Saturday, December 30, 2006
Remember to Forget
By Deborah Raney
Published by Howard Books, February 6, 2007
ISBN 10: 1-58229-643-X
What if you could leave the past behind and begin your life all over again? What if you had a chance to walk away from mistakes in your past and reinvent yourself? That's exactly what graphic designer Maggie Anderson is offered when a terrifying carjacking leaves her alive and well, but stranded a hundred miles away from her New York apartment—and her abusive boyfriend. When a kind stranger offers Maggie a ride, she impulsively directs her west, away from her life in New York. After a grueling cross-country journey, confused, heartbroken, and without a penny, she winds up in tiny Clayburn, Kansas—and the beginning of a brand new life. There she meets Trevor Ashlock and begins to realize that she can never truly outrun who she is or the past that threatens to reappear if she doesn't tell Trevor the truth. Remember to Forget is the unforgettable story of second chances that holds the promise of starting over, of creating a new life in God's care and under His plan.
Raney's done it again! With artistic panache, she's penned a unique plot filled with rich characters that spring to cinematic life. Although I've never been in an abusive relationship, I easily identified with Maggie's fear of divulging her past. Each of Raney's characters is believable, created with thoroughness and a unique past that adds depth. I was gripped by the imagination from the first page and didn't set it down until I finished it. I've found all of Raney's books to be page-turners—even her first book.
Deborah Raney is a born story-teller. One of the best. And she keeps getting better and better, although this one will be hard to top. Novel Reviews gives Remember to Forget its highest recommendation – 5 stars and prediction of it being a 2007 Best Book.
Friday, December 29, 2006
Blind Dates Can Be Murder
By Mindy Starns Clark
Published by Harvest House Publishers
Jo Tulip, household tips expert, has joined a dating service—Dates&Mates—at her agent's urging, in order to build her blog's readership. The date is not going well. Her "perfect match" is twice her age, half her height, balding and currently on the floor, in the grip of an asthma attack. His inhaler is empty and she runs to his car to see if he has another one. There's no inhaler, but there is a gun, rope, knife and duct tape under a map and a kidnap victim in the trunk.
Lettie Smith is a skimmer. She steals credit card information from customers at her current job, then passes them on to her boss. The job used to be her husband Chuck's, but she took over when he was sent to prison. She's trying to save enough money to escape to South America, away from Chuck and his abuse. But time is running short as his release date draws near.
The paths of these two very different women converge when Jo's blind date story hits the airwaves. The report is seen by Lettie's boss, and he's convinced she has something of his in her possession. He intends to get it back, by any means necessary.
When Chuck shows up sooner than expected, things take a violent turn and both women find themselves fighting to survive.
Blind Dates Can Be Murder follows The Trouble With Tulip, books in the Smart Chick Mystery series. Well-written with a plot that constantly twists and turns, it's a good read on a winter afternoon.
Thursday, December 28, 2006
Death, Deceit, and Some Smooth Jazz
By Claudia Mair Burney
Published by NavPress
Amanda Bell Brown is a woman on the edge. Between ignoring an insistent biological clock and nursing a broken heart, she's met her quota of problems. But life takes a turn for the better when former boyfriend, Lieutenant Jazz Brown shows up unannounced at her door. Jazz wants to reconnect and make their relationship work. There's just one tiny, potential problem; he's accused of murdering his ex-wife.
I thought there was no way the ragamuffin diva, Claudia Mair Burney, could top her first story, Murder, Mayhem, and a Fine Man. But she did it with Death, Deceit, and Some Smooth Jazz. Totally amazing. The storyline was complex and well-thought-out. She had me really going there. The sugar glider just took the cake. I loved every scene and chapter. The usual tension between hero and heroine was present, but this time it culminated.
The author is a master at the "think of the worst thing that could happen, and make it happen" concept. Man, she had my head turning so often I got whiplash! I have to say, though, that more than once I wanted to slap Bell for messing with Jazz's head. Then again, I totally understood her "issues" that prevented her from accepting love from anyone, and her doubting something that seemed too good to be true. I was with Bell all the way and felt her confusion as well.
Being a social worker and having done counseling with many hurting people for years, I have to say that the author had the criminal psychology portion of the story perfected. The insight into Kate's messed-up past was flawless Either the author did a lot of research, or she is really gifted with wisdom and insight into human character and dysfunction. Every scene was highly believable and amazing. Tension building all the way, but with interjected humor so hilarious that I laughed out loud more than once! Great way to keep the story moving along. Also, the sensual humor totally captivated me. Not to overuse the term, but that was also hilarious, and very honest, IMHO.
The biggest thrill in this story came when I figured out who killed Kate, and I WAS SO RIGHT! The author left just enough clues to point in the direction of the killer, but did so very slowly, and with absolute perfection. Also, the niggling perception that Jazz might have done it was tremendously applied. Wowsa! So does that make me smart, or the author a genuis at making me feel smart. :) You figure that one out.
Death, Deceit, and Some Smooth Jazz is masterful writing and highly entertaining. This probably ranks as my favorite sistah lit title thusfar. If you read it, I'm sure you'll agree that this is some serious entertainment with a powerful message. The takeaway value of this story is what made me love it so much. Plus, the mystery was compelling and complex. Man, the details involved in the plot were plentiful and so well-done it had me reeling. But I loved every minute of it. Oh, and the forensics were perfect. Excellent crime writing. Bravo! Get this one.
Reviewed by Michelle Sutton (pen name)
Saturday, December 23, 2006
by LeAnne Hardy
Kregel Publications 2006
ISBN # 0-8254-2789-4
His mother wanted him to be a monk. . . his father wanted him to be a man. . . a priest tempts him to pursue power. . . but Colin must find his own way.
After his mother's tragic death, seventeen-year-old Colin Hay is so consumed with anger that he tries to kill his cruel father. Running from these tormenting desires and his home, he seeks the protection and cleansing of the Glastonbury monastery, at a time when King Henry VIII is closing monasteries all over England.
But Colin's past has followed him to Glastonbury. As he now pursues forgiveness and salvation, Colin is conflicted by the doctrines he learns at the monastery and the grace he receives from a local family with a forbidden English Bible. And then there is a quick-tempered priest whose lust for power threatens to compromise Glastonbury Abbey, and to destroy the astonishing treasure it holds—the Holy Grail.
The character of Colin is purely fictional, but there are others who are historically accurate: Oliver Cromwell, Hugh Latimer and Robert Layton. These men helped bring about a very dark period in English Christianity when those who desired to seek God by reading His word were labeled heretics and killed for it. By the end of the book, Colin's heart changes to sympathize with these earnest believers.
Forgiveness is a theme running throughout the entire story. Colin learns to forgive his father. The Thatcher family forgives Colin. And Hardy roots this all in the forgiveness Christ gave to the world.
A big fan of the tales of King Arthur, I appreciated the tie-ins to Avalon and the Holy Grail. Hardy does a great job of describing mysterious events, alluding to conclusions without actually telling the reader what to think.
The beginning and the end of Glastonbury Tor are action packed. Personally, I thought the middle dragged a little but not enough to discredit this as a fine read. Masterfully written and liberally laced with historical tidbits, Glastonbury Tor is an entertaining excursion into Henry the Eighth's England.
Review by Michelle Griep
Friday, December 22, 2006
The Freedom of the Soul
by Tracey Bateman
Published by Barbour Books
The captivating chronicle of a young woman's struggle to save her homestead, a young man's determination to expose a pretender, and the yellowed pages of a diary that links their lives together will keep readers spellbound from the first page to the last. Abandoned and abused, Shea Penbrook finds her ancestor Jason Penbrook's diary and unearths a legacy. Jonas Riley is sent to Oregon to investigate Shea's claim to his rightful inheritance-the Penbrook estate. Can love bloom in the midst of murder, deceit, and mystery, or will past histories and present betrayals wreck any chance of romance?
