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review 2017-09-24 12:43
The Sweet Smell of Magnolias & Memories by Celeste Fletcher McHale
The Sweet Smell of Magnolias and Memories - Celeste Fletcher McHale

Jacey and Colin shared the three most intense days of their lives together, waiting for help as Mississippi floodwaters surrounded them. Jacey knew Colin was the love of her life—until her rescue boat went under water, along with Colin’s last name and pieces of Jacey’s memory.

 

The last thing she remembered was being submerged in water. Again.

 

As Jacey walks down the aisle as the maid of honor in her friend’s wedding a year later, the last person she expects to see is Colin. The biggest surprise, though, is that the man of her dreams is not wearing jeans and flip-flops as he did when he held her through those long nights of the flood. He’s the preacher.

 

As Jacey’s memories come flooding back, it’s almost more than she can take. The fate of the young family trapped with them haunts her. The unwavering honesty—and support—of her best friend Georgia forces her to take a fresh look at herself. She’s spent her life afraid of love. But this flood is opening Jacey’s heart in the most unexpected ways.

Amazon.com

 

 

 

Jacey is a writer for a regional Southern life magazine, on location for a story in Mississippi. Colin is a traveling minister specializing in disaster relief (specifically, building houses for the needy). As life would have it, Colin finds himself caught in one such disaster when the Mississippi town he's currently located in -- the same as our Miss Jacey -- is hit with a storm that brings devastating flooding. Both caught in the storm, Jacey and Colin meet when Colin pulls her onto the roof he and a local family are clinging to while awaiting rescue. 

 

Three days pass while the sodden group awaits rescue of any kind. The reader is told that something magical happened between Colin and Jacey, but honestly we're not given many details about what went down that was so world-rocking between them other than some hints that they talked about the need for survival and then there was some time for cuddles and make-out sessions. But what led to those stolen kisses? Your guess is as good as mine 'cause I kept waiting for those deets that never seemed to come. A couple swears they fell in love in 3 days -- is that not a story the reader deserves to know in ally its swoon-worthy details?!

 

Anyway, when help finally does arrive, Colin makes sure Jacey and Lillian, the mother with the 4 boys that shared the roof with them, all make it into the boat, his plan being that the boat now looks crowded so he'd just wait for the next boat to come around. But he doesn't let Jacey go without writing down all his contact info on a piece of paper and shoving it in her pocket. Just moments after being saved, Jacey's rescue boat collides with another, throwing all the passengers back into the water. Jacey suffers injuries that leave her hospitalized for a time with months of physical rehab after. She also finds that the trauma has left her with not only PTSD but also temporary amnesia regarding events of that harrowing day.

 

Fast forward a year later and we meet the chick-lit standards McHale includes in the plot: the group of besties who met in college and have sailed through thick & thin together since. Best girl Willow is now getting married while other best girl Georgia is struggling with having recently lost the love of her life to his lapse in fidelity. Jacey is at Willow's side as maid of honor and gets the shock of her life to find that none other than Colin is officiating! Now back in each other's lives, the two have to discover if what felt real truly was or if it was just a case of fear-of-death-fueled emotions.

 

This one proved to be yet another case of a novel where the secondary characters entertained me far more than our leads. Maybe it was because I as the reader wasn't made privy to any of the heart-melting conversations that must have went down between Colin & Jacey... must have been something pretty heady to feel love after 3 days ... but I don't know the details of their romance, if it can be called that, so for much of the book I wasn't that invested in their story. In fact, their back and forth cold-shoulder drama and hurt feelings based on assumptions got tiring.

