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Nov 30, 2014

Christopher's Diary: Secrets of Foxworth by V.C. Andrews

Sunday, November 30, 2014
Christopher’s Diary…For those who liked the Dollanganger series…

Christopher’s Diary: Secrets of Foxworth by V.C. Andrews
Pocket Books Paperback; October 28, 2014; ISBN: 9781476790589 $7.99
Review copy provided by the publisher, thank you!
Burton Book Review Rating: 4 stars

Read my other V.C. Andrews reviews

Jealousy, tragedy, survival, and revenge—the discovery of Christopher’s diary in the ruins of Foxworth Hall brings new secrets of the Dollanganger family to light and obsesses a new generation. With Flowers in the Attic and Petals on the Wind both now major Lifetime TV events, this first new addition to the Dollanganger story in nearly thirty years is a timely look at the events in the attic—from teenage Christopher’s point of view.

Christopher Dollanganger was fourteen when he and his younger siblings—Cathy and the twins, Cory and Carrie—were locked away in the attic of Foxworth Hall, prisoners of their mother’s greedy inheritance scheme. For three long years he kept hope alive for the sake of the others. But the shocking truth about how their ordeal affected him was always kept hidden—until now. 

Seventeen-year-old Kristin Masterwood is thrilled when her father’s construction company is hired to inspect the Foxworth property for a prospective buyer. The once grand Southern mansion still sparks legends and half-truths about the four innocent Dollanganger children, even all these decades later. Foxworth holds a special fascination for Kristin, who was too young when her mother died to learn much about her distant blood tie to the notorious family.

Accompanying her dad to the “forbidden territory,” they find a leather-bound book, its yellowed pages filled with the neat script of Christopher Dollanganger himself. Her father grows increasingly uneasy about her reading it, but as she devours the teen’s story page by page, his shattering account of temptation, heartache, courage, and betrayal overtakes Kristin’s every thought. And soon her obsession with the doomed boy crosses a dangerous line…

(Read an excerpt here)

I am one of those age forty-something readers that remember the drama and the wicked horror of the original Flowers in The Attic series when the books had first caused a sensation in the eighties. The Real Virginia Andrews had a way with words that made this once-a-teenager swoon over her next published book. She became such a success that long after her death in 1986 a ghost writer still makes money off of her iconic name. The tone may be the same but it is inevitable that there are only whispers of the passion that the original author of the series had infused into her plots.

I had recently re-read the series which goes as follows: Flowers In the Attic, Petals on The Wind, If There Be Thorns, Seeds of Yesterday, and I am now just beginning Garden of Shadows, which is a sort of pre-quel to the series (I also re-read My Sweet Audrina, a stand alone novel that was just as juicy fun as the novels of the Foxworths). These were all titles that were written by the original author, and almost thirty years later Andrew Neiderman brings us the Dollanganger series with the new releases of Christopher's Diary: Secrets of Foxworth, and coming in early 2015, Christopher's Diary: Echoes of Dollanganger.

Christopher's Diary: Secrets of Foxworth is set in a later time long after the children of the attic are gone. We can only revisit them through Christopher's diary as Kristin Masterwood discovers the diary at the ruins of Foxworth Hall. While the synopsis hints at amazing secrets coming to life, we as the reader are not getting anything new. But Kristin is! Apparently, no one really knew what was going on at Foxworth Hall though the reader knew the secrets firsthand through the original books. Yet when Kristin finds the diary, she really did not have a good grip on what really went on behind the doors of Foxworth Hall before the two fires had finally destroyed the ancestral home. All that anyone in the community knew was that crazy Bart went off to bang the bible somewhere else. The rest were all theories and gossip about children in an attic but Kristin would like to know more since she knows her deceased mother was somehow a distant cousin.

The distant relative theme was something that could have come up as major suspenseful, but instead it become more of a mantra getting thrown out there for no effect but to annoy. If we are seriously talking fifty years later, the math doesn't really add up if you think hard about it. The storyline was all about Kristin and her current relationships and how "oh no- I should study to be valedictorian but I can't because Christopher's diary is calling my name." Kristin develops an odd relationship with a boy and the reader gets to hear all about how Kristin feels about her teen life and how her modern life would relate to Christopher's and Cathy's. As a new character to the series, Kristin's traits can turn off readers as she is obsessive but otherwise seemingly perfect; plus the narrative would go off into la-la land while Kristin's dad was talking to her by having a long musing about Christopher's and Cathy's feelings, and then going back into the current event at hand which got a bit old.

