Sunday, August 25, 2013

Book Review: Severed Trust by Margaret Daley


Severed Trust
Severed Trust by Margaret Daley

My rating: 4 of 5 stars



- I received a free copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

In the small town of Summerton, life is normal. Kids go to school, parents go to work . . . and people pop prescription pills for fun. Kelly discovers the hard way that being accepted into a pill party isn't all it's cracked up to be, especially when another attendee ends up dead. But she's too scared to talk, not even to her best friend Lexie, and certainly not to Lexie's Uncle Ethan who just happens to be a Texas Ranger. Secrets and lies pile up and Ethan is desperate to get to the bottom of the mystery, especially before someone he loves gets hurt.

This is one of those books with a plot so true-to-life that it's terrifying. Pill parties are real. Kids don't just take heroine or cocaine to get high. It can just be a combination of pills snitched from their parents. So, in this regard, Margaret Daley addresses a very real issue that tends to get glossed over in literature, even Christian lit. Prescription drug addiction is real and it can ruin your life.

Now, on to the book itself, I couldn't really put it down. I started it sometime early this morning, before church, and just finished it now. Which means that the story was compelling enough to keep me reading. However, I will say that I think Ms. Daley had a few too many main characters. She changes perspective several times to represent these characters and it was hard for me to remember who was related to who and what their connection was to someone else. Also, I think it climaxed too quickly and with too easy of a resolution. I'm not sure what I expected, but not everything tidily wrapped up, well mostly wrapped up since I'm still not sure about one guy's motive in showing up again in his ex-wife's life.

Ultimately, the book would have been better had it been written strictly for teens. Because I read a lot of teen lit, I found Ms. Daley's voice to match teen lit better than adult. I connected with Kelly and Lexie much better than her adult characters. The teen voice just worked. I would like to see what she would do with a book written solely for teens. I think she would wow the Christian market and I hope she considers it someday.

On the whole, Severed Trust was a very compelling read about a terrifying subject, made all the more scary because it's real.



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Saturday, August 24, 2013

Book Review: Rules of Murder by Julianna Deering


Rules of Murder
Rules of Murder by Julianna Deering

My rating: 5 of 5 stars



- I received a free, advance copy of Rules of Murder from Bethany House Publishers in exchange for an honest review.

Drew Farthering, wealthy heir to the Farlinford Processing company, adores murder mysteries. He even has the latest Agatha Christie novel on standing order from the local bookstore. But he never imagined that murder would show up on his own doorstep on the night of a glamorous party, and not just one murder, but two. And now, since murder has assaulted his homestead (huge though it may be), Drew takes it upon himself to put his nose for mystery to good use. With his closest friend Nick Dennison (son to the Farthering's family retainer) in tow, Drew determines to outwit the criminal mind wreaking havoc on his family. Add to the mix the lovely Madeline Parker (niece to Drew's stepfather) and the author has created the perfect concoction for a 1930s English mystery.

For anyone who enjoys the era of Wodehouse's Jeeves & Wooster or Agatha Christie's Poirot this book offers the highest appeal. The author knows the vernacular used in 1930s England by the young and horrendously wealthy, and particularly understands how to take a young man like Drew Farthering (would-be-detective) and make him interesting and fun. Because Drew is fun. He and Nick are such delightful pals, scampering around and trying to solve the murders that crop up on Drew's estate. The characters are likeable, from start to finish. Of course, loving Wodehouse's Bertie Wooster as I do, it only made sense I would adore such ridiculously playful characters as Drew and Nick. To some, I'm sure, they will seem silly and immature, but to me, they are delicious.

Ms. Deering's writing style is simplistic and minimalist, just as I like it. No absurdly big words that require a dictionary or long sentences where the reader forgets where the author was headed. She utilizes active descriptors instead of passive, helping the reader place themselves right in the thick of the action. And her characters are flawlessly designed. Drew and Nick, despite being cut rather from the same playful cloth, or unique from one another in character design. Madeline is a likeable heroine instead of annoying. I cheered for her and Drew. She brings out the best in him and that is what every heroine is called to do with her hero. Even his constant use of "My Darling" was rather adorable instead of irritating!

It isn't easy following in the footsteps of the great mystery writers like Agatha Christie and Dorothy L. Sayers but Julianna Deering makes an exquisite go at it. I admit, she had me going. Not so much that she had me fooled, but she fooled me into thinking she hadn't fooled me. I was disappointed for awhile, thinking I had the mystery all figured out long before I was even halfway through the book. There were too many cliches running around that made me originally think the novel mediocre at best. But the ending was a slam-bang finish and had me slapping my palm to my forehead in impressed disbelief. It's not easy to surprise a mystery connoisseur and I applaud her for managing just that!