The Freedom of the Soul is the stunning sequel to The Color of the Soul, and also the second book in the Penbrook Diaries series. The story was so compelling, and the times so excruciatingly well-portrayed, that I couldn't stop reading. Being a black person in the South--and Georgia in particular--in the 1940s was a terrifying experience. The Klan thrived and the warped sense of justice lived out by the legal systems in the south bred people who thought nothing of lynching others for having "mixed" relationships. That same system segregated everything from health care to education.
This story moved me emotionally on several occasions. The romance was intense and the sense of adventure fantastic. Bateman ties together many loose ends in this novel, and she weaves new threads that are intriguing and well-thought-out.
The Freedom of the Soul is similar to a thriller in the sense that you want to keep turning the pages to find out what happens next. Just when you think the beloved characters are safe, the Klan shows up again. My nerves were taught as I waited for a horrible fate for the people I'd grown to care so much about. Delight filled my heart as the author found ways to extract the characters from the clutches of a sure death more than once. The faith element was also flawlessly incorporated into the storyline.
Bateman has an uncanny ability to bring history to life. I adore her historical fiction and am hopelessly addicted. I highly recommend this page-turning novel and await the next book in the series with anticipation.
The Freedom of the Soul is published by Barbour Publishing and will be released in December 2006.
Michelle Sutton (pen name)
Thursday, December 21, 2006
The Fall of Lucifer
By Wendy Alec
Published by Realms
Three Archangels…three brothers…one turned renegade
For eons the love and kinship of three royal angelic brothers—Michael, Gabriel, and Lucifer—have echoed through the hallowed halls of the first heaven.
Lucifer, prince regent and eldest brother. Yohovah’s viceroy. Imperial. Brilliant. Passionate. Most adored of heaven. Michael, the warrior—commander of the angelic host. Valiant. Wise and steadfast. Gabriel—the youngest prince. Newly inaugurated. The revelator.
Throughout eternity Lucifer has been heaven’s favored prince. Gifted. Ardent. Devoted. His throne second only to the Most High—until the fateful moment when he is informed about Yehovah’s new innovation. The creation of a new race that is not angelic in nature. A race created of a three-hundred-billion-base DNA sequence that will constitute the human genome code.
A sweeping epic of origins and mysteries, The Fall of Lucifer tells a tale older than the universe itself. Set in opulent palaces and frightening hell worlds, this is a timeless saga of doubt, of demons and angelic warriors, of obsessive love and treason, and of an ancient evil that know no bounds.
Soon the universe itself will be rocked by war…
A war between three angelic brothers…
A war fought for the greatest prize in the universe…
The war for the race of men.
In this first book in The Chronicles of Brothers Series, author Wendy Alec has taken on one very ambitious task—to tell the tale of Lucifer’s fall, starting with the relationship he had with God and his brothers before his treason, and taking us through a partial history of mankind and the workings of angels (good and evil) in its midst. Her descriptions of what she calls “The first heaven” where God and all of the angelic hosts reside are fantastical and it was a whole lot of fun to get inside an angelic perspective.
In the beginning, the realistic, conservative Baptist part of me had a hard time getting into the book, because I kept stopping to mentally question things. For example, I’d wonder why Xacheriel, one of heaven’s twenty-four ancient kings, needed a monocle. After all, a monocle would suggest impaired vision—something I wouldn’t think anyone would suffer from in heaven. However, once I was able to remind myself that this was a fun, fiction book and not doctrine, I was able to enjoy the lovable bearded elder, who nods off during worship, drops his monocle in his soup and frequently declares, “Oh drat and bumble,” in frustration.
I think anyone who enjoys a good Fantasy or even Science Fiction book would like The Fall of Lucifer. And when the book leaves you hanging at the end, you’ll want to read Book 2, Messiah.
Reviewed by Janet Rubin
Tuesday, December 19, 2006
by Christy Barritt
Published by Kregel Publications
Buying a gun to kill your wife: $3,000
Hiring Trauma Care to clean afterward: $1,500
Having that same cleaner uncover evidence that frames you: priceless
On her way to completing a degree in forensic science, Gabby St. Claire drops out of school and starts her own crime scene cleaning business. “Yeah, that’s me,” she says, “a crime scene cleaner. People waiting in line behind me who strike up conversations always regret it.”
When a routine cleaning job uncovers a murder weapon the police overlooked, she realizes that the wrong person is in jail. But the owner of the weapon is a powerful foe. . . and willing to do anything to keep Gabby quiet.
With the help of her new neighbor, Riley Thomas, a man whose life and faith fascinate her, Gabby plays the detective to make sure the right person is put behind bars. Can Riley help her before another murder occurs?
This book was a page turner from the very beginning. I started the book after church one day and could not put it down. I read three quarters of the book that day and could not wait to get home from work the next to finish reading it. It had me guessing until the next to the last page.
There was just enough romance and religion. The suspense held me spellbound. I highly recommend this book to anyone who likes on the edge of your seat suspense.
Reviewed by Wanda McDonald
Another reviewer, Kelly Klepfer says: Christy Barritt makes gore laugh-out-loud funny. With one of the best first sentences ever Christy sucked me in and the story kept me speed reading to the conclusion.
A charming yet twisted novel about life, love and faith that starts with the heroine humming show tunes while she removes skull fragments from a wall and ends with her changing attitudes toward God and life.
Not for the extremely squeamish, though brave members of the Big Honkin' Chicken Club might be able to handle it.
I highly recommend Hazardous Duty. I will be looking for more novels by Christy Barritt and I hope Gabby St. Claire is only the beginning of a gritty series of tales.
Monday, December 18, 2006
By The Time You Read This
Hardcover: 352 pages
Publisher: Henry Holt and Co.
"Detective John Cardinal is on the hunt for an ingenious killer even as he mourns his own wife’s tragic death in this thriller of heart-stopping suspense
Autumn has arrived in Algonquin Bay, and with it an unusual spate of suicides. The most shocking victim yet is Detective John Cardinal’s wife, who has finally succumbed to her battle with manic depression. As Cardinal takes time to grieve, his partner, Lise Delorme, handles an unsavory assignment: a young girl appears in a series of unspeakable photos being traded online, and background elements indicate she lives in Algonquin Bay. Delorme is desperate to find the girl before she suffers more abuse.
When Cardinal receives a string of hateful anonymous notes about his wife’s death, he begins to suspect homicide. His colleagues believe he is too distraught to think clearly, and he’s forced to investigate alone. In doing so, he comes up against a brand of killer neither he—nor the reader—has ever seen before.
In his most masterful and thrilling novel yet, Giles Blunt confirms his reputation as a rising international star in crime fiction, and positions Detective John Cardinal among the finest characters in the genre."
Reviewed by Gina Holmes:
By The Time you Read this was difficult to read, yet impossible not to. Blunt is a superb story-teller and master of the craft. Every character is fleshed out with detailed histories, fallibilities and redemptive qualities. The story-line itself is far from cliche, as Giles interwove seemingly unrelated threads into one satisfying and believable tapestry.
I was pleased that this writer relied on skill, not gratuitous swearing, sex or other lazy means to keep readers turning pages.
By The Time You Read This is a fantastic novel, but be forewarned that it is dark. Most of these characters are either depressed or suicidal. This story deals with child-abuse and pornography, and though the sexual abuse is "off stage", much detail is given and this was difficult to read.
All in all, this was an excellent novel and I offer a strong recommendation.
Saturday, December 16, 2006
By Tamara Alexander
Published by Bethany House
Words, once spoken, can mend a broken life...or cripple it.
But words left unspoken can haunt the soul, inflicting a far deeper wound.
Annabelle Grayson has been given a second chance at life, but she can't claim it with the cloud of her past hanging over her in Willow Springs. After her husband dies, she advertises for a trail guide to accompany her to land waiting for her in Idaho -- and a most unlikely candidate applies for the job.
Matthew Taylor is a man on the run, with consequences of past mistakes pursuing him at every turn. Meeting Annabelle Grayson the first time was unpleasant enough, but when she crosses his path again, her presence in his life -- and what she reveals -- is devastating. If given a single wish, Matthew would turn back time and right a grievous wrong. If given a second wish, he would make Annabelle Grayson pay.
