The Coronation: Uplifting, Family Fun (The Rebellion Blog Tour!)

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I’m so excited today to be a part of the blog tour for the release of The Rebellion by Livy Jarmusch! This is the second book in her Tales of Tarsurella series. I have not read it yet, but I definitely will soon, since I just finished The Coronation, the first book, and really enjoyed it! Today I’m going to review that for you. And once I’ve read The Rebellion, I’ll be sure to share what I thought of that one too!

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The Coronation by Livy Jarmusch

Three Stars

Age Suggestion: 10+

The Book

Prince Addison is only several weeks away from inheriting the Kingdom of Tarsurella. The entire Palace is ablaze with excitement, as the Royal Family prepares for the event of a lifetime. Despite the exciting event which is near at hand, Addison and his younger siblings (all seven of them!) must carry on with their daily activities.

Addison’s sisters, Princesses Bridget, Chasity, and Hope, have their struggles with being iconic European starlets of a modern day monarchy. The teen heiresses grace magazine covers, smile for photoshoots, and gracefully glide through important interviews–until a certain American popstar arrives on the scene. Kennetic Energy, the wildly popular band from the United States, is chosen to play at Addison’s Coronation. David Carter, the band’s handsome lead singer, fumbles through awkward moments with Princess Hope–in front of the cameras. When an embarrassing rumor sparks that Princess Hope is dating the young fellow, she is determined to get the band fired from their Royal gig.

Meanwhile, Princess Chasity is dealing with her own fragile affairs of the heart. Her new security guard, Hanson Fletcher, is completely captivating, yet entirely frustrating. She attempts to keep the entrance of her heart firmly protected, while following the wisdom of Proverbs 4:23. But can she be successful in guarding her heart, from her security guard?

My Thoughts

This was such a sweet book, and while the writing could have been better in places, that was overshadowed by the enjoyable plot and entertaining, touching character interactions.

The concept is so creative – taking a traditional fairy tale story and setting it in modern times; taking a modern royal family and making it a large, close-knit group of siblings, that almost feels like a typical homeschooled family. I loved the details about the media, the dresses, and the place this family occupies in their society. It’s interesting to imagine what that kind of life in the spotlight must be like.

I thought that Bridget, Chasity, and Hope all had very similar personalities that could have been defined a bit better, but overall I loved the large family and the way the siblings interacted. Addison is a great character, and Millie and Willie were so sweet.

Chasity and Hanson’s story felt like it went a little too quickly from hatred to love, while David and Hope were adorable. I did really like the realistic nature of both of those relationships and the thoughtful way the characters dealt with them. My favorite romance, though, was definitely the budding one between Addison and Vanessa. It was slow, and realistic, and sweet, and I can’t wait to see what happens with it!

I did feel that the book could have used another round of editing, just for some very small things that kept coming up (and these really aren’t a big deal, it’s just that small things like this tend to distract me more than they should). Things like a little bit of head-hopping, punctuation mistakes, etc. and just to smooth out the writing a bit.

(For the record, though, I noticed much less of those things toward the end, which means either they weren’t around anymore or I was so engrossed in the story that they didn’t distract me.)

I think Livy did an excellent job incorporating Biblical themes without sounding preachy. She put her characters in tough situations, first, and left them there for a little while, and then offered the Biblical solution. That strategy meant that it never felt forced, even when she had a paragraph of someone talking about God that could have easily sounded preachy. It didn’t, and that takes some serious skill!

Content-wise, the romance is very clean, and there’s no language. There is a little bit of an intense section in the middle, that gets slightly violent. I would happily hand this book to both of my younger sisters though (and probably will!) and think it would be fine for anyone ages 10 and up.

Overall, it was a good, light, clean read, and I can’t wait to read The Rebellion! There were some plot threads left hanging at the end of the first book that I’d really like to see resolved, and from the blurb, it looks like it will focus a lot on Addison and Vanessa, which I’m obviously very excited about. Livy is an author who I want to continue to watch – she’s using her talents for the glory of God, and I think she has so much potential and room to grow and develop as an author!

I received a free copy of The Coronation in exchange for an honest review. 

Author Bio + Links

AuthorPic1.jpgLivy Jarmusch is a twenty-something author, singer, and songwriter. She enjoys crafting YA fiction that is pure, lovely, inspirational, and of course, entertaining! When she’s not writing, you can usually find her playing guitar, blogging, drinking peppermint tea, connecting with new friends, planning her next trip to Disney, or pinning images of Europe and Golden Retriever Puppies.

 

Find The Rebellion on Amazon and Goodreads.

Find Livy on her blog, Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest, and Twitter.

