Tuesday, January 23, 2024

Book Review - The Warsaw Sisters, by Amanda Barratt



"How's the book you're reading?" 

"Absolutely devastating. But really beautiful, too."

Today, I'm honoured to review
The Warsaw Sisters,
by Amanda Barratt.



Here's the publisher's blurb:

On a golden August morning in 1939, sisters Antonina and Helena Dąbrowska send their father off to defend Poland against the looming threat of German invasion. The next day, the first bombs fall on Warsaw, decimating their beloved city and shattering the world of their youth.

When Antonina's beloved Marek is forced behind ghetto walls along with the rest of Warsaw's Jewish population, Antonina turns her worry into action and becomes a key figure in a daring network of women risking their lives to shelter Jewish children. Helena finds herself drawn into the ranks of Poland's secret army, joining the fight to free her homeland from occupation. But the secrets both are forced to keep threaten to tear the sisters apart--and the cost of resistance proves greater than either ever imagined.

Shining a light on the oft-forgotten history of Poland during WWII and inspired by true stories of ordinary individuals who fought to preserve freedom and humanity in the darkest of times, The Warsaw Sisters is a richly rendered portrait of courage, sacrifice, and the resilience of our deepest ties.


There were times I wanted to close the cover and not read another page, but at the same time, I just couldn't put this book down.

Amanda takes us from the absolute start of the war until just past its ending. Month by month, season by season, we relentlessly follow the journey of our two heroines. No pain is hidden from us, their witnesses. 

Even more gut-wrenching is the realization that these fictionalized stories are rooted in real history. The narrative is made up, but the truth of the war in Poland is not. For many families, these stories are their family history. I have no doubt the echos still resonate.

And at the same time, this is a book of family, hope, and redemption.

This is my first Amanda Barratt novel, but it won't be my last. I truly loved every page - her writing, her characters, her storytelling, and her historical details were riveting, compelling, and even in the darkest moments, breathtaking. 

The Warsaw Sisters isn't an easy read, but it is a worthy read.
I highly recommend it!

Amanda's site has lots of resources, including FREE kits for book clubs!

www.AmandaBarratt.net 



Book has been provided courtesy of Baker Publishing Group and Graf-Martin Communications, Inc. 

Book Review - The Lost Boys of Barlow Theater by Jaime Jo Wright

Since I started reviewing books, I've become a super-fan of a few select authors, and Jaime Jo Wright is definitely one of them!

Thankfully, she's uber-prolific!

Jaime Jo is a Christian writer with a deep love of ghost stories, gothic settings, and all kinds of creepy historical settings. I'm definitely not a horror fan, but I loooove her spooky, suspenseful storytelling!

Today, I'm excited to share her latest creation:

The Lost Boys of Barlowe Theater


Here's the publisher's blurb:

It promises beauty but steals life instead. Will the ghosts of Barlowe Theater entomb them all?

Barlowe Theater stole the life of Greta Mercy's eldest brother during its construction. Now in 1915, the completed theater appears every bit as deadly. When Greta's younger brother goes missing after breaking into the building, Greta engages the assistance of a local police officer to help her unveil the already ghostly secrets of the theater. But when help comes from an unlikely source, Greta decides that to save her family she must uncover the evil that haunts the theater and put its threat to rest.

Decades later, Kit Boyd's best friend vanishes during a ghost walk at the Barlowe Theater, and old stories of mysterious disappearances and ghoulish happenings are revived. Then television ghost-hunting host and skeptic Evan Fisher joins Kit in the quest to identify the truth behind the theater's history. Kit reluctantly agrees to work with him in hopes of finding her missing friend. As the theater's curse unravels Kit's life, she is determined to put an end to the evil that has marked the theater and their hometown for the last century.


The fictional Barlowe Theater is inspired by the real life Al. Ringling Theatre (see photo below). On Jaime Jo's social media, she took time to explore the real theatre and share some of its beauty and legends.

I spent the first decade of my career as an actor-singer, so the theatre setting caught me right away. Who hasn't gotten lost in the depths of an old theatre and wondered if you might ever find your way out again?

This story completely sucked me in! I loved the mood, the story, the intrigue, the setting, and the characters. 

Jaime Jo has a gift for creating twisty stories
with deeply satisfying endings,
and this tale is no exception!

I highly recommend The Lost Boys of Barlow Theater.


