Monday, July 16, 2018

"Crown of Souls" by Ronie Kendig

Cole "Tox" Russell and his task force of super-soldiers are back for another Indiana-Jones-meets-Jack-Reacher adventure.  This time, someone Tox used to work with has gone evil.  Former soldier Alec King starts killing people he blames for the death of some of his team members years ago, and he thinks Tox will join him on what King insists is a holy quest to rid the world of evil.

Eventually, Tox and Haven and the rest of their cohorts find evidence that King has gotten his hands on an artifact called the Crown of Souls that uses an otherworldly power to control and distort whoever wears it.  The crown has a history that involves Saladin and the Knights Templar, ancient Assyrians, and more. 

On a whole, I did not like this as well as the first book in the series, Conspiracy of Silence.  I felt like the faith-based elements were less focused and integral to the story, and I had a harder time engaging with the plot.  However, it was definitely a thrilling story, and if you're into thrillers or books that blend archaeology with suspense, you'll probably like it a lot.

Particularly Good Bits:

The subtle tendrils of bitterness were watered over years as wounds were left to fester, the person believing their wrong, their hurt more important than healing.  Than letting go (p. 432).

If This was a Movie, I Would Rate It:  PG-13 for a lot of violence and some implied sexual activity -- one side character has been cohabiting with someone they're not married to.  No graphic or detailed love scenes.

Note: I received a copy of this book from the publisher for me to read while judging the INSPY awards. In no way did I agree to review this book in exchange. These are my honest opinions.

Wednesday, July 11, 2018

"Island of the Mad" by Laurie R. King

You know I've been a fan of Laurie R. King's Mary Russell & Sherlock Holmes series for many years now.  I've written a lot of posts about them.  They're my favorite non-canonical Holmes stories, and I love some of them dearly.

Just not this one.

Actually, I liked much of the story.  It was fascinating, mysterious, and held some nice twists.  Russell's university friend Veronica's aunt has been in and out of mental institutions for the last decade or so, and then she suddenly disappears, so Veronica asks Russell to look for her aunt.  Russell and Holmes follow her trail to Venice, which has just come under the rule of Mussolini and the fascists, and all the historical details were awesome.  They end up rubbing elbows with people like Cole Porter, so that was fun.

But running all through the story is a vein of homosexuality, which is not surprising given that King's modern-day mystery series stars a gay policewoman and she's dealt with the topic in other books too.  And Cole Porter actually was gay, so it all tied together.  What bothered me was Russell and Holmes' very modern reactions to finding out various people involved in the case were, as the parlance of the day put it, lavender.  They were practically ho-hum, and while many people in the 21st century would react that way, it felt pretty weird for the time and place the book was set.  Yes, Russell and Holmes have always been unconventional characters, but this began to feel like the foisting of an author's agenda into her characters' behavior and words that I just didn't appreciate or enjoy.  It was like if Holmes and Russell had suddenly started talking about reducing emissions and saving the ozone layer and needing to find sustainable fuel -- it just didn't seem to fit.

So anyway, if you like the series, you'll still have fun hanging out with Holmes and Russell here.  But this won't be a favorite of mine.  A couple years ago, I made a list of how I rank the books in this series, from favorite to least-favorite, and I feel like revising the list to include the newer books, so here's how I rank them now:

1. The Beekeeper's Apprentice (book 1)
2. The Game (book 7)
3. The Murder of Mary Russell (book 14)
4. O Jerusalem (book 5)
5. Garment of Shadows (book 12)
6. Pirate King (book 11)
7. Locked Rooms (book 8)
8. Dreaming Spies (book 13)
9. Justice Hall (book 6)
10. The God of the Hive (book 10)
11. The Language of Bees (book 9)
12. The Moor (book 4)
13. Island of the Mad (book 15)
14. A Monstrous Regiment of Women (book 2)
15. A Letter of Mary (book 3)

Particularly Good Bits:

"I have never found 'luck' a dependable companion," Holmes noted calmly, and tucked into his soup (p. 237).

If This was a Movie, I Would Rate It: a hard PG-13 or soft R for a lot of veiled discussions of sexual proclivities, the behavior of mentally disturbed people, bad language, and some perilous situations.

Tuesday, July 10, 2018

Top Ten Tuesday: This Year's Best, So Far

The year is a little more than half over, and I've already read so many amazing books!  Which is good, because this week's TTT prompt from That Artsy Reader Girl is "The best books I've read in 2018 (so far)."  Here are my ten, with titles linked to my reviews.  

And for something different and fun, I've included a favorite line or passage from each of them so you can have a little taste of what they're like!

