Reviving the Commander by Nadine C. Keels

Reviving the Commander
First in the Crowns Legacy series
Sweet Historical Romance
Five Stars from Indies Today and Readers' Favorite
“This book is a heart-gripping romance for the ages. Hands down the best romance novel of 2019 so far!” ~Indies Today
“Brilliant and beautiful in every way.” ~Readers’ Favorite

Selected as one of the Best Books of 2019 at The Book and Beauty Blog

Book cover with a background of bluish gray tones shows a middle-aged romantic couple, the heroine in a formal gown and the hero in formal military dress, with a castle behind them near rippling waterShe isn’t a beautiful young maiden hoping to erase the Commander’s memory. 

Opal Whilstead knows she has a reputation: a reputation as a bright, giving, upright woman—smiling and laughing her way through hopeless spinsterhood. It’s been so long since she’s had serious feelings for a man, but now she finds herself taken with the Commander Exemplar of Diachona’s army.

And she regrets it.

Not only is the Exemplar a widower still longing for his wife, but he’s the father of the reigning king. Even if a man of such prestige could find love again, he’d be unlikely to search for it among the kingdom’s old maids. Besides, Opal dreads being found, due to a grievous secret she carries…

While this historical fantasy book does not have magical elements, the story is set in a completely fictional world.

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And don’t miss the next book in the Crowns Legacy series, Embracing the Outcast.

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Far From the Dream by Lance Wubbels

War Fiction

Book reviews are subjective. I tend to rate books not according to how “perfect” they are, seem to be, or are said to be in general but rather to how perfect they are to me.

3 Stars

Tan book cover shows a serious married couple standing together on farmland, looking off into the distanceFar From The Dream by Lance Wubbels

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

When Jerry volunteers to fight in World War II, his main goal is to get revenge for what happened to his best friend at Pearl Harbor. But Jerry’s enlistment means he and his fiancée Marjie have to decide whether to get married right away or to wait until the war is over in Far From the Dream by author Lance Wubbels.

It wasn’t until recently that I learned this author and novel exist. Given that I’ve been adding new-to-me books from the ’90s and such to my overall journey through ChristFic, I decided to give this first book in The Gentle Hills series a go.

As a fan of historical fiction, I was kept mildly interested through most of this simple story of family and friendship, work and war. While the read becomes a little oversentimental, it only does so here and there, and Marjie is the character I like best. She has wits, backbone, and some fire to her as well as a sassy sense of humor.

Much about Jerry’s work at war reads similar to a nonfiction report, but some parts are more dramatic, especially as the story reaches its climax. Overall, the novel shows more than one side to the actions/behavior of Americans in uniform overseas, whether they’re immoral, brave, or what have you.

Now, I’ll admit I cringe a bit when characters in novels, particularly Christian Fiction, use the shortened name for “the Japanese,” no matter how accurately it reflects the period and characters when they speak that way.

I’ll further admit I skimmed over chunks of the evangelistic content. I wasn’t surprised to see it, especially given that this is older ChristFic, but extended salvational messages/lessons in fiction generally don’t appeal to me. However, I will say that although the story’s faith elements play out in a predictable (and sometimes unconvincing) way at moments, not all aspects of faith in this book are the easy clichés I’ve seen in a number of other novels.

I really liked the climax and the ending, and I’m looking forward to checking out the next book in the series.


The Gentle Hills Series

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The Champion by Carman Licciardello

Fiction

Book reviews are subjective. I tend to rate books not according to how “perfect” they are, seem to be, or are said to be in general but rather to how perfect they are to me.

Black book cover shows a serious boxing hero with wrapped hands and wristsThe Champion by Carman Licciardello

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

(Click the title to find the book description/blurb.)

After his last fight turned him away from the world of professional boxing, Orlando took his cruiserweight title and retired to run a youth mission. But when a hotel incident leaves the world’s current heavyweight champion in want of revenge against Orlando, an old legal agreement forces the retiree back into the ring in The Champion by author Carman Licciardello.

While Christian pop culture (especially from the ’90s) knew Carman as a music artist and evangelist, I was curious when I found out he authored this 2001 novel that a movie by the same name is based upon. Though I wasn’t a fan of the movie when I saw it years ago, my longtime ChristFic-loving self wanted to see how the book would compare.

Although the writing is grammatically correct, much about the novel’s style is like that of a beginner. There are far more dialogue tags than necessary, and the characters say each other’s names over and over while they talk to each other. The story is full of clichés, from the preaching/evangelizing to the characterizations, and there’s no subtlety as the narrator offers commentary about the characters, especially as the story keeps patting the hero on the back for his range of virtues and accomplishments.

The love story is poorly developed and reads like another accomplishment for Orlando: “God had meant for them to be together… She was His gift for a job well done.” And a joke from the hero about his need for sex serves as the lead-in to his marriage proposal to the beautiful woman God is rewarding him with for living a good life.

