Mardan’s Mark

And the last of the book club is here! (Because I reviewed Glass Girl long ago.)

Blurb: Abducted by pirates and taken behind enemy lines across the Great Gulf, Princess Srilani is determined to save her sisters and younger brother, the crown prince, from captivity.

She convinces their caretaker, Aldan, and his brother slaves to share the perilous journey home. This ragtag group of unlikely heroes sets out on a quest — pursued by cutthroat pirates, merciless priests, and marauding soldiers — to return the heir to his kingdom before war breaks out.

I really enjoyed Mardan’s Mark (Mardan’s Mark #1) by Kathrese McKee. What’s funny is I got so sucked into the story that I didn’t notice the similarities with By Darkness Hid until I was nearly done with the book. It’s a great example of two stories with similar premises yet totally different execution. And I loved how it wrapped up – with one part complete so you get that sense of satisfaction, even though there’s more story to go. (Which I am very much looking forward to reading.)

There are quite a few characters in the group and I loved them all, though Aldan had a slight lead over anyone else. The only confusion I had (and this was my fault because I have this aversion to flipping back in an ebook for some reason) was I wasn’t sure which characters were killed during the beginning kidnapping which made me misunderstand something later in the story.

For a fantasy, I didn’t miss the magical component and didn’t even notice its absence until it was pointed out to me. Having a very spiritual element probably contributed to that. I also really liked the unique world-building and it contained the perfect level of YA romance along with the adventure. (Although speaking of, with a kingdom so dependent on El, I found their stringent purity-of-lineage rules rather extreme. If they really have to go that far, why not do like the Old Testament –  making the suspected person drink bitter water or some such and let El  judge?)

Do you expect magic in fantasy?

Disclosure of Material Connection: I have not received any compensation for writing this post. I have no material connection to the brands, products, or services that I have mentioned. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.

The Wishing Pearl

Almost through with the book club reviews! Only one more after this.🙂

Blurb: Sixteen-year-old Olivia Mansfield dreams of a land far, far away. . .
A land far away from her stepfather’s abuse and torment.
A land far away from her mother’s blind eye.
A land far away from the haunting memories of her past.

But then reality sets in, and Olivia knows she must make the best of her dire situation—at least until her high-school graduation. But when poor choices lead Olivia to the brink of a complete breakdown and she finds herself dealing with the unexpected death of her best friend, she comes to a crossroads.

Will Olivia find the path to ultimate hope and healing that her heart longs for? Or will the demons from her past prove too much to bear? 

I liked The Wishing Pearl (Diamond Estates #1) by Nicole O’Dell (ebook free on Amazon, btw). The way it portrayed the abuse was exactly how I can handle it – implied but off-screen and vaguely. I also thought it did a fantastic job showing how a series of choices can lead you deeper and deeper until you look back and wonder, “How did I end up here?”

The first half felt long to me because I was looking forward to Olivia getting to Diamond Estates (and for the mild romance to start). I loved Diamond Estates – it’s the kind of place I wish my husband could find to work at. It was so similar to the facilities he has worked at but with the added benefit of being Christian. (Though I know enough about his job to find a few Diamond Estates policies less than credible.) I did think the end dragged a bit – once everything was all out in the open the book started to feel like a very long wrap-up. And I got a little frustrated at Olivia wanting to sneak a smoke all the time. It didn’t help that my ebook didn’t have any spacing/**/indicators for scene cuts. So there’d be time-jumps between paragraphs and it would take me a minute to figure out time had passed and I was always confused. Date stamps would have helped a lot. (This is probably why it bothered me when someone’s boyfriend signed “I love you” at the end – so far as I was concerned, it felt like they’d only been dating a week!)

My one main beef with the book was that the ending was too neat & easy. For a book focused on real problems with troubled youth, it was unrealistic for resolution to be so tidy.  But I liked the characters, I enjoyed the setting – it was a good YA and an interesting premise. I’ll probably read the next in the series eventually.

