Monday, August 29, 2016

Sigmund Brouwer's "Saffire" - intrigue in the building of the Panama Canal digging of the Panama Canal is well underway when James Holt is called from his ranch to travel to the isthmus as a favor for an old friend. There he takes a mulatto girl under wing and helps search for her missing mother, little anticipating the tangle of politics and intrigue awaiting him in the newly-formed country.

As I wasn't sure what to expect at the beginning of this story, I continued to be surprised as it went along. It has a decidedly western flavor, as the narrator is a cowboy, yet it's set in the midst of the tropics and one of the greatest engineering feats of the time. Mystery and politics play a heavy role. I would describe it as a guy book.

With any newborn country--especially those in which other nations want a stake--the politics are complex, and clearly Panama was no exception. I wish I had known more about the historical figures involved and the political climate before diving into the book, as it would have made it a little easier to read. It wasn't really confusing--just complex.

I'll admit I enjoyed the parts with Saffire the best--not only is her plight more moving, but she's also a precocious, fun character. I wish she had featured more in the latter part of the story. I also rather enjoyed meeting the mysterious and historical Mr. Miskimon, who becomes more intriguing as the story goes on.

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

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Kara Isaac's "Close to You" - a fun novel with a Tolkien theme

Close to YouAllison Shire, a disgraced scholar, is hiding from the world as a tour guide of the Lord of the Rings movie sets in New Zealand. After so many tours she's seen it all--from Tolkien purists to utter frauds. And Jackson Gregory, an annoying addition to her latest tour, is definitely a fraud. Jackson hit rock bottom when his girlfriend took his company secrets to his biggest rival, and now he's tagging along with his rich, eccentric great-uncle, pretending to be a Lord of the Rings fan in hopes that it will win him an investment in his business. But to do that he has to keep Allison from exposing him, and he does not make a brilliant first impression. However, as he and Allison are continually thrown together throughout the tour, they both begin to see things a little differently. Can they overcome their pasts to take a chance at love?

Like so many readers, I was drawn to the book by the Tolkien theme, and I had to laugh at the people portrayed on the tour. Some obnoxious, some hilarious, they were definitely in the fanatic category. I enjoy Tolkien, but there were bits of trivia I hadn't known, and it brought out all the great controversies between the books and movies.

While Lord of the Rings plays a strong role in the story, ultimately it's about two broken people finding their way to healing and love, with a lot of humor and explosive scenes along the way--sometimes both at the same time. Boy, can they make fireworks! The romance happened very quickly--the tour is barely there weeks, after all--but it was still fun. All in all, it was a highly entertaining read with a good deal of heart.

1. Close to You
2. Can't Help Falling 

Friday, August 19, 2016

"A Daring Sacrifice" by Jody Hedlund

A Daring Sacrifice  -     By: Jody Hedlund
Following her father's death, Julianna disguises herself as a young man, living in the woods and helping the poor and starving people. Her harsh uncle rules the land that should be hers and orders that she be captured. Collin has been summoned to Wessex by the lord to protect the nobles from a group of vigilantes who have been attacking traveling parties with bows and arrows, stealing their valuable possessions. But when he comes across the leader of this group, he feels a familiarity to a girl that he knew as a youth. Soon he and Juliana are fighting for what each believes is right, while also fighting the feelings that have begun to develop between them both.

There is plenty of adventure in the story, with equal opportunities for Juliana and Collin to rescue each other and prove (not so definitively) who's best with the bow. I really liked Collin, who is incredibly good-natured, with confidence born of genuine skill, not arrogance. Maybe he's too good to be true, but he's too likeable for that to get in the way. Juliana is a pretty stereotypical young adult heroine--the well-born girl rejecting her noble birth to stand with the peasants, full of spunk and fire, apt to jump to conclusions, and determined to do things her own way.

I personally appreciated the attempts at historical accuracy, including (perhaps especially) the torture--it's something that happened, and in a situation like this, with an unscrupulous ruler and no human rights activists, it was probably pretty common. And, to be honest, the author's descriptions are way less graphic than, say, the visuals in an Avengers movie. It's all very well to read about medieval torture devices, but what actually are thumb-screws, anyway?