Plot wise, I found the read to be slow. But I stuck with it because it isn’t a long novel and the ramping-up of the boxing side of the plot got me interested enough at the halfway point to keep reading through to the end.

This author wrote another boxing novel before his passing. Although it’s unlikely that I’ll check that one out, I’m glad I gave this earlier one a look as I continue my journey through ChristFic old and new.

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My Body Is Not a Prayer Request: Disability Justice in the Church by Amy Kenny

Social Issues

Book reviews are subjective. I tend to rate books not according to how “perfect” they are, seem to be, or are said to be in general but rather to how perfect they are to me. I received an advance reading copy of this book from the publisher for an honest review.

5 Stars

Yellow book cover shows a wheelchair overflowing with a multicolored variety of flowersMy Body Is Not a Prayer Request: Disability Justice in the Church by Amy Kenny

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Description: Amy Kenny, a disabled Christian, reflects on her experiences inside the church to expose unintentional ableism and to cast a new vision for Christian communities to engage disability justice. She shows that until we cultivate church spaces where people with disabilities can fully belong, flourish, and lead, we are not valuing the diverse members of the body of Christ.

My thoughts: What an amazing step along this social journey I’ve been on. If I wrote down every point I wanted to highlight from this book along with my related reflections, my review would be longer than the book itself.

With a mix of (snarky!) humor and grace, the author lays out so much for a critical perspective shift. For instance, when I see her use “disable” as a verb at times, it becomes clearer: inaccessible spaces disable people who have different bodies, whereas accessible spaces ensure that everyone is able to be included. And to hopefully move beyond inclusion to belonging.

The book addresses practical issues concerning disabled people’s civil rights—some issues I knew about and some I didn’t. And how the author gradually explains the prophetic witness of disability, demystifying the truth of disabled people as God’s image-bearers, is nothing short of beautiful.

Plus, the book includes plenty of actionable steps for readers/the church (meaning, people in the church) to take.

One significant step for me as an author: watching how I use disability language in my writing. Granted, in recent years (and especially as my stories’ ranges of characters grow in diversity), I’ve started to feel weird about seeing words like “lame” commonly used as jokes and negative metaphors. Now I have a much clearer picture of why I’ve felt weird—and I can work on my language choices to write in ways that engage, rather than harm, a diversity of readers.

A diversity of invaluable image-bearers.

I highly recommend this book on disability justice in the church.

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Take My Hand by Dolen Perkins-Valdez

Historical Fiction

Book reviews are subjective. I tend to rate books not according to how “perfect” they are, seem to be, or are said to be in general but rather to how perfect they are to me.

4 Stars

Book cover shows a serious woman with closed eyes in the foreground, and two girls holding hands in the background facing a sunsetTake My Hand by Dolen Perkins-Valdez

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Description: Montgomery, Alabama 1973. Fresh out of nursing school, Civil Townsend has big plans to make a difference, especially in her African American community. But when her first week on the job takes her down a dusty country road to a worn down one-room cabin, she’s shocked to learn that her new patients are children—just 11 and 13 years old. Neither of the Williams sisters has even kissed a boy, but they are poor and Black, and for those handling the family’s welfare benefits, that’s reason enough to have the girls on birth control.

My thoughts: One of the most disturbing aspects of this novel is that it just barely earns the classification of “historical” fiction. It can make a lot of Americans feel more comfortable to think of certain American atrocities to be safely in the distant past: “It’s a shame, what happened. That was a much different time, though, involving different people than who we are today. We’d never let something that terrible happen in our modern time and culture.”

But this story is loosely based on true events that didn’t happen that long ago. To say the least, it can be less than comfortable to think of a number of people who were wrong or wronged in an atrocity like this as people who are still alive today, and abuses like it did not come to an end back in the far, far history of old, twentieth-century America.

Even coming to this story with prior knowledge of the real-life events it addresses, I still cringed while reading about the abominable Tuskegee Syphilis Study/Experiment on Black men, the “coerced sterilization” of disadvantaged women (and girls) in the United States, and “the history of medical experimentation on Black people.”

I suspected this book wouldn’t be an easy read for me, and it wasn’t.

I read it anyway.

Now, what I was glad to find here is that this book is well-written fiction by a skilled novelist. Granted, some of the story’s points are a bit repetitive; I found the characters pretty difficult to connect with and wound up feeling neutral about the heroine at times when I wanted to feel more; and it seems this novel just misses ending on an especially downbeat, even rather pessimistic note.

Still, the characters are layered, and the story critically explores a range of effects on human bodies, minds, and hearts in the midst of some complex issues. Yes, the issues of ethnicity, class, sex, healthcare, and justice are complex, and in light of the need for further social change in these areas, we accordingly need novels like this.

Note to my blog readers: This book contains a minimal amount of profanity, and while the title is taken from a gospel song, the novel is not Christian Fiction, genre wise.

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