Sunday, November 17, 2019

Christian Romantic Suspense "Perfect Storm" Just Not For Me

(Image from Barnes & Noble)

Fourteen years ago, the secret relationship between a preacher's daughter and the son of the town drunk was discovered, setting off a conflict that ended with one father killing the other.  Although Roy Beckett insisted he was innocent, he was sent to prison for the murder of "Brother" Strickland.  A decade and a half later, Roy is pardoned and set free, to the horror of the victim's family.  

Brenna Strickland Hertzog is having a hard enough time dealing with a nasty custody battle between her and her powerful ex-husband.  The last thing she needs right now is to deal with the shocking release of her father's killer.  Brenna's drinking too much as it is—how is she going to cope with this new development in her already stressful life?  Then Roy's son, Nate Beckett, shows up on her doorstep for the first time in 14 years, rekindling all the feelings she had for him when they were kids.  Their innocent, but clandestine teenage romance led to her father's death; renewing it now could be even more dangerous ...

Forced to take a break from his job as a smokejumper after he sustains second degree burns over 20% of his body, Nate returns home to recover and see his father.  Nate has always believed in Roy's guilt, but when his father begs him to find Brother Strickland's true killer, he feels obligated to dig into the murder.  A major complication comes in the form of beautiful, broken Brenna who needs him now more than ever.  What will Nate's sleuthing uncover?  Can Brenna ever forgive, let alone love, the son of her father's alleged murderer?

I have to say upfront that romantic suspense is really not my genre.  Add in Christian elements and it often leads to a perfect storm of cheesy, far-fetched, overwritten drama.  No, thanks.  Still, something about the premise of Smoke Screen by Terri Blackstock made me agree to read and review it.  Did it change my mind about this genre?  Um, no.  While I appreciate that the novel's clean and faith-affirming, its flat characters, dull prose, and melodramatic plotline made me a little crazy.  While Brenna's a sympathetic character, she's not a super likable one.  I couldn't understand Nate's interest.  Their resulting romance, therefore, seems forced and sparkless.  As far as the suspense portion, there's not a lot as the plot focuses mainly on Brenna's personal problems.  The lackluster mystery at the heart of the story is thin and implausible, especially since the "twists" are obvious from miles away.  Overall Smoke Screen is definitely not the worst Christian romantic suspense novel I've ever read, but for me, it was a so-so read at best.  To be fair, this is how I feel about most books in this genre.  Still, I would have liked for Smoke Screen to change my mind; unfortunately, that just didn't happen.  Bummer.

(Readalikes:  Reminds me of other Christian romantic suspense novels, but no specific titles are coming to mind.  You?)

Grade:


If this were a movie, it would be rated:


for violence

To the FTC, with love:  I received an e-ARC of Smoke Screen from the generous folks at Thomas Nelson via those at Celebrate Lit in exchange for an honest review.  Thank you!

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Would you like more opinions on Smoke Screen?  Follow along on the book's blog tour by clicking on the links below:

As He Leads is Joy, November 9
Sara Jane Jacobs, November 9
CarpeDiem, November 9
Fiction Aficionado, November 10
KarenSueHadley, November 10
Quiet quilter, November 10
Among the Reads, November 11
Genesis 5020, November 11
A Reader’s Brain, November 11
Robin’s Nest, November 12
All-of-a-kind Mom, November 12
Bigreadersite , November 12
Blogging With Carol , November 12
Betti Mace, November 13
Spoken from the Heart, November 13
D’S QUILTS & BOOKS, November 13
Emily Yager, November 13
By The Book, November 14
For Him and My Family, November 14
Splashes of Joy , November 14
Andrea Christenson, November 15
Just the Write Escape, November 16
Mary Hake, November 16
Remembrancy, November 17
Simple Harvest Reads, November 17 (Guest Review from Mindy Houng)
EmpowerMoms, November 17
Blessed & Bookish, November 18
Older & Smarter, November 18
Inklings and notions, November 18
amandainpa , November 19
Pause for Tales, November 19
Hallie Reads, November 20
Cathe Swanson, November 21
All 4 and About Books, November 21
Batya’s Bits, November 22
Livin’ Lit, November 22
Texas Book-aholic, November 22
janicesbookreviews, November 22

Thursday, November 14, 2019

Hard-to-Find Australian Doomsday Novel Tense, Gritty

(Image from Book Depository)

"I don't know who I am now the world is different" (261).

