Five Stars, Four Stars, Jen Geigle Johnson, Josi S. Kilpack, Low Language, Low Religion, Low Romance, Low Violence, Moderate Language, Moderate Religion, Moderate Violence

At Home Learning

 

PicPlayPostPhoto (1)Weekly Reading Round Up

I participated in my own at home learning last weekend when I attended a virtual writing conference. In my very first class I watched the amazing Lisa Mangum not just teach a concept, but then show us how to implement it by mapping it out. She had another author u the beginning ideas for a story, and it was awesome. I was just as enthralled with this new story idea as I was with the class. So I went looking for other things this author has written and I found this:

51Vw6s+8xcLI don’t do scary, I get the heebie jeebie’s just looking at that cover. However, the premise sounds amazing!

Erwin is in hell— Locked in his high school with his ex-girlfriend, her new pain-in-the-ass boyfriend, and a handful of others while zombies claw at the doors trying to fight their way in.
The bright light in the dark is Sylvia, whose strength helps hold Erwin together when everything is falling apart.
When they realize the school is no longer safe, Erwin is determined to keep the group together and get them all to safety. But he can’t save everyone.

 

I really want to be brave enough to read it, but I’m not…yet. However, I did find this too, and really enjoyed it.

Secondary Characters by Rachel Schieffelbein 51obj+FFBFL

This was a really fun quick young adult read. I think we all feel like a secondary character at some point in our lives which made Mabel extremely relatable. I appreciated getting the story from both Mabel and Lance’s point of view. His point of view created in the reader the knowledge that Mabel wasn’t a secondary character to him. Thus adding an on the edge of your seat feeling of: when is she finally going to see it and believe it too? I really enjoyed their sweet romance. **Just a heads up there was a bit of swearing in the book, they were however, all mild curse words.

**** Moderate Language, Low Romance, Low Violence, Low Religion

The Earl’s Winning Wager by Jen Geigle Johnson52955109._SX318_SY475_

This is a favorite author of mine. She has such versatility in her writing with both traditionally published and indie Regency Romances under this name. She also writes contemporary romances under the pen name Sophia Summers. Her traditionally published books feel a little deeper, a little more flushed out. Her Indie books are lighter, but still delightful. Depending on what mood I’m in I can always find a good read with her. This book is the second in the Lord’s for the Sisters of Sussex series. These sisters are so fun and unique, each with their own voice. Jen has created an intriguing setting in the castle and an interesting mystery that instantly peaked my interest. There however, was so much going on with all the sisters, the love triangle and the mystery of the family’s background I had a hard time keeping up with everything.  The confusion pulled me out of the story a time or two. I loved the characters so much though and can’t wait to see where this journey takes each of them.

*** Low Language, Low Romance, Low Violence, Low Religion

Rake and Roses by Josi Kilpack49733535

This was a beautifully written book of redemption. The first two chapters were hard to read for the fact that they were written so well you felt the desperation and the hurt to your very core. I was a little worried about how dark the book was going to get, but it never once felt heavy like that. The author handled the lowest lows and the darkness of life with a layer of hope and love. I instantly loved Lady Sabrina and the direction her goodness took the book. Harry Stillman alternately could have easily been a character I hated, but the author wrote him with such raw vulnerability that you fiercely want him to succeed. I was so invested in Harry’s growth there was a moment when his growth shown through and I felt Lady Sabrina’s response to that growth was out of character. I had forgotten for a moment that she was also broken. That moment made the story more real to me, they were both healing in different ways and their combined growth made the story honest and empathetic. I loved Daisies and Devotion so much I wasn’t sure if I could love any of the books in the series as much, but they just keep getting better!

*****Low Language, Low Romance, Moderate Violence, Moderate Religion (There was a bit more focus on God in this book, being a God fearing woman myself I felt like you couldn’t have a story of redemption with out Him. The author wove those parts in really well.)

 

3 1/2 Stars, Low Language, Low Romance, Moderate Religion, Moderate Violence

Faith and Suspense

Working in a quiet cubicle at the Library all through college meant I would often grab an audio book on my way up to work. It was every book lovers dream to work with books while listening to books. My senior year I grabbed an audiobook on the new release display entitled, The Negotiator by Dee Henderson. I fell in love with the series.

