Sunday, March 19, 2017

Tangled Web is a great conclusion to the Men of Valor series

In Tangled Web (Men of Valor Book 3)the youngest McGregor brother, Finn is endeavoring to spend a quiet month at a cabin healing from past trauma and contemplating his next step in life.  With his six-year stint as an Army Ranger having ended he's hoping that communing with nature will help him sort through his jumbled thoughts.

Unbeknownst to him, his lovely neighbor and New York book editor, Dana Lewis, is spending time at her grandfather's inherited lakeside cabin also nursing wounds of her own from a recent ordeal. But someone seems intent on driving Dana from her property.
As Finn and Dana work together to uncover the perpetrator, they find themselves falling in love. Can they catch the person responsible for these incidents before it's too late?  

Tangled Web was a great conclusion to the Men of Valor series and I can honestly say I think that Finn was my favorite of the three impressive McGregor brothers. 
 I liked that Mac and Lance occasionally appeared in Tangled Web and that the reader was able to see how close the three brothers are and how important family was despite being separated by distance. In all of the series I've read by Ms. Hannon the importance of family is an essential thread in all her books.

Best-selling and award winning author Irene Hannon is considered "the queen of romantic inspirational suspense novels," has written more than 50 books, and is a seven-time finalist and three-time winner of the prestigious RITA award...I can see why she's been nominated and won several times. I believe her niche is in writing gripping, edge- of-your-seat, thrillers combined with endearing romance.

As a reader, I appreciate that her romances don't have any explicit love scenes, there's no language or overt violence...just riveting suspense that keeps you turning pages.

Men of Valor is my 3rd series (Private Justice and Guardians of Justice are the other 2 series)  I've read by Ms. Hannon and she's become one of my go-to authors whenever I'm in the mood for romance with a healthy dose of intrigue.

Friday, February 17, 2017

Sarah Sundin: A Must-Read Author for fans of WWII Historical Fiction

Do you like WWII historical fiction?  If so, then you need  to put Sarah Sundin's books at the top of your 'Must Read' pile. You will not be disappointed!

I first discovered Ms. Sundin's works when I read her stellar debut novel A Distant Melody (Wings of Glory Book 1) in 2010.  I'll be honest, what first attracted me to her books was the cover. Whoever is responsible for the cover-art on all of her books; it's simply stunning and really captures the essence of the period. The art-work on her most current series, Waves of Freedom is my favorite by far.

All of her books have elements that make a great story.  Compelling storytelling, dynamic and complex characters all the while incorporating a strong gospel message.
It's also evident that Ms. Sundin has done extensive research into the WWII time period when she writes her stories. She even mentions in her author's note that had relatives that served during WWII.

Through Deep Waters (Waves of Freedom Book 1) has all the elements of her previous novels except this one has a different feel. The romance is blended with mystery and intrigue.  Set in historical Boston pre-WWII, Through Deep Waters, follows quiet, lovely, Mary Stirling, a Boston Yard Navy secretary who is skilled and observant. She suspects foul play on the USS Atwood.  Handsome Naval officer Ensign Jim Avery stationed on the USS Atwood joins forces with Mary to help her uncover the saboteur.   While working together to find the culprit involved in the sabotage on the USS Atwood, Mary and Jim find themselves slowly falling in love with one another.  Their romance was so sweet. I loved the fact that Jim and Mary are childhood friends and Jim is now seeing Mary in a different light.

Mary has so many qualities that I as a reader wanted to emulate. She's a hard worker, detail-oriented, quiet, and unassuming.
I liked that both Jim and Mary are flawed, imperfect Christians. To me, this made them more real and relatable. I liked that Ms. Sundin had both Jim and Mary dealing head-on with their sins and shortcomings instead of merely brushing them under a rug or acknowledging them and not taking any action.

Part of the appeal of Through Deep Waters was the tone. I felt that I was dropped into a film from Hollywood's Golden Age that had everything in it; romance, mystery, and adventure. One film in particular came to mind: Alfred Hitchcock's Saboteur (1942).
There's a line that Jim says to Mary "Every since we said goodbye I couldn't wait to say hello" and I can just see Cary Grant spouting that line and having his leading lady swoon over it...who are we kidding? I was swooning over that line!

Anchor in the Storm (Book 2 in Waves of Freedom) follows the story of Lillian Avery (Jim's sister) and Arch Vandenberg (Jim's best friend) at the outbreak of WWII.

Lillian is excited and energized to start her new job as a pharmacist in Boston.

Ensign Arch Vandenberg's attentions annoy her at first, but eventually she has a change of heart.

