Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Fanny J. Crosby: An Autobiography

Title: Fanny J. Crosby: An Autobiography (Hendrickson Biographies)

Series: None

Year: 2008 (later edition)

Author: Fanny J. Crosby

Summary: "The life of the beloved hymn writer told in her own words."

Frances Jane Crosby (1820-1915), usually known as Fanny Crosby, was an American lyricist best known for her Protestant Christian hymns. She was one of the most prolific hymnists in history, writing over 8,000 hymns, despite being blind from shortly after birth. Also known for her preaching and speaking, during her lifetime Fanny Crosby was one of the best known women in the United States.

To this day the vast majority of American hymnals contain her work. Some of her best known songs include "Blessed Assurance," "Jesus Is Tenderly Calling You Home," "Praise Him, Praise Him," and "To God Be the Glory." Since some publishers were hesitant to have so many hymns by one person in their hymnals, Crosby used nearly 100 different pseudonyms during her career.

Fanny Crosby entered what was then known as the New York Institution for the Blind at the age of fifteen and afterward taught English and history (1847-58).

As a pupil and as a teacher, Fanny spent 35 years at the school. She was often asked to entertain visitors with her poems, and she frequently met with presidents, generals and other dignitaries. She was asked to play at President Grant's funeral. Her first book of poems, published in 1844, was called "The Blind Girl and Other Poems."

After leaving the school, she dedicated her life to serving the poorest and the neediest. Supporting herself by her writing, she quickly gained fame for her hymns. Her usual fee was a mere two dollars which frequently went to her work with the poor. Her mission work is legendary as is her devotion to serving others above herself.

Long unavailable, this is the story (originally published in 1906 as "Memories of Eighty Years") of a remarkable life, told by Miss Crosby herself. (from Amazon and Goodreads)

Main Characters:
~ Fanny Crosby

Review: On the whole, I've not read very many biographies, and no autobiographies, so picking up this book was a new experience for me. I enjoyed it a lot more than I thought I would. As a kid, one tends to suffer the delusions that books based on famous people are chock-full of boring facts and names. Fanny Crosby's autobiography, however, was nothing of the sort. The story of her life, although tragic at times, was interesting to learn about. She had a wonderful sense of humor, and each chapter is sprinkled with fun anecdotes. Did you know that she hated math, stood before Congress on two occasions, worked with D.L. Moody and Ira D. Sankey, and had President Grover Cleveland copy out her poems when he was only seventeen? 

Personally, Fanny's story was a blessing to see, especially as many people remember her only as the blind hymn-writer. But she was so much more than that. When asked about her condition, she replied that she wasn't bitter about being blind. Instead, she accepted it with love, and she wouldn't trade places with anyone. Never once did she berate what happened to her, but rather thanked God that the first face she would ever see was His, and His alone. In that light, I appreciate her testimony even more, and it makes me think twice now when reading over some of her hymns and poems. 

When my life work is ended, and I cross the swelling tide,
When the bright and glorious morning I shall see;
I shall know my Redeemer when I reach the other side,
And His smile will be the first to welcome me.

I shall know Him, I shall know Him,
And redeemed by His side I shall stand.
I shall know Him, I shall know Him,
By the print of the nails in His hands. 
~ "I Shall Know Him" by Fanny Crosby (1891)

Advisory: None

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Click here to buy Fanny J. Crosby on Amazon!

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

The Secret of Stonehouse

Title: The Secret of Stonehouse

Series: None

Year: 1968

Author: Lynn Hall

Summary: Heather had never known a horse like Cloudy, the silver gray mare. It was wonderful to race through the beautiful Wisconsin countryside on Cloudy's back - and to be friends with Gus Ohlander, Cloudy's young owner.

But there were dark questions in Heather's life, questions she could not answer: Why had her father abandoned her so many years ago? Why had her uncle Donald, who had raised her so tenderly, become mysterious and secretive? And what was the murky secret of the deserted mansion called Stonehouse?

