Sunday, April 28, 2013

afloat - by Erin Healy

Danielle Clement isn't completely satisfied with the choices she's made in allowing Tony Dean to become more than just protector and provider for her and her son, Simeon, but she figures as long as Simeon is taken care of, then it must be okay.  Until she and Simeon become stranded in the condo building that Tony has paid for during a sequence of events that cuts them and a small group of people off from the rest of the world. A sequence of not-entirely-natural events that not everybody will make it out of, and those that are left will be forced to confront not only their past choices, but make decisions that will affect the rest of their lives.  Can Vance Nolan, the architect of the floating condominiums, convince Danielle that she deserves better and that she should trust him?  Or will Tony convince her that her only choice is to stick with him through it all?

This book was a little bit outside of my typical genre choice; there were floating silver lights, and unnatural floods and sun-darkening, and a man who appears and disappears at odd times.  However, it was well-done, and I thought that the stories that were woven together about fear and faith and how our choices affect our lives and relationships were engaging and thought-provoking.  Given the same situation, who would we trust?  How could we make choices to protect ourselves and our children given such limited information?  On the other hand, this sort of situation really revealed each person's inner character, and showed that you can hide your motives and true self for so long.

My favorite quote from the book was "It was a devastating kind of grace, but maybe all new beginnings were."  I think that sums up the book's impact nicely - letting go of the past and reaching for a new future is never easy, but oftentimes the only thing to do.

I give this book 3 stars.  Although the characters felt very true-to-life in that a lot of them weren't very likable, it made it hard to love the book.  I could root for Danielle to make better choices from here out, but I couldn't applaud her choices to this point.  One extra plus that the book had going for it, though, is that when I skimmed the Book Discussion questions at the end, I was impressed with their depth and the potential for meaningful conversation based upon them above and beyond the characters within the book.

You can find afloat HERE.
The author's website is HERE.

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

Rescue Team - by Candace Calvert

Kate Callison has been running from her past for years, never staying in one place for long.  10 hospitals in 6 years, with the latest resting point being at Austin Grace Hospital as their interim Emergency Department Director.  While she hopes to make this stop permanent, she has some big shoes to fill of the previous ER Director who went missing six months ago.  In addition to Sunni's disappearance, the ER has been plagued with issues and the team Kate has stepped into isn't sure she's the one to help solve their problems.  The issues she's dealing with are stirring up Kate's own troubles, and while she's drawn to Wes Tanner, a member of the area's search and rescue team, she continues to insist she doesn't need rescuing.  Can Kate work with her team to get the hospital out of the media's hot water?  Can she reveal her past to Wes?  Can she find her own healing?

This book drew me in, and I found myself liking it more than I expected to.  Kate presents such a tragic figure of one who feels like her past is so unforgivable that she would rather run from it and try to hide it than to try to work through it for healing.  She keeps everyone at arm's length, certain that they would cast stones if they knew what she'd done.  Wes Tanner was a great love interest, having his own past to work through - a past that was definitely at odds with Kate's.  Although he had it in him to want to rescue everyone, he wasn't over-the-top in his interactions with Kate - he fell for her genuinely, and not for her unaccepted need to be rescued.  

There were, I felt, some inconsistencies within the story's characters - for instance, could a nurse really change jobs 10 times in 6 years?  Wouldn't that look sketchy on a resume?  But for the most part, it didn't affect the story enough to detract from it, it just added to the sense that Kate wasn't going to be able to settle down until she actually dealt with her past.  

I loved that there were no "perfect" characters within this novel.  Even those who were so busy helping others were dealing with their own messes, and nobody really pretended to be perfect.  

Overall, I give this book 3.5 stars.  The focus of the book is really on Kate's path to healing, but the surrounding stories and characters help to get her there without getting in the way of her story.

You can find Rescue Team, and the first book in the Grace Medical series, Trauma Plan, HERE and HERE. (While Rescue Team is the second in the series, it stood well on its own, and appears to maybe have only a slight character carry-over.

