Prelude for a Lord (review)

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Prelude for a LordPrelude for a Lord by Camille Elliot

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Lady Alethea Sutherton, main character in Camille Elliot’s regency romance Prelude for a Lord, is a social misfit, not only because of her suitorless old maid status, but because of her musical interest in the violin which is thought entirely unladylike.

For her part, Alethea has long since ceased to care, much to the chagrin of Aunt Ebena. Alethea has come to Bath to stay with her aunt after cousin Will kicked her out of the family home. Now she is living for the day she reaches her majority, gains her inheritance, and can flee England to the musically rich continent.

But the appearance in Bath of Baron Dommick, a musician she admired from her own disastrous season in London eleven years ago, and society’s demands soon have her attending balls and hobnobbing with members of a male string ensemble. Meanwhile she senses she is being watched, followed, and then is approached by a succession of sinister men who demand she sell her violin.

Main male character Baron Dommick’s reputation has been compromised by the effects of war. Despite that, he feels driven to ensure that his sister Clare’s upcoming season in London will be a success. This means making the right social moves in all departments. He is attracted to Alethea but could her strong personality impede his goal? And what if she should discover the real self he hides under that handsome exterior?

Elliot has combined compelling characters (including a list of who the various characters are, their many names and how they’re related to each other) with a circuitous plot that includes solving the mystery of Alethea’s violin.

As is characteristic of the genre, there is lots of wit and dialogue that sparkles. The writing is wonderful throughout:

“Then another crash, something heavy and wooden dropping to the floor accompanied by a tinkling descant of shattering pottery” – Kindle Location 2613.

“…the chapel lay empty and forgotten much of the time, an abandoned mother longing for her grown-up children” – Kindle location 5265.t:

Compelling themes include an exploration of how women in the regency era are treated and whether God cares for individuals—an issue especially for Alethea who feels as if God dislikes her, seeing as how He never came to her aid when her father, brother, and cousin abused her. Questions at the end of the book encourage readers to discuss, personalize, and apply what they’ve read.

Prelude for a Lord is a combination I found irresistible. It’s a tale I would hazard even Jane Austen would love.

I received Prelude for a Lord as a gift from the publisher for the purpose of writing a review.

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Next Step (review)

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Next Step - Timothy K. LynnNext Step – How to Start Living Intentionally and Discover What God Really Wants for Your Life by Timothy K. Lynn

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Next Step is a guidebook/workbook designed to help people evaluate their lives and plot a course for the future. In brief chapters businessman Timothy K. Lynn leads readers to first analyze their lives in the areas of time and people. Then he introduces them to what he calls the Four Pillars: Faith, Self, Family and Life’s Work. In a final chapter, “Conversations with God,” he talks about how God is central to the whole process and encourages the participant to converse with Him and journal those interchanges.

After a brief bit of text on each subject, the book has charts, forms and journal pages for the reader to fill in. The “Snapshot of Your Week” form, for example, has the participant noting what activities fill their time for one week, 24/7. Another form guides readers in discovering who the people of influence in their lives are. The chapter “Life’s Work” concludes with a “Lifeline Goal-setting Plan—Seasons of Life” chart, which gathers the observations and conclusions participants have made from previous chapters into one record/activity/goal chart that can be kept through the years—literally the seasons of life.

Next Step is a beautiful publication, but I found it a bit thin on content. About seventy of the book’s 128 pages are blank journal pages or duplicates of charts and forms introduced in the various chapters.

The charts and forms are excellent, however, in the way they are designed to give the participant a snapshot of his or her use of time, people of influence, core beliefs, goals, and dreams.

More examples of what the author expected as responses in some of the areas would have been helpful (like he did give for the “Lifeline Goal-setting Plan—Seasons of Life” chart, p. 62). Though the journal pages, with their question prompts are self-explanatory, I was never sure what process he expected the reader to go through to fill out the numerous “Conversations with God” sections. His instructions read:

“What’s God saying to you? Use this section as a notebook to make a complete record of your conversations with God.”

Does he expect the reader to sit quietly and listen for an audible voice, or a voice in one’s head, or God’s instructions from Scripture passages? The closest I came to finding help in this area was in the chapter “Faith” where he seems to presume that his readers will have a prior knowledge of scripture and a conscience trained by it:

“God has spoken to us and asked us to follow His word, but at times we need to simplify things and get to the true meaning of what is being asked of us. …This is not as hard as we make it out to be. It just has to occur one thought—indeed one step—at a time, because our actions help us to differentiate good from bad. At the very moment we do something bad, we move away from God’s truth. Most times we intrinsically know this in our hearts” – p. 33.

More specific instructions on how one converses with God would have been helpful. Without them, I felt this part of the program could become an exercise in whatever—listening to oneself, visualization, even opening oneself up to spiritual error, as the participant is never instructed to check what he or she hears against the clear communication God has given us about His will in the Bible.

Altogether, however, this is a valuable and concise program designed to give participants information about their individual lives and the desire and impetus to make God-centered changes and improvements, no matter what their age.

