Sunday, May 15, 2016

The Secret to Hummingbird Cake by Celeste Fletcher McHale

Another treat for you, Friends! The Secret to Hummingbird Cake by Celeste Fletcher McHale is one of those books that reaches down and touches your soul.

Carrigan, Ella Rae, and Laine have been best friends since kindergarten. Told from Carrigan's POV, the story follows these inseparable women as they do life together, through the good, the hilarious, the bad, and the heartbreaking. This book will make you belly laugh on one page and weep on the next. It will touch your heart, and force you to step back and reexamine your own life. It is raw, it is real, and it is beautiful. Well written, it flowed nicely, and was a quick read.  I was captivated from the very first page, and I literally stayed up all night to finish it. I have no regrets.

This book touches on the best and worst parts of life - the joy and depth of friendship, the humor of daily life, the struggles of marriage and relationships, and the pain of hardships. In doing so, the characters do mildly curse occasionally (a**, d***, h***), but it is not gratuitous and done in a way that sounds like a normal conversation. There is also not overt Christianity, but the themes are there in the background, though at times it felt as though a little more would have been helpful to the characters (though again, it goes back to it being real).

Overall a fantastic book that most will enjoy. Again, it seems to be geared more towards the mainstream audience, rather than the Christian one, but I think both can find things to like about this book.

*** I received a copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for my honest review.***

I hope you all enjoy it!

Sarah K.

Friday, March 18, 2016

Review ~ The Confessions of X by Suzanne M. Wolfe

Hello Friends,

I have a treat for you today! I just finished an incredible book called The Confessions of X by Suzanne M. Wolfe.* This beautiful work of fiction brought the life of St. Augustine of Hippo, and his unnamed concubine to life in an incredibly poignant and heartwarming way.This is her story told in her voice, a play on Augustine's own work Confessions. 

Now, before you get all hung up on the word concubine and wonder how this could possibly be Christian fiction, or how a saint of all things could have something as seedy as a concubine, let me explain a few things. 

Let me begin by sharing my love for history, in particular my love for early church history. I didn't always enjoy it. In fact, for much of my life I thought it was incredibly dull - until I took an early church history class in seminary taught by Dr. Ed Smither. I was fascinated by the history and the stories of these men and women. I realized they weren't just barbarians who stumbled around until they found the Gospel, or only understood the most basic principles, nor were they all pagans who had no knowledge of Jesus Christ. Instead, many were highly intelligent, well learned men (and a few women), who not only knew philosophy and theology, but helped shape it. 

In a second class I took by Dr. Smither, we focused specifically on the early church fathers, their lives, and their teachings. This also included many of the sects, cults, and heresies the early church dealt with. I was fascinated. I learned all about Athanasius and Arius and their verbal sparring, which lead to the Council of Nicaea in 325,  Constantine and his conversion a few years before, Cyprian, Iraneus, Origin, John Chrysostom, Basil, Perpetua and Felicitas (two women martyred for their faith) and many others. I realized much of the theology we believe and debate today was the same ideas debated and written about by these men. Many of the cults and heresies are the same too - just under different names. 

But what I really remember is learning about Augustine of Hippo. (Dr. Smither even wrote a book about Augustine, entitled Augustine as Mentor which you can buy here). We learned about his life before his conversion, his mother's faith and lifelong prayer for her son's salvation, his love of philosophy, and learning, his association with the Manicheans, and eventual conversion to Christianity. We also learned about his personal life, his son, and his concubine, which brings me back to The Confessions of X.

As Ms. Wolfe points out in the Author's Note, a concubine in Augustine's time was not what it implies today. It was almost always a monogamous relationship, usually between two people of different social classes where were not allowed to marry. Many women were buried with the title on their tombs as a point of honor. It did not mean mistress, prostitute, or anything untoward. While it did not guarantee a woman the same rights as a wife, and any children would be the man's not her own, it did give her security, and provision. It is very much like a common law marriage today. We must also realize that Augustine took X (her name has been lost to history) as his concubine many years before his conversion to Christianity, and therefore, he cannot be expected to have obeyed the laws of traditional marriage as defined today, particularly since laws were also different then. We also do not know if she was a pagan, or a Christian, or if she converted somewhere along the line. What history does tell is is that she and Augustine were in love, they were faithful to each other, and they had a son together. Eventually, X was put away from Augustine as his mother arranged a marriage for him (he later refused that marriage to become a celibate priest in the Christian church), as she was not a legal wife, Augustine kept their son. Augustine and their son both converted to Christianity, and their son died as a teenager soon after. 

