Author: J.C.

Between the Wild Branches by Connilyn Cossette

Between the Wild Branches

by Connilyn Cossette

Finding a way to freedom might cost them everything.

Lukio has spent the past decade as a famous Philistine fighter, achieving every material goal with the help of his ruthless cousin. He’s also spent the time burying painful memories of betrayal that he associates with the Levite family that guards the Ark of the Covenant and once adopted him. Now, just as the champion of Ashdod is set to claim the biggest prize of all—the daughter of the king—his past collides with his present.

After a heartbreaking end to her friendship with Lukio, Shoshana thought she’d never again see the boy with the dual-colored eyes and the troubled soul. But when she is captured in a Philistine raid and enslaved in Ashdod, she is surprised to recognize the brutal fighter known as Demon Eyes.

When their renewed connection threatens to expose Shoshana’s dangerous secrets, Lukio must decide how far he’ll go to face his past and keep her protected. (Synopsis from Goodreads.)


Review: 5/5 ★★★★★

Are you looking for a book that will leave you incapable of being productive until it is finished and a book that will draw you closer to God? Well, look no further, because do I have the novel for you: Connilyn Cossette’s Between the Wild Branches.

I have to admit I was a little skeptical going in, not because I don’t like Cossette, but because after finishing her last few novels I was beginning to suspect they all were following a very similar plot line. Make no mistake, it was a plot line I enjoyed. But when I picked up Wild Branches, I had the sneaking, discouraging suspicion that I was going to be able to predict the entirety of the book from the beginning. I met Lukio and Shoshanna and said, “Well, of course they’re going to fall in love and get married.”

But. While I may have been right about my ability to predict the end result, but what I entirely forgot to factor in was the how. How would we get to the end result. And by chapter five, I found myself up past midnight on accident because that exact “how” was pulsing through my head and I could not find rest until I knew. Before I knew it, I was falling in love with Shoshana and Lukio as I agonized over their plights.

Not to mention in the process, I learned more about the Babylonian period of Bible times than I ever knew before. It was like as I read I was gathering information in in bucketloads about this time period of the Bible—giving a whole new life to stories I thought I knew. I saw God work in His miraculous true stories through the eyes of fictional commonors and saw His goodness for how good it was, leaving me longing for him, yearning for him. I understood a new level of the stories I’d grown up hearing; through these characters’ eyes, I witnessed them myself.

Read Connilyn Cossette. Read To Dwell Among Cedars first if you want the full scope of Shoshana and Lukio’s story. Then go back and read Out of Egypt series. Read the Cities of Refuge series. And you will find, hidden in the Bible stories you thought you knew so well, human characters who are so much like us, flawed, imperfect, kind, real. You will find yourself in these pages and you will watch with your own eyes as God does what only He can do and makes the way for the Israelites time and time again.

**Disclaimer/Content: This is very much a romance novel. If you don’t like romance, you may not appreciate it as much as I did. Cossette also does not shy away from hard topics, but approaches them with care. There are allusions to and implications of sex and rape, though nothing is ever depicted explicitly. Basically, any adult reader can see what the characters are discussing, while it would probably entirely go over a younger reader’s head. The most intense anything gets sexually is kissing. Because of the heavy topics I would recommend it to ages 16+.

Love Like Sky by Leslie C. Youngblood

Love Like Sky

by Leslie C. Youngblood

Synopsis: G-baby and her younger sister, Peaches, are still getting used to their “blended-up” family. They live with Mama and Frank out in the suburbs, and they haven’t seen their real daddy much since he married Millicent. G-baby misses her best friend back in Atlanta, and is crushed that her glamorous new stepsister, Tangie, wants nothing to do with her.

G-baby is so preoccupied with earning Tangie’s approval that she isn’t there for her own little sister when she needs her most. Peaches gets sick-really sick. Suddenly, Mama and Daddy are arguing like they did before the divorce, and even the doctors at the hospital don’t know how to help Peaches get better.

