Fire by Night opens by placing us smack-dab in the middle of the Civil War battle of Bull Run, so you immediately that the author's not holding anything back. For those of you who don't need quite so much realism in your fiction, be aware that this is a frank look at the trials of the army doctor and nurse and the Union infantry. The battles go on and on and the field hospital truly is a grisly place.
The characters are well-developed and I genuinely cared about Julia, Phoebe and all the others, but two things about this book really dragged me down. First, it was long... I mean, LONG: Twelve hours of audio. Second, the whole book seemed to be centered around this idea of penance and atonement. Although there is a place for that, it did seem to overshadow the simple gospel.
I had no idea that this book was part of a trilogy, but I don't think it hurt much to read this one out of order. I must give Austin credit for surprising me more than once with a plot twist. I honestly didn't expect everyone's lives to take the turns they did until right before it happened. That was satisfying, but I don't think I will go back for book one or three.
Inspired by my students' research papers, I took a detour into the world of non-fiction and indulged a fascination of mine: English. Like many readers, writers, and teachers, I have a love for the written word and have always enjoyed etymology. Bragg's research tells stories covering centuries of growth in my native tongue. I came to this book via audio and truly was impressed in the reader's ability to capture accent and dialect from English worldwide. There were times, however, that I felt I was missing out on some of the comparisons between the original word and its permutations since I could not see the spelling. Ideally, I think listening simultaneously with reading would truly bring out the full mastery of this work.
The first half of this program is a real gem. I was charmed to listen to Old English and amazed to realize that I could still understand large portions across the ages even to my modern ear. There was a real connection to history through the power of language. Another powerful moment was when I realized the unique "twinning" of language where French words came alongside Anglo-Saxon words, not to replace them as was so often done with other languages, but to give us synonyms and connotations with subtlety. What a gift!
To those of us who recognize the historicity of the Bible and the Tower of Babel, we can see the common roots of language and see the evidence throughout history. This book gave me much to think about in this regard. Also, hearing the earliest English Bible so carefully preserved over the ages was meaningful to me.
With all this praise, you may be wondering, why not five stars? Well, the book started to lose my interest as I got confused by some of the slang in modern times. Perhaps reading the text would have helped. Also, some of the stories behind some of the terms... well, I could have done without. Even so, I do feel like I've gained something and that the time was well spent.
Ok, so this book wasn't good as Heist Society, but I am fast becoming an Ally Carter fan! The Gallagher Girls are just great fun. Not only did I relate to the boarding school misconceptions, I whole-heartedly enjoyed the homage paid to Alias and other spy genre greats. I wondered if the main characters in both series would be similar, but Carter crafts them uniquely despite the similarities in their secret-filled lives. I enjoyed the light-hearted humor that kept potentially intense scenes from being taken too seriously. Unlike Alias, this is no "Project Christmas" creating super-human spies. No matter what the girls' special skills, they are all still just high school girls with high school girl problems. See you in sub level 2.
This follow-up to A Vote of Confidence is not quite as good as the last, but actually made me love book one even more. I realized just how much I enjoyed the sister connection between Gwen and Cleo and missed it just a bit now that Gwen is married and expecting. Perhaps that was a bit of what Cleo was feeling too, the natural separation that happens when sisters grow up into their own lives and families. There are no huge surprises in Fit to Be Tied's plot line, but then again, who says there has to be? It is an easy, sweet read that transports you back in time to early 1900's, small-town, Western community life and throws in a romance into the bargain. I look forward to book three.
The sisters of Bethlehem Springs... we had Gwen's story and Cleo's story. Who was left to round out the trilogy? I had to laugh at myself when I realized that there was another sister (in-law!) left in Daphne McKinley. Perhaps it should have been obvious, but like that pleasant realization, A Matter of Character managed to surprise me in similar ways throughout the book. I enjoyed Daphne's love of writing and felt Joshua to be a great match for her all the way through the book. Even though I knew what was going to happen at every step of the way, it was fun to see them go through the often-awkward courtship dance: together - apart - together. The bonus at the end that checks in with the other sisters and gives a glimpse into their lives beyond the series is satisfying as well. I look forward to reading more from this author.
When my sister suggested this book to me, I wasn't sure I would like it. Genetically engineered societies means that disabilities are eliminated by default. That makes it difficult for me to "find myself" in the book because I already know going in that neither I nor my husband or son would be found in this oh-so-perfect society. But that wasn't a problem. Ally Condie crafted together such an artful weaving of character and setting with just enough ties to our own world to be believable that I was pulled in right away. Told from the point of view of someone who genuinely believes in the infalability of the Society and its statistics, Cassia moves right along as she reasonably explains away euthanasia or drug-induced amnesia while the reader's heart pounds at the deceptive logic of it all. There is a love story at the center of the book, but it wasn't the love story itself that pulled me in. Unlike other love triangle tales, one potential match isn't "wrong" and the other "right." I truly believe that Cassia would have been/will be happy with either Xander or Ky. To me, that's not the point of the story at all. Is it better to have the choice or not? No matter how perfect the society is planned to be, it will always come down to the power held in the hands of imperfect people.
