Short Reviews (1-2 Star Rating)

Short Review of “That Certain Summer”

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!

Ramblings

Why I Don’t Accept Free Books from Publishers…and the One Time I Do!

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!

Ramblings

Dream Casting “Hidden Among the Stars”

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!

“…(Max) was guiding a stunning woman around the dance floor, a woman with dark hair and a pale silk gown that shimmered with an entire galaxy of sequins in the light.” (Page 93)

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:

Don’t be scared of the hairdo… I know it’s atrocious, but they could cut it for the movie! He looked vastly different in A Wrinkle in Time, which was released in 2018.
See? Scary hair is gone! 😉
“He’s striking, with light hair and a smile that must have stirred the hearts of many young women in his day.” (Page 58)

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 stood a foot taller than Annika, and his blond hair, more white than yellow, was in need of a cut. He wore the same attire he’d worn every day he came to work with Vati, a flannel shirt over thick arms, denim overalls.” (Page 110)

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:

Sorry, Kristoff. This is a live-action film.

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.

“He’s a nice-looking man in a rugged sort of way, reminding me of Ryan Gosling in La La Land with his stubble beard and a melancholic look in his eyes as if he’s thousands of miles away.” (Page 86)

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!

Contemporary · Full Reviews · Historical

Full Review, Hidden Among the Stars

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.

Author Interviews

Q&A with Janice Cantore

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.

Find out more about Cold Aim, which releases early July 2019, (as well as her other books) on her official website– www.janicecantore.com.
Uncategorized

Sweetheart Bookmark Tutorial

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… ❤

The only supplies you need are pretty squares of paper (about six by six inches worked for me) and scissors. I used scrapbook paper, but I recommend something thinner, like origami paper.
1. Fold your paper square diagonally to make a crease, then open it and fold it diagonally again the other way. Now you have a triangle shape.
2. Take the upper point of your triangle and fold it down to the bottom edge.
3. Fold the bottom left and right points of the triangle in to meet the downward fold you just created in the last step. Make a nice crease and then you can unfold them flat again.
4. This is the only part that might be confusing– take one of the bottom points and fold it up and then down inside the pocket indicated by the arrow in the picture. Repeat with the other point.
5. On the left is what your bookmark should look like now! 🙂 Cut out the curve of the heart shape with your scissors.
Finished product!
Enjoy!
Uncategorized

Book Giveaway! (Closed)

Good morning and happy Monday! We are less than a week away from celebrating Easter and all Christ accomplished through His resurrection. I didn’t purposely time this post for this week, but I’m glad –and think it’s fitting—to do something a little bit joyful on my blog today.

It has been too long since my last book giveaway, so I’m offering up this brand new copy of Saving Amelie by Cathy Gohlke. (Did you read my review of it? Check that out here.) It’s all crisp edges and smooth pages… just the way I like a new book to feel. To make it yours, all you have to do is leave a comment on this post with the name of a Christian fiction book you think I should read.
I need inspiration!

This giveaway is only open to entrants with a U.S. mailing address (I’m so sorry if that excludes you! For shipping reasons I’m keeping things simple.) Feel free to give me more than one book suggestion if you like, but only one comment/entry per person please. Next Monday morning (4/22/19) the giveaway will close and I will use a random number generator program to choose one winning comment. If you’re the lucky winner, I’ll contact you through email to get your mailing address so I can send you your lovely prize! ❤


Ramblings

Thoughts on Black by Ted Dekker

Hello book friends! You haven’t seen me in a while! I’m not going to apologize, because these last weeks have been full, happy, lovely ones for me with family—a birthday party, time with my nieces, a rabbit show (really!), ordering pizza, encouraging sermons from my Pastor, joyful choir practices, and sitting on the front step listening to light rainfall. Of course there were a few down moments in there too—sore throats and such—but overall I am just full to the brim with all the restful, joyful feelings of spring and new growth right now. I hope you are too, and ultimately whether you are going through rough times or good, “…may the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, that you may abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.” (Romans 5:13)

I’ve just finished the book Black by Ted Dekker: the story of a man who is torn between two equally compelling realities. Thomas Hunter—the protagonist– wakes up in one world whenever he falls asleep in the other, and to quote the back cover, “…in both, catastrophic disaster awaits him….may even be caused by him.” My feelings about this novel are almost as starkly mixed as Hunter’s dual lives. I found myself on a teeter totter of excitement/love versus frustration/dislike as I worked my way through it.

