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Book Review: Deadly Commitment

5 Dec

Will the truth about her fiancé be more unsettling than the stranger stalking her? 

As Danielle Kemp walks out of her downtown Nashville condominium, she gets the eerie feeling someone is watching her. As days go by, she becomes convinced the homeless man outside her building is stalking her. But after learning the real identity of the intimidating stranger, she faces something even more threatening ― the truth about her fiancé.  

Deadly Secrets is a new fiction series with southern charm and big-city twists. Set in the author’s hometown of Nashville, Tennessee, it is filled not only with intrigue and suspense but subtle glimpses into how God is at work in the lives of ordinary people doing ordinary jobs . . . or maybe they aren’t so ordinary after all.

 

Kathy Harris is an author by way of a divine detour into the Nashville entertainment business. She graduated with a Communications degree from Southern Illinois University and has spent the past several decades employed as a marketing director in the Nashville music industry.She has contributed to a number of anthologies. Her first novel released in 2012. Her latest, Deadly Commitment, released in October 2019. Kathy regularly interviews literary and music guests on her blog at http://www.divinedetour.com.

Visit her website at http://www.kathyharrisbooks.com and/or follow her on Facebook (facebook.com/KathyHarrisAuthor), Twitter (@divinedetour), and Instagram (@kathyharris_author).

My Impressions:

A commitment to do what’s right can sometimes plunge you into danger! That’s what you’ll find in Kathy Harris’ romantic suspense, Deadly Commitment. Set among the tall buildings of downtown Nashville, this southern-vibe novel introduces the reader to all sides of the drug epidemic — law enforcement seeking justice, innocent victims of other’s choices, those fighting to recover, and the drug traffickers that put everything in motion. With likable characters and a true-to-life story, this book will appeal to those who like suspense with a strong Christian message.

Main characters Danni Kemp and Caleb Samuels are at odds when they first meet. Danni defends her soon-to-be fiance’, Rob, when faced with Caleb’s accusations that Rob is a big part of a drug trafficking ring. Soon, though, her sense of right and wrong has her facing difficult truths and joining the efforts to put an end to the criminal activity around her. I really liked Caleb’s character — a man with past sins who is working hard to trust God and make the world a better and safer place. I was initially frustrated with Danni’s character. She was naive and wishy-washy, but as the book progressed she found a backbone and some smarts 😉 . Both characters struggle with baggage from their pasts that color their perceptions of themselves and others. They each lean on God for direction and protection. The book moved a little slow at first, but towards the end the action heats up and their is a good deal of danger facing all the characters.

With the news full of drug crimes, Deadly Commitment is a timely read. If you enjoy romantic suspense with a strong message of God’s grace, then you need to check it out.

Audience: adults.

(Thanks to JustRead for a complimentary copy. All opinions expressed are mine alone.)

Book Review: A Christmas Haven

2 Dec

Old Order Amish Ivy Zook is wrestling with her need to shed her community’s ways so she can grow the business of her dreams: planning parties. As long as she’s stuck living without modernization, she can barely get her business on its feet. But if she leaves too soon, she’d cause trouble for her sister, Holly, who is planning her wedding to Joshua Smucker. All of their plans become twice as complicated when an old car crashes into the storefront of Greene’s Pharmacy, carrying a Swartzentruber (ultra-conservative sect) Amish man, Arlan, and his very ill sister.

The Zooks take in Arlan and Madga, tending to the woman’s illness and Arlan begins helping around the family farm. Ivy and Arlan are on different tracks, one wanting to leave her community and the other to return to his. But both young people are trying to discover what God has in store for their futures and what miracles might lie around the corner this Christmas season.

Cindy Woodsmall is the “New York Times” and CBA best-selling author of eighteen works of fiction. She’s been featured in national media outlets such as ABC’s “Nightline” and the “Wall Street Journal”. Cindy has won numerous awards and has been finalist for the prestigious Christy, Rita, and Carol Awards. Cindy and her husband reside near the foothills of the North Georgia Mountains in Flowery Branch, GA.

Erin Woodsmall is a writer, musician, wife, and mom of three. She has edited, brainstormed, and researched books with Cindy for almost a decade. She is very excited about their first coauthored book.

