Saturday, February 25, 2006

Smith's Just As I Am~Reviewed

Just As I Am
By Virginia Smith
Paperback: 224 pages
Publisher: Kregel Publications (May 15, 2006)
ISBN: 0825436931

Book Description
When purple-haired Mayla Strong struts down the center aisle of Salliesburg Independent Christian Church, the bug-eyed congregation strains to get a peek at her pierced nose and lip. Determined to make her heavenly Father proud, Mayla's sincere and often hilarious attempts to let Him change her from the inside out take her into some difficult places, all the while growing in faith and wisdom.

Virginia Smith's debut novel is beyond cool. I got it in the mail last night and read it from start to finish. That rarely happens with me. Usually it takes at least a few days for me to plow through a really great book. The author portrayed the conversion and confusion of a brand new believer with perfection. The voice of the character was so down-to-earth and believable.

Issues came up that Mayla handled in a Christ-like manner. She did the right thing, like Jesus would do. I loved the storyline, the reality, the honesty, and lack of sarcasm. Mayla really did want to do right by God and her fellow man. She was the perfect example of how to be a true witness for Christ by being real and not changing herself to "conform" to the culture around her. I loved how she resisted, but then gave in.

She saw the reward in loving others and being the hands and feet of Jesus. She didn't know she was doing it, but she was loving Alex in a way that touched many around her, including people at work and where she lived. She demonstrated to her friends and roommate, "They will know you are Christians by your love." This overflowed into the lives of others in the church as well, even an old grouchy man.

When the timing was right, she did alter her radical appearance, but not because of external pressure, but a desire to please God, which is always the right motivation to have. I would love to see Mayla a few years from now dating her pastor. I hope there is a sequel in the works. That would be awesome. I want to see more books by this author.

Reviewed by Michelle Therese

Friday, February 24, 2006

Morrisey's Dark Fathom~Reviewed

Dark Fathom
Tom Morrisey
Paperback: 368 pages
Publisher: Zondervan
ISBN: 0310244080

A prequel to Deep Blue. Beck Easton, software architect and secret member of a paramilitary wing of the National Security Agency, plans to retire from his double life and move to Florida. But an unexpected project--and woman--come into his life. Easton finds happiness in marriage. But his two lives are about to collide in the form of a possible Al-Queda operative, some stolen plutonium, and a day Easton will never forget. A day that will cost him everything that matters: September 11, 2001.

Beck Easton hates his life—both of them. In his every day job, he is a software architect and an owner of Blue Corner Technologies, a profitable software encryption company. Or so the government wants everyone to believe. In reality, he is a covert operative, employed by a sister agency of the NSA.

Fed up with his corporate lifestyle, he plans to cash out his shares of Blue Corner stock once the company goes public. His covert ops job isn't what it used to be, either. His last mission left him shaken and questioning the ethics of what it is he does. A sure sign it's time to quit.

But his plans for a quiet retirement in Florida are derailed by two things. One is Angela Brower, an interior designer hired to work on the offices at Blue Corner Technologies. His aversion to expanding the corporate offices evaporates when he spots Angela at the receptionist's desk on her initial visit. The art of office design, with an emphasis on a particular designer, is now high on his list of priorities.

Ahmed bin Saleen is the second reason Beck's retirement is put on hold. A Saudi terrorist, he's spent years searching for an elusive weapon, a secret from World War II. Now his tenacity has paid off and his Al-Queda brethren are about to obtain what they've longed dreamed of.

The stakes in Beck Easton's covert ops career have never been higher. Failure will forfeit any future with Angela. Success can bring the confirmed bachelor a future he never thought possible.

Tom Morrisey uses kernels of fact from World War II to lay the groundwork for this fast-paced and chilling book. Deep Fathom is an intense thriller with an ending that haunted me for several days after I finished reading it. A book well-worth reading.

Reviewed by Cheryl Russell

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

Wangerin's, Jesus A Novel ~ reviewed

Jesus: A Novel
Walter Wangerin, Jr.
Hardcover: 400 pages
Publisher: Zondervan (November 1, 2005)
ISBN: 0310266734

Book Description:

“Here, in vivid language and rich historical detail, is the most important story of the Christian faith—the life of Jesus, presented in the form of a literary novel.”

