Friday, May 27, 2016

Ann Gabhart's "Murder Comes by Mail" - more suspense than I expected

Cover ArtIn the second Hidden Springs mystery, when Deputy Sheriff Michael Keane saves a jumper on a bridge, he doesn't care for all the glory his small town is determined to give him, especially when the man he rescued tells him he'll regret his heroics. And then mere days later, an envelope arrives in the mail with pictures of a murdered girl and a personal message to Michael. Did the man he rescued kill the girl? And when the killer strikes again, who will be next?

There was a lot more suspense in this book than I had expected, considering that the first was heavier on the mystery than the suspense. I enjoyed it; it's hard to put the book down when there's the threat of another murder hanging over the characters' heads--a threat the murderer seems all to ready to make good on.

The small town setting has a different feel than big city mysteries; the murders are more shocking, the peace more disturbed. Everyone knows what's going on; for all that it's more remote, it's impossible to live in the isolation that anonymity provides in the city. I like Michael, who is happy to live and work in the small, sleepy town in which he grew up. He's quite a pleasant contrast to the hard-bitten detective from Eagleton who likes throwing his weight around (Michael's not the only one who wanted to slug him!) Man, that man was obnoxious.

Moments of humor sprinkle the tale, but I wouldn't call it a funny book; in this case it's more like Alfred Hitcock's use of humor to provide the occasional relief of tension that ultimately heightens the suspense. To the pleasure of my detective skills, the suspect I pegged for the murderer was correct. A highly enjoyable mystery, even better than the first; I look forward to the next.

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

Hidden Springs Mysteries
1. Murder at the Courthouse
2. Murder Comes by Mail

Monday, May 23, 2016

"Every Bride Has Her Day" by Janice Thompson - weddings, romantic comedy, and more weddings

Cover ArtIn the final Brides With Style novel, after a bumpy and unorthodox journey to love, Katie Fisher is finally about to have her big day, but every friend and relative is jumping at the chance to help her plan her wedding. While she appreciates the thought, she'd sort of like the chance to do it herself, assuming she can find time with all the other celebrations loading her calendar. Can she both stand her ground and keep the peace?

Thompson finishes off Katie's story with a suitably bumpy (and humorous) planning and execution of her wedding. All the fun cast has returned, with good old Aunt Alva trying to steal the show. She really is the best character in the series, especially with the running joke regarding the radio show (read books one and two first for the full comedic effect).

Wow, were there weddings in this book! Katie's I was expecting, but not so many more! There is a point in which all the focus on weddings begins to feel overwhelming--though an important milestone, it really shouldn't be the best day of a bride or groom's life (if it is, it's not saying much good about their marriage). However, I did appreciate the variety demonstrated in the story - from themed to not, simple to overwhelming, inexpensive to higher end. No one style of wedding is perfect for everyone, as the story points out.

In between the weddings and romantic comedy, there are some sober moments too. It's tough to be in Jane's place, where everyone else around is getting married or falling in love and she's not; singleness can be a hard load to bear, even when one knows to entrust God with it. Then there are simple misunderstandings that can split friendships apart, yet sometimes all it takes is a simple action to bring them back together again.

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

Brides With Style
1. Every Bride Needs a Groom
2. Every Girl Gets Confused
3. Every Bride Has Her Day

Friday, May 20, 2016

"Her One and Only" by Becky Wade - romance with a touch of suspense

Cover ArtIn the final Porter family novel, Dru Porter finally meets her match. Tasked with guarding NFL star Gray Fowler against a stalker, she has one goal: keep him safe and thereby rebuild her tarnished reputation. Gray isn't keen on being guarded by a woman half his size against a potentially nonexistent threat, but he finds himself drawn to her. Can they find the stalker? Will they lose their lives or hearts?

Though the focus of the story is definitely on the romance, there is a heavier element in suspense in this book than in Wade's other novels, which I enjoyed. I pegged the wrong person for the stalker, which was quite a pleasant surprise.

I loved the Dru's professionalism. She may struggle at times with balancing feelings and her job, and she certainly hasn't lost her love of danger and pushing the boundaries, but she's obviously much more grown-up and level-headed than in her impetuous youth (which can be glimpsed in the earlier books in the series). And I'm especially glad that she chooses the hard, right thing to do when faced with a tough call.

Though football plays a rather large role in the story, an intimate knowledge of the sport is thankfully not required to enjoy the novel. I'm still not 100% sure what a tight end does in football (other than block and get beat up), but it did not hinder my reading. Those who actually enjoy the sport will probably like that aspect a bit more than I . . .

As in her other books, the author writes a spiritually uplifting story, this time with a focus on forgiveness and letting go of the past. It was fun to to revisit the entire Porter clan for the last time, plus the quirky friends and relatives from previous books. All in all, a satisfying conclusion to the series! [Update:] Her One and Only is also the winner of the 2017 Christy Award for contemporary romance!

