Staff Book Reviews by Genre: Christian

Best Family Ever
Kingsbury, Karen and Russell, Tyler
3 stars = Pretty Good

Well-known author, Karen Kingsbury, has partnered with her son, Tyler Russell to write the first book in a children’s series about the Baxter children. While millions of adult readers have read the stories of the Baxter family, this chapter book tells the stories of the children’s growing up years. There is Brooke - the perfect oldest child, Kari – an amazing soccer player, Ashley – an aspiring artist who is free and uninhibited, Erin, and Luke. This is the story of their strong Christian faith and their family loyalty.

Reviewer's Name: Carol
The Man He Never Was
Rubart, James
5 stars = Bohemian Rhapsody Awesome!

James Rubart has been one of my favorite Christian authors for a long time, and his latest, The Man He Never Was, does not disappoint. This is not just “a modern re imagining of Jekyll and Hyde,” it is a story of one man’s radical journey to discover what true love really looks like and the freedom we find through redemption.

Torren Daniels is a regular guy pursuing the career of his dreams. A football star with a loving family and everything to lose. He lives for the game, taking out his anger and frustration like most guys on the football field, through the game. But one day when he goes to far, his perfect life and career fall apart and he is left with nothing but his anger, frustration and rage at himself and his family.

Fast forward eight months, Torren has disappeared and everyone, including his wife and family, believe he is dead. Until one day he shows up in a hotel room with nothing but his wallet, the clothes on his back, and no memory of his life for the past eight months. But one thing he does know, he has come back different. More different than he has ever been before. The anger and frustration he has dealt with all of his life, seems to be gone. Instead being replaced with love, patience, and kindness, but are these changes truly real or are they simply an illusion?

What follows in the preceding days, is not only a physical journey to discover what happened to him, but a spiritual one that reveals the struggle of good and evil we all face inside ourselves and the redemptive freedom we can experience when Christ’s true love is set free within us.

Rubart’s storytelling gets down to the issues in a fast-paced way that does not dwell on flourishes and world building, as much as it does on character development. Torren is not a likeable character especially at the beginning of the book, but as the book progresses, and he goes on this journey, we see how the other relationships in his life, shape how his character responds. The other character’s in the book likewise are shaped by, and changed by, how his character responds to them, especially Torren’s wife.

Rubart’s story is highly complex, and as the story unfolds and the layers are peeled back, we see the struggle that is really going on inside Torren. Rubart approaches issues such as broken relationships, anger, loss, forgiveness, and abandonment in a way that is both realistic and extremely relatable. These issues and how they shape his character’s lives, also help shape the timber and tone of the overall story and come to a head in the conclusion of the story in an important and life changing way.

Rubart’s stories have always been complex and interesting. But one of the things I have always loved about him as an author and continue to love about him, evident in this book and the others I have read, is the way he has a way of presenting spiritual truths in a highly complex and original way but within the real world and in a way that is not overbearing, and is extremely relatable. The Man He Never Was, does not just present an updated version of the story of Jekyll and Hyde but takes the story and makes it real in a way that I never considered or imagined. Rubart takes the characters of Jekyll and Hyde and presents them as allegories as he explores the battle of good versus evil that is constantly going on inside each one of us.

Thank you to Netgalley and Thomas Nelson Fiction for an E-Arc of this book for review. This book is out February 20 but you can put your copy on hold today!

Reviewer's Name: Tawnie
Locke, Thomas
4 stars = Really Good

A fantastic world of adventure and legions come alive. Elves and dragons and ethereal powers colliding together in this fast paced journey where EVIL again is trying to 'take over'. It was an easy read and kind of a fun romp. A 'page turner' as they say that left me with a desire to get the next book quickly. It's also another '1st book' so it makes it easy to know what to read the next time. (check out my other "1st books" in the staff reviews. The main character has a noble upright spirit in him and his quest in part is about him becoming all that he can be. Many friends join him along the way and he soon learns that without them he will fail. If you like The Lord of the Rings series; you'll probable like the books that I read.

