Book Review: Together Forever By Jody Hedlund

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Blurb:

Will the Mistakes of Their Past Cost Them a Chance at Love?

Determined to find her lost younger sister, Marianne Neumann takes a job as a placing agent with the Children’s Aid Society in 1858 New York. She not only hopes to offer children a better life, but prays she’ll be able to discover whether Sophie ended up leaving the city on an orphan train so they can finally be reunited.

Andrew Brady, her fellow agent on her first placing-out trip, is a former schoolteacher who has an easy way with the children, firm but tender and friendly. Underneath his charm and handsome looks, though, seems to linger a grief that won’t go away–and a secret from his past that he keeps hidden.

As the two team up, placing orphans in the small railroad towns of Illinois, they find themselves growing ever closer . . . until a shocking tragedy threatens to upend all their work and change one of their lives forever.

General Thoughts:

I’ve long enjoyed Jody’s stories and if you view my other reviews of her lighthouse series, you’ll notice that I gave them high ratings. The primary reason is due to her ability to create characters that are resonating, that I see a bit of myself in, thus feeling the weight of their fall, and the rise of their victory.

This story follows Marianne, one of the main characters. As I was reading, I realized that this story was the second book in the Orphan Train series, so this story was sort of a continuation of a character that was introduced in the first book. However, this did not make it difficult for me to understand and connect with her. The author did a seamless job in weaving in elements from Marianne’s past that influenced her goals and actions pursued in the story.

What carried the story for me and kept my interest was the interaction between Andrew and Marianne. I thought it was clever how the author brought them together as they were initially working partners set out to find families for the orphans in their care. The struggle with guilt that Andrew harbored inside related to his past negligence, as well as feelings of rejection and disappointing his family, was the strength of this story.

As things started to unfold, and Andrew’s reasons behind his hesitation to pursue a relationship with Marianne became clear, he was forced to confront the people that he was trying to get away from. He thought pushing Marianne to marry another man would solve his problems but I like how Marianne refused to give up on him and how through her, and the orphans who saw the genuine person inside him, he was able to forgive himself, accept God’s redemption, and have the life he truly wanted.

As far as weaknesses this story had, there were really none for me. The colorful dialogue that occurred between the orphans, Andrew, and Marianne as they traveled across the United States was humorous, lighthearted, and charming. There were no slow parts and every chapter had a purpose to the plot. I was sort of sad when I got to the end of the book because I still wanted to see what else unfolded in their lives.

If I have to nitpick, I was a little disappointed that Marianne’s personal goal was not fulfilled. From the beginning of the story, the reader is made aware that Marianne is searching her sister Sophie who was separated from her some time ago. While Marianne’s goal is to place the orphans with families as they travel from New York to Illinois, she also hopes to find Sophie, or at least get some leads to where she could be.

Long story short, she never finds Sophie or gets any leads. It seems the drama with Drew and her clouds her pursuit, which is realistic. Finding Sophie wasn’t necessary the goal of the plot, but I couldn’t help having thoughts of where she could be lingering in my head.

Perhaps in the next book we’ll find out what became of Sophie.

Recommendation:

Yes, I would recommend this book to everyone, unless you’re really not a fan of historical fiction. I think the character of Andrew Brady was the strength of this story, due to his personal battles of guilt and struggle to accept forgiveness and redemption. I think those are universal issues that will resonate with a lot of people.

Rating:

5 out of 5 stars. I really loved the characters and the orphans were very endearing. The book moved at a balanced speed and every chapter had a purpose, not getting carried away. Even with the disappointment of not finding out what happened to Sophie, I still ended the book feeling that the story came full circle.

***This book was given to me by Bethany House for an honest review.***

I Didn’t Know

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I Didn’t Know

I didn’t know, I just listened
Only to the world
That swallowed me whole
I didn’t know, how to think
Only to believe
In what could be seen

But even what I saw
Were all allusions
Glittering delusions
Filled with confusion
That drowned me
To the abysmal sea
Where I couldn’t breathe

I didn’t know, I just listened
I followed fear
It pulled me to the night
It kept me caged for a decade of my life
I found comfort in the trinkets
In the glossy lies
They occupied my mind
As I found myself within their tide

I didn’t know
I didn’t know
What I was doing
Where I was choosing
To go
I almost gave up my soul
But in time, I saw His light
And reclaimed my life

©2018 CAB

Book Review: First Impressions by Debra White Smith

 

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Blurb:

In an attempt to get to know the people of London, Texas–the small town that lawyer Eddi Boswick now calls home–she tries out for a local theater group’s production of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice. She’s thrilled to get the role of lively Elizabeth Bennet . . . until she meets the arrogant–and eligible–rancher playing her leading man.

