Book Review: The Number of Love

Margot De Wilde thinks in numbers. Numerals line up differently in her head when all is well or something is off. Her father developed a system of cryptography before WWI with young Margot as his main pupil. After his death, Margot and her mother were rescued from Belgium (in A Song Unheard) to be with her brother, famous violinist Lucas De Wilde, in London. Though a teenager, Margot is recruited to work in the admiralty’s secret Room 40 deciphering Germany’s coded messages.

Margot had one good friend back in Belgium, but she’s not interested in the silly things most girls are. She’s content to be alone, but when she notices Dot, another young woman at the admiralty seemingly on the outskirts of society, they strike up a satisfying friendship.

Dot thinks her brother, Drake, is in the Navy. Their grandfather in Spain thinks Drake is a student. Neither suspects Drake actually works undercover.

Drake finds Margot fascinating and loves her sarcastic sense of humor. But Margot has no time for or interest in romance.

Then Margot suffers a tragic loss that turns her well-ordered world upside-down. Not only do the numbers in her mind stop, but God seems silent.

And Drake returns from Spain wounded with an enemy who may pursue him all the way to London.

The Number of Love is the first in Roseanna M. White’s Codebreakers series, which follows the Shadows Over England series. A few of the characters carry over. This novel is every bit as captivating as the first three. It may be my favorite of Roseanna’s so far.

A couple of quotes from the book:

Faith isn’t just feeling. We have to know He’s still there, unchanged, even when we can’t feel Him. When the grief’s too loud to let us hear His voice.

There were never any guarantees. Even being sure God wanted him to do this didn’t mean he’d come home safely. Sometimes God’s will meant bullets searing flesh. Death coming too soon. Sometimes God’s will was to let man taste the consequences of his folly and his hatred and his supposed self-sufficiency. Sometimes God let people die. Let His children break. And then pieced them back together into something new. Something that He could use for His glory instead of theirs

I enjoyed the suspense provided by the intrigue and mystery concerning Drake’s pursuer and the historical detail. At the end of the book, Roseanna differentiates between the actual historical facts she used and the details she made up.There was an actual Room 40 of codebreakers during WWI that few knew about.

I love that Margot is an imperfect heroine. Even though she’s smart, she’s also young and a bit immature. And she can come across as a little arrogant sometimes. But her experiences help mature and humble her and teach her to rely not on her abilities or systems, but on God.

I’m so glad Roseanna continued this series. I look forward to the next book!

(See also: Why Read Christian Fiction)

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Book Review: An Hour Unspent

Barclay Pearce is the head of a makeshift family of orphans who found each other on the streets and put themselves together as a family. The only way the older kids knew to care for the younger was to become pickpockets. They became quite good at what they did, to the point that V., an enigmatic figure with some kind of ties to the British government during WWI, recruited some of them for some behind-the-scenes, off-record reconnaissance and information-gathering.

Now Barclay and his two oldest “sisters” have become Christians and turned the family from thieving. For now, V provides them with plenty of well-paid work. What they’ll do after the war, they don’t know—but they’ll trust God to lead.

Meanwhile, Barclay, the newest to become a believer, tries to learn how to walk by faith, find God’s guidance, and apply Christian principles to the work V asks of him.

His latest job is to get to know clock-maker Cecil Manning. Dr. Manning is something of a tinkerer, creating toys and other inventions. Rumor has it that he’s working on a synchronized gear that could help pilots in the war. If he is, the admiralty wants information: how close he is to completion, does he need anything to aid his efforts, would he be willing for the government to use the gear.

Evelina Manning Is the clock-maker’s only daughter. She’s close to her father and fondly tolerant of his eccentric habits. She’s less tolerant of her mother’s controlling ways. Evelina works with the suffragette movement, much to her mother’s dismay. Her childhood bout with polio left her with a leg that works most of the time.

But one time when her leg betrayed her, this Barclay fellow stepped in to help, unasked and unneeded. That set them off on the wrong foot. Finding out more about Barclay’s past and his unconventional but loving family doesn’t raise him in her eyes. But there’s something about him that piques her interest.

