Monday, April 21, 2014

Review ~ The Dancing Master by Julie Klassen

Hello Friends!

Today, I've got a historical romance for you by one of my favorite authors in this genre: The Dancing Master by Julie Klassen. I did receive a complimentary copy of this book from the publisher, Bethany House, in exchange for my honest review.

Summary: After losing his father, Alec Valcourt, along with his mourning mother and sister, move from London to a small town in Devonshire to live with his uncle. A dancing and fencing master, Alec expects to pick right up where he left off in London, only to find out that this small hamlet has unofficially banned dancing for the past twenty years. Determined to get people dancing again, Alec does his best to find pupils for his new business with little success. Humbling himself, he takes a job as a clerk with Lady Amelia, the patron of the village, and the one behind the moratorium on dancing. Hoping to get into her good graces, Alec does his best to obey her wishes to keep away from her beautiful daughter, Miss Julia Midwinter, and to drop the silly idea of teaching dance again.

Miss Julia Midwinter, on the other hand, feels trapped in this small village under what she believes is her mother's iron fist. So in revenge, she does whatever she is told not to. She flirts with men, she walks on the roof of an abandoned church, and she does whatever she can to disappoint her mother, since it would happen anyway. When she meets Alec, she is instantly smitten, and not just because her mother would disapprove. Captivated by his dancing abilities, she begins taking private lessons from him with her best friends, all while trying to unravel the secret that started the ban on dancing to begin with.

What I liked: First, I liked the characters. Alec and Julia were wonderful leads, and their interactions were sweet, though somewhat brief in my opinion. I also enjoyed getting to hear Lady Amelia's story. The overall plot was a bit slow at first, but picked up around page 75 or so. I really enjoyed the mystery woven into the story, as well as its conclusion. Finally, I enjoyed getting to learn a bit about 19th century English dances.

What I didn't care for: As I said, it was a bit slow at the beginning, but did eventually draw me in. I felt the romance was a bit lacking as well, but the story didn't really suffer because of that, so that's good.

Overall, a good read. If you like 19th century England, and learning about the local history with some romance and mystery thrown in, you will enjoy this book.

Happy Readings!

Sarah K

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Review ~ The Turning by Davis Bunn

Hi Friends!

Today I have the newest book by Davis Bunn called The Turning.*  This will be the third book by Mr. Bunn that I have reviewed since starting this blog. The other two, Strait of Hormuz, and Unlimited can be found here and here. This book is completely different from the two mentioned above. It is contemporary fiction that addresses the idea that a single act of obedience to God's promptings can literally change the world.

Summary (as provided to me by the author): The message was unexpected but instantly recognizable.

A voice resonated from a distance and somehow from within.  Against all earthly logic, it carried a divine command.  And five very different people knew they were summoned to obey.

Their actions were demanding, but not particularly grand.  Only later would they see a pattern emerge - one that links their tasks together and comes to challenge the cultural direction of the nation.  They realize that one small personal response unveiled a new realm of moral responsibility.  And this affirmation of everyday hope captures the attention of millions.

But power and money are at stake.  Malicious elements soon align themselves to counter the trend.  To succeed they must also undermine its source.  Can we really believe that God speaks to people today? 
 Surely this must be dismissed as superstition or delusion.  These well-intentioned but misguided individuals should not be allowed to cast our society back into the Dark Ages.

The public debate and media frenzy place an unprecedented spotlight on knowing and doing God's will.  The five encounter threats, but try to remain steadfast in their faith.  Had God indeed imparted wisdom on selected individuals?  Is this sweep of events part of his divine purpose? 
The movement may herald a profound renewal - one that some are calling The Turning...

What I liked: Great story. I enjoyed how all the pieces fit together. I also enjoyed the characters and learning about their struggles. I liked that it challenged me to think about my life, and whether or not I will respond if/when God speaks to me. It was a fast read, but it also made me stop and think at the same time. I also enjoyed that Mr. Bunn let you know where and when things happened, and gave you warned when you jumped between characters. 

What I didn't care for: I felt it was a bit choppy at times, and the fact that all these people suddenly ended up in the same place was kind of glossed over. The story still worked, that part just left me wanting a little. I also thought it was odd that of the ENTIRE multi-billion dollar company, the only two people that had a problem with the Hope is Dead campaign were from a recent acquisition, and that even if there weren't other believers, that everyone went along with the idea. 

Spiritual Application: Although no one has outright come out with a "Hope is Dead" campaign, the idea is very prevalent in our society today. Look at the top best sellers on the NYTimes or Amazon lists. They are dystopian, vampires, or sex related. None of those things offer hope. In fact, they offer the exact opposite. They say that there is no hope, so you may as well live it up while you can. How depressing. Yet, this is the message that people are buying into every day. People have lost hope. They have given up on God, and the church, and believe they have no way out - or don't want to find one. This is why this book and its message matter. More importantly, this is why the Bible matters - because it is the only true source of hope.

