Jacob’s Bell: A Christmas Story by John Snyder

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 a complimentary copy of this book from the publisher for an honest review.

Jacob’s Bell: A Christmas Story by John Snyder

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

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

“It’s one of the greatest gifts you can give yourself, to forgive.”

After getting caught up with shady associates, underhanded business schemes, and far too much alcohol, Jacob lost his career and his beloved family. He’s now in his sixties, collecting holiday donations for the Salvation Army, and his chance meeting with a little girl could lead to more heartache or to a miracle in Jacob’s Bell: A Christmas Story by author John Snyder.

When I skimmed the book blurb, I wasn’t anticipating huge surprises with this story’s outcome. Whenever I read this kind of novel, I don’t mind knowing the outcome beforehand if I still get something a little unexpected or eye-opening along the way.

While this is indeed a heartfelt tale, I found most of it to be too predictable (and sometimes simplistic) to keep me on my toes. The style lacks subtlety, oftentimes feeling clichéd. I would’ve liked for more of the dialogue, including several of Jacob’s confessions and declarations, to sound more natural or a bit more original.

The development and pacing are awkward at times, detailing minor scenes but then rushing over or summarizing some of the most important material. Because the narration jumps between different characters’ points of view in a number of places, I wasn’t always sure which character’s perspective I was viewing a scene from. I also wasn’t sure if I missed a connection or if there really are two characters who are both named Robert.

On a technical note, some of the paragraphs end with closing quotation marks while the same character is still talking at the start of the next paragraph. The preceding closing quotation marks should have been omitted, since the continuing dialogue wasn’t moving to a different speaker.

All that aside, this story’s message of forgiveness and redemption rings clear. I had a tear in my eye as I read the last scene, before the concluding summary. And what fan of hopeful Christmas tales could resist this novel’s charming book cover?

 

Noteworthy Reads 2018

I received complimentary copies of some of these books for honest reviews, which you’ll find in the posts I’ve linked to.

In addition to my Favorite Reads this year, I felt compelled to recognize and recommend a few more noteworthy books that I’ve encountered over the past couple of years. I don’t know yet if this bonus list will become a recurring part of my Annual Book Awards season, but we’ll see what happens! You’ll find the books listed in an eclectic order.
*And to the authors of these books, if you’d like a medal for making the list, see the bottom of this post.*

Delilah’s Daughters by Angela Benson

Christian Fiction/Women’s Fiction

★★★★★ from me

A three-sister singing group and their mother, Delilah Monroe, have some tough decisions to make and lessons to learn about the cost of fame, the power of purpose, and the value of family. This novel kept me thoroughly engaged without any lag time in the middle, and Benson has a clear understanding of human nature. There are valid right and wrong points on all sides of this family’s dilemma—a dilemma that isn’t neatly packaged for an easy, cheesy fix. While the story addresses unsavory sides to the music business and relationships going amiss, the story doesn’t sink down to become an unsavory mess itself. You don’t find that balance everywhere!

The Samurai’s Heart by Walt Mussell

Christian Fiction/Historical Fiction

★★★★ from me

Sen is a Christian, seeking a Christian husband, but her faith has been banned in 1587 Japan. Nobuhiro, the son of a respected samurai, may be a good choice for marriage, but he doesn’t understand the hold Sen’s foreign—and now dangerous—religion has on her. As soon as I learned of this ChristFic novel’s existence, it went straight to my TBR list. While the two leading characters have a retiring quality for some time, they get their moments to stand up and show some fire, and they both grew on me. The story maintains a keen sense of its historical setting throughout the read, and the intrigue eventually took me from being interested to being enthralled. I’m keeping my eyes peeled for the next book in this series.