What do you think? Have you read either of the Tales of Tarsurella? What other fun, clean books have you read lately? Let me know in the comments! 

love, grace

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Book Review: London in the Dark

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You may remember that a few weeks ago, I hosted young indie author Victoria Lynn here on the blog. The tour was to celebrate the one-year publication anniversary of her novel London in the Dark. I got a chance to read the book finally, and today I’d like to share my thoughts with you!

I received a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. 

About the Book

London, 1910

Budding Private Detective Cyril Arlington Hartwell has a conundrum. London is being ravaged by the largest run of thefts in recent history. His hunch that it is all tied together may put him and those he loves in more danger than he could have reckoned.

Olivia Larken Hartwell is just home from boarding school for the summer anticipating time with her adoring parents. She misses her absent brother, Cyril, hoping for the day he will finally come home. But tragedy strikes, causing upheaval for all concerned and changes her life in a way she never could have imagined.

Olivia, Cyril, and their friends must bring the hidden to light, seek to execute justice, and dispel the darkness that hovers over London… and their hearts.

My Thoughts

This was a quick, enjoyable read. What it lacked in writing quality, it made up for in engaging events and realistic, sympathetic characters.

I’ll start off by just saying that yes, it is a self-published book by a young author, and it does read like one, with the style feeling a bit amateur. I expected that going in – one reason I don’t read self-published books all that often is because I feel like sometimes they get published before they’re ready or before the author’s voice has matured. Once I got into the story, though, the writing didn’t matter quite as much and I was still able to enjoy the book.

The characters were probably the highlight. They were interesting, multi-faceted, and sympathetic, the kind of characters that feel like stereotypes, and are therefore easy to understand as you read, and yet go so far beyond the stereotypes when you actually stop to think about them.

Olivia is sweet, yet strong, and I mourned along with her and cheered her on in everything that she went through. Dudley is amazing (my personal favorite character), yet thankfully not perfect; Mrs. Larken is such fun, and Cyril’s character development is beautiful to watch.

The plot was well-written and kept me interested, especially the way everything started to come together near the end. As a writer myself, I can’t imagine ever attempting a mystery. There are so many plot threads and clues and elements to weave together, and Victoria did it really well!

The themes are beautiful and wholesome as well, a reminder of the grace of God and his support in our sufferings.

My one complaint is that the epilogue skipped ahead too far. It featured an event that, while I wanted it to happen, I wanted to be able to read about everything leading up to it (sorry to be so cryptic, but I can’t give details without spoilers). I just really wish that story had been a whole separate companion novella or something (maybe someday, Victoria? Please?), which in itself is a testament to how much I loved these characters.

Content-wise, there is some violence, especially a death that is pretty gruesome, plus explosions and guns and stuff like that. Tasteful, but there. Otherwise, there’s really nothing to worry about.

In Summary…

London in the Dark by Victoria Lynn

3.5 stars: an enjoyable and clean read

Recommended for ages 12+

Amazon: https://amzn.to/2pJ1thX

Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/32832281-london-in-the-dark?ac=1&from_search=true

 

What do you think? Have you read London in the Dark? If not, will you check it out? Share in the comments! 

love, grace

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Book Review: Counted Worthy

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Book Review: Counted Worthy

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Counted Worthy by Leah E. Good

My Rating: 4.5 stars

Age Suggestion: 12+

About the Book

Heather Stone lives in fear of repeating the past, yet she continues doing the one thing that could trigger another disaster. When the police trace an illegal Bible to her house, Heather’s world begins to crumble.

Her father’s life hangs in the balance. No one with the power to help knows or cares. If she tries to save him, she could lead her friends to their deaths. If she does nothing, her father’s fate is certain. Can she evade a hostile police force and win public sympathy before it’s too late? (from Goodreads)

My Thoughts

This book is scary to read; it’s dystopian, yet it doesn’t feel like much of a stretch from where our society is right now. A government intent on hunting down Christians, Bible-smuggling, and a society built on fear and lies are what make up the backdrop of this book, and it is a terrifying backdrop.

But that is what makes the book even more inspiring. Because it follows a girl who, even in the midst of all of this fear, is willing to stand up for what is right and do what it takes to get her father out of jail, and all of the people who stand with her.

The plot is exciting and fast-paced. It doesn’t offer trite answers or simple solutions, but shows the struggle of being a Christian in a hostile world honestly and clearly, with a good dose of action and banter mixed in which makes it a quick, engaging read. Heather’s character development is phenomenal. I can’t say too much about it without giving away the ending, but it ties so beautifully into the theme and is so well-done. And she’s surrounded by a cast of supporting characters who all have unique situations, strengths, and personalities. Especially Bryce. I love the simple care and chastity of their relationship, although I reallly hope it develops into a romantic one in the future 😉

The world-building is good, although the plot is very limited to one area, so I didn’t get much of a sense of the surrounding world. I do feel like that might have been purposeful, and I’m hoping to get more details about the history and the government in all of that in future books.

