Mr. Dickens and His Carol by Samantha Silva


Charles Dickens is well-known in London. People greatly anticipate his next story, until his latest book all but flops. His publishers are concerned, and push him to write a Christmas story in just a matter of weeks. But with the holiday so close, a new baby, and children too young to grasp the idea of money troubles, Dickens is in no mood for a Christmas story.

A Christmas Carol is one of my favorite stories. I try to read it every year. Dickens is also a favorite of mine. So, you can imagine how badly I wanted to enjoy this book. Sadly, I didn’t. I got just under page 60 before I stopped. It just wasn’t holding my interest. It was very slow-moving. His wife and kids were mildly irritating. And I just couldn’t imagine the rest of the story getting any better.

1) Overall Plot = 2.5
2) Characters = 3
3) Flow/Pace of the story = 2.5
4) Is the story easy to follow? = 4.5
5) Overall Enjoyability = 2.5

Average score of 3 out of 5

Where to buy the book: Amazon | B&N

The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield


Vida Winter is a famous and loved author, but very little is known about her. Countless interviews turn out to be simple stories she uses to keep her past hidden. As her life is reaching it’s end, she decides to finally tell her story.

Vida chooses Margaret Lea, a young biographer who has yet to tell the story of a living person. She lives with her on troubled past, and one word piques her interest in Vida’s story: twins.

I’ve come to realize that as much as I love books… as much as I love reading them, and looking at them, and simply being among books… reading about someone doing the same does not hold my interest.

I stopped reading this one a little over 50 pages in. After dozens of pages of learning Margaret’s relationship to books and the bookstore she runs, the introduction of Vida was welcome, but not strong enough to keep me going forward. She was, maybe, just a little too eccentric for me.

I think the story itself had promise, but I would have preferred if the writing were more straightforward, and the discussion of books had been lessened at the beginning.

1) Overall Plot = 3.5
2) Characters = 3.5
3) Flow/Pace of the story = 2
4) Is the story easy to follow? = 4
5) Overall Enjoyability = 2.5

Average score of 3.1 out of 5

Where to buy the book: Amazon

Lady of a Thousand Treasures by Sandra Byrd


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The Sheffield Brothers firm is well-known among collectors. Trained by her father and her uncle, Miss Eleanor Sheffield is a talented evaluator, able to tell a fraud from a genuine artifact. But in 1860’s England, Eleanor is unable to run the firm as un unwed woman. After her father’s death, her uncle’s health begins to decline, and business can be hard to come by.

The death of a long-time client puts Eleanor in the position to decide the fate of his expensive collection. The late Lord Lydney doesn’t want the collection to go to his only living son, Harry, who he believes is untrustworthy. He suggests she give the collection to a museum, but she must decide.

The decision won’t be easy. Giving the collection to the museum could boost her firm’s reputation, but Harry, the man who stole and broke her heart, doesn’t appear to be who his father believes him to be.

Eleanor must decide what is true, and who is genuine.

Sandra Byrd has given us another fantastic historical novel! I fell in love with her Daughters of Hampshire series, and after reading this novel I can say that I’m likely to love her new series, Victorian Ladies.

Sandra does an excellent job bringing the reader into 1860’s England, and gives us characters that we care for and root for. Eleanor faces difficult circumstances, and lives out her faith through it all.

If you want a clean, suspenseful, inspiring read, this is definitely a novel you want to pick up.

1) Overall Plot = 5
2) Characters = 5
3) Flow/Pace of the story = 5
4) Is the story easy to follow? = 5
5) Overall Enjoyability = 5

Average score of 5 out of 5

Where to buy the book: CBD | Amazon | B&N

I was given the opportunity to be a part of Sandra’s promotional team for the release of this book. As part of the team, I received a complimentary copy of the book, but was not required to give a positive review.

Murder at the Flamingo by Rachel McMillan


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After Hamish DeLuca’s anxiety gets the better of him during his first real court case as a lawyer, he runs away to his cousin, Luca Valari. Luca was the only person who never focused on Hamish’s flaw, and treated him like everyone else.

Regina Van Buren comes from high-class society stock, but she flees when decision for her life are being made for her. She finds a job working for Luca Valari, as his secretary, and begins taking steps to be an independent woman and live on her own terms.

When a dead body is found at Luca’s new night club, The Flamingo, Hamish and Regina take it upon themselves to uncover the truth, but there are some who don’t want the truth discovered.

I can’t say that I enjoyed this one. I originally decided to read the book, because of the comparison to The Thin Man movies, which I love. Sadly, the only real comparison is that Regina and Hamish occasionally call each other Nick and Nora to boost each other’s confidence.

Let’s start with what’s good. McMillan does a great job of scene-setting and pulls the reader into the time period of 1930’s Boston. The characters are well-developed. Hamish, especially, is a breath of fresh air as a male lead with a struggle like anxiety and panic attacks.