My curiosity is up about these reviews - so If I could get some feed back (at least 7) - I'll tell you the next "best fantasy saga", I have found, after the Lord of the Rings.

Reviewer's Name: Bruce
A Cast of Stones
Carr, Patrick W
4 stars = Really Good

This book starts out really slowwwwww, but hang in there 'cause it starts picking up speed about a third of the way through. Errol Stone lives in a barrel of ale most of the time, he's an orphan and the one who was raising him was killed. It's a hard luck story that lifts you up at the end. He discovers he has hidden talents and true friends that help him overcome life. He has to fight through with work and is discovers a great adventure to live. Most of the stories I like are about people that overcome the odds and learn how to live uprightly. This is another '1st book' and I'm looking forward to the next. I read books that are "clean" from bad language and lustful sex. There's plenty of those, no challenge to find them, so I seek out those that are not. A little Romance and a Noble Spirit, mixed into a great Adventure are what I enjoy. The Return of Sir Percival and The Castaways of the Flying Dutchman are other '1st books' I have read, reviewed and enjoyed recently.

Reviewer's Name: Bruce
Traces of Guilt
Henderson, Dee
3 stars = Pretty Good

Small town crime is the plot of the novel. Cold cases are reexamined by Evie Blackwell State Police Detective to launch a new state task force. The novel kept my interest to the end because I wanted to know if and how she solved the cases. It seemed unlikely that all these cases would have occurred in a rural town setting and many of them overlapping, but perhaps I am naïve about such things. . It was interesting to follow the thoughts of police work and the background that goes into solving cases. The characters were enjoyable, particularly the Thane brothers. I enjoyed these men of integrity, their caring hearts, and the family they belong to. Evie is tenacious in her thoughts and work. I enjoyed some visiting characters from other Dee Henderson novels that I had read previously. I wouldn't say there is a lot of action suspense, but rather character development more along the lines of regular fiction. There were some touch topics that affected the characters deeply. I would recommend it if you like character driven stories.

Reviewer's Name: Angie
Connealy, Mary
2 stars = Meh

I HATE this book. Not the storyline because it's actually rather interesting, but the CHARACTERS. As other reviewers have already stated, it's incredible how Mary Connealy managed to highlight all of these characters flaws while completely ignoring any good points they might have. The character development is limited to stubbornness on the part of both the hero and heroine. He thinks she's stubborn, she thinks he's stubborn. She thinks he's stupid, he thinks she's stupid. Well, guess what, they're both right!

I don't mind flawed characters in Christian fiction. What I mind are those supposed spunky heroines who don't have a lick of good sense and run off into danger at the drop of a hat paying no never-mind whatsoever to their sweetheart's words of advice. That's what I hate and that's what describes uppity Miss Julia Gilliland. The thing is, I believe the author intended us to like Julia. Because she's really a sweet person deep down and cares about others and puts them first. No, she's a bossy brat whose first thought over anything else is geology and fossils, even over her family, the man she supposedly loves, and his family. Even over her own safety! There's a word for her that I'm too polite to mention, but I'm sure you know what it is.

And don't get me started on the supposed hero of this mixed-up historic romance, the dashing and moronic Rafe Kincaid. I disliked him already when he started bossing around a woman he had no right to boss around. He's often thinking about how desperate he is to marry her, and my main question is "Why?!" Just because she's pretty and you've never seen a woman other than your mother? Geez! And when he started throwing out thoughts on "wives obey your husbands" and how much fun it was going to be to teach that to Julia, well, my patience with him just snapped. There's a flip-side to that verse, buster, the one that says "husbands love your wives as Christ loved the church." This jerk expects her to obey him and offer nothing in return. I don't have enough fingers to count how many times he kissed her to shut her up because he didn't like what she was saying! How the heck is that the action of a romantic hero? She may not be in the right, but neither is he.
They'll be one heck of a married couple once the smoulder cools down and they can't stand each other.

