Category Archives: fiction

The Dog Who Was There by Ron Marasco (Thomas Nelson, 2017)

Another Look at History {Book Review – The Dog Who Was There}

The Dog Who Was There by Ron Marasco (Thomas Nelson, 2017)

About the book (from the publisher):

The Dog Who Was There by Ron Marasco (Thomas Nelson, 2017)

No one expected Barley to have an encounter with the Messiah.

He was homeless, hungry, and struggling to survive in first century Jerusalem. Most surprisingly, he was a dog. But through Barley’s eyes, the story of a teacher from Galilee comes alive in a way we’ve never experienced before.

Barley’s story begins in the home of a compassionate woodcarver and his wife who find Barley as an abandoned, nearly-drowned pup. Tales of a special teacher from Galilee are reaching their tiny village, but when life suddenly changes again for Barley, he carries the lessons of forgiveness and love out of the woodcarver’s home and through the dangerous roads of Roman-occupied Judea.

On the outskirts of Jerusalem, Barley meets a homeless man and petty criminal named Samid. Together, Barley and his unlikely new master experience fresh struggles and new revelations. Soon Barley is swept up into the current of history, culminating in an unforgettable encounter with the truest master of all as he bears witness to the greatest story ever told.

My Thoughts:

When I first heard about this adult novel, I loved the unique premise that the story would be told through the perspective of a dog wandering about first century Judea.

The first several chapters move very slowly with quite a few flashbacks, dreams, and “had been” moments rather than immediately drawing the reader in to current action. Much of the writing could be tightened and more active phrasing employed. (Perhaps this was a voice choice, though.) I also noticed several inconsistencies within the first half of the book (ie: a character calling the time “first century AD” when I’m not sure someone living during the time of Christ would have called it that). Also, at times Barley is portrayed as only understanding certain words, yet at other times, he is shown as understanding full conversations. The book also is a bit of an Americanized version. For example: one of the characters in the first chapter has the more culturally appropriate name of “Duv,” but his wife says it rhymes with “love,” which is an English word, of course, and wouldn’t have been used in ancient Judea. Though the book is pitched as told in Barley the dog’s point of view, readers are tossed between Barley’s perspective and several other characters’ perspectives throughout the book, which breaks the flow of reading.

Barley himself is a wonderful character. The author does a lovely job of showing the dog’s instincts and natural desire to be in a ‘family’ group and love and protect. Those traits are (in my animal-adoring experience) God-given, which plays well into the themes and plot of this novel. The last third of this book picks up in action, making it a quicker read. Many of the violence scenes are graphic, just as a note to readers who prefer not to read such. Barley (and the readers) only see Jesus in his last few days as he reaches Jerusalem, so you can imagine the intensity of those chapters. The ending, though, is satisfying and offers redemption to the many, many trials Barley endures throughout the book. It winds together Barley’s experiences in a way that offers an example of how God works in our lives.

Read more about the book and the author at the Litfuse page.

What biblical or historical event would you find interesting as ‘viewed’ from the perspective of an animal?

Disclosure: I received a free copy of this book via Litfuse. This is an honest review, and all opinions expressed are my own.

I am an affiliate for Amazon Associates. If you click on an Amazon link and then make a purchase, I receive a small commission. This does not affect your final cost at all. Thank you for supporting this blog and my family!

This site is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.com.

A Portrait of Emily Price by Katherine Reay (Thomas Nelson, 2016)

A Fix-It Girl Reads About a Fix-It Girl {Book Review – A Portrait of Emily Price by Katherine Reay}

A Portrait of Emily Price by Katherine Reay (Thomas Nelson, 2016)

About the book (from the publisher):

A Portrait of Emily Price by Katherine Reay (Thomas Nelson, 2016)

Emily Price—fix-it girl extraordinaire and would-be artist—dreams of having a gallery show of her own. There is no time for distractions, especially not the ultimate distraction of falling in love.

But Chef Benito Vassallo’s relentless pursuit proves hard to resist. Visiting from Italy, Ben works to breathe new life into his aunt and uncle’s faded restaurant, Piccollo. Soon after their first meeting, he works to win Emily as well—inviting her into his world and into his heart.