It’s up to G-baby to put things right. She knows Peaches can be strong again if she can only see that their family’s love for her really is like sky.


Review: 4/5 ★★★★☆

Bursting with sweetness, truth, and authenticty, Love Like Sky was a perfect middle grade read to satisfy my recent middle grade cravings!

I loved how this book took us on a journey in Georgie’s life, slowly showing us how her experiences  start to shape who she is. This book didn’t follow a super typical plot pattern—there were several conflicts to solve along the way instead of a primary conflict—but I liked the ebb and flow of the story as Georgie learns what it means to be family and to be a friend. I loved all the discussion on blended families and thought it gave great representation to kiddos with those backgrounds. I fell in love with all the characters, and found them authentic people, from the way Georgie and Nikki were so perfectly eleven years old, to the way the parents handle situations, to how Tangie acts as an older teenager. I was transported to their setting when I was within these pages, and I wanted to keep reading to be with these characters a little longer.

My only critique is that I felt the book was too long. I think it could have ended <SPOILER> (once Peaches got home from the hospital) <SPOILER> and it would have been just as powerful, if not more so. But I also get the author was setting up for the next book, and I don’t think it dropped in quality at all.

Alone by Megan E. Freeman


by Megan E. Freeman

Synopsis: When twelve-year-old Maddie hatches a scheme for a secret sleepover with her two best friends, she ends up waking up to a nightmare. She’s alone—left behind in a town that has been mysteriously evacuated and abandoned.

With no one to rely on, no power, and no working phone lines or internet access, Maddie slowly learns to survive on her own. Her only companions are a Rottweiler named George and all the books she can read. After a rough start, Maddie learns to trust her own ingenuity and invents clever ways to survive in a place that has been deserted and forgotten.

As months pass, she escapes natural disasters, looters, and wild animals. But Maddie’s most formidable enemy is the crushing loneliness she faces every day. Can Maddie’s stubborn will to survive carry her through the most frightening experience of her life?

Review: 2/5 Stars  ★★☆☆☆

I was not a fan of this book. However, this is not to say that Alone was not a good book. On the contrary, I found it to be a very well written novel. Allow me to explain. 

I am very skeptical of novels-in-verse, so I was hesitant to read this one, but it set a precedent for the level of excellence I would expect were I to read another, for it was excellently written. I found the words picked and placed strategically, and enjoyed the formatting fun that accented what was going on inside Maddie’s head. (Maddie? Or Madeline? I’m pretty sure her name only comes up twice.) 

I am a big proponent of using less words to tell a story—when you leave more up to the reader’s imagination and don’t spell it out for them, they are forced to come up with it themselves, and anything that a reader comes up with or comes to their own conclusion on will always be more powerful than anything you could tell them—but I had no idea the possibility of the power of so few words. I have never been more anxious or scared reading a book. I have read scenes in other books describing the destruction of a tornado and not been fazed, but Freeman’s less-than-ten-word explanation had me convinced there was a tornado coming for me. My overactive imagination did not combine well with the novel-in-verse format, which suggested just enough to get my brain spinning, but not enough to ground me from my own imagination.

The point is, the writing style of this book, despite my skepticism, impressed me. I could tell the author is someone who is skilled with words, and that I can respect. I just have many problems with the content itself.

As someone who enjoys studying psychology, I found this book rife with improbabilities and incorrect perceptions. I felt for Maddie’s struggle with being from broken home, and appreciated the few words given to the cause, but I did not like how the book took the perspective of, “This is normal and okay and she is okay.” Of course I am in favor of supporting kids like Maddie, but the truth is, growing up in a broken home is not easy and does affect kids negatively. Saying that it doesn’t sends the message to kids that their problem isn’t actually a problem, and this entirely disregards their struggle. The truth of the matter is that it is not healthy for a child to change homes every week. Obviously there are scenarios where this is the best option for the child, and it’s not a death sentence by any means; it’s just not the preferred or most optimal way for a child to grow up.  My point being, Maddie does struggle, and instead of telling readers like her that it’s okay to struggle, and that their feelings are valid, this book leans toward telling kids they shouldn’t have to struggle because their life is perfectly fine as it is.

