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. I received a complimentary copy of this book from the publisher, for which I was not required to write a positive review. All opinions expressed are mine alone ~~

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 two vivacious and passionate women who are dedicated to helping women life their best life- Sustainable, Healthy, and Ethical.

Monday, November 21, 2016

Fans of Downton Abbey Will Enjoy 'A Lady Unrivaled'

One of the benefits of being a Bethany House blogger is that I'm able to discover new authors that I haven't read before. A Lady Unrivaled (Book 3 in her Ladies of the Manor series) was my first foray into Roseanna M. White's work.

Enchanting Lady Ella Myerston is a delightful heroine. Despite the fact that she's the sister of a Duke she was unpretentious, fun-loving, and had a penchant for adventure and getting lost.
James Azerly, more commonly referred to as Cayton or (formally) Lord Cayton is a complex hero. As a recent widower and father he struggles with guilt over his past sins and his marriage. When he meets Lady Ella he's immediately attracted to her, but he feels unworthy of her and so he's continually struggling  against his attraction to her.

The interactions between Cayton and Lady Ella were one of the key reasons that kept me turning pages anticipating their next meeting. Ms. White has a talent for writing witty banter between the main characters.

The principle plot of A Lady Unrivaled was the Fire Eyes Diamonds which are rare red diamonds that are highly prized and sought after. Several sub-plots were scattered throughout this story and it was interesting to see how in the end the author tied in all of the sub-plots with the main storyline.

While I enjoyed this book due to the length and the many major and minor characters it took me a little longer than a month to read. As a reader, the plethora of characters was my one drawback to this novel. Thankfully, Ms. White included a list of characters in the beginning of the book. This proved to be a helpful reference guide so that I could keep all of them straight.  Other than that I liked everything else about this book. It had all the elements that make a great story. The multitude of characters didn't dissuade me from wanting to read more books by Ms. White.

I felt that I was transported back to the Edwardian era. The way that Ms. White jumps from scene to scene made me feel as if I was reading a season of the hit British TV show Downton Abbey. Being a die-hard fan of the show (I own all 6 seasons on DVD) I loved the sense of feeling like I'd traveled back in time to pre-WWI period. If you love Downton Abbey like I do, I'd urge you to check out A Lady Unrivaled.

~~ A Lady Unrivaled was provided to my by Bethany House in return for my honest opinion. I received a complimentary copy of this book from the publisher, for which I was not required to write a positive review. All opinions expressed are mine alone ~~

Saturday, October 29, 2016

No Way Up by Mary Connealy....There's No Way You Won't Finish it!

Mary Connealy's latest adventure No Way Up (The Cimarron Legacy Book 1) takes you back to the 1880's New Mexican Territory where there's avalanches, new wills are read, lives changed, and danger threatens the owners of the Cimarron Ranch (CR).

Hired-hand Heath Kincaid's quick thinking rescued his boss Cimarron Ranch patriarch Chance Boden from an avalanche. Prior to boarding a train for Denver to save his leg (and his life) Chance demands that Heath read his new will to his 3 adult children and insists that it is to be enforced immediately.

 The new will states that Cole, Justin, and Sadie Boden are to all live and work at the CR for 1 year or the ranch will pass to a detested distant cousin. Both Cole and Sadie have moved into town away from the ranch. Cole successfully runs his father's mining business and Sadie works at the orphanage in town and feels that she has found her calling and purpose in life. Justin is the only Boden sibling who lives and works on the CR. A characteristic that all the Boden siblings share is stubbornness. But it was great to see how they came together despite their squabbling and differences to save their family's legacy.

I liked hero Heath Kincaid from the get-go. He is loyal to the Boden family, a man of action, equally stubborn as the Boden clan, and he's got a lot of gumption. Not only does he rescue Chance, but the family as well a few times throughout the story.

Heroine Sadie Boden can hold her own. She is the type of heroine that readers have come to expect and love from this author. Ms. Connealy manages to strike the perfect balance when it comes to her heroines. Most often, they are sassy and tough-as-nails, but they always maintain their femininity.

And of course it wouldn't be a Connealy Western without her romantic and sigh-worthy kisses between the hero and heroine.
"Heath's head dipped, and his lips met hers. A kiss. Her first kiss. It was perfect.
Lips slanted across her mouth. He raised the hands they'd joined until he laid hers on his shoulder. Then he let go and slid one arm around her waist. So gently, so mindful of where they were. But just as surely lost in the kiss as she was." (Connealy, 123-124).

Ms.Connealy maintains her fun, adventurous, Wild West storytelling that she's known for in No Way Up. The ending is gratifying, yet leaves it open-ended for more stories. I'm hoping that the Boden brothers, Cole and Justin will get their own stories because I'd love to re-visit the Cimarron Ranch.

