What should I say about Jerusalem Rising: Adah’s Journey by Barbara M. Britton? My thoughts about this book have been tumbling around in my mind for some time now, as you can ascertain by the late summer setting of the cover photo!
I first discovered Adah’s Journey when I was processing some new library books to be moved over to our regular fiction section; it’s a small book, and the unknown author and publishing imprint (Harbourlight Books) held my interest. It promised the imagined story of Adah bat Shallum, one of the unnamed daughters recorded as rebuilding the wall of Jerusalem with their father in Nehemiah chapter three. Having no brothers, Adah steps forward and volunteers as a laborer in an act of faith in God as well as a desire to see her father’s name honored and remembered in Nehemiah’s records. Of course, rebuilding the wall is a smooth, peaceful process, right? Wrong, as anyone who’s read the book of Nehemiah knows! Challenges present themselves and Adah plays a role in helping overcome many of them.
Truthfully, this story has what I would call an “unfinished” quality; I felt as if I was reading an excellent second draft that still needed a round or two of polishing. To be fair, most of the problems were small—a number of typos and grammar errors that could have been easily fixed, for example. One fairly substantial character was barely developed and had an unlikely/weak backstory. Even the cover of this book feels underwhelming to me, as if the publishers could have given it a professional finish but perhaps didn’t have the budget. The romances were Hallmark movie style, so expect the characters to experience lots of heart fluttering… and yearnings… and tingly sensations…
All that said, if you’re looking for a lighter, shorter read about a young woman trying to more actively trust God, this may be just the book for you. If you relish a sensory experience, like me, you may also take joy in Adah’s talent as a perfumer– as the different oils and herbs are pleasantly mingled and described throughout the story. 3/5 Stars.
Merry Christmas (Eve) everyone! I really should have posted yesterday, but I have a quiet moment now and thought perhaps you might enjoy seeing a rather large pile of books I added to my collection!
Do you have any favorite thrift store memories? I just recently stopped by a local used bookstore that uses their proceeds to do some really great things in our community. Anyways, somebody who lives around here must like Christian Fiction as much as I do because some really fabulous books always seem to find their way (through donation) to the religious section of the store.
I started out with about half this many books at the checkout counter, only to find out all.fiction.in.the.store.is.half.off.
So of course I went back and grabbed some more (I mean, at an average price of $3 a book before discount, whyever not???)
Everything they sell is in wonderful condition, so every cent is worth it. And bonus? My mom bought at least as many more books as a gift for my dad, and guess who’ll probably get to read them all when he’s done? Hooray for book-sharing, haha!
I hope your Christmas festivities are warm, fellow readers, and that you know Christ better this coming year; praise Him for coming, praise Him for all He sacrificed, praise Him for keeping His promises then and the hope we have in trusting Him now.
I’ve been looking for another great audio book to follow All Manner of Things, as well as trying to get to know a new app I downloaded through our library called RBdigital. The app seems to focus primarily on media, so I’ve been excited to see if they have a good selection of Christian fiction audio to listen to. Of course, whenever I look up Christian fiction in nearly any library app, I end up running into a lot of works by Lynn Austin, who is very loved and prolific in the genre.
In what struck me as an almost comic mirror of Goldilocks and the Three Bears, I ended up “tasting” a few chapters of three different Lynn Austin books, and here are the results:
The first book I checked out was Wonderland Creek.
This will be great, I thought to myself. It’s about a book lover who works at a library. I ought to be able to relate. Unfortunately, I found myself immediately disliking the protagonist. While Austin was probably setting the stage for character growth, I think perhaps she made this young woman a little too flawed; Lynn may have been better off revealing some of the redeeming sides of her heroine early on. I feel as if Austin was trying her hand at Austen— Jane Austen– style humor, but it felt absurd rather than clever. I work at a library, and even so, I don’t think I’ve ever met a book lover so obsessed with their hobby that they would read during a funeral service for someone they knew. Like Goldilocks, I quickly decided this one wasn’t for me.