Speaking of struggle, I found it so hard to believe that Maddie survived and kept a sound mind for so long being so young. Maybe this book is supposed to be more fairy-tale or fantastical, but the ominous, eerie verse narration suggested otherwise. Here little Maddie is, three years in, still managing to keep herself and her dog alive, AND has mental energy leftover to tell herself to stop feeling sorry for herself? I’m not sure how this would realistically happen. What I mainly had an issue with was the potential messaging of, “If a girl who has been on her own for three years can cheer up and get over herself, surely you can get over your issues.”  This is a toxic and dangerous message, and I’m very disappointed there was no correction of this issue within the pages. It would have been a great opportunity to show how Maddie is allowed to feel things and is allowed to ask for help and is allowed to feel sad. Instead, we get the impression that a true heroine cheers up and stuffs it, and that message is never corrected.

The ending annoyed me with how perfect everything was. It left me with a permeating feeling like I had wasted two hours of my time. I felt Maddie’s pain, and I don’t think I liked that, mostly because there was no real payoff. Maddie’s only real character arc is she learns to not feel sorry for herself (when she’s literally in the most traumatic situation of her life) and learns to enjoy her life exactly where she’s at, even if it is alone in a house. In what world would you ever tell a child experiencing trauma that they need to cheer up and enjoy life? Maddie went through extreme trauma. Telling her to enjoy her trauma is messed up.

So, while I can respect the verse the novel was written in, I cannot stand behind anything those words convey. 2.0 stars.

Ella Minnow Pea by Mark Dunn

Ella Minnow Pea 

by Mark Dunn

Ella Minnow Pea is a girl living happily on the fictional island of Nollop off the coast of South Carolina. Nollop was named after Nevin Nollop, author of the immortal pangram,* “The quick brown fox jumps over the lazy dog.” Now Ella finds herself acting to save her friends, family, and fellow citizens from the encroaching totalitarianism of the island’s Council, which has banned the use of certain letters of the alphabet as they fall from a memorial statue of Nevin Nollop. As the letters progressively drop from the statue they also disappear from the novel. The result is both a hilarious and moving story of one girl’s fight for freedom of expression, as well as a linguistic tour de force sure to delight word lovers everywhere.

*pangram: a sentence or phrase that includes all the letters of the alphabet. (Synopsis from Goodreads.)

Review: 5/5 ★★★★★

Wow. Has ever a more clever, original, lighthearted, hilarious novel been written? This book gave me such Lemony Snicket vibes and it was so much fun to read. I couldn’t stop once I started. I gawked, I laughed, I gasped, aaaand I want to reread it right now!


Content:  4.5/5  Amos, Ella’s dad, leaves a note for Ella’s mom saying he is leaving and he did not want to bother her because she was in the bath. He mentions how in a past time he might have barged in but he felt she wanted privacy. She later writes him a note back teasing that if she took a bath again later maybe he would follow through on his earlier idea to barge in. Suicide is briefly mentioned. Characters mention a side character who goes insane, paints all over herself with led paint, gets committed to the hospital, and passes away.


Our setting of Nollop Island was fantastic, and its origins—it was founded by the man who created the sentence “the quick brown fox jumps over the lazy dog”—were thorough and detailed. Our characters were so much fun. I have had trouble with epistolary novels—novels written entirely in letters—in the past, because it can be hard to connect with characters. No such problem in Ella Minnow Pea! Though at the beginning I confused our two main characters, cousins Ella and Tassie, soon it worked itself out. I loved that so many other names and faces found their way in! And never once did it feel scattered; rather, they all worked together to tell the story, leaving me feeling like there was of course no other possible way to tell the story except through letters.

