Review: Sophia’s War: The End of Innocence (#1) ~ Stephanie Baumgartner

Sophias WarSophia can hardly wait to return to Germany to help her great-aunt run the town library, despite her father’s distrust of the National Socialist German Workers’ Party. But Sophia’s not worried; she knows she will be safe with her extended family.

Unfortunately, the beautiful country that she remembers from her childhood visits is almost unrecognizable. Almost every man is in uniform, and everyone she meets seems watchful and secretive. It quickly becomes apparent that Germany is not what it used to be, and neither is her cousin, Diedrich.

Will Sophia return home when Diedrich gives her an ultimatum that defies her conscience? Or will her desire to fulfill her aunt’s wishes keep her in a dangerous foreign land on the brink of war?

2 Thumbs-UpI can only say a few things about this book and to be honest that is a shame.  Here is a book I wanted to truly love, after all I thoroughly enjoy both fiction and non-fiction works set in this era, so by the time I reached the end of this novel, I was so disappointed that I only just liked it.

I have no issue with Christian fiction, as sometimes it can be a lot better written and put together than those outside this genre; the Authors of this kind of work always seem to be able to show the sliver of light in the darkness, but this novel was just too much and led to my being really irritated in parts.  This impression was fuelled mainly by the featured protagonist of the title; she was just too good to be true.  Her most annoying trait was putting off thinking about things that she didn’t like, or upset her all too sheltered little world.  This may sound like a natural human reaction when dealing with the issue of war, but then the reader discovers that the most important things in her world are all centred on her.  I found there to be no strength of will or conviction in this character at all, and as a whole found her to be rather vapid and flimsy.  The main protagonist was not the only character I had issues with; her all too perfect devoutly Christian family were written in such a way that I felt downright disgust at their hypocrisy, and this made me come to think of them as “Sunday Christians”, not an image I should imagine the Author was looking to create at all.

Repetition featured heavily in this novel and, not intending to insult the Author in any way, it came across as if they had reached a wall with the storyline and brought back time and again feelings and impressions that had been covered earlier, to bridge a gap until the plot could be picked up again.  If it was used as a tool to ensure the reader understood the motivations behind everything, good for them but if you are going to use this style in the future it may do well to come across a little less heavy-handedly.  Also, and this is definitely just my personal opinion like everything else in the reviews I write, I feel this book should be reclassified as Christian Fiction; in this way the Author would probably reach a larger target audience.  Classified as it is, readers picking this up and expecting to read about World War II Germany from a young American woman’s viewpoint will be sorely disappointed.  I’m in two minds whether I will read anymore in the series; as one part of me would like to see if the Authors writing style and approach develop; but the other side of me is loath to have to go through the same thing I went through with this novel.

I would recommend this book to those readers who enjoy inspirational Christian fiction and who don’t mind embarking on yet another series of books.

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Review: When Mountains Move (Into the Free #2) ~ Julie Cantrell

When Mountains MoveIt is the spring of 1943. With a wedding and a cross-country move, Millie’s world is about to change forever.  If only her past could change with it. Soon after the break of day, Bump will become Millie’s husband. And then, if all goes as planned, they will leave the rain-soaked fields of Mississippi and head for the wilds of the Colorado Rockies. As Millie tries to forget a dark secret, she hasn’t yet realized how drastically those past experiences will impact the coming days.For most of Millie’s life, being free felt about as unlikely as the mountains moving. But she’s about to discover that sometimes in life, we are given second chances, and that the only thing bigger than her past … is her future.

3 Thumbs-UpTwo things I wasn’t fully aware of when I was given this book to read; one, it was the second in a series and two, it is classified as being Christian literature.

Maybe my inability to connect with any of the characters in this book was due to the fact that I hadn’t read the first one in the series, and because of this I didn’t understand some of their personality traits and motivations behind the things they did and said throughout the book.  Those I did connect with, and thoroughly enjoyed were characters, which obviously from the way they appeared in the novel, were making a debut on these particular pages.  Maybe because I read this out of sequence, there were many times I just didn’t find the characters believable at all, and this really disappointed me to a point where I nearly consigned this book to the ‘to be finished later’ pile.

