Tuesday, July 3, 2018

Our House by Louise Candlish – A Review


Fiona Lawson’s fairy-tale life comes to a screeching halt in this story of betrayal and fraud. She returns home to find it isn’t hers anymore. Her house in the exclusive neighborhood—the one she shares with her estranged husband in a co-parenting arrangement—now belongs to someone else. And they claim she sold it to them!

This story is written in a unique contemporary style, with the MC telling a lot of the story via a podcast titled The Victim, complete with the typical twitter comments following each episode. A sign of the times? Add that to the Word document/suicide note penned by the estranged spouse, along with conventional chapters having POVs of the MC and of her husband, and you get quite an interesting read. Can’t say if I’d like to read this style a lot, but it was certainly fun.

The story centers around an unfaithful husband and his traffic citations. You read that right. Somehow this author manages to take a mundane topic like a speeding ticket and turn it into a full-length suspense that held my interest to the very “OMG” ending! And I mean that literally. The last three paragraphs of the book floored me! I can’t tell you the emotion I was feeling without spoiling the last twist, so I’ll just say, “Wow.”

There were places in the story where I thought it seemed a bit far-fetched, but then the author threw in a little back-story to make me buy it. Many of the twists and turns (and there were plenty) knocked me for a loop! I loved the way Candlish exposed the different characters’ motivations as the story unfolded.

The characters were developed, and the pace was good.

This is a British novel, not my favorite, but I tried to ignore that in my rating. I also tried to ignore the foul language. It’s hard to say if it was excessive. There was a lot, but it was true to character in those places. Structurally, I wasn’t crazy about the writing.

I struggled with how to rate this one but ended up giving Our House 4 stars (with an asterisk for language and content) because I really did enjoy reading it. Three didn’t seem like enough, and the ending alone was worth at least an extra half.

I received a complimentary copy of this book from
Berkley Publishing Group via NetGalley.
Opinions expressed in this review are completely my own.

Tuesday, June 19, 2018

The Myth of Perpetual Summer by Susan Crandall– A Review



Tallulah James is a burdened middle-child in a beyond-dysfunctional family wrecked by mental illness. Her grandmother has taught her well to protect the family secrets and reputation above all else. What secret could be worth this pain of holding it in? Her older brother Griff promises to someday sweep her away to a better life in California, until a tragic event tears them apart and leaves Tallulah alone to hold together her imploding family.

When the family disintegrates, Tallulah heads out on her own, seeking the California dream she shared with Griff, only to find the ghosts of her childhood followed her. Unable to give herself fully to anyone, she pours her all into her career—until another crisis pulls her back to Lamoyne, Mississippi.

Returning to the place of her oppressive memories, will Tallulah break? Or will she finally be able to make peace with her past?

This story had me hooked from the first page. I felt Tallulah’s pain. Understood why she hid her heart behind a wall. I wanted someone to hold her and tell her it would be alright. I was totally invested in this character.

The Myth of Perpetual Summer belongs on a shelf with other classics. Not only is the story riveting—it is important. It features a bi-racial friendship in 1960s Mississippi. It tells—though briefly—the tale of those who fought for equal rights as well as those who didn’t understand. It discusses the devastation mental illness can heap on a family. It even rolls in a pot of corruption. There is far too much in this story to write in a review.

The quality of the writing is outstanding. Descriptions will have you dabbing the Mississippi sweat from your brow and smelling the dark waters of the alligator-infested river. The pace is excellent, and the story never lags. I will read more books by this author.

I give this book FIVE stars, only because that’s the maximum. There is the tiniest bit of foul language and sexual situations (nothing graphic), but I felt those areas made the story and the characters genuine and revealed an important layer to their personalities. I wouldn’t have a problem with my fourteen-year-old granddaughter reading it—and I’m cautious with what I expose my grandchildren to.

This book is the book by which all other summer reads will be weighed.

The Myth of Perpetual Summer released today, June 19.

I received a complimentary copy of this book from Gallery Books via NetGalley.
Opinions expressed in this review are completely my own.