Large amounts of drug prescriptions being filled by doctors cause Lillian to suspect a possible drug ring and Arch observes his men becoming drowsy from medication prescribed by the ship's doctor; the two team up to solve the mystery.

The romance between Arch and Lillian was fascinating to watch unfold.

A quality that I liked about Lillian's character is despite the fact that she has a prosthetic leg she doesn't let that get her down. She is independent and has a 'can-do' spirit which I found encouraging and refreshing.

 What I loved most about this book was the over-arching message that if we are in Christ Jesus He is Our Anchor. This reminder gave me hope and cheer. Mr. Avery (Lillian and Jim's father) said it best "...Jesus is your anchor, your hope in any storm, your sure refuge." (Sundin, 28).

Ms. Sundin is my favorite author for WWII historical fiction...I've yet to find any author who tops her in this specific genre. Having enjoyed all 3 of her series (Wings of Glory, Wings of the Nightingale, and Waves of Freedom) I'm hard pressed to recommend one series over the other. What I can tell you is whatever series you pick you're sure to love it!

Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Jane Austen fans will love An Uncommon Courtship by Kristi Ann Hunter

If 'melting' and 'awwing' are two of your favorite reactions to have while reading then you need to put An Uncommon Courtship (Hawthorne House Book 3) on your list.
I sped through this book in a matter of days. Ms. Hunter reels readers in from page one with Lord Trent Hawthorne and Lady Adelaide Bell's hasty and forced marriage. Accidently, getting trapped in ruins; overnight and unchaperoned...honor stipulated that he propose to her to save both of their reputations.
Can Trent and Adelaide discover love in their avant-garde marriage, all the while battling their own doubts and the pressures of London society?

Being the 2nd son of the Duke of Riverton, Trent is not expected to marry a woman of high social status; he is able to marry for love. Those dreams are dashed he's bound by principle to Adelaide, a woman who is a stranger to him.
Likewise, Adelaide is the 2nd daughter and middle child of an affluent family. Her mother spent her entire life ignoring Adelaide focusing solely her oldest daughter Helena, always trying bolster her station in society. Adelaide is accustomed to being ignored and invisible. Despite being raised by an indifferent mother, she remains sweet-tempered, ladylike, and well-read. I liked Adelaide's character and sympathized with her. She "[was] rather unconventional...unique in appearance, with thick hair so dark it was nearly black and enormous blue eyes that would have appeared even larger if she had been wearing her spectacles." (Hunter, 16).
At first, Trent initially resisted his marriage and for a time ignores Adelaide, but he eventually realizes he wants to be married and he wants to be a good and godly husband. I really admired this character trait in Trent, the way he diligently searched the scriptures and sought counsel from fellow godly men about how to be a good husband and love his wife.

I loved that Ms. Hunter choose to have the hero and heroine married at the beginning of the story rather than the end as is typical of most period romance novels.
My favorite part of An Uncommon Courtship was Trent and Adelaide's slow building,  and romantic  relationship. I found myself at times audibly sighing over this book and rooting for Trent and Adelaide to realize they are made for each other. Ms. Hunter really captured the feeling and time period of the Regency era.
There was one minor flaw of the Adelaide's that drove me a little nuts. She blinks a lot, but that fact that Trent found it adorable caused me to see it in a different light and by the end of the story I was fine with it. Besides this slight fault of Adelaide's, I liked everything else about her.  I especially liked that she wears glasses. Maybe it's because I myself wear glasses that made her that much more relatable.   

After reading An Uncommon Courtship, it made me to want to read books one and two in the Hawthorne House series. (A Noble Masquerade and An Elegant Fa├žade)

Ms. Hunter is making a name for herself in the regency-era genre. I look forward to reading more of her books.

** An Uncommon Courtship was provided to me by Bethany House in return for my honest opinion.

Sunday, January 15, 2017

On the record....For The Record is a Fun and Fast Read

Finally! Betsy Huckabee's story is told in For The Record! I have been waiting somewhat impatiently to know more of this character's fate. After reading about Betsy in Ms. Jennings' Ozark Mountain Romance series (A Most Inconvenient Marriage and At Love's Bidding); I was particularly curious to find out what happened to her.

Betsy is at a crossroads in her life. She's been living with her uncle since she was 12 helping him raise his children and assisting him with his newspaper since the passing of his wife. Her uncle has since re-married and Betsy now age 24, feels it's time to assert her independence.

Native Texan, Deputy Joel Puckett feels like a fish-out-of-water when he's appointed by the governor to be the new deputy of Pine Gap. He receives a less-than-cordial reception from the Missouri residents and has an uphill battle trying to maintain law and order in the small town and gain the respect of the citizens.

