Monthly Archives: March 2015

Audiobook Review: Mark of Distinction by Jessica Dotta

Title: Mark of Distinction
Author: Jessica Dotta
Narrator: Amanda McKnight
Audio Publisher: Oasis Audio
Audio Length: 12 hours, 47 minutes
Print Publisher: Tyndale House
Published: May 2014
Series: Price of Privilege, Book 2

Thoughts on the Story

If you haven’t read the first title (Born of Persuasion) in this three-part series yet, go read that review (and that book or audiobook) before this one, because you HAVE to read this series in order. It’s all sequential like one extra-long story with intermissions between the acts. And once you do read that first one, trust me, you’ll know if this series is for you, and I really doubt there’s much I could say, pro or con, to change your mind about whether to continue with the second book.

That said, here are my thoughts on Book 2 (Mark of Distinction) anyway. Because you’re here. And because I want to share.

In short: Fascinating. Completely and utterly fascinating.

The longer version: Like the earlier book, this one features complex characters, vivid settings, hidden motivations, shifting political and social alliances, and surprising plot twists and turns, all against the backdrop of Victorian society.

I enjoyed seeing Julia’s faith journey continue to play out in this book, as questions and doubts war with personal experience, and she considers the implications faith would have on her future choices. I like the way this aspect of the story is integrated into the tale as a whole, arising naturally from the events taking place in her life.

If Book One had a love triangle, then this one must have a love quadrilateral (Is that even a thing?), making things that much more complicated for Julia and for the reader. Gotta say, the new guy, Lord Dalry is all-around amazing, though the handful of scenes with Edward are some of the best scenes in the book (in my humble opinion). And then we can’t forget the dangerous and alluring Mr. Macy with the potential to spoil everything.

The ending, while satisfying for now, feels like a stopover on the way to the real ending still to come. There are already hints of problems to be faced in Book 3 (Price of Privilege), and I’m intensely curious what else the author will do to shake up her characters’ lives in the final installment and where they’ll end up when it’s all played out. Must. Keep. Reading. :)

Thoughts on the Audio Edition

I have thoroughly enjoyed Amanda McKnight’s performances thus far in this series and I am pleased to see she’s the narrator for Book 3 as well. Her lovely voice and British accent complement the characters quite well, particularly Julia, our heroine and first person narrator. I’ve enjoyed the distinctions between the voices of various characters, as well as the way “stage directions” included in the text are followed in the reading. My favorite example from this book is when Forrester garbles his words around a mouthful of food. A very nice touch on an already excellent performance.

Thank you to Oasis Audio for providing a complimentary copy of this audiobook for review purposes.

Quick links:  About the Book (from Oasis Audio) | Author’s Web Site | Audio Sample

Find this title on:  Goodreads | Audible | | christianaudio

Audiobook Review: Tried and True by Mary Connealy

Title: Tried & True
Author: Mary Connealy
Narrator: Barbara McCulloh
Series: Wild at Heart, Book 1
Print Publisher: Bethany House
Audio Publisher: Recorded Books
Published: September 2014

About the Book (from the publisher’s web site):

Saddle up for a wildly fun ride with the Wilde sisters!

Kylie Wilde is the youngest sister–and the most civilized. Her older sisters might be happy dressing in trousers and posing as men, but Kylie has grown her hair long and wears skirts every chance she gets. It’s a risk–they are homesteading using the special exemptions they earned serving in the Civil War as “boys”–but Kylie plans to make the most of the years before she can sell her property and return to the luxuries of life back East.

Local land agent Aaron Masterson is fascinated with Kylie from the moment her long hair falls from her cap. But now that he knows her secret, can he in good conscience defraud the U.S. government? And when someone tries to force Kylie off her land, does he have any hope of convincing her that marrying him and settling on the frontier is the better option for her future?