The Art Contest by Perry Elisabeth Kirkpatrick

Middle Grade Historical Fiction/Short Story

★★★★★ from me

The Nazi army has swarmed into France, and twelve-year-old Marie must now assist her father in sneaking intelligence past their country’s invaders. I appreciate stories that illustrate how sharp-witted and courageous humanity can be in dangerous times. This is a quick (but not rushed) read that conveys the gravity of a wartime situation without getting super dark, and children and adults alike can be inspired by it. I know people sometimes think of short reads as “too little,” but this is a great example of how I think of well-written short stories: just enough.

The Stronghold by Lisa Carter

Christian Fiction/Romantic Suspense

★★★★★ from me

Girls disappearing from Apache reservations: this case hits too close to home for tribal cop Pilar To-Clanny, and she’ll have to go after a ruthless killer with the help of Special Agent Alex Torres. This is a heavy read that braves rough and dark terrain. Poverty. Post-traumatic stress disorder. Self-harm. Manipulation. Racism. Rape, and a culture of sexual violence. Serial murder. FEAR. It’s not a story to be read for thrills but for its illustration of dynamic light cutting through grave darkness. Carter writes with depth, realism, and flashes of pithy lyricism, weaving an intricate plot that pierces so that it can heal. ChristFic fans who appreciate gritty and relevant stories of faith would do well to check this one out.

Racing Manhattan by Terence Blacker

Young Adult Fiction

★★★★★ from me

A misfit teenaged girl and an equally misfit Thoroughbred are joined in a fight involving more than a racetrack. This story isn’t the stuff that light and delightfully corny family horse flicks are made of. It’s a rather gritty novel, displaying family tragedy and dysfunction; sexism, bullying, and blackmail; and the seedy side of horse racing. Jay, the heroine, is full of rage and determination, and yet, she isn’t a snarky jerk, and she doesn’t forget how to smile. Blacker writes with a moving and brilliant style, and even if you’re past your young adult years, you could very well find this story to be relatable and inspiring, as I have.

Grenade by Alan Gratz

Middle Grade Historical Fiction

★★★★★ from me

An Okinawan boy. A young American Marine. And a moment in battle that changes everything. This World War II novel isn’t a nostalgic, romantic, or watered-down tale, to make war look like a grand and glorious adventure, merely a mechanism for building heroes. It’s a gut-wrenching, violent, tragic story of the impossible costs of deadly conflict. And yet, it isn’t dark for the sake of darkness. It’s a human story. A nuanced story. A story that might make your soul cry. The ending of Part One is painfully brilliant, and, man, how the sober, overall ending manages to be triumphant is incredible. Read it. If your soul cries, let it. Oh—and after the last scene, do not skip the Author’s Note.

Wings of the Morning by Lori Wick

Christian Fiction/Historical Romance

★★★★ from me

Captaining her own ship suits Victoria “Smokey” Simmons well, but she dreams of pursuing a future on land one day… And, yeah—I went for the original, oldie-but-goodie edition from the ’90s when I picked this novel up. I was intrigued by the thought of a lady skipper in the nineteenth century, and this skipper’s story of adventure and adversity didn’t disappoint me. I liked the mixture of confidence and vulnerability, awkwardness and sharp skill in the heroine, as well as the novel’s measure of grit and wit. Although it’s Book Two in the Kensington Chronicles, it can be read as a standalone, and I consider it to be the standout novel of the series, written by one of my personally most-read authors.

Love at First Bark by Dana Mentink

Christian Fiction/Contemporary Romance

★★★★★ from me

A pesky dog. A bashful cowboy. And an author under pressure who gets just the inspiration she needs. Admission Number One: I was looking for something quick and easy to perk me up when I started this novella, and I wasn’t expecting any surprises. So I was surprised when the story, well, pleasantly surprised me. The tale is sweet, light, and humorous, to be sure, but the crux of the hero and heroine’s conversation enters meaningful territory that isn’t the most predictable. Admission Number Two: I’m not the easiest reader to sell on contemporary romance these days, but I pretty much fell in love with this book as I went along.