Jaime Jo Wright has a great newsletter and lots of social media content!

You can connect with her at

www.JaimeWrightBooks.com/

Photo from https://www.facebook.com/alringlingtheater



Book has been provided courtesy of Baker Publishing Group and Graf-Martin Communications, Inc.

Friday, December 29, 2023

Book Review - The Wind Blows in Sleeping Grass by Katie Power

At the start of 2023, I set a reading goal of 50 books over 12 months - the same goal I set for 2022. I find this is the right number of books for me. It means I need to be intentional about my reading time without having it overwhelm my life.  

But as the year went on and we were swamped with illness, grief, and estate duties, I had trouble keeping up my reading targets. I found myself slipping further and further behind. Then, December hit, and I took off like a rocket! 


I smashed my 50 book goal in early December, and I've been devouring books all month!

It put me a bit behind in my reviews, so stay tuned for some great reviews over the next week. 

And I'm thrilled to kick it off with this beauty:

The Wind Blows in Sleeping Grass
By Katie Powner

Last January, I read and reviewed Katie's novel, 
Where The Blue Sky Begins.
You can read that review HERE.

Katie has a gift for pairing interesting characters in a way that highlights the beauty and power of honest connections in ordinary life.



I really loved this book for so many reasons. First, the prairie landscape serves as its own character, giving a sense of vista and isolation. Having just spent the fall driving across the Canadian prairies, I resonated with the long drives and open space.

Second, each character is quirky, rooted, and endearing in their own way. These are flawed people who each have their own broken backstory. You find yourself cheering them on and hoping each has their own happy ending. Katie's own personal history with fostering children adds weight and realism to one particular storyline. 

Finally, I love the way faith is part of this story without ever proselytizing. This is a story of redemption, friendship, family, and love. Faith guides the path without ever demanding a direction. There's a heart and gentleness to this world that stayed with me long after I closed the cover.

If you're looking for a novel with beautiful writing, endearing characters, and a wonderful story, 
I highly recommend The Wind Blows in Sleeping Grass!


You can find more of Katie's wonderful writing at

www.KatiePowner.com/



Monday, November 13, 2023

Kindred Spirits - Guest Blogger!

 I'm excited to be a guest blogger on the Inscribe Christian Writers Fellowship blog!

You can read my piece - Kindred Spirits - HERE




Book Review - The Secrets Beneath, by Kimberley Woodhouse


Ever think you'd find Christian Historical Fiction
that explores the world of 1800's Palaeontology?

Well, here we go!

This week, I read Kimberley Woodhouse's new novel
The Secrets Beneath.

It's the start of a new series exploring women in Victorian era science, specifically palaeontology.

Kimberley has written over 30 books (fiction and nonfiction), but she's still a new author for me. Last year, I read and reviewed A Deep Divide. I loved her ability to bring history to life, so I was excited to read this new offering.


The official description reads:

Anna Lakeman has spent her life working alongside her paleontologist father, drawing intricate sketches at every dig. When they find dinosaur bones near their home in Wyoming Territory, they're swiftly caught up in the era known as the Bone Wars. But when her father becomes sick and an old beau, Joshua Ziegler, returns for the summer, Anna's world is upended and the practical, orderly life she has made for herself shatters.


As a lover of Historical Fiction, this book was filled with fascinating people and topics! The Bone Wars was "a period of intense and ruthlessly competitive fossil hunting and discovery during the Gilded Age of American history." To prepare for writing her novel, Kimberley explored The National Dinosaur Monument - a literal wall of dinosaur bones! She was also able to consult with the grand-daughter of renowned palaeontologist and the man who discovered the bone wall - Earl Douglass

Kimberley's extensive research and passion for women in science really brought those parts of the book to life. I love reading all the scenes that involved discovering and exploring the dinosaur site. If anything, I could have used more of it!

Most of the novel centres around the romance between Anna and Joshua. It was good, but honestly? I don't think romance novels are for me. As much as I love romantic films and music, I just can't get into romance as a genre. And truly, not every story needs to have a romance in it! 

That said, there really is so much to love about this book. The landscape, science, and drama in those areas are gripping. And the character of Julian is beyond fantastic! 


If you want to read a well-written novel that explores a little explored piece of American history,
I recommend The Secrets Beneath!


You can learn more about Kimberley's wonderful novels at 

www.KimberleyWoodhouse.com



Book has been provided courtesy of Baker Publishing Group and Graf-Martin Communications, Inc.