My Thoughts on the Book:

Tried and True is a fun and lighthearted romp of a story.  If you enjoy inspirational romantic comedy, then you’re going to love this first book in the Wild at Heart series by Mary Connealy.  Our lovely heroine Kylie may have taken up arms to serve her country in the Civil War and then claimed her own homestead out West, all under the pretext of being a boy, but she’s counting down the days until she can leave all that behind for the life she really wants.  One that includes feminine attire, tea parties, and the comforts of “civilized” life back east.

Over the course of the book, Kylie and her “brothers” (read: sisters) wind up in one outrageous situation after another, each described in just the right manner to bring out the humor inherent in the situation.  The opening scene does a great job setting the tone for the book.  We meet Kylie as she attempts to patch a loose shingle on her roof, under threat of an approaching rainstorm, using an improvised “ladder” assembled from a hodgepodge of furniture including a rocking chair.

Throughout the book, there’s a touch of suspense, a healthy dose of sweet romantic moments, and some obstacles and lessons to be learned on the path toward happily ever after for the hero and heroine, but it’s definitely the humor that takes center stage in this book.  And I have to say, the humor is very well done.  I found myself chuckling time and again at something somebody did or said, or the droll way a situation was described.  (Which made for a lovely change of pace from a few much more serious books I read shortly before this one.)  Highly recommended for when you’re in the mood for something fun!

Specific to the Audiobook:

Barbara McCulloh was an excellent choice as narrator for Tried and True.  You can just tell she’s got a real sense of comedic timing that was perfectly in sync with the text of the book.  She paced her delivery wonderfully, speeding up or slowing down certain bits to give maximum impact to the witty asides sprinkled throughout the text, before returning to the casually comfortable reading pace of the majority of the narration.  Male, female, and female-pretending-to-be-male voices were rendered well, each character having his or her own distinct vocal qualities.  All-in-all, a stellar performance by a skilled narrator.

Thank you to Recorded Books for providing a complimentary copy of this audiobook for review purposes.

Three for the Books: Featured Reads in Christian Fiction, March 2015

Three for the Books, March 2015

The monthly “Three for the Books” post is where I feature new (Hot Off the Presses), best selling (Topping the Charts), and award winning (Cream of the Crop) Christian fiction books. I select one title to feature in each category, as well as providing links to where you can browse additional newly released, best selling, and award winning titles. Have you read any of these featured titles? Any others you’d like to give a shout-out? Comments are always welcome!

Hot Off the Presses

Dauntless by Dina Sleiman released this month from Bethany House Publishers. It’s Book One in the Valiant Hearts series. Young Adult Historical Romance.

About the Book (from Publisher Bethany House):

Where legend and history collide, one young woman will fight for the innocent.

Born a baron’s daughter, Lady Merry Ellison is now an enemy of the throne after her father’s failed assassination attempt upon the king. Bold and uniquely skilled, she is willing to go to any lengths to protect the orphaned children of her former village – a group that becomes known as “The Ghosts of Farthingale Forest.” Merry finds her charge more difficult as their growing notoriety brings increasing trouble their way.

Timothy Grey, ninth child of the Baron of Greyham, longs to perform some feat so legendary that he will rise from obscurity and earn a title of his own. When the Ghosts of Farthingale Forest are spotted in Wyndeshire, where he serves as assistant to the local earl, he might have found his chance. But when he comes face-to-face with the leader of the thieves, he’s forced to reexamine everything he’s known.

Want to browse some more Christian fiction titles releasing this month? NovelCrossing and SoulInspirationz both feature lists of new releases, among other interesting things related to Christian fiction.

Topping the Charts

Emissary by Thomas Locke (Revell, January 2015) appears on this month’s CBA Bestseller List in the Fantasy/Sci-Fi category. It’s Book 1 in the Legends of the Realm series. Here’s the review I shared in January.

About the Book (from Publisher Revell):

In a world where magic has been outlawed for centuries, one young man discovers that he possesses powers beyond his wildest dreams. But he does not realize how pivotal this gift will be in the days to come.