As the letters disappear from the page, I found the characters’ ability to adapt to being without a letter amazing; comparatively, though, what I found most amazing was the author’s incredible ease with the English language to communicate so clearly using so few letters. Also, I loved how the name of the days and months kept changing on the top of every letter (because slowly, losing letters that made former names possible)—I am not very observant, so I completely cracked up halfway through when I noticed instead of “Thursday” the date was indeed “Topsy Turvy.” 

All in all, the English nerd in me could NOT get enough of this book. Whoa. I was giggling like a fool, espeically at the end as the characters try their hand at their own sentences. (I won’t say any more to save spoilers!) But…wow. If you like books and words and English, this is a MUST read! The language was beautiful, and stayed that way even as letters dropped out. The front of my copy says, “There’s a whiff of a classic about Ella Minnow Pea,” but I would disagree—there’s much more than a whiff!

Now excuse me while I go attempt to write my own pangram. 😂




Unwind by Neal Shusterman

Unwind by Neal Shusterman

 First Note: In my opinion, this was an incredible novel and an important one, too. But this is not a novel that I think would be as appreciated by younger audiences. I first tried to read this at probably 16 and I really didn’t like it, nor did I “get” it. However, now, being 20, this read was really good. So for heavy themes, I would recommend it only to more mature readers.

 Content (some spoilers): I was pleasantly surprised by how clean this novel was—save some disturbing scenes having to do with unwinding, but even those were not graphic or gory, and in fact they were worse because of how much was left unsaid, for I was forced to come up with my own rendering which horrified me. Generally, the author has mastered the art of saying less to say more. There were maybe a few instances of d**n but nothing more. Risa and Connor fall in love, but nothing happens beyond kissing and even that is described little. There are a few references to sex—for example, a guide in Risa and Connor’s lives assumes them to be a couple and encourages them to get pregnant to give Risa nine months without worrying about Unwinding, and Roland, the bully (*who we actually come to care about), threatens Risa in a bathroom.

Review: This book disturbed me. It horrified me. But in the same way, it stuck with me, its questions turning in my head. Though I will add a disclaimer that I already had a firm grasp on where I stood regarding the issues this book brought up—I am a follower of Jesus, and I firmly believe that we are all handcrafted in His image, carefully created, beautifully made, from the moment we come into existence, and thereof there is no point where we ‘gain’ a soul; that would make us animals at one point in our life, and I believe we are created higher than animals.

What I think I loved most about this book is its lack of agenda. This book deals with hard issues. Complex issues. Deep, messy issues. But instead of telling the reader what to believe, the author beautifully disappears, and all you are left with is the opportunity to watch some very real, very broken, very authentic humans live their way of life. So while I do disagree with some of the characters’ viewpoints on things, that cannot solely be a reason to dislike a book, for the same reason that disagreeing with a friend does not mean it is necessary to leave that friendship. This book showed us a tale of just humans being humans, our brokenness, and our innate longing for something more, our desire for hope. And that is enough to make a book worth reading.

As for the plot line itself, I didn’t find it incredibly compelling, but it was enough to keep me reading. I feel a few sections could have been shorter, but overall, not many complaints in that area. The third-person present did get confusing to read at times, but again, nothing too difficult.

There were quite a cast of characters, and it was pretty easy keeping them straight. I really liked Connor and his character arc. Risa was also cool. And Lev, too. I loved what the author did with each character’s individual growth and impact on the rest of the story. They are strong but also broken, but what inspires you is their ability to keep walking, to look forward, to challenge the status quo, to go against expectations. (Lev in the end—phenomenal.) Seeing these characters rise to the occasion and find their passions, and then go after them with everything in them, was so inspiring.

But my ultimate favorite scene—sorry, new readers, you don’t get to read it because it’s so spoilery—is in the end,

(Spoiler Alert! Spoiler Alert! Spoiler Alert!)

when Lev is imprisoned and chained up after deciding not to blow up the harvest camp. (I squirm even writing those words.) Pastor Dan comes to talk to him—the guy who formerly was a pinnacle in his faith journey and who talked him up on how being a tithe was so wonderful. Lev is startled that his pastor is acting different and not dressed up. I’m quoting the rest:

” [Pastor Dan] takes a moment before he answers. ‘I resigned my position. I left the church.’