What kind of resolution do you like in books?

Disclosure of Material Connection: I have not received any compensation for writing this post. I have no material connection to the brands, products, or services that I have mentioned. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.

It Had to Be You

Blurb: Eden Christiansen never imagined her role as her younger brother Owen’s cheerleader would keep her on the sidelines of her own life. Sure, it feels good to be needed, but looking after the reckless NHL rookie leaves little time for Eden to focus on her own career. She dreamed of making a name for herself as a reporter, but is stuck writing obits―and starting to fear she doesn’t have the chops to land a major story. If only someone would step up to mentor Owen . . . but she knows better than to expect help from team veteran and bad-boy enforcer Jace Jacobsen.

Jace has built his career on the infamous reputation of his aggressive behavior―on and off the ice. Now at a crossroads about his future in hockey, that reputation has him trapped. And the guilt-trip he’s getting from Eden Christiansen isn’t making things any easier. But when Owen’s carelessness leads to a career-threatening injury and Eden stumbles upon a story that could be her big break, she and Jace are thrown together . . . and begin to wonder if they belong on the same team after all. 

It Had to Be You by Susan May Warren is book two in the Christiansen family series. Since I wanted to like the first one so much, I had to give book two a shot. (I can never decide if it’s the book or the author just isn’t my cup of tea until I read at least two books, sometimes more if I really wanted to like them.)  This was also  another story featuring a star hockey player. I’m really not into sports but this is the one sport I do have a vague fanship for so I enjoyed that aspect. Especially as it addresses the serious physical danger hockey and football players face, which is the reason I have qualms with liking the sport.

While not as overwhelmingly serious as the first book, it was still a heavy story – not a light and fluffy romantic read, that’s for sure. I liked Jace and Eden a lot. There were times I got frustrated with Eden as she judged him based off her initial impression and then was constantly jumping to conclusions over everything he did. I found Jace a very sympathetic character so it was hard seeing her judge him so harshly (though, of course, I had the advantage of reading his POV while she didn’t.😉 ) There was also a heart-wrenching side-story involving a young girl in desperate need of a transplant.

The book also included a novella, I Really Do Miss Your Smile, about the Christiansen parents. When it came to the romance, I liked it better than the main books since it was cuter and fluffier. But I thought it suffered from the drawbacks I usually find in novellas – not enough character development and a bit of insta-love. But that’s definitely personal taste – I rarely care for novellas but many people love them.

Over all, I’d say it’s an excellent series, just a bit too heavy for my tastes.  Are there sports you especially like/dislike to read?

Disclosure of Material Connection: I have not received any compensation for writing this post. I have no material connection to the brands, products, or services that I have mentioned. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.

Failstate

Blurb: Robin Laughlin (aka. Failstate) is a contestant in a reality TV show called America’s Next Superhero. His goal? To become an official, licensed superhero. It doesn’t help matters that his powers are often out of control, that his handsome big brother is wining the hearts of the voters, or that Robin can’t even remove his mask or viewers would shriek from fright. When one of his competitors is murdered, Robin sets out to find the killer, hoping for justice and to prove he’s no failure. 

Failstate  (#1 Failstate series) by John Otte was the biggest surprise of the book club for me and the most unique in content for sure. This book felt a lot fuller than some of the others. That’s the thing about action-packed books – the excitement never lets up! I thought the first chapter or two were a little slow but once we learn a secret about Failstate & Guantlet (another competitor on the reality show), my interest was peaked and it never waned. I liked so many of the characters, too – Failstate, of course, but also Lux and Veritas and Prairie Wind (was that her name?) all seemed interesting.

I especially liked watching Failstate learn more about his powers. I think that was my favorite part – his untapped potential and how he would call out to God and discover his inner strength. His faith was naturally part of the story – heavily Christian but it was part of who he was, not something beating the reader over the head.

