Sunday, February 23, 2014

Review: Cloak of the Light

"Cloak of the Light," the first novel in Chuck Black's War of the Realms series is a great young adult Christian fantasy that leaves the faithful reader wanting much more after an appropriate, but cliff hanger conclusion.

The story follows Drew Carter after an accident leaves him with heightened "superhero" senses and the ability to see light and dark "invaders" fighting to influence the world. But that does not happen until about 70 pages into the book.

The first 70 pages or so are spent on Drew's time in high school and history with a father who died in the Army. The characters and premise are enough to keep you reading if you have patience to get through these early chapters, which seem to come straight out of every predictable high school sob story. Black could have easily incorporated Drew's back story into the rest of the book and kept those readers who will likely give up after a few pages of high school drama.

Black's writing style itself is fine. Nothing special. Very straight forward without much description to make it interesting. An easy read. Black's own experience as a fighter pilot does influence his choice to name every kind of gun present in the novel - needless details most of the time.

I read through this book very quickly and enjoyed it for the most part, despite its quirky cons and non-descriptive writing style. It's a good Christian fantasy that comes with a reader's guide exploring spiritual warfare in a tasteful way. Any Christian who loves young adult novels should enjoy "Cloak of Light." I hope to read its sequels soon.

*Disclaimer: I received this book for free in exchange for my honest review.

Review: Wildwood Creek

Lisa Wingate has a good mystery going in "Wildwood Creek." Although the novel unravels slowly, it seems worth the time as the characters are interesting and there's always an element of "not knowing" that makes the reader want to read on. 

But the big reveals happens so quickly and suddenly, and without enough of a buildup, that in the end "Wildwood Creek" is rather unsatisfying. The two romances are so minor, they're almost nonexistent and not enough to give the story substance. Wingate tells the Civil War period-set story in present tense and the modern story in past tense, an odd and off-putting switch of narration modes. Her writing styles is wonderful, but her story feels incomplete.

*Disclaimer: I received this book for free in exchange for my honest review.

Plot Description: Allie Kirkland has always heard the call of her father's unfinished destiny. When she's offered a production assistant's job on a docudrama filming in the hills near Moses Lake, Texas, the dream of following in her director-father's footsteps suddenly seems within reach. The reenactment of the legendary frontier settlement of Wildwood is a first step into the film industry. A summer on set in the wilderness is a small price to pay for a dream. 
But in 1861, the real Wildwood held dangerous realities. Town founder Harland Delavan held helpless residents, including young Irish schoolteacher Bonnie Rose, in an iron grip. Mysterious disappearances led to myths and legends still retold in the region's folk songs. Eventually, the entire site was found abandoned. When filming begins, strange connections surface between Allie and the teacher who disappeared over a century ago, and everyone in Wildwood--including Blake Fulton, Allie's handsome neighbor on the film set--seems to be hiding secrets. Allie doesn't know whom she can trust. If she can't find the answers in time, history may repeat itself...with the most unthinkable results.

Monday, February 10, 2014

Review: Claiming Mariah

It starts slow and takes some patience to get to the good parts, but in the end "Claiming Mariah" is an enjoyable Christian romance. The intriguing story follows a woman attracted to the man who takes her land away and whose family has an unpleasant past relationship with her recently deceased father. Meanwhile, someone is rustling the Lazy M's cattle and a "clean, rich" man seeks Mariah's hand in marriage. 

Author Pam Hillman slowly unveils her characters, and although that slower pace means the central plot conflict does not arrive until a third of the way through the book, it does allow for character development. Mariah and love interest Slade Donovan are both endearing characters. Hillman tells the majority of the story from their point of view, occasionally taking a very quick detour to tell the story from a ranch hand's point of view. These detours annoyed me a bit. If the extra bits needed to be told at all, I at least wanted more from them. Still, Hillman tastefully used what little she revealed in these detours to lead up to a big finish.

A few other things, such as the simultaneous obvious love and kissing between the two main characters and their insistence on the impossibility of the match. But the last third of "Claiming Mariah" is a page turner. It was a worthwhile read with gentle touches on themes of trusting in God and believing in Him.

*Disclaimer: I received this book for free in exchange for my honest review.

