Sunday, March 24, 2013

Stress Test - by Richard L. Mabry, M.D.

Dr, Matt Newman is trying to make some positive changes in his life.  He thinks he's met the woman he wants to marry, and he is adjusting his career to make marriage possible.  However, one last, late-night, on-call visit to the hospital where he's been working results in his kidnapping and attempted murder.  Now, he's trying to avoid being charged with homicide himself, while trying to stay away from the men who keep trying to finish the job they botched.  Can he, along with his new attorney, find a way to keep him alive and clear his charges?  And what state will his life and career be in even if they do succeed?

For the most part, I thought this was a well-written book.  I was turning pages as fast as I could read them to make sure that Matt would survive.  I liked watching the attorney-client relationship develop, and tentatively stretch a little further.  The romance aspect was slow and subtle, and only added to the book.  Also realistic and engaging, was Matt's search for a deeper faith to grab hold of during this crazy, tumultuous ride.  He didn't reach for God for anyone else's benefit, but he found peace in knowing that God was in control, no matter whether his desperate pleas for help were answered or not.

However, there were several gaps in the plot that detracted from the overall enjoyment of the book for me.  I felt that instead of just trying to get Matt cleared of charges, he and his attorney would have been working to find out the reason he'd been targeted in the first place.  The answers he was eventually given felt a little thin given the complexity of the plot to kill and/or frame him for murder.  There were so many shady characters involved in the crimes and cover-ups that I wanted it to tie together a little more neatly.  Also, Matt's character, as a doctor and surgeon with a quick-working mind, should have been  more observant of things like missing keys and planted evidence.  It didn't ring true that the criminals were able to get to him so easily and so often.

Overall, I give this book 3.5 stars, rounded up to 4.  I really did like Matt and Sandra, the attorney; I wanted Matt to get his life back, but make it better along the way.  I liked several of the minor characters, and they added key components to the story without feeling contrived.

You can find Stress Test HERE, including a video to watch.

The author is a retired physician, adding medical details that make the characters authentic, without being over the reader's head.  You can find his website HERE.

I received a copy of this book from Thomas Nelson, as part of their BookSneeze program, in exchange for my honest review.

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

The Chance - by Karen Kingsbury

Ellie Tucker and Nolan Cook are best friends, and when Ellie's Dad forces her to move across the country when she's 15, they promise to stay in touch.  Just in case something happens, however, they write each other a letter and bury it in their favorite park with a promise to come back eleven years later to read them.  Those eleven years pass without any words between them and with enormous changes in their lives.  Will they find each other again?  Will they even try?

I have to admit that I enjoyed this book more than I expected.  I thought that the premise was interesting, and I was invested in wanting to see Nolan and Ellie find each other again.  Yet, there was something that kept me from loving the book.  Partly, I think that there were too many twists and turns and random chances that kept the story moving towards its inevitable conclusion.  I do believe that God could orchestrate such minute details towards an end goal, but there were so many extra characters thrown in to bring it about that it felt a bit forced, without enough details about those characters to bring depth to the story.  It was like there were a half dozen semi-stories thrown into the mix that muddied the waters.  (As an aside, it looks like some of the characters do have their own story in The Bridge, but without reading that first, they felt unfinished in this book)  Additionally, Ellie's father goes through a profound transformation that has the greatest bearing on the story, and yet we see very little of the actual process of his change.  The transition from being a Christian who thinks that rule-following and power-enforcing is the way to live, to a genuine believer who shows humility and love for his family would have been an engaging story to follow.

Overall, I give this book 3.5 stars, but round it down to 3.  I do think that it shows some of what I enjoyed about Karen Kingsbury's early books, more complex characters and deeper journeys of faith, but it could have been so much more.

You can find The Chance HERE.
Karen's website, along with information on all of her books and stories about lives changed from them can be found HERE.