The arrival of the easy- on-the-eyes deputy inspires Betsy to write a series of somewhat embellished stories about his heroics, building him up, and trying to make him seem irresistible to ladies  hoping a larger newspaper will snatch up her story, publish it and then she'll be able to pursue her dreams of living in the big city and ultimately freedom.  However, the more time that Betsy spends with Joel she begins to respect him and sees what her ambition could cost her. Her world of fiction and reality blur the lines.

For The Record had all the elements I gravitate towards as a reader: humor, mystery, and amusing wordplay between the hero and heroine. My favorite part of the book was the relationship between Betsy and Joel. I liked how Ms. Jennings built their relationship from initially not liking one another, then transitioning into a solid and respectful friendship and ending with romance.

While each author has their own individual flair for writing, For The Record reminded me of stories you might read from Christian fiction novelists Karen Witemeyer and Mary Connealy. (Two of my favorite writers!)

For The Record is Regina Jennings best book to date!

** For The Record was provided to me by Bethany House in return for my honest opinion.

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

It's Still A Wonderful Life 70 Years Later: Film Review

70 years ago today, the now beloved Christmas classic
It's A Wonderful Life
premiered on December 20th, 1946
to mixed reviews and was not the highly acclaimed film we know today.
A clerical error by the NTA (National Telefilm Associates) in 1974
caused the film to enter the public domain and
The film is now a public treasure in part due to local stations having gained the ability
to saturate our living rooms with repeated viewings
from Thanksgiving to Christmas every year.

Like most American families, our annual holiday traditions
included watching It's A Wonderful Life
Dozens of pillows and blankets would be gathered and we'd pile in the family room
to become engrossed in Frank Capra's fictional town of Bedford Falls
and the trials and triumphs of town resident,
George Bailey (James Stewart). 
Witnessing crucial scenes from George's boyhood,
following him through his dreams & ambitions of youth,
 and watching him fall in love with Mary (Donna Reed).
They wed shortly there after, raise a family
and we slowly see his daydreams dwindle and dim.
The culmination is Christmas Eve night when he's rescued by an angel
Clarence Odbody Angel Second Class (AS2)
who takes George on a journey of self-discovery to realize that
he really has been blessed with a wonderful life.

What is it about It's A Wonderful Life
that still appeals to fans and viewers
7 decades later?
On some level, there's a little of George Bailey in all of us.
We find ourselves in seemingly desperate situations,
 hungrily eyeing the greener grass on the other side of the fence,
or believing others would be considerably better off without us.
Clarence opens George's eyes
and helps him clearly see how rewarding his life truly is.
The message that life is a
gift still resonates with viewers

Fun Film Trivia:

(Director) Frank Capra often said that this film was his favorite of all his films. Likewise, Jimmy Stewart has often said that George Bailey was his favorite character to play.

Jimmy Stewart was nervous about the phone kissing scene (with Donna Reed) because it was his first screen kiss since returning to Hollywood after WWII. He filmed the scene in one unrehearsed take, and it worked so well that part of the embrace was cut because it was too passionate to pass the censors.

It's A Wonderful Life was Donna Reed's first starring role.

Director's Trademark: Jimmy the Raven appeared in all Capra films after 1938 including It's A Wonderful Life.

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Fatal Frost is a Thrilling, Fast-Paced, Page-Turner

Fatal Frost (Book 1 in the Defenders of Justice series) takes you on an edge-of-your-seat suspense tale following US Marshall Mercy Brennan. Recently, having recovered from a gunshot wound in the line of duty, she is sent by her boss on what she thinks is an assignment with her ex-boyfriend, fellow US Marshall Mark St. Laurent. The task is to check up on a person in their witness protection program who feels that he is in danger. What Mercy doesn't realize is that this "assignment" is a ruse to get her out of town for her protection against a notorious and controlling gang that killed her absentee, law-enforcement father.

While on route a fierce ice storm leaves the team stranded in a remote location unable to contact their office to inform them of the dangerous situation they are in.  Can they survive long enough to wait for help to arrive?

At first, I wasn't sure how I felt about Mercy's character, but as the story progressed I began to understand her more and have sympathy for her. She is deeply wounded by her father's absence in her life, but rather than wallow in self-pity she has worked hard and become a US Marshall at the young age of 26. She does tend to keep people at a distance, but I think this is in part because she's afraid she'll lose them like she did her father.  There are few people who Mercy has let into her life that get the opportunity to see her real self. Her ex-boyfriend Mark St. Laurent is one person and her best friend Lieutenant Tally Williams is the other. Mercy is also tough and extremely stubborn. I saw this as a necessity in her line of work as a US Marshall. I'm sure being a young female officer she felt that she needed to gain the respect of her fellow colleagues.

