Monday, December 21, 2020

Adorning the Dark: Thoughts on Community, Calling, and the Mystery of Making


Andrew Peterson could have not have known at the time of his book's release (October 2019) how timely his thoughts would be for the year 2020.  If ever the world has known a time of darkness (spiritual, medical, and emotional), it is during the months that have been overshadowed by Covid. 

Adorning the Dark is part memoir, part inspiration, part tool kit for creatives. Readers will get a glimpse of the ways that God has used the author to bring light through his music, poetry and writing. The highs and lows, light and darkness in his own life's journey will encourage readers to not despair in the dark but to find ways to light a candle. Often times, light is made more beautiful by its contrast to dark. There is something magical about a candle's warmth and the intimacy of it's small circle of illumination. And even a small light can help dispel fear and uncertainty.

Peterson explores the importance of community, the gift of a calling (God does have a marvelous calling for each one of us), and what he dubs the "mystery" of making. It's rather humbling to realize that God gives humans the privilege of creating beauty in many forms. For Peterson, his making is through word and music. But others may find that their "making" takes the form of photography, painting, gardening, cooking, or some vocational pursuit. What I loved was the idea that our making can be a form of worship to the Lord--the gifts we bring to Him in gratitude for all that He has done for us and through us.

At a time in history when discouragement is prevalent and uncertainty is all too familiar, I recommend grabbing a copy of Adorning the Dark and contemplating the ways God can use these days of social distance and cancelled events to breathe new life into our souls and minds. Inspiration for ways that we can seek the Lord with renewed fervor, to worship Him with greater abandon and to share His light with greater determination. 

Disclaimer: I received a free digital copy of Adorning the Dark through NetGalley for the purpose of review. No other compensation was received.

Friday, November 20, 2020

Joy to the World: A Regency Christmas Collection

When November rolls around, I start getting a hankering for reading Christmas novels.  I love seeing  a variety of authors crank out a sweet holiday tale that offers comfort and a bit of escape during an often stressful time of year.  With covid casting a shadow over this year's holiday gatherings, readers may need some extra solace now more than ever before.  In Joy to the World readers will travel back in time and experience Christmas Regency style.  Here's a taste of what the three novellas offer.

Novella #1: "Heaven and Nature Sing" by Carolyn Miller

Edith and George, once romantically linked are awkwardly thrown together over the holidays.  Edith is still in mourning from a family member's death and George never fully understood why Edith broke things off.  Seeing one another challenges Edith's resolve to forget him and Georde's ability to move on with his life.  Although she regrets her decision, will Edith let her pride keep her from a happily ever after?  Will the pressure of their hostess influence thair future?  I had a bit of a struggle staying with this story (only because indecisive people who are always seconding guessing things kind of drive me crazy), but on cold winter day, it still offers a nice distraction from a mile long to do list!

Novella #2: "Far as the Curse is Found" by Amanda Barratt
When a disfigured stranger protects Jenny from what could have been a brutal assualt, she is relieved to make it safely home to her baby.  But when she later falls ill and subsequently loses her only source of income, she doesn't know how she can go on. The mysterious stranger comes to her rescue yet again and prevents her from making a decision she may well regret. Offering her employment at his estate seems like Providence, but what does she really know about her empoyer? I felt the book had some "Beauty and the Beast" and "My Fair Lady" vibes. A touching look at what happens when two lonely and broken people learn to trust one another.  Yes, it was a bit predictable but it was a sweet story that offered a valuable morale that it's more important to judge a person's heart than their appearance.  This was a story I wish had been longer!

Novella #3: "Wonders of His Love" by Erica Vetsch
Cilla is a recent widow continuing to live on the estate of her mother-in-law--the commanding matriarch of the family. Always a quiet young woman, widowhood has made her even quieter. The services of a painter have been procured to paint the portraits of the Duke (the younger brother to Cilla's deceased husband) and his wife the Duchess.  Hamish Sinclair waltzed in from Scotland adding a splash of color and energy to the estate, making this holiday particularly memorable.  As her mother-in-law tries to arrange a second marriage for Cilla,  readers will delight in seeing Cilla transform from a subservient daughter-in-law into a woman who can think for herself.  (
I'm not sure someone in her time period and station would have had the same freedom, but readers will most likeley forgive those liberties.)

Joy to the World offers three Regency romances that are clean and wholesome. Yes, readers will most likely guess the endings, but the setting and descriptions will draw the reader into the story and provide a few hours of cheer this holiday season--something we all could use!

Disclaimer: I received a free copy of Joy to the World from Kregel Publishing for the purpose of review. No other compensation was received.