Dave Davidson chose London, Texas, as the perfect place to live under the radar. Here, no one knows his past, and he can live a quiet, peaceful life with his elderly aunt, who also happens to own the local theater. Dave doesn’t even try out for the play, but suddenly he is thrust into the role of Mr. Darcy and forced to spend the entire summer with Eddi, who clearly despises him.

Sparks fly every time Eddi and Dave meet, whether on the stage or off. But when Eddi discovers Dave’s secret, she has to admit there might be more to him than she thought. Maybe even enough to change her mind . . . and win her heart.

General Thoughts:

This story is a retelling of Jane Austin’s Pride and Prejudice and I have to be honest, I have not read the original story, but I have seen a film version of it and definitely could see the similarities between the two characters, Eddi and Dave.

This story read like a serious comedy for me and that’s what kept me turning the pages. I instantly connected with Eddi and found her confidence, intelligence, sometimes blunt personality refreshing, although it did sometimes get the best of her and created a stumbling block in her relationships with people. However, I loved how she was unwilling to budge on certain things in life, how she unwilling to settle for less. I especially liked that although she was a person of means, she didn’t care for money all that much, she was more concerned with the wellbeing of others.

The story focuses primarily on Eddi’s and Dave’s rollercoaster relationship. Eddi, the intelligent person she is, quickly assumes the worst of Dave, based off of his personality (something they shared in common), wealth, and status. From the first day, it’s apparent that they like each other and I thought the author did a good job illustrating the internal battles they both had inside to accept that fact. As the story progresses, I found it comical, though in a concerned way, the state of Eddi’s family, especially her mother and sister Linda, who were two peas in a pod and reckless with their lives. I wasn’t surprised when I found out what happen to Linda, but it was an nice ending to see how things came together, especially with Dave helping Linda make the most of what became of her life, which I believe ultimately drew him close to Eddi.

As far as negatives, with the amount of natural humor and personalities that poured out of the book, I couldn’t find one. The story progressed at an even pace, every page was worth reading, and the message of redemption, restoration, and not being quick to judge was easily understood.

Recommendation:

I would definitely recommend this story to those who are fans of Jane Austin’s stories, or Pride and Prejudice to say the least. Also, to those who like witty, serious stories with natural humor that contain characters with big personalities.

Rating:

5 out of 5 stars. There wasn’t a moment that I found boring or dragging. The strength of the story was the characters’ personalities. They were sharp, blunt, witty, and full of energy. Though some of them were crazy and destructive, they eliminated the possibility for any dull moments.

***This book was given to me by Bethany House for an honest review.***

 

Let It Go

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Let It Go

No one’s ever going to say
Why did you do this
Should have done that
No one who’s sane is ever going to say
What you did was a bad mistake

So try
Stop holding the chains
That you have all your life
Let it go
And watch yourself grow

No one’s ever going to say
That was not good
Should have turned back
When you surely could
No one who’s sane is ever going to say
What you did was a bad mistake

So try
Embrace the change that’s a part of life
Let your past thoughts go
And all the things that wouldn’t allow you to grow
Let it go

Let it go

Let it go

©2018 C.A. Barnes

Book Review: I Am Watching You by Teresa Driscoll

I am watching you

Blurb:

What would it take to make you intervene?

When Ella Longfield overhears two attractive young men flirting with teenage girls on a train, she thinks nothing of it—until she realizes they are fresh out of prison and her maternal instinct is put on high alert. But just as she’s decided to call for help, something stops her. The next day, she wakes up to the news that one of the girls—beautiful, green-eyed Anna Ballard—has disappeared.

A year later, Anna is still missing. Ella is wracked with guilt over what she failed to do, and she’s not the only one who can’t forget. Someone is sending her threatening letters—letters that make her fear for her life.

Then an anniversary appeal reveals that Anna’s friends and family might have something to hide. Anna’s best friend, Sarah, hasn’t been telling the whole truth about what really happened that night—and her parents have been keeping secrets of their own.

Someone knows where Anna is—and they’re not telling. But they are watching Ella.

 General Thoughts:

 The blurb got me with this one, it seemed like one of those mysteries I could possibly play along with, guessing who was the perpetrator. However, that wasn’t the case.

I will start off by saying that I liked the author’s voice in this story. It made the characters, who I assume she wanted the reader to like, likeable, such as the witness Ella. Ella’s concern and understanding for the victim Anna, as well as the other people in her life, such as her son, the private detective, and even Anna’s mother, made me want things to end well for her. As I turned the pages, I hoped that whoever was secretly harassing Ella would meet justice.

I also liked how the story was arranged. There were several points of views, I believe about seven of them. However, the story was very easy to follow since each chapter was titled with the character’s name. Also, the points of views shifted from first to third, but again, that generally corresponded with the character. So Ella, for example, was always written in first person, while Anna’s father, was always in third.