"Rekindled" drew enthusiastic comments and created a buzz in Christian fiction. I've intended to read it but haven't gotten to it yet. Now that I've read "Revealed" I intend to rewind and pick up "Rekindled."
Tamara Alexander had me with her first sentence. "Annabelle Grayson McCutchens stared at the dying man beside her and wished, as she had the day she married him, that she loved her husband more."
I saw a similarity between Annabelle's story in "Revealed" and "Reedeming Love" by Francine Rivers. Both in subject matter and the sweetness in how it was handled.
This enjoyable and touching novel should appeal to historical and romance fans and those who love to see God at work changing lives and hearts.
A solid, well-crafted novel with moments of pain, beauty and love that almost take the reader's breath away. The further I stepped into the story the sadder I became at the approaching ending.
The only complaint I could log would be that the book wasn't long enough to give a day by day detailed description of life between the main characters. I felt like I missed little shreds of developing relationship - a sign that I got overly involved with the characters. Which is the ultimate goal in fiction, is it not?
Reviewed by Kelly Klepfer
Friday, December 15, 2006
Published by NavPress
With her baby on one side and her career on the other, what's a girl to do?
As maternity leave comes to an end for Heidi Elliott, so does virtually everything she thought she knew. The substitute filling in for her high school Spanish classes has made a complete mess—not just with her students, but perhaps in a way far more personal. Her husband has made a habit of going out of his way to help a beautiful and wealthy client. And now, to further complicate things, Heidi's old boyfriend has moved back to the neighborhood.
Fiercely independent, Heidi has never been one for group activities, much less church chats and teas. Pushed into accepting an invitation to the Wednesday night Moms' Group, she finds herself in a sea of polyester, polka dots, big hair, and surprisingly strong women who just might hold the lifeline she didn't think she needed.
Stuart has aptly named this book. She employs a perfect balance of humor and tender moments in this rollicking good read. I carried it everywhere with me for two days. Whether standing in line at the grocery store or picking up the dry-cleaning, I was reading and either laughing or sighing, but never was I bored.
Balancing Act is delightful and fresh. The spiritual thread is honest and definitely not preachy. It's a book a non-Christian could enjoy without rolling their eyes. Heidi's sarcastic wit lightens the moments that could easily have become schmaltzy or lumbering.
Like a virtuoso, Stuart delivered the denouement with a fresh approach that rang with honesty—a huge debut novel, in this reviewer's opinion. Balancing Act receives Novel Reviews' highest recommendation.
Reviewed by Ane Mulligan
Thursday, December 14, 2006
Volume Two in A Restoration Novel series.
By Terri Blackstock
Published by Zondervan
In this second book of the A Restoration Novel series, the Branning family still struggles to adapt to a simpler lifestyle, forced upon them by a worldwide catastrophe. A mysterious force has caused all the electronics on earth to fail, throwing technology dependant societies back into horse and buggy days. Automobiles with their advanced microchip dependency molder in garages, unable to run. It really doesn't matter, since there is no power to pump fuel. Running water is a thing of the past, as is garbage collection, any speed internet, and phone service, cell or landline. As people become more desperate, lawlessness increases.
The Branning family, pre-catastrophe, lived the life of upper class suburbanites. Now they are forced to boil their own water, barter for food, and learn new methods to survive in this unfamiliar world. But they are better off than many of their fellow townspeople. When their food is stolen by four abandoned and hungry children, they are faced with a new reality, one of third world conditions in their own backyard. Their newfound faith won't let them turn their backs on the squalor or the four waifs. They take the three boys and little girl into their own home as they try to locate the children's mother. The search leads them into evil and dangerous territory and risks the lives of two of the children.
Night Light explores an intriguing concept-how would modern society, with its dependence on technology adapt to a post-technological world? A frightening prospect to say the least. Night Light follows the Branning family-husband and former stockbroker Doug, soccer mom wife Kay, twenty-two year old Deni, sixteen year old Jeff, twelve year old Beth and nine year old Play Station addict Logan as each learns to adapt to this new lifestyle none of them want, but must inhabit.
I found it a little difficult to get into the story, but I suspect that is because I haven't read the first book in the series, Last Light, which begins the Branning's journey. I feel like I've missed a whole dimension of these characters by starting with the second book instead of the first. My suggestion, start with Last Light, then Night Light. The third book in the series, True Light, releases next summer.
Review by Cheryl Russell
Tuesday, December 12, 2006
A Short History of Tractors in Ukrainian
by Marina Lewycka
Published by Penguin Books
When an elderly and newly widowed Ukranian immigrant declares his intention to remarry, his intended turns out to be a voluptuous gold digger from the old country with a proclivity for green satin underwear and an insatiable appetite for the good life of the West. And so his children Vera and Nadezhda must set aside years of bitter rivalry to rescue their annoyingly frisky father who (when he's not pursuing Valentina) is busily writing a grand history of the tractor and its role in human progress. As the intrigues multiply and secrets spill out, A Short History of Tractors in Ukranian takes in love and suffering, family and ethnicity, sibling rivalry and the joys of growing old disgracefully.
The title is a huge red flag, but I wanted to give the book a try. To my dismay, the most interesting character turned out to be Valentina, though I didn't care for her schemes, at least they made her interesting. A great deal of unneeded information about tractors caused the book to drag, and viewing the story through one POV did not feel like the best choice, perhaps adding to the overall slowness of the book, since I didn't really feel a connection with Nadezhda.
Reviewed by Imogene Foltz
Monday, December 11, 2006
Elementary, My Dear Watkins
by Mindy Starns Clark
Published by Harvest House, Jan 2007
When someone tries to push Jo Tulip in front of a New York train, her ex-fiance, Bradford, suffers an injury while saving her--and the unintentional sleuth is thrown onto the tracks of a very personal mystery.
Jo's boyfriend, Danny Watkins, is away in Paris, so she begins a solo investigation of her near-murder. What secret was Bradford about to share before he took the fall? And when Jo uncovers clues tied to Europe, can she and Danny work together in time to save her life?
Mindy's third book in her Smart Chick Mystery series is more dark than its predecessors, lacking the light-hearted lilt I'd come to expect and relish. While book two sets us up to expect Danny's absence from Jo's side, I missed their interplay and waited expectantly to see them together again, which finally occured much later in the story. Meanwhile, Jo hits the trail to discover the person behind the anonymous e-mails that warn her she is in danger. The police seem of little help, so Jo takes matters into her own hands and is forced to reside under the protective wings of her rather cold-hearted grandmother, where we meet a new character; Alexa is a troubled teen who has her own POV. As her story unfolds and secrets are revealed, the teenager's vulnerabilities are exposed, which endeared me to her even more.
Danny's own adventure in Paris directly influences him in his decision to return to Jo, though at the risk of losing his internship. When they are reunited, the pace really picks up. And though the multiple twists and turns at the end seemed overdone, Jo's happily-ever-after was warm and satisfying.
Reviewed by Sandra Moore
Thursday, December 07, 2006
Sands of Time
by Susan May Warren
Published by Steeple Hill
An inexplicable ailment was striking down the children of Russia; in less than forty-eight hours, American medical missionary Sarai Curtiss had watched two young patients slip away, and she feared she might have an epidemic on her hands. Yet how could she help anyone in the middle of a violent coup? The new leadership had demanded all foreigners leave the state--on pain of death.
Unwilling to leave her clinic, but unable to combat her enemies alone, Sarai had to join forces with an unlikely ally--Roman Novik, the rebel Cobra Captain who broke her heart. Faced with a corrupt government, a brutal military and the truth of their own deepest feelings, it would be a race against time to save the lives on the line--and an entire country at risk.
