Friday, January 29, 2016

Thomas Locke's "Merchant of Alyss" - the saga continues . . .

Cover ArtIn the second Legends of the Realm book, Hyam is still recovering from the loss of his magic, when a shipment of ancient scrolls finds its way to Falmouth Port. Touched by strange dreams of mythical beasts, Hyam, his wife, and friends set out on a quest to learn more about the scrolls' mysterious reappearance in the world, little expecting the danger, wonder, and loss awaiting them.

The nice thing about fantasy is the room for creativity, the unpredictability. From one chapter to another it's hard to guess where the quest will lead and what secrets will be unveiled along the way. I like how this book flows from the first--intimately connected, yet fresh and different.

Though by a Christian author, I would not call this Christian fiction, not if you are looking for a strong, scriptural message, references to Christianity, or talk of God. It isn't even allegorical (leastwise that I can tell, and for which I am grateful). However, it is a clean fantasy that places heavy value on upholding covenants, truth, sacrifice, and hope--values that are too often neglected today.

I liked what Shona is told when she faces temptation: "In life's harshest moments, the only correct action is often the impossible one" (257) --namely, sacrificing desires of the self and choosing instead what is best for others. Saying 'no' to what the flesh wants can feel impossible, but so often it is ultimately what is right.

The books in this series are definitely not meant to be read alone. Let me assure you, the quest is not over, nor the battle won--but there is hope. When the third book comes out, I think it will solidify the series as sound, high fantasy literature.

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

Legends of the Realm
1. Emissary
2. Merchant of Alyss
3. (Winter 2017?)

Monday, January 25, 2016

Dorothy Adamek's "Carry Me Home" - a tender story of the Australian frontier

Carry Me Home (Blue Wren Shallows, #1)Finella Mayfield crosses two oceans to marry a preacher she'd been raised to wed . . . only to find him on his deathbed when she arrives in Australia. Shadrach Jones had promised the dying preacher to take care of Finella, so he offers her a position watching his simple sister for room and board. Finella only plans to stay in the wretched mud hole until her aunt can come from England to rescue her, but she finds herself falling in love with the motherless girl . . . and possibly even her older brother. But will it be enough to overcome the shadows of the past?

I loved the sense of setting, from the cliffs to the sea, to the flowers to the red mud everywhere. At its heart, it's the same as any other frontier setting--man tries to wrestle the inhospitable land into submission and eke out a living--but I loved the differences, like shoveling seashells from the shore to burn and grind into mineral for the fields, raiding the neglected nests of muttonbirds for eggs, using the copious amounts of clay to make bricks. They use what God has given them. Adamek captures a land so different from anything I've known and paints a picture even I can see.

There is still the stigma of the penal colony over Australia, as well as memories of the gold rush. Neither is easy for Shadrach to bear, but like the pioneers of America, he forges ahead, making the land his own--a new legacy, so different from the one in which he was brought up. I like his spirit and determination. Though Finella has some growing up to do, her heart for simple Molly is precious. One can hardly blame her for the culture shock of her arrival at the Jones homestead, especially after the shock of all the losses she'd already endured.

It's a sweet, tender story, and not without heartache. I look forward to the next book in the series.

Blue Wren Shallows
1. Carry Me Home
2. Carry Me Away (late 2016)

Friday, January 22, 2016

Jody Hedlund's "Undaunted Hope" - a dramatic tale of the U.P.

Cover ArtIn the final Beacons of Hope novel, Tessa Taylor travels to the far reaches of the Upper Peninsula of Michigan to teach school, only to discover a poorer, more spiritless community than she could have anticipated. Trapped under the thumb of the chief clerk of the mine, the townspeople put up with all manner of injustices for the sake of their homes and employment. In the face of the darkness, Tessa provides a beacon of hope, garnering respect and admiration - especially from two good men fighting for her hand. But anyone in this town who takes a stand must pay the consequences for their defiance . . .


It's nice to see that Tessa's character hasn't changed completely from Hearts Made Whole, though thankfully she is older and wiser. She's still too flirtatious for her own good, but with a stronger understanding of the importance of a woman's reputation, she is much more careful than in her impetuous youth. Alex and Michael are both great guys, so I don't like how she leads them on (or rather, fails to make her position clear) when she knows she has no intention of marrying. Though to be fair, her flirting makes for witty dialogue.

I really like how the series is brought full circle, though the impact of it is much stronger if one has read the entire series, starting with the novella. The villain is wonderfully despicable (with one very slight redemptive quality), and the setting and history well-researched, as always.

