Monday, April 27, 2015

Becky Wade's "Undeniably Yours" - Porter Family, book 1

Cover Art
Becky Wade begins her Porter Family series with a focus on the oldest Porter child and the wealthy, vulnerable woman with whom he falls in love. When her father dies, Meg inherits majority shares in her family's oil empire and a lot of responsibility she never wanted. Part of her job means weeding out projects that aren't necessary, and her father's thoroughbred farm is one of them. However, firing the man who runs it turns out harder than she thought--Bo Porter refuses to be fired before the horses have a chance to succeed. Meg, wealthy heiress on the outside but marshmallow on the inside, grants him six months to break even. Bo intends to convince her to keep it open permanently; more than just his job is riding on this horse farm. But something hurt and vulnerable in the heiress tugs at his heart, and he can't do it. When a nightmare from her past returns to sever their budding relationship, will they trust God to get them through?

I really like Meg. She's so . . . normal. She isn't brilliant at business, and she lacks confidence, but she is competent. She knows that she's a marshmallow--a big softie--but she isn't a pushover. Like just about every girl I know, she has body image issues but likes to feel pretty. She cries at the drop of a hat. She's not the perky heroine of an adventure novel--she's a normal, vulnerable, real human being.

I love how Meg is given a great burden--her family's money and responsibility--and turns it into something greater than just an oil empire. Meg discovers her passion and God provides a way for her to pursue it. Or is it that God provided for Meg over and abundantly, and she, like the wise man in the parable of the talents, finds a way to invest what He has blessed her with to further God's kingdom? In either case, it's a reminder that God gives us dreams and passions, and He delights to give us the means to pursue them.

Undeniably Yours is a down-to-earth romance full of characters that anyone can relate to. Besides a good dose of humor, some major hurt, and a God-honoring couple, there's also an element of danger to spice things up.

Porter Family Novels
1. Undeniably Yours
2. Meant to Be Mine
3. A Love Like Ours
4. Her One and Only

Friday, April 24, 2015

"My Stubborn Heart" by Becky Wade - an inspiring romance

Cover ArtBecky Wade's debut novel pits a bubbly, persistent Texan against a reclusive ex-hockey player. Kate Donovan needs a break from her joyless job and tiring life as a single woman, so she joins her grandmother in renovating the old family home in Pennsylvania. Helping with renovations is Matt Jarreau, a man who lost his career and sweet, beautiful, Miss America wife in one fell swoop. Kate is determined to help him, no matter how stubborn he is, but the trouble with being his friend is that she wants to be so much more to him. While God has sanctioned her helping him heal, she's very afraid he has not sanctioned a romantic relationship . . .

My Stubborn Heart will speak to any woman who has grown up knowing that out there somewhere God has been preparing The One - the man they're going to marry. But it will really speak to those who have known it and are waiting . . . and waiting . . . and losing hope that they will ever marry and raise a family, because the years are passing and he just isn't showing up. 

For all the serious pain and hurt in this book, there is a lot of humor. Kate's view of life tends toward optimism, quirkiness, and seeing things a little differently than most people, and thus her viewpoint tends to be be pretty funny. She describes the garage sale as "the day one man's trash would become another man's trash." (So true. But it feels like treasure for a while anyway.)

Right away in the beginning of the novel, the author wrote a line that hit me hard. "The hardest and the truest thing was the supremacy of God's will, which meant that no matter how hard she prayed for a husband and a family, she wasn't guaranteed that she'd ever receive what she asked for." (39). Keep knocking, keep asking, don't give up--we hear those words all the time. It's all over the bible--the woman pestering the judge for justice until he grants it, the man bugging his friend in the night for food, ask and it shall be given. But God still won't necessarily grant it. His plans are not our plans. It's hard. And it's really hard to have hope in those situations, especially the longer they drag on without change.

Both humorous and covering some tough subjects, My Stubborn Heart is an encouragement in hope, healing, and God's perfect timing - a novel to inspire both laughter and tears. I highly recommend it. 5 out of 5 stars!

Monday, April 20, 2015

Colleen Coble's "The Inn at Ocean's Edge" - a complex conspiracy

Colleen Coble's Sunset Cove novel, The Inn at Ocean's Edge is a fascinating, complex mystery-suspense. When Claire Dellamare surprises her family by showing up at their fancy hotel on the coast of Maine, something about the place sparks a panic attack, though she's sure she's never been there. She soon meets Luke Rocco, a man who recognizes her as the little girl who went missing the same time his mother disappeared twenty-five years ago. Claire has no memory of her year-long disappearance, which her parents had kept hidden from her. When she witnesses a murder on the way back to the hotel, few people except Luke believe her, as all signs of the scuffle and body are wiped away. Does the murder have anything to do with Claire's mysterious past? And can they find the killer before he kills her?