What I liked: Normally, I don't care for flowery or poetic type prose, but this is an exception. Beautifully narrated, the voice of X is clear. I could feel her presence, could see the pictures she painted with her words. I loved that the story followed her entire life, and while the majority was focused on the thirteen year period she was with Augustine, the rest was fascinating as well. X brought the late fourth century to life. It is so easy to forget that people lived then like they do now: get up, go to work, make dinner, take care of the house, pay rent, etc, but they did. I enjoyed getting to see what North Africa was like during this time. I also enjoyed seeing a different side to Augustine. While I realize this is fiction, it still makes him, and her, more real. I felt the pain of their son as he was told his mother was leaving him. I felt her fears of abandonment that were all too soon realized when she was put away. I felt her joy at knowing true love, and the love friendship. I feel as though I know her, and hope she is in Heaven someday so I can meet her, and finally learn her name. 

What I didn't care for: Honestly, I really can't think of anything. It was a little slow at times, but in a mostly good way. It flowed with time more than anything. Also, I wish there had been some conclusion as to her faith, but since history is mute, I guess The Confessions of X should be as well. 

Warning: While not graphic as some have said, there are a few lines here and there that imply sexual situations, which considering they were married in their minds, is understandable. The inclusion here may make some readers uncomfortable, but it is literally just a sentence or two in a few places and easily skipped over.     

Overall, this is a beautiful story of who Augustine's love might have been. It is filled with the wanderings of life, and gives a fresh look at the humanity of one of Christianity's greatest theologians. I'd recommend this to anyone who loves history, or who wants a fresh perspective on Augustine's life. 

Happy Readings,

Sarah K. 

* I received a copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for my honest review.

Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Review ~ Not by Sight by Kate Breslin

Some books are read. Some books are devoured. Not by Sight by Kate Breslin is to be savored. As much as I wanted to read this book and not put it down, I kept finding myself slowing down as I read in order to enjoy the wonderful writing and compelling story Kate Breslin gave us in this treasure, Not By Sight,

Grace Mabry, the daughter of a tea shop owner in London in 1917, and the twin sister of a brother fighting on the front lines for his Great Britain, is appalled and disgusted that any able bodied man would stay home from the Great War to laze around when so many are giving their lives for their country. Compelled by these emotions, Grace and her lovely companion sneak into a costume ball filled with many of these war dodgers in order to shame each man with the white feather of cowardice.

Jack Benningham appears to be the greatest coward of them all - at least on the outside. Upon receiving one of Grace's feathers, he is amused by her gall, and transfixed by her beauty, so much so that he loses track of the real reason he is attending the ball - a far more important one than just helping the Red Cross.

First, I really enjoyed learning more about WWI. As someone who generally sticks to WWII history, I am slightly embarrassed at how little I know about WWI - especially in England. It was fun to learn about the Women's Forage Corps and the suffragette movement in England and Europe, as well as hints at Mata Hari and the use of spies throughout Europe during the war.

I really loved the character development in this book. Everyone had such depth, both the main and secondary characters. Everyone also had a secret of some kind that they were hiding. While the overall story was about Grace and Jack, there were many side stories that played out throughout the book, that pulled me in as a reader and made me want to know more about each one. They did not detract from the main story, but instead helped it along in some rather surprising ways.

