Saturday, June 22, 2024

"Murder at the Merton Library" by Andrea Penrose

The only real downside to this book is that, now that I've finished it, I have to wait until September for another Wrexford and Sloane book!  I absolutely love this series and am slowly collecting them up because I know I will want to read them all again.

In this one, the Earl of Wrexford's late brother's best friend is murdered, and Wrex vows to bring the killer to justice.  Meanwhile, a scientific laboratory burns down in what appears to be arson, and Charlotte is drawn into the search for possible motives and perpetrators.  Of course, the two crimes end up being linked, and it takes the combined talents of their entire found family to figure everything out.  

I very much enjoy how Penrose works so many real-life scientific discoveries and inventions into this series.  It's set during the Industrial Revolution, and the emphasis on science really sets this series apart from other Regency-era books I've read.

Particularly Good Bits:

"It is a curse of human nature that we are inclined to believe things that we wish to be true.  Evildoers have exploited that weakness since the Garden of Eden" (p. 220).

"Vengeance doesn't soothe the soul" (p. 240).

If This was a Movie, I Would Rate It: PG-13 for violence, including showing a murder on-page, a smattering of cuss words, and mention of an attempt at rape (in the past, not shown, and neither victim nor perpetrator are regular characters).

Tuesday, June 11, 2024

The Cover Reveal for My Book "A Noble Companion"

As you may have heard, I will be releasing an Ugly Duckling retelling called A Noble Companion this fall as part of the Cornerstone Series from Beyond the Bookery. I am revealing its gorgeous cover at last!

A Noble Companion releases on November 12, and you can already pre-order the Kindle version on Amazon.

The books in this series are all non-magical fantasy, which means the authors will include fantasy elements such as creatures (such as dragons, centaurs, unicorns, mermaids) or settings, but there will be no magic-users, such as witches or wizards or sorcerers.

Is this a major step out into the unknown for me as a writer?  In some ways, yes.  I tried writing a fantasy novel in my teens and gave it up because the worldbuilding was driving me crazy.  I've never tried to write anything fantasy-ish again... until now.  

But, because I'm me, A Noble Companion has an American West flavor -- I've created a world based on Spanish California in the early 1800s (think of Zorro), but with talking animals and dragons.  

I have an inspiration board for this book on Pinterest -- you can check that out here!

Anyway!  I love my cover, and I'm having a great time writing this book.  If you'd like to see covers for more of the series, we are releasing four at a time every Monday for the whole month of June -- you can find the first eight here in my Instagram feed!

If you think A Noble Companion sounds like a fun read, you can mark it as "want to read" here on Goodreads.

Monday, June 10, 2024

"Break the Beast" by Allison Tebo

This book blew me away.  It's got a vibe like Till We Have Faces by C. S. Lewis, but mixed with wonderful wordsmithing ala Caraval by Stephanie Garber, and with a hero who could stand beside any of the great men in The Lord of the Rings by J. R. R. Tolkien.

And if that sounds hyperbolic, I assure you it is not.  This is going to be one of my top books for the year.

Break the Beast is a retelling of the ancient epic Beowulf, but with a wonderful twist.  Instead of killing the monster Grendel, Beowulf saves her from being a monster.  In this book, Grendel was once a human girl, and when Beowulf offers her a chance to turn from worshiping the Dragon Below and instead worship the Almighty, he's also offering her a chance to reclaim her humanity.

I don't want to spoil the story too much, but this is simultaneously an epic quest to defeat monsters and a very personal story of the power of faith and friendship.  It's an allegory like Till We Have Faces, but it's also an emotion-charged fantasy adventure like The Lord of the Rings.

I also loved that, like Balefire by Deborah Koren, this book centers on a platonic friendship between a man and a woman.  I love books like that where romance doesn't need to be part of the plot just because the two main characters are a guy and a girl.  If this is a new trend, I applaud it!

I had to read this book in little bites most of the time because I needed to savor the exquisite writing and storytelling.  I've enjoyed Allison Tebo's writing for years now, but this is far above everything she's written before.  It is magnificent.  Though there is a little flavor of decision-based theology here and there that I do not personally agree with, just fyi.

Particularly Good Bits:

"You and I both know that when we do not allow the Almighty to erect the walls of his truth around our thoughts, our minds devour us, and then, fools that we are, we blame the Almighty for our pain, and we choose to live in the chaos, instead of seeking freedom in Him (p. 20-21).

As the hours pass, he tries several times to speak to me, but each time, the words fall to the ground with the rain, leaving puddles of awkward silence behind (p. 172).

If This was a Movie, I Would Rate It: PG-13 for mildly gory violence and one instance of someone insinuating a woman has seduced a man (she hasn't).

This is the 15th book I've read from my TBR shelves for the 2024 Mount TBR Reading Challenge.

Saturday, June 8, 2024

"Galloway" by Louis L'Amour

Why is this one called Galloway when it's mostly about Galloway Sackett's brother Flagan?  I mean, Galloway is in it, lots -- but it starts out from Flagan's point of view, and he gets to narrate it in first person here and there, whereas Galloway's chapters get told in third person.  I'm not saying the title makes no sense, because Galloway does play a key role here -- but it's really Flagan's story.  That's Flagan on the cover, even.  Huh.  I wonder if the publisher titled this one, or L'Amour himself.