The writing really surprised me with how good it was! I went in knowing that this was a self-published book, and as such, expecting the writing to be the weak link, as I’ve found is the case so often with self-published books. But not this one! The writing is short and to-the-point, but somehow still manages to pack in tons of detail. Overall, in both writing and design, Counted Worthy didn’t feel self-published, and I could tell that Good knows her stuff.

And ultimately, the best thing about this book is the Christian themes. This might be the first Christian fiction book I’ve ever read that portrayed Christianity with high stakes, deep emotion, and no cheesiness. The Bible-quoting felt seamless and powerful, the faith wasn’t instant or easy. This book showed how hard Christianity can be, and how worth it. It showed how faith makes a person brave even when they’re scared. And it was powerful. Christianity in fiction is very hard to get right, and this book gets it right for sure. 

(Content: No language. Bryce and Heather have a boyfriend-girlfriend act they use to attract less attention, but there’s very little focus on it and their relationship is pretty much totally platonic. Some slightly intense scenes because of the genre and subject matter.)

Overall, I think every Christian should read this book, and I absolutely cannot wait for a sequel to come out!

Have you read Counted Worthy? Did you like it? How do you feel about Christianity in fiction, and what other books have you read that do it well? Share in the comments below! 

love, grace

Read more:

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4 Ways to Read More During the School Year (+book recommendations!)

I know many of you who follow my blog are avid readers, with stacks and piles of books waiting to be read. I am, too. I love books and reading is one of my favorite leisure activities.

But once school starts, our time slowly slips away from us and we find ourselves reading less and less. What can we do to ensure that even during the school year, when life gets busy, we are still enjoying great books on a regular basis?

I have four tips for you:

1. Take a book with you to school every day.

This may not apply to those of you who are homeschooled, but it’s the single tip that has made the most difference for me. I carry the book that I’m currently reading in my backpack every single day – it’s a daily essential just as much as my planner is.

Because there’s so much downtime in public school classes, and because I’m a pretty fast test-taker, I get a lot of reading done in little bits and pieces throughout the day. Between classes, after a quiz or test, on the bus, during study hall if you don’t have anything else to do…all of that is valuable time perfect for pulling out a book.

2. Set aside particular times in your weekly routine to read.

During the school year, spontaneously picking up a book in your “free time” usually isn’t going to happen (mostly because that free time doesn’t really exist). But if you structure longer chunks of reading time into your week, you’ll make steady progress. For me, this is usually weekends, especially Sundays. But whether it’s every evening before bed or for three hours on Saturday afternoon, plan some regular time into your schedule when you can consistently get some reading in.

3. Listen to audiobooks.

To be honest, I really prefer print books. There’s something about holding a book in your hand that just can’t be replaced. But if you’re an auditory learner, or you’re literally always on the go and can’t find time to read anywhere in your schedule, audiobooks might be a good option. You can listen to them while you’re driving, working out, doing chores, walking your dog, and more; it’s a great way to get through the books you want to read while still getting other things done as well.

Using audiobooks for school reading while multitasking can be a great way to save time too. (Even consider putting them on double-speed to save even more time!) You can then use the time that you would have spent reading school books to do other things (like reading for fun, maybe…?).

4. Choose books that you can’t put down.

Finally, make sure you are reading books that pull you in, books that you will voluntarily choose over social media and all those other time-wasting activities. If forcing yourself to read Charles Dickens is going to mean you never actually read at all, then don’t try to read Charles Dickens during the school year! Maybe do that over the summer instead.

If you like classics, by all means read classics. But if you just need to read light, fun books to take a break from schoolwork, that’s totally fine too.

Here are a few of my favorite lighter reads to get you started (if you want more details about any of these feel free to leave a comment!).

Image result for paper crowns mirriam nealPaper Crowns by Mirriam Neal (fantasy, fairy tale; be sure to enter the giveaway for a copy of this if you haven’t!)

Image result for the lunar chroniclesImage result for heartlessThe Lunar Chronicles and Heartless by Marissa Meyer (sci-fi/dystopian, fantasy, fairy tale retellings; some intense scenes/violence and mostly clean romance)

Image result for the penderwicksThe Penderwicks and sequels by Jeanne Birdsall (contemporary, family)

Image result for vinegar girl Vinegar Girl by Anne Tyler (contemporary, clean romance; maybe some language, I don’t remember)

Image result for interrupted rachel coker Interrupted by Rachel Coker (historical, clean romance, Christian)

Image result for miss peregrine's home for peculiar children series Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children and sequels by Ransom Riggs (fantasy/weird sort of historical; some language and intensity)

Image result for dragon king trilogy stephen lawhead The Dragon King trilogy by Stephen Lawhead (epic fantasy, adventure; some scary scenes/violence)

