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Captive Trail

Reviewed by Brittney

Just the Facts: by Susan Page Davis. 272 p. Published Sept 2011 by Moody Publishers.  Advanced copy provided for review in electronic format, courtesy of the publishers (through NetGalley) in return for my honest opinion.

Verdict: ★★★★

Who Cares? Adult Inspirational Historical Fic

Short Bio (from Amazon):  

The Captive Trail is second in a six-book series about four generations of the Morgan family living, fighting, and thriving amidst a turbulent Texas history spanning from 1845 to 1896.  Although a series, each book can be read on its own.

Taabe Waipu has run away from her Comanche village and is fleeing south in Texas on a horse she stole from a dowry left outside her family’s teepee.  The horse has an accident and she is left on foot, injured and exhausted.  She staggers onto a road near Fort Chadbourne and collapses.

On one of the first runs through Texas, Butterfield Overland Mail Company driver Ned Bright carries two Ursuline nuns returning to their mission station.  They come across a woman who is nearly dead from exposure and dehydration and take her to the mission.

With some detective work, Ned discovers Taabe Waipu identity. He plans to unite her with her family, but the Comanche have other ideas, and the two end up defending the mission station. Through Taabe and Ned we learn the true meaning of healing and restoration amid seemingly powerless situations.

Eyewitness Account:

I picked this up because I liked Lone Star Trail.  The sequel is written by a different author, but had all the same elements I appreciated about the first – interesting historical setting (this time dealing with the Comanche, Texas settlers, and French nuns who had set up a “mission” and school for girls), decent plot, and empathetic characters.  Many children were captured and raised among Native Americans during Westward Expansion, and this story is a compelling snapshot of what such a situation must have felt like to a captive.

Still loving this series, and would recommend it to anyone who likes historical fiction and interested in this era!

Other Books Read by This Author: None.

What are other people saying? Reviews from the Heart, This That and the Other Thing, Sandra Ardoin

Rating:

★★★☆☆ Plot Development

★★★★ Characterization

★★★☆☆ Writing Style

★★★★ Original Idea

★★★★Page Turner

Overall ★★★★

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The Book That Made Your World

Reviewed by Brittney

Just the Facts: by Vishal Mangalwadi. 464 p. Published May 2011 by Thomas Nelson.  Advanced copy provided for review in electronic format by the publisher (through NetGalley) in exchange for my honest opinion.

Verdict: ★★★☆☆

Who Cares? Adult Non-Fiction (History, Christianity)

Short Bio: 

Discover how the Bible became the West’s source of human rights, justice, heroism, optimism, compassion, capitalism, family, and morality.

In the 1960s many from the West went to the East in search of spiritual wisdom. The Book That Made Your World reverses the journey. Vishal Mangalwadi, an Indian philosopher, takes readers on a historical journey through the last millennium, exploring why and how the Bible reformed Europe and made the West a uniquely thinking civilization: technical and tolerant, scientific and free, just and prosperous. Readers will learn:

  • Why an American president puts his hand on the Bible to take the oath of a secular office
  • What forced British monarchs from Henry VIII to James I to submit to the Bible’s authority
  • Why Bible translators Wycliffe, Luther, and Tyndale became history’s greatest revolutionaries
  • How the Bible globalized western education

Eyewitness Account: 

This book was a fairly interesting treatise on how the Bible has influenced all aspects of our civilization (for the better).  You’d expect something like this to be written by a someone of Western Judeo-Christian background, but the author is actually a native Indian who writes the book as a response to a national Indian movement claiming that the Western Christian influence impacted India negatively rather than positively. Mangalwadi juxtaposes the kinds of behavior, motives, and priorities that result from the Christian faith with the mindset of those from Buddhist/Hindu faiths.  He covers a rather diverse set of subjects to explore his theory that the best parts of all civilization are the result of Christian influence – the development of science and education, the protection of life and the rights of women, and the liberty and prosperity that characterize the West.

This is one of those books that you kind of get the gist of within the first couple chapters – I found it hard to keep my interest past the second half of the book.  However, it is very well written and very thought-provoking.  Mangalwadi includes some personal anecdotes to make his point about the effect that other worldviews have on a society that are very provocative; the most poignant is one in which a neighbor girl is not only neglected to the point of death, but her parents refuse to let Mangalwadi and his wife offer their free help and resources to nurse her back to health (as a result of a worldview that says life is suffering and everyone has the life they deserve).

If you like history and broad discussion of civilizations, you’ll probably love this book.