This past week my sister was telling me about a book she had recently read and I was transported back 15 years. Mistaken Reality by Traci Hunter Abramson has all the government agency, suspense, romance, and faith of the O’Malley Series.

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“Hadley Baker can’t believe her boyfriend finally invited her on a fancy hotel dinner date only to break up with her in public. Even more unbelievable is the moment FBI Agent JD Byers finds her crying in the women’s restroom and demands she evacuate. Seconds after JD ushers Hadley outside, an explosion shatters the building. 

JD didn’t anticipate seeing Hadley, the beautiful schoolteacher, again after he saved her from the hotel attack. But soon after her ex-boyfriend became a lead suspect of the hotel bombing, the man turned up dead—and now it seems that Hadley herself is a target. Determined to keep her safe, JD shelters Hadley as they join forces to put together the pieces of the perplexing case. When they discover the horrifying truth behind her ex-boyfriend’s nefarious work, Hadley realizes her life is far from the only one being threatened. Countless others are in danger, and she and JD may hold the key to saving them.”

– – Unlike the O’Malley Series which though faith filled, didn’t specify any one denomination, many of the main characters from “Mistaken Reality” are specifically part of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Their faith doesn’t play a major role, it is a more subtle part of the book, and not always prevalent. There were two moments were I felt religion broke up the flow of the book and pulled me out of the story, but overall I liked how it gave the characters strength.

The plot was a little predictable in places, but those were smaller details, the overall story arch caught me by surprise, I love being surprised. The story does deal with human trafficking, and is a little intense so be aware of that going in.

The multiple person point of view took awhile to keep the characters straight. I think if I had read Safe House and Deep Cover first it might have been easier to follow the head hopping. That just means I have more books to add to my TBR pile. –A.B.

 

Five Stars, Low Language, Low Romance, Low Violence, Moderate Religion

A Mysterious Read

In some things we sisters are very similar and in other things, like our love of certain holidays we are very, very different. Halloween would probably fall to number 6 out of my top 10 favorite holidays, and the only reason it’s even number 6 is because I enjoy dressing up.
But haunted houses, scary movies, books and corn fields I could do without, forever. I do not enjoy being scared even a little bit.
However, I do love a good mystery , Especially when it’s unpredictable.
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“When Aurelie Harcourt’s father dies in debtor’s prison, he leaves her just two things: his wealthy family, whom she has never met, and his famous pen name, Nathaniel Droll. Her new family greets her with apathy and even resentment. Only the quiet houseguest, Silas Rotherham, welcomes her company.
When Aurelie decides to complete her father’s unfinished serial novel, writing the family into the story as unflattering characters, she must keep her identity as Nathaniel Droll hidden while searching for the truth about her mother’s disappearance–and perhaps even her father’s death.”
 
Joanna Davidson Politano‘s novel is the prefect blend of mystery and romance. I appreciated that even though they were solving a murder and there was talk of ghosts, I could still read it at night before bed without needing to sleep with the light on.
The author’s character development was great. She stayed true to the characters true self. Even as they grew and changed it wasn’t like they were suddenly a different character all together.
The story was unpredictable in nature, but I did not even get close to guess the ending and there were twists and turns that I did not see coming. It is definitely a great read, and one you don’t want to read the ending of first. I’m talking to you Nikki. –MV
Five Stars, Heather B. Moore, Low Language, Low Romance, Moderate Religion, Moderate Violence

Empowerment

Last night I had the privilege of being in the same room as some pretty incredible women. I felt slightly intimidated most of the night, but came away from the evening feeling empowered. Women have the potential to do such good in the world.

I’m all about girl power, however I wouldn’t necessarily call myself a feminist. At least not in the way it’s used across social platforms today. My ability to do good and be good, does not in anyway diminish my husbands ability to do and be good, and it doesn’t mean I need him any less. One of the women on the panel last night said, when you allow yourself to shine, you make those around you shine brighter.

H.B. Moore was able to do exactly that with her character Deborah in the historical fiction Deborah: Prophetess of God.

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Deborah, a young Israelite woman, lives a quiet and isolated life with her father and brothers. As a shepherdess in the hills near her home, she knows well the perils of her work. But when faced with incredible danger, she witnesses a series of remarkable events that preserve her life. The hand of the Lord is apparent, and it is clear that hers will be no ordinary life.