 

It's generally presented as a given in romances that our female lead be irresistible to those around her but I wasn't entirely sold on Jacey in this sense. It was undeniably kind and moving what she did for Lillian's boys later on in the book but the way she was with Colin at times struck me as gratingly childish. Especially a moment near the close of the book, where Colin just wants to put all the miscommunication behind them -- he approaches her humbled, ready to explain his side of things -- and can I just say, about the worst thing he did IMO is send an insensitive text which masked some of his unspoken insecurities, a text he shortly after profusely tried to apologize for --  and she bald-face lies to him (more than once in one convo!) and then boots him out her door! Girl, what?! And then she has the gall to call Georgia and whine that she wishes Colin would just explain things if he really care. He tried, you goob! Then the inevitable make-up scene -- she admits to lying but gets away with giggling and telling him, "It's your fault though!" which he seems to gladly accept? Colin, in response, admits to being tempted to take her right there on his buddy's ottoman.. okay, I'm done with these two and I see them as the type that ends up divorced in 5 years or less lol 

 

But yes, those secondary characters came in to save my interest! Colin's bartender friend Julie was an admirable tough-as-nails type with a quick wit, and my heart immediately warmed to the elderly Mrs. Ernestine. Shame she didn't have more book time.

 

They heard screaming and both turned their heads to see Georgia running up the back steps, chickens nipping at her heels. 

 

"These freakin' chickens are trying to kill me!" she said, a short but piercing scream escaping her lips every few seconds.

 

Mrs. Ernestine looked at Jacey. "Does she belong to you?"

 

"Yes, ma'am." Jacey laughed.

 

"God help you."

 

 

 

The real show-stealer though -- Miss Georgia. Girl had SASS for days and I loved every bit of it! 

 

Jacey :(after a date with Colin): He was quite the gentleman. 

Georgia: Oh, how boring. 

 

Colin: Gotta be some kind of record, eight seconds in the door and the interrogation begins.

Georgia: I must be slipping. 

 

Georgia was the definition of the perfect best friend. Day or night, if Jacey called and said she needed her, Georgia was there in minutes. If someone hurt Jacey, she was quick to say, "Oh no, I'm not having that." But she also wasn't shy to set Jacey right when her behavior was sometimes slightly out of line. Also, in a nod to McHale's previous novel, The Secret To Hummingbird Cake, Georgia has a story about binging on hummingbird cake while working through a heavy bout of depression, "And I hate hummingbird cake!" {Sidenote: In the author acknowledgements it is revealed that Georgia and Jacey are named after two close friends of McHale.}

 

There are some good thought-provoking themes that stand out in this novel. For one, the reader is introduced to Colin's moneyed background. His story of stepping away from the family fortune to pursue a life of service and the challenges that brought him, in regards to familial relationships, will give the reader pause, having one consider that yes, maybe now that grass over there doesn't seem so green! Colin, through his family struggles, is also given a rough crash-course in the lesson of forgiveness. He carries a lot of deep-seated anger and resentment towards his parents, but over time discovers that perceived sins or mistakes often have more complicated backstories to them that must be considered. As one line in this novel points out, "Forgive people even if they're not sorry." Again, something that readers will likely find applicable in difficult areas of their own lives. 

 

Aside from the dud of a romance (at least for me) between Jacey & Colin, another area of the story that left me somewhat troubled was how the topic of race was handled. It was disappointing to see McHale lean on racial stereotypes to craft the personalities of so many of the African-American characters in this book. Lillian, the mother of the four boys, was a single mother, the father of her children serving a life sentence in prison, Lillian herself described as having little education, living what seemed (by the few descriptions given) to be a low-income neighborhood. The black servant working for Colin's rich white parents, even though this story takes place in present day... Sometimes it just struck me as there being this whispered tone of "well, that's just the way things are around here." I feel as if an opportunity was missed to shed life on these impoverished communities that do indeed exist but also commonly have a rich sense of community behind them. Had that been worked in a bit better, I think the novel would have had some more depth to it. Instead, the plot's focus, in regards to the African-American characters, seemed to be on how the misfortunes of these characters ended up (in a roundabout way) bettering the lives of already-privileged white characters. That undertone made me a bit sad, if I'm being honest. But again, I can appreciate what Jacey ended up doing for those boys, and the willingness to serve and love that that act demonstrated. 

 

While the plot itself wasn't a slam dunk for me personally, I applaud author Celeste Fletcher McHale for announcing her intent to donate a portion of the proceeds for this book to the victims of Louisiana's devastating floods of 2016. She also provides contact info for relief organizations working in the area should you yourself wish to contribute to relief / rebuilding efforts there. 

