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 House of Tomorrow by Peter Bognanni

This is a story of two misfits. Sebastian Pendergast who lives in a geodesic dome in the woods with his eccentric “Nana”. He has been home schooled since the age of 4 by Nana in the teachings of the futurist philosopher Buckminster R. Fuller. Sebastian is being groomed to someday save the world. He has never been out into the real world as he is forbidden to leave the dome. Nana gives tours of the dome and Sebastian works in the gift shop. Peter Whitcomb is an angry, guilt ridden teenager who recently underwent a heart transplant. He is guilty because another young boy had to die so he could live. He is mostly confined to his home, rarely going outside, and really doesn’t know what to do with himself.

Peter meets Sebastian by accident when he, his mother and sister take the dome tour. Soon Sebastian is leaving the dome at night and going to visit Peter. Nana catches him in a lie and asks him to leave. Sebastian goes to live with the Whitcombs. He doesn’t really understand Peter or the family, but they all sort of become friends. Peter wishes to start a rap band as he thinks it would be cool – he would then become rich and famous. Neither he nor Sebastian have any musical talent or really know how to start a band.

What follows in the lives of these two unlikely friends makes for a very interesting story. One must read the book to learn if Peter actually forms a band. Does Sebastian return to the dome? What happens to Nana? Each of these questions and the superb writing kept me reading even though I felt the vulgar language was inappropriate. It did nothing to enhance the story.

Therefore, would not recommend the book for young readers or those who wish to avoid gratuitous vulgarity. An interesting read that ultimately left me disappointed.

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.

Once an Arafat Man by Tass Saada

Once an Arafat Man is the amazing story of a Palestinian sniper, well located within the PLO – he was even a chauffeur for Yasser Arafat – turned chef in the US, who then converted to Christianity and returned to his homeland to help those he once hated.

Likes: illuminating insight into the perspective of the Palestinian’s plight from refugees from their homes to unwelcome residents of neighboring Arab states. This story takes you deeper than the typical world news headlines to understand the the hatred and perspectives of the people of the Holy Land and offers hope into what the power of love and faith can achieve.

Dislikes: conversational tone/style of the book is abrupt and sometimes lacks smooth transitions between topics and events. Recommended for anyone interested in the middle east conflict on a personal level or the issues surrounding converting from Islam to Christianity.


Joel Freyenhagan is the husband of a wonderful wife and is the father of three children. His wife blogs at BooyaBooks.

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

Buried Alive by Roy Hallums

Roy Hallums is a retired U.S. Navy Commander working as a civilian in Iraq. His company, Saudi Arabia Trading, provides food for the American Army in Baghdad. With the collapse of Saddam Husein’s regime, kidnapping becomes the growth industry in Iraq for anyone with a car and friends with AK-47s. Anyone is a target: foreign correspondents, wealthy Iraqis, foreign diplomats. In 2004 Roy Hallums is kidnapped by such terrorists and this book is his story told with his own words.

His family was not notified of his kidnapping for several months and only learn of the incident by seeing the video that aired on the Internet and Al Jazeera television. The family goes into denial – he is suppose to be in Saudia Arabia; not Baghdad. Since the US government does not negotiate with or pay ransom to terrorists, the government agencies, expecially the FBI, were not very helpful to the family, always citing national security.

One must read the book to learn how Hallums survives the beatings, starvation, filth, moves from safe house to safe house, the threat of being killed, promises of being released, all the while forced to make videos surrounded by hooded men with AK-47s, and always having his face covered so he couldn’t see his kidnappers. For months Hallums is in total darkness, literally buried alive in a hole in the ground, covered over by concrete. And as Hallums see other captives come and go, some he is sure has been ransomed, others he is not sure if they were executed or freed, he is sure he will die any day, he thinks no one is really looking for him and he is doomed. He survives as he forces his mind to take mental trips, praying and asking God for his rescue.

The book clearly depicts the cruelty of one human being to another. The book keeps you turning pages to learn how he survives day to day, and how he survives the drama of when or if he will he be rescued, ransomed by his company, or be executed.

Recommended book for all readers, especially those interested in the Iraq war. As you read Hallums’ ordeal, you will become sad, find tears steaming down your face, and most of all, you’ll find yourself praying for his rescue.


Mary Asher, the Golden Reviewer, is a founding book blogger for BookGateway.com. She describes herself as “An 80 year old avid reader reviews the newest in Christian fiction and non-fiction with a sprinkle of the secular on top.”.

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

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. 

Beaded Hope by Cathy Liggett

At the beginning of Beaded Hope, we meet four very different wormen, each with her own reason for taking a mission trip to help women in South Africa.  Cassandra’s motives are purely selfish, Gabby is running away from her grief, and Heidi and Katie (mother and daughter) are both searching for a way to find each other.  What these four women encounter in a small South African town will change them all forever. Cathy Liggett’s beautifully written tale has the power to change the reader as well. 
Liggett weaves the tale of hope and despair, loss and redemption, and ultimately, the power that our Savior has to both heal and change. As the four women grow closer to the women they are helping (all of whom are either infected or affected by HIV/AIDS) and to each other, we see their lives genuinely changed.  Liggett’s adeptness at descriptive language serves to transport you to a land of poverty, sickness, and above all, faith and beauty.
The women of this village possess indomitable spirits.  They live in harsh conditions and watch those they love become ravaged by a fierce disease.  If anyone has a right to complain about the lot in life delivered, it would be these women.  And yet, they humble me (and the other American women) by continuing to praise God for all He has given them instead of focusing on what they do not have or what they are losing each day. They never question His outcome for their lives; they merely continue to serve Him.
Be forewarned, you WILL need a box of tissues.  Liggett’s characters face hard choices and circumstances head-on.  She does not shy away from thought provoking subject matter; rather, she leaves you wondering what you would do if you were in the place of any of these women.  Would you give unconditionally?  Put yourself aside to put others first?  Would you step out of your comfort zone to do His will and live as He commands?  
This is a novel that I will read again and again.  It touches my heart specifically, as my husband is from Kenya and the people of his country remain strong in the face of adversity.  I would urge you to visit www.beadedhope.com to learn more about these women and how you can help them.
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.tyndalefiction.com for more information on this book. 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. 

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