Other Books Read by This Author: None.

Notable Quotes:

“When a husband is forbidden extramarital affairs, taking a second wife, or divorcing a difficult wife; when he is not allowed to hate or be harsh with her; when he is required to love and honor his wife; then his wife is empowered.  She has the security to seek her dignity and rights.”

“When we believe truth is unknowable, we rob it of any authority.  What is left is brute power wielding arbitrary force.  Whether a person or an ethnic minority is guilty or innocent becomes irrelevant.  Their right to life depends exclusively on the whims of whoever has power.  Any nation that refuses to live under truth condemns itself to live under sinful man.”

What are other people saying?  Christianity Today, The Biblical BookshelfBreakPoint

Rating:

★★★☆☆ Writing Style

★★★☆☆ Organization

★★★★ Original Idea

★★★☆☆ Page Turner

Overall ★★★☆☆


River’s Song

Reviewed by Brittney

Just the Facts: by Melody Carlson. 288 p. Published August 2011 by Abingdon Press.  Advanced review copy provided courtesy of the publisher, through NetGalley, in exchange for my honest review.

Verdict: ★★★☆☆

Who Cares? Inspirational Fiction

Short Bio: Anna Larson journeys through a mid-life crisis of sorts when she returns to her hometown for her mother’s funeral and takes care of her late parents’ estate.  She finds that living by the river helps her to deal with the disappointment of wanting a deeper relationship with an uninterested teenager daughter and the trauma of living under a manipulative mother-in-law.  In her old hometown, she rediscovers her Native American heritage through the research of a doctoral student, Hazel, and gains the help of Hazel’s contractor son to transform her parents’ local mom-and-pop store into a riverside inn.

Eyewitness Account: Although I have been a Melody Carlson fan in the past, this book was a bit of a disappointment.  It just might not have been my particular brand of tea, but I thought that the plot moved very slowly, the main character seemed oblivious and wimpy, and the relationships rather stereotyped (teenage daughter who is bratty and disinterested, overbearing and manipulative mother-in-law, etc.).  Anna’s relationship with her mother-in-law is complicated by her dependence on the woman, and that situation is resolved much too quickly and easily.  Similarly, for such a shy mouse of a person, her new romance blooms into marriage far too quickly.  However, I did like a few things – at the top of the list, I really enjoyed the emphasis on Anna’s Native American heritage and exploring the idea that we often come to value later in life what we despised when we are younger.  Anna’s mom and grandmother were the most interesting characters in my opinion, but got much less development than the other living characters.  If the book had been centered around them, I probably would have liked it more.  Anna was just a hard person for me to like since she just came across as a naive doormat to me.  I thought this series would have the same warmth and charm that Carlson’s older Whispering Pines series, but it didn’t have the same feel to me.

Other Books Read by This Author:  These Boots Weren’t Made for Walking, Whispering Pines Series

What are other people saying? A Mom with a BlogEmmegail’s Bookshelf, Book Nook Club,

Rating:

★★☆☆ Plot Development

★★☆☆☆ Characterization

★★★☆☆ Writing Style

★★★ Original Idea

★★☆☆ Page Turner

Overall ★★★☆☆


Lone Star Trail

Reviewed by Brittney

Just the Facts: by Darlene Franklin. 272 p. Published August 2011 by Moody Publishers.  Advanced review copy provided in electronic format by the publisher in exchange for my honest review, courtesy of NetGalley.

Verdict: ★★★★

Who Cares? Adult Historical/Inspirational Fiction

Short Bio:

The six-book series about four generations of the Morgan family living, fighting, and thriving amidst a turbulent Texas history spanning from 1845 to 1896 begins with Lone Star Trail.  Judson (Jud) Morgan’s father died for Texas’ freedom during the war for independence.  So when the Society for the Protection of German Immigrants in Texas (the Verein) attempts to colonize a New Germany in his country, he takes a stand against them.  After Wande Fleischers’ fiancée marries someone else, the young fraulein determines to make new life for herself in Texas.  With the help of Jud’s sister Marion, Wande learns English and becomes a trusted friend to the entire Morgan family.  As much as Jud dislikes the German invasion, he can’t help admiring Wande.  She is sweet and cheerful as she serves the Lord and all those around her.  Can the rancher put aside his prejudice to forge a new future?  Through Jud and Wande, we learn the powerful lessons of forgiveness and reconciliation among a diverse community of believers.