 

FTC Disclaimer: TNZ Fiction Guild kindly provided me with a complimentary copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. The opinions above are entirely my own. 

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review 2017-07-04 14:03
The Illusionist's Apprentice by Kristy Cambron
The Illusionist's Apprentice - Kristy Cambron

Wren Lockhart, apprentice to master illusionist Harry Houdini, uses life on a vaudeville stage to escape the pain of her past. She continues her career of illusion after her mentor’s death, intent on burying her true identity. But when a rival performer’s act goes tragically wrong, the newly formed FBI calls on Wren to speak the truth—and reveal her real name to the world. She transfers her skills for misdirection from the stage to the back halls of vaudeville, as she finds herself the unlikely partner in the FBI’s investigation. All the while Houdini’s words echo in her mind: Whatever occurs, the crowd must believe it’s what you meant to happen. She knows that if anyone digs too deep, secrets long kept hidden may find their way to the surface—and shatter her carefully controlled world. Set during one of the richest, most vibrant eras in American history, this Jazz Age novel of illusion, suspense, and forgotten pasts is perfect for fans of The Magician’s Lie, challenging all to find the underpinnings of faith on their own life’s stage.

Amazon.com

 

 

 

Wren Lockhart rises from street swindler to apprentice to famed escape artist Harry Houdini. This novel opens in the months following Houdini's death in the 1920s. While focusing on the 20s, there are also chapters that periodically flash back to either Wren's childhood or her time working with Houdini (one such chapter involving their attending a seance performed by Margery Crandon, the Witch of Lime Street). 

 

Wren attends a demonstration being performed by a fellow illusionist. It is at this performance that a man dies. The death is investigated and once it's suspected that the deceased might have been murdered, the FBI gets involved. In walks in Agent Elliot Matthews, who approaches Wren in hopes that she might be able to provide valuable information, given her close proximity to the deceased at the time of their death. But Wren fears that the FBI's involvement, Matthews' questioning and prying specifically, could possibly uncover secrets within her own family she very much needs kept buried. Lives of family members are at stake. 

 

"Wren, you once told me you lost someone very dear to you."

She drew in a sharp breath, absorbing his swift change in subject. 

"Yes, I did lose someone once." She avoided revealing emotion with her quiet tone.

"The person you lost, what would you give to speak with them again? If only for a moment?"

"I'd give everything I own without a second thought."

"As would I, Wren."

 

After crafting quite the historical love story within The Ringmaster's Wife, author Kristy Cambron returns to the performance tent with The Illusionist's Apprenticea tale inspired by the true-life story of Dorothy Young, who was, in fact, brought on as an apprentice to Houdini in her teens! . Wren's impressive crowdwork is a delight to read, particularly during one scene when she and Agent Matthews team up on stage. Their banter is adorable and slyly cheeky! 

 

For those picking this up not realizing it falls under Christian fiction, have no fears of uncomfortable reading. The religious elements are actually quite light, not going much beyond light, passing mentions of "God's Light" or "King of Kings", that kind of thing. That and possibly Wren's repeated distinction between magic and illusion. She does not like being labeled a magician because she feels magic touches upon darkness. Illusion meanwhile (she reasons) is merely slight-of-hand work.  

 

Staring through the doorway to the glass house, Wren watched the melody of the birds' flight. Why hadn't they tried to escape? They never did. Not even in her stage show. They flew over balconies. Under theater ceilings. Turning endless circles in cages of glass... But the birds never found freedom. They floated from branch to branch, content in their caged world, when if they'd been brave but once, they could have flown out the next time they door had been opened....Why, when freedom was so close, did they cling to their chains?

 

Wren tore her gaze from the winged creatures, the fight to suppress emotion a losing battle. She let go for a rare moment, allowing herself to weep into her hands.

 

I came to find that I had guessed one of Wren's major secrets in the early chapters of the story, as well as pinning who the main "bad guy" would be at around the halfway point, though it is not actually revealed until pretty close to the end of the novel. So, somewhat of a predictablity factor there for me but still quite a fun read! I got a chuckle near the end, as characters are escaping a major fire, because the way Cambron describes the moment reminded me of the close of the first Die Hard film! 