The next book I tried was Candle in the Darkness, book one of the Refiner’s Fire series. Ahhh. This is the Lynn Austin I know and love. From the very first words, this is compelling historical drama. I listened to this for about half an hour, but something was still not quite… satisfying. Perhaps it’s just that I’ve read this series before many years ago; or maybe I’m not in the mood for the heartache and conflict of a full-blown Civil War story. At any rate, I decided to set this aside to “cool down”, so to speak, and I’m sure I’ll come back around to it eventually. Which led me to…
I’d had my eye on All Things New for a while, and I finally gave it a proper try. Mmm, that delicious feeling when you find just what you were craving. Of course, I’m only one chapter in… but so far this is lovely. This is set just after the Civil War, a time period I’m unfamiliar with. Will the main characters ever be able to leave behind their racial prejudice? Will they rebuild their Southern home? Will the former slaves choose to stay on, or will they go start new lives somewhere else?
Have you read any of these three books? Should I give Wonderland Creek a second try? Sometimes a first impression is misleading. And since we’re talking about Goldilocks, what was your favorite childhood fairy tale?
When I took a pre-reading peek at other reviews of All Manner of Things by Susie Finkbeiner, I saw a repetitive comment– “It’s so unique to read historical fiction set during the Vietnam War years!” I won’t talk at length about this aspect of the book, then, since it’s been said before. However, having read a decent helping of historical fiction lately, it is refreshing to see a change from the very common settings of WWII or the American Civil War. The 1960s weren’t all that long ago, so I felt a closeness to the story– after all, it’s the world my mom and dad were born into, with my older aunts and uncles already slipping into bell bottoms and pedal pushers.
All Manner of Things is a coming of age story. Annie Jacobson is on the cusp of full-fledged womanhood, and the novel follows her as she navigates small town life on the edge of Chippewa Lake, Michigan. Already a mature and responsible young lady, she watches her brother enlist as an army medic; works a job as a waitress; and struggles to handle gracefully the return of her father, who abandoned her family twelve years prior. The characters in this book are so alive I still miss them, still see them, as if they were real– and I rarely give out that type of compliment because it can so easily become cliche and hollow.
If you love stories in the vein of Little Women or the Penderwicks series by Jeanne Birdsall (not to be confused with the Penderwick Chronicles), you’ll love this book. Hardly fast-paced, it takes its time, but every moment washes over you like a gold-tinged happy memory or a softly faded polaroid photo. It’s warm and genuine, but not saccharine, infused with everyday happenings and nods to 1960’s pop culture.
I listened to this in audiobook format (downloading it through the library app Hoopla) and I highly recommend you do the same if at all possible! The narration by Tavia Gilbert was among the best I’ve ever listened to. I finished the entire 10+ hours of narration in under a week, which is a record for me.
Perhaps the most important point I can make about Susie Finkbeiner’s work here is that I feel it rides a fine line between “Christian Fiction” and what I would classify as “wholesome reading.” Remember when you were a little kid doing English assignments in school? One of the principal parts of story-telling you learn is that every story has some sort of conflict, be it external (e.g. I need to defeat the ogre to save the beautiful princess) or internal (e.g. I must put aside my cowardly nature for the first time in my life to face the ogre) or both. This is just my opinion, but if a book’s conflict isn’t driven or influenced or affected in some way by the character’s faith, relationship with God, or the Bible– then the religious elements are more a part of the setting than the story. To some degree I think that’s the case with All Manner of Things; Christianity is a part of the characters’ lives in the sense that you see them talking to someone at church or praying at dinner (and that’s certainly a good thing, don’t misunderstand me.) I just wish God had been portrayed as a little more personal, more influential, instead of feeling like an afterthought. I wish more questions had found their answers in God’s Word.