Monday, June 4, 2018

When Through Deep Waters by Rachelle Dekker– A Review



I’ve read a lot of books.
Few like this.

I’ve read books that wowed me with the twist at the end. I’ve read books that were so-so yet had enough entertainment value to rate them worthwhile—and books that didn’t. I’ve read books that were of significance in the societal story they told. I’ve read books that made me laugh, books that made me cry, books that swept me away to a make-believe existence. But every once in a very long while, I read a book that grabs something inside of me and shakes it—grabs and won’t let go, pulling me into the life of a character so completely that I’m somehow melded with them in their struggle. 

To say I was invested in this character is a gross understatement. This is the kind of investment for which authors strive. Alicen McCaffrey begins her story quite unlikeable. A self-absorbed well-to-do, shallow, detached . . . Alicen quickly became someone I felt deeply sorry fornot just sympathetic, but my heart broke for her as I shared in her unbearable grief and resulting sickness. 

Having a brother with severe mental illness likely pulled me even stronger into this story. Witnessing his schizophrenia, it’s not hard to picture a non-existent world so real that you not only can touch it but be threatened by it—even to the point of death. Stay away if you are uncomfortable with a close-up story of grief and delusions. There were a few times early in where I wondered if this book would haunt me, leaving a scar on my sanity. Happy to say it didn’t. It just left a mark on my heart of a character so real I prayed she would make it through the darkness.

One minute I believed this was happening. A page later—no, it’s that. (Avoiding spoilers here.) The author is skilled at keeping me guessing throughout. The further I ventured, the harder it was to put down. I lost sleep. I love that about a book.

After finishing the last page (very late), my mind filled with tags: freaky, crazy, emotional, spiritually lifting, joy, grief, light, darkness, evil, goodness. Everything. Every emotion rolled into a very involved and evolving battle. I am desperate to forget everything about this book so that I can read it again with the same hope, fear, heartache, joy.

In other words, I really liked it. I give this book FIVE stars (because that’s the max.) I can’t wait to get my hands on another by this author. I guess I should ad that it’s well written and edited, and that the characters are well developed.

Available for pre-buy now, When Through Deep Waters releases on July 3.

I received a complimentary copy of this book from Tyndale House Publishers through NetGalley. Opinions expressed in this review are completely my own.

Thursday, May 24, 2018

Formula of Deception by Carrie Stuart Parks – A Review



Murphy Anderson is looking for answers. She’s also running. From the past. From an escaped murderer. She’s changed her name, her looks, and her hometown. Will Kodiak, Alaska bring her the answers she seeks about her twin? Or will she be pulled into a dark mystery that threatens the thread holding her sanity?

As an artist, she is called to draw a ten-year-old crime scene from the memory of a dying man—a crime scene that has ties to secretive experiments of World War II. But soon, people involved in the investigation begin to die by not-so-natural causes.

I liked the unique storyline. The author has knowledge to sprinkle into the details to give it belief. The plot was thick with potential suspects. There were lots of twists and turns to keep the pace going.

I was sympathetic to the main character. I was also surprised by revelations about her personal story that eventually come to light. The ending tied everything up nicely.

I did find it a little difficult to keep track of the characters and the details in the beginning. This is a book you should read in chunks—not bits and pieces—or you risk getting lost.

I give this book four stars, and would read more by this author.

Available for pre-buy now, Formula of Deception releases on July 3, 2018.

I received a complimentary copy of this 
book from Thomas Nelson through NetGalley. 
Opinions expressed in this review are completely my own.

Thursday, May 10, 2018

The House at Saltwater Point by Colleen Coble – A Review


Two people’s lives shattered.
Lied to by their own families—who
and what do they believe now?

When Ellie Blackmore’s sister goes missing and is presumed murdered, her path crosses with that of Coast Guard intelligence officer Grayson Bradshaw. Grayson believes Mackenzie faked her own death to cover her role in a cocaine theft. Ellie believes her sister is innocent—even when presented with stark evidence. Can they work together to solve the mystery of what happened to Mackenzie? And what does Mac’s disappearance have to do with Grayson’s hunt for a renowned terrorist?

