Saturday, April 26, 2014

'Choking on a Camel' by Michal Ann McArthur

Choking on a CamelIn the spring of 1969, Alex Ferguson’s fiancĂ© breaks their engagement. A strong Calvinist, he’s stung by Alex’s sharp questions about predestination, determinism, and the eternal damnation of non-Christians, ideas that horrify Alex.

On June 20, 1969, Alex is forced to face her questions again when her atheist brother is killed in an accident. To think of her beloved younger brother in eternal torment is more than she can handle. Who is God, that He should predestine people to damnation? Her emotions start to unravel.

She returns for her senior year to her fundamentalist university in the heart of the smoldering, still largely segregated South, her mind burning with questions. She’s always been a devout believer, but now she’s not so sure she can continue in her faith. Under intense pressure from the school, outwardly she conforms, but inwardly, she’s seething. She lives a double life to cover up how she really feels. She wrestles with a God she wants to love, maybe hates, and definitely doesn’t understand.

That December, Alex’s older brother’s birth date is selected in the lottery and he’s drafted to fight in the Vietnam War, a war he doesn’t support and is ill-suited to fight. If God is in control of everything that happens, Alex concludes that He must have been in control of the lottery. Her anger and confusion deepen.

To find answers, she turns to her mentor, her maverick philosophy professor, the son-in-law of the university president. He’s embroiled in a battle of his own. He finds the university’s anti-intellectualism and the lack of tolerance for diverse opinions stultifying. He wants to leave, but his wife, mistaking loyalty to her father for loyalty to Almighty God, refuses to go.

As Alex and her professor work together, they become embroiled in a relationship that is both helping her and hurting her.

Alex Ferguson is an intelligent and devout young woman who attends a fundamental Bible College in the year 1970. Her intention has always been to soak in all she can about the nature of God, to be a blessing to the world and make her family proud. But now things have changed. She's close to the end of the course, but doubts and depression have crept in, which she keeps bottled up, knowing they will be highly inflammatory and unacceptable to the staff. Other students have been culled for being controversial and uncooperative, for voicing thoughts more mild than hers. And Alex has the reputation of being a good girl and reliable helper.

She is smothering family grief. Her younger brother, Jack, recently died in a horrific car smash, and her older brother, Mark, has dashed over the Canadian border to escape being called up to serve in the Vietnam War. Why has God allowed this, when she loved and prayed for both boys? Her parents have announced that they want a divorce. And her sister, Lauren, the most generous, loving and stable influence in Alex's life, is a self-proclaimed atheist. Alex is being peppered by observations of heartache and grief wherever she turns; deep poverty, injustice, cruelty. It's getting harder to go through the motions of declaring that God is in control, that His will prevails, and that she loves Him. She's like a simmering pot and I was reading on wondering if, and when, she would erupt.

Her favourite teacher at college is Dr Levi Wells, the president's handsome son-in-law, whose manuscript she's been proof-reading. He has similar issues to her regarding the college philosophy. I've rarely read another story in which temptation is written as such a believably slippery slope.

I appreciate it that this novel isn't one that traces and tries to justify the main character's slide into agnosticism. I've come across plenty of that type of book in the past. Alex retains her faith, but her gradual way of regarding God's mysterious ways and the role of personal choice is interesting. I can certainly relate to her, as somebody else with a history of covertly looking to others to be informed how to think and talk, and believing that dropping whatever you're doing to perform others' bidding should be an automatic 'nice' response. I also appreciate the glimmer of truth in some of her friends' suggestions that she may be wise to be less intense and look at the good around her instead of focusing on the bad. This is something all "Alexs" in the world may get better at with practise.

For anybody who has labored hard at something to the point of weaving your whole identity with it, and then figuring out that it's not what you thought at all, this is a touching read.

I would warn readers to be careful while reading the story. Alex has so much internal dialogue going on all through the story, you need to keep your eye out for the quotation marks to distinguish what she actually says from what she simply imagines herself saying, or wishes she dared say. But Michal Ann McArthur is a very skilful writer who creates wonderful images with words.

I'd recommend this as a must-read for those who say they avoid Christian fiction because they believe it has no depth or reality.

Finally, as 1970 is around the time I was born, I feel funny putting this on my 'historical fiction' shelf, but it definitely isn't contemporary. All the unrest in that time period makes it a good backdrop for the turmoil happening in Alex's heart.

