Sunday, January 24, 2016

Audiobook Review: Lizzy & Jane by Katherine Reay


Lizzy & Jane
by Katherine Reay
2014, read by Hillary Huber

✯✯✯✯✯ (for the novel)
✯✯ (for the audiobook)

Synopsis

Two sisters, one nearly 10 years older than the other. In a fit of rebellion, Jane left home, leaving a void in her younger sister, Lizzy's life, a void that only widens when her mother dies of cancer. As soon as Elizabeth is of legal age, she's gone too, following her dreams to be a big-time chef in New York City. She has her restaurant, Feast, the potential for a romantic match the restaurant's financial backer, Paul. No need for family. But now her skills as a chef are slipping and she's losing the magic. Thinking a return home will stir the passion she once felt for food, Lizzy heads to Washington only to discover that her sister is now battling cancer, the same cancer that killed their mother. While Jane eventually came home and proved herself stable, the relationship between Jane and Lizzy is anything but. Except now Jane needs her and maybe this is a second chance to make their relationship work, just as their mother always hoped. After all, you don't name your daughters after the Bennet sisters in Pride & Prejudice without a good reason.

The Novel

First, do not read Reay's books unless you love classic literature or you will be completely lost with all the literary references. These women eat, sleep, and breathe Jane Austen, although this one also references a lot of Hemingway. And don't read this book unless you're at least a little bit of a foodie since food references are on almost every single page. 

Despite the heroines being named after the Bennet sisters, Lizzy's favorite Austen novel is Persuasion which also happens to my personal favorite. So I appreciated her insight and love of the novel, especially her thoughts on how Anne being forced to wait might have been a blessing, hence the following quote.


Second, if you've ever known someone, either a friend or a family member, who battled cancer than this book will be an inspiration and encouragement to you. While I'm fortunate in the good health of my immediate family and friends, I also realize that the pain, confusion, hurt, and anger over that dreadful diagnosis of cancer is very real. And this book offers at least gentle semblance of healing and hope.

Life and family are sometimes messy. I cannot connect to the reality of Lizzy and Jane's relationship, their anger, the long history of bitterness and snipping at one another. I don't know how defensiveness can be the first reaction you have to your sister. But then, I've been blessed with a best friend in my younger sister. I love her, so very much, and so my heart breaks when I remember the sad reality that a lot of siblings don't have the same relationship that I have with my sibling.

Thursday, January 21, 2016

Goodreads Tag!

I snatched this from Lois over at You, Me, and a Cup of Tea who I haven't been following for all that long, but do enjoy reading her posts.

Plus, it gives me an excuse to squeeee over the new banner my sister put together for this blog! She's awesome with graphics and I LOVE it!

Anyway, on to the tag itself, and I am an active Goodreads member so these are all up-to-date as of yesterday.

What is the last book you marked as "read"? On This Foundation by Lynn Austin. Which you can tell since my review is just prior to this latest post.

What are you "currently reading"? Three books are currently on the list, although I'm actively reading one, The Shock of Night, a fantasy by Patrick Carr that I'm really loving. The other 2 books are Lizzy & Jane by Katherine Reay and Once in a While by Linda Ellen.

What was the last book you marked as "to read"? Snow Day by Billy Coffey, but mostly because I intend to read all of his amazing books at some point and just added them all to my list last night.

What book do you plan on reading next? It needs to be Regina Jennings' At Love's Bidding because I'm reading it for the Bethany House Blogger program.

Do you use the star rating system? Oh yes, and I'm really honest about when I like a book or not. I don't mind giving a book 3 stars so long as I write a review that actually gives a reason for the rating.

Are you doing the 2016 reading challenge? Always. This year it's only 50 books because I have other stuff going on.

Do you have a wish list? Not really. When there's a book I really love, I'll just buy it. I don't often ask for books for gifts because I have that habit of buying them!

What book are you planning on buying next? Mm, no real plans at the moment. Maybe some of Camille Eide's books since I don't own any, they're all loaners.

What is your favorite quote?