I received Next Step as a gift from publicist Maryglenn McCombs for the purpose of writing a review.

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Miracle in a Dry Season (review)

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Miracle in a Dry Season (Appalachian Blessings, #1)Miracle in a Dry Season by Sarah Loudin Thomas

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

When Perla Long returns to Wise, West Virginia in 1954, the single 24-year-old has a five-year-old daughter Sadie in tow. Tongues are soon wagging and Perla wonders, will she ever find a place where questions about her past don’t run her out of town?

Casewell Phillips is charmed by Sadie and fascinated with Perla’s blue-eyed beauty. But at 35, he is not about to trade in his bachelor status for a relationship with a woman of questionable repute.

Sarah Loudin Thomas has combined the characters above with a church full of judgmental parishioners, egged on by hellfire and brimstone Pastor Longbourne, a rainless summer, and Perla’s wondrous way with food to craft Miracle in a Dry Season. It’s a story about passing judgment and extending forgiveness, recognizing and accepting grace, and how “a child shall lead them.”

I enjoyed Loudin’s often lyrical way with words in passages like:

“Casewell … lifted his hand and held it over the child’s head for a moment, hovering there like a hummingbird taking the measure of a flower” – Kindle Location 512.

and

“She bowed her head, and he felt peace radiating out from her. But like a kerosene lamp on an icy morning, it could not reach his core” – K.L. 626.

However, I did find Thomas’s style tentative with an abundance of adverb modifiers that sucked the life out of her prose:

“’We’re going home,’ she said, looking at her husband with a depth and rawness that somehow embarrassed Casewell…” K.L. 638.

“He could taste the air. It seemed cleaner, richer somehow” – K. L. 2091.

“The landscape was still desolate but it looked somehow hopeful this morning” – K.L. 2097.

“… in spite of the tears she somehow looked happy” – K.L. 2126.

All in all, though, I enjoyed this romantic and folksy tale with its elements of the miraculous and its message that all of us have secrets and sins in our pasts and none of us make fit judges.

A set of discussion questions at the end of the book completes the volume.

I received Miracle in a Dry Season from the publisher, Bethany House, as a gift for the purpose of writing a review (via NetGalley which, as usual, delivered a problematic Kindle file with illegible first lines of chapters and all “Th” units missing from the book).

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No Place to Hide (review)

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No Place to Hide: A Brain Surgeon S Long Journey Home from the Iraq WarNo Place to Hide: A Brain Surgeon S Long Journey Home from the Iraq War by W. Lee Warren

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Dr. W. Lee Warren arrived at the 332nd Theater Hospital in Balad ab, Iraq in late 2004. His term of duty as a neurosurgeon ended four months later at the end of April, 2005. No Place to Hide – A Brain Surgeon’s Long Journey Home From the Iraq War is the story of those months. But it is more.

Warren went to Iraq at a time when his marriage was teetering on the edge. His experience in Iraq is framed by the turmoil in his personal life. The dangers, pressure, and extreme injuries he faces every day in his work have him yearning to hear the voices of his young children, who don’t yet know of their parents’ impending divorce. As control of his life slips from his hands on all fronts, he is forced to rely on God in new ways. His story includes his spiritual pilgrimage during his time in the combat zone and also relates significant spiritual and psychological markers on his road to recovery after returning to the States.

The book is detailed and graphic. It contains precise accounts of injuries, the surgeries Warren performed, remembered conversations, and emails home. We slog through the mud with him on the way from his sleeping quarters to the tent hospital during the rainy season, choke in dust and smoke during hot dry weather, smell the blood, sweat and unwashed bodies in the O.R., and hear mortars, shells and rockets exploding at all hours of the day and night. His explanation, at the end (when he faced the post-traumatic stress he experienced years after returning from Iraq) sheds light on his detailed recall of events. For he brought back with him, and finally unpacked, a bag of memorabilia—bullet bits, shards of shrapnel, segments of rockets—along with hundreds of photos documenting his experiences both in and out of the operating room.

I personally wanted to read No Place to Hide to understand why so many war veterans return home only to continue to suffer symptoms of stress. This book is a good one to help one gain such an understanding. It’s an intense read as Warren’s stories reflect the non-stop pressure of life as a battlefield surgeon. Though well-written and captivating it is hard enough reading through such a litany of never-ending horrors. I can’t imagine living them!

Warren’s memoir also shows a different side of the U.S. army than that broadcast by mainstream media. The 332nd Hospital had a policy of taking in friend and foe alike, treating Iraqi militants and civilians no matter whose side they were on. Though Warren doesn’t deny that mistreatment of prisoners of war happened at the hands of U.S. soldiers, his stories illustrate that U.S. doctors worked long, hard, and often to save enemy lives.

Photos at the back of the book bring to life Dr. Warren and the scenes he describes.

I recommend this book not only as a way to experience war vicariously, but also as a wonderful testimony to God’s keeping power during the toughest of times.