A Flame in the Dark by Sarah Baughman (PG-13)  ""This is where we see, without exception, the heart of the Christian faith: love.  God's love for His people, and His people's love for one another, and for the world.  We are to bear one another's burdens, to stir one another up to love and good works.  That is to say, we are to admonish, encourage, help, and be patient, in love" (p. 159).

Speak Easy, Speak Love by McKelle George (PG-13)  "Obviously friendly was too high a word for what they’d been, but she’d enjoyed, well, not him exactly but the challenge of him. The pleasing clang of their minds butting together" (p. 194).

The Blue Castle by L. M. Montgomery (PG) "John Foster says," quoted Valancy, "'If you can sit in silence with a person for half an hour and yet be entirely comfortable, you and that person can be friends.  If you cannot, friends you'll never be and you need not waste time in trying'" (p. 123).

Guns of the Timberlands by Louis L'Amour (PG) "It was midafternoon and the sun lay like a curse upon the town" (p. 66).

Loving Isaac by Heather Kaufman (PG-13) "Kara's was a prettily packaged life, the kind with ribbons and a bow that catches your eye.  Hana's was a banged and dented UPS box left on the wrong doorstep" (p. 21).

Northanger Abbey by Jane Austen (PG) "The person, be it gentleman or lady, who has not pleasure in a good novel, must be intolerably stupid" (p. 102).

Portrait of Vengeance by Carrie Stuart Parks (PG-13)  "I believe the events of the past impact all that happens in the present" (p. 155).

Enchanted by Alethea Kontis (PG-13)  "She had that way of looking at him that made him feel like he'd built the world for her and given it to her as a gift just that morning" (p. 237).

Girl in Disguise by Greer MacAllister (PG-13)  “I’d already applied to every possible position appropriate for a lady. Only the inappropriate ones remained.”

Jane of Lantern Hill by L. M. Montgomery (G) "It is the essence of adventure to see the break of a new day, Jane" (p. 125).

All photos are from my Instagram account except the ones that I read and reviewed before I became a bookstagrammer, which have just book covers.

Did you do a TTT list this week?  Share a link in the comments so I can see!  Have you read any of these books?  Let's discuss them!

Monday, July 9, 2018

Mailbox Monday: I Won Books!

Back in June, I entered a giveaway hosted by Waterbrook & Multnomah Fiction on their Facebook page.  A giveaway for seven of their Christian fiction titles.  AND I WON!!!  I got an email informing me that I won about a week ago, and my books came in the mail today.  Looky:

Can you believe I've never read any of these authors?  Not even Kim Vogel Sawyer, though people keep recommending her books to me.  Well, hers is the first one of these I'll try!

I enter book giveaways all the time and just... never win them.  So that makes me especially excited about this :-)  Plus, do you see how many of these have a western setting?  I'm going to have some fun reading coming up!

And because it's Monday and I haven't done this linkup for a while, I'm linking this post up with Mailbox Monday!  Did you get any books in your mailbox lately?

Sunday, July 8, 2018

"Death at Thorburn Hall" by Julianna Deering

Even though I've been reading them all out of order, I am thoroughly enjoying this series.  Drew Farthering is a likable, believable gentleman.  I really enjoy spending time with him, his wife Madeline, his best friend Nick Dennison, and Madeline's friend Carrie.  They're sweet, fun, kind people, and I like them.

In this sixth book of the series, the four of them are invited to Thorburn Hall, home of Drew's cousin, Lady Louisa Rainsby, and her family.  They're all going to enjoy watching a local golf tournament, along with a few more house guests.  But then, as you might have guessed by the book's title, someone dies.  The police make a hasty arrest, but Drew and Nick are convinced the killer is still free.

This is a bit different from the other Drew Farthering books I've read in that it involves a wider world than just England and the United States.  There's a bit of political intrigue and spying involved here -- this takes place between the world wars, and Germany has come under the leadership of Adolf Hitler.  Various people's thoughts and beliefs about Hitler's ideas get tangled up in the mystery, and I'm pretty sure that future books will continue exploring the gradual slide toward World War II.

Oh, and the recurring theme of cats continues, with a new kitten arriving on the scene partway through the adventure.

As always, there are elements of the characters' Christian faith woven throughout the story, though I found them a bit sparser here than in Rules of Murder or Dressed for Death.

(From my Bookstagramming adventures.)

Particularly Good Bits:

"At some point we have to trust God with our lives, don't we?  Otherwise we spend our days huddled in a corner afraid to take a step outside.  But what a weaste that is when there's so much we're meant to do with the time He's given us" (p. 324).

If This was a Movie, I Would Rate It: a soft PG-13 for violence, dangerous situations, innuendo about a married woman being unfaithful, cigarette smoking, and some mild kissing. No bad language.

