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Review: Murder in the Afternoon by Frances Brody

[ 1 ] September 28, 2014

12139433Reviewed by Caleb Shadis

Murder in the Afternoon is the third book in the Kate Shackleton mystery series and I’m now putting the first two on my wishlist. This is  a good book for those that enjoy the English cozy murder mystery along the lines of Agatha Christie I thought the book felt a little slow but I somewhat attribute that to not having read the first two installments in the series. It didn’t take me too long to get into the story and before I knew it, I was arriving at the end!

Harriet and her brother Austin are bringing their father a bit of supper at the quarry where he is working on a Saturday evening since he hasn’t come home. When they arrive it is very quiet, no one is working and their father doesn’t respond to the calling whistle. Harriet goes into the quarry and finds her dad laying on the floor of his workshop. He isn’t moving and he will not wake up. Harrier and Austin rush to the nearest neighbors for help but when they return there is no sign of a body or foul play.

After a search with nothing turning up, the constable decides this is just a case of a man who has had enough and left his family. This is where Kate is brought in. The big shock to Kate is that the wife of the missing man is Kate’s sister. Kate was adopted out and has never met any of her birth relatives. So Kate gets more than she bargained for…

While I felt the story seemed to have a slow start, I got over that fairly quickly and was pulled into the story, wanting to know what was going on and who was behind it all. Like many of the best mysteries, this one had a few good false trails and some dirty little secrets that got in the way of finding the murderer. To be honest, I was surprised when I found out who the guilty person really was–the culprit was not even on my radar and that doesn’t happen very often. The surprise ending along with the good writing means that I will be reading more of Kate Shackleton!

Rating: ★★★★☆ 

Caleb is a software engineer and amateur woodworker living in southern Minnesota. He has more hobbies than he has time or money for, and enjoys his quiet time reading.

Review copy was provided free of any obligation by Minotaur Books. No monetary or any other form of compensation was received.

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Review: Soul Keeping by John Ortberg

[ 1 ] September 27, 2014

9780310275961r1Reviewed by Poppy Johnson

Have you ever asked yourself, “Self, what am I made of?” If you take away both your mind and body today (well, this is for an illustration, so bear with it if you are uncomfortable), what is left of “you” is your soul. Do you know what it looks like? I’ll bet if it were lying bare naked on the side of the road, you’d drive right by it.

Soul Keeping: Caring For the Most Important Part of You is an extended conversation on the critical elements of the soul. Split into three major sections, Ortberg discusses the soul’s content, the soul’s needs, and the soul’s restoration. The author leans heavily on his experiences and friendship with Christian philosopher Dallas Willard. In this tribute to his friend and mentor, Ortberg writes that the taking care of the soul is integral to human happiness because our bodies are equally divided between soul, mind, body—if one piece of ourselves is not whole, then the other pieces will not function properly either.

Souls are the most neglected aspect of our physical bodies. They reside so deeply within us that most people never get in touch with their own soul–very sad indeed. A person’s soul thrives when it is nourished and fed, which can only happen when a person is in perfect peace with God. Sin, dark thoughts, hatred, and bitterness towards others take our souls away from the nourishing hand of God, and leave us empty, angry, and unbalanced. Evilness, wickedness, false pride, and deception are all soul stealers. We can do better, but how?

People develop unhealthy habits over time that steal joy and rob the soul. The author assures us that when we surrender to God’s way, and really do it, we gain a perfect peace in our mind, body, and soul. This puts our souls back in balance and sets us straight. Will we sin (and daily)? Yes, we certainly will. But if we are truly trying to be better and do better, our hearts will align with our souls, and one day the two will touch in a better place.

My favorite part in the discussion is that we do not need more willpower to change our lives for the better–we need to make new life habits. This is true, at least for me. If I do work on myself daily, the days will balance out to help me become less sinful in my long run.

I recommend this book for a Bible study group or a book club since it will likely spur many interesting conversations.

Rating: ★★★½☆ 

After a decade of working in several NYC law departments and teaching, Poppy decided she enjoyed writing full-time. She currently works as a freelance writing consultant, and lives with her husband and sons on the East Coast.