 

*Bonus: If you're a fan of the Gwen Marcey series by Carrie Stuart Parks, Cambron gives a shout-out to her in the acknowledgements in this book, giving thanks for helping out with the toxicology elements of the plot here.

 

FTC Disclaimer: Thomas Nelson Publishers,via both BookLookBloggers.com and TNZ Fiction Guild, kindly provided me with a complimentary copy of this book & requested that I check it out and share my thoughts. The opinions above are entirely my own.

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review SPOILER ALERT! 2017-06-28 09:06
The Hideaway by Lauren K. Denton
The Hideaway - Lauren K. Denton

After her last remaining family member dies, Sara Jenkins goes home to The Hideaway, her grandmother Mags’s ramshackle B&B in Sweet Bay, Alabama. She intends to quickly tie up loose ends then return to her busy life and thriving antique shop in New Orleans. Instead, she learns Mags has willed The Hideaway to her and charged her with renovating it—no small task considering her grandmother’s best friends, a motley crew of senior citizens, still live there. Rather than hurrying back to New Orleans, Sara stays in Sweet Bay and begins the biggest house-rehabbing project of her career. Amid drywall dust, old memories, and a charming contractor, she discovers that slipping back into life at The Hideaway is easier than she expected. Then she discovers a box Mags left in the attic with clues to a life Sara never imagined for her grandmother. With help from Mags’s friends, Sara begins to piece together the mysterious life of bravery, passion, and choices that changed her grandmother’s destiny in both marvelous and devastating ways. When an opportunistic land developer threatens to seize The Hideaway, Sara is forced to make a choice—stay in Sweet Bay and fight for the house and the people she’s grown to love or leave again and return to her successful but solitary life in New Orleans.

Amazon.com

 

 

 

 

Sara Jenkins is an antiques dealer living in New Orleans, Louisiana when she gets word that her 72 year old grandmother, "Mags", (the last of Sara's immediate family, after being orphaned at the age of twelve) in Sweet Bay, Alabama has passed away. In addition to this news, Sara is told that she has been left her grandmother's home / business of sorts, The Hideaway Bed & Breakfast. Sara visits the property with the idea to immediately get the house listed so she can make a quick sale and truck it back to New Orleans to carry on with her life. Once on site however, Sara sees that what was affectionately being referred to as a bed & breakfast is actually more of a seniors' community made up of Mags' friends taking up residence in all the rooms. Quickly falling under the charms of these senior citizens, Sara decides to take on all the intensive, desperately needed renovations.

 

Whether she'll sell or stay, she's struggling to decide.... the choice becoming even more complicated once she meets the attractive contractor hired onto the job. While elbows deep in the work, Sara comes upon a box of letters & mementos belonging to Mags, items that tell of an entirely different woman than the one Sara thought she knew. The Mags in the letters is bold and wildly in love, far from the sweet, subdued nature of Sara's grandmother. As Sara tries to make sense of all this, she is simultaneously forced to fend of a greedy land developer interested in snatching up the property for a shopping area / apartment plan in the works. 

 

Told in alternating POVs -- between the story of Mags and that of her granddaughter, Sara -- this novel opens in modern times and spans back to the 1960s, when Mags' letters introduce the reader to her 22 year old newlywed self (albeit then known as Margaret Van Buren), already in a struggling marriage to a wealthy, respected, but emotionally neglectful (not to mention philandering!) man. It's largely through the letters that the reader is given insights into how the woman of status, "Margaret", became the artsy, go-with-the-flow, B & B owning- gypsy soul known as "Mags".

 

 

 

Well, I'll start off by saying that this is absolutely the perfect, easy-breezy, poolside kind of read. Perfect for fans of The Notebook! Not saying the plot is necessarily super-similar, just that the tone / feel one gets from this is similar to that Sparks novel. The Hideaway definitely has Hallmark summertime movie (adaptation, that is) all over it. While the plot itself is not terribly original --- person inheriting property, deciding what to do with it, going on a literal / emotional journey that leads to revelatory information about benefactor being brought to light in the process -- the characters themselves are what make this particular novel a solid good time. Each resident at The Hideaway is endearingly unique and heartwarming in character. 