I’m not a huge fan of Coble’s style of introducing several characters at once or stating their hair and eye-color when they enter a scene. Some of the extra details detracted from the flow of the story. (Like mentioning the two dogs and a cat by name.) I felt the secondary characters could have been developed more, but they weren’t prominent to the storyline. The plot wasn’t realistic to me, but it is fiction, after all. Still, I give this book four stars.

I enjoyed the setting and unique plot of this suspense. The characters are quite likable—except for the bad guys. There was a sideline about Grayson’s past that added a lot of emotional interest to the story. I liked the way the author tied the main characters together via Ellie’s friend. Coble threw in enough happenings and twists to keep the plot moving at a good pace. The story never felt redundant. A couple of times, I was thrown terribly off-course in guessing the culprit. I can honestly say I was entertained from beginning to end. 

Even though there was a romance involved, this story would appeal to men as well as women. I really enjoy clean Christian fiction. It is so refreshing to read good fiction without vulgar language or explicit sex scenes. This book’s focus is not about faith. In fact, the religious element in this story is almost non-existent, so secular readers will not have to roll their eyes. (Wink) I enjoyed this story enough to buy another of this author’s books for my TBR stack.

Available for pre-buy now, The House at Saltwater Point releases on July 3, 2018.

I received a complimentary copy of this book from Thomas Nelson through NetGalley. Opinions expressed in this review are completely my own.

Wednesday, May 2, 2018

Together Forever (Orphan Train Book #2) by Jody Hedlund – A Review



In the first book of the series, With You Always, we followed the story of oldest sister Elise caring for her siblings in the difficult financial crisis of New York.

Set in 1858, Together Forever highlights the second sister, Marianne Neumann, and Andrew Brady, who work for the Children’s Aid Society, involved with the effort to resettle orphaned, abused, and abandoned children from the harsh conditions in the city—where many turn to crime as a means of survival—to a better life in the Midwest. Marianne has taken this job in an effort to locate her younger sister, for whom she feels responsible.

Shame and guilt rule Marianne’s heart as she tries to come to terms with her past mistakes. Drew also carries around a burden of a terrible accident from his past. Can they learn to forgive themselves and live in the present?

Together Forever gives a close-up view of the placing of these children as they arrive on the trains. The story exhibits the attitudes of the townsfolk where the children are sent, as well as the heart-wrenching emotions of the placement agents who feel an obligation to these children.

I couldn’t help but care about the characters of this story. You will root for Marianne and Drew to lay down their burdens and live life to the fullest. Your heart will ache for the children who are torn from the only life they’ve known. Hedlund does an excellent job of giving these children unique personality traits that help the reader truly know them. I wanted to reach into the story and hug so many of them. Not all have happy endings. The story has a sad reality to it but is still filled with hope and love.

As typical of Hedlund’s books, Together Forever is well-written and well-edited. The story flows steadily throughout, with twists and turns to keep the reader engaged, and situations are resolved in a way that give satisfaction.

As a historical romance, I give this book five stars. Together Forever released May 1 and is available now.

I received a complimentary copy of this book via NetGalley. My review is voluntary and contains my own thoughts and opinions.

Wednesday, April 18, 2018

Jar of Hearts by Jennifer Hillier – A Review


Angela Wong’s remains are discovered after fourteen years. For fourteen years, Geo has buried the secret. For fourteen years, she has been waiting for the truth of what happened to her best friend to come out. When it did, the only surprise was the arresting officer—Detective Kaiser Brody. Geo, Kaiser, and Angela were the best of friends, until the events of that night forever changed the future.

Geo leads us on a fourteen-year ride, resulting in the knowledge that there are things worse than death.

This story starts out in the murder trial of serial killer Calvin James. From there it takes to on many twists and turns from that fateful night fourteen years ago through years following the trial, when Geo is finally released from prison.