This is my 11th book read and reviewed for the Mount TBR Reading Challenge 2018.

Tuesday, July 3, 2018

"Imperfect Justice" by Cara Putman

One of my favorite things about this book was how perfectly it nailed what the ruthless life of Washington D.C. is like.  I live outside the Beltway, but I know plenty of people who live in the glittering, grungy world that attorney Emilie Wesley inhabits.  It's a place where everyone is trying to make an impression, to win some competition or other, to edge just a little bit ahead in their own personal race.  

Emile Wesley works for a no-profit that helps abused women escape dangerous and harmful marriages.  She's confident, talented, and determined.  But when one of her clients winds up dead, accused of shooting both her daughters before turning the gun on herself, Emilie's whole world crumbles.  She's convinced her client could never have done such a horrible thing, not when she was on the verge of escaping a manipulative, abusive husband.  

But the only person who believes the same thing is the dead woman's brother, Reid Billings.  He's a hotshot investor whose instincts and drive have pushed him to the top tiers of the D.C. financial world.  Now Reid and Emilie must team up to prove his dead sister's innocence and stop her abusive husband from retaining custody of their surviving daughter.  But an uncle's rights in a custody case are minimal compared to a biological father's, and their chances of winning are slim at best.

I really enjoy legal thrillers, though I don't read a ton of them.  I will definitely seeking out more books by Cara Putman because I thoroughly dug this.  Especially because it included a lot of discussions of how a Christian behaves in situations like this, whether they can forgive those who intentionally harm them, and what happens when they do.

If This was a Movie, I Would Rate It:  PG-13 for discussions of physical and emotional abuse, scary situations, and violence.

Note: I received a copy of this book from the publisher for me to read while judging the INSPY awards. In no way did I agree to review this book in exchange. These are my honest opinions.

Saturday, June 30, 2018

"A Flame in the Dark" by Sarah Baughman

This is one of the best books I've read so far this year.  Actually, it's one of the best books I've EVER read.  It's filled with such rich character development and meaty discussions of how God's words apply to our lives.  I talk a lot about how important characters are to me when it comes to enjoying a book or coming to love it -- these characters were so real and wonderful, I actually worried about what was happening to them whenever I wasn't actively reading the book.  That's some powerful writing, folks.

I also loved how Martin Luther was portrayed: kind, humorous, compassionate, stubborn, hasty, and wholly dedicated to understanding the Word of God and illuminating it for others.  Not a saint, but not a satyr either (do yourself a favor and don't read Luther and Katherina by Jody Hedlund. EVER).  He's shown to be an intelligent, determined, Christ-focused man, both human and humane.  

The main character, Heinrich Ritter, is studying law at the University of Wittenberg.  When he can, he attends Dr. Luther's theology lectures.  Heinrich boards with a middle-class family, the Diefenbachs, who live just outside town.  He's romantically interested in their oldest daughter, Marlein, but hesitates to make his interest known to her because she spends all her time caring for her family.  Her father is a busy candlemaker, kind but often distracted.  Her mother suffers from crippling depression centered around mutliple miscarriages, among other things, and rarely leaves her room.  That leaves Marlein to run the household and cares for the children.  

Into this hectic world bursts Brigita, Heinrich's younger sister who's running from her past and carrying a secret.  Through caring for his sister and trying to ease Marlein's load, Heinrich comes to undersand that God's plans are not always our plans, and that sometimes the best way to help someone is just to ask, "What can I do?" instead of trying to solve their problems for them.  He seeks guidance from Dr. Luther several times, trying to understand what his role is as a brother, a possible suitor, and a friend, and I think the thing I loved best about this book (aside from the characters) was how it looked at vocations and burdens from so many angles.

Plus, it's beautifully written, paying wonderful attention to historical details.  I don't know what Baughman intends to write next, but I do know I already want to read whatever it is.

Particularly Good Bits:

"This is where we see, without exception, the heart of the Christian faith: love.  God's love for His people, and His people's love for one another, and for the world.  We are to bear one another's burdens, to stir one another up to love and good works.  That is to say, we are to admonish, encourage, help, and be patient, in love.  Because He has loved us with so great a love, poured His mercy and grace on us in the life, works, suffering, death, and resurrection of His Son, the Christ, we are to love one another.  We are to carry his love to the world.  The broken world, the world lost in its own pleasure, its own slothfulness, its own weakness and despair.  Because He loved us with an everlasting love" (p. 159-160).

If This was a Movie, I Would Rate It:  PG-13 for oblique references to sexual activity, a non-descriptive discussion of rape, unwed pregnancy, childbirth, depression, and accusations of witchcraft.  No bad language or sexual situations, only a little mild violence, but I wouldn't let my young children read it.  Fine for teens on up.