I now salivate at the thought of a second book and wish Ms. Deering the best possible success!



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Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Book Review: Into the Whirlwind by Elizabeth Camden


Into the Whirlwind
Into the Whirlwind by Elizabeth Camden

My rating: 4 of 5 stars



- Reviewed for Bethany House as a free advance copy in exchange for an honest review, which I have given.

Mollie Knox never imagined her precise, orderly world would ever shatter, but shatter it did, on a dry day at the beginning of October in 1871 when fire ignited all of the Chicago skyline. Running her father's watch business might have never been something she would have chosen for herself, but she excels at the fine craftsmanship and, better yet, the accounting aspect of the 57th Illinois Watch Company, named after her father's time during the Civil War. That night, as the fire blazes, Mollie finds herself fleeing for her life with Zack Kazmarek, the attorney for Hartman's, Inc. who purchased the majority of her watches for resale. Yet, despite the upheaval of losing almost everything, Mollie determines to start her life afresh, refusing to wallow in self-pity, she determines to rebuild her father's company, although now she has a little matter of Zack's unexpected adoration for her to contend with.

I'm a romantic in some ways, but not in others. I fear that for me Elizabeth Camden's main mistake was having a hot-headed hero. Don't get me wrong, I sometimes enjoy that type of hero, and I liked Zack very much by the end, but it was a long time in coming. I expected him to be cool and collected, logical, which is the persona he presents to the reader up until we realize he is almost goofy with love over Mollie. Goofiness in the male hero has never entirely been my cup of tea. Especially when halfway through the novel, a second man is introduced, Colonel Lowe, who I liked much more. I didn't buy into the author's storyline for him because it just not seem plausible so a little of the magic for me was lost right there.

However, with that out of the way, apart from the generally overdone romanticism near the first 3rd of the novel, I was quite thoroughly enchanted by Elizabeth Camden's story. She has a charming way with words that really paints a vivid image in the reader's mind of this historic setting and the fire as it destroys Chicago. The imagery is quite breathtaking. I couldn't ask for a better heroine than Mollie, who I respected as a strong woman, and I especially loved the little character of Sophie, the child Mollie and Zack find during the fire and care for until her family finds her. She is such a horrendous brat but only because she has nothing to do, nothing to occupy her time, and I loved Elizabeth Camden's gentle nudge that children need something to occupy them and they must not be too spoiled or it will ruin their character. That's a fantastic message she incorporated and I applaud her for it.

So, overall, a very enjoyable read. I wouldn't mind picking up a few of Camden's other books when I have the time.



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Sunday, August 11, 2013

Book Review: Critical Pursuit by Janice Cantore


Critical Pursuit
Critical Pursuit by Janice Cantore

My rating: 4 of 5 stars



Two things exist in K-9 Officer Brinna Caruso's world: her scent-trained dog Hero and her hunt for child predators. Photos she's dubbed the Wall of Slime cover one section of her office, the faces of those child predators reminding her to be ever vigilant. Why? Because Brinna Caruso was once a six-year-old child, handcuffed to a post at an abandoned shack in the desert by a child molester, left to die. Except she was rescued, and even though Brinna's faith in God died that day, His compassion and use for her continues on in her calling as a police officer.

When a lawsuit crops up against her involving the death of a minor, Brinna is temporarily busted down to patrol. And her partner is none other than Jack O'Reilly, local basket-case who ended up "five fries short of a happy meal" when his pregnant wife died in a head-on collision with a drunk driver. She must leave Hero at home and work with a man she would really rather not, especially when her first good look at him reveals not just dead eyes, but empty, creepy eyes. Jack O'Reilly is a train wreck, made worse through his loss of faith in a God he once loved. Can these unwilling partners help one another not only heal, but also stop the sudden influx of missing little girls with a suspiciously similar MO as the way Brinna was abducted and restrained?

I judge my Christian thrillers according to two separate authors. If a writer falls somewhere in between Dee Henderson (pretty good) and Brandilyn Collins (the best there is), then they've succeeded. Janice Cantore's Critical Pursuit hits the mark to perfection, falling somewhere right in the middle. It's always hard reading a book where the main character not only struggles with God, but is outright bitter about Him. But I get it. I get sometimes why there is a struggle because it is very human to feel that He lets us down when something doesn't go our way. Brinna's bitterness doesn't make her unlikeable, just as Jack's raging against the Almighty rather makes me feel compassion than frustration. Non-Christians ask the question, "If God is so loving, how could He allow so much evil in the world?" It's a normal question that they ask, especially now in this era of doubt. And I feel that Janice Cantore covered that question very well, and even though not every emotion is wrapped up in a neat little package by the end of Critical Pursuit, I feel it will be by the end of the series.