Who are your favorite authors? I have plenty, but right now, CAMILLE EIDE is top of the list! I love that woman's work! Long-term favorite authors are Cornelia Funke, Tolkien, and Charity Bishop.

Are you a part of any Goodreads group? A couple of Christian fiction groups and a blogger book review group, as well as a Jane Austen group. I'm not entirely active, but sometimes I post.

What could Goodreads do better? Re-reads capability in the lists would be amazing! And their app could be improved to allow liking reviews from people that you're not friends with. Both of those things would be awesome.

Monday, January 18, 2016

Book Review: On This Foundation (Restoration Chronicles #3) by Lynn Austin


On This Foundation (The Restoration Chronicles #3)
by Lynn Austin
2015
✯✯✯✯

Synopsis

It is twenty some years since the 13th of Adar occurred and Esther saved her people and the Jews fought back against their attackers. Nehemiah's parents were murdered in that attack, and he now serves as the cupbearer to King Artaxerxes of Persia, meaning that he is a most trusted servant who tastes anything and everything the king will eat or drink. When Nehemiah learns that the walls of Jerusalem, the holy city of his people, lie in ruins with no one attempting to rebuild them, he garners permission from the king to travel roughly 1,000 miles to Jerusalem and rebuild the walls, fortifying the city against attacks by her enemies. This is the story we know, the story of Nehemiah rebuilding the walls of Jerusalem, facing opposition from local Gentile leaders, and guiding the people back to God.

The fictional side of On This Foundation is found in the 2 other sets of characters, Chana and her family and future husband and then Nava and her family and life as a bondservant. Chana is cleverly created out of a single verse in the book of Nehemiah, chapter 3 verse 12 that speaks of Shallum, an official over half of Jersualem, rebuilding his part of the wall with his daughters. Chana is one of Shallum's daughters in this story, a grieving young woman whose future husband was murdered by attackers creeping into the undefended Jerusalem. The wall means a great deal to her, as does working on it herself, doing something physical to right a very personal wrong. In the course of the story, she is courted by Malchijah, a powerful nobleman who is also listed in Scripture as having played a part in rebuilding the wall. Despite her doubts, Chana discovers that Malchijah is a good man, albeit weak in some areas, and she can strengthen and encourage him to make right choices according to the Law and God's will.

Nava, the young bondservant to Malchijah, fights bitterness and anger against the injustice that she must serve as bondservant to her master when he could forgive her family's debts and free her as Nehemiah asked of the wealthy Jews also according to Scripture. In love with a young farmer named Dan, Nava fears her master's son who is determined to catch her alone so he can take advantage of her. Bitterness eats her up inside and she must reconcile herself to God more to provide balm to her own wounded soul than for anyone else.

My Thoughts
 
I nearly rated this book 3 stars, but in good conscience I couldn't do it. A lot of effort goes into creating biblical fiction, and I liked almost all of the characters that Lynn Austin created. I think she took a little to much liberty with Nehemiah himself, heaping doubts and fears and emotions on him that I don't see in Scripture, but this is fiction and a little alteration is to be expected.
 
I started out disliking Chana, but ended up admiring her fortitude and how she matured from a stubborn, self-pitying woman to a strong woman of faith. Her marriage with Malchijah is entirely fictional, but I appreciated the reality of it being a second match for both of them, and even though the igniting passion we expect to see in romance is absent, they still grow to love each other. Theirs was a practical match, but just because it is a practical match doesn't mean there can't be love. I appreciated Ms. Austin's acknowledgement that love isn't always about feelings.
 
As for Nava, I pitied her from the beginning, but as her rage developed, I found myself frustrated with her for the same weaknesses that I myself can exhibit when things don't go my way. God uses our circumstances to grow us, no matter what they might be, and bitterness only serves to destroy us if we let it take root. Thankfully, Nava realizes that she must have faith and return to trusting in God, praying for her enemies and for peace for herself. And God rewards her faithfulness.
 
