Review of Joy:Poet, Seeker and the Woman Who Captivated C.S. Lewis by Abigail Santamaria

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I have to admit that this is a difficult review to write. I just finished reading Joy: Poet, Seeker and the Woman Who Captivated C.S. Lewis by Abigail Santamaria. It's the biography of Joy Davidman Gresham who became the wife of C.S. Lewis. It isn't difficult because the book was bad. On the contrary, it's an extremely well done biography, and I was absorbed in the story of Joy's life from the beginning. It's difficult because reading this biography confirms for me that even my spiritual heroes have feet of clay.

You see, I'm a black and white person. Even though I'm fallible, I want spiritual leaders who aren't. And reading this biography of Joy gave me the distinct impression that one of my favorite spiritual writers lived a rather messy life at times. Joy's life was most decidedly messy. And Jack's- C.S. Lewis's- wasn't always perfect either.


Review of a biography of Joy Lewis, wife of C.S. Lewis
From the book's description:

Joy Davidman is known, if she is known at all, as the wife of C. S. Lewis. Their marriage was immortalized in the film Shadowlands and Lewis’s memoir, A Grief Observed. Now, through extraordinary new documents as well as years of research and interviews, Abigail Santamaria brings Joy Davidman Gresham Lewis to the page in the fullness and depth she deserves.

A poet and radical, Davidman was a frequent contributor to the communist vehicle New Masses and an active member of New York literary circles in the 1930s and 40s. After growing up Jewish in the Bronx, she was an atheist, then a practitioner of Dianetics; she converted to Christianity after experiencing a moment of transcendent grace. A mother, a novelist, a vibrant and difficult and intelligent woman, she set off for England in 1952, determined to captivate the man whose work had changed her life.

Davidman became the intellectual and spiritual partner Lewis never expected but cherished. She helped him refine his autobiography, Surprised by Joy, and to write his novel Till We Have Faces.Their relationship—begun when Joy wrote to Lewis as a religious guide—grew from a dialogue about faith, writing, and poetry into a deep friendship and a timeless love story.

Abigail Santamaria does an excellent job examining the life of Joy Lewis. With many, many references to her extensive research, she guides readers through Joy's early life, her rocky first marriage, her conversion to Christianity, and her pursuing C.S. Lewis after being introduced to his books. The biography is one that is so compelling and well done that it drew me in as well as a fiction novel would have.

And, although I walked away with a little disappointment in a spiritual hero, I also acknowledge that we are all, at times, disappointments on our spiritual journeys. And I appreciate the author's willingness to delve into the story- not to make Joy or Jack heroes and not to villainize either of them either- but to present the facts as much as we can know them and to open the door to the life of Joy, the woman that C.S. Lewis came to deeply love.

This is an excellent biographical read. I give it 5 stars and a PG rating for content. You can find Joy on Amazon here.





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Review of Seaside Gifts by Gayle Roper

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I often read and review Love Inspired fiction. I enjoy many of these because they are light, easy reads and perfect for a relaxing read at the end of the day. Occasionally, they'll be too simple, and the characters aren't developed or the story seems pretty unbelievable. But, at times, I'll find one that- although short and simple- really has a great story line and compelling characters. Seaside Gifts falls into the latter category.

From the book's description:

Review of Seaside Gifts, Christian fiction by Gayle Roper


Nan Patterson has finally found her niche: operating a boardwalk gift shop in the quaint beachfront town of Seaside. Everything is perfect—until valuable items start just...showing up. At worst, they’ve been stolen and abandoned in her shop. At best, someone doesn’t realize they’ve lost them. Either way, Nan knows she’s out of her depth. Time to call in the local police.

Officer Rog Eastman has bigger worries than a bunch of misplaced treasures—but it is his job to help local shop owners. The fact that she’s adorable doesn’t even come into the equation. Especially since he’s sworn off women for the foreseeable future.

But there’s an imp at work in the background. Someone who knows exactly what these two people need: each other!


I found this light read really enjoyable. Nan and Rog are both interesting characters and are well developed, despite the fact that the book is short and sweet. The story line was really interesting- a slight mystery as well as a romance. The story was very believable as well.

The book has an inspirational message but is definitely not "preachy." I do like it that both of the main characters talk about their relationship with Christ and how that has guided their decisions.

I can definitely recommend this one if you're looking for a light, easy to read romance. I give it 4 stars and a G rating for content. You can find Seaside Gifts on Amazon here.