Others have criticized the book for being nothing new, but I think that's unfair. Have dystopian tales been told before? Sure. Do others examine the same debates regarding personal freedom, secret knowledge, finding the right spouse? Absolutely. Matched, in my opinion, tells it well on its own merits.
I found this book to be so well crafted that it demanded my attention. Most of the time, I can balance reading multiple books at a time: one on audio, one on ebook, one on paper, etc. While I was reading Matched, however, it claimed my inner voice. I would try to read another book and find myself hearing Cassia and having to stop and remember that this was an entirely different world. For me to have that reaction alone says something.
On a lighter note, as a teacher who still emphasizes the value of cursive writing and poetry, I loved the twist Matched brought to those two arts often dismissed in today's society. There is a value in creating rather than simply sifting through facts and regurgitating the right ones at the right time.
I honestly wasn't sure what to expect when I saw that John Grisham wrote a book for kids. Not many authors can cross over audiences like that and maintain the same quality of work. I ended up being very impressed. Theodore Boone brings something fresh into the realm of kids books with a multi-faceted story line that will appeal to both younger and older readers alike. I was especially impressed with the way he brought the younger readers into the world of our judicial system with genuine enthusiasm and left out the cynicism. I believed that this is how the best lawyers felt when they were drawn to the law for the right reasons. The main story line involves a sensational murder case, but there were also smaller matters that will feel real to younger readers: a friend going through a custody situation in family court, foreclosure, and even an unlicensed pet in animal court. I wasn't prepared for the abrupt cliffhanger ending, so I hope book two or three won't forget to give us closure on the big case! Grisham has won me over for at least another book. :-)
An added bonus if you pick up the audiobook version: Richard Thomas (aka John-Boy of Walton's fame) is the reader and does a superb job of personifying multiple voices. It's truly a high quality production.
Rivers does an outstanding job retelling the story of Moses through a person some may see as a supporting cast member, behind the scenes: Aaron. Pulling in vast and accurate Biblical detail, she extrapolates plausible dialog and situations that follow the Children of Israel from slavery in Egypt, through the 10 plagues, and to the shores of the Jordan River. A main emphasis of the story is on Aaron's learning to support rather than envy the leadership of his younger brother, and how the temptations of pride and anger lead them both into sin. A key to leadership lies in the oft repeated phrase, "And the people followed his example." This was true for Aaron both in good and bad choices. All the descriptions of the endless sacrifices, a life full of the stench of blood and incense, reminds one of the hymn, "Not all the blood of beasts/ On Jewish altars slain/ Could give the guilty conscience peace/ Nor wash away the stain." Aaron's longing for a lasting peace and finally being cleansed from sin not just without, but within, does accurately focus the reader on the Savior. I look forward to reading more from this series! **An added plus, my son also enjoyed listening to the audiobook and immediately recognized it as a story about God. Nice reinforcement of the familiar Sunday School stories. Only one question I would ask the author... Why did you leave out the story of the bronze serpent on the pole?
In the grand tradition of Narnia and other fantasy allegories, Kingdom's Dawn shadows several key figures and events from the Fall of Adam and Eve, through the calling of Moses in the wilderness. Apart from a couple battle scenes that seem to go on for a bit too long, even younger readers may enjoy following young Leinad as he discovers life beyond the safety of his father's farm to follow a higher calling given to him by the Unseen King of Arrethtrae. This was one time, though that I think the audiobook detracted from the enjoyment of the story. Like other reviewers, I felt the dramatized version was unbalanced, often with background music and sound effects eclipsing the vocals and narration. I may decide to pick up the next installment in the series on Kindle instead.
After really enjoying the Percy Jackson series and seeing Greek myths through a fresh and funny light, I had hoped that this new series would do the same for Egyptian culture and myth giving the kids a background knowledge that might enhance their understanding of the absolute power placed in the person of Pharaoh or the significance of the 10 plagues hitting directly at the idolatry of the Egyptian gods and proving the true existence of Jehovah. Instead, apart from a humorous mention of Moses being the only "magician" ever to defeat them in a duel, this book comes alarmingly close to steeping the children in mysticism. Where the Percy Jackson "gods" were distant and flat characters which served as more prop than person, the gods in this series are much more prominent in every scene. They are described as something to be fought, controlled, or exploited for power. Readers are exposed to animism, possession, and soul travel. My advice, skip this one and stick to Percy or the 39 Clues.
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