23 February 2016

Review: Cold Shot by Dani Pettrey

Amazon Description


Four Best Friends.
And Then One Went Missing . . .

In college, Griffin McCray and his three best friends had their lives planned out. Griffin and Luke Gallagher would join the Baltimore Police Department, Declan Grey would head to the FBI, and Parker Mitchell would study to become a crime scene analyst. But then Luke vanished before graduation and their world--and friendships--crumbled.

Now years later, Griffin has left the police and his friendships behind. Still trying to forget a case that went bad when he was a SWAT team sniper, he's living a quiet life as a park ranger at Gettysburg. Quiet until skeletal remains are uncovered near Little Round Top--and they aren't Civil War-era.

Griffin just wants the case to go away, but charming forensic anthropologist Finley Scott discovers evidence pointing to the work of an expert sniper. When FBI agent Declan Grey steps in to take over the case, past and present collide. Griffin soon realizes he'll need to confront some of the darkest days of his life if he--and those he cares about--are going to escape a downward spiral of crime, danger, and murder.

My Review

The writing, plot and characters in Cold Shot were all solid, but it felt as if the story was trying to achieve too much, trying to bring in too much history (which is alluded to in the Amazon description, but an ebook doesn’t have a back cover, so it wasn’t so obvious). The story and characters felt a little forced at times, as though the author was trying to hide then reveal the history connecting the main characters. I found it difficult to place where the novel was set at first—I guess most Americans know where Gettysburg is, but not all Christian fiction readers are American.

It also felt as though there were too many characters—most romantic suspense novels have the hero and heroine, plus a couple of related men or women who are being set up to lead in future novels in the series. This was the case, but there were too many additional characters—not just the four college friends, but others as well. It felt as though the story had moved from Griffin and Finley to focussing on other characters, including one off-stage ‘missing’ character (which was a too-obvious set-up for a future book).

The overabundance of characters combined with the complex plot meant the novel lost focus. It wasn’t bad: I simply didn’t enjoy it as much as I enjoyed the books in her earlier Alaskan Courage series.

Thanks to Bethany House Publishers and NetGalley for providing a free ebook for review.

18 February 2016

Review: Mystery at the Hot Pond by David DeVowe


Book Description

IT WAS THE LAST DAY OF OUR LIVES, AS WE KNEW IT.

Very little had changed at Stoney Creek for eleven-year-old Arthur (Shoe) Makinen until MaryAnne DuPree upset his school year in 1924. Shoe discovers evidence that a double drowning at the sawmill may have been murder. MaryAnne’s faith is a mystery to Shoe as he suspects MaryAnne is intertwined in the investigation. What is she doing here? Was it an accident or murder? Will life ever be the same?

My Review

Mystery at the Hot Pond is an enjoyable middle grade adventure story, set in the 1920’s in the small mill town of Stoney Creek. The story is narrated by Shoe, an engaging child who doesn’t like change but does enjoy a good puzzle.

These two things combine in Mystery at the Hot Pond, when Shoe’s pleasant life is disrupted by MaryAnne, the new girl in school, and a mystery at the mill where his father works, and which involves MaryAnne’s father. Neither Shoe nor MaryAnne expect to get mixed up in this, but their uncanny knack of being in the wrong place at the right time (or is that the right place at the wrong time?) means they become key to solving the mystery.

I found the beginning a little slow, as it was more around Shoe’s conflict with MaryAnne than the promised mystery, but once the story got going it was a good read, sure to appeal to young readers (the writing was definitely more suited to younger readers than a more sophisticated teen audience). I especially liked the way the author wove the Christian themes into the plot.

Thanks to the author for providing a free ebook for review.

16 February 2016

Review: Until the Dawn by Elizabeth Camden

Pure in Heart


Amazon Description

Fascinated by Dierenpark, an abandoned mansion high atop a windswept cliff in the Hudson River Valley, Sophie van Riijn sees no harm in setting up a rooftop weather station for her work with the newly established Weather Bureau. While the villagers are suspicious of the mysterious estate and its tragic history, Sophie has come to see it as her own enchanted piece of paradise.

