Irish Meadows: The Courage to Dream Bk 1 by Susan Anne Mason ~ Review~

Irish Meadows: The Courage to Dream Bk 1 by Susan Anne Mason

Irish Meadows

The author, Susan Anne Mason, has skillfully created a world into which we can feel comfortable. The two main characters, Brianna and Colleen, could be our sisters, realistically endearing and frustrating simultaneously. Brianna feels she has grown up in Colleen’s shadow, her father’s favored daughter. Nothing she did seemed to gain his respect. Colleen is the sister we love to hate. She is bold, brash, flirtatious, the apple of her father’s eye, and always on the prowl for rich, handsome bachelors. She played with them and even pit them against each other. Brianna, on the other hand, wanted to attend a university in the fall. She had no use for men at the moment, although her daddy wanted her to get married to a suitable (prosperous) gentleman as soon as possible.

But then Gilbert Whelan returned to Irish Meadows after three years at college. Gil grew up on the farm, the son of the O’Leary’s housekeeper. When she died, James O’Leary took in Gil and treated him like a son. He was big brother to all the rest of the five O’Leary children. Adam, the eldest son, resented Gil for that. Brianna wanted to enlist Gil’s aid in convincing her father to allow her to further her education. But it became a more complicated situation when she discovered her feelings for him were no longer brotherly. Gil himself has felt the stirrings of love for Brianna. When he finally gained the courage to approach James, his mentor and father figure, he was flatly refused. The reason shook him to the core.Irish Meadows quote1

One day a distant relative of mother 0’Leary’s came to stay with the family for awhile. Rylan Montgomery needed a place to stay for a few months while he worked on his internship. His goal was to become a priest. It was Colleen’s duty to ferry him around until he became familiar with the area. When her father caught her in a compromising position one evening, he “sentenced” her to working with Rylan at the orphanage. This was truly punitive for Colleen since she hated all things religious, including priests, church and orphanages. However, working with Rylan day after day brought about subtle changes to her heart. She began to enjoy working with the children. In introspection, she questioned her previous dubious behavior. And…she fell in love with Rylan. Colleen’s world was turned upside down. Family dynamics, secrets, disastrous emotional upheavals and more make this book an intriguing read.Irish Meadows quote2

There’s a lot to like in this book. First, the Point of View (POV) is key to how the author develops tension and suspense. There are four Points of View: Colleen’s, Brianna’s, Rylan’s, and Gilbert’s. This author manages to blend them so well that she avoids the disjointed feeling so common in books with so many POV’s. I feel these points of view are what keeps this storyline moving along without stalling for lack of physical action. That’s excellent characterization.Irish Meadows quote3

Second, the four main characters all have a crisis of heart to meet, deal with, and resolve. Even the secondary characters, Kathleen and James O’Leary, the parents, had to face issues themselves such as what really mattered in life, and how to handle secrets within a family unit. Each issue felt real, urgent, and relevant for today even if the source is a historical novel. I found each of the conflicts plausible and could relate to many of them myself. The author manages to create believable people we can become akin to and care for.Irish Meadows quote4

Third, this is a faith-based book. I love how each voice dealing with an issue was facing something that included a crisis of faith, as well as heart and home. When a faith issue has to be dealt with, even though it may be an entirely private matter between you and God, it does affect those around us because what we believe leads to how we live our lives. That is how this author presents each character’s conflicts. When we are privvy to their thoughts, feelings and the process of resolution within, we appreciate them more for their struggles, even if they are still a flawed individual. I enjoyed the process as I read along, because what they struggled with was thought-provoking and insightful. And since most of this was internal, none of it sounded even remotely like preaching or finger wagging. Rather, I felt blessed to gain a glimpse through the window of their souls. I am looking forward to reading the next book in the series which will give us Adam’s story.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received a complimentary review copy (ARC) of this book from Bethany House Publishers. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

 

 

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Otherworld: A YA Fantasy Adventure by Evan Ronan ~ Review~

Otherworld: A Young Adult Fantasy Adventure by Evan Ronan

“Imagination is more important than knowledge” –Albert Einstein

“Everybody knew I was the biggest daydreamer in the whole school.”

