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An Adorable Romance: “Heart on the Line” by Karen Witemeyer

Heart on the Line (Ladies of Harper’s Station, #2)

This story was just an adorable story right away, and continues to be! The idea of a telegraph romance is so–again–adorable, and the appeal of a ‘nerdy’ and unique love interest–a shy one at that–is undeniable. If you want a feel-good story that has a wonderful blend of action, drama, danger, and all-around cuteness in its love story, then look no further! Witemeyer has created a beautiful tale, and outdone herself. Please consider Heart on the Line as your next happy read, because it’s worth it!

Note: I received this book from Bethany House Publishers specifically to review it. 

 

 

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“Egypt’s Sister”: The Gladiator for Females

Image result for egypts sister book

(Note the beautiful cover! It was honestly this cover that played a large part in my election to choose this book! 😉 )

If you’ve heard of Russell Crowe’s Gladiator, then you are most likely familiar with its premise–as well as the satisfying redemption, action, and glory that come along with it, and a great deal of masculinity to boot. The film can certainly be enjoyable for female viewers–I myself being one!–but it’s not exactly known for its female characters, but instead for the broken and determined protagonist, a noble soldier who is betrayed by his Emperor, sold into slavery, and whose family is murdered. He makes his way through the world of the gladiators, fighting battle after battle with revenge on his mind, and finally manages to become the Emperor’s champion, bringing opportunities for both fame and revenge as he comes face-to-face with his nemesis. “Egypt’s Sister” by Angela Hunt is that same tale of redemption and revenge–but with Cleopatra as the lead enemy, and far more forgiveness, religious focus, and female fortitude.

 

This stems from the fact that, in this story, the heroine Chava is a beautiful tutor’s daughter in Egypt–who is also the best friend of Urbi, later to be known as Cleopatra. After a fight over a certain kind of worship–Urbi wants Chava to come to her new temple, but Chava’s Hebrew beliefs do not allow her to participate in idol worship–Urbi not only casts her best friend out, but also imprisons her and her elderly father–and throws them both into slavery. Chava is separated from her father and sent across the sea amidst horrifying conditions, and–after attracting the attention of several men who help her along the way, due to her beauty–gradually moves from the ownership of a Roman farmer to a Roman noble in the city on Palatine Hill itself. Chava does a remarkable job of keeping her distance, while still be unoffensive and potentially attainable to these men; in her heart, she has only a religious focus (and a similarly-minded man back home in Egypt who waits for her), and she also demonstrates creative thinking and resourcefulness when she takes it upon herself to learn midwifery. As her skills in that field expand and her role in the noble family’s household increases, Chava hears bits and pieces of what is going on back in Egypt with her old friend, who is now a mother and Queen of Egypt amidst great controversies and challenges. Eventually, Chava is sent back to Egypt as an emissary to the very same best friend who betrayed her, a reunion (and a surprise one, at that, at least on Cleopatra’s behalf) that the reader awaits with excited breath.

 

Overall, this story is a great one: it’s a story of a girl’s maturity into womanhood, a friendship’s ascension to sisterhood and the depths of enmity and back, a story of Chava’s desire for responses to her insightful prayers, a girl’s clever and calm observations of her world and acumen regarding the struggles surrounding it, and overall the use of faith and one’s own individual skills in re-attaining freedom, hope, peace, love, and home. This is a great read, and one that I truly enjoyed. You don’t have to be religious to enjoy this book; the charming and immensely admirable girl heroine and the historical events (as well as the look into Cleopatra’s life and status, not as a queen but as a girl and a person) is fascinating in and of itself, perhaps unsurprisingly. I will definitely be reading this again, and recommending it to my friends–religious or otherwise–for an insightful look into a momentous time in history and the personal lives of normal people that are naturally juxtaposed with it.

 

Note: I was asked by Bethany House Publishers to review this book in exchange for receiving it. 

“The Chapel Car Bride”: A Sweet Tale of Love and Longing

Note: I received this book from Bethany House Publishers to review it. 🙂

This book offers a unique perspective on something that I had never considered before: a woman’s role on a chapel car.  (I actually had never heard of a “chapel car”, either, so this book was a particularly pleasant surprise!)

The religious aspect of this book might be a negative for some readers, but I did not find that to be the case while reading it. There is a lot of religious relevance to the story, historically and plot-wise, so it’s a necessity in the book–and, as Judith Miller continues with her obvious success–it is clear that I am not the only one who does not necessarily find the “religious” in a religious romance book to be an obstacle. You do not have to be religious to enjoy this story!