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

Thursday, March 14, 2013

A Matter of Trust - by Lis Wiehl and April Henry

Mia Quinn has a lot of troubles on her plate already: her husband has died, she's struggling financially, and now she's being asked to investigate the death of her friend and fellow prosecutor, Colleen.  While Mia is trying to keep her family afloat, and trying to keep her son Gabe from traveling down the wrong paths, she is also trying to find whether there is somebody targeting Seattle prosecutors, because if there is, she could also be in danger.  But when you're investigating the death of a coworker, how do you know who to trust?

I don't typically read a lot of murder mysteries, and this one reminded my why.  This book is not one to read by yourself in your home alone late at night.  I was definitely a little twitchy at every sound, and double checked my door locks.  So, from that aspect, it was a well-written suspense novel.  I was looking behind Mia's shoulder, and wondering how many of the odd occurrences in her life would turn out to be related.  In the end, however, I was a bit disappointed in how the mystery was solved. Without trying to spoil the ending, coincidental breaks that turn out to be unrelated can ruin an otherwise well-written mystery for me.

Mia herself was also a conundrum as a character.  While she expressed doubt about several people i her daily life, she didn't have a problem discussing her case details with just about anybody she talked to.  It felt out of character with the rest of her life where she worked very hard to stay in control.  Even with the inconsistencies, I was still rooting for her to restore the relationships in her life and to solve the mystery of her best friend's death.

Overall, I give this book 3 stars.  It kept me engaged, I wanted to know who did it, and I didn't quite solve it before it came together.  But I would have liked a few less deliberate wrong turns along the path to the conclusion.

You can find A Matter of Trust HERE.
You can find Lis Wiehl's website HERE.
You can find April Henry's website HERE.

I received a copy of this book from Thomas Nelson as a part of their Booksneeze program, in exchange for my honest review.

Monday, March 11, 2013

Firefly Island - by Lisa Wingate

Mallory Hale goes from living the independent life all over the world to working in the nation's capitol, where a chance meeting over spilled legislation leads to a whirlwind romance and marriage.  Suddenly, she finds herself living in a long-abandoned house in the middle of a huge ranch in Texas, where all of the townsfolk seem leery of her husband's new boss.  Why will nobody talk about Jack West?  What really did happen to his second wife and stepson?  And why is his son Mason suddenly back after 15 years of absence?  Can Mallory adjust to life as a stepmother and wife in this new place?

This book left me conflicted on how to review it.  I am a sucker for a pretty book cover, and they don't get much prettier than the Firefly Island cover.  However, the picture on the cover makes me think of a tranquil vacation setting, or a chance for Mallory to experience a change of scenery from the fast-paced, back-biting culture of the political world; instead, the titular island is shrouded in mystery and gloom, locked up tight, and rumored to even possibly be the site of crimes from Jack West's past.  The disparity between the cover and the setting carried over to my feelings about the book.  I enjoyed watching Mallory learn how to be a wife and mother, and even how to be a friend to people different from what she used to be.  The story of how Mallory and Daniel were trying to make the marriage work after such a short courtship and then the huge transition of location was enough to make a book interesting by itself.  The mystery of Jack West and his son, Mason, could have been an interesting book, too, but somehow the juxtaposition of the two didn't quite work.  I felt like the marriage story could have been deeper and stronger, and I was disappointed in the resolution of the book's many mysteries.

That said, I felt that the writing was good and the characters were strong, so I did enjoy the book overall.  I did just discover that Firefly Island is the third book in the Moses Lake series, so while it looks like the first two books focus on other characters from the town of Moses Lake, perhaps reading them in order would help the reader feel more at home within the book's setting.  I didn't feel as I was reading this book, however, that I was missing important information, though, so it does function well as a stand-alone book.

I give this book 3 stars, mostly based on the quick, dissatisfying conclusion to the book's mysteries.

You can find Firefly Island and the rest of the Moses Lake series HERE.
You can find Lisa Wingate's website HERE.

I received a copy of this book from Bethany House Publishers in exchange for my honest review.

