Monday, July 22, 2013

When Mockingbirds Sing - by Billy Coffey

Leah and her parents have moved from the city to the small town of Mattingly to reunite as a family.  Tom and Ellen even invite the whole town to Leah's birthday party, in an attempt to connect to the people of this outsider-averse community.  Things start out well, with Leah befriending a town girl named Allie, who looks past Leah's stutter and sticks with her, even as Leah's life begins to get stranger and stranger.  First, there's the Rainbow Man, who sings only to Leah and tells her things that nobody else should know.  Then there are the paintings - the first of which brings great blessings upon the town's forgotten.  But is this Rainbow Man real?  Is he good?  And are these paintings and prophecies of Leah's meant to help the town, or break it apart?

When Mockingbird Sings reminded me a lot of a book I read years ago, Keeping Faith, by Jodi Picoult.  A small girl who seemingly is tuned in to a powerful force, with the public divided over whether it's good, evil, or even real.  I won't do a comparison of the books here, but Picoult's book was in my head for most of the reading of this one.

I wasn't sure how to feel about this book; while I admired Leah's commitment to her journey, the story itself was so dark.  Leah's life was not easy; the Rainbow Man did not make things sunshine and roses.  Leah was outcast, doubted, and mocked.  At one point, almost the entire town teams up on her.  Yet, she stands her ground;  she believes in the Rainbow Man, and she believes she needs to do what he says and deliver his message to the people of Mattingly, no matter the cost to herself or her family, or her very best friend.  Additionally, there are multiple mentions of other "magic" that has happened in this town, hints that Leah is not the first person to experience strange things here, yet the stories of the past are never explained, even though one character promises to tell Leah's Father Tom the whole thing.  While Mr. Coffey has other books available that reference "a small Virginia town," there is no indication of these books being a cohesive series, and no reference to the order they're meant to be read in, if they're even connected.  This left me feeling like I'd missed a big part of the story, and it made it much harder for me to connect to the townsfolk.

Even with my frustration about the plot holes, I was drawn into Leah's world, and anxious to see how things turned out.  I wanted to know whether the Rainbow Man was on the side of good or evil, and I wanted to know what the prophecies meant for the town.

I give this book 3 stars.

I received a copy of this book from Thomas Nelson, as part of their Booksneeze program, in exchange for my honest review.

You can read the first three chapters of the book HERE.
You can buy the book HERE.
You can find the author's website HERE.

The Language of Sparrows - by Rachel Phifer

Sierra Wright is a brilliant 15-year-old girl living in a rough part of Houston.  Only, most folks look past her brilliance because she works so hard to hide it, not talking to others, not turning in homework assignments, and not making friends.  A chance walk through a neighborhood across the bayou brings her to Luca's house, a house bare of any touches to make it a home, yet with a library filled with books and a man filled with insight for those other than his son.  People are suspicious of why a 15-year-old girl would be spending time in an old man's house, and accusations are cast.  Yet, Sierra's mother, April, can't discount the fascination her brilliant, withdrawn daughter has for this man, and April finds herself caught up in his story, and that of his son, Nick, the teacher who recognized Sierra's brilliance and kept her from bottoming out.  Four people, equally broken, yet for very different reasons.  Can they find a way to expose their truths and heal each other?

I cannot say enough good things about this book.  The characters are so broken, yet so real.  Their need for truth is so apparent, yet their wounds keep them from being able to spill their own stories until they learn that they will not only heal themselves, but their loved ones through telling them.  And overall, the knowledge that God is truth, and that He is there, even in the pain, is so real it's heartbreaking.  No, God doesn't heal all wounds.  No, God isn't always there in the way you want Him to be.  But He IS there.

In addition to the writing and the characters, I loved all the small details in this book.  I loved Sierra's fascination with languages, and the way she saw art in words.  I loved that Luca found peace through cooking and that he was always offering food to those who made it past his door.  I loved Nick's care of his father, even though he had been so hurt by him.  I loved how they all came together and apart and together again throughout the book as they healed and hurt and grieved and loved.  Even the side characters in this book were well-done and lent weight to the story and the main characters without making the plot too busy.

I very rarely give 5 stars to fiction books, but this one has earned it.  It was well-written, well-paced, and steeped in truth and vulnerability.  I highly recommend it.

