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From Brokenness to Abundance, a 60-Day Journey ⇉ Review of The Way of Abundance by Ann Voskamp

Saturday, April 28, 2018
The Way of Abundance is a sixty-day devotional. Each day features a bible verse, a personal anecdote, and questions for reflection. Ann Voskamp's poetic language brings to life the mess of emotions and the wholeness to be found in the midst of our brokenness. Her story gives hope that our brokenness will lead us to Christ on our journey to abundant life.


WHAT I LIKED


Inspiring Message that Conveys Biblical Truth
When we're breaking inside, it's easy to feel alone, to feel like nothing can make us whole again. Voskamp speaks to the broken ones where they are. She does this by sharing her own experiences with brokenness and by professing the hope that is to be found through Christ, who also understands our pain and suffering.

Captivating Use of Poetic Language
Voskamp's language is poetic and beautiful to read. They not only paint a picture for the reader but the emotions brought about by the moments she describes. I enjoy reading the words over and over again to appreciate the beauty captured by her words.

Short and Sweet Devotionals
The devotions are short, no more than a few pages long each, and there are only two questions at the end for reflection. It's encouraging for the busy individual or the one who has a hard time sitting down for long periods of time to journal. The questions can spark reflection at various levels; you can get as much as you want out of this depending on how much time you want to invest in answering the questions.


WHAT I DISLIKED


Purpose of Bible Verses Not Clear
At the beginning of each chapter, Voskamp includes a bible verse. However, they aren't referenced in the actual devotional, so the reader is left to guess why that particular bible verse was included. This purpose isn't always clear.

"Stream Of Consciousness" Style of Writing
Voskamp's poetic use of language beautiful and heart stirring, but it does take its time reaching the message for the day. I confess that there were times when I wanted something more concrete and to the point.


FINAL THOUGHTS


Overall, I enjoyed Voskamp's devotional and would recommend it to individuals struggling to find purpose in their brokenness or hardships and to individuals searching for abundant, joyful living. A beautiful hardcover book with a ribbon bookmark, this would make a good gift.

★★★☆☆


What do you do when you wake up and feel like you're not enough for your life? Or when you look out the kitchen window as dusk falls and wonder how do you live when life keeps breaking your heart?

In sixty vulnerably soulful stories, The Way of Abundance moves from self-weary brokenness to Christ-focused givenness. Drawing from the critically acclaimed, New York Times bestseller The Broken Way and Ann's online essays, this devotional dares us to embrace brokenness as a gift that moves us to givenness as a way to draw closer to the heart of God. Christ Himself broke like bread, giving Himself to us so we might have a lifelong communion with Him. Could it be that our brokenness is also a gift to the world?





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Publication Info
  • The Way of Abundance by Ann Voskamp
  • Published by Zondervan
  • On March 13, 2018
  • Genres: Fantasy
  • Pages: 256 Pages
  • Format: Hardback
Series
  • N/A
Content 
  • N/A

A copy was provided for review by BookLook Bloggers. All opinions are my own.

A Compelling World with Un-Compelling Plot Execution ⇉ Review of The Summoner trilogy by Taran Matharu

Thursday, April 26, 2018
I saw this book while browsing at Barnes and Noble over the winter holidays. The cover, then the synopsis drew my attention. Then I saw that this book is an overall fan favorite, and I wondered under what rock I've been hiding the past couple of year. (Okay, I was a new teacher, so that's my excuse.)

All that said, while I can see why this is a fan favorite—it has entertainment value—what I found was a series that lacks complexity and originality. Following is the breakdown of what I liked (the entertainment value) and what I disliked (aka. things that could have been done better).


WHAT I LIKED


Continually Moving Plot
Taran Matharu is good at keeping a plot moving. The chapters end on cliffhangers that have you wondering what will happen next. This may be a trait from the story's origin on Wattpad, where he first published the novel in a serial format.

Compelling Start to the Series
The beginning of The Novice is fantastic. I like how it establishes Fletcher's origins and helps the reader form a connection with him. Fletcher is a likable hero, if a bit of a Mary Sue, but I didn't know the latter at the time.

A World I Would Have Liked to Explore
The world is compelling. I like the premise of a blacksmith's apprentice summoning a demon (something unexpected in his world). That said, the series only gives us a taste of the world. I would have liked to see more exploration of the intricacies of the world.



WHAT I DISLIKED


Un-Compelling, Un-Complex Characters
There are characters that you like to like and characters that you like to hate. They all fit pretty nicely into boxed stereotypes. As much as I like Fletcher and his friends, I would have liked to see more character complexity. Give me a character I hate to hate, or a likable character with a fatal flaw, or a generally detestable character but with compelling reasons for his or her unlikable. (And so on.)