To learn more about this book, check out the publisher’s full description, the book trailer, or my review.

To see what other titles are hot at the moment, check out the Bestseller Lists for Christian fiction.

Cream of the Crop

A Noble Groom by Jody Hedlund (Bethany House, April 2013) won both the INSPY Award and the Carol Award for Historical Romance in 2014. It’s Book 2 in the Michigan Brides series (which starts with Unending Devotion).

About the Book (from Publisher Bethany House):

Michigan 1880.

Annalisa Werner’s hope for a fairy tale love is over. Her husband failed her in every way and now his death has left her with few options to save the family farm. She needs a plentiful harvest. That, and a husband to help bring it in. Someone strong, dependable. That’ll be enough. A marriage for love…that’s something she’s given up on.

So her father sends a letter to his brother in the Old Country, asking him to find Annalisa a groom.

Then a man appears: Carl Richards, from their home country of Germany and a former schoolteacher – or so he says. He’s looking for work and will serve on the farm until her husband arrives.

With time running out, she accepts his help, but there’s more to this man than he’s admitting. He’s also gentle, kind, charming – unlike any man she’s ever known. But even as Carl is shining light into the darkness of her heart, she knows her true groom may arrive any day.

To find more titles among the “Cream of the Crop” check out my list of some of the big awards in Christian fiction, with links to the awards’ Web sites, where you can track down some more winners.

Now it’s your turn, reader friends. Have you read any of these titles? Do you want to? Are there any other titles you’ve read recently that deserve a shout-out? Please speak up in the comments!

Book Review: Seek and Hide by Amanda G Stevens

Title: Seek and Hide
Author: Amanda G Stevens
Publisher: David C Cook
Genre: Speculative Fiction, Thriller, Inspirational
Series: Haven Seekers, #1
Publication Date: September 2014

About the Book (from publisher David C Cook):

Six years ago, the government took control of the church.  Only re-translated Bibles are legal, and a specialized agency called the Constabulary enforces this and other regulations.  Marcus Brenner, a new Christian, will do anything to protect his church family from imprisonment – including risk his own freedom to gain the trust of a government agent.

Aubrey Weston recanted her faith when the Constabulary threatened her baby.  Now released, she just wants to provide for her son and avoid government notice.  But she’s targeted again, and this time, her baby is taken into custody.  If only she’d never denied Him, maybe God would hear her pleas for help.

When Aubrey and Marcus’s lives collide, they are forced to confront the lies they believe about themselves.   And God is about to grab hold of Marcus’s life in a way he’d never expect, turning a loner into a leader.

My Thoughts on the Book:

I love this book!  It makes me want to go bury a Bible in a time capsule out in the woods somewhere, just in case.  And then bury my nose in another copy of the Bible and soak up as much of God’s word as I can while I still can.  Because, seriously, what if this kind of thing actually happened?

Amanda G Stevens has dreamed up a dystopian future that feels a little too plausible for comfort.  And that’s the beauty of it.  This story reminds us not to take our freedoms for granted.  The details and “history” of the story’s present situation are revealed gradually, a tantalizing sliver at a time in such a way that the story world doesn’t overshadow the story itself.

Rather, the focus of this book is on the small scale.  It’s the story of one small church group that meets secretly in a back room, one pair of friends wordlessly supporting each other, one woman fighting to reclaim her baby and avoid trouble with the law, and one man determined to do his part to help one member of his Christian family at a time even if that means putting his own freedom on the line.

The characters are complex, and they’re dealing with some pretty significant issues.  One character is dealing with the emotional and spiritual fallout of having been raped years ago.  Another is an alcoholic, nearly nine years sober, and still struggling.  While these thematic elements put this book on the edgier side of things as Christian fiction goes, I thought these subjects were handled tastefully, from a Christian perspective.  On top of that, they provide a vehicle for worthwhile spiritual discussions on the nature of God, temptation, guilt, mercy, and how God uses His people for good, despite our weaknesses.

