Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Dauntless (Valiant Hearts, Book 1) - Dina L. Sleiman

Dauntless (Valiant Hearts, #1)
Publisher:
  Baker Publishing Group
Release Date:
  March 3, 2015
Market:
  Christian
Genre:
Young Adult, Historical Fiction
Length:
368 pages
My Rating:

   3.5/5

BEFORE READING

 About This Book (from Goodreads)

Though once a baron's daughter, Lady Merry Ellison is willing to go to any lengths to protect the orphaned children of her former village. Dubbed "The Ghosts of Farthingale Forest," her band of followers soon become enemies of the throne when they hijack ill-gotten gold meant for the king.

Timothy Grey, ninth child of the Baron of Greyham, longs to perform some feat so legendary that he will rise from obscurity and earn a title of his own. When the Ghosts of Farthingale Forest are spotted in Wyndeshire, where he serves as assistant to the local earl, he might have found his chance. But when he comes face-to-face with the leader of the thieves, will he choose fame or love?

How and Why I Acquired This Book

I received this book as an ARC from NetGalley in exchange for my honest review.

My Expectations about This Book

A female Robin Hood…what wasn’t there to love about the premise?  I like the cover art of a brave woman with a bow and arrow.  I also was drawn into the heart of the author by the “Reader’s Note” at the start of the story.

CRITIQUE

Were my expectations met?

My expectations were somewhat met.  By the cover, I didn’t realize that Merry was actually a teenager.  So I didn’t go into it expecting a YA read.  I expected a lot of drama and action.  Instead, I got more description, introspection, and love triangulation.  I wanted to love the book; I ended up merely liking it. 

Prose & Dialogue

There was *a lot* of description in this book – clothes, features, landscape.  If it could be described, it was.  Repeatedly.  Some of it was overkill.  I’ve got it…Merry’s gorgeous and Timothy has really, really blonde hair.

While I found the prose dragging with description, I found the dialogue choppy and jumpy.  There were long (whole paragraphs worth) of introspection between sentences in an ongoing dialogue between characters.  It was confusing at times.

Characters & Points-of-View

For being so independent, Merry is pretty preoccupied with thoughts of marriage.  I felt like all of the main characters could have been more dynamic.

I did have a hard time keeping track of all of the orphan children and their various roles in the band.  But I did want to understand all the characters and did care about their outcomes.

Story Structure & Pace

I think the structure and pace of the story was fine.  As mentioned, there was a lot of repeated back story and repeated description.  But other than that, I have no complaints about the structure.

Conflict & Tension

The conflict and tension felt very one-dimensional.  The outcomes pretty predictable. 

I will say that while I guessed the relationship of the villain to the Lord of Wyndeshire, I didn’t know who he was and how he was connected to Timothy until it was revealed.  So that was a nice surprise.

Research & Story World

The story was set in the 1100’s – 1200’s Medieval England.  The setting was important to the story as you needed the conflict of King John and the rebels as the background to many other story pieces.

 

Romantic Tension

This is probably where my biggest disappointment was.  Even though Merry and Timothy both flip-flopped in their emotions quite a bit on the surface, they really didn’t.  It was pretty predictable, even with the attempted love triangle. 

I would have liked it to be more.  Not more of the story as it was already the majority of the main story line.  More realistic, maybe.

Spiritual Connection & Speculative/Supernatural Elements

Timothy is a believer in the Divine Right of Kings and God.  Allen has more of a personal relationship and knowledge of Scriptures.  Merry has been disappointed by God and figures she can do it all on her own. 

I struggled in believing some of the spiritual elements of the story while others were wholly believable.

Questionable Content

This book was pretty squeaky clean.  There is a touch of violence but nothing graphic or incredibly descriptive.

Originality & Predictability

I think the premise of a woman (girl) who robs from the rich to provide for a poor band of orphans is an interesting addition to the genre of YA and historical fiction in general. 

It was pretty predictable but still a pleasant read.

Audience Appropriateness & Appeal

I would say the target audience is young to middle teen girls.  I think it would appeal to non-Christian readers who like predictable, clean romances.

Engagement, Entertainment & Investment

I did stay engaged in the book throughout.  It was a nice read even though I knew what was coming. 

It is the first book in a series.  I can’t imagine where the other books in the series will take it.  Dauntless seemed to wrap up very neatly with no loose ends to carry into a second book.

CONCLUSION

I expected more adventure and less introspection/love.  However, I don’t begrudge the time I spent reading it.