5 stars

Choking on a Camel available from Amazon

'Ordering Your Private Life' by Gordon MacDonald

Ordering Your Private World
We have schedule planners, computerized calendars, and self-stick notes to help us organize our business and social lives everyday. But what about organizing the other side of our lives--the spiritual side?

One of the great battlegrounds of the new century is within the private world of the individual.The values of our Western culture incline us to believe that the busy, publicly active person in ministry is also the most spiritual.

Tempted to give imbalanced attention to the public world at the expense of the private, we become involved in more programs, more meetings. Our massive responsibilities at home, work, and church have resulted in a lot of good people on the verge of collapse.

In this timely update of his classic "Ordering Your Private World," Gordon MacDonald equips a new generation to live life from the inside out, cultivating the inner victory necessary for public effectiveness.

The premise of this book is that the pace of modern life is impossible to maintain without getting our spiritual tanks empty. So many people are running on the cheap fuels of talent, natural giftings, momentum and caffeine fixes instead of the depth and energy that comes from a purposeful decision to be slower, more honest and reflective. As we're all in this western lifestyle together, it's often impossible for us to perceive who is running on which type of fuel until cracks start appearing.

Gordon MacDonald has observed that many lives are sudden sinkholes waiting to happen, because the messages we get from the world encourage us to focus on the surface levels of our lives, including how they may look to others. There is a gaping chasm beneath this veneer which so often remains unfilled.

I loved his clear distinction between being 'driven' in your approach to life, as opposed to being 'called'. I get the impression driven people may tend to regard life with a 'what's in it for me' type of filter. They wear fatigue and stress as badges of honour. Gratified only by accomplishment and positive feedback, they read books and attend seminars with the sole aim of being even more productive. Although they may appear altruistic and heroic, in reality they are exhausted approval seekers, needing to constantly hear the words, "Well done". They are preoccupied with visible symbols of accomplishment, such as office sizes and social media followings. Their minds never stop ticking away, wondering how they can get better connected with other so-called "greats" in their field, all the while keeping their eyes open to see who is applauding them.

On the other hand, those who are 'called' have no need to grandstand or impress anyone, so they can take time to nurture their inner worlds. Knowing they aren't the centre of the universe, they take time to ponder the mysterious little things in the world. When they do give, they are free to do so out of a deep reservoir. And they don't bother keeping track of who's watching them, because they know that's not the issue of life.

The rest of the book consists of mindsets and practices we can try to set up to make sure we are 'called' rather than 'driven'. These include reading good books in a slow, thoughtful manner, letting their insights shape our lives. He also highly recommends keeping a journal of our inner processes and thoughts. I've been doing this for a long time anyway, but I loved his perspective that it's a type of prayer in its own right, making it easier for us to heed God's gentle insights and counsel.

We are given an example of two Biblical men, one driven and one called. King Saul wasted so much energy chasing David across the desert, convinced that getting rid of his perceived competition would prevent his shaky throne from toppling. MacDonald believes that if modern medical monitors had been available then, Saul's blood pressure and stress hormones would have been found to be sky high. However, John the Baptist lived a still life out in the desert, aware of the deeper undercurrents of life. When his followers suggested that Jesus' popularity might be threatening his own position, he was totally unconcerned, knowing it was as it should be.

Just the way this book is written forces us to slow down our racing thoughts and get calm and reflective. If you're like me, you might find that your mind is choppier than you would have thought. But reading this definitely helps make those ripples calmer.

5 stars

Ordering Your Private World available from Amazon

Thursday, April 24, 2014

'A Draw of Kings' by Patrick W Carr

A Draw of Kings (The Staff and the Sword #3)
Their journey to Merakh should have made Errol and his companions heroes of the realm. Instead, much is changed on their return. In the wake of the king’s death, Duke Weir is ruling the country–and his intentions are to marry Adora to bring an heir.
With Errol and the others imprisoned and the identity of the rightful heir to the throne still hidden in secrecy, Illustra is on the verge of civil war–and at growing risk from the armies of Merakh and Morgol.
A dangerous mission to free Errol succeeds, but the dangers facing the kingdom are mounting with every passing moment. The barrier has fallen, ferals are swarming toward the land, and their enemies draw near. Will the revelation of Illustra’s next true king come in time or will all be lost?