I've been reading Mary Connealy's books for several years now and a unique attribute that I noticed is that her books and series always seem to be interconnected through her characters. She does this really well...it's seems effortlessly and seamlessly done, but I'm sure takes a lot of planning and thought.  Hero Heath Kincaid is the youngest brother of Rafe, Ethan, and Seth from her Kincaid Bride series (Out of Control, In Too Deep, and Over the Edge).

If romantic comedies about cowboys tickles your funny bone look no further than Mary Connealy's novels because this genre is her specialty.

Sunday, October 23, 2016

Double Indemnity (1944) Crime Doesn't Pay

Double Indemnity (1944) is one of those films that has been on my list of "must- see" classics and I have to say....it didn't disappoint! From the opening scene to the end  Double Indemnity will keep the viewer on the edge of their seats.

Barbara Stanwyck and Fred MacMurray teamed up in four films together and Double Indemnity was their second of the four and probably their most well-known. Their other films include: Remember the Night (1940), The Moonlighter (1953), and There's Always Tomorrow (1956).  If you're a fan of this pairing, I urge you to watch Remember The Night if you're looking for a rare Christmas film.
Remember The Night(1940)

Insurance representative Walter Neff (MacMurray) meets the lovely Phyllis Dietrichson (Stanwyck) an unhappy wife who convinces Neff to murder her husband and commit insurance fraud. The film title Double Indemnity gets it's name from a clause found in most life insurance policies that state in the case of accidental death the insurance company will pay the beneficiary twice the value of the policy. Edward G. Robinson plays second fiddle to MacMurray's character Walter Neff as his best friend and mentor Barton Keyes. Keyes (Robinson) suspects Phyllis of plotting her husband's murder with another man...he just isn't sure who the man is.
Obviously, I don't condone adultery or murder, but writer/director Billy Wilder draws you in and before you know it you're immersed in the story wondering how it's going to end.

One aspect of this film that interested me was the lighting and the camera angles. I thought they were very cleverly done and enhanced the suspense of the film.

Fun Film Trivia: Double Indemnity was director Billy Wilder's first thriller.

According to the American Film Institute, Double Indemnity was ranked #29 on the Greatest Films of All Time in 2007.

Both Fred MacMurray and Barbara Stanwyck were reluctant to play such villainous role, but Wilder eventually convinced both actors.

Double Indemnity is one of the best examples of film noir and if this genre appeals to you I'd add this movie to your "must-see" list.

Thursday, October 13, 2016

A Heart Most Certain was Compelling, Encouraging, and Convicting

You've heard the saying... "don't judge a book by it's cover?" This was true of Melissa Jagears newest work A Heart Most Certain (Book 2 in the Teaville Morale Society series). I expected to read a turn of the century romance with some conflict, but A Heart Most Certain didn't just scratch the surface, but went deeper. Ms. Jagears touched on societal views towards helping the poor, having a right heart and motives when helping others, and most importantly having a real relationship with God and not merely paying Him lip service and Sunday attendance.  By the end, I was encouraged, convicted, and inspired.

A Heart Most Certain pricks your conscience and stays with you long after you've read the last page.

Lydia King is sent on a mission by the Teaville Moral Society to collect a donation from the wealthiest man in town Nicholas Lowe. Lowe blatantly refuses her request.  He prefers that his donations/charitable work remain anonymous.
Her persistent in seeking a donation pays off. Nicholas agrees with some stipulations: Lydia is to write down three causes she believes should be funded without discussing them with the ladies' aide society and she is also to accompany him when he grants these requests.

Before reading A Heart Most Certain, I had only read one novella by Ms. Jagears:  Engaging the Competition (which is found in With This Ring collection.) and I discovered it to be a delightful novella with unique characters and an engaging story.   

One aspect of Ms. Jagears writing that I enjoyed was her references to other literary works. These examples were cleverly and skillfully placed throughout the story. The allusions enhanced the story and didn't detract from it.
"Lydia King took a tentative step into Mr. Lowe's hazy office, feeling like Bob Cratchit approaching Scrooge. Had Cratchit's heart pitter-pattered as fast as hers? Except his heartbeat wouldn't have had anything to do with Scrooge's looks- thin blue lips, pointed noise, and red eyes, per Dickens." (Jagears, 7)

I also appreciated that she had a spiritual element in A Heart Most Certain. Both characters experience some turmoil and testing of their faith. To me this made the characters more relatable and believable.

Ms. Jagears has found her niche in Inspirational Historical Romance and I look forward to reading more of her works.