Pros

·         Sweet

·         Interesting concept of a female Robin Hood-esque character

Cons

·         Too predictable in many ways

·         A lot of description, introspection, and repetition
 
**My full review will be published on The Christian Manifesto website on 3.12.15.

 

What the Most Successful People Do Before Breakfast - Laura Vanderkam

What the Most Successful People Do Before BreakfastPublisher:  Portfolio/Penguin

Date: June 2012

Genre:  Self-Help, Productivity

Length:130 (plus an additional 48 pages in the Appendix detailing 4 individual's time studies and recommendation)

My Rating: 3.5/5

This book consisted of three "What Most Successful People Do..." books:  before Breakfast, on the Weekend, and at Work.
I gleaned several good ideas for from the first two.  I need to create a List of 100 Dreams and ummmm...get up earlier.  :)
I found the "at Work" book to be more of a rehash in some ways and just not super applicable to me in my current SAHM life.
I am definitely going to be conducting a week long time study on myself.  I know there are things I need to look at and adjust through the new lens of Vanderkam's productivity suggestions.

Monday, February 9, 2015

Seeker - Arwen Elys Dayton

February 9, 2015

Publisher:
  Delacorte Press
Release Date:
  February 10, 2015
Market:
  Secular
Genre:
Young Adult; Fantasy
Length:
448 pages

 About This Book (from Amazon)
The night Quin Kincaid takes her Oath, she will become what she has trained to be her entire life. She will become a Seeker. This is her legacy, and it is an honor.
As a Seeker, Quin will fight beside her two closest companions, Shinobu and John, to protect the weak and the wronged. Together they will stand for light in a shadowy world.
And she'll be with the boy she loves--who's also her best friend.
But the night Quin takes her Oath, everything changes.
Being a Seeker is not what she thought. Her family is not what she thought. Even the boy she loves is not who she thought.
And now it's too late to walk away.
How and Why I Acquired This Book
I acquired this book as an Advanced Reader Copy from the publisher in exchange for my honest review.
My Expectations about This Book
I selected this book because I enjoy young adult, including dystopian and fantasy YA.  The promo copy said the book would appeal to fans of Divergent, which I really enjoyed, and The Hunger Games, which I found okay.
The book’s cover is compelling and mysterious. 
 CRITIQUE
 Were my expectations met?
My expectations for this book were not met.  If I could sum up the story in one word, it would be “confusing.”  I read many genres of books, a lot that have a confusing start.  But the author manages to pull it all together and make sense of it in the end.  Not so here.  I was sorely disappointed in this book.
Prose & Dialogue
The story’s prose is choppy.  The dialogue (even the internal dialogue of the characters) doesn’t seem natural.  It’s all very stilted in its feel.  Additionally, while some of the time jumps in the narrative make sense, others are completely random (For example, the chapter on Maud’s childhood that comes in the middle of things that have no connection.)
There were similes and metaphors that either didn’t make much sense in context or jolted me out of the story to try to rationalize out.
Characters & Points-of-View
I don’t believe any of the main characters were fully developed.  Most are decidedly bad and only bad.  Quinn, the main character, is a bit more complex but still seems to vacillate between being all good or all bad depending on the section of the story we’re in.
Nothing in the story really made me concerned about the characters, their well-being, how they would end up, etc.  It was all very superficial.
Some supporting characters just popped in and out randomly (Shinobu’s mother) without really contributing to the story or main characters at all.
The multiple points of view (which I’m generally good with in a book) just added to the overall tangle.
Story Structure & Pace
I really was lost in this book from the start.  Just as things would start to make sense and I’d feel like I was getting a grasp on the story or characters, something random would be there to confuse me again.
There were also many inconsistencies in the story where the characters were doing one thing but all of a sudden they weren’t.  For example, the Drudges were cleaning and working on their weapons but the text said that “neither moved as they spoke.”  They were cleaning their weapons; that requires movement.
Back story was interspersed throughout.  Sometimes that helped.  Sometimes it just made the reading more confusing.
As far as the ending, I don’t even know what to say about that other than I finished the book wanting it to be so much more than it was.
Conflict & Tension
All of the conflict and tension seemed contrived.  The characters were definitely at the mercy of their situations instead of being decision makers for their own destinies.
Research & Story World
The author’s note indicated that Dayton does extensive research for her books, visiting the various locales mentioned (Hong Kong, London, Scotland).  I don’t know how much of that comes across in the book since the story is set in the future.
Romantic Tension
There is a romantic triangle that is predictable from the start.
Spiritual Connection & Speculative/Supernatural Elements
I don’t believe there were necessarily spiritual connections or supernatural elements in this book.  There was time travel and fantasy. 
Although there is mention at a few points about energy fields around people’s bodies and how the healers can fix anomalies in those.  I guess that would be a bit New Age.
Questionable Content
More conservative readers would want to know there were sexual vibes, and implications between characters.  Many violent descriptions of fights and murder.  Drug use, drug dens and drinking were common in the story line.  Also, one of the characters is involved in prostitution.
Originality & Predictability
I think that the concept Dayton was working with is a good one.  Characters traveling through time and space (although most of the characters in this book it was just from location to location) to change the past/alter the present/affect the future is interesting.  Having teens train their childhoods in order to do so and believing that it is to right wrongs only to discover something different is compelling.
The story was just too confusing to hash out that plot line.  I spent most of the book trying to figure out what was going on and why that I never was able to engage in the bigger picture.
I was guessing all the way to the end…and even at the end.  In this case, that’s not a positive.
Audience Appropriateness & Appeal
The target audience is young adults 14 and older.  And I believe it would appeal to some.  Readers that age don’t necessarily look for depth of character or consistency in story.  However, I would say some of the content is best left to those who are older. What is the target audience?
As a movie, I believe it would be rated PG-13 based on the violence and drugs.
Despite the comparisons made on Amazon, this book has very little in common with Divergent, Hunger Games, and the like.
Engagement, Entertainment & Investment
Seeker was a quick read, as is the nature of most YA books.  I did keep turning the pages in the hopes it would start to make sense and things would fall into place.  It didn’t. 
It is the start of a series.  So perhaps it becomes clear in later books; I have no desire to find out.
This is not a book I would recommend to others.
 CONCLUSION
Pros
·         The concept could have been interesting
Cons
·         Confusing
·         Story has little to no flow
 
