Fiction Review: Jerry B. Jenkins and Chris Fabry’s “The Book of the King”

A recommendation review!

The primary genre I read for pleasure is allegory, particularly fantasy-based. So upon learning of this series, I was interested to see what kind of introduction it created for the younger reader into the genre. 

The Book of the King is the first title in The Wormling Series. Five titles in total, each at just about 300 pages each, this is a good step for younger readers transitioning to longer series. This would be a good lead-in to other young adult series that I fully recommend, such as those by Donita K. Paul or Patrick Carr.

I absolutely love the writing style that Mr. Jenkins and Mr. Fabry use in The Book of the King. The language and cadence are perfectly balanced, and really draws you in. As this is targeted at a younger audience, they do an incredible job of “show, don’t tell” description, without going overboard and getting long-winded. They speak TO the intended audience, not down AT them.

At only 300 pages, the story moves at a brisk pace, but there were several times it felt like the reader was almost being rushed along past the story, instead of getting to participate in it. There were times it was a little blurry as to what was happening in the action scenes, or when there is dialogue between several characters at once. Perhaps, if I were to go back and re-read the work at an intentionally measured pace, it would clear a bit. Also, this is the first book, and usually it takes at least one book for any series to get its footing.

Wait, it ended there?! But we were just getting started on the quest!

The ending comes up rather abruptly, at least to an older reader. Looking at it through the lens of a younger reader, we have just gotten through one epic battle, have geared up for the next part of the journey, and set our foot on the path to it. It is a natural break, and a good hook for them to want the next book.

An interesting read.  I’ll have to look into the rest of the series.

Non-Fiction Review: John Antal’s “7 Leadership Lessons of the American Revolution”

“Contented men do not lead rebellions.”

Mr. Antal has the gift of the pithy quote. This whole work was filled with little gems, perfect for storing and bringing out in conversation.

The strength of Mr. Antal’s personal quotes are matched only by his great use of quotes by historical and venerated figures. You can feel the depth of his research, the solid foundation upon which he has built his facts and thesis.

Each chapter is focused on a key attribute of leadership, broken into smaller components that are a part of that attribute. These are shown to us through the lens of a specific figure in the American Revolution, with a story-telling style that I enjoyed. The way the history is wrapped into the present on each point is very well done, and made for a very meaty read.

I have a great love of history, fostered by excellent teachers. I love that no matter how many times you learn about a subject, there is always more to know. For example, I did not know previously that Henry Knox was a bookseller, or that Benjamin Franklin was 70 years old when he helped edit the Declaration of Independence.

The greatest strength of the book is that the author understands what makes people tick.

“You cannot lead effectively unless your organization understands your vision and acts upon it.”

“…a leader must make his team members feel the cause as much as understand it”

These quotes both exemplify much of the author’s thesis about the American Revolution, as well as his writing style. There is a good balance between the historical focus, and the leadership focus, neither overwhelming the other. I recommend this work as a teaching tool for those first learning about the Revolution, to round out what they are learning and give them more to chew on.

I received a review copy of this work from the publisher through NetGalley.

 

Non-Fiction Review: Iain M. Duguid’s “Living in the Grip of Relentless Grace”

That moment when everything “clicks”. You know it. That “ohhhh!” instant.

Reading Living in the Grip of Relentless Grace was one long, continual moment of new understanding. It is the latest release in the series The Gospel According to the Old Testament, which I am now eager to get my hands on in its entirety!

Seriously, this work is amazing. I almost don’t even know where to start in my hearty recommendation!

Often, while studying the Bible, we focus on the “big” moments, the triumphs of faith and the faithful. I’ve only ever had a handful of studies that got down into the nitty-gritty of the patriarchs’ life, and looked at the rough edges as well as the refined product. But this is the first time I’ve read a study that emphasized those rough edges as shouting the Gospel from the Old Testament. This is a work that reminds us that while we should strive to live worthy of our final heavenly reward, Christ is here, along the daily path with us, as well.

But we so easily seemingly forget that. In our headlong rush through life, we are often guilty of not waiting on God to do what he has promised, or trusting we will end up where he is leading. Many times we find ourselves trying to give God a “little assistance.” Human nature is so focused on our aspirations, so used to certain “norms” that God has to step in and shake us up, so we will get outside of our self-imposed boxes, and see the full extent of his plan.

How come we desire the blessing more than we desire God himself?

Praise the Lord for Grace.