~~A Heart Most Certain was provided to me by Bethany House in return for my honest opinion. I received a complimentary copy of this book from the publisher, for which I was not required to write a positive review. All opinions expressed are mine alone ~~

Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Forward Ever Forward...Courageous is a Dramatic Conclusion to the Valiant Hearts series

I was ecstatic to have the opportunity to review Courageous by Dina L. Sleiman (Book 3 in her Valiant Hearts series). Having read and loved Chivalrous, it was exciting to travel back to the 1200's again, where I was certain the Camelot-like adventure would continue.

Courageous picks up about 2 years after Chivalrous continuing with Rosalind of Ipsworth's story. (Rosalind was Lady Gwendolyn's ladies' maid in Chivalrous.)  Moved by Lady Sapphira's vision to save captives from a prison in Tripoli, Rosalind feels called to join the Crusade along with a throng of other men, women, and children. Among this multitude, is Sir Randel Penigree, who was raised to serve the church, but always longed to serve as a Templar knight fighting for and protecting the innocent. Rosalind and Sir Randel have a solid friendship and they partner together to train the children in combat exercises. While onboard the ship, both Rosalind and Randel find themselves the recipients of unwanted attention.  Randel trying to fend off the vain Lady Jocelyn and Rosalind attempting to dissuade Lord Rumsford. To ward off the attention, Rosalind and Randel agree to pretend to be courting to keep the unwanted suitors at bay.  Will their charade cross over from being pretend to real?

Rosalind and Randel are similar in the fact that both are trying to overcome sins from their past. Over the course of the story, both of them realize that they must embrace the future and not attempt to earn their redemption.
Their motto throughout is "forward ever forward."

One aspect that truly impressed me was the maturity of the children and young adults. During this time period young people didn't have much of a childhood if any and had to grow up quickly. It was not uncommon for girls to be married as young as 15. In today's society we would balk at this, but back then the mortality rate was higher. It was sweet to see how both Rosalind and Randel developed paternal feelings for the younger children who were in their charge on the crusade. In my eyes, this trait endeared them to me.

Courageous was an excellent conclusion to Ms. Sleiman's Valiant Hearts series and I thoroughly enjoyed it. If strong, unforgettable heroines appeal to you, then I urge you to check out this series.

~~Courageous was provided to me by Bethany House in return for my honest opinion. I received a complimentary copy of this book from the publisher, for which I was not required to write a positive review. All opinions expressed are mine alone ~~

Saturday, August 27, 2016

Karen Witemeyer's No Other Will Do is a Page-Turner

Jane Austen once said, "...If a book is well written, I always find it too short."  This is how I feel about all of Karen Witemeyer's novels. I first discovered her books back in 2010 and in a short six years, Ms. Witemeyer has established herself in the Christian historical romance market. I'm excited to have this opportunity to read and review her latest endeavor and add it to my 'favorites' shelf. This sounds so clichĂ© to say, but Karen Witemeyer's books simply get better and better.

No Other Will Do (A Ladies of Harper Station Novel) takes readers back to 1890's Texas.
Emma Chandler is bossy, independent, and headstrong. Beneath these strong characteristics, she has a heart for animals and people, particularly, women who are in troubled circumstances. Emma founded Harper's Station, a woman's colony dedicated to helping females in need to get a fresh start. Raised from a young age by her suffragette aunts, Henry and Bertie, Emma has always been independent and taught not to rely on men. When an unknown man begins threatening and terrorizing the small community of Harper's Station, Emma agrees that they need a man to help defend them.
Enter, Malachi Shaw, a man that Emma has known since childhood and the only man she trusts to protect them.
Malachi has had a tough life. Orphaned from a young age he is guarded and doesn't trust people.  Until he meets Emma and her aunts. The Chandler ladies take him in and treat him like family. The time that Malachi spent with the Chandler family was a turning point in his life.  It caused him to not view people through such a jaded lens. When you meet Malachi as an adult, he's now an explosives expert for the railroad and has the respect he's always longed for.  Despite his success at his job, some traits from childhood still follow him into adulthood such as saving a portion of each meal he eats. I liked that Malachi didn't let his past define him.

The few flashbacks the author provides into Emma and Malachi's childhood relationship are key and gives the reader a deeper sense of why Emma see Mal as the only man she trusts and also why he is willing to swiftly come to her aid after receiving a simple telegram from her with a plea for help.

Ms. Witemeyer is known for her romantic tension between the hero and heroine. No Other Will Do is no exception. The romantic interactions were "sigh worthy" and sprinkled with humor.