Friday, November 13, 2020

The Tigers in the Tower by Julia Golding


Sahira is alone in the world after her parents died on the voyage from India to Englad. They were transporting animals to become part of the King's Menagarie and all had been fine until her parents caught a fever from a sailor, leaving Sahira an orphan. She is quickly scuttled off to an orphanage. 

Having a Muslim mother from India, Sahira's ethnic identity is looked down up by her peers as well as the orphanage staff. A spunky, intelligent 12 year old, Sahira wants nothing more than to live with and take care of the tigers with whom she had crossed the ocean. But neither the zookeeper, nor his wife have any interest in taking on a boarder. Sahira's prominent grandfather, wants nothing to do with her-- fearing she may ruin his other granddaughters' social prospects. 

There are hints of The Little Princess within the story but with the wonderful addition of Sahira's rich, cultural upbringing in India. While she tries to hold on to her Indian identity, her new guardians are doing all they can to erase not only that but also any inheritance she may be owed. 

When the tigers become lethargic and refuse to eat, the zookeeper is forced to request Sahira's help to bring them back to health. This leads to an arrangement with the orphanage to allow Sahira to help the animals daily. When the zookeeper offers money to the orphanage for the use of Sahira, the deal is sealed. Those moments at the zoo help make up for the misery Sahira experiences at the hand of resident bullies.

Sahira is a well-educated young woman and readers will learn a great deal about animals as well as history as she shares stories and educates other characters.  Sahira's spunk and determination in spite of incredible obstacles (and determined enemies) will have readers cheering for her from the very first page. 

The exciting conclusion reminded me a bit of Little Orphan Annie. I highly recommend this story that packs in lots of adventure, loyal friends, and a thoroughly satisfying conclusion!

Parental Advisory: Charles Darwin is a minor character in the book and he offers some explanation of his theories about adaptations of species. Could provide some opportunities to research and discuss the validity of his theories.  There is also some discussion of Sahira's mother's religion.

Disclaimer: I received a digital copy of The Tigers in the Tower from the publisher Lion Hudson, Ltd. through NetGalley for the purpose of review. No other compensation was recieved.

How to Get Away with Myrtle by Elizabeth C. Bunce


A Myrtle Hardcastle Mystery: Book 2

The second book in the new Myrtle Hardcastle Mystery series takes place on a train as Myrtle and and her governess, Miss Judson, are accompanied by the dreaded Aunt Helena (whose presence all but guarantees a horrid holiday).  So imagine Myrtle's delight when a jeweled tiara goes missing and she gets drawn into helping the insurance investigator. Her holiday is definitely looking up...until said investigator gets rather fatally silenced and now Myrtle must find not only a jewel thief but a murderer.  

When it is obvious that traditional law enforcement is woefully lacking skills and brain power, Miss Judson and Myrtle take matters into their own hands. Not an easy task when Aunt Helena is working overtime to keep Myrtle away from what she considers an unsavory pasttime for proper young ladies.

As in book one, readers will be privy to rich vocabulary and instructive (and entertaining) footnotes. Keeping one step ahead of her controlling Aunt Helena is almost as difficult as keeping one step ahead of a murderer. How to Get Away with Myrtle is another literary home run.  I highly recommend this  marvelous new middle grade mystery series.  I cannot wait to tag along on future Myrtle Hardcastle adventures!

The author, Elizabeth C. Bunce has one of the coolest websites around. You can check out other books she has written, link to her blog, and discover future author events.

Disclaimer: I received a free digital copy of  How to Get Away with Myrtle from publisher Algonquin Young Readers through NetGalley for the purpose of review. No other compensation was received.

Premeditated Myrtle by Elizabeth C. Bunce


As soon as I saw that Myrtle of this series was compared to the intreped Flavia De Luce, I knew she would be a kindred literary spirit. Who doesn't love a spunky, intelligent, inquisitive {a.k.a. nosy} young lady?

For this series, it is entirely appropriate to judge the books by their covers, for they are truly gorgeous! I love the little hint on the cover of what will become an essential component of the mystery. The style of cover is not only engagingly bright, but stylistically a perfect match for the historical setting.

Readers are introduced to the young sleuthing heroine, along with a cast of supporting characters (some delightful, others despicable) in the first in the series, Premeditated Myrtle. I loved that Myrtle has a companionable governess, Miss Judson, who offers a guiding influence in the absence of a mother. With a lawyer for a father, Myrtle's upbringing has involved exposure to crime and court proceedings, which has fostered an obsession with crime solving.

