Tag Archives: Laura McNeill

Top 10 Tuesday — Hidden Gems

11 Sep

This week That Artsy Reader Girl is challenging bloggers to come up with a list of books they deem Hidden Gems — books we believe haven’t gotten the recognition they deserve. My list derives from books I loved, but rarely see mentioned/recommended in book discussion groups. If you have read these books, you will know why I think they are wonderful. If you haven’t, then I recommend you pick one and get reading! 🙂

 

 

Top 10 Hidden Gems

Before I Saw You by Amy K. Sorrells

Folks are dying fast as the ash trees in the southern Indiana town ravaged by the heroin epidemic, where Jaycee Givens lives with nothing more than a thread of hope and a quirky neighbor, Sudie, who rescues injured wildlife. After a tragedy leaves her mother in prison, Jaycee is carrying grief and an unplanned pregnancy she conceals because she trusts no one, including the kind and handsome Gabe, who is new to town and to the local diner where she works.

Dividing her time between the diner and Sudie’s place, Jaycee nurses her broken heart among a collection of unlikely friends who are the closest thing to family that she has. Eventually, she realizes she can’t hide her pregnancy any longer―not even from the baby’s abusive father, who is furious when he finds out. The choices she must make for the safety of her unborn child threaten to derail any chance she ever had for hope and redemption. Ultimately, Jaycee must decide whether the truest form of love means hanging on or letting go.

Center of Gravity by Laura McNeill

The truth could cost her everything.

Her whole life, Ava Carson has been sure of one thing: she doesn’t measure up to her mother’s expectations. So when Mitchell Carson sweeps into her life with his adorable son, the ready-made family seems like a dream come true. In the blink of an eye, she’s married, has a new baby, and life is wonderful.

Or is it?

When her picture-perfect marriage begins unraveling at the seams, Ava convinces herself she can fix it. It’s temporary. It’s the stress. It’s Mitchell’s tragic history of loss.

If only Ava could believe her own excuses.

Mitchell is no longer the charming, thoughtful man she married. He grows more controlling by the day, revealing a violent jealous streak. His behavior is recklessly erratic, and the unanswered questions about his past now hint at something far more sinister than Ava can stomach. Before she can fit the pieces together, Mitchell files for divorce and demands full custody of their boys.

Fueled by fierce love for her children and aided by Graham Thomas, a new attorney in town, Ava takes matters into her own hands, digging deep into the past. But will finding the truth be enough to beat Mitchell at his own game?

Ghost Heart by Lisa Harris and Lynne Gentry

A brilliant transplant surgeon. A rogue organ broker. A ghost child. And the legend that could destroy them all. A brutal murder convinces surgeon Mia Kendall there’s more than she imagined to the mysterious spike in heart transplant rejections. Determined to find answers before she loses another patient, Mia gets sucked into a dangerous international medical web. With time running out for her youngest transplant recipient, Mia is forced to partner with a disillusioned ex-military pilot who flies brokered organs across East Africa. But searching for the truth will prove costly for the unlikely duo racing to stop a madman before he annihilates a rare and cursed bloodline. From best-selling author Lisa Harris and award-winning author Lynne Gentry comes a chilling, hypnotic medical thriller that will take you from the suburbs of Cincinnati to the jungles of Africa.

Grace in Strange Disguise by Christine Dillon

Physiotherapist Esther Macdonald is living the Australian dream, and it doesn’t surprise her. After all, her father has always said, “Follow Jesus and be blessed.” But at twenty-eight, her world shatters. Everyone assures her God will come through for her, but what happens when he doesn’t? Has she offended God? Is her faith too small? So many conflicting explanations. Will finding the truth cost her the people closest to her heart?

