Tag Archives: fiction

The Looney Experiment by Luke Reynolds

Book Review – The Looney Experiment by Luke Reynolds

I love when fiction tells such a relatable, powerful story that the reader has to consider their own lives, their own judgments/thoughts, and how to change the world around them because of actions told within a story.

When I find myself talking about a book to others around me while and after I read it, I know it’s impacting me in positive and challenging ways. The Looney Experiment by Luke Reynolds (Thomas Nelson/Blink, 2015) was one I found easy to want to talk about.

The Looney Experiment by Luke Reynolds

From the publisher:

Atticus Hobart couldn’t feel worse. Not only does he have the world’s most overactive imagination, he’s in love with a girl he can’t talk to, is the class bully’s personal punching bag, and to top it all off, his dad just left the family. Into this drama steps Mr. Looney, an older than dirt and crazier than insanity itself seventy-seven-year-old substitute English teacher with a very unconventional approach to teaching. But Atticus soon discovers there’s more to Mr. Looney’s methods than he’d first thought. And as Atticus begins to unlock the meaning behind his own name, he finds that his imagination can help him forge his own voice, and maybe-just maybe-show him that the power to face his problems was inside him all along.

My thoughts:

If I could give comparable tiles for this book, I’d actually liken it to something like the school-focused movie Stand and Deliver in many ways and even a little like Dead Poets Society in regards to the teacher (not necessarily so in plot, so don’t worry). The teacher, Mr. Looney, is an inspiring, interesting, unique character full of intrigue and wisdom (but wisdom shared in relatable and readable ways). The main character, Atticus, also offers much for readers to relate to — he’s not popular, he has struggles at home, he feels he’s unable to please his father and finds it hard to connect with possible friends.

The plot keeps the reader turning with action, questions, thoughtful observations and more. The author paces the information revealed and action very well, with high intensity scenes following by “quieter” scenes to allow the reader to recover and consider. While this isn’t a perfect book (I wondered why no one would see or hear one instance of bullying in the school … noise carried very easily in the halls of my high school; the ending felt a bit rushed though wrapped up satisfactorily without everything ending “perfectly”), it’s one that could spark important and needed conversations for ages 13ish and up. (Because of some tough themes, I wouldn’t necessarily recommend under 13, and definitely pre-read first for that age or younger.) The author weaves themes of bullying, acceptance, unconditional love, true community, the negative impact of seeking power, truth, true courage, and redemption in various ways.

Teachers (and parents) reading this book along with their students/kids can ask questions to gather what their readers feel about these realistic situations (with both school relationships and family relationships). The book also incorporates a bit of literature (namely, To Kill a Mockingbird, but also a bit more) and information about reading and writing/revising that could spur an educational unit along with the book.

“Courage is the ability to keep going no matter how hard life feels.” – p. 160

What is one of your (or your family’s) favorite books that cause to reflect and actually inspire change your own thoughts/actions?

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

I am an affiliate for Amazon Associates and GrapeVine Studies. If you click on an Amazon link or a GrapeVine Studies 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!

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Irish Meadows by Susan Anne Mason

Book Review – Irish Meadows by Susan Anne Mason

Irish Meadows by Susan Anne Mason

About the book (from the publisher):

Irish Meadows (Bethany House, July 2015)

Faced with an uncertain future, sometimes all you have left is the courage to dream.

Brianna and Colleen O’Leary know their Irish immigrant father expects them to marry well. Recently he’s put even more pressure on them, insinuating that the very future of their Long Island horse farm, Irish Meadows, rests in their ability to land prosperous husbands. Both girls, however, have different visions for their futures.

Brianna, a quiet girl with a quick mind, dreams of attending college. Vivacious Colleen, meanwhile, is happy to marry—as long as her father’s choice meets her exacting standards of the ideal groom. When former stable hand Gilbert Whelan returns from business school and distant relative Rylan Montgomery visits Long Island during his seminary training, the two men quickly complicate everyone’s plans.

As the farm slips ever closer to ruin, James O’Leary grows more desperate. It will take every ounce of courage for both sisters to avoid being pawns in their father’s machinations and instead follow their hearts. And even if they do, will they inevitably find their dreams too distant to reach?

My thoughts:

If you’re looking for a fast, romantic-y read with a hint of Irish history, this would be a book you could enjoy.

