Book Review: Ottoman Dominion by Terry Brennan

I will say from the outset this is my sort of read! Full of intrigue, action, edge of your seat suspense, political conspiracies, historical theories and fiction, the tinderbox of the Middle East and the active involvement of angels and demons. This has it all.

Written in very short, sharp scenes I actually struggled at first to catch up, to understand what was going on. This surprised me having read the first two in the series relatively recently but there seemed to be too many players and too many separate plot points that had me rolling my eyes a little. But after about 50 pages, everything fell back into place and I settled in for the ride. The pages began turning very quickly.

There are so many elements to like in this story, yes, Brennan uses fictional licence which may bother some readers when it comes to the supernatural but I like how he used the ‘thin veil’ and the roles both Bayard (the angelic warrior) and the Turk (the Man of Violence) played. His cast of characters were all developed across the three stories with particular emphasis in the final instalment on Brian Mullaney and Atticus Cleveland. Some of the supporting cast were tremendously depicted: Father Poppy and Rabbi Herzeg being two very engaging characters.

Brennan wraps the series up well bringing all the moving pieces together like a master story conductor. I’m wondering if he’s left a few crumbs that may form the basis of a spin-off but that’s for us all to ponder.

Congratulations, Terry Brennan. May I encourage any new readers to start with Book 1 in the series, as the backstories and action builds from it. And now the 3 are available, may I also encourage you to read all three with minimal breaks between them so you don’t spent too much time in ‘catch up mode’ at the beginning of the next one.

I received a complimentary copy from Kregel as a result of being a member of the Audra Reads program via NetGalley with no expectation of a positive review.

Book Review: The Key to Love by Betsy St.Amant

There is a lot to like about this story but it wasn’t what one might expect to find in a sweet romance. Bri Duval is in her late twenties, resides in a small Kansas town named Story, is a superb pastry chef and lives in a romantic fantasy bubble. The latter has been derived by the seemingly romantic marriage her parents lived who were tragically killed in a traffic accident a decade ago. Perhaps it was the trauma of losing her parents so suddenly but Bri is convinced that her parents lived the ultimate romantic story.

Gerard Fortier, is a travel writer, hoping to crack the big time. He’s naturally ruggedly handsome, rides a motorbike and on the surface appears everything alpha-male. He’s running from love, a broken heart from a hastily ended engagement and some unusual advice from a mentor who encouraged him to believe that true love is unattainable.

I grappled for the first half of the book because not a lot happened and Bri and Gerard seemed to keep going over the same ground, misunderstandings, Bri over-thinking everything, inadvertently running into each other all the time and on it goes. Until they began to question everything they had relied upon for so long. That had in fact kept them trapped in their own worlds: Bri’s a very small one in Story, his a globe trotting one where he never stayed long enough to establish any kind of roots. And this was when the story began to get interesting and the layers of the onion, so to speak, began to be pulled back.

Love is messy and hard work. It requires commitment and communication and forgiveness and vulnerability. It sometimes requires letting go of perceptions we’ve held onto for too long that have actually led us astray and limited our ability to say yes to the love that is staring us in the face.

I noticed a number of elements of romance movies: “You’ve Got Mail” – the mother/daughter running a business with elderly family members acting as guardians of sorts, mom even ‘twirled’ in the kitchen plus the incorrigible male lead who antagonises the female lead; Sweet Home Alabama’s ‘so I can kiss you whenever I want’ (great line BTW).

Both Bri and Gerard grew through this story which made the second half a delight to read. I kinda think this would be a story that would work better a hundred pages shorter so we can cut all the going over old ground but be encouraged that the reward is worth it in the end as the lessons on the key to love are good ones.

I received a complimentary ebook copy as a member of the Revell Reads Reading program via NetGalley without any expectation of a positive review.

Book Review: “The Gospel-Centered Life in the Bible” Series – Ephesians by Scotty Smith

I read this study along with Eugene Peterson’s Practice Resurrection Book and Study Guide as I worked through Ephesians. Ephesians is the book that helps guide us in maturing in Christ as evidenced by a church that began with 12 people.

Smith’s study is 12 lessons (nee chapters) long, 2 lessons per chapter of the epistle. There is no requirement for pre-work, nor really any homework which limits the study a little. There are a series of questions to reflect on as one reads through the verses, Smith provides a 1-2 page commentary of sorts and then another set of more in-depth exercises to work through as a group or individual.