As Heather became more fascinated with Stonehouse, she encountered a series of near-tragic accidents. But no "accident" could explain what happened one midnight, when someone tried to kill her... (from the back cover)

Main Characters:
~ Heather McKenna
~ Donald KcKenna
~ Gus Ohlander

Review: I picked up this book thinking it was going to be another dull, horse-related mystery. Yet, while the horse does play a big part in the tale, the mystery doesn't revolve around the animal. Truthfully, I'm not a huge fan of horse novels as they tend to be cliche; my only real enjoyment in that genre is Black Beauty, and that's saying a lot for me. However, The Secret of Stonehouse had a different feel to it, and I appreciated that. As a short mystery novel at only 151 pages, it's a nice read to pick up on a lazy afternoon.

Heather is Scottish, and I loved the way the author wove Scottish lingo into the story. It didn't feel overdone, as though Lynn Hall were trying to press the fact that Heather was Scottish, but rather flowed very nicely. The mystery was well thought-out, and the pace kept my interest in the story. I did think Lynn Hall took a bit of time getting around to the actual mystery, but as I read further, I discovered the mystery had been introduced from page one and I didn't pick up on it - a plus, in my opinion. How many authors can make *the* mystery *a* mystery? 

Advisory: As Heather uncovers secrets of Stonehouse, someone threatens her life several times, but it's just the normal suspense and action of a mystery novel.

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Click here to buy The Secret of Stonehouse on Amazon!

Monday, May 12, 2014

The Ankulen

Title: The Ankulen

Series: None

Year: 2013

Author: Kendra E. Ardnek

Summary: Fifteen-year-old Jen can't remember her imagination. She knows she had one once, though, and honestly, she'd like it back. It's been eight years. One day she finds a young boy who claims to be one of her imaginary friends and that her imaginary world is being eaten by a hydra-like monster called the Polystoikhedron. He helps her find the Ankulen, a special bracelet that had given the ability to bring her imagination to life and together they embark on a quest to find friendship, healing, and perhaps even some family. (from Goodreads)

Main Characters:
~ Jenifer
~ Chris
~ Tisha
~ Derek
~ Megan

Review: A girl who loses her imagination? And then wrote a book about it? Sign me up!

When I first heard about this story on the author's blog, I knew it would be a story worth reading. And while The Ankulen had in it all the stuff that I was expecting, it also had a lot of the unexpected. Jen, the main character, doesn't remember her imagination, but she knows that something terrible happened to it. She's supposed to be a writer, and her mom won't let her in for lunch unless she writes so many words a day in her notebook. The problem is, with no imagination, Jen can't put down a story. So, she starts penning her own tale. It begins as a narrative about her life as she remembers it, but quickly morphs into an epic tale of adventure when two of her friends show up and claim they know how to help her get her memories back. And it has to do with a little, well-loved bracelet that Jen didn't even remember loving: The Ankulen.

Kendra keeps the story in a light tone, with plenty of danger and suspense to keep you up at least an hour past your bedtime. In truth, The Ankulen kept my interest because it was so unexpected. I had thought the whole story would be about Jen finding her imagination. Jen does find her imagination, but she does so in the middle of the book. At that point, I stopped myself and asked, "Now what's she going to do for the rest of the story?" I didn't have long to find out. Even though her memories were restored, Jen still had plenty of adventure left. I love the way she describes things, how she views her friends and family. Even how she talked about things in her own imagination, for as she couldn't remember them, I got to learn about as she re-learned about them. Even though most of her imagination was made up of a seven-year-old girl's fancies, I didn't have any trouble visualizing what Jen saw and experienced.

Also, I was very pleased to note that while there were mermaids as semi-main characters in the story, each mermaid/merman was properly dressed. Thank you very much, Kendra, for not following the mainstream image of underwater fish folk. That was most exciting to read about.