As far as plot and characters go, the tale is very enjoyable. It’s more than just an instant he-meets-her-and-the-wedding-is-booked story; the two protagonists face a variety of obstacles, both minor and more serious. The heroine is reliable, hard-working, and (in my opinion) relatively realistic. Her struggle to be obedient and pious despite her own human urges, opinions, and ideas really spoke to me. Hope Irvine is trying to be a dutiful daughter to her father (the preacher on the chapel car), but she does struggle with that goal sometimes–and that made me love her. Her relationship with her father was also special and well-written, as was her relationship with Luke Hughes. Overall I was immensely intrigued by this book’s heroine, pleased with the story’s overall tone and pacing, and very happy with Judith Miller’s most recent work!

 

 

Book Review: Courageous By Dina L. Sleiman

Courageous

Note: I received this book for free, specifically to review it.

Another Note: I was immediately intrigued by this beautiful cover!

As a History major, I have certainly learned a thing or two about the Crusades. The basic gist? There were a lot of them, and they were–as Sleiman puts it– “messy”. Even during a class on the Crusades, it can be challenging to keep them all straight, and it becomes far more difficult when you’re not in class anymore. They seem to just combine into one jumble of violence, religious zeal, prejudice, and hardship (for people of all ages, not just men).

With that ‘jumble’ in mind, I was eager to educate myself again as I read Courageous. Sleiman does not disappoint: although there’s not exactly an enormous history lesson in the book, I learned a lot about the children’s crusades in particular–and from a variety of perspectives. The book’s plot focuses on Rosalind and Randel, two young people who are (in essence) the chaperones for a young visionary, Sapphira, and the other children who have been permitted to accompany her. On a quest to save several prisoners in the Holy Land, the group (bolstered by a small fighting force, in keeping with Sapphira’s noble status) leaves Northern Britannia to achieve their goal.

Sleiman in no way makes the journey easy. Several of the characters die, and the entire group faces a variety of struggles–including challenges against their faith. But one particular challenge manifests itself in the relationship between Rosalind and Randel: the ability to forgive oneself. Both Rosalind and Randel have committed sins that they punish themselves for–and both have, in turn, convinced themselves that they do not deserve love or marriage.

As the two characters find themselves getting closer to their religious convictions on the journey, they also find themselves getting closer to each other. A cliche, yes; however, while this burgeoning romantic relationship is one that is clearly outlined in the book’s description (and one that manifests itself early on in the story with a ‘fake’ relationship), the romance’s similarity to a typical modern romance-novel ends there. Sleiman artfully manages to weave together multiple characters’ perspectives, and introduces enough problems to ensure that Rosalind and Randel’s relationship actually takes a back-burner many times in the book. There’s also none of the passive-aggressive tension that most fictional couples experience; Rosalind and Randel are great friends from the start, and there are no arguments between them. Their friendship actually lasts throughout the novel, which is truly refreshing. The only obstacle to their happiness is each person’s respective guilt; in short, both Rosalind and Randel are convinced that they don’t deserve the relationship–and the reader is convinced that they could both use a little therapy.

The book’s main relationship is unique in that it is both subtle and consistently amicable; however, the other relationships are often less so, creating plenty of petty drama to entertain readers in between attacks. Sleiman has created an impressive roster of characters, and juggles them without any observable tension or hastiness in the story. She actually manages to add a bit of depth to almost every character–even those who only have a few lines–and also has the ability to aptly describe the perspectives of characters who are in very different situations and age ranges!

The plot has an excellent progression, introducing each theme–romance, drama, humor, and battles–at just the right time. As soon as you start wondering what’s going on with a certain character or how a certain relationship is faring, Sleiman brings it back–almost as if she had read your mind. The language is also a nice mix between modern language and traditional speech patterns (and Sleiman does recognize the intentional mix in her historical notes). One thing that particularly struck me about Courageous was the rich, vivid descriptions: with only a sentence or two, Sleiman often manages to describe a scene in a way that is both very unique and, somehow, dead-on in accuracy.

In addition, while the religious aspects of Sleiman’s story are virtually unavoidable, strong religious convictions don’t seem particularly necessary as a reader. You may not care much for organized religion–but you could probably still enjoy this book, particularly if you have any interest in the Crusades or the normal (as well as the abnormal) people who participated in them.

Overall, I was very pleasantly surprised by this book. I had expected an overwrought love story, with a pretty predictable plot and just a smattering of historical information; instead, I was exposed to a companionable story that was exciting, well-written, and riddled with plot twists. Well done, Mrs. Sleiman; I’ll be looking into your other books, including the other two in this series!

3 Truths from Amy Schumer

Photo from hbo.com

If you weren’t familiar with Amy Schumer a year or two ago, you probably are now. She’s become the kind of hot commodity that Jennifer Lawrence was (and continues to be) after the Hunger Games–and since the two are friends, the awesomeness has only increased!

Not all viewers (aka your parents) are comfortable with crude language in stand-up comedy, but even those women who prefer the more G-rated works of Ellen DeGeneres or Jim Gaffigan can see some accuracy in Schumer’s comments. Here are three points made by Amy in her recent HBO special that are particularly spot-on — whether or not we want to admit it.