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

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

The making of a cover: Photoshoot

Monday, May 16, 2016

Kathryn Cushman's "Fading Starlight" - gentle and unpretentious

Cover ArtAfter designer Lauren Summers gets all the blame for a high-profile wardrobe malfunction, her career in fashion is shot. An old professor dredges up a job for her designing costumes for a high school play, as well as a place to stay. Soon Lauren is approached by a reporter who is working on a story to prove the wardrobe malfunction was staged, and in return she'd like Lauren to report details about Lauren's reclusive, old Hollywood starlet neighbor. However, as she slowly works her way past the old woman's crusty exterior, it becomes apparent that not everything is as it seems.

Being a seamstress who loves vintage 40's and 50's clothing, of course I had to read this book. And, as hoped, I enjoyed the sewing/design aspect. The focus is on Lauren's story, but it occasionally gives flashbacks of Charlotte's life growing up; it's easy to see how the woman became so cynical.

Poor Lauren. Her reputation is in shatters, she has no job and no money, she ends up living inside a tent inside a house in the middle of direly needed repairs, and, icing on the cake, she has to deal with bratty high schoolers. And a cranky, untrusting neighbor. Yet she is a pretty balanced character; she understandably struggles with it all, but she is neither overwhelmingly woe-is-me nor over-the-top optimistic about her circumstances--she comes off just right.

When you have to rationalize in order to make an action seem okay, you can bet that that action is not right after all. Lauren finds herself doing that with the reporter, and as a reader it's pretty easy to want to yell at her, "it's a trap!" Of course, when one is in the middle of a sticky situation like Lauren's, it's a lot harder to catch it and do the right thing. Rationalizing is so, so easy in the gray areas of life. I thought it a good reminder, especially tied in with the verse from Judges that is mentioned throughout the story.

It's a gentle, enjoyable read, not too fast-paced, but never bogging down either. Unpretentious, rather like Lauren herself.

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.

Friday, May 13, 2016

"Sins of the Past" romantic suspense novella collection by Henderson, Pettrey, and Eason

Cover ArtThree authors of romantic suspense team up to bring a collection of novellas centered on the theme "sins of the past." Though the stories have nothing else in common, they provide a nice selection of the various styles of romantic suspense out there - from the hard-working law enforcement angle to outdoor adventure to non-stop action.

"Missing" by Dee Henderson is an all-hands-on-deck, in-depth police procedural to find the missing mother. I'm guessing if real law enforcement could acquire enough man power, this is what the search would look like--straight business, searching every aspect of the victim's life (and life of her policeman son) to figure it out. Talk about detail. The romance felt a bit clinical--like they get together simply because they're the only two single cops around.

"Shadowed" by Dani Pettrey runs along the same vein as her Alaskan Courage series (fitting, considering it's about the parents of the McKenna clan): outdoor adventure, glimpses from the villain's perspective, suspense and romance, and the appearance of some familiar (though definitely younger) characters. I enjoyed the late 70's setting: still modern in comparison with historical novels, but a simpler time in terms of technology; most of all, you can feel that the Cold War is alive and well, from the intense, chilly competition to the hint of communist spies.

"Blackout" by Lynette Eason follows her typical style of rapid pace and non-stop action, but this time punctuated with flashes of memories just as intense as the action surrounding them. As always, it's a race to the end, and the last of the three novellas flies by.

Of the three, "Shadowed" proved my favorite. Perhaps it's because I loved the Alaskan Courage series so much, but also because I love the way the wild Alaskan setting is almost a character in and of itself.

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.

Alaskan Courage by Dani Pettrey
0.5: "Shadowed"
1. Submerged
2. Shattered
3. Stranded
4. Silenced
5. Sabotaged

Monday, May 9, 2016

Sarah Sundin's "Anchor in the Storm" - a homefront mystery

Cover ArtNavy Ensign Archer Vandenberg notice the men under his watch struggling with nerves and fatigue, possibly induced by drugs being passed around the ranks. Needing advice, he seeks out Lillian Avery, his best friend's little sister--a pharmacist--hoping she has the answers he needs, as well as taking the opportunity to get to know her better. Lillian is not charmed by her brother's friend, but she herself has been filling alarmingly large prescriptions of certain drugs. Could there be a link between her store and the dopey sailors?

The ramping patriotism, the danger in the seas, the start of rationing--Sundin captures the flavor of the times as the US moves into WWII. Women are still just testing the waters of masculine-dominated fields, like pharmacy, and Lillian's position in the drug store is tenuous at best. And, though recognized, men with shell shock (PTSD) have a hard road to follow if they need help; for military men like Arch, it means either hiding the condition or being discharged.

Lillian is quite the overcomer, making her way in a man's profession while minus a leg. It was neat to see a woman with a prosthetic as the heroine. Her defensiveness and self-esteem issues are understandable, as well as her fierce determination. Arch is a great hero: a good officer, determined to help his men, but not without wounds from his past. Both have trouble overcoming their issues, and both struggle with backsliding even after making great strides, but then, who doesn't?