It was good, just fairly basic and so long as one knows this from the outset then it meets expectations. Smith is a learned Biblical teacher and so there is plenty here really for everyone, more for those starting out in studying this magnificent Epistle.

I received a complimentary ebook copy from Audra Jennings as part of her association with the publisher. This has no bearing on my review.

Book Review: ‘Nine’ by Rachelle Dekker

Dekker knows how to write a page-turner that keeps the reader on their seats. It’s one of the reasons I enjoy her stories. In this story, we have 3 combatants who are all in various stages of dealing with their pasts. 

Zoe Johnson, comes from a traumatic family situation and has spent many a day in front of psychologists and other people who apparently seek to help her and her brother. She meets Lucy, a lost runaway, who happens to wander into Zoe’s cafe where she works as a waitress. Zoe soon discovers Lucy is on the run and trying to get somewhere 700-odd miles away in Corpus Christi. And there are some serious people who want to find her and won’t stop until they do.

Enter Agent Seeley, the lead pursuer. He too has a past that has led him to surrender to the darkness in himself which makes him a perfect agent: uncaring, unflinching in his duty.

It’s exciting and Dekker keeps up the pace so those pages keep on turning. We discover Lucy is part of a human experiment (she’s Number Nine), commissioned and approved by the President. She reminded me a bit of an American equivalent of Angelina Jolie’s Russian ‘Salt’ – Lucy is a trained mercenary with very special skills.

It’s hard saying much more without giving spoilers. It’s thoroughly entertaining but I will warn you there is a lot of close hand killing which some readers may not appreciate.

But it’s the struggle the 3 of them have with their own identities that takes the story to another level. Are we resigned to be who someone else wants us to be or defined by what happened in our past? Can we chose to be someone else? Fascinating themes. But this is where I struggled a little with the story. If it was a secular novel then all is good – some of the conclusions and discussions wouldn’t have fazed me. However, who we are and who we were made to be are pivotal aspects of our stories and a relationship with God helps us to unravel it. I feel the novel missed an opportunity to present a powerful picture of how a relationship with God does this.

I’m hoping there’s more to come in these three characters stories as Dekker has really only touched the surface and be fun to explore both their backstories and their futures.

I received an early ebook copy of the novel being a member of the Revell Reads program via NetGalley but with no expectation of a favourable review.

Book Review: Persian Betrayal by Terry Brennan

This is a thrilling continuation of The Ishmael Covenant. I’d encourage any readers to read that one first before diving into the second. This story builds upon the first one and is a tremendous mix of fulfilment of Biblical prophecy, Middle Eastern political tensions, America’s role in global affairs and supernatural intervention.

Brennan gets the chance to further develop his main characters. Brian Mullaney and Atticus Cleveland are excellent characters; men conflicted in their roles both because of their family situations and their Christian belief in the Word of God. It’s inspiring and convicting. How would I response if placed in a similar conflict?

The story moves fast. Brennan uses short scenes to keep us engaged with all the various players in Israel, Turkey, Pakistan, Iran, Iraq and Washington DC. It can be confusing at first but all the moving pieces soon begin to gel in one’s mind the longer the story goes.

I particularly enjoyed the stronger supernatural aspect of this story. We met the Turk in book one and what an evil creature he is. He continues to wreak havoc in order to wrest control of the Vilna Gaon box and prophesy away from the good guys. And then we’re introduced to Bayard, an equally imposing knight in shimmering armour. I’m looking forward to what these two bring in Book three.

I also appreciated how Brennan developed Mullaney’s faith in this story. He handled this very well and I hope we see more of this in the next edition with his relationship with God playing an even more influential role.

The story ends on a cliffhanger and so I trust Mr Brennan will get book 3 out soon so we can all discover how this riveting drama ends.

I received a PDF copy of the story from Kregel working alongside ‘I Read with Audra’ blog tour with no expectation of a favourable review.

Book Review: Cross Shadow by Andrew Huff

I really enjoyed the first in the Shepherd Suspense series and was eagerly awaiting to read the second one. However, I found it didn’t really meet my expectation. It’s interesting how many second novels in a series can seem a bit flat but interestingly, more often than not I find the third one wraps up the series in a similar manner to how it started.

What I found most disappointing about this story was that I didn’t feel there was anything new. Sure, we’re thrown into a new plot scenario but the action scenes were similar and I didn’t feel there was any real chemistry between John Cross and Christine Lewis and wondered why there was a seemingly romantic connection between them. At times, Christine barely appeared to like John.

