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Ruby in the Sky by Jeanne Zulick Ferruolo

Title: Ruby in the Sky

Author: Jeanne Zulick Ferruolo

Published By: Macmillan Children’s Publishing Group (Farrar, Straus, Giroux) (2019)

My Review:

**I recieved a free copy of this book from the publisher via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.**

First Thoughts: I’m in between on how to rate this book. On one hand, it fit many middle grade book stereotypes perfectly, but on the other, it also broke free and made the stereotypes feel original. I wasn’t blown away by how it was written, but I definitely wasn’t disappointed. The characters felt fresh and new, and the story was fun; while fairly predictable, it was still enjoyable to read.

Analyzation:

This book, like I said, felt very stereotypical a lot of the time. I’ve read this story many times—the only child living with a single parent, starts a new school, faced with a challenge at school, feels inadequate, makes new friends that show them they’re not, learns to have confidence and courage to defeat their fears and talk to their family. I’ve read this story so many times, but Ruby in the Sky made it feel more original than others I’ve read. Abigail Jacobs was such a different character, so much fun, and brought with her mystery and lessons that added depth to the story. I really liked Ruby—she didn’t feel as stereotypical—and think many middle schoolers will relate to her. Her relationship with her mom was gentle and sweet.

I absolutely LOVED the theme of learning to speak up for yourself—not just in Ruby, but in the whole situation with her mom. That whole storyline—keeping details vague so not to spoil it—added so much more depth than you usually see in middle grade books, and I completely loved it. It was such an important theme, yet delivered so gently. Paired with Ruby’s arc, it created a beautiful theme that I think will really speak to readers.

Overall:

Generally, I didn’t have super strong feelings one way or another about the book. It was stocked full of beautiful themes of forgiveness, friendship, and speaking up for yourself. The plot and characters were pretty predictable, but I still enjoyed reading the story; additionally, the connections with the moon added a magical feel. I didn’t absolutely love it, but there wasn’t really anything I disliked, either.

Rating: 3.5 stars

Recommended to: Ages 8 & up

The Memory House by Rachel Hauck

Title: The Memory House

Author: Rachel Hauck

Published By: Thomas Nelson (2019)

Synopsis:


When Beck Holiday lost her father in the North Tower on 9/11, she also lost her memories of him. Eighteen years later, she’s a tough New York City cop burdened with a damaging secret, suspended for misconduct, and struggling to get her life in order. Meanwhile a mysterious letter arrives informing her she’s inherited a house along Florida’s northern coast, and what she discovers there will change her life forever. Matters of the heart only become more complicated when she runs into handsome Bruno Endicott, a driven sports agent who fondly recalls the connection they shared as teenagers. But Beck doesn’t remember that, either.

Decades earlier, widow Everleigh Applegate lives a steady, uneventful life with her widowed mother after a tornado ripped through Waco, Texas, and destroyed her new, young married life. When she runs into old high school friend Don Callahan, she begins to yearn for change. Yet no matter how much she longs to love again, she is hindered by a secret she can never share.

Fifty years separate the women but through the power of love and miracle of faith, they each find healing in a beautiful Victorian known affectionately as The Memory House.  (Taken from Goodreads)

 

My Review:

**I received a complimentary copy of this book from Thomas Nelson through NetGalley. Opinions expressed in this review are completely my own.**

Aaack, this book was so sweet and heartfelt and so good!

Loves:

I loved how the story jumped between modern times and the 1950s and I loved watching how both stories wove together. I was impressed by how all the many different subplots came together to create the overall plot, and every character served a purpose. Beck was awesome; she was so relatable and impossible to dislike. Similarly, Everleigh was loving and also easy to empathize with. The beautiful romance, the authentic characters, the alternating and descriptive settings—it was a beautifully crafted and carefully told tale. I loved the subtle mysteries, the wild dreams, and the themes.

Dislikes:

At the beginning, I was almost turned off by the intense description following Brody’s journey as a sports agent. As someone who is entirely unaware of sports terminology, it was difficult for me to follow those scenes. This didn’t affect my overall opinion of the book, but it did make following Brody’s story difficult at times.