These stories also helped with the theme of the book: not by sight. As someone who has had poor eyesight her entire life, I really related to this theme, and its various meanings throughout the book. Sight can refer to physical, emotional, relational and spiritual aspects, and all three are dealt with in Not By Sight. While I've always dealt with the physical aspects of poor eyesight, I'm only really just now exploring it's meaning when it comes to emotions and relationships, and even sometimes, how my spiritual walk needs work. I've come to realize how blinded I am at times when it comes to these parts of my life, and it was interesting to see how the characters in this book dealt with their blindness in these areas, and how they changed because of it.

A truly beautiful tale full of glorious scenery, suspense and intrigue, and even a Beauty and the Beast-esque romance, readers will find themselves captivated by the wonderful story, complex characters, and the importance of living by faith and not by sight in all aspects of life.

Happy Reading!

Sarah K.

Review ~ Prelude for a Lord by Camille Elliot

Today's book is a first historical romance by an author who normally publishes hilarious contemorary romance and mystery/spy thrillers that I absolutely adore!  Prelude for a Lord by Camille Elliot aka Camy Tang is an incredible historical romance.  I love this author's contemporary works, and her first venture into historical is fantastic! Alethea, a spinster who was left nothing after her family died, is forced out of her home to live with a relative she barely knows in order to survive. While there, she meets the mysterious Lord Dommick - a man who shares her love of the violin. As she gets settled into her new life, the thing she treasures above all else - her violin - is threatened by an unknown thief. Alethea must discern who she can trust all while secretly sharing her love for the violin and her growing interest in Lord Dommick. Together they must keep her violin safe and catch the dastardly villain who is trying to destroy everything they have.

I loved this book! It captured my interest and kept me up into the wee hours trying to finish it. The side characters are delightful as well, and I do hope they get their own stories - especially a certain two who are destined to fall in love - at least in my opinion. The villain(s) are well written, and there is even an icky suitor that is disposed of delightfully - though not in the way I imagined! I cannot wait to read more from the lovely Camille Elliot!

Tuesday, February 9, 2016

Review ~ A Bride in Store by Melissa Jagears

A Bride in Store   by Melissa Jagears is the second book in her Unexpected Brides series. I wrote a short review last year, and hope you enjoy it!

Such a wonderful sweet story with a slimy slimeface villian thrown in for fun. I loved that Ms. Jagears added in a bit of mystery to this delightful mail order bride story. This book is a wonderful historical romance full of fun characters, plenty of sparks, and a train robbery! I loved Eliza and William. Getting to know them was a joy. All Eliza wants is to marry her betrothed, and all William wants is to run his store while helping those who are ill. Knowing she has a head for business, William agrees to let Eliza take over the business side of things, which makes for some interesting situations with customers. Meanwhile, William has everything he needs to become a doctor - except the degree, and the courage to go get it. Both Eliza and William must hear and obey God's call in order to be happy, but in doing so, they just might have to give up their dreams for the future...or will they?

*I received a copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for my honest review

Review ~ Dare to Love Again by Julie Lessman

Dare to Love Again by Julie Lessman is the second installment of her The Heart of San Francisco series. I wrote a short review of it last year, and am happy to share it with you now. :)

Fantastic read as usual! I loved Allison and Nick and little Lottie. Allison's fierce independence is both inspiring and convicting at the same time. Her need to prove herself struck home with me, but also reminded me that it is ok to ask others for help. I loved Nick as well, and his drive to clean up the city of San Francisco.

The chemistry between him and Allison was delightful. It was also great to hear more from Allison's mother and uncle Logan's story. I hope those two eventually get together. They both deserve a happily ever after.

Finally, I'm looking forward to the last book in the series, though I do think the rest of the family needs their stories told as well - especially Allison's brother and the secretary at the law firm. :)

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Review ~ The Butterfly and the Violin by Kristy Cambron

Another short review here< this one is a WWII and current day story. The Butterfly and the Violin

Excellent book! I loved the way Ms. Cambron jumped back and forth between today and WWII. I enjoyed getting to know all of the characters, and their stories, as well as the story behind the painting. The only thing that could have been a bit better was the transitions in time. I felt that we missed stuff at times, that more story could have been on either side, especially the modern day part, but was cut in order to keep it to a certain length. Overall, it was a fantastic book, and one of my favorites for this genre. Excited to read more.