Image result for mitford series The Mitford series by Jan Karon (contemporary, family, Christian)

 

What do you think? How do you make time to read during the year? Have you read any of the books I recommended, and what others would you recommend? Share in the comments! 

love, grace

 

 

 

Book Review: Paper Crowns

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Paper Crowns by Mirriam Neal

My Rating: Four Stars

Age Suggestion: 10+

The Book

Ginger has lived in seclusion, with only her aunt Malgarel and her blue cat, Halcyon, to keep her company. Her sheltered, idyllic life is turned upside-down when her home is attacked by messengers from the world of fae. Accompanied by Halcyon (who may or may not be more than just a cat), an irascible wysling named Azrael, and a loyal fire elemental named Salazar, Ginger ventures into the world of fae to bring a ruthless Queen to justice.

My Thoughts

This was a cute, innocent romp into the world of fantasy, and I loved it! It was such fun to read, and left me feeling happy and satisfied. So many books these days tend to drain my emotions or end unsatisfactorily, and this was a nice break from that.

The plot itself is relatively simple, and I mean that as a compliment. It was refreshing to enjoy a story that wasn’t convoluted or incredibly complex (as much as I love that kind of book too), where the plot was a straightforward good vs. evil with a bit of magic thrown in. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with simplicity, nothing wrong with books that don’t attempt to tackle the problems of the world, and rather just give us a good story.

That’s not to say that there weren’t unique elements. I don’t know that I’ve ever before read a fantasy novel where the core group of questers (is that a word…I don’t know…) included a small petulant child and a really cute dog. So that made for some really interesting dynamics in the group as things went along.

The best part of this book was definitely, without a doubt, the dialogue! It’s funny and touching and kept me interested the whole time. And Mirriam is not afraid to layer the sass and bantering on thick! Often I read books that have a little bit of banter and then it’s not enough and I’m left wanting more, maybe because the author was afraid of overdoing it. Paper Crowns has just enough. It’s not forced and it all flows well with the story and the characters. It makes it more realistic too – because even on a dangerous quest, a regular group of people isn’t going to be solemn and single-minded the whole time. There will be little annoyances and quibbles and teasing and laughter. And she captured that so well.

Hal is the best. *tapes my mouth shut* *talks about Hal for twenty minutes, but luckily you can’t understand any of it because there’s tape on my mouth and SPOILERS*

Ginger herself was such a refreshing main character! She was sarcastic and independent without being the kind of stereotypical “tough girl” that gets on my nerves. There was a feminine side to her, a vulnerable side, the side that likes to buy pretty craft paper and fold it into birds and flowers. It was a beautiful balance that I really appreciated.

And the cast of supporting characters was unique and well-rounded, each one adding something to the story. The only one that I didn’t really feel was unique enough was Azrael, even though I loved him, because he and Hal were a little too similar for me. But overall, every character was great, entertaining, with a good role in the story.

*Content Warnings*

No language. Romance has some kissing but is all completely sweet and clean. There is a villain, with some violence including a few deaths and a climactic final battle; a few of the unsavory characters are a bit on the creepy side as well. But nothing is overly graphic at all, and it still retains a very innocent feel. This is a book I will definitely be giving to my younger sisters to read.

Basically, this is the kind of clean, sweet, innocently entertaining book that is so hard to find nowadays; it has high stakes that keep it interesting, but all with a light fairy-taleish feel. Mirriam’s writing is fantastic and I have a feeling this is a book I will often reread! I highly recommend it to anyone who looks fantasy, fairy tales, or just clean, good books. It’s great if you have younger siblings who need book recommendations too!

What do you think? Have you read Paper Crowns? If so, did you like it? If not, will you read it now? Tell me in the comments! 

love, grace

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Heartless: Wonderland As You’ve Never Seen It Before

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Heartless: Wonderland As You’ve Never Seen It Before

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Heartless by Marissa Meyer

My Rating: Four And a Half Stars

Age Suggestion: 14+

The Book

Catherine may be one of the most desired girls in Wonderland and a favorite of the unmarried King, but her interests lie elsewhere. A talented baker, she wants to open a shop and create delectable pastries. But for her mother, such a goal is unthinkable for a woman who could be a queen.

At a royal ball where Cath is expected to receive the King’s marriage proposal, she meets handsome and mysterious Jest. For the first time, she feels the pull of true attraction. At the risk of offending the King and infuriating her parents, she and Jest enter into a secret courtship.

Cath is determined to choose her own destiny. But in a land thriving with magic, madness, and monsters, fate has other plans.

My Thoughts

I absolutely LOVED this book!! I know some people have mixed feelings on it, and maybe it’s not quite as good as the Lunar Chronicles (which were just…beyond five stars and into the galaxy), but I loved it nonetheless.