Analyzation:

I definitely could tell at times that the book wasn’t fully edited yet, but at the same time, I easily caught a glimpse of the author’s vision and I absolutely loved it. A few scenes will need to be cut down, a couple added onto, but other than that, the story’s skeleton is strong. I did have trouble telling Don and Brody apart, but not terribly so. I was so fascinated by the significance of the Memory House and loved all the symbolism. It was a good length; the book is actually pretty long, but for me, it ended too soon. I savored every word.

Themes: Forgiveness, healing, making things right, love, kindness, doing the right thing.

Overall: Loved it. Loved it. Every time I put it down, I couldn’t wait to get back to it.

Notes: Some sexual aspects between married couples are implied, but never stated explicitly.

Rating: 5.0 / 5.0

Recommended to: Ages 15 and up for more mature thematics and a few sexual innuendos.

Catching Christmas by Terri Blackstock

Title: Catching Christmas

Author: Terri Blackstock

Published By: Thomas Nelson (2018)

Synopsis: As a first-year law associate, Sydney Batson knows she will be updating her resume by New Year’s if she loses her current court case. So when her grandmother gets inexplicably ill while she’s in court, Sydney arranges for a cab to get her to the clinic.

The last thing cab driver Finn Parrish wants is to be saddled with a wheelchair-bound old lady with dementia. But because Miss Callie reminds him of his own mother, whom he failed miserably in her last days, he can’t say no when she keeps calling him for rides. Once a successful gourmet chef, Finn’s biggest concern now is making his rent, but half the time Callie doesn’t remember to pay him. And as she starts to feel better, she leads him on wild goose chases to find a Christmas date for her granddaughter.

When Finn meets Sydney, he’s quite sure that she’s never needed help finding a date. Does Miss Callie have an ulterior motive, or is this just a mission driven by delusions? He’s willing to do whatever he can to help fulfill Callie’s Christmas wish. He just never expected to be a vital part of it.(Taken from Goodreads)

My Review:

**I received a complimentary copy of this book from Thomas Nelson through NetGalley. Opinions expressed in this review are completely my own.**

First Thoughts: Aaaack this book could not have been any sweeter! Seriously, I made my way through the book with a huge smile on my face. It warmed my heart and sent sweet tears to my eyes. Terri Blackstock has done it again! I also have to comment this is probably the first book of hers I’ve read where there is no murder mystery. It was light humored, with important themes, and full fantastic, relatable characters that drove the story. I loved every word.

Loves:

Okay, Finn was fantastic. I absolutely loved his character. He was hilarious, but also incredibly real. I was rooting for him the entire time; every time he tried to convince himself not to be kind, I had to smile at the inevitable inability to follow through. His interactions with the other characters were so well done. 

Sydney was just as amazingly well-rounded, but significantly different. It was easy to see her point of view even when it wasn’t one we as the reader agreed with; it was easy to empathize with her situation. I especially loved getting to see both her and Finn’s perspectives on the situations, and how they intertwined and how they conflicted. 

And of course, Callie. She was the best! 

I loved the gentle themes surrounding the story without overpowering it; I loved the bittersweet ending; I loved the messages and the setting and the characters and pretty much absolutely everything!

Dislikes:

There’s honestly nothing I really disliked.

Analyzation:

The story moved at a good pace—something was always happening and character development never stopped progressing. Every new scene provided new ways to get to know characters without much fluff. It allowed time for the reader to reach conclusions on their own before a message was actually spelled out, which, in my opinion, is always more powerful.

I absolutely loved the thematics surrounding Sydney. The idea that you don’t have to stay at a job just for the money, that you shouldn’t compromise your beliefs for your job, that family is always more important—I loved it, and delivered via Sydney, the sweet, but determined, character, made it all the more powerful.

Themes: Doing the right thing; kindness; not judging a book by its cover; standing up for yourself and things you believe in; not being afraid of the world; strength and courage in the face of evil; faith and trust in God.

Overall: 

Catching Christmas held my attention from page one, presented some valuable themes through the eyes of very much imperfect but also incredibly lovable characters, and provided good laughs while gently tugging on the readers’ heartstrings. All while against a backdrop of Christmastime! I loved it so, so much.