Find out more about Cindy and Erin at http://www.cindywoodsmall.com.

 

My Impressions:

Cindy and Erin Woodsmall return to Raysburg, Pennsylvania and the Zook family with A Christmas Haven. (The Christmas Remedy introduced readers to the quaint town and its Amish/English community.) This novella-length book features Ivy Zook, a young woman who identifies more with glitter and tulle than the Plain community in which she was born. But her plans to join the English world are put on hold when an unexpected crash into the Green Pharmacy front window brings new people and new perspectives into her life.

As always, Cindy and Erin Woodsmall created a community that resonates with all faith traditions. In A Christmas Haven the rules of the Old Order Amish actually seem pretty lenient against the extreme legalism that Arlan and Magda Keim experienced in their Swartzentruber Amish family. Readers may be surprised with the differences between Plain communities that the Woodsmalls describe. But the true message is that of mercy and grace and being true to what God has designed for your life. I liked the easy pace of this novel and the true-to-life characters. While the book is billed as a Christmas novella, most of the action takes place before the holiday season, so this book can be enjoyed at any time of the year.

Likable characters, charming setting, and a relevant faith message makes this a good choice for your Christmas reading.

Recommended.

Audience: YA to adults.

(Thanks to Waterbrook for a complimentary copy. All opinions expressed are mine alone.)

 

 

Mini-Review: In The Shadow of Croft Towers

28 Nov

With murderers, smugglers, and spies on the loose, nothing—and no one—at Croft Towers is what they claim. Can one woman even trust what she knows about herself in this Gothic Regency romance?

When Sybil Delafield’s coach to Croft Towers was robbed by highwaymen, she should have realized that her new position as companion to old Mrs. Chalcroft would be no ordinary job. Upon Sybil’s arrival, Mrs. Chalcroft sneaks into her room in the dark of night, imploring her to relay messages to town that are to stay hidden from the rest of the family. Who exactly is she working for and what do the messages contain?

When fellow passengers of the robbed coach are later murdered, Sybil’s hunt for the truth takes on a new urgency. The only person she can rely on is Mr. Sinclair, Mrs. Chalcroft’s godson, but under all his charms he too leads a double life. Sybil must decide if he is the one honest voice she can trust, or if he is simply using her for his own advances.

Croft Towers holds more than its share of secrets . . . and Sybil is determined to uncover them all.

Abigail Wilson combines her passion for Regency England with intrigue and adventure to pen historical mysteries with a heart. A Registered Nurse, chai tea addict, and mother of two crazy kids, Abigail fills her spare time hiking the National Parks, attending her daughter’s gymnastic meets, and curling up with a great book. In 2017, Abigail won WisRWA’s Fab Five contest and in 2016, ACFW’s First Impressions contest as well as placing as a 2017 finalist in the Daphne du Maurier Award for Excellence in Mystery/Suspense. She is a cum laude graduate of the University of Texas at Austin and currently lives in Dripping Springs, Texas, with her husband and children.

My Impressions:

For a debut novel, In The Shadow of Croft Towers by Abigail Wilson is pretty impressive. I found this Gothic-Regency romance to be very well-written and highly entertaining. There are plenty of mysterious doings — secret letters, highwaymen, murders — to keep a reader engaged, while a very plucky main character and a swoony hero satisfy all the romantic longings. I loved the first person account by Sybil Delafield, especially as she interjects her dry humor onto her account. The setting is perfect to accompany the suspense — moors and a mouldering old house. And the cast of characters cannot be trusted to reveal their true motives — I loved trying to figure out their secrets too.

A quick read, if you enjoy historical romance with a good dose of mystery, this one is for you. I can’t wait to read Wilson’s other books!

Highly Recommended.

Audience: adults.

(Thanks to Thomas Nelson for a complimentary copy. All opinions expressed are mine alone.)

 

Guest Review from Super-Reviewer, Rebecca Maney

27 Nov

When I first started blogging, I had no idea that I would connect with so many wonderful people! Authors, other bloggers, reviewers, and readers extraordinaire have crossed my path and enriched my life over the past 10 years. One such person is Rebecca Maney. Rebecca and I have very similar reading preferences — and we consistently rate books the same. Rebecca and I first connected through a number of FB readers’ groups, and then met in person while standing in line at the Christian Fiction Readers Retreat back in April. Today, she is sharing a review of her favorite book (and, of course, one of mine 😉 ) of 2019.