The next book will hopefully put a bit of closure on this first installment in the Dollanganger series, as the first ends with a dangling string of darkness and promises new attic moments. While I enjoyed this novel, I am on the fence as to which readers would enjoy it. Some major hardcore fans of V.C. Andrews may not like Niederman's drawn out (and unfinished) plot line, but those who really can't get enough of the soap opera drama that the original story provided should still enjoy the additional fodder related to the Flowers In The Attic family.

Christopher’s Diary: Echoes of Dollanganger is scheduled for release by Pocket Books in January 27, 2015; I look forward to that book to see if the family relationship between Kristin and the original clan can be unveiled.

Nov 28, 2014

Keepers of the Covenant by Lynn Austin

Friday, November 28, 2014
Fabulous biblical retelling

Keepers of the Covenant (Restoration Chronicles #2) by Lynn Austin
-easily read as a stand-alone!
Biblical fiction, paperback 480 pages
Bethany House, October 2014
Review copy provided by Bethany House in exchange for this review
Burton Book Review Rating: 5 stars

Read my review of the previous title in the series, Return To Me

The Old Testament Comes to Thrilling Life in the Latest from Lynn Austin

In one life-changing moment, the lives of the Jewish exiles in Babylon are thrown into confusion and despair when a decree arrives from the king's palace in Susa. It calls for the annihilation of every Jewish man, woman, and child throughout the empire on the thirteenth day of Adar, in less than one year. Ezra, a quiet Jewish scholar and teacher, is suddenly called upon to lead the community as they seek God for a reason for this catastrophe. When a second decree arrives, authorizing them to fight back, Ezra is thrust into the role of military leader as they defend themselves against their enemies.

When the battles come to an end, Ezra's brother Jude is dead and Ezra is required by the Law he so diligently studies to marry Jude's widow, Devorah, and provide an heir. Fatherhood changes Ezra, and he asks God to make a way for him and the other exiles to leave Babylon for good and return to Jerusalem. His prayers are answered and the exiles move to Judea to revitalize worship at the temple--but the fight to keep God's Law is never easy. As more and more of his community are tempted, a new battle emerges...this one for the survival of God's covenant and the souls of His chosen faithful.
Ahasuerus has risen from his throne and is in the act of stepping forward towards his wife, who falls swooning against her handmaidens. They support her as best they can, as Haman, in the seat of honor beside the King, leans forward, wondering what has prompted this reckless action of Esther's.- Women In The Bible

Long before the birth of Jesus, the Jews were persecuted and punished. The Old Testament shows us in the book of Esther how Queen Esther saved the Persian Jews from complete annihilation which resulted in the celebration called Purim. While the biblical story in Keepers of the Covenant begins with this well-known story of Haman and Mordecai of Esther 3-8, the author gives us a wonderfully fictionalized retelling of the prophet Ezra's family during this period of war and hardship. In the bible, the Book of Ezra tells us how God shows his forgiveness and restores the faith of his wayward people.

As with the first book in the series which gives us Zechariah's story, book two in the Restoration Chronicles focuses on characters who pull us into their re-imagined lives with absorbing and exciting storytelling. Ezra and his brothers were hard-working members of the Levite tribe exiled to Babylon when the king of Persia sends out a decree allowing all Jewish people to be slaughtered on a specific day. Ezra forces himself to become a leader of his Jewish peers and fight back. Meanwhile, we are also introduced to characters such as Amina and Sayfah, young daughters of the pagan Babylonian Gentiles who are eager to destroy the Jews; and Reuben, the young boy whose faith is tested when he loses almost everything during the violent thirteenth day of Adar.

Some favorite lines from characters in Keepers of the Covenant:

"As the psalmist wrote, our hope is in the Almighty One's unfailing love."

"If people follow God's laws at all, it's out of habit or legalism, not love. Some of us are no better than the Gentiles, ignoring God and His laws and then creating our own image of what God is like and what He wants from us."

"If we deny god, our lives aren't worth living."

Keepers of the Covenant is a captivating story of hardship, love and faith which depicts a historically important period for those of the Jewish community. I loved the first book, and I knew I would love this next installment. I was not disappointed at all, but I was reminded to continue to pick up the rest of Lynn Austin's work. I know I can't go wrong with any of her skillfully retold biblical novels. I highly recommend Lynn Austin and the Restoration Chronicles to any reader of biblical fiction. I especially love the larger size of these novels as well - nearing 500 pages, Keepers of the Covenant is a wonderfully engrossing and satisfying epic bible story.