The Inn at Ocean's Edge, Sunset Cove Series #1   -     By: Colleen Coble
There is definitely a conspiracy going on here, but who is behind it and who all is involved - that's the question. We know that Claire, Luke, and Kate can't be behind it, as they were small children when the horrific events occurred, but they certainly are connected . . . As the story progresses, the author confirms suspicions that everything must be related, but she never lets too much slip - she lets out just enough to tantalize the reader, steadily reeling 'em in like a fish on a hook. It's nearly impossible to put the book down.

This story is an example, kind of like the last three chapters of Judges, of what happens when people do what is right in their own eyes and not what is right in the eyes of the law or God. One person makes a poor choice here, which leads to another person choosing poorly here, and then that person makes a bad choice there - soon chaos reigns and there is no good way to correct the wrong that was done. However the truth is revealed, people will be hurt and the consequences will be far-reaching. While it makes for a fascinating story, it is a scary example of what Godless choices can do.

The romance and spiritual growth aspects are not as strong as in other books I've read, but it certainly is a gripping story, and I loved the complexity of this novel. A well-written mystery/suspense, The Inn at Ocean's Edge will capture your attention to the very end.

Thank you Thomas Nelson and NetGalley for providing an e-copy for review. I was not required to make the review positive, and all opinions are my own.

Sunset Cove
1. The Inn at Ocean's Edge
2. Mermaid Moon
3. Twilight at Blueberry Barrens

Friday, April 17, 2015

Déjà vu, or: Have I seen that cover before?

Ever get the feeling you've seen that cover before?

I noticed a curious phenomenon of late: covers I recognize from Christian books are popping up on different books. Most are not quite the same, with a slightly altered image, or a different pose. Some are on other Christian books, but plenty are in the secular market. 

Part of this, I imagine, is because of the plethora of inexpensive stock photos available online - much cheaper than hiring a model and paying for a photo shoot. But the downside, of course, is that someone else might also buy your cover . . .

Love on the Mend That Certain Spark
These two are both from Bethany House. Besides being different poses, they have been altered sufficiently that it isn't too obvious they're from the same photo shoot. I did hear about this one being a financial choice - that to save money for Karen Witemeyer's $2 e-book "Love on the Mend," they used an old stock photo from their personal collection. Admirably thrifty of them to keep prices down for us. Again, these two covers ended up different enough that I'm not sure if I'd have noticed on my own or not, even though I own both of them.

But how about:
 Stones for Bread  -     By: Christa Parrish
  Mothering From Scratch 
Stones for Bread from Thomas Nelson (2014), Mothering From Scratch from Bethany House (nonfiction, 2015). I don't pay much attention to nonfiction, but the heart cut out of bread dough caught my eye. Several times, in fact, but I always seemed to remember the title wrong. And then I realized there were two, not just one, books coming out within a couple months with the same image. I find it interesting that two of the arguably biggest Christian publishing companies both chose to use it.

The Butterfly and the Violin, Hidden Masterpiece Series #1   -     By: Kristy Cambron
  Hope at Dawn - eBook  -     By: Stacy Henrie
The Butterfly and the Violin  from Thomas Nelson (2014) and Hope at Dawn from Forever (self-published 2014) - slightly different pose, but same model, roses, and shirt. I was confused for the longest time about these two, thinking they were the same book. They came out at the same time, both Christian historical fiction, and one is about WWII and the other WWI - a similar enough theme that I thought I was remembering wrong. But I wasn't. There were actually two different books!

The Promise The PromiseBW The Edge of Never (The Edge of Never, #1) Promise from Thomas Nelson (2014), The Edge of Never from Createspace (self-published, 2012), and Claiming Mariah from Tyndale House (2014). I think the first version of The Promise is the final version, but I do remember seeing advertisements with the second image, which is why The Edge of Never caught me off-guard during a Goodreads giveaway - it definitely was not the same book as The Promise, but it looked so similar that I was deceived for a time. And then there's Claiming Mariah from another noted Christian publisher, but it is much warmer and brighter, with a different feel to the cover.

From the Start
From the Start from Bethany House (2015),  Where Trains Collide from Seasons of a Story (self-published 2015) - different poses, but definitely the same couple. Can't mistake that massive, oatmeal scarf. Bethany House had put out their spring line-up late last summer, so I recognized the couple immediately when I saw a cover reveal for Where Trains Collide. A Lady of Good Family
Among the Fair Magnolias from Thomas Nelson (2015), and A Lady of Good Family from Penguin (2015) - slightly different pose and color, but absolutely the same dress and hair. The detail work on that bodice clinches it.