Rebecca’s review of The Curse of Misty Wayfair by Jaime Jo Wright first appeared on Goodreads back in January. It says a lot that it is still her favorite of 2019. Here’s what she thought of this dual timeline, suspense-filled novel. Thanks, Rebecca, for sharing today!

 

Left at an orphanage as a child, Thea Reed vowed to find her mother someday. Now grown, her search takes her to Pleasant Valley, Wisconsin, in 1908. When clues lead her to a mental asylum, Thea uses her experience as a post-mortem photographer to gain access and assist groundskeeper Simeon Coyle in photographing the patients and uncovering the secrets within. However, she never expected her personal quest would reawaken the legend of Misty Wayfair, a murdered woman who allegedly haunts the area and whose appearance portends death.

A century later, Heidi Lane receives a troubling letter from her mother–who is battling dementia–compelling her to travel to Pleasant Valley for answers to her own questions of identity. When she catches sight of a ghostly woman who haunts the asylum ruins in the woods, the long-standing story of Misty Wayfair returns–and with it, Heidi’s fear for her own life.

As two women across time seek answers about their identities and heritage, can they overcome the threat of the mysterious curse that has them inextricably intertwined?

Rebecca’s Review:

“You are the reason the voices are never heard . . . come . . . come quickly.”

Two women, separated by time and eternity, yet inexplicably drawn together by a postmortem photograph and a cryptic letter crafted by one whose mind has become crippled beyond recognition. Both are determined to find answers to the question that continually rages in their minds; “who am I”?

Dorothea Reed, orphaned at a young age and now a postmortem photographer, is drawn to the small town of Pleasant Valley, Wisconsin to search for clues about her birth mother, never imagining the trail would lead to the front door of a local mental asylum whose residents simply live in order to die. And then there are the unexplained sightings of a local woman who has been dead for years, the cursed Misty Wayfair.

One hundred years later, Heidi Lane returns to her home town of Pleasant Valley after being summoned by her aging mother. Heidi has a myriad of questions about her past that she’s not sure her remaining parent can answer; for it appears that someone, or something, is determined to destroy Heidi’s thin thread of equilibrium. And what about that old photograph; the one she happened upon in the town’s antique store, the woman could be her twin.

It’s so rare to read a book with this many layers . . . and yet every single one of them carries its own weight so beautifully . . . . while together they appear as a single thread. It’s magnificent to behold.

“Fix your eyes on the target and let the arrow fly. The rest will follow.”

*****

Rebecca Maney is a graduate of Bryan College with a degree in Christian Education, and is currently serving at the First Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church in Gastonia, North Carolina as the Director of Children’s Ministry. With over 30 years of experience in her field, she has had many opportunities to use her love of reading and writing in creative ways across the generations. A wife, mother of four “nearly” grown children, and grandmother to four beautiful grandchildren, Rebecca has been able to return to her love of reading and more recently reviewing, with a renewed passion for the “beauty of story”. You can find more of Rebecca’s reviews over at Inkwell Inspirations.

Book Review: The Story Peddler

26 Nov

Selling stories is a deadly business

Tanwen doesn’t just tell stories — she weaves them into crystallized sculptures that sell for more than a few bits. But the only way to escape the control of her cruel mentor and claw her way from poverty is to set her sights on something grander: becoming Royal Storyteller to the king.

During her final story peddling tour, a tale of treason spills from her hands, threatening the king himself. Tanwen goes from peddler to prey as the king’s guard hunts her down . . . and they’re not known for their mercy. As Tanwen flees for her life, she unearths long-buried secrets and discovers she’s not the only outlaw in the empire. There’s a rebel group of weavers . . . and they’re after her too.

 

Lindsay A. Franklin would wear pajama pants all the time if it were socially acceptable. Lindsay lives in her native San Diego with her scruffy-looking nerf-herder husband, their three geeklings, three demanding thunder pillows (a.k.a. cats), and a stuffed wombat with his own Instagram following. You can find Lindsay on social media, too, if Wombatman hasn’t hijacked all her accounts. She’s @LinzyAFranklin on Instagram and Twitter, and she Facebooks at www.facebook.com/LindsayAFranklin.