The first Vandermark to return to the area in sixty years, Quentin intends to put an end to the shadowy rumors about the property that has brought nothing but trouble upon his family. Ready to tear down the mansion, he is furious to discover Sophie trespassing on his land.

Instantly at odds, Quentin and Sophie yet find common ground when she is the only one who can reach his troubled son. There's a light within Sophie that Quentin has never known, and a small spark of the hope that left him years ago begins to grow. But when the secrets of Dierenpark can no longer be kept in the past, will tragedy triumph or can their tenuous hope prevail?

My Review

I'm a big fan of Elizabeth Camden’s historical fiction. The characters are strong, intelligent men and women. They all have a romantic element, but it’s never an easy road for the hero and heroine. The research and the writing are always excellent (in fact, in terms of the writing, I think Until the Dawn is the best yet). And there’s plenty of conflict to keep the plot moving.

There’s certainly plenty of conflict in Until the Dawn: Dierenpark is owned by Quentin’s family, but Sophie treats it as her own—and isn’t pleased when she learns of Quentin’s plan to destroy the historic mansion. And Sophie is a committed Christian while Quentin is an atheist, refusing to believe in anything he can’t experience with his own senses. But he and Sophie bond over science and over Quentin’s son.

Quentin considers Sophie to be too sunny, too cheerful, to have any conception of what the world is really like. I’ve met people like Sophie, and it’s tempting to consider them na├»ve, but Until the Dawn got me thinking. Sophie is “pure in heart”, and sees the world through that veil rather than through a veil of cynicism. This got me wondering how I see the world, and I have to admit it’s more likely to be through Quentin’s veil of cynicism than Sophie’s purity. It’s a challenge, to consciously decide how we are going to see the world, to actively try to see through a pure heart, to see God. To walk with God.

Recommended.

Thanks to Baker Publishing and NetGalley for providing a free ebook for review.

13 February 2016

Review: The Newsmakers by Liz Wiehl

Amazon Description

TV reporter Erica Sparks has become a superstar overnight. But is it due to her hard work and talent? Or is she at the center of a spiraling conspiracy?

Erica Sparks is a beautiful and ambitious reporter who has just landed her dream job at Global News Network in New York. And while it was hard to leave Jenny, her cherished eight-year-old daughter, in the custody of her ex-husband, Erica is determined to succeed in the cutthroat world of big-time broadcasting. She can only hope her troubled past won’t come back to sabotage her dreams.

Although the wounds from her divorce are still fresh, Erica can’t deny the chemistry between her and her new producer, the handsome and empathic Greg Underwood. But a relationship is the last thing she wants right now.

On her very first assignment, Erica inadvertently witnesses—and films—a horrific tragedy, scooping all the other networks. Mere weeks later, another tragedy strikes – again, right in front of Erica and her cameras.

Her career skyrockets overnight, but Erica is troubled. Deeply. This can’t just be coincidence. But what is it?

Erica will stop at nothing to uncover the truth. But she has to make sure disaster—and her troubled past—don’t catch up with her first.

My Review

While The Newsmakers is published by Thomas Nelson, a division of HarperCollins Christian Publishing, I wouldn’t classify it as Christian fiction. None of the characters have any faith, there is no underlying Christian theme, there is one oblique sexual reference, and it’s obvious the heroine has no issues with sleeping with someone she’s not married to. Having said all that, it’s still “clean”, but definitely on the edge of what I normally see in Christian fiction. I’m not a fan of the term “clean” as a description for fiction without sex—it implies sex is dirty, which isn’t how God intended it. However, alternative labels such as family-friendly or wholesome also don’t apply to The Newsmakers, which has violence and adult themes I wouldn’t recommend to children.

The Newsmakers is mostly told from the viewpoint of Erica Sparks, the damaged reporter who is given the opportunity of a lifetime with her recruitment to Global News Network. GNN is the newest kid on the cable news block, established by social media mogul Nylan Hastings. Erica is a recovering alcoholic who lost custody of her daughter in her divorce, so she’s got something to prove, and something to hide.