The saving grace in this novel, and the one that kept me reading through to the end was the vivid way in which the Author describes the small corner of Colorado the main protagonists call home.  When the main character sees the scenery before her for the first time, and it takes her breath away it also takes the reader’s breath away too, such is the skill this Author shows when writing about the locations in which the novel is set.  The Author has also obviously done a great deal of research into the local plants and herbs of the area, as well as the crafts of quilting and knitting and this shines through when she explains the use for the herbs and plants encountered.  In many ways this book could have so easily become preachy as it is full of references to God, but it didn’t.  While staying true to its genre it still managed to portray a harsh and gritty way of life for those who were trying to break ground and start new lives not only partway through a world war, but so close to the end of the depression era.

As much as this was an enjoyable read it didn’t make me want to backtrack and open the first, and I highly doubt I will read anymore in this series.  I would recommend this to readers of Christian literature, but I would also advise they read Into the Free #1, before tackling this book.

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Review: The Rise (Trials and Triumph #1) ~ Kenneth E. Nowell

The RiseJesus Christ s cryptic question has puzzled Christians for twenty centuries: If I want him to remain alive until I return, what is that to you? (John 21:22) Now, when a bizarre death shatters the serenity of a New York monastery, and a mysterious, Semitic drifter is accused of murder, the ultimate forces of innocence and iniquity are set on a collision course, careening to the Apocalyptic end of the Age. Highly researched and eerily reflective of today’s global headlines, this trilogy races around the world and through the centuries to a pulse-pounding climax.

2 Thumbs-UpThis novel is the first of a trilogy, and is definitely of the Christian Fiction genre.

From a character development point of view, as I read my way through this book I noticed that the majority of characters were, or seemed to be, a hodgepodge of current day cultural icons spanning from generic political figures through to well-known media ‘darlings’.  Using this approach to their characters, I felt that the Author had negated the necessity to give them any real depth or back story, as it was assumed that we would know everything we needed to about them from their intrusion into our everyday lives.  I think this book could have been taken up a notch by using more original characters, giving them back stories and personalities a reader could actually relate to and, in turn, come to care about the characters themselves.

Some readers may pick this up and feel like they have read it before, this is due I feel to the great similarities this book has with ‘The Left Behind’ series; it is nothing like that series.  The Author has a great writing style, and this makes the book flow along at a nice pace, they have filled it with footnotes that support the great amount of research the Author has put into writing this novel, and are there for any others who may want to dig deeper into this subject for themselves.  However, there are times when the book becomes a little derailed, and the reader can find themselves lost as to what is actually occurring.  Whether or not these loose ends will be picked up and tied off neatly in subsequent books would be interesting to see, even if they are it will be still hard for the Author to justify the inclusion of suicide in these books.

Unfortunately, and here I must apologise to the Author, this book was not for me as at times I felt I was being preached to and told that if I didn’t follow steps A-Z I was a lost soul.  I have read some great Christian Fiction but, sadly, this was not one of them and I doubt I will be reading the remaining books in this trilogy.

I would recommend this book to lovers of the Christian Fiction genre, but if you are expecting to find a budding C.S Lewis or Tim F. LaHaye and Jerry B. Jenkins combination, you will be sorely disappointed.

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Review: Hope Flies on Broken Wings ~ L.F. Falconer

Hope FliesCome along on a summer journey of two souls seeking release from their own perceptions of hell.

From a medieval, seacoast realm, comes this haunting love story that hovers on the cusp of fantasy. 19-year-old Dugan is the troubled son of an evil man. He is beautiful, he is forbidden, and he has captured 16-year-old Collie’s heart. But is the young man truly as dangerous as Collie’s parents make him out to be?

When two worlds collide, Collie and Dugan struggle with their own inner conflicts as they attempt to break the barriers that constrain them, hoping for the freedom to finally fulfill the love that keeps drawing them together. But the choices they make aren’t always wise, and all good things must one day end. Sometimes, much too soon.

A story of dramatic love and equally dramatic loss, seen through the eyes of two innocent, but defiant adolescents. Its simple medieval setting brings to light many of the societal issues of today, including domestic violence, child abuse, bigotry, class segregation, and religious intolerance.

2 Thumbs-UpThe synopsis on the back of this book does not really give any clear description of the contents; it is really just one paragraph from the tale within its covers.

The two main protagonists are adolescents on a journey of discovery, and this tended to give the story an over the top dose of teenage angst.  For my liking the Author did not develop these characters as individuals as fully as I felt they could’ve have been, but for some readers this may be the type of character they like; unfortunately they were not for me.  I didn’t find anything endearing about either of them as they progressed through the book, that made me not care about them or connect with them on any level whatsoever, despite the themes of love, hope and destiny being there to provide them with fuel to become truly captivating.