 

My Impressions: 

The Story Peddler by Lindsay A. Franklin is the best kind of fantasy — one in which the author masterfully creates a new world that is different enough to engage and intrigue the reader, yet has a touch of the familiar to allow the reader to enter effortlessly into its world and story. I can hardly believe that this YA/Adult novel is a debut — it is one of the best of the fantasy genre I have read and one of the best books overall from my reading this year. It is a very highly recommended read.

The country of Tir is the setting of this highly imaginative novel. It has a medieval feel which I love. The country is ruled by a tyrannt king who suppresses his people’s thoughts and expressions. After taking the throne years before, he systematically changed the history and mythology of the country by limiting what artisans, including storytellers, could share. Entering into this scenario is the story peddler, Tanwen, whose heart will not allow her to stay on the proscribed narratives. Part of the story is told from her 1st person perspective, while the other half is told through the 3rd person perspective of Braith, the princess and heir.

Franklin’s descriptions made me feel a part of the story. The characterization is very strong as well, as she introduces us to a varied cast of characters. The story is part adventure, part romance, part coming-of-age, and all so very, very good. The most unique aspect of the book is the way Tanwen tells her stories. My words won’t do it justice — just know that you will be as mesmerized and enchanted as Tanwen’s audiences. The theme of art, whether painting, song, or story, as a means to reveal truth is beautifully depicted.

I really loved The Story Peddler! Perfect for YA and adult readers alike, it is a must-read for fans of fantasy,

Very Highly Recommended.

Audience: YA to adult.

(I received a complimentary copy from the publisher. All opinions expressed are mine alone.)

 

Book Review: Crisis Shot

21 Nov

Tess O’Rourke dreams of becoming the first female chief of police in Long Beach, California. As commander of the East Division, she is well on her way . . . until the night she responds to an officer-needs-assistance call and fatally shoots an unarmed teenager. Despite being cleared of wrongdoing by a grand jury, Tess is so hounded by the public that she takes a job in Oregon to escape the bad press.

Winning over the residents of Rogue’s Hollow might be more difficult than adjusting to her new role as police chief in the small, backwater town. Especially when her closest friend, the pastor’s wife, goes missing and the woman’s cousin is found shot. Tess finds an ally in sheriff’s deputy Steve Logan, but as they track down Rogue’s Hollow’s first murderer, she worries that she’s breaking one of her rules and getting too close to him.

Janice Cantore, in her own words:

I was born and raised in Southern California. I always wanted to write but never felt I had anything much to say. In college I majored in biological science, then physical education, and when I found myself a college grad with two degrees and no idea what todo with my life, I applied to be a police officer. The choice was not as random as it sounds. I have always liked helping people, especially people who are victims of unfairness or injustice. Nothing makes my blood boil more than people victimizing or taking advantage of the innocent. Most police work is arriving on scene after a crime or an accident as first responder. That first contact with a victim is an important place to be compassionate and caring while at the same time collecting the most information possible in order to solve the crime/arrest a suspect. And I loved the part where we got to arrest the bad guys!!

Long Beach California is a diverse city and a great place to work. My years there and the people I worked with hold a special place in my heart. After I retired I realized that I had lots to say and lots to write about and that began my writing career. During my time with LBPD I saw good, bad, tragic, and inspiring situations. One lesson that has stayed with me is that bad can happen to anyone. Yet emerging from the bad can also make people stronger and better. We serve a good God who is able to guide us through any tragedy or loss. I hope my stories inspire you as much as they entice you to turn the page and find out what happens next.

 

My Impressions:

My book club loves suspense. If I didn’t force, bully, encourage them to read other genres, I think that is all they would choose. And with that focus, we come close to running out of authors to read as well. Well, I hit a home run when I suggested Crisis Shot by Janice Cantore. This novel by a new-to-us author had everything we love getting it a unanimous thumbs up from my group.