As the first zeppelins attack London and the Germans also learn of Manning’s gear, Barclay and Evelina will have to work together to escape the danger coming for them.

An Hour Unspent is the third and last in Roseanna M. White’s Shadows Over England series. As with the first two (A Name Unknown and A Song Unheard), I loved the story, the characters, and the realistic faith element. Thankfully, some of the characters from this series carry over into the next, The Codebreakers. I also love the covers of all three books. The fact that they were different from what I have seen before first drew me to them.

(Sharing with Carole’s Books You Loved, Booknificent Thursday)

Book Review: Termination Zone

Termination Zone is the sequel to Adam Blumer‘s thriller, Kill Order (linked to my review).

In the first book, pianist Landon Jeffers had surgery for a brain tumor. After he recovered, he began waking up with partial memories of things he wouldn’t normally do. He found out an organization had implanted a chip in his head in order to control him and have him do their bidding. And he discovered he was not the only one.

Landon has been in hiding in the months since the last book, but he is discovered. His method of jamming his implant’s signals is no longer working. He’s on the run again. But an unexpected help directs him home: his mother is in danger.

Landon learns the organization behind the implants is called the Justice Club. He’s also told that a covert group is trying to thwart and disable the organization. His contact tells Landon they want him to work from inside the club. It’s a dangerous prospect, and Landon is not sure whom to trust. But he decides to work with the Justice Club’s hidden opponents. Landon tries to discern what the Justice Club is up to, but their aim is bigger than he imagined. Will he find out in time? Can he do anything about it? Will it endanger the woman he loves?

This sequel starts off with a bang and grabbed me from the first page. Fast-paced action and mystery kept me riveted.

Landon had become a Christian in the last book, and he struggles realistically in this book to learn to yield to God, to pray, to seek God for discernment and guidance.

Adam has pledged to readers to keep his novels clean. There are no sexual scenes, bad language, or gore. He proves that an excellent, thrilling novel can be written without all that. There are bad guys who are out for people’s lives, but there’s nothing gratuitous.

Once again, Adam has done a superb job. The fact that thrillers aren’t my usual reading fare, yet I eagerly await Adam’s every new book, should tell you something about his writing.

Update: Here is a trailer for the book which I just became aware of:

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Book Review: A Song Unheard

A Song Unheard is the second of Roseanna M. White’s Shadows Over England series set during WWI. The series involves a group of young people who were orphaned or abandoned as children, found each other, and formed their own family. They support themselves by stealing, but they have a strict code to steal only from those who won’t miss the loss.

Willa Forsythe had found an abandoned violin as a child and discovered she could make it sing. She had a natural talent to play beautifully by ear.

She’s approached by the mysterious Mr. V., who gave a job to her sister, Rosie, in the previous book, A Name Unknown. Mr. V. has some connection with the British government, but they are not sure what exactly it is or whether it is in an official capacity. But he pays well. He wants Willa to travel to Wales and pretend to be an old school chum of a couple of sisters who are aiding a group of musicians from Belgium. They are trying to gather relief efforts for the folks back home. Her specific job: get to know acclaimed violist Lukas De Wilde and find a cypher that he carries with him. Lukas’ father, now deceased, had been a talented cryptographer. V. wants the cypher to aid Britain in the war.

Lukas is worried sick about his mother and sister. He had been shot in an attempt to find them and get them out of Belgium. He knew their home had been destroyed, but he didn’t know their whereabouts or status. His face and his father’s work were both well-known enough that he can’t risk going back to Belgium. Meanwhile, he tries to hide his injury and work with the orchestra while trying to figure out what to do.

He and Willa are intrigued with each other, but he’s a known flirt, so she doesn’t take him seriously. She knows they are from two different worlds, and he would never respect her if he knew what she was. But the more she gets to know him, the more she regrets that she will have to betray him. And unknown dangers lurk just beyond her awareness.