Written with the layering and preciseness I've come to expect from this author, I did struggle with the setting. The first chapter seemed out of place and unnecessary and set a tone of confusion that stayed with me until Roman and Sarai finally met. From there the story took on a brighter shine and I enjoyed the conflict between the two and their race against time. Susan has a knack for penning romantic characters who are fascinating to watch as they unpeel the many layers of each others weaknesses. I found Yanna more of a hindrance to Roman than a help, but the overall quality of the writing made up for that small irritation.
Reviewed by Imogene Foltz
Wednesday, December 06, 2006
Brigid of Ireland
By Cindy Thomson
Monarch Books 2006
Brigid is born in 5th century pagan-dominated Ireland, the daughter of a slave woman, and a slave herself to her brutal father. Torn from her mother, desperately seeking love and acceptance, Brigid converts to the new religion popularized by the traveling preacher Patrick—and the miracles start.
But so does the opposition, from rulers and sorcerers opposed to her faith and growing fame. The Irish people cling to superstitions and fears. Can she overcome them—and face her hatred for her father? Can she find the mother she misses so acutely? Has she truly been called by God?
Brigid of Ireland is Cindy Thomson’s first novel. Her research is evident throughout the book with detailed accounts of the druid’s religion and the very real struggle between Christianity and paganism.
It is refreshing to see characterized the loving mother/daughter relationship between Brigid and Brocca. Their lengthy separation and subsequent reunion certainly plays a part in their strong bond of love, but I believe it’s their shared faith that knits them even tighter.
I must confess my annoyance with Brigid when faced with the decision to renounce her earthly Christian works such as feeding the poor and spreading the Gospel. Seems like a simple, albeit painful, choice to make, yet she takes the easy route and gives in. Silly girl. But upon reflection, how many times do I myself cave under pressure even when I know what the right choice should be?
Brigid of Ireland is a painless and entertaining exposure to the history of the Emerald Isles. There’s plenty of facts and truths minus the usual boring dates and names in a history textbook. If you’d like to brush-up or expand your knowledge of Ireland, this is the book for you.
Review by Michelle Griep
Tuesday, December 05, 2006
By Jill Elizabeth Nelson
Published by Multnomah, March 2007
Reluctant Runaway is book two of the To Catch a Thief series from Multnomah in which suspense author Jill Elizabeth Nelson continues her fast-paced, exhilarating adventure filled with danger and just a hint of romance. This time Nelson takes readers on a mind-spinning race to find out why a young mother has disappeared.
Involved in an occult called The Inner Witness, Karen Webb seems to have abandoned her husband and newborn baby. Since nothing related to her disappearance adds up, it’s not clear if Karen ran away to serve Inner Witness or if she was taken against her will. Karen’s departure doesn’t make sense to her Aunt Max, especially since her niece’s disappearance might be linked to a robbery at the New Mexico Museum of Art and Anthropology where Karen worked.
Desiree, Max’s best friend and a Boston-based security consultant, knows what she’s doing when she promises Max she will get to the bottom of Karen’s disappearance, but will Desiree’s FBI agent boyfriend, Tony Lucano, get in her way? Overprotective and blinded by his feelings for Desiree, he warns her to stay away from the case, but she has little choice since her own security company was responsible for protecting the museum that was robbed.
When Desiree’s case becomes entangled to one Tony is already working on, they both find themselves caught in a trap of evil. They will need to combine their skills and faith to save Karen and to stop dangerous illegal activities involving big money, museum relics, and the battle of spiritual forces which all come together in a riveting ride that is well worth the read.
Reviewed by Tina Gray
Sunday, December 03, 2006
The Wedding Caper
By: Janice A. Thompson
Published by Mountain Breeze Ministries
What’s a wife to think when her husband waltzes into the house and hands her $25,000.00 in cold hard cash? Is he a betting man, a lottery winner, or a burglar? With twin daughters planning weddings just months apart, the thoughts of mega dollars bounced through her head.
Annie Peterson knows her husband Warren all too well, and he isn’t a thief. At least she didn’t think so. Her overactive imagination went into overdrive the day Warren handed her the money in a brown envelope without an explanation. To beat all, the Savings and Loan he worked at was short a night deposit for the exact amount in the bag.
Sure, Warren was a good man, a great father, a leader in their church, and honest. Or she thought he was. Annie couldn’t imagine he was a crook – even with the expense of not one, but two dream weddings in the planning.
Annie, convinced to exonerate her husband in her own mind, sets out to become an investigator. Her expertise comes from her wit and her internet sleuthing course she purchased at www.investigativeskills.com. Her goal is simple – solve the mystery of the missing deposit.
Janice A. Thompson brings a humorous mixture of “I Love Lucy” antics into this well-written work. Her integration of the importance of a daily devotional time and learning to follow God’s lead in her life, brings a sense of joy into her novel.
Valuable lessons on honesty, trust and a personal faith are intertwined beautifully between the pages of this crime solving mystery. The Wedding Caper, the first in a series of contemporary humorous wedding mysteries from Barbour Publishing, sets Ms. Thompson up for a solid future as a novelist.
Her hilarious take on friendship leaves the reader laughing out loud. This cozy mystery gets a five star rating and a promise you’ll never look at “Softly and Tenderly” in the same light again.
A definite must for any avid reader’s favorite list, The Wedding Caper will capture your heart…and the criminal.
Reviewed by Cindy Sproles
Friday, December 01, 2006
A Portrait of Marguerite
By Kate Lloyd
Published by RiverOak
When single mom Marguerite Carr's son leaves for college, she feels as though her whole life has lost its focus. When a friend drags Marguerite to a drawing class—her first since college—she discovers her long-lost passion for painting, finds unexpected love, and most of all learns that God's unfailing love and tender forgiveness covers all—even our deepest, darkest secrets.
A Portrait of Marguerite is one of the best debut novels I've read. Although I found Marguerite's epiphany moment to be tied up into too neat a little package, it didn't spoil the story for me, and she avoided the temptation to give all the sub-plots a tidy ending. One in particular was left wide open. Life is like that and I found this reality a refreshing change.
I thoroughly enjoyed this debut novel from Lloyd and read it in only two sittings. Bravo, Kate. I'm looking forward to reading more from you. Novel Reviews gives A Portrait of Marguerite a high recommendation.
Reviewed by Ane Mulligan
Thursday, November 30, 2006
The Secret of Us
By Roxanne Henke
Published by Harvest House, January 2007
Housewife Laura Dunn and her workaholic husband, advertising executive Donnie Dunn, have been married for 23 years. As Donnie's business thrives and their daughter, Stasha, plans her wedding, Laura longs for new possibilities. Could the dreams God planted in her heart years ago—like to become an artist—still be part of her purpose? Is there a new life of faith on the other side of this struggle?
The Secret of Us is a story of longing—a story of life. Laura had learned not to voice her longings but hid them behind childrearing and her husband's efforts to build a business. Over the years, she and Donnie had stopped communicating their dreams. Written from each perspective, Henke presents the struggles of more than just Laura. Donnie can't understand why he's feeling guilty. He has no reason to. Yet … it's so much easier to leave things be—don't "open Pandora's Box."
Henke draws her reader into the Dunn's lives from page one. Henke breaks all the rules and does it with a distinctive flair. Deep characterization, rich descriptions and a storyline that resonates all add up to a sterling read—one you'll be sorry to see end.
I won't spoil The Secret of Us by revealing the ending, but it's a poignant reminder to keep our dreams and love alive. The Secret of Us receives Novel Reviews' highest recommendation.
Reviewed by Ane Mulligan
Wednesday, November 29, 2006
A Pagan's Nightmare
Hardcover: 256 pages
"A tongue-in-cheek look at contemporary culture through the eyes of a screenwriter who pens a hit about the last unbeliever on Earth navigating a thoroughly Christian world.