Eyewitness Account:

The last four fiction novels I’ve read have not been page turners, so it was nice to finally pick something up that I didn’t want to put down!  Not only did I love the setting (Texas settlers, both “American” and German, just after the state joined the U.S.), but I loved the characters and their own personal journeys.  I felt like the relationship conflict was more realistic, with just the right amount of communication struggle vs attitude hang-ups (pride, anger, jealousy, insecurity, bitterness, etc.).  Some books make relationship conflict all about a lack of communication, but the characters in Lone Star Trail acted much more like my own friends and family do.  I admired the way Franklin perfectly wove in the themes of prejudice and forgiveness.  I finished it the day I picked it up – very well done!

Other Books Read by This Author: None

What are other people saying? Reader’s Roundtable, Along the Way, Ausjenny

Rating:

★★★★ Plot Development

★★★★ Characterization

★★★★ Writing Style

★★★★ Original Idea

★★★★★ Page Turner

Overall ★★★★


Diagnosis Death

Reviewed by Brittney

Just the Facts: by Richard L. Mabry, M.D.  288 p. Published April 2011 by Abingdon Press.  Advanced copy provided in electronic format courtesy of the publisher, through NetGalley.

Verdict: ★★★☆☆

Who Cares? Adult Medical Mystery / Inspirational

Short Bio: After the death of her husband, Dr. Elena Gardener finds herself struggling to find a job that will pay for her late husbands medical and funeral expenses – as well as escape the rumors that she euthanized him and another comatose stroke victim.  She gets a seemingly golden opportunity to move away from the rumors in Dallas to a small family practice in Dainger, TX.  However, picking up the pieces of her life in a small town isn’t as easy as it seems – as Elena discovers when she finds herself dealing with a tight-fisted hospital administrator who wants to strip her of ICU privileges, fending off the local womanizer, and tracking down the person who is stalking her with creepy phone calls.  When yet another comatose patient dies and circumstantial evidence points to Elena, the doctor decides the only way to clear her name is to catch the perpetrator herself.

Eyewitness Account: This was a great book to sneakily read on my Kindle during an EXTREMELY BORING training class – a fast-moving plot, easily identifiable characters, and enough mystery to keep you turning pages.  Even though it is the 3rd book in a medical mystery series, it works well as a stand-alone.  I’d still categorize it as “mental cotton candy” though – a fun story to read, but not terribly thought-provoking or deep. Even though it is primarily a medical mystery, it includes the fairly typical romance and other overly coincidental circumstances (Elena’s love interest just “happens” to get a job in the same small town, Elena just “happens” to work at the same hospital as her dead husband’s long-lost sister, etc.).  Given that blurbs often highlight this book being about the question of “mercy killings”, the book might disappoint you if you expect it to really delve into the meat of the question – rather, the narrative assumes that mercy killings are, in fact, wrong (unless you are the person authorized to pull the plug on a comatose patient’s life support) and the plot centers around discovering who did the killings.

Other Books Read by This Author:  None, this is the first book I’ve read by Mabry.

What are other people saying? The Friendly Book Nook, Just One More Paragraph, Lis Carey’s Library

Rating:

★★★★ Plot Development

★★★☆☆ Characterization

★★★☆☆ Writing Style

★★★☆☆ Original Idea

★★★★ Page Turner

Overall ★★★☆☆


Ember and Ash

Reviewed by Brittney

Just the Facts: by Pamela Freeman. 528 p. To be published        May 1, 2011 by Orbit (Hachette Books Group).  Advanced copy provided in electronic copy, courtesy of the publisher through NetGalley.

Verdict: ★★★★

Who Cares? YA / Adult Fantasy

Short Bio: Fire has unexpectedly shown Himself – and demanded a dangerous task of Ember, daughter of warlord Arvid.  Together with small group of Arvid’s trusted family and soldiers, Ember embarks on a journey to bring fire back to her people before they perish from winter.  Along the way, she and her traveling mates are confronted with the Great Powers that had, until now, remained aloof from the “new blooded” descendents of Acton.  At the end of her journey, she faces an impossible choice – a future for herself with the one she loves, or a future of peace and prosperity for her people.

Eyewitness Account: Pamela Freeman can definitely spin a tale!  Fantasy can be hit or miss – it’s usually either very clever or a cheap knockoff of some other popular idea.  Ember and Ash was definitely in the former category.  It was a little slow to get into at first, but that’s probably because I hadn’t read her Castings Trilogy, which precedes Ember and Ash and appears to cover events about 20 years prior to it.