One of the things I like most is how Ms. Cantore doesn't delve into the nasty details. I'm sure she saw her fair share of ugliness in her years as a cop, but her readers don't need all of that detail, and so she doesn't give it to us. It's hard and angering to read about pedophiles, but Ms. Cantore spares us too much informatino. And I for one, appreciate it! I don't really read much in the way of suspense anymore, but I couldn't put Critical Pursuit down, well, except to go to church. But my entire thought process for two days was finding time to finish her book because it is so fascinating with such realistic and relatable characters. I admit that I guessed what would happen next so the climax wasn't much of a surprise, but it still interested me because I was emotionally invested in the characters. I'm excited to see where she takes the series and the characters, and I hope I get to see more of Jack's old homicide partner, Ben Carney, who never stopped caring about Jack even when Jack stopped believing. The next book can't come soon enough for me!

Please note, I did receive a free advance copy of Critical Pursuit from Tyndale House Publishers in return for an honest and open review, which I have given. I also hope that the occasional misspellings of words/names and the repeating of the same conversation between Brinna and Tony in my Kindle edition is fixed before actual publication.



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Saturday, August 10, 2013

Book Review: Trapped: Caught in a Lie by Melody Carlson


Trapped: Caught in a Lie
Trapped: Caught in a Lie by Melody Carlson

My rating: 4 of 5 stars



GraceAnn's parents graduated from USC and are prestigious and wealthy doctors. She's well on her way to an acceptance letter from Stanford by the end of her senior year. But when her boyfriend, Clayton, breaks up with her, accusing her of being too demanding and high maintenance, her grades plummet for one week, a single week, and in only two classes. Unfortunately, the bell curve for grading results in an F for both exams and GraceAnn's dreams of Stanford grow dim. Until she catches a classmate cheating and suddenly a possibility open before her. Ask to retake the test, using the confiscated answers from her classmate, or just accept the bad grades. the good Christian girl is faced with a choice and before she knows it, GraceAnn is caught up in a web of lying.

I don't get the whole pressure to excel in school. Cheating as a homeschooler was impossible since there was no one to cheat off of other than myself. My folks expected me to go to college, but there was never the pressure to attend a higher-end university. They knew I would go to college when it was time, and I would pick the school that worked with my finances because I would be paying for it. No academic pressure from them, ever, which was awesome. So I don't get GraceAnn. I really don't. And the more she lies, the harder it is for me to connect with her. I get making a mistake that first time and feeling guilty. That's when you come clean because you just can't keep the lie inside. So when she's always talking about wanting to turn back the clock and make different choices, I roll my eyes because she could start making different choices now.

Anyway, despite my lack of empathy with GraceAnn, I realize that her issues are issues that plague high school students everywhere. So this is a very real topic of concern and therefore I think Melody Carlson captured it sufficiently. Even though GraceAnn's story didn't move me, it will impact others, and that's what counts.



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Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Book Review: Damaged: A Violated Trust by Melody Carlson


Damaged: A Violated Trust
Damaged: A Violated Trust by Melody Carlson

My rating: 5 of 5 stars



Just as I was moved to grief by Enticed and Forgotten, Damaged reminds me of how desperately victims of sexual abuse need support and compassion. When Haley petitions the court to live with her dad, she's hoping that this will be the start of new beginnings. Sure, dad has a girlfriend who's closer to her age than his, but it's awesome being able to dress in clothes she likes and have a little freedom from her mother's overprotective nature. Within a few days of being at a new school, it feels like she's finding acceptance amongst the in-crowd. Never mind that they don't know the real Haley, the Haley who can't stand action movies or vinegar on her fish and chips, the Haley who really doesn't like football and listens to Taylor Swift. And that's the first step down a very dangerous road of pretending to be something she's not just so she can fit in. And when Harris Stephens casts his eye her way after a nasty break-up with his girlfriend, she couldn't be happier because he's everything she's ever dreamed. Or is he?

I know that one of the arguments against this book will be Haley's mother. The woman is a legalistic Christian whose focus is on judging instead of forgiveness. She's resentful, bitter, and beats her children and ex-husband over the head with the Bible instead of showing them the love of God. This might just upset a few folk from a legalistic background, but I couldn't agree with Melody's conclusion more. What Haley and her Dad need is a church founded in forgiveness and the love of the Lord. They found it in the arms of a non-denominational church and that can be something of a touchy subject for some Christians too. Since I attend a non-denominational church and find the teaching to be sound, I'm thrilled for Haley and her dad. Others might not agree or like their need for a non-denominational setting.