 

 

The Memoir of Johnny Devine by Camille Eide

In 1953, desperation forces young war widow Eliza Saunderson to take a job writing the memoir of ex-Hollywood heartthrob Johnny Devine. Rumor has it Johnny can seduce anything in a skirt quicker than he can hail a cab. But now the notorious womanizer claims he’s been born again. Eliza soon finds herself falling for the humble, grace-filled man John has become—a man who shows no sign of returning her feelings. No sign, that is, until she discovers something John never meant for her to see.

​When Eliza’s articles on minority oppression land her on McCarthy’s Communist hit list, John and Eliza become entangled in an investigation that threatens both his book and her future. To clear her name, Eliza must solve a family mystery. Plus, she needs to convince John that real love—not the Hollywood illusion—can forgive a sordid past. Just when the hope of love becomes reality, a troubling discovery confirms Eliza’s worst fears. Like the happy façade many Americans cling to, had it all been empty lies? Is there a love she can truly believe in?

Missing Isaac by Valerie Fraser Luesse

There was another South in the 1960s, one far removed from the marches and bombings and turmoil in the streets that were broadcast on the evening news. It was a place of inner turmoil, where ordinary people struggled to right themselves on a social landscape that was dramatically shifting beneath their feet. This is the world of Valerie Fraser Luesse’s stunning debut, Missing Isaac.

It is 1965 when black field hand Isaac Reynolds goes missing from the tiny, unassuming town of Glory, Alabama. The townspeople’s reactions range from concern to indifference, but one boy will stop at nothing to find out what happened to his unlikely friend. White, wealthy, and fatherless, young Pete McLean has nothing to gain and everything to lose in his relentless search for Isaac. In the process, he will discover much more than he bargained for. Before it’s all over, Pete — and the people he loves most — will have to blur the hard lines of race, class, and religion. And what they discover about themselves may change some of them forever.

Lead Me Home by Amy K. Sorrells

Amid open fields and empty pews, small towns can crush big dreams.

Abandoned by his no-good father and forced to grow up too soon, Noble Burden has set his dreams aside to run the family farm. Meanwhile, James Horton, the pastor of the local church, questions his own calling as he prepares to close the doors for good.

As a severe storm rolls through, threatening their community and very livelihood, both men fear losing what they care about most . . . and reconsider where they truly belong.

Like A River from Its Course by Kelli Stuart

The city of Kiev was bombed in Hitler’s blitzkrieg across the Soviet Union, but the constant siege was only the beginning for her citizens. In this sweeping historical saga, Kelli Stuart takes the reader on a captivating journey into the little—known history of Ukraine’s tragedies through the eyes of four compelling characters who experience the same story from different perspectives.

Maria Ivanovna is only fourteen when the bombing begins and not much older when she is forced into work at a German labor camp. She must fight to survive and to make her way back to her beloved Ukraine.

Ivan Kyrilovich is falsely mistaken for a Jew and lined up with 34,000 other men, women, and children who are to be shot at the edge of Babi Yar, the “killing ditch.” He survives, but not without devastating consequences.

Luda is sixteen when German soldiers rape her. Now pregnant with the child of the enemy, she is abandoned by her father, alone, and in pain. She must learn to trust family and friends again and find her own strength in order to discover the redemption that awaits.

Frederick Hermann is sure in his knowledge that the Führer’s plans for domination are right and just. He is driven to succeed by a desire to please a demanding father and by his own blind faith in the ideals of Nazism. Based on true stories gathered from fifteen years of research and interviews with Ukrainian World War II survivors, Like a River from Its Course is a story of love, war, heartache, forgiveness, and redemption.

Lost And Found by Ginny Yttrup

Jenna Bouvier and Andee Bell are at a crossroads. Jenna is in danger of losing her family and her wealth when her mother-in-law accuses her of having an affair. Andee has what she wants—fame, fortune, and Jenna’s brother—but she’s haunted by a dark secret. Will they follow familiar paths, or risk walking in faith?

 

 

 

 

Where Hope Begins by Catherine West

Sometimes we’re allowed to glimpse the beauty within the brokenness . . .