Unoriginal Plot
Though it has its differences, the Summoner trilogy felt like a poor re-enactment of The Lord of the Rings. It has the humans, elves, dwarves, and orcs. It has the heroes fighting against an orc army. It has the piece needed to rule them all....

I don't mind unoriginal plots. There are only so many stories that can be told. However, such plots need to be worked in a way that makes the story compelling in its own right.

Non-Existant Villain (Well, he may has well not exist.)
We keep hearing about the orcs being a dangerous force that needs to be stopped, but it's a while until we learn why they're such a threat. Even after we learn about the real threat that needs to be defeated, the villain rarely appears and doesn't live up to the hype. He doesn't have character.

Lackluster Conclusion
The series sets up an epic war in which the fate of the known world is at stake. So much time is spent off the battlefield, however, that the hype falls by the time Fletcher actually joins the battlefield. It's over before any suspense can build. The ending feels like a gift-wrapped package to make up for all the bad things that happened to Fletcher since he was born, not a proper resolution to everything that has happened.


FINAL THOUGHTS


While the world of the Summoner trilogy is intriguing, the plot is straightforward and superficial. The characters are stereotypical good or evil with minuscule growth, and the ending falls short of the hype that is built in the beginning. In the end, the Summoner novels fell flat for me.

★★☆☆☆


When blacksmith apprentice Fletcher discovers that he has the ability to summon demons from another world, he travels to Adept Military Academy. There the gifted are trained in the art of summoning. Fletcher is put through grueling training as a battlemage to fight in the Hominum Empire’s war against orcs. He must tread carefully while training alongside children of powerful nobles. The power hungry, those seeking alliances, and the fear of betrayal surround him. Fletcher finds himself caught in the middle of powerful forces, with only his demon Ignatius for help.

As the pieces on the board maneuver for supremacy, Fletcher must decide where his loyalties lie. The fate of an empire is in his hands. The Novice is the first in a trilogy about Fletcher, his demon Ignatius, and the war against the Orcs.



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Publication Info
  • The Novice by Taran Matharu
  • Published by Feiwel and Friends on May 5, 2015
  • Genres: Fantasy
  • Pages: 355 Pages
  • Format: Hardback
Series: The Summoner
  1. The Novice
  2. The Inquisition
  3. The Battlemage
Content 
  • Violence

Not My Favorite Fantasy, But It Presents a Compelling World ⇉ Review of Shadow and Bone by Leigh Bardugo

Thursday, April 19, 2018
Ever since I first read Song of the Lioness, I've loved magical worlds with magical academy settings. I didn't get into the Shadow and Bone craze. (To be honest, I wasn't a huge fan of the original covers. They gave off more of a historical or Gothic vibe than a fantasy kingdom vibe.) However, many people have recommended this book, so I decided to give it a try. While it's not my favorite fantasy book, it is an enjoyable read.


WHAT I LIKED


Interesting world
While the magical kingdom/academy setting isn't anything unique, depending on how it's done, the world can be an interesting place to explore. The Grishaverse is a compelling world that offers much to explore (though it didn't capitalize on the intrigue in the end).

Characters that make you feel things (both good and bad)
While I had some problems with the characters, their interacts drew me into the novel and had me feeling all sorts of emotions. Especially because of all the plot twists that led to new developments in relationships.

Plot twist after plot twist
For the most part, this is a straightforward story. We know the main enemy (or problem), and we know our MC Alina is going to do something about it. However, twist after twist has us questioning who to trust.



WHAT I DISLIKED


Characters lack complexity
The characters fall into boxed stereotypes. While Alina's vague understanding of certain characters has us wondering whether we can really trust certain persons, this lack of understanding also mean that these characters lack sufficient complexity for them to be more than a stereotype without depth.

Simplistic plot (despite the twists)
As I mentioned earlier, this novel is a straightforward story despite all of the twists. While I enjoyed the new revelations being made, they weren't unpredictable revelations. I don't mind a straightforward plot. (Most stories are retellings in one way or another. What makes them unique is how they're told.) However, while it was a solid story, it lacked the familiarity that makes a story great. The familiarity that makes the reader feel like he or she gets the world, and is a part of the world, and is interacting with the world.

A largely unexplored world
There are suggestions of court intrigue, and we learn about the big problem lurking in the kingdom. However, for the most part, the story doesn't capitalize on the intrigue or buildsupon it.


