Wednesday, October 3, 2018

Miles from Where We Started - Cynthia Ruchti

Imagine being stuck in a car, with not only your husband who has asked for a separation, but also an 11-year-old kid whom you barely know, for a 3,000 mile road trip, where your lodging is a tear-drop camper that's mostly bed, and your nightly destinations are unknown until you arrive.  This is the situation that Mallory has found herself in, and while she sets out with high hopes that she can convince her husband, Connor, to rethink his separation question, it's going to take everything in her to get through this crazy trip facing a reluctant husband and a rebellious foster kid.

This was such a unique setting and plotline; it took me a little bit to get into it, but once they were on the road, I was so intrigued by the people they were meeting and the destinations the company sponsoring the road trip was sending them to, that suddenly a road trip and camping sounded like a great idea!  I love that this author makes her characters feel so real; Mallory and Connor are facing some hard stuff that they should be facing together, but they're each trying to deal with it separately and the reader gets to see how that plays out and their individual motivations for such.  In addition, Judah - the 11-year-old - adds the complicated dynamic of not being able to talk out their problems, and they have to figure out how to show this toughened kid that life isn't always going to kick him when he's down. 

I give this book 4 stars; I really enjoyed the trip itself and all of the characters along the way. Also, isn't that cover gorgeous?!

You can find Miles from Where We Started HERE.
You can find the author's page HERE.  Everything I've read from her has been unique and thought-provoking - I look forward to reading more!

I received a digital copy of this book from the publisher, via NetGalley, in exchange for my honest review.

Catching Christmas - Terri Blackstock

When Finn Parish takes a call from his cab dispatcher to pick up a customer, he doesn't expect an elderly lady in a wheelchair, who may not be completely lucid.  Nor does he expect to have to help her at the doctor's office, or to be called back to her house the following day.  Regardless of his expectations, Finn finds himself drawn into her life, and compelled to help her, whether out of guilt, or his conscience, he's not entirely sure.  He's also not sure what to make of Callie's grandaughter, Sydney, whom he at first takes to be detached and uncaring about her grandmother.  Sydney, however, is fighting her own battles of trying to save her position as a first-year associate at her law firm, while caring for her ailing grandmother.  As the two are drawn together through Callie's needs and wants, they each begin to see their own purposes in life with a new perspective.

Yes, it's only October, and that may seem too early to read a Christmas book, but probably not this one.  While the book has Christmas in the title, and Callie's goal is to spend a nice Christmas making sure that Sydney isn't alone for the holiday, Christmas itself was just sort of tangential to the important parts of the story.  Maybe it would feel more like a Christmas book if I were to read it at Christmas; who knows?

Finn was such an interesting character, I wish there were more to his story here.  But it was fun to watch him go from grumpy, reluctant cab driver to really being invested in Callie's well-being, and even the anger that provoked in him at finding out who was supposed to be helping her, and making sure that the doctors were taking care of her.  Sydney, also, was dealing with so much that it made her character feel more complex than the amount of information we were given about her.  Trying to balance an ever-increasing work load in a job that made her question herself, versus trying to care for the grandmother who'd shown her such love as a child was taking a toll on her, and it took Finn, the former haute-cuisine chef and current cab driver, to really point out to her the choices that she still had.  And, of course- Callie - even if she wasn't sure of everything going on around her, she was always kind and sweet, frequently redirecting conversations with "where are my manners"? She made it seem possible that the unlikely pairing of Finn and Sydney could be drawn together just to make her happy.

A cute book overall; I give it 4 stars.  If anything, I wished for more story to delve deeper into these characters' lives, past, present and future!

You can find Catching Christmas HERE.
You can find the author's page HERE.

I received a complimentary copy of this book from Thomas Nelson through NetGalley.  Opinions expressed in this review are completely my own.

Tuesday, July 31, 2018

Caught by Surprise - Jen Turano

In this third installment of the Apart from the Crowd series, Temperance Flowerdew comes front and center.  We learn that she's been kicked out of her distant cousin's, Wayne Flowerdew, house, after having lived there as basically a servant since her parents died.  She has recently decided, however, that she is done being the meek, servantile, poor relation, and is reclaiming her spunk and creative spark, thanks in no small part to the reappearance of her childhood friend, Gilbert Cavendish.  This newfound zest will serve her well as she and Gilbert encounter one strange situation after another.  With the whole city thinking that they are engaged, after being caught in what appeared to be a compromising position, can they salvage their reputations and escape gracefully, or will they even want to?