However, it's incredible to me how the same issue I had with the 1st book in the series, Keepers of the Covenant is still prevalent in the final book in the series. I appreciate Ms. Austin's dedication to scriptural references. I actually re-read the book of Nehemiah before writing this review, and she's pretty much spot on with historic details and names and events and all that stuff that is so easy to get wrong. But the contemporary dialogue she uses is still off-putting. This is historic fiction, and not just historic fiction but biblical fiction. I don't think they would have used words like "boyfriend." It just doesn't fit, and I'm disappointed in the novel's lack of historic dialogue.

Thursday, January 14, 2016

Book Review: Grave Consequences by Lisa Tawn Bergren


 Grave Consequences (Grand Tour Series #2)
by Lisa Tawn Bergren
2013
✯✯

❤ Synopsis

Grave Consequences is the 2nd book in the Grand Tour series that began with Glamorous Illusions. Cora, Will, Pierre, and all of Cora's siblings and their friends continue on their journey across the continent, now moving into France, Rome, Germany, and Italy. Cora's tender emotions continue to be torn in two, conflicted between the attentions of Will, their young "bear" (tour guide), and those of Pierre de Richelieu, one of the noblemen of France. The farther they travel, the more confused she becomes, all while surrounded by such art and architecture and people as she would have never, ever imagined meeting until she was claimed by Wallace Kensington, a copper king of Montana, as his daughter.

❤ My Thoughts

Let's begin with the positive. The first 1/3 of the novel is fun and delightful. The travelers stay with Pierre's sister and her husband in Provence in their fine mansion that was once a prison, perched above the Rhone river. The entire visit spent with Celine and Adrien is magical, almost too good to be true. Every morning the young gentlemen awaken, slip on their bathing costumes, and take a leap from the house into the river below that right past the magnificent mansion. The imagery was so vivid that I effortlessly pictured the scenes spent in Provence.

Unfortunately, the magic was not to last. Cora's emotional upheaval really ended up detracting from this second novel. I understand that she comes from a simple background. Her parents were farmers, they never had much in the way of financial security, etc. I get that. What I don't understand is her foolhardy belief that Wallace Kensington would simply allow her to return to her previous life after bringing her out of it. Why would she even want to?

With Pierre at her side, Cora has an opportunity to achieve so much good that goes far beyond attending school and becoming a schoolmarm. A lot of people hold with the idea that you must follow your heart wherever it might lead you, even if it means you're going to fall in love with a penniless tour guide like William McCabe, who you know your father doesn't approve of, and if he finds our you're seeing him on the sly, he'll summarily dismiss him. Love is about more than mere feelings. It has to be a joining of head and heart and all I see Cora doing is following her heart, head be damned.

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

Audiobook Review: Love Comes Calling by Siri Mitchell

 
Love Comes Calling by Siri Mitchell
2014, read by Morgan Hallett

 
My job gives me between 7 and 8 hours a day on the computer so I need SOMETHING to distract my brain, and audiobooks are perfect for that. Yes, I'm one of those people who can perform data entry while listening to an audiobook or a radio drama. The Lord has blessed me so much, and I'm incredibly grateful!

Anyway, I thought it would be fun to start reviewing the audiobooks I listen to, how well I liked the book itself, but especially who well I like the reader since the reader makes or breaks a story.

Synopsis

Love Comes Calling by Siri Mitchell is a simple and fun story, set in the 1920s, right smackdab in the middle of the flapper era. The heroine Ellis Eton is a young coed who tries and tries and tries her hardest to focus and do things right, just as is expected of her by her uppercrust family, but her mind wanders, she gets distracted, and before she realizes it, she's flubbed another test, or forgotten about a meeting, or misplaced directions. Literally, she's a mess. But she has a good heart, so when the daughter of her family's former housekeeper needs to take a trip for 2 weeks to bury her mother in her hometown, Ellis agrees to take her place at her job as a switchboard operator, or a "Hello Girl" as they're called. Ellis and Janie looked so much alike as children that they actually switched places for a day, so Ellis knows the scheme will work, especially since her fondest dream is to be a Hollywood actress and she knows she can pull off the switch. Except that being a switchboard operator is harder than she ever dreamed, and when she overhears something she shouldn't by not flipping a switch on her board, well, she suddenly suspects that someone is out to harm one of her oldest friends, Griff Phillips. As the heir to a substantial fortune himself, along with being an excellent college football player, Griff is near and dear to her heart, although Ellis doesn't realize how near and dear until she starts sticking to him like glue. Throw in a few speakeasys, uppercrust parties, and time at the lake, and you've got quite an adventure on your hands with Love Comes Calling!

