Tag Archives: book review

Book Review:: The Blessed by Ann H. Gabhart

15 Jul

The Blessed by Ann M. Gabhart is a fascinating look into the Shakers, a religious sect particularly active  between the 1830’s-1860’s.  Since the Shakers believed that Christ’s earthly return was going to happen in their lifetimes, the Shakers forbid their community to marry and have children.  With such a practice in place, it is no wonder that Shaker movement, for the most part, died out in a generation and a half.   In the fourth of her Shaker-inspired books, Gabhart not only offers a great deal of fascinating history, but a pressing question—what happens when you fall in love with the Shaker guy or gal of your dreams?  That, my friends, is called “plot tension.”

However, this plot, though well-written, doesn’t have a lot of tension.  The steamy looks and wonton desire between Lacey Bishop, a pastor’s wife (in name only) and widower Isaac Kingston don’t really classify this as a “romance,” which might tick off some readers.  However, I was just fine with Lacey and Isaac’s relationship and found the history and cultish practices of the Shakers to be even more interesting.  Fans of pre-Civil War historical fiction will undoubtedly enjoy this book as much as I did.  (The Blessed is set in the mid-1840’s).

Gabhart is a fantastic writer, and I am eager to read more of her work, particularly Angel Sister.  If you want to learn more about the Shakers and don’t feel like picking up a dusty old history book, The Blessed is well-researched, fascinating, and a good read—just don’t expect a lot of romance.

*With thanks to Revell for my review copy. Available July 2011 at your favorite bookseller from Revell, a division of Baker Publishing Group.*

Blog Tour & Book Review:: Bound by Guilt by C.J. Darlington

21 Mar

TitleTrakk.com Blog Tours Presents:

Bound by Guilt
by C.J. Darlington
Published by Tyndale House

Shuttled between foster homes, Roxi Gold will do anything to fit in. Soon she’s traveling the country stealing rare books from unsuspecting bookstores. Police officer Abby Dawson has seen the worst of society—and not just at work. One fateful night, both their lives are changed forever. One searches for justice, the other finds herself on the run. Will the power of forgiveness set them free?

Amy’s Review: Bound by Guilt is an action-packed page turner that will keep you riveted to the end when you will feel satisfied by a story well-told.  This is the kind of work readers can expect from C.J. Darlington, who wowed the literary world with her first novel, Thicker Than Blood.  And, if possible, the sequel may be even better.Once again, we return to the Book Barn and Christy Williams, who so heroically fought her alcohol addiction, reunited with her sister, and fought off a crazy ex-boyfriend in Thicker Than Blood.  But this time, Christy is cop Abby Dawson’s “partner” in a murder investigation, after a shocking character death that occurs in the first 50 pages!

However, this story doesn’t primarily center around Christy, but her fiancé’s sister, Abby as well as our main protagonist, Roxi Gold, a 16 year-old girl, who finds herself in a heap of trouble after being involved in the aforementioned shocking murder.  But Roxi is a sympathetic character, who has been bounced around in the foster care system since she was abandoned by her mother at the tender age of eight.  After running away from her mom’s deranged antiquarian book thieving cousin, Irene, and her son, Diego, Roxi finds herself with nowhere to go and no one to turn to.  Similarly, Abby, who is tracking down the trio, is just as lost.  Darlington marvelously reminds readers that redemption from the guilt to which we are bound, our sin, is found in Christ alone.

Against the backdrop of the beautiful Colorado Mountains, Darlington weaves her tale.  Her descriptions of setting and character are detailed and she always keeps the plot moving at a steady clip.  One fault I find with this novel is that Abby Dawson seems a little flat and one-dimensional.  I didn’t find myself emotionally invested in Abby, nor did I find her terribly interesting.  She was just helpful in moving the story forward.  My other hang-up is that while the Christian characters in this book say they are flawed, I don’t actually see any evidence of these flaws.  For example, Christy Williams enters a bar after learning of the tragic murder and almost drinks, but she doesn’t. In fact, she doesn’t seem to have any of the problems she did in the first book.  I think adding a bit of an edge to these characters would make them more believable.

Still, I immensely enjoyed Bound by Guilt and cannot wait to read more of C.J. Darlington’s delectable writing.