Friday, September 22, 2023

Book Review: The Hiding Place, by Corrie Ten Boom


A few years, I finally read The Hiding Place by Corrie Ten Boom. It was one of those books I knew by reputation, but had never read for myself. After the opening chapter, I could already tell why this story had been a game changer for so many people.

When I was offered the chance to review the book and receive free tickets to the new movie version. I jumped at the chance!

At first, I thought I would just skim the pages. After all, I could write the review based on my memories, right? 

But again, that opening chapter hooked me. I devoured this book, and I'm sure in a few years, I'll do it again.

The Hiding Place tells the story of the Ten Boom family.
Watchmakers, people of faith, pillars of the community.
Even without their extraordinary story, they would have been a fascinating family. 


But when the Nazis invade Holland, their Christian faith is given its greatest test: 

How do we love our neighbours when our own lives could be at risk?


Corrie and her family start hiding Jews in their home. First, it's one or two people overnight, until safer accommodations can be found. But their operation grows. Eventually, they go so far as to build a secret wall in their home creating a "hiding place" for their guests.

It's estimated that the Ten Booms saved upwards of 800 people through their efforts!

I won't reveal the whole story, but this is a story of Nazis and the Holocaust, so you know it's going to get darker before it gets better.

But this isn't just a story a suffering. It's a powerful testimony of faith, hope, and loving your neighbours. It's an old story that's still frighteningly relevant for our current, divided times.


The Ten Boom's story begs the question: 
What would we be willing to risk to save a neighbour? 
What can we do in our own corner of the world to share God's love with those in need?

I highly recommend The Hiding Place! 

Read it yourself. Read it in a group.
Find a way to live out Corrie's message of hope and love...


Book has been provided courtesy of Baker Publishing Group and Graf-Martin Communications, Inc.

Tuesday, September 19, 2023

Book Review: This Is Where It Ends, by Cindy K. Sproles

 So, this is going to be a challenging review to write.

This Is Where It Ends is Southern fiction - a genre that intrigues me, given our own Nashville years, but a genre I really haven't gotten into yet. I was excited when the hard copy, with its beautiful cover, landed in my mailbox.

The book blurb goes like this:

When Minerva Jane Jenkins was just 14 years old, she married a man who moved her to the mountains. He carried with him a small box, which he told her was filled with gold. And when he died 50 years later, he made her promise to keep his secret. She is to tell no one about the box or the treasure it contains.

Now 94, Minerva is nearing the end of what has sometimes been a lonely life. But she's kept that secret. Even so, rumors of hidden gold have a way of spreading, and Minerva is visited by a reporter, Del Rankin, who wants to know more of her story. His friend who joins him only wants to find the location of the gold. Neither of them knows quite who they're up against when it comes to the old woman on the mountain.

As an unlikely friendship develops, Minerva is tempted to reveal her secret to Del. After all, how long is one bound by a promise? But the truth of what's really buried in the box may be hidden even from her.


I was hooked by the first few pages and chapters of this story. I loved Minerva and her spitfire, survival attitude. I loved the rural world of Minerva's mountain farm. And I'm just always a sucker for any kind of historical fiction.

If I'd written my review at that point in the story, it would have been glowing.
 My expectations were high!

But as the pages went on, my enthusiasm diminished. Minerva talks endlessly about how she's going to die soon (not that she has a fatal illness - there's no real ticking clock - she just feels old), to the point where is starts to feel repetitive. 

There's a "big twist" with Del that you can see coming a mile away. And the big secret about the box and the treasure is so bland it's like air leaking out of a balloon. 

Sadly, I had to force myself through the final chapters of the book. I still loved the characters and the world, and some of Cindy's writing is truly beautiful. I feel this would have been really strong as a novella. There just isn't enough story to carry it through to the end.


Book has been provided courtesy of Baker Publishing Group and Graf-Martin Communications, Inc.

Thursday, July 27, 2023

Book Review: The Long March Home, by Marcus Brotherton and Tosca Lee

I've read a lot of great WWII books in recent years. It can be hard to find a fresh take on the subject, but the subtitle of The Long March Home caught my attention:

The Long March Home:
A World War II Novel of the Pacific

"The Pacific"?
All the books I'd read were firmly set in Europe or America.
I knew I needed to read this one right away!

