31 August 2012

New Releases: September

Westward Hearts by Melody Carlson 

Kentucky, 1854—Elizabeth Martin has mourned her husband’s death for three years, but now she feels ready to fulfill the dream they had shared—to take their two children west. The little party travels from Kentucky to Kansas City, where they join a substantial wagon train. Elizabeth soon finds herself being drawn to the group’s handsome guide, Eli Kincade. The long journey and deepening relationships challenge the travelers to their core, and Eli’s mysterious past leaves Elizabeth with more questions than answers. She knows there’s no turning back, but she wonders, What have I gotten myself into?

The Villa by Ben Rolphe (Book Three in series)

Mattie Branson is nineteen and completing her first year of studies at a Bible college. Two of her closest friends have been called to spend two months assisting a woman missionary in Guatemala, a most dangerous and dark place. Hernado Banderas is the CEO of a major import-exporting company but has been abusing his position by smuggling drugs into the United States. As a result of the pressures being applied by the Columbian drug cartels, he feels forced to make the decision to engage in the 'human trafficking' trade. Once again, evil attacks. The wicked ways of man play out in a story that will test the faith of those involved.

Two Destinies by Elizabeth Mussler (Book Three in series)

Now 1994, France faces unrest and rising poverty while neighbor Algeria is in the midst of a blood civil war. Risléne Namani, a French woman born to Algerian parents, converts to Christianity and falls in love with Eric Hoffmann, a Christian, committing the unpardonable sin in the eyes of her Muslim family. Eric must find a way to rescue her—from a forced marriage in Algeria, or even death. A powerful, relevant tale of social struggle, heartache, cultural conflict, and faith put to the ultimate test.

Trinity: Military War Dog by Ronie Kendig (reviewed)

A year ago in Afghanistan, Green Beret Heath Daniel’s career was destroyed. Along with his faith. Now he and his military war dog, Trinity, train other dogs and their handlers. Though his passion is to be back in action, the medical discharge has forced Heath—and Trinity—to the sidelines. Military intelligence officer Darci Kintz is captured while secretly tracking the Taliban. Only one dog can handle the extreme conditions to save her. Trinity. Only one man can handle Trinity. Time is running out on the greatest—and most dangerous—mission of their lives.

Tangled Secrets by Carol Preston (to be reviewed)

In tragic circumstances Beth and her brothers are left in England to grow up without their parents. When Beth's childhood dream to be reunited with her father in Australia finally eventuates she finds that dreams do not always come true. The reality she faces is a tangled web of disappointment, deceit and mistakes. Will she ever find true love? And will she discover she doesn't have to be alone before it is too late? Set in the early colonial days of New South Wales and based on real characters in the mid 1800s.

Shattered Silence by Margaret Daley (to be reviewed)

A serial killer is targeting illegal aliens in southern Texas. Texas Ranger Cody Jackson is paired with a local police officer, Liliana Rodriguez, to investigate the murders. While the case brings Cody and Liliana ever closer, the tension between Americans and Mexican Americans heightens. As Cody and Liliana race to discover who is behind the murders and bring peace to the area, what they uncover isn’t what they expected. Will Cody and Liliana’s faith and love be strong enough to survive the storm of violence?

Sandwich, with a Side of Romance by Krista Phillips (to be reviewed)

Sandwich represents hope for twenty-year-old Maddie Buckner and Kyle, the eleven-year-old brother Maddie wants to spring out of foster care. Then she loses her new job after less than an hour on the clock. It’s all Reuben-the-Jerk’s fault, and she’s determined to make him right the wrong. He does so, reluctantly, by giving her a job at his restaurant, The Sandwich Shop. Then crazy things start happening at the restaurant, and Kyle’s foster parents apply to adopt him. To stop it all, Maddie must learn the art of humbling herself and accepting the help God has arranged, risking her heart to Reuben in the process. And she’d rather eat a million corned-beef on rye sandwiches than do that.

The Reunion by Dan Walsh (to be reviewed)

Aaron Miller was an old, worn-out Vietnam vet, a handyman in a trailer park. Forty years prior, he saved the lives of three young men in the field only to come home from the war and lose everything. But God is a master at finding and redeeming the lost things of life. Aaron is about to be found. And the one who finds him just might find the love of his life as well. Expert storyteller Dan Walsh pens a new tale filled with the things his fans have come to love--forgiveness, redemption, love, and that certain bittersweet quality that few authors ever truly master.

Love's Reckoning by Laura Frantz

On a bitter December day in 1785, Silas Ballantyne arrives at the door of master blacksmith Liege Lee in York, Pennsylvania. Just months from becoming a master blacksmith himself, Silas is determined to finish his apprenticeship and move west. But Liege soon discovers that Silas is a prodigious worker and craftsman and endeavors to keep him in Lancaster. Silas becomes interested in both of Liege's daughters, the gentle and faith-filled Eden and the clever and high-spirited Elspeth. When he chooses one, will the other's jealousy destroy their love?