Savannah Barrington has always found solace at her parents’ lake house in the Berkshires, and it’s the place that she runs to when her husband of over twenty years leaves her. Though her world is shaken, and the future uncertain, she finds hope through an old woman’s wisdom, a little girl’s laughter, and a man who’s willing to risk his own heart to prove to Savannah that she is worthy of love.

But soon Savannah is given a challenge she can’t run away from: Forgiving the unforgivable. Amidst the ancient gardens and musty bookstores of the small town she’s sought refuge in, she must reconcile with the grief that haunts her, the God pursuing her, and the wounds of the past that might be healed after all.

Where Hope Begins is the story of grace in the midst of brokenness, pointing us to the miracles that await when we look beyond our own expectations.

 

What book do you consider a hidden gem?

 

 

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Top 10 Tuesday — Christian Worldview

7 Feb

The folks at The Broke And The Bookish always have challenging prompts for their Top 10 Tuesday posts. This week they are challenging bloggers to explore what they would like to see more of in books. For what other bloggers are discussing, click HERE.

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So, what do I want more of in books? My book clubs have challenged and stretched my reading habits, and for this I am thankful. I think everyone should venture out of their comfort zones to read different genres or to discover new authors. Because of this I have read some books I never would have chosen on my own. And while I really enjoyed the books I am about to discuss, they seemed to lack something. As I pondered just what was missing, I came up with one common thing — lack of a Christian worldview.

Christian Worldview (also called Biblical worldview) refers to the framework of ideas and beliefs through which a Christian individual, group or culture interprets the world and interacts with it. — from Wikipedia.

Now, I am not judging the authors, but I don’t think I am going out on a limb saying that they did not begin writing saying WWJD! The books are well-written and award-winning — truly exceptional books, but left me feeling unsatisfied. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t need a book to be blatant or preachy, but I do appreciate when there is a subtly woven message of hope or redemption or forgiveness.

So today, I am presenting 4 books that I liked a lot, but would have loved if they had been based on Biblical concepts, and 4 books that I think are great examples of Christian Worldview. As always, these are my own opinions and not a judgment of the authors personally.

4 Books I Liked, But Would Have Loved If They Had Included A Christian Worldview

All The Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr

Home Front by Kristin Hannah

Orphan Train by Christina Baker Kline

The Readers of Broken Wheel Recommend by Katarina Bivald

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3 Books I Loved That Include A Christian Worldview

Secrets of A Charmed Life by Susan Meissner

Sister Dear by Laura McNeill

Unwritten by Charles Martin

Water from My Heart by Charles Martin

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What do you want more of in books?

 

Top 10 Tuesday — Best of 2016

27 Dec

2016 was a whirlwind of activity for my family. Several weddings, a couple of bucket list trips, and relocations led to a very busy year. Amid it all I did manage to read some great books — some new releases and some new to me. So, I am supposed to narrow my list to just 10. Hmm . . . can’t do it. 😉 So I have come up with two lists — Contemporary Fiction and Historical Fiction. No matter your preference of genre, there is something for you on these lists. To see what other bloggers consider their best of the best, please visit The Broke And The Bookish.

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Top Contemporary Fiction of 2016

 

Of Stillness and Storm by Michele Phoenix

Sea Rose Lane by Irene Hannon

Seeing Things by Patti Hill

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Since You’ve Been Gone by Christa Allan

Sister Dear by Laura McNeill

Song of Silence by Cynthia Ruchti

Sycamore Row by John Grisham

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Water From My Heart by Charles Martin

When Death Draws Near by Carrie Stuart Parks

The Witnesses by Robert Whitlow

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Top Historical Fiction of 2016

 

Anchor in The Storm by Sarah Sundin

AD 30 by Ted Dekker

A Day And A Life by Penelope Wilcock

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Forest Child by Heather Day Gilbert