An unwary "pagan" discovers he's one of the last remaining unbelievers in a world populated by Christians. Or so imagines Larry Hutch, a screenwriter with hopes of writing a hit movie. While struggling in his faith and dealing with personal crises, he imagines a strange new world where song lyrics are altered to conform to "Christian" standards (the Beatles belt out "I Wanna Hold Your Tithe") and French fries, newly labeled "McScriptures," are tools for evangelism. Larry's screenplay is a big hit with his agent, Ned, but Ned's Southern Baptist wife is less than amused. Both men's futures will be on the line when the world witnesses A PAGAN'S NIGHTMARE."
Ray Blackston takes on legalism in this light but satirical, novel within a novel. It's a difficult thing to set out to write something funny that will poke fun at your own social group and I give Ray a huge amount of credit for his moxie on taking this on.
Though at times the humor fell flat in my opinion, I did find myself chuckling on occasion at paradoxical references to pop-culture, ie: instead of e-harmony, it's e-marviny (Marvin is the incarnation of legalism), and the discount a landlady offers for the now premium cable channel, TBN.
Ray did a good job on finding a way to expose cult-like thinking masking Christianity, without being offensive. I think, however, that he may have missed an opportunity to really dig deep and make fellow Christians examine our non-biblical rituals, motivations and assumptions and really get to the heart of the matter. Though it would have been a much darker & more sarcastic book had he--which may not be who this author is.
I did walk away from A Pagan's Nightmare encouraged that others are smiling to themselves about some of our modern-day Christian rituals that can be downright silly at times.
BTW, Kudos on the cover. It's clever and suits the book well.
Though this isn't my favorite Blackston novel, he's a talented writer and I look forward to his next.
Tuesday, November 28, 2006
Hardcover: 368 pages
Publisher: WestBow Press: January '07
"Three men--served together in Desert Storm. Their job was to create propaganda leaflets that stripped the enemy of his will to resist. Now, fifteen years later, the enemy is out to return the favor. He's playing head games with them...and won't stop until their worlds are turned completely upside down."
Reviewed by Gina Holmes
Head Game is a psychological thriller told by the talented Tim Downs of Plague Maker fame. The story begins with an impressive author-illustrated suicide note which immediately evokes interest.
Though not told at typical thriller warped-speed, this novel had the perfect blend of humor, pace and amazing character development.
Each intertwining storyline was well thought out and satisfying. We follow the lives of half a dozen characters, each unique, multi-faceted and engaging. The "head game" aspect builds slowly, as a good psychological thriller should, until the last few chapters which had me ripping back the pages in hungry anticipation.
Tim tells a compelling story full of three-dimensional characters and beautifully executed plot twists.
There was one minor disappointment for me: A section of the story where the antagonist explains in detail his motivations. Downs did such a great job at showing this that it became a case of show AND tell. I already got it and didn't care for the neon-sign.
Other than that one minor & subjective infraction, Head Game is one of the best written books I've read this year and I can't wait to get my hands on his next project. I enthusiastically recommend this book!
Sunday, November 26, 2006
A Bigger Life
By Annette Smith
Published by NavPress, Jan 2007
Joel Carpenter's life was never supposed to turn out this way. But after making a careless choice seven years ago, his marriage was permanently shattered. Living in a small town in the heart of Texas, he now finds himself estranged from his ex-wife, Kari, and sharing custody of their son.
And just when Joel thinks the worst is behind him, Kari receives tragic news that threatens to forever alter their lives. Now as he faces his greatest challenge yet, he experiences hope and encouragement in unexpected places. And in the midst of deep tragedy, Joel finds forgiveness and learns to love in a way he never knew possible.
A Bigger Life is one of the best books I've read this year. Smith has nailed a man's POV so well, twice I flipped back to the cover to be sure I'd read her name right. I was sure this was written by a man. While Joel shows a depth of emotion, it was flawlessly presented. I was captivated by the story from page one. And I found their occupation completely believable, having worked in the same profession with two men much like Joel and Abe—with wives and families.
Spoiler to follow: Only one thing bothered me. I wished it hadn't ended quite like it did. I thought it would have been better if at that backyard barbeque, Joel was merely dating Amy in the end, with the promise of things to come.
But even that didn't really detract from this great read. Novel Reviews gives A Bigger Life a top recommendation.
Reviewed by Ane Mulligan
Saturday, November 25, 2006
By Rene Gutteridge
Published by WaterBrook Press
The Occupational Hazards Books are a series of books about seven homeschooled siblings whose last name is Hazard. The parents died in a freak accident leaving the kids ages 16-26 with a lucrative clown business but the kids realize that God has other plans which doesn't include being a family of clowns for the rest of their lives.
Scoop is a creative novel with a well-done plot, fantastic dialogue, and great characterization. The setting is superb and I truly felt like I worked in a television news station throughout the story. Scoop is highly entertaining with a strong theme tucked within it's pages regarding the power of a true Christian witness to nonbelievers we work with.
Scoop also contained several points of view. On the one hand, I enjoyed getting to know the cast, but as a result, I didn't feel like I had much time to get to know Hayden Hazard--the main character. I think that was the downside to this otherwise riveting novel. I suppose seeing Hayden through others' eyes did work for the book, but by story's end I wished I'd had a chance to know Hayden more, to discover the way her mind worked. I really enjoyed her philosophy of life and how well the author portrayed it through her actions. Sometimes her naive perspective was downright funny. I also thought the author did an amazing job showing the various character arcs. Well done!
Overall I'd say I enjoyed Scoop enough to recommend it. Though not "hilarious", in my opinion, it did bring me indescribable satisfaction as I perused its pages. Most importantly, I didn't experience a dull moment in this novel. Not once did Scoop feel like a chore to read. I'm looking forward to reading more about the Hazard family though future books in the Occupational Hazards series.
Scoop is published by Waterbrook Press and was released on October 10, 2006.
Michelle Sutton (pen name)
"Writing truth into fiction"
Wednesday, November 22, 2006
The Gathering Storm
When Stephanie Walker’s estranged father shows up asking for her help, she knows she’s in for trouble. She just doesn’t figure she’ll end up suspected of murder.
Marty Walker has always been a charming trouble-maker, from the time he left Stephanie and her mother for a famous country music singer and life on the road. He’s had little to do with Stephanie since she was a child. But now he says he’s in danger from a member of his new family. He doesn’t explain further, just says he needs her to come stay at his Ozark lodge and help “watch his back.”
That’s the last thing Stephanie intends to do. She’s never forgiven her father for his desertion, and she has refused to get to know his new wife and family. However, when Marty leaves, she discovers he’s stolen a valuable necklace from her and left a note saying she’ll have to come to the lodge to retrieve it. Furious, Stephanie storms up to the lodge—and naturally finds Marty dead in his room, murdered. I say “naturally,” because this scene seemed a little too familiar. The heroine just happens to find the corpse, is found standing over him, covered with blood, and becomes the chief suspect. Even though I liked the characters, I was afraid the story might be a little too predictable.
Fortunately, from that point the story develops a number of ingenious twists and turns. The setting provides an interesting world for the mystery to play out in—a rustic lodge in the scenic Ozarks. Monica Harrington, the country music singer who lured Marty away from Stephanie’s mother, owns the estate, and a number of her family live there, as well, including her son and grandchild. Her daughter-in-law has been missing for some time, which of course figures prominently into the current murder mystery—although not in the way I originally expected.
Even more interesting than the murder mystery are the relationships in The Gathering Storm. The interactions between Stephanie and Monica are highly charged and believable. Monica is a complex character—a professing Christian, and a woman who wants to receive Stephanie’s forgiveness and build a relationship with her. But Monica is also strong-willed, easily angered, and a little uncomfortable with taking the blame for Stephanie’s growing up without her father. Because of this early abandonment, Stephanie has tremendous difficulty trusting others, especially men—and God. This proves a double problem for her when she finds herself falling for the Lodge’s attractive groundskeeper, a strong Christian who wants her to love him and the Lord.
With its lodge full of sinister family members, any one of whom may have “done the deed,” The Gathering Storm is reminiscent of an Agatha Christie novel. It should provide a satisfying read for cozy mystery fans, especially those who like a little romance mixed in.