Sunday, February 9, 2014

Review: No Cape Required: A Devotional 52 Ways to Unleash Your Inner Hero

I requested "No Cape Required" out of a curiosity stemming from my desire to write a similar devotional of sorts (one based on musicals rather than pop culture films and books). The devotional takes characters from everything from Toy Story to The Green Mile, from Little Women to The Hunger Games. Author Kristen Parrish draws out character traits from each of these characters and compares them to biblical morals and how we might use them.

For each very short chapter, Parrish provides an opening verse, a pull out quote, a prayer and a list of applications for the day's lessons. Anyone who finds herself generally able to get inspiration from short devotionals in general will enjoy this book, especially if she also happens to like the characters on display. On a personal level, though, I wanted something deeper. I found I could not relate to or put into action the many suggested applications as there are too many and the majority don't really apply to me and what I am capable of. 

Putting that aside, though, what really bothered me was that Parrish spent half or more of each devotion relating the plot I already knew and then gave a few sentences of simple conclusion. I need something deeper in order for lessons to stick, and I really wanted Parrish to spend more time on the lessons. I found that some of the lessons she drew were a bit of a stretch, others chose certain lessons over ideas that seemed obvious to me. Lastly, I really would have liked to have seem more on how these character traits point to our need for God.

To sum it up - this is an interesting concept for a devotional, and it works well as a devotional, but I would really like to see it expanded into a full book that explores these characters and allegories for the Bible on a deeper level.

*Disclaimer: I received this book for free in exchange for my honest review of it.

Saturday, February 8, 2014

Review: Unstoppable by Nick Vujicic

I was pleasantly surprised to find enough references to the true Gospel in Nick Vujicic's second book so as to not worry my critical suspicions of finding yet another prosperity gospel teacher.

He encourages readers to accept and love themselves and states that each individual is special with a unique purpose. My cynical nature generally dislikes statements along this "come as you are" line because I feel it leaves no room for "change because you love God and you love Christ" and leaves a lot of room for people in certain sins to say, "God loves me as I am, I don't need to change. There's no such thing as sin." I would have liked to see a disclaimer on these things.

But as I originally stated, there are enough hints of the Gospel, of the message of saving grace in Christ, to satisfy me. And I suppose preaching the Gospel is not Nick's purpose so much as it is to encourage people to conquer their trials and to persevere and find joy in life despite hard setbacks.

And Nick does accomplish that. I rather enjoyed the first half of his book when he spoke of "faith in action." Still, I found it difficult to relate to his many stories of people taking big steps for God. What about those of us who never feel called to become a missionary or do something hugely unselfish for God? And the great majority of Nick's book is made up of these inspiring stories. In fact, he takes a couple chapters to go off track on subjects that deserve their own books like bullying (and for that reason I did not enjoy the second half of his book as much).

Beyond those nit picking points, I really can't complain about the book. It does what it sets out to do. It's generally inspiring. And I actually did surprisingly underline quite a bit.

*Disclaimer: I received this book for free in exchange for my honest review.

Saturday, February 1, 2014

Review: The Dancing Master

I expected Julie Klassen's "The Dancing Master" to be a Christian Jane Austen version of the film/musical "Footloose," a musical I really don't care for at all. But although the main conflict in Klassen's book focuses on a small village's unspoken ban on dancing, I found that the story was more about the growth of its various characters than about a rule on dance.

In fact, the characters were all extremely charming, especially leading lady Julia, a flirt constantly seeking the approval from men that she never received from her unpleasant father. Dancing master Alec Valcourt, a true gentleman almost too honorable to be real, falls in love with the young woman. At first, she aims to go against her mother's wishes in seeking out dancing lessons, but as the two interact and secrets come to light, their forbidden romance turns into a wonderful example of how people can help each other grow.

Klassen also includes plenty of revealing and new secrets, circumstances and characters to keep her readers guessing (and staying up until 3 AM to find out how it will all end). My only complaint is that the book starts and ends with a chapter written in first person by Julia, while the rest is written in third person. But the rest of the book is beautifully written with endearing characters and a fantastic story line.

*Disclaimer: I received this book for free in exchange for my honest review of it.