Heartfelt Cases One, Two, Three, and the Prequel by Julie C. Gilbert

   

Christian Fiction/Suspense

★★★★ overall from me

It all starts with a cold case, a kidnapped child, and FBI agent Ann Davidson, who’s got no time for doubt. This prequel novelette and three following novellas each give a satisfying serving of suspense, like watching episodes of a prime-time crime drama. They aren’t sappy heart tales but rather heart-and-mind battles where life and death are the stakes. The series makes a place for faith without trying to wrap the stories up with neat and tidy bows. The fifth Heartfelt Case, which I haven’t yet read, is a full-length novel and will therefore be more of a movie than a television episode. Bring it.

The First Love Novels by Beverly Cleary

   

Young Adult Romance

★★★★ overall from me

Gee, how swell! Gotta love YA Lit from the ’50s and ’60s. I consider these YA novels by my favorite childhood author to be classics, and I had a marvelous time taking a second spin with them last year. (Well, it was only my first time reading Sister of the Bride.) I didn’t discern in my adolescence how wise and poignant a story The Luckiest Girl is. Jean’s gradual maturation in Jean and Johnny is so satisfying. And Fifteen is a charming tale that gets better as Jane begins to “learn her lesson.” Sister of the Bride isn’t really a romance but includes Barbara’s little pre-adventures with love and what she learns about herself while she helps prepare for her sister’s wedding. All in all, this is a fun and wholesome batch of old-fashioned but relevant tales.

An FBI Duo by DiAnn Mills

 

Christian Fiction/Romantic Suspense

★★★★★ each from me

In Trial By Fire, Special Agents Savannah Barrett and Paul Winston must hunt down an arsonist, while Savannah is also tasked with raising her suddenly orphaned grandchildren. A murdered oil and gas magnate happens to be the husband of Special Agent Tori Templeton’s best friend in Deep Extraction. Not all authors are equally skilled at writing both novellas and novels, but I found these two books to be equally well-written, substantive, and satisfying. Savannah and Paul aren’t a pair of twenty- or thirty-somethings, which adds a different flavor than you’ll find in a lot of romantic suspense. And the action in Tori’s story is unpretentious in the way it breaks out, set within an intricate plot that held my attention from cover to cover.

The Roaring Twenties Novels by Jennifer Lamont Leo

 

Christian Fiction/Historical Romance

★★★★ each from me

Small-town girl Marjorie Corrigan is visiting 1928 Chicago when she runs into the love of her life from ten years ago: a man presumed dead since he fought in the First World War. And Dot Rodgers, who’s trying to get her singing career up and humming, is right in the thick of the big city and the sparkling Jazz Age—but is she in too thick? There was never a dull moment for me as I read You’re the Cream in My Coffee, as all the various moving parts to Marjorie’s journey kept me engrossed. And as I read Ain’t Misbehavin’, I really came to like Dot, a woman who makes mistakes and doubts herself, but she’s also competent and capable when she puts her mind to something. These two novels are an enjoyable trip through the “roar” and glamour of the Twenties mixed with significant matters of the heart.

So. Does this list of books look good? Yes, it does! I may have to make another list like it sometime. 😀

You can get your reading started with a free Kindle copy of Love at First Bark, part of the Love Unleashed series, as well as a free Kindle copy of The Quinn Case.

 

And a bit of noteworthy news. 🙂 I first introduced a place called the Eubeltic Realm in the Movement of Crowns trilogy, and my latest novel, Eubeltic Descent, is a spin-off from that series. Now there’s more I’m planning to write about the original characters from the Realm in an additional spin-off! If you’ve not read the Movement of Crowns series yet, you can get it on sale now, and the first book is free. Check out the books at Amazon, or visit this page for links to more stores.

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Congratulations, authors, and thank you for writing your books! If one of these noteworthy reads is yours, you’re welcome to a complimentary medal to display on your website, blog, social media—wherever you wish. Click the image below and contact me to receive a full size PNG medal. (The lined watermark will be removed, of course.) Thanks again!