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Review of Cold As Ice by M.K. Gilroy

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Cold As Ice is the third in a series featuring detective Kristen Conner. I didn't read the first two. There were references to things that probably happened in previous books, but, mostly, this one seemed to be a separate story.

The book is a fast-paces mystery/suspense. Readers who enjoy that genre will probably enjoy the story line. The book wasn't a favorite for me, however.

The perspective in the book shifted frequently from first to third person, and I had some difficulty keeping up. The story had lots going on at once, and this also made it difficult to keep up. There was a good bit of action but not so much character development for some of the characters, so I found it difficult to really "connect" with them.

As always, I'll say that different books appeal to different people. You can check out the post on the Christian Fiction Blog Alliance blog here to read other reviews and opinions. You can also find the book on Amazon here.



This week, the
Christian Fiction Blog Alliance
is introducing
Cold as Ice
Sydney Lane Press
by
M.K. Gilroy


ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

Mark won’t claim he has done it all in the world of publishing, but he has packed boxes, edited manuscripts, made sales calls, created marketing plans, directed design and illustration, started companies, consulted, agented the works of others, and written advertising and catalog copy. He’s authored, compiled, and ghost written books that have landed on an array of bestsellers lists and sold millions of copies. His first ghost writing project, The Wal-Mart Way, was done for Don Soderquist, Sam Walton’s longtime right-hand man.

In early 2012 he put on a new hat as a fiction author. His debut novel, Cuts Like a Knife, was released in April 2012 and was met with rave reviews from USA Today, Fresh Fiction, Publishers Weekly, and other leading national reviewers. His second novel, Every Breath You Take, second in the Kristen Conner Mystery Series, released in Fall 2012 to similar acclaim. Kristen Conner returns in Cold As Ice, which releases in Fall 2014.

Gilroy has extensive writing credits. He scripted and served as creative consultant for a two-hour training video that was honored with the Award of Excellence by the International Television Association. He has compiled and written close to fifty books and penned hundreds articles and curriculum pieces for a variety of periodicals and publishers.

Gilroy and his wife Amy reside in Brentwood, Tennessee. Their six children are Lindsey, Merrick, Ashley, Caroline, Bo, and Zachary—the youngest has now headed off for college, so he and Amy are officially empty nesters.



ABOUT THE BOOK

Detective Kristen Conner is back on a new murder case. She’s still fighting with her sister—and no surprise, someone new wants to kill her! He was a pillar in his Chicago neighborhood: popular school teacher, devoted father and husband, political activist on behalf of underprivileged children—and a master gardener who liked to plant flowers in his neighbor’s yards. What wasn’t to love about him? Who would want him dead?

When Detective Kristen Conner lands the case she knows from day one who the key suspect is. That’s simple. The person most likely to kill you is someone close that you know and love. But the wife? She was always at her husband’s side and just as passionate about his causes as he was. No way could this loving wife and mother of three be a killer. Right? Mix in her on-again, off-again relationship with FBI Agent Austin Reynolds, a quick trip to New York City where Kristen helps her media-star sister for a new apartment—only to discover the body of a man who appears to have been executed by a professional killer on a run through Central Park—and Kristen Conner is once again swept into a world of danger, intrigue, and a confusing love life.

What she doesn’t know just might kill her.

If you would like to read the first chapter of Cold as Ice, go HERE.




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A Review of In God's Hands: Death in the Womb by Tricia Wellmaker Hanke


A review of In God's Hands: Death in the Womb- healing and encouragement after miscarriageA friend that I knew from high school married and began to have children about the same time I did. In fact I remember the two of us driving about forty-five minutes away to visit a mutual friend, toting infants that screamed for much of the car ride. She went on to have another child not long after my second was born. I didn't keep in close contact, but I occasionally saw either her and her family or her mom and extended family who I had known in our small Christian school as well.

I remember hearing of the loss of their third child in a stillbirth. I heard the news and prayed for her. I knew- as a mom myself and then later as a mom who had had a miscarriage- the grief this could bring. Although we didn't have close contact, I continued to pray for her during that time.

Out of her time of grief, my friend wrote a book, a telling of their story. The book shares their family's grief, helps women dealing with miscarriage to understand what's happening, relates the hope through grief that her family had because of their faith, and celebrates the beauty of life- even a brand new, unborn life.

I recently had the opportunity to read her book- In God's Hands: Death in the Womb. you can find information about the book or purchase this resource for yourself or for someone you know is hurting here.