The Love of Divena by Kay Marshall Strom (Book Three in series)

India 1990. In the final book of the Blessings of India series, Shridula, old and stooped at fifty-nine, makes her painful way to pay homage to the elephant god Ganesh, lord of success and destroyer of evils and obstacles. “Why are we Hindus instead of Christians?” her seventeen-year-old granddaughter Divena asked. “Because we are Indian,” said Shridula. So begins a spiritual journey for Divena as she struggles against an entire culture to proclaim a faith close to her heart while rocking the world of two families.

A Hidden Truth by Judith Miller (Amana series)

When Karlina Richter discovers that a new shepherd will be sent to her village, she fears she'll no longer be allowed to help her father with the sheep. She'll be relegated back to kitchen work, stuck inside all day. Her fears increase when the new shepherd shows little interest in the flock--or in divulging why he's suddenly been sent to East. Is he keeping secrets that will impact Karlina's family? Dovie Cates visits the Amana Colonies to learn more about the place where her mother grew up. But when Dovie begins to ask questions about her mother's past, no one seems willing to reveal anything, so she decides to take matters into her own hands.

A Heartbeat Away by Harry Kraus

Surgeon Tori Taylor rules the operating room with a precision that makes residents feel faint, nurses cower, and colleagues take notes. But even with the honor of being a respected surgeon, Tori finds herself alone in her moment of desperation—dying on her own operating table. She needs a heart transplant, but what she receives is far more than a donor organ. Tori discovers that memories are surfacing in her mind that are not her own. As her ordered life grows more and more chaotic, Tori’s new heart begins to melt her icy walls from the inside out. This new heart of flesh is transforming her heart of stone, and there’s no going back.

At Every Turn by Anne Mateer

Caught up in a whirlwind of religious fervor when two missionaries speak at her church, Alyce Benson impetuously pledges three thousand dollars to mission work in Africa. It's 1916, and the latest advancements in car engines allow some to post speeds upwards of seventy miles per hour! When she discovers her father's company has sponsored a racing car that will compete in several upcoming events, she conspires with her father's mechanic, Webster, to secretly train and compete. Will Alyce come up with the money in time, or will she have to choose between her promise and the man who holds a piece of her heart?

Amish White Christmas Pie by Wanda Brunstetter

Step into Amish country for this bittersweet holiday romance. Here you ll meet Will Henderson, a young man tortured by his past, and Karen Yoder, a young woman looking for answers. Add a desperate father searching for his son, and you have all the ingredients for a first-class romance that will inspire and enthrall.

The 13: Fall by Robbie Cheuvront and Erik Reed (to be reviewed)

Join CIA operative Jonathan Keene in a battle against America’s greatest enemy. Although initially investigating the disappearance of border agents along the US/Mexico border, Keene soon discovers another enemy waiting right at America’s doorstep. This enemy is swift—with sights set on something more precious than gold. As the US is pushed into a situation it hasn’t seen since its inception, Keene is forced to face a past he’d rather leave buried. Can Keene—and America—survive?

Healing Love by Laura Hilton (Book One of series)

Life gets a lot harder for Amish midwife Kristi Lapp when a buggy wreck lands her in the hospital and leaves her with a pronounced limp. Shane Zimmerman moved to Seymour for a fresh start. The veterinarian is still reeling from the loss of his young wife, who died in childbirth. Shane isn’t Amish, although his grandparents were, and Ira Lapp would rather his daughter marry an aging Amish widower than a young Englischer. Kristi and Shane can’t deny the strong attraction between them, So their on–again, off–again relationship persists. But will they find a way to stay together? Or are their differences too divisive to resolve?

Sneak by Evan Angler (Book Two in series, Young Adult)

Logan Langly went in to get his Mark, but he backed out at the last minute. Now he's on the run from government agents who will stop at nothing to capture him. Logan and his friends discover a vast network of the Unmarked, who help them travel safely. Along the way, the Dust receives some startling information from the Markless community, opening their eyes to the message of Christianity and warning that humanity is now entering the End of Days. Can Logan even sacrifice his own freedom, choosing to act through faith alone?

Material Witness by Vanetta Chapman (to be reviewed)

Tragedy strikes on the opening night of the Fall Crafters Fair when a woman is killed in the parking lot of Daisy's Quilt Shop, and the only material witness is one of Melinda Byer's boys. The investigation takes a more bizarre turn when detective Shane Black becomes convinced the killer was actually after Callie. This time it's a madman loose in the largest crowd of the year, and he's looking for something or someone. Masked identities, antique quilts with hidden messages, an Amish boy whose handicap makes him stronger, one brave dog, and a possible hidden treasure ... this time it's nonstop action, danger, and a dash of romance.