There were a few questions unanswered that may come up in sequels but they were backstory type questions that aren’t important in the overall flow of things. I didn’t care for Failstate’s mother at all. I felt like her mistreatment of Failstate came from a dislike of his appearance and disabilities and was extremely unmotherlike. (One other small thing – there seemed to be a lot of editing typos – words missing or repeated twice. I was surprised considering it wasn’t self-published.)

The big question I had was in this world where super heroes and super villains are so commonplace, I couldn’t believe there weren’t systems in place to train and supervise those people better. They needed a school (like Super High) or something. Everyone expecting Failstate to not melt everything was unreasonable with no one ever taking time, aside from his father, to work with him so he could learn control.

I think these books would be awesome for both guys & girls who like superheroes and/or comic book-type stories. I definitely plan to read the rest. Oh – and it’s usually free on Amazon, too!

Do you like comic book-type heroes?

Disclosure of Material Connection: I have not received any compensation for writing this post. I have no material connection to the brands, products, or services that I have mentioned. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.

Take A Chance On Me

Blurb: Darek Christiansen is almost a dream bachelor—oldest son in the large Christiansen clan, heir to their historic Evergreen Lake Resort, and doting father. But he’s also wounded and angry since the tragic death of his wife, Felicity. No woman in Deep Haven dares come near.

New assistant county attorney Ivy Madison simply doesn’t know any better when she bids on Darek at the charity auction. Nor does she know that when she crafted a plea bargain three years ago to keep Jensen Atwood out of jail and in Deep Haven fulfilling community service, she was releasing the man responsible for Felicity’s death. All Ivy knows is that the Christiansens feel like the family she’s always longed for. And once she gets past Darek’s tough exterior, she finds a man she could spend the rest of her life with. Which scares her almost as much as Darek learning of her involvement in his wife’s case.

Caught between new love and old grudges, Darek must decide if he can set aside the past for a future with Ivy—a future more and more at risk as an approaching wildfire threatens to wipe out the Christiansen resort and Deep Haven itself.

Take a Chance on Me (#1 in the Christiansen family series) by Susan May Warran is a book that I feel like I should have loved and yet didn’t and I’m really not sure why.  The town of Deep Haven deeply reminded me of the small town I called home for the past seven years. It was easy for me to picture the location, the feel of the community, because I lived in a town identical to it (until I moved 3 months ago). There is a heavy firefighting storyline barely mentioned in the blurb and that part fit right in with my world, too. Frankly, with the many, many fires across the nation the past couple of years, probably almost everyone can relate to that aspect of the story.

All of the characters are fairly likeable, sympathetic and really human if that makes sense. Fallen creatures who need God’s grace and are struggling to make the most of things – who need to give and get forgiveness and love each other more and trust God in their lives. But it was a very long book with a lot of very serious problems and what tension there was didn’t shorten the feel of it. It took itself seriously and there weren’t enough lighthearted moments to bring the reader up for air. And I just didn’t feel the romance the way I wanted to. I think it took itself too realistically serious there, too, and I missed the butterflies and hopefulness of new romance.

All in all it was well-written and tackled a lot. What book settings do you really relate to?

Disclosure of Material Connection: I have not received any compensation for writing this post. I have no material connection to the brands, products, or services that I have mentioned. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.

It’s Complicated

Blurb: There’s a reason Facebook has the Status Update, “It’s Complicated.” Follow four college roommates, Claire, Palmer, Hannah and Kat as they maneuver crushes, confusion, and the crisis when pushy boys go too far. Complicated as it is, these four friends will pull through, guided by the strength of their friendship and the power of God’s love.