 

Favorite Reads 2018

I received complimentary copies of some of these books for honest reviews, which you’ll find in the posts I’ve linked to.

I anticipate these awards all year! As my blog is all about hope and inspiration, these are the books that most fit that bill for me in 2018 and that I highly recommend to fellow readers. You’ll find them listed in a pretty eclectic order.
*And to the authors of the winning books, if you’d like a medal for making the list, see the bottom of this post.*

Finding Miranda by Iris Chacon

Mystery/Romance

★★★★★ from me

*A 2018 Favorite Cover Pick*

She’s a shy librarian. He’s her hunky neighbor. And somebody wants them both dead. I can’t say I know the best way to categorize this romantic comedic mysterious heart-tugging thingamabob of a book. But I enjoyed the heck out of it! Miranda is one unique cookie, and the romance is too cute. The mystery includes enough danger to keep you suspicious, and it escalates to the gripping level of a thriller. Plus, the humor is quirky, but the tale isn’t silly. Fellow readers who can rightly appreciate a thingamabob would do well to pick this one up.

Rhineland Inheritance by T. Davis Bunn

Christian Fiction/Historical Suspense

★★★★★ from me

In the aftermath of World War II in war-torn Europe, crippling poverty and a continent-wide conspiracy cross paths. Over the years, whether reading one of Davis Bunn’s newer titles or an older one like this, I’ve come to expect no less than excellent storytelling from this author. And excellent storytelling is what I got here. Danger, intrigue, a depth of emotion, and characters I came to like rather quickly. Especially sharp and intelligent Sally, who has quick, dry humor and a commanding presence balanced with softness and compassion. A stellar opening to the Rendezvous with Destiny series.

Ribsy by Beverly Cleary

Fiction/Children’s Books

★★★★★ from me

When this lively and loyal canine ends up lost, an adventure begins! This isn’t the only tale about Ribsy and his favorite boy, Henry Huggins, but this one is mostly from middle-aged Ribsy’s point of view. It’s funny how insightful the story manages to be, giving glimpses into the lives of an interesting mix of people along the way. Because various moments during Ribsy’s journey tugged on my heartstrings, the moments of excitement were all the more satisfying. A book filled with some of the reasons why, to this day, Cleary is still my all-time favorite children’s book author.

High Treason by DiAnn Mills

Christian Fiction/Romantic Suspense

★★★★★ from me

Monica Alden, a CIA operative, and Special Agent Kord Davidson are put on an FBI task force to protect a Saudi prince from assassination. This novel kept me on my toes from start to finish, from the high-stakes action, to the thick of investigation, to the engaging inward and outward dialogue of the characters. I’m all for a heroine like Monica: sharp, no-nonsense, gutsy, and driven, but with a sense of humor, compassion, and a vulnerable side. Though this is the third novel in the FBI Task Force series, it’s also a standalone, and every book I’ve read in the series is awesome.

Ace Carroway and the Great War and Ace Carroway Around the World by Guy Worthey

 

Historical Fiction, Adventure, Mystery

★★★★★ each from me

It starts when ace pilot Cecilia Carroway and her misfit crew of fellow World War I Allied prisoners look to escape prison. There’s something old-fashioned about the style of these stories, which deal with serious circumstances without taking themselves too seriously, but also without being mere jokes. I could laugh at some parts, while other parts hit me in the gut. Ace Carroway is one bad, bad chick: capable, competent, compassionate, commanding. And the second book has a “crime noir” flair with intrigue, atmosphere, and humor. Then, my goodness, I teared up at the end of the story. I’ve not read other books quite like The Adventures of Ace Carroway.