Sadie's Montana series by Linda Byler

The Miller family’s move from Ohio to Montana was, for the most part, uneventful, except that Sadie Miller had to leave her beloved horse, the palomino named Paris. Still, she likes the Montana snows and her job at Aspen East Ranch serving the ranch hands. Unexpectedly, Ezra appears, the man who seems to be perfect in every way and fully intends to marry Sadie. But does she love him back? And who is this fascinating Mark, who helps rescue a dying horse and shows up at the Amish hymn-sing though he is English? Why can’t she get his dark eyes and tall stature out of her mind?

There’s horse trouble in Montana again. Only this time, horses aren’t being stolen, they’re being shot. Still, Sadie rides, despite daily warnings from Dorothy down in the kitchen of Aspen East Ranch. But Sadie’s getting used to ignoring Dorothy’s advice. Sadie’s heart is set on Mark even though Dorothy tells her to steer clear after he ditches her in the middle of their first date. Mark, on the other hand, finds it hard to tell Sadie the secrets of his past. As Sadie’s world spins out of control, her palomino, Paris, remains her sole confidant. But does Sadie put Paris in danger every time they go riding? Or, together, can they discover who these mysterious snipers are?

Her Amish Man by Erin Bates

Because Leah McKenzie’s mother was “shunned” for marrying an outsider, Leah has never known her Amish relatives. Then she is framed for a murder she didn’t commit, and she needs somewhere to hide until she can clear her name. Confident no one would think to search for her in an Amish community, she heads for her grandmother’s home in Illinois. A safe haven is all Leah is looking for, but she soon finds herself entranced by the simplicity of the old-fashioned lifestyle. What she doesn’t expect is to find a man there who stirs her heart.

Found by Shelley Shepherd Gray (Book Three in series)

As the search for Perry Borntrager's killer continues, Jacob Schrock feels like his world is about to crumble. He's good at keeping secrets—including his love for Deborah, Perry's sister. But when Deborah takes a job at his family's store and their friendship blossoms, Jacob senses everything is about to be revealed. Deborah has been searching for a slice of happiness ever since her brother's body was discovered. Will she believe what everyone seems to think is the truth . . . or listen to her heart, and hope there is still one more person who is keeping secrets in Crittenden County?

Christmas at Holly Hill by Martha Rogers

It is October 1898, and Clayton Barlow has just returned home after serving time in prison for his part in a bank robbery. His family welcomes him, but the townspeople are skeptical. Bored with life in the small town but determined to make a new start, he goes to work with his father, hoping to regain the town’s trust. Clayton recognizes the schoolteacher at the Prairie Grove School as his childhood friend, Merry Lee Warner, and old feelings surface. Still, he doubts that he could ever get a woman like Merry to love him. As the townspeople prepare for Christmas, their suspicions about Clayton lead to trouble. Will the trusting heart of an unlikely new friend be enough to restore Clayton’s relationships with his neighbors and reunite him with God and Merry?

The Roman, The Twelve and The King by Jenny L Cote (Children's Fiction)

In 1735 London, composer George Friedric Handel is upsettingly passed over by the King of England for the most important musical post in the world. In order to inspire Handel, the Order of the Seven revisits the life of Christ, following Jesus and his twelve disciples through the joy and controversy of Jesus’ ministry leading up to the Passion. The Enemy tried to prevent Messiah’s birth – now he will stop at nothing to ensure his death through the Pharisees, Herod, Pilate and Judas. But everything becomes clear as to why the Cross is the Divine Plan all along.

To Write a Wrong by Robin Carroll

In Angola State Penitentiary, a man is serving time for a crime he didn’t commit. Riley Baxter is an eager reporter desperate for a story to make a name for herself. Hayden Simpson has his hands full with keeping his little sister in line, worrying about his job as Police Commissioner, and dealing with his past emotional baggage. The last thing he needs is someone blowing the lid off his emotional bucket. But when Riley Baxter storms into his life, and they must work together to uncover the truth of the past . . . before someone shuts Riley up for good.

The Girl in the Glass by Susan Meissner

Since she was a child, Meg has dreamed of taking a promised trip to Florence, Italy.
When her dad finally tells Meg to book the trip, she prays that the experience will heal the fissures left on her life by her parents’ divorce. In Florence, Sophia Borelli introduces Meg to the rich beauty of the ancient city. Sofia claims that a long-ago Medici princess, Nora Orsini, communicates with her from within the great Renaissance masterpieces. Sophia, Meg, and Nora each must answer the question: What if renaissance isn’t just a word? What if that’s what happens when you dare to believe that what is isn’t what has to be?