Some things that I didn’t like about the story, was how it was misleading in some ways. The actual perpetrator didn’t come into view until the end of the story. A few characters and their situations were emphasized too much that I initially thought they tied in to Anna’s disappearance, but actually had nothing to do with it. They were basically filler information. Though I believe the story was paced well, there were some slow unrelated things that took more space than needed, such as the private investigator’s personal life and Ella’s job as a florist. It’s okay to mention them, but chapters devoted to these things were irrelevant and boring for me.

Overall, I finished the story feeling okay about it. I was thrown off a little with the ending, realizing the perpetrator was barely mentioned (if at all, I can’t remember), but I wasn’t disappointed as much about it.

Recommendation:

 Yes, I would recommend this story to those who like lighthearted mysteries. There wasn’t so much suspense and given that there were no clues leading up to the perpetrator, didn’t make for an intriguing read.

Rating:

3 out of 5 stars. I think the voice of the writer made the main characters likeable, even the not so likeable ones engaging at times. However, I didn’t view this story to be a solid mystery where one could gather up the information to come to a conclusion.

Change/An Update

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I was told, change is good
So to avoid it, I never should
I was told, change is inevitable
It is the only way to truly grow
So change, I will say
I’m letting go of the past, yesterday
So change, come my way
I will welcome what is to be
In future days
No change, I won’t fear
No change, I won’t shed a tear
Cause change is what we must eventually face
In order to see a better day…

It’s been very long since I posted an update on myself or anything related to my writing goals. If you read my author bio, one thing you will know is that I’m a writer who wants to be a published author.

For some time—a few years, I’ve stalled in achieving that goal. I guess working and paying debts became an unfortunate distraction. However, in my dissatisfaction with life, and realizing I was never going to be content spending most of my time away from writing, my dream was renewed. I started following writers and indie authors, reading their stories and discovering how they were able to get back to doing what mattered to them—writing.

So in the past year, I jumped back into my writing. I’ve attended conferences, joined a writer’s group, read more about the industry from self publishing to traditional publishing, and many other things. I decided I was going to pursue a career as a hybrid author, self publishing and traditional publishing. Currently, I’m working on an author’s website.

My author’s website will primarily focus on my stories, the novels I seek to share, but also valuable and helpful information for writers wanting to be authors. That will include recommendations for book cover designers and book formatters, different types of editors and determining which one is best for your story, why I believe every writer should self publish even if they seek traditional publishing, and more.

What will happen to this blog?

Nothing! I will still post my poetry and book reviews, as well as updates and other relevant information. But if you’re interested in learning more about my stories, I will have an author website up in the coming months, which I will announce here in a future post.

Thank you all for your support and sticking around. I look forward to sharing my work with you, hopefully, inspiring you to press forward with your goals and dreams as well ☺

Book Review: Little Fires Everywhere By Celeste Ng

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Blurb:

In Shaker Heights, a placid, progressive suburb of Cleveland, everything is planned – from the layout of the winding roads, to the colors of the houses, to the successful lives its residents will go on to lead. And no one embodies this spirit more than Elena Richardson, whose guiding principle is playing by the rules.

Enter Mia Warren – an enigmatic artist and single mother – who arrives in this idyllic bubble with her teenaged daughter Pearl, and rents a house from the Richardsons. Soon Mia and Pearl become more than tenants: all four Richardson children are drawn to the mother-daughter pair. But Mia carries with her a mysterious past and a disregard for the status quo that threatens to upend this carefully ordered community.

When old family friends of the Richardsons attempt to adopt a Chinese-American baby, a custody battle erupts that dramatically divides the town–and puts Mia and Elena on opposing sides.  Suspicious of Mia and her motives, Elena is determined to uncover the secrets in Mia’s past. But her obsession will come at unexpected and devastating costs.  

General Thoughts:

This story sat in the middle of the road for me. There were some things that I liked about it, but some things that I didn’t. I will just get to it.

I think the author has the potential to be a good storyteller. She has a hauntingly detailed way of telling a story, of making the characters come to life and immersing the reader into their minds and thought processes. As I read the story, I had a strong sense of who all the main characters were from the inside, understanding the actions they took in the story fully.

Though the story was full of layered plots, they all came together in the end. Each character’s story met up with another leading to an interesting ending, which the author reveals in the first chapter. I think she used this effectively to keep my interest by creating a sense of mystery and intrigue to why things ended the way it did.

One weakness was the author muddied the story a bit with so many points of views (POVs). The POVs were mixed up within most of the chapters, and as a reader, I had to read ahead to sometimes understand who the writer was referring to, who was thinking, sometimes who was even talking. I think section breaks or even creating new chapters, possibly having things explained through dialogue, would have helped with clarity.