You can find the author's website HERE. Her background as an ER nurse added a very real-life feel to this book.  I plan to look into some of her other books!
There is a Q&A from Tyndale with the author HERE.

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

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Gone South - by Meg Moseley

"I am Letitia McComb. You can't change who I am."

Tish McComb has moved a lot in her life; when she finally decides to buy a house and put down her own roots where her family tree was planted many generations back, she finds that the name "McComb" may not be exactly something to be proud of.  In fact, she will find that many people wish they'd never heard the name McComb.  In addition, when she takes in the town's prodigal daughter, she further alienates her new community.  Can she change the perception of the name McComb?  Will people be willing to give her and her house guest a second chance?

I was really torn on how I felt about this book.  On the plus side, the characters were really well written, and I felt myself drawn into their lives.  I wanted Tish to find how to be a McComb in this town that hated McCombs.  I wanted her to succeed and to find friendship and love.  I wanted Mel to reunite with her family and find a path different from the one she'd traveled in the past.  Even the side characters, George and Calv and Mr. Farris - they had enough depth to make the town feel real, if not quite inviting.  Yet, maybe it's precisely because I liked the characters so much that I wasn't satisfied with their stories.  Mel not only doesn't seem to change, she never even truly acknowledges that she's messed up.

I give this book 3 stars.  I liked the story of Tish starting over, and helping Mel when nobody else would, and George being there for both of them.  However, as well as the characters related to each other, I wanted them to help each other to really grow and change, and that didn't happen.

You can find Gone South HERE.
You can find Meg's website HERE.
You can find more info about the book from the publisher HERE.

Please consider rating my review on the publisher's website!

This book is due to be released May 7, 2013, and is available for pre-order now!

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

Sunday, April 21, 2013

Grave Consequences - by Lisa T. Bergren

Grave Consequences is the second book in the Grand Tour series.  This installment picks up after the Kensingtons and Morgans have survived an apparent kidnapping attempt in Paris.  The group has decided to continue on their tour of Europe, along with their guides and added security.  Pierre plans to meet up with them, to continue his pursuit of Cora's heart.  Have they lost their kidnappers?  Can they trust their own traveling companions?  And can Cora's heart decides whom it wants - Will, the faithful, steady, "normal" man who fits her old life, or Pierre, the dashing, wealthy, powerful man who epitomizes her new life?  Which life does Cora even want for herself?

I have to say that I was disappointed in this sequel to Glamorous Illusions.  When I read the first book, I was able to enjoy the story with the caveat that I wanted more - I wanted Cora to search harder for what this new life adventure meant for her and her relationship with God.  If possible, this book had even less of that - it was really about Cora deciding which suitor she wanted to accept.  There was a little bit in there of how this Tour had changed her life and changed who she was, but it didn't seem to be for the better, except that it made her richer and made her lief easier.  Her continuous doubts over whether to choose Will or Pierre felt very shallow.  It took her maid, Anna, talking about how working for the Kensingtons changed her own life, for Cora to even really evaluate whether she could make something good of the changes that had been forced upon her. And as much as Will fell in love with Cora for her intelligence and lack of airs, it didn't take long for her to become at ease with the grand dresses and to become more interested in Will instead of the lessons and education he was presenting on the tour.

Overall, I did not enjoy this book, even as much as the first.  I can only give it 2 stars.  It felt drawn out, and even the descriptions of the cities and sites were languorous.  Too much shallow pursuit, and too little internal soul-searching or depth of relationship made this book a rough read.  I will probably still read book 3 to see how it finishes, and I will continue to read Ms. Bergren's other works, as I have found them to be much more enjoyable, but this one was not a favorite.

You can find Lisa T. Bergren's site HERE. (I adore her children's books, and her River of Time series was a really fun Young Adult set!)
You can purchase the book or read an excerpt HERE.