In the last three years, Rick Palmer has gone from a relatively normal father to a paranoid doomsday prepper.  After his wife took off, he poured his energy into educating himself and his three teenage daughters on how to survive the apocalypse he claims is imminent.  He drilled his kids on how to find water in the desert, how to conserve resources, how to set bones and perform emergency first aid, and most of all, how to slip out of their house and into their well-stocked bunker without giving away the secret of its existence.  Despite these frantic exercises, life in the Palmers' tiny Australian town is perfectly peaceful, even boring.  Prudence Palmer and her sisters are convinced their father is mad as the proverbial hatter.  They long for a normal, on-the-grid life full of the luxuries the other teens in town take for granted—smartphones, dates, regular school, parents who aren't off their rockers ...

Then, the lights go out in the Palmers' small village.  Communication with the outside world is cut off.  Confusion and chaos quickly replace order and reason.  With Rick missing—he hasn't returned from the distant mine where he works—it's up to Pru to decide the best way to keep herself and her sisters safe.  She knows she should retreat to the bunker immediately, but a chance meet-up with a handsome boy visiting from America, whose parent is also missing, gives her pause.  As fear and desperation settle over their once-peaceful town, Pru must ask herself some important questions.  Does she do what her father taught her and hoard her resources or defy his wishes and aid her helpless neighbors?  What kind of person is she really, when push comes to shove? 

I don't read as many dystopian/post-apocalyptic novels as I once did, but I still enjoy them when I do.  After the Lights Go Out by Lili Wilkinson was mentioned on some best-of-the-genre list, so I knew I wanted to read it.  It's not an easy book to get a hold of, though; luckily, Book Depository came through for me.  While there's nothing really original about After the Lights Go Out, it's still a tense, engrossing novel.  It's atmospheric, gritty, and compelling.  The plot moves quickly, the characters are intriguing, and the decisions Pru has to make throughout the story makes it a thought-provoking tale.  Like all books of this kind, it made me ask myself, "What would I do in this situation?"  It's an interesting thought.  All in all, then, I enjoyed this one, even if it's nothing I hadn't seen before.

(Readalikes:  Reminds me of the Tomorrow, When the War Began series by John Marsden and lots of other dystopian/post-apocalyptic novels)

Grade:


If this were a movie, it would be rated:


for language, violence, and sexual content

To the FTC, with love:  I bought a copy of After the Lights Go Out from Book Depository with a portion of the millions I make from my lucrative career as a book blogger.  Ha ha.

Tuesday, November 12, 2019

Charming WWII Novel a Joy to Read

(Image from Barnes & Noble)

Bossy Mrs. Braithwaite is used to being in charge—of her marriage, her family, the Women's Volunteer Service, and the small town of Ashcombe Village.  When news of her divorce from her philandering husband comes out, the scandal rocks her nice, orderly world.  All of a sudden, the anchor of her ship-shape life has been yanked out from under her, leaving her adrift.  With the threat of a family secret being exposed if she doesn't step aside gracefully, Mrs. Braithwaite flees to London.  There's one last person over which she can assert control—her daughter, Betty.  Anxious to help with the war effort, the 20-year-old has been living in the city for two years now.

When Mrs. Braithwaite arrives on her daughter's doorstep, however, the landlord informs her that he hasn't seen Betty in days.  With the recent bomb droppings, the shocked mother can't help imagining the worst for her only child.  Refusing to accept defeat, she ropes Betty's landlord, the timid Mr. Norris, into helping her scour the city for any sign of her daughter.  What they find is more than either one of them bargained for.  Before they know it, the unlikely duo is embroiled in a dangerous game that will put their lives in peril.  In the midst of all their derring-do, the formidable Mrs. Braithwaite and the reluctant Mr. Norris will both be forced to reevaluate everything they thought they knew about life—and each other.

WWII novels are a dime a dozen and while I love stories from this time period, sometimes it seems they're all the same.  Not so with Jennifer Ryan's sophomore effort, The Spies of Shilling Lane.  With a heroine like Mrs. Braithwaite, you can only expect a funny, delightful read.  Which this book absolutely is.  It's filled with fun characters, exciting adventures, and amusing, upbeat prose.  Because of what our leading lady learns about herself, however, it's also a thought-provoking tale.  True, the plot gets a bit redundant, but all in all, The Spies of Shilling Lane is a pure joy to read.  I adored it.

(Readalikes:  Reminds me a little of Dear Mrs. Bird by A.J. Pearce)

Grade:


If this were a movie, it would be rated:


for brief, mild language (no F-bombs), violence, and mild sexual innuendo

To the FTC, with love:  I bought a copy of The Spies of Shilling Lane from Amazon with a portion of the millions I make from my lucrative career as a book blogger.  Ha ha.

