The Mark of the Dragonfly by Jaleigh Johnson ~ A Review

The Mark of the Dragonfly by Jaleigh Johnson

Mark of the Dragonfly

If you lived on the world of Solace, being a scrapper put you among the dregs of society among the kingdoms. In fact, if you lived in a scrapper town, it didn’t even merit a name, just a number. Piper, Micah and Jory were scrappers, living in shanty town #16. Piper was an orphan, and the two boys had parents who were gone on fishing expeditions most of the time. They and the rest of the population made a living scavenging debris from the meteor ravaged fields. Meteors rained down from the heavens regularly, and the interesting items found in those fields allowed scrappers a meager existence through their exchange for coins. One day after a severe meteor storm Piper found a girl unconscious in a caravan too near the scorched fields. The girl, Anna, was the only apparent survivor. Piper took Anna to her home in an effort to help her. When the girl woke up without her memory everything in Piper’s little world was turned upside down.

On the journey to solve the mystery, Piper and Anna sneak aboard a train to hide from pursuers who terrified Anna. The crew of the train at first become antagonists, but when they see the dragonfly tattoo on Anna’s arm, things turn around and they treat her like royalty until events force them all to bond as a family of sorts. The author has woven a vivid world of sarnuns, chamelins, synergists, kingdoms, magic, mysteries, danger, adventure and communities that are universal in nature. Friendship is just as human in this world of adventure as it is in our own world. The author has created unique voices with distinct qualities and lovable people we care about as we read. Each of the main characters are well developed and three
dimensional.

The book is intended for middle grade readers, both boys and girls. There is a great adventure theme as well as some moments of reflection on the state of the world, warfare, invention, exploration and the neglect of society’s poorest peoples. It is family friendly with no foul attitudes and language, and would be interesting even for younger ages as a read aloud book. Additionally, I think teens and adults of all ages would enjoy reading this fantasy/science fiction pick. The first five chapters provide a background and setting, so the story line starts out a bit slow. But once the girls reach the train the action is practically non-stop. There’s plenty of nail- biting suspense and even a slight touch of romance. The events at the end provide more than one unexpected twist.

progress, not perfectionI enjoyed reading this tale so much. Ms. Johnson’s writing style is smooth, seemingly effortless and pleasant to read. I hope this author has more books to read. I will definitely be looking for more of her work.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received a complimentary review copy of this book from NetGalley, on behalf of Random House Children’s. 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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Stepping Out in Faith Edited by Mark Gilbert ~ A Review

Stepping Out in FaithStepping Out in Faith  Edited by Mark Gilbert

As I was searching in my mind for a way to succinctly summarize this gem of a book for my readers, I glanced at the back cover and noticed that what was written there was exactly what I wanted to say. I’m really not lazy, but that blurb says it so well that I am going to shamelessly quote this first before writing my review.

“A young boy in the confessional lies about his sin, knowing that he is choosing hell over shame and embarrassment. A young man in spiritual distress decides to become a priest so he will go to heaven. A white leather Bible sits in a box on a shelf for years, off limits to the little girl who asks to see it, because it might get dirty. ‘Just do what I say,’ a priest tells another boy who is full of questions about God, ‘and everything will be okay.’

In every one of these situations God transformed people by His Word in the Bible, replaced lies with truth, and brought peace through the salvation that is only found in Jesus Christ. This is a book with not one, but 11 happy endings.

The 11 individuals who share their stories of Stepping Out in Faith could not be more different. They are men and women from different generations and from around the world. But they have in common the peace they have found in God through the gospel of Jesus Christ.” [back cover]

The emptiness in our hearts is universal. I liken it to a keyhole. There is only one key that unlocks our hearts so that we can find the fulfillment that seems to elude us in our lifelong search for meaning. The eleven individuals who shared their stories in this short but powerful book all found the key in the Gospel of Jesus Christ–in the person of Jesus Christ. In this book the point is not where the storytellers came from, but where they were going and what they found.

This compact 124-page book can be read in one sitting, or chapter by chapter. It is not a theological treatise, nor an apologetics book, but a collection of personal stories of people on a journey. I found it so compelling that I read it through twice. The struggles and triumphs I read about warmed my heart, gave me hope and encouragement. That is always the reason we share our testimonies–our stories. It is not to gain attention for ourselves, but to cast the spotlight onto Jesus Christ, our loving Lord and Savior.

I highly recommend this intriguing collection. It is a book you will want to share with friends, neighbors, and family. It may help the ones searching to find the peace with God they are looking for.