You must read 'A Cast of Stones' and 'The Hero's Lot' before this final book of the trilogy. This review includes a few spoilers from those first two books.

It's exciting to see all the loose ends tied up. The huge war, precipitated by King Rodran's death, is inevitable. The need for a new king is desperate, but Luis' carved lots still refuse to cooperate and give a straight answer of either Liam or Errol. This time, we have three points of view to follow, Errol's, Martin's and Adora's. Things are happening everywhere and the attempted grab for royalty by the corrupt Weir family is just the start.

To summarise quickly, Martin and co. accompany Karele on a quest to find his father, Ablijin, and gain the support of his people. Princess Adora is chosen to journey back to the Shadow Land exiles to consolidate their support. And Errol and co. are on a mission to recover the holy Book and return it to the Church.

Princess Adora shows yet another side of herself, the fierce warrior princess who will do anything to stand by her man. Her royal position provides her the opportunity to give Errol's old tormentor, Pater Antil, what he's had coming to him for years. Yet I can't help feeling that, all along, he's already reaped his actions without knowing it. Robbing himself of the chance to have a relationship with such an awesome son is surely more terrible than what Adora puts him through (for which I loved her. Her relationship with Errol is one of my favourites). What Antil says at the end of his last scene is thought-provoking and hard to shake away.

The big question which keeps us turning pages is answered brilliantly. Why did the lots keep delivering a tied result? I can understand how Luis, who put hours into his cast lots over 6 years, would call himself a dunce for overlooking it. What a clever twist - and how intriguing. The human agents were getting flustered and confused,but as far as the impersonal lots were concerned, they were giving just what they were asked for.

I do have a minor gripe or two about the ending. Not for what was there, which was fantastic as usual, but for what wasn't there! Those last few chapters seemed a bit gappy in some ways. I was disappointed to have no passage from Errol's point of view after the events of his big moment. We've been with him every breath of his journey, since he was a drunk in Callowford, cheering him on. Not having any processing of the major climax of events in his head left me feeling a bit cheated. In a way, it felt as if he was distancing himself from me as well as from the kingdom folk, and being one of his biggest fans, I didn't appreciate the distance. Still, that won't affect my final opinion of what I call a 5+ star series.

Having completed the trilogy, I'll be recommending it to all, including fantasy lovers I know who have objected to the magic element in other series such as 'Harry Potter.' There is no hocus pocus in the Staff and the Sword trilogy, but plenty of spiritual warfare. Everything is based on the Bible, including the old church system of lot casting. The Illustrian concept of the Holy Trinity is a mirror of ours and there is rich symbolism reflecting the story of Redemption. If you're looking for a stunning fantasy series, these books are a must-read. I'm sure you'll find Errol and his friends well worth it.

5 stars

Draw of Kings, A (The Staff and the Sword) available from Amazon

'Grabbing your Destiny by the Horns' by William Gabienu

What do you want from your life? What makes you unique? Are you searching for the love of God?

Discover the keys to living out the dreams of your heart in this riveting masterpiece by author William Gabienu: Grabbing Your Destiny by the Horns: Finding Your Place in Life.

This book unveils to you your uniqueness and tremendous strengths and abilities as an individual. It also exposes to you the blueprints you require to start living out your dream and purposeful life.

This is a fairly short book which it is possible to read in a couple of hours.

The author sets the scene by explaining how our purposes are always easily discovered running in the direction of our most compelling personal dreams and desires. It's a good place to start from, as it has sometimes surprised me how often we tend to overlook this pivotal point, choosing instead to feel guilty for focusing on what makes us happy, instead of what others might choose for us.

As following this isn't as simple as it sounds, he goes on to explain how to heed what he calls the language of our hearts. This includes such advice as riding to our own destined place of honour as king, rather than 'ending up lost as a stranger in a world made for another.' It's reminiscent of essays by old-timers such as Henry David Thoreau.

The book goes on to explain that desire without action is dead, and offers effective methods to approach problems and difficulties. It lists 'dream poisoners' we should watch out for, because being alert to their presence gives us tools not to let them sweep us away.

