Monday, March 31, 2014

Death By the Book - a review

Drew Farthering wanted nothing more than to end the summer of 1932 with the announcement of his engagement. Instead, he finds himself caught up in another mysterious case when the family solicitor is found murdered, an antique hatpin with a cryptic message, Advice to Jack, piercing his chest.

Evidence of secret meetings and a young girl's tearful confession point to the victim's double life, but what does the solicitor's murder have to do with the murder of a physician on the local golf course? Nothing, it would seem--except for another puzzling note, affixed with a similar-looking bloodied hatpin.

Soon the police make an arrest in connection with the murders, but Drew isn't at all certain they have the right suspect in custody. And why does his investigation seem to be drawing him closer and closer to home?

I really enjoyed the first Drew Fathering book, Rules of Murder, but I have mixed feelings about this one. It felt less tight and put-together. It felt less like a stand-alone story and more like a sequel, which, I suppose, it is. But still...
I'll give it to Julianna Deering that I didn't guess who did it until the end. As a matter of fact, it shocked me. It was plausible, but it didn't seem thematically right. But then, I don't suppose people have any consideration for themes when they choose to be murderers... Actually, I take that one back. This murderer was very interested in themes and such. The quotations from Shakespeare pinned to the body was a nice touch, even if rather morbid.
What irritated me, though (and it's in most Christian fiction, so it's not fair to blame it all on Julianna Deering) is Madeline's (Drew's girlfriend) silly hesitation about whether she loved Drew and wanted to get married or not. In the last book it was clear they loved each other.  In this book, they spend most of their time kissing and trying to keep it from going too far. One (at least someone portrayed as the perfect Christian girl like Madeline was) does not simply go around kissing someone like that and wonder whether one actually loves him or not! The hesitation-about-marriage theme can be done well, but it takes a lot of characterization. This simply felt like a plot device to add some tension to the romantic angle.
But there were some beautiful passages in Death by the Book. I guess it's that when you see ability in an author you hold her up to a higher standard which then she doesn't always measure up to.
But Death by the Book was an enjoyable read, for all that. And it's still head-and-shoulders above many Christian fiction novels.
My rating: 7.5 out of 10
Disclaimer: Book has been provided courtesy of Baker Publishing Group and Graf-Martin Communications, Inc.
Available at your favourite bookseller from Bethany House, a division of Baker Publishing Group.

Saturday, November 30, 2013

A Million Little Ways - a review

Do you desperately fear you have nothing to offer the world but secretly hope you're wrong?

You were born to make art. You were made to live art. You might not see yourself as an artist, but you are--in so many unexpected ways. In what you create, whether poetry or pie, sculpture or sand castle, calligraphy or conversation. It's time to uncover the shape of your soul, turn down the voice of the inner critic, and move into the world with the courage to be who you most deeply are.

Creating a life of meaning is not about finding that one great thing you were made to do, it's about knowing the one great God you were made to glorify--in a million little ways.

In this book, Emily Freeman says many things I've been thinking through but have never yet found in one single book.  She leads her readers on a journey into discovering themselves as God's artwork who also make art.  This book is one of the best I  have come across for explaining the worldview of the Christian artist. 

Much of A Million Little Ways is directed to the non-creative people who don't see themselves as artists.  This was a little boring for me, but the parts I needed to hear far outweighed the parts that didn't apply to me.  Emily's writing comes across as 'artistically modern' (tense changes, lots of adjectives, strangely written sentences, etc) which some readers will love and some might be confused by.  I confess I didn't enjoy the writing style as much as I thought I would, which is the only reason why I'm not giving this book a 10.

A Million Little Ways is highly recommended both for creative Christians and those who would like to be more creative.

My rating: 9 out of 10

Disclaimer: Book has been provided courtesy of Baker Publishing Group and Graf-Martin Communications, Inc.
Available at your favourite bookseller from Revell, a division of Baker Publishing Group.

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

God's Double Agent - a review

God's people are hiding in plain sight
Tens of millions of Christians live in China today, leading double lives to hide from a government that relentlessly persecutes them.

By day, Bob Fu was a teacher in a communist school; by night, he was a preacher in an underground house church network. This edge-of-your-seat book tells the true story of Fu's conversion to Christianity, his arrest and imprisonment for starting an illegal house church, his harrowing escape, and his subsequent rise to prominence in the United States as an advocate for his oppressed brethren.

