Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Review of The Daughter of Highland Hall by Carrie Turansky

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Last year I was able to review The Governess of Highland Hall, a Christian fiction novel by Carrie Turansky. I really enjoyed it, and I was very excited to have the opportunity to review the second book in the series- The Daughter of Highland Hall.


The Daughter of Highland Hall is the second in the Edwardian Brides series. In this installment, Kate is entering London society. She is going through the traditional "coming out" where she'll meet only the best of society in the hopes of finding a husband who is worthy of her. As she faces a scandal that limits her opportunities in society, she also begins to be more open to the leading of God in her life. And she realizes the joy of serving London't poor along with medical student Jon Foster.

The setting of these novels is very interesting. Living in modern times, it's hard to imagine the pressure that Kate is under to wear the right thing, wear her hair the right way, meet the right people. But at the time, this "coming out" was so important to families of importance.

The character development was good. I felt as if I got to know Kate better. (She featured in the first book in the series but not prominently.) The setting and time period are interesting.

There isn't anything particularly deep here, and occasionally the action didn't flow, and it seemed a little stilted. But it was a light, enjoyable read. And I did enjoy following some of the characters I had met in the first book.

Although the books are a series, they can be read independently. They are stand alone stories.

I give this one 4 stars and a G rating for content.

Disclosure: I received a free copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. All opinions expressed are entirely my own, and I didn't received any further compensation.

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Review of Hello From the Gillespies by Monica McInerney

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Hello From the Gillespies from Monica McInerney is a fiction novel set in Australia. Angela is the mother of four children, three grown but coming back home after romantic and financial failures and one a ten year old boy with a large imagination. When Angela prepares the annual family Christmas letter, she takes a deep breath and writes the truth for a change. She never intends to send the letter that details the failures of her adult children, the oddity of her young son, and the growing distance in her relationship with her husband. But when disaster strikes, the letter is emailed inadvertently. The family struggles with the reactions of their family and friends. And they are forced to take an honest look at their family and personal lives.


I really enjoyed this read. As someone who often thinks that Christmas letters sound too good to be true, I found humor in Angela's honesty about her family- even though she didn't intend to share it. There was drama. There was humor. There were relationship issues. Hello From the Gillespies had it all.

I really loved the setting, also. An Outback station in Australia- somewhere I'd love to visit- is the home of the Gillespie family. There is description about this sometimes beautiful, sometimes harsh setting, adding depth to the story.

The characters are well developed. Although Angela is, perhaps, the main character, we really get to know the whole family well as their story unfolds. I felt as if I got to know all of them to some extent.

Although I often review Christian fiction, this is a general fiction novel. There is occasional language- although not much- and reference to some intimate scenes- although not much description.

This one is a good read, and I give it a 5 star rating and an R for content.

Disclosure: I received a free copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. All opinions expressed are entirely my own, and I was not compensated in any other way.

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Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Review of Big Book Of Quizzes From Faithgirlz

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From the time my oldest daughter was a "tween" she's enjoyed the little quizzes that are geared for tween and teen girls and often found in books or popular magazines or on social media. Many of them are cute, and I understand why it's fun for the girls to do it and to ask the questions of their friends. But some of these little quizzes have content that isn't appropriate. Using inappropriate language or crude humor or encouraging sarcastic, unkind comments, some of them are not just good clean fun.

Enter the Big Book of Quizzes: Fun, Quirky Questions for You and Your Friends from Faithgirlz. Published by Zonderkidz (the children's branch of the Christian publisher Zondervan), this is a quiz book that I feel good about letting the girls use. From the book's description:

Welcome to the world of, well, you! The Faithgirlz! Big Book of Quizzes offers more than twenty quizzes delve into school, friends, faith, family, guys, and questions “All-About-You.” Take the quizzes on your own or with friends. Some funny, some thought-provoking, every quiz ends with wide range of answers to help girls think about themselves, get advice on tons of topics, and learn little “who knew?” facts about how they really think and feel—done in a fun format every girl loves.
Girls will love circling questions, asking BFFs for best answers, and LOLing at those “that’s SO me” moments. And, yet, each has a takeaway message that makes the Big Book of Quizzes a super entertaining, relevant, and interactive read for girls ages eight to twelve.

