Review: SkyWorld Duology

Skyworld: Secrets in the Mist and Skyworld: Blood Secrets are action-packed steampunk novels by Morgan L. Busse. I read Secrets earlier this year and eagerly anticipated the sequel. I joined the launch team for Blood Secrets and had the opportunity to read an advanced copy. I now own the beautiful hardback copies of both books! The audiobooks are great also! This series has sparked my interest in steampunk-themed fantastical fiction.

This story takes place in a dystopian world where humanity lives at the highest elevations, using airships and gliders for quick air travel. After a world war, ubiquitous Mist takes over the surface of the earth, rendering the land inhabitable and turning anyone who breathes it into the undead “turned.”  Resources are limited and the wealthy class suppresses the lower class as they fight for survival. The story follows Cass, a young survivor of the dreaded purges. Seeking a way to make a living for herself, she joins the crew of an airship as a hired diver, searching for items left behind in the Mist. Her life is forever changed when she meets Theodore, a wealthy and educated member of the ruling five families. Theo and Cass’s places in society would set them at odds, but they share a common purpose; ridding the world of the Mist before it takes over all humanity. Once they discover a cure, Cass wrestles with the concept that the world is worth saving. It is great to have clean steampunk with airships, gliders, creepy metal men, firearms, sky pirates, and “zombies.” I do not prefer zombie stories, but I enjoyed how the author used the concept in this story.

Cass is a relatable female character, brave yet vulnerable. She is not overbearing or unrealistically independent like many female characters in YA fiction today. Theo is a genuine gentleman, scientist, and adventurer. He is kind and strong, and their romance is sweet! They are one of my new favorite literary couples. They both rely on their faith for strength and meaning.

I had no issues with the first book, but the sequel lost a star from me because the ending was rushed. Even though it ended the way I wanted, it wasn’t fully developed. This made for a surprisingly unsatisfactory ending.

I would love it if the author revisited this world with another novel or maybe short stories. I highly recommend these books. It is thrilling YA, but not too scary or graphic for MG and some younger readers.

Review: The Star That Always Stays

The Star That Always Stays gets 5 stars out of 5 from me! Anna Rose Johnson’s debut novel is a beautifully written piece of middle-grade historical fiction. In 1914 Norvia and her four siblings are thrust into life in the city with a new family. Their childhood in poverty around Lake Michigan is left behind when Ma divorces and remarries a kind, financially stable man who encourages Norvia’s appetite for novels and education. The stigma of being the daughter of a divorcee with Ojibwe heritage makes navigating high school challenging! Norvia finds strength through her faith to navigate relationships, prejudice, divorce, and high school! I pre-ordered my hardback copy from Amazon and was thrilled at the beautiful cover!

I love the references to some of my favorite classic stories as Norvia reads books like Pollyanna and Anne of Green Gables. This book is uplifting and charming while realistically addressing raw and complex themes. The characters in this story are all compelling! Through Norvia’s eyes I learned a little about the Ojibwe Indian culture and experienced a slice of life in 1914 Boyne City. My only complaint is that the ending left me wanting more. My only complaint is there are a few characters that I loved as much as Norvia and wish had more “time” on the page (especially Aylmer!)

Reviewing this book was special because this author is a member of the Author Conservatory, from the creators of Young Writers Workshop.  of which I am a member. Anna Rose Johnson is an inspiration! I cannot wait to see if she writes more MG fiction. There is a need for wholesome and memorable Christian-made stories of excellent quality. I’m thankful for the authors working to fill the void! Maybe I can count myself among them one day!

Review: Faithfully Different

I am thrilled to share my non-fiction selection, Faithfully Different: Regaining Clarity in a Secular Culture, written by Natasha Crain. This is a must-read for any Christian seeking to understand how to apply Biblical truth to everyday life! Natasha is a homeschool mom, speaker, and author who is passionate about Christian worldview and apologetics.

 I found out about her book while listening to an interview on the Center For Biblical Unity podcast, All The Things. I highly recommend CFBU’s ministry because it has been a great resource in helping me navigate hot topic issues like social justice and race relations. They are one of the few Christian organizations that offer a Biblical perspective on social issues instead of relying on the secular ideology of Critical Race Theory. 