"You're a good man, Malachi Shaw." Then before he could even think of dodging, Emma clasped his cheeks, raised up on tiptoes, and pressed her lips to his.
It only lasted a heartbeat-although, he was pretty sure his heart stopped beating in that moment, so that particular measurement was probably not very accurate. The only thing he knew for sure was that the kiss ended before his stupefied mind could respond.
Then she vanished. And all he could do was stand in the empty café and wish he's chosen kissing over talking when he'd had the chance." (Witemeyer, 257)

I will admit that Emma and Mal's story is somewhat predictable, but sometimes as a reader I want and enjoy reading a predictable story. I find with any of Ms. Witemeyer's books it's always a fun adventure getting to the end. 

I can confidently say that Karen Witemeyer easily makes my 'top 5 favorite authors list.'  If you haven't heard of her; you need to go to the nearest library or bookstore and read her books. You will not be disappointed. She's one of those authors that I find myelf in countdown mode till her next release which is set to be released January of 2017....only 5 more monthts to wait! 

~~ No Other Will Do was provided to me by Bethany House in return for my honest opinion. I received a complimentary copy of this book from the publisher and author herself, for which I was not required to write a positive review. All opinions expressed are mine alone ~~

Wednesday, August 3, 2016

June Bride (1948) A Delightful and Overlooked Screwball Comedy

Before I begin this film review, I have a confession.  I've never been a fan of Bette Davis (Gasp!), but the premise of June Bride intrigued me.  And I have to admit that I was pleasantly surprised at how much I enjoyed this underrated screwball comedy.  The writing is sharp and witty.

June Bride (1948) stars Bette Davis, Robert Montgomery and a cast of Hollywood's most memorable character actors: Betty Lynn, Barbara Bates, and Mary Wickes.
Davis is best known for her dramatic roles throughout her 58 year career in Hollywood and she gained recognition for roles she plays in films such as All About Eve (1950), What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? (1962), Dead Ringer (1964) and Hush, Hush, Sweet Charlotte (1964). Davis' character in June Bride brings out a different side of her and I have to say she was genuinely funny.
Editor Linda Gillman (Davis) is forced to work with writer and former flame Carey Jackson (Montgomery). Verbal sparks fly between the former lovers as they travel to Indiana to cover an All-American story of a local girl, Jeanne Brinker (Bates) marrying her high school sweetheart, Bud Mitchell.  While there, Carey uncovers something that could put a crimp in the story and possibly cost him his job. He discovers that older sister, Jeanne Brinker was engaged to Bud's older brother Jim who is serving in the military and stationed in Chicago and younger sister Barbara "Boo" Brinker (Lynn) is in love with Bud.
I found myself rooting for Barbara and Bud and amused at Carey's role as cupid between the two young people.

 Spoiler alert: For all the feminists out there the ending to June Bride may not sit well with you because Linda ends up being the one to make the gesture or sacrifice. Just remember this film was made in 1948. I personally found the ending to be sweet and charming.

Fun Film Trivia about a few of the character actors in June Bride: Betty Lynn is best known for playing Thelma Lou the ever patient girlfriend of Barney Fife on The Andy Griffith Show.  Barbara Bates is known for Cheaper by the Dozen (1950), Let's Make it Legal (1951), and Belles on their Toes (1952). Mary Wickes plays nosy house keeper Emma Allen in White Christmas (1954).
Additional Trivia:  Robert Montgomery is the father of actress Elizabeth Montgomery best known for playing Samantha Stephens on the classic sitcom Bewitched. 
June Bride is the film debut of Debbie Reynolds.
This was costume designer Edith Head's first time designing clothes for Bette Davis.

Unlike me, if you're a huge fan of Bette Davis' work and want to see her in something other than a drama, check out this forgotten screwball comedy. You'll be in for a treat!

Sunday, July 31, 2016

Dee Henderson is back in 'Traces of Guilt'

Illinois native Dee Henderson is back! Her popular romantic suspense series, The O'Malley's made her a household name in the Christian fiction genre and were devoured by me and countless other fans.
I feel like I need to preface this review with a bit of a disclaimer. I consider myself to be a loyal fan of her works, but to be honest I struggled with her books that were written post-O'Malley series. When I had the opportunity to review her latest work I had mixed feeling. I was ecstatic, but concerned that her new book would be a trial to get through.

Traces of Guilt: An Evie Blackwell Cold Case was reminiscent of the O'Malley series and reminded me of why I like this author so much.My top 3 reasons of why I liked her O'Malley series were the dynamic, relatable characters, page turning stories, and the natural chemistry between the hero and heroine.  The top 3 issues I have with her books post-O'Malley are: her characters seem flat to me, the stories are interesting, but I feel they take too long to capture my interest, and I also felt the chemistry was lacking between the leads.