The author picks an interesting time period (1911) with a family whose patriarch built up their social/economic standing from poor immigrant to highly-sought after horse trainers, and includes a mix of rural horse farm setting along with city setting. I loved the short glimpses we read in the barn and around the horses, and honestly wished more of the action and character development occurred there.

I also appreciated the author’s efforts to include “uncommon” dreams (for the time period) of education for women and women’s choice in marriage (over societal choice). The reader is doused with backstory right away in the first couple of chapters, which provides a bit of a slow start to the book. I also feel some of the conflicts and conversions (Colleen’s, in particular) are resolved at times too quickly and the ending wraps up a little too perfectly to be realistic. Another major relational conflict has almost too much back-and-forth miscommunication that it becomes a bit tiring, and somewhat unlike the characters were in the first two-thirds of the book. That said, the book covers a solid smattering of themes, including trust, courage to stand up for values, protecting others (and the balance between overprotecting), various definitions and types of family connections, and awareness of when we’re relying on ourselves for solutions or turning to God for His guidance. The author incorporates a range of emotions many readers will be able to relate to while reflecting on the “what ifs” posed.

Litfuse and the author are hosting a Kindle Fire giveaway! Click the image below to learn more.

Irish Meadows

What do you like to see in pacing and conflicts in romance-focused Christian fiction?

Disclosure: I received a free copy of this book from the Litfuse Publicity Group as a part of their blogger 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.

Love Unexpected by Jody Hedlund (Bethany House, 2014)

Holding on to Hope {Book Review: Love Unexpected by Jody Hedlund}

When Irish immigrant Emma Chambers and her brother, Ryan, are shipwrecked off of the coast of Presque Isle, Michigan after a pirate attack, they’re not sure where to go or how they’re regain what little savings they had. Emma feels, as a 22-year-old in 1859, she’s losing hope of having a home of her own without her brother feeling responsible to take care of her.

Emma meets little Josiah, and his father, Patrick Garraty, shortly after coming to shore at Burnham’s Landing. Patrick has just lost his wife, and is overwhelmed with caring for Josiah and tending the Presque Isle lighthouse. When Holy Bill, the traveling preacher, recommends Emma and Patrick marry to ease both their troubles, Emma accepts to fulfill her wish of having her own home and a child to care for. She quickly finds she’s drawn to Patrick, but doesn’t learn about his tumultuous past until it may be too late. Can she hold on to hope for a happy future?

Love Unexpected by Jody Hedlund (Bethany House, 2014)

Author Jody Hedlund easily weaves themes of love, trust, and redemption into all of her novels, but I love how much focus is on hope in Love Unexpected (Beacons of Hope series Book #1, Bethany House, 2014). Emma struggles with maintaining hope through drastic circumstances, something all of us can relate to. While the romance between Patrick and Emma is a whirlwind happening in roughly a month’s time, the reader can believe and feel their care for each other, as well as the inner turmoil each experience as they overcome their pasts, doubts, and inadequacies.

Jody draws the reader in with sensory-filled details incorporated into emotion-wrought sentences. And she never fails to create an intriguing, different-from-the-norm male character. As always, the historical aspects Jody includes in her stories fascinate me. I am easily drawn in to the time and place and eager to learn more about the characters’ ways of life. Jody shares in the author’s note what components are real, and which are fictionalized, which I always love reading at the end of the novel.

Reading Love Unexpected will make the reader yearn for open communication between Emma and Patrick, revel in Josiah’s young wonder of the earth, admire Ryan’s loyalty to his sister, grin at Holy Bill’s abrupt yet faith-directed ways, cheer Emma’s housekeeping and parenting attempts, scowl at Bertie’s selfish actions, and adore Patrick’s desire to exude God’s grace. All while learning about an utterly different way of life from what most of us live now. It’s a great blend of historical and Christian romance.

"...no one can sin too much or stray too far from God that He can't bring them back, heal them, and give them a new life." - quote from Love Unexpected by Jody Hedlund

I highly recommend first reading the novella that serves as a precursor to this series, Out of the Storm, available in ebook format only. Isabella’s story in that novella weaves through the rest of the series. Plus, the novella is an enjoyable, fast read that helps introduce the tone and setting of the place and era. Then move on to Love Unexpected. The second book in this series will come out in June, too!

Visit Jody’s website for a Q&A, to read Isabella’s letter (referenced in Love Unexpected), and purchase the book!

Question for you: What is one of your favorite novels on hope?

