Category Archives: Fiction

Raven’s Ladder by Jeffrey Overstreet

-Review by Scott Asher of AshertopiA.

Raven’s Ladder is the third book in a planned four book storyline entitled The Auralia Thread. (The first book in the series, Auralia’s Colors was nominated twice for a Christy Award.) The series is a fully realized mythological world called the Expanse with a complete history, its own language, and fully fleshed out political and religious systems.

In this book, King Cal-raven attempts to lead the survivors of his kingdom, House Abascar, after a cataclysm detailed in the previous books, to a new home. On the way his people are forced to stay at Bel Amica, the sea kingdom of House Bel Amica, which is filled with temptation and focused on self-gratification. A sect of magicians, called Seers, secretly hatch a plot that could mean the end of House Abascar completely. Cal-raven must find a way to take his people away from Bel Amica and towards their new home, New Abascar, which he has seen in visions.

I read this book prior to the other two books in the series and struggled at first with the language and history that I was obviously missing. However, the strong story telling and exciting fantasy adventure theme kept me pushing in to the story. Within 100 pages I was hooked. This is a fantastic fantasy novel – and possibly the best “Christian” fantasy I’ve read so far. All too often Christian authors hold to their allegories too tightly and don’t allow for characters to live and stories to flow. Not so this series. I am so enamored with the series that I plan to read the first two books as well.

I highly recommend this book to fans of fantasy – believers or not.

This book was provided by the publisher as a review copy.

Lady Carliss and the Waters of Moorue by Chuck Black

-Review by Scott Asher of AshertopiA.

This is the fourth book in the Knights of Arrethtrae series by author Chuck Black. Each book in Black’s series tells the story of one knight who deals with specific trials and temptations but overcomes through faith in the King and the Prince. The stories are a straight forward allegory of how following God, the King, and Jesus, the Prince, help the knights (and ladies), Christians, overcome adversity. In Lady Carliss, we find a young believer who stumbles upon a plot by the evil Shadow Warrior, Satan and the devils. When her fellow knight, Sir Dalton, is poisoned Lady Carliss must embark on a journey to Moorue, a city filled with temptation, to find the antidote.

Many teen novels have found a growing fan base in adult readers, like Twilight, Harry Potter and the Artemis Fowl series, but this book series is strictly for younger readers. The author’s straight forward and obvious plot lines would be satisfying to a younger audience, eight to 12 year-olds, but older or more sophisticated readers will not find enough meat on the bones of the allegory to enthrall. Due to Black’s tight adherence to the allegory he find little to no wriggle room to follow the story and characters where they may lead. The story may become a more satisfying one if it diverged from the Christianity / Salvation theme. Many Christian stories do this successfully, see my review of Raven’s Ladder by Jeffrey Overstreet, for an example. Unfortunately, this book left me unsatisfied as a reader.

However, as the father of young children I found the story to be a great tool for instruction and a good stepping stone to better literature – after all reading books, any books really, if fundamental! The author has thoughtfully provided study questions for every chapter and additional extras that make it clear that this book is a teaching tool more than a work of fiction. Recommended to Christian children and tweens, not to older teens or adults.

This book was provided by the publisher as a review copy.

The Apothecary’s Daughter by Julie Klassen

I downloaded this book to my laptop via Kindle for free. I thought it looked good and plus it was free, so why not?? Wow!! I think my kids missed a few meals while I was reading this one! Great book! Lilly Haswell has had some sadness in her life and she is trying to figure out where she fits in her world. She’s good at “assisting” her Dad, but as a woman she is not allowed to be an apothecary. She gets the chance to follow a different path, but life is not always easy and she must chose to leave dreams behind. The part I liked best about this book is the romance story line. In most Christian fiction books it is pretty easy to tell who the girl is going to marry, but in this book the author does a great job of changing the story line and keeping you intrigued. Through all of Lilly’s up and downs she continues to keep her faith and trust in God alive. I highly recommend this book and will be reading Julie Klassen’s other books soon.

Beguiled by Deeanne Gist and J. Mark Bertrand

A captivating book about a dogwalker in upscale Charleston who seems to have trouble following her or is she causing the trouble? Will the journalist she has taken a liking to help her and can she trust her heart with him? Gist and Bertland join forces to create a story line which will keep you interested in what happens next. I enjoyed this book from the first chapter to the last. I am a fan of Deeanne Gist and have read all of her books. This one is not like the others because of her collaboration with J. Mark Bertrand. You still get a great story line, the romance, and now there is the enjoyable suspense to go along. I just couldn’t put it down!

This book was a free copy from the publisher.