Unfortunately, I had a lot of issues with the novel.

1) This novel is marketed as Christian fiction. While it is pretty clean reading, there is nothing decidedly Christian about it. There is no mention of faith or God in any way.  

2) The murder doesn’t occur until more than halfway though the story. The first half of the novel is really just setting the tone and getting to know the characters and city.

3) The writing was sometimes hard to follow. I had to go back and re-read lines or passages several times to figure out what was being described or discussed.

4) Regina has two love interests in this novel, and I was not happy with where it was left at the end. I’m sure this will be an ongoing arc as the series continues, but with all the build-up of connection with one of the love interests, I was very disappointed with the lack of resolution, and the turn Regina took as a character.

5) Hamish and Regina kind of stumble into the truth about the murder, and solve it with little evidence or struggle. People seem to suddenly open up to them.

6) There’s an added mystery surrounding Hamish’s cousin, Luca, who has a history of bad choices and sketchy practices. This new club is supposed to be a clean start for him. He puts his office in a poorer area of the city, and no one knows why. There seems to be a connection to that part of town, and how badly the tenants are treated, to the people Luca are involved with. Hamish and Regina stumble into the answer for this as well, and there is a very climactic scene that comes from it, but it left me feeling like nothing was actually answered.

Murder mysteries are supposed to leave you feeling like you don’t know everything, but this one left me feeling like I had almost no information. I felt like I was missing vital pieces of information. Like there was something even the main characters figured out that they hadn’t let me in on. I was able to get to the end of this one, but I probably won’t be reading the next in the series.

Content Warnings: It is a murder mystery, so there is violence. A lot of scenes take place at night clubs with heavy drinking and lots of unsavory characters. Regina is also on the receiving end of some unwanted advances.

1) Overall Plot = 3
2) Characters = 4
3) Flow/Pace of the story = 3.5
4) Is the story easy to follow? = 3
5) Overall Enjoyability = 2.5

Average score of 3.2 out of 5

Where to buy the book: CBD | Amazon | B&N

I received an electronic copy of this book from BookLook in exchange for an honest review.

Sandra Byrd: Author Q&A


The first book I read by Sandra Byrd was Mist of Midnight, the first novel in her (incredible!) Daughters of Hampshire series. I was hooked. Now, she has a new series in the works. The first novel, Lady of a Thousand Treasures, will be released on October 9. Sandra was kind enough to answer a few questions about writing, and I’m sharing them with you now in celebration of the new release!

 


1) What is the inspiration behind the Victorian Ladies series?

It all started with a cow creamer! I first became aware of the mania for collecting, especially among the Victorian and Edwardian British, while watching an episode of Jeeves and Wooster: Jeeves Saves the Cow Creamer. In it, a certain set of men were trying to outdo and outmaneuver one another to acquire and keep a silver cow creamer. Wodehouse played the scenes for absurdity, of course, but in that poking of fun was a truth we all recognize—collecting can become a competitive sport.

Today’s culture reflects the continuing interest in collections, and understanding and appreciating what those who came before us collected. How many of us enjoy watching Antiques Roadshow, for example? We gasp along with the owners when a rugged, torn blanket is valued at tens of thousands of dollars, or a treasure long believed to be a rare work of art is discovered to be a fake.

Collecting was and is both personal and public. Before there were museums, viewing other peoples’ collections was a way to see what they had gathered from their travels, purchased on their own, or inherited from their family.

 

2) When did you know you wanted to be a writer?

From the time I could read chapter books, which was early at about the age of six.  Reading and writing are two sides of the same coin, as they say, so loving to read led to wanting to write. My first real short “novel” was about a man from the north pole and a woman from the south pole who fell in love but could not marry because of that magnetic repulsion. 😊 Needless to say, it is not in print. But it was a start!

 

3) Do you type or handwrite your first draft?

I type everything. The story flows from my brain to my fingertips!

 

4) What is your favorite part of the writing process?

I love research, and I love the actual writing of chapters when it’s going well. I like edits when the critique comes from someone I trust and respect.

 

5) Is there an aspect of writing you struggle with?

Plotting is hard, fraught-with-anxiety work for me. Without it, though, my books would not work.  So, I do it—teeth clenched—reminding myself that the fun part is coming next!

I, like all writers, struggle with, “Am I good enough? Is this book good enough? Will anyone read this, and does it really matter?” But that’s not limited to writers, methinks!

 

6) Describe your daily writing routine.

Normally, I do busy work while drinking coffee until about 10 am, when my brain is fully awake. Then I put my headphones on and dive into the work. I try to take a mid-work walk to stimulate some blood flow to my brain and seat and then get back to work.  When I start summarizing instead of writing actively on scene, it’s time to quit for the day!

 

7) Are there any authors who have influenced your writing?

Dozens! However, as pertains to this series, Victoria Holt, aka Jean Plaidy, really sparked my love for historical novels, especially those told in first person.