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

Sunday, April 14, 2013

Though My Heart is Torn - by Joanne Bischof

Though My Heart is Torn is the second book in The Cadence of Grace series, the continuation of the story of Lonnie and Gideon.  In this installment of their story, we learn that Gideon was not free to marry Lonnie and live the life they've worked so hard to build together, but instead, that he is still legally married to Cassie Allan, a fact that her brothers and father intend to hold him to.  Irregardless of Lonnie and Gideon's love, or even their child together, in the eyes of the church and the law, Gideon is legally bound to Cassie.  Is there any way out of this mess?  Are the consequences of Gideon's past still haunting him and his new family, the family that has convinced him to finally step away from his selfish life and live for something greater than himself?  What will become of Lonnie and Jacob if this mess can't be fixed?

Wow.  I was so excited to be given the chance to review this book, given how much I loved the author's first installment, Be Still My Soul. This book didn't disappoint.  The characters were so rich and their struggles so engaging, that Though My Heart is Torn was an apt title for both the characters within and me, as a reader, on the outside.  My heart was torn with Gideon as he struggled to know what was right; the desperate need to be who he was now - the man who tried to live for God and others, even when the consequences of his selfish past choices could be pulling him away from the very people who changed him for the better.  My heart was torn with Lonnie as she was the one most affected by this past choice that she had no part in and yet because of it was about to lose the man, whom against her better judgement, she had come to love so deeply.  Perhaps the most surprising twist, however, was that my heart was even torn for Cassie - the woman who was coming between Lonnie and Gideon's love.  Even though Cassie was as much a part of the problem as Gideon, she was a real woman who had her own hurts and desires, and just wanted to be loved and accepted.  My heart was so torn that I didn't even know how I wanted the story to go.  Did I want Cassie to "conveniently" die so that the problem could be "solved" and Lonnie and Gideon could be back together?  Sometimes, but that would have done a great injustice to these characters and their depth.  Did I want Gideon to accept that Cassie was his true wife and love her as such?  Sometimes, but then I felt so hurt for Lonnie that I wasn't sure that would be a good answer either.  Did I want Lonnie to move on and find new love and be loved as she should?  Sometimes, but then that did a disservice to the love and growth and struggles that she and Gideon had come through.  Like I said, my own heart was torn throughout this book.

There were so many strengths in this novel that made me enjoy it.  It was a very strong sequel, standing alone as a complete and engaging story - I can't wait for the conclusion in Book 3, but it didn't leave me feeling incomplete.  (However!  I do HIGHLY recommend reading Book 1 before reading Book 2 - you really do need to get to know Lonnie and Gideon from the beginning)  Mostly, I enjoyed that Gideon's journey wasn't over.  Just because he changed in Book 1, and was getting to know who God is, didn't mean that he had it all together now, or that his faith was full.  He, very clearly, was still learning, as he still called God "that God of yours" to Lonnie, and was still trying to figure out what this faith thing looked like.  Having to deal with the actions of his past, the "old" Gideon, was such a compelling part of who he is now - turning to God didn't magically erase who he used to be, but it did greatly affect how he dealt with the consequences.

I highly recommend this series.  It is so atypical from much of the Christian fiction available; there is so much depth, and the author doesn't shy away from the hard things in life, yet deals with them honestly and sensitively.  I gladly give this book 4 stars, and can't wait to see what happens with the rest of the story!

You can find the author's website HERE.  (She is so down-to-earth and easy to relate to - and she responds personally to comments on her blog!)
There is more info about Though My Heart is Torn HERE.
And you can read the first chapter HERE.

I received a copy of this book from Waterbrook Multnomah, in exchange for my honest review.

Please consider ranking my review so that I can continue to receive great books to review!