Before I Fall by Lauren Oliver

Samantha Kingston is having a bad day.  A VERY bad day.  One she gets to relive seven times.  In her debut novel, Lauren Oliver takes us into the very shallow world of high school. She brings us the story of four girls who live each day by their own whims.  Oliver makes a statement in her statement to the First Look Book Club.  She states that her first hope for the novel is that you won’t like Sam or her friends very much.  And, rest assured Ms. Oliver, I don’t.   They are vapid and self-centered.   They treat others around them abominably and are only interested in doing what they want to do. 
Even with that, you get glimpses of a group of girls who are doing what they think is expected.  Sam states several times that there are things she doesn’t like about what they do and even that she doesn’t like her boyfriend all that much; and yet, she acts just like a 17-year-old would be expected to act around her friends.  She shows that the desire to fit in can often override good judgement and even simple consideration for someone’s fellow human beings.
In grand Groundhog Day fashion (to which Oliver even refers in the novel), Sam tries seven different ways to  bring the day to an end.  The events of each day play out differently, depending on how Sam uses her knowledge of the day’s events to change their outcome.  
Having been on the opposite side of popularity while in high school, Oliver’s novel gives me a different view of  the students whose lives I thought were perfect.  At the time, I was very envious of the girls who seemed to have perfect everything.  I was of the opinion that it was effortless for them.  Oliver gives you a glimpse into a life that is not so black and white; one that makes you realize that very few people who walk this earth, young or old, have it all together.
Mid-way through the first chapter, I wanted to put it down and not pick it back up.  I was so irritated by the main characters that I wasn’t sure I could actually finish the book.  I kept going, hoping it would get better.  I am SO glad I chose to stick it out. Before I Fall is a beautiful novel by Lauren Oliver.  It is an amazing debut, and I expect we will see more great work from Oliver in the future. 
This book was provided free of charge as a review copy. The publisher had no editorial rights or claims over the content or the conclusions made in this review. No payment was provided in return for this review. 

The Clouds Roll Away by Sibella Giroello

The third in series about a forensic geologist turned FBI agent, The Clouds Roll Away finds Raleigh Harmon making her way back to her hometown of Richmond, Virginia after a forced assignment in Washington.   Soon after her arrival home, Raleigh begins to investigate an apparent hate crime with ties to the KKK.  She quickly (in my opinion) gets in over her head.  As with most mystery/crime novels, not all is as it seems and problems arise.  
I have to preface that I prefer to read crime novels through and let the story play itself out.  I do not spend any time as I read trying to figure out the “whodunit.”  I like to see where the author takes me.  I allow the author to take me on the journey of twists and turns, lead me astray, only to be caught off guard by the actual culprit.  There should be an ultimate AH-HA moment.  The ultimate twist should catch you by surprise.  The twist in this novel was not quite so dramatic.  I think the AH-HA moment was a little bit of a stretch, and it didn’t leave me with a desire to go back and read to see where I missed it. Also, there are parts of the novel that are more like a history or geography book as opposed to a novel.  Some of these passages are very helpful in making connections.  Others are not.  They seem to be inserted because they were learned during the research of the novel.
Having not read the first two books in the series, I will tell you that I am a little lost.  While the story itself regarding Raleigh’s investigation could stand alone, the interaction between the characters left me a little in the dark.  I needed to know more about the history between Raleigh and the other characters in the book, from her boss, to her mother, to her sister, and then her boyfriend.  There is apparently behind these relationships than you get in this book.  And, as a lead character, Raleigh isn’t particularly dynamic.  She seems to fall into most of what happens to her (good or bad). I will still give the benefit of the doubt and say that maybe I am missing something by not having read the first two installments.  
All in all, The Clouds Roll Away is an okay read.  There’s not much in the way of character development, but I am assuming that a lot of this is done in the first two novels.  Even so, I have picked up other novels that were not the first in a series and was so drawn into the story line that I absolutely HAD to read the first installments.  Such is not the case with this one.  I might go back and pick up the first two but doing so is not really a priority.  
This book was provided free of charge by the publisher as a review copy. The publisher had no editorial rights or claims over the content or the conclusions made in this review. Visit www.thomasnelson.com for more information on this book. No payment was provided in return for this review. 

Secrets by Robin Jones Gunn

-Review by Scott Asher of AshertopiA.

Book one in the Glenbrooke Series, Secrets is the tale of Jessica Morgan a mid-twenties well educated woman looking to get away from her past with a clean break in a small town. The problem is that in a small town secrets are hard to keep – especially if you want a paycheck and the false identity she adopts to stay hidden doesn’t exist. To further complicate things, she finds herself on the receiving end of the affections of a stud fireman when she is trying to keep to herself.

Holding everyone at arms length, Jessica goes through her trials on her own, until she is drawn to a bright young high schooler, Dawn, who she has quite a bit in common with, but can’t express it. When Dawn talks Jessica into going on a mission trip to Mexico – with the fireman – her secrets and lies start to unravel.

