My Rating:  4 out of 5 (very good)
 
*This review will also appear on The Christian Manifesto website 4.13.15

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Nowhere to Hide - Sigmund Brouwer


Nowhere to HideMarch 25, 2014

Author:
Sigmund Brouwer
Publisher:
  Harvest House Publishers
Release Date:
  March 1, 2015
Market:
  Secular
Genre:
Young Adult, Suspense
Length:
224 pages
My Rating:

   2.5/5

 About This Book (from Goodreads)
William King and Blake Watt have just settled into their senior year of high school when they receive a call for help--the authorities need to use their computer skills to track down a father who has failed to make child-support payments. The invitation to become cyber bounty hunters is so tempting, they don't stop to ask why they were chosen for this assignment.

As they learn more about the man they are searching for, they discover the true nature of their mission--to help the founder of a Seattle-based software company prove that he is innocent of a much different charge. But the scariest things they learn are why they were chosen and why they were supposed to remain in the background.

You'll love following the surprising twists and turns in this fast-paced young-adult thriller from a gifted storyteller who has nearly three million books in print.


How and Why I Acquired This Book
I received this book as an ARC from NetGalley.  It looked like an interesting YA read by an author I was not familiar with.

My Expectations about This Book
In starting this book, I didn’t realize it was actually the second book in a series, the first book being Dead Man’s Switch.  Had I known that ahead of time and read the initial book first, it might have changed some of my thoughts on this book.  It would have made some parts of the character interaction and the references make more sense.  Although Nowhere to Hide is readable as a standalone (as I did), I don’t think I would recommend it that way.

Also, since my review copy was digital it had several grammatical issues and mistakes as well as every few paragraphs the story was interrupted with either a tag line of the author’s name or a statement about not reproducing the text in any way.  Both things that a reader doesn’t need to deal with in the final digital and print versions, I’m sure.  But for full disclosure’s sake, I think that did interrupt the flow for me and make the reading less enjoyable.

CRITIQUE
Were my expectations met?

I expected an intense, fast-paced YA novel about two teens helping out the CIA while being students.  What I received was a fast paced novel, but about three teens on their summer break.  Well, really, just one teen, King, was the focus of the book.  MJ and Blake played roles intermittently but were not central to the story.  That was primarily King and CIA Agent Evans. 

Also, there wasn’t very much to do with computer skills or cyber bounty hunting.  Most of that was done by Blake, and you learn about it in hindsight during the first few chapters. 
Still an interesting story.  Also rather confusing at times.  In fact, I’m still not sure I fully grasped all of the plot twists and redirections.

Prose & Dialogue
For the most part, the scenes and the dialogue flowed well.  There were a few times I had to go back and re-read as I thought I had missed something. 

The descriptions of the settings were great.  Just enough detail to make you feel like you’re there but not so much you get bored.
I think that Brouwer nailed King’s dialogue as well as that of Evans and even some of the other CIA agents involved.  The parents and other two boys seemed more like caricatures than realistic, growing characters.

Characters & Points-of-View
I don’t know that I believed any of the characters or situations could occur in real life.  Two super-smart boys being raised and homeschooled on an island that houses a prison.  The CIA regularly utilizing the skills of said boys.  If it was true to life, homeschooling really has worked out for King and made him advanced well beyond his years. 

I don’t believe there were too many characters to keep up with.  Too many plot twists and one-eighties in the overall story, perhaps.

Story Structure & Pace
The pace of this story was quick, which will appeal to the YA audience targeted.  However, I am used to reading quick paced suspense books written on an adult level.  Yet this book confused me and completely lost me at times more than any of those adult books have.

At the start of the book, there is mention of Mr. King betraying his son.  By the final page, I still wasn’t really clear on what that betrayal was.  Was his dad in on the whole thing from the start with the tech guru?  I don’t think so but am not 100% positive.
Questionable Content

I don’t believe there is any truly questionable content.  Targeting an audience of teen male readers means that of course there are some references to bodily functions and smelly socks.  However, I wouldn’t say any of that is offensive.