The detailed glimpses inside prison walls and inside Geo’s soul are riveting. Is a person simply bad or good? Or is there a little good in the worst of us—a bit of evil in the best? Do we just see what we want to see?

Jar of Hearts is a fast-paced thriller filled with surprises. It’s also filled with a lot of foul language, some sex scenes, and graphic violence. Even though I prefer not to read those things, I was reeled in by the synopsis. The story held me captive to the very end. If you are sensitive to these details, do not read this book. Otherwise, grab it! If you’re looking for an intense thriller with strong characters, a terrific plot, and action from start to finish, don’t pass up Jar of Hearts.

I give this book five stars with an asterisk for language and content. If Hillier published a “cleaner” version, I would give it seven stars! It’s that good.

Available for pre-buy now, Jar of Hearts releases on June 12, 2018.

I received a complimentary copy of this book via NetGalley. My review is voluntary and contains my own thoughts and opinions.

Sunday, April 8, 2018

Review of No Less Days by Amanda Stevens



Imagine spending your entire life—centuries—thinking you’re the only one. David Galloway did. He couldn’t die. He was sentenced to a life of eternity on earth, passing his time by avoiding any relationships that would end up leaving him alone. Again.

One day, a story on the news grabs his attention. This man should be dead! Could it be he isn’t the only one?

This storyline was quite thought-provoking as it explored the downside of living forever on this side of Heaven. All the goodbyes. The loneliness. So many memories—many painful. The strong bond between the characters was wonderfully heartfelt. But once the characters were established, the story began to lag. In many places the author chose colorful wordiness over pace and depth. There was also a lot of telling vs. showing.

Perhaps the author plans a sequel. That would be the only good reason to leave so many dangling plot lines. There is an intriguing twist near the end that leads to many questions but goes nowhere. If this is a setup for the next in a series, it should have been developed more to make the reader want to find out.

Overall, the pace was much too slow for my liking. The characters weren’t fully developed. It had potential to be a truly great story, however, it just didn’t come together.

I received a complimentary copy of this book via NetGalley. My review is voluntary and contains my own thoughts and opinions.

Friday, March 30, 2018

All We Ever Wanted by Emily Giffin - A Review


Nina, a middle-class woman, married rich and became richer. Their son has been accepted to Princeton. Tom, a single dad, lives on the other side of town. Lyla, Tom’s daughter, tries hard to fit in at the expensive private school she attends on a scholarship.

Windsor is shaken when a scandalous photo circulates among the students—and parents—of the prestigious community. When her son is accused of taking the photo of Lyla, Nina’s life becomes intertwined with Tom’s as they try to protect Lyla from a situation that doesn’t seem to bother her. In fact, she is drawn to Nina’s son.

In one vivid scene, I felt like I was reading child porn. I’m uncomfortable with details of teenage sex meant to titillate. There is some language that might be offensive to some.

As I got farther into the story, I kept waiting for something else to happen. Eventually, something did. I would have liked the story keep building. Still, it kept me turning the pages.

The story is broken up by chapters into POVs of Nina, Tom, and Lyla. I really liked the main characters. Had it not been for the “child porn” scene, and had there been a couple more plot twists, I would have given it five stars.

Release date: June 26, 2018
I received a free copy of this book from NetGalley.

Thursday, March 8, 2018

Shadows of Hope by Georgiana Daniels


 
A story of hope in the aftermath of inconceivable betrayal and broken dreams

 What if. . .
. . .you struggled with infertility but unknowingly befriended your husband’s pregnant mistress?

What if. . .
. . .the woman you were seeing behind your wife’s back gets pregnant, threatening your job and marriage?

What if. . .
. . .your boyfriend never told you he was married and you discover you’re pregnant?
Crisis pregnancy worker Marissa Moreau suspects her husband is cheating, but little does she know how close to home her husband’s infidelity hits. College student Kaitlyn Farrows is floundering after a relationship with her professor leaves her pregnant. Soon she lands a job and a support system at the local pregnancy resource center and things seem to be turning around. But when Marissa and Kaitlyn become friends, neither one knows they share a connection—Colin, Marissa’s husband and Kaitlyn’s former professor. When their private lives collide, the two women must face the ultimate test of their faith and choose how to move forward as they live in the shadows of hope.