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

Book Review of The Bridge Tender by Marybeth Whalen (Zondervan, 2014)

Reconciling the Past and the Future {Book Review – The Bridge Tender by Marybeth Whalen}

If a book makes me cry on page 22, it’s probably going to be a pretty good read.

Marybeth Whalen’s newest release, The Bridge Tender (Zondervan, 2014), did just that. Book Review of The Bridge Tender by Marybeth Whalen (Zondervan, 2014)

Set between 2001 and 2007, this contemporary novel follows parts of Emily Shaw’s story. Emily had a beautiful marriage with her husband, Ryan, but became a widow after too few years. At the funeral, she is unexpectedly presented with means to a promise Ryan made her, and she travels to Sunset Beach, North Carolina (their honeymoon location) to fulfill that promise. Along the way, she encounters interesting people, each with their own story of sadness in their past, yet all are forging ahead. Emily struggles with moving on from her brokenness to claim the future God still has for her.

The author creates realistic and relatable characters. Deep and changing emotions carry much of the plot in this story, in very understandable ways. Emily’s ways of grieving seem so realistic (without feeling hokey), down to her efforts to “keep it together,” her private bouts of sobbing, and her imagined conversations with her husband. The timeline within the story also seemed credible. Each of the side characters helped Emily evolve, but were also developed well that I cared about each one.

This book tackles the obvious themes of loss, broken hearts, and love, but also delves into what growth really means and how following God doesn’t mean always mean a “perfect” life. The book included several truths of faith in fairly natural ways (though there is one misinterpreted thought the main character had that I wanted the author to clarify in later chapters). Emily’s questions about her own faith and dealing with this grief were so reasonable, allowing the reader to both understand her and consider the situation through his or her own faith perspective. I was continually struck by how the author described Emily’s desires to run from trouble and her growth in dealing with hardships.

Marketed as a “beach read” because of the setting and the romantic plotline, I’d recommend this read even more for the underlying issues all of us can relate to, beyond having a significant other. The Bridge Tender is a beautifully told story.

How have you clung to hope in the midst aftermath of struggles?

Disclosure: I received a free copy of this book from the publisher and BookLook Bloggers in exchange for my honest review. All opinions expressed are my own. I was not compensated in any other way.

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Into the Whirlwind by Elizabeth Camden

Persevering in the Whirlwind {Book Review – Into the Whirlwind by Elizabeth Camden}

Many of us studied The Great Chicago Fire of 1871 and can only imagine the extent of damage. But, it’s somewhat easy to read about something in the past and not really consider how to felt to actually endure such an event. What was it like for an individual to witness the Chicago fire?

Into the Whirlwind by Elizabeth Camden Into the Whirlwind by Elizabeth Camden (Bethany House Publishers, 2013) creates one possible story by sharing the fire through the perspectives of fictional characters Mollie Knox and Zack Kazmarek. In her twenties, Mollie runs an extremely reputable, high-end watch making company inherited from her late father, the 57th Illinois Watch Company. Proper, precise, and reliant on predictable order, Mollie passionately cares for her company and its employees, many of whom are wounded veterans from the Civil War.

For three years, Mollie has interacted with Zack Kazmarek, the brash, strong lawyer for Hartman’s, a luxury department store and Mollie’s sole inventory buyer, on a strictly business level. When the Great Fire strikes in October of 1971 while Zack and Mollie discuss business, their relationship and life in general begins to take on massive changes.

This book opens with the fire occurring and flashes back to a short backstory to fill the reader in. The novel begins with such intense action accompanied by individual emotion, the reader is quickly pulled in. The author reveals just enough backstory of each main character as the reader continues through the story. The side characters, especially those in the watch company, offer a unique and intriguing blend of personality and differing backgrounds, paying homage to the diversity of Chicago’s residents at the time.

This story is definitely emotionally driven, and I found myself wanting to pick up the book to read another chapter as often as I could. Most of the story follows a reasonable pace, though there are two places where some of Mollie’s feelings seem to be a little rushed to me. That said, this was the first novel I’ve read from Elizabeth Camden, and I’ll be keeping a lookout for her other books in the future.

Quote from Into The Whirlwind by Elizabeth Camden For faith-based fiction, this novel doesn’t actually discuss faith as often as others I’ve read, which may appeal to some readers. Regardless, underlying the whole story is a message of God-given perseverance and hope through all sorts of events, as well as what good can come from mismatched people coming together to serve and help.

What historical fiction novels are your favorite to read? What time period would you most like to study?

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