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

Beacons of Hope
0.5. "Out of the Storm"
1. Love Unexpected
2. Hearts Made Whole 
3. Undaunted Hope

Monday, January 18, 2016

Colleen Coble's "Mermaid Moon" - a complex suspense

Mermaid MoonIn the second Sunset Cove novel, when her father dies mysteriously on his boat, Mallory Davis rushes back to the home she hasn't seen in 15 years. Though it looks like an accident, details aren't lining up, and she suspects murder. Game Warden Kevin O'Connor, an old flame, is still wounded from their broken engagement years ago, but he offers to help her investigate. But can he keep Mallory and her daughter safe long enough to catch the killer?

Life is messy. And anytime broken hearts are involved, it gets complicated. However, I'm impressed the author's ability to take two VERY messy, complicated lives - that have been woven together, separated, and brought together again - and present them slowly and simply enough that it wasn't ever confusing, even amidst death, divorce, and adoption. I like the level of complexity the author has achieved.

Mallory is the standard, plucky suspense heroine, who is a little too prone to taking risks in pursuit of the truth. I really liked Carol as her side-kick, though - a single, middle-aged woman who's taken Mallory and her daughter under her wing. A lot of people have close friendships with people of a different age bracket, and it's nice to see it represented in literature.

An enjoyable suspense with a complex mystery.

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, January 15, 2016

"A Worthy Heart" by Susan Anne Mason

Cover ArtIn the second Courage to Dream novel, Maggie Montgomery and her brother Gabe sail over from Ireland to visit their brother Rylan and his family, as well as give Maggie some space from the unwanted attentions of her former fiance. Maggie has plans to stay in New York when the summer if up, while Gabe is eager to return to Ireland take part in the rebellion. But in all their plans, neither expects to find love, especially in such impossible situations - for Gabe, the daughter of a wealthy financier, a world apart from him in status. And for Maggie, Rylan's own brother-in-law - a man fresh out of prison. Will they find the courage to overcome the obstacles standing in the way of their dreams?

I really like Adam. He comes out of prison changed, repentant - but he doesn't come out perfect. He's still struggling with resentment and anger, and the stigma of prison doesn't help, not with his job prospects, and not with his relationships with his family and friends. Everything is an uphill battle for him, but through it all, he keeps trying.

While the romance between Maggie and Adam is a little more prominent, Gabe and Aurora's still receives significantly more attention than secondary romances usually warrant. I'm still not sure how I feel about it; the two are fairly well intertwined, and the author does a good job on the back and forth between them. But neither one gets as much story time as they would as separate books, and I prefer a long, meaty story.

It helps to read Irish Meadows first; there are a lot of characters and backstory. As it had been close to six months since I read the first book, I'd forgotten a lot of those details, especially about Adam. But I certainly didn't forget about Rylan and Colleen! I'm curious where the final book in the series will go.


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

Courage to Dream
1. Irish Meadows
2. A Worthy Heart

Monday, January 11, 2016

Irene Hannon's "Thin Ice"

Cover ArtIn the second Men of Valor book, middle brother Lance McGregor, formerly a Delta Force operator and now an FBI agent, is dropped right in the fire for his first case. Christy Reed comes to him with a compelling story of her sister, who was killed in a fire months age - -and who apparently just sent her a letter from her kidnapper. Is it a sick joke? Or could her sister possibly be alive? Is it someone with a vendetta against Christy or her sister? Questions pile up, but clues are far between. One thing, though, is certain - someone is pursuing her with a deadly agenda.

One thing I always appreciate about Hannon's books is that she delves into the mind of the villain, so we get to see what makes him (or her) tick, as well as a glimpse of his history--enough that sometimes one can even pity the lost soul. While the villain's twisted mind isn't the focus of the story, it really enriches it. And this one has a doozy of a villain.

I loved the suspense. Both Christy and Lance are intelligent, sensible people. They're so smart about the investigation, asking for help when needed, taking precautions, and not taking foolish risks. You know they have a shot of outsmarting the villain--but only if they can gather enough clues in time to figure out what he'll do next.

I liked Lance a lot, especially when he opens himself to vulnerability, like with Christy and his best friend's wife. I also enjoyed his relationship with his brothers--a bit of competitive tension, a touch of annoyance, and a lot of love, even if hard to express. It's been a while since I read Hannon's older series, but even so it was fun to re-encounter FBI agent Mitch Sanders (An Eye for an Eye), one of Lance's new colleagues. I look forward to the next story, about Finn McGregor!

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

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

Friday, January 8, 2016

Christian Fiction Books I am most looking forward to in 2016!