One thing I wasn't entirely fond of was the fact that Jen's journey almost seemed a little too easy. When she didn't know what to do, her friends always knew where to go. When she came up across a difficulty, she'd usually hopped over it by the end of the chapter. She did a lot, but it always seemed that everything fell quickly and neatly into place. After she got her memories and imagination back, she knew just what to do to fix everything, and it wasn't long until she did. While it does often seem a bit unrealistic to see an adventure play out that way, I had to keep remembering that Jen was in the world of her imagination, and in her imagination, whatever she wanted came about. Applying that to my own imagination, wouldn't I want everything to go my way while on an epic quest? Why shouldn't Jen's imagination be the same way?

Advisory: Some fantasy violence; the Polystoikhedron is a multi-headed creature that devours imaginations that Jen and her friends must battle. It is described as bearing the faces of the people whose imaginations had been devoured on serpentine necks and the obvious way to destroy it is to chop off its heads. Some minor characters have a light romance, but the author handles it sweetly.

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Click here to buy The Ankulen on Amazon!
It's currently free on Kindle!

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

A Stretch of Loyalty (The Loyalty Trilogy)

Title: A Stretch of Loyalty

Series: The Loyalty Trilogy (Book #1)

Year: 2013

Author: Jack Lewis Baillot

Summary: Prince Lachlan's only crime is that he is the youngest son of the king, a selfish man who took what he wanted no matter the cost. Now Lachlan's life is in danger because his father's last law was that the last of his sons left living will be the new king.

Lachlan's half brothers are determined to get rid of him first before they work on killing each other, but their plans are foiled when Lachlan is saved by a young girl named Magda. Knowing Lachlan would make a better king then any of his brothers, Magda flees into the wild, hoping to find help and safety for the boy in one of the neighboring kingdoms. Instead, all Magda finds is rejection.

But help might be closer then she thinks, and it comes in the form of a grumpy, one handed hermit, an elf with a sense of humor, and two dwarf brothers. Together, they might have a chance to save the boy - but what price do you pay to keep a stranger alive? Just how far are they willing to go to make sure he is kept safe? (from Goodreads)

Main Characters:
~ Magda Kalmyk
~ Stefan Haulier
~ Prince Lachlan
~ Ennion
~ Golon
~ Cordon
~ Prince Igor

Review: You know that feeling when you find a book that you're certain is going to be wonderful, and then when you finally get to read it, it's even more amazing than you hoped? That's how it was with A Stretch of Loyalty. The author, Jack, is a friend of mine, and from the snippets and character posts she's done on her blog, I knew I was going to like this story. Of course, I didn't realize *how* much I was going to enjoy it. I am so ready to dive into book two, A Test of Loyalty!

The story starts off with a bang - the king dies and pretty much tells his sons to get rid of each other so that the last one of them living will be the next king. And of course, the three eldest immediately decide to get rid of their youngest brother first: little seven-year old Lachlan. Magda, the daughter of a local seamstress, is recruited to save him, and the whole adventure tumbles down from there. It's a twisting, wild ride from page one that keeps you in suspense of the next chapter. 

The characters were astonishingly so untypical of a usual fantasy. Magda is a seamstress who has practically no fighting skills whatsoever; Stefan is a grumpy, one handed hermit with a bundle of secrets; even Lachlan is no usual fantasy prince - a fact that I was greatly appreciative of. Ennion was an epic character, and although his race (the elves) reminded me muchly of Tolkien's descriptions of elves, he had enough personality to draw him completely out of the stereotype that J.R.R. Tolkien created. For anyone who loves LOTR and Narnia, or just a good, clean adventure story (with no magic - I might add), A Stretch of Loyalty is the perfect book. I don't think I could recommend it enough. Since this is a self-published novel, there are a few typos and grammatical errors, yet they don't detract from the awesomeness of the story.