  1. “Pretty girls love funny girls–and funny girls want nothing to do with pretty girls.” Yep. Girls with ‘great personalities’ only really seem to like one kind of beautiful girl: the beautiful girl who’s also really nice, and therefore one that everyone loves to hate but can’t actually HATE.
  2. Her opening lines on women’s underwear. Not going to put details here, but yes. I’ll just awkwardly look away now…
  3.  “Am I maybe…GORGEOUS?” I cannot speak for other girls, but come on. Practically every single book that we read or movie that we watch seems to feature a heroine who is actually beautiful and just doesn’t know it (here’s looking at you, Princess Mia), so of course we’re going to apply the same perspective to our own lives. We’ll find that “right haircut” someday, Amy. And then the world will know.

You may not be as good at swearing as Amy (and you may only be comfortable watching her videos alone with Ramen noodles), but hey: when it comes to cultural commentaries and women’s underwear, no girl can really deny that Amy Schumer knows what’s up.

Revenge of the Girl with the Great Personality

This book, by Elizabeth Eulberg, tells the story that all of us “great personality” girls have dreamed of: going through a complete makeover in high school and being a total boss while we’re at it.

If you, like me, were one of those affable girls (and might still be; jury’s out on that one), then you know exactly what I’m describing, and you know exactly why I was immediately drawn to this book by its title. We ‘great personality’ girls didn’t date, we didn’t cheat on tests, we didn’t party, and we were as “nice to everybody” as the heroines are in Meg Cabot books. Sure, we had opinions, just like every human being in high school–but we refrained from being the mean little gremlins that kids are from sixth grade onward, and we kept our judgments to ourselves all the way to college.

While this particular book ended up being surprisingly dark and discussed a lot more than a Transformation Tuesday, its basic premise and its heroine’s sense of humor made for a compelling read. In the book, Eulberg points out that ‘great personality’ girls are actually the ones with real potential; they come out of school with an “IQ and a soul”, whereas other girls might come out with improvements that are superficial. Think of us illustrious GP girls as ice cream; we’re delightful on our own! We’ve got humor, we’ve got knowledge, we’ve got compassion, and we know how to party without alcohol or public appearances. But if/when we DO decide to add a cherry (i.e. confidence-building makeup or clothes), we’re real contenders for Eulberg’s “beauty game”.

You can enhance ice cream with a cherry, but you can’t just try to slop ice cream onto a lone cherry after the fact. And do any of us ever go to ice cream parlors just for the cherries? No, we do not. 🙂

 

3 Side Effects of A House of Cards Binge

I may or may not have recently re-watched a lot of House of Cards.

Cough cough.

After (maybe) having watched many, many episodes of this successful political drama–and constantly trying to convince my mother how interesting it is that Robin Wright was Princess Buttercup way back when–it has come to my attention not only that my mother has never seen The Princess Bride, but also that binge-watching certain shows creates certain symptoms.

I knew this to some extent before. When I watched Make It Or Break It, I was obsessed with gymnastics. When I watched Lord of the Rings, I tried to learn Tengwar. Although I now have plenty of seemingly random knowledge about everything from artistic gymnastics to hobbits, which could be seen as a good thing, it is apparent that every show we follow has a potent effect on us. House of Cards is no different, but its symptoms are the dangerous, leading-to-social-awkwardness kind.

Prepare yourself for the following.

Symptom 1: Speaking in maxims. As Dan Egan said on VEEP (another, more comical political show), “He who speaks in maxims…can sound wise.” Frank Underwood uses a LOT of maxims and metaphors on House of Cards. Which means that you’ll start talking like that after just two episodes (Seriously. You will.). You’ll take to it like a cat to milk*. But that’s just the way the tide turned. Because you put too many eggs in one basket.

Get it?

Symptom 2: Everything is a conspiracy. Everything. So your roommate offered to put some toast in the toaster for you while she was using it. So she burned it. Guess what?

She’s definitely in talks with China. Say good-bye to reelection. And your toast. (And your roommate, if your symptoms continue).

Symptom 3:  You want to act like a bad-ass. Part of you now is eager for someone, anyone, to try to mess with you, because now, after hearing Underwood and his wife deliver completely awesomely cruel lines, you feel like you yourself can do so. Now you can’t wait for someone to forget to pay you back, just so you can plot their demise for years and store up plenty of tough lines besides “Come at me bro.”

So there you have it: the reason for binge-watching at home (besides getting to avoid real clothes). And the reason for avoiding social contact until you get onto a show with more charming symptoms, like the Big Bang Theory. Or get heavy sarcasm from VEEP. Or feel really really smart from The Newsroom.

So carry on. Watch with caution. “Welcome to Washington”.

(Or maybe just read a book. The symptoms are diluted that way.)

*Milk’s actually not great for cats. Pass it on.