The story arc of small town police chief tackles hostile attitudes and big city crime is set up when main character, Tess O’Rourke is forced from the police force and city she loves by bad press from an officer involved shooting. Tess moves to Rogue’s Hollow, Oregon to take over the job of police chief and to try to begin again, but longing for home and doubts of her own combine to make her rethink her new job. But then the action starts, and Tess is determined to gain the trust of the town while solving violent and mysterious crimes.

Characterization is strong in Crisis Shot. We all loved main characters Tess and Oliver, the pastor of the local church. The two are good foils for each other — one a logical, independent thinker, the other a man of deep faith. Both are challenged by the circumstances they face. The book is fast-paced, and the reader is given glimpses of the bad guy(s) before the characters, but the mystery is not easily solved by either, keeping both on their toes. There is only a hint of romance for Tess — something we really liked. It seemed much more natural than books where the crime-solving sleuths spend as much time gazing in each other’s eyes as solving a case. 😉 Crisis Shot explores the theme of a good and just God in the midst of unfair and evil circumstances. It also provides the realistic struggles of one maintaining faith within the fire. The promise of a future romance, some unresolved spiritual questions for Tess, and a town that is sure to harbor more criminals makes this series one we want to continue. In fact, book 2, Lethal Target is on our selection list for early 2020.

Recommended.

Audience: adults.

(I purchased Crisis Shot from Amazon. All opinions expressed are mine alone.)

Children’s Corner — Two for Christmas

20 Nov

Zonderkidz has two cute and colorful storybooks for kids available now — A Christmas Gift for Santa and A Very Fiona Christmas. While I liked both of these books, they were very secular in nature. But . . . they do offer parents an opportunity to expand the conversation about what Christmas is all about and being reminded to give to those who give us so much. Check out my impressions on each book below

A Christmas Gift for Santa

The Christmas story you haven’t read: What happens after Santa Claus delivers all the Christmas presents to boys and girls around the world?

Is there a gift waiting for Santa at the North Pole? Cuddle up with your little ones and follow the journey through Santa’s Workshop in search of Santa’s Christmas present. With bright and whimsical illustrations, this new take on the Christmas story is sure to become the newest addition to your holiday reading tradition — especially at bedtime!

Has Mrs. Claus forgotten Santa on Christmas Eve? He searches and searches their cozy North Pole home until he finds homemade gifts waiting for him next to a beautiful handwritten note. But what does it say?

My Impressions:

Santa is finally at home after his gift-giving spree across the world, but he feels a little left out when there is apparently no gift for him. This book has cute and colorful illustrations and a rhyming narrative as Santa searches for a gift. I think this book could serve as a springboard for parents to remind their kids of all those who give so much, but may not receive in return — policemen, firemen, nurses, etc. In the midst of gift-giving excitement, A Christmas Gift for Santa is a good reminder to show gratitude to those who selflessly share with others.

(Thanks to Zonderkidz for a complimentary copy. All opinions expressed are mine alone.)

A Very Fiona Christmas

A follow-up to the New York Times bestselling Fiona the Hippo picture book comes A Very Fiona Christmas!

It’s Fiona the hippo’s very first Christmas, and the zoo is sparkling with holiday spirit. When the adorable little hippo asks her friends, “What’s Christmas?” they set out to show her all the wonders and excitement of the season. With each new experience Fiona lets out a snort, wiggles her ears, and asks, “Is THIS Christmas?”

Amidst the snow, twinkling lights, mistletoe, and stockings, Fiona ends up meeting a new friend at the zoo who helps her discover the true meaning of the holiday: Love. Snuggle up with your little ones and join Fiona and her adorable animal friends for a heartwarming holiday romp through the zoo. 

My Impressions: 

I have to say that while I loved the illustrations and the premise of this book, A Very Fiona Christmas left me wanting more. The book details Fiona’s search for what Christmas really is. She sees glittery decorations, sparkling snow, and fun gifts, but knows those aren’t really what Christmas is all about. At the end, with the help of all her zoo friends, she discovers that Christmas is Love. When I turned the final page, I thought where is the rest? While Christmas is about love, it is a very specific love — that of God for His people. Parents who choose this book for their kids can certainly expound on that concept, and I recommend that they do, to truly communicate the real meaning of Christmas.

(Thanks to Zonderkidz for a complimentary copy. All opinions expressed are mine alone.)