Natasha clearly defines her target audience as born-again Christians. She gives specific examples of how anti-Biblical secular worldviews have infiltrated Christian thought and action. She shares some depressing statistics showing how few regular church attendees hold Biblically based beliefs like the infallibility of scripture, God as creator, original sin, and salvation by grace. She reminds us that belief is hard to quantify, so the amount of people who live out their Biblical beliefs is probably lower. Humans can profess belief in something without acting consistently to those beliefs. She outlines three core questions that every worldview must answer:

“why are things the way they are?”

“what does an ideal society look like?”

“how do we achieve this ideal society?”

The author draws upon her marketing background to explain how important felt needs are in marketing and how easy it is to manipulate an individual’s felt needs. Secular culture places validation of felt needs above actual needs. She summarizes the secular worldview into four philosophies: 

  1. “Feelings are the ultimate guide.”
  2. “Happiness is the ultimate goal.”
  3. “Judging is the ultimate sin.”
  4. “God is the ultimate guess.”

Throughout the book, she shows how these philosophies are popular because they appeal to mankind’s fallen nature and therefore are incompatible with a Biblical worldview. She has an excellent section on wrestling with doubts about faith and reassures Christians that the “truth is narrow, and that’s okay.” In one of my favorite quotes she explains, “If culture is the air we breathe, we’ve inhaled an expectation for self-censorship to appease man rather than to please God.” 

I learned so much from this book, so I give Faithfully Different 5 out of 5 stars! I purchased the audiobook version and will be adding a paperback copy to my library! Reading this book solidified my opinion that Biblical illiteracy combined with the “need to please” is the recipe that has produced the lukewarm Christianity pervasive among the Body of Christ. Revelation 3:15-17 ESV, “I know your works: you are neither cold nor hot. Would that you were either cold or hot! So, because you are lukewarm and neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of my mouth.”

Click on the CFBU logo below to check out their website! 

Review: Stand Up, Stand Strong

I’m excited to share Sara Barratt’s brand-new book, Stand Up Stand Strong: A Call to Bold Faith In A Confused Culture! I was privileged to be on the launch team, so I was able to pre-read this book before it was released. I now also have my paperback! This book is an excellent resource for learning to see the world through a Biblical Christian lens! The author melds well-researched facts and solid theology to cover hot topics like identity, sexual orientation, social justice, addiction, and abortion. I appreciated the grace-filled, encouraging tone that pervades the pages without compromising the truth found in Christ. Although dealing with “heavy” topics, it’s not a chore to read through this book. It can be difficult to find resources (especially for teens and young adults) that lovingly present a historical Christian viewpoint without being discolored by “progressive Christian” ideas. The discussion questions at the end of each chapter are helpful!

I just finished teaching a class for high school students on developing writing skills to express a Christian worldview. I wish this book had come out in time for me to hand out to my students! It would work as a “textbook” of sorts (but not the boring kind!) This book is a must-read for Christian teens, young adults, and even parents! I have not read the author’s earlier book Love Riot, but I will now and look forward to any other books she will publish!

Valentine’s Day & Procuring Books

I enjoy researching the origin of holidays we celebrate as Americans! I knew that Saint Valentine is known as the patron saint of lovers, but apparently, the two historical Christians known by the name Valentine had nothing to do with hearts, lovers, or anything of the kind! They were, however, both murdered for their faith on February 14th ,269 AD by Roman Emperor Claudius.

The Loyola Treasury of the Saints is one of my newer additions to the book hoard. This beautifully illustrated hardback treasury is a compilation of short descriptions of Christian saints. It is broken up by historical periods and would make a great read-aloud for children. I have enjoyed reading through this treasury myself because I didn’t learn about the saints growing up in an Evangelical denomination. I purchased this book used, and honestly forgot about it until today, when I decided to look up St. Valentine.