Emily astonishes everyone when she accepts Ben’s proposal and follows him home. But instead of allowing the land, culture, and people of Monterello to transform her, Emily interferes with everyone and everything around her, alienating Ben’s tightly knit family. Only Ben’s father, Lucio, gives Emily the understanding she needs to lay down her guard. Soon, Emily’s life and art begin to blossom, and Italy’s beauty and rhythm take hold of her spirit.

Yet when she unearths long-buried family secrets, Emily wonders if she really fits into Ben’s world. Will the joys of Italy become just a memory, or will Emily share in the freedom and grace that her life with Ben has shown her are possible?

My thoughts:

See how “fix-it girl extraordinaire” is listed in that first sentence above from the publisher’s back copy? That’s how I knew I’d at least be able to relate to some of Emily Price’s inner workings as I read this fun, yet layered novel.

We meet Emily as she’s just arrived in Atlanta on a new art restoration job and at the same time meet brothers, Joseph and Ben. Hints of backstory are dropped here and there, but we are fully in the present as we witness differing personalities between the brothers and Emily realizing how she may be able to help both at her job and at the Joseph’s aunt and uncle’s restaurant.

As we follow along, we see that Emily’s want to help and fix things is fantastic in the art world, but sometimes becomes overbearing or a burden in other aspects of life, like with her sister Amy. Broken relationships abound both in Emily’s family and in Ben and Joseph’s, and this is part of what makes the story realistic and easy to both follow and relate to.

I love how the setting transfers from Atlanta to Italy, and we as readers get to witness some of the author’s lovely descriptions of sunflowers, of small Italian villages, of art once beautiful and ready to shine again. The descriptions of art restoration are lovely, full of questions and perspective from Emily’s point of view, and readers without art knowledge (like myself) can still be captivated.

The romance is a whirlwind one that might bring some readers out of the story for a moment wondering how realistic it could be, but the author makes it work, partially by leaving it imperfect yet a place for grace. Readers will love Lucio and many of the other side characters and both cheer for and be challenged by the more difficult relationships and sometimes slower (yet realistic) growth. One of Emily’s most important trials is learning, when the time is right, to sit with others in a pain rather than attempt to fix it and that’s a guide for all of us.

Oh, and after you read it, please come back here and tell me what you think of page 264 because that was one of my very favorite pages.

A Portrait of Emily Price is intriguing, thoughtful, and lovely, and is among my favorites of Katherine’s books. (My favorite favorite is Lizzy and Jane!)

Check out Katherine’s other books, including Dear Mr. KnightleyLizzy and Jane (which I reviewed here) and The Bronte Plot (which I reviewed here), and read more about Katherine on her website.

What is one of your favorite novels that includes either international travel or broken families (or both)?

Disclosure: I received a free copy of this book from the author as a part of the launch team. All opinions expressed are my own and this is my honest review.

I am an affiliate for Amazon Associates. If you click on an Amazon link and then make a purchase, I receive a small commission. This does not affect your final cost at all. Thank you for supporting this blog and my family!

This site is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.com.

One Small Donkey (Thomas Nelson, 2016)

A New Christmas Story for Little Ones {book review}

One Small Donkey (Thomas Nelson, 2016)

About the book (from the publisher):

One Small Donkey by Dandi Daley Mackall, illustrated by Marta Alvarez Miguens (Thomas Nelson, 2016)

Little ones can do big things for God!

Your family will love this heartwarming Christmas story told from an unlikely perspective: a donkey carrying Mary to Bethlehem. Though the donkey wasn’t the biggest, fastest, or strongest of all the animals, he had an important job all the same. Adults and children alike will love the message about how God has big plans for little ones.

My Kids’ Thoughts:

My son says: “I like it! I like at the end that there are children in the illustration with the animal and donkey and baby Jesus. I also liked the sound words like clip, clip, clop and knock, knock, knocks.”

My daughter says: “I like that it’s a Christmas story. I like that the donkey’s halter is red. I like that the donkey’s master is Joseph. Even though the donkey wasn’t as big or as fast as the other horses, he still had an important job to carry Mary. I like that other animals come along on the journey and then all together at the end and Mary gets to have a baby with Joseph and hold him.”