When you’ve been gifted with a wild imagination, anything can happen. This book is aOtherworld great example of where an abundant flight of imagination can take you. Readers are introduced to Aoife Finley, pronounced Eef-uh, daydreamer extraordinaire. The extraordinary events in the book all started when Erica saw the Lady in Green. No one was supposed to see the Lady in Green because she was a product of Aoife’s imagination. That was the first inkling that something was very wrong in Paxsum, Aoife’s imaginary world.

Aoife created Paxsum probably when she lost her mother many years ago. It was her
way of coping with sad reality, but was also a way to connect her to her father, who
wisely encouraged Aoife to use her imagination. Imagination created her first group of friends…Al the industrial-sized recycling container in her yard, B the barbecue on the back deck, and Rosie the sled. In the early days of loss, she talked with her friends daily.Otherworld quote1

Now that she was a little bit older, some of her classmates in school were her friends. Slob, a.k.a Sam, was her best friend. They could talk about anything, and he even understood her imaginary world and her imaginary friends because he was also fluent in imagination. His imaginary person was Steel Sunday, a structural engineer who went on adventures as if he were another Indiana Jones. Slob (a name given to him based on Bob the Builder) spent most of his waking time building things from blocks. He understood Aoife and so they spent time together, sometimes in silence that was comfortable. Others in her class were mostly annoyances such as Erica (nicknamed The Bank of Erica), Nestor (nicknamed Binky), Kris Miller (nicknamed Killer), and Robin (nicknamed Snail-smeller). Erica used to be a close friend, when suddenly she turned her back and became Aoife’s arch enemy. But it was these friends, when push came to shove, that saved not only Aoife’s imaginary world, but also the real world around them.

This book is one designed for the YA category. Because of some serious threats to
children in the imaginary town of Paxsum, I do not recommend reading this to children younger than 4th grade. It also may not appeal to upper age teens or older because the classroom scenario seems to center around 5th or 6th grade age-range interactions. I used to teach middle school age YA, and I believe this story is perfect for that spectrum. However, upper age students such as those who need lower reading level, high interest material would find this perfect as well.Otherworld quote2

Not only is this book about the imagination, it also features how friendship develops, what it is and what it is not, its imperfections, and its character. For the young readers, there’s a lot of action, imaginative events, suspense, and a little bit of danger. The author’s sense of humor adds a lot to this story. I loved the giggles and I can’t even tell you how many times I’ve read this story all the way through. It was that good.Otherworld quote3

The one thing I loved most about this book is that it is not entirely dark in nature. So much of today’s literature is so dark, even among children’s books, that I’m happy when I run across something truly light-hearted and “childish”. Yes, there were characters with bad attitudes, but they changed eventually. Good characterization is also a hallmark in this book. Aoife especially had some life lessons to learn, but the way it happens is entirely painless to the reader (No groaning in the peanut gallery, please. I really do love books with substance). Two thumbs and two big toes up for this first work from the pen of Evan Ronan. I sincerely hope he has many more books like this to offer us!

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received a complimentary review copy of this book from the author. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade
Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and
Testimonials in Advertising.”

 

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Flower Swallow by Alana Terry ~Review~

Flower Swallow by Alana Terry

Flower Swallow

Some of us may relate to a time when we saw the world through a child’s eyes. It has always been a mystery to me how that happens. But when it does, there’s a sense of new appreciation for things that have become ‘ho hum’ to us through time and familiarity. I have discovered this book gives us the same kind of perspective. We see what life might be like in North Korea through the eyes of a lost child, a lost boy, known in that country as a ‘flower swallow.’

Once I started reading this book, I became entranced. Because really, what do we know about life in North Korea? Not really enough for us to develop compassion for people who are trapped within a nation whose despotic leaders want them to think they are gods. So this story is told in the first person by a little boy named Woong. From his viewpoint, we understand the people a little bit more; we understand a land in famine, hit by storms, flash floods, cruel dictators, starvation and hard circumstances. Life was so harsh that many children were cut loose from their families to find their own way. In the Western world, we would think of them as “street urchins” thinking back to the eighteenth century London where children often lived in the streets. If you’ve read or watched the story Oliver, that would give you a glimpse of what that life was about. It wasn’t pretty. So too, this boy Woong had a tough life. He wasn’t an orphan, but he was cut loose from family nevertheless.