*Thank you to Tyndale House for my review copy of this book.  In an effort to “keep it real,” I should disclose that I am a contributor to TitleTrakk.com, the site co-founded by C.J. and her sister, Tracy.*

Great job! You kept me turning the pages.
Francine Rivers, Internationally best selling author

C.J. is a wonderful, talented writer . . . extraordinary . . .
Bodie Thoene, best-selling author of the A.D. Chronicles

This one engages your senses and reaches your heart.
Jerry B. Jenkins, NY Times best-selling author & owner of The Christian Writers Guild

Watch the book trailer:

About the Author:
C. J. Darlington won the 2008 Jerry B. Jenkins Christian Writers Guild Operation First Novel contest with her first novel, Thicker Than Blood. She has been in the antiquarian bookselling business for over twelve years, scouting for stores similar to the ones described in her novels before cofounding her own online bookstore. In 2006 C. J. started the Christian entertainment Web site www.TitleTrakk.com with her sister, Tracy, and has been actively promoting Christian fiction through book reviews and author interviews. A homeschool graduate, she makes her home in Pennsylvania with her family and their menagerie of dogs and cats. Visit her website www.cjdarlington.com


Book Review:: Perfectly Dateless by Kristin Billerbeck

13 Jul

Perfectly Dateless by Kristin Billerbeck is a YA (Young Adult) novel about a high school senior named Daisy who is determined to find a date for the prom, despite her low social status.  In an often amusing story, Billerbeck shows that she’s in touch with teen culture, even if her tale derails at the end.

Daisy Crispin lives in a world controlled entirely by her parents, who do not permit her to date or talk on the phone to boys.  They have committed her to marriage by courtship.  Not only that, but Daisy is forced to wear clothes homesewn by her mother to her elite Christian high school in California.  As if that isn’t bad enough (I mean, her clothes alone practically spell “social outcast”), Daisy feels invisible at her high school and her church youth group.  Despite her circumstances, Daisy has hope that she will make it to the crowning event of her high school experiencer–her senior high school prom.  She records her thoughts on prom, potential dates, and the like in her pink, frilly prom journal.

While I thought this book might mirror my own Christian high school dorkdom, it was far from my own life.  In fact, my small school didn’t even have a prom; we had a junior/senior banquet (no dancing) and a dress code that eventually matriculated into uniforms.  As far as I’m concerned, Daisy has it made, except her for the fact her parents don’t allow her to experience any sort of freedom in Christ.  Daisy’s eccentric parents change their attitudes towards the end of the book with little explanation, which just seems like poor plot planning.  Also, while the book appears to be a whimsical read, cutting is mentioned and there is a huge plot turn involving roofies and implied date rape.  Is this a serious book or the equivalent of chick lit for teens?  I don’t know because the “serious” parts seem terribly out of place putting a dark backdrop on a pleasant little read.

The truth about life as a Christian teenager, like cliques and bullying prove that Billerbeck  knows teens.  Yet the plot derails towards the last third of the book, which is a big disappointment for this reader.  And the characters don’t seem all that realistic.  Even as a teenage girl and youth leader, I never met boys who were quite so open with in declaring their feelings to girls, especially weird girls.  Daisy’s best friend, Claire, seems more like a mean girl than a gal pal.  Plus, how did these kids not get expelled from Christian school for throwing a wild party that involved both drinking and drugs?

Even for a YA book, Perfectly Dateless is entirely unbelievable with a shoddy plot development and undeveloped characters.  And this is the thing—the book started out great; it just ended poorly.

Available July 2010 at your favorite bookseller from Revell, a division of Baker Publishing Group.

Amy’s Grade: C-

*With thanks for Revell for a review copy of this book!*

Book Review:: Jesus Calling by Sarah Young (Deluxe Edition)

1 Jul

Jesus Calling: Enjoying Peace in His Presence by Sarah Young (Thomas Nelson) is a masterpiece!  The new deluxe edition is encased in a lovely leather cover, which adds to the appeal of this 365 day devotional.  Unlike other devotionals, Young records thoughts she receives from God in a personal format, so each devotional is like a little message from God that aims directly for the heart.