The Kremlin Conspiracy by Joel C. Rosenberg

Christian Fiction/Thriller

★★★★★ from me

Marcus Ryker, a U.S. military veteran and former U.S. Secret Service agent, is dead set on preventing a nuclear war. This is the third thriller I’ve read by this author, and I could hardly exhale after the ride it took me on. I almost didn’t like how “on edge” I was through a good deal of it. There were times when I practically balked at turning a page, not feeling ready to see what would happen next. But, of course, I had to keep turning pages. I can’t wait to read the upcoming sequel.

The Amazing Adventures of Aaron Broom by A. E. Hotchner

Historical Mystery

★★★★★ from me

It’s up to almost-thirteen-year-old Aaron to prove his father had no hand in a jewelry store robbery and murder. Readers from Aaron’s age to the age of the author—who’s around a hundred years old—are bound to enjoy this tale. The young hero is such a mix of maturity and innocence, of inexperience, sharp wits, and relevant, real-deal principles. I’d be having a bit of a laugh while reading, and then Aaron, his memories, and his next “happening” would break my heart. Then warm my heart. Then get my heart all pumped, like, “Yeah, you tell ’em, kid! You show ’em! Get it, Aaron!” Truly a substantive and poignant story that gives hope.

Mark of the Raven by Morgan L. Busse

Christian Fiction/Fantasy

★★★★★ from me

As heir to the House of Ravenwood, Lady Selene must find out the true reason behind her gift—or her curse?—of dreamwalking. I finished this novel in less than a day, which is rare for me. The book’s themes just got to me. Like, the idea that in order for Selene to protect and provide for her people, she has to…oppress them? The story doesn’t unfold with nothing but unexplained alternate-world-riddles for half the book or anything, so although fantasy isn’t my most-read genre, it wasn’t long before I got a good grip on what was going on. An amazing read about leadership, courage, conscience, compassion, and sacrifice. Light, Maker of Worlds, grant me patience as I await the next book in The Ravenwood Saga…

The Book Thief by Markus Zusak

Historical Fiction/Young Adult Fiction

★★★★★ from me

Liesel: a young girl in Nazi Germany. Max: a Jew in hiding. And the power, the haven, Liesel and Max find in words. I stopped for a while, toward the middle of this novel. Stopped, sighed, and wept after reading about Liesel reading one of her books—a book she didn’t steal. There were also parts that made me smile, and times when I had to pause and shake my head at some of the brilliant turns of phrase that fill this novel: ironic, ominous, and beautiful turns by turns. This is a raw, nuanced, layered, crushing, bittersweet, and haunting story that affirms life even in the midst of death. A singular work, this is.

White Picket Fences: Turning toward Love in a World Divided by Privilege by Amy Julia Becker

Nonfiction/Christian

★★★★★ from me

Do we, within our current social structure, want to get well? When it comes to the intended audience for this book, it will likely require some “pushing past” to even pick the book up. Pushing past the fear-based discomfort that says to avoid the topic. I appreciate how this book isn’t meant to demonize its readers, to make anyone feel guilty about their skin color or for being born to a particular social status. Becker doesn’t limit this discussion to the subject of race, and she addresses tough, complex issues with grace and nuance. A book well worth pushing past discomfort to read.

The Fargenstropple Case by Lia London

Detective Mystery/Humor

★★★★★ from me

When family jewels go missing at the Fargenstropple estate, Chief Inspector Terrence Morgan doubles down! This short and sweet mystery is simply delightful. It has a positively British flair, complete with British spellings and characters with a pleasant bunch of surnames, such as Nigglesby and Crumfellow. A jaunty thread of romance adds to the fun, and though I read my share of murder mysteries, I count it a boon to also find mysteries that involve cases other than murder. To enjoy an hour or two of light and hilarious entertainment with clever twists, go on and give this comedy a go.