The Inheritance by Michael Phillips

The Lady And The Lionheart by Joanne Bischof

Like A River From Its Course by Kelli Stuart

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The Memoir of Johnny Devine by Camille Eide

Though Waters Roar by Lynn Austin

Within The Veil by Brandy Valance

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Best of The Best of 2106

There were two books that I gave Very Highly Recommended ratings to in 2016. Both were from author Mike Nappa. These are great books I would recommend to everyone!

unknown2Annabel Lee

Fourteen miles east of Peachtree, Alabama, a secret is hidden. That secret’s name is Annabel Lee Truckson, and even she doesn’t know why her mysterious uncle has stowed her deep underground in a military-style bunker. He’s left her with a few German words, a barely-controlled guard dog, and a single command: “Don’t open that door for anybody, you got it? Not even me.”

Above ground, a former Army sniper called The Mute and an enigmatic “Dr. Smith” know about the girl. As the race begins to find her, the tension builds. Who wants to set her free? Why does the other want to keep her captive forever? Who will reach her first?

Private investigators Trudi Coffey and Samuel Hill need to piece together the clues and stay alive long enough to retrieve the girl–before it’s too late.

41jklpz8chl-_sx322_bo1204203200_The Raven 

As part of his regular street performance, a deception specialist who goes by the name The Raven picks his audience’s pockets while they watch. It’s harmless fun — until he decides to keep the spare wallet a city councilman doesn’t seem to miss, hoping for a few extra bucks. When he finds not money but compromising photos of the councilman and his “personal assistants”, The Raven hatches a plan to blackmail the man. However, he quickly finds himself in over his head with the Ukrainian Mafia and mired in a life-threatening plot code-named, “Nevermore”.

Private investigators Trudi Coffey and Samuel Hill must scramble to sort out the clues — and their complicated feelings for each other — to rescue The Raven and save hundreds of lives from a wildcard bent on revenge.

 

July Book Club Selections

1 Jul

According to my book clubs it could be Siblings Month! We are reading My Brother’s Crown by Mindy Starns Clark and Leslie Gould and Sister Dear by Laura McNeill, both Christian fiction, but from different genres. Have you read either of these books? We’d love to hear your thoughts.

 

 

UnknownFrance, 1685. Catherine Gillet knows her brother, Jules, wants to protect her from the sinister threats of the French crown. But Jules is involved in a potentially deadly enterprise, one connected with an encoded document. When his actions put the whole family at risk, will Catherine find a way to save them?

Virginia, present day. Renee Talbot, a direct descendant of Catherine’s, is fascinated by the document that’s been part of her family legacy for more than three centuries. Certain its pages hold hidden secrets, she takes a closer look—and makes a shocking discovery. But when memories of a childhood trauma are rekindled, she’s forced to seek answers of a different kind. Inspired by the faith and bravery of Catherine, can Renee find the truth and face her deepest fears at last?

From the authors of the Christy Award-winning The Amish Midwife comes an epic story of two women, centuries apart, each discovering her own hidden bravery, standing for what she believes in, and finding love in unexpected places.

 

 

41L7MvPxtlL._SX326_BO1,204,203,200_All Allie Marshall wants is a fresh start. But when dark secrets refuse to stay buried, will her chance at a new life be shattered forever?

Convicted of a crime she didn’t commit, Allie watched a decade of her life vanish – time that can never be recovered. Now, out on parole, Allie is determined to clear her name, rebuild her life, and reconnect with the daughter she barely knows.

But Allie’s return home shatters the quaint, coastal community of Brunswick, Georgia. Even her own daughter Caroline, now a teenager, bristles at Allie’s claims of innocence. Refusing defeat, a stronger, smarter Allie launches a battle for the truth, digging deeply into the past even if it threatens her parole status, personal safety, and the already-fragile bond with family.

Book Review: Sister Dear

11 May

Sister-Dear-252x384All Allie Marshall wants is a fresh start. But when dark secrets refuse to stay buried, will her chance at a new life be shattered forever?