This story had me clinging to my tablet—a real page turner. The emotion packed into each character oozed right off the page. Amid such turmoil, there remains hope throughout. The author gives food for thought, allowing us to see room for forgiveness in this heartbreaking dilemma. The MC, Marissa, holds tightly to her faith as she looks for answers to how—or if—her marriage can be saved.

Shadows of Hope is ideal for a book club. as there are questions following the story to guide your discussion.

The story is told from the POV of each of the three main characters: the infertile wife, the cheating husband, and the pregnant girlfriend. This book is well edited. The pace is wonderful. I will gladly read more from this author.

I thought about giving it four stars because I would have liked a few more twists and turns, and I felt the tiniest bit unsatisfied with the ending. But I went with five since I really loved the story so much I couldn’t put it down!

Wednesday, February 28, 2018

A Loyal Heart (An Uncertain Choice #4)


     In An Uncertain Choice, Jody Hedlund took us back to medieval times and introduced us to three knights in shining armor and a strong woman that catches their eye.

     A Loyal Heart continues Hedlund's YA series with characters introduced in the previous books. This newest release is filled with the same magnificence of the previous releases: Chivalrous knights in battle, a virtuous and strong Lady, romance—all in captivating medieval settings.

      Lady Olivia will do anything for family loyalty, rationalizing her actions to fit her faith. And she will risk her life to protect her younger sister. Lady Olivia is skilled with her sword, though still unable to keep herself and her sister from capture.

     Sir Aldric has walked away from his birthright, punishing himself for his past mistakes. He is now the captain of Lord Pitt’s army, and has been sent to capture an enemy’s daughters to use as leverage. Will holding them hostage persuade their father to succumb to the King’s leadership and stop his rebellion?

     This story holds a strong lesson about family loyalty versus morality. A promise versus virtue.  I especially love this series for young readers, as it gives a beautiful example of what true romance is when it comes to a wholesome relationship. In other words, how you would want a young man to treat your own daughter. The YA genre seems to be lacking in this area today. I’m so glad Hedlund has decided to fill the void.
     
     Hedlund uses two POVs—one from Sir Aldric's perspective, and the other in first person from Lady Olivia's.


     As I stated in my review of her previous YA release, I particularly love the way this author paints women as capable rather than powerless. Even though this leading lady is on more than one occasion a damsel in distress, needing rescue from a knight in shining armor, Hedlund still portrays her as a woman of strong character—courageous in the face of danger. And in this installment, Lady Olivia becomes the rescuer!

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     As with all her other books in this series, Hedlund paints vivid descriptions. She’s also done her homework on the technical aspects of the medieval period. Well edited, this story has a great pace. You won’t want to put it down.
   
     Even though this series is listed as Young Adult, it is enjoyable for all ages. I’ve read them all, and I highly recommend you do, too. Knights in shining armor—what’s not to love! 

     If you'd like to read the entire series, the Noble Knights Collection is available for Kindle as well as most other e-readers. It contains the first four books of the series.

     The prequel to this series is only available in e-book format, while the others are available in paperback, hardback and audio formats.

         Prequel to An Uncertain Choice

Books available at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Christianbooks.com

Wednesday, June 7, 2017

An Interview with Author Jody Hedlund

(I'm republishing this interview with Jody Hedlund, as her newest YA is on the cusp of publication.)




Today, I am interviewing author Jody Hedlund 
about the release of Book #1 of her new Orphan Train Series.
(You can read my review of the book here.)

 
Congratulations on the release of With You Always! This first book of your new series is the third book you’ve released in 2017.  Most of my writer friends (myself included) say they have trouble making time to write. How do you find time to write so many books?

I keep a very rigorous writing schedule, usually writing six days a week. I give myself a challenging word count goal—a certain number of words to write every day. Then, in the morning, I sit down and write until I meet my goals. It’s as simple . . . and as hard as that!