Flower Swallow street-children Bogota

Street children in Bogota

The author, Alana Terry, creates a character with tons of personality. Unlike the story of Oliver, which was a serious tome from the onset to its conclusion, Woong is a mischievous little guy who thinks and ponders things through. This story is his reflection on his younger years as a ‘flower swallow’, where his adventures and attitudes remind me more of Tom Sawyer than Oliver. I often chuckled, if not at the circumstances, definitely at the way the adventures were explained by a little boy. (His present life sounds as if he’s about 8 or 9, telling this story to his American teacher.)

Flower Swallow street urchins1

19th century London, street children

What I especially appreciate about this book is the combination of pathos and humor. The humor does not detract from the seriousness of the population’s condition. It is so well written, that when the boy speaks of his every day life, you can laugh but with tears in your eyes. You gain such a sense of sympathy devoid of pity. I could appreciate the strength needed to cope and survive in such a hostile environment. I began to admire Woong, and others who barely survived. In fact, I experienced a wide range of emotions while reading this story, including admiration for the author who made this story come alive.

Flower Swallow street children in India

Street children, India

I highly recommend it for your household. This is the type of book you can read with your children, since there are no graphic scenes in this book, although you should be prepared to share harsh reality with your children if they have not been exposed to it before. Yet this book is one that’s appropriate for a wide range of readers. As a former homeschool mom, I can see many applications in this book for children and young people.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received a complimentary review copy of this book from the author. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

 

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Paralyzed (A Kennedy Stern Christian Suspense Novel Book 2) by Alana Terry ~ Review

Paralyzed (A Kennedy Stern Christian Suspense Novel Book 2) by Alana Terry

ParalyzedParalyzed is the second book of the Kennedy Stern novel series by Alana Terry. This series runs parallel to another series by the same author. That set involves Kennedy’s parents who live in China where they conduct a secret seminary for North Korean refugees. While book 1 and 2 in Kennedy’s series works closely together, you can read each one independently of the other. Of course, I think they are best read back to back, since the events only occur six weeks apart. You can view my review of book 1 here.

Kennedy Stern, after having lived in China ten years, is now attending Harvard University as a pre-med student. It’s only been six weeks since she’d been kidnapped in what turned out to be a high profile case that involved a big political name, underground thugs, and a pregnant girl. Kennedy ended up handcuffed for 24 hours in a filthy darkened basement watching the young teen die from bleeding out. She still had nightmares of the horrors she witnessed. While taking final exams before the Christmas break, she started have coughing fits, and out in the hallway, she thought she saw a familiar ugly face. It frightened her enough that she fled the exam in panic to her dorm room. Then she had to see a doctor for her cough and an excused absence for her professor. The doctor recognized her and asked her several questions. He hinted that she may need counseling, possibly for PTSD. She couldn’t get her mind wrapped around the concept. Could she really have PTSD? She was a Christian. She’d been praying an reading her Bible more often since her traumatic experience. She’d even memorized Bible verses. Didn’t that help?Paralyzed Quote1

From that point on, the author provides non-stop suspense. Kennedy’s friend took her out to see the Nutcracker Suite. She enjoyed it but was once again spooked when they attempted to see some of the players backstage, and she wound up alone in a dark hallway. Then they took a subway to get some pizza, but a power outage created new panic; she felt as if someone was following her in the dark tunnel, especially after a smoke bomb forced everyone out of the car and into the unlit tunnel. Once home her shaken nerves were further rattled when her father called to warn her a second man was discovered to have been involved in the kidnapping case. He sent her with an email with a picture of the man. She immediately recognized him from the subway incident. She needed to flee, but she didn’t know where to go. That’s when Pastor Carl Lindgren, a family friend, entered the fray. He had received the same warnings from Kennedy’s dad. Pastor Carl decided she needed to stay with him for her safety. They were anything but safe. What ensued was a terrifying car chase, a shoot out, a hospital visit, police protection, and an ambush. At that point, I just could not put the book down.