The story gets going quickly, and the pace barely slows down throughout as Erica both chases the news and tries to prevent becoming a part of it. Someone is after her, but she’s not sure if it’s a jealous colleague out to make her feel out of place in her new role, or something more serious . . .

I guessed the identity of the evildoer pretty early on, which turned The Newsmakers from a thrilling suspense novel to a more sedentary tale of when-will-she-work-out-the-obvious (and I suspect anyone else who watches James Bond movies will draw the same conclusion I did). I also found the writing style of third person present tense made for uneven pacing. The action scenes were fine, but Erica’s interior monologue was jerky and pulled me out of the story and overshadowed otherwise excellent writing.

But the final line more than made up for any stylistic shortcomings, as they promise a sequel even more exciting! Recommended for suspense fans looking for a good story without any overt sex or violence.

Thanks to Thomas Nelson and NetGalley for providing a free ebook for review.

11 February 2016

Review: Kissed by a Cowboy by Debra Clopton


Fun Cowboy Romance

I’ve read and enjoyed all three of the books in the Four of Hearts Ranch series, but I think this was my favourite. I thought the first two books (especially the second, Counting on a Cowboy) spent too much time introducing and getting to know the townsfolk, at the expense of the central romance plot. While Kissed by a Cowboy still had some focus on the older folk in town—particularly Rand and Pebble—it wasn’t so much that it detracted from Cass and Jarrod’s story. In fact, parts of it linked to Cass and Jarrod . . .

If there was a flaw with Kissed by a Cowboy, it was probably that Jarrod was a little too perfect. He’s spent the last eight years regretting that he ran from Cassidy, and he’s thrown himself into the ranch to compensate. Now he’s got rustlers on the ranch and seems to work about twenty hours a day managing the ranch, saving neglected horses, searching for the rustlers and his volunteer job as the Wishing Springs fire chief, but still has time to do a good deed or three for his new neighbour, Cass. But who’s going to begrudge anyone their fantasy cowboy? The closest he came to a fault was being a little impatient to develop a romance with Cass, but in his defence, he’s finally got the opportunity after eight long years.

Cassidy is a little more complex. She raced into a rebound marriage with a man who turned out to be a serial adulterer, and now she’s convinced she’s never going to trust any man with her heart. Especially not with her family history of failure in marriage. While I could understand her viewpoint, there was also a little frustration with it: this is a romance, which means they need to get together, and they can’t if she doesn’t change her mind! But that’s good frustration.

Overall I really enjoyed Kissed by a Cowboy—the plot, the characters, and especially the strong writing with flashes of brilliant humour. Recommended for those who love cowboys with their contemporary romance.

Thanks to Thomas Nelson and NetGalley for providing a free ebook for review.

9 February 2016

ARCBA Review: Next of Kin by Carol Preston


7 - 11 February
is introducing

Next of Kin
(Rhiza Press, May 2015)

Carol Preston


About the Book:
Fanny Franks was raised to believe in honesty, equality and acceptance, regardless of background or circumstances. When she meets brothers Jack and Jim, she is drawm to them by the alienation and injustice which seems to pervade their lives. She is determined to intervene and help them find happiness, until a trauma in her own life brings discrimination and shame for which she is ill prepared. While she deals with her own struggle she comes to understand what Jim and Jack are going through - and they find where they truly belong.
About the Author

Carol lives in Wollongong with her husband, Neil. She is a psychologist and has a part time private counselling practice, as well as being an author and speaker. Carol enjoys spending time with her children and four grandchildren, as well as bushwalking, gardening and holidaying overseas with her husband. One of her hobbies over many years has been family history research. 


It was this research which started Carol on the journey of writing novels. Her first trilogy is about the Oakes Family; Suzannah’s Gold, Rebecca’s Dream and The Price of Peace, which takes the reader from 1838 when her great great grandmother, Suzannah Casey was transported from Ireland, through to the end of the First World War. Carol’s fourth novel, The Face of Forgiveness, is about two young women who are transported to Australia in 1839. 