The thought of Pastor Dan being anything but Pastor Dan throws Lev for a loop. ‘You…you lost your faith?’

’No,’ he says, ‘just my convictions. I still very much believe in God—just not a god who condones human tithing.’

Lev begins to feel himself choking up with an unexpected flood of feeling, all the emotions that had been building up throughout their talk—throughout the weeks—arriving all at once, like a sonic boom. ‘I never knew that was a choice.’

All his life there was only one thing Lev was allowed to believe. It had surrounded him, cocooned him, constricted him with the same stifling softness as the layers of insulation around him now. For the first time in life, Lev feels those bonds around his soul begin to loosen.

‘You think maybe I can believe in a God like that, too?’ ” 

WHOA. I think I audibly said, “Wow!” Our manmade religions, flawed and broken, do not equal a flawed and broken God. Our God is the God who hears our cry and comforts the brokenhearted (Psalm 34:17-18). Our God is a comforter, healer, redeemer, and protector. (Zephaniah 3:17, Psalm 18:1-2). Our God is not like the one portrayed in the religion in Unwind – He is not a cruel, harsh, legalistic god who will turn his face if we disobey.

No, Our God is the God Lev sees in this moment, a God who is grieved by evil (1 John 4:8, Proverbs 6:16-19) and promises to one day end all suffering (Revelation 21:4). Our God does not turn his face from us when we do not meet standards; on the opposite hand, He pursues us in the midst of our brokenness (Luke 19:10). He is the God who wants to heal us and be near to us. He wants to give us His hope, which cannot fade with season or change with time. THIS is the God we serve. Lev has been brought up under a legalistic god, but the truth this passage reveals the longing in his soul. The longing in  all of our souls. And  this is why I loved this book.

The Things We Cannot Say by Kelly Rimmer

The Things We Cannot Say

by Kelly Rimmer

In 1942, Europe remains in the relentless grip of war. Just beyond the tents of the Russian refugee camp she calls home, a young woman speaks her wedding vows. It’s a decision that will alter her destiny…and it’s a lie that will remain buried until the next century.

Since she was nine years old, Alina Dziak knew she would marry her best friend, Tomasz. Now fifteen and engaged, Alina is unconcerned by reports of Nazi soldiers at the Polish border, believing her neighbors that they pose no real threat, and dreams instead of the day Tomasz returns from college in Warsaw so they can be married. But little by little, injustice by brutal injustice, the Nazi occupation takes hold, and Alina’s tiny rural village, its families, are divided by fear and hate. Then, as the fabric of their lives is slowly picked apart, Tomasz disappears. Where Alina used to measure time between visits from her beloved, now she measures the spaces between hope and despair, waiting for word from Tomasz and avoiding the attentions of the soldiers who patrol her parents’ farm. But for now, even deafening silence is preferable to grief.

Slipping between Nazi-occupied Poland and the frenetic pace of modern life, Kelly Rimmer creates an emotional and finely wrought narrative that weaves together two women’s stories into a tapestry of perseverance, loyalty, love and honor. The Things We Cannot Say is an unshakable reminder of the devastation when truth is silenced…and how it can take a lifetime to find our voice before we learn to trust it. (Synopsis taken from Goodreads)

Review 4/5 ★★★★★

Wow, I loved this novel! I was drawn in from page one and couldn’t read it fast enough. I LOVE when books parallel two stories from different eras, and this book nailed it. What I loved about this book most, though, was the authentic relationships full of hope and determination. Nothing comes easy for these characters, but in the face of all opposition, they strive. They continue. They drive forward, despite their failings, their worries, their fears, their weaknesses. They embody inspiration. You look into their lives and can simultaneously think, wow, that sounds like me, and wow, maybe I could do that, too.