Friday, March 1, 2013

Wishing on Willows - by Katie Ganshert

Wishing on Willows is a sequel to Wildflowers from Winter, which I enjoyed enough to hope for a continuation to the story, so I was very pleased to find this follow-up book!  This story picks up with Robin Price, who lost her husband in the first book and built a cafe to honor his memory and find a way to live again.  Now, four years later, and with an almost 4-year-old son, she is struggling to keep up with the demands of her life.  Not only is being a single mom and a cafe owner hard enough, but now there's a development company in town who wants to tear down her cafe to build condominiums.  Robin doesn't want to hurt the town, but she also doesn't want to give up the cafe she's poured her heart and soul into.  As the developer's agent, Ian, tries to convince Robin to sell, he admires her passion and begins to question his own choices in life.  Can he bring himself to force the deal to gain his father's approval and keep the family company from hurting its employees?  Can Robin find a way to keep her cafe without damaging the town?  Or does she need to move on from her past and find a new joy in her life?

As with her first novel, Ms. Ganshert does so many things well with this story.  Her main plot line moves along cleanly, but her supporting characters don't get lost in the shadows.  I liked that the main characters from the first book made several appearances in this one, enough to get a feel for where they were now and what their lives looked like.  The one character whose story seemed to complicate the book, however, was Amanda's - there was talk of her past and even a move to letting go and moving on, but it somehow seemed distinctly separate from the main story and felt just a bit awkward.  The other thing that this author does well is to incorporate a love story without it feeling heavy-handed or the singular focus of the book.  As a reader, you know where that particular plot line will end up, but it's done well enough that you're rooting for it to get there.

Overall, I enjoyed this book a lot.  I don't see plans for another in this series, but I really hope that one develops!  It felt like Amanda's plot line was left hanging, and I'd like to see her story filled out.  Also, it would be nice to see how Robin and Ian's plans turn out for them.
I give this book 4 stars!

I know that there are certain topics that are sensitive to readers, and you may want to be forewarned before being surprised by them in a story where you didn't expect.  Due to that fact, I would like to mention that this book deals with: infertility, abortion, and cancer.

You can find the author's website HERE.
You can read an excerpt of the book HERE.
You can find an interview with the author discussing this book HERE.

I received a copy of this book from Waterbrook Multnomah as part of their Blogging for Books program, in exchange for my honest review.

Ring of Secrets - by Roseanna M. White

From the perspective of late 18th-century society, Winter Reeves is living a lovely, albeit shallow, life.  She lives in opulence during a time that many are struggling through the war, and her grandparents appear to have been gracious in taking her into their home after the loss of her parents.  In reality, she is little more than a slave to them, loved less than even that, and has had to cover her true personality and wit with an empty socialite shell.  The doors open to her socially, however, lend themselves perfectly to an undercover life as a spy.  Since none believe her to be intelligent enough to follow a conversation, there are many willing to speak openly in her presence of military secrets that she can then relay to the Culper Ring to enable the Patriot army to act defensively.  When a man comes along, however, who sees that there is more to Winter than any others have been willing or able to see, can she drop the masks to find love?  Or, as a spy, is she doomed to pair herself for life with a man she can use as a source?

While I am not usually drawn to historical novels, there isn't much that can draw me into a story faster than a highly intelligent heroine.  Add in a man determined to discover the reasons she hides her wit and humor behind an empty mask, throw in some spy danger, and the book quickly becomes hard to put down.  Although there were sections of the book that did feel a bit drawn out, Winter's dual life and complete trust in God throughout such difficult circumstances were engaging. In addition, the characters that filled out the story were deeply drawn enough to give life to the story on their own merit.  I loved that the men pursuing her were so honest and complex that they were able to form a true friendship, even while essentially battling for Winter's affections.  Their lives and their friendship added a richness to the story that took it from being a traditional romance, or even historical spy novel, to a story of relationships and faith that would transcend its setting and touch any reader.  As Ben was led to question his perception of God that had always been more scientific than relational, the reader can see how God has worked subtly, yet surely, to bring Ben to the very place he finds the God he seeks.

Overall, I enjoyed this book.  I'm always a little hesitant to pick up historical novels, but delightfully surprised to find one with engaging characters.  This is book #1 in a series, and I will be interested to see where it goes from here.  I give this book 3.5 stars, rounded to 4.

You can find Ring of Secrets HERE.
You can find the author's website HERE.

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