My thoughts:

I loved this book as much as the first one. The story, the history, and the characters were all wonderfully written. During the last few chapters, I wished I could set aside everything else just to find out what would happen.

One of the things I most appreciate about this author is that she is not afraid to be clear about spiritual matters. So many Christian writers are so subtle these days about the faith element in their stories that, unless you already understood what Christianity is, you’d never figure it out in their books. Roseanna proves that you can talk about Christianity normally and clearly without sounding preachy or strained or artificial.

The sister in the previous book had come to know the Lord. In a family of thieves, a conversion will necessitate some changes. Even though the sister is non-judgmental and still a loving part of the family, Willa feels a little betrayed. This is something that’s not often dealt with in Christian fiction, and I am glad Roseanna explored it.

Both of Willa’s parents had abandoned her, and she transfers her feelings about them to God. She felt He was someone who either wasn’t there or didn’t care about her. I loved her journey.

I listened to the audiobook read by Liz Pearce. I thought her narration was a little too blustery in the last book. But either I got used to her style, or her characterizations for this book were much more pleasant. At any rate, I enjoyed it and look forward to Book 3!

(Sharing with Carole’s Books You Loved, Booknificent Thursday)

Book Review: A Name Unknown

In A Name Unknown by Roseanna M. White, Rosemary Gresham’s parents died when she was eight, and she found herself on London’s streets. Eventually she and similar children formed themselves into a makeshift family with the older ones taking care of the younger the best way they knew how: stealing. Rosemary’s many years of practice have honed her skill into an art, taking her from pickpocketing to mixing with and stealing from society’s upper echelons.

A mysterious Mr. V. asks Rosemary to do a job with the biggest payoff she’s ever seen: gain access to a Peter Holstein, a “rich bloke” who “has the king’s ear.” Holstein’s family roots are German. War is brewing with Germany. V suspects Holstein is a traitor and wants Rosemary to find solid evidence.

Fortunately, Holstein has just advertised for a librarian to organize his stacks of books and family papers, and Rosemary applies for the job.

Peter Holstein is aware that trouble is brewing over his name and associations. He is not in public much due to a stutter, but his absence is taken for aloofness. He has secrets of his own, but they don’t include espionage: he’s a best-selling author writing under a pseudonym. He prays God will guide him. Rosemary seems the answer to his prayers: hopefully she can help him find family journals and documents which will prove them loyal British subjects.

My thoughts:

I loved this book on many levels: the intrigue of Rosemary’s search and whether she’ll be found out; her prejudices about “rich blokes” being upended by what she sees in Peter; Peter’s frequent lapses into the work he’s writing and decisions over his plot; his awkwardness and trouble expressing himself orally; his efforts to live out his faith; her constant chatter and his need for quiet.

This is the first book in a Shadows Over England series, and I immediately bought the second book after finishing this one.

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Book Review: The Medallion

In The Medallion by Cathy Gohlke, Sophie Kumiega is a Brit living in her husband’s city of Warsaw, Poland, in 1939. He’s a fighter pilot, in the air during the German attack on Warsaw. He can’t get back into the country after Germany’s occupation. Sophie first tries to work, until the library where she is employed is bombed and taken over. Then she helps the underground in various ways, still unsure whether her husband lives.

In the same city, Rosa and Itzhak Dunovich are a Jewish couple dealing with the increasing encroachment of German occupation. They welcome their first child into the Jewish ghetto. Itzhak worries about his family in another town. He devises a way to go to them to see if they’re safe or bring them back to Warsaw if they’re not.

But Itzhak doesn’t return. Food becomes even more scarce, atrocities increase. Rosa makes a heart-wrenching decision. The only way to protect her daughter is to send her with an underground nurse who finds places to hide Jewish children. Rosa cuts in half the tree of life medallion Itzhak gave her on her wedding day and places it on a chain around her daughter’s neck. When the war is over, hopefully she will be able to match her half of the medallion to her child’s and reclaim her.

I can’t imagine living through what either Sophie or Rosa did. Both saw loved ones die and conditions grow worse. Sophie had to constantly be aware of who was around and who might see and report her. Rosa dealt with the effects of deprivation and starvation.