In book one, Myrtle's elderly next door neighbor, a creature of unwavering habit, has died under what Myrtle knows are mysterious circumstances but to her consternation, she cannot get the adults to listen to her. Which means she (and Miss Judson) must take matters into their own hands. What ensues is a lively adventure with twists, turns, and a few surprises before a highly satisfying ending. 

I am thrilled with this new series for young readers and recommend them unreservedly. There has been a huge gap for well-written mysteries for middle grades and to find something with no morally objectionable content or profanity is quite a rarity these days. Readers will also boost their vocabulary (often footnoted with amusing commentary). Elizabeth C. Bunce has crafted a series that will entirely beguile readers (especially those with a fondness for cats--Peony is a silent partner in the crime-solving endeavors).  I hope that Myrtle will have a number of new cases to tackle in the future--looking forward to reading every one!

Disclaimer: I received a free digital copy Premeditated Myrtle from publisher Algonquin Young Readers through NetGalley for the purpose of review. No other compensation was received.

Saturday, October 31, 2020

The Sound of Falling Leaves


Fresh from a career ending tragedy, Tessa comes back home after her Aunt Dicy has a fall. She immediately clashes with Ezekiel ("Zeke") Sloane, the caretaker of her aunt's orchard. Their mistrust is heightened by assumptions each has made about the other. While showing outward resentment, each is battling against the attraction they have toward one another.

It is pretty clear from the start that Tessa and Zeke are going to end up together.  Readers will follow the two through their relationship missteps, misunderstandings and petty arguments. Zeke is fighting internally the urge to fall for Tessa, and externally trying to maintain his undercover identity in order to bring a local crime ring to justice. Tessa is struggling with past regrets and lost dreams while she tries to track down information on a little known singer for a college project. 

There were some twists and turns with various threads of the story nicely tied together in the end. Scenes of violence and references to other make this a book for mature audiences only. I felt the book was a bit more grisly than a typical romance reader might enjoy. However, it was free of profanity and promiscuity and the violence described was done without too much graphic detail. Overall, the book would make a good escapist read on a cold winter weekend.

Disclaimer: I received a copy of The Sound of Falling Leaves from Kregel Publications for the purpose of review. No other compensation was received.

Friday, October 16, 2020

The Paris Library by Janet Skeslien Charles


The Paris Library is based upon true events that took place during WWII. The main focus is the American Library in Paris and those who were employed or volunteered there. Some characters were based on real staff. Central to the story is Odile who has finally secured her dream job of working at The American Library.  Through her eyes, readers meet a wide and varied cast of supporting characters, each of whom offers a lens through which the events and effects of the war as it reached Paris can be viewed.  But that setting is only part of the story.

The author, Janet Skeslien Charles, has woven two stories within the book. Readers are offered parallel threads that intersect: Odile's story that begins in 1939, Paris, and Lily's story set in 1983, Montana.  Within the past are mysteries that are slowly revealed.  The reality of war and the way it slowly turned people against one another is masterfully portrayed. No one is free from grief as brothers, sons, neighbors are wounded or killed in war. 

Fast forward to 1983 and Lily and Odile are neighbor. Lily, a plucky high school girl manages to break through Odile's cold, reserved exterior. As Lily faces normal teen struggles, Odile offers a listening ear and sage advice.  When Lily faces a dark trial, Odile becomes the anchor to which Lily ties her soul. And then, in a foolish act of teen curiosity, Lily discovers what she believes to be a dark and shameful secret from Odile's past. Can their friendship be restored or will they each remain stubbornly enmeshed in their own pain?

The book tells a compelling story and the dual story lines reveal how various characters wage their own personal war. The book shows the good, bad and ugly that often dwells within each one of us.  Part of the good was the message that when we learn to share our pain with another person, a friendship can grow that will facilitate healing and growth.  The bad included what I considered moral failings in  Odile's younger days. I wish references could have been made without providing detailed descriptions of those lapses. Compared to the average offering on television and film, the book's content would be considered mild, but it's worth noting that I would not recommend this book for any but an adult audience. And the ugly represents the realization that we are all capable of hatred and despicable acts of betrayal.  Learning how to forgive and seek restoration is perhaps the hardest war of all, but so worth winning.

You can pre-order the book today and it will be shipped to you upon its release on February 2, 2021. In the meantime, check out the author's website for a fascinating look at some of the real lives of characters in the book.  The author has scanned images of photographs, reports and newspaper clippings, some of which detail the services that the American Library in Paris performed.  

Disclaimer: I received a digital copy of The Paris Library through NetGalley for the purpose of review. No other compensation was received. 

Adorning the Dark: Thoughts on Community, Calling, and the Mystery of Making

  Andrew Peterson could have not have known at the time of his book's release (October 2019) how timely his thoughts would be for the ye...