The story begins with Christine. Her step-brother, Philip, has been arrested for the murder of a work colleague. Christine heads to Dallas to help her brother, and John pursues her fearful she will get into some danger. Well, he was right about that. The baddies soon get involved and for much of the second half of the book we see John, in particular, get himself out of some precarious situations as the aforementioned seek to kill him.

The story around the bad guys takes over, and the original matter of Philip’s role in the murder gets lost, even though the two are linked. Huff loves car chases and used them extravagantly in book one. This time they play an even bigger part. There are two chase scenes that probably take up about 20% of the novel. To his credit, Huff makes them incredibly visual but sometimes one loses track of the detail. I skimmed over much of the second one because I got bored. I hope Huff leaves the car chase behind for book 3 as I feel they’ve lost their impact and would encourage him to find an alternative device to ramp up the visual action.

Yes, there is a Mission Impossible feel about the story and it’s easy to turn the pages as the pace is always fast and exciting. The most fascinating aspect to the series is John Cross and his faith and his vocation. Can he be an effective pastor when his heart longs for the thrill and chaos of the CIA life? We see the grapple and Huff uses Cross’s head church elder, Gary, to serve as a form of intercessor which is done well, but the overall struggle is mostly sidelined by the action.

I liked how Huff brings together a couple who are trying to develop a relationship and clearly following traditional conservative practices. However, the long distance aspect of their relationship inhibits it plus Cross’s uncertainty about his vocation and Christine’s young faith. But as I mentioned I struggled to see any real chemistry between the two nor any real deep connection that gave me hope there is a future for them.

I do look forward to the next in the series simply because I believe John Cross has the potential to be developed into a really fascinating character.

I received a marked up copy of an early PDF version of the story from Kregel via ‘I Read with Audra’ launch services without any expectation of a favourable review.

Book Review: A Cross to Kill by Andrew Huff

This story starts fast and doesn’t really let up for the rest of it. John Cross is a ‘retired’ assassin who worked for the CIA and after giving his life to God determines to live the life of a small town pastor. However, his past won’;t let go of him.

It’s a good story especially as it’s not the usual thing we get to read in Christian fiction. Here is a man, grappling with being obedient to God, to his new calling while all the habits and thoughts so ingrained in his heart and mind seek to keep him from that obedience. It’s a fascinating insight into the struggle we all have to allow our hearts and minds to focus on the kingdom of God rather than the world we’re familiar to.

Cross is a good character and I’m excited to see how Huff develops him through the series. What I found intriguing in this first story Cross appeared more at ease in his old role, the assassin. When we see him as pastor, he’s a bit stiff and tied to what I’d describe as ‘religious’-type behaviours to keep focused on his pastoring. He was a traditional old school preacher who was still learning on the job. I hope we see his character develop where he warms to his pastoral role and more significantly, being a man who walks with God.

Christine Lewis is also a good character who is not your average journalist. She’s gutsy and feisty. I’m also looking forward to seeing how she develops in the series.

The action was intense and at times a little hard to visualise. I found that perhaps it went on for too long, particularly the car chases that covered multiple chapters. I hope as Huff develops he’ll be less reliant on using the same action tropes, eg, the car chase. However, he handles it all very well and keeps the pace fast which keeps the pages turning.

This is an intriguing series that I’m sure will develop into a really good one.

I received a complimentary ebook copy from Audra Jennings PR and Kregel via NetGalley with no expectation of a favourable review.

Book Review: ‘Rule of Law,’ by Randy Singer

This is the first Randy Singer novel I’ve read and I’m certain it won’t be the last. The combination of the legal, military, political and intrigue is compelling. Yes, some of the legal mumbo-jumbo and Supreme Court protocols were at times a bit tiresome but it wasn’t long before Singer brought us back to the human element. Special forces soldiers who were fighting for their country were killed in a bungled raid in Yemen. And now their loved ones had no father, no husband, no son, no brother and no explanation as to what really happened to their men.

Paige Chambers and Wyatt Jackson are two excellent creations. So different in style, mannerism and attitude but a terrific combination of youthful innocence and seasoned cynicism. And Amanda Hamilton, the President, was a leader with heart and courage to do what is best for the people of the nation not just make the right political move.

I suspect the story line borders on the truth – are the CIA effectively a rogue unit when operating outside the US without appropriate Congressional authority to act? When acts of war occur without appropriate authority are the executive branch protected by the “state secrets” provisions allowing such acts to not be properly brought to account and the perpetrators brought to trial?