He spends a chunk discussing how important it is to not be be caught up in the sort of competitive attitudes which lead to rivalry and antagonism. And in spite of the nature of the book (not to mention the title) urging us to take action in shaping our own lives, he warns of the dangers of falling into the pitfall of perfectionism.

Perhaps my favourite part is toward the end, when he urges us not to despise small beginnings. God always sees far beyond what is present and apparent directly in front of us, so our tendency to feel hedged in by supposed limitations may be one of our fatal mistakes.

The enthusiastic tone makes this easy-to-read book something which may lift your mood on a lazy afternoon.

I received a free copy from the author in return for an honest review.

3.5 stars

 Grabbing Your Destiny By The Horns: Finding Your Place in Life available from Amazon

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

'Rooms' by James L Rubart

On a rainy spring day in Seattle, young software tycoon Micah Taylor receives a cryptic, twenty-five-year-old letter from a great uncle he never knew. It claims a home awaits him on the Oregon coast that will turn his world inside out. Suspecting a prank, Micah arrives at Cannon Beach to discover a stunning brand new nine-thousand square foot house. And after meeting Sarah Sabin at a nearby ice cream shop, he has two reasons to visit the beach every weekend. When bizarre things start happening in the rooms of the home, Micah suspects they have some connection to his enigmatic new friend, Rick, the town mechanic. But Rick will only say the house is spiritual. This unnerves Micah because his faith slipped away like the tide years ago, and he wants to keep it that way. But as he slowly discovers, the home isn’t just spiritual, it’s a physical manifestation of his soul, which God uses to heal Micah’s darkest wounds and lead him into an astonishing new destiny. 

It seems the blurb and cover of this book led some reviewers to think this would be a haunted house story. It's actually something like a Christian version of "Sliding Doors" which intrigued me from the start.

Micah Taylor is a young business tycoon in the computer software industry. One day, he receives a letter from a great-uncle who's been dead for twelve years, informing him that a new coastal home has just been completed for him to inherit.

The house turns out to have creepy goings-on behind the doors of various rooms, and weird things filter in to every aspect of Micah's life. People he was with on certain occasions are sure their meetings never happened, while apparent strangers seem to think he should remember them well. And what about his car clocking up thousands of kilometres unexpectedly?

Micah is pulled between two worlds and thinks he can pick and choose the best of both. On one side is his company, fellow-founder and recent girlfriend, Julie, fame, money, international trips, influence. On the other, is his new reflective life at the coast, with the friendship of Rick, the enigmatic mechanic, and the lovely Sarah who works at the local ice-cream parlour. Micah discovers that his two lives are mutually exclusive in a riveting battle for his soul.

Although it's not difficult for the discerning reader to figure out which influence Micah should flee from, the predictability is not the point of the story. What earned it five stars from me is that the evil influence came across sounding so chillingly reasonable and even godly. I'm sure I won't be the only one who realises that I've been duped by similar voices at various times in my life.

And who hasn't sometimes wondered what our life might have looked like had we chosen another path that seemed an attractive option at the time? As I can't do it myself, I enjoy getting drawn into stories such as Micah's.

5 stars
   Rooms: A Novel available from Amazon

'The Apothecary's Daughter' by Julie Klassen


As Lilly toils in her father's apothecary shop, preparing herbs and remedies by rote, she is haunted by memories of her mother's disappearance. Villagers whisper the tale, but her father refuses to discuss it. All the while, she dreams of the world beyond --- of travel and adventure and romance.

When a relative offers to host her in London, Lilly discovers the pleasures and pitfalls of fashionable society and suitors, as well as clues about her mother. But will Lilly find what she is searching for --- the truth of the past and a love for the future?

I felt this novel was a time-machine drawing me back to Jane Austen's regency era in the most fabulous way.

The four possible suitors for Lilly's hand were intriguing. There's the gruff, rakish son of the local nobleman, who frightens everybody. Then there's a timid, but thoughtful young doctor with self-esteem and confidence issues. Third is the rival apothecary who sets up in opposition to her father, and has an undeniable Casanova appeal. Finally, there's her father's former awkward apprentice, who has grown to be unexpectedly quite dishy. I wasn't taken by surprise by her final choice. He's the one I would have chosen too and I was cheering him on all the way. The fact that he was also athletic and handsome was just a bonus. He and Lilly were the perfect match in principle and integrity. What I appreciated about her was the way in which she knew her London 'season' was probably over for good but chose to stay at home because it was just the right thing to do. She was richly rewarded.