Reviewed by Robin Johns Grant
Saturday, November 18, 2006
When the Storm Breaks
By Bonnie Leon
Published by Revell
A terrible drought has settled on Thornton Creek and has parched both the land and the strength of all who live there. After a devastating fire eats up most of Douloo and leaves them with barely enough to survive, Daniel and Rebecca Thornton are forced to go to extremes to provide for their growing family.
I've always enjoyed historical fiction, and especially Bonnie Leon's WWII stories, though I admit I haven't read anything written by her in about six years. For some reason When the Storm Breaks didn't excite me very much.
Maybe because it was the third book in a series and I hadn't read the first two? I liked the characters, the setting, the culture in Australia (then called Queensland because it was the 1870s) and the Aboriginal peoples.
However, the conflict wasn't very unique. It was another "western-type"
story where someone was going to lose their land due to harsh conditions.
Then when the bank wouldn't loan the rancher the money, the man went to a loan shark--something like a 19th Century mobster who charged ridiculously high interest and extracted their payment in flesh if it didn't mean their requirements. Then, of course, the cattle must be nearly wiped out so the rancher's means of payment is trashed. Normally that would be a reasonable amount of tension for me, but I've read several stories like that lately, so maybe that's what bugged me.
I did like the spiritual theme in regards to the heroine's witness to the native woman whom she called "friend", though in Queensland that was frowned upon just like whites associating with slaves in the south. Overall it was a good story. I just didn't hold my breath. Ironically, I read the story straight through. I think it's because I kept hoping I would really care about what happened in the story. Yeah, there was a ranch hand who was unjustly hanged. That did get to me a bit. But otherwise the story failed to jerk my heart-chain. At the end of the novel I was disappointed because I wanted to feel more, but then the story was over. So for fans who enjoy historical fiction you may like this one. I thought it was good, just not great.
Michelle Sutton (pen name)
"Writing truth into fiction"
Tuesday, November 14, 2006
by Nancy Toback
Published by Barbour Publishing
Anna McCort always wanted to serve the Lord in a third-world orphanage, but she ignored His leading to focus on romance. When her ex-boyfriend threatens violence, the emotionally devastated Anna knows she made the right decision to break up with him. This time around, she won't let anything--or anyone--deter her from her God-given mission. Then, a very handsome stranger from church takes notice of Anna. Can she trust herself to do what's right?
Daniel Boccini never had to work hard for a woman's attention--until he met Anna. No matter how hard he tries, he finds he has to manipulate the situation just to be with her. At least he doesn't have to worry that she will ever want him just for his money. If only he could figure out why she keeps him at arms' length... Will Daniel ever be able to give lower priority to his worldly possessions? Can Anna catch a glimpse of just how much the Lord loves her and wants her to be happy?
Up until I read Anna's Journey, my favorite Heartsong title had always been Love Online (also authored by Nancy Toback) because she has a fabulous gift for drawing the reader in. Many times I find category romances boring, but this story had incredible pull and I devoured it. I loved the believable conflict, the feelings of longing, the tension with the violent ex, the honorable qualities of the hero (and his foreign accent), the innocence of the heroine and her struggle to trust, the character growth, etc. Even the secondary characters like Jane had depth. Nothing cardboard in this story.
Just about everything in Anna's Journey plucked my heartstrings. Especially the epilogue. I actually cried real tears of joy. That's a rarity for me. I loved the "edgy" content, especially for a Heartsong, and the kisses were delectable. If Heartsong Presents continues to print novels of this quality I may just have to join their club!
Michelle Sutton (pen name)
"Writing truth into fiction"
Monday, November 13, 2006
Not By Chance
By Kathy Herman
Publisher: Multnomah Fiction (August 2006)
Book Four in the Seaport Suspense Series
Brandon Jones' life has tumbled off the corporate ladder. When he turns down a regional vice president's job at Mavis and Stein, he's left without a job, a fiancée, or a secure future. He finds himself in Seaport, Florida, at his parents' home.
He has a sympathetic listener in his mother, Ellen, a former journalist turned unpublished novelist. As she battles her way through her latest book, she has doubts about her second career choice.
Brandon's father is the exact opposite. A successful lawyer, he's beside himself at the opportunity his son has thrown away. He can't understand Brandon's need to find a job that gives purpose to his life.
His first friend in Seaport is also a sympathetic listener. Weezie Taylor is the assistant manager at Cody's Crab Shack. Brandon is drawn to her active faith, her good advice, and her outgoing personality.
But everyone is not happy with Brandon's platonic relationship with Weezie. A menace from the past raises it's racist head and makes Brandon, who is white, and Weezie, who is black the first targets of the summer. As the heat builds in the Florida panhandle, so do the racial tensions.
Not By Chance is a good read for those who like their suspense on the lighter side. Kathy Herman tackles the sensitive subject of racism, raising questions we would all do well to ponder.
Review by Cheryl Russell
Thursday, November 09, 2006
Promise Me Always
By Christine Lynxwiler
Published by Barbour Dec. 2006
Thirty-five-year-old widow Allie Richards has always dreamed of having her own landscaping business. After losing her job, Allie's Pinky Promise girlfriends convince her to enter Shady Grove's Beautiful Town Landscaping Competition. The prize? The town's landscaping and maintenance contract. But there's a hitch. Every move Allie's ragtag crew makes will be featured in the reality segment of a local TV show. Armed with only a green thumb and a motley crew of helpers, does Allie have any chance of surviving the hype and making her dream a reality? Daniel Montgomery, the man behind the camera, is after more than just a story. Will he be satisfied with anything less than Allie's heart?
Haven't we all, men excepted, made promises with childhood friends—the kind where you link pinkie fingers and promise to die before you reveal the secrets about to be shared? Reminiscent of the Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood, Lynxwiler captured my interest from the first line and held it till the last. Lighthearted humor and believable characters draw you through situations that without this author's strong writing, could easily become formula and predicable. But Lynxwiler pulls it off with panache.
Novel Reviews gives Promise Me Always a definite recommendation for a great read.
Reviewed by Ane Mulligan
Wednesday, November 08, 2006
An Opened Grave
By L. Frank James
Publisher: The Salt Works
When Sherlock Holmes comes out of retirement to solve a missing person case, the logical Holmes is unprepared for the mystery that finds him. The power of prayer leaves the detective unable to rest until he discovers the truth for himself. Soon, Dr. Watson joins Holmes in what proves to be the most difficult, dangerous and inspiring of cases: a journey to the heart of Christianity itself.
James has captured the classical writing style of the great Sherlock Holmes mysteries, and An Opened Grave is certain to touch the hearts of his Christian audience in a very special way.
Die-hard mystery fans may be initially disappointed when the famous duo finds a time-machine which enables them to experience the time of Christ firsthand. However, James has used the unlikely scenario as an artful vehicle and unique platform on which to base the logical debates between Watson and Holmes as they experience beliefs and miracles in modern England and the ancient Middle East. James’ ability to present both sides of each debate is admirable.
While An Opened Grave is entertaining, the book’s debates are what will stay with his readers long after they have put the book down.
Reviewed by Marjorie Smith
Saturday, November 04, 2006
The Root of All Evil
by Brandt Dodson
Published by Harvest House Publishers
Wealthy businessman Berger Hume is dying. And the one thing he wants most is the one thing his millions cannot buy--a relationship with the son he has never met. As Colton Parker, private investigator, searches to locate the son, he finds himself the target of threats from a powerful gang with ties that extend to high-level government. Will this race against time become a race for his own life?
Following the success of Brandt's first two books in the Colton Parker Mystery series—Original Sin and Seventy Times Seven—this third installment offered high energy and lots of gunshots, a few dead bodies, and the hint of romance. The short chapters helped grind the edge of the action to a sharp point. Though the plot offered few surprises for this well-read suspense/mystery reader, the dialogue is sharp and plentiful, with a good mix of narrative to ground each scene and further develop Colton's character. A strange mix of gang members add to the interest of the story, as does his relationship with Mary; Colton is clueless and hesitant to assert himself when she admits to dating someone else, but the writing is on the wall, so to speak. All in all, a great read, with enough excitement for anyone who enjoys a good mystery/suspense.
