Thursday, May 22, 2014

Review ~ Love Comes Calling by Siri Mitchell

Hello Friends,

Today's book is a cute historical romance by Siri Mitchell called Love Comes Calling, which I received from the publisher, Bethany House, in exchange for my honest review. Taking place in the 1920's, it's a fun read that will keep you entertained until the last page. 

Summary (from the publisher): Dreaming of becoming an actress, Boston socialite Ellis Eaton captures Griff Phillips' attention. But while filling in for a look-alike friend at the telephone exchange, she overhears a call that threatens Griff's safety. With handsome policeman Jack Flanigan investigating - and her heart in a muddle - will she discover what might be the role of a lifetime?

What I liked: This is probably one of my favorite time periods in history, and it is so much fun to read about! One thing I love about Siri Mitchell's books is how well researched they are and how much I learn about the time and place in which they occurred. I loved learning about the "Hello Girls" and the difficulties of their job. It was also interesting to see into the lives of the wealthy elite of Boston during Prohibition. I also didn't know that there was a woman's college across the lawn from Harvard that had the same professors teaching the same classes for women, who didn't actually receive a Harvard degree. 

I also really liked Griff. He was sweet and caring, but not overly so, despite Ellis' fears. Ellis was well written also, but more on her in a minute.

It was also fun having a bit of a mystery thrown in as well. Bad things can happen when you accidentally overhear a conversation you weren't supposed to.

What I didn't care for: There is just one word to describe Ellis Eaton: whirlwind. She was written to have ADHD, which obviously wasn't diagnosed back then, and Ms. Mitchell does a fantastic job with that. However, it got a bit overwhelming and somewhat frustrating at times trying to keep up with Ellis. I'd say that means she did a fantastic job writing her. Ellis was likable, just so scatterbrained it drove me nuts! I definitely have a better understanding of what it is like to have ADHD after reading this book! So, I guess this isn't really a bad thing, more than a preference thing. :) I also wish Ellis had gotten more support from her family, but Griff more than made up for that, in my opinion.

Overall, I enjoyed the book. It wasn't my favorite by her, but not my least favorite either. It was sweet, and fun, and high energy. If you like 1920's era stories, or want to learn more about Boston during Prohibition, or a fun mystery involving a "Hello Girl," this is the book for you! 

Happy Readings!

Sarah K.

Thursday, May 1, 2014

Review ~ The Advocate by Randy Singer

Good Afternoon, Friends!

Today I have a very special book for you. This book is going down on my top three favorite books of all time - not to build it up too much or anything. ;) While I did receive a copy from Tyndale House via NetGalley in exchange for my honest opinion, this is one of those books that I would have reviewed anyway because it was that good. I have read every book by this author, and this is by far his best. I love this book so much, I really hope I can do it justice.

So, with no further ado, I give you The Advocate by Randy Singer, a fantastic legal thriller meets biblical fiction.

Summary (as provided by the publisher): At the trial of Christ, Theophilus, brilliant young "assessore" raised in the Roman aristocracy, stands behind Pontius Pilate and whispers, "Offer to release Barabbas." The strategy backfires, and Theophilus never forgets the sight of an innocent man unjustly suffering the worst of all possible deaths--Roman crucifixion.Three decades later, Theophilus has proven himself in the legal ranks of the Roman Empire. He has survived the insane rule of Caligula and has weathered the cruel tyrant's quest to control the woman he loves. He has endured the mindless violence of the gladiator games and the backstabbing intrigue of the treason trials.Now he must face another evil Caesar, defending the man Paul in Nero's deranged court. Can Theophilus mount a defense that will keep another innocent man from execution? The advocate's first trial altered the course of history. His last will change the fate of an empire.

*While I normally write my own summaries for books, I chose to use the publishers in this case, because I did not want to give too much away.

What I liked: First, the story was well thought out. Very little is known about who Theophilus was, or if he was even a real person. Mr. Singer did a fantastic job of creating this man's story, and fitting it in with Scripture and history. You can tell that Mr. Singer is well versed in the law, and Biblical history, as both parts are portrayed well.  The story flowed nicely and every piece made sense and had a purpose. While there were parts that didn't make sense at first, once I got past them, I saw how they fit into the overall narrative perfectly. 