5.0 / 5.0

ROMANOV by Nadine Brandes

Title: Romanov

Author: Nadine Brandes

Published By: Thomas Nelson (2019)

Synopsis:

The history books say I died.

They don’t know the half of it.

Anastasia “Nastya” Romanov was given a single mission: to smuggle an ancient spell into her suitcase on her way to exile in Siberia. It might be her family’s only salvation. But the leader of the Bolshevik army is after them . . . and he’s hunted Romanov before.

Nastya’s only chances of survival are to either release the spell, and deal with the consequences, or enlist help from Zash, the handsome soldier who doesn’t act like the average Bolshevik. Nastya’s never dabbled in magic before, but it doesn’t frighten her as much as her growing attraction for Zash. She likes him. She thinks he might even like her . . .

That is, until she’s on one side of a firing squad . . . and he’s on the other. (Taken from Goodreads)

Review:

**I received a complimentary copy of this book from Thomas Nelson through NetGalley. Opinions expressed in this review are completely my own.**

First Thoughts and Reactions: THANKS NADINE FOR RIPPING MY HEART OUT!

Just when you thought Nadine couldn’t write anything better…. Romanov appears.

Loves:

Nastya and Maria’s friendship was so heartwarming. Maria was a little hard to get to know in the beginning, but it didn’t take long to fall in love with her character. Maria and Ivan’s relationship was the most precious and sweet thing in the world. Nastya’s father was one of the strongest characters I’ve read about in a long time. The setting was detailed, thorough, and compelling. Brandes nailed the little descriptions, scenes, and what seemed to be insignificant details so perfectly that together, they shaped a bigger and beautiful story.

Dislikes:

All the Russian names, though they added significant setting detail to the story, made it harder to keep track of those specific characters. The layout of the Ipatiev House felt difficult at times to picture. In the beginning of the story, I couldn’t figure out how old Alexei was; I first pictured him as a teenager, so then I was thrown off when he started playing with toy soldiers. 

A few confusions: Nastya throwing the message out the window felt very counterintuitive and unrealistic; she says, “I couldn’t allow myself to think of the repercussions. Not with something as important as the lives of my family at stake”—but if they catch her throwing the stone, won’t they most definitely kill her family? Her thought process was such a heroic one, yet it confused me; the action risked her family more than anything else so far, yet her family was the very thing she was risking everything trying to protect. Additionally: the scene where Nastya retrieves the doll from Yurcsky’s satchel was difficult to picture and understand.

Analyzation:

The arc of the story was phenomenal. Every scene was significant in its own way, building an intricate tale of family, strength, faith, and never giving up. Brandes gently paints a beautiful picture of Christlike love in the hardest of circumstances, all while ripping your heart out and stomping on it. Nastya is a Brandes character through and through—mischievous, smart, and impulsive, but deeply caring and sensitive underneath—so of course I loved her. Her family was sometimes hard to keep track of, mostly because Olga and Tatiana really never got any development, but other than that, the characters were fairly easy to keep straight.

The emotion of the story was powerful and well-shaped, but lacked a little in fleshing out and follow through. Nastya reached her conclusions and revelations fairly quickly, without much time to really chew on different concepts, and while it didn’t feel cheesy, it did feel rushed and underdeveloped at times. For example, her attraction to Zash. While plotted carefully, it lacked the emotional component in the beginning, leaving me as the reader feeling like her attraction popped out of nowhere—even though Nastya claimed to have always liked him. However, considering this was an advance read, and looking at Brandes’ other books, I fully expect that all the emotion will be fleshed out much more fully in the finished product. And in the end, I was one hundred percent rooting for Nastya and Zash.

THE ENDING ACTUALLY KILLED ME. Again, Nastya’s emotions were not completely full and deep, but I actually found the story perfectly paced nonetheless; a harder, more complex emotional storyline at this moment in the plot would have distracted from the point of the story, which was tactfully and heartbreakingly delivered with passion and punch.