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

The Heiress of Winterwood - by Sarah E. Ladd

It's 1814, and Amelia Barrett has promised her friend Katherine that she will care for Katherine's daughter, Lucy, as her very own, as Katherine is dying.  However, her fiance Edward Littleton is deadset against raising a child who isn't his.  Amelia is committed to keeping Lucy, to the point of proposing a marriage of convenience to the child's father, Captain Graham Sterling, when he returns from sea, regardless of the scandal this could cause within her family.  In addition, Amelia's very inheritance is dependent on her being married before her 24th birthday, a mere 5 weeks away.  Will Amelia find a solution?  Will Captain Sterling agree to marry her?  Or will Edward agree to let her keep Lucy? Is everyone who they seem to be, or is someone looking for more than they say they are out of these arrangements?

The plot of this story was intriguing; the idea of a woman proposing marriage to a man she didn't know in 1814 did feel extreme and scandalous.  Amelia seemed to be a strong, confident woman for the time, and her commitment to Lucy was admirable.  Captain Sterling was also an interesting character of his own, dealing with his own issues and guilt from his past.  I especially enjoyed that both main characters had their own issues that were shaping their faith separate from each other.  Neither character was set up to be the savior of the other, and in fact, both Amelia and Captain Sterling had their own mentors in the form of an older woman and man, respectively.  That was a big reason that I enjoyed this book, watching each of them travel their own roads and deal with their own struggles without depending on the other.  And their mentors, Jane Hammond, and Captain Sulter, were able to talk them through by relaying their own difficult pasts, and how they had relied on God through their troubles.

Overall, I enjoyed this book.  While the conclusion was fairly obvious from early in the book, and was a bit over-the-top drama wise, I did enjoy the main characters and their journey towards God and towards a relationship that was more than just convenient.  I did wish for a bit more of their story after where the book chose to end, but maybe that's the sign of a good book.  I give this book 3.5 stars, rounded up to 4.  This is the first book in a series; I'll be interested to see where the series goes - whether it follows the same characters, or picks up with somebody new.

You can find The Heiress of Winterwood HERE.
Sarah E. Ladd's Goodreads page is HERE.  (While a page for the author comes up on Google, the link did not appear to be working.)

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

Monday, April 1, 2013

Invisible - by Ginny L. Yttrup

In Invisible, Ellyn, Sabina, Twila are all women struggling with issues that they think that nobody else can see.  Well, except maybe Ellyn, who thinks that the only thing people see when they look at her is her weight.  Sabina has come to Ellyn's town ostensibly to heal, but is she looking to be healed or merely trying to hide?  Twila has a gift from God that allows her to sense others struggles, but what about her own struggles with her father and how that relationship has manifested itself upon her life and health?  These three women are fighting separate battles, yet they find their paths and lives woven together and may find that helping each other leads to healing within their own lives.

I was eager to read a second book by Ginny L. Yttrup, and while the first book I read may have impacted me more deeply, this one did not disappoint.  The depth of the relationships and how the author weaves them together so seamlessly, so that each woman is integral in the healing of the other two was engaging and felt honest and vulnerable.  The individual characters are so deep and layered that they quickly become people that the reader will care about.  Ellyn's struggles with not only her weight, but with the voice in her head that tells her that she doesn't deserve more in life, is understandable.  Twila's insight into other people and her courage to face her fears knowing that she is created in the image of God is unexpected, refreshing, and adds depth to the story.  Sabina's own struggles with depression, even though she has her doctorate in psychology, gives her a base from which to help her friends, but it also makes her vulnerable, imperfect, and allows others to show her the love of God.

As in the first book I read, Ms. Yttrup uses a single author's quotes, in this case Saint Augustine, to open each chapter.  The quotes lend an extra weight of thoughtfulness to the story, and the continuity of a single voice gives a cohesion to the journey of the characters as they discover their need for God's healing.

Perhaps the strongest theme from this book that will stick with me can be echoed in a character's thought: "I don't have to be all things to all people.  I'm not the only person God will use in someone's life."  Each of the characters within this book, even the "minor" ones had a very real impact on the lives of those they touched.  It's a wise thought to keep with us as we interact with those in our own lives.

I give this book 4 stars.  It was well-written, with depth and insight that will continue to make me think.

You can find more about the author HERE.  (I certainly plan to keep up with her upcoming novels!)

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