Set in an unknown time and setting, all the Author hints at is that it is in medieval times, the book alludes at the possibility of becoming something more with brief mentions to magic and mermen; again, this was not developed into anything more than just a mention so the reader never truly finds out if this is one of those settings where magic can happen or not.  Something that really pulled away from my enjoyment of this book was that it starts out being written in the first person, but as the story progresses and the action picks up, the Author tends to lose their way and keeps bouncing backwards and forwards between the first person point of view and having a narrator.  This made it increasingly more difficult to follow what was actually happening and to keep things in perspective.  Another thing that baffled me, and again some readers might understand, is the introduction of religion into the novel and this, in time, added an air of preachiness to the book that made me feel like I was being given a sermon.  Given that the book is set in an unknown time, it was not easy for me to link this sudden introduction of the Christian religion with the uprooting of whatever beliefs were being followed, and eventually it just added nonsense to what could have been an otherwise fairly enjoyable read.  However, despite all its flaws it was a well written book and, if you are a devout Christian would probably appeal to you.  Unfortunately it was just wasn’t for me and I doubt very much if I would read anything else by this Author.

I would recommend this book to lovers of Christian Fiction, and YA readers that are active in their Church.

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Review: Moon Man (Train Flight #1) ~ Elizabeth Newton

Moon Man

Have you ever suspected that an unfortunate event such as a flat tyre on a dark and deserted country road could send you tumbling into a strange world where substantial objects appear invisible, where you can fly past the moon in a train carriage, where deadly creatures aren’t necessarily the ones with big teeth and sharp claws, and where you can finally appear to be more intelligent than your older sibling?

Believe it or not, this is what happened to fourteen-year-old Evie Bamford when she bumped into a tall, mysterious, sometimes-invisible stranger who claimed he could save her older brother and close friend after they’d completely vanished without trace on this dark and deserted road I mentioned.

Of course, all these exciting things happening at once gave Evie an appetite for adventure, but throw in a giant, unearthly creature that is prowling the halls of a satellite 17 million light years from Earth and sucking the life out of its victims to get what it wants – not to mention a virtual time-bomb, a restless crowd of people and a long-repressed secret that is slowly simmering to the surface of Evie’s conscience – and she’s having second thoughts about keeping the acquaintance of this so-called Captain, who seems to go looking for trouble for a hobby.

Desperate times call for drastic measures. The fate of so many lives is uncertain. But all along, the Captain seems to think everything is under control. The question is, under whose control? And just who is this mysterious friend he keeps mentioning?

3 Thumbs-Up

This is a debut Christian Sci-Fi novel for this Author, and it is delightful to see her confidence in her writing grow as the novel progresses.

The faith of the characters is presented in a natural, realistic manner without “preaching”, and the Christian world view shown in the book reminded me of that of The Chronicles of Narnia.  Despite the characters being nicely developed, I just could not connect with the female lead character.  This could be because I like my leads to be decisive and strong, someone I can connect to and travel with, throughout the book, not a procrastinator who waits for things to happen to them, then reacts accordingly.  However, where the female lead was too wishy washy for my tastes, The Captain made up for her lack of personality, and it was this character that boosted the thumb rating for this book, he was a truly memorable character with a quirky sense of humour that managed to entertain.

The descriptions in the novel are well done, however, I felt like I was reading a Dr. Who novel at some points, as the Whovian influence is very apparent throughout the book.  There are also other influences at work in this novel, which I am sure readers will recognise as they progress through the book or the series.  But despite these influences, or maybe because of them who knows, the story is well written and moves along a fast, but unrushed, pace.

Overall, this book was a pleasure to read in the sense that I enjoyed the adventure. The novel was well written, fun and imaginative. I probably wouldn’t read any more in the series, not because it wasn’t good—it just wasn’t my thing; I enjoy hard core Sci-fi/fantasy that examines the technologies and motivations of the characters with more depth, and there really wasn’t much of either with this novel, possibly because of the Christian influence.

I would highly recommend this novel to those in the target audience, Juvenile/Teen and Young Adult readers, but I would also recommend it to adult readers who enjoy Christian fiction (like my Mother-In-Law), or those just wanting a quick fun read.

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