The book highlights what really matters in life in a beautiful, easy-to-swallow way. I found Lilly's relationship with her father and her brother, Charlie deeply moving too. I noticed some reviewers expressed disappointment with the way the mystery about Lilly and Charlie's mother was wrapped up, but I thought it true to life. ""POSSIBLE SPOILER"" A guinea pig may have been harmed within the pages of this book, 

5 stars

  The Apothecary's Daughter available from Amazon

'The Tutor's Daughter' by Julie Klassen

The Tutor's Daughter
Emma Smallwood, determined to help her widowed father regain his spirits when his academy fails, agrees to travel with him to the distant Cornwall coast, to the cliff-top manor of a baronet and his four sons. But after they arrive and begin teaching the younger boys, mysterious things begin to happen and danger mounts. Who does Emma hear playing the pianoforte, only to find the music room empty? Who sneaks into her room at night? Who rips a page from her journal, only to return it with a chilling illustration?

The baronet's older sons, Phillip and Henry, wrestle with problems--and secrets--of their own. They both remember Emma Smallwood from their days at her father's academy. She had been an awkward, studious girl. But now one of them finds himself unexpectedly drawn to her.

When the suspicious acts escalate, can the clever tutor's daughter figure out which brother to blame... and which brother to trust with her heart?

Emma Smallwood's widowed father is offered the private job of tutoring Sir Giles Weston's two youngest sons, Rowan and Julian. She accompanies him to Ebbington Manon to assist him, full of nerves at the idea of encountering the twins' older brothers, who had both attended the Smallwood's academy in the past. She looks forward to catching up with Phillip, who she had a crush on, but dreads seeing Henry, who used to tease and pull pranks on her. Little does she know all that's in store for her at the Weston family's cliff side mansion. Strange nocturnal visits, anonymous notes pushed beneath her door and the theft of her private journal.

I loved this book for many reasons. There's nothing like an intriguing historical novel with a cup of tea for a bit of luxury. This one had elements of Jane Austen and the Brontes. It also made me think of Daphne DuMaurier's classic, "Jamaica Inn" with its shipwrecks along the treacherous Cornish coast and the unscrupulous 'wreckers' who took advantage of their situation. It was the ideal setting for extreme villainy and heroism.

I felt as if I knew and understood each of the characters, even the not so likeable ones. I was delighted when the story ended with a marriage proposal from the man who was so clearly right for Emma, but I'd love to know how his stepmother took the news, and his brothers. Coming back to the twenty-first century was a bit of a rude jolt so I took the chance to re-read the story over again, to pick up the significance of some the happenings which were shrouded with mystery the first time through.

5 stars
 Tutor's Daughter, The, available from Amazon

Monday, April 21, 2014

'The Hero's Lot' by Patrick W Carr

The Hero's Lot (The Staff and the Sword, #2)
Riveting Sequel from Christian Fantasy's Most Talented New Voice
When Sarin Valon, the corrupt secondus of the conclave, flees Erinon and the kingdom, Errol Stone believes his troubles have at last ended. But other forces bent on the destruction of the kingdom remain and conspire to accuse Errol and his friends of a conspiracy to usurp the throne.
In a bid to keep the three of them from the axe, Archbenefice Canon sends Martin and Luis to Errol's home village, Callowford, to discover what makes him so important to the kingdom. But Errol is also accused of consorting with spirits. Convicted, his punishment is a journey to the enemy kingdom of Merakh, where he must find Sarin Valon, and kill him. To enforce their sentence, Errol is placed under a compulsion, and he is driven to accomplish his task or die resisting.

You need to read book 1, A Cast of Stones, before reading this one.

In this sequel, we have two points of view with divergent threads. Those evil forces who know our hero, Errol's, importance seem desperate to wipe out his perceived threat. Once again he is put under compulsion, this time by enemies within the church, to embark on a hopeless quest to ferret out and kill the corrupt Sarin Valon. Although they won't come out and say it, it's clearly intended to be a murder mission. At the same time, Martin Arwitten, the priest, along with Luis and Kruk, returns to Callowford, hoping to look into the histories of Liam and Errol to clarify the mysteries of the devastating split cast.

