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December 14th, 2012

Book Review: Starflower (Tales of Goldstone Wood) by Anne Elisabeth Stengl

You might have heard me say this before (ahem), but I am absolutely in love with Anne Elisabeth Stengl’s Tales of Goldstone Wood Christian fantasy series.  Having read fantasy since the time I was a wee girl saying that Stengl’s work is a must-have series is saying a lot.

Rich writing, heartbreakingly beautiful redemptive themes, vivid characterization, and what a world-builder!  Each progressive novel reveals more of this world she’s created for us.  Starflower surprisingly takes us hundreds of years into the past to reveal more back story and to fully examine characters who previously played only supporting roles in previous novels.

Uncovering Eanrn and Imraldera’s journeys made me ache to read back through the entire series to read their parts in a new light.  In all honest – each and every one of Stengl’s novels makes me want to do the same thing!  New parts of the world, its history, and workings are continually unfolded, creating an ever deepening understanding and unity between the novels.  Too bad the rest of my books are still in boxes after our move!

That being said, newcomers could jump in here, but I certainly wouldn’t want anyone to miss the rest of this beautiful series.  Since the first book – Heartless (my favorite) – is generally available as a free download, that is also a wonderful place to start!

I did find the story a bit more slow-moving than previous novels in the series and it took me a few more sittings to finish it than one of Stengl’s works normally does, but that could be the newborn in the house too.

I unreservedly recommend reading Starflower and the rest of the series, and – as alwas – I am eagerly anticipating the next release.  In fact, I think I could keep reading character-based explorations like this one for as long as Stengl will keep writing them!


Also available in all your favorite electronic formats :).

October 24th, 2012

CSFF Tour and Book Review: The Spirit Well (Bright Empires #3) by Stephen Lawhead

I just finished reading The Spirit Well – the third installment in The Bright Empires series, begun with The Skin Map and continued in The Bone House.  I just found out that there will be FIVE installments in the series in total and the next isn’t due out until next fall.  Sniff.

If you aren’t familiar with the series yet, it revolves around space-time travel through ley lines – forces of power that exist on the earth’s surface.  The author is careful (thankfully) not to tie these ley lines with any occultic meaning however.

Kit Livingstone and his comrades are rather new to the cause, and while they’ve been bumbling around a bit trying to sort out the situation, nefarious forces have sought to oppose them.  The key to the puzzle seems to be the Skin Map.  Made from the skin of an accomplished, systematic ley-traveller, the map is marked with cryptic symbols that map this way-paths integral to this method of travel.

In any case, I have read the series to date so far, and it’s becoming quite promising.  In the first two novels I wasn’t entirely sure what to think (as is often the case), and there are still some areas I’m still undecided on (like the author’s take on pre-historic peoples).

Still – this is an intriguing series nonetheless.  While the action has moved away from the search for the Skin Map and the direct conflict between the various parties seeking to obtain it, the book focuses instead on a loose, ever-shifting revealing of back-story.  As the characters jump to and fro through time and space, so do the threads that tie the story together, weaving it into a tighter and more connected whole.

We’re able to see the characters maturing and growing in self-confidence, fortitude, and intrepidness while we also see the author slowly and subtly weaving more faith-based threads into the story (though those remain loosely tied for now, and not at all directly related to the gospel and salvation to date).

As always, the writing style is engaging and varied between the different character’s voices (as they come from different locales and time periods).  There’s still enough drive to discover the mysteries at the heart of the series that my reading didn’t stall out at all.  I read solidly, even eagerly through the third novel (and was left hungry for more!)

There are still enough loose ends and undrawn conclusions that I’m not ready to whole-heartedly and unreservedly recommend the series until I’m sure I can see where it’s going.  I will say however, that it’s a well-written fascinating read that I’m thoroughly enjoying.


Don’t forget to visit the other CSFF tour bloggers as well!