Anyway, I liked this book a LOT.  Flagan Sackett escapes from some angry Apaches, stark naked and on foot, and manages to not only evade them, but survive in the mountains alone, and eventually find other people... and more trouble, which is where the actual plot takes place -- there's a mean guy and his mean followers who want to take over and control a whole section of the country, and Flagan and Galloway Sackett like the looks of that area and want to ranch there too, and so other people take sides, and more Sacketts get involved, and there's not quite a range war, but it gets close to one.  Since one Sackett is a whole lot of Sacketts, and there are four involved here, it's pretty clear who will win in the end.  The fun is in seeing how they do it.

Particularly Good Bits:

Back up at the forks of the creek in Tennessee they don't raise many foolish children, and the foolish men don't live long enough to get knee-high to a short sheep (p. 26).

There's a saying in the mountains that if you harm a cricket his friends will come and eat your socks (p. 28) (This made me laugh so much!)

I had lived long enough to know that nothing lasts forever, and men torture themselves who believe that it will.  The one law that does not change is that everything changes (p. 46).

There's a saying that when guns are outlawed, only outlaws will have guns (p. 52).

If This was a Movie, I Would Rate It: PG-10 for some brief discussions of torture, scenes of survival in harsh conditions, a little mild cussing, and western violence.

This is my 14th book read from my TBR shelves for the 2024 Mount TBR Challenge.

Tuesday, June 4, 2024

My Book "Jane Eyre: A Christian Reader's Guide" Releases Today!

My nonfiction audiobook has released today!  I'm so excited to finally get to share this project with the world.

Jane Eyre: A Christian Reader's Guide helps readers explore and understand Charlotte Bronte's classic novel.  In it, I provide a breakdown and analysis of each chapter, discussion prompts, and historical notes on the book and its author. This audiobook will be a great resource for teaching literature or your own personal study.  It would be particularly helpful for homeschoolers and literature classes, and works for book clubs, too.  It works equally well whether you're hoping to understand this classic better yourself or looking for something to help you teach it to others.

You can buy my book from Amazon Audible here, from Barnes and Noble Audiobooks here, or straight from publisher One Audiobooks here.  You can also find it on Goodreads.

My audiobook is part of a new series of literature guides that One Audiobooks is producing.  Their aim is to help modern readers understand and appreciate classic books from a Christian perspective.  Mine is the first guide for a more adult book, and probably works better for teens and adults, but the others would be great for all ages.

Currently, these guides are only available as audiobooks, but there is a possibility that the publisher might release them as ebooks as well.  If that interests you, please let the publisher know!

Monday, June 3, 2024

"Weaving Roots" by Heather Wood

I loved so many characters in this book!  Main characters Betha and Colm, Betha's nephew Henry, and basically all of Colm's family.

Betha keeps house for her brother Seamus and is raising his illegitimate son Henry for him.  The little family has recently moved to Baltimore to get away from unkind neighbors who shunned Henry for his parentage.  Betha enrolls Henry in a free school nearby, where she meets Colm, who will be his teacher.

Colm and Betha are drawn to each other immediately.  They share Irish-American heritage, strong faith in God, and the desire to help those around them.  Colm is idolized a bit by Henry, whose father Seamus tends to ignore or dismiss him.  It's clear early on that Colm, Betha, and Henry could make a happy little family together, should Colm and Betha get married.

However, it takes three-quarters of the book for the characters to actually realize that Colm and Betha raising Henry is an option.  That's the only thing I disliked about the book -- in an era when people pretty commonly raised their nieces and nephews as their own, why did neither Colm nor Betha (nor Seamus) ever say, "Hey, here's a solution!"  Nobody even suggested it as a solution until the end of the book, not even to dismiss it as unworkable or raise objections to it.  Which drove me a little crazy.

Aside from that, this book was engrossing and uplifting.  I connected quickly with the characters and very much enjoyed their efforts to learn and grow in their faith while doing the work God has given them.  Much of the book's plot revolves around Colm's coming to realize he needs to be including the Bible in his classroom teaching, and the controversy that stirs up.  Wood includes historical notes about this exact controversy actually happening at that school in the 1820s, which was fascinating.  History really does run in cycles, and the more I learn about the 1820s, the more they remind me of the 1920s and the 2020s.

Full disclosure: I received an advance review copy of this book from the publisher.  All opinions here are my own and freely stated.

Particularly Good Bits:

"I'd appreciate understanding the difference between living by faith and living foolishly in the name of faith."

"The Lord doesn't give us control over each other's outcomes."

"Yes, there are things we can do, but for all our efforts, we can never change hearts.  He just didn't give us that power."

The Bible wasn't a neutral book, and the words in it didn't leave room for a passive response.  If a heart wasn't changed by it, it very likely would find itself in sharp opposition to it.

"...we're weaker when the devil gets us off by ourselves.  Like a predator trying to get his prey away from the herd."

If This was a Movie, I Would Rate It: PG for discussions of Henry's illegitimacy and the use of a coarse slur to refer to him.  There are also veiled references to marital bedtime activities which are not explicit or titillating.  There is a brief mention of an adult striking a child and being emotionally abusive.  No bad language aside from the word 'bastard' used in its original context; little violence.