I’ve read some reviews where people were upset about how the whole plot is basically Cath trying to avoid marrying the king. I get why they might not like that, but here’s the thing: not every book has to feature female heroines a la Katniss Everdeen and Tris, who go out and do karate and fight the evil government and wear leather jackets and intimidate everyone. This is not an action novel – it’s essentially a romance novel. And I get that people might not have been expecting that after the Lunar Chronicles, but this book isn’t the Lunar Chronicles. It’s a different kind of story, and that’s okay.

One reason I think I didn’t mind the slower pace is because I do really enjoy character-driven stories. And the characters in this story were all very interesting, some very frustrating, and they were enough to keep me invested in the story even when there wasn’t a lot of action going on.

To the people who complained that Cath was whiny: I don’t think she was that whiny, honestly, compared to some female characters I’ve read. (Whiny characters are a huge pet peeve of mine, and she didn’t bother me, which is saying something.) She was genuinely in a very tricky situation, too. She’s being forced to marry someone who will never make her happy – just because it’s not life-threatening doesn’t mean it’s not conflict.

Who was my favorite character, you ask? Jest. Of course. He’s honestly one of my favorite love interests I’ve ever read, fun but serious, unique, charming, and…ugh. So good.

The rest of the cast was so interesting too. I loved Margaret and the Duke…that little subplot was really cute and added so much to the story. Hatta was intriguing as well, and the Raven’s quoting was so great!

Honestly, I think my favorite thing about the book is just the way everything came together at the end and created the Queen of Hearts that we are familiar with. It’s hard to explain without spoiling anything, but the way the details are woven together is SO satisfying.

Satisfying, but in a bit of a heartbroken way. Just be warned…it’s not a happy book, which you probably could have guessed from the subject. I finished reading it at lunch at school and thank goodness I was with friends who even vaguely understood what I was feeling…

*Content Warnings*

No language.

The romance, while pretty much clean, is definitely on the more mature side with quite a bit of kissing, which I think would be better for ages 13-14 or so and up (depending on what you’re comfortable with).

There are some pretty intense action scenes, especially near the end, that might disturb younger readers.

 

Overall, I loved this book! I think that, while different from the Lunar Chronicles, it’s another fabulous read by Marissa Meyer that will definitely make it to my list of favorites for the year. Highly recommended if you like Alice in Wonderland, fantasy, or romance!

What do you think? Have you read Heartless? If so, did you like it? If not, will you read it now? Tell me in the comments! 

love, grace

Read more:

Book Review: The Lunar Chronicles by Marissa Meyer

Book Review: The Divergent Series by Veronica Roth

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The Broken Way: Finding Beauty in Brokenness and Suffering

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The Broken Way by Ann Voskamp

My Rating: Five Stars

Age Suggestion: 12+

The Book

What if you really want to live abundantly before it’s too late? What do you do if you really want to know abundant wholeness? This is the one begging question that’s behind every single aspect of our lives.

This one’s for the lovers and the sufferers. For those whose hopes and dreams and love grew so large it broke their willing hearts. This one’s for the busted ones who are ready to bust free, the ones ready to break molds, break chains, break measuring sticks, and break all this bad brokenness with an unlikely good brokenness.  You could be one of the Beloved who is broken — and still lets yourself be loved.

You could be one of them, one who believes freedom can be found not only beyond the fear and pain, but actually  within it.

You could discover and trust this broken way — the way to not be afraid of broken things.

(from Amazon with edits)

My Thoughts

This book is, to put it simply, one of the most beautiful things I’ve ever read.

I bought it a while back when I was at Barnes and Noble, and had put it at the end of my stack of books waiting to be read. But one day when I was having a particularly bad day, I needed something to encourage me and grabbed this book off the shelf. Wow, was it exactly what I was looking for.

The Broken Way is a raw, deeply personal, beautifully reflective exploration of how to navigate suffering as a Christian, and if you are going through something right now this book will absolutely speak to your soul. I cannot recommend it enough for those of you who are undergoing suffering of your own.

Even if you aren’t going through suffering, still read it! It addresses both the big suffering and the little, everyday stresses and worries that bother us all, giving a way to get through the general imperfection of life.

Ann Voskamp is one of the most talented writers alive today, and reading her writing is a unique experience unlike anything else. There were so many moments where I had to stop and read a phrase out loud to myself, slowly, and reflect on it before reading on, because it hit me so hard.

I have a feeling this will be one of my most-read, battered, scribbled-in-the-margins books in the years to come. It’s the kind of book that will change your life if you let it, the kind of book that every Christian should read and re-read and savor and live by.