2016: A whole new year of grand fiction to come! I can only imagine that the authors and publishers will be living up to their usual high standards of quality writing, so I've compiled a list of upcoming books that are my must-reads for the year.

Granted, at the moment it's an incomplete list, as books for the fall of 2016 have yet to be announced. However, I'm banking on some of my favorite authors to be putting out books in the fall like usual, so even if they don't have titles yet, I've listed them anyway.

Counted With the StarsAs I am a creature of habit, I generally look most forward to books by authors I've read and loved. But, occasionally, a book by an author I've never heard of catches my eye. In this case, it is Counted With the Stars by Connilyn Cossette (Bethany House, April); Out From Egypt, book 1.

I rarely read biblical fiction, as I spend a lot of my time focusing on whether or not it matches up with the bible, but this one--about an Egyptian woman who joins the Israelites for the exodus--grabbed my attention. Maybe it's just the gorgeous cover, but something about it pulled me in. It's now on the list.

Now, for books by authors I know and love, in order by genre, then publication date, then time period (if necessary):

Historical:
 Playing the Part The Reluctant Duchess

Playing the Part by Jen Turano (Bethany House, March); A Class of Their Own, book 3 - At last, the story of the most mysterious of the three middle class, Gilded Age roommates! I love Jen Turano's romantic comedies, and I've been waiting on this book since the first in the series came out.

A Flight of Arrows by Lori Benton (WaterBrook, April); The Pathfinders, book 2 - When it came to The Wood's Edge, I hardly thought it possible that Lori Benton could exceed my very high expectations, but she did! And now for the sequel of that moving, Colonial saga!

The Reluctant Duchess by Roseanna M. White (Bethany House, April); Ladies of the Manor, book 2 - Given the excellent writing exhibited in the first of the series, I can't wait to see what Edwardian adventures occur in this book!

Anchor in the Storm No Other Will Do (Ladies of Harper's Station Book #1) - eBook An Elegant Fa├žade
Anchor in the Storm by Sarah Sundin (Revell, May); Waves of Freedom, book 2 - Sundin's WWII novels are always superb in historic detail of the war, and the first in this series was my favorite yet of hers.


No Other Will Do by Karen Witemeyer (Bethany House, June) - I always enjoy Karen Witemeyer's blend of humor and heart, so whatever she has up her sleeve, I'm game for . . . in this case, a colony of suffragettes who need a man to help them after all.


An Elegant Facade by Kristi Ann Hunter (Bethany House, July); Hawthorne House, book 2 - I loved the first Hawthorne House book - the perfect blend of humor and heart, plus surprise twists to the Regency era tale.


A Lady Unrivaled The Innkeeper of Ivy Hill For the Record
A Lady Unrivaled by Roseanna M. White (Bethany House, September); Ladies of the Manor, book 3 - As mentioned above, I loved the first in the series and can't wait for the rest!


The Innkeeper of Ivy Hill by Julie Klassen  (Bethany House, December) - Julie Klassen, for being THE writer of Christian Regency fiction, with marvelously long, rich stories

For the Record by Regina Jennings's (Bethany House, December) - for her sweet and humorous tales (plus I'm pretty certain that this one will be about my favorite character from the previous two novels in her series!)

Cold Shot, Chesapeake Valor Series #1 Like Never Before Her One and Only
Suspense:

Cold Shot by Dani Pettrey (Bethany House, February); Chesapeake Valor, book 1- Dani Pettrey is my unrivaled favorite author of suspense, and now she has a new series starting!


Contemporary:

I don't read a lot of contemporary romance, but I've found these two authors are well worth reading:

Like Never Before by Melissa Tagg (Bethany House, April); Walker Family, book 2 - Series focused on a single family have become quite the thing, and the Walker family is one reason why. A focus on family dynamics, with all the humor, frustration, joy, and sadness that comes with it, makes Tagg's books so fun and fulfilling.


Her One and Only by Becky Wade (Bethany House, May); Porter Family, book 4 - I'd read a number of contemporary romances before Becky Wade's, and while some were fun and some were thoughtful, none ever really struck my fancy. Until I read Wade's. Both fun and thoughtful, with such utterly human and down-to-earth problems, her books finally opened the genre for me.

Monday, January 4, 2016

"With This Ring?" novella collection by Witemeyer, Jennings, Connealy, and Jagears

Cover ArtKaren Witemeyer, Regina Jennings, Mary Connealy, and Melissa Jagears have put together a humorous novella collection of four stories of "proposals gone awry."