Reviewed by Robin Johns Grant

This retelling of the life of Christ does not stray far from the Biblical accounts. Most scenes will seem familiar (Jesus healing the paralytic who is lowered through the roof of a home where he is teaching; Jesus calming the storm and walking on water; Jesus being tempted in the desert). Most of the words spoken by Jesus could be found in the Gospels. And yet, Wangerin has told this familiar story in a way that is altogether unique.

This author's prose is poetic and literary, setting a realistic picture of the time, though on occassion characters will say, "Okay," or "you big dope," or something that jerked me back into this century.

The events of Jesus’s life from boyhood to crucifixion and resurrection are seen through the eyes of two people close to him—his mother, Mary, and “the Beloved,” who is gradually revealed to be the disciple, John.

The novel opens with the familiar story of Jesus as a boy, accidentally left behind in Jerusalem when Mary and Joseph start for home. As a determined Mary confronts priests, soldiers, and anyone else who might stand between her and her lost child, it is apparent this is not the doe-eyed, saintly woman of Madonna portraits. This Mary is earthy and very human, a passionate fireball of a woman, that the mild-mannered Joseph isn’t quite sure how to handle.

And Mary is never quite certain how to handle this miraculous son she has been granted. Jesus is the center of her life, and yet she can’t fully grasp his mission.

After Joseph’s death, Mary travels with Jesus along with other followers, but their relationship is strained. Mary longs to be a mother to her son, to scold him and advise him and try to keep him safe. She’s frustrated that her “Yeshi” now belongs to all these others as much as to her, and that Jesus is so aloof, apparently intent on marching headlong to his destruction. There is a constant tension between the down-to-earth, practical Mary and the divinity of this man who was once her baby.

One of the most poignant scenes occurs when Jesus and the others receive word of the death of John the Baptist. Jesus retreats into the wilderness, but Mary seeks him out, knowing how he loved his cousin. At first he has little to say to her, as usual, but then Mary comforts him, and Jesus tells her a sort of parable that indirectly tells his mother how important she has been to him all along.

The book’s other narrator, the Beloved, is important mainly for the portrait he gives of other events and characters in Jesus’s life. For example, he draws an intriguing picture of Judas as a gawky, rash youth who thinks he is following Jesus but completely misunderstands his mission.

Wangerin’s prose ranges from poetic and striking to comic. In describing Christ’s passion and the turmoil of the Lord’s mother and followers after his execution, he is at his most powerful. This novel will leave you with characters and images that are not soon forgotten.

Monday, February 20, 2006

Donna Fleisher's Valiant Hope~Reviewed

Valiant Hope
by Donna Fleisher
Publisher: Zondervan
ISBN: 0-310-26396-4

A review by, Janet Rubin

Donna Fleisher’s book, Valiant Hope is classified as women’s fiction. Normally, I’m more of an action/adventure or supernatural thriller fan, so I picked up this “girl book” with limited enthusiasm. I wasn’t very many pages in though, when I realized that I wouldn’t regret reading this third novel in the Homeland Heroes Series, a trilogy that chronicles the friendship and experiences of Chris McIntyre and Erin Mathis—two woman who are united when they serve together in Operation Desert Storm. Chris is a woman who bears the scars of a very difficult past and Erin is a friend who desperately wants to see her find peace.

In Valiant Hope, Chris is a new Christian, surrounded by supportive Christian friends, working with kids in an inner-city ministry and growing in her walk with God (now that’s an adventure!). When she suspects that one of the girls she works with is being abused, she decides to intervene. This brings to the forefront memories of her own horrific childhood. Valiant Hope is the story of how God works to transform an angry and bitter heart into one that can love and forgive. I guess you could call that supernaturally thrilling!

Donna Fleisher has a gift for capturing the essence of a relationship. I cared deeply for the characters in the book and felt their emotions. I was thrilled with the suspenseful scenes and didn’t even mind the bits of romance. Valiant Hope is women’s fiction at its best.