Favorite Quotes (for just a taste of the beauty) 

“Blessed are those who are sad, who mourn, who feel the loss of what they love – because they will be held by the One who loves them. There is a strange and aching happiness only the hurting know – for they shall be held.” (18)

“So then as long as thanks was possible, then joy was always possible. The holy grail of joy was not in some exotic location or some emotional mountain peak experience. The joy wonder could be here, in the messy, piercing ache of now.” (29)

“Your life is unwreckable. Because Christ’s love is unstoppable. What seems to be undoing you can ultimately remake you.” (146)

“Feelings are meant to be fully felt and then fully surrendered to God. The word emotion comes from the Latin for ‘movement’ – and all feelings are meant to move you toward God.” (182)

“Jesus comes to give you freely through His passion what every other god forces you to try to get through performance…How can I not ache with a grateful love for a compassion like this? And how could His compassion for me not compel me to give His compassion to the aching?” (228)

 

What do you think? Have you read The Broken Way? If so, did you love it as much as I did? If not, will you read it now? Share in the comments! 

love, grace

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Book and Movie of the Year 2016

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It’s already time for another book and movie of the year post! I had so much fun doing this last year and so I’m excited to do it again.

The choice, especially for books, was slightly agonizing, but I’m happy with the titles I’ve picked. In the end I just had to go with a gut feeling about which books most deserved this title.

Disclaimer: I am not getting paid to promote C.S. Lewis. Futhermore, this blog is not sponsored by C.S. Lewis, who happens to be no longer living anyway so how he would sponsor my blog, I don’t know. 

All jokes aside, I was a little concerned about choosing another C.S. Lewis book for my Book of the Year (last year’s was That Hideous Strength), but what can I say? C.S. Lewis is truly one of the greatest authors ever, and out of all the books I read this year, this one was the best. I do not take this choice lightly, and I didn’t want to choose a lesser book simply so that I wouldn’t have the same author two years in a row.

(It’s my award. I make the rules. And I say that the book can be by the same author two years in a row.)

So with that out of the way, I present to you…the 2016 Book and Movie of the Year! 

Book of the Year: The Last Battle by C.S. Lewis

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Runner-up: The Mysterious Benedict Society series by Trenton Lee Stewart 

The Last Battle is the final book of the Narnia series, the culmination of every plot in the other books. I had definitely read it before, but I was so young I didn’t remember, and this year was the first time that I sat down and read the whole Narnia series, from start to finish within a few weeks, on my own. The Last Battle blew me away.

The endings of the other books are all so bittersweet, with the children returning to the real world, unsure if they will return. But not this one. This one displayed the great climax of human history and the great resolution of final peace and joy. The ending is made even sweeter because of the previous books, all of the characters reunited in eternal happiness. This book somehow captures what the feeling may be like when Christ returns, and it is a picture of heaven that I will never forget.

The runner-up is a whole series, because taking one book out of the series robs it of its magic. The four books together make The Mysterious Benedict Society series what it is: a wonderful story of friendship and good defeating evil. While a children’s book, it has such important messages for all ages, and is a story that everyone can enjoy. It is a happy story that is deep and meaningful at the same time, a rare find in this age of dark and depressing or light and fluffy books.

Movie of the Year: Big Fish (2003)

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Runner-up: The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe (2005) 

I don’t think Big Fish is a movie that can really be explained. I can’t explain what it’s about, or why it had such a huge emotional effect on me, but I’ll try anyway.

The movie is the story of a father and son, shown in the present and in flashbacks through the father’s life. All during the son’s childhood, the father told wild stories about his own life, passing them off as truth. As an adult, the son greatly distrusts his father and resents those stories.

The movie explores their relationship, especially when the father becomes very sick. It explores the power of stories and the lasting effect they have on our lives. The ending had me crying my eyes out, and the whole movie is fun, humorous, entertaining, deep, beautiful, and sad all at the same time.

And yes, more Narnia as the runner-up. This year I watched a Narnia movie for the first time, and was really pleased with how well it was adapted! The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe is visually gorgeous, well-cast, and stays very true to the book. I’m hesitant to watch the rest of the movies from things I’ve heard, but this one at least did a very good job and left me happy and satisfied.

 

What do you think? Do you like my choices? What are some of the best things you read and watched in 2016? Tell me in the comments! 

 

 

 

 

 

Book Review: Red Queen series by Victoria Aveyard

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My Rating: Three Stars

Age Suggestion: 14+

I wasn’t planning to do a review of these books, instead just exploring my general thoughts about them in my post from last Saturday, Writing for Building Up (or, I’m Tired of Depressing Stories).

I didn’t have anything else to post on today, though, and I thought it might be good to put up a separate review of these books since they’re so popular right now.

The Books

Red Queen: The Reds are commoners, ruled by a Silver elite in possession of god-like superpowers. And to Mare Barrow, a seventeen-year-old Red girl from the poverty-stricken Stilts, it seems like nothing will ever change.