Perfect_peace

More about the author/editor:

“Mark’s role at ENC is to help build a network of evangelists throughout Sydney. Mark grew up as a committed Roman Catholic, but despite this, did not hear the Gospel until he started University. He trained as a Doctor before retraining as a minister, and has served in Anglican churches since 2000. He currently works as an Evangelist on the Northern Beaches. Mark has published a number of resources to help people share the Good News about Jesus with people from a Roman Catholic background including; The God Who Saves, The Road Once Travelled and Stepping Out in Faith.”

Mark Gilbert’s organization

Cross Focused Reviews

Cross Focused Reviews

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received a complimentary review copy of this book from Cross Focused Reviews (A Service of Cross Focused Media, LLC)on behalf of Mathias Media. 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.”

Mystery of the Heart (Book 3 of the Ravensmoore Chronicles) by Jillian Kent ~ A Review

Mystery of the Heart (Book 3 of the Ravensmoore Chronicles) by Jillian KentMystery of the Heart

This story is book Three of the Ravensmoore Chronicles by Jillian Kent. Book One is Secrets of the Heart, the tale of Mercy’s brother Devlin, and Book Two is Chameleon, the story of Mercy’s sister Victoria. I have not read either of these two books of the series, nor have I read any other books by Jillian Kent. However, this book can be read independently of the other books in the series.

When you open the cover of this book and go to the first page, the action leaps out at you, gallops by and keeps on going! I love a book that grabs your attention right from the beginning. It often leaves the reader trying to pick up on clues as we read along, and this book is no exception. The author, Jillian Kent, has done this so well with the Mystery of the Heart. There are breaks in the action that provide a back story, sometimes in flashback form, that offers explanations for some present activity. But more often than not, the reader must ponder the clues right along with the characters.

The setting is regency England, and King George III is very ill. The Crown Prince, his son, is in charge. There’s a mystery involved and the Lord Eden is right in the middle of it. He is on an errand for the Prince when he discovers a girl, in disguise, washed up on the shores of Northumbria. There is no shipwreck in sight. The circumstances that bring them there is part of the complex mystery.

Lady Mercy Grayson herself is on a mission that requires secrecy, at first from her own family, but eventually from society in order to preserve their reputation from a scandalized ton. Somehow all the intrigue of both individuals becomes intertwined in a series of events that keep throwing Lady Mercy and Lord Eden together.

The occurrences include an artifact that is believed by some to have some kind of powers. The Prince wants to investigate these powers for his own use and advantage. Lord Eden is not so certain there is merit in those beliefs. As he becomes more acquainted with Lady Mercy’s family, including the Lord “doctor” Devlin, they are afforded opportunities to assist him in his quest for the truth. Eventually when Lord Eden is injured and seeks out Lady Mercy and her family for help, Mercy’s secret is revealed; she has a desire to study medicine. Her family is sympathetic, but know that is an almost impossible goal since society frowns on women performing those tasks.

be strong let your heart take courage

Both the lively action and character development keeps this story moving along at a brisk pace. The mixture of affairs of state, the intrigue and mystery surrounding the stolen artifact and Lord Eden’s quest to recover it, an intriguing addition of African American cultural and religious beliefs of the time period as they apply to this quest, and spiritual elements in the development of Lord Eden’s character combine to make this a very interesting book to read. I also enjoyed the light romantic elements included in the story line.

The story was researched adequately and many details lent credibility to the time period. I always enjoy a well written historical fiction. However, I did have some reservations about the artifact that played an important part of the mystery. I found it difficult to believe the Prince would send one person to another country to borrow an artifact that is in fact a religious relic without the approval of the official church, and without an armed escort. I also found it difficult to believe one country would lend such a relic to another on the word of a single individual, at the risk of theft or fraud, which could have placed peaceful relations between the two nations at risk. It was painfully obvious that Lord Eden’s mission of secrecy was common knowledge with more than a few members of society. The theft was too easily accomplished–both times. This makes the male protagonist vulnerable to the reader’s loss of good opinion. I also felt that once the relic was recovered and given to the care of the Prince, the issue of its efficacy was not satisfactorily resolved.

In spite of these deficits, the book was still an enjoyable read. Lord Eden proved his worth to the Prince, to Lady Mercy’s family, and eventually to Lady Mercy herself. More importantly, his restless heart found peace with God in the midst of the uncertainties of the final chapters of the story.

Perfect_peace

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received a complimentary review copy of this book from The Booketeria on behalf of Charisma Media/Realms. 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.”