Did I still enjoy the book? Absolutely! Wrapping up this post with a 4/5 star rating.
I would mention to fellow readers that may be concerned about euphemisms that there are many uses of them in this novel (for example, golly or gosh.)
Oops! …this post was accidentally published a week early in addition to the planned post. I am going to leave it up, but will make a few changes and edits as I had not finished “cleaning up” the post and fixing grammar errors, etc. Also, there will be no new post for next week. Thanks!
One of the “hardships” (if you can call it that) of being a book reviewer is that sometimes there are books that you just don’t… like. Or worse, that you kind of liked but mostly didn’t. Or liked a lot except for that one thing you hated! Somewhere in my mind are make-believe bookshelves labeled “I don’t hate this but I don’t like it enough to give it three stars”, and those shelves frustrate me to no end.
I finished a book back in August called That Certain Summer by Irene Hannon, and it wasn’t to my taste. To its credit, it held my interest long enough for me to want to read it all the way through. Some things about it were refreshing; one of the main characters had a teenage daughter, and it was nice to see life from the perspective of a mom. There was also a praiseworthy pro-life plot. Characters had some realistic problems to overcome, such as trying to lose weight and live more healthfully or the devastating loss of a lifelong occupation.
That said, the book– particularly the romance– fell short for me. Some of it was just corny (E.g. the scene where the only seat that can be found is an outside bench covered almost entirely in tree sap. The two love interests have no option but to sit extremely close together on the clean end ( ’cause ya know you can’t sit in the grass, or find a chair, or go to your car, or anything) while the dialogue was often wooden. Part of the problem may have been that the story was split up between four point-of-views, and three of those four characters had issues that could have justified an entire book of their own to expand upon and deal with. Instead, their stories were rushed through and wrapped up far too conveniently. There were a few sketchy theological moments (seems as if hiring an unbeliever to be your church worship/music director would be a bad idea? Maybe it’s just me?)
I’d like to give Irene Hannon another chance; I’ve heard she
also wrote some suspense, and I wonder if that might be her strong suit. Do you
have any recommendations for me? Thanks for checking in on the blog!
Some of you may already know that I do not receive free books to review from Christian fiction publishers such as Tyndale or Bethany House, but I thought it might be interesting to share with you why that is! Before I get started, let me just mention– in the spirit of kindness–that I’m in no way bashing fellow bloggers who do sign up for freebies. I don’t think it’s morally wrong; it’s just one choice I’ve made in the quest to try to make my blog unique, and my content of the highest quality!
With that out of the way, let me back up and clarify a little. “What’s this?” I hear a few people say, as they scratch their heads in confusion. “Book reviewers can get free books?”
They can! Many publishers will happily send book reviewers free promotional books by mail or digital copies to download. Depending on the publisher, to receive the items you may have to agree to write a review or the novels may have no strings attached whatsoever. Publishers/authors figure you love reading, so the odds are good you will read and post about the item. This helps them get the word out to interested parties, who will go on to purchase their releases.
So why won’t I accept free books from these companies? Here are a few reasons I’ve come up with:
1. It forces me to be more choosy about what I read.
If I have to actually pay for the book, or hunt it down at the library, I tend to do a little research first. I might look it up in Goodreads or on other websites, carefully read the synopsis, look up the author, etc. I feel that this helps me to weed out items that aren’t as likely to truly interest me or be quality content for the blog, and that in turn I hope translates into a higher number of excellent books being shared with you!
2. I never have to worry about being biased. (Or looking like I am.)
I can’t help but feel it could be hard for me, personally, to not be the slightest bit biased towards companies that send me free items. Wouldn’t it be pretty easy to start favoring books from, say, Tyndale, because I feel as if they care about me and give me free books? There are plenty of great bloggers of excellent moral character who don’t have an issue with it, but I love the peaceful simplicity of knowing I have a lot of Tyndale books covered on this blog because I just happen to like a lot of Tyndale books –and there’s no other reason.
