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Book Review: The Awakened


I have a rule of thumb that I always review a book within a few days of reading it. It keeps me accountable to not be late and the story is freshest in my mind.

That said- it has been much longer than a few days since I had the opportunity to read The Awakened. Which means it already feels like it has been forever that I have been waiting for the second book and why is it not here now.

I had serious doubts about this book. End times fiction? Flashbacks that are essentially Biblical fiction? The author having Christ as a character in the story and having fictional scenarios? Why don’t we just throw in an adultery plotline and we can have all my least favorite things. The cynicism was high people. I am making such a big deal about this because I was less than 10 pages in when I had to stop and marvel at the grace and skill that the story in front of me was being handled. I got a lot of joy out of when my sister was reading it and she’d periodically text me and go “you’re right. This is amazing.”

The concept is: what if Lazarus didn’t die again. And what if there are a chosen few believers throughout history who were raised from the dead to stand against evil until Christ comes again. The story is told both through flashbacks to Bible times and modern day.

Confession time: the concept of writing historical fiction featuring people who actually lived terrifies me. This is because I know how hard I am on the genre. History isn’t just a playground for us to take pieces and put them together as a puzzle for our amusement. These are actual lives of people who once lived, just as you or I. And my personal conviction is the standard is even higher when your playground is events from Scripture. The respect Richard Spillman clearly has for Scripture is some of the best in fiction I’ve ever read. I’m still not entirely sure how he did it.

That alone would be enough for me to give this book high praise. But everything, the characters, the scenarios, the author is clearly well researched and gives humanity to situations that would be very easy to just slap on in the background. I kept getting blown away with how well done everything in this book was.

Count your blessings, you can go buy this today and you will have less a wait for the second book than I have had to wait thus far. If you like good, well researched, grace filled fiction that is going to make you pause and be like I didn’t know you could do that and it work, read this book.

Note: I received this book as an advance pre-reader copy.

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Book Review: A Caffeine Conundrum

Usually when I finish book and really like it I think oh so-and-so would like this. Or how one friend would like it but it just wouldn’t be another friend’s cup of tea. That isn’t a reflection on a book, just individual peoples taste. I honestly think all of my reader friends would find something they like in A Caffeine Conundrum.

Tandy Brandt and Marissa Alexander have similar goals, though you would never guess from looking at them. Tandy loves to wear black, almost as much as she loves her pomeranian Cocoa, whereas former beauty Marissa is all about fashion and has little interest in the licky furball Tandy carries around. Where our heroines’ paths cross is they both have a goal of opening their own little shop. Tandy a coffee shop and Marissa a tea shop. The problem is they want the same location. The bigger problem is the owner died right before them landing suspicious eyes on both ladies.

This book is an absolute crack up. The banter back and forth between whether tea or coffee is the superior drink, the personality differences as Tandy and Marissa get to know each other better. The Christmas backdrop adds a festive flavor to the whole feel of the novel. It is a good old fashioned murder mystery and I did not figure out whodunnit until near the end. I look forward to the next book in the series.

Note: I received this book as an advance pre-reader copy.

Book Review: The Sleuth’s Miscalculation

Nancy Daley has this life thing down. She works as a librarian, everyone knows she’s someone they can turn to in times of trouble and she is an unofficial consultant for the sheriff department. The sheriff who happens to be her mom. She is an independent woman who is doing fine on her own and appears perfectly content to live out her days just as she is. And then she gets paired up with the new deputy, Carter Malone for a mystery.

This is a fun little book. It’s first of all a mystery, it reminded more of an old Murder She Wrote in tone than Nancy Drew. There is a touch of romance, but that is secondary. Nancy and Carter just work together so well and nothing felt rushed about them. I really appreciate when the author has a strong independent woman character, who she doesn’t sacrifice her humanity to make a point of “See! Look how tough she is!”. Nancy is very human, and I mean that completely as a compliment.

I never figure these things out early, I’m a lazy mystery reader. But I found myself trying to figure out whodunnit quite early on, (and…I actually guessed! Yes, I was proud of myself). The cast of characters is quirky, without being flat, and the groundwork is clearly laid for future stories while being a fulfilling story in and of itself.

Note: I received this book as an advance pre-reader copy.

Book Review: Porch Swing Girl

Olive Galloway’s life has been turned upside down and she has been dumped at her Gramma’s house in Hawaii, along with her little sister. Her mother just lost her fight with cancer and her dad has deposited them with their grandmother so he can go deal with things at home in Boston. “Deal with things” being something which has Olive in a complete panic that her dad will deconstruct what is left of her world by getting rid of her mothers things and selling their house.

Full disclosure- Olive annoyed the ever living daylights out of me for the beginning of the book. Her behavior toward her sister, her gramma, her dad, the people who were trying to be her friends was so petty that any sympathy I would have had for her plight never had time to take root. She is dead set on getting back to Boston to make sure her dad doesn’t do something she would regret. And she will let everyone know who will listen.