Monday, November 11, 2019

So-So Family Drama Clunky, But Ultimately Compelling

(Image from Barnes & Noble)

Trying to write my own plot summary for If Only I Could Tell You by Hannah Beckerman is not going well, so here's the back cover version:

For fans of This Is Us comes a story of a family divided and the secret that can possibly unite them – a life-affirming novel with a twist will break your heart and an ending that will put it together again. 

 A secret between two sisters.
A lifetime of lies unraveling.
Can one broken family find their way back to each other?

Audrey’s dream as a mother had been for her daughters, Jess and Lily, to be as close as only sisters can be. But now, as adults, they no longer speak to each other, and Audrey’s two teenage granddaughters have never met. Audrey just can’t help feeling like she’s been dealt more than her fair share as she’s watched her family come undone over the years, and she has no idea how to fix her family as she wonders if they will ever be whole again.

If only Audrey had known three decades ago that a secret could have the power to split her family in two, and yet, also keep them linked. And when hostilities threaten to spiral out of control, a devastating choice that was made so many years ago is about to be revealed, testing this family once and for all.
Once the truth is revealed, will it be enough to put her family back together again or break them apart forever? 

This novel has gotten really mixed reviews.  My reaction falls somewhere in the middle—I didn't love it, I didn't hate it.  The book's a sad, depressing read that tries to cover a lot of territory in a relatively short space.  The tackling of such heavy subject matter, combined with a slow-building plot and characters that are immature and not all that likable, results in a story that is clunky, but ultimately compelling.  Beckerman strings the reader along with promises of a juicy secret to be revealed.  And I totally took the bait.  Even though I saw the Big Reveal coming, I still wanted to know for sure, a curiosity that kept me reading.  Overall, though, I found If Only I Could Tell You to be just an okay read. 

(Readalikes:  Hm, I can't think of anything.  Can you?)

Grade:


If this were a movie, it would be rated:


for language (no F-bombs) and disturbing subject matter

To the FTC, with love:  I received an ARC of If Only I Could Tell You from the generous folks at William Morrow (an imprint of HarperCollins) in exchange for an honest review.  Thank you!

Saturday, November 09, 2019

Younts' Newest Thought-Provoking, Faith-Affirming, and Hope-Filled

(Image from Barnes & Noble)

Brighton Friedrich has never lived in a real home and has no idea what "normal" family life looks like.  Born at Riverside Home for the Insane to a single, catatonic mother, she has lived in the facility ever since.  Cared for by a nurse who has educated and reared her on the sly, Brighton has grown up feeling loved, but the older she gets, the more trapped she begins to feel.  Along with her best friend—an albino who didn't have a name before she dubbed him "Angel"—Brighton longs to break free of the asylum and experience the world outside its gates.  When she learns that her beloved "Nursey" has been keeping secrets about both her and Angel, Brighton no longer feels as if she has a choice.  She and Angel have to leave Riverside.  No matter what.

Completely unprepared for life on the outside, Brighton and Angel must find their way in a strange and terrifying new world.  As they stumble along a perilous path from Pennsylvania to Michigan, they will find adventure, danger, and other heartbreaking obstacles that put their friendship to the ultimate test.  Can two misfits who have never known "normal" find the answers they seek in a hostile world that threatens to tear them apart at every turn?

Ever since I read The Solace of Water last year, I've been a big fan of Elizabeth Byler Younts.  Raised in an Amish community, which she remains close to even though her family left the faith when she was a child, Younts has written a handful of lovely, authentic, faith-promoting books featuring Amish characters.  The Bright Unknown is a bit of a departure (although an Amish family does have a small cameo in the novel), but it still showcases Younts' trademarks—lush prose, sympathetic characters, and a gentle tone that makes her stories shine with empathy, humanity, and heart.  As heartbreaking as this tale is, it's also thought-provoking, faith-promoting (without being heavy-handed or cheesy), and hope-filled.  I adored it.

(Readalikes:  Hm, I can't think of anything.  Can you?)

Grade:


If this were a movie, it would be rated:


for violence and disturbing subject matter

To the FTC, with love:  I received an e-ARC of The Bright Unknown from the generous folks at Thomas Nelson via those at Celebrate Lit in exchange for an honest review.  Thank you!