I know what you're going to say. To each his own, and obviously some people like this book because it's gotten some positive reviews. However, putting aside my annoyance with the lead characters, Mary Connealy's prose is just bad. I've heard she's an excellent author so I'm giving her the benefit of the doubt that this book is merely a weak link in her genius. But all Julia's eyes do are flash when she's angry, joyful, fearful, excited, dangerous, threatening, etc. And her wild red hair. It's better to not describe your character's physical appearance at all than limit the descriptive to flashing eyes and wild red hair. It's the same with another character, always, always described his wild blue eyes glinting in the sun or in the shadow or in the firelight or in the moonlight or off the freakin' cave wall. All his eyes do is glint! The author forgot that she had already had Rafe answer Julia's question about whether he could draw because Julia asks him the same question a few chapters later. She ends one chapter in Julia's voice with thoughts on her being dragged off by a madman and starts the next chapter with Rafe in fear because his love has been "dragged off by a madman." Wow, who knew their minds were so totally in sync.

The only reason, and it's a slim one, that I'm giving this book 2 stars instead of 1 is because I like the secondary characters of Ethan and Audra. Ethan can be a pain, but at least he's not a demanding, overprotective, bossy jerk like his brother. And Audra is gentile and naturally kind, two traits that are glaringly lacking in Julia. Maybe this means the 2nd book will be better since it's about Ethan, but it may take me awhile, months even, to reach the point where I even want to pick up another one of this author's books. And that's a sorry thing for me to say about anyone because I can forgive bad writing most of the time, but not when it's joined with horrible main characters.

Reviewer's Name: Carissa
Young, William
5 stars = Bohemian Rhapsody Awesome!

The imagination of the author is awesome. After Mack gets an invitation to go to the shack, he encounters a turn-of-events that changed his outlook on life. He was raised with an abusive and left home at an early age. He joined the military got married and life began to happen for him in his senior years. This book has a touch of theology and a connection with God that speaks to anyone's heart. At times I had to keep looking at the fact that this is a fiction book. It made you want to get in touch with God yourself. It kept my attention and anticipation for what was going to happen. I recommend this book for people who need to heal from bad experiences and for those who just want to talk with someone about a good book they have just read.

Reviewer's Name: Gwen
Kingsbury, Karen
5 stars = Bohemian Rhapsody Awesome!

One Tuesday Morning was recommended to me from my hair dresser and I am thankful to her that she did. Although my husband is not a firefighter, he was an active military man (as a matter of fact reenlisted a month before this attack to the ARMY again) and I knew it would change our personal live very much.
This is the first book I've ever read by Karen Kingsbury, and it was a good one to start with. The story is EXCELLENT and absolutely captivating. It was probably the most heart-wrenching thing I have read in a VERY long time. I can't remember the last book that literally had me choking back tears through a good portion of it!

Set against the backdrop of 9/11, the story is fiction, but could very possibly have happened. In the wake of the 9/11 tragedy and a case of mistaken identity, two families’ lives are completely turned upside down and changed forever. Changed in a way for the worse, but so many ways for the better. Both families learn how to cope. One family must learn how to be a family, while the other family (a close knit family) must learn how to live with sudden and permanent loss. This book will have you giggling one minute and sniffling the next, and then send chills down your spine. I HIGHLY recommend you pick this one up and take the journey I did in a matter of just two weeks (which for me is a very fast read).

That said, I ran out right after the 1st sequel and crapped Beyond Tuesday Morning, and started it right ahead.

Reviewer's Name: Marion
Kinkade, Thomas & Spencer, Katherine
4 stars = Really Good

In this final book from Thomas Kinkade's "Angel Island" series, Adele Morgans heart is heavy because of a family dispute that has torn her family apart.
She returns to Cape Light at Christmas with hopes of mending the broken relationship between her sons and bringing their families together for the holidays.

Grad student Jonathan Butler also arrive , determined to reveal the fraud surrounding Angel Island’s legend. He meets Tess Wyler, a local undergrad who helps him gather information but it’s only a matter of time before he too falls under the island’s spell and realizes that the proof of Angel Island and Cape Light’s magic lies within.

The Angel Island series is not as spell binding as the Cape Light series but nevertheless, it is an uplifting story that reminds us that God is in control and faith will carry us thru.

Reviewer's Name: Marsha