Together With You Seattle Postmark Forever, Yellow Bird
Together with You from Bethany House (2015), Seattle Postmark from Snug Harbor Press (2014), and Forever, Yellow Bird (self-published 2014) - some books I saw on Goodreads. No mistaking that pose!

Pearl in the Sand Redeeming Liberty (Justice Series #5) Run to Me
 Pearl in the Sand from River North (Moody) (2010), Redeeming Liberty from Micah House Media (2010), and Run to Me from Random House (2013) - again, saw them on Goodreads. The model has such a striking face, I couldn't miss it, even with different coloring.

To Everything a Season Beauty of the Heart: Isabella's Story Autumn Manor 
Bethany House (2014), Tate Publishing (2014), Atlas Productions (2012).  Her hair has been mussed a bit and given some wave for the Bethany House book, but there is no mistaking that model's flawless face. Again, I wouldn't have known of these, but Beauty of the Heart turned up on when I was searching for something else, while Autumn Manor was on a Goodreads giveaway. That familiar model immediately caught my eye. Actually, I think I've seen 5 different books with her on the cover (same pose).

What other cover duplicates have you seen?

Monday, April 13, 2015

"The Creole Princess" by Beth White - a unique look at the American Revolution

Cover ArtThe second book of Beth White's Gulf Coast Chronicles starts at the commencement of the American Revolution. Mobile, West Florida, is under British control, and Lyse Lanier is best friends with the British Major's daughter. When Lyse encounters Don Rafael, a dashing Spaniard, she finds herself falling for his charm. But is he all he says he is? Spain has been neutral since the war started, but with their own spies about, they probably will not remain neutral forever . . .

I am once again astonished at the complex history of the Gulf Coast. Suffice to say, I do not recall ever hearing anything about the significant (and rather sneaky) role Spain played in the American Revolution. This is why I love historical novels - they capture the details that history classes so often miss, provoking interest so that I want to learn more.

The author does a great job of tying in the racial complexities that had already developed over seventy-five years of colonization, along with the inevitable prejudices that arose with it. Between the Native Americans, European colonizers (a mixture of French, British, and Spanish), and an already well-developed slave trade, racial backgrounds could get quite intricate. I especially liked how well the author ties the concept of slavery versus freedom in with the Declaration of Independence and its effect on Lyse, a woman of mixed blood.

While many novels take place over a short period of time for the sake of cohesiveness, I like that this novel spans several years. The Spanish needed time to gather intelligence and provide support for their secret allies before officially declaring a side, and this novel does a good job of showing the time and work that went into it. The timing is also good for the romance - Lyse has a chance to grow up a bit more and establish a relationship with Rafa, even if they only see each other every few months or so. In spite of all the time that passes, the story does not move too quickly or too slowly - it is well paced.

White takes a little-known bit of history and combines it with an intriguing plot to create a complex story well worth re-reading.

Thank you Revell for providing a free book for the purpose of review; I was not required to make it positive, and all opinions are my own.

Gulf Coast Chronicles
1. The Pelican Bride
2. The Creole Princess
3. The Magnolia Duchess 

Friday, April 10, 2015

"Finding Me" by Kathryn Cushman - a moving, engaging read

Cover ArtKathryn Cushman's drama explores a young woman's search for closure after her father's death reveals the life they led was a lie. Kelli grew up believing her mother and two siblings died in a fire, but papers in her father's safe point to the truth: her father took her and left the rest of their family, faking their deaths to start anew across the country. Now Kelli learns her mother and siblings are alive, completely unaware that the boating accident was a fake. Kelli travels back to Tennessee to gain some understanding of why her father left them. But her plan for glimpse from afar goes awry when she gets talked into a short-term job with her father's ex-business partner, who in turn introduces her to her own family, little realizing who she is. Can she leave the family she just found? What would it do to them if she revealed the truth?

What would you do if you found out everything you believed about your life was a lie? When Kelli travels to Tennessee to hunt down the truth, she is faced with the decision to reveal herself - a choice of emotional upheaval for everyone involved, not to mention potential financial upheaval - or to let the past lie, sparing her mother and siblings the pain and legal consequences of her father's duplicity, leaving them in peace. It really makes one wonder how one might have reacted in Kelli's place, what decisions one might have made.

The story is definitely a journey, and, like life, it is one that doesn't end just because a goal is accomplished. It goes on. Kelli's journey is not only an emotional one, working through her father's past and reconciling the family she didn't know she has, but also a spiritual journey. Where the author stops is considerably further down the path than where she started, but it's not necessarily the end. But then, some things cannot be finished until our life's journey is complete.