…excellent cover styling for this series, if you ask me.

I really enjoyed the sheer creativity of Dekker in Black. The entire concept is new and fresh… and interested me right away. Which of Hunter’s “dreams” is the “real” world? One is decidedly modern and realistic, the other is a sort of fantasy/allegorical land filled with strange creatures and characters. Dekker didn’t hold anything back when he created this other world, as every description is full of color and imagination. There’s almost a touch of the quirkiness of Alice’s Wonderland, but with much more meaning, thought, and truth behind every element.

Conversely, there were times when I felt the storyline was bogged down with repetitive or excessive writing. Occasionally imaginative steered into ridiculous or distracting, and many of the supporting characters felt wooden. I came across someone else’s thoughts on Black (I’m not sure where) and the reviewer said they wished that Dekker had written the book later in his career when he had more writing experience under his belt– and I tend to agree. I think that the book has a lot of promise but needed additional editing and polishing.

I plan on reading the next book in the series, Red, and reserving judgment until then. If Black was just the rocky start of setting the scene for all the shining potential of the premise, then I may yet end up with a favorite series in my hands. 🙂 Cross your fingers for me!

Biblical · Full Reviews

Full Review, In the Field of Grace

I really had no intention of reading another Tessa Afshar book so soon! Back in January I reviewed Land of Silence; besides that, I have an ever-growing pile of works by unknown (to me) authors begging to be given a little time. But In the Field of Grace popped up in the audio book section of the library, and I gave in. I haven’t had a good audio book in a while… I can listen with my phone using free services like Hoopla, but lately I’ve been struggling to keep my phone charged. For that reason alone I tend to prefer audio books on CD rather than digital format. Someday I’ll get around to buying a charging cable for my car…

In the Field of Grace, ©2014 by Tessa Afshar, Moody Publishers.

In the Field of Grace is a retelling of the story of Ruth (from the Biblical book of the same name) with imagined details filling in the areas of her life we don’t know from Scripture. Afshar conjectures what Ruth’s Moabite backstory may have been like; considers her daily life in Israel; explores her relationship with Naomi.

The difficulty in writing this book, in my mind, is that I think most Christian women have read and heard the Old Testament passage preached so many times that they have already imagined for themselves many of the unknown particulars of the account. Challenging those interpretations makes it difficult for them to feel as if this could be how it “really happened.”

Afshar does a wonderful job, as usual, of painting with words a vivid world, but somehow it felt disconnected from the Biblical account to me. Maybe it’s the aforementioned problem (though I tried to have an open mind.) Mostly, however, I thought the romance between Ruth and Boaz was exaggerated and modernized in a way that somewhat cheapened the known Biblical narrative (which I’m sure was not Afshar’s intent). By way of example, in this fictionalization Boaz is instantly enamored with Ruth’s beauty upon first sight. Her eyes, her height… I actually rolled my eyes when he notices her long slender fingers (which are covered in dirt from working in the fields all day but still manage to be alluring!) Despite Afshar’s efforts to show that Boaz is a Godly man of character, the over-romanticizing detracted from Boaz’s words of blessing a few minutes later. This is because it felt as if he only showed her kindness, in large part, because she was so attractive to him. Would the wealthy landowner have shown the same generosity if she had not been beautiful, or was just too dirty, tired, and gaunt for him to notice her lovely features? Something in my gut tells me the real Boaz would have.

Ruth’s life also takes on a more precarious nature . She is nearly killed by thieves; struck down with heat stroke in the fields; is burned and suffers from smoke inhalation after beating back a fire in Boaz’s field alone; and… well, I’d better stop before I give away crucial spoilers. I wouldn’t mind the suspense if I wasn’t left wondering if most of the excitement was set up just so Boaz would have a couple opportunities to carry Ruth home in his arms, trembling with concern and hidden ardor.

But wait! Despite some of the issues I take with the book, I really don’t mean this to be a scathing review. I’m rating this 3 stars–lower than Land of Silence or Bread of Angels–but I wouldn’t say it’s devoid of merit. In keeping with Afshar’s signature style, there are plenty of moments of spiritual reflection throughout the book that are thoughtful and encouraging, so if you’ve enjoyed her other titles you will find similar here. I also particularly liked Afshar’s rendering of Ruth’s background in Moab as well as her relationship with Naomi.

In closing, have you read any other books based on the life of Ruth? Also, what are your favorite verses from the Biblical account?