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Want other opinions on The Bright Unknown?  Follow along on the book's blog tour, hosted by Celebrate Lit, by clicking the links below:

The Power of Words, November 2
A Reader’s Brain, November 2
Inspired by fiction, November 3
Fiction Aficionado, November 4
Genesis 5020, November 4
janicesbookreviews, November 5
All-of-a-kind Mom, November 5
The Becca Files, November 7
Bigreadersite, November 7
Connect in Fiction, November 8
Moments, November 9
Simple Harvest Reads, November 10
Betti Mace, November 10
Pause for Tales, November 11
Inklings and notions, November 11
Mary Hake, November 11
Texas Book-aholic, November 12
Hallie Reads, November 12
For Him and My Family, November 13
Remembrancy, November 14
mpbooks, November 14
Godly Book Reviews, November 15

Thursday, November 07, 2019

Despite Familiar Plot, First Installment in Mystery/Thriller Series Still Compelling

(Image from Barnes & Noble)

I grew up in Washington in a tiny town that no one's ever heard of.  Except for mystery/thriller writer Robert Dugoni, apparently.  My sister mentioned that one of the books in his popular Tracy Crosswhite series, which is set in The Evergreen State, talked about not just our little village, but also referenced nearby ones like Pucker Huddle.  That was enough to get me to check out the series!  All in all, I'm glad I did. 

The first installment, My Sister's Grave, introduces readers to Tracy, a high school chemistry teacher turned homicide detective.  At 42, she's still haunted by the rape and murder of her younger sister 20 years ago.  Although the body has never been found, a man named Edmund House was convicted for the crime.  To Tracy, the evidence against him has never really stacked up, leading her to wonder if he's truly guilty.  

When the remains of Sarah Crosswhite are finally discovered, Tracy pushes her colleagues to reopen her sister's case.  While examining the details of Sarah's short life, the detective discovers long-buried secrets and lies, which cause her to see the past in a whole new light.  The more she digs, the more she finds, which puts Tracy in the crosshairs of a dangerous killer.  Can she figure out who killed Sarah before she becomes the next victim?

As you can tell from the plot summary, there's nothing super new or original about My Sister's Grave.  It tells a familiar story, but one that does offer up some twists and turns I didn't see coming.  The thriller gets a little long, true.  Still, it kept me reading.  Overall, I like the characters in this one enough to continue on with the series.  After all, I have to get to the installment that mentions the little Columbia River Gorge towns that I know and love (even if no one else does)!

(Readalikes:  Reminds me of lots of mystery/thriller novels, although no specific title is coming to mind.  You?)

Grade:


If this were a movie, it would be rated:


for language, violence, blood/gore, mild sexual content, and disturbing subject matter

To the FTC, with love:  Another library fine find

Wednesday, November 06, 2019

Empowering, Faith-Promoting Memoir Proves Anyone Can Change (with a Giveaway!)

(Image from Amazon)

Daniel L. Trotter became hooked on illegal drugs at a young age.  This—as well as addictions to alcohol, tobacco, pornography, and partying—continued to plague him throughout adolescence and young adulthood, leading where such vices inevitably will.  After numerous close calls, as well as a suicide attempt and stays in both jail and a mental facility, Trotter finally hit rock bottom.  Desperate to change his life, he took dramatic action.  Inspired by the Biblical story of Jesus' forty-day fast in the wilderness, Trotter embarked on his own journey.  He promised himself—and God—that he wouldn't emerge from the forest where he was camping until he had found the strength to transform his life.  For good.

A Different Kind of Strong is Trotter's story.  Although it describes a long struggle with debilitating addictions, the memoir is a short, easy read, making it approachable for even the most reluctant reader.  It's written in a casual, conversational style that marks Trotter as an Everyman, whose mistakes and challenges could be those of any one of us.  His yearning for God, which led to his eventual conversion to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (the faith which his family embraced, but he abandoned), shows that, with the help of the Lord, anyone can change.  Through an ongoing process of repentance, forgiveness, restitution, and turning to God, past mistakes can be made right and present challenges overcome.  Trotter is quick to point out that his life didn't immediately become perfect after his life-changing experience in the wilderness, but it did improve in ways he never could have imagined.

While A Different Kind of Strong doesn't feature the strongest prose, it's still a compelling, empowering memoir that offers help and hope to those struggling with addiction.  Overall, I enjoyed this fast, faith-promoting read.

In addition to being a writer, a personal trainer, a Certified Peer Support Specialist (CPSS), and a motivational speaker, Trotter is also a singer and songwriter of inspiring religious music.  His CD, also titled A Different Kind of Strong, can be purchased on his website or at Amazon.  The songs are also available for download on Amazon.

(Readalikes:  I don't read a lot of books like this, so no titles are coming to mind.  You?)

Grade:


If this were a movie, it would be rated:


for violence, nudity, and references to drug use, drug dealing, prostitution, etc. (although descriptions are not overly graphic)

To the FTC, with love:  I received a finished copy of A Different Kind of Strong as well as a CD of the same name from the very generous Daniel L. Trotter via Moore PR Group.  Thank you!

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