In the book, Tricia relates the story of her early married life and their first two children. She recalls the events surrounding her third pregnancy and her first suspicion that something might be wrong. She explains how she and her husband found out that the baby had, indeed, died. And she tells of the physical and emotional strain she dealt with over the next days and weeks.

Over and over she affirms the reality that the new life within her- about 11 weeks- was truly a baby, a forming baby. There are pictures of the baby that the family took after the miscarriage was complete. These may be troubling to some readers. But I think that they affirm that this wasn't a fetus or tissue. It was a baby.

As Tricia recounts how her family coped with the situation, she explains to readers how their faith helped them to deal with things and how friends and family members rallied around to encourage them. This can help us as friends to encourage friends that go through this.

The book closes with encouragement to share the gospel with family and friends. and encourages us in the hope we have in the gospel.

If you're going through the loss of a baby or have a loved one who is, you can read Tricia's blog Helping Hurting Hearts to Heal. And you can find this book here.




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Review of Luther and Katharina, a Beautiful Love Story During the Reformation, by Jody Hedlund

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I've been a fan of Jody Hedlund's books from the moment I read the first one. I've reviewed The Preacher's Bride and A Noble Groom here on the blog. She writes with that wonderful quality I love in historical fiction, one that combines the real history of the times with an enthralling story of the people involved.

Like the others I've reviewed previously, Luther and Katharina is a beautiful historical fiction story that accurately portrays the history during the time of the Reformation as it weaves the story of Martin Luther and Katharina, who becomes his bride. It's a story I've long been interested in. For one thing Katharina bears a name very similar to my first born- Kathryne. I also find their story fascinating because the pages of history often indicate that they had a passionate love for each other, an interesting fact when you consider they were once a monk and a nun.

A review of Luther and Katharina, Christian fiction by Jody Hedlund


From the book's description:

In the 16th century, nun Katharina von Bora’s fate fell no further than the Abbey. Until she read the writings of Martin Luther.
His sweeping Catholic church reformation—condemning a cloistered life and promoting the goodness of marriage—awakened her desire for everything she’d been forbidden. Including Martin Luther himself.
Despite the fact that the attraction and tension between them is undeniable, Luther holds fast to his convictions and remains isolated, refusing to risk anyone’s life but his own. And Katharina longs for love, but is strong-willed. She clings proudly to her class distinction, pining for nobility over the heart of a reformer. They couldn’t be more different.
But as the world comes tumbling down around them, and with Luther’s threatened life a constant strain, these unlikely allies forge an unexpected bond of understanding, support and love.
Together, they will alter the religious landscape forever.


Jody Hedlund has the ability to create well-developed, compelling characters. This is especially interesting when the story is about real historical characters. I felt as if I really came to know them throughout the book.

The story also gives a good picture of the historical times. I often have thought about the glamour of the time period- brave reformers standing against the Roman Catholic church and being willing to become martyrs. It's true that the reformers were very brave. But when I consider their lives and the danger that they lived with day in and day out, I can appreciate more their stand for their beliefs. I can also envision the violence of the times and the struggle that the true reformers had when it seemed they could find support from no quarter- not from the nobility that didn't want to anger and fall out of favor of the Church nor from the peasants who were angry and violent because of their mistreatment at the hands of the nobility and the church.

I love Luther and Katharina. It's a beautiful love story surrounding two important figures in the history of the Reformation. I give it 5 stars and a PG-13 for content (because of the violence of the times). You can find Luther and Katharina on Amazon here.






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Review of Once Upon a Summertime by Melody Carlson

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A review of Once Upon a Summertime by Melody CarlsonMy daughter is a huge fan of Melody Carlson's books. I find myself not liking them as much- although I will say that Once Upon a Summertime was one of the ones I've liked the most.

The characters are fairly developed. They aren't as well-developed as I like, but I did feel as if I could relate to them, and the story wasn't just simply a straight telling with no introspection (something I really dislike). I enjoyed both main characters. They were fairly believable, and they were likable.

My main problem as I was reading was that I felt as if the story just sort of wandered on. It seemed to take a long time to lay out the background and really begin the story development. And then, at times I felt I was just wandering through information that really didn't have to do with the main plot.

Overall it's a light, easy read. As I said, my daughter loves these, and I know everyone has a different style of book that is appealing. I give this one 3.5 stars and a G rating for content. You can find Once Upon a Summertime on Amazon here.