Through the lives of Isaac and Jacob, this book reminds us over and over of the powerful God we serve, and how his plans and blessings for us are beyond the short-term things we are so often running to. He shakes up our “normal” and proves over and over that his favor is not measured by man’s yardstick, his Grace cannot be earned.

This is a reminder I needed, and will continue to need. And re-reading this book is a great place to start! The extra questions and readings at the end of each chapter are great study and small group material.

I really like this hard-hitting and transformative book. I know you will as well!

I received a review copy of this work from the publisher through NetGalley.

Fiction Review: “Flambé in Armagnac” – Le French Book

I’ve just finished reading the next Winemaker Detective book, Flambé in Armagnac, being released this summer! Previous reviews will tell you of my great affinity for this series, and I have no hesitation in saying each one is better and better.

The opening was one of the best I’ve seen in a long time – taking an everyday item or occurrence, in this case, buying a yearly calendar, and spinning it to draw the reader in with a great visual hook. I re-read it about three times for the sheer pleasure of a cool bit of writing, those little moments in books that stick with you even when the other quotes have faded.

At this point in the series we *know* there’s going to be a mystery or some puzzle to solve, so the authors turn our expectation around on itself by introducing an insurance claim for Cooker to investigate. To still keep us on our toes, however, they add a few layers to what is going on, several mysteries at once to solve. It makes for a busy, but exciting read.

Flambé in Armagnac is interesting in that the resolution and explanation comes straight from the culprit’s mouth, unlike the previous works where we are looking back and someone else is explaining it. In this case, it was the best way to bring conclusion to everything that had happened, and also show the authors’ strengths in varying their style, even within the same series.

As always, food, wine, and even more food, but this time the reader isn’t just treated to the sights, smells and tastes in consumption, but also while preparing the dishes! I liked the expansion of this central part of these works – it made it feel more accessible to me, as a reader without much prior knowledge of the French plate.

Beyond all the mysteries and food, there was another, slightly veiled theme that stays with the reader, to muse upon once the rush of solving the puzzle passes. That being, how far-reaching and impactful the actions of one family, even one person, can be on those around them. This is the first time where not only the great cuisine but also the mystery can be pulled out and looked at in the context of the reader’s own life and experiences.

We get to know more about Virgile, and hear from his point of view a great deal. This was one of the best aspects of this book to me, as we finally start to really understand him not just as apprentice, but assistant, and heir-apparent to Cooker’s legacy. Seeing from his view also gave us more moments of intentional humor and joking, which made this book both a fun, and at times, funny read.

I cannot wait for you to get your own copy!

I received a review copy of this work from the publisher through NetGalley.

Non-Fiction Review: Jim Defede’s “The Day the World Came to Town”

It’s been a while since I have sat down and read a book cover to cover, and I enjoyed this one immensely! The story-telling style, the pacing, and the story itself made for an amazing work that I am definitely adding to my personal library!

I was in 8th grade science class when I learned something had happened to the twin towers. And then….nothing. For the next four years of secondary education, I didn’t learn about it in school, or really even talk about it in any class. This book taught me several things about that day that even up until this point, I personally didn’t know – starting with the fact that ALL of United States’s airspace was shut down.

And that’s where the work starts, with what happened to all the other planes up in the air, heading to American airports. The story is fascinating and will definitely inspire you to get out and help your neighbor!

I learned the facts of 9/11 in the many works I’ve read since then, and I still wonder about never learning about it from my schooling. Was it because it was still so soon, so raw? Or because we were old enough to understand what had happened and had “experienced” it, our educators felt we didn’t need it added to our history lessons? I might go and ask my parents and grandparents about how long it took the JFK assassination or Pearl Harbor to show up while they were in school. Perhaps my experience is unique. All I know is I wish it hadn’t taken me 13 years to find this book! (published in 2002)

I can’t say enough good about this work. I hope you enjoy it as much as I did!

Fiction Review: Jessica Dotta’s “Born of Persuasion”

When I received this book I knew it was part of a trilogy, however, I did not know until I finished that it was in essence a very long chapter one, not a standalone work. I personally am not a fan of series that don’t make each work a complete tale within the whole of the overarching story. If an author is worried about bringing readers back, they should not default to the cliff-hanger, “tune in next thursday,” gimmick, but strengthen the work they already have. A great story, a well-crafted world, will bring the audience back again and again.

The pace of this work was much slower than those of my most recent reviews. This gives the reader time to completely understand the feelings and mindset of Julia, as we see everything from her point of view, and her perception.