3. I don’t have to be concerned about covering a diversity of publishers.
This kind of ties in with the previous reason, but not all publishers have an equal amount of marketing money, and that equates to different levels of promotional products. As it is, I can be pretty fair about buying or getting Christian Fiction from a variety of different publishers, rather than getting lots of books mailed to me from just one or two. I think this gives all the authors and publishers a fair chance, as opposed to relying on free books (which would often be from the larger publishers.) If at any point I buy more often from any particular publisher, it will likely be because of the quality of their products, and I think that’s a worthy reason.
4. It makes me more relatable.
Ultimately, my blog is for all of you, fine friends! And most of you have to get your books the regular, ho-hum ways. If I get my books the way you do– by spending hard earned money, downloading library apps on slow home wifi, or hinting shamelessly to friends and family about favorite authors before my birthday (haha)–hopefully I will connect with you more deeply. In addition, I like to think I’ll be more critical and thoughtful as I read the item than I would be if I invested nothing into it.
But wait… there’s one time I DO accept free books.
It’s only happened once so far, but I was recently contacted about doing an interview with a popular Christian fiction author I have reviewed before on this blog. She is releasing a new book some months from now, and her team sent me a digital copy to look at before the interview (if I wanted to.) Basically, the book isn’t available to the general public yet, so there is no way for me to get my hands on it the normal way… and while I would normally wait for it like everyone else, I think utilizing this gift would help me prepare a better interview with the author. Circumstances such as these, where I need to read the book soon for some reason and yet have no other options open to me at the moment, are the only cases where I plan to deviate from my policy! 🙂
How do you feel about book bloggers getting free books? Are there any good points I missed, or alternatively, downsides to my policy? Thanks for brightening my Monday by stopping by!
Around the book-blogging community I’ve seen something called Dream Casting. Oh, don’t worry– it’s not some sort of pagan bedtime ritual! If you haven’t heard of it before, it’s casting in the sense of choosing someone for an acting role. Basically, you take a novel or other work you would really like to see translated to film, and then pick actors you think would suit the parts. One benefit is that you get to see how other people imagine the characters would be fleshed out (literally) and if you haven’t read the book, you get a snapshot of the dramatis personae (and no, I didn’t know what dramatis personae were either, until I looked the phrase up today!)
I think it would be a lot of fun to try this out on my recently reviewed favorite, Hidden Among the Stars by Melanie Dobson. Let’s get started:
Hidden is a dual timeline story, so I think I’ll begin with the WWII era characters. First up: Annika Knopf.
This was probably the easiest casting choice I made; actress Sophie Nelisse suits my vision of an innocent, good-hearted Annika perfectly. She might be just a bit too old now, since she’s 19, whereas Annika is supposed to be around 16, but I think it would be pretty easy to make Nelisse look a little younger.”Aging down” older actresses has certainly happened before. Miss Nelisse was a phenomenal actress in The Book Thief, another WWII story, and has proven she could easily handle the emotional and touching moments in Annika’s life.
Next up, Luzia Weiss!
It was much more difficult for me to find someone I liked for the part of this elegant, musically gifted Jew. Also a tad bit old for the role, I settled on Odeya Rush (who is currently 22.) In truth, Luzia was more of a delicate and young Natalie Portman in my mind… but obviously Natalie Portman is way past playing this character at 38 (maybe she could be Luzia’s emotionally distraught mom?)
Odeya is an Israeli-American actress, and I didn’t even know that until I looked her up recently after remembering her performance in The Giver. Moving along to the male protagonists:
Max Dornbach is the all-around good guy. Faithful, altruistic, and brave (plus he likes animals!), it’s not hard to figure out why Annika is crazy about him. Levi Miller is 17 and I think came across as instantly likable in A Wrinkle in Time last year… so I’d enjoy seeing if he is up to the task of portraying a more mature role and a wider range of emotions as Max. Max is described as having hazel eyes, but I don’t think that’s especially critical to his character.