S. Dionne Moore
Murder on the Ol' Bunions
Barbour Heartsong Mysteries, 2007
Thursday, November 02, 2006
By Angela Hunt
Published by Thomas Nelson/Westbow
From the author who taught you to expect the unexpected...an intriguing tale about families, fiction, and what to do when life veers wildly off script.
It begins...when a smug college student challenges a best-selling novelist to write something "more personal." It begins...when a mother finds her troubled son slumped unconscious outside her house. It begins...when fiction and reality blur, and the novelist finds herself caught somewhere in the middle of it all. Where does it end? That all depends on who is telling the story...
This is the first book authored by Angela Hunt that I've read, though I own many. Now, I'm wondering why I waited so long to discover this talented author's work. I've read many stories with parallel times or situations, usually with the present reverting to a historical setting, and often I prefer one story over the author. I want to flip past the present story to read the good stuff...the story within the story.
But The Novelist isn't like that. It's the only book I've ever read where I can stay that both stories equally stimulated me. They both held my attention. Both stories contained "the good stuff" I crave in a book. I love emotion, believable conflict, and a story that sucks me in so much that I can't stop reading it. And the allegory was so incredibly well done and ingenious that it literally blew my mind. I now see Christ's redemption even more powerfully because of the allegorical tale in this book.
The Novelist is one of the best books I've read in regards to tying things together in a convincing and satisfying conclusion. I loved how Angela Hunt showed the author in the story growing more than the person she hoped to influence with her story, and after fighting the Lord, she ended up being okay with that.
Aren't most of us like this? We elbow the person next to us when the pastor is preaching a convicting message, but we should be looking at our own hearts first. The Novelist had me looking at my own heart and I'm better for the experience. Few stories impact me so much that I want to grab people off the street to tell them they MUST read this book, but The Novelist is one of them. It's got a powerful message that is seamlessly woven in, dynamic characters who will grip your heart, and it deals with sensitive subjects in an incredibly sensitive and well-informed manner.
I loved this story because it has impacted my life--and not just because I am also a novelist--but because it's so rich and satisfying. I highly recommend it.
Michelle Sutton (pen name)
"Writing truth into fiction"
Great Beginnings finalist 2005
Wednesday, November 01, 2006
By Rachel Hauck
Published by WestBow
ISBN 10: 1-59554-190-X
Last week, I stocked groceries in Freedom, Alabama. This week, I live in Nashville, Tennessee, about to take the stage at the famous Bluebird Café.
Sounds fantastic, doesn't it? Only one problem. I've got stage fright. But after years of being ruled by fear and hiding from my dream, I confronted my limited reality and left home. Forget the hometown hunk who wants to make me queen of his doublewide. Forget Momma's doubt-inspiring tirade. I can make it in Music City … can't I?
So I took a leap of faith, gathered my old guitar, my notebook of songs, and packed up my '69 Chevy pickup. Look out NashVegas!
With the help of some new friends, especially handsome Lee Rivers, my dream is about to find the light of day, But as I face my first night at the Bluebird Café, I realize … I might just do what comes naturally. Look for the nearest exit, and run!
I read a lot of books as a reviewer, and once in a while one comes along that teaches me something. Lost in NashVegas is one of those books. Hauck employs some of the richest characterizations I've read. From the first paragraph, I was mesmerized by her artistry and story. Her characters two-step right off the pages and into your heart.
I was transported to the tiny town of Freedom, Alabama with its doublewide down-home traditions—big on hospitality but a place where dreams die. When Robin escapes to Music City USA—Nashville, the book takes on a new spirit. of expectancy and excitement. NashVegas—where dreams come true. And expect the unexpected in Lost in NashVegas.
A highlight of my reading year, Lost in NashVegas receives Novel Reviews, and my highest recommendation.
Reviewed by Ane Mulligan
Monday, October 30, 2006
The Begotten: A Novel of the Gifted
By Lisa Tawn Bergren
Publisher: Berkley Hardcover
I don’t know about you, but I’ve really had enough of Templar knights, Papal conspiracies, and secret documents that threaten the foundations of the church. So although I’ve been a fan of Lisa Tawn Bergren’s work in the past, when I first read a summary of The Begotten, I wasn’t the least bit interested in reading any further.
Then I received a sample chapter of the book through the Chapter-A-Week Yahoo group. And I was shocked. Captivated. Rendered speechless by the power of Bergren’s prose.
I went out and got the book immediately. Not because the plot interested me even then, but because the writing in that sample chapter was so breathtaking I couldn’t resist. I read the entire story cover to cover in one night—staying up until 5:30 in the morning to do so—because the tale would not let me rest.
This is a story of valiant people, with abilities they don’t ask for or know how to manage, trying to be faithful to their beliefs and make a difference, during a perilous time in a dangerous world.
If you think that sounds a lot like you and me, you’re right. And this is one key to this book’s appeal. Another is its honest examination of God and His will. Healing, miracles, Divine interventions, are they real? Why do they occur for some and not for others? Bergren offers no platitudes or canned answers to these questions, but her exploration of them is fantastic.
In addition, and I cannot say this enough, Begren’s skill as a writer has skyrocketed since she took a break from writing in 2002. Her past books were interesting and flowed well, but this? This borders on brilliant.
In movie form, The Begotten is a cross between The DaVinci Code, Luther, The Fantastic Four, and Lord of the Rings. In book form, it combines the historical detail and noble characters of a Linda Chaikin novel, the darkness and suspense of Comes a Horseman by Robert Liparulo, the spiritual warfare of Frank Peretti’s This Present Darkness, and the miracles of the book of Acts.
I should clarify that The Begotten is not a Dan Brown re-play, a knock-off version of The Last Templar, or a mimic of anything else you’ve ever read, including the books I just listed. This is a novel that defies all classification and genre boundaries, and does so with such flair I can only hope Bergren will repeat the process in her upcoming sequel.
Well done, Ms. Bergren, and welcome back.
Reviewed by Kelli Standish
Thursday, October 26, 2006
By Nancy Moser
Published by Bethany House
Young Nannerl Mozart's life seems to be the stuff of fairy tales--traveling far and wide, performing with little brother Wolfgang before kings and queens. But behind the glamour lurk hardships, illness, and constant financial worries. Their father, Leopold, is driven to bring his son's genius to the attention of the world. But what of Nannerl's talent and aspirations? And what of the man she loves? Readers will be captivated by the sometimes heartrending--and ultimately inspiring--story of a woman who struggles with her dreams and her faith in a world where a woman's place was at home.
The opening scene pulled me into the story, whetting my appetite for more. I thought the author's use of different words from music composition to describe each stage of Nannerl's life incredibly genius.
The author's attention to culture and detail created a fascination in me for that era. I was there. I also found the Mozart family's eccentricities interesting. As the story continued I found myself empathizing with Nannerl.
A few times I wish she'd made better choices for herself, but since this was based on her actual life, the author didn't have much liberty there. I thoroughly enjoyed being drawn into that portion of European history with all of its sad realities. More people died than lived, especially children and infants. And the horrid practices of medical science at the time made me cringe as I read about them.
I appreciated the author's obvious research into the way things were for women in the late 18th century. My heart ached for Nannerl as she continued to be the obedient child despite the consequences. I loved her epiphany when she realized that Wolfie did what he wanted and still managed to do well with his life, and she denied herself her own desires and wishes only to be disappointed in the end. I ached for her loss of love, her desire to please her family at her own expense, yet I found it very realistic. The author made me care about this woman born so long ago.
At first I wasn't sure I'd like the ending because of circumstances I shall not mention or it would be a spoiler, but let me just say that I ended up feeling good about the way the author concluded the story of Nannerl Mozart's life. That made me feel much better when I closed the book. I could not have made some of the sacrifices Nannerl made and applaud the author for bringing insight into the times Nannerl was forced to live in. Wonderful story, heartwrenching on several occasions, but thoroughly enjoyable. I adored every page and am thoroughly impressed with the author's use of the first person point of view. I often failed to notice and felt as if I were the heroine in the story. For that I give the author a hearty, bravo!