I'm really enjoying the mystery aspect to this series. It works especially well for giving Arch and Lillian an opportunity to meet and work together in a non-date-like setting, developing their relationship without the pressure of romance. Not to mention it adds an additional thrill to the wartime setting. Loose lips sink ships--or possibly get your friends killed, when you can't know who to trust.

I'm definitely looking forward to the next book in the series!

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

Waves of Freedom
1. Through Waters Deep
2. Anchor in the Storm
3. When Tides Turn 

Friday, May 6, 2016

Patricia Bradley's "Silence in the Dark"

Cover ArtShortly after spying an illegal poppy field in cartel territory in Mexico, Bailey Adams is planning on leaving the country to escort a young student to her grandparents' in the States. However, before they can catch their flight, not only does Bailey run into her ex-fiance, Danny Maxwell, but the cartel sets upon them, chasing them through the town. With Danny's help--and the help of strangers--they manage to avoid the cartel, but will the States provide safety? Or will danger follow them home?

Lots of suspense and action in this book! It was fun trying to figure out who was secretly connected to the cartel; there are enough sketchy characters that even though I had a pretty good guess, I couldn't quite be sure until the end. I also like that it built on a previous relationship of Bailey and Danny; it feels a lot more natural that they'd fall in together in escaping the cartel than a brand new relationship would have.

In some ways it seemed like Bailey and Danny didn't have as much of a stake in the book; the focus is more on protecting little Maria than worrying about Bailey's brief glimpse of the illegal poppy field. Then it also felt like Bailey shouldn't have so much authority over Maria's welfare when others around have significantly stronger--even if somewhat controversial--claims to the child. Less responsible people would have walked away and spared themselves some difficulties and trauma.

This book ties in really well with the second of the series, solving some of the mystery left at the end of that one. It has been some time since I read it and the details have gone rather fuzzy, yet I could still follow this one just fine; so I'd say it can be read stand-alone or in the series (series recommended, of course).

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

Logan Point
1. Shadows of the Past
2. A Promise to Protect
3. Gone Without a Trace
4. Silence in the Dark 

Monday, May 2, 2016

NEW Christian Fiction May 2016!

LOTS of books coming out this May, from historical to contemporary to mystery, full length to novella - something for everyone, I'd say! Happy reading!

#2: Dawn at Emberwilde  -     By: Sarah E. Ladd
Messenger By Moonlight  -     By: Stephanie Whitson
The Boden Birthright

Dawn at Emberwilde by Sarah E. Ladd (Thomas Nelson); Treasures of Surrey, book 2

Expecting a predictable life as a teacher, a young woman learns news of unknown relatives, sweeping her into a new life of danger and intrigue.

Messenger by Moonlight by Stephanie Grace Whitson (Faithwords)

When her brothers become riders for the Pony Express, a young woman joins them as a cook at a Pony Express station, little anticipating her role in a mission gone awry.

"The Boden Birthright" by Mary Connealy (Bethany House); Cimarron Legacy, book 0.5

A widower finds refuge in the west working for a wealthy rancher, who has a daughter willing to watch his son, but the rancher's dying wish might be more that he's willing to take on.

Summer of Dreams Anchor in the Storm
"Summer of Dreams" by Elizabeth Camden (Bethany House); prequel to From This Moment

The desire to help a friend threatens a West Point cadet's future, as well as the future of the woman with which he is falling in love.

Anchor in the Storm by Sarah Sundin (Bethany House); Waves of Freedom, book 2

When sailors on a submarine display unexpected struggles with nerves and drowsiness, a Navy ensign and a pharmacist--the little sister of his best friend--must work together to find the reason.

Fading Starlight Every Bride Has Her Day Her One and Only
Fading Starlight by Kathryn Cushman (Bethany House)

Booted from the fashion industry after a high profile disaster, a designer's only hope at salvaging her career is to find the real story behind an old, Hollywood ingenue, but nothing about the job is quite what it seems.

Every Bride Has Her Day by Janice Thomson (Revell); Brides With Style, book 3

In the finale of this comedic bridal series, Katie Fisher finally gets to have her day--but will well-meaning friends make a mess of everything?

Her One and Only by Becky Wade (Bethany House); Porter Family, book 4

A former marine is hired to guard a football star from an overly devoted, stalker fan, but can she guard both him and her heart?

Murder Comes by Mail Sins of the Past
Murder Comes by Mail by Ann H. Gabhart (Revell)

With photos of murdered girls appearing in the mail, it's up to the deputy sheriff to find the killer--before the killer finds someone else.

Sins of the Past by Dee Henderson, Dani Pettrey, and Lynette Eason (Bethany House)

Three novellas of romantic suspense focus on the theme "sins of the past."