And can I just say, I loved the title. How far *can* loyalty stretch? The friendships forged in this book were some of my favorite in any novel I've read in a long time. A true, caring friendship that faces storms together and battles through them. All around epic, and definitely deserving 5 stars. And now that I've finished the book, I'm on my way to hand it over to my brother who, having picked it up when I first got it read a few chapters to himself and really enjoyed it, gets to read it next.

Advisory: The only thing that bothered me in this story was something concerning King Garolds. He had four sons, and each child had a different mother. However, the matter is very discreetly handled, and always shown in a bad light. There's also some fantasy action and fighting, as the travelers meet a lake monster, giants, and other creatures, but it's exciting and not graphic.

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

*I received a free copy of this book from the author in exchange for my honest review.*

Click here to buy A Stretch of Loyalty on Amazon!

Thursday, May 1, 2014

Michael Vey: Rise of the Elgen

Title: Rise of the Elgen

Series: Michael Vey (Book #2)

Year: 2012

Author: Richard Paul Evans

Summary: Michael must save his mother—and protect his powers—in the electric sequel to the #1 New York Times bestselling Michael Vey, from Richard Paul Evans. 

Michael was born with special electrical powers—and he’s not the only one. His friend Taylor has them too, and so do other kids around the world. With Michael’s friend Ostin, a tecno-genius, they form the Electroclan, an alliance meant to protect them from a powerful group, the growing Order of Elgen, who are out to destroy them. The leader of the Elgen, Dr. Hatch, has kidnapped Michael’s mother, and time is running out.

After narrowly escaping an Elgen trap, Ostin’s discovery of bizarre “rat fires” in South America leads the gang to the jungles of Peru, where the Electroclan meets new, powerful foes and faces their greatest challenge yet as Michael learns the extent of the Elgen’s rise in power—and the truth of their plan to “restructure” the world. (from Goodreads)

Main Characters:
~ Michael Vey
~ Taylor Ridley
~ Ostin Liss
~ Jack
~ Zeus
~ Dr. J.C. Hatch

Review: In some ways, I liked Rise of the Elgen better than the first book, The Prisoner of Cell 25. The characters felt more developed, the plot was more advanced, and everything was all-around exciting. There is more action with the electric children, and I really enjoyed learning more about their respective powers and seeing how they used them. And I just found out that this series is going to be a total of six books long, and I'm excited to see how R.P. Evans is going to keep the action rolling. Where will the Electroclan end up?

This time Michael and his friends travel to Peru to rescue his mother out of Dr. Hatch's clutches. I liked seeing the Electroclan on new soil; many times fiction like this grows old as you have the same battles all at the same places. Michael and his friends faced new enemies, new problems, and that's one reason why I liked this book better than the first. The plot was fast, although at times I felt that I had to suspend my disbelief a little. For the most part, Michael's group is made up of teens, and yet they drive from California to Idaho, settle in a pool house, and travel out of the USA.

One thing I was really hoping for in this book was the character development, and R.P. Evans didn't disappoint. While some characters stayed about the same the entire way through (*cough* Taylor was annoying as usual *cough*), others learned and grew to a new level of standing in my appreciation. I particularly liked the relationship between Zeus and Jack, which I won't disclose for spoiler reasons. I even enjoyed reading about Ostin, even when most of what he said techno-electric-wise went straight over my head. But then again, who could understand that kid?

One thing that I was a little confused at was Nichelle's disappearance. She was a large-ish character in the first book, and then in the second book, she's not there. She's referred to only a few times in Rise of the Elgen, and even then, it's just a reference to her powers and not her as a person. I don't recall her story ending in the first book, so I just wondered what happened to her.

Advisory: Some romance between characters, but nothing big as the main focus of the novel is Michael's rescue mission. A lot of violence, as the kids deal with explosives, snakes, electric rats, Elgen guards, etc. 

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Related Reviews: The Prisoner of Cell 25

Click here to buy Rise of the Elgen on Amazon!