Reviewed by Michelle Sutton (pen name)
"Writing truth into fiction"
Great Beginnings finalist 2005
Monday, October 23, 2006
A Carol for Christmas
By Robin Lee Hatcher
Published by Zondervan
Never underestimate the true spirit of Christmas …
Carol Burke was born to sing. It was their life she had always dreamed of. There was only one thing she loved more, one person for whom she would willingly sacrifice her dreams: Jonathan Burke. Married against their parents' wishes, both are determined to make a life together despite the hardships. Jonathan works hard at his father's department store, leaving Carol alone in their tiny apartment. But long hours turn into late nights, thanks to Jonathan's insatiable desire to prove himself to his father … even at the expense of the one he loves best.
Into the midst of an increasingly empty marriage comes an unexpected chance for Carol to sing again. Is this the opportunity of a lifetime, or a time for her to let go and trust her future to God? Carol knows one thing she longs for most of all to share her first Christmas with Jonathan, creating their own memories and traditions and breathing new life into their marriage.
Then a broken promise leaves her wondering. Can anything, anyone—even God—heal her crumbling hopes? The answer comes when Carol finds herself face-to-face with the true spirit of Christmas …
Trust Robin Lee Hatcher to bring us an early Christmas present! At first, I thought perhaps this was a retelling of the old story of the wife who cuts her hair off to make a watch fob for her husband's pocket watch, and the husband sells his watch to buy his wife combs for her hair. Wrong. This is a new story of sacrificed dreams, of love, and one of faith and restoration.
I'm in awe at how Hatcher can build such deep characterization into a short novella. In tune with Carol from the beginning, I hurt for her less-than-fulfilling marriage. Yet, who among us hasn't like Jonathan, desired the approval of their father? And when offered a chance to use the gift God bestowed upon her, shouldn't Carol leap at it? Methinks I would.
A perfect ending, albeit not what I expected, rounds off this memorable tale. Available now, run—don't walk—to your nearest bookstore to buy A Carol for Christmas. And don't forget to purchase a couple of extras. They’ll make wonderful Christmas gifts.
Reviewed by Ane Mulligan
Thursday, October 19, 2006
Paperback: 304 pages
Publisher: WaterBrook Press
"After her father's death, jazz virtuoso Georgia Bishop throws away her marriage and a promising musical career for the bottle. Her cousin Fairly Godfrey, also grieving, fills the emptiness by living the high life in New York. Can a Congo refugee, soul food chef, and persistent husband bring the two women to the brink of healing?"
Reviewed by: Gina Holmes:
Since I've discovered Christian fiction, I've been hearing that I need to read Lisa Samson. That she's about the best CBA has to offer. So, when the opportunity came to review her latest release, I practically snatched it from Ane Mulligan's hand, spittle flying from my lips as I laughed greedily. Ane just wrinkled her nose in disgust and went to find a napkin.
What stood out at first was the beauty of Ms. Samson's prose. Absolutely amazing wordsmithing. Her metaphors are fresh and evocative. Once I got over the lovely writing, I began to appreciate the realness of the characters. Lisa didn't sugar-coat their failings and insecurities. These are people I can relate to. I think we all can.
I stayed up into the wee hours to finish this novel because I had to know what choices these folks would make. While I wondered about them, somehow Ms. Samson had me questioning what choices I would make in my own life and how the consequences would affect my future and those who love me. Straight Up has me clinging to grace in a way I've always longed to.
The cheapest therapy I've ever had.
Straight Up had me laughing and crying within the same paragraph. This is truly a work of art, both because of it's literary merit and because it does what a great novel should ... cause the reader self-examination.
Do I recommend this book? Straight up!
Wednesday, October 18, 2006
By Tamara Leigh
Published by Multnomah
Kate’s Creed: Thou shalt embrace singledom and be unbelievably, inconceivably happy.
Kate Meadows is a successful San Francisco artist looking for a nice, solid Christian man. So when not one, but two handsome bachelors enter her orbit in rapid succession, her head is spinning just a bit. Michael Palmier is a hunky and famous makeup artist who actually seems to be flirting with her—rather than her physically flawless housemate, Maia. Trouble is, he keeps handing her business cards from various beauty professionals and plastic surgeons. Is he trying to stamp out every last bit of self-esteem she has?
Then there’s Dr. Clive Alexander, good-looking enough to be mistaken for Brad Pitt, who sends Kate’s pulse skittering every time he comes near. Too bad he’s only interested in her work…and doesn’t think she’s much to look at. It’s enough to send a girl running for her paint-splattered, relaxed-fit jeans and swearing off men altogether! But after undergoing a makeover from Michael’s staff, Kate can’t be oblivious to the admiring glances men throw her way. Maybe she should try contacts…consider some fancy dental work…and you know, that mole really could stand to go. The question now is, what kind of work will Kate do on herself…and who exactly is she trying to please?
I easily slid into Kate's corner from the first sentence of the prologue. Her needy, yet quirky personality is fresh and delightful; she's a real diamond in a world of cubic zirconium. And just when I thought I had things figured out Leigh penned another twist in the plot, and I was back to guessing.
This is chick lit at its finest—a story for both young and old. On the back side of never-you-mind, I could still relate to Kate's struggles with self esteem, and I felt her pain over her physical afflictions. And while the novel deals with some deep issues, they're delivered with humor.
Devoid of predictable romantic plotting, I alternately cheered for Michael and Clive—although I did want to slap Michael a couple of times. And then there's Maia. She was enough to test anyone's Christianity.
Kate's faith journey parallels our own: two steps forward, one step back. Leigh presents an honest portrayal of a new Christian growing in her walk with the Lord. Kate fails daily, as do we all. Yet she perseveres, often leaving me smiling at her predicaments.
A thoroughly rewarding and marvelous read—the kind of book you sigh over when you turn the last page, Perfecting Kate receives this reviewer's high recommendation.
Reviewed by Ane Mulligan
Monday, October 16, 2006
The Brushstroke Legacy
By Lauraine Snelling
Published by Water Brook
Forbidden. Hidden. Denied.
Can art be powerful enough to endure?
Ragni Clauson's work, relationships, and body all seem to be falling apart. And she isn't convinced that spending her vacation fixing up her grandmother's cabin and supervising her rebellious teenage niece, Erika, will offer any much-needed rejuvenation,
As Ragni and Erika clean, they begin to uncover the secret paintings and lie of Nilda, Ragni's ancestor who lived in the cabin in the early 1900s. Ragni doesn't know how much she has in common with her great-grandmother, but it becomes clear that Nilda faced her own struggles. Taking care of home and menfolk, fighting off locusts, raising her daughter, and finding time to paint in the midst of it all were not easy tasks. Will Nilda's passion for enduring art re-ignite Ragni's artistic soul a century later?
Weaving together the stories of three generations of women, The Brushstroke Legacy stirs us to believe that no matter the circumstances, we are called to sue our gifts—never knowing when they might bring a stranger to a new place of hope.
Snelling presents an almost epic story of the women in one family and their relationships with one another. Ragni never knew her great-grandmother, Nilda, and yet the woman's spirit lives on in Ragni through her art. And art is the one thing that could possibly resurrect the close relationship Ragni once had with her niece, who has morphed into a Goth teen.
It was interesting to see Nilda in her world, and how her art helped her cope. I'd never thought about hard-working farm people as artists. I feel the only thing left unresolved was the farmer Mr. Peterson's strong aversion to Nilda's painting. I wanted to know why and kept looking for the answer. I never found it.
However, if you enjoy deep characterization and a great character arc, especially in Erika, I recommend The Brushstroke Legacy—a wonderful read, with characters that will live on in your imagination.
Reviewed by Ane Mulligan