Convicted of a crime she didn’t commit, Allie watched a decade of her life vanish – time that can never be recovered. Now, out on parole, Allie is determined to clear her name, rebuild her life, and reconnect with the daughter she barely knows.

But Allie’s return home shatters the quaint, coastal community of Brunswick, Georgia. Even her own daughter Caroline, now a teenager, bristles at Allie’s claims of innocence. Refusing defeat, a stronger, smarter Allie launches a battle for the truth, digging deeply into the past even if it threatens her parole status, personal safety, and the already-fragile bond with family.

As her commitment to finding the truth intensifies, what Allie ultimately uncovers is far worse than she imagined. Her own sister has been hiding a dark secret—one that holds the key to Allie’s freedom.

LMcNeill-369Laura McNeill is a writer, web geek, travel enthusiast, and coffee drinker. In her former life, she was a television news anchor for CBS News affiliates in New York and Alabama. Laura holds a master’s degree in journalism from The Ohio State University and is completing a graduate program in interactive technology at the University of Alabama. When she’s not writing and doing homework, she enjoys running, yoga, and spending time at the beach. She lives in Mobile, AL with her family.

Find out more about Laura at http://lauramcneill.com.

 

My Impressions: 

I loved Laura McNeill’s first book, Center of Gravity. There was a bit of controversy about this book among the members of a FB group I belong to. The buzz surrounding the book intrigued me, so I picked it up. It was great. Now, with her second book, Sister Dear, McNeill has established herself as one of my must-read authors. Sister Dear is all the things I love in a book — real-life characters with messy motives and emotions, a tension-filled plot that made me stay up way too late, and themes that kept me thinking long after the cover was closed. My book club is reading this book later this summer. I can’t wait to hear what they have to say.

Allie Marshall has fulfilled 10 years of a 16 year sentence for voluntary manslaughter. Days within the prison were about surviving. When she gets a chance at a new start, she is excited, scared and determined to get past the injustice of her sentence. But life on the outside is complicated, especially when she must find out what really happened on the night that changed the course of her life.

Sister Dear is part psychological thriller, part family drama. The novel is told from the perspectives of the four main characters — Allie, Allie’s sister Emma, Allie’s daughter Caroline and Sheriff Lee Gaines — to great effect. Their unique perspectives, hidden motivations and deep passions give a whole picture. The story unfolds slowly through their recollections and present day actions. Things are definitely not what they seem on the surface. Jealousy and bitterness are front and center in Sister Dear. Old resentments are closely tended as they grow to overwhelming strength. Truth is also hard to find, but, as always, eventually emerges. Sister Dear doesn’t end with a neat, tied-up-in-a-bow, happy ending. The life portrayed is messy, messy, but the ending is certainly satisfying, at least for this reader. There is hope for the future and the healing power of forgiveness.

A powerful story, real-life characters, and excellent writing combine to make Sister Dear a highly recommended read. You need to put this one on your summer reading list!

Highly Recommended.

Audience: adults.

To purchase this book, click HERE.

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

Audiobook Review: Center of Gravity

26 Aug

510K4Y1r7LL._SX331_BO1,204,203,200_The truth could cost her everything.

Her whole life, Ava Carson has been sure of one thing: she doesn’t measure up to her mother’s expectations. So when Mitchell Carson sweeps into her life with his adorable son, the ready-made family seems like a dream come true. In the blink of an eye, she’s married, has a new baby, and life is wonderful.

Or is it?

When her picture-perfect marriage begins unraveling at the seams, Ava convinces herself she can fix it. It’s temporary. It’s the stress. It’s Mitchell’s tragic history of loss.

If only Ava could believe her own excuses.