Lastly, rounding out the menfolk, is Hermann.
Hermann Stadler is the quietly noble and “ordinary” handyman. Eventually he ends up the groundskeeper of Schloss Schwansee, the lakeside castle setting of most of the story. I took a lot of liberties choosing Tom Holland for this part, and truthfully I would still be open to other ideas. After all, Tom is not blonde (dye work?), tall, or stocky. That said, I think he has a very relatable, kind, and humble appearance, and that’s what I really wanted for Hermann. I actually haven’t seen Holland’s Spider-Man movies, but I’m sure he’d draw lots of obsessive fan-girls to the theater, so that’s great, right?! (haha) Of course, my first pick wasn’t really an option:
Wow, this post is getting long! Zipping forward to modern day–>
Callie Randall is a 30 year old children’s book lover who owns and runs the Magic Balloon Bookshop with her sister. There’s a sense of sadness about her, but the stripey socks she wears to read to the neighborhood kids suggests to me that she has a slightly quirky side too. Callie isn’t particularly fond of traveling, and seems fairly content spending her free time with her nephews and the rest of her family. I can’t say I’ve seen Saoirse Ronan in anything other than City of Ember, but she seems quite talented, and she’s since been nominated for three academy awards.
Lastly, for Professor Josh Nemeth, I chose another Josh– Josh Dallas.
Of course, I could have just gone with Ryan Gosling, but I’ve never been a fan… sorry. Josh Dallas did a fine job as a father and true love in Once Upon a Time, and he looks very professor-y in glasses (so there, Ryan!)
Well, what do you think of my choices? If you haven’t read the book, does this dream cast make you want to? Which character/actor choices surprise you the most? Would you watch the movie? Thanks for visiting the blog and hope you had a little fun with me today!
If absence truly makes the heart grow fonder, than you must be dearly fond of me by now, friends. How sweet, then, to be able to return to you inspired with new ideas for the blog–armed with possibilities and a number of summertime reads to share!
I’m all for a dessert-first attitude, so I wanted to come
back with my absolute favorite book of this year. Hidden Among the Stars is the kind of book I started this blog to
find; the kind of book I thought about during the day, and looked forward to
enjoying when I got home in the same way I look forward to savoring my favorite
comfort foods or lighting my favorite candle. I felt as if I could nestle into
this book and its characters.
Written by Melanie Dobson, the book is a time-slip novel alternating between Nazi Austria (late 1930s) and a modern day America. Unlike many dual-plotline stories, I found myself equally invested in and enjoying both, at least until the very end… when I absolutely HAD to know how the past would unfold and finally have all my questions answered. The modern day protagonist owns a children’s bookstore with her sister (cue a surplus of snippets from classic children’s literature),and is trying to uncover the links between a family member’s puzzling origins and two mysterious vintage books. The past holds a musician, a wealthy young man, and a girl in love… plus a large dose of fascination. As if that wasn’t enough allure for one novel, Dobson skillfully set the stages in and around a lakeside castle.
How do you feel about unrequited love stories, readers? It isn’t usually to my taste; perhaps I just think there’s enough loneliness in the real world to invalidate ever wanting to put it into a work of fiction where a happily ever after would be as easy as writing in another “I love you.” There was a case of it in Hidden Among the Stars, but it was so perfectly juxtaposed against a few other romances in the novel that it seemed fitting. Younger readers should be cautioned that this book does deal with some heavy topics. As well as, or perhaps as a result of, the expected anti-semitism and cruelty of the period, a young woman is raped.
While I generally try not to rely on other reviewers to put my feelings about a book into words, I think author Sandra Byrd put it perfectly when she said of Dobson’s work:
“A silver thread of the love-of-others entwines with a golden thread of the love-of-God, tying past and present storylines.”