That is, until she finds herself working in the Silver Palace. Here, surrounded by the people she hates the most, Mare discovers that, despite her red blood, she possesses a deadly power of her own. One that threatens to destroy the balance of power.

Glass Sword: Mare Barrow’s blood is red—the color of common folk—but her Silver ability, the power to control lightning, has turned her into a weapon that the royal court tries to control. The crown calls her an impossibility, a fake, but as she makes her escape from the prince—the friend—who betrayed her, Mare uncovers something startling: she is not the only one of her kind.

Pursued by a vindictive king, Mare sets out to find and recruit other Red-and-Silver fighters to join in the struggle against her oppressors. But Mare finds herself on a deadly path, at risk of becoming exactly the kind of monster she is trying to defeat.

(from Goodreads with a few edits)

What I Liked 

There are some great supporting characters in these books. I said in my review of Red Queen on Goodreads that I didn’t like Farley, but I got over that fast and she became one of my favorite characters, along with Shade. And my favoritest character of ever that I thought was great and then…*sob* If you want more details about this character and don’t mind spoilers, that’s the spoiler section on my Goodreads review, so you can check that out.

The worldbuilding was very good, I thought, although a map would have been very helpful since by the end of Glass Sword I was very confused about all of the places they were going. But the fact that the world needed a map speaks well about its development and complexity. Also, I felt like we got a lot of information about the culture and setting without any info-dumping, which was nice.

I was pleasantly surprised with the quality of the writing, when compared to a lot of YA I’ve read. It was a bit of a different style, which was nice.

These books gripped me and kept my interest; I got through them much faster than Divergent, which definitely makes me like them better.

And the emotions…not sure if that’s a good thing or a bad thing. But it’s a thing that happened so I’ll just mention it here.

What I Didn’t Like

I COULD NOT STAND MARE. She was a whiny, entitled, self-centered brat and then wandered around pitifully asking why she always pushed away all of her friends and no one liked her anymore. Hmm…you’re being a brat, so why would they still want to be friends with you? Maybe stop whining and just be a nicer person? And then at the end, she wouldn’t take anyone’s advice, and her internal monologue can be summed up as”I can’t believe they’re saying this to me again, I know it’s right but I’m just going to ignore it anyway and keep acting the same way”. Not a fan.

Ahem.

I really try to be professional in my reviews.

The other thing with Mare is that it took me a while at the beginning of the book to figure out if she was a girl or a boy. It wasn’t obvious. I thought she was a boy, which I didn’t appreciate when I finally realized she was a girl.

The endings of both books. The first one left me shocked and upset, and the second one left me a bit confused. I can’t say more because of spoilers.

Content

These books are not light and fluffy. There is violence, a lot of it, and some pretty disturbing elements too. Torture and murder and superpowers…it isn’t pretty.

As for inappropriate content, there is romance in both books, with some implied stuff especially in the second book, but not really anything super inappropriate, so that was good.

Overall Thoughts

Again, everything I talked about last week applies here. So far, these books don’t really pass the Philippians 4:8 test. It’s a lot of violence and selfish people doing selfish things, which, again, left me emotionally drained and frustrated.

I did like them better than Divergent, hence the three-star rating instead of two, but it’s still a pretty low three stars. I don’t know if I’ll read the final book when it comes out; I would like to, but I won’t be making a huge effort to get a hold of it and I might just forget. We’ll see.

What do you think? Have you read Red Queen and Glass Sword? Did you like them? Did you agree with what I said? Why or why not?

love, grace

Book Review: The Divergent Series by Veronica Roth

Hi guys! I’m back from my blogging hiatus! Regular Mon/Wed/Sat posts will begin again from now until school starts, after which we’ll go back to a twice-a-week schedule which I have yet to decide on. I’m all rested up and it’s so exciting to finally come back to the blog full of new ideas and motivation!

This is a review that I started drafting before my hiatus. I really want to post it, even though it’s been a while, because I have some pretty strong opinions on this series 😉 Enjoy!

My Rating: Two stars

Age Suggestion: 14+

Divergent is another one of those popular trilogies that I didn’t read until several years after they came out. That tends to happen a lot. I’d been hearing about this series for a long time, and finally bought a copy of the first book (last summer??) that I got around to reading recently. (What can I say? I have a large to-be-read pile.)

I liked some things, and really didn’t like others, as is usually the case with popular YA fiction, so this review may be long. Buckle your seatbelts.

The Books

Beatrice Prior lives in a dystopian Chicago society where everyone is divided into five factions, each dedicated to the cultivation of a particular virtue. When she comes of age, she must choose the faction she will live with for the rest of her life, choosing to stay with her family or desert them for somewhere new. As she goes through initiation with the Dauntless Faction, she learns that she has a great secret, one that could mean her death.

Unrest increases, as one tyrannical leader after another tries to take over the city, which seems to be plummeting toward all-out war. But as Tris discovers more people like her, she learns that not everything is what it seems…and that the world outside the city walls is not as desolate as she thought.