Oh, and there’s a twist, near the end, that I did not see coming AT ALL.  But I can’t tell you.  You’ll have to read it for yourself.  Fair warning though, you may want tissues.

On a more up-beat note, I really admire some of the lovely, creative descriptions found in this book.  Here are a few I highlighted as I read:

“God had put some beautiful things in the world, but nothing beat the sky.  Especially when it rolled with storm clouds the color of Lee’s eyes.” (from Chapter 4)

“She’d thought his voice deep at first, but it wasn’t very.  More like … solid, each word an arrow that knew where it headed.  And clipped.  The syllables never lingered.” (from Chapter 14)

I can’t wait to continue reading this series to find out where the story will go from here.  I highly recommend Seek and Hide, and I’m planning to track down a copy of the next book in the series, Found and Lost in the very near future.

Thank you to publisher David C Cook for providing a free electronic copy of this book via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

Christian Fiction Book Club Connection, March 2015

Book Club Connection

Welcome to the March 2015 edition of the Christian Fiction Book Club Connection. Thanks for stopping by. Whether you’re a pastor or ministry leader thinking of forming a book discussion group at your church, a current member of a book club, or simply a fan of Christian fiction hoping to connect with other readers, you’re in the right place!

This month’s post includes a featured book that I think is well suited to discussion, as well as links to upcoming online discussions. Then I’ll wrap up the post with a discussion question I’d like YOU to chime in on.

Featured Read

Title: Lip Reading
Author: Harry Kraus
Publisher: David C Cook
Publication Date: March 2014

This medical suspense takes a look at the world of pharmaceutical research. It’s also a page-turning inspirational read that raises some interesting questions, of the kind that I think could make for a good discussion. Check out my review, as well as the author‘s and publisher‘s Web sites to learn more about the book, and decide if it’s one your book group might enjoy.

Online Discussions

The ACFW Book Club‘s March selection is The Daughter of Highland Hall by Carrie Turansky. You can subscribe to the group’s e-mail list now, by following the instructions on their Web site, to be sure not to miss any announcements or discussion questions.

For February, the Christian Fiction Devourers group on Goodreads is discussing Danger in the Shadows (O’Malley #0.5) by Dee Henderson AND Love’s Reckoning (Ballantyne Legacy #1) by Laura Frantz. Grab your copies and head on over to the discussion forum to check in with others who are in the midst of reading these books.

The Fans of Christian Romance Goodreads group is reading Beyond the Waves (Pacific Shores #1) by Lynnette Bonner for its March discussion.

For fans of J.R.R. Tolkien and C.S. Lewis, Jamie of the Books and Beverages blog hosts a monthly Inklings discussion series. Sometimes fiction, sometimes non-fiction, the title for the month of March is The Four Loves by C.S. Lewis. Discussion is scheduled to begin on March 18th.

The #HedlundChallenge2015 features discussion of one of author Jody Hedlund’s historical fiction novels each month.  The discussion is hosted in alternating months by Jamie of Books and Beverages and Cassie of Bookshelves and Windows.  For March, participants will be discussing An Uncertain Choice, as well as its prequel novella, The Vow at Cassie’s blog beginning March 24th (discussion details here and here).

Update:  I’ve got a last minute addition to the list this month.  Just found out that Susan May Warren is hosting a Book Club Chat for her latest book Always On My Mind.  For details and to sign up, check out the Facebook post or the Video Announcement.

Let’s Chat!

For this month’s discussion, I thought we might like to talk about discussion questions. For many books, you can find a discussion guide with suggested questions in the back of the book or on the publisher’s or author’s Web site. Those questions can be a great place to start, asking relevant questions about specific scenes and characters, and sometimes revealing hints as to what the author may have hoped readers would get from the book. But not every book has a discussion guide.