I thought I'd miss having the story told solely from Errol's point of view, but Martin's part turns out to be gripping and necessary. I was quite happy to go back and forth, as both threads have plenty of excitement, not the least of which is the shock revelation of Errol's parentage during Martin's return to Callowford. Another intriguing part of Martin's story is seeing him learn that his long-cherished church traditions may, in fact, be limited. It's fun to read his amazement as it becomes clear that the so-called 'unknowable' Aurae, (the Illustrian term for the Holy Spirit) may well be knowable after all, trumping the ancient system of lot casting. His painful quandary about how he's going to tell the church is very real. But my favourite part of his story is seeing him grapple with an emotional self-imposed compulsion he puts upon himself.

I love the two main female characters. Opposites in many ways, they are each equally strong and admirable.

Princess Adora, forced into a betrothal with the despicable bully, Lord Weir, decides to follow Errol on his compulsion to Merakh, and who would blame her? Near the end of 'A Cast of Stones' I'd been concerned that she might turn out to be a typecast beautiful princess, a mere token romantic interest to keep Errol in Erinon. I was delighted to see her strength of character shine through in this story, making her more complex.

I loved seeing the delicacy of their feelings for each other being played out. It's touching, to watch this confident princess, brought up in privilege and luxury, seriously wondering if she is indeed worthy of our former drunken street urchin, who in turn melts whenever he's near her. If you're romantically inclined, you'll love the scene with the rose.

And Rokha Ru is back again, a great tough, colourful character who keeps getting better. She's so sultry and exotic, and her humour and tendency to call a spade and spade embellish the storyline.

Once again, Errol's character makes the story phenomenal. He retains his perfect combination of vulnerability and heroism, set off by his naivety and ignorance of all that vitally concerns him. His inferiority complex and lack of confidence still come into play at times, and his empathy and compassion are as large as ever. As we still haven't fathomed the mystery of why the lots indicate both him and Liam for Sotoregia, getting straight to the conclusion, 'A Draw of Kings' is vital.

5 stars

 Hero's Lot, The (The Staff and the Sword) available from Amazon

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

'A Cast of Stones' by Patrick W. Carr

A Cast of Stones (The Staff and the Sword, #1)An Epic Medieval Saga Fantasy Readers
Will Love

In the backwater village of Callowford, Errol Stone's search for a drink is interrupted by a church messenger who arrives with urgent missives for the hermit priest in the hills. Desperate for coin, Errol volunteers to deliver them but soon finds himself hunted by deadly assassins. Forced to flee with the priest and a small band of travelers, Errol soon learns he's joined a quest that could change the fate of his kingdom.

Protected for millennia by the heirs of the first king, the kingdom's dynasty is near an end and a new king must be selected. As tension and danger mount, Errol must leave behind his drunkenness and grief, learn to fight, and come to know his God in order to survive a journey to discover his destiny.

Everyone recognises Errol Stone as the village drunk, and he's not yet nineteen years old. His one ambition is to earn a bit of money for his next fix of ale, so he won't fall apart. When a strange messenger wants a secret parcel delivered to Pater Martin, the reclusive priest, Errol is quick to volunteer. He knows the pay will keep sobriety at bay for at least another week, but comes to wish he hadn't bothered.

He never expects to be plunged, unwittingly, into the dangerous tension of church and politics. Opening his mouth to remark that he can see writing on a strange carved stone is his first big mistake. He is whisked away as a pawn in some weird game he can't understand, along with Liam, the village good boy, who seems perfect in every way. While he can understand why Liam, who can apparently do no wrong, may be desirable, he's at a loss to figure out why he's being dragged along too.

It's satisfying to see a main character develop from a pathetic alcoholic and self-proclaimed waste of space to a sharp and quick-witted young man who must remain on his guard every moment. Every time I picked up the book and said, "I wonder what Errol's up to," it was bound to involve intense intrigue, adrenaline and many secrets. There are the secrets he kept himself, which gradually unfold helping us to understand why he became a drunk at the age of 14. Then there are other secrets which he remains clueless about. Even the friends who want to train him up to be a reader of cast lots don't know. We don't know either. It seems only the baddies know.