These threads of Christian truth are woven in delicately and don’t begin to really sparkle until about half-way through. Patiently enjoy the beauty of this novel as you wait for them to emerge and add rich depth to an already lovely book. 5/5 Stars.
Have you ever fancied yourself a rather good detective? Solve this conundrum: what’s a sure way to brighten a book blogger’s morning? If your answer involves giving her the opportunity to interview an established author, you’re right on track. Make it a Q&A with Christian Fiction storyteller Janice Cantore, a former LBPD officer, and I’m sure you can deduce that I was elated. While I’ve only just been introduced to Cantore’s works of police/romantic suspense, I truly enjoyed this interview and feel more than hopeful you will too! For clarity, my questions are in italics and Cantore’s responses follow in bold. Let’s jump in!
I ask almost everyone I interview if they would be willing to share how they came to know Christ as their Savior. I love hearing about God’s redemptive work in human hearts! Would you tell us your testimony?
I was raised Catholic but stopped attending church in my teens. In college, a girl in my dorm was with Campus Crusade for Christ, she shared the Gospel with me, and I accepted Christ, but I really had no idea how to be a Christian. Much later, when I was going through a really tough time as a new police officer, I found a church that reminded me of my commitment, and I rededicated my life. It was there the sacrifice of Christ and the resurrection finally sunk in. And it was then that faith truly brought me peace, because faith is trusting God, and trusting God means recognizing that he is in control of all things. His promise of eternal life, and that He works all things out for good, is the most precious promise of all.
The characters in your Line of Duty series address some tragic topics and crimes that are sadly pretty common and relevant today. As a former police officer for the LBPD, did you or do you ever feel overwhelmed by the brokenness in this world? Are there any Bible verses that particularly comfort you?
I remember one night, I responded to a robbery. A man had been shot coming out of the market because he didn’t give up his wallet fast enough. When I got there, paramedics had already taken him away and I stayed with his handicapped wife, holding her hand until her son got there. She was inconsolable, and I remember praying for her. I did feel overwhelmed, because the woman could not take care of herself, and she had just seen her caregiver/husband shot down in front of her. It made me appreciate the power of prayer, because I do believe that the Lord heard me that night and was with her in the coming days. I prayed for people I came across, even when I didn’t know what to pray, because I know the Lord intercedes for us (Romans 8:26-27).
Cold Aim, the third Line of Duty book, is coming out in July. One element of the plot is a 25-year-old murder case, and I’ve noticed cold cases are a common thread in more than a few of your stories. Is there anything besides the inherent mystery that draws you to write about them?
Cold cases have always fascinated me. It’s the justice side; I hate seeing people get away with things. (Of course, I know that they never really do.) I used to watch Cold Case Files (the true life one, not the fiction series) and whenever they would end with the case still not solved, I would be frustrated. Over the years, several of the most heinous crimes have been solved—the Golden State Killer, for example—and I find that very satisfying. I also peruse the FBI site, reading up on the most wanted, and cold cases there. Sometimes asking ‘what if’ sparks the seed for a story, and I can make sure justice is served, if only in fiction.
On a lighthearted note, I read on your blog that you love Science Fiction, à la Star Trek and the old Twilight Zone! I’d love to see more Christian Science/Speculative Fiction published–would you ever consider changing gears and dabbling in a new genre?
I do love Star Trek, and a lot of science fiction (I have a degree in biology), but I could never see myself writing science fiction. It’s too technical, at least the really good stuff is, and writing that way is just not my cup of tea.
Oh well, we can just keep wishing! Thank you so much, Janice, for sharing your time and insights with us here on a page out of her book.
Mother’s Day is just around the corner, and at the North Pole Library, last week’s story times were themed around it. One of my coworkers prepared the sweetest bookmark craft for the kids, and it was so delightfully easy and lovely I wanted to share a tutorial here so you can make your own! Hand one to a friend, sweetheart, or your mom this week… ❤