God's Double Agent will inspire you to boldly proclaim and live out your faith in a world that is at times indifferent, and at other times murderously hostile, to those who spread the gospel.

It's too easy for us in the west to forget about the rapidly growing but persecuted church in China.  The story of Bob Fu's childhood, his conversion to Christianity, his romance with his wife Heidi, his work as a preacher, his imprisonment, and his escape from China provides a wealth of fascinating information about Chinese culture, Communism, and the role of Christians in a hostile nation.  But more than that, it's interesting!  God's Double Agent is an intensely readable story that captured my attention better than many novels do. 

Recommended for any Christian, particularly those wanting to know more about Chinese culture and persecution.

My rating: 9 out of 10

Book has been provided courtesy of Baker Publishing Group and Graf-Martin Communications, Inc.
Available at your favourite bookseller from BakerBooks, a division of Baker Publishing Group"

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

A Bride for Keeps - a review

Synopsis: Everett Cline will never humiliate himself by seeking a mail-order bride. Not again. He's already been jilted by three mail-order brides and figures a wife just isn't in his future. However, a well-meaning neighbor hasn't given up on seeing him settled, so she goes behind his back to bring yet another woman to town for him.

Julia Lockwood has never been anything more than a pretty pawn for her father or a business acquisition for her former fiance. A mail-order marriage in faraway Kansas is a last resort, but she'll do anything to leave her life in Massachusetts and the heartbreak she's experienced there.

Although Everett doesn't see how a beautiful, cultured woman like Julia could be happy sharing his simple life, he could really use a helpmate on his homestead. Determined to prove she's more than just a pretty face, Julia agrees to a marriage in name only. Faced with the harsh realities of life on the prairie and hesitant to explore the tentative feelings growing between them, can Everett and Julia ever let each other in long enough to fall in love?

I'll say it right away: Melissa Jagears is a talented author.  Julia and Everett were both captivating characters  and their story unfolded beautifully.  However, I didn't enjoy A Bride for Keeps as much as I expected to. I may be a hopeless romantic, but I like thinking that 'falling in love' is actually about loving someone instead of just admiring them physically.  Everett's interest in Julia for most of the story is about how gorgeous she is and how much he wishes they could, ahem! have a real marriage. Which for a single girl like me is Unhelpful and generally Not Nice.

But if you enjoy mail order bride stories and don't mind a high level of physical mushiness, you still might want to try out A Bride for Keeps.

My rating: 6.5 out of 10

Book has been provided courtesy of Baker Publishing Group and Graf-Martin Communications, Inc.
Available at your favourite bookseller from Bethany House, a division of Baker Publishing Group

Monday, September 30, 2013

Head in the Clouds - a Review

When a recovering romantic goes to work for a handsome ranch owner, her heart's not the only thing in danger!

Adelaide Proctor longs to find a real-life storybook hero to claim as her own. But when a husband-hunting debacle leaves her humiliated, she interviews for a governess position on a remote Texas sheep ranch and vows to leave her silly romantic yearnings behind.
Gideon Westcott left his privileged life in England to make a name for himself in America's wool industry, never expecting to end up with a child. To his dismay, five-year-old Isabella hasn't uttered a word since she lost her mother. The unconventionality of the new governess concerns Gideon—and intrigues him at the same time. But he can't afford distractions.
When Isabella's uncle comes to claim the girl—and her inheritance—Gideon and Adelaide must work together to protect Isabella from the man's evil schemes. Soon neither can deny their growing attraction. But after so many heartbreaks, will Adelaide be willing to get her head out of the clouds and put her heart on the line?

I hate cliches. I hate books that abound in cliches while pretending to be unique. But I think very differently of books that use tried and true storylines to give a familar, feel-good story without worrying about uniqueness. These stories are sometimes the best of all.

Head in the Clouds reminded me of a fairy tale or a little girl's daydream. A delight for the hopeless romantic, things aren't kept out of the story just because 'those things don't happen in real life'.  Impractical, certainly, but perfect for a rainy day's distraction.  With likeable, but not deep characters and appealing Victorian-era setting, this book is one to be enjoyed!

My rating: 8

Disclaimer: Book has been provided courtesy of Baker Publishing Group and Graf-Martin Communications, Inc.
Available at your favourite bookseller from Bethany House, a division of Baker Publishing Group