Tag Archives: Christian 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.

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.

Fetching Sweetness by Dana Mentink (Harvest House, 2016)

Book Review – Fetching Sweetness by Dana Mentink

Fetching Sweetness by Dana Mentink (Harvest House, 2016)

About the book (from the publisher):

Fetching Sweetness by Dana Mentink (Harvest House, 2016)

Standing between Stephanie and her dream is one hundred pounds of lovable trouble.

It should have been so simple for Stephanie Pink: Meet up with Agnes Wharton in a small town in California, retrieve the reclusive author’s valuable new manuscript, and be promoted to a full-fledged literary agent.

But Agnes’s canine companion, Sweetness, decides to make a break for it before Stephanie can claim her prize. Until Agnes has Sweetness safely back at home in Eagle Cliff, Washington, Stephanie will never set eyes on the manuscript she needs to make her dreams come true.

When Stephanie tracks the runaway mutt to a campground, she meets Rhett Hastings—a man also on the run from a different life and a costly mistake. Rhett agrees to help Stephanie search for the missing dog . . . thus launching a surprising string of adventures and misadventures.

Once Sweetness gets added to the mix, it’s a recipe for love and loss, merriment and mayhem, fun and faith in the backwoods of the Pacific Northwest.

My thoughts:

I read and reviewed the first in the author’s Love Unleashed series, Sit, Stay, Love, and loved the book’s well-written, realistic characters and fun action, and I’m glad to say Fetching Sweetness continues that trend.

In Fetching Sweetness, the author begins with ample action and pumps up the conflict right away. Unlike the first book in the series, it took me a little bit longer to relate to Stephanie, one of the main characters. She’s a bit unlikable at first, but we need to see this ‘beginning’ point in her to witness the change that occurs as the journey progresses.

As with the first book, the dialogue in this book is overall very realistic, fun, quick-paced, and interesting. All of the characters (even side characters) have faults (helping them be realistic and relatable, too), and this book focuses a lot on doubts, past hurts, not knowing the future, and trying to trust and grow. Genuine, non-hokey faith conversations are so hard to write in fiction, and this author does a fairly decent job of these conversations throughout, though there were a few spots that seemed a touch unrealistic coming from the characters as they were presented.

This author incorporates other unique analogies throughout that add to the quality of writing, and as a writer, I enjoyed several of the writing and reading analogies used. The dogs involved become some of the most dynamic side characters and increase the reading enjoyment. The ending wraps up a bit too quickly and almost-perfectly, but it’s still a sweet, enjoyable ending to another fun fiction read.

“That’s why people love novels. Fiction tosses up the truth about life that we’re too blind or preoccupied to see.” – p. 178, Fetching Sweetness

To read more about the book, the author, and check out other reviews, check out the Litfuse page here.

You can also enter Fetching Sweetness prize pack at the Litfuse site between now and August 24th for a chance to win a copy of this book and other fun prizes!

Fetching Sweetness Dana Mentink

Since this is a theme of this book, How have you learned about God through failure? Share in the comments below.

Disclosure: I received a free copy of this book from the publisher as a part of the Litfuse blogging team 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 Things We Knew by Catherine West (Thomas Nelson, 2016)

Book Review – The Things We Knew by Catherine West

The Things We Knew by Catherine West (Thomas Nelson, 2016)

About the Book (from the publisher):

The Things We Knew by Catherine West (Thomas Nelson, 2016)

When their tragic past begins to resurface, can he help her remember the things she can’t?

After her mother’s death twelve years ago, Lynette Carlisle watched her close-knit family unravel. One by one, her four older siblings left their Nantucket home and never returned. All seem to blame their father for their mother’s death, but nobody will talk about that tragic day. And Lynette’s memory only speaks through nightmares.

Then Nicholas Cooper returns to Nantucket, bringing the past with him. Once Lynette’s adolescent crush, Nick knows more about her mother’s death than he lets on. The truth could tear apart his own family—and destroy his fragile friendship with Lynette, the woman he no longer thinks of as a kid sister.

As their father’s failing health and financial concerns bring the Carlisle siblings home, secrets surface that will either restore their shattered relationships or separate the siblings forever. But pulling up anchor on the past propels them into the perfect storm, powerful enough to make them question their faith, their willingness to forgive, and the very truth of all the things they thought they knew.

My Thoughts:

This novel deals with very important topics and themes, like trust, truth, forgiveness, redemption (especially in choosing to turn back, which is great to focus on), and healing. The book’s plot moves steadily, sometimes driven by action, sometimes by dialogue. I also appreciated that each of the siblings has a different personality, with different issues and reactions to the stress impacting themselves and their family.

A few stylistic writing choices bogged down the writing for me. Many of the sentences started incompletely (ie: “Didn’t want to…” instead of “She didn’t want to..”) for many of the characters. I don’t mind that technique used sparingly, but too much narration for too many of the characters used this style. I feel like if it had been used with just one character rather than all, it could be a voice choice that wouldn’t slow down reading. Flashbacks are used quite frequently to convey knowledge. (Some readers will be fine with this; some readers might not like it as much.)

I also felt the dialogue had some inconsistencies where a character would say one thing (about another or in reaction to), yet the scene right before or after would show something different, and readers were to believe both. The dialogue was stilted at times (particularly the romance and the faith-focused conversations). It’s really hard to write natural dialogue, especially when also trying to insert faith conversations that feel honest and true, and this is very subjective. For me, personally, sometimes it worked, sometimes it didn’t. There’s some discussion on hope that falls a little flat, as well, particularly because much of the book carries such a melancholy tone (which feels appropriate for much of what the characters are feeling).

What readers might get most out of this book is that each person deals with conflict and obstacles differently, and the quicker we look to each other and truly see each other, the better we can help one another.

What novel about families has impacted you recently?

Disclosure: I received a free copy of this book from the publisher via BookLook Bloggers 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.