The Bridge by Karen Kingsbury

Molly Allen lives alone in Portland, but her heart is back in Franklin, Tennessee, where five years ago she walked away from a man she cannot forget, a rare sort of love she hasn’t found since. Ryan Kelly lives in Franklin and spends plenty of time at The Bridge—the oldest bookstore in historic downtown Franklin—remembering the long hours he and Kelly once spent there. Now, Ryan and Molly’s favorite bookstore is in trouble. And in the face of tragedy, miracles begin to unfold.

The Brink of Chaos by Tim LaHaye and Craig Parshall

In the third book of The End series, Joshua Jordan remains in Israel during his self-imposed 'exile' out of the reach of U.S. authorities who have trumped-up false criminal treason charges against him. Following the nuclear attack by Russia, Israel is cleaning up the bodies of dead enemy soldiers for 7 months and setting out on its 7 year plan---both per the prophecies in Ezekiel. Are the recurring dreams Joshua has had about the coming rapture from God. And is the end sooner than anyone expects?

The Blue Door by Christa Kinde (to be reviewed) (Young Adult)

ZonderKidz launches an exciting supernatural series for kids 11 and up. The Blue Door, the first book in The Threshold Series, introduces Prissie Pomeroy, a teen who discovers she can see what others cannot: angels all around. Even more startling is the surprising secret she uncovers about people she thought she knew. As she wrestles with this unexpected ability she must come to grips with the spiritual battles surrounding her. Especially when she learns she received this gift because God has a unique role for her in his bigger plan. But if she's to fulfill it, she'll need faith like never before.

Apostle Islands by Tommy Zurhellen

Apostle Islands is the sequel to the story of the modern Messiah begun in Nazareth, North Dakota, and picks up Sam's story as he emerges from forty days and nights in the North Dakotan Badlands. Supported by his loyal band of rough-and-ready bikers, Sam struggles to find his way and fulfill his mission on the shores of Lake Superior. His popularity spreads as he saves wedding receptions and cures cancer patients, but as he soon finds out, radical ideas and a diehard following are two easy ways to make enemies. Especially with the FBI.

The Unreconciled by Eric Young

A Caliph rules America after the Christian Holocaust. Denisa Graceon, archeologist, is employed by an enigmatic Cardinal to locate Christian relics there. Beginning her search at the University of Virginia, where Jefferson s dream has become an oppressive nightmare, Denisa meets the Imam s debonair son, who, abhorring the radical Islamic vision, leads a clandestine rebellion and, hypnotized by her intellectual exuberance, aids her quest. Searching deep in Appalachia s wilderness she discovers the Unreconciled, the last American Christians. Immersed in Christianity, she is born again and becomes enamored by Hawkeye , the swarthy, Adonis, who guards the very relic she had come to steal. When she learns the Caliph plans to annihilate them, she realizes only she can save them.

Journals of Corrie Bell Hollister by Michael Phillips

I'm not sure if these are reprints or new releases.
Pursued as a Union spy within Confederate territory, Corrie Belle Hollister's desperate attempt to escape on horseback was cut short by an explosion of sound. The pain from the deadly bullet lasted only a moment-followed by numbness. Then nothingness as blackness overcame the light. Through a sequence of dramatic events, Corrie learns more about God's goodness and faithfulness. (Book 7 in series)

Over two years have passed since Corrie Belle Hollister left Miracle Springs and the family she loves. Now after all her adventures and travels, with the Civil War behind her, Corrie returns home to California and has brought with her Christopher's proposal. In her time away she has grown and matured into a young woman. Will her family see the difference? It is time for Corrie to decide where she belongs-and where is the home for her heart? (Book 8 in series)

29 August 2012

Review: Trinity: Military War Dog by Ronie Kendig

Trinity: Military War Dog is the first book in a new series from acclaimed Christian author Ronie Kendig. This novel focuses on ex-Green Beret Health Daniels and his dog, Trinity. Daniels leaves the military after bad intel leaves him injured and suffering PTSD. After being rejected as an Army Chaplain, Heath is given the opportunity to join a newly-created team of military-trained dog and handler teams, available to hire.

Their first mission is not at all what Daniels is looking for: a PR tour in Afghanistan. Here he meets Jai, an attractive Chinese-American who says she is working on a geology team, but who is actually an undercover spy. When there is an incident at the geologist’s camp, Heath and Trinity are asked to assist.

There was an up-front acknowledgement that certain facts had been changed in the story to protect those who work in the area. I appreciate this, because accuracy is important to me, and this shows the author has done her research. She also manages to create Christian characters who fit into the military life without compromising their faith.

There are a lot of characters and several disparate plot threads which can be hard to keep straight, but the result is worth it. Overall, Trinity: Military War Dog is a complex thriller that captures the attention of the reader, then introduces us to a variety of locations and characters, human and canine, with everything tying up in an explosive ending. Excellent thriller.

Thanks to Barbour Books and NetGalley for providing a free ebook for review.

