Praying with Paul by D. A. Carson


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The apostle Paul often spoke of prayer. In the openings of his letters, Paul told his readers how he prayed for them, and asked for prayers in return. Paul’s focus on prayer should draw our attention.

D. A. Carson lays out several prayers from Paul’s letters. He breaks them down to reveal what Paul is praying for and why. He reveals, most importantly, that the prayers of Paul are God-centered.

This book turned out to be a lot more theologically rich than I was expecting, but after reading it I can see why. Carson really gets into the bones of Paul’s prayers. There’s nothing superficial here.

There were moments when I got a little confused, and had to re-read a passage, but it’s worth it. I did a lot of underlining in this book.

1) Is it understandable = 4
2) Presentation of Information = 4.5
3) Quality of Writing = 4.5
4) Overall Enjoyability = 4

Average score of 4.25 out of 5

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

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.

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.

Outlining Your Novel by K. M. Weiland


 

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Outlining can seem like a daunting task. Especially to someone who has never used one when writing fiction. Memories of high school term papers come to mind, with mandatory outlines, complete with roman numerals, letters, and numbers.

K. M. Weiland sets out to erase that picture and give a more accurate presentation of what a novel outline looks like. In this book you’ll learn how to flesh out ideas, characters, and settings, all before writing a word of your first draft.

I discovered K. M. Weiland about six years ago when I stumbled upon her Wordplayer’s Manifesto. When I seriously began thinking of writing a novel I found her again and I’ve followed her online ever since. She is adamant about helping writers, and it shows in this book.

Coupled with the workbook, this is a great resource for outlining. The workbook especially takes you piece by piece and asks specific questions you can answer about your characters, plot, etc. It’s a great guide. I say guide, simply because I found that, at least for the purposes of the novel I’m working on, the order of her outlining doesn’t quite work for me. So, I’m doing it a bit differently, but those questions will work in any order.

With examples from Weiland’s own work, insight from authors who use outlines, and checklists to guide you through, you’ll see the benefits of outlining in no time.

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: Amazon | B&N

Red by Ted Dekker


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Thomas Hunter leads two lives. In one world, he is trying to stop a virus from wiping out civilization. In the other, he is the leader of warriors who protect their people from a fallen enemy.

The evidence of a link between these worlds grows, and Thomas must stay alive to change history, or both worlds could be destroyed.

Red is the second book in the Circle series. It picks up at the exact point that Black left off, and the rollercoaster continues. The Biblical parallels become richer in this installment as the over-arching story reaches a climax in the world of the Colored Forest.

This book does lag just a bit in places, compared to Black, but the story moves forward at a decent pace for the depth of the story being told here.

This book is also a bit more violent, but it’s poignant and essential to the story.

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

Average of score 4.9 out of 5

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

Black by Ted Dekker


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When Thomas Hunter falls asleep in this world, he awakes in another. It’s a world where what we know as the spiritual is physically present. He lives there until he falls asleep, then he reawakens in this world. As he goes back and forth, he loses sight of what’s real. Is it this world or that one? Are they somehow both real?

The only thing he knows for sure is that what happens to him in the other world affects him in this one. He learns of a virus that could wipe out the entire planet in three weeks. He’s the only one who can stop it, and no one believes him.

It’s up to Thomas to save both worlds as darkness engulfs them both.

This is my second reading of the Circle series. Black is book one.

When I first read this series, I fell in love with Dekker’s writing. When someone asks me what my favorite books are, this series is the first one I list.

Dekker has masterfully woven two plots into one. There is action, suspense, romance, and all-around entertainment. But my favorite thing about this series is the imagery. Symbolism and Biblical parallels are laced throughout.

Reading this again, I realize that I may have missed things that were fairly obvious in regards to Old Testament imagery in this first installment. Recognizing these parallels makes the story so much richer.

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 of score 5 out of 5

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