Review copy was provided free of any obligation by Zondervan. No monetary or any other form of compensation was received.

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Review: The Romanov Sisters by Helen Rappaport

[ 3 ] September 26, 2014

the romanov sistersReviewed by Jax Kepple

Everyone knows what happened to Tsar Nicholas and his family in a basement in 1918. Author Helen Rappaport sets out in The Romanov Sisters: The Lost Lives of the Daughters of Nicholas and Alexandra to shed light on the lives of the four spunky and vivacious daughters: Olga, Tatiana, Maria and Anastasia. The result of Rappaport’s historical research and story is an engrossing, easy-to-read record of the entire Romanov family just up until they are called to the basement.

Rappaport uses the personal correspondence of the four sisters to establish their personalities, as they often were lumped in together as one unit. Olga, the shy quiet eldest; Tatiana, the proficient go-getter who was looked upon to take care of the family while their mother was often ill; Maria, the middle child who was sweet and kind; and Anastasia, the hilarious youngest who made everyone laugh. Through letters to their many friends, each sister is portrayed as very religious, a little boy crazy, and fiercely proud to be Russian.

Much of these behaviors and personality traits are the result of Nicholas and Alexandra’s decision to bring the children (along with youngest and future heir, Alexey) up in the more modest Victorian way, without all the excess of prior tsars and without being at court. Rappaport spends a lot of the book discussing Nicholas and Alexandra’s backgrounds and childhoods, as well as establishing Alexandra’s neurosis and reasoning for her now-ridiculed decisions, especially those involving Rasputin and nursing in WWI.

While Rasputin is a major character in the Romanovs’ lives, and is blamed for their downfall, what actually happens with him is not elaborated upon in Rappaport’s book. The author also does not explain why Nicholas abdicated for himself and Alexey.

In the introduction, Rappaport explains that she has written another book about what happened when the Romanovs died and that this book would strictly be about their life before exile. However, in her effort to keep both separate, certain pieces of the puzzle were not explained, leading to some questions and underdeveloped areas of a very robust and thorough history. Nonetheless, it is such a fantastic story and Rappaport is able to write it in almost a story-like way. Those poor girls.

Rating: ★★★★☆ 

Jax is in an accountant at a hedge fund. She resides in NYC with her husband.

Review copy was provided free of any obligation by Macmillan. No monetary or any other form of compensation was received.

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Review: Elly in Love by Colleen Oakes

[ 4 ] September 26, 2014

Reviewed by Amanda Schaefer

Elly Jordan, owner of Posies Florist, is moving up in the world. Not only does she have a wonderful new boyfriend (Keith, who happens to make great sandwiches!), but she’s now vying for a spot on BlissBride, a reality TV show. Being the florist of a BlissBride wedding would truly set her career for great things! But Elly isn’t comfortable in front of a camera…let’s face it: Elly isn’t comfortable no matter where she is. But Snarky Teenager, Elly’s coworker, is convinced that the notoriety Elly will receive from competing on a BlissBride show will increase the chances of her new florist shop’s success.

When Elly is chosen to the BlissBride florist for the town’s super-movie-star-bride, she’s star struck and broken-hearted at the same time. Lola Plumb has been in every tabloid and anyone-who’s-anyone knows that she’s just a mess waiting to make a mess! But Elly sees a sad little girl behind all the makeup and drugs and fancy clothes. Inside, Lola just wants to be good and live a quiet life, and Elly is determined to help her start with a beautiful wedding to a man who truly loves her.

During the days of preparing for BlissBride, a young boy comes into Posies acting creepy and shady. When he shows up again and appears menacing, Elly screams, which brings Keith to Posies from his shop. He tears into the boy in defense of Elly; however, after assuring Keith that Elly is okay, the boy finally admits that he is Elly’s half-brother. While Elly continues dealing with her brother, scrambling for BlissBride, and helping Lola become the young woman she wants to, she also is learning how to deal with the rift learning of her half-brother has created in her relationship with Keith. Broken-hearted that Keith is lying to her and is quite possibly not the perfect man for her, Elly decides to push through and do her best to be happy. She proves to her brother that she truly wants him in her life, opens Store B across town and provides Lola a wedding that is stunning and classy all at the same time.