I loved Ember – someone who not only had flaws, but also didn’t know her own mind half of the time!  Her journey to the Fire Mountain is also her own personal journey to finding out who she is and what her place/purpose in the Eleven Domains is.  I loved how she found herself out of her element at times, how she depended on her companions for their expertise, and how she boldly stepped up to take the consequences of tough decisions that she had to make.  Ember makes some very wise observations through her journey – one of my favorite was the distinction between lust/desire and love.  Most of all, I loved that the decision she made at the end of the book seemed true to who she was.

I also appreciated the way Freeman wove together so many people’s stories in with Ember’s – Ash, finding his own purpose and identity, Arvid and Martine dealing with the breach in their marriage, and Nyr looking for a better life for his people.  I found that even the secondary characters who didn’t get much stage time were full of personality – of dreams, aspirations, emotions, and complicated motives.  Lastly, the story of the Powers themselves was purely delightful – not at all predictable, and very clever.

Themes of unity, identity, and honesty are well-developed throughout the story.  One of my favorite passages is listed below, as it talks about how we have a tendency to reject change – but that the growth that change brings is well worth it.  It’s a book I’d love to give to teenagers, except for the overly graphic love scene at the end.  Well done, Ms. Freeman!

Notable Quotes:

“Heavy, inimical, a brooding presence envious of and hating everything the braid contained: life, love, warmth, fellowship.  Difference.  She . . . understood what it was He wanted, could feel His desire for the unchanged, unchangeable permanence of Ice.  For ice which never melted, for form which stayed, immutable.  For an eternity of sameness, safe and solid and forever.

She knew that feeling.  Every mother knew the feeling of wanting time to stop, wanting the child to stay a baby, wanting the youth to stay a child, wanting the moment when the little arms came around your neck to last forever.  Every human knew that feeling, of wanting tomorrow to be the same as today, so that you could just go on being who you were, without the pains that age brought.

But as a mother, as a human, she knew the stupidity of that.  Knew that the child could give more joy than the baby, as well as more grief; knew that age had its compensations; knew that growth always hurt.”

“. . .all he had was himself, the center of himself, which was, after all, just a single arrow in flight.”

Other Books Read by This Author: None, but I might eventually pick up Blood Ties (first in The Castings Trilogy), as I enjoyed Ms. Freeman’s writing so much.

What are other people saying? Thoughts of a Scot, Aurealis Xpress

Rating:

★★★★★ Plot Development

★★★★ Characterization

★★★★ Writing Style

★★★★ Original Idea

★★★★ Page Turner

Overall ★★★★


The Goddess Test

Reviewed by Brittney

Just the Facts: by Aimee Carter. 298 p. To be published April 26, 2011 by Harlequin Teen.  Advanced copy provided in electronic format, courtesy of the publisher through NetGalley.

Verdict: ★★★☆☆

Who Cares? YA Fantasy

Short Bio: Kate’s only desire is to spend as much time as possible with mom, who is dying of cancer.  Her mom takes them to a small, rural town where Kate meets James and Ava . . . and begins a series of events that lead her to make a bargain with Henry/Hades, the god of the Underworld that will give her more time with her mother.  If she can pass the 7 tests that the unseen “council” of gods puts before her, she will become an immortal (and Henry’s wife, to boot).

Eyewitness Account: I thought this book was going to be a lot more interesting – it follows the popular trend of books about the “contemporary” Greek gods.  However, what made for great adventure-packed stories for kids came across rather bland for a YA romance.  While a number of plot devices showed good promise (great foreshadowing at the beginning, interesting development of “the Underworld”, and clever theme behind the 7 tests),  this modern-day twist on the tale of Persephone didn’t quite work.  The plot felt contorted and contrived, and the characters never fully enough developed to be real.  Rather than acting “ageless,” Henry acts like an old protective father, which makes it difficult to picture him as someone a teenager would fall in love with.    

The fun part of the Greek gods are how they interact with each other, play around with mortals, and create great quests for heroes like Jason and Hercules.  As the plot focuses only on one god (Henry), who generally mopes around or acts overly parental, the best part of setting is rather lost.  The only thing that kept me turning the pages was the desire to know what the tests were (of which I only guessed a couple, so kudos to the author for not giving everything away).

Other Books Read by This Author: None.

What are other people saying? Lit Express, A Myriad of Books, WhatchYAReading?

Rating:

★★★☆☆ Plot Development

★★☆☆☆ Characterization

★★★☆☆ Writing Style

★★★☆☆ Original Idea

★★★☆☆ Page Turner

Overall ★★★☆☆