My Thoughts:

This story offers a sweet fictional look at Mary and Joseph’s journey to Bethlehem and Jesus’s birth. We first meet the small donkey without Joseph and Mary, and we’re introduced to donkey wanting to be like the big, fast, sleek horses instead of his own donkey self. We don’t actually see anyone excluding the donkey in these pages before Joseph calls for him, but this idea of poor self-esteem can be relatable.

I stumbled reading parts of this out loud at times. I feel like some of rhythm in these rhyming lines didn’t flow as well as others I’ve read from this author. I almost wondered if this particular story needed to be told in rhyme. Some of its lovely phrases would have remained lovely in the prose form, too.

That said, it’s an enjoyable read aloud and captures another perspective of the Christmas journey. Plus it offers an age-appropriate focus on how everyone — no matter how fast, slow, big, or small — has an important job and a way to help. (The author’s note gives an inside look to the inspiration for the story, too.) The illustrations are sweet, colorful (though maybe their skin was a little too whitened for what’s probably historically accurate?), and show a blend of textures that are pleasing to look at while reading. My kids (as noted above in their review) were drawn to many aspects of the illustrations.

We own the author’s Listen to the Silent Night (another fictional retelling of the birth story) and absolutely love it. The rhyme and rhythm there are smooth and so beautiful. One Small Donkey is a sweet story, but if you can choose only one, we highly recommend Listen to the Silent Night.

What is one of your family’s favorite Christmas picture books?

Disclosure: I received a free copy of this book from the publisher as a part of the BookLook bloggers program in exchange for my honest review. All opinions expressed are my own.

I am an affiliate for Amazon Associates. If you click on an Amazon link and then make a purchase, I receive a small commission. This does not affect your final cost at all. Thank you for supporting this blog and my family!

This site is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.com.

The Long Journey to Jake Palmer by James L. Rubart (Thomas Nelson, 2016)

Book Review – The Long Journey to Jake Palmer by James L. Rubart

The Long Journey to Jake Palmer by James L. Rubart (Thomas Nelson, 2016)

About this book (from the publisher):

The Long Journey to Jake Palmer by James L. Rubart (Thomas Nelson, 2016)

What if there was a place where everything wrong in your life could be fixed?

Corporate trainer Jake Palmer coaches people to see deeper into themselves—yet he barely knows himself anymore. Recently divorced and weary of the business life, Jake reluctantly agrees to a lake-house vacation with friends, hoping to escape for ten days.

When he arrives, Jake hears the legend of Willow Lake—about a lost corridor that leads to a place where one’s deepest longings will be fulfilled.

Jake scoffs at the idea, but can’t shake a sliver of hope that the corridor is real. And when he meets a man who mutters cryptic speculations about the corridor, Jake is determined to find the path, find himself, and fix his crumbling life.

But the journey will become more treacherous with each step Jake takes.

My thoughts:

I enjoy magical realism and love that this author incorporates pieces of magical realism into several of his novels. This novel also deals with deep themes of healing, trust, perseverance, and choosing the truth even if it’s different from what we want.

The main character endures relatable struggles with universal themes of never feeling like he’s enough and trying to fix things rather than lean into God for healing (such a good theme to include!). But I did find myself detached from almost all of the characters throughout most of the book. Most of the side characters seemed a bit too banter-y, though I did like small glimpses of Andrew and Susie and Ari. While I wanted healing for Jake, I never felt truly attached to him as a character. I also felt the motivational speaker scenes didn’t feel as realistic as the scenes in the corridor or even with Leonard. We learn a lot of deeper issues and situations about many characters late in the book; perhaps more glimpses of these characteristics earlier in the book would’ve increased my attachment.

A totally subjective issue: I find that I’m a bit thrown off when an author writes in incomplete sentences often throughout a book. Once in a while or with good reason makes sense. But when a sentence can easily be started with “He” instead of “Was,” I find that it makes me pause my reading. I understand that it can be a voice choice, but my brain wants to read a complete sentence, so when a novel uses incomplete sentences too frequently (particularly the kind that just drops off the subject word), I find myself pulled out of the story.