Like many novels the novel is set up well and the first 200 pages are compelling. The story sagged a little in the middle as our lawyers went through their processes to testify in multiple court situations. But the last 50 pages or so are brilliant. I couldn’t turn the pages fast enough and I was kinda sad when it all came to an end.

I do hope Randy Singer has found himself a new hero that he can use in a series of JAG-style novels: Paige Chambers. I know I’ll certainly be reading that series.

If you enjoy watching TV shows like JAG and Madam Secretary you going to enjoy Rule of Law (without the soap opera that sometimes comes with TV shows).

I received a Net Galley copy of Rule of Law as part of the Litfuse Blog Tour with no expectations of a favourable review.

Book Review: “Getting Jesus Wrong” by Matt Johnson

Matt Johnson presents a very frank and honest assessment of his own walk with the Lord over the past 20+ years. I appreciated the fact that he wrote this book as a means of documenting his own journey and experiences as a believer making it very readable and relatable.

The book has 2 Parts:

Part 1: Life Coach Jesus and Other False Gods,
Part II: The Antidote to Pride and Despair.

Part 1 addresses some of the ways he and, therefore we, may get Jesus wrong. This also includes looking at certain church scenarios that he experienced: the Life Coach Jesus, Checklist Jesus, Movement Leader Jesus, Visionary Jesus and Pride & Despair. I saw myself having experienced each one of these throughout my own walk both the different church situations and the drivenness to achieve, to mark off my checklist and the resultant pride and despair.

Johnson came across a little cynical in this section but I may not be familiar enough with his sense of humour. In saying that I recognised myself in much of what he covered and opened my eyes to some aspects of my own faith that I have perhaps taken for granted which I’m very appreciative of.

Part II then seeks to outline how we can journey through life with a “correct” perspective of Jesus. These 3 chapters are the most powerful and are full of great truth supported with relevant Scripture plus a number of references to a number of influential thinkers including Martin Luther who in particular, appears to have had a great impact on Johnson’s reflections. Dependence on Jesus is the only way but this can take a lifetime for us to work out. Letting go of our humanness is such challenge simply because it comes naturally to us.

There are many things to like about this book and I would encourage people to read it. My only concern is I felt it leaves a slightly sour view of the church. Yes, the church is full of people and therefore is always going to make mistakes. However, the church is pivotal to Jesus’ mission and He is passionate about the church. We all have a role to play in helping bring more of Jesus into the church.

I received a complimentary copy of Getting Jesus Wrong from Litfuse with no expectation of a positive review. If you’re interested in reading more about the book please visit the Litfuse Blog Tour site.

Book Review: “The Dog who was There” by Ron Marasco

As a dog lover, I was intrigued to read a story about a dog who experienced first hand the life of Jesus. I didn’t really know what to expect and now having read it I have a mix of thoughts as regards reviewing it.

I appreciated the grittiness of the story. We see the times of Jesus from the ground level so we get a taste of the dirt and squalor of certain areas of Jerusalem and other nearby locales. We get a view of the violence of the period, in particular, the ruthless and callous disregard the Romans had for life, both human and canine. For some readers this may be a bit confronting.

Barley is a rescue dog in the true sense of the description (we have 2 at home) and has a delightful spirit even though for much of his life he is poorly treated. But we do get to see him being loved by a married couple and later by a petty criminal, Samid, which Barley responds well too.

Jesus, or the Kind Man as Barley describes Him, doesn’t really enter the story until about halfway and then it’s not until the last 30% of the book when Barley gets up close to Him in His last days. And the crucifixion scene is tremendously portrayed from the eyes of Barley.

What I found challenging about the novel is that not a lot happens in the first half and I struggled to get through to it. I kept wondering when Jesus was going to become more prominent as that’s what the title alluded to. I was confused by the POV quite a lot. The author jumped between Barley and 3rd person narrator frequently to the extent they almost meshed. I felt Barley often saw things through a human and not, a dog perspective.

The last third of the novel was very good to read with a couple of very clever twists which amped up the emotional connection I had to the story. However, there is so much quality reading material available I’m not sure I’m able to recommend this one.

Note: A special thank you to Thomas Nelson and NetGalley for an ARC in exchange for an honest review.

You can discover more about “The Dog who was There” on the Litfuse Blog Tour site.