You can find The Language of Sparrows HERE for only $2.39 on e-book right now!
You can find the author's website HERE.  I hope to hear more from this author soon!

Please tell me if you read this book and if it affected you as deeply as it affected me!

I received a copy of this ebook from David C. Cook publishers, in exchange for my honest review.

Monday, July 15, 2013

Stealing the Preacher - by Karen Witemeyer

Silas Robbins had given up his outlaw ways 16 years ago, for his wife and daughter; yet, for his daughter's birthday, he takes them up again to get her the one thing she wants most - a preacher for their abandoned church.  Little does Silas know that Joanna's reason for wanting a preacher is that she might have assistance in saving Silas's soul, a miracle for which Joanna has taken up the mantle of prayer from her mother who passed away several years ago.  An initially unwilling participant in this plan, Crockett Archer, the preacher whom Silas manages to kidnap, is drawn in by Joanna's gentle spirit and determination to demonstrate her faith to her father.  Can Crockett convince Silas that he's not the same as the preachers in Silas's past?  Can an old outlaw find his way to God when he's spent his whole life looking out for himself?

This book had much more heart than I initially expected.  If it weren't for the fact that I had accepted this book for review, I probably would have put it down after the first couple of chapters and not picked it up again.  However, I was glad that I persevered, because once I got past the awkward, cliched opening, the depth of the characters and meat of the plot made it worth the read.  Joanna's love for her father and desperation to see him become a believer was compelling; her depth of faith, yet need for a community of worshipers was thought provoking.  Crockett was a complicated character - a man of faith with the background of an orphaned cowboy, an oddity in his world, yet exactly what Silas needed.  If I could wish for one thing more from this book, I would have liked more depth to some of the side characters.  There were several characters with interesting stories or tidbits, but not enough information to make me invested in them.

I give this book 3.5 stars; it had more depth than your typical western romance, and I enjoyed it more than I expected.

You can find Stealing the Preacher HERE.
You can find the author's website HERE. (You can find a trailer for the book and read the first chapter there, as well)

I received a copy of this book from Bethany House Publishers, in exchange for my honest review.

Anomaly - by Krista McGee

Within the State, productivity is paramount.  To this end, emotions, curiosity, and relationships are not only frowned upon, but they have been mostly eradicated through DNA manipulation of the generations.  However, Thalli is considered an Anomaly; created to be her pod's musician, she pours all of her illicit emotions into her music.  The creators of the State, the Ten Scientists, watch Thalli closely, and when it becomes obvious through her reactions to an ancient piece of music that she cannot function within the confines of the State's rules, they schedule her for annihilation.  Removed from her Pod, with only her childhood friend Berk, now a promising Scientist, fighting for her survival, Thalli meets John who speaks to her about the Designer.  What is Thalli to believe now?  Is there more to life than the Scientists allow?  Is there a purpose to her "malformation"? Is there any hope for her to escape death?  Does she even want to, or is death really only the beginning?

I was very excited to get this book for review - I really enjoyed Krista McGee's first trilogy, First Date, Starring Me, and Right Where I Belong.  This book did not disappoint.  Although a departure from the author's initial genre, delving into dystopia, her characters are just as well developed, and her fictionally generated world draws the reader in, making it easy to imagine living in a world where the earth's surface has been eradicated and the only remaining civilization is contained underground.  Eerily possible, too, is a world where the Scientists controlling such a world have erased any emotion or connection to God.  Yet, even there, there is a remnant of God's faithful, a sole believer who has survived to teach others of His existence.  This portion of the story really drew me in - as Thalli not only had to learn of a God she never heard of, but also concepts like love and marriage that were foreign to her.

Although the levels of manipulation within the story toed the line of implausible, the story was still well done, and I enjoyed it very much.  I was excited to see that it's the first in a trilogy, but heavily disappointed to see that #2 isn't due out until next summer!

I give this book 4 stars, and I can't wait to see where Ms. McGee takes this story!

You can find Anomaly HERE.
You can find Krista McGee's blog HERE. (She's even doing an iPad Mini Giveaway right NOW!)

I received a copy of this book from Thomas Nelson publishers, as part of their BookSneeze program, in exchange for my honest review.