How to Be a Perfect Christian: Your Comprehensive Guide to Flawless Spiritual Living by The Babylon Bee

Christian Satire

★★★★ from me

I’m not one who goes out of my way looking for satire, but I went ahead and started this book anyway. Then it got me within the first few pages, letting me know how Christian culture can lead me to be “transformed day by day into the radiant image of the modern American Jesus.” Hello. Sounds like a goal. Humor that’s unafraid to tackle what others may be reluctant to speak up about can help you stop and think, to take a second look at something in life or society (or Christian culture) that’s backward or off. You’ve got to think if you want to grow. I laughed, I contemplated, I laughed some more, and I eventually reached this book’s conclusion, which is beautiful.

Gift of Gold by Beverly Butler

New Adult Fiction

★★★★★ from me

Cathy lost her sight as a teenager. Now that she’s in college, she won’t let her blindness stop her from becoming a speech therapist. Will she? When I first came across this old-fashioned novel in my adolescence, I had no idea the author herself was blind or that I’d be revisiting this novel years later, and then more years after that. This isn’t some predictable, run-of-the-mill tale merely about goals and dreams. It’s a complex, soul-searching kind of read. Smart in style with wit and wisdom. Because Cathy’s journey pulls no punches, the truth, growth, and hope in her story is earned. Plus, there’s a nice little thread of down-to-earth romance tied in. Such a powerful novel I can see myself reading a fourth time. And a fifth…

And that wraps up another (calendar) year of favorites for this bibliophile!

Entries for 2018’s Favorite Reads giveaway are now closed, but comments on the post are remaining open.

  

This giveaway is open to U.S. residents and mailing addresses only in the contiguous U.S., Alaska, and Hawaii. Entrants must be 18 years of age or older. Three randomly determined winners, one for each book, will be notified by email on Saturday, December 8, 2018. If a winner does not respond by Sunday, December 9, 2018, a different entrant will be selected. Add p[dot]prospects[at]live[dot]com to your address book to ensure that a giveaway notification isn’t sent to your junk mail/spam box. For additional giveaway terms, see the Blog Giveaways and Giveaway Privacy information on my Policies page. Entering the giveaway indicates your agreement to the terms.

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Feel free to check out more of my favorite reading (and writing!) from this year: Eubeltic Descent. I carried this story in me for almost four years before I could finally write it. ❤ The Kindle edition is on sale now, or you can read it free with Kindle Unlimited. Find it at Amazon here. Or you can click here to get it in paperback.

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Congratulations, authors, and thank you for writing your books! If I’ve selected yours as a Favorite Read this year, you’re welcome to a complimentary medal to display on your website, blog, social media—wherever you wish. Click the image below and contact me to receive a full size PNG medal. (The lined watermark will be removed, of course, and the medal will include the year on it, 2018.) Thanks again!

 

Grenade by Alan Gratz

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.

Grenade by Alan Gratz

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

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

When fourteen-year-old Hideki is drafted to fight for the Japanese in World War II, his superiors tell him it’s his duty to protect his island, Okinawa. Ray, a young American Marine, is in a fight of his own, on the same island. But everything changes when Hideki and Ray face each other in battle in Grenade by author Alan Gratz.

Man. This may very well be the grittiest middle grade novel I’ve read in my life, or at least since I’ve been past middle grade age. And even if you’ve also grown past the young readers this novel targets, don’t mistake it for a juvenile storybook or something.

This isn’t a nostalgic, romantic, or watered-down tale, to make war look like a grand and glorious adventure, merely a mechanism for building heroes. It’s a gut-wrenching, violent, tragic story of the impossible costs of deadly conflict. While it’s not gratuitous in its horror, like a book that would give me nightmares, this novel makes no bones about conveying that war is just that.

A nightmare. A waking one.

And yet, it isn’t a dark story for the sake of darkness. It’s a human story. A nuanced story. A story that might make your soul cry. Hideki’s and Ray’s experiences and reflections reach to a critical level past the surface of things, as this isn’t a journey of easy, surface answers.

The ending of Part One is painfully brilliant, and, man, how the sober, overall ending manages to be triumphant is incredible.

Read it. If your soul cries, let it. Oh—and after the last scene, do not skip the Author’s Note.