Originality & Predictability
I will give the book this:  I was guessing clear to the final page.  And have still been guessing since I finished it.  So it’s a book that sticks with you as you try to figure it out.  The frustration is that I’m not sure it can be figured out.  Plus, the story wasn’t compelling enough for me to want to re-read the whole thing again with the added value of hindsight.

Audience Appropriateness & Appeal
The target audience is young adult.  I would even further define it as young adult (probably middle school through freshman) males.  There are only two female characters outside of the mothers, and all female characters definitely have a very background role.  So I don’t think this book would appeal as much to girls.

I do believe it would appeal to both conservative and mainstream readers.  As a movie it would probably be rated PG.

Engagement, Entertainment & Investment
The character of King and his dynamic with Evans is probably enough to pull off additional books in the series.  However, I would recommend reading them as a series and not as standalone titles

CONCLUSION
In conclusion, I think this was an okay young adult suspense novel.  I appreciated the lack of vulgar language and sex that seems prevalent in so much YA literature these days.  I enjoyed the story line for the most part.  I was just frustrated by my confusion throughout.

Pros
·         A fresh approach to a YA world full of language and sex
·         An engaging character in King
·         Fast-paced

Cons
·         Confusing at times – perhaps reading the first book would help

 
**Review will be posted on The Christian Manifesto website 05.20.15

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Raising Burning Hearts - Patricia Bootsma


RAISING BURNING HEARTS:  Parenting & Mentoring Next Generation Lovers of God

March 23, 2015

Publisher:
  Forerunner Publishing
Release Date:
  January 1, 2015
Market:
  Christian
Genre:
Non-Fiction, Parenting
Length:
160 pages
My Rating:

   3.5/5

 About This Book (from Amazon)

Can the next generation become passionate followers of God, equipped and ready to fulfill their destinies? Christian parents and mentors are entrusted with the call to nurture and train hearts, releasing children to excel in loving and seeking God. In Raising Burning Hearts, Patricia Bootsma draws on her experience of raising six children and mentoring many others, and shares the profound and hopeful news that this calling is not beyond our reach. Combining practicality and spiritual understanding, Patricia covers important strategies that are often overlooked, like the power of blessing our children, of prophetically declaring truth over them, and of teaching young ones how to hear God s voice, seek Him in the Word, and be constant in prayer. Sharing tangible applications and real-life testimonies, Patricia assures us that parents and mentors can fulfill their heavenly mandate to raise up and release next generation lovers of God into their epic purpose.

CRITIQUE
The MoM group that I’m apart of has been discussing this book this past month.  It is challenging in some areas and has definitely presented some paradigm shifts for me in others.  Probably my favorite chapter was “The Power of the Blessing.”  I found this chapter to be infinitely practical and something I could implement right away. 

Despite all my psych courses for my education degree, and all of the many opinions on life stages, I had never come across the exact stages Bootsma presents and the Major Life Question that goes with each one.  It makes sense though.  Just as it makes sense to speak blessings over your children, their lives, their friendships, etc.  Words can bring life or death.  Harness that power. 
I will say the testimonies at the end of each chapter were my least favorite parts.  Usually I like things like that.  These seemed a bit stilted and even redundant.

Regardless, a worthwhile read for parents who are always looking for more ways to point their children to Jesus. 

Raoul Wallenberg: The Man Who Stopped Death - Sharon Linnea


Raoul Wallenberg: The Man Who Stopped DeathMarch 22, 2015

Publisher:
  The Jewish Publication Society
Release Date:
  May 1, 1994
Market:
  Secular
Genre:
Non-Fiction, History, WWII, Young Adult
Length:
151 pages
My Rating:

   4/5

 
About This Book (from Goodreads)

In the last days of World War II, a young Swedish architect, Raoul Wallenberg, was secretly sent to Budapest by the War Refugee Board of the United States Government. There he did what no other country or individual was able to do: he saved more than 100,000 Jewish men, women, and children from extermination at the hands of the Nazi Colonel Adolph Eichmann. This meticulously researched biography is based upon archival materials and first-person interviews with Wallenberg's family, colleagues, and people he saved. It is illustrated with original photographs. To this day, no one knows the fate of Raoul Wallenberg, but his belief that one person can make a difference endures as a legacy for us all. 