But the book doesn’t end there, and neither does this review. Taylor Bennett shows the skills of a true storyteller and if this is the talent she is showing in her first book and as a teenager? I look forward to seeing what comes from her in the years to come. It is revealed that Olive’s new friend Jazz is also going through a severe trial, and we see that intensity that Olive portrayed at the beginning of the book being all about her redirected into her new friend. Olive has to process the death of her mother, and shows that she is a true friend by giving up what she wanted most for her new friend.

There is clear growth from the characters and showing how home can mean more than one place and mean people more than a place.

Note: I received this book as an advance pre-reader copy.

Book Review: Finding Love in Eureka, California

There is so much going on in this book. I kinda wonder if the author went, “I want to take all the controversial issues that are important to me and make a story from them, yes, I’ll do that!”

Genevieve Wilson is happily living her life. She enjoys her job, she’s building her photography business and daydreaming about the pilot from work. She is a happy person who just…sorta ignores the bad in her life. It’s so much better to make up her own narrative right?

Matt Lake is one of those guys who has crafted the “perfect life”. He has everything he wanted, he is on a path to have a pretty #blessed life. But, life has a habit of shaking things up.

This is a very good book, and handles topics which could have gone very, very poorly with grace. Again, there is so much going on. Both Genevieve and Matt have complicated lives, and both have to overcome ways they protect themselves from reality or risk. Matt wants to be the hero in the story. To his girlfriend, to Gen. He doesn’t know what to do when he can’t be the hero, and when it’s possible his actions could have hurt someone instead of saving them? He doesn’t even know what to do. The people in Genevieve’s life keep leaving, try as she might to get them to stay. It’s just easier to assume people will leave, because that’s what people do. Better to live in a daydream than to take a risk on reality.

I really enjoyed this book and would love to see a continuation with a story about Genevieve’s sister Rosie! And more aerial and goat yoga please.

Note: I received this book as an advance pre-reader copy.

 

Book Review: Make Haste Slowly

I sat down to read this book and really didn’t know what to make of it. I read it in relatively few sittings and I never really knew where the story was going, and it ended in a way I didn’t expect. In short- Make Haste Slowly does good work of being a mystery.

Callie Erickson has started a new life in small town Texas, content to live life with her friends, her pugs, and her new flower/knitting/book shop. She is settling in nicely to routine and the author made me laugh out loud a few times at the antics of Callie’s pugs. This new calm life is not meant to be when Callie discovers a mystery bag and a dead body on her doorstep.

In feel? This reminded me of watching Murder She Wrote with my mom. I liked how it told a solid story, but definitely left room open explore more about these characters. My only criticism is while I generally really like references to other stories and books, these references were so ingrained into the story that if I wasn’t familiar with the book the characters were talking about, I couldn’t follow that part of the story. It seemed to assume the audience had read all the same books.

I look forward to reading where this series goes next.

Note: I received this book as an advance pre-reader copy.

Book Review: At The Crossroads

I loved this book. I was having trouble figuring out what I’d say in this review because normally I do a small summary, the stuff I liked, the stuff I didn’t like and then my concluding thoughts. But I can’t think of anything that wasn’t done well. It was that good.

At the Crossroads has a widowed mother with two kids who is making do and getting by, and lives in a manner that she is always expecting the other shoe to drop. And unfortunately? You don’t blame her, she has had a rough go of it. The last thing she needed was a crush on the pastor who may or may not be staying because his heart really is in the mission field overseas.

Christa MacDonald expertly portrays both small towns and private Christian schools, in that she shows the good, and the bad that come with those environments without feeling like she’s trying to make a point to the merit of either of these things. Private Christian schools can be great, but they can also be legalistic and condemning. As a single mother the heroine Erin, gets both ends of that. In the previous book her daughter was pregnant out of wedlock, and now she gets nastygrams from parents saying she should resign from her position as the physical education teacher. And she is clearly treated as a “lower class” than the other moms.

Dan Cooper is the pastor of the small town church, but he always meant this to be a temporary gig while he waited for his mom to recover from a stroke. Then the years rolled on and his mom didn’t improve, and he was still pastor. At the same time that he really notices Erin is when he reaches a crossroads. Is he going to lay down roots, or still aim for far off lands.

Yes, this is a romance novel, but that isn’t what I got out of being the point of the novel. Whether you get on a plane to serve in a mission field with a brand new language and culture, or you preach to a small town, or are a single mom to your two kids- that is your mission field and an equal calling to any.

What pushed me over the edge from “this is a really good book” to “ah I’d love to meet this author and tell her how good she is” is this one scene where you have this character who is in full time ministry and she’s preparing to go overseas and she is on fire. And while she’s in the small town she offers to help this newly divorced woman move. Now this divorced lady not only had her husband cheat on her, leave her, she’s having to majorly downsize her life. Our on fire ministry lady has zero compassion for her because she’s “an educated white woman. she’ll be fine. She’s better off than so many woman in the world.” Just because she’s not wrong about the facts, doesn’t mean she hasn’t missed the point. How are we to show love to people if we’re always comparing their sorrows to “well it could be worse”.

As I said, I think this is a great book, and I think especially people who have been in ministry will love it and probably be convicted by it as well.

Note: I received this book as an advance pre-reader copy.