Carol has also written the Turning the Tide Series, based on her mother’s family, which begins with the First Fleet of convicts to Australia in 1788. These include Mary’s Guardian, Charlotte’s Angel, Tangled Secrets, and Truly Free. Next of Kin is her ninth novel. For more information about Carol’s books and her other interests she can be contacted on her website: www.carolpreston.com.au, on her Facebook author page: www.facebook.com/writingtoreach or her Amazon author page: www.amazon.com/author/carolpreston

My Review

Next of Kin is another of Carol Preston’s historical novels set in the early days of Australia. She covered the convicts in her first books, then moved onto the early free settlers and their relationships with the freed convicts. With Next of Kin, she moves further forward again, to an Australia that is attracting more and more immigration … not all of it desirable.

Her storytelling and writing continue to improve, and while I’d like to say this is her best yet, I’ve already read the sequel and it was even better. So I’ll settle for saying Next of Kin is Carol’s best work to date. There is plenty of issues and conflict, and excellent characters. Well done.

Next of Kin is available via Amazon (Next of Kin) and Light The Dark (Next of Kin).

5 February 2016

Friday Fifteen: Marji Lane

Today I'm pleased to introduce suspense author Marji Lane, a fellow reviewer at Suspense Sisters Reviews. Marji is sharing her fifteen favourite authors, and it should be no surprise to learn she has a soft spot for suspense authors. Welcome, Marji!

I can definitely share my favorite 15 authors!

Suspense:

Jodie Bailey

I've only read one of her Love Inspired Suspense stories, but I loved it!

Patricia Bradley 

Patricia as a talent for unexpected twists!

Margaret Daley 

I love the action in her suspense stories!

Lynette Eason 

I don't know how she creates the twists that she does, but they are outstanding!



Elizabeth Goddard 

Whether it's suspense or romance, this lady can write!

Irene Hannon 

I've read a few of her most recent books! They certainly don't let me sleep!

Nancy Mehl 

Her Sanctuary series is full of such hope, and I love the suspense she packs into her stories.

Dana Mentink 

I get so excited when she has a new book coming out! I can always count on a story that I'm going to love!

Dani Pettrey 

I've read everyone of her books and loved all of them! My go-to for great suspense and romance!

Mystery:

Cynthia Hickey 

Not only does she spin an exceptional mystery, she makes me laugh.


Sandra Orchard 

Her mystery/suspense books are riveting!

Historical:

Sandra Ardoin 

Her latest holds the top spot in my all-time favorite list!


Margaret Brownley 

Her historical mysteries can completely throw me! Love the twists!

Patricia PacJac Carroll 

Talk about laughs! writes western romance novellas, clean, but with some crazy antics!


Fantasy:

Jackie Castle 

Writes young adult fantasy, but in the realm of Lord of the Rings or The Chronicles of Narnia. And with the same epic effects!


Marji is about to release the third book in her Grime Fighter Novella series, which I'll be reviewing in the next few weeks. Meanwhile, here's a bit about the book:

About Grime Spree


Shadows from her past have haunted Dani’s dreams for months. Now, however, the ghosts are real and bringing a trail of death and destruction.

What begins as a romantic evening, the first in far too long, collapses into yet another crime scene. However, this one has someone involved who is familiar to Dani. Too familiar.

And worse, he recognizes her.

Jay’s new promotion has increased his working hours considerably, as well as interrupted and cancelled more than one date with Dani. His attempt to make it up to her at one of the nicest restaurants in the area backfires when the place is robbed.

But the biggest problem is that Dani seems to be in on the crime.

About Marji Lane

Marji Laine writes what she loves to read—mysteries, suspense, and romance with characters relying on an authentic faith in God to carry them through treachery, betrayal, and impossible circumstances.

A Home schooling mom of four, she has two still left in the nest. She coordinates high school subjects at a large co-op while teaching writing, psychology, and government classes. She also manages the co-op’s website, directs a children’s choir at her church, and is the senior reviewer at Suspense Sisters.

When not writing, she loves game night with the family, crocheting in front of a NASCAR race or Texas Ranger baseball game, or scrapbooking along with a Hallmark movie and her black Labrador mix at her feet.