After reading just a few entries of Jesus Calling, I wept.  This book massaged my weary heart and panicked spirit into rightful submission to a loving God.  What makes this book so wonderful?  The simply meditations are daily reminders that God is with us, for us, and above all, He is still God and He is still on His throne.  Our lives are filled with worry, depression, disbelief, and unfaithfulness.  Jesus Calling fights our human tendencies to stray from God and brings to mind His intent to have a relationship with His creation.

Another thing I love about Jesus Calling is that it is easy to add a reading into daily devotions.  But a quick read right after the lunch hour at work or while the children are down for their afternoon naps can also energize a weary believer.  Really, this is an any-time book—any time we need to remember who we are in Christ (which for me, is quite often!)  I love this book and know it will be a popular gift item for my loved ones in the future.

If you want a devotion that will rip apart your pride and bring you face-to-face with a God who loves you, then Jesus Calling is for you.  Actually, it’s a devotional for everyone.

Amy’s Score: 5

*I received this book for review from Thomas Nelson’s BookSneeze program*

Book Review:: Thicker Than Blood by C.J. Darlington

24 Jun

Thicker Than Blood by C.J. Darlington, is an excellent debut novel with a lively plot.  The recipient of the prestigious 2008 Jerry B. Jenkins Christian Writers Guild Operation First Novel, Darlington began writing this tale of two sisters when she was only 15.

Christy Williams left her younger sister standing in front of their great aunt’s house 15 years ago.  An unexpected funeral puts sisters Christy and May face-to-face again.  Christy, a 33 year-old alcoholic with a shady past, doubts her Christian sister would approve of her lifestyle.  However, through a wild set of circumstances, Christy winds up at May’s ranch, only to find that the bond between the two women is thicker than blood.

What I love about Darlington’s writing is her use of description.  Whether setting up a scene or describing the process of antiquarian book selling, I was fascinated to learn more about a topic I never considered interesting before.  I reveled in her lush descriptions of mountain scenery, horseback riding, calving, and life on May’s ranch.  However, I did feel that some of the characters lacked true dimension and intensity, which is something I want to see more of in Darlington’s next book.

While Thicker Than Blood shares the gospel and the Christian life—it is, after all, Christian fiction—I felt like the wholesome plot with thrilling twists and turns could appeal to most fiction readers.  Plus, there are some pretty good fight scenes. All in all, I definitely recommend Thicker Than Blood—for its excellent writing, masterful descriptions, and interesting plot.

Amy’s Grade: B+

For more information on Thicker Than Blood and C.J. Darlington, head on over to cjdarlington.com.

*I received this book for review from C.J. Darlington and was, of course, not compensated for my amazing and awesome opinion.*

Book Review:: Just Between You and Me by Jenny B. Jones

1 Mar

Jenny B. Jones’ novel, Just Between You and Me, has all the elements of a good book—quirky, realistic characters, an interesting plot with many twists and turns, colorful dialogue, and deep, dark family secrets that keep the reader moving forward for answers.  At any point, Just Between You and Me could turn into just another chick lit book.  Instead, Jones’ infusion of humor and wit place her among a growing number of writers who can weave together a good tale without turning their novels into a thinly veiled evangelistic tract.

Jones’ main character, Maggie Montgomery, is a former “mean girl” all grown up.  The successful cinematographer left her small hometown of Ivy, Texas behind as she made a new life for herself in Chicago.  A sudden family emergency causes Maggie to come face to face with an entire town she’s wronged (but doesn’t remember wronging) with the antics of her youth.  And, boy, do these people hold a grudge!  And it seems like her 10 year-old niece, Riley, is following right in her aunt’s footsteps.

Refusing to shy away from issues like mental illness (schizophrenia, depression, and bipolar disorder), drug addiction, and dysfunctional families, Just Between You and Me has depth and dimension.  The characters are quirky and full of life.  The dialogue is sharp and amusing, especially between Maggie and her love interest, Ivy veterinarian Dr. Connor Blake.  In fact, it is Maggie’s internal thoughts that move the narrative forward as she offers thoughts on junk food (SweeTarts are a fave), her interactions with Dr. Hottie, and her prayers to God.  Plus, unlike other chick lit heroines, Maggie isn’t a shopaholic, drunk, or skank.