Paralyzed Quote2

Alana Terry writes excellent suspenseful scenes that are fast-paced. That alone has me recommending this book to you. But Kennedy’s inner battles are just as interesting to me. Yes, growing up in a missionary family ensured her head was filled with knowledge that made her appear to be a Christian. She prayed, read her Bible, lived by a set of moral codes in spite of her environment, and even memorizing Scripture. But something was missing. She seemed a little two dimensional to me. I kept asking myself, “Where’s the joy? Where’s the relationship, the inner peace, the intimacy between her Heavenly Father and a daughter?” Kennedy’s spiritual life is often too formulaic in my opinion. A true dynamic Christian life is much more than saying prayers, doing good deeds, going to church, and even reading the Bible. It’s vital and alive–an active relationship between a loving Father and His child. there should be dialogue and exchange. I believe this lack of depth has been carefully crafted by the author as an underlying subplot that began in the first book and grows gradually throughout the series. It is not yet resolved in the second book in spite of the satisfactory resolution of the more active portions of the story line. I suspect the quieter theme will continue into the next book or books in the series. I look forward to further development of this character thread because it is an ever pressing issue in today’s world.

Paralyzed Quote3

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received a complimentary review copy of this book from the author. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

 

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Spring Dawn (Seasons of Faith Book 3) by Rebekah Lyn ~ Review

Spring Dawn (Seasons of Faith Book 3) by Rebekah Lyn

Spring Dawn

Spring Dawn is the third book in Rebekah Lyn’s Season of Faith series. In Book 1, we meet Elizabeth, Ian, Jeffrey, Stephen and Michelle. Book 2 continues the story of these five friends. In Book 3, the main plot is focused equally between Ian and Elizabeth’s growing romance and Jeffrey’s life and spiritual growth as a new Christian. You can read my reviews on Book 1 here and Book 2 here. By the time I finished reading the third book, I felt these five characters were also my friends. And because they are, I can’t wait to see more resolution in their lives.

In looking back over the scope of the books I’ve read so far in this series, I could see a pattern. The first book was a book of disasters where many people were thrown together in an effort to survive the season’s group of hurricanes. Our five main characters meet under different conditions and in different capacities. The second book was a book of mystery and adventure where Ms. Lyn’s readers become better acquainted with the friends. This third book is a book of testing: testing character, testing resolves, and testing relationships. An example of this is in the development of Ian and Lizzie’s relationship. In the second book, the reader may conclude that their relationship was on solid ground. Yet this third book creates uncertainty, tests their stability as a couple and stretching each one individually. That makes for very good reading.

Spring Dawn quote1

Lizzie begins to put distance between herself and Ian, while simultaneously drawing closer to Jeffrey, especially after his car accident. Ian becomes jealous of Jeffrey when he finds out about this. Michelle, too, feels some envy at Jeffrey and Lizzie’s easy camaraderie. Ian is already frustrated with the slow growth of his design business. He begins to wonder if Lizzie is the One for him to settle down with. Lizzie is not aware of these undercurrents. She is battling her own fears about falling back into her past lifestyle which she has kept hidden from Ian.

Spring Dawn quote2

After going through a hair-raising experience in the second book, Michelle feels much less secure in the current book. She’s dissatisfied with life, leans a little more on her friend Jeffrey for friendship while at the same time nothing seems to go her way. This subplot left me yearning for some type of resolution for her.

Jeffrey shares the limelight with Ian and Lizzie. After the events of the second book, Jeffrey resolves to stay closer to God, stay dry and away from former relationships that could lure him back to his old ways. He spends a little more time with Stephen. At the same time, he also resolves to reach out to Michelle in an effort to “be Jesus” to her. Of course, most of these resolutions are tested repeatedly, creating a sense of mystery about his relationship with Michelle. His accident temporarily takes him out of Michelle’s sphere and into the care of his parents. Happily this gives him an opportunity to gain some peace with them.

Spring Dawn quote3

I have thoroughly enjoyed this series so far. Rebekah Lyn’s writing style pulls us into the details of friendships and leads us to care for each of the five friends. The pace of this third book is slower than the previous books, which seems to be intentional in order to develop the tangled web of events, tests, and character development. If you enjoy delving into the details of life, watching how people going through life without God learn about Him and reach out to Him when others are not accessible, then you will enjoy this book.

Additional note: The fourth book in this series is soon to be released. Look for a December wedding!

Spring Dawn quote4

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received a complimentary review copy of this book from the author. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

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