27 August 2012

Review: Chasing the Wind by Pamela Binnings Ewen

Amalise Catoir is a second-year associate with the firm of Mangen & Morris in New Orleans in 1977, and has just returned to work after several months recovering from an accident that left her a widow. Amalise finds she has been assigned to Project Black Diamond, working for property magnate Bingham Murdoch to develop a new hotel in the city. She has also realised she is in love with Jude, her best friend since childhood, but thinks he might be falling for her Rebecca, her co-worker.

But there is a vague feeling that all is not as it seems, particularly regarding Bingham, the man behind the deal to build a hotel and casino on a piece of prime New Orleans real estate. Interspersed with the main plot were a series of flashbacks to 1975 Cambodia, chilling scenes with a woman named Samantha Barlow rescuing a small boy and trying to escape Phnom Penh before the Khymer Rouge arrive.

The story is told from several different points of view, with a style that seems rather remote at times, but it works. Chasing the Wind is very well-written, with characters that drew me in, and a tightly-woven suspenseful plot with some very interesting twists (one I saw coming, one I did not). This is one of those books that I think would be worth re-reading, as that way you could catch the nuances and clues to the ending.

My one complaint would be that between the lawyers, bankers and property tycoons, there were too many male characters with middle class names (not to mention he names of the banks and law firms), and I found it difficult to keep them all straight in my head. Fortunately, the major characters have suitably memorable names, so it didn’t matter that the others all blurred into one at the beginning.

Chasing the Wind is also an interesting insight into women in the professions (and working in general) in the 1970’s – smoking in the conference room, long lawyer lunches, asking the woman (Amalise) to fetch coffee and donuts, a reference to a single mainframe computer, research in libraries and on microfiche readers. Other scenes have the secretary clacking away on her typewriter and sending documents down to the typing pool, reminding us how much working life has changed in a very short time with the introduction of computers and the internet. Recommended.

Thanks to B&H Publishing Group and NetGalley for providing a free book for review.

Edited: I have just been browsing on Amazon, and have found that Chasing the Wind is the sequel to Dancing on Glass, which appears to be the story of Amalises's marriage. It appears that the stories are quite different: while this is definitely a romance within a legal thriller, the first book appears to be more a story of a disintegrating relationship. Knowing there is an earlier book makes some of the oblique references to the past more understandable, but Chasing the Wind can easily be read as a stand-alone story.

24 August 2012

Review: A Path Toward Love by Cara Lynn James

Katherine Osborne inherited the Osborne Citrus Groves near Buena Vista, Florida from her husband two years ago, and is now struggling to keep the business from bankruptcy. Her father visits and offers to loan her money on the condition that she returns to the upscale family camp in New York for the summer of 1905. She is reluctant to agree, knowing her mother will try and manipulate her into another marriage - this time, to someone acceptable, someone like Randy, the son of her mother's childhood friend. But Charles's infidelity has left Katharine wary of marriage, especially a marriage arranged by her domineering mother.

We learn more and more about Katherine's marriage as the story progresses, none of it good, and we understand why she is reluctant to want to marry again. Yet as Katherine is forced into a relationship with Randy, she begins to realise that maybe she does still have the capacity to love and the desire to marry again. But will she choose love or obedience, financial risk or security? She turns to Andrew Townsend, Randy's cousin, a childhood friend and now her father's employee, for support.

Katherine was an independent and headstrong heroine, and very likeable. She faced her dilemma with good grace, making the best decisions she could with the information she had (unfortunately, she didn't always have all the information she needed). Her mother was domineering and very hard to stand up to, and her father was a strong businessman, but weak in the way he let his wife rule their marriage.

Andrew was another likeable character, with a strong Christian faith, and not at all bitter that he had to work for a living while his cousin Randy did not. Randy seemed to think he deserved his privileged and unproductive lifestyle (and perhaps he did), but the contrast between the characters showed how overcoming adversity produces character.

At one point, Katherine’s father says, “Doesn’t she understand I work from dawn to dusk so she won’t have to?”. This line seemed to epitomise the so-called 'American Dream', yet this directly contradicts the biblical injunction that if a man does not work, he does not eat. It got me thinking about trust fund children both in 1905 when this story is set, and now, and wondering if perhaps this attitude is pursing the wrong dream. Surely our spiritual wellbeing is so much more important than the physical...

I always enjoy a book that can both keep me entertained, yet also make me think, so well done to A Path Toward Love. It reminds me of novels like She Walks in Beauty and Making Waves, but I think it's better than both of them. A historical romance that is well worth reading.

Thanks to Thomas Nelson and Booksneeze® for providing a free book for review.

22 August 2012

Review: The Widow of Saunders Creek by Tracey Bateman

I almost didn’t pick The Widow of Saunders Creek out to review, because I thought from the title that it was going to be historical fiction. But it is contemporary Christian fiction, with a bit of romance and a bit of suspense, and I thought it was well worth reading.