For those times when discussion questions haven’t been provided, what are your go to questions? Do you have any favorites that can be applied to a variety of books? Please share in the comments!

To help get the conversations started, I thought I’d share a link to a great list of generic questions for discussing Christian fiction I found over on the Reading Group Guides Web site (where they also provide title-specific discussion questions for a huge selection of books). Some of these questions look really good and worth checking out for discussion ideas.  I’d probably add a couple of additional questions to their list.

  • Which were your favorite (or least favorite) characters and why?
  • Were there any really quotable lines in this book you’d like to share?

Any other questions you’d like to add to the list?  Or any already on the list that you particularly like?  I’d love to hear from you!

Book Review: Fear Has a Name by Creston Mapes

Title: Fear Has a Name
Author: Creston Mapes
Series: The Crittendon Files, Book 1
Publisher: David C Cook
Genre: Contemporary Christian fiction, Mystery / Thriller
Published: June 2013

About the Book (from Publisher David C Cook):

From popular suspense author Creston Mapes comes another faith-building thriller, a tale that follows journalist Jack Crittendon as he fights to protect his family from a stalker’s terrifying schemes, investigates a pastor’s mysterious disappearance, and struggles to keep his faith amidst unthinkable fear.

With his family’s safety on the line, Crittendon realizes there are secrets behind “Christian” walls – secrets with painful, deadly implications. He must find the faith to trust a God who allows inconceivable trials, and the courage to guard his family, with danger exploding at every turn.

Through it all, the sharp, character-driven writing for which Mapes is known takes fans and new readers on an edge-of-your-seat journey that explores the harsh, far-reaching consequences of bullying and the Christian response to fear.

My Thoughts on the Book:

At first I thought this would be a really easy review to write.  The books I enjoy the most usually are.  But as I thought about what to write about Fear Has a Name, I realized that with all the plot twists in this book, many of the things I wanted to discuss would be very challenging to say without revealing spoilers, and I’m determined NOT to reveal spoilers here, so I’m just going to have to watch what I say.  :)

In a nutshell, the three things about this book that made the biggest impression on me were the complex characters, the suspenseful and tightly woven plot, and the significant faith element embedded within the story.

Let’s talk about the plot first (in vague-ish terms to avoid those spoilers).  This book features two storylines, running in parallel, that eventually converge for a dramatic and emotionally moving conclusion.  Each storyline features mystery, danger, and the kind of urgency that keeps those pages turning.  I was hooked from the nightmarishly realistic opening scene straight through to the conclusion.

As entertaining as this story is, there’s a lot of substance here too.  Fear Has a Name is a thought provoking book that goes well beyond surface Christianity.  It grapples with some challenging theological issues like why bad things happen to good people, finding the faith to get through terrifying circumstances, and the idea that offering mercy to those who hurt us can be a way of pointing to what Jesus did on the cross.  Powerful stuff that, and well integrated into the tale.

I think that part of the reason the deeper stuff fits so well in this story is because many of the characters and relationships in this story have a depth and complexity.  The lead characters aren’t perfect.  Jack and Pam (and others) display real human flaws that make them easy to relate to.  As a married couple, they have their disagreements, but they’re both working to make it work.  (And, as an aside, can I just say that in a genre dominated by boy-meets-girl romance and courtship, it’s refreshing to see some lead characters in an established marriage.)  I was also impressed by the fact that even some of the… um… less admirable characters come across sympathetically.  I was totally rooting for some of the more messed up characters to rise above their past hurts, find redemption, and get their act together.

I’m kind of late to the game, reviewing this book a full two and a half years after it released.  But if you enjoy a suspenseful read, I can highly recommend this one.  And, FYI, the following two books in this series have already been released, so if you’re starting now, you’ll be able to read straight through.  :)

Thank you to author, Creston Mapes for providing a complimentary copy of this book for review purposes.  To learn more about this author check out his Web site / blog, where you’ll also find links to connect with him on Facebook and Twitter.