Years later, Deborah is a faithful wife and mother when she learns that the Third Judge of Israel has died–and she has been called to take his place. It is a tumultuous time in history, and soon, Deborah–prophetess, judge, and military leader–faces a seemingly insurmountable task: alongside the commander of the Israelite army, Deborah must lead ten thousand soldiers in their final campaign against their Canaanite oppressors with only her faith in God to guide her.”

Heather Moore has taken a rather short story in the book of Judges and created a beautiful character and an empowering story.

Heather creates in Deborah a fascinating balance. Deborah is humble yet strong. She’s obedient, but strong willed.

The story it self is also a beautiful balance between women empowerment, family support, religious dedication and sweet romance.

I especially appreciated how she dealt with the relationship between Deborah and the men in her life. In spite of  her prestigious calling, Deborah was respectful, loving and empowering to her father, her brothers, her husband and the military commander Barak. This added not only historical accuracy, but depth to Deborah and the other characters.

The romance, the family and the connections all build a world that connects you to the heart of what the people may have been experiencing and the type of person Deborah may have been in order to lead her people to freedom.

Just a note: The author does a fantastic job of keeping this book non-denominational. Though it is a religious book, it isn’t geared to any one faith. It is a work of fiction so keep that in mind, but would be pertinent and enjoyable for anyone of any faith with a connection to this time in history.

or two: Deborah led her people into war, so though I wouldn’t label this book as violent,  it does have battles and moments of violent oppression.

 

Four Stars, Low Language, Low Romance, Low Violence, Moderate Religion

“Aren’t Books Pure Joy?”

A few years back I picked up a book entitled Dear Mr Knightley, for obvious Jane Austen reasons. I was delightfully surprised to find a more Daddly-Long-legs story. Possibly the best version I’ve read. I was instantly pulled into the story and loved the entire book. I recently came across another book, also by Katherine Reay, and picked it up without hesitation.

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“One of Madeline Cullen’s happiest childhood memories is of working with her Aunt Maddie in the quaint and cozy Printed Letter Bookshop. But by the time Madeline inherits the shop nearly twenty years later, family troubles and her own bitter losses have hardened Madeline’s heart toward her once-treasured aunt—and the now struggling bookshop left in her care.

While Madeline intends to sell the shop as quickly as possible, the Printed Letter’s two employees have other ideas. Reeling from a recent divorce, Janet finds sanctuary within the books and within the decadent window displays she creates. Claire, though quieter than the acerbic Janet, feels equally drawn to the daily rhythms of the shop and its loyal clientele, finding a renewed purpose within its walls.

When Madeline’s professional life falls apart, and a handsome gardener upends all her preconceived notions, she questions her plans and her heart. Has she been too quick to dismiss her aunt’s beloved shop? And even if she has, the women’s best combined efforts may be too little, too late.”

I’ll admit I had a harder time getting into this book. It took effort to remember which character was attached to which background and story as she jumped back and forth. It was not an “easy” read, the pacing was a little slow. It was however, beautifully worded, and deeply moving. I loved all the book references, and the lovely description of the small town and its quaint bookshop.

3 1/2 Stars, Low Romance, Low Violence, Moderate Language, Moderate Religion

Perspective

Confession for you all, I have always been more on the sensitive side I cry during movies, watching TV, and while reading books. Heavens, I’ve even cried watching facebook videos! Since having my first baby however, my hormones (lets just blame it on the hormones) have been out of control.

So Healed by Miranda Lotz may not have been the best choice, it is 100% a heart wrencher. I cried through more than half of it.

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“Stephanie knows God answers her prayers. Giving birth to her daughter after five miscarriages is proof of that. 

But when baby Abby is diagnosed with a rare form of epilepsy and treatments begin to spiral out of control, Stephanie is left to question why a God of miracles doesn’t guide her to heal Abby.

Stephanie’s husband, Jared, wants to try Mary’s Miracle–an organic CBD oil made from hemp–to treat Abby’s seizures, but Stephanie wants to know what God has planned for them.

As treatments dwindle and options run low, Stephanie must learn how to trust her instincts and follow her heart, finding a path forward for her daughter, and a path back to God for herself.”

The author did a beautiful job of reflecting all the pain hurt and struggle a family can go through when they find out hard news about their little angels. Miranda Lotz’s writing not only pulls on your heart strings, but gives you perspective. She did a very good job of making you feel and understand all the emotions.