Jim Armstrong
Julie Bihn
Red Bissell
Jennifer Bogart
Thomas Clayton Booher
Thomas Fletcher Booher
Beckie Burnham
Brenda Castro
Jeff Chapman
Karri Compton
Theresa Dunlap
Emmalyn Edwards
April Erwin
Victor Gentile
Jeremy Harder
Bruce Hennigan
Timothy Hicks
Janeen Ippolito
Becca Johnson
Jason Joyner
Carol Keen
Emileigh Latham
Rebekah Loper
Shannon McDermott
Meagan @ Blooming with Books
Rebecca LuElla Miller
Anna Mittower
Joan Nienhuis
Lyn Perry
Nathan Reimer
Chawna Schroeder
Rachel Starr Thomson
Robert Treskillard
Steve Trower
Dona Watson
Shane Werlinger
Phyllis Wheeler

October 21st, 2012

Book Review: Illusion by Frank Perretti

When I was asked to review a PDF copy of Frank Perretti’s latest release, Illusion, how could I say no?  It was Perretti after all.  It was essentially accepted sight (and plot) unseen and unknown.  In all honesty, I was a bit surprised.

When stage magician Dane loses his wife Mandy and magic partner of forty years, he is understandably devastated.  What is less understandable however, is when he meets a young woman who so deeply resembles his wife when he first met her that its frightening.

Dane soon finds himself plunged into a mystifying world of cutting-edge, secretive science research (read: science fiction) as he tries to unweave the tangles surrounding the arrival of this young woman in his life.  I can’t really say more than that without doing some major plot reveals, but let’s just say it’s pretty out there.

Long-time readers of Perretti might be surprised by the main-stream writing style that is present throughout the book – there isn’t a lot of faith thrown into the mix, as with his previous works.

In all honesty, I’m not sure I would have accepted a review copy if I’d known so much of the book would revolve around stage magic, tricks, theatrics, and the like.  At times it even seemed a bit occultish (but don’t worry, there is a sci-fi explanation for the events, even if it is complicated and hard to follow even for an experienced sci-fi reader).

The writing is still engaging, mysterious, with a good dose of, “What’s going on here?”  It’s a clean read, but not one with a significant spiritual message.


October 20th, 2012

Book Review: My First Handy Bible: Timeless Bible Stories for Toddlers by Cecilie Olesen

Opening with Creation and closing with the promise of happiness in heaven, My First Handy Bible presents 23 micro-Bible stories in chronological order over a total of 61 pages.

These brief Bible story re-tellings for toddlers range from three to five sentences in length in most cases and come with a verse reference if you’d like to dig deeper into the event being retold with your children.

I absolutely ADORE the design of this first Bible storybook – it comes with a sturdy, bright plastic handle, a clip to hold the pages closed, and sturdy board book pages.  We’ve been stuffing this book into our church bag every Sunday for our little ones to flip through during the service.

We’ve also read it together as a family where I had an enthralled audience of my 22 month-old, four-year-old, and six-year-old (who would often beg me to keep reading).  The very short stories are well suited for tiny attention spans, and we’d often read more than one at a time.

Unfortunately, I wasn’t keen on the artwork throughout – characters who should be portrayed as adults were instead shown as preschoolers and young children (though some were shown at appropriate ages as well).  Adam and Eve were tiny children, and Joseph was shown as a young lad even during his time in his position of power in Egypt for example.  Jesus is depicted as a fairly typical storybook Jesus – a man with straight, long hair.

That aside, all of our girls have really enjoyed this storybook Bible, its concise stories and illustrations featuring young children.


July 22nd, 2012

Book Review: Matthew and the Bullies (Helping Hands Books) by Sarah, Duchess of York

The Helping Hands series of books is designed to help you guide your child through difficult times of learning and adjusting in his life (new baby, bullying, strangers etc.)  Meant to be read by a parent to a child, the books also contain ten helpful tips at the end of each title by a child psychologist for parents – to help them know how best to support their child.