Jones expertly infuses Maggie’s Christianity into Just Between You and Me.  Instead of offering overtones to make this passable Christian fiction or a full-on battle for the reader’s soul, Maggie lives a very normal Christian life—doing daily devotions, going to church, and praying to God.  Jones doesn’t sugarcoat the Christian life, nor does she water it down.  In fact, it’s a near-perfect example of a woman wrestling with God’s Will while trying to figure out how to help her family, especially her emotionally distant father and drug addicted sister.

Just Between You and Me is refreshing contemporary fiction with a strong moral backbone—one that doesn’t dissolve into “Little House on the Prairie” type romanticism. Excellent writing, hilarious dialogue, and a good plot, Jenny B. Jones’ books are just as good as her blog (read it!).  And that’s saying a lot.

*A review copy of this book was provided to me by Jenny B. Jones because she’s cool like that.*

Will Somebody Save Me?

24 Feb

By Ginger Sinsabaugh MacDonald I hate to admit it, but it’s true. I’m a bit burned out on my faith. Yeah, I said it, blogged it, so it will be Google-able in cyberspace for eternity. Christianity is right up there with Barbie Dolls, “Brady Bunch” reruns and Weldon Bisnett. It’s something that used to be the center of my universe, but has burned out like an old star.

Let me rewind. For the past few years, I’ve been holding a one person crusade to inform others about teen pregnancy and trying to get “the Church” to care about the epidemic issue. After all, Christianity revolves around the son of a teen mom. But I’ve had about as much luck as Mary did knocking on doors looking for churches who cared about the cause. “We don’t have room for that program,” was always the reply.

Over the summer, my faith turned to cynicism and hit an all-time spiritual low, making me as bitter as overcooked collard greens.

At first I thought something was wrong with me. But then I realized there was something wrong with the American Church. Humility has been replaced with a mega-mentality. Communion with consumerism is making Christianity no different than other products, a real- good-feel -good Metamucil for the soul.

You know what I’m talking about. Sunday morning is about what will bring money into the offering plate instead of people to Christ. It’s about hip websites and logos instead of the Christian sense of the word logos.

It’s one of the reasons why my husband and I are looking to leave this country in 2010 for a little world evangelism. No, we aren’t venturing out to save the world, but hopefully be saved by it. We are gearing up to teach English in a foreign country, not to sneak in Bibles, but to get a peak at Christ through lens other than America’s rosy specs.

But for those of you who won’t be traveling to a place with scratchy toilet paper to reconnect to God, I suggest you pick up The Next Evangelicalism by Soong-Chan Rah. Soong-Chan, a Korean-American Christian, thinks that churches in this country have mixed up the American dream with God’s will.

While the font size is small and many of the words stretched my non-doctorate-degree vocab, the book is a must read. Soong-Chan does a good job bringing awareness to the white-bread mentality of the American church, raising all kinds of interesting questions. After I finished reading it, I felt like a devoured a lot of frosting and wanted a bit more cake. I craved to learn more about the doctrinal differences between ethnic churches in this country.

Also, The Next Evangelicalism left me wanting to know how churches outside view Christianity. Is it the same faith even though our cultures are different? Do they feel a need to save us the way we, American Christians feel the need to save them?

Soong-Chan had the guts to expose dirt other churches sweep under their carpet, dealing with the marketing and American monopoly of the faith. And now that the dirt has been Swiffered away, there is more room for God on Sunday mornings, as there should be.

Ginger Sinsabaugh MacDonald Since 1984, Ginger has been splitting her time between advertising and urban youth ministry in Chicago. She is the Top Cookie of TastyFaith.com. It’s not a bakery, but a micro-publisher that connects the hope of Christ to non-sugarcoated issues, including teen pregnancy and illiteracy. You can reach her at Ginger@TastyFaith.com

Book Review:: Angels by Dr. David Jeremiah

5 Feb

As a teenager, I remember reading Billy Graham’s book, Angels, as I rode the bus to Christian school.  Even though I have attended church for most of my life, information on God’s messengers has been reduced to Frank Peretti’s This Present Darkness series and Graham’s book.  Obviously, there are a whole slew of books that lack biblical depth as they describe encounters and even encourage worship of angels.  Dr. David Jeremiah’s book seeks to establish truth on the matter using the Bible and the thoughts of theologians as his defense in his new book, Angels.