Out of all the books from the book club, It’s Complicated (Status Updates #1) by Laura L. Smith was very unique in several ways. For one – it alternated between four different points of view. For another, it’s intensely issue-driven. I ended up enjoying the book but I wasn’t sure I would at first. It took quite a few chapters for me to get all the girls straight and be comfortable with the head hopping. I liked Kat the best – partly because of her name😉 – but I also liked how she seemed to have a level head though she took some risks driving around with boys she barely knew. Oh, and I didn’t realize Palmer was olive-skinned until almost the very end of the book.

Also I was so confused after the prologue when suddenly Claire was in Paris. I was expecting the story to start with the girls in college – I hadn’t realized half the book would be the summer beforehand with all the girls separated. Plus I was expecting a main plot with a beginning, middle and end. This felt more… slice-of-life is what I want to call it? Each of the girls just living their lives and encountering various real-life guy issues and many of the arcs not having any closure. (Presumably they are addressed in the rest of the series?)

The biggest thing was I knew a date-rape was coming at some point (thanks to another reviewer) but since I didn’t know who, I felt like that part was hanging over my head lurking around every corner and I couldn’t enjoy the book until it was behind me. I did think the rape was handled very well, though. I’m very sensitive to anything involving children or SVU situations. I put down the book after the rape scene and had a hard time sleeping afterwards – I was glad to get that part over with but it bummed me out for the rest of the night. But if I hadn’t known it was coming, I would have been taken aback and furious, so I’m not sure the book is marked well in that regard.

I can definitely see where this book is fantastically realistic for what teens that age go through. I spent the entire book thinking the girls were attending the most liberal Christian college I’d ever heard of only to learn afterwards it was a secular school. Well that explained the mixed-gender dorms and alcohol! lol Thankfully I didn’t encounter any of the situations the 4 girls did when I was in college, but I was blessed in that regard.

What issues do you like to see in fiction?

Disclosure of Material Connection: I have not received any compensation for writing this post. I have no material connection to the brands, products, or services that I have mentioned. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.

The Maid of Fairbourne Hall

Blurb: Pampered Margaret Macy flees London in disguise to escape pressure to marry a dishonorable man. With no money and nowhere else to go, she takes a position as a housemaid in the home of Nathaniel Upchurch, a suitor she once rejected in hopes of winning his dashing brother. Praying no one will recognize her, Margaret fumbles through the first real work of her life. If she can last until her next birthday, she will gain an inheritance from a spinster aunt–and sweet independence. But can she remain hidden as a servant even when prying eyes visit Fairbourne Hall?

Observing both brothers as an “invisible” servant, Margaret learns she may have misjudged Nathaniel. Is it too late to rekindle his admiration? And when one of the family is nearly killed, Margaret alone discovers who was responsible. Should she come forward, even at the risk of her reputation and perhaps her life? And can she avoid an obvious trap meant to force her from hiding?

On her journey from wellborn lady to servant to uncertain future, Margaret must learn to look past appearances and find the true meaning of “serve one another in love.” 

I’m not hugely into historical romances but regency era is my favorite subgenre. The Maid of Fairbourne Hall by Julie Klassen sounded a bit unique and it was. The behind-the-scenes view of life as a servant during that time period was interesting – it’s obvious Julie Klassen does her research and I learned a lot. There’s a lot of tension, danger and intrigue throughout the book. And something unexpected that I found especially fascinating was when pirates came into the story. I expect them in a high-seas adventure – not showing up at a manor in the middle of the country!

The story was layered, colorful – everything about it was great except I found one thing rather lacking: the romance. It only makes sense in hindsight – when the main character is in disguise throughout 95% of the story, and she is busy avoiding the attention of the love interest who might recognize her, well – there’s not a lot of room for sizzling chemistry. If the ending had been drawn out a bit more, there might have been more development and closure in that department. As it was, I loved the book for the historical aspect but the romance was lukewarm at most.

All in all, an enjoyable read, just don’t expect to swoon.🙂  What’s your favorite historical period?

Disclosure of Material Connection: I have not received any compensation for writing this post. I have no material connection to the brands, products, or services that I have mentioned. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.