I liked the analogy the author makes about Joseph and how it applies to not only Kelli's father, but also Kelli herself. When you reach a crises, you can choose the easy way or the right way. The easy way so often seems better at the time, but if you take it, what will you miss out on in the long run? What consequences will everyone face because of that decision? The right way is rarely easy - Joseph spent ten years in prison because of it - but the ultimate result was thousands of people saved, reconciliation with his family, a blessed life.

For all that there is no physical danger or suspense, and for all that the romance is definitely second place to the emotional journey, this book was surprisingly hard to put down. Finding Me is an emotional, moving, engaging read.

Thank you Bethany House for providing a free book to review; I was not required to make it positive, and all opinions are my own.

Monday, April 6, 2015

Irene Hannon's "Buried Secrets" - suspense with a villain to love and loathe

Cover ArtIn the first of her Men of Valor series, Irene Hannon brings to light a cold case when a human skeleton is discovered at a construction site. Police Chief Lisa Grant and county detective Mac McGregor investigate the decades-old murder, hoping that identifying the body will lead to new intelligence. But it soon becomes obvious that someone wants to keep the past buried - even if it means adding to the body count.

While her heroes and heroines are generally in-depth and well-drawn, where Hannon excels is the villain. This book is no exception to that rule. Her suspense novels are set apart by the meticulous attention paid to villain: their motives, their history, their breaking point. What will cause them to crack? How will the heroes smoke them out? And while her villains have always been interesting, this is a villain among villains, one with no heart left - only cold calculation. A villain you can fear, loathe, and love for the sheer villainy.

Though the book starts as a fairly typical detective story, with immediate introduction of the romance, it ramps up in speed and suspense as they start narrowing in on the murderer. Connecting some dots regarding the villain's MO, I had a premonition of the climax, and I was not disappointed. It may not be the author's most suspenseful novel, but it packs a punch.

The romance is well done, with interests laid out on the table but professional boundaries largely in place. Working together as they are, Lisa and Mac have a good opportunity to get to know each other and prepare for a real relationship when the case is complete. I wouldn't have minded a little more of a spiritual theme to the story, but over all it was a highly enjoyable read.

Thank you Revell for providing a free book for the purpose of review; I was not required to make it positive, and all opinions are my own.

Men of Valor
1. Buried Secrets
2. Thin Ice
3. Tangled Webs

Friday, April 3, 2015

April 2015 Christian Fiction Releases!

While there are a great many Christian Fiction releases coming out this April, these have are the ones that have caught my eye:

Historical Fiction:

The Creole Princess   The Wood's Edge by Lori Benton   #2: A Sparrow in Terezin   -     By: Kristy Cambron
The Creole Princess by Beth White (Revell); Gulf Coast Chronicles, book 2

Though conflict is tamped down, tension reigns at the start of the American Revolution in British-held Mobile, Alabama. Lyse finds herself falling for a charming Spaniard, but Spain has yet to declare sides - could Lyse be falling for a spy?

The Wood's Edge by Lori Benton (WaterBrook); The Pathfinders, book 1

Tow families and cultures entwine when a British colonist steals a white baby from an Oneida woman, leaving his dead infant in its place. When the truth comes to light, can there ever be reconciliation between the two families?

A Sparrow in Terezin by Kristy Cambron (Thomas Nelson); Hidden Masterpieces, book 2

A story of dual timelines: in the present, a young woman is about to see her dreams come true with her art gallery and marriage, but a sudden legal battle throws it all in jeopardy. During WWII, a half-Jewish woman plots to get her family out of Prague, but the plan fails and she ends up teaching art in the work camp in Terezin. A Holocaust survivor connects the two women in their plights.

Contemporary Fiction:

Finding Me   Reservations for Two by Hillary Manton Lodge   From the Start
Finding Me by Kathryn Cushman (Bethany House)

All her life Kelli has believed a fire killed her mother and siblings when she was a baby, but an old newspaper clipping about the death of a man and his infant daughter tell a different story. Has everything her father brought her up to believe been a lie?

Reservations for Two by Hillary Manton Lodge (WaterBrook); A Table by the Window, book 2

Juliette returns from France to start up her new restaurant, but balancing her new career, family crises, and a long distance relationship proves more difficult than she imagined. Can she glean any more wisdom from the new-found letters of her French grandmother?    ***note: delicious recipes are to be expected!

From the Start by Melissa Tagg (Bethany House); The Walker Family, book 1

A young writer returns to her small hometown, only to meet a former NFL star visiting with her brother. Both are disillusioned with life, both looking to start over; will they be able to start over together?

Buried Secrets

Buried Secrets by Irene Hannon (Revell); Men of Valor, book 1

When a construction crew finds a human skeleton in an unmarked grave, a small town police detective and an ex-navy seal investigate, but as they seek out the truth, it becomes clear that the killer wants to keep those secrets buried.