I adore Jen Turano, and her witty, spunky, clever female characters.  Temperance is just another in a growing list of Ms. Turano's heroines who have made me laugh out loud while following their stories.  Temperance and Gilbert's friendship is so precious; I loved how well they knew each other and looked out for each other.  I was glad to see the previous characters from this series making their appearances as well, both Temperance's friends Gertrude and Permilia, as well as their fiances and Gilbert's friends Harrison and Asher.  I feel like this trio of couples would be highly entertaining to spend an evening with.

Characters aside, however, this installment felt a little over the top for me.  The "twists" in the plot had a bit of a soap opera feel, with zany characters and dramatic turns that didn't fit the rest of the series' tone.  Perhaps if you approach the book expecting comedic drama, you'll be able to enjoy it from that point of view.

I give this book 3 stars, based on my enjoyment of the characters themselves, and leaning heavily on the previous books in the series to give this finale a bit more weight than it might deserve.

You can find Caught by Surprise HERE.
You can find the author's page HERE.

I received a digital copy of this book, via NetGalley, from the publisher, in exchange for my honest review.

Tuesday, July 17, 2018

The House at Saltwater Point - Colleen Coble

Ellie Blackmore is knee-deep in her renovation business, which she runs with her ex brother-in-law, and making plans to renovate a house for herself, when her sister Mackenzie goes missing.  There's a large bloodstain on the deck of her beloved sailboat, and now rumors of her involvement with a missing cocaine shipment are circulating. The main source of those rumors have swept into town with Coast Guard Intelligence Officer Grayson Bradshaw.  As Ellie and Grayson both seek answers to Mackenzie's disappearance, Grayson has family questions of his own to sort out.

This was a tough book for me to review; once again, I didn't realize this was part of a series, and thus I was not familiar with the characters and hints of backstories sprinkled throughout this book.  That always puts me at a disadvantage, but it does lead me to say that this is probably not best read as a stand alone novel.  Also, there was a lot going on in this book, and I feel like several of the plot lines could have been better served by having their own book.  It was a lot to try to get invested in as a reader, and it was hard to believe that any of the characters could have been dealing with that many major things at once. 

I could see how readers who enjoy suspenseful romance books, however, could enjoy this.  Grayson and Ellie were thrown together because of the case of her sister, but there were reasons for them to not just be at odds on opposite sides of the case.  These side storylines fed their relationship and kept it interesting.

While this book wasn't quite for me, I give it 3 stars.  Ellie's persistent faith in her sister, and a group of connected friends made me want to see how it all turned out.

You can find The House at Saltwater Point HERE.
You can find the author's website HERE.

I received a digital copy of this book, via NetGalley, from the publisher in exchange for my honest review.

Tuesday, June 5, 2018

A Daring Venture - Elizabeth Camden

Trying to escape the rumors of her past that caused her to return to America from Germany, Dr. Rosalind Werner is working alongside Dr. Leal strinving to eradicate cholera and other waterborn diseases by proving that water clorination is effective and safe.  Encountering opposition, but given a 90-day window to persuade the judge, Rosalind meets with Nick Drake, an outspoken former plumber turned millionaire who is trying to convince the city that another expensive water filtration plant is the right way to go and that he should be one of three commissioners in charge of New York's water systerm.  With 90 days to come to a resolution, can Rosalind and Nick come to an agreement on what's best? For water systems and their futures?

Water quality is something we take very much for granted in this day and age in our country.  We don't think twice about running a glass of water out of the tap, or having functioning bathrooms, unless there's a problem.  Even then, there's usually a relatively quick and easy solution.  So the premise of this book, the battle over chemical aids to eliminate raging disease through large cities, was intriguing.  According to the author's note, Dr. Leal (and George Fuller) were "real life heroes who implemented the first chlorine feed system in the world."  Even though Rosalind was not a historical figure, I loved the inclusion of a female biochemist, who earned a legitimate degree through back channels in Germany.  Additionally, the novel included a female CPA who looks to be the main character in the 3rd installment of this series. 

I do wish I had read the first book, as it seems that would have given more insight into the feud between Nick and his sister against his Aunt Margaret upon their Uncle Thomas's death.  It might also have helped to round out Nick's character, as I found him a contradiction - a humble plumber who's inherited millions - he's happy to throw his money whever his passions and heart lead him, but he's desperate to fit into the rich people's world, forcing himself to try caviar, making his 3-year-old daughter wear silks and fancy shoes for every occasion.  Also, why does he hate the outdoors?  Without more background for him, I found him a difficult character to like, and the relationship between Nick and Rosalind ran so hot and cold, with no real development, that while I wanted Rosalind to successfully rise above the rumors and destruction of her reputation, I would have been just as happy for another character to come along for her to end up with.  Poor Rosalind was surrounded by unsettling characters; why does her sister-in-law hate her so much?  What else was going on with her Doctor Clean situation that they pushed her out so easily?  How did Rosalind manage to keep plugging along in life when it seemed she had no real support from anyone?