I did struggle a little with the points of view it was written in, the chapters were labeled with the person’s name, but every now and then it seemed to switch to third person or even a completely different view.

Be aware of the sensitive nature of this book before you decide if it’s for you. Also a few other points: The book is very heavily religious as this family struggles in understanding why God would allow this, but it’s not preachy. There is heavier language than most books we read, so keep that in mind. Lastly, although there is no violence in the book its first chapter is pretty graphic in the telling of her delivery.

That all being said, this is a good book to turn to for perspective, for faith, and for a really good cry. –A.B.

Five Stars, Low Language, Low Romance, Moderate Religion, Moderate Violence

You’re Welcome

My daughter, like every other little girl in the world got caught up in the Frozen saga, the costumes, the dolls, the songs. I’ll be the first to admit I enjoyed both the movie and the soundtrack, but there is a limit to how many times you can press repeat until you just can’t anymore. That’s until Moana came out.

If I got a nickle for every time I heard one of my three kids say “Alexa, play shiny,” “Alexa, play You’re Welcome.” I would be a very rich woman. That I actually didn’t mind too much, it’s adorable to hear a toddler say Alexa, but everything has a limit. Thankfully that phase ended too, but the songs came back very quickly as I read Ilima Todd‘s A Song for the Stars.41wGq01L-LL

“Inspired by a true story

Hawaiian Islands, 1779

As the second daughter of a royal chief, Maile will be permitted to marry for love. Her fiancé is the best navigator in Hawaii, and he taught her everything he knows—how to feel the ocean, observe the winds, read the stars, and how to love.

But when sailors from a strange place called England arrive on her island, a misunderstanding ends in battle, and Maile is suddenly widowed before she is wed.

Finding herself in the middle of the battle and fearing for her life, Maile takes John Harbottle, the wounded man who killed her fiancé, prisoner, and though originally intending to let him die, she reluctantly heals him. And in the process, she discovers the man she thought was her enemy might be her ally instead.

John has been Captain James Cook’s translator for three voyages across the Pacific. He is kind and clearly fascinated with Maile’s homeland and her people—and Maile herself. But guilt continues to drive a wedge between them: John’s guilt over the death he caused, and Maile’s guilt over the truth about what triggered the deadly battle—a secret she’s kept hidden from everyone on the island.”

I’ve never been to Hawaii, it’s definitely on my bucket list though. However Ilima Todd’s imagery painted such a beautiful picture, I felt like I was there. Her descriptions were not just visible either. I felt like I could smell the flowers, hear the waterfall, and feel. I could feel so much, you can tell that this novel contains all of Ilima Todd’s heart, it bleeds through ever page.

That includes Maile. I could feel her confusion, her naivety, and her strength. The switch between John’s journal and Maile’s first person narrative was a perfect way to convey the clash of cultures the misunderstandings and the growing feelings between the two. All were handled so well I found myself laughing and crying and yes even sighing.

I loved how she had John and Maile start out on so completely opposite sides, the conflict between them added depth and a beautiful heartache to the story.

The only thing I struggled with was the wayfaring. For the most part, it was fascinating. I loved how something that was so special to her and Ikaika also brought her closer to John. However there were a few moments when I felt like the wayfaring details slowed down the story right when I felt like it was picking up. This however didn’t take away from the beauty of the novel.

This should definitely be on the top of your TBR pile, you’ll thank me. So in advance… You’re Welcome.

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Four Stars, Low Language, Low Romance, Moderate Religion, Moderate Violence

Bloom in Adversity

When Mulan first came out I thought, finally! We finally have a kick-but Disney princess! The humor of Eddie Murphy and the swoony singing voice of Donny Osmond didn’t hurt the movie either. Incredibly, Melanie Dickerson‘s retelling of Mulan, The Warrior Maiden, only improved upon it.

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When Mulan takes her father’s place in battle against the besieging Teutonic Knights, she realizes she has been preparing for this journey her whole life—and that her life, and her mother’s, depends on her success. As the adopted daughter of poor parents, Mulan has little power in the world. If she can’t prove herself on the battlefield, she could face death—or, perhaps worse, marriage to the village butcher.

Disguised as a young man, Mulan meets the German duke’s son, Wolfgang, who is determined to save his people even if it means fighting against his own brother. Wolfgang is exasperated by the new soldier who seems to be one step away from disaster at all times—or showing him up in embarrassing ways.