White-Smith's Amanda~Reviewed

By Debra White Smith
ISBN: 978-0-7368-0875-7

Amanda Priebe, the title character, is still feeling the rush from a successful matchmaking effort when she decides to match Haley, her best friend and secretary, with someone “more appropriate” than Roger, the dairy farmer about whom her friend is apparently pretty serious. Nate Knighton, Amanda’s dear friend and brother-in-law, opposes her plans, but stays away from her efforts – primarily because he’s afraid he may be falling in love with Amanda. Complications arise when wealthy and handsome Franklyn West shows interest in Amanda, and Mason Eldridge, the man she intends for Haley, doesn’t follow the game plan. For her part, Amanda knows exactly what she wants, or does she? Will everyone end up with his or her one true love, or will Amanda’s best-laid plans go awry?

This is the fifth offering in Debra White Smith’s Austen Series. Fans of Austen will find that Ms. Smith does a masterful job of preserving Austen’s characters in contemporary settings. The re-telling of classic novels can be a dicey enterprise; people often feel protective of their favorite characters; social norms and conventions have changed, and conflicts that seemed fresh and innovative before feel dated and archaic now. Not so with the books in the Austen series. Smith retains the wit and charm of the Austen novels, but makes necessary revisions to intrigue a modern readership. Besides, Austen dealt with the vagaries of a human soul, creating keen psychological examinations of people both likeable and not. The human character is unchanging; therefore, our peculiarities are interesting in whatever time period they are revealed.

Amanda is a beautiful, intelligent young woman from a privileged background. As such, she has rarely been denied anything she wanted, and when the novel begins, she wants to match her friend Haley with Mason Eldridge, the music director of their church. There is something a bit disturbing in the character’s egotism, her certainty that she knows what is best for others whether they like it or not. The author, however, allows us to view Amanda’s better qualities, her generosity, fun spirit, keen wit, and empathy for others, and that is what makes her a multidimensional character, one we enjoy getting to know despite her flaws.

The miscommunication between Amanda and her intended victims is great fun, and so is the suspense that develops when the reader can’t be quite sure that Amanda will acknowledge what her heart has known all along. Readers who want romance will love this book, especially those who avoid books they fear might be “preachy” in the Christian market. Although the faith of Amanda, Nate and the others is present, it is inherent in who they are - the way they live their lives and the decisions they make. Their Christian worldview replaces any lengthy text on theology that might otherwise be present.

With Amanda, Smith aptly illustrates that “The course of true love never did run smooth,” but the twisted path these characters follow to romance is an intriguing one, and I feel certain that others will enjoy the trip as much as I did.

Reviewed by Erin Valentine

Thursday, February 16, 2006

Kathy Mackel's Outriders~Reviewed

Kathryn Mackel
Paperback: 288 pages
Westbow Press
ISBN: 1595540393

Reviewed by Kelly Klepfer:

Kathryn Mackel's "Outriders" is the first of her works I've read. It's also a fantasy, a genre that sometimes leaves me cold. I didn't know what to expect when I cracked the cover which, by the way, is beautiful and haunting.

I was plunged into a cold, cruel world with strange creatures and hints of danger. It's a familiar world, tilted and twisted. The emptiness of the surroundings and the soul of a main POV character are poignantly and powerfully written.

Mackel writes beautiful, haunting descriptions like, "Here, as night crept between these peaks, violet fingers of cold strangled the remains of the day." and "Maybe then the tears wouldn't freeze on his face while fear flickered hot in his gut."

The plot line pulls the reader along in tense anticipation. Surprises and rich secondary threads are woven in almost seamlessly, almost seamless, because one scene left me hanging. This might be because the author has created a series and the characters are working toward their goals and the completion of their stories. So I will patiently wait until book two.

Even though there are several POV characters, most have depth and magnetism. I have a minor complaint about this read. The slang of the young protagonists was a personal annoyance. It's not overwhelming or inappropriate -- it just pulled me from the story. And maybe that's why it bothered me. Because this story is so good I resented losing focus.

As I read, I visualized how this would play out on a movie screen. My husband, who doesn't often read novels, picked "Outriders" off the nightstand and looked at the cover. He opened the cover and began to read. I didn't have to wrestle it from his hands, but I did have to ask him to give it to me. That alone is high praise.

The sweetness of the spiritual thread and the tenderness of budding love stories should appeal to those who don't normally like fantasy. Those who loved "Black", "Red" and "White" will find much to like in "Outriders." I recommend this book. I'm not sure when book two is coming, but it's not soon enough.