These quizzes are fun and clean. Some are designed to quiz yourself, some to be asked with your friends, and there's a whole chapter of quizzes girls can use to get to know their families well.

One thing that I particularly like is that all of the quizzes and answer sections are written from a distinctly Christian worldview, encouraging girls to live in a Christlike manner in their life and relationships. And the answer sections for each quiz give some tips for how to have a more full life by following God's will. There are Scripture references and examples from Scripture included.

This is a totally fun book and won't feel "preachy" to girls at all. But it will encourage them to live as Faithgirlz!

Disclosure: I received a free copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. All opinions expressed are entirely my own, and I was not compensated in any way.

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Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Review of Beside Bethesda: a 31 Day Devotional by Joni Eareckson Tada

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In the New Testament Jesus came upon a man who was lying by the pool of Bethesda. At occasional times, angels stirred the pool and any who went into it were healed. This man was paralyzed, however, so he never made it into the water. When Jesus came by he asked the man if he wanted healing. And Jesus answered the man's cry and healed him.



Beside Bethesda: 31 Days Toward Deeper Healing is a thirty-one day devotional from Joni Eareckson Tada. As a woman paralyzed in an accident, she is familiar with a cry to God for healing. From the book's description:

Each day has a devotional reading, a few passages of Scripture, and a challenge/application for the day. Joni relates personal stories as she comforts and encourages in each day's reading.

I'm always blessed when I read Joni Eareckson Tada. When I realize what she's been through but see the joy and peace she has in Christ, I am encouraged and inspired. This devotional is another inspiring read.

Disclosure: I received a free copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. All opinions expressed are entirely my own, and I was not compensated in any other way.

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Review of Strange Glory by Charles Marsh

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I've always been intrigued by the story of Dietrich Bonhoeffer. He was a German pastor who opposed the cruelty of the Nazis during World War 2. He spoke out against the churches that just went along with them. Because of his stance he was constantly ostracized and he was eventually imprisoned and executed for conspiracy against Hitler.


This story of Bonhoeffer's life- Strange Glory: A Life of Dietrich Bonhoeffer - written by Charles Marsh, is a very detailed, very complete recounting. With excellent documentation and careful research, Marsh has written a very complete accounting of Bonhoeffer's life.

Although I've read other books about Bonhoeffer, this was one of the most detailed and descriptive. Marsh doesn't romanticize Bonhoeffer but portrays him carefully and gives us as readers insight into his determination to stand against the prevailing thought of the German church during the war.

For more information, I found an interesting interview with Charles Marsh about the book here.

Disclosure: I received a free copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. All opinions are entirely my own, and I was not compensated in any other way.


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Monday, October 6, 2014

Review of Citizen by Rob Peabody

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Do you ever feel frustrated with Christians in general? Many Christians- often ourselves included-are content to roll along with the status quo. The fact is that we often don't act any differently than anyone else, even though we are citizens of a different kingdom.


When I read the book's description I was very interested in reading Citizen:

For Rob Peabody, the young pastor at a mega-church in southern USA, the realization that his faith had little real connection with the world around him meant that something had to change. He redirected his church towards the poor on their doorstep and then took the larger step of moving to the UK to establish the missional fellowship 'Awaken'.
 
In Citizen he outlines the Kingdom-centered identity that is given to followers of Jesus. It's a wake-up call to the church in the West. Jesus' death and resurrection initiates and invites people into a life of so much more than the status quo. God is re-building, re-newing, and re-creating that which is broken and marred by sin, and he is doing this - setting things right in the world - through Jesus. As citizens of the Kingdom, we have been saved and set apart for this work. We have a new allegiance, a changed identity, and a new mission as we seek to establish the rule of God on earth as it is in Heaven.