Mitchell is no longer the charming, thoughtful man she married. He grows more controlling by the day, revealing a violent jealous streak. His behavior is recklessly erratic, and the unanswered questions about his past now hint at something far more sinister than Ava can stomach. Before she can fit the pieces together, Mitchell files for divorce and demands full custody of their boys.

Fueled by fierce love for her children and aided by Graham Thomas, a new attorney in town, Ava takes matters into her own hands, digging deep into the past. But will finding the truth be enough to beat Mitchell at his own game?

 

 

52C-300x231After six years behind the anchor desk at two CBS affiliates, Laura McNeill moved to the Alabama Gulf Coast to raise her family. Her accolades in broadcasting include awards from the Associated Press, including Best News Anchor and Best Specialized Reporter.

Laura works at Spring Hill College as the school’s web content and social media manager and​ is active in her community—participating in fundraisers for the American Cancer Society, Ronald McDonald House, and Providence Hospital’s Festival of Flowers.

Laura was recently awarded a 2-book deal with Thomas Nelson Publishing, a division of HarperCollins. Her novel, Center of Gravity, set in Mobile, Ala., will be published in July of 2015. Laura is represented by Elizabeth Winick Rubenstein, president of McIntosh and Otis literary agency in New York.​ Her writing awards include those from William Faulkner-Wisdom Creative Writing Competition, Writer’s Digest, RWA, and the Eric Hoffer competition.

She holds a master’s degree in journalism from The Ohio State University and a bachelor’s degree in English from Clarion University of Pennsylvania. She is currently pursuing a second master’s degree in interactive technology from the University of Alabama. She is a native of Upstate New York and currently resides near the Alabama Gulf Coast with her two children.

 

My Impressions:

I first heard about Center of Gravity from a discussion on a FB group. Published by Thomas Nelson, it is promoted for the Christian market. There were some comments on the page about the profanity used in the book and if there is ever a reason for it to be included in a Christian novel. Rightly or wrongly, the discussion peaked my interest, and I checked the book out on Amazon. The premise was intriguing and the 4 and 5 star reviews outweighed the 1 stars, so I used an Audible credit and commenced to listening. What I found was a un-put-downable psychological suspense novel. What I didn’t find was a Christian novel.

Ava Carson has an idyllic marriage — or so she thinks. Mother to her adopted son Jack, age 8 and her biological son Sam, 16 months, she has a doting and loving husband, a beautiful country club home and a life that seems to good to be true. And that’s because it is. Ava’s husband Mitchell is a sociopath and, when he snaps, he snaps BIG!

Center of Gravity is riveting. The unraveling of Ava’s marriage is unnerving and caused me to have a knot in the pit of my stomach while listening. Many reviewers say it wasn’t really an enjoyable read, and it wasn’t. But it was very good despite the disturbing twists and turns. Well-written with a good sense of place (Mobile, Alabama), it is told in the first person POVs of Ava, Mitchell, Jack, Ava’s attorney Graham, and court-appointed psychologist Lucy. Lots of POVs to be sure, but it really worked. Everything about this book was good, except . . . this is not a Christian novel.

When I pick up a book from a Christian publisher there are a few things I expect — no profanity and a message of hope/redemption even if subtly woven through the narrative. I admit, I like my books with an edginess that is not always found in Christian fiction. I like real people and real problems and the characters don’t have to be Christians. But I do want a message of God’s grace or mercy or sovereignty; something that will point readers to a God bigger and stronger than the circumstances they are facing. Center of Gravity did, indeed, contain profanity. It wasn’t rampant, but it was there. But that’s not my big issue with the book. Ava and Jack were such compelling characters. There could have been so much they could have learned through their struggles if one or two other characters that had relationships with God could have intersected with their lives. The only spiritual event in the novel was when Ava shot up a prayer to “angels” or “a higher being”. Really!? Center of Gravity was a good secular novel. Unfortunately, it could have been an excellent Christian one.

Audience: adults.

(I purchased the audiobook from Audible. All opinions expressed are mine alone.)