The Novel

First of all, one of the things I love most about this book is the heroine. Siri herself admits to creating a heroine with ADHD before it was even diagnosed, and boy is she right! Ellis is at the height of ADHD so it's fascinating to be in her head where tries so hard and struggles to please her family and to remember and to do what needs to be done, but she just can't quite manage it. In that same vein, though, I'm sure a lot of readers will find themselves frustrated with Ellis' lack of concentration, which is why I'm mentioning her diagnosis right now so you know what you're getting into before you even pick up the book or audiobook.

My second favorite thing is how the Roaring Twenties is represented. Modern Americans have this glamorous vision of the 1920s lifestyles, the glitz, the fame, the parties, etc. But it wasn't all glamour. A  lot of it was sordid and vile and shameful, and this is the side Siri Mitchell represents so well that most other authors or films skip altogether. Fun and fabulous parties like the ones in The Great Gatsby are all well and good, but in Love Comes Calling, they're shown for being the life-draining, morality destroying binges that they are. And I love that honesty.

Saturday, January 9, 2016

A Magical Cinderella Story - Glamorous Illusions by Lisa Tawn Bergren (2012)


Glamorous Illusions (Grand Tour Series #1)
by Lisa Tawn Bergren
2012
✯✯✯✯

Written for Cinderella Week hosted by Heidi at Along the Brandywine. ❤

I grew up reading Lisa Tawn Bergren's work, lots of her contemporary romances passed through my hands when I was a teenager, but I honestly haven't picked up one of her books in years. This one I just happened to stumble over this last week, one I'd planned to read for awhile, but never got around to. Kindle had a deal, I bought Glamorous Illusions, and then proceeded to read it in about 2 days. I just enjoyed it and myself so much. This book is a transporting and diverting read and I loved losing myself for at least a couple of days. And to my surprise, I found out about 3/4 of the way through, that it's actually a little bit of a Cinderella story! Who knew!?

Just for a brief write-up on the plot, Cora Diehl, a young woman living on a small farm in Montana in 1913, discovers that she's actually the illegitimate half-daughter of insanely wealthy Wallace Kensington, a copper king. Just now introducing himself, Mr. Kensington is giving Cora an opportunity to try his lifestyle on for size, which includes meeting his 3 legitimate children, and even taking the Grand Tour of Europe with them. It will be an uphill battle, she didn't realize how much uphill, but Cora finds herself up to the challenge as a love of art and history and travel is awakened within her, as well as a deepening understanding of herself as a young woman in the early 1900s, of suffrage, and of her place as a believer in Jesus.

There we go, simply stated, but also downplayed because the book takes many twists and turns. Cora discovers that her siblings aren't as easy to get to know as she might have hoped, especially Vivian, she spurns unwanted attentions from the son of another family traveling with them, develops an attraction to the "bear" in-training (a glorified tour guide), William McCabe, and constantly wars within herself over her happy, humble beginnings versus the new world opening up before her. Which could involve being courted and wooed by a French aristocrat, Pierre de Richelieu.

And this leads me to the connection with Cinderella.

Of course, you already see it, a little bit. A rags to riches story of a young woman, except that the family she already had was loving and kind, while the one she's breaking into has its own sort of selfishness and vanity, but apart from that, the tales are very similar. Oh, and God sort of plays the fairy godmother, since He orchestrated a lot of what happens by simply being who He is. I love that part.