The great question keeping us turning the pages is often uttered from the mouths of many different characters. 'What makes you so important, boy?" If only we knew. At a loss to answer, Errol doesn't have a lot of time to think about it, between having to defend himself from vicious murder attempts.

At the finish, my first move was to get hold of the second book, 'The Hero's Lot' on my kindle, as quickly as possible. It feels as if I'm under a compulsion, as Errol was to get to the city of Erinon. This book should come with a warning, "Don't start unless you're prepared to put time aside for an epic trilogy." If the next two books are anything like this one, I'm sure it will be.

5 stars

 Cast of Stones, A (The Staff and the Sword Book #1) available from Amazon

'Claiming Mariah' by Pam Hillman

Claiming Mariah
In light of her father's death, Mariah Malone sends a letter that will forever alter the lives of her family. When Slade Donovan, strong willed and eager for vengeance, shows up on her front porch, Mariah is not ready to hear his truths: her father's farm, the only home she's ever known, was bought with stolen gold. With Slade ready to collect his father's rightful claim and force Mariah and her family out on the streets, Mariah must turn to God for guidance. Though Mr. Frederick Cooper, a local landowner, promises to answer her financial woes if she agrees to be his bride, Mariah finds herself drawn instead to the angry young man demanding her home.With the ranch now under Slade's careful eye, he will unearth more than he ever imagined as a devious plot of thievery, betrayal and murder threatens more than the well-being of the ranch, endangering the lives of those who hold it dear. With days dwindling until the rest of the Donovan clan arrive to the Lazy M ranch, Mariah and Slade must rise above the resentment of their fathers and see their true feelings before greed alters their futures forever.
I felt like sitting back with a good, clean romance set in yesteryear and that's exactly what I got.

Without warning, a brusque young man sweeps into Mariah Malone's front yard and informs her that her childhood home never actually belonged to her family. Her father swindled his over some gold years ago, and it turns out that his father's name was the only one on the deed. He's decided to evict her. Yet although he wants Mariah gone so that he can start over, Slade Donovan isn't heartless enough to toss her out on the spot. He agrees to let her stay long enough to tie up loose ends and get a bit of money together before she and her grandmother are out in the cold.

There's an entertaining amount of friction from the start, making us wonder how the pair of them could possibly sort out their differences, let alone fall in love. The gradual attraction is convincingly written on both sides.

Both main characters are likeable and their points of view easy to understand. Mariah behaves with dignity and comes across as tender-hearted and sweet, although she has a few foibles. She gets cranky when Slade jumps to what may seem an automatic conclusion about her sister, Amanda, and decides not to be forthcoming. I understand that choosing to withhold information adds mystery and thickens the plot, but is it completely in character? She didn't get that mad at him when he announced that he was kicking her off her home and land. I think it just worked, because a little feminine inconsistency doesn't hurt a great story.

Slade is suitably swoonworthy. He's the typical handsome, rugged tough guy who we can't help loving for the empathy he feels, whether he chooses to or not. The town of Wisdom is an ideal nineteenth century backdrop for a good show-down between good guys and crooks. And I did appreciate that, even though this is a romance, we see that both Slade and Mariah are prepared to work very hard, as people did to stay alive.

Overall, it's a book to make you happy when you feel like a treat, and I'm sure I'll be reading it again someday, for that reason.

4 stars

 Claiming Mariah available from Amazon

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Win a copy of 'Imogen's Chance' from Goodreads

Goodreads Book Giveaway

Imogen's Chance by Paula Vince

Imogen's Chance

by Paula Vince

Giveaway ends May 05, 2014.
See the giveaway details at Goodreads.
Enter to win

Thursday, April 3, 2014

'Marcus Varitor - Centurion' by Anne Baxter Campbell

Marcus Varitor, Centurion (Truth Trilogy #2)
Marcus, son of Senator Decimus Varitor, is a decanus in the Roman cohort in Jerusalem. His tribune hints at a promotion to centurion if Marcus can bring in Barabbas. There are really only two things Marcus really wants—to be a centurion and to win the love of an Egyptian girl. When Meskhanet is sent to Rome on a slave ship and Marcus is captured by the very brigand he’s supposed to apprehend, those hopes may both evaporate faster than a small puddle under the hot desert sun.