FINAL THOUGHTS


Overall, this is an enjoyable read. I really did feel moved to flip through the pages and find out what will happen to Alina, her loved one(s), and the kingdom. There is a failure to build sufficient intrigue and character complexity to make me feel like the world and characters have come to life, but I do have an interest in reading more of Alina's story. I hope to see more character growth in the books to come.

★★★★☆


Surrounded by enemies, the once-great nation of Ravka has been torn in two by the Shadow Fold, a swath of near impenetrable darkness crawling with monsters who feast on human flesh. Now its fate may rest on the shoulders of one lonely refugee.

Alina Starkov has never been good at anything. But when her regiment is attacked on the Fold and her best friend is brutally injured, Alina reveals a dormant power that saves his life—a power that could be the key to setting her war-ravaged country free. Wrenched from everything she knows, Alina is whisked away to the royal court to be trained as a member of the Grisha, the magical elite led by the mysterious Darkling.

Yet nothing in this lavish world is what it seems. With darkness looming and an entire kingdom depending on her untamed power, Alina will have to confront the secrets of the Grisha . . . and the secrets of her heart.



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Between love and power, which would you choose?



Publication Info
  • Shadow and Bone by Leigh Bardugo
  • Published by Square Fish
  • On June 2017
  • Original Pub: June 5, 2012
  • Genres: Fantasy
  • Pages: 416 Pages
  • Format: Hardback
Series: The Grishaverse
  1. Shadow and Bone
  2. Siege and Storm
  3. Ruin and Rising
Content 
  • Kissing
  • Making out
  • Violence and death

Blood, Beauty, and Tragedy: Let the Heads Roll ⇉ Review of Heartless by Marissa Meyer

Thursday, April 12, 2018
1. I love Marissa Meyer's Lunar Chronicles. (Even though I have yet to read the fourth book....for no good reason. This will be remedied this summer when I actually have free time!!!)

2. The description of the lemon tarts in the first pages.

For these reasons, I knew that I was going to love this book.

And because the Queen of Hearts is a villain, I knew that my heart would bleed for it.


WHAT I LIKED


Compelling Characters
Heartless is filled with quirky, imperfect characters whose personalities and backstories make them characters that I felt something towards. Many I loved to loved and others I despised. Even the one character that seemed too good to be true has his own complexities.

Beautiful Use of Figurative Language
Marissa uses figurative language to bring the world the life. I especially love her description of the lemon tarts in the first pages of Heartless. They sound scrumptious. The use of figurative language and imagery does decline as the novel progresses, but the writing is still beautiful and poetic.

Whimsical (and Interesting) World Building
Yes, we're in Wonderland, where most anything we can imagine comes to life. I love the whimsical world building.

A Star-Crossed Romance I Didn't Dislike
I like how the ones involved in the star-crossed romance are aware of the difficulties of their attraction and how these difficulties contribute to the the trials they face. I'm not always opposed to stories where the characters want to be together despite their differences, but I appreciate how Catherine is conflicted.

Stunning Cover
The cover is beautiful :)


WHAT I DIDN'T LIKE


Catherine's Indecisiveness Had Me (Mentally) Headbanging
I know this is a tragedy, and I know that bad things have to happen to good people for a tragedy to occur. And since this is the story about the making of the Queen of Hearts . . . good people need to make bad decisions. What is interesting (and a sign of fantastic character development) is how Catherine's upbringing and her own personality point towards her having the potential to become the Queen of Hearts, and we see her moving in this direction over the course of the novel.

That said, my heart bled many times over because of many of her decisions. And I kept hoping against hope that she wouldn't be the one to become the Queen of Hearts.

Mothers Who Push Their Own Agenda on Their Daughter
I got really angry at Catherine's mother. That said, this is also one of the good elements of the story (because it means Marissa Meyer did a great job bringing this character to life).

That Rushed Ending
In the last quarter of the novel, the plot picks up speed. Events are thrown at us one after the other, and the book ends almost before I realized it was coming. It felt rushed. I was almost okay with it because it reflects the chaos in Catherine's heart, but in the end, it really was too rushed for my liking.

A Tragic End (That I Was Coming) (But, okay, it was well-done for the most part)
"If only" . . . I can't count the number of times I thought these words. Plus, that adventure we almost had, except it got cut short prematurely. Because this is a tragedy, and you need to know this going in.


FINAL THOUGHTS


This is not a book to read if you love happy endings. If you love books that explore character relations and what drives people to make the decisions that they do, however, this novel is thought-provoking. It is poignant in its bitterness and beautiful in its dark poetry. It compels the reader to ask what is underlying the surface of the whimsical nature of Wonderland to reveal the darkness lurking beneath. And it portrays the human heart—showing us that the same forces that can be used for good can also be used for evil depending on circumstances . . . and the decisions that we ourselves make.