The other main spiritual theme running through this book is the idea of a turning point. What would happen if we listened to God's voice, and obeyed his promptings - even if what he asked us to do was the hardest thing we had ever done? Obedience to God is just as important as listening to him. The Bible commands us to be not just hearers of the Word, but doers also. When God speaks we ought to listen, and when he tells us to do something, we ought to obey. God won't let us down, and he will work things out for his purposes. In the book, the main characters had the choice to obey God's promptings, and look what happened! God did great things. They weren't forced to obey. There's a section where the believers talk about feeling not complete - like there were supposed to be more people there, but those people didn't respond to God's call. I've totally had those times in my life, where I felt God prompting me to do or say something. When I've obeyed, it's been pretty cool. When I've disobeyed, I felt sad, and knew I had missed out on something really great. So, when that call comes - how will you respond? How will I? Are we ready?

Overall, I really enjoyed this book, and have rated it five stars on Amazon and Goodreads. It challenged me, and forced me to think about my relationship with God and his plan for my life. It has made me want to look for ways to be used by God, and I hope it does for you, as well. Also, if you check out, you will find videos explaining the book, it's need, and a free devotional to go along with it. 

Happy Readings!

Sarah K

*I received a complimentary copy of The Turning from River North Fiction in exchange for my honest review.

Monday, April 7, 2014

Review ~ Death by the Book by Julianna Deering

Hello Friends!

It's gonna be a busy month here on my blog. I've got a bunch of reviews for you over the next few weeks ranging from murder mysteries, biblical fiction, contemporary, and some good ole fashion historical romance.

Today's book is Death by a Book, the second in Julianna Deering's Drew Farthering Mysteries series, which I received from the publisher, Bethany House via Netgalley in exchange for my honest review.  The first book, Rules of Murder, can be found at your local bookseller, and is a fun mystery. This book is even better than the first! These books take place in England during the 1930's, and are quite enjoyable! While the mysteries are separate, the main characters are the same, and some of the previous mystery is discussed in the second book, so I'd recommend reading it first. You don't have to, but it helps with side details.

Summary: Some say that meeting with a lawyer can be hazardous to your health, but Drew Farthering didn't expect it to be deadly - especially not to the lawyer! Arriving to meet with his late parent's solicitor, Drew arrives to find him dead - murdered - with a nonsensical message attached to the body with a hatpin. Dubbed the "Hatpin Murderer" by the locals, Drew suddenly finds himself pulled into the murder's web, and feels compelled to help the police solve the mystery before more people end up dead.

Meanwhile, Drew is still waiting for the lovely Madeline to agree to marry him, which becomes complicated further by the arrival of two Americans. The first, Madeline's Aunt Ruth, is a grumpy spinster who has the disposition of a porcupine, and who believes Drew's only motivation is to ruin and destroy her niece's reputation and break her heart. The second, a handsome American who is on holiday, takes an interest in Madeline as a fellow American - too much of one in Drew's opinion. Drew must balance his quest to find the truth with his desire to woo Madeline while avoiding her aunt's barbs and prickles. Hopefully, our dashing hero can do it all while not falling victim to the "Hatpin Murderer"!

What I liked: First off: GREAT mystery! For those of you who have read my blog, you know that i'm generally pretty good at figuring out the whodunit, or at least the motive, fairly quickly. Well, not this time! Ms. Deering totally stumped my on both counts this time. Her first book, I figured out pretty quickly, and was expecting the same thing here. Boy was I fooled! I had NO CLUE who the murderer was or why, and for that reason alone, I LOVE this book! The clues were awesome, the murderer was a surprise - but at the same time, it totally worked. There were several plot twists, and in the end I am completely satisfied with the overall story. I also enjoyed the wit and the one liners. The characters were well developed, and while some were annoying, they served their purpose.

What I didn't like: Aunt Ruth grated on me for a bit at first. She was almost too well written, if that makes sense. Her grumpiness and general behavior was frustrating, especially since she was a guest! However, she eventually mellowed out, which was a VERY good thing. Also - I had to stop myself from googleing the clues to find out where they came from. I realized if they couldn't use Google, then I couldn't cheat and use it either!

Overall, a fun murder mystery with plenty of plot twists, red herrings and just a touch of romance! This book is for anyone who enjoys mysteries, and since it is written from a man's perspective, it might draw in male readers as well. I'm looking forward to the next book in the series!

Happy Readings!

Sarah K