Thursday, February 09, 2006

Karen Ball's Shattered Justice~Reviewed

Shattered Justice
By Karen Ball
Published by Multnomah
ISBN 1-59052-413-6

What happens when justice fails the lawman?

Sanctuary, Oregon. A town where the local diner owner makes you drink you milk—no matter how old you are. Where juvenile delinquency means blowing up outhouses. Where folks not only know their neighbors, but care about them. For widowed sheriff's deputy Dan Justice, it's a place where he and his kids can heal and grow.

Shelby Wilson loves Sanctuary and her work with troubled teens. Teens like Jayce Dalton. Sure , he's as troubled as they come, but Shelby knows the new deputy is exactly what Jayce needs. She just doesn't expect that Dan might be what she's always needed, too.

But sleepy little Sanctuary has a dark side, steeped in pain and secrets. Secrets that could destroy everything Dan holds dear. Secrets that will one day have Dan groping through the fog toward a lifeless body—and faith-shattering grief.
Can Dan find sanctuary in the light of God's justice?

I'm not a reader of suspense, but after the first chapter of Shattered Justice, I was hooked. Karen Ball is one of the best writers I've read. The world she creates on paper becomes real, and I became invested in her characters' lives. The tension increased with the introduction of Jayce's friend, Marlin, who did not like Dan's interest in Jayce. I won't give away any endings, but the stakes got high, and I didn't want to know what was coming. Yet, I was unable to put the book down. I stayed up nearly all night reading.

In Shattered Justice, Ball takes her readers on an emotional roller coaster ride, and mine had been rung dry by the time it ended. I absolutely loved it!

Reviewed by Ane Mulligan

Diann Hunt's Hot Flashes and Cold Cream~Reviewed

Hot Flashes and Cold Cream
By Diann Hunt
Published by WestBow Press
ISBN 1-5955-4069-5

An eccentric best friend, a leaky Chihuahua, a teenager in trouble and a workaholic husband with a gorgeous new colleague. Those are the ingredients for Diann Hunt's wise and funny story about growing older with grace.

Midlife isn't a crisis for Maggie Hayden until the day a former classmate fails to recognize her—and her world starts to spin out of control. With an empty nest, a body that's heading south (generating heat waves all the way) and a marital spark that seems to be sputtering, she knows she has to do something. But what? Exercise? Romantic dinners? Herbal supplements? A job? She tries them all, with mixed success—but nothing seems to squelch that underlying worry that her best days are behind her.

Can Maggie come to terms with her new life and learn to trust what she cannot see? Can she reclaim her marriage and find a new sense of purpose? Can she discover a miracle cure for the aging process?

Well, two out of three ain't bad! And the fun of this particular journey is just the whipped cream on the double-shot mocha.

Diann Hunt uses humor and zany situations to make us laugh at aging. Maggie Hayden gets herself into one scrape after another with her misguided caring. Hunt drew me into this story so well, Maggie became real. I cared about her. So much that there were times I wanted to slap her. She drove me nuts with her inability to get a grip, yet I laughed all the way.

Besides having a wonderfully intriguing title, Hot Flashes and Cold Cream is a page-turner of a book. You can't wait to see what Maggie gets herself into next. Thanks you, Diann, for this hilarious romp through aging.

Reviewed by Ane Mulligan

Brenda Coulter's A Family Forever~Reviewed

A Family Forever
By Brenda Coulter
Published by Steeple Hill
ISBN 0-373-87358-1

When her fiance was killed just three weeks before their wedding, violinist Shelby Franklin's "happily ever after" dreams were shattered. The discovery of her unplanned pregnancy guaranteed those dreams would never be rebuilt.

Tall, husky cyclist Tucker Sharpe promised his dying brother he'd look after Shelby. When he learned there was a baby on the way, a marriage of convenience seemed his only option. But would love for the unborn child be enough to bring them—and keep them—together?

This book is more than a romance story. It delves deep into the psyche of a young woman physically abused as a child. Coulter presents a real and honest look at the fear these victims have of relationships. Shelby finds it difficult to trust and then to allow herself to be loved and to love in return.

Well written, A Family Forever is wonderful story, and Coulter an excellent story-teller. The ok is well paced and a page turner. I'm looking forward to her next book.