Though it isn't really the girl version of Robin Hood, there are many similarities, including some definite nods to the Kevin Costner version of Robin Hood, which I found enjoyable. I had hoped for a little more surprise or sparkle to the story, but nothing really made it stand out from other similar books I've read. It was entertaining, just not particularly memorable.

0.5. "The Vow"
1. An Uncertain Choice
2. A Daring Sacrifice
3. For Love and Honor (Spring 2017)

Monday, August 15, 2016

"The Goodbye Bride" by Denise Hunter - everything I hoped for

When Lucy Lovett hits her head and can’t remember how it happened, she calls the one man she loves…Zac Callahan. But why is Zac being so cold? And how did she end up in Portland, Maine? Zac hasn’t the faintest idea. He hasn’t seen Lucy since she disappeared without a trace weeks before their wedding. Should he help her? And if he does, will she be his…or say goodbye forever?

The Goodbye Bride  -     By: Denise Hunter
I'd heard good things about this book, but still I was impressed. It's probably the best amnesia story I've ever read (or heard of). Any time amnesia is involved, it sounds a little far fetched, but it worked really well with the story, giving it an impact it wouldn't have had as a straightforward, chronological tale of their romance. It's tender, mysterious without being a mystery, not so much suspenseful as underscored with unease . . . I mean, you know that something serious had to have happened for Lucy to leave like that.

The terror of memory loss, the fear of abandonment--all are worked together with an uplifting spiritual thread of restoration. It's a lovely story, with everything I look for in a Christian romance. And it turns out it's part of a series! I'm thinking I'll have to check the others out too.

 Summer Harbor
1. Falling Like Snowflakes
2. The Goodbye Bride
3. Just a Kiss

Sunset Cove by Colleen Coble (related romantic suspense series with cross-over characters)
1. The Inn at Ocean's Edge
2. Mermaid Moon
3. Twilight at Blueberry Barrens  

Friday, August 12, 2016

Lynette Eason's "Without Warning" - would make a great action movie

#2: Without Warning  -     By: Lynette Eason
When the uncle of one of her self-defense students is targeted by a murderer and/or arsonist, Katie Singleton, one of the ladies who form the Elite Guardians Protection Agency, sets aside her vacation to guard the man. As the attacks continue, Daniel Matthews, a restaurateur, is glad he gave in to his niece's urgings for extra protection, but will it be enough? Or will Katie go down with him?

As I've come to expect from Lynette Eason, this is a fast-paced novel brimming with action and suspense. I enjoyed the dynamic between a female bodyguard and a competent client--a man who actually is capable of taking care of himself but also appreciates having someone watch his back. They don't agree about absolutely everything, but they can respect each other's choices, knowing they are acting within their training. Hooray for intelligent characters!

Riley, Daniel's niece, proved to be a fun addition to the cast--not your stereotypical 17-year-old, she's both mature and competent, as well as significantly better organized than her uncle, not unlike Alexis on the TV show Castle. And, more importantly, she's a great example of a youth who knows Christ and is praying for her family to know him too. She just might be the strongest character in the book!

All in all, it would make a great action movie.

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.

Miscellaneous cool fact: Nicholas owns a Cirrus airplane, and Cirrus is based in Duluth, MN. I know people who work there on the planes! The plane parachute mentioned in the story is a major feature of their aircraft. So cool it has a part in this story!

Elite Guardians
1. Always Watching
2. Without Warning
3. Moving Target
4. Chasing Secrets

Monday, August 8, 2016

"A Heart Most Certain" by Melissa Jagears - a convicting story

#1: A Heart Most CertainPressured into impressing a wealthy politician into a marriage proposal, Lydia King is happy to do her part for the Teaville Moral Society. However, the task set up by the politician's mother--convincing the wealthy but notorious Nicholas Lowe to contribute a donation--proves difficult when the man refuses. After much persistence on Lydia's part, the man agrees to contribute to charity, but not in the way she expects. Neither can foresee the effect their work will have on the town--or their own hearts.