Thanks to our homeschooling experience our girls haven’t had to face bullying (thank God for homeschooling), but since I was sent Matthew and the Bullies randomly to review, I thought I’d read it to my girls and see what they thought.  While the main characters are boys, they really enjoyed the story about how Matthew struggled with bullying at school and how he (and very importantly – the adults in his life) worked together to solve the problem peacefully.

The artwork by Ian Cunliffe is cheerful and child-friendly, and while the story is a bit wordy, the fictional writing style keeps children engaged with the story – my girls have asked for repeat readings.  What I appreciate the most is the emphasis on encouraging children to turn tot he adults in their lives for assistance, and the emphasis on not fighting back, but looking for a peaceful solution.


July 16th, 2012

Book Review: Christian Writers’ Market Guide 2009 by Sally E. Stuart

The Christian Writers’ Market Guide is without a doubt, the most comprehensive reference for breaking into the Christian writing market out there.  This thick, directory-type book includes contacts for many markets (adult fiction, children’s, cartoons), contact information for getting in touch with libraries, magazine article markets, and even photography.  Literary agents are included, poetry markets, and even writing contests.

With 560 pages and 1000+ markets, the listings are comprehensive, including: annual printing volume (or submission acceptance rates), royalty rates, turn around time, guidelines, contact information, and many other pertinent details if they apply.  A CD is also included with all of these details available digitally if you’d like to speed up the search process.

The version of the guide that I have is a 2009 copy, but an updated 2012 version is also available for only a few dollars more, and it includes updated contact names and information.

If you are SERIOUS about writing in the Christian marketplace (and aren’t interested in going the blogging/self-publishing route), then this is one book you’ll certainly want on your shelf.  This is really a one-of-a-kind resource for Christian writers.


July 15th, 2012

Book Review: Vigilante by Robin Parrish

Robin Parrish always writes stories with interesting premises (though there is one in particular that I did not appreciate), so I was excited to read his latest – Vigilante.  Once again, Parrish certainly doesn’t disappointed with a cookie-cutter plot or one that has been rehashed too many times in Christian fiction circles.

Instead he delves straight into the action with a military hero – Nolan Gray – who stages his own death and sets up his own hidden, secret underground lair that he sets out to use to not only enforce his views of justice and righteousness.  He also uses this base and his support personnel to wage carefully planned publicity aimed to stir up the general populace to set things aright in a society gone wrong.

With plenty of super-hero action, high-tech gear, and intrigue, Parrish also manages to add just the lightest hint of romantic interest without it being inappropriate or taking over the storyline.  While the story may not provide an open and shut case for any specific position, it does encourage readers to ponder questions of justice, revenge, punishment, and others.

Like quite a few of Parrish’s offerings Vigilante makes a great read for men and anyone who enjoys high-action reads.  While holding to the clean writing style of Christian fiction and encouraging readers to think about God, it never bogs down in overt sentimentality or the strongly romantic themes that can often be prominent in the Christian marketplace in general.


July 14th, 2012

Book Review: Chosen Ones (The Aedyn Chronicles #1) by Alister McGrath

When Peter and Julia discover a mysterious silver garden outside of their grandparent’s home on a summer visit, they are swept away into a world, which appears beautiful, but hides dark secrets of slavery.  Called to think beyond themselves and offer themselves up as leaders of an in-progress revolution, the two siblings discover they possess mysterious powers that they must learn to harness to help those in need.

Fantasy is tricky for a reader like myself who feels that good characters shouldn’t use magic due to the Bible’s admonitions to avoid it at all costs.  Unfortunately the characters in Chosen Ones (book one of the Aedyn Chronicles) are definitely skirting the boundaries of my comfort levels.  While the gifts the children possess could be seen as supernatural giftings, their guide – a holy man of sorts – pretty much admits to be using a type of magic near the end of this first short novel for young adult readers.

If that wasn’t enough to discourage me from reading the rest of the series, I’m afraid the rather awkward writing style would – McGrath’s skill with the pen just isn’t enough to keep me interested in the rest of the series (even if the magic wasn’t an issue).