The moment Evie Blackwell appeared on the pages of Traces of Guilt I liked her.  She's tenacious, determined, has a passion for solving crimes, thinks outside the box, considers multiple scenarios, and isn't afraid to confront the person(s) responsible for the crime. Evie is an Illinois State Police detective and has arrived in Carin, IL  to head up a new task force to solve cold cases. 

Gabriel 'Gabe' Thane is a native of Carin and is now the town sheriff as his father was before him.  He's an all around steady, honest, hard-working great guy. He can be protective of the residents of Carin and the people he cares about.

Gabe and Evie had a natural and easy chemistry that builds into a strong friendship; hinting at a possible romance on the horizon. I liked that anytime Gabe visited Evie he always left behind a roll of Sweet Tarts. Gabe must have been subtle about it because she never realized he left the candy until he was gone. By the end of this story I was craving Sweet Tarts!

One minor issue I had with Traces of Guilt was the chapter length. Most if not all of the chapters were 20 plus pages long. I try to read for a few minutes each day and it would take me several sittings to get through one chapter. 
Because the chapters were lengthier, I did like that Ms. Henderson lists specific characters names throughout the chapter so that the reader realizes the shift in the story direction. This helped me to not be as confused and attempt to keep all the storylines straight. I would say there are 3 possible storylines plus Evie is working 2 separate cold cases so there's a total of about 5 different story lines to keep straight and a few of them are interwoven.

A couple of minor characters that were introduced in Traces of Guilt were Will and Joshua Thane, Gabe's younger brothers. Both Thane brothers have qualities similar to Gabe. It seemed to me that Ms. Henderson was using  Traces a Guilt as a spring board to introduce both Will and Joshua's stories. I hope that she'll continue in her new series and allow Will and Josh their own stories.

Another minor character that played a major role was Ann Falcon. She is featured in Full Disclosure. I have another confession, a few years ago, I attempted to read this book, but didn't finish it. After reading about Ann in Traces of Guilt, I'm inclined to give Full Disclosure another try. I liked Ann's ability to 'read' people and how discerning she is with confidential information. Her knowledge of certain characters sets elements of the story in motion. Another trait I noticed about Ann was that she never divulged these 'confidential stories' unless she had that person's permission to.

Traces of Guilt  made me feel like I was dropped in an episode of CSI or Law and Order: SVU with the way Ms. Henderson cuts back and forth between character dialogue and action and kept me turning pages long after I should have been asleep.

I liked that the ending of Traces of Guilt, wrapped up all the loose ends, but also leaves it open ended leaving the reader to hope for more Evie Blackwell cold cases in the near future.
If Dee Henderson is a new author to you, I would urge you read her page-turning O'Malley series first (There's a prequel, 6 books, plus a novella) and then check out her newest book Traces of Guilt.

~~ Traces of Guilt was provided to me by Bethany House in return for my honest opinion. I received a complimentary copy of this book from the publisher, for which I was not required to write a positive review. All opinions expressed are mine alone ~~

Monday, May 30, 2016

Newcomer Connilyn Cossette's debut novel 'Counted with the Stars' is superb!

Travel back to ancient Egypt during biblical times in Counted with the Stars (Out of Egypt Book 1).
Ms. Cossette is a fresh voice in biblical historical fiction. Normally, I tend to skirt this genre of fiction because I feel that authors may inadvertently impart character traits of  people in the Bible that are not there. However, this was not the case in Counted with the Stars. 

Counted with the Stars is told through the view of Kiya, a young Egyptian girl whose life is uprooted when her father sells her into slavery when he cannot afford to pay the debt he owes.  In the course of a day, she goes from being a privileged merchant's daughter to a slave. Kiya's mistress, Tekurah, takes delight in disgracing her every opportunity she gets. Through these trials of unjust degradation, Kiya remains strong and determined.  This strength and determination were qualities that I admired in Kiya.  She befriends a Hebrew slave girl named Shira and Shira tells Kiya about her God, Yahweh, and the story of His people: the Hebrews. Rather than being closed off to Shira and her people, Kiya was intrigued and curious. I liked that the author caused her (Kiya) to have an open and curious heart to hear about God. This trait about having a heart to hear about God and His Word resonated with me as a believer and reminded me that I need to always have a heart for God and things of His Word.

One aspect of Ms. Cossette's book that I particularly liked was that I felt as if she brought the plague to life and made me realize the severity of it. Reading about the plagues that God caused through Moses to convince Pharaoh to let the Hebrews go was horrific.  In my finite mind, I was thinking on smaller terms rather than a national scale.  Ms. Cossette's vivid descriptions of the various plagues make you feel like you are right in the middle of it experiencing the horrors along with the Egyptian people. You could smell the stench of the Nile as it turned red; your skin crawled during the plagues of lice, locusts, and small frogs.