Second, I really enjoyed that the majority of the book was written in first person. There are two ways this can be done. The first, you know you are reading first person and it is somewhat distracting. The second, it is no longer about reading, you become that person, and it's like you are really there. This is what The Advocate does. I felt like I was Theophilus, that I was in first century Rome and Jerusalem. I could see the places and hear the conversations around me. Mr. Singer made it so REAL. He brought it all to life in a way I have never experienced in a book before. He reminded me that the people in the time of the New Testament were the same as you and me. They went to sporting matches, they gambled, they drank, they played politics, they had to pay rent, they had friends and enemies, and they fell in love. 

Third, I loved the characters themselves. They were all so well written. Everyone was more than a character, they were real people. I often found myself looking things up to find out if that person really existed or not, because of how real they seemed. From what I can tell minus Theophilus, his love interest, and a few other minor characters, the majority of the people in this book really existed. Caligula was entirely too creepy to me, until I realized that Singer didn't cover the half of it! Many other well known first century people appear as well. Seneca, Tiberius Caesar, Nero, Paul, Luke, Jesus, Pilate and Procula, along with pretty much every person that Paul and Luke mention as being in Rome in their New Testament works. 

I also really appreciated how historically and biblically accurate this book was. I learned so much about Roman culture and law without it feeling like I was learning. As I mentioned earlier, I often found myself pausing to go see if something was real or not, and almost every time, it was, down to the names of the people involved. As for biblical accuracy, it was fun getting to see the author's theories on things that scholars have wrestled with for years. For example, there is a nod to the theory that Luke used Mark as a source document, the reasoning behind Paul's abandonment by several "friends" in Rome, why Luke wrote the Luke-Acts, and why Acts ended so suddenly. He even throws out a theory about what happened to Paul after his trial with Nero - whether he was killed or went on to Spain. My favorite though, is the explanation of Romans 10:9-10. All of these things are woven into the story in such a way that if you didn't know about them before hand, you would never notice them. . 

What I didn't care for: The only complaint I had actually answered itself later on. The first quarter of the book follows Theophilus' growing up years, and his time in Jerusalem. The next half of the book returns to Rome and there is no mention really of Christianity or the Way or anything. It is entirely about Roman life, religion, and culture, with some legal stuff thrown it. It is great, but at first I was confused as to why it was there. I kept reading, and it all made sense with the last quarter of the book, where Christianity comes back to the forefront. I realized that you need to have that middle section in order to understand Rome, and why things happened they way they did. The last quarter of the book takes place under the rule of Nero and the rise of Christianity and persecution in Rome, which I understood better because of the middle.

Takeaway: I already mentioned some of the cool biblical stuff thrown in up above. One of the other ideas I found interesting was not spelled out in the book, but was something I was able to infer because of what I had learned about Roman law and culture. All my life, I've heard that tradition states that Peter was crucified upside down, and Paul was beheaded, but I never really knew why that was what tradition said. Why was Peter crucified, but Paul wasn't? It wasn't until reading this book, that I was able to piece together a theory. Crucifixion was the worst death Rome could inflict on someone, and was reserved for their enemies. No Roman citizen could be killed by crucifixion. Granted, Nero found a way around this, but that was the law. Since Paul was a Roman citizen, he was probably beheaded, because beheading was considered the most humane death. Crazy stuff.

Aside from trivia, this book challenged me to live my faith to the fullest. It reminded me that confessing with my mouth is not just speaking aloud, but is me claiming that my life if forfeit. When Rome conquered a new area, they forced everyone to confess Caesar as lord, or be killed in the spot. So when Paul speaks of confessing Jesus as Lord, this is what he is referring to. It was the potential for a death sentence then, and many places around the world, still is. Is my faith strong enough to withstand that? Am I really saying my life is forfeit but for Jesus when I call him my Lord and Savior? If that day comes when my life will depend on my answer, will I give the right one? Will you?

This is one of those books that I think every Christian should read. It does have some very intense (and sometimes creepy) scenes, so I'd say it is for teens and older. The end is so powerful, I wept the last several chapters. If you want a fantastic read that will challenge you and bring the New Testament to life, you will love this book! I also want to point out that while this has a bit of legal drama in it, it is not just a legal thriller. It is so much more than that. This is a story that makes faith come alive. It challenges the reader to live their faith to the fullest, to understand what "confess with your mouth" really means, and what the true cost if salvation is. 

Please tell me what you think about it! If you don't like it as much as me, I totally understand, but I still want to hear your thoughts! 

Happy Readings,

Sarah K.