Mark St. Laurent is the type of hero girls dream of. He's brave, handsome and loyal.
It's clear when he appears on the scene that he and Mercy still have an attraction between the two. It practically leaps off the page.  Mark is a new Christian, striving to life a Christ calls him. He's still in love with Mercy, but he's continually struggling with feelings for her. He endeavors to maintain a friendship relationship with her. Mark wants more than friendship from Mercy, but sees that they can only be friends nothing more until Mercy is also a fellow believer in Christ.

I really liked Mercy and Mark's relationship. Despite being broken up they still maintain a solid working bond. It's clear that they both trust and look out for one another.

Perhaps I'm reading too much into this, but I thought it was unique that Ms. Mehl named her heroine Mercy. One dictionary definition is compassion or forbearance shown especially to an offender. And I feel that Mercy does somewhat exemplify these traits. Yes, as an officer of the law she does want to see justice, but I didn't get the sense from her that she wishes harm on others rather she simply seeks to do right.

Fatal Frost was my first introduction into Nancy Mehl's work. Her writing reminded me of the suspense novels of fellow Christian fiction author Irene Hannon is best known for.  I'm intrigued to read more books in this series....hopefully we'll get to read more of Mercy and Mark's story.

**Fatal Frost was provided to me by Bethany House in return for my honest opinion.

Friday, December 2, 2016

The Christmas Shoes Can Change your Christmas Shopping Forever

Amid the hustle and bustle of the Christmas season take a little time to read this tearful and heartwarming tale by Donna VanLiere. You’ll be glad you did. It will put the “reason for the season” into perspective, remind you of the true meaning of Christmas and it will revolutionize your shopping experience. I’m not saying this book will make the Christmas crowds more pleasant, but it might just change your viewpoint and perhaps cause you to put yourself in someone else’s shoes.

The Christmas Shoes tells the story of two families whose lives unknowingly intersect and are permanently changed.

The narrator of this tale is told through the point of view of Robert Layton, an ambitious, 80 plus hour-a-week lawyer. He works hard to provide his wife, Kate and two school-aged daughters, Hannah and Lily the type of lifestyle he thinks they want and deserve.

By contrast, the Andrews family is preparing for heartbreak. Beautiful, Maggie Andrews their beloved wife and mother, is in the final stages of an aggressive and rare ovarian cancer. This Christmas season is the last she’ll spend with her family. Jack Andrews is an honest and dependable car mechanic trying to provide for his family. Unlike the Layton family, the Andrews’ family is not well-off. They are considered lower income-middle class. Like the Layton’s, the Andrews also have two children; an eight-year-old son, Nathan and a toddler daughter, Rachel. Despite the sorrowful times the family is going through; love and laughter still abound in the home.

Christmas Eve night, Robert bumps into Nathan Andrews at Wilson’s Department Store not realizing that this little boy’s life will be forever altered. “He turned around and said, “Sir, I need to buy those shoes for my mother,” his voice shaking. I was startled to see the child talking to me. I felt the hairs stand up on the back of my neck. “She’s not feeling very good, and when we were eating dinner my dad said that Mama might leave to see Jesus tonight….This kid was no scam artist, somehow I knew that. I looked into his wide eyes and something happened to me in that moment. A pair of shoes to meet Jesus in. This child is losing his mother.” (VanLiere, 90-91).

This seemingly short and simple moment connects the two families and changes their future Christmases as well as the rest of their lives. It proves how connected we all are and just how powerful our actions can be. The smallest purchase can carry many layers of impact. We all have moments where we “know” something about our fellow man.  In these instances, we have an opportunity to catch a glimpse of and connect with our fellow man on a deeper level.

After reading this book, I’m certain you’ll approach your shopping differently. This book is so well-written and poignant you won’t be able to escape it!

“If we’re open to it, God can use even the smallest thing to change our lives…to change us. It might be a laughing child, car brakes that need fixing, a sale on pot roast, a cloudless sky, a trip to the wood to cut down a Christmas tree, a school teacher, a Dunhill Billiard pipe…or even a pair of shoes.” (VanLiere, 130).

** I’m extremely honored to be asked to write a special Christmas guest blog for the lovely and talented ladies of SHE Changes Everything. SHE is a wonderful and empowering movement started by four vivacious and passionate women who are dedicated to helping women life their best life- Sustainable, Healthy, and Ethical.