***This review will also be posted on The Christian Manifesto review website on 2.26.15


Monday, February 2, 2015

Decision Points - George W. Bush


Publisher:
  Crown Publishers
Release Date:
  November 9, 2010
Market:
  Secular
Genre:
Non-Fiction, Memoir
Length:
497 pages
My Rating:



 

 About This Book (from Amazon)

In this candid and gripping account, President George W. Bush describes the critical decisions that shaped his presidency and personal life.

George W. Bush served as president of the United States during eight of the most consequential years in American history. The decisions that reached his desk impacted people around the world and defined the times in which we live.

Decision Points
brings readers inside the Texas governor's mansion on the night of the 2000 election, aboard Air Force One during the harrowing hours after the attacks of September 11, 2001, into the Situation Room moments before the start of the war in Iraq, and behind the scenes at the White House for many other historic presidential decisions.

For the first time, we learn President Bush's perspective and insights on:

  • His decision to quit drinking and the journey that led him to his Christian faith
  • The selection of the vice president, secretary of defense, secretary of state, Supreme Court justices, and other key officials
  • His relationships with his wife, daughters, and parents, including heartfelt letters between the president and his father on the eve of the Iraq War
  • His administration's counterterrorism programs, including the CIA's enhanced interrogations and the Terrorist Surveillance Program
  • Why the worst moment of the presidency was hearing accusations that race played a role in the federal government’s response to Hurricane Katrina, and a critical assessment of what he would have done differently during the crisis
  • His deep concern that Iraq could turn into a defeat costlier than Vietnam, and how he decided to defy public opinion by ordering the troop surge
  • His legislative achievements, including tax cuts and reforming education and Medicare, as well as his setbacks, including Social Security and immigration reform
  • The relationships he forged with other world leaders, including an honest assessment of those he did and didn’t trust
  • Why the failure to bring Osama bin Laden to justice ranks as his biggest disappointment and why his success in denying the terrorists their fondest wish—attacking America again—is among his proudest achievements

A groundbreaking new brand of presidential memoir, Decision Points will captivate supporters, surprise critics, and change perspectives on eight remarkable years in American history—and on the man at the center of events.

How and Why I Acquired This Book

One of my informal reading goals is to read a memoir or biography from all of the U.S. presidents.  This was my start.  It was actually the very first book I put on my “To Read” shelf on Goodreads back when I started using it several years ago.  So it seemed fitting to go ahead and read it to kick off some of 2015’s reading goals.  Add to that the fact I was an adult (just graduating college) when he became president, and it was good to have personal connection to the events and issues discussed.

CRITIQUE

First, my political disclaimer.  I do tend to lean right and be more conservative than liberal.  However, I do not ever vote a straight Republican line (and, really, my ideals tend to line up more with the Libertarian party).  And I do not agree with all of the decision George W. Bush made during his presidency. 

Generally I like my non-fiction history, memoir, biography books to be written in chronological order.  This one wasn’t.  However, I was able to get over that fairly quickly into the book and grew to not just appreciate but like the fact Bush arranged his memoir by major topic (or “decision points”) in his administration.

Former president Bush begins his memoir with a brief overview of his family and some of his earlier work experience, including owner of the Texas Rangers and governor of Texas.  Then he moves into the different critical issues of his presidencies (stem cells, AIDS epidemic, 9/11, Katrina, etc.). 

I believe he handles each topic in a well-rounded and analytical way.  He admits where he made mistakes and where he felt there was only one option.  At other times, he expounds on the information surrounding the issue and the reasoning for the decision he made or the action he did or didn’t take. 

Questionable Content

There is some cursing in the book when different individuals are quoted.

Engagement, Entertainment & Investment

I think reading this book was a good experience.  It was eye-opening in that it made me realize in a way I hadn’t before that our leaders are just humans too.  Yes, they should be held to a high standard.  But they are capable (and going to) make mistakes just like the rest of us.  Unfortunately for them, their mistakes are on a world stage.  I feel like I’ve walked away from the reading with a greater understanding of some of the issues from 2001 – 2008 and of the man in charge.