I give this book 3 stars; the purification of water and the creation of large reservoirs was not something I'd read about previously, and I found it interesting; however, the characters left too many questions for me to really care about them.

You can find A Daring Adventure HERE.
You can find the author's page HERE.

I received a digital copy of this book, via NetGalley, from the publisher, in exchange for my honest review.

Tuesday, May 8, 2018

Send Down the Rain - Charles Martin

Allie has lived a hard life, from an abusive, alcoholic, gambler of a father, to two failed marriages, and a debt that she can't dig her family's restaurant out of.  When her childhood friend and sweetheart, Joseph, shows up in her life again with a scarred past of his own, can either of them set their paths straight and find new life?

This is a tough book to review.  There was a lot more violence than I expected.  A lot.  And it was of some pretty ugly varieties.  Drugs, war, PTSD; very real-to-life, but hard to read.  There was also a lot less God then I expected.  In fact, I'm not sure He was really mentioned explicitly at all in the book.  However, if there was an overall theme to this story, it was in the repeated occurence of characters getting what they "needed," or "did not deserve," and having others, instead, take what they deserved.  There isn't a much more Christian theme than that one.  In addition, Joseph talks about evil a lot, and how evil cannot dispose of evil, only love can do that. 

Even with my struggles to write about this book, I think it's one that will stick with me.  It's difficult to talk about the most important parts of the story without spoiling it, but it will make the reader consider what they've sacrificed for others, and consider the sacrifices made on their behalves.

I give this book a conflicted 4 stars.  The characters and the heart of the story made it a compelling read, but the dark parts are haunting.

You can find Send Down the Rain HERE.
You can find the author's page HERE.

I received a complimentary copy of this book from Thomas Nelson through NetGalley. Opinions expressed in this review are completely my own.

Monday, May 7, 2018

When Dawn Breaks - Jennifer Slattery

With orders to evacuate ahead of an incoming hurricane, Jacqueline heads towards the home of her estranged daughter, hoping to be given both a place to stay and a chance to heal their broken relationship.  While tiptoeing around her daughter's life, Jacqueline comes in contact with a variety of folks that mean her life and her faith will never be the same.

This book contained perhaps one of the most unusual cast of characters I've come across in awhile: a 51-year-old realtor, a railroad mechanic, church volunteers running an evacuation shelter, and a single mom who abandons her three children at the shelter.  But the combination of these characters made the book feel fresh and engaging.

There were a lot of really tough issues tackled in this book; tough enough that each issue could have been a book in itself, but somehow they worked all together.  There's the story of the mom trying to find forgiveness for her actions and abandonment of her daughter so many years ago.  There's the man seeking to be an honest worker while his job could be on the line for not going along with his new boss's deceit.  In addition, there are hidden relationships, children abandoned and trying to navigate the foster system, and evacuees trying to learn about God and where to find Him in their situation.

These stories felt so realistic that the characters felt relatable, even when I didn't fully understand what was going on.  I don't know enough about railroad mechanics to understand what wasn't adding up for Jonathon, yet I felt his dilemma whether to let it slide or call it out.  There were gaps in Jacqueline and Delana's past, but the bigger story of the redemption and healing that were necessary to move forward was more important.  The foster care scenario was so heartbreaking; I found myself wanting to adopt Gavin and his sisters to first save them from the situation with their mom, and then to keep them together out of foster care.  And for a more lighthearted side, the relationship of Jacqueline and Jonathon was just fun - a convenient excuse to escape a blind date at first, but watching them learn to be friends and to explore a relationship as parents of grown children in a later stage of life was an unusual plotline for me.  But above all of those, I loved watching Jacqueline develop from a woman just escaping a temporary storm, to a woman seeking to not only heal her mistakes and to learn more about God, but to actively help others and to teach them about God's love through her own actions.

I give this book 4 stars.  It was a lot of story in under 400 pages, and there are bound to be some gaps, but I really enjoyed this group of characters and their stories.

You can find When the Dawn Breaks HERE.
You can find the author's website HERE.

I received a digital copy of this book, via NetGalley, from the publisher, in exchange for my honest review.