★★★★☆


Long before she was the terror of Wonderland—the infamous Queen of Hearts—she was just a girl who wanted to fall in love.

Catherine may be one of the most desired girls in Wonderland, and a favorite of the unmarried King of Hearts, but her interests lie elsewhere. A talented baker, all she wants is to open a shop with her best friend. But according to her mother, such a goal is unthinkable for the young woman who could be the next queen.

Then Cath meets Jest, the handsome and mysterious court joker. For the first time, she feels the pull of true attraction. At the risk of offending the king and infuriating her parents, she and Jest enter into an intense, secret courtship. Cath is determined to define her own destiny and fall in love on her terms. But in a land thriving with magic, madness, and monsters, fate has other plans.



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Publication Info
  • Heartless by Marissa Meyer
  • Published by Feiwel & Friends
  • On November 8, 2016
  • Genres: Fantasy, Retelling, Romance
  • Pages: 453 Pages
  • Format: Hardback
Series
  • N/A
Content
  • Kissing
  • Violence

Friendship and Bullies ⇉ GIVEAWAY + Review of The Slithery Shakedown by Tracey Hecht

Monday, April 2, 2018
I love children's books that feature animals even more than I love children's books that feature magic, and that's saying something. I loved them so much growing up that I wanted to become a veterinarian, so I could spend my days with animals. My dreams have since changed, but I still appreciate a good book with animal protagonists.

The Nocturnals books are good books with animal protagonists. I'm delighted to not only share my thoughts on the latest addition to the series but a giveaway of the complete Nocturnals books!


WHAT I LIKED


Everything I Enjoyed About The Moonlight Meeting
I feel very unoriginal here, but it's also a sign that the series has stayed true to what makes it loveable!

  1. Full-colored illustrations that bring the characters and their unique personalities to life.
  2. Lively dialogue.
  3. A book about a group of friends.
  4. Fun facts about the Australian wildlife featured in this book. (Provided at the end.)

Themes of Bravery and Friendship
The Slithery Shakedown teaches good lessons to growing readers. In this installment of the Nocturnals Early Readers, the trio of friends learn what it means to be brave (that it is okay to be both scared and brave), and they provide a role model in standing up for your friends.

Fun Activities & Resources to Expand on the Reading Experience
The Nocturnals website provides resources that expand on the reading experience. The Early Readers website (growandread) has educational guides and book club kit materials. The Nocturnals site, which is intended for older readers (upper elementary and middle school) has some other activities, some of which may be used with younger readers depending on their reading level.


WHAT I DISLIKED


As always, I enjoyed this latest addition to the Nocturnals world. If I would add anything, I would love for the characters to show more complexities. At the moment, they're very much boxed into their type. In reality, we wouldn't be faced with one single problem. There are multiple elements that contribute to our problems. (A simple example would be being a person of color and a woman. Being poor and uneducated would also add to the complexities.)

All that said, this is a very short read, and I expect to see more Nocturnals books come out in the future. I hope to see more of the characters' development in future installments of the Early Readers books!


FINAL THOUGHTS


I love the Nocturnals books and what they bring to young readers, both in entertainment and in educational value. I am looking forward to reading more from Tracey Hecht. I especially love how these books are being used to promote reading. I highly recommend checking out the websites for the educational materials. This is a fun series that I can see bringing together older and younger values. I am saving this book to read with young readers in the future :)

★★★★★


Discover the friendship and humor of the Nocturnals Brigade! In The Slithery Shakedown, three unlikely friends—Tobin, a sweet pangolin, Bismark a loud-mouther sugar glider and Dawn, a serius fox—stand up to a big bully snake. In the process, they find themselves some spec-tac-u-lar snakeskin capes!




GIVEAWAY


Thanks to the publisher, I have a full set of the Nocturnals books for giveaway. I love these books and am delighted to provide the set to one lucky reader!

As the publisher is only able to ship to the United States, you must have a U.S. mailing address to receive your prize.




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This book describes a time when a group of friends stood up for one of their own. I'd like to hear the same from you!

Describe...

  1. A time when you stood up for a friend or family member.
  2. A time when a friend or family member stood up for you.
  3. OR A story you love in which a character stands up for another character.




Publication Info
  • The Slithery Shakedown by Tracey Hecht, illustrated by Josie Yee
  • Published by Fabled Films Press on April 10, 2018
  • Genres: Fantasy
  • Pages: 64 Pages
  • Format: Hardback
Series: The Nocturnals Early Reader
  1. The Moonlight Meeting
  2. The Slithery Shakedown
Content 
  • N/A