Here's the promo description:

"Jimmy Propfield joined the army for two reasons: to get out of Mobile, Alabama, with his best friends Hank and Billy and to forget his high school sweetheart, Claire. 

Life in the Philippines seems like paradise--until the morning of December 8, 1941, when news comes from Manila: the Japanese have bombed Pearl Harbor. Within hours, the teenage friends are plunged into war as Japanese warplanes attack Luzon, beginning a battle for control of the Pacific Theater that will culminate with a last stand on the Bataan Peninsula and end with the largest surrender of American troops in history. 

What follows will become known as one of the worst atrocities in modern warfare: the Bataan Death March. With no hope of rescue, the three friends vow to make it back home together. But the ordeal is only the beginning of their nearly four-year fight to survive."


One of the most powerful lines of this book occurs just before the prologue:

"Inspired by true stories."

As you read each moving, and sometimes devastating, chapter of this journey, you'll feel the truth seeping through. It resonates. And most of the time, you'll wish it didn't.

This isn't an easy book. I've read many wartime tales, but this is the first time I've read about prisoners of war and the atrocities they faced. And yet throughout it all, each character expresses and experiences an astounding depth of humanity.

Brotherton and Lee keep the story incredibly readable by beautifully balancing the story back home with the stories from the frontline. Heartbreaking history is interwoven with friendship, honour, humour, and so much love.

Honestly? I couldn't put this book down. I was literally grabbing every moment
I could to return back to it and finish yet another chapter.

The story is compelling; the history, fascinating;
 the characters, engaging; and the writing, breathtaking.

I highly recommend The Long March Home!


Book has been provided courtesy of Baker Publishing Group and Graf-Martin Communications, Inc.

Wednesday, June 14, 2023

Book Review: The Vanishing at Castle Moreau, by Jaime Jo Wright

The first time I read a Jaime Jo Wright novel, I was gobsmacked.
Who knew you could write Spooky Gothic Christian Fiction,
and that it would actually be good???

Since then, I've loved and reviewed:

On The Cliffs Of Foxglove Manner

The Premonition At Withers Farm

The Souls Of Lost Lake

And this week, I finished JJW's latest creation:

The Vanishing at Castle Moreau



Reviewing these books has become such a challenge! JJW is a world class storyteller, with gasp-inciting twists built into every tale. It's hard to write a review without giving it all away. (After all, like any great book, it leaves me wanting to shout its awesomeness from the rooftops!)

So, here's the book jacket blurb, plus a few thoughts of my own:

"In 1870, orphaned Daisy François takes a position as housemaid at a Wisconsin castle to escape the horrors of her past life. There she finds a reclusive and eccentric Gothic authoress who hides tales more harrowing than the ones in her novels. As women disappear from the area and the eerie circumstances seem to parallel a local legend, Daisy is thrust into a web that could ultimately steal her sanity, if not her life.

In the present day, Cleo Clemmons is hired by the grandson of an American aristocratic family to help his grandmother face her hoarding in the dilapidated Castle Moreau. But when Cleo uncovers more than just the woman's stash of collectibles, a century-old mystery and the dust of the old castle's curse threaten to rise again . . . this time to leave no one alive to tell the sordid tale."

Okay first, the infamous, fictional Castle Moreau is as much a character as any human in this book. A French-inspired castle, built in love, hidden in the woods, next door to a gossipy small town - the perfect setting for grandeur and secrets!

Next, the story is beautifully structured. The mystery of the titular "vanishing" plays out in both timelines in a way that creates echos across time and oodles of tension.

The mix of characters is such a great choice! People of different social and economic backgrounds, plus various temperaments, all brought together because they each carry a connection to a decades-old mystery. 

And on a personal note: if Daisy's entrance - a red-headed orphan carrying a carpetbag - doesn't remind you of your favourite storybook heroine-with-an-E, then you're not really Canadian!

I read this book quickly, and I highly recommend doing the same!
Hide yourself away in a dark room, with a big bowl of snacks,
and savour the perfect mix of twists and tensions that is
The Vanishing of Castle Moreau. 

In addition to being a prolific novelist, Jaime Jo Wright is super active on social media, offers mentoring for writers, hosts a podcast, and sends out a great newsletter. You can learn more about her at:

www.JaimeWrightBooks.com


Book has been provided courtesy of Baker Publishing Group and Graf-Martin Communications, Inc.