Reviewed by Ane Mulligan

Monday, February 06, 2006

Siri Mitchell's, Beyond the Sky ~ reviewed

Something Beyond the Sky
Siri Mitchell
Paperback, 303 pages
Publisher: Harvest House
ISBN: 0736916377

Reviewed by Cheryl Russell

Something Beyond the Sky follows the lives of four military wives stationed in the South at Bullard Air Force Base. Their unlikely friendships begin when all four sign up for the food committee of the Bullard Officers' Spouses Club.

Anne Bradley is a newlywed and a new college graduate in search of a job. Her degree in public relations isn't much help when prospective employers realize she's a military wife and she'll be around only a few years at best. She's also noticed people react in an odd way to her when they hear her name, but she can't figure out why.

Married to Kevin for seven years, Karen Bannister struggles with infertility. Her husband requested the transfer to the South to get them out of Utah and the questions that surround this childless Mormon couple. But the pressure to conceive is more than Karen can cope with and she begins a slide toward anorexia.

Beth Bennett is an Air Force Academy graduate. She resigned her commission to stay at home when her twins were born, a decision she now regrets. She feels guilty over her longing to return to work and questions her commitment to motherhood.

Rachel and pilot RJ Hawthorne couldn't have come from more different worlds. She is from old money and runs the family business. RJ grew up on a Montana ranch. Rachel thinks Tokyo is a perfect vacation spot, but RJ takes her camping in the Smokies instead.

But her wealth and power, which have served her well over the years, can't help when her marriage seems to disintegrate before her eyes.

There are a few bumps in the story. A few point of view switches are a little jarring, but not enough to jolt the reader out of the story. The large chunks of conversations between Anne, a Christian, and Karen, a Mormon, were a bit overwhelming at times. But Siri does a good job with Karen's struggle with her religion and the high cost it demands of those who leave.

Something Beyond the Sky is a good read for those who enjoy contemporary women's fiction.

Hochstetler's Native Son~Reviewed

Joan Hochstetler
ISBN 0-310-25256-3
368 Pages

Reviewed by Erin Valentine

Elizabeth Howard is a beautiful, strong-willed, and devoted patriot. Thanks to family ties with the British, she is uniquely able to spy for the Sons of Liberty. As a courier known only as Oriole, Elizabeth places her life in danger time and time again as she seeks information on munitions and troop movements. It is her heart, however, that is endangered when she meets Jonathan Carleton, a captain in the Seventeenth Light Dragoons and a respected member of the British Regulars. Will Carleton discover that the spy he seeks is, in fact, the woman he loves? Will Elizabeth be able to guard her heart as well as her secrets?

J.M. Hochstetler reminds me of my best history teachers; she delivers detailed, impressive information about the Revolutionary War in such an entertaining package that only when I finished the novel did I realize how much information I had absorbed.

Like Mel Gibson's film The Patriot, Hochstetler's presentation of the tensions and events leading to the war are gritty and realistic - no sanitized, textbook version here, folks. Characters on all sides of the issues are presented as complex human beings, torn amongst ties to their families, their land, and their king.

The novel's protagonist, Elizabeth, uses her charm and intelligence to spy on British officers, and despite the obvious acknowledgement that she is proud of her efforts and committed to the cause for freedom, she is deeply aware that the people on whom she spies are friends, many of them former neighbors who have known Elizabeth her entire life.

When Jonathan Carleton is billeted in her family's Boston town home, Elizabeth finds it increasingly difficult to deny her attraction for the man. They are equally matched in wit, character, and good looks, and she must finally acknowledge that he is the one man she could love. Of course, there is a little matter of his being the one who is assigned to discover and capture Oriole, the role Elizabeth created and assumes as she spies.

God's plan for our lives and how we follow it is an important theme in this book. Elizabeth is impetuous, taking chances that could leave herself and others in peril, but she loves the thrill of the chase. When one particular decision nearly ends with her capture and places Jonathan's life in jeopardy, she must finally accept the need to seek God's will in her life.

Daughter of Liberty is an exciting, well-crafted read. I thoroughly enjoyed the dance between Jonathan and Elizabeth as they fall in love, and I was fascinated by the historical information. The action moves quickly most of the time, slowing down a little during battle scenes, but never enough to lose my attention. I can recommend this particular effort to anyone, especially fans of Revolutionary history, who will find it remarkable.