 

That being said, there were just a few things that bothered me leading me to knock my rating down a bit:

 

*

Mags basically vilifies her philandering husband but kinda walks into a kettle-pot situation when she SO easily takes up with William. 

(spoiler show)

 

* And also this quote by Mags: "At 33, I'm long past the age of letting myself get swept up by a man, no matter how charming or handsome he may be." I just found that line depressing. One needs a lovely moment of getting "swept up" from time to time, regardless of age! 

 

* Sara's assistant in New Orleans, Allyn: I knew going in that this book was published through a Christian publishing house, so I don't know if that plays a role in this, but it bugged me that author Lauren Denton hinted at Allyn being gay in such a heavy-handed way but never actually uses the word. In an age where LGBTQ+ representation in fiction is so strongly requested and sought out, I thought Denton dropped the ball in this respect. 

 

Near the end of this novel, some of the "reveal" bits of the story, where issues are magically explained into sense, reminded me somewhat of some of the big plot reveals used in Captain Corelli's Mandolin by Louis De Bernieres. Personally, I wasn't entirely happy with the fate Denton wrote for The Hideaway property, as far as the specifics of how things were resolved. Still, I quite enjoyed the underlying inspiring theme of people finding a true sense of family and community with people who accept them just as they are... oh my, went a bit Bridget Jones' Diary there for a moment! 

 

Also, bonus points for throwing my own town into the mix of places used in this book! 

 

For those who might want to use this for a possible book group selection, a discussion questions guide is included in the back of the paperback edition. 

 

FTC Disclaimer: BookLookBloggers.com and Thomas Nelson Publishers kindly provided me with a complimentary copy of this book & requested that I check it out and share my thoughts. The opinions above are entirely my own.

 

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review 2017-05-10 09:25
Marcelo In The Real World by Francisco X. Stork | #AutismAwareness
Marcelo in the Real World - Francisco X. Stork

Marcelo Sandoval hears music that nobody else can hear --- part of an autism-like condition that no doctor has been able to identify. But his father has never fully believed in the music or Marcelo's unique perception of reality, and he challenges Marcelo to work in the mailroom of his law firm for the summer... to join "the real world". There Marcelo meets Jasmine, his beautiful and surprising coworker, and Wendell, the son of another partner in the firm. He learns about competition and jealousy, anger and desire. But it's a picture he finds in a file -- a picture of a girl with half a face --- that truly connects him with the real world: its suffering, its injustice, and what he can do to fight.

~from back cover

 

 

 

 

Seventeen year old Marcelo (pronounced "Marselo") is described as having an "autism-like" condition. That's as close as doctors can come to defining his unique gift of being able to hear music where no one else can. Unfortunately for Marcelo, his father doesn't see anything particularly rare or special about his son's gift. Instead, the father pushes Marcelo to take a job in the mailroom of his law firm --- dad's reasoning being that the position will teach Marcelo useful skills about "the real world"  and put him on the path to success, rather than let his mind run away with creative dreamer fancies. 

 

Once in the mailroom environment, Marcelo meets and befriends the lovely Jasmine and Wendell, the son of one of the partners at the law firm. As his father anticipated, the first days were an experience for Marcelo, to say the least, as another "autism-like" trait that Marcelo displays is a struggle with interpreting facial expressions. But thanks to classes Marcelo attends to help him learn tips & tricks to help him out with this (instruction in voice inflection, speech patterns, and the like), it actually doesn't take him too long to find his way. It's a tough time for the reader though. We have to watch Marcelo navigate around co-workers who assume he's mentally incompetent, or those who try to bully or take advantage of him because he can't immediate recognize that he is being tricked. This is the "real world" his father so desperately wanted him to be a part of... thanks, dad! 

 

 

"What's wrong with you, anyway? With the way you think. Your father said you had some kind of cognitive disorder."

 

"He said that." It surprises me to hear Arturo refer to me that way. He has always insisted that there's nothing wrong with me. The term "cognitive disorder" implies there is something wrong with the way I think or with the way I perceive reality. I perceive reality just fine. Sometimes I perceive more of reality than others.