I received No Place to Hide as a gift from the publisher, Zondervan, for the purpose of writing a review.

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Miss Brenda and the Loveladies (review)

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Miss Brenda and the Loveladies: A Heartwarming True Story of Grace, God, and GumptionMiss Brenda and the Loveladies: A Heartwarming True Story of Grace, God, and Gumption by Brenda Spahn

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

“’Oh my Lord, what have I done!’ I gasped. I stared out the kitchen window as six violent criminals stomped up my driveway” – Brenda Spahn (Miss Brenda and the Loveladies – Kindle Location 74).

Brenda Spahn had dreamed about and prepared for this day. Not only had she redone each of the bedrooms in the large house that was now being re-purposed into a release center for women from Julia Tutwiler Prison. She had also hired a driver, a cook, and a house-mother/manager to run the program.

But only hours later she found herself alone with the six newly released inmates—the driver, cook and house-mother having all quit at the first sight of the scary guests.

Spahn doesn’t quit. In Miss Brenda and the Loveladies she tells the stories of those first guests and the early days of The Lovelady Center of Birmingham Alabama—now one of the largest faith-based centers in the U.S. for released women prisoners as well as women with domestic abuse, addiction, homelessness, and other issues.

The story is inspirational as we see those first six being transformed from angry, suspicious women with low self-esteem to women who themselves reach out to, lead, and serve others within the center and the larger community. Spahn’s philosophy of discovering the latent potential in each throwaway life and then helping each achieve her new destiny has, since the program’s beginning in 2004, impacted thousands of lives.

Spahn tells the story in first-person, using casual language and descriptions of people and events that bring to life her new friends and her feisty redheaded self. She also does lots of telling on herself, saying more than once that she needed these women as much as they needed her. Her transparency about her challenges, faults, and mistakes makes her a believable and likeable narrator.

Miss Brenda and the Loveladies is a testimony to the power of a dream, obedience to God, and determination. It’s a quick, interesting read, full of pathos and humor.

The story of these women opened my eyes to how I snap-judge people without having a clue what they’ve been through. The story of the Lovelady Center helped me see how God can turn seemingly insurmountable obstacles into the stepping stones to success.

I received Miss Brenda and the Loveladies as a gift from the publisher, Waterbrook Press via Blogging for Books, for the purpose of writing a review.

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Veil of Tears (review)

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_225_350_Book.1269.coverVeil of Secrets by Shannon Ethridge

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Take a large cast of characters including: Dave Dawson, senator; Will Connors his friend and backroom organizer; Melanie Connors, Will’s frigid wife; Sophie, their 16-year-old hungry-for-life daughter; Caroline Connors, Will’s sharp, attractive, single sister; Tucker Keyes, Carrie’s old drinking buddy from Princeton, now a wanna-be-journalist; a tent city of MoveIn protestors; and a series of frightening cyber attacks that for brief periods commandeer all electronic devices. Superimpose the above on the November to December months of Dave Dawson’s run for president—the season of presidential primaries in New Hampshire—and you have Veil of Secrets, a contemporary story about politics, relationships, and morality in America by Shannon Ethridge and Kathy Mackel.

Lots of action, complications, and trouble in the characters’ lives drew me into the story from the opening chapter. These people are complex and well-developed with detailed pasts. The plot develops naturally as the veils covering those pasts keep getting torn away by events of the present.

The writing style is smart, punchy, and perfect for this fast-paced tale. Take, for example, this description of Tucker Keyes:

“He had tried veganism and Catholicism, yoga and Pilates, Madison Avenue and Wall Street, faith and cynicism, fine arts and day trades. And still the emptiness echoed inside him like an existential tinnitus” – KL 538.

The story deals with themes of marriage, sexual abuse, the impact of one’s sexual history on the rest of life, abortion, life in politics, and the place faith in God has in all the above. I found the counseling sessions, where Will and Melanie are forced to face the dynamics of their relationship, interesting and informative in the way they show readers strategies for uncovering roots of marital dysfunction and dealing with the exposed issues.

I really wanted to give this book five stars, I enjoyed it that much. But as the story progressed, the antics of Carrie put me off. The cavalier manner her trampy ways are portrayed (keeping two guys on the hook while she’s pregnant by a third) and then everything working out just fine for her, gave me pause. I felt that the authors’ depiction of her gives a sanitized version of sin and its consequences, thus the four stars.

I received Veil of Secrets as a gift from the publisher, Thomas Nelson, for the purpose of writing a review.

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I’m excited about launching a newsletter!

 

In it I’ll be sharing:

  • Book recommendations. I discover some wonderful books as a book reviewer.
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    Sample page from the 18-month Pathways Calendar.

    Author news.

The newsletter will come out quarterly (four times a year). I’m currently collecting subscribers for the September 1st launch.

Get Pathways, a colourful 18-month scripture-text calendar, when you sign up (designed by me especially for all you wonderful subscribers. Click on the sample page on the right to enlarge)!

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