Martyr’s Fire (Book 3 of Merlin’s Immortals) by Sigmund Brouwer ~ A Review

Martyr’s Fire (Book 3 of Merlin’s Immortals) by Sigmund Brouwer

Martyrs Fire

Martyr’s Fire is the third book in the Merlin’s Immortals series. It is a revised and expanded version of The Winds of Light series. I do not know how many books there are in the series, but this is definitely not the final book. While it is an integral part of the whole, this book can be read independently. I have not read any other books from this author as of yet, nor have I read any of the other books in this series. Obviously, there are important events in the first two books that provide a much needed background to fully understand the overall theme. These are alluded to in the Martyr’s Fire, but I was still able to discern enough for this tale to flow smoothly. In addition, I am impressed enough with the author’s writing style that I intend to look for the rest of the books and read them as soon as possible.

The series, Merlin’s Immortals, seems to contain a story within a story. The immediate tale is about Thomas, who is ruler of the city of Magnus; the reader learns later that this city is a lynch pin in the events of the broader story. But Thomas has only ruled for three seasons when a small ragtag group of priests claiming to be the Priests of the Holy Grail enter the city and eventually use
psychology and the superstitions of the uneducated populace to grab the reins of the city from Thomas’ grip. He barely escapes with his life. Before he leaves Magnus, a wizened adviser gives him cryptic instructions to aid in his search for answers to his questions.

Setting out on this quest for information, Thomas is unaware of being watched by two groups of people representing two opposing factions that date back to the time of Merlin. Members of both groups want Thomas to join them, yet at the same time he is not completely oblivious to their presence and the undercurrents of tension. However, sometimes the course of events leave him baffled. Thomas’ fighting skills, previous education and training, the assistance of unseen friends and watchers, and even just dumb luck makes this an intriguing adventure.

I enjoy how the author gives the reader just a tiny bit more information than Thomas has. We get to view his predicaments with a different point of view while admiring how well he extricates himself from one mess after another. Yet we are not given enough information to know all that is occurring. The reader is left trying to understand the undercurrents, just as Thomas is doing. This is all part of great plot and character development; we see Thomas maturing through his ordeals.

Trust_in_HIS

I would recommend this book for a wide range of ages. For example, the author employs short chapters and fairly simple vocabulary (about fourth grade level) which makes this book a good choice as a read aloud chapter book for group use such as the classroom, library story time, or family story time. Good readers in the middle grades may like this selection, especially those who would enjoy medieval themes and adventurous activity.

While there are elements of warfare and violence, none of it is grossly graphic. At the most, I would say it could be rated PG. It is a family friendly series, with emphasis on the importance of education, training, inner discipline, mentoring, and the love of God. The pace is quick and would appeal to older readers as well as middle grade readers. The book is less a historical fiction piece and more a tale of fantasy. And finally, because of the complexity of multiple story threads, young adults may find this series appealing. I know as a person that’s young at heart, I enjoyed it.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received a complimentary review copy of this book from Waterbrook Press and the website, Blogging for Books. 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.”
Author’s website

More information

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Author’s bio

Packing Light: Thoughts of Living Life With Less Baggage by Allison Vesterfelt ~ A Review

Packing Light: Thoughts of Living Life With Less Baggage by Allison Vesterfelt

Packing Light

[The context: Think about the New Testament incident of the “rich young ruler” who approached Jesus with a question about Heaven. Then think of the incident where Zacchaeus climbed a tree to better see Jesus as he walked by. The “rich young ruler” was told to sell all his possessions and follow Jesus. The young man walked away. Zacchaeus voluntarily offered half his possessions returned to those he wronged to make amends. Jesus affirmed his salvation.]

“Because Jesus doesn’t care about our stuff nearly as much as we do. In fact, often He likes to bless us with it. He just doesn’t want the stuff to become the point.Because when stuff becomes the point of our life, we miss out on the greatest blessing of all: the freedom we feel when we’re fully engaged in the push-pull of life, the letting go and the holding on.”

Packing Light by Allison Vesterfelt is not just a travel memoir, nor is her book a how-to manual for living life. It is not a Bible study with lessons all neatly outlined for the student. In truth, this book does have all these elements to a certain extent, but it moves far beyond that in scope. It is the honest and poignant voice of a seeker opening the door to her heart for her readers to understand her personal journey for something more in life than the safe routine she had become accustomed to. It is her story and her insights. It is gutsy, open, brutally honest, and humble. She doesn’t pretend to be a perfect Christian, but a traveler on the
path.

It wasn’t exactly what Allie and Sharaya were doing or the events of their fifty state road trip that was so remarkable. Yes, they had bumps along the way, and monetary troubles, which led to taking risks when looking for places to stay overnight. What stood out to me were the reflections Allison voiced in the journal. Her perceptions are youthful and insightful, and will encourage the reader to ponder how and why we so willingly shoulder our baggage, metaphorically as well as physically.