I had an idea how the plot might end, but it took quite a different route there than I had guessed.

In the afterword. Cathy told how she became intrigued with two different true stories—one of a woman who posed as a nurse and hid Jewish children in convent schools or with Gentile helpers, and another involving searching for a child with half a medallion given up during the war. She wove them together in this story.

Somehow I happened to have both the Kindle and Audible versions of this book. It was nice to be able to pick up either one where I left off from the other. Normally the audiobook narration enhances the story, but this one felt a little overdone to me.

But all in all, an excellent, touching book.

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Book Review: Five Miles South of Peculiar

Five Miles South of Peculiar, Florida, there’s an estate known as the Sycamores. The man who built it set up an annuity for his descendants to live on. But fifty years after his death, the property will go to the county (I never quite understood why that would be the case).

The current residents of the Sycamores in this novel are two middle-aged sisters. Darlene is the oldest and the queen bee. She’s not only very domestic, but she’s on (and usually runs) several different committees in church and in town.

The youngest sister, Nolie (short for Magnolia), lives a quiet life with her dogs and garden, making unique aprons for anyone and everyone. She has never lived anywhere but the Sycamores and never wants to live anywhere else. She assumes the good townspeople will let the sisters keep their home when their time runs out.

One more sister, a Broadway singer named Carlene, lives in New York. Though she’s quick to tell everyone she’s not a star, the Peculiar residents think of her as a local celebrity. She doesn’t get back home often, but not because of her busy schedule. She and Darlene are twins and used to be close. But for most of their lives, they have gotten along better if Carlene keeps her distance.

But now, Carlene is coming home for a birthday celebration. She hasn’t told anyone, but a botched throat surgery has left her unable to sing. She’s not sure what her next steps should be and if she’ll even be welcome in her family’s home.

Further complicating matters, an ex-preacher named Erik shows up at the Sycamores looking for work. His church let him go after his wife left him, and he needs to support himself and decide what’s next.

Sparks don’t fly outwardly very often. Everyone keeps their opinions mostly to themselves. But that also means they don’t talk about their issues.

The point of view switches between the sisters, and it’s amazing how the same words or actions can be interpreted so differently. Each character has his or her own sorrows, Darlene, in particular, is apt to color a situation with her own inferences.

I loved the tag line of the book: “If these three sisters don’t change direction, they’ll end up where they’re going.”

You’d think a book about sibling issues would be depressing, but the snappy dialogue and comic asides keep things lively. A few samples:

She stepped off the plane and felt hot, humid air cover her like a damp blanket.

What if someone had been using a video camera? If anyone filmed her fall, she could be on the Zoo Tube, or whatever they called it, by nightfall.

You know how things are in a small town—your neighbor is known by his first name and his last scandal.

I thoroughly enjoyed this book and am going to look up more by Angela Hunt.

(Sharing with Booknificent Thursday, Carole’s Books You Loved)

Book Review: Sandhill Dreams

Sandhill Dreams: A WWII Homefront Romance by Cara Putnam is the second in her Cornhusker Dreams series. The first book, Canteen Dreams, was a fictional retelling of Cara’s grandparents’ love story. Sandhill Dreams features a friend from the first book, Lainie Gardner.

Lainie’s dream was to be a nurse and serve her country. She began her training but then contracted rheumatic fever. She recovered, but still experienced residual symptoms. She had to be careful about overdoing, stress, or anything else that might trigger a relapse.

Still, she wanted to do something to help during WWII. She traveled to Fort Robinson in Nebraska without any prior arrangements, figuring surely they’d find some use for her there.

Tom Hamilton had a serious accident involving a dog bite as a boy, and he’d been afraid of dogs ever since. He joined the Army hoping to work with horses, but the Army assigned him to the canine unit. He hopes he can successfully battle both his disappointment and his fear without any officers or soldiers noticing.

Lainie and Tom get off on the wrong foot. They both have issues to deal with. But perhaps they can help each other recover from their broken dreams and find new ones.