 

Marcelo develops a love for religious texts and often turns to reading or reciting scripture to himself to calm his nerves when the world starts to overwhelm him. At one point, he finds himself unexpectedly caught up in one of his father's most important legal cases, one that will push Marcelo to fight for what he believes in, regardless of what others around him might say. 

 

After being published in 2009, in 2010 this novel was awarded the Schneider Family Book Award for Teen Fiction, an award that recognizes fiction that focuses on characters with disabilities. 

 

I've come across pages of glowing reviews for this one, and while I did very much enjoy it, I can't comfortably join the 5 star crowd here. The story had some dents for me. I loved Marcelo, the way his mind worked and his unique style of interacting with others even if he didn't (admittedly) always understand all the unspoken social cues. Something in that I found myself relating to quite a bit. His friendship with Jasmine was undeniably sweet and I found myself wishing he and Wendell could get on a bit better. So the characters undeniably spoke to me on some level. My trouble was with the writing. Some of the characters came off just a little too weirdly staccato in their speech and mannerisms for my enjoyment. The flow of things just felt a shade off from natural. In Marcelo's case it's understandable and almost expected, given that he's been diagnosed with a "autism-like" condition, but that doesn't explain the other characters!

 

Also, if I'm being honest with my reading experience... there was just something a little... lackluster... with the plot as a whole. I was all about this story in the early pages! Those first few chapters definitely had me hooked. But this was one of those books where I could feel my love and interest of it slowly trickling down instead of racing up. Reading pages on end and then realizing later, "you know, that was actually a whole lotta nothing going on"... and the book's not even that long! Still, I did quite like Stork's message here -- the way Marcelo finds his own voice in a sea of so many others telling him what he needs or what he should do --- it made me curious to try out some of Stork's other works just to compare, so I now have a couple on order. Even with the elements I myself found problematic, I would still solidly recommend this to anyone looking for YA reads featuring the theme of autism and enhanced abilities. 

 

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review 2017-04-22 00:09
The Dog Who Was There by Ron Marasco
The Dog Who Was There - Ron Marasco

No one expected Barley to have an encounter with the Messiah. He was homeless, hungry, and struggling to survive in first century Jerusalem. Most surprisingly, he was a dog. But through Barley’s eyes, the story of a teacher from Galilee comes alive in a way we’ve never experienced before. Barley’s story begins in the home of a compassionate woodcarver and his wife who find Barley as an abandoned, nearly-drowned pup. Tales of a special teacher from Galilee are reaching their tiny village, but when life suddenly changes again for Barley, he carries the lessons of forgiveness and love out of the woodcarver’s home and through the dangerous roads of Roman-occupied Judea. On the outskirts of Jerusalem, Barley meets a homeless man and petty criminal named Samid. Together, Barley and his unlikely new master experience fresh struggles and new revelations. Soon Barley is swept up into the current of history, culminating in an unforgettable encounter with the truest master of all as he bears witness to the greatest story ever told.

Amazon.com

 

 

 

In 1st century Jerusalem, a pregnant stray dog gives birth to a litter of pups in a wooded area near the river. The runt of the litter is spotted by Micah, the young son of a wealthy landowner. Micah sneaks away from chores each day to play with the pup, until the day he is found out by his father. The father tries to have the whole litter killed but thanks to the efforts of Duv, a woodcarver, and his wife, Adah, the young pup is saved and named Barley. 

 

It is in the home of the woodcarver that Barley first starts to hear stories of an already near-mythic man from the land of Galilee. That's right, none other than than big man himself, Jesus! For seven years, Barley has a cozy home life full of love and treats. But one regular work day in town leads to tragedy for the woodcarver and his wife, a turn of events that once again puts Barley out on the streets. The scared canine is soon spotted by Samid, a homeless man / petty criminal, and his lady friend Prisca. Though the accomodations are significantly more humble than his previous pad, Barley takes what he can get and soon settles into a moderately comfortable routine with new pal Samid. Barley's life with Samid puts him in close proximity to Jesus, now in Jerusalem, so Barley is there to witness the final days leading up to the Passion of Christ

 

For dogs, no less than for people, firsts matter. They echo long past their point in time, especially in dreams. It's true of the good firsts, and very true of the bad ones. That's why when a dog cries in a dream -- even a full-grown dog, even an old dog -- the cry it cries is the cry of a pup, because that's what it is doing when it sleeps -- reliving a first. 