What I Liked

The overall concepts of this series are really cool. As soon as I started reading the first book, the idea of factions fascinated me; I was curious to learn more about the lifestyles of each faction and thought they were really well-developed. The concept of blaming human nature on genetic damage, while definitely not Biblical (and false in the books as well, I might add), is a really interesting idea.

I enjoyed the first book quite a lot until the final section with the simulation and massacre. Reading about her transition into Dauntless, the initiation, and all of that was fun and kept me engaged in the story the whole time. I only bought the first book, and I don’t regret it; if you stop before the greater conflict begins, the whole initiation process is a great story in itself.

The villain figures in the novels are very interesting because they are not purely good or evil. All of them have mixed motivations and can be confusing at times, making them some of the best characters.

Finally, there’s this amazing quote about love in Allegiant that made me so happy (finally someone is representing love slightly accurately in a YA novel!):

“I fell in love with him. But I don’t just stay with him by default as if there’s no one else available to me. I stay with him because I choose to, every day that I wake up, every day that we fight or lie to each other or disappoint each other. I choose him over and over again, and he chooses me.”

While I don’t agree with Veronica Roth’s portrayal of their relationship in many other ways, this quote was just..gold.

What I Didn’t Like

The first, and most major problem I have with these books, is something that I’m going to discuss in greater detail in an upcoming post. They are so depressing. They left me feeling drained, sad, and an emotional mess. And while sometimes I don’t mind that, there was no beauty or depth anywhere to redeem the ugly parts.

I didn’t like Tris much. She was so similar to many other YA main characters I’ve read about…tough, sarcastic, whiny…I would really appreciate some kind, feminine, selfless main characters that could actually be role models for me.

While I liked the first book, the second and third books were not nearly as gripping or interesting. The second book especially took me a very long time to get through, and by the third book I was really tired of the “oh no, we just got rid of a corrupt government and now we have another corrupt government” pattern. There were, let me see, three or four different government corruption issues during the series? It got old.

In the first book, I felt like Dauntless was glorified a little too much. They are the brave, violent, physical faction. Abnegation, on the other hand, the selfless faction, was put down. That bothered me. (To be fair, I later read an interview with Veronica Roth where she said Abnegation was her favorite faction, but that really didn’t come through in the books.)

While the first two books are entirely from Tris’s perspective, the third book has Tris and Tobias’ perspective. That was jolting. Tobias had not been developed nearly enough in the earlier books to have his own unique voice, and so I constantly found myself not realizing it was from his perspective and getting confused when Tris was talked about in the third person. It pulled me out of the story, which I really don’t like.

I did not agree with the ending. I can’t say much because of spoilers, but it wasn’t okay to end the series that way. See my aforementioned issue with Tobias not being developed enough until book 3, and the first paragraph about depressing books.

The bordering-on-inappropriate scene with Tris and Four…excuse me, did Tris really say that was “right”? You’re not married, guys…nope…Also, there was a homosexual character who was just casually presented that way. It wasn’t even a big deal, just another character trait. Roth professes to be a Christian too. Hm.

Content

A couple of the issues I mentioned above were related to this, so I won’t repeat those here. Overall, if Roth is a Christian, I don’t think she did a good job expressing that through her writing.

There is a lot of violence in these books. They are intense, cruel, and sometimes disturbing, which definitely contributed to how drained I felt after reading them. If you are very sensitive to violence, stay away.

There was never anything graphically inappropriate, but like I mentioned before, a few parts bordered on that. And there was definitely quite a bit of swearing. Overall, I wouldn’t recommend these for people under 14 or so, and anyone who’s particularly sensitive.

Overall Thoughts

The only reason I’m glad I read these books is to practice my reviewing skills and pulling out exactly what I liked and didn’t like about a series. They weren’t encouraging or helpful in any way and they left me kind of depressed, like I said before.

That is not the purpose of writing or the purpose of reading. More coming on this later, but I’m realizing that I really can’t recommend anything that is not edifying and good for building up. It’s in the title of my blog, after all…

“Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.” -Philippians 4:8

I think I’m going to start more seriously seeking out books that fulfill the requirements of this verse, and this series definitely didn’t.

If you’re still with me after all of that, have an Olympic medal. You can unbuckle your seatbelt now, but you might want to put it back on if you decide to read these books.

What do you think? Have you read Divergent? If so, do you agree with my review? Why or why not? If you haven’t, do you think you will ever read it? 

love, grace

P.S. If you’re looking for an upbuilding series of books, try The Mysterious Benedict Society. It has everything that Divergent doesn’t; unique characters, interesting plot, hope, beauty, and redemption. Such a contrast. Reading Divergent made me love Benedict Society all the more!