This is a romantic fiction reprint from the mid-nineties – something that only becomes apparent in the clothing choices worn by the characters -white t-shirt and vest ladies? As is typical of the genre everyone is attractive, everyone is perfectly who they are – not conflicted – and the script doesn’t go off track for a second. You know what you are getting into as soon as you start reading. Strike that – you know as soon as you walk into the romance section of the Christian bookstore. For fans of the genre this is a good choice at this value price point as it starts the Glenbrooke Series. For readers who aren’t normally fans of romantic fiction, there isn’t much to entice you to pick this up. For me, the secret was the only reason to finish. Even then, as I said, I saw what was coming a long way off.

This book was supplied by the publisher as a review copy.

The Golden Cross by Angela Elwell Hunt

-Review by Scott Asher of AshertopiA.

The Golden Cross is the second of four novels in the Heirs of Cahira O’Conner. The matriarch of the Irish clan promised that her heirs would “restore right in the world.” The heirs all share one thing with each other, other than their genes, their vibrant red hair with a solitary streak of white just above one ear. This book tells the tale of Aidan O’Connor who grows up on a Dutch colony in Indonesia in 1642. Her father died on the trip over from England leaving her mother and Aidan without any money or source of income and stranded on the island. The only way they can live is to turn to a life far below anything they ever thought they would endure.

As Aidan grows up she recognizes that she enjoys art but doesn’t have any hope that anyone would train her or help her out of her poverty. Until, that is, a famous artist comes to the colony to draw charts on an upcoming voyage. When the artist sees the raw talent latent in Aidan he reaches his hands out to pull her up so that she can see the beauty that she has inside and create the beauty of God’s creation through her art.

Though this book was written more than a decade ago (this is a reprint, which is why it costs less than a normal new fiction title) it holds up well as an exciting look into the past and as a romantic historical fiction novel. Though I don’t usually enjoy romance I found myself looking forward to continuing the story. The author does a good job of weaving together the action and adventure of a sea-going vessel riding storms and fighting natives with the requisite romance. I recommend it to fans of the genre.

This book was supplied by the publisher as a review copy.

Sense and Sensibility, Insight Edition by Jane Austen

The story centers around two sisters – Elinor and Marianne Daswood. The love and loyalty between the sisters is astounding, but they do not understand each other. Elinor is a quiet, sensible and sensitive young lady cheerful and putting others first. Marianne is just the opposite. She has a quick temper, speaks before thinking, is often rude and is full of herself. Her wishes and desires come first regardless of who is hurt.

The family lives in late 18 century England where a person is judged by breeding and wealth, looking down on the working class. Circumstances change in the sisters lives and they are forced to move from the family homer to the country. Their half-brother has good intentions as to their welfare, but is overruled by his wife. Through the goodness of a distant cousins and friends, the sisters remain in polite society. Both have feelings for two gentlemen of the upper class, but whose feelings do not appear to be in their favor or any chance of marriage. What transpires in the lives of Elinor and Marianne along with their friends leads to some interesting conclusions.

Jane Austen has always been a favorite author of many. However, this is a reprint of the original book first published around 1811. The trivia and notes that highlight this “Insight Edition” in the right margin is very distracting, and at times I found the story rambling without anything worthwhile being said.

Jane Austen fans who want to reread the book will, no doubt, purchase the reprint for the interesting trivia, but I found it very hard to follow, due to the inserts in the margin, and to only hold my attention for short periods of time.

This book was provided by the publisher for review.

Fool’s Gold by Melody Carlson


Hannah is a missionary kid (otherwise known as MK) from the island of Papua New Guinea north of Australia. She is visiting her Uncle’s family in America for the summer while her parents crisscross the country raising money to return to New Guinea. Her cousin Vanessa and Aunt Lori are shopaholics – obsessed with the latest fashion, designers and brand names. They are embarrassed by Hannah’s ‘Aussie’ clothes. Hannah feels lost and out of place with
Vanessa’s friends and the whole shopping scene.

Hannah takes a job with her Uncle’s company supposedly to earn money for her continued education in New Guinea. Soon her coworkers have her spending more money than she has, getting a credit card, and buying expensive clothes she neither needs or can afford. She becomes obsessed with fitting in with the crowd. She seems to have left her faith as well as her Bible behind in New Guinea as she strives to fit in with the other wealthy kids – living for the moment. Hannah is soon finds herself head over heels in debt and doesn’t know how to cope with her situation.

A must read to learn how Hannah solves her debt problem and returns to her faith. Did she come to recognize what she valued most? Did she learn that all that glitters is not gold? Melody Carlson has a excellent command of the minds of teenagers, especially the rich, and what influence peers have on each other.

Highly recommended for teenagers and parents. You will become a fan of Ms. Carlson.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from NavPress Publishers as part of their Blogger Review Program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”