CONTENT WARNINGS: Quite a bit of mild profanity, with one instance of the f-word. This would be the only thing about this book that I did not like.

Alice mentions a “blame game” she and her husband play on who’s to blame genetically for Eddie’s autism, where she mentions her husband’s sperm.

A few references to sex or having sex.

Outside of these few issues, I absolutely loved this novel.

I would like to take a minute to talk about each character.

Alina: Such a naive, immature, childish one, that Alina. How we love her. How we root for her when she rises above. How we laugh at the unreliability of her narration, her immature view on life. The compassion we have for her lofty dreams and aspirations, and how we admire her tenacity to hold onto them in the face of an opposite reality. Alina is in no way a wise counsel, but she is full of unknown courage, and when push comes to shove, she rises. She grows. She stretches, for the good of another. And we love her for it. She was so real. 

Alice: Wow. I loved reading about Alice and her relationship with her husband. It is clouded with doubt, punctuated by bitterness and frustration, surrounded by unspoken words, and yet, they fight on—they fight for each other.  They fight for their marriage. They fight to understand. Alice is far from perfect, and so is Wade. But what you see here is a picture of two imperfect people putting themselves and their desires aside for the needs of another. This book may not be Christian, but this is the message of Jesus. This is the hope he brings us. Alice, in her imperfection, anger, and unjust frustration at her husband, decides to not give in, but to fight, out of love for Wade. Wade has to do the same. This type of selfless love is what we all long for—these are the characters we long to be—this is the message of my Jesus. In our messiness, He loved us anyway, and He calls us to love each other likewise. Alice and Wade may be one of my favorite couples in fiction, ever. I was inspired by the message of hope and love.

Side characters:

Eddie: I loved that the author decided to narrate in a character with autism and thought she did so well with Eddie. I loved getting a glimpse in his mind. She made him so relatable, so sweet, so…wonderful. And his relationship with Babcia was precious!

Julita: A side character who had yet such a strong arc. And she’s not even on page for very long. I was very impressed!

Tomasz: Oh Tomasz! Another young lover whose immaturity in some areas we can plainly see, yet, who also has profound maturity in other areas. We see his unrelenting love for Alina; we see his conviction, passion, determination. Tomasz was an absolutely incredible character. <Spoiler> I also loved the scene where he shares his past with Alina and how she responds, first inwardly horrified, but then realizing she has to love him anyway. <spoiler> I’m going to say this again: this is the message of Jesus, sprinkled everywhere in this beautifully told novel. In the face of utmost evil, in the face of anger and hurt, we have a choice—to give in to our desires and our passions and do what “feels” best for us–or to stand up, put ourselves aside, and love. This book did such a great job allowing such imperfect characters the ability to make the right choice and the result was a novel that inspired, uplifted, and encouraged.

Saul: Oh how I felt for Saul. What a great man. Saul deserves no critique.

Setting: I’ve recently developed a fascination with Poland (my ancestors are from there), so I loved all the setting we got in this book! Reading about the Nazi occupation wasn’t easy, but it was important, and it was fascinating to read about it from the Polish perspective. Early on in the book, I was chilled by how all the townspeople had heard rumors of Nazis but were convinced it would never come to them. It just reminds me again that we as people are so good at reasoning away what we don’t want to see.

The book moved fast, but not too fast. At first, I found the notion Alice would just up and go to Poland a little far-fetched, but it was drawn out and developed appropriately, so I concede to a job well done. I loved watching how everything tied together. The ending was definitely sappy and some may say overdone, but I thought it was very sweet.

All in all, an inspiring read about very real humans facing very real issues, and their choices to rise above.

Right after Tomasz reveals the terrible part of his past—terrible things he had done—I absolutely love how Alina responds:

“ ‘Eventually, I shifted onto the ground beside him, and wrapped my arms around his waist, then rested my head against his chest. I let my mind conjure images of all he’d told me—even the parts I didn’t want to imagine, because they were a part of Tomasz now, and I wanted to know and understand all of him.’ ” (Emphasis mine)