Friday, February 03, 2006

F.P. Lione's, The Deuce ~ reviewed

The Deuce
By F.P. Lione
Publisher: Revell
ISBN: 0800759605

Reviewed by Dawn Burns

Tony Cavalucci has made it ten years with the NYPD. As a cop working 42nd Street, he’s seen just about everything there is to see. He’s cynical, sarcastic and has little compassion left for the human race. Alcohol has become his best friend and assists him in hiding his pain from the world. Depression and drinking are choking the life out of Tony, but he puts up a great fa├žade in front of his fellow cops. No one notices how desperate he really is for help.

No one, that is, until Joe Fiore is assigned as Tony’s new partner. Joe is everything that Tony is not. He’s a family man, a non-drinker, a Christian, and he has a clean mouth. He still sees the dregs of society as valuable human beings, which is baffling to Tony Cavalucci.

Fortunately for Tony, his partner also sees him as valuable. It’s not long before Joe notices the danger signs all around Tony and reaches out to him in an attempt to save his life.

This is just the beginning of one of the best cop stories I’ve ever read, Christian or secular. I won’t say much more for fear of giving the story away. It’s gritty and raw, showing the reality of daily life with the NYPD, on and off duty. The characters are deep and real and will not be easily forgotten.

Wednesday, February 01, 2006

C.S. Lakin's Someone to Blame ~ Reviewed

Someone to Blame: A Novel [Paperback]
C. S. Lakin
Paperback: 368 pages
Publisher: Zondervan (September 21, 2010)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 0310327393


In the wake of heartrending family tragedies, Matt and Irene Moore move with their fourteen-year-old daughter, Casey, to a small town. Their goal is to get far away from the daily reminders that leave each of them raw and guilt-ridden. Their hope is to find redemption, repair, and renewal. Instead, the threads that hold them together unravel even more. Breakers, a small community perched on the rocky coast of the Pacific Northwest, is draped with cold isolation that seems to mirror the hearts. As they settle into their new life, old grief settles with them. Matt is always on edge and easily angered, Irene is sad and pensive, and Casey is confused and defiant. They've once more set the stage for calamity. Into this mix comes Billy Thurber, a young drifter with his own conflicts, whose life unexpectedly entangles with the Moores'. His arrival in Breakers parallels a rash of hateful and senseless crimes, and soon the whole town -- eager for someone to blame -- goes after Thurber with murderous intent. Out of this dangerous chaos, however, the Moores find unexpected grace and healing in a most unlikely way. Author C. S. Lakin explores our need to assign reason and fix blame for the pain and grief in our lives. Though the circumstances are fictional, the emotions are real and universal, making Someone to Blame a great and inspiring read.


Don't judge a book by its cover or title, truly, I've learned this about Someone to Blame which is bland on both counts. The plot line also seems overwhelmingly depressing. But since the book arrived at my house for a potential review, and when people send me books I at least crack the cover and read the first page, I felt I had to give it a chance. Within a few paragraphs I was hooked. What a fascinating study of characters, impressions, interpretations and the art of judging. Lakin writes compellingly. The characters are raw and realistic, descriptions are sense-rich, and the story is one that should make the reader stop and consider that there are indeed multiple sides to every story and every event, and even more motivations. The subject matter is heavy. This is not your escapist beach read. But it is a very well written, thought challenging story. This will not be my last Lakin novel.

Reviewed by: Kelly Klepfer

Bonus Review:

Someone to Blame is an unforgettable story that brought me to tears, invoked my anger, soothed my soul and put CS Lakin on my must read list. The Moores are a family attempting to cope with unspeakable tragedy and battling the insidious grip of guilt, anger and fear and CS Lakin's prose bleeds these emotions from the page leaving you breathless. Perfect pacing and delayed revelations made this a gripping read as each character explores their anguish and the mystery unfolds. The underlying challenge to extend grace and grasp forgiveness is sensitively woven into the fabric of the story and, as in life, rarely is anything as it seems. Someone to Blame is both powerful and sublime, a story that may just change the way you think of others.

Reviewed by: Rel Mollet