Considering the heavy topics addressed in the story, the author does a good job of keeping it a story and not devolving into a sermon. Lydia and Nicholas's romance develops steadily and believably, and I especially enjoyed the excitement of the latter half of the book, when the pace picks up and the consequences of people's choices become apparent.

I appreciated the realism portrayed in the story; while we want to read about prostitutes leaving their work and creating a new life, the reality was much less optimistic--former prostitutes rarely got out and stayed out, and even fewer had a happy ending. This book leaves the reader with hope for some of the characters, but no guarantee of their future: realistic, yet not without hope.

For a story set in the early 1900's, it sure is still relevant and convicting today. There is a strong focus on works and charity, or more importantly, the motivation behind them, but judging takes a strong role too as Lydia and Nicholas butt heads with each other and the town. I'm glad that the author took care to balance Lydia and Nicholas, so that both have good insights yet neither is wholly right. Nicholas might be correct that the church contains some pretty awful hypocrites, but Lydia is right that the church should not be condemned for a few; there are still many in it who are seeking God.

It's definitely thought-provoking. The sort of book to push you out of your comfort zone.

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.

The Teaville Moral Society
0.5: "Engaging the Competition" (from the With This Ring? novella collection)
1. A Heart Most Certain
2. A Love So True
2.5: "Tied and True" (from the Hearts Entwined novella collection)
3. A Chance at Forever (March 2018)

Friday, August 5, 2016

Janette Oke's "Where Hope Prevails"

#3: Where Hope Prevails  -     By: Janette Oke, Laurel Oke Logan
Beth Thatcher is preparing to return to her beloved school out in the far west, fully expecting an imminent engagement to Jerrick Thornton, though not all the potential changes that come with it for her and Jerrick. Will he continue on with Mounties, or accept a position back East with her father? An impending marriage isn't the only change for Beth--Coal Valley has changed too, expanding in population and physical size, with new additions of all sorts, including a second teacher. That's the rub--working with a man who doesn't listen to what Beth has to say and continually rubs her the wrong way. As Beth struggles with the changes, will she discover her heart needs some changes too?

Beth is clearly still growing and learning where she still struggles with the sinful nature. I can understand her resistance to change; just when one finally gets comfortable with the way things are, something changes and throws it all in turmoil.

I had more trouble with this book than the others as Beth sets herself up for some pretty hard lessons over her contentions with Robert Harris Hughes. I get it--it's really hard to make yourself like someone who rubs you completely the wrong way. But failing to act with love is hardly a good witness to a man who professes no belief in God. I was not looking forward to the humble pie she's baking for herself, but the authors convey the lesson with gentleness and love--much like God when He admonishes us.

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.

Return to the Canadian West
1. Where Courage Calls
2. Where Trust Lies
3. Where Hope Prevails

Monday, August 1, 2016

August 2016 Christian Fiction Releases

Christian fiction releases for August 2016:
#1: A Heart Most Certain  -     By: Melissa Jagears
A Heart Most Certain by Melissa Jagears (Bethany House) - Teaville Moral Society, book 1

Pressured into impressing the politician who is courting her, a young woman joins the Teaville Moral Society, but the man she must solicit into donating offers her a new perspective on charity.

Saffire by Sigmund Brouwer (WaterBrook)

In the American zone of the construction of the Panama Canal, a man chooses to help a defenseless girl find her mother, never dreaming of the adventure and danger that would follow.

Guide Me Home by Kim Vogel Sawyer (Waterbrook)

To help provide for her family, a young Appalachian woman dresses as a man and becomes a guide in the Mammoth caves.

Where Hope Prevails by Janette Oke and Laurel Oke Logan (Bethany House) - Return to the Canadian West, book 3

Elizabeth Thatcher returns to Coal Valley to continue teaching, expecting a proposal from her beloved Mountie, but she still has to come to grips with what marriage to a Mountie would entail.
#3: Where Hope Prevails  -     By: Janette Oke, Laurel Oke Logan
#2: Without Warning  -     By: Lynette Eason

Without Warning by Lynette Eason (Revell) - Elite Guardians, book 2

A restaurant owner highers a female bodyguard when someone out to run him out of business turns violent.