 

8) What’s the last novel you read and enjoyed?

It’s not the last novel I read, but it’s launching soon, Hidden Among the Stars by Melanie Dobson. I love her work.

 

9) What’s the last book you read on writing?

I like anything by Michael Hague or KM Weiland, so I revisit their works (and heartily recommend them) often!

 


Thank you SO much, Sandra, for taking the time to answer my questions!

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Sandra is hosting a pre-order giveaway, so be sure to check that out. I was lucky enough to receive an advanced copy, so you can expect a review from me soon. In the meantime, you can pre-order your copy from Amazon, Barnes & Noble, ChristianBook.com, or other retailers.

 

Be sure to visit Sandra online: www.sandrabyrd.com

Green by Ted Dekker


I finally finished re-reading The Circle series. Here’s the review I wrote the first time I read it…. one of the first reviews I ever did. 🙂

Green is Book Zero, both the final and first book of Ted Dekker’s Circle Series. This novel picks up with Thomas of Hunter and the Circle ten years after the events in the novel White. But now the Circle is breaking. The followers of Elyon have begun to doubt that Elyon will return for them as promised. Some doubt he ever really existed at all. To make matters worse, it is Samuel, Thomas’s own son, leading this turn from Elyon. Thomas must fight to keep the Circle together. Their hope lies in the Lost Books of History and making a way from the future world back to our world.

Ted Dekker, the author, says you can read Green as either the first or last book of the Circle series. I admit, I was doubtful. But I can now see how it works. The story does indeed come full circle…

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Interview & Giveaway


I recently had the opportunity to participate in 3 Questions Wednesday over at Inspired Prompt. You can learn a little about me as I answer the following questions:

  1. Can you describe yourself in three words?
  2. Someone offers you a fully-paid writing research trip to any place you desire to go. Where would it be and why?
  3. If someone made a movie of your life, what would be the theme song?

You can also enter for a chance to win one of my favorite novels:

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Many thanks to Inspired Prompt, and Jennifer Hallmark, for having me!

Please visit my 3 Questions Wednesday post to enter the giveaway, which ends tomorrow at midnight PDT.

I’d love to see your answers to the questions! Drop a comment here, or over at Inspired Prompt, with your answers. Or, ask me something else you’d like to know!

A Little Book on the Christian Life by John Calvin


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Published in 1539, the second edition of Calvin’s Institutes of the Christian Religion contained a new chapter: On the life of a Christian Man. It has since been published many times in various languages as part of the entirety of the Institutes, as well as separate books, such as this one.

In this new English translation, editors Aaron Clay Denlinger and Burk Parsons strive to not just give us the message of Calvin, but to stay true to his words and tone.

Calvin lays out what the Scripture says about the life of a Christian regarding success and suffering. How are we to respond to success? How do we respond to suffering, be it illness, poverty, or persecution? How does our response portray our relationship with God?

This book is an encouragement of truth. Where most churches today convey Godly success as prosperity in every area of life, this little book reminds us of what the Bible says. Simply, the Christian life involves strife. That strife should drive us to God.

1) Is it understandable = 5
2) Presentation of Information = 5
3) Quality of Writing = 5
4) Overall Enjoyability = 5

Average score of 5 out of 5

Where to buy the book: CBD | Amazon | B&N

For Love and Honor by Jody Hedlund


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At his mother’s request, Sir Bennet returns home to help his family. They are deeply in debt, and their situation has become dangerous as the people they owe threaten to attack and take everything. His mother feels the only way out is for Sir Bennet to marry a wealthy woman.

Lady Sabine doesn’t consider herself beautiful. Worse, she has a discoloration on her arm. Superstitions would brand her as a witch, and her life would end. She visits Sir Bennet’s home, knowing his family’s financial situation. He has a rare collection of ancient treasures she has always longed to see, and she hopes to purchase something for herself.

The two bond over their love of the collection, but Sabine’s secret, and Bennet’s pride could hinder their relationship as the danger around them grows.

This young adult historical romance is a bit predictable at times, but is a good read overall. The characters are likable, and you want to know more about them. The character interactions are excellent, and keep the pages turning.

My biggest issue may be that, for a Christian novel, what little thought there is to God quickly turns to human attention or affection, and the idea that we can’t truly love until we learn to love ourselves.

I also had some trouble following whose point of view I was in. Both Sabine and Bennet have a turn, and both are in first person. As chapters started, it sometimes took a moment for me to figure out who was speaking.

Not my favorite work of Hedlund’s, but still a nice novel.

1) Overall Plot = 4
2) Characters = 5
3) Flow/Pace of the story = 5
4) Is the story easy to follow? = 4.5
5) Overall Enjoyability = 4

Average score of 4.5 out of 5.

Where to buy the book: CBD | Amazon | B&N

I received an electronic copy of this book from BookLook in exchange for an honest review.