The Christian allegorical undertones are clearly present – the slaves worship a Creator God who they remain loyal to while being dominated by demonistic man-beings and the children are called to free them so the land of Aedyn can return to glory – there are enough points against this book to put it in my giveaway pile.

This book is deeply discounted at both AMAZON.COM and CHRISTIANBOOK.COM if you want to try it for yourself.

July 14th, 2012

Book Review: ESV Grow! Bible

The ESV Grow! Bible is a full Bible containing the complete ESV translation of both the Old and New Testaments along with helps for young readers from 8-12.  This is the regular ESV version presented in two columns – no simplification for younger readers – so your child will need to be a confident, independent reader to be able to read this Bible.

Spread throughout the text are information boxes tackling the big ‘W’s’ – Who, What, Where, When, Why, and How to help your child dig into the facts presented in the Bible and to help your child go deeper by making connections and providing additional information.  4U boxes help your child personally apply certain sections of scriptures to your child’s life.  Cross Connections boxes help to draw connections between scriptures and how they point to the gospel of Christ – both prophetically in the Old Testament, and more directly in the new.

Six section introductions are provided along with an introduction for each individual book of the Bible (fairly standard book introduction information but a mini-timeline for each book is included at the bottom of the page – which is super-neat).  A helpful glossary is included along with colorful timelines, maps, articles, and charts, to help your child explore the Word of God more deeply. Illustrations are included throughout, but respect the growing sensibilities of tween readers by using photo-realistic art in most cases, for a more ‘grown-up’ feeling.

I LOVE the mini-maps that are included in the ‘W’ boxes as appropriate – like “Where is Nineveh?” included right at the start of the book of Jonah with a helpful illustrated map.  The illustrated family trees, timelines, drawings of notable buildings, descriptions and explanations of certain cultural traditions that are foreign to most modern readers, and other inclusions are all excellent and truly helpful additions.

In a few instances, our family doesn’t agree with the ‘4U’ sections because we don’t hold to many institutional church traditions (Christmas, Easter etc.), that wouldn’t be a big concern for us – we always encourage our children to ask us any questions they have or if they are confused.

Perhaps most importantly is the emphasis of the additions on the gospel, continually pointing children towards God’s saving love and the sending of His Son to redeem us – to pay for our sins.  A clear gospel presentation is included in the first Cross Connections Article and the Cross Connection callouts throughout the book keep reminding readers of the incredibly goodness, mercy, and forgiveness of God.

The ESV Grow! Bible presents a great balance between a straight-up Bible that includes just the text itself, and a full-blown study Bible where the commentary, notes, etc. can overwhelm the text itself and often overshadow it.  Just enough helpful information is included to reveal and clarify the meaning of the scriptures themselves without getting heavily into adding layers of external meaning to the text, which I greatly appreciate.  The helps it does include make this edition of the ESV a great support for young, growing Christians.


July 13th, 2012

Book Review: Scream by Mike Dellosso

Mark Stone starts hearing a cacophony of agonizing screams when he talks with people on the telephone.  These screams are followed soon after by the death of the person he spoke to on the phone.  When he hears these same fearful screams when speaking to his wife (whom he is separated from) he springs into action as he tries to save her.

Though not Mike Dellosso’s first novel, Scream is the first work of his that I read.  Dellosso successfully weaves the strands of suspense, and redemption together into a fast-paced thriller.  While some parts of the novel are somewhat formulaic (such as the spiritual tie ins) and unsurprising, he does manage to pull off a surprise twist at the end that I didn’t see coming.

If you’re just starting to read Dellosso though, I recommend some of his later works – Darlington Woods or Darkness Follows (both of which I have also reviewed) in which his writing has become more polished.  Both offer premises that are more unique than a kidnapping style suspense story, and are more engaging because of it.  If you just can’t get enough Dellosso though, this is a decent novel – just not his best work.



Jennifer. Follower of Yeshua. Wife of one man. Homeschooling mother of 5.