Karen Witemeyer's story, "The Husband Maneuver," delves into the world of dime novels, and each chapter begins with a portion of a "Dead-Eye Dan" story. Of course the real Dead-Eye Dan doesn't have much in common with his overblown fictitious persona, but his road to romance proves just as rocky. I loved the creativity of it, not to mention the humor.

"Her Dearly Unintended" by Regina Jennings: It was fun to see Josiah Huckabee as a man, after being introduced to him as a child in a previous novel. Of course, considering the young troublemaker he was, one can hardly expect the course of love to run smooth for him. I highly enjoyed the twist in the tale. It had been a good story up to that point, but that twist really makes the story.

"Runaway Bride" by Mary Connealy: It may be a little overwhelming with names for people who haven't read the series (plural), but having read them, I thoroughly enjoyed a return to the fun characters (as well as another instance of Connealy's tendency to intertwine series). It definitely fits the western shoot-out feel of the the other books about Big John's friends, who remain themselves even some years later. And there were a lot of sneaky references to her book/series titles hidden within the tale.

"Engaging the Competition" by Melissa Jagears: Though the least funny of the four, it has a fun role reversal - the heroine is the tough, half-educated sharp-shooter, while the hero excels in pedagogy.

The stories themselves have no connection to each other other than being historical westerns on a proposal theme, but they form a fine collection - rich with humor, full of grace. I liked that most of them were built on previously established relationships. Having read most of the books published by these four authors, I especially enjoyed that the stories in this collection are connected to the full-length novels - in most cases, a secondary character who finally gets their story told. Or in the case of Melissa Jagears's tale, it is the prequel to her new series, giving a sample of what is to come.

For related reading, in chronological order according to series by author, enjoy:

A Worthy Pursuit by Karen Witemeyer
"The Husband Maneuver"


Ozark Mountain Romances by Regina Jennings
1. A Most Inconvenient Marriage
2. At Love's Bidding
2.5 "Her Dearly Unintended"
3. For the Record 


By Mary Connealy (in chronological order)
Prequel: "Closer than Brothers: Surviving Andersonville" (e-novella)

Kincaid Brides
1. Out of Control
2. In Too Deep
3. Over the Edge

Trouble in Texas
1. Swept Away
2. Fired Up
3. Stuck Together

"Runaway Bride"

Cimarron Legacy
0.5: "The Boden Birthright" (e-novella)
1. No Way Up
2. Long Time Gone
3. Too Far Down (October 2017)


Teaville Moral Society by Melissa Jagears
0.5 "Engaging the Competition"
1. A Heart Most Certain
2. A Love So True

Friday, January 1, 2016

New Christian Fiction Releases for January 2016!

Here are the exciting releases for the new year! Quite a variety, with both novels and novellas, historical, suspense, and fantasy.


Historical:

Undaunted Hope Calico Spy  -     By: Margaret Brownley
With This Ring?, 4 in 1 Edition
Undaunted Hope by Jody Hedlund (Bethany House); Beacons of Hope, book 3 - late 1800's

After accepting a teaching position on the remote Upper Peninsula of Michigan, a young woman is pursued by both a lightkeeper's assistant and a student's father . . . and someone more sinister.


Calico Spy by Margaret Brownley (Barbour); Undercover Ladies, book 3 - late 1800's

A female Pinkerton agent goes undercover as a Harvey Girl, investigating the deaths of two other waitresses.


With This Ring? by Karen Witemeyer, Mary Connealy, Regina Jennings, and Melissa Jagears, (Bethany House) - late 1800's

This "novella collection of proposals gone awry" features four novellas on that theme


A Worthy Heart by Susan Anne Mason (Bethany House); Courage to Dream, book 2 - 1900's

Emigrating from Ireland, a young woman is fascinated by the one man her brother cannot accept - a convicted felon.
A Worthy Heart Mermaid Moon  -     By: Colleen Coble
Thin Ice
Mystery/Suspense:

Mermaid Moon by Colleen Coble (Thomas Nelson); Sunset Cove Novels, book 2

After receiving her father's last words in a phone call, a woman returns home to the coast of Maine, certain that her father was murdered, and the only man who can help her is the one whose heart she broke years before.


Thin Ice by Irene Hannon (Revell); Men of Valor, book 2

An FBI agent reopens a case when a woman receives a letter from her sister who was supposedly killed years before . . . but is she a pawn in this deadly game, or the target?
Merchant of Alyss

Fantasy:

Merchant of Alyss by Thomas Locke (Revell); Legends of the Realm, book 2

Though still recovering from his battles, a young man man must find a way to rescue his wife and community from a new and dangerous threat, if he can find the power to do so.