This week, the
Christian Fiction Blog Alliance
is introducing
Once Upon a Summertime
Revell (June 2, 2015)
by
Melody Carlson


ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

My husband Chris and I live in a cabin-style home next to the National Forest in the beautiful Cascade Mountain area of the Pacific Northwest. Our two grown sons and granddaughter live nearby and we try to see them as often as we can. We also have two 're-homed' pets to make life more interesting-our yellow Labrador retriever Audrey and a Maine coon cat named Harry.

My writing studio is in a separate building next to our courtyard (a garden area that's off limits to the voracious deer). The window behind my desk looks out into the Ponderosa pine forest, where I see deer, squirrels, rabbits, and an occasional raccoon. The other windows in my office overlook the courtyard which is frequented by numerous hummingbirds in the summertime-one August evening we counted nearly fifty of the little hummers.



ABOUT THE BOOK

Managing the Value Lodge in her hometown was not what Anna Gordon had in mind when she set out in the hospitality industry. But it's a safe choice for a woman whose childhood was anything but stable. Out of the blue, she gets a once-in-a-lifetime chance to reinvent herself by moving to New York City, where she hopes for a management position at a stylish new boutique hotel. The big city is full of surprises--not the least of which is Sean O'Neil. Her childhood crush has applied for the very same position!

Sweet, romantic, and endlessly entertaining, this romp through the storied streets of New York City will enchant readers. Melody Carlson has created characters so charming that readers will long to meet them in the lobby of the stunning Rothsberg Hotel.

If you would like to read the first chapter of Once Upon a Summertime, go HERE.





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Review of Oswald: Return of the King by Edoardo Albert

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Last year I had the opportunity to review Edwin: High King of Britain, historical fiction set during the second century in England when the Angle and Saxon invaders and the original British kings constantly battled for power. I loved the story. So I was very pleased to have the opportunity to review the second in the series- Oswald: Return of the King.

Some historical fiction is just a story set during a real historical time. The events of history that surround the characters may be factual. But the story itself is all fiction. I like those books. But Oswald: Return of the King, just as Edwin was, is a story grounded in the known facts of the time. It really is a look at history. Many of the characters who are in the story are actual historical figures, including Oswald himself. At the end of the book, the author explains how he came to learn the history and where he may have added details that weren't clearly known. This is truly historical fiction at its best.

A review of Oswald: Return of the King by Edoardo Albert

From the book's description:

The second book in The Northumbrian Thrones series follows the young prince Oswald as he seeks to regain the throne taken from his family by Edwin

The exiled family of King Æthelfrith of Northumbria arrive, after much hardship, on the island of Iona, where the monastery founded by St Columba has become a center of worship and learning. Amid the violence and turbulence of Dark-Ages Britain, the island appears a sanctuary to the hunted princes and Oswald, having become firm friends with a novice named Aidan, enters the church along with his younger brother, Oswiu.

As befits a young prince, Oswald learns to fight and soon becomes renowned for his courage, earning the title Lamnguin, the Whiteblade. However, the peace of Iona leaves Oswald torn between becoming a monk or returning to Northumbria to reclaim the kingdom that is rightfully his. When news reaches Iona that his half-brother, Eanfrith, has been killed by Cadwallon, the king who defeated Edwin, Oswald sails back to Northumbria and meets Cadwallon in battle, defeating and killing him.

Oswald, now the undisputed king of Northumbria, gives Aidan the island of Lindisfarne as a base from which to take the faith to the English. But Penda, the last great pagan king in England, is raising troops against him...

I was truly engrossed in the reading of Oswald. The author has the unique ability to clearly communicate the events and settings of the time in a way that is truly interesting. And it's not just a telling of  information. The characters in the story are very well-developed. And there are many characters to develop. The story has quite a few layers, some picked up from Edwin and some that can lead to the last book of the trilogy (that I hope is coming soon!).

The history of this time has become very interesting to me. As it happens, I'm studying the Middle Ages with my younger girls, and we've discussed the events that led up to the Middle Ages in England. So as I read Oswald, I could picture the kings struggling for power and the unrest in England at the time. This isn't light, easy reading. It's a meaty story in which I was totally absorbed.

I thoroughly enjoy Oswald, and I am waiting anxiously for the third book in the trilogy. I give it 5 stars and a PG-13 rating (for the violence). You can find Oswald: Return of the King on the Kregel website here and on Amazon here.



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