Corrie Saunders was widowed six months ago, when Jarrod, her army husband, died a hero in the Middle East, leaving her with a flag and the family home in the small Ozark town of Saunders Creek. Corrie has returned to restore the old house they had planned on raising their family in. Eli is the friend, cousin and contractor undertaking the renovations. He is also Jarrod's cousin and childhood friend, and was left with a a permanent limp and an army discharge after a riding accident with Jarrod.

Strange things are happening in the house. Doors slam. Objects move of their own accord. Corrie thinks someone is lying in her bed, but when she turns around, no one is there. Several of the women of the family dabble in magic, and believe that Jarrod’s spirit has come back to care for his widow. Eli, a seminary graduate and part-time preacher, believes the source is demonic, but knows that Corrie has to make her own choice.

The story is told in the first person, alternating between Corrie and Eli. For this to work, the author has to be able to create two characters that readers both like and could relate to. Tracey Bateman has certainly succeeded in this. Corrie still loves her husband, and while she is slowly getting over the grief, the idea that he may be present in the house is very seductive. Eli is falling for Corrie, despite knowing she still loves Jarrod and that she might be tempted by the very real spirit world.

Some readers might find this almost paranormal aspect of The Widow of Saunders Creek offputting. I was a bit hesitant – some of Bateman’s previous books have skated very close to the line. But this is more in the lines of the early Frank Peretti novels, This Present Darkness and Piercing the Darkness, in that it makes no apologies for the fact that there is a spiritual realm, and that the name of Jesus is the answer. A touching story of a developing relationship. Recommended.

Thanks to Waterbrook Multnomah and Bloggingfor Books for providing a free book for review.

20 August 2012

Review: Something Blue by Dianne Christner

Megan Weaver a Conservative Mennonite who works as the assistant to the owner of Char Air, a charter airline who also operate charity flights. Her boss is taking time out to mend his marriage, and his brother is taking over in his absence. Chance Campbell is a missionary pilot in Ecuador, and is immediately attracted to his pretty assistant, despite her unfashionable Mennonite appearance. The attraction is mutual, especially as Megan has always felt she would marry either a minister or a missionary. But Chance is not a Mennonite.

Meanwhile, Megan's church is recruiting a new minister, and one of the applicants is her college nemesis. Micah Zimmerman has changed. He is still attracted to Megan, but finds himself competing for her attention. Micah is trying to get the church members to support hiring him, without giving any of the single women false hope.

I found Megan to be a bit naïve and shallow. I could accept her wanting to marry within her own denomination and even could understand her reluctance to move to another country. But I thought it a bit shallow that she felt she couldn’t marry outside her ‘faith’, the Mennonite denomination. After all, Chance is a Christian. Shouldn’t that be enough?

Micah was sweet, caring, sensitive, and hiding his true feelings so he could develop a friendship with Megan. And he’s a Mennonite minister – what more does Megan want? Well, it takes her a while to work out whether she wants the dashing Chance or the conservative Micah, but the ending was worth the wait, and made up for the mid-book dithering between the two.

Something Blue is the third book in the Plain City Bridesmaids series (following Something Old and Something New), but can easily be read as a stand-alone. Enjoyable romance, probably better suited for a younger readership.

Thanks to Barbour and NetGalley for providing a free book for review.

17 August 2012

Review: Dr Dobson’s Handbook of Family Advice by Dr James Dobson

Dr James Dobson has been speaking and writing about parenting for decades, providing advice on marriage, parenting and life in general from a Christian perspective. That voice of experience is immediately apparent, although some of what he says sounds somewhat old fashioned, in style if not in content.

Dr. Dobson's Handbook of Family Advice has been adapted from radio broadcasts and two previous books (Home with A Heart: Encouragement for Families and Coming Home: Timeless Wisdom for Families), and at times it shows. This isn't so much a book as a series of unconnected homilies.

There are some pretty odd subject changes, like from eating together as a family to writing letters to politicians. Frankly, the book would have been improved if there had been some evidence of an overall theme or structure. Some of the stories just don't seem to have a point. In one, Dobson comments that you can learn a lot about people by watching them. But the anecdote didn't actually tell us that he had learnt anything. Odd.

I've read several previous books by Dr Dobson that were much better and didn’t suffer from the de ja vu sensation of feeling like I’ve read all this before. Actually, I have read most of this before - in those previous books by Dr Dobson. If you have children and have never read a Dobson book before, this might be worth reading. Otherwise, this is a pass.

Thanks to Harvest House and NetGalley for providing a free book for review.

15 August 2012

Review: Cowgirl Trail by Susan Page Davis

I’ve had Cowgirl Trailsitting in my to-read pile for months, and just never picked it up, possibly because it’s part of a series, and I haven’t read the earlier books. However, once I started, I found it hard to put down.