I like to compare being an author to a marathon runner. The person training to run a marathon doesn’t start off running twenty-six miles the first time she runs. Instead she begins with just a few miles, strengthens her muscles, builds her endurance, and slowly adds more miles.

Writing is the same way. Over the years, I’ve strengthened my writing muscles and built up my endurance so that now I can write faster and for longer stretches.

You make it sound easy, but I know it takes commitment. What is your inspiration to write?

I write because I love telling stories. I love the quote by Toni Morrison because it sums up part of why I write: "If there's a book that you want to read, but it hasn't been written yet, then you must write it." Essentially, I write the stories that I LOVE to read! Of course there are other, deeper reasons I write too. But mostly I just really enjoy the process of creating imaginary people and places.

I’ve heard you use that Morrison quote before. 
I’m moving into a new home right now—perhaps that
quote should go on the wall above my computer desk.  

Is there something you tell yourself before writing?

Usually I tell myself to sit down, put my hands to the keyboard, and get to work. I don't wait for inspiration or magical fairy dust to hit me before writing. I just do it.

 But I also always ask myself, what could make this story better? How can I increase the tension? How can add more excitement? What can I do to make my characters more likeable? I'm constantly challenging myself to make my story more vibrant and alive.

I think too many of us wait for the inspiration to come before setting down to the keyboard.

It’s quite obvious that you put a lot of research in all your books. What special research did you do in writing With You Always?

In the beginning phases of writing this series, I did a great deal of reading about the orphan train movement. In particular, I really loved Stephen O’Conor’s book, Orphan Trains, because he includes so many personal stories and details about real orphans, which are heart wrenching.

I also read, A History of New York City to 1898, by Burrows and Wallace, which gave me great insights into the lives of immigrants, particularly immigrant women. Masses of foreigners were arriving into New York City on a daily basis, and the book gave a detailed look into their pathetic housing situation, the difficult working conditions, as well as gang problems and the underworld.

Finally, another important aspect of the story that required a concentrated amount of research was the development of railroads. The mid-1800’s was an incredible period of growth for the railroad industry in the Mid-West. The new railroads aided the orphan train movement but also brought about the settlement of the Midwestern states, including Illinois, which is one of the settings of the book.

You certainly painted a picture of horrid living conditions for these New York City women. I feel quite blessed to be born into a better situation. Speaking of blessings, what role does faith play in your novels?

While I try not to preach at my readers, I do weave faith themes through my books. My faith also motivates me to keep my stories "clean." I believe Christian fiction is a much needed alternative, especially Christian romance.

I just recently got an email from a reader telling me she that she'd picked up several books and been really turned off by the explicitness within them, but that she didn't realize the books contained such content until she started reading them. She wanted to know if there was a rating system or some way that she could tell if the book would be "clean" before she started reading. I was glad that I could point her to inspirational Christian fiction, that she would be guaranteed the sweet romance she desired.

I can certainly relate to her experience. It’s another reason I want to write suspense. I would love a rating system like that. It would surely make book shopping an easier experience.


Is there anything particular that you hope readers take away from With You Always?

One of my hopes in telling this story is to leave readers with the reminder that God is walking with us in whatever dark valley we’re going through. Often, like Elise, we tend to pull away from God and let the bitterness of our circumstances drive us into a cave of isolation and self-blame and heartache. But God wants us to realize that even if we pull away from Him, He’s still there walking by our side, waiting for us to reach out our hand and grab hold of Him. He never leaves us or forsakes us. He’s there waiting.

Amen! Well, I think you have achieved that with this story.

I want to thank you for answering some questions for my readers. Do you have any parting words for them?
I love hearing from readers! Make sure you stop by one of these places and say hello!
I hang out on Facebook here: Author Jody Hedlund
I also love to chat on Twitter: @JodyHedlund
My home base is at my website: jodyhedlund.com
Find me on Instagram: instagram.com/jodyhedlund/
Come pin with me on Pinterest: pinterest.com/jodyhedlund/pins/