Some readers will love this style of narrative as well as the lake setting, and the themes are worth reflection.

I also read and reviewed James L. Rubart’s book The Five Times I Met Myself last year. Read that review here.

What are your favorite books with journeys of healing?

Disclosure: I received a free copy of this book from the publisher as a part of the BookLook bloggers program in exchange for my honest review. All opinions expressed are my own.

I am an affiliate for Amazon Associates. If you click on an Amazon link and then make a purchase, I receive a small commission. This does not affect your final cost at all. Thank you for supporting this blog and my family!

This site is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.com.

A Tapestry of Secrets by Sarah Loudin Thomas (Bethany House, 2016)

Book Review – A Tapestry of Secrets by Sarah Loudin Thomas

A Tapestry of Secrets by Sarah Loudin Thomas (Bethany House, 2016)

About the book (from the publisher):

A Tapestry of Secrets by Sarah Loudin Thomas (Bethany House, 2016)

Third book in the Appalachian Blessings series.

Now in her eighties, Perla Phillips has carried a secret since she was eighteen years old. When she sees her granddaughter, Ella, struggling for perfection, she decides to share her secret to show that God can use even the biggest mistakes for good. But before she can reveal what happened during that summer sixty years ago, she has a debilitating stroke.

Carrying a secret of her own, Ella arrives back in Wise, West Virgina, to help her aunt Sadie care for Perla. Both know the woman wanted to tell them something, but she’s now locked in silence. Together they begin looking into the past, but they may learn more than they expected.

Will they have the courage to share their hearts? Or will the truth remain buried forever?

My thoughts:

I’ve read each book in this series. You can read my review of Book 2 here and see my rating for Book 1 here.

As with the other books in this series, I had a hard time relating overall to the main characters. Perla (who shows up in each of the books and is a main character in book 1) is possibly the most relatable, perhaps because she has spunk, individuality, and we immediately know (from Book 1 and on) that she isn’t perfect. Seth is also likable and I found myself rooting for him, and, oddly enough, Keith Randolph is fairly likable from the start other than how Ella views him. He is presented immediately with depth and relatable faults, which Ella blinds herself from seeing because of her preconceived judgments. This ‘judge not’ also ends up being one of the most realistic themes since we all do this and can all grow from it and others’ examples of it. But Ella, Sadie, and nearly all of the other side characters were hard to like and sometimes outright confusing and harmful in their choices (like Margaret!).

I generally love stories with Appalachian settings, but I felt like I was missing out on the setting with each of these books, including book 3 here. I wanted more of the setting and definitely a more active setting since mountain life adjusts and depends so much on its surroundings. I wanted to feel, see, and hear the setting more.

This book focuses more on one small sect of culture within mountain life, particularly a limiting one that didn’t want to change (especially from Ella’s viewpoint). Lack of communication between characters drives most of the conflicts. Ella was often referred to as having a gift of understanding others, but we only see that with her grandmother (which is a lovely relationship), but see rather poor communication and understanding with all others. We all have our moments of pettiness and immaturity, but Ella’s seemed too frequent, especially for 29 years old. There’s way too much focus on “finding a man” as a signal of ‘completion’ and fullness rather than seeking God, and many side characters seem to support Ella’s love triangle, which felt odd. If this was historical fiction, it might fit as ‘old fashioned,’ but it’s basically contemporary (set in 2008, except for the few flashbacks to 1948). I was also shocked at one comment that written off as a character not knowing “political correctness” but, in being presented as it does, perpetuates harmful false stereotyping of native cultures.

Along with aforementioned theme of not judging first, Perla’s strokes and subsequent recovery efforts provided relatable conflict. Perla struggles to heal and wavers in keeping her motivation up later in the story, and, from my experience with folks who have suffered strokes, I feel like this was presented fairly realistically and with hope, too.

What are some books you’ve read recently with active setting you can see, hear, and feel?

Disclosure: I received a free copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for my honest review. All opinions expressed are my own.

I am an affiliate for Amazon Associates. If you click on an Amazon link and then make a purchase, I receive a small commission. This does not affect your final cost at all. Thank you for supporting this blog and my family!

This site is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.com.