However, we are told the tale by future Julia, looking back on everything that happened. I thought this was a neat twist on the “unreliable narrator,” as Julia gives us no reason to doubt or rethink anything that is happening, until she herself throws out a “what if” or “perhaps” into our reading.

The action doesn’t really pick up until about the last third of the book, and while I liked the opportunity to get such an in-depth look into Julia’s mindset, I felt it work was so focused on character development, it didn’t allow itself to just relax and tell the story.

An interesting read, just be forewarned that you must invest in the trilogy as a whole to complete the story.

I received a review copy of this work from the publisher through NetGalley.

Fiction Review: Rachel Bach’s “Fortune’s Pawn”

As a fan of the mecha genre, I am always drawn toward stories that incorporate some sort of suit, just to see what variation they do upon the theme. Fortune’s Pawn does not disappoint. My only quibble? I now want my own Lady Grey!

The thing I enjoyed most while reading Fortune’s Pawn was Ms. Bach’s unique descriptions. She perfectly captures the image she is trying to paint in our minds, but with an unexpected simile or metaphor. It really pulled the reader in and made the world the author created an immersive experience right off the bat.

I also liked the way in which Ms. Bach built her characters throughout the book. We get a fully rounded picture without slowing down the pace of this fast-moving book for any lengthy exposition.

And fast-moving indeed! The reader is kept at a relentless pace, which is great for building the atmosphere of the story and conveying the world in which Devi lives and operates.

I enjoyed the character of Devi, but toward the end of the book, something seemed off. While she is supposed to be a strong-willed, give no quarter character, she came across more as head-strong, which is at odds with our first introduction to this decorated officer. We are introduced to an unconventional, yet perfect military officer, and since her whole life’s goal depends upon her performance on Caldswell’s watch, I expected more crisp, perfect military performance. It feels like her character gets off track somewhere.

As there are two more books in the trilogy, which I look forward to reading, perhaps they will finish out Devi’s tale in a way that reconciles all parts.

Nevertheless, a fun read!

I received a review copy of this book from the publisher through Netgalley.

Non-Fiction Review: Dr. Sedler’s “Stopping Words That Hurt”

Do you truly understand the power of words?

I thought I did. My hobbies, my career, my goals – all relate in some fashion to the use of words, written or spoken.

And then, Stopping Word That Hurt. It has been a while since I read a work that challenged me, pulled and stretched, and at the end of reading, I felt I had not only expanded my mind but my Self through reading it.

Dr. Sedler has been both teacher and counselor along his career path, and this shows in the way he does not talk down to his reader, but speaks directly to them, in a firm tone of authority. There is no hedging in his demeanor, no gray area in his text. His chapters have a stark clarity about them, like the crisp contrast you see through a properly calibrated microscope. It took me a little bit to get used to his style, but once I did, I completely enjoyed the book.

“There is something about putting words in writing that creates hesitation and even fear in people. We call it accountability.” – pg 42

Accountability – that is the core theme of Stopping Words That Hurt. As children, we are taught that gossiping and careless words are hurtful, and that we should watch what we say, but do we truly understand why? What’s the harm in tossing a little “aside” to the audience? And how binding are the words we speak on ourselves or others?

To answer, let me share with you a new Bible insight I learned during my reading of the book. Dr. Sedler brings up the story of the Fiery Furnace, a favorite of Sunday Schools everywhere. But he focuses on something I had always overlooked. King Nebuchadnezzar built his statue and commanded all people of his entire nation to bow down to it. The entire nation of Babylon. Now honestly, if three guys didn’t bow down, how was he to know? Well, Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego were already set apart because they, along with Daniel, had become high officials in Babylon through the Lord’s favor. There were those who were jealous of their success. So they murmured, they gossiped, and when they had enough people to support them, they went to the king with their accusations. We know how the end of that story turned out. That’s a pretty cool “extra” to add to your Bible story, but have you ever caught what happened next? After they were saved from the fire, King Nebuchadnezzar declares all who speak against God will be punished. Some time passes, and the king happens to speak out in pride against God, and is stricken to live like an animal until he repents. His punishment came as a fulfillment of his own decree. I had never seen that correlation.

Wow.

With many other examples Dr. Sedler drives home how words really do hold incredible power, and that we are accountable for how we use them. So then, the question becomes. how are we to interact with others?