 This is the 9-step process I subconsciously follow for procuring books…

  • hear/read about an interesting book
  • add it to my digital to-read shelf on Goodreads
  • check online to see if the public library has a copy (they never have the books I want!)
  • hunt for an affordable used copy
  • order it (even though I should be saving that money!)
  • add it to my “to-be-read-mountain”
  • forget about it
  • …sometime later… remembering the purchase and… experience the excitement of “finding” a new book on the mountain pile
  • finally read it 😊   

Christmas Books

My goal for 2022 is to post a review of 1 book per month that I have read. As you can tell from my Goodreads feed… I always have several books going at once! Here is the link to my goodreads profile to see my reading archives https://www.goodreads.com/user/show/20534143-j

I thoroughly enjoy children’s literature as my “fluff” reading and I read non-fiction consistently. I am teaching British Literature at a homeschool co-op this school year, so I am revisiting some classics I read in high school.

For this first post of January, I want to give my thoughts on 4 books I read over December. I enjoy seasonal stories, and every Christmas I seek out new titles. Starting sometime in middle school, I made a goal to read “A Christmas Carol” every December (I kept this goal for a long time!) I’m not sure why I never branched out to other Christmas-themed books!

The Christmas Pig: J.K. Rowling (audiobook)

Our local Wal-Mart rearranged everything (for the umpteenth time!) and now the book section is located at the back of the store by the layaway and back bathrooms. I found this book while perusing this section while waiting for my brother to get out of the bathroom during a November shopping trip. I was intrigued but didn’t want to pay full price for a newly published hardcover. I went home and got the full-cast audiobook version with a free credit! I enjoyed this book way more than I thought I would! This delightful Christmas story reminded me of Toy Story/Velveteen Rabbit/Babes in Toyland/Winnie the Pooh. It was an entertaining adventure about a boy who loses his beloved toy pig and travels to the “land of the lost” to find him guided by other toys who magically come to life only on Christmas. (The land of lost things concept reminded me of the Winnie the pooh show about the hidden land under Christopher Robin’s bed where lost toys get eaten by the monster!) I was surprised that this story realistically engaged difficult themes like divorce, death, coping with the unknown, and children’s athletic performance pressure.  Rowling also addresses themes like recycling, the disposable nature of modern products, moral principles, forgiveness, and loving sacrifice without being preachy.  Children and adults alike can enjoy this story. There are some frightening elements of this story that might scare a very young child but are realistic and add to the adventure stakes. My ramblings do not do justice to this story, and I will be buying the hardcopy to reside in my personal library!

The Adventure of the Christmas Pudding & Hercule Poirot’s Christmas: Agatha Christie

These are the first Hercule Poirot stories that I have read. My first experience reading Agatha Christie (forever ago) was The Secret Adversary. I love Agatha Christie, but mystery tends to be my least favorite genre to read. I prefer to watch them! I decided to read this only because it showed up on a list of Christmas-themed stories and I thought “why not?!” I was surprised at how much I enjoyed reading these mysteries.  When I went on Amazon prime later to watch these same stories played out on screen- I was disappointed because they cut so many characters due to time. Understandable, and it was my fault for thinking the movie would be comparable! Funny how I prefer to watch the mystery, but if I’ve already read it, I’ll often be disappointed! The Adventure of the Christmas Pudding was my favorite because it’s a full-length Poirot: an exciting whodunit with an old-fashioned English Christmas theme. I love that Poirot is hesitant at first to take the case because he would prefer the modern radiator that heats his apartment to a drafty old country estate! Poirot is an eccentric, fastidious Belgium, but I can identify with his hatred of cold winters! Poirot’s Christmas was an enjoyable compilation of short stories (and contains a Miss Marple mystery as well.) 

A Thanksgiving Memory/A Christmas Visitor: Truman Capote

               I enjoyed this collection of childhood memoirs from southern-born Truman Capote, author of the well-known Breakfast at Tiffany’s. After reading the stories I did a quick search about Capote’s life (I had never heard of him before-even though he’s a famous American author.) He had a rough childhood and quite a sad life despite his literary success. These holiday stories take place in the early 1930s; a snapshot into the simple, tragedy-stained life of a young boy in the rural south. I have a feeling his lifestyle was not unique to the culture or time.