Overall:

Brandes definitely knows how to make her characters and readers suffer. I was locked in these pages from the moment I began reading. It was a fulfilling, thought-provoking, captivating read full of lovable characters and a lot of heartbreak. I can’t wait to read the finished version!

Rating:

4.5 / 5.0 stars

MY 3RD NOVEL IS HERE!

After what has felt like forever…many hours of editing…what felt like even more hours of formatting…

PROOF OF PURPLE IS HERE.

Proof of Purple on Amazon!!!

Sixteen-year-old Saige Pemberton lives in a perfect world—a world free of sickness, crime, and chaos. But for Saige, nothing in her life is as easy as it should be: not with her family, and not with her friends.

Risa Dobbin has always been a model citizen, but when the world she trusted fails her, she begins to ask questions she never dared to ask before.

Mirren Chase has never felt good enough for her world. After her worst nightmare comes true, she wonders if her identity truly has become defined by her failure.

When the unthinkable happens, all three girls are forced to face their fears and insecurities in ways they never expected. Could the ideals that their society is built upon not actually be as perfect as they seem? Do they even dare hope for second chances in a world where mistakes are unforgivable?

____________________________________________

A Few Announcements:

– I’m hosting a giveaway over on my Instagram (@j.c.buchanan) so check it out if you’re interested in winning free signed copies of my books! You have until December 1st to enter!

– I FINALLY got a blog tour figured out! So if you’d be interested in helping me launch Proof of Purple into the world, you can sign up here::  https://docs.google.com/forms/d/1nS5XlPE-n805t4KblFoE1c8WZbvJSCQj-Dnds4V_yqs/edit?vc=0&c=0&w=1

– My short novella sequel to You’ll Be Like Faye, Far Away Faye, has officially been released in paperback! You can get it on Amazon!

I’m SO EXCITED that Proof of Purple is finally out in the world!

The Covenant by Beverly Lewis

Title: The Covenant

Author: Beverly Lewis

Published By: Bethany House Publishers (2002)

Synopsis: Book 1 of Abram’s Daughters series from bestselling author Beverly Lewis. Years of secrecy bind the tiny community of Gobbler’s Knob together more than the present inhabitants know, and the Plain folk who farm the land rarely interact with the fancy locals. So when Sadie is beguiled by a dark-haired English boy, it is Sadie’s younger sister, Leah, who suffers from her sister’s shameful loss of innocence. And what of Leah’s sweetheart, Jonas Mast, sent to Ohio under the Bishop’s command? Drawn into an incomprehensible pact with her older sister, Leah finds her dreams spinning out of control, even as she clings desperately to the promises of God. The Covenant begins a powerful Lancaster portrait of the power of family and the miracle of hope. (Taken from Goodreads)

Review:

Loves: The Amish culture was fascinating to read about. The characters were well rounded and likeable, and I enjoyed seeing the world through these character’s eyes in such a vivid way, even if their perspectives weren’t ones I necessarily share or agree with.

Analyzation: The story was a little slow. Strongly character-driven, nothing big happens until almost halfway through the book. However, I found every character to be very unique and I always wanted to know more. The story jumped around quite a bit, but still found focus in Leah and Sadie’s plotlines, with Mary Ruth and Hannah weaving their way in as well. Generally, it was the interpersonal conflicts that drove the story, and I felt the author penned it very skillfully, keeping each struggle unique, but still tying it together. 

Cleanliness/Negative Content: One hundred percent clean. <SPOILER> Sadie becomes pregnant by an English boy, but it is handled so carefully—in tune with the Amish culture—and there was absolutely nothing even remotely close to being dirty.<SPOILER>

Overall: I really found myself enjoying this book, despite its lack of strong conflict. I found myself intrigued by the three-dimensional characters and their struggles, all against the backdrop of the Amish culture. I’m already excited to return to this world and continue following these characters in the sequel!

NOTE: There were some Christian thematics, as following God is apart of the Amish culture. However, they were not all necessarily thematics I agree with. I would not classify this book as Christian fiction because a lot of the teachings are not ones I follow or recommend following. Just a disclaimer:)

Rating: 4.5 / 5.0 

Recommendation: Anyone looking for insight into Amish culture or just a strong character-driven story.