CRITIQUE

This is my book club book for March.  As much as I’ve read about and even taught about the Holocaust, I had never heard of Raoul Wallenberg.  While this book is meant for younger readers (think middle school), I thought it was a great introduction to Wallenberg and his work rescuing the Jews of Budapest, Hungary.  It does not get too bogged down in dates and general war information.  The book is very specific in its scope.  It is very readable and engaging.  The pictures throughout only add to the story.  Worth the read for anyone interested in WWII and Holocaust history.

Friday, March 20, 2015

How to Catch a Prince - Rachel Hauck


How to Catch a Prince (Royal Wedding, #3)HOW TO CATCH A PRINCE (The Royal Wedding Series #3)
Publisher:
  Zondervan
Release Date:
  February 24, 2015
Market:
  Christian
Genre:
Christian Fiction, Chick Lit
Length:
368 pages
My Rating:

   4/5

 
About This Book (from Goodreads)

Prince Stephen came to America to escape responsibility. But what he found complicates his life more than ever.

Corina Del Rey is happy with her life in Melbourne, Florida. She spends her days engrossed in her career as a journalist and has her sights set on climbing the corporate ladder if for no other reason, to distract herself from her dissolving family. But when she is confronted with the past she fought so hard to put behind her, she struggles to make sense of her future.

Prince Stephen of Brighton Kingdom has moved on since the tragic death of his buddies in Afghanistan. A star professional rugby player, he has no intention of looking over his shoulder at what could ve been.

But when a notice arrives in the mail requiring his and his wife s appearance before the courts to dissolve their marriage, he must deal with the questions rumbling around in his heart. He thought his marriage had been annulled long ago, but his memories of Corina Del Rey remain close. Does he still love her? Can he even find her? Above all, can he tell her the truth about that fateful night in Afghanistan seven years ago? If he does, he might really lose her forever."

CRITIQUE

I have read the other two books in The Royal Wedding Series.  Knowing them to be fun, predictable reads made me excited to read the most recent installment. 

I received a digital copy of the book from the author as a part of the Street Team and the same time my request for an ARC from NetGalley came through.  A few days later, the request I had placed at the library a few months before publication was fulfilled.  Clearly I was meant to read this book.

This book certainly met my expectations.  And it was just what I needed to be reading at the time – something light and entertaining and uplifting. 

There was a good mix between the prose and the dialogue.  I never felt bogged down in any of the details or scenes. 

There were a couple of places that didn’t seem consistent.  For example, when Corina goes home to pick up a dress and says her flight leaves that night and then shortly after says it leaves the next day.  But it was just a little blip that didn’t take away from the story.

While the outcome of the story was predictable, I still liked to get to know Corina and Stephen and “see” their interactions with each other.  I will say the break-aways to Gigi I could have done without.  And the randomness of her having been at Cathedral City seemed to come from out of nowhere.

I don’t believe there was too much backstory.  You’re hit with the twist at the start and the past, while hinted at, is explained as needed.

The romance in the book is pleasant.  I enjoyed and cheered for Corina and Stephen.  Hoewver, I found the spiritual/supernatural elements to be a bit…I hesitate to say it, but hokey.  The whole Manor and Adelaide and all.  I really had to have a suspension of reality. 

That being said, I really did enjoy the book – reading the whole thing in just a day or so.  Every time my toddler would let me, I’d pick it up and read a few more pages.  It was a much needed break between the more serious reading in my piles.  Definitely would recommend.  And even though it’s the third in a series, I do believe it could be read as a stand-alone.