From rivals to reluctant friends, Mulan and Wolfgang begin to share secrets. But war is an uncertain time and dreams can die as quickly as they are born. When Mulan receives word of danger back home, she must make the ultimate choice. Can she be the son her bitter father never had? Or will she become the strong young woman she was created to be?

This was one of my favorite of Melanie’s re-tellings. She followed the story really well, but made enhancements that improved on the original.

The gender reveal between the two main characters and then with the rest of the army was handled better than the Disney story we’re familiar with. That was possibly my favorite change. The chemistry was sweet and just right.

The one story element that was odd to me at first was having the attacking army be religious zealots. It made the book feel a little more preachy than some of her others, but overall it worked for the story line and felt natural for the characters she created.

The sidekick maybe didn’t have Eddie Murphy’s humor, but was spot on and really complemented Mulan’s character. –M.V.

 

3 1/2 Stars, Low Language, Low Romance, Low Violence, Melanie Jacobson, Moderate Religion

Fairy Tale Life

Fairy Tale re-tellings seem to be a really popular trope right now. I’m not complaining, I’m just stating a fact. A fact I completely embrace. I love watching how each author uses the different elements of the story to create their own fairy tale. I especially love it when it’s not obvious how they’re going to eventually pull the whole story together.

Finding Jack by Melanie Jacobson is a contemporary reverse re-telling (seems like a tongue twister) of Rapunzel.

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When smart, practical Emily finds herself in the crosshairs of an Internet prankster, her orderly world goes topsy-turvy. Instead of getting mad at the handsome stranger behind the joke, she finds herself drawn to him. But Jack Dobson, though hilarious and thoughtful, has a lot of secrets. Despite her growing feelings for her new and unexpected long-distance friend, his biggest secret of all might be the one that breaks the spell they’ve been weaving around each other.

I’ve never read a reverse re-telling of rapunzel. It just doesn’t seem feasible that a man would be trapped in a tower. Melanie Jacobson did an cute flip, and it was so fun to try and figure out how he was “trapped.” I love that she used it as personal prison not a physical one imposed by anyone else.

Melanie Jacobson’s female characters can seem almost too similar. They’re all California determined and focused girls, but I love where she went with Emily and the changes she made.

Melanie Jacobson also has a thing for online relationships. I’ve read that’s how she met her husband, which is sweet, but I keep hoping for something different. The online connection in this one was unique enough to not pull me out of the story.

The banter between Emily and Jack was highly entertaining and I liked how their connection grew and how their characters eventually encouraged each other outside of themselves.

Four Stars, Low Language, Low Romance, Moderate Religion, Moderate Violence

Queen of the Night

My college humanities class was one of my favorite classes. For the simple reason that I “had” to attend all sorts of cultural performances, all in pursuit of my grade. It was wonderful. That semester I saw “The Magic Flute” for the first time and fell in love with the opera.

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“When American heiress Gwen Barton aids an injured gentleman in an opera box in London, she shares a kiss with the stranger that changes her life. More determined than ever to be herself, in spite of the limp she’s sustained since childhood, she will marry for love and not a title. She also resolves to learn the identity of the man she helped—and kissed. Surely he can’t be the irritating Avery Winfield, though. But as circumstances continue to throw Gwen and Avery together, she begins to wonder if there is more to this man than she first thought.

While most of London only knows him as the nephew of a duke, Avery Winfield is actually working for the Secret Service Bureau to ferret out German spies from among the ton. It’s a profession that gives him purpose and a reason to remain a bachelor. But the more he interacts with Gwen Barton, an heiress from America, the more he begins to question his plans and neglected faith. Then he learns Gwen is the young lady from the opera box who helped him. Now his most important mission may have nothing to do with saving Britain from danger and everything to do with risking his heart for the woman he met that night at the opera.”

Stacy Henrie wrote two love interests paired so well, you’re rooting for them every step of the way. The faith aspect of the book was subtle. The inclusion of God was a major part of the story, but it felt natural and necessary to the character development of Gwen and Avery, and never pushy.

The character development of the story really made the novel charming. Stacy Henrie used beautiful metaphors, and great moments of introspection to connect the reader to the characters. It made the story more than just entertainment, but a wonderful journey of adventure, love.