There was also a lot of telling instead of showing. It seemed like the author wanted to reader to understand every single thing or doubted the reader’s ability to understand some things. The over explanation things, especially concerning Mia’s past, dulled the story and dragged it to a boring level.

Lastly, I found none of the characters likeable, even relatable. They were very much cliché’s of teenagers, mothers, etc. from the ‘90s. Although I don’t mind the use of clichés as there can sometimes be a bit of truth to them, it offered nothing of interest or insight that I often look for in stories and characters. The characters seemed to be the worse versions of themselves, not learning or growing in any positive way. The only one who was remotely relatable in terms of her frustration with the other characters was Izzy, who was unfortunately too much of a rebel for her own good.

Recommendation:

I don’t know if I would recommend this book, so I guess I’ll say no. Its not so much due to the plot that’s the problem, it’s the frustrating characters and the fact that the writing style is a little messy with multiple POVs mixed in one scene, over explanation of character backstories, thoughts, and actions, things that slow down the pace.

Rating:

3 out of 5 stars. The story was slow moving and had a lot of information that could have been omitted or rewritten to propel the story forward. Also there were multiple POVs that took place in a scene that made the story confusing to read at times.

Book Review: A Light On The Hill By Connilyn Cossette

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Blurb:

Seven years ago, Moriyah was taken captive in Jericho and branded with the mark of the Canaanite gods. Now the Israelites are experiencing peace in their new land, but Moriyah has yet to find her own peace. Because of the shameful mark on her face, she hides behind her veil at all times and the disdain of the townspeople keeps her from socializing. And marriage prospects were out of the question . . . until now.

Her father has found someone to marry her, and she hopes to use her love of cooking to impress the man and his motherless sons. But when things go horribly wrong, Moriyah is forced to flee. Seeking safety at one of the newly-established Levitical cities of refuge, she is wildly unprepared for the dangers she will face, and the enemies–and unexpected allies–she will encounter on her way.

General Thoughts:

The message of this book stuck with me and it still does as I write this review. I honestly believe that this story will mean something to all who decide to read it. Having read 2 books previously from this author, I know she has the ability to write in ways that make the reader think and consider how what they just read can apply to their life. She does this in unassuming ways, woven deeply in the character’s story.

Moriyah, the main character of the story, was a sympathetic and highly relatable character. Though this is a standalone story and doesn’t require you read any of the author’s previous books, she is introduced in Wings Of The Wind (which I reviewed also—click here to read). If you read that book, it will give you a stronger sense of who Moriyah was before the tragedy she faced and how that transformed her afterwards. In short, she lived like one whose spirit was stolen.

I like how Moriyah’s self consciousness served like a universal problem that many people struggle with some time in their lives. It wasn’t until she was forced to leave her hidden world and step outside into the greater, that she had to face her insecurities and accept her flaws.

Moriyah went through a great deal in this story. Having to flee her safe confines and go on a long journey, just to have a chance to spare her life, Darek, another primarily character and unexpected ally, helped her realize who she was inside—the value she held inside. That she was more than what she looked like on the outside, or even her scar. From there, the old Moriyah started to return a bit, once she realized that though she may still face judgement, there were many others who saw the beauty that lived inside of her and radiated out.

Recommendation:

For readers who love biblical historical fiction, they will love this story, but I am challenged to say that those who struggle with external and internal scars of whatever kind will find a connection to this story. It was an easy read and I think that’s due to the writer’s powerful voice and use of intrigue and suspense. There was a lot of adventure and action that was woven throughout as well.

Rating:

5 out of 5 stars. As I read this story, I couldn’t find areas that I struggled with. It was paced well, there was enough action going on to keep me turning the pages and the main character, Moriyah was so relatable that I instantly loved her and was rooting for her throughout the book.

***This book was given to me by Bethany House for an honest review.***

I Can See

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I Can See

I can see
A bright light in this world
It’s right in front of me
I now know
Stories told long ago
Were not fables or lies
But truths that refused to die

I am the one
Who now can see
I am the one
Who’s free to dream
I am the one
Who’s no longer scared
I am the one
Who will do it, I dare

I can feel
A warm gentle breeze
Wash over me
I feel it, in the night
In the chill of wintertime
What once I thought of as dread
I only see its beauty
All that it has to offer instead

Cause I am the one
Who now can see
I am the one
Who’s free to dream
I am the one
Who’s no longer scared
I am the one
Who will do it, I dare

I will take all the years of fear
Hiding behind a facade
Drowning in tears
I will take it all
And throw it away
I will choose to live a dream
I will dare to be brave

Cause I am the one
Who now can see
I am the one
Who believes
I am the one
I am the one
I am the one
My story’s not done
It’s just begun…

©2018 C.A. Barens