4 February 2016

Review: Love Blossoms Box Set

Seven Lovely Novellas


From Amazon:


Seven contemporary Christian romances for your springtime reading pleasure from your favorite authors:


A Handful of Flowers (The Callaghans & McFaddens Book 1) by Kimberly Rae Jordan

They had a deal. She’d watch his kids, and he’d do the repairs on her aging home. Neither wanted anything more, but sometimes God has a different plan.

The Bridesmaid’s Hero (A Snowgum Creek Novella) by Narelle Atkins

Serena Blaxland’s job at her parents’ B&B in Snowgum Creek, Australia, is only temporary. Sparks fly when hire car driver Harry Westmore saves the beautiful pastry chef from disrupting her sister’s wedding day, but the opportunity of a lifetime threatens to push them apart. Can Harry and Serena’s love and faith overcome the obstacles in their path?

A Lesson in Love (The Macleans Book 3) by Autumn MacArthur

Love can make life complicated! Sports teachers Fraser Maclean and Sarah Browne have worked together all year, but when a garden project for their church brings them together outside of school, everything changes. Can they learn God’s lessons in love, or will secrets and fear keep them apart?

Spring at the Barncastle by Lynette Sowell

After a career disaster, Sadie Barncastle finds herself in rural Vermont, starting over and opening up a shop at the family inn. She meets up with an old friend from childhood, Peter Appleman, a widower next door with a precocious daughter. But Sadie's not sure if life in the Green Mountains is for her and feels the call of Boston drawing her. Peter, however, is drawn to Sadie but isn't quite sure if he's ready to move on yet. As Easter approaches, a time of forgiveness, restoration, and joy, the two realize that it's also a time for new beginnings, but does that include with each other?

Walk You There (Savannah Sweethearts Book 5) by Jan Thompson

A local tour guide who makes a living off Savannah history goes to battle against an award-winning developer who wants to demolish the old city block she lives in.

A Match for Magnolia (Seven Suitors for Seven Sisters Book 1) by Marion Ueckermann

Magnolia Blume’s life is perfect, except for one thing—Davis Rathbone is everything she’s not looking for in a man.

Spring Break (Seasons of the Heart Novella Series) by Susette Williams

Kelly Sanders volunteers at an orphanage and loves working with children—even if they can be a bit mischievous at times. Marc Stevenson is used to fighting fires, not rescuing damsels in distress out of trees. He thinks Kelly would be perfect for him, except for that one flaw. How does a man, with visions of children, fill a nest that’s sure to be empty if he spends it with the woman he loves? 
Will some munchkins playing matchmaker be able to bring Kelly and Marc together? Or will love’s ember never have the chance to be ignited?

My Review

Okay, I’m slow. I’d wondered why this box set was called Love Blossoms. There was the obvious: that each of the stories has a flower or garden theme. But I’ve only just realised that it’s also around spring blossoms, because it’s coming into spring in the Northern Hemisphere. Duh. It’s high summer here. Spring is almost a year away.

Anyway, onto the stories.

Several of the novellas were part of a series, although all were effective standalone stories (although after reading them, you might just want to check out more in the series).

I think my favourite story was A Lesson in Love. It’s the third Autumn MacArthur novella I’ve read, and her writing is getting better and better. I loved the way she dealt with a sensitive topic, and the way both her characters had a strong Christian faith and allowed God to speak to them.

The Bridesmaid’s Hero was a fun Aussie story from Narelle Atkins (although I come from a snake-free country so could have done without that opening!) with two characters who have to decide if their attraction and common faith is enough to overcome the obstacles in their way.

A Match for Magnolia was a lot of fun, especially the idea of seven daughters all named after flowers. This looks like being a fun series, as does the oversized modern Brady Bunch introduced in A Handful of Flowers. Spring at the Barncastle was a sweet romance set on a maple syrup farm (I would have liked a taste!), and Walk You There was the perfect combination of sweet and bittersweet. Finally, Spring Break: a lovely story, and my only complaint with Spring Break was that it was all over too quickly.

Overall, an enjoyable set of romance novellas, perfect for long summer days (or long winter nights).

Thanks to the authors for providing a free ebook for review.