Maggie Porter first met Alex Bright in 1877, when he was a handsome new cowboy on her father’s ranch, the Rocking P, and she was a teenager with a crush. Seven years later, she has just returned to the ranch after the death of her mother, and finds that Alex is now the foreman, the workers are unhappy and her father is not himself. Maggie tries to help the workers, but when problems get worse, she finds herself working as a cowgirl, leading the annual roundup to save the ranch while hoping she can also save her relationship with Alex – and perhaps let it develop into something more.

There have been so many books written about the American West during the nineteenth century that there is often a sense of ‘read that before’ with these Christian westerns. Cowgirl Trail was original (the clue is in the title. It’s a book about cowgirls as well as cowboys). Although it is Christian fiction, the faith aspects are very understated. Unfortunately, so is the romance aspect, but it is still a very good read.

This is the fifth book in the Texas Trail series, which is unusual, in that two of the books are by Susan Page Davis, two by Darlene Franklin and two by Vickie McDonough. Although the books in the series are related, this can easily be read as a stand-alone (but if you wanted to read the whole series, you probably should start with Lone Star Trail). An original and enjoyable read.

Thanks to River North (an imprint of Moody Publishers) and NetGalley for providing a free book for review.

13 August 2012

Review: Digital Winter by Mark Hitchcock and Alton Gansky

One January day in the very near future, the power goes out in San Diego. Then in Washington DC, and everywhere in between. At first, everyone thinks the blackouts are localised accidents, but it soon becomes apparent that the country is the victim of a cyberterrorism attack. The US military then realises the problem is global, so who is behind the attacks? And how will people in this digital age survive without electricity?

The first half of Digital Winter, detailing the initial power cuts from the viewpoints of different characters, was excellent. It was apocalyptic fiction of the best kind, both entertaining and thought-provoking (what would I do without electricity, even temporarily?). It was everything that Terri Blackstock’s Last Light wasn’t – scientifically plausible (at least to me), and featuring strong, intelligent and likeable characters.

But then Digital Winter moved from the immediate problem into the aftermath, eight days, eight weeks and (very briefly) eight months later. I found these later sections less compelling. They were more tribulation fiction, like the start of the Left Behind series, but with a flavour of Titanic: we know how the story is supposed to go, and that takes something away from it. I wanted that element of surprise, and although it was there in the detail, the big picture is a bit obvious.

Now, I am fully aware of how ironic this sounds coming from me. I read a lot of romance, and the romance genre is defined by the need for a HEA (Happy Ever After) ending. In a romance novel, you can pretty much tell from the first chapter how it is going to end, and that doesn’t bother me because that is what I expect. But the beginning of Digital Winter> was one thing while the end was another. And I liked the beginning more.

Thanks to Harvest House and NetGalley for providing a free book for review.

10 August 2012

Review: Beauty to Die For by Kim Alexis and Mindy Starns Clark

Juliette Taylor is visiting the Palm Grotto Resort and Spa in Cahuilla Springs, California, to lead a Christian retreat weekend. The ex-supermodel has a brand of exclusive skincare products, JT Lady, and Palm Grotto is one of her main customers. However, an internal investigation suggests that products are being counterfeited.

Also on his way to Palm Grotto is Marcus, an expert in disaster prevention and recovery. He met Juliette decades ago when she was at the height of her fame, and fell hard for her. Marcus has been working with the FBI on a counterfeiting case, and it seems that Juliette's business has been targetted by the criminals, which gives him an excuse to reconnect.

Another spa guest is Raven, an ex-supermodel with a reputation for diva behaviour and temper tantrums, and a difficult past. Raven's presence is a puzzle that turns into a mystery when she is found to have died during a routine beauty treatment. Juliette joins up with Marcus to protect the reputation of her products by finding the real culprit.

Beauty to Die For didn’t really work for me, despite the cool cover and the catchy title. In the beginning, Juliette and Raven have a mini-showdown in the airport before arising at the resort. As a reader, I thought Juliette was totally misinterpreting what Raven said to her, and I couldn’t understand why. I still don’t, as it turns out that my immediate interpretation of Raven’s comment was, in fact, correct. But it took Juliette most of the book to work that out, even though she’s supposed to be this switched-on businesswoman.

We are told early in the book that people don’t really understand how difficult modelling is. Well, this isn’t really a statement that is going to gain sympathy from many readers, because it just seems to show how out of touch with reality the fashion industry is (many jobs in life are difficult. Supermodels have the advantage of having found a high-paying difficult job, not a minimum-wage difficult job). Later (much later) in the book, Juliette is remembering a photo shoot, and we are actually shown the difficulties she alluded to. This scene gave me a much better understanding of the issues, and made Juliette seem a lot more likeable. But it should have come earlier. As readers, we want to like our fictional heroines and heroes, so we need to be given reasons to like them.