In Citizen Rob Peabody begins by explaining how we are citizens of the kingdom of Heaven. He describes the awakening that he experienced when he came to this realization for himself. And then he looks at the identity of a citizen, the community in which a citizen should live, the risks a citizen should be willing to take, the need for unity in the Kingdom, where a citizen's allegiance lies, the choices that a citizen must make, the need to be full time citizens, and how citizens are ambassadors for the Kingdom.

Rob's personal story is related in the book's beginning. He and his family left a megachurch in Texas to move to the UK to be a part of a missional community in a post Christian world. He, along with other like-minded people,  founded the Awaken Movement. This is a nonprofit that assists the churches by providing resources and coming alongside them.

Citizen incorporates stories from Rob's personal experiences as he talks in an informal way about what it means to be a citizen of the kingdom. It's not written as a how to guide. And there are no lists of practical steps to be accomplished. Instead it's a conversation between Rob and the reader that informs and convicts. I walked away with plenty to think about and to consider about my own life and the way I live.

Disclosure: I received a free copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. All opinions expressed are entirely my own, and I was not compensated in any other way.

Right now Kregel is offering Citizen for Kindle for $1.99. You can check out the Amazon page here.



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Saturday, October 4, 2014

Review of The Sweetness by Sande Boritz Berger

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I've always been draw to historical fiction from the World War 2 time period. I can't really say I "enjoy" it because the time period was so harsh and sad. But there is something about it that draws me.

The Sweetness is a novel set during this time. It alternates between the lives of two main characters- a young girl living in Poland and her cousin, a young woman living in New York. From the book's description:

Early in The Sweetness, an inquisitive young girl asks her grandmother why she is carrying nothing but a jug of sliced lemons and water when they are forced by the Germans to evacuate their ghetto. "Something sour to remind me of the sweetness," she tells her, setting the theme for what they must remember to survive. Set during World War II, the novel is the parallel tale of two Jewish girls, cousins, living on separate continents, whose strikingly different lives ultimately converge.

Brooklyn-born Mira Kane is the eighteen-year-old daughter of a well-to-do manufacturer of women’s knitwear in New York. Her cousin, eight-year-old Rosha Kaninsky, is the lone survivor of a family in Vilna exterminated by the invading Nazis. But unbeknownst to her American relatives, Rosha did not perish. Desperate to save his only child during a round-up of their ghetto, her father thrusts her into the arms of a Polish Catholic candle maker, who then hides her in a root cellar─putting her own family at risk. The headstrong and talented Mira, who dreams of escaping Brooklyn for a career as a fashion designer, finds her ambitions abruptly thwarted when, traumatized at the fate of his European relatives, her father becomes intent on safeguarding his loved ones from threats of a brutal world, and all the family must challenge his unuttered but injurious survivor guilt. Though the American Kanes endure the experience of the Jews who got out, they reveal how even in the safety of our lives, we are profoundly affected by the dire circumstances of others.


The conditions for Jews in Vilna during the war were terrible. I found an article from the Holocaust museum that relates some of the details of what happened. It is difficult to image what it was like.

The Sweetness is a hauntingly beautiful story. Through the excellent character development, we can feel what it was like to live their lives. Rosha, the young girl, tells her story in first person, while her cousin, Mira's story is related in third person. There are also other characters that we get to know well as the story progresses.

This is not Christian fiction, as I sometimes review. There are a few intimate scenes in the book- not heavy on detail but definitely there. There is also reference to abortion and suicide. The events are definitely disturbing at times. I thought that this helped to communicate the book's theme of the terrible times in which the characters lived.

You won't walk away from The Sweetness feeling happy and cheerful. In fact there were issues unresolved. Because the story is more of an ongoing look at the lives of the characters instead of one dramatic climax with a resolution following, I felt as if I needed more at then end. But I did leave with a feeling of hope. And that, perhaps, is the reason I read books about the Holocaust. Because throughout the horrific event, there are stories of hope, of the resiliency of people and of the kindness of some. That's what The Sweetness made me feel.

I give this one 4 stars and an R rating for content.

Disclosure: I received a free copy of this book for review purposes. All opinions expressed are entirely my own.




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