Through trials, hardships, and death are part of the journey the light of the promised land shines.

~~ Counted with the Stars was provided to me by Bethany House in return for my honest opinion. I received a complimentary copy of this book from the publisher, for which I was not required to write a positive review. All opinions expressed are mine alone ~~

Friday, April 29, 2016

Dear Mr. Knightley...a Modern Take on a Classic

The familiar March proverb "in like a lion, out like a lamb," was true not only weather-wise here in the Midwest, but also in my creative writing life. March was a hectic month socially for me and left little time for writing.

Now at the end of April, I've renewed my efforts to blog again  about books and movies. Despite March's eventful social month, I still manged to read a handful of books.  Over the course of the coming months, I"m sure you'll see a few book reviews trickle in.

The last week of March, I spent a relaxing and restful week in Florida on vacation.  When you're a bookworm on vacation you have two goals in mind; first, how many books can you pack to read and the second is to see how many of the books you transported are you able to read?  I ended up reading about half of the books I packed.

Dear Mr. Knightley by Katherine Reay was the first book I devoured in less than 24 hours. The plot is similar to Jean Webster's Daddy Long Legs...a classic and one of my favorites. Despite the fact that Dear Mr. Knightley's plot was akin to Daddy Long Legs, I still relished the modern take on this classic.  Fans of definitive British author Jane Austen will be delighted with Ms. Reay's references and traces to many of Austen's works.

Dear Mr. Knightley follows twenty-something Samantha 'Sam' Moore who is an orphan living at Grace House. Sam has been given an opportunity for an all-expenses-paid prospect of going to grad school to pursue journalism. Her one condition is that she has to write her benefactor letters on her progress and address him as Mr. Knightley...hence the title.  Sam finds herself sharing more than her growing pains of grad school with Mr. Knightley.  The reader is very quickly introduced to Sam's world, the people she comes into contact with, and her perception of the people and events and her struggle to 'fit' in.  One of the characteristics I liked instantly about Sam was that she was a voracious reader and had a phenomenal memory for recalling quotes and passages from what she reads.  Sam tends to hide behind her books and favorite characters and uses them as a shield of protection against the world.  She quickly learns that she can no longer use reading as armor, but she has to be true to herself and let her true character shine through. By the end of the story, Sam comes into her own sense of self. She still greatly enjoys reading, but she's able to separate fiction from reality.

Who is this mysterious benefactor who calls himself Mr. Knightley?  If you want to know you'll have to read the story and discover for yourself. I'll give you a hint: if your rooting for him and wondering could he be the Mr. Knightley?...you're probably on the right track!

One minor issue I had with Dear Mr. Knightley...I felt that Christianity and God were added at the end as an afterthought nearer the end of the novel. The author introduces Sam to Christian people who witness to her, but it seemed that she was still comprehending the gospel message and wasn't quite there in terms of believing that Jesus died on the cross for her sins and she needed to repent and believe.

Dear Mr. Knightley is Katherine Reay's debut novel and it was an exceptional first novel. I'm excited to read more from this talented author.

Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Like A Flower in Bloom by Siri Mitchell is a delight!!

Being a true bibliophile, I own a few books by Siri Mitchell, but truth be told I haven't read all of them yet.  After reading Like A Flower in Bloom, my interest in this author has been re-kindled. I found this historical romance set in 1850's England delightful, charming, and funny to the end.

Twenty-two year old Charlotte Whithersby has been allowed to assist her widowed father in her passion for botany. Her interfering uncle convinces her father that she needs to join society for the purpose of finding a husband because at twenty-two she's practically an old maid! Her father agrees with her uncle and before she can protest; her job assisting her father has been taken over by Mr. Edward Trimble, a sheep farmer from New Zealand who has a keen interest in botany.

Begrudgingly, she agrees with her father and uncle all the while hoping that her father would soon see how valuable she is to him and eventually she would get her job back.

Charlotte is a unique heroine who marches to the beat of her own drum.  In today's society this individuality is celebrated, but in 1850's England she was thought as a bit of an oddity. Personally, I found her to be a refreshing heroine.