I like stories that aren’t just romance, but have the characters grow, overcome obstacles, etc. This book fit the bill. I thought it ended just a touch abruptly, but perhaps that’s because it’s the middle of a series, and the story is ongoing.

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Book Review: The Color of Hope

The overarching story in Kim Cash Tate’s The Color of Hope is that of two different churches, one predominately while, the other predominately black, who try to meet together once a month. Many folks are for this occasional merging, but there’s a small but loud opposition.

But several other stories lines are woven together.

One woman runs into her old boyfriend at a reunion in Hope Springs, NC. She thinks sparks are still there, but in the time since they knew each other, he became a pastor and she walked away from God.

Another woman plans to leave the area, but is unexpectedly offered a position coaching in the high school. Could this be God’s sign that He wants her to stay—and is the assistant principal’s interest purely professional?

One couple lived away from Hope Springs but now feel drawn back to this town of the wife’s father’s roots. The wife misses her multi-ethnic church in the city and isn’t quite sure she’s going to be happy. But she’s asked to substitute teach in the high school and befriends a young outcast named Sam.

There are several subplots as well.

Some would want to know there is a rape and a suicide in the book. The descriptions are not explicit, but they might be triggers for some.

There are so many characters, the first few chapters were confusing trying to sort out who was related to whom, who was with whom, and who was interested in whom. But eventually all the relationships fell into place. Kim has a number of books about the people of Hope Springs, so readers of the series would be more familiar with the characters..

My one little quibble with the book is that, since it’s about primarily racial tensions between two churches, there was no indication for most of the book about which church and characters were what race. I just reread the first four chapters to see if I missed something, but there was only one mention of one girl being blond, which doesn’t really indicate anything. The young girl, Sam, is described as biracial and and feeling like she doesn’t fit in anywhere. Eventually all of that becomes clear, but it made me as a reader feel another layer of confusion trying to figure out the characters.

But, that one little complaint aside, I thought Kim did a great job weaving so many characters and stories and conveying the need to come together rather than pull apart. This book was published in 2013 but seems apropos to 2020.

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Book Review: Chasing Jupiter

I enjoyed Rachel Coker’s debut novel, Interrupted: A Life Beyond Words, so much, that after finishing it I immediately looked up her second book, Chasing Jupiter.

In this book, Scarlett Blaine is a teenager in Georgia in the 1960s. Her parents are busy fighting and going to political meetings, so Scarlett becomes the main cook and caregiver for her elderly grandfather and younger brother. Her brother, Cliff, has some kind of unnamed mental or processing disorder. Not as much was known about such things then, so he’s just generally regarded as “different.” Partly out of standing up for him, Scarlett takes on the mantle of being “different,” too—not in a mental way, but just in her personality.

Cliff has decided he wants to build a rocket to go to Jupiter. Scarlett knows they can’t build a real one, but she helps Cliff raise money for materials. They decide to make and sell peach pies, with the help of the local farmer’s son, Frank.

Scarlett grows to like Frank, but Frank has eyes for Scarlett’s wild sister, Juli.

Scarlett’s pastor’s wife hears about her culinary skills and invites her over to help make food for the church’s shut-ins. Scarlett is reluctant at first, but then enjoys getting to know the pastor’s wife.

A series of family tragedies shakes Scarlett’s faith. Her pastor’s wife tells her, “The beauty of salvation and God’s grace isn’t in him solving all of our problems instantly, like a magic genie. Its beauty comes in the assurance that he has a greater plan for you.” Can Scarlett trust Him with all the problems and find peace in the midst of them?

Rachel has written another beautiful story. It took me just a bit longer to connect with Scarlett than Allie in the previous book. But I could empathize with much in her situation.

This book was written in 2012, and I’ve seen nothing from Rachel since these two books. There’s nothing on her Facebook page since 2017, when she was newly married. Looks like she went into photography for a while, but that sight has not been updated since 2016. Perhaps everyday life precluded her writing. But I hope she finds her way back to it some day.

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