Wow, what a non-stop romp through the Roman Empire. I'm not kidding, there are back-to-back adventures all the way through, very dramatic, but also quite believable for this time period. I can imagine it as a TV series in which we have to wait, impatiently, for each new weekly episode.

Although I hadn't read the first book in this series, it was easy to pick up the plot. Marcus is a young soldier charged with the job of capturing Barabbas, a crook who turns out to be just as slippery as he was in the gospels. I like the way Barabbas was portrayed in this story, justifying his own warped and extreme principles. It seems fluky escapes were his established pattern. Realising Barabbas' dangerous character, Marcus tries a few unorthodox ways of getting hold of him, but they backfire badly. He finds out that it's not necessarily wise to go ad lib when you might end up getting yourself crucified.

Meanwhile, Meskhanet, the Egyptian slave girl who Marcus loves, has to wriggle out of one peril after another. It is definitely a precarious time for a lovely young girl with no family or personal effects to be alive in. Only her own resourcefulness and God's grace save her from the unscrupulous time and again.

There's a lovable cast of supporting characters. I really liked Rebecca, the sad old Jewess who wondered why her son, Barabbas, had gone so far off the straight and narrow. Then there's Septus, Marcus' cute little half brother, who steals every scene he's in. And Dinah and David, the 10-year-old twins who were bought by Marcus and his family. (Notice I said 'bought' and not 'adopted'.)

The story takes place partly in Caesaria, partly in Rome, partly in the desert wilderness and partly on the sea. What it takes to hold a book of this scope together is a hero with courage, intelligence, resourcefulness, a bit of cunning, and a kind heart. As Marcus is definitely all of that, and handsome as well, it worked great for me.

I received a copy from the author in return for an honest review.

4 stars

 Marcus Varitor,Centurion - Book Two - The Truth Trilogy available from Amazon

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

"Astonished" by Mike Erre

In Astonished, Pastor Mike Erre calls Christians away from simplistic formulas to honest and rugged faith in the mysterious and unpredictable God. God is more about deepening the mystery of faith, not removing it. Jesus should get bigger the longer we walk with him. Life and faith should grow to be more profound and wondrous, not less. In Astonished, you will see how we are far more comfortable with tips, steps and techniques for living, than we are with ruthlessly trusting the mysterious God of the Bible. God asks us to follow him into tension, frustration, and difficulty because he wants our trust, not just our intellectual agreement. He calls us to seek Him even as we live in awe of all that is yet to be known about Him. Astonished is an invitation to question in a culture that wants answers, to wonder in a world with little mystery left, and to believe in what is unseen and find it beautiful.

This book prompts us to look at the deep and honest questions we have about God, particularly those frustrating ones we tend to poke into the background, because there seems no point in wondering. Why are desert times said to be 'necessary' in our relationship with God, when we don't have them with significant fellow humans? Why does He keep Himself hidden like a kid playing hide and seek? And one I've often grappled with at different times, why should we even want to be friends with Him, if He behaves so coy and perverse? After all, human parents don't hang back, and stay silent and aloof when their children ask them questions.

It was refreshing to come across a book which is so direct in asking such things. Mike Erre understands why it may be easy to wonder if there is, in fact, something wrong with us, and our receivers. His observations about our end of the communication were interesting, indicating that some of our problems may be to do with assumptions we've made, which originated with vocal Christians and not with God.

He examines how we often choose to come to God out of self-interested motives, rather than simply wanting to know Him for His own sake. He points out possible flaws in our methods of sharing Him with others. Jesus Himself never felt the need to dazzle people into His kingdom, as modern Christians often seemed compelled to do, making them come across the same way as those annoying steak-knife salesmen. He was content with obscurity, and felt no pressure to polish up His message to make it more palatable for the crowds. If people wanted to pursue other options, He simply let them. And if we want to present Him as something He never presented Himself, that's our problem.

Are all of the questions answered completely? No, but if there was any way they could be, the title of this book couldn't be called "Astonished". God's mysterious and surprising ways of working are part of His character. This book's intent seemed to be to help us find out more about God, and as a bonus, it helps us find out more surprising things about ourselves, including dodgy motives and counterproductive ways to trying to probe the mystery. I enjoyed it.

I received a copy from Net Galley and David C Cook in return for an honest review.

4 stars

 Astonished: Recapturing the Wonder, Awe, and Mystery of Life with God available from Amazon