Sunday, January 3, 2016

Book Review: The Memoir of Johnny Devine by Camille Eide

The Memoir of Johnny Devine
Camille Eide
Ashberry Lane Publishing
2015
✯✯✯✯✯

Official Synopsis

In 1953, desperation forces young war widow Eliza Saunderson to take a job writing the memoir of ex-Hollywood heartthrob Johnny Devine. Rumor has it Johnny can seduce anything in a skirt quicker than he can hail a cab. But now the notorious womanizer claims he’s been born again. Eliza soon finds herself falling for the humble, grace-filled man John has become—a man who shows no sign of returning her feelings. No sign, that is, until she discovers something John never meant for her to see.

When Eliza’s articles on minority oppression land her on McCarthy’s Communist hit list, John and Eliza become entangled in an investigation that threatens both his book and her future. To clear her name, Eliza must solve a family mystery. Plus, she needs to convince John that real love—not the Hollywood illusion—can forgive a sordid past. Just when the hope of love becomes reality, a troubling discovery confirms Eliza’s worst fears. Like the happy fa├žade many Americans cling to, had it all been empty lies? Is there a love she can truly believe in?


My Take in 3 Parts

The Plot
Ms. Eide had me at 1953, and really won me over with the reality of Eliza's plight and her determination and pluck to continue writing, even though her topics about racial, ethnic, and gender oppression were considered subversive for the era. The Memoir of Johnny Devine superbly captures the raw emotions and fears bubbling so near the surface in the early 1950s, all because the 'red scare' was sweeping through the US like a flash flood, snatching at the innocent along with the guilty. 

Communism and social issues both play a large role in this novel, perhaps uncomfortable to some, but also very real and necessary to understanding how events like the Salem Witch Trials and the 'red scare' could ever happen. Fear is a great motivator and paranoia is often birthed from that same fear.

However, don't suppose that just because Ms. Eide's latest deals with such somber topics that it's a book without humor, because it is awash with good humor and entertainment. I love the 1920s through the 1950s and so I loved the realism of the era captured on the page. But also, I admit this novel also chipped a little of the rose colored lenses I wear regarding earlier eras. Life wasn't perfect, neither were the people. Perhaps those happy little lives and marriages we see captured in such shows as I Love Lucy and Father Knows Best really go only skin deep, not even scratching the surface of reality.

The Memoir of Johnny Devine will make you think, if nothing else.

Saturday, January 2, 2016

Book Review: A Daring Sacrifice by Jody Hedlund

A Daring Sacrifice
Jody Hedlund
Zondervan
March 1, 2016
✯✯✯

Official Synopsis

In a reverse twist on the Robin Hood story, a young medieval maiden stands up for the rights of the mistreated, stealing from the rich to give to the poor. All the while, she fights against her cruel uncle who has taken over the land that is rightfully hers. Forced to live in the woods and hide with the poor people she's grown to love, she works to save and protect them, but she never anticipates falling in love with the wealthy knight who represents all she's come to despise.

My Take in 3 Parts

The Plot
The plot is precisely what the synopsis promised, a reverse twist on Robin Hood. Juliana's father was deposed from his land and then murdered when he attempted an uprising to reclaim it. Juliana herself is left alone, confused, and extremely bitter about the injustice done to her family and also the poor, helpless peasants who her uncle now keeps in cruel bondage. Juliana, an expert huntress and bowman, does what little she can to sustain the people in her care, even it means robbing from the rich.
  
Being a thief, however, has its distinct disadvantages, especially when you get caught, as inevitably happens to Juliana. But the man caught her is more intent on winning her heart than turning her in as a thief. Lord Collin Goodrich, a character from Ms. Hedlund's previous novel An Uncertain Choice, has finally met a woman worth wooing, and while his original intentions may have been simply to woo Juliana, he quickly learns that to win Juliana must also mean defending the weak and the helpless right alongside her.

Book Review: Miss Kopp's Midnight Confessions by Amy Stewart (Kopp Sisters #3, 2017)

Original Summary Deputy sheriff Constance Kopp is outraged to see young women brought into the Hackensack jail over dubious charges ...