A few aspects of the story are also a bit contrived, such as the circumstances surrounding Haley's bad experience. I didn't buy into it completely and if you read the book, you'll see why. But, just as with Melody's other books in this series, she addresses a very real topic that is relevant to teen girls today. She braves a topic that most Christian authors give a very, very wide birth, and I applaud her for it. While this book might not be useful to a girl who has had Haley's experiences, it might help a friend of someone who has, give them insight into what their friend is going through, and maybe help them find a way to prove to their friend that they are not damaged beyond repair.



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Monday, August 5, 2013

Book Review: Out of Control by Mary Connealy


Out of Control
Out of Control by Mary Connealy

My rating: 2 of 5 stars


I don't mind flawed characters in Christian fiction. What I mind are those supposed spunky heroines who don't have a lick of good sense and run off into danger at the drop of a hat paying no never-mind whatsoever to their sweetheart's words of advice. That's what I hate and that's what describes uppity Miss Julia Gilliland. The thing is, I believe the author intended us to like Julia. I'm sure she must have because no author really sets out intending their readers to dislike their heroine. So, I give Mary Connealy the benefit of the doubt that she didn't want me to dislike Julia. But I do. She comes off as, at best, distracted to the point of recklessness. I like my heroines to be relatively practical and Julie does not fit that requirement.

Then there is the supposed hero of this mixed-up historic romance, the dashing Rafe Kincaid. I disliked him already when he started bossing around a woman he had no right to boss around. He's often thinking about how desperate he is to marry her, but he doesn't know her at all, and what he does know about her, like her obsession with fossils, irritates him. He kisses her just to keep her quiet and that is a bad way to start any relationship. I'm supposed to cheer for Julia and Rafe, but the problem is, I don't like either one of them. Their relationship was a failure for me.

This book gets positive reviews, as does Ms. Connealy. Many readers love her work, and that's fantastic. I just don't find enough substance in the relationships to have enjoyed investing my time in this book. Most Christian fiction is relationship driven so you must, absolutely must, get that part of the story right. On a purely stylistic level, Ms. Connealy feels merely mediocre. Her descriptive vocabulary is extremely limited, often repeating the same descriptive terms in abundance. Let's just say that I expect more out of my fiction because I've invested my time in the story.

Sunday, August 4, 2013

Book Review: I, Claudia: A Tale of Pontius Pilate by Charity Bishop


I, Claudia: A Tale of Pontius Pilate
I, Claudia: A Tale of Pontius Pilate by Charity Bishop

My rating: 5 of 5 stars



I've been a fan of biblical fiction since I was a teenager and gulped down every book that Darlene Mindrup ever wrote. But none of the fiction I've read, not then, and not in recent years, can compare to the emotional impact of I, Claudia: A Tale of Pontius Pilate.

This tale follows the life of Claudia, wife of Pilate, from before they were even married. Its historic setting rings true in every respect, and the author does her best to give reasons to Pilate's choices, such as the brutal beatings of the Jews when they rioted against the building of the aqueducts using temple funds in Caesarea. The book paints an intimate picture of a man whose history in the Bible is limited to washing his hands of Jesus' blood despite knowing His innocence.

Charity compels the reader by giving a name to certain Biblical characters who are well known, such as the centurion whose faith in Jesus was so strong he begged Him to heal his servant, knowing the Messiah could perform the miracle from a distance. The lives of Lazarus, Martha, and Mary take on living, vibrant color, as does the merciful face and love of Jesus Christ himself.

Some authors would be tempted to wax melodramatic, overloading their manuscript with prosaic prose. Charity chooses instead to write in the vein of contemporary authors, a choice that allows the book to make sense, to move the reader emotionally. There is no jungle of descriptive prose to hack through, only simplistic style of honesty that makes for a swift and honest read.

I connected with all of the characters. Even the ones I originally hated, I learned to pity. There isn't a single character in I, Claudia that is half-heartedly formed, all of them are individualistic and powerful, the heroine most of all. Expect miracles and supernatural elements in I, Claudia. Expect the moment of Jesus' death to move you beyond reckoning and the day of His resurrection to shake your foundations just as it shook the foundations of the temple and ripped the curtain in two.

This book honestly takes biblical fiction to a new level of honesty and experience. If you too, like me, are a fan of biblical fiction, in other words a Christian, then I, Claudia is right up your alley!



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Book Review: Miss Kopp's Midnight Confessions by Amy Stewart (Kopp Sisters #3, 2017)

Original Summary Deputy sheriff Constance Kopp is outraged to see young women brought into the Hackensack jail over dubious charges ...