God loves us despite who we are

I don’t think I could read this book in one sitting. Allie’s writing style is conversational but pithy. Some of the story reads like fiction, with humor and grace. That part moves along quickly, but you are going to want to sit and ponder some of the reflections she pens. Each chapter has many quotable quotes in them, as she examines multiple facets of life from many viewpoints. Her voice rings true, and I think this tome will resonate with many young people…even those of us who are young at heart.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received a complimentary review copy of the pdf book from the Story Cartel and 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.”

Finding Home (Christmas Holiday Extravaganza) by Marianne Evans ~ A Review

Finding Home (Christmas Holiday Extravaganza) by Marianne Evans

Finding Home

As an avid reader, I have not just read but experienced hundreds of books in my lifetime. Some books are slow burns, taking awhile to grab your attention, while others are like friends that hug you in greeting when you open their covers. A few burst in on your senses with fervor and intensity, while others leisurely wind their friendly tentacles around you, giving you a measure of comfort when you read. Of course there are the action stories that move from page one to the final scene with relentless push, and once in awhile you find a dud; nothing happens when you read the book. There is such wonderful variety, depending on the type of storyteller the author happens to be.

Finding Home by Marianne Evans is a tale that reminds me of the candies with liquid in the center. Just as you are all set to enjoy a sweet treat, an intense burst of flavor awakens your senses. Author Ms. Evans creates a sparkling palette for the imaginary senses–aromas to waft your way, bright and colorful visual images and sounds that enhance the internal movie playing in our mind’s eye, even taste sensations and tactile experiences play a role. All this is entwined to create unforgettable atmosphere–the kind that moves the reader into the setting to experience what the characters experience.

learn_from_life

The story centers on Alexa Gordon, successful number cruncher living in Southern California near her family. In spite of the warm sunshine of the season, she is still in a fog of depression. A few months ago, her bubble of well being collapsed when her fiance dumped her, amidst wedding preparations, for another woman. Feelings of emptiness were threatening to overcome her. She needed a change of scene to knock her out of her funk.

She thought of her friends Vanessa and Peter Colby. Vanessa was her roommate in Britain during a study abroad program in the UK. Three years ago, they had become fast friends. On weekends, Vanessa took her to her family in London where they spent some time with her twin, Peter. The three had become inseparable. Perhaps a trip to London was just what she needed. Messages flew across the pond via Facebook and video chat and her idea was met with enthusiasm.

The visit was chock full of atmosphere, flash and sparkle as the threesome reconnected. Christmas festivities in the city buoyed Lexie’s spirits during her two week stay. So did Peter’s attentions. Was she falling in love with him, or was this just rebound? She wondered how Peter really felt about her. The story vibrates with true to life doubts, dating, denial, conflict and resolution. It was definitely worth my time to read and I’m certain I will read this again many times. I recommend this story especially if you enjoy holiday stories of romance.

A February Bride: A Year of Weddings Novella by Betsy St. Amant ~ A Review

A February Bride: A Year of Weddings Novella by Betsy St. Amant

[This book is scheduled to be released on January 28, 2014.]

A February Bride

Allie Anderson did the unthinkable. There she was in the church with her wedding gown on, the music drifting into the room, when she spotted the slight tear on the sleeve. It had to be an omen; or was it? Filled with doubts, she dashed out the door, into the waiting car and roared away from the church. Marcus was left at the altar.

Four months later, her best friend Hannah announced her engagement with wedding plans only a few short weeks away. The only favor Hannah asked was for Allie to be her Maid of Honor. The hitch was that Hannah was Marcus’ sister. Her friend wanted her involved with the very same people she had hurt, including Marcus. How was she going to survive the embarrassment and humiliation? She didn’t want to hurt them further.

In the ensuing weeks, the author skillfully engaged Allie in one awkward moment after another. There were no firing squads, no snubs, no glares. She was warmly welcomed in the family circle, although Marcus kept his distance. So much interaction forced her to face her core beliefs about herself, her family, her relationship with Marcus and Hannah and their family. The reader knows that no one ever promises that digging this deeply inside is going to be easy or free of pain. But it was a little bit surprising who most helped Allie through the process.

God heals broken heartsI loved the conclusion of the novella. It was not just a happily ever after, but a journey and transformation that made this story such a gratifying experience.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received a complimentary review copy of this book from NetGalley on behalf of Zondervan Fiction. 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.”