While Elly in Bloom was a good book, Elly in Love is simply just better. Oakes’ second book in The Elly Series is real and honest–a story almost anyone could relate to in one way or another. I’m still not a fan of Snarky Teenager not having a name, if only because she becomes so integral to the story in Elly in Love that a proper noun would suffice for the character. I just believe she deserves a name, so I named her in my head and just replaced the words when I was reading. However, in the end I just can’t wait to see what’s next for Elly and her team of designers, or what’s next for her and Keith! I hope Colleen Oakes plans on writing more about Elly!

Rating: ★★★★★ 

Amanda lives in Missouri with her engineering husband, two sons, and one daughter. In between homeschooling and keeping up with church activities she loves to read Christian Fiction, Women’s Fiction, and any Chick-Lit. She never goes anywhere without a book to read!

Review copy was provided free of any obligation by SparkPress. No monetary or any other form of compensation was received.

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Review: Four by Veronica Roth

[ 7 ] September 25, 2014

9780062345219_p0_v3_s260x420Reviewed by Garrett Rose

Four, by Veronica Roth, is a supplement of the bestselling Divergent series. Now that the trilogy has been completed, holes and gaps in the original dystopian thriller are filled in with the author’s new short stories collection. In this novel, the first of the four short stories Roth has written, the reader experiences seeing the world through eyes and mind of Four, the character formerly known as Tobias.

Roth introduces several new scenes in an action-packed quick read that serve two purposes: this novel is for those ready to begin their journey into the Divergent stories with Tris or for those who finished the series and want to learn about the integral character Four. Readers who are intrigued by Four will understand how one decision of defiance eventually helps revolutionize the culture that dominates society. Four’s one choice will ultimately change his life and the lives around him.

Raised to be an Abnegation from the time he was born, Tobias (Four) is raised by his abusive and abrasive father who sees his son as a reflection of his deceased (or believed to be deceased) wife. After countless beatings and mind control from his father, Tobias makes an unbelievable decision on his choosing day by joining Dauntless, the reckless and fearless faction of rough-and-tough hooligans in charge of being the muscle (security/military) for the society. Tobias was trained to be passive and submissive his entire life, but this choice puts into motion many twists and turns that ultimately lead to Tobias meeting and falling in love with Tris, the heroine from the Divergent trilogy who changes the world. Roth’s latest serving is a taut, fun, page-turner that will keep fans and newcomers alike busy reading.

Part mystery, part diary, and part romance, this journey will entertain readers from page one until the curtain closes on the last scene.

Rating: ★★★★☆ 

Garret loves literature! He is creating the Vernal Journal for his students as well as anyone else that is interested in literature – be it fiction, non-fiction, poetry, drama, or even miscellaneous! Garret’s goal is to share, review and make connections to the world and each other.

Review copy was provided free of any obligation by HarperCollins Publishers. No monetary or any other form of compensation was received.

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Giveaway: Web of Betrayal by Clare F. Price

[ 15 ] September 24, 2014

web-of-betrayalI have a copy of Web of Betrayal by Clare F. Price to give away!

Open to US residents only

About the book

The year is 1994, the dawn of the Internet Age, when companies from Silicon Valley to London are fighting to claim the billions to be made on the new information highway. Attending the Consumer Electronics Show, Peter Ellis, an aggressive investigative reporter fighting to reclaim his damaged reputation after being framed for rigging a story, learns that a programmer skilled in cryptography, cracking encrypted computer code, has mysteriously disappeared.

Peter’s quest to find the missing programmer unwittingly pits him against a brilliant hacker and vengeful assassin with an agenda of his own. He’s taking revenge against the man who ruined his life: computer industry luminary David Lockwood who is now poised to introduce a product that will change the Internet forever.

As Peter is drawn into the vengeful assassin’s deadly game of betrayal and murder, he is faced with losing everything he holds dear: his career, his one true love, and even his own life. Can he find the programmer’s encoded disk, which holds the key to the killer’s identity, before his luck runs out?

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