I also got annoyed by the supposed incompetence of the police investigating Raven’s death. They didn’t actually feature in the story, except to get things wrong or to not look at vital evidence. Instead, Juliette was all over the resort, listening in on conversations and finding all the missing links. This also seemed odd – no one questioned that a guest (albeit an important guest) kept nosing around staff-only areas? And the counterfeiting seemed to be set up to be a major plot point, but really was just a device to get Marcus in the picture. There was potential, but aspects of the plot were too unbelievable, even for fiction.

It’s not to say I didn’t like Beauty to Die For at all. I thought the action scenes were well done, the ending was lovely, and I really liked the way the spa weekend was aimed at Christian women who spend too much time giving to others was great (sign me up!). But the second half of the book was not strong enough to make up for the weak first half.

Thanks to B&H Publishing and NetGalley for providing a free ebook for review.

8 August 2012

Review: The Scent of Rain by Kristen Billerbeck

Daphne Sweeten has just completed training to be a ‘nose’ in the perfume industry, and has returned home to marry before starting a new life and a new perfume formulation job in Dayton, Ohio. But fiancé Mark Goldsmith doesn’t show up for the wedding, and she later finds out that he has abandoned her and taken her dream job in Paris. The house her father bought her as a wedding present is a dump. And to make matters worse, she seems to have lost her sense of smell.

Jesse Lightner is a middle manager at a struggling consumer products company, and isn’t happy to have a new employee foisted on him when his department is already struggling to make budget. But, prompted by his assistant (who also happens to be his pastor’s wife), Jesse does the right thing and tries to make Daphne feel welcome and wanted.

What follows is an enjoyable romance with a quirky cast of characters, including an ambitious marketing executive, two stereotypical scientists, a solo father (Jesse) and a bereaved almost-bride trying to pull her life back together and making a fair few mistakes along the way. There was one scene that was probably supposed to be funny but I found rather cringe-inducing and parts of the plot did require a bit of suspension of disbelief, but, on the whole, this a was a fun romance between two unlikely people.

The Scent of Rain is the first Kristen Billerbeck adult romance novel I have read, although I have previously read one of her YA novels (Perfectly Dateless) and a novella from Smitten. Based on The Scent of Rain, I would certainly read more. It was a quick and easy read, perfect for a relaxing afternoon.

Thanks to Thomas Nelson and BookSneeze® for providing a free book for review.

6 August 2012

Review: Angel of the Cove by Sandra Robbins

Anna Prentice has her life planned out, and is sure that those are God's plans too. She has always wanted to be a nurse, and has been accepted into nursing school in Bellevue, New York. Her brother, Robert, sees this as a potential drain on the family's resources and is reluctant to let her go even though their father had approved. But he has died, and Robert is now head of the family and gets to make those decisions.

Fortunately for Anna, Uncle Charles comes to her rescue with an opportunity to spend the summer working with Granny Lawson, the midwife in the remote Smoky Mountains settlement of Cades Cove. Robert has agreed that Anna can attend school if Mrs Lawson gives her a good report.

At Cades Cove, she meets Brother Simon Martin, a young man who grew up in the Cove and who is now the community minister, despite his own early dreams of being a pastor in a large city church and leading hundreds of people to Jesus. Simon is challenged by the instant attraction he feels towards Anna, and the attraction is mutual. But Anna and Simon will have to reconcile her desire to move to New York for nursing school with his place preaching in the Cove.

The beginning of Angel of the Cove is reminiscent of the plot of Christy, Catherine Marshall's famous novel that lends its name to the Christy awards for Christian fiction. It has the young woman going alone to work with the people of the Great Smoky Mountains, the older mentor and the handsome young minister, although it is missing the enigmatic doctor (in this case, the doctor is Anna's uncle, and there is no ‘other man’ to choose between).

Anna is a bit too good to be true. There is a suggestion at the beginning of the book that she is too concerned with her own plans, but apart from that, she is perfect. The children love her, and even the ones with a reputation for mischief like and obey her. If only it were that easy!

We never get told exactly how old Anna is, although I would guess late teens based on the fact that she is soon going to nursing school. Nor do we get told how old Simon is (beyond the fact that he has completed three years of college), nor do we ever find out exactly when the story is set (my guess is mid-1870’s, but it could be anywhere from 1873 to 1910). While these details are not vital, they do help the reader to understand the background to the story.

We might not know Anna’s physical age, but we get plenty of examples of her immaturity. Simon isn't much better. Although it is obvious that he has fallen for Anna, I never really understood why, beyond the immediate attraction of her pretty face and nice clothes. I would have hoped that the hero in a Christian novel was not so shallow, especially when he is a preacher.

Overall, Angel of the Cove wasn’t a bad book. It just wasn’t that good. The opening didn’t capture my interest, I didn’t find the primary characters engaging, it took a long time to get going, the courtship was too fast and the ending was predictable, rushed and not quite believable.

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