Ms. Mitchell hits the perfect balance with the reader's reaction to Charlotte...a mix of sympathetic to her plight of being pushed into unfamiliar and awkward social situations, but at the same time amused and chuckling at her social faux pas. One funny example in particular is when Charlotte meets a young woman at a dinner party, she informs, Miss Templeton, her new acquaintance that the embroidered flowers on her dress do not have the correct number of petals.
 "Do you know that the flowers on your dress haven't got the right number of petals?"
She glanced down at it. "I had no idea."
"Some of them have five petals and some have six, and although that's possible considering the different varieties of the strawberry have different number of petals, I would assume that your dress is meant to depict just one variety, wouldn't you?"  (Mitchell, 73)

Edward Trimble is distinctive hero. He has a variety of interests, botany, sheep farmer, and he's also knowledgeable of ladies fashion and the social rules of the day. He reminded me somewhat of Mr. Knightley, Jane Austen's hero from Emma.

The banter between Edward and Charlotte is charged. The quote below is one of my favorite moments in the book between the two leads and I think it shows how much he admires her.
"He studied my face for a moment and then glanced down at his empty sketchbook. "You don't approve of my choice?"
"May I remind you of a bluebell, Mr. Trimble? It's a very common flower. One might say it's the commonest."
"I have never thought so. Indeed, most consider it the kingdom's favorite flower. And what would our lives be- how would we even make it though a barren winter- without the hope of our bluebell woods come spring?"
"But bluebells droop under the weight of their own blossoms, of their expectations. They're much too fragile for the realities of life."
"Bend, Miss Withersby. Bluebells don't droop, they bend.They offer their strength to the needs of the moment." (Mitchell, 256).

Ms. Mitchell slowly builds Charlotte and Edward's relationship. I felt that Like A Flower in Bloom had undertones of Jane Austen's works. Like many of Austen's characters the road to love is full of ups and downs; the same could be said of Edward and Charlotte. Also, Charlotte plays the role of matchmaker between her new acquaintance, Miss Templeton and another young gentleman in the story. Jane Austen's Emma sprang to mind.

Like A Flower in Bloom is one of those stories that stays with you long after you read it.  Ms. Mitchell's books will most certainly be added to my ever growing "to be read" pile.

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Undaunted Hope is a dramatic conclusion to Jody Hedlund's Beacons of Hope series

Jody Hedlund is quickly becoming one of my "go-to" and "must read" authors.
The Doctor's Lady was the first book I read by Ms. Hedlund and after that I was hooked on her books and her unique style of writing. One of the aspects I like about her writing is that her books are loosely based on historical people. Her books entertain you, but at the same time you also get a history lesson without feeling like your reading a textbook.

Ms. Hedlund effortlessly weaves history into her stories and you can tell she's done her research when she writes her stories.  This makes me enjoy her books that much more because I know the author isn't simply 'making up' facts, but has taken time to research before writing. Another facet of her writing that I identify with is the way she seamlessly incorporates the gospel in all her books.

Ms. Hedlund's new Beacons of Hope series continues to showcase her high caliber of storytelling and most importantly reminds readers of the hope there is in the gospel.

Undaunted Hope takes place in 1870's Michigan and follows lovely school teacher Tessa Taylor as she travels to a copper mining town to teach. Desperate to escape her past she throws herself into teaching both the children and the miner's of the community.

Tess faces extreme opposition from Percival Updegraff, the superintendent and principle mine clerk who rules the town with an iron fist and knows everything that goes on.

She soon finds herself drawn into the world of the Bjorklund brothers, Michael and Alex. Both men work at the lighthouse in town. Michael, a widower, with two young children is the light-keeper and Alex is his assistant. Both brothers vie for her hand, but ultimately only one brother wins. Which brother will it be? You'll have to read the book to find out!

One of the qualities I liked best about Tessa is her willingness to help others. Especially, when it came to education...she's eager for her students of all ages to learn. Not only education, but anytime she was called upon to help out in the community she did. This willingness to serve others caused the townspeople to respect and appreciate her and eventually stand up for her when she needed them the most.

Unlike Ms. Hedlund's previous books in this series where the lighthouse is seen as a beacon of hope, Tessa does not view the lighthouse as this having lost family members in tragic accidents. Her view is the complete opposite...she's bitter and vows to never set foot in a lighthouse or marry a keeper.

One feature of this series that I liked was the wooden cross made out of driftwood along with a story of a romance and instructions to pass it along to someone else who needed hope. This was a recurring theme in all Ms. Hedlund's Beacons of Hope books. At the end of Undaunted Hope this story comes full circle. Hint: if you've read the novella Out of the Storm you'll make the connection.  I was so excited when I made the connection and thought it was so unique that the author chose to tie in the stories of this series with the beginning novella. Saying it was so cool is an understatement, but it was cool!

Ms.  Hedlund's Beacons of Hope series is wonderful and I urge you to check it out if you enjoy historical fiction interwoven with a solid gospel message.