“Spirituality is not measured by how well we expose an offender, but by how effectively we assist in the effort to restore an offender.” – pg.47

“When a person falls into a sinful pattern, our greatest desire should be for restoration not consequences. for repentance not persecution, for humility not embarrassment.” – pg. 84

Stop and think a moment. Did Jesus ever shame or humiliate someone into repentance, into a relationship with him? Then why often, does the Church, trying to be Christ’s hands and feet on earth, act like that is the way to reconcile the world? This point gave me many things to think about, and I weigh everything I write or speak much more carefully now.

I’ve not even begun to scratch the depths of the many new insights and truths Dr. Sedler gave me a new understanding on. There’s much more on the topic of gossip and murmuring:

How odd that people spend so much time and energy coveting what is not theirs, and so little time and energy cultivating what is given to them by God! – pg. 77

As well as the power of words of encouragement. Something for you to ponder – why do we give more weight to the critic than the encourager in our lives?

These, as well as many other examples of the way words impact our lives, and how to use their power in uplifting ways, how to avoid and diffuse the negative.

Each chapter has extra verses and reading suggestions for context and further research, and closes with a few questions to think about. At the end of the book is a strong call to reconciliation – I personally found it to be very convicting and it stirred me to action in my own life.

I hope you enjoy reading this book as much as I did!

I received a copy of this book from the publisher through Netgalley

Fiction Review: Le French Book – “Mayhem in Margaux”

Winemaker Detective #6

“The slow pace, odd characters, and provincial rhythm spoke to her more than American hard-boiled fiction with their bursts of gunfire, bloody pursuits, and plot twists on every page…too many were formulaic, as far as she was concerned.”

This quote explains EXACTLY why I like this series so much. I love mystery stories, but it is true that here in the American mainstream you see a formula employed again and again. Writers use it because it works, but then you train your reader/viewer to expect the surprise, which dulls the reveal just a touch. With these works, I’ve NEVER been able to predict what’s going to be on the next page. The only surety I have about any of the series is that it will be a sumptuous, sensual experience of food and wine and story.

Mayhem in Margaux gives us the human, fatherly side of Cooker. We get to see his family life and interactions. This was nice because up until now, Elizabeth has been a character almost only in name. We’ve seen glimpses of her in the hall, heard Cooker laud her as his wife, but now we get to meet the lady herself. I loved the family dynamic between Cooker, Elizabeth, and Margaux. There was no pretense on the part of the authors, it wasn’t stilted in the slightest. A true portrait of family life, which I greatly enjoyed.

The mystery this time is straightforward in the who, what, and why when we get to the reveal, but in the meantime, we really get drawn into the frustrations of the winegrowers, the heat and fatigue that can wreak havoc on their crop, so we can understand why the culprit did what he did.

I eagerly await the translation of the next in the series!

I received a review copy of this work from the publisher through NetGalley.

Fiction Review: Le French Book – “Cognac Conspiracies”

Winemaker Detective #5!

When you find a great series, you can’t help but just go hungrily from one title to the next. The only downside is when you begin to near the end of the currently published or translated works, and have to begin the eager wait for the next!

I’ve said it before in my reviews, and I’ll say it over again – the mark of a stellar author is one that remains true to their style, but also innovates with each new work. And the authors of the Winemaker Detective series have hit that mark each and every time. The new facet they bring out in Cognac Conspiracies is that of extended passages from other viewpoints than that of Cooker. I even noticed the word usage changed depending on the character, as certain words and descriptive styles would show up more often respectively, and it really helped to shift the perspective. I really liked that about this work, it added a layer of interest.

This book also stretched me as a linguist, as I had to stop and look up no less than 3 words throughout my reading. I greatly enjoyed getting to expand my vocabulary and understanding of the world of the book, but I must recommend that readers keep a dictionary close at hand when they pick up Cognac Conspiracies!

I’ve shared before how these books are written from a world-view and style very different from my previous experience, and I’ve enjoyed getting to experience that. However, this particular title seemed a little out of the normal cadence for the authors. My reading felt like the sensation of going down a bumpy road while having a conversation. There was bumpy, wobbling aspect to the voice in this work, but as always, the mystery wrapped with a straight forward, clean ending. I didn’t feel the quality of the tale suffered any, it was just something that gave me pause in my reading.

Cognac Conspiracies went back to more of your classic mystery feel, but this was enriched by the multiple viewpoint format. The tale brings to life the business perils that are a reality in the world of spirits, or really any enterprise – but gave the reader something more to ponder by focusing on how different parties react when it comes to dealing with a family business; how to balance generational legacy with profits and market relevancy.

Highly recommended!

I received a review copy of this book from the publisher through NetGalley.