 

Well, right off, I will say that this is a unique way to breathe fresh new perspective into a tale that's been told a million times over! The writing sometimes struck me as somewhat simplistic but that could just be a natural by-product of the author choosing to tell the story from the inner thoughts of a dog. Perhaps the simplicity is intentional? Regardless, the benefit of a simple voice is that it makes this story perfect for sharing with readers within a wide age range.

 

Note that I was careful not to say "of all ages", because there is material within this novel that may be a little traumatic for the littlest ones in your life, whether they read independently or have you read to them. Barley witnesses (and describes) seeing the bodies of people executed by hanging, there are moments of extreme violence within Barley's own life, moments where he is injured, not to mention Barley relaying the sights of the Crucifixion itself near the end of the novel. The fate of Duv & Adah (the woodcarver and his wife) show just how rough and sometimes lawless this time period could be. So when it comes to the smallest of your story lovers, I'd recommend maybe first doing a read-through to see what you need to gloss over for them. 

 

Much of the story, as far as plot, while solidly enjoyable, lacked that little something extra for me. For the majority of the book, I kept waiting for that extra oomph to kick in. That said, I did enjoy the "voice" of our dog narrator and one of my favorite bits of the whole story was Samid and his friendship / something more? with Prisca. There was a good dose of humor and lively banter between them. I agree with Prisca, Samid outwardly appears rough around the edges, but you get the sense there's a good guy there deep down.

 

"Despair."

 

Samid said the word before she could. Which made them smile at each other, sweetly but sadly. 

 

"Why is our despair such a difficult thing for us to give up?" asked Samid.

 

Prisca replied, "I think despair is so difficult to let go of because it helps us to justify teh worst things inside of us. We think: I lack, so I can steal. I hurt, so I can injure. I failed at one thing, so now watch me destroy my whole life ... But when the despair is gone, we cannot help but change. We simply must."

 

The two were silent for a few moments. 

 

 

What ended up bumping this up to a four star read for me was simply Barley's observations during the Crucifixion. The way author Ron Marasco painted these scenes gave me a whole new visual of this event I've heard told in stories SO many times over. Yet something in the way Marasco illustrates it (in words) made it more real for me than nearly any other piece on the Crucifixion I've ever read. Ever. I physically flinched at what Barley describes himself seeing as the walk up to the cross is taking place. The attention to detail Marasco provides when describing the whippings Jesus is taking from soldiers, the way Barley winces and whimpers and thinks of him (Jesus) as Kind Man. It all just knocks you right in the heart! Beyond the Crucifixion scene, there is a further twist to the ending that I did not entirely see coming! 

 

 

FTC Disclaimer: TNZ Fiction Guild kindly provided me with a complimentary copy of this book & requested that I check it out and share my thoughts. The opinions above are entirely my own.

 

 

--------------------------

 

EXTRAS

 

Author Ron Marasco has a PhD in theater history and is a professor at Loyola University. He also has some acting credits to his name on shows you've likely watched! 

 

 

 

 

A note on promo blurbs & cover design:

 

First off, thumbs up for getting a blurb from Kristin Chenoweth on there. Love her!

 

But regarding the cover, I was one of a select group of bloggers who were asked to give their opinion on the few different design options designed for this title. Still bummed that my pick was not chosen, as I voted strongly AGAINST having to have a cover featuring a dog anus front and center. Particularly when there was one design (the one I voted for) that featured an ADORABLE dog's profile giving a little glance to the reader. I'll let it go though, because this cover dog does look similar to my mother in law's sweet pup. :-)

 

But props to Thomas Nelson Pub. for at least darkening that area to a little less off-putting level lol Also funny to read in the book the dog's coat being described as "off-white fur". I know it's a little hard to tell with the lighting but that cover dog looks as if it'd be pretty distinctly brown with maybe some black highlight areas. A little reading peeve of mine, when it seems like the cover designer didn't read the book they were designing for! 

 

 

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