~~ Undaunted Hope was provided to me by Bethany House in return for my honest opinion. I received a copy of this book via Net Galley from the publisher , for which I was not required to write a positive review. All opinions expressed are mine alone ~~

At Love's Bidding is an endearing romance

At Love's Bidding( Ozark Mountain Romance Book 2) takes you back to Boston in 1873. Miranda Wimplegate assists her family at their renowned auction house.  Her grandfather Elmer Wimplegate has accidentally sold a prized portrait of an influential Boston family.

In an order to help save the auction house from scandal and ruin; Miranda accompanies her grandfather to the Missouri Ozarks where they have tracked the painting. In an effort to keep the painting from being sold the Wimplegates buy the 'auction' house in Missouri not realizing that they specialize in livestock not antiques!
Wyatt Ballentine, the good-looking manager is irritated with the new owner's changes as they clearly have no idea of how a livestock auction is run. He was doing just fine on his own until Miranda Wimplegate stuck her nose in his business attempting to change some of the ways he operated the cattle barn.

Can Miranda and her grandfather find the portrait in time to salvage the reputation of their public sale house?

At first, there is some animosity between Wyatt and Miranda, but over time this enmity turns to friendship and the friendship blossoms into love.  I liked how the romance slowly developed between this unlikely pair.

Another aspect of Ms. Jenning's novel that interested me is that the grandfather Elmer had a fairly large role in the story.  Typically, I find when grandparents are involved in a story their role is minor and in At Love's Budding,  Elmer has a little bit more of a major role. I also liked how Miranda genuinely cares and is concerned for her grandfather. I thought this was so sweet and as a reader this quality endeared her to me.

If you've read book one in this series, (A Most Inconvenient Marriage) Ms. Jennings reunites readers with characters from her first book. Having enjoyed book one it was a delight to have favorite characters interwoven into At Love's Bidding.

Ms. Jennings is making her mark in Christian fiction with her blend of mystery, romance, and humor. If historical fiction appeals to you I would most certainly check out At Love's Bidding and other works by Ms. Jennings.

~~At Love's Bidding  was provided to my by Bethany House in return for my honest opinion. I received a complimentary copy of this book from the publisher, for which I was not required to write a positive review. All opinions expressed are mine alone ~~

Saturday, January 2, 2016

Fire and Ice....a Satisfactory Ending to Mary Connealy's Wild at Heart series.

When I saw Fire and Ice (Book 3 in the Wild at Heart series) in the new books section of my local public library I snatched it up. And it didn't even bother me that I hadn't read book 2 Now and Forever yet....well it bothered me a little, but not enough to stop me from Ms. Connealy's Wild at Heart series out of sequence. I survived and happily lived to write about it!

In Fire and Ice, Bailey Wilde, the oldest sister gets her own story. Bailey has always been the one to take care of her sisters,  but now that her sisters are both married and moved away; Bailey finds taking care of her spread lonely. After a long, hard winter she agrees to a crazy plan by her neighbor Gage Coulter. Coulter needs a wife. He wrote his mother that he had a wife in an effort to keep her from worrying about him. This plan backfired on him as his mother wrote Gage that she was coming for a visit. Desperate Gage proposes to Bailey. She agrees to marry him with some conditions. The first being if she doesn't like being married to Coulter she can leave and the second is that he sign over the deed to the canyon on her land that he owns.  Because he's in a bind he agrees to her conditions. 

I feel that I need to preface this book review a bit. Anytime I read a Mary Connealy book I know I'm in for a fun, crazy, adventure filled with strong, sassy, women and no nonsense cowboys and I've loved all of Ms. Connealy's books I can get my hands on. But in Fire and Ice I felt it took a bit longer to pick up speed. Once Bailey agrees to marry Coulter then the story picked up pace and I rapidly turned pages to the end. 

One of the characteristics I liked about Bailey is that she was an extremely hard worker. I also enjoyed seeing Bailey's transformation from 'tomboy' to a more feminine woman. She's still tough, but over the course of the book she softens considerably.  
Similarly, Gage is also a hard worker like Bailey. They are alike in this trait. Another way that Gage and Bailey are similar is the way they react to their parents. The juxtaposition  of Gage's controlling mother and Bailey's father's relentless effort to build a shrine in the form of a large spread of land to his dead son Jimmy and his stubbornness at not recognizing Bailey as a women affect both Gage and Bailey in different ways.  

The ending to this series is fitting and bittersweet. 

Humor and cowboys are Ms. Connealy's niche. If you enjoy this type of novel I highly recommend you check out her new Wild at Heart Series...it'll be one wild and fun ride.