The book begins with a whirlwind tour of angels in the Bible—showing us that human beings are not to worship angels, but merely to acknowledge them as servants of the Living God.  Jeremiah says more angels do not appear to humans because it is unnecessary and human beings have a tendency to worship the angels as the Apostle John did twice while an angel was sharing visions with him—visions that would become the book of Revelation.  Stamping out myth after modern myth, Jeremiah repeats his main points often.

Jeremiah’s arguments are scholarly and his assertions about angels are well-defended with Scripture.  In fact, his examples are excessive.  I found myself skipping over some of the Scripture to get to the meat of the book.  It would have been better to include one or two examples with verses that the reader could look up at his or her leisure (or further study).  Plus, there were very few things I learned from Jeremiah’s book, though I imagine I would be more intrigued if I hadn’t first read Billy Graham’s book, which though far less scholarly, is much more interesting. However, for a Christian who knows little to nothing about the work of God’s heavenly messengers, Angels by David Jeremiah is a good and safe book.

This book was provided for review by the WaterBrook Multnomah Publishing Group.

Because of the fine folks at WaterBrook Multnomah Publishing Group, one lucky reader can win a copy of ANGELS for free. Simply tell me your favorite kind of tea (if you don’t like tea, pick a favorite drink) when you reply below. Easy as pie and just as tasty. The contest will end on Feb. 12 at 12 PM EST. You can also e-mail your entry to amy@backseatwriter.com or reply via Twitter or Facebook.  Don’t forget to leave a valid e-mail address so I can contact you if you win…and don’t worry, I won’t share it with anyone!

THE WINNER IS BETTY!!!  Congrats!!!


**Don’t forget to enter BSW’s OWOH giveaway here!**

Book Review:: Water For Elephants (2007)

26 Feb

Since it’s still selling like hot cakes, I decided to write a review about Water For Elephants, which I enjoyed immensely.  Enjoy!

If you ever wondered about life in the early days of the traveling circus, then Water for Elephants is for you.  Of course, you don’t have to be a circus enthusiast to enjoy Sara Gruen’s best-selling novel, which weaves together an old man’s recollections of his days with Benzini Brothers Greatest Show on Earth. The biggest show happening around Benzini Brothers, which is actually run by a bloke known as Uncle Al, isn’t the one under the Big Top.

The story’s narrator, Jacob Jankowski, accidentally jumps onto a circus train and finds himself amidst a color cast of characters when he is employed as the circus’ veterinarian.  There’s Walter the “clown midget” and his terrier with whom Jacob shares a room and Camel, an old man who takes Jacob under his wing.  And, of course, Jacob meets a beautiful young performer named Marlena who shares his love of animals.  Marlena is married to Jacob’s boss, the bizarre and mentally unbalanced animal trainer, August.

Through the course of the book, college-educated Jacob loses his innocence and “becomes a man” through weird rites of passage.  Having never lived the life of a “poor man,” Jacob adapts well to hard labor and the dirtiness that exists behind-the-scenes of the circus.  Though Jacob constantly finds himself battling his inner desire for Marlena, his anger against August for his poor treatment of both people and animals, and with the harsh realities of a Depression-era circus.  As the plot develops, Jacob and the reader learn of deplorable practices like red lighting (throwing the grunt workers off the moving train at night) and encounter the seedy happenings among circus folks including massive consumption of  illegal alcohol and acts of sexual deviancy.

One of my favorite protagonists is Rosie, an elephant acquired by Uncle Al from a circus gone under.  Rosie’s human-like manner is not only amusing, it’s endearing.  She is cruelly trained by August to perform with Marlena.  However, Rosie is especially fond of Jacob who cares for the animals in the menagerie, including Marlena’s horses.  Jacob and Marlena build a special bond causing August to become suspicious, and for good reason.

When writing this book, Sara Gruen did her homework researching early circus life.  Therefore, Water for Elephants teaches as well as entertains.  Wildly amusing, thoroughly intelligent, and strangely touching, Water for Elephants is a must-read, even if you never wanted to run away to join the circus.


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